Everyone fudges the truth, but only Phoebe hears them for the liars they are.
Phoebe has always felt broken. As one of the freaky Matlin triplets, she’s supposed to be the Truth Teller. Yet, while her sisters already possess their abilities to see the future and heal people’s pain, Phoebe has come to accept that the truth telling gift her mother prophecized she’d have just doesn’t work.
Then her best friend, Tonya, tells one little lie and everything changes. With Tonya pissed at her for calling out the lie, being a Truth Teller doesn’t seem like such a great gift. Although she’s not gonna complain about knowing her crush, Nathan, finally dumped his stalker girlfriend for her.
But in lies, intention is everything, and she’s positive Tonya’s lies are covering darker and more serious truths. Except, knowing when someone is lying is the easy part; now she has to decide what to do about it. And with Nathan and her family’s doubts about her ability confusing things, she’s not sure she can help Tonya in time.
The note sailed through the air, rushing past me on the way to its destination. I turned my head to the side, watching the perfectly formed square land on his desk. He palmed the note and glanced up. His grey eyes made contact with mine for just a moment before he leaned forward to look around me. I sighed in boredom, sinking back in my seat. Twenty minutes to go then I never had to worry about sitting through another of Mr. Mason’s lectures again. Unless, of course, he decided to teach senior level Spanish next semester.
I blinked, trying desperately to clear the haze forming before me, and focused on the guy next to me. I met those steely eyes again, and in spite of my lack of embarrassment, heat rose in my cheeks. Not that I let that stop me from looking. It wasn’t the first time Nathan Lauer caught me staring, and, considering the way he’d been bulking up at the gym, it wasn’t going to be the last time. My lips twitched as the red flush on his cheeks overshadowed my pink face.
“Phoebe,” Tonya hissed from behind me. I ignored her, enjoying Nathan’s discomfort too much to acknowledge her.
My desk jerked, and I turned to glare at my best friend. She gave me one of those are-you-an-idiot looks and nodded to the front of the class.
“Ms. Matlin?” Mr. Mason’s voice filtered through the remaining haze. “Ms. Matlin?”
I spun around.
“Yes?” I said, hating that everyone was watching me.
He gestured to the door. “You’re needed in the office.”
I threw Tonya a smirk, knowing she was dying to leave the class as much as I was. Gathering my things, I shoved them in my backpack, making sure I took everything. Even if they only needed me for a minute, I wasn’t coming back for the rest of Mr. Mason’s lecture.
The hallway was quiet as only a few students lingered at their lockers. With it being the last day before Christmas break, I wasn’t surprised to see people leaving early. Hell. I wished I was one of them. Most of my classes were only half-full, but after Dad caught me skipping the previous week, I knew I couldn’t risk it.
I made a pit stop at my locker, which was on the way to the office. Twisting the lock, I banged the side of my fist against the orange door to loosen it enough to pull open. I unzipped my bag and pulled out my cell phone. A new message flashed across the screen. I shoved my bag in to the locker, and, closing the door with one hand, started pressing buttons to get the message.
Where r u? C
A groan slipped out, and I glanced around to see if anyone heard. Thankfully, the closest person, a guy halfway down the hall, looked more interested in his cell than my moaning. I tried to remember what I’d apparently forgotten. Chloe might have been obsessed with texting, but she only used it with me in extreme situations.
I fumbled with the buttons, trying to text her back. Walking while typing wasn’t my forte, so a jumble of letters filled the screen as I walked to the office. I paused outside the glass door, and at the end of the message typed here then hit send. It was safer to imply I was where I was supposed to be than risk her asking why I wasn’t.
Chloe was the perfect one. Organized, precise, and peppy. She was enough to make me puke. How we were sisters, let alone two-thirds of a set of triplets, was beyond me. That we weren’t related was one of my greatest fantasies.
I flipped the phone closed and looked up in time to see the office door flying at me. I jerked back, and my hand lashed out to stop it from smacking me in the face. Deep blue eyes, identical to my own, stared back at me.
“Where’ve you been?” Chloe demanded. Her perfectly sculpted brows arched with indignation.
“Shoveling shit.” I ignored her rolling eyes. “In class. Where else?”
