10. SINGLE GIRLS HAVE WAY MORE FUN

That afternoon, Emily was standing in the student parking lot, lost in thought, when someone threw their hands over her eyes. Emily jumped, startled.

“Whoa, chill! It’s just me!”

Emily turned and sighed with relief. It was only Maya. Emily had been so distracted and paranoid since getting that bizarre note yesterday. She’d been about to unlock her car—her mom let her and Carolyn take it to school on the condition they drive carefully and call when they got there—and grab her swimming bag for practice.

“Sorry,” Emily said. “I thought…never mind.”

“I missed you today.” Maya smiled.

“Me too.” Emily smiled back. She’d tried calling Maya this morning to offer her a ride to school, but Maya’s mom said she’d already left. “So, how are you?”

“Well, I could be better.” Today, Maya had secured her wild dark hair off her face with adorable iridescent pink butterfly clips.

“Oh yeah?” Emily tilted her head.

Maya pursed her lips together and slid one of her feet out of her Oakley sandals. Her second toe was longer than her big toe, just like Emily’s. “I’d be better if you came somewhere with me. Right now.”

“But I have swimming,” Emily said, hearing Eeyore in her voice again.

Maya took her hand and swung it. “What if I told you that where we’re going sort of involves swimming?”

Emily narrowed her eyes. “What do you mean?”

“You have to trust me.”

Even though she’d been close to Hanna and Spencer and Aria, all of Emily’s favorite memories were of hanging out alone with Ali. Like when they dressed up in bulky snow pants to sled down Bayberry Hill, talked about their ideal boyfriends, or cried about The Jenna Thing from sixth grade and comforted each other. When it was just the two of them, Emily saw a slightly less perfect Ali—which somehow made her seem even more perfect—and Emily felt she could be herself. It seemed like days, weeks, years had gone by where Emily hadn’t been herself. And she thought that now, she could have something like that with Maya. She missed having a best friend.

Right now, Ben and all the other boys were probably changing into their suits, slapping one another’s bare butts with wet towels. Coach Lauren was writing the practice sets on the big marker board and carrying out the appropriate fins, buoys, and paddles. And the girls on the team were complaining because they all had their periods at the same time. Did she dare miss the second day of practice?

Emily squeezed her plastic fish keychain. “I suppose I could tell Carolyn I had to tutor somebody in Spanish,” she murmured. Emily knew Carolyn wouldn’t buy that, but she probably wouldn’t squeal on Emily, either.

Triple-checking the parking lot to see if anyone was watching, Emily smiled and unlocked the car.

“All right. Let’s go.”

“My brother and I checked out this spot this weekend,” Maya said as Emily pulled into the gravel parking lot.

Emily stepped out of the car and stretched. “I forgot about this place.” They were at the Marwyn trail, which was about five miles long and bordered a deep creek. She and her friends used to ride their bikes here all the time—Ali and Spencer would pedal furiously at the end and usually tie—and stop at the little snack bar by the swimming area for Butterfingers and Diet Cokes.

As she followed Maya up a muddy slope, Maya grabbed her arm. “Oh! I forgot to tell you. My mom said your mom stopped over yesterday while we were in school. She brought over brownies.”

“Really?” Emily responded, confused. She wondered why her mother hadn’t mentioned anything to her at dinner.

“The brownies were deelish. My brother and I polished them off last night!”

They came to the dirt trail. A canopy of oaks sheltered them. The air had that fresh, woodsy smell and it felt about twenty degrees cooler.

“We’re not there yet.” Maya took her hand and led her down the path to a small stone bridge. Twenty feet beneath it, the stream widened. The calm water glittered in the late-afternoon sun.

Maya walked right up to the edge of the bridge and stripped down to her matching pale pink bra and undies. She threw her clothes in a pile, stuck her tongue out at Emily, and jumped off.

“Wait!” Emily rushed to the edge. Did Maya know how deep this was? A full one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi later, Emily heard a splash.

Maya’s head popped back up out of the water. “Told you it involved swimming! C’mon, strip!”

Emily glanced at Maya’s pile of clothes. She really hated undressing in front of people—even the swim team girls, who saw her every day. She slowly took off her pleated Rosewood skirt, crossing her legs over each other so Maya couldn’t see her bare, muscular thighs, and then pulled at the tank top she wore under her uniform blouse. She decided to keep it on. She looked over the edge to the creek and, steeling herself, she jumped. A moment later, the water hugged her body. It was pleasantly warm and thick with mud, not cold and clean like the pool. The built-in shelf bra of her tank top puffed out with water.

“It’s like a sauna in here,” Maya said.

“Yeah.” Emily paddled over to the shallower area, where Maya was standing. Emily realized she could see Maya’s nipples straight through her bra, and cut her eyes away.

“I used to go cliff diving with Justin all the time back in Cali,” Maya said. “He’d stand up at the top and, like, think about it for ten minutes before jumping. I like how you didn’t even hesitate.”

Emily floated on her back and smiled. She couldn’t help it: she gobbled up Maya’s compliments like cheesecake.

Maya squirted Emily with water through her cupped hands. Some of it squirted right into her mouth. The creek water tasted gooey and almost metallic, nothing like chlorinated pool water. “I think me and Justin are going to break up,” Maya said.

