Actions

Work Header

And I Love, Too, That Love Soon Might End

Work Text:

He doesn't know where or when it began. It does not obey the whims of time, is timeless by definition. Josh has a habit (an affection) for defining words that already have a definition, and he defines this as timeless. It never began and never ended, it just always was.

Today, Tyler is like coming into your room during the golden hour, the time when all light turns to something that is neither yellow nor white. You open your curtains, tilt your head just so in the glint of the sun, and it all washes over you at once. Light, and light, and light , and your skin becomes gilded, and through the filmy, flickering gold of your eyelashes you can see the sky. It's warm and forgiving and there , simply there. It’s as true as anything.

Earlier, Josh scribbled this feeling down into one of his notebooks, but it would not leave him.

Tyler, it seems, is completely unaware of the gold coating Josh’s heart as he adds a coating of orange to his painting. He’s painting oranges. Tyler is always painting oranges; it’s all he paints, because he enjoys it. Art is a joy, for him, and Tyler always seems to be in the pursuit of joy.

If you’re pursuing joy, you’re also running from unhappiness. Josh writes this down, sitting on Tyler’s bed.

There’s music playing from Tyler’s stereo, the rollers slowly turning in the cassette as classical music fills the air. It’s barely audible, like papers being pushed around in the breeze.

Stay for dinner?  Tyler asks. He tilts his head in Josh’s direction, then his paintbrush. Tyler is a black hole; his mere existence urges Josh to lean into him as far as he can go, until he can’t lean anymore.

He hums in agreement, and stays where he is.

***

It’s Sunday, the day after cassette day. Josh is laying on the floor of his bedroom, alone, the bottoms of his feet pushing against the wall.

He wants to feel less alone, so he sits up for a moment to pop in one of the cassettes on his shelf. There are two ways Josh awards familiarity to these cassettes: to the sound of the music itself, and to the memories associated with them. Today, he plays one of the nostalgic ones, one of their first. He’s listened to it far too many times, and he worries that it’ll soon wear out.

Saturday is cassette day. On Saturday, he and Tyler go to garage sales and each pick out a tape for one another. Rarely are there any good tapes for sale, but it’s not all about the music.

Tyler is the one who taught Josh to buy a cassette based on the titles of the songs, the art on the cover, the scratches and scrapes on the case that indicate it was once loved. Never judge a book by it’s cover, they say, but Tyler says it’s fine to do so with tapes.

After they’ve bought them, they go to Josh’s house and listen to them together, laying on the floor. Sometimes they lay on Josh’s bed. Those tapes give Josh a nostalgic, heart-racing feeling; he scarcely remembers the music itself, he was so elated by the boy laying beside him.

Today’s tape, a recent one, gives him the feeling of companionship. They sat next to one another on the floor, first not talking, then talking all at once. This tape was the first one in years, the first time since Tyler moved back to California that Josh knew they were friends again. He remembers talking long until after the tape stopped, past dinner and even until the stars came out. They fell asleep talking, he thinks. He remembers waking up with Tyler gone, but he’d left a note scrawled on a piece of paper on his desk.

‘Next Saturday?’

***


Josh’s journals are never in order. Thoughts move from one page to the next, scrawled wherever there’s room (on the inside cover, in tiny lettering between other sentences). He writes about one subject on the first page, then again somewhere else, sometimes in a completely different notebook.

His thoughts are disorganized, too. This little habit, this disorder, brings him order.

 

***

 

It has been exactly two weeks and four days since Tyler moved back to California. These numbers are not lost on Josh.

He’d grown up with Tyler living in the house across the street. They went to school together, had sleepovers, spent every summer together, until the summer when they turned twelve; Tyler and his family moved to Columbus that year. Josh had cried for hours.

They’d called once a week, at first. Then calls changed to twice a month, then once a month, then once every few months. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to talk to one another, but somehow they became a bit distant. Tyler had a new life, new friends and a new school. Josh, meanwhile, became more involved in life at home, especially once high school started.

