“In that case . . .” Hanna swept into the aisle. “How about we just forget about everything?”
The skin around Mike’s mouth slackened. Obviously he’d been bluffing. But before he could protest, Hanna was already out the door.
She marched past the office, the nurse’s station, and Steam, the school’s upscale coffee bar, which always smelled like burnt coffee beans this time of day, finally stopping at the double doors to the Commons. It had a tiny alcove where you could make a cell phone call without teachers noticing. Hanna dug her phone out of her purse and dialed Patrick’s number.
The phone rang three times, and a groggy voice answered. “Patrick?” Hanna said in her most professional-sounding voice. “This is Hanna Marin. We met at my father’s photo shoot on Saturday.”
“Hanna!” Patrick suddenly sounded much more awake. “I’m so happy you called!”
In less than a minute, everything was arranged: Hanna would meet Patrick in Philadelphia tomorrow after school, and he would take some test shots of her for his portfolio. He sounded perfectly respectable, speaking to her without even the slightest tinge of flirtatiousness. When they hung up, Hanna held the phone between her palms, her heart pounding hard. Take that, Mike. Patrick wasn’t a skeev. He was going to make Hanna a star.
As she dropped her phone back into her bag, she saw a shadow flicker in the corner. Reflected in the glass door to the Commons was a blond girl. Ali.
Hanna whipped around, half expecting to see Ali standing at a locker behind her, but it was only poster of Ali’s seventh-grade school picture on the wall. There were smaller pictures of Jenna Cavanaugh and Ian Thomas, and then a larger photo of Real Ali after her return as her dead twin. ALL IT TOOK WAS ONE LIT MATCH, said a headline under the images. Below it were details of the made-for-TV program, Pretty Little Killer.
Unbelievable. Even Rosewood Day was in on the hype. Hanna ripped down the poster and balled it up in her hands.
Suddenly, a teasing, familiar voice from Jamaica echoed in her ear: I feel like I’ve known you girls forever. But that’s impossible, right? Followed by an eerie giggle.
“No,” Hanna whispered, purging the voice from her head. She hadn’t heard it in a long time—not since right after they’d returned from the trip. She wasn’t about to let the voice—or the guilt—invade her mind again.
A trio of girls clad in North Face jackets and Ugg boots crossed the Commons. An English teacher flitted down the hall with an armful of books. Hanna tore up the photo of Ali until it was in a thousand satisfying pieces. She brushed off her hands into the wastebasket. There. Ali was gone.
Just like the Real Ali. Of that, Hanna was absolutely sure.
On Monday evening, Emily pulled her family’s Volvo station wagon into the driveway of the Rolands’ house and yanked up the emergency brake. Her palms were sweating. She couldn’t believe she was about to go into the house where Jenna and Toby had lived.
In the side yard was the stump of what used to be Toby’s old tree house, the site of the awful prank that had blinded Jenna. There was the big bay window through which Ali and the others spied on Jenna when they had nothing better to do. Ali was ruthless with Jenna, picking on her high-pitched voice, her pale skin, or how she brought tuna sandwiches to lunch and then had tuna breath for the rest of the day. But unbeknownst to them, Ali and Jenna shared a secret: Jenna knew that Ali had a twin. It was why, in the end, Real Ali had killed her.
Suddenly, the red-painted oak door whipped open, and Chloe appeared. “Hey, Emily, come on in!”
Emily stepped inside tentatively. The house smelled like apples, the walls had been painted deep reds and oranges, and bejeweled Indian tapestries hung on the big space under the stairs. The furniture was a mismatch of Stickley chairs, threadbare sixties-upholstered divans, and a coffee table made out of one large slab of curly maple. It was like walking into a funky junk shop.
She followed Chloe into the back room, which had big floor-to-ceiling doors that opened out onto the patio. “Here’s Gracie,” Chloe said, pointing to the baby in a swing in the corner. “Gracie, remember your best friend Emily?”
The baby made a cooing noise and went back to chewing on a rubber giraffe. Emily felt something rise up inside her chest, a feeling she wasn’t quite ready to face. She pushed it down again. “Hi, Grace. I like your giraffe.” She gave it a squeeze, and it squeaked.
“Want to come up to my room for a sec?” Chloe called from the stairs. “I just have to get a couple of things for my interview. Grace will be fine in her swing for a minute.”
“Uh, sure.” Emily walked through the living room. The grandfather clock in the foyer bonged seven. “Where are your parents?”
Chloe dodged a bunch of boxes in the second floor hall. “Still at work. They’re both lawyers—always super busy. Oh, I told my dad about you, by the way. He said he’d help with the scholarship thing. He says UNC is still looking for good swimmers.”
“That’s amazing.” Emily wanted to hug Chloe, but she didn’t know her well enough yet.
Chloe pushed into her bedroom, which was decorated with posters of famous soccer players. A shirtless David Beckham kicked a ball. Mia Hamm was caught midstride on the field, her abs looking amazing. Chloe picked up a paddle brush from the bureau and ran it through her long hair. “You said you quit swimming this summer, right?”
