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Use Me Up

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***

Zac anxiously adjusted his tie for what seemed like the millionth time that day. His brother Isaac, whom he told numerous times not to tie it so tight, clearly did not listen. It was practically choking him. His white shirt underneath was buttoned all the way to the top which wasn't much relief, either. He straightened his back, hearing the slightest crack. The wooden chair he was sitting in didn't hold much comfort for him. The scent of the room he had been sitting for the past two hours wouldn't seem to leave his nose. The furniture polish mixed with some kind of disinfectant reminded him of his elementary school. How far I've come from then, he thought.

 

He cleared his throat, looking around the somewhat crowded room. Taylor was seated next to him in an almost matching suit. The incessant bouncing of his right leg, making accidental contact with Zac’s every so often, made him aware that his brother was just as nervous as he was. He slightly tilted his head, seeing his mother and Isaac sitting together a row behind him. If Diane’s red eyes and used tissue she was clenching in her hand were any indication of how she was feeling, it wasn't too far off from his state. Isaac was gently rubbing his mother’s free hand in an attempt to soothe her. Zac turned his head a bit more, searching for any signs of Katelyn. Maybe she isn't here yet, he thought.

 

But, if there was one thing he was happy for – it was that his father was nowhere in sight. He was thankful for that. Especially on a day like today.

 

The sound of a microphone screeching the tiniest bit forced him to look forward. A man in a clearly very expensive suit stepped closer to it, a stack of what looked like photographs in his hand. He spoke evenly and clearly into the microphone. The words Zac had been dreading all morning.

 

“I’d like to call Zachary Hanson to the stand.” 




***

 

 

 

One Year Prior

 

 

The incessant high pitched warning blared through the kitchen. Zac frantically grabbed for a chair, pushing it against a tiled wall. With one swift motion he jumped up, careful not to slip in his socks on top of the polished wood. Twisting at the white mounted circle, he managed to eventually release the smoke detector from its bracket. He finally found the off switch, hopping off the chair and waving away at the smoke filling the kitchen. Dropping the smoke detector to a counter, Zac pulled open as many windows as he could, letting the smoke slowly billow out of the room.

“Zac?” Taylor called out from his upstairs bedroom, he could hear a chair being dragged around downstairs. He knew he smelled something being burned. This is why Zac isn't allowed near a stove, he thought. He called out a second time before heaving a sigh and reluctantly pulling himself out of bed, taking the stairs two at a time.

“Are you trying to burn the house down before we leave, or?” Taylor propped himself up on the counter next to Zac who was dropping an extremely burnt frying pan into the sink. An intense hiss leaving the pan just as soon as it hit the wet sink basin.

“Well it wasn't exactly on my to-do list, but I managed to fit it in.” Zac responded with a laugh as he fished for his cell phone in his back pocket. Just as he was scrolling for his mother's number, the pair heard a second set of footsteps descending the stairs. These one's heavier than the first. Zac's finger hovered over the call button as his father entered the kitchen.

“Is it too much to ask to get some fucking sleep around here?” Walker passed by them both heading for a cabinet, grabbing a coffee mug.

Zac rolled his eyes, moving to the other side of the counter, “Yeah, because you do so much around here.” He spoke to himself just above a whisper.

“What was that?” Walker shot back, glaring at his youngest son. Zac shook his head, sighing, dropping the last of the egg shells into the trash can.

“I didn't say anything."

 “I can see Zac made an attempt at breakfast. Jesus Christ, you’re twenty-three years old and you can’t fry an egg?” Walker laughed at his own words, placing his mug beneath his Keurig. “Mind telling me why every goddamn window is open?” Leaving his mug he starts slamming the windows shut. Zac flinching with each heavy bang.

“The room was filled with smoke, what else was he supposed to do?” Taylor interjected taking a bite of an apple, still leaning against his spot on the counter.

