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Highways & Byways

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Of course you'd seen him around. He is impossible to miss, after all. Gruff, tall, dark, tough as nails, built like a brick shithouse and the most gorgeous eyes you'd ever seen on a human.

Arthur goddamn Morgan.

It is safe to assume that just about every woman (and even some men) that have set foot inside John's humble countryside home have ogled him at least once. You can't claim to feel exactly proud for being on that list as well, but you are on that list, and that is the relentless truth.

You suppose even the simpelest of pleasures come with a price, and this time, it's the damage your pride takes when you hurry to avoid Arthur's gaze when he looks up from young Jack's scribble. Your small glass of amaretto never fails to become captivatingly interesting during those instances.

John had used the pretext of it being his son's birthday to stuff his home with as many guests as the lovely little place could handle countless times now, and you can't complain. It's a wonderful occasion to get tipsy and laugh like an idiot while being surrounded by both people and the gorgeous nature in the periphery of Blackwater — who are you to say no to such an offer?

That had been the case every year until now, unfortunately. This time, things are different. It isn't an adult party with a pretext anymore, this time, it's a proper kiddie birthday party, with little, similarly aged guests included. As well as balloons. And cake. Though you don't mind those. You mentally curse the fact that Abigail had put Jack in daycare this year, where he'd made a lot more friends than you'd like to have watching you try to get drunk.

Arthur, John's best friend, has taken it upon himself to momentarily entertain the younger guests, and you assume it's so that John can have a word or two with Abigail in peace.

Arthur's squatting down now, in a weak attempt to not intimidate the children with his size, which seems to work very little for everyone aside from Jack. He tells the boy something, then ruffles the kid's head playfully, earning himself a pout from Jack and amused giggles from the other young guests.

One of the kids — a young girl in a pink dress with cartoon imprints — runs over to a nearby table, retrieving a round piece of plastic. A frisbee.

Arthur accompanies the children to the front door and opens it for them, letting them all step outside before he follows under the insistence of Jack. On second thought, maybe you could use some fresh air too, seeing as the May weather is getting increasingly warm as of late. Besides, the sun is just about to go down — you might as well enjoy the view.

You go after them, but not before pouring yourself another glass of amaretto.

Arthur is standing on the front porch, leaned forward, elbows set on the wooden railing as he watches the group of kids run around wildly in the huge yard that John's home benefits of. The muscles on his upper shoulders shouldn't be so damn visible through the dark material of a black button down shirt, and it's as much intimidating as it is attractive. The setting sun is only doing him a favor, bathing both him and his surroundings in a warm, dark orange light. It almost makes him look...soft, though you even feel bad for daring to think of it.

You're not exactly sure what to make of Arthur just yet. He seems too rough for you. Too brooding, too dry, too calloused by whatever events have shaped him to be this way.

You hesitate for a second. Maybe he wants alone time and you're intruding? You haven't spoken to him much, not at this party, nor on any other occasions. You just know his face, his demeanor from observing it at numerous other events, but that is where your knowledge about John's best friend ends. You don't know John himself all that well, either, if you are to be honest. Abigail is the one you're best aquatinted with.

The veranda's floor creaks before you can hope to retreat, and Arthur glances over his shoulder, catching sight of you. He's loosely holding a cigarette between his fingers, smoke escaping from his lips and fading into the warm spring air when he huffs in slight surprise.

He rolls back his shoulders, straightening up and turning around to face you. He leisurely leans on the railing, but jumps back to his feet with a flabbergasted expression when it emits a loud creak. The both of you cough awkwardly, but he's the one that jumps at the opportunity to try and put an end to the situation. "You're...(Y/n), was it?"

In all honesty, you're surprised he knows your name. But you don't complain.

"Yeah." You nod your head and approach him, seeing as there is no going back now. You wonder if he's even aware of how gorgeous his eyes are, especially in that light. "You're Arthur, right? John's best friend?"

"Yes." He answers and takes another drag of his cigarette, then flicks it out into the dewy grass. "An' you're Abigail's best friend, that so?"

You don't know, truth be told. Abigail is...well, a smidge more social than John, to put it lightly. She has multiple people she gets along with well, so you won't exactly go as far as reserving that spot exclusively for yourself. But you digress.

"Sort of, yeah." You confirm, and reluctantly step closer, cringing when the wooden floor of the veranda creaks once again. "I'm just...I'm just here for the alcohol, to be honest. Or used to be, at least."

"Well, they got a lot more kids 'round now. Since they started takin' Jack to daycare n' all." You nod in approval as he looks between you and the group of children, seeming to connect two dots you're not sure exist. "If him 'n Abigail sent you to look after the kids, then...'s fine, you can go back, if you want. I don't mind watchin' them, honest."

The offer is tempting. You could just go back to your previously lonely process of inebriation.

But at the same time, you kind of want to acquaint yourself with Arthur. Now that you've accidentally initiated it, it seems fair to continue.

"No, I'll keep you company." On the other hand, his offer could be a slight nod at the fact that he wants some alone time. Which you aren't going to deny either, obviously. "Unless you'd rather be alone, of course, in which case—"

"No, no." He gestures at the railing beside himself as if it were some prized spot on a comfortable sofa.

Who are you to turn him down? You oblige, approaching him with a relaxed walk, setting your elbows on the railing as you look at the group of children running after the frisbee one of them has thrown. You catch yourself thinking that the life Abigail has made for herself borders on idyllic: perfect kid, perfect home, perfect place, and close to perfect husband. All at the fragile age of twenty-four.You're almost jealous, to be honest.

