Spencer shot up and moved to another car. Ali was waiting for her on the platform at Thirtieth Street, and when they glanced back at the train, Toby was looking straight at them.
“I see someone’s been let out of his little prison,” Ali said with a smirk.
“Yeah.” Spencer tried to laugh it off. “And he’s still a loser with a capital L.”
But a few weeks later, Ali went missing. And then it wasn’t so funny.
A slide-whistle noise coming from Spencer’s computer made her jump. It was her new e-mail alert. She paced over to her computer nervously and double-clicked the new message.
Hi, love. Haven’t spoken to you in two days, and I’m going crazy missing you. —Wren.
Spencer sighed, a nervous sensation fluttering through her. The moment she’d laid eyes on Wren—her sister had brought him to meet their parents at a family dinner—something had happened to her. It was like…like he’d put a hex on her the second he sat down at Moshulu, took a sip of red wine, and met her eyes. He was British, exotic, witty, and smart, and liked the same indie bands Spencer did. He was just so wrong for her milquetoast, prim-and-perfect sister Melissa. But he was so right for Spencer. She knew it…and apparently he did too.
Before Melissa caught them making out Friday night, she and Wren experienced an unbelievable twenty minutes of passion. But because Melissa tattled, and because Spencer’s parents always took her side, they banned Spencer from seeing Wren ever again. She was going crazy missing him, too, but what was she supposed to do?
Feeling groggy and unsettled, she walked down the stairs and passed the long, narrow gallery hall where her mother displayed the Thomas Cole landscapes she’d inherited from her grandfather. She stepped into her family’s spacious kitchen. Her parents had restored it to look just like it had in the 1800s—except with updated countertops and state-of-the-art appliances. Her family was gathered at the kitchen table around Thai takeout containers.
Spencer hesitated in the doorway. She hadn’t spoken to them since before Ali’s funeral—she’d driven there alone and had barely seen them afterward on the lawn. Actually, she hadn’t spoken to her family since they reprimanded her about Wren two days ago, and now they’d shunned her again by starting dinner without her. And they had company. Ian Thomas, Melissa’s old boyfriend—and the first of Melissa’s exes that Spencer had kissed—was sitting in what should’ve been Spencer’s seat.
“Oh,” she squeaked.
Ian was the only one who looked up. “Hey, Spence! How are you?” he asked, as if he ate in the Hastingses’ kitchen every day. It was hard enough for Spencer that Ian was coaching her field hockey team at Rosewood—but this was bizarre.
“I’m…fine,” Spencer said, looking shiftily at the rest of her family, but no one was looking at her…or explaining why Ian was scarfing down Thai food in their kitchen. Spencer pulled up a chair to the corner of the table and started to spoon some lemongrass chicken onto her plate. “So, um, Ian. You’re having dinner with us?”
Mrs. Hastings looked at her sharply. Spencer shut her mouth, a hot, clammy feeling coursing through her.
“We ran into each other at the, um, memorial,” Ian explained. A siren interrupted him, and Ian dropped his fork. The noise was most likely coming from the DiLaurentises’ house. Police cars had been there non-stop. “Pretty crazy, huh?” Ian said, running a hand through his curly blond hair. “I didn’t know so many cop cars would still be here.”
Melissa elbowed him lightly. “You get a big police record, living out there in dangerous California?” Melissa and Ian had broken up because he’d moved across the country to go to college at Berkeley.
“Nah,” Ian said. Before he could go on, Melissa, in typical Melissa fashion, had moved on to something else: herself. She turned to Mrs. Hastings. “So, Mom, the flowers at the service were the exact color I want to paint my living room walls.”
Melissa reached for a Martha Stewart Living magazine and opened it to a marked page. She was constantly talking about home renovations; she was redecorating the Philadelphia town house their parents bought her as a reward for getting into U Penn’s Wharton School of Business. They’d never do anything like that for Spencer.
Mrs. Hastings leaned in to see. “Lovely.”
“Really nice,” Ian agreed.
A disbelieving laugh escaped from Spencer’s mouth. Alison DiLaurentis’s memorial service was today, and all they could think to talk about was paint colors?
Melissa turned to Spencer. “What was that?”
“Well…I mean…” Spencer stuttered. Melissa looked offended, as if Spencer had just said something really rude. She nervously twirled her fork. “Forget it.”
There was another silence. Even Ian seemed to be wary of her now. Her dad took a hearty sip of wine. “Veronica, did you see Liz there?”
“Yes, I spoke with her for a while,” said Spencer’s mother. “I thought she looked fantastic…considering.” By Liz, Spencer assumed they meant Elizabeth DiLaurentis, Ali’s youngish aunt who lived in the area.
“It must be awful for her,” Melissa said solemnly. “I can’t imagine.”
Ian made an empathetic mmm. Spencer felt her lower lip quiver. Hello, what about me? she wanted to scream. Don’t you guys remember? I was Ali’s best friend!
