The thing is, Emma hasn’t gone camping since she was thirteen, and it only went so well because the tent collapsed on her and Audrey and Piper had a bad allergic reaction to poison ivy. Still, that was a long time ago, and it’s not like she’s not willing to give it another try. She’s a nature person. She hikes.
Still, if she were going to plan her reentrance into the camping sphere, it wouldn’t have necessarily been with Noah at the helm.
“We were supposed to take the last exit,” Audrey says. She’d relegated shotgun to Riley in favor of sitting in the back with Emma, which unfortunately is now making her the definition of a backseat driver. The corner of her map keeps poking Emma in the cheek. “Noah, the last exit.”
Noah, to his credit, has the patience of a saint. Even Riley’s starting to look a little terse. “Well, Audrey, Garmin Jill is saying it’s the next exit.”
Audrey rolls her eyes impatiently, collapsing the map against her knees and looking to Emma as if to indicate a chagrin she’s assuming they share. Emma just shrugs, helplessly. “Noah, Garmin Jill is incapable of critical thought and feelings. She got us lost on Park Street. It was the last exit.”
“Well,” Noah says, and he’s really coming to bat here for his four-year-old GPS system. Emma shouldn’t have expected any less. “Garmin Jill may not be capable of feelings, but she is capable of reading a map, which is why I’m going to trust technology over your navigational skills-”
“We just missed the next exit,” Riley says, way too calmly. Emma’s heard that tone twice before, and the second time she heard it Eli Hudson got tripped down the stairs under mysterious circumstances.
Noah looks desperately to Garmin Jill, who’s recalculating. “Shit!”
Audrey flops back against her seat, brushing some of Emma’s hair off her collarbone and looking equal parts irritated and smug. “Well, we’re off to a good start.”
“I should’ve gone in Brooke’s car,” Emma says, and Audrey actually has the audacity to look hurt.
By the time they finish an hour and a half drive that should have been fifty minutes, Brooke’s car is already parked, locked, and emptied on the edge of the woods. Emma has a series of texts that keep crescendoing in caps lock.
Brooke: where r u?
Brooke: you left me alone w WILL and JAKE ur ass is grass duval
Brooke: r u serious??? noah and audrey are NOT getting any of my smores tell them that
Brooke: fine we’re heading to the campsite. u all (xcept riley) better sleep w 1 eye open tonite
“Brooke says you and Noah aren’t getting any s’mores,” Emma says, and hoists her duffel bag higher on her shoulder. Riley and Noah are walking ahead, Riley having been given map duty at long last and Noah earnestly trying to help over her shoulder. It’s kind of cute, and mostly a relief.
“Well, that’s homophobic,” Audrey says dryly, then, “give me that.” She takes Emma’s duffel bag, which means she’s now carrying three, and waves off Emma’s high-pitched noise of protest. “It’s fine, I’ve got it.”
Emma huffs, and gives her another reluctant glance before relenting. “Fine. I’ll share my s’mores with you. No one else likes them burned anyways.”
Audrey grins at her over Noah’s duffel, pleased. “There we go. Manual labor always turns you around.”
Despite herself, Emma laughs, and knocks into Audrey just enough to budge her without toppling her over. The duffels probably weigh more than she does at this point. “Shut up. Anyway, it’s too early on to be turning against each other. I want this to be fun.”
“Mm,” Audrey says, swaying a little as she walks. “Like, equally fun as the last time we went camping?”
Of course she’d bring that up. “More fun. Listen, it wasn’t my fault the tent collapsed-”
“It was totally your fault!”
But it totally wasn’t. “I still maintain it was definitely Piper. She definitely pulled out one of our stakes.”
Audrey’s already shaking her head. “Piper wouldn’t do that,” she says. “She was already half laid up with poison ivy anyway.”
“But what if that was her alibi?” Emma says, very seriously because this is a three-year-old accusation and it actually is very serious. “What if she pulled out one of our stakes, then ran off and rolled in a bunch of poison ivy, then went back to Mom and- stop laughing, I’m serious! You know she would!”
But there’s no point continuing, Audrey’s laughing so hard she’s doubled over, bag straps sliding all over her shoulders. Emma stops and waits for her, fighting furiously against the corners of her mouth twitching up. “Audrey.”
“Emma,” Audrey repeats, in a poor rendition of the same tone because it’s shot through with giggles. “Okay, truce. I can’t come up with a counter on how Piper may or may not have given herself a two-week long allergic reaction in order to trap us under canvas for about five minutes.”
“Good,” Emma says imperiously, “because it happened,” but she can’t keep back her own laughter as Audrey dissolves into snorts, falling back into step with her again.
They walk a few more yards up the path in comfortable silence, Emma occasionally trying to take her duffel bag back and Audrey shoving her away. Noah and Riley’s pleasant chattering grows more faint.
Eventually Audrey says, “It was cool of you to invite me and Noah to this. I know we don’t exactly make for the voguest company, or whatever.”
Ever since ninth grade, it’s always come back to this, and Emma hates it. Audrey’s always like this now. Whenever it’s not just the two of them, whenever Emma tries and tries to keep the friends she has close together, Audrey acts like Emma’s doing it out of obligation. It forces Emma to wonder if she is.
But it’s not like that. She doesn’t hang out with people because they’re on the homecoming court. She hangs out with people because she likes them.
And she likes Audrey. That never changes.
She doesn’t say that, though. She says, “What are you talking about? You’re like the voguest one here. No one else in Lakewood has dared to go pixie yet.”
Feeling a little bold, she reaches over to brush the fringe out of Audrey’s eyes. Audrey holds herself still at the touch, then chuckles and shakes it back out again when Emma’s hand is gone. “Sure. Well, maybe that’s why they don’t like me.”
“What?” Emma says, before realizing she can’t fully deny it. “Riley likes you. Brooke really likes you.”
That makes Audrey smile, at least, but Emma knew it would. She really likes Riley and Brooke. To be honest, that was always Emma’s number one concern, that her girl friends got along, but she shouldn’t have worried. Riley’s sweet as pie, and Audrey and Brooke caught like a house on fire. It was actually a little scary.
The guys are harder to bring around. “And Jake thinks you’re funny.”
Now Audrey snorts. “Jake thinks Jake is funny. It’s not a very high bar.”
For a moment Emma thinks they’re not going to comment on Will.
But she should’ve known better. “So, uh,” Audrey says, feigning offhandedness, “are you and Will on again or off again? Can’t remember.”
Emma listens, hard, for Noah and Riley’s voices, and moves closer to them. “I don’t know, Audrey.”
“You don’t know?” Audrey says incredulously. “Emma, I’m the one who’s not supposed to know. You ought to know, he’s your boyfriend.”
