Vicious, p.18Part #16 of Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard
Hanna groaned and rolled over, touching Mike’s smooth, bare stomach. He sighed in his sleep.
She sat up and rubbed her eyes, looking around. Blankets and sheets were tangled around her and Mike, and Dot had wedged between them, his head on Mike’s butt. Hanna stifled a giggle, then felt a swell of wistfulness. If only she could have weeks, months, years of waking up together just like this.
There was a scuffle downstairs, and Hanna remembered the doorbell. Then there was a knock on her door. Hanna threw on a robe and opened the door just enough to see her mother’s pale face and eyes. “The police are downstairs for you,” her mother whispered. “The jury has made a decision.”
“On a Sunday?” Hanna gasped. Instantly she was up and throwing on clothes.
Everyone was bleary-eyed when they pulled up to the courthouse. Hanna clasped Mike’s hands tightly as they walked the distance from the parking lot to the steps. Flashbulbs popped in her face, and she couldn’t help but think that her slapdash attempt at makeup and coarse comb-through of her hair, still gummy with hairspray from yesterday’s updo, would probably get some jeers on Twitter. But those thoughts were quickly drowned out by the questions the reporters were yelling. “What do you think the jury will decide? How do you feel about going to prison? Do you think you’ll go free?”
Once inside, Mike turned to Hanna and squeezed her arm tightly. “It’s going to be okay.”
Hanna nodded, too afraid to speak for fear she’d throw up. Somehow, her legs managed to get her to the courtroom. Spencer and Aria were already in their seats, their faces drained of blood. Wordlessly, Hanna slid in next to them and clasped their hands. Her pulse raced fast.
The jurors reassembled, the lawyers took their places, and the judge appeared at his bench. Her gaze wandered to the rest of the crowd—her parents, Aria’s parents, a bunch of people from the press. Then she looked back at the jurors in their box. Suddenly, one of them met her gaze. A tiny smile appeared on the woman’s face. Hanna felt her jaw drop. That had to be a good sign, right? Had the jury decided they weren’t guilty?
The judge’s booming voice rang out through the room, and all eyes turned to him. “Has the jury reached a verdict?” he asked.
A pasty-colored middle-aged guy who served as the jury’s representative clutched a folded piece of paper tightly. “We have, your honor.”
It seemed to take ages for the bailiff to walk the length from the jury box to the judge’s bench. Hanna thought she might faint as the judge took the sheet of paper from him and studied it. Spencer’s nails dug into Hanna’s palm. Aria trembled next to her. For a few seconds, it didn’t seem like a single person in the courtroom breathed.
The judge coughed, then lowered his glasses farther down his nose. He looked at the jury foreman and asked, “How do you find?”
The man replied, “We the jury find Hanna Marin, Spencer Hastings, and Aria Montgomery guilty of the murder of Alison DiLaurentis.”
Hanna’s mouth fell open. Someone near her screamed. Spencer’s hand slipped from hers. Hanna glanced blindly around the courtroom, her gaze first landing on Mr. DiLaurentis, who was in his regular seat in the back. There was a small, tense smile on his face. Then Hanna found Mike in the crowd. His skin was ashen. He was blinking hard, maybe to hold back tears. Hanna held his gaze as long as she could, but she couldn’t offer a brave smile, and neither could he. That was when she realized. Mike hadn’t really thought this was ever going to happen.
Maybe she hadn’t, either. But the reality sank in, and made her dizzy: She was never going to see him again, except in a prison visitor’s room. She was never going to see anyone again.
The judge said more after that—something about the girls serving their life sentences immediately, as they were all flight risks, and for that sentence to be served at the Keystone State Correctional Facility, but Hanna barely registered it. Her vision began to dim. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. It rang in her head like a gong. Life in prison. Forever.
And then everything went dark.
Aria usually had a cast-iron stomach when it came to motion sickness, but something about the way the bald, burly, khaki-jacketed prison worker drove the van to the Keystone State Correctional Facility sent her stomach tumbling all the way until they rolled through the prison gates. Maybe it was his jerky driving, or maybe it was the way he smelled like jerky—beef jerky, the scent of it literally leaking from his pores.
