The President had barely finished his sentence-his 's' still lingered in the air-when a patch of hay rustled, slithered along the floor of the barn as the snake slid another half-foot toward CJ. Josh centered himself on his chair, tempted to leap off of it in the hope that he'd miraculously acquired the gift of flight. In an ideal world, his feet would never touch the ground when he made a break for it. His mind already filled with images of a long, curling snake body darting out around his foot, a gaping, hinged mouth opening for the attack. Josh shuddered, forcing the thought from his brain as he clapped once to break the silence in the barn, glancing from one person to the next. "So," he said. "We done here, because it's-"
"Yeah, we should go," CJ said, her eyes fixed on the floor-on the snake. She shut her laptop, hugging it to her chest, looking as though she was ready to launch herself toward the door. "It's lunchtime, isn't it? We could get something to eat. Go back in the house. Away from-here."
"Come on, CJ," Sam said, grinning. "The air is cool and fresh. The sun is warm. We could all use a little time in the great out-"
Josh heard another rustle and snapped his head to the side. The snake advanced another foot, prompting CJ to bolt off her bale of hay.
"Okay, I'm out of here," she said, running on her tiptoes toward the door amidst a chorus of light, half-hearted attempts to call her back.
Josh propelled himself after her, but CJ was climbing the hill toward the house when Josh made it out of the barn. He heard footsteps behind him and turned to see Sam, Toby, and Leo forming a horseshoe just outside the barn door, each of them eying him with skeptical expressions-eyebrows raised, mouths pulled into straight lines. "What?" Josh asked.
Sam glanced at Toby and Leo before swiveling his attention back to Josh, offering him a shrug. "It was a pretty little snake, Josh."
"No!" Josh shouted, his voice rising an octave, and pointed at Sam. "No, you were on the other side of the room. You couldn't have seen it from over there. If you had, you'd know it was neither pretty nor was it little. I don't want to hear it." Josh spun around and marched toward the house, following CJ's path.
The plod of footfalls started again, and Sam drew up to Josh's side a moment later. "Well, you're going to," Sam said, a light tone of laughter in his voice.
Josh glared at him, apparently enough to make Sam rethink his position.
"Not from me," Sam said, raising his hands in a gesture of surrender. "From Toby. You're going to hear it from Toby."
Josh peered over his shoulder, rolling his eyes when he found Toby trailing a couple feet behind them. He sighed and quickened his pace as Leo joined Toby, a smirk spreading across his face. Great, he thought. He wasn't going to live this down for weeks.
"And Leo," Sam added. "You're going to hear it from Leo, too."
"Thanks, Sam," Josh said and slapped Sam's back with enough force to push a soft oomph from the back of his throat. "That's very helpful."
"No problem," Sam said, far too pleased, and flashed Josh a smile.
Glancing at the sunny sky, Josh groaned and waited for the mocking to begin.