“I’m sorry,” Emily whispered. “You have to believe me when I tell you I had no idea that was going to happen with your dad. And I didn’t want it to happen.”
“Yeah, right,” Chloe hissed, her head still turned toward the cookie jar. “Were you ever really my friend? Or were you just using me to ensure you got the scholarship?”
Emily’s mouth fell open. “Of course not! I would never do anything like that!”
Chloe rolled her eyes. “I heard my dad in that room by the pool, you know. He said you were acting like you wanted it on Thursday night. When I went to bed, drunk, did something happen between you guys?”
Emily turned away, biting her bottom lip hard. “He was the one who kissed me, I swear. I didn’t know how to tell you.”
Chloe winced, then finally stared Emily in the face. “You knew about this for three whole days and didn’t say anything to me?”
Emily ducked her head. “I didn’t know how to—”
“We were supposed to be friends.” Chloe placed her hands on her hips. “Friends tell friends things like that. And why should I believe that you’re totally innocent, anyway? I barely know you. All I know, really, is that you had a baby this summer and—”
“Shhh!” Emily shrieked, clapping a hand over Chloe’s mouth.
Chloe wrenched away, knocking against one of the kitchen chairs, which was decorated with a chicken-printed cushion. “I should tell your parents. Ruin your life like you’ve ruined mine.”
“Please don’t,” Emily begged. “They’ll kick me out. It will absolutely shatter them.”
Emily grabbed her hands. “I told you that secret because I felt I could trust you. I felt like we were really becoming friends. And . . . and I haven’t had a real friend in so, so long, not since last year. It’s been so lonely.” She wiped away a tear. “I hate myself for screwing up and not telling you. I just wanted to protect you. I just wanted you to be happy. I hoped it wouldn’t happen again. That it was all just a horrible mistake.”
Chloe jutted her chin to the left, saying nothing. Was that good or bad? Emily couldn’t tell.
“Please, please don’t tell anyone what I told you,” Emily whispered. “I certainly won’t tell anyone about your dad. I’ll wipe it out of my mind completely, I promise. I wish it had never happened.”
Chloe’s head remained turned for a long while. The chicken-shaped clock over the stove ticked loudly. The adults murmured in the other room. Finally, she looked at Emily with cold, tired eyes and sighed. “I won’t tell your secret if you leave my dad alone.”
“Thank you,” Emily said. “And of course I will.”
She moved toward Chloe for a hug, but Chloe pushed her away like Emily was a rude dog nosing for table food. “That doesn’t mean I want to be friends.”
“What?” Emily cried. “W-why?”
“I just can’t.” Chloe turned on her heel and walked toward the kitchen door. “Tell my parents I got a phone call and I’m in the car, okay?” she said over her shoulder. “No offense, but I don’t really want to do the ‘Yay, Emily’ cake thing right now.”
Emily watched as Chloe yanked on the kitchen door and then slammed it shut again. It felt like someone had just scooped out her heart and run it through a potato masher. Everything was ruined. Sure she had a scholarship, sure her future was set, but it felt like she’d won it at too great a cost.
Emily turned around, squinting in the blinding sunlight that poured through the windows. What was that? She scanned the cabinets and the floors, then noticed a thin sheet of paper at the foot of the door Chloe had just passed through. Her heart kicked in her chest. She ran to the window and stared outside, searching for whoever had put it there. Was that a shape disappearing through the trees? What was that movement in the cornfield?
She opened the back door, letting the cold air rush in. “Ali?” she screamed. “Ali!” But no one answered. “Chloe?” she called next, thinking Chloe might have seen something. But Chloe didn’t answer, either.
The adults laughed at something in the other room. Grace let out a happy cry. Trembling, Emily picked up the piece of paper and unfolded it. Spiky handwriting blurred before her eyes.
She may not tell, but I can’t make the same promise—about
ANY of your secrets. Sorry! –A
Ali, the cunning cat
“Um, excuse me?”
Hanna looked down from the elliptical trainer she was chugging away on and saw a petite girl with big doe eyes and a size 23 waist staring up at her. “There’s a thirty-minute limit on these machines,” the girl complained. “And, like, you’ve been on for sixty-three.”
“Too bad,” Hanna snapped back, wheeling faster. Let the gym police kick her off.
It was later that Saturday afternoon—the anniversary of Alison DiLaurentis’s death, all the news channels blared, not that Hanna could ever forget—and Hanna was at the Rosewood Country Club’s state-of-the-art gym. The room smelled like ylang-ylang candles, MTV appeared on every TV mounted over the machines, and a very hyper Zumba instructor was screaming so loudly in the fitness room that Hanna could hear her over the hip-hop music blaring on her iPod. She’d hoped the elliptical would exorcise the memories of Tabitha, Jamaica, the elevator incident, and especially A, but it wasn’t really working. She kept feeling Tabitha’s—Ali’s—hands on her shoulders, ready to push her off the roof. She kept hearing her friends’ screams. And then Aria had stepped in, and everything moved so fast . . .
