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Message Man

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"i look idiotic," tyler says the second after he meets ashley at the door of her apartment on thursday morning, with his keyboard under his arm. it was a random decision made the previous night in ashley's house.

after the argument with his mother, he ran away straight to ashley's, even though she still stayed in his home with his family, talking about who-knows-what.

he talked almost an hour with his uncle, or, ashley's dad, mostly about the competition he'd been so excited about. ashley didn't lie saying that her dad had his fingers crossed for tyler. it was good to finally talk with an adult about things, that keep you going and you are proud of, who understands you completely and respects your actions. he's always been envious of ashley's parents, but yesterday he was more than ever.

he just can't believe, that ashley's dad and his mother are true siblings from one mother and father. they are totally different. ashley's parents have never had any problem with tyler spending hours in their house after him and ashley started to be friends. they have never had any problem with letting in the other people she wanted to invite either. tyler's parents don't have any problem with ashley, too, of course, but that took much time for them to finally get used to the girl. even thought they liked her, they didn't allow her to come over, because tyler has to practise for this, and study for that. ashley would sneak in through his bedroom window anyway. once his parents found out, they knew they wouldn't be able to oppose. tyler is sure they wouldn't get tyler his way that easily, if ashley weren't a part of the family.

ashley's parents would never yell at her if she got a bad grade at math. it was her life; if she messed up, she would pay for it. tyler doesn't know, if that's what good parents are, but that's definitely, how tyler wants his own parents to be. ashley's mom and dad at least don't control her every move and make for her decisions, that should be made only by her.

tyler didn't come back to his house yesterday. he didn't want to let them win, and make them see him as nobody but a fool, asking for forgiveness after entering the house with "just forget about it".

he spent the night in ashley's house, but they didn't sleep at all. they spent most of their sleeping time to babble especially about tyler's competition; what would people think, and what his chances with other opponents are.

at 3 at night, or early morning, ashley had one of her fantastic ideas, suggesting tyler to bring his piano to school and not only sing, but play. it sounded ridiculous at first, but it wasn't so bad idea at all.

tyler was more afraid of carrying his keyboard to school and explaining to teachers, why he'd brought a piano to class, than performing with the piano in general.

so at 7 a.m. he decided to hurry to his house only to get his backpack, change clothes, and, of course, get his keyboard. he didn't care, what would his parents think seeing him carry his 88-key piano through the door. he told them yesterday about competition, and if they believed him or not, it wasn't his business that time. he removed the key stand and shoved it folded up somewhere inside his backpack, took the instrument with both of his hands, and casually left the house.

"you look cool, people will immediately know you're a musician," ashley shrugs, fully leaving her block and approaching tyler. "do you want me to help you?"

"no, i'm fine." tyler smiles awkwardly. even though the instrument is quite heavy, he is fortunately able to carry it the whole way to school. it will be more difficult to carry it through the school.

ashley notices the downfall of tyler's mood. she was certain, that he would behave that way for the whole day, but he can't remain so nervous, if he wants to win.

"i guess you want to know, what i was doing with your parents after you had left?" she asks.

"yeah, probably."

ashley laughs and takes a deep breath, "i forced them to watch your videos."

tyler doesn't know, what would be worse; ashley watching his videos with his parents, or ashley keeping the intense argument with them. he only rolls his eyes. he doesn't hide from his parents, they could watch him singing anytime they wanted to. yeah, while they wanted to. that's why it never happens.

"and how did it go?"

"i probably made your mom feel guilty," ashley says, "good for her."

"there's no way she could feel guilty. not her."

"then you have to win this thing, and we'll all be alright." she smiles.

"i won't win, i'm sure about that," tyler whines and stares at a horizon far away, before zoning out completely and walking without looking at the street.

"are you serious?" the girl bursts.

"positive."

"you're bringing the piano," she says it, as if it was the greatest thing of the day. "i bet nobody will have any instrument. your performance will be special, and will make people remember you."

"yes, most certainly, for hitting them in the head whilst carrying this through the hallway."

