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Kiss and Tell
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Table of Contents
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Sunday, 11:37 PM
Sydney was driving much too fast. The scenery blurred outside her window, but it didn't matter; she could dredge up every inch of it from memory. The sprawling Cape Cod–style homes. The paved walking path that wound alongside the ocean. The taut stretches of golden sand, dotted with seagulls. On the surface, Echo Bay looked like a picture-perfect beach town. But things weren't always what they seemed. Sydney had learned that the hard way.
Her phone buzzed from inside the car's cup holder. Instantly, her muscles tensed, but she forced herself to relax. It can't be from the darer, she reminded herself. Earlier that morning, she, Tenley, and Emerson had destroyed their cells, running over them with Tenley's car. Sydney was now using an ancient, beat-up phone that had once belonged to her mom—probably back when smartphones were first invented. The upside was that no one but her parents, Emerson, and Tenley had her new number.
She grabbed for her cell at a red light. 23 minutes till MOT, Tenley had texted.
MOT: Moment of Truth. It was what Tenley had taken to calling tonight ever since they'd sent a threat to the darer on Facebook that morning: It's over. There's no more tracker, no more phones. If you want us, you're going to have to come get us. The pier, tonight at midnight. It's show and tell, remember? And it's finally time you show.
Sydney slammed on the gas as soon as the light changed, making her car lurch forward. She was sick of being played and tortured, taunted and teased. She was ready to catch whoever was sending the dares.
Dares. The word made rage boil under her skin. Every time her focus slipped, the memory would assault her: Delancey's lifeless body dangling from the beam last night. She'd looked so young up there in her homecoming dress, and so scared, her eyes frozen wide with horror. Bile rose in Sydney's throat. Delancey would never be in school again. She'd never run another Purity Club meeting or choose another photo for the yearbook or spend another lunch period whispering with Abby Wilkins. She would never graduate from high school or go to college, leave Echo Bay or get married. She would be a high school senior forever, just like Caitlin and Tricia—and it was all because of one person's sick, twisted game.
For over a month now, someone had been after them: sending them threatening notes and punishing them when they disobeyed. Caitlin had paid the ultimate price, dying out on the ocean, and now Sydney, Emerson, and Tenley had been promised a similar fate. They'd blamed Tricia, then Delancey. But it turned out that those two were just puppets. There was a mastermind behind them both, pulling their strings.
Sydney screeched to a stop on Hillworth Drive. Tenley was already there. She wore black jeans and a black sweater under her dark coat, her long chestnut waves swept back in a ponytail. With Sydney's own all-black ensemble and ponytail, they almost matched: a spying uniform. "You drove?" Sydney asked. Tenley lived a short walk away, in one of the oceanfront mansions that lined Dune Way.
"Leg's sore." Tenley gestured to her left leg. Her pants covered the injury, but Sydney had seen it before it was bandaged: an angry red burn slicing across Tenley's calf. Last night at the homecoming dance, the darer had lured Tenley onto the auditorium's catwalk, where a spotlight had been rigged to fall on her. Tenley had been lucky to walk away with just that burn.
Tenley lifted up a long-lens camera. Sydney recognized it as one of Guinness's, but she quickly pushed the thought away. She couldn't let anything distract her right now. "You have yours?" Tenley asked.
Sydney responded by crawling into the backseat of her car. Her hand brushed against her RISD scholarship application, making her jaw clench up. It was due tomorrow. "My two best," she said as she climbed out with the cameras she'd brought. Their lenses glinted under the beam of her car's headlights.
"You should probably…" Tenley nodded toward the lights. Their plan was contingent on the darer never seeing them. It was why they'd parked five blocks from the pier. Sydney switched off the headlights, and darkness spilled in, making the hair on her arms stand on end. "Do you really think this will work?"
"It has to," Tenley said softly, and again Sydney saw it: Delancey's crooked neck, her feet swinging in her high heels. "If we can get a photo of the darer—actual, hard evidence of who this person is—then we'll finally have something we can lord over him or her."
Sydney nodded. Earlier that day, they'd taken a small step in figuring out more about the darer. So many crimes had plagued Echo Bay over the past ten years—the deaths of the Lost Girls, Caitlin's kidnapping in sixth grade, and now their own stalker—and each incident seemed tied to one another. It had made them wonder: What if the same person had been tormenting Echo Bay residents for all these years?
But how could they go to the cops? Last night, when the police came for Delancey's body, Tenley had blurted out that it was murder, even though they'd been warned against it. The cops had explained that wasn't possible: Delancey had left behind a suicide note. Immediately after, the darer had texted Tenley. Tsk, tsk, Ten. Looks like I have another girl to silence.
