“Good morning, all! Let’s pull out our text and hop right into our discussion!”
Bellamy rubs his yawn away, and he hears Miller let out a groan next to him. At this point, it feels like every student in this 8 A.M. Friday lecture feels similarly.
Professor Pike bounces down the stairs with his briefcase, the fabric of his usual tacky button down that he wears to ‘relate’ to the college students flopping out of his slacks. Today, it was a black one with tiny flames all over it.
He feels a tug on his sweater. Miller leans over and whispers in his ear. “If only his shirt could actually burn this whole damn lecture hall down.” Bellamy tries to stifle a laugh by covering his mouth with his hand, but a muffled sound slips through his fingers. A few rows in front of them, some girls turn around to glare at them. He winks, and they roll their eyes.
“As you all know, today we are discussing Niccolo Machiavelli’s most famous philosophical work, The Prince! ” Professor Pike holds up the red book in reverence. “As a political theorist, Machiavelli brought forward a new approach to governing. In the present day, as we refer to something colloquially as ‘Machiavellian’, we typically associate it with schemes, manipulation, and a hyper-obsession with politics,” he taps his fingers on the book cover, as if in suspense. “We’ll find out what our class thinks about Machiavellian politics, today!”
Jesus. Is this what being a professor is like? Maybe he should reevaluate his interests in PhD programs.
“We’ll start with Chapter 16,” Professor Pike slips on his reading classes, leaning against the desk on the floor of the lecture hall. “Let’s see… Ms. Blake. Let’s start with you.”
Bellamy tenses. Octavia has a hard time with the material in this class. It just wasn’t really a helpful or easy class for a dance major. As they registered for classes last week, Bellamy figured he’d help her.
“Bell! What the hell am I going to do?”
He runs a hand through his hair, hovering over her shoulder. “How is it possible that not a single other gen-ed is open?”
“The registration time for freshmen is so late!” she whined, slamming her laptop shut with a huff. “I couldn’t even understand the books that we had to read in AP Lit! I can’t do political theory and philosophy! I’m not a goddamn nerd like you!”
He rolls his eyes. “Rude.” He moves around to sit on her bed. “O. It’ll be okay. I’ll just take the class with you.”
“But… didn’t you already take it?”
“Yeah, but the University doesn’t have any restrictions on re-taking a class. I just won’t get credit.” She starts biting her fingernails.
“But it would be a waste of a class if you don’t get any credit hours from it!"
“O,” he places a hand over hers. “I came in with plenty of AP’s. I’m only a junior. I’ll be fine.”
“I just don’t want to look like a stupid freshman,” she utters quietly. It's rare for his determined, confident, sprightly sister to feel anxious or insecure. A frown tugs at his lips.
“First of all, you are not stupid. Plus, I’ll be there. I’ll help with all the readings and assignments. I promise. Plus, didn’t it say it's taught by Pike? He’s not too bad.” He didn’t mention that Pike is a total idiot in lecture, but the hardest grader on papers.
“Okay,” she nodded hesitantly, before leaning forward to hug him. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, big brother.”
So, he stiffens a bit in his seat as he looks down a few rows to the left, where he sees the back of shiny, dark brown hair. He shouldn’t have let her sit alone, but she insisted that it would look weird and stupid if her older brother constantly went wherever she did.
He can hear the apprehension in her voice as she clears her throat. “Just from the top?”
“Nevertheless generosity exercised in a way that does not bring you the reputation for it, injures you. If one shows generosity honestly and as it should be shown, it may not become known, and you will not avoid the criticism of its opposite, meanness. Therefore, anyone wishing to maintain the reputation of being generous has to keep on being more and more generous.”
She stumbles a bit through the middle, but she reads it just fine. He’s worried about what’s next.
“So, Ms. Blake,” Professor Pike hops onto the table and angles his body towards hers, an open book in one hand. “What do you think of Machiavelli’s approach to generosity?”
He wishes that sibling thought transference was a thing. His eyes burn into the back of her head, hoping that the read through they did together last night was good enough.
“Well,” she looks down, fiddling with her pen. “I think generosity is important for a leader, you know? And… if you want your people to like you, and all, it's important to give back, right?”
He exhales. Well, it isn’t the most eloquent of answers, but its an answer.
“Interesting take,” Professor Pike nods. “It seems like you heavily disagree with Machiavelli then.” For all of Pike’s idiocy, one good thing is that he’s pretty understanding and receptive to students who aren’t exactly the best public speakers.
“Thoughts from the class?” he asks, sweeping his free hand over the hall.
A pale hand with soft pink nails shoots up in the air, a few rows down from him. Oh, Christ. He doesn’t know the chick’s name, mostly because he doesn’t pay much attention in the class, but he does know that he hears her voice way too often at 8 A.M.
