Ali's Pretty Little Lies
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The doorbell rang, and Ali darted back into the house and yanked it open. Hanna and Josie stood on the porch, both in similar print dresses that Ali had seen hanging on the racks at Otter. “Welcome!” she said coolly, pushing her disgust and jealousy down deep. Hanna had never been twinsies with her.
She stepped aside to let Josie and Hanna in when more guests appeared at the curb. James Freed and the new boy, Mason Byers, spilled out of James’s dad’s BMW. Kirsten Cullen and Lanie Iler, who were always on the fringes of coolness, started up the path next, followed by Sean Ackard. For a few moments, everyone convened in the foyer, Mason meeting Lanie, James giving Kirsten an I-like-you-but-I’m-going-to-pretend-I-hate-you poke, and Hanna skittering away, mortified to be in the same room as her crush. Josie, however, lingered and shook Sean’s hand. “What grade are you in?” Ali heard her ask him.
“Going into eighth,” Sean answered.
Josie frowned. “Really? You look older than that.”
Sean blushed. “People tell me that sometimes. I guess it’s because I’m tall.”
Ali watched as Josie giggled and pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. Did she . . . like him? She glanced over at Hanna, who was now talking to Spencer and eating a handful of Doritos, perhaps not noticing that Josie and Sean were talking. Ali steered Hanna to the patio and got her in a conversation with a couple of girls from the junior high field hockey team. Then she went back inside. Josie was still talking to Sean. This was almost too easy.
James cuffed Sean on the shoulder and led him toward the patio, where someone had turned on the stereo. Ali used the opportunity to sidle over to Josie. “It was so nice of you to come,” she simpered. “Any friend of Hanna’s is a friend of mine.”
Josie gave Ali a circumspect look but then shrugged. “It was nice of you to invite me. I don’t really know so many people around here yet, but everyone seems really nice.”
“Like Brayden, right?”
Josie blinked. “Who?”
“That guy you were just talking to. Brayden.” Ali chose a name at random in case Hanna had told Josie about her crush. It was doubtful Hanna had actually pointed him out, as Josie had been flirting, and clearly Sean hadn’t told her his name, either. “I think he was into you.”
Josie bit the edge of her thumbnail, looking intrigued. “You think?” she asked reluctantly.
Ali nodded. “I’ve been friends with him for a long time. I can tell.”
Josie’s eyes flicked back and forth. “He was really cute.”
“Do you want to get to know him better?” Ali asked.
Josie smiled. “Sure.”
Ali nodded. “You know what I’ll do? I’ll send him back into the sunroom with some drinks so you guys can talk in private.” She winked knowingly.
Josie stared at Ali for a few long beats. “Thanks.”
“Go in there and settle yourself on the couch,” Ali said, gesturing toward the sunroom. To her delight, Josie did exactly as she was told. Then Ali scuttled back to the patio, which was suddenly filled with kids. Spencer and Kirsten were dancing. Aria and Emily were at one of the tables, talking to Joanna Kirby, who would have been perfect for Ali’s clique except for the fact that she was way too obsessed with horses—rumor had it she still played with the figurines. Ali spied Sean across the patio with James Freed. Hanna was standing close to him, gnawing on her fingernail, probably contemplating talking to him. Ali swept him up before she could.
And after that, it was easy. Sean, always the gentleman, immediately got two cups of punch and headed for the sunroom. Hanna watched him, confused, but stayed glued to her spot next to the hanging basket of impatiens.
Five minutes passed. Then ten. Hanna wriggled as though she had bugs in her undies. She plunged her hand into the Doritos bowl again and again until there were only crumbs. Finally, Ali joined her at the railing. “What happened to Josie?”
“I don’t know,” Hanna said anxiously. “I haven’t seen her since she came in. What if she thought this was lame and left?”
Ali ignored the fact that Hanna had more or less insulted her to her face and linked her elbow in hers. “Let’s look for her in the house.”
They walked into the kitchen, where the silence was shocking in comparison to the loud voices outside. Ali poked her head into a bathroom, then peered up the steps. “I don’t know, Han.”
When Hanna wandered toward the sunroom, Ali didn’t join her. She didn’t have to. She watched as Hanna stopped short in the doorway, the color draining from her face.
“What is it?” Ali asked, coming up next to Hanna.
Hanna took a big step back. Tears were in her eyes. Ali peeked in and saw Josie and Sean cuddled up on the couch, clearly almost kissing. “Oh my God,” Ali said, grabbing Hanna’s hand.
All kinds of expressions crossed Hanna’s face. She shook her head, then fled toward the bathroom. The door slammed hard. Ali rattled the knob, but it was locked. “Hanna?” she called out. “Han, please let me in!”
A small, dry cough emerged from inside. Water splashed. The toilet flushed. Ali cupped her palm around the knob. It was déjà vu of what had happened in Annapolis in February. She suddenly felt a pang. She had made this happen today. Then again, she had sort of made the Annapolis thing happen, too.
