Tyler hadn’t signed in to any of his social media accounts in nearly a year. Fans might put it down to building a mystique surrounding the hiatus, but Jenna knew better. Of course, Jenna got to see what the rest of the world didn’t.
She saw the way Tyler sat at the piano day after day. Sat, but didn’t play.
She saw the faraway look in his eyes when they discussed their futures late at night.
She saw him scrolling through concert photos on his laptop – and the way he slammed the laptop shut when she walked into the room.
Fans might think Tyler’s absence on social media was all about the hiatus, but Jenna knew better. She knew something was going on with her husband – she just didn’t know what it was. Sometimes, after a bout of ugly crying in the shower, Jenna wondered if she really wanted to know.
When Tyler went for a walk in the woods behind their house one afternoon and “forgot” to come back until late the next morning, Jenna decided she had to know. It was time to do something about her husband’s strange behavior. So, she started with enchiladas. When there was bad news to be given in the Joseph household, it was always best to do so through the buffer of Mexican food.
Was it bad news? It had to be. God, Jenna couldn’t even imagine what could be bad enough to make Tyler feel like he couldn’t talk to her about it. They talked through the long battle with Depression, through insecurities and uncertainties. They had even spent hours FaceTiming when tours kept them apart. They talked about everything.
Well, they used to. It had been far too long since they’d had a conversation deeper than, “Do you want me to pick up Pop Tarts while I’m out?”
Jenna was almost too afraid to ask... but it had gone on long enough. Whatever it was – however bad it was – she had to know.
Tyler knew what was coming when Jenna set the steaming pan of enchiladas on the table between them before taking her seat. Honestly, he was surprised it had taken so long. There was no doubt his behavior had become increasingly erratic but Jenna, bless her, was the sweetest, most considerate wife in the world. She would never push Tyler into talking about something before he was ready.
Which was why it had taken nearly a year for her to ask the question.
“What’s going on, Ty?” she said, dishing out a helping of cheesy enchilada. The way she watched him out of the corner of her eye belied Jenna’s casual tone.
Tyler didn’t pretend to mis-understand her words.
But he couldn’t answer her, either, because she was the sweetest, most considerate wife in the world. He couldn’t do that to her. He couldn’t hurt her that way.
Except… if he kept silent, he would still be hurting her, just in a different way.
He didn’t know what to do.
Tyler would have given anything at that moment to be able to call Josh and ask for his advice – but that wasn’t possible, either. It wasn’t just that Josh had been in California for months. He couldn’t call his best friend because…
An image filled his mind. It was full of slick, flesh-on-flesh heat, wandering hands, and frantic tongues tangled in-
Tyler slammed a lid on the unwelcome images. Hard. Thoughts like that led to dangerous places. Places he couldn’t afford to go when his wife was watching him, waiting for answers he couldn’t give. Places he tried never to go to, especially when he was laying awake in bed, late at night, restless and-
Mumbling an apology, Tyler bent to pick up the cutlery he’d accidentally knocked off the table. Taking the silverware to the kitchen, dropping it into the sink, then digging out clean replacements bought him time. Time to wrangle his wayward thoughts. Time to cool the fire that burned in his cheeks and made him go hard.
But it wasn’t enough time to come up with an answer for Jenna. Forever wouldn’t be enough time. When he returned to the table, Tyler knew Jenna had already accepted the fact that she wouldn’t be getting any answers that night. He could see the disappointment in her eyes and hated himself for putting it there.
He opened his mouth to… he didn’t know what. Apologize? Beg her forgiveness? Spill the whole, awful truth and break her heart? In the end, it didn’t matter. Jenna spoke before Tyler could wrestle a single word out.
“I booked us flights,” she told him, dabbing at her lips with a napkin. “We’re leaving tomorrow afternoon.”
Tyler’s jaw snapped shut with an audible click. His wife had always been a take-charge kind of person – the complete opposite of his own agonize-over-everything-and-struggle-to-make-a-decision personality – but she had never made vacation plans without consulting him first. Maybe it had to do with the fact that he was, for the first time in years, completely without a strict schedule. Or, maybe there was something more to it.
Definitely the latter, he decided when Jenna announced their destination.
“It’s been far too long since we’ve seen Josh,” she said. “We should be in L.A. around two tomorrow afternoon.”
Tyler’s stomach plummeted. He felt Jenna’s eyes on him and knew she was waiting for some sort of response, but he didn’t know what to say.
No. No, we can’t. I can’t. I can’t see Josh again. Not now, maybe not ever.
“That’s great,” he choked out. The lie hurt, words cutting like broken glass in his throat.
