Happy Sunday and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for 10 TRUTHS AND A DARE! I’m so excited because today I have an excerpt of the book to share with you! This book is truly amazing and I’m so so excited to for you to find out more about it, PLUS enter for a chance to win a print copy!
10 Truths and a Dare by Ashley Elston
Published on May 4, 2021 by Disney-Hyperion
Genres: Contemporary, YA
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It's Senior Week, that magical in-between time after classes have ended but before graduation, chock-full of gimmicky theme parties, last-minute bonding, and family traditions. Olivia couldn't be more ready. Class salutatorian and confident in her future at LSU, she's poised to sail through to the next phase of her life.
But when the tiny hiccup of an unsigned off-campus P.E. form puts Olivia in danger of not graduating at all, she has one week to set things straight without tipping off her very big and very nosy extended family. Volunteering to help at a local golf tournament should do it, but since Olivia's mom equipped her phone with a tracking app, there'll be no hiding the fact that she's at the golf course instead of all the graduation parties happening at the same time. Unless, that is, she can convince the Fab Four--her ride-or-die cousins and best friends Sophie, Charlie, and Wes--to trade phones with her as they go through the motions of playing Olivia for the week.
Sure, certain members of the golf team are none too pleased with Olivia's sudden "passion" for the game. And sure, a very cute, very off-limits boy keeps popping up in Olivia's orbit. But she is focused! She has a schedule and a plan! Nothing can possibly go wrong . . . right?
Truth #1: If something happens but your nonna doesn’t find out about it and tell the whole family, then it didn’t really happen.
Sunday, May 8th, Afternoon
Almost every milestone in my life is in some way attached to my grandparents’ house. First steps? Four right down the main hallway. First lost tooth? Stuck in a caramel apple Nonna had waiting for us in the kitchen after trick-or-treating. First kiss? Jason McAfee, who was friends with my cousin Charlie and Wes from next door, in the attic playing spin the bottle in eighth grade.
So when it was time to fill out the senior questionnaire, there was no question where we would gather.
“Okay, does everyone have a pencil?” Nonna asks from her spot at the head of the table.
Next to me, Charlie pats his chest several times, then scans the floor. “I’ve lost mine.”
Nonna rolls several to me. “Olivia, please pass these to Charlie and anyone else who may need one.”
Charlie tests each one I give him before settling on the one he wants, then puts the extras in the middle of the table.
“Is it weird I’m doing this?” our cousin Sophie asks. “I mean, I’m glad I’m here, but it’s not like I have anyone to turn this in to.”
“You’ll turn it in to me and I’ll keep it with the others,” Nonna answers, pointing toward the fabric-covered box sitting on the edge of the kitchen counter. Then she winks at Wes, who is sitting next to Sophie, across the table from me. “I want a copy of yours, too.”
Wes beams and scratches his full name at the top of his sheet, then sits poised and ready for Nonna to start.
Uncle Sal is leaning against the counter on the far side of the kitchen, a piece of paper, rumpled and stained, dangling from his fingers. “If the twins aren’t here in the next five minutes, we’re starting without them.”
Nonna glances at the clock, then at the back door, before looking at Sal. “Maggie Mae said they would be here.”
Uncle Sal rolls his eyes and goes back to his phone.
In this family, my grandmother has the final word. And filling out the questionnaire is no different.
Our high school seems to pride itself on traditions as much as she does. When this first started fifty-eight years ago, there were only a few basic questions for seniors: Will you go to college? If so, where? What is your dream job? But the questionnaire has taken on a life of its own. Now the school wants to know your favorite memory and your most embarrassing one, your favorite charity and one thing about the world you wish you could change, and on and on and on. The answers are shared across the big white screen that hangs from the ceiling while we march one by one in cap and gown. Nonna has kept a copy of every sheet every member of our family has ever completed. And since all of us, except Sophie and her older sister, Margot, graduated from the same high school, she has a sheet on everyone.
And now it’s A Thing. A thing that once a year becomes part of Sunday family supper. A thing where the current seniors fill it out in front of everyone and then we compare it to our parents’ answers. And our aunts’ and uncles’ answers. And our cousins’ answers.
You get the point.
Sophie might not have to do it for her school, but she has to do it for Nonna, just like Margot did. And since Wes is an honorary member of this family, there was no way he was getting out of it either.
Not that they feel especially put out. In fact, they seem downright tickled to be here. Or maybe it’s because they’re always tickled to be with each other, no matter what the activity is or where we are.
