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Ellie stumbled out her house, pulling one of the straps of her handbag back up her shoulder as she forced the front door closed. She brushed at her messy hair as she dashed down the pathway and got into the passenger seat, panting slightly.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry.” She put her hand to her forehead. “I completely forgot we were doing this.”
“It’s fine.” I grinned. “This was your idea, anyway. I was happy to just find out my grades when we go back.”
“Ugh, no. Mrs. A can get them to us early, so if I can see them now, and make sure I did as well as I wanted, I can try to relax for the rest of the holiday.” She started pulling things out of her bag. “Maybe.”
I shrugged. “Good point.”
I started up the car to set off for school, and she skilfully applied makeup along the way. She was oddly silent for most of the drive, even after she was done getting ready, but I chalked it up to the fact that she’d been rushed this morning and was possibly still waking up. It wasn’t until we got stuck in traffic that I started to worry that maybe it was something else.
“I think there’s been a crash in the intersection.” I craned my neck. “I think I can see flashing lights.”
“Oh no!” She sounded genuinely upset.
I frowned. “Relax. The limit’s low here, so I don’t think anyone could get really hurt.”
“No, it’s not that, it’s-” She sighed. “Ugh. Never mind.”
“Are you okay?” I turned to face her.
“I’m fine.” She avoided my gaze.
“Is it something with Gary?”
“No, things are fine with Gary. We’re taking it slow, and we’re both just focusing on prelims.” She shifted uncomfortably, but smiled slightly. “His will end tomorrow, so we’ll see each other after. It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?” I tried to keep my voice steady. I’d been so paranoid during prelims that she was mad at me. The way she was acting had reminded me to worry about it again. “You’ve been avoiding me since the holidays started, and I basically last saw you before prelims. We’re still friends, right?”
“Yes! Of course. It’s not that. It’s…” She took a deep breath. “I know about you and Jamie.”
My head snapped up. She darted a glance at me, and looked away again.
I leaned back in my seat and groaned. “Ellie, I’m so sorry. I really wanted to tell you, but-“
“What?” Her head jerked back, and she stared at me.
“I just thought Jamie might not want you to know, and I-“
“Jay.” She put her hand on my arm. “Jamie told me. I thought you’d be mad that I was prying again. I’m the one who should be sorry. And I am. Really sorry.”
Relief flooded through me, and I let out a short burst of laughter. “Don’t be. I kind of thought you hated me.”
“Never.” She grinned.
“Besides, I only didn’t tell you because I wanted to respect Jamie’s privacy. If I was mad at anyone, it’d be him, right?”
“Well.” She grimaced. “Maybe?”
“What does that mean?”
She sighed. “Okay, so I think about two weeks ago – around Saturday – I looked out my window and saw his car pull up to your house, and you letting him in at the gate.”
“Yeah.” She bit her lip. “So I went outside to wait by it, and ask him what he was doing at your house so late when he got back.”
“You sat around his car, in the early hours of the morning, for-“
“It wasn’t a great plan. I thought he’d dipped in to get some emergency physics notes from you or something… I didn’t know he’d be in there for so long, and I had this great big dramatic prank in mind. It was going to scare the crap out of him and everything.”
“What did you…” I shook my head. “What happened?”
“So, it kind of worked – I jumped out and said ‘Boo’ and he screamed. That was kind of funny. But then I… Oh god, I almost don’t want to say.”
She scrunched up her face. “I made some joke… about how it was rude of you two to have sex without me, because I didn’t think… you know… Jamie, of all people, would-“
“Oh god.” Poor Jamie. That was probably not a great thing to have been confronted with, in the middle of how he was reacting that night.
She cringed. “Yup. And that’s when he proceeded to have a breakdown, and told me everything.”
“Does he think I told you?”
“No, I made it pretty clear that I was just joking, and that he’d accidentally over-shared.” She sighed deeply and dipped her head. “But god, I felt bad. I think he needed someone to talk to about it anyway, but that was definitely not the right way to start.”
“Yeah.” I nodded. “He’s been avoiding me since that.”
“I think he’s embarrassed.” She relaxed back into her seat. “He won’t talk much about how he’s feeling about all of it. But he did tell me that he felt like an idiot, after… you know.”
“And he’s been dashing out of prelims so he doesn’t have to talk to you afterwards – not that he’d tell me that.”
