Schooled

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Chapter 6

“How’re the sketches coming?” I was sitting at my desk the next day. Ava was drawing cross-legged on my bed. Sheets of paper, some covered with half-sketched images, were strewn around her.

“Meh.” Ava wasn’t overly concerned about being helpful. The girl was not known for being focused, but the one thing she could get obsessive about was her designs. I loved that about her.

She always claimed it was easier to draw in my room. And it was probably true. In fact, it was easier to do anything in my room, because you needed a bulldozer just to get from the door to the closet in hers. It perpetually looked like Project Runway had thrown up in it. I figured if I lifted one of the piles, Tim Gunn might leap out and start critiquing my wardrobe choices. But what the girl lacked in neatness and tactfulness, she made up for in loyalty and passion. Sometimes I wondered how we’d hit it off so well being almost complete opposites. Regardless, we’d been inseparable for as long as I could remember.

“If we’re going to get startup capital in time to get Travesty off the ground next year,” I reminded her, “we need investors and seed money. And investors want to see ideas. And maybe, I don’t know, some clothes?”

Travesty, the name of our label, had come from some choice words leveled by my mother after I’d told her about Ava’s and my plans. Her speech about lacking a professional career had made me see red. But we’d latched onto part of it as inspiration for our brand. It sounded cool and would drive my mom crazy. Two for two.

I was teasing Ava but in truth I had started to worry a bit. We were planning to launch by next fall—at least, neither of us had made other plans. We needed to double-down if we were going to launch in the next year because there was a to-do list as long as my arm.

Kirsten, my boss at the magazine this summer, had made us a once-in-a-lifetime offer: to meet with us and some of her industry friends over winter break to discuss Ava’s designs and our business plan for Travesty. When she’d offered it had felt like winning the lottery. But part of that offer meant seeing the goods, and I refused to let her down or let this opportunity pass us by. If I had to drag Ava to New York in a plane and force her to sketch the whole ride, including landing and takeoff, I would.

Kirsten was ridiculously connected and incredibly driven. Basically I wanted to be her. Her department worked with established names like Marc Jacobs, Prada, and Alexander Wang. She had the power to open doors for us. Big ones. With unimaginable opportunities on the other side.

“Chill, Lex. You’re killing my buzz with all your money details.” Ava looked up and narrowed her eyes, breaking me out of my spell.

“Fine, but if we want any money to talk about, Kirsten needs to see the goods in two months.”

“Alright, bossy pants. Anyone ever tell you you’d make a kickass dominatrix?”

“Besides you? Nope.”

She stood up and walked over to me, pencil in hand. Another pencil was holding her hair in a messy bun. A third was sticking out of her thin python-print belt. That was just Ava. The least organized person I knew. But somehow from the messiness could spring the most phenomenal ideas, shapes, and colors that were unexpected yet seemed obvious once you saw them. It was why she was so great at what she did.

Ava pushed a sketch in front of me.

“Oh my God … this is fantastic!” The shape of the dress was contemporary. It was sleeveless, fitted through the bodice and hit above the knee. The skirt flowed like water, just a hint of flounce. I wished it would lift off the page so I could wear it right now.

That feeling was what we were banking on from our clients. That “have to have it” reaction.

“I think I’m going to do it in mint for spring. What do you think?”

“It’ll be perfect,” I said. She truly was talented. “You’ve come a long way since the Purple People Eater skirt.” She stuck her tongue out at me.

If Ava could finish the designs in time and I could get the business plan together, it would be impossible for them to turn us down. Under the neuroticism I felt a hint of giddiness.

My phone buzzed from somewhere to my left. I glanced around absently and picked it up off the desk.

Hey smart girl…blew my last twenty on pastries, hook me up?

The name that popped up next to the text said Bodyguard. Dylan must’ve keyed it in when he had added the number. Cute.

If you’re looking for a loan shark, you’ve got the wrong number. Try the dorms

Actually I was hoping to start with my scholarship. Go from there

Scholarships and bursaries live in Lambton building. Second floor

His reply was immediate.

Thank you financial aid goddess

Then:

What are you doing right now?

Supplier list for Travesty

Taking over the world one miniskirt at a time?

I could picture his face, deadpan.

Something like that. We’re going to make billions

Forget high-end. Sell scrunchies. I hear the 80s are making a comeback

I’ll wait by the door with a bat in case they try

“What?” Ava demanded as she heard me laugh. “That had better be one of your precious investors.” I’d been focused on my phone for a couple of minutes and glanced up at her voice.

“Your brother just wanted to know where financial aid was.”

“And he asked you?” She shrugged it off before I had to explain, already on to the next thing. “I still can’t believe he got a full scholarship.” Ava shook her head. She’d reverted to sketching on the bed. “Mom and Dad were so proud. And when he got the transfer back to California, they forgot he ever put a toe out of line.”

Dylan’s comment about having to get a scholarship to afford tuition ran through my mind. If it was true, Ava was luckier than she knew. I suspected she was more worried her “favorite child” status was being challenged.

“Maybe he’s changed,” I offered. “It happens.” Though I knew better than to make a big deal of her comments, it seemed wrong to let her disparage his efforts. Probably because I knew what it was like to work your ass off for something.

“Maybe. But I’m not buying it. With Dylan there’s always an agenda.” Ava ripped another sheet off her pad and deposited it in the pile beside her. Started on a clean sheet.

Though I didn’t have any real siblings, I understood the instinct to compete. My step-sister, Chelsea, was five years younger. Part of the reason I didn’t like going home was that it felt like a shrine to the younger, blonder, winninger me I could’ve been. I didn’t bother trying to compete with Chelsea. She’d already won. My mom blamed me for my dad leaving, and there was no way I’d ever climb out of that hole.

“He thinks he knows what’s best—for himself and everyone else. And he’s used to getting what he wants. It always gets him into trouble.”

I wanted to ask more but didn’t want to arouse suspicion. Instead I tried to ignore the cryptic comment.

Judging by my phone, apparently right now what he wanted was my attention. It buzzed again on my desk, but after Ava’s remark, I switched off the ringer and turned it upside down. I was fine with Dylan getting what he wanted, so long as it didn’t interfere with my work.

I pulled up a website on my MacBook that would help us identify possible manufacturers for Travesty who would take Ava’s designs and turn them into garments. “Let’s talk about suppliers,” I suggested.

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