She just wanted to sleep in a little moment longer.
It was barely dawn; the light seeping in through her linen white curtains made the bedroom glow a deep early blue, the air was cold and crisp-- Sam didn’t mind, because turning up the heater would mean a higher electric bill, and her job wasn’t going to pay to keep her warm in cold winter nights-- and for some reason, she was wide awake, buried beneath thick comforters and fleece blankets, as if being up this early on a Saturday was normal occurrence.
She had a reason though, for being awake. It wasn’t her fault that the nightmares still came back to her sometimes. Even five years later, she still dreams about looking for Hannah and Beth in the Canadian woods. Four years later, she still dreams about the blood she could smell on Hannah’s-- no, the wendigo’s-- breath as it screamed in her ear, curdling her blood and making her wish she had stayed home that night.
She sat up, running a hand through honey blonde hair, eyes scanning the room to make sure every little thing was in it's place, that nothing was touched or alarmed. Sam felt her racing heart relax as she gazed on the chocolate lab that was curled up at her side. She had rescued the dog from a shelter a year prior. Her name was Hannah.
Instinctively, Sam reached for the smartphone that sat on her nightstand, pressing the home button to wake it. 5:24 AM. She had a new email.
It wasn’t particularly unusual to receive an email in the middle of the night-- mostly junk mail and other automatic emails that came through at odd hours. But something made this email feel… different. She punched in the four-digit pin and opened it, a knot forming in her stomach.
SENDER: Joshua Washington
The knot tightened.
Hey guys. I know we haven’t really talked to each other or spent time with each other in the last… what? Four years? Crazy, huh?
Anyways. I thought it’s uh. It’s been a while. And Hannah and Beth have been gone already for five years. I know that the last time we got together it wasn’t fun and we all almost died and stuff but I’d still really, really like for us to hang out again. One last time. I swear. Then we can go back to never talking again if you still hate me.
If you’re worried that I’m, you know, I can reassure you right now that I’m okay. Therapy’s helped. I swear.
If you still hate me, that’s cool too. Take this trip as a final opportunity to get to punch me in the face for what I did. Absolutely deserve it.
This is a little weird, I know. Please, get back to me and tell me if you want to come. New location. Beachfront property, dudes! A HUNDRED times better than some shitty rundown cabin. I think we deserve a do-over, you know? One’s long overdue.
And uh, thanks.
She clicked her phone off and went back to bed.
“What are you thinking?”
“That he’s absolutely fucking lost it if he thinks we want to hang out with him again.”
Chris pushed his glasses up with his free hand, forking the pasta on his plate with a grimace on his face. Mike sat across from him in the diner booth, looking out the window. Condensation was forming on the outside of his glass of Pepsi, untouched the whole afternoon. The two men had been silent about the subject most of the morning, despite the reason for their impromptu get-together for lunch was the subject of the email they had both gotten that morning. Chris remembered getting the phone call, where Mike just demanded to meet him outside his apartment around eleven, and Chris had told Ashley about the strange call from Mike, to which she responded with a silent shrug. He couldn’t blame her though, as she had read the email moments before he could and immediately reacted with pained crying and anger.
“Chris? You alright?”
The bespectacled man snapped out of his thoughts, glancing back at the other, who was cocking an eyebrow at him.
“Jeez, man. I asked if you were thinking of going.”
“To Josh’s beachfront mansion house or whatever?”
“Yeah,” Mike stopped to finally raise the glass of Pepsi, sipping it through the straw, thinking of his words carefully. “I think it’s a bad idea, you know? I… Jess and I still can’t stop dreaming about it. The nightmares, man.”
Chris gave a silent, empathetic nod towards the other. He understood completely. He wish he didn’t.
A waitress came over to check up on the two, asking if they needed anything to which they both shook their heads and waited for her to leave again. The diner bustled with activity, families coming in and out, a toddler three booths away crying because he dropped his fork, mixed aromas of burgers, pastas, and waffles were heavy in the air, sinking to ground level and almost suffocating each patron. The duo came here, often. It was, to them, an anchor to reality. A gentle reminder that the diner was normal, that they were normal. Chris sunk backwards into the retro mint booth seat, staring past Mike.
“Do you think he’s really different now? That he’s better now?”
“I’d bet a damn hundred that he’s lying again.”
“Come on, man. This is Josh we’re talking about.”
Mike narrowed his eyes, his lips forming a thin line.
“Yeah, Chris. This is Josh we’re talking about. Do you really think he actually got better?”
He didn’t know how to answer. He really, really wanted to believe, even just for a second, that his best friend was okay again, that he was better and that he was healing. Chris regretted it, cutting Josh out of his life after all these years. Maybe he needed me. If only I was better at being a best friend, better at understanding what he was going through.
