Rob chewed his lip and nodded jerkily.
Mercer exhaled and took a drink. The silence stretched out. It stretched until the only sound was the silent tearing apart of their peace of mind and the tearing grated mutely until no one could think of anything but that deafening tearing.
Mercer smiled. “So what the hell is up with Parrish?”
Rob blinked and squinted, his eyes flickering wildly. Comprehension dawned. “She’s cool.”
“Cool? She’s been around for, like, six years and now she’s cool? She’s one of the guys, man.”
Rob dragged the toe of his sneaker through the dirt, building a little pile of dry earth and dead pine needles. “Yeah, she’s cool. She’s one of the guys, none of that catty girl bullshit.”
Torver nodded. “That’s actually really solid.”
Rob smiled at his little mound of earth. “Yeah.”
The silence crept back between them, sooner this time. Each of them pulled at it, fraying the edges in nerve-numbed fingers. When the edges they held unraveled, they tugged at the silence for more to fray.
Grayon bounced to his feet. “I’m gonna build the fire back up.” He picked up a leafy branch from the firewood pile and jerked it down over his thigh. It snapped in half. He picked up another branch, this one slid down the side of his thigh and jabbed at his knee. He shifted his grip and broke the branch the second time. Grayson scooped up another branch.
Rob toed the dirt.
Torver rubbed at his nose.
Mercer laced his fingers together, rolled his shoulders, and stretched his arms high over his head. “Who wants another beer?”
Everyone muttered assent and Mercer ducked into the tent, coming back out with two beers, crossed at the neck, in each hand. The bottle opener arced back and forth over the sullen fire. A branch snapped in the flames. A soft breeze, little more than a breathy exhale, drifted across their clearing. Torver grabbed a handful of leaves off the ground, lit the tips in the fire, and let them stagger and spin like drunken firebombers wobbling around town square.
“Yeah. Guy was a dick.”