Time BombJoelle Charbonneau
* * *
Earlier That Day . . . 8:35 A.M.
Chapter 1: Diana
Chapter 2: Rashid
Chapter 3: Z
Chapter 4: Tad
Chapter 5: Cas
Chapter 6: Frankie
Chapter 7: Rashid
Chapter 8: Cas
Chapter 9: Frankie
Chapter 10: Tad
Chapter 11: Z
Chapter 12: Diana
Chapter 13: Diana
Chapter 14: Tad
Chapter 15: Cas
Chapter 16: Diana
Chapter 17: Z
Chapter 18: Diana
Chapter 19: Tad
Chapter 20: Cas
Chapter 21: Tad
Chapter 22: Cas
Chapter 23: Rashid
Chapter 24: Frankie
Chapter 25: Rashid
Chapter 26: Tad
Chapter 27: Diana
Chapter 28: Z
Chapter 29: Frankie
Chapter 30: Rashid
Chapter 31: Tad
Chapter 32: Z
Chapter 33: Diana
Chapter 34: Tad
Chapter 35: Frankie
Chapter 36: Cas
Chapter 37: Diana
Chapter 38: Tad
Chapter 39: Frankie
Chapter 40: Cas
Chapter 41: Z
Chapter 42: Rashid
Chapter 43: Frankie
Chapter 44: Diana
Chapter 45: Rashid
Five Weeks Later . . .
Chapter 46: Cas
Chapter 47: Tad
Chapter 48: Frankie
Chapter 49: Rashid
Sample Chapter from THE TESTING
Buy the Book
Read More from the Testing trilogy
Sample Chapter from NEED
Buy the Book
About the Author
Connect with HMH on Social Media
Copyright © 2018 by Joelle Charbonneau
All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to [email protected] or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.
Cover photographs: Red Backpack © Shutterstock/Pavila; Lockers © Shutterstock/Flipser.
Cover design by Christian Fuenfhausen
The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
Names: Charbonneau, Joelle, author.
Title: Time bomb / by Joelle Charbonneau.
Description: Boston ; New York : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,  |
Summary: “Six students are trapped in their school after a bomb goes off, and must fight to survive while discovering who among them is the bomber.”—Provided by publisher.
Identifiers: LCCN 2017006799 | ISBN 9780544416703
Subjects: | CYAC: Bombings—Fiction. | High schools—Fiction. | Schools—Fiction. | Emotional problems—Fiction. | Family problems—Fiction.
Classification: LCC PZ7.C37354 Tim 2018 | DDC [Fic]—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017006799
To the students and teachers of Fenton High School—
You taught me first impressions are never as important as what comes after
Nobody is the villain in their own story.
—George R.R. Martin
“DON’T FIGHT,” CAS SAID from the doorway that Frankie and Z had just disappeared through. Tears glistened in her eyes. “Can we turn the radio back on? Maybe they’ll tell us help is finally coming.”
Rashid clicked on the radio before heading over to help Tad. There was the buzz of static, then the announcer telling everyone that the firefighters were making progress. The fire was contained to the west side, and they hoped to have it out soon.
“With one person of interest being questioned, authorities are now working to find another individual they have confirmed is involved in this terrible bombing. A source confirms that the individual is one of the students trapped on the second floor of the school. With four bombs having already gone off, there appears to be one explosive device still inside the school that could detonate at any time.”
Another bomb was ready to go off, and the bomber was one of them.
Earlier That Day . . .
— Chapter 1 —
ALL YOU HAD TO DO was smile and wear the right clothes, and everyone would think you were special. If you appeared successful, people would automatically assume you were successful. Her parents believed that. Her father had built a career on it. They wanted her to believe it.
Diana hated that she did.
“Perception is everything, Diana,” her stepmother said so often that Diana wanted to scream. But screaming wasn’t presentable. And, boy, did it make the wrong impression. This made screaming at the top of her lungs very tempting.
“Always take care to make the correct choice, Diana,” her stepmother said over and over again. “Everything you do is important and reflects on your father and the positions he takes. And think about what your father’s opponents would claim if you don’t do well in school or become a leader in the activities you’re in. They’ll wonder how serious your father is about education if his own daughter doesn’t do well in school. The other side is always looking for a reason to point fingers and show that your father isn’t worthy of his position. That we aren’t worthy. So you can’t allow your grades or your attention to detail to slide, or you’ll hurt your father and, worse, you’ll hurt the work he’s trying to do.”
