Brothers Part 1:
As the plane descends, the ice in the scotch glass shakes and rattles. The stewardess with the nice ass walks by, and brushes Matthew on the shoulder. He can't tell if she was trying to be comforting or flirtatious. Not that it matters, as Matthew isn't in the mood.
Six years ago, Matthew went to New York with the simple goal of making a million dollars and never coming home again. And he took a train, as flying terrifies him. So today Matthew is in a foul mood.
Matthew grips the seat as the plane shakes and lowers. He closes his eyes, and tries to even out his breathing, keep his heart from bursting out of his chest.
“You don't have to do this, you know.” Tyler says to him, as the four of them stand in line. Sweat is dripping from beneath his baseball cap, as the July sun bears down on them. Matthew does a quick glance at the other two and gives Tyler a pensive look.
“I can't do that, if they know I'm afraid, they won't do it. Especially Alex. No, I can do this.” Matthew says, trying to convince himself of his own decision. Tyler gives him a smirk, and shakes his head. At this very moment, Matthew hates his best friend. Why can;t Tyler be afraid of anything, ever?
Behind them in line, Alex and Tuck gasp in excitement. The roller coaster, the Leviathan, is 420 feet long and has a highest point of 382 feet. The two 12-year old boys keep saying this last fact over and over, much to the chagrin of Matthew.
Ever since he was little, Matthew hated heights of any kind. His heart races if he even climbs up a 10 foot ladder. 382 feet is a damn near heart attack.
Still, Matthew has to do it. He is the oldest, and he knows Alex looks up to him. So if Matthew backs out, there is no doubt Alex will too. And Matthew doesn't want that on him.
Tyler, on the other hand, might be a year younger than Matthew but has no fear in him whatsoever. Maybe that's why Tyler is the only of the boys who isn't a virgin, letting the other three imagine what life like that must be like.
The lines moves, and suddenly, the four boys are the next group up. Matthew feels his chest tighten, but fight it, and looks at Alex.
“You ready for this? I don't want you pussying out.” Matthew teases. Alex gives him a open mouthed gasp, his brown eyes wide behind his glasses.
“Are you kidding me?” Alex says, exasperated, “I'm so stoked for this!”
“Alex, do me a favor and take off your glasses, your mom would whoop my ass if you lost those.” Tyler tells Alex.
“What do you think it'll feel like?” Tuck chirps in.
“Well”, Tyler kneels down to his little brother, “It feels like you're flying. You'll be just like superman.“
Tuck smiles wide, and Tyler gives Matthew a wink.
“We're up, buddy.”
The four boys take their spots on the roller coaster. Tyler and Tuck in the front, Matthew and Alex in the back. Matthew tries to even his breathing, as the attendants strap them in.
'Here we go” Matthew hears Tyler say, as the roller coaster slowly comes to life, and begins to creep up the first hill.
“The first one isn't the biggest, it's only 260 feet up.” Alex says, casually.
“Only 260 feet, huh?” Matthew squeezes out with a fake smile.
Matthew looks over the side of the roller coaster, and regrets it. The ground slowly gets further and further away from him, as the top of the first hill gets closer and closer.
“Here we go!” Someone says. Matthew's heart pounds in his chest, as they reach the crest. Alex looks at him, worried, and tries to tell Matthew something as the roller coaster plummets 260 feet.
“Are you okay?”
Matthew opens his eyes. The plane has landed, and nearly everyone has left. He is the last one in first class, his hands still clinching the seat.
“Yeah, I'm fine. Not big on flying, you know?”
The stewardess gives him a sweet, reassuring look. The gives her a nod to let her know he is fine, and she moves on. Matthew raises from the seat, stretching out, and retrieves his overnight bag from the overhead compartment. Matthew walks past the cockpit on his way out, and hears someone say “Thank you for flying with us.”
Thank you for not crashing the plane and killing me, Matthew thinks, as he heads into the airport.
To go into Baltimore again, after all this time, feels as if being swallowed by a beast. Once you are in the gullet, there is no getting out. All Matthew ever wanted was to be as far away from Baltimore, to never come back.
