Every summer Mark has this tradition of stopping past the gas station situated right before the turn leading to The Lake and scoffing down a couple of their homemade lemon slices with a can of Fanta Grape. If Jeno or Jaemin are carpooling with him they’ll stock up on aloe vera juice and crisps (Jaemin), canned pumpkin pie mix and a plastic spoon from behind the counter (Jeno), and strawberry cream Chupa Chups (Renjun, who’ll frantically text Jeno I’M VENMOING U 5 BUCKS HURRY UP because he forgets to pack them every time). But this summer Mark is alone, running forty minutes late, and there doesn’t seem to be any lemon slices in the display fridge.
“Excuse me?” Mark calls out, scuffing his Nikes against the linoleum as he paces back and forth, looking for a hint of glazed yellow.
A teenager in a matching polo and apron moseys out from the back, eyes on his phone, and he barely looks up when Mark asks about the lemon slices, only murmurs, “Yeah, some kid bought the lot an hour ago.”
Mark nearly slams his palms on the counter in disbelief. “Some kid? Which kid?”
That gets his attention. He narrows his eyes at Mark, fingers still tapping away at his phone. “I don’t know. Bubbly type. Really excited about citrus fruit. He was heading to The Lake.”
“I see,” Mark grits out, “Well, just this then.”
Just as he places a Fanta Grape on the counter, his phone lights up with a message from Renjun: chupa chups plssssssss xx
Orientation is well over by the time Mark reaches The Lake, but after three years of working here and seven years of being a camper before that, he doesn’t exactly need the refresher. He’ll pick up his welfare pack and list of activities he’ll be running from Johnny later—Mark dibsed Foraging 101 before Jaemin even had a chance—but for now he heads straight to his usual cabin.
It’s the most dilapidated one, in the final row, furthest from the water and closest to the woods, and Mark finds it quite cozy. For the following reasons: in the evening, the sun drives through the pine trees and the bullet holes in the roof and soaks his bed in an orange light that never reaches the other cabins; there was a dusty record player jammed in the corner when he first came here and it plays his Justin Bieber vinyls like a treat; he used to share the bunk with Jeno until one night Jeno’s scrawny tween body fell through the slats and broke Mark’s nose (what Jeno had been doing to cause such a catastrophe, he will take to his grave)—Mark has had the place to himself ever since.
He places his bags on the gingham sheets that’d been made up recently and snatches up Renjun’s lollipops, bound together by a rubber band. The sweet smell of bonfire ripples through the curtains—someone had snuck out and stoked it. But the rules are loose here when the campers haven’t arrived, and Johnny’s lips are even looser, apparently, as Mark approaches the center of camp, and hears, “My girlfriend dumped me last night!”
He’s swaying dangerously close to the fire, a bottle of kombucha in one hand and a half-bitten lemon slice in the other. He stuffs the rest of it into his mouth, and declares, “But who cares! It’s summer!”
“Hear, hear!” yells Jaemin, only the top of his head visible over the bonfire, the dyed blue like a lick of flame through his bangs.
Mark drops onto the closest log next to Renjun, dumping the lollipops onto his lap. “That’s an addiction,” Mark remarks, watching Renjun tear into one and pop it between his lips without so much as a hello. “What’s up with Johnny?”
“He’s saying this’ll be his last year,” Renjun says, through a sticky crunch, “Going to be a proper businessman up in NYC this fall. Cue mental breakdown.” He gestures at Johnny with the empty stick between his fingers like it’s a cigarette.
“Can’t believe Grandpa Suh’s cool with that, he always wanted to keep this camp in the family,” Mark says, “Maybe he’s finally on his deathbed.”
He and Renjun share a look.
“Nah,” they both laugh.
There’s the sound of a delicate cough above Mark. He looks up.
“Excuse me,” the boy says. He’s shadowed by the fire behind him so Mark can’t make out the features of his face, but the edges of his body light up, all the way to the tips of his fingers, holding out a misshapen lemon slice to Mark from the container balanced on his arm. “Would you like one?”
