Every minute April Johnson spent in the back row of the theater gave her another reason to dislike it. The blue glow of her iPhone illuminated the wires snaking around the walls. If April turned her head, she could see her sister Lainey talking to the production assistant with bright pink hair. If she looked behind her, she could see a brown-haired girl in overalls running around with a purple vacuum cleaner.
Lainey could easily get a ride home from rehearsal from any one of her theater friends, but she insisted April drive her home every Tuesday and Thursday. The theater kids may have been loud, annoying, and gay, but April still managed to tolerate them, if only for her annoying little sister’s sake.
April put down her phone to see George Names come into the theater, holding a box full of batteries. The dim theater lights sharpened his face, highlighting his midnight-black hair and pointy nose that made him look nothing like his sister Sigourney.
“Hello April,” he said, in a stiff monotone, as he adjusted his stiff collared shirt, which he had buttoned to the top. “I haven’t seen you here in awhile.”
“Hello George,” she said, matching his tone. “I was here Tuesday, but it’s nice to see you again.”
“I’ll get Lainey for you,” he said and left April with the box.
He returned a few minutes later, followed by Lainey, as well as the production assistant.
“Come on Lainey, we have to go.” She turned to look at her sister, who looked reluctant to leave.
“Goodbye, Lainey.” The production assistant said to Lainey, wrapping her in a hug. April flinched, the amount of hugging the theater kids did making her uncomfortable.
“Bye, Summer,” Lainey mumbled, her voice muffled by the production assistant’s monochromatic flannel, “see you later.”
“Okay, Lainey,” April tapped her foot, “hurry up. You can see your girlfriend tomorrow.”
Lainey awkwardly pulled out of the hug.
“April!’ she exclaimed, as soon as the sisters were in the car, “Summer isn’t my girlfriend!”
“I know that Lainey, I was joking. Besides, there’s no way you’re gay” April replied.
“You’re perfectly normal, Lainey. I’d know if you were gay.”
Lainey pulled out her phone and began to scroll through her Instagram. For the rest of the fifteen-minute drive, Lainey was silent as she played on her phone. April was silent as she drove, feeling grateful that ,unlike April’s best friend Sigourney, Lainey didn’t insist on playing Britney Spears during the drive home.
Lainey had closed her door, but April could still hear her on the phone. It didn’t take a genius to guess that the girl Lainey was talking to was Summer, because Lainey didn’t talk to anyone else. Summer probably found Lainey’s loyalty adorable, but April thought Lainey was incredibly clingy.
“Have you found someone to bring you yet?” Summer asked, her voice on speakerphone audible through the door.
“No,” Lainey replied, “Stephanie can’t drive, and neither can I.”
“Your sister can, right?”
“Yeah,” Lainey scoffed, “but she’d never agree to go camping for three days with a bunch of theater kids.”
“It couldn’t hurt to ask.”
“I really think she’ll say no-“
“Just ask, Lainey. It’ll be okay.”
“Okay. I’ll ask her.”
“Thank you. It wouldn’t be as fun if you weren’t on the trip. It was great to talk, but I have to go.”
“See you later, Summer.”
“Bye Lainey. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
April heard Lainey hang up, and move towards the door. She poked her head into the hallway.
“April?” She called, then turned to see April standing right by the door. “Aah!”
“I’m not taking you camping, Lainey.”
“Please, April? No one’s ever invited me to something like this before, and Summer really wants me there. We won’t bother you, and you won’t have to do anything.”
April thought about it for a second. She really didn’t want to spend a weekend with Lainey’s friends, and nature didn’t sound very appealing. But April knew Summer and Lainey would pester her until she agreed. And besides, April thought, it would be a good way to keep an eye on Summer, who April didn’t trust.
“Fine,” she sighed, “I’ll bring you on your stupid camping trip. But I get to bring Sigourney.”
“Okay! Thank you April!” Lainey wrapped her sister in a hug, then dashed to the bathroom to brush her teeth.
“Please, Sigourney, you have to come.” April begged.
