“Your last summer at camp, huh,” his mom says a bit wistfully as they pull into the drive. Jordan looks over at her—she’s mostly in a good mood, but her aura’s tinged a little blue with sadness. If he knows his mom, she’s probably thinking about how soon after this she’ll be dropping him off at college, and then he’ll really be grown up.
He unbuckles his seatbelt and leans over the center console to give her a hug. When he was fifteen he’d let her walk him to his cabin, but now…he’ll save the emotional goodbye for when he moves into his new dorm in the fall. This is a goodbye they’re used to, since this is his third summer here—and anyway, he can’t really bring himself to match her wistful mood, not when he’s so excited to see Taylor again.
“Love you, Mom,” he says as he pulls away.
“Love you too, sweetheart. Try to take a break from your fun-filled schedule to call your parents every once in a while, okay?” she teases.
Jordan nods, rolling his eyes dramatically. He climbs out of the car, hefts his suitcase, backpack, and garbage bag of shit for his bed out of the trunk, then turns to wave as she pulls away. The drive is crowded: parents and kids saying goodbye, kids lighting up as they dash off to reunite with last summer’s friends, counsellors everywhere trying to mitigate the chaos.
He fights his way through the throng of people towards the cabins. For the first day or two, it’s always a little overwhelming how many fewer people are wearing silver here than normal. Not everybody in the world wears silver, but since it both keeps people from using their Gift when they don’t want to and protects the wearer from having a Gift used on them, it’s fairly common. For Jordan, it means that on top of the other various oddities that can be expected when so many Gifted kids are in one place, he’s seeing everyone’s moods—mostly bright, excited yellow, with a few flashes of anxious green or homesick blue—swirling together like a painting.
The cabin Jordan’s in this year is the same one he’s been in every year since he started going to camp, and most of the kids are going to be the same too. The one he cares most about seeing, though, is Taylor—Taylor, who, when he sees Jordan come through the screen door, leaps off the top bunk to give Jordan a big hug.
Jordan hugs him back just as tightly, laughing at how ridiculous his best friend is. He can feel Taylor’s hands grow hot against his back briefly—is he spontaneously making something? He hasn’t used his Gift by accident in years, as far as Jordan knows.
He pulls away so he can tease Taylor about it, but then he sees what it is: a tiny sun, floating above Taylor’s palm.
Taylor’s Gift is that when he touches people, he can make little things that sort of represent his relationship with the person. He used to get in trouble doing it by accident a lot when he was younger (like the time he made a pile of poo appear on a teacher’s desk when she was scolding him), but going to camp and spending time with other Gifted kids has helped him get it under control.
Or at least, Jordan thought it had. He can’t really complain, though; the tiny sun is adorable, and if that’s really what Taylor thinks of when he thinks of Jordan—
“It’s probably, like, you know, summer, ‘cause camp, and everything,” Taylor says gruffly. When Jordan looks up, he sees Taylor’s bright yellow aura is tinged pale pink with embarrassment. He always forgets Jordan can tell. Taylor’s looking at the floor, so Jordan takes a second to look at him; he’s had a haircut since the last time they Skyped, and he looks tan—looks good, if Jordan’s honest. He can’t, like, say that, though. That’s not bros.
Spontaneously generating a tiny sun when you hug your friend isn’t strictly bros either, but Jordan’s not going to chirp Taylor about it if he’s embarrassed. Instead, Jordan punches him in the shoulder gently and says, “It’s okay, I know it’s ‘cause I light up your life, Hallsy.”
“Yeah, whatever,” says Taylor, rolling his eyes. “You can have it, if you want?” he offers, holding up the tiny sun.
Jordan has a glitter-covered box at home full of stuff Taylor’s made for him over the years. “Hell yeah,” he says easily, and Taylor sets the sun on his left shoulder. It floats there, right on the edge of Jordan’s peripheral vision.
“Good to see you two are as gross as ever,” says Alex, shoving past Jordan on his way into the cabin. They are sort of blocking the door, but Alex could have made it past them easily. He just shoves because he’s a dick. Still, he’s already removed his silver, so he can’t hide his happiness from Jordan.
“Missed you too, Chucky,” Jordan says, shaking his head.
Taylor can’t see people’s moods, but he does know Alex, so he rolls his eyes as he drags Jordan out of the way of the door and over to their bunk. Jordan goes easily, but he bumps his hip into Taylor’s as he hefts his suitcase onto his bed to start unpacking.
“It’s gonna be a great summer, huh, Taylor?” says Jordan as Taylor climbs back up to his bed.
“Yeah, Ebby,” says Taylor easily. He holds his hand out for a high five, and Jordan smacks it. It’s gonna be the best summer ever, just like it always is.
Both Jordan and Taylor figure they don’t need to stick around the cabin for icebreakers since they already know everyone, so after making the rounds to the other cabins to greet old friends and check out the newbies, the first real camp activity is dinner.
“I hope Ference made something that actually tastes good,” Taylor says grimly while they’re standing in line.
Jordan cranes his neck to look over the crowd of people by the tables. “I think it might be pasta. It doesn’t look green?”
“That’s never a guarantee,” Taylor says darkly.
“It’s not that bad,” Jordan says. He’s trying to convince both of them, really; the camp cook’s Gift is talking to plants, and somehow this translates to a deep love of eating them. Jordan’s never been quite sure how that works, and he’s not sure he wants to. In any case, Ference makes fantastic salads, even if everything else is questionable at best.
They get their food—Jordan loads up on salad while Taylor has apparently decided to risk an entire plate of the pasta—and sit down at their cabin’s designated table.
“Dude,” Taylor says through a mouthful of food. He swallows and then repeats, “Dude, this is cardboard in pasta shape. Ference has truly outdone himself.”
Jordan raises his eyebrows. “Cardboard?”
“Literally,” Taylor says, shoving his plate into the middle of the table between them. “You gotta try it.”
“I believe you,” Jordan says, but he tries the pasta anyway. He frowns after the first bite. “That’s not so bad.” He’s pretty sure he’s eaten worse things at camp. He takes another forkful, bigger this time, and chews slowly. “Oh. Er.”
“Yep!” Taylor says triumphantly. “Cardboard, right?”
Jordan nods. “Want some of my salad?” he asks, knowing that the answer is undoubtedly yes. Taylor is already helping himself before Jordan even finishes the sentence. Jordan rolls his eyes and glances down the table, hoping for someone to make fun of Taylor with him. Instead, he catches sight of a guy he’s never seen before sitting next to Brendan and nodding while Brendan talks incessantly. He looks uncomfortable—but Jordan can’t be totally sure about that, because he doesn’t have a mood aura at all. He must still be wearing silver.
“Hey,” Jordan says to Taylor, “check it out.” He gestures, and Taylor follows his gaze to the new kid.
“Whoa, cool! New dude!” Taylor says. He pauses, then adds, “Poor him, who knows what Gally’s on about.”
“Seriously,” Jordan says. “He doesn’t look too happy about whatever it is.”
“Oh yeah?” Taylor asks. “Looking a little blue, is he?”
Jordan shakes his head. “Don’t know, he must be wearing silver.”
“Oh,” Taylor says thoughtfully, looking back at the guy. “Not so weird for a new kid, especially if he’s fourteen. He looks fourteen.”
“Nah, not weird,” Jordan agrees. A lot of the kids who’ve just discovered their Gift come to camp still wearing silver, but almost everyone has taken theirs off by the end of the first week. There are a few exceptions, like kids who have Gifts that are particularly dangerous, but camp is meant to be a place for Gifted kids to just be themselves—indoor rain, random wings, and all.
After dinner, when they’re all migrating across the grounds to campfire, Taylor elbows Jordan in the side. “That kid is walking by himself,” he says, and then he’s dragging Jordan over to him. “Hey.”
The guy looks up in surprise. “Oh, uh, hey.”
“I’m Taylor and this is Jordan. Welcome to Cabin 99,” Taylor says, grinning wide. “We noticed you got saddled with Gally for a bunkmate?”
“I’m Ryan,” he says. “And uh… yeah, Gally’s my bunkmate.”
Jordan looks around and finds Gally up ahead of them, talking to Alex—or, more accurately, arguing with Alex. Jordan hopes that they don’t get overexcited and use their conflicting weather-related gifts to make a tornado… again. It’s way too early in camp for that.
“You can sit with us at campfire if you want,” Jordan offers. “Brendan can be a bit much.”
Ryan nods. “Sure, that’d be nice. He’s, uh, not that he isn’t great, but—”
“Sometimes he just doesn’t shut the fuck up,” Taylor says cheerfully. He claps Ryan on the shoulder. “You learn to pick and choose your battles with that one.”
“And you’ve fought long enough for today,” Jordan says.
Ryan laughs a bit at that, and Jordan smiles, pleased. Ryan’s pretty cute when he laughs, but that’s a road Jordan is absolutely not going any further down than he already has just by noticing that.
“So,” Taylor says when they’ve arrived at campfire and staked out a section of log to sit on. The counsellors are gathered around the pile of wood in the middle, clearly struggling to start the fire. “Looks like we’ll be waiting a bit, so why don’t you tell us about yourself?” He looks at Ryan expectantly.
Ryan shrugs. “Uh, I’m from BC?” he says.
Both Taylor and Jordan nod encouragingly.
“I’m sixteen, and, uh… I play hockey,” Ryan says.
“Nice,” Taylor says appreciatively, holding up a fist. Ryan bumps it.
“Wait, you’re sixteen?” Jordan asks. “And this is your first year at camp?” It’s not unheard of for kids to start later, but it’s way more likely for them to start early and drop off as they get older.
Ryan shrugs. “I went to one closer to home before,” he says. They wait a moment, but Ryan doesn’t offer any more information.
“Well, cool, dude,” Taylor says. “Pleasure to have you here. Totally thought you were like twelve, though.”
“You did not,” Jordan says. “There aren’t any Gifted twelve-year-olds.”
“But if there were…” Taylor says.
Ryan has flushed pink in embarrassment, and Jordan wishes he could tell whether he’s actually upset by the teasing or not. “Don’t be mean to the new guy,” Jordan says, just in case. “I’m eighteen, by the way. This is my last summer, and Taylor here’s got one more.”
“We’ve been friends since around this time two years ago, eh, Jordan?” Taylor says.
“If friends is what you wanna call it,” Jordan says, shrugging.
“Oh, so you’re the only one allowed to be mean, then?” Taylor asks, crossing his arms in mock-petulance.
Ryan is laughing at them. “You seem like you know each other pretty well,” he says.
“We talk a lot during the year,” Taylor explains. He looks like he’s about to say more, but just then a rabbit goes tearing by them and stops in front of Nail, who grins and greets it. They all stare at Nail as he has a seemingly one-sided conversation for a minute, and then simultaneously look back at each other.
“Talks to animals?” Ryan says.
Taylor nods. “You should’ve seen the squirrel he made friends with last year.”
“Followed him everywhere,” Jordan says. “He’s like a Disney princess.”
“Wow,” Ryan says.
Jordan nods. “What’s your Gift?” he asks curiously.
Ryan immediately looks away and shrugs. Jordan looks at Taylor in a slight panic, and Taylor just shakes his head at him. It’s pretty rude to ask someone that question in a normal conversation, but at Gifted camp it’s commonplace. Jordan feels awful for making Ryan look that withdrawn.
“No big if you don’t want to say,” Taylor says, as cheery as ever.
“Totally fine,” Jordan agrees quickly. “Taylor’s is pretty dumb. When he hugged me earlier he was so happy he made me this.” He leans forward and angles his body so Ryan can see the tiny sun still hovering on his shoulder.
Ryan glances up at it, then looks back for longer. He raises his eyebrows and looks back and forth between Taylor and Jordan. “Looks real,” he says finally. “Just small.”
“Hell yeah it looks real,” Taylor says. “And please, as if you can talk, Jordan. You see people’s feelings as colours like a fucking hippie or some shit.”
“That’s cool,” Ryan says.
Jordan points at Ryan. “He gets it,” he says. “I’m cool.”
