Hide and Seek
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He didn’t do it, I tried to tell her. I ran away from him. I ran away from the man who could have taken me home safely.
A small knock sounded on the Volvo’s window and Emma jumped. Sutton’s father loomed before her. His dark eyes blinked and his brow furrowed with a distinct combination of sadness, worry, and exhaustion.
Emma stuck the note in her clutch, then fumbled with the levers on the door. A clicking noise sounded as the window began to open. She was no longer afraid of him. She was just tired—and confused. “How did you know I’d be here?”
I studied the man I’d been raised to think of as my adoptive father, observing the contours of the face I knew so well. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to adjust to the idea that he was my biological grandfather, but as I stared hard, I began to see similarities between the two of us—well, counting Emma, the three of us. We had the same sloping nose. The same pointed chin. The same long, thin hands. How could I not have noticed this before?
Mr. Mercer lowered his head and rested his hands against the door of the Volvo. “She…Becky…called me, saying you wanted to meet her at her motel. She wasn’t in the room, but this is her favorite diner.”
Emma nodded. “She left a matchbook in her room with a note that said ‘meet me.’”
Mr. Mercer shook his head. “She always did love scavenger hunts,” he said with a wistful smile.
Emma smiled, too. Becky used to make scavenger hunts for her around the courtyard of their apartment building, leaving a piece of birdseed on the table as a clue to look in the bird feeder in the corner, leaving a scrap of TV Guide in the bird feeder as a clue for Emma to look on top of the TV in the apartment, and so on.
“Was she in the diner?” Mr. Mercer asked, interrupting Emma’s thoughts.
Emma shook her head slowly. “No. She just left a note. And a photo.”
A gust of wind rustled his short hair, making it stand up straight. He glanced through the window of the diner before turning to look Emma in the eye. “Can I sit with you? Just for a minute?” he asked.
Emma nodded. She rolled up her window as Mr. Mercer crossed in front of the car and opened the passenger door.
Mr. Mercer let out a breath and stared at the glove compartment. His hands rested in his lap and he hung his head, making him look like a little boy. “I should have had a real conversation with you after that night,” he said finally. “I shouldn’t have let you run away. Especially after Thayer had left you there all alone.” His eyes darkened at the mention of Thayer.
Emma nodded, saying nothing. His words confirmed what she’d suspected: that he’d explained the Becky situation the night Sutton died—and that Sutton had run off, angry and upset. And if Mr. Mercer thought Thayer had left her in the canyon, then it followed that he hadn’t hit him with Sutton’s car. It also actually explained why he hated Thayer so much: He thought Thayer had ditched his daughter in Sabino Canyon.
“But right after you ran off, I was called into surgery,” Mr. Mercer continued. “I hated leaving you there, but you were just so angry. I thought it would be easier to talk once you had some space. When I got back from the hospital that night, I started to write you a letter. Maybe if I explained things clearly, you’d understand why I didn’t tell you for so long.” He turned to face Emma. “It wasn’t because I was ashamed of you. It was because I wanted to protect you from your mother. I love you more than you can ever know. You are my daughter, and I’ve loved you ever since Becky left you at our house.”
Emma tilted her head, taking in his words. “You wrote a letter?”
Mr. Mercer shifted in the seat. “I didn’t finish it, though. By the next day, you were acting like it had never happened, and I wasn’t sure what to do. But I can finish it—if you want. Or, if you feel more ready now, we can just talk.”
Emma’s mind whirred. If he had been called into surgery, he had a solid, easily verifiable alibi. There was no way he could have been out killing Sutton if he was in the OR. More than that, she had no idea why he would kill Sutton. He was her grandfather. The secret he was trying to keep was for her and Becky’s benefit, not his.
My relief at the knowledge that my father hadn’t killed me felt like fresh rain on my skin—cleansing, revitalizing, purifying. My dad was my dad again, someone I could love, someone I could wholeheartedly miss. It felt like my broken heart was healed. And Emma was right: It didn’t make sense that he would have killed me. I could tell in his face that he loved me more than words could say. I could also tell that this tension between us was killing him, that the only thing he wanted to do was end the stalemate and make things better.
But then I remembered the memory, and I felt the sharp sting of regret. The last words I said to the man I thought of as a father—my real grandfather—had been full of hate. If only I could go back and change things. Change everything.
Mr. Mercer adjusted his legs in the footwell. “You know, she really did care about you in her own flawed way,” he went on. “When I first heard from her again a few months ago, I was so thrilled. Kristin had had enough of the lies, but I never had the heart to turn Becky away. Dads and daughters…you know.” He ruffled her hair gently.
Emma nodded, wondering what it must have been like for them all those years ago when Becky showed up with a baby. She would’ve been right around Emma’s age. She wondered why Becky hadn’t told them about her, their other granddaughter—and why she’d only given up one of her daughters. Perhaps she thought she could be a good mom to just one girl. But, of course, by the time Emma was five, Becky had given up on motherhood entirely.
