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I pedaled down the side of the road, relying on passing headlights to lead my way. No one knew I was out here. No one. What if a car slammed into me, knocking me into a ditch? If I didn't die from my injuries, I'd freeze to death long before anyone spotted my crumpled bike.

A bitter January gust whipped my hair into my eyes. I was shivering so hard, I could barely steer my bike in a straight line. I pulled my hood up with one shaking hand while cars honked and swerved, choking me with their exhaust fumes.

I veered onto the dirt and climbed off my bike, coughing so hard that it brought tears to my eyes. This was the craziest thing I'd ever done, and right now it didn't seem worth it. As I waited for a caravan of trucks to rumble by, I dried my sweaty palms on my jeans, crinkling the paper inside my pocket to make sure that the letter I'd found in the mailbox—without a stamp or return address—was still there. What kind of meeting required sneaking out of the house at ten on a school night, anyway? But I knew if I didn't show up, I'd never find out.

My worst fear was that this was all some kind of joke. If it was, I knew who was behind it. I'd been Tiffany Miller's scapegoat since kindergarten, and it had only gotten worse in middle school. She used to stick gum in my hair, and when I wore something new, she left her mark with a pen. Kid stuff, Mom had said. Whatever, it still stung.

Five months ago, right before my senior year, the Law Offices of Posner and Huggins had offered my father a partnership. Moving won't be so bad, I'd thought, other than leaving my best friend, Sofie. It was only to a different part of the state. But the laugh was on me when Tiffany's father, a corporal in the Army, transferred his family to the military base a few miles away. How nice, Mom had said, a familiar face at your new school. But then, she'd always been out of touch with reality. Mine, at least.

The thing was, the invitation wasn't really Tiffany's style. She wasn't the type to plan ahead. What if someone else wrote the letter, someone who really did want me to join a special club? Yeah, right, I told myself, trying to keep my expectations in check. Since starting school, no one had asked me anything deeper than "What's your name?" or "Where'd you come from?" But at five foot one, with a huge ponytail that slapped everyone in the chest, I didn't exactly blend in with the cement-block walls. What if someone had noticed me?

I finally reached Stafford Pond and leaned my bike against a cracked bench dotted with bird crap. My stomach contracted as I turned around in a circle, careful not to leave my back exposed for more than a second. Was someone hiding out there, watching me?


I scanned the opaque curtain of trees, searching for the whites of an eye, the flash of a camera, the sound of hushed laughter. I'd prepared myself for many scenarios, but not nothing. My pulse throbbed in my ears, muffling the rattle of the wind through the trees. I checked the time on my cell phone. Eight minutes after ten. What if they'd thought I wasn't going to show up and had already left?

I exhaled slowly to calm my heart, which was still thrashing inside me from the stress of sneaking out of my house. The sliding glass door had offered the perfect escape route. Of course, I'd only made it halfway up the hilly side yard before I slipped on a patch of ice and went flying into a rusted wheelbarrow that pitched to the side with a dramatic thwack. I'd crawled behind the air-conditioner unit and peered around it into the living room.

Mom had been stretched out on the couch, a leg on Dad's lap. She'd eyed the window before turning back to her favorite weight-loss show. They probably couldn't imagine that their daughter would be anywhere except in bed. The trust I'd "earned" over the years was proof of my boring life.

Only, tonight wasn't so boring. I was standing in the middle of a desolate park like a bull's-eye. I glanced at the massive mulberry tree that stood guard over the pond. If I climbed it, I could see them before they saw me. I reached for the lowest branch and hauled myself up.

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