Page 11

 Sara Shepard

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Game on, bitch, Hanna mouthed to Kate. Then she daintily pulled her bag into her chest and waltzed around her stepsister-to-be into the Rosewood Day hallway, waggling her fingers at Mike, Noel, and the others. But as she was passing the cafeteria, she heard a sarcastic cackle reverberate off the walls. She stopped, the hair on the back of her neck rising. The laugh wasn’t coming from Steam, but from the cafeteria.
All the tables in the lunchroom were full. Then, out of the corner of her eye, Hanna saw a figure behind the rotating pretzel oven slither out the back door. The person was tall and lanky and had blond, curly hair. Hanna’s heart stopped. Ian?
But no. Ian was dead. The person who had sent his parents that text earlier today was an impostor. Shaking off the thought, Hanna pulled her school blazer around her shoulders, drained the last of her latte, and continued down the corridor, trying her best to strut like the fearless, gorgeous, unflappable girl she was.
As soon as Emily finished swim practice Tuesday afternoon, she drove to Isaac’s house and parked at the curb. Isaac opened the front door of his house, grabbed Emily tight, and inhaled deeply. “Mmm. I just love it when you smell like chlorine.”
Emily giggled. Despite the fact that she always washed her hair twice in the locker room showers after every practice, the distinct pool smell stubbornly clung to her hair.
Isaac stepped aside, and Emily walked into the house. The living room smelled like apple and peach potpourri. There was the picture on the mantel of Isaac, his mom, and Minnie Mouse at Disney World. The floral couch was covered with lacy pillows Mrs. Colbert had embroidered, bearing messages like Hugging Is Healthy and Prayer Changes Everything.
Isaac pulled at one of the sleeves of Emily’s coat, then the other. When he turned to open the closet door, she heard a creak coming from the mudroom. Emily froze, her eyes round. Isaac turned to her and touched her hand. “Why so jumpy? The press isn’t here, I promise.”
Emily licked her lips. The press had been hounding her and her friends constantly, and earlier that day, she’d heard the latest: that the Thomas family had received an e-mail from Ian, and that Emily and the others had made up seeing Ian’s body in the woods. That obviously wasn’t true—but what was? Where had Ian gone? Was he really alive…or did someone just want them to think he was?
More than that, Emily couldn’t stop thinking about the Jason DiLaurentis incident on Sunday night. She had no idea what she would’ve done if Isaac hadn’t been with her. Every time she considered the possibility of facing Jason alone, she shuddered with fear.
“Sorry,” she said to Isaac, trying to snap out of her mood. “I’m okay.”
“Good,” Isaac said. He took her hand. “Since we have the place to ourselves, I thought I’d show you my bedroom.”
“Are you sure?” Emily glanced at the photo of Isaac, his mom, and Minnie Mouse again. Mrs. Colbert had a policy that Isaac wasn’t allowed to bring any girls into his room—ever.
“Sure I’m sure,” Isaac answered. “My mom will never know.”
Emily smiled. She had been curious about his bedroom. Isaac squeezed her hand and led her up the stairs. Each stair riser was decorated with a different doll. Some of them were yarn-haired rag dolls in calico dresses, and others were baby dolls with hard china heads and eyes that closed when they were laid flat. Emily averted her eyes. She’d never been one to play with dolls like other girls—they’d always kind of freaked her out.
Isaac pushed through a door at the end of the hall. “Voilà.” There was a striped spread on the double bed in the corner, three guitars on stands, and a small desk with a new iMac. “Very nice,” Emily said.
Then she noticed a large white object on top of the dresser. “You have a phrenology head!” She walked over to the big mold of a skull and traced her fingers over the words that were written across the head. Guile. Forethought. Avarice. Victorian doctors thought they could determine a person’s character simply by the way his or her skull was shaped. If he had a lump in a particular spot on his head, he was a good poet. If the lump was elsewhere, he was very religious. Emily wondered what her head bumps said about her.
She grinned at Isaac. “Where did you get this?”
Isaac walked over to her. “Remember that aunt I told you about when we got Chinese last week? The one who’s into horoscopes and stuff? She got this for me at a flea market.” He touched a spot on Emily’s skull. “Hmm, you feel very bumpy.” He glanced at the phrenology head. “According to this, you’re really good at giving affection…or you make others want to give you affection. I can never remember which.”
“Very scientific,” Emily teased. She touched the top of his head, feeling for a bump. “And you’re…” She leaned back, searching the ceramic head for an appropriate quality. The thief. The mimic. The murderer. Rosewood PD needed one of these heads—they could massage every cranium in town and find Ali’s murderer right away. “You’re wise,” she concluded.
“You’re beautiful,” Isaac said. He slowly steered her over to the bed and pulled her down. She felt flushed and short of breath. She hadn’t anticipated lying down on Isaac’s bed, but she didn’t want to get up. They kissed for a while longer, easing down until they were lying flat on the pillows. Emily thrust her hand underneath his T-shirt to feel his warm, bare chest. Then she giggled, astonished at her behavior.
“What?” Isaac asked, pulling away. “Do you want to stop?”
