Ali's Pretty Little Lies
Page 1

 Sara Shepard

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Once upon a time, there were two identical twin sisters, Alison and Courtney. They were alike in every way: Both had long, blond hair; huge, clear, round blue eyes; heart-shaped faces; and winning smiles that melted hearts. When they were six, they rode matching purple bikes up and down their family’s driveway in Stamford, Connecticut, singing “Frère Jacques” in a round. When they were seven, they climbed up the big-kid sliding board together and held hands the whole way. Even though their parents gave each of them her own bedroom with her own canopied princess bed, they were often found sleeping on the same twin mattress, their bodies entwined. Everyone said they shared that indescribable twin connection. They made promises to be best friends forever.
But promises are broken every day.
In second grade, things started to change. They were little things at first—a dirty look, a slight shove, an indignant sigh. Then Courtney showed up in Ali’s Saturday art class insisting she was Ali. Courtney sat at Ali’s desk in school on a day her sister was sick. Courtney introduced herself as Ali to the UPS man, the new neighbors with the puppy, and the old lady at the pharmacy counter. Maybe she pretended she was her sister because Ali had a little extra sparkle, a certain something that got her noticed. Maybe Courtney was jealous. Or maybe Courtney was forced. Ali made me do it, Courtney told her parents when she was caught. She said if I didn’t pretend to be her for the day, something awful would happen to me and you and all of us. But when their mom and dad asked Ali if this was true, her eyes grew wide. I would never say something like that, she answered innocently. I love my sister, and I love you guys.
Suddenly, Courtney and Ali were getting into screaming matches on the playground. Then Courtney shut Ali into a bathroom stall at lunchtime and didn’t let her out. Teachers called the girls’ parents, their voices full of concern. Neighbors pulled their children close when they passed Courtney, worried she might hurt them, too. The final straw came that flawless spring day when the girls’ parents found Courtney sitting on top of her sister, her hands around Ali’s throat. Doctors were called. Psychiatric evaluations were performed on both girls. Ali handled it with poise, but Courtney panicked. She started it, she insisted. She threatens me. She wants me gone.
Paranoid schizophrenia, the doctors said in grave tones. That sort of thing could be treatable, but only with a lot of care. It was up to Ali to make the final decision, though— and, tearfully, she decided that her sister should go. And so a facility was found. Off Courtney went, away from her family, away from everything she knew. Her parents reassured her that they would bring her home as soon as she was better, but weeks passed, and then months. Suddenly, Courtney was sort of . . . forgotten.
Sometimes, a family is like an ear of summer corn: It might look perfect on the outside, but when you peel the husk away, every kernel is rotten. With the DiLaurentises, the girl who seemed like the victim might just have been the tormentor. Sending Courtney away might just have been Ali’s master plan. And maybe, just maybe, all Courtney wanted was what she deserved—a happy life.
This is Rosewood, after all—and these are Rosewood’s most mysterious twins. And as you know, in Rosewood, nothing is ever as it seems.
The first thing Courtney DiLaurentis heard when she woke up the morning her life changed was the ticking of the clock on the wall. It was telling her, in a not-so-subtle way, that time was running out.
She looked around the unfamiliar bedroom. Her parents had moved from Stamford, Connecticut, a few years ago to avoid the shame of putting a daughter in a mental institution. They’d relocated to Rosewood, Pennsylvania, a filthy-rich suburb about twenty miles from Philadelphia where even the dogs wore Chanel collars. Because they knew no one when they moved, they didn’t have to tell anyone about their crazy daughter in the hospital. They’d even changed their last name from Day-DiLaurentis to simply DiLaurentis in hopes that it would keep nosy neighbors from Connecticut away.
The guest room Courtney was staying in smelled like mothballs and had a twin bed with an old plaid comforter, a wicker dresser too shabby for even a mental ward’s day room, and a small, chipped bookshelf containing dated cooking magazines and a bunch of boxes marked TAXES and STATEMENTS. The closet was filled with Christmas decorations, pilled afghans her grandmother had crocheted, and ugly sweaters she couldn’t imagine anyone wearing. In other words, the room was a repository for everything her family wanted to forget about—Courtney included.
Courtney pushed the covers back and walked into the hall. The house, a huge Victorian, was designed in such a way that the upstairs overlooked a great room, giving Courtney a bird’s-eye view into the kitchen. Her older brother, Jason, was hunched over the table with a bowl of Frosted Flakes. Her twin sister, Ali, flitted around the counter. Her hair was a perfect blond wave spilling down her back, and her pink T-shirt gave her clear skin a healthy glow. She lifted a pile of newspapers and looked under it. Then she opened a silverware drawer and slammed it shut.
“Alison, what’s the matter?” asked Mrs. DiLaurentis, who wore a gray Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress and heels. It looked like she was going to a job interview instead of taking her daughter to a new mental hospital.
“I can’t find my ring,” Ali snapped, opening the trash bin and peering inside.
