twenty

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"You must be psychic, Ariana," Zoe said. "I was just about to call you."

"Yeah?"

"Don't be mad at me."

"About what?"

"The dumb thing I did in the car yesterday. Thanks for driving us home. I guess I'm more of a lightweight than I thought."

I'd forgotten all about it in light of my conversation with Jenny Carson a few hours earlier. "I'm not mad. Not anymore, anyway."

"I'm lousy at the whole apology thing."

"It's okay, Zoe."

"Ariana?"

"What?"

"It was a stupid thing for me to do. I was pissed—not with you—and I just wanted to feel, I don't know, free, or something. I wanted to fly away from my life for a moment."

I'd thought about Justin and how he kept saying that next time it would be Wanda's turn. But it hadn't been. After Madame came Dave, then Tiffany. Zoe had waited a long time. "I didn't ask Justin to do Tiffany's plan first," I said. "I'm sure he's got something in mind for Wanda."

Justin always had something in mind. My stomach shifted at the prospect. I tried not to think about the next revenge looming over us. Over me.

"Oh, I told him it was okay to do Tiffany next," Zoe said.

"You did?"

"Yeah, I wasn't ready. Still not."

"Not ready? What do you—?"

"Just not ready. Listen, I don't want to talk about Wanda." She paused, then cleared her throat. "I want you to know that I'm off the stuff for good. I don't want to end up like my mom, great role model that she is. And I definitely don't want to wear one of those tags on my big toe."

"I'm glad," I said. I liked her, I realized. I really did. Somewhere along the way, Zoe Carpenter had become a real friend, not just an assigned one.

"So, anyway, you called me," she said. "What's up?"

I was about to tell her about the call to Jenny, but my story was interrupted by a ping against the sliding glass door, followed by a more demanding clank. I drew the curtain back.

"I have to call you back, Zoe." Even in the dark, I saw three white pebbles—the kind Mom used to mark her vegetable seeds—lined up on the porch. Justin.

As I slid the door open, I thought about Jenny. "Just kiss me once," he'd begged. And she had, right before she was thrown to the ground.

"It's ... eight o'clock," I stammered to the dark night.

"On a Saturday," he responded. "You aren't going to make me beg, are you? Oh, okay. Please, Ari, please."

I peered over the railing. Justin fixed his wolflike eyes on me, then dropped to one knee, spreading his arms out in an exaggerated appeal.

Looking down at Justin like this, I couldn't imagine him hurting Jenny. There had to be more to the story. Justin made people feel special. He made me feel special. And yet, Jenny had seemed so honest. If it had all been made up, why would she have talked to me? I wasn't the police. There was no reason to resurrect a lie.

I glanced at my wrist, remembering when Justin had grabbed it to stop me from interfering with Richie and Dave's fight at school. But that hadn't been personal; he wasn't trying to hurt me. He was protecting the League.

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