The goal was just a few feet away, and Alison had almost a clear shot. But getting past the goalie would be tough. She dribbled the ball in the tiny space around her, looking around her to weigh her options. Paige McCullers was open on the other side of the field, and she was a much better kicker than Alison, but there was not a chance in the world she was going to give the ball to that freak. She stepped back hesitantly as she readied herself to kick the ball, but all of a sudden, she felt a huge presence gaining on her, and she quickly lost her balance. She could hear her teammates screaming at her as she fell to the ground, the taste of grass filling her mouth.
The loud shriek of Coach Meyers's whistle sounded in the air, and Alison lifted her head to see the rest of her teammates running toward the opposite goal. She planted her hands beneath her as she began to push herself up, but just as she was about to get to her knees, a sharp pain in her right shoulder caused her to fall back to the dirt. She rolled onto her back, and glared at the girl standing above her. "What the hell?" she hissed.
"Next time," the girl said to her through gritted teeth, "pass the ball to me. I was wide open!" Paige gave her a spiteful smirk, and started down the field with the rest of the team.
Alison sat up, and lifted a hand to her wounded shoulder, flinching as she tried to massage the sore spot. The coach blew her whistle one more time, signaling the end of practice, but Alison stayed where she was for a moment longer, watching angrily as the other girls disappeared into the parking lot. When she was the only one left on the field, she slowly picked herself up to her feet, and walked to her brother's car.
Jason barely acknowledged her as she climbed into the passenger's seat, and tore off her cleats. She sunk back into her seat as Jason started the ignition, being careful not to rub her shoulder against the cushion. She closed her eyes, wondering to herself what made the girls on her soccer team so different from the rest of the girls in Rosewood. She had never been subjected to so much physical abuse in her entire life, and she wasn't so sure it was worth wasting her breath anymore.
When they arrived home, Alison slipped past her parents, and locked herself in her bedroom. She checked her phone, which had been bombarded with texts and missed phone calls from her friends, but she felt too tired and worn-out to answer any of them. Instead, she plopped down on her bed, and stared up at her ceiling for what seemed like an eternity. She wasn't even thinking of anything, really, if only because the searing pain in her back was impossible to ignore. She'd been butting heads with Paige McCullers for months, now, but every time it seemed like she'd finally escaped from the girl, she'd find herself caught in yet another one of Paige's tangled, torturous webs.
She didn't realize how much time had passed when she heard a knock on her door about a half-hour later. She had little motivation to get up and answer it, but she managed to push herself up into a sitting position. "What?" she called out, surprised by how hoarse her voice sounded.
"It's me," a familiar voice echoed back. "Can I come in?"
Alison's eyes widened when she realized who it was. She sluggishly got to her feet, and pulled open the door. "Cece."
"You look terrible," the older blonde remarked, walking past her to the bed. "Did someone get the best of you today?"
Cece was one of the only people in Rosewood who actually knew about Alison's ongoing feud with Paige, and about a lot of other things Ali was never willing to tell anyone else. She looked up to her like an older sister, and unlike Jason and most of his other friends, Cece wasn't ashamed to be seen with Alison out in public. She was also one of the only people Ali felt as though she could be a real human being around, rather than trying to be the perfect, stuck-up bitch everyone else in Rosewood seemed to think that she was. She started toward Cece, and gave her a hesitant look. "I have a weird question."
The other girl crossed her arms. "Hon, you should know by now there are no weird questions with me…. What's up?"
She crouched down in front of Cece, and pulled back the collar of her soccer jersey to reveal the huge bruise on her shoulder. "How bad does this look?"
"Damn," Cece said after a moment. "Who did it?"
"Who do you think?" Alison snapped.
Her friend sighed. "Pigskin?"
"Yep." Pigskin was the nickname Alison had given Paige, one she thought was quite fitting. For some reason, calling the jock by her actual name just made her want to shudder. She pulled the collar back over her shoulder again, not wanting to look at the damage. If it was as bad as Cece made it out to be, then there was no doubt she was going to have to get it looked at, anyway. "I swear, that girl is psychotic."
Cece stood up, and gave her a stern look. "This battle between you guys is really starting to get old. You need to dig up something on her and put an end to that bitch once and for all."
Alison sucked in a deep breath, not wanting to meet her friend's eyes. She knew that when she decided to let Cece into her secret world, she was going to have to accept certain consequences, but she just wasn't sure whether she was willing to face those that came with dealing with Paige. It wasn't the first time the jock had caused her physical harm, but she knew that if she didn't listen to Cece, it certainly would not be the last.
