It was a surprisingly quiet night as Rhys strolled down the street, a lazy grin draped across his face. If it were any typical night, he wouldn't be this calm and collected; the beat of his heart would match the pace of his quick footsteps, all the while taking frantic glances over his shoulder every so often. After all, this was Pandora.
But, tonight was no typical night. The air seemed lighter, and Rhys was free to walk about as he pleased. The usual sense of dread one had while roaming around Pandora, especially at night, was gone, and Rhys liked it much better this way.
He walked with a purpose, as he went down the street, barely illuminated by the occasional dying street lamp and bright bar sign. In his hand, was something that would forever secure him as the best, most awesome boyfriend in all of recorded history, two tickets for a vacation off of this godforsaken rock. It would hopefully be the first of many, so long as things went smoothly on this first trip.
As Rhys rounded the corner, the sound of an incoming call on his ECHO Comm startled him, as he was previously occupied with dozens of thoughts and hopes for this vacation with Sasha. He jumped back slightly, before reaching into his pocket to pull out the device and accept the call.
A familiar voice greeted him. "Hey Rhys."
"Well hey there, Sasha. What's up?" Rhys tried his best to sound cool and confident, and Sasha just giggled.
"Just wondering where you are. Been out for a while now…"
"Oh yeah…" Well crap. Rhys didn't want to spoil the surprise, but at the same time, didn't want to do anything that would make Sasha suspicious or even untrustworthy of Rhys.
"I'm…uh…at the store." Yeah… she'll buy that, hopefully. A sense of nervousness started brewing within him. Rhys was not very good when it came to lying.
"Oh really, that's great." Rhys eased up a bit, it seemed she had bought it. "While you're there, would you mind picking up an extra carton of milk. We've run out, and I need it for something." Great, now Rhys would probably have to trek all the way across town to the only market for miles, all because he wanted to completely surprise Sasha.
"Something, huh?" Rhys asked, curious.
"Yes…and I'm not telling. It's a surprise." Sasha teased.
"Well I only ask because it's your birthday, Sasha. You shouldn't have to cook tonight."
"Maybe I want to make something tonight. And as much as I love you, I'd rather enjoy something that isn't burned tonight." It was true, Rhys was not exactly skilled in the kitchen. It seemed that anything he touched was doomed to become nothing more than a charred lump harder than a rock.
"Anywaaaaays, I should let you get back to your shopping. Wouldn't want to wait all night just for a carton milk." Sasha laughed.
"Alright, Sash. Love you."
"Love you too. I'll see you soon, Rhys."
The call ended, and Rhys put the device back into his pocket. Continuing down the street, he searched around for a store. He didn't care if it was some rundown mini-mart, he just needed to get milk without being forced to go all the way across town.
Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a sign labeled only with the words "Mini-Mart". It didn't look like a very welcoming place. With the dimly-interior and rusted ancient gas pumps out front, it looked like something straight out of a horror movie.
Rhys was taken aback upon opening the door; his nostrils overwhelmed by a stench smelling of a mixture of heavy-duty chemicals, cigarette smoke, and gasoline.
Rhys looked over to the front counter and sighed. Not a soul to be seen in miles.
He muttered under his breath. "Pffft, figures. Shouldn't expect any more than lousy service on Pandora."
He continued on towards the freezers in the back, slightly miffed. As he went, Rhys felt even more unsettled, the ceiling lights dimly illuminating the store with an eerie glow, and it seemed he just couldn't shake the feeling of being watched.
"Everything is fine, Rhys. Just get the milk for Sasha, then, you can get out of this hellhole of a gas station and return to the comfort of home."
He let out a sigh of relief, spotting the little section of milk at the very bottom of one of the freezers. The carton wasn't all that big, but it didn't matter at this point. Rhys was sure it would do just fine and was growing desperate to come home to Sasha. She definitely didn't deserve to spend her birthday alone.
Rhys grabbed the milk from the freezer and headed back to over to the front counter.
"Ugh, and still this place is a ghost town." Rhys sighed.
He tried waiting for a minute or two, but ultimately gave up. "Uh…hey! Anyone back there?"
"Hellooooooo…? You know that the sign does says you're open, right?"
Again, no response.
"Hello?! Seriously, are you… dead or sleeping or something…?
No one replied back, just as Rhys expected.
Before he could begin to fully contemplate whether he should check in the back or not, an old, frail voice replied.