Diana looked down at the clothes she’d chosen for the day. After sixteen years, she knew exactly what details would be noticed and what people would think when they saw her.
Stylish white jeans. A tasteful pink top. But nothing too expensive, because that made people jealous. Nothing too tight, because that gave people the wrong idea. And no wrinkles. Wrinkles made people think you were lazy. No one trusts a person who is lazy. To get what you wanted in life, you must inspire trust—even if you intended to break it.
Her father inspired trust with his perfectly tailored suits that were made less stuffy because he never wore a tie and always left the collar open.
Folksy. Friendly. Everyone’s idea of the perfect dad and former army-communications specialist who always puts his family and country first. At least that’s what people must have thought, because he got elected. He was working hard to make sure he got to keep his job for another term
, and it was their family’s job—Diana’s job—to make sure she didn’t do anything wrong that could make voters question whether they wanted him back in office.
No pressure there.
“Katherine?” she yelled, knowing how much her stepmother hated raised voices. No response. She must have already gone downstairs. Dad would be in meetings already. Diana bit her lip as she reached for the gold studs Katherine gave her for her sixteenth birthday, then added the gold-cross necklace that had technically been from her father. She’d pretended not to notice when one of his aides handed him the box that he’d clearly been unaware of up until that moment.
“Little touches make all the difference,” Katherine insisted. “People notice the details.”
Yes, they did, Diana thought as she reached into her jewelry box and pulled out the ratty friendship bracelet she’d made for herself years ago, wishing she’d had someone to give it to and to get one in return from. No one ever assumed the popular girl needed to be given a gift. No one thought about whether the popular girl was lonely when she went home. Everyone assumed the popular girl had a million friends and a family who supported her.
Diana walked to her mirror and checked her makeup. Just enough to make her blue eyes look bigger. Nothing more, or people might question whether she was a good girl. And she was supposed to be a good girl. She ticked off her stepmother’s checklist one by one.
A nice home.
Smart, respectable family tree.
All signs of a strong, well-brought-up girl. A girl everyone claimed to know from school. One parents and teachers pointed to as an example to others. One who had been taught to calculate her appearance and demeanor down to the plain red color of her cell-phone case. One who was determined to use it all to show everyone that it was foolish to trust what someone wanted you to see.
And if she didn’t want to ruin her perfect image, Diana would have to get moving. Tardiness was not acceptable for a girl who was supposed to be without flaws. Tardiness implied a lack of respect for other people’s time.
Glancing at her watch, she shook her head and hurried downstairs to find her stepmother so she could get a ride to school for the yearbook meeting.
“Katherine?” she called.
No answer. Huh. Well, Katherine was probably in the backyard making sure the staff had polished the patio furniture to a shine so that guests could be invited back to the house after the event tonight.
“Your mother went out.”
“What?” She turned and spotted her father standing next to the porch swing with his cell phone pressed to his ear. Since there was no point in correcting him about Katherine’s relationship to her, she simply asked, “Where?”
He put up a hand to quiet her. “Yes, I’m here, and yes, I understand there’s been some pushback, but I can’t step back from the bill, or I’ll get hammered. The press will smell blood and it’ll be over, and we all know I’m right on this. I just need one thing to tip in my favor. You have to trust me on this.”
Diana started to speak again, but before she could get a word out, her father turned his back and nodded. She would have to get in line for his attention.
“Yes. I’ll make that distinction tonight, and don’t worry. The event will be the perfect place to highlight the positive points in the bill and to take charge of the conversation. If you have other things you want to talk about, I’ll be at the office in a half-hour. Good speaking with you, too, Tim. I appreciate your dedication. We’re going to turn things around.” Finally he hung up and turned toward her.
He was wearing perfectly pressed khakis and a red polo shirt under a deep blue sports coat—relaxed authority was what her stepmother called the look. But despite the clothes, Diana didn’t think her father appeared relaxed.
“That was Tim?”
Her father nodded. “He’s worried about the negative press my Safety Through Education bill is getting.”
Tim hadn’t been on her father’s staff as long as the others, but he was smart and perceptive, which is why her father’s chief of staff hired him right out of graduate school. And even though he was younger than the rest of the staff, Diana knew Tim was right to be worried about her father’s bill. The press was calling it an invasion of privacy. The law would require that students and teachers inform the administration if they thought someone in the school might be interested in doing harm to students, teachers, or school property. Any students reported would then have to hand over their passwords to social media and email accounts or face suspension and a potential investigation by federal authorities. Those who didn’t report suspicions before a harmful event could be charged with aiding and abetting.
