Hide and Seek
Page 8

 Sara Shepard

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Emma barely heard her. She stepped back and turned to face Laurel, who was dueling Charlotte on court one. Laurel smashed a lob overhead, sending the ball sailing past Charlotte’s outstretched racket. She did a happy victory dance like she was a normal, ordinary teenager. But Nisha had just given her confirmation. Laurel never went back to the sleepover that night. Suddenly, it felt like the air had been sucked from Emma’s lungs. She bent at the waist, staring down at the baked clay ground.
“Hey, are you okay?” Nisha’s shadow loomed over Emma. “You look like you’re going to pass out.”
“Um, I just…need water,” Emma stammered. “I’ll be right back.”
She took off in the direction of the school, doing her best to look casual. She pushed through the double doors of the girls’ locker room, the smell of plastic and stale bread making her feel sick. Half a chocolate-chip cookie was squished along the wooden bench lining the lockers. She checked the stalls, relieved that they were empty, then found Laurel’s locker, which was decorated with shooting stars, gold-foil tennis rackets, and Laurel’s name in purple bubble letters. She touched the lock and twisted the combination to zero. I just need to find something, she thought manically. Anything.
I held my breath. This seemed dangerous. I only hoped she knew what she was doing.
Emma used the toe of her sneaker to pound the base of the locker—Alex had taught her at their old high school in Henderson that if you turned a lock to zero and kicked it, the lock would open. The locker creaked, then burst open. Score.
Several notebooks were stashed at the bottom, along with a thick chemistry textbook. On the top shelf was a tube of melon-scented deodorant. Emma yanked Laurel’s brown leather bag from the metal hook and opened it like a kid tearing open a Christmas present. Laurel’s iPhone, safe in its pink neoprene case, was in the side pocket, amid gum wrappers and ballpoint pens. Emma set the purse back inside the locker and pushed the door closed in case anyone came in. The last thing she needed was someone telling Laurel they’d seen her sister snooping through her stuff.
Then with trembling fingers, she scrolled through the texts, from the most recent to ones from more than a month ago. Just this Monday, she’d written to Thayer: I’M GLAD WE TALKED. Another to Thayer earlier on Monday: IT’S IMPORTANT YOU DON’T TELL ANYONE.
Other than a few WHERE ARE YOUs, there was no correspondence when Thayer was in rehab. But even Laurel’s texts to Charlotte and Madeline were oddly cryptic—things like SORRY I HAD TO BAIL BUT SOMETHING CAME UP and I NEED TO TALK TO YOU, but never any details. It was almost like she expected someone to snoop.
Emma took out Sutton’s iPhone and snapped a photo of the texts—she could decipher them later. Finally, she scrolled to August thirty-first, the day of Sutton’s death. Laurel had sent a bunch of texts that day, but only one to Sutton, time stamped 10:43 P.M. When Emma read it, her throat caught, and her vision went fuzzy.
Emma slumped against the locker stall, her hand over her mouth.
Over her shoulder, I read the text again and again, the black type silhouetted against the green text bubble. Suddenly the screen felt too bright, the neon glow taking over my entire vision. And just like that, something shifted in my mind and I was sucked into a full-blown memory.
The headlights of Laurel’s Jetta flash as she makes a U-turn across the dirt road. Jealousy surges through me as her car speeds off, taking Thayer farther and farther away from me. My boyfriend is seriously hurt and my sister, who would freak out if she knew the truth about me and Thayer, is the one there to hold his hand. I should be the one taking him to a hospital. Not her.
Brushing off my clothes, I stand up from my position in the shrubs. To protect my secret relationship with Thayer, I had crouched in the bushes when she arrived. But from the glare she sent in my direction, I could tell she knew I was there. I can only hope she hasn’t figured out why.
I glance around, getting my bearings. A dark mountain looms behind me. Next to me is a sign that reads PLEASE DON’T FEED THE SNAKES, and off to my left is a tourist train car bearing a sign that says SABINO CANYON RIDES FROM 10 A.M. TO 5 P.M! CHUGGA CHUGGA CHOO CHOO! I’m one hundred yards away from Sabino Canyon’s dusty, empty parking lot, and just feet from where someone hit Thayer with my car.
I still can’t believe how this night turned out. My mind replays the events of the evening over and over, like a horror movie stuck on repeat. I recall my giddiness as I picked up Thayer at the bus station and drove him to the overlook in Sabino Canyon, where my dad used to take me bird watching when I was little. I feel my terror as Thayer and I ran through the canyon, some unknown pursuer fast on our heels. I hear the roar of my Volvo tearing across the pavement and crashing into Thayer. The only thing I can’t see is the face behind the wheel, the face of the person who stole my car and tried to run us down. There’s no way it was an accident. But was the person gunning for Thayer—or for me?
I look up to the night sky hoping to see some kind of sign, some kind of message that assures me everything will be okay. But a shiver crawls along my spine and I know everything is not okay. Thayer is seriously hurt, and I still don’t know how a night that had started with such romantic promise had devolved into this.
