Ali's Pretty Little Lies
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She looked over the cliff, trying to shove everything down deep. “How long is the drop?”
“I don’t know, but not far enough for it to be dangerous,” Nick guessed. Then he turned to Ali and gave her a very serious look. “You don’t have to change the subject with me, you know. I do it, too, when there’s something I’m dealing with but don’t know how to talk about. But whatever you’re worried about, whatever you think you can’t say, you totally can.”
Ali swallowed hard. She glanced at Nick, then cut her eyes away. “I shouldn’t,” she said. “It’s not usually something I talk about.”
“I can’t promise I can help. But at least I’ll listen. You strike me as someone who tries really, really hard to hold things together because everyone else in your life can’t. I’m the same way.”
Ali glanced at him gratefully. “Really?”
“Uh-huh. It gets me in trouble sometimes, especially when I am dealing with some really serious stuff and I have no one to turn to. But we all need someone to turn to. And maybe you and I should turn to each other.”
Ali nodded. Suddenly, she felt brave. She took a breath. “I have a twin sister,” she admitted. “No one knows about her.”
Just saying the words out loud made her dizzy. She looked around, certain a bolt of lightning would zoom down from the sky or a plague of locusts would descend on the quarry—something to prove that the world had truly altered for good. Instead, a butterfly flapped past and the clouds shifted overhead. Nick reached for her hands.
“And?” he said.
“At first, when we were little, we got along great.” Ali pulled up a handful of grass and let it blow away in the wind. “But then, suddenly . . . well, I don’t know. Something happened. And then she hated me. Wanted me gone. She did terrible things to me.”
Nick squeezed her hand. “I’m really sorry.”
A lump formed in her throat. “My parents sent her away. She’s been gone a long time. But I just found out she’s coming back to live with us again.”
Nick blinked, his expression stunned, as if she’d just slapped him. “She is?”
“Well, yeah. My parents want us to try to be a family, but we’re not a family—not with her. She’s going to ruin everything. I can just feel it.”
“When did you find out she was coming back?”
Ali twisted the stud earring in her earlobe. “A few days ago.” She felt the tears rising. “Everything else is a mess, too. My parents . . . who knows what’s going on with them. And my friends—I don’t even know them anymore. I would be able to handle that stuff on its own, but with my sister coming back, it’s just like . . .”
“It’s too much,” Nick finished for her.
Ali nodded. “Exactly.”
Then he opened his arms and pulled Ali in. She nestled into his chest, allowing herself exactly one full sob. It felt so good to be hugged ridiculously tight. She pressed her ear to his ribs and heard his heart beating, its rhythm unusually fast.
He leaned back and stared into Ali’s eyes. “Whatever happens, just keep your head about you, you know? You’ll get through it—I’ll help you. Don’t let her bring you down. And whenever you want to vent, you can call me. I just want to make sure you’re safe.”
Ali attempted a wobbly smile. “Okay,” she said shyly. Then she lowered her eyes. “I’ve never told anyone that, you know.”
“Well, I’m glad you told me,” Nick answered.
“I’m glad I told you, too.”
There was a growl, and several ATVs pulled up. Three boys dismounted, pulled off their helmets, and took running leaps off the cliff. A different group of kids climbed up the hill toward their parked car, all of them looking tanned and tired. Ali placed a wedge of cheese in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. She was glad she’d told Nick. She felt lighter somehow, like everything would be okay.
After a while, Ali stood up, heading for the little concrete bathroom pavilion across the parking lot. Inside the ladies’ room, she smiled at her reflection in the warped mirror. “He’s amazing,” she whispered to her image.
“Boo,” said a voice.
Ali shrieked as two hands clapped over her eyes. Whoever it was yanked his hands away and guffawed loudly. When Ali turned, she saw Ian Thomas doubled over laughing. His breath smelled sourly of booze. His Ray-Bans fell off the perch on his head and clunked to the concrete floor.
She stepped away from him. “What are you doing in here? This is the girls’ bathroom.”
“So?” Ian gave her a bad-boy smile. He slurred his words a little. “I saw you and I thought I’d come in for that kiss.”
“Did you follow me to the quarry?”
“Someone sure thinks she’s important,” Ian teased. “For your information, I love to cliff-dive. I had no idea you were going to be here, too. Who’s that guy you’re with? He looks like a wuss.”
“He’s not a wuss!” Ali turned to face the sink again, pumping the soap into her hands.
“He doesn’t look like your type at all.” Ian came up behind her and touched her shoulders. “So? How about that kiss?”
Ali wriggled away and faced him. “I’m with someone now. The deal is off.”
Ian raised an eyebrow. “So it’s serious with you and Mr. Wuss, huh?”
“That’s none of your business.”
