It was depressing, sitting around in the apartment after Rich had left. The decorations from his going-away party were still hanging around the living room and the kitchen, some of them halfway to falling on the floor. Jenna had gotten home fine the night before, but Brooke and Chloe had stayed to say one last goodbye to Rich before he left in the morning.
And Jake had to watch his roommate and best friend leave to spend who knew how long on his European adventure. Rich was going backpacking across Europe and his return date was nowhere in sight. All he knew is that he was flying into Switzerland and kicking off the trip by camping in the Alps.
They had just gotten back from dropping Rich off at the airport and, as soon as he had stepped out of the car, their faces had fallen as they realized they didn’t know when the next time they’d see their friend would be.
After dropping him off, they returned to Jake and Rich’s apartment and started a pot of coffee. Jake kind of wanted to spike his cup, but they had managed to consume all of the alcohol in the apartment the night before.
“Why does he have to go away anyway?” Jake asked, staring into his mug of dark coffee that probably had too much sugar in it.
“He said he needed to ‘find himself’,” Chloe replied with a small laugh.
And Jake remembered when Rich said that, but he still didn’t think it was sufficient reason for leaving out of fucking nowhere.
“What’s there to find?” he asked. “We just graduated from college. He’s been really excited about being an elementary school teacher, yet he doesn’t even look for a job.”
“Maybe that’s not what he’s trying to find,” Brooke suggested.
“He’s been out and proud since high school,” Jake countered. “If anyone knows exactly who they are, it’s Richard Goranski.”
“Rich is probably just going to Europe to get laid,” Chloe said. “I mean, he hasn’t dated anyone since that girl two years ago and, yikes, she was awful for him.”
“If he just wanted to get some, he could have stayed here,” he reasoned, even though he knew that would make him feel kind of shitty, considering how he may or may not have had feelings for his friend.
“He probably wanted some change in his life and-” Brooke began.
“Rich has feelings for you,” Chloe told him. “He left to get over you before things could escalate and potentially get awkward.”
“He told us that in confidence!” Brooke exclaimed.
“What difference is it going to make now?” Chloe asked her girlfriend.
“Fuck,” Jake muttered. “Rich has feelings for me?”
The two girls nodded.
“Fuck!” he said louder. “Does Jenna know too?”
“She can keep a secret when she needs to,” Brooke said. “Especially when her friends are involved.”
Jake threw his hands up into the air. “Why the hell did nobody tell me?”
“Because it was Rich’s thing to tell and he didn’t want to screw things up between you two,” Chloe replied. “I mean, he’s not even here and you’re reacting like this.”
“I’ve been in love with him for three years ,” he muttered. “And you’re telling me he liked me this whole time. And now I’ve gone and missed my chance!”
Brooke and Chloe exchanged a look and Chloe groaned, pulling her keys out of her purse.
“To the airport it is,” she said.
“I’ll text Jenna,” Brooke said. “She’s gonna think that this is so exciting!”
“God, if Jenna knows, then my parents are gonna know too,” he groaned as they rushed to the car. “I’m not out to them yet.”
“Jake, no offense, but your parents aren’t shit,” Chloe replied. “Literally when was the last time you talked to them?”
“Court,” he grumbled.
“Exactly,” she said. “Now let’s go get your man.”
Chloe must have been driving twenty above the speed limit the entire way to the airport, but it was going to be worth it if he caught Rich before takeoff. He had tried texting him to wait up, but the other boy must have turned his phone off already.
They dropped him off at departures with the promise to wait until he came back with Rich unless instructed otherwise.
Jake jumped out of the car and made a beeline for security. A TSA agent stopped him before he could get in line.
“Your boarding pass?” she requested.
“I, uh, I don’t have one,” he panted.
She crossed her arms. “Then I think you’re in the wrong place, sir. This is an airport. You need a boarding pass to go through security.”
“The love of my life is getting on a plane and if I don’t stop him right now, I won’t get a chance to tell him how I feel,” he explained in a rush, moving to get past her.
She pushed him back. “This isn’t a cheesy romcom. Just text him like a normal person.”
“I think his phone is off,” Jake replied. “Please, ma’am. I need to do this.”
“Listen, it’s my commitment to keep this airport safe. I can’t let just anyone with a half-baked excuse walk on through security. Sir, I don’t know you or have any reason to believe you and even if I did, I need to follow the rules,” she said.
“But it’s important!” he exclaimed. “Look, if I make it through security, then I don’t have anything dangerous on me, right?”
The woman sighed and pointed to a customer service booth. “Go over there and explain the situation to the man at the desk. He can phone your man’s gate. I’m sorry but I really can’t let you through without a ticket. I need this job.”
“Thank you,” he said before rushing to the customer service desk. There were three people in front of him, but they were able to move through the line fairly quickly.
“Can you call someone for me?” he asked as soon as he reached the desk. “It’s an emergency. My best friend is about to leave and I really need to speak with him.”
“Sure, what’s the gate number?” the man asked in a monotone voice.
“I don’t know but it’s a nonstop to Geneva, Switzerland,” he replied.
The man hummed in acknowledgment of his words and typed something into his computer. “Looks like his flight left fifteen minutes ago unless it’s the one at 6:40 pm.”
“No, it can’t have left!” he exclaimed. “It was set for 10:30 or something.”
“Yes, and it’s nearly 10:45,” the man replied. “Is that all for you, sir?”
“Yeah,” Jake sighed and began his defeated trek back to the car.
He slid into the backseat wordlessly. It was too late. If he could have confessed his feelings to Rich earlier, he wouldn’t be in this situation. But now Rich was gone and he’d never get the chance.
“How did you manage to fuck it up and did you at all implicate us?” Chloe asked as she pulled onto the road.
“His flight was long gone by the time I got there,” Jake sighed. “There’s no way I’ll be able to tell him now unless…”
No. It was a dumb idea. He couldn’t do it. Or could he?
“Unless what?” Chloe asked. “I can see those gears in your head turning at their usual incredibly slow speed.”
