The last time we saw Taylor alive, it was behind Melrose Diner on Snyder Avenue at two in the morning. It was a little bit after the rain had stopped; the clouds had disappeared and the moon was already covered by the quiet buildings that lined up on Main Street. There were still puddles on the tarmac, and the streetlights still had some raindrops trailing down their sides. The smell of wet rust and burnt florescence still lingered in the air - the normal fragrance of a night in Philadelphia, after a night of too much to drink and too few fucks to give.
We had all of our band gear already packed up in the back of Dave's shitty van, except for Taylor's old Ibanez guitar, which he kept in the gig bag that was strapped around his back. He liked to keep it with him after a particularly good show; it was a good-luck charm to him, and we needed all the luck we could get.
The four of us Taylor, Dave, Mikey, and me locked up the doors of the van and headed inside Melrose Diner, like we always did after a particularly good show. The waitresses were kind and the coffee was always served with a slice of pie, free of charge. Their neon sign proclaimed that their "Hotcakes Are the Best in Town!" but we already learned long ago that neon signs almost always lied.
It was probably a couple weeks after graduation that stopping by Melrose Diner became a regular thing for the four of us. Pretty girls we knew from school that were too broke for college became waitresses there, and we got to know them better from nights we spent at Melrose Diner than the entire four years we were all students together at North Penn High School.
I think it was probably after the twelfth show we had together as a band. We were opening for local upstarts Long Drive Home, a group of rich kids from Upper Philly who had more money than they had talent. They bought their way into a headlining gig, and we were stuck playing second fiddle to a third-rate band.
It was a bad performance from us, to say the least. The levels were off, our instruments weren't tuned, and the audience was dead. I remember Mikey puking his guts out in an alley way next to the bar where we had just performed right afterwards, while Taylor was putting his guitar into Dave's van.
We gravitated towards Melrose Diner because it was warm inside, Mikey needed to call his girlfriend and our phones were dead; and - most importantly - they promised the best hotcakes in town.
"What the fuck are hotcakes?" Taylor yelled when we drove by the diner.
"Pancakes," Dave yelled over the loud music blasting from the speakers. "They're pancakes."
"'Best Hotcakes in Town?' Fuck me, you can't argue with that!" Taylor said with a smile. In response, we just shrugged our shoulders, parked beside it, and made our way inside.
Two months before he died, Taylor left his court-appointed rehab center on accounts of good-behavior. Dave, Mikey and I waited by Dave's shitty van, cheering when we saw him step through the sliding doors of Frankford hospital.
"I've quit cold turkey, boys," Taylor said with a silly grin on his face. "This guy is completely clean." He made his way down the stairs and walked across the parking lot to where Dave parked the van, and gave each of us a hug as soon as he could.
The four of us leaned against the van, underneath the last lit streetlight on the hospital's parking lot, and just stared at the dark Philadelphia night sky. It wasn't a coincidence that on the day Taylor got out of rehab, the snow that had been bombarding the East coast the past week had finally stopped. This was probably the first time we've seen the Moon for days. For Taylor, it was probably the first time he's seen the sky in three months.
Five months before he died, Taylor collapsed during a midnight show at the Croc' Rock Café in downtown Philadelphia. When the paramedics finally arrived, he was caked in stale beer and sweat, and his heart had stopped. Dave followed behind the ambulance in his shitty van as closely as he could, while Mikey and I sat in the back, chewing the ends of our fingernails and our guitar picks. I remember thinking of how odd it was that the lights that sat atop the ambulance and the stoplights that hung on wires were both red. Like they both signaled the end of something important to anyone that stared at them. A reminder of how fragile life is, and the promises and precautions people never really take.
The bright lights at Frankford hospital casted dark, harsh shadows on the doctor's face.
"He's suffering from a drug overdose," the doctor said as he flipped through some charts, muttering to himself as he read them over. "Apparently, he's a repeat offender. I'm sorry to trouble you with this this late at night, but there are some police officers here who want to ask you three some questions about your friend."
"Questions?" Mikey asked. "About what?"
"About whether your friend needs to go into rehab or to jail."
The last time we saw Taylor alive, he was sipping on lukewarm coffee, a slice of pie lying untouched besides it, his guitar next to him. The four of us sat in the corner booth - by now our regular spot - and ate breakfast at two in the morning. Julie came by our booth, filled up our empty cups with more coffee, and asked us if we needed anything else. Mikey shook his head in response.
Dave stared up from his half-finished stack of hotcakes à la mode and frowned at Taylor.
"Hey," Dave asked, his mouth full of syrup and hotcakes. "You all right, dude?" Taylor looked up at Dave, took another sip of coffee, and softly placed it down onto the metal table. He leaned back in the bench, the leather squeaking as he moved, and smiled.
"I'm good," he said. "We played a good show tonight. Probably the best show we've ever played. What's there to worry about, dude? I'm here in a diner with my best friends, enjoying the best two dollars, twenty-seven cents on coffee I've ever spent. No worries, dude, no worries."
Melrose Diner doesn't exist anymore. It was torn down four weeks after Taylor died, to make way for an apartment complex. Mikey, Dave, the waitresses, and I stood by Dave's shitty van, and watched as a wrecking ball went straight into the far corner wall, right where our booth was. We watched as the diner unraveled, almost as if it was coming apart at the seams. The windows that we used to stare out of at Friday nights were cracked, the chairs we used to sit in lay naked on the sidewalk. Still pathetically hanging on one last bit of wire, the broken neon sign unlit and missing letters - proclaimed Philadelphia to be the "Best
Town!" but we already learned long ago that neon signs almost always lied.