Authors: Caryn Larrinaga
Hide and Seek
Hide and Seek
©2015 Caryn Larrinaga.
All rights reserved. This book or parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, stored in any retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without the express written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For permissions contact:
Visit the author’s website at http://www.carynlarrinaga.com
Cover by Jes Richardson, http://www.CoverBistro.com
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Agatha didn’t take her stepfather’s last name when her mother got married. She might have—after all, Agatha Farraday sounded like the name of a movie star—but after one afternoon spent alone with Summer and Rain playing a game they called ‘Toad in a Box’ (the only rule of which, the older girls claimed, was that any eight-year-old girls in the house had to spend an hour locked inside a musty old steamer trunk), Agatha felt it might be better if strangers didn’t assume she was related to the twins.
So she remained Agatha Mulchinski, and decided to distance herself as much as possible from her new stepsisters. It proved difficult, especially after she and her mother moved into the Farraday’s home. Her new stepfather generously offered to pay Agatha’s tuition to St. Rita’s Academy, the same private school that his daughters attended, and Agatha was forced to endure day after day of their idea of fun.
The trouble was, if ever a teacher or some other authority figure caught a glimpse into the true nature of the twins, the word they used most often was ‘spirited.’ After all, how could such beautiful girls—with their long blonde hair and shining green eyes—be behind any type of real mischief?
Summer and Rain were careful to keep their innocent masks in place whenever adults were around and preferred to torment and menace their underclassmen in the more secluded areas of the playground, out of sight of the recess matron. They had the schoolyard equivalent of radar detectors built into their brains, with a sixth sense for when Mrs. Pierce was about to round the corner of the gymnasium on her patrol. In an instant, the twins could go from holding a lighted candle beneath a second-grader’s hair to skipping rope with the same girl, singing “Hello operator, give me number nine…” as brightly as any well-adjusted eleven-year-olds might. But the moment that Mrs. Pierce had passed out of sight and around the front of the chapel to sneak a cigarette, the nightmare resumed and everyone playing Four Square caught a whiff of poor little Margo Simonsen’s right pigtail being singed off.
Soon after an incident in which the twins managed to lock Agatha in the chapel closet overnight, she decided that perhaps private school wasn’t the best fit for her, after all. Following the example of one Bart Simpson, she purchased a can of spray paint and scrawled an offensive mural across the back wall of the school. That day, any children playing Wall Ball were able to aim for a stick figure version of the principal or at the four-letter word she’d written in the speech bubble next to his head.
The twins had pulled a similar prank the previous spring, drawing a certain part of the male anatomy all over both of the second floor restrooms. Summer was even found trying to scrub blue paint (the exact same shade used for the Pee Pee Parade, as it came to be known) off her hands in the utility sink in the Farraday’s laundry room. In their usual manner, however, the twins were able to convince their father that an eighth grader had threatened to break Rain’s left arm if Summer didn’t deface the restrooms. Rather than getting into trouble, the girls were rewarded with banana splits (for “being such good sisters”), and Mikey O’Shea was expelled from the academy just two weeks before the end of the year.
Agatha was not blessed with as much charisma as her stepsisters—her nickname at her last school had been “Mouse,” owing to her flat brown hair and round features—but she had a powerful sense of self-preservation, and she wanted to ensure that she shared Mikey’s fate and could be permanently separated from the twins during school hours. To that end, she attempted to wash the spray paint off her hands in the teacher’s lounge. Her plan was a success, and she was able to transfer to the noisy, overcrowded refuge that was the public elementary school near her house. Any attempts to bully her fell flat, as no beefy kid with daddy issues could compare to the pure, relentless evil that filled the twins.
Her life fell into a steady, safe rhythm. During the day, she was protected from Summer and Rain by the distance of several miles. During the evening, her mother’s watchful eye and knack for diplomatically diffusing any situation kept the peace around the house. The weeks turned into months, and by the time Christmas break rolled around Agatha thought she might be able to survive a life with her stepsisters.
Meanwhile, back at St. Rita’s, nobody had the guts to stand up to the twins. Summer and Rain managed to charm everyone over the age of twenty, including the aging principal Mr. Hatchet, who’d felt sorry for the girls ever since they lost their mother at the age of five. He gave them every possible advantage and forgave the few transgressions that the indolent Mrs. Pierce managed to witness. The Farraday girls reigned supreme over the playground, making the recess bell feel like a death knell to every child from fifth grade on down.
That is, until they disappeared without a trace.
Agatha stared out the window. Snow covered the park across the street from her house, burying the trunk of her favorite reading tree beneath four-foot-high drifts. Fat flakes drifted down from the sky, trapping her inside for the day.
Maybe I could build a little igloo beneath the tree,
Anything to get out of here before they wake up.