“I don’t start grad school until the fall,” he said. “I have the entire summer ahead of me. If I can get on the 6:40 flight tonight, I might be able to track him down before he leaves Geneva!”
Chloe rolled her eyes. “Jake that is the most r-”
“Romantic!” Brooke exclaimed. “Oh my god, if you’re willing to fly across the world for him, then things better work out.”
“Brooke!” Chloe shouted. “It’s a terrible idea. Jake needs to work this summer and prep for grad school. He can’t just up and go to Switzerland.”
“I have money,” he replied. “I mean it’s from my parents so they might not have gotten it legally, but that’s really not my business.”
“Jake, you can’t be serious,” she said. “Geneva isn’t exactly a small town and he might have already left to go camping. What are the chances you even find him? And you’re not going to be able to text abroad without a foreign phone plan. That’s why Rich said he’d email us with updates. Just send him an email.”
Jake shook his head. “I have to do this face to face. If I confessed my feelings to him over email, I’d never forgive myself.”
“True love always finds a way,” Brooke said. “I think he should do it.”
“I’m going to do it,” Jake nodded. “I’m going to buy the ticket on my phone right now. I just need a ride back to the airport tonight.”
Chloe groaned. “I swear, Dillinger, you’re going to owe me so much fucking gas money. And just call Jenna. She’s a travel agent now, I know for a fact she can get you the best deal out there.”
When Jake landed, it was simultaneously the middle of the night and early morning. He had slept on the plane, but he knew that jet lag was going to be a bitch. At least he had a place to stay already lined up thanks to actual angel Jenna Roland.
He didn’t have any bags other than his carry-on and his backpack, so he rushed out of the airport as fast as he could, only stopping when he realized he had no fucking idea where he was going. Rich hadn’t mentioned exactly where he was planning on camping.
Maybe he had sent an email while he was in transit. Jake decided to wander into the Starbucks that was near the airport. He’d have to catch a bus into the heart of the city eventually to get to his hotel room, but he could worry about that later.
The barista was thankfully able to speak English, so Jake was easily able to order a drink that Chloe would make fun of him for drinking and swipe his Visa to pay for it. He sat at an empty table and booted up his computer.
The only unread email in his inbox was one from Jenna confirming his hotel reservation. Great.
Jake laid his head in his arms. Chloe was right. Europe was huge and Rich was going to be on the move. There’s no way that he’d ever find him.
He felt a tap on his shoulder and looked up to see a slightly chubby girl with silky black hair and soft brown eyes. She was beautiful.
“Are you okay?” the girl asked in a soft voice.
Jake smiled. “I’m fine,” he replied. “I might have a tiny bit of jet lag.”
“Do you want to sit with us?” she asked, nodding toward a table where two boys were already sitting. One had wavy brown hair and he was resting his head on the dark-haired one’s shoulder.
“I mean I don’t want to like bother anyone,” he mumbled.
“You wouldn’t be a bother,” she insisted. “We’re all Americans traveling in a foreign place. We have to stick together.”
It was Switzerland, not North Korea, but Jake nodded and followed her to the table, slipping into the seat beside her.
“So, I’m Christine,” she began, “and this is-”
“Michael,” said the dark-haired boy, reaching across the table to shake Jake’s hand.
“Jake,” he replied as he shook his hand.
“I’m Jeremy,” mumbled the other one, not moving his head from where it rested on Michael’s shoulder.
“He had trouble sleeping on the plane,” Christine explained. “So now he’s exhausted.”
“I would never sleep on a plane,” he said. “What if there was an emergency? I mean, we’re literally hurtling through the sky.”
“If we crashed it’d probably be better to be asleep,” Michael reasoned.
“Well actually-” Jeremy began.
“Guys!” Christine interrupted. “I don’t think Jake wants to hear you guys have the same argument you had five times on the plane.”
“I mean I don’t really mind,” he said.
Christine glared at him. Maybe she was the one that didn’t want to hear them argue about it anymore.
“So where are you from, Jake?” Michael asked.
“New Jersey,” he replied. “I don’t live far from New York, though. What about you three?”
“Chicago,” Christine answered. “Well, the suburbs, but close enough.”
“Cubs or White Sox?” he asked, hoping to spark some friendly conversation.
Michael blinked at him for a moment. “Sorry, I’m gay.”
“Fuck the Cubs,” Jeremy mumbled.
“I don’t know anything about sports, but that doesn’t seem very nice, Jeremy,” Christine said.
He shrugged. “It’s true though. The White Sox play for the little guy.”
“Valid,” Jake said with a nod. “So what brings you guys to Switzerland? Just a fun vacation?”
“Jeremy and I are looking for inspiration,” she explained. “I want to write a play and he’s working on a film.”
“I’m just along for the ride,” Michael said.
“And are you finding inspiration?” Jake asked.
“We’re sitting in a Starbucks ,” Jeremy replied. “If we wanted to create shit based on Starbucks, we could have driven like six minutes from my house.”
“Sadly, we’re even less inspired here than we were in London,” Christine sighed. “Jeremy nearly had an idea there.”
“No, I was just trying to get you excited so that you would buy me celebratory food,” he replied.
“So what about you, Jake?” Michael asked. “Are you here to camp? I feel like you’re the type of person who’d go camping.”
“Maybe,” Jake replied. “I’m actually here to look for my best friend. He was going to go camping after he got here, so I might do that to find him. Except I’m not exactly sure where to start.”
“Is he okay?” Christine asked worriedly.
“Yeah, he’s good,” Jake replied. “I just need to talk to him.”
Jeremy raised an eyebrow. “You couldn’t like text him or something? Or send an email?”
“It’s something I have to say face to face,” he said. “Before it’s too late.”
Christine pulled out a notebook and started scribbling something down. “So, what do you need to tell him?” she asked.
“That I’ve been in love with him for three years,” Jake said with a sigh. “Apparently, he ran away to Europe to get over his feelings for me. I need to get to him first.”
“That’s perfect!” Christine squealed, writing faster. “It’s so romantic and the fact that it’s a true story will just be captivating.”
“Chris,” Jeremy interrupted. “Maybe you should ask his permission before you write a play about his life.”
