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Separation Anxiety

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Had it really been less than a month since they’d left Australia? It felt like a hundred years had passed. Josh had tried to fill that time with as much activity and as many people as people as possible, desperately trying to fill the Tyler-shaped hole in his life.

It wasn’t working.

He missed his best friend and bandmate more than he thought it was possible to miss another person. Josh missed Tyler like he would a missing arm, or leg, or… or a piece of his own soul. Yes, that was what Tyler was to Josh: more than a friend, more than a bandmate.

Part of his soul.

And try as he might, he couldn’t escape those feelings. God knew he’d tried.

It had been getting worse since the wedding. Oh, Josh was happy for them, of course. He was glad that they’d found each other. He wasn’t even jealous of the time Jenna got to spend with Tyler. He just… he just wished that he could share some of their happiness.

“You still with us, Mr. Dun?”

Josh was snatched from his reverie by the man leading the calisthenics. His cheeks burned as he reached for his ankle, mimicking the athletes around him.

He’d thought the marathons would help burn off some of the restlessness that had been plaguing him since the end of the tour. If anything, they’d only made it worse. Each time Josh stood at the starting line; every time he heard the blast of the starter pistol, he faltered – just for a heartbeat. Just long enough to wonder what he was running toward.

Or away from.

***

Tyler sat at the counter in his shiny new kitchen. He hadn’t bothered turning on the light, but that didn’t matter. Tonight, it wasn’t the darkness outside that frightened Tyler; it was the darkness inside – specifically the darkness leaking from the Josh-shaped hole in his chest.

He had it all: the beautiful wife, the perfect house, the success he’d always dreamed of.

So why wasn’t it enough?

Why couldn’t he stop wondering if Josh was okay? Why did he see photos on Snapchat and worry that all those people crowding him were going to make Josh’s Anxiety flare up? He was a grown man, after all. Josh didn’t need Tyler to protect him.

What if I need him?

Tyler told himself to stop being selfish. He couldn’t expect Josh to always be there. Josh had his own life to lead. He-

The lights clicked on, revealing Jenna in the doorway. Her over-sized tee was rumpled and her blonde hair hung loose around her face. She was adorable. She was everything a man could hope for in a wife.

But she wasn’t Josh.

“What are you doing?” Jenna asked. Her bare feet whispered across the tile as she crossed to the counter. With a peck on Tyler’s cheek, she snagged the can of Red Bull that sat in front of him and took it to the sink, where she poured it down the drain.

“Just thinking.”

Jenna grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and set it down in front of Tyler.

“About what?”

“You, of course,” Tyler said with a smile that his fans would have analysed, over-analysed, and dismissed as phony. But Jenna wasn’t just a fan; she was his wife – and she deserved more than a husband who was only half there.

“Come on,” he said, taking her hand. “Let’s go back to bed.”

***

The light from Tyler’s phone woke Jenna. She rubbed the back of a hand across her eyes as she said, “Ty? What time is it?”

It was Tyler’s “Here? Or, in Italy?” that gave him away.

The phone flicked off before Jenna could get a look at her husband’s face. She’d bet anything, though, that he wore that same lost puppy expression he’d worn since they’d left Australia. It broke her heart, even to imagine Tyler looking lonely.

Taking some time out, time apart, hadn’t been Jenna’s idea. That was all Tyler, who was afraid that she might be feeling envious of the time that he spent with his best friend. She’d tried explaining, over and over again, that it wasn’t necessary but, in the end, agreed because it seemed like something Tyler needed at the time.

She wondered if he realized yet how wrong he’d been.

Jenna had known, going into the relationship that Tyler and Josh were a package deal. She’d quickly learned that they were better together than they were apart. She just wished they’d admit it themselves.

“So,” she said, sitting up so she could turn on the bedside light. “How’s Josh?”

Tyler stared up at the ceiling, arms behind his head. “He looks tired.”

Jenna’s chest tightened. Her lovely Tyler, who worried about whether his best friend was getting enough sleep – when he hadn’t slept in two days, himself. She sighed heavily and pushed the hair back from her face.

“I’m booking you a flight,” she said, climbing to her feet.

“What?!” Tyler practically fell out of the bed. “Where to? Why?”

Jenna gave him a look that was both patient and just a little sad. “Because you miss Josh. Because, judging from the thousand messages I’ve had off him this week asking if you’re okay, he misses you. And,” she said, “because I may have to kill you both if you don’t get on with it already.”

As she sat at the laptop, Jenna felt Tyler’s hands come to rest on her shoulders. He kissed the top of her head before whispering, “Thank you.”

She let the tears silently slide down her cheeks as she replied.

“Just go to him.”

***

Another day, another marathon. Josh stood at the starting line, stretching and listening to fans on the sidewalk calling his name. He smiled and waved obligingly but, honestly, was barely there. He was in a house in Columbus that he hadn’t even seen yet. He was with a man and woman who were still learning to be newlyweds.

It took him a moment to realize that the rest of the runners had begun. Josh scrambled to catch up.

He tried to give himself over to the steady in-and-out of breath; to the pounding of feet on asphalt – but it was futile. The harder Josh tried not to think about Tyler, the more he did. With each exhale of breath, he remembered the way Josh’s breath sounded when he finally found sleep in the beds they had shared in those early days, when they were lucky to afford a single hotel room between them.

The sound of the runners’ steps became a drumbeat. Josh imagined himself at his kit, on stage with Tyler at the piano. It was difficult to keep his arms pumping in s steady rhythm when his hands longed to hold drumsticks.

Why am I doing this? he asked himself for the hundredth time that week.

Because if you go home, you won’t be able to stop yourself from going to Tyler, even though he asked for space. Because you’re such a sad, weak, little-

“Josh!”

Oh, man. He was in deeper than he thought. Even the fans calling his name sounded like Tyler.

“Joshua William Dun!”

Wow. That really did sound like Tyler – but that was ridiculous. Tyler wasn’t in Milan. Tyler-

-hit Josh so hard that they were both thrown to the ground. Panting and blinking in confusion, Josh stared up in wonder at the sight of his best friend, bandmate, and…

Soulmate.

“I’m sorry!” Tyler gasped. Cheeks red, he looked sheepish.

The collision had ended with Josh sprawled under Tyler, who was checking Josh’s elbows for scrapes. “I got a little excited.”

“Oh, my god, bro. Say something. Did I kill you?” Tyler said, starting to look a bit frantic. “Are you okay?”

The smile Josh gave Tyler was brilliant enough to chase both their demons away.

“I am now.”