She should’ve known better than to think this wouldn’t come up. “Yeah, well, I’m not sure I want my boyfriend to be someone who cheats on me with Nina Patterson, so-”
Audrey makes a noise between a “what?” and just a shriek, and finally drops all three of the duffel bag. Emma winces, and picks her own back up. “Emma! Are you kidding me?”
“I wish,” Emma says, then when Audrey moves forward like she’s literally just going to get to the camp and piledrive Will senseless, “hey, wait! Wait!”
“Emma,” Audrey growls, and Emma can feel how taut every muscle in her body is when she grabs Audrey’s arm to stop her. There’s so much fight in Audrey, and Emma wishes there was a way to get it out of her without fighting. “He cheated on you- with-”
Emma shakes her head, hard. “Audrey, I just want this camping trip to go well,” she says. “Please. I haven’t told anyone else. I haven’t even told Brooke. I just want to have a good time on this trip, okay? I’m gonna deal with Will after. Would you please not do anything during the trip? It’ll just make everything weird.”
Audrey’s still coiled like a spring under Emma’s fingers, but she meets Emma’s eyes when Emma looks into her face. Then she deflates, like she always does, only a little. “Fine. But then I’m gonna deal with Will after.”
“I’m a big girl, Audrey,” Emma says, and lets go of her. “I can solve my own problems.”
That makes Audrey snort, for what turns out to be the third and final time. “Yeah, okay.”
The silence that follows them the rest of the way to camp is decidedly less comfortable.
“Oh my god, you guys took forever!” is the first thing Brooke says once they land at the campsite, before standing on her tiptoes to toss her skinny arms around Riley and Noah’s necks. “I thought the bears might’ve gotten you.”
Noah goes pale. Well, paler. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. No one said anything about bears.”
Riley laughs, and Jake and Will, who are crouched down by the fire pit, both chuckle too. It’s less warm. “No worries, Foster,” Jake says. “I think the bears would probably pass over you. All bones, no meat, right?”
Will lets out a barking laugh at that, and Emma cringes a little at it as she puts her bag down next to the tent. Next to her, Audrey looks ready to murder. Brooke rolls her eyes a few feet away, her arms still around Noah and Riley. “Yeah, and they’d go straight for you, Jake. All meat, no brains.”
That loosens the grin from Jake’s face a bit, and he seems to work a sentence around in his mouth for a moment before giving up on it and returning to the fire pit. Will looks darkly at Brooke, who untangles from the other two to help them unpack Riley’s duffel, then turns his gaze on Emma and Audrey. “Where were you guys, anyway.”
“We got lost,” Emma says diplomatically. She’s keeping an eye on Audrey, who’s unpacking her and Noah’s bags with a lot of violent movement. They’re gonna need to make sure everyone keeps a wide radius.
“Lost in each other’s eyes,” Riley singsongs, her arms wrapping sweetly around the crook of Noah’s elbow. He goes a little red, and stutters, and it’s just so cute that Emma forgives him for taking an extra half hour to get them here.
Unfortunately, Will isn’t as moved as the girls are by romantic platitudes. Emma should’ve figured he wouldn’t be. “So where were you?”
Emma doesn’t owe him an explanation, she knows that, but she starts one anyway. “I just said, we-”
“It’s cool, Emma, no need for any explanations,” Jake says, overly comforting, grin already stretching across his face. “You finally turn her, Jensen?”
Audrey punches him so hard in the arm he yelps, then, without looking up, shouts, “Hey! Lovebird number one! Are you gonna help me with your stuff or what?”
“Oh,” Noah says, “right,” and then he’s between Emma and Audrey, unzipping compartments on his enormous bag, and there’s no more room to talk.
Will’s still looking at her. “Emma-”
“Emma!” Brooke’s voice cuts through his, impossible to ignore and even harder to disobey. “We need your pert little ass over here pronto!”
It gives her enough of an excuse to go. She fakes as apologetic of a smile as she can at Will, checks to make sure Noah is still standing between him and Audrey, and hurries over.
Apparently Brooke wasn’t just giving her an out. “Hold this,” she says, and thrusts the biggest Birkin bag Emma’s ever seen into her arms. Pulling it open and beginning to withdraw pajamas, her phone, and marshmallow skewers, she continues, “Kinda looks like you’ve got some trouble in paradise, Emma.”
“Yeah, well,” Emma says, momentarily distracted by the sheer size of the stakes Brooke pulls out of the bag next. “I’d hardly say it’s paradise.”
Brooke gives her a sharp, calculating look, then pulls two enormous sweaters out of the bag. “Well, at least you’ve got options. Speaking of options, blue or black?”
Emma looks at them for what she feels like is just about an appropriate consideration time, then says “Blue.”
“-and then,” Jake says dramatically, tilting the flashlight under his face, “the girl says ‘Billy? Billy, are you there?’ and she thinks she hears Billy’s voice-”
“Em,” Will says, urgently. “Em, your marshmallow’s on fire-”
She waves at him impatiently. “I like them burned, shhh-”
But when she tunes back in, she’s apparently missed something critical. “BAM!” Jake cries enthusiastically, and Riley jumps a little. “The door slams closed. No sound from inside… or out. Everything is dead silent. And then, when the door opens… it’s empty again. And Billy and Jane were never… heard from… again.”
Riley gasps, then starts applauding. Even Brooke smiles a little, grudgingly. “Okay,” she acquiesces. “That was a little spooky.”
Disappointed, Emma sighs, and leans over towards Audrey. “I missed it. What happened?”
Audrey leans forward and blows out Emma’s marshmallow. “Billy was a zombie. It wasn’t that good. Noah’s will be better. Is this one yours or mine?”
“Yours,” Emma says. “I burned it too much.”
Audrey works it off the skewer with her fingers, considers the graham crackers and chocolate for a moment, then just pops it in her mouth. “Wrong.”
On the other side of the campfire, Riley has begun urging Noah into starting his own ghost story. “Come on, Noah, please. Puh-lease. Do the one about the man in the lake.”
“I don’t know,” Noah says, even though he’s grinning enough for it to be obvious he’s just hesitating for compliments’ sake, “you’ve heard that one already-”
“But no one else has!”
Brooke, who’s had a cider and a half already, starts clapping. “Come on, Noah. No-ah! No-ah! No-ah!”
Riley joins in enthusiastically, and after putting down her skewer Emma does too, laughing when Noah preens a little under the attention. Audrey slaps her knee in rhythm, looking amused, and reaches across Jake for another beer.
“All right, all right,” Noah says, waving his hands and looking smug in a Noah sort of way, which is just adorable rather than annoying. “Okay. This one’s especially creepy, because it’s true.” Jake boos him, and he just laughs and shakes his head. “No, it is! And it happened right in good ole Lakewood. You guys know that lake in the middle of the town? Well, the rumor is, twenty years ago…”
Will’s fingers dig into Emma’s thigh. “Hey, Emma. We need to talk.”
