Ali's Pretty Little Lies
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“Aria!” Mr. Montgomery said, kicking open his door.
Aria took another step back. She glanced at Ali, her eyes round. Her expression conveyed all kinds of questions. Did you see that? Is this happening? And maybe, just maybe, Did you know they were here? And then, before her father could reach her, she turned around and ran.
THE TANGLED WEB
That evening, Ali lay on her stomach on her bed, her diary splayed out before her. She had a lot to write; plenty had happened. These days, she was writing more about her friends’ lives and transgressions than she was writing about her own. It was kind of like writing a juicy novel but not having to work for any of the details, since all of them were there in her memory. She wrote a final sentence about Aria spying her philandering father in the car, then laid down her pen, picked up her cell phone, and composed a text to Aria herself.
How are you doing? she wrote. Wanna talk?
There was no response. Ali ran her tongue over her teeth. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Aria was supposed to break down to her, need her, and then Ali would confess what she was going through in turn. Instead, Aria was being so silent, almost like this was Ali’s fault.
Her phone beeped, and for a second, Ali thought Aria had written back. But the text was from Nick. Miss you.
Ali’s heart flipped over. Miss you back, she responded. Are you coming to the party?
Not sure if I can, Nick responded. I might have to work that night.
No! Ali replied. Try to get the night off!
A knock sounded on her door, startling her into dropping her phone to the carpet. Her mother stood in the doorway. “It’s so nice out,” she said softly. “Why don’t we sit on the deck?”
Ali scooped up her phone and met her mother’s gaze with a stony stare. “Are you asking me to sit on the deck, or telling me?”
Mrs. DiLaurentis looked tormented. “Please?”
Ali chewed on the inside of her lip as she followed her mother down to the huge wood deck at the back of the house. Her mother had set up a pitcher of lemonade and two glasses with several sprigs of mint propped on the lip, an old tradition from when the girls were small. At their old house, wild mint had grown in the side yard; Ali and Courtney used to love picking it and pressing it close to their noses to inhale the fresh scent. They drank their lemonades like sophisticated ladies, pretending they were cocktails. She smiled at the memory and then, seconds later, coughed to conceal a small whimper.
“Are you okay?” Mrs. DiLaurentis asked, pouring lemonade into her glass.
Ali shrugged and stared out at the lawn. It was immaculately green and manicured, thanks to weekly landscapers. Only the ugly hole at the back marred the pastoral scene. “Whatever.”
“Looking forward to your party?” Mrs. DiLaurentis asked.
“Uh-huh.” She took a sip of lemonade.
“Your dad set up the speakers on the deck. And the workers will be gone by then, but there’s going to be a big hole. Just make sure no one goes out there, okay? We don’t want anyone falling in.”
“Okay.” If she gave one-word answers, maybe her mom would leave her alone.
Mrs. DiLaurentis folded her hands. The sun streamed across her face, lighting up one cheek and casting the other in shadow. “You really seem like something’s bothering you.”
Ali slammed down her lemonade glass hard, the ice clinking. Was her mom that much of an idiot? Of course something was bothering her. Several somethings. And her mother knew exactly what those various things were.
She looked at the half-dug hole instead. “When are they going to finish that thing?” she asked sharply. “They’re taking forever. By the time they’re done, the opportunity to have fabulous summer parties will be over.”
Mrs. DiLaurentis didn’t glance toward the hole, her eyes still on Ali. “Do you have anyone to talk to, honey? About . . . things?”
Ali stared down at her flip-flops. “If you mean her, we were keeping that a secret, remember? I can’t talk to anyone.”
“Well, if you’d like to talk to your friends about it, that’s okay with us.”
Ali sucked in her stomach. “No, thanks.”
Mrs. DiLaurentis brushed an invisible mess of leaves off the surface of the patio table. “Perhaps a counselor, then. They can help.”
Ali glowered at her. “You’ve got the wrong twin. I’m not the crazy one. I don’t need a shrink.”
Mrs. DiLaurentis shut her eyes. “That’s not what I meant. But the way you reacted the other day when I said Courtney was coming home—you seemed very disturbed.”
Ali shifted her chair around so that she wasn’t facing her mother. “What do you expect? You just dropped it on me! Even Jason knew before I did! And I don’t want her home, Mom. It’s a terrible idea.”
“She’s part of the family. And sometimes, in families, you have to do things you don’t want to do.”
“And what happens if she tries to hurt me again?”
A car grumbled on the street. A mourning dove cooed from the trees. Mrs. DiLaurentis pursed her lips. “That won’t happen.”
The incident in the bathroom at the Preserve flashed in Ali’s mind. “How do you know?”
“I just do, okay?” Then Ali’s mom stared at the half-dug hole, then at the shrubs that separated their yard from the Hastingses’. “We should talk, too, about what you said to me. About . . . him.”
Ali stood and headed for the sliding door. “No, thanks.”
Mrs. DiLaurentis caught her arm. “It’s not what you think, Alison.”
Ali yanked the door open. “Yes, it is.”
“It isn’t, and you shouldn’t have confronted me with it. Now your father is asking questions. I’m not having an affair with anyone, and it was rude of you to say so.”
