A huge bonfire lit the very center of the clearing. Jeremy pulled to the right of the nearest car, the one farthest from the bonfire.
“What will we do?” asked Stephanie. “Won’t the light affect what we see tonight?”
Jeremy grimaced. “Exactly!” He stepped out of the car. “Why don’t you wait here? I’ll go check and see who this is.”
Stephanie opened the car door, letting in cool night air. “I’ll just stretch my legs but stay right near the car.”
Jeremy nodded and headed toward the bonfire.
Stephanie watched as Jeremy approached and a girl to the side of the bonfire took a swig from a long neck bottle. Apparently Jeremy knew these people. One of the guys reached out and the two shook hands.
Jeremy continued to speak with the small group gathering around the bonfire. His shadow fell across the face of the young man who had shaken his hand. The girl who held the long-neck bottle sidled up to the other man who now also spoke urgently to Jeremy, waving his hand back beyond the clearing while the other pointed off in the other direction. Jeremy looked up at the sky and then in the direction where the second student pointed.
As he turned to head toward their SUV, Stephanie jumped at the crunch of tires on leaves and twigs. A Mustang pulled next to her, the driver’s window lowering.
“Hey,” said the young man behind the wheel, “isn’t this where Dr. Rowlands is having the Star Party?”
Stephanie nodded. “It’s supposed to be.”
“But the bonfire will ruin it,” he said.
The boy in the passenger seat said, “Dr. Rowlands is heading back, TJ. Find out what’s happening.”
Both boys got out of the car and the younger one headed back up the trail. She heard him shouting at coming vehicles as the lights turned down, but how they heard over the thunderous beats of ghastly music she couldn’t imagine. Engines cut and the music abruptly stopped, replaced with shouts and boisterous voices in the distance. Meanwhile whoops of delight come from the area around the bonfire.
As Jeremy approached, he motioned for her to join him as they walked back up the trail to talk with his students. A few shouted greetings that made Stephanie grin. It was clear he had an easy rapport with what looked like mostly freshmen.
A few students called out, “What’s going on, Dr. Rowlands? MJ stopped us. Can’t we hang out at the bonfire?”
Jeremy held up a hand and flicked his wrist. The students immediately quieted and she was impressed. “Not unless you want to ruin your night vision.” He looked behind him where Stephanie saw light glowing from the clearing far ahead. “I think most of you are okay, thanks to MJ.” She realized she was probably as eager to hear what he had to say as the others.
“Obviously we can’t use this area tonight and I’d really hate to postpone our Star Party.”
Everyone began speaking at once. Apparently this was a much-loved part of the course for the amount of objection and disappointment any talk of postponing caused. Jeremy was attempting to gain their attention when TJ spoke up.
“Dr. Rowlands, there’s another, smaller clearing a short way in that direction.” He turned, pointing in the direction the young man from the bonfire had pointed.
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