“Heartbreaking and heroic. You won't be able to turn the pages fast enough!” --Romily Bernard, author of the Find Me trilogy
In Pintip Dunn’s gripping and timely novel, a young woman whose life unravels in the wake of her mother’s alleged suicide sets out to clear her name.
“The mother I knew would never do those things. But maybe I never knew her after all.”
Clothes, jokes, coded messages…Cecilia Brooks and her mom shared everything. At least, CeCe thought they did. Six months ago, her mom killed herself after accusations of having sex with a student, and CeCe’s been the subject of whispers and taunts ever since. Now, at the start of her high school senior year, between dealing with her grieving, distracted father, and the social nightmare that has become her life, CeCe just wants to fly under the radar. Instead, she’s volunteering at the school’s crisis hotline—the same place her mother worked.
As she counsels troubled strangers, CeCe’s lingering suspicions about her mom’s death resurface. With the help of Sam, a new student and newspaper intern, she starts to piece together fragmented clues that point to a twisted secret at the heart of her community. Soon, finding the truth isn’t just a matter of restoring her mother’s reputation, it’s about saving lives—including CeCe’s own…
“A twisty, fast-paced thriller that kept me guessing to the end.”—Shannon Grogan, author of From Where I Watch You
“This one will tug your heart and leave you breathless!”--Natalie D. Richards, author of Six Months Later
“A headlong rush into the shadows of secrets that should not be kept.” –Michelle Zink, author of Prophecy of the Sisters
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The Darkest Lie
By Pintip Dunn
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Pintip Dunn
All rights reserved.
Six months later ...
I stand rooted to the linoleum tile, my stomach clenched as tightly as a steel trap. The first day of senior year and it's happening already.
Only this time, I'm not the victim.
Like every other student in the locker corridor, I swivel my head toward the entrance of Lakewood High, where a skinny sophomore sprawls amid a bunch of flyers, her stick-like legs encased in green and yellow stockings.
Standing above her, ample hip cocked and a bored look on her face, is the school's reigning princess, Mackenzie Myers. She's got more money than anyone in school, as well as the biggest ass.
"The crisis hotline?" She picks up a flyer with two fingers, as the sophomore scrambles on the floor for her papers. "Don't tell me you're a call counselor. How can you advise other people on their social lives when you don't have one?"
Mackenzie drops the flyer. And then steps on it with her Jimmy Choo sandal — strappy, wide, and more expensive than my entire wardrobe.
I wrap my arms around myself. I should do something. Say something. I can't leave the girl there, crawling around Mackenzie's feet like a rodent.
But I do.
First, because it's the crisis call center — the same hotline my mother founded and coordinated.
And second, because that could be me on the floor. In fact, it was me. For the last couple months of junior year, I couldn't get through a day without being tripped by an errant foot, one of Tommy Farrow's pals approaching me and unzipping his pants. "Oh, sorry, is that my dick in your mouth? Guess I must've mistaken you for your mother."
But now that Tommy and his buddies have finally graduated, this is my year to have the reputation I want. That is to say: no reputation at all.
Wallflower. Nondescript. Flying so far under the radar I might as well not exist. I don't care if I'm forgotten, so long as they leave me alone.
"What's your expertise? Fashion advice?" Mackenzie taunts. "Not unless we want to look like Strawberry Shortcake. This is high school, not kindergarten."
I rip my eyes away, and my gaze collides with a guy I've never seen before. Which is saying a lot, since Lakewood, Kansas, only has a population of 10,000. He's tall, totally built, and wears a pair of wire-rimmed glasses.
I can't figure out whether he's a hottie or a nerd. Maybe both. On the one hand, he has the kind of pecs Mackenzie would be all over like buzzards on a carcass. On the other, his jeans are an inch too short, the color unfashionably faded from too many washings.
As I stare, he nods in my direction — why? what did I do? — and crouches down next to the sophomore. The jeans hitch up even more, and I can see three inches of skin.
Something inside me lurches — and I don't know why, but I bend down and pick up the flyers closest to me. I assemble a small pile and hand it to the sophomore.
"Thank you," she mouths, too terrified to talk.
I retreat to my locker, my heartbeat reverberating in my ears like a tornado drill.
They finish gathering the flyers, and the new guy glances at Mackenzie and places a protective hand on the sophomore's shoulder. "Come on," he says to the girl. "I'll help you hang these up. There's nothing for you here. Nothing worth your time, anyway."
They turn their backs and walk away. Right in front of everyone. Half the senior class. A gaggle of Mackenzie's cronies. Oh, and the captain of the varsity tennis team, the boy everyone says is a shoo-in for Homecoming King. Him too.