A motorbike’s engine chokes in the distance, breaking me from my thoughts and reminding me that I need to get the hell out of this canyon.
Dried leaves crackle as I emerge from the thicket and send little brown birds fluttering into the sky, calling to each other with soft, squeaking noises, as if discussing where to settle next. I pull out my phone. Maybe I can’t tell the cops what happened to Thayer—no one can know he came back to Tucson to see me—but I can report my car stolen. I just hope they don’t send Detective Quinlan. He was so mad after our last prank that I think he’d arrest me just for the hell of it.
I’m about to dial 911 when I realize I don’t have service. Shit. I curse my provider—Thayer’s phone worked when he called Laurel to pick him up, but of course the canyon has interrupted my signal.
A cloud passes over the moon. A coyote wails in the distance. The reality of the situation crashes around me hard. Someone stole my car, and now I’m out in the middle of nowhere with no way to call for help.
Nisha’s house isn’t far from here, and I know the rest of the tennis team is there. But I can’t go back to the parking lot in case that lunatic who hit Thayer is still out there, waiting for me. I’ll need to take a different route, one that winds around the base of the canyon. The wind howls as I set out. The path narrows and the trees thicken above my head. The brush along the sides of the trail claws at my ankles like fingernails, ripping the skin there and drawing blood. I keep going, knowing I won’t be safe until I reach a populated area.
A screech of tires sounds in the distance, followed by a crash. I whirl around and stumble over a root sticking up in the path, breaking my fall with my palms. Bits of gravel groove into my skin, stinging like I’d just dried my hands with sandpaper. My cell phone falls out of my pocket and lands in the dirt, the screen lighting up with an incoming call.
Instead of sobbing with pain, I cry out with relief. I have cell service again. This nightmare is one phone call away from being over. But then I notice the number on the screen.
I let out a long breath and reject Laurel’s call. I can’t deal with her anger right now—or her questions. A second later my phone buzzes with a text.
Way to overreact, Sis, I think, and press DELETE.
“What are you doing?”
Emma’s head snapped up. When she saw the figure standing at the end of the aisle, backlit by the sun streaming through the frosted windows, her blood went cold. It was Laurel.
I waved my useless arms, wishing I could yank Emma away to safety. All I could see was the memory that had just been given back to me. That dark, spooky canyon. That text appearing on my phone. I’d dismissed it so carelessly at the time—as sisters, Laurel and I had probably threatened to kill each other hundreds of times. But given my current state, I had to consider that when Laurel wrote that text, it wasn’t just a passing expression of anger and frustration. Maybe she meant what she said. What if she had dropped Thayer off at the hospital and come back to kill me? It had been so dark on that mountain. So secluded. Anything could have happened, and no one would have heard.
Pushing to her feet, Emma shoved Laurel’s cell phone into the pocket of her shorts, praying that this wasn’t the moment that someone decided to send Sutton’s sister a text—Laurel had a very unique and very recognizable monkey squawk as her text ringtone. She kept Sutton’s phone in her other hand. “What are you doing?” Emma shot back, trying to harness Sutton’s brash, back-off attitude.
Laurel’s eyes flicked over Emma as if she knew she’d caught Emma doing something illicit and was trying to figure out what it was. “I heard you walked off the court because you weren’t feeling well,” she said in an even voice. “Like a good sister I came to check on you.”
Sutton’s phone was beginning to feel slippery in Emma’s palm. “I was a little dizzy,” she said, wary of Laurel’s intense gaze on her. “I came in here to get my extra water bottle and decided to sit for a minute.”
“Really?” Laurel asked, rocking back and forth on her heels. She said it overemphatically, and the weird smile on her face broadened. “Funny that you’re in front of my locker, then. Looking for something?”
Emma’s mind raced, flashing through the times Sutton’s killer had attacked her. The hands strangling her from behind. The light crashing down inches from her head, the writing on that chalkboard telling her to stop digging. If Laurel followed through with what she said in her text, then she was dangerous—really dangerous. And here Emma was, digging again—and finding a piece of evidence that could hurt Laurel. Emma looked around the cavernous locker room. If she screamed, would anyone hear her?
When Laurel stepped forward, Emma flinched, certain Sutton’s sister was making her move. But Laurel slid past her, spun the code to her locker, and opened the door. Emma’s heart pounded in her ears as Laurel rifled through her purse. Her eyes were on Emma the whole time. She’s looking for her phone, Emma thought. She knows it won’t be there, because she knows I have it. She’s just doing this to make me sweat.
“Well?” Laurel finally said, pulling out a hairbrush and raking it through her long blond ponytail. “I mean, I know I’m fascinating and everything—Thayer definitely thinks so.” A small smile flitted along her lips when she said Thayer’s name. “But shouldn’t you get your water and head back to practice?”
“Oh. Of course,” Emma said, but she didn’t move. It felt like Laurel’s phone, nestled in Emma’s back pocket, was on fire. Then Laurel turned her back to get a drink from the water fountain, and Emma quickly tossed the iPhone in Laurel’s bag. Amazingly, Laurel didn’t seem to notice.