She knew he’d do this. She should’ve let someone sit between them as a buffer. “Not right now, Will.”
“Yes, right now,” he says insistently. “You need to know that-”
“... and the thing is, this man was kind of like a Beauty and the Beast type, right. He was ugly, and so quiet, and kind of a surly type, but everyone who really knew him said he had a heart of gold. Which is why no one quite understands-”
Emma focuses, tries to listen to the sound of Noah’s voice and fights the urge to swipe Will’s grip off her leg. “I’m trying to listen, Will. Can we do this later?”
His grip just grows tighter. “Emma, I’m trying to-”
“Hey,” Audrey says, quietly but sharply, from Emma’s other side. Her hand’s wrapped around the neck of her beer, and she’s looking straight at Will, unflinching. “Shut up.”
Will glares at her, his fingers splaying over Emma’s skirt. “Why don’t you mind your own damn
Audrey’s shoulder brushes against Emma as she leans forward, moisture dripping from her beer onto Emma’s bare ankles. “Why don’t you-”
“Hey,” Emma hisses, finally shoving Will’s hand off her knee and pressing one palm into Audrey’s shoulder, to hold her back. “Knock it off, both of you. Will, we’ll talk later.”
After another moment, Audrey allows herself to be pushed back, looks away again and reaches for another marshmallow. Emma looks away from Will, and passes Audrey a skewer without looking at her either.
“Guys,” Noah says, and when Emma looks over again they’re all being stared at. Jake’s smirking, Riley and Noah are concerned, and Brooke looks caught between the two. “Hey. Uh. Everything okay over there?”
Emma smiles, and nods, and Audrey says, “Peachy. You get to the part about the seaweed yet?”
Noah crinkles his nose at her. “No! Shush. So, the man starts hollowing out every tree in the girl’s yard. How, you ask? No one knows, but people say…”
Audrey passes Emma a perfectly burned marshmallow without saying anything. Emma can feel Will’s gaze boring into the back of her neck.
There’s four tents and seven of them. The division feels like it should be easy.
“Okay,” Riley says, side-eyeing Noah, who’s drumming his fingers against his knees. “So how are we doing this, are we segregating by sex or-”
Jake shakes his head so hard his lips flap. “No way,” he says. “Not a chance. Not only do I have an uber hot girlfriend I’d rather be smushing booties with, Will snores like a motherfucker.”
Riley sags a little in relief, smiling like this is exactly the way she expected it to go. “Okay then. I guess I’ll share with Noah. Uh, if that works with you, Audrey.”
“Hey-” Noah says indignantly, but Audrey cuts him off. “No, it’s cool. Emma and I will share.”
There’s a weird, short pause, and Emma only has about two seconds to weigh out tenting with Audrey, tenting with Will, or letting Will and Audrey tent together. Audrey comes out on top. “Yeah. Sounds good.”
“Great!” Noah says promptly, probably because he can see Will’s expression and Emma can’t. “Great, so we should all set up our tents in a calm and concise manner and tuck in for the night, it’s so dark out, what do we say?”
Emma’s elbow is grabbed from behind, and she really has to dig her heels into the ground to keep herself from being pulled backwards. “Emma,” Will’s voice says. “We really need to talk.”
Jake whistles. “Yeah, you do.”
Brooke elbows him in the gut. “All right, hilarious. Go get my stuff, Amadeus.”
“Yes, my liege,” he says dutifully, and wanders away in Brooke’s riptide. Riley gives Emma an encouraging look, and Noah seems to do the same for Audrey, even though his encouraging expression looks mostly like a grimace.
Audrey grimaces right back at him, then turns to Emma. “I’ll get everything set up,” she says. “God knows you can’t be trusted with tents.” She casts a dark look at Will before Emma can say something snappy back. “Don’t be too long. I need an extra set of hands.”
Then she’s gone, and it’s just Emma and Will.
His hand moves from her elbow to her wrist, and the grip is lighter but it still twists hard when Emma turns around to face him. He’s smiling, with his lips but not his teeth, which means he’s about to say something mean, thinly veiled as a joke. “Em, if you keep her on that leash any tighter she’s gonna choke.”
She ignores that. “Will, I told you I don’t want to do this during the trip.”
“If we talk about it after the trip, that’s too much time,” Will says. “It might be too late. Emma, you need to know that I’d never do anything to hurt you-”
He’s said this twice already. “No, but apparently you’d do basically anything to help yourself. Did you really think I’d never find out?”
Will turns red, high in the cheeks, which means he’s mad more often than he is contrite. “I’m not proud of it, Em. But you know how Nina is, she gets her claws in you and she-”
“Yes, I know how Nina is,” Emma says, impatient and itching to get out of this conversation, get back to camp, ease back into comfortable dialogue. “Everyone knows how Nina is, but I thought I knew who you were, Will! I thought you weren’t someone who would cheat on me with the homecoming queen! God, now how are we supposed to-”
She stops, but he doesn’t let it go. “What? How are we supposed to what?”
To be honest, she wasn’t even sure what she was going to say. She waves both hands, and lets herself look at the acorns on the ground. “It doesn’t matter. Okay? I don’t have a lot more to say about this, we’re gonna have final words on Monday when we get back to Lakewood, but the point is I’m not sure I’m crazy about the idea of being in a relationship that I know isn’t serious about being faithful-”
He actually laughs, and she nearly hits him. Emma’s never hit anyone in her whole life. “Faithful? Emma, that’s kind of rich, don’t you think?”
Emma blinks. “What are you talking about? I’ve never-”
“Well, maybe you’ve never slept with her,” Will says, and there it is, the meanness, the red spreading down from underneath his eyes, “but you’ve never told Jensen to hit the road, either, have you? You’ve got her panting after you, and I don’t know what it is you get out of it, if you just get off on, like, the power you have over her-”
She slaps him.
At first she thinks it hurt her hand more than it hurt him, but then he staggers back and holds his face and she’s not entirely sure. When Will looks back up at her, he actually looks stunned.
“We’re done,” she says, because she doesn’t want to talk about this anymore and that seems to be the only way out of the conversation. And she leaves him there.
When she gets back to camp, Noah and Riley are still milling about, chuckling and talking amongst themselves. Jake’s practically done with his and Brooke’s tent, Brooke walking around it in slow, luxurious circles.
Her and Audrey’s tent is all set up, and there’s no sign of Audrey anywhere.
They’re quiet in the tent at first. Emma had said thanks for setting up the tent, and Audrey had said not to mention it, and then they were just lying on their backs with no idea what to say.
