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 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 there.
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 and 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, at 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 he wondered how much they had 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, tell him all about life in Seattle, and see the people he had grown 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 had 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 than 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 light wood floors and cabinets on the walls were the same, and the kitchen looked the same — white cabinets and countertops, which looked good in Percy’s mom’s opinion (though Percy disagreed, as he had thought that all their science experiments they had done when they were younger would ruin the cabinets).
“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. 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 a while,” 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, and 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 a while,” 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 had moved to Oregon,” Percy explained, putting his empty mug of hot chocolate on 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 then!” Daniel said with a small, playful smile, causing Percy to laugh.
“Sure, ‘cause my mom would totally allow that five minutes after you 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 the 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.