Vestige - Chapter 1 - A Reflection of a Reflection
We didn't sleep too late
There was a fire in the yard
All of the trees were in light
They had no faces to show
I heard a voice in my mind
'I will try'
I looked into the bathroom mirror, frowning. My brown and white fur looked a combination of messy and matted from sleeping last night. I tend to be a pretty restless sleeper, so I always end up looking like a disaster when I wake up in the morning. I hop in one of the dorm showers, taking a moment to comb out all of the curls and tufts. The warm water feels nice, comforting me after the bad dream I had last night. The trip we were planning was stressing the shit out of me, and now that we're actually following through on it, my stress levels are at an all-time high. I could hear the group chat I had made with Shae and Liam was blowing up, but I didn't want to get my phone wet from grabbing it. They were probably trying to figure out when I would be coming to pick them up so we could leave. I try to hurry up a bit, but it still takes a while longer. When I turn off the shower, I quickly dry off and grab my phone to look at the messages.
Shae: you guys almost ready to go? at this rate we're gonna be like an hour behind schedule
Liam: I'm ready! Sounds like Jake slept in because he isn't answering any of my texts or calls.
Shit, yeah, missed call from Liam and a few more texts on top of that. Fuck. I started typing in a response.
Jake: does it rly matter what time we leave? the cabin we booked just says to show up after 5
Shae: i want to get there at a reasonable time so we can at least meet the guys tonight! alex works at like six in the morning tomorrow so i will kill you if we have to wait until tomorrow to see him
I could tell Liam was waiting for me to respond to Shae, in some attempt to avoid her barrage of aggressive texts.
Jake: i just finished showering! i packed last night so ill be like 10 mins tops
I set my phone back down as it kept buzzing, probably more texts from Shae. I set the towel on the drying rack for a moment and take the outfit I brought from my dorm room, opting for some blue jeans with a white shirt and a black plaid button-up over it, leaving it unbuttoned.
When I get back to my dorm room, I grab my white scarf and a light-brown jacket and put them in my bag since I knew I wouldn't need them until we got to Vestige. I probably could have spent more time trying to make myself look somewhat presentable, but I knew that if I took any longer I would probably find the brakes on my car cut by Shae, so I just grabbed my suitcase and bag as fast as I could and headed out the door.
Liam was a few doors down from my dorm, the hallways were pretty empty at this point because most of the students have left to visit family and such for the break. I approached his door and knocked on it sporadically, tapping my foot against the floor while I waited for him to answer.
"Finally! I thought you only woke up five minutes ago, I was mildly freaking out!" He said, walking out into the hall and locking the door behind him.
"Well, more like fifteen minutes ago, but you're basically right on the nose there," I said. Liam gasped dramatically, I only responded by rolling my eyes sarcastically. "Is Tristan gone for the break already?" I inquired as we started speed-walking to the car to go get Shae. Tristan has been Liam's dormmate since they were freshman. They didn't know each each other beforehand, but the University picked them to be roommates since neither of them had suggested any names. It was the same situation for me with my roommate, Eric. I didn't know anybody at the school other than Shaela at the time, but leaving it to fate seemed to work out well enough.
"Oh yeah, he left yesterday! Finally had the joy of not being woken up from him getting ready at five o'clock!" He exclaimed.
"That's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, hope you didn't waste it!" I joked. "I think Eric left before I even woke up this morning."
"Well, you did wake up at like nine, to be fair."
"That dude sleeps in later than I do! He must've just been really eager to leave, or something."
"Aren't we all!"
"Are you heading here now?" The speakers in the car made the phone call sound as awful as ever.
"Yeah, we're probably like an hour or so away at this point!"
"...Is Liam there with you?"
I hesitate, "...Yeah, Shae too." I can see her look up towards the front of the car through the rear-view mirror when I say her name.
"Well, let us know what days work for you so you can visit us while you're here! Your father and I have been missing you so much since you last showed up!" I can see Liam glancing awkwardly at me, but I try to keep my eye on the road.
"Will do! I should probably focus on driving, but I'll call you when we get to the cabin!"
"Sounds good! Love you, sweetie!"
"Love you too," I say, reaching for the hang-up button on the dashboard, mildly embarrassed from everyone overhearing me talking with my mom.
"Does your mom... know about me?" Liam asks, doing his best to not make the question awkward. I see Shae's ears perk up a bit from the question, but she seems to choose not to chime in.
"Yeah... Even if they weren't like... accepting," I cough, "about it back in high school, they still seem somewhat interested in my life from time to time, so that's good I guess."
Liam nods his head, affirmatively, "I told them a few weeks ago. They said they could 'tell that I'm acting different' so I didn't really have a choice,"
Shae looked up from her phone, and leaned forward towards the front of the car, looking towards Liam, "After how Jake ended up after graduation, they'd always be asking about that shit, sorta turned into a couple of pricks after that." I could tell Liam looked a little shocked from her aggressive word choice, or maybe that's just how he reacted to our descriptions of my parents.
"Shae calls them a 'a couple of pricks' and you want to drive out to your old hometown to visit them?" He asks, somewhat baffled.
"Believe me, if I had the option to never talk to them again except for the occasional visit every few years, I would." I raise my voice a few octaves, "Butttt they areeee paying for my tuition and there's not a chance in hell that I could afford it myself without going into thousands of dollars of debt, so I can deal with their casual-just-about-every-ism for the time being." God, this was not the conversation I was hoping to have while stuck in a car with Shae and Liam.
"...I feel like this is something you shoulda told me, like, when you first proposed the trip." He responded, smirking.
"Oh we'll be fine," I chuckle, "Besides, that's only gonna take up like one evening out of the days, I only really wanted to visit so we could see the guys,"
"You're so lucky I don't know anyone there, or I'd be a lot more anxious than I already am."