“I noticed.” We’d edged our way through the traffic, and had crossed the intersection. Someone’s window was shattered all over the middle of the intersection, Ankara escort but it looked like the cars involved had now been dragged off to the side. I didn’t see anyone being attended to by paramedics, though. Just two very pissed off people glaring at each other. The school was right past that, so once we’d gotten through the drive was basically over.
“Can I tell him you know that I know now?” she asked as she got out of the car.
“Um…” It took me a second to process that. I shut my door and waited for her to walk around. “Yes. I think so. If you don’t think it’ll freak him out.”
“Okay, I think he’s here, so I’m going to go find him and catch up with you later.” She ran off, and I made my way to the bulletin board outside of Mrs. A’s class. Louis, Angela and Sue were already there.
“I don’t know why she didn’t just post this online.” Sue said irritably as I walked up to the three of them.
“It’s not the final list, so she can’t. Mrs. A’s just doing us a favour, because she’s on the committee. You’re lucky you’re getting it this early.” Angela smiled patiently.
Sue stomped her foot, and continued pacing. Louis laughed, and turned to face me. “Hey Jay.”
“Hey. Did I miss anything?”
“Just Sue somehow still finding a way to complain about being the only students in the district who get to have an early sneak-peek at their grades.”
“Fine!” Sue threw up her hands. “I’m glad I had to come to school in the middle of my holidays. Yay, paper!”
We all laughed, and Mrs. A approached the announcement board to pin up the sheet. She’d always been one of my favourite teachers – dry and sarcastic, with dark hair and big glasses that made her look like a grumpy librarian. She didn’t look at the four of us as she marched over to the cork board and started pinning up the pages.
Other people were around, but Sue had demanded that the four of us stand right next to the notice board, so as Mrs. A walked back our way and then passed us, she smiled wryly. “Have at it, piranhas.”
Sue launched immediately at the board, studied it for a second, and bounced away joyfully.
“I’m number seven. I’ve gone up one!” She was ecstatic, and we all congratulated her.
Louis and Angela went next, calmly standing alongside each other as they studied it. They looked at each other for a second, and then came back to us.
“I’m still number three.” Angela sounded zen and satisfied.
“I’ve also gone up one. I’m number five.” he said to me happily, “Jay, you really need to go look.”
“Okay.” I walked over and ran my finger hand down the list.
Mrs. A usually showed us these lists at the start of every year, too. Maybe she was trying to get us to be competitive. She’d cross out the names of students that weren’t from our school, but we could see where we ranked in the district, and what our average grades were. I didn’t expect that prelims had brought down my grades, even though they were supposed to be more difficult, because I’d put a lot more work in than usual. My hand went to the spot I was used to, somewhere around the mid-teens.
“You might want to look a bit higher than usual.” Angela said from behind my shoulder.
She was right – I wasn’t there any more. My finger moved up the list, until I got to a number that made me blink and look again, not quite believing it.
“Number six?” I turned around. Angela and Louis were beaming.
“WHAT?” Sue stormed to the board. I backed away slowly to where Angela and Louis were standing. Angela shot Sue a worried look.
“I wonder if that’s right.” Sue paced back towards us, her eyes wide with shock. “I’m not number two in the school any more.”
“You’re still in the Top Three.” Angela used a soothing tone. Sue just nodded. I guess both of them weren’t counting Louis yet – since he was still technically enrolled at North Grove. He’d probably always ranked above her in the district list, anyway.
She wandered back over to the list, and ran her hand down it again. She paused, a fair distance down the page. Then she spun around and strode back to us, smiling.
“Guys. Caitlyn is going to DIE over this. She’s number 24!” Sue had clearly found her silver lining. “Well done, Jay. I hate you a little, but well done.”
“Thanks.” I laughed. My mind was still kind of reeling.
Breaking the top ten in the district was awesome. Beating Sue was hilarious, too – now that I knew she wasn’t going to murder me for it. And my mom was going to freak out. In a good way. My best ranking before had been twelve, but that had seemed like a weird anomaly. Louis just smiled at me, and gently bumped into me from the side. I laughed again.
“Well we should definitely go celebrate now.” Angela gave Sue a pointed look. “No bars. It’s still morning.”
“I know. I’m not an alcoholic.” Sue scoffed. “We can go get breakfast or something.”
“Should we invite Ellie?” Louis asked.
“Would that be okay?” I turned towards Angela and Sue. “I’m supposed to be her ride home, so it would be Ankara escort bayan weird to drop her off and then head off to something without her.”
“Ellie should definitely come,” Angela said. Sue just nodded.
