Ali's Pretty Little Lies
Page 11

 Sara Shepard

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A vein had pulsated in Mrs. DiLaurentis’s temples, and she’d sent Courtney back to the Preserve early. It was obvious their parents didn’t believe her, but if they had proof—like Ali saying Please don’t lock me up again—their minds just might change. Ali couldn’t go back there—she just couldn’t. She tried to picture those cold, bare, antiseptic beds; that joyless common room; those nurses in their scrubs handing out pills. One year at the Radley, her family hadn’t visited for Christmas, taking a trip to Colorado instead. The hospital celebration had involved a pathetic plastic tree, carols no one sang along to on the out-of-tune piano, and turkey with gross, lumpy gravy. Ali was certain that every girl on the floor had gone to sleep crying in her pillow.
Now Ali ran past the back of the track, which bordered the soccer fields. In the narrow strip of grass that separated the two were small concrete blocks flush against the ground. Each one was labeled with a year and the words Time Capsule.
It was from the game Rosewood Day played every year. Ali thought of the Time Capsule piece she’d taken from her twin. After he discovered what she did, Jason had stormed away with the piece and never brought it back—Ali had no idea whatever happened to it. But that hardly mattered—she had used the missing piece to garner sympathy from her friends.
She wiped sweat from her forehead. If it hadn’t been for that piece of the flag, would I even be here right now? she wondered. Perhaps her fate was that coincidental, that precarious. Perhaps it could change on a dime once again.
Unexpected tears sprang to her eyes. It felt as if all the balls in the delicate juggling act she was performing had crashed to the ground. Not only with what had happened with her sister, but everything that was going on with her friends, too. Why were they keeping so many secrets from her? Didn’t they like her anymore? Didn’t they want to be part of her clique? Had they forgotten how much she’d done for them? And what did her sister mean by I know what you’ve been doing? What if she could see her friends defying her, see her screwing up so badly?
Ali passed the bleachers once more without even realizing she’d made another lap and then, suddenly, felt the ground go out beneath her. In seconds, she was sprawled out on the track, her cheek hitting the pavement hard.
“Are you okay?” Mark Hadley said, standing above her.
“I’m fine.” Ali tried to laugh it off as she stood.
A single tear rolled down her cheek, but she quickly sniffed and kept the rest at bay. Alison DiLaurentis did not cry. Alison DiLaurentis didn’t freak over her loser sister, nor did she stress, worry, or fear for her popularity. That was why she was the most popular girl in school—because she knew she deserved it. Her sister was just undermining her like she always did. And as for her friends, maybe she just needed to remind them how special and amazing she was, how they’d be nothings without her. She’d kill them with kindness, dazzle them with the sparkling magic that drew them to her in the first place. It would be easy, really. She already knew what all of them wanted. She could snap her fingers, and it would be done, just like that.
“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?” Aria said dramatically, clutching her breast.
“It is the east, and Juliet is the sun,” Spencer continued, then collapsed onto the bench outside the People’s Light & Theater Company, a few miles from Rosewood, where some of the class had come on a field trip to watch the famous play. “That is so romantic.”
“Yeah, but don’t forget they die in the end,” Ali teased, kicking at a divot in the grass. “They don’t even get to enjoy being in love. Lame!”
“Yes, but death is the most romantic gesture of all, don’t you think?” Aria asked, her eyes sparkling. “I mean, if you’re willing to die for someone, that means you really love them.”
“Thanks, but I’d rather live and enjoy being in love,” Ali said.
And she did feel in love these days. She and Nick had been texting nonstop for two weeks now. They hadn’t gotten together yet, but their first date was the next day, and she couldn’t wait. It had also been two weeks since her sister had made that threat, and nothing had come of it. Yet. Though Ali had tumultuous dreams of her sister somehow proving what she’d done, there had been no parental interventions or terrifying exposés. Her sister hadn’t shown up on their doorstep or in Ali’s bedroom at night, forcing Ali out of her bed so they could switch back. The DiLaurentis parents had called her both Sundays, Ali listening stealthily on the extension. “Courtney” talked about her boyfriend, Tripp. Her classes. How Iris, her roommate, was gone, but how she hadn’t been assigned someone new yet. Nothing about Ali. Nothing remotely crazy at all.
Which made Ali even more nervous.
Two weeks hadn’t changed the situation with her friends, though. Emily was still keeping secrets. Hanna was still socializing with Josie. Spencer still seemed wary of Ali, and Aria had shut down entirely. Every challenging remark from Ali’s friends felt like a test she needed to pass—especially if her sister was watching, judging, gathering intel to prove she wasn’t who she said she was. She was not going to the Preserve. She was not saying her good-byes. She’d die first.
Aria grabbed her purse. “I need to go to the bathroom.”
“I do, too,” Emily said, glancing apologetically at Ali before standing, as if she was supposed to ask permission. Ali just rolled her eyes and ignored her.
