Vicious, p.7
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       Vicious, p.7

         Part #16 of Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard
 
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  “You know, maybe Emily’s mom is right,” Spencer interrupted. “Maybe we are poisoning influences on each other. Maybe we need some space.”

  Aria felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. “Don’t push us away,” she begged. “It’s not us you’re mad at. All of this is just messing with your head.”

  “With good reason!” Spencer’s eyes were wide. “Emily’s dead, Aria. She couldn’t take it, so she killed herself. Maybe we all should take our lives—it’s probably the best choice.”

  Aria gasped. “How could you say that? You don’t know for sure that we’re going to prison!”

  Spencer chuckled sarcastically. “Haven’t you listened to the sixty lawyers we’ve already talked to? They all think we’re going down. And I’m sorry, but if it wasn’t for Emily pushing us to look for Ali, if it wasn’t for us being so scared to cross Emily because she seemed so fragile, she might still be here! And we might not be in the amount of trouble we’re in!”

  “So, what, now this is all Emily’s fault? But Spence—”

  Spencer cut her off. “Leave me alone, okay?” She turned and ran between the cars.

  Aria knew better than to follow, but she felt hurt and confused. She looked at the church again. She should go back inside—her family was still in there. But what she really wanted, she realized, was to drive somewhere. Get away from this place, this loss. And even though she wasn’t sure why, this place reminded her of Ali. All of Rosewood reminded her of Ali, really—she was everywhere. And this fight, their issues with one another—that seemed like another one of Ali’s master plans. Instead of banding together against Ali, they’d turned on one another, growing weak, growing angry, losing everything. That was what Ali wanted, right? For them to lose everything? As Ali would say, Score another win for Ali D.

  She trudged to the auxiliary parking lot, where she’d left the Subaru. As she turned the corner, a red flashing light caught her eye. The familiar black-and-white pattern of a Rosewood police car stopped her cold. The police were waiting for her.

  The ankle bracelet. She’d totally forgotten. The cops were meeting her here to place it on her ankle as well as collect her passport, driver’s license, and anything else that served as an ID. The police had wanted to do it yesterday, but Rosewood PD didn’t have bracelets on-hand and they needed some sort of court order in place. Aria had even heard they were going to put a GPS chip and a recording device on her cell phone. They would know where she was at all times, and hear every conversation she had.

  Aria placed her hand on her bag, where her IDs were tucked into the leather side pocket. The idea of forfeiting her passport, with its extra pages for stamps, made her stomach suddenly swirl. Traveling defined her. And not having a passport made everything more, well, real. Without a license, without an ID, she was no longer Aria Montgomery. She was just a girl waiting to go to jail.

  She thought about what she’d said to Noel in bed the other day. I wish I could just run away.

  A tiny seedling of an idea took hold in her mind. No, Aria told herself. But it pressed on her again and again. It was so tempting—and it was one thing Ali probably would never count on. Emily had escaped Ali with death, but that wasn’t the only answer.

  Could she?

  “You okay?”

  Aria whirled around. Noel, dressed in a dark suit, was shifting from foot to foot a few yards away. In the craziness of the past twenty-four hours, she’d only been able to talk to him on the phone. She hadn’t even known for sure he was coming. Now, she stepped back into the shadows and fell into him, her eyes filling with tears.

  “I heard you fighting with Hanna and Spencer,” Noel murmured in her ear. “It seemed kind of . . . brutal.”

  Aria lowered her shoulders. “It’s because the Fieldses didn’t want us here. They hate us. Everyone hates us.”

  Noel patted her back. “I don’t hate you.”

  Aria knew Noel meant that. She wanted more than anything just to stay here and hug him. But she also knew what she had to do this instant . . . and not a moment later.

  She wiped away a tear. “I’m going to miss you.”

  Noel cocked his head. “Aria. You’re not dead. And you’re not in jail yet.” His smile wobbled. “We still have to think positive.”

  Aria stared at the ground. If only she could tell Noel she meant something else, but there was just no way.

  He squeezed her hands. “We need to talk about what happened in New Jersey, too. Did you find Ali there? Are you afraid of something?”

  “No. We didn’t find a thing.” She couldn’t look at him. “I have to go.”