She tilted her head to one side, straining her ears for any sound that might warn her that her stepsisters had already clambered out of bed. The house was only peaceful while Summer and Rain slept, and even then dread sat in Agatha’s stomach like a stone because she knew they wouldn’t sleep forever. She glared at the family photo hung above the mantle. Her mother had thought that having a portrait taken would help bring them all closer together, but Agatha just thought it was hideous. She and her mother sat on one side of a bench, their brown hair and tanned skin sharply contrasted against the blonde hair and fair complexions of her stepsisters and their father who sat beside them. Nobody in the photo looked particularly happy to be there.
Sighing deeply, Agatha fingered the library book on her lap. In anticipation of the long winter break, she’d borrowed the entire Ramona series with a goal to finish all of them before school started again in January. She’d done pretty well so far; it was only Christmas Eve and she’d already torn through
Beezus and Ramona
Ramona the Pest.
The trick was to pack a sandwich and sneak out of the house before the twins woke up. Agatha was narrow enough that the large sycamore tree in the park could hide her from the twins’ eyes, and if they couldn’t see her, they’d move on to other targets. Their favorite haunt was the Hijinks Arcade on Main Street, where they could shake down small children and defend their high scores on
Last night, however, the heavens had been hell-bent on delivering a white Christmas, and Agatha’s plans for the day had been crushed beneath the snow. Now she was stuck indoors with the twins, and she was sure they wouldn’t be content to drink hot cocoa and watch holiday videos with her. No, they’d find some way to take all the joy out of Christmas Eve.
Agatha wondered if Christmas morning would be any better. It would be her first with her new stepfamily, and she was counting on her mother’s calming presence to help her acclimate to the Farraday’s new and strange traditions. For one thing, the Three Wise Men already looked down upon baby Jesus in the manger. Every piece of the nativity set was lined up on the mantle. It didn’t make any sense—the magi were supposed to wander the house until Epiphany, when they’d reach the Holy Family and offer up their gifts. What were they already doing at the stable? And the tiny infant figure was supposed to be hidden somewhere so that her mother could make him magically appear on Christmas morning.
Agatha sat up very straight. She knew that her stepfather had hidden the Christmas presents somewhere in the house. They weren’t under the tree yet. She supposed he could have hidden them in his car, but it didn’t seem likely. The twins had been screaming for a matching set of Easy Bake Ovens (with which they’d bake bits of glass into mini muffins and feed them to kindergarteners, Agatha assumed), and it was doubtful that her stepfather would want them taking up his entire trunk.
That meant there was a place that the twins couldn’t access. Somewhere they wouldn’t think to look for the presents… or for her.
In a flash, she darted off the window seat and began combing the first floor.
Behind the wood paneling, maybe
, she thought, pressing on the walls in the den. If she’d learned anything from Nancy Drew, it was that secret passages were everywhere. Agatha didn’t have any luck with the walls, but as she re-entered the living room the fireplace caught her eye. Her heart began to pound, and all thoughts of her stepsisters were driven out of her mind by a sudden certainty that there was a staircase hidden behind the red bricks surrounding the grate. A staircase that led to something magical, something wonderful. She systematically pressed on each brick in turn, hoping that one would slide backwards and reveal the house’s secret.
None of them moved.
Agatha furrowed her brow. She wasn’t ready to give up just yet, and got down onto her hands and knees to peer upward into the chimney. A draft of cold air blew onto her face from above, but there was no sign of a hidden door anywhere in the blackened column.
“What on earth is she doing?” came a high voice from behind her.
Agatha froze. The excitement she’d felt during her search evaporated. She turned her head and stared at her stepsisters, who stood side-by-side in matching blue dresses. They were always dressed like that, in cute patterns and bright colors, with curly ribbons at the ends of their long yellow braids. Agatha thought it might be their idea of camouflage, to put people off their guard.
“She’s probably looking for Santa,” said Rain. Her voice was nearly identical to Summer’s, the main difference being that she tended to rush a bit when speaking.
“Ooh, you’re probably right. Is you wooking for Santa Cwaus?” crooned Summer.
As Agatha could think of no better explanation, she decided to let the twins assume she’d been on such a quest. She crawled backwards out of the fireplace and stood up, brushing her sooty hands off onto her corduroy pants and straightening her own messy braids. She wavered for a moment, trying to pick the attitude that would result in the least amount of torment—a difficult choice, as nearly every scenario had a 100% chance of ending with some kind of bodily injury.
“Yes,” she lied. “I’m worried he won’t be able to find me here.”
“Oh, you don’t need to be worried about that,” said Rain. Her words were sweet at first, but Agatha had learned to wait for the sharpness that inevitably followed. “He won’t have anything for you anyway. Santa doesn’t bring presents to stupid kids like you.”
Agatha bit down on the inside of her cheek to stop herself from responding.
“Come on,” said Summer, grabbing Agatha’s arm. “We’ve got a new game we want to play, and I think you’re going to like it.”
“What is it?” asked Agatha.
“Hide and Seek.”