“I'm pretty sure I wasn't talking to you,” Walker shot back, the last window being forcefully shut. Zac decided to stay out of Walker's way, and instead started for the basement. He only made it a few feet before he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Not so fast,” Walker beamed, “You're not leaving the kitchen a damn mess. Get in there and clean it up. Now.” Zac cringed inwardly at the feeling of his father's calloused hand on his shoulder, brushing it away as he turned on his heel and headed back to the sink.

“I'm sorry, I didn't hear you.” Walker spoke again, clearly expecting a response.

“Yes, Sir.” Zac spat out, turning the sink on and grabbing the sponge. Looking down, he sighed at all of the pans he managed to dirty, all for one egg. Taylor just shrugged, taking another bite of his apple. “Well, as much fun as this is,” he continued with his mouth full, rolling his eyes at the tension in the room, “I'll be in the basement when you're done Zac.”

Zac just nodded, not taking his eyes off the sink. Though every part of him wanted to think of an excuse for Taylor to stay in the room, instead he remained silent, hearing his brother’s footsteps grow further away as he descended into the basement. He could feel his father behind him, waiting for his coffee. He felt a sense of relief when the coffee finally finished brewing. After what seemed like forever Walker lifted his mug and left the kitchen just as quickly as he entered it. A thick cloud of smoke still hanging at the ceiling. Finally, he looked over his shoulder, seeing his father disappear up the stairs. “Prick.”

 

***

 

“What is it Zac?” Diane quickly spoke in to the phone, a clipboard in her hands as she jotted down patient information. It had been a non-stop morning at the hospital and she wanted nothing more than to get out on time and make it to her bed.

“How high do I have to have the stove on to fry an egg?”

Diane sighed, shaking her head. “You're kidding me right? Zac I'm at work. Can't you just make a bowl of cereal? Or ask your father. I'm busy here.” Holding the phone up on her shoulder, Diane typed the information from her clipboard into the computer in front of her, glancing at the time.

“Look,” She interrupted as Zac pleaded his case on the other end, “I'll help you when I get home. I really gotta go Zachary. Please don't call again. Unless the house is on fire.” She sighed again, as she lifted the receiver from her shoulder and hung up the phone.

 

“It almost was...” Zac responded with a smile, before the phone went dead on the other line. Zac pushed his phone back into his pocket, he was still in the kitchen, staring at a now empty sink, clean stove and still no breakfast. It was nearly 9:00, and his mother would be getting out of work in a half hour, another half hour to drive home. He decided to nix the eggs and grabbed a granola bar from the cabinet to his left. He stuck an extra one in his back pocket tearing the wrapper off the first, heading to the basement to see what Taylor was up to. 

 

***

 

“Diane, we have a patient in three, Doctor Breault hasn't been in to see them yet, we need vitals. Twenty-Six year old male.” Diane nodded her head, quickly finishing up her typing, before saving the file and hitting print. “I'm on my way, just give me two seconds.” Tucking her clipboard under her arm, she quickly walked down the hallway to the fourth door on the left, a young man nearly Taylor's age sat at the end of a bed, gripping at his shoulder.

 

 ***

 

“So what's the plan for tomorrow?” Michayla asked, glancing around the home goods store her and Isaac were in, desperately searching for a going away gift for his two younger brothers. Isaac placed a set of dishes back on the shelf, shrugging his shoulders.

“Well, the party starts at 3:00. Chances are it's going to go on all night. I promised my Mother I’d get there early and help set up. Justin’s supposed to be taking them out for the morning so we can get everything done without them knowing anything.” 

Isaac’s eye’s searched the shelves as he spoke, lifting up a set of mugs before shaking his head and placing them back down just as quickly.  

“Other than that, there's really no plan. Except for finding a gift. Which is proving harder than I thought.”

Michayla tapped her foot impatiently on the tiled floor, a hand on the empty shopping cart Isaac had insisted she push around the store.

“Well first of all, you've picked up and put down every single thing in this store. I mean, just get them a gift card, Ike. I have so many things to do today. This shouldn't be taking this long.” Isaac huffed a sigh, heading out of the kitchen wares aisle.

