The question had been almost tangible in the air for a few weeks now. They knew it was coming, and all four of them wanted to bring it up but at the same time, they didn't. Because that would be it. The end. The end of everything, of them, of this life they'd been living. It would tear them apart, but it was destroying them just as effectively now.
They danced around it for as long as they could, but school was ending in a week and they couldn't avoid it any longer. They'd had this talk with their other friends already, and now, now it was time to have it together. To get it over with, out everything behind them. To say goodbye.
In the end it was Andy who brought it up first. A throwaway line about how he was looking forward to med school. A throwaway line that held way more weight than it should have. Because Andy was leaving. He was going to America and he might never come back. Because Andy was moving across the world over summer and sure, they could technically keep in contact, but they all knew that their connection would fade rapidly. So, a single sentence made the world come crashing down on all of them.
They'd basically ignored it then, but they felt it in the space between them, the finale.
It was Jake who brought it up next. He hadn't gotten a scholarship, they knew that, so he was gonna work. He was staying in Bremin for a while, maybe forever. Maybe they'd leave him behind, or maybe they'd return. They wordlessly agreed that this would be hardest on him, to remain trapped in this town that had tormented them for so long, their home which hadn't felt like a home unless they were together. Because going missing in an alternate dimension will do that to you. So Jake was staying, and Felix promised him he'd try to get him a job at his dad's place, because it was bad enough that Felix was leaving him too, this was the least he could do.
Sam went after that. His parents were paying for him to pursue a higher education. Elementary school teacher, he'd said. He wanted to help people, kids especially, because he couldn't stand by and watch someone suffer, not anymore. Mia had helped him pick it out. She was going to become a nurse and both of them would be moving to Sydney over the summer, since the schools they wanted to attend were there. Jake had seemed carefully hopeful. Bremin Elementary always needed more teacher, and maybe Sam could come back some day. Come back home.
Felix out it off until the very last day, when they all asked him about it, and he quietly told the, he was going to study forensics. In France. Uni was cheaper there, and his parents were a bit short on cash, what with Oscar. He could work in Nice over the summer and probably make enough to pay for a semester. Ellen was going with him, but she wasn't going to Uni, she just wanted to get out. None of the boys said it but they all knew that Felix did too. That he wanted to escape this town and everything it represented to him. That he wanted an out, and this was his perfect opportunity.
So, Felix left for Nice two weeks later, after a goodbye filled with more tears than any of them would ever admit. And at the end of summer, Andy boarded a plane, too, heading to America. And Jake and Sam waved him off and they didn't cry, no way. And the next day Sam threw his last bags into his car and he and Jake stood in front of each other awkwardly before falling into each other's arms. And they never once shed a single tear. And both of them would deny that they held on a bit tighter and a bit longer than was considered normal. And Jake would never tell anyone about the feeling of absolute dread that fell over him as he watched Sam drive off.
And he turned around and walked into an empty town.
It was half a year later that contact with Andy had basically stopped completely. Sam disappeared next, a few months after Andy, and by the time summer rolled around again, none of them talked regularly. They had new lives, new friends, new people they considered family. New homes.
It was four years after that fateful summer that Bremin Elementary hired a new teacher, and Jake didn't pay much attention to it until he was dropping off his neighbour's kids since she had to work, and he was face to face with Sam again, and it hurt as much as it had to say goodbye. And they'd fallen into an embrace again, ignoring the kids around them.
And another year later, Felix came back. He'd dropped out after two years and started bartending instead, alongside Ellen, but now Ellen was engaged and moving back to Australia, and Felix didn't know what else there was in Nice that needed him. He was never one for making new friends. Besides, he had a wedding to plan. So, he impulsively packed his stuff and traveled back to Bremin. It had been five years. Five years of therapy and coming to terms with things. And now, he was ready to face it again. He managed to get a job at a local bar, one where Jake and Sam would go occasionally.
Five more years later. Five years of imbalance and a missing voice. Five years later, Andy showed up. He'd gotten his medical license, and now worked at the Bremin hospital. He didn't get found. He knew full well where Jake worked, so he looked him up. Sat in that damned diner all day, waiting for Jake's shift to start and boy, was it worth it. Jake nearly dropped everything when he saw him sitting there.
After ten years, they were finally back home.