Page 24

 Sara Shepard

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Hanna ran up to the Ali shrine, which was still assembled at the curb. A few of the candles had been replaced, and one was lit, dancing in the wind. There were a few hand-lettered signs on poster board that said things like, WE’LL FIND HIM, ALI, and IAN WILL PAY FOR THIS!
She crouched down and looked at the photograph that had been part of the shrine ever since it was first assembled, back when Ali’s body had been recovered. The photo was warped and faded from months of rain and snow. It was a picture of sixth-grade Ali, wearing a blue Von Dutch T-shirt and Seven jeans, standing in Spencer’s grand foyer. The photo had been taken the night Melissa and Ian were going to the Rosewood Day Winter Ball—Ali had been vehement about spying on them, giggling hysterically when Melissa tripped on the stairs during her grand entrance. Who knew, maybe Ali had something going on with Ian even back then.
Hanna frowned, looking closer at the photo. Behind Ali, the Hastingses’ front door was slightly open, offering a partial view of Spencer’s front yard. Standing in Spencer’s driveway next to Ian and Melissa’s Hummer limo was a lone figure in a down jacket and jeans. Hanna couldn’t really make out who it was, his face a blur. Still, there was something intrusive and voyeuristic about the person’s posture, as if whoever it was wanted to spy on Ian and Melissa too.
A door slammed. Hanna jumped, looking up. For a moment, she couldn’t locate where the noise had come from. Then she saw Darren Wilden standing at the bottom of the Cavanaughs’ driveway. When he saw Hanna, he did a double take.
“Hanna,” Wilden said. “What are you…doing?”
Hanna’s heart started to beat faster, like she’d just been caught shoplifting. “Running. What are you doing?”
Wilden looked shaken. He turned halfway, gesturing across the street to the woods behind Spencer’s house. “I was, um, just, you know. Checking things out back there.”
Hanna crossed her arms. The cops had abandoned the search in the woods a few days ago. And Wilden had come from Jenna’s house, which was across the street from the woods, not in the right direction at all. “Did you find something?”
Wilden rubbed his gloved hands together. “You shouldn’t be here,” he blurted.
Hanna stared at him.
“It’s cold out,” Wilden fumbled.
Hanna extended her left leg. “That’s what running tights are for. And mittens and hats.”
“Still.” Wilden slapped his right fist into his left palm. “I’d rather you were running somewhere safer. Like the Marwyn trail.”
Hanna squirmed. Was Wilden truly concerned for her…or did he just want her to leave? He glanced over his shoulder again toward Spencer’s woods. Hanna craned her neck too. Was there something there? Something he didn’t want her to see? But hadn’t he told the press that he’d never believed anything was back there? Didn’t he think Hanna and the others made it up?
A’s text about Wilden at confession flashed through her mind. We all have stuff to feel guilty about, huh?
“Do you need a ride somewhere?” Wilden asked loudly, making Hanna jump. “I’m finished here.”
Truthfully, Hanna’s toes were going numb. “Okay,” she stammered, trying to stay calm. She gave the Ali shrine a final look, then followed Wilden to a car covered in a dirty layer of caked-on snow and ice. “That’s your car?” Hanna asked. There was something familiar about it.
Wilden nodded. “My cruiser’s in the shop, so I had to resort to this old beater.” He opened the passenger door. The inside of the car smelled like old McDonald’s hamburger wrappers. He quickly tossed a bunch of file folders, shoe boxes, CDs, empty packs of cigarettes, unopened mail, and an extra pair of gloves to the backseat. “Sorry for the mess.”
An oval-shaped sticker in the front-seat foot well caught Hanna’s eye. There was a drawing of a fish on it, with a few initials and the words Day Pass. The sticker hadn’t been pulled off the shiny backing, and the ink seemed bright and new.
“Did you recently go ice fishing?” Hanna teased, pointing at it. Back when her dad was Hanna’s friend instead of the soulless drone who only wanted to make Princess Kate happy, they used to go fishing at Keuka Lake in upstate New York. They always had to buy a similar-looking fishing pass at the local bait shop in order to use the lake without getting fined.
Wilden glanced at the sticker, an odd expression flickering over his face. He tweezed it between his fingers and tossed it quickly to the back. “I haven’t cleaned out this car in years.” His words tumbled out in a rush. “That thing’s old.”
The motor started up, and Wilden shifted into reverse so forcefully Hanna was knocked back. He swung around the cul-de-sac, nearly running over the Ali shrine, then whipped past Spencer’s house, Jenna’s, and Mona’s. Hanna grasped the little handle above the window. “This isn’t a race,” she joked shakily, growing more and more weirded out.
Wilden looked at her out of the corner of her eye, saying nothing. Hanna noticed he didn’t have his Rosewood PD jacket on, but instead wore a simple, oversize gray hoodie and black jeans. An oversize hoodie, in fact, that looked a lot like the one the Grim Reaperish person who’d stood over her in the woods Saturday night had worn. But that was just a coincidence…right?
