32 ➹ death by pride

pride | kendrick lamar
❝ love's gonna get you killed
but pride's gonna be the death,
of you and you and me ❞

ATLAS HAS EVERYONE on the opposing team on his trail. Even though this is a practice game and the team he's versing is his actual one it doesn't mean he's half-assing it.

"This isn't a fair game, they put McAllister and D'arc on the same team!" One of the girls at the bottom of the bleachers whines out to her group of friends.

I've been sitting watching him practice for the past twenty minutes. At the pace he's going you would've never guessed he took a break because of his injury.

Atlas has always been like this - persevering. There's this story of how the three of them met - Luca, Atlas and Sage, and it's my favourite because Atlas had been injured then as well but he'd always been calm.

All the boys were signed up for baby ballet as a form to make friends or whatever it is young kids do and they met there.

One of the kids had pushed Atlas over and he didn't cry he just sat in the corner trying to get back up, Sage had bitten the kid in retaliation despite not knowing Atlas. The kid then pushed over Sage who did start crying and it was Helem in all her glory who told off the little boy - who told off a baby Luca Cathans.

Maria always told this story to us and she'd put on a perfect impression of Helem Evanders. It had the right amount of seriousness but softness as well whilst also poking fun at one of her dearest friends.

"She was like this boys." Maria begins, and we all take seats around the living room to watch her act out the day the day the three of the boys met.

I wasn't signed up to baby ballet or anything like that, dad hated the thought of me in pink and doing anything considered remotely feminine.

"You are a year old, 12 months and in that, you've become a bully?" Maria keeps her laughter in as she recalls the way Luca was 'rightfully scolded' her words not mine. "In 12 months Sage has successfully mastered pirouettes, jeté's and he knows his left and rights. What do you do? dirty nappies? cry for milk? go hurting other children? are you proud of yourself?"

"Mom no one wants to listen to this story again!" Luca groans but his cheeks turn red in embarrassment at the story exposing why he's not for it being told. Everyone objects though we all love Maria's storytelling.

"Your friends like me more than they like you!" She teases and beside me Luca rolls his eyes with a smile - he never does anything without a smile directed at his mom.

He loves her more than anyone I know - I mean the only person that could even compete is Nadia Baelene, Luca doesn't let us breathe near her though.

He says we're bad influences.

The sound of girls all pitching in and agreeing zones me back in. "Do you think D'arc is pissed that he met his match?" I look at the court again ripping my gaze from their blonde and brunette heads, watching as Christopher passes the ball to Atlas and he shoots, scoring.

"Nah, I bet he's glad someone is there to challenge him."

"I don't think he's challenging him if he's better." All heads turn to me, and as if realising who I am or something their jaws hang agape. I arrived here after them, but none of them had looked at me since they were all entranced by the half shirtless boys playing on one team and the barely covered ones wearing tank tops on the other.

"I- I mean yeah. But have you seen Christopher? He's like the best." One of the brunettes adds looking back and forth between me and the court.

"Only because Atlas was out cold for nine months." I'm not shitting on Christopher because he's fucking around with Valé or anything. I don't care about that. But I'm not lying either, Atlas is unmatched in basketball.

"I agree." A black-haired girl says facing me. "I mean, it's only fair he's the best. The girls' basketball team captain and possible new boys' one has a nice ring to it, don't you think?" She asks, with an easy smile.

"You think you guys will date?" The girls at Whitlock are a different type of confident, I mean at Sterling I was hit on and people admired but I've never had someone come up to me and tell me they've had dreams about me like I've had here.

"Yeah, after he realises Micaela Astralis doesn't have that much going for her and that Nayelie Angelo chick fucked him over so bad. He'll come running to me. It's fate."

"You do realise you're admitting all of this to his bestfriend, right?"

The girl shrugs, "and what? will you put in a referral?"

I laugh under my breath at her confidence. "Sure, what's your name?" She rattles off some name I won't remember and I nod as if hearing every single word, she thanks me before getting up as soon as the whistle is blown and heading on the court to talk to one of the other guys.