April and her best friend Sigourney Names were sitting underneath the giant oak tree in the Charles R. Drew High School commons. Around them, other students were chatting, drinking coffee, and doing last-minute studying. George was sitting alone, testing batteries with what looked like a chemistry set. Near him, Lainey and her friends were sitting in a circle, performing some sort of seance.
“I don’t know,” Sigourney replied, pulling her strawberry-blond hair back with a scrunchie, “camping? We both hate nature.”
“Yeah, but Lainey and her stupid pink friend are making me come. Please don’t leave me up there surrounded by theater nerds.”
“Can’t you just drop Lainey and leave?’
“No. It’s in Carnation, and since I’m driving, I have to be close by. Please, Sigourney, It’s not like you were doing anything better.”
“I guess it would be kind of fun.” Sigourney shrugged, “and I could get a good part of my AP Gov paper written in the car. I guess I’ll come. But can you give me a ride? George is an absolute pain on road trips.”
“Sure, but George isn’t even coming.”
“I know, but Carnation is near his model UN conference, so if I didn’t have a ride, my mom would make me drive with him.”
It turned out that Summer’s car only seated four, so April and Sigourney had to drive Lainey, along with the girl with the vacuum, Stephanie, in April’s 1997 Honda Civic. The second she was in the car, Stephanie put her earbuds in. The only words she spoke were to offer Lainey animal crackers.
Lainey was silent the whole trip. She borrowed April’s MacBook to watch the Little Mermaid, then took a nap. Lainey’s silence confused April, but April didn’t care much about her sister’s pubescent mood swings.
Sigourney, who was riding shotgun, took advantage over having control over the radio. She blasted Britney Spears hits until April couldn’t stand it, at which point Sigourney switched to Avril Lavigne. The one time April saw Lainey break concentration from the computer screen was when ‘Girlfriend’ started playing.
Besides their two silent passengers, April and Sigourney found the trip bearable. It surprised them that when they arrived at the camp in Carnation, the rest of the group was already there.
In the cabin, Summer was sitting on a couch underneath a giant blanket, drawing on her tablet. She scooched over to make room for Lainey, who snuggled in next to her under the blanket. Stephanie went to the kitchen and began to talk to someone whose gender April was unsure of, and a boy who was eating a Pop Tart. April was unsure of how the theater kids had managed to arrive at such a fast speed, but they were already set up, leaving less work for April.
There was a small bedroom off of the main one reserved normally for adults. April and Sigourney claimed it quickly, even though there fourteen beds in the main bedroom. They rolled out their sleeping bags on the beds and sat down. Sigourney immediately set to work on her AP Gov essay, and April turned on her phone. It disappointed her to find that there was no service.
“Hey, Lainey,” Summer yelled from the couch, which was near the kitchen, “I brought Werewolf. Do you want to play?”
“Heck yeah!” Lainey yelled in response.“Stephanie, do you want to play?”
“Sure, but I’m not sitting next to Ash. They cheat.”
“I do not!” Ash, the other person in the kitchen yelled. “Brian looks at my card every time!”
The boy, Brian, responded only with a smug smile.
The theater kids gathered in a circle, and Summer set a box in the middle. Lainey turned to face Sigourney and April, who had entered the kitchen to see what the commotion was about.
“Do you want to play?” she asked.
“I have to grab my HydroFlask from April’s car, but otherwise I would. Sorry, Lainey.” Sigourney pulled a jacket over her sundress and ran outside, leaving April as the only one outside the circle.
“April,” Lainey asked, “do you want to play?”
“Absolutely not,” April scoffed, “I’m not joining your seance circle.”
“It’s not a seance,” Stephanie said, “we’re playing One Night Werewolf.”
“Whatever you want to call it, I’m not joining.” April went back inside the small bedroom, where she wouldn’t have to watch the game.
April was expecting the next morning to be just as bad as the night before, which consisted of a Lion King sing-along, and a heated argument between Lainey, Brian, and Ash about which type of starter Pokemon was best, which had continued into the next morning.
“I’m telling you, you can’t go wrong with fire-type!” Lainey exclaimed. “I blew through the first three trials in Pokemon Moon with my Torracat alone!”