“Didn’t say anything about you,” Ryan says, so quiet and nonchalant that it takes a moment before Taylor bursts into laughter.
“I take it back, you don’t get it at all,” Jordan says, but he can’t help smiling.
Taylor puts his arm around Ryan’s shoulders and pulls him in to mess up his hair. “You’re a good one,” he declares. “We’ll keep you, I think.”
Ryan pulls away and fixes his hair, but he doesn’t look annoyed. The counsellors suddenly all cheer, which means it’s time for campfire to actually start. Jordan sits back and starts getting excited for scream-singing along to every word of the dumb camp songs.
They’re up bright and early the next day, blearily stumbling through the long line for the showers, but by the time they get to breakfast, they’re nearly able to function. Ryan sits across from Jordan and Taylor, slowly eating his cereal while Jordan and Taylor pass the syrup back and forth, trying to make their breakfast egg-whatever taste something resembling good. They’re only moderately successful.
“I wonder who’ll be in our activity group,” Taylor muses as they scrape their plates off and add them to the stack of dirty dishes that their cabin, thankfully, doesn’t have to clean today.
“I hope we have something energetic first,” Jordan says, stretching out his arms. “If it’s crafts or whatever, I will fall asleep in the glitter.”
They follow along with their cabin as they go to get their schedules. They’re in the same activity group, thanks to a Skype call when they filled out the registration forms, and it turns out that Ryan is as well.
“Sweet,” Taylor says, holding his hand up for a high five. Ryan obliges, and Taylor offers his hand to Jordan as well. Jordan rolls his eyes and slaps it.
“Thank God,” he says, peering at the huge whiteboard with all the events written on it, “field hockey first thing, awesome.”
Ryan, hilariously, has never played field hockey, and his shocked face while the counsellor explains the rules is a sight to behold. Jordan and Taylor can’t stop giggling at him.
“It’s not like ice hockey at all,” Ryan says. “I thought it was going to be at least similar.”
“Get the ball in the net, buddy,” Taylor says.
“You got this,” Jordan says, punching Ryan in the shoulder. “Bet we can make it so we’re all on the field at the same time.”
Ryan snorts. “I should hope so, considering there are eleven players on the field at a time,” he says, shaking his head incredulously.
For all the complaining, Ryan is a natural at actually playing the game. He picks it up fast, and pretty soon he’s opening up scoring chances that Jordan wouldn’t have imagined were there. They all work together well, their passes almost always clean, and they just keep scoring goals. Jordan would feel sorry for the other team if that was something he did, but he’s way too competitive for that.
“I’m done,” Justin says after Ryan passes to Taylor without looking and Taylor scores. “The last thing anyone needed was for Jordan and Taylor to adopt another person into their weird mind-sharing thing.”
“Suck it, Schultzy,” Taylor says. “Maybe if you’re nice we’ll let you be on our team next time.”
“No, thanks,” Justin mutters. “I think I’ll pass on mind melding with you losers.”
“I believe we’re winners, actually,” Jordan points out.
They do win, obviously. It’s a pretty good way to start off their first full day of camp.
Lunch is pretty good—Ference made veggie burgers, and even compared to, like, normal food, they’re tasty. Jordan actually goes back for seconds, and he’s not the only one. Afterwards, their cabin’s chore of the day is to help clean the mess hall, which is maybe a bit unfairly easy for them thanks to Alex’s Gift. Mopping is quick work when you can make it rain inside.
Jordan, Ryan, and Taylor all have swimming next, which is a great way to cool down after chores. Or at least, Jordan thinks it’s going to be until he sees Taylor and Ryan with their shirts off, and then he briefly questions the universe as to why this is his life and what he’s done to deserve this.
It’s like—they’re his friends. Taylor’s his best friend, and he’s not going to be the one to make it weird, ‘cause he’s sure Taylor doesn’t think about him like that (hell, he didn’t think about Taylor like that until fairly recently)—but it’s hard when they’re really hot and shirtless and wrestling with each other in the shallows. Jordan’s life is a trial.
Once they’re all actually in the water, though, it’s easier. “Let’s play dare or dare,” Taylor suggests.
“No truth option?” asks Ryan.
“Boring,” Jordan explains. “Taylor, I dare you to stay under for a minute.”
He can, of course. A minute’s kind of a long time when you’re just counting, treading water, and waiting; Jordan might start to worry if he couldn’t see Taylor’s aura sort of shimmering under the surface of the water. Dead people don’t have moods, so. He’s fine.
Ryan’s counting out loud, and Jordan gets distracted for a second, watching Alex and Brendan playing some weird variation on water polo with no net; when he looks back, he can’t see Taylor or his aura at all. He panics for about a second, and then Ryan says, “Sixty!” and then Taylor, who was obviously counting too, surfaces right behind Jordan and grabs him around the waist.
Jordan’s heart jumps into his throat, but he’s relieved, too. It’s a weird feeling. “Jesus Christ, Hallsy, I thought you drowned for a second,” he gripes, elbowing Taylor in the ribs. Taylor laughs right in his ear.
“Ryan, I dare you to go past the rope,” Taylor says, pointing out at the buoys. They’re definitely not supposed to do that, and Ryan looks a bit leery, but then he shrugs, nods, and starts swimming.
He’s barely surfaced on the other side of the rope when Hilary, the lifeguard on duty, blows her whistle. “Get back here,” she shouts, still managing to sound bored. Jordan’s a little impressed. That probably took practice—or maybe she was born that cool.
They get bored of dare or dare pretty quickly after that. Taylor loses rock-paper-scissors, so he has to let Jordan and Ryan bury him in sand—which is funny at first, but around the time he loses the ability to use his arms, he starts complaining endlessly.
“My nose itches,” he whines. “This is the worst. Ebby, scratch my nose for me.”
Jordan sighs and scratches Taylor’s nose for him. “The worst, really, Taylor?” he says, mocking. “Save the tragedy for drama.”
They do actually have drama next. For Jordan, that’s Taylor’s fault; over Skype he’d said “I know you liked painting or whatever, last year, but that was fucking boring. In drama we just mess around and play games for two hours, that’s what everybody says. We’re requesting drama first.”
When he asks Ryan why he picked drama, though, Ryan shrugs. “My dad thought it sounded like a good idea, ‘cause I’m quiet,” he offers, which is depressing as hell. Jordan can’t see his aura because he’s still wearing silver, but he’d bet on it being cool-toned. He hopes drama is just fun games, for Ryan’s sake.
On the first day, at least, it is. They warm up by sitting on the floor in a circle, clapping a rhythm, and performing animal gestures they’ve made up. When Taylor screws up, he has to go from being a tiger all the way down to an amoeba, which he frowns about until Jordan deliberately screws up on his next turn so Taylor can move up the food chain to worm. Ryan, on the other hand, is super focused, and ends the game as King Elephant, the top of the food chain.
Then Sharpy, the counsellor in charge, teaches them a game called Press Conference: Brendan leaves the room, they decide what he did to make him famous (he invented cheez whiz), and then he comes back in and they ask him questions about it.
“Were you inspired by the moon?” Jordan tries. It’s a dumb question, but like, the moon is made of cheese, and he couldn’t think of anything else in the moment.
Brendan grins. “For sure, I mean, you’d say it’s out of this world, right?” That’s actually a pretty good answer, for how directly out of his ass he’s talking.
When it’s Ryan’s turn, he says, “What do you say to people who point out that there is not actually much milk in your product?”
Brendan looks momentarily confused. “Uh—that’s because it’s better for the cows?”
Everyone laughs, and Taylor follows up quickly, “But what about for people?”
“Oh, it’s definitely good for people. Delicious and nutritious!” says Brendan brightly. He’s clearly figured out that he’s invented some kind of food, but the idea of cheez whiz being nutritious is hilarious.
“So you’d recommend, like, babies eat the thing you make?” says Alex.
“Absolutely,” says Brendan seriously. It’s sort of amazing the way everyone’s laughing at him, but as far as Jordan can tell, he’s not nervous at all: he’s glowing yellow and orange without a hint of green.
It only takes a few more rounds of questions before Brendan figures it out. They play a couple other games—one involving some seriously stupid dance moves, but everyone’s doing it, so, whatever—and then, before Jordan knows it, they’re being sent off to dinner.
“All right, you win, that was fun,” he admits grudgingly to Taylor.
Taylor grins and throws one arm around his shoulders and one around Ryan’s. “Ryan, learn from Jordan’s mistakes, will you? If you just figure out now that I’m always right, your life will suck way less than his does.”
“Okay, Taylor, you’re always right,” says Ryan, deadpan.
While campfire last night had literally just been going over all the camp rules and then singing all the best call-and-response songs to get them warmed up for the rest of the summer, tonight the real fun is starting. Through some cruel twist of fate, Cabin 99 is first up to put on a skit for the rest of the campers.
“I think we should do the one with the bus stop,” Brendan says immediately when the whole cabin has huddled up to discuss.
“Of course you want to do that one,” their counsellor Hendy says, exasperated. “No one can ever get you to leave.”
The bus stop skit involves someone pretending to be sitting at the bus stop and another person coming up to them and trying to make them as uncomfortable as possible without touching them so they’ll leave. It keeps going until they run out of people, and Hendy is not wrong, Brendan always wins despite the fact that it’s not supposed to be a competition.
“That’s only fair if you’re the last one,” Anton objects, and everyone nods.
Brendan pouts. “You all suck. Never mind then.”
Across the circle, Ryan looks confused. Jordan makes note to explain it to him later.
“I like the ugliest man in the world one,” Taylor suggests.
“Nuh-uh,” Hendy says. “We’re not doing an audience participation one for the first day.”
“Not fair!” Taylor objects. “Jordan can judge their mood to see if it’s okay to pick them.”
“I can’t tell if they’ll be embarrassed or upset until they actually are,” Jordan points out.
“And I said no,” Hendy says. “How about JC Penney? That’s a classic.”
There’s some grumbling, but everyone agrees. Hendy explains it quickly, mostly for Ryan’s sake since everyone else has either done or seen this skit before, and then sends Oscar off to get them a sheet.
Jordan volunteers to be the first camper, so he stands in the middle of the open space by the campfire that they use as a makeshift stage and waits. “Nice shirt,” he tells Schultzy when he walks past. “Where did you get it?”
“JC Penney,” Schultzy says, grinning, before continuing past. A few campers in the audience are already tittering, knowing how this goes.
Ryan is up next. “Nice shorts,” Jordan says, trying not to think about how much he means that. “Where did you get them?”
“Oh, uh, JC Penney,” Ryan says, shrugging. Either he’s a pretty good actor or he’s genuinely really nervous. Jordan gives him an encouraging smile, and Ryan smiles back before continuing on past him.
Everyone from their cabin walks past, and Jordan compliments a different piece of clothing for each other them, asking where they got it. They all say JC Penney, right up until Taylor wanders onto the stage like he’s looking for something, wrapped up in the sheet Oscar got them so that it looks like he’s not wearing any clothes underneath.
“Who are you?” Jordan asks, already having to hold back his laugh.
Taylor stops short dramatically, puts a hand over his heart, and declares in a distraught tone, “I’m JC Penney!”
Everyone bursts into laughter and applause. Taylor takes a bow, then flourishes his hands at Jordan. Jordan rolls his eyes and bows as well before they all go to sit back down.
“That was good, Taylor,” Ryan says as they’re sitting.
Taylor grins. “I know, I’m hilarious.” He does a shitty job of folding the sheet he’s untangled from himself and drapes it over Ryan’s shoulders. “Your reward for a successful first camp skit.”
“Wow, thanks,” Ryan says, tugging it around him. “I really think I’m destined for Broadway.”
“We’ll support you all the way,” Jordan says.
Hoss, the counsellor from Cabin 81, gets up then. “All right, campers. This is a repeat-after-me song!”
“This is a repeat-after-me song!” everyone yells back.
“Are you ready?”
“Are you ready?”
“Are you sure?”
“Are you sure?”
