She doesn't feel anything, sitting there in the pew at Ali's funeral, the taste of bourbon thick on her tongue, like smoke and molasses, turning her cell phone over and over in her hands. As if maybe she'll get a call from Ali. Just kidding! I'm actually not dead at all. Come on you losers, let's go down to school and watch the hot lacrosse players practice.
But of course the call never comes.
"Mm," Maya sighs, as they lie on the rocks by the river, the day unusually hot for late October. "This is nice."
"Ali and I used to come here all the time," Emily says, and it still feels weird, talking about Ali. It wasn't like before, when she half-hoped that Ali had just gotten bored with Rosewood and run away. Like when she thought maybe Ali was tanning on some beach in the Caribbean, surrounded by white sand and an impossibly blue sea and sky. Flirting with the lifeguards and every other boy around. It's different now that she knows Ali's dead.
(Dead and buried, six feet under. Lost forever.)
Maya, as if reading her mind, reaches out and covers Emily's hand with her own, giving it a gentle squeeze. "You know, it's okay," she says.
Emily turns her head. "What?"
"To be sad."
She never wanted to know what had happened to Ali, not really. Those hopes she'd had, that Ali was still alive, thousand upon thousand of signs and hopes and wishes, like a bag of tiny diamonds -- it all meant nothing now. Not a single one of them had come true. If only she'd known that Ali had never left them all along, was still there every time Emily trudged by, staring up wistfully at her bedroom window.
Maybe she'd heard it, when Emily cried, lonely; maybe she'd seen how Emily had carefully wiped the tears away, as if she could just erase the fact that they'd ever existed. Ali, Emily had always sighed, with that familiar ache in her heart that never seemed to fade. Why.
She doesn't feel anything now, except a dull ache, where she knows tears and sadness should be. She doesn't even feel like anything's been resolved. And part of that she knows is because of A, because of the secrets threatening to be told, but she also knows that the bigger part is because: it was never supposed to be like this.
It wasn't how she pictured things.
It wasn't the way things were meant to go.
"I miss her too," Aria says, standing beside Emily at Ali's grave, holding a single white rose. She moves forward to lay it on top of Ali's tombstone, with the utmost care, as if anything less than perfect would spell ruin. As if Ali is still here, watching them. Judging them.
"She's not gone," Emily says, with hardened resolved. "She can't be."
Aria looks at her with a mixture of pity and confusion. "Em."
Emily shoves her hands in her pockets, as the wind picks up, her hair falling into her eyes; she doesn't bother to brush it away. "I can't explain it," she says, after a moment. "I just know that she's not -- well, you can feel it too, Aria. Right? This doesn't feel like an end."
Aria sighs tiredly, moving in closer and leaning against Emily. Emily doesn't know who's supporting who, especially when Aria's hand slips into hers, palm against palm. The warmth is comforting.
"Maybe it's not supposed to be the ending," Aria says. "Maybe it's just the beginning."
"Maybe," Emily murmurs.
They turn to leave as it begins to rain.