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We Deserve a Do-Over.

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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.

 

SUBJECT: hey

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.

-Josh

 

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.

“What?”

“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.

“What’s up?”

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

SENDER: Sammy


One question: Are dogs allowed?

Chapter Text

“We can still turn around and drive home.”

Ashley glanced over at Chris, a frown painted firmly on her face. It had taken a few hours and many, many promises to get Ashley on board for the trip to the Washington’s new vacation home in Sunny Newport Beach. She was stubborn, for sure. But Ashley could also tell that Chris was really serious about seeing He Who Must Not Be Named, and reluctantly budged. It was his (ex?) best friend, after all. She wasn’t going to be pleasant with him though, oh no. She had decided immediately that Josh Washington could not be forgiven for what he had done.

Not even a little.

“I can tell you don’t really mean that,” she glanced back out the window, watching the waves on the beach rise and crash into the shore. The sea was foamy, green, and welcoming; if only the sky wasn’t so dark and cloudy and reminding her that it was, indeed, February.

“Come on, Ash. It’s just a weekend. After this we can go right back to ignoring Josh and pretending that four years ago didn’t actually happen.”

“Right, right,” she curled and uncurled red locks around her index finger, her other hand pushing the button that would recline the window. The wind was cool and slightly damp against her face, and she breathed in the salty scent of the sea and the sounds of the waves pushing and pulling against the sand. It must be so pleasant to live here, along this beach. He must really be at peace, here.

She shook thoughts of Josh out of her head. Why should she be concerned about him, his health? She had no reason to feel anything for Josh but resentment. She despised him. Without a doubt, Ashley hated Josh.

Without a doubt.

“It’s a good day,” Chris commented from the driver’s seat, rolling his shoulders. Ashley didn’t respond immediately, her face still out the window, focused on the sea.

“Yeah. It is.”

--

 

“I can’t tell if you’re trying to be annoying and overprotective, but I think if everyone else is going to go, Mike, mature up already and learn to forgive.”

The phone call made him pissed off, for sure. As if Emily had any right to say that to him, God dammit. She had no idea, really, how scared he was that night, how much of his thought process was being powered by fear, uncertainty. Jess almost died. He almost died. He lost two fingers that night, and although now he was used to having eight digits he still could remember the sensation of severing them from his hand, the pain, the absolute pain that shot through his body and then the wendigos and then--

“Mike?”

He almost didn’t hear Jess over the sound of his own blood pulsing in his ears. His eyes, that were focusing so intently on his left hand, shifted to look at the blonde. Jess had chopped all her hair off, three years ago, leaving behind a pixie cut. She never let it grow out again, and he remember first thinking how weird it was for her, but now the pixie cut was just a part of Jessica, and long hair could never look the same. Her eyes were large, crystalline drops of water, oftentimes so sad that she looked so innocent, so helpless. Mike wished day after day that she would go back to being the Jess he fell for, all those years ago, bubbly and fun, sexy and silly. But that just wasn’t her, anymore. But it was still Jess, and Mike still fell for her every second he was with her.

“What’s up Jess?” he was quiet. The blonde glanced at the front door, her hands balling into fists, knuckles turning white.

“Who were you yelling at on the phone earlier? Is everything okay?”

He grimaced a little, not wanting to tell Jess the truth but knowing it was the right thing to.

“Everything’s fine. It was Emily, remember? She was just… being herself.”

Jess nodded, understanding molding on her usually placid face.

“Was it about seeing Josh?”

He hesitated again.

“Yeah. It was.”

Jess nodded, padding over to where Mike was sitting at their small dining table and sitting across from him, taking his three-fingered hand in between her own. She leaned forward, kissing the tips of the fingers that remained there, smiling up at him. His chest began to ache.

“Say, Jess…” he began slowly, watching her face, watching for some indication that whatever he’d say wasn’t overstepping some boundary between them. She raised her eyebrows at him, expectantly. “What if we did? You know, visit Josh for the weekend?”

He kind of regretted saying it outloud, but he never felt something more right to say. Jess was quiet still, but the grip she had on his hand tightened, and she broke eye contact for a second.

“I’m not going to force you, Jess. I swear.”

Jess nodded then, raising her eyes to meet Mike’s. They sat there, looking at each other for a long time.

“Do you think it’ll help?” she was quiet still, but there was confidence in her voice that Mike had not heard in four long years.

“I don’t know, honestly. But it might be fun. We haven’t really seen Sam or Matt or Em for a while.” He avoided saying Josh’s name out loud again. Jess nodded in agreeance.

“It’d be nice to see them all again,” she looked past him at the wall, her lips forming an ‘o’ shape as she thought it through.

“Are you sure you’d be okay to?”

Jess didn’t respond for a moment, and Mike began to worry that maybe she had changed her mind again, maybe she wasn’t yet ready to confront her fears once more. He stared intently at her face, the hand she was holding tightened around the fingers of one of her own. She squeezed back, and was looking at him again, and he felt his chest tighten as he waited for her to speak.

She gave him a weak, reassuring smile.

“I think I can handle one weekend, Mike. I’m tough.”

He laughed at that, thankful that, somewhere in there, Jess was still herself.

“Yeah. Yeah you are.”

--

 

Everything had to be absolutely perfect.

He scanned the empty rooms on the second floor of the beach house, double, triple checking that they were all clean and that everyone would feel comfortable and relaxed in the house. Picture frames were straight. Beds were made. Check, check, check.

Josh bounded down the stairs, scanning all the little decorations and pictures hung on the walls to make sure nothing was wrong, nothing out of place. Deep down, he knew everything was fine, but there was a nagging fear that if one thing wasn’t fixed perfectly, the entire weekend would fall apart in his hands. He couldn’t have that, not this time.

He checked the array of snacks and treats that he and his mom had laid out early that morning for the guests. Josh was thankful that his parents let him have the house to himself for the weekend, for a chance to reconcile with all his old friends. He was doing better, and he was glad that nowadays instead of being pushed away by his busy father and timid mother, they actively sought him out and spoke to him like he was their son.

“Okay. Everything is fine. It’s all here, nothing’s broken, out of place,” he mumbled to himself, running a hand through dark curls, eyes scanning the living room again before reclining into one of the white leather couches, free hand drumming against his thigh nervously. “Everything’s all cool, Josh. You did it.”

His mind rewinded through the day, paying particularly close attention to the memory of him taking his meds, making sure that he was on them, that he wasn’t forgetting, accidentally or otherwise. Satisfied, Josh crossed his arms over his chest, enjoying the early noon silence of the beach house.

He liked the beach house tenfolds more than the cabin. The sea was always there, welcoming him into it's frigid waters without ill intentions. There were always people there, and sea lions, and Josh sometimes sat at his balcony window upstairs, staring out into sea, out onto the beach, watching people swim and laugh and enjoy themselves. Not many were out there at this time of year, but the ocean was consistent.

A thought struck him to open the windows and the door, to allow his friends to walk in without worry, without feeling closed off to him again. This time would be different, he had decided. This time, everything would be different.

He started at the back porch, pulling open wide the double french doors, breathing in the cool ocean air. He moved his way to the front of the house, opening the windows before finally pulling the door open, a grin on his face--

“Jesus!”

He stopped in his tracks, eyes widening slightly at the startled girl, who had recoiled from the door and was staring at him-- yes, him-- and he stared back. He almost didn’t notice the dog, despite being forewarned about it last week.

“S-sorry, Sam. Didn’t mean to scare you.” His voice cracked a little, and his heart began to race. Was it really her, here, in the flesh? Or was he just imagining it?

She gave him a forgiving smile. Yes, this was really Sam.

“Can you see the future or something? How’d you know I was out here?” she joked, tugging a little on the leash in her hand, and finally Josh looked down at the small dark lab, who was bounding and wagging her little tail at him, eager to meet this new stranger.

“I have my ways,” he responded jokingly, forcing a smile through and stepping aside to let the girl and her dog into the room. “Come on in. Is your dog okay? I kind of opened all the doors and would absolutely be mortified if she got away.”

“She’s fine, thanks,” Sam strode into the room like she was a queen, overseeing her kingdom for the first time, eyes searching the spacious living space for recognition, for answers. Slowly she bent down to be level with the dog, unhooking her from the leash, and the lab bounded through the room to explore. Josh couldn’t help but grin. He always wanted a dog.

“What’s her name?”

Sam seemed to freeze then, crouched on the wooden flooring of the beach house, not looking towards him, as if she was in trouble. She was hesitating.

“Her name’s Hannah.”

Josh jumped a little at the response, nodding his head. That made sense.

“That’s a good name.”

Josh didn’t want to admit it, but he was thankful that Sam was the first to show up, the first to respond to his out of the blue email. He wasn’t sure if she’d agree to the weekend getaway, because it was her that he had hurt the most with his shitty prank. But he was a different person, now. She was different too, he noticed.

Maybe it was the way she wore her hair down this time or how she held herself high and open, compared to years before when she was young and timid and closed off. Sam had matured, definitely. She was regal. She was tougher.

Sam had stood up off the floor, walking past Josh and onto the front porch again, wheeling in her overnight suitcase and setting it near the staircase, as if she has been through here a hundred times and knew the drill. Then she stood there, staring at him, hands clasped together, waiting.

“So, um,” she spoke softly at first, breaking gaze with Josh and scanning the room. “Care to give me a tour?”

“A tour,” Josh scoffed, walking past her this time and into the kitchen, gesturing with one hand around the entire floor. “This is the living room, kitchen, dining area’s over here. Upstairs you’ll find a lot of empty bedrooms, so just put your stuff down somewhere and that’ll be it.” He paused, thinking, before pointing at a door on the far side of the living room. “That’s the bathroom, by the way. There’s a couple more upstairs.”

