A weekend retreat in the woods and an innocent game of three truths and a lie go horribly wrong in this high-octane psychological thriller filled with romantic suspense by Lambda Award–winning author Brent Hartinger.
Deep in the forest, four friends gather for a weekend of fun.
Truth #1: Rob is thrilled about the weekend trip. It’s the perfect time for him to break out of his shell…to be the person he really, really wants to be.
Truth #2: Liam, Rob’s boyfriend, is nothing short of perfect. He’s everything Rob could have wanted. They’re perfect together. Perfect.
Truth #3: Mia has been Liam’s best friend for years…long before Rob came along. They get each other in a way Rob could never, will never, understand.
Truth #4: Galen, Mia’s boyfriend, is sweet, handsome, and incredibly charming. He’s the definition of a Golden Boy…even with the secrets up his sleeve.
One of these truths is a lie…and not everyone will live to find out which one it is.
About the Author
Brent Hartinger is the award-winning author of a number of novels, mostly for and about teens, including Geography Club (2003) and five companion books, The Last Chance Texaco (2004); Grand & Humble (2006); Project Sweet Life (2008); and Shadow Walkers (2011). A feature film version of his first novel, Geography Club, was released in November 2013, costarring Scott Bakula, Ana Gasteyer, and Nikki Blonsky.
Read an Excerpt
Three Truths and a Lie
It was my fault, everything that happened that weekend.
It’s hard for me to admit that, but it’s the truth. I was the one who suggested going away in the first place. If I hadn’t had that dumb idea, who knows how things would’ve ended? Somehow, I’m going to have to live with that for the rest of my life.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to start at the beginning. That’s the only way you’re ever going to understand what really happened.
I guess it all began with the tattoos.
It was night, and I had gone downtown with my friends Liam, Mia, and Galen. I, Rob, was getting a tattoo! We all were, matching ones. We’d come to this tattoo parlor, the single open business in a row of darkened storefronts. They say the most important thing about a tattoo parlor is that it looks clean, and this one did, mostly. But it didn’t feel clean. Maybe it was the fact that the building was old: the linoleum was warped, and there was a mustiness in the air along with the smell of ink and rubbing alcohol and sweat. Or maybe it was because the room was filled with a zillion tattoo designs, all brightly colored, on laminated pages tacked to the walls or bound in thick albums on the coffee table. Given the dreariness of the rest of the room, and the neighborhood outside, it was like they were overdoing it, like they had something to hide.
Liam, my boyfriend, was in the tattoo chair, which was sort of like a dentist’s chair. The artist was this tall, gawky woman who didn’t have any tattoos herself, at least not any visible ones, which I thought was weird. She was sitting on a stool next to Liam, hunched over like a vulture eating roadkill, putting the finishing touches on this little tattoo on the inside of his wrist. It was of a spiderweb, not half an inch long.
Mia, Galen, and I were watching it all from the waiting area, about ten feet away.
“I thought you said it wouldn’t hurt,” Liam said, wincing repeatedly.
“I lied!” Mia said, letting out an actual cackle.
She and Galen had already gotten their tattoos, and now their arms were wrapped with white bandages, like they’d both tried to kill themselves by slitting their wrists. Looking back, I don’t really remember which of us chose the spiderweb design or why.
Overhead, the fluorescent lights flickered. All the while, the tattoo machine buzzed. Or maybe it was more of a high-pitched whine. Anyway, I could feel the vibration of the needle through the floor, even from ten feet away. Once Liam was done, it would be my turn, and as I watched the artist work on him, I could almost feel that needle against my skin. The pricking, the stinging, the oozing of blood.
I was scared of getting a tattoo, about forty percent sure I was going to end up catching hepatitis C, or worse. But if I’m going to be honest, I was a little excited too.
Truthfully, I wasn’t the kind of person who got tattoos. People always say I’m clean-cut, even wholesome, but I know what they really mean is that I’m boring. But I don’t care if people sometimes ignore me, if I’m not usually the center of attention. Besides, everyone has tattoos these days, so I don’t see how that gets people to pay attention to you anyway.
