I couldn’t see them, but I knew they were there, waiting at the bottom. Bloodthirsty little shits—they were probably praying for this to go badly. “What do you think—about a fifteen-foot drop?”
“Easily,” Brandt said. He grabbed my arm as a blast of wind whipped around us. Once I was steady on my skateboard, he tipped back his beer and downed what was left.
Together, we peered over the edge of the barn roof. The party was in full swing below us. Fifteen of our closest—and craziest—friends.
Brandt sighed. “Can you really do this?”
I handed him my own empty bottle. “They don’t call me Queen of Crazy Shit for nothing.” Gilman was poised on his skateboard to my left. Even in the dark, I could see the moonlight glisten off the sweat beading his brow. Pansy. “You ready?”
He swallowed and nodded.
Brandt laughed and tossed the bottles toward the woods. There were several seconds of silence, then a muted crash, followed by hoots and hysterical laughter from our friends below. Only drunk people would find shattering bottles an epic source of amusement.
“I dunno about this, Dez,” he said. “You can’t see anything down there. How do you know where you’re gonna land?”
“It’ll be fine. I’ve done this, like, a million times.”
Brandt’s words were clipped. “Into a pool. From a ten-foot-high garage roof. This is at least fifteen feet. Last thing I want to do is drag your ass all the way home.”
I ignored him—the usual response to my cousin’s chiding—and bent my knees. Turning back to Gilman, I smiled. “Ready, Mr. Badass?”
Someone below turned up one of the car stereos. A thumping techno beat drifted up. Hands on the sill behind me, drunken shouts of encouragement rising from below, I let go.
Hair lashed like a thousand tiny whips all along my face. The rough and rumbling texture of the barn roof beneath my board. Then nothing.
Flying. It was like flying.
For a few blissful moments, I was weightless. A feather suspended in midair right before it fluttered gracefully to the ground. Adrenalin surged through my system, driving my buzz higher.
The crappy thing about adrenalin highs, though? They never last long enough.
Mine lasted what felt like five seconds—the time it took to go from the barn roof to the not-so-cushy pile of hay below.
I landed with a jar—nothing serious—a bruised tailbone and some black and blues, maybe. Hardly the worst I’d ever walked away with. Stretching out the kink in my back, I brushed the hay from my jeans. A quick inspection revealed a smudge above my right knee and a few splotches of mud up the left side. All things the washing machine could fix.
Somewhere behind me, a loud wail filled the air. Gilman.
Never mix tequila and peach schnapps with warm Bud Light. It makes you do stupid things. Things like staying too long at a party you were told not to go to or making out in the bushes with someone like Mark Geller.
Things like skateboarding off the roof of a rickety barn…
Well, that’s not entirely true. I tended to do these things without the buzz. Except kissing Mark Geller. That was all alcohol.
“You okay?” Brandt called from the rooftop.
I gave him a thumbs-up and went to check on Gilman. He was surrounded by a gaggle of girls, which made me wonder if he wasn’t faking it—at least a little. A scrawny guy like Gilman didn’t warrant much in the way of female attention, so I’d bet all ten toes he’d run his mouth tonight to attract some.
“You are one crazy ass, Chica,” he mumbled, climbing to his feet.
I pointed to the pile of hay I’d landed in—several yards farther than where he’d crashed. “I’m crazy? At least I aimed for the hay.”
“Wooooo!” came Brandt’s distinctive cry. A moment later, he was running around the side of the barn, fist pumping. He stopped at my side and stuck his tongue out at Gilman, who smiled and flipped him off. He punched me in the arm. “That’s my girl!”
“A girl who needs to bail. Ten minutes of kissy face in the bushes and Mark Geller thinks we’re soul mates. So don’t need a stalker.”
Brandt frowned. “But the party’s just getting started. You don’t want to miss the Jell-O shots!”
Jell-O shots? Those were my favorite. Maybe it was worth… no. “I’m willing to risk it.”
“Fine, then I’ll walk with ya.”
