Jake's eyes snapped open. He was in bed and staring up at Taylor who had the same shit-eating grin that he always did right before they both got in trouble for something.
"I don't wanna." Jake moaned, settling back into his pillow.
"Too fucking bad." Taylor wrapped his burly arms around him and lifted him straight out of bed.
Jake was by no means a little guy but he was stilled dwarfed in comparison to the massive Army Ranger. He accepted his fate and, after being set back on the ground, quickly dressed while Taylor practically jumped up and down.
"Why?" Jake asked curtly as they made their way out the door.
"The party, man! Don't tell me you forgot."
"Of course not."
As sleepiness began to fade, it was all started coming back to him, the get together at Emilia's house. They had been planning it for months. He must have forgotten to set his alarm clock the night before or something.
The ride to Emilia's was quick. Before Jake even realized it, they were walking in the front door to a room full people who were all laughing and cheering and having a good time. A cooler full of drinks sat next to the table and at least a few people had joints in hand.
"Jake! There you are!" Emilia's screamed happily as she ran up to hug him. "I haven't seen you in forever."
Taylor didn't say anything as he walked away to retrieve a beer from the cooler. Instead he just gave Jake and Emilia that same shit eating grin as before.
"It's been too long, Em." Jake agreed.
Once upon a time, Jake and Emilia had dated. They even thought they might get married at one point but when things happen, people just can't go on together like they thought they would. Jake was with Meredith now but was happy the Emilia didn't have any hard feelings about it. They made small talk and settled at the table with everything else.
"So how's everyone been?" Jake said with a huge smile.
He looked around the table and saw so many people that he hadn't seen in years. Taylor had been away at war, playing Army Ranger and fighting for the rest of them. He and Emilia hadn't seen each other since their relationship was broken up. John had always been the quiet artsy type who kept to himself and locked himself away from the world. And Caitlynn had always been a much bigger fan of the club scene than any of them and had become a world famous DJ that toured the world.
There were so many more with so many stories, but as Jake's eyes wandered to each of them, he noticed something that grabbed his attention.
Emilia had a number of paintings around the table. Some she had done but most were John's. Something was wrong with the paintings. The colors were faded to grey. What was once a beautiful play on paint thickness and color was now just a blob of greys and blacks.
Jake looked at Emilia and pointed at the painting but she didn't even bother looking at it.
"So!" she said with a huge smile. "Earlier we said that we'd discuss what we wanted to do when we all got back together. What are we thinking?"
"I'm voting for something outdoors." Taylor chimed in as he took a long swig of beer.
"Of course you do." Caitlynn said in her normal sarcastic tone. "God help us if we ever did something inside."
"Hey, not my fault that buildings can't contain my awesome."
Everybody chuckled at the terrible joke and John quickly chirped up.
"I don't know, something outside sounds kind of nice." he said, his voice oddly quiet.
"I'm in." Jake agreed.
Caitlynn groaned and let out a sigh. "Fiiiiiiiiine. What are we thinking anyway?"
Jake found himself staring at Caitlynn now. Not to hear her opinion, but to literally try to hear her. Just like John before, Caitlynn was suddenly growing quiet. As if someone had grabbed the "Volume" nob and cranked it lower.
"I wanna going fishing." Taylor said, nodding his head as if he were agreeing with himself.
Again, just like Caitlynn and John, his voice was too quiet. Everyone's was. He looked at them all in confusion. Were they playing a joke of some kind? No one seemed to think this was weird at all.
Just as he was going to say something, he noticed that the grey of the paintings was spreading. It was boiling over the frame of the painting and draining the color from the walls, moving to the ceiling and floor.
Jake snapped up with surprise. What the hell was going on?
"Guys...?" He said, pointing at the slowly creeping loss of color.
No one paid him any heed. They just kept talking about their plans.
"No fishing." Emilia said, "What about something like go-kart racing? Or we haven't gone rock hounding in a while!"
"Rock hounding?" John said with surprise. "I've never done that."
The grey was spreading across the floors and ceilings now. Climbing up the legs of his friends' chairs.
"Guys!" Jake yelled, panic welling up inside him.
Still, no one paid any attention. Instead, each time one of them talked their voices got progressively quieter.
"Oh, it's awesome!" Emilia said with a smile. "We have to do it. You can find all sorts of stuff like opals and fossils!"
" It's true." Caitlynn said with a begrudging smile. "I found a few dinosaur bones once."
The grey started to engulf his friends. It drained the color from their faces, from their clothes, and seemingly took the last of their voices. All around him, the color had been sucked out of everything in the room. Everything except himself.
Taylor must have made some snide comment because everyone started laughing, but he could no longer hear his friends. It was like Jake was standing a vacuum listening to the roaring silence of nothingness.
Jake's heart pounded as he looked around in panic. What the hell was happening? What was he supposed to do?
Than, all at once, he realized his friends were looking at him. They seemed almost expectant as if they were waiting for an answer.
What had been said? What did they want?
What do you think, Jake? Taylor asked more in his head than anything else.
Jake snapped awake in his bed again, this time staring up at his ceiling. All around him, color had returned. He could hear the birds chirping outside and the cars racing by on the street.
With a sigh, he heaved himself out of bed and went to the closet.
It took a few moments of digging, but there, at the bottom of his closet beneath discarded old shoes and a knapsack that had long ago lost its usefulness, he found a box filled with pictures and mementos.
The first picture he found was him and Emilia, together and happy. She was smiling than, holding a candle that she had made at one of those "Make-Your-Own-Candle" booths at the state fair. It was green and blue and looked almost like the ocean, he had thought. That was before she had gotten sick. Before she had gone to the hospital and never come out.
The next picture was a drawing. A rough and dirty sketch Jake himself had done of a rather sullen looking John. The proportions were off but you could clearly make out the sad expression on John's face. It was that depression that eventually locked him in his room for the last time. His mom found him the next morning.
With a chuckle, he found the professionally done picture of Caitlynn. She was behind her turntable while people danced by the hundreds in front of her. Jake couldn't help but wonder what she might have been on when this picture was taken. Coke? Heroin? Jake had never paid much attention to her drug use and now he really did.
The last picture he pulled out was Taylor and him standing together when they were 10. Now in his 30's, the picture was taken well over 20 years ago, but you could easily see the men they would both become.
Tears rolled down Jake's cheeks as he looked at it.
Taylor had joined the Army and become a Ranger while Jake, having blown out his knee and back, was never allowed in. He had served for years without his brother at his side but managed to come home safe and sound all the same. That's why it hurt all the more when he was told a year later that Taylor was killed in a motorcycle accident. He had survived years of bullets and bombs and explosions only to be taken down by a 42 year old drunk driver in a rent-a-car.
Jake carefully replaced the mementos, taking care not to damage anything, and slid the box back where it came from at the bottom of the closet. His wife had asked why he didn't hang the pictures up somewhere in the house.
"I'd rather not," Jake had said. "I don't want to take the risk of them fading."
(I hope you guys enjoyed. Yes, I know the whole "it was all a dream" metaphor is a bit over played however this one seemed appropriate as it was based on a real dream I had and real people I've known. Obviously a number of details have been altered here and there but the message is hopefully the same: cherish the time you have with those you love. Even the mundane stuff will be a blessing if you can ever relive it.)