Lauren is about to be tested in more ways than one. Not only does she have to participate in a competition that will determine her future at Canterwood, someone from Lauren’s past makes an extremely unexpected appearance in her new life. Can she handle it all—or will cracks start to show in her new It-girl armor?
Comeback ALL THE CARDS ON THE TABLE KHLOE AND I SAT ACROSS FROM EACH OTHER, not moving, as if we were horses unsure whether to bolt or fight. We’d locked eyes, and neither of us had said a word since I’d last spoken.
Below us, riders readied for their lessons. Lexa had told Mr. Conner that Khloe and I were “sick” and had to miss our lessons. We’d been sitting on the floor of the stable’s loft, surrounded by hay bales, for what felt like forever. The overpowering scent of hay tickled my nose. I sneezed.
“Bless you,” Khloe said.
“Thanks.” I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, then looked at Khloe. She’d drawn her knees to her chest. “Lexa dragged us up here to talk. Knowing her, she’ll bring us food and water and not let us down until we talk. We’re pretty much captives.”
“I’ll agree with you on that one thing,” Khloe said. “And I think you should start talking.” She yanked her long blond hair into a ponytail. “You’re the one who just accused me of something that wasn’t true.”
“Khloe! I heard you!” I shook my head. “Why would I make that up? I was outside the tack room door, and you and Drew were talking.” Just thinking about what I’d overheard minutes ago made my stomach ache.
“You were eavesdropping. Did you even consider for a second that you’d, oh, I don’t know, misheard? I can’t believe you would think I’d say something awful about you.”
I rubbed my dry lips together. “Then what did you say?”
“I ran into Drew in the tack room. We said hi, and I asked him about Mr. Conner during your lessons. Specifically, about how Mr. Conner acts with you.”
“Like if he gives me ‘special treatment?’” I rolled my eyes.
“No,” Khloe said sharply. “Like if Mr. Conner started treating you different since he learned that your secret’s out. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t pressuring you to do more than anyone else in class. I asked Drew because I was worried. I trust Mr. Conner, and I believed he was coaching you the same as he had been since your first lesson here, but I wanted to make sure.”
I stared at Khloe, letting her words sink in. I’d been so blinded by my like for Drew that I’d jumped to a very, very wrong conclusion. I was embarrassed over what I’d done—it wasn’t me. I didn’t turn against my friends over a boy.
Even though Khloe still had a lot of explaining to do about other things, I’d been wrong about this instance. I was so never eavesdropping again.
“Oh, God. Oh, no. Khloe.” I picked up a piece of hay and twisted it around my index finger until the stalk snapped. “I’m so sorry. I should have talked to you about that before assuming anything.”
“It’s okay,” Khloe said, shaking her head. “You didn’t hear what I really said.”
“But I know you better than that. I shouldn’t have freaked out and run to Lexa. There were so many things that happened between us recently, and I—”
Khloe smoothed the front of her navy tee. “Like what?” She sat up straighter, raising an eyebrow.
“Like you not telling me first about Zack, sleeping over at Lexa’s last night, not saying anything to your guy friends about me . . .”
I trailed off, watching her face. She’d scrunched her nose, and her lips were parted.
“Before I address any of that, I have some things too,” Khloe said. It felt like tension was building all over again and we were about to get into another fight. “How about your dropping advanced history when it could have been any other class, and your Sweet Shoppe date with Drew?”
Oh, mon Dieu. We were going to be up here all day.
“I didn’t know you had a problem with either of those! We talked about them.”
“And I explained about Zack, haven’t had a second to talk to you about the sleepover, and you don’t know the situation with Michael and those guys.”
A small headache started between my eyes. I’d been a student at Canterwood Crest for less than a month, and I was fighting with my roommate. Not a squabble over something small like leaving clothes all over the floor or not rinsing toothpaste out of the sink. But serious issues that obviously hadn’t been addressed between us.
“I’m listening,” I said, raising my chin.
“First, we talked about the Zack thing. Laur, you’d been up late so many days in a row and you were finally asleep when he texted me to ask me out. What I told you then is true. I texted Lexa on a whim, and she happened to be awake.” Khloe took a breath. “It was so hard not to wake you up and tell you. But I wanted you to rest.”