“One word, Bulbasaur.”Ash retaliated, “not only is he powerful, he is very cute.”
“Cuteness is important, which is why water types win, every time.” Brian countered.
“But if you’re arguing with cuteness, then everyone’s argument is valid.” Lainey offered.
“I see where you’re all coming from, but can’t you agree that all the starter Pokemon are equal in importance?” Summer interjected.
“Summer, you’ve never played a single Pokemon game, so you can’t offer a valid opinion on the subject.” Brian said.
Sigourney and Stephanie had struck up a surprisingly civil conversation about new Congressional happenings, leaving April left to entertain herself. She went into her bedroom and stuck a pair of earbuds into her ears, grateful that she had had the sense to bring her old pink iPod with her, then remembered that it was just her luck that the only songs on there were from mid 2000’s boy bands.
Rejoining the group in the living room, April sat down beside Sigourney. She grabbed the theater department’s idea of a gourmet meal: trail mix, strawberries, and some extra animal crackers.
“This is ridiculous,” April grumbled, “there’s an oven. Why can’t we cook anything?”
“Ash is vegetarian, Lainey can’t have milk, Brian’s afraid of knives, and Lainey isn’t allowed to go near fire. Besides, food is expensive, and there isn’t a ton of room in my trunk. There’s no point in trying to cook.” Summer replied.
“I wish we could cook. That would be fun.” Lainey said
“I agree, it just didn’t work.” Summer grabbed a stray strawberry from Lainey’s plate.
“You know what I wish we had?” Stephanie mused, “Ice cream sandwiches.”
“Oh yes, that would be so great right now.” Lainey agreed.
“Lainey’s lactose intolerant,” April said said, “it would be a nightmare for the rest of us.”
“What about sherbet?” Ash asked. “Sherbet’s great.”
“Sherbet’s got milk in it, too.” Lainey replied, upset, “everything has milk in it when you’re not supposed to have milk.”
“Summer?” Stephanie said, batting her eyelashes, “would you please drive to the store and get us sherbet?”
“No!” Summer said, “that’s a terrible idea.”
“No, it isn’t,” Brian countered, “sherbet would improve our state of being so much.
“No. I am not buying sherbet when one of us can’t eat it. That’s not fair to Lainey.” Summer said, her decision final.
“Besides, you guys wouldn’t last a minute without someone watching you.” April muttered
“Hey, Sig,” Stephanie asked, “are you going to eat those animal crackers?”
“Oh, here, you can have them.” Distracted, Sigourney handed April the crackers by accident.
“Stephanie’s over there, Sig,” April said, her voice icy cold, “and I wouldn’t want your crackers anyway. I saw some ramen in the kitchen. I’m going to make myself a real lunch.”
“I’m so sorry,” Lainey whispered, when she thought April was out of earshot, “she’s a nice person, once you get to know her.”
“I guess so,” Sigourney said, “she can be cool, I guess.”
“Yeah, well, she’s kind of a jerk.” Brian said.
“We shouldn’t talk about April behind her back,” Summer said.
“Yeah,” Stephanie agreed, “it’s kind of rude.”
April agreed, she found what they were saying to be very rude. It seemed hypocritical that they chose to pick on April when they were so far from normal.
The second night of camping was no better than the first. The cabin didn’t have very thick inner walls, every move the theater kids made was audible to April
“Hey, Stephanie,” Lainey said, “did you know that Summer can name every Pokemon?”
“No way, I want to hear this!” April heard a bang from the next room over..
“Ow!” Ash cried, “that was my elbow!”
“Sorry! I want to know whether Lainey’s telling the truth.” Stephanie apologised.
“It’s not perfect, but Brian and I know a song,” Summer offered, “I guess we can sing it, if you want.”
“Oh, god no,” said April, who didn’t want to hear Summer sing, “why are they always like this?”
“I don’t know,” Sigourney said, “AP Psych didn’t prepare me for random bursts of song.”