"don't complain, jeez. playing instruments sows the grain of respect in people."

they are almost there, and tyler didn't think holding his keyboard would be that easy. that's probably because he's too nervous to think how heavy it really is. while he thinks about is again, the instrument gets heavier again.

"i still think they won't allow me to play piano," he says.

"and why's that? they will be grateful to finally see somebody so creative to bring the piano."

"it may remind them of something like, look, i brought the piano for this, now let me win."

"tyler," ashley stops in the middle of the street, only for tyler to look back at her. he doesn't enjoy that. the piano is heavy. hurry up. "don't impair my amazing plan."

"i still hope hayley wins," he mumbles under his breath, before exhaling deeply and passing the gates of his school.

the courtyard is always crowded in the morning; no matter, if it's winter, or summer, people find it important not to overlook anybody entering the building. tyler and ashley are never a surprise though. they always stick together, and people don't think it's weird anymore. it would be weird if one of them came without the other one.

"where should i go right now?" tyler asks. "should i go to someone and announce i am here and will perform?"

ashley shakes her head. "i don't know, but we can go and check."

"i just need to put the keyboard in my locker."

things don't go so easily ashley thought earlier. apparently shoving the keyboard into a locker is a new sensation to all students passing by. while tyler carefully puts the instrument inside, and checks, if everything is in the right place after pretty unsafe trip along the city, ashley answers to all the questions asked and not asked towards the couple of them. tyler tries to be as slow as possible, just do hide his face behind the locker door and avoid talking to people.

"we robbed a music store an hour ago, right?" he can hear ashley arguing with some nerdy girl. she takes it really seriously and defend tyler as if her life depended on it. just leave it alone, ashley. "...because school is the last place they would accuse?" she continues.

"i can call the principal really quickly," stranger girl threatens, and at that moment tyler shuts his locker loudly and heads to leave the area.

ashley rolls her eyes to a girl. "go ahead?" she runs away from the stubborn girl and reaches tyler. however, tyler doesn't know, where to go. to his class? to the gym? is somebody already there? obviously there is. the competition starts in two hours. who, except for him, is participating? is every single student from school going to watch? "i can see you worrying."

"yeah, i am worrying," tyler says tediously. he is extremely afraid. performing in his own room in front of his small phone, around his personal space is one thing, and performing in front of the whole school, in front of every judging eye of people, who find you strange, is the other thing.

"tyler, don't worry. we all will be with you, and we will be cheering and clapping like no one!" oh, that makes things even worse.

"thanks," tyler tries his best to show her a small smile. "but how can i know, that you are going to be there for certain?"

"i am going to be there, that's for sure. if i tell a teacher it's about you, there will be no second of hesitation and they will let me go."

"well, that is a fact." tyler shrugs and heads to the classroom, seeing, that most of students are already here. it's history. he isn't going to listen to anything. he's extremely afraid. extremely stressed out.

he decides to pull out his phone and distract himself a little bit, just to start thinking about anything besides the contest. he hasn't heard anything from the message man today. that's a good moment to start a conversation.

"did you know i have a music competition today?"

"you haven't told me."

the response comes really quick, and tyler starts to wonder, if that person really is right now at school, if he is tyler's age? well, tyler is on his phone right now as well, but he wouldn't respond so quickly anyway. he isn't good at talk and doesn't have enough words in his vocabulary.

does he go to school? or maybe he's from different state? time zones exist. is he-

"why didn't you tell me earlier?"

"why would i?"

"just to be nice."

"am i not nice, that i'm telling you right now?"

"it seems to me like you were
delaying with telling me,
because you didn't want to tell
me, or something."

"don't you trust me?"

okay. that was random. tyler immediately looks around the classroom to see, if anybody isn't observing him, and at the teacher, who's lost in his story about crusaders.

he has no idea, what he is going to respond. it isn't the kind of question you get every day and can answer it without thinking much.

they've been talking only for over one week. that's probably not enough time to trust somebody, but well, tyler already trusted him enough to respond to his first message, right?

maybe that was only a stupid question, that meant nothing, but tyler took it too seriously again. he's overreacting.

"i was joking. sorry to scare you."

