"You want a hit?"
Mike's gaze shifted from the horizon to Josh's hand, or rather the joint he was offering.
"Come on, make me feel less like a pothead teen who smokes at four in the afternoon because he has nothing better to do."
Mike chuckled, accepted it, and took a drag, eyes half-closed. His lips parted as the thick white smoke came out slowly, in hypnotizing curls his friend couldn't help but watch.
"I think we have every reason to smoke right now," he said slowly, almost to himself.
He took another puff before handing the joint back.
"I have a feeling of deja-vu, though."
They were at Josh's place, sitting side by side on the window ledge, legs dangling in the cool breeze. It wasn't quite spring yet, but the air is warm enough so it's not uncomfortable – furthermore, the ledge is narrow enough so that their thighs and shoulders are touching, their body warmth radiating through their clothes.
"True," Josh nodded. "Though this time we don't have to worry about my parents coming by any minute and discovering we're smoking."
"Yep, wasn't very convenient, for sure. But your parents let me swing by every now and then, no matter the hour, so I don't really feel like I could be complaining about them."
"I can. I'm their son."
Josh found himself holding his breath, expecting Mike to say one of the things he had heard one too many times these days; "but it's hard for them too", "come on, it's not that bad, they paid for everything", "they lost two of their kids too, you can't blame them for always being on your back after that", and all that crap he was tired of. Thankfully, his friend seemed to know that he didn't needed or wanted any of that, and stayed silent.
He couldn't stop thinking about how Hannah was alive down there for months, how if they had convinced the police to search for a bit longer… none of it might have happened. He knew it wasn't their fault, wasn't anyone's fault really at the end, none of them could have predicted how this would become one big fucked-up tragedy.
But his parents weren't there either after the twins were pronounced dead, avoided the subject altogether, and never came to his flat when he was hiding behind its four walls, lights off and grief gnawing at the edge of his sanity. Only paid for a psychiatrist, one of those shrinks that specialized in rich people, depressed women left alone in a big, empty houses all day long while their husbands were sleeping around, spoiled troubled kids in rebellion with their family, people caving under the pressure of the high spheres. He doubted he ever prescribed something else than Xanax most days.
Fuck this, he was being unreasonable again. He knew his parents were only trying to help, as were his friends, no one deserved… or did they, did he… Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. The outside voices merged with the one inside his head and he wasn't sure which thoughts were truly his anymore.
He felt fingers on his hand, jolting him back to reality. Mike was carefully taking the stub from him, putting it out against the window ledge and… coming back for his hand. Josh stayed stunned for a second and neither of them pulled away.
"You looked gone, man," Mike said in a somewhat casual tone.
"I was… uh, thinking."
"Um-hum. Not a reason to burn your fingers."
Josh couldn't help but glimpse at his friend's upper legs, where he knew the scars were – little white spots left by a silvery lighter and cigarettes ends. He softly squeezed his hand back.
This time, his mind took him back to when they were in their early teens, thirteen or fourteen maybe, sitting like this on the window ledge of his parent's house, pulling on their first joint. It was the middle of July, and Mike was wearing long sleeves, the only visible mark on his skin being a black eye. Summer vacations were the longest for him because then there wasn't even the threat of worried teachers to make his father pause. He had spent these particular ones more at Josh's place than in his own house.
It was years ago, and they had drifted away during high school, still in the same friend group but it never was the two of them anymore. Especially not since his sisters' deaths…
Josh closed his eyes, trying to keep the thoughts at bay. He didn't want to think about the twins, about Beth's smile and Hannah's honest eyes – about Beth's voice when she tried to shake him from his alcohol-induced slumber this night and Hannah's distorted face when she nearly killed him, in that underwater lake – didn't want to forget about them either, he owed them that much, but some days it just hurt too much.
Mike's unusually soft tone brought him back on earth once again. He realized one of his legs was bouncing restlessly, the heel of his shoe hitting the stony wall irregularly. He laid one hand on his thigh, trying to appease the motion, and it slowed but didn't stop completely.
"Doctors said it could be a side effect of medication," he said without really knowing why – maybe only to diffuse the silence.
"And the meds, do they… uh… you know, work?"
To most people, he would have simply answered that yes, they worked, just so he could hope they wouldn't look at him with that horrible mix of fear and pity anymore. It was a routine question – but he could hear genuine concern in his friend's voice.
"They… make things better. I know what's real and what's not. I'm pretty sure they also make me drowsy though, but it's not like I have much to do with my days anyways."
"Do you still see… hear…? The 'what's not real', I mean."
