Ali's Pretty Little Lies
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“Come on,” Mrs. DiLaurentis said, offering her hand.
Ali didn’t know what else to do but follow her. Her heart thudded loudly as she trudged down the stairs and made the turn into the kitchen. Mr. DiLaurentis sat at the table, and Jason leaned against the counter, snacking on an open box of Cheez-Its. Ali tried to make eye contact with him, but he looked away.
She sat down at the table and stared at the floral centerpiece.
Mrs. DiLaurentis broke the silence. “Honey, we have some news about Courtney.”
Ali’s head shot up.
“She’s been doing really well lately. She isn’t calling herself Ali anymore. She’s taking her meds and getting along with the other patients and the staff. You saw it yourself at the hospital a few weeks ago—she seemed happy.”
“She seemed crazy,” Ali interrupted sharply.
Her mother held up a finger. “Just let me finish, okay? We had a long talk with her doctors, and they’ve recommended that we try her out at home for a while. She’ll be here next week, and then we’ll go from there.”
Ali understood each word individually, but together they made no sense. “Next week?” she asked, then scooted the chair backward. “But what about my end-of-school party? I invited lots of boys, kids from Rosewood Day.”
“We’ll pick her up the Tuesday after—how does that sound?”
Ali just blinked. “But she’ll be here for graduation? The sleepover? She’s not coming to graduation, is she?” And she definitely wasn’t coming to the sleepover.
“Oh, no, one of us will stay with her.” Mr. DiLaurentis placed a hand on her arm. “It’ll be okay, honey. We promise.”
“No, it won’t.” Ali’s voice cracked. “This is a terrible idea.”
“I know it’s a lot to take in,” Mrs. DiLaurentis said gently. “And we’ll be here to help you through it. But, honey, we really think she’s not going to hurt you anymore. Try to look at this compassionately—if it were you in the hospital, wouldn’t you want us to get you out of there?”
Yes! Ali wanted to scream. I wanted that so badly, and you never did!
She looked around the room. Everything seemed different somehow, the walls closer together, the clock bigger, the oven too shiny. Outside, a huge crow perched on top of the tree house, looking ominous. “She’s not calling herself Ali anymore?” she croaked.
“That’s right,” Mrs. DiLaurentis said. “That’s a really good thing, don’t you think?”
Ali wasn’t so sure. Unless she really had gone insane, the most logical reason her sister had for not calling herself Ali anymore was so that doctors would deem her sane and send her home. And then what would happen? Would she take her rightful place as the real Ali and force Courtney to keep quiet or else? Or—more likely—would she figure out a way to get Courtney to go back to the hospital so she’d be the one-and-only DiLaurentis girl again?
“Are you going to tell everyone who she is?” Ali asked. “Will I have to tell my friends? Everyone at school? What are people going to think?”
“Let’s take this one step at a time,” Mrs. DiLaurentis said. “Right now, we’ll just try her at home for a few days. We’ll keep Courtney inside like we did the last time she was here.”
“Except she didn’t stay inside,” Ali snapped. “She went out and talked to Jenna Cavanaugh. She practically exposed all of us.”
“We’ll watch her more carefully this time,” Mr. DiLaurentis insisted, setting down his mug. “We hope that you girls talk a little, too. We’ve scheduled a counselor to come out here and help us through the transition. We really need to start dealing with some of these issues instead of avoiding them.”
“But I don’t want to talk with her!” Ali screamed. She knew she sounded wild, but she couldn’t help it. Then she looked at Jason. There was a little smile on his face, like he was actually happy. “Did you know about this?”
Jason nodded. “They told me last night. I think it’s a good idea, too.”
“You would,” Ali snapped. She leapt up from the table and stormed out the door.
“Alison, where are you going?” Mrs. DiLaurentis cried.
“Out,” Ali snapped, her voice making an embarrassing crack.
“We’re not done talking!”
Ali just waved them away, but Mrs. DiLaurentis started after her, reaching out to grab the back of Ali’s shirt. Ali twisted away and broke free, but instead of continuing on, she whirled around and stared her mother down. Her eyes burned. Her nostrils flared. All of a sudden, Ali was filled with rage for the woman standing across from her. Her limbs literally contorted with hate.
“I know what you’re doing,” she spit out. “I’ve seen you with . . . him. I know the truth.”
At first, Mrs. DiLaurentis’s brow creased, but then her face went very pale. She looked nervously at her husband, then at Jason. Ali’s skin prickled. So it was true. Maybe all of it.
Ali whipped around and fled out the door. “Alison!” Mr. DiLaurentis called after her. “Damn it! Come back!”
But Ali was already halfway across the yard toward the trees in the back. Tears streamed down her face. Her throat felt clogged with screams. Suddenly, it felt like everything she was desperately trying to hold together was now a big ball of unraveled yarn. She pictured it lying in a tangled mess of impossible knots on the ground. No matter how much she tried to work out the kinks, it would never, ever be the same again.
What if they sent her to the Preserve? What if there was a bed waiting for her right now? She thought of the stack of Polaroids in her top drawer, all her mementos from the past year and a half. They would be all she had left of this life. Of any life. She would die before she had to go back. She would literally kill herself.