They launch into a rousing rendition of the Green Grass Grows All Around, so Jordan gets to watch Hallsy dance around in a circle while flapping his hands idiotically. Granted, Jordan is doing it too, and Ryan’s cautious version is adorable, but whatever. Camp is the fucking greatest.
After the first day, the routine stays pretty much the same: breakfast, sports, lunch, chores, swimming, drama, dinner, campfire. His first year, Jordan remembers he kept waiting for it to get less fun, and like—okay, so scrubbing bathrooms always sucks, but—overall, it never did. Now he just knows it’s going to be awesome.
The first day off is always weird, because they’re so used to doing stuff all day and then suddenly they can do whatever they want. Jordan didn’t tell Hendy to wake him up—Hendy knows he likes to sleep in—but still, it’s hard to stay asleep with nine teenage boys being very loudly awake around you. Jordan groans, rolls over, and puts his pillow over his head.
He feels a hand touch his shoulder; it’s Taylor’s, judging by how it gets really warm after a second. Taylor drops something onto his pillow, then says, “Go back to sleep, you non. Ryan and I’ll bring you something to eat.”
Jordan doesn’t take the pillow off his head, just feels around on top of it to see what Taylor made him. It takes him a second, and then—earplugs. Taylor’s the best.
He wakes up again later when Taylor drops an orange on him. He can hear him saying something that sounds kind of like “Get up, lazy,” but it’s pretty muffled by the earplugs. Jordan pulls them out and drags himself to a sitting position, which is evidently invitation enough for Taylor and Ryan to also sit on his bed. At least Ryan passes him a muffin to go with the orange.
They sit on Jordan’s bed and talk for a while—Jordan eats his breakfast, Taylor shoves orange peel down Ryan’s shirt, it’s a normal morning—until Hendy comes by with mail. Neither Jordan nor Taylor have anything yet (this is their third year and it’s a bit early for their families to miss them), but Ryan has one, and Jordan promptly snatches it out of his hands.
There’s nothing really embarrassing on it—no stickers or ‘sealed with a kiss’ marks like he’s seen on cards some guys get—but: “Hang on, your last name is Nugent-Hopkins?” says Jordan when he reads the front.
“What?” says Taylor, leaning over to see it.
“Yeah,” says Ryan with a shrug.
Taylor cracks up when he sees it. “Oh man, that’s a name.”
“You said you play hockey, right?” Jordan asks. “How do they fit it on your jersey?”
Ryan opens his mouth to answer, but Taylor cuts in, “Yeah, you’re not a big dude, like—do they have to make you a name cape or something?” Ryan rolls his eyes and snatches the letter back.
Just then, Luke bangs in the door. “Hey losers,” he says genially as he passes Taylor and Jordan’s bunk on the way to his own. “Bunch of people are playing soccer, want to come?”
“Sure,” says Jordan easily, even though it means he’s going to have to get dressed. “Dibs on Mr. Nugent-Hopkins for our team.” Luke is so used to them being weird that he just rolls his eyes and continues putting his shoes on, but Taylor starts laughing.
And then he stops, abruptly, and makes the face he does when he has a terrible idea. “No, Jordan.” He pauses, presumably for dramatic effect, then says, “Dibs on The Nuge.”
It’s a really terrible nickname, by all measures. But it fits with the lame ones everybody at camp has, and even if Ryan does look a little flustered, he’s grinning from ear to ear. “The Nuge,” Jordan echoes, tossing an arm around Ryan’s shoulders.
On Wednesday during swimming, a bunch of people set up an elaborate race with a bunch of rounds and an elimination system. It’s opt-in, but just dicking around during swimming gets pretty old, so most people do it. Jordan is out near the beginning, and Ryan is not that long after him, but Taylor looks like he’s in it for the long haul. Ryan and Jordan stake out a patch of sand and start building a sandcastle so they’re out of the way of the racing.
Jordan is trying to shape a turret with dry sand, too lazy to go get more water with the bucket they’re using, when Ryan asks, apropos of nothing, “Are you and Taylor dating?”
Jordan immediately laughs defensively. He concentrates on looking relaxed even though he feels a little sick, his heart beating way too fast. “What? No. Why?” he asks. He’s a little impressed with how calm his voice comes out, considering how his internal monologue is something like fuck, fuck, fuck, don’t ask me that, what the fuck.
Ryan is still concentrated on making the outer wall perfectly square, but he’s definitely giving Jordan some side-eye. “Seems like it,” he says.
“Well, we’re just super close,” Jordan says, moving sand around aimlessly. “Not dating, so.”
“Okay,” Ryan says easily. Jordan thinks he’s going to drop it, but a moment later he says, “But you like him, right?”
“No!” Jordan says. “I mean, I like him, yeah, we’re best friends. I love the dude, but just friend love.”
Ryan smooths out the top of the wall and then gives Jordan a doubtful look. “You haven’t taken the sun he made you off your shoulder since we got here,” he points out.
That Jordan can’t argue with. He keeps having to shove it under his pillow at night because people complain about the light being annoying, but he always puts it back on his shoulder after he gets dressed in the morning. It follows him like a little magnet, and Jordan can’t bring himself to leave it behind.
“It’s just a bro sun,” Jordan says. Ryan rolls his eyes, and Jordan sighs. It’s obvious that Ryan isn’t going to be convinced, and Jordan doesn’t really want to spend the entire summer with Ryan giving him that look for denying it. “Okay, fine. I’m sure he thinks of it as a bro sun.”
Ryan laughs at that, loud and sudden. “Sorry,” he says.
“What, why is that funny?” Jordan demands.
Ryan waves him off. “No reason.”
Jordan eyes him suspiciously, but Taylor chooses that moment to come running out of the water, arms raised in victory, and smash his way right through their sandcastle, so that’s that conversation over.
The next couple days are full of the constant presence of the fact that Ryan knows. Jordan keeps finding himself overthinking totally normal interactions because Ryan will give him a significant look behind Taylor’s back. Laughing at each other’s jokes in drama is not meaningful no matter how much Ryan raises his eyebrows, and neither is balancing himself by putting his hand on Taylor’s lower back when he’s trying to reach for the salad dressing.
Sharing a blanket at campfire Saturday night isn’t worthy of an incredulous look, either. “Aw, look at you little snuggle-bunnies,” Ryan teases.
“Whatever, Nuge, it’s fuckin’ cold,” Taylor says.
“There’s plenty of blanket,” Jordan says, holding out the excess on his side. “Why don’t you come join us?”
Ryan shakes his head at Jordan’s obvious challenge even as he’s moving over to join. They re-situate the blanket so it’s covering them equally, Jordan squished in the middle to make it work.
It’s nice, being tucked in between Ryan and Taylor. Too nice, in fact. Jordan had intended to prove that blanket sharing was a completely platonic affair, but with both Taylor’s and Ryan’s arms around his back while he keeps his own trapped arms carefully folded in front of him, he’s only succeeded in making himself think about cuddling in totally not platonic terms. Jordan wishes he could quit his brain.
It only gets worse when Taylor deliberately snuggles closer and says, “You’re so warm, Ebs.” Jordan can feel Ryan stifling a laugh, and he turns his head to glare at him. Ryan smiles innocently.
Taylor’s aura is a content gold, but there are hints of a light reddish-purple at the edges that Jordan’s never seen on him before. It’s making him think that maybe there’s some truth to all Ryan’s not-at-all-subtle nudges. Jordan wishes for the thousandth time that he could see what colour Ryan’s aura is.
That line of thought gets cut off by Hank walking by and shaking a finger at them. “Hands where I can see ‘em, boys,” he says.
Taylor groans as he moves his arm. Jordan knows the feeling.
For Monday’s chores, they get assigned to beach cleanup. In the past that’s sort of meant fucking around in the water and half-assedly cleaning things, then getting yelled at, but apparently Ryan’s not going to stand for that today.
“I think we’ll get done a lot faster if we split it up,” he says as they’re trekking down to the beach. The rest of the boys in the cabin turn to look at him, which seems to make him nervous, but he soldiers on. “Uh, Anton, your Gift is echolocation, right?”
When Landie nods, Ryan says, “Okay, so, you and Oscar can check the water for trash and stuff. Alex and Nail and I can clean the canoes. Jordan and Taylor can organize and sweep out the equipment shed, and Brendan, Luke, and Justin can pick up trash off the beach?”
It’s quiet for a second while everyone tries to figure out what to do with Ryan taking charge. Then Oscar shrugs and says, “Sounds like it’s less likely to get us in trouble than any other time we’ve had this chore.”
That’s pretty much good enough for everyone, because he’s right, and once they hit the beach they head off basically where Ryan told them to go. Taylor and Jordan hang back a little, and Jordan ruffles Ryan’s hair. “Look at you taking charge,” he teases.
“I just don’t want to get in trouble again,” says Ryan, but his expression is a little strange.
Taylor doesn’t seem to notice anything; he jostles Jordan’s shoulder and says, “C’mon, Ebby, let’s go hang up some goggles and shit.”
Without actually discussing it, once they’re inside the equipment shed, Jordan and Taylor divide it up and start working on different areas. Taylor’s dumped out the bins of water toys and is sorting them according to a system that makes absolutely no sense to Jordan, who is picking up canoe oars from the mismatched pile leaning against the wall and hanging them by length.
They’ve been working relatively quietly when Taylor says, “So, are we gonna talk about how hot Ryan is or are we both gonna keep pretending like we don’t notice?”
Jordan drops the oar he’s holding. “Uh,” he says intelligently.
He turns around with some trepidation. Taylor’s posture is relaxed, but his aura is all sorts of green—bright green, like he’s anxious, but also a cooler green Jordan doesn’t see very often. It’s always a little weird to see Taylor nervous; the last time he was this nervous, coincidentally, was last summer, when he came out to Jordan by telling a long, rambling story which contained a throwaway mention of a cute guy at school. Jordan had ignored the entire rest of it and just said, “I like guys sometimes too, Taylor,” when he finished, and other than passing references to hot celebrities, they haven’t really talked about it much.
They definitely haven’t even come close to talking about liking the same guy before. Jordan steps away from the oars and goes to sit on the floor next to Taylor. He doesn’t really want to have this conversation across the equipment shed. “We…can talk about it, I guess,” he says cautiously.
Taylor tosses the water ring in his hand into a basket, then falls backwards dramatically to lay on the floor. It’s way over the top, but it’s Taylor—that kind of helps to make things more normal. It makes Jordan feel better, anyway.
“He’s so hot,” Taylor complains. “Like, his smile? Are you kidding me?”
Jordan doesn’t think Taylor, the proud owner of the most obscene pair of lips on the planet, has any room to be complaining about anyone’s smile being devastating, but Jordan can’t just say that—and anyway, Taylor’s right. “And his hands,” Jordan chimes in instead.
“His hands,” Taylor echoes.
“How about out there, where he just like—took charge, and everybody listened?”
Taylor grins at him and sits up enough to throw a rubber duck at Jordan’s head. “I knew you liked that. I can’t, y’know, see your feelings or whatever, but I know you.” The bright green is gone from Taylor’s aura, fading into a happier yellow, but the cooler green spots are still there, and Jordan’s not—he feels like he should know what they mean, but he can’t figure it out, and he knows it’s gonna bug him.
Then Taylor lies back down again and sighs. “I guess neither of us really have, like, dibs, though. Like, I talked to him first, but you saw him first.”
Jordan considers this. Taylor’s right, and besides, the whole concept of “dibs” on a person is pretty sketchy, but—as much as it would make him feel left out, the idea of Taylor and Ryan together is so unbelievably hot that he has to stop thinking about it right away or else this conversation will get super embarrassing super quickly. “Yeah,” he says with a sigh. “Probably that means we have to both agree not to go there, right? Like, for our friendship?” It’s how it works in movies, anyway, when two girls like the same guy or whatever.
Taylor nods. It’s quiet, again, which means there’s no distraction to keep Jordan from thinking about Taylor and Ryan, again, and just—fuck it. If he keeps thinking about this it’s going to drive him crazy, he’s just got to say something and then play it off as a joke if Taylor makes it weird, so:
“Unless we both came onto him? Like, together?” he says bravely.
