Page 5

 Sara Shepard

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The reporters began bombarding the cop with questions. “Why did the officer on the scene delay the search?” “Is there something the cops are covering up?” “Is it true that Ian broke house arrest earlier in the week and met with one of the girls who found his body?”
Emily bit her pinkie nail, surprised that the press had found out that Ian had staked out Spencer on her back patio. Who told them that? Wilden? One of the other cops? A?
The cop raised his hand, silencing them. “Like I just explained, Officer Wilden did not delay the search. We had to obtain the proper permits to get access to those woods—they’re private property. As for Mr. Thomas breaking house arrest, that’s not something I’m prepared to comment on right now.”
The waitress made a tsk sound and flipped channels to another newscast. Rosewood Reacts, said the big yellow caption. There was a girl on the screen. Emily immediately recognized her raven black hair and wraparound Gucci sunglasses. Jenna Cavanaugh.
Emily’s stomach flipped. Jenna Cavanaugh. The girl Emily and her friends had accidentally blinded in sixth grade. The girl who’d told Aria, just over two months ago, that Ali had troubling “sibling” problems with her brother, Jason, problems Emily didn’t even want to think about.
She jumped up from the table. “Let’s go,” she blurted out, averting her eyes from the TV.
Isaac stood too, looking concerned. “I’ll have them turn the TV off.”
Emily shook her head. “I want to leave.”
“Okay, okay,” Isaac said gently, pulling out a few limp bills and setting them on his coffee cup. Emily staggered for the front door. When she reached the little area by the hostess stand, she felt Isaac’s hand close over hers.
“I’m sorry,” she said guiltily, her eyes filling with tears. “You didn’t even get to eat your sandwich.”
Isaac touched her arm. “Don’t worry about it. I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
Emily leaned her head into his shoulder. Whenever she shut her eyes, she pictured Ian’s prone and swollen body. She’d never seen a dead person before, not at a funeral, not in a hospital bed, and certainly not in the woods, murdered. She wished she could delete the memory with the press of a button, as easily as trashing unwanted spam from her e-mail inbox. Being with Isaac was the only thing that took some of her pain and fear away.
“I bet you didn’t bargain for this when you asked me to be your girlfriend, huh?” she mumbled.
“Please,” Isaac said softly, kissing her forehead. “I’d help you through anything.”
The coffeemaker at the counter burbled. Outside the window, a grumbling snowplow barreled down the street. For the millionth time, Emily thought about how lucky she was to have found someone as wonderful as Isaac. He had accepted her even after she told him that she’d fallen in love with Ali in seventh grade, and then with Maya St. Germain this fall. He’d patiently listened when she explained how her family struggled with her sexuality, sending her to Tree Tops, a gay-away program. He’d held her hand when she told him that she still thought about Ali constantly, even though Ali had kept a lot of secrets from them. And now he was helping her through this.
It was growing dark outside, and the air smelled like the diner’s scrambled eggs and coffee. They walked hand in hand to Emily’s mom’s Volvo station wagon, which was parallel-parked at the curb. Big drifts of snow were piled on the sidewalk, and a couple of kids were sledding down a tiny hill behind the vacant lot across the street.
As they reached the car, a person wearing a heavy gray jacket with the furry hood tight over his head barreled toward them. His eyes blazed. “Is this your car?” He pointed at the Volvo.
Emily stopped, startled. “Y-yeah…”
“Look what you did!” The guy stomped through the snow and pointed at a BMW parked in front of the Volvo. There was a ding right under the license plate. “You parked here after me,” the guy growled. “Did you even look before you pulled in?”
“I-I’m sorry,” Emily stammered. She couldn’t recall bumping anything when she parked, but she had been in a daze all day.
Isaac faced the guy. “It might have been there before. Maybe you just didn’t notice it.”
“It wasn’t,” the guy sneered. As he staggered closer to them, his hood fell off. He had tousled blond hair, piercing blue eyes, and a familiar, heart-shaped face. Emily sucked in her stomach. It was Ali’s brother, Jason DiLaurentis.
She waited, sure Jason would recognize her too—Emily had been at Ali’s house practically every day in sixth and seventh grade, and Jason had also just seen her at Ian’s trial on Friday. But Jason’s face was red, and his eyes weren’t looking directly at anything; it seemed like he had worked himself into an enraged trance. Emily sniffed the air in front of him, wondering if he was drunk. But she couldn’t smell alcohol on his breath.
“Are you guys even old enough to drive?” Jason roared. He took another threatening step toward Emily.
Isaac stepped between them, shielding Emily from him. “Whoa. You don’t need to yell.”
Jason’s nostrils flared. He clenched his fists, and for a moment, Emily thought he was going to throw a punch. Then, a couple stepped out of the diner onto the street, and Jason turned his head. He let out a frustrated groan, smacked the trunk of his car hard, wheeled around, and climbed into the driver’s seat. The BMW growled to life, and Jason peeled away into traffic, cutting off an oncoming car. Horns honked. Tires squealed. Emily watched the taillights disappear around a corner, her hands pressed to the sides of her face.
Isaac faced Emily. “Are you okay?”
