Roxas was doing his absolute best to ignore Axel as the three boys hauled wood from the pile between the house and the shed to the back of Sylvia's truck. He hadn't responded to Axel's earlier attempts to provoke him, and after a very loaded silence, the redhead had simply turned to Demyx to ask what and how much they needed.
Apparently, this was going to be a pretty considerable staircase – Roxas was sure they had loaded enough wood into the truck to build a house, or at least it felt that way to him. Demyx and Axel seemed unconcerned, though Roxas had twice reached the point where his arms needed a break.
He tried to be discreet and pretended to be checking his cell phone, not wanting to look outwardly weak, and luckily enough, after one last heavy thud, he heard Demyx say: "That should be good. Thanks, man."
"Yeah, of course," Axel replied. He paused, then jerked his thumb at Roxas. "So lemme get this straight – you want me, to give… all of this. To him?"
Roxas slid his phone shut and slipped it back into his pocket, pulling out the crumpled twenty dollar bill to hand to Axel. Axel looked at it for a moment, then at the wood in the truck, and then at Demyx.
"Is this a fucking joke?" he asked, holding up the bill.
"It's for Sylvia," Demyx interrupted him, giving him a disapproving look. "Don't be like that."
Axel narrowed his eyes, clearly confused.
"She's my grandmother," Roxas said dryly, wishing he'd brought a coat. He was stuck wearing only a t-shirt and shorts, which had been appropriate when the sun was up - not so much after dark. The gravel road had been mostly uphill, too, and Roxas idly wondered what the altitude was at this place. Aside from the porch light, the surrounding woods were pitch black, and he found himself shivering, uncomfortable, and anxious to leave. Inside the house, lights were on, and Roxas could hear muffled music coming from one of the upstairs rooms.
"-getting cold out," Demyx was saying (Roxas had not been particularly listening to the first half of the sentence). "I'm gonna use your bathroom really quick before we head out."
He headed up to the house, leaving Axel and Roxas standing awkwardly by the truck. Soon, Axel turned toward the house as well, looking back momentarily at Roxas.
"You coming in?"
Roxas shook his head, leaning against the metal door of the truck and hoping his goosebumps weren't particularly visible from a distance. "I'll just wait here."
Axel looked perfectly ready to accept that answer for a moment, then turned back. "You sure?"
Roxas tried to look anywhere but back at Axel, who continued to stare directly at him. When he next raised his eyes, Axel was gesturing for him to follow.
"Come on," he said, nodding toward the house. "It's cold. I can see you shivering."
"I'm really okay here."
"For Chrissakes, will you just get in the goddamn house already? I'm trying to be… fuckin'… hospitable here, okay? I mean, shit. It's the least you can do, I'm giving you all this free shit, aren't I?"
"Fine! Jeez, I'm going, alright?"
Roxas pushed past Axel and up the front steps, opening a heavy wooden door that reminded him of something you'd see in a fairy tale.
Inside it was warm, and well-lit. He entered into a narrow hallway with a higher ceiling than he'd expected. To his left there was a doorway into what looked like a kitchen, and to his right there was a staircase. The walls and floor were a deep, reddish wood, and the ceiling a moss green. Roxas was still taking in his surroundings when he felt Axel herding him into the kitchen, and he allowed himself to be shuffled along if only for the sake of seeing more of the house. The kitchen was also largely made of wood, though the fridge was a dull olive green that Roxas was sure his mother would call "vintage". Axel gestured for him to sit down at the table – a large, circular type in a lighter wood that clashed with the rest of the décor – and Roxas obliged, staring into the connected living room where two people appeared to be watching something on MTV.
Roxas watched a few commercials out of boredom, only looking up when Axel crashed a mug of something brown and steaming down in front of him and took the seat on the other side of the table.
After blinking at his mug for a few seconds, Roxas deemed it unsafe and probably disgusting, but when he looked up to continue watching TV, he found Axel had pulled shut a sliding door between the two rooms.
"It's just Swiss Miss," Axel said, nudging the mug closer.
"I see," Roxas replied, moving his hands to his lap.
When Roxas made no move to drink the cocoa, Axel gave an irritated sigh, leaning his elbows on the table.
"I made it for you," he said, looking meaningfully at the mug.
"You don't like Swiss Miss?"
"It's just instant cocoa."
"Well, you could have fucking said something before I wasted a whole packet on you!"
"I didn't fucking ask you to make it, did I?"
"Okay. Look," Axel cut in, holding up his hands in exasperation. "I'm sorry I fucking beat you up, but it doesn't mean you have to be such a little bitch about everything now!"
