Aria frowned. Hanna? They hadn’t spoken in months.
She opened the text. Meet me in front of Ali’s old mailbox. It’s important.
Driving down the DiLaurentises’ old street still filled Aria with the sense that she was visiting an old graveyard. Mona Vanderwaal’s old house stood at the beginning of the road, the windows dark, the doors shut tight, a tipped-over FOR SALE sign in the front yard. The Hastings house was lit up like a birthday cake, but Aria couldn’t help glance at the backyard and the decimated woods, which would take years to recover from the fire Real Ali had set. Aria would never forget running frantically through the smoke that January night and coming upon someone trapped under a log. When she’d pulled the girl to safety, she’d realized it was Ali.
But not their Ali. Not the Ali who’d chosen them to be her new BFFs. Not the Ali they’d worshipped, resented, and loved. It was Real Ali, who’d been locked up in the Preserve since sixth grade.
Aria shook the memory away as her headlights swept across the DiLaurentises’ old driveway. A figure stood at Ali’s old mailbox, hopping from one foot to the other in a clear effort to keep warm. Aria pulled to the curb and got out. It wasn’t Hanna, though, but Emily. “What are you doing here?” Aria asked.
Emily looked just as surprised as Aria was. “Spencer texted me. Did she text you, too?”
“No, Hanna did.”
“I did what?”
They turned and saw Hanna stepping out of her Prius, her auburn hair wound into a bun. Aria held up her phone. “You told me to come here.”
“No, I didn’t.” Hanna looked confused. “I’m here because Emily texted me.”
Emily frowned. “I didn’t text you.”
A crack sounded behind them, and everyone whipped around. Spencer burst through the bushes that separated her house from the DiLaurentises’. “You told everyone to come, Aria?”
Aria let out an uncomfortable laugh. “I didn’t tell anyone to come.”
“Yeah, you did.” Spencer thrust her phone in Aria’s face. Meet me in front of Ali’s mailbox. I have something to show you.
A cloud passed in front of the moon, blotting out the light. The snowdrifts on the lawn glistened eerily, crusted over with ice. Aria exchanged a worried glance with the others. Her stomach twisted with the familiarity of it—this was a look that had passed between them many, many times before.
“I was babysitting down the street.” Emily’s voice shook. “When I got my text, I looked at Ali’s mailbox and saw someone here. I thought it was you, Spencer, since you’d written me the text.”
“It wasn’t me,” Spencer said in a hoarse voice.
The girls stared at one another for a moment. Aria could tell they were all thinking the same thing. The very worst possible thing.
“Okay, ha ha.” Spencer spun and faced the DiLaurentises’ dark backyard. “Very funny! You can come out now, loser! We’re onto you!”
No one answered. Nothing moved in the yard or in the woods beyond. Aria’s heart began to pound. It felt like something—or someone—was lurking close by, watching, waiting, preparing to strike. The wind gusted, and Aria suddenly caught a whiff of smoke and gas. It was the same horrible odor she’d smelled the night Ali burned down the woods. The same odor as the night the house had caught fire in the Poconos.
“I’m leaving.” Aria reached for her keys. “I’m not in the mood for this.”
“Wait!” Emily cried. “What’s that?”
Aria turned. A piece of paper stuck out of the DiLaurentises’ old mailbox, flapping in the wind.
Emily walked over and pulled it out. “That’s not yours!” Hanna hissed. “It’s probably just junk mail they forgot to pick up!”
“Junk mail that has our names on it?” Emily waved a white envelope in their faces. Sure enough, it said SPENCER, EMILY, ARIA, AND HANNA on the front in large block letters.
“What the hell?” Spencer whispered, sounding more annoyed than afraid.
Hanna grabbed the envelope from Emily. Everyone gathered close, the closest they’d been to one another in months. Aria inhaled Hanna’s sugary Michael Kors perfume. Spencer’s silky blond hair brushed against her cheek. Emily’s breath smelled like Doublemint gum.
Spencer turned on her iPhone’s flashlight app and directed it at the envelope’s contents. Inside was a folded-up piece of glossy paper, seemingly ripped from a magazine. When flattened out, it showed the latest photo of Real Ali when she’d returned from the Preserve last year. PRETTY LITTLE KILLER, read the fancy script at the bottom. THIS SATURDAY. 8 P.M.
“The made-for-TV movie,” Aria groaned. “Some idiot is messing with us.”
“Hold on.” Emily pointed to the other item in the envelope. “What’s that?”
Hanna pulled it out. It was a postcard. On the front was a gleaming, crystal-blue ocean surrounded by rocky cliffs. On top of the cliffs was a resort with a huge pool, lounge chairs, tiki huts, and a roof deck and restaurant.
Hanna gasped. “Is that . . . ?”
“It can’t be,” Spencer whispered.
“It is.” Emily pointed at the pineapple mosaic pattern on the bottom of the pool. “The Cliffs.”
