Chapter 1: Gold and Silver

A dream?

Estelle was propped up on her bed against her pillow, beads of hot sweat running down her temples. The stiffness induced from a stagnant and uncomfortable position throbbed in her shoulders, as if someone had stuffed a clothes hanger into her frame.

"What the hell was that?" She mumbled to herself, whilst shutting her eyelids tightly. The nightmare was horrendous! The black rain and tears, that haunting face in the window reflection, and those ants! She gripped the bed sheets hard, squeezing her nails into the warm fabric, and released them. On the dresser sat her antique alarm clock which showed five o' clock in the morning.

Dear God, please erase this memory from my mind before I turn insane thinking of it.

Slowly and deliberately, Estelle turned to the bedroom window, almost expecting to see drops of ink coloured rain or a smiling face. She flinched upon seeing her own reflection, but nothing happened.

"Papers..." Estelle slapped her hand onto the bedside table and felt stacks of papers- their texture crinkly from writing- under her palm. Ah, yes! There would be an economics test during her first period class. It was important, since the marks played a role in determining her forecast results. A groan escaped her throat involuntarily as she rudely grabbed the papers and dragged her body out from the warm comfort of sleep.

You won't stop me from focusing on my test, nightmare.

Perhaps, she would message Josh after the revision, to confirm certain theory interpretations. After the test would be a maths lecture and later a break hour.

Mmm...Estelle longed for the break hour. She could use some rest and a creamy cup of Starbucks Latte.

"Hey Estelle!"

The impeccably groomed girl turned her head toward the direction of the boyish voice. Joshua Bright was standing next to the descending escalators, waiting for her.

If names have an influence on personalities, it definitely showed on Josh. He was very bright- the quality was reflected in his attitude and extended to his physical appearance. The blonde- haired boy possessed a well built frame and healthy complexion that brought out the sunny demeanour vibrantly.

Estelle grinned and strode to him. "Are you prepared?"

"Do I look prepared?"

"Naturally. You look as if you bribed the teacher."

Josh threw up his hands in mock surrender. "Hell no! If I did, it wouldn't be Mrs. Dover. That would be suicidal."

Casually, Estelle leaned against the railings and scanned the wide corridors outside the classroom. It was still early but a fair number of students had shown up, chatting or reading their notes for one last time. Backpacks and jackets littered the floor and a faint sanitized smell lingered in the air. In a corner, a small group of fashionable but unprepared girls clustered to memorize last minute key points and brainstormed each other.

Estelle would never do that. She despised being seen holding textbooks or notes in front of college mates. Such an act declared desperation.

"Aye, a shameful thing to do, isn't it?" Josh interrupted her thoughts, his eyes following hers into watching the girls. "It really makes you think what they have been doing the night before."

"Josh..." Estelle hushed him.

Her languid companion ruffled his hair and chuckled mischievously while he drank in the entire sight of college mates. "Don't pretend you don't agree with me, Estelle. You, of all people, should know that. You, the Silver Queen of the class."

Silver queen, she thought. It was an informal title bestowed upon her for being one of the top three academically excellent students of her class A4. It was a title she had earned through blood and tears, through regimes of painstaking hard work that not even Josh knew. She was no prodigy or genius but neither was Thomas Edison.

"I have to say, you really motivated me. If you can beat Lawrence this time, I would be so proud." Josh continued, his tone morphed into genuine sincerity.

Ah, Lawrence Cashew. The Gold King. Estelle watched the intelligent-looking brunet listening to his friends' conversation from the corner of her eye. He was dressed in a formal black shirt and conservative slacks, his chestnut hair cropped and combed slick. He looked like someone who worked in the financial sector.

She sighed softly so Josh would not notice. Felling College was a prestigious institution catered to children from families who had money to burn. Her family was not as wealthy but they had no trouble paying her overpriced tuition fees. In this kind if system, you belong to either one of the three categories- the excellent, the average and the soon-to- be dropouts. There are no barriers between the categories and you can be replaced of your position anytime.

It was very competitive.

"Students of A4!" Mrs. Dover poked her head out from the corner of the door as if it were a dressing room. Her voice was clear and crisp with a certain professional authority. "Students of A4 taking the economics assessment! Your test will begin in fifteen minutes! Please leave your bags in the corridor and bring only your stationery!"

Crowds of student began filing into the classroom, dumping their bags along a line by the wall. An icy wind from the air-conditioning blew out as the door was flung wide, sending a slight shiver down Estelle's legs.