Even if they could convince the police, it would take the cops weeks to hunt down the culprit—plenty of time for the darer to exact retribution. But if the girls took in a photo of their stalker, then the police would have a real lead, which meant they wouldn't have to waste time searching.
A pair of headlights flashed in the distance. The car flew toward them without slowing, its lights blinding. Sydney shielded her eyes, her brain frozen on a single thought: Darer. Next to her, Tenley grabbed Sydney's arm, her hand cold and clammy.
The car skidded to a stop a few feet away. The headlights switched off, and Emerson Cunningham climbed out. She, too, wore all black, but in her leather jacket and cashmere scarf, she still managed to look photo-shoot ready.
Sydney sagged with relief as she handed Emerson a camera. "Phones on vibrate?" Emerson asked. Sydney nodded. So did Tenley. "Okay, then." There was a tremor in Emerson's voice. "Let's do this."
They were silent as they walked the five blocks to the pier. Sydney's pulse raced faster with each step. "I guess it's time to split up," she said hesitantly. None of them moved. Sydney felt for Tenley's hand in the dim light of the pier. "M-O-T," she said.
They all turned away at once. They'd chosen their individual stakeout spots during a run-through earlier that day; they were each to cover one section of the pier. Soon the darkness swallowed up the others, leaving Sydney all alone. It was cold by the water, and she wrapped her coat tighter around her as she located the boat she'd chosen earlier. Small and tethered close to the pier. A perfect hiding spot.
She clutched her camera to her chest as she climbed into the boat. It rocked under her feet, making her stomach flip as she knelt beneath its rim and dropped her purse next to her. Minutes crept past, the only sound the shriek of a seagull overhead. The ocean slapped against the docks, punctuating the silence.
A clock on the boat glowed. 11:56. What if no one showed? Sydney's chest hitched. Or what if someone did—and her hiding spot wasn't good enough?
Her grip tightened on the camera as time ticked by.
There was a sound.
Sydney froze, every nerve suddenly on high alert. There it was again—a footstep! It came from above. Sydney lifted her camera, her gaze landing on the country club's pool deck, which jutted out over the ocean at the end of the pier. Her hands shook as she trained her camera on the deck. But the darkness formed a barricade; she couldn't see past it.
Her finger rested on the camera's shutter button. She could press it—set off a flash and clear the cobweb of darkness. But what if it wasn't the darer? Or what if it was and the flash scared him or her away before she could get a clear shot?
A loud scuffle up on the pool deck gave her a start. Her finger slammed against the button before she could catch her balance.
For a single instant, the sky lit up. The light caught something tumbling over the railing of the pool deck. Arms and legs and—oh god.
Her camera slipped from her hands. The world seemed to stop as Sydney watched the body plummet through the air. She heard it hit the water with a sickening splash. She was moving before she could fully process what had happened, grabbing her flashlight and sprinting off the boat and down the pier.
Was it the darer?
No. The darer didn't lose, didn't make mistakes. Which could mean only one thing: It was another victim.
Panic clutched at Sydney's chest. If this was retribution… If someone else had died because of the threat they'd sent the darer…
Tenley and Emerson must have seen the fall, too, because Sydney heard them running behind her, their footsteps breaking open the silence. It didn't matter. None of it mattered anymore, not their plan, not the photo. All that mattered was getting to the victim. Could someone survive that fall?
Sydney reached the shore at the end of the pier first. She scrambled to turn on her flashlight, shining its thin beam over the ocean. Body parts caught the light as they tossed on the waves. A leg. An arm. A flash of long blond hair. It was a girl. "We need to get her out!" she heard Tenley scream.
Instinct took over as Sydney dropped the flashlight and launched herself into the ocean. She gasped as the cold water stabbed at her. Her limbs screamed in resistance, but she ordered them to move, kicking and paddling toward the body. Please don't be dead. The thought crashed into her with each wave, again and again.
Two splashes sounded behind her. She could hear Tenley and Emerson in the water now, but she kept her eyes locked on the body. The girl was bobbing facedown, her hair floating in a halo around her.
Paddle. Kick. Please don't be dead. Paddle. Kick. Please don't be dead.
"Who is it?" Tenley screamed. Sydney shook her head soundlessly. It was too dark to tell. The darkness made everything seem mercurial, as if at any moment she could blink and this would all disappear.
Another stroke and Sydney was at the girl's side. She hooked her arm around the body, but the girl was slippery and heavy—soaked with water—and when a wave hit, she couldn't hold on. Sydney paddled desperately, trying to stay afloat. "I need help!" She tried again, but a fresh wave hit, pulling her under instead.
