Ali's Pretty Little Lies
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“Are you cutting down my tree?” she asked, walking over to her.
“Nope.” Emily stepped away from the tree and showed off the trunk. Carved into the bark was EF + AD. “Do you like?”
A dizzy feeling swept across Ali’s body as unexpectedly as a pop-up thunderstorm might come upon a town. “Cute,” she said, her voice cracking.
“I’m just so happy we’re friends,” Emily gushed. “I wanted to . . . I don’t know. Show you, I guess.”
“Uh-huh.” Ali’s throat suddenly felt dry.
Emily dropped the Swiss Army knife on the grass and peered up at the tree house. “It’s been ages since we’ve been up there.”
“Let’s go,” Ali said, eager to change the subject.
She grabbed the threadbare rope and placed her feet on the planks her dad had nailed to the trunk as steps sometime in the many years she’d been locked in the hospital. It was an easy climb into the tree house, which was basically just several boards for a floor, pieces of plywood for the walls and roof, and cutouts for windows. Dried leaves and dead bugs littered the floor. Spiderwebs had taken residence in the corners. Ali brushed everything aside with her hands and sat down, her butt bones digging into the wood.
Emily climbed up next and sat beside her. They’d grown so much that there was barely room for both of them; their forearms just touched. They stared out the little window, which offered a good view of the Hastingses’ barn. Melissa Hastings moved back and forth in front of the window. It seemed like she was talking to someone on the phone.
Then Ali turned around and looked at her house. The light was on in her bedroom window, but the guest room’s window was dark. It had been the first window she’d peered out of in Rosewood. In a few days, her sister would be staying in that room, looking out that window instead. Or would she be in her old bedroom again? Would she have convinced her parents the truth about what happened?
Ali’s insides twisted.
“It’s so nice up here,” Emily breathed, bringing Ali back to the moment. “So . . . quiet. It feels like we’re not in Rosewood anymore.”
“It would be nice to get out of Rosewood, wouldn’t it?” Ali murmured. “I’m definitely not living here when I’m older.”
“Me, neither,” Emily agreed. “I don’t even want to live here now.”
Ali looked at her for a moment. She wanted to ask why not. Her parents? Her zillions of brothers and sisters? She wondered if it had something to do with her burgeoning crush. Rosewood wasn’t exactly the most tolerant place of people who were different.
“A tropical island would be nice,” Ali said after a moment.
Emily’s eyes lit up. “I would love to live on a beach. Swimming every single day? Amazing.”
“Why don’t we go right now?” Ali said. “I could book us tickets with my dad’s points. We could run away and never come back.”
“Really?” Emily sounded astonished. “You’d want to go with me?”
“Sure, Em.” Ali shifted her weight. “It would be fun to go with you.” Maybe running away was the answer, she thought suddenly. She could avoid her sister forever. She’d never have to face what was to come.
“It would be really fun to go with you, too, Ali,” Emily said breathlessly. Her fingers were trembling a little, but Ali pretended not to notice. “When I say how happy I am we’re friends, I really mean it. This is . . . amazing.”
“Definitely,” Ali said, staring at Emily’s thigh. It had shifted closer so that it was now touching Ali’s knee.
Emily looked up and met Ali’s gaze. “Wasn’t the ice rink fun?”
“Sure,” Ali said, a strange feeling settling over her. “We’ll have to do it again sometime.”
A heartbreaking smile appeared on Emily’s face. “Really? I would love that!” Now her thigh was definitely touching Ali’s knee. Emily placed a hand over Ali’s and then pulled it away, seeming embarrassed. “I’ve been thinking about that day a lot, Ali.”
Suddenly, all Ali could see in her mind’s eye were those tiny letters spelling out I love Ali on Emily’s notebook. The air seemed charged—Emily seemed eager to get something off her chest. Ali was afraid she knew what it was, too. She moved her knee away in one clean jerk and touched Emily’s shoulder. “I have something to tell you,” she blurted. “It’s a secret.”
Emily pressed her lips together. Her eyes shone.
Ali licked her lips and took a deep breath. “Well, I’m sort of seeing someone. This older guy. He’s absolutely amazing.”
For a moment, the tree house was utterly silent. “O-oh,” Emily stammered. Her eyes darted in a lot of directions.
“I wanted you to know because you’re my favorite, Em. You always have been.”
Emily swallowed audibly. “Th-that’s great. What’s his name?”
“It’s . . . well, I don’t want to tell you yet. Soon though, okay?”
“Okay,” Emily said.
They were silent again. Static electricity hung in the air, as scratchy as a dryer sheet. The birds chirped. Far in the distance, someone barked out a laugh. And then, suddenly, Emily twisted her body toward Ali. Before Ali knew what was happening, Emily’s lips were touching hers. They felt soft, normal, just like a guy’s lips, really, and for a split second, Ali shut her eyes and let the sensation wash over her. In many ways, it felt good to be adored so purely. It felt good to give someone exactly what she wanted.
