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Mary-Kate at Midterm

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With the fall semester in full swing, most students at New York University are in the thick of their course loads, with barely enough time for a coffee break between cram sessions. Which is why, when famous freshman Mary-Kate Olsen left NYU Oct. 15 on a private jet bound for L.A., her sudden absence from school immediately raised eyebrows: Is she dropping out of NYU? More gravely, is she suffering a relapse of the eating disorder she publicly battled just three months ago? No and no, says her rep Michael Pagnotta, noting that the trip to L.A. was “personal business” and that her twin sister, Ashley, will be joining her in L.A. next week “to meet with business colleagues to discuss their company. They’re 18 now, so they’ve assumed full responsibility for their business affairs.” Mary-Kate, he adds, “will miss two [classes] at most. She’ll be back in New York in a few days.”

And yet it’s clear that Mary-Kate, much more than her fellow freshmen and more even than her twin, faces a unique set of pressures. “She’s not doing horribly, but it is an ongoing struggle,” Pagnotta says of Mary-Kate’s eating disorder recovery. A source says she has lost some weight—she currently weighs about 90 lbs.—but “there is no huge drop.” She’s continuing her aftercare treatment, with access to two teams of therapists, nutritionists and eating coaches in L.A. and New York. “These people are available to her on both coasts all the time—she didn’t need to go home because of that,” says Pagnotta, while acknowledging, “there’s a comfort level of going home for a few days. She can see people she hasn’t seen for a while.”

Other sources close to the Olsens say that Mary-Kate, who (like Ashley) is enrolled in NYU’s nontraditional Gallatin School of Individualized Study (see box), was simply taking advantage of a light week of classwork to make the trip back home. “She could miss school this week. That’s it. She’s not sick. She’s not doing drugs,” says one source. Adds a close friend of the Olsens’: “Nothing has made me see any of those things [signs of a relapse].” During her time in L.A., Mary-Kate relaxed at the Bel Air home she and Ashley bought this summer and frequented the local Starbucks. On Oct. 17 she got into a fender bender in Beverly Hills with her Range Rover (no one was injured), and a few days later she met with her therapists.

After all, it’s been just three months since Mary-Kate completed six weeks of in-patient treatment at Utah’s Cirque Lodge. Almost immediately after her discharge, she and Ashley began preparing for their joint move to New York City, where they took up residence in a rented Tribeca pad while their $7.3 million apartment nearby undergoes renovation.

Enrolled at the Gallatin School, the girls are required to take one seminar for freshmen, a writing workshop and two electives. Mary-Kate has seemed enthused about her course load. “I’ve seen her every day at class. I see her Mondays and Wednesdays—every day so far,” says a fellow Gallatin student.

But it’s the twins’ extracurricular activities that have drawn the most attention. Both girls have quickly become frequent fixtures on the Manhattan club circuit (see box), where they’re usually spotted dancing (’90s rock music is a favorite) and partying with a small posse. Lately that group has included club owner—and Ashley’s reported boyfriend—Scott Sartiano, 30, who runs Manhattan hot spot Butter, and one of his business partners, Ali Fatourechi, 26. On Sept. 29 the twins turned up at Lotus, where Ashley performed a sexy dance for Sartiano to Juvenile’s “Slow Motion” and Mary-Kate chain-smoked and drank an energy drink while cozying up to Fatourechi.

Meanwhile, Mary-Kate recently met up with her ex-boyfriend David Katzenberg (his dad is Dream Works studio cofounder Jeffrey Katzenberg), now a 21 year-old senior at Boston University, sparking talk that the pair had rekindled their romance. (Pagnotta says they’re just friends.) For the most part, though, she’s kept a lower profile in the past several weeks, skipping such usual daytime haunts as Grey Dog’s Coffee, a favorite West Village cafe, and the Magnolia Bakery, where she had been dropping by weekly (often with Ashley) for a cupcake and a nonfat latte. On Oct. 10 Ashley, who usually dines with her sister, showed up instead with three girlfriends at downtown eatery Da Silvano. Whenever Mary-Kate returns from her L.A. trip, one thing is certain: She continues to face a challenging road ahead. “There are some good weeks and bad weeks,” says Pagnotta, “and it will be that way for a while.”

Michelle Tauber and Tom Gliatto. Mark Dagostino, Elizabeth McNeil, Liza Hamm, Katy Hall, Courtney Hazlett and Rebecca Paley in New York and Todd Gold and Pamela Warrick in Los Angeles