East Side Academy

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Chapter 28 - Don’t Talk About Love

“The more you talk about love / Is the more I think about her / She took a break, went away / I wanna go back to the way things were / Said the more I think about love / So please stop holding hands / All I’m holding is a picture of us / And a picture of what could have been” – Don’t Talk About Love, JLS

Arya

“Our trip to New York is in two weeks, Arya!” Lucy says with the four of us sitting on two couches. “It won’t be the same without you.”

“I’m sure you guys will have a great time,” I say. West Side organizes a trip to a U.S. city every two years. The last one was Boston, which I loved. I’m disappointed to miss out on New York, but then I think that it’s selfish of me considering kids at East Side never get this opportunity. And it’s because they don’t have rich parents like we do. It’s not fair. You can’t choose the life you’re born into. “You’ll have to send me pictures.”

“You should just come,” Maya says, “take time off school and join us. I’m sure they’d be okay with that.”

They most definitely will not be. East Side won’t care, but West Side definitely will. I don’t want anything to do with that school. Just this party is bad enough. I feel a hand on my shoulder and tilt my head to look up to the person it belongs to, but it’s not the guy I was hoping to see.

“Found you,” Lexi says. I see the glazed eyes of my friends seeing the hockey captain putting a hand on me. I never told anyone about Lexi. I liked enjoying him to myself. “We need to talk, Arya.”

“I have nothing more to say to you,” I say, facing forward. I know my girlfriends think I’m crazy right now to give probably the best looking guy at our school the cold shoulder.

“I’m trying to help you, Arya,” Lexi says, and I hear him kneel behind the couch, leaning over to whisper in my ear so no one else can hear. “I know someone hurt you, Arya. I can see it in your eyes. Just let me help.” I turn to look at Lexi, his elbows on the back of the couch, looking at me. I know Lexi just wants to protect me. He just wants to help, and he thinks he’s the one guy who can. There’s no guy that Lexi is afraid to take on, I know. I can tell a part of him is angry that anything happened in the first place and he didn’t know. I want to tell him the truth, but I can’t, so how can I make him understand?

I grab his hand and he stands up with me, following behind me as I lead him around the couch, away from the drunk teenagers and my girlfriends. I apologize to them when I leave, but they don’t seem to need an explanation because what girl wouldn’t take any alone time with Lexi if they could? I lead him through an open wooden door with an empty old-fashioned home office inside.

“Don’t you dare close that door,” I say as I lean back on the mahogany desk, seeing Lexi’s hand on the door. I don’t need someone spreading a rumour about me and Lexi hiding behind a closed door.

Lexi smiles. “Don’t want to make your boyfriend jealous?”

“I think you’ve aggravated him enough tonight,” I say.

“Does he want to break up with his West Side girlfriend yet?” Lexi asks and I glare at him. “Then clearly not enough.”

“Please, just leave James alone,” I say. “Just because he’s an East Sider…”

“I want to protect you, Arya,” Lexi says, “and I’m the only guy I trust to do that. Now tell me why you left West Side.”

“Would you accept that it’s a secret?” I ask.

“I knew there was something,” Lexi says. “Tell me.”

“It wouldn’t be a good secret if I told you,” I say.

“This isn’t kindergarten, Arya,” Lexi says annoyed.

“I know,” I say. “But I can’t tell you, Lexi. You just have to trust me.”

“Are you safe?” Lexi asks seriously. I nod. As long as you don’t know anything, I’m safe. “Was it something or someone?”

“It’s not what you think Lexi,” I say. You can’t tell him, Arya.

“I bloody hope it’s not what I think,” Lexi says, “because you aren’t telling me anything, so I’m forced to think the worst possible thing.”

“Lexi,” I say, “I promise that that’s not what happened.”

“Promise?” Lexi asks, staring into my eyes to make sure. Lexi got mad over some stupid West Siders touching me. I can’t imagine what he’d do to a guy that did something worse.

“I promise,” I say.

“It’s not always obvious,” Lexi says, “pressuring you, guilting you, manipulating you, if he did any of those things…”

“Lexi, stop,” I say, putting a reassuring hand on his arm. I don’t want him to explain this to me. I know he is trying to help, but he’s not. “I know that. I promise that it didn’t happen.”

I can tell Lexi is relieved to know that his worse thought is proven wrong, but he’s still upset. He knows there’s something, he knows I’m keeping something from him, and he hates it. I think he’s also mad at himself for not noticing something before. For not realizing something was wrong when I was at West Side. But he can’t know the truth. He won’t be able to stand back if he ever found out.

“You’re not going to tell me what really happened,” Lexi says.

I shake my head. “Just trust me when I say I’m safe,” I say.

Lexi steps in close to me and puts a hand to my neck so that we are looking straight at each other. “I can’t force you to tell me,” Lexi says, “but if you were my girl, I would.” He takes a breath, “So I hope you tell that East Side boyfriend of yours.”

“Lexi…”

“I will always protect you, Arya,” Lexi says. “You mean a lot to me and even though I hate it, if that James guy is who you want, I won’t interfere.” I see the sincerity in Lexi’s eyes, that he means every word he says.

I wrap my arms around Lexi to hug him, having to go on my toes to reach my arms around his neck. His strong arms wrap around me, holding me close to him. I know he smells my hair then and thinks about the girl he is letting go to another guy. He holds me tighter, and I just let him. After some time, we break apart, and I put my hands on his arms and he keeps his hands on my waist.

“You can always call me, Arya,” Lexi says, “whatever it is.”

“I might be busy with soccer,” I smile at him and he just rolls his eyes.

“Seriously, Arya,” Lexi says, “You can count on me. And if you just give me a name, I’ll…”

“Lexi…” I warn.

“Fine,” Lexi says, “but think about what I said. I don’t think you should keep your boyfriend in the dark. If he’s as good a guy as he should be, then he’ll want to know so he can protect you.” Lexi is asking me to give James the chance to protect me that I never gave him.

“Lexi, I’m sorry for leaving without saying goodbye,” I say. “I don’t think I knew how to.”

“I’m sorry I let you get away,” Lexi says. “If I could go back…”

“Please don’t,” I say, putting a hand to his chest. Because I don’t want to think about what I would have changed if I could go back too. I look at the guy that for a brief period of time meant a lot to me and I know that if things had gone differently, it would be him and me together. And I would have been happy. Happy with Lexi as my boyfriend, happy with being a star athlete, happy at my prestigious school with my friends who are just like me. But somehow, despite all that, I’m happier at East Side. I’m happier at the ‘not as privileged’ school. I’m happier with my friends that are all so different, kind teachers. I’m happier at being more creative over just using money to solve everything. And most of all, I’m happier with James. “I should go find James,” I say and let go of Lexi to turn away from him.

“I’m sorry I didn’t protect you,” Lexi says, “from him or it or whatever it is I should have protected you from.”

I go up to Lexi, put a hand to his cheek, and kiss the other, standing on my toes to reach him. “You did nothing wrong. I’m the one who is sorry.” If I had told Lexi before things went south, before they became an unrepairable mess, would he have been able to fix it? No, no. Don’t think like that. Don’t think about changing the past because you can’t.

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