Stars are visible through the flap at the top of the tent when Audrey says, “Why did you even go out with him in the first place?”
Emma glances over, surprised. Audrey’s lying on her back, staring up at the stars, and she doesn’t move when Emma rolls over to face her. “Will?”
“Yeah,” Audrey says, and keeps looking up. “You don’t even like him. Why do you go out with him?”
This is a question Audrey’s been on the edge of asking for ages. Emma’s been able to see it plain on her face for the last six months, every time she and Will were in the same room. It’s not really a question Emma knows how to answer, so she hasn’t tried. “I do like him. I mean, I liked the idea of him. At first, anyway. He seemed like… the right kind of guy, you know? He was nice to me, he was friends with my friends. I thought he liked me.”
She could try to go on, but she doesn’t have to. Audrey cuts her off. “Okay, John Green. Not hearing a lot about what you liked about him.”
“I just said,” Emma says, “he was nice.”
When Audrey just irritatedly blows some hair out of her face, she tries to go on. “Well, I didn’t know him that well when we started dating. Brooke and Riley told me he was a good guy. I figured he’d, you know, grow on me.”
“Yeah, and he has,” Audrey says. “Like fungus. Emma, is this seriously what these people are doing to you? Convincing you to date whichever vapid, bland specimen has the the strongest Y chromosome?”
Now she’s turned to face Emma, even though her body is still facing upwards, even though her arms are still heavy on top of her sleeping bag. Emma frowns at her. “Hey. I don’t need this right now.”
But Audrey doesn’t quit. “Why, because you’re spending too much energy making yourself forgive Will for the eleven millionth shitty thing he’s done?
Emma tucks her hands under her head, to give her better leverage for glaring. “Because you’re my friend, and the last thing I need is criticism about who I choose to date-”
“I’m your best friend!” Audrey hisses. “And I’m sorry the popular people watered down your idea of what a good friend is, but it’s not someone who encourages you date someone like Will Belmont, okay! Who they all knew would cheat on you, and they let it happen anyway! So if you want to keep taking their advice over, hey, your oldest friend who actually cares about you and not just as a Facebook statistic, then I get it. It’s not fashionable to keep inviting the single gay girl on couple’s retreats, totally. But I just want to know why you ever considered giving that douchecanoe the time of day-”
“Will and I broke up,” Emma says, in a rush, without blinking. “He said something about you, so. We’re done. It’s over.” She pauses. “If that makes you want to add anything to the Emma’s-stupid-and-a-masochist bit.”
Apparently, it doesn’t. Audrey goes silent. It’s too dark to see the look on her face.
Emma rolls over, and goes to sleep.
She wakes up, and the tent smells like bacon.
For one second, Emma’s really concerned everything’s on fire. Then she rolls over, and Audrey’s sitting on top of her sleeping bag, fully dressed and picking at a plate of meat and beans. She glances at Emma, then takes another mouthful of beans.
“Morning,” she says. “Here.” And she passes Emma a heavy plate of cooked eggs, bacon, and some blueberries.
Emma sits up, runs a hand through her hair, takes the plate with one hand and rubs at her eyes with the other. “Thank you. Did you cook all this?”
Audrey doesn’t look up, just keeps picking at the beans. “Yeah. Well, except the blueberries. I found those.” She glances up again, then frowns defensively at Emma’s skeptical gaze. “Don’t look at me like that, they’re fine. I used to come and pick them with my mom. Anyway, I didn’t have enough confidence in Tweedledee and Tweedledum to start a fire again in the next decade, so I figured I’d take matters into my own hands.”
“Mm,” Emma says, picking up a piece of bacon and taking a tentative bite. It’s overdone. Emma likes them that way. Audrey doesn’t.
This time Audrey keeps looking at her, brow creased a little. “How is it?”
“It’s really good,” Emma says, and means it. “Thank you.”
She doesn’t get a response, but Audrey does smile a little when she looks down at her beans again, so that’s something.
They eat together for a quiet couple of minutes, then Emma says, “Is anyone else awake?”
“Not that I saw,” Audrey says, taking a crunchy bite of her own bacon then grimacing. “But I wasn’t really looking to go around and knock on doors, you know.”
Can’t fault her there. There’s no accounting for Riley and Noah yet, but with Brooke and Jake it’s always risky. “Smart move. Anyway, if I know Brooke she won’t be up till noon.”
Audrey chuckles. “Well,” she says, “then we’ve got time.”
They’re both quiet again. There’s no pushing. The air is thin.
Then Emma says, “Can you show me where you found the blueberries?”
Audrey tells her it’s a long walk, but it’s not so bad. By the time they get there, the sun is bright but not burning, and everything is so green. There’s long grass everywhere, and all the plants are still a little dewy, and it makes Emma feel like a kid, but in a nice way.
They must be nearing the end of blueberry season, whatever blueberry season is, because all the berries are bursting with color, dark against the vine, some of them overripe and spilling over with seeds. Emma rolls each between her fingers before eating it. “You and your mom used to come here?”
“Yeah,” Audrey says, pulling at least six off a vine in one grab. “I haven’t come in ages. But this was, like, a secret spot. We’d get blueberries here every year, come home and surprise my dad. And she’d make the blueberry scones.”
One of the berries bursts under Emma’s fingers. “The blueberry scones! God, those were so good. I miss those.”
Then she winces, but Audrey doesn’t seem to notice, just tilts her head back and empties the handful of berries down her throat. “Yeah, me too.”
Emma watches her for a minute, just Audrey, the way she walks between the bushes. Audrey’s always had a hard walk, almost a stomp, and Mom used to despair of it, saying she’d snap both her legs in half eventually just by walking. Here, though, Audrey’s steps are lighter. Her fingertips are brushing lightly at the leaves.
Then she turns back, to look at Emma, and hurriedly Emma eats another blueberry. It’s too ripe, but she swallows it anyway. “I, uh. I’m sorry for flipping out on you last night.”
It takes a second for Emma to fight the blueberry all the way down her throat, and by the time she does her voice is a little thick. “It’s okay, Audrey.”
“No, it’s not,” Audrey says, and she sounds irritated again but it’s not as sharp. It’s the internal kind. She’s looking at the ground. “You were right, you have enough on your case already without me giving you crap. It’s not like you bring me on these things to make digs at you. So. I’m sorry.”
The same thing again. “Audrey, I bring you on these things because you’re my favorite person to have around,” Emma says. “You are my best friend. And, you know, I probably need someone to give me crap once in a while.”
Audrey chuckles, and looks at the ground, and crushes some berries under her foot. “Nah, you don't,” she says. “You really don't.”
Emma looks at her, and smiles, but she’s not sure Audrey sees it. So she goes back to picking berries.