I could see Ellie and Jamie approaching the notice board. They were both pretty solid students – they were both surviving AP maths, after all – but Jamie had never exactly acted like he cared too much about school. Although I went out of my way to pretend I didn’t either, so maybe he did the same. Both he and Ellie had probably both done all right, though.
“Don’t invite Jamie.” Sue hissed. “Or there’s too many of us for the car.”
Jamie was likely to try and avoid me again, anyway, so it’d be easy to catch Ellie alone. They walked up to the list, and Ellie said something to Jamie and smiled. Jamie looked back at the list, laughed, and pointed to it. Whatever he’d said caused her to shut her eyes and let out an annoyed groan.
I’d been expecting Jamie to run off if Ellie came over, but instead, they both walked towards us. His gaze didn’t avoid mine, and he didn’t break away. It looked like his old confidence was back. I tried not to take on the burden of being the awkward one again, but I wasn’t entirely sure how successful I’d be at that.
“Hey guys. I see the Top Four did quite well.” Ellie spread her arms. “Congratulations to all.”
“Jay cracked the top ten.” Louis sounded so proud. I almost blushed.
“I know!” Ellie smiled. “Finally got his act together.”
“Did you do okay?” I asked her.
“Yeah, I’m number forty-three. But my average is exactly what I was aiming for, so hopefully it doesn’t change for finals. I’m still not feeling optimistic enough to hope I’ll have a better time with that.”
“How did you do, Jamie?” Sue asked.
“Number sixty-nine.” He turned to me and winked. “Nice, right?”
Ellie rolled her eyes, and I would have blushed, but I was still a bit too shocked he was talking to me. Whatever had been bugging him must have been over. Maybe he’d felt guilty about telling Ellie about me too. I doubted we’d talk about it.
“Whatever,” I said gruffly and laughed.
“Anyway, I should get going. I’ve got a study group in Mr. M’s class. See you guys.” He winked in Sue and Angela’s direction. “Ladies.”
“Sixty-nine? What did that mean?” Sue frowned at Jamie’s retreating back.
“Mutual Oral Stimulation.” Angela said calmly. Ellie and I laughed, and Louis went bright red.
“What?” Sue said.
“Oral sex. Both people doing it at the same time.” Angela kept her face neutral, but the corners of her mouth twitched upwards.
“Gross!” Sue shot Jamie a dirty look. “Why is he so weird?”
“I have my theories.” Ellie chuckled. “What are you four up to, today?”
“We’re going to get food.” I said. “We were actually going to invite you.”
“Oh, yes please. That would be lovely. I just need to go to the bathroom first, if you don’t mind.”
“I should go too.” Angela said.
“Me too.” Sue hated being left out of things.
I shrugged. “Okay, meet us at my car then.”
Louis and I walked back to the parking lot and got into my car. I sighed happily. Ellie and I were friends again, and Jamie was back to his usual overconfident self. It was still an odd situation – her knowing kind of made it feel more real, somehow. But it didn’t seem that hard to navigate any more. I looked over at Louis, who was frowning.
“So… this guy who you… had sex with, and then he freaked out about it and stopped talking to you…” His tone was tense. “Was it Jamie?”
“Oh god. Did we say something weird? Was it that sixty-nine comment?”
“No, no.” Louis laughed. “Nothing like that. You were just giving him a weird look when they walked up, and then when he said that thing you didn’t react like I thought you were going to.” He grimaced. “Sorry, I know you didn’t want to tell me exactly who.”
“Oh, no. It’s fine.” I shrugged. “I never technically told you it was him. You guessed, so that’s okay, right?”
“And you only were able to guess because he wanted to come over and mess with me in the first place. So fuck it. His fault anyway.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Not really. Nothing’s really that different, right?”
He tilted his head to the side. “I thought because it was Jamie, maybe it was more than you’d been letting on or something.”
“What do you mean?”
He turned away and shrugged. “Uh… I guess I just… because you guys hang out so much, I thought that you maybe weren’t being entirely honest about not wanting to date him.”
“Oh. No, not at all.” I frowned. “He’s fun, and we get along. But it’s not like we ever really talk about stuff, or have anything in common. I guess he’s kind of my friend, but I don’t think we’re close. Not like you and I are.”
“Oh,” He said softly.
The way he’d said it made me worry I’d been a bit too sentimental. “Oh, sorry. We are close, right? Was that-“
“No, we’re close. It’s Escort Ankara fine.” He smiled broadly. “It’s just nice hearing it.”
“Yeah.” I let out a small sigh of relief, feeling like I’d been a bit too awkward.
