Knock. A loud noise rang through the cabin, followed by a smaller knock, almost apologetic, as if it was trying to say sorry for the volume of the previous one. A bright light had flickered against the window before abruptly flickering out, the owner of the flashlight turning it off.
Knock. Forest groaned when the person on the other side of the door tried again, rubbing her eyes and swinging her legs over the edge of her rocky camp bedroll. The cabin was dark, and she had to squint to maneuver her way around the other two bedrolls. If she woke up Katy or Flint again, she probably wouldn’t hear the end of it. Pulling open the door, she saw her friend standing with a raised fist, preparing to knock again.
Parker immediately started talking, hands flapping frantically by his sides as they tended to do when he had kept his words inside for too long. “Okay, so you know how I was talking about how I wanted to do something earlier, make a big change, that kind of thing, right? I’m pretty sure I was talking to you about it, but it might have been Alex, but I do think that it was you. Anyway, well, I thought and thought about it, and decided that I was gonna do it! I’m really gonna do it!” The boy had worked himself up until he was almost vibrating with energy, and his words seemed to trip over each other on their way out.
Blinking eyes that were still crusty from sleep, Forest tried to process the onslaught of information. “What’re you talking ‘bout, dude? It’s too late -” she checked the glowing hands on her watch and groaned. “Ugh, never mind, too early. Geez, Park, ‘ts like three AM in the morning.” Her brain was still turning on, and she was never at her best just after waking up.
The boy’s eyes widened with shock, and he immediately started apologizing. “Oh geez, I’m so sorry, did I wake up any of your roomies?” Forest raised an eyebrow at the fact that he thought of her roommates first, completely ignoring the fact that she had been woken up at three in the morning. “I swear, I didn’t realize what time it was, well, is, and I guess time just ran away from me, sorry.”
Sinking against the doorframe, Forest let the back of her head hit the wood, wondering if she could do it hard enough to be knocked unconscious - it might be the only way to get back to sleep. “I’m the only one you woke up, it’s fine.” She felt a small grin slip onto her face at the audible sigh of relief from Park, and he seemed to lose a few inches of his nervous height as he relaxed back into his customary slouch. “But if you keep talking at that volume, you might manage to wake them up anyway. Really though, what’s worth waking me up at the ass crack of dawn for?” Once she was up and had opened her eyes too long, it was hopeless to try to fall asleep immediately. She felt her ability to slip back into sleep falling away, and she gave an internal groan. As she felt her brain functions starting to turn on, she resolved herself to whatever had gotten her friend in such a tizzy.
“Okay, so, don’t freak out, okay?” Park waited for Forest’s nodded confirmation before pulling two boxes out from his bag. Grinning, he held them out in one hand, the other moving to scratch at the back of his sandy blond hair. It had gotten longer in the month or so he had spent at summer camp, and was now just long enough to tickle the top bump of his spine.
Forest plucked the boxes out of his hand, giving them a quick once over before lifting an eyebrow at her friend. “Hair dye. Really.” She sighed, rolling her eyes in an attempt to hold back a grin, not without difficulty. Park’s smile was always too contagious, and now he stood, practically bouncing on the balls of his feet, grin spread from ear to ear. He always seemed to be much bigger when he was excited, almost enough to make her forget that he was almost six inches shorter than her. Taking a closer look at the package, moving her shadow out of the way of the dim porch-light, she let out a small laugh. “Pink, not the color I would have thought you would pick.”
“Well, when we went to town today - er, yesterday, sorry - the store only had bright pink, orange, and then a bunch of natural colors. I would have gotten green, but they didn’t have it,” Park paused to take a breath, and Forest had to wonder how the boy had so much energy at this hour of the morning. Had he somehow managed to break into the kitchen and find some coffee? Didn’t really seem his style, but she wouldn’t put it past him. Dying his hair hot pink didn’t seem his style either, and yet here they both were.
“Let me guess, you want me to help you with the act, right?” She had dyed her own hair once or twice, adding a few stripes here or there into her dark brown hair. At the moment, there was a bleached streak bundled into her messy bun, left over from when she had dyed it purple on a (some might say rebellious, and she might agree) whim.
“Geez, F, you make it sound like I’m gonna kill somebody. But yeah, some help would be appreciated.” Park snatched the boxes back to stuff in his satchel, a bag decorated with trees that he had gotten at the end of camp the earlier year. He set off towards the communal bathrooms, his “Come on!” ringing out through the late-night-early-morning air.
