“It’s not that big of a deal, you know.”
“Mark.” Eyebrows raised. A warning.
“I’m just scared for you. It’s an abusive relationship, and you know it.”
“It’s not. I don’t.”
“You don’t what? You don’t notice the way he hits you? The way he talks shit about you and makes fun of you right in front of your friends? The way he beats you up constantly and leaves all the time? Why do you stay with him, Tyler?”
“He loves me.”
“Tyler! Get down here!” Josh bellowed throughout the apartment. He had just returned home from another weekend away, already pissed off to see the clutter scattered throughout the place. He thought he told Tyler to clean this shit up, to stop crying, to stop being such a fucking mess.
Speak of the devil, here was Tyler now. He approached Josh warily, pretending not to notice the hickeys lined along his neck. God knows he didn’t give him those. God knows Josh hasn’t let him kiss him in forever.
“Didn’t I tell you to clean this up when I was gone?” Josh gave a pointed look to the boy.
“I’m sorry, I was pretty busy. I picked up extra shifts, and Mark needed me for some things.”
“Mark needed you for some things? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Are you cheating on me?” Stabbing. These words were stabbing. Tyler had to put all of his energy into keeping his eyes on Josh’s, not on his neck. No, that was rule number one. Look at me when I’m talking to you, look me in the eye, pussy.
“No, no. Of course not. I’m sorry.”
“Always sorry, aren’t you? Not sorry enough to not do it though, right?” As these words fell from his mouth, Josh grabbed Tyler by his upper arms, lifting slightly and pushing him harshly into a nearby wall. He had a vice-like grip, hard enough to leave bruises, but nothing foreign to Tyler. This was how it was supposed to be. This was what love was. Love was bruises and forced bravery, because you stick through the hardships for someone you love, right?
With a scoff, Josh released him before promptly pushing him to the ground.
“Clean this shit up.” He said, walking away.
“Dude, this isn’t okay.” Brendon was inspecting the newly formed bruises on Tyler’s biceps and the bump on the back of his head.
“It was my fault. He told me to clean up, and I got distracted.”
“Okay, but if your boyfriend doesn’t clean up, that doesn’t mean you shove him into walls and slap him around. Maybe you get upset, yeah, but you get over it and make up. That’s what normal couples do.”
“No such thing.” Tyler grumbled.
“There’s no such thing as a normal couple. Everyone’s different.” Brendon rolled his eyes, but did not relent.
“You’re unbelievable. And extremely in denial. Please, we just want to help you.”
“I don’t need help. He loves me.”
“He doesn’t fucking love you!”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“What do you mean?”
Josh had pulled Tyler harshly by the wrist, only slightly away from the group they had been sitting with at the bar just moments before. The group was composed of their ‘mutual’ friends (Josh’s friends, the only people Tyler was allowed to talk to), and Tyler was miserable. He tried not to show it on his face, but there was only so much of the vulgar, grotesque conversation between the men that he could stomach. Josh noticed his discomfort, of course. Josh noticed everything. He had tried the usual warning signs: a painfully tight grip on the thigh, a stinging jab to the ribs, what else was he supposed to do to warn Tyler that his behavior was intolerable?
“You won’t talk to anyone. You’re just sitting there moping like some bitch. These are our friends, Tyler.”
“They’re your friends. I didn’t even want to come here yo-” Tyler was cut off by a harsh slap to the face, the sound resonating between only the two and slightly to the group of men sitting nearby, though they only briefly looked over, before turning back and resuming their conversation.
Tyler responded to the situation in his usual manner. The look of shock and his own hand pressed to his cheek lightly were quickly replaced by silence, defeated eyes and lowered hands.
“Go home, Tyler.” And Tyler left without a word. But not before hearing “it’s like taking care of a fucking child, I swear” from Josh as he soaked in the chuckles of his friends.
On Tyler’s drive, he couldn’t help but wonder when the pain was going to pay off. He had been waiting for years for the good part to come, but lately, it was starting to seem like it never would.
“Tyler.” A deep sigh.
“Mark, I told you. It’s going to be fine.”
“When?” A long pause.
“I don’t know.” Mark continued his inspection of the reddened, slightly raised handprint on Tyler’s face as he spoke again.
“Well, if you don’t do something about this, I will.”
“What are you gonna do, call the cops?” Tyler was joking.
“Yes.” Mark was not.
“What?” Raised eyebrows.
“Don’t. He’ll . . .”
“He’ll what, Tyler? He’ll hit you again? That’s the fucking point! I don’t care if you never talk to me again after! I can’t just sit around and watch you get the shit beat out of you by some douche who doesn’t fucking care about you!”
