The trees around their alley are stripped of leaves. The gravel scrunches against the winter tires of his car, useless as the early December still scanted from giving them proper snow. The recent years differed greatly from his childhood winters, the times when the snows would arrive as early as he could remember, piling high over their heads.
Even if it doesn’t snow, it surely looks like it could; the sky appears blatantly grey as the impermeable blanket of clouds are drawn over his head, like a hood that he can’t move aside to clear his vision. The blower of his car is on, guiding warm air on the windshield to keep it from clouding as well.
Even if it was still raining most of the days, the wind was cold. Was it him getting older and more sentimental or something else, Tyler finds himself missing the snow and its ability to make the landscape something different. The pristine canvas alone would be enough to lift his mood, lighting up the season that otherwise felt so forced to him. The radio is set on low, far back in the channels he’d otherwise pay no attention to. He’d think that he’d gotten used to this by now, yet it seemed to strike him as a violation of his freedom every year, making him want to drive in silence altogether.
He’s at the end of the road now, a sight he’s more than happy to see. The property and the lands around it were his and Josh’s, an ultimate escape from the rest of the world he’s grown to appreciate more than he ever imagined. It might be as snowless as everything else around him, but the front yard was clean and maintained, giving a nice touch of what his leaf blower was still capable of.
Too lazy to park it into the garage, Tyler leaves his car next to Josh’s. They've gotten so deep into their usual home mode this year, it’s ridiculous. He can’t wait to pull on his sweatpants and dive under a blanket to watch a movie, to cuddle Josh’s back until they’d spend yet another night on the couch. It’s fine. The arrangement rarely rewarded them with back pains, and the spot was surprisingly cozy, too.
Tyler slips inside the house. The door clicks closed, a sound good enough to tell that he’s back. Even still, he announces his presence, pulling his beanie off.
He hears no answer. The odd detail is enough to make him stop, nearly knocking him off balance as he stands with one foot, fingers on his shoelaces.
He doesn’t remember Josh mentioning he’d go out. All the three pairs of his running shoes are lined up at their usual spot in the hallway. Neat and colorful, the array looks like a handpicked selection of candy in his eyes. One of the pairs is muddier and more used than the others. It wasn’t hard to tell which one are his favorites, the ones that have traveled the world with them. His car was also parked, however Tyler’s close to turn around and check the facts, but he knows what he saw, and makes a move from there.
First, he gets suspicious. Second, he wipes off all the other intuitions as there was no room for any other feelings. Because Josh is a drummer, he is loud in every book of his nature, and silence meant that he was up to no good.
Not sure what to make of that today, Tyler proceeds deeper into the house. He sets the bag of bakery cookies on the kitchen counter (they’re meant for Josh, but if he does anything stupid, Tyler will think twice about it.)
He washes his hands, spying behind his back even when he dries them up. Josh was somewhere in the house. He has no way of explaining it, but he feels his presence.
There’s a poinsettia and a snowman standing on the table in the kitchen, the type that will shed its glitter up to the point they’ll be finding it on each other’s faces in June. The damned gaffer is smiling at him like it knew exactly what was going on. Tyler glares at it peevishly, knowing that he had the ability to set things on fire by just a single look. Over the table is the chandelier, a thick crown of sprigs draped around it. The whole room smells because of it. The red ribbons on it catch his attention every time, no matter how many times he walked into the room.
The Christmas tree beams in the living room, the one that they used to bring something never-ending to its end. Like many things before it, the idea of one era ending had come during another one of their late night conversations, the one where they were too sleepy to come up with anything serious.
It was perfect though. Somehow, the excitement of their silly idea made them think of old times, when laying in the van was more cramped than laying in their bed now; when waiting to tell Mark until it was socially acceptable simply was not an option. Lucky for them, Mark also tended to be a part of the nocturnals, and they had a scheduled video shoot by noon the following day, or alternatively, till they all got out of bed.
Short, simple and fun. Even if he didn’t appear on the video himself, he loved watching Josh being Josh while holding his laugh behind Mark’s back.
