Ali's Pretty Little Lies
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Ali’s mother, a tall, elegant woman with long blond hair, a heart-shaped face, and a perma-Botoxed forehead, placed her napkin in her lap and daintily picked up a skewer. Her father made an mm sound and smacked his lips, which Ali had always thought were a tad thick and rubbery. A long string of cheese stretched uncouthly from the skewer to his mouth. That was probably the reason her mom never brought him to her charity dinners.
Ali wrinkled her nose in disgust. “What is this? It looks like Velveeta.”
“It’s fondue.” Mrs. DiLaurentis pushed a skewer toward her. “You’ll love it.”
“I’d probably love full-fat ice cream, too, but you don’t see me eating that.”
Her mother sipped from her glass of white wine. “It’s French, honey. Therefore it has no calories.” She twisted her mouth like it was a funny joke.
Ali folded her hands across her empty plate and gazed around the restaurant. It was Thursday night, and she was with her family at Rive Gauche, the new French bistro that had opened up in the luxe section of the King James Mall. The place was decorated with distressed mirrors, retro alcohol ads, and Paris street signs. Groups of well-dressed Main Line women shared mussels and French fries at almost every table. A group of college kids who looked like they’d stepped out of the pages of J. Crew tucked into tureens of French onion soup in the corner.
Ali considered taking a Polaroid of the cool new restaurant, but then decided against it—this place was awesome, but she’d rather take a photo of it with her friends. She couldn’t even believe her family was out to dinner; they hadn’t done this in ages. Even so, her parents sat as far apart as possible in the booth, as though they were two awkward junior high kids at a dance. Mrs. DiLaurentis was glued to her cell phone as if she were messaging with the President, and Mr. DiLaurentis kept peeking at a sheaf of legal briefs he had in his bag.
“Jason, you’ll try some, won’t you?” Mrs. DiLaurentis placed her phone by her plate and nudged a skewer in Ali’s brother’s direction.
Jason’s floppy blond hair fell into his eyes as he shook his head. “I’m not hungry.”
“Don’t you feel well?” Mrs. DiLaurentis reached out to feel Jason’s skin.
Jason pulled away. “I’m fine.”
Ali snorted. “Looks like someone’s in one of his Elliott Smith moods,” she said, referencing the moody, miserable music he always listened to when he was depressed.
Jason glanced at Ali for a split second, then sniffed and turned away. Ali wondered if he was pissed because he’d heard that she’d been smoking with Cassie, or maybe that she’d flirted with Darren. But why would he care about either of those things? Most of the time, Jason pretended like Ali didn’t even exist.
Which really hurt. Ali was grateful her parents hadn’t guessed who she was—they were too wrapped up in their own lives to pay attention. As long as she acted enough like Ali, they didn’t question anything. But she’d thought Jason would have noticed something. Wasn’t he supposed to know her the best of anyone? He’d visited her practically every weekend at the Radley, after all, playing spit with her in the day room, telling her about the girls he’d liked—one of whom had been Melissa Hastings, with whom he’d struck up a friendship. “This is how you get her to like you back,” Ali had coached him, giving him pointers that she’d picked up from Cosmo.
But when she’d taken over her sister’s life, she’d discovered that Melissa was dating Ian Thomas, and Jason was single. She’d wanted to ask Jason if he was okay, but it seemed out of character—Alison thought Jason was annoying and insufferable. If she wanted to play this part properly, she had to pretend she thought that, too. If she told even one person the truth, her secret would be one step closer to being revealed.
The waitress set down everyone’s drinks. Across the table, Mr. and Mrs. DiLaurentis whispered.
“Now?” Ali’s mother looked alarmed. “We should wait.”
“It can’t wait,” Mr. DiLaurentis said firmly.
“Yes, it can.”
“What can?” Ali asked, grabbing a piece of cheese-saturated bread and popping it in her mouth. The cheese melted warmly on her tongue. It was so good she almost swooned.
Her mother fumbled with her utensils. “Um, nothing, honey. We’re just a little stressed right now. Sending Jason to Yale is quite an expense, and we’re trying to figure out how to manage our finances.”
Ali burst out laughing. “If you guys are so worried about money, then why are you building that huge gazebo in the backyard?”
There was a long pause. Mr. DiLaurentis jumped up to use the bathroom, shaking the table so hard he almost knocked over the fondue pot. Ali’s mom’s phone rang, and she answered in a false, bright voice.
Ali grabbed her mother’s wineglass when she wasn’t looking and took a long sip. Whatever. A year ago, she would’ve taken their bizarre behavior personally—maybe her parents sensed who she really was and refused to share things with her. But they kept lots of secrets, things they didn’t tell Jason, either.
Mr. DiLaurentis returned from the bathroom and immediately reached for his wineglass. When Mrs. DiLaurentis got off the phone, she looked at Ali. “So. We’re going to the hospital this weekend.”
Ali’s stomach flipped. “Again? We were just there.”
“You were there two months ago. It’ll be good for you to visit your sister.”
“I have plans,” Ali said quickly.
