The sounds of chatter and laughter filled the crowded Starbucks, the sight of people enjoying their drinks and talking amicably with each other putting a smile on Tyler Joseph’s face. His break had just begun, so he was able to finally take a rest from the afternoon drink rush, sitting perched on one of the high-top chairs pushed near a table next to one of the wide glass windows illuminating the entire coffee shop. He didn’t particularly like coffee himself, despite liking making it and serving it for other people, so his fingers were gripping a cup of ice water, the slight condensation on the foam cup soaking through the sleeves of his navy blue sweater.
Tyler let out a little sigh, lowering his gaze back to the contents of the cup. He loved his job, and he put all of his passion and effort into it. It was, quite honestly, the only source of happiness in his life. He had been forced to leave home at the age of 18 by his violent and overbearing parents, who quite frankly wanted nothing to do with him and wanted him out of the house as soon as possible. After graduating high school and just barely managing to make it into a decent college, he had been forced to juggle multiple classes with his job as a Starbucks barista, which thankfully paid a somewhat decent wage. Due to his constantly busy schedule, he had virtually no time for anything other than school and work, leaving him feeling virtually no passion for anything other than making coffee. It was a rather depressing lifestyle, considering he was actually revolted by the sight of coffee and only enjoyed serving it for others, but it gave him a slight bit of satisfaction about his life. Biting his lip as he recalled the events of his sorry life so far, he crossed one leg underneath himself and lowered his head slightly.
The quiet scrape of a chair against the tiles suddenly alerted him to his surroundings. His head snapping up, his eyes fell on a man with fluffy crimson-coloured hair pulling the other seat out and sitting down. His eyes were a stunning shade of brown, his arms covered with multicolored tattoos and a black tank top hugging his upper half. Unable to find his words for a second, he lowered his gaze back down to the tabletop, blinking quickly and nervously swinging his free leg back and forth.
“Hey there…” the man sitting across from him said softly.
“Hm?” Tyler lifted his head, his fingers digging slightly into the styrofoam coffee cup and causing several barely visible indents in the material. What on earth did this intimidating stranger want with him? “Hello…” he said in a barely audible whisper, moving his foot around in slow circles- one of the exercises he found calmed him down in stressful situations. Three circles clockwise, four circles counterclockwise. Three circles clockwise, four circles clockwise…
“You work here?” The man asked, putting his steaming hot latte cup down on the table, far too close to the edge for Tyler’s liking.
“How did you guess?” Tyler managed to stutter out, lowering his hands and gripping them in fists in his lap.
“Your apron,” the man replied, gesturing towards the forest-green apron emblazoned with the white Starbucks logo loosely hanging off Tyler’s frame.
“Oh…” His face heating up with an unhidable blush of embarrassment, Tyler let out a tiny chuckle in an attempt to appear unphased. “Yep, I do. Love it here.” he nodded, pushing a few wayward strands of fluffy brown hair out of his face as he tried to appear even the slightest bit confident.
“That’s good that you like your job…” The man let out a little chuckle, stretching one hand across the table. “The name’s Josh. You’ve got a name too, I’m guessing?”
“Yes, ah… Tyler. That’s my name,” Tyler let out a giggle, finding his voice after a short pause. He reached across the table and shook Josh’s hand, not that surprised at how strong his grip was.
“Nice laugh…” Josh chuckled, his eyes traveling slowly over Tyler’s body and taking in every detail. Tyler felt as though he was being scanned by an x-ray machine of some sort, the man before him memorizing every detail of his appearance and personality with his gaze. “Everything about you is pretty nice, actually…”
“Oh, I… I don’t like guys, I’m sorry…” Tyler stuttered out with a little shake of his head.
“You sure? I’m pretty sure a few hours with me might change your mind,” Josh chuckled with a wink that sent uncomfortable shivers up Tyler’s spine.
“I’m very sure.” Tyler nodded, taking a gulp of his water and finishing apart from the partially melted ice cubes that remained at the bottom. “I’m flattered, and I’m sure you’re a really nice person, but I’m not like that. I’m honestly not interested in any sort of relationship at this point, period, never mind one with the same gender…”
“Oh come on… you can’t tell me you haven’t been at least a little bit interested in me. I saw you staring at me when I sat down,” Josh smiled, his eyes darting from Tyler’s eyes down to his slightly visible collarbone and back up again. “You looked like you were just…”
“I was staring because I was confused,” Tyler interrupted, crossing his arms. “Because I didn’t know you and I was wondering why you just sat down near me for no reason. And it’s actually really rude of you to just assume what I was thinking, especially regarding something as sensitive and personal as that,” he continued, frowning and looking down at the tabletop.
