Knock. Knock. Knock.
I spent two years basically on my own, so you’d think I’d be used to the silence of an empty house. After being in Rosewood for more than a month, constantly surrounded by the girls in their attempt to keep me “protected,” staying home while my dad traveled on his business trip and my idiot brother Jason was God-knows-where doing God-knows-what had me with a constant sense of unease that I just couldn’t seem to shake. Yeah, okay – almost being strangled to death by A last week might have something to do with it. I felt like a sitting duck after that attack, just waiting for A to come around and finish the job whenever the bitch felt like it. So when someone started pounding on my door late in the afternoon, I was about ready to jump out of my skin.
Spencer’s voice made me sigh in relief. I’d been getting ready to grab whatever sharp object I could find in the kitchen. There was no way I was taking any chances.
“ALISON!” BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.
I rolled my eyes, the relief I’d felt at hearing Spencer’s voice quickly fading. “Hold your God-damned horses, Spencer!”
After peaking through the window to make sure that it was in fact Spencer and only Spencer, I unlocked the millions of new locks my dad had placed on the front door and let her in.
“Turn on your TV.” she said, rushing past me. She didn’t even look my way as she headed straight to the living room.
“Nice to see you too, Spence.” I smirked, following her into the house.
Annoying as she was, it was kind of comforting to see her usual hectic self around all this chaos. I could almost imagine her like she was two years ago, about to go into a rant about her college application to UPenn. We all wished college was our biggest problem right now.
“Turn on your TV.” she repeated firmly. This time she met my gaze, and the seriousness in her eyes made the smile melt off my face. This had nothing to do with school.
My heart started to race as I reached for the remote. Had A already killed someone else? Someone important to me? To us? Had the police figured out my kidnapping story was a hoax? Had they figured out who killed Bethany Young?
“Put on the news.”
Seven seconds. That’s all it took for me to figure it out. Two seconds it took for me to turn on the TV, the news channel coming up immediately. That’s all we ever watched anymore, always expecting to see our lies come crumbling down around us. Then four more for my brain to assess what was flashing on the screen, and one second for my world to start spinning and for me to stagger on the spot, grabbing on to the nearest thing to hold myself upright, which in this case was Spencer’s shoulder.
‘Texas military base Fort Hood bombing disaster’ blared in red bold letters under the Breaking News headline.
“That’s Wayne Fields’s base.” I muttered, my eyes glued to the screen in horror, sinking down to the couch beside Spencer.
“Thirty seven casualties so far,” Spencer said solemnly. “They haven’t released the names yet.”
“Emily?” I croaked, dragging my eyes off the screen to look at Spencer. God, if she knew about this −
She shook her head, her dark eyes swimming with worry. “I don’t know. I’ve been calling her since news broke but she’s not answering her cell.”
My stomach felt like someone had turned it inside out. Wayne Fields was a rock to that family, I could never imagine them without him. And Emily was such a ‘daddy’s girl’ when it came to him. She’d grow sick with worry whenever he was deployed, and even just having him set in Texas took its toll on her and her mom. Losing him could break Emily in a way nothing else ever could. And Pam –
“Isn’t her mom in Texas this week?” I gasped suddenly.
Spencer nodded gravely.
“Oh my God, Spence.” I buried my face in my hands, feeling tears burn at my eyes. This couldn’t be happening. Pam Field had left two days ago to visit her husband for their upcoming anniversary. Losing Wayne was one thing, but losing them both? Could the universe really be that cruel?
I had a sudden, ridiculous urge to laugh. Of course it could.
“Where is she? Does she know about this?”
“I asked Hanna to go looking for her while I came to get you. I don’t know if she’s home or if she’s out. I told Hanna to call me when she found her but –” Her phone buzzed, the caller ID flashing Hanna’s face on the screen. “Speak of the devil.”
I nodded for her to answer, my hand instinctively going to her arm in anticipation.
“Hanna.” Spencer answered. “Wait, wait – let me put you on speaker. I’m at Ali’s.” She pressed the button on the screen and said, “Okay, talk.”
“I found her at home.” came Hanna’s hushed voice through the phone’s speakers. “I spent like fifteen minutes knocking on her door and I finally had to crawl in through a window. Which reminds me, we should really figure out some better way to lock our houses. I mean if I of all people could slip in through a freaking window, A could −”
“Hanna, focus!” I snapped. Yeah, she was making a good point. I’d been thinking about that myself, but now was definitely not the time to talk security strategies. “How is she?”
We heard Hanna sigh, Spencer and I exchanging worried glances. “I found her staring at her TV with a death grip on her phone like some zombie, she hasn’t even moved since I got here. She won’t even look at me. I have no clue how long she’s been like this.”
“Do you want us to come over there?” Spencer asked.
“No, not right now.” We could hear Emily’s TV in the background growing louder all of a sudden – she must have been checking on her − before Hanna continued almost in a whisper, “She’s not really responsive right now anyways, and too many people might overwhelm her and make her crack or something. I told her you guys know what’s going on and you’ll be here in a heartbeat if she asks, but right now I think she just needs some space.”
“Have any of you heard from Aria?” I asked, suddenly realizing one of us wasn’t accounted for.
“I texted her earlier,” Spencer told me. “She’s at Radley right now but she told me she’d call when she finishes her shift.”
