Hide and Seek
Page 12

 Sara Shepard

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“Um, the exact same way we did it the last time?” Charlotte said. When Emma gave her a blank look back, she added, “The flamingo and garden gnome prank?”
“Oh, right,” Emma said, vaguely recalling seeing a video of this.
“Duct-tape the lock before school’s out for the day,” Madeline supplied.
“So what are we doing for music?” Emma asked quickly.
Everyone was silent for a moment, thinking. Chirping sounded in the trees. The hot springs were so secluded that every small noise echoed in the still night air.
“I could make a playlist,” Lili said.
“I don’t think that’ll cut it.” Emma shook her head. “We need a real DJ. It has to be legit.”
“Tank can do it,” Charlotte suggested. “He owes me a favor.” She shot Emma a knowing look.
I racked my brain for a guy named Tank, but nothing came to mind, and Charlotte didn’t elaborate.
“So what if the Devious Four find out about the party and decide to crash?” Emma asked.
Lili twisted her mouth. “We could make everyone show their invites at the door.”
“Or we could get a bouncer,” Charlotte suggested. “Make things super-classy, even have a velvet rope. I bet the guy who works at Plush would do it for a small fee.”
“You know, maybe we do want the Devious Four to crash.” Madeline’s eyes gleamed. “Maybe we want to prank them when they walk through the doors.”
“A prank inside a prank!” Charlotte clapped her hands. “I love it!”
Emma bit her lip. She had wanted this prank to be nice, not to embarrass someone. Then again, the Devious Four had gotten them into major trouble—and Bethany had asked Ethan out in front of her.
“Speaking of parties,” she said, deciding to change the subject. “Have you guys decided what you’re wearing to my dad’s party on Saturday?”
Lili waded over to Emma and put her arm around her shoulder. “Maybe I’ll wear this bikini. Shock a little life into the old fogies.”
The girls giggled. Suddenly, a rustle sounded in the brush, and everyone stopped.
Madeline’s eyes were wide. “What’s that?”
Gabby rose halfway out of the water. “What if it’s security?”
“I so can’t get busted again,” Lili whined.
Emma felt goose bumps rise along her arms. The thrashing noise grew louder. Emma made out two figures tearing through the branches. There was a small yelp, and then Thayer and Laurel tumbled out of the bush.
“God,” Lili murmured, splashing them. “Way to freak us out, idiots.”
“Sorry!” Laurel trilled, looking giddy. She took Thayer by the hand. “We were just fooling around.” She stared at Emma as she said it. “Sorry we’re late.”
“Yeah, sorry we’re late, Mads,” Thayer added, glancing at his sister.
Madeline’s expression was stony. “Why didn’t you answer my calls?”
Thayer blinked. “I-I didn’t hear them, I guess.”
Madeline jumped out of the hot spring and snatched Thayer’s phone from his pocket. “You don’t even have it on!” she shrieked.
“I’m sorry,” Thayer protested, holding up his hands.
Madeline didn’t answer. Everyone else was silent, looking around awkwardly. Laurel dropped a canvas tote bag next to a squat rock, pretending not to notice the tension. She slipped out of a white eyelet dress and set a navy blue towel on top of the tote.
Waving his hand in a whatever motion, Thayer pulled his black T-shirt over his head. His bare chest was smooth and tan, and his stomach muscles rippled. Emma caught herself looking, then tore her eyes away. It was surprisingly hard not to look at Thayer—he was so gorgeous. “Um, I thought this was a girls-only party,” Charlotte said as he edged into the spring.
Thayer raised an eyebrow. “Are you talking about top-secret stuff?”
Emma shrugged. “Kind of, and—”
“Oh, please.” Laurel rolled her eyes. “Thayer can know. He’ll be invited anyway.” She cuddled up to him, all the while keeping her gaze on Emma. “Then again, what was that thing you always said, Sutton? If I told you, then I’d have to kill you?”
All of a sudden, Emma felt unbearably hot. She didn’t like sitting here discussing killing with Laurel, even jokingly. She wasn’t sure if she could even be in the same pool with her right now. Not answering, she leapt out of the spring and wrapped her body in a huge beach towel. The cool night air calmed her pulse, and taking deep, even breaths, she wandered down one of the paths, trying to clear her mind.
Emma sank against a boulder and stared at the night sky, wondering just how much longer she could take this. She needed hard evidence against Laurel, something she could actually take to the police.
Emma whipped around. Standing before her, his skin glistening and wet, was Thayer. He was out of breath, as though he’d jogged over to her. Emma kept her gaze averted from Thayer’s taut stomach. She decided she’d better not look at his arm muscles, either.
“Thayer!” Laurel’s voice sounded in the distance. “Where did you go?”
“One second,” Thayer called, sounding a little annoyed. He looked at Emma, his face full of concern. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” she answered, staring at the ground and trying to marshal her courage. This was her chance to question him. “Um, how about you? Are you having fun with Laurel?”