“Yes, Ms. Griffin.”
“I understand her point of view, but I think Machiavelli’s logic when it comes to the limits of generosity is more sound. If a leader is constantly generous, and suddenly some extenuating factor causes them to stop being generous– like a drought, food scarcity, or poor economic circumstances– their people will be extremely angry and betrayed, anyways. So, actually, he says that the public will like him better if he doesn’t do that at all.” The back of her curly, blonde hair shifts as she speaks.
Maybe it's the fact he didn’t have coffee, or breakfast, or just his protective older brother thing kicking in, but Bellamy finds himself pissed off. There’s always one student in each lecture that likes the sound of their own voice more than the actual material.
He doesn’t even raise his hand or wait for Professor Pike to respond before he raises his voice. “Actually, her argument reflects what Machiavelli is arguing. That not being hated by the people is the most important thing when it comes to being a ruler.” He shifts forward in his seat.
Professor Pike raises an eyebrow. “Interesting point, Mr. Blake. Ms. Griffin?”
He sees her blink, despite his profile view. “I mean… Yeah. Did you hear what I said? I conceded to the point of people needing to like their leader. I just disagreed with her stream of logic. It's the lack of generosity that protects the general sentiment, not the presence of it.”
His eyebrows wrinkle, as the annoyance in his voice becomes a bit more evident. “So, you’re saying that a successful society is one where the leader is disliked?” Octavia seems to pick up on what he’s doing, and he can see her violently shaking her head in her peripherals.
Whatever. This girl needs to be put in her place.
“What? No.” The girl finally turns around. Despite her steely expression, her face has soft features. But her alert, blue eyes peer into his. “I’m saying that it's better to be regarded as a saver, or a ‘miser’, as Machiavelli says, than seeming like a betraying or overpromising ruler.”
“It’s all about money, isn’t it? Being heartless and indifferent to your peoples doesn't make a good leader.”
She narrows her eyes. “Sometimes rulers have to think with their heads. Not their hearts.”
“Some of the most successful leaders we know have made it a priority to be generous, rather than a ‘saver’,” he scoffs, using air quotes. She cocks an eyebrow, challenging him for examples.
“Warren Buffett donated over $40 billion to various charities. Jeff Bezos donated $10 billion to combat climate change. Alice Walton and the Walton Family Foundation invested $325 million into education reform.”
The girl just stares at him, half incredulously, half in amusement. “Warren Buffett once compared unsuccessful business deals to ugly women. Jeff’s money seems pretty sketchy considering Amazon’s carbon footprint is larger than that of Switzerland’s.”
A few laughs disguised by coughs echo in the lecture hall. Professor Pike just looks on, contemplative, and Bellamy continues to stare at the girl, somehow seeing the conviction spark in her eyes.
“The Waltons? Where are they from, again?” she taps her chin. “Oh. Walmart. Overseas child labor, underpays women, discriminates against disabled employees, poor healthcare incentives,” she ticks each on her finger. “Oh, and let's not forget the race and sex discrimination.”
“Holy shit,” he hears Miller whisper next to him. “This chick is insane.”
“Seems like these generous leaders you reference have been pretty successful, indeed. But, somehow, both my heart and my head are telling me that their generosity shouldn’t be used as examples.”
He is speechless. Dry mouth, and all. She doesn’t wait for a response, though, and just spins around in her seat. Murmurs and hums of agreement come from the rows around him.
“Interesting discussion, Mr. Blake and Ms. Griffin. And it relates to our final question: when we talk about what it means to be ‘Machiavellian’ today, is it consistent with the original text?”
He sinks back into the hard back of his seat. The discussion continues, but the blonde is quiet for the rest of class. And so is he.
When the class ends, he slings his messenger bag over his shoulder and shuffles out of his seat and up the stairs. As he exits the building into the crisp, D.C. air, Octavia and Miller catch up to him on the quad. He plops himself under a tree and leans against the trunk.
“Dude! She fucking railed you!” Miller laughs, and sits down next to him.
“She seems so cool,” Octavia says excitedly, plopping down on the grass. He furrows his eyebrows and turns his head to hers.
“What the hell, O? I was trying to defend you!”
“From what?” She looks amused, biting down on a slice of dried mango. “I have no idea what I’m talking about in that class. And I usually don’t learn anything, but apparently all of these leaders that you look up to really hate women. Damn. I learned something, at least.”
He groans. “I don’t look up to them! She was talking about money, so I brought up the richest leaders I could remember!”
“Yeah, but,” Miller steals a dried mango slice from Octavia, who turns to hide the bag away from him. “Did you even know about the stuff she was talking about?”
He doesn’t say anything. He just reaches forward and snatches the bag out of Octavia’s hand, stuffing a few slices into his mouth.
