Best friends don't lie.
Best friends don't ditch you for a guy.
Best friends don't post your deepest darkest secret online.
Bailey's falling head-over-heels for Ryder West, a mysterious gamer she met online. A guy she's never met in person. Her best friend, Meg, doesn't trust smooth-talking Ryder. He's just a picture-less profile.
When Bailey starts blowing Meg off to spend more virtual quality time with her new crush, Meg decides it's time to prove Ryder's a phony.
But one stupid little secret posted online turns into a friendship-destroying feud to answer the question: Who is Ryder West?
Praise for Send:
"Blount's debut novel combines an authentic voice with compelling moral dilemmas."VOYA
"A dark, captivating, and powerful story!"Crazy Bookworm
About the Author
PATTY BLOUNT works as a software technical writer by day and novelist by night. Dared by her 13-year-old son to try fiction, Patty wrote her first manuscript in an ice rink. A short version of her debut novel, Send, finished in the top ten of the Writer's Digest 79th Annual Writing Competition.
Read an Excerpt
The eyes had no soul.
Megan Farrell flung down her brush with a curse. The eyes refused to shine for her. No matter how she sketched them, no matter what colors she used to fill them, they sat on her canvas, dull. Dead. She couldn't even get the color right and probably never would, not unless she asked Chase Gallagher to sit for her, and she could never do that.
Chase Gallagher wasn't part of her plan.
She stretched, cracking her neck, and stared out her window into the backyard that butted against hers. He was out there now, running around with his little brothers, trying to fix the snowman they'd built during a late-season snowstorm that hit Long Island three days earlier. Temperatures had risen to the fifties since then, but Chase would never tell the boys Frosty couldn't be saved. The Gallagher brothers scooped up every inch of snow that hadn't melted and brought it to Chase, who had an unlimited supply of patience from what Meg could see. Even through the closed window, she could hear the boys' belly laughs and screeches of pure glee. "My turn, Chase! My turn!" And Chase would pick up another brother and lift him high enough to pat handfuls of snow into place. Suddenly, he lifted his head and stared right at her.
She jumped back, her face on fire. Not smart, letting him catch her with her face pressed to her window.
She turned back to her canvas, and with a charcoal pencil, she crossed out the color mix she'd noted. It was too dark out to fix it now. The master bedroom was already striped in shadows. After her father died, her mother had refused to sleep here, so Meg moved in, loving that she didn't need to "Clean up that mess!" when she was done painting. The room was large enough for art supplies and her stuff, not that she had much. Just a twin bed shoved against one wall, a garage sale bookcase and desk for homework, an ancient laptop whose E button had long since disappeared, and a meager wardrobe that hardly filled one rod in the walk-in closet otherwise devoted to art supplies.
The way the light shining through the huge palladium window illuminated the paintings on her easel, and the paint splatters on the wood floor made her feel like a real artist in a studio.
Today, it only emphasized her failures.
On stiff legs, she took her brushes and palette knife to the bathroom that adjoined the bedroom to wash them. A drop of crimson paint hit the tile floor and spread, seeping into the grout.
Her throat tightened. Her breaths got shallow. Her stomach pitched and rolled, and when her legs buckled, she slid to the floor in a boneless heap, whimpering the way she had all those years ago when it had been blood on the floor instead of paint. He'd been gone for ten years now, but she could still hear his voice.
"The future, Megan!" he'd always said. "Focus on the future. Set goals and don't let anything or anyone ever make you lose focus." Her father's plan. But he'd failed. So now it was hers-a promise she had to keep.
Minutes passed, or maybe they were hours. She sat on the hard floor until she was able to pull herself together. How long it had taken this time, she wasn't sure. She grabbed a towel and rubbed furiously at the spot on the floor until it squeaked. Then she pulled out the tie that held her hair back in a messy knot, wincing when a few rooted strands came away with it. She dragged herself to her feet and ran the shower.
Piece by piece, she shed her paint-spattered clothes. She stood under the stream of water as hot as she could take it. She really wished hot water could melt away all the anxiety that seemed to cover her like a thick coat of ice. The panic attack, the SAT scores that still hadn't arrived, the job she was about to lose when the movie theater closed its doors in a few weeks, and the bills-the endless pile of bills her mom cried over when she thought Meg was asleep. When the water went cold, she stepped out, wrapped herself in a towel, and stood in front of the mirror, scowling at the look in her eyes.
