So, we wrote this… over Memorial Day weekend… which was a really freaking long time ago. We started to post it as a full-length story, but changed our minds because it was originally intended to be a oneshot, and is more like oneshot material anyways. So here it is. Enjoy!
I felt as though he'd slapped me. "What?"
"I'm sorry, Ev! I can't go camping with you."
"But... " It wasn't quite computing. "But you always go camping with us. It's like... how it is."
Louis shook his head. "My mom's making me come to my cousin's bat mitzvah. A bat mitzvah!I mean, honestly, who the hell even cares? I'm sorry, Ev."
I sighed. "It's okay, it's not your fault. But - what am I going to do? I can't hang out with little kids and drunk adults by myself for three days!"
"You could take someone else," Louis suggested. "I wouldn't be toohurt."
I scoffed. "Take someone else like who? I don't know if you noticed, Louis, but you're kind of my only friend."
Louis frowned. "That's not true...um... What about Alex? Or Phillip?"
"They're yourfriends, Louis."
"Yourfriend," I said.
"What about Tristan?"
I paused. "Your friend."
"Yeah, but he's reaaaallycool. You'd like him. You guys have a lot in common."
I failed to see what, exactly, I had in common with a six-foot-tall, green-eyed godthat looked like he'd just stepped out of a wall in a Hollister store. "Like what?"
"You're both completely psychotic. Come on, Evan, he's cool! Just askhim!"
"You ask him. He's your friend."
"Yeah," Louis argued, "but I'm not the one taking him camping. So go ask him! Hey, here he comes now! Hey! Tristan!"
My eyes bugged out and I slapped Louis on the back of the head. "Shut the fuck up, you nutcase."
"Hey," Tristan said easily, sidling over to us. "Louis. Evan."
I blinked. It was definitely notnormal for my name to be spoken by such a pretty voice. "Uh, hi," I managed.
"Well," Louis said, "Evan and I were just talking, weren't we, Evan?"
"Uh-huh," I said slowly, not pulling my eyes away from Tristan's.
"And do you want to tell Tristan what we were talking about, Evan?"
"Uh-uh," I said.
"Evan!" Louis scolded.
"Well, you asked," I said, throwing my hands up into the air.
"Evan wants to know if you'll go camping with him."
Tristan raised a single eyebrow. "Somehow I feel like Louis wants to know if I'll go camping with Evan."
They both looked at me expectantly. "Er, no!" I said. "I, uh, wantyou to come. I mean, Louis has to go to his cousin's bat mitzvah, and..."
"Good to know I'm your backup plan," Tristan said cheerfully.
"Better my plan B than my plan X, though," I replied, just as cheerfully. We stared at each other for a moment. Or, rather, I stared at him and he watched me as though I might spontaneously begin to do the Macarena in the middle of the hall.
Or something like that. Tristan eventually laughed, shaking his head a little. "So you actually want me to come?"
Let's see. Sharing a tent with Julia and Sydney, the insufferable tiny blond children of doom (whom I loved, obviously, but still) or sharing a tent with a guy who could have been the poster boy for summer because of how fucking hothe was. Hmm. This was a tough decision. "Yes, Tristan, I actually want you to come."
Louis clapped the both of us on the back. "Good! Now that that's all settled... let's go to lunch!"
He started off ahead of us, but Tristan held me back. "It doesn't bother you that I'm... gay, does it?"
Psh. Like I didn't already know. "You're gay?" My eyes widened. "Oh my god, I hate you, go die in a hole!"
Tristan laughed. "Shut the fuck up, fag, I know you dated Louis two years ago."
I made a face. "I was young, then. Stupid, frankly. You are never to bring that up in my presence ever again, do you hear me?"
Tristan laughed again. I was beginning to really, really like that sound. "That's what Louis said when I brought it up in front of him."
"Me and Louis are very, very good friends. We decided that this was how it should be."
"You don't still like him, do you?" The look of disgust on Tristan's face caused me to burst out laughing.
"Aha, no. No, no, no."
"Are you guys coming?" Louis asked dubiously, walking back to us from around the corner.
"Yeah," I said, not breaking my eye contact with Tristan. This was going to be one interesting camping trip.
Although at first going camping and sharing a tent with an insanely hot sex-god who is already your sort-of friend and doesn't despise you may seem like a good idea, don't do it.Sure, in theory it's all fine and dandy, but just wait until the packing process begins. You can't just pack your usualcamping clothes, because your usual camping clothes are old and dirty and are the least flattering clothes you own because they're campingclothes. You can't bring your nice clothes either, though, because you'll get them dirty and you look like you're trying too hard. And then, of course, there's the question of what you're going to sleep in, because obviously, you normally either sleep naked or in your Candyland pajama pants, and there's something very suggestive about either one of these options.
So, basically, you're screwed.
You have to make decisions like this - bring camping clothes and risk looking unattractive, or bring nice clothes and risk looking like a prick. Hmm.
So, my parents, I thought, would notice if I hadn't brought getting-dirty-like clothes. That was definitely a downside. My mother would say something, for sure. And then Tristan would hear them, and then he would look at me with that self-satisfied smirk of his, and he would know that I was trying to impress him. What the hell was I doing, trying to impresshim?
Justbecause he was attractive and agreed to come didn't mean he liked me, so there was really nothing to get worked up about. Right. But what if I wantedhim to like me? There'd be no chance of that happening if I wore that godawful T-shirt my mother bought me in Portugal (when I was 15) on the first day. Sonot a good impression.
In the end, I decided on the most casual nice clothes I owned. You know. Not things I'd wear out to a restaurant or anything, but maybe that I'd wear to school if everything else in my closet was in the washing machine. Granted, I only had a couple shirts like these, and I was thankful that we were only staying two nights, because I didn't know how much more of this stress I could take.