Sam nodded at him coolly, patiently. Hannah padded into the room, sniffing at Josh’s legs before crossing over to Sam, sprawling on the floor beside her, panting. Silence began to flood between the two.

“I hope I’m not too early.”

“Early? No, no. You’re fine.”

Josh looked away from her and at the snacks laid out neatly on the counter. He gestured to them.

“We have snacks. Mom helped me with them last night.”

Sam smiled.

“I’m not hungry right now, but thanks, Josh,” She paused. “Thanks for, uh, all of this.”

He was surprised at that. “For what?”

“For, you know,” she started to walk over, tugging up the zipper of her olive green hoodie, a soft smile forming across her face. She stopped at the entrance of the kitchen, placing a thoughtfully manicured hand on the granite countertop, and she locked her blue eyes with his own green. “For wanting to see us. It’s a nice change, fresh. I’m glad you emailed us.”

Josh searched her eyes for some sign of regret or worry, but she was either really good at hiding her fears or was actually, genuinely glad to see him. He didn’t want to think or worry about that. He nodded in response.

“Yeah. You’re welcome. Now, eat some of this ceviche before Chris shows up and devours the entire thing.”

She laughed wholeheartedly, clearly, shaking her head at him with a grin, and Josh couldn’t help but grin back, relaxed.

Things were, by some definition, okay.

--

 

“The front door’s wide open,” Matt noted immediately, pulling into the driveway of the navy blue-painted paneled beach house, white curtains poking through the window, fluttering in the wintry wind. He glanced into the rear-view mirror at Emily, who opted to sit in the backseat of the car, sprawling out across the back. She was turned away from him, lying down, still. He could tell she wasn’t asleep, just ignoring him.

“Come on, Em. If you want, we can go home after visiting for an hour or so.”

He parked the car behind another-- probably Sam’s, he recognized the dark red paint job-- and turned the ignition off. This time he turned around fully, gently settling a hand against her shoulder, giving it a squeeze.

“We didn’t pack all that stuff just to visit for a bit and leave,” Emily finally mumbled, turning slightly to face Matt, taking his hand and squeezing it with assurance. They didn’t talk about going, but had sat together while Matt wrote the confirmation email, packed side by side, and got in the car and drove for three hours to Newport Beach. It was a silent agreement to. They both knew it was the right choice.

Slowly the pair got out of the car, pulling their bags from the trunk. Emily packed light, this time. They were then startled from their silent motions with the honk of another vehicle, and they turned around to face the Kia Soul pulling in, Chris waving from the driver’s seat while Ashley avoided eye contact.

“Matt! Emily! Hey, guys!” Chris gave them a cheeky grin, stopping the car and hopping out, standing tall over the two. Ashley followed, giving Matt a small smile and avoiding eye contact with Emily. Things were still shaky between the two girls from that night.

The four looked at each other, silent then, unsure where to take the conversation. Matt wasn’t particularly close to Chris, but he and Ashley had been very close, two friends that spent a lot of time studying together, playing board games together. He listened to her when she was worried about Chris, and she listened to him when he needed advice on his and Em’s relationship. Mutually beneficial for them both. After that night, Matt was glad to receive calls from Ashley still, to hear her voice and to talk to her. It was hard to keep in touch with friends since then, and with Ash, he was thankful they were still on speaking terms.

Matt opened his mouth to say something, but a bark and a shout made the group turn around to gaze at the small brown dog that leapt through the front door, bouncing down to meet them. Ash and Em both backed away, but Chris had cried out and got down to meet the dog, scratching it behind the ears.

“Oh jeez-- Hannah!” Sam’s voice rang out across the driveway, and immediately the four tensed up at the name, looking up at the blonde, who stopped in the doorway, mouth ajar, eyes wide at the group. The dog’s ears perked, leaving Chris’s hands to rejoin Sam at the door, who patted the dog on the head and started to walk down the patio to meet them.

“Sam!” Chris spoke first, grinning at her, outstretching his arms. They were close friends, there was no doubt about that. Sam reached the group, mimicking Chris’s motions and allowing him to envelope her in his arms, swinging her around in a tight hug. The two blondes began to laugh, pulling apart and grinning. She then went to meet Ash, pulling her into a hug just as tight, and this time they were quiet, Ash burying her face into Sam’s shoulder. When the two finally pulled away they nodded at each other, reaching an understanding no one else seemed to notice. Sam then walked over to Emily, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze and smiling, causing the other to smile back, touching her hand in acknowledgement. Matt took this time to come over, giving Sam a welcoming smile, and she grinned back at him when he leaned forward and put an arm around her in a half hug.

“It’s good to see you guys,” Sam finally said, still holding onto Emily, whose expression had become gentler, happier. “It’s really, really good to see you guys.”

“You too, Sam. You look good,” Matt commented, nodding his head towards her. Sam’s cheeks flushed pink for a moment and she gestured towards the house.

“We should go inside. It’s a little chilly out here, not that it’s any cooler in there. Oh, but there’s snacks! All kinds,” she parted away from the four, bounding back up the porch and stopping in the doorway again, looking back with a grin. “And Josh is really excited to see you guys. Come on.”

She disappeared through the door and the quartet exchanged looks, following slowly. The setup was almost eerie, almost the same, they couldn’t help but think that way.

It wasn’t until they were through the doors that the ill feelings expelled and were replaced with ones new, ones less scared, less angry. The group stood in the entrance of the house, taking in the fresh smell and the new, bright furniture and the light, welcoming white and sky blue painted walls and bamboo flooring. Sam was standing at the counter, nibbling on tortilla chips and guacamole, and Josh was on the other side of the counter, looking expectantly at the group, but not saying a word, a grin trying to form on his lips but he couldn’t tell if they were as excited to see him as he was to see them.

Chris spoke first.

“Damn, Washington. Talk about a vacation house upgrade.”

Then Josh began to smile, walking around the counter to meet him, raising his arm to clasp Chris’s, and the two were smiling like the old friends they were, as if nothing had changed, as if they were seeing each other for the first time in days and not in years.

“Right, Cochise? You should see the view from my window. Fucking sick.”

Chris felt his chest tighten at the old nickname, but he didn’t mind, because it was Josh.

Josh looked past him at the other three, still smiling widely. He greeted Ash with a quick hug, and Chris noted her tense up, but she didn’t recoil. Matt and Em were more apprehensive, but still appreciative. Quickly Josh ran through the tour of the house, pointing up the stairs to indicate the rooms and asked if they needed help with their stuff. Soon, Josh, Matt, and Emily were back outside to collect their minimal baggage. Sam still sat at the counter, watching the door, then the two still inside, nodding her head at them.

“Saved some ceviche for you,” she indicated the bowl on the counter. Chris beamed, walking over to join her. Ash stood still where she was, scanning the room over and over, looking for something, anything to use against Josh in case he tried anything. She ignored the small chatter between Chris and Sam, glancing over at the dog that was now sitting beside the coffee table in the living room, and slowly made her way over to sit on one of the couches, leaning down to scratch behind the lab’s ears. At least the dog was nice.

The others came back, and Josh pointed Matt and Emily to one of the rooms upstairs before rejoining the other three in the room, a smile still plastered on his face. Ashley thought he was faking it, for a moment.

“Six here, two more to go.” He noted, looking towards the door.

“Oh. So Mike said he and Jess would show up?” Chris asked, talking around a mouthful of shrimp.

Josh shrugged. “He didn’t, but hey, it’s good to be hopeful, right? How’s the food, Cochise?”

Chris gave his best friend a thumbs up, and Josh laughed, walking over to the taller boy and clasping him on the shoulder. Sam rolled her eyes at the two, looking over at Ash and mouthing a hello. Ash repeated the motion, and Sam left the boys to join her on the couch.

“Is she Josh’s?” Ash had asked, gesturing to the dog.

“Mine, actually. Her name’s Hannah.”

Ash nodded, giving the dog an affectionate rub on her belly.

“She’s sweet.”

Matt and Em soon rejoined the group downstairs, and Josh insisted on all of them sitting down together and just talking. It was quiet at first, but as soon as Chris and Josh began to discuss the particulars of every Bond movie, the conversation bubbled over and it was easy, so easy, so normal.

Josh wrung his hands together, eyeing the door for the tenth time that day. A part of him hoped that Mike Munroe would walk through that door, smiling, excited to see him, to see all of them-- but that was a pretty unfortunate thing to wish for. The clock struck eight. Josh stopped expecting him to show up.

The group decided to turn on a movie, something childish like The Little Mermaid, and soon six pairs of eyes were glued to the screen. Matt and Em were glued together on one couch, engrossed in the animation. Chris and Ashley weren’t as focused, whispering to each other, watching sometimes and watching each other at other times. Hannah was up on the couch next to Ash, curled against her side. Sam sat next to the dog, petting her head. Josh sighed, looking between the friends that were there, trying to be happy with them but inside he wasn’t because it wasn’t everyone there. He should’ve expected that though, right? That Mike wouldn’t want to come, that Jess would stick to Mike’s decisions.

A knock against the doorframe made everyone turn away from the screen, and Josh took in the faces of his friends before he, too, turned around to look at who was knocking.

“Are we really that late to the party?”

Mike was grinning at them in turn, looking as casual and cool as ever, his hair sticking up and he was still unshaven, a white t-shirt concealed under a denim jacket, leaning casually against the door like he’s done it a hundred times before. One hand was shoved snugly in a jean pocket, and the other was grasping Jess’s, who seemed shy in their presence, her eyes never looking directly at anyone, her free hand picking at the collar of her baby pink cardigan, flower printed leggings clung to her body, knees knocking together as she tried to make herself smaller. The chatter died down when the couple made their presence, and Josh began to grin.

