Authors: Amy Christine Parker
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright Â© 2016 by Amy Christine Parker
Cover photo copyright Â© 2016 by Adrianna Williams/Corbis
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Random House Children's Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
Random House and the colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.
ISBN 978-0-553-53382-8 (trade) â ISBN 978-0-553-53383-5 (ebook)
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For my family, with all my love
I'm breathless by the
time we reach the helipad on top of the US Bank Towerâexactly 1,018 feet above LA. The city sprawls out beneath us in all directions, a wide carpet of neon and white lights that dazzles me after the relative dark of the stairwell. It is heady stuff, seeing the world from this high, dizzyingâ¦and exactly what I need right now.
I laugh a little. My father was arrested this morning for a bank-fraud scheme that I still don't completely understand, and
the one preparing to jump off a building. I look over at my big brother, Quinn, and he's laughing, tooâprobably having the same thought I amâthat this is crazy, but a strangely Lexi-appropriate way to cheer ourselves up. He wouldn't be up here if it weren't for me. He says yes to my schemes because he likes to think of himself as my protector. I'm glad he does. I wouldn't have nearly as much fun doing this on my own.
Our tight band of friends and fellow adrenaline junkies are gathered around Quinn and meâOliver, Leo, and Elena. Five of us altogether. Elena's sister, Whitney, is the only one missingâif you don't count Derek, that is, and I don't. Whitney had to distract the night guard while we sneaked into the stairwell, and she'll drive the car to pick us up after we've gone over the edge. Derek's not here, because I didn't invite him. After tonight he won't be part of our little group anymore. Not that he really was to begin with. Just because we've been dating doesn't earn him a permanent place with us. I feel a twinge of guilt about it and maybe something else, something more difficult to pinpoint, but I don't want to dwell on that now. Not here. All in all, the vibe is right for this jump. And somehow the number for our group is back to normal. It feels decidedly lucky. We all feel it, I can tell.
Everyone's eyes are bright, their cheeks flushed. The impending free fall has them revved, has
revved. I can feel my whole body humming with a high that comes only from doing something outrageous, a high that most of the ground dwellers below us never experience. Alcohol and drugs can't touch it. It's 100 percent pure adrenaline and it's amazing. Addictive. No matter what maneuver we have plannedâthis jump or the motorcycle race we pulled off in the spillway last monthâthe thrill never weakens. These moments are the only times I ever feel truly alive.
It's the same for all of us, even Quinn, though he won't usually admit it and complains whenever I come up with some new dare. It's probably the main reason why we're all friends in the first place. It's how we choose to deal with problems. We don't have to face them if we keep moving fast enough, if things are exciting enough. If we keep distracting ourselves.
Leo shuts the stairwell door, so we're stuck out here. The only exit now is jumping. The slam of the closing door makes me wince, reminding me of this morning and the way our front door banged against the foyer wall as the FBI agents invaded our house, one after another rushing in, hands on their guns, eyes scanning every inch of our home like our whole lives were suspect and not just my father's. My heart was thundering in my chest then, too, especially as they dragged my father out into the yard, morning stubble shadowing his chin, his skin an ashen, guilty shade. I hated the way it felt in that moment, like my heart might start contractingâcharley-horsingâand never stop.
My father's in jail. Right now. Somewhere down there, in a cell. If he's convicted, he'll be in there until I'm his age, maybe longer.
I shake my head. I don't want to think about that anymore. That's why I'm up here. Quinn, too.
Keep moving; distract yourself and the hurt you feel will fade,
I tell myself.
“The security cameras are still down, but we don't have much time,” Quinn says, adjusting his gear one last time. My brother is a computer genius. He hacked the security from his laptop a week ago so that tonight's feed is of old footage. If they figure out we were up here, there won't be any recorded evidence. We are basically ghosts.
“This wind is ridiculous!” shouts Leo, my best friend in the whole world, his eyes squinted against it and steadily tearing up. His freckles are pronounced against his pale face.
“We need to get on one of the outcroppings over there to make sure we clear the building,” I say, gesturing to the right.
Leo lifts the camera he's carrying and looks through the lens, adjusts it, then looks again and starts snapping pictures of us: first Quinn, looking like Jason Bourne in his all-black clothes, and then Oliver and Elena, who are on the edge of the helipad platform with their arms around each other. “Your turn,” he says as he turns his camera on me.
I put my helmet under one arm and strike a pose. The rhinestones on my fingernails catch the light from the flash and look like twinkling stars for a second. I decided a while ago to embrace my inner bling monsterâthe Jimmy Chooâwearing, Prada bagâcarrying creature my mother raised me to be. As much as rebelling against anything that makes her happy appeals to me, I actually love all that stuff. Shallow or not, I don't care. The girlie glamour is too enticing, the dress-up fun of it. When I was little, I was obsessed with the girls in James Bond moviesâsexy and beautiful, but tough, too. Doing things like this jump makes me feel like one of them. Invincible.
“You're beautiful,” Leo says, not a trace of lust evident in his voice. This makes the compliment that much more flattering because there's no agenda attached to it. Plus, it doesn't make me want to squirm the way it would if, say, Derek said it.
he said it.
“Good,” I say, beaming.