Josh had a million things to say to Tyler, it seemed, but he never knew where to begin. The beginning is always the hardest part.

Naturally, he had been overcome with multiple emotions when Tyler called one night in May, to tell him his family was moving back.

They’d put their old home on the market, but it never sold, and now the empty blue home across the street was suddenly filled again, with cars and bikes and books and voices and people, just people. Josh had wandered the property sometimes, in the lonelier summers before, searching for something he couldn’t hold.

Now, that something is there, but he is afraid to reach for it. It’s dumb, Josh is aware of that. He’s aware that it’s dumb but he’s still feeling it.

***

They go to McDonald’s today, because it’s summer and they have all the time in the world nestled in their sweatshirt pockets, curling around their wrists, tugging at their sleeves.

The breeze feels good, coming off the ocean. Tyler says it was hot in Columbus in the summer, hotter than it ever is here. Everything was so visible, he says, and Josh knows exactly what he means. The ocean, it just goes on forever. It’s an unreachable thing, he elaborates. But there, you could see everything, you know? Everything was laid out in front of you.

I know exactly what you mean, Josh says, because he does. Tyler is blue today (blue sky, blue raspberry, bluebird). He’s something sweet and thoughtful and beautiful. Tyler would like knowing that he’s a bluebird. (He loves bluebirds.)

The air conditioning in the McDonald’s is unnecessary. Josh recognizes the cashier as Brendon Urie, one of the guys at his high school; he must have gotten a summer job. They’ve had the same classes since seventh grade, but Brendon ignores him completely for Tyler, seeming to vaguely recognize him from before. They talk a lot longer than is necessary, and Josh is relieved when their food finally comes.

Where Tyler is blue, Josh is green (little green monster, that was what they used to call envy). Jealousy. Josh imagines her as a serpent, coiling around his neck.

He’s quiet on the walk back to Tyler’s house. He wants to say something, but his jealousy (jealousy at the way Brendon looked at his best friend, the way he talked to him) is embarrassing to him. After a few minutes, Tyler notices and bumps their shoulders together. Josh.

Josh just huffs, so Tyler bumps their swinging hands together, then grabs Josh’s, lacing their fingers together perfectly. Josh’s brain rapidly yanks the wheel from green to pink and blue and yellow and orange and every damn color there is. He’s probably discovered at least four new ones. All of this happens in mere seconds; he thinks he might explode.

Josh, Tyler says again.

I’m good. He manages to say this without looking at their hands, or choking up, or tripping over a crack in the sidewalk (although he almost does that last one). Just hungry, he adds, as an explanation.

They talk like normal, again. Josh’s hand hums. It’s stupid.

***

Tyler let go of his hand once they got back, but his fingers are still buzzing.

They’re sitting on Tyler’s bed, leaning against the headboard, watching a documentary about the ocean on Tyler’s tiny TV. To refresh my brain, Tyler said, and Josh said So you forgot? And Tyler said No, I just feel like a tourist, kinda and Josh laughed and asked him to pass the fries.

Josh eats his food and tries to pretend his heart isn’t beating a thousand times a second.

He worries, several times (climbing onto Tyler’s bed, sharing a soda) that his hand will betray him, because now that it’s held Tyler’s, every other task set in front of it is an abomination. His shaky fingers drop multiple french fries, nearly spill the drink. If Tyler notices, he doesn’t say anything. Josh tries to steady himself, but himself just won’t be stilled.

Eventually, he can’t stand it anymore. Josh uses his left hand, the one closest to Tyler, to adjust the collar of his hoodie, and then he places it back on the dark blue bedspread so that their pinkies are just barely touching.

Tyler doesn’t say anything, and then, You know, if you wanted to hold hands, you could’ve just asked, dude, and he laces their fingers together again, easy, like they’ve been doing it their whole lives.

Josh thinks he might cry, but he doesn’t. He feels and feels and feels.

