Daniel took a breath, stepping off the subway. His flight from Seattle had just landed and he was able to catch a train that went straight from JFK airport to New York City, his old home. Though he hadn’t visited the large city since the three years ago, when he did live in the area, he still felt like he belonged there. He used to believe he did belong there, as all of his friends and connections were here.
His mother was able to get him a plane ticket and arrange for him to stay at his friend’s house for a week or so. Daniel was excited, could barely sit still on the flight. Texting and calling weren’t the same as seeing his friends in real life. He walked down the street, avoiding the crowds while turning off airplane mode on his phone.
Daniel stopped as he noticed that he was there; his friend’s home. It was arranged as a surprise for Percy, one of his good friends. He wondered how much they had all changed. They must have changed, hadn’t they? When he left, they were only eleven years old, and now he was fourteen. He was shorter back then and he had changed his hair since then, and wondered how much they changed.
He wondered how much Michael had changed. Michael, his best and closest friend. Michael, the one who had drifted the farthest away from him after he moved. He couldn’t wait to see him. Daniel had decided on visiting him in the first few hours of his trip. He wanted to hug his best friend like he hadn’t in years and tell him all about life in Seattle and see the people he grew to know as part of his family.
He walked up the stairs, pressing the buzzer that was on the wall. He immediately got access and a feeling of nostalgia ran through him as he looked up at the darkly lit stairwell that he remembered so well. He quickly climbed up the old stone stairs, his feet making soft thumps as he scaled the three stories it took before he was standing there.
Daniel stood in front of the door he remembered. It was a red door with a small peephole, some of the paint chipped off showing the dark wood that was hidden underneath. He took a deep breath, swallowing his nervousness as he knocked on the door three times.
“Mom, I got it!” Daniel heard someone say, who sounded very familiar. Though the voice was deeper and louder, he couldn’t help but smile at the sound of his old friend’s voice. The nervousness climbed back up his throat as the door swung open to show a shocked Percy.
“Daniel?” Percy asked, his voice quiet and shocked. Daniel smiled, looking his friend up and down. He had gotten taller, much taller (though Percy always had a few inches on Daniel when they were younger, he was at least half a head taller than him now). Percy’s hair was still the same dark brown and his eyes looked like a more vivid hazel then they did three years ago. Percy wore a red t-shirt and jeans and old, worn black converse that looked exactly like the pair he had worn when he was younger, though they couldn’t have possibly been the same as his feet looked five times larger than they were in the past.
“Hi Percy,” Daniel said, trying to keep his voice steady when really it was shaking with excitement. Percy enveloped him in a hug and Daniel hugged back, knowing he missed the feeling of his friend’s touch.
“How come you didn’t tell me you were coming back?” Percy asked as he pulled away, punching Daniel in the shoulder, causing him to yelp.
“Hey!” Daniel said, rubbing his shoulder. “It was a surprise. Your mom helped set it up.” Percy turned around and glared at his mom, who was standing in the doorway of the kitchen, her phone out and blinking, signalling it was recording.
“Wow mom, thanks,” he said sarcastically. “Here, come in. So are you staying? You’ve honestly missed so much.”
“I think I’m staying for a week or two,” Daniel said, dropping his bag next to the door. He stepped into the apartment, which looked the same from what he could see. The same light wood floors and cabinets on the walls, and the kitchen looked the same- white cabinets and countertops, which looked good in Percy’s mom’s opinion (though Percy disagreed, as he thought that all their science experiments they had done when they were younger would ruin the cabinets).n
“How’s your mom’s job going?” Christine, Percy’s mother asked, referring to the reason that Daniel had moved away from them in the first place, and she handed him a mug of hot chocolate.
“Good, she says that she really likes it and it pays well, so she thinks she’s going to stay there for awhile,” Daniel said, taking a sip of the hot chocolate, frowning as it scorched his tongue.
“You always make it too hot, mom!” Percy exclaimed when he took a sip, sputtering at the unexpected heat.
“Hey, it’s not my fault, I just turn on the kettle and that heats up the milk, not me!” Christine said, holding her hands up in surrender. “I’m going to take the dog for a walk, you two can catch up.”
Daniel looked at Percy in surprise. “You got a dog?” He asked. Percy had always wanted to get a dog but he never could because his older brother Charlie was allergic.
“Charlie’s twenty now, he moved to college. He’s actually in Florida right now, enjoying the nice warm weather while we have to suffer in this cold.” Percy said, scowling. “But that means I get to have a dog.”
“What kind of dog is it?” Daniel asked, looking around, now noticing the dog bowls and kennel in the living room.
“A small one, some kind of mix. That’s what the breeder said anyways,” Percy shrugged as the door closed, signalling they were alone in the apartment.
“And how are the rest of them? Jace and everyone else?” Daniel asked, sitting on the couch in the living room.
“He got another guinea pig, two actually. And a lizard gecko and a few more fish,” Percy said, counting the animals that their friend had gotten. They called Jace the Animal Whisperer- because he always had at least five different kinds of animals, whether it be guinea pigs or snakes.
“How’s Michael? I haven’t talked to him in awhile?” Daniel asked, causing Percy to frown.
“He moved. Somewhere in Oregon I think.” Percy sighed, taking a sip of his drink, his mood lowering at the mention of their friend across the country.
“Really? When? Why?” Daniel asked. Percy shrugged, sinking into the couch as he took another sip.
“About a month and a half ago. I don’t know why he moved. One day he just disappeared and we didn’t hear from him for a week, then my mom got a call saying he moved to Oregon.” Percy explained, putting his empty mug of hot chocolate onto the coffee table.
Daniel thought back to a month and a half ago. A month and a half ago, he was still in Seattle and texting his friends daily. But a month and a half ago, his messages and calls weren’t being returned from Michael. And then a month ago his messages weren’t being delivered and his calls rejected. Maybe that was why, he had lost his phone or gotten a new one.
“My messages haven’t been sending to him since then,” Percy exclaimed, revealing a problem similar to Daniel’s. “My mom just thinks he got a new phone but I think he would’ve told us before they disconnected his old one.”
