Abi followed Cora through the house and to the next floor. 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 rooms to another set of stairs, steeper than the first. Abi 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, Graham among them, was gathered around a fire pit at the center. Cushioned chairs and beanbags littered the roof, with four people grouped 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. It’s pretty cool. Most of them are part of an exchange program, so there’s someone from Ireland, one from Sierra Leone, and another from England or something.” They were near enough to hear slow electronic music coming from a small speaker resting on a chair. “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, Jesse! This is the friend I was telling you about.”
A guy looked up at them from his seat and Abi stared at him. He had dark, shaggy hair and light eyes that seemed to glow in the dim lighting. He was boyish—with an angled jaw but soft cheeks that didn’t hint toward his age, and tanned skin that made his green eyes pop.**
Something stirred in the space between them.
What had Cora said about her? Why had Cora told him 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 Jesse. This is Theo, Shelly, and Myra.”
The names flew out of her head before they had a chance to sink in. Was it her or did the air seem to shimmer around Jesse?
“I’ll get us drinks.”
Cora left and though she didn’t go far, Abi almost ran after her. Jesse stood with one hand in the pocket of his leather jacket, which 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.
He must have seen her trailing eyes because his lips pursed as if to hide a smirk before taking a swig of his drink. 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 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.”
“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 Jesse’s stunned expression. “It’s about witchcraft.”
“Ah. Interesting.” There was genuine interest in his tone, and he looked at Abi so intensely that time seemed to lengthen. “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.
“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,” Jesse said, a dimple on his right cheek appearing as he smiled. They raised their cups and Abi tapped hers gently against theirs.
Cora asked Jesse something about the game Graham was now playing with the others at the table, but Abi tuned it out. What was wrong with her? She had talked to plenty of boys in her life and never reacted this way. The party, the alcohol. She was out of place. She didn’t like it. And she didn’t like how this boy made her feel. He seemed normal enough, and she was certain if he went to her school, she could talk to him without tripping over her words.
Cora laughed. “Do you want to play?” She motioned at the table. One guy pulled a bench to the table for Abi and Cora with one arm, his thin coat making the rippling muscles easy to see. He was huge, spilling out of his chair like it was one made for children.
“Sure.” She shrugged. “What is it?”
“Knock Out. I played it last time I was here. Come on, we’ll play together.”
Abi and Cora sat down on the small bench and Jesse took a swig of his drink before looking at his phone. Whatever the message, it seemed important because he set his drink down and headed to the stairs, not taking his eyes off of his screen.
The air shimmered around him again, and she blinked a few times. Was this what alcohol did to you?
“Theo, you idiot, I swear if you do that one more time I’m going to punch you.” The brunette girl titled her cup, apparently empty, as she addressed the muscular guy, her strong Irish accent making idiot sound more like eegit.
“Shelly, you drank it that time. Honest!” But his smirk gave away his lie. His faint accent reminded Abi of a character from Ratatouille.
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 as a mix between Quarters and the card game War. Abi had heard of the latter. The game started, more like Speed than anything else as all around the table quick hands simultaneously threw cards down and picked others up. Abi didn’t catch on well but with Cora’s help, they kept pace with the others.
“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.