The 4th street subway station, constructed and set beneath a dark and run-down shopping mall reeked with the combined scent of ten-year-old fast food grease, decades old (and probably now fermented) piss, and the vomit from dozens of forgotten nights. But this was the most accessible station to reach from the crossroads of 3rd and 3rd W. Add in that this winter season had developed to become the nastiest in the past decade, and Wyatt wasn’t planning on walking any farther than he had to - the stench was just a lucky bonus.
Wyatt knew that the 7 a.m. train always arrived a little bit late (meaning 7:02 or 7:03), but that never prevented his tired, post-night shift temperament from becoming disgruntled at its tardiness. And he wasn’t the only one to feel such pointless animosity.
Two types of people find their unlucky souls on this delightfully repulsive subway station, awaiting the 7 a.m. train. The first set, just like Wyatt, were those people whose luck had shackled them into the bondage of a night shift, at which they would be shamelessly underpaid and uncouthly overworked. The other set of souls, who occupied roughly 39% of the platform, consisted of the equally overworked and (mostly) less underpaid individuals trying to make their climb to the top of the corporate ladder, at which point they can gleefully omit their past from memory and finally fulfill the lifetime dream of living luxe. Until then, however, those wannabe assholes would dredge themselves from between their sheets, leaving their pet cat or bird in their wake, walk to the station looking semi-professional, finish their makeup or tie their tie on the train, and make it into the office by 7:20 (they all exit at the downtown station, which strangely smells like salsa). Because, naturally, this is the perfect way to impress the boss, who refuses to think twice of them, much less dare look in their scummy, general direction. This dichotomy is undeniable proof that there are, in fact, two types of people in every situation. Oddly, though these two archetypes of the working man have albeit different lives, they both look the same when riding the 7 a.m. train: tired.
What eventually separates the day shift workers from the night shift workers is the exit at which they step from the train onto the uniquely repulsive station at their final destination. After the corporate ass-kissers disembarked at the downtown station, the pointedly exhausted remnants habitually burrow themselves deeper into their dirty plastic chairs, holing up for the near thirty-five-minute ride to the slums.
Every city that has ever been created, developed, urbanized, and become either overpopulated or infected with super-capitalistic greed eventually develops slums or slum-esque subcultures. In this modern American town, there is no exception. After the Downtown Station comes the Charleston Street Station, the Second Hill Station, the Georgetown Boulevard Station, and the Moscow Street Station - all of which are relatively close to one another, averaging a three-minute ride between each stop. After Moscow Street begins the trek through the International District, which only just so happens to lack any subway station (according to the city transport officials, who had also, allegedly been planning to build an International Station for the past thirteen years). The International District stretches for about fifteen minutes of heavily industrial buildings and housing complexes that contained cramped one-to-two bedroom apartments for those families who had freshly immigrated into the city from who-knows-where. Welcome - don’t expect it to be easy to relocate from the International District to anywhere other than the Slums. Maybe that was too long-worded to fit on the signs.
After the fifteen-minute jog through “International Industries,” the industrial appearance of the buildings grows away from the post-communist, concrete display, and the city develops a more dilapidated, ramshackle aesthetic, dislodging any outward, physical expression of progress. Once the subway pauses at the Old Town Station, the Slums begin. Of course, this western-most section of the city is not officially called the Slums but was formally consecrated as the Old Town. Anyone who has been given the pleasure of staying in or even viewing the derelict housing and hygienic problems that the Old Town provided knew intrinsically that these were, in all senses of the word, slums. The city officials were very strategic in their avoidance of these glaring issues, which faced a substantial segment of the population of the Slums. Instead of benefiting the entire community, the government had deemed the Old Town to be a ‘heritage site of the city,’ a place to remain untainted by the modernizations and technological improvements that modernity permitted. This naturally forced the dynamics under which the ‘Slummers’ lived, all for the sake of ‘preserving the city’s origins and authenticity.’ Not a single member of the city council voted to dispute the beguilement of the marginalized, impoverished population.