“We should go to Oregon than!” Daniel said with a small playful smile, causing Percy to laugh.
“Sure, cause my mom would totally allow that five minutes after your stepped off your plane to New York. And we don’t even know where he lives!” Percy laughed, the mood lightening.
“Sure, but we could find out, maybe. I want to talk to him!” Daniel declared. “We need to get the group back together.”
Percy frowned, “But Daniel, you’re going to be here for barely a week. And how would we be able to find him?”
“Maybe his landlord of his old apartment knows something,” Daniel speculated. “Or his cousin! His cousin lives in Greenwich Village, on fourth street. They’ve got to know something.”
“Do you really wanna do this the second you get back to the city?” Percy asked. “We should at least go and surprise Jace, we can’t leave him out of this.”
“We’ll do that first. But please, I haven’t seen you guys in three years. It should be four of us, not three of us and one of them missing.” Daniel pleaded, seeing the conflict in Percy’s eyes.
“But Daniel, it was three of us and one missing for three years.” Percy said, causing Daniel to frown. “We never saw you and we still managed to have fun. Sure, it wasn’t the same, but isn’t different good? What if neither of them have information?”
“But what if they do?” Daniel asked. “It can’t hurt to try, right?” Percy sighed, standing up and Daniel cheered in victory.
“Well, his landlord knows nothing.” Percy concluded after the door was slammed shut in their faces. They had walked the four blocks to Michael’s apartment building, knocked on the landlord’s apartment door, only to get a door in the face and no information.
Daniel frowned as they left the building. Michael and Daniel were the first ones to form a friendship, as Daniel’s old apartment building was right next to Michael’s. They had decided it was by pure luck they had met each other, as their apartments were both on the fourth floor and both their bedrooms had a window and a fire escape overlooking the alley that separated the two buildings. They became best of friends over late night talks and passing notes using the clothing lines that their parents had strung between the buildings for them.
But when Daniel had moved, they relationship had weakened. They no longer talked everyday like they did when they were living twenty feet away from each other and neither of them had much time to call each other as Daniel got involved in sports like swimming and track in Seattle and Michael- well, Daniel never had time to figure out why Michael wasn’t answering his texts right away.
But now he had the chance to hang out with his friends again, all of them, but his chance was ruined by the fact that Michael had moved and had no information at all.
“Well, now let’s just go to Greenwich Village and visit their cousin, hopefully they’ll know something.” Percy said, walking down the street with Daniel close behind.
“Wait! Let’s visit Jace. He lives only a block away, right? We can bring him on our adventure?” Daniel said, remembering his other friend that he still hadn’t surprised yet.
“Okay, let’s go,” Percy said, laughing as Daniel took a right on the street corner. “Um, Daniel, you realize that you’re supposed to take a left?”
Daniel turned around and began to march the other way. “I knew that,” He muttered as he passed Percy, his face turning red.
“So being in Seattle really did affect your memory huh? You can’t even remember which way to our best friend’s house!” Percy laughed. Daniel shrugged.
“I wasn’t exactly studying the map of New York City I have every day to remind myself.” Daniel said, referring to the map he had once had hung up on his wall in his old apartment. It was either in storage or his mother had thrown it out, but he never saw it again after they moved (but to be fair, he still hadn’t unpacked the boxes labeled ‘Daniel’s Old Belongings’ which took up residency in the storage unit of their home).
Daniel turned the corner and walked a few steps, waiting for Percy. “So how’s school?” He asked, wanting to know more about his life since Daniel left.
“It’s fine. Very, very boring. Like oh my god, it is impossible to focus. Our grade is horrible.” Percy groaned, rubbing his eye.
Daniel chuckled, taking a few steps up the staircase of Jace’s apartment building. He pressed the buzzer and heard someone get on the speaker.
“Who is it?” He heard Jace ask. He grinned and looked at Percy, who smiled before pressing the buzzer again.
“It’s Percy. Let me up,” Percy said, and they heard the door unlock with a click. Percy pushed open the heavy metal door made of wire, then pushed open the wooden door behind it.
“Let’s go up the stairs, it’s faster.” Daniel decided, beginning to climb the stairs, sometimes taking two steps at a time. He wondered how Jace would react. Would he be happy? Hopefully.
He knocked on the door, surprised Jace hadn’t already opened or unlocked it for Percy. Percy climbed up behind him, leaning on the rail of the staircase waiting for Jace’s reaction.
“Percy, could you help me feed my-” Jace said as he opened the door, but stopped, his face lighting up, shocked to see Daniel’s face.
“Daniel! Oh my god, I haven’t seen you in ages! How are you?” Jace asked, hugging his friend.
“I’m good, how are you? I heard you got a new guinea pig?” Daniel grinned. Jace laughed, inviting them in.
“Yeah, I did. Two, actually.” Jace said, and Daniel chuckled, looking at Percy.
“That’s exactly what Percy said when he told me.” Daniel said, pulling off his shoes. Daniel knew how much of a clean freak Jace’s mother, Carol, and she was always telling them to take their shoes off.
“I wonder why. So, um, I just have to feed my gecko but we can talk while I’m doing it? Why are you here?” Jace asked as he led them to his room.
Jace’s room was small, and looked even smaller with all the animal cages. The walls were painted a light yellow with some paint chips on them or scratches on the wall from all the old animal cages and games they had played. His floor was covered with gray carpet that wasn’t there three years ago and looked relatively new and Daniel assumed that was because when he had last talked to Jace he had spilled a bunch of water from his fish tank on his last carpet and it had gotten ruined. His bed was quite small and shoved into the corner, and his closet door was behind a tank that was currently unoccupied by any fish or reptile. He had his fish tanks sitting on a rack in front of his window, giving his room a yellow light. His lizard gecko’s tank was on top of his dresser, and the gecko was on top of the small tree that was placed in the tank. Daniel scrunched his nose at the smell of the room, as it smelled sort of like damp hay mixed in with some other smells.
“You got a bigger guinea pig cage,” Daniel observed as he looked at the large cage. It was only about a foot tall with some wire mesh around the sides.
