Friends In Dry Places

Comments Off on Friends In Dry Places Featured, Fiction, Issue 9

Jared Waugh

The rain came down cold, hard, and fast, hitting the once-grey pavement and turning it into an inky black. The street was almost deserted, save for Liam, Cypher, and the occasional curbside-parked car breaking up the empty expanse of the street. The only light sources were the streetlamps lined up across the right side of the road, and underneath one of these lamps stood man and machine, to have some kind of visibility in the wet, pitch-black night, with no protection against the elements to speak of.    

A chill hung in the air, which didn’t help matters at all. Liam felt a chill run through his body, one that reverberated through the warmth of his face and against the damp cloth of his hood. It traveled down from his head into his torso and arms (which were wrapped tightly over each other), down into his legs and knees, making him keenly aware how much energy it was taking him to keep his misery from morphing into total despair. Liam turned to face Cypher, observing that his friend didn’t have legs or knees that he needed to worry about keeping warm:  a body made up of three boxes stacked up on top of each other, two large antennas that bent inward at the middle, and two long, cable-thin arms, but no legs: an electric blue orb, half encased in the bottom box, made up for the absence and allowed Cypher to noiselessly hover a few feet above the ground. It was how he was able to meet Liam (and most people) at eye level despite being half the size of an average human.  

Liam looked out into the street, taking in how the black, wet pavement looked in the halo of pale white light from the lamp above, as well as the faint electric blue light that came from Cypher. Cypher’s face was essentially an LED screen, displaying two electric blue lights that served as his “eyes.” Liam honestly didn’t know how much of a role they played in allowing Cypher to see, but they did most of the heavy lifting in conveying Cypher’s facial expressions (for lack of a better term). Based on the amount of light present, Liam knew that Cypher’s eyes were half-open.  

Suddenly, the electric blue light vanished before immediately returning. It was gone for only a moment, but it was enough for Liam to snap out of his daze and turn to look at Cypher. Seeing that his friend’s stance had gone unchanged, Liam understood what had happened: Cypher had just blinked. Liam’s sudden motion broke Cypher from his one-thousand-yard-stare as well, and he turned to look towards him. The two stared at each other for a moment, the rain pouring down around them, before Cypher turned his body back around to face the street and their apartment building on the other side. Cypher closed his eyes so that only two thin lines appeared on the display screen, and silently rocked his body back and forth, the blue orb beneath acting as his momentum. This went on for some time and stopped as suddenly as it had started. 

Cypher’s eyes blinked off and on once before he turned to look at Liam. “You know what would be great right now?” he asked.  

“What?” said Liam.  

“An umbrella.”  

Liam turned away and briefly looked up towards the sky, feeling the rain pelt his face and into his eyes before turning back towards the building across the street. “Yeah,” he said, “live and learn though.” 

Cypher crossed his arms over each other, water collecting and dripping down, staring unblinking at their building. “Hmm.” 

The silence only lasted a few moments before Cypher broke it with “I can’t believe you forgot something like that.”  

Liam gave a loud sniff. “Me? What about you?” 

Cypher’s eyes blinked once, twice, in rapid succession, before both the lights on his display shrunk considerably; he was squinting, but that didn’t make the lights any less bright when put right in Liam’s face. “Sorry, what?”  

Liam was mostly joking when he said it, but from Cypher’s tone he could tell that the mechanism had taken umbrage to what he had said. Liam’s head was foggy, and he was too tired to be clever or try to explain where he was coming from, so he settled for being blunt and direct. With a hand dripping with rainwater held over his eyes, he said, “Well, you’re a computer, right? Aren’t you supposed to be good at remembering…everything?” 

Cypher relaxed his gaze and simultaneously decreased the amount of light being thrown at Liam’s face. Even so, the expression he wore was (Liam could tell, as simple as it was) a mix of confusion and annoyance.  

He continued, “Okay, not everything, but…you know what I meant. The weather!! You have to at least be able to predict the weather! To some degree, right?” 

Cypher’s look of annoyance was broken up only by the thin film of rain that fell before his display. The experience of looking at him was reminiscent of looking at a neon sign on a rainy night (Liam felt proud of himself for making such an appropriate comparison on the fly. He was tired, cold, and wet and needed to feel accomplished.)   

Cypher sharply responded, “Do I look like I have the weather app on me?” 

Liam felt taken aback, and Cypher continued before he could respond. “I have senses. You can feel hot or cold, see clouds gathering on the horizon, even smell the rain before it falls. But based on just all of that, would you say that you could accurately predict the weather?” 

Liam took his wet hands and quickly rubbed them together, then put them up to his face and blew (relishing in the split-second blast of hot air) before returning each of his hands to their reserved armpit. He’s not wrong about being able to feel the cold, he thought, before sniffing again. He really hoped that he wouldn’t get a cold out of this. 

Cypher blinked again, the light quickly vanishing and returning, and put his arms in a crossed-arm position, while taking one hand and pointing up towards the sky. “And there’s no accounting for human error.” 

Liam rolled his eyes and marched in place before tightly replying “Nope.” 

