”Looking good, Alison! ” Mark Hadley, an eighth grader, called as Ali passed him on the track later that afternoon.
”Can I run with you? ” Brain Diaz shouted next.
Ali shot a brilliant smile to them over her shoulder, but she didn stop. The red lines on the track blurred beneath her. She pumped her arms hard, cycled her legs, and whizzed past the bleachers, trying to clear her thought. This was her fifth lap, and she had decided to run as long as it took to get the memory of what had just happened at the hospital out of her mind. There was only one problem: The image of her sisters sneering face was branded in her mind.
Shed considered telling her parents what her sister had said to her in the bathroom, but shed decided against it. Mrs. DiLaurentis would ask the real Ali for the truth. Even though the real Ali had claimed Im Alison, Im Alison again and again, what if the Preserve kept surveillance tapes? Ali had blatantly said Please don lock me up again. Had she sealed her doom? And what if her sister was watching her when she got to go off campus? Did she really have a chaperon? How strict was the Preserve, anyway?
There had only been one other time shed been alone with her sister since shed become Ali. It had been early in sixth grade, not long after the switch happened—her sister had come home for a weekend. Apparently, the girl everyone thought Courtney was having a hard time transitioning to the Preserve; the doctors thought some time away might do her some good.
Ali had stressed about the visit no end. Theyd all be prisoners in the house while her sister was home—her parents were still keeping things a secret—and she didn know how to explain to her friends why she was staying from them all weekend. She couldn say theyd gone out of town—Spencer would see their car in the driveway and the lights snapping on and off inside the house. In the end, she said she was and really contagious.
But the stress didn end there. As soon as her sister entered the house, Ali watched her like a hawk. Shed even slept in the den to make sure her sister didn go out at night and locked her bedroom door to make sure her twin didn break in and look through her things. For the first day, the plan worked well enough: Ali managed to keep her sister inside and contained. But on the second day, when Ali had turned her back, her sister vanished. To her horror, she found her standing in the front yard. A second girl looked up at the sound of the slammed door, her eyes wide. It was Jenna Cavanaugh. And that was when Ali remembered: Jenna had met both twins years ago, during another visit home—theyd all played Barbies in the backyard one afternoon. She was the only girl in Rosewood who knew there were two of them.
A nasty smile had spread across her sisters face. ”I was just talking to Jenna, Courtney, ” she said. ”I was telling her all about who you really are. ”
Jennas eyes had ticktocked from one twin to the other. Black spots had appeared before Alis eyes. Shed grabbed her sisters hand and pulled her back inside.
Their parents were in the kitchen. Ali told them that her sister was talking to the neighbors. ”I was just telling them the truth, ” ”Courtney ” screamed. ”I told her that I was the real Alison and that I was being held prisoner! ”
A vein had pulsated in Mrs. DiLaurentiss temples, and shed sent Courtney back to the Preserve early. It was obvious their parents didn believe her, but if they had proof—like Ali saying Please don lock me up again—their minds just might change. Ali couldn go back there—she just couldn . She tried to picture those, bare, antiseptic beds; that joyless common room; those nurses in their scrubs handing out pills. One year at the Radley, her family hadn visited for Christmas, taking a trip to Colorado instead. The hospital celebration had involved a pathetic plastic tree, carols no one sang along to on the out-of-tune piano, and turkey with gross, lumpy gravy. Ali was certain that every girl on the floor had gone to sleep on her pillow.
Now Ali ran past the back o the track, which bordered the soccer fields. In the narrow strip of grass that separated the two were small concrete blocks flush against the ground. Each one was labeled with a year and the words Time Capsule.
It was from the game Rosewood Day played every year. Ali thought of the Time Capsule piece shed taken from her twin. After he discovered what she did, Jason had stormed away with the piece and never brought it back—Ali had no idea whatever happened to it. But that hardly mattered—she had used the missing piece to garner sympathy from her friends.
She wiped sweat from her forehead. If it hadn been for that piece of the flag, would I even be here right now? she wondered. Perhaps her fate was that coincidental, that precarious. Perhaps it could change on a dime once again.
Unexpected tears sprang to her eyes. It felt as if all the balls in the delicate juggling acts she was performing had crashed to the ground. Not only with what had happened with her sister, but everything that was going on with her friends, too. Why were they keeping so many secrets from her? Didn they like her anymore? Didn they want to be part of her clique? Had they forgotten how much shed done for them? And what did her sister mean by I know what youve been doing? What if she could see her friends defying her, see her screwing up so badly?
Ali passed the bleachers once more without even realizing shed made another lap and then, suddenly, felt the ground go out beneath her. In seconds, she was sprawled out on the track, her cheek hitting the pavement hard.
”Are you okay? ” Mark Hadley said, standing above her.
”Im fine. ” Ali tried to laugh it off as she stood.
A single tear rolled down her cheek, but she quickly sniffed and kept the rest at bay. Alison DiLaurentis did not cry. Alison DiLaurentis didn freak over her loser sister, nor did stress, worry, or fear for her popularity. That was why she was the most popular girl in school—because she knew she deserved it. Her sister was just understanding her like she always did. And as for her friends, maybe she just needed to remind them how special and amazing she was, how theyd be nothings without her. Shed kill them with kindness, dazzle them with the sparkling magic that drew them to her in the first place. It would be easy, really. She already knew what all of them wanted. She could snap her fingers, and it would be done, just like that.