CHAPTER ONE – ARIA

“Did you hear me, Aria?” my older sister, April, calls from her bedroom.

“I heard you,” I mumble back. I’m looking out her front window, which has a view of the city down below. She’s technically on a side street, but this is a corner apartment, so the bustling busyness of State Avenue in the Gingerbread neighborhood is in full view.

I can’t believe I get to live here for a month on my own. It’s almost too good to be true. I’ve pinched myself so many times today testing to see if I was dreaming, I have a bruise on my arm.

“What did I say?” April pokes her head out through the open door and taps her foot, irritated.

“You said”—I sigh—“there’s some stupid board meeting tonight at the Creative Co-op and I have to attend in your place. I heard you.”

She smiles. Right answer.

I cut her some slack. Because she got called away last-minute to go do a series of photoshoots in Australia and now her whole life is up in fantastic disarray because her flight leaves in four hours and she’s got twenty minutes left to pack before she has to rush to the airport.

“What else?”

“Feed the cat,” I say, reaching over to pet Felix. He meows and arches his back, crying to get more out of the quick rub.

She waggles her finger at me and says, “And no sex parties.”

Which makes me huff a laugh. As if I’m even having sex.

“Also, stay away from my toys.”

“Gross!”

“You borrow everything else.”

“I’m not going to borrow your vibrator, April. You’re disgusting.”

She cackles out a laugh and returns to packing.

We are as different as night and day. She is blonde, and perky, and has an exciting career as an apprentice for a huge fashion photographer. She wears fun clothes, and goes fun places, and has a bazillion fun friends and even funner boyfriends. She is outgoing and bubbly, never afraid to try new things.

Me, on the other hand… I’m what they call the quiet one. I like books and take school seriously. My hair is dark red and no one has ever called me perky and fun. And while I know lots of people and consider most of them acquaintances, I don’t really have close friends. No BFF and no one I hang out with after school because I go to school in the city and live an hour away in the suburbs.

Every morning for the past four years I’ve ridden into the city and back home with my father. And the kids in my neighborhood all go to school locally. So they have their own social circles now. All the kids I used to be friends with back in middle school have moved on and forged new circles of friends. So now, when I’m home, I’m just the girl they used to hang out with.

It’s not that no one invites me places, it’s just I don’t really fit in when I try to hang out. The neighborhood kids are all into their sports. And I have zero interest in going to football and baseball games to cheer on kids I barely know anymore.

And all my city friends have after-school clubs. Or go to the same church, or are members of the same country clubs.

It’s just weird and kind of hard to explain. Plus, unlike April, who got a car for her sixteenth birthday and could go places without my father dropping her off and picking her up, I got a spring break trip to Space Camp for my sixteenth birthday. Which was totally fun, but didn’t help my social life much.

It’s not like I’m complaining. I barely saw my father when I was younger because he worked such long hours and we lived so far from his job. And now we have a great relationship, even if most of our quality time is spent during the morning and evening commute.

Anyway, that’s why I don’t have a lot of friends to hang out with and why this little adventure in the city is pretty much the highlight of my life.

April and I are different in other ways too. She’s one of those artistic people. She draws, and paints, and dances, and plays two instruments. Also very cool. But also… so not me. The total extent of my artistic ability is manipulating photos in Photoshop. But that’s just a hobby. I’m thinking about going into banking like my father.

After I finish college, that is.

Well, after I finish high school and then college, that is.

But high school barely counts anymore. I have six weeks left and I get to spend almost all of that time here, in April’s apartment, taking care of Felix and pretending I’m an adult.

Which almost isn’t pretend anymore because my birthday is in two days.

I’m a product of the sprawling, wealthy suburbs, which translates to sheltered, right? I see the real world from the other side of a window while sitting in the passenger seat of my father’s Mercedes.

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