“Do you mind if I ask what happened?”
Emily was surprised by the directness of the question. She certainly couldn’t tell Chloe the truth. “Oh, I just had some stuff to deal with.”
Chloe walked to the window and looked out. “I played soccer until last year, in case you couldn’t tell.” She gestured around at the posters. “But then, suddenly, I hated it. I couldn’t stand going on the field. My dad was, like, ‘what’s wrong with you? You’ve loved soccer since you were a little girl!’ But I couldn’t explain it. I just didn’t want to play anymore.”
“How are your parents about it now?”
“Better.” Chloe opened her closet. Clothes hung neatly on racks, and there were a bunch of old-school board games—Clue, Monopoly, Mousetrap—piled messily on the top shelf. “But it took a long time for them to get there. Some other stuff happened, though, and that put it in perspective.”
She shut the closet door again. Suddenly, Emily noticed faded pencil writing on the wall to the left of the closet. Jenna. Lines on the wall demarcated height, date, and age.
Emily sank back down to the bed. This must have been Jenna’s room once.
Chloe saw what Emily was looking at and flinched. “Oh. I keep meaning to paint over that.”
“So you . . . know?” Emily asked.
Chloe pushed a piece of brown hair away from her mouth. “I argued with my parents about buying this place—I worried there would be a bad vibe here. But they convinced me it would be okay. This is, like, the best neighborhood or something, and they didn’t want to pass up the good deal on the house.” She pulled the red sweater over her head, then glanced at Emily. “You knew them, right? The kids that lived here?”
“Uh-huh.” Emily lowered her eyes.
“I figured.” Chloe bit her bottom lip. “I recognize you, actually. But I didn’t know if you wanted to talk about it.”
Emily swung her feet, not knowing what to say. Of course Chloe recognized her. Everyone did.
“Are you okay?” Chloe asked softly, sinking next to her on the bed. “That stuff with your old friend sounded awful.”
Headlights on the street outside cast long shadows across the room. The scent of lavender and hair spray wafted through Emily’s nose. Was she okay? After she’d said her good-byes, after she’d understood that the Ali they’d reconciled with wasn’t the Ali she’d loved, she was as good as she could be. The Ali that had returned was dangerous, psychotic—it was a blessing that she was gone.
But then Jamaica happened.
Emily had been so excited to go. Spencer made the plans, picking The Cliffs resort in Negril and booking them massages, yoga classes, snorkeling trips, and sunset dinners in the caves. It was going to be the perfect escape, an ideal place to slough off all the horrible stuff that had happened. Emily had hoped the tropical air would cure the stomach flu that she hadn’t been able to kick, too.
The first afternoon had been perfect—the warm water, the welcoming fish-fry lunch, the soothing sun. But then she’d seen that girl on the stairs of the roof deck that first night.
When the girl stepped in the doorway, her blond hair blowing, her yellow halter dress fluttered around her legs. Emily’s vision tunneled. The girl was the only thing she saw. Her oval face, pointed nose, and slightly chunkier frame looked nothing like Ali’s, but Emily just . . . knew. In the back of her mind, she’d somehow known she and Ali would meet again, and here she was. Alive. Staring straight at her.
She’d turned to her friends. “That’s Ali,” she whispered.
They just stared at her. “What are you talking about?” Spencer said. “Ali’s dead, Em.”
“She died in the fire, remember?” Aria urged. She watched Emily suspiciously, like she worried Emily might make a scene.
“Did she?” Emily thought back to that night in the Poconos, guilt and anxiety rising inside of her. “What if she escaped? No one found her body.”
Hanna turned to the girl in yellow. She had moved off the landing and was walking over to the bar. “Em, that looks nothing like her. Maybe you have a fever.”
But Emily wasn’t going to give up that easily. She watched as the girl ordered a drink, shooting one of the bartenders an I’m-Ali-and-I’m-fabulous smile. How many times had Emily cherished that smile? Yearned for it? Her heart sped up even more. “If Ali survived the fire, she would’ve had reconstructive surgery for the burns,” she whispered. “That could be why she looks totally different. And that’s why she has those marks on her arms.”
“Emily . . .” Aria clutched Emily’s hands. “You’re making something out of nothing. It’s not Ali. You have to get over her.”
“I am over her!” Emily roared.
Emily snapped back to the present, reaching into the pocket of her corduroys and feeling for the silky orange tassel. If anyone ever asked, if anyone recognized it, she would say she’d found it on the lawn of the DiLaurentises’ Poconos house after the explosion, even though it wasn’t the truth.
Suddenly, Chloe leapt to her feet. “Mom! Dad! What are you doing here?”
A young couple appeared in the hall. Chloe’s father, an athletic, dark-haired guy with smooth, flawless skin, wore a gray suit and polished leather shoes. Her mother, who had an angular brown bob and wore dark-framed hipster glasses, had on a tight pencil skirt, a shiny pink blouse, and pointy patent-leather heels. There was something edgy about them, like they went to buttoned-up jobs all day but attended indie bands and poetry readings at night. It was a nice change from the stuffy horsey types that overran Rosewood.