And, since that decree, the population of the Slums has progressively expanded. People moved into the International District with prospective capitalist dreams of making themselves a social success story; however, upon realizing that the International District’s discounted housing costs were not fixed and would exponentially increase after the first month of habitation, the new immigrants were only able to afford a lifestyle out of the city or in the Slums. After coming such a long way from wherever, the human resilience of the International District’s residents provided the instinctual determination to eschew leaving the city. Thus, the Slums were ever expanding.
When Wyatt first rode the subway #2 line (running east to west through the entire city) to the Slums, he recalled only one station, which people seldom used. Commuting had not been an essential part of the economic structure of the Slums at that point. Since that time of youth, Wyatt had watched the Slums expand until they encompassed four different subway stops. After the Old Town Station, which approximately is thirty-five minutes from the 4th Street Station, there was another five-minute ride to the Pendleton Court Station. Upon leaving the Pendleton Court Station, most occupants of the 7 a.m. train had exited save for the few, most destitute passengers. Following that station, there was another ten-minute route to reach the third stop in the Slums at New Haven Lake Station. A quick ride after the third stop made it to the end of the line, at Harvey Park Station. By this point, usually, one occupant of the subway (if any at all) remained. The Harvey Park area had once been a suburb of the city before the Slums encroached and infested the suburban community. Now, Harvey Park was the most indigent area of the Old Town: the slum of the Slums.
Wyatt usually never was the last person riding the subway, as he took his exit after fifty-four minutes of riding the train, at the New Haven Lake Station. Every time he exited the subway car, he instinctively began breathing through his mouth. There had been a recent tendency for people to let the subway car strike them dead right before the New Haven Lake exit. As no one was paid to clean up the mess, nor did any residents of the Lake have spare time to perform civic work, the rotting flesh stench had overwhelmed the entirety of the underground platform. The people leaving the train simply tried to move with collective speed, up the stairs and out into the smoggy, polluted air of New Haven Lake.
The Lake, as was more natural to say opposed to New Haven Lake, was an egregious misnomer. There was not, nor has there ever been a lake near this part of the city. In fact, the city’s only real lake was the same distance Wyatt customarily traveled but in the opposite direction, far on the east side, just off of the Angel Lake Station exit. But those from Angel Lake always insisted on using the full title of their place of residence. God forbid that someone from Angel Lake got confused with someone who lives in New Haven Lake. Who would ever want to live in a place like that? Ew. The answer to that poignant question, as it so happens, was no one - absolutely no person actively wanted to live in the Lake, but some, such as Wyatt, were unable to afford a better living. So, this is, was, and forever will be, the Lake.
The Lake, as is expected of the Slums, was paved with a randomized combination of brick roads (from the time when the Old Town had been new) and poorly maintained asphalt, which had cracked and began to crumble away long ago. The buildings, most of which were merely modified versions of the original housing that had been constructed, were commonly built from redbrick (just the same as the old roads), concrete (from a decade or so later, when the town had first begun its expansion), and the infrequent wooden house (usually, this stemmed from the repairs that were done before the center of the city had relocated further to the east). Few of the structures consisted of more than two stories, which made the towering, industrial apartment buildings of the International district all the more ominous. The downtown high-rises loomed even higher and farther in the distance, as though they were watching everything that happened in the Slums from a detached, far position. It felt as though a shadow had been cast over the Slums, but perhaps that was only the smog from all the industrial factories.
Wyatt walked from the subway station for about ten minutes after emerging from the drab underground platform. His already worn and tired feet ached with the weight of a two-hour commute atop the back of a long, 12-hour night shift. As he walked, his feet snagged on pieces of broken asphalt and the uneven spaces between the bricks in the road. Winter winds were fully howling, only increasing their rage the further he walked. All Wyatt could envision was the hot cup of water that he would hopefully get to sip when got home (they had run out of tea on rent day - an unlucky coincidence - so water would have to do), while he would be wrapped in a warm blanket. He swaddled himself tighter in his faded, worn, but technically functional coat and tucked his chin to his chest to protect as much of his exposed skin as possible. Damn his ears if he could manage to keep his core warm.