"Wait, no, okay, stop. Hang on," Axel declared, grabbing the mug by its handle and standing up abruptly. "Just stay there. Okay, now pretend it's, like, 2 minutes ago."
"What are you-"
Before Roxas could finish his sentence, Axel had turned around and set the mug on the counter. He waited a second, then came back to the table, where he set the mug gently in front of a thoroughly weirded-out Roxas.
The sound of cheering from the TV came through the sliding door, along with some brief muffled conversation from whoever was in there watching it.
"Sorry I beat you up yesterday," he said evenly. "You were pissing me off because you remind me of me except shorter, not as good-looking, and you probably aren't disowned."
"You were disowned?"
"Shit! Kid, I'm trying to make a fucking effort here, okay? And then you come out guns blazing, asking something like that!"
"You just said you were-"
"It's a deeply- it's a- it's a deeply personal, ah, matter. Okay?"
Roxas took a deep breath, then glanced over his shoulder for Demyx. "Look, I'm sorry, I think there's something, like, something actually wrong with you," he explained, moving to stand up. "I'm just gonna wait outside."
"Okay, rude! Just go on out there and attract the fucking wolves, don't ask me if I mind having wolves eating a blond carcass in my driveway or anything!"
Roxas froze. For a fleeting moment, Axel looked dead serious, and then his face broke into a wide grin and he doubled over in uncontrollable laughter.
"Man, fuck you," Roxas muttered, shaking his head.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, you're just- so- easy- to fuck with," Axel gasped, attempting to catch his breath.
It was at this moment that Demyx entered the kitchen from the hallway, immediately forced to restrain a furious Roxas who was attempting to drag him out the door.
"He's out of his fucking mind," Roxas hissed, pressing against Demyx's arm blockade.
"Hey, hey, hey, okay, okay, chill out, okay? Caaalm down, okay, see? Everything's fine," Demyx said, steadying Roxas against the doorframe. Once Roxas was stable, though fixing him with a mutinous glare, Demyx turned to Axel. "Dude, what did you do?"
Axel still hadn't quite finished laughing, and he shrugged as he got to his feet, reaching for the mug on the table. "Look," he said, dropping the mug into the sink, "I'm just messin' with ya. I'm not actually insane. Sorry I, ah, sorry I hit you yesterday, yeah? No hard feelings."
Roxas said nothing, and after a few seconds, Demyx was ushering him out the door, throwing a quick "Goodnight" and a dirty look over his shoulder at Axel.
Roxas slammed the truck door shut, strangely satisfied by the rattling, about-to-fall-off noise it made, then lit up a cigarette before Demyx could stop him. He let out a long, drawn-out breath of smoke as the taller boy settled into his seat, silencing Demyx with a dark look when he opened his mouth to say something about it.
"At least roll down the window," Demyx said, holding up his hands in defense. Roxas sighed, then reached for the crank; he couldn't remember the last time he'd been in a car where you had to literally roll the windows down. Sylvia's truck was a rusty orange and absolutely nothing about it was automatic. The fact that he could actually drive it was not something Roxas was necessarily proud of – the idea that he had mastered a machine that completely epitomized this town disgusted him on a soul-deep level.
It wasn't until they had turned off the gravel road and onto a paved one that Demyx finally saw fit to speak again.
"You have to understand," he said, turning the radio down a little, "Axel only acts that way to get a rise out of you. He's just testing the waters, you know? Tryin' to get to know you."
"There are better ways to get to know people."
"Did I say it was the best way?"
Roxas looked up, taking a final drag on his cigarette before tossing it out the window.
"I don't know how you can say we're alike," he replied, clearing his throat. "He's like a… psychotic, manic clown. Tattoos and all."
"He can be immature," Demyx corrected him. "He's certainly not psychotic, in the legitimate, clinical sense of the word, nor would I say he's manic, also in the clinical sense, though I will admit I'm not a trained professional."
Roxas snorted. "But you don't deny the clown makeup."
"Not so much clown as gang, but if you wanna look at it that way, who am I to stop ya?"
"He's in a gang?"
Now it was Demyx's turn to laugh, and he looked over at Roxas as he pulled up at a stop sign. "You'd make a good clown yourself if you think we got gangs out here. Well – the kind you're thinking of, anyway."
"Is that why he got disowned?"
Demyx raised an eyebrow, turning back to the road. "You wanna know, you ask him yourself. Hell if I know, really. Guy can keep his mouth shut when he wants to, know what I mean?"
"Not that I really care to know, as it were," he said. "What I do know is enough. And I got better things to do than hound Axel for irrelevant background details."