While Nonna looks at Sophie and Wes as a testament to her brilliant scheming, the rest of us are terrified she’ll feel the need to interfere anytime we are the least bit unsettled. I went to great lengths to hide my breakup with Drew for fear she’d resurrect the dating game she played last Christmas. Uncle Michael hasn’t been home for a visit since then, as he is the last unwed sibling and is horrified at the thought of what Nonna would do to find him the perfect husband.
The back door bangs open and Aunt Maggie Mae rushes through with the Evil Joes right behind her, followed by Uncle Marcus and the younger twins, Frankie and Freddie. Mary Jo and Jo Lynn are dressed in matching linen dresses, one in pale pink and the other in pale purple, their dark hair straight and slick, as if they are immune to the humidity.
Charlie does a quick sweep of the table and I can see the second it occurs to him where the only empty chairs are.
He leans close. “Switch with me.” Charlie started calling our twin cousins Mary Jo and Jo Lynn the “Evil Joes” when we were twelve and they pulled a prank on him in Florida in front of some cute girls. Honestly, he was a little old to still be wearing Star Wars briefs. But because he was a member of the Fab Four with Sophie, Wes, and me, we had to back him up.
And Charlie is right—Evil Joes are evil.
I shake my head and grip the edges of my chair in case he decides to push me out. “Not happening.”
“There’s a guy with them,” Wes whispers from across the table.
We all swivel toward where Aunt Maggie Mae and Uncle Marcus are sitting across the room, but I can’t see who is with them because Uncle Ronnie is in the way.
“Is it one of the boyfriends?” I ask even though I know it’s not, since Wes would recognize them. Aiden and Brent, the Joes’ boyfriends, were invited to this but declined. That was a very stressful moment in the group text because very few people tell Nonna no.
Uncle Ronnie moves closer to Aunt Patrice, finally revealing the stranger in our midst.
The unknown guy standing next to Aunt Maggie Mae is tall with dark hair that sticks out in big, fat curls. He’s wearing a faded tee and an even more faded pair of jeans that hang a little loose on his hips. He looks like he belongs hiking up a trail somewhere or maybe catching some waves or anywhere outdoors. He absolutely does not look comfortable in this crowded kitchen, wedged between my aunt and uncle.
He scans the room and I feel it when his attention lands on me. There’s just a hint of a smile on his face, and I swear I know him. My mind is shuffling through the alphabet, testing out names beginning with each letter, hoping something pops.
I’ve got nothing.
Mary Jo drops down beside Charlie, her paper fluttering to rest on the table, and snatches his pencil.
Charlie lets out a loud breath, then reaches for one of the pencils in the center of the table he earlier deemed inferior.
“All right, everyone is here!” Nonna exclaims. “And I think this is by far the most graduates we’ve ever had at one time!”
My family is huge. And loud. My grandfather was born and raised in Sicily, but he met my grandmother while he was studying here. He was only supposed to stay in the US for a year, but they fell in love, got married, and had eight kids. He never went back to Sicily. Well, except for vacations. They celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary a few months ago. The same party where Aunt Patrice and Uncle Ronnie danced like no one was watching even though everyone was watching. They’re both a little odd. Nonna and Papa = couple goals. Aunt Patrice and Uncle Ronnie? Not so much.
There are six of us graduating this year: Charlie, Sophie, Wes, the Evil Joes, and me. I glance down the table, where Wes sticks out as the only blond in the sea of dark hair. Wes has lived next door to Nonna and Papa his entire life and grew up with us. There are also over twenty members of the Messina family packed into the kitchen—aunts and uncles and cousins—some who have gone through this before us and others who will follow us. Oh, and one stranger.
I take one more peek at the guy next to Aunt Maggie Mae.
He’s leaning against the far wall, arms crossed in front of him. He catches me staring, so I quickly swivel back around, embarrassed I got busted.
Nonna gets everyone’s attention. “Okay, let’s get started.”
Jo Lynn sits up a little taller in her chair and looks toward her parents. “You want to do this with us?” she asks the guy I’m trying really hard not to look at. Maybe she’s trying to make up for their boyfriends snubbing us?
Nonna shuffles around until she’s almost backward in her chair. “Oh! Who’s this?” she asks excitedly. “Yes, come join us!” she adds without even waiting for an answer.
Aunt Maggie Mae throws her arm around New Guy. “You remember Leo! Caroline and Alonso Perez’s oldest?” Since he’s now anchored to her side, it’s easy for her to push him forward slightly so she can show him off to the room.
“Oh,” Sophie says.
Charlie mutters something under his breath that would probably make Nonna reach for the nearest bar of soap.
Now the entire room has noticed him, and several family members welcome him to the chaos. The noise level inches up and up as it’s prone to do when we’re all crammed into one room. He’s shaking hands and answering questions about his parents and what’s going on with him, but I’m too far away to pick up what he’s saying.
