I had been going to this school for more than a month and I’ve gotten used to the routine. I’d gotten really close to Lilith - to the point where we shared internal jokes and knew what the other person was thinking. We spent all our time in each other’s presence and I hadn’t realized how attached I became to her and to my friends until I realized that my evaluations and exams were a real threat. If I failed them, I would have to repeat a year and would be put into different classes from my friends.
Speaking of my friends, Abbott and I got along incredibly well. He wasn’t only Lilith’s brother but he reminded me of Connor and how protective my own brother was with me. Abbott did all the same, but in a much less misguided way. He was probably the one most intent on me passing the exams and helped me study most.
I enjoyed everybody’s company - even more so when they were drunk and didn’t have a filter on their mouths. That’s why I let Lilith drag me to a party or two and I even let myself sing in front of a crowd once, letting the alcohol take over.
In all this chaos, my heart found a home.
I found a place where gossip didn’t rule, where having fun and enjoying life was all that mattered. Where music is a passion shared amongst all.
And so, a very busy month later, I had just finished with all the final exams and evaluations. It had been a troubling time with lots of studying - which my friends didn’t seem to mind helping with. The results would be clear in a couple of hours, but the thrill of being over and done with them still excited me.
“We need to celebrate,” she said to me when I met her in the hallway, waiting impatiently along with the rest of my friends.
“I don’t even know if I passed yet,” I replied to her.
“Nonsense,” Ford shook his head. “You knew the answer to every question and you practiced more than any of us did in all our years.”
“He’s right. You need to give yourself more credit,” Riley spoke and put his arm around my shoulder, smiling proudly at me.
“As I was saying, we need to celebrate,” Lilith said again, intent on being heard.
“Damn right we do,” Abbott agreed with his sister and started walking, the rest of us following closely behind. “I vote we go to the city and visit the best locations.”
“We’d have to get a cab and a couple of hours isn’t enough. We’d need a day or two to ourselves to truly have fun,” Lilith shot down his idea quickly. “Movie night?”
“Boring,” Skye replied. “Come on, guys. Let’s throw a party.”
“Parties are so impersonal. Let’s do something that only involves us,” Lilith said again, glancing at me. I knew we both agreed on what she just said and I nodded in support.
“A sleepover then,” Riley suggested the only logical idea.
“Let’s just wait and see if I passed or not,” I said, not wanting to celebrate too early and then realizing I failed.
I took out my phone and typed a short message to my parents, my brother, Delilah and Kai. It was the usual. The exams were over, don’t know the results yet. Keep you posted.
Delilah was the only friend from home that I had. And after the whole debacle, I realized that I was her only girl friend too. Apart from my brother, whom I suspected she had a crush on. Past events appeared to have brought Delilah, Connor, Kai, Beck and Nathaniel together and created an unexpected friendship between them. Delilah even told me they were considered the new ‘it’ group of the school. It had surprised me at the time and I had expected to feel a pang of jealousy at first. But it never came.
I only felt happiness for them and wished them the best. I had no desire to go back home.
My friends and I decided on joining the rest of the school outside and I was stopped many times on my way by random people who seemed genuinely interested in how I did.
“We hope you pass. All of us know the evaluations are a bitch,” Sierra appeared by my side and smiled. “I, especially, would know because I transferred late as well.”
“Thanks, Sierra,” I replied and watched her slowly walk away with the rest of her friends. Lilith and I followed the guys, who found a table for us and joined them.
Waiting for the results had been a bitch. A pain in my ass.
Every moment was filled with tension, nervousness and anxiety. I knew my future was on the line and I didn’t want to be anything less than perfect. I needed to be perfect.
After a few hours of killing time, my friends and I retreated to the room Lilith and I were in. We ordered Chinese food and sprawled ourselves on the floor. I had been considering checking up on Kai but didn’t want to disturb him while he was with Hannah, his little sister.
A knock on the door immediately got my attention and I looked around the room to see if all my friends were there. True enough, nobody had been missing. Which only meant one thing: the results were back.
Glancing worriedly at Lilith, she offered me her hand and squeezed it tightly as Abbott stood up and went to answer the door.
“Aunt Jessica,” a cry escaped my lips the moment she walked into the room. I didn’t know who I had expected to hand me the results, but my Aunt certainly wasn’t it. “What are you doing here?”
She held a big envelope in her hands, a serious expression on her face.
“I brought this for you,” aunt Jessica said and handed it to me. My hands shook as I went to grab the envelope and eyed it suspiciously.