At Mark’s blank look, the boy falters.
“Sorry, they got tossed around a bit in the car. Still scrumptious, though,” he says, teeth flashing in a sheepish smile.
“I know,” scoffs Mark, as he gently takes the lemon slice from the boy’s hand. Mark then watches him speedily trip away from them, container sturdy in his arms despite the urgency of his pace.
The boy is on the other side of the campfire when Renjun sighs, “That was Donghyuck. He’s new.”
Lucas is standing over Mark when he comes to, arms folded and the camp insignia taut across his chest, looking unduly serious for what must be seven in the morning given the watery light that’s seeping in behind him.
Mark groans, curling up under the afghan that someone’s draped over him, though it provides no reprieve from the cold hardwood underneath him. “What do you want? Are you mad at me or something?”
Lucas breaks into laughter, holding out a hand to help Mark to his feet. “Aw, nah, man,” he drawls, “Johnny told me I gotta joke around less after what happened last year. But you did try to steal my bed last night. That wasn’t cool.”
“We could’ve shared,” Mark sulks, dusting off the leaves on his hoodie that he must’ve tracked in the night before. He presses his palm to the tequila ache behind his left eye, groaning again. “Have you got any Tylenol?”
“My roomie made you a drink,” Lucas says, shaking out his damp, shoulder-length hair as he jerks a thumb at a mason jar perched on the shelf. “Some kind of hangover cure, he tells me.”
“Why’d he do that?” Mark grabs the jar, peering into the golden liquid, bits of rosemary floating on the surface.
“Beats me,” Lucas laughs, “You weren’t exactly nice to him.”
“Oh,” Mark says, taking a sip of the drink only for it to end up sprayed all over Lucas’ front a second later. “Jesus. Fuck.”
Lucas blinks, recovers and slaps two Tylenol into Mark’s palm. “And here’s plan B,” he says, grinning a little too smugly. “Alright, mate, I better go change my shirt. Campers incoming any minute now. Let me know if you need anything?”
“Thanks,” Mark coughs, his throat swallowing drily around the tablets. He leaves Lucas’ cabin, darting around the back to make his way to his own cabin where he pulls on a counselor tee and cargo shorts, running a haphazard hand through his hair and rinsing his mouth out with some leftover mouthwash he’d forgotten to take home last summer. It’ll have to do. He can wash up properly while everyone’s at morning tea.
The grounds are teeming with children and parents—Mark spots Jaemin in the distance tripping over some middle-schooler’s ant farm and almost eating dirt (and possibly ants) if it weren’t for Chaewon grabbing him by his collar as she passes by, not even breaking conversation with another Luna Phi girl. She’s gone before Jaemin’s steady on his feet, and Mark can hear him yell out a flushed “Thanks, Chae!” from where he’s standing.
“Look who’s alive and well,” comes Johnny’s voice, accompanied by a loud smack on Mark’s shoulder.
“I could say the same about you,” Mark shoots back.
Johnny gets this unreadable crinkle between his eyebrows. “I’m counting on you this year, Mark. I don’t want to see a repeat of last night.”
“Of course, boss,” says Mark. Truthfully, that’d been the first time Mark had gotten drunk at camp, even when the other campers were spiking the bug juice with Aperol Renjun had pilfered from one of the empty lake-houses or when the counselors passed around a hip flask on the fourth of July. He’d always been a stickler for the rules—and it made bending the occasional one when it suited him all the more fun.
“Go find your group,” Johnny says, handing Mark his folder, “Same kids you’ve always had, but they’re fourteen now so you might not recognise ‘em. Taller, pimplier, angrier, you know the deal.”
“Got it,” Mark says, flicking through the camp schedule.
“Also,” Johnny adds, “I’ve assigned the new guy onto Foraging with you for the first month so he gets a feel for instructing. A few Luna Phis are ditching us for their damn Europe tour in July so I’ll need him to take on a few more activities than I’d usually expect from someone starting out.”