"Shouldn't it be the other way around? Like, they have no clue who you are, so you would want to set a good impression or something?" I asked.
"Only if I cared about what they thought about me. It doesn't sound like you hold them to high regard so I'm not too worried," He laughed.
"The only one you should be worried about is Ty," Shae said from the back of the car, laughing. Liam's eyes widened. Of course, I was going to wait until we reached the cabin to tell him, but I guess she felt like cutting that short. Lucky me.
"Who's Ty?" Liam asked, from the face he was making I could tell he was expecting the worst. Thankfully, it was only just under 'the worst'.
"Dated him for a few years in high school, graduated, I wanted to go to university, he didn't feel the need to get an education. Didn't work out, as you can tell. Wolf." I said, more bluntly then I probably would have wanted. "And he's part of the group so you'll definitely be seeing him," I muttered that part, hoping he wouldn't hear.
"Oooooooookay, well once again, I feel like this is something you shoulda told me before I agreed to this," Liam said anxiously. Shae laughed again from the back seat, I could tell she was enjoying this.
"I was gonna tell you once we got to the cabin!" I responded.
"That's even worse!" He said, mildly annoyed, "Aren't we meeting them tonight? I- I'm gonna be so awkward around them-"
"Hey! If I thought it was gonna be a problem, I wouldn't have invited you. He's totally moved on by now, we were hardly in a serious relationship," I said, trying to calm him down. He didn't say anything. "Have you spoken to him recently Shae?"
"Yeah, he texted me a few days ago saying that he wanted to talk to you, and was asking if I could help him with that when we get there," Shae responded, clearly enjoying this.
"Ok, well, I regret asking so thank you, Shaela." This was steadily turning bad. I reached to press play on my phone which had the AUX plugged in. I made a road-trip playlist last night since I was expecting it to be boring, but I guess this situation works too. The first song to play is some random pop song that Shae sent to me a few months ago. Wasn't my thing but I put it on this playlist to appease her. I could tell Liam was still pretty anxious, so I leaned over.
"Hey, we can talk when we get to the cabin, I don't want to ruin the trip for you so we can figure something out," I say quietly, in an attempt to be comforting. He nodded in response.
We've been dating for about six or seven months at this point, and I was still kind of nervous about how it was gonna turn out. I mean - I really like him, but I feel like I'm gonna fuck something up. Like I did with Ty... like I did with most friendships I've had. Yeah. Liam's pretty great, all things considered. Way better mannered than I am, studying the same major as me, but doing ten times better. I only opted for psychology because I thought that's what I'd be good at, to which my parents told me 'Everybody who doesn't know what they're doing majors in psychology!' although I kinda stopped listening to a word they said after I came out. Maybe he's smarter than me cause he's a bobcat? His grey-ish black hair is one of the few things he actually prides himself on, but even if he won't admit it, he is way smarter than I could ever be. I don't know the difference in intelligence between a fox and a bobcat. Plus, that's mostly just stereotypes anyway.
I notice that Shae put her earbuds in, probably watching one of the movies she downloaded to her laptop. I feel relieved, hoping that she won't stir any more drama between Liam and me for the rest of the drive. She grew up in a pretty well off family, not crazy rich or anything, but her dad is high up at some financial company so they've never really had anything to worry about money-wise. Although, I'm surprised at how well she turned out. That snow leopard named Shae was the first friend I had when my parents moved to Vestige back in 2001, so seeing her grow up with parents who didn't really care about her seemed kinda shitty from my perspective. But she seemed to do well enough on her own - well, not without the group we all had from middle school onwards. Vestige only had a population of about three-thousand at the time, so it's not like there was a wide variety of choices in friends anyway. Even sixteen years later, the population is still only a few thousand. Guess not many people have an interest in moving to a small town in Oregon where a bunch of genocide happened a hundred years ago.
I could tell we were nearing the town. The highway always starts getting a bit of an incline once you get near. Both Liam and Shaela have fallen asleep, so it was just me driving with my music playing softly. Even though it's technically spring, I'd hardly call it warm outside. It's still cold enough that you probably have to wear at least a sweater, but warm enough for it to not start snowing until autumn comes around. I can see a sign further down the highway as it comes into my field of view.
Vestige - 5 miles
Around the highway bend the sign was placed before, I could finally see the lake a ways away. Half of it was surrounded by mountains, and the other half was slightly hilly and somewhat-forested. I kinda forgot how much I loved the scenery around here, it gives off the same energy you'd find at a folk concert in the seventies, in a way. The water in the lake is almost entirely clear and reflecting the bright sun directly into my eyes. Great, especially considering the road is right next to the lake with 'guard rails' that were placed decades ago, and definitely on the brink of collapse. I lean over and nudge Liam with my elbow, he opens his eyes slowly, stretching his arms because of the clearly uncomfortable sleeping position.
"We almost there?" He asks, mid-yawn.
"Few miles out, but yeah basically. The cabin is only a few minutes worth of walking away from the lake so we'll see it when we get close." I respond.
"Yeah! I think it has a firepit out behind it too, but we have to get firewood. Only electricity is a gas generator, and there's running water and a gas stove so we can cook for a few nights if we go to the store to get things."
"I haven't had to cook a meal in months, so that might end up a disaster," Liam responds, jokingly.
"Wait, gas generator? Are we even gonna have internet?" Shaela asks out of nowhere, somewhat startling me in the process.
"Uh, other than your cell phone plan? No? I thought I mentioned that like a few weeks back" I replied.
