Isak thinks that if he had to rank the school trips he’d been on, this one would be at the bottom. Not only that, but it would be so far below the rest that if the second worst one was floor level, this one would be melting in 6000 degree heat in the Earth’s core.
Did someone forget to tell his school that they’re in Norway? That it’s too fucking cold for camping?
Okay, yeah, so it’s summer, and maybe the cold isn’t the worst part of the trip. He’s not freezing, exactly. He just wishes he was at home. This school trip has absolutely no purpose anyway, at least, none that he can see. There was something about getting to know each other, and clearing their heads before the year properly starts. They’d all figured, yeah, a week away from school, we’ll take it, but Isak, for one, is regretting it.
The problem is, Isak is a notoriously bad sleeper. He’s always tossing and turning before sleep, has to move the pillows and blankets every which way before he finds the exact right angle, and then he has to count his breaths - in - 2 - 3 - 4 - and out - 2 - 3 - 4 - until he can fall asleep. And that’s in his own bed, in his apartment, in a room to himself.
So, it goes without saying that in a sleeping bag on the lumpy ground with Jonas snoring loudly next to him, sleep isn’t coming tonight. And they’re only on the first night of 5. He’s fucked, basically. And he wants to go home.
Heaving a sigh, he rolls over and sits up, the sleeping bag falling down his chest and letting the cold in to make him shiver. There’s no way he’ll be able to sleep now, so maybe a walk will tire him out enough for him to sleep a little later. Maybe he could get an hour or two of sleep before they all get rudely awoken at 9am.
He pulls two hoodies on and a pair of sweatpants, because he’s a wimp who hates the cold, and then checks the time on his phone.
03:03 blinks at him tauntingly, too bright in the darkness of the tent. He screws his eyes up in annoyance, then shoves the phone into his front pocket, and scrambles around in the tent’s porch for his boots. Finally, he pulls a beanie over his curls, and steps out of the tent.
Had he been in the mood to appreciate it, he would have realised how beautifully tranquil it is outside. The moon is bright, casting light onto the wet grass in front of him, and this far from the light pollution of the city, the stars are out. The air is still, and he can barely hear a thing. It’s as if he’s the only one alive.
He isn’t in the mood to appreciate it, though. He’s in the mood to go home.
There’s a woodland at the edge of the open field, which he moves towards, and starts to wander aimlessly through the trees. It occurs to him that it’s not the wisest move - to walk into a forest in the middle of the night - who knows what he’ll find there? But then, they’re on a campsite, not in the wilderness. If there was any danger at all, the school wouldn’t bring them here.
It’s peaceful, actually, the only sound the rustling of leaves above his head and the cracking of twigs under his feet, and the flashlight from his phone illuminates the dark path in front of him, showing him where he’d walked earlier in the day with Jonas when they first arrived and looked around. It’s a relief that he knows where he is, at least, and he won’t have any trouble getting back, once he’s worn himself out enough to sleep. If he manages that, that is.
“Your boots don’t match.”
The voice comes out of the darkness, making Isak jump in terror. He turns to the side, swinging his flashlight round so that it lands on a boy sitting on a fallen tree just off the side of the path, who screws his eyes against the light when it lands on him. He thinks he’s seen him before, on the coach earlier, sitting by himself near the front, and remembers reluctantly admitting to himself that, wow, he has a nice face.
“Jesus,” Isak says, breathing heavily. “Don’t do that.”
The boy chuckles. “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. Didn’t expect anyone to be out here at this time.”
“Except yourself,” Isak replies, lifting an eyebrow. “Why are you sitting in pitch darkness?”
The boy shrugs, acknowledging Isak’s question, but asking a different one of his own instead of answering. “What’s your name?” he asks. “I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”
“Isak,” the boy repeats with a smile, “I’m Even, nice to meet you.”
Isak nods, unsure what else to say, but reluctant to walk off just yet.
“So what brings you out here, Isak? In shoes that don’t match?”
Isak glances down to see that he’s put on one of Jonas’ boots by accident, and coughs to hide his embarrassment.
“Uh, can’t sleep, I guess. You?”
“Same. Come sit down if you want,” Even suggests. “We can distract each other.” Isak hesitates for a moment. “Or not,” Even adds, “just a suggestion.” He moves a hand up to his ear, and Isak notices a joint balanced there. Even gives him a mischievous grin, and that’s all it takes to persuade Isak to take the few steps towards Even.
He perches down on the edge of the log, trying to make sure it’s not wet before he sits, and leaves his flashlight face up so that they can have some semblance of visibility in the dark of the night, while Even lights up and takes the first drag.
He hands the joint to Isak a few seconds later, and Isak fumbles a little in the dark, but manages to keep hold of it. He can feel Even’s eyes on him while he inhales, and the first intake of harsh smoke into his lungs relaxes him immediately. He breathes out steadily, watching the smoke spread out in front of him, eyes fixed straight ahead to stop himself looking at Even too much.
“So, why can’t you sleep?” Even asks when Isak hands back the joint.
Isak shrugs. “Need my own bed. What about you?”
