Perhaps if he hadn’t gotten in the habit of taking naps at odd hours, he’d have some clue as to what was going on with his son. Being back from tour meant Justin’s sleep schedule hadn’t quite returned to normal and as a result, he often felt tired in the middle of the day and seeing as he had nothing better to do, would end up taking cat naps that lasted a couple hours. Unfortunately, this also meant that he woke up feeling slightly disoriented, which could be why he’d forgotten that his wife would be out with her friends for the evening and he was in charge of preparing dinner for himself and Tyler.
Still, he knew the fact they were currently nibbling on slices of leftover pizza that Justin had found in the freezer couldn’t be the reason for Tyler’s strange silence because Justin knew for a fact that his younger child loved all forms of frozen dinner. So maybe the bassist had missed something in the past few days since returning home from the band’s latest world tour. Perhaps Tyler had said or done something that Justin should have picked up on.
The easiest way to figure out what was going on was probably just to ask. Unlike Jessamine, who had no problem just blurting out her worries at the dinner table – though to be fair, she hardly ever had worries because she was the epitome of being calm in the face of danger – Tyler usually required a bit more coaxing. He’d eventually come out of his shell, but he wouldn’t do so unless he was prodded first.
Now that Jessamine was away at college, Justin found himself sorely missing his daughter’s presence. Of course, he knew he would miss his baby girl when she was gone, but her absence only exasperated the fact that he often felt like he had no idea what to say to his sixteen year old son. Jessamine had a way of bringing out the best in Tyler that was amazing to watch, because although there were times when her baby brother drove her absolutely insane, she also loved him to pieces, and Justin knew that if she was here right now, she’d have gotten to confess his troubles in the span of about three minutes.
“Hey, Ty?” Justin said softly, setting down the piece of crust he’d been nibbling on. “Is everything alright?”
Tyler looked up from his meat lover’s pizza, the thick, dark curls he inherited from his father falling into his eyes as he blinked in confusion. It took him a moment to realize that Justin was referring to the far off gaze in his eyes and the fact that he’d said all of five words since entering the kitchen fifteen minutes ago. Clearing his throat, he nodded and shot his father what he hoped was a confident smile. “Yeah, I’m alright.”
Justin knew this wasn’t the truth, but he didn’t push the issue because Tyler would tell him what was going on when he was ready to talk about it. In the meantime, Justin was still worried about his son and wanted to make sure that if Tyler wished to talk to a non-parental figure about whatever was going on, then he had that opportunity. And besides Jessamine, he knew that there was only one other person with the capabilities to make Tyler feel infinitely better.
So after they were finished with their pizzas, the paper plates they’d used so they wouldn’t have to wash up neatly thrown into the trash, and Tyler had headed back up to his room to finish up his homework, Justin dug his phone from the pocket of his jeans.
It was a school night, which meant that his request could be shot down immediately, but he figured it was worth a shot. Because Justin’s wife was out for the evening, he’d invited the boys over for some good old hang out time, which would most likely include video games and a lot of profanity before eventually switching into an impromptu jam session. All he needed now was for Ethan to bring his younger daughter as well.
Ethan picked up after two rings, his voice muffled because his mouth was most likely stuffed with his usual post dinner treat of sour gummy worms. “Hewwo?”
Justin rolled his eyes, but laughed lightly. “Hey, man. Random question. Does Lucy have a lot of homework tonight?”
Tyler had to be up so early for swim practices that he usually finished the majority of his homework before dinner so he wasn’t awake in the early hours of the morning, but Justin knew this logic wouldn’t necessarily apply to Ethan’s teenage daughter as well.
“I don’t know,” Ethan replied and Justin imagined him shrugging. “Why?”
“I was wondering if maybe you could bring her when you come over. I think Tyler would really like to see her.”
“I’ll ask,” Ethan promised, not at all curious as to why Tyler would want to see Lucy. Everyone knew they were best friends and often spent time at each other’s houses, whether by invitation or not.
“Thanks, man,” Justin sighed, smiling as he hung up the phone.
