As time progressed, she felt worse, not better. When she told her mother she was going to take the summer off swimming to do an internship in Philadelphia, Mrs. Fields had looked at her like she’d sprouted a few extra eyeballs. But Emily played the Ali card—she needed a break from Rosewood, too many awful things had happened here—and her mom relented. She’d stayed with her sister Carolyn, who was taking part in a summer program at Penn before she went to Stanford in the fall. She’d entrusted Carolyn with a secret, too, and amazingly Carolyn had kept it. Not happily, though.
When Emily returned to school that next year and told her mom she wasn’t up to swimming on the school team, Mrs. Fields had been livid. She’d offered to take Emily to a sports psychologist, but Emily was firm: She wasn’t swimming this season. “You have to get over Alison,” Mrs. Fields insisted. “This isn’t about Alison,” Emily answered tearfully. “Then what is it about?” Mrs. Fields demanded.
But Emily couldn’t tell her. If she did, her mother would never speak to her again.
Mr. Roland folded his hands in his lap, still waiting for Emily’s answer.
Emily cleared her throat. “Can we just leave it that I took a personal leave of absence? I . . . I was stalked by someone I thought was my best friend last year. Maybe you heard about it? Alison DiLaurentis?”
Mr. Roland’s eyebrows rose. “That was . . . you?”
Emily nodded grimly.
“I’m so sorry. I had no idea. I knew we bought the house where one of the murdered girls lived, but . . .” Mr. Roland pressed his hand to his eyes. “I think that’s all you need to say. Lowry will understand.”
At least the Ali mess was good for something.
“I’m fully committed to swimming now,” Emily promised.
“Good.” Mr. Roland stood up. “It looks like you are. If you’re game, I can probably have him or someone on his recruiting team up here by this Saturday.”
Emily did a mental check of her schedule. “Actually, I have a meet this Saturday.”
“All the more reason for him to come.” Mr. Roland tapped something into his BlackBerry. “He’ll see you in action. It’s perfect.”
“Thank you so much,” Emily gushed. She felt the urge to wrap her arms around Mr. Roland, but resisted.
“Any friend of Chloe’s is a friend of mine,” Mr. Roland pivoted toward the exit. “It’s nice to see her meeting people so quickly. Nice seeing you, Emily.”
He tucked his briefcase under his arm and strode around the puddles toward the steamed-over door to the locker rooms. Suddenly, Emily felt a million times better. Whatever she’d thought she’d experienced in the Rolands’ house yesterday was all in her head.
Someone sighed behind her, and Emily turned around. Her gaze darted to the long bank of windows that led to the outside. The sun had set, dyeing the sky midnight blue and bathing the landscape in silhouette. And then she saw something next to her Volvo wagon in the parking lot. Was that a person? Skulking around, peeking through the passenger-side window?
Another flip turn splashed her legs, and she stepped back from the pool’s edge. When she looked out the window again, the sky was suddenly pitch-black, like someone had pulled a curtain over it. Emily couldn’t see anything at all.
On Tuesday night, Aria rang the doorbell at the Kahns’ house, a redbrick mansion with white columns, a six-car garage, various porticos and turrets, and an eleven-acre backyard that had been the site of many infamous parties. Tonight, the Kahns were hosting another party, although Aria doubted it would feature body shots or illicit hookups in the Kahns’ photo booth. It was a traditional Finnish smorgasbord to welcome Klaudia to the U.S., and judging by the number of cars in the long, circular driveway, it looked like the Kahns had invited everyone in Rosewood and several towns beyond.
Mrs. Kahn flung the door open and beamed. “Tervetuloa, Aria!” she said jovially. “That’s Finnish for welcome!”
“Uh, tervetuloa,” Aria echoed politely, trying to get the intonation correct . . . and trying not to gawk at Mrs. Kahn’s outfit. Normally, Noel’s mother was the epitome of horsey couture: Ralph Lauren riding pants, cable-cashmere sweaters, sleek Tod’s boots, and diamonds on her fingers and in her ears that were probably worth more than both Aria’s parents’ houses combined. Today, though, she wore a long red skirt that looked like it was made out of stiff felt, a shirred blouse with puffed sleeves and elaborate embroidery at the neck, and a very colorful peasant vest that featured yet more embroidery and smelled like mothballs. There was a slightly phallic bonnet on her head and black leather lace-up boots on her feet. And they definitely weren’t the kind featured in the Jimmy Choo window at the King James Mall.
“Isn’t my outfit divine?” Mrs. Kahn crowed, spinning so the skirt flared out. “It’s the traditional Finnish costume! Have you ever seen anything so colorful? I’m half Finnish, you know. Perhaps my ancestors dressed just like this!”
Aria nodded and smiled dumbly, though she doubted Finns dressed that way unless they absolutely had to. Who wanted to look like a Grimm fairy-tale character?
Then Klaudia stepped into the foyer. “Aria! We’re so happy you make it!” Noel was right behind her. Klaudia looped her arm around Noel’s shoulders like they were a couple.
“Uh, I wouldn’t miss it.” Aria stared pointedly at Noel, thinking he’d break from Klaudia and walk across the foyer to join her, his girlfriend. But he just stood next to Klaudia with a stupid grin on his face. Klaudia turned and whispered something in Noel’s ear. Noel said something back, and they both chuckled.
