Truth or Dare

The flames danced to the melancholy melody murmured by Meegan, sharply flickering at the rosy cheeks surrounding. Sparks snapped and dissolved into the smoky atmosphere. Rearden's arm was draped around Hannah's shoulders, gripped her against his side. "Tá tú go hálainn."

"Go get a room," Sarai grumbled across the fire, spreading a smirk across his lips.

"Someday, Sarai, you will get yourself a lad, and you will never hear the end of it."

She snorted with laughter, but caught her breath when she noticed the strange shadows along his jaw line. "What happened to you?"

His expression darkened like the setting sun. "I banged me head."

"Pillar decided to let me press weight onto his back today," Gavin interjected.

"Ah, he's a sweet horse," Leland smiled as he considered the small experiences he had shared with the cream mustang. "Great horse to start workin' with."

"Yes, he is," Gavin agreed. Meegan leaned forward on her log to inspect the side of Rearden's face.

"Are you sure you're all right?"

"Yes," Rearden replied curtly. Before anyone had the chance to respond, the crunching of pine needles alerted their eyes to three arrivals.

"Get a room," Alley gagged, approaching from behind.

"We were just discussing that same concept," Rearden smiled and released Hannah to reach across to the marshmallow bag. He was wearing an oversized black and red flannel shirt, but the patch on his left elbow was butterscotch and green. And smeared with blood. Sarai studied the smear as she passed him the bag and watched his arm withdraw.

"Ooh, I love marshmallows!" June Lily gratefully accepted a handful from the bag extended to her.

"'S'nice to see you again," Meegan smiled as Alley seated herself beside her.

"Yep."

"Hi, Daryn," Sarai smiled rather awkwardly. Rearden coughed into his arm to prevent himself from laughing, provoking a vicious glare from his friend.

"Hey," Daryn sat beside her. "It's a beautiful night."

"Sure is," Leland agreed. "Can't remember the last time I saw such a clear sky in December."

Rearden smiled and returned his eyes to the heavens. The group remained in silence for a minute or two, savoring the sweet marshmallows and the heat of the fire.

"Let's get to the point," Alley shattered the silence, "and play Truth or Dare."

"Yes, well, that's the last thing we need," Gavin said with exasperation.

"I agree," June Lily added.

"We can lay down ground rules," Sarai said, glancing between everyone to determine their response. "As you can guess, I can't let anything crazy go on at my own property."

"So, no disrespecting people, animals, or property," Daryn suggested.

"Yes, and nothing too dangerous," June Lily agreed.

"I will go first, since it was my idea," Alley smirked across the campfire. "So, Rearden, truth or dare?"

"Please, there's no chance I'll spill me guts to you," he snorted with amusement. "Give me a dare."

"I dare you, then, to walk along the barn roof."

"That I shall," Rearden pushed to his feet and, with a wink at his groaning brother, strode across the grass to the barn. They could decipher his shadowy form through the dark as he pulled himself onto something and clambered onto the barn roof. His silhouette straightened gradually, and began teetering along the spine with considerable ease. The wind whistled past his ears as he pressed each shoe blindly ahead, slipping only once and snatching the breath of his friends. He smiled when he regained his step and leapt down from the side of the barn to return to the bonfire.

"No more stunts visible from the house," Sarai announced as he arrived back and high-fived Alley.

"Aw, but those are so much fun."

Everyone turned to see Poppy smiling at them, a mischievous spark in her sapphire eyes. She clamored over the log many of them were seated upon and dropped down beside Gavin, the flames igniting her paprika waves.

"All right, I agree, it's fun," Sarai relented.

"Right, well," Rearden rubbed his hands together by the fire. "I dare Daryn to kiss Sarai."

The blood drained from her face, then returned in a fiery rush. She met his eyes and mouthed, "I am going to kill you."

"You never even asked him," protested June Lily.