"WHAT? Ugh, I knew we shoulda booked something in town!" She sighs
"Chill! It's just for two weeks, don't you have an unlimited data plan?" I ask. I can tell Liam is desperate to get out of the car.
"That isn't fast enough for streaming shows out here," Shaela murmurs.
"Dude! This is the first time in years that we're going somewhere 'outdoors' that isn't the parks on campus, you can probably find something better to do."
"You sound like my mom," Liam says, snickering. I sit disappointedly for a moment as they both laugh.
"I have concluded that you two are the worst combination of anybody to have in a car. Remind me to make you take your car next time," I say, looking in the rear-view mirror at Shae.
"Oh, come on! I didn't even make that joke!" She responds, still laughing
"Liam's allowed to make fun of me! I can still get mad at you for enabling him, though."
"This is rigged." She mumbles. I can see the cabin through the trees up the road.
"Thank God, we're here," I say, both Liam and Shae sit up and look out the left windows, trying to spot the place we'll be staying in for two weeks.
I turn into the driveway, as it goes for fifty or so metres. We can see the log cabin come into view, no lights on or anything. Thankfully it looks just about the same as it did in the pictures. The exterior is made of dark brown-ish wood, with an a-frame style roof with large window panes to let light in. I can see the shed where the gas generator is around the back.
"This is the place? I remember driving by here a few times when we were kids." Shae says, mildly interested.
"Yeah! The small number of tourists that make the poor decision of visiting here don't usually show up until May, so I got it pretty cheap." I put the car in park in the driveway and took the keys out of the ignition, we all got out of the car and grabbed our things.
"This place is actually nice!" Liam says.
"'Actually'? What were you expecting?" I asked, chuckling.
"You described Vestige to me like it was gonna be run down and miserable, this isn't anywhere near that!" He responds, sounding surprisingly excited.
"You're only saying that because you haven't seen the town yet, it was a turn-off on the road a bit back." I take our suitcases out of the trunk and hand each one to Shaela and Liam, before grabbing my own. I pull the handle up on the suitcase and start walking over to the patio where the front door is.
"I can guarantee you that the town is adequate at the very least, I know you like to exaggerate stuff," Liam said.
"Okay, you might be correct about that second part, but I guarantee I am not lying about Vestige" I grabbed my phone out of my pocket to check the text the owner sent me earlier, "Says she left the key under the welcome mat."
"Wow, security at its finest," Shae says, sarcastically.
"I doubt anybody's gonna be trying to break into this random place far away from actual civilization," Liam responds. I bend over and lift the floor mat, revealing a silver-coloured key sitting on the wooden floor beneath it. I grab it, put it in the keyhole, and turn. A satisfying click sound is returned. I twist the doorknob and swing it open. When I bring my suitcase inside, I am surprised to see that it looks as good as the pictures.
"Oh shit! It's actually like, nice in here!" Shae says surprisingly.
The walls are the same look as the outside, but the floor is a finished wooden pattern that's a bit brighter than the walls. To the right of the entrance is the living room, with a white couch covered in a few blankets, as well as a glass coffee table. There's also a... tv, hung up on the wall?
"Didn't you say there wasn't any internet? Is there satellite or something?" Liam asks.
"Uh, definitely not, unless the owner lied to me," I say, confused.
"Maybe it's just for DVDs? Did we bring any with us?" Shae inquires. I look on the shelf just below where the TV is hung up and see the familiar logo.
"I did not, because I had no clue there was a TV here,"
"I brought a few movies just to play on my laptop, but not enough to last us two weeks," Liam says.
"We could probably borrow some from Elliot? I know he has a huge collection of that shit," Shae chimes in.
"Oh, right! Yeah, that'd be smart." I go to check out the kitchen, the fridge is empty and not running. Right. "Oh yeah, I'll be right back, I need to go turn the generator on," I say.
"Do you know how to do that?" Liam asks, obviously concerned.
"The owner gave me instructions on how to. I haven't read them, but it should be simple enough." I responded
"Oh God, I'd rather not have you blow this place up, let me help you." He set his bag on the couch and started heading out the door with me. Shae already went to put her stuff in one of the bedrooms. I am once again met with the crisp coolness of the outdoors as we walk towards the shed.
"Aren't these things designed to be fool-proof? I don't see what I can mess up here" I say,
"Yeah, I don't trust you," Liam said, laughing. I stuffed my hands into my jacket pockets.
"Good to know," I say mildly unamused.
When he opens the door to the shed, we're greeted by darkness, the only light coming in from the opened door. The moment I take a breath, I start coughing immediately.
"Holy shit, the amount of dust in here could give me lung cancer,"
"Wait outside if you're gonna be a baby," He responded, smirking.
"Someone's feeling a little sarcastic today, huh?" I say as I lean against the door frame.
"Yeah..." Liam flips a few switch things on the generator and pulls the pull cord. It takes a few pulls, but eventually, the generator starts running. The scent of fuel is apparent. He brushes his hands together, getting the dust off of them, and puts his hands on his hips, "So... Ty?" He says, a cunning grin on his face.
I stop leaning on the door. "I- I know, he probably still has feelings, but don't worry! I'm gonna talk to him as soon as I can to set it straight, I don't want some stupid drama to affect the trip," Despite my words, Liam stood still, continuing to stare at me, "I didn't plan this trip just to see old friends. I did want to spend time with you too! This is our first time doing something off-campus for more than just a night, so I want to make the most of it!"
"Uh-huh," He responds, mocking me, barely moving. I can tell he's enjoying this.
"Ok, like, I was gonna make it a little surprise tomorrow, but I was thinking we could pick up breakfast and go to the lake? I know Shaela said that she won't be at the cabin most of the day so we wouldn't have anything to worry about on that front."
