Evening gave way to dusk which, in turn gave way to night. The five of them gathered around the bonfire like they gathered around the cusp of adulthood, warm and close. Champagne, expensive and truly from Champagne, was popped and for once the indulgence was met with no resistance from all parties.
They drank and toasted to reckless, silly things like the sun in the sky, and their feet on the ground, and their own beating hearts. To them, the five gathered, the toasts were real and fueled by true gratitude for the sun in the sky, their feet on the ground, and their hearts still beating.
They were high school graduates.
More importantly, they were alive. The king among them stood aloft on a large rock. The embers shooting into the sky illuminated him in such a way that made him appear all at once older and younger than the just shy of eighteen he could claim. He raised a red solo cup, purchased only because of its quintessentialness to the reckless high school experience, filled with champagne to the stars.
He swayed slightly. Then giggled.
“I’d like to make a toast!”
“Another?!” “You lost that privilege at toast number four.” Adam and Blue protested together.
“Shh. I get double the allotted number of toasts for how many times I've died.” Gansey said, his eyes half closed. He added, “Noah does too.”
“Here! Here!” Noah cheered, holding Ronan’s lighter up.
Gansey took a deep breath and Adam watched him. It was incredible the way he could change from a boy to something beyond boyhood, some illustrious concept, with broad soft eyelashes and a halo of intention in the space between an inhale and an exhale. With the exhale came the return of Gansey the boy. Adam watched as all the prestige in him crumpled.
“I really truly love you guys.” Gansey closed his eyes and his face melted into a soft, dopey expression, grin wide but closed. He looked very drunk.
“Gansey, you look like a frog who just took the greatest shit of his life.”
“Ronan, you beautiful animal, I feel like a frog who just took the greatest shit of my life.” He tilted his face towards the dark sky above them and threw his arms open wide.
Blue reached up and grabbed his outstretched arm, “Sit down before you fall or start trying to work graduation into your weird frog metaphor.”
“Thank you,” Gansey said, stumbling off the rock. He let her take his hand and lead him back to the bench. “This is very gentlemanly of you. Guiding me in my altered state. Thank you.”
“If he pukes in the Pig I vote we leave it for him to clean in the morning.” Noah said. “It would be my only consolation for not being able to drink tonight. I couldn't graduate with you guys now I can't drink either. It blows.”
Adam laughed quietly under his breath. He rubbed his hands together. There was chill in the air despite the blazing fire and it being nearly June. Ronan sighed next to Adam and leaned into him. The other boy shifted slightly until he could rest his head on Adam’s shoulder. Adam knew it was less an action of seeking comfort and more an action of seeking attention. When he looked down at Ronan he was already looking up at Adam.
A small smile was playing at the corner of Ronan’s mouth. Venom still lingered in some of his more menacing grins, but there was no poison in the smile facing Adam now. Adam let his hands rest in his lap and looked down at them. Ronan yanked his own hand out of his pocket and reached for Adam’s.
“Jesus, you're hands are cold.” He said, interlacing their fingers together. Adam shrugged. Ronan’s hands were warm. Every inch of Ronan’s skin was always warm. He was warm like he had a molten core. Like everything inside of him was combusting with creation.
Ronan lifted Adam’s hand up to his own face to half kiss, half nuzzle it. Adam shook his head lightly and rolled his shoulder to get Ronan to glance back up at him. As soon as he did Adam ducked down and brought their lips together.
It wasn't a new action, it couldn't be considered new at this point. If he had been the type to count how many times they had kissed he would have lost count somewhere in the thousands of soft, heated, sleepy kisses shared hovering between very very late at night and very very early in the morning. Adam smiled as Ronan pulled away to sit up straighter nonetheless. Ronan took Adam's face in his hands and kissed him again.
“Stop staring, you're so weird,” said Blue to Adam’s left. Adam turned toward her in time to see Gansey look away, red in the face.
“His hangover in the morning is going to be truly magnificent.” Noah added.
“Dick!” Ronan called and Gansey whipped towards him. “Relax. You have plenty of time to be weird about Parrish making out with me in Jersey.”