“You weren’t even supposed to come to school today. We’re going to be late.” Milk chocolatey waves of hair flowed around her face as she turned back in to the office and waved to the secretary.
“It’ll be okay,” Lily said, and stepped out from behind Chloe. At just over five feet, she always managed to find the perfect hiding spot until she was ready to speak. If it weren’t for her copper curls, she’d probably be able to disappear entirely.
“Late for what?” I asked. The two of them just stared at me—Lily with compassion, while Chloe’s face filled with dismay. “What?”
“Oh, Phoebs.” Lily sighed. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t think you’d be like this.”
She reached for my arm, and even before she could touch me, I felt the heat radiating from her. I stepped back, evading her grasp. “Like what?”
Her head dipped, and she let her hand fall. Guilt flooded me before I shook it off. Lily was a master at emotions and manipulating them. Not that she made me feel guilty. No. That was my conscience. Still, I resented her attempts at controlling me even if she was doing it with the best intentions. Her sole purpose in life seemed to be to make sure that everyone felt okay. I can’t even say good, because when she touched you, it was like she sucked out all the bad stuff, and if there was nothing good to take its place, it was the most bizarre feeling of emptiness.
“Get over it, Phoebe.” Chloe grabbed Lily’s hand and started dragging her down the hall, leaving me to follow. “You should have remembered.”
“Remembered what exactly?”
She threw the words at me, knowing full well what it would do to me. Every muscle in me tightened, and I froze mid-step. Lily stopped with me, and Chloe had no choice but to do the same.
“Let’s go,” Chloe said. “Nanna is just getting there, and she’s wondering where we are.” Her eyes focused on me then fluttered for a moment, looking in to my future. “She has something for you. You’ll love it.”
I hated when she did that, even more than Lily trying to fix me.
“I’m not going. I never go. Why would you even think I’d go this year?” I asked.
Chloe’s face scrunched in confusion. “I saw…”
I struck while she was down. “Well, maybe there’s something wrong with you because that’s something that’s never going to happen.”
Anger and pain burned my throat, and my nose tingled. I swirled around, intent on going back to class. Anywhere but here with the two of them. Or worse … there with her. I sensed Lily moving toward me, and tried to twist away, but her palm fell on my back. Soothing heat flooded me, drowning the pain and anger with a numbing calm.
“Damn it, Lily. You know I hate it when you do that!” I stomped off, no longer angry with Chloe for trying to direct my future, or with Nanna for wanting to use me as a substitute for my dead mother. Instead, my forced anger was with Lily for not healing what was really wrong with me—my lack of a gift.
I reached Mr. Mason’s class and yanked the door. It flew open and crashed against the wall. I stood in the doorway under the intense scrutiny of the entire class, Mr. Mason included.
“I’m back,” I said, and breezed in to the class, moving straight to my seat.
My friend, Owen, chuckled, and I shot him a cocky smile. I evaded Tonya’s curious look and concentrated on the swirling wood pattern of my desktop. Normally, I talked to Tonya about pretty much everything, but not this.
Our family was different, and even if I didn’t have a gift, Dad had drilled in to me the need to protect my sisters. Even when we were younger, I was the one telling them not to freak people out. Not that they ever listened. Chloe would constantly make her little predictions, and Lily couldn’t keep her hands to herself.
Mr. Mason droned on, and I watched the second hand on the clock tick slowly around the face. Five minutes. I could have skipped out early, but the chance of getting sucked in to Lily and Chloe’s plans was too great. It was safer to die of boredom.
A twitch of black cloth out of the corner of my eye drew my attention to Nathan. He was refolding a piece of wrinkled paper into its original intricate square. He looked past me and nodded to the person on my left side. Vivian, his girlfriend. I didn’t bother looking at her. Mainly because the sight of her caused me to gag more than Chloe did. He tucked the last corner in and flicked his hand, letting the note fly to her.
As the note crossed in front of me, I reached out and snatched it mid-flight. I wasn’t sure what possessed me to do it, but Nathan’s shocked expression combined with Vivian’s gasp of outrage made it worth the effort.