“You bet your sweet ass you are! What took you guys so long?”

“Traffic. We stopped for dinner on the way here. Wanted to be fashionably late.” Mike stepped into the room and Hannah leapt from her spot on the couch, rushing over to greet the new visitors. Jess smiled at the dog, reaching down to pet it.

“How cute! She’s so sweet,” Jess looked up, beaming at Josh, and he felt his heart start to beat again. They weren’t pissed at him, or so they seemed.

“Hey, Jess,” the voice rang out from behind Josh, and everyone turned to stare at Emily, holding their breaths, waiting for the worst. Jess seemed to shrink back again, unsure if she was ready to confront Emily again, if she was still pissed at her for Mike, for anything. Emily narrowed her eyes a little, then gave the blonde a gentle smile. “When did you get a haircut? It looks good on you.”

Surprised, Jess looked at Mike for an answer of some kind, to which he just smiled and shrugged at her, and Jess turned back to Emily and with some confidence, she spoke up.

“Thanks. You don’t look so bad yourself.”

The tension ceased, and the chatter started right back up where it left off. To Josh’s surprise, Mike joined him on the couch, pulling Jess on top of his lap, and the three of them laughed and the senseless talk continued, bouncing from topic to topic, from catching up to pop culture to gossip.

Josh leaned back into the couch, glancing over at Sam, who grinned at him, relief in her eyes. He grinned back, sharing her feelings.

It felt good to be back together. He was certain of that.

Chapter Text

Josh extended an arm to the only vacant room left in the house, grinning at the couple.

“Here’s your room. Hope it suits your needs and comforts,” he gave Mike a wink, who shook his head with a grin.

“Thanks, Josh. And, uh, thanks for having us over again.” He shifted his gaze from Josh to Jess, who was gripping his lousy, three fingered hand, blue eyes large and sad and glowing but at least she was maintaining eye contact with the others. She smiled. Mike couldn’t help but smile, too.

“No problem, guys. I’m just glad you came. It means a lot.” He nodded to the both of them, sidestepping to allow them in the room. “If you need anything, I’m right down the hall. Sleep tight. And, uh, condoms are in the nightstand, just in case.” He winked at the pair before leaving, hearing the two laugh behind his back and the click of their bedroom door. Josh made his way to the next room, knocking twice and waiting.

Emily opened the door slowly, her eyes widening when she realized it was Josh standing there.

“Hi Josh,” her voice was dropped to a whisper, and she looked behind her into the room.

“Hey, Em, everything good? You guys settled in alright?”

She gave him a weak smile. “Yeah. Matt, uh, Matt’s out already. It’s been a long day, you know?”

Josh nodded, looking away from Em. He hadn’t been particularly close to her, having hated her since the night Hannah and Beth disappeared, angry that she had participated in the prank. But that was five years ago, he reminded himself. It’s different now.

“Hey, Josh?”

He turned again to face her, surprised at her suddenness. She had a different look on her face, one of sympathy, of guilt. Emily swallowed hard, crossing her arms over her chest. Her dark brown eyes seemed to glisten in the light of the hallway, and when she spoke again, her voice was wet, shaky.

“I never… I never got to really apologize to you for Hannah and Beth,” she stopped, inhaling, a hand going up to bat away tears from her eyes. “I just want you to know that I’m sorry. It was stupid. We were stupid.”

Josh stood there in stupor at the apology, having not expected Em to admit to that, years ahead now. She had always seemed so sure of herself, her actions, and an apology felt so out of place, yet so final, as if this was what he needed to finally start getting closure. Without another word, Emily turned and walked back into the room, shutting the door behind her, leaving Josh to stand there.

“Thank you, Emily.” He finally said aloud to the door.

He thought he heard a “I don’t deserve to be thanked,” on the other side, but he shrugged it off and moved down the line, across the hall, to tentatively knock on Chris and Ashley’s door.

“Who is it?” came a voice from the other side.

“Your sexy pizza delivery man,” Josh responded instantaneously, grinning. The door swung open and he was face-to-face with Ashley, who looked more pissed off than amused at his joke.

“Real mature, Joshua.”

“Just trying to lighten the mood, Ash. Where’s your knight in shiny, nerdy armor?”

Chris then appeared behind Ash, slipping a hand around her waist, grinning at the other.

“Right here, my good sir. To what do we owe the presence of our esteemed, noble lordship?” His English accent was downright insulting.

“Cool it, loser. Just making sure everyone’s in bed and comfortable.”

“Oh, we were definitely in bed. Almost comfortable.”

“Good enough for me, Cochise. There should be condoms in the nightstand.”

Ash rolled her eyes again, pulling away from Chris and disappearing into the bedroom without so much as a “goodnight.” Josh raised an eyebrow at his friend. Chris shook his head a little.

“Sorry, man. Ash still isn’t all that good with you, yet.”

“Nah. Totally get it. Totally deserve it, too.”

The two men stared at each other, unsure where to take the conversation. Chris coughed a little, looking away.

“Be honest with me, Josh. Are you really okay?”

Josh wasn’t surprised at the question. He had been waiting all day for someone to ask it.

“I…” He hesitated. A flimsy answer wouldn’t fly with Chris. “I hope so, bro. I fucking hope so.”

“Take care of yourself, Josh.”

“You too.”

Chris disappeared behind the door, and Josh found himself raising his fist to knock again, to talk to Chris more, to catch up with him one on one, without having to worry about what the others were saying, what they were thinking. He stopped himself, stepping away, turning to face the last door, the last person he had to say goodnight to.

Yet, something stopped him from knocking. It was probably best to not disturb her, for now.

“Goodnight, Sammy.” He said to the closed door. He waited a few seconds, then disappeared into his own room.

--

 

Her phone read 4:06 AM, and Sam regretted hitting the hay so early. She closed her eyes, hearing the wendigos howl in her ears again. She was getting real sick and tired of having nightmares. She was getting real sick and tired of waking up early on Saturdays.

Slowly, carefully, Sam extracted herself from the warm bed, surprised at the comfortable temperature of the room. Josh really had that luxury of letting the heat run into the night, keeping every room toasty. It felt alien, strange to wake up and feel overtly warm when she had gotten so used to the chill.

Hannah lifted her head at Sam when she got up, perking her ears. Without a word, Sam stroked the dog’s head and then left the room, tiptoeing down the stairs. She was thirsty, hungry, and she wished she ate a little more for dinner than a few chips and guacamole.

Sam felt a little awkward rummaging through the Washington’s fridge, but she reminded herself that she used to do this all the time, back when sleepovers at their house was normal and the girls wanted to devour something at two in the morning when sleep wasn’t calling and shitty movies deserved snacks to go with.

She heard footsteps come down the stairs behind her, and Sam glanced behind her, wondering who was also awake at this hour.

“O-oh.”

Josh stopped at the bottom of the steps, tired eyes still sunken, his lips pressed together. She stood up straighter out of instinct, closing the fridge.

“Sorry to, uh-- did I wake you up?” she was whispering, despite knowing they were probably the only two awake.

“No, not at all. I just…” he stopped, looking away. “I was already awake, actually.”

She blinked, unfazed. She understood, that maybe he felt it too, maybe he was still having nightmares, too.

“Nightmares?” it was lower than a whisper.

“Yeah,” he was quiet too, still avoiding her gaze. “Worst than usual.”

She stepped away from the fridge, forgetting her appetite to stand beside him, looking up, peering into his face. Had he been crying? It was hard to tell in the dark.

“Want to talk about it?”

He turned to gaze into her face, contemplating for a moment before nodding slowly.

“Not here though. Care for a walk, Sammy?”

Sammy. Her heart ached.

“Sure, just let me get some shoes. And Hannah.” She added the last part as an afterthought, thinking that the dog needed to go for a walk anyways. Josh nodded, stepping aside to let Sam up the stairs, and she bounded up without looking back.

--

 

The sand made it hard for her to walk in flip-flops, and in the end Sam opted to go barefoot. Hannah had already leapt ahead of the pair, who were still standing on the far end of the beach as the lab ran straight to the sea. The clouds were few and far apart, revealing the dark blue of the early morning sky, the sun beginning to peek out over the horizon. The beach was empty. It was dark, cold, and peaceful.

“Let’s get closer to the water. It’s great,” Josh seemed to light up like the sun itself out here, a white beanie pulled over his hair, hands digging deep into the pockets of his sweatpants. He began to stride with confidence out towards the beach, and Sam followed close behind, surprised at his quick pace.

“You could probably slow down a bit, Washington,” she fumbled over her words a little, but the point was made, and Josh soon was walking side by side with her, their elbows crashing into each other every few steps, and with each accidental touch they seemed to pull further away from the other, unsure of what to say or do. When they got close to the water, Josh bent down to roll his pant legs up, and Sam did the same with her leggings, allowing the wet, cold wind touch her bare calves. Ocean spray grazed her legs as waves crashed into the wet sand, and Sam couldn’t help but dig her toes into the beach. She raised her head to look for Hannah, who was bouncing in and out of the water, barking at the waves. It was so relaxing, then, in that moment.

“So, nightmares, huh?” Josh’s voice pulled her back to reality.

“Yeah,” she laughed at her own expense. “Thought if I went to see you, I wouldn’t have so many here.”

His eyebrows perked at the comment. If she came to see him, huh?

“I don’t think that’s how nightmares work, Sammy. But thanks for thinking about me.”