Only on the morning we were due to leave did it really dawn on me what was going on: I was going to be sharing a tent with Tristan fucking Michaels. Multiple cocoons of butterflies hatched in my stomach. Figuratively, of course.
I was biting my lip nervously as my father pulled the minivan up in front of Tristan's house. "Do you want to go get him, or you want me to honk?"
Seeing as it was barely nine in the morning, I made a face, saying, "Eh, I guess I'll go get him." I hopped out of the car, straightening the collar of my meticulously chosen polo and ignoring the knowing look my mother sent me.
I rang the Michaels' doorbell and shifted my weight from one foot to the other, still biting my lip. When Tristan pulled open the door and saw me standing there, he gave a soft little smile and said, "Hey, Evan."
I released my lip. "Hey. You ready?"
"Yeah. Just lemme grab my bag and say bye to my parents and my sis." He gave a little wave in my parents' direction and jogged to the other room. He soon returned, shouldering his bag. "I like your shirt."
I grinned. I knewthis wasn't a wasted effort. "Thanks."
The ride to Memorial Campground usually took about an hour and a half, sometimes more if my dad realized he forgot something completely crucial ten minutes in (like last time) or if my mother decided we had to stop and look at some magnificent landmark she'd just spotted (like the year before). Luckily, I brought along my iPod and was very prepared to whip it out if things got awkward. After all, I didn't really know Tristan very well, and I'm not the most suave of people when sitting only a few feet away from a veritable sex god.
I don't underestimate myself, really. I just know how I tend to handle things most of the time. I was right, too. Tristan and I weren't really talking and I didn't know how to start the conversation. Soo. I think you're sexy. Do you think I'm sexy?No.
He seemed perfectly at ease, though, gazing out the window causally and humming some little tune to himself.
Okay. If he wasn't going to be awkward, I wasn't going to be awkward. Silence didn't necessarily have to be uncomfortable. People in books always talk about these so-called "comfortable silences" with people they're interested in. If it can happen to them, it could most certainly happen to me. Yeah. I was totally comfortable.
My mom started talking from the front of the car, but I could barely hear her due to the mound of camping junk piled between the front seats and the very back seats where Tristan and I were sitting.
"Oh," she called back, louder this time. "I was just asking Tristan how he knows you - I've never seen him around before." I resisted the urge to smack my head against something and didn't respond, letting Tristan handle my mother. She's sweet, but she says awkward things without realizing it. Actually, I think sometimes she does realize it, and says whatever it is just to spite me.
Tristan just looked to the front and smiled, even though my mother obviously couldn't see him. "Oh, we have history, math, and Spanish together. Louis sort of introduced us."
"Oh, Louis!" my mother chirped. "He's such a lovely boy, it's such a shame he can't come camping this year. But we're glad to have you, Tristan! Actually, we could have taken all three of you if only Louis wasn't busy this weekend. But what can you do, when the Jewish girl plans that important ceremony, you can't very well say no, can you?"
Oh my god. My mother was a complete nutcase.
Tristan looked like he was about to laugh. "Yeah," he said, "Louis is cool, but this camping trip seems fun. I'm glad Evan invited me."
I almost rolled my eyes at his blatant kissing up to my mother, but instead stayed silent, choosing to keep out of this particular conversation. Tristan seemed to be fending well enough for himself.
"So, Tristan," my mom asked, not realizing that if she stopped talking she would have made my life so much easier, "Tell me about yourself - do you have a girlfriend?"
"Nah," he said. He looked at least more awkward at this question than he did before, which was somewhat of a triumph for me. Tristan couldbe slightly uncomfortable given the right situation. "I... don't really... like girls," he finally said.
My mother was not fazed in the slightest. "Evan, do you by any chance have any straightfriends?"
"Yeah, but they're girls," Tristan and I said at the same time, then looked at each other and cracked up.
"Boys. Justbecause they're all gay doesn't mean they can't have any straight male friends," I vaguely heard my mom comment to my dad from the front seat. I smiled.
"Yeah," Tristan commented, obviously hearing her, "But what straight guy would really want to share an air mattress with this gay dork?"
At first I was offended at his comment, but then I shrugged. Eh. It was true anyway. Straight guys could be very cool, but I think asking them to share an air mattress in a tent would probably be pushing it.
My dad started laughing at Tristan's comment as well, so I figured that was a good sign. This whole camping thing might not be so bad after all.
Once we were in the tent, I turned my back on Tristan and pulled my sweatshirt off, and then my t-shirt. Being an openly gay kid in high school, I had become very good at keeping my eyes down around other people who were changing. Saves you a lot of trouble that way, let me tell you. I rummaged in my bag for a moment before I found my jeans and thermal shirt. I quickly took my shorts off, and attempted to tug my jeans on. Unfortunately, it was not (and has never been) easy for someone to stand one-footed on an air mattress, so I promptly fell over. I looked up to find Tristan standing over me, smirking. "And I thought I was balance-challenged," he said dryly.
I made a face. "Shut up."
"I love your snappy comebacks."
"Your mom loves my snappy comebacks. Now shut up."
Tristan laughed as I stood back up. This time, though, we didn't turn our backs on each other. In fact, if I didn't know any better, I'd say he was checking me out. But I knew better. Not that I wasn't good looking or anything. Because I was. Not to be arrogant. But quite a few phone numbers had been shoved through the slats in my locker over the past couple years, and if that's not a sign, I don't know what is.
So maybe he waschecking me out.
I looked at his beautiful bare torso, noting the twining red marks that adorned his arms and shoulders. Scars, obviously. From what, however, I didn't know. I pulled my thermal shirt on, coughing slightly. But then my eyes flickered back up to meet his. We stared at each other unblinkingly for a moment before a call for dinner broke the silence between us. "We should head over," Tristan said, quickly looking away and putting on his shirt.