Rolling her eyes, Forest shushed him and followed, hurrying to catch up and share the glow from the flashlight Park produced from his bag. He walked pretty quickly, especially for his short legs, so she was glad that her long strides kept the two moving at the same speed. As they wandered through camp, she was content to listen to the idle chatter that seemed to flow in a steady stream from the boy’s lips, only ever speaking up to tell him to be quiet or give an interested hum. The two went to the same school, but had never really hung out until Senior Ranger Camp. Park hung out with his small group of friends, mostly staying in the library and keeping to themselves. Forest, however, had gotten the reputation (well deserved, if she was being honest, which she usually wasn’t) of being a pothead. She and her friends also kept to themselves, until her parents had decided that the best way to fix her was to ship her off to summer camp.
Forest had absolutely nothing against camp, though. Being in the fresh air managed to calm her nerves, the wide open spaces letting her feel like she could finally breathe. Even though the counselors peppiness consistently made her roll her eyes, at least she had her few friends to roll her eyes with, and they made it all worth it. She shook her sappy thoughts away when they reached the bathroom, and squinted down at her bare feet. “Really didn’t think this through too well, did we, huh?” She had been mostly walking along the paved pathways, lucky enough to not have to plod through any wet grass. The nasty camp bathrooms were quite another problem, though, and she wasn’t looking forward to braving it without shoes. At least the night was warm, so the fact that she was left standing in just her pajamas - a ratty t-shirt and shorts - wasn’t as big of a problem as it could have been.
“I would offer you my shoes, but your feet are like, three sizes above mine, so that probably wouldn’t really work.” Park was almost a head shorter than his friend, and his feet were definitely smaller. The sneakers that he had haphazardly thrown on before leaving, laces untied and dirty from trailing on the ground, would definitely not be able to fit onto the other’s feet.
Forest scrunched her toes and looked down at her feet, ready to protest, but giving up when her friend shoved his foot next to hers for comparison. “Fine, you win. This time.” Sighing, she gave in and said, “Let’s get this over with.” The two entered the bathroom, and Park immediately moved to set up his supplies by the rickety old sink. The camp had been around for decades, and Forest always thought it looked like they hadn’t updated any of the facilities since the first year.
The spots of mold and other unidentified and suspicious substances on the tile didn’t seem to dissuade Park, so she sighed and plucked the box out of his hands. He had the bad habit of rushing into things without thinking, and although she was usually right by his side encouraging his bad decisions, she was losing sleep over this and so wouldn’t settle for it being anything less than great. Well, maybe a little less than great was ok, seeing how she was pretty much half asleep. Actually, anything better than completely horrible would probably be acceptable. A lack of sleep was one hell of a standard-lowerer.
Park reached for the boxes again, but Forest just waved away his offended noise, groaning when she saw how long the bleach was supposed to stay in for. “You realize that this alone will take like, half an hour or so? Then, it would probably take at least that long for the actual dye, and when looking at how much we will probably end up procrastinating…” Forest trailed off as she did the mental calculations, and groaned again as she realized that she probably wouldn’t be getting much more sleep that night. “Of course, we had to do it in the middle of the night though, right?” She said, one eyebrow raised.
Park gave an awkward chuckle, finally snatching back the bleach. “I mean, I probably did get a bit carried away, but we’re both up now! So we might as well do it while we’re awake. Also,” he said, a sly glint appearing in his eyes, “just picture the looks of horror on the counselors faces!” The two giggled at that idea, laughter softer than it usually would be due to the late hour, before he continued. “I mean, what did they think would happen when they let us go to the nearest store after not having parental control for weeks, a store that sells hair dye and other enablers of bad decisions? It is really their fault, if you think about it,” he said, pulling an innocent face and opening the box, inspecting its contents more carefully before taking out a few small packages. He mixed the powder and developer that it held in a small bowl, scrunching his nose at the smell. After hopping onto the shaky tile of the sink counter, he handed the container to his friend along with a small brush.