A nervous chuckle escaped Josh's lips.
"Man, I've never heard you stumbled on words that much. And to answer the question… yes, sometimes. Less than before. I… it's hard to say. I feel like things are messy up there," he added, lightly tapping the side of his head, "you know?"
"Not really, to be honest. Hope it will, uh, ease soon?"
Silence came back, but it was kind of comfortable now.
"At least these days I don't really have the… what the doctors called delusions, it's like… false ideas? It's what made me… eh… hurt you. Back on the mountain. And… I… reflecting on it, part of me doesn't recognize myself, and the other does, way too much. Like, I don't know what's my illness's fault and what's mine, I… God, I don't know. I'm not making much sense, am I?"
"You do. At least, I think I get it."
"Really? 'Cause at times I don't get it myself."
He shrugged, looked down on his hand resting on his leg. It had stopped bouncing.
"I wonder if the others could ever forgive me," he said to nothing in particular.
"Do you forgive me for what happened to Hannah and Beth?"
Josh turned to him, taken off guard by the question. Mike was looking back at him, his face blank, but he saw the guilt behind his eyes nonetheless. They never lied, unlike his tongue.
He took the time to reflect on the matter.
"I'm not sure," he finally sighed. "I mean, I miss them, horribly, every day, and… none of us thought they would run off like that, of course, but you still intended to hurt my sister. What's sure is, I'm never going to forget that."
"Wouldn't expect anything less from you. They deserved it. And as you said, back in the lodge, as crazy and cruel as it sounded… we are still alive, and they… they will never get the chance to decide if they forgive us or not." Mike took a shaky breath, ran his hand through his hair. "I'm not sure if I'm allowed to say that, but I miss them too."
Josh nodded, as if to acknowledge his words, but didn't say a thing. In front of them, the sun was slowly setting, painting the town windows in glorious reds and purples. Slowly, the city hubbub was quieting.
"I never properly thanked you and Sam for coming back for me. Neither did I apologize for throwing you against a wall as a monster."
Mike let out a sound that was half laughter and half something else.
"I couldn't live with the idea that I watched Ha- the Wendigo dragged you away and did nothing about it. Not again. Also," he added with a small smile, "you know that when Sam has set her mind on something, any resistance is futile."
Josh laughed quietly.
"Yes. She's incredible."
"Ah, yeah… definitely…"
He felt his friend's hand slide away from his own, glanced at him out of the corner of his eye.
"You two got together."
It wasn't a question, but Mike nodded anyway, looking slightly uncomfortable.
"I'm glad to hear that," continued Josh. "You both are, eh, good persons."
"Not quite sure about that last part. Sam, sure, but…"
Josh didn't know what to say, knew first hand that words could feel pointless sometimes.
And if he was being totally true to himself, what he just learned was taking quite a bit of space in his head. He wasn't surprised, had noticed how Mike and Sam had grown closer these last few months – everyone knew, actually, even before the two involved –, but hearing, saying it out loud was something else.
"You're right, it was time to make a move, Sam's not the type of girl that you want to keep waiting," he began, words escaping his lips before he had time to think them through. "Don't be a Chris."
Don't be a Josh.
He felt his cheeks warm up as the thought crossed his mind. Thankfully, he didn't say that one out loud.
"I know a lot of people that would be disappointed though," his mouth continued as his mind was screaming at him to fucking shut up – he couldn't help it, he was a talker whenever he got nervous. "Both men and women. I'd like to say it cleared the field for me, but I'm not sure anyone would like to date someone with a face like mine, and… ah, what are you doing?"
Mike's fingers felt cool against his jaw as he gently nudged him so they faced each other. He let his thumb slide over the scar mangling his cheek. Josh couldn't help but notice it was his injured hand. They were all broken to different extents.
"I, for one, don't mind it," his friend whispered, and he felt his breath tickling his skin.
Your 'friend', eh?
Fuck it. It was now or never.
He pushed Mike's hand away and crashed his lips against his, efficiently silencing his attempts at apologizing. For a second, Mike stayed unresponsive, and Josh felt his heartbeat picking up because he must have read it wrong, it-
And then, he kissed him back and it was sloppy and their teeth bumped together and at that point, it felt like the best kiss he ever had.
Mike's hand found its way to the back of his neck to bring him even closer. His legs were angled weirdly from their precarious position on the window ledge but he couldn't care less.
"Was that… ah…", Josh began as they broke apart, "was that the chance you were waiting for? You know, game night… never kissed a boy…"
He chuckled as Mike groaned.
"You are a real mood-breaker, I hope you know that."