“Yeah, I needed more space for the new guinea pigs. My mom wasn’t all that happy because I spent my Christmas and birthday money on it, but oh well.” Jace shrugged as he opened the mini fridge that he had at the foot of his bed.
“You got a fridge in your room?” Daniel asked, surprised. Jace nodded, pulling out the bag of mealworms.
“I don’t use it for actual food, just for my animals. It was a gift from my dad, so I thought I might just use it for that. My mom would always freak out when she opened the fridge and she saw the mealworms.” Jace chuckled, showing the contents of the fridge which only included some carrots, celery, and the bugs.
“Do you want to hold her?” Jace asked as he pulled the lid off the tank. He dropped a few mealworms in it before turning to look at Daniel.
“Um, sure, yeah.” Daniel said. He never really liked reptiles but why not?“Don’t worry, she’s not poisonous,” Jace said with a grin, carefully picked up the gecko. “Her name is Gator,” Jace said as he carefully handed the reptile over to Daniel’s open hands. Daniel held the lizard slightly away from him, the gecko glancing around, his head darting side to side.
“She is kind of nervous, she doesn’t like new people,” Jace said, talking about the gecko as if it was a person. Daniel frowned as the gecko wiggled out of his hands and crawled up his arm onto his shoulder.
“Okay, can you take her now?” Daniel said as he felt the gecko move on his shoulder again. Jace laughed and pulled Gator off of him, placing her back in her tank so she could eat and snapping the lid shut.
“Well, that was fun,” Jace said with a grin, exiting the room. “Where’s Percy?” He looked down the hall. Daniel frowned, Percy hadn’t come in Jace’s bedroom.
“I’m in here!” Percy yelled from the general direction of the living room. Jace groaned, walking into the room to see Percy with a bag of chips watching something on the television.
“Hey, don’t eat all my food!” Jace said, taking the bag of chips away from Percy before he could open it. “Why didn’t you come with us?”
“I didn’t feel like it. I’ve already seen your animals a million times and that basically all you talk about,” Percy exclaimed as he stood up and turned off whatever he was watching on the television.
“Okay, so Daniel, why did you visit?” Jace asked as he put the bag of chips back into the cabinet.
“My mom is going on a business trip and didn’t want me to stay home alone for two weeks, and I didn’t want to stay with any of my Seattle friends so I convinced her to let me come here,” Daniel said, leaning on the countertop.
“Why didn’t you visit sooner?” Percy asked, jumping up to sit on the counter next to the stove.
“My mom always said that we were too busy with school and unpacking and with work, She also said I was too young to fly alone and she didn’t want to go to New York,” Daniel sighed.
“But what about the summer? And it’s been three years, it took you that long to unpack?” Jace asked, grabbing an apple, offering it to Daniel, who refused, and Percy, who gladly took it. He took another for himself, biting into it loudly.
“I don’t know,” Daniel said. “I wanted to go, but she always worked in the summer,” Jace nodded, taking another bite of his apple. Daniel’s face lit up as he remembered they were here to get Jace then go look for Michael.
“We’re going to Michael’s cousin’s house.” Daniel announced, walking into the foyer and pulling on his sneakers.
“Wait, why?” Jace asked as he and Percy followed.
“Daniel wanted to find Michael or at least his new phone number. He’s calling it our adventure. He dragged me along, and you better come with me or I think I’ll die of boredom,” Percy explained.
“Okay, just let me write a note to my mom. She’s supposed to be home in a few minutes.” Jace said, grabbing a pen from the desk they had in the hallway and a piece of printer paper, scribbling something onto it.
“Your handwriting still hasn’t improved, has it?” Daniel laughed as he looked at Jace’s messy scribbles.
“Shut up,” Jace groaned with a good-natured smile. “I was entered into a handwriting contest last year!” Daniel looked to Percy to confirm that it was true, who nodded with a barely contained smile.
“Yeah, just because hardly anyone else in our class actually writes,” Percy countered, “Everything’s on the computer now. And you got last place in the school! A fifth grader beat you!”
Daniel laughed loudly at Jace, who pouted as he slipped his shoes on. “Let’s just go find out where Michael is,” He muttered, opening his apartment door and stepping out into the hallway.
“Are you guys coming or not?” He asked, smiling. Daniel stepped out into the hallway, waiting for Percy, who took forever to put his converse on.
“Are those the same pair of converse you had when we were younger?” Daniel asked as Percy stood up and followed them as they began to walk down the stairs.
“No, do they look the same?” Percy asked as he frowned, looking at his sneakers. Jace laughed loudly, his voice echoing in the tall and thin stairwell.
“Dude, you realize that you’ve been buying the same exact type of sneakers in the same color for like five years straight? I’ve never seen you wear anything but black converse!” Jace exclaimed.
“Oh, I just really like these. They’re comfortable,” Percy shrugged as they stepped out onto the pavement, and Daniel glanced at the lowering sun.
“We should probably hurry, guys. We don’t want to be getting back too late.” Daniel said, beginning to walk to the subway station. “It’ll only take like fifteen minutes to get there, I think.”
Daniel walked down the stairs to the subway, avoiding touching the railing because who knows what was put on it.
They waited for the 1 train, which would take them to the Christopher street subway station and then it was only two minutes away from the subway.
Daniel scrunched his nose as he stepped into a car, a sour smell scorching his nose. It was very crowded, as it was just about rush hour and people were leaving work to get back to their families. He looked around as he grasped the pole in the center of the subway car, watching as more people piled into the car, making everyone move closer together as Daniel frowned, as the heat seemed to increase by a few degrees as he was pushed from three sides of his body, glancing at Jace and Percy.
“If only we had gone a few minutes earlier,” Jace muttered, frowning. Percy shrugged.
“Hey, you’re the one who didn’t feed your gecko earlier,” Percy said, pulling one hand up to his nose to cover it.
“I have a schedule of when I’m supposed to feed her, if you guys had come earlier than we wouldn’t be stuck in this car with a million people on it.” Jace argued. The train screeched to a stop, pulling up to the 66th street, where luckily the car was relieved of a few people, only a few more piling on. The train lurched forwards as it began to head to the next station.
