Lucas breathed in deeply, taking in the fresh mountain air around him. It had been so long since he’d been able to enjoy the outdoors like this. He never realized how much he’d missed it.
The old van had pulled up to the campsite right on schedule, and the friends made short work of unloading their supplies and setting up their tent. Almost the moment they’d unpacked the last of their bags, Noah threw open the cooler and grabbed one of the cans inside.
“The night is young, my friends.” He said, lifting his drink.
Laura laughed and headed to the firepit to start the fire while Lucas, eager to get started, grabbed a drink of his own.
Noah clapped him on the back excitedly as he saw Lucas take his first sip. “Ready for some fun?” He asked his friend.
Lucas did his best to hide the grimace from the unpleasant burning that filled his mouth. He nodded eagerly, swallowing the disgusting liquid down.
Lucas quickly learned that the nasty aftertaste seemed to matter less and less with each sip you took. And he took many.
“So I go to the doctor and guess what? That jerk gave me itchy plumbob!” Camryn shouted a bit too loudly as she finished her story and threw another log into the fire. “And that’s while I’ll never play spin the bottle again.”
Lucas nearly choked on his drink as he burst into a fit of hysterics. He’d heard that story at least once before, but there was something about hearing it right now that made it funnier than ever. Maybe it was the good company, or the fresh air… Or the four drinks he’d had already (or was it five? Lucas had stopped caring enough to keep track).
“Woah, careful!” Laura reached out a helping hand as Camryn maneuvered around the scattered bottles and cans back to her seat by the fire.
Lucas felt a slight vibration in his pocket. He pulled out his phone and was surprised to find three unread text messages – two from his mother and one from his father. Whoops… Guess I forgot to call.
He giggled to himself as he tried to reply to the most recent message. It took a couple tries, but he managed to get out “Sipry I forgot to cLl Im fine”. Looks good enough to me. Lucas thought to himself as he hit “send” and returned the phone to his pocket.
Sam shifted forward in his seat, smiling as Lucas put away his cellphone. “Who were you textin’, man?” He asked. “Is some poor girl back home gonna wake up to a drunken love confession tomorrow morning?”
“Nah,” Noah cut in before Lucas could respond. “We all know Luke’s got no game.” He turned toward Camryn, smiling. “Do you know he’s never had a girlfriend? The whole time I’ve known him. Crazy, right?”
Sam chuckled. “Y’know, I never thought about it before. But you’re right…”
“Hey, hey.” Lucas put out his hands, turning his head from Sam to Noah and back again. Normally, he would have brushed off the teasing – he was used to it by now. But not tonight. He felt fearless. He felt brave. He felt tired of having to lie to his friends.
“I have a girlfriend.” He continued loudly. “She’s smart and she’s so funny and she’s beautiful. Like, when you look at her it’s just… damn…” A goofy smile suddenly came to his lips as he imagined what touching Evelyn might feel like. He shook the thought away. “If you could see her, you’d get it. Trust me.”
Camryn giggled, shaking her head. “Okay… So if she’s so great, why haven’t we met her then?”
“She’s kinda shy.” Lucas explained, his words slurring slightly. “She scares people, I guess. And most of the time they can’t even see her at all… Weird, huh?”
Noah shook his head and laughed, turning to face the two girls. “Don’t worry about him. Ol’ Luke’s had this imaginary friend for… like, forever. Well… I guess now she’s his imaginary girlfriend.”
Laura and Camryn snickered.
“Well if you ever get tired of her, my friend Julie’s super cute.” Camryn suggested. “And single, duh.” She added.
Lucas shifted uncomfortably in his seat, a heat suddenly rising in his cheeks as a feeling of embarrassment washed over him.
“You guys don’t get it.” He said, hoping they would understand. “She’s not imaginary, she’s… dead. I know it sounds totally weird, but –”
“Exactly.” Noah interrupted. “It’s freaky, dude. Don’t weird out the ladies.”
Sam nodded in agreement and gestured toward Laura. “You know I’m tryin’ to get some of that.” He said in what he thought was a whisper.
“Excuse me, I’m drunk, not deaf.” Laura laughed and threw an empty can at Sam as she spoke.
“Seriously, though.” Noah continued. “It was kinda funny when we were kids. Now it’s just…”
“Messed up?” Camryn tried.
“Scary?” Sam smirked.
“Sad?” Laura added with a laugh.
“How about ‘all of the above’?” Noah chuckled and took another swig of his drink.
As the fire slowly began to die out in front of him, Lucas could feel another fire beginning to grow inside of him, as his embarrassment quickly gave way to rage. “You guys think this is all some kind of joke. You all think I’m fucking crazy, don’t you?”
Noah just rolled his eyes. “Nah, man. We know you’re not fucking anything…”
Sam chuckled. “Aw damn… That was good.”
Lucas rose to his feet, his fists and teeth both clenched so tightly, he was almost shaking. He wanted to punch someone. He wanted to scream. But somehow, a voice of reason called out through the drunken fog of his mind. So instead, he said simply “Fuck you.”
He turned and stalked away, seething.
“Maybe I spoke too soon… Off for some alone time with your ‘girlfriend’?” Noah called after him. The four teens burst into hysterics.
Me and my stupid mouth. Lucas thought bitterly. He was angrier than he could remember feeling in a long time. He wished he’d just let it go. He wished he’d never come on this trip in the first place. And mostly, he wished Evelyn were there with him.
With one last glare at his drunken friends, Lucas retreated into the darkness of the enormous tent and quickly fell into a deep sleep.