After a second, one bonks her in the head, and she looks up again. Audrey’s smiling with half her mouth. “What did Will say about me, anyway?”
In mock spite, Emma tosses one back at her. Audrey catches it between her teeth, and looks so wholly pleased with herself Emma can’t even pretend to be annoyed. “It doesn’t matter. He was just being a jerk. We should take some of these back for the others.”
There’s a pause. “Okay,” Audrey says, easily. “But we can’t tell anyone where we got them.”
“Because it’s a secret spot,” Emma agrees, amused. Then she actually considers it for a moment. “Oh, wait. Is it okay that I’m here, then?”
Audrey gives her a look, like it’s a stupid question. “Of course, it’s fine. Mom always used to say I should bring you up here someday.” She flicks another blueberry at Emma, and Emma tries to catch this one, but it still bounces off her nose. Audrey giggles, and says, “Now I have.”
Emma wants to say thank you, or I miss your mom, or why do you even still want to be my friend, but none of them feel quite right. So instead she just throws three more blueberries at Audrey. She catches two, and laughs.
“Mm,” Brooke groans, eyes fluttering shut. Emma’s pretty sure the moan is more for everyone else’s benefit than the blueberries’, and the way Noah, Will, and Jake all shift in their seats tells her she’s probably right. Audrey just smirks, looking between her and Emma and leaning back in her lawn chair. “These are so scrumptious. You sure you can’t tell us where you found them?”
“Nope,” Emma says, scavenging the bottom of her sunhat for the last of the fruit. “It’s a secret.”
Noah reaches in and steals some before she can lay claim to it. “You guys were really gone for a while. We were starting to get worried.”
Riley nods, then bares her teeth and raises her hand in claws. “Yeah, we were worried maybe Billy the Zombie had got you or something.”
“Or something,” Will says darkly. Emma tries her hardest not to look at him, but when she does one of his cheeks definitely looks redder than the other. He’s already looking at her. She quickly looks down at her hat.
But apparently Audrey’s looked over too. “Whoa, Will. What hit you?”
There’s a sharp intake of breath over from Will is, and Emma’s shoulders are tightening before Jake barks with laughter and says, “He doesn’t want to talk about it. I figured it was you, Jensen.”
“Nope,” Audrey says. “Not me. I’d remember.”
“Hey,” Emma says, in an embarrassingly transparent attempt to change the subject, “I’m getting kind of cold.”
Brooke puts two fingers over her lips, swallows, then says, “Me too. Jake, start a fire.”
Jake draws himself up, indignant. “Hey. I started the fire last night, chiquita.”
“So?” she yawns, drawing herself in a stretch. “Do it again.”
“I started it last night,” he says again. “Someone else should have a turn. Like, for example, nerd alert.”
Noah looks up and around, surprised. “Uh,” he says. “I actually have a slight phobia of firearms. Slight.”
“Aw,” Riley says. “I didn’t know that. How come?”
Brooke groans, and stamps one foot once. “It is cold! I am cold, and Emma is cold, and if no one starts a fire in the next five seconds-”
Something heavy and warm drops on top of Emma, and a second later Audrey is moving past her, rolling up her sleeves. “Jesus Christ. Where’s the lighter.”
“Next to the big rock,” Jake says helpfully. Emma reaches around behind her, and finds the weight is Audrey’s jacket, draped over her shoulders. She looks to Audrey, wanting to thank her, but Audrey’s already knelt down, distracted, in front of the fire pit. So Emma just fits her arms into the sleeves instead, and hugs it around herself.
It’s very warm.
Jake’s gone to sit beside Brooke, but she shrugs off his arm when he reaches around her. Instead, she leans back on her hands, eyelids lowering dark and heavy as she watches Audrey work. “Hmm. You know, I like a girl who’s self-sufficient.”
“Yeah?” Audrey says, and she looks up, briefly, from Noah’s fake firewood to toss a sharp-toothed grin over her shoulder. “How much?”
Jake chokes. Riley bursts into a surprised peal of laughter, and Noah just looks exasperated. He glances at Emma, who gives him her best what-are-you-gonna-do look and then tugs Audrey’s jacket tighter around herself when he looks away.
When she looks over at Will again for his reaction, he’s just glaring at her. One of her fingernails gets caught in the jacket’s zipper.
A cheer and a couple of groans of relief sound off from Emma’s left, and she hurriedly looks over to see Audrey plop back down beside her, looking satisfied, and a small fire crackling in the pit.
“Wow,” Riley says admiringly. “That was so fast.”
“Thank you,” Emma says, quietly, and Audrey looks at her, almost surprised. She makes to shrug out of Audrey’s jacket, and Audrey waves her off.
“I don’t need it,” she says. “You’re the one that’s cold.”
She isn’t anymore. Still, she bumps her shoulder against Audrey’s. “Thank you.”
“So,” Noah says. “What now? Food? More scary stories?”
Riley shakes her head emphatically. “Noo. You’re too good at them. I had nightmares last night.”
“You have nightmares whenever you eat peanut butter,” Emma says. “It’s not Noah’s fault.”
“Either way,” Brooke says, decisively, “no more scary stories. We are scary storied out. Let’s do something fun.”
They all look at each other. Emma can tell from Noah’s expression that scary stories were probably the most fun thing in his arsenal.
“I vote, like, truth or dare,” Jake says. “I wanna see people make out.”
Before Emma can even react, Audrey shakes her head. “Yeah, this isn’t a free pass to Pornhub’s 18-and-under. I’m not making out with anyone. Sorry.”
“Boo,” Brooke says, letting herself settle back against Jake. “Boring. Okay, well, I still wanna play even if Audrey’s no fun.”
“I want to play too!” Riley says. “Buuuut first I’m gonna need some of the tequila.”
Noah reaches over for the booze bag. “Same and same.”
Audrey leans across Brooke, arm outstretched and fingers wiggling. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t play, just that I’m not swapping spit. Noah?”
He passes her a PBR, then another for Emma when she raises her hand to ask for one. She takes it from Audrey, cracks it open. “Same goes for me. I’m in, but I’m not doing anything especially weird.”
Jake gives a long, dramatic sigh. “Y’all are so tragic.” He tosses a beer over Emma’s head at Will. “You in, bro?”
“Sure,” Will says, and catches it one-handed. “Who’s going first?”
“Well, I’ve never played this game,” Noah says, “but according to my knowledge of fair sportsmanship, I think the suggestee ought to be the first to go.”
Over Jake’s delighted “so that’s how it’s gonna be, Foster?”, Brooke claps her hands together. “Yes! Jake! Jake goes first.”
Riley waves one hand in the air. “Me! Me, I wanna ask.” When Brooke points at her, she clasps her beer in both hands and leans forward. “Jake. Fitzgerald. Truth. Or. Dare.”
