The weekend before the start of senior year, Sophie Erickson and her best friends, Ella and Grace, discover a handwritten list of dares tucked away in the glove compartment of Sophie’s beat-up old Toyota. But this isn’t just any list; it’s a dead girl's bucket list.
Sophie's beloved aunt Suzy died as a teenager in a fatal fall, leaving Sophie with an overly cautious family, a few fading photographs, and a bucket of bolts that barely passes for a car. But now, Sophie has Suzy’s list of the things she wanted to do in her last year of high school. Sophie can't help but wonder: What would happen if she tried to fulfill Suzy’s last wishes, to live out the longed-for life of her aunt, her hero?
As Sophie and her friends attempt to knock off the things on Suzy's list of dares, love blossoms in unexpected places and Sophie begins to feel that her life is finally coming together...when in fact, everything is slowly unraveling around her. When the truth about a long-held family secret threatens to shatter everything she believed to be true, Sophie is forced to question everything she knew about the life and people she believed in, and ultimately herself.
Erin Downing has written more than a dozen books for young adults, tweens, and kids. Her guilty pleasures include an unhealthy obsession with reality TV and cheesy romantic dramas (Revenge! Alias!), an addiction to Us Weekly magazine, and cupcakes.
Before turning to writing full time, Erin worked as a book editor, spent a few months as a cookie inventor, and also worked for Nickelodeon. Erin has lived in England, Sweden, and New York City, and now resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with her husband and kids. More information about Erin and her books can be found at: www.erindowning.com.
Suddenly, someone hollered and Johnny Rush came barreling through the crowd of guys. He stopped only long enough to yell, “Clear the decks!” and to check to make sure there was no one under the protruding rock. Then he unceremoniously lobbed himself off the edge minus frills and animal calls and without a puffed-up chest.
My stomach flipped nervously when I realized he was there. He seemed to be everywhere lately. Just when he was supposed to disappear forever, as my brother had done, Johnny was suddenly ever present. I held my breath as his body dropped and twisted before landing with a huge splash in the water below. I continued to hold it as I waited for him to pop back up to the surface, to prove that he had survived. I knew Johnny and Peter and a lot of the other guys in the sporty crowd did this all the time, but I couldn’t prevent myself from worrying. There was a reason I’d never jumped off Hanging Rock. The chance of death, specifically.
Johnny’s head popped up, and I could see his huge, silly grin in the middle of the swimming pond. He looked back up at the guys still standing along the edge and yelled, “Come on down. The water’s perfect.”
One by one, they all jumped as Johnny swam to shore and climbed out. He wrapped a towel around his waist and shook his head to dry his hair, like a dog might do—if a dog were like, I don’t know, a completely sexy, blue-eyed guy. He looked around with the confidence of someone who’d never worried about what anyone else was thinking about him—and eventually, his eyes settled on me. It seemed like his grin got wider when he looked my way. But maybe it was just the light.
I swallowed and tried to smile back. I’d never been totally comfortable around guys, and expected that a simple smile at Johnny would be just as daunting as a smile that was directed at any guy would. But instead, I found myself grinning easily and naturally, with no concern about what I might say to him or any worry about whether or not I’d be interesting enough to hold his attention. I hadn’t been that comfortable around a guy since, well…since my brother. Or Peter and the other boys who had lived in my neighborhood—but that was years ago, before boobs and other complications got in the way.
I didn’t know if my comfort was a good sign, or an absolutely terrible one.
Just as he began to make his way toward me, all confident swagger and wet torso, I realized I’d lost Ella altogether.
“Why does it seem like you’re everywhere lately?” I asked when Johnny was close enough to hear me. I smiled again and tried to keep my eyes off his lean body. His tan had only faded slightly, and droplets of water sat temptingly on skin that looked like it was probably warm, despite the chill of the swimming water. “Aren’t you ever at school?” I asked this teasingly, not expecting the answer I got.
“No, I’m not ever at school,” he said, and let his eyes dance across the rest of the crowd that had gathered at the beach. He smiled at me, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “I’m not going.”
“What happened to Madison?” I asked.
“Nothing happened,” he said. “I already told you—it wasn’t a valid choice.” He sat down on the rocks and toweled off his legs. I noticed that he didn’t wipe off his chest, and I was finding it increasingly more difficult not to stare.
