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Josh finds him through Tumblr, as one does when they're trying to find something that would make their life drastically better. It's rather stupid because he knows he shouldn't take anything on Tumblr too seriously, but then again… he really fucking hates his life right now, and he would do anything to get back on track.

Does your life blow? the post says. Do you want the negativity out of your life? Do you want to be happy again?

It actually reads as a bad clickbait article, but it does its job. Josh goes onto the account after seeing a post on his dashboard about how it "totally works". It has a lot of notes. It must be true.

The guy's URL is "messageman" with a blog title of "taco bell". Josh likes him already.

The description reads "he/him, ???, no i won't kill your mom, yes there are exceptions but it's better if i outright say no you heathens". Josh wonders how many kill-my-mom requests the guy gets. Did he used to kill moms for a living? Then decided mom-killing wasn't his thing? This is wild.

Dark background against white posts against dark text, the blog looks very simplistic. At first glance, nothing is out of the ordinary, and then Josh begins reading the text posts and examining the pictures. Many posts are reblogs, appearing to be reviews of the "Message Man" and his services. He seems to do all right, for Josh has only seen good posts thus far. But he doesn't think the guy would reblog any hate, would he? Each of these posts is tagged as "testimonials". Some are tagged with "questions", too, so Josh reads through those next.

Q: Is this for real?
A: yes

Q: Do you actually kill people? I heard you kill people
A: it's negotiable

Q: Kill my mom, fucker.
A: please stop asking me to kill your moms i love my mom and she isn't the best mom in the world but please stop asking me to kill them i understand abusive backgrounds and all that but stop

Q: How do I send you payment?
A: paypal, friend

Q: I have money, kill my mom
A: please i'm begging you to stop i am small

"Poor guy." Josh shakes his head and scrolls down some more. It goes on, more requests to kill mothers—at this point, Josh thinks they're just trolling the guy—and there are even some death threats here and there.

Q: I'm going to come to your house and fucking strangle you you piece of shit
A: i welcome death

Josh isn't sure if that was serious. He doesn't dwell on it.

Many of these messages are from actual users, with the threats and the more invasive questions from people hiding behind an anonymous mask. Josh wants to read through more of them, but he goes back to the main page, reads the latest post made three minutes ago.

chipotle?

Josh snorts. He goes back to lurking.

Q: so what do u do
A: things

Q: no seriously
A: i am serious

This continues for a dozen or so more posts. Josh decides he probably should have started with the about page. It's linked in the description. He can't believe how he overlooked that.

hi, they call me the message man. i write songs and sing a little. i have videos here… somewhere. yes i know you can't see my face. if you think the tattoos are real then they're real.

i tag everything.

don't tell me to kill your mom.

my services are for everyone. i prefer messaging privately. or email. i prefer email. no you can't have my number. what's a phone? shoot me a message here first, not anonymous. if i don't reply after a week then don't message me again. there's a reason why i haven't gotten back to you. if you think your message didn't go through then it probably didn't but still don't message me again. there's a reason why your message didn't go through. after we talk i will either accept or decline your request. once my part is done i will send you the email associated with my paypal account. i don't discuss payment openly. that will be one of the many things we talk about.

refunds are only allowed under special circumstances. no one has needed a refund yet.

please tell people about me. please let them know they can get better. please please please please

stay alive for me

Josh rubs his eyes. He refreshes the blog, smiles at the kitten video recently reblogged, and furrows his brow at the latest question the guy answered. It's at the top of his blog.

Q: So is this illegal? this sounds illegal
A: i am a good boy i am a good boy i am a good boy i am a good boy i am a good boy i am a

Josh goes to bed that night emptier than he has felt for weeks.

*

Josh spends each evening going through the Message Man's blog. After guessing at how many pages the blog has, Josh finds the first post. It says "the beginning of purpose is found in creating something that only you understand". This can't be the guy's day job, can it? There's something else going on behind the scenes. This is so fucking… real. Josh's first post was "brushing my teeth". Not that their first posts need to be compared. Their lives were in different places, and that's okay.

After a week passes with no positive change in sight, Josh begins to consider contacting the Message Man.

What are the pros? He might be happy again.

The cons? Well, a stranger will know his private details. Maybe even his address. Does this involve coming to his place? Is that why he gets paid? Because he has to travel? Damn.

Obviously the cons outweigh the pros, so Josh signs out for the night and dreams of nothing.

*

Is it a sideblog? How many followers does he have? Does he have an actual name?

Josh takes to hiding behind an anonymous face to ask these questions. He gets answers late that night, around one in the morning.

Q: Do you have many followers?
A: 0

Q: What's your name?
A: they call me the message man

He is stagnant, no development, waited with bated breath for a possible answer that he somehow thought he would have gotten.

