tyler's entire face was stinging. he had never been slapped before and he was shocked over how much it actually hurt. his left cheek was red and he could feel his heartbeat underneath the skin.
"don't you dare say that," his mother yelled, feeling the need to raise her voice even though she was standing right in front of him.
tyler wanted to remind her that his ears worked perfectly fine, but figured that it really wasn't the time for it.
laura's voice wavered as she spoke, and she paused to swallow down sadness and make room for anger instead. she was pointing a finger at tyler's face, staring at her son with glossy eyes, wet from unspilled tears.
"there will be no faggot in my house, do you understand?"
tyler bit down on his tongue, trying his best to keep his mouth shut when all he really wanted to do was to scream in her face and, knowing his mom, make it all worse.
in his arms, a newly born baby started to cry, sensing its father's distress from where it was pressed against his rapidly beating heart. the small child was only a week old, still new to the world.
"shut that thing up," the woman spat, looking down at the infant with disgust, "and get it out of my sight, that abomination will not be living here, you realise that, right?"
"that's fine mom," tyler whispered, hugging the baby closer, "because i won't be living here either."
the woman scoffed and rolled her eyes, "oh yeah?" she mocked, "and where would you go? you're still a child yourself, you know"
tyler shrugged, "somewhere where i can find my happiness."
"i'm sorry mister joseph, i just can't make it today."
tyler pulled at his hair out of frustration, accidentally smacking his car keys into his eye which made him even more irritated.
this morning really wasn't going the way he wanted it to.
it had been a stressful day right from the start, beginning with tyler oversleeping almost forty minutes.
he would've probably still have been in bed if it weren't for the fact that his son - a wonderful little bundle of joy named maximilian - had woken him up to ask about breakfast.
between feeding his child and getting dressed and ready, tyler had been forced to skip his usual morning shower to make it in time for work, and just when he was about to step out of the apartment with a fruit in his hand as a stand-in breakfast and his jacket only halfway on, he remembered that the babysitter hadn't showed up.
already feeling stressed and annoyed, tyler had called her, stomping a foot impatiently on the floor as he listened to the outstretched signals.
"what do you mean 'you can't make it'? i have to work, i need a babysitter!," he cried out into the phone.
"i'm really sick and i don't want max to catch a cold," the babysitter, a teenage girl that tyler remembered being named lily, said while not sounding sick at all.
in fact, tyler could distinctly hear the sound of music and two other voices that sounded like teenage girls in the background.
he didn't have time for this.
"fine," he growled, hanging up the phone without saying goodbye and almost throwing it on the floor before remembering that he wouldn't be able to afford buying a new one if this one broke.
so instead, tyler pulled a hand over his face and up through his hair, taking a deep breath to calm down. he just had to re-plan his entire day, no big deal.
no big deal at all.
the feeling of a small fist grabbing onto the back of his pants pulled tyler from his thoughts and he glued on a fake smile before turning around to face his son.
"hey buddy," he said as he crouched in front of his kid, petting the boy's head gently, "do you wanna come with daddy to work today?"
that's how tyler came to work twenty minutes late with a five year old boy dressed in spider-man pyjamas on his hip as he tried to hold his apple, car keys, wallet, jacket and name badge in his free hand.
tyler quickly apologised to the employee, who's place he was taking over for, for making her work overtime and begged her not to tell the boss.
she just raised an eyebrow and looked at the boy who was clinging to his father like a koala before shaking her head and leaving.
with a sigh, tyler sat his son down on the floor and hid his things under the counter before securing his name badge to his shirt.
"alright maxie," he said, "daddy needs to work and i really need you to behave, okay?"
the boy smiled up at his father as he nodded his head in a silent promise and tyler ruffled his hair lovingly.
"that's my boy," he smiled, grabbing his phone and giving it to the child.
it wasn't something he would usually do, give his phone to max to play with.
partialy because kid hands meant a sticky, dirty and probably broken screen, but also because he wanted his son to use his imagination and play with toys rather than electronic devises, but today had to be an exception.
he needed to keep max occupied so that he wouldn't get bored or grumpy.
finally feeling as if he could relax, tyler sat back in his chair and took a minute to just breathe and started to think about his next step, planning his day in his head.
get through the workday, go home, cook dinner, bathe max, do the dishes, clean the apartment, do the laundry, find a new babysitter and, hopefully, if there was enough time, read max a bedtime story.
just thinking about it made him tired.