***

They hold hands again and again after that. Sometimes Josh is the one to initiate it, but sometimes Tyler does, which throws him off guard no matter how many times it happens.

It’s like a cartoon. Tyler grabs Josh’s hand, and his heart visibly beats beneath his shirt, and tiny red hearts float all around his head, and somebody hits the ejector button and he gets launched into space. Josh writes all of this down on the morning of cassette day, then goes outside to meet Tyler, who is waiting on the front step.

Tyler, who is waiting on the front step in his vans and yellow sweatshirt, who looks up and smiles when he sees Josh coming, and Josh almost falls off the porch. Tyler is so bright and shining that Josh can’t even see the sun anymore. He thinks if he stares at Tyler long enough, he’ll go blind.

They walk to town together, not holding hands yet, even though Josh wants to. He worries that it’s weird, or that Tyler thinks it’s weird, every time they aren’t in the act of it.

***

Josh is on his knees, digging through a cardboard box shoved hastily beneath a folding table. The air is filled with the clacking of plastic cassette cases as he searches for the right tape for Tyler.

J, what do you think of this one? Tyler asks, and Josh moves closer so he can see, and Tyler grabs his hand and his brain explodes. Today Tyler is like fireworks, beautiful and vibrant and violent (in the powerful sense). Everything he does lights up the sky.

If Tyler is fireworks, Josh is a pyromaniac.

His brain comes into focus, and he blinks at the tape Tyler is showing him. It’s blank.

Exactly. Tyler’s eyes gleam with mischief; two lit fuses. Who knows what’s on it?

***

The tape turns out to be as blank as its cover, and Tyler is elated. We can make a mixtape! I’ll take side A, and you can take side B. It’ll be great.

Since Tyler got the cassette for Josh, he keeps it tonight. He hurries through dinner, throws on some pajama pants before sitting in the near-dark in front of his stereo, fingers skimming his CDs and tapes.

Every song he chooses now, he chooses for Tyler. This is a gift, and Josh wants it to express everything he cannot say with his own voice.

Bette Davis Eyes, he writes on the j-card. Modern Love. Just Can’t Get Enough. Two Hearts.

***

Tyler gets the cassette the next day, and brings it over after lunch. His fingertips have a little ink on them from writing the song titles.

To Josh’s surprise, he puts the cassette on the very top of his shelf, rather than with the rest of his music. I think we should save it, he says. For when we need it.

He’ll admit to himself that he’s a little relieved. Every song on side B is a damn love song, he couldn’t help it. Last night he tossed and turned, worried that Tyler would look at the j-card and know about his feelings immediately. Now, Tyler swears up and down that he hasn’t looked at what Josh wrote.

How will we know we’ll need it?

Tyler pauses, then shrugs. I don’t know.

***

The way Josh feels for Tyler is. Is. He thinks about this over and over, nearly every day, but he can’t put it into a single word.

He cares deeply about him, he cherishes him. What a word. Cherish, to adore. Josh adores Tyler. He thinks he might be in love with him. This frightens him terribly. Josh’s heart is full to the bursting.

***

Josh comes over one afternoon to find out that Tyler is sick. Tyler’s mother answers the door. Oh, he’s not feeling well. Got a bit of a cold.

He fidgets with his sleeve. Can I see him anyway?

Thirty seconds later, he’s knocking on Tyler’s bedroom door. Come in, rasps a voice, and Josh does.

Tyler is huddled up in his bed under his quilt, only his face visible; nose pink and sniffling. Is it wrong of Josh to think he still looks beautiful? He does. Tyler is bewilderingly beautiful.

Josh takes a seat on his bed (lightly, carefully). Sick?

No, I can control my snot output by sheer will, and I decided to let it run like a faucet.

He snorts, reaches out a hand to feel Tyler’s forehead, but he jerks away. Don’t want you to get sick.

Josh notices that Tyler’s lips are chapped. He thinks he’d taste like stars, if he were to kiss him now. Stars and cold medicine. Josh thinks he could live on that.