Mark’s eyes immediately land on this afternoon: Group Mountain Lions – Foraging 101 with Mark Lee and Donghyuck Lee. Oh.
“And for the love of Grandpa Suh, Mark, could you please visit the bathhouse ASAP? You know half these parents are narcs.”
“Did you like the drink?” is the first thing Donghyuck says when he and Mark meet outside the Mountain Lions cabin post-lunch, and it is also possibly the most incomprehensible greeting Mark could have imagined from the guy.
“What?” Mark says, eyebrows furrowing as he keeps his gaze trained on his clipboard, and not the numerous silver and pastel clay rings around Donghyuck’s fingers. How had he not noticed those before?
Donghyuck bends down, tilting his head upward so he can make eye contact with Mark. He’s smiling brightly as he says, “For your hangover! It was my halmeoni’s recipe! I asked Luke to make sure you got it.”
“Oh,” Mark stutters, mentally apologizing to Lucas, “Um. He didn’t.”
Donghyuck lets out an unexpected huff of disapproval, his button nose flaring a fraction as he straightens himself. “Aw, that’s a real shame. It would’ve made you feel a lot better.”
Mark offers him a tight smile as their group starts to filter out of their cabin, gathering around him like ducklings, decked out in their loaned foraging gear—rubber boots and wicker baskets with thick leather straps to fasten around their shoulders.
“Would you like to do roll call?” he says to Donghyuck. The slight twinge in his forehead has returned, thanks to his campers suddenly remembering their group’s in-jokes all at once and feeling the need to yell them simultaneously (“Big Head”, “If you lose to Mark Lee, you suck!”, assorted beatboxing, “Short King”, “Imagine Mark’s name was actually Bob,” amongst the truly comedic genius created at Mark’s expense).
Donghyuck takes the clipboard from Mark, and introduces himself to the group, “Hi Mountain Lions! I’m Donghyuck Lee,” he says, carefully enunciating each syllable of his name and allowing the campers to copy him, “This is my very first day as a counselor so I’ll need all the guidance I can get from you guys. And in return, I’m already cooking up some brand-new nicknames for Mark here.” He taps the side of his head with the pen, grinning at Mark when the kids naturally hurrah at earning his support. “Alright, is Ashley J here?”
Mark pulls on his hoodie once they make their stop, the sounds of camp still audible but deep enough that the forest has been near-stripped of sunlight, damp moss and fog tendrils underfoot. The kids have been tasked with sorting through berries—with the explicit instruction not to put anything in their mouths—and Mark takes the opportunity to perch himself against an ivy-covered bank and close his eyes, face searching through the trees for any ray of warmth.
“Is this seat taken?”
His eyes open.
Donghyuck’s crouching in front of him, arms hugging a basket filled to the brim with wild mushrooms. His dark brown waves stick to his temples, cheeks wet with day-old rain caught in the leaves above them. “Mina’s vegetable stew at lunch was just bellissimo, don’t you think? I promised I’d find her these mushrooms for tomorrow. Great for the common cold.”
“I didn’t have that,” Mark says, resuming his resting position after shuffling a bit to the side so Donghyuck can sit next to him, “I wouldn’t trade Xo’s Monday cubanos for anything.”
Donghyuck hums, “I wish I could try those. But I’m vegan.”
“Ok,” says Mark.
“Ok,” Donghyuck mimics.
They listen to the chatter between the campers for a while, the creek beyond the trees, and even fainter, Lucas and Jeno teaching some of the younger kids how to kayak at The Lake.
Then, “I’m sorry if I—if I said anything to you last night. I don’t really remember what happened.”
Just flashes—grumbling about lemon slices, the saltwater smell of Lucas’ hair and his arms slung under Mark’s body, carrying him to the cabins, pressing his clammy forehead against Donghyuck’s knee, a warm palm rubbing between his shoulder blades as he bent over the dirt, a whispered chant of some kind, in a language Mark couldn’t recognise.