Only Taylor said something too, at exactly the same time, and Jordan caught “make out” in there somewhere.
“Wait, what did you say?” says Taylor, sitting up all the way.
“What did you say?” Jordan counters.
Taylor flaps a hand impatiently. “Fuck what I said, I think you have a better idea. Did you say we should, like—both? Like—”
He looks excited enough that Jordan manages to make himself nod, and Taylor grins, wide and open. “Fuck yeah, high five! That’s genius. Yes. That. Let’s do that.”
Jordan high fives Taylor on autopilot, because he kind of can’t process that Taylor just agreed to this, but before he can do or say anything else, the door swings open, and it’s Ryan. Of course it is.
They both flush, which looks not at all suspicious. Ryan looks from Taylor to Jordan and back again. “Did you two work some things out?” he says faux-innocently.
“Yeah,” says Jordan, because they did, he thinks, but…
“Hold on, did you lock us in here, Nuge?” Taylor asks as he gets up.
“It’s time for swimming,” says Ryan, which is not an answer.
That night, not long after Jordan hears the tell-tale sound of Ryan snoring quietly, his entire bunk starts shaking, the springs in the bed above him squeaking slightly. Jordan rolls over and watches as Taylor actually uses the ladder to get down, clearly trying his best to be quiet.
“Shove over,” Taylor whispers, and Jordan obliges, holding up his comforter so that Taylor has something to get under. He doesn’t think they’d both fit in the sleeping bag; it’s a tight fit just in the bunk itself. Taylor is lying on his stomach, half overlapping Jordan’s body even though Jordan is right against the wall. “Did this bed get smaller?” Taylor jokes.
“I think we got bigger,” Jordan whispers back.
“Legit,” Taylor says. “Anyway, we need to plan this shit.”
“The Nuge thing? Now?”
Jordan can just barely see Taylor nodding in the dim light coming in through the cracks at the edges of the windows. “No time like the present. How do you think we can convince him it’s a good idea?”
Jordan takes a moment to think about it. He supposes they can’t just out-and-out suggest it; that shit works on Taylor, but Ryan would probably overthink it. It’s going to take a more delicate process, though Jordan’s not entirely sure what all it should consist of. “Doing nice things for him?” he whispers finally.
“Okay, like?” Taylor prompts.
Jordan doesn’t have any time to consider that before Nail, one bunk over, stage whispers, “We can hear you, you know, and I don’t care what weird thing you’re planning now, I’m fucking tired.”
“Shut up,” Alex adds from above Nail at a slightly louder than normal volume.
“Hey,” Hendy says, his voice coming from his bunk by the door, all the way on the other side of the cabin. “If I have to leave this blanket nest, I’m gonna be real upset with you all.”
“Shhhhh,” someone says. Jordan has no idea who it is.
“To be continued,” Taylor whispers, the tiniest bit quieter than before. He makes like he’s going to get up, then flops back down. “Ugh.”
“Just stay,” Jordan whispers, and Taylor throws his arm over Jordan like he was just waiting for permission.
“Cool, comfy,” he mumbles. He’s not wrong at all.
They wake up early the next day, mostly because it’s way too warm with both of them in the bed. It’s cold as soon as they go outside, so Jordan has some regrets, but whatever. They manage to score the best shower stalls without having to wait in line, so it’s worth it.
It also means they have time to continue their discussion from last night before breakfast. They have a spot in the woods behind Cabin 99 where there’s a fallen tree that’s perfect for sitting on, so that’s where they make their way to.
“Do you think Ryan heard us last night?” Jordan asks.
Taylor frowns, kicking a rock out of his path. “No, he was snoring.”
“Okay,” Jordan says, because he did also hear that. “He was just gone when we got up, and it’s pretty early, so…”
“Yeah, kinda weird,” Taylor says. “Probably fine, though.”
“I guess,” Jordan agrees. “I just don’t want to, um.” He pauses, not wanting to sound stupid, but then gives that up. Taylor’s not going to make fun of him and mean it. “I don’t want to fuck things up, y’know? It kind of freaks me out that I can’t get a read on his emotions.”
“Welcome to life for the rest of us,” Taylor teases. “But yeah, I know. Hard to tell if this is a good idea when he’s so reserved.”
Jordan nods, relieved that Taylor seems to get it. They get to their spot, and Taylor brushes a few fallen twigs off the log so they can sit down. “Maybe we can get him to take his silver off,” Taylor suggests.
That honestly sounds appealing, but Jordan doesn’t want to force Ryan into anything. “How would we do that?”
“Ask?” Taylor says. “I can tell him I want to make him something. Obviously if his Gift is really dangerous, he’ll just say no, and we can move on with the usual caution.”
“Sounds reasonable,” Jordan says. “So, if that’s phase one… what do we do next?”
“Well,” Taylor says, stretching his legs out in front of him, “then we show him why he should like us. By buttering him up, like you said. Getting our flirt on. That stuff.”
“I did not say anything about butter,” Jordan says.
“You said doing nice things, I just defined it,” Taylor says, grinning. Jordan punches him in the arm just because he can.
“Okay, how do we ‘get our flirt on’?” Jordan asks, raising his eyebrows.
“Oh, please,” Taylor says. “You can just bat your eyelashes, that’ll get it done.”
Jordan blinks. “You… um.”
Taylor laughs at him. “You’re super hot, Ebs.”
“Well, so are you,” Jordan shoots back like it’s an insult, and then they spend a good minute just grinning dumbly at each other. Taylor’s aura is all bright yellow and the reddish-purple Jordan has figured out is related to crushing on someone on the edges, and Jordan is sure his would look exactly the same if he had one.
“Okay,” Taylor says eventually. “So, first we case him out, then we turn the flirting up to a thousand. Plan?”
“Plan,” Jordan agrees. He holds his hand up, and Taylor high fives him. They’ve totally got this.
Ryan is already at breakfast when they get there, sitting at their table chatting with Nail. His plate of pancakes is half-gone, so both Jordan and Taylor assume they can’t be that awful today and take some. Jordan grabs a bottle of syrup just in case, though.
“Good morning,” Taylor says cheerfully, sitting down next to Ryan. Jordan sits across from him next to Nail. “Did everybody have a good sleep?”
“I did, no thanks to you,” Nail says.
“Wasn’t asking you,” Taylor says sweetly, turning to Ryan expectantly. Nail rolls his eyes.
Ryan snorts. “You literally said everybody, Hallsy. What did you do last night that kept Nail up?”
Taylor shrugs. “Oh, nothing,” he says, glancing at Jordan and smiling. “Hey, listen, I had this dream where, like—”
He goes off on a long ramble about his dream, which is pretty typical breakfast behaviour for Taylor, so Jordan doesn’t feel bad tuning it out. Ryan seems to have the same idea; he’s looking down at his plate and frowning slightly, clearly not paying attention. Jordan carefully tries his pancakes—they’re actually completely normal today, which might be a miracle, so it’s not the pancakes that are making Ryan frown like that.
Jordan doesn’t like it. He kicks Ryan lightly under the table to get him to look up, and then he tilts his head questioningly. Ryan definitely gets the message of are you okay? because he nods and flashes Jordan a quick smile. Jordan feels like that should appease him, but it doesn’t, not totally.
Ryan keeps acting strange enough that Jordan is still worried about it after breakfast, and he hangs back when they’re on the way to the field for their first block, grabbing Taylor’s arm so that he does too.
“What’s up?” Taylor asks.
“Nuge was acting sad at breakfast, don’t you think?” Jordan asks under his breath.
Taylor nods. “A bit,” he says. “Should we do something about that?”
Jordan grins. “Of course we should.”
They spend less time playing field hockey that morning than they do trying to make Ryan laugh by being overly competitive and then deliberately fucking things up. Taylor does a particularly dramatic fall to his knees after missing a shot on goal that has almost everyone in stitches. The counsellors pretend they’re not at all amused by Taylor delaying the game by rolling around on the grass, but Jordan saw them smirking. More importantly, Ryan keeps laughing periodically even after they’ve moved on.
He’s still laughing at lunch as Taylor tells Luke in great detail how much fun field hockey was today. Luke nods along, laughing in all the right places, and tells them about the prank he and Landie pulled on Hilary during swimming. Landie chimes in with the details, which Jordan still isn’t sure he understands even after Landie’s completely derailed the conversation and distracted Luke.
“Hey,” Taylor says. “Hey, Nuge. Hey.”
“What, Taylor?” Ryan asks patiently.
“You should take off your silver and let me make you a thing.” Taylor smiles wide. Jordan holds back a sigh. Of course that’s how Taylor decided to approach this.
Ryan looks startled, but not angry, so that’s a positive. “Why?” he asks.
“Because I want to, come on,” Taylor wheedles. “You’ll get to keep it.”
Ryan appears to think about that for a moment before he shrugs. “Okay,” he says. He puts down his salad fork and twists his silver ring off of his right hand, carefully putting it down on the table. As soon as he does, his aura flares to life and Taylor reaches out and takes his hand.
Ryan’s aura is a pinkish-purple colour, fond and a little embarrassed by the attention. He’s watching Taylor’s hands glow with interest, and he smiles when Taylor holds his free hand up so they can all more properly see the tiny toy duck he’s created.
“There you go,” Taylor says, handing it over. Ryan’s aura flares an even more pleased pink as he takes the duck. Taylor is still holding his hand, and Ryan lets him for awhile longer than Jordan knows is really necessary before he pulls away so he can use both hands to put his ring back on.
That’s phase one passed with flying colours, Jordan thinks, nodding at Taylor when he looks over questioningly. Now comes the more difficult part.
Neither Taylor nor Jordan have much experience in wooing people, or flirting, or like, being at all romantically competent. They’re very enthusiastic, but that only counts for so much. It’s not that Jordan doesn’t trust Taylor’s plan of to ‘get their flirt on’, just, it’s always a good idea to do some research, so he ducks out of dinner early to use the office computer and google “how to tell someone you like them”.
One of the first ideas is to give them a gift, which sounds pretty smart to Jordan. Taylor already made him the duck, but like…that was just phase one, they can do better than that. When he relays this information to Taylor later, Taylor’s response is to ask what colour Ryan’s aura was.
“Uhhh…like, a pinkish-purple,” says Jordan. “Why?”
“Because we’re going to make him friendship bracelets, and we should make his that colour so that once this all works out and we tell him about our brilliant plan, he can be reminded of how awesome his boyfriends are every time he looks at them,” says Taylor patiently, already walking towards the art cabin.
Sometimes his unshakeable confidence astounds even Jordan.
The friendship bracelets are only a little bit a disaster. They all huddle on Jordan’s bed after campfire to make them, but Taylor ends up needing a lot of help because in the past he’s always just created friendship bracelets out of thin air instead of making them the traditional way. The ones he presents to Jordan and Ryan are distinctly looser and messier than the ones they give him in return, but—it’s the thought that counts. The thought, and the fact that in the process of making them Ryan sat with his bare legs pressed up against Taylor’s and Jordan’s for, like, half an hour. That’s definitely a win.
They try their hand at constant flirting all throughout the next day. Jordan thinks Ryan has to be getting suspicious, considering all the times they go out of their way to be nice to him. Taylor gets him seconds when he complains about being too lazy to go back up himself at both breakfast and lunch, and they both compliment him constantly—when he scores in field hockey, when he doesn’t score in field hockey, when he builds a small sandcastle because he’s bored, when he does an improv skit with Alex in drama.
Somewhere around the point that Jordan is telling Ryan the mirror in the bathroom he just cleaned looks very shiny, he starts to think that maybe they’re coming on a little strong. That’s after lunch, though, and it isn’t enough to make him stop, so.
If Ryan hadn’t cottoned on to something by dinner, he definitely does when Jordan and Taylor sit down on either side of him, closer than usual. They’re so close, in fact, that when Ryan tries to cut his chicken, he runs into a problem.
“Um, guys?” he says cautiously. “I can’t move my arms.”
“Oh, sorry,” Jordan says, shifting away on the bench. He’s careful not to move too far away, though, and he can see Taylor doing the same.