“AP Psych can’t prepare you for everything, Sigourney. There’s life outside the classroom, if you’d take a look around.”
“And there’s life inside of it too, and sometimes it’s better.”
“No. Don’t be ridiculous. No one likes a smart-aleck, anyway.”
“Hey, guys!” Lainey said, poking her head into April and Sigourney’s bedroom, “Summer and Brian are going to name every single Pokemon. Do you wanna hear?”
“Actually, that sounds kinda-“ Sigourney started.
“We’re fine. We’ll stay in our room. Now go away, Lainey.” April said.
“Oh, okay.” Lainey’s face fell. She went back into the big bedroom, leaving the door open behind her.
Someone turned on the giant flashlight that Sigourney had ‘borrowed’ from George, and turned it to face Summer and Brian. It was almost like a spotlight. They started to sing, naming every single Pokemon in rapid succession, sometimes joined by Lainey, who knew 15% of the words and was very off-key. April turned on her iPod, but even the Jonas Brothers at max volume couldn’t block out the sound of the three people yelling about Tangelas in the room next door. After a while, April, resigned to watching Summer and Brian through the open door, and Lainey, when she would dance into the flashlight’s beam, her French braid bouncing, the happiest April had seen her in awhile. And when she went to sleep later that night, April wondered when she herself had last been that happy.
Lainey couldn’t find her allergy medicine the next morning, on the one day the group was going hiking. So, April and Sigourney’s conversation and the rest of the group’s ABBA sing-along were accompanied by frequent sneezing, which was only slightly helped by Ash’s suspiciously large supply of tissues.
“I’m excited for prom, aren’t you?” April asked.
“I don’t know. School dances were never my thing.” Sigourney replied with a shrug.
“You’ve only been to one, though. Besides, it would be fun if we double dated.”
“April, you know I’m–“
“C’mon Sigourney, it’ll be fun. You can even go with one of my exes, if you want. I’ll have to find a date from Mountain View, though. I’ve dated almost every guy here. If I stay single, some girl’s going to ask me out like Victoria Collins did sophomore year.”
“I mean, Victoria didn’t know you weren’t gay.”
“Of course I’m not! I don’t have purple hair, like her.”
“That’s a stereotype.”
“God, Sigourney, this isn’t AP Gov, you can stop treating this like a debate. All I said was that it’s not okay for a girl to ask another girl out if she’s obviously straight. Anyway, did you see that new kid in Lainey’s grade? He definitely thinks she’s cute.”
“I don’t think Lainey likes him back.”
“But don’t you think they’d make a cute couple? Y’know, Lainey’s never had a boyfriend. She needs one.”
“She needs a man? This is the 21st century, we don’t need to support the patriarchy.”
“Is everything a landmine with you, Sigourney?” April yelled. “All I’m saying is that it would be nice for Lainey to have a boyfriend!”
The rest of the group stopped singing Dancing Queen. Lainey turned towards April, her expression unreadable.
“Sorry April,” Sigourney muttered, “I’ll try not to be so sensitive.”
“Hey guys,” Ash called, “do you think this would be a good place to stop for lunch?” They pointed at a small clearing.
“Yeah, that looks good,” Summer replied.
The group sat down. Stephanie pulled out that day’s five-star meal: oranges, ritz crackers, and four Nature Valley bars.
“Hey, Stephanie, bet you five bucks I can juggle these oranges.” Brian said.
“Deal. But you have to eat any of the ones you break, even if they get dirt on them.” Stephanie replied.
“Dirt, such an excellent part of a balanced diet.” April muttered, her voice full of sarcasm. She gripped her orange, which she wasn’t planning on eating. “These people keep getting weirder and weirder.”
Stephanie tossed Brian the oranges, and he started to juggle them. First one, then two, then three, the oranges flew in rapid succession from his left hand, over his head, back to his right hand, then around, and around, and around again. April would’ve never admitted it, but she was vaguely impressed. Summer was cheering from her spot next to Lainey, who watched, silent.
“This is boring,” Stephanie said, after a few minutes, “bet you can’t juggle four oranges.”
