The Wrong Path - By Vivian Marie Aubin du Paris

Chapter One

There were strange noises outside the window.

Annabelle Priestly slowly set down her book as she sat up from her reclining position on the bed, reaching over to silence the dull hum of her clock radio. She stared through her open window into the darkness beyond.

As she waited in trepidation for another sound, she silently cursed her parents for stealing all of the fans in the house to keep their own room cool in the stifling heat. It was an unusually warm autumn, and the only way to get any air into the stuffy second-floor bedroom was to leave her window open and the curtains drawn to let in the late-night breeze—a decision she hadn’t considered as dangerous until she heard the scuffling outside.

A cold sweat broke out over her body as she heard a loud scraping noise reverberate its way into her room. It wasn’t a familiar sound, but she recognized it immediately.

Someone was climbing up the tree outside.

Slowly, as if cautious movements would somehow change her fate, she crept over to the window, leaning out to see into the darkness. It was stupid, of course. Screaming for her mom or dad would have been the wiser decision. But morbid curiosity drew her to the unknown, peering out to see who was making their way up the tree.

And there, in the filtered moonlight streaming in through the branches, she recognized her next-door neighbor Will, reaching for the branch that led to his window, directly across from hers. For a moment she was relieved, a feeling that quickly morphed into painful fury.

“Will,” she breathed, trying to calm the frantic pounding in her heart. His head snapped behind him, his body spinning with the deftness of a cat as he turned to look at her. For a moment she was taken aback by his gracefulness, then decided with a bit of annoyance it was no wonder he was so graceful if he was climbing trees at all hours of the night. “What on earth are you doing? You scared me to death!”

His boyish features were shadowed by the tree branches, but she could still see the charming, impish grin he offered. “Sorry,” he apologized, his voice as soft as the night around them. She watched as he swung himself fluidly around the tree, perching on the branch that led to her window. Up close, with the aid of the dull yellow light of her bedside lamp, she could see he wasn’t in great condition—his hair was mussed, there was a scratch along his cheek, and his clothes looked rumpled and slightly skewed.

“What happened to you?” she asked, shocked. His mother used to talk to her mom about Will, and his troubles, at length at the country club while Annabelle had been forced to stand there and listen, but Annabelle had never really witnessed any of it herself. She and Will hung out with very different groups at school, and with him being a year younger, they didn’t share any classes, so she rarely saw him except for when they passed each other outside their houses or in the halls at school.

Will almost instinctively touched the scratch on his cheek, and again offered an impish smile. “Nothing,” he assured her. “What are you doing up so late?”

She frowned at his change of subject. “You’re going to ask me that?” she returned, refusing to be swayed. “When your mother sees you—“

“Why do you think I’m using the window?” he interrupted smoothly.

“How are you going to hide that?” she countered, nodding at his cut. Mrs. Scarlett had been diagnosed with cancer almost nine months earlier, and since then, her body had continued to grow weaker. Even the slightest things that upset her could leave her nearly incapacitated for hours. How was she going to handle seeing the wound on her son’s face?

Will shrugged slightly. “Dodge her until it goes away?” he suggested.

She sighed. “Will—“

“Belle,” he returned, in a mock-scolding tone. She straightened at the bastardization of her name, startled. She didn’t think anyone had ever called her ‘Belle’ before. “Seriously, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” He swung himself over to the branch to his room, waving a quick goodbye at her before disappearing into his window. A moment later the window shut and the blinds closed, shutting off further communication.

Aggravated, she ran a hand through her hair before returning to her bed, picking up her discarded book and turning her radio volume back up. She was grateful she had never gotten mixed up with