Liam was the same way. If anything, he was even dorkier than I was, more cautious, even more high-strung.
But that was okay. It’s part of why I liked him so much. We’d only been going out for three months, but we were already in sync. People said it was kind of eerie how alike we were, but I loved it. We watched the same movies, listened to the same music, played the same video games. On our first date, at Chipotle, we ordered separately but ended up getting exactly the same thing, right down to a black bean burrito with the same two kinds of salsa, roasted chili corn and tomatillo green chili.
Outside the tattoo parlor, a car backfired and I jumped. At least I hoped it was a car. We weren’t in the best part of town.
“Looks good,” Mia said, staring at Liam’s tattoo as the artist dabbed it with a square of bloody gauze. I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or him, but I nodded anyway.
Mia was the real reason Liam and I were even here. If Liam and I tended to blend into the background, Mia stood out like, well, a colorful tattoo parlor in a row of darkened storefronts. She was good-looking, with a mane of long brown hair and a body like she belonged on a beer poster, but that was actually the least of it. It was more her whole attitude about the world, like life was just one big dare. She could be crude and bossy and impulsive, and she did always have to be the center of attention, which sometimes got annoying. But she could also be spontaneous and fun and funny, and was probably the least pretentious, least judgmental person I’ve ever met. She didn’t take anything too seriously for long. For her, the most important thing was having a good time. It was all about the here and now.
For weeks I’d wondered how Liam had ended up friends with someone like her. I guess they’d met early in their freshman year, back when everyone is a loser and you pick your friends because they have a locker or a desk next to you, not because you have anything in common. But for whatever reason, they’d stayed friends, even after Mia started running with the wolves. Now she and Liam were almost inseparable.
Truthfully, she made me uneasy. I resented how close she was with Liam. I had a few of my own friends, but nothing like what Liam had, nothing like Mia. And I wanted to be going out with Liam, not Mia. It’s not just that I didn’t have a lot in common with her, it’s that Liam didn’t seem to have a lot in common with her. So why were they even friends? What did it say about Liam that I didn’t know why he was drawn to someone like that? Or why she was drawn to him? It was like they shared a secret I didn’t know. Liam and I seemed so in sync in so many ways, but this was the one thing I didn’t understand about him. And I couldn’t help but wonder if it meant I didn’t understand him as well as I thought.
But I’d accepted they were sort of a package deal. And it was more than just being okay with being around her. If I wanted my relationship with Liam to work, I knew Mia had to like me too. That’s why I’d agreed to get this tattoo in the first place, to come along with the others. It had been Mia’s idea, and Liam and Galen had seemed excited, so I hadn’t said a word. I’d gone along to get along.
It wasn’t just that. I did sort of like that Mia pushed me to do things I wouldn’t do otherwise. I’d spent my whole life inside my comfort zone, which is nice and safe and predictable, but also kind of boring.
The needle kept whining as the artist put the last touches on Liam’s tattoo. Soon it would be my turn. But all of a sudden my comfort zone was back to looking pretty good. What kind of idiot wanted out of their comfort zone?
“Hey,” Galen said to me. “You okay?” Mia’s boyfriend was part hipster, part jock. He had a body like the figure at the top of a high school trophy—lean and solid and golden—with facial hair that was a cross between a chin strip and a goatee. But the most interesting thing about him, the quality that was both hipster and jock, was his cool, above-it-all attitude. If Mia was a prize fighter punching her way through life, Galen was a cloud flowing around anything that got in front of him. In the few months I’d known him, I’d never seen him get upset about anything. The worst you could say about him is that he got kind of moody in the afternoons at school, but I’d always thought that was like how the animals at zoos all look listless because they’re forced to live in cages.
“Huh?” I said to him. What had he asked me again?
“You look like you’re in pain.”
I wasn’t in pain yet, but I could tell from Liam’s expression that he was. Which meant I was going to be in pain soon too.