Liam didn't say anything, putting his hands in his pants pockets and walking past me, back to the cabin.
"I- I can tell you're just trying to fuck with me!" I shouted as Liam went up the steps onto the patio.
"Yep!" He shouted joyfully in return, shutting the door behind him. I shook my head, trying to figure out what the hell just happened.
"Wait, so where are we going?" Liam asks from the backseat.
"Shae told everyone to meet at some restaurant in town, apparently it's new?" I responded.
"New to us! Was built a few months after we left for university." She said
"I've only really visited here for a weekend or two since then, so I wouldn't know it," I say as I hear Shae's phone ping.
"Ugh, Ty said he won't be able to make it to the restaurant," She said, frustrated.
"Oh, thank fuck," I responded, relieved.
"You're still gonna have to talk to him Jake," She looked over at me, "This doesn't mean anything." I could hear Liam sigh behind me.
"Well yeah, I'd just rather not have to do it in a restaurant and cause unnecessary drama on our first night," I said.
"Whatever, he says he might be able to show up to something after eight-ish? I don't think we'll still be at the restaurant by then though," Shae said.
"We could bring everyone over to the cabin? We got that fire pit, might as well use it, and we could get alcohol!" Liam said.
"Alcohol? Dude, you're twenty, your mom would bury me in a ditch," I replied, somewhat baffled.
"What? Not for me! Have you ever seen me drink before?"
"No, but your birthday's in like six months so... I don't know," I said, not finishing my thought.
"Bringing everybody to the cabin could be cool, you can ask them when we get there," her phone makes a ping sound. She points over at a building that looks straight out of the eighties, "That's the place."
"What is it with small towns and lagging both culturally and aesthetically from the rest of the world by multiple decades," I said.
"Ha, yeah right, we might as well be in the fifties but with cell phones," Shae said, laughing. I pull into a parking lot right in front of the door and spot them at one of the window seats. Shae immediately gets out of the car and heads toward the door.
"...There's no way in hell I'm mentally prepared for this," I say, sighing
"Hey," Liam leans into the front seat, I tilt my head back and meet my eyes with his, half-expecting a kiss, or just words of encouragement. Instead, he pats my shoulder, "I'm holding you to that lake date you were talking about," He laughs, opens the door and gets out of the car.
Who is this guy?
I get out of the car and grab his shoulder, trying to stop him before he goes inside.
"...Are you okay?" I ask. Liam makes a confused face.
"What do you mean?" He asks in return.
"I just mean, like, are you still mad about...Ty?" I ask, my pitch getting higher as I finish the question.
"Huh? I was never mad about Ty," He said. I simply tilt my head in confusion, still looking at him. "I know you're gonna clear things up with him, we're fine! It's just funny to see you stammer when I act like that," He said, laughing.
"Wow, good to know that you delight in my inability to not be awkward," I said jokingly.
"Yeah! It's cute!" He replied. I stuttered trying to come up with a response to that one, to which he just laughed. "Come on, it's gonna be weird if we take too long to show up." I didn't care about that, the people inside have known me for at least eight years. Though, I could understand him wanting to make a good first impression.
Liam opens the door and holds it for me. The inside of the restaurant gives off the feel of some mid-tier chain that microwaves their food. There's a bar in the back, with barstools and a single flat-screen behind the counter, playing some sports game that I didn't care enough to recognize. I could tell this place was a favourite for anyone over the age of thirty looking to accomplish whatever their definition of a 'good time' is. The windows are fairly large, at least. But the sun went down behind the mountains a while ago so the only lighting comes from the hanging 'moody' lights scattered throughout the building.
I grab Liam's hand, pulling him in the direction of the table I saw from the window outside. It seems they decided to pick a corner booth to fit all six of us - wait, five, right - five of us at one table. Ty's not here. Sitting at the table is Alex, a coyote who, honestly, has been Shae's favourite in the group for as long as I can remember. To the point where I'm surprised they haven't dated yet, but who am I to judge? He would always get us into trouble in high school and got really into partying after grade ten, which I didn't understand at the time because I could personally never build up the strength to listen to half of a word my classmates said at any given moment. Sitting next to him is Elliot, a raccoon who I met when I was eight, a bit before we had any kind of group or whatever. I had always considered him my best friend since then, we would have sleepovers in elementary and middle school all the time, but I kinda got paranoid about that stuff after I realised I was... yeah.
When we approach the table, Alex and Elliot both look in our direction. Shae had already sat at the table in the time it took Liam and me to talk. At the moment, I'm just glad that I don't have to talk to Ty, cause I am not emotionally prepared for that shit yet.
"Jake?!? You finally decided to show up, eh?" Alex said, getting out of his seat and firmly planting a heavy hug that I was not prepared for, almost knocking me over.
"Alex! Still working at the visitor centre?" I ask, painfully trying to come up with a conversation that doesn't make me sound like a grandma.
"Yeah, actually got a promotion there too! Manager!" He says excitedly.
"Oh shit! That might be the first time I've ever seen you take on any actual responsibility!" I reply jokingly, he waves me off in response, then realising that someone else is standing next to me.
"Oh, no fucking way! Is this the Liam that Shae's been telling me about? I heard you're actually like smart and shit!" Alex exclaims. At this point, it is becoming readily apparent that he has had more than a little bit to drink before we got here.
"I don't know if I'd go that far, but it's nice to meet you!" Liam goes in for a handshake but is instead returned with another bone-shattering slightly-drunk hug that takes him by surprise.
"Well hey, what're you guys waiting for! Come sit!" He returns to his seat in the corner booth. I sit down first on the left side of the booth across from Alex and Elliot, and Liam sits next to me. "So, what say we get some drinks!" He continues.
