Ali's Pretty Little Lies
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“They even let you play on an intramural field hockey team that met close by, didn’t they, honey?” Mr. DiLaurentis piped up, smiling at his daughter.
Ali sat up straighter. “You left the grounds for whole practices?”
Courtney offered her a grin that probably looked genuine to everyone else but to Ali looked absolutely sinister. “Yes. Isn’t that great?”
“Did you go anywhere else?” Ali blurted.
Her sister lowered her chin. “Why? Did you think you saw me somewhere?”
Ali flinched. So her fears weren’t unfounded. Her sister had been watching.
But then Courtney sniffed and gave her parents a reassuring head-shake. “Please. The supervisors were on my butt the whole time. I played intramurals, went to a local ice cream parlor a couple of times, and that’s it.”
“But you don’t like ice cream,” Ali pointed out, hoping to catch her sister in a lie.
Courtney speared a piece of zucchini with her fork. “You don’t know everything about me.”
There was a long pause. It felt like the temperature in the room had dropped about twenty degrees. Jason reached for more bread, chewing obliviously. Mr. DiLaurentis sipped his wine.
“Ali?” Mrs. DiLaurentis’s voice broke the silence. “Aren’t you hungry?”
Ali stared down at the lasagna, then felt her sister’s gaze on her, as sizzling as a heat lamp. The last thing she could think of was eating right now, but if she didn’t, her sister might sense just how anxious she was feeling. She cut a tiny square, her fingers shaking, and pushed it into her mouth. It tasted like sawdust. Courtney held up the camera again, pointing it to Ali as she might a barrel of a gun. Ali threw a hand in front of her face and turned away, but Courtney snapped a shot anyway.
Mrs. DiLaurentis wiped her mouth. “On the drive home, we all were talking. We were thinking that perhaps we would introduce Courtney to a few people around Rosewood, see how that goes.”
The bite Ali had just swallowed rose back up her throat. “Like who?”
“Well, the neighbors, for starters.” Mrs. DiLaurentis stabbed a tomato from the salad. “I mean, we can’t keep her cooped up like we did before—Courtney said that might have been part of the problem.”
“Definitely,” Courtney said, nodding emphatically.
“Letting her out is part of the problem,” Ali squeaked. She peeked at her sister. Courtney’s head was lowered, but she was trying to hide a smile.
“We were just thinking people on the block,” Mrs. DiLaurentis went on, ignoring her. “We think it would be a little much to bring Courtney to, say, graduation, but letting a few people know might not be a bad thing.”
“So you’re going to tell the Hastingses?” Ali practically shrieked. There was no way Spencer could know about this. Absolutely. No. Way.
“Well, naturally.” Mrs. DiLaurentis dabbed at her mouth with her cloth napkin. “But we thought you might like to tell Spencer yourself, Ali. Maybe at your sleepover.” She turned to Courtney. “Your sister is having an end-of-seventh-grade sleepover with her friends on Thursday night.”
Ali gaped at her family. They were all smiling at her like they’d been brainwashed. “Telling Spencer at the sleepover means, basically, that I’m telling all my friends. And personally, I don’t want to tell any of them. Courtney isn’t really a family member I’m proud of having.”
“Alison!” Mr. DiLaurentis lowered his fork. “Your sister is sitting right here.”
All eyes darted to Courtney, who was hiding yet another smile. She straightened up and folded her hands in her lap. “It’s okay, really. I was ready for some . . . animosity. Honest. I can’t imagine what this is like for Ali to have me back.” Her voice cracked, and she turned to Ali and gave her a big, doe-eyed, starving-puppy stare. “I know it’s going to take some time to heal, but I really, really hope we can. You know, I used to be really angry, but now I understand that that anger came from jealousy. You were totally right for wanting me in the hospital, Ali. You saved my life.”
Ali’s mouth fell open, but no words came out. There were actual tears in her sister’s eyes. Yet again, to everyone else, she probably seemed dead sincere, but to Ali, her words were chilling. Threatening.
“Courtney!” Mrs. DiLaurentis blurted, clasping her hands at her breastbone. “That is so wonderful of you to say.”
Mrs. DiLaurentis looked at Ali encouragingly, but Ali stared down at the ridges on her plate. She could feel her sister’s laughing eyes upon her. All at once, she felt suffocated.
“I’m done,” she blurted, carrying her plate into the kitchen and nearly breaking it as she banged it against the garbage can to dispose of her uneaten piece of lasagna. And then she ran upstairs and slammed her bedroom door hard, taking heaving breaths.
This couldn’t be happening. And yet, it was . . . and it was worse than she’d thought.
Silverware clinked downstairs. Voices murmured. That damn camera whirred again, regurgitating more pictures. Ali looked around her bedroom, feeling her heart thud in her chest. Her sister had a plan, pure and simple. Soon enough, her sister was going to find a way to expose exactly what she’d done. Maybe she had proof, somehow. Maybe she’d make up the proof. And maybe, just maybe, their parents would believe her. After all, it was the truth.
Ali shifted onto the bed, laying her head on the pillow. Something sharp poked into her skull, and she shot back up. There, on the pillowcase, lay a tiny silver bobby pin. Ali picked it up and held it in her palm. There was a sparkly star on the very tip. She knew just whose it was.
