Little light seeps in through the small, rectangular window; the grayness outside being let in easily due to the lack of curtains. The sun sleeps, its snores too quiet to be heard and its rays too tired to shine. Without the sun, the clouds pulse, their fullness threatening rain at any moment.
The queen bed sits adjacent to the window, receiving a clear view of the commotion outside; wild blue jays and ragged crows dash back and forth, each racing to get the worm hanging from the blue jays wide beak. The ruby red comforter is peeled back, revealing the elaborate ocean-themed sky-blue sheets; pink jellyfish float around coral reefs; a purple octopus hides behind a daring lobster; yellow starfish are splayed out, chilling in the corner; seaweed scattered around, disguising any other sea creatures swimming in the sheets. An oak dresser stands tall in the corner, its pride hidden beneath the numerous clothing items draped over the top of its drawers. The room itself used to be empty; no physics textbooks or sports illustrated magazines hiding the shiny cherry wood desk in the corner; no coke cans, unwashed dishes, and dirty laundry covering the floor; no empty alcohol bottles peeking out from underneath the bed frame. An arch in the ceiling hangs low over the bed, low enough for any disoriented sleeping member to bump their head on the impending slab of ceiling; merely an architectural flaw turned into an obstacle course.
All of a sudden, the door burst open, expertly avoiding the pile of cans. A flash of sand-colored hair and grey sweatpants zips right towards the clothes tower. Hoodies and boxers tossed carelessly to the ground. Before a dresser avalanche could ensue, two pairs of hands gripped the top drawer and yanked, revealing more boxers and mismatched socks. A grunt could be heard as the second drawer was pulled out, and a string of curse words when the drawer closed again. Drawer after drawer, swear after swear, an eternity of grunting passed until a noise of triumph exited Gabriel Wether’s mouth.
“Dear Lord,” he breathed, sweat gleaming on his upper lip. But a smirk of triumph quickly replaced his creased eyebrows when he held up the missing basketball jersey in his hands. “Finally,” he grumbled, yanking his backpack over his shoulders on the way out the door.
If the weather was a determination of the day ahead, the clouds decided it would not be a great one. Grey painted the whole sky, allowing no room for the sun to peek out. White streaked through the dark grey, insinuating lightening, or thunder, would take over eventually. The ground was relatively dry, minus the condensation on the grass, and Gabriel hoped the clouds would keep it all inside while he walked to the college.
Counting his blessings, Gabriel managed to reach campus still intact, not a single drop of rain on his clothes. Heading inside, he took the stairs two at a time to his sociology class that he was eighteen minutes late to. Just as he reached the door, a loud roar outside echoed through the quiet building, and two seconds later, a torrential downpour ensued.
Class went by relatively quickly, but by the time it was over, two hours had passed and the sky had not cleared one bit. Gabriel kept his head down and avoided the threats of the storm looming ahead; if he couldn’t see it, it wasn’t there. Besides, maybe after basketball practice, the sun would already be out and about, glowing as if no other weather existed but it’s warmth.
Coach had already started layups by the time Gabriel came out of the locker room. He could be a day and a half late to sociology if he wanted, but a second past start time for basketball practice, and Coach was bound to make him regret his life decisions. Not to mention hurt until he couldn’t hurt anymore.
Coach’s whistle blew, and Gabriel internally groaned.
“What’s the excuse this time, boy?” Coach crossed his arms, the whistle dangling from his neck. The expression on his face was about as anger-ridden as the thunder outside.
“I forgot my jersey, sir,” Gabriel said lamely, gesturing to the cloth around his torso.
Coach stared at Gabriel for an unnerving amount of time. His face never changed, and his eyes never left Gabriel’s. After what seemed an eternity, Coach squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his temples. Gabriel squirmed, not knowing what was about to happen.
“You know, Gabriel,” Coach started slowly, his tone surprisingly calm, “we only need the jerseys for game days. Look around, boy. Do you see another kid in a jersey?”
Gabriel did not.
“I know, Coach, I just spaced-”
“You just spaced it, I know you did, Gabriel. But when you keep spacing, and spacing, and spacing, there’s only so much forgiving a person can do,” Coach sighed. “Go home, Wethers.”
Gabriel stood, his feet planted to the floor. “Coach, I-”
“Maybe you won’t space practice tomorrow.” Coach started to leave.
Without looking back, Coach said, “Get out of my gym, Gabriel.”
