Running. Roger was running again, the wind whispering harsh squeals against his ears and brushing blond strands into the air.
He should've been more careful around that store. Mr. Woods’ brown, hawk-like eyes seems to hone in specifically on teenagers with tattered, dusty backpacks. And, look, he was hungry, and hungry means that the chocolate bar mere inches away from his fingers was his number-one priority to reach for.
Even if said chocolate bar was right in front of the cashier register, oh, and the cashier.
Just a simple upward tilt of his head and a brief glance into sharp eyes, now bleeding anger profusely with a wonderful mix of “Did you just do that?” and (his personal favorite) “Get back here!” , and he was gone.
He darts in and out of bustling sidewalks, nearly toppling over a cat that yowled a thousand obscenities enough to earn him a lifetime supply of bar soap shoved into his mouth if he dared to utter them. Everything was a blur. And, no, it wasn't just because of his already failing eyesight. He ignored the stares and indignant gasps as he nudged and pushed his way through the road, they were nothing but worthless chatter buzzing in his ear, tall blurs who stood in the way of safety-
Safety. Was that the alleyway he crouched into? Devoid of a single passerby, littered with haphazard piles of trash bags, gravel floor drenched into a darker grey from the recent afternoon shower. Last week, safety was Mrs. Green's laundromat, kind brown eyes accepting the silver coins scraped from jiggling in his pocket, wide smile empty of even a single hint of exasperation. Yesterday, safety was one Karen Jones and her tall German Shepherd, Buddy, who yelled out several affirmations of love for his owner all in a single bark, who allowed Roger to bury his small fingers underneath his massive, fluffy coat.
Safety always ends the moment he senses those seeds of doubt and fear taking root-
What happened to his eyes?
It's why he only caught glimpses of their thoughts before he had to look down or fumble with an excuse to leave. Blame it on his apparent shyness, the blurred surroundings. Any excuse to tear their eyes away from his, usually a dull light blue- but also a vibrant red.
The rain decided to grace him with its presence while he drowned in melancholy. Drops of water stuck to his unkempt hair, one he attempted to tame earlier that morning with shaking fingers whose journey halted due to a tangled strand. He found refuge underneath a metal emergency staircase, taking the time to tear the wrapping of his prize open. His previously clenched fist left a small dent on the side of the bar, but at the very least it was still intact and edible.
Once he finished, he crumpled the wrapper and pocketed it inside of his jacket, next to the other little scraps of paper and plastic bouncing around the fabric. He'll throw them away someday , he just needs to find a proper garbage bin to dispose of them. Too bad some people in Truro thought that the streets and the sidewalks were a better alternative.
He tugged the straps of his backpack closer to body, a welcome warmth against the shuddering chill this rain sent down his way. The library was just a few blocks away, no doubt filled with stressed students and other people hoping to shield themselves from the weather. Maybe he can find himself a good book to read and a table far from anyone who might look up into his eyes.
I want to go home. He heard it loud and clear from the wall across from him. A tiny orange kitten perched on a dark windowsill, shivering against the cold. Those wails of longing, of a warm home in a mother's furry embrace mixed with the meows it piped out.
Roger wasted no time in approaching the kitten and carefully gathering it into his arms. Let go of me let go of me let go of me- pierced his head as it frantically pawed against his chest, but no sooner did thoughts of gratitude amble into his mind and a small head melted into his embrace.
He returned to his spot below the staircase with the critter tucked underneath his jacket. The shivering ceased, a muffled purr thrummed against his chest. Not once did the cat comment on his eyes, even as it now looked right at him with a grateful gaze.
Animals never cared if he looked like a tiny vampire plucked right out of a horror silver screen (do animals even know what vampires are?) His best guess is that the cats think he'd fit right in with that vibrant hue.
Speaking of cats, the little kitten poked its head out of its cotton blanket, ears rolling towards the spot where the alley met the sidewalk.
