Schooled

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Chapter 35

The next week I dove into the website, retrieving all my sketches, quotes, and notes before calling up the developers. Some guy named Tony who was probably my age pulled up his files as I sat on the other end of the line.

“So can we do this scope of work on budget in six weeks?”

Tony paused again and when he spoke, I heard mild confusion in his tone. “I think so. Listen, we’re not in the business of cutting ourselves out, but it looks pretty good to me. Remind me what you’re looking to change?”

I popped open a window and put in our web address, something I hadn’t done since we bought the domain name last fall. Instead of a blank page staring back at me, I found something else entirely.

“Travesty” was written across the screen in black script, along with an edgy graphic treatment for the menu across the top.

My head was suddenly spinning. “Uh, Tony, I’ll call you back,” I said, clicking off distractedly.

It wasn’t a blank page. It was a website. Our website, in fact. The one I’d outlined in the business plan. How the hell had this happened?

“Ava!” I hollered over my shoulder. I heard her feet on the floor rather than saw her enter, as I was completely transfixed by what was on my screen.

She peered over my shoulder and gaped. “This is freaking amazing! Did you do this?”

I shook my head no, confused anew. “You didn’t?”

“Hell no.”

My fingers continued to click through the navigation, page after page shining out at me from the glossy screen. The “About” section said we were based out of New York and California. There was a strip of pictures of me and Ava, like the kind you took in a photo booth at the mall, running diagonally down the page, but the way it was styled and matched with the web page made it look chic. Ava and I had taken them last year and she had the copies.

Not Kirsten.

Realization dawned on Ava’s face as she took in the photos, her mind clearly working through the same logic. “These photos were on my bulletin board at home. The only people who could’ve seen them were my parents, and they wouldn’t know what to do with a website if it hit them in the face.

“Or …”

Dylan. Our minds landed on it at the same time.

What? He’d made me—us—a website? I guess he’d gone through my notes often enough when we had been hanging out to know what we had planned. Come to think of it, he might have even offered suggestion on a few points.

But more importantly, why? And when?

Chunks of the website text were still unfinished, as would be expected. But most of the heavy lifting to setup the theme and navigation had been done, and done beautifully.

I didn’t want to think about how much it had cost him. But I knew that as much as the site was helpful it was also symbolic. He wanted me to know that he supported me. Supported us.

I scrolled all the way to the bottom, where the developer’s name resided in tiny print. Next to it was a message: Merry Christmas, Lex. If I hadn’t already been sitting, I probably would’ve collapsed as the energy whooshed out of me. He’d done this more than three months ago. And hadn’t told me.

Ava’s eyes widened. “Dayum,” she said, flopping ungracefully and un-Ava-like into a chair. “He can be a bossy asshole sometimes, but you’ve got to admit this is a pretty epic gift.

“Lex, you OK?” She grabbed the arms of my task chair and swiveled me away from my computer screen to face her.

I was all ready to insist that it had just been a long week, that this had been unexpected, and I was simply overwhelmed. To my horror, tears began welling up behind my eyes. Spilled over onto my cheeks.

Ava’s eyes widened and her voice softened as she moved closer. “Hey! Lex, talk to me.”

“I don’t even know—” I said through sniffles.

“It’s OK, I’ll wait.” She paused, being quiet for a long moment. Possibly the longest I’d ever seen her silent, but I wasn’t in the mood to remark on it. “Is this about the website or Dylan?”

I looked at her and the tears started spilling over my face again, the second time this year.

Ava’s face blurred but I heard her sigh. When she spoke, the words were clear. “I know I probably haven’t been the easiest to talk to about this. But I kind of figured there was something bigger going on when you showed me that site.” She paused like she was trying to collect her own thoughts. “If you do want to talk, I promise I’ll listen, and I won’t judge.”

She was trying hard to be open. And knowing Ava, she wasn’t going to let this go until I started talking. So I started at the beginning.

I told her about the party. About running into Dylan, how he’d come upstairs to check on me. I danced around some of the details that related to her family and Dylan’s secrets, because they weren’t mine to tell.

When I got to the end she sat quietly for a minute. “I didn’t know you guys had gotten so close.”

“It’s stupid, I know. I never saw it coming and wasn’t looking for it. But he was just there and I guess I expected to be able to brush him off. He completely snuck up on me, Ava. At the worst possible time, when I didn’t want anything or anyone.”

“Does he call you on your bullshit?” She asked wryly.

I thought back to the numerous times we’d argued about things. “Oh yeah.”

“And does he make you smile?”

“More than anything.”

“And do you love him?”

Even though I’d asked myself the same thing a million times, I took a deep breath in before answering. It whooshed out a second later. “I kind of think I do.”

“Well, then, that’s all there is to it. You know, Lex, for all your time with Jake, I never thought he was it for you.”

I was struggling to keep up with her. “Why not?”

“You guys were good together, but you never fought. You never pushed each other. You never seemed that serious about each other. And even when you broke up, I never saw you as upset as I did this year since you and Dylan fell out.”

She thought for a moment. “For all the shit Dylan’s pulled over the years, he usually comes through when it counts. Though the whole ‘wooing by website’ is a new one on me.”

We sat in silence for a few moments. “It can’t be that simple, can it? Feeling this way makes the rest of the problems disappear?”

“It might not make the rest disappear, but maybe it makes it worth fighting for?”

“But what about what he did to us? I mean, does a website just cancel out everything he said to your parents?”

“I don’t know, Lex,” Ava said gently. Then she bit her lip. “But I talked to Mom and Dad when I got back from New York, and apparently at the start of Christmas break Dylan told them he’d overstepped. That they should let me do what I want. Apparently his exact words were ‘if anyone can make a living selling overpriced skirts, it’s those two.’ So for what it’s worth, it sounds like something shifted for him. I’d be willing to bet that was you.”

Dylan-knows-best had actually admitted he was wrong? Had practically intervened for us? Huh.

“I know I have no right to say this, but I think he really cared about you, Lex.” She was serious. “He must’ve. Whatever you said to him in New York, it affected him big time. I don’t know if you can come back from that, but maybe you can. If that’s what you want.”

The thoughts were running a mile a minute through my brain. Dylan had been out to sabotage us. But for how long? And he’d done it to protect his family. Then there was the website … which he hadn’t even tried to use to get me back. What did that even mean?

“You’re awfully quiet, Lex. You know quiet scares me.”

I took a breath. “I’m just a little floored. You’re right, it does change things. At least for me. But I was pretty hard on him, Ava. If only you’d heard me.” Our conversation came back in my mind, the accusations and shortness. Even thinking of it made me cringe. “I don’t know if I can take back what I said.”

“It kind of sounds like a face-to-face conversation, doesn’t it? But you could call him. Just to let him know you’re thinking about him, maybe see if you can talk?”

After Ava left, giving me a big hug on the way out, I paced for probably an hour. Glared at my cell on the desk for another several minutes, like it was going to reveal the answers for me. Finally I grabbed it and sat down in the corner of my room, legs tucked under me.

I hit Dylan’s number on my phone, still on speed dial, and held my breath. I wasn’t even sure what I would say.

Turns out it didn’t matter. The phone rang four times then went to voicemail. I listened to his voice, which somehow lifted and crushed my heart at the same time, then hung up.

Yep, I was that girl.

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