Hide and Seek
Page 18

 Sara Shepard

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A creak sounded in the hallway, and panic welled inside Emma’s chest. What if that was Sutton’s dad? There was another loud creak, definitely a footstep. Emma stifled a small sob. It had been terrifying living under the same roof as Laurel when Emma thought she’d killed Sutton. But Mr. Mercer was twice her size. Emma wouldn’t stand a chance.
The doorknob started to turn. Heart in her throat, Emma waited for the door to open and bang into the oak bureau, but then Drake let out a yelping bark, and the doorknob turned back into place.
Emma’s pulse was still racing as the footsteps retreated along the hall. She stared up at the ceiling. Moonlight illuminated a miniscule web of cracks that fanned out from the light fixture overhead. Emma counted them over and over, wondering if she’d ever be able to sleep again.
Emma stayed like that for the rest of the night, with the covers pulled up to her chin. Every clang of a pipe or swish of air inside a vent made her heart race. When she’d heard Mr. Mercer’s alarm sound at 6 A.M., followed by the creak of the stairs as he walked down in his running shoes, she’d leapt to the window to watch him jog down the street casually and easily. Like he wasn’t a murderer. Like he hadn’t tried to come into Emma’s room last night to possibly kill her, too.
By ten, Emma desperately had to use the bathroom. Reluctantly she climbed from bed and stumbled down the hall, locking the door behind her. She got in the shower, letting the sound of rushing water drown out her sobs. When she finally collected herself, she turned off the tap and used her palm to clear the steam from the mirror. She stared at her reflection and for a second pretended it was Sutton’s periwinkle eyes staring back. “I need you, Sutton,” she whispered. She knew it was crazy to talk to her dead twin, but she felt a little crazy right now. “Tell me what to do. Tell me how to solve your murder. Tell me how to incriminate him.”
I stared back, wishing I could download my memory onto a DVD and play it for Officer Quinlan. But I couldn’t. All I could do was watch and hope my sister didn’t end up like me.
After Emma dressed, she opened the bedroom door to find Laurel standing with her hand poised to knock. “There you are,” she said. “Ready for breakfast, or are you still too sick?”
Emma stared blearily at Sutton’s sister. Out of habit, her muscles tensed, and she tightened her jaw, but then she realized—Laurel wasn’t a suspect anymore, for real. All of a sudden, she wanted to throw her arms around Laurel simply for not killing Sutton.
But then she registered Laurel’s question. Breakfast meant facing Mr. Mercer. “Um, I’m still feeling pretty bad,” she mumbled.
“Oh, come on.” Laurel linked her arm around Emma’s elbow. “Dad’s famous pancakes will fix you right up.”
Before Emma could protest, Laurel dragged her down the stairs and into the kitchen. When Emma saw Mr. Mercer’s tall, straight back at the stove, pouring pancake batter into a frying pan, she froze. Murderous Father Plays the Part of Doting Family Man, she thought, picturing a grainy, black-and-white photograph of Mr. Mercer holding a spatula and grinning maniacally into the camera.
I watched my father, too, wishing I could grab him from behind and shake him hard. “How could you?!” I screamed at his back. “I trusted you! I loved you!” But as usual, my voice instantly evaporated, like I’d yelled into an airless tunnel.
Mr. Mercer turned and stared at Emma. His lips spasmed slightly, as though the effort of holding back his anger in front of Laurel was too much for him. “Oh. Sutton. You’re awake.” He awkwardly scratched a spot by his nose. “Feeling better?”
Emma cast her eyes down, feeling her cheeks burn. “Uh-huh,” she mumbled.
Laurel slumped into her regular breakfast seat. “You missed the best part of Dad’s party, Sutton—the cake. It was ah-may-zing. Then again, you seem to be ditching all kinds of parties these days, including your own.” She rolled her eyes.
“It was a nasty case of food poisoning,” Emma mumbled, clutching her stomach for effect. “In fact, I should probably go upstairs and lie down some more. I’m still feeling dizzy.”
“Nonsense. A little food in your stomach will do you good,” a sharp voice said to Emma’s left. She looked over and saw Grandma at the table, a mug of coffee before her. Her eyes were cold, and she looked Emma up and down with pursed lips. “Funny, you don’t look sick.” Her gaze shifted to Mr. Mercer. “Does she?”
Mr. Mercer flinched, dropping the ladle into the batter bowl. Emma’s heart was pounding so hard she was sure everyone could hear it.
“What do you think poisoned you?” Laurel asked, looking a little worried. “I hope I don’t get sick, too.”
Emma shifted her weight, suddenly not remembering a single morsel of food that had been served at the party. “Uh, a hot dog, maybe,” she blurted, thinking of the time she’d gotten food poisoning from a hot dog she’d bought at a Vegas street stand.
Grandma gave Emma a pointed look. “Hmm. I thought the food was delicious. Are you sure it wasn’t something else that…upset your stomach?”
“She said it was the food, Mom,” Mr. Mercer snapped. “Just drop it.”
Grandma’s wrinkled lips flattened into a frown, but she stayed quiet.
Laurel swiveled back and forth, staring at all of them. “Uh, does someone want to let me in on the joke?”
