“You were fresh and real,” Tricia continued. She was at least six inches shorter than Pauline and shaped like a bowling ball. “Have you done television work before?”
Hanna blinked hard. “Um, a little.” Did the microphones shoved in her face during Ian’s murder trial count? What about the reporters who camped out on her doorstep when the press had deemed Hanna and her friends the Pretty Little Liars?
“The public recognized you from People,” Tricia said. “You caught their attention instantly, which is great for a candidate.”
“Everyone sympathizes with what you went through last year, Hanna!” Pauline piped up. “You’ll bring in the emotional vote.”
Hanna stared at the two consultants. “But what about my . . . mistakes?” she asked, eyeing Jeremiah, who lurked behind them, eavesdropping.
“People said that made you more relatable.” Tricia paused to flip through her clipboard. She read straight from a sheet of paper. “‘We all have incidents in our past we’re not proud of, and the goal is to learn from them and become better people.’”
“The public thinks you’re repentant and humbled,” Pauline added. “It works especially well with your father’s campaign against underage drinking—you’re the poster child of what not to do. We were even thinking you could do speaking tours to help campaign!”
“Whoa.” Hanna sank back into her chair. A poster child? Speaking tours? Were they serious?
Hanna’s father appeared behind them. “I guess they told you the news.” He draped his arm around her shoulders, and several flashbulbs popped. “It’s pretty amazing, huh? It looks like you’re a real asset to my team!”
He gave Hanna’s shoulders another squeeze. Hanna grinned maniacally, feeling like she was having an out-of-body experience. Was he really saying these things to her? Was he really grateful she was his daughter?
Kate stood timidly behind the focus-group ladies. “What about my lines? Did the focus groups say anything about me?”
Pauline and Tricia’s smiles wavered. “Ah. Yes.”
They glanced at each other nervously. Finally, Tricia spoke. “Well, people seemed to think you were a little . . . wooden. Not quite as relatable, dear.”
“With a good media coach you can learn to get more comfortable in front of the camera,” Pauline added.
“But I am comfortable in front of the camera!” Kate wailed. “Aren’t I, Dad?”
Everyone nervously bit their lips and averted their eyes, including Hanna’s father.
“Why would anyone like her?” Kate jabbed a finger at Hanna. “She stole someone’s car! She was accused of killing her best friend!”
“Yes, but she didn’t kill her best friend,” Hanna’s father said in a scolding voice Hanna had never heard him use with Kate. “There’s nothing wrong with needing media coaching, honey. I’m sure after some practice you’ll do great.”
It was too delicious for words. Kate clamped her mouth shut and stormed away, her chestnut hair flying. Hanna was about to call out a gloating remark—how could she resist?—when her cell phone beeped. She smiled apologetically at the focus group women. “Excuse me.”
She stepped out of the conference room and into her father’s office, which contained a massive oak desk, a gray safe, and a bulletin board plastered with notes, campaign bumper stickers, and flyers. Maybe the text was from Patrick, saying her portfolio was ready. Or maybe from her adoring public, already telling her how much they loved her.
But instead, the message was from someone anonymous. Hanna’s blood turned to ice. No. This couldn’t be starting again. Not now.
What happens in Jamaica stays in Jamaica? I don’t think so.
What will Daddy say? –A
What a cute little peikko Aria is!
“Welcome to Rocky Mountain High!” a tall, scrawny guy in a blue fleece pullover and baggy jeans said to Aria and Klaudia as they strutted through the ski store’s fake-snow-decorated double doors. “Is there anything I can help you ladies with today?”
“We’re cool,” Aria said, strolling past racks and racks of down-filled coats. It was Thursday after school, and Aria and Klaudia were shopping for the Kahns’ ski trip to New York this weekend. But now that she was inside the store, which was decorated with posters of skiers and snowboarders spraying up rooster tails and wildly flipping in the air, she wondered if this was really a good idea. Honestly, Aria had always found skiing kind of . . . pointless. You rode a gondola to the top of a big hill, raced down at speeds that could kill you, and then did it over again. And, oh yeah, it was below freezing outside.
“Are you sure you don’t need some help?” the sales assistant asked, his eyes fixed on Klaudia. Today, she wore a pink mini dress, gray tights, and furry Uggs that somehow made her legs look shapely and long. Those sorts of boots always made Aria’s legs look like tree stumps.
Klaudia looked up from her iPhone, and batted her eyelashes at the sales boy. “Oh! I know how you help. There’s a jacket in back on hold for Klaudia Huusko. Can you go get?”
“Klaudia Huusko?” the guy repeated. “Is that you? Where are you from?”
Klaudia grinned at him. “If you get jacket, I tell you.”
The guy saluted, spun around, and made a beeline for the back room. Aria gazed at Klaudia. “Did you really order a jacket?”
“No.” Klaudia giggled. “But now he leave us alone! He be back there for hours!”
“Nice.” Aria gave Klaudia a high five.
“Okay.” Klaudia squared her shoulders and steered Aria to the back of the store. She promptly selected a purple down-filled jacket, legging-like black ski pants, matching purple-and-black padded ski gloves, a package of thick Wigwam socks, and orange goggles with a thick strap. Chuckling, she placed the goggles over Aria’s eyes, then put a blue pair on her own. “Sexy, ja?”