She looked to him with hopeful eyes. “Jake, would you mind if I told your story to the world.”
“Seems chill,” he said with a shrug. “I can give you my email if you want to hear the details whenever things do or do not work out.”
“I need to know every detail of everything!” she exclaimed. “We’re coming with you!”
“We?” Michael asked with a raised eyebrow. “What about Jeremy’s film? And my sightseeing?”
“Maybe he’ll find inspiration along the way!” she exclaimed. “I need to do this, Michael! I’m sure Jeremy doesn’t mind.”
“I know,” Michael replied. “I’m just saying, if me and Jer end up having to split off from you guys to work on his film, are going to be okay with traveling without us?”
“Of course!” she replied, wrapping her arms around Jake’s elbow. “Jake is going to be with me, so I’ll be fine.”
“My friend is a travel agent, so we don’t have to worry about sketchy hotels and such,” Jake told them. “It’s totally fine with me if she comes along.”
“So, where do we start?” she asked.
Jake sighed. “I wish I knew, Christine.”
In the end, they decided to check out what TripAdvisor said was the most popular campground in the region. They drove through it about three times in their rental car before begrudgingly accepting Rich wasn’t there.
They repeated the process with three more campgrounds before calling it quits and heading back to their hotel since they had been able to get a room in the same building as Jake’s after he forced Jenna to work her magic.
“This was a dumb idea,” Jake sighed. “I’m never going to find him in the Alps. Too many mountains. Too much camping.”
“You can’t give up!” Christine insisted. “Once you do find him, he’s really going to realize how much you love him. I mean you’ve come all the way out here just to talk to him.”
“I don’t want to give up,” he said. “I just don’t know what to do next.”
“Check your email maybe?” Jeremy suggested, gesturing to his phone on the desk which, upon connecting to the hotel wifi, had lit up with an email from one Rich Goranksi.
“Oh my god!” he exclaimed, grabbing his phone and fumbling with it until it was unlocked.
He read the email three times just to make sure all the details were correct. Apparently, Rich was already done with Geneva and he had jumped on a train to Italy.
“He’s in Milan,” Jake announced. “I’m emailing Jenna. We have to be there by tomorrow. Should I ask for two tickets or four.”
“Four,” Michael replied. “Italy sounds like fun. Maybe Jer can make a film about pizza.”
Jeremy crossed his arms. “I still don’t forgive you for last time we got pizza.”
“It was three in the morning and I was high!” Michael exclaimed. “I forgot you couldn’t eat pepperoni! Besides, you just picked it off! And I said sorry!”
“Michael we’ve been best friends since kindergarten ,” he snapped. “I’m just as Jewish now as I was then!”
“Babe!” he said.
“You’re fucking with me,” he said in a deadpan voice. “Jeremy Heere, what did I do to deserve this?!”
“Are they always like this?” Jake asked Christine.
She nodded solemnly. “They’ve only been dating for about six months, yet they’re completely unstoppable.”
“What about you?” he asked. “What’s your epic love story, Christine?
She laughed. “I haven’t been with anyone since I dated Jeremy for two weeks about three years ago. I’ll get my love story someday, but I’m willing to wait for it.”
“It’ll be worth it,” Jake promised her. “You seem like an amazing girl. You’ll find someone equally as amazing to be with.”
“And you will too, Jake,” she replied. “Once we track down the elusive Rich Goranski.”
The train ride to Milan was long but interesting. For one, they had a pretty good view for a good portion of the ride. And then they had each other.
Currently. Jeremy was fast asleep, but he was mumbling something in a language that Jake didn’t recognize.
“What’s he saying?” Jake asked Michael.
Michael shrugged. “Something in Hebrew. He’s taught me a few words, but there’s no way I can piece his sleep talking together. I mean, I can’t even do that when he’s speaking English in his sleep.”
“You two are cute,” Jake commented. “And Christine seems sweet too. I’m glad I met you guys.”
“I used to hate her,” Michael confessed. “Jeremy was obsessed with her and I was jealous. It didn’t last. She’s an amazing person. You couldn’t have attracted a better travel companion.”
“Are you already planning on splitting off from us?” Jake asked.
Michael nodded. “Jeremy and I talked about it last night. There’s too much going on with you and her play for him to focus on his film. We’ve decided to take some time and travel throughout Italy together and try to find some inspiration on our own.”
Jake nodded. “That’s completely understandable. You two have to do what’s best for you, my dude.”
“You seem like a pretty chill guy,” Michael commented. “If we ever make it to Jersey we’ll have to hang out stateside.”
“Definitely,” Jake replied. “I think you’d get along pretty well with my friends.”
“Good luck on your love adventure.”
Christine seemed slightly sad when Michael and Jeremy boarded a second train that would take them to Florence, but after a few moments, she seemed to be back on track, seeing as she began listing off tourist attractions that Rich could be visiting.
“Maybe he’s at the Milan Cathedral,” she suggested on their taxi ride to the hotel. “Oh my god! If you find him there, then you two can get married there someday. How romantic would that be?”
“You should meet my friend, Brooke,” Jake muttered as he dug up some money for cab fare. “I have a feeling you two would get along pretty well.”
“Oh!” Christine exclaimed. “Maybe he went to La Scala. It’s an opera house here in Milan. It’s supposed to be absolutely stunning.”
Jake shook his head. “Sorry, Chris. Rich would never go to any sort of church or opera house out of his own free will.”
“But, I mean, why would he come to Milan if not to see these sights?” she asked.
And, poor innocent Christine. There were plenty of other reasons to travel. The beach. Attractive foreigners. Bars.
“Wine!” Jake exclaimed.
“I’m not whining,” Christine mumbled, looking down at the dirty floor. “I’m just wondering.”
“No, wine!” he repeated. “Why else would Rich come to Italy other than to get drunk off good, local Italian wine?”
“I can look up local wineries and tasting places!” she offered, eyes bright once again. “While you check us into the hotel, I’ll make a list.”
It took Jake about fifteen minutes to check them in and it took Christine about five to make a list of wineries to visit in order of popularity and easy travelling. They threw their bags in the room and hopped on the first bus that they could find.