I yanked a sweatshirt over my head and followed him out of the tent, hoping this awkwardness wasn't going to last the whole trip, even if it did involve his naked chest.
My dad was standing by the grill. As we walked up, he yelled, "Hey Evan, grab me the steak knife, will ya?"
I, not really being the kind of person who spends much time in the kitchen, walked over to the knife bucket and asked stupidly, "Uh, which one is the steak knife?"
Tristan walked up behind me, so close that I could feel his breath on the back of my neck (which was awkward because my dad was standing like five feet away.) He reached around me and grabbed a knife, which I assumed was a steak knife, because why the hell would he be grabbing any other kind of knife? That would be stupid, and from what I had gathered so far, Tristan was not stupid.
"I got it, Mr. Quintrell," he called, blowing air purposefully on the back of my neck before walking away. I shuddered, feeling the hair on the back of my neck stand up, but far from disgusted by the fact that Tristan was probably flirting with me. It was... rather interesting.
My dad shot me a look, which I interpreted as I like this kid!I smiled because I got a feeling that I was beginning to as well.
"Steaks, steaks, steaks, steaks!" Dennis called, coming over to sit at the wooden picnic table. His wife walked over and sat next to him, whining, "So, soo fattening."
"But in a wonderfully delicious way!" my mom chirped brightly, setting the steak on the table with a smile. My mom has always been like this. Perky and energetic about everything, I mean. Emos don't like her.
"There is absolutely nothingwonderful about being fat," Doreen argued.
I sat down on the end of the bench and Tristan did the same across from me. "I think there are some upsides to being fat," he mused. "You could just eat and eat and eat and eat because nobody would give a crap because you're already fat."
Every one of the adults looked at Tristan for a moment before they burst out in hysterical laughter. Dennis shouted, "I love this kid!" to nobody in particular.
Tristan looked kind of surprised, so I leaned across the table and told him, "Don't let it go to your head. They're actually just really drunk right now."
He flashed me a smiled before saying, "Oh, okay," and digging into his steak. It was actually pretty great steak, I found out.
I also discovered during dinner that Tristan and I actually had quite a lot more in common that I had initially thought. We both listened to the same music - we actually found out we'd gone to a few of the same Fall Out Boy concerts - and despite all of Louis's negative comments over the years, we'd found out that we were both actually faithful Harry Potter freaks. We rule the world. Seriously.
And if I wasn't mistaken, there were actually some sparks flying as we laughed and talked. "No way!" I slammed down my fork. "I thought I was the only one who did that!" He shook his head, his mouth full of food.
I took a piece of watermelon, grabbing the salt shaker and dumping salt on top of it, still laughing in disbelief. Tristan eyes me in disgust. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Salted watermelon - haven't you ever tried it?"
He shook his head. "You don't put salt on fruit, that's so gross."
"Try it!" I shoved the watermelon and salt toward him.
He took it warily, salting a piece and taking a hesitant bite. "Hmm," he said, chewing. "Not bad. What else you got?"
"Um, ranch on pizza?"
"Dude, that's awesome!"
Tristan and I rapidly became friends, and I wondered why we had never talked much before. To be honest, I think he kind of intimidated me a little bit, with his extroverted personality and stunning looks.
He really was beautiful, I mused as we laughed and talked about our favorite movies. His blue-green eyes were lit up as he was smiling and his brown-blond hair sparkled despite the overcast sky. I vaguely asked myself why I had never thought to look at him this way before - we could have been friends - more? - much earlier than this.
An entertaining conversation about the tooth fairy brought me out of my thoughts. My parents were admitting to the fact that the colored water by my bed was not actually colored by the tooth fairy's wings but by food coloring they snuck in in the middle of the night. "You mean you've been lyingto me my whole life?" I whined, and the twins cackled with laughter.
"Hey," Tristan said to me after the adults had moved to a new topic. We were both kind of hyper on my 0 calorie 0 carb 0 sugar Mountain Dew, which wasn't fattening but had tons of caffeine. "When you lose a tooth, the tooth fairy comes, right? So when you lose your virginity, does the virginity fairy come?"
I snorted. "What, does she leave condoms under your pillow?"
Tristan gave me a suggestive look. "She doesn't have to. I already did."
I blushed but played along. "Why, do you think you're going to get lucky?"
"Well, we are sharing a tent, aren't we?" He lifted his eyebrows. "It'll be just like Brokeback Mountain all over again." He smiled.
"Yes, except this time the cowboy's parents will be in the next tent over." I could just imagine the looks on my parents' faces. After I imagined it, I couldn't believe I had thought about it seriously.
Tristan flirtatiously squeezed my knee to let me know he was joking and my insides jumped. Honestly, how had I never seen this before?
We stood up to rinse off out plates, still laughing and joking with each other. As we swished our dishes around in the freezing rinse bucket (I swear to God my parents were secretly trying to turn our hands into permanent icicles so we couldn't feel each other up) his hand kept brushing mine beneath the suds. I looked up every time to see if he was doing it on purpose, but his expression was always the same, so I chalked it up to not enough space for two people in one plastic bucket.
We were walking back toward the table when I said, "You know, I was kind of nervous about bringing you here, but... Louis was right. I... guess we are pretty good together. I mean, we have so much in common, and... I don't know why I was always so scared to talk to you - not that I was... scared to talk to you. Well, a little bit, but I shouldn't have been, you know? You're not a scary person. Or a scary-looking person. You're actually quite nice looking. And cool. I - Well, you get my point." I laughed at myself and nudged him playfully in the direction of my mother, who was warming herself next to the bright campfire.
He stumbled a little bit before turning back to me with wide eyes. "What the fuck?" His voice was sharp, cutting.
"I - I'm sorry." Oh crap. I totally just freaked him out with my comments on his attractiveness. Just because we were joking around didn't mean he liked me or anything. "I'm really sorry." I hoped he knew I didn't mean sorry for causing him to stumble.
