Ali's Pretty Little Lies
Page 12

 Sara Shepard

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Melissa. And by the look on her face, it seemed like she’d heard every word Ali and Ian had said.
The following day, Ali stood in front of the full-length mirror in the bathroom of Henry’s Paint Ball and Laser Tag, an indoor/outdoor boy extravaganza on the edge of Rosewood. Nick had wanted this to be their first date, and though Ali normally balked at the idea of paintball, she was willing to do anything to snag and keep the boy who’d spurned her twin—even put on the ugly blue paintball jumpsuit. She smoothed her hands over the baggy fabric, then tied a neon-pink J. Crew belt around her waist. That made it look a little better.
“Ali?” a voice called when she stepped out of the bathroom.
Ali’s heart did a flip. Nick leaned against the check-in booth, looking gorgeous despite the fact that he was in a jumpsuit, too. His piercing blue eyes stared at her and only her. Dimples appeared at the corners of his smile. She bounded up to him as coolly as she could, resisting the urge to squeal.
“Hey,” she said, grinning.
Nick gestured to the paintball area, an obstacle course of bushes and bulwarks, providing places to hide. “You ready?”
“Absolutely,” Ali answered. But when Nick passed her a gun, she balked. It was huge.
Nick giggled. “You don’t have to act like a girl around me. I remember you kicking butt on paintball day at camp.”
Ali clutched the gun to her chest and stood up straighter. She’d never played paintball in her life, but Nick couldn’t know that. She peered at the other kids playing in the field, shooting out from behind the bushes to tag their enemies. She’d hung out with enough boys to know that there were two teams; the object was to capture the yellow flags that hung from the fence across the wide expanse of grass. How hard could it be? “Let’s rock,” she said.
As they traipsed across the field, Nick leaned into her. “So what’s up in Alison DiLaurentis’s world?”
“Not too much,” Ali said as they crouched behind a bush. She wasn’t about to tell him the truth—like about her visit to the mental hospital, for example. “How about you?”
Nick peered over the top of the bush. A kid whizzed past, but he was in a blue jumpsuit like them. Globs of paint exploded toward him from all directions, and he shrieked and covered his head. “I just got a job at a new French restaurant at the King James.”
“Rive Gauche?” Ali asked excitedly. “I love that place! Now I’ll have to come more often.”
“I hope so.” Nick’s eyes gleamed. Then he poked her playfully. “Of course you’d know about Rive Gauche. You’re probably the type of girl who likes to shop, huh?”
“I do like to shop,” Ali said. “But I’m not a type of girl.”
“No?” Nick raised an eyebrow. “At camp you were. You had those girls in your bunk wrapped around your little finger.”
“Maybe I’ve changed,” Ali teased. “You said yourself that I’d really grown up.”
Nick didn’t look convinced. “So you’re not a Miss Popular, gets-everything-she-wants, loves-manicures-and pedicures, has-a-huge-group-of-friends, and is-good-at-everything-she-does kind of girl anymore?”
Ali peered over the bush, but no one was in view. That was absolutely the image she wanted to project, the perfect Alison she needed to be. But suddenly, she wanted Nick to know that she was more than that. Deeper. “For your information, I don’t like mani-pedis,” she admitted.
Nick widened his eyes. “Shocker!” he said in mock horror. “I’ll alert the press.”
Ali edged closer. “And I kind of like watching football,” she whispered. “And eating wings instead of salads.”
She giggled. “I love animals, too.”
“Oh, yeah?” He smiled at her. “Do you have any pets?”
Ali shook her head. “Not now. But I used to have a gerbil.”
Nick looked surprised. “You don’t seem like the gerbil type.”
Ali poked him. “There you go making assumptions again.” She hiked the paintball gun higher on her shoulder. “My gerbil’s name was Marshmallow. She was the best—I decorated her fur, painted her nails, and put bows on her head.”
“So you’re okay giving a gerbil a mani-pedi, even if you don’t like them.” Nick clucked his tongue. “Animal cruelty.”
“She didn’t seem to mind,” Ali admitted, suddenly feeling wistful. “For a while, Marshmallow was my only friend.”
Nick snorted. “Yeah, right.”
Ali clapped her mouth shut, realizing she’d said too much. Marshmallow had been her only friend because she’d been her pet at the Radley. It had been a big privilege to be allowed to have her as a pet, and she’d relished the responsibility, giving her lots of cuddles, making sure she got enough exercise on her wheel, putting her cage right next to her bed because hearing the tap-tap-tap of her claws on the side in the middle of the night comforted her.
“Well,” Nick said, moving closer to Ali, “hopefully I can get to know this girl who is definitely not Miss Perfect.”
“I’d like that,” Ali said shyly. “And what about you? Any secrets I should know about?”
Nick fingered the trigger on the gun. “Not really. What you see is what you get,” he said, staring into her eyes.