Gabriel marched back to the locker room, pulled open his locker and ruffled through his bag, then slammed the locker shut. He huffed, yanking his shirt over his head, shoving the stupid jersey back in his bag. Gabriel replayed the coach’s words over in his head until he reached the main door to the building.
Maybe you won’t space-
Gabriel was drenched. The clouds hadn’t stopped crying and their tears poured on Gabriel from head to toe. He let out a yell, pent up frustration released into the earth, the soil soaking up his anger. He stomped off the campus, tracking mud and grass with him wherever he went. He ignored the silent screams of the lightning, and didn’t listen to the obnoxious shouts from the thunder. His mind was on himself. So much so that when he crossed the street without waiting for the red hand to turn into a person, a car quickly braked, honking its obscenities. He ignored that, too. Gabriel kept on going, his eyebrows furrowed the whole way.
When he reached his door, he couldn’t find the key to let himself in. Swallowing a growl, he rummaged through his bag, throwing out everything that wasn’t in the shape of a key. Relentlessly, he burrowed, and burrowed, until finally, he pulled out a silver key. Shoving everything back into his bag, he quickly unlocked the door, not bothering to wipe his feet off at the mat.
Chucking his belongings onto the chair by the small table in the living room, Gabriel strode straight into the kitchen. He jerked a glass from the dishwasher and poured too much water, some overflowing from the top. Grumbling, he no sooner went to grab a paper towel than his elbow knocked into the glass. Water spilled everywhere, flowing over the countertop down the sides of the cupboards, onto the hardwood floor. Gabriel swallowed his frustration with the day, and bent down to clean the mess. He had just went through three paper towels when the doorbell rang.
“Jesus Christ!” he exclaimed. “Doesn’t everyone know I’m busy?”
He took his time drying the floor, letting the doorbell ring once again, before he sauntered over. Without looking through the peephole, he pulled the door open.
Gabriel Wethers didn’t have many friends; at least, not any that would show up at his house without a text or call. Not only that, but he wasn’t really a friends person; he liked the show, but that was about it. Anybody who wasn’t him, aggravated him, so he usually found company within himself. He was content without anyone buzzing around in his life, and he was sure no one was swimming through all the oceans in the world just to be his friend.
However, the girl currently standing on his doorstep looked like she’d been drowning before she reached land; her hair hung low past her shoulders, the weight of the rain dragging them down her back, soaking her shirt; her jeans looked as if she was too impatient to wait for the rinse cycle to finish, the dark blue fabric clinging to her skin for dear life; her lips were bluish-purple, and he could hear her teeth chatter. None of this stopped Gabriel from noticing her eyes; the emerald green irises with specks of ice blue scattered about the pupil captivated him.
“Can I come in?”
The request caught him off guard, and he shook his head to clear his thoughts.
“I’m sorry, what’d you say?”
“Can I,” she paused, “come in?”
She said each word slowly, as if he was a preschooler not understanding simple yes or no questions, and he clenched his teeth. He wasn’t stupid, he heard her the first time. He didn’t want her to intrude on his life; everything he needed was in his house at the moment, and she was not one of those items.
“No,” he said matter-of-factly. He moved to shut the door, but before it could close all the way, he heard a small squeal, and realized she had put her arm between the doorframe.
“Doofus,” he muttered, quickly pulling her inside by the hand. Her shoes squeaked across his hardwood floor as he took her into his kitchen. He turned on the light and grabbed her arm, eliciting another squeal. He rolled his eyes.
“It’s not that bad,” he said, surveying the small red mark on her forearm.
“It felt worse. I thought you broke it with all your anger,” she said, pulling her arm back to her chest.
He opened the freezer and pulled out a bag of frozen carrots.
“What, no peas?”
Her tone was lighthearted, and he fought back a smirk.
“They were all sold out,” he said lamely. Gingerly, he held her arm in his hand and placed the bag on the mark. She squirmed.
“Stop moving,” he told her.
He looked up, as if noticing her saturated clothes for the first time. Heaving a huge sigh, he put the bag of carrots back in the freezer, and told her to wait there.
No more than a few minutes passed before Gabriel bounded down the stairs, miscellaneous items in his hands. He strode up to the strange girl sitting on his counter, her feet dangling in the air.
“Bathroom’s down that hallway,” he said begrudgingly. “Here’s a pair of my old shorts and a shirt that won’t fit you. Oh, and please take a shower, all your rainwater is stinking up my house.”
The girl threw her head back, and laughed, a mellifluous sound that caused something in Gabriel’s bones to stop. He watched her, her carefree movements, and he couldn’t tear his eyes away.
