pretty little liars- Page 9


“Honey?”

Emily jumped. Her parents stood above her, dressed in sensible white sneakers, high-waisted shorts, and preppy pastel golf shirts. Her father had a red fanny pack, and her mom swung turquoise arm weights back and forth.

“Hey,” Emily croaked.

“Going for a bike ride?” her mother asked.

“Uh-huh.”

“You’re supposed to be grounded.” Her father put on his glasses, as if he needed to see Emily to scold her. “We only let you out last night because you were going with Ben. We hoped he’d get through to you. But bike rides are off limits.”

“Well,” Emily groaned, standing up. If only she didn’t have to explain things to her parents. But then…whatever. She wouldn’t. Not now. She threw her leg over the bar and sat on her seat.

“I have somewhere to go,” she mumbled, pedaling down the driveway.

“Emily, come back here,” her father yelled gruffly.

But Emily, for the first time in her life, just kept pedaling.

27

DON’T MIND ME, I’M JUST DEAD!

Aria awoke to her doorbell ringing. Except it wasn’t her family’s normal doorbell chime, it was “American Idiot,” by Green Day. Huh—when had her parents changed that?

She threw back her duvet, slid on the blue-flowered, fur-lined clogs she’d bought in Amsterdam, and clomped down the spiral staircase to see who it was.

When she opened the door, she gasped. It was Alison. She was taller and her blond hair was cut in long shaggy layers. Her face looked more glamorous and angular than it had in seventh grade.

“Ta-daa!” Ali grinned and spread out her arms. “I’m back!”

“Holy…” Aria choked on her words, blinking furiously a couple of times. “Wh-where have you been?”

Ali rolled her eyes. “My stupid parents,” she said. “Remember my aunt Camille, the really cool one who was born in France and married my uncle Jeff when we were in seventh? I went to visit her in Miami that summer. Then, I liked it so much that I just stayed. I totally told my parents about all of it, but I guess they forgot to tell everyone else.”

Aria rubbed her eyes. “So, wait. You’ve been in…Miami? You’re okay?”

Ali twirled around a little. “I look more than okay, don’t I? Hey, did you like my texts?”

Aria’s smile faded. “Um…no, actually.”

Ali looked hurt. “Why not? That one about your mom was so funny.”

Aria stared at her.

“God, you’re sensitive.” Ali narrowed her eyes. “Are you going to blow me off again?”

“Wait, what?” Aria stammered.

Alison gave Aria a long look, and a black, gelatinous substance began dripping out her nostrils. “I told the others, you know. About your dad. I told them everything.”

“Your…nose…” Aria pointed. Suddenly it started seeping out of Ali’s eyeballs. Like she was crying oil. It was dripping from her fingernails, too.

“Oh, I’m just rotting.” Ali smiled.

Aria jerked up in bed. Sweat drenched the back of her neck. The sun streamed in through her window, and she heard “American Idiot” on her brother’s stereo next door. She checked her hands for black goo, but they were squeaky clean.

Whoa.

“Morning, honey.”

Aria staggered down her spiral staircase to see her father, dressed only in thin, tartan plaid boxer shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt, reading the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Hey,” she murmured back.

Shuffling to the espresso machine, she stared for a long time at her father’s pale, randomly hairy shoulders. He jiggled his feet and made hmmm noises at the paper.

“Dad?” Her voice cracked slightly.

“Mmm?”

Aria leaned against the stone-topped island. “Can ghosts send text messages?”

Her father looked up, surprised and confused. “What’s a text message?”

She stuck her hand into an open box of Frosted Mini Wheats and pulled out a handful. “Never mind.”

“You sure?” Byron asked.

She chewed nervously. What did she want to ask? Is a ghost sending me texts? But c’mon, she knew better. Anyway, she didn’t know why Ali’s ghost would come back and do this to her. It was as if she wanted revenge, but was that possible?

Ali had been great the day they caught her dad in the car. Aria had fled around the corner and ran until she had to start walking. She kept walking all the way home, not sure what else to do with herself. Ali hugged her for a long time. “I won’t tell,” she whispered.

But the next day, the questions started. Do you know that girl? Is she a student? Is your dad going to tell your mom? Do you think he’s doing it with lots of students? Usually, Aria could take Ali’s inquisitiveness and even her teasing—she was okay with being the “weird kid” of the group. But this was different. This hurt.

So the last few days of school, before she disappeared, Aria avoided Alison. She didn’t send her “I’m bored” texts during health class or help her clean out her locker. And she certainly didn’t talk about what happened. She was mad that Ali was prying—as if it was some celebrity gossip in Star and not her life. She was mad that Ali knew. Period.

Now, three years later, Aria wondered who she’d really been mad at. It wasn’t really Ali. It was her dad.

“Really, never mind,” Aria answered her father, who’d been waiting patiently, sipping his coffee. “I’m just sleepy.”

“Okay,” Byron answered incredulously.