He coughed, working around the dryness that began to develop in his throat. What could he say to Mike? He really believed that Josh was still fucked up, that he was still planning to hurt them, huh? What could he say?
A phone beeped on the table. Mike picked it up, and Chris let out a sigh of relief.
Mike looked up at Chris, smiling apologetically.
“It’s Jess. She’s starting to get worried. I should probably get going.”
“You barely ate, dude. Getting a box for it?”
Mike looked down at the untouched burger and fries sitting on the platter in front of him, sighing a little. “Guess so. Sorry, man. I’ll call you later?”
“Yeah. Do what you need to do.”
Mike waved the waitress back over, and once the two meals were boxed and paid for and a tip left behind for the waitress, the two men walked out of the safety of the diner and parted ways. Chris was only down the block from the diner when he stopped walking, a thought surfacing in his head.
He pulled out his phone and dialed a number.
Matt set the cup of tea down on the coffee table in front of his girlfriend, who gave him a weak smile in response. The two had barely spoken since reading the email that morning before she left for work. That ended in an almost argument, crying, and the door slamming shut behind Emily.
She was so thankful that he wasn’t mad at her for lashing out. Matt was thankful that she had, though, as if it wasn’t really Emily if she wasn’t angry about something.
“Are you okay?” his question came as a whisper, and Emily nodded her head, slowly.
“Just peachy, Matt. It’s not like I was trying to put the past behind me or anything.” Her sarcasm had lost its bite.
Matt had tried to forget it too, but it was hard to forget the wendigos and the radio tower collapsing and having to choose between saving himself and saving Em. He and Em had agreed that they couldn’t really hate Josh-- the prank didn’t seem to reach either of them, and Matt was a little grateful that it hadn’t. He probably wouldn’t have been able to handle it.
“Do you think… do you think we should go?”
Emily’s head snapped up then, immediately, her eyes widening and mouth opening and closing, searching for words.
“I know, I know what you’re thinking--”
“No, you don’t, Matt,” her voice was tense, almost breaking.
“It’s a bad idea. We haven’t spoken to him in years.”
“There’s a good fucking reason why we didn’t.”
“Emily, you know he needs this. He needs us.”
He could tell that the girl wasn’t buying it. He wasn’t really buying his own words, either, only saying them outloud to see if he really meant them, if he really wanted to see Josh again, to see any of the others again. It wasn’t like he cut off contact with any of them forever; time and time again he talked to Ash on the phone and met with Jess once at the movies. They were their friends, for crying out loud. He could never really stop being their friends, not after all that had happened.
He raised a hand to his throat, massaging it and staring at the strangely quiet other, whose hands were firmly gripping the mug in her hands, her expression blank as she mulled over the idea of seeing Joshua Washington again, of seeing Mike and Jessica and all the others.
“Do you really think he’d want to see us? To see me? Even after all I fucking did?”
“I think we’re all passed pointing fingers at each other to take the blame.”
“I still feel guilty.”
She ended the conversation there, sliding off the couch of their small apartment and disappearing into the bedroom. Matt pursed his lips, almost about to call out to her before deciding that Emily needed to be alone for a while.
Something made him read the email over again.
SUBJECT: Re: hey
TO: Joshua Washington
I don’t know about this.
Are you sure you’re okay?
Her fingers stopped, as if they had minds of their own, trying to stop the blonde from writing back to Josh, trying to stop her from either making the greatest mistake ever or her best idea yet. Sam glanced back to Hannah, who was sleeping on the makeshift dog bed in the tiny yellow apartment kitchen, then to the phone that sat facedown next to her laptop.
“Are you going to go?” Chris had called her earlier.
“A ‘hello’ is normally what people say when they call someone.”
Laughter on the other end of the line, then silence. Then again.
“But are you planning on going? You know, to Josh’s?”
She bit her lip, deleting the contents of the email again and began to retype it for the sixth time that evening.
Thanks for inviting us again, Josh. I’m here to talk if you need me. I don’t know if I want to go yet--
Stupid. That’s what this all was. It was all just stupid.
She tore her eyes away from the screen, squeezing them shut until spots of color began to speckle in the darkness, then blinked them away before turning back to stare at the empty response email. She had to write something to him, to at least let him know that she was still going to talk to him, even for a moment.
Sam stopped thinking and quickly tapped out a response, hitting send before she could change her mind about the contents again. The knot in her stomach seemed to get tighter, more complex than before. She wheeled her office chair out, startling the dog in the other room.
She should get to bed.
SUBJECT: Re: hey
One question: Are dogs allowed?