“Dare,” Jake says impressively.
With a grin that says she knew this is exactly how it would go down, Riley says, “I dare you to make out with Will.”
Both Jake and Will look stricken. Noah turns white, Brooke whoops, Audrey falls off the log laughing, and Emma grins and huddles up tighter under Audrey’s jacket.
They end up having to do it. Brooke takes about seventy pictures of a two-second ordeal, then whines about how Snapchat doesn’t work in the middle of the woods. Emma laughs till she can’t breathe.
It’s the kind of day she wanted.
They play truth or dare, and they eat, and they play never have I ever until Brooke and Riley are too drunk to stop giggling and ask questions. Then they all shuffle back to their tents, the seven of them on a spectrum from sloppily drunk to nicely buzzed.
Emma’s definitely the latter, even if she does stumble into Audrey twice on the way over. She hadn’t even come close to Brooke’s speed on never have I ever- actually, the only person she was sure she had beat is Noah, who’s apparently never done anything. Audrey had had exactly one more swig than Emma, though. She’d been counting.
“I still can’t believe Brad Jones was your first kiss,” Audrey says, cutting across her thoughts. She’s climbing into her sleeping bag, and Emma reluctantly peels off her jeans and Audrey’s jacket and follows suit. “I gag every time I think about it.”
So does Emma. “It was spin the bottle. I couldn’t help it. I can’t believe you’ve really skinny-dipped in the lake. Who were you with?”
“It was a dare,” Audrey says, and doesn’t answer the question. “Never doing it again. Jesus, it really is cold.”
It is. Emma thinks so too. She hesitates for a moment, her legs still half-in her sleeping bag, then she withdraws them and unzips Audrey’s.
Audrey recoils immediately, inching to the other side of the bag and looking at Emma with wide eyes. “Whaaat are you doing.”
“Brandon showed me how to do this when we were kids,” Emma says, and lines her bag up with Audrey’s, zipper to zipper. “He used to have me and Piper do it if it was too cold out. Always said, if you and your partner both agree it’s uncomfortably chilly out and there’s a consensual agreement and comfort level between the two of you-”
And she zips them together. Audrey’s still looking at her like she’s crazy, and she still hasn’t moved. “How drunk are you?”
“I’m not!” Emma says. “I’m just cold. You know I get cold. Scooch over.”
She wiggles in next to her, and it’s infinitely different from sharing with Piper when she was eight and Piper was thirteen, because Piper had been so much bigger, then, and Emma had been so much smaller. Audrey’s harder, all bone and muscle, and quieter, and she just feels different, the way their knees come together, the way her hair falls against the pillow.
The way she looks at Emma is different. “You’re nuts,” she says, and it’s hard with incredulity but warm with affection, and Emma feels kind of small when Audrey looks at her like that. “Can I ask you something?”
“What happened to Will?” Audrey says. “His face.”
Suddenly it’s so embarrassing Emma has to look away, but there’s really nowhere to look with Audrey’s face this close. “I… hit him.”
“What?” Audrey says, aghast, and Emma buries her face in the pillow. “You hit him? Emma!”
She resurfaces from the pillow, and rakes some hair out of her face. “I’ve never hit someone before. I didn’t think it was that hard, I didn’t know it’d leave a mark.”
Audrey gapes at her for a whole minute, then says, “So- so wait. You’ve never hit someone- you never hit Will before this, even when you found out he cheated on you, until today, because-”
It’s been like one minute since Emma zipped the sleeping bags together and she’s already regretting it. It’s very warm, but there’s nowhere to look. She turns over onto her back. “Yeah. Well.”
She doesn’t try to elaborate, and Audrey doesn’t try to respond, and neither of them move. They lay there like that for way too long. Then Emma reaches up and unzips the top flap of the tent.
It’s a clear night. The sky is so blue against the stars. Audrey rolls onto her back.
“Do you remember,” Emma says, and she has to wet her lips. “Do you remember that one time, when we were like ten and we were out in my backyard and I had the constellation picture book and we tried to find all of them?”
“Yeah,” says Audrey. She really is so warm. Her arms keep brushing against Emma’s, then away.
“I don’t think I could find more than five now,” says Emma. Her hand goes searching for a moment, find Audrey’s, then bumps it. Then bumps it again.
“Yeah,” says Audrey. She takes the hint, and loops their pinkies together. “We were getting them all wrong anyway. It doesn’t matter.”
Her hand is warm too, but it’s not clammy. It’s just nice. “It does matter. And we weren’t getting them all wrong. Look, there’s- yeah, there’s Orion’s belt.”
She points with her other hand, and Audrey squints, then nods. “Oh, yeah. Yeah. And there-” She outlines it with her finger. “-is his dick.”
And yeah, there it is, plain as day. “Shut up, Orion doesn’t have a dick.”
“Uh, yeah he does. It’s staring me right in the face. And look, there’s Zeus and his massive schlong- oh, shit, I think I can see Capricorn’s business, too-”
Emma shakes her head, biting down on her laughter and trying to point. “No, no, stop- look, there’s Polaris-”
Audrey’s grinning, a real grin, the kind that crinkles up her eyes. “Yeah, I see it. You know what else I see? Noah’s back acne. Right over there.”
Emma gasps out a laugh, then covers her mouth. “Stop. Okay, there’s, um, Castor and Pollux-”
“The Lakewood Lemming-”
“Fucking crabs, don’t even need to undo that one-”
“Come on, the Big Dipper-”
“Oh my god. That’s definitely Piper’s faked poison ivy rash-”
Then they’re both giggling, and shushing each other, and Emma’s biting hard on her mouth to keep herself from being too loud. Audrey’s watching her, and her eyes are so small from how hard they’re crinkled up, and when she laughs like this she looks just like she did when she was little.
Emma’s head lolls back, and she’s still smiling, and the stars hardly matter anymore but they’re still stars so she gives them one more go. “Okay, okay. Those ones- see that patch?”
Audrey says “yeah,” and her voice is curled up in a smile.
“They look like the flecks in your eyes,” Emma says.
And she doesn’t really mean anything when she says it, except that the stars do kind of look like the flecks in Audrey’s eyes. But then she glances over, and the smile’s gone from Audrey’s face, and she looks as though Emma’s said either something very shocking or very inappropriate.
Emma’s going to ask what it is when Audrey reaches over her with her free hand, the one that’s not still looped with Emma’s pinky, cusps the back of her head, and the same panicked look is the last thing Emma sees before Audrey kisses her.
It’s a shock, but not one she jerks back from, and that in itself is another shock. It’s not quite a real kiss yet, anyway, she would have to shift a tiny bit so Audrey’s lips move from the corner of her mouth onto hers, and she does, and-
It’s not like kissing a boy.