The look Jenna gave Tyler said she didn’t believe him, but she gave him a small smile.
“If I can’t help you through whatever this is,” she told him, “I’m sure Josh can.”
Tyler opened his mouth, then shut it again. He doubted that. He doubted it very much.
Jenna hadn’t warned Josh of their arrival, either, Tyler learned. Debby met them at the airport instead, full of smiles and hugs. Tyler returned her greeting woodenly. He couldn’t meet her eye.
“Josh is going to be so excited to see you!” she exclaimed, beaming at them.
Either Jenna was a lot better at pretending everything was fine than he was, or she genuinely thought Josh would be the miracle cure for what ailed Tyler. Little did she know Josh was what ailed him.
It was his own personal hell. Every day, someone asked him how the new album was coming. The label, family, friends, the media… That was the real reason Tyler had dropped out of the public eye. Everyone was waiting eagerly for new material.
He couldn’t tell them there wouldn’t be new material.
Making music was an emotional endeavor. It was raw, powerful, unchecked – all things Tyler didn’t trust himself to be around his bandmate. No Josh, no new music, no pilots.
And he deserved it. Tyler did; the fans didn’t. He hoped he would find the courage, one day, to give them something – but it wouldn’t be the way Jenna obviously hoped for. It wouldn’t come from a week-long trip to the state Josh loved but Tyler hated. Nothing would come from it. Nothing good, anyway.
Maybe the end. The end of a friendship. The end of a relationship. The end of the band.
No matter what else happened, it could only mean the end of the thing that had made Tyler who he was. That had made his name and built his home. The band that had given him a reason to live.
He wished Jenna hadn’t booked those flights. While he and Josh were thousands of miles apart, not speaking, Tyler could pretend maybe, one day, they could go back to the way things used to be. He could pretend he hadn’t screwed up all their lives.
Tyler sat in numb silence in the back of Debby’s car while the women in the front kept up a steady stream of cheerful banter.
“I can’t wait to see Josh’s face!” Debby said. She grinned at Tyler in the rearview mirror.
Me too, he thought before he could stop himself.
It was the truth. He missed Josh terribly. He missed being able to pick up a phone in the middle of the night and run an idea past Josh. He missed their shoulders bumping as they jostled for first place playing Mario Kart. He missed laying awake at night, listening to Josh’s gentle snores filling the tour bus. He missed…
Was it possible to miss something you’d only ever had once?
Stop! It was hard enough not thinking about it when he was across the country. Now that Tyler was minutes from seeing Josh again, it was impossible to keep those thoughts locked up where they belonged.
“Here we are!”
Tyler’s stomach did a somersault.
He got out of the car in a daze, blindly following Debby and Jenna to Josh’s apartment. Was it fear that gripped his muscles or was it excitement? Tyler couldn’t tell. Either way, his limbs grew heavier with every step.
Just outside the door, Debby stopped and slapped a hand to her forehead. “Darn it!” she said. “I left my phone in the car. I’ll just go and grab it.”
“Is that the new one you’ve had your eye one?” Jenna asked, surprising Tyler. He hadn’t realized the two had grown so close.
“It is!” Debby answered. “Do you want to have look at it?”
“I’d love to!”
Jenna turned to Tyler. “Go on ahead,” she told him. “We won’t be long.” She leaned in to kiss his cheek and whispered, “Get in there.”
Then, they were gone, leaving Tyler alone, staring at Josh’s front door. With an arm that felt heavy as lead, Tyler reached out to press the doorbell. He heard footfall seconds before the door swung inward to reveal Josh, in shorts and a faded tee-shirt. At the sight of him, Tyler’s heart started pounding so hard he was certain the other man would be able to hear it.
“Ty?” Josh blinked, as if he couldn’t believe the image in front of him.
Tyler knew the feeling. Memories rushed at him hard and fast, blurring past and present. He’d fought them for so long, but seeing Josh, hearing his voice, brought them rushing back.
The last show of the Tour de Columbus was an emotional affair for everyone involved. It was the end of an era and they all knew it. It was even more emotional for Tyler and Josh because it meant, after years of living in each other’s pockets, they had to go their own ways for a time. They had to figure out who they were outside the band. For the first time in years, they wouldn’t be touring, wouldn’t be together every second of every day. The future was uncertain.
Tyler almost didn’t make it through his traditional speech at the beginning of “Trees”. He knew Josh was struggling, too, when he pointed to him and Josh pressed his lips together. Tyler knew that look; it meant the other man was fighting back tears. He wasn’t the only one.
"What happens after this? There's a lot of questions and, if I'm being transparent, I'm not really sure."