"I'm coming, I'm coming. Hold your horses. No need to be rude, young man." A small old woman hobbled out from a door hidden away in the corner. Rhys knew that he was visibly red in the face, feeling awful for how he talked to that poor old lady. Who knows what she was doing back there? She could have been taking medication or changing her dentures…or whatever else old people do.
"So just a carton of milk, then?"
Rhys nodded in confirmation.
"Alright, that will be two dollars and fifty cents, young man."
"Yeah…hold on, give me a sec." Rhys checked his pockets for his wallet, pulling out two crumpled bills and some change from his coat pocket.
"Oh, exact change! Thank you, dear. Spares me from wasting time fiddling with this ancient machine." She patted the register and laughed, before continuing. "I hope the rest of your evening goes well!" Taking the money with a smile, she waved him goodbye, despite the rather rude way he initially addressed her.
Rhys had one foot out the door, before he realized that he still didn't have a birthday card for Sasha. He rushed back inside, scouring the isles of the tiny store. When he did find it, he was surprised that he hadn't missed it. It was such a tiny little section; only a few sympathy and birthday cards. The selection wasn't that great either, but through all the cakes and cats, Rhys managed to find the perfect card. It had a smiley little slice of cheese and the front with the phrase, "Aged to Perfection." Inside the card itself was a happy birthday message that featured a stupid little pun that was sure to get a chuckle out of Sasha. It read, "Happy Birthday! I hope you didn't find this card too cheesy."
He quickly signed and payed for the card again, breathing a sigh of relief as he left the gas station. Now that this ordeal was over, he could finally make his way back home.
Glancing down at his watch, he noticed that it was almost eight. Fiona and Vaughn would be arriving any minute now, and Rhys was hoping to spend some time with just Sasha.
"Shit!" Rhys broke out into a run towards home.
He was on the verge of collapse as he saw the house come into view, coming to a complete stop when he saw the caravan parked out front.
"So much for some alone time." Rhys muttered to himself.
He tried his best to regain some composure, figuring he looked about as bad as he felt. His lungs burned, his feet ached, and he could feel the heat coming of his face. Damn, he was really outta shape.
Knocking on the door, he could hear the sound of muffled voices and shuffling coming from inside the house. The door opened and he was greeted by none other than…Fiona, a smirk spread wide across her face.
"Well hey there, Atlas. And here I thought you'd be too busy doing paperwork or… ruining the lives of thousands of people. Ya know, typical big-shot CEO stuff." Fiona said, obviously joking. But it was easy to see where she was coming from, after all, you can't just put aside something as awful as what Handsome Jack did to Pandora.
Rhys let out a nervous laugh, pushing the thought of Handsome Jack from his mind. He was long gone, and besides, he had better things to focus on, like Sasha's party.
"Heh, good to see you too, Fiona. Can I…come in?" Rhys asked.
"Of course." Fiona stepped aside from the doorway.
Rhys made his way up the steps of the house, but was stopped by Fiona just as he crossed the threshold.
"Look Rhys, I may have given you 'my blessing' to date my sister, but you better keep yourself in check tonight. I do not need to see you all over my little sister, so please, keep that shit in the bedroom." Fiona said, surprising calm.
Rhys gulped. "A-Alright."
Within an instance, Fiona's demeanor changed, now much more casual and light. "Come on in and enjoy yourself, Rhys. Don't let me stop you." Her eyes drifted down to carton of milk he was carrying. "Oh! And you brought the milk. I'll take it off your hands for ya."
"Thanks." He said as he handed the milk of to Fiona.
Stepping in, Rhys' eyes drifted toward the dining table, where a full-blow feast had been laid out. If that didn't make it obvious that Sasha loved to cook, he didn't know what would.
And of course, seated at the table, busy stuffing his face, was Vaughn.
"Hey buddy, having fun over here?"
Vaughn's face lit up as he looked over to see Rhys standing beside him. "Hey man! It's so great to see you." He stood up and pulled Rhys in for a hug.
"Glad to see you too, bud." Rhys eyes searched around. He had seen no sign of the birthday girl so far.
"So Vaughn, you know where Sasha ran off to?" Rhys asked as he pulled away from the hug.
"Oh yeah, pretty sure she's still changing. Wanted to get out of those flour-stained clothes and into something nice, I guess?"
