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Home > Flawless (Pretty Little Liars #2)

Flawless (Pretty Little Liars #2)
Author: Sara Shepard

HOW IT REALLY BEGAN

You know that boy who lives a few doors down from you who’s just the creepiest person alive? When you’re on your front porch, about to kiss your boyfriend good night, you might glimpse him across the street, just standing there. He’ll randomly appear when you’re gossiping with your best friends—except maybe it’s not so random at all. He’s the black cat who seems to know your route. If he rides by your house, you think, I’m going to fail my bio exam. If he looks at you funny, watch your back.

Every town has a black-cat boy. In Rosewood, his name was Toby Cavanaugh.

“I think she needs more blush.” Spencer Hastings leaned back and examined one of her best friends, Emily Fields.

“I can still see her freckles.”

“I’ve got some Clinique concealer.” Alison DiLaurentis sprang up and ran to her blue corduroy makeup bag.

Emily looked at herself in the mirror propped up on Alison’s living room coffee table. She tilted her face one way, then another, and puckered her pink lips. “My mom would kill me if she saw me with all this stuff on.”

“Yeah, but we’ll kill you if you take it off,” warned Aria Montgomery, who was, for her own Aria reasons, prancing around the room in a pink mohair bra she’d recently knitted.

“Yeah, Em, you look awesome,” Hanna Marin agreed. Hanna sat cross-legged on the floor and kept swiveling around to check that her crack wasn’t sticking out of her low-rise, slightly-too-small Blue Cult jeans.

It was a Friday night in April, and Ali, Aria, Emily, Spencer, and Hanna were having one of their typical sixth-grade sleepovers: putting way too much makeup on one another, chowing on salt-and-vinegar kettle chips, and half-watching MTV Cribs on Ali’s flat-screen TV. Tonight there was the added clutter of everyone’s clothes spread out on the carpet, since they’d decided to swap clothes for the rest of their sixth-grade school year.

Spencer held up a lemon-yellow cashmere cardigan to her slender torso.

“Take it,” Ali told her. “It’ll look cute on you.”

Hanna pulled an olive corduroy skirt of Ali’s around her hips, turned to Ali, and struck a pose. “What do you think? Would Sean like it?”

Ali groaned and smacked Hanna with a pillow. Ever since they’d become friends in September, all Hanna could talk about was how much she looooved Sean Ackard, a boy in their class at the Rosewood Day School, where they’d all been going since kindergarten. In fifth grade, Sean had been just another short, freckled guy in their class, but over the summer, he’d grown a couple inches and lost his baby fat. Now, pretty much every girl wanted to kiss him.

It was amazing how much could change in a year.

The girls—everyone but Ali—knew that all too well. Last year, they were just…there. Spencer was the überanal girl who sat at the front of the class and raised her hand at every question. Aria was the slightly freaky girl who made up dance routines instead of playing soccer like everyone else. Emily was the shy, state-ranked swimmer who had a lot going on under the surface—if you just got to know her. And Hanna might’ve been klutzy and bumbling, but she studied Vogue and Teen Vogue, and every once in a while she’d blurt out something totally random about fashion that no one else knew.

There was something special about all of them, sure, but they lived in Rosewood, Pennsylvania, a suburb twenty miles outside Philadelphia, and everything was special in Rosewood. Flowers smelled sweeter, water tasted better, houses were just plain bigger. People joked that the squirrels spent their nights cleaning up litter and weeding errant dandelions from the cobblestone sidewalks so Rosewood would look perfect for its demanding residents. In a place where everything looked so flawless, it was hard to stand out.

But somehow Ali did. With her long blond hair, heart-shaped face, and huge blue eyes, she was the most stunning girl around. After Ali united them in friendship—sometimes it felt like she’d discovered them—the girls were definitely more than just there. Suddenly, they had an all-access pass to do things they’d never dared to before. Like changing into short skirts in the Rosewood Day girls’ bathroom after they got off the bus in the morning. Or passing boys ChapStick-kissed notes in class. Or walking down the Rosewood Day hallway in an intimidating line, ignoring all the losers.

Ali grabbed a tube of shimmery purple lipstick and smeared it all over her lips. “Who am I?” The others groaned—Ali was imitating Imogen Smith, a girl in their class who was a little bit too in love with her Nars lipstick.

“No, wait.” Spencer pursed her bow-shaped lips and handed Ali a pillow. “Put this up your shirt.”

“Nice.” Ali stuffed it under her pink polo, and everyone giggled some more. The rumor was that Imogen had gone all the way with Jeffrey Klein, a tenth grader, and she was having his baby.

“You guys are awful.” Emily blushed. She was the most demure of the group, maybe because of her super-strict upbringing—her parents thought anything fun was evil.

“What, Em?” Ali linked her arm through Emily’s. “Imogen’s looking awfully fat—she should hope she’s pregnant.”

The girls laughed again, but a little uneasily. Ali had a talent for finding a girl’s weakness, and even if she was right about Imogen, the girls all sometimes wondered if Ali was ever ripping on them when they weren’t around. Sometimes it was hard to know for sure.

