Ali's Pretty Little Lies
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“I think she should like Kenneth Griggs in my art class,” Aria said.
“He’s gorgeous!” Hanna stepped out of a dressing room, too. “You guys would look amazing together!”
“It’s not Ben,” Emily said in a small voice. “Or Kenneth.”
Suddenly Ali knew what she had to do. “Guys, if Em doesn’t want to tell us quite yet, then we need to give her some space.”
The girls nodded and stepped inside their dressing rooms once more. After the doors closed Ali grabbed Emily’s hand and pulled her into the shoe area. “Sorry they overheard. But you can tell me, right?”
Emily looked like she really, really had to pee but was trying to hold it in. “I don’t think so.”
A wave of hurt coursed through Ali. Why wasn’t she good enough to tell? She disguised it with a frown of disgust. “I don’t understand. Why is it such a big deal?”
Emily paused and stared at the Kate Spade pumps on the wall. As Ali waited, she felt the distinct sense that someone was staring at her. Across the room, Iris had reappeared, leaning against a rack of blazers, her gaze on Ali, a strange smile on her face. Ali swallowed a lump in her throat and turned away.
“Please, Em?” Ali said softly. “Maybe I can help. Is it someone your parents wouldn’t approve of? Someone older?”
Emily’s big, freckly face reddened. She shook her head.
Annoyed, Ali tried a last-ditch effort. “You know my friend Cassie? She asked me to be her BFF. And I’m thinking about it.”
Emily blinked with this change of subject. “Really?” She sounded crushed.
“I wasn’t going to be, but if you won’t trust me, then maybe we’re not as close as I thought,” Ali said.
Emily’s eyes were wet with tears. “I can’t,” she whispered. And then, swallowing hard, she ducked around a rack of Jimmy Choos and ran.
“Emily!” Ali cried, running after her.
Emily darted into the skin-cream section, but Ali lost her near the makeup. She searched for the strawberry-blond head in Accessories and Men’s, but Emily was nowhere. Then she spied a small, discreet sign for a women’s bathroom a few paces down and jogged over to it.
Classical music tinkled inside. The room smelled like roses and had a small basket on the sink containing hair spray, gel, spray-on deodorant, tampons, and butterscotch candies. The towel girl, who was leaning against the sink and tapping on her cell phone, smiled at Ali. One pair of sneakers was visible under the stall door. They were Emily’s.
Ali spied a familiar denim backpack on the counter. She couldn’t remember how many times she’d told Emily that carrying around a backpack wasn’t cool, but Emily always said it was the best on her swimmer’s shoulders. The flap was open, and a few of her notebooks peeked out. The doodles Emily was so fond of drawing were visible on the cover.
Ali glanced at the feet under the stall, then at the bag again. It felt like Emily had purposefully left it there for Ali to find.
When the towel girl’s back turned, she pulled the bag toward her and slid the top notebook out. Upper Main Line Swimming! Emily had written in bubble letters on the front, the name of her year-round competitive swim club. Below it, she listed the names of the girls on her state-champion relay team. Next to that were doodles of the dog character on Family Guy, which Emily wasn’t allowed to watch at her house, and a large red heart with the letter A in the center.
A, Ali thought, her stomach jumping. She was on to something.
She lifted the cardboard cover of the notebook and looked at the first page, but there was nothing written there. She flipped through the pieces of lined paper, but they only contained notes about the Pythagorean theorem and little geometric diagrams. There was a rattling sound of toilet paper on the roll, and Ali froze and looked up. Emily’s feet shifted beneath the stall. She let out a loud sniff, like she was crying.
Whose name started with A? Andrew Campbell? Austin Chang? That hot senior Aaron Gearheart?
Oh God, it’s Aaron Gearheart, Ali thought, her stomach sinking. Aaron dated girls from Hollis—rumor had it he’d even gotten someone pregnant. He’d eat someone like Emily for breakfast.
She flipped through more pages, praying it wasn’t Aaron. When she got to the very last piece of notebook paper, she spied a small red heart in the corner. It was so small, in fact, Ali could only read the handwriting if she put her face very close and squinted.
I love Ali.
PLAYLAND ISN’T JUST FOR KIDS
The following afternoon, Ali stood in the doorway at Rive Gauche. Bartenders in crisp white shirts flitted around pouring drinks and cleaning glasses. A waitress rushed past with a tureen of rich-smelling fondue. A few girls from school were sitting in a booth, including Melissa Hastings, who had already noticed Ali and was glowering. Ali craned her neck, looking around for Nick—he was working today and had asked if she’d stop by during his break—but she didn’t see him anywhere.