His carefully written, rehearsed speech went out the window. Tyler spoke from the heart. He laid his worst fear open in front of nearly twenty-thousand people.
"I wondered... is this the last time?"
He had no way of knowing how often those words would haunt him.
They finished the show on a high, the frenetic energy of smoke, drums, cheers, and confetti, driving them higher and higher. When it was over, and they were finally alone in the green room together with blood and music pounding through their veins, Tyler just stared at Josh. As the adrenaline faded, it gave way to gnawing fear.
“Is this the last time?” he asked. Raw emotion clogged his throat when he spoke.
Josh closed the distance between them to grab Tyler by the shoulders. “Don’t you fucking dare,” he said with such force that it startled Tyler. “Don’t even think about leaving me.”
Strange, Tyler thought. Josh didn’t say, “Don’t even think about leaving the band.” He didn’t say, “Don’t even think about leaving the fans.”
Don’t even think about leaving me.
Then, Josh did something he’d done a thousand times before. He threw his arms around Tyler and held him tight. Except… except, this time, something was different.
Maybe it was the giddy excitement of the final concert. Maybe it was the fear of not knowing what the future held. Maybe, just maybe, it was something that had always been there, waiting for the right moment. Whatever it was, when they pulled back far enough to meet each other’s eyes, something took hold of Tyler and Josh; something more powerful than either of them.
And, when Josh leaned forward to press his lips to Tyler’s, he couldn’t think of a single reason not to return the kiss. All those crazy, powerful emotions coursing through their veins found release in a wild swirl of tongues. In wandering hands. In all-consuming passion.
There was a saggy leather couch across the green room. They never made it that far. Tyler and Josh tumbled to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs. He didn’t know who moved first but they were fighting each other in their haste to get Tyler’s shirt, still damp with sweat, over his head.
Slick flesh on flesh. The slide of palms across muscle. It was dizzying – and it wasn’t enough.
Tyler wanted the rest of the clothes between them to disappear, wanted to feel the hard bulge of Josh’s arousal in his hands. He reached between them and Josh gasped his pleasure as Tyler tugged the waistband of his shorts down. Josh’s own hands reached down to pop the button on Tyler’s jeans. It became a race to see who could get who out of their clothes faster.
No one lost.
God, Tyler thought. How could I have not noticed what a beautiful man Josh is?
He didn’t think he’d ever seen anything as beautiful as Josh’s naked body. Tyler didn’t realize he was staring until Josh bumped him with a shoulder, a small, totally Josh move. He blushed.
“You too,” was all he said, but Tyler knew what he meant.
They weren’t two separate bodies meeting for the first time; they were one exquisite creation that had taken too long to come together. There was a tiny voice in Tyler’s mind, reminding him there was a reason they hadn’t been together, but it was too quiet to be heard through the haze of passion clouding his brain. He didn’t give the voice a second thought as he reached out to draw Josh to him.
It was only afterward, as they lay wrapped around each other on the green room floor, that the enormity of what they’d done hit Tyler. Josh trailed a lazy hand down his arm before sliding his fingers between Tyler’s. As he did, Josh’s finger bumped the ring on Tyler’s finger.
Oh, God. Jenna.
A stagehand – or was it fate? – chose that moment to knock on the door.
“Just a minute!”
They scrambled to find their clothes. Dressed, if more than a little rumpled, they faced each other.
Tyler swallowed hard. “This was a mistake,” he said. Then, he turned and all but ran from the room. It was the last thing he said to Josh until the day he found himself on the other man’s doorstep.
“Josh,” he breathed.
A small, bemused smile spread across Josh’s face. He hurried forward to embrace Tyler but stopped when Tyler took a step back.
“Oh,” Josh said. His voice was heavy with disappointment. He stepped aside so Tyler could enter. “Hey.”
They stood in silence, struggling to find the right words, until two rays of sunshine burst through the front door.
“Josh!” Jenna cried happily, launching herself at him.
Josh returned her smile. It would take someone who knew Josh well to see how forced it was. Tyler knew.
“Come on, everybody,” Debby said, “let’s sit down and catch up.”
Which was how they found themselves in the living room. Somehow, the women had arranged it so Tyler and Josh sat side-by-side on the sofa while they occupied the room’s armchairs. Josh’s proximity made it difficult for Tyler to follow the conversation. He wondered if Josh felt the same way, then chided himself for giving in to those thoughts.
He was such a mess.
When Debby asked Jenna to join her on a shopping trip, Tyler and Josh stumbled over each other in a rush as they both immediately offered to join them. If either woman found the behavior odd, they chose not to mention it. They also refused the men’s company.