  Noel’s brow furrowed. “Go . . . where?”

  But she was already walking away. “I love you,” she blurted before darting around the corner. “Tell my parents not to worry about me. Tell them I’ll be fine.”

  “Aria!” Noel called out. But Aria kept running as fast as she could. And when she glanced over her shoulder after climbing the hill that led to the next street over, Noel wasn’t following.

  She pushed through a thicket of trees and exploded into someone’s backyard, darting around a swing set and a sandbox. The SEPTA station was at the end of the road, and she reached it quickly, stumbling down the hill. The neon sign above the train tracks said the next train into Philly was due in two minutes. Aria looked nervously toward the street, terrified that the police would roar up any second. Surely all the funeral-goers had emptied out by now. Surely they’d figure out soon enough that she’d given them the slip.

  But no cars had arrived when the train roared into the station. Aria glanced over her shoulder once more, then clambered up the metal stairs. The train pulled away noisily, the car rocking on the rails.

  “Ahem.”

  She let out a little yelp. The conductor had appeared from out of nowhere, looming over her. “Where to?” he asked in a bored voice.

  Aria swallowed hard. “The airport,” she said, handing over a ten. “K-keep the change.”

  The conductor took it, then passed on, keys jingling at his waist. Aria let out a long, freaked-out breath. You’re going to be fine, she told herself, instinctively reaching into her bag and making sure her passport was still there. You’re going to be just fine.

  If only she could believe it was true.

  9

  SPENCER FOLLOWS UP

  A few hours after the funeral, Spencer sat silently in the passenger seat as her mother steered her Mercedes up 76 to the city. Mrs. Hastings made a sour face, and then gestured violently at the car in front of her. “Don’t you dare cut me off, Ford Fiesta,” she warned.

  Spencer squeezed her palms together. Her mom only snarled at other drivers when she was really, really pissed off, and right now it was pretty clear what was making her angry. Yesterday, at the hospital, a cop had explained to Mrs. Hastings that since Spencer no longer had a driver’s license, someone would now have to drive Spencer to her appointments, lawyer’s meetings, and the trial. Mrs. Hastings had made a pinched face. “But I have things to do,” she’d whined. “This is an extreme inconvenience.”

  Needless to say, her mom hadn’t had a heart-to-heart with Spencer about what had happened in Cape May. No questions about what they were doing at the beach to start with. No inquiries about how she felt about Emily’s death or how scared Spencer must have been when she tried to rescue her. Her mom probably found it easier not to get emotionally involved.

  Thank goodness for Melissa, who’d been calling Spencer nonstop since she was released from the hospital, bringing her takeout in bed, and staying up late to watch Arsenic and Old Lace, their favorite old movie, with her. Melissa had apologized profusely for not being there at the hospital when Spencer woke up—she’d been working all weekend, and no one had even called her until Spencer was released. Spencer had said it was okay—after all, it would have been très awkward with her, Melissa, and Wren all in the same room.

  Spencer had considered telling Melissa about the Wren coincidence, but there had
never been a perfect moment for it. Whatever. She just had this one return checkup with Wren at the hospital, and then she’d never see him again.

  Within minutes they were speeding down Market Street, and Mrs. Hastings pulled into Jefferson Hospital. “I’ll wait there.” She gestured to a café on the corner of 10th and Walnut.

  Spencer mumbled thanks and climbed out of the car. As she walked into the antiseptic-smelling lobby, she felt light-headed. She glanced in a large mirror just past the information desk, taking in her streaky makeup and the strained look in her eyes. She’d been crying a lot lately.

  Her hands balled into fists at the memory of the fight they’d had after the funeral. How dare Hanna say those things! How dare she and Aria just sit there and say they hadn’t even wanted to stay in Cape May, and imply this was all her fault? Didn’t they realize how guilty she already felt? Didn’t they understand she was already worrying about the same thing? She hated herself for the snarky things she’d said to Hanna . . . and then that she’d almost hit her. Who had she turned into? Who had all of them turned into? She pictured Ali lurking somewhere close, laughing her ass off. Stupid bitch.

  Spencer took a deep breath. She needed to move on, take a step, go to this appointment. She wiped her eyes and stepped into the elevator.