“Fuck you! He does care about me! If he didn’t care he wouldn’t be watching out for me all the time!”
“That’s what you call ‘watching out for you’? Tyler, people need to watch out for you because of him.”
“I have to go.”
“I have to go.”
When Tyler walked in the door to his apartment, there was no apology, no regret, no greeting at all from Josh. There was “I need you to go get groceries.”
“I didn’t ask what time it was. I told you to go get groceries.”
“No, I’m going to bed.” Tyler said, already making his way to the living room to sleep on the couch. The bedroom was Josh’s. Off limits.
“What the fuck did you just say?” Josh barked out as he grabbed Tyler and spun him around harshly. Tyler could smell the alcohol on Josh’s breath, could see it in the cloudiness of his eyes. Tyler struggled to get away, but it proved to be in vain as he instantly went weak and crumbled from sudden pain in his back. Josh held a firm grip on the back of Tyler’s neck and looked him in the eyes as he reached under Tyler’s shirt and dug his nails in, dragging down in a long line from the back of Tyler’s neck toward his left ribcage. Tyler immediately could smell the blood, and had no choice but to sit there and listen, slumped in Josh’s arms.
“You get mad at me for doing stuff like this, but you fucking provoke me. You leave me no choice.”
“This is bad. This is so bad.” Brendon shook his head frenetically.
“I know. Stop saying it.”
“This is bad.”
“Sorry. It’s just.” Brendon blinked, shook his head one more time. For good measure.
“So bad.” For the past ten minutes, Brendon had been staring at the scratches down Tyler’s back, four clear nail marks, blood smudged all around them. Surprisingly, Tyler had been the one to contact Brendon, calling him, telling him through wrecked sobs that he needed to see him, he needs to do something, this is getting to be too much.
“You okay?” Brendon noticed Tyler’s stoicness. This was the first time he had seen Tyler so helpless, so defeated. He usually tried to defend Josh’s ministrations.
“I don’t know what to do, man. He won’t stop. I’m trying to make him happy, but I can’t. I never can. I just don’t know.”
“Tyler. We need to call the police.” This earned an eye roll from Tyler.
“Don’t. The last thing I need is for the fucking cops to get involved in this.”
“I know. I know you think he’s going to hit you again if we call the cops, but there’s nothing else to do, Ty.” Silence.
“I want to talk to him.”
“No, listen. I want to try to talk to him one last time. I’ll be calm, I’ll make it okay. Let me do that.”
“If he touches you one more time, I’m calling the police.”
“Okay, just. Let me talk to him.”
“Josh?” Tyler was timid, so afraid. But he needed to try this. Anything he could do to salvage their relationship.
“What?” Josh snapped. Tyler swallowed harshly, so ready to curl into a ball and give up already but so, so determined.
“Can we talk?”
“Talk? About what?” Deep breaths, Tyler, deep breaths.
“I think we need counselling.” Josh snorted immediately at that. Like it was a joke.
“You’re funny. What the fuck are you talking about? Counselling.”
“Josh, we fight all the time, and I want to fix-”
“No, we don't fight. You fucking cause problems.” Josh stood up and slowly approached Tyler as he spoke. Tyler stood up as well, ready to flee if he needed to. Trying to maintain his composure, Tyler spoke calmly.
“Please, Josh. I think this can help. Think about it. When’s the last time we did anything romantic? When’s the last time we held hands? Went on a date? When’s the last time we kissed?”
“You want me to kiss you?” Josh spoke, voice and face completely void of any emotion, “I’ll give you something to kiss.” In one quick, smooth motion, Josh had grabbed Tyler by the front of his shirt, yanking him forward while promptly punching him across the jaw. They both stilled afterward, Tyler too numb to react and Josh too proud to care.
Tyler slumped back into his seat, and Josh copied.
“Can you order a pizza? I’m starving.” Josh said, as if he hadn’t just punched his boyfriend in the face.
“Yeah. Sure.” Josh turned his attention away from Tyler and to the TV playing some mindless show. Tyler grabbed his cell phone, thinking this was it. This was when he would call Brendon or Mark, and tell them what happened and they would save the day, save his life. Or maybe it was when he just ran out of the house and directly to the nearest police station and tell them what goes on with him and Josh, and when they wouldn’t believe him all he would have to do it point at his jaw, at his back and at his sides and they would save the day, save his life.
But none of this happened, because Josh stopped Tyler in his tracks, saying “stay in here,” never looking away from the TV. Tyler retreated back into the room, but stood in the kitchen, close enough so that Josh could hear what he way saying but not close enough so he could hear the person on the other end of the call.