“Don’t be silly,” Jenna said with a grin that hid a multitude of uncertainties. “You’ve got so much catching up to do.” Her tone was easy but there was steel in her eyes. It was a look that warned Tyler she’d have no arguments.
Once they’d gone, a heavy silence descended upon the apartment. Tyler stared at his knees, trying to find a way to express the crazy tumult of emotions coursing through him.
“Look, Josh, I-”
“Ty, you should know-”
They laughed, and Tyler realized how much he’d missed the sound. The words were out of his mouth before he could stop himself.
“I missed you.”
He looked sideways to find Josh giving him a strange half smile. “Me too, bro.” The smile disappeared. “But I was right here.”
“I- I had to- I couldn’t-”
A hand fell on his.
“I know,” Josh said softly. He didn’t move his hand away.
The touch sent a small shiver of excitement through Tyler – excitement, anticipation, and fear. He wanted to turn his own hand up and entwine their fingers, but fear held him immobile. After a moment, Josh sighed sadly and moved his hand away.
Roaring silence returned. Tyler hated silence; it fed on his soul. He plucked at the torn knee of his jeans, unable to look at Josh as he asked the question that had been bothering him for some time.
“So, uh,” he said awkwardly, “you and Debby are getting, uh, serious?”
The silence lasted a moment longer, then was broken when Josh burst into laughter. Tyler’s head jerked up. His heart squeezed at the sight of Josh’s smile.
Josh turned in his seat to fix Tyler with a look that was probably meant to be somber. The smile remained in his brown eyes, though, which ruined the serious mask.
“Tyler,” he said, “I’m gay.”
Tyler was at a loss for words. They’d... well, he knew that there’d been physical attraction... but he didn’t know...
He had a million questions he wanted to ask, but the one that seemed most important at the time was, “Did you know? Before... did you know before?”
Josh bit his lip as he shook his head. “Naw, man,” he said. “I mean, I knew I had these feelings for, well, you-” he blushed at that “-but I figured I was just mixed up because we were so close, you know?”
Tyler nodded. He knew exactly what Josh meant. He’d always assumed their casual affection was just the way best friends behaved. It had never occurred to Tyler that it might be something bigger.
“Afterward,” Josh continued, “I knew I couldn’t be with a woman again. It was different than anything I’d experienced with any of the women I’d been with. It was...”
“Incredible,” Tyler supplied. His blush rivalled Josh’s.
The other man’s smile grew nostalgic. “Yeah...” he breathed.
There was another question burning on Tyler’s tongue, but he was almost afraid to ask it. He cleared his throat and shifted awkwardly in his seat, searching for courage. “Since then,” he started, “have you, um, been with other men?”
Josh cocked his head to the side as he considered Tyler. “Do you really want to know?”
Tyler just lifted one shoulder in a shrug. He didn’t trust his traitorous lips not to tell the truth if he spoke.
“A couple,” Josh said honestly.
Unexpectedly – irrationally – tears stung Tyler’s eyes. He blinked them away. It was surprising, how much that admission hurt. He’d assumed Josh had been sleeping with Debby and that had made Tyler feel a little sad but knowing that Josh had been with other men was worse somehow. It broke him in ways he couldn’t understand.
“I used protection, every time,” Josh was quick to say. Tyler didn’t quite catch the other man’s meaning until Josh’s hand came to rest on his once more. “And none of them even came close to you.”
The dam Tyler had spent months building to hold back the flood of emotions beating at him finally broke. With one loud, wrenching gasp, he found himself crying in Josh’s arms.
“Hey,” Josh said, gathering Tyler to his chest. “Hey, it’s alright.”
He continued to speak gentle words of comfort that didn’t quite cut through Tyler’s heavy sobs. His arms cradled Tyler protectively, one hand stroking his back. Josh held Tyler until he’d cried himself out. Then, ever so gently, he hooked a finger under Tyler’s chin and urged him to look up.
“Tyler Robert Joseph,” he said. “No man or woman on Earth can make me feel the way you do. I love you.”
Tyler’s heart swelled so big, so quickly, it became difficult to breathe. Yes, his heart sang.
Josh misread Tyler’s silence. “I know that what you’ve got with Jenna is special,” he said in a rush, “and I would never do anything to hurt that, but I needed you to know because-”
As much as he’d missed Josh’s voice, Tyler couldn’t take anymore. Reaching up to cup the back of Josh’s neck, he silenced the other man with a kiss.
It started with a kiss. It ended, much, much later.
“Well,” Josh joked, his stubble tickling Tyler’s bare chest. “At least we made it to the sofa this time.”