She came up gasping for air. Emerson was there, wrapping her arms around the body. "Let's get her to shore." Tenley reached them, too, and together they towed the body to the sandy beach at the end of the pier.
"On three!" Tenley said. "One, two—"
Together, they crawled onto shore, dragging the girl's body with them. Sydney's teeth were chattering violently, but all she could focus on was the girl. "Is she—?" Tenley began.
She stopped short.
The girl was on her back, blond hair splayed around her. Except she wasn't a girl at all.
Sydney collapsed onto her knees next to the body. A red clown nose and black beady eyes stared up at her. "A doll," she choked out. "It's a clown doll." Scrawled across the clown's face in thick red marker was a message.
This is no joke.
Sydney couldn't breathe. Once again their tormentor had bested them. He or she had been there—had fooled them—and then had vanished again without a trace.
Her camera. She raced down to the pier, panting as she snatched her camera off the boat. She jabbed at the screen. There it was: the photo that had lit up the night. The pool deck was too tiny to make out any details. She zoomed in, and then zoomed in again. A doll came into focus, hoisted on top of the deck's railing. Behind it, a shadowy figure ducked low.
She zoomed in again and again, as close as the camera would let her. But the figure on the deck remained nothing more than a dark outline, impossible even to tell if it was male or female.
The noise made Sydney jump. It was coming from the boat. From inside her purse.
There it was again, this time from behind her. Emerson joined her on the pier, then Tenley. They were both holding their phones.
"How?" Emerson whispered. "We have new cells, new numbers!"
No one replied. Terror became a noose as, with a single click, the text message popped up on Sydney's phone.
Mutiny leads to war—and I fight dirty.
Monday, 7:50 AM
Tenley ignored the ache in her leg as she sprinted toward Winslow's red double doors. She'd overslept, and now she was ten minutes late to school. Which would look just great alongside the math test she'd recently bombed and the classes she'd recently skipped. For a while the "my best friend died" excuse had allowed these things to slide, but she could tell it was starting to wear thin. What was she supposed to tell the attendance office today? Sorry I'm late, but I was awake half the night thanks to a clown doll haunting my dreams.
Tenley felt sick at the memory of what had happened last night. At first, she'd been sure it was a person—another casualty in this cruel game. As she'd watched the body fall, the possibilities of who it could be had curled around her like smog, until she was choking on them. Mom. Marta. Tim. But the whole thing was just a sick joke, the darer's way of showing them that they weren't in control.
Mutiny leads to war—and I fight dirty.
The darer had already tried to kill Tenley twice—in her hot tub and on the catwalk in the auditorium. What was dirtier than that?
She was halfway to her locker when two large hands grabbed her from behind. The scream that slipped out of her was so high-pitched it sounded like it belonged to a little girl.
"Whoa there." The voice was low and lazy. And familiar. Tenley spun around to find Tim Holland staring down at her, an amused look in his dark blue eyes. "You being chased?"
Tenley tried to speak, but her voice was trapped somewhere beneath her still-pounding heart. She forced herself to focus on Tim: his messy, damp blond waves; his beat-up hemp necklace that he never took off; his calm, easy smile. "I overslept," she managed, finally.
"I oversurfed. It happens." Tim pushed a strand of hair off her cheek, and Tenley had to fight the urge to bury her head in his chest and not lift it again until Christmas. "Did you get my messages, Tenley? I've called you, like, ten times since you disappeared on me Saturday night."
Tenley tried not to wince. Tim had shown up at the homecoming dance Saturday night just for her. They'd kissed, and it had been amazing. But then everything had spiraled out of control and she hadn't spoken to him for the rest of the weekend. "I got a new phone number yesterday. I'm sorry. I meant to call and tell you, but it was a pretty rough day."
"Delancey, I know. The whole town's been talking about it." Tim entwined his fingers through hers. "How are you doing?"
Tenley sighed. "Honestly, I'm just trying really hard not to think about it."
"Maybe I can help with that." Tim pulled her into a hug. She closed her eyes, letting herself melt against him. His arms were strong and warm, and he smelled faintly of the ocean. She could feel the muscles in her neck unclenching, just a little.
"Miss Reed and Mr. Holland!"
Tenley drew away from Tim with a start. Mr. Lozano, the art teacher, crossed his arms against his chest as he strode toward them. "May I ask why you two are not at the assembly?"
Tim fiddled with the tangled mess of string bracelets tied around his wrist. "Assembly?"
"The suicide-prevention assembly that was announced just before homeroom?" Mr. Lozano arched an eyebrow. "It's mandatory."
