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True Lies

Sara Shepard

Page 1



  It’s a bright Saturday morning in June, and I’m lounging in my terry-cloth yoga pants in my family’s large kitchen. On the table sits a carafe of coffee, just-baked lemon-poppy muffins, and a pitcher of freshly squeezed orange juice from our orange tree in the front yard. Out the window, the Arizona sky is a postcard-perfect robin’s-egg blue, and a hummingbird flits to the feeder hanging over the back patio. It would be an idyllic, peaceful moment—if it wasn’t for my little sister, Laurel, being such a pain.

  “Pleeeeease, Sutton?” Laurel flutters her long eyelashes at me. Her voice is grating. “You told me I could ride with you to the Vegas’. I’m failing Spanish, and Thayer is my only hope! You promised!”

  I pour myself a glass of juice. “I never promised anything like that. ”

  “Yes, you did. ” Laurel pouts. “You’re going over there anyway to see Mads. What’s the big deal?”

  I stare at Laurel, taking in her long blonde hair, big blue eyes, and pink, pouty lips. We couldn’t look more different—I have dark hair and am tall and thin compared to her short, curvy frame. Then again, I’m adopted, while she’s our parents’ biological daughter. We’re not even in the same gene pool.

  Laurel’s bottom lip trembles like she’s about to cry.

  “You’re being overdramatic,” I snap.

  “So are you,” Laurel shoots back, giving me a pointed look.

  I stand up from the table and walk over to the fridge. I don’t need anything from it, but I want to hide my surprised expression. Something in Laurel’s voice puts me on high alert. Does she know?

  It’s true that I’m going over to see my best friend, Madeline Vega, soon—she and I have plans to give each other mani-pedis. And yeah, it normally wouldn’t be a big deal to bring Laurel along so she could hang out with her best friend, Thayer, who is also Madeline’s little brother. And it’s annoying that I sometimes feel like Laurel’s personal chauffeur, but whatever.

  The thing is, I just don’t want to take Laurel with me today. I don’t want my little sister staring at me the whole ride over. I don’t want her asking questions, getting in my business. I don’t want her guessing at what’s wrong. And I definitely, definitely don’t want to hear about “Thayer this, Thayer that. ”

  Like I said, Thayer’s her best friend. Their relationship is totally public—it’s Laurel-and-Thayer, bound at the hip. Everyone always asks if they’re dating, and even though the answer is no, it’s obvious Laurel has it bad for him. Thayer gave her this gold Kate Spade charm bracelet for her birthday, and she’s constantly touching it, staring at it, making sure it’s still on her wrist—and making sure that everyone knows it’s from him.

  But to me, Thayer is something very different: my secret boyfriend. Or, at least, I hope he still is.

  Laurel smirks. “I heard about your fight with Thayer yesterday, you know,” she says. “Everyone did. Not that I’m surprised or anything that you bit Thayer’s head off for no reason at all. That’s kind of your MO. Sutton Mercer, Queen Bee-yotch. ”

  I glare at my adoptive sister. Once upon a time, we were really close. I’m talking identical twins close—we’d sleep in the same bed every night to stay safe from monsters, wear the same outfits when the family went out to dinner, and spend hours making up synchronized swimming routines in the backyard pool. But then something happened. I became me, maybe, and Laurel became Laurel. And now we rarely speak.

  “Watch who you call a bitch, Laurel,” I say evenly, my voice taut with warning.

  Laurel places her hands on her hips. “Like you being a bitch is a huge secret?” She narrows her eyes. “Why were you so mean to Thayer, anyway? What did he ever do to you?”

  I fiddle with my favorite locket around my neck, trying to remain impassive. A lot, I think.

  Thayer and I have been secretly together since last summer. It’s hard to keep up a secret relationship, though, even more difficult than maintaining one everyone knows about.

  But just because we’re covert boyfriend-and-girlfriend doesn’t mean the rules of a relationship don’t apply. So when Thayer started slacking off on texting me back, I got annoyed. I would have to wait whole class periods sometimes for a reply—and two days ago, Thayer didn’t respond to a text for six whole hours, going dark for a whole chunk of time after school. I am Sutton Mercer, resident queen bee, and no one, especially not the boy I love, gets to treat me like an afterthought.

  I figured Thayer needed a little talking-to.

  So yesterday, between fifth and sixth periods, I pulled him aside at my locker. This was the first time we’d really talked in public, and Thayer looked uncomfortable, like he was the one who’d lose popularity points if he was seen talking to me. “What’s up with the radio silence?” I asked in a quiet voice as kids streamed past us. “Six hours between notes is not acceptable. ”

  Thayer’s brow furrowed. “Yesterday? I was busy,” he said after a moment.

  “Too busy to text ‘I’m busy’?”

  He shifted on his feet. “I’m sorry. ”

  “Well, where were you?” I pasted a smile on my face so everyone passing would think we were just having a silly, on-the-surface conversation. “Were you with Laurel?”

  Thayer tilted his chin. “No, I wasn’t, but would it be so bad if I was with Laurel?”

