Ali's Pretty Little Lies
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Ali shoved her heel into the skate boot and pulled the laces tight. She’d just finished tying a bow when the Zamboni rolled off the ice and the guards opened the gates again. The little kids dashed for the center. Disco lights dazzled the newly shiny ice. A Flo Rida song started to play.
Ali’s ankles wobbled as soon as they stepped on the ice. Emily extended her arm. “Grab on. I got you.”
Ali clung to Emily’s sleeve. Her feet zigzagged under her, and she thrust out her other arm to get her balance. When a boy in ice-hockey skates and a Flyers jersey whizzed past, almost clipping her side, Ali listed to the left, but her feet veered right. Suddenly, she was on her butt on the cold ice.
“Oops!” Emily said, helping Ali up. She navigated both of them toward the wall and instructed Ali to hold on for a moment. “Move your feet like this, in a glide,” she explained, demonstrating. Her skate cut a perfect line in the ice. “Keep your ankles stiff. And don’t stare at your feet—that’ll definitely make you fall.”
“I’m not falling ever again,” Ali muttered. But she tentatively pushed off the wall and tried to copy Emily’s movements. Her ankles wanted to turn, and her thighs burned even more than they did after running up and down the field hockey field, but after two laps around the rink, she started to get the hang of it. Actually, it was almost fun.
“See?” Emily said. “You love it, don’t you?”
“Don’t tell anyone,” Ali said, winking.
“Promise,” Emily said, giving Ali another heart-twisting smile. Ali smiled back, but then jerkily turned away.
They wove around a bunch of Girl Scouts skating in a clump and ogled the figure skaters who were doing complicated jumps in the center. Then Emily cleared her throat. “Are you excited for graduation?”
“Definitely,” Ali said. The ceremony was coming up, and they all got to wear official-looking gowns and caps, just like the seniors. “In fact, I’m going to have a little get-together the weekend before. I’ll probably invite Cassie and some of the other girls, so it will be mixed grades. Hanna is going to invite her friend Josie, too.”
“Oh.” Emily’s disconcerted expression didn’t quite match her chipper tone of voice. “Are we still having an end-of-seventh-grade sleepover?”
“As far as I know,” Ali said. “Why?”
“I just wasn’t sure.” Two pink spots appeared on Emily’s cheeks. “I mean, I haven’t seen you much lately. You haven’t, like, texted. I thought you were mad at me.”
Ali stared at the big Pepsi clock on the wall. “I’ve just been busy.”
“Okay.” Emily’s voice shook. “So . . . you’re not mad?”
Ali looked at her challengingly. “What would I be mad about?”
For a split second, she almost wanted Emily to say it. I know you saw what I wrote about you on my notebook. Maybe it would be better to get it out in the open.
“Nothing!” Emily said quickly. For a moment, she almost lost her balance, her skates slipping in opposite directions and her arms wheeling in a circle.
Ali grabbed a loop of her jeans to keep her upright. For a moment, she held Emily’s gaze, daring her to look away. Suddenly, she pictured Emily losing interest in her, Ali becoming just another friend, the generous, awestruck compliments coming to an end. Even though she didn’t return Emily’s feeling, there was something about it that made her feel just as powerful as what she was doing with Ian.
She cleared her throat. “You look cute today, Em.”
A bewildered look fluttered across Emily’s features. “I do?”
“Uh-huh. Your hair looks nice. And I didn’t realize how tiny your butt was from swimming.”
“Oh my God, my butt is huge.” Emily looked like she was about to faint. “Well, you always look nice, Ali.”
“Well, then I guess we’re both gorgeous,” Ali said, nudging her playfully.
Emily’s mouth twitched with excitement. “You’re definitely the prettiest girl in this rink. In Rosewood. Sometimes I can’t even believe I know you.”
Ali felt heat rush to her face, tears dot her eyes—she hadn’t known how much she’d needed that sort of stuff said to her. Embarrassed, she turned away and swallowed it down. “I can’t believe I know you, either, Em.” She meant it in more ways than one: If she hadn’t switched with her sister, she wouldn’t know Emily.
The lights in the rink suddenly dimmed, and a slow song began to play. The little kids hurried off the ice, and the remaining couples glided toward each other to slow-dance skate.
“Couples skate only,” an announcer’s voice said over the loudspeaker. “Grab the one you love.”
A disco ball snapped on, sending shards of sparkling light all around the glassy rink. Ali turned to Emily, her heart thudding fast. “Wanna dance?”
Emily’s lips parted, and her eyes widened. “With you?” she said, shocked.
Ali smiled lazily, trying to control her jumping heart. “Sure, with me. Girls can skate with girls, can’t they?”
She placed her hands on Emily’s waist. She tried to ignore Emily’s shaking fingers as Emily wrapped them around Ali’s neck. After a moment, Emily shut her eyes. A tiny smile appeared on her face. They swayed back and forth to the beat.
“This feels good, doesn’t it?” Ali whispered in Emily’s ear.