With every minute of silence, Spencer felt more unwelcome. She waited for someone to ask how she was holding up, offer her a piece of fried tempura, or at least to say, Bless you, when she sneezed. But they were still punishing her for kissing Wren. Even though today was…today.
A lump formed in her throat. She was used to being everyone’s favorite: her teachers’, her hockey coaches’, her yearbook editor’s. Even her colorist, Uri, said she was his favorite client because her hair took color so nicely. She’d won tons of school awards and had 370 MySpace friends, not counting bands. And while she might not ever be her parents’ favorite—it was impossible to eclipse Melissa—she couldn’t bear them hating her. Especially not now, when everything else in her life was so unstable.
When Ian got up and excused himself to make a phone call, Spencer took a deep breath. “Melissa?” Her voice cracked.
Melissa looked up, then went back to pushing her pad Thai around her plate.
Spencer cleared her throat. “Will you please talk to me?”
Melissa barely shrugged.
“I mean, I can’t…I can’t have you hate me. You were completely right. About…you know.” Her hands shook so badly, she kept them wedged under her thighs. Apologizing made her nervous.
Melissa folded her hands over her magazines. “Sorry,” she said. “I think that’s out of the question.” She stood and carried her plate to the sink.
“But…” Spencer was shocked. She looked to her parents. “I’m really sorry, guys….” She felt tears brimmingat her eyes.
Her father’s face bore the tiniest glimmer of sympathy, but he quickly looked away. Her mother spooned the remaining lemongrass chicken into a Tupperware container. She shrugged. “You made your bed, Spencer,” she said, rising and carrying the leftovers to the massive stainless-steel fridge.
“Spencer.” Mr. Hastings used his stop talking voice.
Spencer clamped her mouth shut. Ian loped back into the room, a big, stupid grin on his face. He sensed the tension and his smile wilted.
“Come on.” Melissa stood and took his arm. “Let’s go out for dessert.”
“Sure.” Ian clapped a hand on Spencer’s shoulder. “Spence? Want to come?”
Spencer didn’t really want to—and by the way Melissa nudged him, it seemed she didn’t want her to, either, but she didn’t have the chance to respond. Mrs. Hastings quickly said, “No, Ian, Spencer is not getting dessert.” Her tone of voice was the same one she used when reprimanding the dogs.
“Thanks anyway,” Spencer said, biting back tears. To steel herself, she shoved an enormous bite of mango curry into her mouth. But it slid down her throat before she could swallow, the thick sauce burning as it went down. Finally, after making a series of horrible noises, Spencer spit it up into her napkin. But when the tears cleared from her eyes, she saw that her parents hadn’t approached to make sure she wasn’t choking. They’d simply left the room.
Spencer wiped her eyes and stared at the nasty gob of chewed-up, spit-out mango in her napkin. It looked exactly the way she felt inside.
CHARITY ISN’T SO SWEET
Tuesday afternoon, Hanna adjusted the cream-colored camisole and slouchy cashmere cardigan she’d changed into after school and strolled purposefully up the steps of the William Atlantic Plastic Surgery and Burn Rehabilitation Clinic. If you were going in for burn treatment, you called it the William Atlantic. If you were having lipo, you called it Bill Beach.
The building was set back in the woods, and just the teensiest bit of blue sky peeked out from the majestic, overpowering trees. The whole world smelled like wild-flowers. It was the perfect early fall afternoon to lie out at the country club pool and watch boys play tennis. It was the perfect afternoon to take a six-mile run to work off the box of Cheez-Its she’d binged on last night, freaked out by the surprise visit from her dad. It might even be the perfect afternoon to look at an anthill or babysit the bratty six-year-old twins next door. Anything would be better than what she was doing today: volunteering at a burn clinic.
Volunteering was a four-letter word to Hanna. Her last attempt at it was at the Rosewood Day School Charity Fashion Show in seventh grade. Rosewood Day girls dressed up in designer clothes and paraded across the stage; people bid on their outfits, and the money went to charity. Ali wore a stunning Calvin Klein sheath and some size-zero dowager bid it up to $1,000. Hanna, on the other hand, got stuck with a frilly, neon-colored monstrosity by Betsey Johnson, which made her look even fatter than she was. The only person to bid on her outfit was her dad. A week later, her parents announced they were getting divorced.
And now her dad was back. Sort of.
When Hanna thought of her dad’s visit yesterday, she felt giddy, anxious, and angry all at the same time. Since her transformation, she’d dreamed about the moment she’d see him again. She’d be thin, popular, and poised. In her dream he always came back with Kate, who’d gotten fat and zitty, and Hanna looked even more beautiful in comparison.
“Oof,” she cried. Someone had come out the door just as she was going in.
“Watch it,” the person mumbled. Then Hanna looked up. She was standing at the double-glass doors, next to a stone ashtray and a large potted primrose plant. Coming out the door was…Mona.
Hanna’s mouth fell open. The same surprised look passed over Mona’s face. They considered each other. “What are you doing here?” Hanna asked.
“Visiting a friend of my mom’s. Boob job.” Mona tossed her pale blond hair over her freckled shoulder. “You?”