“You don’t have to make such a big deal about it, bunny, ” Josh replied half-mockingly, one hand traveling under the table and touching upon Tyler’s knee. “All I’m saying is-”
“Leave me alone!” Tyler promptly pulled back and clambered out of the chair to the floor, every inch of his body trembling with suppressed rage and fear as he dug his fingers into his upper arms. “ Don’t touch me, and don’t call me bunny.” He spat the last word out as though it was a vile curse, walking as fast as he could away from the table and calling over his shoulder as he headed back towards the counter. “And don’t even think about talking to me again!”
“...you okay, Ty?” asked one of Tyler’s coworkers, Jenna, as Tyler swooped back behind the counter and slammed his hands down so hard several people looked over. “Do you want me to talk to that guy and ask him to leave, or…”
“It’s fine. Just don’t let him come near me. He’s a fucking creep,” Tyler hissed, glaring at Josh and crossing his arms. He let out a little sigh and checked his phone- his break was almost over, and he wasted almost all of it dealing with Josh. Biting his bottom lip hard enough to draw a bit of blood, Tyler turned and faced one of the trays of pastries, breathing heavily and managing to calm himself down eventually. His gaze fell on the slowly growing line of people, taking one more breath and managing to put on a smile as he walked over to resume his shift.
It had begun to rain when Tyler left Starbucks at around six in the afternoon- round, fat drops that fell from the sky and plunked loudly on his black umbrella. Shivering slightly in the late autumn air, Tyler set off down the sidewalk, intent on getting home before the rain got any worse. The soaked multi colored fall leaves stuck to the bottoms of his sneakers as he walked down the deserted sidewalk, and the harsh wind blew his fluffy hair in all directions. Sighing, Tyler kept his eyes on the sidewalk, since looking straight into the wind was stinging his eyes.
A tap on his shoulder stopped Tyler in his tracks as he turned around. A man about the same height as him, dressed in mostly black and wearing a top hat that should have given him a comical appearance but instead somehow made him look elegant and civilized, stood beside him, the shadow from his hat covering most of his face apart from his nose and mouth. He had one hand in his pocket and the other outstretched in front of him, holding a gold pocket watch with a crack in the glass clock face.
“Excuse me…” the man began in a smoky voice. “Could you possibly tell me what time it is? I’m afraid my watch is broken,” he chuckled, gesturing to the broken pocket watch in his hand.
“Oh, it’s…” Tyler pulled his phone out of his pocket and squinted at the time. “6:14 pm, exactly.”
“Oh, dear.” The man frowned. “I’m going to miss my bus now… and I don’t have a way to contact anyone to pick me up. Oh well.” He shrugged, a smile almost instantly appearing on his face. “I’ll simply have to keep walking.”
“It’s raining so much, though… and you don’t have an umbrella.” Tyler bit his lip. “Are you sure you don’t want me to call an Uber for you or something? I’ll pay for it…”
“That’s not necessary, trust me. It’s only about a twenty minute walk to where I live. My apartment is right near the park,” the man replied.
“Oh, my college is right around there too!” Tyler smiled. This man seemed rather interesting and friendly, and a definite improvement from Josh. “If you want, we could walk there together… I have an umbrella, so you won’t get as wet.”
“Thank you very much.” the man nodded, his brown eyes sparkling in the barest hint of light from the streetlight. “I’ll have to repay you somehow, though.”
“You don’t have to, honestly,” Tyler insisted. “I’m just helping you out, you don’t have to do anything in return.”
“But I feel like I should, though. You’re taking time out of your day to walk me to my apartment, after all. I just need to repay you…” the man repeated.
“I mean… if you want to, but it’s honestly not necessary,” Tyler giggled.
The man nodded slowly, a wide smile overtaking his features. “I think I’ll repay you by taking that wallet and jacket off your hands,” he said in a sotto voice.
