Schooled

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Chapter 31

I arrived at Kirsten’s partially open door three hours later with a pit in my stomach. I smoothed invisible wrinkles from my black skirt then knocked. If only it were as easy to calm the mess of my mind at that moment.

All morning I’d wondered what you were supposed to wear when you went to grovel, and landed on something akin to funeral chic. The sleek skirt and black shell matched my mood.

I was half wishing the floor would open up and swallow me whole before she turned around. No such luck.

Kirsten’s eyes betrayed no hint of emotion when she saw me. “Alexis.” Her voice was just as flat. “Come in.”

I sat in the chair across from hers and she closed the door behind me before taking her own seat. When she did, she leaned forward.

“What happened yesterday?” Kirsten asked without preamble.

I told her about the battery dying on my phone overnight, not the part about my best friend finding out about me and her brother.

Despite me trying to keep it professional, my voice cracked as I spoke. “I’m so sorry, Kirsten. I knew yesterday I’d screwed this up, and I should have come to you then, but I thought I could figure out what to do. But I guess I still don’t know.”

She looked at me a long time before responding. It looked like she was trying to decide something. Whether it was to fire me or chastise me, I didn’t know. When she finally spoke, she sighed. “Alexis, this is a hard business. I know moving a meeting last minute that’s been on the books for months isn’t an entirely reasonable request. But this isn’t a reasonable industry. Fashion doesn’t give many second chances.”

I could tell where this was going.

“Many people go their whole careers without getting first chances. This was yours.” Kirsten paused, tapped a long finger on the corner of her desk. I wondered absently if she’d ever played piano. This was what my mind did when it felt like a bomb had gone off in it.

“I don’t know what to say.” I tried honesty. “You went out on a limb for me when you didn’t have to. I repaid you by not showing up.”

Somehow I felt even worse than last night, though I hadn’t thought that was possible. The pit in my stomach had grown, and it felt like my internal organs were falling into it one by one.

Kirsten’s eyes were intense on mine. I had to look away for a moment, and my gaze landed on the floor. A far more comfortable place to look. Grow up and take responsibility. I forced myself to look back at her.

Kirsten’s eyes had softened slightly. “Alexis. You work harder than almost anyone I know. You’re here before everyone and long after. You are a smart girl and you have a good heart.” She smiled.

“Despite juggling classes, you were so focused on finishing your business plan. On doing it right.”

But it didn’t matter, because I’d botched it all in the end.

I felt like a child, completely unable to deal with the repercussions of my actions. “I don’t know what to …” I gestured helplessly. “I know I can’t fix this. But please tell me I can someday make this up to you. Somehow.”

“I understand how much this label means to you. And you’ve put in the hard work so far to get there, and I believe you have what it takes to see this through.” She sighed. “Which is why I’m going to find another time you can pitch.”

A big breath whooshed into my lungs. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Ava showed the designs, and I took the liberty of sharing the draft you’d sent me last month. While Ava still couldn’t answer any hard questions about the business plan, I think the clothes and the draft piqued their interest. I’ll find another time next month when you can present the business plan step by step and answer questions by teleconference from California.”

I felt like an anvil had lifted off my chest. There hadn’t been many second chances for me—this was the one I needed. “That’s amazing. Thank you, Kirsten. Thank you so much for believing in me. I promise I won’t let you down.” I felt instantly lighter.

But I was determined not to let this pass me by.

She smiled. “Now get back to work. We only have you for two weeks and I don’t want to waste a second of your time. Go see Sheila about those accounts for the March campaign.”

I felt like I’d dodged a bullet and wanted to dance out of Kirsten’s office. I’d just had a giant reality check and was determined not to ignore it.

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