Thirty minutes later, Jack arrived bearing two six packs of beer and Nathan came soon after, arms laden with various salty and sweet snacks and perpetually late Ethan arrived last, but he had a bright eyed and wide grinning Lucy at his side, so Justin didn’t scold him for not being on time. After directing the guitarist to the basement where the other boys were, Justin pulled Lucy aside before she went upstairs to find his son.
“Hey, Luce, can I ask you a favor?” It wasn’t really a favor, actually. He figured Lucy would be able to get Tyler to open up even if he wasn’t specifically asking her to do so. And it wasn’t as though he wanted her to report back to him or anything, he just wanted to make sure his son was alright.
She raised one eyebrow, though her signature wide grin still stretched her lips. “Does it have something to do with why you asked me to come?”
She didn’t mind, of course. Tyler was one of her best friends, after all, so being asked to go hang out with him wasn’t particularly taxing. Plus, she’d been so busy as the newly appointed photography editor of the school paper and he’d been so busy training to make the Olympic team the following year that they hadn’t seen each other outside of the classes they had together in a few weeks, so it would be good to catch up. But she was still curious as to why her Uncle Justin had wanted her to come over because it caused a gnawing feeling in the pit of her stomach that made her feel like something was wrong.
“Yeah,” Justin sighed, reaching up to tug his fingers through his curls. “I don’t know what it is, but something’s wrong and I figured you would be able to get to the bottom of it.”
“Will do,” she nodded, winking dramatically before turning towards the stairs. “I’m on the job, Uncle Justin.”
Justin laughed to himself as he watched her run up the stairs two at a time, knowing that if anybody could turn Tyler’s day around, it was Lucy Saxton.
Lucy wandered down the upstairs hallway to Tyler’s room as though she was walking through her own house and didn’t bother knocking on the second to last door before she entered because she knew she was always welcome.
Tyler was lying on his stomach on top of his half made bed, where he always did his homework because desks made him antsy, his bottom lip pulled between his teeth and his fingers firmly holding a mechanical pencil as he pored over that week’s assigned math problems.
He looked up as she shut the door behind her, knowing none of the fathers downstairs would object because Tyler and Lucy were like siblings, his eyebrows rising in surprise as his lips stretched into a slow smile. “Hey, Luce. What are you doing here?”
Sliding off her bejeweled sandals and dropping her purse at the door, she took two steps towards his bed before jumping on top of the worn navy comforter, crossing her legs beneath her and tilting her head to the side to get a better look at his math homework, though her eyes were just glazing over the numbers and not actually taking them in. “My dad’s here. Uncle Jack and Uncle Nate are here too.”
“Oh,” he glanced towards the closed door as though he’d be able to see his uncles through the wood, deciding he must have tuned out the part of the conversation where his dad had told him he was having the boys over. Tyler had a lot on his mind lately. “Are Care, Brody, and Piper coming as well?”
The twins and Jack’s daughter were in their last year of school and it was strange to think that they would be graduating in a few months and going their separate ways. With Jamie, Kira, and Jessamine off conquering the world as it was, it wouldn’t be long before Tyler and Lucy were the only Vertical Limit children left at home.
Tyler wouldn’t mind, though. Sure, he’d miss the craziness and chaos of always having the other kids around and he didn’t tell his parents, but he called his sister fairly often because he missed the sound of her voice, but Lucy was his rock. As long as Lucy was by his side, things never seemed quite so bad.
Lucy shrugged at the question, though she knew the motives behind her Uncle Justin asking her to come. It was a pretty fair assumption that she’d be able to figure out what was going on with Tyler. He told her everything; like how he’d broken up with his last girlfriend because he thought things were moving too fast but then lost his virginity with her best friend in an empty bedroom at a house party a few weeks later or how he couldn’t be more thrilled to picked to train for the Olympics, but sometimes he wished that he wasn’t so good at swimming because then maybe he wouldn’t feel like he was constantly on the verge of letting everyone down. No matter how trivial or colossal his troubles were, he never had a problem telling Lucy because he knew that she’d always listen and more often than not, she knew exactly the perfect way to respond.