I nodded, the three of us falling into silence. The TV continued to blare the same headline, the commentators stating that no new reports had been received in over an hour. I didn’t even want to imagine the chaos that had to be surrounding the military base. My mind flashed back to what Spencer had said about the casualties. We all know hope breeds eternal misery, but right now all we could do was hope that Emily’s parents didn’t make the list that was sure to be made public in a few hours.
I snapped out of my thoughts, my eyes falling to the phone in Spencer’s hands. “Yeah?”
“She – she might really need you tonight.” Hanna whispered.
My eyes closed as her words sunk in, words that for some reason created a flurry of butterflies in my stomach.
“She needs all of us right now but let’s face it, you’re the one she listens to the most. So just – be careful with her.”
Hanna’s tone had a warning edge to it that made my teeth clench. I get that she doesn’t trust me yet, but if she really thought I’d play a game with Emily right now she was out of her damn mind. But if I started getting defensive now, I’d probably say a few things that would land me right back to Queen Bee bitch standards. God knows Hanna had been reckless enough recently for me to lash out a decent jive. So instead I sighed, glancing at the slightly reproachful look Spencer was giving me before nodding to myself.
“I know, Han.”
“Just let us know if anything happens with her.” Spencer added hastily.
We exchanged a few more words before Hanna hung up, leaving us to wait for her next call.
Three hours later and we still had no news. Aria had gone home to help Mike make dinner while their dad was away, and Hanna texted a while ago just to let us know that Emily had finally moved and recognized Hanna’s presence. She had been trying for the last hour to call the military base herself, but apparently there was no way to get a straight answer out of anyone, and neither of her parents were answering the phone. So there was no news yet from the base: we couldn’t decide if that was a good sign or not. Spencer was still with me, insisting on not leaving me alone just in case A tried anything while we were all distracted with Emily tonight. To be honest I was grateful for the company. If I’d been alone I would’ve driven myself mad by now imagining the worst scenarios possible.
I sighed as I finished washing the last of our dinner plates, a flash of lightning outside catching my eye through the window. It was close to nine o’clock now, and the storm that had been brewing for the last hour had finally started to pour a few minutes ago. I kept hoping this would all be some big mistake – that the accident would somehow have been in some other base on the other side of the country. But every time I looked at the television, I’d see the red banner running under the current programing displaying the details already notified in public.
I heard Spencer answer her phone in the other room but I didn’t pay much attention, thinking Hanna was probably just calling for another update as instructed by the ever OCD Spencer Hastings. Either way I dried off my hands and went back to the living room, planning on spacing out to mindless television for a while to clear my head.
“Hanna, slow down. I can’t understand you.” Spencer gestured for me to come over with a frown as she lowered the volume on the TV.
My stomach clenched. Something wasn’t right, I could feel it. I took my place next to her on the couch, scanning her face for any possible distraught or grief. She was scrunching up her face and practically pushing her phone through her ear, her hand raised in a silent question as Hanna babbled on. I didn’t blame her; Hanna could ramble so fast when she wanted to that you’d need a hearing aid just to make out her words.
“WHAT?!” she screeched, making me jump. “What do you mean you lost her?!”
I felt my jaw drop in disbelief, my entire body immediately tensing. How the hell −
“How the hell do you lose a person in their own house, Hanna?!” Spencer snapped angrily, echoing my own question word for word. She pinched the bridge of her nose the way she only did when she was really pissed and losing her patience.
I snatched the phone out of Spencer’s hand, ignoring her cry of outrage, and placed the call on speaker. “Hanna, what the actual fuck?! Where the hell is Emily?”
“I don’t know!” Hanna exclaimed, her tone exasperated. “I left her in the living room and went to the kitchen to get her something to drink and when I came back the front door was open and she was gone! Her car’s still here so I either someone came in and kidnapped her or she took off running. And unless A hired some fucking samurai ninjas to do the job, there's no way I would've missed someone taking her.”
“Was she on the phone when you left her?” Spencer asked. “Maybe she heard back from the military base.”
“No! She was just sitting there, I would have heard her from the kitchen if she’d been talking to someone. I don’t know what the hell happened.”
“If she’s on foot then she couldn’t have gone far.” I reasoned. My thoughts were racing so fast I could barely keep track, trying to find some sort of explanation to why she would do this. This was so unlike her.
“Wait a few more minutes and if she’s not back by then we’ll go out and look for her.” Spencer spoke with a defeated sigh.
I felt my phone vibrate on the coffee table and I all but flew up to grab it, my heart thumping in anxiety. “Wait! I got a text, maybe it’s her.”
“No, she left her phone here.” Hanna replied, her frustration nearly palpable over the phone. “I swear I’m going to murder her.”
I quickly unlocked my phone and hit the messaging app as Spencer and Hanna tossed out ideas as to what might have happened. There was a new notification – from a blocked number. “Oh, God.” My blood ran cold, my pulse quickening so much I could have sworn my heart was about to burst through my chest.
“What is it?” Spencer asked frantically, peering over my shoulder to read the text.
“It’s – it’s from A.”
Spencer’s jaw clenched as Hanna spewed out a stream of curses through the phone. We’d been so focused on Emily and her parents we’d completely blocked out our A issues, hard as it was to believe. And since A could never give us a break, he/she/it/bitch was already one step ahead of us.
“Girl crush on the run. Her parents might be safe from the bombs, but who’s going to keep her safe from me? Better get to her before I do.” I read shakily. “A.”