Rick studies the generous measure of fluorescence, cringing at its potency. He should drink it, he thinks. Drink it and for once try to fit in with the crowd. It'd do him good to loosen up and relax a bit more. It'd probably make him violently ill but if he can be brave enough to drink it anyway then tonight is bound to be easier to stomach.
"Oh woww. That really hits the spot, man." Gasps Neil, slamming his empty shot glass on the table in perfect sync with Mike.
"Yeah, well it's a start. A few more of these should make us go out with a bang. Bit like old times, eh lads?"
Lads! Rick scoffs to himself. This is all a bit too butch, 'laddy-locker-room' for him and he's still peering into his glass, still unsure what to do, watching the suspicious liquid changing colour under the flicker of ultraviolet strip lights. The Kebab and Calculator wasn't the only thing to have changed to his distaste over the years - not that he has much of a reason to come here anymore, even if this is still technically his local. He's still undecided whether to join in with the rounds, needing no more of a reminder that he's the wimp of the four, even after all this time.
"Bottoms up, Rick. It ain't gonna bite you. Plenty more where that came from. Ain't that right, Neil?"
"Okay, alright. Don't rush me! Just this one though. You know I don't see anything brilliant or clever in drinking.." he says, his slight speech impediment returning back from the dead to bite him firmly on the bottom. There are too many old ghosts in these walls; too many memories. He needs to make his excuses and leave before they're truly united. Before he's really confronted with his demons and before it's too late. "I can't really stay much longer anyway. I've got some important things to attend to." If waiting for the cycle of the washing machine to finish counted as more important than this pointless gathering? Very probably. Rick holds his breath and his nose, cringing again as he swallows the mouthful with a judder. He's been here for less than ten minutes but he's so out of place and he knows it already. Meeting up with his old friends from his forgotten college days - or lack of college days, is obviously a terrible mistake, especially given the circumstances.
"Of course you can stay! What are you talking about, it's Saturday night! No work 'til Monday. Plenty of time for us to get reaquainted and get properly rat-arsed. Come on, let's enjoy ourselves for old times sake and celebrate in style."
"Oh yeah, and what style is that exactly? Joining in - in the pig-swill of filth with these neanderthals? Having a punch-up in a takeaway as we vomit a weeks worth of our wages into the gutter?!" Rick snaps, "No thank you! I'd really rather not be so juvenile if it's all the same to you, Mike. Some of us have moved on. Maybe it's time you did the same."
He's laughed at and ignored, as usual. Enough mini stacks of coins are lined up in front of him for drinks for the next couple of hours or so as he rubs his tired eyes.
"You're staying," Mike says with authority, "and I don't want to hear of it. No more arguments. You're going to enjoy it and be civil, the pair of you, if I have to bang both your stubborn heads together. It's a special occasion and Vyvyan isn't even here yet! You can't leave without at least saying hello."
There. There it is. The name he'd been dreading the mere mention of since Mike had rocked up at his door three days ago. It felt like weeks.
Vyvyan Basterd, the bastard.
The violent, spiteful punk was about to explode back into his life with a vengeance and a bottle of vodka surgically attached to his gob. Rick huffs in dismay. Only Vyvyan could be so irresponsible as to be late for his own stag night, and the only person in the universe capable of already causing him grief without actually being in the room. This trip down memory lane was already a nightmare.
Could his night get any worse!
It's numerous rounds later when Vyvyan finally bothers to make an appearance, hand-in-hand with what Rick presumes is the infamous Clara. Rick mentally says the name over again. He'd heard all about her. Every detail. Mike had been eager to fill in the gaps.
What sort of name was that anyway? Far too left-field and hippy and prim. She should be with Neil instead. She shouldn't be with...
Rick's own hands shake around his fourth glass of vodka and he watches her lean in, smearing streaks of wet lipstick on Vyvyan's cheek.
She says, and Vyvyan willingly hands over his most prized possession, just like that, as if it's nothing, and her silly grin widens like the cat who'd got the cream.
"Thanks, babe. Have fun, boys."
'Have fun, boys!' Rick's conscious mocks immediately. The way she speaks is irritating and snotty and Rick instantly craves another drink. Anything is better than sitting in this booth, with front row seats to watch Vyvyan smooching with his girlfriend - well, his future wife.
It isn't that he's nervous about seeing Vyvyan again - even if Vyvyan's unpredictability had always set him slightly on edge. They were grown-ups now. It isn't that he's scared of being in Vyvyan's company either - even if Vyvyan had always terrified him in ways no one had ever done before. It's because Rick is unsure of what will happen now they're old enough to know better. He's unsure how to approach it all, how to talk, what to do and what to say and how to make amends. What does he even hope to gain from this? It's not like they were ever best friends, far from it. He's aware that he needs some kind of closure but for what he doesn't know. He's feeling so much at once, so many different things; so much longing and furious loathing that it's bottling up inside of him and depressurising as he stares. He feels like he could burst out of his own skin. Like the shock of seeing Vyvyan for real and in the flesh for the first time in three years: necking a pint in one go, slinging his jacket across the bench opposite and grinning manically at him is all vibrating through his muscles, simmering through his tendons and rattling his bones.
It's that this matters so unbelievably much; this moment, and her, and everything. It's the sheer, petrifying immensity of everything he's feeling and has ever felt towards Vyvyan as to why his heart is racing out of his body to the very tips of his fingers, shaking the cigarette he stuffs promptly between his lips. Every emotion smacks him square in the face as Neil returns back from the bar and sits down next to him. Everything is different now and there's nowhere left to hide. He's trapped in this seat and has no use of that cocky, rehearsed and polished veneer of overt self-confidence he used to rely on. He can't pretend any longer. Not with Vyvyan. Not after he spent so long pretending before.
"Got you a glass of water if you'd rather take it slow.."
"I'm fine actually, I don't need you to mother me, Neil!"
"You're still a barrel of laughs, I see." Vyvyan interrupts, grinning at him like the devil, his eyebrow raised expectedly like he wants Rick to engage in combat. No such luck. "Don't get so comfortable there, Neil. We've got loads of catching up to do. Mines a double, and so is his. Double vodka, no ice. C'mon Mike, line 'em up."
Vyvyan looks exactly the same, Rick notes. If a little tired. But working double shifts at the hospital was bound to take its toll. Especially after months of working nights and trying to impress the lead practitioner. Mike had been very thorough. Rick studies the indentations of the faint lines around his eyes. They're still as blue and as captivating, yet not nearly as scorned.
"Thought smoking was bad for you, Rick. Didn't you used to say?"
"I used to say a lot of things."
"Yeah and I've forgotten them all!"
Vyvyan leans in and smirks at him, flicking a long line of cigarette ash on the table as bold as blimmin' brass! God, the others had better hurry up and and come back soon.