Tyler wouldn’t mind being woken up by his phone that much if it wasn’t only two hours after he fell asleep. His birthday party was great and it ended late, leaving him completely exhausted. He considers himself a passionate dodgeball player after all.
The ringing stops just to start again a few seconds later. The annoying (and definitely too loud) iPhone ringtone pierces his ears but he’s too tired to answer the call or even open his eyes so he chooses the easiest way out by hiding his head under the pillow.
„Jenna, please, turn it off.” He mumbles and suddenly, it gets quiet again. „Thank you.”
His happiness doesn’t last long because the ringing starts again.
„For God’s sake!” He lifts his head and looks around only to realize that Jenna is not in the bed with him and it’s his phone that’s making the noise. He snatches it from the bedside table and looks at the screen. When he sees who’s calling him, his blood immediately boils. „What?” He snaps, not even hiding his annoyance.
„Tyler, hey.” Debby’s voice sounds on the other side of the line. „I’m sorry for bothering you, uhm... Happy belated birthday, by the way. But, uhm, is Josh with you? I can’t get hold of him since I left for Hawaii three days ago and I’m worried because-”
„Why would he be with me when he’s there with you?” He sighs, rolling onto his back and throwing his arm over his eyes.
„No, why would he be with me?”
„Because he went to Maui with you?” Tyler hisses angrily but the long moment of silence on the other side makes him think twice. „Wait. Wait. He’s not with you?”
„He was invited as my plus one but decided to stay in the States and fly to Columbus for your birthday party.” Debby says carefully, confusion clear in her voice.
His bad mood gets replaced by fear. He shots up in the bed, blinking quickly when bright sunlight hits his eyes. A wave of pain shots through his skull even if he didn’t drink anything alcoholic last night but he pushes through his discomfort and tries to focus on the conversation.
„Debby, what are you talking about? He’s not here. He wasn’t here.”
„What do you mean he wasn’t there?”
„He wasn’t at the party. I thought he was with you.”
„We literally spoke on the phone, like... a week ago. He told me that something came up, that he’s going to Hawaii with you and he won’t be able to make it to Columbus.” Tyler says, swinging his legs off the mattress. „I was pretty pissed at him for that, to be honest.”
The worst possible scenarios start to flash before his eyes when he’s speed-walking through the house, trying to find Jenna. He runs into her in the kitchen, almost knocking the mug of coffee out of her hand. She yelps and a few drops spill on the floor but the girl regains her balance and puts the mug on the counter, licking her fingers and immediately reaching for the paper towel to clean the mess.
„No... No, Tyler.” Debby’s voice trembles. She sounds as scared as he’s feeling right now. „Since I got invited to Maui and we knew that the date would collide with your birthday, we established that I’m going alone and he’s flying to Columbus. There weren’t any arguments about it, it was like... an obvious choice to both of us. I- I wouldn’t dare to stop him from going to your birthday party, he’s your best friend, I know how important it is to you to celebrate your birthdays together.”
„Shit...” He says, earning a surprised look from his wife. „Wait, Debby. Hold on. Jenna, leave it. Call Josh.”
„Why? Did something happen?”
„Just do it, please.”
Jenna frowns but throws away the dirty piece of the paper towel that she used to wipe the spilled coffee and reaches for her phone. She dials Josh’s number, waits for a few seconds before tapping the screen.
„He’s not answering.”
„What’s going on?” She asks but does as she’s told. The history repeats itself - she only shakes her head and shrugs in confusion. „Nothing.”
„Fuck.” Tyler curses again and starts pacing around the kitchen.
„Oh, God.” Debby panics. „Oh, my God.”
„Debby? Debby, listen. How was he acting when you were leaving?”
„Like, uhm... Like... Josh? Like, he was happy and he was smiling and... and he even surprised me with breakfast in bed the morning before I left. He drove me to the airport... He was super cheerful. I would- I would, I swear to God! I would notice if something was wrong, I would notice if he started to slip again, I would-”
„Debby, it’s okay. Shh. I know, alright? I know you would. Calm down. I bet he’s okay.” He says but he’s not sure if he’s trying to convince her or himself. He runs his fingers through his hair and takes a deep breath. „Look, I will fly to Los Angeles today. I will check up on him.”