“No,” I said, relaxing my jaw. “I’m okay.”
“Hey,” Galen said. “A guy with a tattoo walks into a bar and hears a voice say, ‘That is a fantastic tattoo. And the color really goes with your eyes!’ The guy looks around and doesn’t see anyone, so he says to the bartender, ‘Who just said that?’ And the bartender says, ‘The complimentary peanuts.’”
Galen laughed, and I did too, mostly because I knew Galen was trying to cheer me up, but also because he really had sold the joke. Galen told a lot of corny jokes—lately, it was the “guy walks into a bar” kind—and somehow he made those seem cool too.
“Okay,” the tattoo artist said, leaning back on her stool. “You’re done.”
At some point, the whining of the needle had stopped. I guess Galen really had distracted me.
I looked down at Liam’s wrist. It was bandaged now, like Mia’s and Galen’s.
“You’re up next,” the tattoo artist said.
Was she talking to me? Of course she was. There was one other person waiting, but we had come in as a group, and Mia, Galen, and Liam all had their tattoos. I was the only one who didn’t.
I stood up.
“Oh shit,” Galen said, turning away from the front window, giving it the cold shoulder. It was like he’d seen someone on the street outside and now didn’t want them to see him.
“What is it?” Mia asked. She scratched her bandage.
“Nothing. But we need to go.” There was a weird urgency in his voice—weird for anyone, but especially for Galen.
Mia looked up, confused. “What are you talking about?”
I looked out the window behind Galen. Three figures beelined toward the tattoo parlor from the other side of the street, making the cars stop right in the middle of the road. It was dark, and one of the streetlights was out, so I couldn’t make out their faces, how old they were. But I could tell they were angry just by the way they were walking, the way their heads didn’t bob when they moved. I could also tell they’d spotted Galen. One of the guys had his hand in the pocket of his jacket, and I didn’t even want to think about what might be in there.
“It’s someone I don’t wanna see,” Galen said. He breezed over to the front door, still not panicking exactly, but he flicked the dead bolt with a loud snap.
The tattoo artist heard the sound and looked over. “What are you doing?” she said.
“Just for a second, okay?” he said. He opened his wallet and flashed her a fan of bills, then left it all by the cash register. “Is there a back door? Where does it lead?”
“The back alley,” the woman said, now weirdly indifferent, casually wrestling with a package containing a fresh tattoo needle.
Maybe she was used to this kind of thing, but I sure wasn’t.
“Come on,” Galen said, commanding Mia, Liam, and me like dogs, leading us toward the exit.
I was about to point out that I still hadn’t gotten my tattoo, but then I remembered I hadn’t even wanted that tattoo to begin with.
We hustled to the back door. Behind us, someone yanked on the locked front door, and the windows rattled.
Galen threw open the rear door and the four of us stepped out into the night. There was hardly any light in the alley. After all the bright colors in the tattoo parlor, it felt like stepping into a black-and-white movie, like stepping from Oz back into Kansas.
Galen turned left and slipped off into the darkness. I could hear the thump of his footsteps—he was already running. I wanted to ask him what was going on, call out for an explanation, but none of us dared make a sound. Instead, Mia, Liam, and I hurried after him, past Dumpsters and garbage cans. A TV blared out of one of the windows above us, music from some soapy romance.
“Galen!” someone called from behind us, a voice that cracked like a whip. “I know it’s you, you asshole! You better hope we don’t catch you!”
At the end of the darkened alley, the streetlights shone down like the glow from the top of an aquarium. But right in front of me, Galen’s silhouette turned sharply right, disappearing into a slash of darkness.
“In here!” he said. “Quickly!”
It was some sort of side alley, really narrow, sandwiched between two buildings. Too narrow for Dumpsters or even garbage cans.
A figure stepped into the aquarium glow at the end of the main alley—someone different from the person behind us. Whoever was chasing us must have split up and circled around to cover both ends of the alley. The person in front of us had his hand in the pocket of his jacket again.
