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chapter 4

“Hey, Mom, I’m home!” A male voice boomed from downstairs, familiar but deeper now.


Abi scurried into Cora’s room, fighting an insane urge to hide as she closed the door.


Cora’s room was actually two rooms connected with a large archway. One side had a bed, and the other smaller room had a comfy Victorian seater next to the closet door.


Abi distinctly remembered the moment she realized that Cora’s room was larger than hers—they were in the third grade, and Abi had looked around her, seeing for the first time what Cora had and what she didn’t. When Abi had asked Cora why that was, Cora had responded, “That side is yours, silly.”


Before Cora was born, her dad had launched an app that Google offered an outrageous amount for. Her parents traveled the world together before settling down in the smallest town they could find and having Cora. After years of trying for another, they adopted Jesse when he was eight, but he’d spent most of his life since then in boarding schools.


Although the house looked like an old home, it had been purposely built to look like that.


A few clicks on Cora’s phone and music hummed low throughout the room. Abi changed in the closet and came out to find that Cora had already applied dark makeup to her eyes. The smoky look made the blue in them pop even brighter.


“Your turn!”


Abi did her best to put makeup on her eyes, but Cora could only watch her struggle for the length of a single song.


“Oh, girl. Put me out of my misery. Please.” Cora took the makeup brush from Abi and sighed dramatically, batting her lashes like she was holding back fake tears. “You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting for this moment.”


Abi laughed. “Oh yes, I do.” She closed her eyes and let Cora fix whatever it was she had done so wrong.




The girl in the mirror looked years older, the subtle browns accentuating the amber hues in her eyes.


The door opened and Jesse stepped halfway into the room. He wore a dark red sweater that fit well on his new frame, his black hair combed and gelled. Abi heart stuttered. She had always had a crush on him, but now …


“I told you to knock, loser!” Cora grabbed an empty handbag and threw it at Jesse, who stepped behind the door to dodge it.


He popped his head back into the room. “I’m leaving in ten.” A makeup brush flew at him but the door shut just in time.


Cora huffed and strode into her closet. She and Jesse didn’t have the same relationship that Abi had with Ben. When they teased each other, it seemed playful, and ended with both still in happy moods. Abi could never find the fun in getting teased by Ben and never reciprocated. Sometimes she thought it was because of her mom. The family was always so tense and serious after her mom had gotten sick, like a dark cloud loomed not just over her, but over the entire house.


“Celebratory toast.” Abi spun the chair around to face Cora, and her chest froze over. Cora held two small glasses with a brown liquid at the bottom of each. “I know you haven’t had liquor before, so I want you to try it in a safe place first.”


Abi’s hand reached for the glass without her permission.


“Of course, that’s not to say we won’t be in a safe place later, but you know what I mean. Just hold your breath, throw it back, and exhale through your mouth. Easy. Cheers!” Cora clinked their glasses together and motioned for Abi to lift hers.


She did. Cinnamon hit her nose before the alcohol hit her belly, exploding with warmth. She didn’t even have a chance to exhale before she started coughing, her eyes tearing up. Cora laughed, and before she could even breathe properly again, Abi was laughing too.


“Ugh, it’s awful!”


“Come on. Cake and then a party!” Cora grabbed Abi’s hand, pulling her along.


Abi’s face hurt from smiling so much. Her head was airy and her cheeks warm, but in a way that made her feel alive.


Mrs. Robins was doing the dishes when they came down to find two pieces of cake already cut and on plates. Abi’s mouth watered. It was rich and sweet, and each bite tasted even better than the last. They were nearly finished with the cake when Jesse came downstairs.


“Ready?” he called, staring at his phone as he walked into the kitchen.


“Born ready, baby,” Cora answered.


Jesse glanced up and spotted Abi. “Wait, she’s actually coming? Look at you corrupting people.” He bumped knuckles with Cora and held his hand up to give Abi a high five. Adrenaline swept through her. She was embarrassingly bad at high fives but managed to at least make contact with part of his hand.


He stole Cora’s plate and popped the remaining bit of cake into his mouth.


“Help yourself,” Cora grumbled.


“You kids be safe. I mean it!” Mrs. Robins kissed each of them on the forehead. “Now go have some fun.”


It was so strange. An adult not only allowing them to go out but seemingly supporting the idea. Mrs. Robins had been raised in an Amish community, where it was normal for the teenagers to be allowed to break the rules before deciding to stay within the community or leave. They would get it all out of their systems before typically choosing to be baptized within the Amish church.


Joy had chosen to leave the community but still believed in this party phase.


“It’s about a thirty-minute drive,” he said, glancing from Abi to Cora. “Try not to kill me with your music this time.”


Barkley yipped through the window as they left, his little nose pressed against the glass.


“Psh. He claims he doesn’t like my music, but I caught him dancing in his seat last time.”

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