She stood up, glancing around the rest of the room for signs of drawers that had been rifled through, closet doors that had been opened. Everything looked in its place. But still, a feeling of terror settled over her like a down-filled duvet. The dropped bobby pin felt like an omen. Her sister was going to take her life back—starting with her room—one dropped bobby pin at a time.
The following day after school, Ali stood in front of a long table in the lobby and watched as kids gave their names to Mrs. Ulster, the art teacher who was also in charge of the seventh-grade graduation. “Yes, of course, Andrew,” Mrs. Ulster said, searching through a box on the floor and unveiling a long white graduation gown and matching cap for Andrew Campbell, one of the class nerds. His cap had a special medal on it because he’d gotten all A’s that year. So did Spencer’s, Ali guessed.
“Thanks,” Andrew gathered the gown and beret in his arms. When he passed Ali, he smiled hopefully, like they were friends. She snorted and turned away.
Ali had picked up her gown the other day, so it was already at home, but she’d just retrieved her seat assignment and the two tickets each family was allowed for the event. All around her, kids were chattering excitedly about the ceremony that night. Rebecca Culpepper stated she was going to wear high-heeled sandals under her gown. Jordyn Wellsley announced he was going to break-dance his way to the podium. Chassey Bledsoe asked who their speaker was going to be, but Ali just rolled her eyes as she passed. “We don’t have a speaker, loser,” she teased. “That’s only for seniors.”
Chassey looked cowed, like she was supposed to have known that. But as Ali walked toward the parking lot, she felt a swirl of anger. She’d been excited to walk in graduation all year, and now that it was here, now that her sister was home, it all felt so tarnished. Today had been the first full day that Courtney was home, and Ali hadn’t been able to sit still through her classes, fearful that her sister might burst into her classroom any minute, blurting out the truth.
A Jeep honked in the parking lot, and Ali looked up and waved. Cassie turned the ignition when Ali climbed in and pulled toward the exit. As they wound through the parking lots, she raised her eyes and pointed with her chin toward a couple climbing the hill toward the senior lot, dark gowns swinging from their hands. “I can’t believe he hasn’t broken up with her yet.”
Ali craned her neck. It was Ian and Melissa. They held hands, and when they approached Ian’s SUV, he grabbed Melissa around the waist and gave her a big kiss on the neck, to which she squealed and twisted away.
“I can’t believe it, either,” she mumbled, feeling a surprising stab of jealousy. It wasn’t fair that Ian’s relationship was all well and good after he’d screwed up hers. She wanted him to pay for it—and she thought she knew how. She pulled out her cell phone and hunted for Ian’s number. Want that kiss? she typed in a text. Meet me Thursday night. My yard. Nine PM sharp.
There was a ping within thirty seconds. You got it, Ian wrote back. Ali tried to muster up a flare of excitement—after all, kissing a hot boy was kissing a hot boy. But she felt nothing.
At Ali’s curb, Cassie leaned on the steering wheel. “Do you mind if I come in for a sec? I really, really have to pee.”
“No!” Ali practically shouted.
Cassie drew back, giving Ali a strange look. “Um, we’re having problems with the septic system,” Ali blurted, realizing how insane she’d just sounded. “It really smells.” She looked hard at the house. Had a curtain just fluttered? Could Cassie tell her twin was in there, just by looking at the place?
Cassie made a sympathetic face, then said good-bye. Ali shot out of the car and darted toward the door, relieved when Cassie pulled away from the curb. But just as she was twisting the knob, she heard voices inside.
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” her sister wailed.
“You should know better!” her mother answered sternly.
Ali’s skin prickled. What had happened? And then, suddenly, she heard different voices, this time from the backyard. “Why would she be in trouble?” someone whispered. “She didn’t do anything wrong.”
Ali drew away from the door. Was that . . . Emily?
“Not that we know of,” another familiar voice said. Ali almost choked on her gum. Spencer.
Her mind swirled. She hadn’t invited them over. What were they doing here? Had her sister invited them? Or—worse—her mother, wanting Ali to break the news?
They could not know. If they did, what if they slowly figured out the rest of it—that Ali wasn’t who she said she was? Maybe they’d always secretly wondered about Ali abruptly taking them on as friends. Dropping Naomi and Riley without explanation. That time Ali had gotten lost in Rosewood Day at the beginning of sixth grade. Maybe it was all cataloged in their brains, little niggling puzzle pieces that didn’t quite make up a whole picture. With the introduction of a twin, it would. And if her parents figured out, they’d send her to the Preserve to punish her.
She stood on the front porch, terrified to go around the side and face the music. Suddenly, there was a loud slam. Her mother’s voice keened out from the patio. “I just want to make sure you have the dimensions right,” she yelled toward the workers in the back.
Ali stepped off the porch and tiptoed into the side yard just as her mother barreled across the back toward the gazebo workers, who were sitting around, seemingly doing nothing. “I’m not paying you to loaf,” Mrs. DiLaurentis snapped, hands on hips. “Can’t this get done any faster?”