"but it would be cool if you
trusted me."

"i don't even trust myself."

"that's what i expected you to
say."

"good luck, good luck. :)"

tyler wishes, that luck will stay with him until the end of the day, because he's still so nervous he is sure he will mess things up.

the next hour tyler goes on a rehearsal in a gym, leaving ashley alone by her desk and announcing in class tyler's participation in competition. of course, the teacher disagrees to waste a precious hour of history for a music contest, so it takes a few more minutes to beg him to see their friends sing.

ashley repeated her please chant the whole lesson. it worked. being annoying works very often.

during the second break the whole group heads to the gym, hearing already muffled sounds of background music. the room is already crowded and ashley can't see tyler anywhere around them, so she decides to text him to check, if everything is alright.

"we are here!"

"where are you?"

"you can't see me, i'm hiding."

"good luck, do it for your mom, *wink*."

"no."

the girl only starts laughing and guides the gang, which has just joined her a few moments ago to watch together. rows of seats stretch along half of the gym, people like also to seat on the bleachers above.

they really look like a gang, when they come inside as a group of almost ten people, making people turn around, and occupying the whole long row in the middle. ashley, sitting on the side, has the best sight of the stage. beside her sits brendon, and beside brendon josh, pete, patrick, dallon, mark, and two friends of mark.

"what is tyler going to sing?" brendon asks a little bit too loudly.

"i don't know, he didn't mention. i think some of his own songs," ashley whispers, looking around by the time. the place is really crowded.

suddenly the music stops and whispers quiet, making a single breath audible. it's a weird feeling after previous loudness. lights turn off, but the light of ashley's phone brightens the area around her. new message from tyler.

"hayley performs the last."

"hayley performs the last!" ashley repeats, after turning to her right. she's surrounded by boys. they nod and she looks forward at the stage, seeing some lady announcing the competition.

"when are you performing?"

"i don't know."

tyler is probably going to be somewhere in the middle. it would be good. when you perform first, people don't remember you well later. when you perform last, people are already too tired to listen to you. poor hayley.

ashley wriggles on her seat uncomfortably and groans quietly, "i swear, if he doesn't win..."

"you care more than he does." brendon laughs and josh joins him.

"oh, josh. how nice to see you," ashley throws sarcastically and puts on a fake smile. "i didn't notice you."

josh raises his eyebrows, "am i that boring? maybe that's better so you don't talk to me."

brendon, witnessing another flourishing fight between them both, literally, shoves them with his elbows. "get away, i want to see."

"i came here for tyler, not for you. i have nothing to talk about with you," she adds.

"maybe about tyler," josh sighs.

"shut up!" she whisper-shouts.

that's how the first performance pass, it's the girl singing lana del rey. she has pretty voice, but probably not that special to win the competition. applause is well-deserved though.

the second song is sung by a duo, boy and girl. they look like siblings, twins even. they are not too bad. they are good. they sing acapella, it's not really ashley's and boys' thing, but they agree with her it is good. tyler sends a text again in the middle of the song;

"me and hayley could have made a duo."

"how are you so calm right now? put the phone away."

that would be a good idea. ashley heard hayley singing once, and it was probably the best female "performance" she'd heard. even though she and tyler have different tastes in music, they could end up quite good together as performers.

another performance passes. ashley might have a heart attack.

"hey, i think there are tyler's keys," josh whispers to his left side, to brendon and ashley, and he's right. a few seconds ago it wasn't there, but right now it stands here, in the corner, tyler's keyboard. the whole row starts being louder.

"can we start cheering, or is it inappropriate now?"

"do whatever you can to lighten up the mood."

the same lady like at the beginning walks to the middle of the stage and announces, that the next performer is going to be tyler joseph, age 18. she can no longer be heard as the boys start clapping loudly, the whole gym following them. they are even louder, when tyler appears from the door and approaches his piano, never looking up at people. there's a long pause before anything can be heard. just like in his videos. he's trying to get comfortable.

ashley has almost forgot about her plan to record tyler's performance, so she pulls out her phone before the first chords can be heard.

the first chords make a silent, delicate sound, which makes people hum and already start singing. they know the song. everybody knows this song. apparently tyler didn't choose his own thing to perform. he choose the biggest hit from ten years ago.