“I can't just get them a gift card. That's too impersonal. I mean, these aren't some co-workers. They're my brothers. And they're moving. I need to get them the perfect gift.”

Michayla pushed the cart, following Isaac who was practically running across the store. Her high heels clicking loudly as she walked. Her wrist full of bracelets clanking together against the plastic bar of the shopping cart.

“Well you hate all of my suggestions, so why did I even bother to come?” She argued, speaking to Isaac's back as he darted down the aisle to her left. “Isaac, seriously, slow down. Or I'm going out to the car. And you can do this on your own!”

Isaac stopped at the top of the aisle, turning towards his girlfriend who was growing more frustrated by the second. “You know, maybe I should just come back later and figure this out on my own.  You clearly have no interest in being here.” 

He stood with his arms crossed now, Michayla coming up quick with the shopping cart still in tow.

“Seriously Isaac?!”  Michayla beamed, finally catching up to him, “How many times did you ask me to come with you?” She was becoming angrier now, “I very gladly would have went to Michelle’s for the day.  You know, like I had planned to all week!” 

She fixed her over-sized purse that kept falling from her shoulder, her eyes scanning the store to make sure no one could hear the argument she was having, embarrassed at the idea of causing a scene. 

“Forget it, let’s get out of here. I’ll drop you off at your sisters and I’ll do this on my own.  I really don’t feel like fighting with you today. I have enough on my mind.” Isaac started for the front of the store, Michayla’s heels clicking loudly behind him, her cheeks reddening with anger as she followed.

When they were finally to the car, Michayla slid into the passenger side, slamming the door hard and going for her phone. 

“What, you’re not even going to wait until you’re there to start complaining about me?” 

Isaac didn’t bother to hide his irritation as he started up the car, throwing it into reverse to back out of his parking spot. 

“Oh Isaac, please,” she responded, not looking up from her phone, “you can’t wait to get rid of me, just admit it!” 

Isaac could hear it in her voice. He knew the tears were coming. “I swear to God, Michayla if you start crying right now I’m parking the car. We’re not doing this today.” 

“Doing what Isaac?  What are we not doing? Why don’t you just say what you want to say and stop being such a pussy?” Michayla shoved her phone to her lap, turning her body in her seat so she was facing him. 

“What are you talking about? You can’t just let me have one day that isn’t about you, can you? My two brothers are leaving tomorrow. They’re not just going on vacation, they’re not moving across town.  They’re moving states away, and I don’t know when I’m going to see them again. And you've been nothing but an added stress in this entire situation.” 

Before Michayla could interrupt, he continued, snapping his head towards her as he drove, “You know damn well if the roles were reversed and it were two of your sisters leaving instead you would be with them constantly. You would be pulling me around to six different department stores a day trying to find a gift. You can’t even give me an hour.  You can be so fucking selfish sometimes, you know that?” Isaac was yelling now, his eyes back on the road as he shook his head. His foot pushing a little harder into the gas pedal than it should be.

 

***

 

The basement of the house was the brother’s unofficial hang out spot. It wasn't much, just a few couches, their instruments and an old TV that had been discarded from the living room once their parents had decided to upgrade a few years ago. Zac and Isaac had given the walls a fresh coat of paint, that was really all it needed to be transformed to a barely finished “laundry room” to an acceptable band practice/bar/lounge area. And plus, it gave them a little bit of privacy in the otherwise cramped house. Though the house wasn't small, it was quickly being outgrown by the family. Isaac had moved out two years ago with his girlfriend Michayla, a small house about three miles away. Taylor and Zac would be out soon as well, moving to New York in two days. They had found an apartment online in Greenwich Village. Taylor had already been offered a teaching position at an elementary school not far from their new apartment. The only downside for the older brother was that this new life was nearly across the country. Which is farther than any member of their family had traveled, never mind moved. They were the first of the Hanson's to pick up and leave Tulsa. For Zac, it couldn't come soon enough. He was excited for the fresh start. Excited to get as far away from Oklahoma as possible. Taylor on the other hand, took a little more convincing. He was perfectly content with living in Tulsa for the rest of his life. He loved the small town mentality that everyone around here had. He actually enjoyed that everyone knew eachother.