“I've never been too fond of sleeping,” replies Even, and Isak wants to ask what exactly he means. For Isak, and, he previously thought, for most teenagers, sleep is the best thing in the world, even if it does often stay just that bit out of his reach.
“Weird,” Isak comments, and Even huffs a laugh.
“Is it weird?” he asks. “I just find there’s better things to do.”
“Nothing’s better than sleep,” Isak replies.
“Then why aren’t you sleeping?”
“I would be if I could,” Isak protests. “I came out here for a walk to tire myself out.”
“How’s that working out for you?”
“Some guy jump scared me in the middle of a dark forest,” replies Isak, “so I don’t think I’ll be sleeping for the next year at least.”
Even lets out a low chuckle and knocks his shoulder into Isak’s. Isak gives a smile in return, then hands the joint back. He looks down while he does so, but even when looking away, and in the dark, somehow he can still feel Even’s piercing gaze on him, and he doesn’t really know what to make of it.
He’s probably just tired. It is past 3 in the morning, after all, and he has a habit of losing his grip on reality when he needs to sleep.
He can’t think of anything else to say that doesn’t sound completely ridiculous, and Even doesn’t speak either. They spend the next few minutes passing the joint back and forth in silence.
There’s several moments when he’s close to speaking up, asking something pointless like “why would you bring weed on a school trip” or even just “what’s your favourite colour” for something to say, but he can’t make himself get the words out; he doesn’t want to embarrass himself, or something.
Even turns to him eventually, with a lopsided smile. “Awesome conversation, right?”
Isak laughs, thankful for Even breaking the silence first. “Yeah. One of my greatest skills is holding a conversation. Especially in the middle of the night with someone I met ten minutes ago.”
Even looks at his watch. “I make it twelve. And I shared my weed with you. So, what gives?”
Isak smiles to himself. “Maybe we should do that “get to know each other” thing they made us do today.”
“Oh yeah, what the fuck was that? I swear I heard one of my teachers call it a “love exercise” so I just left.”
Isak snorts. “Oh, god. If I'd heard them call it that I would have been right out of there.”
“You could have come smoked with me instead.”
“How much fucking weed did you bring on this trip, man?”
“Everything I have. I'm fairly sure my mum’s planning to look through my stuff while I'm gone, so...”
“So you brought it on a school trip.”
“What can I say? I live for danger.”
“Jeez,” Isak says. “A school trip.”
Even gives a mischievous grin, and takes another drag, before explaining.
“School finding my weed would be nothing compared to my mother. Fiercest woman in all of Oslo.”
“Well,” smiles Isak. “I'm not complaining.”
The rest of the conversation is easy, back and forth between them until the joint is long finished and the sun begins to rise. They watch it together, or rather, they watch the world around them getting lighter, and hear the birds begin to sing. The sun itself is blocked by trees, but it doesn’t matter to Isak, because he thinks maybe it would be too much, to see something like that with someone he met only a little over 2 hours ago.
Isak, reluctantly, realised he’s tired enough to sleep. For once in his life, he doesn't want to.
“So,” Even says, as if he’s read Isak’s mind. “Are you going to be able to sleep now?”
“I’ll never be able to sleep with this racket,” grumbles Isak, after a crow starts to call from a tree near them. “But yeah, I guess I should try, shouldn’t I? They’ll be waking us up in a few hours.”
“Yeah, you should try,” Even laughs when Isak lets out a huge yawn a second later.
“What about you? Surely you have to sleep too sometimes.”
Even gives an exaggerated sigh. “I do, unfortunately.”
It’s Even who stands up first, and Isak watches him for a moment before he turns and holds his hands out to Isak.
“Need help standing up, sleepyhead?”
Isak lets out an unintelligible mumble, ignores the hands held out to him (because he doesn’t think Even is expecting him to take them) and pushes himself off the log as if it’s the most difficult thing in the world, which it does feel like right now. Even lets his hands fall back to his sides with a grin at Isak, and leads the way back out of the forest.
It’s a short trail, and they follow it in silence. When they reach the edge of the field, they go in opposite directions, with nothing more than a “see you around,” and a half-hearted wave. It feels like the magic of the night and the forest has been shattered somehow now that they’ve left, and it’s difficult to speak freely like they had been just a few minutes earlier.
Isak tries not to dwell on it as he trudges back to his tent. He reasons to himself that just because it’s hard to speak in daylight, doesn’t erase the ease he felt speaking to Even in the dark, it doesn’t mean that the calm he felt in the forest wasn’t real. It’s just harder to find in the light.
Sleep comes easily, when he’s back in his tent. Jonas has stopped snoring, and Isak’s mind has rewound to the log, replaying the easy conversations and quiet laughter, using the memory of Even’s calming voice to lull him into sleep.
Later, as he's being woken up in the morning by Jonas shaking him and loud chatter outside, he’ll realise he's forgotten anything that they talked about, but he doesn't think he’ll ever forget the way that sitting with Even on a fallen tree in the middle of the night made him feel peaceful, for what felt like the first time in his life.