Thayer’s expression tightened. “What do you care?”
Emma’s mouth fell open. “Sorry. I was just making conversation.”
Thayer’s broad shoulders tensed. “I don’t get it, Sutton.” He shook his head slowly. “I’m trying to move on. But it’s…” His voice trailed off, swallowed by the night breeze that passed between them. “I can’t stand seeing you with Landry,” he finally said. “I want to kill that guy.”
Oh, Thayer, I whispered, wishing he could hear me. It broke my heart to be so close to him and not be able to explain what I still felt for him, even now. It killed me all over again that Thayer thought my feelings for him were gone.
The cold air chilled Emma’s still-wet bathing suit. “I’m sorry,” was the first thing she could think to say. She couldn’t imagine how this looked—Sutton had been in love with Thayer before he vanished. He’d been hit by a car on their last night together, and when he came back, she was with someone else. She felt terrible for doing this to him, but then, it wasn’t like she could just pick up where Sutton left off with Thayer either.
“And…I’m sorry I wasn’t the one there for you in the hospital that night,” Emma added. “I’ve wanted to tell you that for so long. I understand why you had to call Laurel, but I still feel like it should’ve been me…”
Thayer scoffed. “Whatever. It’s in the past now.”
“But I feel terrible about it.” Emma heard a splash and a giggle from the hot springs. “Did Laurel at least stay with you?” Emma pressed. “Overnight, I mean. So you didn’t have to be alone?”
Thayer let out a laugh, but anger flickered across his features. “Do you really think I’m that much of a wuss? I didn’t need Laurel with me to hold my hand.”
Emma blinked, needing him to be clear. “So…she didn’t stay with you?”
Thayer shook his head. “She left shortly after she dropped me off. She said she wanted to have a word with you. She was furious, like she wanted to kill you or something. I’ve never seen her like that before.”
Emma tried her hardest not to gasp. It was like the words had been scripted for Thayer, proving Laurel’s guilt. “Oh my God,” she whispered.
The words rushed through me, bringing a terrible emptiness. I hadn’t realized until that moment how desperately I’d wanted Laurel to be innocent. She was my little sister, the girl I grew up with, who I once considered my best friend. But Thayer’s words stripped me of my last shred of hope. She hadn’t been with him that night, and she hadn’t been with Nisha and the tennis team. I had to face it. Laurel, my sister, had murdered me—over a guy.
A cough sounded. Emma whirled around and saw a figure standing at the end of the trail. Laurel’s light eyes flashed in the darkness. “So that’s where you are,” she said, her voice no longer teasing, but instead flat and cold.
The hair on Emma’s arms stood on end. How much had Laurel heard? “W-we were just talking,” she stammered.
“Yeah,” Thayer said. His glance darted between Emma and Laurel. It was clear he wasn’t sure whose side to be on.
Laurel glared at both of them. Then she held up something in the air. Only when a flash went off did Emma realize it was a camera. After that, Laurel whipped around and marched back to the hot springs, her spine ramrod-straight. “Join me when you’re ready, Thayer,” she called.
Emma and Thayer stared after her, and my heart clenched at the tragic characters in front of me: the boy I loved, the twin I’d never met, and the sister who took both of them away from me.
The next morning in gym class, Emma and a group of girls walked the perimeter of the track instead of playing handball with the boys. Every girl walked fast enough to appease the gym instructor but slowly enough not to sweat so they wouldn’t mess up their makeup during school hours.
Emma tried to listen to the endless chatter about weekend plans, disappointment over how next week’s dance had been canceled, and talk about Thayer’s return to school, but she couldn’t concentrate. She’d barely slept last night, so aware that Laurel was just feet down the hall from her.
Only when she rounded the corner and noticed Garrett climbing into his car in the parking lot did her mind wander for a moment. What was good-boy Garrett doing leaving school property during second period? Even more bizarre, Nisha was getting into the passenger seat. But hadn’t Nisha said they weren’t hanging out anymore?
I knew Emma’s cease-fire with my sworn enemy was too good to be true.
The smell of sunscreen and perfume greeted Emma’s nose as a pack of sophomores hustled past. “Hey, Sutton!” Clara called from the middle of the group. The sleeves of her Hollier High tennis T-shirt were rolled up over her tanned shoulders.
“Hey,” Emma said absently, moving away from the fence. She didn’t want anyone to see her staring at Garrett and Nisha. All she needed was some gossipy underclassmen assuming that she wasn’t over Garrett and spreading the news around school.
Suddenly, Emma noticed Ethan sitting on the bleachers across the field and took off in an excited jog. “Hey, stranger,” she crooned into his ear, resting her hand on his shoulder. “Is someone cutting class? I thought you had English this period.”
Ethan whipped around. When Emma saw his cold expression, she drew back. “I’m kind of busy.”