Ali's Pretty Little Lies
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They paid for tickets, and when the carousel stopped, the attendant lifted the chain and let them select horses. They chose two white ponies next to each other and climbed on. As Ali put her feet in the straps, she was suddenly flooded with nostalgia and sadness. A memory flashed into her mind of the last time she’d been on a merry-go-round. It was back when she and her sister were friends, before anything terrible happened. The two of them had been dressed in identical pink skirts and white tops; they’d both asked for pink balloons from the balloon cart. The horses were so tall that their father had to boost them on, and they’d sat side by side, just as she and Nick were doing now. As the music started, they both squealed and grabbed hands across the aisle.
What had made her sister change? Why, suddenly, was she so jealous, so desperate to be the only girl in the house? It was probably an answer Ali would never know.
As she ran her fingers over the horse’s molded mane, a surprising thought struck her: She missed her sister. Not the crazy person she’d become, not the threatening presence in the bathroom, but that little girl she once was, her old best friend. Sometimes, in the middle of the night at the Radley and even now, she found herself reaching for something in the darkness. She’d wondered more than once if it was her sister’s hand.
The music started up, and the carousel began to turn. Ali smiled at Nick, wiping the thoughts from her mind. Nick gripped the pole with one hand and held her hand with the other. He didn’t take his eyes off her the whole time. Ali’s heart beat along with the bass drum that accompanied the carousel’s old-timey song.
The merry-go-round rotated several full turns before either of them looked away from the other. As the ride slowed, Nick’s phone chimed, and he pulled it out of his pocket and started texting.
“Who are you writing to?” Ali blurted, then wanted to clap a hand over her mouth. She wasn’t supposed to care who he was texting. She was supposed to act cool and aloof. Guys couldn’t stand girls who wanted to know every detail of their lives.
But Nick turned the phone screen around so Ali could see. “My buddy Jeff.” He pointed to the text-message thread. A guy named Jeff G. asked him what he was up to, and he’d replied, I’m hanging out with my new crush, Alison.
Ali’s mouth dropped open. “I’m your new crush, huh?” she said, trying to sound untouchable and apathetic. But her voice was too full of joy for that. Her fingers were shaking. There was a voice inside her screaming, Yes!
“I hope you are,” Nick said, helping her off the horse and walking her out of the little fence that surrounded the carousel. “I want to know everything about you, Ali.” He laced his fingers through hers. “I like you a lot.”
“I-I like you, too,” Ali heard herself saying, her voice sounding small and nervous—and thrilled.
“Good,” Nick said, leaning in close. And there, beside the pipe organ and the screaming kids waiting in line and the cotton-candy kiosk, which smelled nauseatingly sugary, he edged close and touched his lips to Ali’s. It was over in an instant, but Ali knew she’d remember the feeling of the kiss for a long, long time.
They smiled giddily at each other for a few seconds, but suddenly something behind Nick caught Ali’s eye. A familiar figure stood just inside one of the little mall hallways that led to the bathrooms and the staff offices. Was that her mom?
She squinted, at first annoyed that her mom was spying. But then she saw the second figure standing next to her. A man in shadow placed his hand on Mrs. DiLaurentis’s arm, talking urgently about something. It wasn’t Ali’s father.
Acid rose in her stomach. She breathed in sharply and pulled away from Nick. His brow furrowed. “What’s the matter?”
“I . . .” Ali’s gaze remained on her mother and the man. He turned and touched the side of her face in a gesture so tender it made Ali curl up inside.
“Ali?” Nick’s voice was soothing, but it seemed so far away. “Are you okay?”
“No,” Ali whispered, backing away. Part of her wanted to see who the man was, but another part of her was terrified to find out. Instead, she turned around and sprinted toward the exit, running faster and faster until her legs ached and her lungs burned.
PLAYING IT COOL
Later that night, Ali lay in an X shape on her bed, staring up at the ceiling. She’d changed the bedroom since she’d taken it from her sister—removing the pictures of Naomi and Riley and replacing them with ones of Aria, Spencer, Emily, and Hanna; reorganizing her sister’s messy closet and throwing out the items she didn’t like; rearranging the desk so that it was by the big picture window that looked out onto the backyard; and hanging a big poster that said FREEDOM over her bed. It was a little inside joke with herself.
The one thing she kept of her sister’s was the ceiling lamp above her head, a mobile of several bright yellow stars and a silvery moon. Back when she was Courtney, she’d given this to her sister as a birthday present, and she was surprised her sister had held on to it. Deep down, did her sister regret what she’d done? Or did she just like the design?
She opened her eyes and looked at her phone, nerves streaking through her stomach. But it was only a new text from Nick: Is everything okay? I’m worried about you.
Ali didn’t know how to answer. Nick had caught up with her in the parking garage; she’d leaned against one of the concrete pillars and taken deep breaths, trying to calm down. He’d asked her over and over what she’d seen, but she just shook her head and said she couldn’t talk about it. She didn’t know how to talk about it. She was Alison DiLaurentis: This didn’t happen in her perfect family. Her mother didn’t canoodle in public places with strange men. And who was that guy, anyway? What was he saying so urgently to her? Was her mom going to leave them for him?
