If you haven’t read the prologue to my novel, read that here first. Trust me, you don’t want to miss it!
I sincerely hope you enjoy this chapter! Remember, you can add my novel to your Goodreads TBR here and sign up for future updates (including giveaways) at the bottom of this posting!
Copyright © 2015 Vivien Reis
A guttural noise passed through Abi’s mouth and nearly made her choke on her cereal. Her foot throbbed and Ben was grinning at his own bowl from across the table.
Abi narrowed her eyes at him before returning the kick. “I’m trying to read, you jerk.”
“Language.” Their father rounded the corner, dark hair combed so that he looked more like a presidential candidate than a history professor. Abi shot one last glare at Ben and tried to focus her attention back on her book. But she was too antsy.
All week she had been expecting an e-mail from the Indie Youth Magazine and the week was nearing its end. If she didn’t hear from them today, then they weren’t publishing her story.
“Not hungry?” Her dad busied himself prepping some oatmeal for her mom, who was staring at the ceiling from the end of the table. Her mom looked sickly, years of no sunlight fading her once olive tan to an unhealthy-looking yellow pale.
She turned back to her dad, her stomach tight thinking about the e-mail. “Nah, I’ll bring a snack to school. Stomach feels weird.”
Not bothering to respond, her father removed the bowl from the microwave and let it cool while he made his coffee. He was so calm and composed all of the time now, practice from a decade-long rhythm of taking care of their mom. He finally sat down, trying to talk to their mother while feeding her. Responses were few and far between, and those few days that she did were ones that shined in comparison to the others. He tried to coax her to eat, stopping to wipe the oatmeal that smeared across her lips with each failed attempt.
But she wouldn’t eat. Each time her dad brought the food near her mouth, she jerked away and her eyes drifted around the room before settling back on the ceiling. Abi could tell that it was going to be one of those mornings, so she got up to leave before it got any worse.
The wood floors creaked slightly under her weight as she climbed the stairs and opened a door with huge grey letters that read “ABI.” She was about to walk back out of the room, backpack in hand, when she realized she’d left her diary out on her nightstand. Completely exposed.
And that was never okay. Not with a nosy older brother whose superpower involved embarrassing the hell out of his little sister. Knowing him, Ben would post all of her entries online for everyone to see. Somehow he would make a fortune from her embarrassment and the whole world would know who she was, leaving her no choice but to hide under a rock for the rest of her life.
Abi snapped the clasp on her worn diary and shut her door in case Ben walked by. She moved back over to her nightstand and dropped to her belly beside her bed. She pulled herself under, barely small enough to fit anymore. But this was one of the reasons why her hiding spot was so good – her larger brother would never even be able to fit under there. He would have to pull the entire bed away from the wall to get to it.
Scooting closer to the wall, Abi tapped a board that looked the same as all the rest but Abi knew better. The opposite edge popped up just slightly. She slid her nails along it until she was able to lift the whole thing up. Tucking her diary safely inside, she took a second to look at the photo she had also hidden there.
It was of her and her mother, before she’d gotten sick. Abi was sitting in her lap on a large swing they had found on the side of the road somewhere. Or at least that’s how she remembered her Dad telling it. Abi had never told anyone she had kept the picture, but it was special to her. She didn’t want it rotting away in the old family photo albums tucked away in their basement somewhere.
The photo had faded some and the edges were tattered from Abi handling it so much. Now that she was getting older, she could definitely see some of her mom’s features in her own. Abi’s hair was the exact same dark brown as her mother’s, her nose had the same slight ridge in the center, and her eyebrows were just as thick. Abi didn’t have her eyes, though, and even in the picture she held it was the most noticeable difference between them. Abi had the same blue and brown hazel eyes that her father had, whereas her mothers were a rich honey brown. Other than that, she looked like a mini version of her mom.
Abi’s phone snapped her out of the reverie with a buzz, reminding her that Cora was on the way to pick her up. She was probably nearly there already, seeing as she only lived a few minutes away. A few minutes in Cora-driving-time, at least. The wooden board slipped back into place, blending in with the rest of the floor seamlessly. She took off down the stairs and headed for the door.
Ben was still eating his cereal, staring at his cell phone. He was going to be late. As usual.