"All I'm doing to speeding up the inevitable," Rearden shrugged. Daryn raised his shoulders as well and turned to Sarai, who refused to meet his eyes. She sucked in a deep breath, struggling against the sudden urge to dodge the kiss and run away.

"Suppose I would have chosen dare, anyway. Well, here goes," Daryn said, planting a soft kiss on her cheek. Sarai stared at the ground a second before sneaking him a swift smile. He returned with a polite nod. "And now, I dare Alley to lick that bullfrog I see right there in the grass."

Everyone twisted around to peer at the creature shielding himself from the heat of the fire in the grass behind them. Alley spun back around to glare at her friend.

"You have got to be kidding."

"You scared?" he smirked.

"Appalled. But not scared," she reached to gently lift the frog and raised it to her chin level. She squeezed her soft blue eyes shut and darted her tongue out to poke the head of the creature, lynching a squeal from June Lily and roaring laughter from Rearden. Then immediately, she plopped him back down where he came from and scraped her sweatshirt sleeve down her tongue.

"Must not have been a prince," Poppy wiped her eyes in her laughter.

"Shut up. It's not like I kissed it. You want a dare, Poppy?"

The girl crossed one jeaned leg over the other with a smile. "Well, of course."

"I dare you to go to the kitchen and get an ice cube. Show it to us, and then keep it in your sock until it melts completely."

"Sure," she smiled vivaciously and rose to start toward the house. .

Poppy presented the ice to each person and slipped it into her sock, with a sharp intake of breath. She then cleared her throat, leaned her elbows on her knees with a simper, and narrowed her eyes keenly at Gavin. "You going to go for a truth or a dare?"

"After all I've seen tonight? Truth."

"What would you honestly do if I kissed you right here?"

His cheeks flushed rosily and his mouth gaped open. He stared down at the ground, at the pines, and anything that might distract him from the eight varieties of crows and open mouths. He desired so intensely to lie, but that each of his companions accomplished their dares prevented him.

"Ah, well," he breathed in the crisp scent of December air in the woods. "I suppose I wouldn't mind."

The rich laughter Rearden released provoked Gavin to scowl as sharp as arrows. He scarcely managed to detangle himself from Hannah before Gavin lunged diagonally and shoved him backwards. Even as he lay in the dirt, legs still draped over the log, he chuckled to himself while Leland reached to pull him up.

"Shut up," Poppy snapped with a wave of her hand. "It was a hypothetical question."

Gavin cleared his throat. "June Lily," he croaked. "Truth or dare?"

"Oh, dear," she murmured to herself as she stared down at her shoes and shifted rather uncomfortably. "I suppose truth."

He hoped his smile gave her some assurance. "What are you thinking about right now?"

"Well," she considered the question. "I was a little concerned about what Poppy was going to ask you, and appalled when she did ask…"

"Hey," Poppy exclaimed with a startled expression. "I had to ask something controversial. That's how the game works!"

"… and I was embarrassed, because I knew you would never answer something like that on your own. So, um, that's about it, I think. Meegan, want to do a truth or a dare?"

"Dare, definitely!"

"All right, then," she eased her elbows onto her knees and tapped her lips. "I dare you to impersonate Rearden the rest of the game."

Meegan straightened and perched her hands on her hips with a simper. "That I will, June Lily! So what will it be, Hannah, my love? Truth or a dare?"

"Oh, goodness. Truth, please," Hannah shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. Meegan scooted closer and laid an arm around her shoulders, right atop Rearden's, who was already laughing.

"In that case," Meegan released a mischievous smile as she sneaked a glance at Rearden, "if I were to get down on one knee," she eased to the ground and reached to seize her hand to the anticipated crows and gasps of her companions, "and ask you to marry me, what would ya say?"

Hannah covered her mouth with her other hand. Rearden peered down into her eyes with a sparkle in his own and a smile. "Well, how would you answer?"

She dropped her hand, mouth still agape. "I would say that my dad would freak out and my mamma would be too afraid to let me. And besides, I haven't even gotten my driver's license or a job yet!"

