Ali's Pretty Little Lies
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One of the workers raised one shoulder. “We’re waiting for the concrete to dry.”
“When is this hole going to be filled?” Ali’s mother demanded. “Tomorrow?”
The same worker shook his head, his floppy hair bouncing. “Friday. That’s the earliest we could get the truck.”
Mrs. DiLaurentis rolled her eyes and continued to chastise them. Ali took another step closer, her friends coming into view. They were all there, sitting on the back patio, looking nonplussed. Blessedly, Courtney wasn’t with them. So maybe they didn’t know.
She took a deep breath and climbed up the patio stairs.
“Uh . . . hi?” she said.
Spencer stood up. A big, nervous smile spread across Emily’s face. Aria stared at Ali impassively, and Hanna squirmed in her seat. They looked guilty, and Ali’s fears rushed to the surface once more.
“What did she bust you for?” Spencer demanded.
Ali cocked her head, not sure if she should answer.
“Are you getting in trouble without us?” Aria went on, her light, easy tone of voice forced. “And why did you change? That halter you had on was so cute.”
Ali blinked hard. Halter. Her sister had worn a halter the day before. Perhaps she’d put it on this morning, too, as it was probably the cutest thing she owned.
Her knees went weak. They had seen her twin . . . maybe even talked to them, but it wasn’t because of their mother. Where had she been? In the house? Outside?
But then it hit Ali. She bet she knew exactly where they’d seen her sister. Ali’s room.
That bitch, she thought, fury rising in her body like mercury inside a thermometer. How dare she! Was this phase one of her master plan? Was she trying to pass herself off as Ali and try to switch back? What was even worse was that her friends had believed that “Courtney” was Ali. If her sister could convince them, she could convince anyone.
Emily cleared her throat, bringing Ali back to herself. “Do you want us to . . . go?”
Ali shook her head quickly, realizing she had no idea what sorts of expressions had just crossed her face. “Of course I don’t want you to go,” she mustered, trying to regain control. “My mom was mad at me because I . . . I threw my hockey clothes in with her delicates again.” She rolled her eyes. “But don’t worry, girls—I’m not grounded or anything. Our sleepover extravaganza can proceed as planned!”
The girls looked relieved, though something still seemed to hang over them. For a moment, Ali worried if they were looking at her and realizing there was something different about her, something they hadn’t seen in the girl in the striped halter just moments ago. But then Spencer added that she had exciting news: They could have their sleepover in the Hastingses’ backyard barn after all. Unexpectedly, Melissa was going to Prague Thursday night after graduation, so they would have the place to themselves.
“Sweet,” Ali said loudly, hoping that Courtney, wherever she was, heard. She wasn’t going to let her sister get in the way of her fun. Let her try to switch. It was never going to happen.
Suddenly, she noticed a flash of blue across the Hastingses’ yard. Melissa was on her way to the barn, her gown swinging from a hanger in her hand. She’d already slung the school’s valedictorian mantle over her shoulders. Show-off.
Suddenly, Ali had to make everyone see how powerful she was, how crushing she could be. She wasn’t sure if it was for her friends’ benefit, exactly . . . or for the girl watching from within the house.
Ali stood up. “Hey, Melissa!”
Melissa stopped and turned around. “Oh. Hey, guys.”
“Excited to go to Prague?” Ali smiled sweetly. “Is Ian going?”
Spencer reached across the table and dug her nails into Ali’s arm. “Ali.”
“No,” Melissa answered after a pause. “Ian’s not.”
“Oh!” Ali heard her own voice say. “Are you sure that’s a good idea—leaving him alone? He might get another girlfriend!”
She gave Spencer a meaningful glance. “Alison. Stop it. Now.”
But Ali couldn’t stop.
“Spencer?” Aria asked. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Spencer said quickly.
Ali watched as the other girls exchanged an uncertain look. But none of them said anything. Then, Melissa adjusted the mantle around her neck and strode toward the barn. She glanced long and hard at the hole in Ali’s yard but said nothing.
Spencer glared at Ali after Melissa was gone, but Ali didn’t reply. She barely got through the rest of the visit, and when the girls left, she sprinted back into the house and made a beeline for her bedroom. Everything was in its place. Next she found her mother, who was standing at the sink, washing a few glasses.
“Did you let my friends in when I wasn’t here?” she demanded.
Mrs. DiLaurentis wheeled around, looking guilty. “Honey, I thought you were home. But then I saw you pull up with your field hockey friend and realized my mistake.”
Ali’s body started to shake. “So they talked to her?”
“Well, yes. But then I grabbed her.”
“Were they in my room?”
Mrs. DiLaurentis’s gaze fell to her feet. “She’s just curious. The therapist explained everything to us: She hasn’t lived a normal life. We’ve deprived her of that. Think of yourself as a role model.”
The words hurt: It was her they were really talking about, her they thought was still in the hospital, rotting away, becoming weirder and more feral by the day. “Where is she?” Ali said, her voice low and tense.
