Ali's Pretty Little Lies
- Text Font:
- Text Size:
- Line Height:
- Line Break Height:
After the girls finished their dessert, Spencer announced she was due at the Rosewood Memorial Hospital, where she volunteered as a candy striper. Hanna’s mom was waiting for her at the Starbucks down the street. Emily and Aria mounted their bikes and headed for home, too. Ali tossed her yogurt cup in the trash and sauntered toward Wordsmith’s, then spied Jason’s car parked in a no-loading zone. For once, he was actually on time.
“Do you mind if we stop at the Kinko’s in Hollis before we go home?” Jason asked when Ali climbed into the car. “I have to make a photocopy of my transcript for school.” Then he glanced at her in the backseat. “And move to the front! I’m not your chauffeur!”
Ali grumbled, then climbed into the front seat at the next stoplight and buckled her seat belt. “Why do you have to make a copy of your transcript for Yale?” she asked.
“Because it has my final grades,” Jason answered. “Yale requires all students to submit them to make sure they still want to admit us.”
Ali wrinkled her nose. “I thought you were already in.”
“It ensures that kids don’t flunk out their last semester of high school,” Jason said, hitting the gas when the light turned green.
Ali closed her eyes and thought about her brother going to college. It used to be one of the things he talked to her about when he visited her at the Radley—he wanted to major in political science, he said, and then maybe become a lawyer who specialized in child emancipation cases. I should get emancipated from Mom and Dad, she’d said sadly. Then maybe I could get out of this place. Jason had murmured in agreement.
They were quiet as the car rolled past the curlicue-lettered sign announcing Hollis College. The campus had a lot of old, brick buildings, a Big Ben–type clock tower, and a big arena that held the ice hockey rink and the fencing rings—Hollis’s only Division I sports. They passed a bar called Snooker’s, which had a chalkboard out front that listed that week’s Phillies schedule. As Jason took a left at the next light, cruising down a street that was rife with college bars and head shops, he gave Ali a sidelong glance. “Can I ask you a question?”
Ali shrugged. “Depends what the question is.”
Jason took a big swallow from his water bottle. “I know Courtney was in the bathroom with you before we left the hospital. Did she say anything?”
The smile melted off Ali’s face. She didn’t think anyone had seen Courtney go into the bathroom. When she’d emerged, the hall had been empty—Jason and the others had been waiting in the lobby. Was it possible that he’d heard what her twin had said?
“I saw her come out after you,” Jason said, as if reading her mind. “Was everything okay?”
Ali flicked the string bracelet on her wrist. “It was fine. We just talked about stupid stuff.”
“Are you sure?”
Ali blinked. “Why wouldn’t I be sure?”
“I don’t know.” Jason raised his hands defensively. “I’m just asking.”
Ali licked her lips and considered telling him how the real Ali had threatened her, but then her words echoed in her mind. Please don’t lock me up again, she’d said, basically admitting everything she’d done.
Jason stopped at a crosswalk to let students pass. “Do you think Courtney seems different?”
Ali flinched. “Different how?”
“Happier, I guess. Not herself.”
There was a sizzling feeling in the pit of Ali’s stomach. “Does anyone know who Courtney really is? She’s crazy.”
“I know who she is.”
No, you don’t, Ali thought with a flare of anger. You don’t know anything.
Jason pulled into a parking space in front of Kinko’s. “I know you’ve never understood why I visited her all those years at the Radley,” he said quietly. “I just thought she needed someone in her corner, you know?”
“So why did you stop visiting her at the Preserve?” It was a question Ali had never asked him.
Jason ran his finger over the silver BMW keychain. “I didn’t mean to stop visiting her at first. I was just swamped with schoolwork and couldn’t make the time. The times I did visit her, though, she seemed so . . . strange.” He swallowed hard, then glanced at her. “She told me some weird things about you.”
Ali’s stomach tightened. “She’s a jealous, crazy bitch.”
Jason didn’t look convinced. “For a while, I thought some of the things she told me were true.”
Ali tried hard to keep her hands from trembling. “She’s lying.”
Jason opened his mouth, then closed it again. He stared at her hard, as though trying to memorize every freckle, every eyelash on her face. “Do you ever wish you could go back and change what you did?”
The words hit Ali like an icicle through the heart. What you did. But he meant what Ali did . . . to Courtney. Right? Not the switch. “I didn’t do anything,” she snapped.
Jason kept his eyes on the road. “We all did things we could have done differently. We could have helped her. Been more of a family.”
“That’s not how I see it,” Ali said sharply. “She’s crazy. She needs to be locked up. End of story.”
Jason bit his bottom lip and didn’t say anything. After a moment, he got out of the car and slouched into Kinko’s. Ali watched the door open and shut, her stomach turning over. The walls seemed to close in on her inside the car, and she suddenly felt squeezed into a seat that could no longer contain her.
She fumbled for the door handle and staggered onto the street. Cars and trucks whizzed past the busy thoroughfare. Students rushed by holding Starbucks coffee cups and textbooks. The clock tower let out four bongs. Ali took a few careful steps down the sidewalk, trying to find her balance again.
