“Why did I agree to this?!” Tsuyoshi complained. “I don’t like cars.”
“You got over your fear of cars when we went to go Lincoln,” Hajime pointed out logically as he shoved the rest of their bags and the cooler into the back of the rental van. It was ugly, but it seated everyone and it would have to do. Oliver had originally wanted to rent multiple, better-looking cars but Jupiter had argued that it wasn’t a road trip if everyone was separated.
“You’re afraid of cars?” Lincoln asked curiously. He’d never heard this before.
“Why do you think he bikes everywhere?” Hajime replied. “Anyway, he rode in mine two weeks ago.”
“I was more concerned with finding Lincoln than my fear of cars,” Tsuyoshi sniffed indignantly. “But in case you haven’t noticed, nobody’s life is in danger right now.”
“Yours will be if you don’t get in the car,” Jackson said sweetly. “It’s not like you have anything better to do. You can’t go visit your family.”
“Road trips are meant for the summer,” Tsuyoshi insisted, though he climbed into the van anyway. “Where are we going again?”
“I told you a million times,” Oliver said, getting into the driver’s seat. “We’re going to Atlanta first, then driving to Florida to visit some friends and sightsee.”
“Where the hell are Adalric and Dex?” Hajime asked, poking his head into the van.
“Right behind you,” Jupiter commented helpfully, noticing Adalric and Dexter putting their bags in the back as well. Hajime rolled his eyes and rounded the van to climb into the passenger seat. Lincoln sat in the first middle row with Jupiter on one side and Yong-sun on the other. Tsuyoshi, Jackson, and Xavier were seated in the row behind them, and Adalric and Dex had the backseat to themselves.
“Yong-sun, babe, why aren’t you sitting next to me?” Jackson asked as Xavier sat next to him.
“Lincoln’s shoulders are more comfortable,” Yong-sun replied with a shrug. “I get sleepy during car rides.”
“They are really comfortable,” Jupiter said, leaning his head against Lincoln’s shoulder as he browsed his Instagram feed.
“You bitches are the reason why Lincoln suffers so much,” Oliver grumbled, starting the van as Tsuyoshi handed out snacks to everyone. There’s a round of cheers as Oliver backed out of the driveway and Jupiter launched into a rendition of the Little Einsteins theme song, joined enthusiastically by Yong-sun and Jackson.
“Maknae line,” Hajime scoffed after they finished, ducking his head when he noticed Adalric using his phone to film them. “Where the hell is that going?”
“Just on my story,” Adalric shrugged, showing him the Snapchat app. Hajime facepalmed and aggressively tore open his custard taiyaki. Lincoln was a huge fan of the fish-shaped snack, but only the ones with custard or chocolate fillings. He didn’t like the red bean paste, though it was the most common.
“Can you guys stop cursing? This is supposed to be a relaxing vacation,” Tsuyoshi scolded, sighing like a real mother.
“Sorry, mom,” Everyone in the van chorused, laughing when Tsuyoshi wrinkled his nose in disgust. The next hour passed by in a blur of karaoke, an impromptu rap battle between Hajime and Oliver, and the most intense debate on aliens Lincoln had ever witnessed courtesy of Jupiter and Xavier. He was pretty sure it would have ended in bloodshed had Adalric not chimed in, “How do we feel about the Pyramids of Giza being alien coordinates?”
“Anyone else notice that the speed of light is 299,792,458 meters per second and geographic coordinate for the Great Pyramid of Giza is 29.9792458 degrees North?” Jupiter asked excitedly.
The van went completely silent.
“No, Jupiter,” Jackson said slowly. “But that is a really interesting fact. I actually kind of believe Adalric’s crazy-ass theory now.”
Adalric scoffed. “My theory is not crazy, there’s tons of weird shit that you could totally relate to aliens. There was no way the Ancient Egyptians could be advanced enough to create pyramids like that. You know, if you turned the stone used into one-foot blocks and lined them up, you’d have enough to go two-thirds around the Earth. How did they build something so enormous with perfect ninety degree angles when they weren’t technologically advanced? They didn’t even have the wheel! And don’t you find it odd that the Egyptians kept careful records of everything except records of them building the pyramids?!”
Dex leaned over and whispered something in Adalric’s ear, and the boy fell silent.
“What did he say?” Jackson asked curiously, twisting his body in his seat so he could peer at the two sitting in the back.
“He said to stop sharing my crazy conspiracy theories,” Adalric replied sullenly. He crossed his arms when Lincoln and Oliver snorted simultaneously.
“I have to pee,” Yong-sun said suddenly, interrupting their conversation. He was met with loud groans and exclamations of “are you fucking serious?!” from everyone else, to which he pouted. “I have a small bladder.”
“Babe, I love you, but you can be a little annoying sometimes,” Jackson said.
Once again, the van went silent save for Yong-sun’s little gasp as his back went rigid in shock, whipping around to stare at Jackson. The aforementioned was tearing open a box of Pepero and hadn’t noticed everyone was staring at him until he looked up from the packaging. “What?”
“Y-You...You s-said-” Yong-sun stammered, blushing all the way up to his ears.
