Sam's heart was pounding against her ribs and she felt the irresistible need to curl onto herself. Her legs did inch towards her chest just by a few inches, yet she managed to stay overly still. She kept her eyes closed, her own darkness somewhat reassuring, but she could very well hear the chatter around her, the ruffling of playing cards, Chris's voice, and Josh's raspy laugh. They chased away the images of her dream… or was it a nightmare? No, definitely a dream. Only, the sole sight of the lodge was enough to bring back the fear racing through her veins. But now she was safe, she was with her friends, and nothing more could happen.
Sam let herself relax a little onto the warm… wait. On who had she fell asleep? She shifted, trying to regain her bearings without opening her eyes yet, feeling in the motion the foreign hand into hers. Their fingers were intertwined and it didn't take much thinking to understand it was Mike's. She let her little finger slide over his missing ones, felt him twitch slightly.
She reluctantly pulled away, straightening herself on the couch. The lights in the room, though subdued, made her squint.
"Sorry for using you as my private cushion," she muttered with a barely concealed yawn.
"No problem, as long as you don't drool on me."
"I would nev-"
"Oh, look who's back among us", Chris interjects. "Are we too boring for you, Samantha?"
She gestured vaguely at her friend, not yet awake enough to think of a witty comeback. She settled back in her former spot on the couch, flexed her half-asleep hand to reactivate blood circulation there, slide the other one in her hair, pushing away the strands that escaped her ponytail.
The sudden exclamation made her jump slightly and her gaze darted back to Emily, who triumphantly looked upon the pile of cards on the coffee table before letting herself fall back in her seat with a pleased sigh.
"I win again, losers."
She lifted her hand and Matt, slumped next to her, lazily gave her the high-five she was expecting. He had so many cards in his hand that he struggled to hold them, so it was obvious he never had a single chance to win this round. He was notoriously bad at this kind of board games anyway.
"Sam, care to join us for the next round?" Chris asked, already gathering the scattered cards.
"Again?" groaned Mike.
"Chris, you know I love you man, but you're not going to win even if we played until sunrise," said Josh. "And we're not going to play 'til then anyway."
"That's not true! This time I was one card away to-"
"Never was, never will."
"Well, suck it up," Em interjected, "I'm better than all of you anyway. And I'm not playing one more round of your stupid game. How about we do something fun instead?"
Sam glanced at the clock; it was already far past midnight. She considered for a moment pointing it out, yet changed her mind. First of all, she was not the mother of these idiots, no matter how much it felt like it sometimes, and second it had not been the six of them together in quite a time, so they could make the best of it for the night. It wasn't like any of us had a good sleep schedule these days anyway.
"What do you have in mind, Emi?"
"Any kind of drinking game sounds fine to me," she answered with a sluggish grin. "I'm way too sober to deal with your asses any longer."
Cheers echoed her words, the clatter of glass against wood when Chris reached for a drink, mumbling a curse when he knocked over a half-empty bowl of Cheetos.
"What about Never have I ever?" suggested Matt, reaching in turn for the vodka laying at his and Em's feet.
There were murmurs of agreement, and somehow Sam ended up with an opened beer in her hands, glass cold against her heated palms. She absent-mindedly took a sip, enjoying the familiar taste on her tongue, then looked down at the bottle, watching the liquid swirls around. From there, she let her gaze wander around the familiar room.
There were in Josh's flat, the one next to college his parents continued to rent for him even after he dropped out, almost one year and a half prior. It had been spacious enough for all of them to gather excitedly, day after day, night after night, it had been the scene of so many good memories from their senior year – Josh was the oldest, so he graduated one year before them all. And tonight, they seemingly wanted to re-enact these parties from what felt like an entire lifetime ago: they were red Solo cups and empty bottles of beer scattered on the floor, someone's speaker was playing pop music, loud enough that they had to raise their voices a little to be heard, they were shitty puns, witty one-liners and playful banter floating around in the air. As if to convince themselves they could still be college kids, at least for this single night.
Yet, Sam couldn't help but think of what was behind the mask.