When Zac first introduced the idea, Taylor immediately shot it down. He had too much going for him in Tulsa. He had a job, he had just graduated from college with a degree in music and composition and had countless career opportunities waiting for him right here at home. He also had his girlfriend, Rachel. The two had been dating for just over two years. Splitting up once for two months in the first year of their relationship, but regardless, Taylor was head over heels in love. Zac eventually told Taylor he understood why he couldn't come with him, but that he was going to go either way. With or without him. Two days later, Taylor gave his brother his answer. He was coming with him. The two had done everything together. Taylor's earliest memory is when Zac was born. He couldn't imagine not living within walking distance of his brother. After an awkward conversation with Rachel, it had been decided. They were moving. Taylor and Rachel were going to try a long distance relationship. And Zac would be saying goodbye to Tulsa, for good.

“Is it bad that I haven't really even packed yet?” Taylor asked to no one in particular from the torn black leather sofa. His best friend Caleb sitting between him and Zac, an Xbox 360 controller in each of their hands as they went head to head in call of duty.

“Is it bad that I'm about to blow up Caleb?” Zac laughed his response as he launched a missile at his unsuspecting friend. Caleb’s screen going red as a new life regenerated.

“You're such a fucking asshole,” he spoke through gritted teeth, grabbing for a pillow to knock Zac in the head with. Zac ducked, the pillow making contact with the wall beside him instead.

“Justin should be by later on,” Taylor spoke again, ignoring their childishness, Zac's guitar in his lap as he plucked at a few strings.

“What about Mark?” Caleb asked, finally back in the game, his eyes not leaving the TV.

“He's meeting us out later after work.” Taylor moved the guitar to the floor beside the couch as he stood. “Speaking of work,” he continued as he pulled his gray beanie from between two couch cushions and pulled it over his head, “I have to go and get ready.  Last shift.”  he tucked a few stray hairs under his knit hat, noting that neither person on the couch were paying any attention to what he was saying or doing. 

“You know, it's the shit you pull like that, it reminds me that I’m really not going to miss you all that much when you go.”  Caleb commented, as he hid behind a wall, waiting for the perfect moment to take out his friend.  Zac couldn’t help but laugh, as he lined Caleb up in his crosshairs again. Neither guy on the couch acknowledged Taylor leave the basement, clearly too preoccupied with exacting their revenge on each other in Call of Duty.

 

*** 

 

Taylor had met Caleb and Justin in elementary school. The three boys immediately becoming inseparable. It worked well that they got along with Zac too, even though he was two years younger than all of them. He had never acted younger than Taylor, and sometimes Taylor would forget he was the older of the two. Though Zac was obviously in a different class than them, after school the four of them were constantly together. For the most part they hung out at Caleb's house. Diane was usually still sleeping by the time the boys got out of school, and their father wasn't exactly the welcoming type. Justin became Zac's right hand man almost immediately after meeting him. Justin was an only child, but he liked the thought of having someone to look after. Not that he had to, because Taylor was pretty good at watching out for him, but there were instances where Justin found himself useful.