Bailey would notice.
She always did, and Megan didn't want to talk about it. It was old news.
She tugged on jeans and a T-shirt, detangled her hair, and coiled it in another elastic. Downstairs, she foraged for dinner but found only a brown banana and the heels of a loaf of bread. Mom still hadn't been grocery shopping. She slammed the refrigerator door, hoping there was enough money in her wallet to spring for a fast-food meal, and grabbed her cell to tap out a message to her best friend.
Meg: Outta food again. Going to Main St. Wanna go?
Bailey would say sure. They never discussed it, but Bailey knew there wasn't always enough money for groceries, so she often came over with leftovers that she'd put on the top shelf in Meg's empty refrigerator without a word. That was one of the things Meg loved about Bailey-she knew when it was time to talk and when it wasn't.
Meg grabbed her keys and the art show flyer she wanted to show Bailey. Outside in the cold March air, she drew her hood up over her wet hair and rubbed her knees together to keep warm.
After about five minutes, her cell buzzed.
Bailey: Not hungry. CU tom. XOXO
Megan's forehead puckered. Bailey always walked with her to Main Street...or sometimes drove since Bailey was the proud owner of a driver's license, even when she wasn't hungry. Said it was a great excuse to escape her mother. Meg thought for a minute and typed back.
Meg: What's wrong?
There was no reply, which was even stranger than the first message. Bailey always had to have the last word. It was a thing with her. Meg started the half-mile walk north, trying not to obsess. She had her learner's permit, but she had never been behind the wheel of car.
Pauline Farrell didn't have the time or money for lessons. Meg had started a driver's license fund, setting aside change from her part-time job for lessons or maybe the driver's education class her school offered. She'd need a license to find jobs, and she'd need jobs to be independent. But first, she needed money to earn the license.
At a table in the corner, she sighed and picked at her meal. French fries and chicken nuggets kind of sucked when you didn't have anyone to share them with. She unfolded the flyer that had shown up in today's mail and studied it again. Bailey hated museums, and Meg knew convincing her to go to Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art wasn't going to be easy. She'd go. Of course she'd go. But first, Meg would have to agree to a day of shopping-one of Bailey's favorite sports-and maybe do some extra character sketches for the video game Bailey was trying to develop. But Bailey's radio silence had her considering even higher stakes.
She ate her last fry and shuddered. For Bailey, she'd do it.
She checked her phone. Still no reply from Bailey. Maybe she'd had another fight with her mom. Meg emptied her tray and started the long walk home. Or maybe it was Simon, Bailey's latest boyfriend. Meg rolled her eyes. What a jerk.
By the time Meg got home and still hadn't heard from Bailey, panic had set in. She logged onto her computer, fired off a quick email, but it too was ignored. The next morning at the bus stop, Meg took one look at Bailey's flat curls, bare-naked face, and sparkless demeanor, and her panic jolted straight to redline levels. Bailey Grant did not leave the house without her makeup coordinated to her outfit and her hair perfectly coiffed.
Bailey glanced up, her blue eyes dull, and shrugged. "Everyone's fine. Nobody died. Nothing's wrong." Her eyes narrowed when she got a look at Meg. "What's wrong with you? You look terrible."
Knew it. Megan pressed her lips into a line and shook her head. "The usual."
Bailey nodded, understanding. "Anxiety attack again?"
The deep voice had them both spinning around. Chase Gallagher frowned down at Meg, worry filling brilliant eyes that defied her every attempt to render on canvas. Greens, golds, flecks of browns and grays, his eyes were a source of endless fascination-and frustration-for her. Before she could stop it, her face split into the stupid smile her lips somehow reserved just for Chase.
Damn it. She needed a reason, an excuse, an explanation, something that could explain the grin, something like-
A book accidentally-on-purpose falling on Chase's foot. "Oh! Sorry, Chase," Bailey sang.
