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Pretty Little Liars, Page 2

Sara Shepard

Page 2


  Hanna walked over to the abandoned popcorn bowl and took a big handful. “Ian’s so hot. He’s, like, hotter than Sean. ” Sean Ackard was one of the cutest guys in their grade and the subject of Hanna’s constant fantasies.

  “You know what I heard?” Ali asked, flopping down on the couch. “Sean really likes girls who have good appetites. ”

  Hanna brightened. “Really?”

  “No. ” Alison snorted.

  Hanna slowly dropped the handful of popcorn back into the bowl.

  “So, girls,” Ali said. “I know the perfect thing we can do. ”

  “I hope we’re not streaking again. ” Emily giggled. They’d done that a month earlier—in the freezing frickin’ cold—and although Hanna had refused to strip down to less than her undershirt and day-of-the-week panties, the rest of them had run through a nearby barren cornfield without a lick on.

  “You loved that a little too much,” Ali murmured. The smile faded from Emily’s lips. “But no—I was leaving this for the last day of school. I learned how to hypnotize people. ”

  “Hypnotize?” Spencer repeated.

  “Matt’s sister taught me,” Ali answered, looking at the framed photos of Melissa and Ian on the mantel. Her boyfriend of the week, Matt, had the same sandy-colored hair as Ian.

  “How do you do it?” Hanna asked.

  “Sorry, she swore me to secrecy,” Ali said, turning back around. “You want to see if it works?”

  Aria frowned, taking a seat on a lavender floor pillow. “I don’t know…. ”

  “Why not?” Ali’s eyes flickered to a stuffed pig puppet that was peeking out of Aria’s purple sweater-knit tote bag. Aria was always carrying around weird things—stuffed animals, random pages torn out of old novels, postcards of places she’d never visited.

  “Doesn’t hypnosis make you say stuff you don’t want to say?” Aria asked.

  “Is there something you can’t tell us?” Ali responded. “And why do you still bring that pig puppet everywhere?” She pointed at it.

  Aria shrugged and pulled the stuffed pig out of her bag. “My dad got me Pigtunia in Germany. She advises me on my love life. ” She stuck her hand into the puppet.

  “You’re shoving your hand up its butt!” Ali squealed and Emily started to giggle. “Besides, why do you want to carry around something your dad gave you?”

  “It’s not funny,” Aria snapped, whipping her head around to face Emily.

  Everyone was quiet for a few seconds, and the girls looked blankly at one another. This had been happening a lot lately: Someone—usually Ali—mentioned something, and someone else got upset, but everyone was too shy to ask what in the world was going on.

  Spencer broke the silence. “Being hypnotized, um, does sound sort of sketch. ”

  “You don’t know anything about it,” Alison said quickly. “C’mon. I could do it to you all at once. ”

  Spencer picked at the waistband of her skirt. Emily blew air through her teeth. Aria and Hanna exchanged a look. Ali was always coming up with stuff for them to try—last summer, it was smoking dandelion seeds to see if they’d hallucinate, and this past fall they’d gone swimming in Pecks Pond, even though a dead body was once discovered there—but the thing was, they often didn’t want to do the things that Alison made them do. They all loved Ali to death, but they sometimes hated her too—for bossing them around and for the spell she’d cast on them. Sometimes in Ali’s presence, they didn’t feel real, exactly. They felt kind of like dolls, with Ali arranging their every move. Each of them wished that, just once, she had the strength to tell Ali no.

  “Puh-leeeeeze?” Ali asked. “Emily, you want to do it, right?”

  “Um…” Emily’s voice quivered. “Well…”

  “I’ll do it,” Hanna butted in.

  “Me too,” Emily said quickly after.

  Spencer and Aria reluctantly nodded. Satisfied, Alison shut off all the lights with a snap and lit several sweetly scented vanilla votive candles that were on the coffee table. Then she stood back and hummed.

  “Okay, everyone, just relax,” she chanted, and the girls arranged themselves in a circle on the rug. “Your heartbeat’s slowing down. Think calm thoughts. I’m going to count down from one hundred, and as soon as I touch all of you, you’ll be in my power. ”

  “Spooky. ” Emily laughed shakily.

  Alison began. “One hundred…ninety-nine…ninety-eight…”






  She touched Aria’s forehead with the fleshiest part of her thumb. Spencer uncrossed her legs. Aria twitched her left foot.

  “Two…” She slowly touched Hanna, then Emily, and then moved toward Spencer. “One. ”

  Spencer’s eyes sprang open before Alison could reach her. She jumped up and ran to the window.

  “What’re you doing?” Ali whispered. “You’re ruining the moment. ”

  “It’s too dark in here. ” Spencer reached up and opened the curtains.

  “No. ” Alison lowered her shoulders. “It’s got to be dark. That’s how it works. ”

  “C’mon, no it doesn’t. ” The blind stuck; Spencer grunted to wrench it free.

  “No. It does. ”

  Spencer put her hands on her hips. “I want it lighter. Maybe everyone does. ”

  Alison looked at the others. They all still had their eyes closed.

