Ali's Pretty Little Lies
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Ali thought about the Preserve at Addison-Stevens. She’d visited a few times, and it was even worse than the rumors. The patient ward had peeling blue walls, dark corridors, and bars on the windows. Kids shuffled through the halls despondently, some of them muttering, others screaming, most twitching. Her sister was one of them now. She’d been insisting she was Alison DiLaurentis for over a year, working herself into a lather. It was a beautiful catch-22: The more the real Ali insisted she’d been unjustly imprisoned at the Preserve, the more ammunition that gave the staff to keep her there. They had her on so many meds she was drooling most of the time.
Ali glanced over her shoulder, suddenly getting the queasy sensation that someone was watching her. That feeling struck her now and then, though mostly she just chalked it up to being stressed about graduating.
She turned back to the photo. It felt dangerous, somehow. Ali could never, ever let anyone find out her secret; she wasn’t going to the Preserve as long as she lived. She twisted open the latch of the display case, stuck her hand inside, grabbed the picture of pretty, fifth-grade Alison, and slipped it into her bag. She would burn it when she got home tonight.
Out of sight, out of mind. Just like she used to be.
SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES
Later that afternoon, Ali sat in Cassie Buckley’s Jeep, in Cassie’s driveway. Cassie had just gotten her driver’s license, and she loved giving the girls rides home. They faced Cassie’s rickety Victorian house, where they and a few other girls on the field hockey team had been hanging out after school. The place had a wraparound porch, stained-glass windows, and a chicken-shaped weathervane on the roof. To the right was Cassie’s long and narrow side yard, which contained a garden that needed weeding, a stone wall that separated it from the neighbors, and an old claw-foot bathtub that wasn’t out of place here in funky Old Hollis. Ali actually preferred Hollis’s shabby-chic vibe to Rosewood’s uberfussy perfection, but, as it didn’t seem like an opinion Alison DiLaurentis would have, she never let on.
After she finished checking her mirrors, Cassie turned the key in the ignition. “I hope we pass some hot seniors on the road.”
“Which ones?” Zoe Schwartz asked from the backseat.
“I don’t know,” Cassie said. “Someone hot.”
“I’ll find you someone.” Zoe flipped through the pages of the latest Mule, Rosewood’s yearbook, which had just come out that day. No one knew why it was called The Mule—it was an apocryphal, private-school inside joke that the yearbook staff felt superstitious about messing with.
“Ian Thomas is pretty cute,” Zoe decided, pausing on Ian’s senior picture. His smile was wide, his eyes were ultrablue, and he actually looked cute in the graduation cap.
“Not as cute as Ali’s brother.” Cassie grabbed the communal Marlboro Light that was being passed around and took a long drag.
“Ew!” Ali said.
“What? He’s gorgeous.” Cassie nudged her. “Can you get me a date with him?”
“You wouldn’t want a date with him,” Ali said. “He’s so moody.” Then she straightened up in the front passenger seat, plucked the cigarette from Zoe’s hand, and puffed, doing her best not to wince when the smoke hit her lungs. The other girls were sophomores or juniors; she was the first seventh grader to ever make the team, even beating out I’ve-played-field-hockey-since-birth Spencer. But when Ali sat in Cassie’s Jeep with them, smoking and talking about boys, it was like they were all the same age.
“Ian’s actually really nice,” Ali said. “I hang around him all the time.”
“Really?” The girls looked at her. “When?”
Ali loved that she had their attention. “He dates Spencer Hastings’s sister. He’s over there a lot.”
Cassie wrinkled her button nose. “Melissa Hastings? What a waste.”
“She’s so prissy,” Zoe agreed. “What does he see in her?”
Ali picked at her manicure. Ironically, her brother had had a crush on Melissa Hastings, too. She didn’t know what to think of Melissa, though. Of all the people in Rosewood, Melissa was one of the few who didn’t bow down to her. Sometimes, when she was in her yard, Melissa stood at the window of the barn apartment at the edge of the Hastings’s property and just stared at her.
Cassie blew a smoke ring. “What are our summer plans, people? School’s ending in a month.”
Brianna Huston, who had glossy black hair and thick goalie’s legs, lowered her sunglasses. “Lose ten pounds. And get a boyfriend, of course.”
“A summer romance would be awesome,” Zoe sighed.
“I want a boyfriend, too,” Ali declared.
Cassie gave her a questioning look as she braked at the stop sign. “Don’t you already have one?”
Ali pictured Matt’s tearful face when he’d climbed into his family’s minivan for Virginia. She’d only responded to his earnest, love-struck texts twice. “I’m not into the long-distance thing.”
They passed Hollis College. Students were sitting on benches with cups of iced coffee or talking on the stone steps. When Ali noticed three shirtless guys playing Frisbee on the lawn, she reached over and pressed on the horn. The guys looked up and grinned. Ali blew them a kiss as Cassie drove away.
“Like them, maybe,” Ali joked.
Cassie’s jaw dropped open as she looked at Ali. “You should be my new bestie,” Cassie said. “I’ll kick aside these bitches and make you my co–queen bee.”
“Hey!” Zoe said good-naturedly.
