Vanished - E. E. Cooper

CHAPTER ONE

Temptation is a tricky thing—just ask Eve. That girl got a bad reputation over a single apple. Tossed out of the Garden of Eden because of one teensy bite. Talk about harsh. It’s not like she took out the whole tree. I understood why she did it, though. Even when you know the risk, there are things too tempting to walk away from even if you know you should. For Eve, the possible sweetness had outweighed the dangers. I could relate. For me it was worth it, despite the guilt. But of course, I hadn’t been caught yet. It’s a whole different conversation once you’re busted.

I fanned some crackers onto the plate next to the slices of Brie and debated if I should add anything else to the tray. I’d already laid out a small bowl of almonds, some grapes, and a dozen of my dad’s famous chocolate coconut cookies. I might as well have pulled on a T-shirt proclaiming: Look at me! I’m trying entirely too hard! Beth and Britney were my best friends, but I still felt this huge pressure to impress them.

I carried the tray up the stairs. I never used to worry that much about impressing anyone, but hanging out with Brit and Beth was like finding myself on a treadmill that has a problem with the speed control. Sometimes life was going so fast I could hardly keep up, and then without warning it would slow way down and I would almost face-plant onto the belt. But it was never dull. Since they’d pulled me into their world, it felt as if my senses were on high alert. I was hyperaware of everything. I hadn’t even known that my life had been blunted and dull before them.

As I walked up to my room I could hear them bickering. Britney and Beth were superclose, but they fought all the time. Britney would get pissed over some perceived slight. Beth would get mad that Britney was being so uptight. They’d vow before lunch they weren’t going to hang out ever again and then by sixth period the whole thing would be forgotten. I’d learned to just roll with it. They called each other B, ostensibly because their first names both started with the letter, but in reality it was a way to jokingly call each other bitch. In my mind they were almost more like sisters than best friends. They might go at each other, but if someone else went after one of them they would defend each other to the death.

I paused outside my room. Their voices were getting louder.

“Will you give it a rest? I’m not talking about this anymore,” Beth said.

“It’s not up to you,” Britney fired back.

Beth snorted. “Last time I checked, if it’s my mind, it is up to me.”

I pushed the bedroom door open with my foot. Britney’s mouth shut with a snap when she saw me. “I’ve got snacks,” I said. I hated how my voice sounded like an overeager nursery school teacher trying to distract the kids from clubbing each other with boxes of crayons.

Beth laughed when she saw the tray. “Think you brought enough food?” I wanted to run back downstairs and just bring up a bag of chips like a normal person, but it was too late. As soon as I put the tray down she leaned in to pick up a cookie. She held it out to Britney as a peace offering. “Here, my darling B, a bit of sweet for the sweet.”

Britney’s lips pursed like she’d sucked on a lemon. “Do you have any idea what’s in them?” She turned to me. “Are they made with butter?”

I hesitated. Knowing my dad, they were loaded with it. His two favorite ingredients were fat and sugar—because of his French heritage, he claimed.

Beth stood up on my bed holding the cookie aloft. “I declare that as these are my birthday cookies, they have no calories and may safely be consumed by all.”

Britney chucked one of my pillows at her. “Your birthday isn’t until tomorrow.”

Beth grinned and dropped to her knees on the bed. “Fine, Miss Play by the Rules, I declare these cookies to be only half the calories due to the proximity of my upcoming, practically today, depending what time zone we are in, birthday.”

“I’ll stick with fruit,” Brit said, taking the smallest, most stunted grape from the bunch. I almost expected her to nibble it in half and put the remainder back on the plate.

Beth shrugged.