Ali's Pretty Little Lies
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Ali blinked, waiting for Hanna to go on. Isabel was her father’s new girlfriend, and Kate was her pretty daughter. Ali had met them both in Annapolis.
She was about to ask Hanna what the big deal was, but suddenly, she remembered she was being the New Ali, the girl who killed her friends with kindness. Kate was definitely a sore spot for Hanna. Although Hanna rarely mentioned it, Mr. Marin had left for Annapolis and given Hanna’s mom custody of their daughter. It was surprising because Hanna and her dad always used to be such a team before he left. They’d sing Beatles songs in the front seat during carpools, trying to get the other girls to join in. No matter how many times Ali told Hanna she was being babyish, they still brought up some imaginary friend named Cornelius Maximilian at dinner. And one time, when Hanna’s dad had taken Hanna and Ali to the beach for the day, it seemed like Hanna wanted to hang out with him instead of sneaking off to the boardwalk with Ali to talk to boys. Weirdo.
Mr. Marin was so different from Ali’s own dad, who put on a suit every day and went to work and talked to his family during meals but otherwise retreated to his office. Even though Ali would never, ever tell Hanna so, she’d felt a little relieved when Hanna’s dad took off. Hanna no longer had that special, sparkly thing in her life that Ali secretly, deep down, envied.
Now Hanna was worried that Kate had taken her place. Ali had offered to come with her to Annapolis, promising that they’d outclass Kate and make her feel small and stupid. The only thing was, once they’d gotten there, something in Ali had shifted. Kate seemed sort of . . . nice, a lot like her, in fact. Maybe Hanna needed to suck it up. But instead, Hanna ate it up—all the party snacks Isabel had put out for them, that was. Ali had never seen her shovel food in so compulsively, yet Hanna had seemed surprised when her father called her a “little piggy.” When Ali had followed Hanna to the bathroom and pushed open the door, she’d found Hanna hunched over the toilet bowl, a green toothbrush in her hand. Hanna had begged Ali not to tell anyone, and so far, Ali hadn’t.
She touched Hanna’s hand. “It really hurts to see all of them on vacation together, huh?”
A look of shock passed over Hanna’s features, followed by gratitude. “Sort of,” she breathed. “And, I mean, you’ve seen Kate.”
Ali nodded. “She was really nice, though, Han.”
Hanna looked pained. “Maybe she was, I don’t know. But Kate’s wearing one of those bikinis that goes up her butt. It’s not like my dad would let me wear one of those.”
It’s not like you’d look good in one of those, either, Ali thought, but she didn’t dare say it. Kate was thin, the kind of girl who could expose a bit of butt cheek and drive boys wild. While Hanna wasn’t fat, she wasn’t the type of girl who could pluck a pair of jeans off the rack and buy them without trying them on. And she was painfully aware of it, too—always pinching the excess flesh on her belly, always looking around at the other girls in the locker room enviously, always the last to pull off her shirt at the country club or on the beach.
Ali’s gaze drifted to the food detritus on the coffee table. “Bingeing isn’t the answer, Han.”
Hanna shook her head vigorously. “No. I only did that once, Ali. I swear. Some of this was left over from my mom last night.”
Ali crossed her arms over her chest. It was such a lie—Hanna’s mom was stick-thin, did yoga religiously, and ate a macrobiotic diet. “You can tell me, Han. You’ve gone through a lot lately. Cassie was telling me about a friend who binged—she did it to regain control.”
Hanna turned away and started fiddling with her pen. “I’m fine, Ali. I don’t have a problem.”
Ali felt annoyance rise inside her. Wasn’t she good enough to confide in? She held Hanna’s gaze, waiting for her to admit the truth, but Hanna just flicked the tassels on her loafers. Ali dropped her hand. “Fine,” Ali said briskly. “You don’t have a problem.”
“You didn’t tell anyone about Annapolis, did you?” Hanna asked suddenly.
A mysterious smile spread across Ali’s lips. She waited a few beats, watching as panic flooded Hanna’s face. Then she squeezed Hanna’s hand hard. “Of course I didn’t, silly. My lips are sealed—I promise.”
Ali’s phone rang. She broke her gaze from Hanna and reached for it in her bag. Unknown Caller, said the screen. Ali frowned. She answered, pressing the phone to her ear.
All she could hear was breathing on the other end. “Hello?” Ali said again. “Hello?”
Hanna lowered her brow, watching Ali carefully. Ali turned away, her heart speeding up. All at once, she had a horrible feeling who the person on the other end might be.
“Hello?” she said once more, wandering into the hall. More breathing. “Is this you?” she whispered, picturing her sister sitting on one of those ugly Preserve couches, smiling into the receiver. But patients at the Preserve weren’t allowed to make phone calls, right? Had they changed the rules? Or was she out on one of her “chaperoned” visits?
There was a little sniff on the other end of the line, followed by a click. Ali stared at the call time flashing on the screen until her vision blurred.
She jumped and whirled around. Hanna stood at the end of the hall, a crumpled-up chip bag in her hands. “Is everything okay?” she asked. “Who was that?”
