Seconds Away Page 40

None of this made any sense.

The sky began to darken. I thought again about not having a compass. We were getting deeper into the woods and while I could probably retrace my steps, I wasn\'t sure that I could do so by the light of my mobile phone. Thinking I better not lose her, I hurried my step.

Ema turned to the left and started up a steeper hill. I stopped and watched. If I started up the hill too, she would spot me for sure. I waited until she was pretty much out of sight before I followed. Now, of course, I was getting nervous again about losing her. I scampered up the hill, keeping low.

A twang of guilt strummed through my chest. I was secretly tailing my best friend. That didn\'t feel right, even if it was for her own good. For her own good. How often had that been used to justify dumb actions? Like this one.

I should stop and go home.

I debated that for a moment. I was seconds away from reconsidering my actions and turning around when I reached the top of the hill. There, blocking my way, was a chain-link fence.

No sign of Ema.

I looked right and then I looked left. The fence seemed to run as far as the eye could see. Every ten yards or so, there was a NO TRESPASSING sign, warning traveling woodsmen, I guessed, that they\'d be prosecuted to the full extent of the law if they entered.

Where had Ema gone?

I moved right up against the chain-link fence and looked through it. There were more woods, but up ahead, maybe twenty or thirty yards, I thought I saw a clearing. Still I wasn\'t sure how that helped. There was no gate or door in the fence. Could Ema have doubled back around as I climbed up? I guessed it was possible, but it seemed doubtful. Maybe she had spotted me. Maybe Ema was hiding behind a tree.

Frustrated, I reached out and grabbed the chain-link fence. I gave it a shake . . . and the fence gave way.

What the . . . ?

I looked closer. Someone had cut the wires where this part of the fence met up with the metal stake. You wouldn\'t notice it by just looking, but if you leaned against the chain link, the fence swung in almost like a door. I did that now. I pushed against it. A second later, ignoring the warning signs, I was on the other side of the fence.

Well, I had already been thrown off the basketball team for a host of indiscretions. I might as well add trespassing to the list.

Now what?

I kept moving forward until, finally, I could see a clearing. For a moment I slowed my step. Once I was out of the trees, I\'d be exposed. I had no idea what would be in front of me, but it wouldn\'t be wise to just blunder forward. At the same time, Ema probably had a pretty good lead on me by now, so I couldn\'t dawdle either.

I got to the end of the tree line. When I looked into the clearing, I gasped.

The first thing I saw was a huge garden of some sort. There wasn\'t much in bloom, but there were bushes carved in the shapes of animals. Topiaries. That was what they were called. There was a swan, a lion, a giraffe, an elephant all life-size, made from green bushes. There were also white statues that looked like something from ancient Rome or Greece. I spotted a swimming pool and a gazebo, but what stunned me was the house that stood behind all this.

The house, even from the back, still looked like a dark castle out of a Disney nightmare. I had just been here, though I had come up the long front drive rather than from the back.

Uncle Myron had brought me here to meet Angelica Wyatt.

Huh?

I stood there for a moment or two, completely dumbfounded. The most obvious answer was that Ema used this stretch as a cut through. Maybe there was another opening in a fence on another part of the estate and that would lead to the dingy shack I kept picturing in my head. But that answer suddenly wasn\'t fully computing.

I moved forward, closer to the house. It was so wide-open that the only way to do this and keep somewhat hidden was to sprint from hiding place to hiding place. So first I sprinted for the elephant topiary and stayed low behind its thick legs. Then I ran across the helipad and ducked behind a white statue of a woman wearing what looked like a toga and carrying a spear in one hand and a platter in the other. From there I made the big sprint to the side of the house.

I pressed my back against it and slowly slid forward. Mickey Bolitar, Super Spy. I wasn\'t sure where I was going anymore or even what I was doing. I thought about texting Ema and simply asking where she was at this moment, but I had gone this far. I couldn\'t go back.

When I made the turn around the corner, I stopped short. Ema stood in the middle of the courtyard. She frowned at me, her arms crossed.

’’Uh, hi,’’ I said.

Once again, my quick-witted tongue gets me out of trouble.

’’We have cameras all over this place, hotshot,’’ Ema said. ’’You\'re lucky security didn\'t shoot you.’’

I didn\'t know what to say, so I went with, ’’Sorry. I was just worried about you.’’

She turned and started for the door. I didn\'t move.

’’Come on inside,’’ Ema said. ’’You might as well learn the truth.’’

Chapter 32

Still reeling, I followed Ema into the dark mansion and then down to a finished basement. There was a sleek theater room with big comfortable chairs and a giant screen. A popcorn machine, like the kind you see at a theater, sat in one corner. On the walls were movie posters featuring Angelica Wyatt.

I looked at the posters and then at Ema. She lowered her head and took a step back, wringing her hands. I looked again at the posters. I looked again at Ema. ’’I should have seen it,’’ I said.

’’What?’’

’’The eyes.’’

Ema said nothing.

’’When I met Angelica Wyatt, I kept thinking how warm and comforting her eyes were. Like I could just talk to her forever. I couldn\'t figure out why I felt that way, but now I know.’’

Ema looked up at me.

’’Is Angelica Wyatt your mother?’’ I asked.

’’Yes.’’

’’I don\'t understand. All those rumors . . .’’

’’About my living in a shack and my father being a dangerous man who beat me or whatever?’’

I nodded.

’’I started them,’’ Ema said. ’’It was a way to throw people off the scent.’’

I waited for her to say more. When she didn\'t, I said, ’’But why?’’

’’You\'re kidding, right?’’

’’No.’’

’’Do you hear the way the boys in school talk about how hot Angelica Wyatt is? Imagine if they found out she was my mother.’’

’’I guess that could be weird.’’

’’Could be?’’

’’Okay, I guess it would be.’’

’’And now imagine those mean girls who won\'t give me the time of day imagine how they\'d treat me if they knew my mother was a world-famous movie star.’’


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