"Yeah…" Rhys looked down to his own clothes, now feeling kind of shitty. It was his girlfriend's birthday, and yet here he was, still dressed in his work clothes. Before he could decide what to do about his clothes, Sasha called out to him.
"Hey, Rhys is here! Maybe now we can finally get the party started." Sasha teased.
As she approached him, Rhys just couldn't keep his eyes off of her. She looked absolutely stunning, wearing a leather jacket and a pair of ripped jeans. The makeup she had put on seemed to just compliment her look even further, really bringing out the green in her eyes.
"Hey Sasha." He paused. "Wow… I just…you look absolutely gorgeous."
"Thanks, Rhys. I guess I couldn't say the same for you, but you do pull off the whole business casual look quite nicely."
"Happy birthday, Sash."
Rhys wrapped his arms around Sasha, her head coming to rest on his shoulder. As he was enjoying the warm embrace, his eyes shot open and darted over to Fiona, remembering her words. She wasn't paying attention, but Rhys was never much of a risk-taker.
He quickly pulled away from Sasha. "So…uh…how about we finally get this party started, eh?"
"O-oh…alright." Sasha paused, turning to address her other two guests. "There's some beer in the fridge if you guys want."
Within in minutes, the party was well underway. With plenty of food, drinks, and good company, everyone was having a great time. Fiona and Vaughn had bought Sasha a new music player for her birthday, which Rhys had way too much fun with, terribly dancing along to the music. He was an embarrassment to everyone but himself.
As the night came to close, everyone was hanging around in the living room, Fiona looked up at the clock. "Well heeey, it's uh… it's getting preeeetty late. Vaughn and I should go soon."
"Wait wait… I-I still haven't given my gift to Sasha yet. Wanted to save the best for last." Rhys said, throwing a wink in Sasha's direction. He jumped up from the couch and reached for Sasha's hand, leading her to the center of the room. Rhys was big on presentation.
"Dearest Sasha," he began, "I know for the longest time you've wanted nothing more than to get away from Pandora, and given all that happened, our brief time on Helios simply didn't suffice. And while I know this isn't as great as some one-way ticket off Pandora…" Rhys paused, pulling the card out from his pocket and handing it to Sasha. "I hope that this will do for now."
Sasha laughed as she looked over the card. "Aww. 'Aged to Perfection.' That's…actually kind of cute, Rhys." Sasha couldn't stop smiling as she spoke.
Sasha slowly opened up the card, practically screaming with joy upon seeing the tickets.
"Oh my god, Rhys this…this is amazing. I don't know what to say…" Sasha grabbed Rhys and pulled him into a bone-crushing hug, planting a kiss on his cheek before letting him go.
Rhys' eyes darted over to Fiona, expecting her to be looking at him with death in her eyes, but it seemed that she was okay with it.
Fiona and Vaughn lingered for a bit longer, discussing possible vacation destination and souvenirs that were to be bought. By the time they left it had gotten really late. Rhys was busy trying to hold back his fatigue as he cleaned up the trash from the party.
"Hey Rhys, if you're tired you can to bed. I'll finish cleaning up for you."
"N-no…it's fine Sa-" Rhys paused, letting out a huge yawn.
Before Rhys could protest, Sasha took the bag of garbage from his hand and guided him toward the bedroom, her arm around him.
"Come on, big guy, time for you to go to bed." Sasha helped Rhys into bed, adjusting his covers after he settled in.
"Goodnight, Rhys." Sasha said, bending down to plant a kiss on Rhys' forehead. He mumbled something inaudible to her, turned over, and drifted off to sleep.
Later in the night, Rhys had awoken from his peaceful slumber to see the outline of Sasha pacing around in the dark.
She seemed to have been taking by surprise, spinning around to face Rhys in the dark. "Oh, hey Rhys….I'm sorry I just can't really sleep."
"Guess I'm just too excited about this vacation. I mean, I'm finally going to get to go someplace and not have to worry about getting eaten alive by some rabid skag or shot to death by some lowlife bandit." Sasha paused, taking in a deep breath. "I can finally relax."
Sasha plopped herself down on the bed on the bed next Rhys, finding comfort in his arms. With one arm wrapped around her waist, Rhys ran his fingers through her gorgeous brown locks.
"Rhys?" Sasha asked, piercing the silence that had now surrounded them.
"Yeah?" His voice low and tired.
"I love you."
"I love you too, Sasha."
Within minutes the couple drifted to sleep in each other's arms, the both of them happy and hopeful of what was to come.