Emily nodded mutely, too stunned to speak.
“What was his deal? It was hardly a dent. I don’t even remember you bumping him.”
Emily swallowed hard. “That was Alison DiLaurentis’s brother.” Just saying the words out loud made her burst into scared, troubled tears. Isaac hesitated for a moment, and then he wrapped his arms around Emily, holding her close.
“Shhh,” he whispered. “Let’s get you in the car. I’ll drive.”
Emily handed him the keys and got into the passenger seat. Isaac pulled out of the spot and started down the road. Tears rolled down Emily’s cheeks faster and faster. She wasn’t even sure what she was crying about—Jason’s odd outburst, yes, but also just seeing Jason in front of her. He looked so startlingly like Ali.
Isaac looked over again, his face crumpling. “Hey,” he said softly. He turned onto a road that led to a row of office buildings, pulled into a dark, empty parking lot, and shifted into park. “It’s okay.” He stroked Emily’s arm.
They sat there for a while, saying nothing. The only sound was the Volvo’s rattling heater. After a while, Emily wiped her eyes, leaned forward, and kissed him, so happy he was here. He kissed her back, and they paused, looking longingly at each other. Emily dove back in, kissing more hungrily. Suddenly, all her problems blew away, like ashes in a breeze.
The car’s windows fogged up. Wordlessly, Isaac picked up the bottom hem of his long-sleeved T-shirt and pulled it over his head. His chest was smooth and muscular, and he had a small, shiny scar on the inside of his right arm. Emily reached out and touched it. “What’s that from?”
“Falling off a BMX ramp in second grade,” he answered.
He tilted his head and nudged toward Emily’s long-sleeved T-shirt. She lifted her arms. Isaac pulled it off. Though the heat was on full blast, Emily’s arms were still covered in goose bumps. She looked down, embarrassed at the navy sports bra she’d dug out of her drawer that morning. It was printed with moons, stars, and planets. If only she’d put on something a little more feminine and sexy—but then, it wasn’t as if she’d planned on taking her clothes off.
Isaac pointed at her belly button. “You have an outie.”
Emily covered it up. “Everyone makes fun of it.” Mostly, she meant Ali, who had caught a peek at Emily’s belly button once when they were changing at the Rosewood Country Club. “I thought only chubby boys had belly buttons like those,” she’d teased. Emily had worn one-piece bathing suits ever since.
Isaac pried her hands away. “I think it’s great.” His fingers grazed the bottom edge of the bra, sliding his hand inside. Emily’s heart pounded. Isaac leaned into her, kissing her neck. His bare skin touched hers. He tugged at her sports bra, urging her to pull it off. Emily yanked it over her head, and a goofy smile appeared on Isaac’s face. Emily giggled, amused at how serious they were being. Yet, she didn’t feel self-conscious. This felt…right.
They embraced tightly, pressing their warm bodies together. “Are you sure you’re okay?” Isaac murmured.
“I think so,” Emily said into his shoulder. “I’m sorry my life seems so crazy.”
“Don’t apologize.” Isaac caressed her hair with his hands. “Like I said, I’d help you through anything. I…love you.”
Emily leaned back, agape. Isaac had such a sincere and vulnerable look on his face, and Emily wondered if she was the first person he’d ever said he loved. She felt so grateful to have him in her life. He was the only person who made her feel even remotely safe.
“I love you too,” she decided.
They embraced again, tighter this time. But after a few blissful seconds, Jason’s twisted, furious face swam into Emily’s mind. She squeezed her eyes tight, and her stomach swirled with dread.
Calm down, said a little voice inside her. There was probably a logical explanation for Jason’s outburst. Everyone was devastated by Ali’s death and Ian’s disappearance, and it wasn’t unusual for someone—especially a family member—to go a little crazy out of grief.
But a second voice prodded at her, too. That’s not the whole story, the voice said, and you know it.
Later that night, Hanna Marin sat at a gleaming white café table at the Pinkberry at the King James Mall. Her soon-to-be stepsister Kate Randall, Naomi Zeigler, and Riley Wolfe surrounded her, little cups of frozen yogurt in front of each of them. A snappy Japanese pop song thudded out of the speakers, and a line of girls from St. Augustus Prep stood at the counter, musing over the choices.
“Don’t you think Pinkberry is a much better hangout than Rive Gauche?” Hanna said, referring to the French-style bistro at the other end of the mall. She gestured out the door, into the mall atrium. “We’re right across from Armani Exchange and Cartier. We can ogle hot guys and gorgeous diamonds without getting up.”
She dipped her spoon into her cup of Pinkberry and shoved an enormous bite in her mouth, letting out a little mmm to emphasize how good an idea she thought this was. Then she fed a little bite to Dot, her miniature Doberman, whom she’d brought along in her brand-new Juicy Couture doggie carrier. The Pinkberry workers kept shooting daggers in Hanna’s direction. Some lame rule said that dogs weren’t allowed in here, but surely they meant dirty dogs, like labs and Saint Bernards and hideous little shih tzus. Dot was the cleanest dog in Rosewood. Hanna gave him weekly bubble baths in lavender-scented dog shampoo imported from Paris.