“DON’T FIGHT,” CAS SAID from the doorway that Frankie and Z had just disappeared through. Tears glistened in her eyes. “Can we turn the radio back on? Maybe they’ll tell us help is finally coming.”
Rashid clicked on the radio before heading over to help Tad. There was the buzz of static, then the announcer telling everyone that the firefighters were making progress. The fire was contained to the west side, and they hoped to have it out soon.
“With one person of interest being questioned, authorities are now working to find another individual they have confirmed is involved in this terrible bombing. A source confirms that the individual is one of the students trapped on the second floor of the school. With four bombs having already gone off, there appears to be one explosive device still inside the school that could detonate at any time.”
Another bomb was ready to go off, and the bomber was one of them.
Earlier That Day . . .
— Chapter 1 —
ALL YOU HAD TO DO was smile and wear the right clothes, and everyone would think you were special. If you appeared successful, people would automatically assume you were successful. Her parents believed that. Her father had built a career on it. They wanted her to believe it.
Diana hated that she did.
“Perception is everything, Diana,” her stepmother said so often that Diana wanted to scream. But screaming wasn’t presentable. And, boy, did it make the wrong impression. This made screaming at the top of her lungs very tempting.
“Always take care to make the correct choice, Diana,” her stepmother said over and over again. “Everything you do is important and reflects on your father and the positions he takes. And think about what your father’s opponents would claim if you don’t do well in school or become a leader in the activities you’re in. They’ll wonder how serious your father is about education if his own daughter doesn’t do well in school. The other side is always looking for a reason to point fingers and show that your father isn’t worthy of his position. That we aren’t worthy. So you can’t allow your grades or your attention to detail to slide, or you’ll hurt your father and, worse, you’ll hurt the work he’s trying to do.”
Diana looked down at the clothes she’d chosen for the day. After sixteen years, she knew exactly what details would be noticed and what people would think when they saw her.
Stylish white jeans. A tasteful pink top. But nothing too expensive, because that made people jealous. Nothing too tight, because that gave people the wrong idea. And no wrinkles. Wrinkles made people think you were lazy. No one trusts a person who is lazy. To get what you wanted in life, you must inspire trust—even if you intended to break it.
Her father inspired trust with his perfectly tailored suits that were made less stuffy because he never wore a tie and always left the collar open.
Folksy. Friendly. Everyone’s idea of the perfect dad and former army-communications specialist who always puts his family and country first. At least that’s what people must have thought, because he got elected. He was working hard to make sure he got to keep his job for another term, and it was their family’s job—Diana’s job—to make sure she didn’t do anything wrong that could make voters question whether they wanted him back in office.
No pressure there.
“Katherine?” she yelled, knowing how much her stepmother hated raised voices. No response. She must have already gone downstairs. Dad would be in meetings already. Diana bit her lip as she reached for the gold studs Katherine gave her for her sixteenth birthday, then added the gold-cross necklace that had technically been from her father. She’d pretended not to notice when one of his aides handed him the box that he’d clearly been unaware of up until that moment.
“Little touches make all the difference,” Katherine insisted. “People notice the details.”
Yes, they did, Diana thought as she reached into her jewelry box and pulled out the ratty friendship bracelet she’d made for herself years ago, wishing she’d had someone to give it to and to get one in return from. No one ever assumed the popular girl needed to be given a gift. No one thought about whether the popular girl was lonely when she went home. Everyone assumed the popular girl had a million friends and a family who supported her.
Diana walked to her mirror and checked her makeup. Just enough to make her blue eyes look bigger. Nothing more, or people might question whether she was a good girl. And she was supposed to be a good girl. She ticked off her stepmother’s checklist one by one.
A nice home.
Smart, respectable family tree.
All signs of a strong, well-brought-up girl. A girl everyone claimed to know from school. One parents and teachers pointed to as an example to others. One who had been taught to calculate her appearance and demeanor down to the plain red color of her cell-phone case. One who was determined to use it all to show everyone that it was foolish to trust what someone wanted you to see.
And if she didn’t want to ruin her perfect image, Diana would have to get moving. Tardiness was not acceptable for a girl who was supposed to be without flaws. Tardiness implied a lack of respect for other people’s time.
Glancing at her watch, she shook her head and hurried downstairs to find her stepmother so she could get a ride to school for the yearbook meeting.
“Katherine?” she called.
No answer. Huh. Well, Katherine was probably in the backyard making sure the staff had polished the patio furniture to a shine so that guests could be invited back to the house after the event tonight.
“Your mother went out.”
“What?” She turned and spotted her father standing next to the porch swing with his cell phone pressed to his ear. Since there was no point in correcting him about Katherine’s relationship to her, she simply asked, “Where?”
He put up a hand to quiet her. “Yes, I’m here, and yes, I understand there’s been some pushback, but I can’t step back from the bill, or I’ll get hammered. The press will smell blood and it’ll be over, and we all kn...