Donghyuck’s expression is pinched when Mark chances a glance at him. His fingers fiddle with a pendant that’d been hidden under his shirt, a baby pink crystal wrapped in copper wire.
“I really am sorry,” Mark says. That wasn’t me. This isn’t me.
“I’ll forgive you, Mark Lee,” says Donghyuck, pendant hitting his chest as he squeezes his hand around Mark’s bare knee, “But you owe me a favor.”
Mark can’t help but grin. “And what’s that gonna be?”
“Practice patience, hyung,” Donghyuck says, his Korean a gentle purr.
The rest of the week goes like this: most of camp goes for a swim before the bugle call for dinner and Mark, who’d always stuck to the woods, preferring the earth beneath his feet, finds himself more often than not sitting on the weathered pier, watching Donghyuck get dunked by Lucas, his skin glimmering in the pinkish light when he bursts out of the water.
Donghyuck situates himself at Mark’s bench in the dining hall, his group of first graders, the Turtles, tagging along with him, and forces a bowl of (admittedly good) vegetable stew on him.
Mark is exhausted and confused and overwhelmed by Friday and spends the rest of the evening holed up in his cabin until Jeno comes banging on his door, something about Johnny’s playing your guitar and he’s terrible, please save us and you won’t believe what we just found out about Renjun. Eventually the knocking stops and the crackle of the campfire goes out and Mark’s bed is doused in moonlight.
“I saved you these,” Jeno says the following morning when he runs into Mark outside the bathhouse. He hands Mark a container of waffles, drowning in syrup and blackberries that Mark’s campers had picked.
“You’re sweet, Jen,” Mark says, ruffling a grateful hand through Jeno’s hair, “Now what’s this about Renjun?”
They make their way across the grounds, Mark shovelling waffle into his sticky mouth without a care in the world—on the lawns outside the infirmary, amongst the dandelions and daisies, there’s the first graders sitting on a neat row of yoga mats, and in front of them, Donghyuck, in downward dog.
“—hooked up with that white kid from across The Lake, his family owns the stables? Harry? Harvey? Any of this ring a bell? Renjun said he couldn’t get hay out of his hair for days. Mark. Mark. Mark.”
Jeno follows his line of sight. “Oh, shoot! I forgot I promised Donghyuck I’d join his yoga class. He’s teaching the Turtles how to read their birth charts too. Hey, Donghyuck!” He frantically waves as Donghyuck guides the children into the tree pose, half of them careening into each other.
“Jeno!” Donghyuck calls back. He doesn’t turn, body completely still. He’s barefoot, in a pair of linen shorts. His legs look like they were made from gold silk. “Grab a mat. You too, Mark!”
But Mark’s already speeding back to his cabin, the heat in his cheeks unbearable as he feels Donghyuck’s gaze on him.
The counselor’s lounge is packed that night after their weekly social. The campers have been sent to bed, Renjun’s brought a bucket of lukewarm White Claws he’d been hiding under his bunk, and Lucas and Jeno are making out on the lumpy mustard-yellow couch that must’ve been here since Grandpa Suh’s founding days.
Mark’s sitting on the floor, back leaning against the couch which leaves him prone to the occasional aroused kick in the shoulder from Jeno, and he nurses one of the bottles of kombucha that Donghyuck had left in the mini fridge.
He somehow ended up in a circle with the Luna Phis—back when they were campers, they’d all planned to rush in the same sorority together, and the girls who didn’t get in never came back to The Lake—plus Jaemin, who is currently across from Mark with his nose buried in Chaewon’s hair while she pretends that she hates it.
They’re playing another round of We’re Not Really Strangers, Mark having been temporarily kicked out by Heejin after he panicked and failed to answer, “What is your heart telling you? What is your mind telling you?”
Two rounds later, he’s patting Heejin’s shoulder as she cries and he can feel Luke’s hair brushing the back of his head on the couch and he knows it’s his cue to leave.
