Hide and Seek
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Emma frowned. “Like who?”
An expression Emma couldn’t gauge flashed across Grandma’s face. It almost looked like fear. But then there was a crash next to them, and she turned. Someone had just knocked a whole rack of scarves over. Salesgirls rushed to the scene and quickly picked them up.
When Grandma turned back to Emma, her face was composed once more. “And to be honest, I’m a little worried about Laurel, too. Is it me, or does she seem…distracted these days? Almost like there’s something weighing on her mind?”
Emma’s ears burned. “Um, you could say that,” she murmured, more to herself than to Sutton’s grandmother.
“Do you know what it is?”
Sweat prickled on the back of Emma’s neck and she saw a flash of blond out of the corner of her eye. She turned around and faced the front doors, certain she’d just seen someone jump out of view.
“I don’t have a clue,” Emma said, swallowing hard.
“Well.” Grandma clutched her purse and marched for the escalators. “Whatever it is, it seems like she’s up to no good.”
No kidding, Emma thought as she followed Grandma up the escalator.
Cool dread washed over me. One thing was for sure. Emma needed to search for evidence in Laurel’s room ASAP, and put an end to this charade once and for all.
Saturday afternoon, Emma stood a foot in front of Laurel’s door, her hand poised on the knob. Downstairs, she could hear Mr. and Mrs. Mercer bustling around, making last-minute arrangements for the party, but Laurel was nowhere to be seen. She was probably out with Thayer somewhere.
Twisting the knob, Emma stepped into the bedroom. The smell of Laurel’s tuberose perfume greeted her like a rush of heat. Two candles sat on Laurel’s desk, along with a cup full of mechanical pencils and a framed photo of five wild mustangs racing across a grassy field. The print was hotel-bland and oddly impersonal in contrast to the collage of photos and tennis ribbons Laurel had tacked up on her wall. Right near her closet was a black-and-white shot of Thayer standing with his arm around Laurel’s shoulders in the parking lot of Sabino Canyon. It was slightly askew, and the edge of a different photo poked out from underneath it. Emma lifted it up to find a photograph of Sutton and Laurel with their arms wrapped around each other in a nearly identical pose to that of Laurel and Thayer.
For a long moment, Emma stood there, studying Laurel’s and Sutton’s smiling faces. They looked for all the world like best friends.
I squinted hard at it, too, trying to remember when it had been taken. The end of school last year? After a tennis tournament? Maybe even earlier than that—Laurel and I looked so happy. I had no idea what had happened to change that. Maybe we’d grown apart when I’d found cooler friends. Or maybe it really did all come back to Thayer.
The hinges on Laurel’s desk squeaked as Emma opened a drawer. Inside was a hot pink eraser in the shape of a heart, rainbow-colored paper clips, and a stapler. Bic pens rolled forward. Scraps of notebook paper lay in piles. Emma picked one up. Mads, one of them said. I need to talk to you about something and it’s really important. Laurel had underlined really three times. Something happened this summer, and I need to get it off my chest. The guilt is eating me alive. Laurel. It was dated September sixth, a week after Sutton disappeared.
Emma dropped the note like it was a hot frying pan. Laurel couldn’t possibly have considered confessing what she’d done to Madeline, could she? Or was she going to tell Madeline that she’d seen Thayer? Either way Laurel clearly hadn’t gone through with it.
Stuffing the note into her back pocket, Emma searched under the bed, under the mattress, and inside the closet. Nothing. She was about to retreat when she saw blue athletic tape trailing out from beneath an armchair—the kind of tape she and Laurel used to wrap the handles of their tennis rackets. Emma crouched and saw a racket nestled beneath the cushions. She pulled it out, then turned it over in her hands. The racket’s dyed-red strings were bent so badly in the middle, Emma was surprised they hadn’t broken. When she touched one of them, some of the red flaked off. It wasn’t red dye—it was blood.
Emma’s fingers trembled at the edge of the racket. The frame was bent as well, as though someone had thrown it hard against something—or someone. Leaning in closer, she saw a long, dark piece of hair twisted along the frame—the same exact color of her own hair. Was that Sutton’s hair? She fought the urge to be sick. Was Emma holding the murder weapon?
She dropped it fast. Now her fingerprints were on it, too. She remembered what Ethan had said after she’d told him who she really was: If you run now, everyone will think you did it.
Maybe that was exactly what Laurel intended: for Emma to find this. For her to touch it. For the down-and-out twin to be framed.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs. Emma shot up just as the door swung open. Mr. Mercer appeared, a startled look on his face. “Sutton?”
“Uh, hi,” Emma said, running a hand through her hair, her heart beating hard. She stepped in front of the fallen racket.
Mr. Mercer leaned against the doorjamb, one eyebrow raised. “Does Laurel know you’re in here?”
“Um.” Emma’s mind flew in a zillion directions, trying to find an excuse. “I was just looking for a bracelet Laurel borrowed. I wanted to wear it to your party.” She shrugged and lifted the palms of her hands. “But no luck,” she said. “I guess she’s wearing it today.”
Mr. Mercer checked his watch. “Speaking of which, I guess I’d better get ready, too.” He patted the door. “I can’t be late to my own party, huh?”
