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Kimberly McCreight YA debut The Outliers excerpt

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Kimberly McCreight, author of best-sellling thrillers Reconstructing Amelia and Where They Found Her, brings her fast-paced, gripping prose to the world of YA with The Outliers, out May 3. The Outliers follows a girl named Wylie, whose friend Cassie goes missing. A series of cryptic texts — along with the help of Cassie’s friend Jasper, whom Wylie doesn’t quite trust — might be the only way to find Cassie.

Check out the chilling trailer above, and an exclusive excerpt from Chapter 5 below:

Excerpt from The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

Chapter 5

I’m still staring down at my phone, willing a response from Cassie, when there’s a knock at our front door. Or did I imagine it? I’m hoping I might have when it comes again. Cassie? But the knock is harder and louder even than before with Karen. A bigger fist maybe, a heavier hand? Keep the doors locked. But I have to at least check to make sure it’s not Cassie.

I make my way over carefully to the foyer. I can hear the shower upstairs. Gideon can’t hear a thing. Not even if I scream. I suck in some air, tucking myself to the side so I can peek out the window without being seen.

There on our porch, with his hands shoved deep in his pock- ets, huge shoulders hiked up toward his perfect ears, is the very last person I want to see: Jasper Salt. He has on one of his trade- mark skintight T-shirts—short-sleeved, despite the cold—and slouched-just-right jeans. He’s staring down at his black Nikes, rocking back and forth like he’s freezing, but pretending it’s all good, man. Because that’s the way Jasper talks. Even though no one talks like that, not even in Long Beach, California, where Jasper’s from.

Jasper was already a sophomore when we started at Newton Regional High School, and he stood out from the start. There was the inhuman way he looked, of course, like he just walked out of a Gap ad, with glowing skin, bright-green eyes, and six- pack abs that you could detect even when he was wearing one of his baggy football or ice hockey jerseys.

The first time Cassie and I saw him was in the cafeteria at his usual table with all the other football players, all wearing their stupid jerseys for the first game. They were huge and loud, deliberately trying to draw attention to themselves. All except Jasper, their starting quarterback even as a sophomore, who never moved fast or raised his voice. He didn’t make threats, or hassle anyone. He was the calm and quiet sun around which the rest of them revolved.

But there was this energy underneath all that calm, tight and wound. Like inside he was a coiled spring no one wanted to see snap. Or snap again. Because Jasper had exploded at least once already. With that one legendary punch.

All the freshman girls couldn’t have cared less about Jasper’s supposed assault and battery, though. Actually, I think it might have made them love him even more. “He’s from L.A.,” they said. “I heard he has a movie agent.” “I heard his whole family moved here so he could play ice hockey.” “I heard he slept with twelve girls last year. All of them seniors.”

Twelve girls. One punch. What an ass. That’s what I’m thinking as I step over to the door. Because I already know that Jasper showing up on my doorstep isn’t some kind of accident. It’s proof enough for me that he had something to do with what’s going on with Cassie. Where she is. What she’s up to. Or maybe why she left.

But I hesitate once my hand is on the doorknob. Maybe he’s here fishing for what other people know. I should play dumb. See what Jasper says first, let him dig himself a hole deep enough I can kick him into it later.

“Oh, hi.” Jasper looks surprised when I finally open the door. And, annoyingly, up close he is even better-looking than I remembered. He’s not my type, too pretty and too perfectly imperfect. And thinking about it now, I can only imagine how Cassie must feel with his attention fixed on her: special. The way she always wanted to feel. “I didn’t, um, think that anybody was home.”

Jasper’s eyes flick up to my hacked hair then. They snap right back down. He’s pretending not to notice the disaster that is the top of my head, which, I guess, is one tiny point in his favor.

“Well, here I am,” I say. I force myself to loosen my grip on the doorknob, hoping it might help relax the rest of me. “What’s up?”

“Can I come in?” Jasper asks, looking around behind him like there might be someone out there in the dark, watching him. “I’d rather explain inside.”

No. But I can’t say that while pretending I don’t know why he’s here.

“All right.” I step to the side but keep him blocked into the foyer. “What?”

I don’t want him any farther in the house, or my life. I just want him to tell me what he knows about Cassie and then be on his way. Because the longer Jasper stays, and the more it seems like he’s stalling, the tighter my chest is getting. And I am really not interested in having one of my episodes in front of him.

