18. WHERE’S OUR OLD EMILY AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH HER?

“Are you going to the Kahn party later?” Carolyn asked, steering the car into the Fieldses’ driveway.

Emily ran a comb through her still-wet hair. “I don’t know.” Today at practice, she and Ben hadn’t said two words to each other, so she wasn’t exactly sure about going with him. “Are you?”

“I don’t know. Topher and I might just go to Applebee’s instead.”

Of course Carolyn would have a hard time deciding between a Friday night field party and Applebee’s.

They slammed the doors of the Volvo and walked up the stone path to the Fieldses’ thirty-year-old colonial-style house. It wasn’t nearly as big or flashy as most of the houses in Rosewood. The blue-painted shingles were chipping a little and some of the stones in the front path had disappeared. The deck furniture looked kind of outdated.

Their mother greeted them at the front door, holding the cordless phone. “Emily, I need to speak with you.”

Emily glanced at Carolyn, who ducked her head and ran upstairs. Uh-oh. “What’s up?”

Her mom smoothed her hands over her gray pleated slacks. “I was on the phone with Coach Lauren. She said your head seems to be somewhere else, not focused on swimming. And…you missed practice on Wednesday.”

Emily swallowed hard. “I was tutoring some kids in Spanish.”

“That’s what Carolyn told me. So I called Ms. Hernandez.”

Emily stared down at her green Vans. Ms. Hernandez was the Spanish teacher in charge of tutoring.

“Don’t lie to me, Emily.” Mrs. Fields frowned. “Where were you?”

Emily walked into the kitchen and slumped into a chair. Her mom was a rational person. They could discuss this.

She fiddled with the silver loop at the top of her ear. Years ago, Ali had asked Emily to come to the Piercing Palace with her when she got her belly button pierced, and they’d ended up getting matching piercings at the top of their ears, too. Emily still wore the same little silver hoop. Afterward, Ali bought Emily a pair of leopard-print earmuffs to hide the evidence. Emily still wore those earmuffs on the coldest days in the winter.

“Look,” she finally said. “I was just hanging out with that new girl, Maya. She’s really nice. We’re friends.”

Her mother looked confused. “Why didn’t you just do something after practice, or on Saturday?”

“I don’t see why it’s such a big deal,” Emily said. “I missed one day. I’ll swim a double this weekend—I promise.”

Her mother pursed her thin lips in a straight line and sat down. “But Emily…I just don’t understand. When you signed up for swimming this year, you made a commitment. You can’t go running off with friends if you’re supposed to be swimming.”

Emily stopped her. “Signed up for swimming? Like I had a choice?”

“What’s going on with you? You’re using a strange tone of voice; you’re lying about where you’ve been.” Her mother shook her head. “What’s with this lying? You’ve never lied before.”

“Mom…” Emily paused, feeling very tired. She wanted to point out that yes, she had lied, plenty. Even though she’d been the good girl of her seventh-grade friends, she’d done all kinds of stuff her mom never knew about.

Right after Ali went missing, Emily worried that Ali’s disappearance was somehow…cosmically…her fault—as punishment, maybe, for how Emily had secretly disobeyed her parents. For getting that piercing. For The Jenna Thing. Since then, she’d tried to be perfect, to do everything her parents asked. She’d made herself into this model daughter, inside and out.

“I just like to know what’s going on with you,” her mother said.

Emily laid her hands on the place mat, remembering how she’d become this version of herself that wasn’t really her. Ali wasn’t gone because Emily had disobeyed her parents—she realized that now. And the same way she couldn’t imagine sitting on Ben’s itchy couch, feeling his slimy tongue on her neck, she also couldn’t see herself spending the next two years of high school—and then the next four years of college—in a pool for hours every day. Why couldn’t Emily just be…Emily? Couldn’t her time be better served studying or—God forbid—having some fun?

“If you want to know what’s going on with me,” Emily started, pushing her hair out of her face. She took a deep breath. “I don’t think I want to swim anymore.”

Mrs. Fields’s right eye twitched. Her lips parted slightly. Then she spun around to face the fridge, staring at all the chicken magnets on the freezer. She didn’t speak, but her shoulders shook. Finally, she turned. Her eyes were slightly red, and her face looked saggy, as if she’d aged ten years in just a few moments. “I’m calling your father. He’ll talk some sense into you.”

“I’ve already made up my mind.” As she said it, she realized she had.

“No you haven’t. You don’t know what’s best for you.”

“Mom!” Emily suddenly felt tears fill her eyes. It was scary and sad to have her mother angry with her. But now that she’d made the decision, she felt like she’d finally been allowed to take off a big goose down jacket in the middle of a heat wave.

Her mom’s mouth trembled. “Is it because of that new friend of yours?”

Emily cringed and wiped her nose. “What? Who?”

Mrs. Fields sighed. “That girl who moved into the DiLaurentis house. She was the one you skipped practice to spend time with, right? What were you two doing?”

“We…we just went to the trail,” Emily whispered. “And talked.”

Her mother looked down. “I don’t have a good feeling about girls…like that.”

Wait. What? Emily stared at her mother. She…knew? But how? Her mom hadn’t even met Maya. Unless you could look at her and just know?

“But Maya’s really nice,” Emily managed. “I forgot to tell you, but she said the brownies were great. She said thank you.”

Her mother pinched her lips together. “I went over there. I was trying to be neighborly. But this…this is too much. She’s not a good influence for you.”

“I don’t—”

“Please, Emily,” her mom interrupted.

Emily’s words stuck in her throat.

Her mom sighed. “There are just so many cultural differences with…her…and I just don’t understand what you and Maya have in common, anyway. And who knows about her family? Who knows what they could be into?”

“Wait, what?” Emily stared at her mother. Maya’s family? As far as Emily knew, Maya’s father was a civic engineer and her mom worked as a nurse practitioner. Her brother was a senior at Rosewood and a tennis prodigy; they were building a tennis court for him in the backyard. What did her family have to do with anything?

“I just don’t trust those people,” her mother said. “I know that sounds really narrow-minded, but I don’t.”

Emily’s mind screeched to a halt. Her family. Cultural differences. Those people? She went over everything her mother just said. Oh. My. God.

Mrs. Fields wasn’t upset because she thought Maya was gay. She was upset because Maya—and the rest of her family—were black.

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