„I can’t make it back until tomorrow evening. The flights are all messed up.” Debby panics even more. „If something happened- Tyler, I won’t forgive myself if he-”
„No. No, no, no. He’s fine. I bet he’s fine. I’ll try to catch the first available flight and see what’s going on. I’ll call you back as soon as I’m there, okay?”
„O-Okay.” The girl chokes out and starts crying and Tyler’s heart stings. She sounds genuinely scared and if it wasn’t for the adrenaline running in his veins, he would probably start weeping too.
„Debs. Please, don’t cry. Everything will be fine. Do you want to talk to Jenna? I need to pack.”
Without thinking twice he hands Jenna his phone, whispers comfort her even if Jenna still looks as confused as before and runs out of the kitchen to grab his laptop.
The whole trip to California is a blur. He remembers packing his backpack, kissing Jenna goodbye and boarding the plane to Los Angeles but the part when he stepped out of the airport and took an Uber to Josh’s place seems like a temporary memory loss.
He swallows nervously when he steps through the open gate and notices Josh’s car is in the driveway. He tries to talk himself out of freaking out: Josh is there. Josh is fine. Josh is alive. He takes a deep breath before approaching the front door and knocking on the dark wood. No one opens the door and no one reacts at the doorbell either. He jerks the doorknob and tries to open the door with the spare key he owns but it doesn’t fit in the lock.
„What the hell...” He whispers to himself and pulls his phone out of the pocket of his jeans. He dials Josh’s number and puts his ear against the door to listen but the house seems quiet. He calls Debby immediately after. „The door is locked.” He tells her once she picks up. „He’s not answering and apparently the key I have is not the right key.”
„Oh. Oh, yeah. We had a strange situation a few weeks ago and we had to change the locks.” She says. „Go back to the mailbox.”
„Yeah. Walk back.”
He does as he’s told and stops in front of the black mailbox.
„There’s a big stone on the left. Right next to the rose bush. It’s like, uh, a pinkish round stone.” She instructs and Tyler confirms that he found it. „Lift it, there’s a small metal box with a spare set of keys underneath the stone.”
He balances the phone between his shoulder and cheek and moves the stone. He finds the box in the small hole in the ground and just as Debby said, there’s a spare set of keys inside.
He runs back to the door and breathes out a sigh of relief when the locks give in.
„Okay. I’m inside.” He says to Debby, leaves his backpack in the hallway and starts looking for his drummer. „Josh?” He calls out, stepping into every room. He checks the kitchen and the bathroom, quickly glances into the living room on his way to the main bedroom, he calls out Josh’s name when he runs upstairs. Please, don’t be dead is the only thought that echoes in his head. „He’s not here.”
„Is Jim there?” Debby asks.
„No... It’s like, uh, it looks like no one has been here recently. The house is absurdly clean and your bedroom looks... neat. The bed is made and it looks like no one has slept in there in a while.”
„Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck...” Debby chants straight into his ear and her reaction is completely reasoned.
Tyler is one second away from having the biggest freak-out of his life but then he walks back into the living room and the glimpse of a silhouette catches his attention.
„Do you have any ideas where he could- oh. Oh.” He freezes, taking a step closer to the glass door leading to the patio. „Debby... Wait. He’s here. He’s in the backyard with Jim.”
„He’s- He’s there?”
„Oh, God. Is he okay?”
„He looks like he’s okay.” Tyler exhales and rubs his hand over his face. „Let me check up on him. Can I call you back?”
„Yes. Yes, of course. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Tyler pockets his phone and takes a deep breath before sliding the glass door open. Even if Jim turns his head and wiggles his tail at the sight of the singer and eventually runs to him demanding some love, Josh doesn’t react. He’s sitting on the grass with his legs crossed and face tilted towards the sun.