It’s like kissing Audrey. It’s not soft- the moment they really connect, the moment Emma moves, Audrey is pushing against her, hand fisting in her hair, gasping before pressing together again. But it doesn’t feel like an invasion, either, it doesn’t hurt, it’s just Audrey, Audrey and the smell of the campfire outside and the taste of beer still in Emma’s mouth and this itch under her skin that’s unfamiliar.
Emma’s hand finds the back of Audrey’s head, and pulls her in closer, and Audrey actually shivers.
She can’t think about anything else. She feels like she should, she’s always thinking about at least three things that aren’t Will when she kisses him, that aren’t Audrey, but she can’t. The way Audrey is breathing, ragged already even though it’s been less than a minute. How soft her hair is. How dry her skin is. How warm her mouth is. How this feels easy, easier than it should, if Audrey feels the same way she does, if this is how kissing a girl always feels like or if it’s just Audrey and just how she is-
It’s Audrey who pulls away first. Emma opens her eyes. She didn’t know she’d closed them.
Audrey looks as though she’s just killed somebody and has no idea what to do with the body. “Emma,” she says, like it’s another word for God.
Emma’s breathing so hard her lungs hurt. She doesn’t know what to say. She doesn’t want to take it back. She doesn’t know what she can say other than taking it back.
“Um,” is what she ends up saying. “Okay. Good night.”
She cringes almost immediately, but there’s really no going back on that one. She can’t really look at Audrey’s expression anymore, anyways, so she rolls over, and closes her eyes.
Their ankles are still tangled together. There’s no getting out of that one.
After about five minutes, Audrey whispers “good night,” back, but she still doesn’t move.
She hasn’t moved at all by the time Emma falls asleep.
When she wakes up, Audrey’s gone, and it takes a moment for Emma to remember why.
She has to check their sleeping bags are still zipped together, just to make sure it wasn’t a dream, and they are. So then she lies in the sleeping bag for about ten minutes, thinking, before getting up, pulling on a pair of pants, and climbing out of the tent.
It’s 10:11 am, and Noah and Riley are cooking hot dogs on a stick. “It’s pretty much what we have left,” is the first thing Riley says to Emma, apologetically. “I know it’s kind of gross, but.”
“No, it’s fine,” Emma says. “Just make sure there’s enough left for lunch. Have you guys seen Audrey?”
Noah nods, though he looks mostly focused on the grilling of his hot dog. “Yeah, uh. She headed out maybe like an hour ago with a hatchet. Said she was going out to chop firewood. Let’s hope that’s what she’s doing, you know?”
Emma groans. “Come on, Noah, I told you not to let her bring weapons.”
He lifts one hand up in defense, and turns his stick with the other. “I did tell her! I said, ‘Audrey, don’t bring any weapons, we don’t have a license’ and she said ‘fine, whatever’ so I thought it was taken care of!”
“Next time check her bag,” Emma says.
Riley frowns contemplatively, bringing her hot dog close to her face to inspect it. “I don’t think we need that much more firewood, anyway.”
“We don’t need any,” Noah says. “We still have a ton of fake stuff left, she’s just being her usual emo s- shit!”
His hot dog catches fire. Emma and Riley watch it burn for a moment in reverential silence, then Emma says, “I’m gonna go look for her.”
After frantically puffing out his hot dog and waving it around in the air, Noah says, breathlessly, “I told her to be back by noon.”
“I’m going to look for her anyway,” Emma says, then “tell Brooke the hot dogs are low-fat so she’ll eat them,” then she picks up her sunhat, dusts it off, puts it on, and heads out. “And wear sunscreen!”
Riley shouts back, “You wear sunscreen!” and Emma laughs but doesn’t go back for it.
Audrey’s not with the blueberries. She’s not in the open field, either, and Emma knows better than to wander too much in the empty forest by herself. So she only wanders a little.
Eventually, she has to stop and sit down. In the distance, she thinks she can hear something that could be a small body agitatedly chopping wood with an axe, then decides not to pursue it. She can practically hear Noah’s voice in her head. Following mysterious noises that are only possibly your friends isn’t very Final Girl behavior, Emma.
The problem is, Audrey’s always like this.
And Emma knows Audrey’s always like this, she knows Audrey always ditches when she’s spooked. The issue before was that Emma could never tell what it was that spooked her.
Now she knows. And she still let Audrey go.
This is her fault. Which means she has to fix it, which means she has to find Audrey, and tell her… something. She’ll figure out the last part once she’s finished steps one and two.
She gets back up, and eats some of the blueberries she’s stored in her pockets. Only a little more wandering around in the woods, then she’ll head back to camp. She has a Swiss army knife. She'll be fine.
In the end, she’s too wary of strange noises. She heads back to camp without having found Audrey, which works out because the rest of her friends seems to have found her.
Brooke is the first to run up to her. “Emma, why didn’t you tell us?”
A cold thread of fear runs through her. “Tell you what?”
“If I knew, I’d have done Will in myself,” says Riley, who’s the next to appear. “That scum. Still, though, thank god you’re back, we really need your help-”
“Wait, wait,” Emma says, waving them off. “What’s going on? What are you talking about?”
They both look at her like she should already know. “Will,” Riley says. “Cheating on you. With Nina.”
Emma’s mouth falls open. She drops the remaining berries she still has. “What? How did you know-”
“Audrey,” Brooke says impatiently. “But you should’ve been the one to tell us-”
“What?” Emma says again, looking between them. They’re both so close, closing in. “Audrey? Where is she?”
At that, they both suspiciously go silent, and look at each other. Emma looks between them again, increasingly anxious. “What?”
“Last I saw of her she’d decked Will so hard he fell over,” Riley says, all in a rush. Brooke nods in agreement. “We were going to come get you, so you could-”
Emma’s whole body goes tight. “Where are they.”
“Like, twenty yards from the campfire,” Brooke says dismissively. “Noah’s tried to get in the middle, but that’s hardly helping matters. I think they need a woman’s touch.”
“Jake’s recording it,” Riley says. “Come on. Come on, Emma, she hit him really hard. We need to go stop them.”
Emma takes off her hat, sweater, and bracelets, dumps them next to the firepit, and starts stalking in the general direction of commotion.
By the time they get there, the fight looks mostly over, if it had even been much of a fight to begin with. Everyone’s on their feet, but Will has a bloody nose and is red in the face with some dirt under his chin. Audrey’s maybe a foot away from him, looking relatively unhurt but with pine needles and mud streaked up both her arms, and Noah at a safe distance from her, a long thin fingernail scrape on his forearm. Emma can’t tell who put it there.
