"Happy Birthday, Olivia!" Liam announced. He wore a sly smile on his face. "I know you said no presents, but you say that every year." He withdrew a sparkly pink present from his backpack, bouncing with every step he took.
"Seriously?" I groaned.
Despite my protests, we took a seat under a wilting birch tree on the school grounds. The end-of-school bell rang only moments ago, but at the first opportunity, Liam dragged me through the crowd and to our usual hangout. The promise of a surprise twinkled in his brown eyes.
He knew I hated surprises.
My eyebrows knitted together as I observed the box. "Pink? Really?"
Liam ruffled his hair. "The only wrapping paper I had was from Clara's birthday last month. Now shut up and open it. You'll like it, I promise."
I grinned. Clara was Liam's nine-year-old sister. I was lucky -- the gift could have been covered in unicorns or Disney princesses.
I took the present from his outstretched hands, lifted it to my ear, and shook it gently.
"What is it?"
"It won't bite you, Liv." Liam laughed. "Open it and see."
Despite Liam's comment, presents didn't scare me. And even though he loved to make fun of my expression when I received one, he knew that gifts were a somewhat foreign concept to me. My birthday coincided with the death of my aunt, so it wasn't a happy occasion. Liam understood that.
I rolled my eyes at Liam's lame joke and ripped apart the wrapping paper. Inside was a simple, silver bracelet. It had a charm in the shape of a red flame emblazoned on the side opposite the clasp. I shifted my gaze to the right and chuckled. Beside the jewellery lay a set of stripy birthday candles -- an inside joke that I'd almost forgotten about.
"It's lovely," I murmured. "Thank you."
I dropped the box into my lap and looked up at my best friend.
People often told us we looked like siblings, and with our identical brown hair and eyes, I could see why. But the similarities ended with our appearance. Liam was the human equivalent of a megaphone, with his boisterous laugh and joke for every occasion. I tended to sit on the sidelines, and I was happier in his shadow. Not that I was envious of his popularity, quite the opposite. With Liam around, I was invisible to most of the school, which was a good thing.
Liam scrunched his forehead in thought, unbothered that I was staring. I tended to zone out a lot, and he was used to it.
"Mum will kill me if she sees any of this Liam." I fiddled with the hem of my jumper. "You know how she feels about fire. We can't even have a gas hob in the kitchen."
YOU ARE READING
Named after the aunt who burned down her high school, Olivia Peterson never had a chance at a normal life. But when an innocent birthday tradition results in a new set of curtains-and an unforgiving hole scorched into her carpet-Olivia realises that...