Headphones are covering his ears and when Tyler comes closer, he realizes how loud the music is blasting. When he stops before the drummer, he notices that Josh’s eyes are closed. It explains why he didn’t react earlier.
Tyler wants to shake him by the shoulders and yell at him for scaring the shit out of people but he’s aware that touching the drummer would probably give him a heart attack, especially since Josh looks like wasn’t expecting anyone to visit him today. Instead, he steps slightly to the side and blocks the sunrays.
Josh wrinkles his nose and slowly opens his eyes. He gets startled by Tyler’s presence anyway so he shouts shortly and starts crawling back. The headphones slide off his head and he falls on his back but quickly props himself up on his elbows and finally takes a proper look at Tyler.
„You scared the hell out of me, dude! What the heck are you doing here?”
„I could ask you the same question, dude.” Tyler snaps, taking a step forward and offering Josh his hand. The drummer takes it and Tyler pulls him to his feet. „What the hell, Josh?”
The older man clenches his jaw and turns on his heel, walking towards the house. He whistles at Jim and the dog follows him, quickly running inside.
Tyler snatches Josh’s headphones and iPad off the grass and turns off the music. He enters the living room and puts them on the coffee table. There’s noise in the kitchen so Tyler turns that way and finds the drummer in the middle of pouring himself a glass of water from the tap.
„I don’t want to talk about it.” He says before Tyler can open his mouth. „I’m fine.”
„Too bad because we’re gonna.” The singer says firmly. „And don’t even think about brushing me off with something like I’m fine because I know you’re not.”
„Sounds like you know me better than I know myself, huh?”
There’s nothing playful in the way Josh says it and Tyler frowns.
„Josh.” He starts, taking a few steps closer and leaning against the fridge. „You lie to me about not being able to make it to Columbus and you lie to Debby about going to my birthday party. You don’t pick up your phone for three days so she calls me asking if you’re with me because she’s worried. We all freak out and think of the worst things that could happen to you and you’re here, chilling with your dog, not giving a single fuck about anything!” The volume of Tyler’s voice increases more and more and he ends up screaming the last few words. „This is not a normal behavior of someone who’s fine, so tell me what the hell is going on!”
Josh puts the glass in the sink and glances at Tyler.
„I hope you had fun at your party.” He says and reaches to the cabinet to take out a can of dog food.
Tyler opens his mouth in shock and watches him in disbelief when he crouches on the floor and spills the contents of the can in the bowl on the floor. Jim happily accepts his lunch and starts eating.
The singer squints his eyes.
„It actually sucked, you know.” He hisses, pushing his hands inside the pockets of his hoodie.
„Sorry to hear that.” Josh hums and stands up from the floor.
He tries to sneak out of the kitchen but Tyler blocks his way by extending his arm and slamming his hand on the doorframe. Josh inhales sharply through his nose to show that he’s angry but Tyler doesn’t back off. He stands his ground, glaring at his best friend, looking at his face until Josh looks up and finally meets his gaze.
„Where is my Josh and what have you done to him?”
Josh scoffs, taking a step forward and pushing against Tyler’s arm but the singer doesn’t let go. Josh may be strong and fit but Tyler is not the weakest guy either.
„I’m your best friend.”
„It doesn’t justify you to-”
„To what?” Tyler asks. „To care?”
„To come here and... And-” Josh stutters out and hides his face in his hands. He rubs his eyes for a moment and then suddenly explodes. „I only wanted some peace and quiet, alright!? I needed a break, I needed to isolate myself from the whole world for a while!” He shouts, startling not only Tyler but Jim too. „Is it such a big deal that I didn’t come to your birthday party? I knew you would be angry but you would get over it eventually and Debby was supposed to be gone for the whole week, I finally had a chance to be alone, Tyler. Alone! I’m always surrounded by people. I’m constantly with someone, it’s either you or... or her. Do you know how suffocating it can be? Even if I love both of you with all my heart, I’m sorry, but your presence is just too much sometimes.”
