Spencer paused and thought about how Wilden had watched her with curiosity at the party last night. Anyone could have noticed that their friendship had disintegrated. “I’m not going to be bullied by this,” she said. “Who’s with me?”
The other girls shifted their weight. Emily played with the silver bracelet she’d bought to replace the old string bracelet Ali had made for her. Aria jammed her hands in her pockets and chewed feverishly on her bottom lip.
Then Hanna straightened. “I’m with you. The last thing I need is another A. Being tormented is so last year.”
“Good.” Spencer regarded the others. “What about you guys?”
Emily kicked at a pile of dirty snow at the curb. “I just don’t know.”
Aria also had an ambivalent look on her face. “It’s such a weird coincidence . . .”
Spencer slapped her arms to her sides. “Believe what you want, but don’t drag me into it, okay? Whoever this stupid A is isn’t part of my life. If you guys are smart, you won’t let it be part of yours, either.”
At that, she spun on her heel and walked back toward her house, her shoulders squared and her head held high. It was ridiculous to think that a new A had emerged or that someone knew what they had done. Their secret was locked up tight. Besides, everything was going so well for Spencer right now. She wasn’t going to let A ruin her senior year . . . and she definitely wasn’t going to let A take Princeton away from her.
Her resolve remained steady for about ten more steps. Just as she reached the glowing light of her front porch, a memory flickered, uninvited, to the forefront of her mind: After dinner that first night in Jamaica, Spencer went to use the bathroom. When she exited the stall, a girl was sitting on the counter in front of the mirror, holding a metal flask in her hand. The blonde Emily swore was Ali.
At first, Spencer wanted to backtrack into the stall and slam the door tight. There was something odd about her—she had a smirk on her face as if she was in on a huge practical joke.
But before Spencer could escape, the girl smiled at her. “Want some?” She extended the flask toward Spencer. Liquid sloshed in the bottom. “It’s this amazing homemade rum an old woman sold me on the drive here. It’ll blow your mind.”
Music from the steel drum band playing at the bar vibrated through the thin walls. The smell of fried plantains tickled Spencer’s nostrils. Spencer paused a moment. Something about this felt dangerous.
“What, are you scared?” the girl challenged, as if reading Spencer’s mind.
Spencer sat up straighter. She grabbed the flask and took a sip. The molasses taste immediately warmed her chest. “That’s really good.”
“Told ya.” The girl took the flask back. “I’m Tabitha.”
“Spencer,” she replied.
“You were sitting with those people in the corner, right?” Tabitha asked. Spencer nodded. “You’re lucky. My friends ditched me. They switched their reservations to The Royal Plantain up the road without telling me. When I tried to get a room there, they were all sold out. It sucks.”
“That’s terrible,” Spencer murmured. “Did you guys get into a fight or something?”
Tabitha shrugged guiltily. “It was over a guy. You know something about that, right?”
Spencer blinked. Immediately, she thought of the biggest fight she’d gotten into over a guy. It had been with Ali—their Ali—over Ian Thomas, whom they both liked. The night Ali went missing in seventh grade, Ali stormed out of the barn, and Spencer followed her. Ali spun around and told Spencer that she and Ian were secretly together. The only reason Ian kissed Spencer, she added, was because Ali had told him to—he did everything she wanted. Spencer had pushed Ali—hard.
There was a knowing smile on Tabitha’s face like she was referring to that exact story. But there was no way she could know that . . . right? An overhead bulb flickered, and suddenly Spencer noticed that Tabitha’s lips turned up at the corners, just like their Ali’s. Her wrists were just as thin, and she could just picture those long-fingered, square-palmed hands grappling with Spencer on the path outside her barn.
Tabitha’s phone played the Hallelujah chorus, scaring them both. She glanced at the screen, then scampered toward the door. “Sorry, I gotta take this. See you later?”
Before Spencer could answer, the door swung shut. She stayed in the bathroom, staring at her reflection.
She wasn’t sure what made her pull out her phone and do a Google search for Jamaican hotels. And she told herself it was just the strong homemade rum that made her heart pound as she perused the resorts nearby The Cliffs. But when Google finished tabulating the results, Spencer began to accept the uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. Something was really messed up here.
There wasn’t a Royal Plantain resort nearby. In fact, there wasn’t a hotel called Royal Plantain—or anything like it—in all of Jamaica. Whoever Tabitha was, she was a liar.
Spencer glanced at her reflection again. She looked like she’d seen a ghost.
Maybe she had.
A star is born
The next afternoon, after the SEPTA R5 stopped at every possible local station, Hanna finally arrived in Philadelphia. As soon as the metal door slid open she slung her silver studded hobo bag over her shoulder and stepped onto the steel escalator. Two girls in Bryn Mawr College sweatshirts and boot-cut jeans stared at her.