"uhm... is this register open?"
tyler flinched in surprise at the sudden voice and realised with great horror that he had spaced out.
"yes! oh, uh, yeah, sorry," he stuttered, cursing himself quietly as he started to scan the items that had been placed on the band.
tyler felt his face heat up with a blush as he worked quickly, praying that his boss didn't see him slacking.
the voice chuckled a little, making tyler look up at the costumer to offer a polite smile.
he almost wanted to gasp.
the man before him was beautiful, stunning even, with vibrant, pink hair that hung in wild and untamed curls over his forehead and neck. the sides were shaven down, revealing natural brown hairs.
'a death-hawk', tyler vaguely remembered the hairstyle being called.
gauges, tattoos and a nose ring all decorated the stranger's body and face, and he had the most beautiful eyes tyler had ever seen.
tyler didn't even notice the way the man was smiling at him with an amused look on his face.
"rough day?" he asked, eyes squinting and tongue getting trapped between perfect teeth in a grin.
tyler exhaled a chuckle, "you could say that."
at the sound of his father talking to someone, max's interest peaked and the child put the phone away, abandoning 'angry birds' to look at the stranger.
max wasn't a shy kid, far from it actually, so he wasn't scared as he stood up and peaked over the counter to get a look at his dad's new friend.
the costumer turned his head and looked at the boy, blinking dumbly.
"oh, hi there!," he exclaimed with a big smile, "i'm josh, and who might you be?"
the boy was just about to answer when his father interrupted him.
"max! what did i tell you?" he whisper-yelled in his stern parent voice.
it was a voice he wasn't very good at yet.
the kid grinned at his father, not taking him seriously and tried to climb into his lap to get higher so that he could get a better look at the stranger.
tyler grabbed max under his armpits to set him back down on the floor when a loud voice broke through the scene, causing tyler to cringe so hard that it physically hurt.
tyler shrunk as he looked to his left, noticing his boss marching towards him on short, stubby legs.
"is that your kid? what on earth made you think that you could bring a child to work, huh?!" the old man growled as he got closer, attracting quite a few stares from costumers and employees alike.
"uhm, well- i..." tyler sunk further down in his chair, anxiety rising as more people turned to look at him.
"well?!," his boss yelled, face and double chin red with anger, "is it your kid? the answer better be 'no' if you wanna keep your job!"
"i, uhm, i, you see sir, i-"
both tyler and his boss turned to the costumer tyler had been helping, looking at him dumbly as he crossed his arms over his chest, rising his chin a little.
"but that 'kid'," he spat, "is my son."
tyler just stared in horror as the costumer - josh, he remembered - leaned over the counter and took maximilian into gentle hands, giving tyler a look that went unnoticed by the manager.
josh sat max onto his hip, holding him with one arm as he pointed a finger accusingly at tyler's boss, brows furrowed into a deep frown.
"i think you owe me, my son and this poor young man," he paused to nod his head towards tyler, "who by the way found my child when i thought he had gone missing, an excuse."
he stomped his foot on the ground for good measure.
the manager just stared at the costumer in shock.
now it was his turn to shrink and look embarrassed.
"oh, i'm terribly sorry sir," the old man smiled politely, "it's all just a big misunderstanding."
josh huffed and bounced his hip up and down to keep the child busy and entertained.
"not good enough," he said, "if you want to keep me as a costumer you need to do better, and you should treat your employees with more respect."
tyler's boss looked about ready to faint.
he was a greedy man and the thought of losing a costumer, and therefor in the long run losing money, made him pale.
"o-of course sir," he stammered, "your groceries are on the house, as an apology."
josh hummed and then nodded towards tyler, "and what about him then, huh? i think you owe him as well."
"yes, certainly," the manager mumbled, even if it pained him a little - he had been out to get tyler for weeks, just waiting for him to mess up, "tyler, why don't you finish helping this lovely gentleman and his son, and then take the rest of the day off? with pay, of course."
tyler, still being too shocked to really speak, simply nodded and watched as his boss turned on his heel and disappeared into his office, probably to get a smoke to calm his nerves.
a few seconds passed quietly before josh released a breath and giggled a little.