Mackenzie's cheeks flame red and then burn down to ash. Never, in her long reign over this school, has she been snubbed so thoroughly.
For an endless moment, no one speaks. And then Mackenzie pulls herself together, buttoning up her features the way one might fasten a coat.
"Eat some food!" she squawks after the couple.
I blink. Is that what this is about? Not the hotline, after all. Mackenzie's harassing the sophomore for being ... skinnier than her? Seriously?
Before I can digest this sickness, the new guy and the sophomore walk past me. The guy's gaze finds mine again. And then he winks.
He winks. As if I'm somehow complicit in his snubbing. As if I've plotted with him to bring Mackenzie down.
I whip around and pretend to rummage in my locker. Books, schedule, and an oversized sweater I can throw on in case someone makes a suggestive comment about my outfit.
But the weight of someone's stare prickles my skin. I peek to the side, and my heart nearly stops. The school princess glares at me, her hands fisted on her hips. If I thought the new guy's gaze was piercing, Mackenzie's hauls me up and pins me to the wall.
No! I want to shout. I don't even know him. I picked up a few papers. That's all. I wasn't trying to snub you.
But my voice burrows itself under the lump in my throat, and before I can find it, Mackenzie shakes her head disgustedly and stalks off.
So much for flying under the radar.CHAPTER 2
"Ooohh, Alisara! Over here! I saved you a seat!" Raleigh squeals, her streaked golden tresses bouncing as she completely ignores me. I've known her since she was six, when her mom used to bind her mousy hair into two braids.
Still, Raleigh's not trying to be cruel, even though Alisara and I walked into the classroom together. It's just that Alisara is her friend, and I'm not. Or at least, not anymore.
There was a time, before, when I ran around with that whole group of girls. They didn't cut me out or anything — they're way too nice for that. I just kinda waned.
Alisara gives me the kind of smile that makes little creases on her cheeks. Out of my old group, she's the only one who still tries to continue our friendship. "I'm glad you had a good summer, CeCe. I'll catch you later, okay?"
I force a fake smile onto my own face. "Of course. Later."
I walk down the aisle and sit where I always do. The middle seat in the middle row. Too close to the front, and I'd be called a gunner. Too far in the back, and I'm a slacker.
The middle is exactly where I want to be: invisible.
Invisible doesn't silence an entire room when you walk in. It doesn't leave a trail of whispers in its wake. Maybe it means nobody will ever squeal your name from across the room, either, but that's a trade I'm willing to make.
The seats on either side of me are empty, but five minutes before the bell, someone plops down next to me. The new guy.
My hands clench around the black-and-white composition notebook I've been carrying around all summer — the one that's a prerequisite for our Intro to Psych class. Before I can pretend to be terribly busy with the course syllabus, he turns to me with an easy grin.
"Hi. We didn't get the chance to be properly introduced before. I'm Sam Davidson."
"Cecilia Brooks," I mumble. "Everyone calls me CeCe."
"I'm new here." He shifts closer to me. As in, his chair moves an entire six inches in my direction. All of a sudden, I can see the freckles sprinkled across his nose, turned cinnamon by the morning rays of the sun. A thin scar snakes across his forehead, almost hidden by his hair, and his dark eyes puncture me through his glasses. I feel like I'm plunging down a roller coaster, weightless and free.
I look down, but his bare ankles mock me. Reminding me of my role in this morning's debacle.
"I thought I was going crazy this morning," he continues. "Everyone stood there and watched that poor girl being bullied like it was some You Tube video gone viral. But then you gave us a hand, and I realized I hadn't entered some freaky fifth dimension after all. So thanks for that."
I blink. It was a few papers. Less than nothing. And also more. Because it was a lapse in judgment. A failure to be unremarkable, before the school year even begins.
"I hear we have open lunch periods here," he says, oblivious to my turmoil. "And I don't know where to go. Maybe you could show me?"
Despite everything, my stomach flutters. Because the way he looks at me, it's like a blank slate. He doesn't see the girl everyone's been gossiping about for the last six months. He doesn't see my mother's ghost lurking behind each of my features. He sees me.
I open my mouth to say "yes," when I notice the people staring. Girls, primarily, and from the looks on their faces, it has nothing to do with Mackenzie — and everything to do with the new guy talking to Cecilia Brooks.
"I can't," I say.
He looks at me expectantly, as if waiting for the rest of the sentence. I can't because I have a yearbook meeting. Or: I can't because I have a boyfriend.
