Chapter 15:

Alone Again

Fair, no Fair

The next morning we gathered before dawn at the parking lot of our hotel where our bus would pick us up. We would spend the rest of the day in the national park and I could not say that I was excited; Barging through a knee-deep layer of snow for the coming hours did not sound like a good time to me.

I claimed a seat next to a fogged-up window and was still occupied rubbing the sleep out of my eyes when Georgy, Max and Derek sat down around me. Georgy's expression confused me greatly. His freckle-filled face was contorted in a scowl, but he had chosen to sit next to me, so I could not possibly be the reason behind his sour mood, right? Because of our falling out yesterday, I decided to ask him just to be sure.

“Um... Is everything alright, Georgy?" I gently asked. "You look agitated… If you need space after what happened yesterday, I understand." Georgy looked up at me with a wide-eyed expression and his anger melted away like snow on a warm day.

“Oh shit, nah Simon, I've got no hard feelings towards you anymore," he quickly clarified with a quirky smile. "I'm just in a bad mood because the teachers revealed the groups for the hike and I won't get to be in the same group as you, Derek or Max."

“What?! No way! I thought we were going to walk the route together in one large group!” I squeaked. I must have missed the announcement because I knew for certain this had not been the original plan.

Georgy shrugged and furrowed his brow in disdain. “Yeah, I think it’s bullshit too, alright? But apparently, we’re splitting up into smaller groups to ‘not disturb the wildlife’.” He crossed his arms defiantly. “It’s because the teachers know that a larger group is harder to control. Why listen to the park rangers when it's way more fun to cause havoc? Not that a smaller group will listen, but we'll be easier to keep in check."

“Do you have any idea what group I'm in? I don’t remember hearing about it…” I responded nervously.

Georgy scratched the back of his head and looked up at me apologetically. “Yeah, I heard they made the announcement after dinner when we'd already left. I don't think you're in a group with Max or Derek either, man. I'm sorry. You'll know soon enough though.”

Georgy was right, I did not have to wait long for my answer. At long last, we stopped at the parking lot that gave entrance to the dense pine forest where we would spend the remainder of the day. Once I had stumbled out of the crowded bus, I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. My breathing hitched as the fresh, freezing air filled my lungs. This was so much better than the damp, sweaty bus packed full of bored teenagers that had brought us here.

When we had all gotten off the bus, our PE teacher took a moment to rattle off the list of groups. Her bombastic voice quickly silenced all of the students that were still carelessly chatting away.

I listened anxiously in anticipation. “Group 8,” our PE teacher shouted. “Kate Potter, Simon Fisher, Hakim Yilmaz, Nora Bandi, Ilya el-Jamil, Joey Burgundy, Peter Booker, Isabelle Aster…”

“For fuck's sake... Not again,” I grumbled hopelessly. Had I secretly died and entered the afterlife? Because this school trip was slowly turning into my personal hell! Spending the day without Derek, Max or Georgy would already be hard enough, but being forced to watch Joey and Isabelle act all cutesy together genuinely made me sick to my stomach. No amount of fresh forest air would be able to make me feel any better.

Derek looked up at me when he noticed that my natural 'puff-pastry-pale' skin was getting even paler. He put his hand on my shoulder to calm me down. “Hey, hang in there. Got your camera with you? You don’t really have to interact with them today if you don’t want to. Why don’t you just focus on taking pictures?” He advised me.

I nodded in agreement while taking a deep breath. Yes, Derek was right. I could always shield myself from the world if I wanted to; I had done it before and I could do it again. It would be just me, my camera and the gorgeous forest. Everything would be alright.

But, deep in my heart, I knew that it would not be.