“Oh, I did,” Jackson said mildly, turning his attention back to his snack. “Well, I meant it.”
“It’s too fucking cute,” Tsuyoshi whispered, clutching his chest and falling backwards heavily like he was fainting. “I can’t handle this shit.”
“Maybe we do curse too much,” Hajime muttered from the front.
“We’re young adults,” Jupiter deadpanned. “If old people can ruin the economy, they could at least let us use creative language.”
“Guys, this is all fine and dandy, but I still have to pee,” Yong-sun said. “Oh, and I love you too, Jackson.”
“That’s totally a lie, you called him Jack O’Lantern the other day when you were drunk,” Jupiter pointed out evilly.
“Stop exposing me or I’ll piss in your backpack,” Yong-sun threatened, the effect of his glare diminishing as he flushed an even darker red. Jupiter clutched his bag to his chest protectively, sticking out his tongue and blowing a raspberry at the other Korean student. “Can we please stop?”
“Remember when Yong-sun sucked at English? Who’s the dumbass that taught him properly?” Oliver complained, turning off the road and pulling up to an old truck stop, shutting off the engine. They all climbed out to stretch their legs and made their way to the diner sitting on the far end of the lot. Yong-sun darted into the bathroom and they sat down, deciding they might as well order some lunch.
“Don’t you think places like this are kind of sad?” Jupiter commented, sidling up to Lincoln in the booth, hooking his chin over the elder’s shoulder. “They feel so abandoned. Everyone comes and goes, but no one ever stays.”
For a second, Lincoln just stared at him dumbly, and then he got it. He slung an arm around Jupiter’s shoulders casually, though he squeezed a little tighter than usual. “You’re not a truck stop. You’ll find people who will stay.”
“Well, thanks, Link,” Jupiter said, blinking owlishly. “But I was talking about you.”
Lincoln smacked the back of his head, shaking his head. “Ah, this brat.”
“I’m serious, though!” Jupiter whined, kicking at Lincoln’s ankle with the heel of his foot. “There was an old bus shelter near our school with a ton of graffiti, yeah?”
“Yeah, but it got destroyed in an accident,” Lincoln frowned. “But I don’t see why…”
He trailed off when Jupiter faced him, a wide smirk playing on his lips. Lincoln stared at him blankly for a moment, mouth gaping in shock, opening and closing like a fish. He probably looked like a dumbass, but he couldn’t find it in himself to care.
“You were the one replying to all the stuff I wrote,” Lincoln said dumbly. “Really? That was you?”
“Nah, I just mentioned it because I had nothing better to do,” Jupiter replied, sarcasm bleeding into his tone.
“Don’t get sarcastic with me,” Lincoln grumbled, swatting the back of the younger’s head. “I can’t believe I didn’t realize. No one else draws robotic unicorns quite like you do.”
“My robotic unicorns are amazing,” Jupiter replied with sass, flipping imaginary long hair. “But seriously, I’ve seen the things you wrote. None of us are gonna leave.”
Lincoln paused to take in Jupiter’s words, spoken so sincerely it sent shivers down his spine. He turned to look at their dumbass friends trying to decide what to order. Oliver was putting salt in the hood of Hajime’s sweater, Yong-sun and Jackson were arguing over something, Tsuyoshi was trying to pay for the enormous order of food, and the cashier was staring at them, exasperatedly.
“I told you to stand by me!” Jupiter yelled dramatically, drawing the attention of his best friend, who scowled and stomped towards the booth.
“Can you not?” Jackson snapped, a pained expression flashing over his face as Jupiter collapsed into giggles. “We don’t talk about those dark times.”
“Not on your life,” Jupiter replied. “As your best friend, it is my sole duty to publicly humiliate you whenever possible. And that includes bringing up your acting past.”
“Go fuck yourself,” Jackson said, voice sweet as candy but dripping with venom. Lincoln couldn’t help but laugh. “What were we talking about?”
“The meanies that were Lincoln’s so-called friends,” Jupiter responded casually, wincing when Lincoln punched him in the shoulder. “Ow, jesus, you muscle pig. You’re so skinny-looking, I forget you’re strong.”
“I was the common denominator in those friendships,” Lincoln pointed out, ignoring Jupiter’s wounded look and fake crying. “So clearly, the problem was me.”
“The only problem is that you weren’t picking the right people to be your friends,” Jackson said, as gently as possible over Jupiter’s comment. (“If you’re a denominator, does that mean you’re a bottom?”)
“I picked you,” Lincoln retorted.
“Actually, we barged into your life,” Jupiter grinned, leaning over to wrap Lincoln in an awkward hug. “Chimed in with a ‘haven’t you people ever heard of closing the goddamn door’ and everything.”
“That’s a song about cheating,” Jackson hissed, horrified.
“Yeah, if you’re gonna try and woo me, you might want to use something other than A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out lyrics,” Lincoln agreed mildly.
“I don’t need to try,” Jupiter said happily, leaning over to blow a raspberry against Lincoln’s cheek. “You’re already wooed.”
Lincoln tried to pretend he wasn’t completely charmed.