“Yup,” John replied. He was standing over a duffel bag while, sitting in his swivel chair, his good friend Scott Boles beamed.
“That’s wicked. What do your parents think?” John loved it whenever Scott used slang. It just made his British accent sound all the more… British.
“Yeah, about that... They don’t know.”
This made Scott lean forward. “Oh man. When do you expect you’ll tell them?”
That was when John got one of his looks. “I don’t.”
Now Scott was very quiet. “John, you have to tell someone. Of course you have to tell someone. …Besides me…”
Scott wasn’t prepared for the sincerity of the question. “My God, you’re really serious.”
“Alone?” John walked over to his dresser and excised half of his boxers in one big mass. It drooped over his hands.
“Well… you could come.”
Boles shook his head. “Not enough money. Speaking of which, how’re you going to pay for this?”
“I have a lot of money saved up. And I feel like spending some of it. I mean why not. I’m young, I’m unemployed. It’s summer. And I mean, it’s not like I’m the only one going to Europe. Lots of people are traveling.”
“Yes, but probably not alone.”
John had to admit, he was right. “No, not alone. Which reminds me of something, actually.”
“John, I think this is a really bad idea.”
John looked back at him. “Yeah probably so.” He sauntered over to his dresser again and pulled open the top shelf, removing a stack of paper and then walked over to Boles. As he drew closer, the student realized they were postcards. “As you can see, they’re already filled out. All you have to do is stick one in the mail, every four days or so.”
Boles looked them over. “San Carlos, Arizona. Why there?”
“Because, my friend, my parents know I’ve always wanted to go to Arizona. And they know I applied for a fire-fighting internship there last summer. So it’s plausible.”
“Yeah, through the SCA.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Eh, not important.”
“So how long will this ‘internship’ last?
“Well this one will be short. Four weeks. June fifth through July fourth. So I’ll get back on the sixth.”
Boles’ brain started working. “And what if they need to contact you?”
“I’ll call them at regular intervals.”
“I imagine the going rate for an international call will be pretty steep.”
“Ah ha… Which also means they probably won’t try your cell phone either.” He nodded. “Ballsy.”
“Yep. I’ve got everything. Fake itinerary. Fake road maps. Absolutely nothing to tip them off.”
“I suppose you’ve considered the fact that they’re going to want to see you to the airport.”
“Yeah, I know. But it’s ok. Remember, passengers board in a separate part of the airport. Mom and Dad won’t have tickets so they won’t see what gate I go to.”
“…Okay but what if they follow you to the ticket counter? Or want to see your ticket?”
“Yeah…” John’s brow scrunched. “I hadn’t thought of that.” A pause. “I dunno.” He briefly looked disheartened as he resumed transferring clothes. The room was quiet for a few minutes. As he worked, Boles watched. He didn’t know what else to do with himself. John opened another drawer and after a moment of rifling, withdrew a set of paper maps. Boles couldn’t see where they were for. John put them on the bed and then, without the slightest look of contemplation, lifted up his sleeping bag, which he took from its compression sack, and set it down on the bed. It was incredibly small. Black and gold. Boles had never seen one like it before. He wanted to ask where he’d found it but suddenly realized he didn’t feel like talking anymore. John unrolled the sleeping bag on the bed, laid it out and then unzipped it. All of a sudden, Boles understood what he was doing.
A moment’s patience confirmed his suspicion. Ever so gingerly, John inserted the maps into the sleeping bag and then, mindful of the crease down the center of the bag, proceeded to fold it up again and roll it into a compact cylinder. When that was done, he picked up the compression sack and shimmied the sleeping bag into it. It was an awkward effort, because the container was really too small, and by the end of it, Boles wondered how neat the maps were anymore. Fortunately for him it wasn’t his problem. And John didn’t seem to care. Or cared but was managing not to show to it.
“Can I see your passport?” he inquired at last. He hadn’t seen a blank one in a while.
“It hasn’t come yet,” John said. “…So I’ve been thinking,” he started, changing the subject. “Ever see that show Avatar?” Scott nodded and said it was a good show. A little old. John agreed. “I totally agree. So I’ve been thinking. I want to learn a martial art.”
“Yeah. That’s one thing I never tried. And I mean, how sick would that be? To be that graceful… Wanna hear something funny?”
“Sure,” Scott said.
“I was reading a little about Buddhism and what I’ve read has really impressed me. It’s so… elegant… And I was thinking how nice it must be to be a monk at a monastery.”
“Huh,” Scott said. He sensed John knew he’d only said it to add something. Heard perhaps a whisper of incredulity. But he didn’t make a comment. They read each other well so it would have been unnecessary. John suddenly looked exhausted. “Just sitting, peering inward. Connecting with the ground and the trees. Seeing kindredness in a stone or an insect. And I was just thinking… how nice it must be… to feel like you’re part of something magnificent.” He looked at Boles, as if begging him for insight. Boles suddenly realized how small he looked.
The whole thing just sounded so stupid. So goddamned stupid. John looked at his duffel bag briefly.
“Could I ask you something? It’s kinda personal.”
Scott’s stomach got queasy. Because whatever the question was, he knew the answer terrified the other young man as well.
“Yeah,” he said, faintly.
“How often do you dream?”
Scott smiled. Even as he answered, he immediately knew why he’d been asked. “Less and less,” he admitted. John looked at the floor.
“Yeah, me too. They used to be so vivid… But now…” Scott looked at him. “Seriously, Scott, I’m glad I left school when I did. I really am. Because I feel like I came THIS CLOSE… to forgeting what it felt like. Like completely.” His brow scrunched up. “So close…” He shook his head hard, as if the bad thought was a loose bit of lint. But it wasn’t. “Do you believe in magic?” He asked this more rapidly.
Scott shook his head. “No.”
John laughed. “I didn’t think so. I don’t either. But I remember what it felt like. To believe. Not magic. I don’t mean magic. What I mean is…” He looked upset and Scott immediately knew it was because he didn’t know how to articulate what he felt, even though it was one of the most profound realizations he had ever had.
“You feel like your prefrontal cortex is sucking what little fun there was out of life.”
“Exactly! Yes! Exactly. That feeling… It’s just... Society tries so hard to tell us that it’s wrong and immature to want to feel things so intensely. To not grow up. But when you grow up… the magic is just gone. Forever. The video game is over. And I just can’t help but ask myself, what is so fucking great about ANYTHING in the adult world that we have to give up something THAT important? And the thing that scares me is… sometimes I forget. …It’s getting harder and harder to remember. God help me…” He looked like he was going to cry.
Scott stood up and gave him a hug. He needed it. It was obvious. John held him hard for a moment and then stepped back a little. He suddenly smiled.
“Maybe I’m just fucked up.” He laughed. He actually laughed. “How simple would that be…” He looked like he was going to cry again. Scott held him again.
“You’re not. You’re not… You’re fucking not.” John looked into his eyes. His fierce, distinctive irises disarmed. Stared at him. Helpless.
“Other people don’t understand.”
“No, they don’t. They really don’t.”
“We can’t forget, Scott. There is more to this life and we have to remember it.” Scott stood facing him. And nodded, even as it scared him to do so, even as he believed him deeply, even as he knew it was really impossible. But still maybe worth dying for… That sudden thought filled Scott with terror. “I just can’t think of a good reason not to go to Europe,” John continued. He looked down, then up again, bashfully. “Life’s short, Scott.”
“Yeah it is,” Scott said, smiling. “Heh. I won’t lie,” he added, with a wistful introspection that wasn’t entirely welcome. “I envy you,” he said with a hush. “I do... I really FUCKING do…”
John smiled weakly.
“Just come back alive.”