“Wait…you’re saying that your parents told you Madison wasn’t good enough? So you decided to go nowhere instead?” I couldn’t keep the disbelief out of my voice. It seemed ridiculous. I mean, that’s taking rebellion to a whole new level. At least, for me it would be.
“I guess that’s sort of it, yeah.” He smiled at me. “So I’m one of those guys.”
“One of what guys?”
“One of the losers that sticks around here, waiting for people to come home from college to play with me over winter break and stuff.” He looked down and started to rearrange the rocks between his body and mine. “Admit it, that’s what you’re thinking.”
I stared at him. “Um, it’s not actually. But I am sort of wondering why you didn’t just say you weren’t going to college when we asked you about it last weekend,” I said, trying to think back to our conversation on pizza-and-camping night. “Are you intentionally misleading people?”
He looked at me, and I suddenly saw a little bit of the fear that I thought didn’t exist for people like Johnny Rush. “Yeah, I guess I sort of am.” He shrugged. “Not my good friends, but people like you.”
“People like me?” I wondered.
“Why broadcast my lack of ambition?” he asked, offering no further clarity. “I figure people will eventually realize I haven’t left. Until they do, I’m not going to announce that I’m one of the few sad sacks that didn’t go anywhere.”
“You couldn’t find anywhere else you wanted to go?” I asked, my voice ringing with disbelief. “It just seems so unlikely that your parents would rather you not go to college than go to Madison.”
He shrugged, and I could tell he was done talking about it. “Well, it is what it is. And it looks like I’m here for the long haul.” Johnny looked up at Hanging Rock, but no one was jumping. The sky had started to fade into the deep blue of twilight, and wisps of pink lined the edges of the clouds. “Aren’t you going to jump?” he asked. “I thought that was one of your big life goals. One of your dares, right?”
I’d completely forgotten that we’d talked about some of the dares the night of his party. But he hadn’t. Was that significant, or was he just good at making people feel special? I knew it was the latter. “Yeah, it is one of the things I want to do. Sometime.”
“Sometime?” He gave me a funny look. “There’s no better time than now.” Then he hopped up and reached for my hands. I let him take them, because I wanted to touch him, and he pulled me to my feet. I looked over at Ella, but she was too busy talking to Peter to notice me. Grace was off in her own little world, with Ian and no one else.
I’d always thought it was funny how the rest of the world seemed to drop away when guys entered the picture. It was like all clarity got washed away in a wave of lust or something.
Even though I knew he was an expert flirt, I felt special when Johnny lightly tugged at my left hand with his right and pulled me up the hill. I forgot what we were doing, and focused only on the way his fingers wrapped around mine—his index and middle finger were looped around my pinkie and ring finger. His hands were colder than I would have expected, and I wondered if maybe I’d been wrong about his chest. I almost reached out to touch the skin that wrapped around his shoulder blade and ran down his back to the top of his shorts. But instead of touching, I let my eyes go there—and then immediately regretted it.
My stomach knotted and my heart sped up, and that’s when reality hit. I dropped Johnny’s hand, wondering how I could have let myself get sucked into something so stupid. I wasn’t going to be his girlfriend, and I certainly wasn’t going to let him convince me to jump. “It’s almost dark,” I said, knowing how weak it sounded. “It’s cold.” I stopped walking up the trail, but he didn’t notice right away.
When he finally looked back, I was at least fifteen steps behind him. That distance was enough that I could hold onto my wits and say again, “I can’t jump in the dark.”
“It’s not dark,” he scoffed, then stepped back down the hill. He stopped right in front of me and put his hands on his hips.
“You’re just making excuses.”
That was true. “No, I’m not,” I insisted. “I can’t do it today.”
“Then when?” he teased. “I’ll hold your hand. It won’t be scary, I promise.”
Holding your hand, or jumping? I wondered. Both sounded scary. “I don’t know…” I said, my resolve wavering.
“If you really don’t want to do it,” Johnny said, his hand outstretched, urging me up the hill. But his words were calming, absent of any pressure. “I’m not going to make you. It’s your call. Your life.”
There it was. My out. I could just turn around and tromp back down the hill. But then I thought about the list, which was still in my pocket, and how I’d made promises to myself to go for things. To try. To let myself take risks, even if it meant failing.
“Okay,” I said finally, grinning. “I’ll try.”
Then I took Johnny’s hand, still outstretched for me, and climbed.