He pressed his palm against the wall, looking unconvinced. Suddenly, before Ali knew it, his lips were touching hers. Ali stood stock-still, shocked, letting the sensation of his mouth against hers wash over her. His lips were soft, and his movements were confident. And then a second emotion crashed in her head: She was kissing someone even though she had a boyfriend. She was no better than her mom.
When Ali opened her eyes, her heart dropped to the floor. Standing in the hall, peering through the propped-open door, was Nick. His mouth hung open. His eyes blazed. He glanced from Ian to Ali, then to Ian’s hand, which was firmly entwined in hers.
Ali pulled away. “Nick!”
Nick glared. His head shook ever-so-slightly, and he took a big step back.
Ali glanced helplessly from him to Ian, who was now standing against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest, a smirk on his face. “This wasn’t . . . I didn’t . . . It wasn’t anything.”
Nick blinked at her. “I know what I saw.” He looked at Ian. “What the hell, man? She’s my girlfriend.”
Ian smiled smugly, then drew himself up to full height. He was at least four inches taller than Nick. “She wasn’t trying to stop me.”
Nick’s eyes blazed. He stepped toward Ian, his arms outstretched. “Please!” Ali screamed, inserting herself between them. And then Nick twisted, hurling the empty bottle of sparkling cider onto the ground. It shattered into pieces, the glass flying everywhere. Ali shrieked. Ian held up his arms to protect his face.
Nick stared at Ali, shaking his head slowly. “Have a nice life, Alison.” He started to turn away.
Ali caught his arm. “W-what are you talking about?”
“What do you mean?” He let out an incredulous half laugh. “It’s over. We’re done.”
“No!” Ali cried, reaching for him. “I’m sorry! Please!”
But Nick had already broken away from her. He headed across the parking lot. She followed him, calling his name, but he just kept going, his shoulders tense, his gaze staring straight ahead.
“Nick!” Ali screamed. “Please let me explain!” But even as she said it, despair filled her. How would she explain this? I promised him a kiss if he kissed my best friend? And, oh yeah, he’s cheating on his girlfriend, my best friend’s sister, something I knew about all along? Any way you sliced it, she sounded like a heartless bitch.
Nick started to run. Ali scampered after him, alarmed at the blind, careless way he was heading toward the cliff’s edge. Something about his movements seemed dangerous and irrational. It was clear Nick’s heart was broken. But what was he going to do?
He was now just a few feet from the cliff. Ali sprinted for him, reaching out and touching his T-shirt with the tips of her fingers. “Wait!” she pleaded.
But instead of stopping at the edge and looking over at the water, he kept going. One second he was on firm ground, the next he was suspended in midair, and the next he was just . . . gone.
NASTINESS HEALS ALL WOUNDS
Sunday afternoon, Ali lay on her bed, listening to the sound of the jackhammers in the backyard. Every time she considered getting up and doing something, her limbs wouldn’t move. She couldn’t imagine taking a shower. She couldn’t imagine brushing her teeth. All she wanted was to look at the artifacts of her short courtship with Nick. The ticket stub from riding the merry-go-round. A receipt from the paintball place. It was barely anything.
She flopped back down on the pillow, only wanting to sleep. The last time she’d felt like this was when her parents had first sent her to the Radley. She’d remained in her room, shocked and mute and horrified. What just happened? she’d thought over and over again. Her parents had let her bring a family album, and she’d turned the gummy, crackling pages so many times that the binding wore out. Nurses had tried to encourage her to join in group activities like singing, and music or art classes. A therapist had sat on the side of her bed and tried to get her to talk, to move—anything—but she’d felt like there was a huge shovel hovering above her, pouring sand on her until only her eyes could be seen from above.
Her phone beeped, and she pounced on it, but it was just a text from Spencer: We’re getting together at my house. Please come over!
Out the window, Spencer, Aria, Emily, and Hanna sat in bathing suits on Spencer’s patio. She flopped back down on the pillow, feeling tears prick her eyes. They’d take one look at her and know. Emily had probably told the others that Ali was seeing someone older; maybe they’d ask if he was why her eyes were so red. And how could she fake it?
They’d see the weakness in her eyes. They’d see what sort of messed-up life she had. They would prey on her like she’d preyed on them. That was what best friends did, wasn’t it? They ate each other alive. They would give Ali a taste of her own medicine.
She scrolled through her texts, making sure she hadn’t missed any from Nick, but she hadn’t. What was he doing right now? Eating lunch, happily going on with his life? Would he ever take her back?
And even worse than that, she’d told him about her sister, something she’d sworn to keep a secret forever. Now, she felt naked, exposed.
Her phone pinged again. You coming? Spencer asked. I see the light on in your bedroom.
“God,” Ali said through her teeth, tossing the phone toward the closet. It hit the wall hard, knocking off a photograph of Ali and her friends on a boat in Newport Harbor. After a moment, Ali slid off her bed, slithered toward her phone, and composed a text to Spencer.