Part 1

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Sixteen-year-old Della Tsang had never seen a ghost until she saw her dead cousin zip across the street and duck into the alley. If it hadn’t been for the streetlight spitting out its spray of wattage overhead, she might have missed him. 

And if it hadn’t been for a scar that ran along his chin, she might have thought it was just someone who looked like Chan. Then again, it was after midnight. But she had spotted the scar.   A scar she’d sort of given him when they’d been six, jumping on the trampoline and he’d collided with her head.

Hardheaded Della had been her family nickname after that. Sometimes Della wondered if she’d really been obstinate then, or if the name had just been another thing for her to live up to. Being of Asian descent, there were high expectations, sometimes too high. But because she and her sister were half-white, her father insisted they work twice as hard to prove that their parents’ love hadn’t tainted the family tree.

A pair of headlights moving down the road pulled Della’s attention from the alley where Chan had disappeared. Not that she completely believed it was Chan. Did she? 

The car drew nearer, and thinking it was Lee to pick her up, Della stepped off her best friend Lisa’s front porch, leaving the sound of the party still going on behind her.

At least twice a month, Della and Lee tried to sneak away so they could be together for an entire night. She knew her parents would freak if they knew she and Lee were sleeping together. It wouldn’t even matter that they were practically engaged. But at least Lee had gotten a stamp of approval from her father. Luckily, she agreed with him, too.  Not that she agreed with her father on everything. However, Lee was everything Della wanted in a boyfriend─hot, popular, smart, and thankfully for her father’s sake, Asian. It didn’t even bother her that Lee wasn’t totally into the party scene. 

She gave the alley one last look. It couldn’t have been Chan. She’d attended his funeral less than a year ago—had seen his casket being lowered into the ground. She remembered she hadn’t cried.  Her father had insisted she not. She wondered if her father would be disappointed if he knew that very night, while alone in bed, she had cried her eyes out.

When the car drove closer, Della realized she’d been wrong. It wasn’t Lee. She watched as the car moved down the street, past the alley. She stood there, staring, suddenly feeling alone in the dark, when her phone beeped with an incoming text.

Pulling it out, she read the message. Parents still up. Will b late.

Frowning, she re-pocketed her phone and her gaze shifted back to the alley.  What would it hurt to just . . . go check? To prove that ghosts didn’t exist.

Moving slowly in the shadows, she neared the alley. The cold of the January night seeped through her leather jacket and the soft tap-tapping of her footsteps seemed loud. Maybe too loud. No sooner had she cut the corner than she heard yelling. She stopped short. Her breath caught at the sight of the fight—or out-and-out war—taking place. The sound of fist hitting flesh filled the cold darkness and she saw bodies being tossed up in the air like rag dolls.

Della might not have been familiar with this darker side of life, but she immediately knew what she’d stumbled on.  A gang war. Her heart jumped into her throat. She had to get out of here and fast.

She stepped back, but the heel of her shoe twisted and she lost her footing. Her leg shot up in the air and she went down with a loud thud.

Slamming butt first, her hands went back to catch herself. She felt a sharp pain in her palm, no doubt from a piece of glass from a broken beer bottle a few inches away. Wincing, she muttered, “Shi . . .”  The one-word curse hadn’t yet left her lips when the dead silence suddenly drew her attention upward. The fighting had stopped and at least six guys, young, about her age, starting moving toward her. Moving oddly, as if . . .  Their posture reminded her of a pack of animals coming to check out their prey. 

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