“I don’t know,” Lucy replied, her eyes still glued to his math homework, her brow furrowing in frustration as she tried to make sense of it. It was algebra, which meant that the numbers were mixed with letters, which only made the fact that letters and numbers generally switched places in her mind anyway all the more confusing.
His gaze narrowed playfully, the corners of his lips threatening to lift into a smile. “Are you sure you didn’t just come because you wanted to be alone with me?”
She rolled her eyes, completely used to his flirtation. He’d told her on multiple occasions that she had the prettiest eyes he’d ever seen, but she also knew the compliments were harmless because Tyler flirted with just about anybody. Just last week, she’d observed him being successful in getting an extension on his English assignment after he stretched his lips into his devastating slow smile and twinkled his eyes at Mrs. Kaminski and sent her blushing to her sixty year old core.
“You wish,” she muttered, which sent him chuckling. He truly did think Lucy was radiant, inside and out, and he enjoyed the way his compliments made her cheeks tint pink, but he also loved her like a sister and he knew that whoever she ended up with would be the luckiest guy on the planet.
Lucy might find his natural need to flirt with everyone in a ten foot radius to be somewhat charming but mostly annoying, but she knew that beneath that bravado, Tyler protected her like family because he considered her to be family. He teased her when she told him about her crushes, but she had a sneaking suspicion that when Jensen Maloney cheated on her four months ago, Tyler was the reason he’d shown up to school the next Monday with a bruised jaw. Tyler took loyalty seriously and nobody messed with the people he loved.
“So then are you here because my dad asked you to come?” Tyler said pointedly, one hand reaching up to tug on the curls over his forehead. He wore his hair shaved shorter on the sides to look like a mohawk, liking the fact that it also dried easier when he got out of the pool without him having to shave it completely.
Lucy shrugged, finally giving up on trying to figure out the math homework and lifting her gaze to meet his, noting that his milk chocolate colored eyes were filled with a hint of sadness this evening. “He’s just worried about you.”
Tyler nodded, because truthfully, he appreciated the sentiment. Of course, there were times when he thought his father meddled a little too much in his life, but he figured there were worse things in the world than having parents who cared about him.
“Is there something to be worried about?” Lucy prodded, keeping the volume of her voice soft because she didn’t want to come off sounding accusatory. She already knew the answer, but she wanted Tyler to feel comfortable enough admitting what was wrong on his own.
Sighing, he pushed himself off his elbows, sitting up on his knees before pushing his notebook and textbook to the side and crossing his legs to mimic Lucy’s position on his bed. He had avoided talking to his dad about it because he knew Justin would want to take action, but Lucy would be willing to just listen and possibly give him good advice, plus he knew she would get it out of him eventually, so he figured there was no reason not to tell her the truth.
“One of the guys on the team saw me giving myself an insulin shot in the locker room.”
“Ok…,” Lucy furrowed his brow in confusion. Tyler had been diagnosed with Type I diabetes when he was fourteen and he was still getting used to having to give himself insulin shots, but he had come to terms with the fact that it needed to be done, so she wasn’t sure what was upsetting about the situation.
“Well,” Tyler winced as he continued. “He kind of assumed that it was a steroid shot and I guess he told the rest of the team and now they’re icing me out.”
“Tyler!” Lucy gasped, her green eyes wide as she tucked a strand of her chin length hair behind her ear. “Does your coach think that too?”
If his swimming coach was under the assumption that Tyler was using illegal substances, then it could ruin his chances at ever making the Olympic team.
“I don’t think they told him,” he shook his head. “At least, he hasn’t confronted me about it. And I don’t think they would anyway. You don’t stab your teammates in the back like that.”
“Yeah, but if you were using steroids, they would be obligated to report you.”
“Except that I’m not using steroids, Lucy,” Tyler snapped back, his eyes fiery.