"i'm holding on the rope, got me ten feet off the ground," he begins singing, still quietly like his piano, and then everybody knows.

"i love this song!" brendon interrupts, but fortunately he isn't heard by many people. ashley shushes him anyway.

"i'm hearing, what you say, but i just can't make a sound." tyler's voice cracks a little for being so quiet. still, it's audible enough for the whole room to hear. there are speakers all around.

the piano already sounds incredible with that song. it's a piano song.

tyler suddenly raises his voice to sing another verse. "they tell me, that you mean it, then you go and cut me down, but wait," he finally looks up at the crowd, "you tell me, that you're sorry, didn't think i'd turn around and say..."

ashley and her friends feel a huge urge to stand up and sing chorus with him, but they don't want to destroy the performance and tyler's own moment.

"that it's too late to apologize. it's too late..." he starts singing melodiously and high. it's so delicate it could be impossible to match perfectly with now strong sounds of the keys, but it is real. "said it's too late to apologize. it's too late."

ashley's arm hurts from holding her phone above her head without any move, but she keeps recording. she nods in right direction, trying to say that is what they came for.

"but i'm afraid. it's too late to apologize, it's too late."

he repeats the same chorus three times, sounding the same, but reaching even higher and higher, staring at the end of his microphone.

he slowly stops playing and hums the melody quietly, before singing the last words, "i'm holding on the rope, got me ten feet off the ground." and closing his eyes, listening to the loud cheer, again, from every corner of the room. he gives two thank you's and nothing else, disappearing behind the door again.

"your friend should win," ashley hears and she couldn't agree more if she tried.

tyler approaches the group right near the end of the competition, when hayley starts singing. he is still nervous like before, seeing every gaze turned in his direction. it feels new.

he shakes hands with every person in a row, even though he doesn't know some of them. he even shakes hands with josh, turning his gaze away a second after to hide his probably visible blush. he barely feels that though, he's too nervous.

he really likes, how hayley sings. she sings some happy, to his surprise, song, but her voice is strong, and it can be heard with every word accented with nothing but firmness. she gets even louder applause than tyler. he claps too. she should win, he thinks. definitely.

the results are going to be revealed in thirty minutes. tyler doesn't feel so nervous anymore. he wouldn't be surprised, if he didn't win. there were many amazing people before and after him. how didn't he know this school raised talented people?

after a bit more than thirty minutes, the same woman appears on stage again, announcing, that she already knows, who is the winner. if students were the ones to decide, hayley would be probably the winner, and tyler would have second place. well, only judges' choice counts.

she opens the envelope, sending a smile to the crowd. tyler is calm as never.

third place. the name tyler has never heard before.

second place. the name tyler doesn't recognize.

ashley looks at him with opened mouth. "now it's going to be you. oh, man. it's happening."

"it's probably hayley. hopefully."

but it's not.

and it's not tyler.

it's the name of the girl, who performed at the very beginning. tyler remembered her name, because she was at the top of the list. people are cheering and clapping. tyler doesn't feel anything at all.

"what the hell?" ashley begins. "i thought she was good at the beginning, but there were many better people than her afterwards. she doesn't deserve that."

"ashley, stop talking like that."

"no, tyler, seriously, she wasn't that good," ashley interrupts. she really cares about that competition more than tyler. he doesn't know, if it's a good thing or not.

"i agree," pete joins.

"i mean, he had the piano, right? everybody had background music played, but he played it himself."

"apparently i wasn't good enough. it's okay." tyler tries to smile. "i won't give up on singing."

tyler smiles, he really smiles, but his eyes don't smile at all. it's obvious he isn't satisfied in the bottom of his heart. judges didn't appreciate him and it hurts, a little, at least. however, he can't forget about the appreciation from the crowd. it was insane, and most probably ashley's impact, but still, something beautiful and something to never forget. he overcame his fear, and that's kind of a big deal.