“All right, enough pictures, let's go!” As usual, Oliver is amped, ready. This is especially true tonight, since his father's construction company just finished the renovation of this building. That's part of why we chose it. And because I'm a sucker for an architecturally distinct locale. It infuses the jump with a little extra finesse. Oliver has spent most of his life under the strict eye of his father, a man so rigid and physically abusive that he drove Oliver's mom back to her native Japan and powerful enough that he managed to maintain custody of his kids. By sneaking to the top of a building his father helped renovate, Oliver is defying him without actually having to do it to his face and risk his father's anger.
“Chill out. Rushing means mistakes,” I say. I haven't pored over building plans, structural details, weather conditions, and city maps just to leap off the instant Oliver decides he's ready. “We do it as planned, and that means climbing down to the ledge and
Tonight's maneuver is my baby, my contribution to the BAM (short for
) book we keep, an adrenaline-soaked alternative to a slam book, where we record all our adventuresâdocumented meticulously with Leo's photos and Elena's near-poetic descriptions of them. We started it to cheer up Oliver after his parents' divorce, a sort of joke that over the years became something bigger. Now we have more than twenty pages of capers, most of them directly related to crappy moments in one or all of our lives. Like my dad's arrest. Or Leo's mom's breakdown.
I put on my helmet and motion for everyone to follow me toward the far corner of the pad. We get on our stomachs and, one by one, lower ourselves to the narrow shelf below that borders the whole building, coming to points every so often so that from the sky it must look a bit like a starburst. The point nearest us is the one we need to useâfar from the stairway flanking the opposite side of the building and the other obstructions. Landing on them would be deadly.
Together we climb onto the lip that separates the shelf from the open sky, arms out like tightrope walkers' poles, the wind prodding at our backs, threatening to unbalance us. The streets below are mostly quiet this late at night, but there are still cars here and there, slowly making their way toward the freeway, the drivers totally unaware that we are up here watching them. Seeing the rest of the world from this high is freeing because it's too far away to feel real.
“Say âBAM,'â” Leo says as he snaps another picture that includes, I'm sure, the giant billboard with an advertisement for Left Coast Construction, Oliver's dad's company, plainly visible in the distance. Oliver will probably be tempted to hang it up in his room. The flash is blinding and I sway a bit.
“Hey, cut it out, man,” Oliver grumbles, struggling to balance. Elena latches on to his arm to keep from falling. He looks down at her and his expression softens. “How about a kiss, Lanie? For luck.” He pulls her closer, leans in to nuzzle her neck. This thing developing between them is about a year old and more intimate than I think any of us expected. Watching them feels odd, wrong. I'm not sure I like it. If it goes bad, it'll mess up our group. Elena's not good at staying faithful, though I think with Oliver she's trying. Still, the odds are against them.
Elena rolls her eyes. “I guess if it's in the name of luckâ¦” She tilts her head up and presses her lips to his as Leo takes another picture.
I look from Quinn to Leo to Oliver to Elena.
When the moment is right, I can always feel it. I look over the edge, hold a hand in the air, and judge the wind.
“Let's do this. I'm going first, okay?” I say.
“No. No deal. I go first. Or we don't go,” Quinn says in his best big-brother-in-charge voice, all low and firm and businesslike.
I don't fight him. He's the one guy I let tell me what to do. He has my back no matter what. The only one in our family who does. My father sure doesn't. Even if I didn't already know that, today makes it glaringly obvious. And my mother is the poster girl for bad decision-making. She said as much when the FBI agents pulled my father outside this morning. “Marrying you was a mistake,” she told Dad right up close, their noses nearly touching, her voice loud enough that all the neighbors gawking at the spectacle from the sidewalk could hear. Her face was pinched, her eyes streaming tears. “How could I have been so stupid?” The question isn't new. She asks it every time she and my father have a fight. It's meant to hurt him, but it hurts me, too. It makes me feel like maybe Quinn and I are part of what she regrets, extra ties to this man who she obviously doesn't love, who she maybe never loved. Sometimes when she says it, it makes me hate her. And sometimes it makes me hate my father for somehow tricking her into marrying him, but mostly it just makes me promise myself that I won't do what she did. I will never let some guy get so close that I get fooled into a destiny that I don't want.
“Okay. Fine. You go first. Steal my thunder. Rain on my parade,” I tease, putting a hand on Quinn's shoulder and squeezing it. “See you on the ground, big brother.” He leans his head to one side and rests it on my shoulder for a second, so unexpectedly tender that my throat feels thick and strangled, and I want to cry. He's the only guy I will ever depend on.
“Oh man, you got this!” Oliver hollers over a loud gust of wind. He's all riled up, jazzed like he's tempted to try to chest-bump the sky.
As nervous as I am for BASE jumpsâand I am always nervous, because even with months of prep and practice, the risk is enormousâwaiting for Quinn to land is always the worst part, that moment when I have an image of him falling fast, his chute not opening, then him hitting the ground. The picture in my mind is so sharp that I almost hear the heavy thud of his body's impact. It would be all my fault if he did. My idea. My jump. My risk. I have to fight the urge to tell him to sit this oneÂ out.
“Three, two, one.” He looks back at me long enough to wink and then dives straight out, arms spread wide, embracing the night. His chute deploys, an explosion of fabric. It fans out, filling with air, and he disappears beneath it.
“Later, losers,” Oliver says. He jumps without a countdown, saluting us with one hand as he steps out into the sky, his body already tilting forward into a stomach-down position.