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Olivia grinned. “That’s fantastic, Spencer! I’m so impressed.”
Spencer cautiously opened one eye. She’d expected Olivia to react the same way her mom would. “Almost all your classes?” she could practically hear Mrs. Hastings sneer. “Which class do you not have an A in? And why are they just A’s? Why aren’t they A-pluses?” And then Spencer would feel like shit for the rest of the day.
But Olivia wasn’t doing that. Who knew, if Olivia had kept Spencer, maybe she would’ve turned out differently. Maybe she wouldn’t be so OCD about her grades or feel so inferior around other people, always desperate to prove that she was good enough, worthy enough, lovable enough. She would’ve never met Ali. Ali’s murder would simply be another story in the newspaper.
“Why did you give me up?” Spencer blurted out.
Olivia stopped at the crosswalk, staring contemplatively at the tall buildings across the street. “Well…I was eighteen when I had you. Far too young to have a baby—I’d just started college. I agonized about my decision. When I found out that a wealthy family in suburban Philadelphia was adopting you, I felt like that was the right choice. But I’ve always wondered about you.”
The light changed. Spencer skirted around a woman walking a pug dressed in a white cable-knit sweater as they crossed. “Do my parents know who you are?”
Olivia shook her head. “I screened them on paper, but we didn’t meet. I wanted everything to be anonymous, and so did they. I cried after I delivered you, though, knowing I had to give you up.” She smiled sadly, then touched Spencer’s arm. “I know I can’t make up for sixteen years in one visit, Spencer. But I’ve thought about you all your life.” She rolled her eyes. “Sorry. That’s cheesy, right?”
Spencer’s eyes welled with tears. “No,” she said quickly. “Not at all.” How long had she been waiting for someone to say these things to her?
At the corner of Sixth Avenue and 12th Street, Olivia abruptly stopped. “There’s my new apartment.” She pointed to the top floor of a luxury apartment building. Beneath it was a quaint market and a home accessories store. A limo pulled up to the entrance, and a woman in a mink stole got out and whisked through the revolving doors.
“Can we go up?” Spencer squealed. The place seemed so glamorous, even from the outside.
Olivia checked the Rolex that dangled from her wrist. “I’m not sure we have enough time before our reservations. Next visit, though. I promise.”
Spencer shrugged off her disappointment, not wanting Olivia to think she was bratty. Olivia hurried Spencer to a small, cozy restaurant a few blocks away. The room smelled of saffron, garlic, and mussels, and was packed with people. Spencer and Olivia sat down at a table, the candlelight flickering on their faces. Olivia immediately ordered a bottle of wine, instructing the waiter to pour some in Spencer’s glass too. “A toast,” she said, raising her glass to Spencer’s. “To many more visits like this.”
Spencer beamed and looked around. A young guy who looked a lot like Noel Kahn—except probably less puerile—was sitting at the bar. A girl in nut brown boots tucked into her jeans sat next to him, laughing. Next to them was a handsome older couple, the woman in a silvery poncho, the man in a narrow, pin-striped suit. A French pop song was playing over the speakers. Everything in New York seemed a billion times more fashionable than Rosewood. “I wish I could live here,” she sighed.
Olivia tilted her head, her eyes lighting up. “I know. I wish you could too. But it must be so nice out in Pennsylvania. All that space and clean air.” She touched Spencer’s hand.
“Rosewood is nice.” Spencer swirled her wine and weighed her words carefully. “But my family…isn’t.”
Olivia opened her mouth, a concerned look on her face. “They just don’t care about me,” Spencer clarified. “I’d give anything not to live there anymore. They wouldn’t even miss me.”
There was a peppery feeling in her nose that she always got when she was about to cry. She looked stubbornly into her lap, trying to harness her emotions.
Olivia stroked Spencer’s arm. “I’d give anything for you to live here,” she said. “But I have a confession to make. Morgan has a hard time trusting people—some close friends have used him for his money in the past, and now he’s very careful about people he doesn’t know. I haven’t told him about you yet—he knew I gave up a baby when I was young, but he didn’t know I was searching for you. I wanted to make sure this was real first.”
Spencer nodded. She certainly understood why Olivia hadn’t told Morgan they were meeting—it wasn’t like she’d told people either.
“I’m going to tell him about you in Paris,” Olivia added. “And once he meets you, I know he’ll adore you.”
Spencer bit off a crust of bread, considering her options. “If I moved here, I wouldn’t even have to live with you guys,” she sounded out. “I could get my own place.”
Olivia got a hopeful look on her face. “Could you handle living on your own?”
Spencer shrugged. “Sure.” Her parents were barely around these days; she was practically living on her own as it was.
“I would love to have you here,” Olivia admitted, her eyes bright. “Just think—you could get a one-bedroom in the Village near us. I’m sure our Realtor, Michael, could find you something really special.”
