Chelsea lay beside the pool, her head resting against Ryan’s stomach, trying to enjoy the last few days of September. It wasn’t really hot enough to swim, but it was warm enough to lie in the sun and try to wring just a tiny bit more color out of her very-almost-nearly-slightly tanned skin. With her pale complexion, even that had been a huge accomplishment. It came with more new freckles than she would have liked, but two steps forward and one step back was better than her usual shade of “fish-belly white,” as her mom called it.
Chelsea considered that an insult to fish.
Ryan was half-reclined in his deck chair, playing some fighting game on his Nintendo DS. Chelsea was used to watching Ryan and David play while she and Laurel “watched”–which mostly involved chatting and ignoring the boys. But today Laurel and Tamani had faerie business to attend to in Avalon, so it was David’s job to sit at home and wish he were with Laurel, and Chelsea’s job to keep Ryan out of the way.
It was a great job, and she was very good at it.
Not even the game’s machine guns sounding in her ear or the temptingly firm abs doubling as her pillow could distract Chelsea from thoughts of Avalon. Laurel and Tamani were surely there by now, walking among the fae in the legendary land of eternal springtime–a land Chelsea could only experience vicariously through Laurel.
She sighed, not realizing she had done so until Ryan glanced away from his game. “You okay?”
She startled. “What?”
“You sighed. Bored?”
She shook her head minutely, knowing he would feel the movement even if he didn’t see it. “No, just thinking about . . . school.”
The one drawback to being in on Laurel’s secret was that it meant a lot of lying, and lying wasn’t something that came naturally to Chelsea. She was getting better–practice makes perfect and all that. But she had to keep reminding herself that it was okay to lie, because this wasn’t a bad secret. Actually, it was a very good secret–but blabbing about it would probably bring on the fae-pocalypse.
And possibly the human-pocalypse as well.
Still, she wished she could shout it to the world. Surely there were more people than her who would like nothing more than to hear that faeries were real and, in some cases, walking among them!
Though not flying. Chelsea had been disappointed to find that out. After getting a good look at Laurel’s “wings” at the sophomore Halloween dance, Chelsea had been certain they were flightworthy. But, sadly, no–though they did smell really good.
“You work too hard.”
“At school. You work too hard.”
Oh yeah, she’d claimed she was sighing about school. This was why she was a rotten liar. She couldn’t even remember the lie she’d told ten seconds earlier! “I know,” she said. David told her all the time. But usually it was in an effort to get her to work less hard so he could catch up.
Or get more ahead.
Anyway. “Can’t help it,” Chelsea said, more to break the silence than anything. She wasn’t a fan of silence. It was always one step closer to awkward than idle chatter. And she was a good chatterer, if she did say so herself. It was one of her best features. “I have big plans. Big plans that involve good grades.”
“Yeah, Harvard,” Ryan said distractedly. “I don’t know, don’t you think your, like, eight-point-nine GPA and three million on the SAT are enough to get you in?”
Chelsea paused. “You know, Harvard has one of the best med schools in the country. Premed too, I bet.” Chelsea would never say it out loud, but she couldn’t really see Ryan as a doctor. Not that he wasn’t smart enough or wouldn’t have a great bedside manner or anything . . . he just didn’t seem the type. But Ryan was determined to be an MD just like his dad. He never questioned Chelsea’s dream, so she wasn’t going to question his. Seemed fair.
Was there an edge to his voice, or was he just into his game? Sometimes it was hard to tell. Ryan didn’t say what was on his mind the way Chelsea did. She had to deduce his meaning from tones and body language and subtle word choices. So inconvenient, Chelsea thought. People should just talk. “Maybe you won’t want to go to UCLA when you graduate.”
He glanced down at her, then back up at his game. “Maybe. But Dad’s a UC man, and you know how much he wants me to go there. And when he’s writing the checks, well . . . Harvard is expensive.”
She had nothing to say to that. If anyone knew how much Harvard cost, it was Chelsea. She had spent the last four years watching tuition rise slowly but steadily. And unlike Ryan, she didn’t have a rich dad to cover it. A scholarship was the only way she was getting to Cambridge, MA. Her mom and dad could praise her work ethic all they wanted–she wasn’t busting her butt in school out of personal pride.
Well, maybe a little. But that was more about her eternal goal to do better than David. Until he’d moved to Crescent City, she’d always been number one.
“Maybe you could get a scholarship,” she said halfheartedly.
Ryan raised an eyebrow at her tone. He was smart and his grades were good. Maybe even good enough to get into Harvard. But he wasn’t scholarship material and they both knew it.
Chelsea felt butterflies in her stomach, then chided herself for feeling nervous about talking to her own boyfriend. “You know,” she blurted, “just because you apply somewhere doesn’t mean you have to go.”
“I know that,” he said, not looking away from his game.
“So . . . I think we should apply to both schools.”
“Come on, senior year just started; I’m not even thinking about applications till Christmas. No exceptions.” He kissed the tip of his finger and pressed it into the middle of her forehead, making a smile curl across her face. “Not even for you.”
Chelsea’s applications–all two of them, his school and hers–were already filled out, in the envelopes, with appropriate postage affixed. She was just waiting for her most recent set of scores to arrive before sending them in. She’d retaken the SAT over the summer just to see if she could do any better. It was worth a try. She wished for the millionth time that Harvard still did early admissions.
And yet . . . the comforting rhythm of Ryan’s breathing, the warm California sunshine on a sleepy Saturday afternoon . . . it was enough to make Chelsea question her plans, and not for the first time. Would it be so bad to go to UCLA instead of Harvard? If she could get a scholarship at Harvard, she could get one at UCLA, too.
Or maybe she could go to Stanford. It was closer to home, and she was pretty sure she could qualify for free tuition there. San Francisco was a lot closer to LA than Massachusetts, after all. And she would probably have other friends in the Bay Area, too. Laurel sometimes talked about UC Berkeley.
Chelsea hated that her dreams were threatening to come between her and Ryan. Why couldn’t their goal schools be closer? They didn’t necessarily have to go to the same college–but she wanted to be able to see him every day.
Maybe twice a day.
And once in the evening.
That wasn’t too much to ask, was it?
She just thought it would be good for them to apply to both colleges, just in case. In case they changed their minds about school.
Or worse, changed their minds about each other.
The thought made Chelsea want to grab Ryan’s hands and pull his arms around her. But she didn’t want to break the casual mood they’d been enjoying for the last hour.
That, and Ryan’s mom kept checking on them through the kitchen window.
“So,” Chelsea said hesitantly, “you did have your test scores sent to Harvard just in case, right?”
“Sure,” Ryan said, his eyes on his game.
“And Princeton?” she asked, knowing that was the last place he would ever consider going.
“‘Course,” he said, his eyebrows furrowing in concentration.
“And SOCC?” Chelsea asked, suspecting he wasn’t actually listening anymore.
“Yeah,” Ryan said.
“And Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts?”
Chelsea rolled her eyes and turned away from Ryan’s face, enjoying the feel of his sun-warmed skin on her cheek. There would be another day to pick this particular battle. For now, she was content to scope out the scenery.