I’ll be fine, he says, keeping his lips to himself. Just a cold, right?

Tyler doesn’t protest this time, lets Josh feel his forehead; it’s hot. I feel cold, he says in a tiny voice, an immediate contrast. An arm reaches out from his blanket, curls into the side of Josh’s shirt. A second arm joins it, pulling on Josh, pulling him closer as Tyler pushes his face into his side, hotter than an oven.

This all happens agonizingly slowly to Josh. He breathes in, out, once, and rubs at Tyler’s back a little. Tyler hums, pleased, and burrows closer.

Within a matter of seconds, he’s asleep, and Josh is suddenly left alone with his heartbeat.

He shifts carefully to get more comfortable, letting Tyler’s head rest on his stomach. He’s quickly becoming too hot, what with Tyler’s feverish body cuddling into him, but Josh won’t dare get up.

He lays there for a few minutes, listening to Tyler’s snores and savoring the moment like chocolate on his tongue.

***

Tyler is feeling better by tomorrow (better enough to call), but now Josh has caught his cold. He woke up with a sore throat, relentless fever, and a runny nose, and he’s only ventured out of bed to use the bathroom and get the phone from the kitchen.

Tyler feels bad. I feel bad, he says. I mean, physically I don’t feel as sick, but emotionally I feel bad for getting you sick.

It’s no big deal, Josh says. His body is full of sick germs, Tyler sick germs. This thought is too stupid for him to write down.

I know, but still. Can I come over? Tyler asks, and Josh says yes. He arrives fifteen minutes later with a box of tissues. I hope this will atone for my sins, he says dramatically, placing the box on Josh’s dresser, and this makes him laugh, which hurts his throat.

Tyler is inviting today, soft blue. He looks so soft on the edges, so warm and cozy. Josh wants Tyler to lay on top of him; tectonic plates shifting. It’s the fever talking.

The hand-holding comes easy today. The cuddling comes suddenly, warmly as Tyler flops onto Josh’s bed and pushes his face into his shoulder. Are you cold?

Josh nods, but he’s already (embarrassingly) falling asleep and he doesn’t hear if Tyler says anything after that.

***

He wakes up a few hours later with Tyler spooning him; his eyes are still closed, but he knows. A voice, his mother; she must have opened the door and woken him. Oh! Tyler, I didn’t know you were still here.

He fell asleep and I didn’t want to wake him, Tyler says. His voice sounds all rumbly, somehow, with them being so close. Josh likes it.

Well, when he does wake up, tell him there’s a plate of leftovers in the fridge if he’s hungry, okay? He hears the door creak slightly, she’s leaving.

Will do, Tyler promises, and he hears the door click shut.

He stays still, breathes slowly, unsure if he should open his eyes or not, but then cool fingers start carding through his hair, and Josh forgets about everything. Every memory, from childhood up until this very moment, collapses like a burning building, suffocating, starved of oxygen. Josh is euphoric. He falls asleep again.

***

Tyler stays over that night, and they both sleep in Josh’s bed. Neither of them says a word about it. Josh memorizes every second, stuffs bits and pieces of it in his closet and under his bed so he can find them later, so he can keep them close, because he’s not sure it’ll happen again.

***

They don’t see one another the next day; it’s Sunday and Josh goes to his grandparents’ house on Sunday. He makes a point of staying away from everyone, since he’s probably still contagious, but he’s feeling much better and his appetite is back in full swing. All in all, an average evening.

The routine is broken when someone climbs in his window at eleven o’clock. Josh is startled out of sleep by a figure clumsily clambering in, pushing aside his curtains. He fumbles blindly with his lamp before clicking it on, and Tyler’s scruffy figure is illuminated by the bulb.


What the hell are you doing here? Josh manages, heart racing but less panicked. I thought you were a burglar.

I can’t sleep , Tyler says, like that explains anything. He shuts the window again, brushes a leaf off his pajama pants, hesitating. Can I stay here?

