It’s early June and the two now 8-year-old boys have decided to ride their bikes around the small town of Buies Creek to celebrate the start of their three-month vacation from school. As they ride, Rhett tells Link all about an old abandoned farm house that his brother told him about, and that he wants to explore. They ride the mile to a large field and find the structure. Just like Rhett said, the paint is peeling and most of the windows are shattered, with mildew covering every surface.
The two small bikes are left on the front porch while Rhett and Link make their way inside to explore. It’s a rather large house, with multiple bedrooms to explore. They always like looking in the bedrooms because they sometimes have old pieces of the previous residents’ lives, and the boys find it fun to make up stories about the long-gone people. Both notice the beginning of a light drizzle, but pay it no mind because they are much too engrossed in examining every inch of the dilapidated house.
After a couple hours of wandering through the rooms, they finally decided to head home for a late lunch. Link follows Rhett out onto the covered porch and they simultaneously realize that the sky has turned almost black. Sheets of rain are coming down across the field, and small streams are beginning to form where the ground is slightly lower.
“It’s not bad, just a little rain.” Rhett remarks, “It might take a couple more minutes to get home.”
“I don’t want to ride home in the rain!” Link exclaims, not nearly as courageous as his taller friend.
Suddenly the sky lights up and there is a loud cracking sound, making Link shriek and bolt back inside the house. Rhett immediately runs after him, eventually finding him curled into a ball in the floor of a closet. No amount of convincing will get the boy to come out, so Rhett tells him they can stay in the house and try to wait out the rain.
As Rhett kneels in the doorway of the small space comforting Link, the storm continues outside. Each lightning strike causes the smaller boy to flinch and curl further into himself. Thinking quickly, Rhett gently pushes his friend over and closes the door, squeezing both boys into the closet. Links lets out a whimper as Rhett sits down across from him, and it takes a moment before Rhett remembers how afraid he is of the dark.
“It’s still better than the thunder and lightning, isn’t it buddy?” he asks, genuinely trying to cheer Link up.
“Barely.” the smaller mumbles in response while remaining in his ball.
After a few seconds of silence, Rhett remembers he still has a couple of glowsticks from Link’s birthday party the week before. He quickly digs the small tubes out of his jacket pocket and cracks them, giving the tiny space a little more illumination. Link slowly lifts his head in confusion from the light, and Rhett takes the opportunity to secure one of the sticks around each of their wrists. Link smiles at his now-lit hand and gives Rhett a timid “thanks, bo” in appreciation.
They return to the previous silence, both flinching occasionally at loud thunderclaps until Link pipes up again.
“I’m cold. The rain made it cold.”
The two are only wearing t-shirts and shorts due to the heat of the summer sun in the morning, with Rhett adding his new jacket just to show it off. Now he offers the jacket to Link, not wanting his friend to be uncomfortable.
“Here, this is warm.” he says, pulling off the jacket.
“But then won’t you get cold?”
“We can share it, buddyroll!” Rhett moves so he is sitting next to, instead of across from, Link. The position is rather cramped but neither seems to mind. He drapes the soft fabric over both of them like a blanket. Link sighs and lays his head on Rhett’s shoulder. Once again, the space is completely silent except for the sounds of the boys’ breath. After a while Rhett hears Link’s breathing change and knows he’s fallen asleep, so the taller boy decides to nap as well, leaning his head onto Link’s.
Link slowly drifts out of his sleep, back and legs hurting from being curled up in the closet. He notices a warm weight leaning on him and realizes Rhett must have fallen asleep too. As he wiggles to get more comfortable in the space, Rhett jolts awake.
“Sorry bo, I didn’t mean to squash you.” Rhett tells him as they both attempt to stretch their limbs.
“No, it’s not you, my legs hurt from sleeping like that.”
Rhett pushes open the door and stands up into the bedroom, the other boy following suit as Rhett pulls his jacket back on. They both notice the lack of rain, and the fact that the sun has started to set in the sky. The two rush to get their bikes and head home so they don’t get in trouble for staying out past dark.
Link is especially worried that his mom will never let him hang out with Rhett again if he gets in trouble for today, and he doesn’t want to make his mom mad. He’s so caught up in his worrying that he doesn’t notice the boy in front of him dodging a pothole. As his bike tire hits the dent, Link is sent flying into a nearby puddle from the storm.
The other boy realizes what happened and jumps off his bike to help Link up. The smaller is trying his best to keep his tears in, but he is already so worked up that the puddle sends him over the edge. Rhett hugs his friend close, not caring that he’s all muddy, while Link cries. He tells Link what his mom always tells him when he cries, “It’s okay buddy, just let it out, I’ve got you.”
“I’m sorry Rhett,” Link stutters out between sobs, “I just mess everything up.”
“No you don’t!”
“Yes I do! If I hadn’t been scared of the stupid thunderstorm we would be home by now, and if I was paying attention I wouldn’t have fallen and made us even more late!” he cries into Rhett’s shoulder.
“Shh, Link, it’s okay. We’ll still get home before dark.” Rhett is starting to get worried that his friend will never stop crying, and he can’t remember any other ways his mom always comforts him.
Link sniffles and looks up at Rhett, “My mom will still never let me hang out with you again, we’ve been gone forever and now I’m all muddy too.” Saying this only made the waterworks start again.
“I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen, Link.”
They stay just like that until all of Link’s tears run dry, and he looks up at Rhett once again.
“I’m sorry I’m such a baby.”
“You’re not a baby, we all get overwhelmed sometimes,” Rhett replies, smiling because his friend stopped crying and he used a grown-up word.
Link giggles, “You like using big words don’t you?”
“Yeah, but overwhelmed isn’t that big of a word.”
Soon the two are back on their bikes and riding fast towards home. When they get to Link’s house, the closer of the two, both boys hop off their bikes and lean them against the side of the house. Link is curious as to why Rhett isn’t continuing home, and Rhett seems to sense that because on their way up the path he tells Link, “I gotta make sure your mom doesn’t blame you for everything before I can go home.”
Link suddenly pulls Rhett into a tight hug, thanking him. They pull away quickly and just before they get to the door Rhett stops Link with a hand on his small shoulder.
“No matter what your mom says, you’ll still be my bestest friend ever.”
“You’ll always be mine too, Rhett,” Link smiles before opening the door. They’re immediately met with a very worried looking Sue. Rhett explains everything while Link grips his sleeve, too afraid to get any words out.
Link’s mom assures the boys that she’s not mad at all, just glad they made it back safely. She calls Rhett’s parents to tell them that the boys are alright, and suggests that Rhett just spend the night since it’s already so late. The McLaughlins agree, and the two friends run upstairs to put on pajamas, excited for their impromptu sleepover.
They build a pillow fort in the floor of Link’s room to sleep in. As soon as they get settled inside, Link is fast asleep, curled up next to Rhett and hugging his arm. Rhett just looks at him and smiles, deciding that he’s very glad he wrote that curse word on his desk last year.