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Sara Shepard

Page 1


  Wouldn’t it be nice to know exactly what people are thinking? If everyone’s heads were like those clear Marc Jacobs totes, their opinions as visible as a set of car keys or a tube of Hard Candy lip gloss? You’d know what the student casting director really meant when she said, “Good job,” after your South Pacific audition. Or that your cute mixed doubles partner thinks your butt looks hot in your Lacoste tennis skirt. And, best of all, you wouldn’t have to guess whether your best friend was mad that you ditched her for the hot senior with the crinkly-eyed smile at the New Year’s Eve party. You’d just peek into her head and know.

  Unfortunately, everyone’s heads are locked tighter than the Pentagon. Sometimes people give away clues to what’s going on inside—like the casting director’s grimace when you missed that high A-sharp, or how your best friend frostily ignored all your texts on January 1. But more often than not, the most telling signs go unnoticed. In fact, four years ago, a certain Rosewood golden boy dropped a huge hint about something horrible going on inside his nasty little head. But people barely raised an eyebrow.

  Maybe if someone had, a certain beautiful girl would still be alive.

  The bike racks outside Rosewood Day overflowed with colorful twenty-one-speeds, a limited edition Trek that Noel Kahn’s father had gotten directly from Lance Armstrong’s publicist, and a candy pink Razor scooter, shined to a sparkle. Seconds after the last bell of the day sounded and the sixth-grade class began to pour into the commons, a frizzy-haired girl skipped clumsily to the rack, gave the scooter an affectionate pat, and began to undo the bright yellow Kryptonite U-lock around its handlebars.

  A flyer flapping against the stone wall caught her eye. “Guys,” she called to her three friends by the water fountains. “C’mere. ”

  “What is it, Mona?” Phi Templeton was busy untangling the string of her new butterfly-shaped Duncan yo-yo.

  Mona Vanderwaal pointed at the piece of paper. “Look!”

  Chassey Bledsoe shoved her purple cat-eye glasses up the bridge of her nose. “Whoa. ”

  Jenna Cavanaugh bit a baby pink fingernail. “This is huge,” she said in her sweet, high-pitched voice.

  A gust of wind kicked up a few stray leaves from a carefully raked pile. It was mid-September, a few weeks into the new school year, and autumn was officially here. Every year, tourists from up and down the East Coast drove to Rosewood, Pennsylvania, to see the brilliant red, orange, yellow, and purple fall foliage. It was like something in the air made the leaves there extra gorgeous. Whatever it was made everything else in Rosewood extra gorgeous, too. Shiny-coated golden retrievers that loped around the town’s well-kept dog parks. Pink-cheeked babies carefully nestled in their Burberry-by-Maclaren strollers. And buff, glowing soccer players running up and down the practice fields of Rosewood Day, the town’s most venerable private school.

  Aria Montgomery watched Mona and the others from her favorite spot on the school’s low stone wall, her Moleskine journal open on her lap. Art was Aria’s last class of the day, and her teacher, Mrs. Cross, let her roam the Rosewood Day grounds and sketch whatever she liked. Mrs. Cross insisted it was because Aria was such a superior artist, but Aria suspected it was actually because she made her teacher uncomfortable. After all, Aria was the only girl in the class who didn’t chatter with friends during Art Slide Day or flirt with boys when they were working on pastel still lifes. Aria wished she had friends, too, but that didn’t mean Mrs. Cross had to banish her from the classroom.

  Scott Chin, another sixth-grader, saw the flyer next. “Sweet. ” He turned to his friend Hanna Marin, who was fiddling with the brand-new sterling-silver cuff bracelet her father had just bought her as an I’m sorry Mom and I are fighting again present. “Han, look!” He nudged Hanna’s ribs.

  “Don’t do that,” Hanna snapped, recoiling. Even though she was almost positive Scott was gay—he liked looking through Hanna’s Teen Vogues almost more than she did—she hated when he touched her doughy, yucky stomach. She glanced at the flyer, raising her eyebrows in surprise. “Huh. ”

  Spencer Hastings was walking with Kirsten Cullen, chattering about Youth League field hockey. They almost bumped into dorky Mona Vanderwaal, whose Razor scooter was blocking the path. Then Spencer noticed the flyer. Her mouth dropped open. “Tomorrow?”

  Emily Fields nearly missed the flyer, too, but her closest swimming friend, Gemma Curran, looked over. “Em!” she cried, pointing at the sign.

  Emily’s eyes danced over the headline. She shivered with excitement.

  By now, practically every Rosewood Day sixth-grader was gathered around the bike rack, gawking at the piece of paper. Aria slid off the wall and squinted at the flyer’s big block letters.

  Time Capsule Starts Tomorrow, it announced. Get ready! This is your chance to be immortalized!

  The nub of charcoal slipped from Aria’s fingers. The Time Capsule game had been a school tradition since 1899, the year Rosewood Day was founded. The school forbade anyone younger than sixth grade to play, so finally getting to participate was as big a rite of passage as a girl buying her first Victoria’s Secret bra…or a guy, well, getting excited over his first Victoria’s Secret catalogue.

