twenty-one

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I leaned my bike against the mailbox post, marched across the immense lawn, and pounded on the front door. An agitated "I'm coming!" came from inside. The door swung open. Nora, combing her fingers through disheveled hair, glared at me.

"Why did you tell Justin I wanted to snoop into his past?" I demanded.

"Dammit, Ariana, it's Sunday morning," she complained. "Couldn't you have waited a few more hours?"

I folded my arms across my chest. She groaned, treading back through the massive foyer.

"I thought this Jenny Carson thing was between us," I said, following her down the hallway. "Why'd you bring Justin into it?"

Nora fell onto the couch, curling her legs under her. My new-and-improved assertive side was making her nervous.

"Look, Ariana, Justin backed me into a corner. He sensed things had changed between you guys, and he wanted to know why. He forced me to tell him what Zoe said in the library. Come on, you know Justin. He doesn't miss anything."

She was right about that: Justin was a human emotion detector. He'd unearthed feelings in me that I hadn't known existed.

"Why did you tell him I wanted to call Jenny Carson?"

"I didn't," she said. "He must've made up that part to get you to talk. Of course, you fell for it. You always do."

I didn't know whom to believe. She swung her feet to the floor and stomped to the door. "Justin didn't do it, Ariana. Maybe you have your doubts, but I don't. He told me why Jenny lied and how badly she treated him. He was crying when he told me, Ariana, crying. That bitch made the whole thing up."

I thought about Justin's eyes welling up. How he'd looked down so I wouldn't see it. And he'd cried in front of Nora, too?

She leaned against the doorjamb, moving a hand to her hip. "Because I'm your friend, I'm going to tell you something. Your boyfriend made a move on me last night."

"What?" The word came out like a cough.

Her eyes filled with tears, and she wiped them away. As much as I didn't want to believe her, the performance—if that's what it was—was compelling. But I also knew that if I went to see Justin right now, he'd have me convinced that Nora was making it all up before I could get my coat off.

"Just tell me the truth," I said.

"We went to the harbor and climbed on board this empty boat. I think it was called the Majestic Seas."

"You're making this up. Justin wouldn't do that."

"He's only with you because he has to keep an eye on the weakest link. That's what he said. He told me that when you called Jenny, she said he'd assaulted her, and now you didn't trust him."

I shook my head, not because I didn't believe her but because I did, and the truth of it was too horrible to imagine. I'd only just told Justin what Jenny had said. Nora knew because Justin had told her some time between yesterday evening and this morning.

Like late at night, on the Majestic Seas.

Nora started to push her glasses up the bridge of her nose, but then realized she didn't have them anymore. "He kissed me, Ariana."

Without warning, she shoved me out the door. I tripped over the chaise lounge, but recovered. "I'm the one he really wants," she added, swinging the door shut with her foot.

....

Moving through the hallways felt like wading through knee-deep mud. Everywhere I went, people talked about the prom on Friday: who was wearing what, where they were going for dinner, how they were getting there, and whose parents were out of town. It made me sick, mostly because I knew I wasn't going to be there. Instead, I was supposed to celebrate in a graveyard and pretend that I didn't have a care in the world.

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