Richard had bought me hot chocolate and churros, which was the kind of thing he always did when he felt guilty. The texture of the hot chocolate was like sludge, and I imagined my stomach filling with mud. I pushed it away.
“Eat, beautiful. Please. Do you want something else?”
I shook my head. My hair was uneven and shorn up to my ears. I’d hacked it off the week before with nail scissors in a hostel bathroom in Lisbon while a backpacker—a white kid with blond dreadlocks and duct-taped shoes—watched warily. ‘How old are you?’ he’d asked. ‘Sixteen,’ I’d told him, though I was really fifteen. He gestured towards the locks of wet hair on the ground and said, ‘Bold look. I’m into it.’ I told his reflection, ‘I didn’t do it for you.’ The kid laughed. ‘I bet you did it to piss off your old man.’ ‘He’s my step-father,’ I said. The kid had held up his calloused hands defensively and said, ‘My bad.’
A few days after that, Richard had moved us on to this tiny town in the mountains of Spain, where there were sheep dotting the hillsides and stone archways that’d stood for centuries. Our hotel—a small guesthouse—was in the main square and every hour the church bell clanged so loudly I could feel it in my teeth. The people mostly spoke Basque, so the little Spanish I knew was useless when I tried to eavesdrop. In a week we’d be back home, and the mercy of school would start, and there’d be friends’ houses to stay over at and books to get lost in and new teachers to gossip about. Not just Richard filling every space.
When the waitress returned, Richard ordered croissants and fresh-squeezed juice. “You’re getting too thin,” he said.
“I’m not hungry.”
“Look, I’m sorry,” he said. “But don’t you like it here?”
I clenched my jaw and turned away. It was the most beautiful place I’d ever been. The clouds hung low overhead and the air was crisp and fragrant, as if it had always just stopped raining. The buildings, with their bursting window boxes and brick-colored roofs, leaned into one another. Tiny black birds shaped like arrows dove into the river below.
On the patio, a couple at the next table over was watching us and whispering. I thought maybe they were disapproving of my hair, or the safety pins in my ears, or my surliness. I imagined their disdain: Americans! They can’t even control their children. Who lets a girl walk around looking like that?
“We can go home,” he said. “If that’s what you want, I can move our flight up.”
“Can we?” I asked, and Richard looked wounded.
He sighed. “Yes. Okay. For you, you know I would do anything.” He gestured for the check.
The waitress came over and, with a flurry of apologies, told us we’d have to wait. Richard didn’t understand, but shrugged. He was very easygoing. I’d heard other people call him kind-hearted, a big softie. I nudged my churro off the plate, then let it roll off the table onto the ground. The waitress studied my face until I lowered my eyes. She disappeared inside.
When she returned, two policemen were with her. Their English was not good. We knew they wanted our passports, but couldn’t see why. Eventually, they pulled the hotel manager over to translate. He looked painfully embarrassed. It took him several minutes to explain, to say Hannah Waters.
I recognized the name instantly. Hannah was a dark-haired, doll-faced American girl with plump cheeks and long eyelashes. She’d gone missing from her locked hotel room in Portugal two weeks ago. She was twelve years old. Her photo was on every News channel, followed by flashing numbers to call to report a sighting. Someone had spotted Richard and me and thought I might be Hannah, after a hasty haircut and two weeks of malnourishment. “I’m not her,” I said. “My name’s Marigold. I’m fifteen.”
“I know,” the hotel manager said, his blush moving all the way up his bald head. “I know, that’s what I tell them. I tell them it’s not true.” He looked at Richard, “I’m so sorry, to you and your lovely daughter.”
“Step-daughter,” I said.
“It’s all right, Miguel,” Richard said. “They’re only doing their jobs. It’s better to be safe.”
Richard went to get our passports. The couple that’d been whispering had left, and I wondered if they’d been the ones who reported us. Their spent plates were still on the table, lipstick staining one of the cups. What had they seen when they looked at us? What did they see that my friends’ parents, that my grandmother, that our friendly mailman couldn’t see? That even my mother, when she was still alive, hadn’t seen.
I noticed that one of the police officers had a paper in his hand. I reached for it and he gave it to me. He knew, by then, that they had the wrong girl. I laid out the flyer and looked into Hannah’s dark, almond-shaped eyes. We did look a little alike, if she’d been thinner and angrier. “DESAPARECIDA” it said in big sharp letters. A small mean part of me hoped they’d never find her, though I assumed they would. There was an entire continent of people following her story, calling in tip after tip. I hated her sweet gap-toothed smile. I hated everyone trying so desperately to rescue her.
How could I have known they wouldn’t find her? If I’d known, I’m sure I would’ve had kinder thoughts.
Richard came back and handed over the passports, wheezing slightly. “I’m sorry,” he told the officers. He was always apologizing. He rested his wide palm on my shoulder.
I held my breath while the officers scanned my photograph and then checked my face.
But what could they see there? No one was looking for me.