The cab leaves the airport, with sun beginning to darken. It would be a blistering cold night, a stern reminder that spring is still a ways off The Nigerian cabbie speaks to some unknown entity via blue tooth headset, occasionally barking out a comment or two towards Matthew. Matthew generally ignores cabbies. They're a means to an end, a way to get from point A to point B. You don't confess to a cabbie.
Matthew closes his eyes and remember the day he was leaving Baltimore. He hadn't needed a cab that day. They took Tyler's sedan, with Tuck and Alex coming along. Matthew had been accepted to Columbia, the end product of hard work and sheer will. He had hugged his father good-bye at the house, both trying to remain stoic. Matthew's father was a cop, a prick, and a hell of a good dad. Matthew never had a chance to lip up, and because of that, he was leaving Baltimore for New York.
His three friends drove him to the airport, all of them talking about anything except for the fact that Matthew was leaving. They talked about baseball, they talked about girls, they talked about how awesome Limp Bizkit was, but not a word about college. Not until Tuck brought it up.
“Matt, do you think you'll ever want to come back?” He asked from the back seat. Tuck's older brother shot Tuck a look in the rear view mirror.
“Honestly? Maybe. You know, once I get a million dollars and I can buy you guys whatever cars you want!” Matthew had said, beaming. In his mind, it wasn't a joke, but a promise. He was going to make a million dollars.
“I'm going to get one of those huge hummers and...”
“Don't you mean you're going to give some hummers?” Alex said, cutting off Tyler. Tyler flicked him off while Tuck and Matthew laughed.
“Hey, hey, shut up. Listen, once Matt can do it, he's going to get me a hummer. One of those huge, bad ass motherfuckers. The kind with the bulletproof gas caps, right? And then I'll drive Matthew around, be his bodyguard and all that.”
“Jesus, I should just go ahead and kill myself if you're going to be driving me around. Much less painful that way.”
“I'm not done, I'm not done!”, Tyler exclaimed, “I'll be driving Matt around, and we'll all have a kick ass place on the water. And we'll just, we'll just have fun, drink, and do whatever we want. You know why?”
“Because Matt's going to make a million dollars.” Tuck shouted out.
“Bingo! Matt the Millionaire, just like he always wanted. We'll reap the benefits, but what is the point of being rich without your best friends, right, Matty?”
Matthew opens his eyes when he feels the cab stop, and pulls out a wad of cash, handing it to the Nigerian cabbie, still barking on his headset.
Matthew had some time to kill, knowing he'd be the first one to arrive, so it was time for a confessional. He walked through the door, and sat himself down at the bar. The bartender, an athletic looking girl with bright blue eyes, came over.
“What can I get you?” she asks.
“Shot of whiskey, and a beer.”
“The whiskey best be Irish and the beer best be cold.”
“Cute. It'll be right up.”
In truth, Matthew hadn't done a shot of anything in years, but it seemed like tonight it'd be apt. The last time he had ripped shots, it was for Alex's 21st birthday. Matthew promised to pay for, and match, every shot Alex did. They were in Ocean City at the time, a week long getaway for themselves. By the end of that night, Matthew and Alex were doing a duet in the bathroom, vomiting Grey Goose in sync. The next morning, the four of them went to the beach and sweated off the hangover. The only one who didn't have a hangover was Tuck. The little guy was never affected by booze, and spent the whole day laughing and teasing the other three. They ended that day the same way they started the night before, a shot of whiskey and beer at sunset.
The bartender sets the shot and beer on the table, and Matthew hands her his credit card, starting a tap. He mutters to himself, then downs the shot, chasing it with the beer. Out of his peripheral vision, he notices the bartender giving him a smirk.
“It's been a while since I've done a shot.”
“Like riding a bicycle?
“More or less. Do me a favor, when I finish this beer, just give me the exact same thing. A shot of whiskey and whatever beer that was.”
“Loose Cannon, it's local. You from out of town?”
“Yes and no. I haven't been here in a while.”
“Any reason why?”
“Funeral.” Matthews states, dryly.
“Oh. I'm sorry.”
Matthew lets the silence happen, and the bartender goes about doing busy work, until Matthew finishes his beer. She sets a shot of whiskey and a pint of Loose Cannon in front of him.
“You were close, huh?”
“Family. The kind you choose, at least. Worse part is, I haven't seen him in so long, I almost forget what he looks like. I keep trying to remember, but its vague, you know? I remember the impression of him. That's it.”
