It was in the coffee shop down the street that Tucker received the first text message.
Tucker was sitting down at an open booth next to one of his friends, hot Styrofoam coffee cup in one hand and a fresh blueberry muffin in the other. He leaned into the window by his right side, propping his shoulder against the freezing glass. The chill was settling into his bones despite the winter jacket he wore, but Tucker didn't really care. His friend, a shorter, chubbier man named Grif, sat opposite of him and was occupied with his own cup of coffee and a frosted brownie the size of his entire hand.
There was a faint vibration coming from within his puffy winter jacket, and Tucker set down his muffin to grab his phone.
"Of course Simmons is texting me to tell us he's going to be late." Tucker thought to himself, frowning as he fished his phone out between spare change and a used tissue. He slid his thumb over the smooth surface as he let out a small muttering under his breath. "That asshole never arrives anywhere on time."
However instead of it being another one of his friends, Tucker found a very confusing, yet very threatening message from an unknown number. The young man could feel his eyebrows furrowing together the longer he stared at the text. Tucker scratched his head, pulling off his aqua colored knit hat and setting it beside his muffin in the process. He could feel Grif shift at his side, noticing the change in his companion's posture. And yet, the Hawaiian didn't question his growing confusion, allowing Tucker to reread the text.
York, if you don't delete those fucking photos I swear to God that you won't be able to sit down for an entire week without moaning in pain after I kick your ass.—Unknown, 4:29
Whoever this York person was, Tucker knew that they had done something to seriously piss off the sender. Initially, Tucker thought that he should politely message the person back, telling them that they had the wrong number. But as he read the message a third time, Tucker found his fingers already typing away a more . . . obscene response.
Sounds like he can't take what's given to him. Bow chicka bow wow.—Message received, unread.
He sent it without fully realizing what he had done. By the time that he realized that he had used one of his awful pick-up lines, Tucker could feel his stomach slowly drop. He literally dropped his phone onto the table. The object clattered loudly, which again caught the attention of Grif, as well as Church as he joined the two at the booth, coffee and snack in hand. Thankfully Church was holding his tongue for his best friend, but Grif was not as controlled.
"Dude. Are you gonna be alright? You look like you just sent a nude to your grandmother by accident." Grif eloquently put it as he shoved the rest of his hand sized brownie into his mouth. He chuckled as he chewed, a few crumbs falling from his mouth and onto his plaid orange scarf. "Oh god. Please tell me you didn't."
"Of course not, asshole. But I think I just insulted a random person who texted a wrong number."
"Wow." Grif continued, pausing to take a sip from his steaming coffee. "Dick move."
"And it might have involved an innuendo about dicks." Tucker sighed, feeling his cheeks getting warmer. It was a good thing that the two could never tell when he was blushing, or else they'd never let him live it down.
"That was a dick move." Church finally contributed to the conversation, meticulously picking away the chocolate chips from the top his muffin as he spoke. "If I were you, asshole, I'd text them back and apologize."
"No shit, Church. You thought of that yourself?"
Church scowled at his best friend and then flipped him the finger cautiously, hiding it behind his large muffin. He didn't want to insult the older patrons.
"Just send them the text, you moron."
Tucker did just that. He picked up his phone from the tabletop and opened up the conversation again. Just as he was about to send off his typed text, the phone buzzed in his hands, informing him that the random person had replied to Tucker's message. Tucker's stomach dropped again and he reluctantly opened the message.
Good one. I'll make sure to tell York that after I pry his phone from his fingers.—Unknown, 4:31
And then shortly after, another response.
Who is this again?—Unknown, 4:31
Church and Grif had been peaking over his shoulder, reading the incoming text messages. Tucker caught them in the act and roughly shoved them away from him. Church ended up spilling his still steaming hot coffee onto his pants, causing the college student to immediately stand up and start swearing like a sailor, which wasn't very hard for him to accomplish. Church's swearing caused many eyes to drift to their booth. It's not like Tucker wanted the extra attention, and neither did the other two. Thankfully, Church angrily rushed to the men's room to clean up, but Grif was not as easily deterred.