"Oh that assembly," Tenley backtracked. "We're on our way right now. Tim was just helping me out." She gestured down to her left leg, which was thicker than her right thanks to the bandage underneath her jeans. "I hurt my leg, so I'm moving more slowly."
"Oh." Mr. Lozano nodded, looking placated. "Take your time, then."
Tenley gave the art teacher her sweetest smile before limping off toward the auditorium. "Impressive," Tim murmured as he made a big show of assisting her. "I should keep you around to get me out of detentions."
Normally, Tenley would have been quick with a retort. You should keep me around for more than that. But her thoughts were stuck at a standstill on the assembly. Suicide prevention.
Everyone in town, cops included, believed Delancey's death was a suicide. Besides the darer, only Tenley, Sydney, and Emerson knew the truth. Their tormentor had hunted Delancey, torturing and toying with her before going in for the kill.
Tenley's eyes went immediately to the front of the room as she and Tim entered the auditorium. The same person had tried to kill her on that very stage. In the two days since, the stage had been mended and scrubbed clean. If it weren't for a few cracked planks on the catwalk above, you'd never know anything had happened.
"Looks like your fan club saved you a seat." Tim nodded toward the back of the auditorium, where Emerson and Sydney were waving her over. Between Sydney's rat nest of a ponytail and Emerson's unusually drab outfit, they looked as terrible as Tenley felt.
"I should probably—"
"Go," Tim agreed. "Find me later." He gave her a quick smile before sauntering over to the exit row, where his best friends, Tray Macintyre and Sam Spencer, were seated.
"Did you show up with Tim Holland?" Emerson whispered as Tenley dropped into the empty seat next to her. Emerson's brown sweater dress might have been unusually plain for her, but her cocoa-latte skin glowed as always. "What were you talking to him about?"
Tenley hesitated. She hadn't told anyone she'd kissed Tim at the homecoming dance. Caitlin had dated Tim before she died, and Tenley knew how touchy that made this situation. But Tenley and Tim had bonded over missing Cait, and she'd been surprised by how much she liked him.
"I bumped into him in the hall," Tenley answered vaguely. Her gaze fell on the thick manila envelope Sydney was clutching. "What's that?" she asked, hoping to change the subject.
"My scholarship application for RISD." Sydney tugged at the red flannel shirt she was wearing, looking nervous. "It has to be postmarked by today, so I'm taking it to the office."
"I can't believe you're already doing applications," Tenley murmured. "I can't even think about applying to college until all this is over."
"I don't have a choice." Sydney gripped the folder more tightly. "Scholarship applications are due earlier in the year." She didn't say it accusingly, but, still, Tenley felt her face flush. She busied herself by pulling out her new phone. She'd splurged on the nicest case in the store: matte gold, with white polka dots.
Emerson pulled her own phone out with a smirk. It was identical to Tenley's. "Nice case."
"Better than mine." Sydney held up her phone, which had a hideous orange case on it, imprinted with the letter S. She gave them a wry smile. "It was the only one I could find that was old enough to fit."
"No phones, girls," Miss Hilbrook called out sternly. Her lips were pursed as she patrolled the aisles of the auditorium. "Eyes up front."
Tenley turned obediently to the stage, where Mrs. Shuman, the school counselor, was standing with Principal Howard. "Delancey Crane was a beloved student at Winslow," Mrs. Shuman said, her voice trembling as it poured through the auditorium's speakers. "She was cofounder of the Purity Club, head of the yearbook committee, and enrolled in all honors classes. She was a kind person and a dedicated student, and now, because of a tough time, she's gone."
Mrs. Shuman teetered on her heels. Her eyes flitted across the auditorium, wide and dismayed, and suddenly Tenley got the feeling that she knew something—knew the truth. But then she cleared her throat, and her lips curled down at the corners, and she was just naive Mrs. Shuman again, the counselor who passed out lollipops to high school students.
"Delancey was just like the rest of you," Mrs. Shuman continued. "And I think she'd want us to take a lesson away from this. Depression and suicidal thoughts can happen to anyone. If you notice a friend who's down or acting strange, it's your responsibility to talk to them, to ask a question." A motto flashed across the screen behind her as she spoke: ASK A QUESTION, SAVE A LIFE. "We'll be passing out information packets on suicide prevention at the end of the assembly, but first, Abby Wilkins has put together a touching slide show to help us honor Delancey's life. I hope it reminds you all what's at stake here. We're at this school together, and that makes us responsible for one another's well-being."