Q: Who's "they"?
A: my people

Josh likes him.

*

With his brightness turned up all the way, Josh still cannot see the guy in the video.

He's in a dark room, the curtains drawn, the only light from the computer screen. It bounces off the instrument in his hands. His strumming is gentle, almost silent. Josh's laptop's volume is at the top, and yet he is straining to hear the guy play. It makes sense, Josh supposes. If he's trying to keep his identity to himself, then playing in a dark room with hardly any sound will definitely ensure it. Josh watches the guy strum for a bit more, his hands black with either ink or paint and flying across the strings. The instrument is small, definitely not a guitar. What are those called again…? Josh sighs.

Another video plays next. This one has more volume, albeit not much. He's singing that Elvis song, "Can't Help Falling in Love". Hundreds—no, thousands of notes follow the video. Josh is jealous. He doesn't even get that many notes on his drum covers.

The Message Man has a music tag. Josh looks through it.

Q: are you in a band!
A: i am my own band

Q: You post a lot of poems/lyrics. Did you write them?
A: yes… do you like them?

A follow up:

Q: They're fcking amazin dude!
A: tysm

Josh wants to tell him he has a soothing voice. He doesn't.

*

After another week passes with no obvious change, good or bad, Josh takes back his decision to not contact the Message Man. He will. He will, he will.

But he thinks he's going to sleep on it.

*

He sleeps on it. And he sleeps on it again.

*

On Friday, Josh consults his Tumblr followers. Should I message the message man? he writes. Has anybody else had any luck? He tags appropriately and waits.

In an hour, his post has twenty notes, mostly likes. One person replies and says their friend tried to get into contact with him to no avail. I don't think he's a real thing, you know? they write. I think he has all these sock puppet accounts. No way he's 100%.

Another person replies, just a frowny face. They're one of Josh's mutuals. They'll probably want to start a chat in a few minutes.

There is only one reblog, and it's from the Message Man himself. He must track his tag.

please see me

Josh logs out.

*

On Saturday night, Josh sends his first message to the Message Man. It takes him twenty minutes to think up of what to say, and it's only four words: Will you help me? Is he supposed to tell him his address, his information? Hey, my name is Josh, will you help me? might have been a better introduction, but the ask function on this website has a certain character limit, and Josh wouldn't want to bore the guy into deleting his message and ignoring him. Josh doesn't want to be ignored. On the guy's about page, he says a time range of a week, but maybe he isn't busy. Maybe he'll get back to Josh at a reasonable pace. Pace… what is this… fucking gym class?

On Saturday night, Josh receives his first message from the Message Man. It's in the form of a chat. Three minutes have passed. Surely that isn't enough time to really observe and take in his… four-word request. Josh buries his face into his hands and doesn't resurface for twenty more minutes. By the time he has recovered enough to look at his computer screen, the Message Man is sending him two, three, four messages.

i am here
are you okay
i am here
you are there

Josh takes this slow. I'm fine

but you are talking to me

I am
Will you help me?

talk to me

Josh gets another chat from a friend, the mutual from the night before. They're curious. They want to know what's going on. Josh is talking to the Message Man, but the Message Man tells Josh to talk to him. He is talking. He's talking, he's talking, he's talking.

He closes the chat with his friend and replies to the Message Man.

I don't know what you want me to say

everything

That's impossible

yes
are you happy

Josh feels as if these are trick questions. I really don't know what you want me to say

you're not boring if that's what you're worried about

No.

are you happy

So, Josh says, No, because he isn't happy, and the Message Man says, where do you live, and there it is, isn't it? That's it. This guy will know where Josh lives. He might be close. He might even be his next-door neighbor, the person living underneath him, above him. This could be a sick prank. Josh could be murdered. The guy said murder was "negotiable". What the fuck does that mean?

Josh doesn't reply straight away. He expects hesitation is normal during this part of the exchange. How long should he wait? Josh watches the clock on the wall eat another twenty minutes. His head hurts. His chest aches. He sends the Message Man his address.

It's instant. thank you

For the rest of the night, Josh laughs at memes and listens to music. He doesn't think about the Message Man.

