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Message Man

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tyler has been sneezing for the whole long week. the main reason he got sick had been, most probably, the basketball game, when he had went out into chilly air right after he could leave the gym, all panting and sweaty, to meet his friends. was it worth that victory? maybe.

when he got home after individual team meeting to celebrate another good score, he jumped face-down onto his bed and fell asleep with clothes he'd been wearing outside and shoes on. he woke up the next day at 2 p.m. with a torturous headache and a sore throat. well, at least we won. everything for the team, right? he thought sarcastically. at least it was saturday and he could worry about his cold later.

but he didn't feel any better even on sunday, monday, tuesday... the sickness swallowed him whole. for some reason his mom let him stay home and heal, which meant lay in bed, watch movies, send hundreds of messages, and leave his own room only to go to bathroom, and that was that.

one day he even brought half of the fridge with himself to his room, covered the window with a curtain and additionally a dark blanket to make that place even darker. he watched 4 full movies that day. when his dad had asked him to come down outside to help him carry stuff from the car, and when he opened the door, he had to blink fifteen times to see clearly. the day was sunny. his room had been drowned in cimmerian darkness.

another night ashley wanted to sneak in through his window again, but tyler strongly disagreed. he said, if she wants to come over, fine, but no sleeping in his bed if she doesn't want to get sneezed on her face every 5 minutes. tyler didn't want her to either hear his whines every time he coughed.

so that he spent that whole night on his phone, because the pain spreading everywhere wouldn't let him sleep, talking to random people on group chats, because he had clearly nothing else to do.

ashley agreed, that she would give tyler her notebooks everyday, so he could rewrite notes, but she barely writes anything in class, so that didn't really help. that's the only reason he doesn't like missing school. he has no idea what is happening there during his absence.

almost two weeks later, when he returned to school half-conscious of his surroundings and being informed, that he had missed six tests, he finds himself walking beside josh on his way back home.

tyler has his eyes barely opened and feels like the sight of teachers alone and people he doesn't like drained every ounce of his energy, and usually he wouldn't enjoy any company, but josh is tolerable enough and won't yell into his ear, like most of people he ever talks with would do. not that he ever talks to a lot of people.

"it was lonely without you there," he hears josh say, and suddenly wakes up a little, trying to extract a small laugh.

"as if my presence would make any difference," he answers, wiping his eyes to make himself see clearer. at the moment his sight is blurry and foggy, and it probably won't change. he should go to sleep; that's the only solution.

"wouldn't it? everyone missed your presence exactly everywhere, you know, your hilarious sense of humor and your witty comments..." tyler listens in disbelief and erupts a giggle, that interrupts josh, who nods seriously also with a bright smile on his face. "am i right?" he starts again, and tyler furrows his eyebrows, as if he doesn't know, what josh is talking about, but he knows well. "who wouldn't notice, that the person who always brightens a mood when there's a dead silence in class wasn't there?"

it shouldn't be so funny for tyler, and it really isn't, but instead it is hilarious. he likes to laugh at himself, because sometimes it's the only thing that makes him feel better, and josh is clearly making fun at him in front of his face.

"shut up," he manages to say through his laugh, really trying his best to stop himself and not look like a fool, who laughs at everything, because come on, was it that funny? he's mocking him, because tyler does absolutely nothing in class besides his responsibilities. he's not really active and prefers to be invisible in school. he can't help himself and chuckles for the last time, wiping his tired face again. maybe that's this sickness.

"aren't i right?" josh asks behind him.

"i didn't know that you l-like making fun of the fact that i'm scared of people. thank you." tyler tells him, even though he's not completely serious; well, partly he is, he doesn't mind anything that happened a moment ago.

however, for a second he regrets saying everything he said. people not always perceive the ones with mental illnesses, fears, in a good way. tyler understands them a little, because sometimes it is really hard to communicate with that person; you can make things worse from good intentions, so that people are afraid to take the first step and talk. there are also ones, that would offend you and look at you like at an animal on purpose.

but josh only laughs and says, "we all are," and tyler breathes out the air that he didn't know it filled him inside. and it's okay. "but as i said. it was lonely."

right, they are still playing this game. at least josh doesn't have any problems with tyler's weird behaviour. i am here, but not clearly here. okay, he will play along. "as if we've talked to each other for so long that you already felt any different without me."