I wait for Atlas to come to me the second our eyes meet. He walks over sceptically and I watch the way his ripped chest is accentuated by the light layer of sweat. "You horny or some shit Delvaúx?" He asks as I reach the bottom of the bleachers.

"What?" I scoff.

"Your blushing, watching me on the court make you feel that way huh?" He grins.

"Nah, but have I told you about how killer my imagination is? Especially the ones with your mo-" He shoves me playfully and I feign hurt.

"What are you doing here?" He asks.

"The usb." I've never had to use full sentences around Atlas, he's always understood everything I want to say with a couple of keywords.

Recognition flickers across his face. "You're going to use it?" He asks but it's more in disbelief than confusion, I know what he's thinking, Caleb has officially lost his fucking mind.

"Amber's not easy to crack." Is my defence. I mean that usb was something I hadn't even thought of using until I came to the realisation that words don't hurt Amber - at least not that she shows it.

We'd attained the usb last year, Atlas had heard Principal Leighton talking about it at some point and he thought we should retrieve it. Luca was in charge of the distraction - never letting that happen again. He wasn't supposed to burn down an entire building with himself stuck in it, but I guess it got the job done because now that usb is ours and he isn't dead.

He lets out an airy laugh, "well, you're right about that. It's in my dorm, there's a loose floorboard under my desk and I put it there."

Atlas seemed the fittest to keep it secure; knowing Sage he would misplace it, Luca was out of the picture immediately because of his inability to truly understand the concept of how important the usb was, and dad was too nosy so I couldn't keep it. He'd tear my room apart at the smallest hint that I might be hiding something.

Talking about dad I need to ring him up, I was so distracted at the party I hadn't even realised none of the inheritance had come through until I checked my account this morning.

"Fuck no, it's dusty as shit down there. You do it."  I argue.

🂱 🂱 🂱

Atlas made me do it. I had to go on all fours to find the 'loose' floorboard, I mean thank God his roommate is barely in, I would've been embarrassed as fuck to explain what the hell I was doing,

I'm currently walking through Whitlock's library with what feels like a thousand pounds in my hand, but could easily weigh nothing except maybe guilt on my conscience for having to go this far.

But revenge isn't supposed to be sweet, it's supposed to be vile and mean and fulfilling. I wonder how fulfilled I'll be after this.

I wonder if the girls will feel one ounce of what I did on the night of the soirée. How fucking pathetic I felt for believing she had liked me, someone had actually liked me and we hadn't even had slept together or messed around or anything - she fucking liked me for me.

Yeah, big fucking joke that was.

I might not entirely hate Valé for her, but I hate what she did and nothing will ever change that: not seeing her at my party all dressed up like how she was, not catching the way her eyes fell on me when I told Cassie to fuck off and definitely not every other time I see her but don't look.

The libraries all quiet until I near a row where I hear rushed whispers - almost argumentative. I notice a familiar figure, tan skin, pearly white teeth, wavy brunette hair and a six-foot-two frame.

Christian Velencoso is leaning against a bookshelf, looking over at Margaux Astralis with that mischievous grin of his. He's on the soccer team here at Whitlock, and If I hadn't seen Rain play I'd go far enough to say that Christian was the best on their original team.

But Christian is the same on and off the field, he's laid back - easy going, living for the fun of it. He could've easily become captain if he wasn't so driven by being a wild spirit instead of an obedient one, but I guess that's his charm.

"Delvaùx, don't you think my girl Margaux over here needs to not be so uptight?" He asks once catching sight of me. I stop in my tracks turning to face both of them.

"Your girl?" Margaux scoffs not meeting my gaze as she looks up at him, holding him in what I assume is a death glare.

"Shit, did that slip out?" Christian asks with a small smile, he takes his bottom lip between his teeth to hide his amusement.

"You can't even recount what you've said two seconds prior yet you want to drag me along to some sex cult bonfire?" I have no clue what they're even going on about, but by Margaux's tone, it's obvious it isn't something she's looking forward to.

"It's not some sex cult bonfire," Christian defends. "It's some high school sext cult bonfire." He clears.

"What are you guys even talking about?" I ask, unable to keep to myself from knowing now that I've been strung into the exchange.