Next to her, Spencer’s gaze was on the field. Near a picnic table full of the teacher chaperones were a bunch of seniors including Jason, Darren Wilden, Melissa Hastings, and Violet Keyes, who’d been after Jason for years. Ian Thomas was there, too. Spencer’s eyes lit up when she saw him.
She jumped up. “I have a question for Mrs. Delancey,” she said, nodding at one of the English teachers.
Ali and Hanna, the only two left, watched Spencer’s ponytail bounce against her back as she ran toward the picnic table. She asked Mrs. Delancey a question, but she kept sneaking peeks at Ian out of the corner of her eye.
Ali made a disgusted noise at the back of her throat, and Hanna looked up from her sandwich. “What is it?”
“She’s only over there to be near the older boys.”
“We could go over, too,” Hanna suggested.
“No.” Ali crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m mad at Spencer.”
“You are?” Hanna looked worried. “Why?”
Ali tapped her nails against the bench. Same reason I’m mad at you, she wanted to say. But instead she sighed. “Long, boring story.”
Hanna went quiet. Ali stared out at the yellow school buses parked in the lot, which disrupted the pastoral Chester County fields and farms. Their ugliness suited her mood, though, as her friends’ disobedience had just stirred up all her unsettled feelings once more. What if she was slipping? What if her sister did figure out a way to come back and take her life over again? If Ali went to the Preserve, she’d never get to see these fields again. And she hadn’t even appreciated them.
Sometimes, in her darkest moments, she pictured her parents finding out what she’d done and leaving her on the side of the road somewhere to rot. They’d hate her forever. Maybe they’d even throw her in jail.
She felt a teardrop on her cheek. When she looked up, Hanna was gaping at her. “Ali?” she said. “What’s the matter? Are you okay?”
Ali’s throat bobbed as she swallowed. For a fleeting second, she considered telling Hanna, with her poop-brown hair, braces, and earnest, yearning expression, everything. But instead she just shrugged, her insides turning to rock. “Forget it.”
Laughter sounded from the other side of the picnic grounds, and Ali looked up. A group of seniors stood on the grass, pantomiming one of the duel scenes from the play. Ian wielded an imaginary sword. Eric Kahn, Noel’s ninth-grade brother, laughed raucously. Spencer was gone.
Suddenly desperate to be away from Hanna, who’d witnessed a brief chink in her armor, Ali grabbed her Polaroid camera, jumped up from the table, and sauntered over to Ian and the others before Hanna could ask where she was going.
“Hey, Ee,” Ali said, giving him a sly, flirty smile.
Ian paused from his pretend-duel and smiled back. “Hey.” He pushed a lock of blond hair off his forehead. “I didn’t know you were coming to this.”
“I’ve been here the whole time,” she said, tilting her hips.
Ian smiled and moved a little closer to her. “Oh, yeah?”
“Yep.” Ali held up the camera, the knot in her gut slowly unfurling. “Can I get a picture of the two of us?”
“Sure,” Ian said, and wrapped his arm around Ali’s shoulders. Ali held the camera out at arm’s length and snapped a photo. The machine whirred and grumbled, then spat a white photo out the bottom. Slowly, the image filled in. Ali’s face looked model-perfect. And the way Ian tilted his head toward her made him look like her boyfriend.
Ian examined the picture, too. “You look gorgeous,” he said.
A thrill ran through Ali. “You do, too,” she answered. When she tilted her chin up, she was surprised to see Ian’s face right there, almost like he wanted a kiss. But she didn’t want Ian—that was Spencer’s weird thing. Which made her think of her plan to win over her friends again. And that gave her an idea.
She pulled away and gave Ian a long look. “I know someone who likes you.”
Ian’s eyebrows shot up. “Who?”
Ian blinked, perhaps thinking Ali was going to say it was her. “Spencer Hastings?” He laughed. “Okay.”
“Would you kiss her?”
He stared at her like she was crazy. “That seems a little dangerous.”
Ali wanted to snort. It was amazing how Ian didn’t flat-out refuse, because he had a girlfriend. She lowered her chin and made puppy-dog eyes. “Please? She would love it, Ian. She has a thing for you bad.”
A pleased smile spread across Ian’s face. He pretended to think. “How about this. If I give a kiss to Spencer, then I get a kiss from you.”
“Okay,” Ali said, shrugging. A kiss for Ian Thomas was hardly the worst thing in the world. It would certainly be something to brag to Cassie and the others about. “But you have to really kiss Spencer, okay? Not just a little peck on the cheek. Kiss her like you mean it.”
“You’ve got a deal,” Ian said, holding out his hand to shake. When Ali did, he let his fingers touch the inside of her palm, and her insides tingled a little. Ian might have been skeevy, but he was gorgeous.
She started back to where her friends were sitting, feeling a million times more optimistic than before. Once Spencer knew that Ali got Ian to kiss her with a snap of her finger, she’d be so grateful and impressed that she’d never disobey Ali again. But as she passed an old oak tree, she heard an odd, high-pitched giggle. She stopped and looked around, listening. There was someone sitting on the top of one of the picnic tables, staring at her with hard, narrowed eyes.