01 | diamonds are a girl's best friend
My mother always said if you have money, you can make a ghost push a millstone. In other words, money could make anyone do anything. When I was younger, I just brushed it off as a quirky immigrant thing to say. My parents were both born in Taishan, a small city in the Guangdong province. My mom’s cousin got their citizenship when she was 17, and they sponsored her to immigrate as well. My father had a similar story, except most of his distant relatives had already settled in America via the Gold Rush. It was only a matter of time he had made his own journey, where he came to America with the clothes on his back and 70 cents in his pocket. Both of them had one goal set in their minds: achieve the American Dream.
Shortly after arrival, my mom worked minimum wage paying jobs while trying to get her degree at our local community college. Unfortunately, she was unable to continue her studies because the language barrier was too great, but she was still determined to make it in America, she just had to find another way.
Before my dad died, he was self-employed, fixing houses of people that never looked friendly. Despite being a one-man-team, he had established quite a name for himself. When I was 7, he died of a heart attack. As one can imagine, my mom and I were devastated. It’s just us now since my grandparents on my dad’s side hate our guts and her parents had died when she was still in China.
And that’s where I come in, my mom’s trump card--the person my mom swears will be successful in the future, thereby bringing honor to her name. She’s basically sacrificed all her best playing cards on me, which wasn’t much in the first place. It’s a lot of pressure, but I thrive off of a challenge. I like proving people wrong.
Some people might say all her prayers were answered. I’m attending St. Addams Preparatory, one of the most prestigious private high schools in America on a full-ride scholarship, as long as my grades are perfect. St. Addams boasts some of the most successful alumni to ever grace the Earth. Most of which go on to obtain one or more Ivy League degrees and work at wildly profitable companies.
But my time at this school has definitely had its cons. For one, the school is approximately 99.9% white, so I stick out like a sore thumb. Secondly, the unofficial social hierarchy at this school is rigid. Even amongst the richest in America, there is still a ranking based on how influential one’s family is. So obviously, I’ve been subject to some not so nice comments.
“Lee,” Faye Zhang, my best friend calls, reeling me back from my thoughts. Being the only two women of color at this school, Faye and I instantly hit it off. Unlike me, her family’s pretty wealthy. In China, going to school overseas basically solidifies one’s social status. She’s what people in the states describe as “fresh off the boat” even though she doesn’t look like your stereotypical fob. Her bangs are cut into a straight line a centimeter above her perfectly drawn eyebrows. She’s also wearing thigh-high celestial printed boots, the most she gets away with without violating the dress-code. The dress code at this school is strict. Skirts are either plaid or a solid red and they must at least cover half your thigh. White shirts must be unwrinkled and ties need to be straight.
We’re seated at some random table in the cafeteria, far enough from all the other kids that would laugh at our ethnic lunches, who seem to be doing their own thing at their tables, whether it be scrolling through their phones, making out with their significant other, or poking at their dry salads.
“What?” I reply, trying to make it sound like I was paying attention the entire time.
“Do you want a reading? I just got a new deck of tarot cards,” she tells me, shuffling the aforementioned item. The backing of the cards is quite beautiful--a medieval drawing of a woman with a sword is drawn.
I roll my eyes. Typical. Faye’s really into astrology and other spiritual stuff. I, myself, am more of a skeptic, but she knows a lot of people think it’s bullshit as well. Yeah, I’m not gonna lie, when we first met, I thought that shit was weird, but I’ve gotten used to it once I realized she’s not a satanist. “C’mon, you know I don’t believe in that stuff.”
“It’s for fun, idiot. What’s the harm in it anyway? It’s not like I’m summoning the devil,” she retorted, laying down a spread anyways.
“Fine, you win, Zhangster,” I give in, “you can give me vague advice that sounds like it was ripped straight out of a self-help book.”
Despite my snarky comment, the corner of her lips turned upward, seemingly excited she got me to cave in. Faye doesn’t follow a particular spread. She likes to rely on her own intuition while using the cards as a guideline.