A timid tilt towards him. Someone's here?
He froze. His arms tightened securely around his new friend as he inched closer towards the street, trying to maintain his cover behind a large wall. A little peek around the corner revealed a teenage boy in a dark blazer that matched a pair of slacks, a student right out of school. He held an umbrella under dark strands that spilled over his shoulders, and a black hair tie wrapped around his wrist.
I want to go home! The stranger's presence certainly threw the kitten off-guard and back into its bubble of fear. Roger barely had time to calm it down when it yelped out a loud meow.
The stranger's head snapped up towards the sound, drawing nearer and nearer towards their corner.
Roger held the kitten closer to himself, clinging to the desperate hope that this little bubble they created for themselves would ward off whoever that boy was. The spaces between every rough footstep spanned for forever.
Then, the boy turned around the corner.
“Hi.” A small noise that garbled from Roger's throat. How the boy would understand his greeting was beyond him.
“Hi.” A feeble echo.
A moment passes as they stare at each other- Well, it's more like Roger stares at him while the boy spends more time gazing at the cat than at him.
They both try to break the silence, but they end up speaking over each other. Roger clears his throat before finally forming the sentence, “Do you want to pet the cat?”
The boy nods quickly, excitement buzzing off of him in waves. Roger's gaze flits down towards the kitten, that telltale itch enveloping his eyes as he searches the kitten's. He tilts his head downwards so that his bangs shield him from the boy's line of sight.
There's a nonchalant huff of agreement from the kitten as it stretches in his arms, so he shifts a little closer. “Sure thing.”
A tentative hand reaches out, trembling in the air for a moment before it lowers and rubs against the kitten's head. The ensuing purr sends waves of relief into their veins.
“I'm Roger.” He says after a while. “What's your name?”
“Fa-Freddie. My name is Freddie.” His voice is shaky yet confident. In fact, when Roger triple-checks that his eyes are back to blue and looks up again, he notes that the boy's posture is firm, a mischievous glint twinkles in his brown eyes, and a sense of confidence graces his tight-lipped grin.
Roger nods. “Nice to meet you, Freddie.”
“What's its name?”
Cats don't give themselves any names in the human tongue (humans do), so he settles with: “Dorothy.”
The girl who tried to find shelter from a tornado, only to wake up in a new, colorful world.
“Dorothy.” Freddie repeats, nearly to himself as Dorothy rubs her head against his palm.
The silence that follows is a welcome one. It's peaceful, actually. For once, Roger doesn't worry about another witness to his peculiarity since there's a distraction (an adorable one) bundled up in his arms.
Freddie whispers, “At least this one doesn't call my teeth horrible.”
“Your teeth aren't horrible.” Roger replies immediately. Then it hits him like a punch to the gut-
His eyes were crimson red again.
Eternity seems to pass as he slowly lifts his gaze to meet Freddie's eyes, his arms seizing up again as the itch- that damned itch, he should've realized it- darts around his eyes. Shock seems to have held Freddie in place, with his dropped jaw and horrified brown eyes with red nestled in them-
Oh. The color of his eyes were apparently dark enough to conceal that cursed crimson, something that sent a minute pang of jealousy straight into Roger's chest. (Freddie got to hide his eyes, while Roger's were the obvious demons to his angels.)
An invisible curtain ripples out of existence as the disguise melts away. Freddie's front teeth (incisors? Roger tries to recall from that anatomy book he read at the library) do look larger than normal, but Roger stays true to his word. It isn't difficult to see why Freddie would want to hide them away. But that isn't the most surprising revelation of the day.
“How did you-”
They really should stop interrupting each other.
“Um, I'm really sorry.” Roger purses his lips. “I shouldn't have, uh, done that.”
“It's okay.” Freddie regards him with an intent gaze. “Is that… Is that what your eyes do?”
