“I think you misinterpreted the dare, dude.”
Bellamy sighs. He had since returned from the student center and trudged through the fucking freezing air to their frat house.
And now, after he updated everyone on what actually happened, Murphy is laying under the window, throwing another Sour Patch Kid into the air, mouth open wide. The yellow candy bounces off his nose and onto the carpet. He frowns. “Boo.”
Bellamy sinks lower into the couch. He tosses a football up and down. “I didn’t mean for it to go down that way. She just...provokes me.”
“Provokes?” Murphy perks up, a smirk on his face.
Bellamy scrunches his face. “Ew. Not like that.”
“But is she hot?”
He tries to throw the football at Murphy, but it accidentally hits Emori, who’s splayed across Murphy's lap. “Shit. Sorry, Emori.”
She just rolls her eyes. “You owe me a new iPad and my graphic design project if you broke it.”
A Sour Patch Kid hits his face. “Dude. Don’t throw footballs at my girlfriend.”
He glares at him. “It wasn’t exactly on purpose.”
“So. What’s this chick's name?”
“What chick?” Miller enters the living room in gray sweatpants, shirtless and slightly wet post-shower. “Oh, hey, Emori.”
She doesn’t even flinch, just waving up at him. The poor girl really needs some girlfriends.
“This chick that made Blake fuck up the dare.”
Miller rolls his eyes and sits on the other end of the couch, flinging his feet on the glass coffee table. He shakes his head, and water droplets drip onto Bellamy’s sweater. The annoyance in him intensifies.
“Dude. Can you at least dry yourself after taking a shower?” He kicks his thigh with his foot.
Miller ignores him. “Fuck you for that, Murphy. How would I even get out of that if he’d written down my name?”
“Well, we’ll never find out because this chick aroused a politician in our resident Grandpa.”
Miller frowns before realization dawns on his face. “The Princess!”
“Princess?” Emori’s head snaps up, amused curiosity on her face.
“Yes!” Miller flicks more water at Bellamy before getting up and opening the fridge. “This girl in our political science class obliterated him this morning. We were talking about The Prince, so we’ve affectionately titled her 'Princess.'”
Murphy cackles. “I wish I was there to see that.”
Emori smiles slyly. “Me too. What’s her name? I could use some friends that aren’t football players or stoner frat brothers.” She pauses. “No offense, boys.” She throws the football back to Bellamy.
Murphy feigns hurt and Miller still grins from the story.
“Trust me. You won’t want to be her friend,” Bellamy grips the football in his hands. “I also have no idea what her name is.”
“What the hell?”
“I don’t know, Emori might vibe with her,” Miller hops on the kitchen table with his drink. “She’s a lot like you. Fierce and slightly intimidating.” She smiles, clearly pleased by his characterization of her.
“Whatever. Regardless, it's done. And I expect all of your votes so the Princess doesn’t become the President, too.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Murphy rolls his eyes and throws another Sour Patch Kid at him. Bellamy catches it, glares at him, and crumples it in his hand.
“What are you going to base your platform on?”
“I don’t fucking know. I just want to beat her.”
“Hm.” Emori’s fingernails tap against her iPad. “I’ll help with your campaign.”
His eyebrows raise and he sits up to face her. “Really?”
She shrugs. “Why not? It’ll be good for my Communications degree.”
“Great,” Murphy groans, standing up to get a beer from the kitchen. “Now Bill Clinton has recruited my girlfriend.”
Miller snickers, and they all turn to look at him.
“Dude. Are you drinking chocolate milk?” Murphy asks.
Miller holds the brown bottle against his chest. “It’s delicious. And calcium-rich.”
She huffs against her peacoat, tugging her knit hat over her hair. Her fingers fumble in the pockets, pulling out her phone.
A handsome, clean face spreads across her screen. “Clarke? What’s up?” It seems like he’s laying on the flannel, plaid comforter of his dorm bed. The view of his kind eyes placates her, a bit.
“Wells! You will not believe what just happened!”
Her hands flail around as she recounts the story of the past thirty minutes. She almost trips on a tree branch in front of the sciences building. A few lingering students give her odd looks as her shrill voice echoes in the chilly air.
He runs a hand through his dark, trimmed hair. “Damn. That guy sounds like a dickhead.”
“He is!” She's so restless that she doesn’t realize she’s ended up in front of the performing arts building.
“Where are you?” He tries to survey her surroundings. The traffic light next to her blinks as she crosses the street to the sweeping, geometrical glass building. Dim light peeks through the floor-to-ceiling windows, and she sees a few students hunched over books in the rotunda.
She pauses. “At Wallace.”
He frowns. “It’s a bit late to be walking around alone. Why are you going to Wallace?”
She doesn’t respond. Instead, she looks up and crosses the street.
Realization seems to dawn on him as he releases a sigh. “Do you even have your dance stuff with you?”
“No.” She climbs the stairs and pulls open the towering glass doors. “I might just sit in a studio for awhile. It clears my head.”
“Alright.” He looks away, probably at the clock next to his bed. “Hey, it's late. I have an 8 A.M., but text me when you get home?”
She nods. “Okay. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
The screen goes dark, and small tendrils of sadness swirl in her head. Wells graduated last year. Now, he's at Ark U’s graduate school, so it was getting increasingly harder to see her best friend.
In fact, he’s one of the main reasons she eventually caved to apply for student government earlier that day. Wells was President two years in a row. He was loved by everyone. But he also grew up in politics, his father now in his second term as D.C.’s senator.
It's not that she doesn't want to be a leader. It might just be hard to balance the campaigning with junior year. She’s taking the MCAT in a few months, which means med school applications come shortly after.
And now, she’s worried that a large part of her desire to win the presidency just has to do with the defeat of a certain arrogant, curly-haired frat boy.
She shakes the thought away and climbs the spiraling stairs. Making her way down the glass hall, she reaches Studio D.
Maya is a RA, so they could usually get away with getting a swipe card to unlock most of the studios, but she’s learned that the lock on Studio D is constantly broken, if you shake the handle just right.
Her hand grips the curved, metal door handle, and she shifts it just slightly to the right. She hears a click, and sighs in relief.