He only has the moon to guide him as he makes his way back to his cabin, shaking his hoodie sleeves over his cold hands and taking another swig of his kombucha. He spots someone perched on the steps outside one of the waterfront cabins.
“Donghyuck,” Mark says, his voice so soft he almost startles when Donghyuck’s eyes leave the sky, and take the stars, and then fall upon him.
He says nothing, just pats the algae-covered wood next to him.
“You didn’t come to the lounge,” Mark says, and it was meant to sound accusatory but it comes out in a sulk.
“Surely you know that cabin assistants can’t go to the after party,” Donghyuck says, raising an eyebrow at him, and it’s only then that Mark notices his fingers quickly weaving brown and green thread into a bracelet, “My Turtles are very attached to me. I’m worried I’m going to give them separation anxiety. I’m worried I’ll get separation anxiety when summer’s over.”
Mark laughs, “Why do you think I keep coming back?”
The theme for social tonight had been Dress Up As Your Favorite Counselor. A bunch of the older kids had gone as Mark—he doesn’t even want to know how they got a hold of his bucket hat and the beanie from his Toronto elementary school that he misplaced last year—but Mark had been surprised to see that amongst the first graders dressed in black with flowers tucked behind their ears and borrowed crystals hanging from their chests, a few of the Mountain Lions, and even the oldest Brown Bears, had also dressed as Donghyuck.
“You might see me here next year,” Donghyuck hums, mouth quirking in a clandestine smile as he finishes another friendship bracelet, placing it on the pile between them. His head tips upward again, his lips pale as he starts muttering under his breath.
Mark left his glasses in his cabin so all he can make out is the distant sawtooth of the mountains, floating on The Lake, and then above that, starspots all over his field of vision. He squints, roughly pointing at what he thinks might be, “There’s my sun sign, Leo.”
Donghyuck reaches up to adjust Mark’s hand a few inches to the left. “Well done,” he says, and the giggle he lets out sets off something warm and animal in Mark’s chest. He hasn’t yet thanked his mom for dusting off his birth certificate when he texted her URGENT WHAT TIME WAS I BORN during lunch hour. Donghyuck’s fingers are still wrapped around Mark’s wrist, his silver rings cool as lakewater against Mark’s skin. He directs Mark to another constellation, not too far off Leo. “And there’s me.”
Foraging 101 takes them further and further into the forest. By the fourth week, a few campers have gotten brave enough to climb for the freshest plums, though Donghyuck does have to administer one PAW Patrol bandaid (“So what, Jisung! I bought them for my kids, not you!”) on one scraped knee.
Donghyuck continues to host his yoga class every Saturday morning, with Jeno and Jaemin and begrudgingly, Chaewon, assisting him because he maxes out on the number of campers a single counselor can supervise (and according to Jeno, the Luna Phis are secretly jealous they hadn’t thought of it first and and have started a rival class on the other side of camp, to little success). Mark still refuses to join. But sometimes he’ll walk past, beanie low over his eyes and Airpods in, and Donghyuck will grin at him as he bends himself in half.
Mark learns the constellations and as reward, Donghyuck tells him a new myth each night. They sit on the deck outside the Turtles cabin, Donghyuck resting his head on Mark’s shoulder, fingers restless as he braids more bracelets for their Foraging kids or swirls Hangul characters on Mark’s thigh or picks at the homemade granola they’re sharing. He tells Mark about Prometheus stealing fire for them, about Pandora’s jar, about the love between Hades and Persephone.
“Next week, we’re starting on musoksinhwa,” Donghyuck says, combing his hand through Mark’s beanie-flattened hair and fluffing it up to his liking, “My halmeoni would be appalled to know that a nice, handsome Korean boy like you doesn’t know his shamanic tales. She taught me everything I know.”
Mark raises an eyebrow. “Handsome?”
Donghyuck lightly smacks his head, looking away as Mark grins. “She’d definitely think so.”
“I’ll have to meet her then,” Mark says, and lets Donghyuck continue to avoid eye contact, because it’s easier to watch him this way.