  I turned away, steeling my jaw. Yeah, I wanted to tell him. His friendship with Laurel annoyed the hell out of me. I knew I was the prettier sister, the one he wanted, but still. As hard as it was for me to admit, I was kind of jealous.

  Thayer sighed. “You should be nicer to Laurel, Sutton. She looks up to you. ”

  “Me, nicer to her?” Rage boiled in my blood. “Whose side are you on?”

  “Yours, but . . . forget it. ” Thayer suddenly looked exasperated. He put his hands on his hips. “And you know, I thought you weren’t that kind of girl. ”

  “What type?”

  “The obsessive type. The type that needs to know where I am at all times. ”

  All sound fell away. No one calls me obsessive. And seriously, who was Thayer to question me? He was supposed to say he was sorry, he’d text sooner, he’d do anything to keep me in his life. I didn’t need this crap.

  I barked out an ugly-sounding laugh. “Look who’s calling who obsessive. ” An evil smile spread across my face. “Mads told me about the picture you keep of me in your bedroom. My eighth-grade class portrait? How long have you been carrying that around?”

  Honestly, I don’t know what made me blurt that out—and so loudly. People stopped in the hall, stared at Thayer, and started to snicker. Guys nudged each other and rolled their eyes. Girls made sad faces at Thayer, pitying him. It was a scene that had been played out many, many times before: Sutton Mercer putting a boy with a puppy-dog crush on her in his place. Thayer was just another one of my victims.

  Thayer’s cheeks bloomed strawberry red. His eyes narrowed with anger, but there was a look of hurt on his face, too. Without another word, he wheeled around and stormed down the hall. I brushed my hair over my shoulder and turned back to my locker, pretending to be unruffled, but inside, my heart was pounding. Thayer and I had never fought before. Was he actually mad?

  We haven’t spoken since then, either—no good-night texts, no smiley-face IMs, not even a “like” on Facebook. Now there’s a nagging pit in my stomach that I can’t shake.

  Laurel stares at me, expecting me to answer her question. She might not know what my fight with Thayer was about, but sometimes I wonder if she suspects something is going on between us. Thayer is her best friend, after all—could he really keep that from her?

  There are footsteps in the hall, and our father walks i
nto the kitchen. “Dad!” Laurel lunges toward him. “I really need Thayer’s help to study for Spanish, but Sutton won’t drive me even though she’s going to see Mads! Tell her it’s not fair!”

  Dad gives me a look. “You should take her, Sutton. What’s the big deal?”

  I squeeze my orange juice hard, wanting to break the glass. Of course he takes her side. Doesn’t ask me what’s going on in my life, doesn’t ask me why I might not want to—nope, it’s whatever Laurel wants, Laurel gets.

  Perfect Laurel. Straight-A Laurel. Never-gets-in-trouble Laurel. Basically, in my parents’ eyes, the complete opposite of me. Sometimes I wonder if my parents would have even adopted me if they’d had Laurel first. I mean, she and my parents share actual blood. How can I compete with that?

  “Fine,” I grumble, slamming my glass on the counter. “But give me twenty minutes, okay?”

  “Thank you!” Laurel trills.

  I storm out of the room without answering, hating that she’s won again. But at least I get twenty minutes. And I’m going to use it wisely. With some distance, my fight with Thayer feels petty and ridiculous. I shouldn’t have hauled out that eighth-grade-photo reference. Then again, he also shouldn’t have called me obsessive.

  But if he wants an apology, I’ll be the bigger person and give him one. It’s not like I could bear to lose him. Because that’s the thing: Deep down, Thayer has a hold on me. It’s something I can’t explain. Something I’m a little embarrassed about—he’s my best friend’s younger brother, after all. But when he looks at me, I melt. When he kisses me, fireworks explode in my head. When he doesn’t call, I worry.

  I shut the door to my bedroom, plop on my bed, and pick up my iPhone, scanning yet again to see if Thayer has texted. Nope. But as I’m about to dial Thayer’s cell, my screen lights up. It’s the Vegas’ landline. My heart leaps. Maybe Thayer has come to his senses. Maybe he’s calling me.

  I slide the unlock function. “Hello?” I say in an unaffected voice as though I haven’t been stressing about this for the past day.

  “Sutton?” It’s Madeline, though, not Thayer. Her voice is high-pitched. “Can you come over now?”

  I frown. “Um, I need a few minutes, actually. Why?”

  “No, I need you here now. ”

  Concern floods over me. Madeline’s voice cracks and wobbles—it sounds serious. “Are you okay?” I ask cautiously. Her home life isn’t exactly awesome; Mr. Vega has a terrible temper.

  “It’s . . . ” she falters, then clears her throat. When she speaks again, her voice is steady. “It’s Thayer. He’s . . . gone. ”



  Two days later, Madeline, my other best friend Charlotte Chamberlain, and I stand in the craggy shadows of Sabino Canyon, a set of mountains, canyons, and hiking trails near my house in northern Tucson. The majestic, earth-toned outlines of the Santa Catalina Mountains loom in the distance. Cacti jut as far as the eye can see, and from somewhere close comes the skunky odor of a herd of javelina boars.