16.

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I slam the brochure down in front of my father

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I slam the brochure down in front of my father. He raises an eyebrow but doesn't look up from his paper. I wait for him to finish his article before he neatly folds the newspaper and inspects what I put down.

'Hillview Hall,' he says, turning over the printout and setting down his coffee cup.

'It's meant to be one of the best all-girls' schools in the Nashville area. They have the highest SAT scores in the state, a brand new auditorium and a championship-winning gymnastics team.'

'I know. Your mother and I looked at it before we came out, but they didn't have any spaces then.' He gazes at me with sudden concern. 'Is this about last night?'

I shake my head.

'Liar.'

'Fine, that prompted me to do something about it,' I admit, 'but I've been researching for weeks. Ever since you told me I had to stay.'

This prompts another raised eyebrow but also a smile.

'Plan A failed, so I came up with a Plan B.'

'That's my girl,'

He motions for me to sit beside him, and I curl up on the padded bench on a cushion warmed by the morning sunshine. Outside, it's still green and leafy, but Autumn is creeping in, outlining leaves with the faintest ochre.

'Darling, if you are just trying to run away from - that boy,' he struggles over the final two words and my heart swells at his protectiveness. He holds up the brochure. 'There are cheaper ways to do it.'

'I'm not,' I assure him, leaning forward and taking a big sip of his coffee. 'Well, maybe a little, but mainly it's because I need to be there. It's the next best thing to MillFallows.' I choke on the memory. 'It's my next step to Oxford.'

He nods, but his eyes betray his concern. 'I know Oxford's the goal, and I love your focus, Mats, but I thought you were enjoying school now. You seem to have made some lovely friends, all very down to earth and... normal.'

I sigh. The ever not-so-subtle dig at Lissie's extravagant lifestyle and changeable moods. 'Cricket seems like a hoot,' he added. I smiled at that.

All three girls had appeared at my house after the Pep Rally. Elodie had been the first to arrive, holding my hand as I explained to my parents what had happened – leaving out the almost kiss with James. Anna-Beth had been next, bringing the first of many extravagant care packages. 'Only Miss Delilah's will do,' she had said, handing over a stack of pies to my mother. Last, but certainly not least, Cricket had turned up and almost banged down the door. They'd all stayed until midnight, when my mother had kicked them out with a kiss on each cheek and a promise that they would return soon.

'I have and I'm so glad I've met them,' I say. 'But I'll make new friends at Hillview. I've done it once. I'll do it again.'

He exhales and I prepare myself for the no.

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