Josh wasn’t particularly worried when his phone sounded at twenty past three in the morning. He was even less so when he saw his best friend’s name appear on the screen. Tyler often had difficulty sleeping through the night and came up with some of his best work during those dark hours. He probably wanted to run some lyrics past Josh. It wasn’t the first time and wouldn’t be the last.
“Hey, Ty,” he said in a low voice as he slid out of bed and tiptoed to the door, “What’s up, bro?” Debby grumbled in her sleep but didn’t rouse.
Getting a phone call from Tyler at twenty past three in the morning wasn’t all that unusual – but there was nothing normal about the strangled sob that answered Josh’s greeting. His bare feet stopped dead on the carpeted floor in the hallway as a sick shiver of unease climbed up his spine.
Tyler didn’t answer immediately, turning Josh’s unease into a wild fear that raced through his veins. He grabbed his shoes and keys on his way to the door. Not waiting to hear what had hurt his friend, Josh jumped into his car and started the engine.
Sharp, twisted vines of agony tangled around Tyler’s words when he finally spoke. “She’s... she’s gone.”
Josh pulled out of the driveway and started down the road that led to the Josephs’. “Who?” he asked, terrified of hearing the answer. “Who’s gone where, Ty? Talk to me.”
There was another heart-wrenching sob. Josh pressed the pedal down as far as it would go, speeding through a stop sign without so much as a glance.
“Jenna,” Tyler said. His voice was small, like a lost child’s. “There- there was an accident. She... there was too much internal damage. They couldn’t...”
Oh, God. No...
The dark night rose up around Josh, threatening to devour him. Not trusting himself to maintain control, he eased his foot off the gas and steered the car to the side of the road. His hands slid from the wheel to lay useless in his lap.
There was nothing but ragged breathing from the other end of the line.
“Where are you?” Josh demanded. “I’m coming, just tell me where you are.”
Tyler didn’t answer.
“Where. Are. You?” Josh asked again. He put the car into drive and gripped the steering wheel, ready to leave the instant he knew where to go.
“It doesn’t matter,” Tyler told him. “Nothing matters. I can’t do this without her. I- I don’t want to do anything without her. I just want to...”
He didn’t finish the sentence. He didn’t need to.
Josh’s stomach dropped through the floorboard onto the dirty asphalt below.
No. He couldn’t accept that Jenna was really gone and he sure as hell wasn’t going to let Tyler be gone.
“If you don’t tell me where you are right now, I’ll bang down every door in Columbus until I find you.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Tyler said again. “It’s too late.” The line went dead.
Josh went cold at his friend’s parting words. Please, God, don’t let that mean what I think it does. Frantic, he sped off in a shower of gravel and squealing tires.
He didn’t know where to look but he was already halfway to Tyler’s house, so Josh started there. In three impossibly long minutes, he had slammed the car into park and leapt out, leaving the vehicle running in his hurry to find Tyler. He let himself in and rushed through the house, calling Tyler’s name.
“Go away,” came the muffled reply from the bedroom.
Josh hurried to the master bedroom, where he found Tyler on the bed. He was in the fatal position, curled around a fuzzy yellow sweater that could only be Jenna’s. Josh’s relief at seeing his friend shattered to dust when he saw the pill bottles strewn across the floor.
“Ty,” He despaired, “What have you done?”
“Shh,” Tyler grumbled into the sweater, “can’t a man die in peace?” His words were clumsily and slow.
“No, he can not!” Josh bellowed. He grabbed Tyler by the arms and hauled him off the bed. “Come on, I’ve gotta get you to the hospital.”
“No!” Tyler pushed at Josh but was too weak to break his hold. “Please,” he cried, “don’t make me go there. She’s still there, on a table, and... and...” he choked on his words.
Josh’s heart broke at the image Tyler described. He wanted to curl into a ball himself and cry like a baby... but he couldn’t. Get it together, Josh ordered himself, blinking away the tears that tried to blind him. Tyler needs you.
He couldn’t do that to Tyler, couldn’t give him back his life in the place Jenna had lost hers. “Okay,” he agreed, “no hospital. But you’re not gonna like this.” With that, he scooped Tyler up into his arms and carried him to the en suite bathroom where, kneeling in front of the toilet, he used his long fingers to make Tyler throw up the poison in his system.
“Please,” Tyler begged after a while, “let me die.”
Josh used a damp cloth to bathe the other man’s face. “No.” His voice was firm.
“Why?” Tears ran freely down Tyler’s face. “I don’t want to live without her.”
It was like Josh’s heart had been shoved into a vise that squeezed tighter and tighter with every word Tyler spoke. Josh grabbed Tyler face between his hands, forcing Tyler to meet his eye.
“The way you feel right now is the way I would feel if you left me,” Josh told him, voice choked with emotion. “You can’t go anywhere. I need you.”
Tyler stared back at him with hopeless, red-rimmed eyes for a moment longer before his whole body sagged. Josh caught him in a desperate embrace, holding on for both their lives.
“I miss her already,” Tyler said.