His eyes softened slightly. "No. It's okay. I'm just... going to go to bed, okay?"
I stared at him with a pleading expression. "No, I'm sorry, come on, we're going to sing songs around the fire - Dennis has his guitar, and... We'll tell scary stories, and -"
"No," he cut across me harshly. When he next spoke, though, his voice was calmer. "I'm just really tired. I have to go to bed."
I nodded shakily. "Y-yeah. Okay. I'll be in later."
Tristan gave me a small smile. "Yeah. Cool."
I watched him go back to the tent before walking dejectedly to where everyone was now seated around the campfire.
"Where'd Tristan go, honey?" my mom asked as I plopped down in a foldout blue chair and warmed my hands around the fire pit.
"He said he was tired; he went back to the tent."
She seemed unfazed, as usual. "We'll just save the s'mores for tomorrow, then. Grab a paper, we're singing."
"Okay," I said halfheartedly. I couldn't believe I had messed up things with Tristan already. I was just starting to feel like maybe there could be something between us, be it friendship or something else. But I guessed I'd gone and shot thatone straight to Hell.
On the other hand, maybe he really wastired. Either way, I hoped we'd make up tomorrow.
The thought didn't do much to cheer me up, though, and I was in such a bad mood by the end of the night that I didn't even stay to enjoy the sound of a bunch of boozed-up adults singing "Margaritaville." I just made my way back to the tent after kissing my mother goodnight, sighing and slumping my shoulders as I went.
Tristan was already asleep when I quietly zipped my way into the tent. I watched his peaceful face as I changed slowly in the dark, trying to avoid shifting the air mattress too much and waking him up. Yes, the air mattress. No, my parents never taught me to be one of those hard-core campers who sleep on the ground.
It was then, as I looked at him, that I realized I really did like Tristan. I knew from the overwhelming urge to lay down next to him and wrap my arms around him. I wanted to just be next to him and breath in the scent of his hair, his skin, feel his body against mine.
Of course, I didn't bring him here so I could molest him in his sleep, so I slipped into my sleeping bag as far away as I could from him on the air mattress.
It was really cold.
Really, really cold. So a warm body would look good to me no matter whose it was, right? But I kept my distance. If he wanted space, that was what he was going to get. Besides, how weird would that be, considering we'd only really started talking a few hours earlier? Space was good.
But in the morning, as I groggily opened my eyes, I discovered that space probably wasn't what Tristan wanted at all. "Ah!" I said, startled, because his face was about three inches from mine, near the crook of my neck. I moved away from him slowly, inching to the far left of the air mattress, but his face screwed up uncomfortably and he rolled forward to follow me, cuddling against my front. "'M cold," he mumbled, not opening his eyes. Still, I moved away from him again. He was still half asleep, obviously, and would freak out when he realized what he was doing.
"What's your issue?" I asked him (I was blunt in the mornings.) "You didn't seem to be too keen on being near me last night."
His eyebrows drew together and he moved up against me again. "No. 'M keen. Come back. 'Nless that makes you uncomfortable, Ev."
I was still confused about his weirdness the night before but relaxed and let him rest the top of his head beneath my chin while I concentrated on not blowing morning breath onto his face.
Eventually we had to get up because breakfast was being made, but I stayed in my sleeping back while he changed and willed my erection to go down before Tristan wondered what the hell I was doing.
"So," he said as we walked out to breakfast five minutes later, "I guess I should apologize for last night - I know I kind of freaked out on you."
"No," I said, a sense of relief flooding through me. "It's cool."
"Really? I mean, I was just tired. I get snappish. I'm sorry."
"It's okay," I smiled.
Tristan smiled back. Then we went to help with breakfast and the awkwardness completely vanished.
The fire from the night before had died out, so we had to eat breakfast at the table while Dennis tried to start it up again. The adults we camped with were seriously incompetent, even after all these years. Anyway, we were freezing as a result and were both shivering in our jackets all through the meal.
"Why don't you two go on a hike?" my mom suggested after we were done eating our giant plates of bacon, eggs, sausages, hash browns, and pancakes drowned in syrup.
"That's real nice," Tristan said, surprisingly comfortable with my mother. "Just get rid of the teenage boys, why don't you?"
She laughed. "Trust me, it's for your own good. When you come back, you'll be like, 'Cold? What cold?'"
"Okay!" I said. I'd been wanting to go hiking wince we arrived at the campsite the day before. "Let's go, Tristan! I will show you the magnificent ways of nature."
He grinned. "I can't wait."
When we started down the trail, Tristan galloped ahead, cackling like a maniac. "Hi!" he said to people at every freaking campground we passed. "Hey!" they would reply. "Good morning."
I laughed, returning their awkward waves as I ran to catch up to Tristan. When I did, he smiled at me and we slowed to a walk, coming to a fork in the road. "Which way?" he asked.
"Here," I said proudly, leading him toward the creek trail. We followed the trail down to the river, where we walked balance-beam style across a log to the opposite banks. Tristan slipped halfway and fell into the shallow creek, getting his calves and shoes totally soaking with water. I laughed as he struggled to get back on the log. "Shut up," he told me. "I'm balance-challenged."
We continued to follow the creek trail for a while, but decided it wasn't helping much with the freezing cold. Tristan probably had it worse than me, too, what with the wet feet, so I agreed to be more adventurous. We went back to the river and followed it along the sleep, slippery banks, grabbing tree roots to keep from falling in. Tristan was right - he really was balance-challenged. Sometimes, though, the banks would become less steep and morph into small, winding trails, and sometimes they would even flatten out and become a sandy shore. Whenever this happened, Tristan and I sat and caught our breaths while we talked.
