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chapter 4

He paused then unlocked his rusted and dented old car. “That wasn’t dancing. That was a seizure.”


“Mmhmm, sure.”


Jesse climbed in behind the wheel, and Abi took the back seat, expecting Cora to take the front. She slid in next to her instead. “Drive on, chauffeur!”


He gave an exaggerated sigh and Abi could feel his eyes rolling. The car roared to life, and they were on their way.


Abi had never been in Jesse’s car before. It was scuffed and beat up on the outside, but the interior was spotless and smelled nice. His dash glowed with green lights that faded to red and blue around the sound system.


Cora played some fun tracks, the delicate beats layering and twisting away from one another as they left the city limits. Abi was conscious of Jesse’s presence in the front seat, but as she sang along with Cora, her voice grew louder the further from home she got. She was glad she’d decided to go out. This publication was an achievement she would remember for the rest of her life.


They drove east, toward Louisville and the college closest to their town. The leaves were just starting to change, light yellow spreading into orange as the headlights swept over them. A small city opened up in front of them, the buildings coming closer together until Jesse turned left. He maneuvered through the streets with ease, not bothering to reference his phone. Jesse finally turned right on to a street where girls in high heels walked beside boys with drinks in their hands. They were all headed toward the same place.


One house towered brighter than the rest, although it wasn’t the only place on the street with a party. Abi’s heart thumped so hard it distorted her vision. What was she doing?


Jesse parked the car, and Cora looped Abi’s arm through her own as they walked down the street. The house was three stories high with a balcony on the second and third floors, fraternity banners and outdoor lighting hanging from the railings.


As they got closer, Abi could see girls in crop tops and tight jeans through the windows. They looked so much older, and here she was, a mask of makeup and clothes that screamed imposter.


“Here.” Cora held up a flask. “For the nerves. It’s going to be fun, trust me!” She took a quick swig before passing it to Abi, who choked a gulp down. The same warmth spread through her body, but this time she didn’t cough.


“Have you been here before?”


Cora gasped. “Jesse, what time is it?”


He hesitated before peeking at his phone. “10:43 … Why?”


She swung her arm over Abi’s shoulder. “I’m happy to report you made it one hour and twenty-three minutes without asking a single question. Good job, girlfriend.”


Jesse shook his head, hiding a smirk as he walked away.


Cora took another swig. “And yes, I have been here before.”


They ascended the porch stairs, stepping around a couple smoking something Abi was positive wasn’t a cigarette. Music vibrated through the floorboards, making them buzz rhythmically below her feet. The first two rooms had dozens of people crowded around tables filled with cups, ping-pong balls bouncing toward them.


Abi followed Cora through the house and to the next floor, which looked much like the first, and on up to the third level. She expected to see bedroom doors closed, with college students doing college things behind the doors. Abi blushed at the thought as they passed the empty rooms to another set of stairs, steeper than the first. She gripped the railing as they climbed, the warm air growing cooler until they stood atop the building.


The roof seemed impossibly larger than the house had from the outside, and a group of people, Jesse among them, was gathered around a fire pit at the center. Cushioned chairs and beanbags littered the roof, with four people seated around a table slightly to the right of the fire. Outdoor lights were strung across any oak branches hanging low enough, casting the roof in a warm glow. The music downstairs was hardly audible.


“I met them all last time I was here. Most are part of an exchange program, so there’s someone from Ireland, one from Nigeria, and another from England or something.” Slow electronic music grew louder as they made their way to the group. “Oh, and there’s this cute boy I want you to meet. I might have told him about you last time.”


“What! Wait, what did you—?”


“Hey, Austin. This is the friend I was telling you about.”


A guy at the table looked up from his seat. He had blond, shaggy hair, square features, and tanned skin that made his green eyes pop. He was perhaps the biggest man she had ever laid eyes on, although the guy to his right could have shared that title. They were comically squished next to one another at the table, making the two girls opposite them seem even smaller.


What had Cora said about her? He was way out of her league and probably too old for her. She wanted to simultaneously vomit and leap off the roof. Anything to get away.


“Oh. Abi, right?” He held out his hand, and her arm moved as if in slow motion as she grabbed it. She squeezed a little too hard, praying her hand hadn’t felt sweaty to him. “I’m Austin. This is Theo, Shelly, and Myra.” He said this as he dealt the other people cards in what seemed like a random order.


The names flew out of her head before they had a chance to sink in.


“I’ll get us drinks.”


Cora left, and though she didn’t go far, Abi almost ran after her. Austin seemed to sense her unease, his expression almost amused. Was she that obvious?


She should say something. Her mind spun.


“Cora said you’ve lived in Logan’s Bluff your whole life.” He smiled, and his teeth were perfect and white. The pressure at having to start up a conversation was relieved, only to be replaced with the pressure to supply an answer.


“Yeah,” she uttered, and then realized she should have said more. All the heat in her body rushed straight to her face. Yeah? That was all she had to say? “I was born there.”

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