Finally, she plugged in the key words missing persons and Alison DiLaurentis.
She found the same stuff from three years ago—the reports on CNN and in the Philadelphia Inquirer, search groups, and kooky sites, like one showing what Ali might look like with different hairstyles. Spencer stared at the school picture they’d used; she hadn’t seen a photo of Ali in a long time. Would she recognize Ali if she had, for instance, a short, black bob? She certainly looked different in this picture they’d created.
The main house’s screen door squeaked as she nervously pushed through it. Inside, she smelled freshly brewed coffee, which was odd, because usually her mom was already at the stables by now and her dad was riding or at the golf course. She wondered what had happened between Melissa and Wren after last night, praying she wouldn’t have to face them.
“We’ve been waiting for you.”
Spencer jumped. At the kitchen table were her parents and Melissa. Her mother’s face was pale and drained and her dad’s cheeks were beet red. Melissa’s eyes were redrimmed and puffy. Even the two dogs didn’t jump up to greet her as they normally did.
Spencer swallowed hard. So much for praying.
“Sit down, please,” her father said quietly.
Spencer scraped back a wooden chair and sat next to her mother. The room was so still and silent, she could hear her stomach, nervously on spin cycle.
“I don’t even know what to say,” her mother croaked. “How could you?”
Spencer’s stomach dropped. She opened her mouth, but her mother held up her hand. “You have no right to talk right now.”
Spencer clamped her mouth shut and lowered her eyes.
“Honestly,” her father said, “I am so mortified you’re my daughter right now. I thought we raised you better.”
Spencer picked at a rough cuticle on her thumb and tried to stop her chin from wobbling.
“What were you thinking?” her mother asked. “That was her boyfriend. They were planning to move in together. Do you realize what you’ve done?”
“I—” Spencer started.
“I mean…,” her mother interrupted, then wrung her hands and looked down.
“You’re under eighteen, which means we’re legally responsible for you,” her father said. “But if it were up to me, I’d lock you out of this house right now.”
“I wish I never had to see you again,” Melissa spat.
Spencer felt faint. She half-expected them to set down their coffee cups and tell her they were just kidding, that everything was all right. But they couldn’t even look at her. Her dad’s words stung in her ears: I am so mortified you’re my daughter. No one had ever said anything like that to her before.
“One thing’s for certain; Melissa will be moving into the barn,” her mother continued. “I want all of your stuff out and back into your old bedroom. And once her town house is ready, I’m turning the barn into a pottery studio.”
Spencer balled up her fists under the table, willing herself not to cry. She didn’t care about the barn, not really. It was what came with the barn that mattered. It was that her dad was going to build shelves for her. Her mom was going to help her pick out new curtains. They’d said she could get a kitten and they’d all spent a few minutes thinking up funny names for it. They were excited for her. They cared.
She reached out for her mother’s arm. “I’m sorry—”
Her mother slid her body away. “Spencer, don’t.”
Spencer couldn’t manage to swallow her sob. Tears started running down her cheeks.
“It’s not me you need to apologize to, anyway,” her mother said in a low voice.
Spencer looked at Melissa, sniveling across the table. She wiped her nose. As much as she hated Melissa, she’d never seen her sister this miserable—not since Ian broke up with her back in high school. It was wrong to flirt with Wren, but Spencer hadn’t thought it would go as far as it did. She tried to put herself in Melissa’s place—if she’d met Wren first, and Melissa had kissed him, she’d be shattered too. Her heart softened. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Melissa shuddered. “Rot in hell,” she spat.
Spencer bit the inside of her mouth so hard she tasted blood.
“Just get your things out of the barn.” Her mother sighed. “Then get out of our sight.”
Spencer’s eyes widened. “But—” she squeaked.
Her father gave her a withering look.
“It’s just so despicable,” her mother murmured.
“You’re such a bitch,” Melissa threw in.
Spencer nodded—perhaps if she agreed with them, they would stop. She wanted to shrivel up into a tiny ball and evaporate. Instead, she mumbled, “I’ll go do it now.”
“Good.” Her father took another sip of coffee and left the table.
Melissa made a small squeak and pushed back her chair. She sobbed the whole way up the stairs and slammed her bedroom door.
“Wren left last night,” Mr. Hastings said as he paused in the doorway. “We won’t be hearing from him, ever again. And if you know what’s best for you, you won’t talk about him ever again.”
“Of course,” Spencer mumbled, and set her head down on the cool oak table.
Spencer kept her head firmly on the table, breathing yoga fire breaths and waiting for someone to come back and tell her that everything would be okay. Nobody did. Outside, she heard an ambulance siren screaming in the distance. It sounded like it was coming toward the house.
Spencer sat up. Oh God. What if Melissa had…hurt herself? She wouldn’t, would she? The sirens howled, coming closer. Spencer shoved back her chair.