  Spencer wouldn’t give in. “It doesn’t always have to be the way you want it, you know, Ali?”

  Alison barked out a laugh. “Close them!”

  Spencer rolled her eyes. “God, take a pill. ”

  “You think I should take a pill?” Alison demanded.

  Spencer and Alison stared at each other for a few moments. It was one of those ridiculous fights that could have been about who saw the new Lacoste polo dress at Neiman Marcus first or whether honey-colored highlights looked too brassy, but it was really about something else entirely. Something way bigger.

  Finally, Spencer pointed at the door. “Leave. ”

  “Fine. ” Alison strode outside.

  “Good!” But after a few seconds passed, Spencer followed her. The bluish evening air was still, and there weren’t any lights on in her family’s main house. It was quiet, too—even the crickets were quiet—and Spencer could hear herself breathing. “Wait a second!” she cried after a moment, slamming the door behind her. “Alison!”

  But Alison was gone.

  When she heard the door slam, Aria opened her eyes. “Ali?” she called. “Guys?” No answer.

  She looked around. Hanna and Emily sat like lumps on the carpet, and the door was open. Aria moved out to the porch. No one was there. She tiptoed to the edge of Ali’s property. The woods spread out in front of her and everything was silent.

  “Ali?” she whispered. Nothing. “Spencer?”

  Inside, Hanna and Emily rubbed their eyes. “I just had the weirdest dream,” Emily said. “I mean, I guess it was a dream. It was really quick. Alison fell down this really deep well, and there were all these giant plants. ”

  “That was my dream too!” Hanna said.

  “It was?” Emily asked.

  Hanna nodded. “Well, kind of. There was a big plant in it. And I think I saw Alison too. It might’ve been her shadow—but it was definitely her. ”

  “Whoa,” Emily whispered. They stared at each other, their eyes wide.

  “Guys?” Aria stepped back through the door. She looked very pale.

  “Are you okay?” Emily asked.

  “Where’s Alison?” Aria creased her forehead. “And Spencer?”

  “We don’t know,” Hanna said.

  Just then, Spencer burst back into the house. All the girls jumped. “What?” she asked.

  “Where’s Ali?” Hanna asked quietly.

  “I don’t know,” Spencer whispered. “I thought…I don’t kno
w. ”

  The girls fell silent. All they could hear were the tree branches sliding across the windows. It sounded like someone scraping her long fingernails against a plate.

  “I think I want to go home,” Emily said.

  The next morning, they still hadn’t heard from Alison. The girls called one another to talk, a four-way call this time instead of five.

  “Do you think she’s mad at us?” Hanna asked. “She seemed weird all night. ”

  “She’s probably at Katy’s,” Spencer said. Katy was one of Ali’s field hockey friends.

  “Or maybe she’s with Tiffany—that girl from camp?” Aria offered.

  “I’m sure she’s somewhere having fun,” Emily said quietly.

  One by one, they got calls from Mrs. DiLaurentis, asking if they’d heard from Ali. At first, the girls all covered for her. It was the unwritten rule: They’d covered for Emily when she snuck in after her 11 P. M. weekend curfew; they’d fudged the truth for Spencer when she borrowed Melissa’s Ralph Lauren duffel coat and then accidentally left it on the seat of a SEPTA train; and so on. But as each one hung up with Mrs. DiLaurentis, a sour feeling swelled in her stomach. Something felt horribly wrong.

  That afternoon, Mrs. DiLaurentis called again, this time in a panic. By that evening, the DiLaurentises had called the police, and the next morning there were cop cars and news vans camped out on the DiLaurentises’ normally pristine front lawn. It was a local news channel’s wet dream: a pretty rich girl, lost in one of the safest upper-class towns in the country.

  Hanna called Emily after watching the first nightly Ali news report. “Did the police interview you today?”

  “Yeah,” Emily whispered.

  “Me too. You didn’t tell them about…” She paused. “About The Jenna Thing, did you?”

  “No!” Emily gasped. “Why? Do you think they know something?”

  “No…they couldn’t,” Hanna whispered after a second. “We’re the only ones who know. The four of us…and Alison. ”

  The police questioned the girls—along with practically everybody from Rosewood, from Ali’s second-grade gymnastics instructor to the guy who’d once sold her Marlboros at Wawa. It was the summer before eighth grade and the girls were supposed to be flirting with older boys at pool parties, eating corn on the cob in one another’s backyards, and shopping all day at the King James Mall. Instead they were crying alone in their canopied beds or staring blankly at their photo-covered walls. Spencer went on a room-cleaning binge, reviewing what her fight with Ali had really been about, and thinking of things she knew about Ali that none of the others did. Hanna spent hours on her bedroom floor, hiding emptied Cheetos bags under her mattress. Emily couldn’t stop obsessing over a letter she’d sent to Ali before she disappeared. Had Ali ever gotten it? Aria sat at her desk with Pigtunia. Slowly, the girls began calling one another less frequently. The same thoughts haunted all four of them, but there wasn’t anything left to say to one another.