Schooled

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Chapter 24

I was getting better at the sneaking around, but it was getting harder to keep us a secret.

Part of the reason was Dylan himself. I could sense that as we were becoming closer, he was getting more and more dissatisfied with our arrangement.

We’d made up completely since our fight. In addition to making up verbally, we’d made up in his car, my shower, and the library.

Even if he didn’t completely understand what I was doing—with Travesty or with him—he went along with it. But as my feelings for Dylan grew more intense, so did my feelings of guilt. The rationalizations I’d been using were starting to sound hollow in my head. He might’ve been helping with work, but was I getting as much done?

What about the nights I spent with him? Or spent thinking about him? What about the way I was effectively lying to my best friend, who mattered more to me than anything on the planet? Still, I refused to pull my head out of the sand because when I was with him, everything was too good. I just wanted to put myself in his hands and forget the world.

We were in my rented study room at the library the week before Thanksgiving. There were limited places we could hook up without being spotted, and that was one of them. Incidentally we were actually studying today. Or rather I was polishing off my draft presentation for Kirsten. I even ran it by Dylan. He seemed impressed and had some good ideas to make it better. See? the pro-Dylan part of my brain pointed out.

“I made you something.” He was sitting on the ground, leaning against the wall, and I was between his legs in front of him, typing on my computer. I turned around to face him.

“Is it cookies? You know I love cookies.” I smiled mischievously. “I’d do a lot for a good cookie.” Unable to resist, I leaned into him and pressed my mouth to his lightly.

“Hmmm. I’ll file that one away for future reference.” He reached over to his backpack and opened it up. Produced a long box about six inches tall and handed it to me.

“Looks like a lot of cookies.” But it was light. I opened the end and pulled out the contents, which were wrapped in tissue paper.

It was a tiny Brooklyn Bridge.

I’d found out in the last few weeks that Dylan was amazing at building model bridges. It was something he’d done since he was a kid, and he had brought just a couple with him to school. It seemed to take a ton of patience and effort.

“So you can bring a little New York to SoCal when you can’t be there,” he said.

“You made me a bridge? Dylan, it’s amazing!” I turned it over in my hands, examining the tiny details. Then I carefully set it to the side and turned back to look into his eyes. “Thank you,” I said earnestly. It was probably the sweetest thing anyone had ever gotten me.

“You’re welcome,” he said, pulling me to lean against his chest. It was hard to believe that just a few months ago this guy hadn’t even been in my life. Being with him made me feel alive. And understood.

His voice was in my ear, breaking my thoughts. “I think we should come out.”

My smile faded. “Come out? Like, to other people?”

“Yes, that’s what that means. We’ve been together for weeks. I just want to be able to be seen with you in public. Stop sneaking around. Do things normal couples do.”

Something like panic welled up in my throat. “Dylan, you know I care about you, but I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” Then something occurred to me. “Is that why you built me a bridge? To get me to come out? Is this a coming out bridge?”

He released an exasperated sigh. “No, it’s not a coming out bridge.”

“No.”

“What do you mean, no? Is this about Ava?”

“Yes.” And partly it was.

“What do you think this is, the college equivalent of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’? Ava’s not stupid. She’ll figure it out eventually. I feel like an asshole lying to her.” And you should too, he didn’t have to add.

I pushed away from him to sit on the other side of the room. It was too hard having this conversation when we were touching. “Don’t you think I do too?” But it wasn’t like I had a better solution.

I should’ve seen this coming a mile away. And part of me did, though I’d ignored it, stomping on the sensible part of me in favor of warm eyes and sweet words and mind-numbing sex.

“So what I don’t understand is what exactly you think we’re doing here. Are we just screwing around? Because if we aren’t, you’re going to have to come clean some time. The way you’re acting makes it seem like that might never happen.”

I’d been nothing but upfront with him about how we could be together—that this was the only way. I needed to keep this separate from my friends, from Ava. From work, though it was questionable how well I was succeeding on that front. I didn’t need complications. And coming out was … a complication. But I also wasn’t ready to end this, and there was no denying to myself or him that our feelings were growing. I just needed more time to figure it out.

“Dylan, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I do know that telling everyone’s not going to solve anything—besides make you feel a little better.”

“You’re so focused on Ava. But it’s not just that. What am I supposed to say when the guys try to set me up? When girls ask me out? That I’ve voluntarily chosen celibacy?”

Now he was acting his age, and it irritated me.

“Let me get this straight. You want us to tell other people so you don’t have to keep finding reasons to turn down dates? Grow up, Dylan. There are bigger things involved here than your reputation with the cheerleading squad.”

I knew I’d gone too far when his eyes hardened and his mouth formed a tight line. Dylan pushed himself to standing and collected his books.

“Given I’m so immature and superficial, it’s astounding you signed on for this in the first place.” He walked out, pulling the door behind him with a click.

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