In the midst of a rising decade is the small town of Quincy, Ohio that falls close to the outskirts of Columbus. It’s a nice town, consisting of no more than 300 people. More specifically, there are two individuals that live on a decent plot of land at the edge of town. One is a successful author, the other a mechanic, and the town views them as nothing more than colleagues and roommates. Both their families live in Columbus, and often they travel together for holidays. However, the pair has been much more than roommates for almost three years now.
On a Friday evening around eight o’clock pm, the mechanic returns home from a long shift covered in oil and grease. He wipes his hands on his jumpsuit with a sigh before dropping his bags to the floor.
“Joshua?” The author appears from the hallway, a large grin on his face as he wraps his arms around Josh’s waist, laughing at his scowls.
“I’m filthy Tyler, don’t get grease all over yourself.”
He pulls away with another chuckle, wiping the bit of grease that had accumulated on his hands down his slacks. “Are you still working on the Urie’s piece of garbage?”
“Unfortunately. No matter how much I tell them it’s hit the bucket they about snap their cap. I guess they really want to keep that automobile in the family.”
Tyler gasps. “You’re telling me you aren’t a car wizard?”
“I’m so sorry for lying to you all these years.” they both break out in soft laughter as Josh pushes clumps of sweaty hair off his forehead. He was in dire need of a bath.
Tyler pecks Josh’s nose, the smile from before slipping comfortably back on his face. “It’s okay. I forgive you.” With a small sigh, he leans forward to kiss Josh gingerly, fingers latching onto a thigh as he presses him hard against the wall. “I miss you,” he murmurs against chapped lips.
“I miss you too.”
“You work too much J. Can’t you get a stay at home job like me?”
“We can’t both be the housewife. Besides, I’m definitely not as creative as you Mr. Joseph.”
With a nip Tyler unlatches himself from their tangle of limbs and goes to shut the curtains. “We can’t do this now. People might be watching you know. I think the old couple next door is getting suspicious.”
“Wouldn’t want to get our house burned down by angry townspeople.”
“You think they would carry pitchforks and torches?”
“Sure.” Josh quips, pretending his nails are more interesting at the moment. With a long sigh he drops down to the sofa and stares at a spot on the wall. “I wish we could be open about our relationship.”
“You aren’t the only one.” Tyler drops down and reaches for Josh’s hand, letting his thumb slide over the top comfortingly. “But until then, we keep it to ourselves.”
“Do you know how hard it is to lie to my family? They’re always asking me if I’ve met someone yet and when I’m getting married.” He scoffs. “Every time we have a phone call it’s, ‘Joshua, you’re twenty-four years old and the only one in the family not married. I’m waiting.’ And then I have to make up a story about how I met the loveliest girl at the general store last week and I really think we’re going to hit it off. They know you Tyler. I just wish I could let them know I already have someone I care so much about.”
“Awww,” Tyler coos as he rolls over on top of Josh and taps his fingers on a shoulder. “I know how you feel.”
“I’m just happy I have you. Even if nobody else knows.”
“Mmm, right,” mumbles Tyler as he leans down to kiss Josh again. “I wanna get lost in you tonight.”
Josh chuckles softly as he slides his hands down to Tyler’s hips and squeezes. “Someone’s active duty.”
“You’ve been working overtime far too long.”
“Well I’m home now.” he sighs. “You’re so beautiful Ty, you know that?”
“Can’t wait to hear you get loud tonight kitten,” whispers Tyler right in Josh’s ear, and the next thing they know their falling into bed, obscene moans pouring from their mouths as Tyler sucks a bruise into Josh’s neck. For the first time in months, the two feel alive.
The following morning Tyler wakes up before Josh and is closing the bedroom door quietly when Josh cracks open an eyelid. He’s clad in a pair of Josh’s underwear and it makes him sigh happily. “Morning love.”
“Hey there babe.” he slides down comfortably onto the bed and reaches for Josh’s arm with a small smile. “I have something I wanna ask you.”