Her father believed the law would turn everything in the country around and would finally do what no other laws had been able to do—make things safer. Any students interested in causing trouble would think twice about it if they knew their friends and teachers were watching them and ready to act on any suspicious activity. And by catching and circumventing threatening behavior early, there was a good chance of diverting those students toward a more positive path. Her father was certain that taking action in the schools and the education system was the best way of changing the escalating pattern of violence in the country.
“Was there another bad story in the press?” Diana asked. Not everyone agreed with her father’s thoughts on how to keep the country safe. Since the unveiling of the bill, there had been phone calls and mail and huge editorials about invasion of privacy and people’s differing definitions of what a “threat” to society actually was. Diana had even gotten hate mail for her father’s idea. When she had tried to talk to her father about it, he had just told her to give the mail to Tim and ignore it. That everything would work out. But when Tim had sat with her and listened to her talk about the threats she’d gotten and how people made a point of telling her they were going to vote her father out of office, Tim had admitted the backlash was concerning. If the tide of bad press and angry editorials about the potential law continued, they both agreed that it would be sunk before it ever had a chance to be tested. And her father’s career—one she had been told was necessary to make the world better—would be sunk along with it.
Was it any wonder Tim wanted to pull out all the stops to make sure her father’s event tonight got the press’s attention, or that she was willing to do whatever it took to help? It was nice to have someone finally realize that she was capable of helping, and to finally listen to her when she had an idea. And Tim had said he was glad he could run ideas by someone without having to worry about her telling the senator that his ideas were too radical or that he wasn’t up to the job.
Her father shrugged and gave her his own practiced smile. “Some of my co-sponsors are wondering if we should shelve the idea for more study, but Tim has some polling that says retreating might do more harm than good. I’m not worried. Tim and the others have a plan to make this all come together.”
“If you need me—”
Her father held up his hand as the phone rang. The phone was always ringing. “I’ll catch this on my way to the office.” He looked at Diana and gave her a tense smile. “Your mother left a note for you on the counter. You can help by making sure you’re ready when she comes to pick you up. I need everything to be perfect if we’re going to turn this around.” Then, before she could say anything, her father put the phone to his ear and said, “Larry, I’m glad you called . . .” as he disappeared into the house.
Diana hurried after him, but he didn’t bother to look back. A minute later, Diana heard the front door slam behind him as he left before she could remind him that she needed a ride. And when she read her stepmother’s note, she knew she wasn’t going to get one from her, either.
I’ll be home to pick you up at four. Wear the blue satin dress hanging in your closet and l
eave your hair down. Please be on time. Tonight is very important to all of us.
She stared at the letter.
Be on time.
Leave your hair down.
Tonight is important.
But, clearly, driving Diana to school today was not.
She turned the bracelet on her arm again, looked at her stepmother’s words one more time, hearing each of them ringing in her head along with all the other things she’d said over the years.
“Keep your opinions to yourself, Diana.” Because they might differ from what she was supposed to think. And that wasn’t allowed.
“Remember that we’re counting on you.”
Yes. They were.
Diana headed back upstairs to the antique toy chest in the corner of her room. Quickly, she dumped the decorative pillows and extra blanket stacked on top onto the floor, then lifted the lid. She pulled out two bags. In the side pocket of one of the bags, she found the list she’d made for herself a few weeks ago and put it in her pocket.
A quick glance at the clock told her she’d better get going or she’d be late for the yearbook meeting. Yesterday she’d moved the meeting to two hours earlier than originally scheduled. She doubted anyone would be thrilled that she’d asked them to change their plans simply to make them wait.
Diana turned, took one last look in the mirror and saw what her family wanted her to be. What she had tried so hard to pretend to be.
Perfect. Someone everyone expected to do the right thing and no one would ever suspect of doing something wrong.
Booting up her computer, she sent a quick message to Tim, telling him that she was going to school now. Then Diana carefully picked up her bags and headed downstairs and out the door. Her father thought the only contribution he needed from her was for her to nod and smile and look flawless—like their family was supposed to be. She was determined to prove him wrong.
— Chapter 2 —