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crooked teeth and the night life

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"josh, i can't fucking take this anymore," debby was saying, wiping at her tear-stained cheeks as she struggles to keep her voice steady, her skinny shoulders shaking underneath her shirt. it was his, at one point, but she'd stolen it and he'd never really had the heart to take it back.

he supposes he should've seen this coming from a mile away. they weren't any good for each other - their relationship was poisonous for both of them, but the reality of the situation sinks in despite all the negotiations his mind was trying to make to keep her, hitting him like a freight train.

"is this it?" he asks instead, feeling achingly hollow.

he waits for the spiel about how it wasn't him, it was her, just like the last time they'd separated. it'd been months ago, but he should've stayed away, he shouldn't have come crawling back to her, begging for her forgiveness. he should've gotten away, should've left her when he had the chance because he knew they'd erupt into catastrophic flames once again.

he can see the same thing reflected in her eyes. regret and guilt and pain and emptiness swirling in her stomach like tidal waves.

she should have a million things to say, something to give him as parting words. instead, she shakes her head and blinks away the tears, curling over herself where she's huddled on the end of their shared bed. it had been theirs for a year; everything was theirs, because that's what you did when you intended to marry someone, you shared everything.

"i think so," she sniffled, rubbing at her nose. "i think this is it."

"okay." part of him wonders why he's not crying. part of him wonders why he'd waste his tears on her. "i'll pick up my stuff later."

her sobs echo through the apartment as he clutches his keys and wallet in hand, walking through the dark hallway to the door.

pictures line the wall; happy pictures of happy moments of happy people. he can't bear to look at them, because they all have him and her, smiling and laughing together within their frames. he swallows down his guilt (at what? was this his fault? god, he can't remember) as his hand curls around the unforgiving, cold metal of the door handle.

a drive will clear his mind so he can figure out what he's supposed to do know. he guesses that's another part of intending to marry someone; becoming so dependent on the other that you can't see your life without them. he swings the door open and breathes in the cold stillness of the night air, lets it rush across his cheeks and against his curly hair in short, chilled wisps. the sound of the door closing behind him solidifies everything that had taken place. he takes a second to understand that this is real, that this is happening, that there's no turning back from here. where is he to go, now? all he knows is behind that closed door, crying as she rolls in sheets that smell of him.

as he walks the path to his car, he figures he has two choices - he can rent a hotel for a night or go to his mother's house. the thought of his mother being completely overbearing as she worries over her son's well-being sends a fresh wave of anxiety to his mind. as much as he loves her, he doesn't know if his mind will be able to take it, in the current state of things.

a hotel room it is. he opens his car door and slithers his way behind the wheel, sinking into the seat as tides of exhaustion settle into his weary bones. keys in the ignition, the rumble of the engine, foot to the gas and hand on the stick-shift, and everything feels like maybe, it could be okay.

he drives down familiar streets, gazing at familiar surroundings, looking upon familiar street signs and familiar houses. he drives in silence, letting the quiet roll over and soak into his skin, his mind numbed and blank as he heads deeper into columbus.

he passes by a seedy looking bar nestled into the corner right next to a dark, unwelcoming alley, and he briefly considers stopping, getting a beer or two.

he hasn’t drank for a long, long while. he glances down at his wrist, clutching at the steering wheel, and looks at the scar that carries the memory of the last time he touched a bottle of anything alcoholic.

it was a bottle of whiskey and a few other things, and he’d like to remember what the burn felt like as it slid down his throat, slimy and feeling like he swallowed straight fire. but he keeps on keeping on, doesn’t move his foot from the gas pedal, and he drives away from that seedy looking bar.

he’d tried to hide the scar with a tattoo; a big sleeve with winding colors of a scene he didn’t really understand but felt drawn to, the meaning a mess of emotion and definition he couldn’t quite put words to. it felt like home and strength, his own symbol of survival drawn upon his skin, and that was enough for him. the scar was a bit too deep, a bit too long, and if you looked hard enough, you could still see its outline through the swirls of color.