  Wren’s office was on the third floor, across from a patient wing. The waiting room was generic, with lots of magazines strewn around the tables and a Live! with Kelly and Michael broadcast on a flatscreen in the corner. Spencer gave her name at the front desk and sat primly in the chair. When she tried to cross her ankles, her foot banged against the monitor the police had clamped around her leg after the funeral. She glowered at its blocky, imposing shape, hating that it was attached to her at all times.

  The door opened, and there was Wren. “Ah. Spencer,” he said. “Come on back.”

  Spencer held her chin high and didn’t make eye contact with him. Wren led her straight to an examining room and had her sit in a chair opposite him. She stared at his Adidas sneakers, irritated that they were the same shoes he’d worn last year while he was in med school. He still smelled the same, too—like cigarettes. She wondered if he still smoked; they’d shared a cigarette together the first time they’d met at the Moshulu restaurant.

  “So,” he finally said in a grave voice, tapping the top of a manila folder. “How was Emily’s funeral? That was today, wasn’t it?”

  Spencer bristled. “How did you know that?”

  Wren stared at his hands, looking ashamed. “I’m sorry. It was on the news. Look, I know it’s got to be hard. You guys were close, right? You used to talk about her a lot.”

  Spencer stared at a chart of the human body and made a noncommittal groan.

  “Is it all right if I check you out now?” Wren asked tentatively, placing the folder on the table.

  Spencer shrugged. “Do what you gotta do.”

  Wren rose and pressed a stethoscope to her back, then her chest. Spencer felt her cheeks burn—his hands were so close to her boobs—but she continued to sit straight and think impersonal, unsexual thoughts.

  “I’ve read a little about the trial,” Wren said softly. “It starts tomorrow, right? You must be under a lot of stress. Are you sleeping?”

  She shrugged. “Not really.”

  “Would you like me to prescribe a sleeping pill?”

  “I didn’t do it,” Spencer blurted, then gasped. She hadn’t meant to tell him anything remotely personal.

  Wren looked at her. “Of course you didn’t. I never believed that for a second.”

  A lump formed in Spencer’s throat. He was the first person, it seemed, who believed she was innocent simply based on her character.

  “But they can’t just convict you with what they’ve got, can they?” Wren pressed. “It sounds like there isn’t even enough evidence.”

  Spencer picked at her cuticles. “There’s Alison’s blood, and they found a tooth. According to the many lawyers I’ve talked to, that’s enough.”

  “You don’t even think she’s dead, do you?”

  Spencer looked down. The cops had wrangled out of her why they’d gone to New Jersey. She’d told them they were looking for Ali on a tip, though she certainly hadn’t said anything about breaking into an old woman’s rental. Naturally, it had made the news. Liars Desperately Trying to Raise Ali’s Ghost, the headlines said. They looked even crazier than before.

  Wren fiddled with his prescription pad. “So you think there’s no way you’ll get off?”

  Only if I come up with $100,000, Spencer thought, remembering Angela. The conversation felt like a million years ago.

  When she looked up again, Wren was staring at her so sympathetically, almost like he wanted to hug her. She inched closer to him, desperate for human contact. But then she flinched. What was she going to do, make out with the first guy who was nice to her?

  Spencer tightened her jaw. “The bandage on my arm needs to be changed.” She rolled up her sleeve and revealed the old bandage.

  Wren glanced at it for a long beat, then sighed. “Look, I hate what I did to you,” he said quietly. “And I hate that you still hate me.”

  Every muscle in Spencer’s body tensed. Okay, so Wren had cheated on Melissa with her. And then she’d fallen in love with him, and then he’d cheated on her with Melissa. But it was ancient history. She didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of thinking it ever crossed her mind.

  “It would mean so much to me if I knew you forgave me.” Wren stared at her imploringly. “I’ve felt awful about hurting you, Spencer. I’ve never let myself forget it.”

  Spencer knew that if she spoke she’d give something away, so she just shrugged.

  “So do you forgive me, then?” Wren’s voice rose.

  She bit down hard on the inside of her cheek. Her resolve was crumbling. “God. Fine. I forgive you.”

