“Are you sure you guys can survive on your own?”
The question came from one of the bedrooms and it echoed throughout the apartment.
“Screw you, Crutch!”
Jack chuckled and set down one of Albert’s boxes on the ground. He stretched as he looked around. Nothing was set yet in Albert and Tony’s new apartment. He suspects that it won’t be organized for three weeks at least. He found Crutchie in one of the bedrooms, scrolling through his phone as he lounged on the mattress. Bags and boxes were scattered all over the floor that Jack almost toppled over them when he came in.
“Whose room is this?” he asked.
“Albert’s,” replied Crutchie, looking up at him.
He hummed. Tony’s room must be messier then. In that moment, the eighteen year old, himself, joined them with a grin. Jack could sense his excitement. They have finally moved in to their own apartment and they will be starting their first year as college students in two months. Albert would be studying Marine Biology and Tony with Astronomy. For all the stunts the duo has pulled, people tended to think that they’re- well, idiots. Jack thought they’re brilliant idiots. He, himself, saw no other option. He didn’t bother to. He was resolute on creating and studying art just as Crutchie was in love with literature. They would be having their new start together.
“The place looks great, right?” asked Tony.
“You gotta’ clean up first, though,” reminded Jack.
He was waved off as Tony dropped down beside Crutchie who shifted to make room for them both.
“Sean’s going to drop by on Friday,” trailed off Jack. “You do know that he’ll leave once he sees you haven’t arranged your furniture?”
“His loss,” said Tony, leaning against Crutchie. “And what furniture? From now on, the floor is the new furniture.”
Jack shared a look with Crutchie who just smiled and shrugged. He gave up and nudged Tony to move just a little bit before he settled his head on his lap. He laid on the bed with the two and let out a sigh. He is excited, himself. He is going to be roommates with Crutchie. He is going to be able to surround himself more than ever by people who share his passion. It’s a new start. Who knows? Maybe, they’ll find the other guys just like they found Crutchie and Sean. He knows they’re out there. Albert once told him that he never doubted that they’re not alone in this new world. And he was right. He found Tony. Jack found them. Maybe the others are already with each other, looking for them as well.
Jack never thought he’ll get here.
Albert finally joined them, adding to the pile that they are on his mattress. His grin matched Tony’s when they glanced at each other. Jack felt light at the sight of them.
“The car’s empty,” announced Albert.
Tony punched the air. “We’re officially moved in, Albo!”
“I don’t think so,” piped in Crutchie, pointing at the bags and boxes on the floor.
“And,” added Jack. “Not to mention that it’s like an obstacle course the moment you step inside the apartment.”
“Details,” said Albert and reached over to high-five Tony.
Jack swatted at them and they all laughed. He knew he would never tire of moments like this. They were too precious. Too real. He has had these a long, long time ago. He has been with them through the cold and heat. He has been with them until he left. When he had come back from Santa Fe, it was home who had left him. He looked at the three now. There were moments when he thought they would vanish into thin air. He thought that he would disappear and that it was all just a dream. He’d find out that he’s back in his own bunk, staring into an empty room.
“Have you guys gone up to the roof?” spoke Albert.
Jack’s head fell on the mattress when Tony suddenly stood up. Albert came next and helped Crutchie up who had no idea what was happening but went along with it. Jack sighed and let himself be pulled up. They left the apartment with Tony almost tripping over his own bags.
They rode the elevator and climbed up the remaining flight of stairs. They’re going up to the roof, alright. Tony let out a ‘whoop’ when he stepped out, followed by Crutchie and Albert. Jack felt the wind hit his face and brush his hair and when he came out, he saw blue.
“Wow,” breathed out Crutchie. “It’s beautiful here.”
It was like riding a bike for the first time or watching the people on the street. It was hearing Tony’s laugh. It was feeling Albert’s arm around his shoulders. It was holding Crutchie to his side when they’re walking in the park. It was arguing with Sean about pointless topics and knowing he’s enjoying their banter too. It was feeling Medda brushing his hair back when she’s happy. It was like the days when he’d sit by his window, sketching faces he’d see from his dreams and remember in his memories. It felt like a piece of home.