Mark gets a visit from Renjun when he’s packing for Foraging 101’s overnight trip. He flops onto Mark’s bed in complete silence but for the strawberry cream crunch between his teeth and the rapid fire keyboard clicks of his phone as he sends off a dozen texts.
“Haven’t seen you around much,” Mark comments, as he sharpens one of his mushroom knives.
“Well, I’m here now,” Renjun says, rolling onto his back, still typing on his phone.
The mushroom knife goes in its sleeve, and he tucks it into his backpack alongside the other tools, extra underwear and a container of vegan brownies he’d made Donghyuck with the help of Jaemin, who already knew how to bake edibles.
“Your campers miss you,” Mark finally says.
That gets Renjun to look up, though Mark really thought the knife-sharpening would have his attention.
“Please, did they really tell you that?” Renjun scoffs, “Those Raccoons better be nothing but happy and grateful right now. Just yesterday I took them across The Lake for horse riding lessons with Harvey, and his butler prepared this gorgeous picnic in the rose gardens and—alright, you were joking.”
“The truth is, I miss you, Renjun,” Mark says, thinking of a way to ask whether he could get an invitation to one of those picnics too.
“Do you think I don’t see you and Donghyuck canoodling every night when I sneak out to visit Harvey? I don’t think you can complain about any of your friends being too distant. Poor Jeno! He could be dying! And you wouldn’t know!”
“Firstly, we aren’t canoodling.”
“Not yet,” Renjun mutters.
“Secondly, Jeno is perfectly healthy. He had a mild cough last week and he slept on the end of my bed for two nights and now he’s better. So there.”
“Jeno was a bad example,” Renjun concedes.
“Can I please come to a picnic in the rose gardens?” Mark asks, wringing his hands nervously.
Renjun sighs, unwrapping another Chupa Chup. “Sure.”
They set off on their trip after breakfast, with Mark leading and Donghyuck supervising the back of the group, but they do manage to have one nice conversation about how good breakfast was before the campers tell them to stop shouting over their heads. From then on, Mark enforces a silent hike because if he doesn’t get to talk to Donghyuck, no one gets to talk. After an hour of intermittent groans, bird calls and muffled giggles, Mark starts to feel bad and lifts the ban only to find out that Donghyuck and the kids at the back had somehow been planning a harmonized rendition of The Real Slim Shady except it’s The Real Mark Lee.
And that’s how it goes until they reach their campsite sometime in the afternoon.
The terrain has changed since Mark was here last, a few pine trees uprooted to make space for more tents, but wildflowers and American ginseng sprouting up in their place. The weeping willow still stands as the nucleus of these woodlands, beautiful as it was when Mark was twelve and carved DA LAKE 2011 and Mark & Jeno Was Here onto one of its roots. They have to pass through the leaves to get to the waterfall and the fruit trees along the riverbank. Tonight the kids will be able to cook and eat a dinner made entirely from their own foraging spoils. It’s a rite of passage.
But for now, Donghyuck has put on a large pot of ramen on the portable stove while everyone pitches their tents and complains about how hungry they are (Mark included).
“If you don’t shut it, Mark Lee,” Donghyuck says, slamming the knife he’s holding through a slab of tofu. Mark had been pacing back and forth behind Donghyuck, lamenting about his growling stomach and how Donghyuck must hate him if doesn’t feed him soon but it smells crazy good, Donghyuckie, well done.
“What will you do?” Mark whispers, stopping a fraction away from Donghyuck. He continues tossing tofu into the pot, but the tip of his ear poking out of his curls gets all red.
“I’ll call on Zeus,” Donghyuck retorts, “And summon a thunderstorm.”
“Very funny,” Mark says, before he has to leave Donghyuck to help whichever kid was just buried alive by their tent.
They manage a productive few hours of foraging, dinner in their bellies and a campfire blazing before the storm hits.
(Donghyuck had brought Mark a ukulele from the music room, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to bring his guitar, and Mark discovers how pretty Donghyuck sounds when he sings, the rush he gets from controlling Donghyuck’s voice with each flick and feeling it stretch like honey between his fingers.)