  Everyone knew the game’s rules—they’d been passed down by older brothers and sisters, outlined on MySpace blogs, and scribbled on the title pages of library books. Each year, the Rosewood Day administration cut up pieces of a Rosewood Day flag and had specially selected older students hide them in places around Rosewood. Cryptic clues leading to each piece were posted in the school lobby. Whoever found a piece was honored in an all-school assembly and got to decorate it however they wanted, and all the reunited pieces were sewn back together and buried in a time capsule behind the soccer fields. Needless to say, finding a piece of the Time Capsule flag was a huge deal.

  “Are you going to play?” Gemma asked Emily, zipping up her Upper Main Line YMCA swimming parka to her chin.

  “I guess so. ” Emily giggled nervously. “But do you think we have a shot? I hear they always hide the clues in the high school. I’ve only been in there twice. ”

  Hanna was thinking the same thing. She hadn’t even been in the high school once. Everything about high school intimidated her—especially the beautiful girls who went there. Whenever Hanna went to Saks at the King James Mall with her mom, there would inevitably be a group of Rosewood Day high school cheerleaders gathered at the makeup counter. Hanna always covertly watched them from behind a rack of clothes, admiring how their low-slung jeans fit perfectly around their hips, how their hair hung straight and shiny down their backs, and how their smooth, peachy skin was blemish-free even without foundation. Before she went to sleep every night, Hanna prayed that she would wake up a beautiful Rosewood Day cheerleader, too, but every morning it was the same old Hanna in her heart-shaped makeup mirror, her hair poop brown, her skin blotchy, and her arms like chunky sausages.

  “At least you know Melissa,” Kirsten murmured to Spencer, also overhearing what Emily said. “Maybe she was one of the people who hid a piece of the flag. ”

  Spencer shook her head. “I would’ve heard about it already. ” It was as much an honor to be selected to hide a piece of the Time Capsule flag as it was to find one, and Spencer’s sister, Melissa, never failed to brag about her Rosewood Day responsibilities—especially when her family played Star Power, the game where they went around the table describing their most ambitious accomplishment of the day.

  The school’s heavy double doors opened, and the remaining sixth-graders spilled out, including a group of kids that seemed to have walked right out of a page of a J. Crew catalogue. Aria returned to the stone wall and pretended to be busy sketching. She didn’t want to make
eye contact with any of them again—a few days ago, Naomi Zeigler had caught her staring and cawed, “What, are you in love with us?” These were the sixth-grade elite, after all—or, as Aria called them, the Typical Rosewoods.

  Every single one of the Typical Rosewoods lived in gated mansions, multi-acre-spanning compounds, or luxurious converted barns with horse stables and ten-car garages. They were such cookie cutters: the boys played soccer and had ultra-short haircuts; the girls had the exact same laughs, wore matching shades of Laura Mercier lip plumper, and carried Dooney & Bourke logo bags. If Aria squinted, she couldn’t tell one Typical Rosewood from another.

  Except for Alison DiLaurentis. No one mistook Alison for anyone else, ever.

  And it was Alison leading the crowd down the school’s stone path, her blond hair streaming behind her, her sapphire blue eyes sparkling, her ankles steady in her three-inch platforms. Naomi Zeigler and Riley Wolfe, her two closest confidantes, followed her, hanging on her every move. People had been bowing down to Ali ever since she’d moved to Rosewood in third grade.

  Ali approached Emily and the other swimmers and stopped short. Emily was afraid Ali was going to tease them all about their dry, greenish-tinted, chlorine-damaged hair—again—but Ali’s attention was elsewhere. A sneaky smile crept over her face as she read the flyer. With a quick flip of her wrist, she tore the paper off the wall and spun around to face her friends.

  “My brother’s hiding one of the pieces of the flag tonight,” she said, loud enough for everyone else in the commons to hear. “He already promised to tell me where it is. ”

  Everyone began to murmur. Hanna nodded with awe—she admired Ali even more than the older cheerleaders. Spencer, on the other hand, seethed. Ali’s brother wasn’t supposed to tell her where he was hiding his Time Capsule piece. That was cheating! Aria’s charcoal crayon flew furiously over her sketchbook, her eyes fixed on Ali’s heart-shaped face. And Emily’s nose tickled with the lingering vanilla scent of Ali’s perfume—it was as heavenly as standing in the doorway of a bakery.

  The older students began to descend the high school’s majestic stone steps across the commons, interrupting Ali’s big announcement. Tall, aloof girls and preppy, handsome guys ambled past the sixth-graders, heading for their cars in the auxiliary lot. Ali watched them coolly, fanning her face with the Time Capsule flyer. A couple of puny sophomores, white iPod headphones dangling from their ears, looked downright intimidated by Ali as they unlocked their ten-speeds from the rack. Naomi and Riley snorted at them.

  Then a tall blond junior noticed Ali and stopped. “What up, Al?”

  “Nothing. ” Ali pursed her lips and stood up straighter. “What’s up with you, Eee?”

  Scott Chin elbowed Hanna, and Hanna blushed. With his tanned, gorgeous face, curly blond hair, and stunning, soulful hazel eyes, Ian Thomas—Eee—was second on Hanna’s All-Time Hottie list, just under Sean Ackard, the boy she’d crushed on since they were on the same kickball team in third grade. It was unclear how Ian and Ali knew one another, but the gossip said upperclassmen invited Ali to their A-list parties, despite the fact that she was a lot younger.