Daniel frowned as a particularly large group of what seemed to be tourists entered the car as about fifteen people got off. They were loud, looking at the maps and didn’t pay attention as the train lurched forwards once again, almost sending one of the tourists toppling into Percy.
“I hate tourists,” He muttered as they laughed as one of them almost fell over again after taking their hands off the pole to grab their phone from their pocket.
“Really? I thought you would miss them,” Percy chuckled. “Are there any subways in Seattle?”
“Yes, but there’s less, it’s cleaner, and there are less people,” Daniel murmured as the train stopped a bit short of the station. “Ugh, Times Square.”
“Well, at least those tourists got off.” Jace shrugged as they left the subway. However, many more people piled into the car.
“Only three more stops.” Daniel said, rubbing his burning nose. The subway, he decided, smelled like burnt rubber and sour milk.
“Well, next stop a lot of people are going to get off,” Jace observed, as the next stop was Penn Station. Daniel smiled at his friend as he caught himself with the handle of the seats as the train stopped yet again. Though he did live in New York years ago, he was used to the smooth stopping of the Seattle subways.
They sighed in relief as many people got off, only a few more people getting on, but they had room to finally breathe and move normally. Daniel stretched his arm, which was positioned kind of awkwardly before between him a quite a large man.
“Well, one more stop,” Daniel said as the crackling announcement came on that due to construction the 14th street 1 train would be redirected to go straight to Christopher street. Not many people understood the announcement, and from what Daniel had heard people grumble they thought it sounded like a load of static. Though, growing up in New York you got used to the bad intercoms on trains, he thought.
They finally got off the train station, stretching their trapped legs and walking up the stairwell onto the street, which now smelled like damp rain.
“That was fun, brought back so many memories,” Daniel remarked sarcastically. Jace and Percy laughed.
“At least it wasn’t during the mornings, seems like everyone’s a bit more short-tempered in the earlier part of the day,” Percy said as they walked down the street. They only had to walk a bit more than a block before they walked down the stairs and pressed the buzzer for the apartment 3F, Michael’s cousins apartment.
“Who is it?” They heard over the intercom, the speaker crackling.
“It’s Daniel, one of Michael’s friends.” Daniel spoke. The speaker crackled again and they heard a sort of whispering or murmuring, then the door clicked open.
“Come in,” They spoke again. Daniel heaved the door open, waiting for his friends to walk through before letting go of it and causing it to slam shut.
“Well, it’s certainly very nice here,” Percy commented dryly as they looked around. They were in a small stairwell that could barely fit the three of them, a single lightbulb and the window in the door being their only light sources. The stairs were covered with tile and as Daniel took a step it creaked and groaned under the new weight.
They got to the fifth floor, where Daniel stood in front of apartment 3F. He took a breath and knocked, but his head began to fill with thoughts. What if Michael’s disappeared? What happened to his family.
He was pulled out of his thoughts when the door swung open revealing Michael’s cousin. They had never actually met the man, who was the son of Michael’s aunt, but they knew where he lived as Michael often talked about visiting him and doing fun things with him, like going to Coney Island or going to a Yankees game.
Daniel blinked and looked at the man. He was quite short, only a few inches taller than Daniel. He had short brown hair and kind brown eyes. The man wore a loose-fitting shirt and jeans.
“Hey, you’re Michael’s friends?” The man asked, and Daniel nodded. His voice was rough.
“Yeah, I’m Daniel, this is Percy, and that’s Jace,” Daniel said, gesturing to his two friends that stood behind him.
“I’m Johnathan, but you can call me John. Please, come in.” John said, moving to the side to make room for the three friends. They walked into the apartment, looking around.
It was very small, only three rooms. The living room had two walls filled with books from floor to ceiling, an old couch in the center and a small cabinet with a television pushed into the corner. There was also a coffee table with a stained glass lamp that had little dragonflies on it. There was also a pair of French doors with curtains over them that Daniel assumed led to the bedroom. The next room was the kitchen, which had white cabinets and marble countertops, several shades of green swatched onto the yellow wall, the boldest shade of green being circled with the small paper next to it. There was also a small dining table and a second table with several small cactuses on it.
“You have a nice apartment,” Daniel said as he looked around. The man glanced at him and nodded in appreciation.
“We just renovated it a few months ago.” John said, gesturing for them to sit down. Daniel took a seat upon a green armchair next to the couch where Jace and Percy sat.
“I assume you have questions about Michael and his family? Where they went?” John asked. Daniel nodded, but Jace and Percy just exchanged a glance.
“I’m going to go to the bathroom,” Percy announced, frowning. He got up and left, walking into the kitchen and down a hall John didn’t show them before.
“Well, Michael and his family moved to Otter Rock, Oregon about a month ago,” John explained. “Well, actually, they moved to Oregon about a week ago. I think Michael told me they were going to live with his grandmother first, but I’m not sure.”
“So why did his phone get disconnected?” Daniel asked. John frowned, looking surprised.
“I... don’t know.” John admitted after a moment. “I’ve just been contacting him through his grandmother’s landline in her house. He told me not to call him since he would have bad service, and I just never thought to call him through his phone when I found out he moved to Oregon.”
“So how have you been contacting him since he moved?” Daniel asked, watching Percy as he walked back into the room quietly, sitting down.
“I talked to his aunt a lot. I could give you her number, if that helps.” John shrugged, raising an eyebrow, and Daniel nodded. That was one way he could talk to Michael.
John stood up a left the room momentarily to retrieve a piece of paper. Daniel frowned, glancing at Percy who was fiddling with his hands.
“How did you know where the bathroom was?” Daniel asked suddenly, the thought slipping out of his mouth. Percy looked up in surprise, and Jace glanced at Daniel worriedly.
“What do you mean?” Percy asked, not sure if he heard Daniel right. Daniel frowned, staring at him again.
“How did you know where the bathroom was? We didn’t go into the kitchen and see that hallway,” Daniel said, twisting his hands together in nervousness.
