twelve

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The glowing red numbers on the clock shifted from 11:59 to 12:00. I tried counting backward from a hundred. I even did the counting-sheep thing.

"Forget it," I said out loud.

I should probably shrug the whole thing off. Dave was a jerk; he'd brought this on himself by bullying Richie. But still. If it hadn't been for us, he wouldn't be in a hospital with arm casts and leg casts and whatever it was they did for broken ribs.

I swung my feet to the floor. A pair of bloodshot eyes stared back from my mirror. I remembered reading that some of the world's top models spread hemorrhoid cream around their sleep-deprived eyes to reduce swelling. Did Tiffany Miller dab on Preparation H after a late-night make-out session?

The image occupied my mind for a whopping twenty seconds before my thoughts snapped back to Lawrence. He'd found the perfect excuse to pulverize an enemy.

But that excuse had come from us. No, from me. It was my idea. If it weren't for me, Dave would be at home right now. He'd still be a creep, but an uninjured creep.

I had to talk to Justin. The League didn't need to be like this—we only needed each other to be friends, not some vengeful mission. I knew Justin would understand if I told him how much it was starting to bother me.

I pulled a sweatshirt over my pajama top, dabbed on some lip gloss, and popped a breath mint before tiptoeing down the stairs.

The Acura was in the repair shop, so I rummaged through makeup, coupons, and loose change in Mom's purse until I hit the jackpot—the key to the minivan. Outside, I glanced at the carport and considered my bike. For a millisecond. It was definitely safer to drive a car than to bike in the dark. Sorry, Mom and Dad—this was a rule that required breaking.

The car started up, launching into an Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong CD. I ejected it and inserted the closest thing to cool I could find: Prince. That was as hip as my mother got.

As I backed out of the driveway, the car rocked over a curb. It was another mile or two before I felt comfortable behind the wheel of our giant familymobile.

I pressed down on the accelerator, glancing at the rising speedometer. I didn't even notice the Highway Patrol car until its blue-and-red strobe lights flashed in the rearview mirror. I slammed on the brakes without thinking. Thankfully, the police car swerved around me, on its way to something more urgent.

I took the parking spot in front of Justin's apartment as a sign from God, glad that no one was awake to watch my pathetic attempts at parallel parking. In the end, the fat butt of the mini-van stuck out into the street, but it was good enough for one in the morning.

Before I could chicken out, I ran to the building and buzzed apartment number 7. The call was answered by a click of the front door.

Four flights up, Justin's door was open a crack.

"Hello?" I called out.

His voice floated through the dark room. "Hello, Ari."

When my eyes adjusted, I saw him sitting on the floor by the bookcase, the light from a candle climbing up his face. He motioned for me to join him.

Leave now! my brain ordered.

Don't be so uptight! my body said.

I sank to the floor beside him. "Did you hear about Dave Harper?"

"It had nothing to do with us."

"What do you mean? We made up the lies that—"

"Actions have consequences. And consequences take on a life of their own." His fingers spread over mine, dwarfing my hand.

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