They settled back into sorting through one another’s clothes. Aria fell in love with an ultra-preppy Fred Perry dress of Spencer’s. Emily slid a denim miniskirt up her skinny legs and asked everyone if it was too short. Ali declared a pair of Hanna’s Joe’s jeans too bell-bottomy and slid them off, revealing her candy-pink velour boy shorts. As she walked past the window to the stereo, she froze.

“Oh my God!” she screamed, running behind the blackberry-colored velvet couch.

The girls wheeled around. At the window was Toby Cavanaugh. He was just…standing there. Staring at them.

“Ew, ew, ew!” Aria covered up her chest—she had taken off Spencer’s dress and was again in her knitted bra. Spencer, who was clothed, ran up to the window. “Get away from us, perv!” she cried. Toby smirked before he turned and ran away.

When most people saw Toby, they crossed to the other side of the street. He was a year older than the girls, pale, tall, and skinny, and was always wandering around the neighborhood alone, seemingly spying on everyone. They’d heard rumors about him: that he’d been caught French-kissing his dog. That he was such a good swimmer because he had fish gills instead of lungs. That he slept in a coffin in his backyard tree house every night.

There was only one person Toby spoke to: his stepsister, Jenna, who was in their grade. Jenna was a hopeless dork as well, although far less creepy—at least she spoke in complete sentences. And she was pretty in an irksome way, with her thick, dark hair, huge, earnest green eyes, and pursed red lips.

“I feel, like, violated.” Aria wriggled her naturally thin body as if it were covered in E. coli. They’d just learned about it in science class. “How dare he scare us?”

Ali’s face blazed red with fury. “We have to get him back.”

“How?” Hanna widened her light brown eyes.

Ali thought for a minute. “We should give him a taste of his own medicine.”

The thing to do, she explained, was to scare Toby. When Toby wasn’t skulking around the neighborhood, spying on people, he was guaranteed to be in his tree house. He spent every other waking second there, playing with his Game Boy or, who knows, building a giant robot to nuke Rosewood Day. But since the tree house was, obviously, up in a tree—and because Toby pulled up the rope ladder so no one could follow him—they couldn’t just peek in and say boo. “So we need fireworks. Luckily, we know just where they are.” Ali grinned.

Toby was obsessed with fireworks; he kept a stash of bottle rockets at the base of the tree and often set them off through his tree house’s skylight. “We sneak over there, steal one, and light it at his window,” Ali explained. “It’ll totally freak him out.”

The girls looked at the Cavanaugh house across the street. Although most of the lights were already out, it wasn’t that late—only ten-thirty. “I don’t know,” Spencer said.

“Yeah,” Aria agreed. “What if something goes wrong?”

Ali sighed dramatically. “C’mon, guys.”

Everyone was quiet. Then Hanna cleared her throat. “Sounds good to me.”

“All right.” Spencer caved. Emily and Aria shrugged in agreement.

Ali clapped her hands and gestured to the couch by the window. “I’ll go do it. You can watch from here.”

The girls scrambled over to the great room’s big bay window and watched Ali slip across the street. Toby’s house was kitty-corner to the DiLaurentises’ and built in the same impressive Victorian style, but neither house was as big as Spencer’s family’s farm, which bordered Ali’s backyard. The Hastings compound had its own windmill, eight bedrooms, a five-car detached garage, a rock-lined pool, and a separate barn apartment.

Ali ran around to the Cavanaughs’ side yard and right up to Toby’s tree house. It was partially obscured by tall elms and pines, but the streetlight illuminated it just enough for them to see its vague outline. A minute later, they were pretty sure they saw Ali holding a cone-shaped firework in her hands, stepping about twenty feet back, far enough so that she had a clear view into the tree house’s flickering blue window.

“Do you think she’s really going to do it?” Emily whispered. A car slid past, brightening Toby’s house.

“Nah,” Spencer said, nervously twirling the diamond studs her parents had bought her for getting straight A’s on her last report card. “She’s bluffing.”

Aria put the tip of one of her black braids in her mouth. “Totally.”

“How do we know Toby’s even in there?” Hanna asked.

They fell into an edgy silence. They’d been in on their fair share of Ali’s pranks, but those had been innocent—sneaking into the saltwater hot tub at Fermata spa when they didn’t have appointments, putting droplets of black dye into Spencer’s sister’s shampoo, sending fake secret admirer letters from Principal Appleton to dorky Mona Vanderwaal in their grade. But something about this made them all just a little…uneasy.

Boom!

Emily and Aria jumped back. Spencer and Hanna pressed their faces against the window. It was still dark across the street. A brighter light flickered from the tree house window, but that was all.

Hanna squinted. “Maybe that wasn’t the firework.”

“What else could it have been?” Spencer said sarcastically. “A gun?”

Then the Cavanaughs’ German shepherd started to bark. The girls grabbed one another’s arms. The side patio light snapped on. There were loud voices, and Mr. Cavanaugh burst out the side door. Suddenly, little fingers of fire leapt up from the tree house window. The fire started to spread. It looked like the video Emily’s parents made her watch every year at Christmas. Then came the sirens.

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