“I asked him,” Percy said, shrugging.
“No you didn’t, you never said anything except ‘I’m going to the bathroom’. And we’ve never been here before, so how did you know where it was?” Daniel asked.
“I-, um…” Percy stumbled over his words, unsure how to answer. Daniel frowned, turning to Jace.
“Have you two been here before? You haven’t asked any questions, aren’t you curious where Michael went? And you knew where the bathroom was. You’ve been here before, haven’t you?” Daniel accused, glaring at the two of them.
“We just asked him where Michael went, we didn’t find out anything else. I swear.” Jace said after a second.
“Why didn’t you just tell me?” Daniel asked. Jace shrugged and looked down, glancing at Percy.“I don’t know. Percy just told me to not tell anyone, not even our parents.” Jace explained, wringing his hands out in front of him. Daniel turned to Percy, glaring at him.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Daniel asked, anger boiling up inside him. They hardly ever kept secrets from each other, even when they were three thousand miles apart.
“I didn’t want to upset you! You would’ve wanted to do something and I didn’t want to ruin your trip here. I knew this was all you were going to be obsessed with this and I figured just let you be and hope you don’t get obsessed with him!” Percy exclaimed loudly.
“That’s hardly a valid reason.” Daniel said, glaring. Percy glared back, the tension in the room high. Jace looked between them unsurely.
“It seemed like valid reason at the time.” Percy answered. John walked back in the room, unaware of the outbursts that had just occurred.
“Well, I got her name and her number written down for you here. She will probably answer you when you call, or she’ll call back later. Just say you’re a friend of mine or Michael’s,” John said, glancing around the room. “Would you three… would you like to stay for dinner? I was just going to start cooking.”
“I’m fine, thanks,” Daniel said, not looking at Percy. “I have to get back to my house- or, the house I’m staying at, but thank you. You really helped.”
“No problem. Err… Stay safe, goodnight.” John said awkwardly, noting the tense quiet as the three boys left his apartment.
Daniel walked quicker than the other two, always trying to be a few paces ahead of him. He had no intention of talking to them right now, when there was a high chance they would say something they would regret.
Daniel took a deep breath as he walked down the stairs to the subway station, thanking whoever timed the train so perfectly that they were able to step right on the 1 train before it left the station.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” Jace murmured after the first stop. Daniel looked up at him unsurely, only to be met with sad eyes and a guilty looked. “I don’t know why I didn’t listen to Percy, he hardly ever has good ideas.”
Daniel chuckled, nodding. “That’s true. Remember in third grade when he decided it would be a good idea to steal a violin from the orchestra room and play it up and down the halls?” He asked.
“Yeah, and then he got detention for a week after that.” Jace laughed. Daniel sobered up after a few moments, glancing at Jace.
“I’m going to call his aunt today before I go to sleep. They are three hours behind us so it’ll only be six.” Daniel said. “Be there when I call?”“Sure.” Jace said. “I’ll sleep over, Percy won’t mind.” Jace glanced at Percy, who had taken a seat a bit farther away from him, his eyes closed and his eyebrows furrowed.
“I really am sorry for not telling you,” Jace repeated, but Daniel waved him off.
“Don’t worry. It wasn’t your fault. Peer pressure,” Daniel said, smiling. They always had an assembly every year about peer pressure and how to not give in to it.
Jace smiled again as they passed Times Square. Daniel was glad that at least one of his friends realized his mistakes (or rather, Percy’s).
“So, how long are you here for?” Jace asked as they passed 50th street.
“I think I’m going to stay for a week or two, depends on what we want to do.” Daniel shrugged, tightening his grip on the handle as they stopped at 66th street.
“That’s cool,” Jace nodded, glancing around. Daniel noticed a group of three girls as they walked on and he grinned. One girl had a violin, the second a guitar. He always loved the random street musicians that travelled in the subways, and they were always extremely talented.
As they sat down and got situated and the train lurched forwards, they began to play. Daniel was always amazed how good they could play on a bouncy, jumping subway.
The third girl began to sing as they reached 72nd street, when the three boys got off. Daniel waved to her, and she waved back as the sound of her voice disappeared, echoing down the tunnel.
“They were good musicians,” Daniel told Jace, who nodded in agreement. This time, it was Percy who walked faster than them, speeding up as soon as the got to the pavement. Daniel sighed and followed him.
“In Seattle, it rains a lot more,” Daniel commented as he looked at the clear sky. Usually where he lived it was gloomy and dark, however, the dimming sky was clear, only a few clouds crowding the sky.
“That’s cool,” Jace said, looking up at the sky. The tall building reached over them, trying to touch the blue atmosphere.
“Percy’s really missed you since you moved,” Jace said, looking at Daniel. “It may not seem like it, but he does.”
“I know,” Daniel sighed, slipping his hands in his pockets. “How do you think Michael’s doing?”
“Good, hopefully,” Jace shrugged, kicking a stick that had fallen from a tree. “I miss him. We all miss him, Daniel. Percy just has a different way of showing it.”
Daniel nodded as they climbed the steps of Percy’s apartment building. Percy was there, waiting for them holding the door open.
Percy stopped Daniel as he walked into the building. “Look, Daniel, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”
“It’s fine Percy, we all make mistakes,” Daniel said, smiling at his friend. “I’m going to call his aunt, you should be there.”
Percy nodded, closing the door behind Jace and began to walk up the stairs. Daniel smiled at him again.
“Guess what?” Percy asked as they got to the second floor. Daniel shrugged.
“What?” He responded, not feeling like guessing specific things. It could be any number of things, knowing Percy.
“C’mon dude, you have to actually guess!” Percy groaned, throwing his arms into the air. Daniel chuckled.
“Percy, hardly anyone actually responds the way the person wants them to when they say ‘guess what’.” Jace said, raising an eyebrow.
“Just- whatever. You get to meet my dog!” Percy said, turning around as he got to the top of the staircase.
“Didn’t I already meet him?” Daniel asked, frowning.
“No, my mom took the dog out for a walk. He’s really small, his name is Bill. He kind of gets scared easily, so be careful,” Percy listed as they walked up the final set of stairs.