"and whose fault is that?" josh asks.

tyler almost rolls his eyes and speeds up the pace just a little to avoid this talk again. "sorry, i can't hear you!it's this... uh, wind. bye, it was nice to meet you again," he calls from afar, not even wanting to leave josh behind and walk away without him, so he is glad when he feels a presence approaching him and sees josh from the corner of his eye a few moments later.

he is smiling, tyler can say, and it's all good. the weather is cold, maybe too cold for tyler to wear only a thin turtleneck without any shirt underneath it, but it's all good. the sun is already slowly setting, it's this time of the year, and it decorates the sky with bright shades of purple and blue.

so when he notices, that they are too silent, too gazed on the surroundings and maybe it's getting quite awkward, at least for him, he decides to solve that by asking the first question that comes into his mind.

"did something... interesting happen, when i wasn't in school?"

perfect sentence to start a small talk. congratulations.

he's not good at small talk, and would prefer not to talk at all instead of this, but now there he is, suggesting it first. what came into him? he would be grateful if every relation with people started without awkward questions and stares, and people could skip to, for example, telling your new friend already, that you tore your window-blind out of anger.

tyler did that once. but if he ever told that someone, they would take him as a freak, so that's why he doesn't tell stories often. but he was just angry at some kid in a video game. it was worth it.

josh doesn't seem to mind, or find it uncomfortable at all. well, he seems to always have any solution from problematic situation, doesn't he? what an awesome guy.

but he doesn't say anything for a moment, and tyler slaps himself mentally; which time today, again? he shouldn't open his mouth at all.

"um, let me think..." fortunately for tyler, josh says. "oh, well, people were loud about it last week. some girl got pregnant."

"what?" it startles tyler suddenly, and makes him look to his left in josh's direction. well, that's new. he doesn't go to school for once and actually things happen. "really?" he repeats.

josh laughs lightly at tyler's astonishment. "i mean, not that it is some material for first pages in newspaper—"

"are you kidding?" tyler interrupts, still slightly shocked and inadvertent, "i can't believe i can fall asleep in class while i work for my highest frequency because i have nothing else to do there, and when i stay at home for like one day, everything happens at once."

"you were absent for like one month." josh smiles.

"i was absent for two weeks," tyler defends himself quietly. "exactly two full weeks."

"it seemed so much longer."

"my game was right before halloween. and now it's november—" tyler stops to pull out his phone and check the date. "eleventh."

"okay, maybe you're right." josh nods and speaks again after some time to think. "this semester goes by too slowly, it should be december right now."

"yeah, i guess," tyler agrees, taking a deep breath and wondering, what to say. "at least right now is the best time of the year," he points out, looking at all the trees spreading along the street, the trees that already lost all their leaves, and the trees that scare creatures with their sharp branches at night.

"more like the worst," josh answers.

tyler stops in his tracks for a second to turn his face to the boy next to him once again. "really? fall is the best time of the year," he repeats.

"the only good thing about fall is the fact, that christmas is coming."

"you are impossible," tyler scoffs under his breath, what makes josh laugh a little louder than before at tyler's over-exaggerated seriousness.

"summer is the best," josh shrugs a moment later.

"it's not, summer is disgusting. you are sweating and laying next to a fan and nothing else," tyler tells him immediately.

"i don't know, summer is not that bad for me."

"i disagree," tyler says playfully this time, but still, he doesn't understand people who choose summer over fall or spring for example, where you can go out comfortable in a hoodie and you don't need anything else. it's not about summer break this time or being able to travel, just the weather itself.

tyler is lucky that the wind today isn't too strong, otherwise he would freeze in his clothes, especially when he's still recovering from his quite intense cold. the thing is, that the last time he went to school it was warm, hot, the end of summer like. he hadn't left his house very often since that time, so this quick change of weather oddly surprised him. still, it's november already. he should have been warned.

trees and autumn plants he's never seen here before make him realize, that they turned opposite to tyler's destination. before he opens his mouth to say, that his house is far behind them and say goodbye, he notices one familiar building, also in front of which he's standing at the moment.

"wanna come over?" josh turns to tyler, who raises his eyebrows and stares at him questioningly.