Rufus, their yellow Labrador, looks like he's made of liquid gold as he runs to catch up with the kids, then easily surpasses them.

Jack's dog wins the race by far, picks the frisbee off the ground easily, and sprints away with it. You have to hold back an amused snort, and hope to achieve that by bringing up the still full glass of amaretto to your lips and taking a sip.

Arthur notices, and hides a tight-lipped smirk of his own.

"How do you know John?" You decide to start with something simple to break the ice, and Arthur complies.

"Well, we...we both got raised by the same people. Guess we're brothers of sorts." He explains half-heartedly, slipping his hand inside the pocket of his jeans to retrieve a pack of cheap cigarettes.

Now that, that is new. You didn't know much about John aside from the fact that his past wasn't one of many pleasures. Fate hadn't been kind to him, and Arthur neither, it seems.

You blink in surprise when he thumbs the pack open and offers it to you, though you don't exactly see the point in both smoking and drinking, especially in front of kids, so you turn him down with a shake of your head.

He's about to light one for himself when Jack sprints up to the two of you, followed by his small brigade of friends. They're all nervously kneading their hands and watching the both of you as if you're some kind of ferocious creatures they do not dare approach — though you guess that aura is rather Arthur's than yours.

"Uncle Arthur!" The boy stutters out through ragged breaths — he must've been running around for god knows how long — and closes the gap between him and the man in less than a second. There's an obvious trace of great urgency in his every move. "Rufus took the frisbee! And he won't give it back!"

"Did he, now..." Arthur squints as he looks around the garden, spotting the dog nestled somewhere between some bushes, happily chewing away on the toy. You're surprised when he doesn't complain, but instead offers to help as if it were the most obvious thing to do. "D'you know where the dog treats are?"

Frankly, the exchange borders on precious when Arthur squats down to his level and gives Jack the attention you'd only expect someone like him to give to a grown adult. Jack tilts his head as if he can't quite connect the two dots. "Yes...?"

"Want me to help you look for 'em, or do you reckon you can find them yourself?"

Perhaps he's not as gruff as you thought. Or perhaps he's a good actor. Or John specifically asked him to be nice to his kid. Or maybe he has kids of his own. You have no idea which one is more likely, and part of you doesn't really want to know. The other one really wants to.

"I can try." The boy answers almost proudly.

With that, Jack sprints inside the house. The other kids return to the yard and continue the chase in the hopes of retrieving the frisbee.

When Arthur stands up, he catches you staring once again, but this time, you don't retreat into your glass of amaretto again. This time, you're determined to be bolder.

"You're good with kids. You got some of your own?" It's both a question and a compliment, but he counters it with a slight frown regardless, which makes you wonder if you're treading on dangerous territory. You do end up retreating your gaze back to the beverage. There goes your bravado.

"No." He answers simply, and you have to mentally groan at the fact that you just had to ask. Part of you wants to blame your foolish bravery on alcohol, but you know better than that — a good chunk of it is still your fault.

"I'm sorry if I-" You speak up, but Jack interrupts your apology before you can hope to continue it. He nudges the door open, and trots towards Arthur, holding up the bag of dog treats as if he's presenting a trophy.

Arthur's expression softens when he looks down at Jack, and he takes the treats from him before cupping the back of the boy's head as he leisurely walks out in the garden by the kid's side. Jack has to jog to be able to keep up with Arthur, though the boy doesn't seem to mind.

The other children join them as Arthur starts whistling for Rufus, and you decide you'd rather not keep watching, lest you come off as weird. So you glance at the sky for a second, then to your far right, where the cars of John's guests are parked. Walking amongst them, you see a familiarly dressed silhouette.

Oh no.

No no no no.

You don't think twice when you throw back your remaining amaretto and break out in the fastest sprint you've witnessed yourself being capable of.

"Hey—!" Your voice catches in your throat when you realize you've forgotten their name. They're your neighbor and your only ticket home, for chrissakes! And now your brain decides it's the right time to forget that person's name?! "Wait!" You shout once again, but they've already entered their car, and are driving it away before you can hope to intervene. Goddamnit.

Discouraged, you stop in your tracks, the last bits of inertia still driving you forward a few more steps before your inevitable halt.

They're gone, your neighbor and only means of transportation is gone, and a taxi is going to cost a damn fortune, if a taxi even drives all the way to John's place at all—

"Shoulda told me you could run this fast, I would've let you chase down the damn dog." Arthur pipes up as he jogs to catch up with you, stopping a few steps behind you. "The hell you sprintin' like that for?"

"The— They...left." You answer, powerlessly pointing at the empty space that perfectly fits your neighbor's car. You try to calm down your heaving, but to no avail. "They left...and they were supposed to drive me home."

"Call 'em. Can't have gotten too far."

It's a good suggestion, provided you have their phone number. Which is not the case.

"I don't have their number." You explain haphazardly. "We talked through the Facebook messenger, and that one doesn't always have a phone number linked, and— Damnit."

Arthur sighs and crosses his arms in front of his chest as he follows your gaze to the deserted spot. You can't help but wonder if he considers offering to take you home. Still, you figure it's best not to raise your expectations and ban that thought from your head almost immediately. You instead tell yourself you could talk to John, ask him to help you figure out if anyone else would drive to your neighborhood in Blackwater.

Arthur's frame is still facing forward, but he turns his face towards you, making his stubbled jaw look even sharper than it already is. "Well, where d'you live, (y/n)?"