“I have to go to the football field real quick,” I say, hiking my backpack over my shoulder and resting my hand on the car door.
“What for? You don’t want to be late again,” Emma says, narrowing her light brown eyes at me. They’re exactly like Dad’s, and—along with the reddish hair—the only trait she and I share. Emma is tall and thin, I’m short and curvy. Her hair is stick-straight and doesn’t quite reach her shoulders, mine is long and curly. She freckles in the sun, and I tan. We’re both February-pale now, though, and I can feel my cheeks redden as I look down at the ground.
“It’s, um, for homework,” I mumble.
Jules grins as she climbs out of the car. “Is that what we’re calling it now?”
I turn on my heel and beat a hasty retreat, but I can still feel the weight of Emma’s disapproval settling over my shoulders like a cloak. Emma has always been the serious one, but when we were younger it didn’t matter. We were so close that we used to have entire conversations without talking. Mom would joke that we must be telepaths, but it wasn’t that. We just knew one another so well that we could read every expression as clearly as a word.
We were close with Owen too, despite the age difference. Dad used to call us the Three Amigos, and every childhood photo shows us posed exactly the same way: Emma and me on either side of Owen, our arms around one another, grinning widely. We look inseparable, and I thought we were. It never occurred to me that Dad was the glue keeping us together.
The pulling apart was so subtle that I didn’t notice it right away. Emma withdrew first, burying herself in schoolwork. “It’s her way of grieving,” Mom said, so I let her be, even though my
way of grieving would have been to do it together. I compensated by throwing myself into every social activity I could find—especially once boys started getting interested in me—while Owen retreated into the comforting fantasy world of video games. Before I’d realized it, those had become our lanes, and we stayed in them. Our card last Christmas featured the three of us standing beside the tree, arranged by height, hands clasped in front of us with stiff smiles. Dad would’ve been so disappointed by that picture.
And by me shortly after we took it, for what happened at Jules’s Christmas party. It’s one thing to treat your older sister like a polite stranger, and quite another thing to . . . do what I did. I used to feel a wistful kind of loneliness when I thought about Emma, but now I just feel guilt. And relief that she can’t read my feelings on my face anymore.
“Hey!” I’m so caught up in my thoughts that I would’ve walked right into a pole under the bleachers if a hand hadn’t reached out and stopped me. Then it pulls me forward so quickly that my phone slides out of my pocket and makes a faint bouncing noise on the grass.
“Shit,” I say, but Brandon Weber’s lips are pressed against mine before I can get anything else out. I shimmy my shoulders until my backpack joins my phone on the ground. Brandon tugs at the hem of my shirt, and since this is one hundred percent what I came for, I help him along by untucking it.
Brandon’s hands move up and across my bare skin, pushing aside the lace of my bra, and he groans against my mouth. “God, you’re so sexy.”
He is, too. Brandon quarterbacks the football team, and the Bayview Blade
likes to call him “the next Cooper Clay” because he’s good enough that colleges are already starting to scout him. I don’t think that’s an accurate comparison, though. For one thing, Cooper has next-level talent, and for another, he’s a sweetheart. Brandon, on the other hand, is basically an asshole.
The boy can kiss, though. All the tension flows out of me as he pushes me against the pole behind us, replaced with a heady spark of anticipation. I wrap one arm around his neck, trying to pull him down to my height, while my other hand teases at the waistband of his jeans. Then my foot sends something skidding across the ground, and the sound of my text tone distracts me.
“My phone,” I say, pulling away. “We’re going to smash it if I don’t pick it up.”
“I’ll buy you a new one,” Brandon says, his tongue in my ear. Which I don’t like—why
do guys think that’s hot?—so I shove at him until he lets go. His front pocket dings loudly, and I smirk at the bulge there as I retrieve my phone.
“Is that a text, or are you just happy to see me?” I say, brushing off my screen. Then I glance down and catch my breath. “Ugh, are you kidding me? This again?”
“What?” Brandon asks, pulling out his own phone. “Unknown number, and guess what it says?” I put on an
affected voice. “Still missing About That? I know I am. Let’s play a new game.
I can’t believe somebody would pull this crap after Principal Gupta’s warning.”
Brandon’s eyes flick over his screen. “I got the same thing. You see the link?”
“Yeah. Don’t click it! It’s probably a virus or—”
“Too late,” Brandon laughs. He squints at his phone while I take him in: over six feet tall with dirty-blond hair, blue-green eyes, and the kind of full lips a girl would kill for. He’s so pretty, he looks like he could fly off with a harp any second. And nobody knows it more than he does. “Jesus, this is a freaking book,” he complains.
“Let me see.” I grab his phone, because no way am I following that link with mine. I angle the screen away from the sun until I can see it clearly. I’m looking at a website with a bad replica of the About That logo, and a big block of text beneath it. “Pay attention, Bayview High. I’m only going to explain the rules once,”
I read. “Here’s how we play Truth or Dare. I’ll send a prompt to one person only—and you can’t tell ANYONE if it’s you. Don’t spoil the element of surprise. It makes me cranky, and I’m not nearly as nice when I’m cranky. You get 24 hours to text your choice back. Pick Truth, and I’ll reveal one of your secrets. Pick Dare, and I’ll give you a challenge. Either way, we’ll have a little fun and relieve the monotony of our tedious existence.”
Brandon runs a hand through his thick, tawny hair. “Speak for yourself, loser.” “Come on, Bayview, you know you’ve missed this.”
I scowl when I finish. “Do you think this went to everyone at school? People better not say anything if they want to keep their phones.” Last fall, after Principal Gupta shut down the latest Simon copycat, she told us she was instituting a zero-tolerance policy: if she saw even a hint of another About That, she’d ban phones at school permanently. And expel anyone caught trying to bring one in.
We’ve all been model citizens since then, at least when it comes to online gossip. Nobody can imagine getting through a school day—never mind years
—without their phones.
“No one cares. It’s old news,” Brandon says dismissively.
He pockets his phone and wraps an arm around my waist, pulling me close. “So where were we?”
I’m still holding my own phone, pressed against his chest now, and it chimes in my hand before I can answer. When I pull my head back to look at the screen, there’s another message from an unknown contact. But this time, there’s no simultaneous text tone from Brandon’s pocket. Phoebe Lawton, you’re up first! Text back your choice: Should I reveal a Truth, or will you take a Dare?
Copyright © 2020 by Karen M. McManus. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.