“Somebody at that weather station is getting fiiiiiiirrrrred.”  

Liam was sure that Cypher was saying that in good humor, but he couldn’t think of any kind of response, funny or otherwise. So he was silent.  

“I’m just saying,” Cypher continued, “don’t blame me for not thinking to bring an umbrella, and I won’t blame you for losing the house keycard.” 

Apart from the rain hitting the pavement, there was silence after that. Then Cypher said, “Let’s just hope that if anyone finds that keycard and decides to come into the house, they’re not scarier than either of us.”  

Again, Liam couldn’t think of any kind of response to this, not one that he wouldn’t regret later anyway. He sniffed again and hoped that the falling rain would disguise the snot that was surely running down his face by this point.  

Liam realized that he may have gone too long without saying anything because he suddenly felt the floodlights of Cypher’s eyes turned on him. The sentient mechanism had turned his body almost seventy-five degrees (give or take) away from their apartment building and was now looking at him, and his arms, once-crossed, now hung slack at his side. It was almost as if he was realizing Liam’s current state for the first time: tired and wet and on the verge of losing his brave face and resigned demeanor. Liam was sure that Cypher was exhausted, too, but in a metallic way, not a flesh-and-bone way (he was sure there was a difference). For what felt like a long time, Cypher looked as though he was searching for the right words or phrase to break the silence. 

“Well, hey, our luck could be worse,” he eventually said, closing his eyes and gesturing his hand forward before continuing, “your phone battery could have been dead, we might have never given Sara a spare key.…”  

Liam looked at the wet pavement and smirked; that much had been true. With a battery at 5%, there could have been a scenario where he wouldn’t have been able to contact their next-door neighbor for help (not that he had shared that number with Cypher), and one where they hadn’t given Sara a spare key, so that they wouldn’t be able to help them at all. In a mix of his impatience and anxiety, Cypher opted to fly up to the third floor and knock on Sara’s window to get their attention. In a mix of his exhaustion and anxiety, Liam called Sara anyway, leading to the following chain of events: Sara being awoken from sleep by Liam, before having to get up out of bed to respond to Cypher knocking on their window, before having to listen to Liam and Cypher simultaneously (Cypher eye-to-eye, Liam from down on the street and over the phone) explain how they were locked out and needed their help. Sara, to their credit, bore with them and set off to find the spare key. That was over five minutes ago, just long enough for Liam to start wondering what was keeping Sara. Not another worst-case scenario where they couldn’t find the spare key? Liam was starting to feel very cold and fought the urge to shake.  

A thought suddenly crossed Liam’s mind. He turned to look at Cypher and said “Wait, couldn’t you have gone in through Sara’s open window when you flew up to talk to them?”  

Cypher’s eye-lights rose up his faceplate very quickly before settling back down. He crossed his arms and said with no small amount of confidence, “Like I’m going to leave you out here by yourself in this downpour.” 

Liam smirked. “You didn’t think of it either, did you?” 

Cypher’s confident, calm demeanor quickly disappeared with this comment, and he threw his arms out to the side. “I still wouldn’t have left you out here alone!” His arms dropped to his side before he turned again to face Liam. “Why are we waiting out here anyway? We’re getting soaked.”  

Liam involuntarily shivered and drew back into himself. “Where else could we wait?”  

“What about over there?” Cypher gestured his arm across the street towards the apartment building, and Liam saw that it landed on its entrance: a small door with an even smaller, black metal awning above it that was no wider than the door frame, but still probably large enough to fit two people underneath it. Rain bounced off its metal surface. 

Liam shrugged, “Better to stay in the light, I guess, where Sara can see us.” 

Cypher dropped his arm, and without turning to look at him, Liam could feel the electric blue floodlights turning on him, intensifying for reasons that he didn’t know why.  

Cypher’s voice was a mix of disbelief and irritation. “What.” He began, pausing for emphasis or to process what he just heard, Liam didn’t know, “Are you talking about?”  


“Sara’s not gonna be looking out the window for us. They’re gonna be coming downstairs to the lobby, where—” 

Cypher was cut off by the sound of a steel door being throw open and bouncing back as it reached its full arc. The doorframe was illuminated by pale white light, which spilled out into the shining, wet street, a silhouette filling out the rest of the frame. Short, clad in a bathrobe, pajama pants, and slippers, with short, curly, and messy hair, Sara had their arms pressed against either side of the door frame, breathing heavily, as though winded and catching their breath after much exertion.  

Before Liam could say a word, they yelled out into the street, “WHY ARE YOU BOTH STANDING IN THE RAIN?? YOU’RE GETTING SOAKED!” 

Cypher turned away from Liam to face Sara across the street before shouting back “THAT’S WHAT I WAS JUST SAYING!” He quickly threw an arm in Liam’s direction for emphasis, as though Sara wouldn’t know who he was talking about. 

Gesturing into the lobby, Sara shouted back in a not-much-quieter tone “GET OVER HERE!” before disappearing out of frame.  