"um, you know, i don't want to get you sick or something," he mumbles, hiding his chin in his sweater. he doesn't have any better excuse.

they keep approaching josh's house, tyler behind josh. "you aren't sick anymore, are you?"

"only because i'm outside and inhaling fresh air. it's worse in warmer area," tyler answers.

"i mean," josh stops for a second. "only if you want."

"i mean," tyler repeats after josh, "i don't want to bother," he almost whispers, still moving closer to the door, despite what he just said.

"you won't," josh tells him, looking for keys in his pockets. "my mom wanted to meet you one day."

tyler's eyes widen while he looks at the wooden door. his mom? how does she know tyler?

"how does she know me?" he says his thoughts out loud.

"she saw us leaving the house one day, i guess." josh shrugs, in comparison to tyler, who nervously tugs on his backpack straps and imagines a lot of various scenarios of meeting josh's mom. interactions with adult people make him anxious a little.

they enter the chilly house together once again, but it's not dully quiet this time. television playing, voices humming—

"josh?"

"yeah, i'm home," josh calls from the hallway, taking his boots off and grabbing tyler's backpack to put it away. he leads him to the living room, where his mother is sitting by the table, watching news and painting her nails. his siblings didn't come back from school yet, for what josh is grateful, so that they won't have any interest on new person in house, at least for now.

back in josh's old home, no matter if he would bring his guy friends and girl friends, they all ended up with his younger siblings, who just begged to play with them. they were still not older that twelve, and all of them have been childishly confident and stubborn with what they wanted, that's probably a family thing, so that was nothing of a problem to distract josh's friends from him. he didn't mind, usually. kids are kids.

they both are so quiet josh's mom doesn't hear them walking into the room and she doesn't look up from her hands, probably not noticing anything different, like tyler's presence.

"i brought a friend, if you're interested," josh speaks up from behind tyler, who puts his weight on a left foot and tries to show the best smile to the woman looking up at him right now, even though it isn't really honest.

"oh, nice, nice," she hums and waves her hand to dry off the nail polish. "you are—oh, i think i forgot your name?"

"tyler."

"oh, yes. nice to meet you!" she smiles in his direction and points to a chair in front of her. "go ahead, take a seat. make yourself comfortable."

tyler does as told and occupies one of big chairs at the dining table. a smell of nail polish scratches his nostrils, but it's a nice smell. a smell he's familiar with. he looks around to keep himself busy with doing something and finds josh disappearing in a kitchen.

"so tyler, do you live somewhere in the neighbourhood?"

"actually, yes, not so far away," he answers politely, looking at tv.

"oh, really? are you new here?"

tyler emits a breathy chuckle, which sounds more like a nervous laughter and answers, "um, no, i've lived here since i was born."

"that's interesting. i haven't heard about you. you must have a quiet family," she smiles at tyler. he does the same.

"well, you could say that," tyler tells her, while thinking in his head, that not really. maybe his parents aren't really problematic, but they are really socially active. it sometimes scares tyler, how hard they try to be that one perfect family. just to be appreciated by others.

suddenly a cracking sound can be heard from the kitchen, followed by josh's voice. tyler raises his eyebrows trying not to laugh. "is there any sharp knife in this house?"

his mom sighs loudly and slams her hands on the table playfully. "if you have a problem, go and buy a new one," she calls.

josh answers immediately, "but i can't even—ugh, never mind."

tyler hears something, that sounds like closing a cupboard, and then josh comes to a sight with two water bottles in his right hand, handing one of them to tyler, who debates, if he really should take it or not, but takes it eventually with a short thank you.

he takes a seat on a chair next to tyler and takes a sip of water from his water bottle, which for some reason is half empty now. how did he even—

"what are you watching?" he asks his mom while turning his sight to tv. "ugh, i hate him," he points to one man being interviewed, some politician, that's all tyler knows.

"why?" tyler asks.

"you don't know him?" tyler shakes his head. "this dumbass acts against the constitution and community is protesting not to put this dumb law into effect."

tyler nods and looks at tv, questioning how josh knows politics here better than he does, living here just a couple of months, but doesn't ask him about it out loud not to embarrass himself.