That might work, Meg sighed in relief. While Chase bent down to pick up the book, Meg gave Bailey a barely perceptible nod of thanks, which Bailey answered with a barely perceptible nod of her own. Chase frowned at Bailey and then at Meg. She knew he wasn't going to let it go. Luckily, so did Bailey. She quickly handed Meg something wrapped in a napkin just as Chase opened his mouth. "Here you go, Meg. Strawberry." Bailey handed her a Pop-Tart. She shoved half of it in her mouth before Chase could interrogate her.
Meg's eyes slipped closed. It was still warm.
"So, Chase, why are you riding the bus with the rest of the terminally uncool?" Bailey asked while Meg chewed.
"Lacrosse practice today. My mother needs the car. My brothers have a birthday party, music lesson, and a doctor's appointment after school today. Blah, blah, blah." He rolled his eyes as he ticked the events off his fingers, and Meg's heart gave a little pang. She thought it would be cool to have a big family like Chase's.
The bus arrived and everyone piled inside. Bailey slid toward a window seat, and Meg took the aisle seat beside her, leaving Chase on his own. He grinned and held up a hand. "Later."
Meg shut her eyes and sent up a prayer of gratitude. Sitting beside Chase Gallagher all the way to school would have killed her. It would have set her on fire, she was sure of it.
The bus continued its route, but Bailey remained quiet. Meg dug out her sketch pad and handed it to Bailey. "I did some character sketches I forgot to show you. Can you use these for your game?"
Bailey flipped through the pages of pencil sketches, stopping at one. "Who's this?"
"Pope Sixtus. Not a particularly nice guy, but he liked art, so I figured you could use him for the Renaissance level."
Bailey nodded and gave the book back to Meg without a word. Something was seriously up. Bailey was always bugging her to work on her video game, and Pope Sixtus rendered in charcoal didn't even earn a grunt? Curiosity tinged with worry twisted Meg inside out, but she would give her friend some privacy.
This vow lasted until lunchtime.
"Did your mom start in on you again?" Meg asked.
Bailey blinked. "What? Oh. No. She went away for the weekend. I'll see her tonight." She waved a hand and went back to picking apart a chicken strip.
Right. Meg had forgotten Bailey's mother, Nicole, had gone on another hot date. So if it wasn't her mother and it wasn't Simon, it had to be something serious. Meg tried again. "Is it your SAT scores? Mine didn't come yet, but I heard a few people got theirs and-"
"God, Meg! Please stop. I don't care about SAT scores. I only took the test early because you did."
Meg stared at Bailey for a moment and then quietly put her sandwich down on her cafeteria tray. She knew Bailey didn't care about school much, but the SATs? Their entire futures rode on those scores! Meg hoped for a scholarship. Actually, her entire plan depended on getting a scholarship to a good college, where she'd study business or maybe medicine. She hadn't figured that part out yet. Or maybe she'd wait tables while she attended community college just like her mother. Pauline Farrell had just a few courses left to finish the accounting degree she was earning at night school. Meg couldn't wait. Maybe then they'd have enough money so that her mother wouldn't cry at night.
She sneaked another glance at Bailey and finally faced facts. Bailey wasn't going to talk until she was damn well good and ready. Meg cleaned up what was left of her lunch, piling the plastic containers back onto her tray, and hoped Bailey wasn't pregnant or dying or something. Her head whipped up when Bailey suddenly shot to her feet with a muffled scream.
Gatorade rolled down Bailey's jeans, leaving behind angry red scars. Her boyfriend held the now-empty bottle, and from the sneer on his face, Meg knew it was no accident. An instant hush interrupted the usual cafeteria racket while Bailey frantically blotted the mess with a stack of recycled napkins. Meg leaped to her feet. "What the hell is wrong with you, Simon?"
Simon Kane tossed the bottle onto the table and took a threatening step closer. "Shut up, Meg. This is all your fault. What did you tell her? What lies did you spread?"
So Simon was the cause of Bailey's mood. Why didn't Bailey tell her they'd had a fight? They'd known Simon since second grade, and Meg never understood what Bailey saw in him-except for his computer programming ability. Sure, Simon was cute. But ever since his parents had won the lottery, he'd become conceited and spoiled, teased Bailey often, and questioned everything she said. Worse, Bailey allowed it. Actually thought it was cute.
Meg tossed more napkins at her best friend, who now sat in shocked silence. "I'm not the one hitting on cheerleaders when I'm supposed to be with someone else."