Holy shit. What had she done?
“Melissa!” she yelled, running to the stairs.
“You’re a whore!” came a voice. “You’re a fucking whore!”
Spencer slumped back against the railing. Well, then. It seemed Melissa was just fine, after all.
THE CIRCUS IS BACK IN TOWN
Emily biked furiously away from Aria’s house, narrowly missing a jogger on the side of the road. “Watch it!” he yelled.
As she passed a neighbor walking two huge Great Danes, Emily made a decision. She had to go to Maya’s. It was the only answer. Maybe Maya had meant it in a nice way, like she was just returning the note after Emily told her about Alison last night. Maybe Maya wanted to mention the letter last night but, for whatever reason, she didn’t. Maybe the A was really an M?
Besides, she and Maya had tons of other stuff to talk about—besides the note. Try everything that happened at the party. Emily closed her eyes, remembering. She could practically smell Maya’s banana gum and feel the soft contours of her mouth. Opening her eyes, she swerved away from the curb.
Okay, they definitely needed to work that out. But what did Emily want to say?
I loved it.
No. Of course she wouldn’t say that. She would say, We should just be friends. She was going back to Ben, after all. If he’d have her. She wanted to rewind time, to go back to being the Emily who was happy with her life, who her parents were happy with. The Emily who only worried about her breaststroke reach and her algebra homework.
Emily pedaled past Myer Park, where she and Ali used to swing for hours. They tried to pump together in unison, and when they were completely even, Ali always called out, “We’re married!” Then they’d squeal and jump off at the same time.
But what if Maya hadn’t put that note on her bike? When Emily asked Aria if Ali had told her Emily’s secret, Aria had replied, “What, recently?” Why would Aria say that? Unless…unless Aria knew something. Unless Ali was back.
Was that possible?
Emily skidded through the gravel. No, that was crazy. Her mother still exchanged holiday cards with Mrs. DiLaurentis; she would’ve heard if Ali had returned. Back when Ali vanished, it was on the news 24/7. These days, her parents usually had on CNN while they ate breakfast. It would surely be a top story again.
Still, it was thrilling to consider. Every night for almost a year after Ali’s disappearance, Emily had asked her Magic 8 Ball if Alison would come back. Although it sometimes said, Wait and see, it never, ever said, No. She made bets with herself, too: If two kids get on the school bus today wearing red shirts, she would whisper to herself, Ali is okay. If they’re serving pizza at lunch, Ali’s not dead. If Coach makes us practice starts and turns, Ali will come back. Nine times out of ten, according to Emily’s little superstitions, Ali was on her way back to them.
Maybe she’d been right all along.
She pumped uphill and around a sharp turn, narrowly avoiding a stone Revolutionary War battle memorial sign. If Ali was back, what would that mean for Emily’s friendship with Maya? She sort of doubted she could have two best friends…two best friends she felt so similarly about. She wondered what Ali would even think of Maya. What if they hated each other?
I loved it.
We should just be friends.
She swept past the beautiful farmhouses, crumbling stone inns, and gardeners’ pickups parked on the road’s shoulder. She used to bike this exact route to Ali’s house; the last time, in fact, had been before the kiss. Emily hadn’t planned to kiss Ali before she came; something had come over her in the heat of the moment. She would never forget how soft Ali’s lips were or the stunned look on Ali’s face when she pulled back. “What did you do that for?” she’d asked.
Suddenly, a siren wailed behind her. Emily barely had time to move to the edge of the road again before a Rosewood ambulance screamed past. A gust of wind kicked up, blowing dust into her face. She wiped her eyes and stared as the ambulance got to the top of the hill and paused at Alison’s street.
Now it was turning onto Alison’s street. Fear seized Emily. Ali’s street was…Maya’s street. She gripped the rubber handles of her bike.
With all the craziness, she’d forgotten the secret Maya had told her last night. The cutting. The hospital. That huge, jagged scar. Sometimes I just feel like I need to, Maya had said.
“Oh my God,” Emily whispered.
She pedaled furiously and skidded around the corner. If the ambulance sirens stop by the time I get around the corner, she thought, Maya will be okay.
But then the ambulance pulled to a stop in front of Maya’s house. The sirens were still roaring. Police cars were everywhere.
“No,” Emily whispered. White-coated medics got out of the vehicle and ran for the house. A ton of people littered Maya’s yard, some with cameras. Emily threw her bike at the curb and ran crookedly toward the house.
Maya burst through the crowd. Emily gasped, then ran into Maya’s arms, tears messily running down her face.
“You’re okay.” Emily sobbed. “I was afraid—”
“I’m fine,” Maya said.
But there was something in her voice that was clearly not fine. Emily stood back. Maya’s eyes were red and watery. Her mouth was drawn down nervously.