Grif was smirking again, trying to hide a rising laugh. Hopefully it wouldn't rise above a few snickers, or else Grif's booming, contagious laughter would alert the whole café to their presence. Tucker only glared at him as the other man chuckled out a few words.
"Looks like you either found another person who has your same sense of humor, or they're just too naive for their own good." Grif muttered through that smirk of his.
"Just fuck off, man. Go check on Church and make sure he's not too pissed off at me."
Tucker had meant it as a joke, because Church was always pissed off, but he was pleasantly surprised to see Grif comply. Grif raised his hands, palms up, in a gesture of submission and stood up from his seat. The Hawaiian headed towards the men's room, hands roughly shoved into his pants pockets. Now alone at the table, Tucker returned his attention to the unwanted conversation.
You don't know me. Sent the message to the wrong number, man.—Tucker, read 4:36.
I figured that out, Einstein. No really, who is this? What's your name?—Unknown, 4:36
Tucker only hesitated for the smallest of seconds before answering them.
Sorry, won't tell you. I just met you. Don't know if this is some lame attempt of identity theft.—Tucker, 4:37
The reply took some time. Tucker was finishing up his muffin and was wondering if his two friends were returning anytime soon. There still wasn't any sign from Simmons, but the nerd always seemed to run late for everything. His phone buzzed again, and Tucker didn't hesitate to look at the text.
I don't think identity theft works that way. And even if it did, I would only have your name. That's not much use to a thief without a string of numbers attached.—Unknown 4:40
That's just what you want me to think.—Tucker, 4:41
That's not what I meant. Look, let me start over again. My name is Washington, what's yours?—Unknown 4:43
Washington? Like the old President dude from like forever ago?—Tucker, 4:43
No, like the State.—Unknown, 4:44
You've got to be shitting me.—Tucker, 4:44
That seemed to irritate this 'Washington' dude for the meantime, because he didn't get a response from the guy after a few minutes. Tucker didn't really care and he pocketed his phone as he saw Church and Grif exit the men's room side by side. Church still looked livid, but the wet stain on his grey-blue winter coat was disappearing, as well as Grif's patience for the other man. The two sat down, and stared at Tucker.
"So . . ." Church started, a little bite in his words. "You find out who your mysterious texter is?"
"Some dude named after a fucking State, that's who." Tucker said, waving off the text as he leaned off of the cold window and onto the table. He barely paid notice to Church's concerned look before starting up another conversation, directed away from his texting misadventures. "Now where the hell is Simmons? Shouldn't he have been here like half an hour ago?"
"The dude called me when we were in the restroom." Grif commented, raising his iPhone for the two to see it. "He said that he's on his way, but the weather will slow him down because he's walking instead of taking the bus. The one at the College Union got stuck in the snowbank."
"Well that's great." Church huffed out. "I don't want to wait around in this place all night; I have stuff I wanted to do."
"You're not the only one, man." Tucker chimed in just as he felt his phone vibrate again.
I hope I'm not interrupting you with something important.—Unknown, 4:48
Nah, just some coffee with assholes. They won't mind. Why are you asking?—Tucker 4:49
I'm bored.—Unknown, 4:50
There's not much to do where I'm from and you're providing an excellent distraction from the urge to pull my hair out.—Unknown, 4:50
Glad to be of assistance.—Tucker, 4:52
You're very sarcastic, do you know that?—Unknown, 4:53
Got it from my best friend. He's worse than I am, especially when he's angry.—Tucker, 4:54
Sounds like you two would be a fun bunch.—Unknown, 4:54
You should see us at the party.—Tucker, 4:56
I'll bet. What kind of coffee are you having?—Unknown, 4:57
Some kind of organic shit. It's actually pretty good with the right kind of cream.—Tucker, 4:58
It was at that time that Simmons had finally joined the crew, waving at the window from the outside as he passed the café. The door chime went off as Simmons entered and a harsh wind blew into the small room. Tucker could feel his cheeks burn against the cold and watched as Church tightened the dark blue scarf around his neck. Grif seemed to be the most affected by the cold and huddled up, moving his head into his large, over insulated coat like a turtle.