Ali stared down at her phone, worried for a brief flash that Hanna might know everything. Then she straightened up and pushed her hair over her shoulder. “Just a stupid prank call,” she said breezily. “Probably some kid who has a crush on me.”
“Oh, definitely,” Hanna said, giving Ali a quick smile.
Ali walked to the TV and flicked it on, wanting to forget what had just happened. Hanna was all too eager to plop down beside her, probably relieved to let things drop, too. But as they flipped through the channels, all Ali could see was herself lying in a spare hospital bed at the Preserve. Tied down, as they used to do at the Radley to girls who got too upset.
I know what you’ve been doing, her sister’s voice echoed in her mind. Say your good-byes.
2 GOOD + 2 BE = 4 GOTTEN
The following day, the girls cruised up and down the aisles of Saks. The store was tastefully lit with recessed lights on signature pieces, and the walls were painted in black-and-white stripes. Dance music pumped out of hidden speakers, and thin, pretty salesgirls floated around the room with warm smiles on their faces. But Ali’s favorite thing about Saks was that it always smelled like they were inside a perfume factory. No other department store smelled as good.
Hanna plucked a quilted Chanel purse from a shelf. “This. Definitely.” The girls were playing their favorite game: What Would You Buy If You Had All the Money in the World?
“Really?” Ali made a face. “That’s so grandmotherly.”
Hanna looked horrified and dropped it. “Uh, I picked up the wrong one. I meant this.” She showed her a red Louis Vuitton. Ali nodded her approval, and Hanna smiled with relief.
“I’m into this one,” Emily said, holding up a Chloé satchel. “Can’t you just see me carrying this to school?”
“That’s gorgeous,” Ali said, sighing. “I wish I’d seen it first.”
Emily pushed it toward her. “You take it. I can pick something else.”
Ali rolled her eyes. “It’s just a game, Emily.” She selected a Dior satchel from the wall. “I’ll make do with this.”
“Can I help you, girls?” a saleswoman asked behind them. She raised an eyebrow when she saw the luxury pieces in their hands. Ali glanced at the others, and they burst out laughing, then dropped everything and scampered away.
“Let’s go to Contemporary,” Ali announced. “I actually want to spend some money today.”
They filed onto the escalators and peered at their reflections in the mirrored walls. Ali was wearing skinny jeans and a flowing hot-pink top she’d seen on the cover of Teen Vogue. Aria had put a blue streak in her hair and wore a silver sequined shirt, blue flare-leg jeans, and clunky wedges. Hanna had on a beautiful French Connection mini-dress that was, unfortunately, way too small on her. Spencer looked superpreppy in a Lacoste tennis dress and Tory Burch flats, and Emily wore her uniform of baggy jeans and a plain blue T-shirt. Ali made a mental note to persuade her to buy something cute today.
As they got off at Contemporary, Ali spied a skinny ice-blonde by the dresses and froze. It was Iris, her sister’s old roommate at the Preserve. She was with two other girls her own age, and when she saw Ali, a malicious smile spread across her face. She waggled her fingers in a taunting wave.
Emily frowned. “Do you know her?”
“No,” Ali said, guiding her friends across the sales floor, far, far away.
She took deep breaths as they headed toward the jeans. It doesn’t matter that she’s here, she told herself. She won’t say anything about the Preserve. She probably doesn’t want the girls she’s with to know she was committed.
She stared intensely at the rack of jeans, pretending Iris wasn’t there. Aria, Emily, and Spencer drifted over as well, and soon, all five of them were at the jeans wall, pulling out their sizes in skinny-legs and bootcut, dark wash and light. Then they trooped for the dressing rooms, squeezing into one together before the salesgirl yelled, “Only one girl per room, please.”
Halfway through her massive pile of clothes to try, Ali spun around in the three-way-mirror; then noticed Emily sitting on the couch at the end of the dressing room hall with a wistful, faraway look on her face. She stopped. “Why aren’t you trying anything on, Em?”
Emily shook her head. “This stuff is way too expensive. My parents would die if they saw the prices.”
“We’ll chip in and buy you something,” Ali offered.
But Emily seemed in her own world, simply offering Ali a vague smile and a shrug. “I’ll just watch you try stuff on. I don’t mind.”
Suddenly, Ali perked up, a thought forming in her head. She perched on the edge of the couch. “Did something happen between you and that guy?” she asked excitedly.
Emily frowned. “What guy?”
Ali cuffed her gently. “You know! Your crush, silly!”
“Oh.” Emily’s mouth twitched. “No. Nothing has happened with that.”
“Are you going to tell me who he is yet?” Ali asked.
“Who who is?” Aria asked, bursting out of another dressing room in a pair of skinny corduroys. “Do you like someone, Em? Who?”
Emily looked back and forth, a panicked expression rolling across her features. She suddenly reminded Ali of the cat, Kiki, her family had when she still lived at home—whenever they tried to corner Kiki to take her to the vet, she’d arch her back and widen her eyes just like Emily was doing now. “Um . . .”
“Is it that guy from swimming?” Spencer asked. “What was his name . . . Ben? He’s so cute.”