No one answered. Emma shrank against the wall, wishing Grandma would keep her mouth shut. She was playing with fire—and she didn’t even know the half of it.
Just then, Mrs. Mercer swept into the room, all sunshine and happiness. “Everyone’s up!” she trilled. “And we’re all having pancakes! How lovely!” She glided over to Mr. Mercer at the stove. “And how’s the birthday boy? Did you enjoy your party last night?”
Mr. Mercer swallowed hard and mumbled a less-than-enthusiastic yes.
Mrs. Mercer poked his side. “You’d better be happier about it than that! I thought it was a resounding success! Didn’t you, Gloria?”
She looked at Grandma. Grandma Mercer’s gaze was still on Emma. “I think it had its good moments and its bad moments,” she said in a pinched voice.
Mrs. Mercer paused and stared from Grandma to her husband to Emma. “Did I miss something?” she asked tentatively.
“That’s what I want to know,” Laurel said. “They’re all acting really weird.”
“We’re acting fine,” Mr. Mercer said quickly, flopping several pancakes on the plate so forcefully that one nearly flipped onto the floor. He carried the plate over and set it on the table. “Voilà. Enjoy.”
Mrs. Mercer reached for a pancake, the chipper expression returning to her face. “So, girls, I found out last night from Mr. Banerjee that the school dance was canceled because of some kind of vandalism,” Mrs. Mercer said. “What happened?”
Laurel grabbed the syrup, which was in a striped ceramic jug. “Oh, it was just a stupid thing. Some freshman girls did it, but because they won’t fess up the dance is off.” She poured the syrup onto her stack of pancakes. “I heard that it’s really canceled, though, because the teachers wanted to use the money they set aside for the dance to go to some off-site conference at a spa in Sedona.”
“Really?” Mrs. Mercer said, her brow crinkling. “Well, I’ll be sure to bring that up at the next PTA meeting.”
Laurel took a big bite of her pancake and washed it down with orange juice. “Sutton and I will be home late that night, though. The tennis team is having a get-together after practice.”
She was lying, of course. But the Mercer parents weren’t likely to go along with their daughters breaking into the school gym to throw a dance. “It’ll be fun to do some team bonding off the court,” Laurel chirped. “Don’t you agree, Sutton?”
Emma glanced up from her plate of pancakes. “Um, yeah,” she mumbled. “Really fun.”
“And the get-together was Nisha’s idea,” Laurel went on, meeting eyes with Emma.
Mrs. Mercer’s eyes lit up. She had Nisha on a pedestal like some teenage version of Mother Teresa. “That girl is always thinking about what’s best for the team,” she murmured.
Grandma Mercer stared at Emma. “Just like you, Sutton. Remember last year, when you made those team T-shirts? Your father told me about how clever your wording was. What was it again?”
Emma looked up and felt four pairs of eyes on her. Mrs. Mercer, Laurel, and Grandma just looked inquisitive, interested. But Mr. Mercer’s gaze was cold and threatening. She could practically hear his thoughts: Keep playing along. Keep your mouth shut.
Emma jumped up abruptly, nearly upending the jug of syrup. She couldn’t stand another second of this. “Um, can I be excused?”
Mrs. Mercer looked surprised. “Are you still not feeling well?”
Emma shook her head, careful to avoid eye contact with everyone.
Mrs. Mercer let out a note of concern. “Oh, you poor thing!” she said, following Emma out of the room. “Is there anything I can do for you? Get you some ginger ale? Bring you up some of your favorite DVDs?”
Emma stared at Mrs. Mercer. Her face was so kind, open and giving. All of a sudden, she felt a swell of sympathy for her. Your husband is cheating on you, she wanted to say. And I think he killed your daughter.
“Thanks,” she murmured, standing on her tiptoes and wrapping her arms around Sutton’s mom. When she pulled away, Mrs. Mercer looked surprised, but also touched.
Sadness settled in my chest. It was, I realized, exactly what I’d yearned for the last night I was alive, when I was lost in the canyon. All I’d wanted was the safety of my mom and dad.
Little had I known that my dad was the one I should fear the most.
Sunday evening, Emma pulled into the dusty parking lot of Sabino Canyon. As she cut the engine, she looked at Sutton’s Volvo with disgust. Normally, Sutton’s car calmed her—there was something so special about the shiny chrome, the buttery leather, even the effort she had to put into turning the steering wheel since automatic steering hadn’t been invented when this car was built. But now, all she could think of was Mr. Mercer behind the wheel, using this car to mow down Thayer. The police had fingerprinted the car when it was impounded last week. At the time, Emma had thought nothing of it when Quinlan said the only prints in the car belonged to Sutton and her father. But she knew better now.
The lot was empty and dark, the only light from the half moon shining overhead. Emma locked the Volvo behind her and made her way across the gravel to the bench where she’d sat on her very first night in Tucson. The world had felt so full of promise then. She’d thought she’d meet the twin she never knew she had and maybe, just maybe, become part of Sutton’s family. How ironic that her new life had begun in the exact same place her sister’s life had ended—and that she’d only become part of Sutton’s family because Mr. Mercer killed his adoptive daughter.