"Oh uh, can't. I'm twenty," Liam replies. "You guys go ahead though!"
"Yeah I'm good too, someone's gonna have to drive everybody home and I'd rather it not be the guy without a driver's license" I add, pointing my thumb at Liam.
Alex makes a disappointed face, "What?!? Lameee..."
"We could go back to the cabin we're staying in after this? Then Jake really has no excuse!" Liam suggested.
"Oooh! We could go get supplies..." I entirely expect what Elliot's about to say next, "...And that'd mean that Ty could come too!"
Alex gets a concerningly mischievous smile from that, "Heyyyyy! I am getting more and more interested in this plan by the second!"
"Great," I reply.
"Hi there! And what can I get for you all tonight?" An effervescent twenty-something Cheetah says, notepad in hand.
"Can I get an iced tea?" Liam asks. She nods her head, then looks towards me.
"Hmm, could I just get whatever brand of cola you have?" I say.
"Mhmm... and for you?" She looks at Shae.
"Yeah, can I get a vodka cran?" She replies.
"You betcha! I'll be right back with those" She flips her notepad closed and walks over to the bar.
I look out the window, the sky is starting to dim as it gets later into the night. It feels really good to see everybody again, and it kinda seems... weird saying that? I don't know. I left for university six-ish months after we graduated, for the January semester in Vancouver. I liked the idea of going to another country, even if just for a few years, but I still find myself missing the small-town energy. I mean, I don't think I'd ever move back here, maybe if someone paid me. But I still really missed the guys, I thought I was pretty lucky just to have Shae get accepted to the same university as me, but it wasn't the same without everyone else.
"What're you looking at?" Elliot asks. I then realise that I've been staring at some random parked car in the street for at least a few minutes at this point.
"Oh, nothing! Just staring off into space," I reply, he laughs.
"So, how's university treating ya?" He says, probably just trying to make conversation. Honestly, that's a question I haven't thought about recently.
"Eh, can't complain. Just started the third year of my major so they're kinda just dumping assignments on me and giving me unreasonable deadlines." We both laugh, "What about you? I heard you're going to Oregon State?" Alex, Shae, and Liam are talking to each other as well but I don't pay attention to it.
"Yeah, computer science! Doing an internship in the summer at a tech company in Portland!"
"Really? That's awesome, dude!" I sigh, "I can't believe it's been over two years since we've all seen each other! I miss going to your place and playing games at least weekly." I chuckle, feeling a tad melancholic.
"Well, we can at least do that while we're both in town! I'm staying at my parents' place for the break, so we could catch up! You could even bring Liam along!" He exclaims.
Liam looks over at the sound of his name, "Hm?"
I turned to him, "Oh, Elliot was just asking for us to go to his place one of these days, you interested?"
"Oh, yeah! That'd be awesome!" He responds, excitedly.
"You know, the only things I've heard about you is what Shae told us. You go to the same school as them, in Vancouver, yeah?" Elliot questioned.
"Yep! Grew up there too, taking psychology." Liam replied.
"Ohhhhhh! You have the same major!" He said as if he had made a massive revelation, "Is that how you guys met?"
"We did have a bunch of classes together, but we actually met at a party that Shae made me go to back in August," I said, putting my arm around Liam's shoulder.
"A party? The last time I remember you going to a party was literally like early senior year, and that was only because Alex guilted you into it!" He laughed.
"Well, I don't think he's gone to another one since then, so the tradition of Jake only going to parties when forced is still in place!" Liam said.
Before I got the chance to say something, the waitress came by and set our drinks down in front of us. Shaela immediately starts sipping on her drink. Alex turns in his seat, throwing his arm on Elliot's shoulder.
"Has he told you guys yet about his new girlfriend?" Alex says, adding some length to his last syllable. Elliot rolls his eyes in response.
"What?!? When did this happen?!?" Elliot had never seriously dated anyone before I left, so this was awesome news for me to hear.
"Earlier last year? She lives in Corvallis." Elliot said with a face of mild embarrassment. Still, I could tell he was happy to talk about her.
"When will we get to meet this mystery girl?" Liam asked. I was surprised to see his sudden investment into the group, I was honestly expecting this to be a lot more awkward than it ended up being. His ears would always perk up when he got excited, and noticing that just now was a nice sight to see. I take a drink, just realising that I haven't had water since the drive to the cabin.
"I asked her about coming out here with me, but it'd probably only be for a few days tops since she practically works full-time," Elliot said.
"We should take my dad's boat out onto the lake when she visits!" Alex exclaimed. I had completely forgotten about that boat, it was a surprisingly fancy jet boat that Alex's dad bought when we were sixteen. I only ever went on it once, but that was definitely a day to remember.
"Oh, did he finally teach you how to drive that thing?" Shae asked, somewhat jokingly.
"Ugh, I wish! He didn't want me using it when he first bought it, but I took it out without him knowing a few times and got the hang of it back in high school. He started letting me use it like a year ago, but I was mostly self-taught." Alex said, oddly proud.
"What? He didn't notice the gas gauge inconspicuously going down some days?" Liam asked in disbelief.
"Uhh, maybe? If he did, he never mentioned it." Alex replied.
"Wow, chill dad," Liam commented.
"Yeah, well, that's one way to put it," Alex said, mildly serious.
"Do you think you're ready to order, or do you need more time?" The waitress asked us, catching me by surprise.
We all ordered whatever food looked appealing. I wasn't particularly familiar with the menu so I just went with fish tacos. I could at least expect the fish to be fresh, considering the town has a lot of fishing due to the lake. I didn't pay attention to what anyone else ordered, just spacing out for a moment. If we were gonna bring everyone over to the cabin, I would hope for us to leave soon. I didn't want to stay up until two in the morning on my first night here.
