37. MAYBE CAMPING ISN’T SO BAD
I never understood what it felt to be so consumed by someone that even the air around them feels like the purest air I have ever breathed. And I never expected the collision of stars that slammed into me, defining the moment when I first met him.
“Didn’t you say Ace wasn’t coming?” Mia asks me when Asher parks next to Zach’s car. Asher grumbles something under his breath that I can’t quite catch so I just ignore it, he’s clearly not too pleased that Ace is here.
“I guess he changed his mind,” I shrug, not exactly sure what Ace is doing here when he told me this morning he isn’t coming.
“Changed his mind my fucking ass,” Asher grumbles, this time clear enough for us to hear and I narrow my eyes at him. I’m trying my hardest to be friends with Asher but he’s beginning to irritate me with his actions.
“Or he was planning on coming all along,” Mia says, ignoring Asher and sends me a wink.
I open the door to climb out of Asher’s ute with Mia following behind. Before I can even set foot onto the ground, Theo’s strong arms are around me, pulling me out of the car, “Hey,” I say laughing.
My eyes instantly dart to Ace; however, he doesn’t seem bothered by the interaction with me and Theo, and I breathe out a sigh of relief. Over the short period I have known Theo, he became like a goofy brother to me. “I’m glad you’re here, I thought this wasn’t your type of thing!” Theo tells me, squeezing me.
“It’s not, but I guess I can make an exception,” I say, not mentioning the only reason I’m here is because Asher wouldn’t leave me alone. Theo laughs and puts me down while telling me how much fun it will be. Maybe it won’t be so bad, but I know the only reason I’m having a change of heart is because Ace is here.
It isn’t until Theo and Mia are deep in conversation with each other about what drinking games they will be playing tonight and I’m walking towards Ace that I spot Lexi and a few of her friends next to him. The unexpected feeling that I get in my chest is not something I usually experience, but I notice that it usually comes when I see Ace and Lexi together.
The cold morning mist still lingers in the air and it seems colder here, understandable since it’s in the middle of nowhere. “I thought you weren’t coming,” I say to Ace, unsure of how to act. Are we together? Does he want people to know that we’re together or is it just when it’s the two of us? I’m not his girlfriend and he’s not my boyfriend, but what are we?
“Did you really think I was going to let Asher have his chance? Not in a million fucking years,” he tells me and takes my hand in his warm one.
“How did you get here so quick? You better not have been speeding,” I jokingly chastise him.
He grins, “Me? Speeding? Never baby,” he replies, pulling me closer and I go on my tiptoes to meet his lips. They feel like home and taste like the sweetest candy, making me delirious.
“Hey, stop fucking and come help with the tent,” Josh jokes, he goes to playfully punch Ace in the shoulder but it’s as if Ace knows what’s coming and he pulls away, dodging it.
“I don’t think you should be trying to sneak in hits on a boxer, Evans. It’s not going to end up well for you,” Ace jokes and Josh raises his eyebrow as if offering him a challenge. Josh smirks and places his fists in front of him, jumping up and down in front of Ace. Ace shakes his head but plays along and I decide to leave the two children for their playtime.
Mia drags the tent and the blow-up mattress that she found in the basement of Brody’s house off Asher’s ute and onto the grass, “Have you done this before?”
I shake my head, “Have you?”
She looks at me like I’m insane and crosses her arms sighing. This is going to be a long morning. After what seems like an hour, we have only put the pegs into the ground, and we have come to the conclusion that there are parts missing.
I look around and mostly everyone has already finished their tents. Josh, Ace, and Theo’s set up looks incredible, their tent is massive, and it has a small undercover area where they placed a plastic table and chairs.
Asher has finished his set up and is now walking towards us with a grin. “Do you mind helping us? You seem like you know what you’re doing,” I ask Asher and nod towards his car where he already ensembled his tent on top of it. He grins as if he was waiting for me to ask for help and instantly gets to work.
It takes him less than fifteen minutes to set up the tent for us and blow up the mattress. Apparently, there are no parts missing.
