Hide and Seek
Page 13

 Sara Shepard

  • Background:
  • Text Font:
  • Text Size:
  • Line Height:
  • Line Break Height:
  • Frame:
“W-What’s wrong?” Emma stammered.
Ethan glanced away, his eyes roving over the track.
“Ethan?” Emma asked softly. But he just sat there, avoiding her gaze.
A cluster of students passed, glancing at Ethan and Emma out of the corners of their eyes. Emma instantly pasted a smile on her face, not wanting them to notice that she and Ethan were fighting.
Finally, Ethan took out his cell phone and turned it toward Emma with a sigh. She stared at a dark, fuzzy picture on the screen. After a moment, she realized it was her and Thayer, standing on the trail, talking. Her heart sank. They were both in their bathing suits. And their arms were almost touching.
Then she realized. Laurel had sent it to him. “Don’t you see,” she whispered. “She’s trying to break us up because she’s jealous.”
Or she’s trying to send you a message, I thought. She’s on to you. She heard what you and Thayer were talking about. Stop while you’re ahead.
Ethan let the phone fall to his side. “Did she Photoshop it? Because you guys look like you’re having a romantic tête-à-tête.”
“I was asking him about the night Sutton died,” Emma said. “You won’t believe what I found out.”
Suddenly, a metal hurdle clattered on the ground as the track coach tried to assemble them in an upright position. Emma swallowed hard. They were way too public right here. Anyone could hear them.
“Walk with me?” Emma asked in a small voice. For a moment, Ethan just sat there, like he wasn’t going to budge. When he finally slid off the bleacher, Emma let out a sigh of relief.
They began to circle the track, a pack of students sprinting past them. Only when they rounded the corner to a spot behind the field house did Emma yank him off the red asphalt and into the little room that housed the practice mats, javelin poles, and shot puts. When Emma shut the door, only a sliver of light poked through. It would have been romantic if Ethan weren’t standing with his arms crossed over his chest.
“Thayer told me that Laurel didn’t stay with him all night at the hospital,” Emma whispered, her voice sounding tinny and hollow against the low ceiling. “She just dropped him off. And he told me that she was furious at Sutton. He literally said she wanted to kill her.”
“Whoa.” Ethan let out a low whistle, seemingly forgetting his anger. “That’s messed up.”
“So how can I prove it before she does something to me?” Emma asked. She glanced through the crack in the door, watching as a couple of Hollier kids bounced on the pole vault mat. “I want this over with. This is getting so out of hand. And beyond getting justice for Sutton, do you realize how sick I am of pretending? How I just want to be me again? My entire life is on hold. I just realized the other day that I may not be able to go to college.”
Ethan’s features softened. “I know,” he said, wrapping his arms around her.
Emma nuzzled into his shoulder, feeling better. “So you’re not mad at me?”
Ethan shrugged. “It’s hard to think about you and Thayer together.”
“You know I’m into you—and only you.”
“I know. Really, I do. But I am annoyed you didn’t invite me to the hot springs. I’d love to know where they are.”
“Well, now I know where they are.” Emma playfully poked his chest. “You and I will go soon—alone.”
“Sounds like a date,” Ethan murmured.
“You’re still planning on coming to my dad’s birthday party Saturday night, right?” Emma asked. “Please tell me you are. I don’t think I can deal with it without you. Especially with Laurel there. It’s freaky enough sleeping one room away from her. I’ve locked the door and the windows every night this week.”
Ethan pretended to think about it. “I suppose,” he said after a moment. “But only if you’re very, very good. And only if you introduce me to this Grandma Mercer.”
“You’ll love her.” Emma rolled her eyes. “But she smells like she bathed in Chanel No. 5. And she’ll probably offer you a cigarette.”
“Well, then I’ll be sure to bring my lighter,” Ethan joked. “Oh, and speaking of old ladies, I almost cracked the code on the traffic cameras. The proof that it wasn’t you pulling that tree prank will be yours in no time to hand over to Ms. Ambrose.”
“Thank you!” Emma clutched her hands dramatically. “The Lying Game will really love you then. They’re already working on another prank for the dance to keep the Devious Four in their place.”
Ethan raised an eyebrow. “You’re not going to do anything too horrible to those girls, are you? I mean, they’re bitches, but I know what you Lying Game girls are capable of.”
“I’m not a Lying Game girl,” Emma reminded him. “And we’re only doing what they have coming to them.” Then she had an idea. “Maybe the prank-inside-the-prank at the secret dance could be the video footage displayed on a big screen in the gym. That way, the school would know it wasn’t the Lying Game who did it. And the Devious Four will finally have to own up to their actions.”
It seemed like a good prank to me—effective, but not cruel. I approved.
Ethan nodded. “Works for me. It’s time-stop photography, so it’ll be like a flip book, not continuous footage.”
“Even cooler.” Emma leaned against the field house door, suddenly contemplative. “If only there was video footage of who killed Sutton. That would make our lives a whole lot easier, huh?”
Ethan’s expression became serious. “Do you really think it’s Laurel?”
“Yes, I really do. But that doesn’t mean the police will believe me.”