*

The Message Man is not on the following Sunday, or even Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday he is vacant. He is radio silence to Josh—no reply, no plans, just thank you. Then Thursday afternoon, the Message Man posts a blurry selfie, his hands the focus of the shot, covering his face. They're stained black, some places missing from his fingertips. Is this what he meant in his about page? if you think the tattoos are real then they're real. They're clearly painted. Why would anyone tattoo their hands black? Why would anyone paint their hands black? Is it their aesthetic? Josh snorts. The caption is vague, but not vague enough; Josh knows it's about him.

going to help a friend i hope they are okay i am a little late

Is it appropriate to reblog this? He scrolls through the notes, most of them replies, urging the Message Man to detail his "adventure" when he returns. Is that what his followers think of this? It's an adventure, it's a journey, it's for fun? There are more replies after that, telling him to start a vlog because it would "help tell your story". Josh chews on the inside of his lip, fiddling with the ring through his nose. He sighs and clicks on that user's page, begins to laugh at the skepticism in their posts.

I don't trust the Message Man, and you shouldn't either.

No other explanation. Sounds plausible. Josh skims through some more posts, trying to decipher what sort of beef they have with the Message Man. Josh can see their side of things. From the outside, it doesn't sound safe at all. Letting a stranger help you "be happy again"? It doesn't make sense, and frankly, Josh still thinks he might be murdered. He wonders if he should move.

Another post, this time a reblog from a user who claims they had the help of the Message Man: he fucking came to MY HOUSE and wouldn't LEAVE. I told him to leave and he wouldn't! I gave him money and he stayed for A WHOLE WEEK. he's so fucking annoying oh my god, but I'm not sad anymore so… I didn't see the point in asking for a refund

While this seems genuine, many of the posts on this blog read as bad callouts with no real evidence.

He sat in my living room and slit three rabbits' throats. It stained my carpet and he wouldn't even pay for the clean up!!!

Fucking burned my bed

This guy is CRAZY, don't tell him where you live, he will never leave he will stay for a week, for a Month, don't contact him he's crazy he's crazy he's the one who needs help. Don't talk to him. I beg you, your problems are not bad compared to this fucking lunatic

He ate flowers right in front of my face. Couldn't believe it. Gave him $50. Pretty cool.

He stole my towels??

None of these posts are reblogged onto the Message Man's blog. These wouldn't be the testimonials he'd want his followers to see.

Josh lies in bed that night and rethinks every choice he has ever made in his life that led him to this moment. It would be inconsiderate if he were to take back his request for the Message Man. He might be on a plane, might be driving. Josh hasn't sent any money to the guy yet, so… there wouldn't be any actual loss. He thinks it'd be rude if he were to send sorry, I changed my mind, forget I said anything. Basing off their prior conversation, the Message Man will push harder, tell him to really delve deep and question why he doesn't want help when he actually wants to get help. He'll probably get a visitor either way.

Josh gets on his phone and reads the latest post on the Message Man's blog. it feels nice to have friends at home, it says. Josh's heart skips a beat. What does that mean? "What does it mean?" he wonders aloud, but he knows what it means. He's close. They're close. They live in the same state. Okay, murder is definitely still likely, but this being a sick prank is high up there, too. Josh feels ill, like he's about to vomit. He can't vomit, though, because he doesn't like vomiting, and because he just got a chat from the Message Man. thank you, he repeats, and then, what apartment number are you? i'm here

He's here.

First instinct, don't reply. Second instinct, he traveled all this way. Third instinct, no, they don't even live that far from each other. Fourth instinct, don't reply. Josh doesn't reply. He replies. Seconds later, his apartment's buzzer goes off. It rings in his ears, never stopping. Josh wants it to stop. To make it stop, he needs to leave his bed. If he leaves his bed, the buzzer will stop, and he will have a stranger in his home. This stranger might kill him. This stranger might… slit animals' throats in his living room, or burn his bed, or steal his towels. Does Josh truly want that potential threat in his vicinity?

Josh buzzes in the Message Man.

He waits anxiously, wringing his hands together, popping his knuckles, rubbing his knuckles. He crosses his arms over his chest, then drops his arms back to his sides. He hums, blows a raspberry, does everything he can possibly do while leaning against the door to his apartment. He feels ready to combust, and ready to freeze. This is a folly. This is blasphemy. This is… this is…

A knock on his door, Josh jumps. He relives the three short raps digging into the wood, digging into his back for only a second, and then a second longer. Answering the door straight away is desperate, a little pathetic. It shows how he was waiting, but waiting is what he was doing. There is no shame in that.

Josh doesn't answer the door. He drags his hands down his face.

Quietly, from the other side of the door, "Is there, is there anyone there?" It's soft, high, not the least bit intimidating. Josh is stunned, has to stand there and stare at the door. "I can hear you breathing."

So, Josh opens the door. There's no real point not to; he's buzzed the guy in, and the guy can hear him breathing. Josh can't run to his room and hide. If he did, he has a feeling he'd end up finding the guy sitting on his couch come morning. This way, it's under his control. The last person he'll see before tragically dying will be a man with black paint on his hands and—

the biggest smile imaginable. Right. He's wearing a tacky sweatshirt, the hood pulled over his head, over his eyes. His teeth are visible as he continues to smile. Is it supposed to put Josh at ease? He's definitely at ease now. Totally. Yeah.