“Thanks,” Ryan says. He doesn’t say anything about how they’re still close, just starts cutting up his chicken. When Jordan, near the end of dinner, works up the nerve to gently rest his ankle alongside Ryan’s, Ryan doesn’t move away. Jordan hides his smile at that in his cup of juice.
They’ve been at camp long enough that they’ve all built up pretty good tans, but the counsellors are absolutely stringent about sunscreen. They make everyone reapply before practically every activity block, even if your activity is inside. It seems like overkill, but Jordan wouldn’t want to deal with sunburned kids, either, so he gets it. Hendy, at least, is comparatively chill since everyone in their cabin can pretty much be trusted to know the drill.
Jordan is carelessly slapping sunscreen on his face before swimming and watching Ryan apply his own to his arms when a truly brilliant idea occurs to him. He makes eye contact with Taylor across the cabin and then looks meaningfully at Ryan.
“Hey, Nuge,” Jordan says, keeping his voice casual, “want me to get your back?”
Ryan shrugs and hands Jordan his sunscreen. It’s pretty commonplace for them to help each other out with that. Taylor, behind Ryan and clearly cottoning on to the meaningful look, mouths Oh my god at Jordan.
Jordan knows. He squirts the usual amount of sunscreen into his hand, rubs his hands together, and then starts applying it. Ryan’s back is warm, and Jordan carefully maps it out inch by inch, taking extra care to massage the sunscreen into Ryan’s skin. It’s honestly far too much time spent touching Ryan in a way that could probably be described as sensual, but Jordan keeps it up anyway. He’s committed to this, god damn it.
By the time he’s done and Ryan turns around, they’re both flushed a light pink that has nothing to do with the sun. “That was very… thorough,” Ryan says. “Want me to do yours?”
Jordan had not been expecting that. He probably should have been, but he’s a fucking idiot, so. He nods, not trusting himself to speak, and gives Ryan the sunscreen back.
He locks eyes with Taylor when Ryan circles him to get at his back and doesn’t look away. Taylor is full-on staring, his aura reddish-purple with spots of an amused orange shade. Jordan narrows his eyes at the orange; this is not amusing.
The sunscreen is cold when Ryan first puts his hands on Jordan’s back, and Jordan desperately hopes for Ryan to just get this over with. Unfortunately, Ryan seems to have learned the lesson Jordan inadvertently just gave him too well, because he starts massaging in a circular motion that makes Jordan’s knees want to give out. He concentrates on not making this situation awkward for Ryan and probably hilarious for Taylor, but it’s hard with Taylor’s face and Ryan’s hands both doing things in his immediate vicinity.
He survives, thankfully, though he really needs a drink of water by the time Ryan declares him done. Taylor looks positively gleeful. “You need any help, Hallsy?” Jordan asks, raising his eyebrows, meaning for it to be a joke.
Taylor takes full advantage and convinces Jordan and Ryan to put sunscreen on his back at the same time “so that it’ll go quicker”. Jordan finds he honestly can’t even be mad at him for it. It’s only fair, after all.
Drama always provides an opportunity to get up to some nonsense, and now that their activity group are more comfortable with one another, Sharpy’s starting to introduce more complicated games.
“All right,” he says once they’re settled. “We’re gonna start with a new one—evil triplets, get up here.”
Jordan knows that by that, Sharpy means Taylor, Ryan, and him. Sharpy’s really proud of the nickname, and it’s starting to catch on, which makes no sense because they look nothing alike, and also makes Jordan sort of uncomfortable because the kind of thoughts he’s harbouring about Taylor and Ryan these days are distinctly not brotherly.
“Isn’t it bullying to refer to campers as evil? It’s gotta be bullying,” Taylor complains as they get up.
“Don’t be so sensitive,” says Sharpy cheerfully, clapping Taylor on the shoulder. “It’s just ‘cause the game is called Evil Stick of Gum. Taylor, you’re the chewer, and Ryan, you’re the gum. Taylor and Jordan are gonna do a scene, and Ryan’s gonna jump in every so often to try to get Taylor in trouble. Jordan, react to what Ryan says as if Taylor said it. Taylor, try to justify whatever it is Ryan says.”
It sounds simple enough, especially to Jordan, who definitely got the easy role. “Okay, so, what’s the scene, any ideas?” says Sharpy, addressing the group.
“Taylor’s a barista and Jordan’s a customer,” suggests Shawzy.
Sharpy nods and claps his hands. “All right, sounds good. Whenever you’re ready, triplets.”
They glance at each other for a second, and then Taylor starts, because he always does. “Hi, welcome to Starbucks. What can I make for you today?” he says in his most cheerful voice.
“If it’s anything more complicated than black coffee, I’m going to spit in it,” Ryan interjects, dry.
Everyone laughs. Jordan makes a face, and Taylor follows up quickly with, “By which I mean, our new product to enhance the flavors of our, uh, blended drinks—SPIT for short, but it stands for Sprinkles of Perfectly Incredible Taste.”
Taylor’s really good at this game, it’s already clear. Everyone’s still laughing, and Jordan can’t find any problem with what he said other than that it sounds ridiculous, but, like, drama. “Uhhhh, okay, those sound good,” he says, remembering the cardinal rule of improv that Sharpy had beat into their heads the first couple days: say yes, unless saying no is funnier. “I’ll take a venti iced soy caramel macchiato,” Jordan continues. He’s got no idea if that’s a real drink, but he figures he’ll just throw out a bunch of Starbucks words and Taylor will have to go with it.
“What kind of a pretentious jerk orders something like that,” says Ryan. He’s definitely having the time of his life; Jordan’s never seen him smirk so evilly. That or he’s really, really in character.
“…is something only equally pretentious jerks would say, because judging people for the coffee they drink is stupid!” Taylor all but sing-songs while going through increasingly complicated, mimed motions of making coffee.
“Riiiight, and you’re not a pretentious jerk because you want a tip,” says Jordan, raising an eyebrow.
“Exactly!” says Taylor. “Here’s your coffee!”
Jordan accepts the mimed cup, takes a sip, and dramatically spits it out. “That’s not what I ordered,” he says, sounding as offended as he can manage.
“What’s wrong with it?” Taylor asks.
Shit. Jordan can’t remember what he ordered, probably because he didn’t know what any of the words meant. “Uhhhh…” he starts, and then—iced, he definitely said iced. “I ordered an iced drink and this is hot,” he says.
“And you had to taste it to figure that out?” Ryan says.
Neither Taylor nor Jordan can immediately come up with a reply to this very salient, if rude, point, so Sharpy stands up, claps his hands, and says, “And scene! Nicely done. Next up, Brendan, Andrew, and Mike, let’s go!”
It was fun, but Jordan’s a bit relieved to have gotten his mandatory participation out of the way. Now he can just sit back, laugh, and daydream about ways for him and Taylor to seduce Ryan.
Speaking of Taylor, not long after Jordan sits down next to him, he feels something on his hand. He looks down, and sees that Taylor is sneakily, inch-by-inch, covering Jordan’s hand with his own. Jordan rolls his eyes, turns his palm over, and laces their fingers together.
Right away, Taylor squeezes his hand. Jordan looks up at his face, and Taylor casts his eyes over towards his other side. Jordan looks down, and sees that with his other hand, Taylor is holding Ryan’s.
Jordan squeezes Taylor’s hand back and tries to convey Dude, nice, with his face as best he can.
On Friday at dinner, everything sort of comes to a head. The meal is bad even by Ference’s standards: almost inedible meatloaf, more cardboard pasta, and some sad-looking canned peaches. It’s like he’s not even trying.
Jordan’s pushing pieces of the food around his plate, trying to consider which looks the least bad, when a torn-up piece of napkin lands in his lap.
Hints aren’t working, bro, we need to go with the direct approach, it says in Taylor’s familiar scrawl.
It’s a scary thought, but he’s probably right. The flirting is sort of having the desired effect, if the blushing and smiling from Ryan is any indication, but—eventually, someone’s got to actually make a move or they’re gonna run out of camp, and that would be a tragedy. Jordan looks up and nods at Taylor.
Taylor immediately stands up and announces, “This is like, the worst dinner ever. Come on, Ebby, Nuge, let’s go for a walk instead.”
Of course Taylor meant right now. Well, it does have the side benefit of not giving Jordan any time to freak out about it. He exchanges an eye roll with Ryan, but they both follow Taylor. On their way, Jordan stops by Hendy to say, “We’re going for a walk, is that okay?” mostly because he knows Ryan doesn’t like getting in trouble.
“Don’t do anything I’d have to bust you for, freaks,” says Hendy with an eye roll. That’s close enough to permission for Jordan, so he waves his thanks and catches up with Taylor and Ryan.
By mutual agreement, without actual discussion, they head for their usual spot. It’s far enough away that they’ll hear anybody else coming, but close enough that they can make it back in time for campfire. “Let’s stop here for a bit,” Jordan suggests. He can feel himself starting to get nervous, and he’s not sure how much of the actual talking he’s going to be able to do, but at least he can do this.
Ryan and Taylor both nod at Jordan’s suggestion; Taylor gently manhandles Ryan into sitting on the fallen tree first so that he and Jordan can sit on either side of him.
It’s quiet and a little bit tense, in a way it hasn’t been between them since Ryan’s first day. Jordan hates it, he just—he wants this stupid, necessary conversation over with, however it’s going to go, because this awkwardness is fucking terrible. He’d break it himself if he had any idea of what to say.
Taylor’s the one who manages it, for which Jordan will be forever grateful. “Hey, Ryan,” he says, sounding almost gentle. Ryan looks a little bit like a deer in the headlights, bracing himself for impact, so Jordan scoots a little closer to him and leans against his shoulder. He’s not sure if it’s, like, actually helping, but he has to do something.
“So Jordan and I know you’ve been trying to get us together,” Taylor starts. “And like, good eye, ‘cause we do like each other, but the thing is…see, we like you, too? And correct us if we’re wrong, but we think you like us back.”
Jordan suddenly knows what to say, and he cuts in to pick up where Taylor left off. “So, like, we were thinking, what if instead of just me and Taylor being together…all three of us were?”
Ryan looks a little stunned. Jordan wishes, again, that he could see his aura, but the mood isn’t exactly right to ask him to take his silver off. There’s another long pause before Ryan says in a small voice, “Is that, like…is that an option?”
Taylor starts laughing, and Jordan does too, a beat later. “Shut up, I thought you guys were going to make me choose!” Ryan protests, even as he starts laughing as well.
“Oh my god, really?” Jordan says. He’s a little horrified at the idea of asking Ryan to choose between him and Taylor, like—how could that possibly end well?
“Yes!” says Ryan. “Like, I’m not an idiot, I picked up on the flirting, but I thought you two were—I don’t know, and I didn’t want to bring it up and accidentally pick, y’know?”
“Yeah, that’s an option, Nuge,” Taylor recovers enough to drawl. “In fact, it’s kind of like, all or nothing are your only options, ‘cause choosing between us would suck for everybody.”
“I’m the one who’s been thinking about it, trust me, I know,” Ryan says.
“So, like…is that a yes?” says Jordan. He doesn’t want to sound too eager, but…he probably sounds too eager. Whatever, he’s been fantasizing about this for weeks, he’s allowed.
Both Taylor and Ryan laugh at him, but Ryan nods. “Yeah, Jordan. That’s a yes,” he confirms.
“Sick!” says Taylor, immediately holding up a hand to both of them for a high five. They indulge him, but then there’s another pause—a lot less awkward, a lot happier, but still, it’s quiet and weird.
“Now what?” says Ryan, finally, just as Jordan looks at his watch.
“Now we’re going to be late for campfire,” Jordan points out.
“Fuck that, I’m not leaving this log until somebody kisses me,” says Taylor, crossing his arms.
Ryan laughs, but Jordan knows Taylor is completely serious, and they’re already going to be late. “Come on, we can…”
“Do it at campfire? Do it in the cabin with everybody watching? Hell no, and I’m not waiting until tomorrow,” says Taylor stubbornly.