"I wasn't cheating!"
Meg laughed. "Sure."
Simon ignored her and turned to Bailey. "Do you believe her or me?"
Meg wondered about the answer to that herself. Last week, after she'd caught Simon hitting on Caitlyn, the head cheerleader, there had been no apology, no explanation. Bailey swore-she promised-she was through, but Meg never expected Bailey to actually keep that promise....or worse, keep it from her. Whatever. She and Bailey would discuss that later. Right now, she had more important things to do.
"Bailey, can I make him cry now?"
Simon's blue eyes went dark as he stared Meg down. "Just mind your own business. You did enough."
"Meg. It's okay. Sit down." Bailey murmured, tugging Meg's arm.
"No, it is not okay." Meg glared at both of them. "Those are fifty-dollar jeans, and Gatorade never washes out. You should buy her a new pair, Simon."
"Megan, stop," Bailey said.
"Oh, I should, huh?" Simon laughed once and his blue eyes narrowed. "I'd have bought her tons of jeans. I'd have bought her anything she wanted. If she were nice to me, I'd have been nice to her." He shot Bailey a wounded look.
Bailey looked at him like he was diseased. "I'm done, Simon. Get over it."
A muscle in Simon's jaw clenched. "You know what, Bailey? I am over it. I can get any girl I want. You're not even that hot." He high-fived one of his friends with a loud laugh.
Meg was about to defend Bailey when she saw the hurt in Simon's eyes. Well, jeez, she'd never expected that. She looked at Bailey. Had she caught Simon's expression too? But Bailey's face was frozen, her eyes just as hurt, and Meg knew Simon's insult had hit home. Bailey was curvy with long blond curls, huge blue eyes, and a smile bright enough to power a city block. She was the definition of hot, no matter what Simon Kane had to say about it. But Bailey never believed the compliments. Simon would know all about Bailey's insecurities, and Meg's eyes narrowed. It was a low blow, an arrow aimed straight at Bailey's Achilles' heel.
And it had pierced the target.
Meg gripped Bailey's hand and squeezed hard.
"Simon, get lost. Nobody here is impressed." Bailey retorted, her face pale.
Simon's male-model smile full of capped teeth went tight. Vibrating with fury from the soles of his high-priced tennis shoes to the tips of his designer haircut, he nodded slowly. "Yeah. Fine. I'll leave you and your little dyke girlfriend and go find a real woman." He stalked around the table and motioned for his pals to follow.
Meg's eyes met Bailey's and she gave her a signal she knew no one else would see, a raised eyebrow that said, Is that the best you got? Bailey acknowledged it with a tiny close-lipped smile and turned back to Simon to fire off one last taunt. "Simon, you should take lessons from Meg. Unlike you, she knows how to keep me coming back for more."
Everyone in earshot applauded. Someone's shout of "Burn!" rippled over the small crowd that watched like it was reality TV.
"You'll be back. You're crazy about me." Simon shot them both one last glare and finally strode away, his pals on his tail.
Onlookers went back to their meals, chattering loudly about the floor show, but Meg just grinned proudly at Bailey.
"Close your mouth, Meg," Bailey snapped.
"You did it." Meg giggled. "You really did it. That was...it was-wow-really impressive. But why didn't you tell me? I knew something was bothering you."
Bailey sighed and didn't answer her for a moment. "You didn't see Facebook last night?" she finally asked and grabbed Meg's water bottle to blot the stains from her jeans.
Meg shook her head. "No, I was painting. What did he say?"
Bailey put the water bottle back on the tray and pulled out her phone. "Here. Check it out." She opened her Facebook app and scrolled down, and there it was-Simon's attempt at being smooth.
I've got two tickets to I-CON. One of them has your name on it, Bailey Grant. You know you want it. Meet me at ten on Saturday. Your welcome.
Meg snorted at the spelling error and figured Simon didn't need brains as long as he had money. Meg's amusement faded when she noticed the time the message had been posted. She'd been drowning French fries in ketchup and feeling sorry for herself. "Oh, my God, Bay, he didn't even post this on your Wall."
She rolled her eyes. "Or apologize. That's why I wrote this." She scrolled down a bit further and showed Meg the screen again.