"Hey."

"Hi." The guy stops smiling, raises a hand to pull back his hood a fraction of an inch, just so he can see Josh better. Josh notices his hands aren't black. His skin is dark, but not black. Paint, then—not tattoos. Josh never doubted that for a second. "Hi," the guy says again. He's taller than Josh, skinny, like a lamppost, and has a bag on his back, a duffel bag thrown over a shoulder, and an instrument case in his hand, smaller than a guitar. What was that fucking called again…?

"Hi," he says for a third time. Josh realizes then how nervous the guy is, and he isn't doing anything to curb it.

"Sorry." Josh shakes his head and takes a step back, inviting in the stranger. Might as well. One step closer to either murder or happiness. "I don't know what… you want me to do. How does this play out? I don't have a spare bedroom, and my cooking abilities stretch about as far as a pop-tart going into a toaster."

He keeps his instrument close, even keeps the hood over his head. Josh supposes he has to do something else to be intimidating, since his voice isn't doing it for him. He stands in the middle of the living room, eyes darting about the room. Josh doesn't remember the last time he dusted. "Uh." Josh walks over, glancing at the guy's backpack, at the markings on the straps. "I, well, it's late and—"

"It is late. I'm late. I meant to come earlier, but… we don't live that far from each other."

"I don't know what you plan on doing here—" Josh stops, making eye contact with his visitor. There's something behind those eyes, Josh can't place what exactly. He swallows. "Maybe we should start fresh in the morning…"

"Tyler," says Tyler.

"Tyler?" says Josh.

"Tyler," says Tyler.

"Josh," says Josh.

"Joshua," says Tyler.

"Josh," says Josh.

"Joshua," says Tyler, and leaves the room.

Josh is left in the living room, very perplexed and quite upset. Is he meant to sleep on the couch tonight? That's where this guy, the Message Man, Tyler, is headed—to his bedroom. Josh will be damned if he is shoved to the sofa, guest or no guest. He stomps after Tyler, lips parted to scold, but he's greeted with his bed unoccupied and his carpet the one to become a residence. Tyler is unrolling a sleeping bag, pushed off in the corner of the room, next to an unused wall outlet. A phone charger plugs into it next, then Tyler unlaces his shoes. They have flowers on them. Josh blinks. "Do you need anything?"

"My sleeping schedule is awful." Tyler shakes his head. "Do you have a job?"

Josh blinks again. "Yes."

"Good night." And Tyler is flopping onto his side, his back to Josh. It isn't actually good night, though, because not even five minutes pass before Tyler is on his phone, the screen lighting up the corner of the dark room. Josh debates on asking him to watch a movie, talk, do something, but Tyler said good night, and Josh understands having to fall asleep with your phone close by. So, Josh climbs underneath the covers, tucking an arm behind his head. He gets on his phone, too, his thumb tapping onto Tumblr and searching the Message Man's blog before he realizes it.

One new post: i'm in

Josh bursts out laughing, and likes it.

From the corner, Tyler giggles. "Good night," he says again, and Josh wipes a few tears from his eyes and says, "Good night."

*

Josh dreams of meeting Tyler. It's different this time. They're on a bench, somewhere inside, and Tyler keeps looking at him, glancing over his shoulder, sometimes smiling, sometimes not. He's wearing black. When Josh moves to say hi, he's brought outside, and Tyler is running from him, birds singing high in the sky. They're at a park. Josh sits on a swing, and suddenly Tyler is next to him. "Hi," Tyler says, and Josh smiles at him. Tyler's face contorts into something ungodly, and he begins to vomit. Josh wakes up at that point.

It's early, his alarm set to go off in twenty minutes. Being a courteous host, Josh switches it off, rolls onto his back right after. The sun is trying to lighten up the room, but it isn't enough for the glow in the corner of the room to disappear. Josh turns onto his stomach, raises onto his elbows. "Have you even gone to bed?" Tyler did say his sleeping schedule was bad, but Josh hopes Tyler woke a few minutes before he did.

Tyler removed his sweatshirt during the night. He's wearing a white t-shirt now, with a snowman on the front. It wouldn't be socially acceptable to wear it out in public, but Josh is a Christmas guy, and sees no problem with it. Tyler looks groggy, out of it. He pulls out an earphone and cranes his neck to look over his shoulder. "Hm?"

"Have you slept any?" asks Josh.

Tyler thinks for a moment. Josh worries about what that means. "Yes," Tyler decides, but he doesn't sound sure. He turns back around, the hint of a yawn suppressed by a hand to his mouth. "Are you getting up?"

