Ali's Pretty Little Lies
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“Hi, everyone,” her twin chirped pleasantly, giving her parents a peck on the cheek and squeezing Jason’s arm. Only when she turned to Ali did her expression shift a little. Fury smoldered behind her eyes.
Everyone sat down on one of the plaid couches near the TV. Mrs. DiLaurentis scrambled around getting everyone Cokes from the vending machine. She presented her daughters with Diet Cokes, looking proud of herself. “I figured you girls didn’t want real sugar.”
Ali wrinkled her nose. “I don’t drink Diet Coke, either. No one at school does.”
Mrs. DiLaurentis looked abashed. “But I bought you a whole case last month.”
“But that was before I read that fake sugar makes you just as fat.” Ali pushed the can away. “I got everyone at school to drink Vitaminwater instead.”
“Courtney” snorted. “It’s fun being a trendsetter, isn’t it, Ali?”
Ali flinched. Not long ago, you weren’t the girl who set the trends, her sister was really saying. You were nothing. “Of course it is,” she said confidently. “Plus, I think it’s much healthier.”
Suddenly, the despondent girl who’d been talking to the therapist in the corner made a flying leap onto the couch and engulfed Ali’s sister in a huge hug. “C!” she whooped.
“Hey, I,” “Courtney” said, slinging her arm around the girl’s shoulder. “Everyone, this is Iris, my roommate. And Iris, this is Jason, Mom and Dad, and my sister.” She looked squarely at Ali. “Alison.”
Iris turned her ice-blue eyes to Ali. “So you’re the famous Alison. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Ali gave Iris an equally bitchy smile back. “Don’t believe everything you hear. I’m not nearly as wonderful as Courtney says.”
“Oh, and Courtney does say you’re wonderful.” Iris didn’t blink. “But she’s pretty awesome, too. We have a lot of fun here. Tuesday’s our standing spa day, isn’t it, C? And Thursday is yoga!”
“How nice!” Mrs. DiLaurentis clapped her hands.
Ali squinted. “You have a spa here? And yoga?” The Radley didn’t have either of those.
“Uh-huh.” Iris’s smile showed all her teeth. “You’re jealous, aren’t you? I bet you want to be in here, too.”
Ali flinched, a chill running up her spine. Her sister had told this girl everything. And Iris clearly believed her.
Iris stood. “Well, I’ll let you guys catch up.” She waggled her fingers at the family and sauntered off, her jeans hanging low on her skinny hips.
Mrs. DiLaurentis set her Coke on the coffee table. “She seems . . . nice.”
“She’s a skeleton,” Jason mumbled.
“She’s pretty cool.” “Courtney” fiddled with her earrings. “She’s in here for an eating disorder. But I guess she’s doing a lot better—she’s leaving on Wednesday. Who knows who I’ll get stuck with. I liked the roommate I had before her, too—her name was Tabitha. But I feel like I can’t get lucky three times.”
“So how are your classes?” Mr. DiLaurentis asked. Everyone at the Preserve had a private tutor who kept them on pace with their grade level.
“They’re going really well,” “Courtney” answered eagerly. “I’ve definitely aced English. Geometry, too. I’m not so sure about history and science.” Her face brightened. “But I’ve had a lot of help. A friend of mine, Tripp, tutored me. He’s awesome.”
Mrs. DiLaurentis exchanged a surprised glance with her husband, who looked just as floored. “That’s so nice!” she chirped. “Is Tripp here?”
“Courtney” shook her head. “He was. But he transferred elsewhere.” She ran her finger in a groove in the table. “It’s a bummer, but we’ve been emailing a lot.”
She trailed off and stared at her lap. The DiLaurentises exchanged a charged look Ali couldn’t quite decipher. “You seem much happier,” Mrs. DiLaurentis said.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good,” Courtney said. “I guess it’s the new meds they have me on.”
“And your nurses said you’ve been really cooperative,” Mr. DiLaurentis added.
“They’ve been nice to me,” “Courtney” said. “They all work so hard.”
Ali turned her head and rolled her eyes. What was with the sweet-as-pie act? And why was her twin acting so normal? Usually when they came here, “Courtney” was combative and angry, barely speaking to any of them.
“In fact, I’ve been doing so well that they’ve given me permission to leave campus every once in a while,” “Courtney” added.
Ali flinched. “By yourself?”
“No.” Her sister smiled sweetly. “With a chaperone.”
“Goodness.” Mrs. DiLaurentis smiled. “You must be improving.”
Ali pulled a loose string on the upholstered couch they were sitting on so vigorously a whole row of stitches unraveled in her hands. What lunatics allowed her sister to leave campus? Didn’t they realize what she was capable of?
After a while, a nurse tapped Mrs. DiLaurentis on the shoulder to say that Courtney’s group session would begin soon. Everyone hugged, Ali gritting her teeth as she wrapped her arms around her sister’s shoulders. Then her twin disappeared out of the day room, an odd spring in her step.