I gave Nathan a smile and a wink, then blew him a kiss, loving the answering blush. Owen and Tonya’s snickers almost covered Vivian’s hiss. Mr. Mason shot them a look, and I hid the note in the palm of my hand until he’d refocused on the board. I peeled open the note, a smirk on my face. I’d never been a note passer before, and I wondered just what was so secretive that they couldn’t just whisper. Most of the time, Tonya and I didn’t even bother to lower our voices when we wanted to say something.
I looked at the note. Vivian’s bubbly writing alternated with Nathan’s scrawl. Her perfect script started the note.
~ Where were you last night?
~ I thought you were coming over
~ What about tonight?
~ What the hell is wrong with you?
I need some space
~ What does that mean?
I think we should break up
I looked up at Nathan. This time, though, he didn’t meet my gaze. His face flamed, and now I understood why he’d looked so horrified when I’d nabbed the note. Vivian tried to grab it from me, but I clenched my fingers around the small square, refusing to give it to her. The bell rang, and people started moving all at once.
“Give it to me,” Vivian said, making another grab for the paper. I shook my head and slid out of my seat, moving quickly to give Tonya a chance to get between us. I ran from the room, oblivious to the shrieking calls of Vivian.
“Phoebe!” Nathan raced through the hall behind me.
I turned in to the art room. He followed me, closing the door behind him. The last art class of the day had already finished. Ms. Steward, the art teacher, was known for leaving early. The large space reeked of paint fumes and dust that floated in the air, highlighted by the sunlight pouring through the windows lining the wall. It had been more than a year since I’d last been in the room, but the smell took me back. Every insecurity within me rose, instantly deflating me.
“Give it to me, Phoebs.” Any embarrassment he’d felt before vanished from his face, leaving anger and frustration glaring back at me.
I lifted my hand, the note still clenched in my fist. “What is this?”
“A note,” he said.
“No shit. How can you do that?”
My heart beat frantically. What did I want him to say? It seemed that no matter what he said, it wouldn’t negate the fact that he had just dumped his girlfriend in a note. Or, he would have if I hadn’t intercepted it.
“You don’t get it.” He sank against a table, lifting one leg off the ground to kick at the air.
“Then explain it to me.” Anger forced the words from my lips, and they echoed in the empty room.
“Why? Why should I have to explain it to you?”
“Because you—we…” Because you chose her over me. I didn’t need to say it. The fact was there between us, and had been every day for over a year.
“This isn’t about you,” he said, standing up. He took a step toward me, tearing the note from my hands. He was at the door when I finally got the courage to speak.
“You need to tell her to her face. Grow up and be a man.” Only the stiffening of his shoulders let me know my dig bothered him, then he was out the door and it drifted closed with a gentle click, leaving me alone again.
With elbows on the table, I plowed my fingers in to my dark curls. I wasn’t mad for Vivian. I was mad for me. That he had picked her instead of me, and that a year of pretending he hadn’t broken my heart had done nothing to actually heal it. It was easier to smile and flirt than to let him know how much it had hurt. He hadn’t told me to my face either. That was what hurt the worst. He’d chosen her, yet he was treating her even crappier than he’d treated me.
When Nathan had first moved to town two years ago, I’d fallen in lust. He was hot, smart, and, best of all, he was new. He’d never dated Chloe, he didn’t know about the weird things Lily could do to a person, and he never questioned why I hated being with my sisters. Absolutely perfect. Except he’d never acted on the interest he’d shown in me. I spent weeks pursuing him until I finally cornered him in the art room. After giving him our first kiss, my first kiss, I asked him to Homecoming.
Too bad for me, he’d already asked Vivian. That he obviously told her about the kiss made it even more humiliating when she and her groupies laughed about it in front of me.
Cringing at the memory, I dropped my head on to the table, letting it roll back and forth. Reliving that incident was nearly as mortifying as this. I’d acted jealous—okay, I was jealous—but what was worse was now he knew it.
The gentle swish of the door opening brought my head up. Chloe stood framed in the doorway. Just what I needed. An overbearing sister relishing in the I-told-you-so moment. Something Chloe and her all-seeing eye did way too often.
“Don’t say it,” I snapped, moving past her in to the hall.