Of course it’s Leo. But I didn’t recognize him with his hair long and curly like that. He always kept it buzzed close to his head when we were kids. His face has lost its chubbiness, and he’s grown at least a foot.
The Perez family lived next door to the Evil Joes until Mr. Perez got transferred right before we started eighth grade. Leo’s parents were really close to Aunt Maggie Mae and Uncle Marcus. Their kids were inseparable, and they vacationed together in the summer. We always knew the Evil Joes would rather be with them than with us.
“Leo,” Nonna says. “Jo Lynn is right; would you like to join us? You’re graduating this year, too! You can tell us all about your plans.”
Mary Jo scoots her chair over and says, “You can squeeze in right here.” She nods to indicate the space between her and Jo Lynn.
For every inch Mary Jo moved closer to Charlie, Charlie has now moved closer to me.
Even though Leo’s been around us in the past, it’s been a long time and this group can be overwhelming. From the look on his face, I’m sure he doesn’t remember all of our names or who goes with who, and it’s easy to feel like at any moment there will be a quiz.
“I, uh, no thank you,” Leo finally says.
Charlie lets out a grunt.
I whisper to Charlie, “It’s been years. Let it go.”
He gives me a funny look. “I’m good.”
Charlie and Leo did not part on great terms. I think the last time they saw each other was at the park for the end-of-year party and Charlie was being obnoxious, just like every other seventh-grade boy. Charlie and his friend Judd were throwing a football and Charlie was running backward a little too fast trying to catch it and completely mowed over Jo Lynn. She stained her white jeans and started bawling. And because Leo was like a brother to them, he pushed Charlie before Charlie had a chance to apologize or help Jo Lynn up from the ground. So of course, Charlie pushed him back. I’m sure they think they had some super-masculine brawl, but it was really just a bunch of flailing arms and legs and near misses.
They both got sent home before the party was over.
And obviously, Charlie isn’t over it.
“If you change your mind, feel free to jump right in,” Nonna says, then spins back around in her chair. “Now, where were we?” Without looking behind her, she adds, “Dallas, if you sneak another piece of chicken from that tray, you’re going to get it.”
He lets out a squeak when his brother, Denver, elbows him in the stomach, only because Dallas has now ruined any chance of him snatching one, too. I feel for them. The smells that waft through Nonna’s kitchen are enough to tempt even the most innocent into thievery. Dallas and Denver belong to Aunt Patrice and Uncle Ronnie. Even though their parents are weird, the boys are pretty cool despite the fact they were named for the cities they were conceived in.
We all know she’s bluffing, but Denver backs away from the food anyway. The only way she’s been able to hold everyone hostage for this is because dinner won’t be served until after we’re done.
Nonna slips on her reading glasses and glances at a clean copy of the questionnaire she printed for herself earlier in the week. “Okay, first question. Who’s going to college?” She examines each of us. “I think we have a full sweep this year!” Her enthusiasm is the only thing keeping this Thing going year after year.
We all raise a hand, then call out the letters LSU as we write the answer on the line marked If yes, where? A loud chorus of “Match” rumbles through the room.
I skim the paper and hope the food isn’t cold by the time we finish. There are so many questions.
“Next!” Nonna says. “What is your major?”
Even though I want to shout out my answer to help move this thing along, I’ll have to wait my turn since Nonna starts on the opposite side of the table.
“Sophie, what did you put down?”
Sophie clears her throat and says, “Nursing.” Charlie’s mom, Aunt Ayin, raises her hand and shouts, “Match!” Sophie beams and Nonna claps.
Did I mention Nonna makes all the wives and husbands who marry into this family retroactively fill out one of these forms so they can join in the fun? Being in this family is not for the fainthearted.
Next is Wes. When he calls out, “Business,” four uncles and two aunts holler, “Match!”
And so it goes until we get around the table and it’s Charlie’s turn.
He hesitates a second and every eye in the room is on him. There is a string of 3-D geometric drawings lining the right edge of his paper that are perfection in shape and size. School is not his thing and I know he struggles with his parents’ expectation that he follow in their footsteps and choose a career in medicine. But he’s never going to do that; he gets squeamish at the sight of blood. Charlie is one of those people who is going to do great in the real world if only he can just get there.
“Undecided,” he says, and he has, by far, the most matches in the room.
“You have plenty of time to decide what you want to do!” Nonna waves a hand toward the room. “They all seem to have figured it out.”
He grins, then starts scribbling a brick wall along the bottom of his page.
“Olivia’s turn,” Nonna says.
