Days became a week, then another, and then it was November. I wondered if John had really escaped, or if they'd caught up to him somewhere else – but I tried not to think about it too much.

In early November John's belongings were cleaned out. They left the apartment door hanging open when they left, and the sight of the empty rooms through the doorway was almost a physical pain.

They also left the chair John had carried out to the balcony when he'd stitched up my arm. Staring down the empty seat was even worse than staring down the doorway, and after a while I picked up the chair, moved it carefully into the empty apartment, and shut the door with a firm and final gesture.

The pumpkin stayed, growing dry and shriveled in the LA heat; somehow I couldn't quite bear getting rid of it. Moving the chair had been different – an acknowledgment that John was not coming back.

Getting rid of the jack-o-lantern was saying he'd never been there to begin with.

On Veteran's Day I came back from a trip to the store and found the envelope shoved under my door – no stamp, no addresses, just my first and last names in a block-lettered hand. I stowed the groceries and then – puzzled and a little apprehensive – carried the letter and a pack of cigarettes out to the balcony, lit a smoke and tore the envelope open.

The letter was short, a single sheet of white paper, written with blue fountain pen in a strong, sloping print.


Wish I'd had time to explain . . . but thanks for giving a guy the benefit of the doubt. For whatever it's worth – you did the right thing.

The card belongs to a friend of mine. If you're ever in trouble, if nobody else can help, let him know. We'll find you.

It's been a good year, kid. Thanks.

– John

PS: Might be time to lose the pumpkin.

I turned the envelope over and a business card fell out into my lap, a flimsy cream-colored bit of cardboard with Lee's Chinese Laundry and an address.

I grinned, pocketed the card and the letter both, suddenly feeling that all my fears for John's capture had been unfounded from the start, that it would never happen in a million years.

Then I stood, crushed out my cigarette, and pushed the shriveled old gourd off the railing, chuckling as it fell through the air and landed, with a satisfying sound, in the dumpster below.

Not all friendships last forever – ours didn't even last a year. But the things it left me – a scarred-up forearm, a brief letter, a business card, a little more courage than I thought I'd had – those will stay with me.

Sometimes I wonder what of mine will stay with him.

It was late December when I met him – 12/21, the same backwards and forwards. I liked the symmetry of it, which is the reason I remember.

One of the reasons.


A/N: Thank you so much to all who have stuck with this fic while it was in progress; your reviews were a cherished and much-needed incentive in completing Chris' story.