PART TWO - Chapter 31

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ZACH

I crossed my fingers under the desk as I stared at the professor. Anything could happen at this point. I knew what was supposed to happen, but that was before we'd gotten our asses kicked in the mock trial. What if Dr. Buchanan just couldn't go through with choosing us? Part of me wouldn't blame her, even though my career path would probably hit a dead end if that happened.

"I know you're all on tenterhooks, so I won't draw this out," Dr. Buchanan said, looking around the classroom.

I sat up straighter, still holding my breath, and watched the professor glance down at her notes. Her loose blonde bun made her look friendlier than usual, and for a second I wondered if she'd done that on purpose, trying to be a little less intimidating on such an important day. It wasn't really helping me at the moment, but probably nothing would.

"You all did really well today. It was an unbelievably difficult decision, but I've decided to award the clinic spots to Zach and Kennedy."

All of the air rushed out of my mouth, and I caught my jaw before it could fall to my chest. It had worked. We'd done it. Well, Dr. Buchanan had done it. Either way, I could relax.

The air buzzed with voices, and I looked around me, startled to see mostly shocked glares. Oh, shit. People were mad; not just surprised, but full-on mad. I glanced at Kennedy, who was smiling like she hadn't noticed the angry villagers in the room. She raised her brows knowingly and reached over to squeeze my arm. "Congratulations, partner. We did it."

I nodded, but I couldn't say anything. I barely heard Dr. Buchanan telling everyone to settle down, barely heard whatever new topic she launched into for the second half of class. The low buzzing around me had turned into hissed whispers, and all I could do was stare at the clock.

Once I got out of this room, I knew I'd feel better. This was a good thing—this was the thing. I just had to survive the long walk to the door.

***

Finally, the minutes ticked down and class was dismissed. It seemed like Kennedy had finally taken notice of the mood in the room, because she stuck close to my side as we walked out of class. Halfway to the door, I started to hear the comments behind me.

"It should have been Jace and Mindy."

"Well, Kennedy's dad is a New York senator. I'll bet he had something to do with this."

I didn't turn around to look, and when Kennedy started to glance back, I nudged her. "Just keep walking."

We got out into the hallway, and all I wanted was to break into a run. Instead, I tried to follow my own advice and just kept walking.

"Hey, Zach," said a voice behind me.

I stiffened and took a deep breath. Being a jerk would only make things worse. "Yeah?" I said, taking a peek over my shoulder.

Shit. Jace was working hard to catch up. Knowing I'd probably want to punch him if the situation were reversed, I steeled myself as I stopped walking. He was at my side in seconds, and I winced when his arm moved my way.

"Congratulations," he said, and held out his hand. "You guys did a great job and you deserve the spots."

Like a chain reaction, shock moved from face to face, silencing the crowd around us. I wanted to feel relief, but instead, I swallowed a knot of guilt. "Thanks, Jace. You guys were awesome too. It was a tough competition." I shook his hand, and then Mindy's as he moved on to Kennedy.

"I echo that," Kennedy said. "You guys did such a fantastic job." She shook their hands, pageant smile back in place.

I didn't really breathe until they moved off, taking a lot of the crowd with them. "That was intense," I told Kennedy. "I'm happy it turned out to be us, but I do feel kind of guilty. Like I stole something, you know?"

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