“You seriously named your dog Bill?” Daniel asked, holding in a laugh.
“Yes, he did. That’s what I asked when I heard that, and I told him to rename him, but he just wanted Bill the dog,” Jace said, rolling his eyes.
“Well, his real name was supposed to be Bill Nye but Jace completely rejected it and was very rude about it!” Percy said as he unlocked the door.
“Who names a dog after a science guy?” Jace asked incredulously. Daniel chuckled as he stepped into the apartment, and a little dog with fuzzy white hair ran up to them and began to bark.
“Well, he’s very loud!” Daniel said as he bent down to pet the animal. Percy chuckled and swooped down, picking up ‘Bill’ and keeping him in his arms.
Jace picked up a toy from where the dog had dropped it and held it out to him. The dog barked and attempted to get out of Percy’s arms.
“Percy, you’re home,” His mom walked into the room and Percy let Bill down from his arms. “Hello Jace, Daniel.”
“Hello!” Jace said, smiling at her from where he was crouched on the floor playing with the dog.
“Are you going to be staying over?” Christine asked Jace, who nodded.
“If that’s okay with you?” Jace said, and she chuckled.
“Of course it is, honey. Percy, I’ll be going out for a little bit, not too late, but you guys can stay on your own, okay?” Christine said, and Percy nodded.
“We’ll be fine, bye mom!” Percy said as she closed the door. “So, I’ll get the sleeping bags, and you guys can pick out some movies?”
Daniel nodded, walking into the living room. The paper with the number felt heavy in his pocket, but he knew he could always call tomorrow.
“How about Harry Potter?” Jace asked, pulling out the DVD. Daniel frowned and shook his head.
“Um, no. We watched that hundreds of times in other sleepovers, we should watch Scream,” Daniel said, but Jace shook his head.
The disagreement soon escalated into an argument (and when Percy joined in and claimed he wanted to watch Hercules, it just got worse) which then turned into a full on war of pillows, sleeping bags and some old nerf guns Percy had pulled out of the closet.
“What is going on in here?!” They heard someone say and three heads swivelled to see Percy’s mother standing in the kitchen doorway, putting her bag down. “You three are going to clean this up right now and then you are going to sit down and watch a movie!”“Okay mom,” Percy said after a moment, dropping his nerf gun onto the floor. She nodded and walked away back into the kitchen, and then probably to her bedroom.
“Well, that was fun,” Jace said as he picked up two of the sleeping bags and threw them onto the couch where Percy had replaced all the pillows. Daniel collected the nerf guns and put them back in the bin, but stopped and looked at Percy, who was bent over trying to get a pillow from under the couch.
Daniel shot him in the back, causing him to straighten up quickly. Percy turned around and glared at Daniel, who had just snapped the lid of the bin shut.
Percy threw a pillow at Daniel as he quickly left the room and shoved the bin back in the closet, and walked back into the living room.
“I’m going to change,” He said, pullings some pajamas out of his backpack. Jace and Percy nodded as the started the movie (they had all compromised and decided on the Goonies).
Daniel quickly got dressed in his pajamas, rolling his old clothes up as the paper fell out. Daniel picked it up, looking at it. It was a bit crumpled but other than that it was still intact. Daniel frowned, looking at the door as he heard the movie start, then at the paper again. It was already late, and he didn’t want to disturb them. She might’ve already been asleep by then (as it was midnight in New York, so it was around nine in Seattle and Oregon), or they could have been out. And Daniel couldn’t help but think of all the negative possibilities that could happen. He didn’t want to worry for a whole night, but it was better than staying awake wondering what he could have done or why something had happened.
He sighed and shoved the paper into his backpack. I’ll do it tomorrow, he thought.
Daniel groaned as he opened his eyes, the bright sun filtering through the curtains. He was woken way to early for his liking from the sounds of Jace and Percy banging pots and pans together in the kitchen.
He stumbled in and leaned on the counter as he looked around. “What are you doing?”
The two finally looked at him, Jace smiling as he turned on the stove. “We’re making pancakes.” He shrugged.
“Why so early?” Daniel asked, rubbing his eyes, looking at the clock and frowning when he saw it was already nine in the morning.
“You’re on Seattle time, you’ve been asleep forever,” Percy laughed. Daniel sighed as he walked forwards and looked at the batter.
“Why is it rainbow?” Daniel asked, frowning. Percy shrugged.
“We had sprinkles,” Percy said, gesturing to the empty sprinkles can.
“I swear, sometimes you act like an eight year old,” Daniel muttered, sliding the bowl closer to Jace so he could ladle the pancakes into the pan.
“Next thing you know, he’s going to be drenching them in chocolate syrup and whipped cream,” Jace said as he slid a pancake off of his spatula onto the platter.
“Seriously?” Daniel asked him with raised eyebrows as Percy ran to the fridge to check if they had any of the mentioned ingredients.
Daniel chuckled, pulling out another pan and turned on the stove and grabbed a spatula as Jace ladled some pancake batter onto the pan.
They managed to make about twenty-five pancakes before Jace spilled the rest of the batter (luckily into the sink and not on the stove of floor, that would’ve been difficult to explain).
They sat at the table, and Daniel glanced at the clock. It was a bit past ten at that point, so it was around seven in Oregon.
“Do you want to watch another movie?” Jace suggested as they brought their plates into the living room. Daniel nodded, deciding to wait another hour or so before he called them.
They decided on watching the first Harry Potter movie, though Daniel had protested. He pulled his backpack closer to him as he rummaged through the bag, taking a piece of paper out of the front pocket and glancing at his phone.
His attention was directed to the screen as the movie started, the loud orchestra tune starting and he put his phone down, deciding to wait.
After the movie, which was quite long and had lost Daniel’s attention not even halfway through, ended, Daniel quickly got up and sat on the couch. He pulled his phone out of his back pocket and looked at the paper in his hands, staring at it for a few moments.
Jace sat down next to him, the couch dipping slightly as he sat down and he glanced at the paper. “Are you going to call them now or what?”