He’s pointedly not looking at Josh’s bed, and suddenly Josh gets it. Oh. Yeah, man. ‘Course.

Tyler waits a moment longer, then finally, thankfully, climbs onto Josh’s bed, on top of the covers; it’s too hot for blankets. Josh shuts out the light.

A second passes, and then he feels the bed shift as Tyler lays down. He expects it to end there, but then Tyler tosses an arm over Josh, loosely, but with purpose.

When Josh wakes up in the morning, he can’t tell if it was the best sleep he ever had, or if he never slept at all. All he knows is that Tyler is still there in the morning, face smashed into Josh’s pillow, and Josh decides that he’s officially in love.

Who officiates love? Who decides when love has turned to in love? Josh doesn’t know. He scribbles it down on a sticky note and stuffs it into his current journal.

I didn’t know you were staying over last night , Josh’s mother says, confused, when they both come downstairs for breakfast. Tyler sits on one of the barstools while Josh gets the box of cereal from the cupboard.

It was kind of a last minute thing , Josh says, and he doesn’t miss the look Tyler casts him, the smile on his face.

Laura still seems a bit puzzled, but she shrugs it off. Well, you’re welcome anytime, Tyler . It’s nice to see you two together again.

Together is a word with many meanings. As he gets the milk out of the fridge, staring blankly for a second at the expiration date, Josh realizes they’re not together or together , but somewhere in between.

They eat two bowls of cereal each, and knock their knees together under the counter.

***

After that, Tyler sneaks in pretty much every night, or Josh sleeps over at his place. Since Tyler's bedroom is on the second floor, he can't exactly climb in the window, so he just asks if he can stay over. Tyler seems to get a thrill, as well, from sneaking in, and he does it often. Josh knows because he tells him so.

I didn't do anything like this in Ohio , he says, leaning against the wall, legs outstretched. Josh avoids looking at him, fingers picking at the sheets. It's the first time Tyler's slept here without a shirt on and he's trying not to stare. He stays quiet, giving Tyler room to go on.

I mean, it was nice there , Tyler goes on, the way Josh knew he would. We had a nice house, school was decent, I had a few people I hung around with. But I didn't have a best friend. He pauses. I know we didn't talk much, while I was there, but I think you've always been my best friend, Josh.

His heart stutters, trips down the stairs, stumbling over blood cells. You've always been my best friend, too.

He barely sleeps a wink that night. Not with Tyler so close, not with the feelings in his chest. Josh stares at the ceiling, traces the shapes he finds there (the feathers of bluebirds) with his eyes, until the sun rises.

***

Josh likes Tyler’s hands. He has thin fingers, veiny wrists, stubby fingernails. Sometimes his hands sweat when Josh is holding them. He doesn’t mind.

***

When Tyler’s hair starts to get long, in between trims, it curls behind his ears. Josh follows him upstairs, stares at the hair at the nape of his neck, and swallows.

***

Josh can’t see a bluebird anymore without thinking of Tyler.

***

Have you ever kissed anyone?

Tyler asks this one afternoon, sitting on the front porch. His mother just got home from grocery shopping with a watermelon, and cut thick slices for them to eat. It's the kind of watermelon you have to eat outside, sweet and dripping with juice and full of black seeds that Tyler and Josh take turns spitting onto the sidewalk.

If the watermelon were solid, Josh would be choking on it. As is, he accidentally swallows a few seeds. His stomach is churning like the plants are already beginning to grow. No. I mean--no. He's suddenly aware of how this could be embarrassing. Just waiting for the right person. Josh knows Tyler is looking at him, but he's afraid that if he meets his gaze, his eyes will betray him, spilling over with everything Josh himself is unable to say. Have you?

Yeah. Tyler thankfully goes back to his watermelon, spits out a seed. At a party, once.

Josh isn't sure how to feel about this, so he tries not to feel anything about it. Did you like it? I mean, was it good?