"Yes."

"You have a job."

"I'm so glad you remembered." Josh pushes himself up, getting a foot caught in the blankets as he tries to stand. "Are you hungry?"

Tyler is quiet. Josh worries again. Does he honestly have to think about his basic human needs for more than a second? Josh frowns, shaking his head and rubbing at his eyes. He's guilty of the very same—showering, eating, socializing. Josh should be the first person who understands where this guy is at mentally. Which begs the question… is Tyler fit to help anybody else if he can't help himself?

"Josh."

"What?"

"I said yes. Are you okay? You were spaced out."

Tyler stares at him, genuinely concerned. His eyes are large, his bottom lip stuck out in a bit of a pout. If Josh wasn't still tired, he'd be able to argue. Instead he laughs and says, "I'm fine. Just thinking about what flavor pop-tart I should fix us."

Tyler smiles.

*

"So… I'm going to go to work now."

"Okay." Tyler is on his phone again, head propped up with the palm of his hand. He's leaned up against the island in the kitchen, still dressed in the white snowman t-shirt and black basketball shorts. He doesn't raise his head, not until a minute has passed and Josh hasn't made a movement toward the door. Tyler does a double take at this, going to Josh, then to his phone, and then back at Josh. "Oh," he says, like he's only just realized their situation. He ducks into the bedroom, returning with a baseball cap on his head, knee-high socks, the floral shoes, and his backpack on a shoulder. "Text me," he says, and leaves the room. Josh follows after him, a bit stunned, but more or less relieved to not have him alone in his apartment.

*

Tyler says to text him, yet Josh doesn't have Tyler's number. Surely he must mean message, on Tumblr or something. Josh checks Tyler's blog when he's on break and finds two new text posts—the first a poem, maybe lyrics; the second only the word "good". Josh likes both of them. Not long after, Tyler replies to their chat.

i don't have your number

Is that something you need?

well

Do you have a lot of numbers?

i delete them after i'm done, except if they want to keep in contact with me

And many do?

they say so but they really don't
what's your number

Josh sends it. He goes back to work.

*

i can get us food
tell me when you get off
this is tyler, by the way

Josh finds Tyler sitting on the floor, inside of the apartment lobby. A Taco Bell bag rests in his lap, his hands holding onto it as if his life depends on it. He looks even worse than this morning, tired, pale. Josh wonders if he's actually jet-lagged and wanted to see Josh sweat over the possibility of them living in the same state. "Did you have a good day?" he asks, Josh walking toward him. "You look like you had a good day."

"I'm just excited to eat Taco Bell."

Once they're in Josh's apartment—Tyler races up the stairs before Josh can push the elevator button—they sit on the couch and watch television, too preoccupied with their meals to comment on how little space is between them. They're on the same cushion, practically, Tyler's legs spread a bit more than Josh would like, but he doesn't bring it up, not while his mouth is full, and not while Tyler actually looks quite pleased with himself.

Tyler uses all the napkins. He still sucks on his fingertips regardless, his feet kicked back on the coffee table in front of him. At least he is considerate enough to take off his shoes beforehand. "So, how did you like it?" he asks.

Josh blinks. "What?"

"My Tumblr post. You liked it. How did you like it?"

"With my thumb."

Tyler thinks this is hilarious. He laughs for several minutes.

"No, but… I liked it. Finding purpose and all that… Kitchen sinks are cool."

"You don't know what that means," Tyler says, laughter edging his tone. His hand is on his stomach, holding it, in case he begins to laugh again. It's very likely. "Did you have a good day?" he repeats, and Josh really wants him to stop asking that, but this is the second time he's asked that, so Josh needs to stop getting defensive this quickly. He didn't even have a bad day. It was good, not great, but Tyler isn't asking if he had a great day.

"Yeah, it was good."

Tyler smiles. "Good."

*

It's Saturday. Josh is set to come in later today. He stays up past midnight, mostly sitting on his bed and watching Tyler play his instrument in the corner of the room. Josh knows it's stupid, but he can't get up the courage to talk to this guy. A million things are swimming in Josh's head—questions, answers to questions that may never be said, compliments, arguments, everything, and nothing. He grips his phone in his hand, seeing the screen light up with each passing notification. He ignores it all in favor of watching Tyler.

Tyler doesn't mind an audience, or he doesn't notice his audience. He's humming. Josh wants him to sing.

When there's a pause in the song, Josh finally asks, "That's not a guitar, I know, but I forgot what it was called."

"Ukulele."

"You're pretty good at it. The ukulele."

"My hands are soft."

Josh furrows his brow. "I'm sorry?"