“Say what?” she asked, catching up to me.
I arched a brow. “I told you so.”
“Why would I say that?” Her brow creased.
“Because you knew he’d never like me.” I wondered if she’d enjoyed bursting that bubble when she’d told me. I picked up my pace, hoping she’d get lost in the rapidly thinning crowd, but I just didn’t have that kind of luck.
“I never said he didn’t like you. I only told you I saw him with Vivian.” She swerved around a couple that had stopped in the middle of the hallway then was back at my side. “Besides, didn’t he just ask you out?”
“Yeah right. You’ve already told me that wasn’t going to happen.” Having all my fantasies squashed by Chloe the Fortune Teller was just one reason why I avoided spending time with her.
Her face paled, and her mouth dropped open. “I never said it wouldn’t happen. Besides, I saw him … I mean, I saw you go back to class. Then he followed you to the art room and asked you out.”
“Uh. Yeah. Didn’t happen.” We reached my locker, and I swung it open, throwing in my jacket and grabbing my binder for Biology class. When I glanced at her, she seemed completely unaware of anything going on around her. “Aren’t you supposed to be meeting Nanna?”
“She plans on being there for a while. Besides, you’re going with us.” She gave a smirk and leaned against the neighboring locker. “I saw it.”
I grit my teeth. “Well, it ain’t gonna happen, so maybe your vision isn’t as clear as you thought. Look at how wrong you were about Nathan. What happened in the art room was about as far from him asking me out as you can possibly get. You can’t be right all the time, Chloe.”
I slammed the locker closed and turned my back on her, walking to class. After a few steps, I stopped and glanced back. Her pale face was disturbing. She really was freaked out about her vision not happening.
“I’m sorry, Chloe, but maybe you just got the message wrong.” As much as I hated her constant knowing look, I hated the idea I’d hurt her even more.
“I’ve never been wrong before.” Her normally confident voice whispered softly through the air, trailing behind her as she walked off.
I wanted to call after her, to reassure her, but didn’t know how. I’d never had a gift, so how would I understand suddenly not having one?
Lily, the Healer, Chloe, the Seer, and Phoebe, the Truth Teller. That was what my mom called us minutes before she died. She’d been right about Lily and Chloe. Me, on the other hand, … well, it hadn’t happened yet. I couldn’t even say I knew what I was supposed to do as a truth teller. I definitely didn’t have a problem lying. Not that I was a chronic liar. Sometimes, though, it was just easier.
So just what does a Truth Teller do? The only person around to ask was Nanna, and I wasn’t in the mood for her today.
I pushed thoughts of my supposed gift aside and headed for my biology class.
“Hey, girl,” Bianca called as I entered the biology lab.
I gave her a goofy smile, trying my best to lighten my mood. Thoughts of what had happened with Nathan were bringing me down. If I wanted to survive the boredom of the day, I definitely needed to focus on something else. I flopped in to my seat next to Tonya, flinging my binder on to our table.
“God. Isn’t this day over yet?” I groaned, choosing to discount the fact that I could have left with Chloe and Lily. Going with them would have been even worse than sitting through an hour of Mrs. Schaeffer’s video montage of her favorite dissections.
“Please tell me we have plans every day for the next two weeks,” Bianca said, twisting in her chair to face us across the aisle. “My parents want Karin to tutor me.”
Bianca’s parents considered her a disgrace. They were a very traditional Chinese family, and while her older brother was entering medical school, and her younger sister was some kind of cello or violin prodigy, Bianca was, well … Bianca. She tinged her pixie cut hair with purple streaks and wore a bit too much eye shadow. According to her parents, she had no interests that would lead to any future employment. Apparently, being able to scout out hot guys with her eyes closed wasn’t going to help her cut it in the real world.
“In what?” I asked, knowing that, despite her apparent rebel look, she had the highest GPA of all my friends.
“Isn’t that, like, Chinese?” Tonya asked.
“And aren’t you Chinese?”
Bianca rolled her eyes. “So? Just because I’m Chinese, doesn’t mean I speak all Chinese dialects. My family speaks Cantonese, but my parents say Mandarin will be more useful in the business world. Last time Karin came over, she blabbed to my mom about this Mandarin class she’s taking at the community college.”