Jasper crosses and uncrosses his arms, lifts his shoulders even closer to his ears. Now he officially looks guilty. I press my lips together and swallow hard. He didn’t do something to Cas- sie, did he? I am not a member of the Jasper Salt fan club. I think he is a bad influence with a mean streak that everyone, for some reason, pretends doesn’t exist. But when I told Cassie’s mom that I didn’t think he would hurt her, I meant it.

“Cassie’s missing,” he begins finally. “And I, um, got a call a couple hours ago from her mom asking if I’d talked to her. But I haven’t since yesterday.” Well, there’s lie number one: Jasper told Karen that he’d texted with Cassie this morning. “Oh, wait, I mean, I guess we texted this morning.” Okay, fine. Back to zero lies, that I know of. But we are just getting started.

“She wasn’t in school?”

Jasper somehow walks right past me, uninvited, into my living room. That’s the kind of guy he is: convinced that he’s welcome everywhere.

“I don’t know for sure. We were in a fight,” he says, and kind of defensively. “I texted her this morning, but I was still kind of pissed. So I dodged her at school. Later Maia told me Cassie must have bagged school anyway. Have you seen her, or heard from her or anything?”

“I haven’t talked to Cassie in days,” I say. And he must know that. “Why would you think I’d have heard from her?”

“Because I got this.” Jasper digs his phone out of his pocket and hands it to me. There’s a text from Cassie open on the screen: Go to Wylie’s house. That’s it. That’s the whole message. “You have no idea why she’d tell me to come here?”

“Me?” It actually sounds like he thinks I’m the one who’s hid- ing something. “I have absolutely no idea. Did you tell her mom that you got this?”

“I was about to, but then—” He motions for his phone back and moves his finger up a little on the screen before handing it back to me. “I got this one.”

Don’t tell anyone you heard from me. Especially my mom.

“Okay, but—”

He reaches for the phone again, tapping in search of yet another message. He holds up the phone a third time.

I messed up again. If you call my mom, she’ll call the police. And you

know what will happen. Please, just go to Wylie’s. More soon.

“What the hell is going on?” I ask, and I sound angry. At Jasper. But I am sure this is somehow at least a little bit his fault. “I have no idea what’s going on. I came here because that’s what her text said to do,” Jasper says, and now he sounds angry

at me. “But who knows? Cassie has been acting weird lately.” “What does that mean: weird?”

“Are you asking me the definition of the word weird?”

I just glare at him. At least it’s obvious now. He doesn’t like me either.

“Like distant or whatever,” he goes on. “I don’t know why.” “And what does she mean about the police: you know what will happen?”

“I can’t tell you,” Jasper says.

“So you can come here and pump me for information, but not give any away?”

“It’s just—she was really embarrassed about some stuff that went down,” he says finally. “She wouldn’t want you, of all people, to know.”

Screw you, Jasper Salt, I want to shout. You don’t know anything about me. And you don’t know anything about the real Cassie, the awesome person she was before you helped destroy her. But I can’t tell him off yet, not when he knows things that I don’t. Things that might help find Cassie.

“Trust me, I know lots of embarrassing things about Cassie,” I say. “We have been friends a really long time.”

And there are definitely secrets I know that Jasper does not. Things that Cassie would have been way too embarrassed to tell him. For instance, maybe Cassie peed her bed again, but this time her mom caught it. She did that after one of her first “hangouts” with her new friends before she and Jasper started talking.

She was really freaked out about it, especially because she’d also blacked out at the party. Didn’t even remember getting home. Blacking out had been one of her dad’s signature moves.

Cassie was convinced he didn’t remember half the messed-up things he’d done. It was how Cassie managed not to hate him. Anything he didn’t remember didn’t get held against him. But even blacking out didn’t scare Cassie straight the way I’d hoped it would. Instead, the next time it happened, she decided it was funny.

“I know you guys are close, but—” Jasper looks down at his hands, presses his fingertips together. “She specifically said she didn’t want you to know this one thing. She was worried you’d look down on her, I guess. And I have to respect that, right?”

“You cannot be serious,” I laugh. Or sort of laugh.

