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chapter 4

The window squeaked as Abi pushed it up. She cringed and waited expectantly for her dad to come barging back into her room.


Nothing happened.


“What are you doing?” she whispered.


“We’re going to a party, remember? Come on, I already got your clothes down here.” The duffel bag was still slung over her shoulder.


“Are you kidding me? I can’t go out. Our plan kind of failed, remember?”


“Yeah,” Cora whisper-shouted, “and this is plan B. There’s a ladder right here; you just have to climb down.”


Horrified, Abi imagined Cora sneaking into their garage to steal their ladder. Would her dad notice? Had he heard something?


“Don’t worry about it, just come on. I’m freezing down here!”


Abi huffed. This was not panning out like she had imagined. Was this really worth it anymore? She wasn’t really in the party mood after setting her mom off. She had never snuck out before, and she wasn’t this person.


But did she want to be?


Heat spread through her body, her blood pumping faster. Was she really about to do this? She strode to her door, turned on her bedroom fan, and flipped the lights off. After hiding a few coats underneath her comforter, she surveyed her work. It wouldn’t hold up to closer inspection, but it would have to do.


She grabbed her things, slipped on her boots, and maneuvered out of the window, her boots crunching against the shingles. It was a cold night but she hardly noticed. The window squeaked closed and she climbed down the ladder, shaking but more with excitement than anything else.


They laid the ladder down beside the house for Abi to sneak back in later and jogged toward the trees. Abi’s back tingled with heat, afraid her dad might peak out his window at just the right moment to catch her sneaking off.


It took nearly ten minutes for them to loop back around to Cora’s car, which she had parked at Mr. Nue’s summerhouse.


“You can finally breathe again, girl!”


“I can’t believe I’m doing this.” Abi looked at Cora and had to bottle up a small squeal. Her limbs tingled with excitement, itching to run, to move. Was what she was doing really all that bad?


Goosebumps rose on Abi’s arms from the chilled air and the giddiness in her chest. The passenger side door to Cora’s car was locked, and Abi bounced on the balls of her feet to keep some warmth in her body.


“Open up!” she yelled, laughing.


Cora jumped inside the vehicle and reached across to unlock Abi’s door. “Your chariot, madam.”


A giggle burst from Abi’s chest as she slammed the door shut behind her, breathless.


“Are you ready?” Cora gave a wicked grin, and Abi tried to mimic the look, not entirely sure she’d done it right.


It had happened—Abi had officially been corrupted. She might as well have fun while she was at it.


Cora turned the car over and drove quickly to her own house.


A thousand questions flooded Abi’s mind but she pushed them all down. She didn’t want to ask questions tonight. She didn’t want to be the responsible one.


Several turns later, they pulled into Cora’s driveway. All the lights were on and Abi’s excitement grew, like a wave building inside her. Would it crash down or keep her buoyed for the rest of the night?


Most of the houses on their street looked a lot alike except Cora’s. Hers had intricate trim and detailing in bold white, and so many roof levels that the house looked more like a castle. Two staircases led up to two red doors on either side of the porch. Her mom got a kick out of watching people decide which one to approach, even though they both worked.


They stepped through the door on the right, and the warm scents of cinnamon and vanilla danced around them.


“Hi, Mom!” Cora called.


Their foyer carried the theme of the exterior, making Abi feel like she had stepped through a portal to the 1800s. The hallway and sitting area were filled with antique furniture, polished to a shine with fragrant orange oils. They hung their jackets from two glass doorknobs that had been rescued from a condemned home before it was demolished.


Hearing them at the front door, Barkley, their scruffy dog, bounded up to Abi, his toenails clicking excitedly on the wood floors as he danced around their feet.


Abi laughed and picked him up, leaning back as he licked at her face. She’d always wanted a dog, but hadn’t been allowed to keep one.


“What am I, chopped liver?” Cora asked, petting the frenzied ball of fur in Abi’s arms.


“Hey, girls. I’m just starting the icing,” Mrs. Robins called down the long hallway.


Cora’s boots clacked loudly as they stepped into the bright kitchen. “We’re going to go to that party with Jesse later.”


“Oh, okay.” Cora’s mom didn’t take her eyes off the cake, smoothing out an unseen bump before taking a satisfied breath.


“Looks great, Mrs. Robins.” Abi tried not to hover as she poured just enough caramel over the top of the smooth cake to spill over onto the sides.


“Wait until you taste it! It’s caramel cinnamon cake with a crisp pastry middle layer and light buttercream frosting.” Joy gave the cake an affectionate look before she came out of her trance, shooing them out of the kitchen. “Go get ready, girls. You’ll have a piece before you go. You don’t want Jesse to leave you again!”


They raced up the stairs and headed back toward Cora’s room, passing dozens of family photos hanging on the walls. Abi spotted a new one of Jesse, Cora’s older brother. He was only two years older, but Abi could count on one hand the number of times she had actually spoken more than a few words with him.


“Blegh—computer science boarding school. I officially have a nerd for an older brother.” Cora continued on, but Abi lingered. His face had lost its boyishness; his jaw and nose were sharper and his shoulders broader than they had been a year ago.

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