Yeah, it is beautiful.
He and Crutchie stayed the night over. Tony had dragged in his mattress to Albert’s room so that they could all watch movies from his laptop. They were up until the early hours of the morning and they slept in until afternoon. Jack almost wanted to stay but he didn’t want to say it out loud. He was so used to seeing Albert and Tony waiting for him and Crutchie by his locker that he couldn’t believe that they have their apartment now, living on their own. He was already missing them even though it was guaranteed that they will see each other.
“Call when you’ve finally arranged the whole apartment,” said Crutchie, hugging Albert.
“After two months then?” joked Tony.
They’ll survive, Jack told himself. He drove home, singing 80’s music with Crutchie. They talked and laughed. Albert called in the middle of the drive to tell him that he’s ready to move out and Tony butted in, saying he’ll have to live up on the roof. It was a good day and they reached their houses by nightfall. Jack dropped off Crutchie and hugged him before he left.
Medda was waiting for him on the steps when he arrived.
“How did it go?” she asked.
Jack sat down beside her. “I miss them.”
“I know, honey. I know. I’m sure those two miss you as well. You were all barely apart these past few years.”
Medda had grown close to the boys as well. She treated them like they were her own children just like she had treated Jack. He was already with her ever since he was a baby. She was there to soothe his bad dreams. She was there through all of his happy and sad days. She was the only familiar one before he met the others when he was alone. Medda Larkin was there just as she had always been.
“I’m going to miss you,” he said.
She brushed his hair back and kissed his forehead lightly.
Before he knew it, weeks passed. He had spent them with Medda in her theater and with Crutchie and Sean driving around, going to their favorite places and visiting Albert and Tony when they could. When the start of college was nearing, Sean pushed him into packing his things. Crutchie already finished with his luggage and was happy to watch the two get into a banter. Packing took at least three days. Jack thought it must be because he didn’t want to leave yet.
Before he knew it, their two months have passed. Medda had taken them out for lunch first before she said her goodbyes.
“Are you sure you’re going to be alright?” he asked her.
She laughed lightly with her eyes shining. “Are you sure you’re going to be alright, Jack?”
When Jack climbed back up to the dorm, he heard voices and laughter. He heard things getting knocked over. He hurried to his and Crutchie’s room and couldn’t help the grin that spread on his face. He could feel his heart hammering in his chest and a breathless, surprised laugh came out of him that caught the attention of the people in the room.
It was Specs who reached him first. He was dragged inside and then Jack couldn’t focus on anything anymore. There were arms around him, voices saying his name and how good it was to see him. He saw Blink and Buttons. Romeo had a big smile on his face and tears pooling in his eyes. Tommy Boy jumped on the pile. Albert was right. He was right. They weren’t alone.
“I can’t believe you’re here!” exclaimed Crutchie as Specs embraced him.
“Us too!” said Blink. “We were hoping we would find someone in the campus.”
“And we did!” piped in Tommy Boy. “Have you seen any of the others?”
Jack pulled him to his side. “Albert and Tonio have their own apartment.”
“Tonio?” asked Buttons. “Racetrack?”
“Albo and Race are here?!” cut in Blink. “Let’s go to them right now.”
And that’s how they rushed out of the dorm and out of the campus. It was Romeo who recounted to Jack how they came across Crutchie. Buttons had come inside the wrong dorm. Fortunately, it was Jack and Crutchie’s. His roommate, Specs, had heard him freaking out from down the hallway and immediately rushed to him. It was chaos from then on as Romeo had described after Buttons crashed into his and Tommy Boy’s dorm two floors down. He dragged them back up and called Blink on the phone.
“Try calling him Tony,” said Crutchie to the five.
“Race?” asked Tommy Boy.
“Yeah,” replied Jack, rubbing the back of his neck. “It’s a bit personal for him. I know it would be kind of difficult but just try, okay?”
Blink let out a breath. “Gee, Jack. I just miss those two.”
“Sean’s coming tomorrow,” piped in Crutchie.
“Sean?” echoed Romeo.
“Wait,” began Buttons and then gasped. “Spot?”