For a moment, Hanna tensed, thinking of the postcard in Ali’s old mailbox last night. Then it hit her: They recognized her from the news reports last year. Rude stares happened to Hanna more than she liked.
She stuck her nose in the air, feigning her best aloof celebrity pose. After all, she was going to her very first photo shoot—what were they doing in the city? Bargain shopping for knockoffs at Filene’s Basement?
A tall figure with a camera around his neck stood outside the station’s McDonald’s. Hanna’s heart leapt. Patrick even looked like an up-and-coming photographer—he wore an army-green coat with a fur-lined hood, slim-cut jeans, and polished chukka boots.
Patrick turned and noticed Hanna approaching. He raised the long-lensed digital camera around his neck and pointed it at her. For a second, Hanna wanted to cover her face with her hands, but instead she threw back her shoulders and gave him a big smile. Maybe this was a test, an action shot of a model in the dingy train station, surrounded by overweight tourists with fanny packs.
“You made it,” Patrick said as Hanna walked up.
“Did you think I’d bail?” Hanna teased, trying to control her excitement.
He looked her up and down. “Great outfit. You look like a hotter Adriana Lima.”
“Thanks.” Hanna put her hands on her hips and tilted to the right and left. Damn right it was a great outfit—she’d agonized over the pink frilly dress, motocross jacket, chunky suede booties, and gold-accented bracelets and necklace all morning, trying on a zillion combinations before she found something that hit just the right note. Her bare legs would probably get frostbite, but it would be worth it.
The SEPTA announcer shouted that a train to Trenton had just pulled into the station, and a bunch of people clamored down the stairs. Patrick picked up a canvas bag full of camera gear and strode toward the Sixteenth Street exit. “I’m thinking we’ll do a couple outdoor shots around the city. Some classics in front of City Hall and the Liberty Bell. The light’s great right now.”
“Okay,” Hanna answered. Patrick even sounded über-professional.
“Then we’ll finish up with some indoor photos at my studio in Fishtown. Do you mind all that? It would be amazing for my portfolio. And like I said, I can help you pick out shots for agents.”
“It sounds perfect.”
As they climbed the stairs, Patrick pressed his arm against Hanna’s, pointing out a patch of ice. “Careful.”
“Thanks,” Hanna said, steering around the ice. Patrick removed his hand as soon as she’d crossed safely.
“So, have you always wanted to be a photographer?” Hanna asked as they headed along Market Street toward City Hall. It was freezing outside, and everyone was walking around with their heads down and their hoods up. Dirty, slushy snow piled at the curbs.
“Ever since I was little,” Patrick admitted. “I was that kid who never went anywhere without a disposable camera. Remember those—or are you too young?”
“Of course I remember them,” Hanna scoffed. “I’m eighteen—how old are you?”
“Twenty-two,” Patrick said, as if that were so much older. He gestured to the left, off to another section of the city. “I went to Moore College of Art. Just graduated.”
“Did you like it? I’m thinking of going to F.I.T. or Pratt for fashion design.” She’d just submitted applications a few weeks ago.
“I loved it.” Patrick ducked out of the way of a hot dog cart that was smack in the middle of the sidewalk. The smell of greasy sausages wafted through the air. “You’ll love New York, too—but I bet you won’t be going there for school. One of the modeling agencies will sign you. I’m sure of it.”
It felt like there were fairies dancing in Hanna’s stomach. “What makes you so sure?” she challenged nonchalantly, like she didn’t care one way or another.
“When I was in school, I worked as an assistant on a lot of fashion shoots.” Patrick paused for a red light. “You’ve got the unique look editors and designers love.”
“Really?” If only Hanna could record what he just said and upload it to her Twitter feed. Or, better yet, post it directly on Kate’s Facebook page.
“So how’d you get the gig for my dad’s commercial, anyway?” Hanna asked.
Patrick smiled wryly. “I was doing a favor for a friend. Normally I wouldn’t touch commercials—especially political ones. I don’t really follow politics.”
“Me neither,” Hanna said, relieved. She wasn’t even clear on her father’s opinions on the big issues. If he won the election and someone wanted to interview her, well, that’s what media coaches were for.
“He seems like a nice guy, though,” Patrick shouted over the noise of a passing city bus. “But what’s with your sister? She seemed really uptight.”
“Stepsister,” Hanna corrected him quickly.
“Ah.” Patrick grinned at her knowingly, his almost-black eyes crinkling. “I should’ve guessed you weren’t related.”
They reached City Hall, and Patrick got to business, directing Hanna to pose in the shadow of the grand archway. “Okay, think ‘girl who wants something so badly she can taste it,’” he instructed, pointing the lens at her. “You’re hungry, you’re yearning, and you’ll stop at nothing for your goal. Can you get into that mood?”
Uh, yeah. She was already in that mood. She posed against the wall, giving Patrick the most determined stare she could muster.
“Awesome,” Patrick said. Snap. Snap. “Your eyes look amazing.”