She gave his arm a punch-- she was still strong, definitely-- and the two began to laugh, beginning a slow stride down the shore.

“We don’t have to talk about the shit we dream up, Josh. We can talk about other things,” she spoke gently, watching her steps in the sand.

“Like what?”

“Like how cliché we are, taking a long walk on a beach.” He laughed at that. “Or we can talk about how you’re feeling. How are you, Josh?”

There was sincerity in her voice. He swallowed around the knot in his throat. “I’m fine. I really am, Sam. You guys keep asking me if I’m fine but I swear, it’s all okay.”

She didn’t respond immediately, and that urged him to keep going.

“Sorry. I’m okay, thanks. How ‘bout you, Sam? Are you okay?”

She stopped walking, and he turned around to stare at her, her hands opening and closing as she struggled to come up with things to say.

“I don’t know, actually.”

Josh didn’t remember Sam being anything but confident with her answers. Uncertainty wasn’t Sam. She always knew what to say, was always honest with her feelings. But this was different. She was different. Only then did it strike Josh how long four years really was.

“Sammy--” he stopped himself when her face distorted into something broken, something fragile. She shook her head, lifting a hand to her face to wipe away any sign of weakness she was showing.

He didn’t deserve to see her cry.

“I’m-- It’s okay, Josh. It just…” she breathed in, shakily. She couldn’t remember the last time she cried about this, but suddenly it felt all too real, standing here at the beach, standing in front of him, and all the memories and fear and uncertainty flooded her, threatening to burst. She was Sam, she couldn’t be like this in front of him, but once the tears had left her she couldn’t stop them from flowing, and she covered her mouth with her hands to stop the whimpers because at least she could keep quiet while she cried--

“Sammy,” it was his turn to be the supportive shoulder to cry on. His arms wrapped around her shoulders and she couldn’t help but bury her face into his chest, breathing him in, almost collapsing into his embrace. Her hands left her face and were around his waist, clinging to the back of his hoodie, her chest aching from sadness and from guilt and from joy all at once. “It’s okay to cry. I’m here.”

And she did, for who knows how long. They stood there by the sea in each other's arms as Sam wept into his shirt and she let herself be loud and messy and upset. She babbled incoherently between hiccups, words of apologies and what-ifs and should-haves and with each word Josh seemed to hold her tighter, and all the weight of four years of pain seemed to melt off her anxious, tired shoulders.

She stopped, suddenly, cried out and feeling almost weightless. She pulled her head back to look into Josh’s face, and was startled to find he had been crying, too.

“Josh, I’m--” she stopped, sniffling, pulling one hand away to wipe excess tears from her cheeks. She reached up and wiped away Josh’s, gently touching his cheek, his jaw, and he leaned into her touch, sighing softly.

“It’s no big deal. We can, uh,” he pursed his lips, searching for the right words. “We can go back to acting okay again.”

And then Sam pulled her hand away, eyes widening, mouth opening to respond.

“You know we can’t.”

Josh gave her a reassuring smile, pulling away to grab her face with both hands, brushing excess tears and hair from her face. He leaned down and pressed his lips to her forehead, then pulled back to take one of her hands in his, intertwining their fingers, pulling her back down the shore, back to the house.

“I know, Sammy! But pretending to be okay is pretty easy when you actually are.”

A laugh bubbled out of her, and she quickened her pace to walk side by side with her friend, thankful to have the early morning to themselves, to reconcile, to heal.

She tried to ignore the electricity she felt where he kissed her, where their hands met. It’s not the right time to feel that way, not yet.

 

 

Chapter Text

Jess woke up at nine, and she was surprised to find Mike sleeping snugly beside her, an arm tossed gently around her waist, holding her close to him. Mike was an early riser, setting alarms at six AM to get in a morning jog and make breakfast for the two of them. His breathing was slow and easy, and she wondered for a moment what he was dreaming about, hoping it was something good.

She extracted herself from her boyfriend’s hold, sitting up in bed and running a hand through short tufts of blonde, still getting used to the pixie cut despite having worn it for years already. It was still so new. A lot of things were new to Jess.

Slowly she clambered out of the bed, careful not to disturb Mike, who shifted in his sleep to face the other way, and Jess stiffened a giggle when he snorted, mumbled something, and fell back into sleep. She slipped her toes into the fuzzy white bunny slippers she brought along for the trip, outstretching her arms high above her head, waiting for bones to crack and pop before she slipped soundlessly out of the bedroom to stand in the upstairs hall. She forgot for a moment that this was not the Blackwood Pines lodge. A chill went up her spine.

As she descended the stairs she took note of three things: a news anchor reporting the weather and latest political news, quiet giggling from the dining room, and the distinct smell of something burning in the kitchen, causing her stomach to do somersaults. She wanted to gag when she reached the final landing, staring into the kitchen, where a certain Joshua Washington was causing some disaster while Sam looked on in horror.

“Oh, my God. You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” she heard her laugh.

“Please, Samantha. I’ve seen enough Hell’s Kitchen to know that this is probably how you cook eggs.”

“Probably?”

Jess suddenly felt uncomfortable, looking into this bubble that was not her own, like she was eavesdropping on a conversation about herself despite knowing it was not. She cleared her throat to make her presence known, and the pair stopped looking at the stove to smile at her and wish her good morning, before turning back around to guffaw and ridicule Josh’s honestly horrific attempt at cooking. Jess peered around the corner into the dining room, where Matt and Emily were sitting, drinking coffee and chattering about something on Em’s twitter feed. She thought back to the night before, when Emily complimented her haircut instead of ridiculing her for something dumb. That was new. But she didn’t hate this newfound kindness Em had, if that’s really what it was.

Jess shuffled awkwardly, unsure whether to disturb the not-really-couple in the kitchen or to sit at the table to make even more awkward conversation with two people she has not spoken to in years. Hell, she hasn’t spoken to any of them for years. After the events at Blackwood Pines, Jess was always too scared to talk to anyone but Mike, unsure who to trust, what to trust. She was never afraid of the dark before the wendigo ripped her through a window and left her to die in the mines. Quickly, Jess expelled the memories. She did not meet with a shrink every damn week to think about Blackwood.

From the kitchen, Josh and Sam had cried out, catching the attention of Matt and Em as well as they watched the boy pull a pan from the stove and run it under the sink, frantic. When he relaxed and Sam began to laugh at him again, he turned to the others, a wild grin forming on his face.

“It’s all good, folks. Just a little cooking malfunction.”

Em scoffed from the table.

“Oh please, Josh. If you can’t cook, let’s just all go out for breakfast.”

“No, no. We are having a Washington breakfast in the Washington house. My rules, princess. However, you are welcome to drive to Jack in the Box and pick up something for yourself.”

Jess tried to remember the last time Josh and Emily were friendly to each other. Seemed so long ago.

Josh set the pan back down on the stove and began to start anew, and Jess made a face in his direction. She was not going to let this disaster continue to happen, not under her watch.

“Excuse me, Josh?” She began slowly, testing the waters, her heart hammering hard against her ribcage. The boy turned around to stare at her, his eyebrows raised at the sudden exclamation from the blonde. She strode up to his side at the stove, confidence flashing in her eyes, and she outstretched a hand for the spatula, a small smile forcing it's way through. “While I’m sure we all appreciate a home cooked meal, you’re not the right person for the job.”

He conceded, raising his arms and backing away, a dumb, goofy grin plastered across his face. “Be my guest, Jessica. I’m sure you could do a way better job than I can.”

Jessica turned away from him to look at Sam, whose head was turned slightly to the side as she watched the exchange, amused. The two girls rolled their eyes. Boys.

“Josh, you’re welcome to be my assistant. Are these all the eggs you have? Are scrambled eggs good?” Jess commandeered the boy, who was already looking in the fridge for any other breakfast-y food items.

“Ee-yup. We do have bacon, sausage, cheese. An assortment of fruit. The works.”

“Perfect.”

Sam cleared her throat from the counter, and the pair turned around to face her.

“While I’d love to join you all for breakfast, it doesn’t sound like this meal is really Sam-friendly.”

“Oh shit! I totally didn’t forget!” Josh shut the fridge door, opening the freezer. “We have some frozen waffles right h--”

“Oh no.” Jess raised the spatula, pointing it at their host, a playful grin forming on her face. “This is my kitchen now. And in Jess’s kitchen, we do not eat frozen waffles. Capiche?”

Josh shrugged his shoulders, still grinning. “Damn, chef. Who poured salt in your cookies this morning?”

But he allowed Jess to take over, watching quietly from the counter next to Sam, sometimes making comments or asking her questions about life, how she’s been, what she’s been doing. Every now and then Josh would throw in a dumb joke, and the girls laughed at him, and before Jess knew it Matt and Emily joined the other two at the counter, getting in on the jokes and the conversation, and they helped her in the kitchen, flipping pancakes, cutting strawberries, plating food.

And for the first time in a long time, Jess let herself be.

--

 

“I woke up to the smell of pancakes,” Chris had exclaimed when he and Ash made it downstairs at ten, looking upon the multitude of food platters laid out in the kitchen. “Woah. Are we feeding the whole town or something?”

“Eat up and shut up, Cochise,” Josh shouted to them from the dining table, where he, Sam, and Matt were seated. Chris could hear the sound of giggling girls out on the back porch, and he gave the trio a quizzical look, taking a seat next to Matt.

“Are my ears deceiving me or are Em and Jess outside right now laughing at something? What happened to wanting to kill each other?” Next to him, Matt shrugged, and a smile was forming on his face.