"Like what?" Roxas asked, happy to change the subject. "School, Home Depot…"
Demyx nodded. "School. Home Depot. Swimming. Women."
"You a good student?"
"I am now."
"Cryptic," Roxas replied, and he smiled when Demyx shot him a grin.
"I'm kind of a golden boy around here, hate to burst your bubble," Demyx said, flipping on the turn signal and hauling the truck around a corner. "I swim pretty fast, so Mountain Creek gets a little slice of glory pie for that at the meets. I volunteer over at the middle school, tryin' to keep the kids away from cigarettes, meth. I do household repairs for old ladies, and when I take their granddaughters out, I pay for dinner and I use a condom."
"Squeaky clean," Roxas remarked, nodding. "So what's the town hero doing hanging out with the gangbanger who lives in the woods?"
Demyx laughed pretty loud at that one, pulling the truck up in front of a house Roxas didn't recognize. "Man, what is your fixation with that kid?"
"I'm not fixated-"
"Nah, don't even lie, I know you wanna fuck him. I can see it in your face."
"Jesus, at least give me a little more credit than that," Roxas sneered, disgusted. "First of all, I never at any point confirmed your group suspicion of my sexual orientation. And second, I don't date creeps."
"Did I say you wanted to date him?"
"Fine, let me amend my statement – I don't fuck dirty hicks."
"Not gonna lie, that stings a little," Demyx said, stretching his arms. "City boy needs to learn a little respect for his fellow human being, ya hear? I'll warn you before I introduce you to any dirty hicks. In the meantime, you'd do well to lose the attitude. You're here all summer. Time to adjust and start enjoying yourself."
Roxas grumbled a vague reply before Demyx popped his door open.
"This is my stop," Demyx said, gesturing to the modest house they'd stopped at. "To get to your grandma's place, just pull a U-ie, turn left at the stop sign, and right on Division. You'll see the Y pretty soon after that, and I trust you know your way from there."
"Yeah. I'll figure it out," Roxas said, climbing out to switch sides. Demyx gave him a nod and a salute, then turned toward the house.
"Hey, uh, Demyx!" Roxas called out, shoving his hands into his pockets. Demyx turned around, his expression wary. "Thanks."
Demyx's face immediately brightened, and he waved off Roxas's gratitude. "Of course," he said. "And, uh, if you're not too busy tomorrow night, you should drop by Union Park around 8. They're having a bonfire, so… y'know. I'll be there, anyway."
"Union Park," Roxas repeated. "Eight o'clock, tomorrow night. Okay. Yeah, I'll see you there."
Roxas decided to try to follow Demyx's advice, and before he left the house for the bonfire, he made a conscious effort to leave his usual judgmental attitude behind.
"You're going to meet a lot of new people tonight," he said, reasoning with himself in the bathroom mirror. "How are you gonna make friends here if you don't at least try?"
He put on at least 6 different outfits before deciding on a fitted tee and his usual jeans, this time opting for flip flops instead of his dunks.
Do people wear sandals here?
After angsting for a few more minutes over whether or not his clothing made him stick out like a sore thumb, he decided that the truck would make up for anything too big-city about him and headed out.
By the time he found the park and a suitable place to leave the truck, it was 8:30, and the bonfire was already up and going as he shuffled across the grass. The sun was nearly down again, and in the orange, flickering light, he managed to locate Demyx at the center of a large group of kids on the other side of the fire from him.
He looked relaxed, Roxas thought, and of course completely unaware that he was being watched. This night seemed infinitely hotter than the night before, and Demyx was topless, sitting in the grass in black basketball shorts and those Adidas sandals with the one thick band across the top. Roxas wondered when the last time was that he had seen anyone wearing them, and he decided it was at least three years ago. Somehow, Demyx didn't look like quite as much of an asshole in them, though the blonde girl leaning on his shoulder made Roxas hesitant to approach him.
"Man, you're everywhere, aren't you?"
Roxas snapped out of his heat-induced zone-out in time to see Axel draw up beside him, red Solo cup in hand.
Lose the attitude. Lose the attitude. He's just testing you.
"Demyx invited me," he said carefully, looking back at the fire.
"He would," Axel muttered, taking a long sip out of his cup. "I'm not really crazy," he added after a moment, and Roxas looked up at him again.
He didn't look particularly crazy tonight, facial tattoos aside, of course, and Roxas found he actually liked the wifebeater-and-jeans look on him, something he usually found vaguely trashy.
It's all in the fit of the jeans, he thought, eyeing Axel's. Too loose, and you look cheap. Too tight, and you look like a Hot Topic reject. But just right, and you look like… this, I guess.
