Schooled

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Chapter 30

A while later I managed to pull myself together long enough to relocate to the bed. The rest of the day was spent lying on my back, staring at the ceiling, contemplating how things could have possibly gotten so screwed up. I’d screwed up my friendship with Ava, our dream and future careers, my relationship with Kirsten, my … whatever I had with Dylan. Or whatever I’d thought we had. If Ava had it right I’d just been a pawn.

The perfect in to help put the brakes on our business plans. Would he be that callous?

If it was to protect his family’s interests, he might.

I didn’t check my cellphone until late. When it was fully charged I pulled up voicemail. A blinking icon told me there were eight messages.

Four were from Ava about the meeting. I forced myself to listen to them in order. In the first she was excited and nervous, wanting to confirm the address and asking what she should wear. In the last she was tense and worried. It felt like replaying our conversation over again. My gut twisted tighter with every message.

One was from Kirsten, also about moving the meeting up. “Hello, Alexis, two of my colleagues have to leave early today, but good news: we’ve been able to reschedule for this morning at nine thirty. I know you’re ready to present, so see you soon.” It was at 6:45 a.m.

Now I’d let her down big time. I’d also managed to make her and Ava look like fools in front of some of the top names in the business. How was I going to get over this?

The last message was from Dylan. Miserable, I hit play. A warm voice tinged with concern played out at me. “Hi beautiful, I hope everything’s OK—this morning looked shitty but I know we’ll figure it out.” He laughed. My gut twisted.

“Give me a call when you can. I … miss you.” A breath. “That sounds dumb since we’ve only been apart for eight hours. If you ever repeat that to my roommates they will never let me live it down.”

Hearing his voice made it even harder to reconcile what I felt with what Ava had said he’d done. Clearly he’d distracted me. But I really cared about him. Wasn’t that worth something?

I didn’t know if it was serious. I’d loved Jake, once, but this was different. With Dylan it was like he knew exactly what made me tick. How to make me smile. How to say the right thing to light me up. We certainly connected physically. Last night had been one of the best nights of my life. Hell, I’d fallen for him, even if I wasn’t sure he felt the same way.

If I found out he’d played me, I might never get over it. Could he do it? Probably. Would he? I didn’t want to think so. I’d only truly known him for a short time, but everything in my heart said this wasn’t him.

It seemed so far-fetched. I needed to hear it from him.

With grim determination I dialed his number.

He answered on the second ring. Sounded out of breath, like he’d run to grab the phone. “Lex. What’s going on? Are you OK?”

A million things ran through my head. How good it was to hear his voice. How much I wished he was here. In the end I said something else entirely.

“I need to ask you something. It’s crazy but I just need you to answer me, OK?”

He paused. “Anything.”

“Were you trying to stop Ava and I from launching Travesty?” I was hoping he’d sound confused, ask me what I was talking about.

Instead there was silence over the line. Finally, “Where are you getting this from?”

I sucked in a breath. This was not the answer I had expected. “Were you convincing your parents not to support us? Which I had no idea they were even going to do, by the way.”

A deep breath echoed in my ears. A muffled curse. “I’m not going to lie to you, Lex. But will you let me explain?” My head suddenly felt full of cotton. Nothing else processed. He hadn’t denied it. What Ava said had all been true. He’d been out to see us fail. To see me fail. Suddenly I didn’t want to hear anything more.

“No. But I will say that you got your wish.”

I told him how they’d moved the interview, how I hadn’t answered. He was silent for a few minutes.

“So that’s why Ava’s upset.” That was part of it. “Lex, I’m so sorry.”

I heard a thud down the line, like Dylan had hit something. Still I didn’t care, was building up a head of steam from the horrifying revelation that what I thought couldn’t possibly be true actually was true.

“So you were using me? This was all just a big setup to try and get me and Ava to back down from starting our own business?”

“It wasn’t like that. I wasn’t using you.”

“It was like that. I was the convenient means to your end. Nothing’s ever been as important to you, Dylan, as this is to me. I’ve given up everything for this. You don’t understand that.”

“What don’t I understand? Sacrifice? Working hard? Wanting something that’s always just out of reach?” His voice was urgent and had taken on an edge. I wished suddenly I could see him. Was he rubbing his hand through his hair the way he did when he was agitated? Though his voice was forceful, there was an undercurrent of hurt. The age thing almost never came up with us, but it did now.

I squeezed my eyes tight.

“No.” Yes. “I won’t pretend to understand why you did what you did. But it’s just another reason I need to focus on my work. I can’t have any distractions and I should have stopped anything between us before it started. This fall was …” Amazing. “… a mistake. We both need to focus, you need to keep your scholarship and I need to finish my courses and launch the line.”

“Don’t do this, Lex. Don’t push me away before you let me explain. Not when we’ve just gotten back on track. You need to know how I—”

“You know what I don’t get? You kept saying I was afraid to let people in. To risk being hurt and be seen to be vulnerable. I was ready to, for you, but all along you were getting ready to hurt me.

“This is good, Dylan. Really. I needed it to bring me back to reality.” Even though my heart was cracking I had to get through this. Refused to break until I did. “There was never any chance for us, was there?”

Dylan said, “No matter how this started off, it’s real now. It’s real for me. You’re lying if you say it isn’t real for you.”

“Yeah, well, you also didn’t tell me you were trying to shut Ava and I down before we’d even begun. That you were sabotaging us from the beginning.”

Silence echoed down the line. I heard him breathe in. “You’re right. But—”

“I don’t want your excuses, Dylan. You’ve played me enough.”

I hit end and flopped back onto the bed on which I’d spent a good part of the last twelve hours already.

I’d just bumped Jake from his post as Worst Phone Breakup in History.

It seemed reasonable, given my life had come crashing down around me, to allow myself a period of wallowing.

I stumbled downstairs, my first time leaving the suite since I’d arrived this morning, and found the small hotel store open in the lobby. First thing that’s gone right for me all day. The freezer proved fruitful and after paying for a pint of Half Baked ice cream I stumbled back up to my room only to realize I was too far gone for even Ben or Jerry to save me. I watched it melt on my bedside table while my brain endlessly replayed the past day.

Somehow sleep found me for a few hours, but I was awake before the alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. Time to get it together.

Today I would face work.

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