“A lot’s changed, man. For the better,” and he lifted a mug of coffee to his lips, and Chris could tell something changed about Matt, too.

Chris got up again to join Ash in the tiny kitchen, working around each other to load their plates before rejoining the others at the table. Ash and Matt began to talk and joke, and Chris jabbered loudly to Sam and Josh before conversations collided into one. Ashley did not look at Josh once. Chris noticed. He decided to not bring it up, not yet, not here.

Eventually the two girls outside came into the house, their cheeks bright red from the cold bite outside or maybe their infectious laughter, neither of them were really sure, but their arms were locked and they were still gossiping about mutuals on Twitter, and when Mike came down the stairs and took in the sight he felt warmth surge through his body, and he thanked whatever god was listening for putting the skip back in Jess’s step.

“Now what the hell happened while I was out?” Mike chirped up, and the girls let go of each other so Jess could walk up to Mike, pressed a kiss to his jawline, and she was a newly shining star. “Good morning, Jessica.”

“Morning. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve laid out this magnificent feast for everyone, and I think you should eat up. We’ve got a long day ahead of us, Michael.” She kissed him again, this time on the mouth, and she grabbed Em’s wrist and dragged her to the stairs. “Em and I will be right back, kay? No one’s allowed to wait up for us!” And their giggles disappeared up the stairs with them. After loading a plate, Mike took the vacant chair next to Sam, grinning.

“You must have your hands full,” Sam commented, grinning and playfully nudging Mike. He shook his head, laughing.

“You have no idea.”

The morning seemed to slow down after that, and after an hour the two ex-frenemies bounded down the stairs, grinning, dressed to the nines for a beach house weekend. The group didn’t have plans to go anywhere that day, but Jess justified that “not going anywhere isn’t an excuse to look like a mess,” and there was no further discussion about it. The afternoon was spent watching bad movies and playing board games, and for a while, nothing was out of place. Matt, Em, Jess, Mike, and Sam insisted on going down to the beach, and Hannah the lab was at their heels as they walked down to the sea. Josh remained glued to the television, and Ash and Chris were sitting on the back porch, backs to the sea.

“You should talk to Josh,” Chris had said, after they were cuddled together in tiny wicker couch on the back porch, wrapped in a dark blue fleece blanket they stole from the couches in the living room. Ash chewed on her bottom lip.

“I don’t know what I can say to him.”

“I know that he hurt us. He hurt you. And for a long time, I couldn’t really forgive him either,” Chris paused, looking at Ash, trying to figure out what she was thinking. “But he’s trying.”

She couldn’t really deny that.

“I know he’s trying,” she pulled her knees closer to her, resting her head against Chris’s chest, listening to his steady heartbeat. “I just don’t know if I can.”

She felt a strong hand take hold of hers, bringing it up to his lips and gently brushing against her knuckles.

“That’s okay, Ash. That’s fine. Just,” He hesitated. “Just don’t let him think you hate him, okay?”

She nodded, looking out at the brightly colored houses and cars zooming by the beach. The wind began to pick up, and she swore she heard laughter and a dog barking on the other side of the world. Today, she thought carefully, today I’ll talk to him.

And before the others came back, she did just that. Chris stayed behind on the porch when she stood up, giving him a worried look and her boyfriend responded with an encouraging smile and a thumbs up and a “knock his socks off, rockstar.”

Josh was still sitting on the couch, channel surfing, when she went inside. He didn’t seem to notice when she sat down on one of the other empty couches, gazing at him until he spoke up.

“Anything you wanna watch?”

“N-no. Nothing.”

They were quiet again, and Ash tugged nervously at her white denim shorts. You can do this.

“Josh, I’m… I haven’t been fair, since we came.”

He stopped surfing, leaving the television on a tele novella, where an attractive young lady was yelling angrily at her boyfriend in quick Spanish. He still didn’t look at her.

“I’m sorry that I haven’t been a good friend,” she continued, and she watched his fingers twitch, his gaze shift momentarily away from the screen. “I was just hurt, you know? I was scared.”

She could barely hear him when he spoke.

“Yeah. I know,” this time he looked at her. “I should be apologizing to you. I was a dick. I was a fucking whackjob, you know? It was stupid.”

Then he turned away and went back to channel surfing, and Ash was almost satisfied with the conversation. She stood up, preparing to take her leave, but instead shifted couches to sit next to the Washington boy, and he stopped channel surfing, tuning in to some cartoon programming and they sat together, quiet, watching the brightly colored characters on screen, and they came to a silent agreement that neither of them really needed to apologize.

This, this was enough.

Chapter Text

The water was frigid, Emily didn’t know why that came as a surprise to her. Hannah the dog was yapping happily, splashing in and out of the sea while Sam stood on the shore, arms crossed, laughing at her dog’s reactions, Mike standing next to her with his phone out, recording the spectacle. Matt and Jess opted to toss a frisbee around with a couple of local teenagers that wanted to spend their Saturday afternoon on the beach. The cold wind wrapped around Em in a tight squeeze, and she looked farther out to sea, where the fog kissed the stormy blue waves, and wondered, briefly, if anyone was looking back.

It was a little too cold for her taste.

She pulled herself away from the grasping waves, taking a few heavy steps on the sand before collapsing into the beach, her breath coming in long, slow spurts. She lifted her head when she heard Sam yelp, turning to watch as Mike held her in a headlock, giving her noogies while Hannah was dropped to a defensive stance, barking at him, her tail wagging wildly. After a few minutes of play-fighting, Mike started to walk in Em’s direction, and her heart ceased to beat.

He was going to shoot you.

Of course, she wouldn’t forget something like that. Em did her best to pretend that that didn’t bother her anymore, that she was beyond scared of Mike. Matt was good to her that way, listening to her when she woke up crying at three in the morning with images of a gun pointed in her direction by her ex-boyfriend stirred in her mind. She still felt the sting of the bite in her shoulder, although the wound was healed now, leaving behind a disturbing, misshapen scar.

That was really the only thing that healed.

Mike sat down next to her in the surf, albeit clumsily. Neither of them looked at each other.

“Tell me, Em. Why’d you agree to come here for the weekend?”

The question was weird.

“I wanted closure.” She was half honest. She could see Mike nod his head slowly from the corner of her eye, his lips pursed. Em remembered how she used to adore that look on his face.

“I think I wanted the same,” he spoke slowly, carefully picking out words. “Closure with Josh, about Hannah and Beth… and, uh, closure with you, Em.”

This time she turned her head to look at his profile, fully, her eyes narrowing, brow furrowing. He scoffed.

“I was wondering when you’d turn your bitch face back on.”

“Whatever, Michael. Explain yourself.”

He glanced back to her, his eyes darkening.

“We were idiots.”

“Agreed.”

“We were just coming out of a breakup. We were acting like stupid, stupid teens. And…”

“And then you pointed a gun at me.”

He stopped looking at her, directing his gaze back to sea. “And then I pointed a gun at you.”

“Did you ever want to apologize for that?”

“I never found the right time.”

The water came close enough to tug at their toes. Matt and Jess had regrouped with Sam, and the three of them played that game by the sea, where you tried not to let the waves touch you as you ran back and forth across the surf. Jess had called them over, waving excitedly, tugging on the sleeve of Matt’s jacket as they evaded the icy waters once more, laughing. Mike stood, offering a hand to Emily.

“I’m glad I didn’t shoot you, Em. If I did, who would I get to piss off on this trip?”

Mentally, she made a note to push him into the ocean later.

“Gee, thanks, Mike. I feel so appreciated right now.”

“You bet you do. That’s my best quality. Making people feel appreciated.”

“Right.”

“Oh, come on. You know I could never hate you.”

Em couldn’t forgive him, she was absolutely certain of that. But she was glad to have him as a friend.

She took his hand.

--

 

The sun was setting when the five made it back to the house. Ash was squished in between Chris and Josh on a couch, the two boys arguing with each other about whether or not Jack and Rose would’ve both been able to survive in Titanic. Josh stopped the argument short, turning to the group coming through the door, a grin on his face.

“Welcome back, beach bums. Waves gnarly enough for your taste?”

“Freezing, actually. Invite us back over summer,” Jess quipped, her cheeks red from the cold.

“Noted,” he extracted himself from the couch, coming around to scratch behind Hannah’ ears. “I wish I had dinner or something ready, but there’s probably something you can whip up to eat if you’re hungry.”

The group broke up, Matt and Mike shoving each other playfully as they went to examine the fridge, Em walking around to sit next to Ashley where Josh once was, asking for a recap on what they were watching. Jess announced that she was going to take a shower, and Sam stood behind, stooping down to Josh and Hannah’s level, running her fingers through the dog’s coat.

“She’s a good dog, Sam.” He whispered.

“Yeah? Thanks.”
They were quiet, sitting on the floor with a dark coated lab, aimlessly running their hands across her fur, listening to the chitter chatter from the trio on the couch, to the laughter from the kitchen and the sound of running water from a bathroom upstairs. Eventually their hands found each other, and despite themselves, their fingers intertwined, still settled gently against the dog’s back, who rested her head against Josh’s knee.

“So what’s the plan for the rest of the evening?” Sam asked. Josh replied with a shrug.

“Whatever everyone wants to do, no plans.”

“Sensible. But what does Josh Washington want to do?”

He looked at her-- really, really looked at her-- and studied her features, her clandestine smile, her rosy cheeks, bright blue eyes. Blonde hair was spilling around her face, framing it so easily, so simply. He ignored the quiet somberness in the way she was smiling at him. He pulled his hand away, glancing up the stairs.

“Josh Washington wants to show Sam something.”