God, is that what it means to become an adult? Going to bed early, not wanting to party anymore? Granted, I was never too big on the whole partying thing anyway. Remembering that I turned twenty one eight days ago is like a kick in the gut every time. That probably sounds insane to anyone considering I'm not even out of school yet, and I bet most people would think I'm crazy but most days I feel like a sixteen-year-old that can drink. That's the kind of problem I wouldn't share with anyone cause it's so stupid, maybe with Liam. He already has to put up with most of my bullshit, so what's another? I once again realise I'm staring off into space. Luckily, I don't think anyone noticed this time.
The rest of dinner was nice enough, we spent most of the time there talking rather than eating. Shae had like four refills of her drink, so I could tell she was gonna be fun to deal with for the rest of the night. Liam, Elliot, and I were waiting in the car while Shae and Alex went into the store to get supplies for the fire we were gonna have. I was just spending the time dreading what I knew was about to happen. Ty.
I never got his new phone number after I left to study in Canada, and honestly didn't want it anyway. Shae asked him about coming to the cabin, and he agreed. It's not like I hate him, I still really enjoyed whatever friendship we had before I left for university, but... I don't know, things kinda fizzled out. And now he's gonna want to talk to me about who knows what, that he still loves me? I don't wanna hear that. I open my phone so I can aimlessly scroll through social media, choosing to ignore whatever spiral thought pattern I'm getting myself into.
Elliot and Liam were talking about some hacker show. I recognized the title, Liam had been trying to get me to watch it with him for the past few weeks, but I haven't had the time to. I downloaded all of the episodes to my laptop yesterday since I knew we'd have a lot of free time during the trip and it'd make him happy. Since the surprise I had planned for tomorrow got kinda ruined earlier, this sort of works as a plan B, in some sense of the word.
"I'm just saying, the second season is so boring! Like, they have so much suspense built up for something crazy to happen, and then the first half of the season is the main character just having an identity crisis." Elliot exclaimed.
"Huh?!? The literal last thing that happens in the first season is him destroying the world economy and realising that was a bad idea. All the stuff he goes through in the second season is him figuring out if evil really exists while dealing with his mental illness!" Liam replies exasperatedly.
"Speaking of the first season, why did they write it like the most cliché hacker film from the eighties? Every time they said some shit like 'fuck society' I wanted to die from second-hand embarrassment" Elliot said.
"That was intentional! The whole point of the first season is that he's clouded in some fake reality that he's given himself as a distraction for his real issues!" Liam said.
"Hey, while this conversation is really hitting close to home and I appreciate that, isn't this spoiling the show for me?" I questioned.
Liam gasped, "Oh, shit! I didn't know you were paying attention!" Hearing him swear was a rarity. He tried to keep it to a minimum, so it made it all the more impactful when it did happen even if just for some dumb show.
Shae opens the back door, hopping in the seat next to Elliot.
"Can you open the trunk? Alex needs to put the firewood back there," She asks.
"Yup," I say, reaching down beside the driver's seat and pulling the switch. I hear the sound of a few heavy bags being placed with less care than I was hoping for, and then the sound of the trunk slamming shut. Alex opens the other back door, sitting on the other side of Elliot.
"Ok, we good to go?" I ask. I shift the gear into reverse and pull out of the parking lot.
Vestige doesn't have much of a nightlife, if at all, so the roads are always empty except for the occasional teens going wherever without their parent's permission. I should know, I used to be that kid! The street lights cast a familiar amber colour on the streets. Reminding me of the late-night walks I used to take with Ty. No particular location in mind, just wanting to get away from our parents.
Am I... reminiscing?
As we approach the edge of the town next to the lake's shore, I turn left onto the highway, heading for the cabin. The moonlight is reflecting off of the water in a picturesque kind of way. Kinda made me wish I'd brought my camera, but I left it in my suitcase.
"All I'm saying is that if we play monopoly, I may never want to speak to any of you ever again," Shae jokes.
"That's all part of the fun! You don't play monopoly unless you're expecting to come out of the game having ruined friendships," Liam responded.
"Jake, remember when you flipped the monopoly board when we were like twelve?" Alex reminisced, laughing.
"God, thinking about that night still pisses me off to this day. You bought more than half the board and we weren't even like ten minutes into it!" I replied.
"You're like that with every game," Liam chuckled. "Remember when I convinced you to play FIFA? You rage quit like halfway through the match!"
"What do you want from me? I'm competitive! Besides, I couldn't figure out the controls," I said.
"That's what they all say!" Alex laughed.
"Says the guy who never played that zombie game with me after you kept dying," I retort.
"...ok, that's fair." Alex accepts, "Wow, that game made me so mad," He says, chuckling.
The conversation continued for the rest of the drive. I didn't turn on any music, It felt pretty nice to just be driving down the highway with everybody, definitely brought back memories. This is the same car that I bought after I saved up for a year at my job when I was seventeen. It has served me well since then, even if it was already a few years old when I bought it. It was nice to see Liam getting along with everybody, too. Like both of my world's were kinda merging into each other.
When we got back to the cabin, I opened the trunk and we carried the stuff inside. We barely did any unpacking when we first got here so my suitcase was still in the living room, waiting to be sorted.
"Wooow, pretty nice place you got here!" Elliot exclaimed.
"Yeah, we got lucky. I had to book it like a month ago." I set some of the bags I was carrying on the kitchen counter. "You can put the drinks and stuff in the fridge," I said.
"Yo, where's the fire pit? Should probably start it before it gets even darker out," Alex asked.