Tyler sets aside his ukulele. "Do you have any gaming systems?"

"I—what? I have a Wii in a closet somewhere."

"Do you trust me?"

Josh doesn't know why he says yes, but he says yes, and Tyler is smiling now and asking if he's allowed to stay here tomorrow while Josh goes to work; and Josh doesn't know why he says yes, but he says yes, and Tyler is smiling again. Josh lives for that smile.

*

Tyler doesn't get up when Josh gets up. He's sleeping, snoring into his sleeping bag. Josh leaves him, doesn't want to disturb him.

Josh half-expects Tyler to still be sleeping by the time he gets home, but he's up, rested, concentrated on the TV, the remote pressed to his mouth. He's changed from his pajamas into something presentable to wear while outside the apartment. Tyler is leaving the apartment now, telling Josh he'll be right back, please buzz him in, please don't forget about him.

"What?" Josh calls, though Tyler is already gone.

*

He comes back two hours later, plastic bags in his arms, full with video games—old and new. He dumps them on the sofa, next to Josh, and smiles that smile again. "Do you have work tomorrow?" he asks. At Josh's shaking head, Tyler says, "Good."

*

They play video games all night. Josh doesn't remember when the last time he had been this happy.

*

"Have you ever hurt yourself?" Tyler says this around a Capri Sun straw in his mouth. The pouch is empty, but he chews on the straw, the pouch moving up and down as he talks.

Josh says, "No."

Tyler says, "Are you lying?"

Josh says, "No."

Tyler says, "I've hurt myself before."

Josh says, "I've hurt myself before, too."

They're playing Mario Kart Wii. Tyler is Yoshi. He's always Yoshi. Josh tries to pick Yoshi before Tyler can, but Tyler is quick, and he elbows Josh every time—just in case. Josh is Princess Peach. Tyler tells him how cute he is when he picks her. Josh blushes at this. He needs to stop.

"So, you were lying," says Tyler.

"Maybe," says Josh.

"It's okay," says Tyler.

"Thanks, man," says Josh.

Rainbow Road is a bastard, but they keep choosing it. Tyler gets another Capri Sun, slurps. "Have you tried rubber bands?" He glances at Josh. "It's a good alternative." Tyler has three lines tattooed around his wrist.

"I'll keep that in mind."

*

Josh makes sure he has a rubber band around his wrist every day before going to work. Tyler is often asleep when this takes place, but he sees the rubber band when Josh comes home. There's no sudden change in his face. It's gradual. It's a bashful smile. Josh knows he's proud.

*

"So, how do you make them happy again?"

"I fuck 'em."

Josh chokes on his cereal. "You—what?"

Tyler shrugs. "I fuck 'em, then leave."

"Oh…" Josh narrows his eyes.

Tyler sighs. "Well… I don't actually sleep with them."

"But you do fuck them." He points his spoon at Tyler.

Tyler laughs. "Naturally."

*

"How are you going to fuck me?"

Tyler jams buttons on the controller, snorting, coughing. "I'm fucking you right now. Oh—blue shell!" He laughs. "Bye, Josh."

*

They're playing a fighting game tonight, doing more jumping and acrobats than actual fighting.

"Did you just see that? That was sick."

"So sick." Josh glances at Tyler. Tyler is drinking from a Kool-Aid Cooler. It's a lot messier than a Capri Sun. "How do you go on?" Josh asks. "How do you get up in the morning?"

Tyler doesn't say anything. Josh is still talking.

"I hate going to bed. Don't get me wrong, I like naps as much as the next guy, but… it sucks, you know? I love sleeping, but I hate getting up. I hate sleeping because I hate waking up. It's like… sleep anxiety."

"I don't know about that, man." Tyler makes his character jump some more. He doesn't play as Yoshi in this game, but Josh is still Princess Peach. "Don't think about it like that."

"I have to, though. How else can I?"

Tyler sucks down a gulp of cherry Kool-Aid. "You and I know it gets better," he starts, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, "when morning finally rears its head. Together, we're losers." Tyler shrugs. No big deal. "Remember the future. Remember the morning is when night is dead."

Josh notices the rhyming. He nods and tries to take this advice as gospel.

*

During his breaks, Josh checks Tyler's blog. There are no updates. Josh sees Tyler get on his phone often, mostly when they're lying down for bed. The screen is blue—a dark blue, and Josh knows that's Tumblr, although he isn't posting to the Message Man blog. Does he have another blog? How does Josh ask that?

"Do you have another blog?"

Easy as pie. Or whatever.