He helped her up, and the two went upstairs, Hannah at their heels. No one made any comment or asked where they were going, as if they just knew or were pretending the pair didn’t excuse themselves from the party downstairs. Josh felt butterflies clogging his stomach. He lead her to his room.

The lights were off and he didn’t make the bed that morning, but that stuff didn’t really matter, not at the moment. He turned to make sure Sam was still following him, and she was, Hannah the dog following close behind. He waited for both of them to be in the room entirely before shutting the door behind them, taking a deep breath.

“So.” Sam was quiet.

“So.” He was quiet, too.

She looked around the dark room, aimlessly, inspecting the messy bed and nightstand, the clothes strewn around the floor. She wasn’t really judging him, more like she was searching for something, some sign of insecurity, some sign to be worried about him. Sam was relieved when she realized there wasn’t anything of the sort.

Hannah had curled up at the foot of his bed.

“What did you want to show me?” Sam turned to look at him, unsurprised at his dark, quiet demeanor. She’d seen him worst. Slowly he walked towards her, and his hand grasped for hers clumsily in the dark, and he began to lead her towards a pair of french doors on the far end of the room. She barely noticed the doors when she first walked in, but now she was heading towards them. She squeezed his hand. He squeezed back.

“This, Sammy, is possibly the best part of the house.”

He pushed a door open, leading her outside to the balcony, the sea grand and wide in front of them. The view was the same view they had been looking at all day, all yesterday. But from this high perch of the Washington house, it was unique. It was special.

Josh moved forward to lean over the edge of the balcony, breathing in the chilly, salty air. Sam watched, tentative, unsure what to do with herself. Slowly she moved to stand next to him, gripping the balcony, looking out towards the dark waters.

“Why’s this the best part?” Sam glanced at him.

“I don’t know. I just… feel it.”

She smiled, one hand gently folding over his. "That works.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. It just… works. I get what you mean, though. This feels… different. It feels right.”

“Something tells me we aren’t talking about the view anymore.”

They stopped, staring at each other, two broken souls that were slowly mending themselves back into place. A clamour began downstairs.

“We should go back. Make sure they aren’t killing each other out there,” Josh joked, pulling himself away from the balcony. Instinctively, Sam grabbed his wrist, pulling him back. He cocked an eyebrow at her. “Sam?”

Don’t think, just do.

She stood on her toes to meet him, pressing her lips to his. He was warm, she took note of that. He wasn’t kissing her back. She took note of that, too.

She pulled back, slowly, steadying herself on her feet before taking a step backwards, away from him. She fucked up, right? That’s what she did? Totally fucked it up.

“Sorry,” she spoke softly. She didn’t know if she meant it.

“Sam.”

“We don’t have to talk about it.”

“Sam.”

“Josh, really. Downstairs, right? Making sure they aren’t killing each other?” She began to move towards the door, desperate to move past how dumb she just was, how awkward that just was. She felt something tug at the sleeve of her jacket, and for some reason she froze, looking over her shoulder at the other. She couldn’t read his expression in the poor light.

“It’s not that I didn’t want to, okay? I’m just… not ready to.”

He released her sleeve. Her heartbeat slowed.

“I-- Yeah. It’s okay, Josh. I understand.” She meant it.

She could barely see a small, sad smile forming on his lips.

“You know, Sammy, I had the biggest crush on you in high school. For years. I think I still do.”

Sam laughed then, her feet carrying her back towards the door, ready to descend the stairs and return to the others. She looked back at Josh, who stood in front of the balcony, silhouetted by whatever moonlight reached them through the heavy fog.

“Ditto.”

Chapter Text

Josh pulled the covers over his head again, pressing his lips hard together. It was at least four in the morning, still dark out, but the sun was going to bother him soon if he didn’t at least try to get in some sleep.

But it’s damn hard to fall asleep while your heart tries to beat itself out of your ribcage.

Five years.

Five fucking years.

It didn’t get any easier.

Josh forced himself to sit up, inhaling, exhaling, trying to calm the storm that was threatening to drown him in his head, his thoughts. Think of something else.

Sam.

He didn’t want to admit that he wanted to kiss her back. She had been so sincere, so real when their lips touched. He was a fool to not kiss her back. Right? A goddamn fool.

But he really wasn’t ready. Not for a girl like her. Not when she deserves someone so much stronger than he was.

Fuck, was he always this damn sorry for himself?

He pulled his knees upward, wrapping his arms around himself, shivering. The sound of the waves in the dead of night seemed to echo in the room, rattling in his head like an unpleasant disturbance of the calm-- as if there was ever a calm to begin with.

He needed a good yell, he realized. To let it all out. It was Sunday, the last day with everyone, no room for acting like a full on whack job.

The floor was cold when his feet landed on it. He wiggled his toes, testing, as if the wood wasn’t very solid, as if it wouldn’t hold him. He stepped out into the hallway, looking around tentatively in the darkness, striding to the staircase with purpose. He could hear the faint sound of the television on downstairs, which was by all means, not the norm at Balls AM.

He kept light on his feet, tiptoeing down the steps and leaning around the railing to peek at whoever was downstairs. Two people? Jess. Mike.

Josh stopped himself, breath hitching. Just his luck, right? Or something not so lucky.

He came to a full stop at the foot of the steps, catching Jess’s attention. She gave him a warm smile, waving him over to the living room. They were watching some indie film that channels only dared show in the early hours. It didn’t seem very good.

“Any reason you two lovebirds are up this early?” Josh tried to make a joke.

“It’s too dark outside to sleep comfortably,” Jess’s answer was surprisingly straightforward with a strange, disturbed undertone, like she was in fear of something. “What about you, Josh?”

He licked his lips, noticing how dry his mouth felt for the first time that night. “Same shit, girl.”

Josh stood a ways away from the couch, staring at the screen and trying to absorb what was happening. He stole a glance at the pair, wondering how either of them could stand the poor, sappy, manic-pixie-dream girl garbage on screen. Neither of them were actually paying attention.

“We’re going to leave later, like after lunch.” Mike’s words had steel to them. “Just so we can settle back in, get prepared for the week.”

Josh nodded. “Fair enough.”

“I think, though, that we should all do something today. The eight of us.”

“You think? Anything in particular?”

A shrug. “You’re the host, brother.”

“Right. I’m the host.”

Josh turned around, focusing his gaze on the analog clock in the kitchen. 4:30. He still needed-- wanted-- to go outside and yell for a while.

Hell, maybe everyone needs a good yell.

“Hey, can I ask you guys for a favor?”

The two turned their attention from the screen, bewildered at Josh’s sudden exclamation. Jess’s lips seemed to turn upwards, her eyes glittering in the dark room.

“What kind of favor, exactly?”

“Get dressed and help me wake up the peanut gallery.”

--

“It’s barely five. In the morning.” Ash was bitter.

“They’re not called Lazy Sundays for nothing,” Emily was bitter, too.

Eight adults-- and one dog-- stood, or sat, or sprawled across couches in the living room. They were cold, tired. Unsurprised that Josh Washington was the mastermind behind getting them all dressed for a “morning walk.” Jess and Mike seemed wildly chipper. The sky was beginning to lighten from a dark blue to a foggy grey. Josh stood at the seemingly helm of the ship, in front of the television set, an almost smug grin on his face. No one noticed that him and Sam were avoiding eye contact.

“Okay, what the actual hell? Why’d you wake all of us up? We’re not doing yoga, are we?” Emily was standing, glaring at Josh, her words not as sharp as she intended, but soft from fatigue. Matt sat on the couch behind her, giving Josh an apologetic smile. He returned the gaze before addressing the small framed girl.

“We’re going for a walk. No tricks.”

The group exchanged confused, worried glances, but didn’t seem to argue. It was too early to.

“Now, any final words before we move the fuck out?”

--

The walk didn’t start for another fifteen minutes, give or take, as the actual location Josh wanted them to see was about a fifteen minute drive away from the beach house. The sky was still dark enough, still not dawn. He was grateful.

The cars parked along the beach, the surf still too low, the water inky and frigid. The wind seemed to pick up here, whipping in their hair and blowing their hoods off, ocean spray tickling their faces when they turned to face the waves. There were cliffs, here, low-hanging but not threatening, existing but not entirely intimidating. Josh pointed towards the closest one with his chin.

“Hope you’re all okay with an uphill walk.”

No one was, but they didn’t want to tell him.

The trek was particularly quiet, perhaps from the cold, perhaps because they were all still groggy. The only one with so much a skip in their step was Hannah the dog, who bounded up and down the grassy, sandy terrain, weaving in and out between eight pairs of legs and almost causing slips and trips down the cliffside; those were the only moments they all spoke, crying out or laughing. The silence, however, stuck to them like glue until they crested the cliff, staring out at the same ocean they’d stared out at countless times that weekend. Here, it wasn’t just the sea. Here, it was a new beginning.

“This is what you wanted to show us?” Ash shouted, her voice almost drowned out by the wind and crashing waves. Josh grinned at her, turning back to the sea.

He began to yell.

His words were incoherent, mostly, carried away by the wind and water before his friends could pick up on his words. They stared at him, surprised at the spectacle, surprised at the young man that faced the ocean and yelled at it as if it had answers to every problem he had, as if it understood what he felt and was listening in, gathering his sorrows in its displacing arms, sending them to far off places, away from where he could feel them. He was crying. He was apologizing.

Josh stopped to catch his breath, wiping wild tears away from his cheeks, his face feeling red and disgusting from the tears. He turned back to the group, holding in another yell as they stared at him. Their faces didn’t seem to pity him.