Tyler shrugs, and he's relieved. It was okay, I guess. I didn't really know her, it was just a heat of the moment thing.

Neither of them talk much after that, Tyler absorbed with his watermelon and Josh absorbed with his thoughts. His brain is like a sponge sometimes. He wrote this down several years ago; it's an old comparison, but it works well for him.

Today, Tyler is sickly sweet, tempting; he's like a flower. Josh squints at the lawn, thinking. Tyler is a carnation, red and blossoming and beautiful, and if Tyler is the flower, then Josh is the bumblebee drunk on nectar, lured in by the flower's sweetness.

It's not that Josh doesn't feel something when the watermelon juice drips down Tyler's chin, runs down his arm. He just pretends not to notice it.

***


It happens on cassette day. It’s so brief that, after the fact, Josh is afraid it didn’t actually happen.

They’re sitting there, and Josh is rambling a bit about the cassette Tyler picked for him (something by Genesis) and he’s so distracted he jumps when Tyler rests his hand on his knee.

Tyler immediately retracts his hand. Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you .

Josh has become the body electric. He’d give up the sun, the sky, the words in his mouth for Tyler to touch him again. Josh is being dramatic. It’s okay, I was just distracted . It’s no problem, really .

They finish listening to Josh’s cassette, then get about halfway through Tyler’s. Josh has just about given up, is trying to lose himself in the music and Tyler’s voice as he talks about the classes he wants to take in the fall. This time, when Tyler’s hand meets Josh’s knee, he stays very still, so as not to frighten him away. Tyler is a wild animal, soft and curious and wary, and Josh just wants to look at him, to be near him, to take what he can get.

Tyler’s hand stays there until the cassette is over. Josh fizzles and sparks for hours after.

***

The next Friday (the day before cassette day) they stay in bed.

Well, that’s not exactly true. Josh wakes up with Tyler’s arm tossed over him. They both come to around the same time, disentangle from one another to use the bathroom and step downstairs for breakfast.

Josh thinks of some poem he can’t remember the name of, about fog creeping in on little cat feet. Neither of them are creeping in today; his parents are at the flea market downtown, and his siblings are nowhere in sight. He and Tyler go downstairs at their own pace, at their own volume, and when Tyler’s shoulder gently bumps his as they reach the kitchen, neither of them feels apprehensive about prying eyes.

They eat cereal and go back upstairs, Josh sitting on his bed and Tyler leaning against Josh’s desk. He’s wearing a shirt this time, but discarded his pajama pants on the floor almost the moment he climbed in the window. He has Batman boxers.

Josh doesn’t think about this. He swears, he doesn’t. He’s also lying to himself, a little.

I’m still kind of tired, he says, flopping back onto his blankets.

We should just stay in bed all day , Tyler says. His eyes are on Josh’s fuzzy carpet, then they flick up to meet his.

And maybe Josh agrees, and maybe they snuggle up a little closer on top of the blankets, and maybe Josh falls asleep in seconds, because he really is tired.

***

Josh wakes to fingers touching his hair, soft. His eyelashes flutter open (he recalls reading, once that only eyelashes flutter; eyelashes and butterfly wings) to see Tyler. Tyler, Tyler, Tyler. Maybe that’s all he ever sees. He makes for a lovely view.

He’s still sleepy, but he thinks his head might be in Tyler’s lap. His best friend’s fingers still for a moment; then, hearing no protest from Josh, carry on carding through his hair. Josh’s hair is just long enough to curl on the ends. He’s embarrassed by how much he likes this.

Tyler’s eyes are plain brown. Josh knows because he’s staring right at them, right into them, and Tyler’s eyes are staring back. They’re plain brown. Josh adores them.

I’d like to kiss you , Tyler says, soft.

Josh sits up so fast he nearly crashes their faces together, in a very not-kissing way. You what?

Tyler clears his throat, looks away, then back again. Rarely does Josh see him embarrassed (is that embarrassment?) this way. I’d like to kiss you . He repeats this louder, a bit steadier.