"Well, all right, if ya gotta keep harpin' on the practical stuff," Meegan released her breath in a mist. Rearden chuckled softly, his eyes illuminated with amusement. Alley rolled her eyes at the girl and Poppy pierced the air between them with a keen glare. Alley returned it solemnly.

"Oh, goodness, it's my turn to ask. Leland, would you like a truth or a dare?"

Leland grinned and straightened himself with crossed arms. "A dare, if you please."

Hannah released the air through her lips and scrubbed her hands together for warmth. "Well, geez, I might have to pick something unoriginal. Would you be willing to drink something we all concoct?"

"Do you plan to kill me with it?"

She frowned. "No."

"Then go for it. Here, I even have a sheet of paper y'all can each write an ingredient on. Or, you can pick them all; I don't care," he reached into his pocket and withdrew a small flyer and asked around for a pen. Alley produced one, and soon, the list was sent around.

"And no one can look at the ingredient listed before his or her own," Hannah added with a smile.

"Diabolical," Rearden praised her with an element of surprise. She blushed and smiled with her brown eyes dropped to the earth.

"Let me get more marshmallows, and I'll put together that drink of horror," Sarai pushed to her feet and started toward the house.

"I'll come with you," Hannah rose and trotted up beside her. Sarai said nothing, but asked herself mentally about the urgency in her acquaintance's voice. They reached the house in silence. Sarai held the door open for her and went immediately to the kitchen to sift around for the bag of marshmallows.

"I have a favor to ask you."

"Yeah?" Sarai asked, peering into one of the cabinets and straightening triumphantly with the bag in her grip. She then reached to pull a glass out of the cabinet and set it on the counter, opened the fridge to extract the mustard and chocolate, and started to squirt the two into the glass.

Hannah wrung her hands with a sheepish twist in her mouth. "Do you think you would mind asking Rearden what happened?"

"Why?" Sarai blurted. "He's your boyfriend."

"It's just that you're more direct than I am. Maybe he'll tell you."

"I doubt that."

"Well, please help me do something," Hannah pleaded with clasped hands.

Sarai stopped and studied at her. "Why, do you think he's in trouble?"

"You saw his jaw. You know a little about his family."

Sarai considered everything she had seen and heard about his family, the bruise on his jaw, the manner in which Gavin helped him evade the subject. "If he has shut down completely about the subject," she answered eventually, retrieving a spoon from the drawer to mix the syrupy surprise, "I sincerely doubt he'll say anything to either of us. But I'll see what I can do."

Hannah released a relieved smile. "Thank you so much."

"You're welcome," Sarai thrust the glass toward her. "Here, get that to Leland."

The girls returned to the bonfire, one with a countenance of fresh peace, and the second with a sly smile as she watched Leland accept the glass with horror. "What's in this?"

"Probably better if you didn't know," Sarai answered as she seated herself. "But I can read the list after you drink it."

"Reminds me of that marsh in Éire," Rearden mused. Leland raised the glass to the fire to see the chunky bits drifting in the puce sludge but a second before he raised it to his lips and drank. His expression soured and some of it dribbled down his chin. As he swallowed the last gulp, he started to cough roughly until Meegan slapped him on the back.

"Well done, mate," she praised in her deepest tone.

"The heck was that?" Leland gasped.

Sarai raised the note to her eyes. "Mustard, chocolate, strawberry syrup, orange juice, milk, graham cracker crumbs, bananas, hot sauce, and soy sauce."

"You sure this won't kill me?" Leland rasped as dissolved into another fit of coughing.

"Less than I was before I read the ingredients."

Poppy gave him a clap on the shoulder. "You deserve an award for accomplishing that one."

"All right, you've all gone, but I want to assign a dare. So Alley," he smeared his arm across his mouth and gagged one last time. "You want a dare, right?"

"Yeah, go for it. Dare me."

"Which ingredient did you put in that sludge? I want the punishment to fit the crime."

"You really think I'm gonna tell you? All right, it was mustard. What's the dare?"