"Oh yeah, lemme show you," I waved my hand for him to follow me, heading to the back door. Liam had gone into our room, probably to change or something. Shae was sitting on the couch, and Elliot was unloading drinks into the refrigerator.
I open the door, "Ladies first," I said, jokingly. I step out after Alex and close the back door behind me. I start walking over to the fire pit, Alex following closely behind.
"You know, I could have made the perfect gay joke there but I refrained because we're friends," Alex said, laughing.
"Hey, don't hold off on my account!" I reply, "And I know exactly what the joke would've been, that is far from perfect." I playfully punch his shoulder.
"Whatever, I am a comedic genius that just has yet to be recognized by Hollywood!" Alex said, sarcastically.
"Yeah, I bet they're gonna come knocking on your door as soon as one of your posts goes viral," I couldn't help but start laughing halfway through that sentence.
"You know it!" Alex replied. We approached the fire pit, it was a circular open-pit design with sand to prevent the fire from spreading. Surrounding the fire pit are a few wooden benches with some weird smooth coating over them, probably to make them less flammable. Alex set the bag of firewood on the ground and tore it open. I stood there with my hands in my jacket pockets, not knowing how to help.
He takes a few pieces of wood and sets them in the pit, leaning them against each other. He reaches into his pocket and grabs a package of Firestarter, holding it over to me, "You wanna do the honours?" He asks.
"I would be delighted!" I say poshly, doing a slight bow as I grab the Firestarter from his hand.
I find a good spot for it under the firewood and tuck it in as far as I can to make sure it'll start the fire. Alex again reaches into his pocket and hands me a lighter.
"Wow, thanks babe," I say, trying my best to sound flirty.
Alex lets out a sigh, stifling a laugh. "You really could have said anything and you chose that, truly baffling." He says, smiling.
"Hey, you're the one who started the gay jokes! I'm just rolling with it," I exclaimed.
"Touché, I created my own destruction, it seems." He laughs.
"Exactly." I flick the lighter, it takes a couple of tries but eventually lights. I hold it close to the Firestarter, trying not to burn my fingers off. After a few seconds, it ignites, with the wood following soon after. The dark forest behind is lightly illuminated by the growing flame.
"You know, for spring, it sure is fucking freezing," I say, shivering a bit.
"Well, spring isn't for like two weeks, but yeah," Alex said, nodding.
"I'll be right back, imma go change into warmer clothes."
"Sure thing!" He sits down on one of the benches and pulls out his phone.
I start walking back to the cabin. The grass is still somewhat frozen, crunching underneath my shoes. There's still a bit of ice spotted around from the winter. It's dark out, but still easy enough to see my way to the door. As I walk up the steps, the wooden planks underneath me creak from the pressure. I take my shoes off outside so I don't track snow and dirt in the cabin, and step inside.
Elliot is putting on his coat and boots, Shae is in her room, and I assume that Liam is still in the bedroom.
"We got the fire started, I just need to grab a warmer coat. Alex is sitting outside," I say to Elliot.
"Oh! Cool! I was just about to head out there." Elliot replies. I nod and walk over to Liam and I's bedroom. I can see the light shining under the door. When I walk in, I see Liam laying on the wooden-frame bed, scrolling through his phone.
"Aren't you coming outside?" I ask, taking off my coat and hanging it in the closet.
"Yeah, I was waiting for you!"
"What, why?" I grab my coat out of my bag and slide each arm through it. The inside of the coat is soft, so I wear it basically whenever I can.
"Cause, I wanted to give you this!" He gets up and reaches into his pocket. Inside is a tiny polaroid photo. I grab it from his hand, it's a photo of me and him on New Years. Shae dragged us to a couple of party things but huge crowds always made me nervous, so Liam took me off campus to the beach nearby. It was fucking freezing that night, being Vancouver and also the literal winter season. But we just sat together in the sand for an hour or so. I remember him grabbing his stupid polaroid camera out if his bag, reminding me of like every girl at university who I follow on social media who would post their walls of polaroid photos. He wanted to take a picture to 'Remember our first new years together,' and I didn't care cause I was happy to just be with him at the moment. "I put it in my bag when we first took it, and I guess I completely forgot about it until like ten minutes ago, so here's the first viewing!" He said.
"That's... really sweet. Thank you." I say, setting the photo on the desk. I pull Liam into an embrace, realising that I haven't gotten more than thirty minutes with just him and I since we left this morning. At least tomorrow would change that.
"You're welcome!" The hug lingered on. "I'll probably head out to the fire now, you gonna come with?" He asked.
"Go ahead, I'll just be a minute," I replied. We let go, and he exits the room, closing the door behind him.
I grab the polaroid again and take a seat on the side of the bed. It's not like the picture was some huge romantic gesture or anything, but it felt good to... be cared about? I wasn't gonna make a big deal out of it, that's the last thing I wanted to subject him to. But still, the past few months with Liam have been good for me, to say the least. I didn't want to linger too long inside, everyone probably out there already waiting. I put the photo in my wallet and put it in my pocket. When I step out into the living room, all of the lights are out, except for the porch light shining into the window. I assume Shae left while I was in the bedroom, and turn on the living room light and pull out my phone to text Liam.
Jake: Does anyone need anything before I come out?
It takes a moment, but eventually, he starts typing.
Liam: Alex would like one of the beers in the fridge if you can, that's probably it!
I head over to the kitchen to grab one of the beers from the fridge, and- fuck it, one for myself too. The only thing in the fridge is the drinks and I guess some chip dip or something? I didn't recognize it.
Suddenly, I hear a knock at the front door and am instantly brought into the moment. If that's who I think it is, then I am in for a treat.
I walk over to the front door, hesitating for a moment as I hold my breath. I grip the handle and open the door, revealing a familiar Grey Wolf. Well, not grey, more like a light brown-grey wolf, but that's just the name.
