Truth or Dare
By Jacqueline Green
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Copyright © 2014 Jacqueline Green
All rights reserved.
Saturday, 1 pm
IF ONLY SYDNEY COULD FOLLOW THE TIDE. SHE leaned against the pool-deck railing at the Echo Bay Golf & Country Club, watching as the ocean receded toward the horizon. Go ahead and run, it seemed to be saying. Screw it all. It was good advice, for someone who was able to take it. Unfortunately, that person wasn't her.
"Believe me, being a lifeguard isn't all about looking pretty in the shorts." At the sound of her coworker Calum's voice, Sydney glanced over her shoulder. Calum was standing a couple of feet away, talking to a girl in a black bikini. Several white-blond curls hung in his eyes, and thanks to his love affair with SPF 75, his skin looked as if it hadn't seen a single ray of sun all summer. "The fact of the matter is," he continued, flashing his whistle at the girl like an Olympic medal, "in a drowning scenario, I have approximately one hundred and twenty seconds to extricate the victim from the water and perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation—"
"I have to go to the bathroom," the girl blurted out, cutting him off. Backing away, she quickly disappeared into the crowded pool deck.
Sydney laughed. Calum had been trying to score a girl at the Club all summer long—and failing with what had to be record-breaking consistency. It wasn't that he was bad-looking. He had a swimmer's build from all his hours spent lifeguarding, that mop of pretty blond curls, and eyes that were somewhere between brown and gold. The problem was he was clueless. He did things like calculating the odds of skin damage based on the SPF level of a girl's suntan lotion—and then informing her about it.
Sydney knew that if he bothered to tell the girls who he was—the son of the richest man in Echo Bay, a man who had articles written about his technology company in Time magazine, a man who owned his own private island—he might have had more of a chance. At least with the tourists. But she also knew he wasn't the type to flaunt his pedigree. And since he was working at the country club instead of lounging at it, none of the girls ever guessed.
Sydney turned her attention back to the beach. She knew she had to get back to work, but she couldn't help but watch as, out on a sandbar, a woman focused her camera on the tall gray rock visible only during low tide.
The Phantom Rock. All summer long there had been a steady flow of tourists doing the very same thing, vying to see the spot where Nicole Mayor, one of the Lost Girls, had died six years ago.
Sydney knew that nothing fascinated people in Echo Bay more than the Lost Girls: three beautiful local girls who, over the years, had each died in the ocean during Echo Bay's historical Fall Festival. But with the reopening of Nicole Mayor's case as a murder trial this summer, that fascination had turned into something more like a frenzy. Suddenly everyone wanted to know everything they could about Nicole Mayor, Meryl Bauer, and Kyla Kern—the infamous Lost Girls.
"Enjoying the view?" Calum asked. Sydney spun around to see him standing behind her, his trademark lopsided smile back on his face. Sometimes it amazed Sydney how easygoing Calum was. Everyone in town knew his family's history. His older sister, Meryl, was the first Lost Girl—drowning when Calum was in second grade. Four years later, his mom committed suicide, in practically the same spot. It made Sydney wonder if that was why he'd become a lifeguard: his way of fighting back. Not that she'd ever ask him. The one and only time she'd broached the subject of his family, he'd made it clear he had zero interest in dredging up the past. And that she understood.
"Just taking a break," Sydney said. She pulled her long, dark hair into a loose bun, shaking her shaggy bangs out of her eyes.
"Sorry to interrupt, but ..." Calum lifted his arms, which had a massive pile of rose garlands draped over them. "Looks like everything's coming up roses."
Sydney groaned. "No way." Echo Bay Golf & Country Club was hosting its annual Labor Day weekend gala that night, and Sydney had already spent the whole day on decorating duty.
"Don't shoot the messenger. Tony brought these out for us to drape along the edges of the tables. Prudently, of course," Calum added, lowering his voice in a spot-on imitation of Tony, their creep of a boss. "He then went on to explain that prudently means wisely, or sensibly."
Sydney laughed. "Because clearly the term is outside the scope of our limited vocabulary." The opening notes to a Katy Perry song blasted from the speakers, and several girls—Sydney recognized them as sophomores from school—squealed loudly, jumping up from their lounge chairs to dance.
