Schooled

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Chapter 29

“Shit, shit, SHIT!” I rushed to pull on clothes, looked around for my cell. A worried and contrite looking Dylan seemed to realize what I was doing, then dug around in the pocket of his jeans from the night before to produce the phone.

“Thanks.” I leaned up to kiss him on the cheek. “I have to—”

“I know. Go,” he said as I was already making a beeline for the door.

I didn’t know where she’d gone but thought I’d try our hotel. I wanted to call her in the meantime and hit the power button, but the battery was dead. Great. If she’d gone to one of the million other places she could be instead of the hotel, I’d be screwed.

As I ran I thought about what I was going to say. Obviously this was not the scenario I’d envisioned.

Bursting into our hotel room twenty minutes later, I saw Ava throwing things into a suitcase with her back to the door. She whirled around when I entered.

“Ava, thank God you’re here.”

“You missed the meeting.”

“What meeting?” Panic. “The meeting with Kirsten?” I checked my watch, which I’d thrown in my jacket pocket as opposed to putting back on in my rush to leave Dylan’s. It was only ten thirty.

“You remember the part where she said it might move up? Well, Kirsten called this morning to say she was bumping the meeting up to nine thirty. Apparently two of her colleagues had to switch their plans to leave early for their vacation to Europe. I assumed you’d gotten the message, since she called first thing. But I called you just in case.”

I was rooted to the spot, felt like all the air had been sucked out of my lungs. Out of the entire room. This couldn’t be happening. It had to be a bad dream. But the pieces clicked into place one by one.

Dylan. He’d put my phone in his pocket. And the battery died.

Ava turned to face me. “I came here first and was freaking out you weren’t home. So I went to your office, thinking maybe … I don’t know, you’d gone in early. Because this is the most important thing of our lives and I know you’d never let anything get in the way of that.” Her voice was rough.

Words finally came. “Oh God, Ava. I’m so sorry.” I was white. My head was spinning as my worst nightmare unfolded before me. But apparently it could get worse.

“For what? Missing the meeting? Or for being with my brother behind my back?” She waited, deadly quiet. “What were you doing there, Lex? And don’t you dare tell me it was just a hookup. You wouldn’t do that. Not with him.” She’d never looked so serious.

I swallowed. “Ava, I …”

“We don’t keep secrets, Lex. Remember?”

“Ava …” My brain hadn’t worked out a contingency plan for this. The few times I’d thought of telling Ava, it had been in a controlled way. Not seeded with betrayal and hurt.

“How long?”

“What?”

“How long has this been going on?”

I did the quick math in my head. Sucked in a breath. “Two months.”

Ava looked even more disgusted than she had a moment before. I didn’t know that was even possible. “You’ve been together this whole time behind my back? Lying to me? You were the one who said we needed to plan and put the business first.”

Tears burned the backs of my eyes. “I know. I’m so, so sorry.”

“The worst part is, I don’t know how you’d be with him. He’s been trying to get in our way all along.”

My throat dried up. “What? What are you talking about?”

“My parents were going to invest in Travesty. I talked to them last year about loaning some money for us to get started, and thought it was settled. But they told Dylan about it this summer, and Dylan said it was a bad idea. He’s been trying to convince them otherwise ever since. Told them to wait until after Christmas to decide, that things would change by then.

“He also started pushing other programs on me. Trying to get Mom and Dad to pull my tuition unless I switched.”

I was horrified.

“He thinks I don’t know. In the end they decided not to pull my tuition. But now I can’t see them loaning us any money either. And we just missed the chance to sell your boss’s friends on the idea, so …” She shrugged in a way that was anything but careless. “You tell me. Where do we go from here?”

My brain was incapable of processing all of this. I just stood there, gazing wildly between points on the floor. Tears were welling up behind my eyes.

Ava’s gaze reflected hurt and pity. “Looks like there’s finally something you don’t know, Lex. You thought you had it all figured out. But Dylan’s used to getting his way, and outsmarted us all, you included.”

Ava zipped her bag closed and started back toward the door, suitcase in tow. “Now you’ve just blown up our best lead for business. I hope you’re in the market for a new job post-grad. Maybe you should be in the market for a new best friend too.”

The door shut loudly behind Ava before my knees gave out under me and I sunk to the floor. For the first time in ten years, I let the tears flow freely.

I sat there for a long time.

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