"Whose idea was it to take these kids to a Godforsaken deserted moor, anyway?" Tom demands.
"I shouldn't even have let him come. When has one of our school trips ever gone smoothly? We went to that farm and he ended up in hospital."
"Tom," Karen says, "calm down."
"I will not calm down! That's my son lost somewhere out there, do you understand?"
"You'll be no use to him if you panic," she says, sharply. "What we need to do now is call the police, keep everyone together and retrace our steps."
This trip wasn't exactly buckets of fun before, trudging through the rain and the mud with their hoods pulled over their heads, but since Josh went missing the atmosphere's got even worse. Tom is out in front, walking fast and looking around constantly, and the whole group has to try hard to keep up with him. Lauren is starting to walk slower, though, and Sam, noticing, falls back to stay beside her.
They keep walking in silence for a couple of minutes. Pretty much everyone's gone quiet, apart from Tom's occasional shout of "Josh!"
"We'd better speed up," Sam says. They're at the back, and the gap between them and the others is getting wider. "We'll get left behind."
"I'm going to look for him," Lauren says.
Sam stops walking. "What? You can't."
"Why can't I?" Lauren asks, stopping as well. She's got that look that means she won't be argued with, but Sam has to try.
"You're mad," she says. "We'll just get lost as well."
"I didn't say you had to come with me."
"Don't be daft, of course I do. I'm not letting you go off to get lost on your own."
Lauren smiles at that, just a bit. She looks over at the still-walking group as it leaves them behind. A fading call of "Josh!" drifts back to them.
"Look," Lauren says, "I've got Josh's number, so we can keep trying to call him. And you've got Mr Clarkson's, right? So we can call the teachers if we find him or we don't know how to get back. We'll be fine."
Sam bites her lip. "Tom'll go mad," she says.
"Not if we find his son he won't," Lauren says. "C'mon, let's go."
"Okay," Lauren says, soon after they start walking. "When we call Josh, he doesn't answer, but it doesn't just go to voicemail, does it? It actually rings. So we know his phone's on, and we know he's somewhere with reception." She waves her phone in Sam's face. "And him and me are with the same company. So we just need to look for him in the places I can use my phone."
"All right," Sam says. It's a relief; she was sort of expecting that they would be wandering the moors with no idea where they were supposed to be looking. 'Places with phone reception' isn't much, but at least it's something, and it means they'll be able to call for help if they need it.
They walk for what feels like ages through the light drizzle, Lauren checking her phone and occasionally steering them back on course. Sam keeps a constant lookout for anything Josh-shaped.
There's not anything Josh-shaped, as far as she can see. There's not really anything anything-shaped; there's just grass. Sometimes there are rocks, but that's it. This moor is the most boring place in the entire world and this school trip is definitely not worth the trouble it's caused.
"Josh!" Sam calls.
"Josh!" Lauren yells. "We've got Nate with us! He's not wearing much!"
"Oh, yeah, he's definitely going to fall for that."
"I think he's eyeing Sam up," Lauren calls. "You'll need to act quick if you don't want to lose your boyfriend, Josh!"
"Shut up," Sam says, laughing.
And then Sam's phone buzzes, and she stops laughing like someone's hit an off-switch.
She knows before she even looks at the screen that it's Tom calling. Her stomach twists. She thinks about not answering, but what if they've found Josh? Then she and Lauren would just be out looking for someone who's not even here. Besides, Tom has enough to worry about as it is; she should at least let him know they're not hurt.
She answers but doesn't say anything.
"Sam." Tom's voice is just as tight and angry as she'd braced herself for, and somehow that bracing doesn't help. "Where the hell are you and Lauren?"
For a moment Sam has no idea what to say, and then it comes to her in a flash of genius. "Lauren weren't feeling well," she says, leaning against a sort of pile of huge stone slabs to keep herself steady. "We've gone back to the coach. Sorry we didn't say anything."
There's a pause before Tom responds. "Is that true? So you've not gone after Josh on some idiotic rescue mission, then?"
"No," Sam says. "'Course not. We're not stupid."
