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I hated playing truth or dare, because inevitably, one of the boys—usually Jensen or Gavin—either asked an embarrassing question or suggested a dare that I’d end up getting called a girl for not doing.

Gavin waggled his brows at me, and I sighed. Another reason why I hated this game was the fact that I couldn’t come up with a cool question or dare.

“Truth or dare?” I said.

“Truth!” he said boldly.

My brain whizzed as I searched for something to ask and I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “Is it true . . . that you . . . ?”

Gavin leaned forward, waiting.

“Sleep with a fuzzy teddy bear?” I finished.

“What?” He sat up straight, glancing at Jensen, who grinned. “Are you serious?”

I shrugged. “Yeah.”

“No.” He sighed. “That’s not true. And that was also lame, Ella.”

I slept with a blue bear—a Care Bear, so whatever. I wrinkled my nose at him, and he grinned before looking at Jensen. “Your turn.”

Tensing up, I held my breath.

Which meant it was also my turn. Moving my hand to the toe of my sneakers, I peeked at Penn and bit down on my lip to stop grinning. He wasn’t even paying attention, staring off at the trees.

“Truth or dare, Ella?” Jensen said.

My heart did something strange in my chest, and I didn’t understand the flipping motion as I turned back to him. I don’t know why I said what I said. “Dare.”

Oh my gosh, I wanted to take that back immediately. I knew better than to pick dare, but it was too late.

Jensen’s lips split into a wide grin, and my heart did that weird flipping thing again. “I dare you to . . . kiss me.”

My mouth dropped open.

“Ew,” Penn said, and then he giggled, proving he was paying attention.

Jensen leaned toward me, his eyes a dark blue in the fading light. “That’s the dare.”

I stared at him. Kiss me? Kiss him? Like put our lips together?

“Duuude,” Gavin murmured low. “She’s not going to do it.”

My gaze snapped to him. Why did he think I wouldn’t do it? Because I was a girl? I wasn’t chicken. My fingers dug into the toes of my sneaker as resolve straightened my spine. I looked at Jensen. “Okay. I accept your dare.”

Jensen blinked thick lashes as if surprised, and I heard a strange, almost choking sound come from Gavin. Penn giggled again, and warmth spread across my face. Should I have gone with truth? Oh my gosh, I totally should’ve have—

“Okay.” Jensen shifted, placing one hand on the old board behind me, and before I could say another word, he erased the distance between us and pressed his mouth to mine.

Jensen kissed me.

Our mouths were totally touching.

My eyes were wide and his were closed, and it was over in a heartbeat. Jensen pulled back, opening his eyes. He grinned at me, and I felt like I’d just run the length of Rosemont Avenue, twelve times.

“Okie dokie,” Gavin said. “That was weird.”

My lips tingling and cheeks burning with heat, I forced myself to turn to Penn slowly as Gavin spoke again. “Truth or dare, Penn?”

Penn’s gaze darted around our group before settling on Gavin. We all knew he’d say truth, but I was barely paying attention. My concentration was centered on how Jensen’s knee was pressing against mine. We’d kissed. Oh my gosh, Jensen and I had just put our mouths on—

“Dare!” Penn exclaimed.

Holy crap, my head swung toward him and my eyes widened until they felt like they’d pop out of my head. Neither of the other boys spoke, and I knew without looking at them that they shared identical expressions.

Oh, this was going to go bad, because Jensen and Gavin gave each other horrible dares. Like eating dirt and lying in the middle of the road and running naked through old Mrs. Towery’s yard. And when I glanced at Gavin, I could see his brain working, coming up with something devious.

I couldn’t let this happen.

Grabbing Penn’s hand, I sprang to my feet and pulled him up with me, breaking our circle.

“Hey,” Gavin said, craning his neck back. “What are you doing?”

“I’m done playing this game. Penn is walking me home.”

Penn frowned thoughtfully. “I am?”

“Yep.”

“Oh, you guys suck.” Gavin shook his head. “It’s still early.”

I ignored him and waved with my free hand. “Bye!”

Stepping around Jensen, I started down the steps first so Penn could follow me, and thankfully, he did. He didn’t hop down from the second step like I did. It wasn’t even that far off the ground, but Penn was always super careful when it came to heights. Heck, he wouldn’t step foot in the tree house without one of us with him. I still couldn’t believe he even went in that tree house.

He hesitated, stretching his leg out until the toe of his black sneaker brushed the ground, and then he finally let go of the tree. I waited until he was beside me.

“Duuude,” I heard Gavin say to Jensen again, but whatever else was said was lost in Penn and my shuffling along the leafy foliage as we began to walk back.

Shoving his hands into his pockets, he didn’t say anything as he watched the thick limbs above us. “We didn’t have to leave, you know.”

“It’s getting late.”

“We still had plenty of time.”

I jumped over a massive tangle of exposed roots. “I didn’t want to play the stupid game again.”

Penn glanced over at me. “You kissed Jensen.”

My heart felt like it also jumped over those roots. “It was just a dare. It didn’t mean nothing.”

“Anything,” he corrected softly, and I grinned at him. “I could’ve done the dare, you know. Whatever Gavin came up with, I would’ve done it.”

“I know.” I swung my arms wide as we continued to the road, trying my best to not think about that dare—the kiss. “That’s not why I wanted to leave.”

Penn knocked his shoulder into mine. “Liar.”

“Nuh-uh.”

“You know,” he said, stepping around a large rock. “Summer’s almost over. We head back to school in two weeks.” The small smile on his face faded when I looked over at him. “I think this year is going to be different.”

I didn’t understand why, but a shiver of apprehension wiggled down my spine. “How?”

Penn pulled his hands out of his pockets, letting his thin arms dangle at his sides. “It just is. I don’t . . . I don’t think we’ll be playing this game again next summer.”

I halted, staring at him.

He walked a few paces ahead and then faced me. “Can I ask you something, Ella?”

I folded my arms along my waist and nodded.

“Do you really think we’ll still be friends?”

“What?” Surprised, I stared at him.

“I mean, we’ll still be friends in a year? In two? When we’re in high school?” He reached up, running his hand through his messy, in need of a trim, hair. “Never mind. It’s a stupid question.”

“It was,” I told him as I pushed forward, joining him. “We’re always going to be best friends. No matter what.”

CHAPTER 12

Linds had been right. The police pulled me out of gym class on Wednesday afternoon, and I was led into a small conference room off the principal’s office. First they went over everything that had happened when I found Vee’s body, and then they talked to me about Gavin.

According to Trooper Ritter, Gavin had been dating Vee over the summer. Did you know? they asked. Would there be any reason why Gavin wouldn’t have told me? I couldn’t think of a reason. And why had Gavin and I broken up? Talking to them about the decline of our relationship was more awkward than having the sex talk with Mom, which had involved how to open a condom wrapper and all that jazz.

“We’ve been friends since we were little,” I said, glancing back and forth between the two troopers. I wished Shaw was here. At least I was comfortable with him, but with Shaw being related to Gavin, I guessed he couldn’t be the one to question me. “I mean, we were just better as friends than boyfriend and girlfriend.”

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