But then she came back to herself and pulled back. This wasn’t what she wanted. And people would think it was weird. How dare Emily just assume Ali would be into this?
All Ali could see were the whites of Emily’s eyes. Ali felt a nasty smile settle across her lips. “Well,” she heard herself say, her voice taut and mean, “I guess that’s why you get so quiet when we’re changing for gym.”
Emily flinched. A horrible, tortured, fake laugh leaked from her mouth. “God, sorry,” she said. “I don’t know what happened to me just then. I guess I was thinking about the guy I like and got confused.”
Ali laughed crudely. “I don’t think you like anyone at all, Em. I think you’re lying to me.”
Emily’s eyes widened. “I do like someone.”
“A guy?” Ali teased.
Tears gleamed in Emily’s eyes. She shot up and lunged for the rope ladder. “I have to go.”
Ali didn’t say another word as Emily climbed down and started across the yard. She watched her from the tree house as she mounted her bike and wobbled down the street, her ponytail bouncing. Emily didn’t look back once.
For a split second, Ali could feel Emily’s hair in her hands again, her soft skin against her face. And then she bit down hard on her lip, the emotions too jumbled inside her to make sense. On one hand, she felt disgusted. On another, she felt restored. And on another . . . well, even more than what she’d done to Hanna, she knew that she’d just altered things with her best friend for good.
And although Emily was probably even more in her power than ever, it felt sort of . . . awful.
OVER THE EDGE
“We’re getting close,” Nick whispered in Ali’s ear.
“Where are we going?” Ali stifled a nervous giggle. Grass prickled under her feet. The scents of honeysuckle and lilacs drifted through the air. In the distance, she could hear water rushing and birds chirping.
“It’s a surprise,” Nick said, squeezing her hand. “But I promise it’s good.”
It was later that afternoon, and Ali was out with Nick. They’d met at the King James, and Ali had assumed they were going to do some shopping, but then Nick had wrapped a blindfold around her and said that where he was taking her next was something she couldn’t see until they got there. As far as she knew, they’d gotten into a taxi, Nick whispering the directions so Ali wouldn’t hear. The drive had been about fifteen minutes, and gravel had crunched under the tires when they arrived.
“You know, I must really trust you,” Ali said now. “I wouldn’t let just anyone lead me around blindfolded.”
“I’m honored,” Nick said. “I just hope you like where we are.”
After a few more steps, Nick stopped and pulled the cloth from her eyes. “Ta-da.”
The first thing Ali saw was Nick’s heartbreakingly cute face—those soulful eyes, those pink kissable lips, those cute locks of hair that curled over his ears. Behind him was a field full of flowers, and behind that was what looked like a rocky cliff. Water spilled over the sides and gushed into a gulley far below. Several kids splayed out on the big black rocks in varying degrees of nakedness. A plaid picnic blanket had been set up a few paces away, complete with a bottle of sparkling cider on ice, a long loaf of French bread, a wheel of cheese, and some grapes. A portable iPod stereo sat on the blanket, too, and hip-hop tinkled out of the speakers.
“Where is this?” she asked.
“Floating Man Quarry.” Nick looked surprised. “You’ve never been here?”
Ali stared into the big, clear lake at the bottom of the cliff and shook her head. Spencer used to urge them to come here, but Ali had always refused, worried that everyone would like this place too much, which might make Spencer think she was cooler than Ali.
“The cliff-diving is amazing.” Nick walked to the blanket. “People are always trying to shut this place down because they say it’s dangerous, but no one’s gotten hurt yet.”
Ali sat down on the blanket next to him, noting the grass nearby was wet with dew and flecked with clover. Then Nick turned to her and kissed her softly on the lips. Her stomach swooped, and her head felt faint. Nick’s hands brushed her shoulders. Then he pulled away and smiled bashfully at her.
“You’re so amazing,” he whispered.
“You, too,” Ali said back.
Then Ali flopped onto the blanket and stared at the sky. Nick cut off a piece of bread for her and slathered it with cheese. As she took it from him, he squeezed her hand again. “I’m serious, you know. This is, like, the best. I’m glad you came here with me today. I hope it makes up for missing the party last night.”
“I’m glad I came, too,” Ali said. But suddenly, for reasons she couldn’t exactly explain, a sob rose into her throat. This was almost too nice. She turned away.
Nick paused from pouring two glasses of sparkling cider, lowering the large bottle to the blanket. “What is it?”
Ali shook her head. “Nothing. Sorry. I’m just being an idiot.”
“Are you sure?”
A Jeep pulled up, and a few kids got out, stripped off their clothes, and walked to the edge of the cliff. Ali watched as they jumped off without even looking down first. Everything that had happened recently bubbled inside her, ready to spill over. Her sister. Her friends. It was more than she could take. Her problems felt like one of those snakes-in-a-can toys that had been at her grandmother’s house: No matter how hard she tried to fit the lid back on, it kept popping off, the snakes jumping free.