My Ranking Points
Chapter Twenty: Inside a Coffin
For the next few days, Cass avoided people when she could. Alisha respected her and tried to give her space, though she still attempted to cheer Cass up on occasion. Ace, on the other hand, worked tirelessly to make her smile. But even he could not succeed.
Ches hadn’t so much as looked at her since he’d refused to help with the Jabberwocky situation. He carefully steered clear of her in Surviving Fairytales, and kept his back turned at lunch. For Cass, it was torture.
“I should just tell him I’m done talking to you two and convince him to be my friend again,” Cass said one day during lunch. She was sitting under the usual tree with Ace, while Alisha chatted with some Evergirls a few yards away.
“You can have more than one friend,” Ace said.
“Evers can,” Cass said, “but Nevers have to stick with what they’ve got. And I’m not actually an Ever.”
“Yes, you are,” Ace assured. “When will you see that?”
“When you prove it,” Cass replied shortly.
Ace sighed. “We need to take your mind off of him. How about we go back into the Blue Forest tonight and work on the Jabberwock mystery?”
“And do what? We’ve done everything we can for now. We need the White Rabbit’s response first,” Cass argued.
“Please? It’ll help get your mind off of Ches,” Ace said.
Cass rolled her eyes. “But it’s pointless.”
“You discovered the Jabberwocky by accident. Who knows what we could find tonight?”
“Come on, Cass,” he pleaded.
“What about Alisha?” she asked.
“She’ll stay, same as always,” Ace answered.
“We can’t keep leaving her behind,” Cass protested. “Sooner or later she’ll insist on coming with us.”
“And one day that’ll be alright. Just give me tonight to take your mind off of Ches,” Ace said.
Cass hesitated, staring defiantly into his blue eyes. He looked so hopeful- desperate, even- that she couldn’t say no.
“Alright. One hour. Come get me at eleven,” Cass instructed.
Ace’s face broke into a huge smile. “Deal.”
Ace’s promise of distraction had her almost hopeful. And the prospect of sneaking out again made her smile for the first time in days. In fact, she almost forgot all about Ches… until Surviving Fairytales.
The challenge for the day was to discern Good from Evil. The fairy had each girl climb into a glass coffin, then turned them all into identical princesses. The princes walked among them, trying to separate Evers from Nevers. Once they found a girl they were certain was in their school, they kissed her hand and restored her to normal.
To her right, Cass saw Ace frowning as he examined princesses. To her left, Ches walked between coffins, barely glancing at the girls inside.
Then, at the same time, both boys looked at Cass. Ace was the first to step towards her, but Ches moved right after. They reached the coffin at the same time. They locked eyes for a moment before they each reached for one of her hands, racing to kiss her hand and transform her first.
Ace and Ches kissed her knuckles at precisely the same moment, and Cass melted back into her regular self. Ches’s eyes brightened for a moment, but Ace was already helping her up. She could feel the boys glaring at each other as Ace pulled her against his chest, embracing her firmly. Cass quickly shrugged him off, but was smiling nonetheless.
“I guess this means you meant those things that you said back near the caves,” she said shyly.
“Did you doubt it?” he asked, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. Cass just smiled coyly as Ace stared into her eyes. She thought he would have kissed her, had the gnome assistant not blown his whistle to signal the end of the challenge.
One girl, Fairah, had not been selected by any of the boys, as Ches and Ace had both chosen Cass. And while technically that was against the rules, Miss Melody had been unable to stop it and so Fairah was forced to be unchosen.
Feeling slightly guilty when she saw Fairah’s crestfallen face, Cass focused on Ace as he wrapped his arm around her waist. She looked up at him, and with a teasing glint in her eyes, deftly ducked away.
Ace laughed softly and shook his head. Cass gave his hand a quick squeeze. She didn’t want to ruin whatever it was that she had with him, but she wasn’t used to showing her feelings for people. Or having people care for her the way Ace did.
Alisha was exceptionally cheerful as she got ready for dinner in their dorm that night. She smiles happily as she tied a silk ribbon in her hair, making her look more like her mother then ever. The fluffy, beautiful blonde hair and bright, sparkling blue eyes… if she had been wearing Alice’s typical blue dress and white apron, they would have been identical.
“Why are you so happy?” Cass asked as she sat on her bed, flipping through an Etiquette textbook.
“Oh, just the coffin challenge. Dmitri picked me… and then he gave me a rose-”
“I thought you liked Ace,” Cass interrupted, confused.
“Oh, I do. But Dmitri is so handsome, and you know the best way to get a boy is to make him jealous.” Alisha smiled coyly. Cass raised her eyebrows and Alisha cleared her throat. “Besides, since an Everyboy picked me, it means that I am thoroughly good.”
Cass just smiled, still unused to the positive, yet complicated, logic of Evergirls. Alisha finished brushing through her hair and set the brush on the vanity.
“I found something,” she said, going to her trunk. She began rummaging around as she continued to speak to Cass. “It was at the bottom of my trunk. I bet my mother put it there… or perhaps Rue.”
“What is it?” Cass asked, only partly interested.
“Here!” Alisha pulled out a wooden box that was narrow in height but was about seven feet long. “It’s a croquet set.”
That got Cass’s attention. She set aside her textbook and jumped off the bed, hurrying to kneel beside Alisha as she lifted the lid off the box.
“It’s magnificent,” Cass breathed, lifting a mallet from the box. It was sturdy but light, and Cass felt instantly calmer. She hadn’t realized how homesick she’d been, but holding the mallet was like holding a piece of home.
While Cass examined the mallet, Alisha traced the circumference of a ball. The door opened behind them, but they barely noticed Emmeline returning from the bathroom.
Cass and Alisha looked up.
“It’s croquet,” Alisha said.
“And that is?” Emmeline asked skeptically.
“A game,” Alisha answered. She turned to Cass. “Want to play at lunch tomorrow?”
A grin slowly snaked its way across Cass’s face. “Let’s do it,” she said eagerly.
“What is it?” Emmeline pressed.
Alisha smiled. “Come find us at lunch tomorrow. We’ll teach you.”
Emmeline shrugged. Alisha caught Cass’s eye and they grinned, before the latter set the mallet back into the box.
“Ready for dinner?” Cass asked.
“Let’s go,” Alisha replied. The two girls got up, pushed the game set safely under Alisha’s bed, and left the dorm.
Dinner was delicious, as always in the School for Good. There was a chicken salad with lemonade and chocolate cake for dessert, plus a variety of sides.
As they ate, Ace told Alisha about his plans to sneak back out. Alisha didn’t like the idea of being left behind again, but Ace insisted.
“At least wait a couple more nights,” Alisha begged finally. “We should get a reply from the White Rabbit soon. Then you can go.”
“Please. Promise me.”
“Okay, fine. I promise,” Ace said begrudgingly. “I won’t go yet. But if we don’t have a reply in two nights, we’re going whether you like it or not.”
Alisha nodded, and Cass hoped for both of their sakes that the White Rabbit’s reply would get to them soon.