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CHAPTER 1 - AURIE

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August 9 | Friday Night

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August 9 | Friday Night

No way I was living my best life.

Not with my baby sis along. I side-eyed Haley, the caramel vixen leaning far beyond the balcony for a selfie. In the background, New Orleans traffic lit the night from thirty-five stories below. Shaking my head, I pulled my sister to safety.

"Hey! I was mid-slay." Haley's almond eyes glittered with amusement. People swore we looked alike, but I didn't see it.

"That Snapchat filter can't really make wings sprout from your skinny back," I said.

"This 'skinny back' got us into a VIP party."

"I'm aware," I snorted, "and your cover girl looks will probably get us in more trouble by the end of the night."

Trouble was Haley's calling card.

"Don't be such a killjoy," she said with a grin.

Being a killjoy was my calling card, also known as, "being responsible." As much as I yearned for Big Easy excitement, Mom would go apeshit if she knew I, the college honors student, had allowed the high schooler to crash this upscale shindig.

"Alright, it's almost midnight. Time to go," I said.

"I told you we could get in without being on the guest list. You lost the bet."

"Because you flashed the doorman. Plus, I'm not even sure he spoke English. I could kill you!"

"You owe me," Haley said smugly. She was having a blast.

"Okay, I might've been wrong about the guest list, but look in there. Any of that worth the trouble we'll be in if we get caught?" I waved at the suite beyond the sliding doors. The décor was luxury and decadence. Drugs everywhere. Sex acts, all out in the— "Never mind, don't look. Just picture cops raiding the place."

"Girl, you know as well as I do the cops won't raid this party."

Haley was right. Half the guests struck me as celebs, which meant some were probably her followers. She was famous on the 'Gram. This bougie-meets-trap party was exactly Haley's scene. I was the one hiding outside on the balcony.

Here was a corner of quiet sanity. A wicker sectional with comfy cerulean pillows offered seating. Lush lime green ferns danced in a late summer breeze. Hidden speakers piped music out to us. Through the sliding patio doors, the four-star hotel room had a rich, dark aesthetic. Like any secret could be kept within its walls.

But I reluctantly followed my sister back inside. We passed three loungers on an emerald davenport manifesting fashion as a way of life while I barely matched socks. One of them blinked at me with opaque black contacts covering their entire exposed eyeball, and I shuddered.

"Well, if I wasn't babysitting," I said over the music, "maybe I could enjoy the smell of—what is that—vintage malt liquor and designer weed? I prefer being online. It's safer."

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