Before he came camping with me, most of our conversations centered around Louis, because usually when we talked it was because we were forced together awkwardly and Louis was a safe conversation topic. Now, though, we talked about everything. Our families, our classes, our friends, movies, the one time he had been camping before this. The atmosphere was relaxed - I felt so comfortable around Tristan after such a short time.
Back on the trail, we laughed as we forged our way through the wilderness. I showed him what Poison Oak looked like. "If it's hairy, it's a berry. Leaves of three, let it be," I explained.
"Right." He moved to push branches out of his way, but I grabbed his arm.
"Tristan. See that? Thatis Poison Oak. No touchy."
He laughed, ducking under the branch and shifting his arm up so that we were holding hands. I hesitated, looking up at him, but he just smiled at me and gripped my hand tighter. I smiled back and let him tug me forward. "Let's go this way," he said eventually, grinning devilishly back at me.
I blinked. "That's off the trail."
"Uh-huh." He began to pull me through fallen tree branches and brambles on the ground.
I stopped, pulling him back and almost toppling us both on top of a mysterious-looking green plant. "We can't go off the trail."
Tristan gave me a questioning look. "Really, Evan?" he asked sarcastically.
I shrugged defensively. "I don't know. I mean... I was raised not to..."
"You were also probably raised not to like boys. Let's go."
I had to smile at that one, so I allowed him to tug me up the slope, listening for the river at all times so I at least knew vaguely the direction we were going in. "Where do you think we are?" he ventured as we stumbled upon a deserted group picnic area. The bathrooms we found were padlocked, and the grills hadn't had fire in them for ages. There was a little bench around a fire pit, empty except for cold charcoal and ash. We sat down on this bench, and I looked down, running my hands over the years of wear and initials carved into it.
"You got something sharp?" Tristan asked me.
I looked up. "What for?"
"I want to carve our initials into the bench."
"What?" I squeaked. "You can't carvethings into benches!"
Tristan looked amused. "So you don't care that I'm carving our initials, you just don't want me to carvethings in general?" He laughed. "Fine." He reached into the fire pit and snatched up a piece of charcoal. With it, he traced "EQ + TM." He leaned back to admire the contrast of the dark black against the pale, weathered wood. "I didn't carve it. Happy?"
"Very," I smiled.
He glanced at the charcoal thoughtfully before tossing it back into the fire pit and smiling at me.
"I wish I could draw," I mused quietly, looking away from the picnic area and into the trees. The pine-needle covered path we had arrived on looked like it hadn't been touched in a long time, and everything was silent except for the calming noise of the river in the background. Through the trees immediately across the path in front of me, I could even see the trees growing on the other side of the river, the side our campsite was on. Even the huge tree stump near us was picturesque, the branching roots surrounded by bright green grass and little white flowers. It was all very pretty, and it reminded me why I loved nature so much.
Tristan rested his elbow on his knee and his cheek in his palm, turning to me. "Yeah," he agreed, though I had forgotten what I'd said in the first place. "Hey," he said softly.
"I think I forgot to mention how glad I am you brought me here with you. And ... yeah, we are pretty good together."
I tore myself away from the nature around me and looked over to meet his bright blue-green eyes. He looked up at me, a small smile on his face, and let his elbow down, sitting up straight. Without breaking our eye-contact, he reached to hold my cheek in one of his hands (which were oddly warm despite the weather) and leaned closer to me. "Is this okay?" he asked me softly.
"Better," I said.
His smile grew, and he guided my face closer to his before gently letting our lips brush together. He made a little humming noise, as if to say "Hey, that felt nice." Which, obviously, it did. Definitely. So he let it happen again, this time pressing closer and more forcefully against me. His other hand came up to cup the other side of my face, but eventually both of his hands pushed into my hair. As this occurred, it kind of dawned on me how much Tristan actually wanted me - or how much he was willing to pretend he wanted me, at any rate. For some reason, though, I felt as though this couldn't be anything but real.
Eventually, he pulled his lips away, leaning his forehead against mine and panting slightly. "We should head back to camp," he said softly, looking at me.
"Probably," I agreed, but, like Tristan, not making and indication of wanting to leave.
After a while, though, the light in the sky was dimming, and we had to get up or risk getting lost on our way back. This time, we held hands most of the way, except for when clambering over roots or when the trail became too narrow to navigate while walking side by side.
This time he managed to get over the footbridge without accident (although he didneed a little balance-assistance from me) and somehow we found our way back to our campsite. We walked rather slowly, though, so by the time we arrived the only lights came from the bathrooms or people's campfires. My parents, Dennis, and Doreen were gathering the s'more fixings, and Jen was chasing the twins around with a spatula. "You two missed dinner," my mom told me, not seeming all that concerned about it. Of course.
I glanced back at Tristan, who was standing over near the tent, gazing into the fire from a distance. "Yeah, we got kinda lost," I told her, although in actuality I had known exactly where we had been.
I wasn't really all that hungry, even after the hiking, so I resigned myself to having s'mores for dinner. "Hey, Tristan, want leftovers before marshmallows?" I called back to him, but he appeared not to have heard me.
Under my mom's orders, I fished a fresh bag of marshmallows out of one of the food boxes and grabbed some M&M's, rice krispies, and nutella for experimenting. Mmm, s'mores. S'mores were the absolute best part of camping. I don't think one can really grow out of a love for roasted marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate.
I went to round up the little blond children, and by the time I retrieved all three of them Tristan was sitting by the fire, smoke blowing into his eyes and a horrible expression on his face.
"Ready for s'mores?" I asked, and when he didn't look over, I said, my brow furrowed, "Oh my God, how can you breathe with all that smoke in your face?"
Tristan's eyes flew to me, and he eased himself out of the chair quickly, brushing past me. I noticed his arms were shaking as he said, "I'm... I have to go to the bathroom." Then he was gone, jogging past me to the road. I watched him leave, wondering what the hell could possibly be wrong with him.