“Bye, sweetie. Have a good day!” He threw the words over his shoulder, not taking his attention off their mother.
Abi closed the door behind her and walked to the edge of the long driveway, taking her time so she wouldn’t slip on any ice. The chilled air felt good in her lungs, waking her up.
Glancing down the road, Cora’s vehicle wasn’t in sight yet . Abi’s mind shifted back to the e-mail. If she were to get published by the Indie Youth Magazine before the end of this semester, then she would have a pretty good shot at getting an internship with the local paper. And she would use that as a stepping stone to get into an even better internship somewhere once she started college.
Maybe one of the big publishing firms, somewhere in New York. She looked around, trying to imagine how their quiet town would compare to the hustle and bustle of the big city.
Would she be homesick? The only time Abi had ever left Logan’s Bluff had been to go to her mother’s doctor’s appointments in the neighboring towns.
She had even been to Hartford once, but wasn’t able to do anything because they had been on a strict schedule. Abi only knew that she wanted to leave this part of her family ’s past behind. She knew she would miss her dad, and maybe even her mom – at least how she used to be. But her mom was never really coming back. The doctors had been saying that for years. Everyone in town knew about Scary Mary and those kind enough to ask after her health always had a very particular look in their eyes. A look of pity. That was the look she wanted to escape. Abi wanted to go somewhere no one knew about her mom and what she had done to them.
A blaring noise erupted behind Abi and she jumped, clutching at her chest.
There was a girl hanging out the window of a beat up car and animatedly laughing at her.
“Cora! You about gave me a heart attack.” She took in a deep breath and slid in the passenger’s seat of the car.
“Hey Miss La La Land,” the girl managed to say through laughs. “What were you daydreaming about?” Cora drew out the words like she was trying to hint at something very specific.
“Nothing like that.”
“Uh huh. It was probably about Brett and those chiseled abs of his.” She waited for a reaction from Abi, but Abi was more concerned about Cora keeping her eyes on the road as they sped away.
“Sounds like you’re the one that’s been daydreaming about them.”
Cora finally turned her attention back on the road, but not before turning the music up. “Oh, I’m not afraid to say it. That boy makes me swoon every time his shirt comes off.”
Abi braced herself as Cora slung the car around a corner, not even bothering to slow down. Abi’s breath caught for a moment while she steadied herself. The roads hadn’t been plowed in a couple of days and they fishtailed easily. “You swoon anytime anyone takes their shirt off. Including Mr. Reagan.” Her words came out as a grunt as they took the next turn onto the main stretch.
Still keeping her eyes on the road, Cora made a show of gagging and threw in some vomiting noises for good measure.
“Oh, speaking of vomiting…” Cora gave Abi a sideways glance, eyebrows raised.
“No.” Abi’s voice was firm but she couldn’t help that a grin still tugged at the corners of her lips. Cora always did this to her. “How is vomiting a selling point, anyway?”
“Oh come on, you party pooper! When are you going to come out with me? Live a little!”
“I can’t. You know why.” Although sometimes she was tempted to go out, she didn’t want to admit to Cora there were other reasons for her hesitation. She had never been drunk before and didn’t want to chance throwing up in front of a bunch of people. Cora would likely shove a shot of some awful liquor in her face and Abi had no idea what that would even taste like. Her palms felt clammy thinking about it.
“Yeah, because you want to be miss goody-two-shoes and get into all the best colleges and then rule the entire world.” She lifted a hand off the steering wheel and made grand gestures as she spoke.
“Exactly.” It was a matter-of-fact statement. “You’re going to get both of us in trouble and I am not risking my chances of getting out of this town.”
Cora scoffed. Even when Abi had tried to push and pull and pry and squeeze it out of her, Abi could never get a response from Cora for her plans after high school.
“You’re too responsible for your age.” The volume shot up on the music, but then came right back down. “By the way…aren’t you going to say anything?” She threw her bright blue hair over her shoulder dramatically.
“Beautiful, as always.” And it was. Her hair was a lighter blue at the top that faded to a darker blue toward the bottom of her long hair. There was a part of Abi that had always been jealous of Cora’s no-nonsense attitude. Cora was always the one to wear crazy clothes and have crazy hair and makeup, but there was no doubt she was having fun.
Abi would never be able to do that. Not if she was going to get to the places she wanted to go.