The dance studios at Ark U are underrated. Not many people were dance majors, so it's assumed that the resources that are dedicated to Wallace are pretty low. Turns out, Cage Wallace is a pretty rich dude.
She breathes in the wood smell, mixed with the faint scent of the cleaning supplies that they use on the floor. The sensor lights flicker on as she walks in, but she retreats to turn them off.
The mirrors that span the two walls of the studio seem to sparkle, even in the dark. She dumps her bag and tugs off her shoes and tights next to the door.
She sits down in the middle of the room, watching as the shadows dance across the mirrors and over the walls. As she lays down, her fingers stretch and splay as far as they can. Her knees stay bent, sliding down slightly. And then, without any music, she starts to move.
Her back arches as she slides her hands up, curling her hips in the air before her legs twirl over in her. She spins with willowy limbs, strands of gold whirling around her. Her body wraps around itself, and translucent shadows flicker on the walls around her.
It's safe, quiet. Like that split second where you’ve just been pulled into an embrace, like the soft crinkles of leaves when the wind sweeps them up.
“You’re amazing.” A voice bounces around the studio and she falls out of her turn, breathless.
“Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you!” Clarke turns around to see a shadow emerge from the doorway.
The girl is completely beguiling in her beauty. Her features are sharp, defined. But the expression on her face is soft, with a youthful smile.
And she’s familiar.
“That’s okay,” Clarke smiles, slowly walking over. “I know you, I think.”
The girl looks fearless, excited, and shy, all at the same time. “I think we’re in GOV-210 together? With Pike?”
Clarke’s eyes light up. “Yes! You started off the discussion today! I didn’t see you, but I know your voice sounded familiar.”
She looks down and shifts her duffel bag on her shoulder uncomfortably. “Yeah, I sound like such an idiot in that class. I don’t know what’s going on, most of the time.”
Clarke feels guilt ripple through her chest. “Hey, I’m sorry if I came off as rude, or over-aggressive. Sometimes, I just get carried away in class.”
“Oh, no, that's okay! I learned so much from you, and all that stuff about those shitty men.”
She laughs. “They are pretty shitty. And, honestly, I wasn’t trying to come for you, at all. It was mostly that self-important guy who sat behind me.” She rolls her eyes and scoops up her bag.
The girl still stands in the doorway, a small smile on her face.
“Where are you going? Want to walk out with me?”
She smiles and nods. “I’d like that.”
They walk down the hallway in silence for a few seconds.
“So, who’s your Ballet 1 Professor? I have Hudson. She’s cool as hell.” The girl exclaims quickly. It's like sparks exude from her when she speaks, moves.
“Oh, I’m not– I’m not a dance major.”
The girl stops in the rotunda, and gapes at her. “But, you’re amazing! Why were you in the studio? What’s your actual major?”
Clarke hesitates as she tugs on her coat. “Pre-med.”
The girl makes a face, and Clarke laughs.
“It’s okay. I make that face at my fellow pre-med majors, too.”
They both bundle up and step outside “Where’s your dorm?”
“Sanctum Hall,” the girl responds, pulling on her knit gloves.
“Oh! That’s where I live, too."
She spins to her, excitedly. “Oh, thank god. I’m a freshman, and my brother requested for me to live in an upperclassman dorm to be closer to his house. But no one wants to be friends with a freshman.”
Clarke wrinkles her nose. “That’s stupid. What floor are you on?”
“Three. You should come down sometime, all my friends and I have a suite together.”
They reach their building and swipe inside. “That would literally be so amazing. Thank you!”
They linger in the lobby, and the girl moves forward, but hesitates. Clarke smiles and pulls her into a hug.
“Wait,” she pulls back. “I just realized. I don’t know your name. I’m Clarke.”
“Octavia. Blake, as you know, from class.” A small smile tugs at her lips.
Clarke furrows her eyebrows, the name spinning around her head. She places a hand over her mouth. “Oh my god. Your brother is the–”
Octavia giggles. “Yeah, he’s the.”
“Holy, I am so sorry! I didn’t mean to call him self-important! Or go off on him today!”
Octavia laughs, her head thrown back. “It’s seriously okay. He deserved it, anyway.”
Clarke presses the button for the elevator. “He kinda did.”
The elevator stops at floor three, and Clarke gathers herself to hop off. “Hey,” she quickly pulls out a pen and scribbles on Octavia's arm. “Here's my number. My friends and I have game nights every Saturday. Come tomorrow. Around seven?”
She beams. “I’ll be there.”
“You can’t be friends with her.”
Octavia huffs, flopping on his couch. “She’s really nice once you meet her, Bell! She's intellectual and a pretty ballerina,” she says, sneakily.
“I have Gina, O.”
“Yeah, but no one likes Gina!” She throws The Prince across the room.
“Do you want help with this book or not?”
She sits up. “Well, now that you ask. No. Taking a bite of her apple, she pulls her choreography notebook out.
He frowns, swinging his feet off the couch. She looks at him, and shrugs.
“Clarke said she’ll help me.”
He groans, aggressively setting the book down next to him. “Are you serious? How do you even know? Didn’t you meet her just last night?”
“She gave me her number.”
“Of course she did.”
He angrily snatches her phone from the table.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m telling her to fuck off. And then I’m blocking her.”
“Bell! What the hell?” She scrambles up to him and reaches for her phone. He tries to push her away with his elbow, but she pounces on him, and they grapple for it at the same time.
“Jesus. What now?” Miller and Murphy slam the door shut.
“Bellamy’s scaring away my friends again!” She pouts and points at him, accusatory.
“She’s making friends with the enemy!”
“What are you? Twelve?” Miller walks over and grabs the phone from him. He hands it to Octavia and she smiles gratefully. “Thank you, Nate!”
“You guys are supposed to take my side, not my sister’s.”
Murphy shrugs. “We like her better.”
Before he can retort, Octavia starts laughing on the couch. Miller and Murphy look at her curiously.
She just keeps laughing, and turns her phone forward. Miller crosses the room and takes the phone, looking at it. He starts laughing loudly, too.
“What the fuck is wrong with you two?” he growls, stomping over to seize Octavia’s phone.
Can’t wait to see you tomorrow!
me neither!! should i bring anything?
Leave me alone. I’m blocking this number.
