The drip of rain through the roof of Funn Funerals was something that Rudyard Funn was used to by this point in his life, and the numerous bowls scattered around the various flat surfaces, expertly catching the drops before they could land on something more important, like the various papers that Rudyard was looking over. Georgie and Antigone had left for the week to go on some sort of “girls trip” to France, which Rudyard didn’t entirely understand, but it meant that he was able to spend some time to himself, fewer interruptions to his very important work of trying to figure out how to finagle their expenses.
But less interruptions didn’t mean no interruptions. Even though Piffling Vale tended to be a little bit quieter on days where you could hardly hear yourself think over the pounding of the rain, there were still plenty of people who were out and about, going about their daily lives as though there was nothing different at all about them. The number of people who had been stopping into Funn Funerals had decreased significantly since Chapman’s had come to Piffling, so even though Rudyard figured no one would be likely to walk through the door, he unlocked it anyways, in hopes that if someone ended up needing a place to fix an umbrella, he could maybe manage to talk them into a funeral as well. So he wasn’t exactly anticipating that his main interruption of the day would be the very man himself, Eric Chapman, bursting through the door of Funn Funerals. “Chapman? What’re you doing here?” As he asked this, he saw lightning outside, and moments later both heard and felt thunder roll over the shop. Rudyard hardly even flinched, but at the feel of thunder, Chapman froze up, panic crossing his face, before dashing towards a chair sat in the corner of what could be called a lobby, nearly tipping over a few bowls of water in the process that Rudyard hadn’t got around to emptying yet, and pushing the chair out of the way and hiding behind it. “Aaaannnndddd…. What are you doing behind my chair?”
Chapman didn’t respond, but simply peeked out from around the back of the chair. Rudyard simply looked at him from where he was sitting behind a desk, waiting for Chapman to either get out from behind the chair or say something. Eventually, he did the latter. “Rudyard, Antigone and Georgie are still on their little trip, yes?” His voice was quiet, hardly audible above the downpour and speaking from behind a chair on the other side of the room.
“Well, yes, but that doesn’t explain why you’re hiding behind one of my chairs.”
Chapman brought up a hand and beckoned him over. “If you come over here, I’ll explain why I’m hiding behind one of your chairs.”
“Well why don’t you just do it while I’m sitting over here?”
Chapman’s expression turned from one of fear and panic to one of pain and embarrassment. “Well, I don’t need the entire town to hear about it.”
“I’m sure half the town saw you cross the square.”
“Well I don’t need the other half to hear about it!” He was getting a little irritated at Rudyard’s games, but tried to keep his cool. “I just. I won’t tell you unless you come over here.”
“What if I just send you out of here?”
Panic returned to Chapman’s face. “I…. Well…. You’d have to come over here to get me out of here in the first place, so either way you’ll have to come over here. Or I’m also plenty fine with just sitting here until this storm passes and I can return to my shop.”
“Well you came over here in the rain, why not go back in the rain?”
Chapman huffed, turning around to face towards the corner, clearly standing - well, sitting - his ground against telling Rudyard what the problem was unless he walked over there.
Which he did.
Rudyard figured that there wouldn’t be anything more exciting to happen today, and there was something off about the way that Chapman was acting, something that didn’t fit the usual Chapman demeanor, and if it was something that Rudyard could use against him, he simply had to know it. He figured he might as well have a little fun with it, and crept across the floorboards with expert level precision, making even less noise than Madeleine typically would, and as another roll of thunder came, he grabbed Chapman’s shoulders to scare him. Which might have been funny, if Chapman hadn’t started crying immediately after screaming. “Oh my god, Chapman are you…. Crying? Oh my god I’m so sorry,” he dropped to his knees next to where Eric had brought his knees up towards his face, his face in his hands. Rudyard was a bit at a loss of what to do, but decided to lightly rest his hands on Eric’s shoulder’s this time, pulling them away for a moment when he flinched again, but returning them after that, which caused Eric to look up at Rudyard, his eyes red from the tears. “Eric I…. I didn’t think that would scare you so badly I’m…. I’m sorry.”
Eric sniffled, wiping away his tears with the cuff of his sleeve. “Well…. What I was…. Going to say…. Was that the reason I came in here…. Is because I didn’t know who to go to…. And it hasn’t proper thundered since I got here…. And I…. I don’t do very well with thunder….” He put his face back in his hands, not wanting to see Rudyard’s reaction to his confession.