  Wren looked circumspect. “Are you sure?”

  “Yes,” Spencer said, then took a breath. “Yes,” she repeated. And she realized—she did. Mostly. There was so much other bullshit to deal with right now, Wren fooling around with both sisters at the same time hardly registered on her Crazy Life Meter.

  Spencer thrust out her arm. “Can you bandage this now?”

  “Of course, of course,” Wren said quickly.

  He rolled the stool back to Spencer and carefully wound a new bandage around her arm. She tried not to stare at his long, graceful fingers, and she was glad he was no longer listening to her galloping heart. Every so often, Wren paused what he was doing to give her a tiny smile.

  “All done.” Wren pressed the bandage to stick. “I think that should hold you for a while.”

  “Great.” Spencer jumped up and grabbed her bag. “So I can go now?”

  “Yes.” Wren’s cheek twitched. “Although . . .”

  “I’ll see you,” Spencer said at the same time. Then she looked at him. “Sorry. Go ahead.”

  Two pink splotches appeared on Wren’s cheeks. “I-I was just going to say that I have your phone number, and I’ll stay in touch.” He fiddled with his stethoscope. “Maybe you’d like to get coffee sometime?”

  Spencer stared at him. On one hand, it was a teensy bit flattering that he was asking her out. On the other, it sort of enraged her. Did he really think she had time for him right now on top of everything else? “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said bluntly.

  He blinked. “Oh?”

  She shrugged. “Melissa and I are in a good place. Better than we’ve ever been. And no offense, but you coming back into our lives—well, I don’t want to mess that up.”

  Wren nodded slowly, his expression turning sad. “Ah. I see. Well, okay then.”

  Spencer paused a moment, then gave him a firm nod good-bye. She felt satisfied with her decision—adult, even. Melissa was far more important than any boy.

  Even if it was bedroom-eyes, sexy-voiced, gentle-doctor-hands Wren.

  10

  TOUCHDOWN

&
nbsp; “Miss? Miss?”

  Aria jolted awake. A pretty blonde in a tight blue uniform stood over her with a strange expression on her face. “You’re in trouble,” she said smoothly.

  Aria’s heart leapt to her throat, and she looked around. Rows and rows of airline seats stretched in front of her, and there was that familiar droning sound of an engine in midflight. The cabin smelled like feet. A sleeping passenger across the aisle had a guidebook that said Go Paris folded across his lap, and two people in front of her were speaking softly in French. It was only then that Aria realized that her buying a ticket for and boarding a flight to Paris had not been part of her dreams. It had really and truly happened.

  She looked at the stewardess again. You’re in trouble. How stupid was she to think she could get away with this? It had been inconceivable that the police hadn’t been waiting at the airport when she got there, or that no one had shown up when she’d withdrawn that huge sum of cash from the ATM for the ticket to France, or that the clerk at the US Airways desk didn’t pale and reach for a phone when she saw Aria’s name on the passport. And that she’d actually boarded the plane without incident, and that it had actually taken off? It almost seemed criminal.

  Of course she was in trouble. She’d escaped the country, like a terrorist.

  But then the stewardess pointed to Aria’s legs, which were in the middle of the aisle. “You’ll be in trouble when we bring the cart through,” the woman explained. “Can you move?”

  “Oh.” Aria pulled her legs back under her seat. The stewardess gave her a tight smile and sauntered on.

  Aria ran her hands down the length of her face. That was close. Then she peeked out the small porthole in her row. It was almost light outside, but her watch read 2:45 AM. Everyone in Rosewood was probably sleeping. She pictured Noel in his bed. Had he tried her window last night? Was he worried? Had he told the police about what she’d said to him before she left? And what about her family? They must be sick with worry by this point. She pictured her mom pacing. Mike rolling over in his bed, sleepless. And Hanna and Spencer. She swallowed hard, pausing on them. Would they be angry that she hadn’t included them in her plan? Only, that was crazy—she’d had no choice. One girl could escape much easier than three. Besides, there hadn’t been time to involve all of them. And anyway, after the fight, she felt kind of stung. It wasn’t like she’d deliberately left them out of her plan, but, well . . . it was probably better if she had a little space.

 
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