At first, Hanna had been relieved that Aria pushed Ali over the side. She’d killed so many people, getting rid of her felt like a good deed for all humanity. But then she realized what they’d done. A life was still a life. They weren’t murderers.
Hanna and her friends ran down to the beach, taking the stairs two at a time. They banged out the back door onto the sand and looked around. The moon cast a silvery stripe down the beach. The ocean roared. Hanna stared at her pale feet below, hoping she wouldn’t bump into Ali’s limp, twisted body. Surely she’d died on impact, right?
“Do you see her?” Aria’s voice called from a distance.
“Not yet,” Spencer answered. “Keep looking!”
They ran up and down the shore, splashing through the warm water, searching the dunes, even looping around and checking out the coves and cliffs. But there was no body anywhere.
“What the hell?” Aria stopped, out of breath. “Where did she go?”
Hanna looked around frantically. It wasn’t possible. Ali couldn’t just disappear. Aria had pushed her. She had fallen hard. They’d heard her hit the sand. They’d looked over the rail and, in the fuzzy darkness, they’d sworn they’d seen a body. Hadn’t they?
“The tide must have picked her up.” Spencer gestured to the sea. “She’s probably washed away by now.”
“What happens if she washes back up?” Aria whispered.
“It’s not as if anyone can prove we did it.” Spencer looked around, checking the beach again. It was still empty. No one was watching. “And Aria, it—it was self-defense—Ali could have killed us.”
“We don’t know that for sure.” Aria’s eyes were wide and scared. “Maybe we misunderstood her up there. Maybe I shouldn’t have—”
“You should have,” Spencer said sharply. “If you wouldn’t have pushed her, we might not be standing here right now.”
Everyone was silent for a moment. Emily stared at the round moon above them. “What if Ali didn’t wash away?” she whispered. “What if she survived the fall and crawled away to find help?”
Hanna’s stomach swirled. She’d been thinking the same exact thing.
Spencer kicked at a clump of sand. “There’s no way. She couldn’t have survived that fall.”
“She survived a fire,” Emily reminded her. “We don’t know who we’re dealing with. She’s, like, bionic.”
Spencer’s eyes blazed. “Just let it go, okay? She washed out to sea. She’s dead.”
Now, Hanna noticed something across the gym. Jeremiah stood in the doorway near the check-in desk, glaring right at her.
Hanna jumped off the elliptical and toweled off her face. She could feel her racing pulse even in her lips. As Jeremiah approached, she gave him a big, innocent smile. “Uh, do you go to this gym?”
“As a matter of fact, I do,” Jeremiah snapped. His face was purple with fury. “Or I should say I did. Your father got me a complimentary membership. But now that’s been revoked.”
“Oh,” Hanna said quietly.
“Oh? That’s all you can say? Oh?” Jeremiah was so angry he was shaking. “I hope you’re happy, Hanna. This is all because of you.”
A shockwave rippled through Hanna’s skin, but she stood her ground. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I just told my dad that I saw you go upstairs.”
“You didn’t see anything, and you know it.” He leaned closer to her, his breath smelling sour and unclean. “You had something to do with this, didn’t you?”
Hanna turned her head away. The girl who’d wanted her elliptical glanced over at them, her brow furrowed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Jeremiah pointed a finger at her. “You’ve ruined my career. And I have a feeling you’re going to find a way to ruin your father’s campaign. Remember that anonymous note I got, saying you were hiding something? I’m going to look into it, Hanna. And you’re going down.”
Hanna let out a terrified squeak. Jeremiah remained in Hanna’s face for a moment longer, then wheeled around and marched back through the room.
“Are you okay?” the elliptical girl asked, pausing on the treadmill. “He seemed pretty . . . intense.”
Hanna ran her hand over her sweaty hair and murmured a noncommittal reply. She definitely wasn’t okay. How serious was Jeremiah? What had she gotten herself into?
And then, out of nowhere, a high-pitched, lilting giggle, floated out from the vents. She stared around the room. Ali?
The laugh persisted. Hanna shut her eyes, thinking about that empty beach again. For so long, Hanna had suppressed the thought that Ali had survived, but now she knew Emily was right.
Ali was here. Maybe not here at this gym right now, but she was here in Rosewood, following them, watching them, ready to ruin their lives for the third and final time. Ali was like a cat with nine lives: She’d survived the fire in Spencer’s woods, then she’d survived the fire in the Poconos, and now she’d survived that impossible fall off the crow’s nest. She’d crawled away, nursed her wounds, got healthy again, and was back. Maybe she wouldn’t die until she got exactly what she wanted: to get rid of them, once and for all.
There was only one thing Hanna could do: go to the police. Ali had to be stopped. If it meant admitting what happened in Jamaica, then so be it. It had been in self-defense, after all. They’d done it to stop Ali’s evil cycle of murders—who knew who else she’d killed after she survived the fire. Besides, it wasn’t as if they’d actually killed Ali—she was still alive. Hanna would even take the blame for her friends, even if it meant falling out of favor with her dad. There was no way she could let Ali do this to them again.