Page 4

 Sara Shepard

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“I don’t know,” Aria finally answered. “But it is weird they’re just getting around to it now.”
“Have you gotten any more A notes?” Emily asked.
Aria stiffened. “No. You?”
“No, but I keep thinking I’m going to get one at any minute.”
“Who do you think the new A is?” Aria asked. She had no theories whatsoever. Was it someone who wanted Ian dead, Ian himself, or someone else entirely? Wilden believed the texts were pranks from some random person in a whole other state. But A had taken incriminating photos of Aria and Xavier together last week, meaning A was here in Rosewood. A also knew about Ian’s body in the woods—all of them had gotten a note urging them to go find him. Why was A so desperate to show them Ian’s body—to scare them? To warn them? And when Hanna fell, she’d seen someone looming over her. What was the likelihood that someone else happened to be in those woods the exact same time as Ian’s body? There had to be a connection.
“I don’t know,” Emily concluded. “But I don’t want to find out.”
“Maybe A is gone,” Aria said, in the most hopeful voice she could manage.
Emily sighed and said she had to go. Aria got up, poured a glass of acai berry juice Meredith had bought at the health food store, and rubbed her temples. Could Wilden have delayed the search on purpose? If so, why? He’d seemed so fidgety and uncomfortable last night, and then he’d walked off in the opposite direction of Spencer’s house. Maybe he was hiding something. Or maybe Emily was right—the delay was due to procedure. He was just a cop dutifully playing by the rules.
It still baffled Aria that Wilden had become a cop, let alone a dutiful one. Wilden had been in Jason DiLaurentis and Ian’s year at Rosewood Day, and back then he’d been a troublemaker. The year Aria was in sixth and they were in eleventh, she often sneaked into the Upper School during her free periods to spy on Jason—she’d had such a painful crush on him, and sought him out every chance she got. For just a moment, she would gaze through the window of the wood-shop cottage as he sanded his homemade bookends, or swoon at his muscular legs as he ran up and down the soccer practice fields. Aria was always careful never to let anyone see her.
But once, someone did.
It was about a week into the school year. Aria had been watching Jason checking out books at the library from the hallway when she heard a click behind her. There was Darren Wilden, his ear pressed to the door of the lockers, slowly turning the dial. The locker opened, and Aria saw a heart-shaped mirror on the inside of the door and a box of Always maxi pads on the upper shelf. Wilden’s hand closed around a twenty-dollar bill wedged between two textbooks. Aria frowned, slowly processing what Wilden was doing.
Wilden stood up and noticed her. He stared back, unapologetic. “You’re not supposed to be here,” he sneered. “But I won’t tell…this time.”
When Aria looked at the TV again, there was a commercial on for a local furniture outlet store called The Dump. She stared at her phone on the table, realizing there was another phone call she had to make. It was almost eleven—Ella would certainly be awake.
She dialed the number to her house. The phone rang once, then twice. There was a click, and someone said, “Hello?”
Aria’s words got stuck in her throat. It was Xavier, her mother’s new boyfriend. Xavier sounded chipper and comfortable, completely at ease with answering the Montgomerys’ phone. Had he stayed overnight last night after the benefit? Ew.
“Hello?” Xavier said again.
Aria felt tongue-tied and skeeved out. When Xavier had approached Aria at the Rosewood Day benefit last night and asked if they could talk, Aria had assumed that he was going to apologize for kissing her a few days before. Only, apparently, in Xavier-speak, “talk” meant “grope.”
After a few seconds of silence, Xavier breathed out. “Is this Aria?” he said, his voice slimy. Aria made a small squeak. “There’s no need to hide,” he teased. “I thought we had an understanding.”
Aria hung up fast. The only understanding she and Xavier had was that if she warned Ella what kind of person Xavier was, Xavier would tell Ella that Aria had liked Xavier for a nanosecond. And that would ruin Aria and Ella’s relationship for good.
Aria jumped and looked up. Her father, Byron, was standing above her, wearing a ratty Hollis T-shirt and sporting his typical just-rolled-out-of bed hairstyle.
He sat down at the table next to her. Meredith, wearing a sari-style maternity dress and Birkenstocks, waddled in and leaned against the counter. “We wanted to talk to you,” Byron said.
Aria folded her hands in her lap. They both looked so serious.
“First off, we’re going to have a baby shower for Meredith Wednesday night,” Byron said. “It’s going to be a little thing with some of our friends.”
Aria blinked. They had joint friends? That seemed impossible. Meredith was in her twenties, barely out of college. And Byron was…old.
“You can bring a friend if you want,” Meredith added. “And don’t worry about getting me a gift. I totally don’t expect it.”
Aria wondered if Meredith was registered at Sunshine, the eco baby store in Rosewood that sold organic baby booties made out of recycled soda bottles for a hundred dollars.
“And as for where this shower is going to be…” Byron tugged at the cuffs of his white cable-knit sweater. “We’re going to have it at our new house.”
