There is a scab on Tyler's cheek, the remains of a pimple that will show up in a few weeks again. He picks it off. It sticks under his fingernails. It's all he can focus on. If he were alone, he would clean it out with his teeth, but he rests his hands in his lap in hopes of discreetly wiping it on his jeans.
Josh notices anyway. They're driving on an open road so he's allowed himself more glances than usual. Tyler's skin is pink around the open sore. His brows are furrowed. He brings his hand up to his mouth, this time focusing on his nails. Josh should be annoyed.
Tyler sticks his cold feet under his thighs when they both have the mattress. Tyler is childish in general and boredom is a catalyst. But Josh isn't annoyed. He isn't annoyed when the motels run out of hot water three minutes into his shower. The van vibrates under gravel roads so much that his legs buzz when they stop, but he doesn't care. He isn't bothered when Tyler steals his softer shirts, when they listen to DC Talk through Tyler's earbuds and nothing else.
He should miss talking to Jordan about whatever happens to pique his interest, it changes often. He should miss the rest of his family, Columbus, all of Ohio. But he doesn't. LA is big and 'too hot and too dry and the food is stupid' as Tyler so eloquently put it one night, feet under Josh's thighs. But Josh loves it. People get him here. Things move. He can walk to coffee shops and learn to surf. He gets a taste of freedom and feels grown up.
But josh is driving away after three nights. Tyler's job is to keep him awake while he drives. It's the middle of the night but he's awake. Jet lagged almost. Van lagged? Either way Tyler's made it his job to ask him if he's awake every four miles. On the marker. Maybe it annoys him. But he's too tired to do anything about it. He's numb.
Tyler's just asked again when there's a thump, and then a sputter, and then they stop.
"Shit." Josh didn't think Michael was awake, but after a few other choice words, he climbs over a confused Mark and out of the van.
"What's wrong?" Tyler asks, looking under the hood with Michael. Josh assumes he doesn't really know what he's looking at.
"Uhh, the battery, probably more. we need to push it out of the road."
With that, Michael gets the other guys out of the van, save for Josh, and they move it into the grass. There's a city a few miles away, but all the shops would be closed.
They decide to wait until morning. Tyler climbs back into the passenger seat and looks at Josh's hair.
"Are you tired, Josh?"
Josh shakes his head. Tyler's wearing his favorite shirt. It's inside out, but he can still tell. He wonders if he would even be mad if Tyler tells him he got it dirty. The picked scab is clinging to the fabric. Josh isn't grossed out. Instead, he looks at Tyler's left hand taking its near permanent residence in Tyler's hair. He wishes Tyler would tell him more.
It's weird sharing spaces and music and friends and secrets with someone you don't know. Josh tries to learn from observation. He's realized that Tyler is scared.
"You wanna get out?" The words make Josh jump, he had been staring.
"Sure." He says. He's embarrassed.
They meet in front of the van. Josh sits, Tyler follows.
Josh wants to say something, anything; the silence is suddenly awkward. But his head's been moving in slow motion. It's dark, the van's shadow blocking out the glow of the moon. Tyler seems unbothered by this, he hasn't said anything. He can imagine what his best friend looks like right now, hair askew, picking at the dead grass.
Best friend? Josh had known Tyler for a year. Tyler's seen Josh in every season. They ventured out together in conversation, whispering their dreams, because saying it out loud would jinx it somehow. Tyler's seen him tremble and hesitate, get angry at his fears and snap at people he loves.
He's listened to Tyler's endless nervous rambling that gets hopeless at night. But it was always prefaced by apologies. Sentences were cut off, head shaking as if to force the thought away. Uncharacteristic shyness that crept up out of nowhere. Tyler would clam up.
Josh tried not to be hurt by this. But he had trusted Tyler. Tyler was able to see all of him. The good and bad. It felt like Tyler didn't trust him with knowing Tyler.
Josh didn't know, but Tyler wanted to tell him things. 'Hey, my day sucked because nothing is working correctly in my head and I took the same wrong turn three times because my car radio's broken and now my boss is mad at me.'
He knew their friendship was lopsided, he knew that Josh was kind. Josh was almost too good to be true. Josh with his goodness. His complete devotion to the things he cared for. Tyler couldn't risk losing him. His one friend that he could imagine telling things to.
But once he told him he would leave. Tyler couldn't tell him that he faces the same enemies he faced in high school every day. He doesn't want to see Josh's eyes grow cold when he can't act the way he's supposed to anymore. When he's too tired to overcompensate for his- he doesn't even know.
He'd practiced talking to Josh plenty of times. Going over conversations in his head. It almost became a game to him; 'how would Josh react if I said this'.
He can't see Josh right now, but he's probably looking around.
Josh let him in. He wants to offer Josh the same. He scoots closer to the dark shape ahead of him.
Tyler feels him staring and looks back. Sharing a van has progressed them past smiles and nervous laughs. Josh looks away.
It's now or never. He was going to share things with Josh.
" 'M tired. And I still have a job when I get back. My boss told me it'd be waiting for me. I hate it."
But Tyler didn't know how to continue, so he settled for leaning his head on Josh's shoulder. He couldn't see. His head made it to Josh's chest.
This was new for Josh. For both of them. He hoped Tyler couldn't hear how fast his heart was beating. Tyler's hair tickled his chin. Josh smoothed it out.
"Sorry." It came out as a whisper. "Wait, I didn't mean to apologize, I-"
"It's fine Tyler, it's good."
It was so good. Josh's voice vibrated in his chest, causing his ears to tickle. Tyler breathed into Josh's worn shirt and closed his eyes.
"How about you?"
"Huh?" Josh was confused.
"How are you?"
"Good, yeah, I'm good."