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Queen's Right Hand

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When they go to King of Prussia, they set aside an entire day for the trip. The traffic is terrible, the humidity is setting in (ruining everyone's hair the longer they sit in the car), but the earth is righted on its axis once they park and escape to the safety of the mall's interior.

There isn't any rush once they're in the stores. They try on clothes they won't ever wear, outfits that are out of even their parents' inflated price ranges. They flip through CDs they won't buy, because who buys music anymore? They eat lunch at the Japanese restaurant because Ali insists. Hanna on Ali's left, Emily on Ali's right, and Ali orders for all three. Across the table from her, Spencer practices her pronunciation with the menu, and Aria is caught up in the decor.

After lunch, it's back to the stores: sunglasses, dresses, high heels, and then Aria wants to see about getting something else pierced again. Ali sniffs and continues picking through dresses. She teases Hanna that she could be a whole number of sizes smaller by now, but since she isn't, Ali will model so Hanna can see what she's missing.

Emily doesn't say anything to this. She feels bad, maybe because Ali is totally giving Hanna a complex, but mostly because she can't argue. Ali is prettier, and everyone knows it.

Ali has always had this way of looking impossibly older than she really is. Impossibly pretty. Impossible and out of reach. Ali tells Hanna to look, but it's Emily's opinion she asks for. "How do I look?" with that flirtatious smile.

Hanna and Emily don't talk while they wait for Ali to emerge in each new combination. One long, awkward wait is interrupted by Ali's voice from the dressing room-- "Em? I need you to zip this."

Emily gratefully escapes into the tiny cubicle where Ali is so much skin and silken, slinky red, her blonde hair pulled to one side baring her back and shoulders. "Okay, I need you to close the door," Ali prods, corner of her mouth quirked none-too-subtly.

Emily gets the feeling --this burning, melting feeling-- that the zipper is going to have to wait.