“Oh, did you?” I challenged. “How about another round then, J?”
“That’s okay. I’ll pass.”
“Hey, how come you call each other J and K, but Quinn isn’t Q and Keith isn’t K-squared?” Casey asked.
“They’ve been doing that since they were seven or eight,” Keith shared. “J-K, get it?”
“Huh?” Casey’s face was twisted in confusion.
“Just kidding,” Jake elaborated. “J. K.”
“When we were kids we used to get into all kinds of trouble, so we came up with the tagline J K to ease the punishment,” I explained.
“No way!” Casey laughed. “That’s ingenious.”
“Yeah, it really wasn’t,” Keith countered. “They tried that shit on me when they destroyed my skateboard, and I still beat them both with what was left of it.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot about your skateboard,” Jake laughed. “We set it on fire, right?”
“No. You blew it up.” Keith frowned as if he were remembering the day quite clearly.
“How’d you manage that?” Casey asked.
“With a firework,” I explained. “We strapped it on, lit it, then sent it down the ramp. It was awesome until it exploded… then it was epic.”
“The firework was called the Red, White, and Bomb! What did you expect?” Keith complained.
“Why didn’t you use your own skateboards?” Casey asked.
“We didn’t want to ruin ours. Geez, Casey. Use your brain,” Jake teased.
“Oh, right. Of course. Sorry.”
“And they thought their little tagline would save them.” Keith shook his head. “So naïve.”
“I don’t remember any of this,” Quinn whined.
“That’s because you were still walking around with shit in your diaper,” I said.
“I missed out on everything! It sucks that I’m so much younger than you guys.”
“Yeah, well, at least you have your whole life ahead of you. We’re all old and washed up,” Keith said with a dramatic sigh.
“Oh, yeah, a group of hot, young washed-up has-beens,” Casey laughed, fanning her hand in front of her face. “If we could all be so lucky.”
In the elevator, after saying goodbye to Jake and Casey, the three of us stood in the glass box with big, dumb grins on our faces.
“Well, that was unexpected,” I offered up.
“Yeah. What the fuck?” Keith replied, looking dazed. “Since when is Jake a player?”
“He was so damn flirty with her, I thought I was in some alternate universe.”
I nodded. “I’ve never seen him act like that around a woman.”
“I know. When he was with Krista, he could barely control his boredom.”
I shook my head, having trouble grasping the striking change in Jake’s demeanor. It had been a long time since I’d seen that side of him. Sure, he laughed and joked around with us, and to an untrained eye, he might seem fine; but Jake was a master at concealing his darkness. Sometimes I wondered if I was the only one who knew it still festered. But tonight… Casey… she'd brought the brightest of lights, and for the first time in what seemed like forever, Jake didn’t squint away.
Hope flowed through me. I wanted this for him so much more than I wanted it for myself. His pain was my pain, and as evidenced tonight, so was his happiness. Our lives were entwined in ways no one, not even our parents, understood. Only Jake and I knew what had really happened that day – the sacrifices that had been made. Our whole lives could be traced to that one, terrible moment in time… a moment so cruel that neither one of us had ever dared speak of it since.
“I liked her,” Quinn said, interrupting my dark memories. “She was the only one tonight who was nice to me.”
“Aw.” Keith laughed and wrapped Quinn in a hug, adding a knuckle rub to his head. “We're only mean to you because we love you.”
“That’s messed up.”
“Would you rather be ignored?” I offered.
“Are those my only two options?”
After dropping off Quinn and his moronic bean game, Keith and I went back to my room. We each grabbed a beer and a seat.
“So seriously, what do you think?” Keith asked.
“I think she’s perfect for him. I just hope he doesn’t fuck it up.”
“You think he will?”
I dropped my head and gaped at Keith to let him know how ridiculously stupid his question was. “This is Jake we’re talking about.”
Keith nodded. “Yeah, I get that, but he definitely seemed to be able to relax around her. That’s huge.”
I shrugged. “I mean, it’s definitely unusual, I’ll give you that. I guess we can always hope.”
“Geez, Kyle, way to be optimistic.”
And as if on cue, the door flung open and Jake burst through. The happy, glowing guy we'd left at the elevator was not the same one who stormed into the room in a fiery display of conflict and distress. He was now a bundle of electrified energy and was throwing his bolts of lightning in my direction. I was always the most convenient metal rod.
I glanced at Keith. He raised his eyebrows, seemingly impressed with my psychic skills. Yep. I’d definitely called it. Apparently it had taken less than five minutes for Jake to ruin whatever it was he had going with the girl. Optimism was for idiots.
Jake spent the next few minutes tearing into me for inviting Casey to sit with us. I had shaken up his carefully crafted world, and he refused to admit he’d actually liked it. Dark, ominous clouds hovered over Jake. I knew better than to stir up the storm, but I couldn’t help myself. He was being an idiot and he needed to hear it.
Only thirty minutes earlier, watching Jake with Casey, I'd dared dream. I knew my brother had it in him, but there was something that held him back, something that refused to allow him to grab life and live it. A ragged frustration gripped me. So much for hope. It had gotten me all excited for nothing.
The next day at the wedding, I noticed Jake was ignoring Casey. I also detected the confused look in her eyes. Evidently, she had done nothing to invite his silence. That whole stormy display last night had been all his doing. I wanted to shake sense into him. How could he not seize what was right in front of him?