Khloe’s expression looked so sincere. She looked like the Khloe Kinsella who’d taught me everything about Canterwood when I’d arrived. The Khloe Kinsella who was still teaching me things. The girl who’d given me a campus tour, introduced me to her friends, and accepted me when I’d finally told her about my accident at Red Oak.
“You told me that next day,” I said. I let out a breath. “I just got . . . I don’t know! I got my feelings hurt that I wasn’t the first to know. If I’d been in your position, I wouldn’t have woken me either, but I also would have wanted to tell someone. I should have believed you the first time.”
Khloe shrugged. “I thought you had.”
“And I thought you’d taken my word about Mr. Spellman’s history class,” I said. I tried to keep the bite out of my tone, but my words came out sharp. “I meant what I said—I dropped the advanced part because it was more work than any of my other classes. The chances of me having to transfer to another class are practically zero.”
“I knew in my gut you were telling the truth.” Khloe sighed. “You had no reason to potentially drop a class that you and I share. I don’t know why my brain went there.”
“I wish we had every class together. If I’d had any other options, I would have changed another class. Promise.”
Khloe rubbed her hands over her tan face. “Maybe I really have been watching too many soap operas.”
“How are you supposed to star in one if you don’t watch them?” I asked, giving her a small smile.
Khloe returned the smile. “True. If only there was a story line about roommates at boarding school. Maybe it would give me tips to be a better roomie.”
“You’re a great roommate, Khlo. We’ve obviously been having some . . . communication problems lately. There’s no reason for us not to trust each other.”
Khloe nodded slowly. “There’s not.” She stopped, and I could tell she wanted to say something else.
I knew what she couldn’t say or didn’t want to. “Except for Red Oak. Khloe, if you have issues trusting me after I kept Red Oak from you, I understand. Please tell me.”
Khloe shook her head, her ponytail flying. “This has nothing to do with Red Oak. Lauren, I promise, when you told me and everyone else about it—I asked questions, and if there was anything bothering me or something I wanted to know I’d have asked you.”
We looked at each other for a few seconds before I answered. “Okay. Because I want you to trust me and believe me that my secret was a one-time thing. I hope it doesn’t cloud the person you see now or how you trusted me before.”
“It doesn’t,” Khloe said. “I think we had a lot going on and we took the easy way out—we got all caught up in our heads and went to Lexa. We know better—I should have come to you and not let all these things build.”
“You’re absolutely right. It shouldn’t have taken Lexa to haul us up here to have this talk. You and I are more mature than that. And poor Lex. We both put her in a bad spot.”
“Lexa didn’t deserve it.” Khloe tossed her head back, letting it bounce against a hay bale. “Speaking of Lex . . . Laur, I wasn’t sleeping at her place. I was at Clare’s. Riley left last night for her audition in New York City. Clare asked me last minute to sleep over. We never get to hang out without Riley, so I said yes.”
Eavesdropping and assumptions had made me two for two in the wrong department. Major fail.
“I just assumed you were at Lexa’s,” I said. “That you didn’t want to sleep in our room because you felt things were weird too.”
Khloe’s blue eyes stayed on my face. “Not at all! I’m sorry about Clare’s. It wasn’t very roommate-like of me not to tell you that I was staying over when she asked me. It had to hurt your feelings to think I was at Lexa’s.”
“I respect your and Lexa’s friendship outside of ours,” I said. “If you had been staying with her, I wouldn’t have cared. It bothered me that I didn’t find out until later that you were staying out.”
“I get it,” Khloe said. “I’d feel exactly the same way. Just like I would have felt like you did with my guy friends.”
Every single thing we laid out on the table felt good. We moved forward with each confession.
“If I’d come to a new school,” Khloe continued, “and a bunch of guys I didn’t know but seemed to know you very well descended on our lunch table, it would have been so weird. I would have been like, ‘Dude, who are all of you, and why do you know my BFFL LT but not me?’”
Khloe’s theatrics made me smile.
“Those guys aren’t my close friends,” she said. “They’re people I share classes with and have run into around campus. The beginning of this year has been so crazy, I hadn’t said more than ‘hi’ to any of them. You’re so cool with everyone that I shouldn’t have assumed you’d be fine and left you with them.”
I sagged back into the hay bale. Everything I’d doubted about Khloe seemed neurotic now. How had so many misunderstandings been possible? “I get it now,” I said. “I really do.”