I followed Galen into the side alley. It was even darker than the main alley, like a black curtain had fallen behind me. There may not have been any cans, but there was plenty of garbage. I scrambled over it in the dark, sometimes tripping, sometimes slipping in slick, gooey pools. This was exactly the kind of place where you’d step on a nail, but that was the least of my worries now. My pulse pounded and I sucked down the foul, oily air. I was desperate to get to the end of the alley. Did Galen know where he was going? What if there was someone waiting for us there too? What the hell was that nonsense about my wanting to leave my comfort zone?
A wooden fence blocked our way, the dead end of a maze.
My pulse pounded, and now I couldn’t even breathe.
“Climb!” Galen said, already clawing his way up. “Just climb!”
I searched for the cross-slats in the dark—something to hold on to. The wood was old and splitting, and I could already tell I was going to get splinters, but I climbed anyway. The four of us fumbled our way upward, and the boards squeaked around me like rats. The fence was narrow, the width of the alley, so we jostled against one another, a little like rats ourselves. Someone even kicked me in the head, but I couldn’t make out who it was in the dark.
Finally, my hands reached the top and I pulled myself up into the light. The others had beaten me over the fence and were now standing on the other side.
“Hurry!” Mia said.
I lowered myself down.
After the darkness of the alley, the streetlights and colors on the other side of the fence were blinding—we’d stepped back into Oz. We were on a different street on a different block, but it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out where we’d gone.
A taxi glided down the street in front of us.
Galen leaped out into the street in front of the cab. “Stop!” he said. “Stop!”
The tires squealed, but at least it stopped. The taxi’s light was on, which I guess meant it was vacant.
We climbed into the cab—I took the front seat—and slammed the doors. A figure appeared at the far end of the street, hand in pocket. I still couldn’t see his face, but I knew his eyes were tracking us.
“Go!” Galen said to the driver.
The driver sped off, and I gripped the armrests. I had splinters from the fence, just like I’d thought.
As we passed the corner, I ducked down. If that guy really did have a gun in his pocket, who’s to say he wouldn’t use it?
“What about my car?” Mia said.
“We’ll come back later,” Galen said, a whispered hiss, even more urgent than before.
That shut Mia up. After that, we all held our breath—even the driver, I think.
Finally, a couple of blocks later, Mia sat upright again. “Okay, what the fuck, Galen?”
Galen shrugged innocently, and somehow, even after everything that had happened, he sold that too. “That wasn’t anyone. A guy and his friends. He’s a dick.”
Mia just glared at him.
“Okay, I may have screwed his girlfriend. Twice. But this was way before I met you.”
Mia rolled her eyes, and I glanced over at the cab driver. His face was flat and his eyes were fixed straight ahead. I guess when you drive a taxi, you’re supposed to pretend you can’t hear what your passengers are saying, like they’re not really there.
“Well, that was two firsts in one night,” Liam said. “My first tattoo and my first time almost roughed up by thugs.” He hesitated a perfect second, then cracked a smile. “I can’t think of the last time I had so much fun!”
Mia and Galen laughed.
That’s when I finally knew why Liam was friends with Mia. It was so obvious. He craved the excitement, just like I did.
Except I hadn’t craved the excitement. At the first sign of danger, I’d wanted to scamper right back into my comfort zone. I’d been worried about splinters and getting shot. So did that mean Liam and I weren’t as in sync as I’d thought?
I looked at the three of them squeezed together in the backseat. Liam stared out his window, and Mia, sitting in the middle, leaned over to kiss Galen. Even in the dark, I could see the white bandages on their wrists, which they weren’t supposed to take off for at least ten hours. Liam, Galen, and Mia all had matching tattoos under those bandages, but I didn’t. I had nothing. That made me feel even more left out. But we couldn’t go back to the tattoo parlor now, not with Galen’s enemies around.
“Where to?” the driver asked us, and Mia told him.
But that got me thinking.