Simmons stamped on the matt to rid his boots of the accumulated snowy brown slosh before he closed the glass door behind him. His cheeks were red from the cold and his glasses were fogging up due to the temperature difference, but neither observation did anything to deter his relieved smile that was plastered on his face. The tall nerd made his way to their booth, taking off his glasses in one hand and holding onto a white pizza both with the other.
"Sorry I had to make you guys wait. There was a guy in our study group that didn't know the difference between a core processor and a CPU." Simmons said, placing down the white cardboard box down on the counter before sitting next to Grif. He wiped as his glasses, blowing on them to get them clean. "And he's supposedly the top student in the programing major. Idiot."
"Yeah, because it's like the difference is so obvious." Grif said sarcastically as he went to open the cardboard box. Simmons gave the shorter man a small whack on his shoulder and Grif cursed under his breath. "I was joking, Simmons. Now what kind of pizza did you get?"
Simmons had brought with him half a cold pizza; his study session at his College Union had run later than he had expected and one of the students had ordered pizza almost an hour ago. Grif didn't seem to mind the fact that the pizza was old and cold and he immediately dug in, with Church right by his side. Tucker set his phone down, forgetting his conversation with a friendly, bored stranger for the meantime. Each of the friends had a single piece, and they soon scarfed it down with their coffee.
After they finished their food, the four young men remained at the booth, having a casual conversation for a few hours. The café's barista looked a little irritated at the fact that the men were staying after they finished their food, but none of them gave her a second look. She looked even more irritated when she saw that they had brought pizza to the café instead of ordering more food, and thus not tipping her.
The weather had picked up after Simmons arrived; the Chicago wind picked up and the fresh fallen snow rose to the air, creating the illusion of small flurries. With a look out the window, the group of friends noticed that traffic had slowed down as road conditions worsened. For it only being late November, a strong Nor'easter was making its way into Canada, dumping at least a foot of snow throughout a day.
"Man, I hope the power doesn't go out in our building." Church said, finally commenting on the weather as he tapped the glass window. He ran a hand through his messy black hair as he stared down the street. "I can't remember the last time the heat was off."
"I thought you liked the cold, Church." Simmons said, keeping his gaze on the window as well.
"Well it's a lot better than the Texan heat I grew up in." Church retorted. "Half a year of nothing but 100 degree weather? I'll pass. And I don't like the humidity, that's for sure; it makes all your clothes stick onto you uncomfortably."
"I don't know, Church. I grew up in Honolulu, and I think I'd rather be there right now." Grif muttered through a sip of his almost emptied Styrofoam cup. "Sometimes I wonder why I left home for Chicago. If anything, I should have gone to Arizona. A nice hot, arid desert sound pretty good at the moment."
Tucker snorted at that. "Please, I've been to a desert. You wouldn't last there a day without complaining about how dry it is. It's nothing but dirt and sand, and getting a sunburn is always a bitch. "
"Hey, can't I fantasize about heat? You do realize that we're going to have to go out in that weather when we go back home?" Grif pointed out, growing exasperated.
At his words, the others deflated, knowing that Grif was right. Even Church who, as they pointed out, loved the cold with a dying passion, looked a little disgruntled with the thought of trudging through eight inches of accumulated snowfall with only jeans and a pair of snow boots. Simmons checked his watch, and mentioned that it was almost seven now. It was already growing dark, and the streetlights overhead would do nothing to help them on their journey. The four friends would rather be home in this weather than stumbling around in the cold night any longer than they should.
"Alright, you have a point." Tucker said, finally relenting from their argument.
"Yeah, let's leave before this weather gets worse." Church nodded his head as he stood up.
The four left together soon after that. As they made their way down the street and towards their apartment building, they huddled up like penguins staving off the bitter wind. Tucker had forgotten his scarf back in his room and was doing his best to pull his winter jacket closer towards his nose. Simmons was having a similar predicament, except his longer neck was proving to make the task more difficult. Grif, that son of a bitch, was in the middle of the group, using the others as a shield against the harsh wind.
The only one who didn't seem affected by the cold was Church, who led the group down the street until they closed in on the apartment building, neck and face completely wrapped up in his scarf.