Jenna had always been too good for the likes of them. Too good for everyone she’d given her time to. For everyone whose lives she changed. She was an angel long before the Lord took her. But Tyler didn’t need to hear that right now; he needed someone to hold him and tell him everything would be okay. So that’s what Josh did. He pulled Tyler into his lap, wrapped his arms around the other man’s slim frame, and told the kindest lies he knew how to tell.
“Shh,” he soothed, “it’s okay, Ty. It’s gonna be okay.”
He half expected Tyler to disagree. To argue that nothing would ever be okay again. To rage at the universe. To blame God. To blame himself. To smash things. But Tyler didn’t do any of the things he might have done on a different day. He was too broken from the news of his wife’s death, too battered from the failed attempt to end his own life. Tyler didn’t do any of the things Josh expected. He didn’t do anything at all, just laid there limply in his best friend’s arms until, exhausted and cried out, he eventually fell sleep.
When the doorbell sounded distantly across the house, Josh was filled with annoyance. God only knew the next time Tyler would get any rest. Whoever it was, they needed to go away. He wanted to run to the door and bark at them to do just that but doing so would disturb his sleeping friend. All he could do was grit his teeth and hope the damned noise stopped before it woke Tyler.
The ringing stopped. Josh breathed a quiet sigh of relief – until he heard a voice calling his name. “Josh? Tyler?” Debby. He probably should have called his fiancée to let her know he’d be staying at Tyler’s for a while but, honestly, the moment Josh had heard Tyler’s sob on the phone, he hadn’t thought of anything or anyone else.
Debby could be heard making her way through the house, calling for Josh and Tyler. “There you are!” she exclaimed when she found them in the bathroom. Josh shook his head, looking pointedly down at Tyler. He couldn’t raise a finger to his lips without releasing the other man – and that was something he had no intention of doing.
Josh’s fiancée frowned when she saw them on the floor together. She’d never really understood how close he and Tyler were, but it had never really bothered him. Debby was Debby and Ty was Ty – two equal but separate parts of his life. Until now. Josh would be spending a lot more time with Tyler while he grieved so Debby would have to get used to moments like the one she’d just interrupted.
When her eyes fell on Tyler’s sleeping form, they filled with compassion and sadness. “I heard,” she said in a softer voice. “How terrible.” She looked sympathetic but not personally affected, even though the women had spent months together on the road. Josh couldn’t help but compare Debby to Jenna, who would have been on her knees, arms around them both, eyes full of tears for their loss. Jenna would have understood without being told. She would have felt what they felt.
He wondered, unfairly, if Debby felt anything at all… and immediately felt guilty. It was unfair to compare her to Jenna. They were different people. Not better or worse, just different. Josh’s brain defended Debby with cool rational, but his heart didn’t buy it. Though she hadn’t technically done or said anything wrong, he knew he would never feel the same way about Debby that he had before Tyler’s fateful phone call.
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Go home,” Josh answered honestly. It sounded harsher than he’d intended but he couldn’t help that. “Ty wouldn’t want you to see him like this,” he explained lamely.
Debby’s lips pressed into a thin, hard line. She stared at Josh a long moment before nodding. “Okay,” she said. “Call me when... whenever you can, I guess.”
Josh knew then, as Debby turned and walked away, that she would never feel the same way about him, either. Tragedy had done something to them, shown them something they might have always suspected but would never have acknowledged.
When it came down to it, Josh would always choose Tyler.
It was painfully obvious; not a question but a fact. Tyler came first. He had from the moment he and Josh had met and would until the grave separated them. Why, Josh wondered, did it feel like a revelation rocking his world when it was just a part of who he was? It was confusing but also... right.
Something tiny and fragile – something that had only ever flitted around the edges of his consciousness – landed on Josh’s heart. It tugged on the strings it found there, using them to wrap itself in a tight cocoon. Then Tyler buried his face in Josh’s throat with a sigh and the creature’s wings struggled once against their confines.
It wasn’t the time to explore those feelings (Who knew if that time would ever come?) but that didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered then was taking care of Tyler. Josh caught the edge of a fluffy, pink robe hanging on a hook by the door and yanked it down. Smells like Jenna, Josh realized as he drew it over them. Tyler murmured in his sleep.
Josh sent up a silent prayer to God’s newest angel that he would be able to bring Tyler even a fraction of the comfort she gave him in her absence. The tiny, cocooned creature in Josh’s chest throbbed in time to Tyler’s heartbeat. It was a dull, almost sweet pain in comparison to the one that had torn through their lives with Jenna’s death – yet somehow greater than the one he’d experienced as he’d watched Debby walk away.
So much pain. It seemed impossible that the ridiculously frail Human body could endure so much pain. For a moment, Josh wondered if he could. If helping Tyler through the coming days wouldn’t break him. Then, Tyler’s sleeping fingers closed around the fabric of his shirt and Josh knew. He could endure the evening’s pain – and a hundred more – because Tyler needed him to. Josh rested his chin on Tyler’s dark head with a sigh then, there on the hard, tiled floor, with the unforgiving porcelain tub at his back, Josh finally let his own tears fall.