It was something that happened to other families, sure—like Aria’s. Even like Hanna’s. But it didn’t happen to hers.
I’ll tell you later, she finally wrote. I promise.
Whenever you’re ready, he wrote back.
A door slammed outside, and then there was a laugh. Ali rolled off her bed, walked to the window, and peered at the Hastingses’ house next door. Spencer stood on her driveway in an old plaid field hockey skirt, a cutoff T-shirt, and bare feet. Her blond hair was pulled back off her head, and her lips were lined in pink gloss. Her cheeks flushed, but not from blush. She was chatting with Ian Thomas, who was leaning against his SUV.
Ali raised her eyebrows, having temporarily forgotten about her deal with Ian.
Ian spoke, and Spencer giggled. When he touched Spencer’s arm, Spencer didn’t pull away. She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. Then, Ian grabbed her, pulled her closer, and kissed her on the lips. Ali widened her eyes. Even though she’d told Ian to do it, his passion surprised her.
After they pulled apart, Ian turned and climbed into his car. Spencer remained on the grass, her hands in her skirt pockets, a goofy smile on her face. One of her dogs, Beatrice, nosed Spencer’s hand, and she began to absently pet him.
Ali shoved her feet into her flip-flops and ran down the stairs. She could just imagine how this would go down: Spencer would confess that she’d just kissed Ian, her voice full of wonder. Ali would say that she had helped make that happen—see? She can do anything! And Spencer would look at Ali with such gratitude, thanking her profusely. She’d be under Ali’s thumb forever.
Spencer was still in the exact spot when Ali crossed the lawn. When she saw Ali, she jumped as if coming out of a trance. “Oh.” Her voice cracked. “H-how long have you been out here?”
“Not long,” Ali said, playing dumb. “Whatcha doing?”
Spencer fiddled with the end of her blond ponytail. “Nothing.”
“You’re standing in the middle of your yard for no reason?” she teased.
Spencer shrugged. “I was getting the mail.”
Ali snorted, looking at Spencer’s empty hands. “Then where is it?”
“It’s . . .” Spencer trailed off. Her brow furrowed. “I didn’t get it yet, okay? God.”
Ali placed her hands on her hips. Why was Spencer acting so irritated? And why wasn’t she fessing up about her big kiss? She decided to try a different tack. “I had a really great day,” she lied. “What about you?”
Spencer poked her fingers under Beatrice’s mesh collar. “It was okay.”
“Nothing interesting happened?”
One shoulder rose. “Not really.”
Ali blinked. Did Spencer really think Ian had kissed her because he liked her? Was she that out of touch with reality? In this situation, some girls might just admit they’d seen everything, but to Ali, that felt cheap and desperate. She wanted Spencer to offer the information to her, to want to tell her.
She turned on her heel. “I have to go.”
“You do?” Spencer asked.
Ali didn’t answer. She stomped back through the hedges, gritting her teeth so forcefully that they made a horrible squeaking sound as they slid against one another. Halfway across her lawn, she heard a rustling sound behind her and thought it might be Spencer, coming to tell her everything. They could salvage things, Ali decided. She’d forgive Spencer for hiding it, even, as long as Spencer begged.
But when she turned, it wasn’t Spencer. It was Jenna Cavanaugh. A shiver ran up Ali’s spine. Jenna’s black sunglasses obscured most of her face except for her naturally red lips and her pointed chin. Her black hair cascaded down her shoulders, and her legs and arms looked even more model-thin than they’d been last fall before she starting going to her special school. Her German shepherd guide dog stood by her side, his long, pink tongue dripping with saliva. It seemed like Jenna was staring right at Ali, really seeing her, but of course that was impossible. Ali ducked behind a tree anyway.
“Ali?” Jenna called out. “Is that you?”
Ali shrank back further. Even though she wanted to tell Jenna that it was, she didn’t want to start a conversation—not with Spencer still in her yard. What if Jenna said something about her twin?
“Ali?” Jenna called again.
A screen door banged across the street, and Toby Cavanaugh stepped onto the porch. Ali froze. What was he doing home? Hadn’t he been sent away forever?
Toby stepped off the porch and crossed the yard. “Jenna, what are you doing over there?”
His haunted voice made Ali flinch. That horrible moment in sixth grade all came back to her in an instant: the angry way Toby had said I saw you that night, the horror in his eyes when she’d thrown what she knew about him back in his face. Not long before that, she’d come upon Jenna in tears. Even though she tormented Jenna in school, Jenna knew more about Ali than anyone else—and she never told anyone. All of a sudden, she wanted to atone for how nasty she’d been. She wanted to make it up to her.
What’s wrong? she asked Jenna. She squeezed her hand. You can tell me. You know I won’t tell a soul.
Jenna raised her head. It took her a long time to speak. It’s my brother, she began.