He turned back to the sea and continued to cry, violently, shaking like a thousand earthquakes, letting himself sob and break-- for himself, for his sisters, his friends-- Chris, Mike, Sam-- oh, oh Sam…

She had been the first to step forward, a hand gripping his, her fingers intertwined in his so tightly that for a brief notion he thought she would break them. She didn’t look at him when he turned around to glance, bewildered. Then she, too, began to yell. She, too, began to cry.

And before he knew it he felt Chris’s hand around his shoulder and his best friend was with him, screaming at the sea with all his might, his voice cracking in some places and tears clung to his lashes. From behind them, Hannah began to whine and howl.

Then Emily joined. Then Jessica, then Matt. Then Mike, then Ashley.

Eight broken souls, shouting and crying at the ocean together, their woes and fears spilling from the deepest parts of their bellies, apologies and forgiveness clawing their way out of their heads, and anyone could tell that they were starting to finally, truly heal. Not as separate beings, but as a single, living, breathing entity that loved every part of itself, even the parts that left behind scars.

And for the first time in a long time, no one was afraid.

 

 

Chapter Text

Per the request of seven shivering friends, the heat in the beach house was turned up to warm their sea-kissed toes and ice cold fingers. They had all huddled together in the living room, later that morning, chattering about things only friends could chatter about while the news played quietly on the television set in front of them and hot breakfast sat in their stomachs.

“So,” Ash was holding back giggles from the kisses Hannah the dog was leaving on her face. “Chris and I were thinking about seeing that new movie next Saturday. Anyone wanna come?”

“Ugh. Absolute worst timing. I work all day,” Emily grumbled from the other side of the small lab, scratching the dog behind the ears. “I’m probably off on Thursday, though. We should do brunch, yeah? Matt?”

“Brunch? That’s a total wine mom thing, right?”

Chris laughed from the other side of the redhead, looping an arm over her shoulder. “Dude.  Brunch is great. I think we’re free Thursday. We know a great diner.”

Mike leaned across the table separating them, grinning. “Jess and I won’t be able to make this brunch outing, but trust Chris on this, man. The greatest fucking diner.”

Ash let out a laugh, grinning at Mike with a teasing expression. “Who said you were invited?”

“Invited myself. Then de-invited myself, so you can’t really fight a rejection.”

A loud, boisterous clamor of giggles erupted from the young adults, who spoke more intensely about their favorite restaurants, favorite hangout spots and quick making of future plans of movies, game nights, dinner, brunches.

Josh stood in the kitchen, brewing a cup of coffee while his friends sat a few feet away, making plans with one another in excitement. It had been a long fucking time since they had all done this.

He couldn’t help but smile to himself.

With a cup of coffee in hand he returned to the group, slowly sitting on the couch next to Sam and Matt, who grinned at him and clasped him on the shoulder.

“Josh, dude, if I go to brunch with these losers, you have to come.”

“Me? Why?”

Matt gave him a puzzled look, before shrugging. “I don’t see why not.”

“I can text you the address later,” Ashley quipped from the other side of the room, her cheeks glowing red faintly in the daylight. “It’s not too far from where Chris and I live, actually.”

Josh chewed on his lower lip for a moment, before nodding slowly. “I-I mean. Sure. Thanks for wanting to invite me.”

He felt his chest warm when Ashley smiled-- really, really smiled-- at him, her eyebrows upturning, laughter trailing her words. “You’re welcome. Glad that Thursday’s planned.”

Emily looked over at Sam, this time, eyes wide, her lips forming a grin. “What about you, Sam? Wanna come? Or are you doing something boring like Mike and Jess?”

“Hey! It’s not our fault we both work.”

Sam gave her a sad smile. “Sorry. I’m doing something boring. Work calls.”

“Oh, that won’t fly. We have to get together some time soon. You still have my cell, right? Don’t be surprised if I want to take you out for dinner or something in the next few weeks.”

The two girls laughed with each other as the conversation carried on, hopping from one topic to the next in mindless bliss. They were at peace.

Around 1 o'clock, Mike and Jess packed up their things, loading them up in Mike’s Ford truck, helping Jess up into the passenger seat while the rest of the crowd stood in a half circle around her doorside.

“Be safe driving home,” Emily called up, reaching out a hand to Jess, who took it and gave it a gentle squeeze.

“Thanks, Em. I’ll text you as soon as we’re all settled in.”

The girls exchanged small smiles, before Emily finally climbed up to the seat and wrapped her arms around the blonde’s small shoulders, squeezing her in a hug that seemed to speak every apology and forgiveness she had for her.

Jess held back her tears.

She returned the hug thricefold.

The girls parted, finally, after a few moments, and Emily rejoined the other five in the driveway, giving Jess a loving wave as the blonde closed her door and rolled her window down.

“Hey, Josh! Remember! Beach houses are for summer, not Goddamn February!”

Josh began to chuckle, walking up to the side of the truck and giving the door a pat. “Sure, beauty queen. I’ll keep that in mind.”

“You better. Also, learn how to cook eggs, at least.”

“Hey, I can’t learn without a teacher.”

Jess grinned at him, leaning out her window to plant a gentle kiss to his cheek. “You’re gonna be fine, asshole.”

Mike had climbed into the driver’s seat, gunning the engine. He looked at Josh, a sad smile forming on his face.

“Hey, Josh?”

“Yeah?”

He lifted a three fingered hand to his face, scratching his temple, a sigh escaping him.

“Thanks for bringing us all back together again.”

Josh returned the smile, saluting the pair before the truck drove away from the beach, out of sight, back into the clutches of reality.

And they were okay.

--

 

Emily and Matt left after their late lunch, Emily complaining that both of them had work in the morning, that it wouldn’t be a good idea to stay much later. She was hoping someone would ask them to stay longer, but wasn’t surprised that--

“Oh, boo. Party poopers. Why not stay for like, another hour at least? Won’t kill ya.” They were asked by Josh.

Neither complained to another hour of rest.

When their time was up and the car was packed, the couple exchanged goodbyes with the remaining four, confirming brunch and other plans, and soon the two were settled in their car and driving down the beach, away from the weekend, the fear and sorrow from the last four years melting away in droves.

Emily sat next to Matt in the front this time. They were silent for most of the drive.

“I think we made a good decision.” Matt was quiet.

“A good decision?”

“Yeah. I’m really, really glad we went for the weekend. I think we all needed that.” He rested a hand on her knee, giving it a squeeze. Slowly, Emily laid a hand over his, lifting it to her lips and pressing a gentle kiss to his knuckles.

“Yeah. You’re right.”

--

 

“Cochise. That’s absolutely not a kitchen sink.”

“Really? You think you can draw a better one?”

“I can draw a better one with my eyes closed.”

The boys began to bicker, pencils drawn, the game of Pictionary that was laid out in front of them almost forgotten. Ash shared a glance with Sam, who was stifling a giggle.

“Alright, I think we need a break from this hellhole of a game.” Ash pounded her fist on the table, her face so stern that Josh and Chris couldn’t help but obey, setting down the drawing pads, leaning back in their chairs in defeat. The break was called, and the girls broke away to the kitchen to raid the fridge for snacks.

Chris let out a whistle, twirling his pencil between his fingers.

“Man, I feel like we’ve barely gotten one-on-one with each other this whole damn weekend.”

Josh lifted his eyes at the blonde, who was still absently twirling his pencil.

“You think so? I thought I was just imagining it.”

“Dude, honestly. I think we need to have a serious talk. A real heart-to-heart.” Chris stopped looking at his pencil, turning his head to his best friend, smiling slowly. Josh scoffed.

“Be my guest.”

“Well, I mean. How’ve you been, actually?”

“Good.”

“Really?”

“Yes, Chris. I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me.”

Chris leaned backwards in his chair, averting his gaze.

“You don’t get it, Josh. I’m your best friend. I do have to worry.”

The boys grew quiet, listening to the soft clinking of cutlery and chatter coming from the kitchen, the wind blowing hard against the sides of the house.

“Okay,” Josh exhaled, turning to the other, lips forming a thin line. “I’m sorry.”

Chris shook his head, returning his friend’s gaze. “I’m the one who should be sorry.”

“Douche. Let’s just agree that we’re both sorry, alright?” Josh lifted a hand to Chris, smiling at him. Chris leaned forward, taking his hand before pulling him into a tight, overdue hug.

“Thanks.” He muttered when they finally pulled away.

“Yeah. And uh,” Josh cleared his throat, nodding at him. “If it-- if it means anything, Chris. I’ve been okay. I’ve been really, really okay. In fact, I don’t think I’ve felt this good since… you know.”

The two shared a silent nod, understanding finally that they were, absolutely, irrevocably okay.

--

 

It was dark when Chris and Ashley finally left the beach house, leaving Josh and Sam with tearful goodbyes and a growing rift between the two.

It was undeniably awkward.

The two didn’t speak for a while, meandering around the large beach house, almost avoiding one another despite having no one else to bother. Hannah spent most of that time reclined in the living room. Sam sat with her, scratching her belly while she flipped through channels.

She wasn’t sure what to say to him. They hadn’t really spoken since the previous night.

They had come to a mutual understanding early that morning, when their hands were clasped and tears clung to their faces.

Sam wasn’t sure if that understanding was 1.) that they needed each other, more than anyone else, or 2.) that they couldn’t be with each other, for better or for worst, not now. Not for a while.

She wasn’t sure what scared her more.

Find out. Duh.

She gave Hannah a final affectionate pat, pulling herself out of the fluffy white cushions, running a shaky hand through honey toned waves. It was now or never, right? They couldn’t ignore it forever.

Sam poked her head in the areas downstairs, surprised to not find him anywhere down there, then trudged up the steps to knock on his door.

