disclaimer in part 1

Examination
by Rebecca Carefoot
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Part 9



She got to her history final early and took a seat near the window. She tried to concentrate on remembering dates and names, and ignore the anxious anticipation twisting in her gut as she waited for Tristan to arrive. Her eyes darted to the door again and again. She wasn't sure what she was feeling. It was all too close, too scary, and too mixed. Did she *want* to see him? Or was she just worried about seeing him? It was too hard to sort it all out, and she needed to remember how the Austrian War of Succession had affected the economies of the European nations.

She grimaced at the two pencils lined up on her desk. She straightened one of them.

He was almost late, coming in a few seconds before the bell. His tie was slightly askew, and he looked tired. She wondered if he was having as much trouble sleeping as she'd had the night before. There were two empty seats in the room, one in the row next to her, and the other on the far side of the room. He took the one on the other side of the room. She wasn't sure why that bothered her.

She pushed it aside, and channeled all her energy into the test the teacher handed out. It didn't matter that they had studied this stuff together. She knew the information. She was going to use the information to answer the questions. And she was going to get an A. Damn it. Her brow wrinkled as she turned all of her attentions on the exam, tuning everything else out.

She hurried to her French exam without stopping by her locker. She didn't want to run into Tristan in the halls, and she knew she'd be safe in the classroom since he had a different teacher for French.

A part of her pointed out that she couldn't just keep avoiding him. She'd have to deal with it eventually. Unless she wanted to try to get through two more years of Chilton without ever talking to him again. She admitted unhappily to herself that she didn't want that to happen, and not just because it would be almost impossible to do in a school that small. The fact was, she liked being around him, and if she never talked to him again she'd be missing out.

Okay. She decided firmly that she would find him at lunch as soon as she was done with the French test. Confront the problem head on.

*
Lunchtime, and she was on the lookout. She'd already checked the lunchroom and the quad, and she was running out of ideas. She wanted things resolved before her next exam. She walked past his locker for the second time. This was getting pathetic. She decided with a grimace that she'd have to wait. Confront him another time. Preferably some time when she could actually figure out where he was hiding.

She headed for the library with her science book in hand. She pushed open the library's double doors and started for her regular table, then stopped as she noticed Tristan's blonde head out of the corner of her eye. He was sitting in the stacks, on the floor, his back against one of the shelves. She hesitated, suddenly unsure of herself. This was what she wanted, right? She squared her shoulders and took a deep breath, then entered his row.

She stood next to him, but he paid no attention, keeping his eyes on the book he'd propped on his bent knees. She knelt down. "Tristan," she whispered. "I need to talk to you." He continued to stare at the book, and for a moment she thought he was just going to keep ignoring her. Finally, he lifted his gaze.

"I'm trying to study," he said, his voice dismissive.

"But I wanted to-" Rory started.

"Whatever it is," Tristan said. "Save it. I don't want to hear it."

"Please," Rory started. "It's kind of important."

"Look, Mary," he said, emphasizing the taunting nickname. "I don't have anything to say to you. And I very much doubt you have anything interesting to say to me."

"What are you doing?" Rory asked, her eyebrows drawing together. "Why are you-" she started. "I thought we were friends."

"Then you were wrong. I'm not your friend. I don't want to talk to you. Period. End of sentence. End of conversation." He deliberately turned his eyes back to his book, his jaw clenched. Rory stared at him a moment in disbelief, then grabbed the book off his lap, her eyes glittering with anger.

"I know you're pissed off and upset about what happened this weekend," she hissed. "But you can't just blow me off."

"Wanna bet?" he said, with a smirk.

"Stop acting like a jerk," she demanded.

"Stop acting like a whiny prude," he countered.

"Don't pull this crap with me," she said, her voice rising slightly. "I am not falling for it."

"I'm not pulling anything," he said. He spread his hands, palms up, and cocked his head. "This is me," he said. "This is who I really am. It's not my problem if you don't like it."