Beaming from the steering wheel, Cora jumped into explaining how difficult it was to get her hair to be just the right shade and how her mom had reluctantly helped her. “It took pretty much all night and I swear my scalp is still tingling.”
They were pulling up to the school, the parking lot just beginning to fill with students. Cora didn’t drive Abi all the time, but when she did, those were the only mornings that Cora was actually on time. Abi appreciated that about her.
“So, if you spent all evening doing your hair…” Abi already knew the answer before she asked it.
“Yes, mom, I did my homework.” Cora’s eyes glinted sideways before she continued. “Just not the homework we were assigned in class.”
They got out, bracing against the biting wind blowing sideways across the parking lot. This side of town didn’t have Briar’s Cliff to shield the gusts that blew in from the ocean. Although a short ride from her house, Abi felt like the temperature dropped at least ten degrees with the wind chill.
“Cora! You’re going to fail if you keep this up.” She had to secure her hair with one hand to keep it from stinging her face. Abi was always tempted to take a buzzer to her hair when the wind would turn it into a whip, striking her face with the changing gusts.
“Oh hush. You know I can ace any test they throw in front of me.”
“Just passing won’t get you into any good schools.” Abi knew it was a waste of her breath, but could never understand why Cora acted like this. Why she had changed. Abi knew that Cora was even smarter than she was but would never admit that to anyone. Abi always had to study to learn things, but Cora heard them once and they were somehow ingrained permanently.
Cora stopped suddenly and let out a long gasp, making Abi drop her book. A chill ran over Abi. “What is it? Are you okay?” Her eyes quickly surveyed Cora but nothing appeared to be wrong.
A grin started at the very center of Cora’s mouth and rippled its way up her cheeks, one eyebrow raising. “I have a proposition to make.”
Five minutes into class, and Abi was seriously considering Cora’s deal when her phone buzzed.
“U know u want to.”
She looked up and met Cora’s gleaming eyes. Of course Cora would think of something like this, but Abi was still surprised to hear the terms.
After Abi had talked Cora into going inside to discuss her grand proposition, Cora had almost made them late for class telling Abi all about it. She had also nearly begged Abi, which put her on guard even more. That wasn’t like Cora at all.
Her bright idea was a simple trade: study time with Abi, including doing all homework for two weeks, if Abi would simply go out one night with her.
But she kept coming back to the fact that she was only fifteen. Cora’s parents had somehow embraced this sudden rebellious streak, allowing Cora to go out at night for nearly a year. But Cora was a year older than Abi was. Abi’s dad knew nothing about Cora’s partying, of course, but there was no way that he would approve of it.
“Graham is going to be there with us the whole time.” Cora had been able to tell that Abi’s resolve was cracking. “Come on! We’re old enough to drive -”
“Not all of us.”
“–so we’re old enough to go out every once in a while.” The bell had begun to ring and they had rushed in the doors to their World History class. Since the start of class, Cora kept trying to get Abi’s attention.
Abi was curious to see how desperate Cora would be and toyed with the idea of “not making up her mind” until the end of the day.
Like I’ve already made up my mind.
What if they got caught? What if they were arrested for underage drinking? Abi had had alcohol before, but it was always with her family. The fact that Abi’s brother would be there was slightly comforting, but what if he left them once they got there?
Where would there even be? Surely there wouldn’t be a bunch of people her age at these parties.
But Cora hadn’t known how close Abi had been to caving before. The last few times that Cora had demanded she go out with her, Abi had been incredibly close to saying yes. The words were on her tongue but she couldn’t jump off that cliff just yet. She did want to experience something wild and dangerous like that, no matter how much she tried to convince Cora otherwise. Maybe she was taking her life a little too seriously. Even if her dad was upset with her, would that really ruin her chances of getting an internship?
She absentmindedly watched Mr. Reagan point at the black board with a yard stick, his large belly already smeared with chalk from getting too close.
Her phone buzzed again and Abi looked down, expecting to see another text from Cora.
But it was an e-mail.
Abi’s heart sputtered, then picked up speed. The rest of the class evaporated and her shaky finger had to press three times on the email before it actually opened.
Her eyes skimmed the page, hoping to get the answer quickly, but she promptly gave up and started again from the top. Her head spun and she could only manage shallow rapid breaths.