Aria stepped back from the postcard as if it were on fire. She hadn’t seen an image of The Cliffs in almost a year. She’d deleted every photo from spring break. She’d untagged herself from Mike and Noel’s Facebook postings of them on the beach, at dinner, in an ocean kayak, or snorkeling on the reefs. The ones where she was pretending they were having a good time. Hiding the dark, awful truth.
Simply looking at the aerial view made her sick. A memory formed in her mind, sharp and distinct: Tabitha standing there at the bar, smirking at Aria. Looking at her like she knew exactly who she was . . . and exactly what her secrets were.
“Who could have sent this?” Hanna whispered.
“It’s just a coincidence,” Spencer said forcefully. “Someone’s screwing with us.” She looked around again for someone hiding in the bushes or giggling on the DiLaurentises’ old porch, but all was silent. It felt like they were the only people outside for miles.
Then Hanna turned the postcard over and squinted hard at the message there. “Oh my God.”
“What?” Spencer asked. Hanna didn’t answer, just shook her head frantically and passed the postcard to her.
One by one, each girl read the inscription on the back. Spencer covered her eyes. Emily mouthed no. When it was Aria’s turn, she focused on the capital letters. Her stomach tightened and her mind began to spin.
I hear Jamaica is beautiful this time of year. Too bad the four
of you can’t EVER go back there.
Missed you! –A
Trouble in Paradise
The words on the postcard blurred before Spencer’s eyes. The wind gusted, and tree branches scraped up against the side of the DiLaurentises’ old house. It sounded like screams.
“Could this be . . . real?” Emily whispered. The air was so cold that her breath came out in eerie white puffs.
Spencer looked at the card again. She desperately wanted to say that it was a joke, just like the countless other fake A notes they’d received since Ali died. They’d arrived in her mailbox, addressed to Spenser Hastengs or Spancer Histings or, even more amusing, Spencer Montgomery. Most of the notes were innocuous, saying simply I’m watching you or I know your secrets. Others were notes of sympathy—although, bizarrely, they were still signed A. Some notes were more worrisome, pleas for money with threats if their requests weren’t met. Spencer had taken those sorts of A notes to the Rosewood police department, and they’d handled them. Done and done.
But this one was different. It referred to something real, something Spencer hadn’t dared to think about for an entire year. If the wrong people found out about it, they’d be in more trouble than they could ever dream of. They could kiss their futures good-bye.
“How is this possible?” Hanna whispered. “How could someone know this? No one was around. No one saw what Aria did.”
Aria’s lips parted slightly. A look of guilt washed across her face.
“What we all did,” Spencer clarified quickly. “We were all part of it.”
Hanna crossed her arms over her chest. “Okay, okay. But no one was there. We made sure.”
“That might not be true.” Emily’s eyes glowed in the iPhone’s artificial light.
“Don’t even say it,” Spencer warned. “It can’t be . . . her. It can’t.”
Hanna turned the card over and looked at the picture of the resort again. Her brow furrowed. “Maybe it’s not about what we think. Lots of stuff happened in Jamaica. Maybe whoever wrote this could be talking about something else. Like how Noel stole those little bottles of rum from the bar and took them to our room.”
“Yeah, like someone really cares about that a whole year later,” Aria said sarcastically. “That wouldn’t be reason enough that we couldn’t ever return to Jamaica. We know what this is about.”
Everyone fell silent again. A dog barked a few houses down. An icicle chose that exact moment to break from the eaves of the DiLaurentises’ garage and smash to the ground, shattering into a billion pieces. They jumped back.
“Should we tell the cops?” Emily whispered.
Spencer looked at her like she was insane. “What do you think?”
“Maybe they wouldn’t ask what happened,” Emily said. “Maybe we could get around talking about it. If this is someone real, someone who’s after us, we have to stop them before someone gets hurt.”
“The only person who’d want to hurt us is someone who knows what we did,” Aria said in a small voice. “It’ll come out if we go to the cops, Emily. You know it.”
Emily looked shiftily back and forth. “But, I mean, we aren’t even sure what happened that night.”
“Stop,” Spencer interrupted, shutting her eyes. If she even allowed herself to think about this, the remorse and paranoia would rush over her like a strong ocean current, pulling her under, choking her. “Someone is screwing with us, okay?” She grabbed the postcard from Hanna’s grip and shoved it into the pocket of her duffel coat. “I’m not going to be jerked around again. We’ve been through enough already.”
“So what are we supposed to do?” Aria threw up her hands.
“We ignore the note,” Spencer decided. “We pretend we never got it.”
“But someone knows, Spencer.” Emily’s voice was pleading. “What if A goes to the cops?”
“With what evidence?” Spencer stared around at them. “There is none, remember? There’s no link to us except for what we remember. No one saw. No one even knew her. No one was looking for her the rest of the time. Maybe Hanna’s right—maybe this is about something else. Or maybe someone has picked up on the fact that we’re not as close as we used to be and figured it might’ve had something to do with Jamaica.”