Jasper holds up his hands. “I’m not saying you would look down on her.” But I can tell from the way he says it that he totally does think that. “That’s just what Cassie was afraid of. She’s not always the best judge of people.” Him saying that to me makes me want to spit. “Anyway, I think the part that mat- ters is that she’s done something her mom would be seriously, seriously pissed off about. And she was already talking about sending Cassie to some crazy boot camp boarding school.” He takes a deep breath. “Anyway, I guess Cassie having done something wrong is at least better than someone having kidnapped her or something.”

“Kidnapped?” That had not even occurred to me. “What do you mean kidnapped?”

My phone vibrates loudly on the coffee table before Jasper can explain whether he’s got some actual reason to consider kid- napping, or if he was just throwing that out there. Because now Cassie getting snatched off the street is all I can think about. As I reach for my phone, I feel like it might bite me.

Please, Wylie, I need your help, the text reads. I messed up big. I need u to come get me. I sent Jasper so he can drive. But the person I really need is you. More soon.

I take a shaky breath. At least she’s okay enough to text. That’s something. And “messed up big” does not sound like being kidnapped. And even after everything between us, I have to admit there is a tiny part of me that likes that Cassie feels like she needs me specifically.

“What does it say?” Jasper asks, peering over my shoulder. “I need your help. I messed up big,” I say, feeling this sadness sink over me. Like I’m finally realizing that Cassie might never be okay. “Can you drive? I don’t have my license.”

Of course, there is one additional, teeny-tiny problem with this plan. A problem that I’m trying not to think about. Or really less of a problem, because that sounds like the kind of thing that can be worked around. This is more of a brick wall.

There is no way I’m going to be able to get myself to leave the house. Haven’t stepped outside in three weeks. It started with not being able to get myself to school, then having a hard time running errands in the car. Then just taking a walk was pretty uncomfortable. Like Dr. Shepard had feared, the home tutor was the top of a very steep hill and I’ve already rolled fast to the bottom. I am a full-on agoraphobic. Only three weeks in the making, but I am here to report that three weeks is plenty long enough for something to feel like the way you always were. At some point during this Project Rescue Cassie discussion, I am going to have to give this problematic little tidbit some thought.

“Come get her where?” Jasper asks. “What happened?” “She messed up, that’s all it said. Like the text you got.”

“What the fuck,” he says. “How do we even know that’s really her texting? It could be anybody. Maybe somebody stole her phone.”

Of course, he’s right. And him being suspicious like that defi- nitely goes down in his not-guilty column. But I’m not ready to let him off the hook completely. Not until I know what’s really going on. I turn back down to my phone.

“What are you writing?” Jasper asks as my fingers fly over my phone’s touch screen.

“A question,” I say. “To make sure it’s really Cassie.”

Are you pulling a Janice? It’s the first inside joke that popped into my head. An oldie, but a goodie. It makes me miss Cassie just thinking about it.

Jackie Wilson—not Janice Wilson—was a tiny sprite of a girl who came to Newton Regional High School at the beginning of freshman year. She only stayed three short months before her parents moved on again, but Cassie and I had both really liked her. We had specific conversations about Jackie turning our two- some into a threesome. That was, until we realized that Jackie lied about everything. Including stupid pointless things like the color of the socks she had on. It was hard not to feel bad for her. She must have really needed all those lies for something. Anyway, after she left, Cassie and I started using “Jackie” as shorthand for lying: pulling a Jackie. But I’d written the wrong name now—Janice—on purpose. Otherwise, even if it wasn’t Cassie, the person on the other end still would have had a 50 percent chance guessing right—yes or no. If it is really Cassie, she’ll mention me using the wrong name.

It takes a little longer for the reply this time.

U mean Jackie? No, not pulling a Jackie. Please, for now head north on 95. Then take 93 north. More details 2 come. Hurry, Wylie. Please, I need you.

“It’s her.” And saying it makes me feel much, much worse. “Definitely.”

“Okay,” Jasper says. “So what do we do?”

I could call Karen, tell her that Cassie has gotten herself into some mess again. I could be the reason Cassie is sent someplace where she’s forced to march for fifty miles in the burning desert to teach her respect or whatever. Or I could be the friend that Cassie has asked me to be: someone she can trust.

I look up from my phone and straight at Jasper. “We go.”