Ali’s head whipped up. All sounds—the swishing of the wind, the neighbor’s Weedwacker, the steady hum of the heating unit—seemed to cease all at once. “Are you seriously going to sit here and deny it?”
Mrs. DiLaurentis’s eyes darted back and forth, searching her face. “What do you think you saw, exactly?”
“I saw some guy touching your cheek at the mall. And I heard you,” Ali hissed. “I heard you talking to someone in a sugary voice—someone who wasn’t dad. It sounded like whoever it was knew about Courtney.”
A muscle by Mrs. DiLaurentis’s mouth twitched. Her eyes had darkened to a deeper blue, which they always did when she became serious or enraged. “Yes, there is someone who knows about Courtney besides us. But it’s someone who has kept things an absolute secret, I promise. There are a lot of things you don’t understand, Alison. Things you don’t need to know.”
Ali ran her hand down the length of her face. Rage bubbled up inside her, then geysered out. “Things I don’t need to know?” she growled, her voice sounding feral. She yanked her hand away from her mother, her head spinning faster and faster. “When are you going to tell the truth, Mom? When are you going to tell me where I really come from?”
Mrs. DiLaurentis jerked her head back and frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“I heard you!” Ali screamed. “I heard you say, She’s your daughter, too! So this does concern me, Mom. Knowing who my real father is concerns me a lot.”
The color drained from Mrs. DiLaurentis’s cheeks. “Alison,” she hissed. And then she rose to her feet and slapped Ali across the face.
It came so fast, so out of nowhere, that Ali didn’t feel the sting until a few seconds after it was over. Tears welled up in her eyes. Her mouth dropped open, but she was too stunned to speak.
Mrs. DiLaurentis settled back into her chair. Calmly, evenly, she picked up the overturned glass. There was a long pause. Ali’s heart pounded; her cheek stung. It felt like everything hinged on what her mother would say next.
“There will be no more of that,” Mrs. DiLaurentis announced in a deep voice. And then her gaze shifted to the half-dug hole at the back of the yard. “The workers are set to pour the concrete for the gazebo the weekend your sister is home,” she said in the clipped, perfunctory voice Ali was used to, the voice that got things done. She squeezed Ali’s shoulder twice. “Just in time for your fabulous summer parties.”
And with that, she was gone.
HANNA LETS IT ALL GO
The following evening, Ali placed the last bowl of chips on the table and stood back for the effect. “Do people even eat Doritos anymore?” she asked aloud, then spun around and glanced at her friends. Too bad Hanna wasn’t among them; otherwise, she would have made a snarky comment.
“It looks great, Ali,” Emily said, adjusting the daisy behind her ear, which she’d picked from Ali’s side yard. Emily had dressed up for the party—for her, anyway—wearing a pair of crisp jeans without any holes in them and an almost-tight T-shirt she’d borrowed from Aria that said Irish Girls Do It Better. Ali was sure that if Emily’s mom caught her wearing it she’d be in huge trouble.
“The Christmas lights were a nice touch,” Spencer said. She still had her eye on her house next door, probably waiting for Ian, who had a date with Melissa tonight, to show up.
“Thanks,” Ali said. Her dad had brought up a box of Christmas lights from the basement this morning and strung them all over the patio—Ali had first seen the effect at a restaurant in Little Italy in New York City. After that, her dad had offered to pick up any guests who didn’t have rides and grill burgers for them. Guilty much? Ali had wanted to snap, not taking the bait. It was obvious he was trying to atone for her twin’s arrival the following Tuesday, but nothing could make up for that.
She lit a few more candles and placed them on the tables, then checked to make sure the stereo was cued up to a peppy, dance-friendly playlist and that the deck had been swept clean so everyone could dance. She touched Aria, who was standing in the corner, looking at the texts on her phone. “Everything okay at home?”
Aria paled, glancing around at the other girls on the deck. “Fine.” She almost sounded annoyed. “I was just texting my mom what time I’d be back.”
Ali flinched. That was what she got for trying to be nice? Fury welled up inside her. Fine. If Aria thought Ali was a bitch, then she would be a bitch. “So do you know who that girl was?” Ali asked, easing closer, barely recognizing her own voice.
Aria’s mouth snapped into a tight line. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Do you think your mom knows? Everyone at Hollis?”
Aria gave Ali a pleading look, then shoved her phone in her pocket and walked away. Ali watched her go, grinding her teeth. She wasn’t sure if it was Aria she was really angry at—all she saw, when she shut her eyes, was her mother’s hand reaching out to give her that slap. But the meanness felt good, right. She felt in control.
She tipped her head to the sky, admiring an airplane flying high above. The night was clear and cloudless, with just a hint of a chill, which was perfect for couples who wanted to snuggle up. But that was the only bummer: Even though Nick had asked, he hadn’t been able to get the night off work. Maybe it was better that way, though. It wasn’t as if Ali had told anyone about him yet—she still wasn’t sure where they stood, and she didn’t want to tell her friends about him prematurely. And anyway, tonight she had work to do.