Tucker ran for the door. Snow was beginning to make its way down his back, sending the grown man shivering from the unwanted chill. He kept the door open as the other three followed him in. Grif let out a small breath of relief as he took off his hat and shook off the snow covering it. Holding his hat by the little puff ball on the top, Grif helped himself to the stairwell. Tucker could hear the shorter, chubbier man mutter to himself as he made his way up the stairs and towards the sixth floor.
"You know, sometimes I wish that we picked an apartment that had an elevator . . ." Tucker muttered as he joined Grif, staying about half a floor behind the fellow.
"Yeah, you're telling me." Grif muttered. He paused between steps and patted down his jacket, a confused look on his face. He then frowned; whatever he had been looking for wasn't there. And then Grif groaned. "Damn it, Simmons has the key."
Tucker chuckled as he fished out the keys from his jeans pockets, dangling them just above Grif's face as he passed him.
"You son of a bitch." Grif muttered.
"Guess who's going to take a hot shower?" Tucker taunted, calling behind him as he continued up the stairs.
"You can be such an asshole sometimes, Tucker."
"Same goes to you."
Tucker could hear the other two entering the stairwell. They had probably went to the mailroom and gotten their mail, probably because they knew how badly their other roommates were at doing that simple task. Tucker could hear Simmons and Church talking together as he finally reached the sixth floor. Tucker closed the door behind him by the time that the two reached Grif, with Grif greeting them with an "about damn time. . ."
The sixth floor of the apartment building only housed four separate apartments, each with their own color coated front door. Apparently, all doors in the ten story apartment building were a different color, and it had been that way for decades. The landlord before the current one had been an artsy woman, and had done this on a whim during a Sunday, surprising the past renters when they left their apartments for work on Monday. The current landlord, a Southern man with a gruff disposition, didn't have the heart to paint over her work despite the complaints that his Hispanic custodian gave him.
Tucker passed the two doors immediately next to the stair well, a brown and purple in color, and headed towards his own royal blue colored door. Tucker inserted the key into the lock and opened the door, only to be greeted with the smell of something burning. He immediately entered his apartment, setting down his keys and hat onto the nearest table and then ran into the kitchen. There he spotted one of his roommates and their next door neighbor, bent over the remains of what looked like a sadly deflated and burnt apple pie.
"Donut, Caboose? What the hell are you doing?" Tucker asked, sighing between his words.
Donut looked up and frowned nervously. He put down the pair of oven mitts he was wearing and patted off flour from his cooking apron. Caboose, on the other hand, did not hear either the anger or disappointment that was in Tucker's voice and held up the abomination sitting in the pie tin.
"We're baking a pie!" Caboose said proudly, grinning from ear to ear. He set the pie back down on the stove top and ran a hand through his normally dirty blonde hair, except now it was coated in a thin layer of flour and . . . was that pie dough? "The cable went out about an hour ago, and we couldn't finish our movie. So Donut decided to try out a new recipe he got from the Doctor next door. I wanted to help."
"Doc told me that it was his grandmother's recipe, and his favorite desert. I thought that baking in a nice hot kitchen would have been just the thing during the cold weather." Donut said, his voice was a little more enthusiastic now that he saw that Caboose was unfazed by his roommate's impending fury. "Except the pie caught on fire halfway through the process. I guess we put too much flour on it."
Tucker stared at the mess for a few seconds longer before relenting with a tired sigh. If he listened carefully, he could hear the footsteps of the others approaching. He knew that he didn't want to be around when Church discovered the battle ground that once was their clean kitchen.
"Fine. But you better clean this up, and fast." Tucker said as he unzipped his jacket and hung it up in the open closet next to the kitchen. Tucker ran a hand through his cropped, curly brown hair before turning towards the bathroom. During that, he caught the two friends' confused looks. "Church is on his way, and he'll have a fucking hissy fit when he sees the mess that you made."
Just as he said that, the three heard the doorknob turn, informing them that Church was already back. Caboose and Donut's complexions paled and they quickly moved to clean up most of the evidence. Tucker only shook his head and grabbed a towel from the linen closet before entering the bathroom. He started to strip when he heard the telltale sound of Church's unusually loud and angry voice. Tucker didn't want to hear that and turned on the shower, blocking out the noise from the impending shit storm back in the kitchen/living area.