The doorbell rang. It wasn’t the Green Day song but their normal bong, bong chime. Her father looked up. “I wonder if that’s for Mike,” he said. “Did you know that some girl from the Quaker school came by here at eight-thirty, looking for him?”

“I’ll get it,” Aria said.

She tentatively pulled open the front door, but it was only Emily Fields on the other side, her reddish-blond hair messy and her eyes swollen.

“Hey,” Emily croaked.

“Hey,” Aria answered.

Emily puffed up her cheeks with air—her old nervous habit. She stood there for a moment. Then she said, “I should go.” She started to turn.

“Wait.” Aria caught her arm. “What? What’s going on?”

Emily paused. “Um. Okay. But…this is going to sound weird.”

“That’s okay.” Aria’s heart started to pound.

“I was thinking about what you were saying yesterday at the party. About Ali. I was wondering…did Ali ever tell you guys something about me?”

Emily said it very quietly. Aria pushed her hair out of her eyes.

“What?” Aria whispered. “Recently?”

Emily’s eyes widened. “What do you mean, recently?”

“I—”

“In seventh grade,” Emily interrupted. “Did she tell you…like…something about me in seventh grade? Was she telling everybody?”

Aria blinked. At the party yesterday, when she’d seen Emily, she’d wanted more than anything to tell her about the texts. “No,” Aria answered slowly. “She never talked behind your back.”

“Oh.” Emily stared at the ground. “But I—” she started.

“I’ve been getting these—” Aria said at the same time.

Then Emily looked past her and her eyes grew still.

“Miss Emily Fields! Hello!”

Aria turned. In the living room stood Byron. At least he’d thrown on a striped bathrobe. “I haven’t seen you in ages!” Byron boomed.

“Yeah.” Emily puffed out her cheeks again. “How are you, Mr. Montgomery?”

He frowned. “Please. You’re old enough to call me Byron.” He scratched his chin with the top edge of his coffee cup. “How’s your life? Good?”

“Absolutely.” Emily looked like she was about to cry.

“Do you need something to eat?” Byron asked. “You look hungry.”

“Oh. No. Thanks. I, um, I guess I didn’t really sleep well.”

“You girls.” He shook his head. “You never sleep! I always tell Aria she needs eleven hours—she needs to bank sleep for when she gets to college and parties all night!” He began climbing the stairs to the second floor.

As soon as he was out of sight, Aria whirled back around. “He’s so—” she started. But then she realized Emily was halfway across her lawn, on the way to her bike. “Hey!” she called. “Where are you going?”

Emily picked her bike up off the ground. “I shouldn’t have come.”

“Wait! Come back! I…I need to talk to you!” Aria called out.

Emily paused and looked up. Aria felt all of her words swarming like bees in her mouth. Emily seemed terrified.

But suddenly Aria was too afraid to ask. How would she talk about the texts from A without mentioning her secret? She still didn’t want anyone to know. Especially with her mom just upstairs.

Then she thought of Byron in his bathrobe and how uncomfortable Emily seemed around him just now. Emily had asked, Did Alison tell you something about me in seventh grade? Why would she ask that?

Unless…

Aria bit her pinkie nail. What if Emily already knew Aria’s secret? Aria clamped her mouth shut, paralyzed.

Emily shook her head. “I’ll see you later,” she mumbled, and before Aria could compose herself, Emily was biking furiously away.

28

BRAD AND ANGELINA ACTUALLY MET AT THE ROSEWOOD POLICE STATION

“Ladies, discover yourselves!”

As Oprah’s audience clapped wildly, Hanna sank into her coffee-colored leather couch cushions, balancing the TiVo remote on her bare stomach. She could use a little self-discovery on this crisp Saturday morning.

Last night was pretty blurry—like she’d gone through the night without her contacts in—and her head was throbbing. Had it involved some sort of animal? She’d found some empty candy wrappers in her purse. Had she eaten them? All of them? Her stomach hurt, after all, and it looked a little puffy. And why did she have a distinct memory of a Wawa dairy truck? It felt like piecing together a puzzle, except Hanna was too impatient for puzzles—she always jammed pieces together that didn’t actually fit.

The doorbell rang. Hanna groaned, then rolled off the couch, not bothering to fix her army-green ribbed tank top, which was turned around and practically exposing her boob. She cracked the oak door and then slammed it shut again.

Whoa. It was that cop, Mr. April. Er, Darren Wilden.

“Open up, Hanna.”

She checked him out through the peephole. He stood with his arms crossed, seeming all business, but then his hair was a mess and she didn’t see his gun anywhere. And what kind of cop worked at 10 A.M. on a cloudless Saturday morning like this?

Hanna glanced at her reflection in the round mirror across the room. Jesus. Sleep marks from the pillow? Yes. Puffy eyes, lips in need of gloss? Absolutely. She quickly ran her hands over her face, pushed her hair into a ponytail, and put on her round Chanel sunglasses. Then she flung open the door.