As classical music played, photographs faded in and out on the screen. Delancey running into the ocean, curls flying in the wind. Delancey volunteering with the Red Cross, her porcelain skin reddened by the sun. Delancey posing with her parents, her arms draped around their shoulders. As a photo of Delancey wearing this year's homecoming crown filled the screen, someone began to cry nearby. Soon the auditorium was filled with muffled sobs and sniffles.
On the screen, a photo of Delancey playing with her cat faded out, replaced by an image of Delancey and Abby. Delancey was smiling widely as she leaned against her best friend, and suddenly it wasn't Delancey that Tenley saw, but Caitlin. Caitlin squinting as she hung on to Tenley's every word. Caitlin brushing Tenley's hair after Tenley sprained her wrist in gymnastics. Caitlin yelling, "Race you!" and sprinting down the beach, her blond hair whipping in her face as she looked back at Tenley, laughing.
Tenley bit down on her lip so hard she drew blood. Caitlin was gone, and Delancey was gone, and Tenley had no idea who would be next. The darer had swept through their lives like a tornado, leaving only wreckage behind. Tenley looked over at Emerson and Sydney. She saw her own fierce expression reflected back at her.
"We're going to end this," Sydney whispered grimly.
"We're going to make this person pay," Emerson added.
Tenley nodded. She wanted to agree, to insist, but, for the second time that morning, her words were trapped inside her, just out of reach.
A burst of static drew Tenley's attention back to the stage. The screen showing the slide show had gone black. "What's going on?" a voice called out. There was another burst of static as a video flickered onto the screen. In it, a girl stood inside Winslow's empty locker room. Tenley sucked in a breath. The girl in the video wasn't Delancey. It was Tenley.
"What is this?" someone screeched from several rows up. Tenley recognized the high-pitched voice immediately. Only Abby Wilkins could sound that whiny and indignant at the same time. "What happened to my slide show?"
On the screen, Tenley walked over to a locker and looked around furtively before opening it. Tenley watched in horror as the video showed her pulling a water bottle out of the locker. Two large red initials were inked on its side. JM. Video-Tenley glanced hastily over her shoulder again. When she saw that no one was coming, she took a small pink pill out of her pocket and dropped it into the water bottle. Then she shoved the bottle back into the locker and slammed the door shut.
Scandalized gasps filled the auditorium. People were twisting around, gaping at Tenley. She ignored them, her eyes glued to the screen. The footage skipped ahead. The locker room door swung open, and the cheerleading squad jogged in. Jessie Morrow, the captain of the squad, was at the front of the group. "This routine is going to kick ass," she said with a grin over her shoulder. She stopped in front of her locker and pulled out her water bottle. Two red initials—JM—winked in the fluorescent light of the locker room. "I'm talking epic pep rally." She lifted the bottle to her lips, taking a long swig of water.
A time stamp flashed on the screen. It was the day Jessie had a seizure during the pep rally.
"Oh my god!" someone shrieked in the auditorium.
"Did she drug her?" someone else cried.
The world darkened around Tenley. Voices lifted, swirling around her in a tunnel. Insane… Criminal… Evil… And then Principal Howard, screaming, "Quiet, everyone! Order!"
In her own head, the words from their text: I fight dirty.
"Ten—" Emerson began.
Tenley didn't stick around to hear the rest. Faces spun around her as she raced out of the auditorium. She flew down the hallway, searching for a place to be alone. She could still hear the voices behind her, in an uproar. There was a bathroom, but that was too public. An unmarked door caught her eye at the end of the hallway. The janitor's closet. She squeezed inside it. Tears clogged her vision as she slid to the ground on top of a mop head.
How could she ever leave this closet?
The sound reached down through her thoughts, shaking her into awareness.
Her hand clamped around her phone. The number was blocked, just as she'd expected.
Like I said: I fight dirty.
Monday, 8:29 AM
Tenley wasn't answering her phone.
Any luck? Emerson texted Sydney. They'd split up to find Tenley after she fled from the auditorium. Still MIA, Sydney wrote back. Emerson tugged at the horseshoe necklace she'd dug out of her jewelry box that morning, desperate for any semblance of luck. Where was Tenley?
Praise for Secrets and Lies:"The thrills keep pages turning...an intriguing sequel with more promised for the future." —Kirkus Reviews
- Praise for Truth or Dare:
"A well-plotted suspense tale....Good intrigue designed for the chick-lit crowd."—Kirkus Reviews
- "Green offers an edge-of-your-seat thriller. The characters are all well drawn and believably flawed...Creepy and dark to the core, this is a great offering for fans of Lois Duncan and Christopher Pike."—School Library Journal
- On Sale
- Feb 3, 2015
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Praise for Truth or Dare: