Never Have I Ever Page 33


’’Yes!’’ I cheered next to them. It was about time!

Snap.

Emma broke from Ethan, her heart shooting to her throat. She whirled around to see if one of the girls had fol owed her outside. But the front porch was stil and unoccupied. No one lingered by the garage. Snap. Emma grabbed Ethan\'s hand. ’’Do you hear that?’’

The sounds were coming from the house across the street. It was situated at the top of the hil , but something scuttled in the smal ravine at its base. Emma tilted her head to the side, listening. ’’Did you see anyone when you drove up?’’

’’No.’’ Ethan stood slightly in front of Emma, shielding her. He clutched tightly to her hand. ’’Maybe it\'s whoever lives there.’’

’’At three in the morning?’’ Emma whispered.

’’Maybe it\'s just someone on a walk,’’ Ethan suggested.

’’Or . . .’’

Footsteps crunched closer. Twigs snapped. A leaf crackled. Emma squinted across the street, petrified. She heard a slight cough . . . and smel ed a faint whiff of coconut sunscreen.

Her hand flew to her mouth. She thought of the elusive figure that had loomed near Ethan and Emma on the tennis courts and on the bench outside the gal ery. The squeak of sneakers as someone darted around the corner outside the nurse\'s office. Al those times she\'d felt like someone was watching her. . . .

’’Ethan,’’ Emma said nervously. ’’I have to get out of here.’’

She ran across the Mercers\' lawn with Ethan close on her heels. A figure stepped up the ravine, but Emma stil couldn\'t see who it was. This suddenly felt like a nightmare;al she wanted was to wake up. Her movements felt slow and languid, like she was trying to slosh through mashed potatoes. She lunged across the final few feet of the driveway. Her hand was on the door, turning the knob. Once she was inside, Ethan spoke through the wood. ’’Lock the door,’’ he said, his voice shaking.

Emma punched the lock and chained the bolt. Breath shuddered through her chest as she watched Ethan sprint to his car, gun the engine, and take off down the street. Emma col apsed onto the Mercers\' staircase, clutching her knees to her chest. Someone had been out there. She paced into the den, only slightly comforted by the sight of her friends sleeping, completely unaware of whoever was lurking outside. Emma\'s eyes flickered across the room, taking in the objects that\'d become so familiar the porcelain cactus, the framed photo of Sutton and Laurel at the Grand Canyon, the ikat-print ashtray that sat on the coffee table, even though no one in the family smoked. A shadow moved across the porch light and cast an outline against the drawn blinds. Emma froze. This couldn\'t be happening. She pressed her body flat against Sutton\'s navy-and-white striped sleeping bag. She\'d locked the front door, but what about the rest of the house?

Emma lay stil , listening to the sounds of her friends breathing, counting their inhales and exhales. Moments turned into minutes. She scrunched her toes against an itchy wool throw blanket and counted to one hundred before jumping up, hopping over Laurel and Charlotte, and padding back into the hal way. The marble was cold against her bare feet as she crept up the steps. She needed to lock the window in Sutton\'s room the one that was so easily accessible by the oak tree outside. She might not be able to reach the lowest branch from the ground, but anyone over six feet could.

At the top of the steps, she peered into the shadowy doorway at the end of the hal . Her feet inched across the carpet. She clutched Sutton\'s thin pajama pants and tried to slow her breathing as she stepped into the darkness of Sutton\'s room. Goose bumps rose on her bare arms as a cool breeze swirled around her body.

The window was wide open.

Moonlight spil ed across Sutton\'s light blue sheets and the glossy magazine next to her bed. Emma took a smal step backward and thudded into something warm and hard. She tried to scream, but the sound was muffled against the hand that suddenly wrapped over her mouth. Another hand was on her waist, pul ing her body tight and holding her stil no matter how hard she tried to break free.

’’Shhhh.’’ Warm breath tickled her ear. ’’It\'s me,’’ a low voice growled.

The guy\'s voice resonated through me like an electric shock. From it cascaded a series of images, disjointed and brief. Sneaking away from a party and kissing in the desert. Finding a letter in my locker that was so heartfelt it made my knees weak. And then, yet again, that memory in the courtyard: him saying something to me, and me shouting back, As if I\'d ever want to be with you? You\'re nothing but a loser!

And then a final memory wriggled to the surface, so short and sharp it was nothing more than a synapse: car headlights shining on his face. His eyes widening with fear, his arms thrashing in front of his body. And then . . . boom. Contact.

The hands loosened their grip and spun Emma. Her body went rigid. She took a second to process the hulking boy with dark hair, blinking, deep-set hazel eyes, high cheekbones, and deep Cupid\'s bow lips. That face. She knew that face. She saw a secretive boy in the pictures in Madeline\'s house. A smirking boy whose face was plastered on bul etin boards across town and haunted al those Have you seen him? Facebook posts. And now, here he was, smiling a strange, jagged smile, the kind of smile that hinted that he knew absolutely everything about her including exactly who she wasn\'t.

’’Thayer,’’ Emma whispered.

Epilogue

A Moment in Time

As I stood in my old bedroom, staring at the boy who\'d just climbed through my window, time just . . . stopped. The wind quit gusting outside. The birds fel silent. Emma and Thayer froze in their places, too, immobile as statues. Only I continued to move and flutter and think, getting my bearings and col ecting my thoughts.

I tried to hold on to the flood of Thayer memories like they were a life raft at sea, but just when I thought I had my arms securely around them, they slipped away and sank deep down once more. Was it true that Thayer and I had shared something together something real, something big?

Those emotions I\'d felt seemed so true, so raw, more momentous than anything I\'d felt for Garrett or any other boy. But what if the memory of the headlights in Thayer\'s eyes was true, too? Had I hit Thayer? Was that rumor true?

Something even more frightening occurred to me. Was I, right this moment, staring into the face of my murderer?

After what I\'d remembered, I hated to think that Thayer could be my kil er, but I\'d learned a thing or two about my tricky, dead-girl brain: I couldn\'t trust each individual memory, only the whole picture. What first seemed like a terrifying kidnapping had ended up being merely a dangerous prank, after al . A near-death had resulted in weary laughter, with everyone fine. Who was to say that the next glimpse of Thayer I saw undid those true-love feelings I had for him? Who was to say I hadn\'t died his bitter enemy?

It was impossible to know how I\'d left things during my last few days on earth whom I\'d loved, and whom I\'d hated. And it was impossible to know whom Emma should trust . . . and whom she should run from.

I stared into Emma\'s wide, glassy eyes. My sister was more terrified than I\'d ever seen her. Then I turned to Thayer, peering into his lazy, self-assured face. Suddenly, something came to me about him that I\'d long buried. This guy was a charmer. A hypnotizer. He could wrap you around his finger just as wel as I could, convincing you that every word out of his mouth was true.

So who was the better liar? Me . . . or him?

Be careful, I wanted to tel Emma. Sure, she had a brand-new boyfriend, but something told me that Thayer was the type of guy who could sweep her off her feet before she even knew what hit her. I had a feeling Emma was about to embark on a new kind of Lying Game with Thayer. But in this little club of two, the stakes were a matter of life or death.

A loud tick-tick-tick sounded across the room, the second hand on the bean-shaped clock on my wal suddenly moving again. The curtains fluttered in the window. And as I turned back to Emma and Thayer, time had unpaused for them, too, thrusting my sister into her next moment with Thayer.

A boy I might have once loved. A boy I was now almost certain I couldn\'t trust. A boy who might have kil ed me.


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