Jake and Christine had a lead, but they had to move fast.
It was a bust. They had visited nearly every winery in Milan and not one of them had reported anyone matching Rich’s description. They only had one place left to check and, according to the internet, this place had a pretty bad rat problem.
“I’ll stay outside and keep watch in case he shows up,” Christine offered when they hopped off of the bus.
Jake raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think that’s a very likely scenario. You should just come in with me.”
“I mean the are plenty of reasons to be wandering the streets of Milan,” she protested. “Even if this neighborhood is slightly sketchy and half the shops here are of a sexual nature. I mean he could be out here somewhere.”
“That’s all the more reason to come in with me,” he replied. “You’re tiny. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Christine put her hands on her hips. “Just because I’m not ten feet tall like you are doesn’t mean I can’t hold my own.”
“Sorry, you’re right,” he said. “I just don’t get why you don’t want to come inside. I mean, you definitely know more Italian than I do.”
“The rats ,” she reminded him. “They gross me out!”
“So you’re willing to take on some hypothetical creepy dude but not hypothetical rats?” he asked.
“I’m glad you understand,” she sighed. “Now, go in there and ask about Rich so we can get out of this place and go to sleep.”
He nodded and stepped inside. It was empty except for some guy crouched over the counter reading some Italian magazine.
“Uhh, ciao,” Jake greeted.
The man looked up and said something in Italian. Jake should have greeted him in English so he knew.
“Sorry, I don’t speak any Italian,” Jake told him. “I mean, this trip was kind of last minute for me.”
“You no speak Italian in Italy and yet Americans hate when we no speak English,” the man muttered, shaking his heads.
“I’m sorry. You should be able to speak your native language wherever,” he replied.
“What you need?” the man asked. “We have wine special today. It is-”
“I’m not here for wine,” Jake interrupted.
He raised an eyebrow. “Then why-”
“I’m looking for my friend. He might have been here in the past day or so,” Jake explained. “He’s American, like me.”
“Short? Red in hair?” the man asked.
Jake grinned. Finally, they had caught Rich’s trail. “That’s him.”
“He was very drunk,” the man said. “He vomits outside.”
“Do you know where he went?” Jake inquired.
“He goes to bed I hope,” the man replied with a roll of his eyes. “But he says something about train to Paris. City of Love and so. His heart is hurting.”
“Shit,” Jake grumbled. “Back to the beginning in a new city. Thank you so much-”
“Federico,” the man supplied.
“Thank you, Federico,” he said and briskly walked toward the door, shouting one last “Ciao!” over his shoulder.
“He went to Paris,” Jake announced.
Christine squealed in glee. “Oh my god! I’ve always wanted to go there! Can we stop to see the Eiffel Tower?”
“You should go do touristy stuff when we’re there,” he said. “I’ve got a man to find.”
Sure enough, by the time they arrived in the City of Love, Jake had received an email from Rich saying that he was there and planning on hitting up some of the clubs he had heard about from other tourists. Christine quickly drafted him a list of popular clubs and left to visit the Louvre, leaving Jake to continue his search alone.
Jake kind of regretted taking Spanish in high school. He was alone in France and didn’t know a word of the language. At least in Italy and Switzerland, he had other people by his side. Now he was alone, trying to find one man in a city of over two million.
It was the closest they had ever been and yet Jake felt farther from Rich than ever. Not even a full week had passed and he was already on his third city. Rich was probably already making plans to leave for his next destination.
But, still, Jake wasn’t about to give up on finding him, especially while they were in such a romantic place. Getting together in Paris would be fantastic and, god, Christine was already starting to rub off on him.
The first two places were busts. Jake knew they would be as soon as he walked up to them. They were fancy and likely expensive. Rich would prefer something cheap and exciting, even if it that meant it was dirty and sweaty.
The third location seemed promising. He could hear the bass bumping from the club two and a half blocks away, even though it didn’t seem to be that big. There were people milling about outside, meaning it was probably packed in there. This was the type of place Rich always enjoyed.
Jake pushed his way inside and, sure enough, it was crowded as hell. He decided to start with the bar and maybe ask around.
“Excuse me?” Jake politely said to the bartender, desperately hoping he knew some English like the man in Milan did.
“Can I get you anything?” the man, Dustin according to his nametag, asked in a British accent. Jake had lucked out.
“I have a question for you but a gin and tonic would be great actually,” Jake replied. One drink wasn’t going to fuck up his whole search.
“I’m not looking for a relationship, sorry,” Dustin replied as he began preparing Jake’s drink.
“No, I mean I’m looking for someone,” Jake replied.
The bartender raised an eyebrow. “Then you’re going to have to look elsewhere, mate.” He slid the drink toward Jake. “That’ll be seven euros.”
Jake counted out the money and handed it to him. “I’m looking for a friend of mine from home. I think it’s possible that he might have come here tonight. I need to tell him something.”
“Well, can you describe him?” Dustin asked. “Though, I will tell you, a lot of people come in and out of this bar in a night. I might not remember him.”
“He’s short and he has a red stripe in his hair,” Jake replied.
The bartender rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I remember him. He came to the bar completely sober, flirted with me for five minutes, and then tried to order chocolate milk. What the fuck kind of bar sells chocolate milk?”
“It’s his favorite non-alcoholic beverage. He probably thought it was worth a shot,” Jake explained. “Do you know where he went?”
“As far as I know, he’s still here,” he replied. “That was only like 20 minutes ago. I think he went to go dance or something since he didn’t have a drink to worry about.”
“Thank you,” Jake said as he grabbed his drink and took a sip before walking off into the crowd, very carefully trying to avoid being jostled around so he didn’t spill.
After fifteen minutes of meandering through the crowd, Jake set his empty glass on the table and decided to leave. If Rich was here, he had probably moved on. Maybe to the next place on Jake’s list.
Except, when Jake walked out of the club, he caught a familiar shock of bright red hair out of the corner of his eye. Rich.
