Hide and Seek
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My father pulls the car up beside me. “Sutton!” he says from the open window. “Are you all right?”
My palms and knees are on fire as I push from the ground and try to steady myself. A bird squawks in the air above us. The only other sound I hear is the wind whistling over the dirt and between the cacti. I suddenly feel very exposed—and trapped.
“Why are you running from me?” my dad cries. His knuckles are white on the steering wheel. “And where is Thayer?”
I blink at him. You know where Thayer is, I want to say. But the look on his face is surprisingly innocent and worried.
I step back an inch or two, confused.
“Did Thayer leave you out here alone?” My father sounds shocked.
The more I look at him, the more confused I feel. Despite the layer of dust on his clothes and the worry lines on his forehead, he looks like my dad again, not some crazed maniac. And his confusion seems genuine. Is it possible it was someone else? But who would try to hurt Thayer?
“Um…” I don’t know whether to tell my dad what happened. Suddenly I’m not even sure what did happen.
My dad sighs. “I’m not going to say it again. Get in the car, Sutton. It’s dangerous out here at night. You could get hurt.”
Exhaustion overcomes me, and I walk around the side of the car and let myself in. As we slowly drive back down the hill, I realize I wasn’t far from the main road at all. I can see the neighborhood across the street from the canyon easily now. Ethan Landry sits on his front porch, fiddling with his telescope and probably hoping to catch a better view of the full moon. Science geeks are into that kind of thing. Next door all of the girls on the tennis team are on Nisha’s lawn, secretly smoking cigarettes. I feel a pinch of guilt—I was supposed to be there tonight for our back-to-school team sleepover. Instead, I’d chosen Thayer. And look where that got him.
“What are you doing here?” I ask. “Why did you chase us?”
My dad looks frustrated. “I wanted to tell you the truth. Except you ran away before I had the chance.”
“The truth about…what?”
“About the woman I was with,” my dad says. His body looks stiff as he arches forward and grips the wheel.
I whirl around to face my father. 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. My dad was with another woman up in Sabino Canyon. Someone who wasn’t my mother.
“Another woman?” I squeak.
“I can explain, Sutton,” my dad says. “It’s not how it looks.”
But I know exactly how it looks—and what it is. Sabino Canyon is the perfect place to carry on a secret affair: It’s super-romantic and very private. That’s why I’d brought Thayer here tonight. “You’re cheating on Mom,” I spit. “What more is there to explain? I don’t need to know the gory details, like what kind of freaking lingerie your trashy mistress prefers.” My fingers curl on the door handle.
My father’s eyes open wide. “Sutton,” he says, grabbing my hand. “It’s not like that at all.” His foot slams the gas pedal and he curves the SUV into an abrupt U-turn. We’re heading back toward Sabino Canyon.
“Where are we going?” I shriek. The car plunges into a hole in the dirt and pops back up again, throwing me off balance. My elbow jams against the window. “Let me out!”
“Sutton, if you could just give me a second, I’ll explain everything.” He navigates the rocky road, his gaze boring through the windshield. My nerves flare as he guns the car into the Sabino parking lot and skids over the gravel. His foot lands on the brake and the car crunches to a stop. Then he glances around like he’s looking for someone. Other than that same rusted-out brown car, the lot is empty.
“Dad?” I press. “What the hell is going on?”
“It’s not what you think—I’m not having an affair.” My dad shifts the car into park. “I know you’ve been curious about your biological mom for a while now. And I know the fact that your mom hasn’t wanted to discuss it is why you’ve pulled away from us in the past year.” He closes his eyes and takes a long breath. “That woman you saw me with tonight, her name is Raven, but she used to go by Becky. Sutton, she’s…your mother.”
I stare at him. The words take a few seconds to sink in. “What?” And then, “You’re having an affair with my mother?”
“No!” Mr. Mercer shakes his head quickly. His light eyes hold my gaze. “She’s your mother…and she’s my daughter. Which means you’re my granddaughter.”
I suddenly feel like my mind won’t work. Like synapses are firing in all the wrong directions. “What are you talking about?” I whisper.
“Kristin and I had Becky when we were much younger,” my dad says slowly, his eyes searching my face as if gauging how much I can handle. “And Becky was very young when she had you. You were just a few weeks old when she left you with us.” He opens his palm and reaches a hand out to grab mine, but I ball my fist against my side.