Audrey’s breathing heavy, and when she takes a step towards Will he flinches back. It gets Emma moving forward again, from where she’d been frozen, just looking at the blood dripping on the leaves.
Jake’s still taping, looking amused and distinctly unhelpful, but he puts the phone down when he sees her approach. “Emma, whoa. Hey there, killer.”
Will looks up, and flushes an even darker red, but if it’s out of embarrassment or anger Emma can’t really tell. She’s not looking to decipher his expressions right now anyway. Audrey spins around to face her, and her eyes widen but the glare doesn’t lessen. The first thing she says is “Listen, I didn’t start this-”
Emma grabs her by the arm, and Audrey twists under her grip, but only halfheartedly. “Move,” Emma says, and Audrey scowls at her and Jake caws in the background. She doesn’t care. “Move.”
Emma lets her go only when she’s sure they’re out of earshot. She lets her go, thrusts Audrey’s wrist out of her grip, crosses her own arms. “What the hell, Audrey! I asked you to-”
“I didn’t start it!” Audrey says, and she’s already shouting. “I didn’t do anything, he came after me!”
Somehow, doubtful. “So Will is the one who told everyone he cheated on me? He gave himself a bloody nose?”
“He came after me while I was holding an axe, which was pretty fucking stupid,” Audrey says, “and he asked me what I did to you, and I said I didn’t do anything to you, because I haven’t. What did you fucking say to him?”
“I haven’t talked to Will at all the last two days,” Emma says, “today I was too busy looking for you.”
Audrey looks at her for a second, caught off guard, then shakes her head and disregards it. “Well, he must’ve picked up on something, because he’s asking me what I did to turn his girlfriend into a dyke.”
Emma’s teeth set, hard, inside her mouth, but she doesn’t uncross her arms, she doesn’t unclench her jaw. “So you hit him.”
“No,” Audrey says, and her lips are quirking up but it’s not quite a smile. “That’s not when I hit him. I was being diplomatic, I said you’re not his girlfriend, it’s done, and he said what the fuck do I know about it, and I said just that Emma’s never going to stay with some creep that cheats on her, and he said you’re clearly desperate enough to settle for anyone, if you’re willing to settle for me. That’s when I hit him.”
It’s so much. Emma unfolds her arms. “I- Jesus. Did you break his nose?”
Audrey snorts. “Please. He’s fine. Better educated on when it’s appropriate to use slurs, maybe.”
“Are you okay?”
Now Audrey looks away from her, and takes two paces away. “Fine. Look, it’s not that big a deal. You hit him, I hit him. Now he’s been hit. Whatever.”
Emma follows her. “It is a big deal! I just- I told you I wanted the camping trip to be okay, I wanted to keep what was going on between Will and me between Will and me. This wasn’t supposed to be about that. I didn’t want anyone to know, Audrey, you knew that.”
“Yeah, well,” Audrey says, looking away from Emma and walking in a quick circle around the nearest tree. “I didn’t want to spend three days in the woods with Will Belmont, either, but here we are.”
It’s a dig, and she means it as one- she’s stopped in front of Emma, too close, and is glaring right in her face. Emma’s mouth falls open a little. “What- you don’t get to take this out on me, I invited you-”
“To be nice, yeah, I know,” Audrey says, and she takes a step forward, and Emma backs up. “Did you kiss me to be nice? Because, to be honest, Emma, I’m sick of you being nice, it lets your boyfriends cheat on you and it lets you fuck with my head and it lets me let you use me as a fucked-up rebound-”
“Is-” Emma says, and her hands falls by her side, and she takes another step back. “Is that what you think I was doing?”
Audrey bares her teeth. It’s still not a smile. “Isn’t it?”
“No!” Emma says, and now she’s yelling, and she has to lower her voice. “No, it wasn’t, it has nothing to do with Will-”
Audrey barks out a laugh, and takes a few steps back, turns around and runs both her hands through her hair. “Then what? I can’t hit your scumbag ex, I can’t tell anybody including you that you deserve better, I can’t kiss you and then- what?”
For a second Emma’s lost, her mind inconveniently quiet, like it had been when Audrey’d kissed her. Audrey turns to face her again, eyes more genuinely desperate for an answer than they are angry, then it clicks in her. Her something to say.
“It’s just that,” Emma says, and she swallows. “It’s just that I don’t want to have you fight all my battles for me. I don’t- I don’t want to need you as much as I do.”
Audrey stares at her.
Then Emma’s back is up against a tree, and Audrey’s kissing her again, like last night, even less soft. Her fingernails are digging into Emma’s hips, and she has woodchips caught in her belt and in her hair, and the trunk Emma’s backed up against is knobby and grotesquely uncomfortable.
It doesn’t matter. Emma winds one hand through Audrey’s dirty hair, the other around her waist, and kisses her back.
Audrey pulls back first again, just to breathe and to look at Emma, hair mussed, so disbelieving it would almost hurt if it weren’t for the budding smile small on her mouth.
Emma says, “I’m actually still a little mad at you.”
“I don’t care,” Audrey says, furtively, and grins when Emma laughs despite herself.
Emma kisses her again.
“Noah,” Audrey says. “Noah.”
“I,” Noah says declaratively, “am not listening. Because you are going to give me faulty instructions on how to get back to Lakewood. I know how to get back to Lakewood.”
The map pokes Emma in the cheek again. “Clearly you don’t,” Audrey says, “because if you did, you’d know that we had to take the last roundabout.”
“What the fuck is a roundabout,” Riley says.
Emma’s phone dings, and she looks down at it. “Brooke says they’re already back on the highway.”
Everyone groans, except Garmin Jill, who says “Recalculating.”
“Well,” Emma says, “I mean, does anyone have a curfew?”
Riley shrugs. “No.”
“Nope,” Audrey says.
Noah takes a very sharp turn onto Exit 4A, then says, “Uh.”
“It’s a weekend,” Audrey says. “He’s fine.”
“Well, I don’t either,” Emma says. “So let’s- just-” She plucks the map out of Audrey’s hands, and Audrey gives her an indignant look. “I mean, it’s okay if we just drive around for a bit. We could get dinner or something, or whatever.”
Riley considers this, then shrugs. “That sounds nice, actually. Having actual food.”
“Sure,” Noah says, then curses when he gets cut off. “Works for me.”
“Recalculating,” Garmin Jill says.
Audrey’s still looking at her reproachfully for taking the map, and Emma gives her an amused look and touches her hand. Brow clearing, Audrey opens it, and Emma tangles their fingers together. Audrey smiles at her, small, shoulders relaxing, and she leans back against the seat and closes her eyes. “Okay. Sounds good.”
It takes them an hour to even find a restaurant, and by the time they do, Garmin Jill has died. Audrey’s unbearably smug about it. Emma can’t stop smiling.