Daniel nodded, unlocking his phone and tapping the call app. Percy came up from behind them, leaning over the couch to see.
“You still haven’t changed your password from two-zero-zero-four?” Percy asked, and Daniel shrugged, not feeling like talking, nervousness and anxiety closing up his throat.
“I’m going to put it on speaker,” Daniel said as he typed in the phone number, looking at his phone percentage, which was on ninety-eight percent. No chance for it to die.
Daniel took a breath and coughed, then pressed the green call button slowly, tapping on the speaker button.
The phone rang three times, Percy jumping over the back of the couch to sit next to Daniel, the three of them leaning in. Daniel increased the volume of the phone, then heard it click and a voice.
“Hello, who is this?” He heard someone ask. It was a female voice, quite loud and high. Daniel gulped, his throat becoming dry in a second.
“I’m Daniel, I’m one of Michael’s friends,” Daniel said a bit louder than normally so she could hear him okay.
“Oh… I’m Vanessa Sullivan. His aunt,” she said, and they heard some shuffling and the creaking of what could have been bed springs.
“Well, um… I moved to Seattle a few years ago, and I am back in New York, just visiting, and I just found out that Michael moved to Oregon with you. And, um… A few weeks ago he stopped answering my messages and texts and then his phone got disconnected about a month ago, so I was just wondering how he is?” Daniel explained, setting the phone down on his knee and rubbing his hands on his pants, wiping off the sweat that had formed.
They heard the scuffling of feet and floorboards creaking, and a door opening. “Rosie?” They heard, though it sounded far away and quiet. “There’s, um, some people on the phone you might want to talk to.”
Daniel frowned and rubbed his hands together nervously. He heard more floorboards creaking and another voice. “What do they want?”
Daniel grabbed the cup of water and drank the whole thing, his throat itching. He coughed as he heard quiet, urgent whispering and then the phone being shook or moved around.
“Hello?” the voice was younger this time, she sounded maybe our age, but it was hoarse and scratchy.
“Hello.” Daniel said, frowning. Why were they acting so secretive? “I’m Daniel. I’m a friend of Michael’s and we were kind of worried about him, and were wondering how he is.”
“Oh… um…” The voice said. “I’m Rosie, his cousin. He…” Percy frowned, getting impatient.
“Is he okay or not?” Percy asked. Daniel glared at him. This was no time to rush to the point.
“No.” Rosie said, her voice quiet. Daniel’s heart dropped from his esophagus to his stomach, suddenly feeling cold and lightheaded. What did she mean? How was he not okay? Was he hurt? He opened his mouth to ask something but nothing came out.
“What do you mean?” Jace asked, looking at Daniel’s shocked and pale face.
“He… He, um…” Rosie said, and sighed. “He wasn’t happy when he got here. He was mad and angry and closed off.”
Daniel frowned. That doesn’t sound like the Michael he knows, who was happy and bright and caring. What could have possibly happened that changed his behavior so drastically that he seemed like that?
“And then… And then… He really hated school and didn’t like my friends. At least, that’s what it seemed like from when he met them…” Rosie said, her voice quiet and distant and Daniel increased the volume quite a bit.
“And he never really… Seemed happy from the start when he walked out of the airport by himself…” Rosie said, raising a red flag, and Daniel frowned.
“What do you mean, by himself? Where was his family?” Daniel demanded. Tyson, Michael’s little brother, who was only one when Daniel moved away, was a common topic when Michael and Daniel did talk. Michael absolutely adored his little brother, loved him with all his heart.
“You didn’t even hear about that?” Rosie asked, her voice pitying and sad. Daniel frowned, shaking his head but then realizing she couldn’t see him.
“No, what happened?” Daniel asked, struggling to keep his voice from shaking. He heard her sigh with a shaky breath.
“There was… there was… a, um…” Rosie took another shaky breath. Daniel’s ears rang loudly and the sound of waves seemed to increase as she spoke, his heart racing.
“There was a car crash,” Rosie finally said. Daniel’s breath stuttered to a stop. His throat felt like it was closing up. He felt like he was getting smaller and smaller.
“Did he… Did they all…” Jace stammered, and Daniel looked at him. Jace’s eyes were filled with tears and he clenched the end of the couch tightly in his fists, his knuckles turning white.
“No,” Rosie said, and Daniel felt a small amount of pressure leave him.
“So what happened?” Percy asked through clenched teeth, his body tense.
“Only one of them died… Tyson, his little brother.” Rosie said, and Daniel heard a sob crackle through the phone. He clenched his fists, glancing at his battery. Sixty-five percent. Tyson was only four. He probably had no idea what was going on until it was too late.
“Oh my god… Oh my god… Oh my…” Percy muttered, his eyes clenching shut. Daniel held back tears, blinking through them as his vision blurred.
“And Michael?” Daniel asked, his throat itching. He heard a sniffle on the other end of the call.
“He… He survived. He lost his legs.” Rosie said, her voice scratchy. “He lost his legs and spent about a month in Kansas getting prosthetic legs. Then he came up to O-Oregon to live with us. We redid the attic for him but he didn’t like it. He said it was too big and lonely.”
“He used to share a room with Tyson,” Percy mumbled rubbing his eyes.
“He said that,” Rosie told them. “He went to school for six days. He had the same schedule as Finn, one of my friends.”
“Why only six days?” Jace asked, his voice wavering. He was scratching his arm, holding it tight until it turned pale.
“Well… He started school last Wednesday. Until yesterday… Um… He didn’t talk to me much. Whenever we were on the bus going to school, he would put headphones on and listen to music. That seemed to be the only thing he would really do. It… it helped him, I think. He always seemed calmer and more peaceful when he listened to it.” Rosie said, rambling.
“He always used to listen to music when he had the chance,” Jace mumbled to himself. Daniel looked at his friend’s arm which was now red.
“Why only six days?” Percy repeated Jace’s previous question. “Are you going to tell us or not?”
Daniel glared at Percy. Whatever this girl was trying to say, it was obviously difficult. She didn’t need to be rushed into saying whatever it was that was going to shock them.