Tyler laughed. It felt waterlogged after so much crying. He took a deep breath. There was something he had to say, and he was going to say. This time, nothing would stop him.
“Joshua,” he began.
Josh pushed himself up, already building defences. His eyes were mistrustful.
“I swear to God,” he said. “If you run away from me now, I will hunt you down to the ends of the Earth.”
Tyler laughed again. He shook his head. “I’m not running anywhere,” he promised. “Never again.”
The tension was practically visible as it left Josh’s body. “Okay, then,” he said. He shifted so Tyler could move. They faced one another, legs and arms entwined. “What did you want to say?” He still looked nervous.
“Only that I love you.”
Then, they were kissing again. So wrapped up in their own cocoon of love were they, neither man heard the front door open. They missed the rustle of bags as Debby and Jenna dropped their shopping in the hall. They were oblivious to the happy chatter until it ended with a startled, “Oh!”
Tyler pulled away just far enough to see the fear in Josh’s eyes. He could almost hear the words begging him not to run.
“I’m. Not. Running.” he whispered. Then, Tyler turned to face his wife.
Before he could say a word, Debby said, “Finally!” She beamed as she snatched a blanket off the back of a nearby chair and tossed it to them. Tyler and Josh moved just enough to drape the blanket across their laps.
Jenna’s eyes were wide as she looked from Debby to Tyler, from Tyler to Josh, then Josh to Debby. Her expression said puzzle pieces were falling all around her and she couldn’t get them all to fit together.
“Tyler?” she asked in a small voice.
Guilt rose up to close around his throat. Josh took hold of his hand where it lay atop the blanket and squeezed. Tyler was glad for the strength it brought.
“Oh, my God,” Debby said, turning to Jenna. “You didn’t know?”
Jenna blinked. “Didn’t know?”
“I’m so sorry!” the other woman exclaimed, throwing her arms around Jenna. “I thought you knew! I thought that’s why you arranged this trip, why you were so eager to leave them alone.”
Jenna didn’t return the hug. She pulled back to fix Debby with a pained look. “You… you knew about this?”
Debby nodded. Her eyes filled with tears.
“Deb,” Josh said. “It’s okay.”
“Okay?” Jenna snapped, anger chasing surprise away. “How is any of this okay? How long has this been going on? What is this?” The final question was directed at Tyler.
“Jenna,” he said, scared but ready to fight for his future, “sit down. Please. We need to talk.”
Her eyes filled with tears at the words everyone knew the meaning of.
The next few days and weeks weren’t easy on any of them. They were filled with words, tears, truths, pain, and no small amount of hope. Tyler couldn’t apologize enough but, after Jenna saw him with Josh on the balcony together during the early hours of the morning, heads bent together as they watched the sunrise, she found an acceptance she never thought she could.
It was obvious to anyone who saw them together. Tyler and Josh loved each other. Though… hadn’t that always been the case? Hadn’t Jenna always known how important Josh was to her husband? It took a while but, eventually, she came to terms with the role she’d played in keeping them apart.
Tyler had been so worried about hurting her he’d buried his feelings for almost a year. When Jenna thought back over that year, to all the far away looks and agonizing silences, she knew she couldn’t love Tyler more. To keep those feelings locked away inside, to spare hers… how could she do anything but return the favor with forgiveness?
She still loved Tyler, of course, and knew he still loved her – but there’s love and there’s love. The love Jenna and Tyler shared was a cozy bonfire to the inferno he shared with Josh.
Jenna loved Josh, too, in her own way. Always had. Two people couldn’t love another that much without a little spilling over onto themselves. Together, the three fought a private battle during the following months and came out comrades-in-arms.
There were plenty who were shocked when, two years after the hiatus first began, it ended with Tyler and Josh – once bandmates and best friends – declaring their love for one another in a ceremony held under the eyes of God and streamed live for their fans. Jenna stood beside Tyler in a gown the color of sunshine as his “best everything.” (His words, of course.) Debby stood opposite Jenna, rocking a tuxedo of the same color.
The internet exploded when, before sealing the ceremony with a kiss, Tyler stopped to look at Jenna. She knew, though it had all been said, Tyler was asking one final time. Even then, he wouldn’t kiss his husband in front of their friends and family without her permission. Tears streaming down her cheeks, she nodded. With that, Tyler caught Josh in a kiss so intense it sent the Clique into meltdown.
No one was that surprised when, later the same night, a new album from twenty one pilots was mysteriously leaked online. After all, Tyler was Tyler and Josh was Josh and, really, how else would the Joseph-Duns spend their honeymoon?