But Rich didn’t see him. In fact, he seemed pretty preoccupied. Rich’s lips were locked with those of some girl with curly black hair and long legs.
Jake was too late. Rich had already moved on.
He knew that he had gotten this far and he should at least say something to his friend, but he had no idea what to say, so instead, he took off the other way down the street.
He could have sworn he heard Rich call his name before he rounded the block, but he didn’t turn around. Jake wasn’t sure he could face him. His idea was stupid and embarrassing and all he wanted to do was get back to the hotel and cry himself to sleep.
“What do you mean you ran away? I never knew you were a coward , Jake Dillinger!” Chloe shouted over Skype and, well, she was right but it kind of stung.
“It’s okay!” Brooke chirped. “You panicked. We totally get it.”
Jenna snorted. “No, we absolutely do not get it. Jake, that was your chance! If you were going to interrupt girls’ night, you should have done it with a success story!”
“He was with a girl, what was I supposed to do?” Jake asked. “I have to face the facts: Rich is doing better without me.”
“We don’t know that,” Chloe insisted. “Hooking up with some chick doesn’t mean that he’s not interesting.”
“Weren’t you against this?” he asked.
“I still think it was a stupid idea, but know you’re in too deep,” she replied. “I expect you to follow through now.”
“I don’t know if it’s the best idea,” he mumbled. “I mean, I don’t want to get in the way if he’s happy.”
“And what about your happiness?” Jenna asked.
He shrugged. “I’ll get over it.”
Chloe crossed her arms. “You’re a dumb bitch,” she stated plainly.
“Chlo!” Brooke exclaimed.
“No, she’s right,” Jake said with a sigh. “I should have just stayed home. I should’ve spent my summer before grad school working. Maybe I should just go home and do that.”
“Go home?” asked Christine, who had just walked into the room with gift shop bags hanging from her arms.
“Do you have a girl in there already?” Jenna asked. “Damn, Dillinger, you do move fast!”
He rolled his eyes and turned his computer so Christine was visible. “Guys, this is my new friend and travel companion, Christine. She’s found inspiration in my love story and wants to write a play about it.”
“Sorry about the play,” Chloe told her. “Jake’s a fucking idiot and ruined your happy ending.”
Christine furrowed her eyebrows. “Jake is a lovely, smart, and compassionate person. His journey isn’t over.”
“This is Chloe, Brooke, and Jenna,” he told Christine. “And, I’m sorry, but Chloe is right. I think I’m going to just go home.”
“You can’t give up!” she exclaimed. “So, he’s not in Paris. We can follow him to the next city.”
“He’s here. I saw him,” Jake informed her.
She frowned. “Oh, no. What did he say? If he hurt you, then you deserve better.”
“It’s not Rich’s fault,” Brooke piped in. “It’s nobody’s fault.”
“It’s Jake’s fault,” Jenna and Chloe said in unison.
“I ran away,” he admitted. “I saw him and he was with this girl and they were kissing so I ran all the way back to the hotel, which was like three miles, so I probably should have taken a cab.”
“So, let me get this straight,” Christine began. “You actually found him for once and you ran away without talking to him.”
He nodded and stared down at the ground.
“Do you know what this means?” she asked.
“That I’m worthless?” he suggested.
The three girls on Skype mumbled in protest.
“We’re getting good at this!” Christine exclaimed. “We found him , Jake. We can do it again. Whether it’s next time or the time after that, you’ll build up the courage to talk to him.”
He sighed and threw himself back on the bed. Chloe laughed at him.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” he told the girls.
“Jake Dillinger, you can,” insisted Chloe’s voice through his computer speaker.
Jake shook his head. “It’s pointless. The chances of tracking him down again are slim and if I do find him, I might wimp out again. He’s better off without me anyway. This trip was about him finding himself. I can’t ruin that.”
“You won’t ruin it,” Brooke assured him. “Even if you don’t end up together, Rich is your best friend. I’m sure that he misses you.”
“If he didn’t need space, then why would he leave?” Jake asked, though it was more of a rhetorical question. “We’ve been best friends for years and now we live together. We’re all up in each other’s business. If he was really, truly in love with me, he wouldn’t run from it. Rich is a confident guy.”
“Jake, you’re an idiot,” said Jenna and, well, he’d have expected it from Chloe, but Jenna was supposed to be on his side!
“I know,” he groaned.
“No, you don’t know. You don’t know what an amazing person you are. You are kind and you put others before yourself. Yet, you’re as emotionally unaware as a turnip!” she explained.
He furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. “Turnips can’t have emotions, can they?”
“Exactly!” Jenna exclaimed. “Rich isn’t as confident as he lets on, especially when it comes to you. Jake, you’re the most important person in his life. He couldn’t risk losing you, even though it was irrational, so he ran.”
“Well, I can’t risk losing him either,” he replied. “So it’s time to go home before I ruin everything.”
Christine walked over and sat next to him, running her fingers through his hair. “A gesture of love of this magnitude won’t ruin anything, Jake.”
He looked to Christine for a moment and immediately looked away. He didn’t want to disappoint her, but he didn’t know if he could do this anymore.
“Chris, I know you want me to be your epic, romantic protagonist, but I don’t know if that’s me. I try my hardest to seem like the perfect guy you want me to be, but I’m not him,” he said with a sigh. “I’m sorry that I wasted your time.”
“Oh, Jake,” she began, running her hand through his hair once again. “You didn’t waste a second of it. Even if I don’t end up writing this play about you, I made a wonderful new friend, and that’s more important than my writing ever will be.”
Jake smiled. “You’re going to be an award-winning play author person-”
“Playwright,” she told him.
“Yeah, that,” he replied. “Christine, your plays are going to be famous today and I’ll forever be grateful that I got the chance to meet you.”
“So, what’s next?” she asked.
“I think I’m going to go home,” he said, turning to the computer screen. “Jenna, I’ll message you to make travel arrangements since I’m on WiFi. Talk to you guys soon.”
They wished him and Christine goodbye and he hung up before turning to the girl sitting on the bed with him.
“What about you?” Jake asked. “Are you going to Italy so that you can track down Jeremy and Michael.”
