He liked it up high, where the wind was cold and bit his cheeks.
Most did not think to look for the heir to the world’s largest business conglomerate on the roof, so he was usually safe to think up there.
New York City stretched below the Humanities building of the Globe Academy, and Jay Newhall smiled a little. It was so much bigger than people realized, the Ups and Downs cooperating to create one of the greatest cities in the world. Personally, he preferred Venice. There was no separation, no segregation according to class, status, or fortune. They all just worked and lived together as people.
Jay looked down at his hands, cold and pale where they draped over the elaborate stone rail of the roof. He could not afford to think that way, not here at school. Additionally, it was not realistic. The world revolved around money, so every individual had to fight for himself, clawing his way to the top of the business food chain, hoarding as much as he possibly could.
At least, that was what his mom told him.
Now, how to take down this Downs girl?
It had been a week, the school had gone all out to take her down, and reaped no results. Of course, she had been raised in the Downs; she would know how to find a potential threat, label the next person to attack, root out the real menace. Nothing had worked. Quick drying cement in her locker had been caught and cleaned out, pesticides poured into her lobster bisque sniffed and discarded, rotten vegetables located in her Advanced Chemistry desk and cast away. Even a flower pot pushed from the roof of the Natural Science building cleanly missed her head.
The school was itching to start getting really physical.
Jay was not so eager.
He just wanted her to leave, not necessarily to die.
He rubbed his hands together, watching his breath form crystallized clouds in front his lips. For as long as he could remember, it had been his job to make sure the Globe maintained its original purpose: to mold the wealthy into productive contributors to society, to efficiently employ the less fortunate, the less capable, and use them to bolster the nation’s economy. It all made sense.
Why was this Chiara Dalton so different? Somehow, she had reached the top of the class in Thermodynamics and was fighting her way past most of the A students in the Biomechanics lab, as well as most of the other science and maths. It had been a week, and she was working her way up the unspoken hierarchy, despite needing to dodge the Collective card attacks every hour, peer around every corner, and triple check everything to make sure nothing had been altered by the malevolent crowd.
She could handle herself.
She did not need anyone.
Jay chuckled. She did not need anyone, it was true. Somehow, though, she had managed to snag Brody’s eye. Jay had watched carefully as Brody led her to lunch in the garden whenever he could. Of course, their schedules were differing every day. Sometimes, she would be on her own. Even then, she handled everything thrown at her with a confidence Jay wished he had. Brody could help her as much as he wanted, but the truth remained that she was a fighter, not a follower. She was handling herself.
“You certainly are a piece of work, aren’t you?” he breathed to the wind. It answered with a shrill whistle, filtering through and piercing everything with its unforgiving chill. Jay burrowed in the upturned collar of his thick black peacoat, closing his eyes. It looked like winter was coming soon this year. Chiara never wore anything like his jacket. He could not remember ever seeing her come with anything aside from her school jacket and another sweater. He frowned. Those were the Downs: unable to provide for their children. That was why the world needed the Ups to provide for the less fortunate.
The thing was that he truly believed Chiara could be fortunate, if she was given the chance. She certainly had the tenacity. He smiled to himself, recalling every sarcastic comment she threw in his direction over the past week in response to his provocations. That girl was so sure of herself, far more sure than he ever was.
The smile faded again. He was insecure with himself. He had admitted to that a long time ago, but only to three people, and those boys knew to keep his secret. The Newhall heir had a reputation, an image, to maintain at the school his family owned. No one could know that he was constantly second-guessing himself. They could not know that he was afraid of the world outside of the bubble of wealth in which he had been raised. He could never hint that the one person who should have been building his confidence and abilities, the one person he had depended upon the most, was the one who was constantly tearing him down, reminding him what a failure he was, how the world needed him to be so much more than he could ever be.
His phone buzzed in his pocket. Jay reached into the depths of the jacket. It would be Oliver’s reply to his request for a basketball game that night. His brow creased as he read the message. It was not from Oliver.
- Why have I not read that the girl has dropped out of the Globe?
He sighed, hesitating. What was the truthful answer? That he was not trying hard enough? That his heart was no longer into torturing kids out of school?
That it never really was?
His thumbs moved automatically.
- She’s a tough one. Still working on her.
The reply came in seconds.
- I’m running out of patience.
Jay bit his tongue, fighting the urge to type something much worse than what went through.
- I’m trying. Give me more time.
- You’re lucky. I’m in Japan for five more months. But I had better get word that she is back in the Downs and silenced by next week. The school does not need the kind of bad publicity she was spreading.
Jay closed his eyes, swallowing hard. Bad publicity. Bullies forcing a kid to jump off the roof because he got a bad grade. She had saved him personally. People would listen to her. She had to be silenced, despite the fact that she had never vied for attention or the news in the first place.
He simply wished it did not have to be him to do so.
- Fine, mom. Then can I see him?
There was no response. Of course not. She had dodged that question since the beginning. Jay watched his fingers tighten around his phone, the skin of his knuckles slowly turning white. The case bent slightly in his grip and he released it, letting his breath slide out along with it.
He was so tired of being angry at one person, just one, and taking it out on an entire school.
Jay glanced over his shoulder, irritated. The roof had been his spot for years, and no one had intruded. Why now?