Prickles rose on Aria’s skin. “Is something funny?”
“It’s . . . never mind.” Noel waved away Aria’s question.
Tonight, Klaudia wore a marled sweater dress that was at least two sizes too small. Her blond hair spilled down her back, and she wore wet, glossy lipstick that drew the eye straight to her mouth. Every guy at the party stared at her—including Mr. Shay, the elderly biology teacher at Rosewood Day who Aria had always thought was legally blind.
But then Noel slithered around the knot of adoring male admirers and wrapped his arm around Aria. “I’m glad you’re here.” It made Aria feel slightly better, especially since Klaudia was watching.
Everyone turned toward the kitchen, which boomed with polka-ish music Aria could only assume was Finnish. The table had a fairy-tale quality to it, too: There were burbling cauldrons, oversized goblets, sausage bursting out of its casing, fish with their heads still on, and gingerbread cookies that looked straight out of Hansel and Gretel. A glass pitcher held soured milk. In front of a bubbling Crock-Pot Mrs. Kahn had affixed a label that said MOOSE! The Rosewood residents gathered around the table looked a little bit lost.
“Ooh, delicious!” Klaudia chirped when she reached the table. About ten guys scrambled to help her, as if she were an infant incapable of making her own plate. Mason Byers offered to spoon up Klaudia a bowl of soup. Philip Gregory asked if Klaudia wanted some sausage—nudge, nudge. Preston Wallis and John Dexter, who’d graduated from Rosewood Day but were going to Hollis and still some of Noel’s closest friends, retrieved napkins for Klaudia and poured her a mug of cider.
The girls were a different story, though. Naomi Zeigler and Riley Wolfe shot Klaudia dirty looks from the kitchen island. Lanie Iler, who was standing near Aria in the food line, leaned over to Phi Templeton, who wasn’t nearly as much of a dork as she used to be when Aria, Ali, and the others made fun of her in seventh grade, and whispered, “You know, she’s not that pretty.”
“She’s in my English class,” Phi answered, rolling her eyes. “She barely knows how to read English. I thought people from Europe were, like, fluent.”
Aria hid a smirk. She would have thought Razor scooter–obsessed Phi would be sensitive about making fun of others.
“If James keeps looking at her, I’m going to kick her ass,” Lanie continued through her teeth, spearing a sausage and plopping it on her plate. James Freed was her new boyfriend.
Someone tapped Aria on the shoulder and she turned. Klaudia was right behind her, staring at Aria with her large, blue eyes. “Hallo, Aria,” she said. “I eat you?”
At first, Aria thought she was serious—it was just the thing a fairy-tale villainess might say. Then Klaudia peered nervously into the crowd. “So many people, and I only you know!”
“What a lovely idea!” Mrs. Kahn appeared from out of nowhere and clapped a hand on Aria’s shoulder. “You two should definitely eat together! You’ll love Aria, Klaudia.”
“Oh.” Aria fiddled with the bat-wing sleeve of her silk blouse. Wouldn’t Klaudia rather eat with her male entourage? But it wasn’t like she could say no with Mrs. Kahn standing there.
After spooning a few more bites of vegetarian goulash on her plate, Aria led Klaudia to the bay window seat. They were quiet for a moment, taking in the party. The popular girls from Rosewood Day had moved to the long table in the breakfast nook, still giving Klaudia—and Aria, by association—the evil eye. A nearby cluster of adults Aria didn’t recognize were out-boasting one another about where their kids had gotten into college. Through the archway to the living room, Aria caught sight of Spencer and a boy she didn’t recognize, but she knew better than to wave.
The postcard haunted her. Today, she was sure she felt someone watching her—even in classes where she sat in the last row of the room, even when alone in a stall in the girls’ bathroom. She kept whipping around, heart in her throat, but no one was ever there. During study hall, she’d listened to two meditation tapes in a row, but they’d only gotten her more riled up. Even sitting here, in Noel’s kitchen, she kept peeking at her cell phone, terrified of a new text.
Could A seriously be back? What if A really knew the horrible thing she’d done?
Aria turned to Klaudia, trying to shake the awful thoughts from her mind. “So how do you like Rosewood Day?”
Klaudia dabbed her mouth with a napkin. “So big. I get much lost! And people give directions, and I’m like . . . oof!” She pretended to wipe sweat off her brow. “My old school in Helsinki? Six rooms! Thirty people in our class! Nothing like this!”
The corners of her mouth turned down as she spoke. She finished the tirade with a shaky titter. Was Klaudia . . . scared? It had never occurred to Aria that such a gorgeous, confident creature could be intimidated by anything. Perhaps she was actually human.
“I know what you mean.” Aria swallowed bite of beet and turnip mash. “The high school I went to in Reykjavik only had about a hundred students. I knew everyone within a couple of weeks.”
Klaudia lowered her fork. “You did school in Reykjavik?”
“Yeah.” Didn’t Noel tell Klaudia anything about her? “I lived there for almost three years. I loved it.”
“I go there!” Klaudia’s smile broadened. “For the Iceland Airwaves festival!”