“Have you ever searched her room?” Ethan asked.
Emma twisted her mouth. “A few times—at Sutton’s birthday party, and I noticed that she’d put Thayer’s initials on her calendar the night Sutton died.” She raised her head, staring at Ethan’s silhouette. Had Laurel known Thayer was coming? Had she followed them to Sabino Canyon and then run Thayer over while aiming for her sister? “But I’ve never snooped in her drawers or anything. I guess I’ll try again.”
“Good.” Ethan leaned in and kissed her. “You never know. Maybe I’ll be attending the next school dance with Emma Paxton.”
“Maybe,” Emma said, hope creeping into her heart. Ethan took Emma’s hand, and they emerged from the field house together.
As the sun blazed down on them like a spotlight, I wondered if Emma would get her happy ending. If after exposing Laurel, she’d live with my family, stay friends with my besties, and go to U of A with Ethan on a full scholarship. But then again, I knew all too well that not everyone got a happily ever after.
“Sutton?” a voice called through Sutton’s bedroom door Friday night.
Emma jumped off Sutton’s bed, where she’d been looking at the Sutton Mercer Murder Suspects list that she’d started when she’d first arrived in Tucson. At the top of the page, Laurel’s name had been crossed off in thick black ink, but Emma had re-added it at the bottom, just below Thayer’s now crossed-out name, and underlined it three times. Just as she slapped the notebook closed and shoved it under her bed, Grandma Mercer poked her head in.
“What’s that?” Grandma’s eyes narrowed at something on the floor.
Emma followed her gaze. The edge of her notebook peeked out from under Sutton’s white bed skirt. “Oh, just doing a little journaling,” she muttered dismissively, kicking it farther under the bed.
Grandma leaned in the doorway. As usual, she was impeccably dressed in a tailor-made tweed suit and high heels. Her lipstick was perfect, and her hair didn’t move as she walked. There was a slight hint of smoke coming off her clothes. Emma wondered if Mr. Mercer really hadn’t noticed yet. “Do you have homework?”
“Not really,” Emma said. “I’m pretty much all done.”
“Good. That means you can come with me.” Grandma offered her hand. “Your father’s party is tomorrow, and he’s asked me to do some last-minute things.” She made a face. “Well, he hasn’t asked me, per se, but I think some things have been overlooked. For instance, did you know that your mother hasn’t designed a lighting scheme?”
Emma opened her mouth, then shut it fast. It seemed to Emma that Mrs. Mercer had planned everything down to the last detail. Mrs. Mercer had made countless calls to the caterer, adjusting and readjusting the menu. They’d hired a salsa band, and she’d been practicing her dance moves at night, stressing because she’d never salsaed in her life. Emma thought it was really sweet that she was putting so much effort into making her husband’s party special. But there was no use arguing with Grandma. She seemed like the kind of woman who was going to do things her way, no ifs, ands, or buts.
I wonder if that’s where I got my stubbornness from. But then I remembered: I was adopted. Grandma wasn’t part of my gene pool.
In minutes, Emma had changed into a cotton dress and kitten heels—Grandma deemed that her jeans and T-shirt were “too sloppy” to go to Neiman Marcus in—and she was sitting in the plushy leather passenger seat of Grandma’s Cadillac. And minutes after that, they were walking through the Neiman Marcus perfume aisle. Emma’s nose twitched from the competing scents.
A memory rippled through me. I was walking through Neiman’s with Grandma when I was much younger. A girl at the Estée Lauder counter asked if I wanted a makeover, and Grandma had sat me on the stool. “This will be our little secret,” she’d said conspiratorially. Maybe Grandma wasn’t so bad, after all.
Grandma peeled off her white leather driving gloves. “Are you excited about your father’s party?”
“Sure,” Emma said. “If nothing else, it will be nice to see Mom relaxed again.”
“Are you bringing a date?” Grandma asked as she paused to sniff a new Dior perfume.
“Yes,” Emma said.
“Is it that boy who got in all that trouble?” Grandma asked sharply.
“Thayer? How did you know about him?” Emma said, surprised. Thayer had been Sutton’s secret boyfriend.
“Your sister told me a few months ago,” Grandma said, heading for the elevators. “She said it was obvious. And she said your love for him was—oh, how did she word it? Obsessive, maybe. Dangerous.”
Suddenly, the smell of the perfumes made Emma a little ill. Why was Laurel saying things to Grandma about Sutton and Thayer?
And it wasn’t my love for Thayer that was obsessive. It was Laurel’s.
“Oh,” Emma said quietly. “No. It’s someone else. A guy named Ethan Landry.”
“Good,” Grandma answered. “Because truthfully I think your sister was a little jealous.” Then she stopped short in the middle of the scarves department and took Emma’s hands. “I know I’m hard on you, dear. And sometimes I probably come off as cold at times. But I just want the best for you. I want you to lead the best life possible, and I get so worried when I hear about you getting in trouble or dating bad boys or not getting the grades I know you can get or having tension with your sister. I just want you to be safe. I just don’t want you to end up like…” She trailed off, pressing her lips together.