After a while, I busied myself with insane concoctions of nutella spread across two chocolate chip cookies, marshmallows stuffed with M&M's in between. All in all, it was a very eventful process, though something wasn't right about it. Maybe I was having some sort of internal conflict because technically, using cookies instead of graham crackers made it kind of not a s'more. But I decided that as long as it tasted like heaven, it was okay by me.
After a while, Doreen said, "Hey Ev, where's your boyfriend?"
I frowned and lowered my non-s'more. "He went to the bathroom like, twenty years ago."
"Impressive, considering he's seventeen," Dennis commented with a smirk.
I rolled my eyes. "I'll go find him." I made my way up the road to the bathroom, only to find Tristan outside it, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed as he stared into the dirty ground.
I walked over next to him and leaned against the wall as well. He didn't seem to notice my presence, so I studied his face as he gazed blankly at the thousands of fallen pine needles. His expression was indiscernible, but his arms were still shaking.
"We thought you drowned," I said, announcing my presence. He jumped slightly and looked over at me.
"Drowned?" He seemed mildly embarrassed as he met my gaze.
"In the toilet," I clarified.
"Oh," he said, cracking a smile. "No. I was just... thinking."
"I see. Well, it's fucking freezing over here - let's head back, okay?"
He shrugged. "Yeah, okay."
"Hey." I nudged him, worried. "Are you okay?"
He hesitated, which told me he was lying when he said, "Yeah, of course."
Bit I didn't press him, because that was just the sort of kind, thoughtful person I was. When we reached the campsite, I dashed immediately toward the fire, holding my hands out to warm them. It was then I noticed that Tristan was not beside me, and was instead involved in what looked like a deep discussion with Jen. "Yes," she was saying. "Nutella."
I chuckled and turned back around to face the warmth of the fire.
"Hey Tristan," I heard Dennis say, "Did you meet a cute guy in the bathroom or something? Please tell me you used a condom. Now I know you boys can't get pregnant, but I hear those STD's can really getcha."
Doreen slapped him on the arm. "Dennis! The children!"
"Hey Julia, Sydney, what are mommy and daddy talking about?" he called to his little blond kids from across the fire.
Julia gave him a funny look. "Like I cawe. Me and Jen and Syd awe making cookie smowes."
Dennis glanced at his wife. "Case in point."
I smiled to myself as I heard Tristan laugh. He seemed fairly comfortable with everyone and was just so open to everything - like when we were hiking. He was perfect when he was being his amazing self like this. But then he got all weird all of a sudden like last night when he snapped at me or just now when he disappeared to "think" by the bathroom for a half hour.
I couldn't stop myself from being attracted to him, though. Despite these apparently spontaneous freak outs, I really liked him. It's amazing what a day and night outdoors can do for a budding relationship.
I looked around for him now and found him sitting in the third row of chairs away from the fire. I sent him a questioning look, but he just shrugged, laughing slightly as my father shouted, "Oh my God! It was Lyndon B. Johnson, I swear!"
Ah. They'd broken out the Cranium.
I decided then that instead of listening to the spazzy adults playing Cranium or the blond twins yelling at each other or Jen talking about boys to nobody in particular, I would make The Perfect S'more. I placed a piece of Hershey's chocolate on a graham cracker and set it delicately on one of those two-tonged skewers, balancing it gently over the fire, letting the chocolate melt over the cracker in perfect, smooth wonderfulness. I then set it on a plate as I toasted a marshmallow slowly, holding it high above the flames so that it gradually turned an absolutely perfect golden-brown. As I slowly roasted, I glanced again at Tristan, who was still sitting way too far away from the warmth of the fire.
"Tristan!" my mother called, seeming to notice the same thing, "What'cha doing so far over there?"
Tristan smiled at her. "It's too hot right next to the fire," he explained.
My mother nodded and let it go, and Tristan went back to arguing about what the heaviest element sold in valuable quantities was, but I was suspicious. He saidit was too hot next to the fire, but he was shivering like crazy.
"Platinum! I know it's platinum!" Doreen was shouting.
Everyone else was arguing for gold, because they're adults and they know nothing about the elements and because that's where their minds go when they hear "value."
Tristan and I just raised our eyebrows from the opposite sides of the campfire and said "Uranium." All the adults stared but flipped over the card. We were right, of course.
"Oh," said Dennis. "Dam-rn. Darn. High school brats keep beating us down."
My marshmallow was almost ready, so I lifted it a bit higher to finish off the process while continuing to watch Tristan. He was still shivering, his arms crossed and the hood of his red sweatshirt pulled around his head.
Sighing at his anti-social-ness, I ordered Jen to hold my graham crackers for me while I delicately inserted my perfect marshmallow. I stared at the perfection for a moment before walking over to where Tristan was sitting and handing it to him.
He looked up at me, reaching out to take the s'more. "Thanks."
I smiled, still worried about him. "You're welcome. Hold on." I jogged to the tent quickly, returning with the thick woolen blanket from my sleeping bag and setting it across his shoulders. He turned to look up at me, looking like he was on the verge of tears. "You looked cold," I said simply.
A grateful smile came across his face. "Thanks," he said again, tugging it around him.
I sat in the chair beside him even though it was freezing so far away from the fire. He pulled my chair closer to his and offered his arm out, along with half of the blanket. I shrugged myself under it and was surprised at how warm I got so quickly. "So..." I said. "Are you going to tell me what's wrong?"
Tristan made a face. "Do I have to?"
"Yes," I said decisively. "I mean, I figure it's not me - I mean, I thought it might be something I did, but now you're being all nice, so I guess it isn't me. It's not me, right?"
"Of course not. It's just... the fire sort of makes me nervous."
I looked at his face, reflecting firelight in the darkness as he stared into it. That had not been what I was expecting at all. "Well," I said easily, "You could have toldus. I mean, it's a credible fear."
