Hide and Seek
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And it was one I definitely didn’t want to see.
ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST
THE NEXT TIME I SEE YOU, YOU’RE DEAD.
What a drama queen, I think, slipping the phone back into my pocket after pressing DELETE. But right on the heels of that thought is a tiny sense of trepidation. Maybe we shouldn’t have asked Laurel to take Thayer to the hospital. I know how bad she has it for Thayer. I know how much it would kill her to know that Thayer and I were secretly together. Sure, I’d kind of wanted to rub it in. Sure, I’d kind of wanted to show my sister yet again, Look! I’m way better than you. But maybe I’d pushed her too far.
I look around. It’s so dark in the canyon, I can barely see my fingers in front of my face, and my phone’s lost service again. I can just make out the road at the top of the incline. The pavement cracks, and pebbles crisscross the path in zigzagging lines. My heart pounds in my throat. I should have been in Nisha’s development by now. Am I lost? Did I take a wrong turn? I think about the stories I see on the news about people getting lost up here and never being found. What if that’s me? What if I die out here, and coyotes eat my bones?
I’ll never go to prom. I’ll never get that Marc Jacobs bag I had my eye on. I’ll never tell Thayer I love him again. I’ll never do anything I wanted to do.
My limbs feel weightless as I whirl in a circle. Desert surrounds me in every direction. I turn to look up at the canyon, hoping I can get my bearings. Rocks soar in a jagged arch, but none of their shapes look familiar. And as I’m swinging around, trying to figure out where the hell I am, I catch sight of a bench halfway up the cliff. Is that…a person looking down at me?
But then clouds obscure the moon and I can’t make out anything at all. You’re losing it, Sutton, I say to myself, shaking out my hands. Get a grip. Focus. You’re not going to die out here. You’re going to find your way out. And just because you and Thayer ran from some freak up here doesn’t mean that person is still around. I am Sutton Mercer, and if anyone can find a way out of this, it’s me.
An engine groans in the distance. I turn to see headlights blazing over the crest of the road. “Hey!” I scream, waving my arms. I’ve never been so thrilled to see a car in my life. I consider hitchhiking—I’ve done it before, and I really need a ride home. And suddenly, that’s where I desperately want to go. Not to Nisha’s. Not to Madeline’s. But home. All at once, I’m so eager to see my family it almost feels like a hunger pang. I want my mom to make me chicken soup and tell me everything’s going to be okay. I want my dad to tuck me in and assure me that the bad guys are never going to get me again.
I want to tell them I’m sorry for everything I’ve done lately, too. I’ve made things so tense at home, ignoring all their rules and being snippy with them at every turn. It’s just that with my eighteenth birthday coming up, I want to know about my birth mother—more about where I came from. I could have a whole other family out there that I don’t even know about. Maybe even a blood sister or brother. But each time I bring it up, my mom starts crying and my dad gets this thin-lipped expression like somehow I’ve wounded him to his core. I always get what I want, but my parents aren’t telling me anything, so I’ve been punishing them by partying all night with Mads or sneaking away to meet Thayer when he’s back in town.
The approaching car bounces over the rocky earth and the tires kick up a cloud of dust. “Hey!” I cry, waving my arms again. But as the vehicle moves closer, I drop my arms to my sides. Why would a car be driving down this dead-end road? And why do those headlights look familiar? Is it my car? Is the mystery driver back?
Only, the headlights aren’t the same shape as mine. Still, I recognize them from somewhere. I shoot up straight as the car accelerates with a growl, aiming straight at me, covering ground at breakneck speed. It’s going to run me over! I realize, shooting off the path. Just like someone ran Thayer down.
My mind is suddenly spinning. The next time I see you, you’re dead. Could it be Laurel? Has she lost her mind?
I whirl around and sprint farther into the desert. The engine responds, roaring louder and veering off the path, too. A voice is calling out, but I can’t hear it over the rev of the engine and the pops and bursts of the tires crunching over cacti and sending rocks flying. I’m running as fast as I can, but the car is gaining speed until I can feel its heat and velocity on my heels. The headlights pour golden beams in front of me and I can see my pumping arms in shadow.
“Please!” I scream, twisting around. I try to see who the driver is, but it’s too dark—and my eyes are filled with tears. “Please stop!”
The car is just a few feet from me now, about to take me down. All at once, a screeching sound shatters the air. And then, the car stops. I glance over my shoulder just in time to see the window rolling down. They have a gun! is all I can think, and I zag around a barrel cactus to get away.
“Sutton!” a voice screams.
I stop. I know that voice. I turn to see my dad hanging out the window. I blink. My heart starts to slow. “D-Dad?” I stammer, slowly walking back to him.
But something’s wrong. My dad’s face is drawn. The moonlight catches flecks of gray in his dark hair. His eyebrows meet in the middle, and he glares at me like he’s disgusted by my very presence. I hardly recognize the way he’s looking at me. My dad climbs out of the car, springing forward like an angry rattlesnake. His hand wraps around my arm. Hard.
