Schooled

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Chapter 32

After the initial high wore off, reality set in as I worked hard at my desk the rest of the day. It had been less than two days since I’d been on cloud nine the whole night with Dylan, and the morning after. Now one harsh lesson later, I knew I’d been right all along—letting a guy interfere with the most important thing in my world was a recipe for disaster. And heartache.

Dylan rang twice. I didn’t answer either time and he didn’t leave a message. Half of me hoped he would just so that I could hear his voice. But falling for a guy and getting my heart broken was the exact reason I’d set out to avoid guys like the plague this year. Any subsequent fallout was my own damn fault.

I forced myself to get things together and take stock. The chips were still down—I had the interview but didn’t know if I had a partner anymore. Our relationship was so badly undermined it made perfect sense if Ava didn’t trust me again. And as much as I hated to admit it, everything with Dylan had completely shaken me. I’d let myself care more than I ever thought I would. That was going to take a while to fix. And I didn’t even know how to go about starting.

I’d start by throwing myself into magazine work for the rest of my trip. No more week off. Though the offices were closed the next morning for Christmas Eve, I took my work to a coffee shop and continued until they kicked me out at five. Sent a record of eight straight emails only to receive an automated out-of-office response to each one because apparently no one else was working.

Christmas morning it snowed. It had to be a sign of better things to come.

I got a coffee and sat outside Rockefeller Center by the giant tree, watching families and couples skate. Then I went home and made myself pancakes from a box in my hotel room and put on some festive music before resuming updating client lists for the March issue.

Was it pathetic? Sure. But keeping busy helped me avoid thinking about my life.

My mom and Grant skyped me around noon. “Merry Christmas, Alexis. We have your gift here—you’ll need to pick it up sometime.” Grant and Chelsea shared their holiday wishes too.

“Merry Christmas,” I added after a beat. As much as I never loved these forced family reunions, my heart wasn’t in it this time. My mom’s face shifted.

“Grant, Chelsea, why don’t you go check on breakfast?” She suggested. They walked out of the room.

“Alexis, something’s wrong.” I guess crying for several days straight took a toll. No amount of toner could fix that puffiness. “How did the interview go?”

“It was great.” I started lying before my brain even caught up. When I did, it was obvious that this was a silly reaction. After everything that had happened, what did it matter what my mom thought? She viewed me as a failure and a cause of grief. But that wasn’t going to change, and she was thousands of miles away.

Suddenly my non-relationship with my mom felt like the least of my problems.

“You know, Mom, I missed the interview. I just didn’t show up at all. Because I was out with a guy, actually. The good news: I’m a failure, just like you always thought.”

Mom looked like she’d swallowed a jar of chiles whole. “Alexis, I never said you were a failure.”

“You did. For years. And guess what, you were right. Now Ava’s not talking to me, I messed up my career, and … well. Basically my whole life imploded in about forty-eight hours. You might find this hard to believe, but things were actually going pretty well until a week ago.”

Mom started to protest and I stopped her.

“Please don’t. Not today. I can’t take the disappointed remarks. Can you just hold it for a while? You can let it all out next week.”

She paused for a moment as if trying to absorb all of this information. Her brow furrowed. “Alexis, I have no idea where all this is coming from. But why don’t you come home for a little while before you head back to school.”

I opened my mouth to say no, but was surprised to realize part of me wanted to. As bad as it might be there, it couldn’t be worse than the way I was feeling right now. “Alright,” I said in a small voice.

The next day I was back to work at the magazine. I worked my tail off, needing to prove myself and trying not to contemplate how everyone I cared about had either betrayed me or been betrayed by me. New Year’s Eve in New York was pointless without Ava, so I stayed in my hotel room. After an intolerable two weeks, I was ready to go home.

Mom, Grant, and Chelsea all picked me up at the airport. It wasn’t the warmest family reunion. But Mom didn’t mention my outburst and it was appreciated.

I wasn’t sure what to do with myself for a week. The business plan was done, but I didn’t even know if it had all been for nothing if Ava didn’t forgive me. So the first two days were spent acclimatizing to the new house, helping Mom choose colors and accessories for the new spare room—which was mine by default while I visited—and looking up my courses for next semester.

The third day back, Mom approached me to talk. For some reason Dylan’s words about family echoed in my head. So I tried.

“I don’t know why our relationship is so strained, Alexis. You never call, never come home.”

“It’s hard. Ever since Dad left you’ve blamed me. You don’t want me here.”

She looked at me like I’d slapped her. “That’s untrue.”

I was tired. Of all of it. “It is true. For years you acted like it was my fault that he left. And it’s not OK. But it is what it is.”

This seemed to set her back a minute.

“I just want you to be successful, Alexis. I don’t want you to regret your choices.”

I sighed. “Sure, Mom.” I tried to put words together. “This label, with Ava—I want it more than I’ve ever wanted anything. I can understand if you don’t support it, but please don’t try to get in my way.” There were already too many people doing that. “I need this.”

She looked at me like she was trying to understand, but I could see that she didn’t. I didn’t fit into her neat and tidy world. So she stood up and walked to the door, gently closing it behind her.

* * *

“Alexis, you have a visitor,” Mom called up one morning.

Walking downstairs toward the door felt a bit like déjà vu. Ava was standing there stiffly but far less upset than she’d been in New York.

“Lex. Hi.”

“Hi.” It wasn’t clear what she wanted.

“How was your Christmas?”

“Shitty.”

We stood in silence for a moment. I decided to extend an olive branch. Even money on whether it would come back in one piece or get fed through the wood chipper.

“Kirsten said I could repitch the plan. If you still want me to.”

Ava’s face scrunched up. “Lex, of course I do. I shouldn’t have exploded the way I did in New York. I just felt so betrayed. What Dylan did hurt, and then you’d been with him and trying to cover up …”

I felt something in my chest loosen. I took advantage of the slight opening she’d just given me.

“I get it. Believe me. That’s why I didn’t tell you. Which is a crappy reason, I know, but still. I never meant for it to happen, any of it. I’m so sorry. Can we just talk? Figure this out?”

Ava nodded and we hugged, tears running down both our cheeks. She looked around like she’d only just realized where we were.

“What the hell are you doing here? You’ve never spent time at home over break. I almost didn’t believe it when Chelsea told me you were here.”

“I guess I just needed somewhere to go. Mom’s been trying to be good about it.”

She looked skeptical. Not my mom’s biggest fan. “Still. Come home. We’ll catch up and eat ice cream.”

I mustered a smile. “That would be great.”

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