Emily lowered her eyes. The truth was, whenever she was around Isaac, a calmness came over her. All of her anxieties and worries flew out the window. Being with him, she felt safe and secure…and in love.
“I don’t want to stop,” she whispered, her heart fluttering. “Do you?”
Isaac shook his head. Then, he pulled off his T-shirt. His skin was pale and soft. He unbuttoned Emily’s blouse, one button at a time, until her shirt gaped open. The only sound was their breathing. Isaac touched the edge of Emily’s pink scalloped bra. Ever since he had taken off her shirt two days ago in the car, she’d worn her prettier bras to school. Nicer underwear, too, not the comfy boy shorts she usually wore. Maybe she hadn’t anticipated this, exactly, but maybe, just maybe, it was exactly what she’d been hoping for.
When the digital clock on Isaac’s nightstand turned from 5:59 to 6:00, Emily sat up and pulled the flannel sheets around her. The streetlights up and down Isaac’s block were now lit, and a woman across the street was calling her kids in from the front yard for dinner.
“I should probably go soon,” Emily said, giving Isaac another kiss. They both giggled. Isaac pulled her back down and started kissing her again. Eventually, they both stood up and got dressed, sneaking not-so-covert peeks at each other. A lot had happened…but Emily felt right about it. Isaac had gone achingly slow, kissing every inch of her body, admitting that this was his first time too. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
They started down the stairs, straightening their clothes. Halfway down, Emily heard someone let out a phlegm-filled cough.
They both froze. Emily widened her eyes at Isaac. His parents weren’t supposed to be back until after seven.
A creaky footstep sounded from the kitchen. A set of car keys jangled, then dropped into a ceramic bowl. Emily’s stomach swooped. She gazed at the mute, glassy-eyed dolls on the steps. They seemed to be smirking at her.
Emily and Isaac scrambled down the stairs and flung themselves on the couch. As soon as their butts hit the cushions, Mrs. Colbert walked into the room. She was dressed in a long red wool skirt and a white cable-knit sweater. Because of the way the light reflected off her glasses, Emily couldn’t tell where she was looking. There was a stern, disapproving look on her face. For an agonizing second, Emily became panicked that Mrs. Colbert had heard everything that had just happened.
Then, she turned and flattened her palm to her chest. “Guys! I didn’t see you there!”
Isaac leapt up, awkwardly knocking the stack of photo albums on the coffee table to the floor. “Mom, you remember Emily, right?”
Emily stood up, too, hoping her hair wasn’t a complete mess and that she didn’t have a rapidly growing hickey on her neck. “H-hi,” she stammered. “Nice to see you again.”
“Hello, Emily.” There was a pleasant enough smile on Mrs. Colbert’s face, but Emily’s heart continued to gallop all the same. Was she really surprised to see them, or was she just waiting until Emily left to yell at Isaac in private?
She gazed at Isaac, who looked uncomfortable. He placed his hand on top of his head, matting down his mussed hair. “Uh, Emily, do you want to stay for dinner?” Isaac blurted. “That’s okay, right, Mom?”
Mrs. Colbert hesitated, drawing her lips together until they practically disappeared. “I—I shouldn’t,” Emily stammered, before Mrs. Colbert could answer. “My mom is expecting me home.”
Mrs. Colbert breathed out. Emily swore she looked relieved. “Well. Perhaps another time,” she said.
“How about tomorrow?” Isaac pressed.
Emily shot an uneasy glance at Isaac, wondering if he should just let the dinner thing drop. But Mrs. Colbert brushed her hands together and said, “Tomorrow would be fine. Wednesday is pot roast night.”
“Uh, okay,” Emily answered. “I guess I could do that. Thanks.”
“Good.” Mrs. Colbert gave her a tight smile. “Bring your appetite!”
She glided back to the kitchen. Emily sank back onto the couch and covered her face with her hands. “Just kill me now,” she whispered.
Isaac touched her arm. “We’re safe. She doesn’t know we were upstairs.”
But as Emily glanced through the arched doorway to the kitchen, she saw Isaac’s mom standing at the sink, rinsing off the breakfast dishes. Although her hands continued to manically scrub the plates, Mrs. Colbert’s dark eyes were fixed steadily on them. Her lips puckered, her cheeks flushed, and the cords in her neck bulged with fury.
Emily flinched, aghast. Mrs. Colbert noticed Emily was watching, but her expression didn’t falter. She stared unblinkingly at Emily, as if cognizant of exactly what she and Isaac had done. And maybe even blaming Emily—and only Emily—for all of it.
As the sun was sinking beneath the horizon, turning all of Rosewood pitch-black, Spencer watched out her bedroom window as the remaining Rosewood PD squad cars and news vans pulled away from her street. The cops had abruptly called off the search for Ian’s body, having found nothing in the woods. And a lot of people had bought into the new theory that the girls had made up seeing Ian’s body, thereby allowing him to easily escape Rosewood forever.
Such bullshit. And it didn’t seem possible that the cops hadn’t found a single piece of evidence. There had to be something out there. A footprint. Tree bark rubbed off from someone’s nails.