by J. Mercer
Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: January 2019
One week on an Alaskan cruise, three teens, and an endless trail of lies. Enter a series of thefts on board and they all fall under scrutiny. Though Navy acts a proper preacher’s daughter, she did end up with someone else’s purse in her hands, and Jesse knows way more than he should about what’s gone missing.
Isaiah, however, is the one with motive—enough money and he could get back to his ranch. Each holds a piece of the truth, but exposing the thief could damn them all. They must navigate through the lies they’ve told, choose between standing together or saving themselves, and decide if innocence is worth facing their ugliest secrets.
Masses of people stood in line to board the incubator in front of me. Sorry, cruise ship. But honestly, the thought of so many bodily fluids in such a confined space made my stomach churn.
Double-checking that my hand sanitizer was still in place, I bumped my backpack higher on my shoulder and stepped away from my mom’s fiancé, who was chatting up a blue-haired old lady. Facing my mom, I decided it was as good a time as any to start up our fight again. She couldn’t get away from me here.
“If we keep moving like this,” I started, “I’ll never be kissed.” There’d been one guy in Houston I’d had hopes for, but after this vacation we were headed to Kansas City. I might only be sixteen and five-sixths, but at this point it felt like I’d be voting first.
“You do the kissing then, Navy.” My mom caught the eye of an officer at the next checkpoint and smiled, smoothing her hands down the front of her black jumpsuit. She was always worried about her first impression and always deferential to those in uniform.
I reached behind her and tightened her halter top, thankful at least she hadn’t picked the leopard print. It was a good thing we were getting out of Texas before its fashion sense could get too many claws in her.
My mom’s normal go-to attire—conservative diamond studs, fitted sweaters with pencil skirts, and sleek suits—would curl a lip at sharing suitcase space with a glorified onesie in leopard print.
Her attention hopped from the officer to Guy, my soon-to-be stepdad. “Solve your own problems, dear. Before they can solve you.”
“No, Mom. Just, no.” She would never get it; everyone wanted to kiss her. Somehow, she pulled off rich and cultured while still approachable, where my resting face was icy at best.
A girl couldn’t help her resting face, and it took a long time for people to get past that. Plus, I was too picky, or so my mother said. I wanted real emotion, not just chemistry, and I definitely didn’t want to get it over with, which is what she kept telling me to do.
“Anyway, this move,”—always moving, I should add—“it’s about stability too.”
Guy let out a huge laugh, and the old lady’s hat bobbled in the air as her shoulders shook. My mom and I shuffled forward, neither of us bothering to notify him he was holding up the line. It didn’t matter; this was the Godzilla of lines. Take any ride at Disney on the busiest day of the year, and it wouldn’t top this one: through a vast building (stand here, punch that, sign this, rude hands gesturing you impatiently over there like you’d done this before and had any idea what they wanted with you), out into a human holding tank, up and back and up and forth inside a humongous steel cage, until finally we reached the deck that wrapped around the massive boat.
We were cattle. And we were being herded into an incubator.
Shaking my head of it, I begged her, “Please, please, please don’t make me switch high schools again. This is the last one, okay? Can you manage two years in Kansas City?”
“If you insist, love.” My mom patted the back of my head, then dropped her hand to my shoulder and kneaded it. With her attention focused elsewhere, it was her usual absent-minded pep talk. “If you don’t want to see more of the world.”
Shaking her off, I took a few steps forward. Guy was still flirting with the old lady and people were starting to grumble behind them, so I went back for his stuff and tapped him on the shoulder. His black turtleneck made him look even more pompous than he was, but this lady was eating it up same as my mom had. When I was back at her side, I whispered, “If you get sick of Guy, we stay in Kansas City anyway. Got it?”
She extended her diamond-studded right hand to shake mine. “Got it.”
Wrapping my bare fingers around her chilled palm and the collection of old rings resting along her knuckles, I wondered if she actually loved this one.
J Mercer grew up in Wisconsin where she walked home from school with her head in a book, filled notebooks with stories in junior high, then went to UW Madison for accounting and psychology only to open a dog daycare.
She wishes she were an expert linguist, is pretty much a professional with regards to competitive dance hair (bunhawk, anyone?), and enjoys exploring with her husband—though as much as she loves to travel, she’s also an accomplished hermit. Perfect days include cancelled plans, rain, and endless hours to do with what she pleases.
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