Tyler looks visibly uncomfortable. He's crouched over his ukulele, a notebook on the coffee table. Josh stands on the other side of the coffee table, a Red Bull in toll. Maybe he shouldn't have asked Tyler that. It's probably a personal blog, something Josh shouldn't be seeing. He regrets it immediately. He opens his mouth to take back his question, yet Tyler talks over him, answers his inquiry. "No phun intended."

"No fun intended?"

"Yeah. With a 'ph'."

Josh nods, and they don't speak to each other for the rest of the night.

*

i don't think i can go on like this

this blog is nothing but me complaining can someone delete me from existence

i can't pay rent again haha

i can't even put a donate button on this blog because no one will care and i can't ask people to donate on my other blog because then they'll call me a fraud and i want to be happy

i see the hate and it's really funny but it's also really sad

i am a fraud

i'm a good person

i haven't helped anyone in so long i'm going to end up crumbling at his feet and begging him to let me stay longer than a week i don't know how i don't know how

he's cute

he doesn't know me

The description is "tyler, he/him, i love chord progressions and my mom", and Josh can't look at Tyler after reading through these posts. There are more, a lot more, but Josh keeps rereading "he's cute" over and over. He shuts his eyes, pulls his pillow close to him, and plans to not speak to Tyler at all tomorrow. Tomorrow is Friday. It's been a week, and a week seems to be the standard stay for Tyler. Josh can't send Tyler back now, not on the weekend. Monday? Monday is already shit. Why not make it shittier?

Josh dreams about meeting Tyler again. The benches are here, too, and Tyler keeps glancing at him. Josh doesn't get up to say hi. Tyler stares at him from afar. Tyler stares at him from nearby. He's beside Josh now, smiling his smile and saying, "You're cute," and Josh is frozen, and Tyler does that thing with his face, and he's throwing up again. Why do Josh's dreams always end like this? Josh wakes to the sun in his eyes, to his alarm going off. Tyler is in bad spirits in his corner of the room, an expression of disgust. He rubs it away, but it stains.

Josh shuts off the alarm. He goes through his contacts and texts his boss, telling them he's sick with a stomach bug and can't make it in. He's given the weekend to recover. So, with an unceremonious gesture of victory, Josh goes back to sleep. Tyler soon does the very same.

*

This time Josh dreams about sending Tyler away. Tyler is trying not to cry, his neck and hands painted black. His eyes are red, not from the tears, but from pain, from hurt. It hurts. Everything hurts. Tyler's nose begins to bleed right in front of Josh. Josh shuts the door in his face.

It turns into something whimsical. There are bubbles and gigantic sunflowers. Tyler is on top of one, staring down at Josh with red eyes and a big smile. "I hope you're dead," he says, "'cause how could you sleep at a time like this?"

Josh wakes up. Tyler is awake, has been awake long enough to shower and start on a load of laundry. He looks at Josh, furrowed brow, his bottom lip stuck out in that pout. "You okay?"

"Yeah, yeah." Josh presses his palms over his eyes.

"Sorry, dog."

"Dog?"

"Yeah."

"What?"

"Do you have one?"

"Have what?"

"A dog."

"No."

"You should think about getting one."

"Why?"

Tyler shrugs and looks out the window.

*

There is one audio post on Tyler's personal blog. It's called "TB Saga". Josh listens to it, and doesn't exactly know what it really is. He loves it. He dares not like. He dares not like anything on this blog because then Tyler will know he's read it, and Josh doesn't want Tyler to know he's read it. Something will happen, and Josh doesn't want that something to happen.

It will end up happening. Eventually. Not today, though, and not this weekend.

Josh tiptoes around this. He thinks everything through before he asks it. And even then, he still doesn't feel safe.

"Why do they call you the Message Man?"

Tyler shakes his head. "It's…" He shakes his head again, and again after that. "I wrote this song… posted a video of it. It was called 'Message Man', and there was this line… 'Please use discretion when you're messing with the message, man.' Comma, 'man'. 'Message', then comma, then 'man'. But… you know how things work out." Tyler goes back to his ukulele. "It stuck."

"But wasn't it kind of your fault for calling the song 'Message Man'?"

"I was in the moment. It sounded cool. Don't… crucify me."

Josh laughs. Tyler laughs with him.

*

It's when they're playing Mario Kart Wii for the seventh consecutive hour that Josh begins to piece it all together.

"I swear… I know you from somewhere."

"Have you watched any of my videos? Probably from there."

"No. There's something else…" And it clicks, and he announces, "Holy shit, you used to go to my church, didn't you?" just as he passes Tyler and takes first place.

Tyler is silent. The race finishes. Josh is in first. Tyler lags behind in sixth. Tyler slowly puts down the controller and stands. "Well, it looks like I'm done here." And he scurries off, like he has his tail between his legs. Josh is both shocked and amazed. He leaps after Tyler, going down the hallway, catching him in the act. He's packing, shoving things into his backpack, rolling up his sleeping bag. He's multitasking. Very impressive.