Soon after a sudden wind blows through the fire, accompanied by the whole forest going white for a split second.
Some of the campers help Mark put out the campfire, and on Mark’s slightly panicked instructions, everyone else has gathered up their belongings. “Okay, there are about 9 seconds between the lightning and thunder,” Mark calls out, wiping a wayward raindrop from his cheek. “Which means?”
“The storm is almost two miles away,” one of the girls pipes up.
“Good,” Mark says, “We have a safe distance for now, but until we can make the hike back to camp, I’m not risking any of you getting struck by lightning. Yes, Jisung, I know the scars look cool. Now there’s a ranger cabin just past the waterfall and we've been loaned the key for this trip, so we’ll have to leave the tents here and take cover overnight. It’ll take us 15 minutes to get there, because we are going to walk very very carefully, and I want you all to stay in your buddy pairs from earlier today. Any questions?”
Leaving the dense foliage of the campsite means that everyone is soaked to the bone by the time they reach the cabin. The first thing Mark does is get the fireplace going, while Donghyuck rummages through the closets for spare clothes and blankets.
The kids take turns in the bathroom, swapping items between them until half of them are drowning in ranger jackets and the other half are wearing frilly skirts, sundresses and BTS sweatshirts because only the girls had thought to bring extra clothes (and when Mark questions the practicality of such attire, they argue that they were planning to take photos for Instagram in the morning and Donghyuck already agreed to being the photographer).
“You’re very calm,” Donghyuck comments, once Mark has finally been allowed to use the bathroom where he took an extremely hot shower and performed some Frank Ocean like he usually does.
Mark pulls Donghyuck’s hand to his chest, where his heart has become nothing but a small, shaking woodland animal. “Yeah, right. But I’ve been prepared for this for years,” he says, going back to picking through the clutter on the corner desk for a list of phone numbers, including the camp.
He takes a sip of the dandelion tea that Donghyuck had made, and picks up the telephone. Johnny answers on the first ring.
“Mark? Are you okay? The campers—?”
“Hey, boss. Everyone’s safe and warm. Hopefully we can get back to camp tomorrow.”
“Don’t worry about that, I’ll send Luke with the bus first thing in the morning, alright? Seems like it’s already clearing up here but jeez, blue skies all day and no rain forecast for the entire week. I have no idea how this happened.”
Mark shares a look with Donghyuck, who mouths What? at him when he smiles. “I think I know. Anyway, I’ll update you when the kids are in bed, Johnny.” He hooks the telephone back onto the wall, turning to Donghyuck. “Hey, you didn’t—you know?” He gestures to the window where the storm is ravaging through the trees.
Donghyuck actually looks so distressed that Mark regrets his attempt to joke around. “I didn’t what? The storm? Of course I didn’t do this. I think? The gods are volatile. Oh no. Maybe I did do this.”
“Donghyuck,” Mark coos, reaching up to place a palm on his shoulder. He guides Donghyuck’s mug of dandelion tea to his lips, which shuts him up long enough for Mark to get a word in, “I know and you know that you’d never intentionally or unintentionally put anyone in danger. This happens all the time. That’s why we have a plan in place.”
“Ok,” Donghyuck sighs.
Whatever Mark was about to say is cut off by the Looney Tunes theme song playing from the old television next to the fireplace. So the kids finally figured out how to use the VCR player, after Mark refused to explain it to them (because he was five when he last used one and he doesn’t remember, for God’s sake).
“Do you wanna watch?” Mark asks.
“Only if we share a blanket,” Donghyuck chirps, already back to normal.
By midnight, all the campers have fallen asleep in their nest of sleeping bags on the cabin floor. Donghyuck gets the couch and Mark gave himself the single bed but it’s thin and rock hard and the rain is heavier than ever and he can’t sleep. He slips out of his sleeping bag, navigating through the mass of children on the floor until he finds his shoes and the container of brownies, and goes outside to sit on the porch.