The car came to a halt, throwing Aria, Spencer, and Hanna forward roughly against their seat belts. The worker glared at them, got out, and yanked open the sliding back door to the van. “End of the line,” he ordered, then chuckled. “Welcome to your new home, bitches.”
Aria shuffled out of the van as best she could with the shackles around her ankles. Hanna and Spencer followed, neither of them saying a word. They hadn’t spoken since the verdict had been passed down, actually. Cried into one another’s shoulders, yes. Stared at one another in horror, definitely. But what was there really to say?
Guilty. It was still too horrible to believe. Anything Rubens had said, any logic about what might have happened, any assurance that they’d appeal as soon as they could, went in one of Aria’s ears and out the other. A panel of people had found them guilty. It made her feel lower than low. People actually thought she was a murderer. They’d listened to that ridiculous case and took Ali’s side. She couldn’t believe it.
The worker shoved them toward an open metal door. Another guard, a portly woman with short brown hair and a jowly face, waited for them, a metal basket in her outstretched hands. Aria glanced at the name on her badge. BURROUGHS. She’d read somewhere that people went only by last names in prison—first names were too personal. Or maybe they gave you too much of an identity. So in here, Aria would no longer be Aria, but simply Montgomery. No longer an individual, but a number. No longer an artist, but a killer.
“Turn over all your belongings,” Burroughs ordered Spencer, who was first in line. “Any jewelry, anything you got in your pockets, give it here.”
Spencer took off a pair of earrings and dropped them into the basket. Aria had nothing to fork over—she’d removed the Cartier bracelet Noel had given her earlier and handed it to Ella for safekeeping. She’d told her to give it back to the Kahn family, though even saying that had choked her up. She wished now that she hadn’t chickened out of talking to him at Hanna and Mike’s wedding. He’d just looked so . . . pissed. And he hadn’t come to her trial. Then again, his own trial was probably soon. She wondered what he thought when he heard she’d been found guilty. Maybe he didn’t care at all.
Suddenly Burroughs had pushed her up against the wall, Aria’s chin banging against the cinder blocks. She felt Burroughs’s hands move roughly up and down her body, prodding her armpits, cupping the space beneath her boobs, and doing a full sweep between her legs. Burroughs stood back and looked at the three of them with narrowed eyes. “Before we go inside, I don’t want any funny business,” she growled. “No talking. No looking at the other inmates. No complaining. You’ll do what you’re told, and you won’t make waves.”
Aria raised her hand. “When can I make a phone call?”
Burroughs snorted indignantly. “Honey, phone privileges are earned. And you certainly haven’t done anything to deserve that yet.” She glared at the others. “And so are bathroom privileges, sleeping privileges, even eating privileges.”
“Eating privileges?” Spencer repeated, her voice cracking. “That doesn’t seem humane.”
Whap. The woman’s hand flew out and struck Spencer’s jaw so fast Aria almost didn’t catch it. Spencer pitched to the right and made a tortured sound. Aria turned to her, wanting to comfort her, but feared the woman might hit her, too.
“I said no complaining,” Burroughs hissed. Then she pushed them down a long, dirty corridor that smelled like feet, sweat, and the grimiest Porta-Potti ever, until they came
Aria stared at the dingy tiles, the dripping faucets, the open toilet stalls. The place was teeming with other women—terrifying looking women with tattoos and vicious sneers and hunched, masculine postures, all strolling around totally naked and unashamed. A couple of them were shouting at each other as though on the verge of a brawl. A thin Asian girl was huddling in the corner, muttering something in a language Aria had never heard. One woman, who was plucking her eyebrows at the sink, had a scar running the length of her face. When she saw Aria staring, she broke into a wide, weird smile, tweezers held aloft. “Hi, there,” she teased.
