When Hanna’s phone buzzed against her hip, she jumped. Mike, she hoped—he could only freeze her out for so long. She reached into her pocket, pulled it out, and stared at the screen. TEXT FROM ANONYMOUS. With a shudder, she opened it and read the message.
Turn on the news, sweetie. I have a surprise for you. Kisses!
The news they haven’t been waiting for
The Acela bullet train back to Rosewood shuddered into Penn Station, and Spencer, her mother, and the Pennythistles boarded silently. Mr. Pennythistle sank rigidly into his seat, looking like he was about to burst a blood vessel in his brain. Mrs. Hastings was next to him, shooting him overwrought glances, staring anxiously out the window, or glaring at Spencer and shaking her head. Spencer wondered what he’d told her about this morning. Had he included the part about shoving Zach around? Had he included the part about how he was a homophobe?
Amelia kept twisting around and eyeing everyone, certain that something was up but not privy to what it was. Zach hunched by the window, iPod headphones in his ears. He threw his coat and bag on the adjacent seat so Spencer wouldn’t be able to sit there. She’d tried to apologize to him again and again, but it did no good—he wouldn’t even look at her.
They passed Newark, then Trenton. Spencer’s phone rang—CALL FROM HANNA MARIN. But she didn’t want to talk to Hanna right now. She didn’t want to talk to anyone.
Spencer pressed her forehead against the cool glass windowpane and stared at the trees and houses rushing past. The sky was a perfect blue today and nearly cloudless. It reminded her, suddenly, of the plane ride home from Jamaica a year ago. When they’d lifted off from the runway and circled the airport, she’d spied the endless, empty beach and crashing blue ocean below. From the high vantage, she was sure she’d see Ali’s body bobbing in the waves, a speck of yellow fabric among so much blue, but she didn’t see anything.
The days following Ali’s death had been awful: They’d kept up the guise of happy, vacationing teenagers, especially because Noel and Mike were there. They snorkeled and swam, ocean kayaked and jumped off the cliffs a dozen more times. Hanna got a massage, and Aria took a couple of yoga classes. But the secret weighed on each of them. They barely ate. They were slow to smile. They drank a lot, but the drinks made them tense and combative instead of happy or relaxed. Sometimes Spencer heard Hanna, with whom she was sharing a room, rise from her bed in the middle of the night, shut the bathroom door, and spend hours in there. What was she doing? Asking her reflection what she’d helped do? Reliving the whole horrible thing?
Spencer always pretended she was asleep when Hanna emerged from the bathroom, never wanting to talk about it. The distance between them had already begun to grow. They didn’t want to look at each other for fear someone would burst out crying.
Every morning, Spencer woke up, padded to her balcony, and looked out to the shoreline; sure Ali’s body would be lying there, bloated and blue. But it never was. It was like it never happened. No Jamaican policemen knocked on the doors to their rooms, asking questions. No members of the hotel staff stood in a tight huddle, discussing a missing guest. It seemed no one even noticed she was missing. And it appeared that no one, no one at all, had seen what Spencer and the others had done that awful night.
On the plane ride home, Emily touched Spencer’s hand. Her skin was waxy, and her hair looked greasy and unwashed. “I can’t stop thinking. What if the ocean didn’t wash her away? What if she didn’t die on impact? What if she’s suffering somewhere?”
“That’s crazy,” Spencer snapped, hardly believing Emily was bringing this up in such a public place. “We scoured every inch of that beach. She couldn’t have crawled anywhere that fast.”
“But . . .” Emily fiddled with the plastic cup she’d received from the refreshment cart. “It just seems strange the tide didn’t bring her in.”
“It’s good the tide didn’t bring her in,” Spencer whispered, tearing her cocktail napkin into tiny pieces. “The universe is looking out for us—and everyone else she would have murdered. She was crazy, Emily. We did the best thing possible. The only thing.”
But now, Spencer doubted that Ali had drifted out to sea. She stared at the latest note A had sent: All secrets wash ashore . . . eventually. Emily was right. Ali never washed ashore because she didn’t die in the fall.
Finally, the train pulled into the Rosewood station, and everyone disembarked. They threw their bags into the back of Mr. Pennythistle’s Range Rover and started for home. The drive back from the train station was equally silent and awkward, although the conservative news channel Mr. Pennythistle had on at least provided some welcome noise. Spencer had never been so grateful to see her house in her entire life. As she opened her door, Mr. Pennythistle swiveled around and stared at her. “Say goodbye to Zachary, Spencer. This is the last you’ll ever see of him.”
Spencer almost dropped her duffel onto the slushy street. “What?” Hadn’t they just said the Pennythistle family was moving into the Hastings house last night?
“He’s going to military school in upstate New York,” Mr. Pennythistle said in a bloodless, perfunctory voice he probably used when firing employees. “It’s all set. I made the call this morning.”
Amelia gasped—this, apparently, was the first she heard of it, too. Spencer eyed Mr. Pennythistle pleadingly. “Are you sure that’s necessary?”
“Spencer.” Mrs. Hastings pulled her away from the vehicle. “This isn’t our concern.”