“What is it?” Josh’s mouth tilts into a frown as he adjusts his position on the bed. Tyler shakes his head in reassurance that it’s nothing bad and pulls out a small, black box. With wide eyes, Josh looks back up at Tyler’s grin.
“Will you marry me?” he asks, and Josh lets out a jubilant laugh as tears prick his eyes. The rings are nothing but solid dark bands, but they’re so perfect for the two of them.
Josh nods his head rapidly and pulls Tyler into a kiss. “Of course I will,” he whispers as Tyler’s hand presses against the back of his neck. “But how-”
“I found someone north of Columbus. He’s got authority, we can do it, we could do it today-”
“Today?” Josh exclaims, sitting up. “We could get married today?”
“Yes! I’ll have to ring the guy of course, but he’s willing-”
“Well why are we still here? Let’s go, let’s go!” Josh is gleaming head to toe with excitement as he clambers out of bed and reaches for a fresh pair of briefs. He’s bucking it to the bathroom down the hall before Tyler crosses his mind again. Josh pauses and swivels back around. “I’m going to bathe.”
“We should both probably do that.”
“That we should. Possibly... together?” Tyler winks before following him out of the room.
Half an hour later the two are dressed in their finest suits and Tyler’s running a comb through Josh’s thick mess of hair. They both have a rush of adrenaline dancing through their veins; if they were to get caught, they could be fined, or put in jail, or worse: thrown inside an asylum. But it’s a risk both men are willing to take. They love one another, and that’s all that really matters.
When Tyler finishes styling Josh’s hair, he sets the comb down on the bathroom counter and pats Josh’s shoulder. “There you go hot stuff. I think we’re ready to go.”
“You look lovely Tyler,” Josh says softly with a smile, and Tyler kisses him on the cheek.
“We better go now. I told the man we’d be there in an hour.”
“Why on earth would you do that? You know the piece of junk our automobile is.”
“Because I’m excited to marry the man I’ve been in love with since the day we first met.” He’s blushing, and Josh finds it to be extremely cute. He remembers when he met Tyler. They had attended the same college, and sophomore year Josh had ran smack into Tyler, sending books and papers flying. Josh’s face turned redder than red and Tyler offered they go get coffee. After that, they had become best friends, and dormed together the following year. The year after that, they started dating.
“Do you remember the night we first kissed?” asks Josh as they climb into the vehicle. Tyler rolls his eyes.
“It was embarrassing and not how I planned it to go. You know I had a plan, right?”
“I remember you telling me about this. You and your plan.”
“Of course. I was going to put on your favourite record, and ask you to dance. Then we would lounge lazily on the sofa and the minute it was perfect I would kiss you.”
“But instead, we had to call the firefighters because someone doesn’t know how to work an oven.”
Tyler laughs. “And then you kissed me right there out in the freezing cold. It was the most perfect night of my life.”
“And this will be even better,” whispers Josh as he reaches for Tyler’s hand. They share a smile before getting on the road.
Later that day, they recite their vows and kiss like nobody's watching.
It’s the best day of their lives.
Two weeks later comes a dark storm.
The wind is blowing so hard the tree branches are arching backwards and rain is flooding every lawn in town. Josh even gets to leave work early because the weather is so bad.
He stops to grab the mail and runs inside, a whoosh of air escaping his parted lips as he pushes sopping wet hair off his forehead. Tyler is nowhere to be seen, and Josh knows he would get scolded for getting water everywhere. So he peels off his jacket and shoes and drops down to the sofa to go through the stack of letters. It’s nothing out of the ordinary; marriage invitations, letters from his parents, coupons from local businesses and begging from his old college to donate money.
But the minute he spots a suspicious crumbled envelope with his name on it, his gut sinks. With shaky fingers Josh opens the letter and reads it quickly, sloppily, his eyes wide with horror. “No,” he whispers, throat burning and eyes starting to water.