Mr. DiLaurentis’s brow furrowed. “Your mother didn’t even tell you which day we were going.”
“I have plans every day.” Ali smiled weakly. “Please don’t make me go. It’s so hard on me emotionally. I spend hours crying in bed whenever I come back from there.”
Mrs. DiLaurentis looked tormented. Ali felt a dart of triumph. Playing the emotional card always worked.
The rest of the dinner was stilted and silent, no one really talking. Mrs. DiLaurentis jumped up halfway through her entrée because she saw a few women she knew from the Junior League. As they pulled into their neighborhood, there were tons of cars parked on the curb. More cars were jammed in Spencer’s driveway, most of them Jeeps, SUVs, banged-up BMWs, and Hondas. Loud bass thundered from the backyard.
“Looks like someone’s having a party,” Mrs. DiLaurentis murmured.
Mr. DiLaurentis made a face. “On a Thursday night?”
Ali got out of the car to get a better view. Kids stood on the Hastingses’ patio and near the backyard barn where Melissa lived. Melissa sat with her legs crossed at one of the patio tables—with her chin-length blond hair and pearls, she looked like a clone of Mrs. Hastings. Spencer’s father, who was tall and broad with a long, slender nose; strong jaw; and thick head of curly dark hair, stood on the deck, swirling a snifter of cognac.
Mr. DiLaurentis rolled his eyes as he slammed the driver’s door. “Do they have to be so damn showy? That third tier to the deck looks ridiculous.”
“And she’s always dropping hints that they only serve Dom Pérignon at parties,” Mrs. DiLaurentis added. “How tacky!” But even as she got out of the car and walked inside, her gaze remained on the crowd. She looked almost wistful.
Jason went inside without commenting. After a moment, Ali was the only one left on the driveway. She peered through the hedges. Most of the kids she recognized: There was Justin Poole, a hot soccer player named Garrett Flagg, and Reed Cohen, whose band almost got signed at a Philly music festival last year. Ian Thomas, with his straw-colored hair and confident, golden-boy good looks, stood by the barn’s front door, holding a red plastic cup that was almost certainly full of some sort of alcohol. But when Ali saw the girl next to Ian, flirting up a storm, her mouth dropped open.
It was Spencer.
Instantly, Ali started across the lawn, not caring if her brand-new white Maloles flip-flops got grass stains. She wriggled through the opening in the hedges and marched past the crowd of kids until she was right next to Spencer and Ian. When Spencer turned, she paled. “Oh!” she chirped nervously.
Ian glanced at the two of them, then wandered away to talk to another senior. Ali faced Spencer and smiled sweetly. “You didn’t tell me there was a party tonight.”
Spencer’s eyes darted back and forth. “Melissa put it together at the last minute—she got into Penn on a full scholarship.”
“Yay for her,” Ali said. “But you could have texted me.”
“I’m sorry.” Spencer looked nervous. “I didn’t think you were home. I saw your car pull out earlier.”
Ali placed her hands on her hips. “So?”
Spencer set her mouth in a line. “Ali, it wasn’t—” Then her eyes clapped on someone behind them. Ian was sauntering back over, now with a plate of food in his hand.
“Who grilled these burgers?” He took a juicy bite. “They’re amazing.”
Spencer brightened. “I did, actually.”
“Seriously?” Ian looked impressed. “Can you do steaks?”
Spencer sank into one hip and gave him a long, sultry stare. “I can do anything.”
Ian’s smile broadened. Suddenly, Ali wondered if he was why Spencer hadn’t told her about the party. Maybe she wanted him all to herself.
She inserted herself into Ian’s field of view. “Heeey, Eee,” she said, calling him by the nickname her sister had used in her diary.
Ian turned his attention to Ali. His smile widened, and he looked her up and down. “What’s up, Ali?”
She batted her eyelashes. He was way too old for her, but it was so much fun to flirt with him—and she couldn’t resist those sexy dimples when he smiled. “Is that Dom Pérignon you’re drinking?” She pointed at the cup.
Ian shrugged. “It’s champagne, but I have no idea what kind.”
Ali looked at Spencer. “Apparently your mom bragged that she only serves Dom Pérignon champagne at parties. It seems kind of tacky, though, don’t you think?” She loved needling Spencer with the snarky things her parents said about the Hastings family.
“Who cares if it’s tacky if it tastes good?” Ian said. He proffered the cup to Ali. “Want a sip?”
“Ian?” Melissa interrupted from the patio just before Ali accepted his cup. She stood at the railing, glaring at them. Ali gave her a sweet smile, but Melissa’s expression didn’t change.
“Coming,” Ian said, snatching the cup back from Ali. He shot the girls a parting smile and said he’d see them later. When he slung his arm around Melissa’s shoulders, Spencer made a tiny, tortured whimper.
“Is someone out to get her sister’s boyfriend?” Ali teased.
Spencer’s face reddened. “Of course not!”
Ali rolled her eyes. “Oh, please. It’s written all over your face. ‘I can do anything,’” she added in a breathy voice. “‘Come to me, big boy. Give me a big, wet kiss.’”