Some guy on the plane handed him a burned CD and promised it’d change his life.
Luke figured there’d be lots of hippies in Amsterdam; they followed the pot, didn’t they? But he didn’t see how some guy named—he checked the squiggly, stoned handwriting—Nick Drake was going to make anything any better.
Being on a forced vacation from his old life and his new life was supposed to "give you some perspective, son. Maybe a little culture, maturity. It’s a new beginning for both of us, and I know Tim and I need some space to figure out how this is all going to work. We thought we’d spend a few weeks in the chateau—what about you?"
People at the clubs and bars kept asking him if he was German, or Swiss, or Norwegian. He always muttered "Ja," and shouldered his way over to the biggest cloud of smoke.
A couple of girls started giggling and playing with his hair, a few nights in, and he let them put little braids in while he watched their tits jiggle and sway because hey, what the fuck. Nobody was looking, and they felt nice under his fingers.
Of course, they got knotted and snarled after a few days without a shower, so Luke paid some ancient barber with numbers on his arm 20 Krone to shave his head. People stopped asking him where he was from, then. They didn’t look at him like he was from anywhere.
The buildings were low and red-roofed, and most of them had shiny brass or gold plaques. Luke always stopped when he saw one, and squinted through the haze around his head to make the words out. Well, the numbers, at least. 1764. 1832. Old. Really old, and not even that interesting to look at.
The water was a completely different color than the Pacific, and it was dirtier. There wasn’t as much sand either, but Luke hated to look at it.
He watched the sun rise through hostel windows or from park benches where he’d passed out next to hookers, and he played the stupid CD until it wore out. It sounded like jazzy piano-bar shit sometimes, and like happy 60’s running-through-a-meadow crap the other times, but it kind of grew on him.
All the songs sounded like inhaling, walking over slippery cobblestones at two in the morning, ducking in phone booths to wait out the rain.
The concierge at his hostel ("Well, if you’re going backpacking, better have the full experience, right, son? Bread and cheese for breakfast and dinner, communal bathrooms, it’ll be fun!") spoke perfect English, and always asked really politely if there was anything Mijnheer needed when he came in to wash his clothes and make some more sandwiches. The guy was a few years older, probably, clean pressed shirt and tie that said he was moving up in the industry.
One night Luke dragged himself inside, sticky from weed and some girl he’d picked up in the bathroom, and the guy—his nametag said Christian—helped him up to his room.
Christian had bent to tug off his sandals and khakis, and Luke only realized he was singing the words to ‘Poor Boy’ when a hand covered his mouth and a mouth covered his cock. Luke’s balls ached in that tingling, stoned way that meant even if he couldn’t get off again, everything felt good, so Luke just grunted and jerked his hips up until Christian collapsed against his thigh, gasping, free hand still working his own cock.
Luke shifted until both of his legs were on the narrow cot, and heard Christian whisper "Dank u zeer" somewhere near his ankles. He passed out before the door shut.
Luke repacked his knapsack the next morning. He pulled out the dirty clothes, soaked them in the sink, then laid them flat on the windowsill, and sang under his breath.
"Summer was gone, and the heat died down/ and Autumn reached for a golden crown."
He pulled out matchbooks, an empty journal Tim had given him, the end of a baguette, condom wrappers, a few joints, plane tickets. He shook the bag out with one hand, and flipped open the tickets with the other. Departure date: today. Huh.
His clean boxers were still damp, and clinging uncomfortably, when Luke reached the airport.
He took a few hits before stepping inside the sliding doors, and felt the scrape on his neck where the camera strap had rubbed, day after day, at least until he realized there wasn’t anything he wanted to take pictures of. His neck felt lighter without it, so Luke had put it on his bed when he’d left.
It wasn’t a rose or anything, and Christian would probably have rather had his joints, or his gold card, but whatever. It had been a pretty nice hostel.