Summer at The Lake usually comes with the kind of heat you can see, but for the first time in years, the sky has ruptured and extended its silver branches down to Earth. Mark closes his eyes, lets the thick wet air wash over his skin, sees his eyelids glow orange when lightning strikes again.
The door creaks open. Mark looks up to see Donghyuck stepping out in his socks, a wool blanket wrapped around his shoulders. He leans against the railing, looking out onto the expanse of the forest, The Lake like a rain puddle from this distance. He closes his eyes for a while, too, and with the sky merely his backdrop and the way the watery breeze floats through his dark hair and the blanket around him—he looks like he’s flying.
Donghyuck eventually turns back to Mark, zeroing in on the container next to him. “What’s that?”
“Oh,” Mark says, peeling off the sticky note on the lid to show Donghyuck: Happy belated birthday, Donghyuck! <3 “I’ve never baked something vegan before. They’re not very good, plus they got all broken up during the hike.”
“And you were going to eat them?” Donghyuck chides, dropping down next to Mark and taking the container from him. “Those are my birthday brownies, Mark! How did you know about that?”
“One of the Turtles told me,” Mark says, leaving out the fact that they’re planning a surprise for Donghyuck when he returns to camp. He doesn’t know what it is but he knows it’ll make the squeal that just came out of Donghyuck happen again.
The storm quiets at last, but they still sit there, huddled under the blanket and picking at brownie crumbs. The clouds part to reveal another constellation Mark had learnt, but he doesn’t point it out to Donghyuck, content in their silence. He doesn’t need to learn another myth. They’ve played enough with whatever gods are out there.
Donghyuck holds Mark’s hand with both of his, their fingers entangled in a way that Mark is unsure he can get out of. Their heads are pressed together, and Mark finds that Donghyuck’s hair smells of lemons. How had he not noticed that before?
There’s a thread of light on the horizon when Donghyuck whispers, “Mark?”
“When can I cash in my favor? From that first night?”
“Depends what it is,” Mark says, looking down at Donghyuck.
“It doesn’t matter,” Donghyuck says quickly.
Donghyuck shushes him, and at this proximity Mark can see the rosiness flooding his cheeks as slowly as the rising sun.
“Tell me, Donghyuck,” Mark says, “You have to tell me.”
“Tell me, tell me, tell me,” Mark chants, digging his fingertips into Donghyuck’s side until he caves in on himself, wheezing with the effort not to yell and wake the children up.
“Tell me,” Mark says, leaning down to peck Donghyuck’s cold mouth.
They don’t exactly spring away from each other, but Mark does take his hands from Donghyuck’s stomach and fold them over his chest, and Donghyuck simply freezes up.
“That was your favor,” Donghyuck breathes, “You’re debt-free, Mr Lee.”
“I don’t care, Donghyuck,” Mark says, and he scrambles over to Donghyuck, leaning in again.
(The whole camp is cheering for them when the bus rolls in. Mark doesn’t think he can even make it to his own cabin let alone off the bus with how exhausted he is.
Donghyuck is in worse shape, hair matted from sleeping on Mark’s thigh, bruises spotting his collarbone, tiny as ladybugs, and he’d screamed when Lucas pulled up to the cabin and honked at them.
Mark watches Donghyuck crumple into Jeno’s arms outside, his Turtles flocking around them.
And behind that—Johnny with a clipboard held over his eyes to shield them from the sun, and he’s standing next to the formidable figure of Grandpa Suh who clasps his hands behind his back and looks straight into the sun.
Mark scurries off the bus, almost tripping over a Turtle to go and shake Grandpa Suh’s hand.
“Mark,” is all he says, but the nod he gives Mark is more than enough.
“Mark, I know you must be tired,” Johnny explains, “But we’d like you to join us in a meeting to discuss the new camp director.”
“Oh, who is it?”
The facade Johnny keeps up around Grandpa Suh cracks enough for him to smile as he tells Mark, “You, we’re hoping.”)