He had been drafted.
The letter crumbles in his hand.
Josh keeps it a secret for three days.
He knows he should tell Tyler, because that’s his husband and he deserves to know, but Josh can’t bring himself to tell Tyler the horrible news.
But Tyler gets suspicious and he can tell when something is wrong. So he sits Josh down at the kitchen table and demands information. Josh sighs, refusing to look the man in the eyes. Tyler reaches for his hand and strokes it gently.
“Please J. I want to know what’s got you acting all grummy.”
“I’m so sorry Ty. Please know I love you.”
He drums his fingers on the top of Josh’s hand. “I know you love me. Just tell me what’s up.”
A deep breath, and Josh pulls the crumpled letter out of his pocket to slide it over to Tyler. With one more glance at Josh’s sad expression, he reads the letter. Josh watches him the whole time. Watches as his eyes grow big, as “no,” slides past his perfect pink lips, and as tears begin spilling over his eyelids.
“You… you got drafted.”
“I got drafted,” Josh nods his head.
“How long have you known?”
“Not more than three days. I’m sorry I kept this from you, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell you. God Tyler, I can’t go to war. I can’t leave you. I’m going to get bloody murdered out there.”
“No, no you’re-” Tyler stutters, and then he’s sobbing angrily and with so much pain Josh starts crying too. “You can’t just up and leave like this! I can’t-”
“There’s nothing we can do Tyler, you and I both know that. This is a world war, and now we’re involved. But the war is going to be over soon, right? At least for America. I’ll be home by October.”
“Home by October. Okay. Yeah. That’s reasonable.” He gasps for air. “No. You can’t leave. What am I supposed to do without you? We just got married dammit!”
He sobs, and Josh holds him in his arms.
Josh phones his family the following day. The call is filled with tears and hysteria. It’s too much for him to handle.
The two drive up to visit Josh’s family a few days before he’s supposed to leave for training camp. The minute Josh climbs out of the car, his mother is in tears.
“My baby,” she sobs, pulling him into a tight hug. Tears of his own prick his eyes, and he can see Tyler standing quietly behind him.
“Mom,” he whispers, attempting to pull her off of him. “There’s nothing we can do. Besides, it won’t be that bad. I’ll only be gone until the end of the year.”
“The war is t-terrible Joshua. So many people are dying. Our country is in grave danger-”
“And I’m going to help stop the bad people.”
“You can’t-” she pauses to collect herself. “What if you get killed?”
“I won’t mother. I promise.”
“It’s a bloody war zone out there,” his mother breaks down into tears again. It’s too much for Josh to take, seeing his mother like this. Especially knowing what he is going to see, going to do , when he’s actually in combat.
“Everything is going to be okay,” he says again, but Josh doesn’t even have himself convinced.
Later that night everyone is gathered around the dinner table, the only noise the clink of glasses and the scraping from forks. Tyler holds Josh’s hand under the table loosely, his eyes only on his plate.
Josh’s father clears his throat. “It’s ridiculous, this war. The United States should have never gotten involved. It’s a European war. It’s simply not meant for the west.”
“The Japanese did bomb us,” Jordan, Josh’s younger brother, adds. He sips his drink quietly and stares at the table.
“That doesn’t give us an excuse-”
“What do you mean that doesn’t give us an excuse? They could bomb Columbus for all we know!”
“Will you two stop?” Josh finally shouts, squeezing his eyes shut. He lets out a deep breath and sighs. “Look. Dad, I know the only reason you’re upset about this is because I got drafted. I know it’s not the best, but I’m going to be fine. Everything is going to be okay. They’re going to properly train me and I’ll be fine in the end. Promise.”
“It’s not only the Japanese you have to worry about, it’s the Germans, and the Italians, and the-” His mother’s voice rose with hysteria.