Spencer slid back into the car anyway. She was about to apologize once more when hyped-up breaking-news music blared on the radio. “This just in,” a reporter said excitedly. “We just received reports that the remains of a teenage girl have washed up in Jamaica.”
The hair on the back of Spencer’s neck rose. She pulled away from Zach and stared at the speaker in the backseat. What did the reporter just say? But before she could lurch forward and turn up the dial, Mrs. Hastings yanked her out of the car. “Come on.” She slammed the door and gave Mr. Pennythistle a morose wave. They both watched as the red taillights disappeared down the street and rounded the turn.
Remains of a teenage girl . . . Jamaica. Spencer reached for her phone just as Hanna was calling again. Spencer answered. “Is there something going on in Jamaica?”
“I’ve been calling you for over an hour,” Hanna whispered. “Spencer, oh my God.”
“Get over here,” Spencer said, running toward her house, heart pounding. “Get over here, now.”
The girl on the beach
When Aria pulled up to Spencer’s, every light was on in the house. Hanna’s Prius and Emily’s Volvo wagon were also parked at the curb. As Aria cut the Subaru’s engine, she saw them delicately walking up the slippery driveway. She joined them at the door. “What’s this all about?” When Spencer had called her, Aria was just getting off the bus from New York. All Spencer would say was that she had to come over right away.
Hanna and Emily turned to her, wide-eyed. Before they could say anything, Spencer whipped the door open. Her face was drawn and pale. “Come with me.”
She led them through the hall to the family den. Aria looked around; she hadn’t been in this room in at least a year, but the same school pictures of Melissa and Spencer lined the walls. The television was on, the volume turned up loud. She saw the CNN logo in the bottom right-hand corner. A large yellow banner ran across the screen: FISHERMAN FINDS REMAINS OF MISSING GIRL IN JAMAICA.
“Jamaica?” Aria whispered, staggering backward. She looked at the others. Emily covered her mouth. Hanna had a hand on her stomach like she was about to puke. And Spencer couldn’t tear her eyes away from the screen, which showed a robin’s-egg blue ocean and a smooth, tan shore. A rusty-looking fishing boat sat on the sand, and about a zillion reporters and officials gathered around it, taking pictures.
Hanna’s eyes shifted back and forth. “This doesn’t mean anything. It could be anyone.”
“It’s not anyone,” Spencer said in a shaky voice. “Just watch.”
A blond reporter wearing a green CNN-logo polo popped up on the screen. “What we’re seeing below is the ongoing police investigation of the discovered remains on the shore earlier this morning,” she explained, her hair whipping across her face. “According to the fisherman, who wishes to remain anonymous, he found the remains in a cove about six miles south of Negril.”
“Negril?” Hanna stared around the others, her lower lip trembling. “You guys . . .”
“Shh.” Spencer waved her hands to silence her. The newscaster was speaking again. “Judging by the condition of the remains, experts say the girl was about seventeen. From the level of decay, they believe she died about a year ago. Forensic experts are working very diligently to identify who this victim might be.”
“Oh my God.” Aria slumped down in the chair. “You guys, is this . . . Ali?”
“How is that possible?” Hanna held up her phone. “Isn’t she the one sending us the texts? Isn’t she the one who saw what we did?”
“What are the odds that another seventeen-year-old girl died near The Cliffs?” Spencer barked, her mouth a wobbly rectangle. “This is her, you guys. And when the cops identify her and figure out that we were there around that time, they’ll put two and two together.”
“They don’t have any proof it was us!” Hanna said.
“They will.” Spencer squeezed the bridge of her nose. “A is going to tell them.”
Aria looked around the room, as though the school pictures on the wall might give her some solace. Everything suddenly felt turned on its head. So Ali really did die in the fall? Had the ocean swept her away that quickly, before they could even find her on the beach? Why had it taken her a whole year to turn up in a cove only six miles away?
And, the biggest question of all: Who was A, if not Ali?
“I’m just getting some new information!” the newscaster shouted, making the girls’ heads snap up. The camera wobbled, first showing the knot of people on the beach, then focusing on the newscaster’s feet, then righting itself on her face once more. The newscaster pressed her finger to her ear, listening to someone’s voice through an earpiece. “They’ve identified the body,” she said. “We have a match.”
Hanna gasped. Aria grabbed Emily’s hand and squeezed. Alison DiLaurentis, Aria waited for the reporter to say slowly. A look of confusion would surely wash over her face. She’d worry that she hadn’t gotten that name quite right. Wasn’t Alison DiLaurentis dead? she’d think. Or was this a girl by the same name, a cruel coincidence?
Suddenly, a photograph filled the screen, and the girls screamed. There was Ali in her latest incarnation, with her straight blond hair, slightly pointier chin, higher cheekbones, and thinner lips. It was exactly the girl they’d met on the roof deck after dinner that horrible night. Exactly the girl who’d teased them with eerie secrets only Ali knew, lured them up to the roof, and almost pushed Hanna off. It was almost a relief to Aria to finally see her again, though. At least they knew she was really dead.