"I've got to go, though," the older woman said to her, giving her an apologetic smile. She stepped past Alison, and left the room, her three-inch heels echoing behind her as she trekked down the stairs, and out of the house.
Once Cece's car had rolled out of the driveway, Alison pulled out her yearbook, and began doing research. Paige McCullers was the daughter of a deacon, a highly religious, wealthy man. He was also quite a jerk to everyone else in Rosewood, but Alison was forced to turn the other cheek when he and his daughter were around, because her own father played golf with Mr. McCullers, and every girl knew never to get between a man and his golf partner. It was going to be a challenge digging up something on Paige that would ultimately end their feud, but Alison was more than up for it. She wanted to prove herself, and more than anything, she wanted Cece to be proud of her.
After an unsuccessful night of trying to unearth Paige's dark, dirty little secrets, Alison was anything but enthusiastic when she went to school the next morning. She played it off fine as she always did, though, and held her head high as she walked through the halls of Rosewood. As she met up with her friends, their innocent, smiling faces made her feel a little more comfortable and safe. They may have been completely clueless about her troubles with Paige, but just being around people who were too afraid to judge her cleared her mind of all of her worries for the time being.
By lunch that afternoon, Alison had nearly forgotten about her incident at soccer practice the day before, until her phone went off in her pocket, and she found a text from Cece flashing across her screen. How's the digging? it read, and the uneasy feeling Alison had been feeling all night returned to her immediately, as if it had never even left.
Spencer Hastings, the girl who lived next door to her who also happened to be one of her best friends, glanced up at Ali across the table with a look of concern. "Everything okay?"
Alison quickly stuffed her phone back into her pocket, and gave her friend what she thought to be a convincing smile. "Of course." She crossed her arms over the edge of the table, and tilted her head slightly to the side. "So, what's the word for Saturday? Are we still on?"
The brunette gave her an affirmative nod. "Yes…. Well, Hanna and Aria coming over. Emily can't."
"Aww. Why not?" Alison didn't know why she was so disappointed, but for some reason, everything was much more fun when the five of them were all hanging out together. There was a certain strength she felt when she was with all of her friends.
"Her dad's coming home for the weekend," Spencer explained as she twisted the cap off her thermos. "She and her parents are going to some camp up in the Poconos."
Emily's father was probably one of the nicest men Alison had ever met. He was kind to everyone, and he was known all around Rosewood for his loyalty to the U.S. Army. He had been stationed in Iraq for months, now, so it wasn't too often Emily had the chance to spend time with him. Alison didn't really understand how her friend could go so long without seeing her dad, but then again, it was probably just one of those things she had become used to. "I'll have to catch her before she takes off, then."
Spencer poured coffee into the cap of her thermos, and as she lifted it to her lips, Ali couldn't help but wonder how the brunette's slender body had managed to sustain so much caffeine. She kept her thoughts to herself, though, as her friend lowered the cap to the table, and continued to speak. "Did you hear Jenna and Toby this morning? They were getting into a pretty heated argument out in the courtyard before first period."
Ali shrugged. She could care less about Toby Cavanaugh and his bitchy stepsister, who had been trying to steal Alison's spotlight ever since her arrival to Rosewood last October. "They were probably fighting about who gets to sleep on the outside of the bed tonight."
Her friend scrunched her nose. "You have a sick mind."
"It's not like they're blood-related," she just said, leaning back in her chair. She glanced around the cafeteria to see if she could spot Jenna, but just as she turned her attention toward the lunch line, she met the cold, begrudging glare of Paige McCullers. The girl gave her a knowing smirk, but before Alison could react, she walked away.
The look on Paige's face made Alison squirm. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the jock was planning something, but Alison was not about to sit around and let herself take the heat. She began to gather her lunch together as an idea formed in her head, and she dismissed herself from Spencer to go follow Paige.
Moments later, she found herself hiding behind a bookcase in the school library, watching impatiently as her teammate pounded out an email on one of the computers. She couldn't read the message from where she was standing, but she could tell by Paige's morose expression that the email involved something personal. If Alison could figure out a way to get into Paige's account, she could finally find the information she needed in order to block Pigskin out of her life for good. She grinned to herself as she pulled out her phone, and composed a text to Cece.
I think I found my in, she typed. That freak is going to be sorry she ever messed with me by the time I'm through with her.