Mrs. DiLaurentis placed a warning hand on Ali’s arm. “Honey, don’t start a scene. I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it.”
“Where. Is. She?” Ali’s emotions felt like a kite whose string had gotten away from her. It was the same way she used to feel when her sister would push and push and push until she snapped. It was amazing how, after all this time, the feeling could just come back as urgent and fresh as the day she’d first felt it.
The dish towel went limp in Mrs. DiLaurentis’s hands. “Look, we’ll be more careful, okay? We’ll keep her inside from now on, just until we’re sure she’s not backsliding. She’ll be inside for graduation, your sleepover. Okay?”
“Do you promise?” Ali demanded. Mrs. DiLaurentis nodded almost fearfully.
But it wasn’t enough. Ali turned and stormed up the steps, passing her bedroom once more. The guest room door was closed. She banged on it so hard that her knuckles ached. “Courtney?” she bellowed.
But the door didn’t open. “Courtney!” Ali screeched.
“Alison, please,” Mrs. DiLaurentis said, standing at the foot of the stairs.
“Open the door!” Ali screamed. The bedsprings inside the room squeaked. A drawer slid open, then closed. And then, distinctly, she heard a high-pitched giggle. It kind of sounded like a witch’s cackle and sent a shiver down her spine.
“I know what you’re doing!” Ali said, pressing her cheek against the door. “You can’t get away with this!”
She heard footsteps, and the door flung open. Her sister was wearing the striped halter again, just as Ali feared. Her hair was in a high ponytail, her new Polaroid was on a strap around her neck, and she had a big smile on her face. She held Ali’s gaze for so long that Ali began to feel nervous.
“Why not?” Courtney finally asked, her voice full of mirth. “You did.”
THE ULTIMATE POWER
Thursday evening after graduation, a battered Subaru pulled up to Ali’s front curb. Ali watched through the window as Aria spilled out from the backseat, pirouetted onto the lawn, and buried her face in the grass. “Delicious,” Ali heard her murmur.
Mrs. DiLaurentis touched Ali’s arm. “Aren’t you going to go out there?”
Ali whipped around and looked at her mother. Her heart was pounding as though she’d run a zillion laps around the hockey field. Every sound from upstairs, where her sister had been kept during graduation, made her tense up. “Are you sure you’ll keep her inside?” she asked, glancing toward the stairs.
A guilty look crossed her mother’s face. It was clear she felt terrible for letting Ali’s sister into her room to fool her friends, and she’d been trying for the past forty-eight hours to make it up to Ali. They’d ordered takeout from Ali’s favorite sushi place as a graduation dinner. She’d slipped Ali a pair of diamond stud earrings before the ceremony that afternoon, a graduation gift. But it didn’t fix what had happened. Courtney had fooled her friends. Courtney had been seen.
What if there had been something different about Courtney, something telling that her friends had noticed? She imagined them going home Tuesday night and discussing it on a four-way phone call. Her eyes looked a little different on the patio, don’t you think? Aria might have said. And then Hanna would have piped up with, And Ali wouldn’t wear a halter top like that. And then Spencer: You know, I’ve seen a light on in the guest room. And I’ve heard rumors over the years.
But no. There hadn’t been any rumors, had there? This had been a contained secret. Then, Ali thought of Jenna. What if she’d said something? Maybe just an innocent comment to Spencer once, something Spencer refused to believe. Or what about the man her mother had told? Maybe he’d said something. Her friends could have had an inkling all along.
What if they were slowly figuring it out? Everything, even the switch?
“You have nothing to worry about,” Mrs. DiLaurentis said softly, breaking Ali from her thoughts. She pulled her bottom lip into her mouth. “Although honestly, honey, I wish you’d just tell them.”
“No,” Ali almost shrieked.
“Why not? They’ll understand. They won’t care that you kept this from them, if that’s what you’re worried about. People keep things from people all the time.”
“Yeah, you know that all too well,” Ali snapped.
Mrs. DiLaurentis flinched. Reflexively, she raised her hand to Ali, and Ali thought she was going to slap her again, but she only used it to push a strand of hair out of her eyes. “Let’s not get into that again,” she said in an even tone.
Ali gritted her teeth. Did her mother just expect her to forget everything? There was a man out there who was her real father—she was sure of it—someone her mother was keeping from her. She was determined to find out who it was. She’d considered telling Mr. DiLaurentis, but then she’d decided that it was more powerful to wait until she uncovered the man’s identity.
When she turned back to the window, Emily was in the yard now, too, wearing a pair of baggy jeans and a nondescript blue T-shirt. She and Aria were joking around near Ali’s flower bushes. And then Ali had another thought: If she didn’t go out soon, her friends would ring the doorbell. Maybe they’d insist on coming in the house. What if Courtney appeared at the top of the stairs? What if the girls wanted to go upstairs, into Ali’s room, and Courtney loomed in the doorway?