“Just stop it! I don’t need my entire family going into decline because I’m leaving for a couple months. I need you all to lay off. Everything is copacetic.” The table falls silent at Josh’s outburst. Tyler squeezes his hand under the table, and the rest of dinner is quiet.
When they drive home that night, Josh can hear Tyler crying quietly in the passenger seat.
The night before Josh is supposed to be shipped off for training camp, he and Tyler make love. It’s hard and rough and leaves them out of breath. It’s the last time they’re going to see each other for a long time.
“I love you,” murmurs Tyler as he stares up at the ceiling. Laughter comes from a group of hushed teenagers outside their window. Josh wonders if any of them heard him screaming Tyler’s name.
“I love you more,” he whispers back, shifting to pull himself closer to his husband. It’s a bittersweet moment for the both of them.
The next morning nobody says a word as they both bathe, dress, and eat breakfast. Josh flips through the newspaper, his eyes scanning over the words. War. Defeat. What are we going to do?
The drive is just as silent, and as they sit on a bench in the train station waiting for Josh’s departure, Tyler starts crying again.
“Honey? Tyler, what’s wrong?” he cradles Tyler’s face in his hands, ignoring the rush of the crowd around him.
“W-We,” he chokes, stifling a sob, “we didn’t get to kiss before we came here. I don’t know when I’ll get to see you again.”
“Oh baby, please don’t cry. You know you’ll see me before you know it. Crank out another book of yours. Pretend I’m staying late at work.”
“I don’t want you to get hurt. You’re too nice J. How are you going to shoot a gun at someone?”
“If my life depends on it, I’m sure I’ll get it done.”
A pause. “I don’t want you to go.”
“I know baby, I know.” He sighs loudly, pulling Tyler against his chest. They lay like that until the train starts boarding, and Josh has to say goodbye. They hug for a long time. It’s a tight, pain filled hug.
They don’t kiss. Josh lives for the day where they can kiss in public.
For three days Tyler does absolutely nothing.
He can’t bring himself to get off the sofa. He can’t listen to music, or read, or write or go into town. Tyler even refuses to answer phone calls or go get the mail. All he can think about is Josh being worked too hard. Even when he does come back in October, Tyler knows he’s going to be a changed man. One with some much trauma it’ll take several doctor visits to fix.
On the fourth day he returns home from town with a bottle of brandy and gets himself filthy drunk. It's easier to deal with the pain if he can't remember why he was sad in the first place.
Tyler hates that he has become the town drunk, but at least he's not out publicly intoxicated. He spends most of his days curled on the couch thinking about Josh. Josh, who could very well already be dead. He thinks about Josh getting shot in the head, Josh getting taking as a prisoner of war, Josh being tortured for information. It makes him sick to his stomach, and he crawls to the bathroom to vomit.
A month since Josh left passes, and there's a knock on his front door. “Go away!” He slurs, but it's barely over a whisper, and the person knocks again.
“Tyler? Tyler sweetie? It's your mother. Please answer the door, I see your car out in the driveway. Please baby.” She continues pounding, but Tyler only rolls over and curls tighter around his bottle. The doorknob jiggles impatiently and then she comes storming in, face masked with worry at her son’s current state. He reeks of alcohol and vomit.
“Go away,” he mumbles again, closing his eyes. His mother sighs.
“Oh Tyler. What happened to you?”
She sits down at the edge of the couch and pats his leg. “Tell me baby, I didn't drive down here to have you ignore me. What's going on? Where’s Josh? I oughtta scold him for letting you get this way.”
“He’s not here.” Tyler chokes out as he breaks into another round of sobs. “S’at war momma.”
“He's at wah-” his mother pauses, her eyes widening. “He's at war?”
“Oh sweetheart. I'm so sorry. I didn't know it would affect you this much.”
“He's my best friend!” Tyler screams, “I love him!” He wishes he could tell his mother the truth about Josh, about how he loves him more than just a friend. He wishes he could tell his mother that he was married to the damn man.