“Hey. Karin’s not so bad,” Owen spoke up from the other side of Bianca.
Tonya made a barfing sound. Her dislike of Karin was well known to everyone, including Karin, despite the fact she was part of our group of friends.
“I have family coming in, but I should be able to get away some of the time.” I rolled my pencil back and forth along the table. “I can do something tomorrow.”
“Let’s go shopping. We can have a girls’ day,” Bianca said.
“What about me?” Owen flicked her head, and she gave him a gentle elbow back.
“Okay. A girls, plus one, day then,” she said.
“Nah. I have better things to do.” He turned back to his stack of books and pulled one out, flipping to a dog-eared page. Bianca and I rolled our eyes. Owen was just plain weird sometimes.
“I might have some time after Christmas,” Tonya said, then pulled out her cell and started punching away at some text.
I leaned over, trying to see what she was typing. She knew I didn’t do texts, and the only other people I could think she’d want to message sat across the aisle from us.
She shot me a dirty look and tilted her phone away from my eyes. I stuck my tongue out at her and settled back in my chair. She’d been acting strange the past few months; always busy with some vague thing she had to do with her grandma. Then again, she had a grandma who wasn’t always nosing around in to everything you’d done since you’d last seen her, so maybe she didn’t mind.
Mrs. Schaeffer came in then, so any questioning would have to wait. After ten minutes of lecturing about the importance of dissection as a method of learning more about organisms and the humane treatment of the specimens, the lights dimmed and the computerized video projector started. Normally, movie time was an opportunity to catch up on some of my sleep, but Tonya began kicking me under the table.
“So?” she whispered.
“What?” I looked at her and smiled at the expectant expression she wore.
“Come on, Phoebs. You know you can’t not tell me what the note said.” She leaned closer, her eyes growing wide. “You took off with it like the room was on fire. It must have been really juicy. Sex talk, right? I always knew Vivian was a little skanky. And Nathan has always been a bit too quiet.”
Her eyebrows wiggled, and I broke out in a laugh. Mrs. Schaeffer gave a sharp cough from her desk in the front corner of the room, and I stifled my chuckles. No way did I need an office referral the day before Christmas break.
“No sex talk,” I whispered. “Honest. It was just some stupid stuff. Their reaction was too much. Did you see Nathan’s face when I grabbed it?” My soft laugh sounded forced even to my ears. I opened my binder and focused on drawing a swirling flower pattern on a blank sheet of paper, avoiding her gaze.
I didn’t want her to know what the note said. Although I couldn’t figure out why it would matter, the idea of her knowing that he had tried to break up with Vivian in a note just didn’t sit right. Hell. I didn’t even want Vivian to know.
“He looked like he was gonna piss his pants. You sure it wasn’t something important?” Tonya asked.
She eyed me suspiciously, and I tried to relax my smile into something more natural. Considering I was supposed to be the one with some kind of internal lie detector, she was a lot better at finding fibs than I was.
“Can you imagine Nathan and Vivian ever having a meaningful conversation, let alone in a note?” I arched a brow. This time, it wasn’t as difficult coming up with a believable expression. Until I snatched the white missile, I hadn’t thought it possible either.
“Ladies…” Mrs. Schaeffer’s voice boomed over the droning commentator from the video.
Our heads whipped up to find her glaring at us. Most of the time, a dirty look from a teacher didn’t faze us, but Mrs. Schaeffer had a wonky eye and a husband nobody had seen in five years.
“You’re more than welcome to watch the video after class with me, or you can stop your chatting and watch it now.”
Knowing from experience she was serious, our heads bobbed frantically. The dissections continued, and I slouched back in my chair, tipping the hard plastic seat back on two legs. I had no interest in biology, and even less in chemistry or physics. If Dad hadn’t made two science classes mandatory, I’d have enrolled in three sessions of art. Closing my eyes, I let myself drift off, blocking out Tonya’s groan of dissatisfaction. The noises around me faded, and I imagined Nathan at the beach, decked out in his surfing gear. Fantasies were so much easier than real life.