Emma forced a smile. As soon as Sutton’s father turned away, she kicked the racket back beneath the chair like it was any old tennis racket and not a possible murder weapon. Her stomach churned as images of Laurel bashing in Sutton’s head swirled unbidden in her mind.
And they were swirling in my mind, too. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to call to mind the memory of Laurel pummeling me to death…but there was nothing. Just as I was about to give up, an image flashed in front of me: Laurel and me perched on a rocky cliff overlooking Sabino Canyon—the same cliff I’d taken Thayer to. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? I’d asked her. Her light eyes scanned the canyon’s walls, and a sly smile appeared on her face. And then, she said, clear as day, It’s the perfect place to disappear.
THE BIRTHDAY SURPRISE
Emma climbed out of Mr. Mercer’s car and watched him hand his keys to a blond valet in a red and gold uniform. “Welcome to Loews Ventana Canyon, Mr. Mercer,” the valet intoned, gesturing to the hotel behind them.
“Thanks.” Mr. Mercer nodded, then strode toward the resort entrance as though he’d been here a hundred times. He probably had—and likely Sutton had, too. But to Emma, this place was all new. Bentleys, high-end Mercedes, and shiny Porsches filled the parking lot. The resort itself was made of clay-colored stone, and it seemed to blend into the cacti-speckled mountain behind it. Two large fire cauldrons flanked the entrance, and Emma could see a sleek marble lobby through the grand double doors. Small-town Girl Goes Five Star, she headlined in her mind. It made the day spa in Nevada where she’d worked as a towel girl look like a ramshackle car wash.
A prickle of a memory edged my vision. I saw myself and my friends taking a yoga class on the grounds. I could tell it was summer, because all of us were sweating and it was only 7 A.M. At the end of the class, when the instructor had everyone lie down and clear their minds, mine had swarmed with whirling thoughts. I couldn’t tell what I’d been worrying about, though. Two-timing Garrett with Thayer? My jealous little sister? Did I know I was weeks—maybe even days—away from my death?
“We’re just getting here now,” Laurel said into her phone as she and Emma entered the lobby. She was on with Mrs. Mercer, who’d come hours earlier to put the finishing touches on things. Grandma had gone with her and was probably rearranging the table linens and silverware.
Laurel slid her phone back into her clutch and gave Emma a sidelong glance. “You don’t seem like you’re in much of a partying mood tonight. Cheer up!”
Emma tried not to flinch. Laurel had arrived back at the house mere minutes after Emma had escaped from her room. Emma had watched her go into her bedroom and stand in the middle of the carpet, one finger tapping her lip. Then she’d wheeled around and stared at Emma, who’d quickly turned and hurried into the bathroom as though she hadn’t been staring. Did Laurel know she’d been in there? Did she know what Emma had found?
Images of the bloody racket filtered through my mind as I stared at Laurel. Did she feel remorse? How could she pretend everything was okay?
Shrugging off Laurel’s comment, Emma followed Mr. Mercer up cobblestone steps and past a crystal fountain filled with orange-and-white goldfish the size of hamsters. She caught her reflection in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors just inside the lobby, barely recognizing herself. She’d chosen an emerald green cocktail dress and gold kitten heels from Sutton’s closet. The dress had still had a price tag attached; it had cost over $700. She’d slid into it tentatively, terrified she was going to rip a seam or get deodorant on it.
“There’s my birthday boy!” a familiar, husky voice rang out. Grandma Mercer, dressed in a black-and-gold ball gown that looked like something a woman of a certain age might wear to the Oscars, floated elegantly through the lobby. She grabbed Mr. Mercer’s arm. “Come, come!” she said excitedly, her mouth standing out in bright pink lipstick. “The place looks amazing!”
She shot smiles at Laurel and Emma, and then led them past plush white leather couches that surrounded a fireplace. Brown-and-black-spotted cowhide rugs covered the rustic wooden floor. Grandma pushed two glass doors open, and they stepped onto a stone patio surrounded by acres of desert overlooking a dark blue man-made pond. The patio was already filled with guests. The men wore a mix of dark suits, linen pants, and crisp button-downs, while women were dressed in chic, jewel-toned cocktail dresses. The sun hovered over the horizon, dyeing the sky cotton-candy pink, and waitresses buzzed amid the crowd with cocktails.
“Kristin has outdone herself,” Mr. Mercer said in a she-shouldn’t-have sort of voice, but Emma could tell he was extremely pleased.
Grandma’s brow furrowed. “I helped, too,” she said sharply.
Instead of responding to his mother, Mr. Mercer focused on someone across the patio. Emma stood on her tiptoes, and a chill passed through her. It was Thayer Vega, looking effortlessly handsome in slim-cut chinos and a white oxford, his longish hair pushed back off his face. He was talking to his father and nodding adamantly.
Mr. Mercer’s face turned pale. He leaned close to Emma and Laurel. “Did one of you invite him?”
Suddenly, Mrs. Mercer sidled up between them. She looked beautiful in a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress, and diamond studs glinted in her ears. “Is everything okay, sweetie? Isn’t this an amazing party?”