His mother pats him on the leg once more before pulling the bottle out of his hands. He cries as she pulls him down the hallway and helps strip him out of his clothes and settles him down into the bath. It’s embarrassing that this is what he has been reduced to, an empty shell of what had once been a great man.
It’s September when Tyler gets his first letter from Josh. At this point, he’s settled into life without Josh because he knows he’ll be home soon. Tyler goes out, he writes, he visits his family and talks with friends. He’s living life, and he’s happy.
With the mail in his hand, Tyler lets the door slam behind him as he dumps the letters on the kitchen table and drops to a chair. There it is; Josh’s beautiful, messy scrawl. It’s almost like a lost piece of Tyler has returned, and he tears it open without a second thought.
I miss you with every passing day. Things... things are hard here. It has taken me several days to write this letter simply because I’m not quite sure how to say this. As of now, we’re stationed at a camp in Britain. I think it’s somewhere near London. Oh London. You remember when we planned to visit here one day? We're still going to Ty. I'll make sure of it.
There’s a rumor we have an attack planned on Italian troops floating throughout the camp. It’s the first attack I’m supposed to be involved in. I’m not going to lie, I’m terrified Tyler. I haven’t bathed in days and I’m covered in so much dirt I think it’s become a part of me. The people here, most of them know what they’re doing and I’m the rookie. We were both right when we said I wasn’t meant for war.
This isn’t easy to say, but I won’t make it home by October. There’s too much going on, and things are getting worse and worse. The Germans have been killing millions and millions of people and it’s up to us to stop it. Please know I love you Tyler, and I’ll try to get home to you as soon as I can.
His heart shatters.
Josh isn’t coming home.
Tyler gets two more letters, one in December and another in February. Josh continues to speak out his time out in war, but things truly do seem to be getting worse and worse. Tyler can feel the defeat writhing in his words. It was hard enough spending the holidays without him, but knowing Josh was becoming weaker was breaking him.
It gets worse when the letters stop. A year passes. And then another year.
And still no Josh.
It’s 1943 now, and Tyler visits his family for Thanksgiving. He twists his wedding band nervously around his finger, quietly watching his relatives laugh and converse about pointless topics. Tyler sits next to his mom, his dinner growing cold in front of him.
“Did you hear the president met with the prime minister of England? There’s rumors of an attack on Japan.”
“I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: this war is a complete waste of funding for the United States. A country in war is not-”
“Now, now, our economy is thriving-”
“But that doesn’t give the excuse that our soldiers, young men, are being killed for the benefit of the Europeans.”
“Sweetheart,” announces Mrs. Joseph with a small, tight smile, “could we find anything else to discuss? It’s Thanksgiving, nobody wants to be bored with politics. Tyler?”
He looks up at the mention of his name. “Hmm?”
The entire table stares at him, including his mother. “Would you rather talk about anything else?”
“Oh. Uhm, yes. That would be appreciated.” He truly does appreciates his mother’s attempt at changing the subject that reminds him oh too much of Josh.
“See love? We can find something else to talk about.”
“Did you hear about the Urie’s? Apparently their youngest son was found sleeping with a man. He’s sitting in prison right now.” a collective gasp sweeps across the table, and Tyler chews on the inside of his cheek.
“I don’t understand how two people could do something immoral. It’s a good thing he’s rotting away in prison. I hope the other one is in prison too.”
“Is this the Urie, as in the politician? That’s certain to ruin his image.”
“Tyler, the Urie’s live in Quincy, don’t they?”
Tyler doesn’t respond, and the table continues with chatter. He’s getting more and more anxious.
“Did you know there’s a law about homosexuals in the military? They’re immediately discharged. What do you think they do with the ones already overseas?”
“Throw them to the Germans,” his father cackles, and everyone else laughs right along with him. Tyler stumbles from the table into the bathroom and pukes until there’s nothing left to puke.
March 3rd, 1944.