“Oh, like you could do it, Steph. Lainey, toss me your orange.” Brian called at Lainey. Lainey lightly tossed her uneaten orange. Brian caught it in one hand, before promptly dropping the rest.
“Ha! I was right! Have fun eating four dirty oranges, Brian.” Stephanie laughed. After a second, Brian and Summer joined in. Lainey stayed silent, nibbling at a cracker.
“Sorry,” Lainey whispered, “I didn’t mean to mess you up.”
“It’s no big deal,” Brian said, “besides, we all knew I couldn’t juggle four.”
“I didn’t even think he could juggle three, so I’m impressed.” Stephanie said, with a slight nod.
Lainey smiled split second. “Summer, do you want the whole Nature Valley bar?” she asked, handing over the half of the shared bar that she hadn’t eaten.
April’s iPod died that night, forcing her to join the rest of the party at the campfire outside the cabin. Sigourney had brought a package of marshmallows, and the group was making s’mores at the fire.
“It’s such a beautiful night,” Summer mused.
“Perfect to get attacked by an enderman.” Brian countered.
“Out of everyone here, I wasn’t expecting you to say enderman. Only a Minecraft nerd would pick such an obscure monster.” Stephanie chortled.
“I wouldn’t say enderman. This feels more zombie hoard if you ask me. Some spider jockeys, maybe?” Lainey added, distracted. She snapped to attention when she realised what she’d said, and blushed, flustered.
“Ha! Lainey admits to being a nerd, too! I’m not the only one, Stephanie.” Brian said.
“You’re all nerds.” April muttered.
“Yeah, but it’s more fun to pick on you. Lainey’s too pure to tease.” Stephanie said.
April shot Ash a jealous glare. The Game Boy Color they had brought still had full battery, even though Ash was playing Tetris 24/7.
“Sigourney,” Stephanie said, laughing, “you have marshmallow on your nose.”
Sigourney went to swipe it away, coating her fingers in a sticky goo. Laughing, she wiped it onto her marshmallow stick.
“Eww, Sigourney, that’s disgusting!” April cried, as Sigourney’s stick hovered over April’s lap while she reached for another marshmallow. “Don’t wave that around like a caveman.”
“Sorry, April,” Sigourney pulled her stick away.
April rotated her marshmallow to reach an even toast on both sides. Looking around, she saw that Lainey’s marshmallow was a reaching a beautiful golden brown. The marshmallow, in retaliation, was slipping off its stick.
“Lainey!” April said, causing Lainey to snap to attention, “Your marshmallow’s falling!”
She snapped her stick up to try and save it, but caught it on fire in the process. Screaming, she waved the stick in the air, which only made the fire spread.
“Lainey, hold still!” Summer cried, “I’ll blow it out!”
Lainey, still spooked, stood up, still waving the stick. Summer got up to follow, leaving a very strange scene of two girls chasing a burning stick. It was dark, and Lainey didn’t see the rock until she stumbled over it. She face planted onto the ground, and the stick dipped, touching the top of her head. Everyone paused when Lainey sat up, giving Summer the opportunity to blow the flames out.
Everyone was quiet, their eyes on Lainey’s head, until Stephanie broke the silence.
“Lainey’s hair is on fire!”
Summer reached forward, slapping Lainey’s head with her hands until the flames went out. Embarrassed, Lainey shook her head, a pile of ash falling to the ground like satanic dandruff.
“I’m gonna go…wash…my hair…I guess. Y’all can have my marshmallow.” Lainey said, not noticing that her marshmallow was lying on the ground. April heard Lainey trip over a rock as she made her way back to the cabin.
“Well,” Stephanie said, after a moment, “that was an oof moment.”
“She needed to wash her hair, anyway,” April said, “it looked frizzy.”
“I should go help her.” Summer said, running off.
Everyone was quiet after that, the mood ruined. April was the only person to notice Brian eat the burnt, grass-covered marshmallow Lainey had dropped on the ground.