“Jesus Christ, fine, you giant baby,” says Jordan, like he’s at all bothered by the idea. He balances himself with a hand on Ryan’s shoulder, then leans over to kiss Taylor.
It’s chaste and pretty brief—they are late—but fuck, it’s awesome. Ryan makes a quiet noise as they pull apart, and Taylor’s grinning, and his aura is the brightest Jordan’s ever seen.
Regretfully, Jordan moves to get up, but then Taylor clamps his hand on Jordan’s wrist. “No way, now we all have to or it’s not fair,” he insists.
“Taylor,” says Jordan.
“Jordan,” says Taylor.
“Ryan,” Ryan chimes in, and then he starts giggling.
It’s adorable, and apparently Taylor thinks so too, because he drops his grip on Jordan’s wrist, takes Ryan’s face in both his hands, and kisses him. God, that’s a sight—Jordan has definitely had some thoughts about how hot Ryan and Taylor would look together, but it turns out they all pale in comparison to the real thing.
When they break apart after a couple seconds, Ryan’s blushing and Taylor’s smiling his face off again. “Okay, your turn, I want to watch,” says Taylor.
They’re going to be so late, but fuck it, Jordan really doesn’t care anymore. He kisses Ryan more gently than he kissed Taylor, but Ryan is so responsive—right away he brings his hand up to play with Jordan’s curls, which is so great. Everything is great. Fuck campfire.
They do eventually make it to campfire. When they sneak in, they’re not very subtle, but they don’t show up holding hands or with obvious hickeys, so Jordan totally counts it as a win.
It turns out that they have a night game after campfire—night games are always announced as surprises because everyone loves them so much they won’t concentrate on anything else if they know there’s going to be one. Tonight it’s Humans vs Zombies. The counsellors have each picked a camper from their cabin to be the first zombies, and Taylor is it for Cabin 99. He makes a sad face when Hendy hands him his bandana to tie around his head.
“You mean you’re killing me before the game even starts?” Taylor asks. “How is that fair?”
“Life’s not fair,” Hendy says, giving Ryan and Jordan their bandanas. “Deal with it.”
Taylor pouts. It’s cute and dumb, and Jordan wishes they didn’t have to play this game right now. Ryan helps him tie his bandana to his arm, though, and pats it delicately when he’s done, so Jordan’s feeling pretty great.
They all scatter when the whistle is blown for the game to start. Jordan heads straight for the trees behind the cabins like everyone else, but he ducks around the side of Cabin 66 and keeps his back to the wall instead of continuing on. If he just stays here, hopefully all the zombies will run past him, and then at least he’ll be able to see them coming if they come back.
It works fairly well. Jordan had underestimated how much standing alone in the dark sucks, though, because two minutes into it he’s already bored. He’s considering venturing out just to find some excitement when loud rustling comes from the bushes in front of him. He’s immediately on guard, trying to decide which direction is the best to run in, and then he hears a loudly whispered “Jordan!”
Taylor trips his way out of the bushes and onto the ground a second later. Jordan stares at him lying there, too taken aback to do anything, and then Taylor reaches out a hand and tags Jordan’s ankle. “Bam, you’re dead.”
“What the fuck,” Jordan says.
“Snooze you lose,” Taylor says, rolling over and getting to his feet. “Really, though, what do you say we find Ryan and ditch this game? I can think of some… other things we could be doing.” He waggles his eyebrows.
“You’re stupid, but you’re not wrong,” Jordan says. “Did you see which way he went?”
Neither of them did, so they pick an arbitrary direction and head that way. Taylor looks around while Jordan moves his bandana from his arm to his head so that other zombies won’t attack them, and then Jordan joins in the search in earnest.
They must be lucky today, because it doesn’t take too long. They nearly walk right past him, but Jordan happens to look up at the right moment and see someone up a tree by the mess hall. “Ryan?” he asks.
“Don’t come any closer,” definitely-Ryan’s-voice says. He flicks on his flashlight and shines it down on them. Jordan squints and looks away.
“Dude, stop, you can’t kill zombies with bright light,” Taylor says. “And come down here!”
“To die? I don’t think so,” Ryan scoffs.
“If you come down we can make out,” Jordan says.
There’s a significant silence, and then Ryan says, “Well, shit, okay.” He turns off the flashlight and climbs down the tree.
“Hell yeah,” Taylor says appreciatively when Ryan makes it to the ground. He pauses, then adds, “I guess we shouldn’t right here, though.”
“Where’s somewhere no one will be?” Ryan asks.
They’re quiet for a moment, considering, and then Jordan has a brainwave. “The beach equipment shed?”
“Nice one, let’s check it out,” Taylor says, grabbing both their hands and towing them along for the first few steps before they catch up.
Thankfully there’s no one around the beach equipment shed, and when Taylor cautiously opens the door and peers in, it’s empty. “Perfect,” he says, pushing the door the rest of the way open. “Here’s where it all began, right between the beach toys and the canoe oars. True summer love.”
“Might’ve figured this out a little faster if you’d trapped yourself in here with us, Nuge,” Jordan says, teasing.
Ryan rolls his eyes. “Mmmm, I don’t know, maybe I needed you guys to convince me with a whole bunch of inept flirting,” he says.
“Hey Ryan,” Taylor says, a somewhat dangerous glint in his eye. Jordan gives the door an extra tug shut behind them, just in case. “You know why we made you pink and purple bracelets?”
Ryan furrows his eyebrows. “Uh, no?”
“It’s because Jordan said your aura was those colours when you took your silver off. Jordan, why don’t you tell Nuge here what pink and purple mean.”
Jordan sighs. “Pink is fondness, basically,” he explains. “And purple, well.” He scratches the back of his neck. “Taylor’s aura went purple the first time he told me I was hot.”
“So… basically you tricked me into taking off my silver so you could see if I liked you or not?” Ryan asks, laughing. “You guys kind of suck.”
“Ouch,” Taylor says. “I’m a little offended. Don’t you think we’re awesome?”
“Well, let’s consider the evidence,” Ryan says, “I’ve been letting you both flirt with me for weeks, I said I’d be your boyfriend like an hour ago, and now I’m in this dirty equipment shed so we can make out.”
“All signs point to yes, then,” Jordan jokes.
“You’re way hot when you rant,” Taylor says.
There’s an awkward silence then. Jordan is all too aware of the sound of them shifting slightly, uncomfortable. Taylor’s aura is the excited yellow and purple it’s been for awhile now, but tinged with nervous green at the edges. Jordan feels much the same, but he’s not sure what to do. How do you even properly make out with three people? Jordan has no frame of reference for this.
“What are you going to do about it?” Ryan asks belatedly.
It’s exactly the right thing to say. Taylor, ever one for the challenge, reaches out and tugs Ryan in by the hem of his t-shirt. “This,” he says, and he kisses Ryan. Jordan fights the urge to look away and lets himself stare instead. He’s pretty sure he’ll never get tired of watching them together.
Ryan’s got his eyes closed and his hands on Taylor’s hips, and they both sway a little, wrapped up in each other. It’s a lot to watch, and after another second Jordan starts to feel a little awkward about standing here alone. A second later, Taylor breaks the kiss and turns his head to look at Jordan.
“Hey, c’mere,” Taylor says, reaching out a hand to Jordan. Jordan takes it and lets himself be towed in. “Don’t want you to be lonely.” Taylor kisses Jordan on the cheek and then on the lips. Jordan’s heart essentially turns to a puddle of goo.
“‘Course not,” Ryan agrees. He moves his hand away from Taylor’s hip and nudges Jordan even closer, tucking his hand into Jordan’s back pocket.
It’s more than nice, tucked into their little triangle and exchanging kisses. Jordan feels a little bit like he’s dreaming, except he’s never had a dream that was quite this good. It’s a little awkward sometimes, like when they stare at each other a little too long and end up giggling, or one of them goes in for a kiss the wrong way and nearly kills them all by smacking their heads together, but it just makes it all the more real. Jordan wouldn’t trade it for the world.
They manage to drag themselves out of the beach equipment shed around when the game is ending with considerable effort, and they join the line for hot chocolate and cookies with no one the wiser. As great as that shit is, Jordan knows they all wish they were still making out instead.
The next day is a whole new level of struggle, though—it’s three weeks into camp, the halfway point, and come Monday everyone is going to be switching to new activities. That means that today, as the last day of their current activities, is all about showing off to everyone else what they’ve been up to. Saturday Showcase is by far the busiest day of the summer; when they’re not playing a game of field hockey or putting on a drama performance themselves, they’re looking at paintings or watching canoe races or sampling appetizers from cooking class or… the list is endless.
Everything is tightly scheduled in order to give all the groups a good audience, and there isn’t any free time. By the time lunch rolls around, Jordan is exhausted and frustrated. At least it’s hot dog day.
“This is the worst,” Ryan says under his breath as soon as they’re sitting down. “I just want to…”
He trails off. Jordan and Taylor are both nodding vehemently already. “Maybe we can get away for a few minutes after lunch?” Taylor suggests.
Jordan has his doubts, but he’s willing to try it. They all eat as fast as possible and take their dirty dishes to the rack by the side door. They’ve barely got a foot out said door when Hendy appears behind them.
“Where are you boys off to?” he asks.
“Uh,” Jordan says.
“Bathroom,” Ryan says.
Hendy considers them for a moment, then shakes his head. “I don’t think so. You can go one at a time, I’m not having you go off somewhere and be late to grounds clean-up on today of all days.”
There’s definitely no arguing with that, so Taylor and Jordan traipse sullenly back to their table while Ryan is granted permission to go to the bathroom first.
“Want more jello?” Jordan asks Taylor. Taylor sighs and nods.
Jordan cons Ference into giving him twice the normal amount of jello and an extra spoon, and they spend the rest of lunch eating it and sending each other frustrated looks. Jordan has never been so annoyed while eating jello.
The next day is, blessedly, their off day, so no one cares if they disappear to their spot in the woods for a few hours. It’s fucking awesome to have nowhere to go and what feels like all the time in the world to laze around making out and talking. It’s pretty inconvenient that it’s outside and Jordan keeps having to squash random bugs that decide to crawl on him, but whatever. It’s not like they were going to do anything intense one day into their relationship, anyway.
They’re sprawled on the ground in the tiny clearing they managed to create for themselves, Jordan with his back against the log and Ryan’s head in his lap while Taylor’s got his head in Ryan’s lap and his legs thrown over Jordan’s. Jordan pulls a twig out of Ryan’s hair and tosses it away. He doesn’t know how that got there, but he’s also not surprised.
“That cloud looks a bit like a dick,” Taylor says, breaking the comfortable silence. Jordan immediately looks up, but he can barely see the sky for all the leaves.
“I can’t see shit,” Ryan says. “I think you just have dick on the brain, Hallsy.”
“Can you blame me?” Taylor asks. Nobody says anything for a long moment, and Jordan can’t help but snort a laugh. It sets them all off, and they just keep laughing harder until Jordan can’t even remember what was funny in the first place.
Taylor’s aura is a clear happy yellow that makes him look like an angel or something with how brightly it glows. Jordan glances down at Ryan, wondering what colour his would be, and Ryan smiles up at him easily, expression soft and relaxed. Maybe that’s answer enough, really.
It gets Jordan thinking, though, and he starts to worry about what happens if any of them aren’t happy. He can’t really imagine that right now, but it’s entirely possible. This thing is so new, so fragile, and there isn’t a set of widely known rules that they can conform to and hope for the best. There’s too much room for someone to get hurt.
“Uh oh, Ebs has got his worry face on,” Taylor says. “The fuck do you have to worry about, dude?”
“Um,” Jordan says, caught, “I was thinking… should we set some ground rules? Like, so no one gets hurt?”
“You would,” Taylor says.
“Good idea,” Ryan says reassuringly. “What were you thinking?”
Jordan shrugs. He hadn’t really gotten that far.
“D’you mean rules like we’re not allowed to go off kissing other people?” Taylor asks.
“Well, that’s easy,” Taylor says. “Done.”
Ryan looks thoughtful. “Are we allowed to kiss with just two of us? Or does it always have to be all of us?”