„I always give you space when you need it.” Tyler says calmly but it seems like it irritates Josh even more.
„If giving me space is not talking to me but still following me around and breathing on my neck, thanks Tyler, this is not what I need.” Josh snaps and turns away from the singer.
He puts his hands on the counter, leaning forward and hanging his head. Tyler watches him carefully and his heart breaks at the sight of Josh pinching the bridge of his nose - something he does when he tries to stop himself from crying.
Tyler steps closer and carefully puts his hand on Josh’s shoulder. He squeezes it gently but the drummer shakes his head and moves away from the touch. The singer pretends not to be hurt by the gesture.
„Look, I know that we’ve known each other for almost a decade now but you still need to tell me things.” He starts. „As much as I’d love to be, I’m not a mind reader. And even if I know you like the back of my own hand, there are parts of your mind that still feel like a complete enigma to me.” Tyler says but Josh keeps his gaze on the floor, suddenly very interested in the kitchen tiles. „I feel like we don’t talk like we used to anymore. I feel like you’re hiding from me whenever something big happens in your life. Josh, I’m your best friend and I found out that you’re dating Debby again from your brother who, apparently, wasn’t even supposed to tell me about it.” He sighs, crossing his arms over his chest. „Sometimes I wonder if you still consider me your best friend at all.”
„Of course I do.” Josh replies without hesitation.
„It surely doesn’t feel like it.” Tyler says. „Do you even realize how it makes me feel?”
Josh’s head perks up.
„Don’t you dare make this about yourself.” He growls.
„You do!” The drummer points his finger at Tyler. „You do. It’s always about you! When you need something, everyone stands on their heads to please you and make sure you’re not bothered. You can lock yourself in the basement for a week and no one ever blinks twice but when I need some time away, I get accused of not acting like a best friend would.” He says. „This whole I’m-the-lead-singer attitude is more real than you think.”
„J-Josh...” Tyler chokes out. „It’s not like that at all. Where is all this aggression coming from?” He asks but Josh stays silent. „I’m so confused, man. I don’t know what the problem is and even if I want to help you, you’re not letting me.”
„I don’t need help. I need you to leave me alone.”
„Yeah. You know that’s not gonna happen.” Tyler says and watches his drummer who only breathes deeply for a while, avoiding any eye contact. „Talk to me, Josh.”
After another long pause, Josh clears his throat.
„I guess I’m just scared.” He admits.
„Everything. The future.”
„Everyone is. I don’t think there’s one person who isn’t scared of what’s yet to come.” Tyler says.
Josh bites his lip. He looks up at Tyler and it’s clear that he’s hesitating about telling him something. But when Tyler thinks that Josh will finally open up, the drummer walks out of the kitchen and disappears in the hallway.
Tyler exhales shakily and rubs his temples. The beginning of a headache starts growing somewhere in the back of his skull. He didn’t expect for this conversation to be so difficult.
He’s about to open the fridge in the search of RedBull but then Josh’s footsteps echo behind his back and when Tyler turns around to look at him, the drummer quickly throws something to him without any word of warning.
Tyler catches it clumsily and inspects the small velvet box that lands in his hands. He already knows what’s inside and the realization makes him feel hot all over. He carefully opens the lid to reveal a silver engagement ring - simple and elegant with one round diamond in the center. Tyler almost smiles at how subtle it looks compared to Jenna’s ring but it’s exactly something that Josh would choose.
His silence must give the drummer the wrong idea because he immediately falls back into his defensive mode.
„What?” He snaps. „No smartass comments about how she’s not a right girl for me or how I could do better?”
„Why would you think that I-”
„Because that’s something you’d say!” Josh yells. „It’s something you’ve said to me many times before so what’s stopping you now!?”
Tyler wants to yell back but decides otherwise at the last second, realizing that it won’t help to calm Josh down. If anything, it will provoke him to start a bigger fight and Tyler doesn’t really feel like ending up in a shouting battle with his best friend.