“Right,” Lucy sighed, giving him a moment to calm down before she got to the more important questions. “So why would he assume you were? Don’t your teammates know you’re diabetic?”
Tyler shook his head so slowly that Lucy almost didn’t realize what was happening. Her jaw dropped as he spoke. “I haven’t told them yet.”
She gaped at him, wondering how he could have hidden something so huge from the teammates he was so close to for two years.
“I know, I know,” he scrunched his nose at her shocked silence, a little disappointed in himself as well. “I felt weird just announcing it, you know. And I guess a part of me thinks people will think lesser of me for it.”
Pressing her lips together, she reached out one hand to grab his palm, squeezing it gently and reassuringly. There wasn’t much that made Tyler Copeland insecure, but he didn’t like people thinking that he wasn’t at the top of his game, that he wasn’t always a threat in the water. Especially now, when he was on the verge of making the Olympic team as well as getting picked to be the school’s swim captain.
“Tyler,” Lucy said softly, pulling his hand from his lap so she could lace their fingers together. “Having diabetes doesn’t make you weak. It’s not something you can control or that you brought upon yourself and the sooner you decide that it doesn’t define you or control your life, the happier you’ll be. That’s what I did about my dyslexia.”
Tyler blinked as he realized how ridiculous it must have sounded to her, the fact that he was scared to admit that he was diabetic. Lucy had discovered she was dyslexic when she was ten and had told him casually as though giving him an update on her rock collection. To her, it had been less of a shock and more a relief at finally having an explanation as to why sometimes the letters in words seemed mixed up and it took her longer to read in class than it took the other kids. She still required extra time to take tests, but she’d long since accepted it and it wasn’t a particularly deep concern of hers.
Nodding, he took a deep breath in and exhaled it slowly, allowing his muscles to relax and his nerves to lessen, not for the first time thankful that he had Lucy Saxton to help him with his problems, whether they be big or small. “Alright. I’ll tell them the truth tomorrow. Thanks, Lucy.”
“For what?” she grinned, squeezing his fingers in response, glad to know that he’d gotten his worries off his chest.
Turning the corners of his lips upwards into a smile, he rubbed his thumb over the outside of her wrist. “You’re always here for me.”
Her smile widened even further, her eyes bright with joy as usual. “Well, seems like you’re stuck with me, doesn’t it?”
He knew the idea of always having Lucy in his life was one he could get used to, so he grinned back, his eyes silently thanking her again.
“And don’t worry,” she shrugged casually, removing her hand from his hand dropping it back in her lap. “If the team gives you a hard time, they’ll have to go through me.”
Despite knowing that she was serious because Lucy would absolutely go into battle for him, he snorted with laughter at the image of her petite frame defiantly standing in front of the members of the swim team, all of whom maintained an average height of about six foot two inches. Besides, he loved the fact that she seemed to be incapable of staying angry for more than thirty minutes and he hoped her constantly sunny disposition never changed.
Still, he appreciated her loyalty and lifted his arms to ask her for the hug he hadn’t been able to give her when she first entered. “You’re the best, Luce. I love you.”
She warmed at the words, knowing he didn’t mean them romantically, which she was actually happy about. Romantic relationships ended. She’d had her own experiences in that department and seen her sister go through enough of them as well to know that sometimes it was better to just let people go. But she did believe in soulmates, that there were people who were destined to understand you better than anyone else and love you unconditionally and she had firmly accepted the fact that Tyler Copeland was that person for her. He was her best friend and she knew that no matter what happened in their lives, they’d always be on each other’s sides; always be ready to stand up for each other and fight for each other and hold each other together when it seemed like everything was falling apart.
“Right back at ya,” she smiled, leaning forward to wrap her arms around his neck and rest her chin atop his shoulder as he squeezed her against his chest, pressing a quick kiss to her cheek as he pulled away.
“Do you wanna watch a movie or something?” he asked when he dropped his arms back over his crossed legs, the fingers of one hand reaching out to tug at the hem of his black athletic shorts.
She scrunched her nose apologetically and shook her head. “I should actually probably head home. I still have some homework to finish up.”