Jessica and Ashley were missing; the first because she had recently been committed to a mental health hospital since she could barely leave her parents' house without a panic attack, and the second had officially a family reunion she needed to attempt. Nonetheless, Sam suspected Ash wasn't comfortable with the idea of spending an entire evening at Josh's place, not after what had happened in similar circumstances.
Hannah and Beth were missing, of course, and nothing would ever change that. Their loss weighed heavier on her heart tonight, seeing the blue bean bag the twins were always intertwined on when they visited their brother. Nobody had dared touch it ever since, and Sam wondered if the dent in it was still from their dead friends sitting there.
And then there were the scars, which felt familiar enough that she often forgot about them, until she didn't. Her eyes flickered from Mike's bad hand, resting next to her knee, to the ugly scar on Josh's cheek, where the wendigo fangs had torn apart his skin, despite the surgeons' best efforts to reduce the damage. Furthermore, it was warm in the flat, because none of them could stand cold anymore, therefore they had removed a few pieces of clothing and revealed some more; the bite mark on Emily's neck, usually hidden by her branded scarves, and slashes across Matt's upper arm, and her own, claw marks on her collarbone that some movement still pulled at, a reminder of their reckless rescue party for Josh.
She shook her head, trying to push away the memories, and took a sip of her beer, hoping the drink could get her back into the party spirit.
"Oh, that's a surprise."
Emily sounded weirdly pleased and Chris kind of shocked. Sam snapped back to the moment. Everyone's eyes were on her and she blinked several times, unsure of what just happened.
"I didn't think you were that kind of girl, Sammy." Mike lightly elbowed her before adding mercifully: "And in case you weren't listening, Matt said he never had sex in exchange for a favor or money."
She felt her cheeks burn with embarrassment as she realized that, according to the rules, it looked like she just admitted to it.
"I was, uh, distracted," she scrambled for words. "I forgot what we were playing. Erm. I swear."
"Ah, you're no fun," Em exhaled, lifting her bottle a bit to reveal she had begun to drink – honestly, Sam wasn't quite surprised. "Anyway, my turn! Never have I ever… cheated on a test."
"Really? Ah, man…"
The rest of them had the decency to look sheepish as they all drank. Emily waved her hand around, jingling her bracelets:
"Don't need it", she felt compelled to add.
If Sam didn't know better, she would say that the brunette glanced at Matt, sitting beside her, half-hoping for the usual praise from her now-ex-boyfriend (officially, they were taking a break since the mountain).
"Chris, your turn."
"Sure. Never have I ever… uh…"
"Come on, you can't be out of ideas this soon!"
"Been trapped in an elevator?"
"Aw, come one!" Em objected. "that's always Jess's prompt since she knows it will make almost all of us drink."
And drink, they all did indeed – but Sam could have sworn they would have anyway, just to drown out the slight discomfort their blonde friend's name had brought.
The round went on: "Never have I ever walked for an entire day" (only Sam drank), "been to a fashion show" (Emily grumbled about how she was being targeted), "tested a fad diet" (everyone laughed when Matt's described the stupid "sportsmen" diet he tried as a kid), "texted for hours at a time" (Chris blushed and drank and Josh jumped on the opportunity to tease him about how it had obviously been with Ashley), "tried to cut my own hair" (Sam had to reluctantly show a picture).
"I'm wondering", began Emily when she got bored of Chris fumbling for an idea for almost two whole minutes, "just how many of our answers will change through the course of this year."
Sam blinked at her friend, her sleepy brain not quite grasping what the brunette was saying. Or was it because of the alcohol? She had lost count of her drinks somewhere during the night.
"I mean, since last winter, we had quite a lot of new, unexpected experiences," Em said with a sly grin. "We can never know what awaits now."
"Well," Sam said, "at least I hope it will be a different kind of novelty."
Followed a few moments of silence. They were all at that awkward stage where they needed to talk about that night on the mountain, but not with tears and shaky voices – not this time, for what felt the millionth time –, but rather to jokeabout it, and yet… sometimes, being around each other felt like walking on eggshells. The alcohol helped a bit, thankfully.
"Are we still playing?" mused Chris after a while. "I came up with an idea."