He cleared his throat. “So you and Jamie – not going to happen?”
“No. I’m going to stop doing stuff with him in general. It’s too exhausting.” I sighed, feeling annoyed with myself. “I’d really like to stop getting into stuff with guys who freak out and run away from me.”
“The heart wants what it wants.”
“It’s not my heart that’s the problem,” I said darkly.
He just laughed.
I stared out the window and frowned. “I wish I could make some better decisions, really.”
“You’ll figure it out.”
“You always say that.” I laughed bitterly. “And I’ve yet to figure anything out. But thanks.”
He looked at me sympathetically, but didn’t respond. We were interrupted by the arrival of the girls, who got into the back seat, clearly in the midst of a very serious conversation that was becoming quite common in our year now. I started the car.
“So you’re not even considering Oakvale?” Ellie asked Angela.
“I’ve applied for their biology program, but it’s fairly low on my list. Most other universities have a better one. And that’s if I don’t decide I’d rather pursue something in fine arts, and Oakvale doesn’t even have a program for that.”
“Sure. I’m pretty sure I’ll end up going there, but I have applied to a few backups, anyway.” Ellie turned to me. “You’re going to Oakvale, right Jay?”
“Yep. My brother’s going to be doing his PhD there next year, and teaching, so there’s a fee reduction for staff’s family members.”
“If you’re still in the top ten after finals, you wouldn’t need to worry about that.” Louis said.
“Right.” That hadn’t even occurred to me yet. I could probably go wherever I wanted, if the fees didn’t end up being an issue. “Still, I think it would be Oakvale anyway. I just love it too much.”
“Are you going to live with Brian?” Ellie asked.
“No. Not for the first year, anyway. He wants to spend at least one year in a dorm, otherwise he thinks I won’t have any friends.”
“You do spend more time at home than anyone I know, so he’s not wrong.” Ellie said.
I narrowed my eyes at her. “Thanks.”
“It’ll be fine, either way. You’ll have me.” She lifted her hands up to frame her face.
I laughed. “Louis, where are you going next year?”
“Oh, I’ve applied everywhere. I know I want to do a degree in physics, so I’m just sending out applications to anywhere with a half decent program. I’ve applied at Oakvale, too.”
“Am I the only one that’s seriously considering UCT?” Angela asked.
“It’s too close to my parents.” Ellie pursed her lips.
“Same here.” I nodded. “If I went there I’d probably have to commute in. Oakvale gets me out of the house and far enough away that I can have a life, but close enough to come back when I absolutely have to.”
“To do laundry, if nothing else.” Ellie laughed.
“I’m still considering UCT.” Louis turned in his seat to look back at Angela. “The physics program is definitely better. Are you going on that science department tour next week?”
“I can’t, my parents are busy that day.”
“My mom’s taking me through – we could pick you up if you want?”
“That would be excellent, thank you.” Angela gave Louis a grateful look. “I’m still having so much trouble deciding, and I really thought I’d regret not being able to go.”
“No problem. I’ll message you later to figure out the details.” Louis smiled. “What are your plans, Sue?”
“Oh, I’m going to the Royal Academy of Music, in London.” She shrugged. “Or the Royal College of Music, if that doesn’t work out. I’ve applied to both. I’ve been practising for my auditions all year.”
“I helped her write her introduction for her audition video.”
“So stupid.” Sue shook her head. “I don’t know why they need to hear me talking.”
“It went well, as you can imagine.” Angela laughed, and Sue grinned.
The two of them had definitely gotten closer this year. I supposed I’d gotten closer to them too. It was odd. It obviously felt nice to be able to start considering them friends. But I couldn’t help but regret the fact that I’d known them both for so long, and we were only really bonding in our final year.
I’d spent so much of high school with no one I’d really been able to enjoy hanging out with, and only once we were almost done with school, I’d suddenly started making friends with people who’d always been there. We’d always worked together, but kept our personal lives apart – it now seemed sad that we only had a few more months to hang out as friends.
Ellie directed me, and we ended up in a fairly suburban area. The place she took us into was a glass conservatory that had been converted into a little Italian bakery. We got to sit indoors, out of the cold winter winds, and bask in the sun that streamed in through the glass walls and roof.
“This place is great.” Louis said to Ellie. “How did you even find out about it?”
“Oh, I was brought here on a date.” She dramatically flung her hand up to cover her eyes. “No, don’t ask me, I’m sworn to secrecy.”
I turned to the rest of the group. “Ellie wants everyone to know she’s being epically romanced.”
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