Jordan’s immediate feeling is that it has to be all of them, but he hesitates, unsure. Taylor, thankfully, has no such qualms. “All or nothing, am I right?”
“Yeah,” Ryan says, “I think so. Ebs?”
“Right, yeah,” Jordan says.
“Is there anything else?” Ryan asks.
Jordan shrugs again. Ryan raises his eyebrows, and Jordan sighs. “I don’t know, I just don’t want anybody to feel, like, upset or left out or… anything.”
“Hard to stop us from having emotions,” Ryan points out. He’s way too smart, Jordan thinks. “I feel pretty great about this, though. I don’t think we’d let anyone feel left out.”
“Not on purpose, anyway,” Taylor says.
“Yeah, exactly,” Jordan says. “It’d be an accident, and we’d all feel terrible. I can’t keep you both happy if I can’t tell—” He stops himself short.
“If you can’t tell… how I’m feeling?” Ryan fills in for him.
Jordan nods, even as he feels awful for saying it. He doesn’t want to imply that Ryan needs to take off his silver for this to work; that’s entirely his own choice.
“We just have to agree to tell each other how we’re feeling, then,” Taylor says. “You, too, Jordan, you’re not the only one paying attention to everyone’s moods here.”
“Right,” Jordan says. “Okay.”
“I promise to tell you the important stuff about how I’m feeling,” Ryan says. He reaches up and slides his fingers down Jordan’s arm to get him to lift his hand so he can hold it. “Like, right now I’m really happy to be here, a little uncomfortable because we’re lying on the ground, and kind of hungry. What time is it, anyway?”
Jordan laughs and looks at his watch. It’s not really mealtime, too late for lunch and too early for supper, so he says, “Snack time. Should we go steal something from the kitchen?”
“Hell yeah,” Taylor says, already scrambling to his feet. “I call distracting Ference.”
The second half of camp means a new set of activities and a different routine. They don’t get to swim after lunch anymore; now they have it first thing in the morning, followed by crafts, then soccer. It’s weird to get used to, and Jordan definitely tries to head for the fields after breakfast and has to be reeled back in by his boyfriends, but it’s not a bad thing, necessarily.
Especially because crafts is fun. That was Jordan’s pick, since Taylor got to pick drama, and he likes it because it’s so relaxed. It’s like, here’s some popsicle sticks, here’s some tempera paint, and here’s a glue gun; don’t eat anything you’re not supposed to eat or set your friends on fire but other than that, have fun. Plus, just—making stuff is kind of awesome.
Ultimately, Jordan likes crafts and kind of doesn’t care that it’s lame. Taylor’s just prejudiced because he can make pretty much anything he wants, perfectly, instantly, as long as it’s small, so he doesn’t see the point, but he signed up for the activity with Jordan anyway, because that’s what friendship is about.
He ends up relaying a summarized version of this story to Ryan when they’re on their way to the art cabin on Tuesday, and Ryan nods. “That’s why I took crafts too, like, I like making stuff? I like being able to look at something, even if it’s dumb, and think, ‘That wouldn’t be here if not for me.’”
Jordan’s a little dumbfounded. “Yeah, that’s exactly it,” he says.
“Never thought of it that way,” says Taylor thoughtfully.
“You make random shit six times a day and you never thought of that?” Ryan teases him, but he deliberately walks into Taylor at the same time, which takes the edge off. He’s good at that.
Jordan also likes the crafts counsellor, Kimmo. He’s the counsellor for Cabin 2, and they are distinctly not as awesome as Cabin 99, but Kimmo’s a laid-back guy who pretty much lets them do what they want, including make huge messes for fun, so.
Today, Jordan’s working on a popsicle stick picture frame. He’s going to need something to have on his desk at college with Taylor and Ryan’s faces in it, and something made of popsicle sticks and glitter seems really appropriate.
He’s focused on what he’s doing, though—meticulously cutting them to size, lining them up carefully—and isn’t paying much attention to anyone else until Ryan hooks his chin over Jordan’s shoulder and says in his ear, “Hey, what colour is Taylor’s aura right now?”
Jordan looks up to check. “Like, a gold-ish yellow, why?”
“Cool,” says Ryan instead of an answer. He kisses Jordan on the cheek, then picks up the bottle of yellow tempera paint, empties a little into his hand, and sneaks up behind Taylor to smear it on his cheek.
Unfortunately for Ryan and for the art room, Taylor has excellent reflexes. He swears, quietly, but he also catches Ryan’s wrist, and he makes him hold still while he paints an L for loser on his forehead. Of course, as soon as he lets him go, Ryan picks up the bottle again, and this time he doesn’t bother getting it in his hand, he just squirts it directly at Taylor.
Taylor retaliates with the blue paint, but Ryan ducks, and Jordan is sufficiently distracted from his picture frame when a decent-sized gob of tempera paint lands directly on top of his head. Both Taylor and Ryan are giggling; Jordan looks up slowly.
“Really?” he says, long-suffering. But they’re too busy laughing at him to notice his hand creeping toward the orange—they don’t realise it until they both have orange stripes across their shirts.
It is on.
By the time they’re done, they have to spend the second half of crafts time cleaning up the room, and they have to change and shower before dinner, but Jordan doesn’t regret it for a second. Not the extra work, and definitely not his splatter-painted popsicle frame, which accidentally came out looking really cool.
Friday, after campfire, everyone’s way too hyped up to go to sleep. Hendy’s at a counsellor’s meeting, too, which means there’s nobody to make them. The lights are out and they’re in bed so that when he comes back they don’t really get in trouble, but mostly they’re all chatting, enjoying each other’s company.
Well, sort of. It stays pretty civil until Schultzy decides to show off by stealing the light from Brendan’s flashlight. “Hey, give it back,” Brendan complains. “I was at a really good part in my book.” Instead of giving it back, Schultzy lobs the ball of light across the room to Alex. The light will pretty much do whatever he tells it to—not always a useful Gift, but often an entertaining one. Jordan doesn’t think he’ll be a target, not when Gally’s being such a good, whiny victim, but he cups his hand over his little sun possessively anyway, just in case.
Brendan keeps up a steady stream of complaints, but it’s only fifteen seconds or so before Chucky tosses the ball of light back to Schultzy. “Put it back or he’ll never shut up,” which in their weird, extremely insult-based friendship language, is his way of looking out for Brendan. It’s kind of nice. Justin does what he says, anyway.
“We’ve got some pretty cool Gifts in this cabin, huh?” says Nail as the light whooshes back to where it was before Justin interfered. “Controlling light, mood reading, my awesome Snow White powers…Nuge, like, what is your Gift, bro? Is it super dangerous, is that why you don’t take off your silver ever?”
It’s amazing how fast Jordan goes from calm and happy to hackles raised. He feels a huge surge of protectiveness swell up in his chest, but Taylor is faster. “Hey, shut the fuck up,” says Taylor, not nearly as breezily as he normally is when he says that.
There’s an awkward silence. “Okay, I was just—” says Nail defensively, but Jordan cuts him off.
“He doesn’t have to talk about it. His Gift, his business,” he says firmly.
It’s quiet for a minute, like Nail is trying to think of a way to justify himself again, but eventually he sighs and says, “My bad. Sorry, Ryan.”
“It’s okay,” says Ryan right away. He’s too far away for Jordan to be able to tell if his voice just sounds small because of the distance or because he’s upset, and not for the first time, Jordan wishes for a bunk bed built for three. That’s probably a little big for Taylor to make, though.
Their next free day is the second to last one they have, and Jordan can already feel himself getting nostalgic over how fast the summer has gone. He wants to stretch it out, make it special, make it count—so on Sunday he wakes up early, empties out his backpack, and checks out a bike to ride into town. He hates waking up early, but Taylor and Ryan are worth it.
It’s also nice because Jordan is 18, so he’s legally able to buy alcohol. It’s not like they want or need to get drunk, but the novelty of it is still fun, and so is the harmless rule-breaking aspect. He grabs a six-pack because two beers each sounds just about right. Jordan loads up on junk food, too, chips and candy, and then cycles back to camp, carefully acting nonchalant about his bulging backpack.
He stashes it under his bed during breakfast, which both Taylor and Ryan are surprised to see him awake for. Once they’re done eating, he says, “Hey, I’ve got a surprise. Do you guys wanna head to the spot and I’ll meet you there?”
Ryan looks pleased, and Taylor almost alarmingly excited (he loves surprises). They head off, and Jordan goes back to the cabin to retrieve his backpack. It’s super annoying to haul through the forest, but it’s worth it for the looks on their faces once they open it up.
“Oh my god, is there anything you didn’t get?” says Ryan as he pulls out bag after bag—ketchup chips, Maltesers, Crunchie bars.
“Beer!” Taylor cheers when they hit the bottom. “Yesss, perks of having an older boyfriend,” he teases, but the thank-you kiss he gives Jordan is all genuine.
It’s maybe even more perfect than their previous Sundays. They eat themselves absolutely sick on junk food, make out, cuddle, and when the sun starts to go down, they drink their beers in quick succession. Jordan’s only a little buzzed, but mostly he’s feeling warm and happy, maybe happier than he’s ever felt. It’s still weeks away, but he never wants the summer to end.
Wednesday morning is like every other morning, except for the part where Jordan regrets his decision to get out of bed even more than he usually does, because he takes two steps and immediately falls flat on his face. “Uuuuuugh,” he groans into the floor.
“Oh, shit,” says Taylor, cracking up even as he jumps down from his bunk—and he doesn’t get any further than Jordan before he, too, is crashing to the ground.
“What the hell?” says Chucky drowsily from the next bunk. Everyone’s sitting up now, but nobody seems to want to get out of bed, not after what happened to Taylor and Jordan.
Jordan sits up slowly, just in time to see Ryan hanging out the side of his bed, feeling along the floor. He finds something that makes his eyes light up, and he announces, “Trip strings.”
This seems logical, except for the fact that the floor looks completely clear—well, messy, but not covered in string. Jordan opens his mouth to point out this pretty obvious fact when Oscar says, “Nana can make things invisible, can’t she?”
Two different guys groan from somewhere above Jordan’s head. “This is a prank,” says Brendan, with vengeance in his voice that’s frankly a little scary. “This is war.”
In the meantime, before war can break out in earnest, they have to work on making sure their cabin isn’t a death trap anymore. Since they’re already on the floor, Taylor and Jordan get volunteered to start, and Ryan joins in because he’s nice and he knows they’ll kiss him for it. Taylor touches Jordan’s shoulder, makes them some small, sharp scissors, and says, “Start cutting and get plotting, men.”
They brainstorm while they’re cutting, and all through breakfast, but nobody has any fantastic ideas, so they revert to an old standby. That afternoon, they race through their chores, and Landie, Chucky, and Schultzy sneak away. The plan is that Anton steals some laundry detergent from the laundry room, Alex makes it rain to soak Cabin 25’s beds and make huge bubbles out of the detergent, and Justin keeps watch. They come back about ten minutes later, soap in their hair and high on victory. Nobody messes with Cabin 99 and gets away with it.
The next Sunday arrives too suddenly. It’s just like any other Sunday, except for the fact that it’s their last one. Jordan tries not to think about it, but it’s hard, especially since this is his last Sunday at camp ever. It’s a special kind of sadness, things coming to an end, and Jordan hates the thought of being at university, the kilometres between him and his boyfriends stretching wide.
They don’t talk about it. They play cards with some of the boys in their cabin in the morning and a game of pick-up soccer against a team of girls after lunch. When that dies down and the others start planning a mission to track down Hilary and ask her to take them to the beach, Ryan, Taylor, and Jordan look at each other and silently agree to head to their spot in the forest instead.
It’s as nice a day as one can possibly ask for at camp, the sun shining but the temperature not so hot you sweat to death just being outside for a minute. There’s a cool breeze rustling through the leaves as they walk through the woods, holding hands even when it’s inconvenient to weave their way through too-close-together trees.
