The tiger stalked into the wooded clearing on soft, quiet paws. Across from the large cat, Katie Zielinski stepped out of a copse of trees. The branches behind her were silhouetted by warm orange light from the setting sun.
The girl and the tiger stopped, facing each other.
Katie dropped her backpack. She barely had time to reflect that she was much too young to die.
The evening began in an ordinary way.
Katie stopped on the third stair from the bottom of the wide staircase, just above the cavernous, polished marble foyer. She listened for noises in the house, hoping to avoid giving Laurinda's many brothers a chance to tease or roughhouse with her. Katie heard the boys out in the backyard. Though, in this gigantic house of theirs, she thought, they sound miles away.
Katie looked back up the stairs at the hallway leading to Laurinda's bedroom. Both girls were fourteen, and they had spent a good portion of the afternoon making vague plans to have their first sleepovers together at each other's homes. But Katie wondered how best to explain to Laurinda that the only sleepovers they could possibly have would be at Katie's house. Laurinda would understand, but Katie was afraid because Laurie meant so much to her. Katie didn't want anything to get in the way should the girls make definite sleepover plans.
Katie had plenty of other things to tell Laurinda, but she figured she had better keep silent about them for now. Keeping silent when she wanted to scream; Katie wondered if her little brother ever felt that way. Probably not. Whenever Cassie got upset, it felt like his screaming might never end.
Katie thought about Laurinda again, and that made her happy. She hopped like a little girl down the last three steps and landed squarely on the marble floor. Then she hollered good-bye to Laurinda's mom, wherever the woman happened to be in the vast house. Katie received a bright reply from somewhere behind her, near where the boys were making noise.
Katie's black shoes clopped on the polished floor as she walked across the Cabral's elegant foyer. She adjusted the backpack strap on her left shoulder and reached for the front doorknob. Behind her, she heard footsteps thumping down the stairs. Crap, Katie thought. One of Laurie's brothers found me. She braced her body for a sudden push or shoulder punch. Boys, she thought, are disgusting. Except for Cassie.