THE PRINCESS OF ROSEWOOD DAY
Alison DiLaurentis strode down the hallway at Rosewood Day Middle School, her kitten heels clacking, her blond hair bouncing, and her plaid uniform skirt riding high on her thighs. The earth science teacher poked his head out his classroom door and raised his eyebrows. The overhead lights, which made everyone else look washed-out and pale, brought out the honey tones in Ali's skin and the green flecks in her eyes. Her footsteps seemed to march in time with the school's "between classes" classical music. And as she rounded the corner toward the cafeteria, the crowds parted for her as they might a regal queen.
Which she sort of was.
It was springtime, almost at the end of her seventh grade year, and Ali and her friends ate at the best table outside, a large, square four-top that had an excellent view of the baseball diamond. Emily Fields, Spencer Hastings, Aria Montgomery, and Hanna Marin were already seated and taking out their lunches: sushi rolls from the Fresh Fields counter and soft pretzels from the cafeteria.
Ali waved at them from the doorway. Spencer brightened. Hanna pulled an extra container of sushi rolls out of her bag and set it in Ali's place. Emily gazed at Ali with a small, excited smile, perfunctorily brushing a few stray leaves off Ali's favorite seat. Aria laid down her knitting and gave Ali a huge smile.
As Ali walked across the courtyard, everyone's eyes were on her yet again. She could hear the admiring whispers and the appreciative whistles. Devon Arliss, who was in Ali's history class, ran up to her as she passed and slipped her that afternoon's homework, which she didn't even have to ask Devon to do for her anymore.
And Heather Rausch, whose sister worked at the Sephora in the mall, handed her a gift bag full of samples from the newest makeup line. "You're the only person besides the employees who gets to try these out," Heather said proudly.
"Thanks," Ali said to Devon and Heather, shooting them aloof smiles. It felt like she was a VIP celebrity: She was so precious and desirable, you had to be on a waiting list just to get near her.
Ruling a school was, in a word, awesome. She had trends to launch (she'd single-handedly gotten everyone at Rosewood Day to wear lime-green nail polish this spring); people to cut down (planting that fake love note from Kirsten Cullen to Lucas Beattie was perfect revenge for when Kirsten had criticized her field hockey skills); parties to plan (the spring-summer season was the busiest); and girls to upstage. Including her very best friends.
She walked up to them at the table. "Hey, bitches!" Her friends smiled brightly. "Hey, bitch!" they all said in unison, though Emily looked embarrassed. Even the teachers barely flinched when they heard bitch in the halls, but Emily had practically been brought up Amish, and she was still cagey about swearing.
Ali pulled out the old Polaroid camera her father had given her and snapped a photo of them, the girls grinning happily. Even though Aria was the group's official photographer/ videographer, the Polaroid was Ali's thing - she never went anywhere without it. At first, she'd carried it around so she wouldn't forget certain details about her new life in case she got caught and sent to the Preserve. She wanted proof of the cute boys she was friends with and the sunniest spot on the patio where she and her friends sat for lunch every day. Now, taking regular pictures had become a habit.
"So what's up?" Ali asked as she lifted the lid of the sushi. Hanna had picked Ali's favorite - spicy tuna roll with extra wasabi.
"I saw Lara Fiori after gym," Aria said. "She was wearing the same Marc Jacobs sandals you had on last week.
A total copycat."
Ali snorted. "Not it," she said, referring to the game she'd re-purposed from her brother, Jason. It was the catch-phrase she and her friends said about anyone unpopular or uncool.
"Agreed." Spencer fished something out of her bag and handed it to Ali. "Kirsten Cullen gave me an invite to a party at her country club this weekend. Should I say yes for us?"
Ali studied the invite, which was on creamy card stock.
"It looks perfect, Spence. Definitely."
Spencer looked pleased. "We'll have to shop for dresses, huh?"
"Ooh, Bloomie's got a new shipment of DVFs in," Hanna said excitedly. "I called them obsessively all morning and had the salesgirl put some on hold for us."
"Nice," Ali said, holding her Vitaminwater bottle up to Hanna's in a toast.
Emily leaned forward. "Have you heard from Matt today?"
Ali picked at her nails. "Only a million times." Matt Reynolds had been Ali's boyfriend, but he moved to Virginia last week. He wanted to do the long-distance thing, but she wasn't feeling it. Although he was the cutest boy in seventh grade, she'd never really been that into him. But as the cutest girl in seventh grade, it was only right that they dated.
"I'm over him," Ali went on. "I'd rather hang out with you guys any day."
Her best friends of a year and a half blushed just as gratefully as they had the time Ali had recruited them to be her new clique. And Ali had a lot to thank them for, too. If they hadn't been in her family's backyard that day, right at that critical moment, things would be very different. Everyone at Rosewood had accepted Ali's new group quickly, and the other girls' popularity had skyrocketed. It was a win-win for everyone.
They'd had a lot of fun times. Like at her family's mountain house in the Poconos. Or at the many parties they'd been invited to, holding court while all the other girls tried to impress them. Or that time last year when they'd skinny-dipped in Pecks Pond, the many sleepovers they'd had, the hundreds of hours of phone conversations and shopping trips and spa days. Ali had made these girls over. They'd gone from nothings to somethings, all because she was Alison DiLaurentis.
Of course, what they didn't know was that she wasn't Alison DiLaurentis. But Ali didn't like to think about her past anymore. It was something she'd learned in group therapy a zillion years ago: If you think only positive thoughts, it will lead to a positive life. Her old existence as Courtney was gone.
She looked at Aria, who'd just picked up her knitting needles and a skein of pink mohair. "Are you making another bra?"