Margaux turns to me, and by the way her mouth is already pursed I can tell she's not happy but there's a second where amusement crosses her features as well and she hides that from him.

"Whitlock tradition, at the end of February because of the leap year - the original birthday of the founder - all students gather to a bonfire and..." She looks back at Christian, "skinny dip."

He feigns shock, slapping his hand across his mouth. "Highschoolers skinny dipping? God, what has the world become!"

Margaux turns around pissed and when she eyes me to say 'see!' I catch Christian smiling down at her.

"Anyways, your opinion however much adored by the general public isn't needed here, Caleb. Sorry for bothering you." She dismisses, taking a book out of Christians' hold before walking over to me.

"What are you doing Marg?" He asks, confusion clear in his tone.

"It's Margaux and leaving Christian. You and this conversation."

"See you at the bonfire!" He calls out as Margaux gets closer and I take it that we're walking away together. "You too Delvaùx!" I hear someone shush him and I watch briefly as Christian sheepishly smiles before walking the other way.

"He wants to make out," Margaux says out of the blue. We haven't even made it five rows of bookshelves down, but I assume she's already calculated how far we need to be from Christian to have him not hear us.

"Do you want to?" I catch myself asking. I mean Christian doesn't seem to be the type of guy to be all handsy and shit but if Margaux's dislike is genuine there's no reason I wouldn't tell him to fuck off because of it.

Margaux turns to me, her entire face painted with disbelief. "What?" she scoffs, holding her textbook closer to her chest as if it serves as some sort of defence.

"I mean it's not like we have to pretend to be together or anything anymore. The plans changed so you can do whatever, do you want to make out with him?" I'm being genuine, I don't care about what Margaux does as long as it isn't against me or my friends and...others.

And I know it was short-lived but I liked Margaux's company when she did make time for me that is. I mean not to be nitpicky or anything but feeling like an inconvenience among her other duties wasn't the best, nonetheless, Margaux's a fun person to be around; she's interesting and I like that.

"It's irresponsible. I don't do irresponsible. Boys are led by their dicks, not their brains. I refuse to be wound up in that, I mean I'm not judging anyone who does because everyone can do whatever they want and it's not like I'm slut shaming. I'd never do that. The world is judgemental as it is, it just isn't something I want to do-"

"You want to hook up with him." She's bluffing, rambling, Margaux never rambles.

She stops in her tracks, and I watch as her entire demeanour changes. "First off I don't. Second, if you mention any of this conversation to him I will personally have you castrated, any thoughts of reproducing Delvaùx? think again, are we clear?"

I grin, raising both hands in surrender. "Yes ma'am."

She a thousand percent wants to hook up with him.

"Good." With that Margaux slaps a smile across her face and straightens her posture before walking away. I watch as she rounds the corner, smiles at an onlooker and continues until she's out of the library.

I rip my gaze from off of her once I realise I've been standing in the same spot for well over a minute, I didn't come to the library for Margaux Astralis - I came to see another enigma.

Amber Zhu has a pattern, she's put together, and organised. It's not hard to find out her schedule when she's at the library every second day at five pm for two hours.

When I approach the table she's designated as her own, there are twice as many books as there was last time, and twice as many stationery. If I hadn't known Amber's schedule to be so precise I would've guessed there was another person here. But Amber's a lone wolf, so I don't think that.

I don't think much as I pull out a seat parallel to hers and get myself situated, Amber hums acknowledging my presence but says nothing more. She wants me to draw her attention.

"I'm sorry for what I said to you earlier." That catches it, Amber drops the pen on the table and leans back into her seat her coal coloured eyes never leaving mine.

"And what might that be?"

"Calling you a stone-cold bitch, that might've been a bit extreme." As much as I hate to admit whenever I'm wrong, I was. I should've never said that to her and if Sage found out...well, let's just hope Amber believes in forgiving and forgetting.

"Okay." I'm weirdly appreciative of the retort, no 'I forgive you' that she doesn't mean, no going over the top, just an honest answer.

"Right, anyway I was thinking. I can't get to you by Sage you don't care for him, you know what I mean?"