"so!" josh's mom starts again, making two boys face her. "tyler, how did you two meet?" she asks simply, and tyler finds it nice that she cares even about little things like that. it's probably cool to have parents who ask about your day, your friends, and just about how you are doing in general.

it's not that tyler minds his parents, but sometimes it scares him he can't tell them anything, because they wouldn't understand. he has stopped talking with them about his personal life few years ago. now the only topics of their conversations are obviously school or house duties. maybe they don't want to interfere. well, they do enough.

"he wanted to help me with editing stuff," josh tells her casually with a convincing smile, noticing tyler's hesitation and speaking for him.

he is aware of the fact, that tyler isn't really talkative, even though right now he's doing surprisingly well, considering that his mom can be annoying sometimes. not in a bad way; she just sometimes wants to know too much, more that somebody's comfort agrees to that. but she's a chilly mom, she's never minded josh's friends, or maybe just kept her opinions about them to herself.

"that's nice! you are interested in similar things, yeah?" she turns to tyler.

tyler nods. "um, kind of," he says, not knowing what else to tell her. to make a conversation you have to build more expanded sentences, though, he knows that, and he would really like to be able to make them in moments like that.

"you know, you are the first person he has invited to this house so far, so it was a quite surprise to me." now she turns to josh, "or maybe you've been hiding something from me and sneaking in when i wasn't home."

"yeah, because i have nothing better to do," josh answers, and tyler wonders, is it true? well, josh has made at least three times more friends here so far than tyler did in his whole life, so tyler doesn't have to invite friends over, because he really doesn't have any, besides ashley who comes to his house without asking anyway, but josh? that's a surprise. of course, it's not an obligation to bring all friends to your house, any of them, they could prefer hanging out outside, but the thing is, tyler is here for the second time already.

"really?" tyler asks after some time, still to josh's mom statement, who hopefully understands what is it about.

"really." she says. "he used to bring the whole school—"

josh interrupts her, looking offended, "are you kidding?" he looks at tyler and mouths, "that's not true," when his mom continues.

"wouldn't you? i had enough of it sometimes. one person had left the house, another entered, and over and over again. i feel like it was their second home. if i wasn't who i really am, i wouldn't let him all of this, but i really like teens, sometimes talking with them makes me feel more... i don't know... like them."

josh snorts at that and it's just simple. everything is so simple. it seems to feel nice to have your parent as a best friend, or at least a person, who tries to be your best friend, who would not throw at you warning glares nor constantly reprimand.

tyler feels a lot better here than he did a few minutes ago. he even laughs once, when josh tells him what he did to his brother a couple of years ago.

once josh notices his mother constantly looking at boys and then at tv and then at her hands again, josh says, "mom, you're obsessed."

"josh, you better don't say anything anymore," she answers, shaking her head, and after a moment tyler realizes they are talking about her nails, in color mint, that she's not really sure about and kept fixing them all the time. "nobody in this house cares if i ever feel good."

"they look r-really good," tyler chimes in, taking a quick look at the green-ish color.

"oh, you think so?" tyler nods. she looks at her work again, for the hundredth time in a span of ten minutes, and adds, "amazing. a real man opinion. i needed this."

josh then rolls his eyes playfully and decides to stand from behind the table, saying, "i'm going to turn on a computer, because we need to finish some things," he nods at his mother. "ty, come upstairs when you're done."

tyler chuckles and smiles shyly at josh, nodding. seeing him disappearing behind the wall, tyler looks at his mother. "actually, i always watch my cousin painting her nails, so i think i have a good knowledge without any practice."

she looks at him in pure amazement, saying, that he appreciates his interest in things like that. other boys would get bored easily, being the stubborn creatures they are. well, tyler doesn't say he's not bored, sometimes he is, but it's oddly satisfying to watch other people's work.

tyler isn't counting time, when moments turn into minutes, when he's busy with talking to a friendly woman in front of him, despite the fact that he came here for josh, and it seems like he abandoned him, but he doesn't want to be rude and interrupt, when they talk about school, about josh, about her husband, when tyler gets to know the other kids from the family after they come back home from school, and when he sneezes again and again, saying that no, he doesn't need a medicine, he has his own at home, and thanks again, struggling to make full sentences.

so when josh appears downstairs with a certainty that his friend just left the house some time ago, but instead of that he sees him on the same seat as when he left the room, he excuses his mother and sister who seem very interested in conversation with the new person and leads tyler lightly by the shoulder upstairs, leaving his family members annoyed and tyler erupting a giggle beside him.