Tucker had been right; a shower was just what he needed to fight off the cold. The hot water running down his back and between his legs felt like heaven. Because Tucker knew that Church would also want a share at the hot water, Tucker kept the shower quick. He shut off the water and stepped onto the bathroom matt. As Tucker toweled himself off, he spotted his phone on the sink near his toothbrush. Tucker picked up his phone, and noticed that he had not answered his last text message from the mysterious stranger.
If only I could get a good cup of coffee. The stuff they serve here tastes like pencil erasers and ground up dirt.—Unknown, sent 4:59
Tucker thought about answering the text. Whoever it was seemed to be enjoying sharing a conversation with a random stranger. But then again, they may be doing it out of politeness and holding the conversation until Tucker grew bored and stopped it for him. Tucker knew that his mother was like that, as well as Donut. It wouldn't be totally unbelievable if that was—
His phone vibrated in his hand, and Tucker saw that it was a new text from "Washington".
Judging by the time, I'd say that you're done with coffee at this point.—Unknown, received 6:57
So they were still texting him. That was strange, but Tucker didn't question it further as he typed whoever it was another message.
Yeah, ended up chatting with friends and then headed towards home in this crappy weather. Is it bad for you wherever you live?—Tucker, 6:57
It just reached us about an hour ago. It's a complete whiteout outside.—Unknown, 6:58
So I'm guessing you live up in the North East? Or the Midwest?—Unknown, 6:58
This was feeling like twenty questions again, like back in the café. Tucker hesitated giving out any information to a complete stranger. But then again, whoever it was had given him more information about himself to Tucker. Like a last name.
I live in Chicago.—Tucker, 6:59
Tucker quickly dressed as he turned on the bathroom fan. He pulled on a pair of sweats and a grey T-shirt as he waited for the person to respond. He rubbed down the fogged up mirror, inspecting his hair and teeth before hanging up his towel and exiting the room.
The apartment was quiet now, which could only mean two things. Either Caboose and Donut did what Church wanted and cleaned the place up, or Church escaped with Simmons and Grif to their apartment across from theirs to calm down. Curiosity forced Tucker down the hall and back to the main part of the apartment, where he saw Church reading a book while crawled up into a ball on the couch. Caboose was in the kitchen, getting rid of any evidence of his latest baking attempt.
Church looked up from his book as Tucker drew close. He had changed since he got home; now Church was wearing a blue turtleneck sweater and a pair of loose fitting jeans. His reading glasses were askew, but he quickly fixed that before going back to his book.
"How'd they clean that up so fast?" Tucker asked, motioning towards the kitchen.
"Oh, a little persuasion can get you pretty far when you ask nice enough." Church said, his tone of voice implying Tucker that Church had done the exact opposite.
"You threatened to kick Caboose out the apartment, didn't you . . .?" Tucker asked flately.
"Yup." Church nodded, putting extra emphasis on the P.
Tucker sighed and went into the kitchen. He opened the fridge door as he grimaced ruefully at Caboose. Tucker pulled out a cold water bottle before closing the door and heading back to his small room. He shut the door behind him before falling onto his comfy bed, letting out a tired breath of relief as he did so. And then his phone buzzed again.
Wow. That's not that far from where I am. Well at least I didn't text that message to someone from Switzerland.—Unknown, 7:06.
Yeah, sorry I don't speak Swiss.—Tucker, 7:06
French. They speak French and German.—Unknown, 7:07
Whatever, man.—Tucker, 7:07
That came off as a little rude. And while Tucker, or any of his friends for that fact, wasn't really that polite of a person, it didn't sit well with him. He frowned at himself as he typed another message before they could respond.
So where are you from? It sounded like not far from Chicago.—Tucker, 7:08
About two hours southeast.—Unknown, 7:09
So somewhere in Indiana?—Tucker, 7:11
There was a lull in the conversation, and Tucker picked up on it pretty quickly. He sat his phone down on his bed and went over by his desk. He turned on his computer and started to look through his emails and opened up to Facebook.