“The Death card upright,” she says, laying it down, “I’m sensing a transformation is coming soon.”
“Sounds ominous,” I remark sarcastically, putting my head in my hands while I lean forward.
Her face darkens when she pulls the next card. I gulp. Even though I don’t think it’s real, I feel a chill jolt down my spine. She shakes her head, long black hair spilling all over her frail shoulders. “No, Lee. This is a transformation for the worse. The Ten of Wands. You will face a struggle that is more than you can handle. I know you. You’re overly ambitious, and that is usually a good thing, but this card is saying this challenge might ruin you.”
I scoffed. “Okay, what else then?”
Licking her finger, she lays down another card. “The Moon card. You are emotionally vulnerable. Insecure. Susceptible to manipulation.”
“What’s gonna manipulate me?”
“I can’t tell. But whatever it is, it’s going to change you for the worse. You will see it as a challenge when in reality, it’s a curse in disguise,” she clarifies, pursing her lips.
Before she can elaborate any further, the bell rings, signaling the end of the lunch period.
“Remember what I told you,” she says, collecting her things into a blue Michael Kors bag, “I’ll see you later.”
Whatever. None of her readings have ever been accurate in the past anyway. It’s more like a hobby for her. So why am I scared? Is it paranoia?
I think about it as I walk to my locker. What if she’s not wrong this time? I spin my combination, pulling the lock off and stuffing my locker with some heavy ass textbooks.
“I don’t know, man it seems suspicious to me, Sav.” I don’t even need to turn around to know who’s speaking. It’s Hunter D’Medici, football running back, all-American boy, and someone who probably doesn’t even know my name even though we have lockers that are next to each other. If St. Addams was an empire, Hunter would be the undisputed emperor, king, Sultan, ruler or whatever else you call it. His family isn’t the richest at St. Addams--not by a long shot since that title belongs to his best friend Wash--but he certainly has the most connections. Rumor has it his family owns half of the city.
“I’ll absolutely be looking into it,” Wash assures him. They sound like they’re talking about something personal. Am I intruding?
Those two were a package deal in everything they did--football, clubs, and parties. They have it all together: wealth and power.
As far as looks go, those two are complete opposites. While Hunter has fair hair, eyes, and skin, Wash is noticeably darker haired and darker eyed. Personally, I’ve always thought Wash was the better looking one out of the two, but more girls seemed to go for Hunter. Makes sense. They probably want to start hunting from the top of the food chain, though none of them stay long enough to disrupt the ecosystem. They will always be the apex predators here.
A part of me has always wished to be like them. To attend the craziest parties, buy myself all the material goods I could ever desire, and sleep with the hottest guys. Life would just be so much easier, but I guess not all of us are fortunate enough to be born into that kind of lifestyle.
Soon enough, I’m trailing behind them, keeping a steady distance between us as we shuffle into Econ, my favorite class by far. The concepts in this class come easy to me, mostly because I approach all our topics with the assumption that human beings are greedy and self-serving. It seems to explain a lot about our markets, free or controlled by the government. I’m sure everyone at St. Addams would agree, after all, they’re the ones benefiting off of our capitalist economy.
I take my seat toward the back of the class, watching students file in one by one, taking seats next to fellow members of their cliques. Econ is one of those rare classes with a seating chart, but it doesn’t seem to be randomized because Mr. Smith just puts friends groups together. Or maybe it’s because everyone in this damn school seems to be in one large friend group, excluding me. It must be nice having friends in all your classes. Hunter and Wash sit behind me, whispering something in hushed voices.
Mr. Smith arrives shortly after, stubble lining his jaw and his greasy hair unkempt. He rustles through some papers on his desk, trying to find today’s lesson plan. He’s not the most organized teacher, that’s for sure.
“Give me a second, guys,” he says, still furiously digging in his suitcase.
“Of course, sir. Anything for you, sir,” I hear Wash reply, tone dripping with sarcasm.