“Thanks a lot, your majesty.”
Instead of faking a bow, she wacked him on the back of his head with the towel. Before he could do anything in retaliation, she had already padded down the hallway.
Without her presence invading his senses, Gabriel allowed himself to relax, taking a deep breath. He knew she was a stranger, and he hated strangers, but something about this stranger seemed...different. And he wanted her to leave.
Unfortunately, after about thirty minutes, the girl with honey-colored hair once it dried, sauntered out of the bathroom as if she owned the place. Marching over to where Gabriel sat on the couch, she directly blocked his eyesight of the television. His eyebrows furrowed as he slowly met her gaze.
“May I help you?”
“Where’s my room?” she asked, hands on her hips.
Gabriel’s eyes jumped to his guest room. She wants to stay here?
“Uh,” he cleared his throat, “I don’t recall any agreements being made about your sleeping arrangements for tonight.”
She scoffed. “You seriously expect me to go out in that monsoon? It’s just for one night. What do you have to lose?”
“My sanity, for one,” he fired back. “Why can’t you just go home?”
His voice had gotten unexpectedly higher than he’d wanted.
“No need to whine, Superman,” she smirked, “and do you not see the tsunami happening right outside your window? I came to your door earlier to escape it, not swim in it.”
“I know, but…” he hesitated. “I don’t even know your name.”
Her jaw dropped. “That’s what’s been holding you back? Unbelievable. My name is Aria.”
He paused, swallowing the need to say her name, to feel how it sounds rolling off his tongue.
“Hello?” she waved a hand in front of his face. “You never showed me where my room is at.”
Suddenly, he became annoyed at her.
“I never said you get a room.”
If he hadn’t been watching her like a hawk, he would’ve missed her wide smile cracking by half an inch. For that split second, she was unsure of herself. And he savored it.
“I mean, really, our argument was never solved. I don’t want you in my house, why would I supply you with a bed?”
He knew he was being mean, beyond mean, and he couldn’t find it in himself to care. This was his house, and she wanted to sleep in his room? Absolutely not. Maybe she shouldn’t have been walking on the streets without an umbrella.
“You know,” she started, her voice cool, “for a guy who sleeps in his guest room, you’re pretty bold.”
Gabriel’s blood froze.
How did she know that?
“If you’re trying to deter potential guests from spending time in your house, you should really think about getting some curtains or, at the very least, shutting your bedroom doors.”
“The master bedroom is too big,” he blurted. “When I first moved in, it felt foreign, and I don’t like change-,” he continued.
“Shocking,” Aria muttered.
“-so I started sleeping in the place that felt more like...home. I haven’t slept in the master bedroom once, like, at all. I guess I’m a little afraid.”
He didn’t mean to admit that last sentence out loud, but there was nothing he could do to take it back. He refused to shut his eyes, admitting embarrassment, and instead kept them locked on the floor.
“Afraid of feeling alone,” she said. It didn’t sound like a question, and for some reason, he knew she didn’t mean it as one.
Suddenly, her eyebrows quirked, and the somewhat solemn mood that had made the rain poor even harder outside, was forgotten and replaced by her smile.
“Alright, alright, I’ll sleep in the big bed,” she surrendered, holding her hands up.
A chuckle threatened to fall from Gabriel’s lips. He knew she was joking, but something in her eyes told him she’d experienced exactly what he did everyday, and in that, he found a sense of camaraderie with her.
“I’ll even let you use the couch blanket,” he said, pulling the brown fuzzy blanket off the couch. He didn’t tell her it was the only other one, besides the fish comforter, he had in the house.
“Oh, now you’re just spoiling me.”
He walked with her upstairs, somewhat enjoying the side-by-side company. When they reached her bedroom, he handed her the blanket, and stood awkwardly for about twelve more seconds, until she pulled him to her. Physical touch wasn’t something he’d been around as a child, so he’d expected to feel constrained with her arms around his waist; he didn’t expect himself to want another hug when she pulled away.
“Good night, Gabriel,” she said softly, a small smile on her lips. Before he could recover and speak human words again, she closed the door.
As he walked down the hallway to his room, not once did the smile on his face fall. He didn’t think he’d ever have a girl in his room, and not only was she pretty, but she knew how to read him. How could a stranger know him better than he knows himself?
Once his head hit the ocean-colored pillow, he was out, with dreams of guest rooms and strangers taking over his unconsciousness.