She wraps her arms around herself, her features turning solemn. "Sure, I hear what you're saying."

"Right, and I was like Amber doesn't care about anyone else other than...herself."

"Get to the point Delvaùx." She bites.

"Of course, I've realised self-centred people are usually that way because of the lack of attention they receive from elsewhere. You know...parents. And then I did some more digging and guess what had totally slipped my mind, Amber."

"What?"

"Your mother." The change in Amber is evident. "Joanne Zhu, an ex multi-millionaire model. She was the it girl wasn't she? I mean, shit the articles about her are endless. People fucking love your Mom." And not in the way I love Monet Mcallister, Amber's mom is a living breathing legend to aspiring models and models themselves all around the world.

"Do you want an autograph? I'm sure she won't mind sending it from home."

"No. I want to know what happens when the world puts someone on that kind of pedal stool and they have children. Do they become neglectful? Detest their child because of the shift of attention? Do they nurture their child? Give their kin the kind of love they received? Or do they become overly critical? Diminish any type of self-worth said child might have?" The usb feels heavier in my hand as I say this, Amber's gaze feels heavier on my eyes as I say this, and my conscious feels heavier weighing on me as I say this.

Amber swallows before sitting up straighter in her chair, I think I see a sheen of glaze coat her eyes but I must be seeing things. "What are you talking about? No, why are you talking to me about this? Didn't we establish something the other day Caleb? You're not allowed to say shit to me that you wouldn't say to Valé."

"I never said that but even if I fucking did, I would be saying the exact same thing to her as well."

"Really? You seemed pretty...protective the other night. You know the whole 'you're leaving this party and never fucking talking to her like-"

"I know what I said. I don't need a recap." I cut in, hoping to regret my words but I don't. Cassie's fucking rude and unnecessarily so help me God if I was going to let her speak to Valè in that way and get away with it.

"Of course, but -"

"I said I'd say the same thing Amber." I know what she's trying to do, she's trying to have me not agree but I'll bite.

She smiles to herself. "Well, you did say it." She nods, "and I can never pass up the opportunity to call someone out on their bluff." I look at her hoping my confusion is clear. "3...." She smiles, 2..." I cock my head slightly.

"This the book you wanted Amber?"

Amber doesn't turn around to look at Vale. "1." She whispers.

Fuck no.

Valé looks between the both of us her eyes settling on me before she starts to approach. She's changed out of the school uniform, and swapped it out for jeans and a crewneck. Her curly hair is tied up in a ponytail and I can't keep my eyes off her as she approaches...fuck me.

"You can fuck anyone Caleb, you can parade anyone around, but not her. Anyone but the girl that ruined this family."

"Yeah, thanks." Amber nods appreciatively with a quick glance at the book and it all makes sense now, the extra books, extra stationery, Amber isn't studying alone she's got company.

"I'll do it with her here." I seethe, is this some sort of threat? Does she think I won't do it because of her?

Amber looks at me disbelievingly picking up her pen again, "will you?"

Valé gets closer to the table, settling down in the seat next to Amber's and I look at her for a moment, not saying anything.

"Unless you fix your reputation you're not allowed back home."

Dads voice rings out in my head, his threat clear. Mom didn't call me for my birthday, Elisè didn't get to draw me a birthday card like she does every year. He isn't bluffing.

"Hi." She says in that voice of hers, that same voice that got me on my fucking knees for her

"If I hear one more of those silver things report on you and that fucking girl you're done. Be a man Caleb, fix your mistakes."

I can't fucking do this.

I'm not fucking doing this.

I get up not sparing Valé a second glance but I watch Amber, she doesn't look at me condescendingly like I thought she would. She looks at me with disappointment but conceals it swiftly and before I know it she's waving at me.

She didn't want to see what I had for her?

Fine.

I'll make it so fucking hard for her to ignore she'll beg for me to give it to her.

The usb with Joanne Zhu's phone call to Mr Angelo where they discuss their secret affair, their daughters growing friendship and the possibility that their daughters are planning something that has to do with boys at Sterling digs into the palm of my hand.

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a/n

oh no.