Chapter Thirteen: Flashback
Finals Week

"Well, hello stranger."

Madeleine raised her gaze from her folder of scribbled literature notes, casting the speaker a frown.

"What do you want, Luca?" She asked wearily. "I'm trying to study. I've finals coming up in a week and I really need to focus on this if I'm going to have any hope of passing."

"You didn't come to our run through last night." Luca ignored the unwelcoming tone in his companion's voice, dropping down onto the grass beside her and leaning up against the broad trunk of the willow tree, glancing absently at the folder. "Is that your writing? I thought you were neater than that."

"No, it's Santi's." Madeleine's frown deepened, and she shut the folder with a snap. "Not that it's your business. And I'm sorry about last night, but I do have exams almost on me, you know. I want to pass."

"You're one of the smartest girls I know." Luca observed. "Why are you cribbing off Santi's notes?"

"Because I missed a class or two lately." Madeleine snapped. "What is this, the third degree? Why are you even here, anyway? You're not a student here any more. Are you hunting me down?"

"More or less." Luca nodded his head, unabashed by her tone. "I wanted to be sure you were all right."

He pursed his lips.

"I heard about Jared."

"Oh, did you?" Madeleine sent him a cold look. "And now you're here to tell me that you told me so? That you said he was a jerk and insincere and that he'd only break my heart? Spare me. Consider it said."

"Nothing like." Luca shook his head. "I never would do that, Mad. Actually..."

"Actually, I'm trying to study." Madeleine interrupted him, sending him a tired look. "And I'm already much too far behind because I let myself get distracted. Please, Luca, unless you've something productive to say to me, leave me alone? I need as much time as I can get."

Luca pursed his lips, eying her thoughtfully for a moment. Then he nodded.

"There's a rumour going around that the jerk knocked you up then fled campus." He said quietly. "And if it's true, I want to make sure you're not on your own."

Madeleine looked startled.

"Who in hell told you that?" She demanded.

"Assanti." Luca admitted. "I ran into her in town the other day - she told me that you'd pretty much turned into a hermit since the break up and that she was worried about you - that you'd been tired and snappish lately and had I noticed anything. Assanti being the girl she is, I guess she told me everything."

Madeleine sighed, closing her eyes briefly.

"I'll staple her jaw shut." She muttered. "What in hell did she think you could do about it?"

"Well, I don't know. But maybe she thought that, with us being friends, I might be someone else you could confide in." Luca suggested softly. Madeleine snorted.

"Yeah, that would be good." She acknowledged ruefully. "But you broke my heart, Luca. I'm not about to start telling you secrets about the guy who replaced you."

"Fair enough." Luca held up his hands. "But if you are in trouble, Mad, let me help. Clay and I both - we are your friends and we do want to support you if you need it."

Madeleine was silent for a moment. Then, at length, she shook her head.

"I'm not pregnant, Luca." She said quietly. "Yes, there was an...incident. Yes, for a while I thought I might be. But I got my period this morning. That's why I've been tired and snappish. A combination of overwork and hormones. Nothing else. I promise."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"And even if there had been, I wouldn't have asked you to help me fix it." She added. "I'm stronger than you think...and I would have stuck it through."

Luca eyed her keenly.

"I know how strong you are." He assured her. "But I can't pretend I'm not glad that that's the case. Contrary to our history together, I don't like seeing you hurt."

"The irony in that sentence is overwhelming." Madeleine observed dryly. She stretched, stifling a yawn. "I haven't slept a whole lot this week for headaches, in truth. I'm really worried about my exams. I lost a few lessons here and there and Santi's notes are fine but deciphering her writing isn't always easy and it's making my eyes go funny."

She bit her lip.

"Not that there's any pressure or anything, but I've put in to go to grad school. Late admission." She added, eying him doubtfully. "Harvard. To do politics."

Luca's eyes widened.

"You're serious?" He asked. "Wow...that is pressure." Then, as he registered the full implication of her words, he frowned.

"You want to leave Connecticut."

"It's not like Hartford is my hometown." Madeleine shrugged her shoulders. "I only ever came here for college, we both know that. In a few weeks, that'll be done with."

Luca's frown deepened.

"So you want to leave the band?"

"What band, Luca?" Madeleine sighed. "It's us messing around but it isn't like we even have a name or a set amount of dates with clubs or anything like that. I love singing - you know I do. I just don't know whether it really has potential for the future. If I could get into this course, Lord knows where I might end up - the opportunities are endless. But..."

"But you don't think that the band is going anywhere." Luca sighed. "I get it."

Madeleine shot him a sidelong glance, guilt touching her heart as she took in his expression. She pulled a face.

