Schooled

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Chapter 26

The week after Thanksgiving passed painfully slowly. Dylan’s words kept haunting me. Was he right? Was I afraid to go public because I didn’t want to hurt other people, or because I didn’t want to get hurt? Maybe it was both.

The breakup bothered me most because I couldn’t talk to anyone about it, not even Ava. Especially not Ava.

In the past three months I’d completely gotten over Jake. But I’d come dangerously close to falling for Dylan.

Scratch that—had fallen for Dylan. I’d known it at the fashion show. When he was trying to understand me. When he gave me space because I’d asked for it. And then he’d given me that stupid perfect bridge he made himself.

But because of my fears of us being found out, of how that might change things, he was gone. I wondered whether he was still thinking of me the way I was about him. He hadn’t texted. Or been by to drive us to school. Ava said something about him having sold his car, though I had no idea if that was true. For me it was telling—he didn’t want to see me.

So I buried myself in work. On the plus side I was close to finishing the appendices for the business plan presentation. Revenue projections, market stats, and distribution channels were being neatly arranged into pie charts and tables. Ava’s three pieces from the fall fashion show would anchor the collection we’d show in New York, and Ava was well on the way to finishing the rest of the pieces.

We had a schedule that would get us to the fourth week of December when we would pitch. Kirsten was going to send me a list of her friends who planned to come, and I intended to use that to my full advantage: researching each of them so I understood what they did, what they liked, and what toothpaste they used.

Exams were also on the horizon, so Jane and I were heading into lockdown. But in just two weeks we’d be free and clear.

I’d be on a plane to New York the morning after my finals were done. Three weeks in New York, working at the magazine for two of them, seeing what had happened with the accounts I’d worked on, coming up with ideas for next year, catching up with friends I’d made in the summer, New Year’s in Times Square. And of course Ava there for most of it.

My parents held firm to their notion of not coming to visit. But in lieu they’d booked me into a hotel for the time I was there. It was a nice gesture. Especially since I’d tried Nadia and found out she’d moved in with her boyfriend. But she did want to hang out while I was in town.

Ava was going to fly out a few days after me so that I had some time on my own to get established with the magazine again. Two days after that, on the Monday before Christmas, we’d pitch to Kirsten and her friends. Though we had a rough idea of what time we’d have the meeting in the afternoon, she had warned us we might have to be flexible as these things often changed last minute.

I had the date marked off with a giant red X in my calendar. I could have tattooed it on my ass because it was the date that would be the start of everything. When we were on TV five years from now, talking about the keys to our success, we’d smile and laugh about that first meeting.

By the next week finals were in full swing. That meant two things on campus: studying and partying. I liked to focus on the former and get to the latter only once everything was ticked off. By which point the best parties were usually done, which suited me fine.

Which was why I was asleep when I heard Ava’s cell ring Saturday night. I looked at the clock beside my bed, the neon lights reading 2:19 a.m.

After three rings it stopped and I heard Ava’s voice. Though I couldn’t discern the words, her tone was grumpy. A moment later I heard her shriek “What?” Then her alert voice said, “I’ll be right there.”

I stumbled to my door, met her as she was pulling on jeans and walking out of her room. “What’s wrong?”

“My brother’s at the hospital. Can I borrow your car? I need to go pick him up.”

My stomach leapt into my throat. “Dylan? Is he OK? Do you want me to come with you?”

She brushed it off. “No, he’s fine, just had to get a few stitches.”

I wanted to scream at her to tell me what had happened. I wanted to call Dylan just to hear his voice and know that he was OK. In the end, I settled for pacing instead. We weren’t together. And he’d called Ava, not me, for help.

The next half-hour I paced in front of the door. Then up and down the stairs. Then back in my room. Twice I pulled out my phone to call Dylan or Ava, but put it back down when I reminded myself I wasn’t allowed to be worried about him like this anymore.

What if Dylan had been really hurt? I was crazy about him and couldn’t bear the thought of him getting injured and not knowing I had his back.

When Ava got home I was still wide awake. I tiptoed to the top of the stairs. “Everything OK?” I tried to sound casual.

“Yeah. He just got into it with some guy at a party. They’re both fine, apparently—just a little banged up. It’s weird though, because Dylan doesn’t usually fight.”

Thoughts flashed through my mind. I wanted to ask what had happened but didn’t. Instead, I forced myself back to bed before I could say or do something stupid.

* * *

Emily was waiting in the kitchen to ambush me when I got home from an exam on Monday. We hung out occasionally but weren’t typically that tight. We had been closer when I hung out with the football crowd during my Jake years. “So a funny thing happened.”

“What?”

“My brother said Jake came to practice with a black eye and stitches today.”

I stared at her. “And?”

She went on like I hadn’t said anything. “Andrew saw it happen, at a party Saturday. He heard Jake with some other guys. Apparently he was talking about getting back together with you.”

My eyes widened.

“Yeah but it gets weirder. Out of nowhere Dylan Cameron hit him. They went at it for a few minutes before the guys were able to pull them apart. Both of them ended up in the hospital.”

Thoughts were racing in my head. Either Jake was flat out lying or had severely misinterpreted our conversation last month. Clearly Dylan had overreacted. I was shocked he’d actually hit him. It took me a moment to realize that Emily was studying me closely.

“Lex, what’s going on?” She asked. “Is there something I should know? About you and Jake?” She paused, hesitated. “Or you and Dylan? I won’t say anything if that’s what you’re worried about.”

I sighed. “Nope. There’s really not.”

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