Trying to ignore the ear-splitting strains of pop music, Sydney walked up to the nearest table and began draping the garland around its edge. Two girls lounging nearby glanced up from their magazines, shooting her disdainful looks. She could tell right away they were vacationers. Like all the Boston girls who spent their summers in the beachside fishing town of Echo Bay, Sydney knew that their bikinis probably cost more than her car. Luckily, as of Monday they would all be gone: a mass exodus trickling out in their Mercedes/Lexus/BMWs, back to their real homes and real lives. Sometimes Sydney wondered what that would be like—to cast your life off like a second skin and just disappear.
"So what do you think?" Calum followed her, helping her arrange the unruly garlands. "Skinny-dip tonight?"
Sydney rolled her eyes. "You wish." Her khaki shorts slid down on her skinny hips, and she automatically tugged them back up.
Calum raised both hands in a gesture of surrender. "But seriously, you want to go for a swim after work?"
Even Sydney had to admit the pool looked tempting: Its water was a sparkling robin's egg blue and a waterfall rushed soothingly over a small rock cave. But it wasn't meant for her. Nothing here was. "I'd rather choke on a lobster claw," she said, smiling innocently.
Calum made an exasperated noise. "You need to learn to have some fun, Sydney Morgan." He backed away, aiming his finger at her chest. A man whose shoulders were the same color as his Red Sox hat sidestepped him to avoid collision. "You just wait. One day soon I'll have you cannonballing into that pool."
Sydney couldn't help but laugh. "Don't hold your breath." Moving on to another table, she glanced at her watch. If she hurried, she realized, she could still make it home in time to use the kitchen for a couple of hours before her mom got back from work. The kitchen was the only room in their tiny apartment that worked for developing her photos. Swap a red lightbulb in for the regular one, stick some cardboard in the tiny window, add a few developing bins, and voilà: insta-darkroom.
Sydney knew she was one of the last people on the planet who still shot nondigital photos. But she loved the process of developing. When she first started, it had reminded her of chasing butterflies with her dad: how she'd swing her net down with all her might, then hold her breath as she lifted it up to find out what she'd trapped underneath. Sometimes she'd hold her breath in the darkroom, too, until—whoosh—the photos burst to life in front of her, a shower of light and shadow, black and white. No computer could match that.
It helped that Winslow Academy had a state-of-the-art darkroom, donated by an alumnus who believed students should learn about all types of photography. It was probably the only time Sydney had ever agreed with one of Winslow's wealthy, pompous alumni. Sydney had tried something new with her latest roll of film, something a little riskier, and she was dying to see how it had turned out. Her photos hadn't been bad lately, but not bad wasn't going to get her into the Rhode Island School of Design. She needed amazing.
"He said he wants to pamper me. I was like, pamper away, honey." At the sound of Emerson Cunningham's voice, Sydney tensed up. Emerson sauntered out of the Club's spa, a small towel wrapped around her hair and an even smaller one wrapped around her torso. Marta Lazarus was with her in a skimpy sarong, her red hair loose and wavy down her back. Sydney ducked behind an umbrella. She was in no mood to deal with either of them.
Emerson pulled the towel off her head, letting her glossy black hair tumble over her shoulders. As she scouted the deck area for empty chairs, she let her other towel fall away, too, revealing a yellow bikini that looked annoyingly good against her dark skin. Emerson was one of those infuriating people who were just genetically blessed. Her mom had been one of the first African American models to ever reach supermodel status, and Emerson had inherited her long legs and toffee-colored skin—along with her blond dad's hazel eyes. The combination was gorgeous, and Emerson obviously knew it. "I just can't get over how different he is from Ratner," Emerson went on. "Remind me again why I ever dated a high school boy?"
"Because those were the only boys you knew?" Marta offered.
Emerson smiled smugly. "Not anymore." She pointed at two empty chairs, positioned right in the sun. "Perfect."
"Uh, except for him." Marta made a face in the direction of a third lounge chair nearby, where Joey Bakersfield was sitting. He'd been there for hours, hunched over the green notebook he was always doodling in, his long, sandy-colored hair falling across his face like a veil. Earlier, Sydney had heard one of the cocktail waitresses ask if he wanted to order anything, but like usual with Joey, she'd been met with total silence.