“I could start college next year, a year early,” Spencer added, her excitement beginning to build. “I was thinking about doing that anyway.” When she’d secretly dated Wren, Melissa’s boyfriend, she’d considered applying to Penn early to get out of the house and be with him. In fact, she’d already spoken to the Rosewood Day administration about graduating as a junior. With all the AP classes she’d taken, she was more than qualified.
Olivia breathed in, about to say something else, but then stopped, took a long sip of wine, and held out her palms, as if to say, Hold up. “I shouldn’t be getting so excited,” she said. “I’m supposed to be the responsible one here. You should stay with your family, Spencer. Let’s stick to visits for now at least, okay?” She patted Spencer’s hand, probably noting Spencer’s disappointed look. “Don’t worry. I’ve only just found you, and I don’t want to lose you again.”
After polishing off the bottle of wine and two orders of pasta puttanesca, they strolled to the helipad on the Hudson River, acting more like best friends than mother and daughter. When Spencer saw Olivia’s helicopter waiting, she clutched her arm. “I’m going to miss you.”
Olivia’s bottom lip quivered. “I’ll be back soon. And we’ll make plans to do this again. Maybe a Madison Avenue shopping trip next time? You’ll die over the Louboutin store.”
“It’s a deal.” Spencer wrapped her arms around Olivia. She smelled like Narciso Rodriguez, one of Spencer’s favorite perfumes. Olivia blew a kiss and boarded the helicopter. The propeller began to whirl, and Spencer pivoted and looked back at the city. Cabs zoomed up the West Side Highway. People jogged down the West Side path, even though it was past 10 P.M. Lights twinkled in the apartment windows. A party boat on the Hudson drifted by, guests dressed in elegant suits and gowns clearly visible on the deck.
She was dying to live here. Now she had a reason to.
The helicopter lifted off the ground. Olivia slid big headphones over her ears, leaned out the window, and waved enthusiastically at Spencer. “Bon voyage!” Spencer cried. When she hefted her bag higher on her shoulder, something poked her arm. Olivia’s accordion folder.
She pulled it out and waved it over her head. “You forgot this!” But Olivia was saying something to the pilot, her eyes on the skyline. Spencer waved until the helicopter was a tiny dot on the horizon, finally lowering her arms and turning away. At least she had an excuse to see Olivia again.
AND ON A WESTBOUND TRAIN THE NEXT DAY…
The following afternoon, Aria stood on the westbound SEPTA platform in Yarmouth, a town a few miles from Rosewood. The sun was still high in the sky, but the air was chilly, and Aria’s fingers had gone numb. She craned her neck and looked down the tracks. The train was a few stops away, glimmering in the distance. Her heart sped up.
After she’d seen not one but two hot girls fawn over Mike yesterday, she’d decided that life was too short to brood. She distinctly remembered Jason telling her that he got out of Thursday classes early enough to catch the 3 P.M. bullet train back to Yarmouth. Which meant she knew just where to find him now.
She turned and looked at the houses across the tracks. Many had junk on their porches and peeling paint around the windows, and none had been converted into antique shops or upscale spas like the old houses around the Rosewood station. Nor was there a fancy Wawa or Starbucks nearby, just a dingy head shop that offered palm readings and “other psychic services”—whatever that meant—and a bar called the Yee-Haw Saloon, with a big placard out front that said CHUG ALL YOU CAN FOR $5! Even the spindly trees didn’t seem as picturesque. Aria understood why the DiLaurentises wouldn’t have wanted to move back to Rosewood for the duration of the trial, but why had they chosen Yarmouth?
She heard a snort behind her. As she turned, a shadow slipped behind the station on the other side of the tracks. Aria stood on her tiptoes, blinking hard, but she couldn’t make out who it was. She thought about seeing Jenna Cavanaugh in her front yard yesterday. It had seemed as if Jenna was about to tell Aria something…but then decided against it. On top of that, Emily had forwarded Aria a text from A, a photo of Ali and Jenna together that Aria had never seen. See? said Emily’s text. It looks like Ali and Jenna were friends. But wasn’t it possible that Ali was pretending to be Jenna’s friend, in order to get Jenna to trust her? It was just like Ali to bring someone into her inner circle only to steal all her secrets.
The train roared into the station and screeched to a halt. The conductor banged the door open, and people slowly climbed down the metal stairs. When Aria saw Jason’s blond hair and gray jacket, her mouth went dry. She ran to him and touched his elbow. “Jason?”
Jason turned around with a jerk, seemingly on guard. When he saw it was Aria, he relaxed. “Oh,” he said. “Hey.” His eyes flickered back and forth. “What are you doing here?”
Aria cleared her throat, resisting the urge to turn around, run back to her car, and drive away. “Maybe I’m making a fool out of myself, but I liked talking to you the other day. And…I wanted to know if we could hang out some time. But if not, that’s cool too.”
Jason grinned, looking impressed. He stepped out of the way of a crowd of businessmen. “You’re not making a fool out of yourself,” he said, meeting Aria’s eyes.
“I’m not?” Aria’s heart flipped over.
Jason checked his oversize watch. “Do you want to get a drink right now? I’ve got some time.”