Tristan leaned over the arm rests of both of our chairs to bury his face in my neck. When he next spoke, his voice was muffled. "I'm not scaredof it, exactly... it just makes me... I don't know. Antsy, I guess."
"Any idea why?" I questioned, lightly kissing the top of his head.
He was quiet for a moment. "I know why," he said into my neck.
I waited, hoping he would take my silence as a I'm not pressuring you, but I want you to tell me.
"I moved here two years ago, you know that," I nodded. "My old house... it burned down. I hate saying it, but...there's just not a better way, so... I don't know. We're still not sure why it happened. But ever since then, it just... reminds me of that, when I see the flames. And the smell, it just..."
"Hey," I said softly. "It's okay." I rested my head on top of his gently, feeling the cotton of his sweatshirt and the silkiness of his hair beneath my cheek.
"I think I might've almost died," he said quietly. "Me and my parents all got out, but my sister was still in her bed, so I ran back to get her, and... if the firefighters hadn't saved us, I'd have burned or suffocated to death, I'm not sure which. I'm not trying to be melodramatic or anything, it's just - that's why all the smoke sort of... you know, PTSD. It's stupid."
"It's not stupid."
"It is," he said, shaking his head. "I know it is. It was ages ago, and my whole family is fine. I should be over it. It's a campfire, for god's sake." He lifted his head off my shoulder. "I didn't want to tell you - preserve my manly dignity and all that. But I don't want you to think that I'm acting like a spaz because of anything you did. You're amazing."
I smiled at him just as the blond children dumped everyone's plates in the fire, causing the flames to surge upward and sending a wave of heat that reached even as far away as where Tristan and I were sitting. Tristan flinched away from it, moving his head back into the crook of my neck. "Sorry," he mumbled. I felt one of his hands shaking slightly, so I grabbed it under the blanket.
"Okay, I've got an idea," I told him. "Whenever you see fire, instead of thinking about what happened to you, think about me kissing you by the campfire."
He raised his head again to look at me. "What?"
I leaned down and pressed my lips against his, softly. Somebody wolf-whistled in the background, and I flipped them off, not opening my eyes or pulling away from Tristan.
"Evan!" my mom scolded. "The children!" I wasn't sure whether she was referring to the kissing or the middle finger. Probably the middle finger. That's just the kind of priorities my mom has.
"Oh," I heard either Julia or Sydney say. "So that'swhat daddy meant when he was talking about gay people. He meant Evan." The adults laughed at her comment as Tristan gently slipped his tongue into my mouth.
I felt something inside my stomach jump, and Tristan almost seemed to sense this, because he threaded his fingers into my hair, tugging me closer. He bit my bottom lip lightly, causing Jen to say loudly, "Get a room!"
Tristan pulled away from me, grinning. "How 'bout a tent?"
I grinned back at him, allowing him to pull me out of my chair and past all the adults and children into our tent. Tristan pinned me to the air mattress and pressed his lips against my neck, causing me to make a very unattractive noise that sounded slightly like a mouse being run over by a Hummer. Tristan laughed against my skin, unzipping my jacket and pushing it off me before sliding his hands beneath my shirt. My whole body seemed to shake as he moved his smooth, soft hands against my skin. He kissed my collarbone as he leaned over me, kneeling on either side of my torso. "Evan?" he murmured.
"Mm?" I responded, reaching up to toy with his hair.
"I actually really do like you," he whispered, tugging my shirt off over my head.
"Hmm," I mumbled against his lips as he leaned down to kiss me again. "Good."
He pulled off his own shirt and tossed it aside, pressing his lips to my chest multiple times in quick, swift motions. In the dim light, I could barely see the pale pink scars that twisted their way along his upper body, but by now it was obvious to me where they'd come from. I traced the scars with the index fingers of each of my hands. Tristan rolled us over so that we were side by side, instead of him on top of me. I shifted closer to him, pressing my lips to his shoulders gently, feeling the lightly puckered sensation of scar tissue in contrast with his otherwise smooth skin. Tristan moved a little. "They're so ugly," he muttered distastefully.
I shook my head, kissing his upper arms softly, trailing my lips along the paths that the scars weaved. "I think you're beautiful."
Tristan's hand moved to lift my face away from his body, forcing me to look him in the eyes. We lay there, completely still, for one long moment, before we both realized something. Tristan pulled me into his arms suddenly as I said, "Holy fuckingshit, it'sfreezing!"
He laughed, breathing warm air down my back. "Let's get into our sleeping bags."
"Let's get into the samesleeping bag," I complained.
Tristan chuckled. "Slut."
"Only for you, dearest."
He threw a pillow at me.
But then he sighed as we each crawled into our separate sleeping bags, and he held out his arm. I cuddled up next to him, and he draped his arm across my waist. Even though there were two thick layers of sleeping bag between us, I could still feel his body heat and hoped he could feel mine. I shivered, and his arm tightened around me. "You know," I said softly, "I actually really like you, too."
Tristan kissed me quickly on the lips. "Hmm," he said. "Good."
On the car ride home the next day, Tristan and I discussed what to tell Louis when we got back. He was all for just being straight up with him like it was no big deal, but I wasn't so sure. I mean, I know that I meant a lot to Louis because that was how we were. We were best friends - we meant a lot to each other. But I also knew that he and Tristan were pretty close too. How would he feel about the two of us?
We had talked it over and decided to give a real relationship a try - he was going to take me out next weekend, on the condition that Louis knew about us by then. I grudgingly agreed; secrets and lies just screwed your life up. I'd read enough books and watched enough movies to know that.
In truth, I wasn't afraid Louis would be weird about it. It was more that he would be smug and rub it in my face. I mean, maybe he should have thought through the whole sitting by the campfire with Tristan thing a little more thoroughly when he suggested it. Or maybe Tristan should have thought about it before he came.