“What are you doing? Open it,” Lilith couldn’t help her curiosity as she urged me to take action. She had been excited but I was dreading it.
“I can’t,” I finally stated and handed the letter to the person nearest to me - Abbott.
“You do it,” I told him and turned to Lilith.
“Okay,” Abbott spoke, surprised at my random decision and carefully opened the envelope, revealing a piece of paper inside.
“So?” Riley asked impatiently and I felt a large weight on my chest.
Abbott’s lips formed a smile, then turned into a grin.
“You did it! You passed,” he said proudly.
The room erupted in cheers and I felt my eyes tear up. Before I knew it, I had been in crying in Lilith’s embrace.
I hadn’t realized how much I needed this until the entire group gathered in for a hug. It was so unselfish - their happiness for me and my success. I had never felt so grateful.
When we broke apart, aunt Jessica brought me into a hug of her own. “I’m proud of you.”
“Thank you,” I replied and this time, I felt proud of myself too.
I didn’t sleep a wink that night because my friends kept me up, supplying me with plenty of laughter and true happiness.
It was the next morning that I felt the consequences of my late night adventures. Wiping at my tired eyes, I glanced at my phone only to reveal that it had been 8 in the morning. Lilith didn’t appear to be as exhausted as I was. In fact, she seemed completely unfazed by it.
“We should really get something to eat,” Abbott spoke, untangling himself from the blankets on the floor.
“You guys go ahead. Astrid and I have other plans,” Lilith announced and hopped out of her own bed where Skye had been holding her in his embrace.
“We do?” I asked in surprise at this news.
“Yes and we should get going if we plan on getting there on time,” she gave me a look to say that I needed to get myself ready.
“And what plans do we have exactly?” I raised an eyebrow as I got up and overstepped Abbott and made my way to my wardrobe.
“It’s a surprise,” Lilith said.
“Can you tell us?” Riley asked, clearly curious.
“No. Also no guys allowed. We need quality girl time,” my closest friend replied unapologetically. Riley seemed genuinely disappointed but his further protests were cut off by Skye’s sudden decision to get up and urge everyone to do the same.
“It appears our sleepless sleepover is over. Let’s go eat, I’m starving.”
Once the boys were gone from our room, I got dressed and called Kai to tell him the news about my exams. I didn’t want to bother him yesterday but he said he would have some time today.
“Hey babe,” his low, husky voice sent chills down my spine.
“Hi,” I smiled to myself as I did my makeup in the bathroom and put him on speaker.
“So?” He asked in anticipation.
“I passed,” I told him and he immediately exploded with congratulations.
“That’s my girlfriend,” he said proudly. “I’m really happy for you.”
“Thank you,” I replied, grateful to have his support.
“Even if it means you’re not coming back anytime soon,” he added.
“I’ll come visit every once in a while,” I promised. “We can do this.”
“I know we can,” he said with absolute certainty. “But it doesn’t mean it’s easy.”
“I know,” I sighed. “I miss you.”
“I miss you too,” he said back. “But tell me what’s been happening. How’s things back in the big city?”
“Lilith’s taking me out somewhere but wouldn’t tell me where,” I filled him in. “She says it’s a surprise.”
“Should I be worried?” Kai asked jokingly.
“If anyone should be worried, it’s me,” I replied and laughed. “But seriously though, I trust Lilith more than I trusted any friend back home. She’s... different. It’s hard to explain but she understands me.”
“I’m glad. You deserve to have people worthy of you,” he said.
A knock on the door interrupted our conversation and I opened it quickly to see Lilith standing in front of it.
“Say goodbye to loverboy because we need to go,” she motioned to the door.
“Such a bundle of sunshine,” Kai commented, poking fun at my best friend. “When are you bringing my girlfriend back home?”
“Why don’t you come and visit?” Lilith asked in return. “Or better not. I’m quite fond of sleeping in my own bedroom. Now please stop hogging Astrid. I promise I’ll return her to you by the end of the day,” Lilith told Kai who chuckled and then walked away to let us say goodbye.
“I should go,” I told him.
“Have fun,” he replied. “Love you.”
“I love you too,” I said and ended the call.
“Finally,” Lilith called out and grabbed her purse. “Let’s go. The cab’s waiting for us downstairs.”
“Alright, alright,” I grabbed my own purse and hurried after her. “Where are we going?”
“The city. That’s all I’m telling you,” she said, looping her arm through mine and hurried me along. It looked like it was about to rain but that didn’t discourage us from going outside.