“Spot Conlon?!” demanded Romeo.
Jack couldn’t stop smiling. Neither could any of the others.
It was even more chaotic when they reached Albert and Tony’s apartment. It was Albert who had opened the door and froze at the sight of the group in front of him. Romeo pulled him into an embrace until there was eventually a group hug in the middle of the hallway. It lasted almost a minute before Tony came bounding out of his room and stopped in his tracks when he saw them.
Jack couldn’t blame them as Tony snapped out of his trance and almost looked ready to fall. He knew how uncomfortable Tony became when he was called ‘Race’ even though he tried to hide it. But he didn’t think Tony noticed it, not when the boys came rushing towards him. They crumbled into a pile on the floor and there were tears, Jack was sure of it. He could feel his own leaking out of his eyes.
Yes, this really is a new start.
He didn’t really think that it could get better.
A week later, he was walking with Specs and Tony around the campus when they found JoJo feeding a dog at the garden. It was Tony who saw him and literally held the back of the shirts of Jack and Specs to stop them from walking.
“Hi!” called out Tony before Jack could believe that Jojo was really sitting with a dog just several feet away from them.
JoJo looked up at the voice, startled. He stared at the three and smiled kindly before raising up a hand to wave.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
For a moment, no one spoke. JoJo doesn’t know. He doesn’t recognize them.
Jack remembered Sean.
“Do you know us?”
“No, I don’t. Sorry.”
He didn’t know if the others had experienced meeting one of them who did not know, who did not remember. Specs stuttered.
“I’m Anthony,” spoke Tony as he walked forwards. “But you can call me Tony or Tonio. Those two idiots there are Jack and Specs.”
JoJo smiled again and held out a hand which Tony shook.
“You really wouldn’t wanna’ hear my real name,” he said when he pulled away.
Jack forced his feet to work and dragged Specs with him.
“Try us,” he piped in.
“The nuns raised me.”
“You got a name?”
“Jorgelino Josephino De La-“
“That’s a mouthful.”
“We’s gonna call you JoJo!”
Tony grinned. “Do you have another name?”
“You can call me JoJo.”
He was introduced to the others after Jack reminded them not to scare Jojo away. It turns out that it was Specs who didn’t have his memories back before when Buttons found him. They were welcoming and loud. The second part couldn’t be denied but JoJo didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he fit quite in. Jack wasn’t surprised by that. They still got on well.
Jack never thought he’ll get here.
It was another week before classes officially started. It was a different environment. Jack thought he might get a whiplash but that didn’t compare to Tony saying ‘I give up’ before heading straight to the cafeteria. They got by and Jack couldn’t help but to check in on the others. He had called Medda as well to ask how she was doing and tell her how he has been holding up. He had gotten on well with his classmates. It was great for a first day. He had lunch with Crutchie, Blink and Romeo and spent his breaks hanging out in the fields, drawing what he could see.
He stayed there until Albert found him. The red-head was already done for the day but Jack still had one subject. They walked across the field, talking about their professors and classes. Albert spewed out some terms Jack could hardly understand. He enjoyed it, though. He was happy that Albert was practically in love with what he’s doing. He’s glad that they all are.
They reached the building where Jack’s class would be. They stopped at the steps.
“Oh,” spoke Albert. “Tony said he’ll be cooking dinner.”
“Yeah?” asked Jack. “Did you invite JoJo?”
“He’s down for it.”
“Alright. I guess I’ll just call when I’m-“
Someone cleared their throat and the two turned.
It felt like the wind rushing between his fingers. It was like hearing the waves crashing from a distance that time he, Crutchie, Tony and Albert went to the beach. It was running in a vast field. It felt like watching the moon from his bedroom window. It was like the warmth he felt when someone hugged him or when someone held his hand. It was like using a new paintbrush. It felt like seeing an image in his mind and feeling the tingles in his fingertips. It was like seeing the sky on Albert and Tony’s rooftop. It felt like a piece of home.
“Davey,” he breathed out.
And he smiled. David Jacobs smiled softly and it was so familiar that Jack thought he could burst right then and there.
Jack pulled him in a tight embrace.
He never thought he’ll get here.