We spend the rest of the day watching the nuisance that the lightweight college boys are causing. Stripping their clothes and swimming in the half-frozen lake, I wouldn’t be surprised if we have to call an ambulance for hypothermia cases.
By mid-afternoon, at least a quarter of them are already passed out in their own vomit and I don’t understand how they call this fun. Some of the groups are coming together to start a bonfire and I watch from a distance. Asher seems to have disappeared somewhere with his friends and I’m grateful that he’s not lingering around me.
When the sun begins to set Mia hands me a plastic cup (I’m surprised it wasn’t sooner), I bring it up to my nose, taking a sniff and almost gag. She did not just give me straight up vodka. Gross.
“What’s this?” I ask her, grimacing.
“Vodka, raspberry,” she answers, taking a sip of her cup and not even batting an eyelid.
Theo and Josh are setting up red cups on the plastic table to play beer pong and other people are gathering around our camping area. I guess beer pong is the crowd gatherer.
“Is there even any raspberry in here?” I ask and Ace instantly takes the cup from me replacing it with his. Mia watches us intensely but doesn’t say anything, only giving me an eyebrow raise when Ace isn’t looking.
I bring the cup to my mouth and take a sip, tasting nothing but raspberry soda, remembering that Ace doesn’t drink.
The sunset here is beautiful, the way the scorching orange colours bounce off the lake is mesmerising. I wrap my hands around my body to accommodate for the sudden decrease in temperature.
Ace notices this, he takes my hand in his and pulls me off my chair, towards his own. He sits down and drags me down with him, my back suddenly against his warm chest. He wraps his hands around my waist and places his chin on my shoulder, watching Theo and Josh bicker over who gets to throw the ping-pong ball first.
A few people look over at us, including Lexi’s friends and I can’t help but feel safe in Ace’s arms. It’s like nothing else matters, just me and him. I run my fingers over his arms, and he tightens his grip around me, sending the warm-fuzzy feeling all throughout my body. Camping isn’t so bad after all.
Somewhere throughout the evening, between roasting marshmallows and half-watching drunk Theo skinny dip, while Liv tells him she’s not going to be looking after him if he gets sick, I find myself looking around for Ace.
I finally spot him and the tightening feeling in my chest returns. I try to push it away but it’s impossible.
I watch as Ace and Lexi disappear into the darkness, along the shoreline of the lake.
“They’re just friends,” Josh tells me, sitting down next to me, around the bright and vivid bonfire as it crackles. The intensity and excitement of the flames is like they are dancing below the moonlight but the heat of the fire struggles to reach me and I rub my cold hands together. There are only a few people sitting around it and most of them are passed out on the chairs.
“Hmm? Oh yeah… I know,” I say, unaware that he was watching me.
“You have nothing to worry about.”
That’s exactly what Ace tells me, but it’s not that simple to be okay with someone you like spending time with someone they use to sleep with on a regular basis.
I just hum in response to Josh and we sit in silence watching the fire.
“Does everyone know that you and Theo are related?” I ask, bringing my knees up to my chest, trying to change the conversation and steer my thoughts away from Ace and Lexi.
“No, not many people do,” he says, but he doesn’t sound surprised that I know. “Everyone assumes there’s something going on between us, but no one really asks any questions.”
“Does that bother you? That people might have the wrong idea about you two?”
I don’t tell him that I use to think that too until Theo told me that they were half-brothers.
“It doesn’t bother me what people think,” he shrugs, and I wish I could have the same mentality.
Not long after, Ace and Lexi return and I don’t make an effort to go over to him. I’m not sure how I should act. Ace would be livid if Asher and I pulled that shit but it’s okay for him to keep spending time with Lexi, it doesn’t make sense.
I go to grab my bag of clothes from Asher’s car but halt in my footsteps when Ace hops onto his bike next to me. I watch as it roars to life, a few people look over towards us but quickly lose interest.
He looks at me as if waiting for me to hop on and when I don’t, he asks, “Are you going to make me put you on the bike?”
“Where are you going?”
“We,” he corrects me before adding, “And you will see.”