Ten minutes later (approximately, of course, as no one, actually would waste their time checking their watch in such dreadfully cold weather), Wyatt reached his home. He lived in a rickety, two-story house made of a mixture of both cement (in the foundation and the external walls) and rotting wood planks (for the paneling, the door, and the interior walls). Some of the windows had been shattered from the time before Wyatt had live here, and they had been covered with sheets of metal. This was somewhat shocking, and a pleasantry of the house, since most places in the Slums couldn’t manage to find anything other than used cardboard to cover up any holes in their walls and windows. Wyatt could barely fathom where the previous tenants had recovered such large metal scraps, but he remained thankful that they had done so.
The other windows that remained intact were crusted and stained by a hazy green-grey color from the ever-present smog that rubbed against the panes from twenty-three hours per day. Still, on a sunny day, the fog on the windows didn’t prevent a little warmth from building up inside the house. The paint, which had once been a goldenrod shade of yellow, had mostly chipped away from the paneling, revealing a drab, gray color on the remaining wood panels. Naturally, various desperate individuals had stolen some of the wood panels off the house, but the cement below stayed relatively stable beside the occasional crack. The house was nice, for standards of the Slums, and it much succeeded the structurally unsound shanty dwellings that freckled every area and neighborhood of the Slums. As for Wyatt, the house was the least of his concerns - he had a place to rest his head, and that would have to be good enough.
As he approached the door, he brushed any dust and snow from his clothes and shoes before knocking five times, as was the agreed upon standard. Within thirty seconds, the door creaked open the space of an inch before opening wider, allowing Wyatt out of the bitter cold outside. The door closed behind him as Wyatt stepped into the dimly lit warmth of the building. The three clicks signified that the door was successfully locked again, and Wyatt turned to see who had let him inside. Mateo turned from the door with tired eyes and a warm smile.
“Mornin’. Welcome back.”
Wyatt did his best to keep his chin tucked tight to his chest for warmth but gave a smile and a nod. The two men turned and walked towards the better lit kitchen at the end of the hall. As they entered the kitchen, a pot on the electric stove top simmered. Wyatt’s heart jumped at the prospect of warmth. Silently, he thanked God or karma or whatever ethereal force had given them electricity long enough to boil water. Without a word, just intuitively knowing, Mateo went to the cupboard and pulled out two mismatched, ceramic mugs then, still silently, he poured some hot water into each cup. Wyatt took a seat on the counter, his back aching from tension, feet sighing with relief. When Mateo passed one of the mugs to him, Wyatt finally lifted his chin from his chest to let the steam caress and almost burn his frosted face.
“Thank you, Mateo.” Wyatt nearly whispered, cupping his mug into his hands.
“Damn cold out there, I can feel it in here. I had a feelin’ you’d go an’ take that train back ‘stead of waitin’ for one of them cars to pick ya up.”
“Yeah, as though I could afford to take a taxi. Thursday nights rarely make enough tips to pay for that. And it was quicker to go to the 4th Street Station anyway.” Wyatt tried his best to keep his teeth from chattering, and he mostly succeeded now that he had warm liquid trickling down his throat.
Mateo made a noncommittal, exhausted “mmmhmm” sound into his mug as he took a sip of the steaming beverage. Wyatt mirrored the action, used to the terseness. While Mateo had never been a particularly open person (if anyone in the Slums could really entertain the luxury of being mentally and emotionally free), Wyatt knew he had a genuine heart and an honest disposition. Hell, Mateo had come to Wyatt’s rescue when he had been desperate for somewhere - anywhere - to live. Wyatt and Mateo generally got along very well, despite the few times they had argued viciously, like dogs gnawing on a fresh steak. Even during those spats of disagreement, both men equally respected each other. The empathy and insight Mateo had forced Wyatt’s appreciation and respect, and honestly, it was another benefit to their relationship: it had produced plenty of cups of hot water and tea without the need for Wyatt to ask.
