eight.

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Steam wafted off the pond in the Fischer's backyard, sending ribbons of smoke into the night. The October air was cold and biting against my cheeks, and the mug of hot chocolate clutched between my hands did little to warm me up.

"Fancy a night cap?" Leah said with a smirk as she returned to her back porch, holding a handle of vodka and sloshing the bottle of liquid around in front of me. She took the seat across from me at the creaky wrought iron table, where we had spent countless nights like this talking about everything and nothing.

"Hurry up, before my fingers freeze off." I shoved my mug in her hands as she generously poured the vodka into my hot chocolate. I took a long sip and sighed as burning liquid hit the back of my throat, instantly filling me with a dizzy warmth.

Leah picked at her nails in silence. Crickets and toads croaking echoed in the dark.

"So, Braxton asked me to go to homecoming with him," Leah finally said, not looking up from her hands. "Pulled me aside after cheer practice and gave me a rose and everything."

"That's actually kind of cute," I replied, taking another sip of hot chocolate. "I like Braxton. He's one of Jayden's few friends that isn't a total neanderthal."

"Yeah, he's nice I guess," she muttered. "I said no."

"What? Why?"

Leah still wouldn't look up at me, and I already knew where this conversation was headed before she even had a chance to speak. I could always tell when she was lying. It was in her eyes.

"Leah..." I felt like my mother, with warning and disappointment laced in my voice. "If you really thing your bullshit college girlfriend is going to miraculously appear and take you to a high school dance, you're dreaming."

The image of Leah slumped over on the curb in front of Freya's sorority house a few weeks ago flashed angrily in my head.

"You don't know that," Leah pleaded. She finally looked up, and I could see the lost hopefulness in her eyes. "I know you don't like Freya, but-"

"I don't like anyone who lets their friends torment someone they supposedly care about," I bit back.

"That's rich, coming from you." Leah folded her arms over her chest.

"Don't start." I groaned and pointed a finger at her. "I mean it, don't go there."

"You went there first," Leah replied in a mocking tone. "Why is it okay for you to date someone I don't like, but I can't date someone you don't like?"

"Because at least Jayden acknowledges our relationship," I snapped. "Freya doesn't even want to be seen in public with you, and when she does, she lets her stupid sorority sisters put drugs in your drink. How do you think that's okay?"

"The same reason you think it's okay for Jayden to tell you what to wear or who you can and can't talk to." Leah's voice became painfully hushed as she gingerly stirred her hot chocolate with a spoon. "But I guess we do stupid things for love."

My head pounded. I groaned and rubbed my face with my hands. "You fall in love everyone, Leah."

"Well, it's better than not loving anyone," she retorted, her voice still eerily calm.


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