“Alison!” her mother called from the porch, but Ali kept going. Only when she came to the gazebo hole did she stop and glare into its dark abyss. It had to be a ten-foot drop. If her parents found out, if “Courtney” somehow masterminded sending Ali to the Preserve in her place, she would jump in the hole and never come out. What would her parents do? Would they try to save her? Would they miss her? Would they even care?
“Ali!” her mom called one more time, and Ali raised her middle finger up high. She kicked at a pile of dirt and watched little pebbles cascade down, down, down, filling up the empty bottom, and then continued on into the woods, where she could cry without anyone hearing.
AN OFFER SHE CAN’T REFUSE
Two afternoons later, Ali and Spencer sat at Spencer’s big dining room table, watching the rain stream down the windows. They’d cleared some of the china plates, napkins, and candlesticks off the table—Mrs. Hastings was the type who always had the table set so she could wine-and-dine a guest at a moment’s notice—to make way for Ali’s laptop and a stack of index cards. They were using Ali’s iTunes to pick a playlist for the impromptu end-of-school party Ali had put together for Friday. The flash cards contained vocabulary words for their English final tomorrow.
“Okay, megalomaniac,” Spencer said.
Ali tipped the chair back. “Is that a band or a vocab word?”
Spencer giggled. “Vocab, silly.”
Ali threw up her hands. “You got me.”
Spencer flipped the card over. “Someone who has delusional fantasies of power, relevance, and omnipotence.”
“Got it,” Ali said, turning away. That definition reminded her of someone: her psychotic sister. Wanting to be the only DiLaurentis girl. Pushing her out of the family by any means possible. And now they were bringing her back.
It was six days, one hour, and twenty-three minutes—roughly—until her sister returned, and Ali had no idea what to do about it. Worse, her family had thrown themselves into preparing for her twin’s return: getting a new quilt for the guest bedroom, buying her a laptop and a desk, inquiring about membership for her at the Rosewood Country Club, setting up an account at the Rosewood pharmacy so they could easily refill her meds. Mrs. DiLaurentis had even had the balls to ask Ali if she had any clothes that she wouldn’t mind giving up—“Courtney” probably needed a few things to start her off. As if Ali was really going to let her wear her jeans and T-shirts! It was incredible: Even though her parents believed the girl in the hospital was the real Courtney, they were still treating her better than they’d ever treated Ali when she was there.
She’d tossed and turned all night, having nightmares about the corridors of the Preserve and the moans she used to hear at the Radley. Could her sister prove, unequivocally, that Ali had lied for all these years—and forced her to take her place in the Preserve? And what could Ali do if she did? It was true, after all.
Spencer was staring at her, a pencil hovering halfway between her mouth and the paper. Her blue eyes were wide, and strands of hair had come loose from her ponytail. “I asked if you thought Nas would work for the playlist.”
“Oh.” Ali spun her initial ring around her finger. “That sounds good.”
Spencer cocked her head. “Are you okay?”
“Of course!” Ali blurted. Then she shrugged. “I just had a crappy night’s sleep last night. Jason was playing his awful music again; you know how that goes.”
Spencer flipped a page of the textbook. The grandfather clock in the hall bonged out the hour. Just as Ali’s mind started to wander into that wasteland of hysteria once more, Spencer slapped the book shut and looked at her phone. “Yes,” she whispered, tapping the screen.
Ali looked up. “What is it?”
Spencer smiled slyly. “Nothing.”
Ali shifted her chair over to get a peek, but Spencer hid the screen with her hand. Not before Ali could see Ian Thomas’s name at the top of a text message, though. “You’re texting Ian,” Ali stated.
Spencer placed her phone facedown on the table. “Maybe I am.”
Ali stared at her, shocked by the snarky, haughty tone of voice Spencer was using. That tone was reserved for her and only her. She held Spencer’s gaze for several beats. She was not going to ask Spencer about this. She was not stooping so low that she had to beg.
Just as she thought, after a few seconds, Spencer’s tough exterior cracked. “Okay, okay. You know how I’ve had that crush on Ian? He and I kissed on my driveway a little while ago.” She cuffed Ali’s arm playfully. “Which puts me ahead in the older boy–kissing competition.”
Ali kept her features composed. “Hmm,” she said tepidly.
Spencer twirled the pencil in her hands. “I think he wants me bad. He was all over me.” She gave Ali a smug little smile. “So now I’m wondering what to do. Should I call him? Wait for him to come to me? It’s going to happen again—I just know it. But I don’t know how to play things. Maybe I should invite him to your party? What do you think?”
Ali’s mouth fell open. Was Spencer serious? Did she honestly think the Ian thing was for real, that it was going to continue? He was dating her sister. She glanced at an old school picture of Melissa on the wall, for a moment feeling bad for her. Then she pictured that man reaching across and touching her mom’s face. That man who was possibly her father, some asshole not even big enough to admit that she was his. How dare her mother never tell her this! How dare she keep it a secret from the entire family! What if Ali wanted to meet this guy, wanted to know where she truly came from? Did she matter in all this? She felt just like she did at Radley—forgotten, second-best, an impediment instead of something to nurture and cherish. Bitch.