When Monday rolls back, the first move is drawn.
The cafeteria is buzzing with life. Scents of fried food and the chattering of college students fills my ears, most of them still waiting by the long line. The food here’s actually not that bad—I’m munching a tuna sandwich, but Chance is staring at his banana like he’s not sure if he wants to eat it.
That’s when Maxie comes running towards us.
“Whoa!” Chance chuckles. “Slow down, Blue Flash.”
“You won’t believe it, guys,” she breathes, flopping down on the seat so hard that it scrapes on the floor. “He—they—one of them is back.”
I straighten up. “Them?”
No one needs further explanation.
“Yeah,” Maxie shakes her head in disbelief, strands of blue hair flying around her face. “And the guy wasn’t even ashamed or anything. Sam heard from Phillip who heard from Hayley that someone suspicious came out of the head’s office, and there were multiple administrators there. It was like, super secretive, so some students eavesdropped. We got a name.”
She looks at Chance and I with wide eyes. “Elliot Duarte.”
Chance lets out a low whistle. “Duarte as in Duarte Industries, one of the biggest manufacturing companies in the entire country?”
Maxie nods enthusiastically.
I resist the urge to roll my eyes. My family eats companies like Duarte Industries for breakfast.
“They’re a big deal,” I add between bites so they won’t know how unconvincing I sound.
“Not that big, apparently. Elliot’s being pushed back a year.” Maxie’s eyebrows crease together. “He’ll be a freshman then.”
Just then, the man of the hour appears through the double doors of the cafeteria. The whole room goes quiet, like everyone’s holding their breath. Elliot swallows for a while, eyes flitting the crowd cautiously, before sauntering to an empty seat and slumping on it.
The students murmur again.
“I still don’t know why they let him in,” Maxie whispers under her breath. “I mean, the guy was expelled, wasn’t he?”
“You know what the rumours said.” Chance scoffs as he drops his untouched banana. “They were all a bunch of snobby rich kids. He probably used his parents’ money or something, used it to bribe some higher-ups.”
The tuna sandwich in my hand is suddenly cold.
Maxie frowns a little. “Not every rich kid is like that though.”
Chance notices that she’s referring to me, and cringes. “Shit. Of course I didn’t mean it like that, Lina, I’m sorry. Everyone knows you’re different.” Different. “But these folks got what they deserved, you know? They knew what they did was wrong, and they still did it anyway. Kind of stupid if you ask me.”
The sandwich I’m gripping is squished now.
“Complete idiots,” I smile tightly.
“Is something wrong?”
Maxie’s too observant for her own good.
“Why are we even talking about them, guys?” I sigh, feigning mere exasperation. “They’re not our business. What they do is their business.”
“You’re defending them now?” Chance lets out in disbelief.
“I’m just saying. Leave him be.”
Leave them all be.
But there’s one thing that doesn’t add up.
This whole time, Elliot doesn’t acknowledge me. Doesn’t throw a shady look my way. Which means he’s not trying to actively tell anyone that I was part of the clique. Why? Why hasn’t he outed me yet?
What’s he planning?
News of Elliot’s comeback is what fills Warwick’s halls for an entire day.
I can’t hear a single conversation without a mention of this little prick. I bet he’s enjoying the attention. I bet he knows that I’m listening to all of them, and all the while not being able to say anything about it.
But it’s not until I actually get completely psycho when I see a sight that looks like it has infested from the deepest parts of my nightmare.
Elliot Duarte is talking to Chance.
Holy fucking shit.
At that exact moment, both boys turn their heads toward me. I’m paralysed at this point. Should I run? Should I wave? Should I creepily stare at them with my eyes bogging out like I’m doing right now?
But they choose for me. Elliot and Chance do a fist-bump and go on their separate ways, with the latter walking to my direction.
“I can explain,” Chance smiles nervously, holding his hands out.
“I didn’t know you two were friends,” I cock my head, trying to look more curious than suspicious and ignoring my pounding heartbeat.
Why are you friends?
He shrugs, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Turns out he’s not so bad.”
“You literally talked shit about him this morning.”
“I did not talk shit,” Chance points an accusatory finger at me. “I was merely giving my opinion about the situation.” I give him a look like yeah, sure. “Oh, quit it. What about you, huh?”
I knew it.
Elliot confessed something to him. He must’ve. Whatever they discussed—my palms are now clammy with sweat, and the impulse to bite my nails pounds at my mind.