“Alright,” Anna said, “breath in.”
Emma breathed in. She shut her eyes as tight as she could and allowed the darkness of her mind to wash over her. She inhaled long and slow and then let the air out of her lungs in a lengthy exhalation.
I am a calm ocean, she thought. She didn’t say it aloud.
“Ready?” Anna asked. Emma nodded. Slowly, keeping her eyes shut, she extended her hand. She allowed her power, waiting just underneath her skin, to surge forward and heard a crackle and pop as her hand ignited.
She focused, forcing herself to keep the fire reduced. Centring her mind on the flame, which she could see in her mind’s eye, she ordered it to remain small, to remain under control. Keeping her hand extended, she unfolded her fist and turned her palm face up.
“You’re doing great,” Anna murmured.
Emma kept on concentrating, focusing on the point at the centre of the fire. She could feel beads of sweat forming on her forehead. The fire had to be small and cool and just right.
Finally she heard Anna laugh.
“Great,” she said, “that’s good. You can stop now.”
Emma released the pent up energy inside her. She felt the flame surge upward from her hand and begin to creep down her arm. She grunted, concentrated and the fire was extinguished. She opened her eyes. Anna gave her a thumbs up and turned to the others
“See? That is how you make the perfect marshmallow,” She said, handing them out, “not too hot and not too cold and they’re done just right: crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside. Stick them in the camp fire and you’ll only burn them. Trust me, it’s better this way.”
They were sitting on logs surrounding a crackling fire. The rest of the campsite was almost completely empty save for a couple of tents dotted around the place. Accepting their marshmallows Adelaide, Francis, Lee, Lydia and Alexis all tried them. There were nods of assent and contented noises from everyone.
“Pretty good.” Adelaide nodded.
“We’ve been practicing,” Anna put her hand on Emma’s shoulder. They exchanged a look.
“Is it nice?” Rachel said to Francis. She was sitting next to him on the log, head turned towards the fire.
“Yeah,” Francis nodded, he looked guilty, “I’m sorry we’re all eating and you can’t Rachel.”
Rachel moved her metal arms in what was probably the closest approximation she could achieve to a shrug.
“It’s fine,” she said, “really. It doesn’t matter.”
Eager all of a sudden to change the topic of conversation, Adelaide shuffled forward a little on her log and surveyed the others.
“So,” she said, “what are we going to do now?”
“Shall we tell exciting stories from when we were younger?” Lee said.
Francis looked over at him.
“You don’t have any exciting stories from when you were younger,” he said, “I knew you all that time, remember? The most exciting thing that ever happened to us before we met these guys was when a third person showed up to creative writing club.”
“Days of high suspense,” Lee breathed in, savouring the memory, “I remember her name. Ashleigh. I knew from the moment I saw her that I was in love.”
“She misread the flier and thought it was some sort of fighting club,” Francis rolled his eyes, “I’m not even joking. It’s slightly tragic. Yeah, I remember her. Man she had a lot of pent up rage… First time I ever got really beat up. Honestly, Lee, I don’t know what you saw in her.”
“Other than angelic grace?”
“She was six foot!”
“Yep,” Lee breathed in, “angelic.”
“Wait a second,” Adelaide said suddenly, “wait a second… Ashleigh? I think I met her once. Yeah, I remember now, she stole my boyfriend!”
Emma smirked and Anna stifled a laugh. Francis looked at Adelaide, eyebrows raised.
“Honestly I don’t know what I find more surprising about that,” he said, “the fact that Ashleigh stole your boyfriend or that you had a boyfriend in the first place.”
“Charming,” Adelaide punched him gently on the arm, “I did actually, though it was a long time ago. I’ll admit I haven’t dated anyone since-”
“I’m always single and open to negotiation if you’re willing to make a go of it,” Lee butted in. Adelaide scowled at him.
“And I think I’m going to keep it that way,” she finished, “I’ve kind of gone off boys for the time being. Girls too, for that matter. Not that there are any single girls in this group.”
“I take offence at that,” Rachel said, “I’m a girl too, unless you’d forgotten.”
“Oh,” Adelaide shook her head hurriedly, “I wasn’t suggesting you aren’t a girl, Rachel. The thing is you’re definitely not single. Come on, though, you just have to look at you and Francis to know that you’re an item.”
Francis went a deep shade of red and fell through the log. A little ‘hear-no-evil’ monkey flashed up on Rachel’s screen.
“Ooh,” she said, “always wanted to use that. As for your suggestion, Adelaide, it’s patently ridiculous. We’re just friends.”
“That’s what they all say,” Adelaide shook her head, laughing, “I mean, look at Lydia and Alexis. They used to say they were just friends.”
Everyone looked at Lydia and Alexis. They were kissing quietly. They broke off when they sensed five pairs of eyes and one web-cam watching them intently.
“Sorry guys,” Lydia said, “what were we talking about? I may have possibly been slightly distracted.”
“You see what I mean?” Adelaide turned to Rachel.
“Are we really like that?” Rachel said.
“Not yet,” Adelaide said, “but you’re drawing closer pretty quickly. It’s not a bad thing. If you like each other, go for it.”
“Uh-huh,” Emma and Anna nodded in unison.
“Though kissing might be a little difficult for you,” Lee said, “not least because Francis has a habit of falling through people as he tries to kiss them. Did I ever tell you that story?”
“No way,” Francis regained his voice, “there’s no way you are telling that story.”
“So we were in primary school,” Lee ignored him, “back when things were more innocent…”
A few minutes later some of the other campers were woken up by raucous laughter and cheering. They didn’t complain, though, because the laughter left with them the odd sense that everything was right with the world.
Just for that evening, everything was.