Everyone seemed to have made a unspoken pact the next day to not mention the previous night’s incident. Summer was helping dissolve the tension by leading a very disorganized game of Mysterium. Stephanie, the ghost, had given up on trying to give nonverbal hints. Instead, she watched with a look of bewilderment on her face while she toyed with her short brown hair.
“God, Brian, it’s the explorer lady, can’t you tell?” Summer cried. “It’s so obvious!”
“How? Please, enlighten me, o wise one.”
“Well, the color of this card matches the color of her shirt-“ Sigourney tried.
“It’s so easy!” Summer yelled.
“It could be the driver!” Brian said, “this card has a wheel.”
“No, it’s the explorer.”
“Time’s up.” Lainey mumbled.
“Driver.” Brian said.
“Explorer.” Summer countered.
“I think it could be the explorer.” Lainey offered.
”Yeah, I see it.” Sigourney said.
“Fine, explorer.” Brian rolled his eyes. Stephanie nodded.
“Yes!” Summer gave Lainey a high five. “You know what I want to talk about?”
“Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway.” Lainey replied, with a smile. She and Summer burst into laughter, much to the confusion of the rest of the group.
“What does that even mean?” Brian asked, annoyed. “You two say that every time you win a game.”
“Sigourney, it’s your turn.” Stephanie said, breaking the rule that the ghost cannot talk.
April sat alone on the couch, watching the game with a look of disapproval. She disliked the group and their games, but more so that Sigourney and Lainey would join in. Lainey, she understood, since her sister refused to leave Summer alone. But it upset April that her best friend had allied with the theater kids.
“Sigourney,” she said, “can we talk in the kitchen?”
“We’re in the middle of a game!” Summer cried.
“I don’t care. C’mon Sigourney.”
Sigourney hesitated, but got up and followed April to where she assumed no one would be able to hear her.
“Sigourney!” April hissed, as soon as the rest of the group was out of earshot, “why were you hanging out with them?”
Sigourney looked down, toying with the sleeve of her six-dollar Target top. “They’re fun to be around. I like playing games with them.”
“Well, stop it. People’ll think you’re a nerd if you hang out with nerds. That’s why Lainey’s single. No one wants to date a nerd.”
“Or she’s-“ Sigourney stopped herself.
“What? Gay? Because Lainey’s definitely not gay. She knows that that’s not okay.”
“Maybe she’s not looking for a relationship.”
“Whatever. Just stop hanging out with them.”
“Hey, guys!” Stephanie yelled, “we’re going hiking. Wanna come?”
A jumble of yells came from near the door as the group scrambled to find their shoes.
“I’m not going,” April said, “and you’d better not, either.”
But in her own act of silent defiance, Sigourney left the kitchen, and took April’s jacket with her for good measure.
Sitting alone on the couch wasn’t fun for the thirty seconds April was doing it, so, against her internal judgement, she went outside. She knew that if she walked fast enough, she could catch the group, or at least Lainey, who walked at the speed of a turtle.
The group had already left, but Ash was still there, playing Pokémon Red while sitting on a log.
“Hey, April.” They said, nonchalant. In silence, they began to walk down the trail the group had taken.
“Ash?” April asked, after they’d been walking for a while, “why did you stay? We barely even know each other.”
“Just because you’re not a theater kid, doesn’t mean your presence matters less to any of us. We want to be your friend, April, even if you don’t want to be ours. And Sigourney said you’d come, so I thought I’d wait.” Ash tucked a wisp of their short blonde hair behind their ear, and slipped their hands into their hoodie. April shivered in her thin Hollister top and jeggings. She regretted her choice to not say anything when Sigourney had taken April’s Patagonia fleece.
“Here,” Ash said, rolling their eyes, “have my hoodie. But know that if you ever try and make a move on me, my girlfriend will fight you.”
“Thanks.” April muttered, pulling the hoodie on. She didn’t bother arguing that she was straight. Without the hoodie on, April could see that Ash no longer looked androgynous, their floral t-shirt and protruding chest answering the question that had been pegging April:
“Ash,” she asked, “you’re a girl?”