It was a free day so we didn’t have classes and were only obligated to tell one teacher that we were going out.
It turned out Lilith had planned quite a day for us. We had a reservation at one of New York’s celebrity salons. How she managed to get us in was beyond me. It appeared only high-end clients had the means and the influence to get to the star and owner of the salon - Mitchell Astor.
Yet Lilith, somehow, did just that.
“What are we doing here?” I asked her as we paid the driver and got out of the car.
“We’re giving you an official school makeover. Now that you’re officially part of the school, you have to start looking like it,” she told me and practically dragged me inside. My feet had been rooted so hard to the sidewalk from surprise that I stumbled after her and made a bit of an entrance.
The receptionist in front of us looked up and I saw that she couldn’t have been much older from us. Her long hair was swept back in a tight ponytail, revealing her striking features.
“Welcome to Astor Beauty, do you have a reservation?” She asked politely and giving me a once-over, clearly not as impressed with me as I had been with her look.
“Arwen,” Lilith replied, demanding the girl’s attention to focus solely on her. “We’re here to see Mitchell.”
The girl looked at Lilith as if she didn’t believe her and I wondered how many clients had claimed they had enough influence to see the world-renowned hair stylist extraordinaire. Knowing better than to say anything, the receptionist typed something in her computer before speaking up,
“Mr. Astor is currently with another client but he should be finished soon. Can I get you something to eat, maybe drink?”
Lilith waved the girl off, unbothered with her sudden change of demeanor. “We’ll wait in his office, thanks.”
The girl started to protest and I could only stare at their conversation with wide eyes. We were really here to see Mitchell Astor and Lilith knew him enough to sit in his office? Damn.
One of the hair stylists told the receptionist to let us go, that Lilith Arwen is one of his most loyal clients and dear friends. Which made sense as to how we got here.
Once in the office, I started to freak out on the inside but didn’t want Lilith to know that my mind was reeling.
“I was thinking we can get you a manicure, pedicure, get those dead ends cut off, maybe a change of hair color-”
“Whoa whoa whoa, Lilith I can’t afford Mitchell Astor," I finally said, interrupting her conversation.
“Don’t be silly. You’re not paying for any of this,” she told me.
“Then who is?” I asked dumbfounded.
“I am. It’s my responsibility as your best friend that you always look on point,” she replied.
“My... best...” I didn’t know how to finish the sentence because it was stupid. It was true, Lilith had become my best friend in the short time we had known each other, but this was the first time I heard it coming from her.
“Yes,” she replied. “And believe me, you don’t want to miss getting glammed up by him. I assure you, he does a way better job than I do.”
“No surprise there,” I joked but it didn’t come out right. “I can’t let you do this. You can’t pay for everything.”
“I’m not taking no for an answer,” she told me and ended all my protests. It was just in that time that the living legend, Mitchell Astor walked into his office with a wide grin on his face.
“If it isn’t my favorite she-devil,” he said and pulled Lilith into a tight embrace.
“Hey, Mitch,” she replied and returned the hug.
“What brings you here today? Getting your roots done?” He asked, before noticing me in the room.
“Not just that but I need you to work miracles. This is Astrid and she’s in need of a serious New York makeover,” she told him as they shared a look.
“Hi, darling. It’s nice to meet you,” he smiled and I smiled back. “Now let’s get you to my workspace and see what we’re working with.”
And that’s how Lilith and I spent six hours in the salon, talking with the one and only, Mitchell Astor.
I ended up getting my hair dyed to light brown, had my makeup done, eyebrows shaped, got eyelash extensions and got fake nails.
Lilith wasn’t joking when she said she wanted me to look like a New Yorker. And she managed just that. I not only looked like I had been living here all my life, but felt like part of the city. It was a strange, yet somehow warm bond that I shared with the city now.
I sighed when we finally got ourselves in the cab, more than ready to return to school. That was, until she gave the driver an address I had never heard of before.
“Don’t get excited just yet. We’ve still got loads of work to do,” Lilith stated and I knew she wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“Like what?” I asked, wide-eyed once again.
“Your clothes. We need to buy you new ones. This may have worked for you back home but you really need to show off your personal style. You need to stop trying to blend in with the background,” she shook her head in disapproval.
“I’m not-” I started to say but got interrupted.
“First step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. So save us some time and go with the flow,” she replied teasingly.
“Alright then,” I sighed and did what she said.
The only thing I remember from that day was just how exhausted I had been the moment my head hit the pillow and clothes in plastic shopping bags filled my dreams.