Aria shrank into herself. Her feet wouldn’t move. She couldn’t shower here. She couldn’t even stand here. How was she going to do this? How was she going to stay strong? She thought of what Rubens had told them after the verdict had been passed down: “It’s going to be okay. We’ll appeal. We still might be able to beat this.”
“And if we don’t?” Hanna had sobbed.
Rubens had pulled his bottom lip into his mouth. “Well, then, you might be looking at twenty-five years. Twenty maybe, if you have good behavior. I’ve even seen some prisoners get out in fifteen.”
Fifteen years. Aria would be thirty-three by then. Half her life would be gone. Noel wouldn’t have waited for her anyway, even if they had stayed together.
Somehow, she made it into the shower, which had no curtain. She tried her best to cover herself up and scrub down at the same time, though the soap was slippery, didn’t really suds up, and smelled like vomit. Burroughs loomed close by in the corridor, arms crossed over her chest, watching each of them for reasons Aria didn’t really understand—maybe just to get them used to the humiliation. Just outside the stall, the prisoners circled like sharks. “New girls?” Aria heard one of them ask the guard. “They’re awfully pretty,” said another. “They look like bitches,” someone else said. Aria leaned her head against the filthy wall tile and let the tears fall.
After about three minutes, the guard ducked in and turned off the water, ordering Aria out. “Clothes back on,” she barked. Aria, Spencer, and Hanna dried themselves off as best they could and quickly got into their orange jumpsuits. Aria’s skin now smelled like the rank soap she’d used. Her wet hair dripped down her back, a feeling she’d always hated.
Then Burroughs motioned for them to follow her down yet another dark, windowless corridor—the whole place reminded Aria of one of those mazes scientists put rats in for psychological experiments—and past an open room of women’s bunks. Prisoners prowled around the space aggressively. Hip-hop floated through the air. There was more yelling from a back corner, though a guard’s voice rose up sharply, telling whoever it was to shut the hell up.
The guard took a turn down yet another hallway, but she took only Aria’s hand, instructing another guard to lead Hanna and Spencer elsewhere. “Orientation for you, Montgomery. D’Angelo, send Hastings and Marin to their bunks.”
Aria gasped. “We can’t all go together?”
Burroughs snickered. “Sorry, sweetheart.”
Aria met Spencer’s eye. Spencer gave her a look that was so terrified, so trapped, Aria’s own heart quickened. Hanna held up a hand in a wave. Something about it seemed finite, like they might never see one another again. The guards must have known how close they all were and that they’d allegedly committed the crime together. If their goal was to make everyone in here miserable, then of course they’d do everything they could to keep friends apart.
You can do this, Aria told herself. But really, she wasn’t so sure.
Burroughs held tight to Aria’s forearm and shoved her into a small conference room at the end of the hall. It was peppered with a few folding chairs and was so hot and stifling Aria immediately started to sweat. She shut her eyes, trying to pretend that she was in a hot yoga class—minus the yoga—but it really didn’t do any good.
A skinny blond woman with a dramatic overbite stood at the front of the room. “Sit,” she said to Aria, pointing at some empty chairs. A few seats were already occupied by other women in orange jumpsuits. Aria looked at each of them, wondering who on earth she could sit near without fearing for her life. There was an overweight Latina with a tattoo at her temple; a pale girl who was trembling a little, either in detox or on the verge of a psychotic break; a cluster of women all sitting together who, by their identical menacing expressions, looked like members of the same gang; and a tall black girl in glasses who was motionless at the back of the room, as watchful as a cat.
Aria looked at the black girl hopefully. She looked sane. Head down, Aria grabbed a chair next to her and folded her hands in her lap, wondering what would come next.
Olive, aka Overbite Lady, shut the door, which only increased the stuffy feeling inside the room. She walked over to the corner and clicked on a small desk fan, but then angled it only in her direction. “Welcome to the Keystone State Correctional Facility,” she said in a bland voice. “I’m here to tell you everything you need to know, including rules, the schedule, your employment assignment, cafeteria hours, medical concerns, special privileges, and what to do if you start to feel suicidal.”
