chapter 9 - plain out rude

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Who does Ace think he is that he can talk to people the way he does? It ticks me off that he looks down on me, and it's not just him, but the way he does it grinds my gears.

I push open my bedroom door and come to a stop at the side of my bed. I think about what he said, and my hand instinctively flies up to my mouth in realization that he may have overheard my conversation about him in the kitchen. I usually never talk about someone like that, but I just felt like letting everything out. It was only girl talk, not something I wanted him to hear.

With a heavy sigh, I toss my belongings onto my bed and notice that something is missing from my keys. I scan the room for the keychain that usually dangles from it, looking on top of the bed, down to the rug, and the bedroom door. Next, I retrace my steps down the stairs and outside to my car, but still no luck.

It's only a small trinket, but it holds sentimental value to me. It's one of my interests that I have that has become somewhat of a collection. If anyone knows me, I indulge in anything zombie-related, from devouring episodes of The Walking Dead to diving into the gruesome pages of Marvel Zombies or Zom 100. It's the complete opposite of my usual style and tastes, but there's something exhilarating about diving into a chaotic and lawless world. It's like a break from reality, where anything can happen and nothing is off-limits. Plus, who doesn't love seeing some good old-fashioned zombie mayhem?

Heading back upstairs to my room, I send a series of texts to Jade.

Me: Why didn't you tell me ACE is your brother?

Me: Do you think he heard me talking about him?

Me: Have you seen my keychain?

I lie on my stomach on my bed, propping my elbows up with my phone in my hands, and get a response from her shortly after.

Jade: I tried a few times but got interrupted every time it came up!

Jade: I think so, but not sure. He didn't say anything and no, I haven't.

It never even occurred to me to learn Jade's last name. Our friendship is still new, but it seems like a detail that naturally comes up in conversation. I know I've been busy drowning in my own problems, and it's not fair to her if I'm going to be her friend. Through all the chaos and struggles with Cassie, Jade has proven to be an amazing friend. I can only hope to be half as supportive and caring as she is.

Harlock Academy

My sociology teacher, Mr. Bjornsson, leans in. His kind eyes, usually crinkled at the corners with amusement, are now serious, a hint of pride flickering in their depths. "This paper is one of the most interesting ones I've read. You should seriously consider joining the Harlock Justice Club." He suggests. "It's a good way to gain first-hand experience in the courtroom. Plus, with your father being a lawyer, I bet you already have an edge."

I've heard about it—a student-run organization that attends real court hearings and observes legal proceedings, but most of the time they do mock trials in their club room. Courtrooms? Actual trials? It sounds thrilling to me, a chance to see the legal system in action, something my dad does every day.

But a part of me, an uncertain side, worries I might end up not liking it. However, the prospect of helping people, of advocating for those who can't advocate for themselves, resonates deeply with me. It's something I've always admired about my father, the way he can take a seemingly hopeless case and turn it into a victory. One time, I helped an elderly neighbor with their pro-bono case and the relief that washed over their face when they received a fair judgment made me happy.

Mr. Bjornsson hands me back my argumentative essay; the pages wrinkle slightly under my grip as I grab them. My eyes immediately drift to the top right corner, where I proudly see an A+ displayed in bold red ink. "Thank you. I'll think about it."

Academics have always come easily to me, ever since I was a kid. While my friends were out having fun, I spent some nights hunched over textbooks, but I secretly enjoyed the challenge and the satisfaction of preparing for a difficult test. Maybe this club could be another challenge to conquer, another way to use my brain for good.

"I'm one of the club advisors, along with Miss Costa and Mrs. Singh. If you have any questions about joining, please don't hesitate to reach out. Our first meeting will be sometime next week." Mr. Bjornsson informs me, and with an understanding nod, I leave his classroom to head to my next one.

Wandering down the hallway, I catch sight of a petite girl with glasses; her arms stretch high as she struggles to put up the lettering on the wall. Her fingers fumble with the hook, her feet shifting anxiously on the balls of her toes. With a small sigh of frustration, she attempts to raise the letter again, but her footing gives way, and the entire ladder begins to wobble precariously. Acting quickly, I rush over and firmly hold on to the ladder, stabilizing it before it can topple over. The girl looks at me with confusion, and relief etches into her features, grateful that she didn't end up falling to the ground.

"Need help?" I ask kindly.

"Why couldn't we just have a regular banner instead of this overly complicated crap?" She mutters. "I swear, they think I'm a glorified janitor instead of the student council president." The girl rants with annoyance, and I can't help but stifle a laugh considering that her tiny frame seems at odds with the fire in her voice. Her shoulders slouch in defeat, and she looks at me with apologetic eyes. "Sorry, I didn't mean to throw that on you."

"It's okay," I reassure her, setting my things off to the side and holding out my hand towards the wooden letter S as she steps down.

"Oh, thank you." She says gratefully, and her voice softens, the earlier frustration replaced by a hint of sheepishness as she hands me the letter.

I step up to the ladder and don't have to go all the way up as I hook the first letter. "I'm Elle, by the way."

"Nice to meet you, Elle. I'm Linh." She reaches into a box and hands me the next letter.

"You too." I grab the letter O from her. "So, what is this for?"

"It's just an announcement wall for the 'Soiree Under the Stars' party that's in a month. Just one of the fancy events here at Harlock." Linh tells me, and we continue to coordinate with each other as I hang the letters one by one.

When I'm at the last letter in the top row, I turn my head to see the one and only Ace Daniels walking down the hall. I pause, taking in the distant look in his eyes. It's like he's lost in thought or something.

Suddenly, a hulking figure wearing a red and white letterman jacket rounds the corner, carrying a large box, and bumps into Linh. Before she can react, her body hits the side of the ladder, and my heart jumps into my throat as I lose my balance. Time seems to slow down as I brace for impact on the hard floor.

With only a couple of feet before I hit the ground, strong arms wrap around me and break my fall. I find myself pressed against a broad chest, enveloped in a fresh, woodsy scent. As I look up into startling blue eyes, I feel dazed by how everything happened so fast, and for a split second, it feels like time has stopped. Ace's eyes fill with genuine concern as they meet mine, and I feel a rush of warmth as his grip on me tightens for just a moment longer than necessary.

"Ace!" a voice calls from further down the hall, and Ace drops me on the floor, the harsh reality of my situation returning with a sting on my backside. I gape up at him, snapping out of my thoughts of thinking he could be a decent human being.

"You're the last person I want to be seen with," he mutters, his eyes regaining their usual arrogant glint.

Just like that, he reminds me why I can't stand him. His words feel like a slap to my face—in fact, more than two. He's plain-out rude, and I feel as if he needs a serious attitude change.

As Cassie walks up behind him, Ace doesn't even bother waiting for her. He strides away quickly, completely disregarding her presence. She looks at me with a smug expression after hearing his words and quickly rushes to catch up to him, calling his name repeatedly. I get up from the floor and watch as he disappears down the hall, feeling anger bubbling up inside of me. And then it hits me.

Why should I let him continue to treat me this way? Is sweet revenge the answer?

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