„What’s stopping me?” Tyler asks softly, closing the box and putting in on the table. „I don’t know. Maybe the fact that I’m not the same Tyler I was a few years ago. Maybe the fact that I’ve grown up since then and stopped seeing things so negatively. Maybe the fact that I see that you’re happy with her. Maybe the fact that she keeps proving that she’s worth your time. Maybe the fact that when I look at you, I see two people completely besotted with each other.” He says and looks at Josh. The drummer looks back at him with a vulnerable expression on his face, trying to hold it together but Tyler knows that the wall is slowly breaking. „You live together. You bought a house together. You have a dog. I know I can be extremely bitter sometimes but believe me, I’m not blind and I can recognize a true love when I see one. So, honestly, dude. If that’s what you’ve been worried about, you definitely have my blessing. And if you don’t make me your main best man, I’ll be so offended.”
It seems like the time freezes for a moment when they stand there staring at each other. But then Josh takes a few hesitant steps forward until he stops in front of Tyler, invading his personal space. For a second Josh looks like he’s about to punch him in the face but then he sighs, drops his forehead on Tyler’s shoulder and starts shaking.
The singer wraps his arms around him without hesitation, cradles his head and kisses his temple. Josh puts almost all of his weight against him but Tyler doesn’t mind. He rocks him gently in the middle of the kitchen until Josh shifts, ready to pull away. When he does, the singer’s heart breaks at the sight of his wet cheeks.
„I’m sorry for being a dick.” Josh says and his lip starts trembling. Tyler reaches out to wipe the tears from his face and immediately hugs him again. „Sometimes I feel like you still judge me for my choices.”
„I think that was my way of protecting you, back then. But I didn’t realize that instead of making you happy, I was hurting you.” Tyler admits. „I think we all have grown up since then. We’re all past our episodes of selfishness and unnecessary judgments.”
„Do you think so?”
„Dude, I was so wrong about her. She’s actually great. We were gossiping like school girls the other day. It turned out that we have similar interests!”
Josh pulls away and looks at Tyler with a frown.
„You. And her? Like what?”
„Like obsessively staring at the abs of a certain drummer.” Tyler says and the other man slaps him in the chest, rolling his eyes, mumbling something about idiots. „I’m serious, though. Wife her up. She makes better guacamole than Jenna.”
„Will you stop joking!?” Josh steps back and throws his hands in the air but when they look at each other, they burst into giggles. „I’ll tell Jenna you said that.” He says with a smile but he turns completely serious a moment later. „I’m sorry for acting so weird lately.”
„Was this the main reason?” Tyler points to the ring.
„I’ve been more anxious in general, I guess. Like, I don’t know. Being back on tour and doing interviews almost every day has been stressing me out and adding my brilliant plan of asking Debby to marry me was like... the breaking point. I’m sorry for lying. And I’m sorry for not being there to celebrate your birthday. I just... I didn’t want to ruin it by getting a panic attack in the middle of your party.”
„No, it’s not fine.” Josh cuts him off and hangs his head. „I haven’t been the greatest friend.”
„Me neither.” Tyler says. „I should have come to you earlier and talk to you. I knew there was something wrong but I kept postponing it until you eventually got worse. So I’m really sorry about that.”
„I’m sorry too.”
„So we’re fine?”
„I’m glad.” The singer says and reaches for his phone. „Now let’s FaceTime your future wife before she dies in her hotel room worrying about you.”
Before he can dial Debby’s number, Josh covers the screen with his hand and looks at Tyler with fear in his eyes.
„Tyler. Tyler.” He swallows. „But what if she says no?”
„She won’t say no.”
„But what if?” Josh insists.
„I’ll tell you what.” Tyler comes closer and leans in, resting their foreheads together but still keeping the eye contact with the drummer. „If she says no... I’m divorcing Jenna and you can marry me instead.”
The corners of Josh’s lips lift upwards.
„Because you’re a bombshell?” He asks.