Theo practically fell into the apartment when the door opened before he could extract his key. Feeling sore and irritated he stopped himself from snapping at Beth, her hair pulled back from her paint-streaked face.
“Hey,” said Theo tiredly moving into the apartment. “Thanks Beth.”
Beth shut the door and rebolted the lock. “No problem, I heard you fiddling with the lock.” She turned back to him just as he placed a brown paper bag on the table, and dropped his backpack onto the floor by the couch and flopped onto it, his face buried into the cushions, legs bent awkwardly over the other armrest. A muffled response sounding like a grunt greeted her.
Moving around to where she had set up her easel on the coffee table, Beth perched herself on the stack of books serving as a stool. Staring across the coffee table at Theo’s form face-first in the couch she shifted her easel to the side a little so she could keep an eye on him as she painted. He looks beat. He works too much, it’s gonna wear him out.
“Bad day at A Bit of Everything?” she asked, picking up the brush on the edge of the coffee table.
Theo turned his head towards her, the bags under his eyes standing out harshly in the cheap lamp light. “Yah, I got stiffed on a big tip again, and Dick was being...well...a dick.” He closed his eyes and breathed out through his nose. “I’m just sore.”
Beth glanced at him again, then refocused on her painting. “You’re gonna fall apart if you keep working like this. I mean, you work over ten hours a day at Joel’s, then on the weekends you work six to eight under Dick, and you’re doing classes on top of it. You’re gonna run yourself into the ground.” Her eyes darted back to him, concern furrowing her brow. Not that she didn’t get it. When his dad cut him off, Theo basically had to start from nothing. He needed to work all those hours to afford the classes and the apartment, but…
She took a breath and refocused on her painting, willing herself to stop worrying. Theo’s an adult, he can handle himself. Theo sighed and shifted so he was leaning on his back, his knees drawn in so that he could fit on the sofa.
“Get anything done at the studio?” he asked, untying the laces of his shoes.
“Yah, I think I’m almost done with the mermaid piece,” she replied, dabbing a bit of green on the canvas before switching brushes. “And Neal says that with my concentration already so far along I can start looking at some of the other stuff I wanted to do.”
“That’s great!” he said with an exhausted enthusiasm. Throwing his shoes down by his bag he rubbed his feet, face tight with discomfort. “He gonna let do a big canvas?”
Beth frowned, a little, itching her nose. “No, I don’t think so. After all, normally only seniors get a big canvas, and I do still have to finish my concentration. Besides, I think he wants me to branch out from paints and graphite into digital and stuff.” She switched brushes again, orange now gliding across the canvas in small strokes. “I think I’ll work on some more of the commissioned stuff I’m getting from that webpage you set up. I get a lot of people asking for the fantasy stuff, and I know I can knock out a few fairy paintings pretty quick.”
Theo slowly stretched his back, arching it off the sofa and balling his hands into fists above his head. With a yawn he relaxed back into the couch’s flowered cushions. Normally they took the heinous flowered cushions and used them on the floor to sit on, the couch being too tall to use the coffee table as a desk or kitchen table. But for now it was nice to have a place to collapse. “You’re getting more and more asks, between your Etsy and your website you’re doing pretty well.” He glanced over at her, a tired smile stretching across his face. “Soon you’ll be a full-time artist and Beast’ll own the bar. Maybe I’ll get hired by a magazine in the city and we’ll all move out of this dump and into a nicer place.”
She smiled at him, not wanting to point out that he didn’t look for greatness himself. She knew he wanted to publish some of his essays on social equality, but he didn’t even dream that could become a reality. “Sure,” she said. “You’ll publish that collection of essays you’ve been working on and become a famous social activist as well as a writer, I’ll get into prestigious galleries and sell my paintings for thousands of dollars, and Beast will own The Poison Apple when Martha retires. When we get out of here we should get a house with a garden for flowers.” Beast can try her green thumb in a real garden and stop putting her effort into the weeds that grow in front of this place. “And we should get a dog.”
“A dog?” asked Theo. “Dogs are big and expensive and messy and require a lot of care. I don’t think we could handle a dog.”
Beth puffed out her cheeks and scrunched her nose. “Sure we could! Besides you like dogs, I like dogs, Beast likes dogs. We should get a dog.”
“Okay,” Theo said, obviously laughing at this imagined future. “We can have a dog. What kind do you want?”
“Husky,” she said quickly with a grin. “They’re fluffy and big and dependable.”
“Okay, a husk it is then,” he said easily, obviously falling into a sleepy daze.
Beth glanced down at her cell on the coffee table when it buzzed twice. The vibrations made an annoying sound on the wood table.
Message from: Beast
Message from: Beast.
Wiping her hands on the black t-shirt that covered her normal clothes, she picked up the cell.
-U and Theo home?-
-How’s T? He ok?-
“What does her majesty want?” asked Theo from his couch.
“Just wants to make sure we got home safe,” she replied, quickly tapping out an answer.
-We’re home, don’t worry.-
-He seems really tired.-
A moment later the cell vibrated in her hand.
-Gtg, ttyl lil’ sis. <3-
Beth smiled and tapped her response before putting down here cell and picking up the brush again.
-Safe walk home. <3-
“So Joel did his usual thing with the muffins?” she asked Theo.
“Yah,” he said sleepily. “Told me he had to keep them in demand. Blueberry today. Had one at work.”
She snagged the brown paper bag and dragged it closer to her painted mess and unrolled the top. The smell of butter and blueberries drifted out of the bag, and soon she found herself halfway done with the large breakfast food. God, did Joel make delicious muffins. I need to get his secret…
“How was Joel’s?” she asked as she peeled the liner a little further off the delicious pastry.
“Pretty good,” replied Theo. “Oh yah, Fred was asking where you went.”
She smiled through her muffin. Fred and Jack were regulars on Fridays, and Fred swore that Beth could have been his daughter in five years or so. “You tell him he’ll have to visit a different morning?”
“Nah,” said Theo. “Gabe came in again.”
As if a little jolt went through her brain, Beth began listening intently. Something about that man… “Gabe, the shy guy who apologized for knocking you down the other day?” she asked.
“Yah,” said Theo, his eyes were closed, so he didn’t see her staring intently at him. “Said he only had a moment to grab a coffee before heading to meet with his boss…..Vivian.”
He doesn’t normally remember so many details for someone so new. “That sounds nice, did he stay and chat for a moment?” she asked before popping the last piece of muffin into her mouth.
“No, he had to go,” replied Theo easily, still unaware of Beth’s gaze. “Too bad, he should have had a muffin.”