“He left me a note. We got off the bus from school and he put a note into our mailbox then got back on the bus and left. W- I was curious and wanted to see who it was for. I figured it wasn’t going to be any of you because he probably had a phone. And I didn’t think he would be sending anything to our grandmother.” Rosie explained. “So I opened the mailbox and pulled it out and it was addressed to me. So I waited until the bus pulled away and I opened it up.”
“And what was in it?” Daniel asked, finally finding the energy to get his vocal cords working again.
“There- there were two pieces of paper. One was a Polaroid picture of him and I when we were little. And the second was a note. I-I have it here,” Rosie said, and Daniel heard the crumpling of a paper. “Do-do you want me to read it?”
“Yes,” Daniel said, clearing his throat. “Please do,” He heard Rosie clear her throat and mumble something under her breath.
“Dear Rosie,” She began. “I am really sorry that I did this. I am very grateful for what you and your mom did for me, but I just can’t live like this. Your mom has been keeping a few big secrets away from you. She thought you would get mad and interfere.” Daniel assumed that she was talking about his aunt.
“My parents did not die in a car crash. Yes, we were in a car crash, all four of us. Yes, I said the four of us. You didn’t know this, but I had a little brother named Tyson. He was four. That’s why he’s not in the picture I gave you. He wasn’t born yet.” Daniel stopped breathing for a moment. Michael’s family was dead. Michael was alone and they weren’t there to comfort him.
“But anyway, we were in a car crash. I lost my legs and Tyson. He died on impact. And my parents had very extensive injuries. They were put on life support but everyone knows they will never wake up.”
“But your mom didn’t want to let her sister and brother-in-law go, so she flew them to your local hospital and me her to live with you. They are still in the hospital. Tell your mom that I want her to take them off of life support and donate their organs. Everything that can be donated. Because I doubt there will be a funeral at this point, everything is just a big mess.” Daniel let a tear drip down his face. This didn’t sound like the Michael he knew. The Michael he knew was happy and optimistic, not bleak and depressed.
“I like the room a lot, I do, even though it didn’t seem like it. It’s just in that New York City, we lived in a two bedroom apartment and I lived in a small bedroom with Tyson that was big enough for a two dressers and two beds. I liked it and I wasn’t used to a whole separate floor. It felt empty and sad and lonely. And your friends are nice and all. They remind me of me and my friends.” He heard Rosie stop and take a deep breath. This was hard on her, too.
“I had three good friends back at home. Daniel moved to Seattle three years ago, and I lost contact with him after the car crash. He was my best friend, I really loved him. And then there was Percy, he still lives in New York. He was a good friend of mine and he was always there for me. And there’s Jace, who was a lot like Finn. He was really nice, maybe not as nice as your friend was in the beginning. Jace was more closed off to strangers, he always cared about the things that were important to him. He wouldn’t get that close to anyone but when he did he couldn’t help but become attached. But Finn tried to welcome me even when I was a total jerk to him and I’m sorry about that, but I am glad he was so accepting.” Daniel smiled as he heard Rosie describe them. Memories flew through Daniel’s mind as Rosie paused to take a deep breath again. He looked to his right to see Jace smiling lightly, tears running down his face.
“Hopefully they find out where I went. I also had a cousin who lived close by. Right near Christopher Street. He was nice. I loved staying with him.” The cousin, John. The cousin who they had visited. The cousin who had no idea what had happened to the family or to Michael.
“The school was okay, much safer than our school. Our school had barbed wire on the fence and bars in the windows and yours has nice posters and a field.” That was true. Michael always disliked the school security and the lack of animation. He always wanted to run and play football but they couldn’t do that on a small, concrete basketball court.
“I didn’t have a perfect of a life, but it was good enough. My mom and dad were amazing and I’m sad you didn’t get to know them better.” They were amazing. They would always welcome Michael’s three friends with open arms whenever they wanted to stay over. But the mood dropped as Rosie read the next paragraph, her voice strained.
“The reason I’m doing this is because I can’t live without them anymore. It feels like my heart has been ripped into four pieces and I have the tiniest part to myself, and the smallest part isn’t enough to run a whole human. I’m just a fraction of who I was before. I used to be happy and kind and nice- at least, according to my friends.” Rosie said, stopping after a few moments. “I’m sorry.”
“D-Don’t worry,” Daniel hesitated, his mind spinning. He felt dizzy. This all happened to fast, there was too much information being given to him at once. It was like he was asleep and a cold bucket of ice water was dumped on him and he was awake, soaked, but unable to move.
“Anyway, once you get this, I’m probably long gone by now. I heard that the Clandestine Cliffs were a beautiful area. I’m sorry. Tell your mom goodbye for me. Thank you. From, Michael.” Rosie finished reading, letting out a sob.
“T-thank you. For reading that. It must’ve been hard.” Daniel told her after a moment, hearing her quiet sobs. He glanced at his battery again. Fourty-nine percent.
“At first, I thought it was just a note telling me he was going to run away,” Rosie said after about five minutes. “I thought he was going to run away and start in Clandestine Cliffs. I don’t know why I thought that, it was so stupid.”
“I got on the next bus with four of my friends and we wanted to follow him and stop him. We got there and he- he was sitting on the edge of the cliff,” Rosie said, and Daniel closed his eyes, holding back sobs and trying to imagine his friend running away.
“He told me it wasn’t a- a- a- running-away note, he said it was a suicide note. He told me that he was so sorry and showed us his prosthetic legs and said that he didn’t belong there. He missed them,” She said, and Daniel sobbed, putting his head in his hands.
“I tried to stop him, b-b-but he j-ju-jumped.” She cried, her voice slightly muffled. “He’s dead.”
Daniel sobbed loudly. His friend, his best friend, his brother, was dead. Had jumped off a cliff. His whole body shook, even his teeth were vibrating. The ringing and waves were so loud he could barely hear his own thoughts, slowly drowning in them. He felt like he was underwater and in slow motion, just barely able to use his throat to breathe. His surroundings got blurry and he heard shouting over the waves, saw everything spinning.
Then everything went black.