I meet him on a _________ message board, when I have no-one to go with. I want recommends, lists, ideas of what to do alone there. And the responses are quick and his photo repeats down the page, and for every two others, Jake writes a post, to make sure he’s not missed. It’s the furthest I’ve gone to see _________, and Google’s told me some, but I want to go to places I’d regret not going, even if I’d never known about them. I’ll always wish I’d kissed Brad Pitt, despite the probability of it, despite never meeting.
I write out his suggestions in pen, thank him, but then he’s asking questions. Where am I from? What films do I watch? What year was I born? So I question him back. He doesn’t know Vanilla Sky is a remake or that Tom Cruise was married before, or before, or before that. Usually this would be my out. I’m always looking for one.
I reply anyway, because a bookshop keeps you busy but not busy enough, and the trouble with boredom is, you could fuck anyone before finding a single flaw. But perhaps this is what grown up is: finding the flaws and sinking yourself anyway. I ignore nerves, and type, “I used to watch Byker Grove, and I know that’s not only, but you’ve got to admit the iconicity of it is unforgettable.”
I stick a post-it over the laptop webcam, fold it over the lid so that Jake can’t see. Strange, to use a name, and not a pseudonym. But a face would be stranger. His picture’s a bridge, the pound coin one, and he says he’s on it if you squint. But I’m not falling for it. I say, “I’ll see you on it someday, when you take me to it.” He lols and picks a smiley face from a selection which sets off endorphins in me, and panic. Meaning he’s a kind of chronic disease brain reward.
He asks when I’m coming and I say, “I booked tickets already. Saturday. Nothing planned, ’til the evening,” and he says sure the gig, you’re coming for the gig and I say, “Yeah, just a regular groupie,” and he asks why no-one’s coming with me and I say, “My mum said don’t burn any bridge but I did. I couldn’t help myself. I like to teeter on a relationship’s edge, just when it could spin into another thing entirely.” And Jake says he gets it, but whether he does, I don’t know, because flat text has no intonation and I say, “There’d be no bridge problem in Newcastle, right? There are just so many. I couldn’t screw it up with all of them,” and he tells me which wouldn’t hold a grudge, says he doesn’t.
And between these late conversations, in which we ignore the jobs we go to when we can’t put it off longer, I go on Google Earth, see if I can spot him on Grey Street, in the precincts, at the coast. I check the beach especially because he mentions it, but the faces of those caught are blurred, dragged, or as I almost make out who it is, I realise I know no-one at that postcode, that street, that city, but Jake.
And for a while, Jake is all I know of the place. And I know he’s got an accent but my head won’t play it while I read each line. I’m not sure how to anticipate it, but I’m anticipating; the whole thing’s anticipation. The route finder makes the journey look long and the wish list of things to do while there – galleries, monuments, cinemas, metros – could be erased simply with a single suggestion. If he’s single. Or even if he isn’t.
The third night we speak, I ask if he’ll be there forever and he says he’s not sure. That somewhere’s so ingrained in you sometimes, it’s there wherever you are. I ask where else he’d be but he doesn’t know. I don’t either, because for every new place I try, I miss the first a little more. There’s always one person who, just like the information on an internet profile, the pictures, phone numbers, and updates, is kept forever even when you’ve hit the delete button. Nothing’s ever gone. Even when you think it is.