Hey, fellow candidate. Ready for debate one?
He scowls and throws the phone back on the couch.
“I don’t know, dude.” Murphy looks at the text exchange. “She seems pretty nice to your sister.”
“Yeah, well my sister doesn’t have great judgement calls,” he rolls his eyes and lays down on the couch.
“You’re a dick. I’m leaving.” Octavia gathers her things and throws her apple core at him.
“Why do people keep throwing things at me?” he yells.
“‘Cause you’re a dick.” Murphy shrugs.
“Promise to be nice, okay?”
Clarke starts to stack the board games under the large glass table in the living room. Monty and Jasper lounge on the gray couch behind the table, and Harper and Maya sit on the one perpendicular, watching something on Maya’s phone and giggling.
“We will. Scouts honor,” Jasper salutes.
“I don’t know. She’s the sister of the Fuckboy.” Raven walks from the kitchen with a stack of red cups and a bottle of rum. She sets them down and spreads herself on their fur chair.
“She’s cool. I promise. Nothing like him. Is Zeke coming?” Raven nods, so she goes back to their room to grab some floor pillows.
She knows that Octavia might be intimidated by walking into a room of random people she hasn’t met yet, so she tries to make their suite homey. She flips on the string lights, diagonally hung across the ceiling, and plays soft music from Maya’s speaker.
“Jeez, you must want to make a good first expression.” Wells walks in, holding a bag of chocolate-covered pretzels.
She cheers, and tackles him in a hug. “My favorite!” She snatches the bag and runs to the kitchen to dump them in a bowl.
“Wells! My man!” Jasper exclaims. Everyone gets up to hug him. “It’s been too long.”
It really had been. The grad school has a completely different campus, and he interned on the Hill during summer, so they hadn’t seen him in about a month.
Shaw walks in a few minutes after, with a bottle of lemonade, but everyone is too caught up with Wells. “Damn. Must feel nice to be loved,” he mutters playfully, and Raven flounces up to kiss him on the cheek.
Once they all settle in, Wells speaks up, taking a sip of his beer. “I thought this girl was the sister of that asshole from your political science class.”
“That’s what I said!” Raven points to Wells.
She sighs and puts her cup down. “She seems so nice. And she said nobody in this building would be friends with a freshman.”
“Woah!” Harper chokes on her drink. “She’s a freshman? What is she doing in upperclassmen dorms?”
“Take a guess.”
“Damn. So he’s a helicopter big brother,” Monty nods.
“That’s also what I said!” Raven practically jumps out of her seat.
Shaw pulls her hips down. “Calm down. We all know that you’re always right,” he kisses the top of her head. Raven hums happily.
A knock on their door silences them all. She looks at them. “Be nice.”
She crosses the room, and opens the door.
“Clarke!” Octavia grins and hugs her.
She laughs and pulls back, grabbing her hands. “I’m so happy you came! Everyone is excited to meet you.”
She rolls her eyes and pulls her shoes off. “Yeah, I’m sure they’re ready to meet the sister of the asshole from your GOV-210 class.”
“I like her!” A yell drifts behind her. Raven.
Clarke is ready to walk her to the living room, but she flounces forward eagerly.
“Hi! I’m Octavia Blake.” She sits down on one of the floor pillows. The group stares at her, shocked. Clarke follows, an amused look on her face.
An unfortunately familiar voice echoes behind them.
Octavia sighs and moves back to the door. “Bell, I’m fine. You said you’d walk me here. Go away.”
She turns around to see the tall, curly-haired figure, leaning against their door. Sure enough, in his purple letterman and jeans. Her mouth instinctively pulls into a scowl.
“Good to see you too, Princess,” he snaps, looking over her shoulder at the group surrounding the table
“Princess?” Another voice rings out from the living room.
“O! They have alcohol!” He tries to move forward, but Octavia places a hand on his chest.
“Shut up. I literally sit with you and your frat bros while you drink and smoke.”
“Bye, Bell!” She pushes him out and closes the door. Cheers sound behind them.
“I really like her!”
After short introductions, the usual fight breaks out.
“Monopoly!” Maya yells.
“No! Risk!” Monty exclaims.
“Risk is for nerds!” Monty glares at Raven.
“We never play Scrabble!” Clarke whines.
“Yeah, because Scrabble is also for nerds!”
“And Catan is for nerdy politicians!” Wells scowls.
After thirty minutes of bickering, they finally let Octavia pull a paper from a hat with all the games in them.
She waves it in the air dramatically. “Jenga!” Cheers reverberate around the room.
“Okay,” Jasper starts, pulling the box from under the table and slamming it down. “Our version of Jenga is…” he smiles evilly. “Special.”
“Don’t scare the poor girl.”
“Sounds fun!” Octavia squeals, at the same time.
Jasper grins and dumps out the multicolored, Sharpie-covered blocks. “Okay, so, all of our Jenga blocks have various things written on them. For example,” he picks up a bright pink and yellow one and clears his throat dramatically. “Call Finn and curse him out!” He pauses. “Okay, wait. That one actually only works for Clarke and Raven.”
Confusion spreads across Octavia’s face. Clarke rolls her eyes and leans down to her on the pillow next to her. “Long story. Will tell you later.”
“Another one!” He pulls out a piece that’s colored dark red with thick black lettering. “Tell someone in this room the worst thing about them!”
Octavia snorts. “This sounds amazing.” She reaches for the rum, but Clarke swats her hand away. Octavia pouts.
“As much as I hate your brother, I don’t want him to murder me in my sleep for condoning underage drinking.”
Raven scoffs. “You could take him.”
“I agree,” Octavia nods eagerly.
Jenga, as always, is extremely entertaining. Jasper opens the window and belts the entirety of “Let it Go” from Frozen to the students walking under them. Raven and Harper share a short, chaste kiss, much to everyone’s disappointment. Maya has to show everyone what is in her purse, which turns out to be pretty entertaining, as she pulls out the second book in the Magic Treehouse series.
“It’s extremely engaging!”
Wells admits that the worst thing about Clarke is her Type-A personality, which she concedes to. Shaw has to describe the weirdest place he and Raven have hooked up, which leads them all to vow that they’re never going into Room 405 of the sciences building ever, ever again. Luckily, Clarke gets the ‘draw the person to your right’ block, which makes everyone groan.
