“This is what brothers do!” Zach chanted. “Get used to it!”

“I’ll kill you!” Spencer screamed, giggling uncontrollably.

Advertisement

“You’re laughing!” Zach whooped. “That means you like it!”

But then he stopped, slumping down on the mattress and propping his head on his arm. “You are so evil,” Spencer whispered, panting hard. “But I like you anyway.”

“Would you like me even if I didn’t go to Harvard?” Zach asked.

Spencer blew air out of her cheeks. “That school is for losers.”

-- Advertisement --

“Would you like me if I was gay?” Zach’s long-lashed eyes were very wide.

Spencer blinked at him. “Are you?”

Zach’s lips parted. His eyes shifted to the right. He moved closer to her without answering. All of a sudden, he was kissing her softly on the lips. Spencer shut her eyes, tasting vodka and steak sauce. But the kiss was more friendly than romantic, more drunken and hyped-up than truly lustful. Spencer thought she’d feel disappointed, but she was surprised to find she didn’t care. Zach had a lot of figuring out to do. Maybe Spencer should help him through it, not confuse him even more.

They broke apart, smiling at each other without having to say a word. “Want to snuggle?” Spencer asked.

“Sure,” Zach said. And then he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her tightly to him. It immediately calmed Spencer, and in moments, she fell into a deep, blissful sleep.

Chapter 26

Things get steamy at the pool

Emily stroked hard, dolphin-kicking with all her might. The blurry pool wall loomed just ahead, and she lunged for the electronic timing pad on the wall. When she turned around, everyone else was still finishing their race. Yes. She’d won. And when she glanced at her time on the clock, she saw it was four tenths of a second faster than last year’s best.

Amazing.

“Congratulations,” one of the judges said as Emily climbed out. “You almost beat the course record.”

Raymond, her coach, barreled over to her and gave her a big hug, not even caring that she was soaking wet. “Outstanding for your first meet back!” he whooped. “I knew you had it in you!”

Emily peeled off her goggles and cap, her muscles throbbing and her heart still thudding hard. The crowd cheered. The other competitors climbed out of the pool and glared enviously at her. Various teammates slapped her on the back as she returned to her gear and towels. “Awesome!” said a girl named Tori Barnes, who Emily had been BFF with one summer in second grade. “They ate your wake,” added Jacob O’Reilly, Tori’s boyfriend, who’d crushed on Emily during swim season in fourth grade and put a gumball machine diamond ring in her locker.

Emily grinned back at them, dropping her goggles by her gear bag. She’d forgotten how good it felt to win a race. But she wanted to share the special moment with someone . . . well, special, and the kids on the team didn’t quite suffice. Rummaging through her bag, she found her phone and composed a new text to Chloe. Just won my race! So excited to hang out tonite! Emily couldn’t wait to celebrate—non-alcoholically, of course.

“Emily?”

A man in a University of North Carolina sweatshirt wove through the knot of swimmers. He had a clean-shaven face, crinkly blue eyes, thinning brown hair, and carried a leather-bound clipboard and a video camera. Mr. Roland walked beside him. Mixed feelings instantly filled Emily. As much as she wanted to see the recruiter, she wished Mr. Roland wouldn’t have come with him.

“Emily, this is Marc Lowry from the University of North Carolina,” Mr. Roland said.

“Nice to meet you.” Emily shook his hand.

“Nice to meet you,” Mr. Lowry answered. “Amazing race. Great stroke. You show real promise.”

“Thanks.”

“Mr. Lowry has some news for you,” Mr. Roland announced. “Can you talk with us in private?”

He gestured toward the small, empty room off the pool that the team used for dry land practice. Emily followed them through the doors. A Pilates machine sat in the corner, a box of medicine balls and resistance bands in another. A spilled puddle of something neon-yellow, Gatorade probably, welled by the door. An empty wrapper that had once contained a Speedo swim cap lay abandoned by the fogged-up window.

Mr. Lowry let his clipboard fall to his side and studied Emily. “Based on your times and your performance both today and the past four years, we’d like to offer you a full scholarship to our school.”

Emily clapped her hands over her mouth. “Really?”

Mr. Lowry nodded. “It’s not a done deal yet—we’ll have to interview you, review your transcripts, all of that. And Henry said you took some time off last year because of the Alison DiLaurentis incident, correct?”

“That’s right,” Emily said. “But I’m fully committed to swimming now. I promise.”

“Great.” When Mr. Lowry smiled, Emily could see a gold filling in the back of his mouth. “Well, I’d better get going—I have a couple other kids in the area to speak to. We’ll be in touch early this week. Definitely celebrate, though. This is huge.”

“Thank you so much,” Emily said, trembling with happiness. Then Mr. Lowry turned on his heel and marched back through the door. Emily expected Mr. Roland to follow him, but he didn’t. His eyes were on Emily.

“Amazing, huh?” he said.

“This is truly, truly, incredible,” she answered. “I don’t know how to thank you.”

