Ali's Pretty Little Lies
Page 21

 Sara Shepard

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She felt that same black, gummy nastiness she’d felt with Aria the other day ooze over her. She turned to the row of photographs along the wall instead, grabbing the big frame of Melissa’s senior picture. “That’s a pretty foul thing to do to your sister, Spence,” she said. “He’s your sister’s boyfriend.”
Spencer squinted. “So?”
Ali looked into Melissa’s eyes in the photograph. They were the same blue as her own. “I know you hate her, but that’s low, even for you.”
“But you told me to go for him!” Spencer bellowed, her voice cracking.
Ali frowned. “No, I didn’t.”
Now Spencer was on her feet. “Yes, you did! Don’t you remember Melissa’s party? You said, You should totally go for him. All’s fair in love and war.”
Ali crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, I’ve changed my mind. And anyway, I didn’t think you’d actually do it.”
Spencer stomped over to the corner of the room and aimlessly stared out the window. The view was of Melissa’s barn. There was a light on inside; Melissa must have been home. “I really like him,” she said tremulously, her eyes suddenly glistening with tears. “I thought you’d be happy for me.”
Ali sighed and stood up. “I’d be happier if you liked someone else.”
Realization washed across Spencer’s face. “Do you like him?”
Ali shook her head sharply. “No. I just think it’s wrong. And I think you should tell Melissa what you did.”
“I can’t!”
Ali sank into one hip. “Yes, you can, Spence. And if you don’t, I will.”
Spencer’s eyes searched Ali’s face as if she’d never seen her before. After a moment, she turned to the side and let out a small shriek. “Maybe I don’t need you as a friend anymore,” she growled through gritted teeth.
Ali laughed. “C’mon, Spence. You’d be nothing without me.”
“That’s not friendship. I’m tired of you always trying to be better than me.”
Ali snorted but didn’t take the bait. “Besides, if we’re no longer friends, then I have absolutely no reason not to tell Melissa what happened. I’m only keeping my mouth shut because I care about you so very much.” She blinked innocently.
Spencer ran a hand down her forehead. Her mouth opened, but no words came out. She walked over to her books, gathered them up in her arms, and marched angrily out of the room, dropping a few index cards as she went. She didn’t come back to pick them up, and Ali stared at her neat, even handwriting. Svengali, it said. Definition: person who, with evil intent, controls another person by persuasion or deceit. The Svengali may feign kindness and use manipulation to get the other person to yield his or her autonomy.
That’s me, Ali thought grimly. It’s who my family has turned me into.
She walked through the bushes and into her yard. But just as she was about to open the front door to her house, her skin prickled. It felt like there was someone standing behind her, watching, but when she turned, the street was empty. She narrowed her eyes at the Cavanaughs’ house across the street. The blinds were drawn. No lights were on.
Something fluttered out of the doorjamb and fell to her feet. She bent down, picked it up, and frowned at the Polaroid photo before her. It was the picture she’d taken of herself and Ian at Romeo and Juliet a few weeks before. Only now there was red-lipsticked writing over her and Ian’s smiling faces. Ali drew in a breath as she read the message, then looked around once more.
“Hello?” she said quietly, her voice cracking. “Ali?” No answer.
Swallowing hard, she looked down at the message once more. You’re dead, bitch, it said, in handwriting that looked eerily like her sister’s.
On Thursday afternoon, Ali and Aria stood in the aisles of Sparrow, a dusty record store in the heart of Hollis’s shopping district. Cut Copy played over the speakers, and a couple of unwashed-looking college kids stood at the registers, bopping to the music with their eyes closed. Sparrow was one of the only stores left in the Philadelphia area that sold actual record albums. Even though Ali’s family didn’t even own a record player, it was fun to flip through the stacks, looking at the album covers.
“I’m really excited for this party,” Aria said as she rifled through the dance records. “That was nice of you to throw it, Ali.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Ali said calmly. Then she looked down at her beeping phone. For once, it wasn’t a call from an anonymous number, but a text from Spencer. Took the history final today, it said. Do you want the answer key?
That’s okay, Ali wrote back, feeling a ripple of satisfaction. This was the third bargaining text she’d received from Spencer today, all to keep Ali from saying anything to Melissa. In the first text, Spencer had said Ali could have her Burberry tote instead of just borrow it. In the second, she’d said she was working her hardest to get the barn for the sleepover. Ali could probably ask for the moon right now and Spencer would offer to pull it down with a lasso. It felt good to have Spencer back in her control. “Maybe I should get into DJing,” Aria murmured, her bangle bracelets clanging together as she picked up a big pair of plastic headphones and clapped them over her ears. “Do I look cool? Maybe a college boy would be into it.”
“You look like an air-traffic controller,” Ali said, ripping them off her. “Big headphones screw up your hair.”