"sorry about stealing your son," he whispered as he looked down at the kid, "max, was it?"
the boy nodded excitingly as his eyes danced over the stranger's face, his attention being caught by the colourful hair before his eyes wandered lower to the tattoo on the man's arm.
he stared at the inked skin in amazement before reaching a hand forward, following the swirls of colour with his finger.
tyler carefully took max back, not feeling too comfortable with having a total stranger, no matter how hot, holding his child.
"uhm... thanks," he mumbled shyly, "for, you know, saving my skin."
josh just grinned and shook his head, pink curls bouncing with the movement, "don't mention it!" he said, waving it off with a hand carelessly, "your boss is a total prick."
tyler hummed in agreement before remembering that he still needed to scan the rest of the items.
he quickly sat max on one of his knees and finished the purchase, clicking into the computer that it would be a 100% discount before logging off and checking out of his shift.
"still," he said as he placed the child on the floor and stood up, starting to pack his things, "i would've gotten fired if it weren't for you, so thank you."
josh waved it away with his hand again, blowing a raspberry into thin air before he started to pack his groceries into paper bags.
tyler made sure that he had everything, mumbling a list of 'keys, phone, wallet,' under his breath to remember the most important things and then took max's hand and walked out from behind the counter.
he couldn't resist to look the other man up and down and realised quickly that yes, josh was definitely his type.
muscled but lean, masculine but not too big.
his punk-ish style was a big plus too, and even though piercings, tattoos and coloured hair should make someone look intimidating, josh still looked like a big teddy bear.
his face was way too soft to be anything but well-meaning.
"i really owe you," tyler said, still feeling ashamed for causing a scene - or rather, for making his boss cause a scene.
he gnawed at his bottom lip for a moment, nervously shifting his weight from foot to foot.
tyler hadn't really dated anyone since max's mom - hadn't even had sex since then he realised when he thought about it. becoming a father at a young age really pulled you out of the market.
no one wanted to date someone with a kid, and tyler had been out of the game for so long that he couldn't even remember what it felt like.
he doubted that he was josh's type, but... if he didn't try, how could he know?
maybe it was worth a shot.
in the end, tyler decided to just go for it.
"can I buy you coffee or something?" he squeaked, "a-as a thank you."
this perked josh's interest and he lifted his gaze from the last food-items he was packing.
tyler didn't miss the way the other's eyes scanned him up and down before landing on his face.
it almost made him want to squirm, feeling exposed and, for some reason, caused him worry about if his hair looked alright.
what if he wasn't josh's type at all?
what if josh was into... into bear-daddies or something?
or what if he was straight?
most people were after all.
why did tyler always assume that everyone he fell for was gay?
"i don't know about coffee," josh said, turning away to place the last things into the bags.
tyler's heart sank.
it had been a long shot, sure, but he had still hoped that he could at least get a friend-date.
he was actually kind of - not really - flirting with someone for the first time in five years and he was rejected.
it felt like a stab to his confidence.
"but," Josh continued, this time looking at max with a smile, bending forward at the waist and placing his hands on his knees "i could really go for some ice cream."
the child gasped and started to pull on the sleeve of his father's jacket excitingly.
josh straightened his back again and turned to look at tyler, a smug look on his face.
"if," he said, pink tongue sticking out to lick at his lips, "it's okay with daddy, of course."
tyler almost chocked on his own spit.
a very noticeable blush spread over his cheeks and across the bridge of his nose, and he was pretty sure even his ears turned red.
josh just blinked innocently as max jumped next to his dad, trying to grab his attention.
tyler looked down at his son, if only to stop staring at josh, still flushed.
the boy started using his hands, signing to his father as his lips moved soundlessly. the signs were a little clumsy, but easy for tyler to read nonetheless.
'ice cream, please dad?'
tyler had to clear his throat to make sure that his tongue was actually still in his mouth before he smiled and nodded.
when he looked to josh again he saw a frown on the man's face.
it was a normal reaction people had when they understood that max was a mute.
the frown turned into a smile as josh's eyes caught tyler's, "awesome! do you wanna go, like, now?"
tyler shook his head, "i need to go home and get max dressed, can't go around in your pj's all day, can you maxie?"
the last part was directed to the little boy who grinned and shook his head.
"alright," said josh, "how does two o'clock sound?"