Dear Ms. Abigail Cole,
We, at the Indie Youth Magazine, have completed our judging for the Annual Young Adult Inter-agency Excellence Competition and are writing to give you feedback on your performance.
Her stomach dropped a little.
A separate e-mail will be sent to you from one of the judges of the competition with advice you might find helpful. His/her critiques should aide in shaping your future writing and editing processes as IYM strives to create the best in our youthful writers.
Regardless of the changes that you make, it has been decided that your short story will be featured in our Jan/Feb 2017 issue. You have our fullest congratulations!
Expect a third e-mail within the coming week with details of the issue your winning story will be showcased in.
May your well never run out of ink,
President of Correspondence
Indie Youth Magazine
Abi’s heart was beating so hard that it took a moment to feel the finger poking her arm, again and again.
“You look like you’ve just seen a ghost. You okay?” Cora’s voice was low, trying not to get the attention of Mr. Reagan. Abi wasn’t afraid, no. She was holding in a squeal, trembling in her seat.
Abi nodded and passed her phone to Cora. Abi watched for a reaction in Cora’s face as she read the e-mail, growing fearful that she had imagined the letter. What if it was a fake? What if someone was trying to pull a joke on her?
It had been a suspicious letter, both the best and worst one she had ever received. Who began a congratulatory e-mail with a notification of feedback?
The same confused look passed across Cora’s face and then disappeared.
“Oh shit!” Abi jumped, along with the rest of the class, but Cora kept stride. “Is this for real?”
“Excuse me, Miss Cora. Language!”
Cora was still waiting for a response as Abi’s cheeks reddened at the disruption to the class. Everyone was staring at them.
“Holy. Shit.” Her voice rose a few octaves.
“Cora!” Mr. Reagan slammed the yard stick down on his desk.
This snapped her out of it and Cora finally took notice of the class. “We’re in the presence of a famous person here, Mr. Reagan .” He didn’t look at all like he was impressed. “You all mark my words, you’ll remember the day I yelled ‘Oh shit’ in this class.” With that, she handed Abi’s phone back and gave the teacher her best studently impression.
Abi had never been so happy to be so embarrassed before.
Once the class had quieted down, Cora texted her again.
Her breath was still coming in low and fast and she had a strange humming sensation throughout her body. Abi’s nails clicked quietly on the screen of her phone as she typed her response, a different rush going through her now.
“I’ll do it.”
The end-of-class bell started to ring as Abi heard Cora’s phone buzz with her text.
“I’ll do it?! That’s all I get? You have an excuse now to celebrate!” Cora sat quickly on top of Abi’s desk, her tiny weight enough to threaten crushing the cheaply made piece of furniture.
Abi grinned. She did have an excuse to celebrate. This was her first step. All of her studying wasn’t for nothing. But then again, shouldn’t she guard it more heavily now? Not give in to Cora’s desire to party and focus on her goals?
“I know that look.” Cora’s gaze was accusatory.
To hell with it.
“You’re right, I should celebrate this.” Her heart thumped as she ended the sentence, like she was already doing something she shouldn’t.
They walked out of the classroom, but to Abi, it nearly felt like skipping. Her legs were tingly and it added a bounce to her step. Cora draped her arm over Abi’s shoulder. “This is going to be so much fun! You seriously couldn’t have agreed to a better party. Graham said there’s going to be a bunch of college students from Massachusetts for that big hockey game in Camden.”
Abi’s hesitation returned. College students? That meant they would be at least three years older than her, probably more if they were good enough to travel on a hockey team.
“We’re going to have to find you something to wear though!”
“What’s wrong with this?” She stopped and Cora whipped around to give her a dumbfounded look.
“Um, because my grandma dresses better than you and she’s dead.”
Abi laughed at this morbid comparison. She didn’t dress poorly, per se, she just knew it wasn’t Cora’s style.
Her hesitation ebbed throughout the day, thinking about how big her accomplishment really was. There were at least 2,000 other entrants in this year’s YA competition, and she had beaten every single one of them.
Weeks of slaving over every word in that manuscript had been worth it. She had finally done it. The tiny light of hope for her dreams was growing brighter.
Abi spent the rest of the day with a ridiculous grin on her face.