“I’m non-binary,” Ash said, “but that doesn’t mean I owe you androgyny. It’s a stupid stereotype and I’m sick of having to perpetuate it. We don’t all have flat chests, April. The sooner you learn that, the sooner you’ll see that not everyone fits the perfect model you have in your head.”
April and Ash walked at a brisk pace, but they weren’t catching up to the group. Three-fourths of the way down Treefrog Ledge and there still hadn’t been a trace of the group. No footsteps, no garbage (which was good), and no yelling of “Describe a musical in one sentence!”.
“April?” Ash asked, “Are you sure we’re not lost?”
“Yes. I’m sure the group went this way.” April scoffed.
“But you didn’t see them leave.”
“I heard Summer say they were taking Treefrog Ledge. I would highly doubt anyone’s questioned Summer’s decisions.”
“Summer’s not a tyrant, April. Don’t put her like that.”
“Well, for someone who isn’t tyrannical, she does a fair amount of bossing people around and refusing to acknowledge my opinions.”
“That’s just the way she is. If none of us had character flaws, we’d be living in a very annoying world full of Mary-Sues. Besides, it’s our quirks that make us great.”
“Really? I don’t think Stephanie’s loudness, Brian’s ‘hilarious’ sarcasm, your righteousness, Sigourney’s social idiocy, and Lainey’s naivety make any of you great.”
Not bothering to hear Ash’s response, April sped down the last stretch of the trail, which widened out into a small clearing. It seemed silent, until her eye caught Lainey, in her striped cashmere sweater, along with with the rest of the group, sitting in a circle, silent. They were playing One Night Werewolf, again.
“Ready to vote?” April heard Summer ask. April hid behind a tree, not wanting the others to see her, at least not yet. “Three, two, one!”
“Yes!” Lainey said with a smile. “I tricked you! I’m the tanner, so I win!”
“You’re very sneaky, Lainey,” Stephanie said, “I wasn’t expecting that from you.”
“You weren’t expecting the one freshman to trick you?” Summer laughed. “You underestimate her.”
“Lainey Johnson, freshman queen of the sophomores. You’re coming for your sister’s title. In just a year and a half, Charles R. Drew High School will see its new ruler.” Brian said.
“April?” Lainey asked, her tone serious. “I’m like her?”
“Only if you want to be.” Summer hugged Lainey from the side.
“Yeah, you don’t have to be a bigoted asshole if you don’t want to.” Stephanie laughed, “You could always be like Summer, and rule with silly things like reason and straight A’s.”
“April’s not like that.” Lainey mumbled. “She’s a nice person. She just doesn’t run with the theater crowd, that’s all.”
“You’re probably right.” Sigourney replied. “She’s just misguided.”
“Hey Summer, could we walk over there?” Lainey asked. Summer stood, and took Lainey’s hand to help her stand. Together, they walked away from the group, near the tree where April was hiding.
“Brian!” Summer yelled, “Clean up the cards.”
“No!” Brian replied, “I’m not a housewife.”
“You’re right. You’re a househusband. Now clean.” Stephanie laughed. She stood up, and began to cartwheel around the clearing, despite the fact that she was wearing overalls.
“Lainey,” Summer asked, audible to April, “are you okay?”
“I dunno.” Lainey replied, looking at the ground. “I just felt weird talking about my sister like that.”
“Valid. We didn’t mean to upset you, it was a joke.”
“I know. But what if I’m like her? I didn’t wanna say anything, but-“
“Lainey, you’re amazing. You don’t have to worry about what April or anyone else thinks. You’re a great friend.”
“But what if April’s right? What if I’m not normal? What if people don’t like me, or want to be my friend, or date me?”
“Not everyone will like you, Lainey. But we like you, just the way you are. And someday, you’ll find a girl who loves you as much as I do.” Summer wrapped Lainey in a hug, and Lainey smiled, her face pressed against Summer’s shoulder. “Besides, Lainey, normal isn’t real.”
“It really isn’t.” Ash said, having caught up to April. They stood behind her, a gentle look on their face. “And the sooner you learn that, the sooner we might forgive you for making us think we aren’t perfect, just the way we are.”