Tyler frowned at the sudden, threatening change in the man’s words and tone. Before he could ask what he meant or attempt to run away, the man had violently grabbed him and tugged him into a nearby alley, one hand clamped firmly over his mouth and the other slicing at the zipper of his raincoat with a pocket knife that had seemingly materialized out of nowhere. Letting out a muffled yell of protest, Tyler desperately tried to force the man away from him, simultaneously trying to hold onto his jacket that was being ripped away from him. Within seconds, however, the man had ripped the jacket- somehow still in one piece- off his skinny frame and had plunged his hand into his pocket, grabbing his wallet. As soon as he had pulled out the wallet and stuffed it into his own pocket, the man punched Tyler hard in the stomach, knocking the breath out of him and causing tears to well in his eyes out of pain. He sank down to his knees and landed on his side in a mud puddle, unable to even get a scream or yell of help out as the man darted out of the alley.
A split second later, however, there were a few grunts of pain and the clink of metal hitting the ground from around the corner where the man had disappeared. Confused, Tyler attempted to get to his feet to see what was happening, but had to stop and lie back down due to the lingering pain in his stomach. Whimpering with pain as tears dripped down his cheeks and onto the filthy ground of the alley, his eyes widened with utter shock as Josh stepped into the alley holding the jacket and wallet, scratches and cuts covering his arms and parts of his face. Upon seeing Tyler, he immediately darted over to him, dropping to his knees and speaking in a panicked voice. “Oh my god, Tyler, are you okay? What did he do to you? D-do you need to go to the hospital, did he…”
“He punched me in the stomach…” Tyler whispered, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hand. “It hurts so much, holy shit…”
“Hey, it’s gonna be okay, Tyler, you’re gonna be okay…” Josh said in a soothing voice, reaching down and running his fingers through Tyler’s hair in a relaxing gesture. “There’s a first aid kit in my car right down the street… I’m gonna run and get it and I’ll be right back, okay? I promise.”
Tyler nodded and watched as Josh got to his feet and ran out of the alley, still crying quietly. Sure enough, in only a minute or so Josh was back, a wave of relief rushing over him when he knew Josh hadn’t abandoned him. “Please hurry, Josh, it hurts…”
“Shh, shh, shh, it’s okay, I’ve got you, you’re gonna be okay. I’m gonna need to look at your stomach to see how badly he hit you, okay?” Josh said gently. “I have to lift your shirt up, okay? I’m not gonna try anything, I’m just gonna check out how badly you’re hurt.”
Tyler nodded, pulling up the edge of his sweater and the white shirt underneath with a little bit of effort. He closed his eyes, exhaling softly and preparing for pain as Josh’s hands ghosted over his belly. However, he noticed that Josh was being extremely gentle with him- so gentle, in fact, that it almost seemed like just being touched by him was helping him to feel better.
Within a few minutes, Josh pulled away, wiping his forehead with his arm and managing a little smile. “Okay… you’ll probably have a bruise for a few days, but it’s not anything serious. Your clothes are soaked, though,” he murmured, gesturing towards the mud puddle that Tyler was still lying in.
“Oh… I’ll be fine.” Tyler mumbled, pulling himself out of the mud puddle and managing to get to his feet.
“You’re already shivering…” Josh frowned, reaching forward and putting a hand on Tyler’s shaking shoulder. “I have an extra jacket in my car… you can wear it, and I could drive you home if you want…”
“Thank you… thank you so much…” Tyler smiled, feeling tears of gratitude welling in his eyes,
“You’re welcome, b….” Josh trailed off, stopping himself from saying the word “bunny” and instead finishing the sentence with “...Tyler.” He sighed and shook his head. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay, honestly,” Tyler insisted through chattering teeth, rubbing the goosebumps rising on the back of his neck.
“God, you’re shaking… come on, come with me…” Gently looping one arm around Tyler’s shoulders, hugging his trembling form close in an attempt to keep him warm, Josh led him out of the alley and down the street towards the only car on the street, which Tyler presumed was his. As soon as they got into the car, Tyler scrambled into the front seat, tucking his knees up to his chin and shivering violently. He felt Josh draping the jacket over his shoulders and he quickly tugged it on, seeing that it was much too big on him- the sleeves of the camouflage jacket covered his hands, and the fabric hung loosely on his body. Zipping the jacket up to his neck, Tyler closed his eyes, covering the lower half of his face with one of the too-long sleeves, feeling a bit better.
“You feel alright now?” Josh asked as he sat in the driver’s seat and turned the ignition.