"Oh, I didn't mean it quite like that." She said. "But Harvard is never a chance you turn down, and the careers lady, she thought I had a real shot of getting in. The whole idea really excites me. I love the band - and hanging out with you and Clay - but that's all it seems to be. Hanging out."

Luca pursed his lips.

"And if it was to be more than that? What then?" He asked. Madeleine eyed him curiously.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, Clay's been working on scoring us some local club dates through a friend of his." Luca said simply. "And we also discussed the idea of diversifying. Stefana is dying to be a part of this and she's a damn good guitarist - we've never had anyone to play a lead part really and my bass limits Clay's writing. Plus her friend Marissa is really hot on the music front, too. She and Clay have been hanging out more and more and he says she's got the makings of a really pro writer...between them they could revolutionise the kind of music we put out. Plus she plays keys and plays them damn good. With your voice, we could even generate a following. We need you...badly."

He grimaced.

"Obviously a lot more than you need us."

Madeleine looked pained, running her fingers absently through the blades of grass and plucking a daisy, idly toying with it.

"Stefana?" She murmured. "And you think she's a team player?"

"I think you don't even know my sister, so don't judge her on hearsay." Luca scolded. "I was the one who broke your heart, Mad. Not Steffi."

"I wasn't thinking of that." Madeleine objected, but her expression belied her words. "I was thinking more of the fact that she's a felony waiting to happen. Or was it a different Stefana who wound up in the hospital last March because she got involved in a brawl and someone had a gun?"

"Stef was caught in the crossfire." Luca said crossly. "She was hurt and she could have been killed. Sure, she shoots her mouth off, but Mad, she's not a monster. And she plays damn well."

Madeleine sighed.

"Oh, I'm too tired to argue with you." She said sadly. "Right now, Harvard is a big leap and a jump considering how behind I am. I haven't decided what I'm doing after graduation yet. There's something else on my mind, Luca - something you don't know about."

"Which is?" Luca cast her a curious look.

"I had a phonecall this morning from my sister." Madeleine pursed her lips.

"Anne Marie?" Luca looked startled, then, "Oh! Are you an aunt again?"

" She's not due for another month." Madeleine shook her head. "No, it's something else. Mom had a phonecall last night from Tante Regine, in Los Angeles. Apparently she's had word from the military that her partner is missing in action - he's been missing for almost a month and they really fear the worst. They think they're looking for a body rather than a man, if that makes sense...he went out on manoeuvre in a dangerous zone with four other men and all of them have vanished. It's possible they've been taken hostage - but Tante Regine is in a state over it. She and Russell are very close, and she has noone else close at hand if the worst news comes in."

"Oh God." Luca looked dismayed. "And they've heard nothing?"

"Nothing good." Madeleine shook her head. "She's asked me if I would go to California as soon as my exams are up, give ma tante some moral support. She can't go herself, of course - the baby is too close  and Mom's not been so well herself lately. So I said I would. I haven't managed to get through to Tante Regine's phone yet, but I must, so I can book flights and everything else. Hopefully by the time I get there, there'll be some better news....but just in case there isn't, I need to be prepped to go."

"I see." Luca pursed his lips. "It's all really been dumped on you, hasn't it?"

"Nothing new about that in my family." Madeleine looked rueful. "I haven't seen Tante Regine in years and she may not even want company. But I figure the break may be good for me too. Give me some time out and perspective on what my choices are going to be. Of course, if Harvard calls..."

"You'll be there." Luca finished. "Yeah. I guess I can't hold that against you. But if they don't?"

"Are you wishing me bad luck, Luca?"

"No, of course not." Luca grimaced at her. "But if they don't?"

"If they don't, I'll think again." Madeleine sighed. "Right now I just want to get through my exams and get out of Connecticut for a few weeks, clear my head of everything that's happened lately!"

Prologue: Flashback: University of Connecticut, Winter 2009
Chapter One: Starcrossed
Chapter Two: Tante Regine
Chapter Three: Flashback: University of Connecticut: Winter 2011
Chapter Four: The Poem
Chapter Five: A Shock
Chapter Six: Nancy Confesses
Chapter Seven: Flashback: Break Up
Chapter Eight: Blackmail
Chapter Nine: Conflict
Chapter Ten: Flashback: Assanti Meddles
Chapter Eleven: Pay Off 
Chapter Twelve: Stefana Gambles
Chapter Thirteen: University of Connecticut: Finals Week
Chapter Fourteen: Cracks
Chapter Fifteen: A Tiny Piece Of Truth
Chapter Sixteen: Flashback: Forever Changed
Chapter Seventeen: Secrets Will Out

Chapter Eighteen: Fall Out

Chapter Nineteen: Flashback: A New Life

Chapter Twenty: Darren Admits

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