Taking his time, Wyatt sipped at the water, letting the warmth sit in his mouth, warming his facial muscles until his tongue was almost boiled, then swallowing slowly, so the heat would radiate from his esophagus to his limbs. Still, after ten minutes, he shivered a bit, instinctively causing him to clutch his mug closer to his chest when he wasn’t drinking. A few minutes of dim, candlelit silence later, Wyatt spoke again.
“How was he?” The tiredness could not escape his voice no matter how hard he tried. Mateo looked up, his round, scruffy face showing a small splash of surprise, as though the question had been entirely unexpected and insane.
“Ah,” Mateo always thought, taking his time before speaking, “as usual, he was perfectly fine. You should put more faith in’im.”
“Well…” Wyatt paused. He often found himself wondering if Mateo would admit it if he weren’t good. But, usually, as was the case on this early morning, Wyatt was far too drained to ask any questions or probe for more details, so he just continued, “good. I’m glad it was no trouble.”
Mateo chuckled and shook his head in a way that made Wyatt think that he had missed or forgotten something obvious. This tended to happen quite a lot. Mateo barely paused before speaking, “He always’s good, and we really enjoy the time we have with ‘im. Ya know, how it is with us…” His words trailed off as Mateo took another drink from the mug in his hands. Wyatt could only nod; Mateo, no matter how obnoxious it became, tended to be right. Age had developed into wisdom for that man, unlike so many people Wyatt had met. The relationship Mateo and Wyatt had was not trenched in the immersion into one another's’ pasts and secrets. Instead, they grounded their symbiosis on the mutual benevolence of the other. It worked for them and kept everyone both safe and content (as well as one can be in an environment like the Lake). Whenever an issue - mainly problems from the past or an external, soured relationship - threatened this balance, no questions were asked, and help was given to a healthy extent. Little acts of kindness, like the warm water, only further fortified this limited, yet firm, bond.
Swirling the remaining water around his mug, Wyatt turned to look at the doorway, checking that he and Mateo were alone. Then he silently rested the mug on the countertop next to him, before speaking in a soft voice, “How’s she doing?”
Looking up over the rim of his mug, Mateo pursed his lips. Minutely, as though it were only an involuntary, physical reaction to the question, his knuckles blanched as his grip tightened around the handle. Luckily, the cup withstood the pressure of his stalwart grip. Mateo’s eyes wavered briefly, contemplating for a moment, then he began his response.
“Las’ night wasn’ the wors’ she’s had, but it wasn’ good. I knew she i’nt gonna get much better, but i’doesn’ look too good.” As he spoke, his lips remained tightly pursed as though the words were forced from his mouth and honesty tormented his tongue.
Glancing up at Wyatt, Mateo’s warm, kobicha-colored eyes filled with earnestness. Wyatt didn’t feel compelled to say anything in remorse - especially any words of sympathy or regret (both she and Mateo would loathe anything of that sort). Simply, but still putting as significant a degree of empathy as possible, Wyatt nodded his head in understanding. As Mateo, had implied, she wasn’t expected to get any better. But a knowledge of the inevitable never makes the inevitable any easier to endure.
“She’s ‘sleep now, prob’ly ‘ntil the middle o’the day.”
Wyatt nodded again, this time with more certainty and conviction, taking in the offered information like a student in the midst of an elaborate lecture. Wyatt downed the last bit of the, now lukewarm, water, setting his empty mug onto the counter with a slight clink.
“You work today?” Wyatt slid off of the countertop. His feet immediately protested at the return of his body weight; he ignored their discomfort as he always did.
“Mmmmh,” Mateo finished his water and placed his mug at the bottom of the empty sink. “I only ‘ave eight hours. Start at ten.”
Wyatt understood that, as it was only a few minutes past 8:30 a.m., Mateo would have to leave about thirty minutes after this conversation. He nodded a third time, short and curt. Mateo had a commute just a bit shorter than Wyatt’s; it was just south of downtown rather than on the east side of the monstrous skyscrapers. The time difference was only a few minutes in reality, but every so often, after a particularly torturous, long day, those few minutes on the train could drive a man senseless - call it a human weakness.