"What are you doing?"

Tyler goes faster. He's stepping into his shoes and heaving everything onto his back and moving past Josh, and Josh touches his arm and says, "Hey, you can't just go," and Tyler continues walking, and Josh says, "Hey, I think I deserve an explanation."

They're at the front door. The race results are still on screen, Princess Peach skidding to first place, the audience cheering. Tyler looks ill. He's holding onto his ukulele case, knuckles white, incredibly small, trying to shrink himself even more. "Please believe me when I tell you that's a coincidence."

Josh blinks. "I don't believe you."

Tyler squeaks. "Please believe me when I tell you that's a coincidence." He shuts his eyes. "I'll text you later… Finish this… Send payment." He ducks around Josh's arm, dives for the door, and Josh throws that same arm around Tyler's waist, swinging him around in the process. Tyler squeals. He actually squeals. "Please don't beat me up," he says, kicking out his legs. He's dropped his duffel bag and his ukulele case, his backpack clinging to one shoulder. "I know I need to be beat up, but please don't beat me up."

"I'm not going to beat you up." Josh places Tyler back on his feet, dusts him off. "I can't beat you up."

"It'll be really easy. I'd drop to the floor straight away."

"No… Shut up." Josh places his hands on Tyler's shoulders. "Look, I get it. I don't like the way you're going about this, but I get it. You need money. You need a place to stay. I get it."

Tyler avoids all eye contact.

Josh continues, "So, are you sure… like… my mom didn't send you here, did she?"

Tyler sniffs. "Please believe me when I tell you that's a coincidence."

Josh inhales. He lowers his hands, grabbing Tyler's biceps and rubbing his thumbs into them. "I believe you."

Tyler smiles.

*

Tyler is on his bed. It's late. They haven't gone to sleep yet. Josh is on his back, Tyler beside him, on his stomach, looking through the posts about the Message Man, the posts that haven't made it onto his testimonials tag. "I told some to make bad posts about me," Tyler says, "to get more attention, but these are ridiculous. Most of these aren't even by anyone I know."

"You apparently got fifty bucks for eating flowers."

"I did get fifty bucks, but it wasn't for eating flowers."

"Slit three rabbits' throats."

"That's insulting to my character and to rabbits everywhere."

"You also burned someone's bed and stole someone's towels."

"Those are true."

Josh laughs. "What, like, dropped a candle?"

"Dropped a blunt."

"Tyler."

Tyler smiles. "And towels are towels. I'd steal them from anyone." He scratches his cheek, using his index finger to scroll. Josh stares at him, admiring the phone's light bouncing off the bridge of his nose, his philtrum. "Okay… I'm going to hit you up with some truth right now. Are you ready?"

"Sure."

"I background check everyone who wants my help. I accept them if everything turns out all right. I stay at their place for a week, play music for them. And most, if not all, of them take pity and give me money. There are others who get upset when they realize I'm not an actual certified psychologist, which is… stupid. That's why I have the refund policy." Tyler turns his head. He stares at Josh. "I don't have malicious intent. I do help people. They are happier after they meet me. I can't have people forgetting that." He shrugs a shoulder. "I also one hundred percent do not kill moms."

Josh shoves him. Tyler laughs. "Why do people think you'll kill someone?"

"I dunno, man. It's from a video game." Tyler drops his phone onto an end table. "I haven't unpacked my sleeping bag."

"You only stay for a week?"

"Typically. Sometimes a bit longer, but it's never more than two. I'm not that… annoying." Tyler furrows his brow. He knows where this is going. "Why…?"

"Stay longer."

"For how long?"

"Maybe two weeks."

Tyler smiles at Josh. "Thanks." Gently, he presses his palm to the side of Josh's neck, keeping him still as Tyler scoots himself over, leaning in to give Josh's lips a kiss. It's over far more quickly than Josh would like, so he takes the back of Tyler's neck in his hand and draws him down for another kiss. This one is longer. This one is wetter. This one ends in giggles and Tyler squealing for all the right reasons.

*

he knows me he's so cute he likes me

Josh follows nophunintended.

*

"You're going to need an alias," Tyler says. "We can be gross on our personal blogs, but I value anonymity when I'm the Message Man."

"Spooky Jim," Josh says without a second thought. Tyler fucking loves it.

*

The Message Man does his own callout post. Afterward, he posts a new selfie. It's blurry, his tongue sticking out and licking Spooky Jim's cheek, his black hand obscuring Spooky Jim's face. It's blurry. It's okay.

boy and friend