Justin was already on their school's wrestling team, much taller than Taylor and Caleb, he practically towered over Zac, who was by far the shortest kid in his own class. A few weeks into the fifth grade, Justin caught wind that Zac was being bullied by some kids in school. By this point Taylor and the two others had been transferred over to middle school. And without Zac's older brother and friends around, kids his own age made their jealousy apparent. It started with the classroom bully, who had always had something against Zac. And of course, with Tulsa being so small, Zac ended up in his class every year though out elementary school. It was like he was waiting for his older entourage to leave the school. It started with name calling, and Taylor, never one for confrontation, told Zac to just to ignore them, which Zac tried to do, at first. However, the more he ignored it, the worse it got. What started out as name calling, developed into them full out harassing him. They would shove him extra hard in gym class, trip him on the way to the bathroom. And finally, they took his bus home from school one day, and followed him home. When he finally made it home, his left eye had been swollen and red, the beginnings of a black eye, and a story about how it happened. Justin took control of the situation almost immediately, drilling Zac about who this kid was, and where he lived. The next day at school, he got an apology. Not only from the bully, but from other kids who had taunted him. Zac never found out what Justin said, or did, and aside from Justin asking if things had been better that day at school, it was never mentioned again. It just stopped.

Now, they were all young adults, sitting on an old beat up leather sofa, each of them trying to get the most kills in a video game. It was safe to say they were trying to avoid the overgrown elephant in the room, each of the boys dealing with the loss of two of them moving thirteen hundred miles away from the place they called their home. For the first time in nearly two decades the four friends would be separated. 

Zac was one who could hide his feelings fairly well, since he’d been conditioned to do so by his father for so many years; crying was a sign of weakness, or so he was told.  Taylor, on the other hand, wasn’t afraid to show that he was upset, or that he cared more than the next person. He’d already taken the initiative and voiced his feelings to his two best friends, but they laughed it off, saying they would find a way to visit. 

 

*** 

 

Taylor sat in his car outside of the small Mexican Restaurant he had been working at for nearly three years. He couldn’t believe he was really showing up to his last shift, the reality of his move to New York finally starting to sink in. He pulled his name plate from the center console of his car and pinned it to his black t-shirt, taking a quick glance around the parking lot, he smiled when he spotted Rachel’s car just a few spots over.  His manager Greg told him he couldn’t make any promises with the schedule, but he would do what he could. Taylor made a mental note to thank him when he got inside, and decided he had procrastinated in his car long enough. He pulled his key from the ignition and climbed out of the car, a red ’98 Toyota that he had bought for himself right out of High School.  It wasn’t the best car, but it was his. And it had gotten him and all of his friends around Oklahoma with little to no problems.  He pulled his jacket closer to his body as the cold October air howled outside.  It was definitely fall in Oklahoma.  Finally to the front of the building he pulled the door open, surprised that the dining room was almost empty, definitely odd for a Friday afternoon. Rachel wasn’t the hostess, and from the looks of the empty podium, nobody was. With his suspicions growing about the lack of employees in the restaurant, he made his way to the kitchen, giving a friendly wave to the older couple that were seated a few tables to his left. They were here every Friday, rain or shine. Never missing a lunch date. Slowly, he pushed open the swinging door that separated the kitchen from the dining room, as soon as he crossed the threshold a chorus of voices yelled out at him.

 

“Surprise!”  All of Taylor’s co-workers were huddled in the back of the kitchen, Rachel in the center holding a small white cake. Greg to her left holding a small wrapped package.  Everyone Taylor had ever shared a shift with was there. Bus-boys, dishwashers, bartenders and fellow waiters. 

“You guys…”  Taylor started, beginning to feel a little overwhelmed. Rachel stepped forward, giving Taylor a better look at the cake. He could see the writing more clearly. 'Good luck, Taylor!' in lime-green frosting.

Taylor placed a hand over his chest, "Thank you guys so much for this."

One of the chef's announced that he would do the honors of cutting up the cake for everybody to share, while Greg offered over the small box.

"You didn't have to get me anything."

"I know I didn't. Come on, open it, it’s from all of us."

 Taylor pulled apart the wrapping paper to find a small square box, surprised by its weightlessness, he gave the box a quick shake. He couldn’t help but notice the stares from everyone around him, Greg helplessly trying to hide the smile spreading across his face as Taylor slowly pulled the lid off the box. 

“Wait, what am I missing?”  Taylor asked with a laugh, pulling out a single business card. He tipped the box upside down looking for a hidden compartment that he possibly missed upon first inspection. 