“That one was specifically designed to be anyone but Clarke!”
But she takes a napkin from the table and hastily sketches Octavia in around five minutes. They all roll their eyes when she takes the napkin with wide eyes.
“You’re such a good artist, Clarke!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Raven waves her away. “Your turn, new blood.”
Clarke scrunches her nose. “Can we please not call her that?”
Octavia shrugs, reaching forward to slowly pull out a block. “Fine with me.”
“Take a selfie with someone in the group and post it to Instagram,” she reads aloud. She frowns. “This one seems pretty tame.”
“Yeah,” Jasper sighs. “That’s when we let Harper write on the blocks.”
“Hm…” Octavia scans the room and points to Jasper. “You. Come here. You seem fun.”
They huddle together, and Jasper makes the ugliest face known to man. When Octavia looks at it, she pouts. “I don’t want to post this to Insta!”
“Too bad. No take backs,” Harper quips.
Octavia groans. “Fine!”
Eventually, the game dwindles down and they order a pizza. It's usually the time of the night when Jasper and Monty get high and everyone else gets sleep delirious.
Octavia and Clarke have taken their spots on the couch, and the two were now on the floor, staring at the ceiling.
Jasper gasps. “So… if two vegans are arguing… is it still called ‘beef’?”
“What happens if we get scared half to death two times?” Monty mutters.
Jasper turns on his side, his eyes watery. “It was good knowing you, man.” Monty just pats him on his shoulder.
Octavia, whose head is now in Clarke’s lap, can’t stop laughing at the exchange.
“So, do you like everyone?”
“Are you kidding?” Octavia sits up straight. “This is the most fun I’ve had in ages!”
Raven, whose head is dangled off Shaw’s legs, tries to nod. “I like her. I approve. I vote she stays.”
“Me too!” Harper adds. Maya nods with a muffled agreement through her slice of pizza.
“You seem cool, Blake.” Wells nods next to them.
“Well,” Clarke squeezes her hand. “Looks like you’re stuck with us.”
Octavia’s smile is blinding, and she pulls Clarke into a hug.
The pleasant moment is interrupted by violent knocking on the door. They all look at each other, perplexed.
She rises from the couch and moves to open it. As soon as the door swings open, a dark blur pushes past her, and she stumbles against the wall. Everyone snaps up at the noise.
“O. Time to go.”
“Bell! Let go of me!”
She runs back to the living room and sees Octavia struggling out of Bellamy’s grip.
“Hey,” Clarke moves closer to them. “What’s the issue?”
“Stay out of it, Princess,” he snaps.
An angry look spreads on Wells’ face, and he stands up. “I think it's time for you to leave, man.”
“Good idea.” Bellamy starts dragging Octavia out by the arm.
“Octavia!” Clarke follows and yells at her retreating figure.
The girl sends her an apologetic look before the door slams behind them.
Silence engulfs the room.
“Damn,” Shaw mutters. “That guy is even more a dick than I thought.”
He pulls her up the two flights of stairs to the fifth floor.
“Stop! What is wrong with you?” Octavia squirms against him.
He marches her down the hallway to her room, swiping it open using the spare keycard he got by threatening the kid at the front desk. He pushes her inside the room.
“What is this?” he yells, flipping his phone around to show her the Instagram post she made an hour ago.
She laughs dryly. “Is that what this is about?”
“I’m not letting you hook up with this boy you’ve known for a day! And you’re eighteen, O! You could be suspended for underage drinking!”
“That ‘boy’,”she points to the picture. “Has a girlfriend. The cup in my hand? Lemonade. Smell my breath. Get a fucking breathalyzer, for all I care.”
He narrows his eyes and leans forward. She huffs in his face. She’s right. Lemon.
“Clarke wouldn’t let me drink,” she snaps, flopping down on her bed, staring at the ceiling. “Thanks a lot. You've managed to undo every friendship I've made so far in college."
He blinks, surprised. Then guilt fills his chest. “Shit. O, I’m so– I’m sorry. I just–”
She turns away from him. “I know. Got worried. Next time you get worried, can you be a normal person and text me instead of storming across campus and pulling me out of room kicking and screaming?”
He sits on her bed. “That was really fucked up of me. I’m sorry. I promise I’ll try to be better in the future, I’m just not used to you being so…independent.”
“Can you just go, please?”
“Just go, Bellamy.”
He sighs and mutters a goodnight before turning off the lights and slipping out.
As soon as he turns the corner to the staircase, he bumps into something. “Shit.” He hears a squeak. “My bad–”
He looks down and sees piercing, blue eyes, covered by a few strands of blonde hair.
She looks at him with an unreadable expression, before brushing past him. He turns, watching her stride to Octavia’s room, and slide something under the door– white, square. A piece of paper? A napkin?
She walks back, head down, and pushes the door open before disappearing down the stairs.
Next Monday morning, he’s antsy in his seat.
Professor Pike keeps talking about the due date of their first paper, what philosophers and themes he expects, whatever. But he can’t stop staring at the dark curtain of hair a few rows in front of him. Seated next to a blonde ponytail.
“Dude, what’s wrong with you?” Miller whispers, poking his arm with a pen. He flips him off.
Pike finally dismisses them and he hurries out of the lecture hall. Her and Octavia’s heads are retreating into the crowd.
He weaves through people to catch up to them, finding them standing on the marble steps in front of the building. Octavia is gesturing eagerly, and Clarke is laughing at what she's saying.
Another sting of guilt. He hasn’t seen Octavia smile like that in so long. He bounds down the steps, hearing Miller call his name in the distance.
Clarke catches his eye first, and she quietly says something to Octavia. Her head snaps to his and her eyes darken. She gives her a hug and jogs away.
Clarke looks at him for a moment, contemplative. Then, she turns away and skips down the rest of the stairs.
“Wait!” he yells, but the blonde ponytail bounces across the quad. “Princess!”
Her shoulders tense, but she turns around. Her water bottle dangles from the fingers of her right hand, and a sketchbook is clutched in the other. Her eyebrows are raised.
He tramples the grass and stops in front of her, a bit breathless. She just stares at him.