Either way, it all worked out. Tristan didn't really mention the whole traumatic scenario earlier so I played along and didn't bring it up either. There was really no point in depressing him or freaking him out again and he seemed fine. He even sat a little closer to the campfire this morning while we ate breakfast around it, although he had a firm grasp on my hand the whole time. I just made sure to tell the twins not to dump their plates in the fire again.
Anyhow, Tristan and I discussed secret keeping in the back of the van - we were barricaded from my parents by the huge mound of stuff between the very front and the very back of the car and besides, my parents were singing loudly to seventies music and weren't paying attention anyhow.
"I don't wanna tell him," I whined. "He's gonna be smug. He planned this, Tristan, I swear to God he did."
"You have to. Wehave to." The van shifted and a water jug and box of plates fell on my legs. "Besides, he probably just wants to be acknowledged and thanked. We shouldbe thanking him."
"I donwanna thank him," I protested. "Let's not add to his ego. Sohe knew we would like each other. I'd have noticed it too if I wasn't so blinded by your stunning looks and personality. OW, shit, I hate this car... all these freaking boxes." I tried to place the items that were crushing my legs back in place on the giant pile in front of me, but they only fell again. I knew I would have bruises tomorrow.
"Here." Tristan grabbed the box full of whozits and whatzits and thingamabobs that was currently digging into my calves and placed it behind him in the trunk. "This is what's going to happen, Evan. We're going to get back, go to school Tuesday and just tell him. I mean seriously, do you want to pretend nothing happened and go back to not speaking at all? Because if that's what you want I'll go along with it. But I told you I really like you and I mean it, and I think it would be stupid to let Louis kill this, especially since he's the one who made it happen in the first place."
"I knoow," I whined, leaning forward and bumping my head on a box full of tent poles. "You're right. I couldn't ignore you, I just... at school, we'll be all... you know, speaking to each other. And such. Couldn't we just let him figure it out by himself?"
"He'll ask anyway and we'll have to explain."
"Fine, you win. Ugh. This sucks." I wasn't sure if it was the thought of explaining my relationship with Tristan or the windy road that was making me nauseous, so I shifted around some boxes in front of me to give me a clear view of the road.
"What sucks? Telling Louis that he was right or telling everyone that you have a boyfriend who's afraid of fire?"
I don't know what startled me most about that sentence. It might have been the casual mention of the events of the night before, but then again the use of the word "boyfriend" was also quite shocking. Or it could have been the fear that he actually thought that I would not want to tell people about us because of what had happened to him.
"Oh, shut your gaping mouth, Evan. I just wanted to see how you'd react. I guessed right." He smirked at me.
In response, I stuck my tongue out at him very maturely, then turned to look out the window at the trees. After a minute, this turned out not to be a good idea. I shifted the boxes in front of me again as my stomach churned. My face was probably as green as it was possible for a face to actually be. Oh god, I was going to be sick. "Oh my god, I'm gonna puke," I moaned.
My parents didn't hear me, apparently, because there was no reaction from the front seat. "Just stare at the road," Tristan said. "Follow that white line in the middle."
"Doing that," I told him, trying to breathe deeply. "Not working."
"Okay." He pulled out his iPod and handed me an earphone. "Just focus on the music. I was totally carsick this one time but then I started singing and I swear it went away."
He started playing one of the songs from Wicked, a play which I had actually never seen but which had a soundtrack that I knew all the words to. I started singing one with him and by the time the song was over my stomach had calmed down and we were out of the mountains. "Thanks," I told him, handing him back the earphone.
He didn't take it back, just stuck it back in my ear and playing another song. I sang with him the rest of the way home.
We did end up telling Louis at school on Tuesday, first thing in the morning. His reaction was even worse than I expected. He gushed at me and Tristan for a few minutes, then pulled out a notebook, flipping it open to a page titled "Louis's Super Secret Memorial Day Matchmaking Plan."
I gaped and Tristan laughed out loud as Louis handed me the "plan", which actually turned out to be more of a checklist. It was actually kind of freaky. I only got halfway through before throwing it at his head, but two of the items on the list were, "Pretend to be unavailable and stick Evan with Tristan" and "Don't bring up campfire to Tristan - let him freak out and let Evan comfort him, provoking intimacy."
"This!" I yelled. "Thisis why I didn't want to tell you! I was afraid I'd find out I was a part of some Secret Special Memorial Day Matchmaking Scheme or whatever the fuck it was!"
Louis ignored me, picking the notebook up off of the floor (where it had landed after it had smacked him in the face) and handing it to Tristan.
He couldn't stop cracking up, though, scanning over the list with enjoyment like it was a freaking Harry Potter book or something. Even after he read the part about Louis letting him freak out. Real nice,Louis.
He handed it back to Louis, still laughing, then turned to me. "C'mon, Ev, you can't be toomad. I mean, the whole thing was pretty frikin' genius, you have to admit. And Louis..."
Louis didn't respond except with a smile. I calmed down and realized that I was glad he schemed. If it hadn't been for him, Tristan would still just be some sexy, intimidating guy that I was afraid to go near or have a conversation with.
I took Tristan's hand. "Yeah," I said. "Thanks, Louis." Wait a minute. "You didn't really have to go to a Bat Mitzvah, did you?" I asked Louis skeptically.
He grinned at me. "Nope
I sighed, shaking my head. Typical. Then again, if it hadn't been for Louis's "Super Secret Memorial Day Matchmaking Plan" I wouldn't be able to turn to Tristan, pull him down into a kiss and smile because that was just how great he was. He wouldn't feel free to run his hands through my hair.
And Louis would certainly not be inspired to take one look at us and say, "Jeez, this is not what I planned for. Go get a room."
Yes, I was certainly glad the scheme had worked.