The fuse is lit. Josh wants to kiss him first, but he’s afraid to move. He means for it to come out gently, but it sounds more like a dare. Then kiss me.

Tyler does. It’s not too slow, and not too fast; a chaste kiss, a first kiss, but it’s sweet and warm and in that moment, Josh could swear that Tyler tastes like gunpowder.

When Tyler separates their lips a few moments later, Josh can’t help chasing them because he’s been waiting for this for so long and as they kiss again, this time with slightly parted lips and then mouths, all the fireworks go off at once. The explosions rocket through Josh, shattering his bones and turning his muscles to jelly. He has to put his hands on Tyler’s knees, to steady himself, although Tyler doesn’t seem to mind.

They kiss again and again and again, still somewhere between fast and slow, and in the chaos of it all, Josh swears he hears the call of a bluebird just outside his window.

All things end eventually, and as they finally separate, Josh is blinded by how beautiful Tyler looks. His eyes are blown wide, and his lips are a little stretched out from the kissing. He looks bewildered. Josh has fallen in love with him again and again and again over the past few minutes. He thinks he may have died a few times, too.

This is … Josh starts, but he trails off, unable to put words to it.

A state of emergency. A natural disaster.

Tyler fiddles with his thumbs, looking down, shy. He’s shy. It’s a completely different level of cute. Did you like it?

I love it, Josh says immediately. He’s overly aware of his face, which is abruptly warm. I didn’t know…

Know what?

That you, you know.

Tyler blinks. That I like you?

Yeah.

He appears almost puzzled. I thought it was obvious . I know I didn’t officially ask you out, but... When Josh doesn’t speak, he continues on. We hold hands all the time. We go on dates every weekend. He doesn’t bother saying that cassette day, the visiting of garage sales and listening of tapes, isn’t a sacred thing, even in its simplicity. God, I sleep in your bed almost every night .

Josh is still quiet. He needs to say something, but he doesn’t know what to say. Tyler isn’t agitated, but he looks a little sad. He’s sad because they were practically dating and Josh didn’t even notice.

Except, he did. He noticed. But maybe he feared what it could do to them. He feared the destruction of the best friendship he’s ever had.

Before he can open his mouth to explain, he hears the front door being shut downstairs, the calling of his mother’s voice. Josh, we’re home! Tyler stands, and pulls on his pajama pants. Josh’s vision is a little blurry but he doesn’t know why.

I should go. Tyler pauses, shoving his hands in his pockets. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?

He leaves Josh a forest, burnt to the ground. A wasteland.

***

Josh’s parents brought dinner home, but he’s not hungry, and he barely touches his food before putting his plate by the sink and disappearing into his room.

His inaction, before today, was misled. He thought he was protecting their friendship (perhaps protecting his feelings, as well) but he was wrong. Now, the inaction is genuinely causing issues. Josh paces his room in silence, thinking on this.

If inaction is the problem, then theoretically, he should perform the opposite, and the opposite of inaction is action. He just...doesn’t know what action he should take.

He’s a telegraph, sending messages over the wire, but his brain won’t respond. No answer. Radio silence.

Silence.

And then. And then, Josh turns sharply, away from his window, and fumbles with the tape on the top of his shelf. His hands are shaking, so he has to try a few times, but he manages to get it into the stereo and hit play.

The crackling of blank tape.

The first notes of a song Josh knows. A song he and Tyler have heard countless times before (they got lucky once and found Joshua Tree at a particularly good sale).

Sweetest Thing, reads side A of the j-card, in Tyler’s beautiful handwriting. Always On My Mind. Hungry Eyes. Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

Baby’s got blue skies up ahead, and in this I’m a rain cloud. Ours is a stormy, kind of love.

Josh cries, a little. But it’s okay, because he knows what he needs to do.

***

Sneaking out of the house isn’t easy, but it’s not as hard as he thought it would be. Josh waits and waits and waits for what feels like years, listening to side A of the tape and restarting it again once he hits the end. Once the clock hits eleven (once Josh is sure his family is asleep), he’s able to slip out the back door, through the gate, without any trouble.

