36. I’ll Help You

Lauren’s heart felt heavy. Set aside the fact that she just found out her crush was actually a girl, all she could see was a lonely person, a bird caged to be kept safe from predators. Her arms itched to wrap around Alex.

She clenched her fists and waited for Alex to collect herself. As someone who preferred to rely on their own strengths, her body language suggested to give her space, so that was what she did.

But in case she needed some support, Lauren would definitely not hesitate.

She heard Alex clear her throat, still looking away from her and barely audible.

“I wanted a change in environment. After I isolated myself, I began homeschool. Overtime, I felt suffocated. I couldn’t go out without being recognized. I should know. I tried. Several times. Not even a trip downtown could save me from the risk of kidnapping attempts by old ‘acquaintances’ and enemies.”

Alex slowed down her breathing, realizing that she had been doing it too fast, as she finished her story, “I needed a new identity. I knew my parents wouldn’t agree to it easily. I had to make it as foolproof as possible. That’s how I came up with the idea of pretending to be a boy. Everyone knew my parents have a daughter. They wouldn’t think twice about looking for a boy. It would be easier to lose unwanted attention. I initially didn’t plan on telling them about it but I eventually did. They weren’t happy with the idea but they did give me a compromise. I had to attend this school and I had to stay with my aunt. Also, the faculty and staff had to know about my secret to keep it safe from the students. No one can find out about it or I would be taken back home.”

“But…” Lauren finally spoke up, relieved to see Alex composed. Her voice came out softly, “But now I know about it. Would they take you back now?”

How could this happen? Alex squeezed her eyes closed, forcing the bad thoughts and negativity away. She needed to focus. She couldn’t be distracted by her agony or things might become too late.

“My parents gave me permission to let one person slip as it troubled my mother that I didn’t have any friends” she sighed, opening her eyes.

To Lauren, her answer sounded like music, “So it’s okay?”

Alex slowly shook her head dejectedly, “No, not really. Logan already knows.”

Lauren fluttered her eyes at the new information, “Wait, what? He knows? Since when?”

“Since yesterday” Alex clicked her tongue, “These two weeks haven’t gone well for me.”

A day late! Lauren fumed in her mind. This was too much! She couldn’t even be friends with Alex? Where was the justice in that? Was that why Logan asked her to come to the library? To keep an eye on Alex? Was he worried that Jae would take her away from him?

Lauren licked her lips, crossing her arms, “How much does he know?”

“Hm?” Alex replied, lost in her own thoughts, “Oh, Logan doesn’t know much. He only knows my gender. I don’t even know if I can do this a second time.”

Somehow, hearing these words made Lauren’s heart flutter. Maybe the heavens were on her side after all—her crushed fantasies aside that is. She stared intensely at Alex, now noticing her feminine features. She sent a prayer as gratitude for this discovery before she could fall deeply for Alex.

“That folder is fishy though” Lauren thought out loud, “I didn’t even know I had it. I only borrowed the club portfolios from the staff. Could it have been one of them?”

“Possibly. I’m not sure” Alex scrunched her eyebrows. It couldn’t have been coincidence that Lauren ended up with the folder, “Where did you even get those portfolios?

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Lauren recalled the details of the incident, “I went to the staff room. They don’t simply handover the club portfolios since they were school property so I told them I was interested in joining a new club. Further explained that since I only transferred her over the summer, I hadn’t had the chance to explore and only stumbled upon the cheer team during the enrollment process and that a new club might broaden my horizons. Just a little white lie.”

Alex nodded, impressed by her strategy, “Then, they handed it to you? Do you remember which one gave you the folder?”

“Actually…” Lauren’s eyebrows mimicked Alex’, “No one did. They pointed me to a drawer and said it had all the club portfolios. I just took them all. Could it be your school records simply got mixed up?”

“One student record in more than a dozen portfolios, probability of it being an accident is low.”

“You’re right but how could they know someone would ask for the club portfolios?” Lauren bit her lip, replaying the scene in her mind. They let her passed by the front desk and checked the cabinets. All had been labelled properly so she didn’t have that much trouble finding what she came for.

How could Alex’ record be in such a place?

“Is there anyone you speculate as the culprit?” She asked Alex.

Alex took a deep breath and rubbed her temple, “Multiple but among the staff? Not really. Maybe the school has a new employee. I’d hate to think it was one of our family’s enemies found this place. I’m not that informed about my school records but it would make sense that the real documents are also present and not only fabricated ones.”

Lauren thought of the folder and its contents. It didn’t seem like an ordinary school record. The amount of information it held had so much detail that a normal person would have little to zero doubts about its authenticity. On the other hand, it had too much data on Alex… who could possibly have that much access?

She placed a hand on Alex’ shoulder. If she already worried about it that much, who knew how much Alex felt, “I wouldn’t have told anyone when I saw it.”

Alex smiled since they left the library, patting Lauren’s hand, “Thank you. I don’t think it would have been the same if it were someone else who found it. The timing is too perfect since the girl Jae is actually looking for is the person in that folder.”

“You? Wait…” A lightbulb flickered above Lauren’s head, “You’re the girl who ran into them and lost her phone?”

“Yes” Alex nodded.

“Woah, is that why you have a new phone?”

Alex sighed for the nth time, “That is the new phone.”

“What?”

“It’s a long story” Alex remembered the series of all cumulative events. It seemed with every chaos she fixed, two more would pop up, “Right now, I’m more worried about keeping my identity a secret. I came here to do just that. I can’t even begin to imagine what the disaster would have been if I hadn’t been there.”

Lauren let go of her shoulder, “Will you tell your parents about this?”

Her question was answered almost immediately, “Not yet. I don’t want to alarm them when nothing disastrous has happened yet. That means I need to keep Jae away from the truth, get my phone back and do some investigation.”

Lauren bit her lip, unsure about this plan. Wouldn’t it be better to get some help? Can’t they trust someone else at least?

“I’ll help you,” she told Alex, already making up her mind, “Even cover for you in case someone comes close to finding out. We’ll also find out whoever did this.”

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Alex felt a huge weight lift off her shoulders, as if more bearable now than before, “That really means a lot.”

Lauren’s eyes had a new set of determination. She geared up mentally like a man on a mission, “You’re not alone in this, alright? Things will be okay.”

Lauren may never know how much those words burned in Alex’ mind.

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