Emily nodded nervously. When Ali pulled her even closer, Emily let out the tiniest sigh. The disco lights dappled against their faces. Ali could feel Emily’s lungs rapidly expand and contract.
Ali’s back pocket vibrated. She reached for it and pulled out her phone. Call from anonymous, it said.
Reality came tumbling back, and Ali pulled away. “Hello?” she demanded into the phone, stopping short on the ice. A couple almost collided with her, but she didn’t care.
No answer, just breathing. “Say something!” Ali screamed. “I know who this is!”
Her sister didn’t speak, only let out a small, high-pitched giggle.
Emily touched her arm. Ali stared at her, the phone limp in her hand. Emily’s eyes flicked to it. “Who is it?” she asked worriedly.
Ali shook her head quickly. “It’s just Cassie,” she said, pulling the first name she could think of out of her mind. “We’ve been pranking each other all week. No biggie.”
Emily pulled her bottom lip into her mouth. “Are you . . . sure?”
“Uh-huh,” Ali chirped, shoving her phone back into her pocket. It vibrated again, but she ignored it.
Another slow song started up, and Emily reached for Ali’s hand once more. But Ali pulled away, feeling sweaty and flustered and way, way too visible. What if her sister was somehow watching right now? What if she saw Ali doing this and thought she was dancing with Emily for real?
“I think one slow dance is enough for today, don’t you, Em?” she asked, trying to make her voice teasing, even though she was exhausted and frazzled.
Emily’s cheeks turned pink. “O-of course! I didn’t want to dance! I just wanted to get a hot dog—and I wanted to see if you wanted one, too!”
But the devoted smile lingered in Ali’s mind, and as they glided toward the exit, a sour feeling welled in her stomach. Saying nice things hit Emily in her sweetest, squishiest, most vulnerable spot. And while teasing out vulnerability was usually Ali’s specialty, something about this made her feel especially guilty.
Perhaps it was because Emily was her best friend. Or perhaps it was because, deep down, the things Emily said back sometimes made Ali feel squishy and vulnerable, too.
“How many brothers and sisters do you have?” Nick asked Ali on the phone the following afternoon.
“One,” Ali said automatically, propping her feet against the wall of her bedroom and staring at the ceiling. “You?”
“I’m an only child. It was tough growing up. I was always playing by myself.”
“Yeah, but you got all the attention,” Ali pointed out.
Nick groaned. “Everyone who has siblings always says that. But it wasn’t that much fun.”
“I would have loved to be an only child,” Ali murmured, more to herself than to Nick.
She rolled over onto her stomach. She’d been on the phone with Nick for forty-five minutes and thirty-six seconds—not that she was counting. This was the longest conversation she’d ever had with a boy, and they still hadn’t run out of things to talk about.
“How about friends?” Nick asked. “You got a best friend, or a group, or what?”
“I have a group—they’re all my best friends.” Ali picked at her nail polish. “I’m not sure about things between us right now, though.”
He paused. “Are you in a fight?”
“Not exactly. They just . . . well, some of them aren’t the people I thought they were. Has that ever happened to you?”
Nick thought for a moment. “I had this friend a while ago. She was awesome—really sweet, really funny—but it turned out she had this dark side.”
Ali raised an eyebrow. “Was this a girlfriend?”
“Not exactly,” Nick said. “She was a girlfriend’s friend. A real psycho.”
The word psycho ripped through Ali’s body like a gunshot. “How did your girlfriend know her?”
“Hang on,” Nick said, and there was a pause. “Sorry,” he said, getting back on the line. “I thought my mom was calling me.”
Jackhammers started up in the backyard, and Ali groaned. “What’s that?” Nick asked.
Ali sighed. “Workers are digging this hole in my backyard to make way for a gazebo. It’s the longest process ever.”
“Why would workers need to dig a hole to build a gazebo?”
“That’s the question I’ve been asking,” Ali said, laughing. “Who knows? Maybe we’re putting in a bomb shelter instead. Or maybe this gazebo needs a basement.” She moved the phone to the other ear. “So I’m going to have a party before graduation. Just a small group of friends, but I’d love for you to come.” Her heart pounded unexpectedly. It surprised her how nervous she was asking Nick out. This was the first time since she’d become Alison that she worried about a boy saying no.
“When is it?” Nick asked.
“Friday,” Ali said. “Just at my house. Totally casual.”
“Um . . .”
There was a creak behind her, and Ali turned. Her mother was standing in the hall, a nervous expression on her face. It was the kind of look one didn’t ignore.
Ali clutched the phone to her ear. “I have to go. To be continued.” Then she pushed END.
Mrs. DiLaurentis took a few steps into the room. “Can you come downstairs for a sec? Your dad and I want to talk to you and Jason about something.”
For a moment, Ali’s legs felt glued to the bedspread. Her mind flashed instantly to her mom and whoever that guy from the mall was the other day. The way that guy had touched her mom’s cheek. Maybe it would be better not to go downstairs at all.