Page 8

 Sara Shepard

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Her dad had a few Internet Explorer windows open from the last time he’d been on the computer. One was the front page of the Philadelphia Sentinel. The top headline was Search for Thomas’s Body Rages On. Right below it was an opinion piece that said Rosewood PD Should Be Hanged for Negligence. Below that was yet another story that read, Kansas Teenager Receives Text from A.
Spencer scowled and minimized the screen.
She gazed at the folder icons on the right side of the desktop. “Taxes,” she read out loud. “Old. Work. Stuff.” She groaned. “My mom would kill him if she knew he organized the files like this.”
“What about that one?” Andrew pointed at the screen. “Spencer, College.”
Spencer frowned and clicked on it. There was only one PDF file inside the folder. The little hourglass icon whirled as the PDF slowly loaded on the screen. She and Andrew leaned forward. It was a recent statement from a savings account.
“Whoa.” Andrew pointed to the total. There was a two, and more than a few zeroes. Spencer noticed the name on the account. Spencer Hastings. Her eyes widened. Maybe her parents hadn’t cut her off entirely.
She shut the PDF and kept looking. They opened a few more documents, but most of the files were spreadsheets Spencer didn’t understand. There were tons of folders that had no classifications whatsoever. Spencer fluffed the feathery end of the quill pen her father had purchased at a 1776-themed auction at Christie’s. “Going through this will take forever.”
“Just copy the hard drive onto a disc and go through it all later,” Andrew suggested. He opened a big box of blank CDs on her dad’s bookshelf and popped one into her dad’s hard drive. Spencer looked at him nervously. She didn’t want to add breaking into her dad’s computer to the long list of grievances her parents had against her.
“Your dad will never know,” Andrew said, noting her look. “I promise.” He clicked a few directives on the screen. “This’ll take a few minutes to run,” he said.
Spencer gazed at the rotating hourglass on the monitor, a nervous chill rushing through her. It was very possible that the truth about her past was on this computer. It had probably been right under her nose for years, and she hadn’t had the slightest idea.
She pulled out her phone and opened the e-mail from Olivia Caldwell again. I would love to meet you. With sincere fondness. Suddenly, Spencer’s brain turned over, and she felt clear-eyed and sure. What were the odds that a woman had given up a baby on the very same day Spencer was born at the very same hospital? A woman with emerald green eyes and dirty blond hair? What if this wasn’t a theory…but the truth?
Spencer looked at Andrew. “It wouldn’t kill me to meet with her, I guess.”
A surprised and excited smile appeared on Andrew’s face. Spencer turned back to her Sidekick and hit reply, a giddy feeling spreading in her stomach. Squeezing Andrew’s hand, she took a deep breath, composed her message, and hit send. Just like that, the e-mail was gone.
The following morning, Aria’s brother, Mike, turned up the stereo in the family’s Subaru Outback. Aria winced as Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” snarled out of the speakers. “Can you turn it down a little?” she whined.
Mike kept bobbing his head. “It’s best to listen to Zeppelin at maximum volume. That’s what Noel and I do. Did you know the guys in the band were serious badasses? Jimmy Page rode his motorcycle down hotel hallways. Robert Plant threw TVs out windows onto the Sunset Strip.”
“Nope, can’t say I knew that,” Aria said dryly. Today, Aria had the unfortunate chore of driving Mike to school. Mike usually rode with his Typical Rosewood mentor, Noel Kahn, but Noel’s Range Rover was in the shop getting an even larger stereo installed. God forbid Mike take the bus.
Mike absentmindedly fiddled with the yellow rubber Rosewood Day lacrosse bracelet he wore nonstop on his right wrist. “So why are you living with Dad again?”
“I thought I should spend equal time with Ella and Byron,” Aria mumbled. She made a left-hand turn onto the long drive that led to the school, narrowly missing a fat squirrel darting across the road. “And we should get to know Meredith, don’t you think?”
“But she’s a puke machine.” Mike made a face.
“She’s not that bad. And they’re moving into that bigger house today.” Aria had overheard Byron breaking the news to Ella on the phone the night before, and she assumed Ella had told Mike and Xavier. “I’ll have a whole floor to myself.”
Mike gave her a suspicious look, but Aria stuck to her story.
Aria’s cell phone, which was nestled in her yak-fur bag, beeped. She glanced at it nervously. She hadn’t received a text from whoever this new A was since they’d discovered Ian’s body Saturday night, but like Emily had said the other day, Aria had the distinct feeling that she was going to get a text from A any second.
Taking a deep breath, she reached into her purse. The text was from Emily. Pull around back. School is mobbed with news vans again.
Aria groaned. The news vans had clogged up the school’s front drive the day before, too. Every media outlet in the tristate area had sunk their teeth into the Ian Dead Body story. On the 7 A.M. news, reporters had canvassed the Rosewood Starbucks, random mothers waiting with their kids at school bus stops, and some people in the local DMV line, asking if they thought the cops had bungled the case. Most people said yes. Many were outraged that the police might be hiding something about Ali’s murder. Some of the more tabloidy newspapers concocted elaborate conspiracy theories—that Ian had used a body double in the woods, or that Ali had a long-lost cross-dressing cousin who was responsible not only for her murder, but also a string of killings in Connecticut.