Tyler is in the middle of writing his next big project when there’s a knock at the door. He wipes his hands on his suit jacket and pounds through the house, shouting, “I’m coming, I’m coming!” over and over again until he can yank the door open.
“Mr. Joseph I presume?” his voice is somber, and Tyler’s smile drops. The man is in uniform, standard military uniform. Oh no .
“Y-Yes, that’s me. What’s wrong?”
“Is this the current residence of Joshua Dun?”
“What’s wrong?” Tyler repeats, this time a little louder. His knuckles turn white from the grip on the doorframe.
“We have alerted Mr. Dun’s family, but it was in our best belief to notify you as well on account of the, er, situation. There’s no easy way to say this, but I regret to inform you that your husband has been reported deceased in an uncharted territory of land in Russia on February 26th, 1944 after suffering major blows to his head and abdomen, as well as a gunshot wound to the chest. On behalf of his regiment and the United States Army, I extend my deepest condolences.” The man extends a shaky hand, a letter crumbled in his palm. Tyler is frozen.
Josh is dead.
He drops to his knees and screams.
The letter explains what happened in the man’s own words. His name is James, and he’s in the same boat at Tyler.
Other members of his regiment found the letters Josh had been stashing to send to Tyler. He had so many of them - another thing Tyler was given - that couldn’t be sent at the time. They were beautiful, detailed letters, but crushing at the same time. Josh got in trouble for standing up in what he believed in: his love for Tyler. They had killed him. They had murdered him.
This whole time, Tyler had been worried about Josh dying by the hands of the enemy when he should have been worried about the good guys.
The good guys. Yeah right.
The story given to Josh’s family about his death was different than Tyler’s version, but Tyler really couldn’t blame anybody for it. If his family knew the real reason, Josh would be forgotten, and Tyler would be thrown in prison. They did include him in funeral plans however. Josh’s body, oh , his beautiful, beaten body, was shipping overseas to prepare for the closed casket. Tyler wishes it wasn’t closed casket, but at the same time, he knew he wouldn’t be brave enough to face Josh once more.
The funeral is short, and so many people are crying. Tyler’s family is there sitting next to the Dun’s. People from town are here too. Tyler has done so well up until now, but the minute the casket is lowered into the ground he breaks down into tears. Nasty tears too, ones with snot and swollen eyes and gut wrenching pain. Tyler has no one anymore. Josh’s death is his fault.
It’s all his fault.
“Hiya J.” He sits down in front of the weathered stone with a twist in his stomach and gently sets the bouquet of flowers in the grass. It’s been a year since Josh’s death.
Tyler hadn’t found much of a future after the funeral. He was a shell of a man spiraling into the dark abyss of oblivion.
But something Tyler realized was that Josh had been the most optimistic, fun loving person he had ever met, and he had been traveling down a path Josh wouldn’t have wanted for him. Tyler needed to stay positive, for Josh.
With a sigh, Tyler trails his fingers over the granite. “I got a column in the newspaper Josh. Do you remember when we talked about me doing that? It finally happened.” He chuckles. “I published another book. I wrote it about the war, about our relationship. I wish you could have read it Josh. I wouldn’t have wanted you to be upset with it, but I think a lot of people felt the same way about the war. It’s over Josh. The war is over. You had one more year-” he chokes, pausing to collect himself. “It caused a lot of pain for everyone, but in the long run, I think, I think it was worth it. The bad guys lost.” A laugh. “I miss you more and more every day Josh. I really hope things are better up there.”
He breathes happily. It’s nice outside today. The sun is shining high and the birds are chirping loudly; it’s nice to be alone.
It’s nice to be happy.
Tyler leaves that graveyard with a bounce in his step, because he knows that this isn’t the end. He knows that one day, he’s going to see Josh again. And in another life, they’ll be able to live happily, to hold hands on the streets and kiss in public. It might take awhile, but Tyler knows that one day it’s going to happen.
And he knows that he’s never going to ever stop loving Joshua Dun.