Ali's Pretty Little Lies
Page 9

 Sara Shepard

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Ali yanked the curtains shut. “He did do it, Em. End of story.”
“End. Of. Story.” Ali pointed to the string bracelet on both of their wrists. There were a lot of things she’d considered telling Emily since that night. What she’d seen just before the firework went off. The discussion she’d had with Jenna even before that night. But she’d been lying for so long that she couldn’t start over now. And anyway, the truth wouldn’t change what had happened.
She tugged at Emily’s ponytail. “I’m so glad you could come over tonight, Em.”
“Totally.” Emily ducked her head bashfully. “We haven’t had a night alone since February.”
Ali smirked. “Of course you’d keep track of something like that.” Emily was like the friendship secretary, keeping minutes of exactly how much time they spent together. Sometimes, she’d announce that they’d been friends for two hundred and thirteen days, or that they’d spent four hundred minutes on the phone the past week, or that they’d exchanged sixty-seven emails or written a hundred and nine texts, or that they’d shared fourteen secrets.
Emily looked worried. “Is it weird?”
“Nah.” Ali hugged a pillow. “Well, maybe weird in a cute way.” If the others were around, Ali might have dogged Emily a little more for it, but when it was just the two of them, she could tell her what she really thought. When Ali was with Emily and only Emily, being so polished and perfect didn’t matter as much.
Footsteps sounded in the hall, and the girls looked up. Mrs. DiLaurentis emerged in the kitchen in a sundress, a thin leather bankbook in her hands. She stopped short when she saw Ali and Emily in the den. “I thought you girls were going to the mall,” she blurted, hiding the book behind her back.
Ali cocked her head. “We never said that.”
“Oh.” Mrs. DiLaurentis looked flustered. “Well. Don’t stay up too late, okay?”
The garage door slammed. Ali waited for her mother’s Mercedes engine to start, but it didn’t. She was half-tempted to go out into the garage and see if she was just sitting in her car, talking on her phone—she did that sometimes. Freak.
Bzz. Ali’s phone vibrated in her back pocket. She had a new text from Nick. Hey, cutie, it said. Write anything about anyone on a cabin wall lately?
Ali’s stomach swooped, and she let out a happy squeal. Sorry, haven’t met any good kissers, she replied.
“Who are you writing to?” Emily peeked at Ali’s phone from the couch.
Ali turned the phone over. “Someone from hockey.” She didn’t want to share Nick quite yet. It was nice keeping it quiet until she was sure something was actually happening between them. Besides, Emily would probably criticize her for moving on too quickly from Matt, breaking his heart. Emily was a softie like that.
She looked up at Emily, taking in her long strawberry-blond hair, light eyes, and cute, freckly face. “We need to find you a boyfriend, Em.”
Emily looked startled. “We do?”
“Duh! You haven’t even had a first kiss!” She clapped her hands. “I think I might’ve found someone perfect for you. He just moved to Rosewood—his name is Mason Byers. He’s playing on the lacrosse team, so he’s sporty, too. And he seems really sweet, Em—he’s from somewhere in the South. I bet you’d really like him.”
She jumped to her feet, getting even more and more excited. “I could call Noel right now and ask for his number. He’s supercute, Em—he has freckles, too.”
Emily slowly pulled her bottom lip into her mouth. “I’m not interested.”
Ali placed her hands on her hips. “You haven’t even met him yet. And he’s not a butt-grabber, I promise.” Once, at a party at Noel Kahn’s house earlier this year, an eighth grader had squeezed Emily’s butt hard, giving her a playful wink when she’d turned around to glare at him. Emily had recounted this story to Ali with horror, not realizing that she should have taken it as a compliment.
Emily’s expression still didn’t change. Puzzled, Ali climbed next to her on the couch. “What’s really going on?” she demanded.
Emily stared at her freshly painted nails. “I sort of like someone else.”
“Really?” Ali grabbed Emily’s knee. “Who?”
Emily’s eyes darted back and forth. “I can’t tell you.”
Ali burst out laughing. She knew everything about Emily, even the embarrassing stuff: that she’d gotten her period at eleven, that she’d wet the bed at a swimming sleepover in fourth grade, that she’d accidentally grazed an older boy’s erection during swim practice and hid in the locker room for the rest of the hour, terrified he thought she’d meant to do it.
“Is it someone really embarrassing?” Ali goaded. “Someone off-limits? Whoever it is, you can tell me, Em. I won’t share it with anyone, I promise.”
Emily grabbed a magazine and opened to a random page. “These shoes are cute, don’t you think?”
“Whoever it is, I could help you get him to like you. Seriously. Just tell me, okay?” Then she leaned her head on Emily’s shoulder. “I’ll be your best friend?”
Emily stiffened under the weight of Ali’s head. After a moment, she moved away and stood up from the couch. “I just remembered,” she blurted, diving for her overnight bag and stuffing it with the pajama pants and makeup bag she’d pulled out onto the floor. “I have to do this thing for my mom.”