“Uh,” he ruffles his hair. “I wanted to say thanks.” Her expression is unmoving. “Thanks for making Octavia feel included on Saturday.”
“She's still included,” she shrugs.
“Right. Anyways, I was a total asshole. For storming in like that.”
“Yeah. You were.”
Miller snickers behind him. Of course, this is the time when he catches up.
“Hey, Blake.” He claps him on the shoulder. “Hey,” he nods to Clarke.
“Clarke,” she smiles, extending a hand.
What the hell?
“Nathan Miller. Just call me Miller.”
She nods. Turning back to him, she raises an eyebrow. “You were saying?”
“Sorry. You and your friends make her happy. She isn’t usually like that.” He worries that he’s overshared, but she just nods, listening. “And, yeah.” He shifts uncomfortably.
“No problem. We all really like her, and we’re going to keep inviting her to hang out with us. So, you’ll probably see me around. And, I’m sorry about antagonizing you, and being so rude.” He blinks, surprised at her directness. “Can we just… be cool? Except for the Presidential race, of course.”
He nods. “We’re cool.” He holds out a hand, and she shakes it.
“I love a good truce,” Miller slings an arm around him. “So, Prin– Clarke. We’re having a party this Friday at the Alpha Rho Kappa house.” Bellamy shoots him a murderous look. “You should come.”
“I’m usually not one for frat parties. But thanks for the invitation.”
“No worries,” Miller nods. “Think about it.”
She hums and looks at her watch. “I have class. I’ll see you at the debate on Wednesday.”
She turns on her heel, and her ponytail flicks him in the face. Miller coughs a laugh.
“I like her.”
“Of course you do.”
Wednesday night, she shuffles through her notecards and adjusts her blazer, waiting in the wings of the auditorium stage.
“You look fine,” Raven quips, tucking the last strand of Clarke’s hair into a braid. “You’re going to do great.”
“What if they think I’m stupid?” she spins around to face her. “He’s more… I don’t know. Fun, likable frat guy. I’m just a stuffy pre-med major who wears blazers to an undergraduate presidential debate.” She looks down and tugs at the edge of the fabric.
“Stop that.” Raven swats her hand away. “I made sure it was sexy business chic. Don’t ruin it.”
She had practiced with Raven all afternoon after their lab. They went back to the suite and she picked out the ‘perfect’ outfit.
“Professional, but hot.” She insisted, and pulled out a flowy skirt and a pale pink blazer. “Perfect.”
“Okay. Just introduce myself, be cool.”
“Just let them get a small taste of who you are. Don’t be overbearing.”
“Don't be overbearing. I care about equal academic opportunities for everyone. Supporting our underserved and underfunded majors, especially cultural studies. Hiring more professors of colors. Reassigning funds across the university. Be practical.”
“Practical and personable.”
She hears the representatives from student government start to welcome the students to the first presidential debate of the fall semester. Peering out into the audience, she sees Octavia, Monty, Harper, Jasper, Maya, and Shaw sitting in the front row.
Oh god. She covers her stomach.
“Clarke, what the hell?” Raven steadies her. “You do debate competitions all the time!”
“Yeah, but that… that’s formulaic. I know exactly what to say, how to say it. How am I supposed to appeal to a student body made of twenty thousand people, all with different demands and interests?”
Raven places her palms on her cheeks. “You are Clarke Griffin. Remember what Jasper said? You slay fuckboys for a living.”
Clarke breathes out a laugh, and the announcers begin to introduce Bellamy.
“...first candidate is Bellamy Blake. Double majoring in Education and History, minoring in Philosophy, our favorite wide receiver for Ark U’s Lightbournes, and brother of Alpha Rho Kappa. Welcome him to the stage!”
As applause fills the auditorium, Raven and Clarke look at each other incredulously. “Since when did he do so many things?”
“Deep breaths,” Raven turns her and rubs her shoulders. “You got this.”
“Our second candidate is Clarke Griffin, a pre-med major with concentrations in Biology and Psychiatry. She’s President of the Art Club, a tutor in our Math Lab, and she's responsible for the only two debate team awards Ark U has won at Nationals, two years in a row!”
Well, at least the listing of her own accomplishments makes her feel better.
“ ...let’s welcome Clarke to the stage! ”
Raven squeezes her shoulders and she walks forward. A long table covered with a blue and gold tablecloth spans across the front of the stage. There are three chairs, each with a microphone propped on the table above them.
She recognizes the student in the middle chair– Myles, the media coordinator for student government. On his left, is Bellamy. Fuck.
He didn’t have to do much to look presentable. His hair is tousled neatly, and he wears a sweater over a white dress shirt. Meanwhile, it took two hours for her to get ready with Raven. Ugh.
She waves, and sits down to his right. She can hear Jasper and Monty to her left.
“That’s our baby girl!”
“Welcome, you two! You both know how things will go. We’re going to have three rounds of debate, followed by audience questions. Ready to get started?”
Her and Bellamy nod.
“Then, without any more delay, let’s begin Ark U’s Fall 2020 first Presidential Debate!”
Cheers erupt from the crowd and she takes the opportunity to scan the crowd.
She swallows. It seems like the five hundred seat auditorium is completely full, and that doesn’t count those watching from the stream. Wells. Wells is watching.
“You got this,” he reassured her this morning, on FaceTime. “I’ll be cheering from my laptop screen.”
“Let’s start with question one: what is your campaign focus, and what sets it apart? Bellamy, we’ll start with you.”
He clears his throat and smiles at the crowd. “Thanks for the introduction, Myles. I feel like hot shit, to be honest.”
She’s alarmed at his cursing, but the crowd eats it up, laughing loudly. Fuck. Fuck.
“My main goal is to be the man of the people. Well, I already am, I like to think. I’m a proud Lightbourne, both on the field, in Alpha Rho Kappa, and in my classes. I know what it's like to work your ass off on your own.” He pauses, as if he’s considering whether or not to say the next thing.
“A few guys on the team and in ARK know that I’m at Ark U fully on financial aid. And I’m grateful that the University gave me this opportunity. I tutor and TA so I can support my family. Which is one person. My sister, Octavia.”
She narrows her eyes. Using Octavia as a pathos appeal is smart. But low.
