Page 22

 Sara Shepard

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She touched his arm gently. “I’ll come back and visit you. And you can visit me too.”
A look of extreme embarrassment fluttered over Andrew’s face. He shook her off. “I-I have to go.” He stumbled out the door and down the hall. “I’ll see you in school tomorrow.”
“Andrew!” Spencer protested, but he had already put on his jacket and was out the door. The wind slammed it shut so hard, the little wooden labradoodle statue that sat on the console table toppled over.
Spencer walked to the window next to the front door and watched Andrew run down the path to his Mini Cooper. She touched the doorknob, about to go after him, but a part of her didn’t want to. Andrew peeled away fast, the tires squealing. And then he was gone.
A huge lump formed in her throat. What had just happened? Had they broken up? Now that Spencer might leave, did Andrew want nothing else to do with her? Why wasn’t he happier for her? Why was he only thinking about himself and what he wanted?
Moments later, the back door slammed, and Spencer jumped. There were footsteps, then Mr. Hastings’s voice. Spencer hadn’t spoken to her parents since before her trip to New York, but she knew she had to. Only, what if Andrew was right? What if they prevented her from moving there?
She snatched her funnel-neck tweed jacket off the back of the living room chair and grabbed her car keys, suddenly afraid. There was no way she could talk to them about this right now. She needed to leave the house for a while, have a cappuccino, and clear her head. As she walked down the front steps toward the driveway, she stopped short, looking right, then left. Something was wrong.
Her car was gone.
The spot where she normally parked the little Mercedes coupe was empty. But Spencer had parked it here a few hours ago after school. Had she forgotten to turn on the alarm? Had someone stolen it? A?
She sprinted back to the kitchen. Mrs. Hastings was standing by the stove, putting some veggies in a big soup pot. Mr. Hastings was pouring himself a glass of Malbec. “My car is gone,” Spencer bleated. “I think someone stole it.”
Mr. Hastings kept calmly pouring. Mrs. Hastings pulled out a plastic cutting board, not even flinching. “No one stole it,” she said.
Spencer stopped. She gripped the edge of the kitchen island. “How do you know no one stole it?”
Her mother’s mouth was pursed, as if she was sucking on something sour. Her black T-shirt pulled tightly against her trim shoulders and chest. She held a paring knife tightly in her fist, wielding it like a weapon. “Because. Your father turned it into the dealer this afternoon.”
Spencer’s knees felt weak. She turned to her dad. “What? Why?”
“It was a gas guzzler,” Mrs. Hastings spoke for him. “We have to start thinking about the economy and the environment.” She shot Spencer a self-righteous smile and turned back to her cutting board.
“But…” Spencer’s body felt electrified. “You guys just inherited millions of dollars! And…that car is not a gas guzzler! It’s way more efficient than Melissa’s SUV!” She turned to her dad. He was still ignoring her, savoring his wine. Didn’t he care at all?
Enraged, Spencer grabbed his wrist. “Do you have anything to say?”
“Spencer,” Mr. Hastings said in an even voice, wrenching his hand away. The spicy smell of red wine filled Spencer’s nose. “You’re being dramatic. We’ve been talking about turning in your car for a long time, remember? You don’t need a car of your own.”
“But how am I supposed to get around?” Spencer wailed.
Mrs. Hastings kept chopping the carrots into smaller and smaller bits. The knife made a gnawing sound against the cutting board. “If you want to buy a new car, do what plenty of other kids your age do.” She brushed the carrots into the pot. “Get a job.”
“A job?” Spencer sputtered. Her parents had never made her work before. She thought about the people at Rosewood Day who had jobs. They worked at the Gap at the King James. At Auntie Anne’s pretzels. At Wawa, making sandwiches.
“Or borrow our car,” Mrs. Hastings said. “Or I hear there’s a wonderful new invention that takes you places the same as a car does.” She laid the knife on the cutting board. “It’s called the bus.”
Spencer gaped at both of them, her ears ringing. Then, to her surprise, a peaceful feeling settled over her. She had her answer. Her parents truly didn’t love her. If they did, they wouldn’t be trying to take away everything from her.
“Fine,” she said tersely, whirling around. “It’s not like I’ll be here much longer, anyway.” As she strode out of the kitchen, she heard her father’s glass clink against the granite countertop. “Spencer,” Mr. Hastings called. But it was too little, too late.
Spencer ran upstairs to her bedroom. Usually, after her parents dissed her, tears would stream down her face, and she’d fling herself on the bed, wondering what she’d done wrong. But not this time. She marched over to her desk and picked up the expandable file Olivia had been lugging around yesterday. Taking a deep breath, she peered inside. Just as Olivia said, it was filled with papers about the apartment Olivia and her husband had purchased, things like dimensions of rooms, floor and cabinet materials, and the amenities in the building—a pet groomer, an indoor Olympic-length swimming pool, and an Elizabeth Arden salon. Clipped to the front of the file was a business card. Michael Hutchins, Real Estate.
Michael, our Realtor, could find you something really special, Olivia had said at dinner.