“Hey!” she huffs. “I have dance practice in an hour! I need sustenance!”
“Come on, O,” Miller stands up and brushes his hands on his pants. “I’ll swipe you into the dining hall. It seems like grumpy wants to be left alone.” She giggles and gathers her backpack before strutting across the grass with him.
Bellamy sighs, banging his head against the trunk. Would O hate him if he dropped this fucking class? He doesn’t know if he can make it a whole semester.
“You said all of that?” Raven laughs, almost choking on her granola bar.
Clarke shrugs. “He just seemed so… agro. It made me annoyed.” She clutches her biology textbook to her chest as the two walk out of their lab.
“Well, now he knows. Don’t come for Clarke Griffin.” Raven looks at her with a crooked smile.
“I felt kind of bad, though,” she admits, walking around a discarded bag of chips on the concrete path. “I think it was his sister. Their last names were the same.”
“So?” Raven shrugs and jogs a few feet away to chuck her granola bar in the trash. “It’s just a dumb political philosophy class. The big, bad older brother needs to calm down. It's not that deep.”
“Also–” she starts, opening the door for Clarke as they stroll into the library. “Why are you even taking a political philosophy class?”
Clarke sighs as they walk through the lobby and climb the stairs to the third floor. “My mother wants me to be 'well-rounded'.” She pushes the third floor door open with her shoulder, and their voices drop to a whisper.
“Really? This and debate club? She's such a bitch.” Raven lifts her head as they weave through the bookshelves, trying to find their table. “Good lord. Pre-med biology and psychiatry focus with a political science minor. What a mouthful.”
Her and Clarke see familiar waves and beeline to the table in the backmost corner near the large window.
“You got The Table!” Raven whispers excitedly.
“Hell yeah, we did!” Jasper whispers, a bit too loudly. Him and Monty look at each other and high five themselves.
The Table is widely desired at Arkadia U among students. It's secluded, in a tight corner, so you can be a bit louder. It's pushed up against a huge, circular window, overseeing the entire quad. It's even harder to get during springtime when the flowers bloom. But, for now, they see the reds and oranges of the redwoods lining the paths, and students huddled in sweaters, coats, and scarves as they hurry indoors.
It's also huge, twice the size of the typical tables at the library, so it's perfect for group projects. The librarians and student bookkeepers don’t come around as much, meaning that small bottles of alcohol are often brought during finals week.
“You guys have to hear what Clarke said in class,” Raven exclaims, dropping down her canvas bag and sliding into the seat next to Jasper. Clarke sets down her textbook and backpack before settling down next to Monty.
“It wasn’t that big of a deal. Raven is making something out of nothing,” she rolls her eyes, folding up her legs to sit criss-crossed on the chair. But Raven recalls the experience anyway, and Monty and Jasper high five her afterwards.
“That’s our Clarke. Slaying fuckboys on the daily,” Jasper mimics wielding a sword.
“He wasn’t a fuckboy, Jas,” Clarke insists.
"Was he wearing his Lightbournes varsity jacket?” He prompts. Clarke nods.
“Didn’t bother to pull anything out? No book, no pencils, nothing?” She nods.
“Sitting with his ‘bros’?” Monty adds. She nods.
“He’s a fuckboy,” Jasper sighs, sitting back in his seat.
“Okay, whatever,” Clarke waves them off. “I don’t even know his name.”
“We must find him!” Raven announces, holding up a finger in earnest before flipping open her laptop.
She reaches over and uses a hand to close the laptop. “How? Google ‘cocky dude with black curly hair in Professor Pike’s GOV-210 class?”
“Have you forgotten that I’m a computer science major?” Monty deadpans.
“Can we please just discuss something else? I have all semester to mess with him.”
The other three sigh, disappointed by the lack of conflict. But they all duck their heads down and finish their classwork for the week.
“Harper, I don’t know if I should do this,” she says with uncertainty.
Earlier in the day, Harper and Maya met the group at the library and they all went to the dining hall for dinner. The gang spent the entire dinner convincing Clarke to run for student government. After an hour of uncertain ‘ maybe not ’s and ‘ I don’t think so ’s, everyone had given up and returned to their dorm together. Or, so she thought. Harper and Maya ambushed her as they were about to walk off the quad.
The bright-eyed blonde pushes her forward towards the student government office. “Clarke. You’re a shoo-in for President! You have to!”
Maya nods. “Nobody else is more qualified. Extremely academic with a high GPA, tutor for pre-med students, Debate Club, President of the Art Club–”
“And an extremely sexy ballerina and singer,” Harper teases, poking her side. She swats her hand away.
“Don’t tell anybody about those! The gang and Wells are the only people who know.”
