He nodded. It was his turn at the game, and Abi stood there, waiting for him to finish. Where the hell was Cora? She glanced around and instead met Jesse’s eye. Something stirred in the space between them, like a flicker of light from the fire.
“Here you are, my lady.” A cup appeared in front of Abi and she grasped it, grateful to have something to occupy her hands and even more grateful Cora had come back.
“So, my friend here got word today that her novel will be published. That’s why we’re here celebrating!”
“That’s so awesome. What’s it about?”
“I—well, it’s not a novel. It’s a short story about a character from my novel, but hopefully it paves the way for the publication of the full book.”
“It addresses the familial tensions that exist when teenagers take drugs and develop supernatural powers.” Cora took a sip, seeming to relish Austin’s stunned expression. “It’s about witchcraft.”
“Ah. Interesting.” There was genuine curiosity in his tone, and he looked at Abi so intensely it seemed to lengthen time. “You believe in witchcraft?”
She snorted, a very unladylike snort. “I mean, it’s just fiction. The piece centers on a matriarch whose power was stolen …”
Was her story cool enough for this conversation? It seemed childish now. Not at all the kind of topic a partygoer would talk about. The others at the table seemed to be passively listening to their conversation, like she had an audience.
“It’s the shit, basically. They’re giving her this big prize pack and she’s pretty much going to be famous.”
“Cheers to that,” Austin said, a dimple on his right cheek appearing as he smiled. They raised their cups and Abi tapped hers gently against theirs.
Cora asked Austin something about the game they were playing, but Abi tuned it out. She heard a commotion coming from the street and wandered to the edge of the roof, the light from the overhead lights not quite reaching there. A group of people were laughing and shouting, a few tripping as they leaned against others in the group.
“Is this as wild as you thought it’d be?” It was clear Jesse was joking. Although there was a fire in her chest at him standing so close, she didn’t back away.
“It’s surprisingly mild, considering Cora.”
He was staring out and down the street, one hand in the pocket of his leather jacket, which was worn and looked well loved. The jacket was unzipped just enough to show a black V-neck below that. A necklace with a small dark gem embedded into the links hung from his neck, nearly hidden by his shirt. She tried to make out what it was but it was too dark.
He must have noticed her trailing eyes because his lips pursed as if trying to hide a smirk before taking a swig of his drink. She mimicked his action, the silence intentional, like a secret communication.
Was it her or did the air seem to shimmer around him? Had she drank too much alcohol already?
“How’s boarding school?”
“Cora told you about that?” Heat rose up in her cheeks until she realized that was the reaction he had been wanting. “I graduated, actually. I just started up at a private college this semester.”
“Sounds like you’ve traveled a lot.” She envied him. How many places had he gone to? Seen on his own?
“I have. It’s lonely sometimes, though.”
Her mind drifted to more inappropriate things. She tried to mask her blush with a sip of her drink, only to inhale it more than drink it. Her eyes stung as she tried to calm her coughing.
What was wrong with her? She had talked to plenty of boys and never reacted this way. If he had gone to their school, she was certain she could talk to him without making such a fool of herself.
Cora laughed. “Do you want to play?” She motioned back at the table. Theo was pulling a bench to the table for Abi and Cora with one arm, his rippling muscles easy to see in his thin hoodie.
“Sure.” She shrugged. “What is it?”
“Knock Out. Come on, we’ll be on a team together.” Cora tugged her away from Jesse. She expected him to follow but he stayed put, taking his phone out of his pocket. Whatever the message, it seemed important because he set his drink down and headed to the stairs, not taking his eyes off the screen.
The air shimmered around him again and she blinked a few times. She eyed her cup and set it aside. No more alcohol for her.
“Theo, you idiot, I swear if you do that one more time I’m going to punch you.” The brunette girl tilted her cup, apparently empty, as she addressed him, her strong Irish accent making idiot sound more like eejit.
“Shelly, you drank it that time. Honest!” But his smirk gave away his lie. The lilt of his speech was almost musical, and she guessed he was the one from Nigeria.
Shelly rolled her eyes at him and continued to shuffle the large stack of cards.
Even though the girl was seated, Abi could tell she was tall. Her face held a certain hard edge that only disappeared when she smiled. It was like watching a chameleon change its colors.
Cora went over the rules while Shelly passed out the cards, explaining the game was a mix between Quarters and the card game War. Abi had only heard of the latter. The game started, people’s hands moving in and away from the table, making what seemed like random stacks. She didn’t catch on well, but with Cora’s help, they threw out certain cards and picked others up.
“Knock out!” Theo yelled and pushed a pile of Shelly’s cards off the table.
“Really, Theo? You’re supposed to go that way!” She pointed in Abi and Cora’s direction before stealing up two cards and slapping down another pile.