"Good," Tom says. "Make sure you stay where you are. We've got the police looking, and they're going to be the ones to find him, not a couple of schoolgirls. You should have asked a teacher to head back with you, though; you can't just go running off on your own like that."
"Won't do it again," Sam says. "Does that mean you've still not found Josh, then?"
Tom sighs, and when he speaks again all the anger has gone out of his voice. "Not yet, no. He's still not answering his phone."
Lauren tugs on Sam's arm.
"Well, good luck," Sam says down the phone. "See you later." She hangs up and looks at Lauren. "What?"
Lauren doesn't say anything. She looks really scared, Sam realises suddenly.
"What is it?" Sam asks again, worried now.
Lauren holds up her phone and presses the call button, and after a second or two a faint ringtone starts from somewhere nearby. It's Josh's, Sam realises with a sudden thrill of excitement, and then it turns to fear because if they'd found Josh why would Lauren look like that?
Lauren pulls her around to the side of the stone pile she was leaning against. "Look down there," she says, pointing, her voice shaking. "But hold on to the rocks."
Behind the stone pile, the ground just... goes. Sam half-hugs one of the stone slabs, after giving it a few shoves to make sure it's not going to shift itself, and leans out to look down. It's a big drop, the ground so far below she can't make it out clearly through the mist and drizzle.
And on a grassy ledge a little way below the stone pile, lit up and vibrating, is a mobile phone.
Sam feels sick. As she tears her eyes away she notices there's a muddy streak cut through the grass at the edge right next to her, like someone's foot has slipped, and she feels sicker.
Neither of them says anything for a moment. Josh's phone stops ringing.
"What do we do?" Lauren asks, quietly.
Sam tries to think. It's not easy; she can't get that drop out of her head.
"Well," she says, after a moment, "maybe we can climb up on these rocks. See if we can see anything from up there." She hesitates. "I mean, maybe he just dropped his phone."
Lauren nods, not saying anything.
"And then we should call Tom and go back," Sam says. "Leave the police to it," and this time Lauren doesn't argue.
Sam quickly finds a foothold in the side of the pile opposite the drop. The stone is slippery from the rain, but she manages to haul herself up to the top, or nearly the top, at least; there are a few big stones forming a sort of wall at the corner to her right, but she doesn't think there'll really be anywhere to stand on top of them. It's very windy up here. She tries looking out over the drop, but it makes her feel awful, so she turns around just as Lauren is pulling herself up after her.
The wall of stones in the corner isn't solid, she sees now; there's a sort of shallow cave there, formed by a couple of the biggest rocks leaning against each other. And sitting in the cave, holding his knees to his chest, staring at her—
"Sam?" Josh asks.
Sam, startled, takes a step backwards and her feet slip on the wet stone and her heart stops to save the ground the trouble because oh, yeah, that's right, this thing overlooks a huge drop.
In the long, long half-a-second just after she realises she's going to fall, all she can think about is how her mum will cope. Is she going to start drinking again? Is she even going to know Sam's gone, or is she just going to be left wondering why she never came home? No, of course she won't be left not knowing; Lauren will tell her what happened. Even if Lauren and Josh don't make it back, the police are still searching these moors. She'll be found.
And then Lauren's hands close around her wrist and Lauren is holding her, so tight Sam thinks her hand might just break off, and Lauren is pulling her away from the edge. Sam stumbles and falls to her hands and knees, and it hurts but there's solid stone underneath her, not just air, and it takes her a moment to realise this means she's not going to die.
"Oh, God," Lauren says, and she's breathing too fast and still holding onto Sam's wrist and Sam can feel her trembling, "don't ever ever do that again, Sam, I mean it."
"I wasn't exactly planning to," Sam tries to say, but she seems to have forgotten how to talk for a moment and it comes out sounding more like a squeak than anything else. "Josh," she says, and this time she actually manages it, "Josh, he's okay, he's there."
Lauren puts a hand on Sam's back, as if she's afraid Sam's going to run off over the edge the moment she glances away, and turns to look. "I'm not dreaming that?" she asks, after a moment, and her voice sounds very strange.
Josh uncurls himself and drags himself out of his little hollow, blinking in the fading light. Sam thinks he might have been crying, but it's hard to tell, his face and hair still damp from the rain.