“Your mom—your grandmother—and I moved to Arizona from California for a new start. Becky’s been in town for a few months now, and she and I have been talking in secret. I think Grandma, your great-grandmother, has figured it out, but if your mother ever found…” He shook his head. “Then, when we saw you tonight, well, we panicked.” His voice sounds hollow and distant, like someone speaking from the far end of a hallway. “But if you want to meet her, she’s just up that trail there.” He gestures through the windshield to the dark path. “I told her to wait, that I was going to try and catch up to you. We could go up there together.”
He smiles at me kindly, hopefully. And that’s when I lose it.
“Are you kidding me? I’m not going anywhere with you!” I snarl. “And I have no desire to meet the woman who pawned me off without a second thought.”
He reaches for my hand, but I slam back against the car door. “Don’t you dare touch me!” I raise both hands. “Stay away!”
His eyes widen. “Sutton!”
But I flail like an animal. I feel like an animal, a tiger trapped in a cage. I shove open the car door, climb out, and stagger backward. “This is so fucked up!” I scream. The word hangs in the air, a taunt—I’ve never used it in front of my dad before.
But he barely flinches. Instead, a look of deep regret and disappointment passes across his features. “Okay, Sutton,” he says quietly. “I’m sorry. I really hadn’t planned for you to find out this way. Let’s just go home.”
“Go home? With you? Do you actually think you’re blameless in all this?” I can barely stand still. “You wait till now to tell me you’re my grandfather? You were keeping a massive secret from me for eighteen years! I’ve asked you and Mom a million times who my birth parents were, and you lied every time, saying you didn’t know! Was actually being related to me, actually being my grandfather, so horrible that you had to pretend I was adopted?”
“Sutton,” my dad sighs. “Please.”
But I back away from the car, my heart racing hard. “I’m not coming home with you tonight. In fact, don’t think I’m coming home for a while. And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll cover for me with Mom—or should I say Grandma?”
I turn around and start to sprint. I am on fire with fury. I can’t get away fast enough.
“Sutton!” my dad calls, worry filling his voice. “Where are you going?”
“I have friends,” I snap. “People who don’t lie to me.”
I reach into my pocket for my phone and clutch it hard as I continue to run. My arms pump as I cross the dirt. I can call Madeline. She’s been calling me all night, anyway.
I’m halfway up an incline when my dad yells to me once more.
I turn to glare at him. “Don’t you dare come looking for me.”
“Sutton,” he says softly, the word coming out like a whine. His shoulders slump with defeat. “I’m ready to talk whenever you are,” he says sadly. “And, I know it’s a lot to ask, but please don’t say anything to your mom, okay? This would ruin her.”
“Gladly!” I scream. “Because she’s not my mom! And you’re not my dad.”
My father recoils as though I’ve slapped him. I’ve never seen him look so sad. I disappear over the ridge, then hear his car door slam and the engine start. As the car rolls over the crest and disappears down the highway, I hope to God I’ll never see him again.
With shaking fingers, Emma unclipped the picture of the mother she hadn’t seen in thirteen years and looked at the note underneath it. Her eyes raced over the words, barely believing them.
I recognized your voice on the answering machine immediately. I wish things had gone differently that night in the canyon, but there’s nothing you can tell me about my dad, your grandfather, that I don’t already know. If you have questions, ask him. He’s a good man.
There’s nothing I can give you besides this photo of me from when I was your age, and a piece of advice. Living with your grandparents gives you every opportunity in the world. I never appreciated that myself, but it’s not too late for you. Be smart. Seize those opportunities and don’t make the same horrible, life-changing mistakes I did.
Raven Jannings (Becky Mercer)
Raven was…Becky? And Becky was the Mercers’…daughter? And Grandma Mercer was her and Sutton’s great-grandmother?
Yes, I whispered. Yes, it’s all so fucked up, but it’s true.
“Oh my God,” Emma whispered. Becky. She couldn’t believe it. Her own mother was related to the Mercers. And she had been here just moments before. Like she had been throughout Emma’s life, Becky was so close, and yet so far. A specter, a memory.
Emma looked at the letter once more. “That night in the canyon,” was the exact same phrase Mr. Mercer had used when he’d cornered her in the school parking lot. Suddenly a crack opened in her mind and pieces started falling into place. Thayer had seen Mr. Mercer with a woman…Becky. But he hadn’t been having an affair with her—he’d been meeting her because she was his daughter. And it sounded like Mr. Mercer and Becky had come clean to Sutton. Had she been so upset to learn the truth that she’d run off, only to die shortly thereafter? Either way, it seemed she’d been wildly wrong about Mr. Mercer. Becky had called him a good man. Maybe his discomfort with Emma, his warning to play along, had been because of what he’d told Sutton.