As he crosses the pavement, barefooted, Josh sends up a silent prayer of thanks that there are no street lamps this far out of town.

There’s a light on in the house, faint, but it’s coming from Tyler’s bedroom, so he crosses his fingers and hopes that the rest of the family is in dreamland.

Getting into the house is the hard part. Josh has to sneak around back, carefully slide open the screen door, left open to let in cool evening air. Perhaps it’s not the getting in that’s difficult, but the anxiety that builds in Josh’s chest, making his breaths virtually nonexistent. He doubts Tyler’s parents would call the police, if they caught him, but it’s not a risk he wants to take.

He’s almost to the bottom of the stairs, the home stretch, when a light goes on in the kitchen. Jay, Tyler’s youngest brother, is standing there, illuminated by the lightbulb in the fridge, holding a piece of cold pizza.

They stare at one another, deer caught in the headlights. What are you doing here? Jay finally says, somewhere above a whisper but below normal volume.

For a heartbeat, Josh debates lying, but decides against it. Going to see Tyler.

Jay is silent, and Josh waits, painfully, until he finally says, Okay. But if you run into my parents, I was never here.

Relief washes over him. Deal, he says, and he creeps up the stairs before Jay can change his mind.

***

Josh risks knocking on Tyler’s door, very softly, and hears an equally soft Come in from inside. He opens the door, slowly at first, then quickly, closing it behind him.

The lamp by his bed is on, casting the room in a soft glow. Tyler is sitting on his bed, cassette in hand. There are cassettes everywhere, as a matter of fact (on the floor, the desk, on his sheets). Josh recognizes some of the cases, knows they’re tapes he’s given Tyler. Cassette day memoirs, eulogies.

I’m sorry , Josh says, before Tyler can speak. I have feelings for you, I have for a long time, but I didn’t want to speak up because I didn’t want to ruin our friendship. When I thought you might feel the same, I wanted to say something, but … He pauses. I was scared. I didn’t want to lose you.

Tyler is quiet. Josh is aware of the space between them, the carpet and the cassettes and the air, cool and still. Tyler finally looks up from the tape in his hand.

Josh , he says, and it’s more than enough.

They both move at the same time, Josh to kick off his shoes and Tyler to shut out the light. It’s dark and Josh is fumbling, he hears the clatter of cassettes as he accidentally kicks one. The edge of Tyler’s bed hits his knees, and he reaches out, seeking, but Tyler has already found him.

Josh meant to be the one to initiate this kiss, to sweep his heart off his feet, and he is startled by how forward Tyler is, how he clutches at the front of Josh’s shirt to pull him closer, pull him onto his bed. Tyler’s mouth is warm and soft and Josh’s mind is dizzy with wanting, with everything he is finally allowed to feel.

Their first kiss was slow, but also destructive, catastrophic in its power. These kisses are the opposite. They’re a bit more intense, more eager, yet somehow softer. Healing, maybe. Josh’s heart is soothed, is content, as long as Tyler’s lips are on his. The wasteland, beautiful as it was, is now made new, with trees and grasses and flower buds.

Loving Tyler, in the now, is everything.

They pause, finally, to catch their breath. Josh is laying down, Tyler half on top of him, breaths puffing on Josh’s cheek. Josh isn’t fully sure how they got here (not that he’s complaining).

It’s dark, and he wants badly to see the look on Tyler’s face. He imagines his cheeks and lips to be red, his eyes shining, looking at him with adoration.

Because there’s no way, Josh knows for certain that there’s any term that could describe this moment but love .

He reaches out in the dark, finds the other boy’s hand. Tyler links their fingers together without a moment’s pause. Josh’s heart and mind are racing, and he professes his love for Tyler in a single sentence.

You’re a bluebird , he says. Tyler kisses him again, and the flowers all burst into bloom at once.