“What ring?”
“My initial ring, duh.” Ali opened another cabinet and slammed it hard. “It’s the one I wear, like, every day.” She whipped around and faced her brother. “Did you take it?”
“Why would I take it?” Jason answered between bites.
“Well, I can’t find it,” Ali snapped. “Just like I can’t find my piece of the flag,” she said, giving Jason a pointed look.
Jason wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Even if I did know about your stupid piece of the flag, anyone is legally allowed to take it—even the people who helped hide it. The stealing clause, remember?”
“Maybe you took it to give it to someone else.” Her gaze drifted to the second floor.
Courtney stepped away from the railing. Back in the bedroom, she opened the flowered suitcase she’d had since third grade and studied its contents. Inside was a T-shirt almost the same shade of pink as the one Ali was wearing. She found dark indigo jeans that matched Ali’s, too. She slipped them on.
Time Capsule was a long-standing tradition at Rosewood Day, the private school Ali and Jason attended, and finding a piece of the torn-up flag was a rarity for a sixth grader. All weekend, Ali had been boasting about the Time Capsule scrap she’d found—although, technically, Jason had told Ali where the piece was, which didn’t seem fair. Ali had decorated her piece at the kitchen table after dinner two nights ago, giving Courtney, who was watching TV in the den, superior looks. Look how important I am, those looks said. You’re not even allowed to leave the house.
But Ali hadn’t had that look on her face when her flag went missing yesterday. In the privacy of her pathetic little guest room, Courtney had run her fingers over the silken fabric and Ali’s puffy silver drawings—a Chanel logo, a Louis Vuitton design, a cluster of stars and comets. Courtney had drawn a little wishing well in the corner, just wanting to make her mark on something her sister coveted so much. Then I’ll give it back, she’d promised herself. But Jason had gotten to it first. He’d seen Courtney looking at it in her room and rushed in, saying, “Do you really want things worse between you guys?” Then he’d snatched it back before she could say a word.
Courtney was about to shut the suitcase when her gaze drifted to the pamphlet tucked into the suitcase’s pocket. The Preserve at Addison-Stevens, the front said. There was a photo of a bouquet of irises beneath the title. They were the same sorts of flowers her parents had gotten for her grandmother’s funeral.
She opened the booklet and stared at the first page. We assist children and adolescents in developing effective coping skills and building self-esteem to be able to return home and back to school, it read.
Tears sprang to Courtney’s eyes. She’d been in hospital care since she was nine—three whole years. And even though she’d gotten used to the Radley the same way a mouse might get used to living in a cage, she’d seen horrible things she never wanted to witness again. Ever since the hospital announced it was closing its doors and converting into a luxury hotel, Courtney had assumed her family would bring her back to Rosewood to live with them. When her father had driven her here on Friday, he’d said as much—this would be a trial visit that would perhaps turn into something more permanent.
But for some reason, circumstances had changed in the last twenty-four hours. Mrs. DiLaurentis had knocked on Courtney’s door last night and told her to pack her things at once, slipping the pamphlet for the Preserve into her hands. “We think this will be the best thing for you,” she cooed, stroking her daughter’s hair.
Courtney leafed through the pamphlet’s pages, staring at the photos of the patients. They had to be models—they looked too happy. She’d heard terrible things about the Preserve from other kids who had gone there. People called it “death row” because so many kids committed suicide while inside. Others called it “Rapunzel’s tower” because parents left their kids in there for years. No Internet, television, or phone calls were allowed. The nurses were like extras from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and the doctors on staff had no qualms about tying kids to their beds to keep them calm. Parents loved it, though, because the place looked beautiful from the outside. And it was super expensive—it had to be good, right?
But she wasn’t going. She’d been formulating a plan all night to figure out how. Now all the pieces were fitting into place . . . except the opportunity she needed. She hoped one would arise—and soon. Her parents were taking her away in forty-five minutes.
She buried the pamphlet under her packed clothes and wheeled the suitcase to the top of the stairs. Then she walked down the stairs. Something caught her eye out the back window. Four girls were standing behind the bushes, whispering. They looked about Courtney’s age, and she could hear their voices through the screen.
One girl, a blonde in a field hockey skirt and a white T-shirt, placed her hands on her hips. “I was here first. That flag’s mine.”
“I was here before you,” a second girl spouted. She was a little on the chubby side and had frizzy brown hair. “I saw you come out of your house only a few minutes ago.”
A third girl stomped a purple suede boot. “You just got here, too. I was here before both of you.”
Courtney ran her tongue over her teeth. Were they here for Ali’s flag? And they’d made a reference to one girl coming from next door—that had to be Spencer Hastings. Mrs. DiLaurentis had mentioned her name at dinner on Friday, and Mr. DiLaurentis had made a sour face. He’d said Spencer’s parents were such show-offs, building a third addition to their house, converting that perfectly good barn into a luxury apartment for their oldest daughter. As if a bedroom isn’t good enough? he’d railed.