Shakily, he dialed the number.
“911, what’s your emergency?” A woman’s voice greeted.
“Hello, I’d like to place an order for delivery.”
“Sir, this is Columbus Police Department.”
“Yes. One large pie.” A brief pause.
“Did you intentionally call this number?”
“Is there someone in the room that cannot know about this phone call?”
“Are you in danger, sir?”
“Help is on the way.”
“Thank you. See you in fifteen minutes.” He hung up. Homestretchhomestretchhomestretch.
Josh spoke now. “Fifteen minutes?”
“Yeah. I’ll go grab some cash.” Tyler left the room, but not to get money to pay the pizza guy that would never show up. He left because he couldn’t be there when the cops arrived. He wanted Josh to see what he had done, to see the consequences right in front of him. For the first time in the relationship, he was fighting back, and he was going to win.
A knock on the door. Noticing that Tyler had not yet returned with the money, Josh stood up. On his way to the door he called out “Tyler! Pizza’s here! I need the money!” And as he opened the door he was not faced with an underpaid kid in an ugly uniform holding a box of greasy food, he was faced with two men and a woman, all dressed in police uniforms, looking stern.
“Tyler?” Josh called out for the boy yet again, this time in confusion, still staring at the officers in the doorway. This made it clear that Josh was not Tyler Joseph, the man on the phone, the man who yes, did intentionally dial this number, and yes, was in danger. Because Josh was calling out for that man, which meant that Josh was the one putting Tyler in danger. In one swift move, the two male police officers caught Josh by the arms, one on either side of him. This was when Tyler entered cautiously, not prepared to see what was in front of him. When he entered, he was blinded by Josh’s enraged, realizing glare. Ignoring this, he shifted his attention to the female officer, now approaching him. The men stayed back, Josh still firmly in their grips.
“Are you Tyler Joseph?”
“Is this man abusing you?”
“Yes, ma’am.” A single tear down his cheek, but his voice did not waver. It couldn’t.
Upon hearing this, the two men promptly pulled a struggling Josh’s hands behind his back, handcuffing them with practiced efficiency. Josh was strong, and he was continuing to fight by shoving the police officers with his shoulders. As the men began to pull Josh out of the doorway, they spoke to him, listing off his rights, what would be happening to him. Josh ignored their voices, crying out “let me go!” and things of the sort.
With one final shout of “Tyler! I’ll fucking kill you!” Josh was out the door, out the house, out of Tyler’s life.
Tyler could not process the situation, and was beginning to feel faint until he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. The policewoman. Safesafesafe. He held himself back from flinching.
“Are you okay, Tyler?”
“Yes, I will be.” She stared at him briefly, a kind smile on her lips. And for the first time in a long time, Tyler smiled back. Albeit small, but genuine all the same.
“I’m going to need you to come down to the station with me for questioning. It doesn’t have to be right now, you look like you could use some sleep, but we will need to be in contact sometime tomorrow, okay?” Tyler gave a curt nod.
“There will probably have to be a court hearing. But judging by the looks of that bruise, I’d say the case is yours. He won’t be bothering you anymore, Tyler.” This conflicted the boy. Because as much pain he was in constantly, physically and emotionally, Josh was his boyfriend. Someone he loved, at least at one point. Someone he thought loved him. But alas, none of these things were the case anymore, and Tyler supposed he would have to get used to that, somehow. So in response, he said “okay.”
“You don’t have to be so tough. It’s okay to be upset.” Tyler shook his head, looked down at the dingy carpet, and did not reply.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” She gave one last reassuring squeeze to his shoulder.
“Thank you.” Tyler whispered.
“Of course.” She turned and left.
After the police officer closed the door gently behind her, eerie silence ensued, leaving Tyler to his own thoughts. He could have thought about anything, he supposed. He could have thought about all those times Josh used to tell him he loved him, how beautiful he was. How Josh used to apologize profusely when he so much as bumped into Tyler accidentally. How much he had changed since then. He could have thought about how Mark and Brendon were right the whole time, how Tyler knew it was abusive, knew this wasn’t how normal couples acted. How he would have to call them and explain everything in the morning, or perhaps he would have them over to talk to them in person. But Tyler decided not to think about any of these things.
And as he looked up from his bare feet, he was expecting to see new life in front of him, see his world clearing up, or gradually fading into a world of shiny gold. But it didn’t, and that was okay. Because for now it was the same apartment, but with Josh not in it.
And the credits of Josh’s mindless TV show rolled on the screen.