Ace of Spades Sneak Peek(4)

Even though I know that isn’t true.

“Thanks,” I say, before stepping toward the keyboard I’ve dreamed of all summer. I don’t have a keyboard at home, because there’s no space and they are a lot more expensive than they look. I’m sure my ma would get me one if I asked, but she already does so much for me, and I feel like I burden her more than I should. Instead, when I’m not in school, I improvise; humming tunes, writing down notes, and listening to and watching whatever I can. I’m more into the composition and songwriting aspect of music anyway, but it still feels good to have an actual instrument in front of me again.

I plug the keyboard into the wall and it comes alive, the small square monitor in the corner flashing. I put my headphones on, running my fingers over the black-and-white plastic keys, pressing a few, letting a messy melody slip out, before I sit back, close my eyes, and picture the ocean. Bluish green with fish swimming and bright sea plants. I jump in, and I’m immersed in the water.

The familiar sense of peace rises inside, and my hands stretch toward the piano.

And then I play.




High school is like a kingdom, only instead of temperamental royals, golden thrones, and designer outfits flown in from Europe, the hallways are filled with loud postpubescent teens, the classrooms with rows of wooden desks and students dressed in ugly plaid skirts, navy-colored slacks, and stiff blue blazers.

In this kingdom, the queen doesn’t inherit the crown. To get to the top, she destroys whoever she needs to. Here, every moment is crucial; there are no do-overs. One mistake can have you sent to the bottom of the food chain with the girls who have imaginary boyfriends and wear polyester unironically. It sounds dramatic, but this is the way things are and the way they will always be.

The people at the top in high school get into the best colleges, get the best jobs, go on to run the country, and win Nobel Prizes. The rest end up with dead-end jobs, heart failure, and then have to start an affair with their assistant to create some excitement in their otherwise dull lives.

And it’s all because they weren’t willing to put in the work to make it in high school.

Maintaining popularity at a place like Niveus is not about how many friends you have. It’s about looking the part, having the best grades, and dating the right people. You have to make everyone wish they were you, wish they had your life. I know to an outsider, it seems horrible—making people self-conscious, feeding off their envy, destroying anyone who gets in your way—but I learned early on that it’s either kill or be killed. And if I had to stop and feel bad for every instance I’ve had to step on someone’s toes to keep the crown, I’d be very bored.

Besides, regardless of whether it’s me or someone else, there will always be a kingdom, a throne, and a queen.

I stare down at the badge with Senior Head Prefect, Chiamaka engraved into the shiny gold metal. It’s weird that after three years of fighting my way up to the top of the ladder, it can all be summarized by something so small and seemingly insignificant. I find myself smiling as I run my thumb over the cold surface. Even though it’s so minute in the grand scheme of things, it’s what I’ve wanted since I was a freshman, and now I have it.

“Your badge is really pretty, Chi. Congrats,” Ruby says as I walk out of Lion. She and Ava, the other girl I hang out with most of the time, are outside by the door, waiting. The hallway is still filled with students, talking and biding their time before the warning bell rings. The new headmaster kept me back a little longer than the other prefects, wanting to introduce himself properly.

I’m hoping I made a good first impression on him. That first image someone has of you is etched into their minds forever, but the new head didn’t seem that enthused by me. He just stared at me coldly, like I had insulted his tacky suit or told him his tie didn’t match his shoes. I did none of that, I was polite. And yet …

I slip the badge into my blazer pocket and wipe the smile off my face with a shrug, not wanting to seem too eager.

“Thanks.” I look down to Ruby’s badge—dark blue—pinned proudly to her chest. “You too.”

She gives me a toothy, empty smile, her green eyes wide as she says, “Thank you, Chi.”

I raise an eyebrow. Usually there’s more from Ruby, a subtle jab that seems harmless to most but that I know isn’t.

“I mean, it’s such a shame they don’t always give certain titles to the people who deserve them … But, you’ll look great in the prefect photograph at the end of the year, Chi.”

There it is.

I smile again as we walk through the hallway, heading toward my locker. “I know I will. I’m so glad you’ll finally be in the photograph with me. It only took, what—three years?”

Ruby’s teeth are still bared as she nods. “That’s right, three years.”

Ava clears her throat. “What did you guys think of the new headmaster?” she asks as we get to my locker, clearly wanting to defuse the tension and stop the weird power play Ruby has been trying with me since last year.

Some days it’s like Ruby is praying for my downfall; other days she seems satisfied with where she stands at school. Then again, that’s Ruby. The catty, spoiled daughter of a senator. Even though I’ve known her since middle school, we only started speaking in high school, when I became someone worth speaking to, I guess. Anyway, she’s always been a bitch, but maybe that’s why we gravitated toward each other. Girls like us, unafraid to speak our minds, tend to do well together.

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