You no longer have anything that interests me even a little. Maybe Caitlyn's interested. Have you tried her? Oh, I forgot. You already have.
Meg laughed and took Bailey's phone. She scrolled down, read some of the other comments. "Oh, wow. This got so many Likes."
Bailey boiled. "Good. I hope it makes him see what an ass he is."
"Still, I-CON, Bailey."
Bailey lived for I-CON, the annual science-fiction convention held at a college campus on Long Island. It was a huge multiday event that attracted the biggest names in video and role-playing games, animation, comic books, and sci-fi/fantasy fiction. If there was one thing Bailey adored more than hair and makeup, more than going shopping, more than even boys, it was video games-something that made her very popular with the guys. Dangling I-CON tickets in front of her should have made her putty in Simon's hands. Meg was even more impressed with her friend's sudden resolve.
She flopped back into her seat and blew a curl out of her eyes. "You can't stand Simon. Figured you'd be happy I finally listened to you." She covered her face.
Meg shifted in her seat but didn't say anything. True, she wasn't a huge fan of Simon's. But she certainly never wanted to see Bailey hurt like this. "I am happy. He treated you like crap, and it's about time you did something about it. I just wish you didn't do it so-you know-publicly. You have to think of your safety." Bailey wasn't a think-ahead kind of girl, so Meg usually did that for her. "Remember Josh from last summer? He followed you for two weeks. Oh, and that guy Ian from the stables! Didn't he like...threaten you or something?"
Bailey mashed her lips into a tight line. "Simon wouldn't do anything like that."
"No, he'd just run to a hot cheerleader behind your back." At Bailey's hiss of pain, Meg gave her hand a squeeze.
Several minutes passed.
"By the way, you might want to talk to Chase."
Meg tensed. Talk to him? That was never a good idea. "Why?"
Bailey handed Meg her phone again. "Take a look at his status."
Meg scrolled down and hissed in a breath.
Chase Gallagher is in a relationship.
"I never accepted that request!" Meg's hand curled into a fist. Bailey pried her phone away, tucked it carefully into her bag.
"Meg, before you freak out, why don't you-"
"Bay, we've been over this."
Bailey snapped her teeth together and rolled her eyes.
Meg boiled in silence and then remembered the art show flyer. God, could the timing be any worse?
"Uh-oh. Your shoulders are doing that hunchy thing. What do you want?"
And there's my cue. Meg opened her mouth and then chickened out. "It's not important."
"Meg, come on. What is it?" Bailey nudged her.
Meg slid the art exhibit flyer over to her and girded her eardrums for the assault she expected in three...two...one.
"No." Bailey moaned the word out for one long beat.
"Come on, Bay! I'll go with you to I-CON if you'll come with me to the museum."
She sighed in misery. "Do I have to? I'd rather have flat hair."
Bailey hated art in all shapes and all forms, and dragging her to Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art to see the upcoming exhibit on printed art ranked right up there with asking her to wear last year's styles. In other words: So. Not. Happening.
"Megan!" She hit a new high on the shrill scale, and Meg cringed. "I really hate when you do this."
"It's called a compromise, Bay. I'm willing to subject myself to guys wearing underwear over tights in exchange for you looking at art with me."
Bailey rolled her huge blue eyes. "That stuff's not art. It's a bunch of posters and advertisements somebody stuck on the walls and sold tickets to."
Bailey gritted her teeth. "Fine! But you totally owe me."
Meg shrugged and happily bit into her sandwich. When she looked up again, Chase was heading toward them, carrying his lunch tray. She quickly folded the flyer and slipped it into her pocket, hoping no one noticed her lame Here comes Chase smile, especially him.
"Hey." Chase jerked his chin toward the rear of the cafeteria, sliding into the empty chair across from them. "What did you do to Simon? He's crying all over Caitlyn's shoulder."
Uh-oh. Meg thought with a worried glance at Bailey.
Bailey nibbled a fingernail. "Crying? Like seriously crying?"
Chase rolled his eyes. "No, not really. He's just putting the moves on her."
"So what did you do?"
"I broke up with him."
Chase nodded with approval. "Good for you. Guy should get a clue."
Meg huffed out a laugh and muttered, "He's not the only one."