Christine shook her head. “I think I’m going to stay here. You made me realize something.”
She nodded. “The story I was trying to tell wasn’t my story. It was yours. I need to find my own story to tell and, to do that, I need to be on my own for a while.”
“Well, you have my number if you need anything,” he reminded her. “Even if I’m back home, I’ll do what I can do to help you create something magical.”
“Actually, could I have Jenna’s number?” she requested. “I could do with a travel agent right now.”
“Of course. I’ll text you the contact,” he promised. “I’m going to miss you and your genius brain, Christine.”
“I’m going to miss you and your big heart, Jake,” she replied, leaning forward to hug him.
Jake was going to be flying home in the next day or so, but he still felt like he would be incredibly lonely without Christine. She was an amazing friend and he was sad that they didn’t even live in the same part of the country. Still, he’d find a way to visit her or have her visit him. Maybe she could write her play about New York or something.
At least he got something out of all of this.
Jenna took care of his ticket and he was set to leave ten in the morning, so he arrived at the Paris airport around seven to be sure he’d have plenty of time to get through security and customs before his flight.
Since he hadn’t had much of a chance to sleep the night before due to his failure to talk to Rich and saying goodbye to his new friend, he was absolutely exhausted. He moved through the airport like a zombie, not sparing his boarding pass a second glance as he checked into his flight.
He handed it to a woman so that she could scan it and send him through security and she said something in French back to him.
“Sorry, I don’t speak any French,” he told her.
She laughed. “I was just saying that you would be just as well taking a train,” she said in an accented voice.
He raised an eyebrow. “A train across the Atlantic Ocean ?”
She gave him a weird look. “This ticket is for Amsterdam.”
“Like, in the Netherlands?”
“I believe that is the only Amsterdam this airport flies to,” she confirmed.
He blinked for a moment. “If you’ll excuse me, I think I need to clear this up with my travel agent.”
Jake stepped aside and connected his phone to the airport WiFi before clicking Jenna’s contact and Facetime audio.
“Hey, Jake!” she greeted cheerfully. “Ready for your flight?”
“Not exactly,” he replied. “I think you got me the wrong ticket.”
“No, I didn’t,” she said.
He furrowed his eyebrows. “Jenna, this ticket is to Amsterdam. I wanted to fly to New York, remember?”
“You wanted to fly to New York,” she echoed. “But you need to fly to Amsterdam since Rich emailed last night and said that was his next stop.”
“Jenna, I can’t do this anymore,” he groaned. “I have to go home.”
“Look, you already have the ticket. Just give it one more shot,” she suggested.
“You’re literally the reason I have the ticket!” he exclaimed.
“And yet you’re considering it,” she pointed out.
“Fine. Say I go to Amsterdam,” Jake began. “If I fail again, like I probably will, are you going to pull this again?”
“Maybe,” she replied, her tone nonchalant. “As long as a single piece of you is willing to chase after Rich, I’m going to continue to send you after him.”
“He was with a girl. I think it’s too late,” he reminded her.
“It’s been a day since you saw them together and now he’s leaving Paris. Whoever that girl is, she doesn’t matter to him beyond a hookup. If she was something to him, then he wouldn’t leave her behind so quickly,” Jenna pointed out.
“But what if he’s bringing her with?” Jake asked.
“I seriously doubt it,” she replied. “If she mattered to him, I’m sure he’d spend at least one more day in Paris, but he’s not.”
“Okay, but if I do find him, what do I say?” he asked. “I don’t want to just run away like I did before.”
“Then rehearse it,” she suggested. “Write it down and then rewrite it again until you’re ready to say those words out loud to his face. You can do this, Jake. Me, Chloe, Brooke, Christine? We all know it. You’re going to find him.”
Jake took a deep breath. “I’m going to find him,” he repeated. “And I’m going to tell them that I love him. I’m going to say it. Even if he might reject me.”
Amsterdam was a bust. So was Brussels, and Antwerp, and Munich, and Berlin, and so on and so on. Paris was the closest Jake had gotten to Rich and that was nearly two months ago now.
Christine was but a distant memory. Well, not really since they had been texting. She was writing a play about a girl alone in the streets of Paris. It wasn’t a love story, but a self-love story. Jake could already tell that it was going to be a hit.
According to Christine, Jeremy and Michael were doing pretty good too. Jeremy had found some subject for his film in Italy, though she had not specified what, and they had managed to find time to both write and film it before flying back to Chicago to work on editing it.
Jenna had gotten promoted, probably due to the people Jake had been sending her way since he gave her number to any acquaintance that seemed to need it along his journey. She worked hard and she deserved the promotion.
And Chloe and Brooke? They had gotten engaged in the time Jake and Rich were gone. The wedding wasn’t until the following spring, though, so Jake didn’t have to worry about missing it. Not that Rich would miss it anyway.
And Jake just kept running after Rich like a lovesick fool. School would be starting up in a week and a half. He was running out of time.
At the same time, he was getting really good at the whole traveling thing. He was very comfortable with airports and train stations now. He knew where to find the good bars that not every tourist knows about. He had even started to pick up a little bit of French and German, though not a ton.
He was also letting himself enjoy the journey a bit more. He went to the big touristy spots because he was in Europe. He might as well see what he wanted to see, even if Rich would never bat an eye at a thousand-year-old church.
The next city on his itinerary was Copenhagen. Rich had arrived the night before he did and who knew how long he’d be there. After a while, he had started staying in cities for longer periods of time, probably because traveling so sporadically was killing his budget. He had stayed in Munich for six days, which was the longest, but also sometimes he would still only stay in a city for a day.
Sometimes he would drop off the face of the earth entirely for a few days, presumably to camp or something, and he wouldn’t send a single email or arrange anything with Jenna. Those were the days that Jake felt the most discouraged, but they were also the days that he was able to do the most touristy stuff, so it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
After spending about an hour wandering around Copenhagen, Jake already knew he loved it. Between the elegant yet simple architecture and the lovely canals in various parts of the city, he found it to be absolutely beautiful.
