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By VICTORINE E. LIESKE
“You lucky brat.” Lorena set her lunch tray down and plopped into the seat beside Sadie, brushing her bright red curls off her shoulder.
“What?” Sadie asked, even though she knew was Lorena was going to say. She adjusted her tray so it was parallel to the edge of the table, placed her napkin on her lap, then picked up her apple.
“You and Aaron!” Lorena threw her hands up into the air. “How do you get to be so lucky? You get everything.”
“Not the student body president seat,” she said under her breath.
“I mean, out of everyone in class you get the hunkiest piece of man-meat as your science partner. Who do I get? Larry Renolds. The guy that never showers.” She wrinkled her nose.
“Maybe he has a kidney problem.”
“He has lots of problems. But you…you get Aaron Peters.” She fanned her hand in front of her face. “Lucky, I tell ya.”
Lorena studied her. “You’re not still mad about him winning the student body race, are you?”
“No,” she lied. The last thing she wanted to be was petty. “I just don’t think he’ll make a good partner.” Another lie. The project they were doing was going to be great, and it was all due to him.
“Are you kidding? Who cares about the stupid science project. You get to be with Aaron Peters. You get to look at his beautiful face, and sit close enough to smell him. Believe me, he smells a lot better than Larry Renolds.”
Lorena’s face flushed as Aaron entered the cafeteria, surrounded by his friends.
Sadie frowned. “Yeah, well I just hope he holds up his end of the project. I need this grade, and he could pull it down.” Another lie. They were flying out of her mouth like angry bees.
“You’re too uptight. Haven’t I been telling you that since third grade? You get all A’s. Always have. Take some time off, for heaven’s sake. Just enjoy the moments you get to spend with…you know who.” The last three words were whispered, since Aaron had been headed in their direction and was now in earshot.
Sadie couldn’t afford to relax. She had a plan for her future, and needed to stick to the plan. Third grade had been the worst year of her life. Her family, destroyed. Sadie and her mother having to move to the small town of Shady Pine, scraping a life together out of the ashes that were left. No money, even for a winter coat. That was the year Sadie decided to take her future into her own hands. No more depending on anyone else. Other people weren’t dependable. She had learned that the hard way.
The cool spring breeze blew past Sadie’s cheeks. She hugged her sweater tighter as she strode up the sidewalk to Aaron’s address, her backpack strapped to both shoulders. Not having a car stunk. But her plan included getting a job and saving enough this summer to pay for one, plus the insurance.
Aaron’s home was on the corner, his yard taking up more space than her entire trailer home. A large bay window protruded from the front of the home, well groomed bushes tucked underneath. A wrought iron fence enclosed the back yard.
She shifted her weight then pressed on the doorbell. The door opened and an older version of Aaron smiled at her. “You must be Sadie. Aaron said you’d be coming over. Please, come in.”
The home smelled of pine cleaner and tomato sauce, and looked like they had hired an expensive decorator to furnish it. Aaron jogged down a large curved staircase, his hair hanging in his eyes. He smiled when he saw her. “Hey,” he said, almost shyly.
“Come on downstairs, that’s where the lie detector is.” Aaron motioned for her to follow him down the hall.
Aaron’s dad folded his arms. “You kids be careful with that machine.”
“Yeah, Dad. We will,” he said over his shoulder.
Sadie trailed along behind Aaron, down a set of carpeted stairs to a spacious finished basement. A pool table took up the majority of the room to the left, and another room on the right had a large flat screen TV and leather couch. “It’s in here,” Aaron said, opening a door.
A computer hutch took up one wall, a painting of a landscape hung on the opposite one. The polygraph machine sat on an oak table, and he slid out a chair for her to sit in. “I thought we could hook it up to you first.”
Aaron fussed with a few cords, untangling them before sliding a blood pressure cuff onto her arm. He wrapped a couple of tubes around her middle, and put her finger into another gadget. His fingers were hot, and her skin tingled where he touched her. She shook off the sensation.