She was so happy he’d texted. In some ways, she needed to see him, needed to confirm to the world that she liked a guy. Finding that heart on Emily’s notebook had shaken her to her core—she’d dropped the notebook and run out of the bathroom as fast as she could, mumbling a lame excuse to Spencer and the others and begging Jason to come pick her up right away. How had she not sensed Emily’s feelings? All those times Emily had defended her, all those compliments she gave. Even yesterday, Emily had been content just sitting on the couch in the dressing area watching Ali model the jeans in front of the three-way mirror. Ali had changed in front of her a zillion times, thinking nothing of it. This totally explained why Emily had watched Ali so closely when she did that sexy dance to the Justin Timberlake album a few weekends ago. And she’d made a contented little sigh when Ali was finished, like she’d dream about Ali later that night. . . .
Ali wasn’t sure how she was supposed to handle it. It was clear Emily was terrified to tell Ali her feelings. She probably knew Ali would tell her she didn’t feel the same way and that their friendship would crumble. Emily was too valuable of a friend for that, though—she was so easy to talk to and, more than that, so controllable. She did anything Ali asked—Ali would never find a sidekick like that again.
“Earth to Alison?”
Ali looked up and saw Nick in the doorway, dressed in Rive Gauche’s white shirt and black pants. “Hey,” she said with a big smile. Just being with him again made her suddenly feel so relaxed, as though she’d slipped into a warm bath.
A beep sounded, and Nick glanced down at his phone. After staring at the screen for a moment, he dropped it in his pants pocket. “So,” he said, grinning at her, his blue eyes bright and clear. “Do you want to go on the merry-go-round with me?”
Ali almost burst out laughing. “Are you serious? The one in the kiddie playland down the hall?”
Nick smirked. “Why? Are you too cool to go on a merry-go-round?”
Normally, Ali would have said yes, but something about riding a merry-go-round with Nick seemed kind of fun. “I’ll go if you go,” she challenged.
“You’re on.” Tingles shot up Ali’s spine as he grabbed her hand. Together, they walked out of the restaurant and down the long corridor, passing a cluster of stores, including Woof, the luxury pet store. When she’d first taken her sister’s place in Rosewood, she’d spent hours in there, admiring the cashmere blankets, leather pet clothes, and organic treats even though her family didn’t have a pet. This is a place where even dogs have to wear the right clothes, she’d thought.
Nick looked at the store. “Are you a dog person or a cat person?”
“A gerbil person, remember?” Ali teased. “But I guess I’d pick cats over dogs.”
“That means you’re aloof and mysterious,” Nick said.
“Or that I don’t like dog slobber,” Ali pointed out.
“Or that you don’t like watching dogs hump everything that moves.”
Ali burst out laughing.
They passed Chanel, Bloomingdale’s, and a high-end kids’ store, chatting about school, homework, and Nick’s new job—he’d already had a woman who could’ve been his mother hit on him today. “It was totally weird,” he admitted. Then he looked at her. “Have you ever gone out with anyone older?”
Ali thought of Ian, then of her and Spencer’s game to kiss as many older boys as they could. She’d made out with a few eighth graders, and once even a ninth grader, but they’d just been simple kisses, nothing more. “Not really,” she admitted. “Have you?”
Nick ducked his head. “To be honest, I haven’t gone out with very many people. I’ve only had one girlfriend, and she . . .” He trailed off. “It didn’t work out.”
“You’re kidding,” Ali blurted out. “I thought girls would be all over you.”
“I haven’t found the right girl, I guess.” He turned his liquid-blue eyes to Ali and looked like he was going to say something else, but then he shut his mouth.
“What?” Ali asked, her heart pounding hard.
A blush rose up Nick’s neck. Ali waited, a fizzy feeling of anticipation mixed with excitement swirling in her stomach. But then someone bumped her bag, and some of her Polaroids, which she kept in the front pocket, fluttered out to the floor. Ali looked up and saw a girl with short blond hair striding away. It was Spencer’s sister. Ali glared at her. Had she bumped into Ali on purpose?
“Wow, cool,” Nick said as he bent down to help her pick them up. “What are these?”
He held up one of Ali and Aria in art class. They’d positioned their big, bushy paintbrushes under their noses to look like mustaches. Then he looked at one of Jason lounging on the couch, a cheese curl hanging out of his mouth. She’d taken it on the sly yesterday and planned to use it as blackmail later.
“Oh, just something I do,” Ali said. She rummaged through the photos. “I have one of you from the day we re-met.” She found it and held it up.
“You carry around a picture of me?” Nick looked touched. “I want a picture of you, too.”
Ali leafed through the photos and found one that Spencer had taken of her outside Rosewood Day. Her blond hair gleamed in the sunlight. Her smile was wide and sly, like she had a secret she wasn’t telling. “Here you go,” she said shyly, passing it to him. It felt significant to exchange photographs with a boy. Almost as big as friends exchanging half-heart necklaces or friendship rings.
They rounded the corner and the merry-go-round materialized, its calliope playing a circusy song. The wooden, elaborately painted horses bobbed up and down. A kid rode in the little sled behind the horses, and a father stood next to a young boy on a roaring lion.
Nick grabbed her hand. “Want to go on?”
“Sure,” Ali said, not even bothering to look around to see who might be watching. Normally, a girl like her would never ride the merry-go-round. But with Nick, these sorts of things were cool.