Izzy Fitzgerald tiptoed past the den. Her father and older brother were watching TV in there. She paused when she realized what they were watching. It was National Ninja Champion.
Oh right, it’s the finals tonight, she thought.
She bit her lip, remembering the days when the whole family would watch that show together every week. Her mother had loved it . . .
But never mind. Izzy could catch the finals online later. Right now she needed to keep moving. She didn’t want her dad to catch her sneaking out. Especially since she’d just finished being grounded from last time.
At least watching NNC will keep Dad and Charlie too busy to wonder where I am, she thought as she crept toward the back door. Not that they spend much time thinking about me anyway.
She opened the door, lifting the handle slightly to avoid the squeak in the hinges. She closed it behind her just as carefully. As she bent down to grab her skateboard, which she’d stashed in the bushes right outside, Izzy heard voices at the back gate.
Yikes! She darted behind the dumb statue of some Greek goddess that her dad thought was so classy. Seconds later her stepmonster, Tina, came into view, dressed in her fancy new running shoes and designer sweats. Izzy’s sixteen-year-old sister, Hannah, was with her. Hannah was laughing at something Tina had just said, even though nothing she said was ever actually funny.
Izzy touched her hair. She’d unbraided it just before sneaking out, so the purple streak her friend Jess had helped her dye into it was visible. Which meant she’d better not let Tina or her dad see it. They still didn’t know about the purple streak. They said twelve was too young for a girl to start dyeing her hair.
Which is totally unfair, Izzy thought. Especially since Tina spends half her time at the salon getting hers dyed that hideous shade of red.
“Good run, sweetie,” Tina was saying to Hannah, giving her a squeeze on the shoulder. “You’ll be ready for that ten K for sure.”
“Thanks for training with me, Tina.” Hannah sounded happy and only a little out of breath.
“Anytime, sweetie. It’s what we do, right?” Tina let out one of her tinkly little laughs. “Fitzgeralds are runners—?that’s what your dad always says.”
Dad really did say that a lot, especially whenever he was trying to talk Izzy into joining the track team at school—?just like Hannah and Charlie. Fitzgeralds are runners, Isabella, he’d say. You can’t fight it.
Izzy wrinkled her nose, hating to hear him use her full name even in her head. She also hated to hear Tina use Dad’s favorite phrase, since she wasn’t even a real Fitzgerald—?she’d only married Dad a year and a half ago. But she was a real runner. She and Dad had met at a half marathon.
Tina and Hannah seemed to stay out in the back courtyard forever, stretching and blabbing. But finally they went inside, and Izzy was free.
She dashed out the back gate and across the neighbors’ pool deck, then vaulted over the fence to the street. Finally she dropped her board, kicking off and gliding down the hill toward the center of town.
Jess was waiting in the parking lot of the Hillside Shopping Center, lounging on a bench with her board at her feet and earbuds in. “You’re late,” she said, peeling out one bud.
“Sorry. Almost got caught.” Izzy started to explain, but Jess waved it away.
“Whatever. Want to see a new move Tommy taught me?”
“Sure!” Izzy tried not to sound too eager. Jess was two years older, and Tommy was her boyfriend. Both of them went to Fairview High and were way cooler than anyone in the seventh grade at Izzy’s snooty private school. Izzy felt lucky that Jess wanted to hang out with her.
Hillside was almost deserted, as usual, even though most of the stores were open until nine. Almost everyone had switched over to the fancy new mall out on the highway. But that was okay with Izzy. It meant she and Jess hardly ever got hassled about skateboarding or doing parkour here. Plus the weird two-level layout and the bumpy, weedy pavement made it more fun.
And parkour was the most fun Izzy had had since . . . Well, in a long time. It was all about fun—?running, jumping, leaping over stuff, climbing walls, anything like that. She loved challenging herself that way, even when it was kind of scary. Maybe especially when it was scary.
Jess showed her the new trick, vaulting over the low wall at the edge of a walkway, using only one hand. They practiced that for a while and then did some of the usual stuff—?leaping over parking barriers and decorative fences, various skateboard tricks, and more.
“This is boring,” Jess said after Izzy landed a jump on her board. “I have an idea—?let’s do that.”
She pointed to the sunken restaurant at the center of the shopping plaza. Izzy was confused.
“Do what? Go eat?” she asked.
Jess laughed and tossed her shaggy half-blond, half-green bangs out of her face. “No—?the steps,” she said. “Let’s try skating down them.” She grinned. “No jumping—?you have to skate all the way down.”
Izzy walked to the top of the steps. They were high and pretty steep, with a landing in the middle. “I dunno,” she said. “Might be hard to make that turn. Plus you’d have to stop fast or hit the window at the bottom.”
“Yeah. Cool, right?” Jess pulled a coin out of her pocket. “We’ll flip to see who gets to go first.”
Izzy hesitated, but Jess was already tossing the coin in the air. “Tails!” Izzy blurted out.
Jess slapped the coin onto the back of her hand. “Tails it is,” she said. “You’re up!”
Izzy swallowed hard and glanced at the steps. They suddenly looked even higher and steeper than before. But she never backed down from a challenge. Never.
Besides, she’d skated down steps before. Maybe not ones this steep or this high . . . But she couldn’t chicken out in front of Jess. No way.
“What are you waiting for, Fitzgerald?” Jess said.
“Nothing.” Izzy kicked off, holding her breath as the skateboard rumbled toward the top step—?and then tipped off into nothingness. Her heart pounded and her ...