Tucker was currently unemployed and desperatley looking for a job. But since the job market was complete shit and he only had a two year degree from a community college, the chances of him landing a job were pretty slim.
Church wasn't in the same boat, who already had a part time job as a receptionist as he started his last year of classes. The more money that Church pulled into the apartment, the more Tucker regretted not staying at school for a few years longer. And Caboose's parents were fucking set for life, and they didn't expect him to get a job anytime soon. For all of his cheerfulness, even a blind man could see that Caboose was a few cards short of a full deck.
Tucker's mother could only support him for a little while longer before she'd ask him to come home. Joining the military was looking even better the longer he went unemployed . . .
He received no replies from his applications, which wasn't too surprising given his track record. Tucker closed out of his Gmail account and opened up a new tab to Netflix. He quickly started up from where he left off with his favorite show and opened up his water bottle. This wasn't exactly how he wanted to spend his Friday night, but hopefully the weather would diminish after tonight. And then the group of friends would go out for a drink on the town Saturday.
Tucker ended up watching three episodes before he felt his stomach growl. Tucker frowned as he stared accusingly down at his stomach. Apparently some coffee, a muffin, and a slice of cold pizza wasn't enough for dinner. Tucker paused the current episode of Scrubs and stood up. He left his room and headed towards the kitchen.
Church had retired for the night, leaving Caboose to his business. The dirty blonde had long since forgotten about his movie with Donut and was now playing a video game on their TV. It looked like Plants vs Zombies from the corner of Tucker's eyes, and it sounded like Caboose was growing frustrated with the game. Caboose was moaning in disappointment and in anger, and Tucker hoped that he didn't break another Xbox controller. Those things were not cheap.
Tucker started up the stovetop and quickly prepared a grilled cheese sandwich. Knowing that Caboose would want one as well, he started making another sandwich without even asking his roommate. Just as he thought, when Caboose heard the sound of sizzling bread on a frying pan, he paused the game and slowly slunk into the kitchen. Before Caboose could even ask for the sandwich, Tucker placed it on a clean plate.
"Here you go, bud. Help yourself." Tucker said as he turned back to the stove, speaking over his shoulder.
"Thanks Tucker!" Caboose said, biting through the sandwich with over enthusiasm.
The game started again soon after that. It acted as perfect background noise as Tucker finished cooking his own food. Tucker flipped off the stove as he grabbed another plate from the cabinet. He joined Caboose on the couch as he ate, watching the man's gameplay. Tucker finished his grilled cheese just as Caboose finished the level. Tucker checked his watch. It was already 10:20.
"Need help with the couch?" Tucker offered through a yawn.
"No, I got it. Thanks anyways." Caboose said as he went to turn off the television.
He placed the controller down on in a small basket with the rest of the apartment's games and controllers. Tucker nodded and went back to the kitchen. He rinsed off the plate before putting it in the dishwasher. He noticed that the machine was full and he started it. As Tucker left the kitchen, the dishwasher's quiet hum replaced the silence the TV left.
"Goodnight, Caboose." Tucker called out as he headed back towards his room.
He didn't receive an answer from Caboose. But he could hear Caboose groaning as he pulled out the couch's pull out bed. Knowing that Caboose would make his bed soon, Tucker closed his door and headed back to his computer, not bothering to turn on the lights. He closed his laptop and picked up his phone, turning on the flashlight to help him see through the dark room.
Tucker fell into his bed and pulled off all of his clothes. As he snuggled up and turned on his electric blanket, Tucker reached for his phone on the bedside table. He checked to see if he had any other messages from his mysterious texter. He hadn't. Tucker shut off his phone and put it under his pillow before rolling over onto his stomach.
He laid there in the quiet for a few minutes, faintly hearing the dishwasher continue its cycle. The living room lights went off, and Tucker knew that Caboose finally went to bed. Any moment now, he'd hear the man start to snore like a train passing by. Living with Caboose for the past two years allowed for Tucker to get used to the sound, but it still woke him up occasionally.
Tucker felt half an hour slowly pass by whilst he relaxed on his stomach. And he was not yet asleep. Sluggishly, he pulled out his phone from under his pillow and typed a message.
My name is Tucker.—Tucker, sent 10:57