She walked to the end of the block and studied the skater-logo stickers someone had plastered to a stop sign. Then, a lilting giggle sounded from around the corner. Ali turned and cocked her ear. There it was again. It was coming from the alley.
She poked her head into the narrow strip of road between two university buildings. THESE SPACES RESERVED FOR ART HISTORY DEPARTMENT FACULTY ONLY read a placard in front of a parking spot. A Subaru was in the lot, its window cracked, two people inside. One of them had a blond ponytail and an earnest, college-girl smile. The other, the driver, had a craggy face and wild, professor-style hair.
Ali straightened up, recognizing the familiar PLANNED PARENTHOOD and VISUALIZE WHIRLED PEAS stickers on the Subaru’s bumper. There was that dent in the fender, too, the one Aria’s mom had made when she’d run over a decorative boulder in Ali’s front yard.
It was Aria’s dad who was in that car. But the other, the ponytail girl, was definitely not his wife.
“I love these after-class study sessions,” he was saying.
“Me, too,” the girl said, then pouted. “But I hate having to squeeze them into Tuesdays at four.”
Mr. Montgomery touched her cheek. “This is the only time we’re both around.”
The girl sighed. “I know, I know, but . . .”
Mr. Montgomery put his finger to his lips to silence her. Then he cupped her chin and brought her face toward his. Ali crept behind the brick wall as Aria’s father ran his hands through the girl’s hair. The girl pulled Aria’s dad closer and kissed his neck.
The two heads shot apart. Ali whirled around. Jason stood behind her, a plastic Kinko’s bag in his hand. “You ready?” he asked.
Ali blinked hard. There was a rumbling sound behind her. “Uh . . . ,” she said, poking her head back into the alley.
But it was empty now. All that remained was a cloud of exhaust, like Mr. Montgomery’s car—and what he’d done inside it—had never been there at all.
But Ali knew what she’d seen.
DR. ALISON, AT YOUR SERVICE
Ali stepped up to Hanna’s front door and rang the bell. The opening strains to Beethoven’s Fifth played, then all was quiet. Ali knew Hanna was home, though. She’d texted Ali only a few minutes ago.
Ali turned around and stared at Hanna’s huge, elegantly manicured front yard. Ali had always liked Hanna’s house the best because it stood alone on a secluded street on top of Mount Kale, which was just outside Rosewood. It was heavily wooded and didn’t have that everyone-in-everyone’s-business suburban feeling that Ali’s neighborhood or other neighborhoods in Rosewood did. Often, when she slept over here, she’d see deer on Hanna’s front lawn in the morning, and it was dark enough up on the mountain to see tons of stars at night.
Hanna flung the door open. Her brown hair was mussed around her face, her eyes were red behind her glasses, and there were bright-orange Doritos crumbs on her shirt. Ali glanced behind her to a bunch of wrappers on the coffee table. Ho Hos. Twinkies. There was an empty cheese popcorn bag on the floor. A single pastry sat on a plate, bathing in a pool of cream.
Ali stared fixedly at those crumbs. For a long time, she’d wondered why Hanna ate the way she did, stuffing huge portions of Doritos into her mouth as though Frito-Lay had announced it was never making them again. She used to lead her friends in making fun of her—It’s not a race, Hanna, and Watch out, your teeth will turn orange. That was before they went to Annapolis a few months ago, though, and she saw what Hanna did with Kate’s toothbrush.
“Hey,” Hanna said woodenly, letting Ali in and tapping the keys of the burglar alarm, which was beeping. Whenever Hanna’s mom wasn’t home—which was always, since she worked at a high-powered job in the city—she made Hanna keep the alarm on at all times.
“What’s wrong?” Ali asked.
“Nothing,” Hanna said, not meeting Ali’s gaze. Then she looked down at the Doberman coffee mug in her hands, her expression a twist of pain and sadness. Her father used to use that cup, but Mr. Marin had moved out months ago.
“Did you talk to Aria?” Ali asked.
“No . . .” Hanna’s head whipped up. “Why? Is something going on with her?”
Ali ran her tongue over her teeth. All she could think about since it had happened was what she’d seen Aria’s dad doing in Hollis. Did Aria know? Was that why she was acting so strange lately? She hadn’t told Ali what was going on, but what if she’d told one of the others? Hanna would be a good choice—her parents had divorced last year.
But Hanna looked genuinely caught off guard, so Ali figured Aria hadn’t told her. Maybe she shouldn’t say anything. It was one thing for Ali to talk about an open secret behind Aria’s back, but maybe it was another to tell Hanna something she didn’t already know. Besides, it made Ali feel powerful to know something so awful about Aria’s family.
“Um, forget it,” Ali mumbled. “But you’re obviously not okay. What’s going on?”
Hanna slumped down in a chair at the dining room table. The place settings had been shoved aside, and her history book was splayed open to the chapter they were being tested on tomorrow. She let out a tortured sigh. “My dad sent me vacation photos of him, Kate, and Isabel on spring break.”