Ali twisted the knob, and it gave—it was almost like Hanna wanted her to come in. The door opened to a familiar scene: Hanna crouched over the toilet bowl, her eyes red. She looked up at Ali not with horror but with defeat. Ali slipped inside and shut the door again.
“I’m really not doing it that much,” Hanna blurted.
“I know,” Ali soothed. “And seeing what you just saw . . . oh my God, Han. It’s awful.”
Hanna nodded. “I told her I liked him. I told her he was going to be here. And she went right for him!”
“Some girls are just like that,” Ali said, stroking Hanna’s hair. “You know what you need to do? Never talk to that bitch again, starting now. If she tries to talk to you, freeze her out. She’s dead to us.”
Hanna swallowed a sob. “But she was so cool. And fun. And—”
“You can’t let her get away with this,” Ali interrupted. “Girls like that will walk all over you if you let them, Han. And if Sean doesn’t realize how special you are, that’s his problem. I’ll make sure that Josie’s reputation is trashed at Rosewood Day, okay? I’ll even make sure no one shops at Otter. I’m texting Spencer right now to ask her and Sean to leave. And we’ll find another boy for you this summer—someone way better than Sean, anyway. I promise.”
Hanna wiped away a tear. “You will?”
“Absolutely.” Ali slicked Hanna’s hair off her face. “No offense, Han, but Sean’s too straitlaced for you. You need a guy who’s wilder, cooler, a little more fun. I know tons of boys like that.”
“Okay,” Hanna murmured. And when she looked at Ali, Ali could tell that she wouldn’t speak to Josie again. She would do anything Ali asked, especially now.
Then Hanna cleared her throat. “And you won’t tell anyone about . . . this, will you?” She gestured to the toilet.
Ali shifted her weight against the sink. “Hanna, don’t you think you should tell someone?”
“Not even your mom?”
Hanna shook her head, her hair flopping back and forth. “Please,” she begged.
Ali crossed her arms over her chest, pretending to think about it. “Okay,” she said. “Best friends have each other’s backs—I have yours if you have mine.”
“Definitely,” Hanna said eagerly. “I’ll do whatever you want.”
“Perfect,” Ali said, and patted Hanna on the head. “That’s all I ask.”
She got Hanna a cup of water and told her to wash her face. Then she helped her out of the bathroom, Hanna’s girth leaning heavily on her shoulder. Even though Ali’s clothes now smelled as pukey as Hanna’s, she didn’t complain.
That was what good friends were for, after all.
TREE HOUSES MAKE GREAT FIRST DATES
By eleven o’ clock, the party had wound down and almost everyone had gone home. Aria said she was tired, Hanna said she was sick, and Spencer had a field hockey camp orientation the following morning, so Emily was the only one who stayed over. The next morning, the two of them sat on the patio, staring at the rising sun and then the gaping hole in the backyard. A tarp flapped on top of it. A few tools had been left on the grass nearby.
“Have the workers said anything else to you?” Emily whispered.
“Here and there,” Ali said, pretending to be upset.
“That is so wrong.” Emily clucked her tongue.
Ali pulled her legs underneath her on the chair. The truth was, even when she’d paraded in front of the workers in a bikini, they’d barely looked at her. She wondered if her dad had warned them or something.
She stretched out her legs. “Did you have fun last night?”
“It was okay.” Emily shrugged. “Hanna seemed really upset about Sean, though.”
“Yeah.” Ali inspected her fingernails, hoping Emily hadn’t seen any of the machinations of that. But even if she had, she might not ask.
“Aria seemed quiet,” Emily went on. “So did Spencer.”
“Sort of,” Ali said.
“Do you know what’s going on with them?”
The overhead light seemed to make a halo over Emily’s head. She was flicking the loose threads of her Jenna Thing bracelet again and again. “I think they should probably tell you themselves,” she said.
Her phone beeped, startling both of them. Ali grabbed for it, hoping it was Nick, but the call came up as Unknown. She turned the phone over.
“Do you need to get that?” Emily asked.
“Not right now.” Ali gave her a tight smile.
The phone stopped, but immediately started ringing again. Ali groaned and kicked it under the table with her foot, then stood. “Come on,” she said to Emily. “Let’s walk around.”
They wandered over to the half-dug hole and looked inside. The workers had dug down several feet more than the last time she’d checked it out, exposing more twisted roots and loamy dark soil. Several banged-up shovels lay in the bottom, and a Swiss Army knife lay abandoned by the edge.
Ali scooped up the knife and stared into the bottom. “I dare you to jump in the hole.”
Emily looked worried. “What if I can’t get out?”
“You could,” Ali said, but when she looked into the hole again, she wasn’t so sure. It seemed deeper, suddenly, than it had even a moment ago. “On second thought, forget it,” she decided. “I’d get too dirty pulling you out.”
Emily turned and eyed the tree house at the back of the property. Suddenly, she grabbed the Swiss Army knife from Ali’s hand and walked toward the solid trunk. After a moment, Ali heard scratching sounds. Emily was cutting something into the bark.