“Our parents haven’t ever been in the picture. We didn’t grow up with much, and I could never have imagined that we would both be enrolled in a prestigious university at our ages. We both worked really hard to be where we are, and,” his eyes flicker to her.
“We didn’t have any help, or privilege on the side.”
Impressed hums and murmurs arise from the auditorium.
She frowns. If he wants to play dirty, so will she.
“For that reason, my campaign is rooted in promoting economic equality and social equity at Ark U, for all students.” She can hear a few ‘hell yeah’s from the crowd.
“Part of this would include lower priced textbooks for low income students, reduced price dining plans and a free food pantry, and more support for students of single parent households.” The cheers grow louder.
Her eyes widen. When the hell did he come up with all of this?
“And, as I mentioned previously, I am constantly thankful that the University gave me the opportunity to be here on their dollar. But, I know that we have the freedom as students to challenge the University to do better by the student body. And our needs should be prioritized. Whatever the hell we want.”
Raucous applause and cheers arise. Students begin to chant ‘Whatever the hell we want!’ in earnest.
Oh, shit. She’s so fucked.
He grins at the crowd, relieved that they responded well. Him and Emori spent all of last night brainstorming the best way to gain the support of the student body.
She insisted that using the personal anecdote would be an appeal to empathy. He wasn’t sure how O would react, but it worked, and surely, she would support him.
Occasionally, he glanced over at Clarke to see her reactions, and he had to suppress the constant satisfaction that arose in him as he saw her startled and surprised expressions.
Plus, it's time for someone to call students like her out. It's unfair that her hundred-dollar watch costs the same as a textbook that a low income student can’t afford.
“Wow,” Myles speaks into the mic. “Looks like the student body approves of your campaign so far, Bellamy.”
He smiles and leans down into the mic. “Well, they’re who I’m advocating for.” He hears Murphy and Miller whistle and laughs.
“Alright, Clarke. We’ll turn it over to you.”
She smiles at him and turns towards the audience. “It’ll be hard to follow that, but I’ll do my best.”
She crosses one leg over the other, and his eyes drop to her skirt, draped over her calf. He sees a swirl of dark ink behind one of her boots, and he tries to hide his shock. Princess has a tattoo. He mentally reminds himself to figure out what it is, later.
“In my campaign, I hope to uplift the underserved and unheard populations at Ark U. If I have the opportunity to represent the student body, it's important to use my platform to elevate voices, instead of talking over them.”
He hears hums of approval from the crowd.
“Just like Bellamy, my family inspires a lot of who I am. We grew up in D.C., my mother, father and I. My father was my best friend, and my hero.”
Shit. He winces at her use of past tense. He looks over at her face, her soft features growing a bit pained.
“He always instilled a sense of urgency, or a need for justice in me. He always told me how important it is to help people. Lend them a hand when no one would. And he brought me to every single protest on the National Mall.”
She smiles fondly. “The protests against the war. The March for Women’s Lives. The People’s Climate March. He took me to them all,” she admits. Sadness begins to color her tone. “Unfortunately, he sacrificed himself at one of these marches.” She pauses, clearly choked up.
His breath catches in his throat. He tries to relax his stare, but it's hard for him to tear his eyes away.
“We love you, Clarke!” He eventually does when he hears a girl’s voice in the audience. Assent and agreements echo her cheers.
“We love you!”
The personal anecdote appeal backfired. But he couldn't bring himself to care much about that. He stares intently at her, hoping it didn't come off as too intense to the audience.
“Ever since then, I try to honor his memory by doing the work he wanted to do. And I could continue this work as Student Body President. I do have many privileges,” she looks at him, and he holds a breath.
Her usual composed, keen expression is replaced by a softer one, vulnerability and fear peeking through her features.
“Bellamy is correct about that. Which is why I feel I need to give voice to the unheard. This would start with equal academic opportunities for everyone– currently, underserved majors like cultural studies and non-Western languages have little to no funding. This makes it hard for the departments to provide adequate resources for students. Additionally, I would put pressure on the University to hire more professors of color, and to reassign funds across departments, as too much of it goes to the social sciences.
“I understand if you disagree with my politics or my desire to protest. But, just know– even if you disagree, I am in your corner, ready to promote your own voice, if you’ll let me.” She pulls back from the mic.
Damn. Even the idiot frat boys might resonate with that one. Still, he is impressed by the spark of strength in her words that reinvigorates her.
Shouts and claps echo around the auditorium. He can’t tell if the applause is louder or softer than what he received.
“That’s my girl!”
He winces. That was definitely Octavia’s voice, and he wonders if she cheered for him when he was speaking.
“Thank you for that candid answer, Clarke. We’ll move on to questions two and three.”
The debate continues for another hour. But the intensity and vulnerability of their opening statements dissipates. And the tension and anger rises.
“How will we get the funds for that?”
“I could ask the same.”
“Doesn’t the football team take millions of dollars in funding?”
“Sometimes we’ll need the University’s support, and ‘whatever the hell we want’ won’t always work.”
“Coming from the candidate who prides her campaign on protest.”
“Doesn’t the University spend more money on hiring cleaners for frat row than low-income students?”
They both cut each other deep, the veiled insults and passive-aggressive answers flinging back and forth like metal shavings.
Finally, the timer rings, and he relaxes into his seat in relief. He swears she does the same.
The past hour was worse than all of her debate team fumbles combined.
Bellamy poked holes in all of her arguments and revealed the hypocrisy in her logic. She wants to think that her retorts landed, exposing that the groups he’s apart of profit off of low-income students.
This is all to say, she feels that they’re pretty even now.
“That was an exciting hour of cross-questioning from both of our candidates. Now, we’ll move on to audience questions.”
She takes a deep breath. It seems that there are some people who unabashedly support him, and she hopes that they won’t be among those who question her.
“We’ll take the question in the fourth row, left middle.”
A girl stands up, the notecard in her hand shaking.
“This question is for Bellamy,” the meek girl says. “You say that you’re a man of the people. But will you support the women who are assaulted by your fellow brothers in ARK?”
Bellamy looks taken aback. “Of– of course. Any brothers who engage in or support that kind of behavior has no place in ARK. That’s not what we stand for.”