“We should go away,” I said to the others. “For the weekend. Somewhere private. Somewhere where it’d be just us.”
“I wish,” Mia said. “Where would we go?”
“How about your parents’ cabin?” Galen said. He was back to being completely cool again, no sign of stress at all. “Out on the Olympic Peninsula.”
The Olympic Peninsula is what people call the northwest corner of Washington State. It’s across Puget Sound from Seattle, and the only way to get there is to take a ferry, or drive around way down south and up again. So it’s actually pretty remote. It’s mostly mountains and forests and rivers, and there isn’t a single big city.
“I haven’t been up there in forever,” Mia said. She looked over at Galen, frowning. “How do you even know about that?”
“I saw a photo at your house, and I asked your parents about it.”
“I doubt my parents’ll let me go,” Liam said. “Not that far. Not for two nights.”
This was going to be a problem. Galen’s mom was almost completely absent and his dad had left town years ago, but Liam’s parents were really overprotective. Frankly, I wondered how he was going to explain the tattoo.
“So lie and tell them you’re staying at my house,” Mia said to Liam. “You’ve spent the night there before, lots of times. And if they do find out we left, we can say it was, like, a last-minute thing.”
Liam thought about it. Mia’s parents were strict too, which is part of the reason why Liam’s parents let him spend the night at her house. Plus, everyone knew he was gay.
As for my parents, I knew they might object at first, but they’d let me go in the end. My parents could be annoyingly reasonable. All my life, they’d seemed to know exactly when to give me the right amount of freedom. I was eighteen now, graduating from high school in a few weeks, and I knew they’d see this as the perfect chance for me to test my independence before going off to college in the fall. Unlike everyone else in that car, if I ever screwed up my life, I wouldn’t be able to blame absent or overprotective parents. I wouldn’t be able to blame anyone except myself.
“I’m in,” Galen said.
“Okay,” Liam said. “Let’s do it.”
It’s hard for me to talk about that conversation in the taxi. If I’d never suggested going away, I wouldn’t have reminded Galen about Mia’s parents’ cabin. We never would’ve gone away. None of what happened that weekend would’ve happened.
That’s what I mean about this being all my fault.
It’s hard for me to talk about that conversation in the taxi. But that’s easy compared to talking about everything that came next.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Top notch YA thriller with a twist ending I didn't see coming and that I totally loved. Smart, sexy book that won't disappoint!
I was super excited about this synopsis. It sounded exactly like my sort of book, yet I found it sort of lacking. Rob was okay. His inner monologue was nothing spectacular and to me it came across as quite immature. Liam, Galen, and Mia were also just okay. Their personalities were described as having different aspects, but I didn't see those differences. The plot does move and it was a quick read with some surprises, but since I didn't really care about the characters, I didn't care what happened. And the ending left me wanting a bit more. Where it ends works, but it also felt rushed. Overall, an interesting idea, but a disappointing execution. **Huge thanks to Simon Pulse for providing the arc in exchange for an honest review**
This is a chilling YA gothic mystery with turns that make the reader really wonder... Rob, Liam, Galen and Mia are four high-school seniors weeks before graduation. Liam and Rob are dating, and Liam is best friends with Mia, who is dating Galen. They sort-of get along. It's not easy because Rob is new to the group, and he's the one telling the story. Also, Galen is a goofy guy, and seems to get-off on teasing Liam and Rob, sexually. I mean this as: he has no shame flaunting his body and trying to arouse Liam and Rob, because he's a very good-looking guy. Mia thinks that's kinda funny, even if it's uncomfortable for Rob and Liam. As a bonding experience, they take a weekend trip to Mia's family's remote cabin on the Olympic Peninsula three hours from their homes in Seattle. Getting there is an adventure. They stop in Marot, Wash and the town and folks are nothing less than eerie. Mia's family had sold some of their land, and it was clear-cut--making the townies hostile. Rob, the narrator throughout, is freaked out. The cabin's little more than a wreck, and so remote they need a satellite phone for emergency use. Which promptly goes missing. And, the outhouse explodes. And so many freaky things happen that Rob's SURE they are being stalked/hunted by the Marot weirdos. This is a gothic mystery, and the fifth character in the story is truly setting. From oily-aired Seattle alleys and shady tattoo parlors to the constantly-dripping temperate rainforest with its startling, yet hidden, clear-cut patchwork, enveloping the cabin and teens, you can be sure that the settling is thick, overwhelming and troublesome. Remote, and desolate, with nothing but acres and acres of dangers and possibilities. I got chills, much the same as Rob described. I honestly don't want to give away too much plot, but you can expect a whole lot of death and destruction in the story. Despite their bonding skinny-dips and fireside chats, the teens are a-dropping and Rob's frantic to escape this fate, by any means necessary. I didn't see the big twist, at all. Which was terribly refreshing. As I've read several of the author's books, this one marked a complete departure into gothic mystery/horror. What a fantastic addition to his library, really.
