Chapter Two: Dare

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"This is a terrible idea."

"Shut up, Joe."

"Come on, Eliza, you know this is dumb."

But she ignored him, slamming the door of his truck closed as if that ended the discussion.

The whole drive from Meru to the woods outside Scottstown, Joe had voiced his complaints. And his warnings. And his threats. He'd said he would turn the car around, that he would tell the dorm-master, that he'd tie her to a desk chair. But Eliza had ignored him, instead watching her reflection in the side-view mirror as the small, sweet city had faded into evergreens and bushes. Even she had to admit that Scottstown was idyllic. It was safe, small, and just the right amount of friendly. Eliza could imagine being forty and smiling at the kids biking down suburban roads or playing tag in the park. Maybe, if she was a different kind of sixteen-year-old, she could have enjoyed it now. Found peace in boutique shopping and coffee shops and gossip.

But she wasn't that person.

Not anymore.

She ground her teeth together as Joe joined her by the tree line.

Eliza didn't care that this was some kind of trick. For months, her friendship with Joe had been a balm on her frayed nerves, a way to postpone the inevitable. She'd appreciated his calming presence in the way a surfer must appreciate a break between waves. But something about this Friday had made Eliza ready to explode.

Maybe Tori had known it.

Now, with the moonlight playing off her dark skin and threading silver through her tightly curled cloud of her hair, Eliza led the way into the forest.

"Eliza, this is giving me the creeps."

"Shhh."

"You know I'll be the first to die, right? The funny handsome one always dies."

"Joe, shut up."

Eliza could hear something, the low murmur of female voices, as soft as the babbling of a brook. She scanned the dark trees, picking apart the shadows.

There.

A figure moved. Blonde hair shimmered in the silvery moonlight.

"I was worried you wouldn't come."

Tori stepped forward, arms extended in mocking welcome. They fell as her bright blue eyes snagged on Joe.

"I didn't say you could bring company."

"Think of him as my insurance policy," Eliza said, folding her arms. "What are you doing out here?"

"I told you," Tori said with the gleam of teeth. "We're having a little get-together. Come join us."

Eliza and Joe exchanged a wide-eyed look before following Tori into the clearing.

Five other teenagers were already there. Eliza immediately picked them out as the most popular kids in school. Greta Smith, the shoe-in for homecoming queen next month. Yuri and Marta, two style icons that shaped the fashions of the year. Fabia, whose wealthy Italian father had taken her sky-diving last spring. And Hector, the burly German-born boy who had infamously refused the summons to join the football team.

"Howdy," Joe said, his voice cracking.

"So you're the freak-show from Atlanta?" Greta asked, kicking her heels as she sat on a fallen tree, swigging out of an embossed metal flask.

"Careful, Greta," Eliza said with a grin, plopping down in the grass. "You wouldn't want anyone to think you're racist."

Greta's lips puckered. Eliza smirked as Joe folded himself down next to her, his gangly frame bending awkwardly in the narrow opening between two trees.

"So what's the plan?" Eliza asked, a bit more aggressively than intended. "Are we here as your charity project? Or is there something else going on?"

Even in the darkness, Eliza could see Tori roll her eyes.

"We just wanted to be nice."

"People are never just nice," Eliza said, the bite to her words unmistakable. Joe tensed beside her.

Tori offered her the flask and Eliza eyed it as if it might bite her.

"Just last week I overheard your parents telling you to make friends," Tori said.

"And what does it take, to be your friend?" Eliza asked.

Tori grinned, her teeth glittering white in the woven shadows of the trees.

"If you want to be one of us," she said. "You have to go in there."

She cocked her blonde head toward the chain-link fence that they could all glimpse through the trees. The security lights and roving high beams of the huge army-issue trucks going in and out of Fitzgerald Base were barely visible, but everyone knew they were there. It was the most secure place in Scottstown, crawling with soldiers and secretive enough to inspire the most ludicrous speculation. In the few short months since Eliza had arrived, she'd heard more than her share of rumors about the kinds of things that went down within the confines of that fence. Medical experiments. Spy training. Assassination planning. UFO research. Who knew what was true and what was urban myth, but one thing was certain.

Breaking in there would be trouble.

And trouble drew Eliza like a moth to the flame.

"You want me to climb a fence?" Eliza said, raising her eyebrows.

"We want you to touch the wall of their lab building."

Eliza snorted.

"That's the stupidest dare I've ever heard," she said, even though the urge to go was like an itch beneath her skin.

Tori shrugged.

"Eliza, come on," Joe said beside her. "You don't need this."

"That's right, Eliza," Tori cut in mockingly. "Be a good little girl and run on home."

Eliza burst to her feet.

"If I touch that stupid building, none of you will ever call either of us names again," Eliza snarled.

Tori sneered. "You touch that building and we'll call you the Queen of England if you want."

Eliza knew that this was all kinds of bad ideas rolled into one. She could be arrested. Interrogated. Maybe even shot.

But she couldn't help the trilling adrenaline as it called for her to move.

She straightened, swallowed, glared at the distant fence.

"I'll be right back," Eliza said and strode off into the darkness, leaving Joe's hissed warnings in her wake.

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