In the midst of their heart to heart, he’d forgotten it was a school night. Nodding, he glanced at his own half-finished math homework, his eyes lighting with an idea. “Want me to come with you? We can do it together.”
“Alright!” she smiled, liking the idea. She knew it was going to take her some extra time to figure out the algebra and as much as she loved the feeling of pride she got when she accomplished something on her own, it would be nice to know that Tyler would be there if she needed help.
She uncrossed her legs and swung them over the side of the bed, skipping across the room to slip into her sandals and watching as he shoved his notebook and textbook into a backpack before sticking his sock covered feet into a nearby pair of sneakers and nodding for her to open the door.
They walked down the stairs and Lucy waited by the front door as Tyler poked his head into the lounge room to tell the adults they were leaving.
“Hey, Dad,” Tyler called out, hiking one strap of his backpack up on his shoulder. “Lucy and I are gonna go finish our homework at the Saxton’s house. If that’s ok with you Uncle Ethan.”
Tyler said the last part as an afterthought, but his words still caused both Justin and Ethan to pause their video game and look up at Justin’s son, Jack and Nathan doing the same, purely out of curiosity, eyebrows raised in surprise.
“That’s fine,” Ethan shrugged, knowing it wouldn’t be the first or last time Tyler and Lucy studied together. They were in the same year at school and when the fact that they were so close was factored in, it was almost a wonder that they didn’t spent all of their study time together. “Do you need me to come?”
The way Ethan asked the question, hesitantly, indicated that he’d greatly appreciate if Tyler declined the offer, so Justin’s son did just that, shaking his head at the words. “We’ll be fine. It’s only a ten minute walk.”
Keeping with the tradition of not being able to be apart for too long, all the members of Vertical Limit had bought houses within a five mile radius of each other, making it fairly easy for them or their children to pop over unannounced.
Ethan nodded, calling out a light, ‘have fun’ before returning his gaze to the television screen and expecting the bassist to do the same. Justin, however, had other ideas and handed his controller over to Jack, who gladly took over as Justin lifted himself from the couch and approached Tyler in the entranceway to the lounge room.
“So, you’re all good?” Justin asked in a low voice. He hadn’t shared his feeling that something was wrong with his band mates because he didn’t have any tangible proof to speak of.
Tyler nodded, lifting one side of his mouth into a small smile. “Yeah, I’m all good. Lucy really helped me out.”
“She’s good at that, huh?” Justin smiled softly, glad to know that his plan had worked and gazing fondly over at his niece who was standing by the front door, scrolling through the latest pictures she’d taken on her phone.
Tyler followed his father’s gaze and nodded, quite fond of his best friend. “Yeah, she is.”
“Good,” Justin nodded, placing a hand on Tyler’s shoulder and squeezing gently. “And if you ever want to talk to me…”
“I will,” Tyler promised. “Soon. I just needed to work it all out first.”
“Alright,” Justin smiled wider. He supposed that as long as his son was being honest with him, it didn’t matter that he’d shared his concerns with someone else first. “Well, I’m glad everything’s ok. Don’t stay out too late, alright?”
“I won’t,” Tyler smiled, turning to join Lucy at the door, only to be confused when Justin called out her name, throwing open his arms and stretching his lips into a wide smile to indicate he wanted a goodbye embrace.
Lucy grinned in response and stepped forward to oblige, always eager to give and receive affection.
“Thanks,” Justin whispered, leaning down to press a kiss to the top of her head.
She didn’t need to ask to know what he was talking about and she smiled against his chest as she replied. “Any time.”
Stepping to the side after he released her from his arms, she poked her head into the lounge room to say goodbye to her other uncles and her father before making her way back to Tyler’s side. Justin stood in the front hall and watched as they walked out the front door and closed it behind them, his hands stuck in the pockets of his jeans as he rocked back and forth on the balls of his bare feet, finding himself thankful, much like his son had been a few minutes before, that Lucy Saxton was in his life, and grateful for the knowledge that she would always be around to work her magic.