"Hey... Tyler," I say.
"Hi, I'm assuming Shae told you I was coming over?" He asked, averting his gaze. He's wearing a white graphic t-shirt with black jeans. The shirt was from the zombie game Alex would always get mad at. Ty was the first one to get us all playing that game originally, and he was definitely addicted to it for a good amount of time in high school. He always seemed like the edgy skater kid stereotype, and he has kind of held up that look since then, at least at face value. I was sort of terrified of talking to him back when we met in grade ten, although that stopped not even a few weeks after talking with him as his rough exterior essentially vanished.
"Yeah, come in!" I replied, trying to sound upbeat, but probably just coming across as emotionless. I open the door wider and motion him inside before closing it behind him. I knew what was about to happen and did not want to do that right now. Hopefully, it can at least wait until after, "There's some drinks in the fridge if you'd like, everyone's already outside around back,"
"Oh, I didn't hear anyone, weird." I could tell he was a little nervous to be here. He held his hand on the back of his neck, not knowing what to say next. I open the fridge door and motion for him to grab something. He grabs one of Alex's cheap beers but doesn't open it.
"Too bad you couldn't make it to the restaurant earlier, Alex made us go to that new one on Main Street, guess it's pretty new? New to me, at least." I say, lightly chuckling.
"Y- yeah, sorry, my boss needed me to work a bit late." He said, setting the drink on the counter.
"Oh right, you still working at that print shop?" I asked. He started working there shortly after we graduated when we were still together. I was honestly surprised that they were willing to hire him, considering the job description wanted a degree in some form of graphic design. But, I think the owner was friends with his dad, and anyone who knew Ty for more than five minutes knew how much he loved drawing and design. It was the perfect job for him, to say the least.
"Yeah, they got a contract with some business in Kennewick about a month ago, so we've been pretty busy lately,"
"I can imagine!" I laugh awkwardly. A long pause begins to take form, neither of us saying anything. Just staring at the floor. This feels like an eternity, neither of us knowing what to say next. Fuck it, might as well get the annoying shit out of the way sooner rather than later. "Listen-" I say, keeping my eyes on the floor when Ty cuts me off.
"I'm not gonna ask for us to get back together, if- if that's what you're thinking." His ears noticeably twitch, the same way they always used to when he got nervous.
"What?" I ask, not knowing where this is going.
"You don't have to act surprised, I know Shaela told you that I wanted to talk to you,"
"So what did you want to talk about, then?"
"I don't know... I just didn't like how we ended things back then. We never talk anymore, I miss that." Ty mumbled.
"We can still talk! I thought you'd want space after we broke up... I wasn't really in a good place mentally at the end there, anyway."
"I mean, I thought I did at the time. But I didn't know what I wanted. Being a teenager is... weird."
"Well hey, we're here for two weeks, might as well make the most of it before I'm shipped back to university. But you should know, I brought my..." I paused for a moment, figuring out how to word the next part, "My boyfriend. He's out there with everyone else," I turn my head in the direction of the back door.
"Oh, I knew that already, Shae told me. Name's Liam or something, right?" He said.
"Wow, she sure does spare no expense when it comes to sharing every detail of my life," I say jokingly. We both laugh.
"She definitely has ulterior motives, I don't think I've ever understood the reasoning behind like half of anything she does," Ty replies. I don't understand what that means, but decide not to question it.
"Well, should we head out? I said I'd be out there like ten minutes ago, they probably think I fell asleep," I say, lightly laughing. He lightly nods and we both head to the back door.
"I honestly wouldn't have been surprised if that happened. That's how a concerning amount of our plans ended up not happening back in high school." He says. I open the back door and let him walk out first, following behind. I can see everybody sitting at the fire, casually chatting.
"You have to be persistent with plans at night or else I'll fall asleep while waiting for something! You should know that at this point,"
"I did know that, got pretty good at managing it by the end. I'd send a check-in text like every ten minutes to make sure you were still gonna show up."
"Oh yeah, I remember that! I thought it was adorable how much effort you put in just so we could hang out after my parents fell asleep." I lightly chuckle at the memory, scratching my ear.
As we approach the fire pit, Alex looks over at us, noticing our presence.
He gets up from the bench and walks over, "Ty! It's so good to see you!" He pulls Ty into a hug, patting his back. Elliot gets up as well. I sit down on the bench next to Liam and lean my head on his shoulder, and he puts his arm around my back.
Shaela stays lounging on the bench across from us, "Hey Ty! Glad you could make it!" She always hated doing anything that remotely involved emotions, so this was an expected reaction to meeting a friend she hasn't seen in more than two years.
"I'm guessing that you worked it out?" Liam whispered.
"I don't know if I'd go that far, but I think we're on a good path," I reply, matching his volume. Everyone sits back down, Alex and Shae on one bench, Ty and Elliot on the other. "Did you add more wood or something? That fire is massive," It had probably grown to more than half my size since I first lit it.
"Oh yeah, might as well use all of the firewood tonight since we're here!" He replied. The warmth of the fire was extremely comforting, shielding me from the sheer cold of the forest - not without the help of being next to Liam, either.
The crackle of the firewood is sporadically repetitive, offering a calm ambience to lay behind the loud conversations we were having. I didn't move from my spot for the rest of the night. Alex was telling a story about how he almost got arrested a few months ago when he got into a fight with some random guy clearly from out of town at his work, very obviously on at least two different types of drugs. If there was one thing this town was good for, it was the stupid bullshit that happened on a day-to-day basis. I mean, I don't know if I'd call it good, but it makes for good stories.
Yeah, I was definitely happy to be back. At least for a little while.