Liam didn’t remember when he started running. He just realized that he was when he was already in the middle of the street. He couldn’t remember looking both ways and was grateful that the street was so deserted that he could get away with such an oversight tonight. The rain pelted his face in small bullets as he ran, and he could hear Cypher, with a quiet, electric buzz, flying in step with him.  

Both man and machine entered the lobby, and Liam had to blink a couple of times to adjust to the sudden brightness. As he got accustomed, he saw that Sara was picking up a couple of folded towels, tan and fluffy, off the floor and bundled them in their arms. They held them out towards the two of them.  

Liam felt fog envelop his mind and gratitude rise in his chest simultaneously. “Oh, I love you. Thank you.”  

Shit, you guys are soaked,” said Sara as they handed one towel to Liam and then to Cypher. “I spent, like, three minutes looking for the spare you gave me–I thought it was on my dresser and I was right, but it took me forever to find it–that thing is a mess– and then I look out the window and saw that you were both standing in the rain, so I went to grab some clean towels.”  

As Liam covered his head with the towel and began to dry himself, he could hear Cypher reply, “Yeah, that was all his fault.”   

Both of our faults,” Liam retorted, his own voice sounded muffled in his ears due to the towel. He took the thing off of his head and wrapped it around his shoulders before continuing, “We were just talking about that, before you reached us…how he could have come in through the window when he flew up to you earlier.”  

Shit,” Sara’s hands turned palms up before they pushed them under their glasses to rub their face, “Why didn’t I think of that?” They then turned towards Cypher “why didn’t you think of that?”  

“I wasn’t going to leave him there all alone in the rain!”  

“And neither of us thought of it,” Liam added.  

“Whatever, don’t make them feel bad,” Cypher’s eyes turned into two electric blue semi-circles, in working with his tone of voice, to indicate seriousness.  

“No, no, don’t take it the wrong way,” Liam said quickly, turning to look at Sara. “Thank you so much. You helped a ton…I owe you.”  

“Don’t catch and die of hypothermia,” Sara replied in a light tone of voice. “That would be a start.”  

Liam smiled, “Way ahead of you,” and resumed drying himself off. As he did so, he couldn’t help but take in Sara’s attire: light purple bathrobe, black and red checkered flannel pants, green slippers. He couldn’t wait to get out of these damp clothes and into something dry and comfortable.  

“I feel like I could sleep for a week,” Liam said as he patted down his legs.  

“Me, too,” Cypher added. 

Liam could feel his brow furrow before responding. “You don’t sleep?” he said, a mix of statement and question. 

“I don’t need to, but I’m not opposed to shutting down when the feeling arises,” Cypher replied.  

“Yeah, I’ve got work in the morning, so I’m looking forward to getting back to sleep myself,” Sara added, a single hand slipping under their glasses again to rub their eyes.  

Cypher’s display lit up, instantly conveying sympathy. “Yeah, sorry for taking you away from that. We’ll buy you dinner some time.” 

“Sounds good. It would be nice just to hang out soon, too.” Sara held out their arm expectantly, and Cypher and Liam followed their cue and handed the now thoroughly damp towels back them. They folded the towels halfway across their arm. “I’m gonna give these a quick spin in the dryer before I head back up,” they said, gesturing to the community laundry room. “What are you two gonna do?”  

Cypher’s face lit up and his arms flew out in different directions. “Dinner! I’ll probably get on that as soon as we get inside.” 

“You don’t eat either,” Liam snickered.  

You don’t have to watch TV, or spend so much time on your phone,” Cypher retorted. “But you do it because you get some pleasure out of it. I can’t eat food, but I enjoy preparing it. I think I may cut up an apple. Those are fun to carve. What’s your plan?” 

“Shower,” Liam responded, “warm shower.” 

Cypher snorted. “That’s ironic…You spend all that time under falling water only to get out of it and immediately want to get under another area of falling water.” 

Liam couldn’t think of any kind of response to this, but there was a small smile lining his face. Cypher saw this and knew that it was okay to leave the conversation there.  

“I’m glad that you’re both okay,” Sara said. They threw out the arm not holding the towels as though expecting to be embraced. “Get upstairs. I’ll see you later.”  

Liam bent down to give them a hug, somewhat distancing himself for fear of getting Sara wet, before backing away and allowing Cypher to replicate the gesture. Without another word, Liam, raising a hand in farewell over his shoulder, started up the stairs after Cypher as Sara made their way to the laundry room.  

As the two ascended the stairs in silence, Liam thought back to what Cypher said about irony. About, after what had just happened to them, actively wanting to go to another source of falling water. He couldn’t help but think of another instance of irony: when he would go to bed later tonight, he couldn’t wait to listen to the rain fall and lull him off to sleep. It was something that he had enjoyed since he was young, and not even the events of tonight, not even being soaked through, was enough to change that.  

Warm shower, Liam thought to himself, and then I’m going to crawl into bed and try to enjoy the rest of this rainy night.  

As he and Cypher approached their floor, the rain only being heard and not felt for the two of them, for the first time in what felt like hours, Liam realized that the idea seemed more plausible than it had all night.  

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