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I listen as I take in everything he says. Really though, all I hear is, "we can't be together…blah blah blah…we can't be together."

"Lake, I need this job. It's what I've been working toward for three years. We're broke. My parents left me with a mound of debt and now college tuition. I can't quit now."

Does he think I'm asking him to quit his job?

“Will, I understand. I'd never ask you to jeopardize your career. You’ve worked hard. It would be stupid if you threw that away for someone you’ve only known for three days.”

“I’m not saying you would ask me that. I just want you to understand where I’m coming from,” he says.

“I do understand,” I say. “It’s ridiculous to assume we even have anything worth risking.”

His eyes glance at the note on my console again as he hesitates. “We both know it's more than that.”

His words cause me to wince, because I know deep down he’s right. Whatever was happening with us, it was more than just an infatuation. I can’t possibly comprehend at this moment what it must be like to actually have a broken heart. If it hurts even one percent more than the pain I'm feeling now, I'll forego love. It's not worth it.

I attempt to stop the tears from welling up again but the effort is futile. He brings his leg off of the dash and pulls me to him. I bury my face in his shirt and he puts his arms around me and gently rubs my back.

"I'm so sorry,” he says. “I wish there was something I could do to change things. I have to do this right, for Caulder. I’m not sure where we go from here, or how we'll transition."

“Transition?” I say. I suddenly start to panic at the thought of losing him. "But-What if you talk to the school? Tell them we didn’t know. Ask them what our options are…” I realize as the words are coming out of my mouth that I’m grasping at straws. There is no situation in which a relationship between us would be feasible at this point.

“I can’t, Lake.” His voice is small. "It won't work. It can't work."

We hear a door slam and Kel and Caulder come bounding down the driveway. We immediately pull apart and reposition our seats. I rest my head against the headrest and close my eyes, attempting to conjure up a loophole in our situation. There has to be one.

When the boys have crossed the street and are safely inside Will's house, he turns to me.

“Layken?” he says nervously. “There’s one more thing I need to talk to you about."

Oh god, what else? What else could be relevant at this moment?

"I need you to go to administration tomorrow. I want you to withdraw from my class. I don't think we should be around each other anymore."

I feel the blood rushing from my face. My hands start to sweat and the car is slowly becoming too small for the two of us. He really means it. Anything we had up to this point is over. He’s going to shut me out of his life entirely.

"Why?” I make no effort to mask the hurt in my voice.

He clears his throat. "I'm not asking you to do this because I want to avoid you. I'm asking you this because what we have isn’t appropriate. We have to separate ourselves.”

Separate ourselves? My hurt quickly succumbs to the anger building up inside of me. "Not appropriate? Separate ourselves? You live across the street from me!"

He opens the door and gets out of the car. I do the same and slam my door.

"We’re both mature enough to know what’s appropriate, Will. You’re the only person I know here. Please don’t ask me to act like I don’t even know you,” I plead.

“Come on, Lake! You aren't being fair." He matches his tone to mine, and I know I’ve hit a nerve. “I can’t do this. We can’t just be friends. It’s the only choice we have.”

I can’t help but feel like we’re going through a horrible break-up, and we aren’t even in a relationship. I'm so angry at him. At the entire situation. I can’t discern if I’m really just upset about what has happened today, or my entire life this year.

The one thing I know for sure is that the only time I’ve been truly happy lately has been with Will. To hear him tell me that we can’t even be friends hurts. It scares me that I'll go back to who I've been for the past six months; someone I'm not proud of.

I open the door to the car and grab my purse and keys. “So, you’re saying it’s either all or nothing, right? And since it obviously can’t be all!” I slam the car door again and head toward the house. “You’ll be rid of me by third period tomorrow!” I say as I purposefully kick the gnome over with my boot.

I walk in the house and throw the keys toward the bar in the kitchen with such force that they glide completely across the surface and hit the floor. I step on the heel of my boot with my toe and kick it off in the entry when my mother comes in.

“What was that all about?” she asks. “Were you just yelling?”

“Nothing,” I say. “That’s what it’s about. Absolutely nothing!” I pick up my boots and walk to my room, slamming the door behind me.

I lock my bedroom door and head straight to the hamper of clothes. I pick it up and dump the contents out onto the floor, searching through them until I find what I’m looking for. My hand slides into the pocket of my jeans and I remove the purple hair clip and walk over to the bed, pull back the covers and climb in. I make a tight fist around the clip as I pull my hands up to my face, and I cry myself to sleep.