“Flip over the card Taylor.”

Taylor did as Greg instructed, quickly skimming the back of the card. It was a business card from The Cutting Room. A phone number underneath it’s title in small black print, and then under that a New York state address.

“Greg, I still don’t get it. What am I missing?” Taylor could feel his face flush red with embarrassment. He wasn’t quite sure what was so great about this business card. He wasn’t even really sure what the business was.

“When you get to New York, you call that number and ask for Adam. The Cutting Room is a recording studio in Manhattan. Everything’s already set up for you, just call him when you’re ready.”

Taylor’s jaw nearly dropped to the floor, shaking his head in disbelief. “Are you – wait.  What? How did you…?” Taylor went between staring at the card and back at Greg. 

“You’re welcome,” Greg finally stated with a smile. 

“Greg... I can’t believe you did this…I don’t even know what to say.” Taylor nearly lost control of his emotions, with the box and business card still in his hand he wrapped his arms around Greg pulling him in for a hug. 

“Thank you so much, this is too much.”

 

*** 

 

“Can I get a Jack & Coke?”  Zac stood at the bar, Justin, Caleb and Mark by his side. He attempted to pull his debit card out of his wallet to start a tab, but was immediately shot down by all three of his friends.

“Do you really think we’re gonna let you buy your own drinks tonight? Seriously Zac, do you know any of us at all by now?” Justin laughed as he slid his own debit card across the bar. Indicating that after this first round, his other two free loading friends would have to buy their own drinks. Zac however, was good to stay on all night. “Plus, you’re not going to be able to afford all of the alcohol we’re going to have you consume tonight anyway.” 

“Thanks man,” Zac immediately brought his straw to his mouth, sucking down nearly half his drink on the first go. He spotted a table a few feet away and immediately made his way over. Friday night’s in Tulsa were good for two things, drinking at a bar or going bowling. With only a few decent bars to choose from, the good ones usually got packed fast, finding a table as soon as you showed up was almost unheard of, so Zac didn’t waste any time. 

His friend’s finally joined him at the table, Mark and Justin toting baskets of peanuts that they had swiped from the bar. 

“What time’s Tay showing up?” Caleb asked, cracking open a peanut with his hand and shaking it’s contents into his mouth.

“Should be here any minute actually.” Zac glanced down at his phone, it was nearly 9:00. His brother would definitely be coming through the doors any minute now. He couldn’t help but feel a little sad looking around the bar, he knew that chances were this is the last time he would be sitting here with all of his friends in this place. In two days he was starting a new life, in forty eight hours Tulsa would be his past. He picked up his drink again, placing the straw between his lips, pulling up as much jack and coke as he could without draining his glass. His face already felt a little warm, his legs just a little bit heavier than they did when he walked in. 

“I swear to God, if Zac finishes his drink before me I’m going to shit myself, I don’t think that’s ever happened in the history of our friendship.” Mark quickly picked up his own glass, his eyes on Zac’s as he sucked down the rest of his drink.

“I mean, that seems a little extreme,” Zac laughed finishing his drink, using his straw to push the ice around at the bottom of his glass. 

“I’m going to get us both another drink, and then when I come back I have a joke for you all.” Mark laughed, grabbing both his and Zac’s empty glasses and heading back to the bar.

“So, you nervous?” Justin asked, already a pile of peanut shells in front of him at the table. 

“I wouldn’t call it nervous,” Zac responded honestly, “I just can’t wait to get out of here.”

Justin nodded that he understood. As much as he hated that Zac was leaving, he got it. Tulsa never really suited Zac, Taylor maybe. Even when they were kids Zac would talk about moving away. Always to a big city. For a while it was Chicago, then Zac thought about Los Angeles. And finally after months of thought and deliberation he landed on New York. 

“Well I hope your apartments big enough for all of us free loaders, because you’re wrong if you think we’re not coming out there.” Caleb chimed in, cracking open the second beer he had brought back from the bar with the first. 