She’d been put in ballet lessons for her entire life, and she’d always loved singing. Especially with her dad. And both activities were good to put on a show for rich donors for the hospital. But her father died, and her desire to sing went with him.
Sometimes, her ballet shoes gave her the best kind of distraction. It’s ironic, as she’s quite clumsy in every other aspect of college life. She trips down the stairs, she fumbles with her textbooks, and she constantly spills her drink on the condiment bar in the campus coffee shop.
But not in the studio. There, she can slow down. Her delicate hands can pave the air; her white-pink pointe shoes gracing the wood floor, her back arching languidly in the mirror. Not an exam, or frantic pre-med student, or debate club meeting in sight. Just her, and the shadows of the ballet studio. Well, sometimes Harper and Maya, too, who help her sneak into the dance studios at night, insisting that she does small performances for them.
But her mother told her that she could only choose one art form to pursue in college, and just as a hobby, so she chose art. Tempting herself with ballet might risk her commitment to the pre-med track.
“Yeah, yeah,” The girls wrap their arms around her and tug her tight. “Good luck, C!” Maya exclaims while the two walk back to the dorms.
She takes a deep breath before turning to enter the office. I got this , she thinks. I’m a shoo-in .
Him and Murphy speed walk through campus, heads ducked into their thermals and arms tight across their chests.
“You swear? Hundred bucks?” Bellamy’s voice is muffled under his scarf.
“Yeah. Write in his name and get the fuck outta there,” he smirks evilly.
Him, Murphy, Emori, and Sterling ditched class and played Truth or Dare with tequila shots. And, naturally, Murphy dared him to write in Miller’s name for the Student Body President nomination. He isn’t sure how well it'll go, because he’ll either have to sneak into the office to type in his name, or distract the secretary, or something.
But a hundred bucks? Easy. Done.
They finally reach the large, stone pillars of the student center building, and Murphy pats his shoulder after they push the doors open. “I’ll wait here in the lobby. Remember. Student gov office, second floor.”
He nods and jogs up the marble stairs. Slowly ambling down the hallway, he spots the glass doors and tries to peek in. It seems like the office is empty, not including the student secretary with a blue cardigan. She seems young. It would be easy to convince her with a charming smile and a wink, or two.
He pushes open the glass doors and saunters in, hands in his pockets. “Hey,” he smiles at the girl. “I was wondering if I could see the nomination list for Student Body President.”
The girl blinks, flustered. “Uh– uh, yeah, you can just sit right there, and I’ll help you.” Pink tinges her cheeks as she hurries away to some backroom.
He smirks to himself. Too easy.
“Good tactic. But, you know, Machiavelli is against flattery. Too self-absorbed for him, you know?”
He closes his eyes in dread. He remembers that voice. Turning around, he sees the blonde from class sitting in a chair hidden from the doors. Shit.
“Of course. You’re here. The Princess to Machavelli’s Prince.”
She cocks an eyebrow, but a twinge of annoyance appears on her face. “Today’s class was informative, don’t you think?”
He rolls his eyes, leaning against the receptionist counter. “Sure.”
She ties her hair up in a ponytail, missing a few strands that hang down her face. “So, you’re running, too?”
His head snaps up and he laughs loudly. “No. Fuck no.”
She exhales in mock-relief. “Oh, good. It would be rough for Ark U to have a Student Body President with your belief set.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” His eyes narrow, and he straightens up.
“Oh, nothing.” She picks at a thread on her chair. “I wouldn’t want to be led by someone who idolizes people like Jeff Bezos, you know?”
“For fucks sake,” he mutters, rubbing a hand over his now-red face. He inches closer to her. “I don’t fucking idolize them. You brought up money. So, I brought up money. Makes sense that you did, too.”
He looks down at her outfit. A long, white sweater dress over black tights and those boot heels Octavia always wants. A spattering of rings on one hand. Nice watch on the other wrist.
“You really are a Princess, huh?”
She stands up and closes the distance between them. “You,” she looks him up and down. “Don’t know the first thing about me.”
“Well, I know that you care fuckall for generosity, right?” he spits back. “Seems like the student body might not like that.”
“Jesus,” she throws her hands up. “It’s a fucking book! From the mid 1400’s! Who cares?”
“You brought it up!”
“No, I brought up today’s leaders!”
“Um…” Their heads snap over. The mousy secretary comes back with two folders. “I have the forms for you to fill out.”
Oh, shit. This would be even easier than he thought. They both walk forward and grab the folders. She returns to her seat and starts scribbling furiously. He opens the folder and stares at the lines.
The black ink of the two words burn into his eyes. Nathan Miller. Nathan Miller. His pen hovers over the page. But, then, he looks to the Princess. She looks up, meeting his eyes in fiery determination. And, he looks back down. And he writes.