"I know," he said eventually. "I'm not really a big city douchebag."
"Oh, well, that I am," Axel explained, nodding. "I'm just relocated. Too bad about you though, I was looking forward to bitching about this shithole with someone who knows what I'm talking about."
"Demyx advised I adjust."
"Demyx is the most well-adjusted individual on the planet," Axel said, pausing to take another large gulp of his drink. "I'm gonna get food. You should come with though, I can tell you honestly that you look like a massive tool standing here alone."
"Thanks, but I'm not sure walking with you would help my image at all."
Axel flashed his trademark smirk, momentarily at a loss for words. "That was good," he said eventually. "Yeah, that was good. Okay."
And then he was gone, lost in the crowd, and Roxas wondered how he disappeared so quickly. He directed his gaze across the fire again to Demyx's group, but after only a few seconds he found himself in one of those Awkward Eye Contact situations with the blonde girl on Demyx's arm, so he figured he'd better head over there or risk being seen as "that creepy guy across the fire that keeps staring at me" by the anonymous girl.
Demyx waved him down as he made his way closer, and he took a seat beside him, exhaling a "Hey" on his way down.
"What's up? You made it," Demyx said, grinning, and Roxas simply nodded. "Oh, this is Namine," he added, dipping his head toward the girl. "Namine, this is Roxas, he's a friend of mine."
Namine smiled, holding out a hand to shake. "Nice to meet you, Roxas. Where are you visiting from?"
"The capitol," he replied, trying to think of something interesting to say. "I like your dress," he managed, wondering if he'd ever seen a smaller white sundress.
Namine laughed then, eyes flicking up to meet Demyx's. "That makes two of you, then. Thank you," she said, meeting Roxas's eyes once more before turning to a girl on her other side to talk.
Demyx watched her for a moment, and Roxas watched him watching her. He didn't find her particularly enthralling, but Demyx seemed unable to take his eyes off of her, at least for a little while. Eventually, he turned to Roxas with a look that screamed either "Damn, am I in love with that girl" or "Damn, I can't wait to get into that girl's pants". Roxas was trying to figure it out when he felt Axel sit down on his other side.
"Food's good," the redhead said, popping a potato chip into his mouth. "You guys should go get some. They got a barbecue going. Hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, somethin' for everyone."
"Except the vegetarians," Roxas muttered, and Demyx raised his eyebrows.
"You're a vegetarian?"
Roxas shook his head. "No. Just saying."
"Nah, Roxas isn't a vegetarian. He loves meat, don't you, Roxas?" Axel asked, grinning.
Roxas shot him a dark look.
"Did I mention they have hot dogs?" he persisted, in between chips. "Your kinda barbecue, I mean it, Roxas."
"Yes, I get it, okay."
"So you do like meat?" Axel asked quickly. "You confirm the rumors?"
Roxas narrowed his eyes. "What rumors? You two are the only people who even know me here."
"He avoids the question," Axel said, speaking pointedly to Demyx, who simply shook his head, laughing.
Roxas was unsure of what to say, and in an attempt to keep himself from getting angry, he pulled out his pack of cigarettes. Axel watched intently as he lit one up, studying Roxas's face.
"How old are you, city slicker?"
"17," Roxas mumbled, cigarette between his teeth.
"17," Axel repeated slowly, peering over at Demyx again. "Underage smoking, isn't that one of your causes, Demyx?"
"I preach to middle schoolers, not my own sulky peers," Demyx replied, eyeing Roxas for a reaction, which Roxas was quick to provide by way of a glare.
"Touché," Axel said, crumpling up his now empty bag of chips and shooting it basketball-style into a nearby trash can. "Hey faggot, can I bum a smoke?"
Roxas sighed, then pulled his pack back out, flicking his second-to-last cigarette at the redhead.
"Beggars can't be choosers," Roxas said dryly, and, tired of conversation, he lay back in the grass, watching the tower of sparks from the bonfire disappearing into the night sky. Moments later, Axel had settled back next to him, followed shortly thereafter by Demyx and Namine.
They lay in silence, and Roxas listened to the ambient noise, absorbing the smell of smoke and burning wood, the feeling of the Earth beneath him with nothing in between, the thick layer of stars littering the sky above.
"There's lots of stars here," he said after a while, and the others responded, but he wasn't really listening.
And he laid there on his back, drifting in and out of the surrounding conversation, until the fire died down and everyone slowly started to leave.
"Time to go home," Demyx was saying, and Roxas laughed a little in his head, thinking of just how far from home he really was.