“Oh and Zac, I brought a little something. Ya know, for later.” Caleb smiled, patting at his pocket. Zac knew exactly what he was talking about. Before he could say anything else though, Mark was back at the table, placing a very full drink down in front of Zac and taking a seat.

“Okay, so what’s the difference between jam and jelly?”  Mark asked, a laugh already escaping him as he thought about his punch line.

“Jam and jelly?” Zac asked, an eyebrow arched.

 

“I don’t know, what?” Caleb asked, holding off on taking another sip of his beer, fearing he’d spit it all over the table top.

 

Before the last word left Caleb’s mouth, Taylor walked through the door. Followed closely by Rachel. Zac gave him an “are you kidding me”  look. Taylor just offered a shrug, mouthing “I’m sorry,”  The couple quickly approached the table, making it over just in time for Mark’s punch line.

 

“You can’t jelly a dick up your ass.” 

The group erupted in laughter, Zac and Justin shaking their heads in disgust.

“Hi Rachel,” Zac laughed, noting no one else saw her approach the table.

“Mature.” She responded. Clearly repulsed she shrugged her jacket off of her shoulders and placed it over an empty chair back.

“Taylor, so nice of you to finally show up to guys night. With your girlfriend, who, I don’t know if you noticed or not, isn’t a guy.” Mark stood from his seat, waving Taylor with him to the bar.

"Screw you Mark,” Rachel retorted taking a seat and crossing her legs, “You don’t get him all to yourself tonight. Sorry.” Rachel immediately went for her phone, responding to a text message.

Taylor looked embarrassed, but remained silent as he took off his own jacket and hung it over the chair closest to Rachel. Greeting all of the guys, and Zac. Before he could take a seat, Justin pulled him from the table by his arm and dragged him to the bar.

“No protesting tonight Tay, you’re drinking, and we’re buying. Let’s go. You’ve got some catching up to do.”

 

*** 

 

"You guys wanna go outside now?" Caleb asked upon Taylor and Justin’s return from the bar, already standing up to grab his sweatshirt from the back of his chair.

"I’m in." Zac agreed, matching his friend's movements. All eyes were on Taylor as he slumped down into the chair next to Rachel.

"Are you coming?"

His eyes flicked nervously back and forth between his friends and girlfriend, Rachel shooting him a confused look.

"What are you guys talking about?" She asked.

"Well... we're gonna go." Justin spoke this time, sensing the awkwardness.

"Wait, are you going out to smoke weed?!" Rachel practically yelled, causing all five guys to snap their necks towards her, all of them hushing her.

"Shuuuuut up?" Caleb spoke in an almost questioning way.

“It’s fine Rach, we’ll be back in a few. Come on, it’s our last night.”

Taylor leaned over to give her a kiss on the cheek, but was met with her pulling away, clearly agitated.

Instead she rolled her eyes and excused herself to the bathroom. Taylor just shrugged and stood from his chair as his girlfriend weaved herself through the bar patrons to the ladies room, her phone still clutched in her hand. The guys took the opportunity and with Taylor regaining his courage the group headed out towards the back door. 

 

Caleb reached into the pocket of his jeans, pulling out a glass bowl and a plastic bag filled with weed.

"Jesus Christ." Zac commented, noticing how full the bag was.

"What? I'm not getting stingy on your last night out." Caleb laughed as he pinched a good amount out and placed it inside the bowl, packing it with his index finger. Justin offered over his lighter from his spot next to the dumpster where him and Mark were already smoking their cigarettes.Taylor stood to Zac's left, patiently waiting for the bowl to be packed and passed to him.

Caleb was the first to take a long drag from the pipe, handing it over to Zac when he was done, still holding the smoke in his lungs. Zac didn't waste any time as he did the same, feeling how light the glass was as he held in between his thumb and index finger. He loved weed. He loved the taste of it, he loved how the smell would sometimes still linger on his clothes, and most of all, he loved how it made him feel. His body felt weightless, like there were no bones in his body. It stopped that nagging feeling in the back of his mind. It was the one thing that could truly calm him.