"I don't know… It's getting late…"
Sam yawned in agreement. Mike shook his head and raised his glass a bit up:
"But I still have half of my drink left!"
"And Chris has an idea," added Emily. "We can't waste that!"
"Josh, it's your place after all, what do you think?"
The young man had been uncharacteristically quiet all evening – well, compared to how he was before all this shit, of course.
"Uh… how does one last round sound?"
"Yeah," nodded Sam. "Yeah, I think I can manage to stay awake through one more round."
"Okay, Chris! Last prompt from you for the night!"
"Well…" He cleared his throat. "Never have I ever watched… uh, what was it again? Chrisley knows best, you know, the real estate thing?"
"Why the fuck had it come to your mind right now?"
Chris grinned sheepishly and pointed at his phone:
"That makes more sense."
Sam was surprised to see three of her friends drinking; justifying themselves by adding that it was only with their family or when finals had thoroughly fried their brains. At that point, Emily raised her hand, her index finger held up:
"But I don't think that's fair. Chris, you should get your own idea!"
He shot her a pleading gaze, which she completely ignored.
"No mercy," she scoffed. "It's too much fun to watch you struggle."
"In that case," he groaned, "go on, embarrass yourself. Never have I ever send a dirty text to the wrong person."
Emily blushed furiously and tried to hide in her glass; from then, any attempt to get a grasp of what had happened was drowned out by laughter. Though there weren't many ways to explain how Chris was aware of that mishap from their friend; Em wasn't the kind of person to confide easily.
"Your turn Josh," he concluded with a satisfied look splattered on his face.
Josh looked thoughtful for a few seconds, then his lips stretched into a familiar grin, only highlighted by the recent scar, and Sam groaned internally.
"Never have I ever watched someone do it live."
"Jeez, Josh, that's dirty."
He ignored her, looking expectantly at the others, but seemed disappointed as no one seemed to drink."
"Come on, liars…" he mumbled before settling back in his chair. "I'm sure one of you did."
"We are not as depraved as you," Em shot back.
"Eh, I said I never did it…"
"You thought about it. That's enough."
"And well," Mike stepped in, "since we wandered to the 'sex and love' territory…"
Sam shot him a warning look as he seemed rather pleased to be coming after Josh's prompt.
"Never have I ever kissed someone of the same sex, 'spin the bottle' excluded."
She breathed a sigh of relief, settled for a question instead:
"Not even for a dare?"
"You have kissed half the girls in our high school, but not a single guy? Really?"
"Guess I never got the chance. "
"So, you're not opposed to the idea?"
He just kind of shrugged and Sam dropped the matter, settling instead for taking a sip of her beer. The bottle was almost empty by now.
"Let's see who's one hundred percent hetero here," laughed Chris, raising his glass to Sam and Josh.
"Like you don't know already," mumbled Em. "It's not like we all tried to get with one another at least once since we began hanging out together. Well, Sam, your turn! And pick well, I want to finish that damn drink."
"I never sleep-walked."
"I can assure you that if you do, it will be at the most awkward moment because karma is a bitch, and you won't understand what's happening…" Matt said with a tell-tale face.
"Oh, I feel like I want to know the story behind this one…!"
"No, you don't," deadpanned Emily. "And anyway, my turn! Never have I ever said 'I love you' on accident."
"Have you ever said it at all?"
Emily fake-threw what was left of her drink at Chris and he made a show of covering his face with his arm.
"Drink, your dumb romantic ass."
He complied, as well as Matt and Mike.
"Wow, we almost got all the dudes! Matt, you're next."
"Never have I ever… uh… erm…"
"Don't be a Chris, please"
Chris had the nerve to look offended.
"Never have I ever done a handstand on one hand," he said finally with an apologetic smile.
"Does trying count?" asked Sam.
"Uh… I guess? Or nobody will drink..."
"Did you faceplant Sam? Because I sure did," added Mike, raising his glass so she could toast with him.
"I think the wall caught me first, though I managed to stay in position for a few seconds, but yeah, it was definitely a bad idea. And why I am not very surprised that it's the two of us that were stupid enough to try?"
Mike simply smiled and downed the remains of his drink.