When I wake up, it’s midnight. I lay there a moment, hoping I will come to the conclusion that this was all a bad dream but the clarity never comes. When I pull back the covers my hair clip falls from my hands and lands on the floor. This small piece of plastic, so old that it’s probably covered in lead ridden paint. I think about how I felt the day my father gave it to me, and how all the sadness and fears were eliminated as soon as he put it in my hair.

I lean forward and retrieve it from the floor, pressing down in the center so that it snaps open. I move a section of my bangs to the opposite side and secure it in place on my head. I wait for the magic to take effect, but sure enough, everything still hurts. I pull the clip from my hair and throw it across the room as I climb back into bed.

5.

"I keep tellin' myself

That it'll be fine.

You can't make everybody happy

All of the time."

-The Avett Brothers,Paranoia in B flat Major

Chapter Five

My pulse is pounding against my temples as I climb out of bed. I’m in dire need of my own box of altoids. My entire body is dragging from hours of alternating between crying and inadequate sleep.

I make a quick pot of coffee and sit down at the bar and drink it in silence, as I dread the day that lies ahead of me.

Kel eventually comes in, wearing his pajamas and darth vader house shoes. “Morning,” he says groggily as he grabs a cup out of the sink strainer. He walks over to the coffee pot and proceeds to pour coffee into the World's Greatest Dad cup.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I ask him.

“Hey, you aren’t the only one who had a bad night.” Kel climbs onto a stool on the opposite side of the bar. “Fourth grade is rough. I had two hours of homework,” he says as he brings the cup to his mouth.

I take the coffee out of his hands and pour the contents into my own, then toss the mug into the trashcan. I walk to the refrigerator, grab a juice and place it in front of him.

Kel rolls his eyes and pokes through the hole at the top of the pouch, bringing it to his mouth. “Did you see they delivered the rest of our stuff yesterday? Mom’s van finally got here. We had to unpack the whole thing by ourselves, you know,” he says, obviously trying to guilt me.

“Go get dressed,” I say. “We’re leaving in half an hour.”

***

It begins to snow again just as I drop Kel off at school. I hope Will is right about it being gone soon. I hate the snow. I hate Michigan.

When I arrive at the school, I go straight to the administration office. Mrs. Alex is powering on her computer when she notices me and shakes her head.

“Let me guess, you want 'C' lunch now?”

I should have brought her Kel’s coffee.

“Actually, I need a list of third period electives. I want to switch classes.”

She shoots me a questioning glance. “Aren’t you in the Poetry elective with Mr. Cooper? That’s one of the more popular electives.”

“That’s the one,” I confirm. “I’d like to withdraw.”

“Well, you have until the end of the week before I submit your final schedule,” she says as she grabs a sheet and hands it to me. “Which class do you prefer?”

I look over the short list of available electives.

Botany

Russian Literature

My options are limited.

“I’ll take Russian Literature for two hundred, Alex.”

She rolls her eyes as she turns and enters the information into the computer. I guess she’s heard that one before. She hands me yet another ‘new’ new schedule, and a yellow form.

“Have Mr. Cooper sign this and bring it back to me before third period and you’ll be all set.”

“Great,” I mumble as I exit the office.

When I successfully navigate my way to Will's classroom, I’m relieved to find the door locked and the lights turned out. Seeing him again was not on my to-do list for the day, so I decide to take matters into my own hands. I reach into my backpack and retrieve a pen, press the yellow form up against the door to the classroom, and begin to forge Wills name.

"That's not a good idea.”

I spin around and see Will standing behind me with a black satchel slung across his shoulder, keys in hand. My stomach flips when I look at him. He’s wearing khaki slacks and a black shirt, tucked in at the waist. The color of his tie matches his green eyes perfectly, making them hard to look away from. He looks so, professional.

I step back as he moves past me and puts his key in the door. He enters the room and flips the light switch on as he places his satchel on the desk. I'm still standing in the doorway when he motions for me to come in.

I smack the form face up on his desk. "Well, you weren't here yet, I thought I’d spare you the trouble,” I say, defending my actions with a defensive tone.

Will picks up the form and grimaces.

“Russian Lit? That’s what you chose?”

“It was either that or Botany,” I reply evenly.

Will pulls his chair out and sits. He grabs a pen and lays the paper flat, pressing the tip of the pen on the line. He hesitates, though, and lays the pen down on the paper without signing his name.

“I thought a lot last night…about what you said yesterday,” he says. “It’s not fair of me to ask you to transfer just because it makes me uneasy. We live a hundred yards apart; our brothers are becoming best friends. If anything, this class will be good for us, help us figure out how to navigate when we’re around each other. Besides,” he says this as he pulls a paper from his satchel and shoves it forward on the desk. “You’ll obviously breeze through.”

***

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