I’m the exact opposite of Charlie. I love school. Love my classes. I’ve already studied the course catalog for next fall and can’t wait for orientation, when I’ll make my schedule.
“I’m double majoring in accounting and political science with a minor in Spanish,” I answer.
Both of my parents could have matched me with the accounting part, but they’re out of town for work this week. It’s hard to stand out in a family this size, so I’m pleased that the room remains silent.
Until Jo Lynn says, “That’s a weird combo.”
“Not at all,” I say. “I want to go to law school and specialize in international tax law.”
The Evil Joes exchange a look that I decipher as them thinking I’m snotty, but I just know what I want. I’m driven. And I’m tired of this being something that people think I need to apologize for.
Nonna pats my hand. “And you’ll do great! Everyone knows how hard you work! I just can’t believe someone beat you out of valedictorian.”
“I’m happy to take the second spot,” I say quickly. And mostly that’s true, but a small part of me is frustrated to have come so close to graduating with the highest honor and fallen just a bit short.
Nonna turns back to Sophie, moving to the next question, but I’m distracted by the notification that just popped up on my phone. It’s an e-mail from the vice principal of my school.
Dragging the phone from the table, I settle it on my leg and slide it open.
To: Oliva Perkins
From: Dwayne Spencer
Subject: Off-campus PE form
It has come to our attention that my office has not received the form required to show proof of completion of your off-campus PE class. I remind you that it is up to you to ensure you fulfill the necessary hours and return a completed valid form. In order to allow you to graduate with your class, we will need to have your signed form no later than 8 a.m. on Monday, May 16th.
I read it twice to make sure I understand what it says. The coach who ran our class said he would turn all the forms into the school. I guess mine got lost somehow—but is this missing form holding my degree hostage? I’m the salutatorian of our class. I have taken seven AP classes. The reason I even took off-campus PE was because that was the only way I could make my schedule work with all the other classes I wanted on my transcript. My choices were golf or tennis, and even though Charlie insisted that I wasn’t coordinated enough for either, I agreed with him that I would stink at tennis but I could handle golf since it involved less running.
Today is May 8th, so Mr. Spencer has given me a week from tomorrow to clear this up. It’s just a mistake, it’s just a mistake, I chant in my head.
“Olivia?” Nonna asks.
I snap to attention.
Charlie leans in close. “Favorite club,” he whispers.
I draw a blank. The past four years fade away now that I can’t think past the email.
“It’s probably the same as mine,” Charlie blurts out.
Tilting my head toward him, I glance at his paper.
I didn’t even know we had one of those, but I nod and say, “Yes, so fun.”
My eyes go back to Mr. Spencer’s e-mail. My chest starts to feel tight and my breath comes a little quicker.
“Next question!” Nonna announces.
“We need to speed this along,” Uncle Charles says. “Or we’ll be eating this food for breakfast.”
Uncle Marcus yells, “Match!”
Nonna looks at me, completely ignoring two of her sons. “Let’s start with Olivia and go back around the opposite way this time.”
I read the next question aloud. “Where do you see yourself living in ten years?”
In my head, my answer is: In a cardboard box because I’m jobless and homeless because I never graduated high school.
Taking a deep breath, I say, “Undecided.”
A chorus of matches echoes through the room, even though almost everyone who says that ended up right back here in Shreveport, only a few blocks from this very house.
There are twenty more questions and I’m not sure I can face answering them in this room.
“I don’t feel so good,” I whisper, but it’s loud enough for Nonna to hear.
Concern washes across her face. “What’s wrong?”
I shrug. “Not sure. I feel sick.”
Grabbing my paper, I push back from the table and weave through the crowd toward the back door.
“We lost one. Does that mean we’re done and can eat?” Uncle Sal asks.
I’m racing down the driveway, but I stop short when I see someone on Nonna’s front porch.
He’s sitting on the steps, looking at his phone, but stands when he sees me.
“You okay?” he asks.
I’m sure he can see the panic rolling off me like waves.
I shake my head and continue down the driveway. He jumps off the front steps and falls in line beside me.
“I didn’t know anyone was out here,” I say, hoping my voice sounds even and steady.
“It felt like I was intruding. I mean, I’m not even sure what’s going on in there, but it seems like some family thing.”
The two blocks of sidewalk between Nonna’s house and mine feel more like a mile right now. I’m an inch from freaking all the way out and I really don’t want to do that in front of Leo.
“Why’d you leave? It seems like there was probably another hour or so to go,” Leo says, chuckling.
“Not feeling so good,” I say. With my arms wrapped tightly around my waist, it’s easy enough to believe.
“Oh,” he says. “Do you need anything?”
I shake my head. “No. Just couldn’t take the crowd.”
