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Dead and Buried
Emily Fields leaned back on the chestnut brown leather couch, picking at the chlorine-dried skin around her thumb. Her old best friends, Aria Montgomery, Spencer Hastings, and Hanna Marin, sat next to her, sipping Godiva hot chocolate from striped ceramic mugs. They were all in Spencer's family's media room, which was filled with state-of-the-art electronics, a seven-foot movie screen, and surround-sound speakers. A large basket of Baked Tostitos sat on the coffee table, but none of them had touched it.
A woman named Marion Graves was perched on the checkered love seat across from them, a flattened, folded-up trash bag on her lap. While the girls were in ratty jeans, cashmere sweats, or, in Aria's case, a beat-up denim miniskirt over a pair of tomato red long johns, Marion was in an expensive-looking deep blue wool blazer and matching pleated skirt. Her dark brown hair shone, and her skin smelled of lavender moisturizer.
"Okay." Marion smiled at Emily and the others. "Last time we met, I asked you guys to bring in certain items. Let's put them all on the coffee table."
Emily offered a pink patent leather change purse with a swirly E monogram on the pocket. Aria reached into her yak-fur tote and pulled out a creased, yellowed drawing. Hanna tossed out a folded-up piece of paper that looked like a note. And Spencer carefully laid down a black-and-white photograph along with a frayed blue rope bracelet. Emily's eyes filled with tears—she recognized the bracelet instantly. Ali had made one for each of them the summer after The Jenna Thing happened. It was supposed to bind them together in friendship, to remind them never to tell that they'd been the ones who'd accidentally blinded Jenna Cavanaugh. Little did they know that the real Jenna Thing was a secret Ali was keeping from them, not something they all were keeping from the rest of the world. It turned out that Jenna had asked Ali to set off the firework and blame it on her stepbrother, Toby. This fact was one of the many heartbreaking things they'd discovered about Ali after she'd died.
Emily swallowed hard. The leaden ball that had been lodged in the middle of her chest since September began to throb.
It was the day after New Year's. School started again tomorrow, and Emily prayed this semester would be a little less action-packed than the last. Practically the minute she and her old friends stepped through Rosewood Day's stone archway to start eleventh grade, each had received mysterious notes from someone known simply as A. At first, they all thought—in Emily's case, hoped—that A might be Alison, their long-lost best friend, but then workers found Ali's body in a cemented-over hole in Ali's old backyard. The notes continued, prying deeper and deeper into their darkest secrets, and two dizzying months later, they found out that A was Mona Vanderwaal. In middle school, Mona had been a Fear Factorobsessed dork who spied on Emily, Ali, and the others during their regular Friday-night sleepovers, but once Ali disappeared, Mona transformed into a queen bee—and became Hanna's best friend. This fall, Mona had stolen Alison's diary, read all the secrets Ali had written about her friends, and set out to destroy their lives just as she believed Emily, Ali, and the others had ruined hers. Not only had they teased her, but sparks from the firework that blinded Jenna had burned Mona, too. The night Mona plunged to her death down Falling Man Quarry—almost bringing Spencer with her—the police also arrested Ian Thomas, Ali's super-secret older boyfriend, for Ali's murder. Ian's trial was set to start at the end of that week. Emily and the others would have to testify against him, and while getting up on the witness stand was going to be a million times scarier than when Emily had had to sing a solo part at the Rosewood Day Holiday Concert, at least it would mean the ordeal would really, truly be over.
Because all of that was way too much for four teenage girls to handle, their parents had decided to call in professional help. Enter Marion, the very best grief counselor in the Philadelphia area. This was the third Sunday Emily and her friends had met with her. This particular session was dedicated to the girls letting go of the many horrible things that had happened.
Marion smoothed her skirt over her knees as she looked at the objects they'd laid on the table. "All of these things remind you of Alison, right?"
Everyone nodded. Marion shook open a black garbage bag. "Let's put everything in here. After I leave, I want you girls to bury it in Spencer's backyard. This ritual will symbolize laying Alison to rest. And with her, you'll be burying all the harmful negativity that surrounded your friendship with her."
Marion always peppered her speech with New Age phrases like harmful negativity and the spiritual need for closure and confronting the grieving process. Last session, they'd had to chant, Ali's death is not my fault, again and again, and drink stinky green tea that was supposed to "cleanse" their guilt chakras. Marion urged them to chant things into the mirror, too, stuff like, A is dead and never coming back, and, No one else wants to hurt me. Emily longed for the mantras to work—what she wanted more than anything in the entire world was for her life to be normal again.
"Okay, everyone up," Marion said, holding out the trash bag. "Let's do this."
They all stood. Emily's bottom lip quivered as she eyed the pink change purse, a gift from Ali when they'd become friends in sixth grade. Maybe she should've brought something else to this purging session, like one of Ali's old school pictures—she had a million copies of those. Marion fixed her eyes on Emily and nudged her chin toward the bag. With a sob, Emily dropped the change purse in.Pretty Little Liars #5: Wicked. Copyright © by Sara Shepard. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Wicked by Sara Shepard
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