bright city lights reflect off his windshield as the night drawls on.

he finds himself deep in the heart of the city he’d been born in, parked in front of a small coffee joint. a sign hangs in the window, glowing neon and boasting that it's open twenty-four hours a day; he guesses that he can stop for a while, at least until he figures out what, exactly, he plans to do.

it’s well past eleven pm as he parks his car and slides out of the seat, wandering his way up to the door. he catches his reflection’s eye in the glass and frowns; he looks like a mess, red hair sticking up at weird angles, and there’s soft purple bags contrasting against the pale skin under his eyes. his hand shakes a bit as he slides his fingers against the cold metal bar, pressing the door open and stumbling his way inside.

the air is warm in the shop, and has a slight tinge of cinnamon to it; he breathes in deeply, happy to be away from the stifling space of his car and his memories for even just a second. the shop is small, clustered with chairs and tables and couches, but there’s a certain feeling of familiarity and warmth about it, even though josh has never been here before and will likely never come back.

he scuffs the tile with his shoe as he walks up to the counter even though no one is present behind it. he waits, quietly fixing his shirt and leaning up against the wood, eyes flicking around the scenery.

for a moment, he stands in silence, eyes fixed on a clock ticking time by with quiet noises. then, he clears his throat, still leaned up against the counter like he owns the place.

“oh, shit,” he hears someone far off in the distance, and then a head pokes around the doorway behind the counter, followed by a lanky body clad in a green apron. josh is immediately drawn to the circles of black around his arm and wrist as he scampers to attention, tapping long, skinny fingers on the counter. "sorry about that," the boy says in a voice that’s surprisingly high-pitched and effeminate; josh straightens himself out, eyes flitting over his frame curiously. "we don't really expect many customers past nine until finals, y'know."

the nametag pinned to his apron claims him as tyler. josh eyes his tattoos once more before hesitantly raising his gaze to tyler’s face; brown eyes meet brown, and tyler shifts self-consciously at the eye contact.

“no problem,” josh grins easily. tyler’s face is round and soft and earnest, his eyes wide and unblinking. he reminds josh vaguely of an owl, with his big, doe eyes and quiet stare. then, he blinks, flashing a tired smile of crooked teeth at his customer as he settles comfortably against the counter.

his eyes raise to a chalkboard tacked to the wall above tyler’s head, coffee types and desserts sprawled in a neat script. he’s never really taken to liking coffee, but if he’s gonna keep driving to wherever he intends to go, he needs something sharp and caffeinated to keep him awake. “can i just get my coffee black?” he questions, gaze dropping back to tyler’s soft eyes. he could probably get used to seeing his face on a regular basis, he decided, but he didn’t want to focus on anything other than getting away from the demons prowling at his heels.

“mhm,” tyler hums, albeit a little taken back because usually the only people who ordered their coffee black were middle-aged men on their way to dead-end jobs, not pretty boys with messy hair and crinkly-eyed smiles.

josh begins to fish out his wallet, but tyler shakes his head softly, smiling when he shoots a confused look. “it’s on the house,” he explains softly, picking out a large cup and setting about to the coffee pot. “looks like you could use a break. what’s your name?”

“josh,” he replies, blinking carefully at tyler’s back as he pours coffee into a paper cup. he slaps on a lid and turns around with a bright-eyed, timid smile, pushing the cup toward him. “well, josh, here’s your coffee. i’m tyler.”

“thank you,” josh mumbles, breathing in the scent of fresh-brewed coffee. he makes his way to a warm corner of the store, settling into a worn-down yet still comfortable couch with his cup in his hands, sipping and watching tyler as he wipes down the counter with a dishtowel.

eventually, as josh drains his cup, tyler steps out from behind the counter and walks over to where josh is holed up at with the pot of coffee in his hand. “need a refill?” tyler smiles at him gently, and josh chuckles softly, handing over his cup.

he tops off the cup and sets the pot down on the table, passing over the cup before flopping down on the couch next to josh. “so, tell me about yourself,” he says, folding his hands into his lap neatly.