But I don't want to lie. He's been more genuine with me in five minutes than some of my classmates have been in their entire lives.
"I'm sorry." I stare at my notebook, my lifeline this past summer. The thing that kept me from reliving, over and over, how my mother looked in her casket.
"Wow." Sam's voice, light and gracious, pulls me back to the present. Smoothing things over even as I'm shooting him down. "As far as pickup lines go, I thought that was pretty good."
I can't help but smile. "I've heard worse." Much, much worse, on an almost daily basis, but he doesn't have to know that.
The warning bell rings, and students begin drifting to their desks. The psych teacher strides into the room, wearing a blazer over his Captain America T-shirt. I face the front, ready to put the conversation behind me.
"Okay, class. Settle down." Mr. Willoughby perches on the edge of his desk, next to a gilded picture frame. "That means you, Mr. Brinson. You and Mr. Taylor can discuss football plays after class. And no need to check your eye makeup, Miss Stevens. This is high school, not a fashion show."
Raleigh blushes and twirls a lock of hair around her finger, looking up at him through her eyelashes.
My stomach rolls. Ew, ew, ew. Raleigh probably thinks she's being cute. I'm sure she doesn't see any harm in flirting with the psych teacher. I mean, he's nice-enough looking, and he dresses youngish in comic book T-shirts.
But he's not young. And it's not cute. In fact, Mr. Willoughby is a widower, and we all know he's never gotten over his wife's death. She's been buried over twenty years, and he still doesn't date.
After the scandal with my mother, I don't know why anyone — much less one of my old friends — would think it's appropriate to trifle with a teacher. I guess that's why Raleigh isn't my friend anymore.
"I'm so pleased to welcome you to a year of examining the human psyche," the teacher says. "Which means, first and foremost, we'll be studying ourselves. To that end, please pass forward your summer assignments, the self-examination journals."
I jerk. Wait — what? NO. No, no, no. This wasn't part of the plan. We're not supposed to turn in our journals.
All around me, students pull out their black-and-white notebooks. Unfazed. As if this were any other homework. Even Sam has one, so whenever he moved to town, it was recently enough to complete the assignment.
The girl in front of me holds out her hand for my notebook. I stare as if it's a severed, floating appendage. Then, the hand drops and actually touches my speckled cover.
I snatch the journal off my desk. "Sorry! There's been a misunderstanding."
My misunderstanding, at least. If I'd known, I wouldn't have taken the assignment to heart. I wouldn't have bared my soul and drawn my mother in all the ways I remembered her. Heaped on the snow in a tangle of limbs the first — and only — time she went skiing. The sunset-red hair bouncing on her shoulders after her monthly visit to the salon. Rolling her eyes but not saying a word when Gram taught the six-year-old me how to play poker.
My classmate's brows crease, and the journals pile up behind me.
"Is there a problem, girls?" Mr. Willoughby approaches us.
"You said no one would look at our journals," I say, my voice low and raspy. I don't talk in class, as a rule, and it's like my voice is punishing me for speaking up so early in the year. "You said to fill the pages with whatever we wanted and not to worry because no one would ever see them."
He frowns. "I'm not going to read the entries, Miss Brooks. But I do need to flip through the pages to make sure the work was done. Why else would I ask you to bring the notebooks to class?"
Why, indeed. The explanation I gave myself — that flashing the speckled covers would be sufficient to earn us credit — seems stupid now.
"I promise I did the work, Mr. Willoughby," I say. "But I can't let you flip through the pages."
"Why not? Don't you trust me?"
"It's not that. What I put in my journal — they're not words."
The room is silent for two heartbeats. And then the whispers begin. I can't make out the words, but I can guess only too well what they're saying.
"What's in it, then? Photos from Tabitha's private collection?"
"Maybe it's drawings of her and her mom naked together!"
"Or a collage of all the guys they've slept with!"
Snickers fill the air. I fix my gaze on the Captain America shield on my teacher's chest and pretend not to hear. Pretend not to care. Pretend I never had a mother.
"That's enough, class," Mr. Willoughby says sharply. "Turn your psych textbooks to chapter one." He lowers his voice. "Miss Brooks, please stop by my office after school."
I nod meekly. The whispers from my classmates circle around my head like a dog chasing its own tail, never tiring, never stopping.
It's the first day of school. And already, I'm in trouble.CHAPTER 3
Mackenzie's waiting by my locker after school. She sticks out her designer-jeans-clad butt, taking up half the hallway, so that the foot traffic has to diverge around her.