Tingles shot through Ali’s body. Then suddenly, something red flashed before her eyes. A girl in a red jumpsuit zigzagged through the field. Ali leapt up and aimed at her, firing the paintball gun as if she really had been the paintball master at camp. The girl squealed and ran for cover.
Ali grabbed Nick’s hand. “Come on!” She pulled him into the field toward the flags. Paint flew at them from all directions, and Ali ducked and giggled, managing to avoid every assault. The yellow flags loomed close. She ripped one from the fence and let out a whoop. Nick, who was right behind her, was so excited he picked her up and spun her around.
“You do rock paintball!” he cried, his smile wide. “I guess you haven’t changed completely.”
“I guess not,” Ali said as he gently put her down. Her chest heaved from her sprint across the field. But standing there with Nick, grinning like crazy, she didn’t notice any pain at all. I’m the best Alison ever, she thought.
No one, not even the real Alison, could ever take her place.
A few days later, Ali sat with her friends on a bench in front of Pinkberry, which was on Rosewood’s main thoroughfare a few blocks away from school. Across the street, the neon sign for Ferra’s Cheesesteaks blinked off and on. Women in capri pants and big Chanel sunglasses went in and out of the Aveda salon. The bells on the door of Wordsmith’s Books jingled cheerfully. Aside from the occasionally stinky exhaust from the passing cars, the whole world smelled like spring flowers and hot caramel from Pinkberry’s toppings bar.
“And then, when I looked out my window, one of the workers was staring at me.” Ali was telling her friends about the guys who’d come to dig the hole for the gazebo that morning. “And then he actually whistled! I mean, he was as gross as Toby Cavanaugh used to be. Maybe even grosser. I felt icky all over. What if they took pictures of me?”
Spencer dropped her spoon in her cup. “You should have closed your curtains if you didn’t want them to see you.”
“What does it matter?” Emily jumped in. “Those guys can’t do that! You should tell your parents, Ali.”
Ali made a halting motion with her hand. “It’s okay. I can handle it on my own.”
“Seriously.” Emily was breathing heavily, which she always did when she got worked up. “That’s, like, harassment! They should hire someone else! Do you want me to tell them for you?”
“Easy, Killer,” Ali teased, using her favorite nickname for Emily. Okay, so she’d stretched the truth a teensy bit. The workers actually hadn’t as much as cast a glance in her direction this morning, even when she walked to Jason’s car.
“Okay, everyone, switch,” Ali said to her friends, plopping the plastic spoon back into her cup of Pinkberry and handing it to Hanna, who was on her left. Hanna handed her pistachio to Emily, Emily gave her peanut butter–flavored frozen yogurt to Spencer, and Ali got Aria’s lychee-nut with chocolate sprinkles.
Ali let the flavors melt on her tongue, feeling that all was right with the world. So far today, she’d received three texts from Ian promising her that Spencer’s kiss would come soon but also wanting to know when his kiss with her would be. Hopefully, in time, he’d just forget—especially now that things were going so well with Nick. She was still basking in the glow of their amazing date. Part of her wanted to tell her friends about it, but part of her wanted to keep Nick to herself for a little longer. She hadn’t even written about him in her diary yet; he was so special she hadn’t been able to find the right words to describe him.
She suddenly felt so happy that she wanted to pass the feeling along. She rested her head on Spencer’s blazer-clad shoulder. “So, girls. I think we should all find amazing crushes for the summer. And then we make a move to turn those crushes into boyfriends.”
Hanna looked thrilled. “I’m in! I claim Sean!”
“Great!” Ali grinned. “What about you, Spence? Got anyone you’re into?” She didn’t know when Ian was going to make his move, but the sooner, the better.
Spencer stiffened and gave her a Please don’t tell anyone look. “Uh, no.” She stabbed her spoon into the ice cream and vigorously scooped up a bite.
“Well, I have a crush,” Aria said proudly when Spencer didn’t answer.
“We know, we know.” Emily cuffed her playfully. “On Noel. You’ve only told us fifty times.”
“Yeah, and we even bonded last week,” Aria said excitedly.
Ali demurely blotted her lips with a napkin. “Why don’t I ask him out for you?” she said, feeling generous.
Aria’s eyes widened. “What would you say?”
“I’d tell him that you’re the most awesome girl in the world.”
Aria laughed. “And he’d believe you?”
“Of course, Aria. Noel listens to me. Whatever I say, goes. I can convince him that you’re the only girl he should go out with.” She looked around at the others. “Tell her, guys. Tell her I can convince him Aria is amazing.”
“She can,” Emily said. Of course she was the first to agree.
“It’s true.” Hanna nodded.
Even Spencer reluctantly shrugged. Aria swirled her spoon around her rapidly melting ice cream. “You would really do that for me, Ali? What’s the catch?”
“No catch.” Ali mussed Aria’s barrel curls, which she’d helped her do that morning before school. “I just want you to be happy.” As happy as I am, she thought.
“You’re amazing.” Aria gave Ali a huge hug.