Hanna ran her hand over the back of her neck and cleared her throat. “So, um, how’s the Ian investigation?”
Wilden looked at her, his foot still pressed firmly on the gas pedal. They took the turn at the top of the hill fast, and the car’s tires made a screeching noise. “We have a pretty good lead that Ian’s in California.”
Hanna opened her mouth, then closed it fast. The IP address from Ian’s IMs had said that he was still in Rosewood. “Uh, how did you find out that?” she asked.
“A tip,” Wilden growled.
“From who?”
He shot her a frozen glare. “You know I can’t tell you that.”
A gray Nissan Pathfinder was in front of them, slowly ascending the hill. Wilden revved the engine and veered into the lane of oncoming traffic, speeding to get around. The Pathfinder honked. Two hazy lights appeared in the distance, heading the opposite direction. “What are you doing?” Hanna screamed, growing nervous. Wilden didn’t move back into the right lane. “Stop!” Hanna screamed. All at once, she was catapulted back to the night she’d stood in the Rosewood Day parking lot, Mona’s SUV heading straight for her. By the time she’d realized the SUV wasn’t going to swerve, she couldn’t move, petrified and helpless. It had felt as if there was nothing she could have done to stop what had happened.
Hanna shut her eyes, anxiety overpowering her. There was a loud, blaring horn, and Wilden’s car swerved. When Hanna opened her eyes again, they were back in their own lane.
“What is wrong with you?” Hanna demanded, her whole body trembling.
Wilden glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. He looked…amused. “Calm down.”
Calm down? Hanna ran her hand down the length of her face, about to throw up. The incident flashed through her mind again and again, on rapid fast-forward. Ever since her accident, she’d tried very, very hard not to think about that night, and here Wilden was, laughing at her for being scared. Maybe she shouldn’t have been so quick to discount A’s texts about Wilden after all.
Hanna was about to tell him to pull over and let her out when she realized Wilden was zooming up her winding driveway. When they reached the top, she quickly unbuckled her seat belt and got out of the car, never so grateful to see her house.
She slammed the door anyway, but Wilden didn’t seem to notice. He just sped in reverse down the driveway, not even bothering to make the three-point turn. Some of the snow had fallen off the nose of the car. Hanna could see that it had a pointed end and mean-looking headlights.
A sense of déjà vu suddenly nagged at her. Something about what had just happened had happened before—and not just the night of her accident. She had the same feeling as when she couldn’t remember a vocabulary word in French class, the term on the tip of her tongue. Usually, the word came to her later at the weirdest time, like when she was surfing on iTunes or walking Dot. Soon enough, this would come back to her too.
But she wasn’t exactly looking forward to finding it.
After school on Friday, Spencer’s closest field hockey friend, Kirsten Cullen, pulled up to Spencer’s curb and yanked up the parking brake.
“Thanks so much for the ride,” Spencer said. Just because her parents had taken away her wheels didn’t mean she was about to climb aboard the smelly Rosewood Day school bus.
“No worries,” Kirsten said. “You need a ride on Monday, too?”
“If it’s not too much trouble,” Spencer mumbled.
She’d tried calling Aria for a ride, since Aria now lived one neighborhood over, but Aria had said she had “something to do” this afternoon, mysteriously not saying what it was. And it wasn’t like she could ask Andrew. All day, she’d thought he was going to apologize—if he had, she would have apologized to him too, and promised they would stay together if she moved. Andrew pointedly didn’t say a word to her in any of their shared classes. That, Spencer figured, was that.
Kirsten gave Spencer a wave and pulled away from the curb one-handed. Turning, Spencer walked up the driveway. The neighborhood was still and silent, and the sky was a drab, purplish-gray. The KILLER graffiti on the garage doors had been painted over, but the new color didn’t quite match, and the word still showed through faintly. Spencer averted her eyes, not wanting to look at it. Who had put it there? A? But…why? To scare her, or to warn her?
The house was empty, smelling like Murphy’s Oil Soap and Windex, meaning the Hastingses’ cleaning lady, Candace, had just left. Spencer ran upstairs, grabbed Olivia’s expandable folder from the desk in her room, and exited the house through the back door. Even though her parents weren’t here, she didn’t want to be in their house when she did this. She needed complete privacy.
She unlocked the barn’s front door and flipped on the kitchen and living room lights. Everything was as she’d left it since the last time she’d been in here, down to the half-filled water glass by the computer. She plopped down on the couch and pulled out her Sidekick. A’s message was the last text she’d received. How does disappearing forever sound?
At first, the note had scared her, but after a while, she’d seen it another way. Disappearing forever sounded fine—disappearing from Rosewood, that was. And Spencer knew just how she could.
She dumped Olivia’s file folder on the coffee table, its contents practically spilling out onto the throw rug. The Realtor’s card was right on top. With shaking hands, Spencer dialed his number. The phone rang once, then twice. “Michael Hutchins,” a man’s voice squawked.
Spencer sat up and cleared her throat. “Hi. My name is Spencer Hastings,” she said, trying to sound older and professional. “My mom is your client. Olivia Caldwell?”