They settle themselves on the ground, sitting all in a row with their legs overlapping. Ryan’s idly playing with the duck Taylor made him. Jordan pulls a blade of grass out of the ground and starts shredding it into smaller and smaller pieces, trying to rid himself of the thought that this might be the last time they do this. It’s stupid, they’ve still got a week left, but—
“You know,” Ryan says, “six weeks always seemed too long before, but this year it’s—”
Taylor cuts him off by kissing him. His aura is already a little blue at the edges, and Jordan hates it like he hates the passage of time. He wishes he could stop it.
Jordan continues trying to put it out of his mind, but he can’t quite manage it. On Tuesday, he’s still sad about it, and judging by the way Taylor is just lying on the sand during swimming, letting Ryan slowly dump handful after handful of sand into his hair without moving, Jordan is not the only one.
“Hey,” Jordan says, prodding Taylor in the side, “we should tell Ryan about his college plans.”
Taylor looks at Jordan questioningly, and Ryan looks confused. “My college plans?” he asks.
Jordan nods. “Taylor and I decided last summer that we’re both going to go to UBC. I’m already enrolled for the fall, obviously, and this loser better keep his grades up so he can come join me.”
Taylor rolls his eyes. “Yeah, yeah,” he says. It takes another moment, but he sits up fast, sand going everywhere and most of the blue in his aura turning to yellow. “And you have to join us, Ryan!”
“I hope you don’t have your heart set on a career that you need some specialized program for,” Jordan says, “because you definitely have to come live with us.”
Ryan laughs, then pauses. “You mean you… you guys really want—”
“To be with you, like, when we’re not sequestered away from the rest of society with a bunch of other freak kids?” Taylor asks. “Yeah, Ryan.”
“Oh,” Ryan says quietly. “For that long? I kind of thought, I dunno…”
“This isn’t just for the summer,” Jordan says. “Unless…”
“I don’t want it to be,” Ryan says quickly. “Like, UBC is pretty close to home, so. Yeah.”
“Yeah?” Jordan asks, unable to stop smiling.
“Yeah,” Ryan repeats.
“Awesome,” Taylor says. “This is gonna be sick.”
They mope around a lot less after that. Jordan figures that’s best for all of them; he wouldn’t want his entire last week of camp to be tainted with too much sadness. Throwing themselves into the business of having fun is definitely preferable.
The entire camp is buzzing all week about the Starlight Dance that’s coming up on Friday night. Everyone is fretting about who they’re going to ask (if anybody), what they’re going to wear, if they’re going to have to actually dance… it’s a whole lot of stress and excitement. Jordan’s very thankful that all he has to say is “So, the dance,” and Taylor is off, rambling about how fun it’s going to be and how he bets they all clean up real nice and can’t wait to see it for himself.
Ryan follows Jordan up to get dessert Thursday evening and says, “So, uh, just how nice are we supposed to be dressed? Because Hallsy…”
Jordan laughs. “He’s exaggerating. Half the campers put on nice jeans and their cleanest shirt and call it good. Some people save the fancy clothes the packing list says to bring, but.” He shrugs.
Ryan breathes a sigh of relief. “Okay, cool,” he says.
Jordan figures Ryan is going to fall into the category of people that Jordan described right up until fifteen minutes before the dance begins, when Ryan walks into the cabin wearing nice jeans that Jordan’s never seen before and a dark blue long-sleeved buttondown. He’s holding something orange in his hand, and he makes a beeline for Jordan.
“Uh,” Jordan says, “you look—”
“Help me with this,” Ryan says, shoving the orange thing at Jordan. “Quick, before Taylor gets back. I ditched him in the bathroom.”
The orange thing, upon further inspection, is a bowtie. Jordan has no idea how to help Ryan with it, but Ryan hands him a slightly crumpled piece of paper with instructions on it as well. “You sure you want this thing on?” Jordan teases, already looping the bowtie carefully around Ryan’s neck. “It’s very orange.”
“Taylor was so into the formal thing,” Ryan explains, shrugging.
“Yeah,” Jordan says, pausing in his attempt to mimic the little diagrams on the paper to look up at Ryan. He’s got his hair done, too, swept to the side, and Jordan wishes Taylor were here and also that here was somewhere without all their cabin mates. “You look super hot without the bowtie, though.”
Ryan grins. “Tie it anyway,” he says.
“Yes, sir,” Jordan says, smiling. He only has to start over twice, and the end result isn’t half bad. He carefully straightening it when Taylor comes in.
“Hey, Ebs, have you—whoa.” He stops short, and Ryan smirks at Jordan before turning around.
“Hi,” Ryan says. “Looking for me?”
“Hell yeah I was,” Taylor says. “Damn, you look good, what the hell.”
Ryan’s face flushes the same pink as Taylor’s aura. He shrugs. “You wanted us to clean up, so…”
Taylor looks at Jordan. “Can you believe this shit?” he asks. “We have the hottest boyfriend, how did this happen.”
“I sure as hell don’t know, and I’d really prefer it if you got a room,” Justin says from over by his bunk.
“You’re just jealous,” Taylor says, smiling beatifically at Schultzy. “Right, Ebs?”
Jordan shrugs. “Looking a little green,” he tells Schultzy, despite the fact that Schultzy’s aura is mostly an amused orange.
Schultzy rolls his eyes. “Try not to show us all up by being too good at your relationship in public, eh?”
“No promises,” Ryan says.
The dance itself is held outside in the open space between the art cabin and the patch of trees that obscure the lake. There are tiny strings of lights hung from all the trees, giving the dance its starlight name, and there’s bad pop music blaring starting right at nine on the dot. By five after, Chuey and Caro have conned a group of fellow counsellors into joining them in their yearly routine of dancing very enthusiastically and dragging anyone dumb enough to either sit or stand too close to the dance area out with them.
“Quick, walk fast,” Jordan whispers to Ryan. “If you stand still, they come for you.”
“That’s not terrifying at all,” Ryan says.
“We gotta find the refreshments,” Taylor says, dragging them along. “Why they put it in a new place every year, I’ll never understand.”
“Is it so people won’t spike the punch?” Ryan asks, hitting the nail right on the head. Jordan is so glad he doesn’t have to explain this to a not-listening Hallsy for the hundredth time.
“I’m just saying, they do anyway,” Taylor says. “I think it’s a counsellor, to be honest.” He’s probably right about that one.
They manage to find the table of refreshments—it’s in the art cabin this year—and Jordan gleefully takes practically half a plate of brownies. “These are, like, the one thing Ference is great at making that isn’t a salad,” Jordan says once they’ve successfully found a place to sit that’s ostensibly still part of the dance but too far away for anyone to make them dance.
“Ference is good at making lots of things,” Ryan protests. Jordan shoves a brownie at him in response. Ryan takes a bite while Jordan is still holding it, eyes locked with his the entire time. “Mmmm, okay,” Ryan says after he swallows the bite. “I see what you mean.”
“Why aren’t you finger feeding me brownie?” Taylor complains, so Jordan feeds him a brownie as well while Ryan snickers, probably at the dumbstruck look on Jordan’s face when Taylor gets Jordan’s thumb in his mouth. Taylor grins triumphantly. “Thanks, baby.”
Jordan nods, not trusting himself to say anything.
“Are we planning on dancing at any point?” Ryan asks, taking another brownie off Jordan’s plate.
“We usually don’t,” Jordan says.
“Why?” Taylor asks. “Do you want to?”
Ryan shrugs. “Maybe not right now, but I didn’t put on this bowtie for nothing.”
They don’t actually end up dancing until they’ve gone back to the refreshments table once already, because the second time they do it’s not Chuey or Caro that drag them into dancing, but instead Nail.
“Come on, boys!” he yells over the techno beat of some song Jordan doesn’t know. “It’s a paaaaartaaaay!”
There’s no arguing with an overexcited Nail, and honestly once they get into the crowd of dancing campers, it’s fun. The dance floor is a pulsating mess of warm coloured auras, and nobody cares if all they’re doing is shuffling their feet and flailing about. Jordan grabs Taylor’s and Ryan’s hands and twirls them around, laughing all the while.
It only takes a few songs before Jordan thinks they’re probably about done, and it’s right after that that the music switches to a slower song. They all hesitate in the midst of the groaning as a fair number of people wander away, leaving the dance floor a lot more purple than before.
“Let’s stay,” Ryan says, tugging them both in with hands on their lower backs. Jordan and Taylor mirror him, and they end up in a not-unfamiliar tiny triangle, heads bowed toward each other as they sway to the music.
“This has been,” Taylor says softly, his breath warm against Jordan’s cheek, “the best summer ever.”
“Yep,” Ryan says flippantly, and then they’re all laughing and holding onto each other tightly.
They do sneak away after the song is over; loading up new plates of snacks and cups of punch and heading to the lake. Away from the lights of the dance, out here they can see all the real stars, as well as their mirror images in the surface of the lake. It’s a little breathtaking.
None of them thought to bring, like, a blanket or anything to sit on, so they’re going to end up with sand all through their luggage when they pack these pants tomorrow, but that’s the last thing on Jordan’s mind. Right now, it’s kind of hard to think about anything but how this is the last night he has like this with his boys, and though he’s sure they’ll see each other, it won’t be like this again for two years.
They’re all quiet for a little while—Ryan slumped into Jordan’s side, Taylor holding Jordan’s hand behind Ryan’s back, listening to the waves—until Ryan speaks. “I wanted to tell you guys what my Gift is,” he says.
Taylor looks at Jordan over Ryan’s head, a bit alarmed. “You don’t have to, you know,” Taylor says.
Ryan nods. “I know, but…” He shrugs. “I want to.”
For a minute, Ryan just twists his ring, staring off at the lake, and then he says, “It’s, I can see the future.”
Jordan’s initial reaction is relief—he’d been worried it was something way worse—but he also knows there has to be more to it than that.
“Is that…That doesn’t sound—” Taylor starts, but Ryan cuts him off.
“—so bad? Yeah, no, it’s—” He sighs, like he’s trying to figure out how to phrase it. “ I can only see bad things?”
Oh. Well, that would be more to it. “Like, how bad?” says Jordan cautiously.
“The first thing I saw was my grandpa dying,” Ryan offers. “At first I thought, you know, maybe it can be useful, but—what I see happens, like, even if I try to change it? A friend of mine who I used to play hockey with, he’s in the WHL now—I saw him getting injured during a game, so I told him, and he sat it out, but then the next day he got in a car accident and broke his wrist anyway.”
“Jesus Christ, Ryan,” Taylor swears. He lets go of Jordan’s hand so he can set his hand on Ryan’s waist, and Jordan pulls Ryan in closer to him at the same time. It’s like they’re trying to sandwich him between them, protect him from his own Gift, which—it’s futile, but Jordan can’t think of any other way to respond to that.
“That’s awful,” he says into Ryan’s hair.
Ryan shrugs again. “It’s not—I mean, it sucks, but if I wear silver I don’t have the visions, so I just wear silver all the time, and it’s okay.” After another pause, he adds, “I came here because at my last camp, I wouldn’t tell anybody what it was, and some kids started a rumour that it was killing people when I touched them, and then nobody would come near me. I went home early.”
Jordan’s mad again, mad and feeling intensely protective, like he was when Nail asked about Ryan’s gift before. He can’t imagine anyone doing something like that to Ryan, of all people. Taylor’s feeling the same way, if the bright red flare of his aura is any indication.
“Can we burn down your old camp?” says Taylor.
Jordan knows he‘s supposed to be the voice of reason here, but instead he adds, “With all the people inside?”
Ryan laughs and shakes his head. “Not worth you guys going to prison for arson,” he points out, reasonably. “Besides, it’s sort of a good thing? I mean…if they hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have come here, and then I wouldn’t have met you two.”
It pains Jordan to admit it, but it’s a good point. “That’s true,” says Taylor, echoing Jordan’s thoughts, as he drops his head onto Ryan’s shoulder. “We are pretty awesome,” Taylor adds, which does a decent job of lightening the mood, because they all laugh.
They’re quiet for a while after that, listening to the faraway noises of the dance and looking out at the stars over the lake. “We’re all lucky to have found each other,” says Jordan finally. He’s never meant anything more.