“Time will do that.”
“Yeah. Well, I wish it wouldn't.” Matthew says, angrily.
“When was the last time you saw him?” The bartender asks, bending over, resting her chin on her palms. She knew what she was doing. Bartenders are for confessing.
“A few years back, he came up, New York, I mean. That's where I live. I heard he was in town, so I called him, told him to come visit me at the office, I'd give him a tour and we'd catch up.”
“What is it you do?”
“Like, you write them?” she asks.
“Not at all, but I sell them. I work for a publisher.”
“Ah, anything I know?”
“You know those shitty glittering vampire stories?” Matthews ask, sarcastically pointing at himself.
“I know. So I tell him, hey, come her, we'll have a good time. So he comes into my office, him and his girl. This sweet looking blonde, with these dazzling green eyes. The best. So I go, I say hello, and I give him a big hug. I can tell somethings wrong, so I ask him what's up.”
Matthews pauses his story, as the bartender goes to help another customer. He takes this time to look at his watch, and finish his beer. The bartender comes back with another round, just as she'd promised to do. After the shot, Matthew continues.
“So he looks at me, and he tells me that they saw all the sights. Central Park, Statue of Liberty, even went to the Juicy Couture store for his girl. But then they went to g=Ground zero. He's always been a heartfelt kid, but the effect this had on him...I mean, you've got to realize, this wasn't too long after. It was still pretty bad. So Tuck looks at me, with those sad eyes of his, and tells me that it was like seeing a hole in the world. “
“Wow.” She says, softly.
“Yeah. You want to know the worst part? I've never been. I live in New York City, and I haven't been to Ground Zero. Proud New Yorker, right?” Matthew tells her with a scoff.
“You going to be okay?” The bartender asks, already preparing the next round.
“Yeah, yeah, I'll be fine. Listen, do you smoke? I haven't smoked in years but it feels like the perfect night, know what I mean?”
“Yeah, no problem. Listen, I'm actually do for a break if you want some company out there?” She gives him a sweet smile, and pulls out a pack of Camels, handing one and her lighter to Matthew.
“I wouldn't mind some alone time, maybe on the next trip?”
The bartender nods okay, and Matthew rises from the booth, and steps outside. A strong gust of wind chills him, and he buttons up his pea coat for warmth. Night has settled in, and the only people on the street are those wishing they weren't.
Matthews takes a drag of the camel, holding it in his chest for as long as possible, before exhaling. An old black man walks up to him smile on his face.
“How're ya' doing? Spare a cigarette?”
“Sorry, I had to bum this off the sweet bartender. I'm sure she'd give you one if you'd like.”
“Ah, I try and steer clear of bars. Made me the man I am today.” The old man cackles at this.
“Well, you look like a survivor, that must count for something.”
“Sometimes you can't do anything else. How long have you been in Baltimore?”
“I was born here, actually.”
“Really? You don't look it.”
“Well” , Matthew takes a drag of the cigarette, “That's kind of intentional.”
“That's a shame. You only get one home, son.” The old man says, disapprovingly.
“What about you?” Matthews asks.
“What about me? Hell, boy, I was born here, raised here, never left here. My father was never around, I raised my brothers and sisters. And I'll tell you, we were strong because of it. Yes sir.”
“You raised them all? How many?”
“Four brothers and five sisters. I was the oldest, so I changed their diapers, fed them, bathed them, all that.”
“Good for you.”
“Like you said, I'm a survivor, and I helped my family survive.”
“You sure did.”
“You going to finish that cigarette?” The old man asks Matthew. Matthew takes the half-smoked cigarette out of his mouth, examines it, then gives it to the old man.
“There you go, and here...” Matthew reaches into his pocket, snatches out one of his business cards, handing it to the old man. The old man examines the card. “You've got a good story, maybe I can sell it.”
“Bless you, son.” The old man says, a wide smile on his face. Matthew gives him a polite smile, and heads back into the bar. The old man's story wasn't unique or special, and he would never call Matthew. Matthew knew this, but maybe the hope will keep him warm on such a cold night. Matthew forgot about the old man in the cold as soon as he sat down at the bar, a shot and a beer waiting for him. Outside, Baltimore shudders as the cold wind cuts through it.