“Uh-huh. I forgot.” Emily slung the bag over her arm and hurried through the kitchen. She shoved her feet into her shoes, which were waiting by the front door, not even bothering to tie them. She glanced back at Ali, who was still on the couch. “See ya.”
But the door slammed shut, making the pots and pans hanging over the kitchen island clang together slightly. Ali blinked hard in the silence. What the hell just happened?
She stood up and padded into the kitchen, yanking open the fridge but not pulling anything out. A dog-of-the-month calendar on the wall caught her eye, and she looked at the thirty-one squares that represented May. She and Emily might not have had any one-on-one time since February, but it had been much, much longer than that since Ali had actually spent a Saturday night alone.
On Sunday morning, Ali, Jason, and the DiLaurentis parents pulled up to a familiar sign pointing to a secluded road lined by tall, thick trees. THE PRESERVE AT ADDISON-STEVENS, read the calligraphy lettering. Mr. DiLaurentis put on his blinker and steered up the drive.
“Those white trees are freaky,” Ali grumbled, glancing out the window at the birches in the woods, their albino branches twisting and curling over the road. “They remind me of the people in this place.”
Her mother scowled at her in the rearview mirror, but Ali pretended not to notice, slathering on an extra coat of nail polish. Her mom hated the smell, but Ali wanted to punish her. This morning, after she’d woken up and showered, her mother had walked into her bedroom without knocking and sat on her bed. “You’re visiting your sister at the hospital today.”
“No, I’m not.” Ali had willed tears to her eyes. “It’s too hard on me, Mom. I have nightmares every time I go there.”
For some reason, the pity act wasn’t working. “If you don’t come, you can’t go to the end-of-seventh-grade sleepover with your friends,” Mrs. DiLaurentis proclaimed.
Ali’s mouth dropped. “You can’t tell me what I can and can’t do!”
Mrs. DiLaurentis stood. “I’m your mother, of course I can,” she said sternly. “She’s your sister, Alison. I know you two have a lot of bad history, but you need to get past it and try to have some sympathy. Have you thought any more about the therapist I recommended?”
Ali had flopped onto the bed and covered her head with a pillow. Her mom had mentioned a local therapist from time to time, saying it might help her deal with her issues with her twin. But what her mom didn’t know was that she’d been to therapists for years—and they’d never been able to solve that problem.
Now she was a prisoner in the car. The closer they got to the hospital, the tighter the knot in her stomach cinched. As her father continued up the drive, Ali’s phone beeped. She thought it might be a text from Nick—they’d sent messages back and forth all morning, and she was sure he was this close to asking her out. But it was from Emily instead. I’m sorry about last night. Where are you? Can we talk now?
Ali gazed at the building in the distance. The hospital was a big white mansion with impressive columns, looking more like someone’s house than a mental institution. A nurse and a patient hobbled along the path. Another patient sat on a bench, just staring. An ambulance was parked in a side driveway, waiting for a disaster.
Can’t right now, she wrote, then turned her phone off. She’d begun to understand why her parents kept the second twin a secret all these years: There was definitely a stigma to having a daughter or sister in a loony bin. People might assume the DiLaurentises were bad parents for putting her there. Or maybe they’d assume the rest of the family was crazy, too.
Her heart pounded fast as they pulled up to the guard’s gate and gave their name to a khaki-clad man with a walkie-talkie. They circled the driveway and passed the obsessively manicured topiaries and the glassy-eyed patients on the lawn. For a moment, Ali thought she recognized one of them from the Radley, a girl who used to scream in her bed for hours on end, but she couldn’t be sure.
They parked in the visitors’ lot and got out. Ali lagged behind her brother and parents, staring at the names on the plaques of old patients who had passed on that were mounted beside the trees and benches. NELLY PETERSON. THOMAS RYDER. GRACE HARTLEY. That was another thing people said about the Preserve: The suicide rate was worryingly high. People must have thought death was a better option than being trapped in here.
The lobby had marble floors, a big fountain in the center, and modern white couches. After giving their name to a lab coat–wearing receptionist, they were buzzed into the patient ward, which was markedly shabbier and older than the lobby or the outside. They entered the day room, which was big and bright with several large windows, threadbare couches pushed against the walls, and an old, blinking TV playing a movie Ali didn’t recognize. The room smelled of antiseptic cleaner and macaroni and cheese. A nurse listening to headphones sat behind a window in the corner. A woman Ali was almost positive was a psychiatrist was talking to a despondent girl with white-blond hair by a bookcase full of board games.
Then, the door opened, and a familiar girl walked into the room.
Ali sucked in her breath. Her sister’s blond hair had been blow-dried and curled to perfection. Her skin looked flawless, despite the gross hospital food she was no doubt eating, and her boobs were still a teensy bit bigger and her waist a teensy bit smaller than Ali’s. Gold earrings dangled from her ears, and she wore shimmery pink lipstick.