Once Zac had taken his first hit, he handed it off to Taylor. The three of them passed it around until almost half of Caleb's bag was gone before they finally decided to head back inside.

 

*** 

 

"Dude! Dude! Seriously!" Taylor yelled excitedly from his spot, giving his brothers shoulder a push "Just go do it!"

"No, man, no." Zac eyes were almost completely shut as he squinted to keep his vision clear. His friends had been harassing him for what felt like twenty minutes to approach a blonde sitting at the back of the bar with two of her friends. They each knew Zac well enough to assume he was too nervous to do anything, but tonight, it wasn't nerves that were stopping him. After several drinks and the amount of weed that he smoked, he wasn't entirely sure he'd be able to get off his chair without toppling over, let alone form enough words to hit on some random woman.

"Oh! Look who it is!" Justin exclaimed at the same time that Zac felt a pair of hands squeeze his shoulders. He looked up as a smile immediately started across his face.

"Ike! You came!" Taylor stood from his chair to hug his older brother.

"Of course I came!" Isaac laughed, "and you're drunk!"

Taylor just shook his head before settling himself back down in his seat next to Rachel. She was swirling the remaining ice around in what was previously cranberry juice mixed with vodka. Taylor was sitting so close to her he could feel the constant vibrations of her phone going off in her pocket. He placed a hand on her leg as subtly as possible, waiting for it to happen again before he started asking questions. Before he had a chance to speak though, she beat him to the punch.

“I think I’m gonna get out of here.” Rachel shifted her leg out from under Taylor’s hand and pulled her phone out, the screen illuminated with what looked to be missed calls.

“Who’s calling you right now?” Taylor asked, his eyebrows furrowing, “Isn’t it like 12:30?” 

“Don’t worry about it, everything’s fine. You have fun with the guys, and I’ll see you tomorrow.” 

Taylor had his suspicions, but decided confronting her while drunk and high probably wasn’t the best idea, so instead he stood from his chair to say goodbye. He wrapped his arms around her for a hug, Rachel reciprocating with a quick kiss before pulling away and saying goodbye to the table.

Isaac quickly took up Rachel's seat, noticing Zac staring at him with a half-smile, his head tilted and his eyes barely open.

“So, where’s the wife?”  Zac slurred, his hand haphazardly going for his glass, not even letting Isaac answer the question, Zac laughed nearly spitting out his own drink, “I mean, where are the sister wives?”

“I don’t even know how to respond to that right now,” Isaac laughed, “I do know that I need to catch up.” Without another word Isaac was at the bar, returning quickly with a tumbler of scotch on the rocks.

With everyone finally in a seat, Justin took the opportunity to raise his half empty glass and stand from the table, clearing his throat, and trying to steady his slightly unstable legs he attempted to address his two best friends. 

“You all know I’m not one for the sentimental, sappy stuff. With that being said, I have to say a few things.” Justin took a minute to collect his thoughts, noticing all eyes at the table were on him. 

“Eighteen years is a long time to know someone. And for me, I was lucky enough to have the both of you. Not just one, but two constants in my life. I remember when I was younger I would always ask my parents for a brother, they never did give me one, which is fine. Because now I have two.”  Justin had to look away for a moment, clearing his throat a second time. He could hear Taylor trying to hold back his own tears, covering it up with an awkward laugh. The last thing Justin wanted was to bring the mood at the table down, so quickly composing himself he decided to lighten the mood, “I know you guys won’t have any trouble in New York, and you both know we’ll be out to see you soon. This isn’t a goodbye, it’s a see you later.” With that, Justin raised his glass, the table following suit, Taylor trying to coyly wipe at his eyes with his shirt sleeve. 

“Cheers, you pricks.” Caleb added, clanking his glass with the others.