I was almost asleep when something hit the back of my head, causing me to jerk up and nearly fall out of my seat as it skidded backward with a grating screech of protest along the tiled floor. Two dozen sets of eyes focused on me. Only the darkened room concealed my embarrassment. I gave a grin and waved at my gawkers, putting in a little extra smirk for Owen and Bianca, who tried so hard not to laugh.
Once everyone, other than Tonya, had diverted their attention away from me and back to the screen, I glanced behind me to see what had ended my nap. Resting inches from my black boot was a balled up piece of paper. My eyes shifted around, looking for who had decided I was the new trash can, and they came to rest on Vivian. Figured. How was it possible to have been in class with her for an entire semester and not even realize she was there? I didn’t skip that often.
I picked up the paper, and then swiveled back around to face Tonya. “When did she start coming to this class?”
“This is the first time. Maybe she’s stalking you.”
Shaking my head in denial, or maybe in defeat, I smoothed out the crumpled paper.
Leave Nathan alone.
I looked back at Vivian, and she made an ugly face that I guessed was supposed to be threatening, then grabbed her things and stomped out of class. Mrs. Schaffer harrumphed, and someone giggled. Probably Bianca.
Vivian was such a drama queen. What did Nathan ever see in her? I rolled my eyes then slid the note over to Tonya. Her soaring eyebrows made me wish I hadn’t. No way now would she believe me about the first note. My best chance against her questioning was a quick escape after class before she started the interrogation.
Luck, however, deserted me. The bell rang, and Tonya grabbed my bag, holding it hostage behind her as she stood with the table between us. That was the problem with having a best friend; they always knew what you were going to do. She was almost as bad, or good depending on your point of view, as Chloe sometimes. I’d never say that to Chloe, though. Doing that would just open Chloe’s vision floodgates, and I’d be constantly bombarded with every detail of every soon-to-be minute of my life.
I refused to struggle for my bag. Tonya would only take it as confirmation that I was hiding something from her. Instead, I screwed my face up in confusion and hoped she’d buy it.
“What’s wrong?” I sank further in to my chair, tipping it up on its back legs again as Mrs. Schaeffer went out the door, following the rest of the students. Owen and Bianca stopped behind Tonya, waiting. Owen was mildly disinterested while Bianca looked confused.
“What are you hiding?” Tonya asked, her head tilting to the side.
“Cut the crap, Phoebs. Vivian is pissed, and you’ve been looking guilty all class—well, at least the part where you were awake.” She crossed her arms over her chest, ignoring my bag as it swung around and bumped her hip. There was no way to get out of it, but if I told her now, it’d be all over campus within an hour.
“Fine, but not at school. I’ll tell you when you come over tomorrow.”
“I can’t tomorrow.” Her face shuttered, and she spun around, tossing my bag to me in a quick motion. I caught it as it slammed in to my chest.
“Why? I thought we were gonna go Christmas shopping? You already ditched me last weekend.” There were only six days left to shop, and I needed to get, well, everything, and Tonya was one of those people that managed to find the best things the instant she walked in to a store.
She shrugged and twisted a strand of her straightened hair.
“I’ve gotta go see my mom.”
Liar. It whispered through me, my stomach churning to the point I thought I’d puke. There was a moment when my brain tried to make sense of what I was hearing, what I was feeling, then it came again. Liar.
“Liar.” The word slipped out, unrestrained in its harshness, and almost instantly my stomach settled. Then I saw Tonya’s face.
“What did you call me?” Her back stiffened, and her head reared back. Shit. Owen and Bianca went bug-eyed behind her. Tonya’s lips pursed, and her eyes narrowed, darkening from brown to black.
“I … I…” My voice faded, unsure if I should call her on it again, or try and fib my way out of it. It wasn’t the first time I’d called her a liar, and she’d always laughed it off before. Her reaction and the flush coloring the soft brown of her cheeks told me I’d actually caught her.
“Screw you,” she snapped as I stood there with my mouth moving like a gasping fish. “I don’t need to tell you every move I make, and I don’t need my best friend calling me a liar.” She spun, shoved Owen out of her way, and took off out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
My bag thudded to the floor. Owen and Bianca stared at me, the question in their faces a reflection I was sure of my own. What the hell had just happened?