He kind of hoped Rich felt the same way. Jake wanted to spend some time there and truly explore the city.
After stopping in a kebab shop, Jake checked in to his hostel and started researching. He had a good feeling about this.
By the time a few hours had passed, Jake knew that his time in Copenhagen wasn’t going to last. Though he absolutely adored the city, he knew Rich wouldn’t. It wasn’t the type of gritty place that he seemed to dig. There was a reason that he had spent so much time in Germany. That reason was beer, and it just wasn’t quite the same in Denmark.
Maybe Jake could come back on his own sometime. Or maybe he could bring Chloe. She would adore the shopping center that he had strolled through early that afternoon.
As he walked into his hostel, the buzzing of his phone shook him from his thoughts. He had 4 missed Facetime calls from Jenna. Was there a problem with his payments or something? He knew he still had money in the bank, but if his parents came back maybe they had taken it out or something.
Jake rushing into his room and called her back.
“Jenna, is everything okay?” he asked.
“Oh, thank god!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been trying to get ahold of you all day!”
“I was out looking for Rich,” he explained.
“He’s leaving Copenhagen already,” she said.
“Yeah, I gathered that this would be a shorter stop for him,” Jake replied. “It’s a really cool place, but it’s definitely not for him.”
“No, like he booked his ticket through me this time,” she told him. “He’s taking a ferry because he thinks it sounds cool even though I think it sounds absolutely awful because he’s literally spending like 15 hours on a boat. But anyway, I got you a ticket as well.”
“What time does the ferry leave?” he asked. “In the morning?”
“Today at 4:30,” she replied.
He blinked. “Jenna, it’s 3:45.”
“I know!” she exclaimed. “Boy, you need to run! I’ll send you the address and your ticket confirmation. Check-out as fast as you can and get over there, Amazing Race style. They’ve probably already started boarding.”
“Awesome. I’ll talk to you later,” he said, quickly hanging up.
Jake packed everything as quickly as he could, uncaring of what went in his carry-on versus his backpack, and then rushed down to the desk for what was probably the quickest hostel check-out ever.
When he got outside, he was able to wave down a cab pretty quickly and he told the driver where he needed to go. Bless Scandinavians and their lovely school system that made most of them pretty knowledgeable about the English language.
His luck seemed to run out after a few minutes, though. They got stuck in traffic a mile and a half from the port.
“How long do you think it will be?” Jake asked the driver. “I’m not trying to sound rude, but I need to be there as soon as possible.”
“Not sure,” the man replied. “You might want to run instead. Maybe it’s clearer ahead and you can get a new taxi.”
“Thank you,” Jake said, quickly paying the man and grabbing his things.
He exited the cab in the middle of the street and weaved through the traffic to get to the sidewalk and then took off running. He was going to make it. He was ready to talk to Rich now and he wasn’t going to let some stupid traffic stop him.
The traffic didn’t seem to stop, so Jake just kept running. By the time he reached the port, he was dripping with sweat, but the boat was still in the harbor.
He beelined for the ticketing booth with his confirmation number.
“Goddag!” greeted the cheerful man behind the counter.
“Uh, hi,” Jake replied. “I have my confirmation number and I need to get my ticket. It’s 24j4kew4y.” He read the numbers slowly so he could get them all.
The man frowned. “Your reservation is not showing up. This is for tomorrow’s ferry, yes?”
Jake shook his head. “It’s for today. My travel agent booked it while I was out and I didn’t know the departure time until like just now.”
“I’m afraid you’re too late,” the man replied, nodding toward the harbor.
Sure enough, the boat was starting to leave and on board was a man with a familiar dash of red on blond hair. Jake had barely missed him again. And this time it wasn’t even his fault. Just the universe trying to fuck with him.
“I’m not really supposed to do this, but if you want, I can switch you to tomorrow,” the man offered.
“Thanks, but I’ll pass,” Jake said with a sigh. “I think I’ll just fly. It’ll be much faster.”
Jake walked across the street into some fast food place and ordered himself a soft drink before sitting down and connecting to the WiFi so he could call Jenna.
“Bad news,” he said.
“I was afraid this would happen,” she groaned. “Let me book you a flight. Maybe you can meet him at the port tomorrow morning.”
He heard her type away at her computer and then she audibly sighed, which was never a good sign.
“Tonight’s flights are full,” she informed him. “The earliest option is tomorrow morning at 7:30. You probably won’t be able to catch him getting off the port, but you’d be beating him to the city.”
“That’s fine,” he told her. “I’m still getting there, right? That’s what counts. I can figure out a new game plan when I get there.”
“Jake, I really don’t want to do this right now, but we need to book your ticket home,” Jenna told him. “I know you want to keep chasing him. I want you to keep chasing him. But you start school soon and you need to get ready. Chloe told me she’s worried you won’t be ready or that you’ll be too heartbroken upon your return.”
“I’ll be fine,” he assured her. “Give it another week. Then I have three entire days to kick the jet lag and prep for the semester.”
Jenna sighed. “Two days.”
“Chloe wants you on a plane headed back home within the next two days,” she replied. “I know this should be your decision, but she knows you better than anyone, Jake. If she says you need that long to recover, then she’s probably right. You need to put your health and your education first.”
“Yeah,” he sighed. “That’s probably for the best.”
“I’m booking the flight out of Oslo,” she informed him. “Spend your last two days searching for him. I believe in you, Jake. We all do.”
Jake hung up and let out a deep breath. He was almost out of time, yet he was more motivated than ever. He was headed to Oslo, Norway and that was where he was going to finally speak with Rich.
By the time he landed, it was like 9:45. He definitely wouldn’t catch Rich at the port, but this time they had arrived in the city at about the same time. It was less of a chase and more of a search at this point. Rich was here and he wasn’t going to be leaving for a little bit.
Jake walked into a cafe called Kaffebrenneriet and ordered something obscenely sugary before sitting down and opening his laptop.
Still no email from Rich. He must not have arrived at the place he was staying quite yet, otherwise he would have sent something telling his friends where he was.