Spencer looked around the room, assessing its contents. All the furniture, from her four-poster bed to her antique writing desk to the mahogany armoire and Chippendale vanity table, was hers. She’d inherited it from her great-aunt Millicent—apparently she didn’t have the same animosity toward adopted children. Of course she’d have to take her clothes, shoes, bags, and collection of books, too. It would probably fit in a U-Haul. She could even drive the thing herself if she had to.
Her phone buzzed, and Spencer flinched. She eagerly reached for it, hoping Andrew was calling to make up, but when she saw it was a text from Caller Unknown, her heart plummeted to the floor.
Dear Little Miss Spencer-Whatever-Your-Name-Is,
Shouldn’t you know by now what happens if you don’t listen to me? I’ll use small words this time, so even you’ll understand. Either give Long-Lost Mommy a rest and keep searching for what really happened…or pay my price. How does disappearing forever sound?—A
Later that night, after swimming practice ended, Emily slid into her favorite booth at Applebee’s, the one with the old-fashioned tandem bicycle suspended from the ceiling and the colorful license plates on the walls. Her sister Carolyn, Gemma Curran, and Lanie Iler—two other Rosewood Day swimmers—piled in beside her. The dining room smelled like salty french fries and burgers, and an old Beatles song was playing loudly on the stereo. When Emily opened the menu, she was pleased to see that mozzarella sticks and hot wings were still featured appetizers. The southwest chicken salad still came with spicy ranch dressing. If Emily closed her eyes, she could almost pretend it was last year at this time, when she used to come to Applebee’s every Thursday night—back when nothing bad had happened yet.
“Coach Lauren had to be smoking crack when she wrote that set of five hundreds,” Gemma whined, flipping through the laminated menu.
“Seriously,” Carolyn echoed, shrugging out of her Rosewood Day Swim Team jacket. “I can barely lift my arms!”
Emily laughed with the others, then saw a flash of blond hair out of the corner of her eyes. She stiffened and glanced toward the bar, which was packed with people watching an Eagles game on the flat-screen TVs. There was a blond guy at the very end of the bar, talking animatedly to his date. Emily’s heart slowed down. For a second, she’d thought he was Jason DiLaurentis.
Emily couldn’t get Jason off her mind. She hated that Aria had brushed off her warnings about him in the courtyard on Tuesday, making excuses for his anger. And she really didn’t know what to make of the strange photo A had sent her yesterday, the one of Ali, Naomi, and Jenna all together, presumably friends. If Jenna was Ali’s friend, Ali might’ve opened up to her truthfully, right? She might’ve told Jenna a deep, dark secret about her brother, having no idea that Jenna was going to reveal something similar.
A few months ago, before the cops arrested Ian for Ali’s murder, Emily had seen an interview with Jason DiLaurentis on TV. Well, it was sort of an interview—a reporter had tracked him down at Yale, asking him what he thought of the investigation into his sister’s murder, and he’d waved them away, saying he didn’t want to talk about it. He stayed away from his family as much as possible, he said—they were too messed up. But what if Jason was the one who was messed up? The summer between sixth and seventh grade, Emily had been over at Ali’s house when the DiLaurentises were packing up to go to their mountain house in the Poconos. While the whole family industriously carried suitcases to the car, Jason slumped on the recliner in the den, flipping through the TV channels. When Emily asked Ali why Jason wasn’t helping, Ali just shrugged. “He’s in one of his Elliott Smith moods.” She rolled her eyes. “They should put him in the mental ward, where he belongs.”
A shiver traveled down Emily’s back. “Jason needs to be in a mental ward?”
Ali rolled her eyes again. “It was a joke,” she groaned. “You’re so literal!”
But as she turned to carry another suitcase to the car, Ali’s mouth flickered slightly. It seemed like something was going on deep beneath Ali’s cool exterior, something she wouldn’t admit.
Emily had forwarded A’s picture to each of her old friends. Both Spencer and Hanna had responded, saying they had no idea what it could mean, but Aria hadn’t acknowledged it at all. What if they should be worrying about Jason? There was a lot about him they didn’t know.
A blond waitress in a green Applebee’s button-down and an Eagles baseball cap took their orders. Then the swimmers started talking about the party at the Radley. “Topher managed to snag an invite, and he wants me to go,” Carolyn was saying. “But what do you wear to something like that?”
Emily sipped her vanilla Coke. Topher was Carolyn’s boyfriend, but usually the two of them preferred Heroes marathons to fancy parties. “What about the pink dress I wore to the Rosewood Day benefit?” she suggested. Then she drummed her fingers on the table. “You don’t have to worry about me borrowing from your closet yet again. I already got a dress.”
Carolyn’s eyes lit up. “You’re going?”
“Someone asked me,” Emily blurted out. Lanie and Gemma leaned forward, intrigued.
Carolyn squeezed Emily’s arm. “Let me guess,” she whispered. “Renee Jeffries from Tate? You guys were so cute when you were talking before the two hundred fly last month. And someone told me she’s…you know.” Carolyn trailed off.