Keith set the ice-filled cooler down on the patio next to the chairs he’d placed in a row down the middle, all facing out to the tobacco field. He hadn’t done much work, but he had to wipe his forearm across his face to catch the running beads of sweat that were cascading down from his blonde hair. It was a hot day for summer, sure, but the heat was unnaturally unbearable today. Still, he’d have this no other way, and even if his fiancée had called him insane before leaving that morning to be with her family a state away he didn’t let it bother him. Sitting down on the chair nearest the cooler, he leaned forward and grabbed a beer to partake upon before closing the lid back on it to trap the cold air inside. The cold glass felt amazing in his hand as he bit down on the cap and popped it off with a tug. It wasn’t the best habit for his teeth, but he hadn’t thought to grab the bottle opener and was honestly just too lazy to walk back inside with the heat as malicious as it was all around him. He leaned back and let the chair absorb his shape as he tilted the bottle up and downed half of the contents. That was better.The rows of tobacco plants waved at him from the field before him, almost with an ignorant innocence, oblivious to everything. For some odd reason he felt obliged to wave back, but refrained when he realized how stupid that would be. After finishing off bottle number one he set it down next to his chair and checked his phone. Still no signal, of course, just like the past couple of hours. Only time would tell if his guests would make it in time now, and his expectations were much lower than the air temperature. With a sigh he set the phone down on the arm of the chair and grabbed his second beer from the cooler, his eyes now to the sky.
The peaceful silence was interrupted a moment later by the sound of a diesel engine coming from the front of the house. He took another sip as he waited for the newcomer to come around back like he’d asked him to over the phone earlier. After another minute, a familiar face rounded the corner and joined him on the patio, and without a word grabbed a beer from the cooler and joined Keith in the next seat to his left. The young man reached into his pocket for his keys and popped the cap off of his bottle with his keychain bottle opener. They both sat in silence for a minute, drinking and keeping their eyes on the sky. Keith started chewing on his tongue. What exactly do you say at a time like this?
“Beautiful sight. It’s times like this when living with all of this farmland around you is nice, huh?” Corbin asked as he waved his arm for emphasis, “Such a nice view, and what better way to handle all of this than to sit here and contemplate your decisions while staring out into a bland area, right? Better question; why the hell aren’t you inside?”
“The power’s out, dumbass,” Keith replied before downing his second beer.
“Still, the shade in there has to feel better,” Corbin complained. Keith set the bottle down before he grabbed his third beer from the cooler.
“Maybe, but then I wouldn’t have this great view.”
“You’re still the optimist you’ve always been, huh asshole?” Corbin jabbed. Keith just shrugged while he bit the cap off of the bottle. Corbin watched him spit it across the porch and shook his head, “You’re going to fuck your teeth up doing that.”
“Not like it matters anymore,” Keith replied as he took a swig.
“Jesus you couldn’t be more depressing.”
Keith pointed to him, “You had a choice to come here.”
“Not like I had much of one,” Corbin said dully as he stared at his empty bottle, “my family is across the country, and I wouldn’t make it to them in time,” his head dipped a bit as a thought seized him, “I can’t even call my mom, man.”
Keith only nodded, unable to relate. He wasn’t really close with his family to begin with, and only his fiancée had mattered to him, but she was gone now too.
“So,” Corbin began hesitantly, “anyone else coming?”
“Tevin was invited. I honestly expected him to be first.”
“Well fuck you too, Keith,” Corbin replied as he motioned with his hand. Keith grabbed another beer and handed it to him to take care of before going back to nursing his own. He removed it from his lips and raised an eyebrow.
“Well, he lives closer to me than you do.”
“Yeah, but he’s more of an ass than me on any given day,” Corbin said, smirking as he leaned over and spat on the patio. A mix of dip and alcohol probably wasn’t the best taste anyway, Keith assumed.
“You’re both still kids with the way you act,” Keith retorted. Corbin moved his lips to maneuver the dip into place as he tossed back his beer. Fumbling with the half-empty bottle and grimacing, he drank the rest in a few gulps before finally swearing and sitting back, throwing the bottle clear off of the porch, “Who made you the mature one then? Just because you have this nice place and a hot fiancée doesn’t make you the king of life. Definitely not anymore.”