This is a quick read. Which is a good thing, because nothing really happens for the first 50+ pages - a good bit of description about the scenery as these teens arrive at the lake, but not much else. BUT. By the end of the book, I realized more was happening than I'd thought - and trust me, you'll want to go back and look at the early pages. While reading this book, I was thinking how it reminded me of the early Friday 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street movies - teens in a secluded location, a sinister someone lurking in the shadows, then the characters begin dropping off one by one. You'll find yourself shifting blame from one person to the next, looking for motives. There's a huge surprise twist near the end, no spoilers here - but I'd guessed it by the middle of the book. It's the only thing that made sense to me - but seriously, it's a shocking twist. I liked the way this book was written, from Rob's point of view, and the way he addressed the reader at times; however, occasionally, the dialogue between the characters seemed a little unnatural and that of younger teens. That being said, due to sexual situations, this isn't a book I'd recommend for the younger YA crowd. Three Truths and a Lie contains a suspenseful mystery and will keep you guessing, looking for incriminating actions, motives, and flipping back through the pages in search of clues. Thanks to the publisher through Edelweiss and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Four friends decide to spend a weekend at a cabin, alone. No, I don’t see a problem with that. These are underage friends, friends who are attractive to one another and have access to alcohol and have decided to go skinny dipping together. Ok, I’m starting to see where things might start to get interesting. They decide to play Three Truths and a Lie, a game which seems pretty innocent but you never know what truths and lies these individual are going to say. Now, the true character of these individuals is starting to emerge. Something clicked and the next day, this foursome seems to be under attack. I sure hope these four friends don’t get all soft and panicky. With intensity I read as some unexplained noises took up residence around their cabin, somehow their phone vanished and a few other odd incidents occurred which spooked these teens and made them all nervous. What was happening to them? Was it their imagination, was someone playing a trick on them or was someone really after them? As the group comes to grips with their dilemma, the foursome suddenly became a threesome and their nightmare in the cabin began. Trying to find an explanation to what was occurring; the remaining party begins dwindling in numbers. Stop thinking and do something! The ending was incredible; I never saw that one coming. I would love to go back and reread this novel again knowing what I know now. Bravo to the author for such a fantastic conclusion. This is definitely something you should read, and then perhaps read again as I know you probably will want to. I would have given this a five star review but I feel that word choice was an issue with me in this novel. I really wish the author would have written down more descriptive words in Rob’s narrative. I thought his narrative contained many cold, simple words which didn’t hold any emotional bearing for me. I know that the story is told by Rob but I feel that had he used different words the novel would have created more energy, depth and held more emotional and visual bearing for me. For example, the word said, there are other words to use besides using said all the time. I know, as a reader, I am supposed to create my own world but simple words feel scripted to me. At another high intensity part of the novel, I visualized the characters high tailing it out of there but I read the word, ran and I was disappointed. This is just my own opinion on word choice as some words slow me down. I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley and Simon Schuster Children’s Publishing in exchange for an honest opinion. Thank you for making my dream come true.