Forest methodically worked through his hair from root to tips, listening to Park’s chatter about how long he had wanted to dye his hair, and how excited he was to finally do it, and a million other topics. Even though sometimes it seemed like he didn’t know how to shut up, she was always willing (some could even venture to say eager, as long as they didn’t say it where she could hear them) to listen. His thoughts were constantly going a mile a minute, flashing from thought to idea and back, but he had trouble talking to most people on his good days. His words would get all twisted up, his face would flush bright red, and he would usually end up falling off into mumbling with stunted hand motions. The fact that Park felt comfortable enough around Forest that he was able to talk on and on like this? Well, it meant that she wouldn’t poke too much fun at his expense. (And if she enjoyed being with him so much that her quips were barely even half hearted, well, no one needed to know that.)
“Do you ever think about how weird it is that pink is a girl’s color? I mean, it’s really pretty and like, why should it be so strict. Even though it wasn’t my first choice for hair color, I’m still gonna look great you know?” Park’s legs were swinging under the counter, back and forth, with his palms taptaptapping on the chilly tile. He mindlessly reached up to tug at a strand of his hair, but his hand was batted away by Forest’s. Turning slightly to rinse off the few smears of bleach on his fingers, he said, “How much longer does this need to stay in?”
Checking her watch, Forest said, “It’s like three fifty now, so probably just a few more minutes.” She rubbed a hand down her face, still tired from the fact that it was three goddamn fifty in the morning. Picking up on her weariness, Park opened his mouth to say sorry, seeming to shrink in on himself, but she waved it off with a tired hand. “It’s fine, you don’t have to apologize again. I could have went back to sleep, but I didn’t. Anyway, I really do enjoy spending time with you, even if it is in the middle of the night.” Forest cleared her throat awkwardly when she saw the small (adorable, her mind supplied, before she told her mind to shut it’s damn mouth) smile spreading onto the boys face, and said, “We can probably wash out your hair now.” Shaking her head to try to clear it, she wondered why she was being so sappy all of a sudden. There were still a few weeks left until they went back to their normal lives, went their own separate ways. I’m probably just tired, she thought. Definitely not developing a soft streak. Nope.
When Forest tuned back into what her friend was doing, she found him staring into the old mirror, wet hair dripping onto his dark green pajama shirt. Park looked so focused and still, she was almost startled when he broke the silence, voice more quiet and solemn than she had heard it before. “What’s my mom gonna think?”
“I’m sure it will be fine,” Forest said carefully, rooting around the bag to find a small hand towel that he had tucked away in it. “You’ve never had any acts of teenage rebellion, and your mom is a pretty chill lady.” Draping the fabric over her head, she nudged his shoulder with his, feeling a stab of concern when he simply swayed with the movement, rather than bumping her shoulder back. “You can always say that I pressured you into it, if she freaks out. Anybody’d believe that,” she said with a bitter laugh.
Park reached up to grab a strand of his light hair, pulling it as far in front of his face as it would go, almost going cross eyed as he tried to focus on it. “You don’t just have to accept your reputation, you know that right?” He kept his eyes trained on his reflection, speaking slowly like he was trying to find the correct words, so different from his usual unfiltered speech. “I mean, you - you like plants, other than just weed, I mean, and you aren’t a bad person, you’re actually a really cool person, and - and, um, yea.” He pulled at the edges of the towel frantically, pulling it quickly back and forth andbackandforthandbackandforth across his hair, and cleared his throat. “Well, that should be light enough, right? We can put the color in now, probably, right?”
The two stood in awkward silence for a few moments before Forest blinked, and practically threw herself to the bag and pulled out the next box. “Yeah, it should be good, we, um, we can add it in now.” Mentally cursing herself, she wondered what had her shaken up badly enough that she would stammer. I’m just tired, she thought again, repeating it like a mantra. We are both just tired, and in the morning we’ll laugh about it, and everything will be fine. Park’s chatter was more subdued as the pigment was applied, but the quiet felt more comfortable. After the dye was done being put into his hair, they slipped down to sit next to each other on the floor, leaning against the chilly wall.
Forest’s eyes were closing, her head falling back to bump against the cold tiles, but they flickered open when she heard Park murmur something, far quieter than his normal volume. Yawning, she said, “Didn’t quite catch that, babe.” She looked over at him through half-lidded eyes, tired brain trying to figure out why he was suddenly biting his lip like that or why his pretty eyes were open so wide or why a pink flush, almost as bright as his hair would be, had spread across his cheeks, when she realized what she had said. “Oh geez, dude, um, that just slipped out, sorry, um-”
Grinning, Park said, “I thought that I was the one who was supposed to say sorry all the time?” She started laughing, his remark suddenly seeming like the funniest thing in the world to her tired mind. “It’s fine though. I, um, I don’t really mind?”