Aria pouted, then shrugged and put the headphones back on the shelf. She held up an old Rolling Stones record. “You should get this for Noel. He really likes classic rock.”
Ali blinked. “Why would I get it for Noel?”
Aria looked surprised. “Because you’re going out with him?”
Ali stared pointedly at a dust bunny in the corner; it was the type of store that had probably never seen a Swiffer. She’d almost forgotten that she’d told Aria that Noel was into her instead. She’d even told her they’d gone out on two dates, even though they hadn’t. “Right,” she said tepidly. “You must be really hurt about Noel, though, huh?”
Aria strolled into the rare-records room, which had a couple of listening booths in the back and aqueous, neon-colored lava lamps on tables in the corners. “I don’t know,” she murmured. “I got some news today that lessens the sting a little.”
Ali looked up at her. “What kind of news?” She worried, suddenly, that there was an innocent excuse for what happened between Mr. Montgomery and that girl. That Aria’s family was fine—it was only her family that was messed up.
Aria picked up a Fleet Foxes album, then set it down again. “My dad got an offer to teach at the University of Iceland next year. We might all go.”
Ali blinked. “Iceland? I thought only penguins lived there.”
“That’s Greenland,” Aria said knowingly. “Iceland is lush and beautiful. We looked at pictures of it on the Internet last night, and it looks awesome—it’s full of volcanoes and glaciers and has amazing snowboarding. There’s a great music scene there, too, and apparently all the guys are tall and gorgeous.”
Ali stared at her. Just picturing Aria’s family happily sitting around a computer made her light-headed. The last DiLaurentis family gathering was when her parents had told her that her sister was coming home, and look how well that had gone. “Isn’t Iceland the place that, like, stays light out all the time in the summer and dark in the winter? That would suck!”
Aria shrugged. “I guess you get used to it.”
“And what if they don’t speak English there?”
“They do. We checked. Everyone speaks perfect English. And the literacy rate is a hundred percent.”
Ali sniffed, unconvinced. “What if they make you learn how to yodel?”
“I think that’s Sweden,” Aria said. “Or Norway.”
“It sounds like an awful idea,” Ali decided. “Didn’t you read last month’s Teen Vogue? They listed the coolest places to visit, and Iceland didn’t make the cut.”
Aria cocked her head. “If you’re jealous, you can come visit. I’d love that.”
“I’m not jealous!” Ali snapped.
But maybe she was kind of jealous. Plus, Aria didn’t even seem to care that she was leaving Rosewood, leaving her. In fact, it seemed like she wanted to get the hell out of here, like her friends weren’t worth anything to her. Aria hadn’t even said yet how much she’d miss anyone. She hadn’t mentioned how sad she’d be to leave.
The feeling made Ali hot and itchy, like she’d just been bitten by ants. Suddenly, she was hit with a thought. It was around this time when she’d made her discovery in the alley. Maybe there was something to discover there today, too. She suddenly wanted Aria to suffer as much as she was.
She looked up at Aria. “Did you say your dad got this offer?”
“Yep.” Aria smiled. “They are going to make him the head of the department. He’s thinking of doing his research on trolls. Crazy, huh?”
Ali sniffed. “Your dad isn’t going to leave Hollis.”
Aria squinted. “Why not?”
Ali rocked back and forth in her heels. She searched Aria’s expression for any sign of recognition, but Aria just stared at her with narrowed eyes. Shrugging, Ali whipped around and started out of the store. Aria followed as she sauntered down the sidewalk. “Where are you going?” she called. “Are you mad?”
“I’m not mad,” Ali said breezily. “I just needed some air. Walk with me.”
“I’m sorry, Ali.” Aria sounded defensive. “But I thought you’d be happy. It’s an amazing opportunity for my dad—for all of us.”
“Uh-huh,” Ali chirped. “I’m very happy for you, Aria. Your life is going to be truly perfect.” That’s what you think, she added in her head.
They passed the familiar Kinko’s, then the place at the curb where she and Jason had parked a few weeks back. When Ali turned down the alleyway that butted up to the art history building, lo and behold, there was the battered Subaru in its regular faculty-only parking spot. Yes.
Aria rounded the corner behind her. “Ali, why are we . . .” She trailed off, looking at her dad’s car. “Oh, hey! Let’s leave my dad a note.”
Aria reached into her bag, perhaps looking for a notepad and a pen, when something in the car caught her eye. Her brow furrowed when she saw her father’s head pop up over the seats. She was about to call out, but then the girl’s head appeared as well. Ali saw the exact moment Aria realized what was happening. Her purse dropped from her hand. She took a big step back, stumbling over a sewer grate. Byron Montgomery leaned toward the girl and kissed her on the mouth.
“Dad?” Aria blurted.
The figures in the car shot apart. Mr. Montgomery turned and looked at Aria, the color draining from his face. The girl, who was blond and pretty and most definitely a grad student, stared at Aria impassively, a whisper of a smile on her lips.