“Well, I don’t hold grudges for eight years,” Keith muttered.
Corbin grunted his disapproval and motioned for another beer before saying something else, “When’s the asshole getting here anyway?”
“Couldn’t tell you myself,” Keith answered honestly as he passed on yet another bottle, “He’d be on his way, but I can’t call him, and the signal cut out while we were talking.”
“Yeah,” Corbin said with a nod, “understandable right now.”
“You’re the smart one, Corbin. You tell me,” Keith said as he pointed to the sky with the hand with his beer grasped in it, “How didn’t we see this coming?”
“Well for starters, you can’t-”
The revving of another engine sounded out from around the house, much louder yet with more bass to the rumble. Corbin seemed to tense up in his chair as Keith stood up and walked to the left side of the porch and waited for the sound of the V8 to cut out.
“Did you happen to tell Tevin I might be here?” Corbin asked, a nervous sound to his voice.
“Didn’t make it that far into the conversation,” Keith answered. Sure enough, after only a few more seconds the familiar figure of Tevin appeared from around the house. The young man’s dark skin glistened in the sunlight from the sweat that was flowing from his pores on this hot day. It’d been quite a few years, but he looked mostly the same. He still wore jeans and a black t-shirt. Hell, the guy’s wardrobe was on the grayscale. Though it was good to see him, the feeling didn’t appear mutual as Tevin stomped across the yard towards the patio. Keith sighed and stood his ground as Tevin marched up the steps and past him, heading right for Corbin. Keith finally looked behind him in time to see Corbin holding out a new beer he’d grabbed.
“Hey, Tevin! Fancy a cold one?” Tevin reached him and smacked the beer back across the porch where it shattered on the wall of the house. Corbin looked to it and then back to Tevin, not as perplexed as he was feigning, “You could’ve said you don’t drink.”
“We settling this or what?!” Tevin barked. Corbin leaned around him to mouth out for help to Keith, who rolled his eyes and decided to intervene.
“Tevin, I didn’t call you here for you two to beat the shit out of each other on my back porch. Hell, you two should’ve done that years ago.”
“So why the fuck am I here?!” Tevin shouted at him.
“Because,” Corbin said as he threw his arms out for emphasis, “we’ve got a lot to get through in a short time, and Keith here wants everyone to be nice and whole again before that time is up.”
“If you’re so pissed, then why did you come here?” Keith asked. Tevin snarled and looked up to the sky with a face that seemed to speak of deep contemplation as he observed the heavens above.
“My family is in New York. Too far away. Short straw says that you were someone I didn’t mind being around right now. Of course, that straw is pretty damn short considering that he’s here,” he finished, pointing to Corbin. Corbin finished his beer and gave a mocking wave, much to Tevin’s rage. Keith reached into the cooler and grabbed another beer to offer Tevin.
“Just sit down. We’re all going to talk this out.”
Tevin snatched the beer from him and took a seat next to Corbin, who tried to compress himself into the right side of his chair to shrink away from the furious being beside him. Keith stood before them and finished his fifth bottle before setting it down. Looking at the collection they’d been through already, he had to laugh. One for Tevin, three for Corbin, and five for himself. They’d have to step it up.
“You going to just stand there and look at everything, or talk?” Tevin demanded.
“Tevin, Corbin isn’t the reason you failed out of college,” Keith immediately replied, straightening his back up to reinforce his statement. He had to appear more intimidating than the angry man sitting before him. Corbin maintained his silence as he casually sipped away at his beer.
“Really?! What led you to that conclusion?!” Tevin shouted. Keith knew this wouldn’t be easy, but it would be better for the two of them to get it out of the way.
“You were caught cheating on an exam that he didn’t even offer you help with. You stole his answers and used them, and when you were caught you tried to drag him down with you,” Keith stated plainly, and he swore he could see Hell in Tevin’s eyes as the words hit, “You just refuse to take responsibility for what you did, and you’ve been angry since then with the whole damn world.”
“It cost me a lot!” Tevin roared.
“And it was your fucking mistake!” Corbin boomed at him from his right. Tevin nearly jumped when he heard the nerdy young man’s voice escalate for the first time. For a second, Keith and Corbin expected him to punch Corbin out, but instead he did something that neither of them had anticipated. He gave up. He just sat there and began to tear up, his words mixed in with his sobs.