Sniffing from the remnant cold, Wyatt rubbed his nose, which tingled with the frigidness of the outside storm. “Okay, make sure to wear layers.” He paused again. “I’m gonna head up to check on him and sleep a little bit. Thanks again for the drink.” He offered a small smile to the older man.
Waving him off in a friendly manner, Mateo took Wyatt’s mug and grabbed a rag with which he would clean the few dishes the two had accumulated. Since they’d first met Wyatt had thought Mateo was progressively descending into a semi-neurotic mental state, but that had proven to be a complete misconception. Whenever Mateo felt inundated with stress, concern, or a lack of control, his natural response was to clean. It never had been about cleanliness, but instead about having a sense of control, allowing his brain to believe that he could rightfully protect the things he owned and the people he loved. And, in the Slums, that was a dangerous choice - self-preservation didn’t align well with altruistic resolutions. Naturally, Mateo and Wyatt omitted this personality quirk from all of their conversations; Wyatt alternately chose to stay out of Mateo’s cleanliness warpath.
After a brief smile thrown towards Mateo’s back, Wyatt stepped out of the kitchen, back into the gloomy hallway, lacking in both candles and electrical wiring. No one in the house dared to open any walls in the house, both because none of them had any electrical skills and also for fear of asbestos. If they couldn’t see the infection in their home, it couldn’t affect them, right? Wyatt concluded that there was no use compromising their mental sanity and uncovering any contagion when they had no means to rid themselves of whatever horrors populated the sanctity of the house. And, so it was.
Wyatt turned left out of the kitchen and stepped into the old, creaky-planked staircase, which led to the upper floor of the house, where everyone slept. The walls pressed in close, like a contracting garbage compactor, so close that Wyatt’s shoulders, which weren’t all too broad, could span from one wall to the other. As he ascended, he did his best to minimize the creaking of each step, but there really was no possible method of stopping such old wood from making a commotion. By now, everyone in the building had learned how to subconsciously block out the noises of the stairs from awakening them, yet somehow, each one of them slept lightly enough to assess and diagnose any potential threat. Everyone knew the footstep sounds and patterns of their housemates, on principle.
After fourteen cacophonous stairs, Wyatt stepped up into the hallway, the only one on the second floor. Although the house was taller than many others in the Slums, it wasn’t sprawling wide with dozens of unused rooms like many of the homes in the east and north sides of the city. Those goliath homes were mansions in comparison to this wannabe halfway house. But the place did include three rooms on the top floor (two slightly smaller-than-average bedrooms and a bathroom at the end of the hall). And, if one of these rooms was occupied at any given moment, there was a sitting room off of the kitchen (across from the entryway to the stairwell) that was open for communal use. Luckily, there was little issue over personal space. Most of them had abandoned their privacy years ago. That was a privilege they were not afforded when rent spiked as high as it currently did.
Walking down the hallway towards the bathroom, Wyatt turned to the left side of the hall and paused, listening. No sounds came from inside, and he didn’t want to knock or wake her up, so he slowly retreated, turning around to face the opposite door. Taking the knob in hand, he slowly turned it until the soft click of the latch allowed the door to swing out freely. Hastily and placidly, Wyatt tiptoed into the room and closed the door with a soft tick. The inside of the room was shadowy: the only light was what could filter through the grime that was caked on the window’s glass. However, Wyatt knew the sparse contents of the room well enough not to require bright lighting to maneuver around any obstacles.
Bones aching with fatigue, Wyatt pulled off his sweaty shirt, simultaneously kicking off his shoes and yanking off his socks, dropping everything near his side of the bed. The same gravity that pulled his discarded shirt to the ground now pulled at his limbs with want. In the bed, Nicklaus was curled in on himself, almost fully in the fetal position. He looked smaller than he usually did, and Wyatt decided to attribute that to the distortion of the light. The newly found proximity to the twin-sized mattress, which, at this moment, looked so incredibly comfortable, drew Wyatt in towards it. Without jostling the other boy in the bed, Wyatt nestled himself into the billowy comfort of the bed, pulled the blanket in towards himself, covering maybe half of his body, and he fell into the blissful, dreamless darkness of sleep.