My mouth falls open. “Daddy,” I whimper, staring down at my wrist where already five red welts are beginning to form. “Let go. You’re hurting me!”
But he doesn’t let go, instead continuing to look at me with a rage-filled, searching look, like he’s so angry with me he can’t even find his voice. “What did you see?” he finally spits out.
But my dad squeezes my wrist harder. I stifle a gasp, sharp pain radiating through my arm.
“I know you saw something. Why else would you guys run?” My father’s voice is suddenly so eerily calm that it takes a second for the words to register.
I know you saw. My pulse ratchets up as I put the pieces together. This was why Thayer had dragged me away from the overlook and practically pushed me down the trail. He saw my dad doing…something—something that scared Thayer. Something that Thayer thought I shouldn’t see.
And that’s when I notice there’s dust all over him. Desert dust. The same dust that covers me from my race through the canyon. A chill passes through me, and the sound of the footsteps pursuing me and Thayer through the canyon echoes in my head. Someone had followed us. Someone had hit Thayer.
But it seems impossible that it could have been my father chasing us. He loves me. He brought me peanut-butter ice cream when I fell off my bike. He taught me how to serve a tennis ball. He spent hours helping me restore my vintage racing Volvo—the same Volvo that just nearly killed the boy I love.
But the man who’s clutching my wrist so hard I fear it might break is someone I don’t know at all. Someone capable of hurting me. Someone capable of anything.
“Let me go!” I scream.
My father just wrenches me toward the car. I try to break away from his grip, but he’s too strong. My legs kick against the ground, digging in. Adrenaline takes over as I lunge forward and elbow my father in the chest.
“Sutton!” he screams, releasing me.
I turn and bolt. My legs are on fire as I tear across the desert. My feet kick up sand and dirt as I race away from him. My hair flies across my face, and I try to push it away from my eyes. Not that it really matters. I can’t see where I’m going, anyway. And it doesn’t matter. All I have to do is run and run and run until I’ve lost him. If I have to run forever, I will.
But from the sound of the engine revving behind me, I realize with sickening dread that I don’t have forever. Not anymore. Not if my dad runs me down, just like he ran down Thayer.
HIT AND RUN
Dirt crunched beneath Emma’s feet as she raced along a desert path. What she wanted, right this second, was to be as far away from Mr. Mercer as possible. She’d seen that look before, in the angry eyes of foster dads. With everything else going on, the last thing she needed was to do battle with him, too.
But maybe my sister’s battle was with my father. I desperately hoped that I’d misinterpreted the memory I’d just seen. Maybe my dead-girl brain was playing tricks on me. Maybe it was just a dream I was remembering. My dad had never looked at me like that in his life—had never, ever grabbed me or hurt me. Never. And yet that night he had.
Soon the sounds of the party faded away, and all Emma could hear was her thudding heartbeat and the sandy gravel under her feet. Slowly, she replayed everything she’d heard between Mr. Mercer and his mother, their cutting argument echoing in her mind. Mr. Mercer was having an affair. Was it serious?
There was a smooth rock ahead, dappled with moonlight. Emma dropped down to sit on it, her limbs aching from running in high heels. As she traced the tiny fissures in the rock’s surface, a memory came back to her from her childhood. Occasionally, her mother had had boyfriends, and even though Becky had abandoned Emma when she was five, Emma still remembered a few of them.
Most of the guys worked as truckers, shifty salesmen, or didn’t have jobs at all, but there was one guy Becky particularly loved named Joe, and Emma had liked him, too. He’d watched cartoons with her and brought her candy and little toys from the 7-Eleven, where he worked the graveyard shift. He was so much nicer than the other guys Becky dated that Emma began to hope Joe was her father—she was dying for one. But then, one day, Joe stopped coming around, and Becky stopped talking about him. “That jerk cheated on me,” Becky snapped when Emma asked where he was. Emma didn’t know what Becky meant—in her world, cheating meant moving your game piece extra spaces in Candy Land. She’d never even seen Becky and Joe play Candy Land together.
Heaving a sigh, Emma slipped off the rock and stretched, knowing she’d have to get back to the party before anyone started asking questions.
A hand clapped down on her shoulder, and Emma jumped. Laurel. It had to be. Images of the bloody tennis racket shot through Emma’s mind. She spun around, certain she’d see Sutton’s sister behind her. But it was Thayer’s hazel eyes that blinked back at her.
“Oh!” Emma whispered, wheeling backward.
Thayer’s white button-down had come untucked at the waist of his trousers. “Are you okay? Did you…hear them?”
“Yeah,” she admitted. “I heard everything.”
Thayer reached out as if to hug her, then clearly remembering their relationship had changed, awkwardly stuck his hands in his pockets instead. “This was what I was trying to protect you from that night at Sabino,” he said. “I saw your dad on the trail with…well, someone who wasn’t your mom. That’s why I tried to keep you away from them—and why I told you to run.”