I knew other people had it worse. I knew that. I knew that what happened when I was twelve could have been a lot worse.

I just wished that I knew why I couldn’t fucking let it go. Every time I thought I had, life tripped me and shoved my face into the muck of my past, and taught me just how far I was from being over it.

Maybe I should just book a flight back to the States. I could visit Bliss in Philly, build up my resolve, and just go home. What was the use in fighting it?

Whatever I’d thought I was going to do here—the adventure and the living that I’d been looking for—wasn’t happening. If anything, I was more confused and more lost than before. I’d been trying to outrun my issues, racing from bar to bar and city to city, but after a while the differences in location didn’t matter. Because I was the same in every city. Inadequate.

It was stupid, but in my head this trip had become the indicator for the rest of my life. I’d thought it would jumpstart something, that it would give me the momentum to move forward. I had pinned every hope, every doubt on this trip, intending it to fulfill the former and dash the latter. Unfortunately, it was doing the opposite.

Maybe it was time to cut my losses.

The permanent knot in my stomach loosened slightly.

The water battered my back, and I took each tiny blow, willing the water to take some of me with it. Slowly, slowly the tension melted out of my muscles, my lungs lost that aching feeling, and the sting of emotion at the back of my throat receded.

Life was easier when you stopped caring, when you stopped expecting things to get better.

Feeling more in control, I dragged myself off the shower floor. I shut off the water, and reached for a towel.

Then I scrubbed.


At my hair. My face. My skin. I scrubbed myself dry while all my hopes for this trip, for life, twisted down the drain.

I left my hair wet and wavy, and collected my things from where someone had placed them neatly at the foot of the bed. I balled up my wet swimsuit in the T-shirt I’d been wearing and did the walk of shame wearing the wrinkled shift dress I’d worn yesterday before the baths.

It was possibly the shamiest walk of shame in the history of all shaming.

But at least it was short.

I exited the nice boutique hotel to find myself on a familiar block. I was across the street and just a few buildings down from my hostel.

“Jesus . . .”

I jogged across the street, and pushed open the door to the hostel. I reached in my bag for my phone to see what time it was. I didn’t actually use the phone to call anyone. It was more of an emergency kind of thing. And it had all my music. I was still fishing around in the bottom of my bag when I entered the dormitory with my bed to see Jenny, John, and Tau packing up their things.

I gave up my search for my phone.

Tau saw me first and nudged Jenny.

“Kelsey! Where did you go last night, you little minx?”

I opened my mouth to tell her where I’d been, that I’d been just across the street, but then pulled my lips closed. I threw on my most convincing smile and said, “Oh, you know me.”

There was no point in telling people. Been there. Done that. Fucked things up even worse. Besides . . . there was nothing to tell. Nothing happened. And it’s not as if we were really friends anyway. They were little more than cardboard cutouts to me. Superficial people to be with and be seen with. And I was the same to them.

“Oh my God,” Jenny said. “I freaking love you. Was it the army guy? I bet he was fantastic. Come out with us and tell me everything.”

I moved toward my bed to put down my things. I’d not found my phone yet, but I was fairly certain it couldn’t be much later than noon.

“You’re going out now? It’s so early.”

Jenny shrugged. “We’ve got to check out in, like, ten minutes, but our train doesn’t leave until tonight. So, we figured a little day drinking was in order. You know, to end our Budapest weekend in style. Come with us!”

I worried my bottom lip between my teeth, unsure how to get out of this.

“I don’t know if I’m up to day drinking, honestly.”

“So come for the company,” John said.

I didn’t think I was up to the company either.

The hesitance must have shown on my face because Jenny picked up her backpack and handed it to Tau. “You guys go check us out,” she said. “I’ll be right there.”

John waved on his way out, and Tau nodded. Then Jenny turned on me.

“Okay, what’s up? I know post-coitus glow, and you don’t have it. So where were you really last night?”

I plopped down on the bottom bunk bed that I was currently calling home. The mattress was so thin that I could feel the wooden slats below it.

“Nothing. Just . . .” I sighed. “I’ve just had a bad week is all. Last night just continued my slump.”

“It’s probably just mental. Maybe you need a change. New atmosphere. You could start fresh.”

That’s all I’d been doing. Starting fresh. But I was learning that the stench of the past tended to cling despite changing locations.

“I don’t think that will help. I think I’m going to go home.”

“Are you serious?”

I threaded my fingers together in my lap and ran my thumb across my palm.

“Yeah.” I nodded and said more firmly, “Yeah, I am.”

She ducked underneath my bunk and sat down beside me, the bed groaning. “You can’t. Not yet. If you go home now, when you’re unhappy, that’s the only way you’ll remember this trip. Go home on a good note at least.”

I brushed my thumb across my palm again, scraping lightly with the nail of my thumb.

“You’re not wrong.”

“Of course I’m not. I get being homesick. And the culture shock can come a bit out of nowhere and bite you in the ass. But you’re going to want to look back on this trip fondly. As a good thing . . . right?”

