Ali's Pretty Little Lies
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Ali wanted Aria to confide in her if she was worried—maybe if Aria did, Ali could open up about her own family worries. But Aria didn’t work that way. While the other girls had their own reasons for ingratiating themselves to Ali, spilling their secrets if she so much as asked how their day was, it was hard to get Aria to open up. In fact, Ali wasn’t exactly sure sometimes what Aria got out of the friendship. Sure, she liked being part of a clique, but she often held Ali at arm’s length, keeping her feelings close to the vest. Sometimes, it made Ali fight for her affection and attention even more. Other times, it just annoyed her.
Suddenly, Ali spied something on one of the tables. An old, silver pocket mirror with delicate engravings on the handle and the back was propped up next to a stack of books. Her doctors had used a very similar mirror during group sessions at the Radley.
She shut her eyes, a memory flooding back. Miss Anna, the psychologist, would pass the mirror around to each girl, telling her to look into it and share with the group what she most wanted to be. Most girls would give touchy-feely answers: I want to be strong; I want to be better; I want to be happy. But Ali had gazed at her reflection, her features matching her sister’s. She hadn’t said she wanted to be her sister, though, as most people at the hospital would have thought. She’d said, I want to be free.
She slipped the mirror into her bag and walked away.
“This place smells like my grandma’s basement,” she said, grabbing Aria’s arm and steering her out the door. “Let’s go outside.”
They wove through the piles of wicker baskets and around a large wooden butter churn and emerged into the late afternoon sun. The air was scented with lilacs. A horse neighed from a nearby pasture. Despite the idyllic setting, Ali suddenly felt that familiar prickle in her spine. A car passed, and when she looked through the windshield, Melissa Hastings’s scowling face stared back. Ali flinched. They weren’t far from their neighborhood, but this was a back road, not one that Melissa would have much reason to travel on.
Then Ali spied two guys emerging from the enormous Colonial-style house down the path from the barn. “Is that Noel Kahn?” she asked.
Aria whipped around. They both watched as Noel and a guy they didn’t recognize grabbed a basketball from the grass and shot hoops in the huge, circular driveway.
“C’mon,” Ali said, starting across the parking lot. “Let’s go talk to them.”
“Wait!” Aria shrieked, grabbing her arm. “How do I look?”
Ali inspected Aria, from her Technicolor hair to her sparkly blue eye shadow to the swirly patterned hippie top that showed off her skinny arms and big-for-seventh-grade boobs. “You look great,” she said. “But ditch the pig, okay?”
Aria stuck Pigtunia on the roof of her parents’ car, and then she and Ali started over. The boys looked up when they saw them coming. Noel’s brown hair was tousled, and there was a smudge of dirt on his face. He and the other guy, who had curly blond hair, freckles, and pinchable cherub cheeks, wore sleeveless T-shirts, long mesh shorts, and white sneakers that looked enormous on their feet.
“Hey, Ali. Hey, Aria,” Noel said.
Aria grabbed Ali’s hand. He knows my name! the squeeze said. Of course he does, Ali wanted to tell her. She’d only introduced them six million times.
“Hey, Noel,” Ali said. Then she looked at Cherub Cheeks. “Who’s your friend?”
The guy stepped forward. “Mason Byers. I just moved here from Atlanta.”
“He’s going to be on the lacrosse team next year,” Noel said. “Coach asked me to show him around.” He gestured across the street. “Were you girls antiquing?”
“My parents are,” Aria said, rolling her eyes. “They’re obsessed with old stuff.”
“That’s cool.” Noel turned his green eyes to Aria. “My parents are, too. My dad collects scale models of ships. They’re taking over his office.”
“My dad’s into books,” Aria admitted, fiddling with her fake nose ring. “Sometimes he goes to flea markets and brings back a whole crate of them, looking for one that’s valuable. My mom wants to kill him most of the time—we don’t have room for all of them.”
“Flea markets can be pretty cool,” Noel said. “I once found a killer neon beer sign at the one in Bryn Mawr.”
Ali snorted. “Noel, when have you ever gone to a flea market?” Noel’s family was one of the richest in Rosewood.
Noel gave Ali a playful poke. “I’ve been to plenty. And if you’re not interested, when Aria and I go to a flea market, you don’t have to come.”
Ali rolled her eyes. “As if I’d want to.”
A loud beep sounded from across the road. Aria’s parents were trying to fit a round table with ornately carved legs into the back of their Subaru. The table fell to the ground with a clonk, and Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery started arguing.
Clouds rolled across Aria’s face. “We should probably head back over.”
“Good luck with that table,” Noel said.
“Nice meeting you,” Ali said to Mason as they walked away.
Once the boys went back to playing basketball and they were out of earshot, Aria grabbed Ali’s arm excitedly. “Oh my God, he wants to go to a flea market with me!”
Ali snorted. “He didn’t exactly say that.”
“Still, it went well, don’t you think?”