“Yes… thank you.” Tyler smiled, poking his hand out of the oversized sleeves.
“You’re welcome,” Josh smiled, pushing a few strands of crimson hair out of his eyes. “What’s your address?”
“My dorm’s at the college right near the park,” Tyler replied with a little nod. “Actually, wait, hold on…”
“Is something wrong?” Josh asked quietly with a frown.
“That guy who tried to steal my stuff… should we go to the police station and tell them what happened?” Tyler asked.
“Ah, shit, you’re right… I didn’t even think about that, I’m such a dumbass…” Josh let out a dry chuckle. “We should probably stop there first.” His eyes drifted towards Tyler as he put one hand on his shoulder. “You’re going to be okay, right?”
“I will. I’ll be fine,” Tyler replied with a little nod. Josh appeared to have completely changed from a few hours ago. Rather than shamelessly flirting with him and harassing him, he was being the kindest person in the world, making sure he was a hundred percent okay. Judging from how sincere he seemed in his words, and how he had been close to tears when he found Tyler lying on the ground, it seemed as though the flirtatious personality from before was but a farce. For the first time since they had met, Tyler felt something different towards Josh- not disgust, not embarrassment, but something genuinely positive and happy that he couldn’t quite describe. He wrapped his arms around himself, nuzzling deep into the warmth of the jacket as Josh began driving.
After filing the police report and driving back to the college, Josh insisted on going as far as to get a visitor’s pass from the front office, just so he could walk Tyler to his dorm and make sure he was completely okay before he left. Tyler couldn’t help but notice the strange looks he got from a few people as they walked down the hallway to their dorm- not only did Josh appear to be at least two or three years older than him, but he stood out greatly with his vibrantly colored hair and tattoos. Not to mention Josh hadn’t removed his arm from around his shoulders since they stepped out of the car, the simple action causing Tyler’s cheeks to heat up and turn a vibrant pink.
When the two of them reached Tyler’s door room, which was completely plain compared to the other doors in the hallway, Tyler fumbled in his wallet for the key to his room. As he unlocked the door, he heard Josh mumble something. “Hm?”
“I guess I have to go now…” Josh repeated with a little laugh.
“Yeah…” Tyler nodded and turned around, shrugging the jacket off his shoulders and handing it back to Josh. As he returned the jacket, he felt Josh press something into the pad of his hand, closing his fingers around it. “What are you…”
“Just hang onto it, please.” Josh insisted with a smile.
“...okay.” Tyler nodded with a shrug. “Hey, um, before you go… I just wanna say that I’m sorry.”
“I was wrong about you… you’re actually a really, really, really nice guy, Josh. I shouldn’t have judged you based on my first impression,” Tyler murmured.
“Tyler, you don’t have to apologize, honestly…” Josh frowned and shook his head. “I shouldn’t have acted that way back there… I should have just left you alone, I shouldn’t have made you uncomfortable like that…” He reached forward and pulled Tyler into a gentle hug, letting out a little sigh that tickled the baby-fine hairs on the back of his neck. “I’m so sorry…”
“I forgive you, Josh, it’s okay,” Tyler insisted, rubbing a hand up and down Josh’s back in a calming gesture.
“You sure?” Josh asked as he pulled away.
“One hundred percent sure.” Tyler nodded with a wide smile, pushing a few strands of hair out of his face.
Josh nodded, shrugging the camouflage jacket back on his shoulders. “Okay… I should probably get going now…”
“I guess…” Tyler let out a little sigh. “I’ll text you later…”
“But you never asked for my number?”
“I have a feeling you wrote it on whatever you put in my hand,” Tyler giggled. He opened his palm and glanced down- sure enough, on the slightly wrinkled Starbucks on his hand was written a phone number, in purple Sharpie.
“Well, look at that… you were right.” Josh let out a chuckle.
Tyler nodded with a wide grin, leaning against the doorframe. “So yeah, I guess I will text you later.”
Josh smiled, reaching out and gently ruffling Tyler’s hair before turning on his heel. “Stay safe, Ty.” And with his words of parting he set off down the hall, soon disappearing through the doorway to the elevator. Tyler watched him go down the hall all the way before turning and closing the door, his heart absolutely soaring in his chest and pounding so hard it threatened to burst right through his shirt.
I think I found someone who made me happy.