Aria nodded, then held up half of a C cup. "You like?" Ali fingered the soft fabric. "You could seriously sell these at Saks." Then she looked at Spencer, who was penciling something into her day planner's calendar. "God, Spence, you have the best handwriting."
Spencer brightened. "Thanks!"
Ali told Hanna the new sunglasses she'd bought from H&M were amazingly chic, and she tugged on Emily's ponytail and said the boat neck T-shirt she was wearing really showed off her muscular shoulders. Paying the girls compliments felt good - not only because they complimented her back, but also because it drew them closer together. There was nothing in the world more powerful than a clique of girls who were honestly best friends - not just frenemies. It was something Ali had wished for all her life.
All the same, Ali couldn't resist asserting that she was just slightly better than the rest of them. She pulled out her cell phone, looked at the screen, and mustered a laugh. "Cassie sent me the funniest text earlier," she said, referring to Cassie Buckley, a girl on the JV field hockey team with Ali. "She's so hilarious."
"You're still hanging out with her?" Emily sounded wounded. "Field hockey's been over for months."
"We got pretty tight," Ali said breezily. "In fact, I'm hanging with Cassie and a few other girls from the team this afternoon."
There was a pregnant pause. Ali peeked at her friends, satisfied by their worried, intimidated expressions. She knew they wanted her to invite them along, but excluding them was the whole point. It wasn't to be mean, exactly. It reminded her of what Spencer's Labradoodles, Rufus and Beatrice, did in the Hastings's' backyard: They would play for a while, and then Rufus would climb on top of Beatrice and pin her down to remind her who was the alpha.
"Hey," Spencer said after a moment. "We need to figure out what we're doing for the end-of-seventh-grade sleepover. If you don't already have plans that night, Ali." Her tone was light, but she gave Ali a cautious look. "Please say you don't have plans!" Emily said anxiously. "I wouldn't miss our sleepover." Ali looked at Spencer. "What if we had it in your barn?" The Hastings family had an old barn in their backyard that they'd converted into a gorgeous apartment for Spencer's older sister, Melissa. With its lofty ceilings, enormous closet, and marble bathroom complete with a soaking tub, it was the ultimate bachelorette pad. Spencer twisted her mouth. "Not unless we want Melissa playing truth or dare with us."
Ali rolled her eyes. "Kick her out for the night! It would be perfect, don't you think? We could set up sleeping bags in that big main room, watch movies on the flat-screen, maybe even invite some boys ..." Her eyes sparkled.
"Like Sean Ackard?" Hanna asked excitedly.
"Noel Kahn?" Aria braved a smile.
Spencer picked at her nails. "What if we had it in your backyard instead, Ali?"
Ali made a face. "Have you forgotten about the gazebo we're building? My backyard is a disaster area." Then she laid her head on Spencer's shoulder. "Please ask Melissa?
I'll be your best friend."
Spencer sighed, but Ali knew she was considering it.
That was the power she had over all of them. They would do anything for her, even things they didn't want to.
Just like she had done for her sister, all those years ago. The bell rang, and everyone stood. "Call us later?"
Hanna asked Ali, and Ali nodded. Usually the girls did a five-way phone call at the end of the day to catch up on gossip.
Ali held her head high as she rounded the corner toward the gym, her next class period, the jealous gazes of her classmates like warm summer sun on her skin. But suddenly, something in the hall stopped her short. There was a new display in one of the cases, called ROSEWOOD DAY DRAMA CLUB: A LOOK BACK. In the center of a poster board was a picture of this year's drama club after the performance of their play, Fiddler on the Roof - there was Spencer, who'd played a supporting role, right in the front. Fanning out in a sunburst pattern around that central photo were pictures of plays from even earlier. Ali spied a younger Spencer playing a tree in A Midsummer Night's Dream. There was a picture of Mona Vanderwaal, her hair arranged in pigtails and her mouth full of braces, playing a cowgirl in Annie Get Your Gun. There was a younger Jenna Cavanaugh, singing a solo, her lips naturally pink, her hazel eyes wide, seeing everything.
And right next to that, delivering a line to eye- patch wearing Noel Kahn, was her own face. Except this was a play before sixth grade. Before Courtney had become Ali, and Ali had become Courtney. If you really concentrated, the differences between the two girls were obvious.
Her sister's eyes were wider and a little bluer. She stood straighter, and her ears didn't stick out as much. But not a single person had ever noticed those differences - people rarely paid attention to details.
Ali thought about the Preserve at Addison-Stevens. She'd visited a few times, and it was even worse than the rumors. The patient ward had peeling blue walls, dark corridors, and bars on the windows. Kids shuffled through the halls despondently, some of them muttering, others screaming, most twitching. Her sister was one of them now. She'd been insisting she was Alison DiLaurentis for over a year, working herself into a lather. It was a beautiful catch-22: The more the real Ali insisted she'd been unjustly imprisoned at the Preserve, the more ammunition that gave the staff to keep her there. They had her on so many meds she was drooling most of the time. Ali glanced over her shoulder, suddenly getting the queasy sensation that someone was watching her. That feeling struck her now and then, though mostly she just chalked it up to being stressed about graduating. She turned back to the photo. It felt dangerous, somehow. how. Ali could never, ever let anyone find out her secret; she wasn't going to the Preserve as long as she lived. She twisted open the latch of the display case, stuck her hand inside, grabbed the picture of pretty, fifth-grade Alison, and slipped it into her bag. She would burn it when she got home tonight.
Excerpted from Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard. Copyright © 2013 by Sara Shepard. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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