“But,” the girl looks down at the notecard. “The President of your National chapter has three assault allegations against him.”
He swallows. She can tell that he's nervous. “I can’t speak for him, but if I’m President, I promise to work to disaffiliate ourselves from the national chapter and it's representatives.”
The girl nods and sits down.
“A question in the back, looks like row twenty, middle seat.” A girl stands up with the mic.
“This question is for Clarke.” She nods, steeling herself.
“How can you advocate for cultural studies and non-Western language students when you aren’t either of those things, and will never experience the things that students in those two disciplines go through?”
She closes her eyes. She was expecting this question. “You’re right. I will never know or understand what it's like to be one of those students. And I will never claim to understand, or to speak for any of them. I just hope to widen my platform to create space for those students, so they can speak for themselves.”
The girl nods, and clearly has something else to say, but Myles cuts her off. “We’re running low on time, so we’ll have to take the last question. Front row, middle.”
A boy wearing the letters of Bellamy’s fraternity strands up.
He takes the microphone, but doesn’t use it. It just hangs by his side.
“This question is for her,” he points at Clarke, and she bristles. “How can you even talk about your family? You clearly come from money! You’ll never know what it's like to be a low-income student. Shelling out 60k of tuition a year? Talking about funding– how about your family donates to the University themselves?” he yells up at her.
She sees Octavia sitting next to him, looking at her, afraid.
But more frat brothers start to grumble loudly, echoing the first one's assertion. She thinks she sees Bellamy try to say something, but Myles beats him.
“Quiet, please. Let the candidate answer your question,” Myles snaps.
“I’m actually here on scholarship, too.”
She sees his eyes widen in confusion in her peripherals.
“You’re not wrong. I’m very lucky to have grown up in an upper class household. But,” she looks away. “After my father died, things were a bit different. My mother and I didn't speak to each other for awhile, so I was on my own in high school. Hung around my friends’ places. I missed her, and I called her before I came to Ark U. The only way she'll talk to me is if I keep my major pre-med. Otherwise, she’ll, uh,” her voice falters.
“She said she’ll give away my dad’s stuff, and sell all of his things. Get a lawyer to change his will.”
The audience is quiet. “I know I’m very lucky to have what I have. I just wanted to cl– clarify,” she stumbles over her words, her eyes growing a bit wet, knowing that she just aired her family’s dirty laundry to most of the student body.
“That’s all of our time for our first debate,” Myles cuts the silence. “The last debate will be in a few weeks, where our candidates will give their closing statements before voting happens. In the meantime, look forward to the two fundraisers the candidates will have to raise money for their campaign! Thank you all for coming.”
The lights come up, and students start to shuffle out, quiet whispers with opinions or gossip following them. She waits until it's appropriate to leave, and tries hard to not run off the stage.
By the time she gets to the wings, tears stinging her eyes, Raven is already there. And she collapses into her arms with thick sobs.
“Come with me.”
“Come with me!”
“Please, Clarke!” Octavia whines.
She shakes a hand through her hair, sitting on her bed with her sketchbook. Octavia is in her closet, tugging out clothes and throwing them on the floor.
Harper lays upside down on her bed with a magazine, amused. “A party might cheer you up, Clarke! It’ll be fun!” she adds.
Her head snaps over. “Don’t be a traitor, Harp.”
The debate was two days ago, and she was pretty raw for the rest of Wednesday night. Raven, Harper, Maya, and Octavia held her on the floor of their suite as she sobbed. About her dad, about her mother, about the debate, about the mean frat boys.
She insisted that Octavia leave, because she didn’t want to make her feel awkward by putting her in the middle of Clarke and her brother.
“For now, you’re my friend,” Octavia brushed her hair back. “Who cares about the Presidential race?”
On Thursday, someone walked her to each of her classes. Thank god they only had GOV-210 on Mondays and Wednesday mornings.
Monty took her to psych in the morning, making her smile as he spoke about surprising Harper for her birthday.
Raven and her went to bio lab together, and she distracted Clarke by reminiscing about when Wells took them to their first party. And she laughed when Raven brought up how she threw up in the bushes outside of their building. And they almost got caught by campus police officers.
Jasper and Maya took her to lunch and Jasper almost made her cry of laughter as he showed her how he answered every question on his latest physics exam with an awful pun.
Harper took her to chemistry, french braided her hair, and kissed her cheek before leaving.
And, finally, after dinner, Octavia and her snuck into Studio D and made up stupid dances to early 2000’s songs until they passed out.
And, then there was today. Friday. She had felt much better in the morning, as her class load was light, so she hung out on the quad and sketched the smiles of her friends when they cheered her up yesterday.
But she didn't think she could handle going out tonight.
“Clarke, there's this really cute guy in Bell’s frat,” Octavia flops on her bed and moves her sketchbook out of the way. “I need you to be my wingwoman.”
“Octavia, have you seen yourself? You don’t need anybody. Hot guys flock to you like moths to a light.”
“Girls, too,” Harper adds, not looking up from her magazine.
She laughs and brings her sketchbook back on her lap. “It’s true. All I wanted to do when I saw you for the first time is draw you.”
“Did you have a crush on me?” Octavia gasps, fluttering her eyelashes.
Clarke rolls her eyes. “No. It was more like an earnest appreciation of your beauty.”
Octavia frowns. “Well, that’s no fun.” Harper and Clarke laugh.
“But you know what is fun… this!” Octavia pulls out a black dress with a large flourish. Sweetheart neckline, ruffle edged trims, and straps that you can tie. And absolutely something Clarke did not buy for herself.
Harper sits up and gasps. “Clarke, where were you hiding this thing?” She walks over to Octavia and picks up the dress by its hanger.
“I wasn’t hiding it because I had no idea I had it!” She snags the dress and throws it back in the closet.
“Well, now you have to go! In this!” Octavia pulls the dress back out.
“What if I come? I haven’t gone out in so long!” Harper whips open her own closet doors, rifling through the hangers.
“Yes! That would be so fun!” Octavia nods vigorously. “Let’s call Raven and Maya!”
So they do. Unfortunately, Raven and Shaw are on date night, and Maya is hanging out with some girls from her music class.