“I’m scared, okay?! I had to come here! I had to be around someone!”
Corbin didn’t know whether to keep hitting him where it hurt or be the comforting friend at this point. Looking to Keith for guidance and seeing none as Keith walked past him and took his seat, he reached over and gave Tevin and friendly shove, “It’s okay. You are around people, and we’re going to be right here,” he glared at Keith, “Right?”
“Right,” Keith muttered as he drank away. In truth, he was glad there was something of a breakthrough here. Tevin stopped sobbing and finally started to work his way down the bottle he’d been given. Together they all three sat in silence and looked up at the sky, the green lights that had been there all day now more prominent than ever.
“You know, guys, when I woke up this morning I didn’t think I’d be saying goodbye to my fiancée and sitting here with you. Since I am, I guess there aren’t many other people I’d rather do this with.”
“Is that your way of saying you’re grateful we’re here?” Corbin asked. Keith just shrugged and continued to sip his beer as he looked up.
“So what’ll happen, Corbin? Will we burn in seconds or what?”
Corbin made a noise that sounded patronizing to his left, “No, that’s unlikely. We’ll more likely be exposed to sufficient amounts of radiation to kill us instantly if it punches through the ionosphere.”
Tevin didn’t like the sound of that any better than just perishing in a firestorm, “So…will it hurt?”
“Best to keep drinking and not think about it, Tevin,” Keith suggested as he finished off his sixth beer. That one left a funny taste in his mouth, almost like a metallic sensation on his tongue.
“Hey, Keith,” Tevin said from the left, “Your shitty beer tastes funny.”
“They always said this was impossible, you know?” Corbin spoke as he looked at the light show above, “They said that only the electromagnetic radiation and the particles of energy could actually reach us, and even then nothing would be capable of penetrating the atmosphere, and the magnetic field keeps us safe. Sure, there are coronal mass ejections like the first band this morning, but we should be fine. They only affect planes and areas in high altitudes. We should-”
“Hey, Corbin?” Tevin uttered to his left.
“Shut the hell up,” he said, eyes fixated on the sky as the green lights danced miles above them.
The sun was supposed to be renowned in many faiths as a source of light and life, yet now it was the harbinger of death and despair. Death incarnate, its tongue licked at the planet’s surface, tasting the life on it like when one licks a jawbreaker; eventually the tongue’s touch would destroy it. Tevin’s hands tightened on the arms of his chair as the sweat ran down his face, but he didn’t know if it was from the intense heat or the nervous anxiety that was tearing into him as he watched the sky ignite. Corbin opted to take a more apathetic approach and drank from his beer as he held a middle finger to the fire in the sky. Keith pondered anything else but the impending doom, and one thought struck him as something he just needed to know.
“Think if it got any hotter my blood would boil before anything happened? Since I drank so much anyway.”
Corbin watched the raging heavens as he replied, “The amount of alcohol you’d need in you to affect that would kill you first.”
Keith threw his seventh bottle to the floor of the patio, “Well shit.”
“Alcohol poisoning sounds better than this, huh?” Corbin inquired as to Keith’s awkward grin. Keith looked to him as he felt himself grow hotter inside.
“Not if it keeps leaving me a weird taste in my mouth. Jesus it must be hitting me hard now,” Keith said as he slumped in his chair, “Know that warm feeling from when the alcohol actually settles in?”
“Yeah,” Corbin practically whispered as he slouched down as well, looking at the green lights parting for the expanding field of red that was pushing the atmospheric gases aside, like the hands of death pushing aside the veil to reap its reward.
“I’m feeling that hard right now…and tired already…”
“Yeah man,” Corbin uttered. There was a clatter of a bottle on the porch to Keith’s left, and he looked to see it spilling its contents at Tevin’s feet. He just assumed that Tevin got clumsy with it, or got sick of the taste. He didn’t like beer that much, after all. As the sky turned a terrible shade of orange and red, Keith’s drowsy eyes fell upon the tobacco plants, still waving in the wind. He actually raised a hand to wave back with as much of a smile as he could muster, but that effort took enough of his energy to tire him out, and he drifted off to sleep.