"I'm sorry, Sam," he says, and he definitely sounds like he's been crying. He doesn't stand up, stays sitting on the wet rocks even though his clothes must be getting soaked through; Sam's certainly are, but she's feeling too shaken to stand just yet. "I didn't mean—" but that's all he gets out before Lauren falls on him, burying her face in his shoulder. Josh looks slightly terrified, but after a moment he puts his arms around her in return, and after another he closes his eyes.
"You are such an idiot," Lauren mumbles.
"Thanks, Lauren," Josh says.
"We was talking down there," Sam says, nodding towards the side of the pile. "Why didn't you say something?"
"I didn't know," Josh says. "Sorry. I didn't hear anything. Must have been the wind."
"Idiot," Lauren says, hugging him tighter. "I'd kill you if I wasn't so glad you're alive."
The first thing they do, once Lauren has released Josh and Sam has stopped shaking, is climb down from the pile – Josh a little slowly, his muscles stiff from being cramped and cold – and start walking away from the drop; they've all agreed that they need to be somewhere slightly less likely to kill them before they think about anything else.
After a few steps, Josh stops. "My phone," he says. "I dropped it down there."
"You're not thinking of trying to get it," Sam says, firmly. "I swear, Josh, I'll push you over the edge myself so we're not just standing around waiting for you to fall."
Josh holds up his hands in surrender. "All right, so I'm not thinking of trying to get it."
"Good," Sam says, as the three of them start to walk again. "'Cause we didn't come out looking for you just so you could get yourself killed." Impulsively, she ruffles Josh's hair; he makes a face and bats her hand away.
"I don't need fussing over," he says.
"Oh, yes, you do," Lauren says. "You're not going on any more school trips. Or I'll put you in a cage on wheels and roll you around or something."
"I just got left behind," Josh protests. "It won't happen again."
"No," Lauren says. "It won't. Because you'll be in a cage."
They keep walking for a minute or so.
"Thanks, though," Josh says, quietly. "For finding me."
And then Sam's phone rings, and they're going to get such a bollocking but right now she doesn't care. She answers right away.
"We've got back to the coach," Tom growls, "but you're not here, are you? I swear, if you two've gone out onto those moors on your own—"
"Tom," Sam says, quickly. "Tom, we found Josh."
There's a moment when all she can hear is the wind.
"Did I hear that right?" Tom asks.
It's not easy to give directions on a moor, and it takes Tom almost an hour to find them (at least the rain stopped soon after they found Josh; they wouldn't exactly all have been able to fit into his shelter), but eventually he comes into view. Josh hurries to meet him at a sort of stumbling run, like he's still too stiff to move properly. Sam is expecting them to hug, but Josh reaches his dad and just stops, as if he's not sure whether he's allowed.
"Think you aged me about twenty years with that stunt of yours, Josh," Tom says.
Josh glances away. "Sorry, Dad."
"Oh, come on, you must be freezing," Tom says, and he pulls Josh into his arms.
It's a long hug, and Sam and Lauren aren't getting any warmer during it, but Sam's happy for it to keep going; she's got a feeling that the moment it ends they're in trouble. Of course, it can't last forever.
"Right," Tom says, when he's let Josh go. "You two."
"Sorry, sir," Lauren says, with a sheepish grin.
"That was a very stupid thing you did," Tom says. "You put yourselves in serious danger, and to top it off you lied to a teacher about it. I should give you both detention until you're twenty-five."
"We found him, didn't we?" Sam points out.
"And I'm very glad you did," Tom says. "But that doesn't change the fact that it wasn't your job. You should have left the police to it."
"They might not have found him!" Lauren protests.
"That's really not the point, Lauren."
"Can we go back?" Josh cuts in, wrapping his arms around himself. "Unless you want me to go back where I was, you know, so we can wait and see if the police find it."
Tom laughs. "All right, you three, back to the coach." He waves Sam and Lauren over. "And I don't want you to think I'm encouraging what you did, but thanks for bringing this one home. I'll talk to Miss Fisher about it. Maybe you'll only get detention until you're twenty-four."