The fashionably old and colorful rainbow lights on the tree are coming to life as the sun sets. Honestly they looked nearly ugly in the daylight, the ridiculously big bulbs too distinct to be put anywhere else. Even still, Tyler is good at ignoring, and moves on. He has his own task, and it’s starting to make him feel stupid, his paranoia haunting him by every turn he took.
“Josh, the absolute ban of jumping out and scaring me is still on.”
No matter what he says, Josh doesn’t come out of hiding. He’s nearly out of breath by the time he’s scoured every room over the ground. Kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom, porch, parlour, where else could he possibly— oh.
Tyler turns around. Down the hall, past the living room again, he stops on his tracks as he sees a single Christmas ornament hung on the door to the basement. His basement. How did he not see that before? More importantly, why is there a cold wave spreading in the pit of his stomach?
He has a bad hunch. The touch to the door handle is nearly electric, making his body hair stand up. Now that wasn’t normal. He swallows the bait to step into the stairway, the hardwood groaning to his pace. It’s somewhat reluctant and unintentionally quiet, but Tyler goes down to his bunker, the place where his visions get their form.
And that’s where he finds him, or at least he thinks he does. It’s not like Josh was trying to hide from him. The construction work of both of their studios have been carried out so well, the soundproof walls doing their part in blocking the soundwaves that their passion tended to develop. The door to his studio is a tad open, allowing the quiet music to run free. Spying from the small gap, the lights in the room are on, but there’s no sight of Josh. It’s like he’s still trying to make a fool of him—
“What are you doing?”
Tyler jumps, his feet are up from the ground and his soul leaves his body, making him turn around faster than normally, standing face to face with Josh.
It’s not even funny. Lucky for Josh, the boxes that he’s hugging against his body hide his grin, but they won’t cover his squinted eyes. Sighing deep and heavy, Tyler’s own close, a hand against his chest.
“Why,” he demands, allowing Josh past him.
“I was in the storage,” he says lightly, and goes where he must have been the whole time. Despite a poisonous glare, Tyler makes more room for himself, his face falling the more he sees.
With several cardboard boxes littered on the coffee table and the floor already, the lids stand open. Inside are Christmas ornaments, unmatching pieces and decors that scream for poor planning and laziness to sort everything out once the season was over. Considering the chaos, the tendency is prone to revenge itself, and Tyler can see why the box that’s been titled ‘random’ has been the last one to be pulled out.
Even still, Josh has the skill to make things look good. The place is his cave, a place that was built to separate itself from the rest of the world, now brought together with things he so desperately wished to escape from. It’s like two different universes colliding. Despite it all, Josh’s touch is far from exaggerating, hitting the right amount of that something that makes Tyler lose control over his mouth then.
It’s wow that comes out of his mouth. He’s not sure where exactly his tone is landing, but it’s the only thing that he can get out in the moment. The comment is enough to catch Josh’s attention. His face remains the same without a single hint of getting caught red-handed, which means he’s been smiling the entire time while decorating the room.
“Took you long enough,” Josh says. He’s wearing a Santa hat and the same pink t-shirt he used on the last video for Level of Concern. Tyler likes it. The tuft at the end of the hat is turned the other way, resting over his forehead, giving him a soft look. He’s sitting on a pillow, an island of decors spreading all around him. His eyes twinkle brighter than their Christmas tree, framed by his curls that are growing wildly.
“Dude, that’s my line. I was looking for you.” Tyler steps deeper in. His hands go into his pockets, silently inspecting his newly decorated studio. The white Christmas tree, the presents set underneath it, the garland...
“I wanted to surprise you. Although I thought you’d be gone a bit longer. I promise I’ll clean up after myself,” Josh says and he sounds so sincere, it brings back memories.
“This is like getting pranked on tour. Big time,” Tyler says. It makes him miss the shows.
Josh laughs. “I thought the same. Maybe this is a payback of the banana prank after all.”
“Sounds appropriate,” Tyler agrees. “Is that a candy cane in the skull’s mouth?”
He’s standing at his desk, knowing fully well that he asked a stupid question. The skull’s mouth is gaping in the same way his own did only moments before, high on sugar and anxiously waiting to make his fingers so sickly sweet and sticky. He doesn’t touch it though, it’s part of the décor, and somehow the sight pierces and arrow through his heart.
