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Home > Wanted (Pretty Little Liars #8)(14)

Wanted (Pretty Little Liars #8)(14)
Author: Sara Shepard

“Uh-huh.” Courtney pretended to wipe sweat from her brow. “This place is crazy. I’ve never been to a school where so many classrooms are in barns!”

That’s because you’ve never been to a real school, Aria thought, stabbing her mechanical pencil into a small indent in her desk.

Noel nodded enthusiastically, his face lit up like a Vegas slot machine. “Yeah, this place used to be a farm back in the day. At least the livestock aren’t still here!”

Courtney tittered as if this was the funniest thing in the world. She angled her body ever so slightly toward Noel. Ali used to do the exact same thing with boys she liked—it was her way of marking her territory. Was it intentional? Some weird twin connection? Aria waited for Noel to tell Courtney that he and Aria were dating, but all he did was give Aria a righteous look. See? his expression said. Courtney’s not that bad.

All of a sudden, a flood of bitter memories rushed back, fresh and sharp. In seventh grade, Aria told Ali that she had a crush on Noel. Ali assured her that she’d talk to him to see if he liked her back. But once she did, Ali told her, “Something kind of…weird happened at Noel’s house. I told him about you, and he said he likes you as a friend. And then he said he likes me. And I think I like him back. But I won’t go out with him if you don’t want me to.”

Aria had felt like her heart had been ripped from her chest and chopped into a billion pieces. “Um, okay,” she said quickly. What could she say? It wasn’t like she could compete with Ali.

Ali had gone on two dates with Noel—the first to see a chick movie of her choosing, the second to the King James Mall, where Noel waited patiently for hours while Ali tried on practically everything in Saks. Then, out of the blue, Ali broke up with Noel because she liked someone else—someone older. It must have been Ian.

And now history seemed to be repeating itself. Would Noel’s feelings for Ali resurface now that her doppelgänger was here?

Courtney and Noel were still joking about the journalism barn, which contained a hayloft and a pig trough from the days of yore. Aria cleared her throat loudly. “Um, Noel, I had some thoughts about the Valentine’s Day dance,” she said. “Were you thinking about wearing a tux or a suit?”

Noel blinked, cut off in mid-sentence. “Uh, usually guys wear suits, I think.”

“Cool,” Aria said sweetly. She kept her eyes on Courtney the whole time, making sure Courtney understood Aria’s intent. But instead of minding her business, Courtney pointed at something in Aria’s yak-fur bag on the wood floor. “Hey! You still do that?”

Aria stared into the bag. Tucked in one of the big pockets was a tangled ball of white yarn and two wooden knitting needles. She snatched her bag from the floor and pressed it protectively to her chest. You still do that? That was a strange way to word it.

“My sister told me you knit,” Courtney explained as if reading Aria’s mind. “She even showed me a mohair bra you made for her.”

“Oh.” Aria’s voice wobbled. The room suddenly smelled pungently of permanent marker and sweat. Courtney was gazing at her innocently and intently, but Aria couldn’t smile back. What else had Ali told Courtney about Aria? That she had been a kooky, friendless loser before Ali came along? That Aria had had a pathetic, teeming crush on Noel? Maybe Ali had even told her about the time they’d caught Byron and Meredith kissing in a parking lot. Ali had loved every minute of that—it was practically the only thing she talked to Aria about in the last few weeks before she disappeared.

Aria began to tremble. It was too much to sit here and pretend all of this was normal. When her Treo, which was sitting on the desk, let out a shrill chime, she nearly jumped out of her skin. A CNN news alert flashed across the screen. BILLY FORD MIGHT HAVE ALIBI.

Coffee gurgled in Aria’s stomach. When she looked up, Courtney was staring intently at the alert, too, her eyes wide and her face pale. For a split second Courtney looked as though she wanted to rip the phone out of Aria’s hands.

But in a blink, the look was gone.

8

SOME STRIPPING, NO TEASING

As Emily rushed to her Tuesday gym class, Aria caught her arm. “Look at this.” She thrust her Treo into Emily’s face.

On the screen was a recent newscast. “A critical and surprising development has arisen in the William Ford murder trial,” a reporter’s voice blared.

The camera cut to a shot of a convenience store parking lot. “A witness in Florida says he met with Mr. Ford outside this 7-Eleven on January fifteenth, the day the Pretty Little Liars discovered Mr. Ian Thomas’s dead body in Rosewood,” the voice-over explained. “The witness wishes to remain anonymous because the meeting had to do with the purchase of illegal drugs, but if investigators can corroborate the story, this alibi might be enough to exonerate Mr. Ford of Mr. Thomas’s murder.”

Mr. Owens, the strictest of the gym teachers, passed by, and Aria quickly slipped the phone in her pocket—they weren’t supposed to use them during school hours. When he trundled around the corner, Aria played the video again. “How can this be possible?” she whispered, her face drawn. “If Billy was in Florida when Ian was killed, someone else must have taken those pictures and dug up that stuff on us as A.”

Emily chewed nervously on her lips. “It doesn’t make any sense. He’s got to be lying. Maybe he paid someone to say that.”

“With what money? He can’t even afford a lawyer,” Aria pointed out.

The two of them stood in silence for a few moments. Two guys on the wrestling team whipped past, playing some deranged version of hallway tag. The newscast ended, and the option to choose two more videos appeared on the screen. One was the report from the night Jenna was murdered. The other was about Courtney DiLaurentis. Emily stared at Courtney’s picture, grief and confusion rippling through her once again. Ali lied to us, she thought, her heart breaking for the millionth time. Ali had left Emily and the others out of a huge part of her life. It was like they had never been friends at all.

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