Brody glided towards him, ever the elegant type in his dark grey suit with the oak green vest and matching coat. A black scarf hung loosely around his neck. The wind sifted through his hair like an overzealously friendly grandfather’s fingers, but he managed to look as majestic as always. Jay wondered in the back of his mind, for the first time, why the Collective seemed to turn out, not only obnoxiously wealthy, but also obnoxiously handsome. All the girls at school seemed to be ahead of him in discovering that factor.
The Hilton heir leaned his elbows on the rail beside Jay, narrowing his eyes against the wind and looking out over New York City. Jay slipped his phone back into his coat pocket and let his hands linger there.
Brody chuckled. “I am, sometimes.”
The boys chuckled. Brody’s eyes flicked to Jay’s arm, tense and hidden in his pocket. He nodded to it.
Slowly, Jay nodded. Brody looked back over the New York skyline.
“She coming home?”
“Five more months. The Japanese branch is being slow on the construction of the new resort.”
“So she’s there to whip them into shape,” Brody twisted to lean backwards against the rail, crossing his arms over his chest. “And, I assume, whipping you into shape over text?”
Jay sighed, turning to face the same direction. “What am I supposed to do? She owns the school.”
“You will, soon enough.”
“Then I’ll have the power to make some changes.” He dropped his head, staring at his impeccably shined dress shoes. “But not now. Not when she has so much leverage.”
Brody’s eyebrows contracted sharply. “She hasn’t let you see him yet?”
Jay shook his head slowly, feeling his muscles tighten again. It was exhausting being angry, but he could not help it.
“She won’t even tell me where he is!”
“Jay,” Brody laid a hand on his arm, turning him to face him. He inclined his head meaningfully. “Maybe you should tell Dante about this. While your mom’s gone, his dad might have a little more freedom. He can pull some strings, see who he can talk to-”
“No,” Jay interjected, rubbing his hands over his face. “I need to fix this myself. If there’s any justice in the world left, it will be fixed. I just don’t know when,” He sighed again, bracing his hands against the rail and looking down at the flock of students wandering to and fro, chatting with friends, studying on benches, showing off new apparatus. The immense tangle of long, golden blonde hair he had been instructed to persecute was nowhere to be seen. “And until I do, people like Chiara Dalton can’t be allowed to mingle with us. Which brings me to my next point.” He cocked his head with as stern a frown as he could direct towards his best friend in the world. “Why are you protecting the Downs girl?”
He felt, more than saw, his friend tense beside him.
“I hate this.”
Jay’s eyebrows shot up and he glanced sidelong at him. Brody’s face was contorted in disgust. The Newhall heir blinked.
“Wow. You don’t even talk about your music with that much conviction. What’s going on?” He leaned closer, his skin going clammy. “You don’t...like her, do you? Have feelings for her?”
Brody’s eyes flicked to him. Jay closed his eyes, dropping his head to his chest. His mom had warned him that things were bound to get complicated the second a Burroughs kid was invited into the school, and, naturally, the clean-up fell to him.
“Brody, you can’t do that! You know that!” He released a sharp breath, spinning to face him again. “What in the world possessed you to-”
“Feelings aren’t something you can help, Jay,” his friend replied calmly, his face as stoic as ever. “We’ve been talking, Chiara and I. Randomly, never for very long, but I think I’m starting to figure her out. And I like it.” Brody met Jay’s eyes evenly. “You know that I’ve never liked a girl before.”
“Yeah, they’ve all had cooties since preschool.” Jay moaned, dropping his forehead onto Brody’s shoulder. “Why did that have to change now?”
Brody sighed, reaching up to pat Jay’s head. “I don’t know.”
Jay growled deep in his throat, pushing away from his friend. “My mom wouldn’t let this get in the way. She’s going to hate me.”
“Wait…” Brody frowned, stepping closer. “Does that mean you’re going to-”
“I don’t know what made you decide that you liked her,” Jay admitted, shrugging his heavily coated shoulders. “And I can’t say I approve of it, but I...I can’t be the one to get in the way of my best friend’s first crush.” He frowned, cocking his head. “I hear people are supposed to support their friends in that situation. Can’t say I know how to do that, but I’m pretty sure it starts with not making an entire school try to scare her into dropping out.”
“I don’t want to cause any problems between you and your mom.”
“Who are we kidding, Brody? There have always been problems.” He shrugged again, pursing his lips incredulously. “We’ll see how long your crush lasts, okay? This is your first, so I can’t expect you to really understand it, but...I’ll let her off the hook until you figure out that this is a mistake.”
Brody cocked his head. “Yeah, really supportive.”
Jay spread his hands helplessly. “Like I said, I don’t know how to do that! But I’ll let you be the one to tell her that she’s free for now.” He looked over the rail. “If you can find her, I mean. She’s always disappearing.”
Brody smiled. Jay liked his smile. He had had to train himself to smile with his mouth and frown with his eyes; that was how the Ups managed their subordinates. Brody was one of the few who did not care. Additionally, he did not smile a lot. It seemed to shine all the brighter for it.
“Oh, I know where she will be soon enough.” He slapped Jay’s shoulder. “Thank you, Jay. Thank you so much.”
Jay gestured with his head towards the door to the stairs. Brody ran for it. The Newhall heir looked over the rail again. A minute later, his friend appeared out the front door, making a beeline dash for the Physical Education building. He sighed.
The poor guy. This would have to end soon enough.