Home > Wicked (Pretty Little Liars #5)(9)

Wicked (Pretty Little Liars #5)(9)
Author: Sara Shepard

“No, no, you should!” Aria cried. “I think it’s great!” And she was happy for Ella. Why should her father have all the fun? “I think it’s gross,” Mike piped up. “It should be illegal for people over forty to date.”

Aria ignored him. “What are you going to wear?”

Ella stared down at her favorite eggplant-colored tunic. It had floral embroidery around the neck and what looked like a scrambled egg stain near the hem. “What’s wrong with this?”

Aria widened her eyes and shook her head.

“I got it in that sweet little fishing village in Denmark last year,” Ella protested. “You were with me! That old woman with no teeth sold it to us.”

“We have to get you something else,” Aria demanded. “And re-dye your hair. And let me do your makeup.” She squinted, envisioning her mother’s bathroom counter. Usually it was cluttered with watercolor paints, tins of turpentine, and half-finished jewelry projects. “Do you even own makeup?”

Ella took another long sip of her beer. “Shouldn’t he like me for who I am without all that…embellishment?”

“It’ll still be you. Just better,” Aria encouraged.

Mike swiveled back and forth between them, then brightened. “You know what I think makes women look better? Implants!”

Ella gathered their plates and carried them to the sink. “Fine,” she said to Aria. “I’ll let you give me a makeover for my date, okay? But now I have to drive Mike to his date.”

“It’s not a date!” Mike whined, stomping out of the room and up the stairs.

Aria and Ella snickered. Once he was gone, they regarded each other shyly, something warm and unspoken passing between them. The last few months hadn’t been particularly easy. Mona-as-A had also told Ella that Aria had kept her father’s secret for three long years, and for a while, Ella had been too disgusted to even let her daughter in the house. Eventually, she’d forgiven Aria, and they were working hard on getting their relationship back to normal. They weren’t quite there yet. There were a lot of things Aria still couldn’t mention; they still hardly spent any time alone; and Ella hadn’t confided in Aria once, which she used to do all the time. But it was getting better every day.

Ella raised an eyebrow and reached into her tunic’s kangaroo pocket. “I just remembered.” She pulled out a rectangular card with three intersecting blue lines on the front. “I was supposed to go to this art opening tonight, but I don’t have time. You want to go instead?”

“I don’t know.” Aria shrugged. “I’m tired.”

“Go,” Ella urged. “You’ve been too cooped up lately. No more being miserable.”

Aria opened her mouth to protest, but Ella had a point. She’d spent the whole winter break in her bedroom, knitting scarves and absently flicking the Shakespeare bobblehead Ezra had given her before he left Rosewood in November. Every day she thought she’d hear something from him—an e-mail, a text, anything—especially since so much about Rosewood, Ali, and even Aria herself had been on the news. The months slid by…and nothing.

She pressed the corner of the invitation into the pit of her palm. If Ella was brave enough to get back into the world, then so was she. And there was no better time to start than right now.

On her way to the art opening, Aria had to pass Ali’s old street. There was her house, same as it had been earlier that day. Spencer’s house was next door, and the Cavanaughs’ was across the street. Aria wondered if Jenna was inside, getting ready for her first day back at Rosewood Day. She’d heard that Jenna would be having private, all-day tutoring sessions.

A day didn’t go by when Aria didn’t think about the last—and only—time she and Jenna had spoken. It had been at the Hollis art studio, when Aria had had a panic attack during a thunderstorm. Aria had tried to apologize once and for all for what they’d done to her that horrible night when Jenna was blinded, but Jenna explained that she and Ali had conspired together to launch the firework to get rid of Jenna’s stepbrother, Toby, for good. Ali had agreed to the plan because, apparently, she had sibling problems too.

For a while, Aria obsessed over what sibling problems meant. Toby used to touch Jenna inappropriately—could Ali’s brother, Jason, have been doing the same thing to Ali? But Aria hated to think that way. She’d never sensed anything weird between Ali and Jason. He’d always seemed so protective.

And then it hit Aria. Of course. Ali didn’t have problems with Jason; she’d simply made that up as a way to earn Jenna’s trust and get her to spill what was going on. She’d done the same thing with Aria, acting all empathetic and devastated when she and Aria had caught Bryon and Meredith making out in the Hollis parking lot. Once she knew Aria’s secret, Ali had held it over Aria’s head for months. And she’d done the same thing to her other friends. Only, why had Ali cared about something dorky Jenna Cavanaugh was hiding?

Fifteen minutes later, Aria reached the gallery. The art opening was being held in an old, lofty farmhouse in the woods. As she parked Ella’s Subaru on the gravel embankment and got out, she heard rustling. The sky was so black out here.

Something made a strange squawking noise off in the woods. And then…more rustling. Aria took a step back. “Hello?” she called quietly.

A pair of curious eyes stared back at her from behind a dilapidated wooden fence. For a moment, Aria’s heart stopped. But then she realized the eyes were surrounded by white fur. It was only an alpaca. As several more trotted to the edge of the fence, batting their enviably long eyelashes, Aria smiled and exhaled, figuring the farm must have a whole herd of them. After months of being stalked, it was hard to shake the paranoid feeling that someone was watching.

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