My eyes pop open as my head bobs forward. I clinch them shut against the glare.
“Wake up, Jayda!”
I hold my head as Francie’s voice boomerangs around my skull. “What part of my hating mornings do you not understand?” Pulling the hood of my sweatshirt up, I yank the tie closed over my eyes and the seat-belt digs into my shoulder as I turn away.
“The part where you aren’t excited for a road-trip escapes me.” Francie pinches my knee and I giggle helplessly.
“Okay!” I gulp air to fight a hiccup, “I’m awake, and you win.”
“I always win.” She says. “Happy twenty-fifth birthday, Jayda!”
I laugh and stretch my legs, my toes curling in my slippers.
“I can’t believe you didn’t even put on shoes.” Francie says.
I dig into the hodgepodge cluttering the backseat and find the sneakers I had tossed in. “At what point between you crawling through my bedroom window, yanking me out of bed, and stuffing me into this car before the sun had even had a chance to wink at the moon, would I have had an opportunity to put on shoes?”
“Oh please, we’ve done a birthday road trip for six years. You knew it was coming.”
I yawn and pull a bottle of aspirin from my purse. “At least I have the decency to wait for you to wake up before your yearly kidnapping.”
“How much caffeine,” I tip an eyebrow, “have you had?”
She shakes theatrically, her eyes bugging out as she exaggerates her smile. “None, I swear.”
I shake my head and fish my overnight bag from behind me. I absentmindedly scrub the night from my tongue, replacing it with Cinnominty Fresh! I swish water and spit it out the window. “Where are we going?” I rake a comb through my hair.
“Where—within a four hour drive—have you always talked about going?”
My eyes widen. “No!” I shake my head. “Sahnktowaga Cabin?”
Francie wriggles her eyebrows with an evil glower and laughs.
“Please tell me you’re joking.”
“You’re such a baby. There’s nothing scary about that place any more, and you can’t call yourself an adult until you’ve spent the night there.”
I switch out my pajama top for a blue long sleeved shirt. “If we’re spending the night, why are we going up so early?”
“Can you get my water bottle?” She helps me as I shrug on a jacket. “It’s on the floor behind me.”
As I turn, I’m thrown forward, my head snapping to the side. “What the heck?”
“Sorry! I swear, truckers drive me crazy.”
“Warn me next time.” I hand her the bottle, my phone beeping.
Happy birthday, to the most gorgeous woman on the planet. Can’t wait to see you. Love you, babe.-Percy
Heat crawls up my neck.
“I know that smile.” Francie says. “How are things going with you two?”
“Won’t it be a little awkward if Percy is at the cabin?”
“He’s not going to be there.” She frowns. “Why do you always change the subject when it comes to him?”
“Oh, I just thought—”
“This is our time.” She tightens her grip on the wheel.
“You know I don’t care if you date Percy.” She rubs her forehead. “He and I broke up so long ago.”
Francie coughs, clearing her throat, and I cringe seeing the tears in her eyes. “It’s just going to be you and me today, lunch, and hiking around the cabin.”
“Since when do you hike?”
“Since I found a cute pair of hiking boots.” Her lips purse. “I want to break them in. Besides, someone needs to tire you out.”
“Tire me out?” I stifle a laugh and shake my head. “Why? So you can slit my throat in my sleep?”
She shrugs. “Maybe.”
“Honestly, we should just go to the mall and a hotel—”
“We’re going to the cabin!” She scowls.
I pull back.
“It’s just you and me today,” Francie relaxes her shoulders, “and we’re doing something different. Something you’ve wanted to do, for your birthday. End of story. I swear, you can be so selfish sometimes.”
The stars overhead, my feet scream as we make our way up the hill, our bags and purses hanging from arms and necks. I bite my tongue to keep from speaking.
“Having fun?” Francie says as she bumps past me on the trail. “Hiking,” she pants, “was so easy. No wonder you and Percy love it so much.”
I gulp as the shadow of the cabin stretches to meet us.
“Why are you being so quiet, Jayda?”
I shrug and drop my bag on the porch, taking a seat and motioning for her to sit beside me.
“I’m not going in until you tell me what’s going on.”
She taps the toe of her boot, wincing, and rolls her eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Bull-beans.” I snort. “You’ve been snippy, snarky, and a mean-girl imitation since lunch. What’s going on?”
I frown at the quivering in her voice. “I know when you’re lying.”
She clears her throat, hesitating before she throws her arms around me. “I’m sorry. I really want you to be happy, and I don’t want to spoil your night.” She says, her tears wetting my cheek. “Give me your pocket knife and I’ll get some twigs or something to start a fire.”
“Just give it to me, please.”
She prods at my hip and I begrudgingly hand it over.
“Go in, I’ll be right behind you.”
I shudder as I turn to the door. Looking over my shoulder I see the moonlight bouncing off her hair as she slips into the bushes. I open my mouth to call to her, but stop myself. Whatever it is, she’ll tell me in her own time. She always does.
As I open the door, my eyes widen. The room is cast in the glow of candle light, rose petals scattered across the floor.
“Surprise.” In the center of the room Percy kneels, an open ring box in his hand as Francie’s scream splits the air.
Thank you so much for reading! Have a question you’d like to ask Jayda? Leave it in a comment below and I’ll be sure to include it in my next character interview.