Aria stared at her reflection in the mirror. She looked like a bug. “Ja,” she agreed. Then she spied a rack of jester hats worn only by the dorkiest band geeks or drama kids at Rosewood Day. “Those are sexier.”
“Oh, ja,” Klaudia said. They galloped over to the rack of hats, trying each one on and making sexy poses in front of the mirror. Each jester hat, felted king crown, and oversized cloche was worse than the last.
“Smile!” Klaudia cried, using her iPhone to snap a picture of Aria in a fleece pointed cap and an orange ski mask that made her look like a burglar.
“Say cheese!” Aria took a photo with her own phone as Klaudia pulled on a wooly hat with bear ears. Amazingly, even that made her look cute.
They pulled more and more hats off the racks, taking pictures with long socks on their hands, in lace-up boots that looked like they could battle the frozen tundra, and in fur trapper hats that fell over their eyes. Then, Klaudia pointed at something on a hanger. “Try this. Noel will like.”
It was a bright yellow snowsuit with a padded butt. Aria wrinkled her brow. “Noel would like that? It’ll make me look like a huge banana!”
“He will think you serious ski bunny!” Klaudia insisted.
“But it’s . . . yellow,” Aria murmured.
“It will bring you together as couple!” Klaudia’s eyebrows made a stern V. “What you have in common? What you do that’s same?”
Hackles rose on the back of Aria’s neck. “Did Noel tell you that?” An image of the two of them sitting on the Kahns’ sectional, swapping relationship stories floated into her mind. Maybe Noel had confessed that he and Aria were a bit mismatched. Maybe he’d even said Aria was kooky, the word Ali always used when she said Noel wouldn’t go for Aria in a million years.
Or what if Noel told Klaudia Aria hadn’t slept with him yet? Would he tell her something like that?
“He tell me nothing.” Klaudia pushed her white-blond hair behind her ears. “I just trying to help what I see! Like Dr. Phil!”
Aria stared at a ragged pair of snowshoes mounted on the wall. Klaudia was smiling so genuinely, as if she really thought she was giving good advice. Maybe she was. Aria and Noel were pretty different. She attended his home lacrosse games, but she always tuned out halfway through. She never wanted to watch the latest Jason Statham movie with him, and she sometimes found his never-ending my-parents-are-out-of-town-again house parties tedious. Noel tried a lot harder with Aria: He went to poetry readings with her, even though he found them intolerable. He tagged along to her favorite ethnic restaurants, although he usually ordered items on the menu most closely related to a hamburger or chicken nuggets. He even supported Aria applying to the Rhode Island School of Design instead of to Duke, where he’d already gotten a lacrosse scholarship.
Maybe Aria hadn’t given enough back. Maybe she hadn’t been a good girlfriend. The incident in Iceland flashed through her mind again, and she shut her eyes.
“Okay,” Aria consented, gathering the snowsuit in her arms. “I’ll try it on. But if it makes my butt look enormous, I’m not buying it.”
“Awesome!” Klaudia cried.
Then Klaudia’s eyes widened at something across the store. “Be back,” she murmured, migrating toward a long black coat with a fur hood that looked almost identical to the one she was wearing. Aria turned to the dressing room, then noticed an iPhone balanced on the hat rack. It had a big Finnish flag on the case.
“Klaudia?” Aria called. The phone had to be hers.
But Klaudia was too busy finding the coat in her size. Aria picked up the phone. It made a chiming sound, startling her. She stabbed the screen to shut it up. A text bubble from Tanja, Klaudia’s friend, appeared. The text was in Finnish, but Aria noticed her name in Klaudia’s previous message. Huh.
She peered across the store again. Klaudia had tried on a coat and was inspecting herself in the mirror. She looked down at Klaudia’s phone. It felt heavy in her hands. She should just turn it off. Friends didn’t read other friends’ texts.
But as she slipped into the dressing room, her name on the screen haunted her. What were Klaudia and her friend saying about her? Was it good or bad? Just one peek, she decided. She moved her finger across the iPhone to unlock it. The text thread between Klaudia and Tanja popped up, blocks and blocks of words with umlauts and Os with slashes through them. Aria skimmed the Finnish, spotting Noel’s name. Then Noel’s again. And then again. But maybe that was natural—they were living under one roof. Maybe Aria would write about her foreign exchange host, too.
Finally, she found her name at the bottom. Aria on peikko, Klaudia wrote.
Peikko? Aria sounded it out in her mouth—PEE-ko. It sounded so cute, like a Disney character. What could it mean? Sprightly? Gamine? The best friend ever?
Excited, she scribbled it down on a pad she kept inside her purse. After a moment, she decided to copy Klaudia and Tanja’s sentences about Noel, too. Maybe Klaudia had written about one of Noel’s cute and slightly embarrassing habits Aria already knew about. It could be something she and Klaudia could laugh about together—Hey, I accidentally saw your text about Noel. Isn’t that crazy that he watches iCarly every afternoon?