He turned the machine on and the blood pressure cuff filled with air. The machine looked like it had been built in the 1970’s. It was larger than she imagined, with round corners and spindles like spider legs scratching out their findings on a lined piece of paper.
Aaron opened a notebook. “Okay. I’m supposed to ask you a few control questions.”
“Go for it.”
“Is your name Sadie Garrett?”
Aaron jerked his head up.
“It’s Sadie Marie Garrett.” The spindles twitched, leaving marks on the paper.
The corner of his mouth curled up. It wasn’t one of his fake charmer smiles, it seemed more natural to her. It suited him better. It wasn’t so plastic. He chuckled, low in his chest.
“Funny. Okay, do you attend Shady Pine High School?”
“Is your hair blonde?”
“Do you live at 443 Rosewood Drive?”
Sadie bristled at the thought of Aaron looking up her address. “Yes.”
“Where were you born?”
Aaron’s eyebrows raised. “Really? You don’t have an accent.”
“We moved when I was very young. My family moved a lot back then.” The spindles became more animated, and Sadie took a calming breath. She didn’t want to talk about the past. Surely Aaron knew nothing about what happened. No one in Shady Pine knew, except for Lorena, and she wouldn’t tell a soul. Aaron wouldn’t ask about her father. She’d just remain calm and he’d move on.
Aaron eyed the paper, but didn’t show any sign of concern. “What is your favorite subject in school?”
An easy one. And safe. “Math,” she said, straightening in her chair.
“It’s predictable.” The words were out before she could censor them.
“Predictable? That’s an odd reason to like something.”
Sadie stiffened. “There’s nothing odd about it,” she said, her words clipped. “I just like the way math is reliable. Two plus two is always four.”
The spindles reacted to her emotion, scratching out an angry message. Sadie concentrated on making her body relax.
“No worries. Math is cool,” he said, putting his hands up in an ‘I surrender’ gesture. “Do you have any hobbies?”
This didn’t seem like a control question to her. In fact, the last few questions wouldn’t fall under the control questions, since he wouldn’t have known the answers to them. “What does that have to do with anything? Are you just making these questions up?”
A slight blush touched his cheeks. “No. Let’s move on. Now I’m going to ask some questions and I want you to lie to me.”
“Are you sixteen years old?”
Sadie had to think a second to convert the truth into a lie. “No.” The spindles jerked, sliding across the paper.
“Do you have Science class with Mr. Thorton?”
“Are you dating anyone?”
Sadie paused. “Yes.”
Aaron stared at the spindles. “Was that the truth, or a lie?”
“You told me to lie.”
He tapped his foot, still staring at the machine. “Yeah, right. Just making sure. Great. We’ve got our baseline. See, here?” Aaron pointed to the paper that had just come off the machine. “This is you lying.”
Sadie leaned over to examine the paper. The lines jumped and bounced on that part of the paper.
“And this is you telling the truth.” Aaron slid his finger down. The lines smoothed out.
“Cool. Now we need to figure out how we are going to change the conditions of the room.”
Aaron jumped up. “I’ve already thought of that. Just a sec.” He left the room and came back a minute later with an iPod and portable speakers. He set them down on the table and pushed a few buttons on the iPod. Soft piano began playing.
“Okay, I want you to relax.” Aaron stood and walked behind her chair. He must have flipped a switch because the ceiling fan turned on.
“Close your eyes. Imagine you are walking on a beach.”
Sadie felt his hands on her shoulders, applying light pressure.
“Now, are you relaxed?”
Sadie’s nerve endings screamed, electricity charging through her. “Yes,” she lied. The machine clicked and the spindles jumped erratically.
“No, you’re not. Take a deep breath.”
Sadie obeyed, letting the breath out slowly. Aaron’s thumbs worked in circular motions over her shoulder muscles. The spindles became more erratic.
