chapter 17 - you guys broke the internet

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ELLE

My locker clangs to a close, the sound echoing down the near-empty hallway. The test I had in my last class today was brutal, but I'm positive I'd aced it (pun not intended). Everyone felt pressured when I got up to turn in my test in twenty minutes. Even the teacher did a double-take. I wonder if they even know I'm ranked second in the senior class. What I'm more curious about is: who is the student who keeps snagging the top spot? I'm not at all satisfied with being ranked second, but that's the competitive spirit in me talking. I'm so set on taking the number one spot that I stayed after school and just left the library studying for the hell of it.

Suddenly, a girl practically skips up to me with sunshine plastered on her face. Her smile isn't a bubbly cheer like Jade's, but more like she has a hidden incentive, and she's forcing it. Her rich, brown hair, the color of brown sugar, flows around her baby face, accenting her air of innocence. If I had to guess, she's probably a freshman, and compared to her tiny frame, I feel like a lumbering giant.

"Hey!" She chirps, "What's Ace's favorite dessert?" The girl's bright eyes hold an intensity that makes me blink. I stare at her, momentarily speechless, feeling like a fish watching someone try to ice skate on a frying pan. I want to just blurt it out and tell her to go ask him herself.

Then there it is. The girl's smile wavers, and a hint of annoyance flashes across her face. "Oh well," she huffs, the mask slipping further when I refuse to answer. "You won't be dating him much longer; I'll ask him when we're together." The last part she delivers with a triumphant smirk before leaving me cringing to myself. How are girls that obsessed with Ace? I guess enough that they'd bake him cookies.

There are perks to being Ace Daniels' girlfriend, and the biggest one is people being sickeningly nice or leaving me alone completely—surprisingly, that means Cassie too. I know it's all fake the way everyone pretends that they haven't done things like laugh or talk behind my back, but fake nice was infinitely better than open hostility. In this case, it's both.

I meet Jade down by the soccer stadium, where the boy's varsity soccer team practices—the thwacking sound of the ball and shouts and whistles mix. I spot her hunched in the middle section with her gaze drawn on whatever is in her lap. Her almost-black hair is pulled back in a messy bun, a few strands escaping to curl along her cheekbones. She must have gone home and changed before coming here, wearing an adorable bright yellow top and denim jeans.

I sit down next to her, stealing a peek at the sketch of a new top design that she's shading. "You're like some mad fashion design genius; where do you even get all these ideas?" I tease, tossing my bookbag onto the empty seat next to me. For a sketch, the top looks realistically soft and airy, and the front panels of the top mimic the delicate wings of a butterfly, revealing the midriff of the faceless croquis.

"Anything and everything. I saw a white butterfly on my way down here and started drawing," Jade shrugs.

"Ace! I'm open!" A voice shouts.

Our heads snap towards the well-kept and natural soccer field, where the star soccer team of Harlock scrambles around in a heated scrimmage. I see Ace streaking down the left wing, kicking the ball across the field, and a perfect pass landing just outside the penalty area to Justin. Ace nearly collides with the last defensive player as Justin volleys the ball a tad too high. Everyone watches as it goes over the crossbar, landing out of bounds. Collective sounds of dread break out, and Ace is on Justin's neck for missing, shouting about whether or not Justin wants to win the championships.

"Dude, calm down." Justin is equally annoyed. "Not all of us can bend it like Beckham!"

Ace calls for the end of practice. As he turns my way, he lifts his shirt to wipe the sweat from his face, revealing the defined lines of his abs. I'm suddenly hyper-aware of the way my eyes might be lingering a little too long, hoping the angels aren't taking note of my obvious ogling. When Ace's eyes meet mine, stupidly, I fling my head back like a startled horse and cringe at my not-so-subtle exaggeration of being caught. Jade giggles at my reaction but doesn't say anything.

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