“I could never erase her completely,” Mr. Mercer went on. “But she’s troubled, Sutton. She always has been. I’ve been giving her money here and there, but it doesn’t solve the problem. It only makes it worse.”
A mist covered his eyes and he blinked, looking close to tears. “I always felt so guilty. Like it must have been something your mother and I did wrong as parents.” His broad shoulders slumped as though the weight of his sadness was too much to bear. “The whole situation has felt…impossible.” His voice sounded suddenly panicked. “I love Becky. But she’s made our lives very painful at times. And the way she treated you…”
Fresh tears sprung to Emma’s eyes. She knew full well how messed up Becky was—she’d lived with her for almost five years. And yet she still missed her, every day. She was her mother after all, and that was a hard bond to break.
Emma raised her eyes to Mr. Mercer, her grandfather, fingering the letter from Becky in her open purse. If she could only tell him the final piece in the puzzle: that he had another granddaughter, Sutton’s twin. But until Sutton’s murderer was found, she couldn’t. She’d be the prime suspect, the poor girl who’d stolen her twin’s life to get out of foster care. Once again, she was back to square one.
But not entirely. The moon emerged from a patch of clouds and hovered in the middle of the windshield. She stared up at the same sky she and her twin had shared for so many years without knowing it, the sky Emma had gazed up into and wished for a family. She had lost Sutton and Becky, but she had found her family—her real family. A grandmother and grandfather. A great-grandmother. And an aunt in Laurel.
She leaned toward her grandfather and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. He let out a long sigh against her, squeezing tight. The car made a metallic pinging noise beneath their shifting weight.
“Will you tell me a little about her?” Emma asked into Mr. Mercer’s chest. “About my mom?” There was so much about Becky she didn’t know, so many details she craved, so many questions that had plagued her for thirteen years. “Like what she was like as a kid?” Emma asked. “How I remind you of her?” Her voice was so choked with sobs she could barely speak.
As Mr. Mercer pulled her closer, Emma could feel tears on his cheeks, too. “Of course,” he said, running his hands over Emma’s hair. “I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”
The following day, Emma sat at an outdoor café in a shopping complex a few blocks from the Mercers’ house, Sutton’s laptop beside her. Twitter was open, and she slowly scrolled through tweets hash-tagged #HOLLIERSECRETDANCE. If the tweets were any indication, the dance was a complete success—everyone was raving about the music, the food, the hookups, and even the narrow escape from the police. Only a few people had been caught that night. The cops had ended up letting everyone go, and so far no one had told that the Lying Game had organized it. Emma and her friends were safe for now.
I hoped they would stay that way.
“Sutton?” Mr. Mercer’s voice jolted Emma. She glanced up from the computer and saw him walking toward her from the Home Depot across the parking lot, a new shovel in his hand.
“Hey, Dad,” she said, relaxing her shoulders. She’d called the hospital last night and confirmed that he was in surgery the evening Sutton died. It felt good to not fear his presence but to welcome it with open arms.
Tell me about it.
Mr. Mercer stood next to the table. He passed a hand over his graying hair. “Your mom said you were here. I have to do some weeding, but I was thinking, if you weren’t busy, maybe we could take a hike later. Explore a different canyon. One we haven’t tried before.”
Emma couldn’t help the grin that spread across her face. That sounded like code for talking more about Becky. They’d had a long conversation last night, and Emma had learned so much about Becky. Like how she watched Cinderella five times in a row when she was young, loving how the fairy godmother made her into a princess. How she liked peach ice cream, Emma’s favorite flavor, too. That she adored school until about eighth grade, when she got kind of wild, and that she ran away from home in high school…and came back pregnant.
But there were so many more questions to ask, a lot of things Emma hadn’t dared to inquire about yet. Like why Mr. Mercer’s expression clouded over when Emma tried to talk to him about the trouble Becky used to get into. Or why Mrs. Mercer didn’t want anything to do with her anymore. Becky was her daughter—could she really be that callous? Or had Becky done something so horrible to her that Mrs. Mercer simply couldn’t forgive her?
“I’d like that,” Emma answered. She was about to suggest a Catalina trail Madeline had told her about, when a blue BMW pulled off the main road into the lot. Emma turned to watch Thayer’s car park in front of the café.
Mr. Mercer’s eyes narrowed. When Thayer saw him, he blanched, and Emma thought he might back up and leave. But then he shifted into park and turned off the engine. The driver’s door swung open, and he climbed out of the car and walked toward Emma.
Mr. Mercer stared at him. “I thought I told you to stay away from him, Sutton.” He tightened his grip on the five-foot-long shovel. It was the kind of thing that would’ve freaked Emma out just a day ago, but now that she knew the truth, it struck her as kind of funny: her grandfather, clutching a shovel and yelling at some guy he thought was trouble.