"Leave that to me." Strolling over to the lounge chair, Emerson stopped short in front of him and cleared her throat. Joey looked up in surprise but, of course, he said nothing. Emerson leaned over him, her face tilting toward his. For a second it almost looked like she was going to kiss him, and his eyes widened slightly. But then she paused, and even from where Sydney was standing, she could hear it: "You're in a No-Rabies Zone, Bakersfield." It was something people had been saying to Joey forever—an allusion to the old rumor that he'd had rabies as a child. Emerson straightened back up, making a shooing gesture with her hand.
Sydney turned away. She'd seen enough of Emerson and her games this summer. At school, with its back rows to sit in and darkroom to escape to, it was easy to avoid girls like Emerson. But here at the Club, it was Sydney's job to be around her. And she was sick of it. She just wanted to finish draping these stupid garlands and get home to her roll of film. She couldn't wait to spool the negatives and let the images spill out around her. Sydney and Calum had made their way through most of the tables on the deck when her phone dinged. 1 new message, the screen blinked when she extracted it from her pocket. She thumbed in her password, wondering if her mom had gotten stuck covering yet another overnight shift. One of the other nurses in her ward was out on maternity leave, which meant her mom was pulling double duty. Sydney hated the bags that were starting to bloom under her eyes, so dark they could almost pass for bruises.
But it wasn't her mom who had texted her. It was Guinness.
Her heart rate went from 60 to 120 in one second flat.
"Be right back," she mumbled to Calum. Slipping out of her flip-flops, she took off for the beach. She wanted to read the text in private.
"Where's the fire?" Calum called out behind her. She ignored him, but his words only made her heart race faster. Jogging down the stairs to the beach, she wrangled her way past the families lining up for umbrella rentals. There were kids playing and parents yelling and down by Cabin Crab, someone calling out order numbers, but she barely heard any of it. She dropped down in the sand, tucking her legs beneath her.
Guinness had finally texted her. She wanted so badly to be angry with him. To forget him, to swear him off. She should probably delete his text without reading it.
But instead, she took a deep breath and clicked it open.
Hey Blue, long time no chat. I'm in town. Looks like for a while. When can I see you?
Sydney couldn't help but smile at Guinness's old nickname for her. Blue. He used to call her that all the time, because of the turquoise-blue eyes he thought made her so photogenic. She read his text again, and then a third time. Her face felt hot. Considering his radio silence since she sent him her last batch of photos a month ago, she'd been sure he'd moved on. Found someone else, maybe, someone older and more talented.
But now he wanted to see her. And he was around for "a while." That had to mean he was at his dad's summerhouse. She felt a sudden urge to ditch the Club and drive straight there, but she forced the idea out of her head. Things had changed. She couldn't just run back into his arms as if nothing had happened.
"Hey, Syd! A little help?"
Sydney looked up. Calum was leaning over the pool-deck railing thirty feet away from her, waving energetically.
Sydney hauled herself to her feet, slapping the sand off her palms on the back of her shorts. "Coming," she called back. But she couldn't resist reading over Guinness's text one more time, especially that last part: When can I see you?
"I finished up the garlands, but Tony wants us to do a final sweep of the deck before we clock out," Calum said as Sydney jogged up the stairs. He held up an empty trash bag. "You sweep, I'll bag?"
"Yeah, sure." Sydney automatically took the broom Calum handed her. On the other side of the pool, she saw Emerson and Marta laughing extra-loudly, begging for attention, but for once she couldn't care less. She wondered how long she should wait to text Guinness back. A couple of minutes? An hour? Longer? She decided to go with two hours. He always made her wait for his responses, after all. Sometimes for months.
"So, you going to the party tonight?" Calum asked, pulling her out of her thoughts.
She looked up, surprised. Calum had gone away to boarding school in seventh grade, and ever since he'd switched back to Winslow Academy last year, he hadn't exactly been the life of the Echo Bay social scene. Not that she was either. "Party?"
"Yeah, haven't you heard? Tenley Greer's back in town. Remember her? She's throwing some huge end-of-summer bash."
"Nah," she said, carelessly shoving the broom toward the back of the deck. Her stomach flipped; maybe she would even see Guinness tonight. Or would that be giving in too easily? "I've got better stuff to do."
Tenley had been in Sydney's grade at Winslow Academy until she'd moved away in eighth grade. Sydney had never understood everyone's obsession with her. As far as she remembered, Tenley had been just like Emerson and Marta: a pretty, rich girl who thought employee was another word for loser.
Excerpted from Truth or Dare by Jacqueline Green. Copyright © 2014 Jacqueline Green. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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