If someone else had said anything along those lines with fear in their eyes, he would've turned around and fled into the horizon. Freddie calms him down, maybe because he surprisingly finds no reason to fear him even though he could read his thoughts like a wide open book, or because they both share this strange gift.
“Y-Yeah.” He nods. “And yours can… hide things?”
“Just my looks.” Freddie's attempt of a shrug shakes his frame. “It… helps me out when I'm walking to and from school.”
Roger's lips form a wordless “Oh”, bowing his head a little bit and regretting that earlier hint of jealousy. There will always be things he can't understand, emotions he can't even feel in the first place. Ironic how fate decided to bring him the power to read minds. (He never quite understood this red eye matter, too.)
“Where are your family?” Freddie tilts his head to the side.
“Not with me.” His gaze finds Freddie's leather shoes much more interesting to look at than at the doubt the boy will surely harbor towards him.
“I-I can help you find a place to stay!” Freddie hops for a little bit, sending droplets from a puddle to rain down on Roger's worn-out laces. “It can be right next to mine! Our neighbors are really nice, I promise you.”
Roger forces himself to look up again, into those full dark brown eyes, and feels nerves and unbridled joy hiding behind a wall of hesitation- a crystal clear mirror of his own.
He nods, and shatters that wall into smithereens.
A tiny bluebird putters around the windowsill, a song bursting proudly from its feathered chest. It's the song that brings a smile to Brian's face and warmly wakes him up in the morning. He'll have to ask someone for the meaning of that song, but he's content with the melody for now.
He slides out of his bed with a small yawn, then sets off down the stairs and into the kitchen. It's a simple recipe, really, one he's been repeating for the past few years. Two loaves of bread from the overhead cabinet, and jam from the tiny jar right next to the bread bag. He's toyed with the recipe every once in a while (often ending up with one of his curls stuck in the jar and her soothing smile as she scoops it out and washes it off with a thorough rinse from the faucet), but he settles with plain and simple for today.
He finishes eating in record time and disappears into the main hall, a large room with filled shelves on every wall. There's still a small chunk of books he has to read, but he'll get through it. (They're the biology ones, which frankly bores him just a little bit, yet also makes him squirm uncomfortably especially when it gets to sn-)
He makes his way to the center, excitement bursting out of his chest as he approaches the guitar on a metal stand. He carefully lifts her out of it and slips the strap around his back. A small strum for good measure, and he's gone.
Small calloused fingertips glide over the strings, effortlessly pushing into the frets, just like how he taught him, and how he taught himself with that large stack of music books sitting in the corner. He can't quite remember what he exactly played, although he recognizes the bluebird's melody etched into the backbone.
He's lost to that nameless emotion amplified with every heartbeat, with every strum, with every second spent gazing at the stars from his window.
Knock, knock, knock
His fingers, along with every other muscle in his body, freeze and cease to play.
Knock, knock, knock.
He tucks her back into the stand, silently taking the strap off of him before his gaze returns to the front door. It hadn't received a single knock in years, and it shouldn't now.
His vocal chords decided not to work that day, his “Who's there?” faltering into a mere whisper simmering in his throat, so he takes a tentative step onto the carpet.
One small step for man- He remembers that crisp voice emanating from their television as he takes another step.
One giant leap… His fingers wrap around the doorknob, twist, then pull-
“Hello?” He calls out as the door swings wide enough for him to peek through and slam if he had to. A boy who stands perhaps at a few inches below him is at the doorway. Wide eyes and lips set in a thin, expressionless smile, a loose fist raised mid-knock, and long brown strands falling past his shoulders and shielding his eyes.
“He…” He croaks out.
Brian allows the boy a moment or two for him to gather his thoughts, but he doesn't continue.
“Yes?” A single finger reaches out to tap him lightly on the shoulder. “What… What do you want?”
The boy stands still. Frozen.
“Oh no!” Shame churns inside Brian's gut as he furiously rubs at his eyes. “Not again…”
He gives the boy's shoulder a shake in vain, and sighs in defeat.