Prologue

Aaron took a deep breath and took the three steps that led to the front door of the church on Wednesday night. Tonight, the Dare would be issued, and he was up for grabs. The to-be seniors were the only ones eligible to be the Dared, and the five of them were to be at the meeting that night. Everybody, all except the candidates, knew what the Dare was that year. During Sunday school the previous week, the seniors were sent out of the room. The rest of the group brainstormed about the Dare and selected either the freshmen, the sophomores, or the juniors to be the Darers. There were seven juniors-to-be that year who were the Darers, and at the end of the meeting the Dared would know his or her challenge and when it was to be completed.

Aaron pulled open the door and joined Britney, Rebecca, Noah, Josiah, and a bunch of the juniors at the table in the basement and waited for the meeting to begin.

Teri, obviously the one in charge and a personality to suit, spoke first. "Everyone's here. Britney, come with us into the nursery room."

The seniors waited until Britney came back, and Aaron's palms grew sweaty. This was a big deal to him. The Dare was something everybody talked about, and the person that was Dared was always greatly respected after it was over. The one thing that daunted him was the fact nobody had ever solved a Dare before in the history. They were always so cleverly thought up that the Dared was always too scared to do it or couldn't find a way to solve it.

"Aaron."

His head snapped up as Teri called his name. He hadn't been paying attention to who had already gone and was wondering whether he was the last. He followed the juniors into the nursery and sat down in the rocking chair, looking up as the serious faces surrounded him. He was sure his face was red and he could feel himself sweating, imagining the liquid seeping out of his pores—

"Aaron, congratulations, you are Dared," said Teri triumphantly. "When you walk out of that door, your face should not betray this. You will not tell anyone other than one assistant about the Dare. This Dare will be completed by Christmas and will be announced at the middle school, high school Christmas youth group party."

The boys grinned mischievously, and one of them announced: "Aaron, your Dare: to win the trust of Rebecca, to befriend her, to get her to open up."

Aaron sucked in a breath and nodded. Okay, so this was the reason why nobody ever solved a Dare. They were hard.

Rebecca Pier had come to the church a few years back, and she'd always been very quiet. She always sat back and listened to conversations, never joining in. She never talked, and when she did it was to respond to a question with a hushed monosyllabic answer. Aaron had never gotten anything out of her, other than a quiet 'no' or 'yes' for the sake of manners.

He remembered the few times she had been asked to join a conversation or discussion at youth group, or to give an answer to something or put in her own opinion on a specific subject. She'd turned very white when everybody's eyes turned on her, and she sat there for a couple of seconds before rushing to the bathroom. They all assumed it was to empty her stomach, but Aaron was sure it was no small case of stage fright. The girl hated to have attention, and she got so nervous when she was put on the spot that she couldn't handle it.

Aaron pitied Rebecca more than anybody. At first he—along with everybody else—thought she would get over her shyness after she'd met them and got used to them and her surroundings, but it didn't get any better. Don and Anne, the youth group leaders, had tried talking with her in private, but their efforts had failed.

And Aaron was sure that even if he put in everything he had, he would never be able to complete the Dare.