Aria craned her neck over the line of Audis and BMWs that jammed the driveway to the school. Sure enough, there were five news vans parked in the bus lane, blocking traffic.
“Sweet!” Mike exclaimed, his eyes on the vans too. “Let me off here. That Cynthia Hewley’s hot. Think she’d do me?” Cynthia Hewley was the curvy blond reporter relentlessly covering Ian’s trial. Every guy at Rosewood Day hoped she’d do him.
Aria didn’t stop the car. “What would Savannah say about that?” She poked Mike’s arm. “Or have you forgotten you have a girlfriend?”
Mike flicked a toggle on his navy duffel coat. “I kind of don’t anymore.”
“What?” Aria had met Savannah at the Rosewood Day benefit, and thrillingly, she’d been normal and nice. Aria had always worried that Mike’s first real girlfriend would be a skanky, brainless Barbie on loan from Turbulence, the local strip club.
Mike shrugged. “If you must know, she broke up with me.”
“What did you do?” Aria demanded. Then she held up her hand, silencing him. “Actually, don’t tell me.” Mike had probably suggested Savannah start wearing crotchless panties or begged her to hook up with a girl and let him watch.
Aria drove around to the back of the school, past the soccer fields and the art barn. As she pulled into one of the last spaces in the back lot, she noticed a flapping sign on one of the lot’s tall, metal floodlights. time capsule, THE WINTER EDITION, STARTS TODAY! HERE’S YOUR CHANCE TO BE IMMORTALIZED! said big block letters.
“You’re kidding me,” Aria whispered. The school held the Time Capsule contest every year, although Aria had missed the last three because her family had been living in Reykjavík, Iceland. The game usually took place in the fall, but Rosewood Day had been tactful enough to suspend it this year after construction workers found Alison DiLaurentis’s dead body in the half-dug hole in her old backyard. But Rosewood wouldn’t dare skip out on their most venerable tradition entirely. What would the donors think?
Mike sat up straighter, spying the sign. “Nice. I have the perfect idea of how to decorate it.” He rubbed his palms together eagerly.
Aria rolled her eyes. “Are you going to draw unicorns on it? Write a poem about your bromance with Noel?”
Mike raised his nose in the air. “It’s way better than that. But if I told you, I’d have to kill you.” He waved to Noel Kahn, who was climbing out of James Freed’s Hummer, and dashed out of the car without saying good-bye.
Aria sighed, peering again at the Time Capsule sign. In sixth grade, the first year Aria had been able to play, Time Capsule had been a huge deal. But when Aria, Spencer, and the others had sneaked into Ali’s yard hoping to steal her piece, everything had gone so wrong. Aria pictured the shoe box at the back of her closet. She hadn’t been brave enough to look inside it for years. Maybe Ali’s piece of the flag had decomposed by now, just like her body.
“Ms. Montgomery?”
Aria jumped. A dark-haired woman with a microphone stood outside her car. Behind her was a guy holding a TV camera.
The woman’s eyes lit up when she saw Aria’s face. “Ms. Montgomery!” she cried, banging on Aria’s window. “Can I ask you a few questions?”
Aria gritted her teeth, feeling like a monkey in a zoo. She waved the woman off, started the car again, and backed out of the lot. The reporter ran alongside her. The cameraman kept his lens on Aria as she zoomed to the main road.
She had to get out of here. Now.
By the time Aria arrived at the Rosewood SEPTA station, the parking lot was almost full with the regular commuters’ Saabs, Volvos, and BMWs. She finally found a space, shoved a bunch of change into the meter, and stood on the edge of the platform. The train tracks were under a rusty trestle bridge. Across the road was a pet store that sold homemade dog food and costumes for cats.
There wasn’t a train in sight. Then again, Aria had been so frantic to leave Rosewood Day, it hadn’t occurred to her to check the SEPTA schedule. Sighing, she pushed into the little station house, which consisted of a ticket window, an ATM machine, and a small coffee counter that also sold books about train travel along the historic Main Line. A few people sat on the wooden benches that lined the room, languidly staring at the flat-screen television in the corner that was tuned to Regis & Kelly. Aria walked over to the posted train schedules on the far wall and discovered that the next train wouldn’t be leaving here for a half hour. Resigned, she plopped down on a bench. A few people gawked at her. She wondered if they recognized her from TV. Reporters had been dogging her since Sunday, after all.
“Hey,” a voice said. “I know you.”
Aria groaned, anticipating what was coming next. You’re that murdered girl’s best friend! You’re that girl who was being stalked! You’re that girl who saw the dead body! When she looked one bench over, her heart stopped. A familiar blond guy was sitting on a bench across the aisle, staring at her. Aria recognized his long fingers, his bow-shaped mouth, even the little mole on his cheekbone. She felt hot, then cold.
It was Jason DiLaurentis.
“H-hi,” Aria stammered. Lately, she’d been thinking a lot about Jason—especially the crush she used to have on him. It was weird to suddenly have him here, right in front of her.