“Go Tigers.” Adam shrugged. He looked at Gansey because he didn't think he could look at Ronan right now. Despite making the choice for Princeton a month ago and deciding to room with Gansey in the fall, Adam rarely heard Ronan mention making the trip up to New Jersey to see them. He had known he would, but it was different hearing it aloud. He tried to hide his grin as he lifted his cup to his lips.
“S’mores?” Blue asked. Gansey gasped and lunged across her lap to reach for her bag by Noah’s feet.
“I don't trust Ronan with s’mores,” Noah said.
Gansey rolled, still sprawled across Blue’s lap, to look up at him aghast.
Noah patted his head then combed his fingers through his hair. “He takes too long.”
“Okay. You only don't mind burning yours because you don't have to eat the charred remains of your immolated marshmallow.” Ronan said, still vaguely attached to Adam's neck. Adam pushed him gently to an upright position. Partially because it was embarrassing, mainly because Ronan’s breath trickled.
Gansey giggled, “Immolated marshmallow. That's so great. Blue. Jane. Blue. Can you open this? My hands are having some difficulty with mundane tasks at the moment. As it were.”
He handed Blue the package of Hershey’s minis they'd packed. She ripped it open and passed the bag to Adam after taking a few. Adam pulled two out and passed it to Ronan. Ronan took one of Adam’s two and traded it for the stick and bag of fluffy marshmallows he handed to Adam. Once Adam had his marshmallow skewered he tossed the bag back across the flames to Noah.
Adam watched Blue and Gansey help each other get their ingredients organized for a s’mores assembly line. Their limbs ducking over and under one another's to stick marshmallows on sticks and set out pairs of graham crackers. By the time they had their station set up Noah was pulling his stick back from the flame. His marshmallow was engulfed in fire. Blue, hand on Noah’s, titled it down to blow it out. She sandwiched the charred marshmallow between chocolate and crackers and took a messy bite
“See.” Noah said, glaring at Ronan, “Efficient.”
Ronan held his stick, marshmallow attached, up in his fist where his middle finger would be. He grinned and brought the marshmallow back down to the low burning orange embers on the edge of the fire. This kind of patience would have sat funny in Adam’s perception of Ronan had he not been accustomed to the incongruity of Ronan Lynch. His foot was hooked around the back of Adam’s ankle.
Campfires and s’mores were something that Adam had done before. He had been a Boy Scout for three months. One summer of sleeping in tents and tying knots until his father abruptly pulled him out of the organization. His explanation to Adam’s questions of why had left bruises. But he didn't think about that now, not with the crisp late spring air at his back and the warm fire at his front and his friends surrounding him at all sides. He picked apart his s’more before popping gooey bits of marshmallow, chocolate, and graham cracker in his mouth. Adam glanced up to see Blue smiling at him across the fire, wide and a little crooked. He smiled back easily.
Wings and branches rustled above them. Chainsaw flapped down, landing gracefully by Ronan's side. She dropped the twig she had in her beak on his lap and “Kerah’d” up to the sky.
“You're too late, I've already got one.” He told her, holding his s’mores stick out. She ruffled her feathers at him.
“Ronan,” Gansey scoffed, “She brought you a gift! She's so kind.”
“Yeah, Ronan. Don't be so ungrateful.” Blue said. Ronan peeled his marshmallow off his stick and threw it at her. “Hey!” She shouted back, brushing the sticky mess off her sleeve.
Adam rolled his eyes and plucked the gift off of Ronan’s lap. He leaned across him and said, “Thank you, Chainsaw.”
“Adam, you're such a good bird stepfather,” said Noah. Ronan glared at him but Noah just laughed, “See? This is what happens with your marshmallow method. What are you gonna throw at me now? You've got nothing.”
Ronan abruptly lurched off the log. Noah squeaked and sprinted away as Ronan chased after him. He caught Noah around the waist and they both rolled to the ground laughing.
“Oh my god. I'm going to bed before one of you trips and sets themselves on fire.” Blue stood and turned towards Gansey, “You coming?”
