“Long day,” commented Joel as he locked the back door of the cafe. “I didn’t get to talk to you much after you got knocked down earlier, you sure you’re okay?” The watch on his wrist glinted in the splotchy light. It was quarter past one in the morning. It was cold enough now to see his breath in the air, and Theo was struggling not to shiver in the autumn chill, his red jacket too thin to provide much insulation.
Theo smiled tiredly at Joel as he waited for the older man to finish locking up the cafe. “Yah, I’m fine. Just really tired. Thank you again for letting me borrow your pants for the night. I’ll get them to you as soon as possible.” He looked out at the parking lot behind the building where Joel’s silver beater was parked near the dumpster.
Joel turned from the door and grabbed one of the trash bags that they had dragged outside at the end of clean-up. “Don’t worry about it kiddo,” he smiled.
Theo picked up the other two bags and they walked to the dumpster. Tossing the bags over the rim of the rusty green metal container, Theo silently took Joel’s bag and tossed it over the edge as well. He brushed his hands against his borrowed pants out of habit then adjusted the backpack on his shoulders.
“Are you going to be okay walking back this late?” asked Joel as they meandered next to his car. “You know I don’t mind driving you home.” He offered.
Theo grinned tiredly, “I know Joel, but the answer is same as always; I’m okay to walk home. Thank you though.”
Joel frowned but said nothing, this conversation had been repeated enough that he knew arguing would merit nothing. “Well, be safe.”
Giving a sigh affirmative, Theo waited until Joel got into his car and started the engine. As the lights flickered on and the engine stuttered then roared to life, Theo backed away from the silver car and watched as Joel backed up then slowly rounded the building out the alleyway and into turned down the street. The parking lot was dark and in the shadows cast by the four yellow lights attached to the back of the building Theo sighed deeply looking at the faded stars.
He walked on the sidewalk along the many storefronts staying close to the road to avoid the dark alleyways. This part of the town wasn’t that dangerous even this late, though considering where he lived, he’d been conditioned to avoid any potential dangers, no matter the location.
After a few blocks the storefronts gave way to apartment buildings. Turning down one of the dark streets he passed the nice apartments as they gave way to older and more rickety buildings. Graffiti slowly started to pop up on the buildings, yards got smaller and less kept, trash began to pile up on doorsteps, and fences became less about presentation and more about practicality. It was a long walk this late at night, but he walked it every night Beast working. It gave him plenty of time to think about the day and the man who knocked him down.
It was unusual for a patron to be so rude. Normally they weren’t so bad, but there were all kinds. The town was really a small city, but it seemed quaint enough to pass as a large town. Most of the jobs and attractions came from local businesses that patrons from larger cities liked to frequent for special clothes, coffee, furniture, and jewelry. The regulars at the cafe were the local shop owners, the high school students, and the businessmen from the big city who thought that the small cafe was charming and their hands-on service was an unexpected difference from the big city rush. A new face was unusual, but not incomprehensible.
Theo was so lost in thought that he didn’t even realize he was walking up the uneven porch steps to his apartment’s front entrance way until he opened the door. Blinking rapidly he shuffled his feet on the already filthy mat and closed the door behind him. Taking a key off his keyring he opened the mailbox for apartment 23 and pulled out the large envelope. Bill. Yay.
Tapping the envelope on his hand, he walked up the rickety stairs to where five rust colored doors lined the long hallway. Turning to the first door on the left he pulled another key off his ring. Fumbling he shoved the key in the brass deadbolt and unlocked it with a click. He didn’t bother turning on the light as he entered the small apartment, the street light's week glow illuminated the living room and kitchen through the large windows overlooking the dead garden. He carefully sidestepped the pile of books near the edge of the coffee table and made his way to one of the doors on the left.
Within his room he dropped his backpack against the dresser and began stripping out of his borrowed and wrinkled clothes. By the time he was down to his green boxers he was shivering hard, needing to grind his teeth to avoid chattering. The walk had warmed him up, but the poor insulation and lack of heat made stripping down an unpleasant task. Snatching up the warm fleecy pajama bottoms from the bed he quickly stepped into them. Up until this most recent cold snap he hadn’t needed the bottoms or a top at night, but with early fall’s cold snap, the thin walls were making nights a little more uncomfortable.
Sliding under the chilly seats, Theo pulled the blankets tight around him as he shivered to warm up. Years of late nights and early mornings had Theo trained to fall asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow. As soon as his shivering stopped his cold toes stopped curling and he relaxed into a dreamless sleep.