Ali glanced at her friend. Aria’s eyes were shining, almost spinning, she was so excited. For whatever reason, it annoyed her. It wasn’t like Noel would ever really go for Aria when he had someone like Ali as an option. He was just being nice, probably because Aria was Ali’s best friend.
Suddenly, her cell phone buzzed. Hey, cutie, said a text from a local 610 number.
She frowned. Who is this? she wrote back.
You’ve forgotten me again? came the reply. It’s Nick from camp.
Ali’s heart flipped over. Finally! She’d been waiting for Nick to text. My memory is coming back to me, she wrote.
Just wanted to say hi, Nick responded. Gotta run.
Ali slipped her phone back into her pocket, feeling triumphant. She knew making him jealous would work like a charm.
She looked at Aria, suddenly feeling more magnanimous. “I think it went really well,” she said.
By the time the girls were back across the street, the Montgomery parents had managed to get the table in the car. There were angry looks on their faces, but they straightened up once they saw the girls.
Mrs. Montgomery opened the front door and threw her purse into the footwell. “C’mon, Aria. We’d better get going.” She glanced at Ali, then at Ali’s bike, then at Mike, who’d already climbed into the back, his body contorted to accommodate the large table. “I’d offer you a lift home, Ali, but I don’t think there’s room.”
“It’s cool—I don’t mind riding,” Ali answered. Then she looked at Aria, who’d rescued Pigtunia from the roof and was cradling her in her arms. “Are we still on for tonight?”
Aria glanced at her parents, who were now sitting in the front seats of the car, staring straight ahead. Her throat bobbed as she swallowed. “Um, I actually don’t think my parents are going out after all.”
“Oh.” Ali shrugged. “That’s okay. We don’t have to . . .” She mouthed the word drink.
“Actually . . .” Aria spun her blue string bracelet around her wrist, then glanced warily at her parents. “It’s not a good night to come over.”
Ali stepped back. “Why?” Aria stared at her feet, not answering. “Is something going on with your parents?” Ali demanded.
Aria looked wounded, almost like Ali had slapped her. I’m just trying to be nice! Ali almost protested, but Aria got into the car before she could. “I’ll call you later, okay? Sorry.”
Aria shut the door, leaving Ali standing next to the car, her arms dumbly at her sides. Ali stared at the bumper stickers on the car’s back fender as it pulled away. PLANNED PARENTHOOD. VISUALIZE WHIRLED PEAS. A Darwin fish. Aria didn’t even look out the window to wave good-bye.
Ali walked away as the car pulled out of the lot. As she reached into her bag, her fingers closed on something familiar. The silver mirror. She pulled it out and stared into the glass. For a moment, she didn’t recognize the girl looking back—she looked sad, bereft, confused. Nothing like herself at all.
SO MUCH FOR BEING A MATCHMAKER
A few hours later, Ali and Emily lay on the long leather sectionals in Ali’s den. Ali was flipping through prom issues of Teen Vogue, CosmoGirl, and Seventeen, and Emily was leafing through a dog-eared copy of Horoscope Birthday Book, which she seemed to never tire of. MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 blared in the background, and the house smelled like the baked chicken and corn on the cob Mrs. DiLaurentis had fixed for dinner. Jason stomped around upstairs, slamming his bureau drawers and opening and closing his closet door. Miserable rock music hummed through the ceiling.
“All these girls look hideous in mint green,” Ali declared as she turned a page of a prom-dress fashion spread. “Any dress that’s the same shade of a scoop of ice cream is not sexy.”
Emily placed the birthday book on the ottoman. The spine was so worn that the pages splayed open without any encouragement. Emily had been reading the entry for June 6, Ali’s birthday, for probably the billionth time. “I think you’d look pretty good in mint green,” she decided after studying the picture of the dress.
“That’s because I look good in any color,” Ali said, only half joking.
“You do,” Emily said earnestly, and Ali wanted to hug her. Emily was always good for a pick-me-up. After Aria had mysteriously canceled, Ali had called up Emily asking if she wanted to come over here instead. Naturally, Emily had given her an emphatic yes.
Emily doodled a picture of a girl in a prom dress on the cover of one of her notebooks. Instead of keeping a diary, Emily displayed her thoughts, likes, and dislikes in doodles on her notebooks: On this particular one, she’d penned her favorite swimmer’s name, Michael Phelps, in bubble letters; a picture of the Rosewood Day shark mascot in blue Sharpie; and Ali’s, Spencer’s, Aria’s, and Hanna’s names in calligraphy, followed by the letters BFF.
The air conditioner kicked on again, fluttering the curtains on the bay window. Ali stood up and pushed the curtains back, revealing the view of the Cavanaughs’ house across the street. It had been through this very window that Toby Cavanaugh had spied on them last year on the night everything happened.
Emily must have been thinking the same thing, because she cleared her throat. “I think I saw Jenna today. Maybe she’s home from school.”
“I saw her, too,” Ali said.
Emily twirled her pen between her fingers. “Do you ever . . . think about her?”
“Not really,” Ali lied.
“Do you ever think it’s weird that Toby confessed to something he didn’t do?”