As I approach, her eyes flicker over my gray hoodie and black canvas high-tops, clothes designed to make me disappear. I think about walking past her and out the double-glass doors, but I need to face her sometime. And if I look like the coward I really am? She'll find some way to use it against me.
"Excuse me," I say. "You're in front of my locker."
Her eyebrows raise. "Oh, is this yours? I didn't realize."
She shifts languorously to one side. "How was your first day, CeCe? Make lots of new friends?" Her voice arches like a worm on a hook, daring me to say the wrong thing.
"It was all right." I spin the dial on the lock, but my fingers fumble and I flub the numbers. I try again. And then again.
Sweat pools at my neck, and the hair sticks to my forehead. This is ridiculous! I've got more important things to worry about — like my meeting with Mr. Willoughby. I can't let a simple conversation bother me.
I try the combination one more time, but the FREAKING LOCK WILL NOT OPEN. It spins and spins, and clearly this isn't the right set of numbers. Clearly, the right combination doesn't exist anywhere, and they've given me the one faulty lock in the ENTIRE school ...
The dial clicks. Mackenzie smirks.
"Nervous much? You wouldn't have something to hide, would you?"
Um, yeah. The senior class has been buzzing about nothing else all day. But Mackenzie couldn't care less about my self-examination journal. She's got more pressing concerns: herself.
"I saw you getting cozy with the new boy this morning," she says.
"No, I wasn't. I hadn't even met him yet."
The "yet" slips out, and her eyes narrow. "Listen, CeCe, you and I, we've always been okay. I would hate to see some guy get in the way of our friendship, wouldn't you?"
This is both truth and lie. Sure, we've never had a problem with each other, but a guy did come between us. Or more precisely, between her and my mother.
Tommy was Mackenzie's boyfriend when the scandal broke, and the school princess has never forgiven me for being my mother's daughter. I don't blame her. I haven't forgiven my mom, either.
"Watch yourself. You don't want to get on my bad side." Mackenzie looks pointedly at my locker number, as if committing it to memory, and then sashays down the corridor, her ass jabbing the air with every step.
I take a shaky breath. I'm okay. As far as harassment goes, that wasn't bad. Just a warning. I can handle a warning. That's nothing compared to a group of boys walking past me while I'm eating a banana, smirking to one another and whispering, "Suck it, baby."
Excerpted from The Darkest Lie by Pintip Dunn. Copyright © 2016 Pintip Dunn. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Excellent Read Lakewood, Kansas Cecelia Brooks and her mom shared everything from jokes and clothes to coded messages. At least that is what CeCe thought until six months ago. That was when CeCe’s mom killed herself after there were accusations of her mom having sex with a student. Since then CeCe has been the subject of taunts and whispers. With the start of her senior year at high school CeCe is trying to fly under the radar especially as she is dealing with a grieving and distracted father and the social nightmare that is her life now. Instead she is now volunteering at the schools crisis hotline. The same one that her mother worked. CeCe’s lingering suspicions about her mom’s death resurface as she counsels troubled strangers. She starts to piece together fragments clues with the help of new student, Sam who is also a newspaper intern. Clues point to a twisted secret that is at the heart of the community. Suddenly finding the truth isn’t just about restoring her mother’s reputation but about saving lives including CeCe’s own. This is book full of suspense that takes the reader on a roller coaster ride that doesn’t stop until the very last page. The twists and turns in the story will have readers guessing until the very end as to just what is happening and who might be doing what. The characters are well written and move the story along at a very fast pace that never leaves the reader behind. It makes for a very fast read.
Such a good book! I would recommend this to anyone who likes a good mystery :)
Suicide in small town Kansas? Trusted adults having sex with high school teenagers? These are tough topics. But Pintip Dunn handles them courageously and skillfully when she describes the love and anger of a teenage girl grappling with the supposed sex scandal and suicide of her mother / best friend. Dunn writes characters with such depth that you feel things you didn't know were possible, like anger for the people you love the most. She gives words to those confusing feelings. And in those simple, but powerful words, Dunn takes you places you didn't think you wanted to go. But when she leads you out, safely, you can't help but feel changed. This book was darker than Dunn's first novel, Forget Tomorrow, but it features Dunn's signature clear storytelling, emotional depth, and strong characters. I can't wait to see where Dunn will take me in her next novel.
Pintip kept up the tension creating a page turner. Loved it!
I got to read an early copy of this wonderful book by Pintip Dunn and I loved it so much! This fast-paced thriller will pull at your heart and keep you turning the pages well after your bedtime. Pintip really knows how to write characters that stick with you way after you close the book.