"Prank call someone."

"Ha!" Alley barked with laughter. "You really think that's as bad as mustard?"

"We all have to agree on the target, and I get to approve the method."

"You know," Sarai mused with a simper as she leaned her elbow on one thigh, "I seem to remember you saying once that your mom promised to ground you for life if you ever prank called her again."

"Oh, so you want to make sure I call someone who'll kick my butt."

"I would do it, and call fifteen other people, too!" Meegan proclaimed with her deepest stoic tone and her hands perched on her hips.

Alley darted a glare to Rearden with narrowed powder blue eyes lined thinly with eyeliner. "You implying that I'm a coward? Well, I'm not. I'll call my mom. And I have a pretty good method of doing it."

Rearden smiled with another spark of amusement in his eyes. Hannah crossed her arms and rested against his side with heavy eyelids.

"I need to borrow any phone except Sarai's so my mom won't recognize the number. Then I'll use my iPhone to pull up a soundboard, and I'll play movie lines according to the conversation. By the end of the call, I'll make sure my mom knows it's me. Do I have your approval, Leland?"

"Yup, you have my blessing."

"Here you are," Daryn smiled as he extended his cranberry phone to her and she snatched it with a haughty stance. She swept a tendril of layered maple hair behind one ear and navigated her iPhone to the internet and a site with soundboards.

"What movie?"

"Do something with sound effects," Poppy snapped her fingers and pointed at the phone with enthusiasm. "A cartoon, or something."

"Terminator," Daryn proposed with his impression of an Austrian accent.

"Maybe that one with the horse," Meegan growled and squirmed in a frustrated attempt to remember the title, "And the desert. Ya know the one I mean. 'Twas a really good movie!"

"I never should have asked," Alley grumbled as she searched her options.

"What about Winnie the Pooh?" Hannah asked. "You could use Tigger."

"Don't believe there is one for that."

"You could do one you know she's seen," June Lily piped up as she combed her fingers through the wildflower honey hair she had fastened over one shoulder.

"Pick one with spies or something of the sort," Rearden advised. "Although you might scare the living daylights out of her, you might as well go out with a bang."

"Not looking to get killed by her," Alley shook her head.

"Elf! Elf should be a good one!" Poppy exclaimed with a bounce in her seat.

"The Emperor's New Groove?" Gavin asked.

"I got it," Poppy smirked in her excitement. "Napoleon Dynamite. Greatest prank call ever."

"Yeah, go with that one!" Leland agreed.

"Star Wars," Rearden suggested.

"Star Wars it is," Alley agreed. Sparse raindrops splashed her denim jacket and stained it cobalt as she dialed her mother and switched the phone to speakerphone. The rings echoed until she answered.

"Hello?"

"Hello," mused Obi-Wan Kenobi.

"Who is this?"

"I am your father," boomed Darth Vader with rasps of mechanical air.

"Who are you? What is this call about?"

"It's a trap!" shrieked Princess Leia.

"Alexandria Ethan, I could swear, if this is you—"

"Nooo!" Luke Skywalker screamed. Alley ended the call in a rush and her companions released the peels of laughter they had dammed up during her call. With an angry scowl, she pressed one last button.

"Laugh it up, Fuzzball," Han Solo reprimanded. Another round of uproarious laughter echoed in the night air alongside the distant mooing of cattle. A tree frog croaked somewhere close to the barn.

"You can all laugh," Alley griped. "You're not the ones whose butts are going to be kicked."

"But it will be worth the laugh," Meegan boomed.

"We should leave," Rearden kissed Hannah and heaved himself upright with an arm stretch. Meegan approached with rosy cheeks and raised her downcast russet eyes. He smiled and tousled her auburn hair. "Why the long face?"

"Do ya suppose I crossed any lines when I was actin' as you would?"

He reached an arm around her shoulders and crushed her against his chest with a kiss to her hair. "You were perfect, Miss Meegan. I could not have done it any better meself."