Ali's Pretty Little Lies
Page 26

 Sara Shepard

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Not feeling up to it.
Another text arrived immediately. Why not? Are you sick? Can we help?
Ali shut her eyes and didn’t answer. The last thing she wanted was their pity.
Another ping. We’re going to come over, Spencer wrote. Whatever you need, we can help.
“No!” Ali screamed, but she already knew it was too late. And when she stood, Spencer, Aria, Hanna, and Emily had already left Spencer’s patio and were heading for the side yard. In seconds, they would be here.
Suddenly, her arms and legs could move again. She slipped on a pair of flip-flops, pulled her hair in a ponytail, and barreled down the stairs. She almost crashed into the console table in the hall as she wheeled toward the garage, but she had to get out of here—fast.
Mrs. DiLaurentis, who had her head in the fridge, looked up as she passed. “Ali? Are you okay?”
“Fine,” Ali snapped, reaching for the handle to the sliding-glass door.
“Can we talk?” Bottles of salad dressing rattled as the fridge door slammed shut.
“I’m busy,” Ali barked.
Outside, the sun seemed almost alien, way too bright. A lawn mower buzzed in the distance, and bees flitted around the newly sprung daffodils. Ali’s nose twitched with the scent of something close and sour, and after a moment, she realized it was herself. She hadn’t taken off the shirt she’d worn on her date with Nick yesterday.
She took a step off the patio, then paused. The trees at the edge of the property whispered and hissed. Ali froze. It felt like someone was watching. She looked back and forth, almost expecting to see a pair of eyes gazing out from the woods. A shiver darted up her back.
She jumped, jerking her hand to the side and hitting it hard against the bricks. Standing at the edge of the yard were Spencer and the others, all of them looking sheepish and worried.
Spencer took a small step forward. “Are you sick? You look sick.”
“I could make you chicken soup,” Hanna offered. “Or brownies. My dad always used to do that for me when I was sick.”
“Maybe you should go back to bed?” Emily asked in a small voice.
Ali ran her hand through her greasy hair and wished she’d changed her shirt. “I’m fine, just a little bug,” she said, sighing. “I suppose I could tan for a while.”
“Oh.” Spencer pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “Well, okay. Let’s go.”
They headed back to Spencer’s yard. Spencer started chattering about a party next week that they were all invited to, and Hanna suggested they all go shopping for dresses after school on Monday. But with every step they took, Ali could feel their concern. That familiar thick, goopy nastiness filled her, and suddenly she wanted to shake something hard. She wanted everyone to feel as horrible as she did.
Aria glanced over her shoulder, giving Ali a worried look, and Ali felt a fire burn inside of her. She grabbed Aria’s arm. “Do you want to talk about anything?” she whispered in a fake concerned tone.
Aria paled and stared straight ahead. “No. I’m fine.”
Ali clucked her tongue. “It’s not good to hold things in, Aria—I’ve seen it on Dr. Phil all the time. You need to vent about this. Get it out. Otherwise you’ll be, like, sexually repressed or something when you get older.”
Aria squirmed. “Really?”
Ali laid her hand on her shoulder. “Yep. So, tell Dr. Ali what you’re going to do.”
Aria kicked at a clump of cut grass that the mowing service had forgotten to bag. “I can’t do anything about it,” she whispered.
“Do you think they’re, like, dating?” Ali’s voice rose with a mix of horror and excitement. “She was so young!”
Aria shoved her hands in her pockets and just shrugged. But her eyes were wet, as though she was about to cry. Ali turned away. At least she wasn’t crying right now. At least her mom was having an affair with someone her own age.
Hanna looked over her shoulder and frowned at Aria’s injured expression. “What are you guys talking about back there?” She lagged behind so that Ali and Aria could catch up. “Is everything okay?”
“Of course,” Aria said quickly.
“Everything’s great,” Ali answered. “Right, Aria?”
Aria flinched. She shot Ali a desperate, please-don’t-say-anything look back. Hanna shifted, looking conflicted. Emily and Spencer stopped, too, peering curiously at them from next to the raspberry bushes.
“And everything is great with you, right, Hanna?” Ali asked. “Well, except for Sean.”
Hanna twisted her mouth. The others looked at her curiously. “Hanna caught her new BFF, Josie, making out with Sean at my party the other night,” Ali explained.
The girls gasped. “Oh, Hanna, that’s awful!” Emily cried, placing a hand on Hanna’s shoulder.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Aria asked.
Hanna shrugged. “It seemed stupid to talk about it. Sean’s not for me, anyway. I’m over it.”
Ali heard herself snicker. “That’s for sure, Han. You definitely have your own way of getting things out of your system.”
Hanna’s head snapped up. The look on her face was one of both horror and betrayal. What are you doing? her expression said. Ali didn’t meet her gaze. She’d meant it when she’d promised Hanna she wouldn’t tell about the bingeing. But that was then. Dancing around it now felt almost fun. Her heartbreak was way worse than Hanna’s. And Ali wasn’t moronic enough to think bingeing was the way to deal with it.
