“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. It's pretty clear that every other student in this 8 A.M. 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 stifles his scoff 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!
“We’ll start with Chapter 16,” Pike slips on his reading glasses, leaning against the desk on the floor of the lecture hall. “Let’s see… Ms. Blake. Let’s start with you.”
He tenses. Octavia has a hard time with the material in this class. Not to mention that the material is practically irrelevant for a dance major.
When they registered for classes last week, he figured he’d help her.
“Bell! What the hell am I going to do?”
He ran 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. “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 history nerd like you!”
He rolled his eyes, moving 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 started biting her fingernails. “But it would be a waste of a class if you don’t get any credit hours from it!"
“O.” He placed 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 uttered quietly. A frown tugged at his lips at the rarity of his determined, confident, sprightly sister feeling anxious or insecure.
“First of all, you are not stupid. And 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 her head.
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.
She looks down, fiddling with her pen. “Well, 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. It isn’t the most eloquent of answers, but it's an answer.
“Interesting take,” Professor Pike nods. “It seems like you mildly disagree with Machiavelli then.” For all of Pike’s idiocy, he’s still pretty understanding and receptive to students who aren’t the best public speakers.
“Thoughts from the class?” he asks, sweeping his free hand over the hall.
A pale hand shoots up in the air, a few rows down from him.
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– such as a drought, food scarcity, or poor economic circumstances– their people will feel betrayal, regardless. So, actually, he says that the public will like him better if he doesn’t do that at all.” The back of her 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 he’s 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, and leans forward in his seat. “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.”
Professor Pike raises an eyebrow. “Interesting point, Mr. Blake. Ms. Griffin?”
He sees her blink, despite his limited 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 crease, and 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 his peripherals.
Whatever. This chick needs to be put in her place.
“What? No.” She finally turns around. 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 writes, than seeming like a betraying or overpromising ruler.”
“It’s all about money, isn’t it? Being heartless and indifferent to your people 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 being a ‘saver’,” he scoffs, using air quotes.
She raises 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.”
She 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 her, 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 into the hard back of his seat. The discussion continues, but she's quiet for the rest of class. And so is he.
After class, he eagerly hops out of the lecture hall, and Octavia and Miller catch up to him on the quad. He sits 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 frowns. “What the hell, O? I was trying to defend you!”
She bites down on a slice of dried mango, amused. “From what? 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. 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!”
Miller steals a dried mango slice from Octavia, who turns to hide the bag away from him. “Yeah, but 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 gathers her backpack before strutting across the grass with him.
He sighs, banging his head against the trunk. Would O hate him if he dropped this class? He doesn’t know if he’ll make it through this whole semester.
“You said all of that?” Raven laughs, almost choking on her granola bar.
Clarke shrugs, holding her biology textbook to her chest as they walk out of their lab. “He just seemed so… agro. It annoyed me.”
“Well, now he knows. Don’t come for Clarke Griffin.”
“Also–” Raven opens the door for her as they stroll into the library. “Why are you even taking a political philosophy class?”
She sighs as they walk through the lobby and climb the stairs to the third floor. “Marcus begged me.”
She pushes the door open with her shoulder, and their voices drop to a whisper.
“Really? This and debate club?" Raven lifts her head as they weave through the bookshelves. “Good lord. Pre-med biology and psychiatry concentrations with a political science minor. What a mouthful.”
They see familiar waves and beeline to the table in the backmost corner, near the large window. 'Their' table.
“You got it!” Raven whispers excitedly.
“Hell yeah, we did!” Jasper responds, a bit too loudly. Him and Monty look at each other and high five themselves.
Their entire group has laid claim to this single, specific table in the library.
And it's a nice one. It's secluded, in a tight corner, quite large. It's pushed up against a huge, circular window, overseeing the entire quad.
But, the memories are really what makes it theirs. Freshman year, this table held every tear, every all-nighter, and all bags of Doritos and energy drinks during finals week.
It was the place where Jasper got drunk for the first time, after Raven spiked his Red Bull with vodka. It was the first time Monty had invited Harper to sit with them, which eventually led to their first kiss in the astrophysics aisle.
And it was the first time most of them had seen her cry (excluding Raven) after her mother yelled at her, forcing her to declare a pre-med major. 'Or else.’
Raven slides into the seat next to Jasper. “You guys have to hear what Clarke said in class.”
She sets down her textbook and backpack before settling next to Monty. “It wasn’t that big of a deal. She’s making something out of nothing.”
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.”
"Was he wearing his Lightbournes varsity jacket?”
“Didn’t bother to pull anything out? No book, no pencils, nothing?”
“Sitting with a ‘bro’?” Monty adds.
“He’s a fuckboy,” Jasper sighs, sitting back in his seat.
“Okay, whatever. 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 closes it. “How? Google ‘arrogant dude with curly hair in Professor Pike’s GOV-210 class?’”
Monty narrows his eyes. “Have you forgotten that I’m a computer science major?”
“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.”
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 her 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. Super 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 that! You guys 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 donor events and stuffy balls; 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, fumbles with her textbooks, and constantly spills her drink on the condiment bar in the campus coffee shop.
But not in the studio. There, she can slow down. Not an exam, or frantic pre-med student, or Debate Club meeting in sight. Just her, and the shadows of her body.
Well, sometimes Harper and Maya, too, who help her sneak into the 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 hug her tight. “Good luck!”
She takes a deep breath before turning to enter the office. I got this. I’m a shoo-in.
Him and Murphy speedwalk across campus, heads ducked into their coats, arms tight across their chests.
“You swear? Hundred bucks?” Bellamy’s voice is muffled under his scarf.
Murphy smirks evilly. “Yeah. Write in his name and get the fuck outta there.”
Some of the brothers were playing 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 easy it'll be, 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 steps of the student center, 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 meek and shy. 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 charmingly 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.
“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.”
“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 President with your belief set.”
His eyes narrow, and he straightens up. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, nothing.” She picks at a thread on her chair. “I just 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. “I don’t idolize them. You brought up money. So, I brought up money. Makes sense that you did, too.” He looks down at her outfit. A dress and those boot heels that Octavia always wants. A spattering of rings on one hand. Nice watch on the other wrist.
“You really are a Princess, huh?”
She shoots 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? Seems like the student body might not like that.”
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!”
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 snatch the folders. She returns to her seat and starts scribbling furiously. He opens the folder and stares at the empty lines.
The black ink of the two words burn into his mind. Nathan Miller. Nathan Miller.
His pen hovers over the page. But, then, his gaze turns to her. She looks up, meeting his eyes in fiery determination.
His head snaps back down. And he writes.