"Good luck, Josh."

"Same to ya."

Lawrence stood still to adjust his watch by the doorway, stopping deliberately and turning back to glance at the dark-haired girl. Her eyes met his, and she could sense the quiet but powerful energy radiating from those green pupils. The gaze was locked, as if they were communicating through a secret telepathic force. Finally, Estelle presented her signature sweet smile to break the stare off. The Gold King winked. A cheeky wink with a challenging undertone.

"Brr..." She could hear a seated student shudder to the waves of chilliness that circulated in the classroom. The tables were separated into precise and impersonal rows with narrow walking room in between them- an unfriendly setting compared to the usual lively clusters. She chose the front row seat next to the window. Lawrence chose the back row. Josh was seated in the middle, his presence lost in the pond of heads.

Five more minutes. Estelle arranged her pens in the right hand corner neatly, her finger movements poised and elegant. She could imagine Lawrence doing the similar routine in the back, his table being the battlefield and his throne.

His golden, princely throne.

Tick-tocking noises sounded with each stroke of the clock's minute hand. She stared expressionless at the black rimmed mechanism, the instrument to measure the battle minutes. Mrs. Dover glimpsed briefly at it before distributing thin stapled question and answer booklets.

One minute left. The student beside her inhaled deeply. Estelle, on the other hand, was growing impatient.

"You may begin." Mrs. Dover announced.

The sound of fresh pages being shuffled filled the silent room. Estelle flipped open her own booklet with her left hand and twirled a black ink pen in her right, contemplating the questions carefully. A tiny smile crossed her face and she began drafting notes for her essay. In the back row, Lawrence smirked at his booklet. He raised his head to watch his rival at the front table scribbling away. The Silver Queen.

He intended to keep her on the silver pedestal.

It was easier than I expected.

Estelle splashed water on her face in the restroom, trying to cleanse the annoying fatigue away. Droplets of excessive water dripped down from her cheeks and slid the whole way down to her neck as she stared at herself in the mirror. Her long, shining espresso tresses were hanging in a loose fashion down her back and the sharp glimmer in her grey eyes was still present. The penetrating glimmer rendered her a smart appearance with an air of mystery. It told people that there was much more to her than what their eyes can see- the complex cocktail of passion, intelligence and delectable femininity.

A bright, cheerful voice broke her musings, followed with the seductive tapping of high-heels. "Hi Estelle! Kate and I were just going to have a coffee break at the Bagel House! Care to join us?"

Estelle turned her head and came face to face with the smiling Marissa Crepe who had her arm linked with Kate. The socialite girl looked a little unsteady in her heels and tipsy was with giggling. But if history could be relied upon, Marissa had lost her composure since the day after orientation. Otherwise, she would be harmless.

"I'd love to, but I'm not feeling so well right now. Sorry..."

"Oh, are you okay? We can accompany you to the sick bay if you like..."

Kate interjected the conversation gracelessly, her arm still linked to her companion. "Leave it be, Marissa. People can take care of themselves good enough."

Courteously, Estelle smiled at Marissa. "That's very kind of you, but I suppose a short nap will help. Here, take this." She dug into a small compartment of her bag to retrieve a folded piece of paper. "It's a coupon I got from Bagel House for their new spicy roast flavour. Perhaps you might like it."

Marissa's eyes widened as she accepted the coupon. "Wow, really? Thank you so much! I'll be sure to return the favour soon, count on it."

The two girls shared a friendly laughter in front of the mirrors while Kate watched on with a sour face as if the little exchange irritated her. When it ended, Marissa entered a toilet stall while Estelle took a final look in the mirror to ensure nothing was out of place. She flashed a glare at impolite Kate, having to lower her eyes because of the girl's height. It was a quiet but surprisingly cold glare that made Kate scowl uncomfortably and look away.

You were my first friend in college and the first to betray our friendship.

Estelle smirked and walked out of the restroom. She kept on a smooth stride through the isolated corridors and halls, winding around the concrete maze until she reached the college's front glass doors and exited from them. Felling's premises was likened to a professional office tower, rising up to ten floors with a metallic and glass surface, its interiors were fully air-conditioned. At the small clearing outside the entrance were large, 3D steel models of the words: FELLING COLLEGE. The girl gave the name a brief glance before crossing the road. Her destination was on the opposite of the highway- Starbucks at the Bazaar Retail Complex.