Ali’s Pretty Little Lies (Prequel)

Seven: So Much For Being A Matchmaker.

Saturday afternoon, Ali parked her bike on the grass between the large, crooked wooden sign that read Antique Warehouse and Arias parents battered, blue, bumper-sticker-plastered Subaru wagon. Aria called her about a half hour ago—her family was coming here to shop for a table, and did Ali want to meet her? Ali had nothing to do, so shed agreed. Besides, it was tense inside her house—doors kept slamming, her parents passed each other without speaking, and at one point her mother answered the ringing phone, said nothing but sighed, and then slammed it down. Ali needed to get out.

Ali pushed open the barn and blinked in the darkness. The antique store smelled a strange mix of mildew and freshly squeezed lemonade. An oldies station was playing on the radio, and everywhere she turned were piles of junk. Old toys, ugly rugs and blankets, and chairs that would definitely collapse if someone sat on them. More clocks than Ali could count sat on every available inch of counter space. Arias brother, Mike, who was in sixth grade, banged on the top of an old pinball machine to get it to work. Then he turned to Ali and gave her a long, amorous stare, just like he always did. Arias brother was so into her—hed once even tried to kiss her at one of Arias sleepovers.

”There you are, ” Aria said, touching Alis shoulder. Ali spun around and took in her friend. It seemed as though the pink streaks in Arias hair had multiplied, and she wore long feather earrings that grazed her shoulders. Tucked under her other arm was stuffed pig puppet, Pigtunia, which her father had brought her from Germany.

”Only babies carry stuffed animals, ” Ali chided.

Aria spun around and shrugged, holding up the puppet and making her oink. ”Pigtunia wanted to go for a ride. How could I say no? ”

Because shes a puppet? Sometimes Aria was such a freak.

”Hey. ” Aria touched a Tiffany-style lamp on the table with Pigtunias snout. ”What do you think? Aren these things worth a lot of money? And look—its only twenty-five dollars! ”

Ali snorted. ”Im sure its a knockoff. ” This was the Main Line, after all. Even junk owners knew what a real Tiffany lamp was worth.

Up ahead, Mr. Montgomery, who Aria called Byron, turned to a smaller, round table with a tile top. ”How about this one? ”

Mrs. Montgomery—Ella—sniffed. ”That won fit all four of us. Or is that the point? ”

”Whats that supposed to mean? ” Mr. Montgomery demanded, crossing his arms over his chest. His tweed blazer had a hole in the elbow.

Mrs. Montgomery pushed a lock of her brown hair behind her ear. ”Forget it. ”

”I don want to forget it. ” Arias dad guided his wife around a corner. They spoke in whispers. Mike looked up from the pinball machine, his brow furrowed.

Ali turned to Aria. ”Whats up with your parents? ”

Aria shrugged. ”They always get like this when they shop for antiques. ”

By the way Arias throat bobbed when she swallowed, Ali knew shed hit a nerve. But you had to be blind not to notice that Arias parents relationship had changed. In sixth grade, Mr. and Mrs, Montgomery spoke French at the dinner table when they wanted to say romantic things in front o their kids. These days, they barely ate dinner at the same time. And once, not that long ago, when Ali had slept over at Arias, shed gotten up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and noticed that Arias mom was sleeping in the guest room. Aria said it was because her dad snored, but the house had been awfully quiet that night.

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 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 exactly sure sometimes what Aria got out of the friendship. Sure, she liked being part of a clique, but she often held Ali at arms 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 sisters. She hadn said she wanted to be her sister, though, as most people at the hospital would have thought. Shes said, I want to be free.

She slipped the mirror into her bag and walked away.

”This place smells like my grandmas basement, ” she said, grabbing Arias arm and steering her out of the door. ”Lets 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 Hastingss scowling face stared back. Ali flinched. They weren 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 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 recognize grabbed a basketball from the grass and shot hoops in the huge, circular driveway.

”Cmon, ” Ali said, starting across the parking lot. ”Lets 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. Noels 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-shirt, long mesh shorts, and white sneakers that looked enormous on their feet.

”Hey, Ali. Hey, Aria, ” Noel said.

Aria grabbed Alis hand. He knows my name! the squeeze said. Of course he does, Ali wanted to tell her. Shed only introduced them six million times.

”Hey, Noel, ” Ali said. Then she looked at Cherub Cheeks. ”Whos your friend? ”

The guy stepped forward. ”Mason Byers. I just moved here from Atlanta. ”

”Hes 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
e obsessed with old stuff. ”

”Thats cool. ” Noel turned his green eyes to Aria. ”My parents are, too. My dad collects scale models of ships. They
e taking over his office. ”

”My dads into books, ” Aria admitted, fiddling with her fake nose ring. ”Sometimes he goes to flea markets and beings back a whole crate of them, looking for one thats valuable. My mom wants to kill him most of the time—we don have room for all of them. ”

”Flea markets can be pretty cool, ” Noel said. ”I once found a killer neon bear sign at the once in Bryn Mawr. ”

Ali snorted. ”Noel, when have you ever gone to a flea market? ” Noels family was one of the richest in Rosewood.

Noel gave Ali a playful poke. ”Ive been to plenty. And if you
e not interested, when Aria and I go to a flea market, you don have to come. ”

Ali rolled her eyes. ”As if Id want to. ”

A loud beep sound from across the road. Arias parents were trying to fit a round table with ornately carved legs into the back of their Subaru. The table to the ground with a clonk, and Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery started arguing.

Clouds rolled across Arias 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 Alis arm excitedly. ”Oh my God, he wants to go to a flea market with me! ”

Ali snorted. ”He didn exactly say that. ”

”Still, it went well, don you think? ”

Ali glanced at her friend. Arias eyes were shining almost spinning, she was so excited. For whatever reason, it annoyed her. It wasn 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 Alis 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.

Youve forgotten me again? came the reply. Its Nick from camp.

Alis heart flipped over. Finally! Shes 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 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 foot well. ”Cmon, Aria. Wed better get going. ” She glanced at Ali, then at Alis bike, then at Mike, whod already climbed into the back, his body contorted to accommodate the large table. ”Id offer you a lift home, Ali, but I don think theres room. ”

”Its cool—I don mind riding, ” Ali answered. Then she looked at Aria, whod 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 not sitting in the front seats of the car, staring straight ahead. Her throat bobbed as she swallowed. ”Um, I actually don think my parents are going out after all. ”

”Oh. ” Ali shrugged. ”Thats okay. We don have to… ” She mouthed the word drink.

”Actually… ” Aria spun her blue string bracelet around her wrist, then glanced warily at her parents. ”Its 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. Im just trying to be nice! Ali almost protested, but Aria got into the car before she could. ”Ill call you later, okay? Sorry. ”

Aria shut the door, leaving standing next to the car, her arms dumbly at her sides. Ali stared at the bumper stickers on the cars back fender as it pulled away. Planned Parenthood. Visualize Whirled Peas. A Darwin fish. Aria didn 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 recognize the girl looking back—she looked sad, bereft, confused. Nothing like herself at all.

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