The cafe wouldn’t let Tucker in without shoes. I huffed at the manager and went inside by myself, but not before I made Tucker promise not to take off.
"I’m not going anywhere. Like you said, why would I pass up a free drink?" He said, crossing his skinny arms over his chest and coyly raising an eyebrow at me.
I nodded and smiled at him briefly before I went inside. The coffee was hot, and the pastries were half price, a deal made to lower waste at the end of the night. A muffin or two couldn’t hurt, so I went ahead and grabbed the ones which looked the freshest before paying for everything. As I smiled my way through the transaction I could feel the manager staring at me from off to the side His arms folded and his chin so far up I could have looked up his nose.
"Is there a problem, sir?" I asked, tearing off a bit of my muffin and popping it into my mouth.
"It won’t learn nothin’ if you just give it things."
If my mouth had been empty, my jaw would have dropped. Instead, it clenched tightly, biting through the crumbling muffin until my teeth cracked together. “Last time I checked, that guy out there is a person just as much as I am and there’s nothing wrong with having compassion. Have a nice night, prick," I fired back, my eyes narrowing in disdain. I turned on my heel and made my way out of the shop. My face felt hot and I could feel my grip on the drinks tightening to the point where the cardboard of the cups began to give. I managed to loosen my grip before I ruined our drinks, but my face was still burning as I met Tucker outside.
The streetlight above him flickered on just as I walked outside and the sudden burst of brightness made the dirt on his skin more apparent. The oil in his hair practically shone underneath the pale yellow beam and his clothes now showed lighter, more faded stains which I hadn’t notice in the orange light of the sunset. He looked filthy, but the way his green eyes widened at the muffins in my hand made my cheeks cool almost instantly.
"I grabbed something to eat, too," I chirped, holding the undamaged pastry out to him. Tucker took his drink and the muffin and after exchanging small smiles, we headed down the street once more. Streetlights continued to flicker on a few paces ahead of us, bathing our path in that same yellow light. Behind us, the sky darkened to an indigo color while we sipped gingerly at the coffee steaming from our cups and nibbled at the muffins slowly becoming crumbling messes in our hands.
Shops began to turn out their lights, switching their “Come in, we’re open!" signs to “Sorry, we’re closed" signs. Then the shops disappeared and were replaced by apartments and small houses. Some new with their painted outer walls and others looking as if they had been there since the city came to life, old brick building crumbling and splattering rusty red throughout the neighborhood. Tucker and I passed these buildings in comfortable silence, and only when he tapped my shoulder did I realize that I had stopped outside of my building.
Tucker’s eyes flickered between me and the building a few times. He sipped at his coffee and I could hear his bare feet shuffling against the rough concrete of the sidewalk. I blinked at him a few times and suddenly inhaled sharply. “Right! Um, would you like to come in?"
"Sure, provided you’re not gonna bitch about me getting dirt on the floor and tell me I can’t touch anything."
I buzzed our way into the building and ushered him inside with a smirk. “If I cared I wouldn’t have invited you in," I said as we ascended the stairs. “And besides, that’s what showers are for."
Tucker followed me up the stairs and waited while I fumbled with the lock on my door. When I managed to slip the key inside and wrench the rusty thing open, I turned to see him licking muffin crumbs off of his fingers and chuckled slightly. “Come on in."
As we stepped into the apartment, I almost said something to compensate for its small stature. Tucker’s body visibly relaxed as soon as he stepped inside though, so I kept my comments to myself.
I toed my shoes by the door and set my bookbag on the kitchen counter as Tucker slowly wandered around the living room, taking everything in with wary green eyes and drinking his coffee in larger gulps now that it had cooled a bit.
"You live here by yourself?" He asked after a minute or two. I ran my hand over my hair, grimacing at the product in it, and joined Tucker in the living room.
"Yeah, it’s just me here," I said, shutting the front door after Tucker had neglected to. When I turned around, he was heading to the kitchen with his coffee cup to his lips and an empty muffin wrapper crumpled in his hand. Both fell into the trash can with brief thuds and Tucker licked coffee from his lips slowly, savoring the last taste of his beverage.
"Stay!" My sudden outburst had Tucker arching an eyebrow at me and I felt a different kind of heat rush to my face this time. “I mean…what I mean was that you can stay here tonight. If, y’know, you want to."
Cocking his head to the side and folding his arms across his chest, Tucker kept that eyebrow arched and stared at me quizzically. “You’re not afraid I’m gonna steal something?" He asked, his tone incredulous.
"Well you haven’t really given me a reason to be afraid of something like that."
"…How can you be so trusting of someone you don’t even know?"
I ran a hand across my head and sighed. “I don’t know. Trust me I realize how stupid I am for doing things like this, but…I just wanna help people. I can’t help everyone, but I can do things like this. Right now, I can help you and whether you steal from me or not, at least you had a roof over your head and a shower tonight."
Tucker didn’t respond for a while, just kept staring at me with those piercing green eyes of his. He pursed his pale lips at me, then attempted to run a hand through his hair before the knots stopped him short. He chuckled to his self and then looked up at me with a smile on his face. “Allright Sunshine, I’ll stay. I could use that shower.""Right this way."