Forest ducked her head, wondering why she was smiling this big, or why she was so awake all of a sudden, or why her pulse seemed to be zinging under her skin - other than the most reasonable solution, which she was definitely not addressing right now. Thinking back to what had spurred her to make the comment in the first place, she pursed her lips. “What did you say, though?”
Park twisted his fingers in his lap, looking like he was barely refraining from twining them into his hair and pulling to ground his thoughts. They started tapping on the floor, then fluttering in the air, moving around like he was trying to calm down and order his thoughts into place. “It’s nothing really, I was just gonna say thanks for waking up this early and helping me even though it was the ass crack of dawn and you really didn’t have to and you always hang out with me even though there are always cooler people that you could be hanging out with and also you are willing to listen to me even though I ramble like I’m doing right now, oh god I’m so sorry I should probably shut up now, sorry.”
“I’m gonna process that, ok?” When Park nodded, Forest pulled at the edge of her shirt, wondering how she could best respond to his worries. She had never been good with comforting words, usually preferring to use them to hurt or joke, and she didn’t have much experience dealing with actual heartfelt feelings. “I’m just gonna start by saying that I do like hanging out with you, yeah? Honest. You aren’t forcing me into being your friend - I doubt anybody could, to be honest, you’ve pretty much said that yourself sometimes, as has everybody at school, and, um. You are a great person, really.” When Park scoffed at that, she pursed her lips, trying to figure out how to form her words. “I love listening to you talk, and I could honestly just sit and listen to you for hours.” Her voice had gotten lower as she spoke, so she cleared her throat and licked her lips, scratching at the inside of her wrist, picking at the hair ties that she always wore there. “Sure, I was kind of pissed when you woke me up early, but I don’t care anymore. It’s already done, and it doesn’t matter anymore, ok?”
Huffing a laugh, Forest let her hand fall to the floor. “God, I sound like such a sap. I -” Whatever she had been planning on saying next was halted as she sucked in a sharp gasp, feeling Park’s fingers brushing against her palm. Peeking out of the corner of her eye, she saw him staring straight ahead, his hand resting on hers. Shifting so that she could hold it more firmly, he started before relaxing back against the wall, head hanging over his body so the dye didn’t touch the dirty surface.
Breathing out the word thanks, he looked drained, like all of his words had been pulled out of him and he was left, slumped on the floor of a bathroom, holding his best friend’s hand. Forest didn’t want to get up (she felt calm and comfortable, like she had finally found something she didn’t know she had been missing, and god, didn’t that sound cliche) but a quick glance at her watch told her it was time for Park to wash out his hair. Nudging his shoulder, he jerked his head up, and she held her free hand up in a placating gesture. “It’s just me, dude. You really should wash your hair though. Picture it: Park the pink-haired ranger. You’re gonna look great.” He smiled quickly, a bright flash of teeth, as real as it was brief.
After he managed to get up, Park held out a hand to help Forest up, and if they didn’t let go for a few moments too long after she was already standing, no one was going to comment. She stood back as he bent awkwardly to fit his head under the small tap and wash out the goopy dye from his hair. “We really should have brought some shampoo or something, this is pretty bad for your hair,” she said as she passed him the towel, crossing her arms as he dried his hair.
When Park finally looked into his reflection, his mouth dropped into a shocked ‘o.’ “Woah,” he breathed, breath fogging the glass from how close he had leaned to it, shaking his head once or twice to watch his bright pink hair move. Turning to Forest with a huge smile, he said, “I actually did it! Oh my god, I look -” he turned back to the glass, turning his face from side to side. “I look so freaking weird, woah. This is great!” His returning energy was contagious, and Forest felt her lips turn up in a grin, watching him bounce around the bathroom, occasionally turning his head to follow the flashes of color that would show up in the corner of his vision.
Laughing, she turned on the tap to try to wash the stain out of the tile, scrubbing with a few paper towels when it didn’t come off immediately. When she couldn’t get the stain out completely, she shrugged and threw away the napkins. It’ll just add to the sketchy summer camp bathroom aesthetic, she thought. Looks like a murder happened. A pepto-bismol murder. Turning, she saw that Park had packaged up the rest of the supplies (not very well though, that pink spot would probably stain the bag, but at least it added character) and the two headed out back into the real world.