Gansey nodded enthusiastically and hopped off the log to follow her into the tent.
“Hey!” Adam cupped his hands to shout over to them, “We’re sharing that tent. Don't be weird.”
Gansey whipped around, hand on his chest. He stomped back to stand in front of Adam. Behind Gansey, Blue threw her hands up in exasperation. Gansey took Adam's face in his hands and leaned in close. Adam jolted with the sense of deja vu. He'd smelled champagne and mint on his breath a lifetime ago. But the memory stood out as starkly different than the boy in front of Adam now. Gansey looked loose, happy, and satisfied in a way he couldn't have a year ago. Adam himself felt loose, happy, and satisfied in all the ways he couldn't have a year ago.
“Adam,” Gansey whispered, his palm warm on Adam’s jaw, “I would never. I want you to feel comfortable. Always.” Then he swooped in closer and pressed his lips to Adam's forehead.
When Gansey pulled back Adam collapsed in laughter, loud and free. “Oh my god. Get out of here.” He said in gasps of air between laughs. He could feel hiccups starting to bubble up in his lungs.
Gansey had already started loping back to the tent. He spun around and pointed to Adam. “It's gonna be a thing, Mr. Parrish.” He turned back around and shouted over his shoulder before disappearing inside, “Forehead kisses. Everyday before class.”
“I'm telling you guys. His headache tomorrow is going to be a magnificent work of art.” Noah said, then vanished. Ronan, who had been leaning his hands on Noah's shoulders, collapsed into the grass. Adam lost it again. He leaned back until he was laying on the log. The fire was burning low, but still hot enough to warm his left side. He finally caught his breath and sighed heavily.
A firm, warm pressure settled between his legs. He fluttered his eyes open to see Ronan over him. The firm, warm pressure was Ronan’s knee sliding up between Adam's. Ronan leaned down and Adam smirked just before his lips were caught by Ronan’s.
“Come on,” Ronan said, pulling away after a long while, “You can't sleep out here. Some wild woodland creature will eat you.”
“Some wild woodland creature other than you, you mean?” Adam rubbed at his eyes and sat up. He followed Ronan to the tent. There was already a pile of sleeping bags and tangled teenage limbs sprawled across the inside so Adam and Ronan squeezed in where they could. Adam heard someone in the pile sigh deeply before his eyes became too heavy to keep open any longer and he fell asleep.
When Adam woke, sunlight was filtering softly through the fabric of the tent. There was the socked heel of Blue Sargent two inches from his nose and a cold ghost elbow in his back. He sat up slowly, sliding his legs out from under Ronan’s torso. He glanced around. The only one not in the tent was Gansey.
“He's by the fire.” Noah said softly, running his hand over the tent floor.
Noah looked up at him, still for a moment, then grinned wide, “No.”
Adam unzipped the flap as quietly as he could, so as not to wake the others and crawled out of the tent. Blinking in the early morning sun, he looked for Gansey. He was, in fact, over at the logs by the fire.
Adam made his way over. He could see Gansey was struggling with something but the sun was reflecting off the lake in such a way that he couldn't tell what exactly Gansey was attempting and failing to do. When Adam reached him, Gansey looked over and held up a camping coffee maker.
“I have honestly no idea what I'm doing here.” Gansey said. His hair was mussed and fluffy. His eyes were a little bloodshot. He grimaced and touched his temple, “Also I think I may be dying.”
Adam took the coffee maker from him and filled the correct compartments with grounds and water. “Well. It's not like we haven't handled that before. What's the worst that could happen now?”
Gansey had at least managed to stoke the embers left from last night back to a crackling fire. Adam placed the coffee maker on its stand, waiting for it to brew. They both heard a yelp that sounded suspiciously like it came from inside the tent and turned to see the others making their way out into the daylight. Blue and Noah were laughing, heads thrown back. Ronan glowered at them with a frown plastered across his face, but let it melt away when Adam caught his eye.
“Yeah,” Gansey said, smiling, “What's the worst that would happen now?”