“If I’d had time to have a real conversation with them, I would have told them all about you. I wasn’t hiding you—I promise.”
“I went way overboard on that,” I said. “Lexa even told me those guys weren’t your best friends. Clearly, I have been influenced by your soap-opera ways.” That made Khloe smile. “I let my imagination go crazy. Bad crazy. Like, I thought you were swapping places part-time with your twin, like on Pretty in Port Royal. I’m sorry.”
“If only I had a twin,” Khloe said, cracking a grin. “I don’t think I’ve ever said ‘I’m sorry’ or heard ‘I’m sorry’ so much in such a short time.”
“Me either. But you’re going to have to hear it again, because I want to explain about—”
Khloe held up her hands, palms facing me. “I think we’ve apologized to each other enough. You agree?”
“Definitely. Unless there’s something—anything—else you want to ask me. I don’t want you to walk away from this with any questions or lingering doubts.”
Khloe scooted closer, closing the giant gap between us. “I don’t have any. I promise. Do you?”
Relief replaced the dread that had pumped through me. “I don’t. I think there are two things left to do. First thing: I want to promise that if I ever feel something’s off or think you’re mad at me or whatever, I’ll ask you instead of dreaming up scenarios gone so, so wrong. I hope you’ll do the same.”
“I swear,” Khloe said. “If you wake up and I see your eyebrow twitch in a weird way, I’ll be like, ‘LT, what’s up? Is something wrong? Are you harboring a deep, dark secret from me?’”
“Definitely watch out for my eyebrows.” I wiggled both of them.
Khloe laughed, and we both reached out our arms to each other. We hugged, and I silently vowed never to let things get so out of control with any of my friends.
We let go of each other, smiling, and Khloe sat beside me. “I bet I can guess the second thing,” she said. “Lexa.”
“Yeah. I owe her a huge apology. It’s okay to ask friends for advice, but not like I did with Lex. It’s a miracle she didn’t lock me in a stall or something!”
“Same. I used our friendship for the wrong reason, and Lexa deserves better than that. After all we put her through, Lex still cared enough to bring you and me up here and make sure we talked things out.”
I stood, then offered a hand to Khloe and pulled her up. “It definitely took one very wise Lexa Reed to make us do what we needed to.”
“I hope you spent the last hour talking about each other and not me,” a voice said. Lexa appeared around a stack of hay bales. Her boots had a fine coat of arena dust, and there were a few red and white horsehairs on her shirt. She glanced between Khloe and me like she was trying to figure out if we’d made up or not.
“We only said awesome stuff about you,” Khloe said. “Lauren and I worked out everything because you forced us up to this hay dungeon.”
Lexa cocked a hip, smiling.
I nodded. “Everything we thought was wrong. All these little misunderstandings kept adding up and made us—”
“Insane,” Khloe finished. “Lex, I’m so, so sorry. I didn’t act like your best friend when I came to you with my worries about Lauren.”
“I’m sorry, too, Lexa,” I said. “All the questions I asked you were things I should have asked Khloe.”
Lexa ran a hand over her curly black hair. “Apologies accepted. You guys care about each other, and it came across—in the wrong way—when you kept asking me questions about the other.”
“So, you’re not mad?” Khloe asked, bouncing on her tiptoes.
Lexa smiled. “Nah. All I care about is that you two worked it out.”
“Yay!” I said. “Thanks, Lex!”
We three-way hugged. All my worries and insecurities about Khloe melted as I squeezed my friends.
“There is one thing,” Lexa said when we stepped back.
“Name it,” Khloe said.
“Totally yours,” I said.
“The Sweet Shoppe has a new triple-layer chocolate cake that I’m dying to try,” Lexa said.
Khloe and I smiled. “Deal!” we said simultaneously.
Jessica Burkhart (a.k.a. Jessica Ashley) is the author of the Unicorn Magic and Canterwood Crest series, which you can learn more about at CanterwoodCrest.com. She is a former equestrian who writes from her apartment in Tennessee. (It’s not the size of Crystal Castle, but Jess tries to decorate like a princess!) Jess’s aura would be hot pink and she loves glittery things. If she had a unicorn, it would be named Sparkle. Visit Jess at JessicaBurkhart.com.
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