“Right.” I nodded. Jenny’s advice sounded a lot like what I would have told myself. That is, if I weren’t so mixed up and broken down. It was stupid to try to pin all my hopes on this trip. I was expecting too much. Too much pressure.

I still thought going home was the best choice, but I was pretty sure I could handle one last hooray.

“Thanks, Jenny.”

She smiled, and lifted one shoulder in a shrug.

“I’m the queen of sabotaging good things, but I’m at least pretty good at recognizing the same tendency in others. One more trip. Do something you’ll remember, something impossible to regret. Then take that moment home with you.”

I nodded, emotion tickling at the back of my throat.

She slipped off my bunk and headed for the door. “Facebook me and let me know how it goes.”

She was almost out the door when I called, “Jenny?”

She balanced a hand on the doorjamb. “Yeah?”

“Would you recommend Prague as a place to remember?”

She smiled.

“Hell, yes, I would. And I happen to know that a train is heading that way in just over eight hours.”

Prague it was, then. My last adventure.


Even the train station in Budapest was beautiful. It was all archways and glass windows. The glittering night sky was visible through the windows that swept across the arched ceiling. The station was cast in a low yellow light, and the balmy night air crept in through the open archways over the train tracks. I arrived about forty-five minutes early, but didn’t see Jenny, John, or Tau anywhere.

The train Jenny had told me about traveled overnight and arrived in Prague just after dawn. I went ahead and purchased a ticket for a couchette in a random compartment, just in case I didn’t find them before the train left. There was probably very little chance I would have been able to get in the same train compartment as them anyway.

I took a seat on a quaint wooden bench. I still couldn’t find my phone, and I was working on the theory that I’d lost it sometime during the night of oblivion. Unable to listen to music, it was just me and the quiet station, permeated by the humming of the tracks as a train approached.

That hum grew into a roar, and the wind whipped my hair around my face. And for a second . . . for one tiny second, I felt good. The worries rolled off my back, and it hit me where I was and what I was doing. I was in a gorgeous European city, where most people didn’t speak English. The train station was so grand, it was easy to imagine how magnificent it had been when it was first built. There was a wide, bustling world out there, and I was a part of it.

Sure, I had no fucking clue what I was doing with my life or where I fit in this world, but I was a part of it all the same. I’d left footprints across the globe, and though you couldn’t see them and they didn’t necessarily matter, I knew they were there. And that was enough for now. It had to be enough.

The train pulled to a stop, the wind died down, and with it that spark of something more.

The moment was fleeting, but it told me something important. There was hope in this mad world, if I could keep it protected from the darkness.

My train arrived just a few minutes prior to the scheduled time. I picked up my backpack, and did one last sweep of the platform to look for Jenny and the guys.

I didn’t see them, but maybe I’d be able to find them once we got to the station in Prague.

I stepped off the platform and up onto the stairs leading into the train. An attendant helped direct me toward my compartment. I slid open the door and shouldered my hulking backpack through the narrow opening. The compartment held six bunks that folded out from the wall bunk-bed style. There were three on each side, each with a pillow and a blanket. I checked my ticket to find that I was on one of the middle bunks. I was not looking forward to climbing into that space. There was only about two feet between the top of my bunk and the bottom of the one above me. Not enough space to sit up unless I wanted to crack my head against the couchette above me.

Now that I knew where I was, I exited my compartment, following the flow of people looking for their own places. I peeked past open doors, checking for a familiar face. I walked nearly the entire length of the train before an announcement came over the speakers. It started in Hungarian, but I didn’t need to wait for the translation to know what it meant. We were leaving. And I still hadn’t seen Jenny or the guys anywhere.

I was about to turn around and go back to my compartment when I heard a commotion. The train started moving, but the attendant was still at the door, calling out something in Hungarian.

While I stared, a hand took hold of the bar next to the stairs, and a running body pulled itself up onto the train and into the cabin. The person held out a ticket to the conductor, and after they spoke for a few seconds, stepped out into the light.

A small part of me had thought maybe it was Tau or John, and the others would be pulling themselves onto the slowly moving train any second now.

It wasn’t.

But the face was a familiar one after all.

The train picked up speed, and I had to brace myself on the wall to keep from falling. He finished tucking his ticket into the pocket of his dark jeans, slung low on his hips, and then his eyes met mine.


I had the strongest urge to run. Or to throw myself into his arms.

He moved forward, reaching a long arm up to the ceiling to help keep his balance.

“You left,” he said, his expression troubled.


“And you left this.”

He reached into his pocket again, and pulled out my cell phone.

I stretched for it. “Where did you get that?”

“You left it in your room.”


My room? The hotel room?

He passed the phone to me and said, “I came over this afternoon to check on you, but you were already gone. I went to your hostel, but you were already gone from there, too. I got lucky and ran into Jenny and Tau at a bar near the hostel. They said you were leaving for Prague tonight.”

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