30. THE CIRCUS IS BACK IN TOWN

Emily biked furiously away from Aria’s house, narrowly missing a jogger on the side of the road. “Watch it!” he yelled.

As she passed a neighbor walking two huge Great Danes, Emily made a decision. She had to go to Maya’s. It was the only answer. Maybe Maya had meant it in a nice way, like she was just returning the note after Emily told her about Alison last night. Maybe Maya wanted to mention the letter last night but, for whatever reason, she didn’t. Maybe the A was really an M?

Besides, she and Maya had tons of other stuff to talk about—besides the note. Try everything that happened at the party. Emily closed her eyes, remembering. She could practically smell Maya’s banana gum and feel the soft contours of her mouth. Opening her eyes, she swerved away from the curb.

Okay, they definitely needed to work that out. But what did Emily want to say?

I loved it.

No. Of course she wouldn’t say that. She would say, We should just be friends. She was going back to Ben, after all. If he’d have her. She wanted to rewind time, to go back to being the Emily who was happy with her life, who her parents were happy with. The Emily who only worried about her breaststroke reach and her algebra homework.

Emily pedaled past Myer Park, where she and Ali used to swing for hours. They tried to pump together in unison, and when they were completely even, Ali always called out, “We’re married!” Then they’d squeal and jump off at the same time.

But what if Maya hadn’t put that note on her bike? When Emily asked Aria if Ali had told her Emily’s secret, Aria had replied, “What, recently?” Why would Aria say that? Unless…unless Aria knew something. Unless Ali was back.

Was that possible?

Emily skidded through the gravel. No, that was crazy. Her mother still exchanged holiday cards with Mrs. DiLaurentis; she would’ve heard if Ali had returned. Back when Ali vanished, it was on the news 24/7. These days, her parents usually had on CNN while they ate breakfast. It would surely be a top story again.

Still, it was thrilling to consider. Every night for almost a year after Ali’s disappearance, Emily had asked her Magic 8 Ball if Alison would come back. Although it sometimes said, Wait and see, it never, ever said, No. She made bets with herself, too: If two kids get on the school bus today wearing red shirts, she would whisper to herself, Ali is okay. If they’re serving pizza at lunch, Ali’s not dead. If Coach makes us practice starts and turns, Ali will come back. Nine times out of ten, according to Emily’s little superstitions, Ali was on her way back to them.

Maybe she’d been right all along.

She pumped uphill and around a sharp turn, narrowly avoiding a stone Revolutionary War battle memorial sign. If Ali was back, what would that mean for Emily’s friendship with Maya? She sort of doubted she could have two best friends…two best friends she felt so similarly about. She wondered what Ali would even think of Maya. What if they hated each other?

I loved it.

We should just be friends.

She swept past the beautiful farmhouses, crumbling stone inns, and gardeners’ pickups parked on the road’s shoulder. She used to bike this exact route to Ali’s house; the last time, in fact, had been before the kiss. Emily hadn’t planned to kiss Ali before she came; something had come over her in the heat of the moment. She would never forget how soft Ali’s lips were or the stunned look on Ali’s face when she pulled back. “What did you do that for?” she’d asked.

Suddenly, a siren wailed behind her. Emily barely had time to move to the edge of the road again before a Rosewood ambulance screamed past. A gust of wind kicked up, blowing dust into her face. She wiped her eyes and stared as the ambulance got to the top of the hill and paused at Alison’s street.

Now it was turning onto Alison’s street. Fear seized Emily. Ali’s street was…Maya’s street. She gripped the rubber handles of her bike.

With all the craziness, she’d forgotten the secret Maya had told her last night. The cutting. The hospital. That huge, jagged scar. Sometimes I just feel like I need to, Maya had said.

“Oh my God,” Emily whispered.

She pedaled furiously and skidded around the corner. If the ambulance sirens stop by the time I get around the corner, she thought, Maya will be okay.

But then the ambulance pulled to a stop in front of Maya’s house. The sirens were still roaring. Police cars were everywhere.

“No,” Emily whispered. White-coated medics got out of the vehicle and ran for the house. A ton of people littered Maya’s yard, some with cameras. Emily threw her bike at the curb and ran crookedly toward the house.

“Emily!”

Maya burst through the crowd. Emily gasped, then ran into Maya’s arms, tears messily running down her face.

“You’re okay.” Emily sobbed. “I was afraid—”

“I’m fine,” Maya said.

But there was something in her voice that was clearly not fine. Emily stood back. Maya’s eyes were red and watery. Her mouth was drawn down nervously.

“What is it?” Emily asked. “What’s going on?”

Maya swallowed. “They found your friend.”

“What?” Emily stared at her, then at the scene on Maya’s lawn. It was all so eerily familiar: the ambulance, the cop cars, the crowds of people, the long-lensed cameras. A news helicopter hovered overhead. This was exactly the same scene as three years ago, when Ali went missing.

Emily stepped back out of Maya’s arms, grinning in disbelief. She had been right!

Alison was back at her house, like nothing had ever happened. “I knew it!” she whispered.

Maya took Emily’s hand. “They were digging for our tennis court. My mom was there. She…saw her. I heard her scream from my bedroom.”

Emily dropped her hand. “Wait. What?”

“I tried to call you,” Maya added.

Emily wrinkled her brow and stared back at Maya. Then she looked at the twenty-strong team of cops. At Mrs. St. Germain sobbing by the tire swing. At the POLICE LINE, DO NOT CROSS tape loops around the backyard. And then at the van parked in the driveway. It said, ROSEWOOD PD MORGUE. She had to read it six times for it to make sense. Her heart sped up and suddenly she couldn’t breathe.

“I don’t…understand,” Emily sputtered, taking another step back. “Who did they find?”

Maya looked at her sympathetically, her eyes shiny with tears. “Your friend Alison,” she whispered. “They just found her body.”

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