It was still dark out, although it probably wouldn’t stay that way for long. Glancing at the horizon and seeing faint hints of lighter blue, Forest realized the sun would probably come up in a few minutes. Before Park could race off to his cabin, she put a hand on his arm, pausing his chattering. When he turned towards her, head cocked at a questioning angle, she pulled her arm back to cross it across her chest, trying to remain cool and not break out into a smile at that face, oh shoot he’s cute, you’re so screwed. “The sun’s gonna rise soon, if you’re willing to stay up a little longer?” Her statement turned up at the end, sounding far more uncertain than she would have liked.
“Sounds perfect,” Park said, smiling and hitching his bag up higher on his shoulder. “Let’s go.” He set off towards the edge of camp where the buildings trailed off into an open field, framed with trees where the woods pressed in. During the days, it was usually full of kids learning survival skills, and in the evenings, the campfire was held in a large fire pit located smack dab in the middle, but at five in the morning? Everything was quiet and calm, birds still silent and barely a breeze to rustle the grass.
Forest caught up almost immediately and slowed down her long stride to match his low-energy one, the backs of their hands bumping together with every step. All too soon though (read, before she could work up the confidence to make a move) they reached the field and Park moved away to sit on the damp grass. Forest scrunched her nose at the dew that was already soaking into her pajama shorts, but there was nothing she could do about it now. She stiffened as Park fell against her, his head a few inches from hers, but relaxed as she heard - and felt - him sigh.
“Everything always feels like it’s moving so fast, you know? Just, everything keeps changing, but in the end, everything is basically the same.” Park’s voice was slurring, the sleepless night finally taking a toll on his energy. He let his head rest against her, shifting once or twice until he was comfortable. Too short to actually reach Forest’s shoulder, he ended up leaning back against Forest’s chest, with the only thing keeping them from falling backwards her hands, stuck behind her onto the wet ground. “This camp will be over before we know it, and then we’ll just go back to our regular lives, with our own friends and our own plans and then who knows if anything will change, but it probably won’t. Even if we want it to, it’s so easy to forget, and then it’s too late and your life is just as it always has been.” He cleared his throat, subconsciously reaching up a hand to pull at his hair, and continued. “That’s why I dyed my hair. This summer will have an impact, you know?”
“Also, babe, you look great with pink hair,” Forest joked, ignoring the flush in her cheeks that came with the casual use of the pet name and hoping to get off the topic of their regular lives. She knew that Park had his own friends, and why would he ever want to hang out with her anyway? She would just go back to hanging out with the people she tolerated, staying away from interfering with his happy, successful life. In the early morning, the sky just starting to lighten from navy to an intangible shade of blue, the air warm and still, it felt like a dream, a dream that she planned on enjoying for as long as it could last.
“Heh, yeah,” Park said, turning his head to look at Forest, her profile becoming more defined with the light bleeding into the sky.
“What’re you looking at,” she mumbled, tiredness starting to creep its way back into her mind again. She hadn’t gotten much sleep, and her energy had started to flag a while ago. Her arm buckling under her, she let out a surprised oof as the two toppled backwards onto the ground. Forest started laughing, and soon the two had dissolved into exhausted giggles.
“Geez, you’re a mess,” Park breathed, his face barely an inch from Forest’s. A lazy smile spread across her face, and she reached out to grab his hand where it had fallen between them.
“So’re you.” Gently resting her forehead against his, she whispered, “I’m your mess, though.” Her eyes slipped closed, but not before she saw the bashful smile tugging at the edge of his lips.
“Then I guess I’m yours.” Park’s words fell softly, puffs of breath landing on Forest’s skin.
In her sleepy haze, everything felt just as it should be, his hand fitting perfectly in hers. A thousand words drifted through her mind, everything that she had wanted to say - even if she hadn’t realized it. My life is better with you in it. I love your voice, your words, your mind. I love your pink hair, your bright smile, your constant energy. I love…
You. Instead of saying any of that, though, she just held his hand tighter, fingers locked together, a small smile turning up the corners of her mouth. The last thing she felt before her consciousness slipped away was Park’s breath against her cheek, already falling into the even rhythms of sleep.
Even if this all was a dream, it was a hell of a good one, and there was no way she would forget it when she woke back up to the real world.