The words took a moment to sink in. Aria opened her mouth, then shut it fast.
“We didn’t want to tell you until we were sure,” Byron rushed on. “But our loan went through today, and we’re closing on it tomorrow. We want to move right away, and we’d love it if you’d join us there.”
“A…house,” Aria repeated. She wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. Here in this student-friendly, shabby-chic, drippy little 650-square-foot apartment in Old Hollis, Byron and Meredith’s relationship seemed sort of…pretend. A house, on the other hand, was grown-up. Real.
“Where is it?” Aria finally asked.
Meredith ran her fingers along the pink spiderweb tattoo on the inside of her wrist. “On Coventry Lane. It’s really beautiful, Aria—I think you’ll love it. There’s a spiral staircase leading to a big loft bedroom in the attic. That can be yours, if you want. The light up there is great for painting.”
Aria stared at a small stain on Byron’s sweater. Coventry Lane had a familiar ring to it, but she wasn’t sure why.
“You can start moving your stuff over anytime after tomorrow,” Byron said, eyeing Aria warily, as if he wasn’t sure how she was going to react.
She turned absently to the TV. The news was showing Ian’s mug shot. Then, Ian’s mother came on the screen, looking pale and sleepless. “We haven’t heard from Ian since Thursday night,” Mrs. Thomas cried. “If anyone knows what has happened to him, please come forward.”
“Wait,” Aria said slowly, a thought congealing in her mind. “Isn’t Coventry Lane in the neighborhood right behind Spencer’s house?”
“That’s right!” Byron brightened. “You’ll be closer to her.”
Aria shook her head. Her dad didn’t get it. “That’s Ian Thomas’s old street.”
Byron and Meredith glanced at each other, their faces paling. “It…is?” Byron asked.
Aria’s heart thumped. This was one of the reasons she loved her dad—he was so hopelessly oblivious to gossip. At the same time, how on earth could he not know this?
Great. Not only would she be right next to the woods where they’d found Ian’s body, but where Ali had died, too. And what if Ian was still alive, stalking those very woods?
She faced her father. “Don’t you think that street’s going to have some seriously bad karma?”
Byron crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m sorry, Aria. But we got an amazing deal on a house, one we couldn’t pass up. It has tons of space, and I’m sure you’ll find it more comfortable than living in…this.” He waved his arms around, pointing specifically to the apartment’s one tiny bathroom, which they had to share.
Aria glared at the bird-faced totem pole in the corner of the kitchen that Meredith had dragged home from a flea market about a month ago. It wasn’t like she could go back to her mom’s. Xavier’s teasing voice rattled through her head. There’s no need to hide. I thought we had an understanding.
“Okay. I’ll move on Tuesday,” Aria mumbled. She gathered her books and cell phone and retreated to her tiny bedroom at the back of Meredith’s studio, feeling exhausted and defeated.
As she dropped her stuff on her bed, something outside the window caught her eye. The studio was at the back of the apartment, facing an alleyway and a dilapidated wooden garage. A filmy shadow moved behind the garage’s murky windows. Then a pair of unblinking eyes peered through the glass, straight at Aria.
Aria shrieked and pressed herself against the back wall, her heart rocketing. But in a flash, the eyes vanished, as if they’d never been there at all.
Sunday evening, Emily Fields curled her legs underneath her in a cozy booth at Penelope’s, a homey diner not far from her house. Her new boyfriend, Isaac, sat across the booth, the two slices of peanut butter–laden bread he’d ordered in front of him. He was demonstrating how to make his world-famous, life-changing peanut butter sandwich.
“The trick,” Isaac said, “is to use honey instead of jelly.” He picked up a bear-shaped bottle from the middle of the table. The bear made a farting noise as Isaac squeezed honey onto one of the slices. “I promise this will take all of your stress away.” He handed her the sandwich. Emily took a big bite, chewed, and smiled.
“Gooh,” she said, her mouth full. Isaac squeezed her hand, and Emily swooned. Isaac had soft, expressive blue eyes, and there was something about his mouth that made him look like he was smiling even when he wasn’t. If Emily didn’t know him, she’d assume he was too good-looking to be going out with someone like her.
Isaac pointed at the television over the diner counter. “Hey, isn’t that your friend’s house?”
Emily turned in time to see Mrs. McClellan, Spencer’s neighbor from down the street, paused in front of the Hastings estate, her white standard poodle on a retractable leash. “I haven’t been able to sleep since Saturday,” she was saying. “The idea that there’s a dead body lying there in the woods behind my house is too much to bear. I just hope they find it fast.”
Emily slid down in her seat, acid rising to her throat. She was happy the police were searching for Ian, but she didn’t want to hear about it right now.
A cop from the Rosewood police force appeared next. “The Rosewood PD has produced all the necessary warrants, and they’ve started their search of the woods today.” Flashbulbs popped in the cop’s face. “We are taking this matter seriously and moving as fast as we can.”