Unbelievable, p.1
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       Unbelievable, p.1

         Part #4 of Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard
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  Ever wish you could go back in time and undo your mistakes? If only you hadn’t drawn that clown face on the Bratz doll your best friend got for her eighth birthday, she wouldn’t have dropped you for the new girl from Boston. And back in ninth grade, you would never have skipped soccer practice to hit the beach if you’d known Coach would bench you for the rest of the season. If only you hadn’t made those bad choices, maybe your ex-BFF would have given you that extra front-row ticket to Marc Jacobs’s fashion show. Or maybe you’d be playing goalie for the women’s national soccer team by now, with a Nike modeling contract and a beach house in Nice. You could be jet-setting around the Mediterranean instead of sitting in geography class, trying to find it on a map.

  In Rosewood, fantasies about reversing fate are as common as girls receiving Tiffany heart pendants for their thirteenth birthdays. And four former best friends would do anything to travel back in time and make things right. But what if they really could go back? Would they be able to keep their fifth best friend alive…or is her tragedy part of their destiny?

  Sometimes the past holds more questions than answers. And in Rosewood, nothing is ever what it seems.

  “She’s going to be so psyched when I tell her,” Spencer Hastings said to her best friends Hanna Marin, Emily Fields, and Aria Montgomery. She straightened her sea-green eyelet T-shirt and pressed Alison DiLaurentis’s doorbell.

  “Why do you get to tell her?” Hanna asked as she hopped from the porch step to the sidewalk and back again. Ever since Alison, their fifth best friend, had told Hanna that only fidgety girls stayed thin, Hanna had been making a lot of extra movements.

  “Maybe we should all tell her at the same time,” Aria suggested, scratching the temporary dragonfly tattoo she’d pasted on her collarbone.

  “That would be fun. ” Emily pushed her blunt-cut, reddish-blond hair behind her ears. “We could do a choreographed dance and say, ‘Ta-da!’ at the end. ”

  “No way. ” Spencer squared her shoulders. “It’s my barn—I get to tell her. ” She rang the DiLaurentis’s doorbell again.

  As they waited, the girls listened to the buzz of the landscapers pruning Spencer’s hedges next door and the thwock-thwock of the Fairfield twins playing tennis on their backyard court two houses down. The air smelled like lilacs, mown grass, and Neutrogena sunscreen. It was a typical idyllic Rosewood moment—everything about the town was pretty, and that included its sounds, smells, and inhabitants. The girls had lived in Rosewood nearly all their lives, and they felt lucky to be part of such a special place.

  They loved Rosewood summers best of all. Tomorrow morning, after they completed their last seventh-grade final at Rosewood Day, the school they all attended, they would take part in the school’s annual graduation-pin ceremony. One by one Principal Appleton would call each student’s name, from kindergarten through eleventh grade, and each student would receive a twenty-four-karat gold pin—the girls’ was in the shape of a gardenia, the boys’ a horseshoe. After that, they would be released for ten glorious weeks of tanning, cookouts, boating trips, and shopping excursions to Philly and New York. They couldn’t wait.

  But the graduation ceremony wasn’t the true rite of passage for Ali, Aria, Spencer, Emily, and Hanna. Summer wouldn’t really start for them until tomorrow night, at their end-of-seventh-grade slumber party. And the girls had a surprise for Ali that was going to make this summer’s kickoff extra special.

  When the DiLaurentis’s front door was finally flung open, Mrs. DiLaurentis stood before them, wearing a short pale pink wrap dress that showed off her long, muscular, tanned calves. “Hello, girls,” she said coolly.

  “Is Ali here?” Spencer asked.

  “She’s upstairs, I think. ” Mrs. DiLaurentis stepped out of the way. “Go on up. ”

  Spencer led the group through the hall, her white pleated field hockey skirt swinging, her dirty-blond braid bouncing against the middle of her back. The girls loved Ali’s house—it smelled like vanilla and fabric softener, just like Ali. Lush photographs of past DiLaurentis trips to Paris, Lisbon, and Lake Como lined the walls. There were plenty of photos of Ali and her brother, Jason, from grade school on. The girls especially loved Ali’s second-grade school picture. Ali’s vibrant pink cardigan made her whole face glow. Back then, Ali’s family had lived in Connecticut, and Ali’s old private school hadn’t required her to wear stuffy blue blazers for yearbook pictures like Rosewood Day did. Even as an eight-year-old, Ali was irresistibly cute—she had clear blue eyes, a heart-shaped face, adorable dimples, and a naughty-yet-charming expression, which made it impossible to stay mad at her.

  Spencer touched the bottom-right corner of their favorite photo, the one of the five of them camping in the Poconos the previous July. They were all standing next to a giant canoe, drenched in murky lake water, grinning from ear to ear, as happy as five twelve-year-old best friends could be. Aria put her hand on top of Spencer’s, Emily put her hand on top of Aria’s, and Hanna piled her hand on last. They closed their eyes for a split second, hummed, and broke away. The girls had started the photo-touching habit when the picture first went up, a memento of their first summer of best-friendship. They couldn’t believe that Ali, the girl of Rosewood Day, had chosen the four of them as her inner circle. It was a little like being joined at the hip with an A-list celebrity.