The eventual peak of light through the window around 1:00 in the afternoon woke Wyatt from his dead sleep. Although he had awoken naturally and not by a slamming door and scream from a neighboring home, his head and heart pounded in syncopated thuds as if he had unknowingly missed a step on the way down the stairs. His eyes remained feeling weighted by the chronic exhaustion he felt and by whatever sudden jolt that had caused the abrupt wake-up call. Plucking at his eyes with his fingers, Wyatt straightened the eyelashes that had somehow entangled with one another, brushing aside any bits of crustiness that had congealed in the inner corners by his nose. He pulled his body up, strenuously, into a sitting position, various vertebrae popping and cracking with aching stiffness. Eyes softly shut, he rolled out the kinks in his neck.
Lately, meaning the past year or two if he was truthful with himself, exhaustion hadn’t left Wyatt’s eyes, nor had soreness exited from its hovel in his bone marrow. Tiredness had become a way of life. After a long night shift, the fatigue really established its presence in his head, the lack of sleep causing the space behind his eyes to apply a constant, heavy pressure on the optical nerve. Sadly, the only remedy was to sleep more, and Wyatt had too much to do during the daylight hours.
Hefting himself out of bed, Wyatt stood. The memory of the pain in his feet flared up for a brief moment, but enough time had passed that Wyatt barely noticed any feeling at all. He took a quick moment to stretch his thin, lanky limbs, initiating another series of pop-pop-pops from his joints. Bending over, Wyatt snagged the shirt he had dropped to the floor the previous night and pulled it over his head. Noticing the dry feeling in his throat, Wyatt tried to clear his airways and padded across the room to the door. Still barefoot, Wyatt glided down the hallway, hearing no noise from the other two bedrooms. The stairs made their usual series of orchestrated squeals and creaks with each weighted step he took.
Reaching the bottom step, Wyatt pivoted and entered the kitchen. At the small table that was pushed back against the wall sat Ariadne. Her face looked darker, hollowed out with both physical and emotional stress. In her petite hands, she nursed on one of the other porcelain mugs from the cupboard, likely filled with warm water. It took her a moment to register Wyatt’s entrance, but when she did, her head snapped up and swiveled to face him. Almost instantly, a mask descended over her face, showing falsely constructed emotions through her glistening eyes and a broad smile. It almost looked genuine, and Wyatt would have fallen for her trick if he hadn’t just witnessed the anxiety and pain that had coated her features when she had been alone.
“Hey, mister,” she said, a cheerful lilt filling her voice, “sleep well?”
Wyatt nodded, letting a soft smile of his own cross his lips, “Yeah, thanks. How’re you feeling?”
“Me?” She looked startled, “I’m doing great - no problem!”
Wyatt gave her a pointed look, eyes severe, showing as much concern as they could muster. When he spoke her name, it sounded as though he were her parent, scolding her for telling white lies, “Ari…”
She brushed off his concern, standing up and walking over to the cabinet next to the sink. After opening the door and beginning to rummage around for something inside, she spoke in barely above a whisper. “Wyatt, I really am fine. You don’t need to worry about me, I promise.”
“Ari, I don’t have to be worried about you to show that I care and ask how you’re doing.” He spoke in the same tone as before, causing her to pull back from the cabinet and fix him with a severe, but still kind, glare. “That’s very true, but Wyatt, you forget that I know you. I know you worry about everything that you can’t control.”
“That’s not true!” Indignantly, Wyatt still knew she was speaking the truth, but he did his best to assume a facade of ignorance.
“Oh, but it is.” She smirked at him, seeing through his ruse with ease, “You worry about me, about Nik, about money, about waking me up at night,” she began to sound exasperated at this point, “about the house, about safety, about your job,” she listed all of this in rapid succession, “- you worry about everything except Mateo!” She finished with a little chuckle as though that last part had been hysterical.
Wyatt scowled, knowing that she did know his personality well. Part of his mind began to worry whether it was safe to have Ari know so much about him. Quickly, he stopped that derailment of thought; Ari was so far from a threat to either him or Nik, and she had saved Wyatt’s sanity on multiple occasions. He looked at her and spoke, a disgruntled tone entering his voice, “So what?”