Aria pressed her hands over her eyes. She already felt suicidal.
Olive went on for a while about various prison protocols, transforming the tiniest civil rights—having a few moments to see family every Saturday morning, being allowed to purchase things like hairbrushes or flip-flops from the commissary if adequate funds were provided, a regular half hour each day of outside time in the prison yard—seem like luxuries. Aria wished she could ask Olive if there was a library, or if she’d be able to purchase materials to paint, or if there was a psychologist on staff who might be able to walk her through how, exactly, she was going to get through this without losing her mind. But she’d already accepted the fact that she’d probably get none of those things.
She leaned back in her chair and stared up at the ceiling, a bead of sweat rolling slowly down her forehead. The black girl with the glasses shifted next to her, and as Aria turned, she caught her eye. Aria dared a shy smile. “Hey,” she whispered. “Is this your first day, too?”
The girl nodded and smiled back. Aria’s heart lifted—she seemed so normal. Maybe even a new friend. She’d need as many of them as she could get. Then the girl added, “But I’ve been here before, Aria.”
Aria blinked hard, feeling as though the positive image had suddenly turned to a photo negative. “H-how do you know my name?”
The girl edged closer to Aria until their bodies almost touched. “Because I’ve been waiting for you,” she whispered. “You’re the girl who killed Alison DiLaurentis, right?”
Aria’s jaw hung open. It took too long for her to find the words to respond. “N-no,” she said, her voice trembling. “I didn’t kill her. The verdict was wrong.”
The girl faced forward again, her smile now knowing and bitter. “Yeah, you did. And we all know it. She’s a hero to some of us, you know. She’s what keeps us going.”
Every cell in Aria’s body started to quiver. She wanted to leap up and tear away from this girl, but she was almost too stricken to move. She’s what keeps us going. The girl’s chin was held high, her expression certain and righteous. She believed what she was saying about Ali—believed in Ali herself. And then, when Aria looked down, she noticed a scabby, black tattoo on the inside of the girl’s wrist. It was of a single letter: A.
Aria’s blood ran cold. She instinctively patted her pockets for her cell phone, but of course there was nothing there. But if she’d had her phone on her, she would have texted her friends immediately. SOS. There was an Ali Cat—in prison.
All at once, Aria revised her prognosis in here. It would be a miracle if she survived the next fifteen years. She might not even survive until tomorrow.
THE BIGGEST SURPRISE WITNESS OF ALL
A scrawny-looking girl with olive skin and an eye patch leaned on the sink, smiling at Spencer with crooked, rotted teeth. “Little rich bitch can’t handle bathroom duty, huh?”
“I’m fine,” Spencer answered. She winced, wishing she hadn’t said anything. She remembered from Angela’s book that the key was not to engage with the other prisoners—it was a sign of weakness. And this girl, whose name was Meyers-Lopez, had been following Spencer around all morning, trying to get a rise out of her.
Meyers-Lopez hiked herself up onto the sink. “I bet you never thought you’d come here,” she hissed. “I bet you thought you’d get away with it. She told me all about you, you know. She told me how much of a tight-ass you were. How much of a spoiled bitch.”
Spencer winced and made bigger circles with her sponge. Please let a guard walk in right now, please let a guard walk in right now, she willed. This was the most terrifying part about prison so far. Not the fact that women argued violently well into the night, as Spencer had experienced yesterday evening, logging a total of forty-five minutes of sleep. Not the fact that the food was the lowest-grade possible and infested with all sorts of bacteria—she’d been terrified to choke down a waffle this morning for fear she’d go into botulism-related convulsions immediately. Not that she hadn’t seen Aria or Hanna even once, or that she’d probably have to live the next thirty years sleeping next to someone whose nickname was Miss Vicious, as she had last night, the woman so haunted-looking that Spencer had been sure she’d wake this morning with bruises all over her body.
Vicious by Sara Shepard / Mystery & Detective / Young Adult have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes