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Chapter Note: Cora has another chapter that comes before this, which I am currently working on. I’ve been bouncing around a bit with this book. Sorry for any confusion!!
“Hello?” Cora said softly, stepping into the light. She tugged on the hood of her sweatshirt, wishing it covered more of her head. She knew her face still showed, but at least it provided a sense of security.
A boy and a girl stood in front of her. They looked about fifteen, like she was, but the strange thing was that they looked nothing alike.
So how did they meet?
She looked around at her surroundings. Two trees rose to meet a long pole, and the sides were closed off with tall branches. The strangers sat in front of what looked like a makeshift fire, but they didn’t seem to be having any luck getting a spark.
“Oh,” Cora said, “I have some matches in my backpack. That is, if you’d like to use them.”
The girl smiled back at Cora. “That would be amazing. We’re a bit stuck here, as you can probably tell.” She motioned toward the unlit fire.
Cora nodded. “Mind if I be ‘stuck’ with you? I don’t have anywhere else to be tonight.” She dropped her gaze to the ground, but was surprised to notice that they gave her sympathetic glances.
The boy spoke up. “I’m Hawk. This is Aliya. Michael should be back in a minute.”
Almost as if on cue, a second boy made his way over.
“Finally found a few rocks. They’re kind of thin, but they’ll have to do at this point.” Michael dropped them on the ground, then caught Cora’s gaze on him. “Does anyone care to explain who this is?”
“Oh, this is…” Aliya began, looking at Cora, then stopped. “Sorry, I didn’t actually catch your name.”
“Cora.” She smiled nervously.
“Right. Cora said she has matches we can use. Plus, she’s like us. I think we can make room for her. What do you guys think?”
“The more the merrier,” Hawk said.
“I guess she can stay.” Michael shrugged.
“Thank you, guys. I really appreciate it.” Cora sat down by the firepit and watched as Aliya took Michael’s stones, then lay them around the edges, sticking them a few inches into the ground. Cora unzipped her backpack and pulled out the box of matches. She found the snacks that her father had packed for her and a pang of sadness hit her.
“It, er, doesn’t look like you have anything to eat. I have a few granola bars, if you’d like them.” She made sure to keep her head down as she spoke, in case she started crying.
“If you’re not going to eat them, then that would be awesome. My poor stomach is like, ‘Bro, where’s the food at? Do you hate me or something? What did I ever do to you?’” Hawk said. Then he paused in thought. “Actually, there was that one time when I had a bad batch of Mcdonald’s Chicken Tenders and my digestive system hated me for days, so maybe this is its punishment for making me sick.” He patted his stomach.
Aliya grimaced. “Hawk, that’s super weird.”
“Hey, I do what I must to lighten the moment.”
Cora found herself smiling, even though she wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was the fact that she had people to be around- people who didn’t seem to be judging her for being quiet. Or maybe it was because she was starting to feel more relaxed.
There was also the possibility that Hawk’s sense of humor was just that bad.
Still smiling, she tossed a chocolate chip granola bar to him- but he wasn’t expecting it and it hit him on the head.
“Sorry!” She said, cupping her hands over her mouth to hide her laughter.
“Geez, Cora, I’ve suffered enough brain damage over the years as it is…” Hawk shook his head, but he was smiling, too.
“I just hope that didn’t hurt as much as the amount of embarrassment I just caused myself.”
They locked eye contact for a moment before bursting into laughter.
“Sorry, this really isn’t that funny,” Cora said, struggling to keep her giggling fit under control. “It’s been a really rough day.”
“No, no, I get it. Sometimes a little humor is exactly what you need.”
Michael rolled his eyes. “As much as I’d love to watch you guys obsess over your ridiculousness, we need to concentrate. Cora? The matches?”
“Oh. Sorry.” She found the small red box, handed it to him, and sighed mentally. Is he going to be like this the whole time we’re here?
Maybe she’d be gone before long anyway.
“Woah, don’t give those things to me,” Michael protested as Cora handed the matches to him. “Aliya’s the one in charge of the fire.”
The matches were passed over to Aliya, and she struck one against the side of the box. A small flame started up but was quickly whisked away by the breeze.
“Darn,” she muttered. “The wind isn’t going to make this easy.”
“Here, let me,” Hawk said, attempting the light the fire with a second match. Still no luck.
“This isn’t working. Can’t we just give up on it already? It’s not that cold out.” Michael crossed his arms.
“Dude, seriously? I’m freezing over here.”
Cora nodded. “I’m with Hawk. Can I try the matches again?”
“That won’t be necessary,” a new voice boomed.