Chase raised his eyes to hers, and Meg stopped breathing. She never got tired of staring at his eyes. They hypnotized her and taunted her to find the hue and tint on a color wheel that could accurately render them, but that color didn't exist. Flecks of beige, gold, green. Streaks of brown and gray with a rim of black-the colors seemed to swirl as he stared at her, and then Meg realized why.
She'd hurt him.
"Sorry," Meg murmured.
Chase lowered those variegated eyes. "Um. Yeah. Whatever."
Bailey took pity on him. "We're going to an art exhibit in Manhattan. Why don't you come?"
The words were out of Bailey's mouth before Meg could kick her under the table. She gave Meg a bright smile. "And I-CON. You should come to that too."
Meg's teeth almost cracked from the strength of her clench.
"Really?" Chase looked to Meg for confirmation, hope glinting in his eyes, and Meg sighed, unable to resist. She hated that.
"It's up to you." She shrugged, hoping he couldn't tell how much she really did want him to come. "You didn't like the modern art exhibit at the library. You said it all looked like finger paints to you."
"And what about the last time we went to MoMA? You stared at The Scream and said you-"
"Yeah. I remember what I said, Megan." He cut her off with a furrowed brow that intensified the color of his eyes.
"I'm sorry. I just don't want to waste your time, so if you have something better to do-"
"Megan, I like hanging out with you. I don't care what we do." Chase shrugged, and Meg looked away with a wince. That's exactly what she was afraid of.
"Chase, it's not a date."
He looked away, and she swore she could see him physically deflate. "Why not?"
"Delete your relationship status," she said abruptly.
He straightened up and glared at her. "I thought we were-"
She cut him off. "We're friends, Chase. That's all."
He sighed and scrubbed his face with his hands, and she wanted to kick her own butt.
"Fine. I'll delete the status when I get home."
The disappointment in his voice rattled the gate around her heart, and she wished she were stronger, tougher, with a heart coated in steel.
She had to resist him. It was essential. He was graduating in a few more months and would go off to college. She and Bailey still had another year. She would not be the one who ruined his plans.
And he would not ruin hers.
"Um. Yeah." Meg jerked when she saw Chase waving a hand in front of her face.
He smiled, and it was a toothpaste commercial kind of smile that had her looking for the little twinkle that always sparkled at the end of those ads.
"I gotta go. Later?"
Her face burned. However, Meg nodded once and he was gone.
"Meg-" Bailey began, but Meg cut her off.
"Will you stop doing that?"
"What?" She blinked, and Meg glared, not buying the innocent act.
"Stop pushing us together. It's not fair to him."
"He really likes you."
Meg's eyes dropped. She knew that, and that was the entire problem. She couldn't afford to like him back, and the more time they spent together, the harder it was to remember why.
"Bay, I don't want to let him down."
"Not all guys are like our dads, Meg."
Meg sucked in a sharp breath. Neither of their dads had bothered to stick around long. Bailey never knew her dad, but Megan had known hers. She missed him. Every day, she missed him so much she was sure she'd choke on the tears. Bailey's words were a slap, and they both knew it. "Bay, I don't want-"
"Oh, you are such a liar. If you really don't want him, why does your face light up like Broadway when you see him?"
It did not. Meg was so done with this conversation. "Shut up. I'm mad at you."
Bailey pouted and twisted a curl. "You love me."
She did. But she was really mad too.
Bailey pursed her lips and shook her head. "So. Spill. What did he say the last time you went to the museum?"
Meg frowned, remembering. In February, she and Chase had been partnered up on a research paper. They'd grown close-too close-during the month it took to research their topic, the objectification of women in modern art. She'd been excited by the assignment. Chase had been excited by his assigned partner. "We saw a print of The Scream by Edvard Munch. Chase saw it and said, ‘Hey, this guy's an artist too? I thought he just produced horror movies.'"
Bailey blinked. "What's so wrong with that? At least he knew his name. That's more than I would have gotten right."
She spoke quietly, but there was a sting in her tone, and Meg squirmed under the sudden attack of conscience. "You're right," Meg said quietly. "That was snobby and mean and ungrateful and-"
"Meg, stop! I never said that. Look. I'm just saying, Chase is trying. You should too."
Bailey scooped her books from the table, snagged her tray, and left Meg standing in the shadow of her own ego.