“I’m kidding,” Cassie said, then gave Ali a wink.
They drove out of Hollis and wound through the streets of Rosewood, where the houses got bigger and more spread out. Cassie cranked up Jay-Z, and all the girls sang along. They passed the white monolithic King James Mall, a sign for the brand-new Rive Gauche French bistro on the marquee at the entrance. Then they looped down one of the back roads past the Marwyn trail, whose parking lot was filled with cars and bikes. Next, they crossed the old covered bridge, which everyone loved to tag with graffiti, and then drove past the neighborhood of enormous, secluded mansions where Sean Ackard, Hanna’s crush, lived.
Cassie entered a neighborhood full of McMansions to drop off Zoe, then pulled up to Brianna’s gated horse farm. When it was just Ali and Cassie in the car, Cassie lit another cigarette, took a drag, and passed it to Ali. “So guess what? My mom is actually going to be home long enough to come to the sports awards ceremony next week. I guess she, like, felt guilty or something.”
“That’s awesome.” Ali squeezed Cassie’s hand. “Now we just have to get my mom to come to my graduation.”
Cassie looked at her sympathetically. “Is she still out all the time?”
“Yep,” Ali said tightly. “Miss Socialite Jessica DiLaurentis.” She rolled her eyes. “My dad doesn’t even go to events with her anymore.”
When Ali had told her friends that she and the field hockey girls talked about deep stuff, she wasn’t entirely lying. They talked about their parents a lot. Cassie’s were jet-setters, never making time for her. To the other girls, she made it sound like it was a good thing—her empty house was perfect for parties, she could wear whatever she wanted to school, and her parents didn’t even notice the ding she’d made in the front fender of the Jeep. But to Ali, she told the truth because Ali’s parents were also on their own planets—her mom had attended three benefits this month for her cause célèbre, children with mental illness, but rarely spent time with Ali or Jason.
They turned onto Ali’s street. The familiar houses Ali had looked at every day for a year and a half now gleamed in the late-afternoon sun. Mona Vanderwaal made loops around her family’s five-car garage on her Razor scooter. Her friends Phi Templeton and Chassey Bledsoe sat under a willow tree in her front yard, playing with a yo-yo. All three of them looked up, slack-jawed, as they saw Ali and Cassie pass. Dorks.
The Cavanaugh house, a rambling Colonial with a big backyard, was next. Ali gazed at the large oak tree that still bore the remnants of the wooden ladder that had led to Toby Cavanaugh’s tree house. Suddenly, she noticed a face in the front window. Jenna Cavanaugh stared out, big wraparound sunglasses over her eyes. Ali felt a pull in her chest. She held up two fingers to the car window, her and Jenna’s old secret sign. Not that Jenna saw.
Cassie pulled into Ali’s driveway, coming to a stop behind a construction truck filled with ladders and shovels. Next to it was a battered black sports car, its interior full of Burger King cups, empty wrappers, and schoolbooks. “What’s going on in your backyard?” Cassie asked.
Ali sighed dramatically. “My parents are building gazebo-zilla. It’s going to seat a zillion people for all their parties. Those disgusting workers showed up yesterday to consult with my parents about what needed to get done.”
Cassie raised her butt off the seat and gazed at something in the backyard. “They don’t look so disgusting to me.”
Ali followed her gaze. A trio of guys in sweat-stained shirts and ripped jeans traipsed through her yard, passing the tree house in which she and Emily had spent many hours talking. One of the workers had tattoos up and down his arms and carried a shovel over his shoulder. Another had dirt all over his face and was talking on his cell phone. But the third guy, who was younger, was staring right at Ali, his green eyes piercing, an impish smile on his face.
“Oh my God, I’m in love,” Cassie whispered.
“With Darren Wilden?” Ali made a face.
Cassie gaped at her. “You know him? I’ve only seen him in the halls.”
“He’s Jason’s friend.” Ali made a noise at the back of her throat. “His idea of fun is tagging the wall outside the tennis courts.”
“Bad boys are hot.” Cassie pulled out a tube of sheer lip gloss and slowly spread it across her lips.
“He’s all yours,” Ali murmured.
They fell silent as Darren approached, still staring at Ali. Finally, he cleared his throat. “You shouldn’t be smoking, Ali,” he said sternly.
Ali looked down. The Marlboro Light Cassie had lit was still in her hand, white ash curling into the air. Anger flared inside her. Darren was a fixture at her house, as moody as Jason and just as irritating. Who did he think he was, her dad? As if he had any power over what she did!
Ali took another long drag of the cigarette, then flicked it out the window. She stepped out of the car slowly, her eyes on his. She sauntered up to him, not saying a word, until she was right next to him. Then she pulled up her skirt and gave him a little peek of leg. Darren’s eyes went right there and widened not with horror or disgust, but with what was definitely inappropriate lust. Smirking, Ali waved good-bye to Cassie, then turned and strutted into the house, knowing he and Cassie were still staring.
There. She was the one in control, after all.
PARTY ON THE DOWN LOW
“One Swiss fondue with four skewers.” A waitress laid a bubbling cauldron of melted cheese in the center of the table. “Enjoy!”