He started the process of researching. He found plenty of bars and clubs that looked like they could be Rich’s scene. Or maybe he’d be checking out some of the fjords. Rich enjoyed nature almost as much as he enjoyed getting wasted and hooking up.
A notification in the corner of his screen alerted him of a new email from Rich himself. He had just checked into a hotel and was planning on doing some sightseeing, which meant that Jake should probably head for the fjords.
He jotted down a list of popular locations and rushed to his hotel so that he could check-in and drop his bags off before leaving again. He was going to find Rich that night. He could feel it in his bones. He had to. It was his last chance. If the universe wanted them together tonight was the night.
Except, it wasn’t. Jake didn’t find Rich. He didn’t find anyone who reported seeing Rich. Jake didn’t know what sights he was seeing, but they certainly weren’t nature-related. He hit the bars later that evening and still there was no sign of the other boy.
He went to sleep and woke up in the morning for his last day of searching, but still there was no sign of his best friend.
Jake trudged into the airport feeling defeated. Months of traveling abroad, and all they were all for nothing. He and Rich really must not have been meant for each other. He had two chances to admit his feelings to Rich: the three years he loved him back home and when he found him in Paris. Jake didn’t shoot his shot and now it was too late.
Too bad he couldn’t backpack across a continent to get over his feelings.
As he went through security, he forced himself to hold back his tears. Crying in front of other was not a thing Jake did. He didn’t want to be judged, so he refused to let them see it. Only four people had ever seen him cry: his parents, Chloe, and Rich.
This time, Chloe would be the one tending to his tears. She was one of the best friends that he had ever had and they were with each other through the worst. She would be there for him now.
His gate was on the other side of the airport, so at least we wouldn’t have to sit and wait for very long once he got to it. Unless it was delayed. If his flight was delayed he would probably lose the chill that he was aggressively trying to project.
Jake took a long look at his ticket as he walked toward his gate. A nonstop from Oslo to New York. No more tricks from Jenna.
A hand on his elbow shook him from his thoughts. He turned and suddenly he was face to face with the guy he had been searching for over the past few months. Well, not exactly face to face, more like face to top of head, but still.
“What are you doing in Norway?” Rich asked, clearly confused.
“I was looking for you,” Jake admitted. There was no point in lying. Not anymore.
“You flew to Norway to talk to me?” he asked. “Bro, if you just sent me an email, I would have responded.”
“I flew to Geneva to talk to you, Rich,” Jake said. “I had to say something to you and I couldn’t say it over a fucking email.”
Rich blinked for a moment. “Back in Paris. Was that really you?”
He nodded. “I got scared and I ran. I really kind of blew it, huh?”
“But what-” he began.
“Rich, I know why you ran away to Europe,” Jake told him. “I know that you had feelings for me and you wanted to get rid of them.”
“What?!” Rich exclaimed, fear in his eyes.
“I love you too,” Jake said. “God, Rich, I love you more than anything. I think I’ve been in love with you for over three years now, I’ve just never had the courage to say anything. That’s why I’m here. I tried to catch you at the airport but I couldn’t, so I followed you across Europe for the past few months.”
“But why didn’t you say something in Paris?” Rich inquired. “You’re so confident and like, I’m just me!”
“I saw you with that girl and I figured I was too late,” he said with a sigh. “Jenna had to trick me into continuing to follow you.”
Rich raised an eyebrow. “You thought I was dating Madeline ? No way. I couldn’t even hook up with her after I saw you, even though I thought it was just my imagination.”
“I suppose it’s too late now,” Jake frowned. “It’s been months. You can’t still love me. And now I chased you, which is super fucking weird and-”
“I still love you,” Rich told him. “After all, you’re you, Jake Dillinger.”
And then Rich was fisting his hands in the collar of Jake’s t-shirt and pulling him down. He pressed their lips together with a ferocity that nearly made up for all the years they had wasted not being together. He knew people were watching them as they kissed, but for once he didn’t give a shit what they thought. He had Rich and that’s what counted.
“So, what now?” Jake panted after they pulled away from one another.
“What do you mean?” Rich asked. “I think we start dating now. Like, if that’s what you want.”
Jake laughed. “That’s definitely what I want. I mean where are you going next.”
“Oh. Madrid,” Rich replied. “It’s probably too late to switch it but I can do it anyway. I mean, I’ve already spent this much on flights, what’s a little more? What about you? Where are you going?”
“Home,” he answered. “I start grad school soon. Chloe seems to think that I need a week to prepare. She’s probably right though.”
Rich nodded. “She always is. I should go try to switch my ticket.”
“No,” Jake said with a shake of his head. “Go to Madrid. I hear that alcohol is pretty cheap in Spain. You’ll love it.”
“Yeah, but I’d also love going home and making out with you in our apartment,” Rich pointed out. “That actually sounds more appealing than anything else right now.”
“I’ll still be there when you get back and so will the apartment,” Jake promised him. “You’ve got your ticket already. Go to Spain and finish off your trip with a bang. And when you’re done, you’ll come home to me.”
Rich shook his head. “I’ve spent all this time running around desperately trying to find what I wanted, but it turns out the only thing I needed was just two steps behind me. I love you, Jake Dillinger, and I can’t wait to come home to you, but I have to board my flight now, so give me one last kiss on European soil.”
“I don’t know about last kiss,” Jake replied. “I’ve made a new friend on this journey and she’s even more of a romantic than Brooke. She might force us to get married in this very airport.”
“That sounds like a mess and kind of disgusting,” Rich replied. “I love it.”
Jake leaned down and pressed another kiss to Rich’s lips, softer this time.
“Have an amazing trip, babe,” he breathed.
“I’ll take a million pictures for you,” Rich replied.
“No, you won’t.”
Rich laughed. “Yeah, probably not.”
The shorter boy leaned up and kissed Jake’s cheek before running back toward his gate, boarding pass in hand. Jake continued toward his own gate. He was going to go home and he was going to get ready for grad school. Rich would be home in a few days and then they could finally be together.
He smiled. It was thrilling, knowing that he still had his entire life ahead of him. Rich and Jake had both found something while in Europe.
They had found each other.