The girls were in Alison's living room, away from the game A.D. had set up for them. They were all hesitate, scared of what would happen if they kept feed into A.D. and their games.
"We need to finish the game," Spencer said, walking to the table where it sat, lights flickering. Hanna, Aria, Emily, and Alison followed behind her. She picked up the phone and it immediately lit up with instructions.
"Are you insane? If we finish the game we're going to jail," Hanna said. "I'm not playing."
Spencer clenched her jaw and moved her gaze onto the other girls. "Aria?"
Aria's lips parted but quickly closed as she shook her head.
"If we finish the game, we win. Don't you guys understand?" Spencer said, holding the phone out to them. "It's Aria's turn."
They all looked at the phone then at Aria. An eerie silence fell over the room that made it so quiet they could hear each other's hearts beating. Aria stepped forward, grabbed the phone and read the message out loud.
"Give up the groom and get a reward." Aria read. As soon as she finished the screen flashed. The game board flickered and the church bell chimed. The girls circled the table and watched as Aria's game piece slid across and onto the square that read Go To Jail. The bell stopped and the lights stopped flickering. The phone screen flashed on showing a video of them burying Archer Dunhill then quickly turned off. She dropped the phone on the board game and stepped away, tears in her eyes.
"No. No way. I can't do it!" Aria muttered shaking her head as tears silently rolled down her face.
Spencer circled the table to get beside Aria, and put her arm around her for comfort.
"It won't be forever. After we finish the game you and Ezra can still get married," she said, stroking Aria's back. Aria shook her head.
"How do I tell him? I – I can't," she said and wiped her tears with the back of her hand.
They all stood in silence, all of them knowing that the game would try and ruin their lives in more ways than one to get what it wants. They had no leads on A.D. and even if they did, they knew they'd get hurt chasing them down. It was pointless, now. Either they played to win or they gave up and turned themselves in.
That night Aria knew what she had to do, whether she liked it or not. Ezra would be home in a few minutes and though she'd had all day to prepare, she wasn't even close to ready. They were supposed to meet with a florist tomorrow, and look at banquet halls later in the week. How could she possibly shut it all down? A.D. wanted nothing more than to tear their lives apart, and it was working.
Ezra came in interrupting Aria's thoughts. She spun around in place and forced a smile at him. He quickly knew something was wrong. Why wouldn't he? She had been pacing a hole into his apartment all evening.
"I know you're still doubting my trust after Nicole, after everything I've done to you and your friends," he said. Aria wanted to stop him, to tell him this wasn't about him, but all she could do was cry. Ezra pulled her close, hugging her tightly against his chest as she cried into him. "I'm so sorry, Aria." She shook her head and pulled away, wiping her tears though they still came.
It took her a moment to gather her thoughts. She exhaled and said: "It's A.D.."
They sat on the couch and Aria explained everything to him. The game, the texts, the sabotage. She knew she was risking their future telling him all the horrible things she had done to her friends, but she had to be honest for once in her miserable life.
"So, let me get this straight," he started. "A.D. wants us to call off the wedding or else you and your friends go to jail for killing Alison's deranged husband, who by the way, drove her crazy?"
Aria pursed her lips and nodded.
"Sounds about right," she sighed.
Ezra leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek. "We'll move the wedding, pretend we're not together. Whatever it takes for you to be safe, we'll do it."
In the morning Aria awoke to the sound of her phone buzzing up a storm against the bedside table. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and picked it up, reading the missed messages.
One stuck out in particular:
Once you give him up, there's no going back.
Test me and face the consequences.
Aria placed her phone face down on the table, looked over her shoulder at Ezra and saw her whole future crumble right in front of her. How was she supposed to give him up? None of this was fair, she wanted out of the game, out of Rosewood. She picked up her phone and replied. Almost instantly they replied back:
Meet me tonight. 8PM.
Soon after another message popped up with directions to the meeting spot. Aria wasn't sure what she had just gotten herself into, but she knew she had to do whatever it took to protect her future. Even if that meant turning on her friends.
The game board sat dormant as Alison and Emily stared at it. They were both thinking the same thing but neither one of them wanted to say it out loud. It always knew when to start and when to stop, as if it were watching them. They shared a glance at each other and Emily got up and walked towards it. Alison tensed, thinking the game would start up and begin ruining their lives all over again. But it didn't, not yet. It was still Aria's turn.
"Who do you think made it?" Emily asked, almost admiring it, though she felt wrong doing it.
Alison shrugged. If she didn't know any better she'd say Mona, but that was impossible, right?
"I don’t want to think about it. The sooner we get rid of the thing the better," she said.
"Ali, if we figure out who made it we'll be one step closer to finding A.D.," Emily said, studying the board. "It has to be someone incredibly smart, with an eye for this stuff."
Alison shrugged and stood up, and walked over to her side. She had to admit she did think about the possible suspects, but none of them made sense. Whoever made this thing had help. No one could do this all on their own.
"Toby . . ." Alison started, thinking of how much time he spent building that house for Spencer. Maybe he spent just as much time building this game.
"No way. No. It can't be him," Emily said matter-of-factly. She traced a finger around the rim of the game. As she came closer to one corner, a blade shot out, scaring her.
Alison put a hand over her mouth, stifling a scream that almost escaped. And before they could address what just happened, their phones buzzed.
Emily fumbled with hers and Alison calmly slipped her phone out of her pocket.
They both read the message at the same time:
I hear prison food tastes like shit.
Mess with the game, and you all get locked up.
The night air felt thick around her as she walked to the meeting spot. It was almost as if the night itself knew she was betraying her friends, but she didn't care, she'd do anything to save her relationship with Ezra. They had come so far, she wasn't going to let anything, even A.D., ruin that.
A black limo pulled up beside her and the door opened on its own. Aria looked around, second guessing her choice, but before she could leave her phone went off.
You wanted to see who I am, so come inside.
Aria inhaled sharply. This was it, after all these years of torment she was finally going to see the face behind all the masks and cryptic messages. Maybe after tonight she could get back to her life, maybe. Unless A.D. had more games up their sleeve. Aria exhaled and got into the car. Bile rose in her throat when she saw who sat in front of her. A mixture of emotion flooded through her but she held it together for now.
Spencer leaned forward in her seat, eyes glued on Aria.
"Are you surprised, Aria?"
Aria shook her head, not in reply but in confusion. "I don't understand."
Spencer's smile turned into a soft laugh and she leaned back.
"You will." And with that they drove off, and Spencer explained.