She waited.

No one answered.

A pang shot through her chest as she feared he may have walked out without a word, perhaps waiting for her to leave the beach house without being able to say goodbye. Or worst. She ignored that last idea.

Sam cleared her throat, knocking again.

“Josh? I’m, uh, still here. If this is you trying to get rid of me, well, it’s not working.”

She thought she heard a bed creak.

“Can we talk? Please? We haven’t… really… resolved anything, Josh. Please talk to me. Five minutes?”

Silence.

She pressed a hand to her throat, gulping down tight knots that began to form. Now or never.

“Or I can talk and you can just listen.”

She didn’t wait for any indication from the other side.

“Four years is a long time. I’m sorry that I never called you in all these years. I was just afraid, you know? We used to be so close. I-I thought we had something. Maybe it was just… this ridiculous crush I had on you that made me think that but I really, really thought things were different. I guess I thought this weekend we’d rekindle and fix things. I-I mean, not that anything was really broken, but things have just been so different and--”

“Jesus Christ, Sammy.”

She was surprised to hear Josh’s voice answer from the other side of the door, surprised to find his tone so wet, so weak.

“Wh- excuse me?”

The doorknob twisted, and Josh stood on the other side, a smile forming on his lips, and maybe she was thinking too hard but she swore his eyes were tearing up. He lifted a hand to wipe his eyes, a nervous laugh cutting through the air.

“When did you get so talkative?”

Sam opened her mouth, words failing her, and she collapsed forwards into his chest, wrapping her arms tight around his neck. His arms found their way around her waist, and he squeezed her tight, lifting slightly, causing the blonde to stand on her toes in the embrace. Sam didn’t realize she was crying until Josh was wiping tears away from her cheeks.

“You’re such a gross sap.”

“You weren’t answering the door.”

“I didn’t know what I could say to you.”

“Well, shit. I had no idea what I was saying to you, but I still said something.”

They stopped hugging so tightly, just holding onto each others’ arms, staring into each others faces.

“Do you want me to say something?”

“Yes, Josh! Anything.”

He laughed this time, brushing hair out of Sam’s face to really get a good look at her.

“Remember when I said I wasn’t ready?”

“I do.”

“I wasn’t. Not yesterday. But I think, Sammy,” he cupped his hands around her face, and he could tell she was trying so hard not to smile at him. “I think it’d be a good idea to try.”

Sam nodded, and this time she did smile, brightly, genuinely.

“I’m content with trying.”

She leaned up, on her toes, pressing her lips to his, heart hammering wildly. For a second, she was worried he would pull back. But he didn’t, and returned her kiss, slowly, carefully, testing to make sure she wouldn’t break under him. She could feel him quake with nervousness against her, and she deepened the kiss, one hand gingerly catching his cheek, the other twirling into his dark curls. His hands left her face and fitted themselves against her hips, pulling her closer to him.

Josh began to smile, laughing quietly against the petite girl, who smiled back and kept kissing him, repeatedly, leaving his lips to brush against his chin, cheeks, nose, eyes, all the while he continued to smile, pulling her close, returning her kisses when he could, and when they both pulled away to catch their breaths she was delighted to see his cheeks rosy and bright, and he was so thankful that she was real, and she had really meant those things, and she had really kissed him.

Hannah began to bark at the foot of the steps, her tail wagging wildly, and the two looked at each other, as if finally realizing for the first time what had happened. Their fingers intertwined.

“I just remembered I have work tomorrow,” Sam whispered.

“Normally, I’d support you and tell you to get out of here and rest up. But I think you should take a sick day, personally.”

“So supportive, Joshua.”

He kissed her nose, hesitantly, still getting used to the idea of her, of them.

“I try to be.”

She thought about it.

One sick day wouldn’t hurt.

Chapter Text

It’s been awhile since she’s had a nightmare.

No fire. No wendigos.

Not that Sam was complaining.

But it was a surreal kind of feeling, to wake up on a Saturday morning, bright light filtering in through the blinds. Hannah the dog heaved a sleepy sigh near her foot. Slowly, Sam reached for her phone, blinking at the time-- 10: 19 AM.

She touched the arm that was stretched across her stomach, turning over slightly to stare into Josh’s face. He was still asleep, relaxed, his mouth slightly ajar and gentle snores escaped his lips.

He wasn’t experiencing nightmares, either.

They were both grateful.

Slowly, Sam sat up, leaning down to press a kiss to Josh’s forehead. She got out of bed, scratching behind Hannah’s ears before leaving the bedroom, taking in the haphazardly stacked boxes and barely furnished space, fitted with a single couch and coffee table, television set not even hooked up yet. The two had moved in together barely two weeks before.

The new apartment was beachfront property, as insisted on by an excited Mrs. Washington, who connected the young couple with realtors to find a spacious condo closer to Josh’s new college campus and Sam’s new work at the veterinary hospital. It was weird for both of them, to move in together in a strange, unknown space, but neither could complain. With each other, they knew it wouldn’t be tough to start a new chapter.

They weren’t scared.

Sam navigated the boxes, shuffling into the kitchen to start making coffee and toast, almost not noticing when Josh lumbered into the living space, scratching the side of his face.

“Morning, sleepyhead,” she said, taking a long sip of her coffee.

“Good morning,” he mumbled, looking slowly around the room before sighing. “Man. I thought we didn’t actually have that much left to unpack.”

“Hey, at least be optimistic about it. We have a whole day to do it.”

Josh scoffed, walking over to her and planting a kiss on her forehead, sidestepping to make his own cup of coffee.

“That’s the plan, huh?”
“Why? Did you want to do something else?”

He shrugged, sipping at his coffee. Sam gave him a tired smile, shifting close to put an arm around him, squeezing his shoulder. He wrapped his arms around her waist carefully, thoughtfully, before speaking.

“Yeah. Let’s go down to the beach for a couple of hours. Take a walk.”

Sam didn’t argue against the idea, and soon the couple (and their dog) were walking along the shoreline. The beach during summer was much different. Much more crowded, more alive with music and people galore. Neither seemed to pay attention to the two, although once in awhile a child and their mother would ask to pet Hannah.

They held hands, talking, saying words but not really saying anything at the same time. The chatter was, in simple terms, meaningless. But it was better than walking in silence.

“I’m stoked for this first semester, actually. It’s been too long since I got to sit in a room full of people and tear apart movies for a few hours.”

“Like you don’t do that when you invite Chris and Ash over.”

“Okay, but it's different with people you don’t really think of as your friends. Shit gets heated.”

Sam gave him an affectionate pat on the shoulder while he settled, mulling over a new topic to bring up.

“Yanno, Jess has been pestering me about the beach house again.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I mean, it is summer. We should spend some time together, huh? Get the gang back together and all that jazz?”

“Wouldn’t be a bad idea.” Her answers were oddly dismissive.

“I also plan on installing a stripper pole and doing a little Chippendale’s show for everyone.”

“Fun plan.”

“Samantha, although I appreciate your support in seeing me do our friends a strip tease, you’re clearly distracted by something else.”

They stopped walking, and Josh looked over at her, scrutinizing her face. Sam sighed, smiling up at him, her enveloping thoughts unravelling when he stared at her with those big, green eyes.

“Yeah. I am. Sorry, Josh. I was just thinking.”

“Wanna talk about it?” He tugged a little on Hannah’s leash, waiting for the dog to stop tugging along and regrouping with the pair. Sam nodded. The two sat down where they were.

“Okay, what’s on Sammy’s mind?”

She didn’t answer at first, looking out at the sea, breathing in the salty air.

“I was just thinking about how much has changed.”

It was Josh’s turn to hesitate.

“For better or for worst?”

“For better, dummy. I mean,” Sam brushed hair from her eyes, clearing her throat before continuing. “It’s kind of funny. When you sent that email five months ago. I was dreading it, you know? I thought if we all got together again we’d all be upset and fighting and nothing would’ve changed.”

“But that didn’t happen.”

“It didn’t, and instead Emily texts me every day and she takes Matt and I shopping, and Jess and Mike come over and instead of blaming you they’re teaching you the basics of cooking, and Chris and Ash are so cool and so normal and hell, they just got engaged! That’s so weird, right? How everything’s just so different and all it took was a weekend?”

Josh laughed a little, putting an arm over Sam’s shoulder. “Yeah. That’s happened to us a couple of times now.”

“Sorry. That was insensitive.”

“It wasn’t. I feel the same way. To be honest, Sammy, I didn’t know how that little reunion was gonna go. I was so convinced Mike wouldn’t show up. I was so convinced Chris hated me, that you hated me.”

Sam blinked, looking up to stare at Josh’s profile before he turned to face her.

“If you thought like that, why’d you invite us all anyway?”

He leaned down, pressing his lips to hers for a few seconds, and she kissed him back. When he pulled away, he shrugged.

“I had faith we’d figure it out. I didn’t think anyone wanted to keep living the way we were.”

“Were we all living a certain way?”

“Yeah,” Josh laughed a little, shaking his head. “We were living like we were dead.”

The two leaned into each other, and Sam closed her eyes, listening to his heartbeat in rhythm with her own, the sound of the sea lapping at the shore, and for a brief second she could hear eight healing teens standing on top of a cliff, shouting and throwing away their sorrows into the crashing, heavy ocean.

“Hey, but we’re more alive than ever.”

 --

 

SUBJECT: hey pt. 2

SENDER: Josh Washington

Hey party people! It's fucking JULY. Beach house weekend getaway is what I'm talking about. RSVP immediately or don't, because I know no one wants to miss it

And yes, dogs are allowed.

--Josh