His hand goes to cover his mouth, yanking his skin down as he does. This is not what he had planned. He wanted to dwell in his yearly self-pity and cut himself free of the vanity, but now there’s candy in the skull’s mouth, and his reaction is making Josh smile.
He used to love Christmas when he was a kid. He really did love it. Seeing everything through the lenses that were a child’s eyes, his perspective started to change as he grew older; the things hidden behind the curtains, the things hidden behind overloaded smiles and the stress that would shine through the adults’ faces. How uneasy it started to feel after that, as the high expectations would somehow fall flat on their faces anyway, followed by the silent and passive aggressive days it took to recover from it all.
Even the smell of Christmas evokes the unpleasant spirit in him, and it simply wasn’t an acceptable attitude. Yet somehow, participating in this madness didn’t seem to be optional but compulsory, as if going through it together would make it more tolerable.
At least there was no going to church where their families still tried to drag them every year, or running from one relative to the next.
It simply wasn’t worth it. Everything felt so fake, more like a state of mind than a cheerful pleasing of others.
“Do you like it?”
Josh’s voice breaks through his thoughts, even though he was clearly having a moment. Tyler shakes his head, silent. Not to turn down Josh’s efforts, but to accompany the gesture with his own words. “I didn’t expect your love for Christmas to reach this far, but I love you for it.”
At that, Josh plants a kiss on his forehead. “I love you too. I just want to make this thing real for you again. As real as us, you know.”
That does it. Josh is only wishing to make him happy, without forcing him into anything. It’s his way of carrying out Christmas, and it comes so easy for him, coming right from his heart, the place that is stinging Tyler’s own now.
”Stop. I’m supposed to look tough in front of you and you’re ruining it,” Tyler complains and turns the other way. He definitely doesn’t have something in his eyes. Maybe the air was getting dry down in the basement? He needs to delve into that.
The occasion is screaming for a private moment, but Josh wraps his arms around him, depriving him of nonsense.
It’s all he needs, really.
Instead of the couch, they spend the rest of the day in the basement, working close to each other despite doing different things. Cookie crumbs on his lap, the music is now muted, a thing Josh never hesitates to do when Tyler works around his keyboard. It’s his black-and-white sketchbook, drawing influence from his surroundings, and the moment is invigorating.
Moving his fingers along the keys, Tyler realizes that the word he was earlier looking for was perfection, or something very close to that. Like many times before, Josh has given him a reason to create and use the inspiration, allowing him to breathe a little easier.
The thin draft starts getting stronger around the edges. Tyler smiles, hearing Josh humming along as the song builds up from a structure into a melody. His back is turned to him, but Tyler doesn't mind, seeing him setting a garland over the small collection of his ukuleles. It has lights wrapped around it. Josh says that they’ll twinkle, and Tyler loves him, almost saying that he does, too.
He keeps playing, making a few changes to the nameless song.
”I don’t think I’ve ever heard this one before,” Josh notes then, his words coming out as he stands on the ladder.
”It’s still just an idea,” Tyler tells him, putting more force into it. ”I don’t know if it’ll be anything more than that.”
“It makes me think of the Holidays,” Josh says. ”Is there any chance you’d write a Christmas song someday?”
”Zero,” Tyler shoots intently, giving the build up a brutal end. ”I swear we’ll never cross that line,” he continues and starts playing again.
Josh laughs. ”I think it sounds lovely though,” he says. ”You should give it a go.”
Tyler pretends to keep his eyes on the keys, when really, he’s looking at Josh. Maybe, he could write a Christmas song for him. It would be a one-time thing only, meant for Josh and no one else. He’d like that, Tyler is sure, but he’d like it even more if it was for their people, for everyone that they really cared about.
Maybe, it’ll come through. The time of year might still be able to surprise him, has already surprised him, and he’s happy to spend Christmas by just the two of them this year. Josh is his home and the spirit he might be lacking, but he knows how to write a song, and he’ll write one for Josh anytime.
For now, he’ll keep it a secret.