They’d reached the pool area by then. Spencer plopped down on one of the chaise lounges and crossed her legs. The other girls sat, too, though they all seemed shaken. Aria stared blankly at the water. Hanna nervously plunged her hand into the bowl of popcorn on the table. Ali, on the other hand, felt a vaguely nuclear glow inside her. Her nastiness felt like a runaway train she couldn’t stop if she tried. But she didn’t exactly want to. Every time her friends squirmed, she felt like it restored just a teensy bit of her life source.
Emily picked up a People magazine and opened it randomly to a page. Ali glanced at the spread. On the left-hand side was a picture of a bronzed, bikini-clad girl advertising beer.
Ali nudged her. “I wonder if she likes tree houses.”
The magazine fell from Emily’s hands, and the look on her face was that of a trapped, tortured animal. Emily opened her mouth, but no sound came out.
Hanna leaned forward. “What does that mean?”
Ali smiled and laid her hands in her lap. “Oh, just an inside joke between me and Em. It’s a funny one, too, right, Em?”
Emily just blinked, not saying yes or no. Ali tried hard not to stare at her pink lips or think about the way the kiss had felt. She also tried to ignore the little wiggle of remorse she felt inside.
The other girls stared at Emily, then Ali. All of them looked like they wanted to say something, but it seemed like none of them knew what.
Then, as if on cue, the screen door slid open, and Melissa Hastings, dressed in a green string-bikini top and a printed sarong, stuck her head out. “Oh,” she said sullenly when she saw the girls. “I didn’t know the patio was being used.”
“Hi, Melissa!” Ali said emphatically, jumping to her feet. “How are you?”
Melissa paused and examined Ali, her lips twitching. “I’m fine.”
Ali tapped Spencer’s arm. “I think Spencer has something to tell you—a big surprise. What do you say, Spence?”
Spencer’s mouth dropped open. She shook her head fast. “No, I don’t.”
Melissa placed her hands on her hips. “What is it, Spence?”
Melissa turned back to Ali, but Ali just gave Melissa a closed-mouth smile. It’s not my story to tell, her look said. Finally, Melissa sighed and turned back into the house. The sliding door swished closed.
Spencer whirled around and glared at Ali. “What are you doing?”
“What are you doing?” Ali shot back.
Aria blinked. “What is going on with everyone?”
Ali glanced at her. “I don’t know, Aria. What is going on?”
There was another painful silence. The birds tweeted obliviously in the trees. Then Spencer looked at her phone. “I have to go, okay? I just realized.” She stood up and strode into the house without even saying good-bye.
The other girls watched the sliding door, perhaps thinking Spencer was going to come back. When she didn’t, Aria stood up. “That reminds me, I need to get going.”
“Me, too,” Hanna said quickly.
Emily gave Ali a long, conflicted look, then stood as well. They peeled away and mounted their bikes or headed toward the woods. Ali let out a long, contented sigh. It had been a good idea to come out here after all. In fact, she felt so much stronger—there was no need to go back to bed anymore.
And best of all, she hadn’t thought of Nick once.
After school the following day, Ali leaned toward the front window of Cassie’s Jeep as Cassie made a screeching turn into her neighborhood. Her neighbor on the corner was out on his riding mower, making perfect stripes on the lawn. The little kids across the street were playing basketball at the lowered hoop. And at Mona Vanderwaal’s house, Mona, Phi, and Chassey were strutting up and down the driveway in some sort of ugly-girl fashion show. Ali wrinkled her nose.
As Cassie rolled toward Ali’s house, she turned to her and smiled. “I’m glad you took me up on the ride today. Was your brother busy?”
Ali shrugged. “Jason and I aren’t exactly speaking right now.”
Cassie’s lip curled into a smile. “Want me to run interference?”
Ali pretended to laugh, not wanting to get into exactly why they were fighting. She hadn’t said a word to Jason since he’d told her that he thought it was a good idea the family was bringing her twin home, and it just seemed easier not to accept rides from him, too.
Cassie then turned and peered at the curb in front of Ali’s house. “Do you have plans?”
Ali followed her gaze. Emily was standing at Ali’s mailbox, putting something inside. But when she saw Ali, she quickly closed the box and stepped away from it as though it were on fire.
“Not that I was aware of,” Ali murmured, a little annoyed at Emily’s presence. Before, when Em showed up unannounced, it was welcome. But now, after everything that had happened, it felt sort of . . . intrusive. Clingy.
Cassie pulled to the curb. Emily stood with her arms at her sides, a timid smile on her face. She made no move to approach Cassie’s Jeep, perhaps waiting for Ali’s permission or introduction. Ali just turned to Cassie and gave her a huge hug. “This was so much fun,” she said. Then she eyed Cassie’s pack of Marlboro Lights. “Can I have one more for the road?”
Cassie raised her eyebrows. “Naughty girl, smoking on your own property! What if your parents see?”
“I don’t care,” Ali said.
Cassie lit the cigarette for Ali, and Ali took a big puff, trying her hardest not to cough. Then Cassie gave her a spritz of Dior perfume and took off. Ali stood with her back to Emily as Cassie turned the corner out of the development. Then, finally, she turned back to her mailbox.