“No way,” I told him. “You’re waiting for Her Hotness to show, remember?” He’d been trying to hook up with Cara Finley for two weeks now. She’d finally agreed to meet him at the party tonight, and I wasn’t ruining his chances by having him bail to play guard dog.
He glanced over his shoulder. In the field under the moonlight, people were beginning to dance. “You sure you’re okay to go alone?”
“Of course.” I gestured to my feet. “No license needed to drive these babies.”
He was hesitant, but in the end, Cara won out. We said good-bye, and I started into the dark.
Home was only a few minutes away—through the field, across a narrow stream, and over a small hill. I knew these woods so well, I could find home with my eyes closed. In fact, I practically had on more than one occasion.
Pulling my cell from my back pocket, I groaned. One a.m. If luck was with me, I’d have enough time to stumble home and tuck myself in before Dad got there. I hadn’t meant to stay so late this time. Or drink so much. I’d only agreed to go as moral support for Brandt, but when Gilman started running his mouth… Well, I’d had no choice but stay and put up so he’d shut up. I had a rep to worry about, after all.
By the time I hit the halfway point between the field and the house—a shallow, muddy stream I used to play in as a child—I had to stop for a minute. Thumping beats and distant laughter echoed from the party, and for a moment I regretted not taking Brandt up on his offer to walk home with me. Apparently, that last beer had been a mistake.
I stumbled to the water’s edge and forced the humid air in and out of my lungs. Locking my jaw and holding my breath, I mentally repeated, I will not throw up.
After a few minutes, the nausea passed. Thank God. No way did I want to walk home smelling like puke. I shuffled back from the water, ready to make my way home, when I heard a commotion and froze.
Crap. The music had been too loud and someone must have called the cops. Perfect. Another middle-of-the-night call from the local PD wasn’t something Dad would be happy about. On second thought, bring on the cops. The look on his face would be so worth the aggravation.
I held my breath and listened. Not sounds coming from the party—men yelling.
Heavy footsteps stomping and thrashing through the brush.
The yelling came again—this time closer.
I crammed the cell back into my pocket, about to begin what was sure to be a messy climb up the embankment, when movement in the brush behind me caught my attention. I whirled in time to see someone stumble down the hill and land a few feet from the stream.
“Jesus!” I jumped back and tripped over an exposed root, landing on my butt in the mud. The guy didn’t move as I fumbled upright and took several wobbly steps forward. He’d landed at an odd angle, feet bare and covered in several nasty looking slices. I squinted in the dark and saw he was bleeding through his thin white T-shirt in several places as well as from a small gash on the side of his head. The guy looked like he’d gone ten rounds with a weed whacker.
Somewhere between eighteen and nineteen, he didn’t look familiar. No way he went to my high school. I knew pretty much everyone. He couldn’t have been at the party—he was cute. I would have remembered. I doubted he was even local. His hair was too long, and he was missing the signature Parkview T-shirt tan. Plus, even in the dark it was easy to make out well-defined arms and broad shoulders. This guy obviously hit the gym—something the local boys could’ve used.
I bent down to check the gash on the side of his head, but he jerked away and staggered to his feet as the yelling came again.
“Your shoes!” he growled, pointing to my feet. His voice was deep and sent tiny shivers dancing up and down my spine. “Give me your shoes!”
Buzzed or not, I was still pretty sharp. Whoever those guys yelling in the woods were, they were after him. Drug deal gone south? Maybe he’d gotten caught playing naked footsie with someone else’s girlfriend?
“Now!” he hissed.
I wouldn’t have even considered giving up my favorite pair of red Vans if he hadn’t looked so seriously freaked. He was being chased. He thought having my shoes would somehow help? Fine. Maybe as a weapon? Rocks would have worked better in my opinion, but to each his own.
Against my better judgment, I took several steps back and, without turning away from him, pulled them off. Stepping up, I tossed him the sneakers—and teetered forward. Instead of trying to catch me, he took a wide step back, allowing me to fall into the mud.
My frickin’ hero!