“It’ll be fun, Clarke!” Now, both Harper and Octavia tug on each of her arms.
The two girls practically jump for joy, and force her into the black dress.
She rotates her body in the mirror. “Isn’t this too much for a frat party?”
“Absolutely not." Octavia strolls out of the bathroom.
“Your brother is going to kill you.” She’s wearing a tight, silver dress with a wild amount of sequins.
“How am I supposed to go out with two of my friends who look like Victoria's Secret models,” Clarke mumbles, tugging on the thick, platform pumps.
“Stop that. You look lovely.” Harper draws a thin swipe of eyeliner across her eyelids. “Everyone is gonna be all over you.”
“Plus,” Octavia ties the strap on her heels. “I want to make sure that the first frat party I ever go to, I’ll be with my best friends, to keep me safe,” she bats her eyes.
“That’s a low blow." Clarke frowns, but gets up.
“But it worked!”
And with that, they two girls drag her to the ARK house.
The smell of tequila and weed wafts around the dark house, and small flashes of light blink on the walls from the strobes in the living room. Too-loud music blasts from the speakers in their living room, and he rubs his temples.
80’s night. Who the hell thought 80’s night is a good theme for a goddamn frat party?
He takes small sips of his beer, constantly scanning the crowd. One of the brothers told him that Lincoln had invited Octavia to the party, and she still isn’t talking to him, so he couldn’t beg her to not come.
“Princess! That debate was... ”
He hears Miller’s voice across the crowd, and he freezes. He didn't think she’d show.
He pushes through the drunk, swaying crowd. And he stops when he sees them.
Octavia, Clarke, and one of the girls he saw in the suite stand in front of Miller. He looks at Octavia and is instantly furious.
“O,” he warns. “What are you doing here?”
“Uh, I was invited. Duh.”
“I’m going to go get you a hoodie.”
“Okay, bye!” Octavia pulls Clarke and Harper by their hands and they disappear into the kitchen.
He turns to Miller. “Look what you did.”
“What?” Miller sips his beer. “Brought three hot girls to a party?”
“You don’t even like girls. And if you call my sister hot again, I’ll punch you.”
“Yeah, exactly. That’s why I can say it. And okay, grumpy.”
Bellamy huffs and pushes through the crowd to get to his room to get a hoodie. He’s stopped in the hallway.
“Hey, you!” Gina grabs his arms. “I was trying to find you.” He smiles down at her, placing a kiss on her cheek.
“Hey. I was just going to my room. Octavia and her friends decided to show up,” he says, irritable.
He shoots her a look.
“Oh, not fun. Is she with that girl from the debate? Clarke?”
He rolls his eyes and grabs her hand. “Come with me.” After they make out on his bed for twenty minutes, he grabs a hoodie from his closet. “Let’s go find them,” he mutters.
They search the house for the next twenty minutes, but can’t find the three girls anywhere.
“I’m gonna go dance with my friends.” She leans up to kiss him briefly. He nods and wanders to the kitchen, where he finds Murphy and Emori making out against the countertop.
“Ew, my eyes.” He shields his face before dumping his empty beer bottle and pulling another out of the fridge.
“You’re just jealous,” Murphy drawls, pulling her into his lap.
“Whatever you say.”
“So,” he steals the beer from his hand. “Your sister is here.”
The annoyance that he feels is quickly replaced by urgency. “You saw her? Where is she?”
“Yeah, she’s on the patio,” he tips the beer bottle in that direction. “With two hot blondes next to her. One very sad blonde.”
Bellamy shoots Emori a look, and she shrugs. “He's not wrong.”
He sighs and pushes open the back door to the patio. Sure enough, Octavia, Harper, and Clarke sat on the edge of the deck, legs laying on the grass. And Octavia is already wearing a hoodie.
He walks to the three girls and sees Lincoln and Sterling standing across from them. Octavia looks up as his footsteps echo on the wood.
“Hey, big brother!” she giggles.
His face reddens. “Who got her drunk?” he snaps, looking between Sterling and Lincoln.
They raise their hands up. “They were all like this when they came here.”
“Sorry,” Clarke says, but doesn't look up. “I tried to pull the shot out of her hand.” She seems the most sober of the three.
“Who’s hoodie–” He starts, and Clarke’s eyes trail to Lincoln.
He nods, jaw tight. Lincoln is one of the better brothers. Guess it could be worse.
“Will you be okay taking her home?”
Turning to him, she nods. Her eyes don’t hold as much sadness as they did on Wednesday, and the alcohol gives her cheek a pink flush. But her elbows are on her knees as she turns, giving him a view of a lot of bare skin, which is definitely not safe around tipsy, handsy guys.
Looking around, he realizes his suspicion is pretty much on the dot, as almost every guy in their immediate vicinity rakes their eyes over her.
“Maybe you need this, instead.” He tosses the hoodie to her, and she raises an eyebrow.
She tilts her head to the side with an all-too challenging look. “Were you looking?”
Looks like she’s back to normal. His cheeks redden, and he looks away, smothering the intrusive thoughts.
“Just get home safe.”
His eyes linger on Lincoln and Octavia. He seems to be looking at her kindly, keeping his distance. Taking a breath, he heads back to the house.
After a few more hours, and way too many replays of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, the party is dwindling. People start to file out, and him, Miller, Murphy, and some other brothers walk around the house with trash bags, sweeping in red cups and discarded beer bottles.
“Who would’ve thought Sad Princess has tits for days?” Murphy smirks, dumping the last trash bag in the kitchen.
“Murphy, your girlfriend is literally sitting right there.”
“Once again, I agree!” Emori adds from the couch, and Bellamy rolls his eyes.
“Why are we still talking about her?” He flops onto the beanbag.
Murphy squints. “Damn, dude. That’s fucked up.”
“Your frat brothers were such dicks to her,” Emori mumbles into Murphy’s shoulder.
He sits up straight. “You’re the one calling her Sad Princess all night!”
“Yeah, but affectionately. She seems cool. We talked about my major, and she offered to help me with Calculus 1," he shrugs.
Rolling his eyes, he walks outside and checks the patio.
The girls are gone, but his hoodie is rumpled in their place. A tiny part of him, deep down, hidden from his pride, is a speck of disappointment.