  But admitting that would be…well, lame. Especially now.

  As they passed the living room, they noticed two graduation robes hanging on the knob of a French door. The white one was Ali’s, and the more official-looking navy one was Jason’s, who would be going on to Yale in the fall. The girls clasped their hands, excited to put on their own graduation gowns and berets, which Rosewood Day graduates had worn ever since the school had opened in 1897. Just then, they noticed a movement in the living room. Jason was sitting in the leather love seat, staring blankly at CNN.

  “Heeyyy, Jason,” Spencer called, waving. “Are you so psyched for tomorrow?”

  Jason glanced at them. He was the hot boy version of Ali, with buttery blond hair and stunning blue eyes. He smirked and went back to the TV without saying a word.

  “Oh-kaay,” the girls all murmured in unison. Jason had his hilarious side—he was the one who had invented the “not it” game with his friends. The girls had borrowed and reinvented the game for their own uses, which mostly meant making fun of nerdier girls in their presence. But Jason definitely got into funks, too. Ali called them his Elliott Smith moods, after the morose singer-songwriter he liked. Only, Jason certainly didn’t have any reason to be upset now—by this time tomorrow, he’d be on a plane to Costa Rica to teach adventure kayaking all summer. Boo-hoo.

  “Whatever. ” Aria shrugged. The four girls turned and bounced up the stairs to Ali’s room. As they reached the landing, they noticed that Ali’s door was closed. Spencer frowned. Emily cocked her head. Inside the room, Ali let out a giggle.

  Hanna gently pushed the door open. Ali had her back to them. Her hair was up in a high ponytail, and she’d tied her striped silk halter top in a perfect bow at her neck. She stared down at the open notebook in her lap, completely entranced.

  Spencer cleared her throat, and Ali whirled around, startled. “Guys, hi!” she cried. “What’s up?”

  “Not much. ” Hanna pointed at the notebook in Ali’s lap. “What’s that?”

  Ali closed the notebook fast. “Oh. Nothing. ”

  The girls felt a presence behind them. Mrs. DiLaurentis pushed past, waltzing into Ali’s bedroom. “We need to talk,” she said to Ali, her voice clipped and taut.

  “But, Mom…” Ali protested.

  “Now. ”

  The girls glanced at one another. Th
at was Mrs. DiLaurentis’s you’re-in-trouble voice. They didn’t hear it often.

  Ali’s mother faced the girls. “Why don’t you girls wait on the deck?”

  “It’ll just take a second,” Ali said quickly, shooting them an apologetic smile. “I’ll be right down. ”

  Hanna paused, confused. Spencer squinted, trying to see which notebook Ali was holding. Mrs. DiLaurentis raised an eyebrow. “C’mon, girls. Go. ”

  The four of them swallowed hard and filed back down the stairs. Once on Ali’s wraparound porch, they arranged themselves in their usual places around the family’s enormous square patio table—Spencer at one end, and Aria, Emily, and Hanna at the sides. Ali would sit at the table’s head, next to her father’s deck-mounted stone birdbath. For a moment, the four girls watched as a couple of cardinals frolicked in the bath’s cold, clear water. When a blue jay tried to join them, the cardinals squawked and quickly sent him away. Birds, it seemed, were just as cliquey as girls.

  “That was weird upstairs,” Aria whispered.

  “Do you think Ali’s in trouble?” Hanna whispered. “What if she’s grounded and can’t come to the sleepover?”

  “Why would she be in trouble? She hasn’t done anything wrong,” whispered Emily, who always stuck up for Ali—the girls called her Killer, as in Ali’s personal pit bull.

  “Not that we know of,” Spencer muttered under her breath.

  Just then, Mrs. DiLaurentis burst out of the French patio doors and across the lawn. “I want to make sure you have the dimensions right,” she screamed to the workers who were perched lazily on an enormous bulldozer at the back of the property. The DiLaurentises were building a twenty-person gazebo for summer parties, and Ali had mentioned that her mom was being very type A about the whole process, even though they were only at the hole-digging stage. Mrs. DiLaurentis marched up to the workers and started chastising them. Her diamond wedding ring glinted in the sun as she waved her arms around frenetically. The girls exchanged glances—it looked like Ali’s lecture hadn’t taken very long.


  Ali stood at the edge of the porch. She had changed out of her halter into a faded navy blue Abercrombie tee. There was a baffled look on her face. “Uh…hi?”

  Spencer stood up. “What did she bust you for?”

  Ali blinked. Her eyes darted back and forth.

  “Were you getting in trouble without us?” Aria cried, trying to make it sound like she was teasing. “And why’d you change? That halter you had on was so cute. ”

  Ali still looked flustered…and kind of upset. Emily stood up halfway. “Do you want us to…go?” Her voice dripped with uncertainty. All the others looked at Ali nervously—was that what she wanted?

  Ali twisted her blue string bracelet around her wrist three full rotations. She stepped onto the patio and sat down in her rightful seat. “Of course I don’t want you to go. My mom was mad at me because I…I threw my hockey clothes in with her delicates again. ” She gave them a sheepish shrug and rolled her eyes.

  Emily stuck out her bottom lip. A small beat went by. “She got mad at you for that?”

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