“So,” she spoke in a halfway mocking tone, as though it were plainly obvious, her hands planted into her hip bones, “I know that I won’t be able to stop you from worrying or obsessing over everything else, but at least I can take this one thing off your mind. Leave worrying about me to me.” She paused again, thinking for a brief instant, “And to Mateo, but he signed up to worry about me when he asked me to marry him.”
Wyatt rolled his eyes at her, knowing she was never going to back down from this soapbox she’d positioned herself on. Wyatt did have a tendency to obsess over certain facets of his life, but it wasn’t so easy to just stop worrying about something about which he’d already decided to worry. That’s obviously, to quote a cliché, easier said than done - especially coming from Ari, who was not trapped in his head at all hours of the day. As Ari settled back into her place at the table, eating something from the palm of her hand that remained unseen, Wyatt moved over to the cabinet, took a mug (which happened to be the same mug he had used earlier that morning) and filled it with water. He sipped then took a larger gulp, as he realized that the water had not been heated for quite a long time. He finished the first cup quickly to quench his thirst, refilling it before walking out of the room, silently.
After exiting the kitchen, Wyatt turned and let himself into the communal living room. The room had become more and more furnished in the past year, and, admittedly, it had grown into a more inviting space. There was a ripped, but functional, rug that spread across most of the floor space. There were candles scattered throughout the room to provide a semblance of light to the room. These sources of both heat and light were set upon small wood tables, which served as end tables, as well as on randomized spaces on the floor. Various wax drippings had stained the carpet, matting the fibers in places, but warmth had become a more valuable commodity, ousting vanity into the frigid conditions outside. The room also held a few chairs, which weren’t the most comfortable to sit in, and two longer couches, which were old, haggard, frayed, and blemished, but were so comfortable. The sofas were once upholstered with a gaudy, rust-orange fabric that hadn’t been considered “in style” since a time before Wyatt had been born.
Wyatt, in fact, had been the one who had found these couches. He had been walking back from the market in Pendleton Court when he’d passed the trash heap that separated a court from the Lake. He had spotted the couches overturned at the base of the trash mountain and went over to inspect them. As is reasonable, the couches of a trash pile were not in ideal condition, but they were good enough to be used by Slummer standards. And people in the Slums craved this extent of luxury, even if it was a second-hand luxury. Sprinting, with bags from the market jangling in hand, Wyatt made his way through the frequently desolate streets, doing his best not to trip and tumble to the ground. When he reached the house, he had called up the stairs for Mateo to help. Once the entire situation had been relayed, both men set off to retrieve the furniture from its temporarily disposed state. Upon returning to the dumpster pile, they were fortunate enough that no other Slummers had subversively reclaimed those couches before Wyatt had returned. Together, and with about an hour of work, Mateo and Wyatt had successfully placed the two couches into the sitting room where they now stood. Ari and Nik had worked on cleaning the furniture as decently as was possible and practical. Now, the two furniture pieces had become staples of the house.
In one of those couches, as Wyatt entered the room, sat Niklaus. His small frame was tucked back into the corner seat of the couch, as though it were a pocket. Niklaus had his head down, into a book, brow furrowed in deep concentration. He didn’t look up when Wyatt entered the room.
“Hey bud,” Wyatt said as a form of greeting. Nik’s head snapped up, finally recognizing Wyatt’s presence.
“Oh, hi, I thought you’d be sleeping still.” It was clear that Nik’s mind remained engrossed in whatever story he had been reading. Wyatt couldn’t see the title of the book.
“Nah, woke up a little bit ago,” Wyatt said, taking a seat next to the young boy. “What’re you reading?”
“The book you got me last week. I just can’t figure out this sentence.”
“Show me.” Wyatt leaned over while Nik pointed out which sentence was giving him difficulty. Wyatt read the sentence, recognizing it from when he had read this book, years ago when he was near Nik’s age. Wyatt read:
“ No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it so ever beautiful.”