"No," she spat. "It's not who you are. And I am not going to let you pretend." She shook her head emphatically, his book held tight to her chest.

"I've got news for you, Mary," he said snidely. "You don't get to *let* me do anything. So why don't you give me my book back and run along."

"I know I hurt you," she said. "And I'm sorry, but you-"

"You just don't get it," he said. "I got tired of waiting for you to give it up. This just isn't working for me anymore. I'm bored with this game."

"I know you were-" she started.

"You don't know me," he said. "Don't kid yourself."

"I do know you," she argued, her voice rising a fraction as the words tumbled out. "I know your arrogance and the taunting tone your voice can take. I know the kindness you're capable of. I know your smiles and your laughs. I know your hands and your lips and the set of your chin when you don't get what you want. Don't you dare tell me I don't know you, Tristan," she said, her cheeks red. She leaned closer to him. "And if you want to play games. And if you can't deal with opening yourself up to another person and maybe getting hurt. Well, don't cry to me, and don't take it out on me, because it is not my fault that you're afraid."

She shook her head, and shoved his book at him, hard. "You said I was afraid, and maybe you were right, but now you're the one who's a coward." She spun on her heel and ran out of the library, not noticing the curious glances from the people whose studies had been interrupted by the heated conversation.

She ran for the bathroom and locked herself in an empty stall. Her hands shook, and her breath came too fast. She pressed her hands to her cheeks, and forced her breathing to slow until she was no longer panting. She closed her eyes. She'd broken up with Dean. And now he was never going to talk to her again. And neither was Tristan. She'd burned all her bridges.

The bell jangled loudly. She unlocked the bathroom stall, and began a trek to her next exam. Somehow, she had to find a way to block him, them, everything out for two hours. She clenched her fist in her skirt, and kept her eyes on the floor. Just in case. She didn't want to see him, not now. Not ever, she thought. Then sighed. Confronting him was such a great plan, Rory, she thought sarcastically. Why don't you see if you can figure out a way to ruin the world economy next?

*

Tristan sat at a desk in the back of the room, staring blankly ahead. He didn't want to think about her. He didn't want to care about her. He wanted her out of his life, completely. It hurt too much to want her. He'd tried to scare her off, cut her off, so she'd never give him another chance. If he had no hope, sooner or later the feelings would have to die. But it was too late. She was already too close if she could see through him so easily, if she could see past the hard shell of contempt to the fear inside.

And what did it mean that she cared about him enough to try? To come to him, and to see what he really was, a scared, hurt little boy. He gritted his teeth. He hated being vulnerable, and he wasn't going to put himself in that position for anyone. Not even for her. She had her precious Dean, and he wasn't going to be her puppy dog, following her around, hoping for scraps of leftover affection.

He stared at the exam paper the teacher slid onto his desk. How dare she screw with him like this? Confuse him, upset him, right before a final? He needed to do well on these just as much as she did.

He read the first question, but nothing registered. He felt his face heating as he remembered her throwing his own words back into his face. She'd tried to prove she did know him, the same way he had. And despite everything it warmed him to think she cared, she knew, she saw. Him. Not his handsome face. Not his flippant words. Not his body. Not his money. Him. She knew him, and she'd called herself a friend. That meant something, didn't it? It had to, and he'd been too scared to let it.

What if he had driven her away, just like he'd wanted? What if he'd driven away the only person who'd bothered to see him, really see him, his whole life? What if this was one mistake he couldn't fix?

He pressed his pencil against his exam with clenched fingers, and the point snapped off. He looked down in surprise, reminded that time was ticking away. He couldn't let it, let her, get to him. It's too late, he thought. But he tried to concentrate anyway. He had one day left of school, one day to fix this, or drive her away forever. It was up to him to figure out which was the right choice. Too bad he couldn't even figure out how to conjugate this stupid verb.

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