One of Mr. Roland’s eyebrows arched. A sly smile curled across his lips. The harsh fluorescent light made his skin look ghoulish. Suddenly, Emily felt like one of those animals in the wild who sensed danger before she saw it. He inched closer to her, his breath hot on her cheek. “Well, I have some ideas . . .” His fingers danced lightly across the skin of her slightly damp arm.

Emily pulled away. “Mr. Roland . . .”

“It’s okay,” Mr. Roland murmured. His body moved even closer to her, trapping her against the wall. He smelled like Head & Shoulders shampoo and Tide laundry detergent, such innocent scents. His fingers slipped under the straps of her swimsuit. He made a horrible grunting sound as he pressed against her.

“Stop, please,” Emily said, wrenching away.

“What’s the matter?” Mr. Roland whispered, covering her mouth with a kiss. “You were into it on Thursday, Emily. You kissed me. I felt it.”

“But—”

She made a break for the other side of the room, but Mr. Roland caught her wrist and pulled her back. He kept pawing at her, kissing her neck, her lips again, her throat. The starting gun beeped through the door, followed by the splash of swimmers. The crowd roared, oblivious, as Emily struggled to push him off once more.

“Oh my God.”

Mr. Roland turned around at the figure who’d appeared in the doorway. Relief burst through Emily at the welcome interruption. But then Mr. Roland’s face went eggshell-white. “Ch-Chloe?”

Emily’s heart dropped to her feet. Sure enough, Chloe was standing there, a big, hand-lettered poster that said GO, EMILY! pressed against her chest. “Chloe!” Emily cried.

Mr. Roland pushed his hands into his pockets and walked to the other side of the room from Emily, as far away from her as he could get. “I didn’t know you were coming, honey. But did you hear about Emily? She got the scholarship!”

Chloe let the poster drop to the tile floor. By the devastated look on her face, it was clear she’d seen everything. “I was going to surprise you,” she said tonelessly to Emily. “I saw your race. I saw my dad and that recruiter take you in here to talk to you. And I thought . . .” Her eyes flickered from her father, then back to Emily again. A horrified expression crossed her face. Emily looked down. Her swimsuit strap was halfway off her shoulder. It looked like she wanted this.

“Chloe, no!” Emily protested, quickly pulling the strap back up. “This isn’t . . . I didn’t . . . he . . .”

But Chloe backed out of the room, shaking her head silently. Myriad emotions washed across her face at once—disgust, betrayal, abhorrence. A half sob, half growl emerged from the back of her throat, and she turned and ran.

“Chloe, wait!” Emily cried, barreling out the office door, slipping on the wet floor. “Please!”

But it was too late. Chloe was gone.

Chapter 27

Ahh, vacation memories

“Hey, guys!” a voice called softly. “I guess you got my note!”

Hanna stood motionless by the stairs of the crow’s nest. Nerves snapped and crackled under her skin. Tabitha, the girl at the end of the roof deck, suddenly looked different. More Ali-like than usual. All of a sudden, she could believe it. Emily was right. It was Ali.

“Come closer, Hanna!” Ali teased, beckoning with one curled finger. “I won’t bite!”

Hanna’s eyes flew open. Sweat poured down the back of her neck. Her thumb was firmly between her lips. Ever since Jamaica, whenever she felt really scared, she sucked her thumb in her sleep.

She had been thinking of it again. Dreaming of it again.

“Hanna?” Her mother knocked on Hanna’s bedroom door. “Hanna? Get up!”

Dot, Hanna’s miniature Doberman, licked Hanna’s face enthusiastically. Hanna peered at the digital clock next to her bed. It was 10 A.M.; normally, Hanna slept until noon on weekends. She sat up and groaned. “Mom, I don’t want to do Bikram with you!” Ever since her mom had returned from Singapore last year, she’d been obsessed with doing ninety minutes of intense yoga poses in a 100-degree room on Saturday mornings.

“This isn’t about Bikram.” Ms. Marin sounded exasperated. “Your father’s on the phone. He wants you to meet him at his office. Now.”

The previous night zinged into Hanna’s head. The weight of that stolen money in her bag as she hopped a late SEPTA into the city. Checking her phone over and over again—for a response from Mike, for a note from A—and receiving nothing. Meeting the flower seller, Pete, who had dirt under his fingernails, a tattoo on his neck, and looked at Hanna like he wanted to shove her behind the springy bouquets of tulips and have his way with her. Handing over the envelope of cash. Looking over her shoulder for A, but seeing no one suspicious.

She hadn’t felt satisfied just giving the money to Pete, so she’d skulked around the train station until Patrick had shown up, accosting him and demanding that he erase the photos from his camera and hard drive in front of her. “Fine,” Patrick sighed dramatically, pulling out his camera and laptop. Hanna watched as the photos disappeared from the folder and the camera memory. Before she left, Patrick groped her boob, and she elbowed him in the ribs.

Hopefully, she’d done the right thing. No scantily clad images of Hanna had appeared on the Internet overnight. She hadn’t received any red-alert phone calls from Jeremiah, telling her she’d ruined everything. With any luck, Patrick had taken the first plane to Mexico and Hanna would never hear from him again.

-- Advertisement --