But overall Rudyard was simply confused. Doesn’t do well with thunder? He knew that he was toeing a tricky line, and since Antigone and Georgie weren’t there to do damage control if he asked a question that might come off meaner than he hoped, so he had to gauge his response carefully. He thought about it step by step. For whatever reason, he had come to Funn Funerals, of all places, in a time where it was very clear he was feeling vulnerable. And he knew that Antigone and Georgie were gone, so it was clear that he had come to see Rudyard in particular. And he had come to see him over any of the other people who lived in Piffling Vale, or at least on the square, which was a considerable number of people that Rudyard would have thought would come before him. Maybe all of them were out enjoying the rain? Maybe all the women in Piffling Vale had decided to go with Antigone and Georgie on their trip? He could tell that he had been thinking too long when Chapman started to move under his hands, getting up from his position on the floor behind the chair. “Where’re you going?” Rudyard asked, getting up from the ground with him.
“I’m sorry, Rudyard. I’ve clearly made a mistake, I’m sorry to interrupt your day, I shouldn’t have bothered you with this, it’s truly silly, I know. To be scared of a little science, it’s frankly ridiculous, I kno-” He was walking toward the door, Rudyard close behind him, when lightning flashed, causing Eric to freeze, Rudyard nearly running into him. Three seconds later the thunder boomed, and Eric turned around and hid his face in Rudyard’s chest. Rudyard wasn’t entirely sure how to respond, this was never something he had expected to happen. He wrapped his arms around Eric, trying to be ginger enough not to scare him but firm enough to be reassuring, to make him feel more comfortable, safe. They stayed that way, standing in the middle of the shop, holding each other, for a good minute before Eric mumbled something into Rudyard’s chest. Rudyard pulled back a bit, asking for repetition without saying a word, keeping his hands on Eric’s shoulders, not letting him pull away. “I said ‘thank you.’ For not, you know. Being your usual judgemental self.” He pulled himself back into Rudyard’s chest, this time more tenderly, not filled with as much fear. He was ready for it this time, less surprised but more…. He couldn’t be entirely sure what he was feeling.
“You know Antigone doesn’t like thunderstorms either, right? She doesn’t like the lightning part of it though, she loves the thunder.” Rudyard figured he could at least try to make him feel better. “Always has been. But the first time Georgie was round during a storm, she was making loads of jokes, and that’s one of the few times that I’ve ever really seen Antigone truly and completely upset.” He held Eric a little closer. “I would never judge you over something like this after seeing that.”
Eric pulled himself closer as thunder rolled again, an instinct, tight enough to cause discomfort to Rudyard, but he couldn’t feel it. All he could feel was the way Eric had his face smushed into his chest, his shoulders up towards his ears even while his arms were wrapped around Rudyard, trying their best to keep him from hearing anymore of the thunder.
Eventually Rudyard pulled them over towards a couch that they had, not the most luxurious of things, but more comfortable than simply standing in the middle of the shop. Eric had been very concerned about how the rest of the town was going to perceive him, trying multiple times to leave until Rudyard locked the door to the shop and pulled the shutters, grabbing a blanket out of his room to wrap around Eric. At this he melted, seeming as though he was going to cry from the niceness.
Eventually the storm started to die down as night began to fall, and Chapman began to stir from where he had fallen asleep. Rudyard had fallen asleep underneath him, and woke up when he felt Chapman’s presence leave him. The sound of dripping water that had lulled both of them to sleep became slower, signaling to the both of them that the rain was nearly gone. Chapman folded the blanket and set it on the couch next to them, and when he stood up he straightened out his clothes were they had wrinkled, Rudyard standing up with him, but not bothering with his own appearance. He noticed that Chapman’s hair was a little out of place, but didn’t say anything. “I suppose, uh. I suppose I should get going back over to my place.” He seemed uncomfortable, like there was something more he should say. “I, um. Thanks. For, you know, -“
“I do know.” Rudyard knew what he was going to say, so he didn’t make him finish the sentence. “Just know, if this happens again, you’re more than welcome to, you know, -“
Chapman smiled. “I do know, thank you.” He opened the door, peeking up at the sky to double check that the signs of thunder and lightning had gone. “Well. Enjoy yourself, Rudyard.”
And the door closed, leaving Rudyard standing in the middle of Funn Funerals with a mess of confusing feelings in his heart, and the quiet, slow drip of water in the background.