“What’s the matter?” Aaron said, sounding annoyed. “The music is supposed to relax you.”
Sadie wiggled out from his grasp. “The music’s fine. It’s just too hot in here. I can’t think.”
“Oh. Do you want something to drink? We have cola in the fridge.”
“Yeah. That sounds good.”
Aaron left the room. Without him there to distract her, she could feel the light breeze from the fan. By the time he came back she was feeling much better.
“Here.” He set the soda on the table and sat back in his chair.
The cold can felt good on her fingers. She popped the top and took a long swig. “Mmm, that’s good.”
Aaron glanced at the machine. “You look more relaxed.” He turned the page on his notebook and picked up his pencil. “Now I want you to tell me more about yourself.”
Warning bells sounded in Sadie’s head. She didn’t want to tell him more about herself. “I think you know enough about me.”
Aaron frowned, lines creasing his forehead. “I need to know to formulate more questions. We need you to lie while in a relaxing environment to test our theory. Don’t worry, it’s not hard. Just tell me about your family.”
Sadie resisted the urge to unplug the machine. She could handle this. All she needed to do was persuade him that her family wasn’t interesting. “I don’t have an exciting family. There’s just me and mom.”
“Where’s your dad?” Aaron leaned closer, his pencil poised.
The spindles went crazy, betraying her anxiety. “I don’t want to talk about my dad.”
Aaron looked from her, to the machine, and back again. “Okay. We’ll move on. What do you want to do with your life?”
Sadie took a calming breath. The machine settled down. “I want to go to Harvard Law School to become a lawyer.”
“Like a personal injury lawyer?”
“A prosecutor. I want to put criminals in jail.”
Aaron wrote something in his notebook. “Interesting. Why do you want to do that?”
The question needled Sadie. “I don’t know. Do I have to have a reason?”
“No. Just curious. Where will you go to school if you don’t get accepted into Harvard?”
“I have to get accepted. It’s all I ever wanted. Harvard is the best school and I need to get in. I’ve been working toward it almost all my life. I’ve known since I was a kid what I wanted to do with my life. That’s why it was so important for me to—” Sadie clamped her mouth shut. She’d forgotten who she was talking to for a second.
“To what?” Aaron asked, one eyebrow raised. He tapped his pencil on his notebook while he waited for her to answer.
She didn’t want to tell him what she was going to say. But how could she lie? He would know. She was hooked up to a freaking lie detector machine. After a second of internal struggle, she opted for the truth. Quietly, she said, “To win the student body president seat.”
His cheeks turned pink and he looked down at his notebook. “Oh.”
An awkward silence settled in. Aaron fiddled with the wire spiral on his paper. Finally, he said, “Sorry. I didn’t really think I’d win. I mean, I didn’t do all that much.”
Yeah, she’d noticed. After all the work she’d put in, he just waltzed in and dazzled everyone into voting for him. But for him to admit that he didn’t even try to win? That hurt even worse. She blinked, determined not to cry in front of him.
The machine scratched and clicked as the spindles moved, responding to her distress. Sadie stood, jerking the sensor off her hand. “I think we’ve experimented enough tonight.”
Aaron jumped up, reaching for her, but she stepped back. “Sadie, I—”
“Don’t.” Sadie unhooked the rest of the cords from herself. “I need to leave.” She grabbed her backpack and bolted out of the room.
This excerpt is part of a young adult romance novelette in progress.
Victorine Lieske and her husband live in Nebraska where they raise their four children. They manufacture rubber stamps for the craft industry. Victorine self-published her first book, Not What She Seems, in April of 2010. In March of 2011 the book hit the New York Times best-selling ebook list, where it stayed on the list for six weeks. By May 2011 she had sold over 100,000 copies. She is represented by literary agent Jason Ashlock of Movable Type Literary Group. Her book, How to Find Success Selling eBooks, details how she found success, and gives advice to other writers wanting to sell eBooks in the genre fiction market.
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