Ali excused herself to use the bathroom—she felt light-headed and needed a few seconds to herself. She pushed through the door of the visitors’ bathroom in the hall, wrinkling her nose at the acrid scent of bleach and the ring of rust around one of the sinks. Then the door opened again, and two girls walked inside. One of them was Iris. Another was her twin.
“H-hi?” Ali stammered. “Don’t you have group therapy?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that, sis,” “Courtney” sneered, glancing at Iris. The roommate marched to the door and stood guard in front of it, her skinny arms crossed over her chest.
Ali’s heart started to pound. She glanced at the door Iris was guarding. “Mom’s going to look for me soon.”
“Oh, this won’t take long,” “Courtney” simpered, moving closer.
Ali flinched. All kinds of horrible scenarios flashed through her mind. She saw her sister pouncing on her in bed when they were seven years old, forcing her to do whatever she asked. If you don’t, you’ll be sorry. She pictured her sister pushing her into a closet and binding her wrists with a bungee cord. She remembered her snapping the head off her precious doll, the only thing her grandmother had given her. And then she saw herself snap, tackling her sister to the ground, her sister’s eyes full of glee as she screamed for help. Her twin had set her up again and again and again.
“I just want to tell you something, okay?” Ali’s sister stood so close to Ali that Ali could see the pores on her cheeks, the sparkly sweep of eye shadow on her lids. “I know what you’ve been doing. And pretty soon, you’re going down.”
It felt like she’d just run a cold spike through Ali’s chest. “Please don’t lock me up again,” she blurted, twisting away from her sister’s face. Then she gasped, realizing what she’d just admitted. After the switch, she’d vowed never, ever to reveal what had happened to anyone, not even the girl whose identity she stole.
“Courtney” smiled nastily, catching what she’d said, too. She reached down and grabbed Ali’s finger, touching the silver ring with the curly A in the center. “Your time is running out, Ali,” she sneered, dropping Ali’s finger once more and brushing past her toward the exit. “Say your good-byes.”
ALL FALL DOWN
“Looking good, Alison!” Mark Hadley, an eighth grader, called as Ali passed him on the track later that afternoon.
“Can I run with you?” Brian Diaz shouted next.
Ali shot a brilliant smile to them over her shoulder, but she didn’t stop. The red lines on the track blurred beneath her. She pumped her arms hard, cycled her legs, and whizzed past the bleachers, trying to clear her thoughts. This was her fifth lap, and she had decided to run as long as it took to get the memory of what had just happened at the hospital out of her mind. There was only one problem: The image of her sister’s sneering face was branded in her mind.
She’d considered telling her parents what her sister had said to her in the bathroom, but she’d decided against it. Mrs. DiLaurentis would ask the real Ali for the truth. Even though the real Ali had claimed I’m Alison, I’m Alison again and again, what if the Preserve kept surveillance tapes? Ali had blatantly said Please don’t lock me up again. Had she sealed her doom? And what if her sister was watching her when she got to go off campus? Did she really have a chaperone? How strict was the Preserve, anyway?
There had only been one other time she’d been alone with her sister since she’d become Ali. It had been early in sixth grade, not long after the switch happened—her sister had come home for a weekend. Apparently, the girl everyone thought was Courtney was having a hard time transitioning to the Preserve; the doctors thought some time away might do her some good.
Ali had stressed about the visit to no end. They’d all be prisoners in the house while her sister was home—her parents were still keeping things a secret—and she didn’t know how to explain to her friends why she was staying away from them all weekend. She couldn’t say they’d gone out of town—Spencer would see their car in the driveway and the lights snapping on and off inside the house. In the end, she said she was sick and really contagious.
But the stress didn’t end there. As soon as her sister entered the house, Ali watched her like a hawk. She’d even slept in the den to make sure her sister didn’t go out at night and locked her bedroom door to make sure her twin didn’t break in and look through her things. For the first day, the plan worked well enough: Ali managed to keep her sister inside and contained. But on the second day, when Ali had turned her back, her sister vanished. To her horror, she found her standing in the front yard. A second girl looked up at the sound of the slammed door, her eyes wide. It was Jenna Cavanaugh. And that was when Ali remembered: Jenna had met both twins years ago, during another visit home—they’d all played Barbies in the backyard one afternoon. She was the only girl in Rosewood who knew there were two of them.
A nasty smile had spread across her sister’s face. “I was just talking to Jenna, Courtney,” she said. “I was telling her all about who you really are.”
Jenna’s eyes had ticktocked from one twin to the other. Black spots had appeared before Ali’s eyes. She’d grabbed her sister’s hand and pulled her back inside.
Their parents were in the kitchen. Ali told them that her sister was talking to the neighbors. “I was just telling them the truth,” “Courtney” screamed. “I told her that I was the real Alison and that I was being held prisoner!”