The noise from the party raging downstairs seeped into my quiet space. I palmed my blue and red bouncy ball as I lay on my bed facing the wall. I threw it in the air a few times to watch the colors blur together before bouncing it off the wall above my headboard.
It was ten o’clock at night on a Thursday, and the party was just getting started. My parents said that having people over tonight was unavoidable. We were leaving for Cedar Ridge, Texas—a town too small to register on most maps—in a few days, and people wanted to say good-bye. Any other seventeen year old would probably be excited about sneaking a drink or having an excuse to buy a new dress, but not me. I wasn’t much of a party person. Or a people person.
With my stuff already packed up and the TVs unhooked, I was beyond bored. Still, there was no way I was going downstairs.
I’d disappeared to my room as soon as the caterers arrived. Since then, I’d found the end of the internet. Apparently there were only so many .gifs a girl could enjoy. Unless I wanted to pay for crappy re-runs, I was out of things to watch and left with only a bouncy ball to aid in my entertainment.
It’d been a bad idea to pack everything but my essentials so early. Twenty-three small boxes were stacked against the side of my room. Most of them were filled with books. The only stuff that I’d left unpacked would fit into a small duffel bag and my backpack.
But a bouncy ball was better than nothing, and much better than braving the crowd downstairs. I threw it to the beat of the music and counted down the seconds. Those would turn into minutes, and then into hours, and then eventually back into quiet so I could go to sleep. I was really looking forward to a fresh start. The sooner I could go to sleep, the sooner it’d be tomorrow.
Only three more nights until Texas. Until everything would change. I smiled at the thought. This girl could use some change.
A knock came from my door. “Bathroom’s downstairs,” I yelled. I held my breath as I listened, hoping they heard me.
The knob turned. Shit. I should’ve locked it.
I hopped off my bed. “Hey—”
“Whatcha doin’, Tessa?” My older brother, Axel, swung open the door.
I sat back down on the bed. He knew exactly what I was doing. “What do you want?”
He leaned against the doorframe. He was well over half a foot taller than me, but that didn’t mean much to my five feet and almost nothing inches. We had the same wavy dark brown hair—when he let his grow—and the same dark brown eyes, thanks to our Latina mom. “Dad wants you to come downstairs, even if it’s just for a minute. People are asking about you.”
I made a face. “I’d rather not. Cover for me?”
“What if I said a certain celeb was down there?” He waggled his eyebrows. “The one who I saw you drooling over last week?”
I threw the ball at him and he caught it, laughing. The jerk. Dad’s combo of PR work and law degree made him a hot commodity in Hollywood. He now had an enviable number of high profile clients. If I were more into the LA scene, then maybe the guest list would’ve been appealing.
I chewed on my lip, unable to deny the draw of my latest actor crush—James MacAvoy. Nothing hotter than a guy with a sexy Scottish accent. “He’s really downstairs?”
I thought for a second and then sighed. “Still can’t do it. I don’t want to destroy the illusion that my favorite Scotsman is absolute perfection. What if he has a zit? Or spills something on himself? Or worse—what if I accidentally touch him and get a vision? The dream will shatter. And that, big brother, is not worth it. Even if I was willing to risk having a million other random visions, which I’m not.”
He rolled his eyes at me and stepped into my room.
“Hey!” I jumped off the bed. “Don’t come in here. This is a clean zone.” He knew I wasn’t referring to the fact that I was a neat-freak, but that everything in the room was new. Touched by a minimal amount of people. It was my only defense. A quick brush of skin-against-skin, or even skin-against-other-person’s-property, was sometimes enough to give me an in-depth view into their mind. As much as that might sound like fun, it was usually more icky than cool.
He held up his hands. “Please, Tess. I know the drill.” He moseyed his way to my bed and collapsed. “Come here.” He patted his side.
I looked at him suspiciously. “The shirt’s new?”
I lay down on my side next to him, resting my head on his chest.
A quick vision of a factory in some Asian country filled my mind. The humid heat had me sweating as the clacking of hundreds of sewing machines echoed in my head.
“Are you sweating?” Axel’s voice brought me back to my room. “Christ. It’s like lying next to a furnace.”
I elbowed him as I rolled away. “Your fault. That’s a sweatshop shirt you’re wearing.”
“Shit. I actually liked this shirt.” He pulled it away from his chest, making a face as if it’d suddenly grown mold. “I should let you touch my stuff before I buy anything.”
I wiped the sweat from my brow. “If you like it, then wear it. You already did whatever damage you were going to do by buying it in the first place. You never would’ve known if you didn’t have a freak for a sister.”
He was quiet for a second. “You’re going to have to come out of this room at some point. You can’t hide forever.”