Emily swam closer to the edge and stood up. “Really? Why?”

“Yeah. The long-distance thing is too stressful. He calls me, like, all the time. I’ve only been gone for a few days, and he’s already sent me two letters!”

“Huh,” Emily answered, sifting her fingers through the murky water. Then something occurred to her. She turned to Maya. “Did you, um, put a note in my swim locker yesterday?”

Maya frowned. “What, after school? No…you walked me home, remember?”

“Right.” She didn’t really think Maya had written the note, but things would’ve been so much simpler if she had.

“What did the note say?”

Emily shook her head. “Never mind. It was nothing.” She cleared her throat. “You know, I think I might break up with my boyfriend too.”

Whoa. Emily wouldn’t have been any more surprised if a bluebird had just flown out of her mouth.

“Really?” Maya said.

Emily blinked water out of her eyes. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Maya stretched her arms over her head, and Emily caught sight of that scar on her wrist again. She looked away. “Well, fuck a moose,” Maya said.

Emily smiled. “Huh?”

“It’s this thing I say sometimes,” Maya said. “It means…screw it!” She turned away and shrugged. “I guess it’s silly.”

“No, I like it,” Emily said. “Fuck a moose.” She giggled. She always felt funny swearing—as if her mom could hear her from their kitchen, ten miles away.

“You totally should break up with your boyfriend, though,” Maya said. “Know why?”

“Why?”

“That would mean we’d both be single.”

“And that means what?” Emily asked. The forest was very quiet and still.

Maya moved closer to her. “And that means…we…can…have fun!” She grabbed Emily by the shoulder and dunked her under the water.

“Hey!” Emily squealed. She splashed Maya back, ripping her whole arm through the water, creating a giant wave. Then she grabbed Maya by the leg and started tickling underneath her toes.

“Help!” Maya screamed. “Not my feet! I’m so ticklish!”

“I’ve found your weakness!” Emily crowed, maniacally dragging Maya over to the waterfall. Maya managed to wrench her foot away and pounced on Emily’s shoulders from behind. Maya’s hands drifted up Emily’s sides, then down to her stomach, where she tickled her. Emily squealed. She finally pushed Maya into a small cave in the rocks.

“I hope there are no bats in here!” Maya squealed. Beams of sunlight pierced through the cave’s tiny openings, making a halo around the top of Maya’s sopping wet head.

“You have to come in here,” Maya said. She held out her hand.

Emily stood next to her, feeling the cave’s smooth, cool sides. The sounds of her breathing echoed off the narrow walls. They looked at each other and grinned.

Emily bit her lip. This was such a perfect friend moment, it made her feel kind of melancholy and nostalgic.

Maya’s eyes turned down in concern. “What’s wrong?”

Emily took a deep breath. “Well…you know that girl who lived in your house? Alison?”

“Yeah.”

“She went missing. Right after seventh grade. She was never found.”

Maya shivered slightly. “I heard something about that.”

Emily hugged herself; she was getting cold, too. “We were really close.”

Maya moved closer to Emily and put her arm around her. “I didn’t realize.”

“Yeah.” Emily’s chin wobbled. “I just wanted you to know.”

“Thanks.”

A few long moments passed; Emily and Maya continued to hug. Then, Maya backed off. “I kind of lied earlier. About why I want to break up with Justin.”

Emily raised an eyebrow, curious.

“I’m…I’m not sure if I like guys,” Maya said quietly. “It’s weird. I think they’re cute, but when I get alone with them, I don’t want to be with them. I’d rather be with, like, someone more like me.” She smiled crookedly. “You know?”

Emily ran her hands over her face and hair. Maya’s gaze felt too close all of a sudden. “I…,” she started. No, she didn’t know.

The bushes above them moved. Emily flinched. Her mom used to hate when she came to this trail—you never knew what kind of kidnappers or murderers hid in places like this. The woods were still for a moment, but then a flock of birds scattered wildly into the sky. Emily flattened herself up against the rock. Was someone watching them? Who was that laughing? The laugh sounded familiar. Then Emily heard heavy breathing. Goose bumps rose up on her arms and she peered out of the cave.

It was only a group of boys. Suddenly, they burst into the creek, wielding sticks like swords. Emily backed away from Maya and out of the waterfall.

“Where are you going?” Maya called.

Emily looked at Maya, and then at the boys, who had abandoned the sticks and were now throwing rocks at each other. One of them was Mike Montgomery, her old friend Aria’s little brother. He’d grown up quite a bit since she last saw him. And wait—Mike went to Rosewood. Would he recognize her? Emily climbed out of the water and started scurrying up the hill.

She turned back to Maya. “I have to get back to school before Carolyn’s done with swimming.” She pulled on her skirt. “Do you want me to throw down your clothes?”

“Whatev.” At that, she stepped out of the waterfall and waded through the water, her sheer underwear clinging to her butt. Maya climbed up the slope slowly, not once covering up her stomach or boobs with her hands. The freshmen boys stopped what they were doing and stared.

And even though Emily didn’t want to, she couldn’t help but stare too.

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