Mr. Smith doesn’t look the least bit amused. Perhaps it’s because Wash routinely tries to get on his nerves, so his patience is wearing thin. “Watch your mouth, Savior. You don’t want to be sent to the dean again, would ya?”
Sometimes I forget Savior Washington’s full name isn’t just Wash. Virtually everyone calls him Wash, with the exception of Mr. Smith and Hunter, who call him Sav.
He pats around his suit, when something falls out of his breast pocket. “Found it,” Mr. Smith muttered, triumphantly holding up a sheet of paper, which is wrinkled and stained. I wouldn’t expect anything less.
“So there’s going to be more graphing,” he continued, smoothing out the lesson plan as best as he could. He’s met with a chorus of groaning. I don’t know what people have against graphing. Yeah, it can be tedious, but it’s relaxing labeling and making sure all your lines are straight. Perhaps I just enjoy doing mundane things.
Suddenly, a phone rings. Loudly. And it’s coming from my general region. Everyone turns my direction, eyes wide. They know how strict Mr. Smith’s phone policy is. He doesn’t give any warnings or anything. Your phone goes straight to the dean. And you won’t get it back. Ever.
“Leighanna,” Mr. Smith says, glaring at me with an outstretched hand, “phone. Now.”
The fuck? My jaw hangs open. I know for a fact that it wasn’t my phone that went off. But Mr. Smith would never believe me. He has something against me, ever since he first got a glimpse of me. He didn’t make his dislike of me subtle either. He’s given me harder tests before, and curved them less when I did well.
Besides, my mother did not raise me to be a fighter. She taught me to obey. If I don’t give him my phone, he’ll probably report me to the principal, and I could get this written on my academic record, or worse, expelled. This isn’t worth the risk. I need to play my cards right.
So I swallow my pride, grit my teeth, and lay my phone down on his palm. He snatches it from my grasp, stuffing it in his desk drawer. It’s Friday, meaning the earliest I can get my phone back is next Monday, if I ever get it back. The dean is notorious for keeping phones. No one’s ever called her out on it because most of my peers can easily afford another one. My mom is gonna kill me. What am I gonna do now?
“That was extremely inappropriate. You guys are seniors, you should know better.” He shakes his head in disappointment.
Then, he starts teaching again like nothing ever happened. I feel someone kick the back of my seat. It doesn’t take a genius to know who it is. Hunter is the one sitting directly behind me.
I can’t focus for the rest of the class, so I nervously tapped my pencil on my desk.
When the bell rings, Mr. Smith mutters a soft goodbye, and most students are already halfway out the door. My dumbass didn’t pack before the bell rang, so I’m stuck collecting my things.
I refuse to even make a slight look toward Mr. Smith’s desk when I leave. Might as well spare myself of further humiliation.
I noticed Hunter lingered outside as I passed the threshold. To make matters worse, he winked at me. Ew. I should’ve known it was his phone. And he didn’t even try to stand up for me.
I pretended like I didn’t see him, pushing away from him without so much acknowledging his existence.
“Leighanna, I know you saw me.”
Well, shit. I guess I can’t pretend I didn’t hear him, since he’s addressing me directly. I stop in my tracks.
“What do you want?” I snap, a little annoyed, and a little surprised he knows my name, “class starts soon. I’m going to be late.”
“You have Calc next. Ms. Salazar right? There’s a sub today. You’re fine.”
My lips part in shock. “How did you know that?” I ask, a little weirded out. That’s some stalker shit.
He grins deviously. “I know everything about everyone, sweetheart. You’re not special.”
I don’t have to deal with this, so I start walking again. That is, until I feel his hand around my wrist, his fingers likely leaving a mark where they are.
“Do you want your phone back or not?”
I do. My mom’s not gonna be happy. She likes keeping tabs on me at all times.
“Yeah,” I confess, barely whispering.
“Good,” he smiled, “then you’ll meet me in front of the principal’s office after school. Not a second later. Got it?”
And with that, he’s gone, leaving me to watch his retreating figure, mouth hung open.