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128. A New Project

Alex kept her face impassive but her heart began to race. What did Max exactly mean? Did Jae tell him something? The only time they mentioned ‘Logan’ and ‘girlfriend’ in the same sentence was during the Cinderella Search they once had—which Jae speculated either turned out to be Skye or someone else.

And that ‘someone else’ had been cleared up last Friday night.

She gulped.

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“Please, Max” Logan snorted, “I think you got the wrong guy. It’s your BFF who found a girlfriend.”

He grinned victoriously when Max snapped his head towards his best friend. Jae only had his eyes on Logan. His brother didn’t even try to hide his smugness. He couldn’t glare unless he wanted Max to be more suspicious. Oh, Jae will find a way to get back at him.

“Jae! Man!” Max whimpered, “Are we really friends? How could you hide this from me?”

Jae simply rolled his eyes, “She’s not my girlfriend.”

He had to admit he was tempted for a second to joke about it—except not only was the said person missing but also in this place she was Alex’s girlfriend. He also knew Max wouldn’t believe it if he said he was joking.

He wrapped an arm around his best friend’s shoulders, “If she was, I would have introduced her already.”

Max smiled like a child that had been given a lollipop, “I knew you wouldn’t betray me like that.”

“Don’t you have a girlfriend, Max?” Lauren cut in, a scowl on her face. She crossed her arms over her chest, “The two of you looked pretty cozy last week.”

“Well, you and the mascot looked pretty cozy yourselves.”

Lauren stiffened at Max’s response.

Alex turned her attention to the blonde cheerleader beside her, “Oh, really?”

The first morning bell echoed out of the building. It signaled the students that they only had 5 minutes left before their first period. Alex dashed up the stairs from the first second she heard the bell. She waited for no one. She needed to put her skateboard away and take out the materials for her morning classes. Logan followed, hot on her heels.

Lauren also went inside and sighed in relief. She got out of that one.

For the time being, at least.

Monday morning passed by almost without a hitch. Because of the Romeo and Juliet project’s success, Ms. Smith gave another project that required pairs. For the sake of simplicity, she had her class use the same pairing as last time. This became a permanent rule for the rest of the year. All upcoming projects would be dependent on the pair’s teamwork.

She dispersed the class to spend the rest of their time working on the new project.

At the back of the class, two people sat across from each other.

One of them had a scowl on her face while the other one seemed more relaxed. The first person slumped in her chair with her arms folded over her chest. Every imaginary electric wave she sent to the other person’s way was ineffective. Her target remained bubbly and happy about the new development of their class together.

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“Aw, come on, Lauren,” Max said, “Our last project wasn’t really bad, was it?”

“That’s because we worked on individual scenes” Lauren snapped back. Then, she bit her inner cheek. She didn’t really want to cause a disturbance in class.

“Can’t we do something similar here?”

“It’s a powerpoint presentation that we’ll report in front of the class. If we don’t coordinate with each other, we’ll fail. We need to be in sync and need to understand what we’re going to report about” Lauren huffed, her left temple throbbing. She could already imagine how the project will end.

“Then, let’s pick something we both can do” Max reasoned with her. He scratched the back of his neck. Earlier, her annoyed expression seemed cute. Now that she kept using a displeased tone with him, it didn’t seem so cute anymore.

Lauren raised an eyebrow, “There’s something you can do?”

“I think I wouldn’t reach up to Junior year if I’m incompetent” her partner began to snap. Did she really have to treat him this way?

“Could have fooled me” she snorted, glancing at the floor.

Beside the pair, another pair chose to stay at the back of the class. One of them already pulled out a notebook to list down their ideas.

“Will we use the same schedule as we did before?” Alex asked, an eyebrow raised.

Logan leaned forward and peeked at her notes. They listed out several themes in Shakespeare’s works. They wouldn’t be able to decide on which to talk about until they did more research and checked out the availability of the materials.

“Or I can go to the library while you’re at basketball practice so I can have a head start” Alex continued when he didn’t say anything, “And it’s closer. It wouldn’t take long for you to join me.”

“Yeah, I think that could work” Logan nodded, the idea became more appealing as time went on, “I’ll just give you a lift home.”

“What?” Alex hissed. She slammed a hand on her table, “That’s not what we agreed on.”

“That was before we had this project” he explained with a point of his finger, “Face it, we’ll be finishing late. I’m not about to let you out in the dark under my mother’s name.”

She scoffed, “Are you really gonna use your mother’s name for everything to go your way?”

“Only to the things that matter,” Logan grinned cheekily, the gold specks in his green eyes gleamed.

Max gripped the edges of his table. He held his breath and counted to ten. A technique he learned to use over the years. Sometimes he’d slip and give in to his temper but, at most, he did his best to calm down.

He licked his bottom lip. When he spoke, he used a soft tone, “Look, I know what you think of me. You see me as a slacker because of how you’ve seen me behave. I don’t know if you’d believe me if I say that I’m not an academic underachiever. I may be a jock but I still need to get good grades for college. If you’re really skeptical, you can look at my name in the official ranking list from last year.”

Lauren’s scowl changed into a skeptical expression. Maybe he wasn’t an underachiever but for this project, she needed him at his best behavior, “I am not judging you based on your grades. I am judging you based on your reliability, that includes your character. How will I know for sure I won’t end up doing most of the work because you suddenly had a party to go to?”

Max blinked several times, “Ah, geez, Lauren. I wouldn’t do that. Party or not, I wouldn’t ditch a friend.”

The word squeezed his insides. If it had been anyone else, he would have been fine. Somehow saying the word in front of the girl he loved still pierced his heart. Maybe it came from the times she’d say that they weren’t friends since he annoyed her a lot. Maybe it came from how the word was an understatement in his ears. Maybe it came from how he knew it could never be more than that—and that he could clearly see it in her face.

He stayed silent and hoped his sincerity, at least, came across.

Unaware of Max’s inner turmoil, Lauren peeked over his shoulder. Her eyes suddenly lit up and a Cheshire cat smile appeared on her face, “Fine, but we’ll do it on my terms.”



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