He nods like he totally understands. Which I guess he does since he was hiding out on the front porch.
We stop in front of my house. “Thanks for walking me home,” I say. It’s been years since I’ve seen him and I should make some effort to ask how he’s been or what he’s been up to, but my brain has that email scrolling on repeat.
“Sure,” he says, then points back to Nonna’s house. “I’ll just head back now.”
It’s awkward. For both of us.
I turn and walk up the front path to my house.
Leo calls out, “Hope you feel better,” just as I’m opening my front door.
I give him a small smile and wave before disappearing inside.
My phone is buzzing with texts from Charlie, Sophie, and Wes in our group chat. I message back saying I’m fine, I just need a minute to stop them from following me here.
After I race up the stairs to my room, it only takes a few seconds to grab the blank copy of the form I gave my golf instructor at the beginning of the semester. There are boxes that Coach was supposed to check stating that either we did or did not complete the required hours of instruction. I clearly remember him stating at the beginning of the semester that he would turn in the forms to the school directly so that the students couldn’t alter them in any way.
Pulling my phone back out, I shoot a reply to Mr. Spencer.
To: Dwayne Spencer
From: Olivia Perkins
Subject: Re: Off-campus PE form
There must be some mistake. I finished the class. Coach Cantu told us at the beginning of the semester that he turns the forms in directly to you. There shouldn’t be any reason why you don’t have mine.
will contact Coach Cantu to find out what happened. In a worst-case scenario—I really don’t think this is possible but I’m trying not to freak out—what happens if he won’t sign it for some insane reason? Would this really stop me from graduating?
I refresh my email over and over. And over. It’s fifteen minutes before I get his reply.
To: Oliva Perkins
From: Dwayne Spencer
Subject: Re: Off-campus PE form
If you are unable to turn in a signed form stating you have met the requirements for the class, you will be short of what the state requires for you to graduate. Since we are a public institution, I would be unable to make any exceptions. This is the risk you run when you decide to take a class off-campus.
God, could he be any colder? And now I’m really panicking. It’s only seconds before I’m pulling my car out into the street, headed for the public golf course nestled deep in the middle of an old neighborhood not far from mine where our class met on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the semester.
The sky is crystal blue and we’re in that really small patch of time where it’s warm out but the humidity doesn’t feel like you’ve walked into a wet, hot blanket. So it’s no surprise the parking lot is completely full. For the next couple of weeks, this place will stay packed from sunup to sundown.
This course has seen better days, but it is well loved for its location. All the newer, fancier courses, especially the one that was completed last year right outside of town, require a hefty membership and certain social standing to feel comfortable.
This one is as low-key as it gets.
I pull in the back where the employees park, since I’ll only be here a few minutes.
There’s a groundskeeper in the small garage where old golf carts go to die. He’s piling landscaping tools into a trailer attached to one of those side-by-side vehicles. The smell of gasoline and freshly cut grass permeates the air, and the patch on his grease-stained uniform says Mitch.
“Excuse me, I’m looking for Coach Cantu?”
The man’s brow creases like he doesn’t know who I’m asking for.
“The golf pro here. Coach Cantu,” I repeat.
Mitch’s face lights up. “Oh, you mean John! Yeah, he’s not here,” he says, then turns his back to me to grab another piece of handheld equipment.
I try to swallow down my frustration. “Do you know when he will be back?”
Mitch stops and looks up as if the answer is somehow written on the cobwebbed ceiling. “Well, I think he’s gone.”
“Gone? What do you mean, gone?” I can’t keep the panic from crawling into my voice.
“He doesn’t work here anymore. We had a cake on Friday to say our good-byes. Chocolate.”
The floor is sucking me in. “Do you know where he went? Is he still in town?”
“Maybe check with Susie. She probably knows.” He tilts his head toward the front office, shrugs, and gets back to work.
I race inside and make a beeline for the woman at the counter, prepared to do whatever I have to so I can get a clear answer when I repeat the same questions to her.
Susie flinches as if in pain. “I’m right here. No need to yell. He’s the pro at Ellerbe Hills now. Not sure when he’s starting over there, though.”
“Can you give me his number?” It feels like my knees are about to give out.
She’s shaking her head. “Sorry, I can’t give out employees’ numbers.”
“But you said he’s not an employee here anymore.”
By her look, she doesn’t appreciate the reminder. “But he was.”
We stare at each other long enough for it to be clear she’s not budging, so I leave and walk numbly back to my car.
Copyright © 2021 by Ashley Elston
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What do you think about 10 Truths and a Dare? Have you added it to your tbr yet? Let me know in the comments and have a splendiferous day!