I FLOAT back to Sisulu House on a cloud of happy happiness. A blissfully floaty cloud of peace, love and joy. I want to hug everyone I see, kiss small babies, and give twenty-rand notes to beggars.
I run up the stairs light as a feather, and pirouette into the dormitory. As soon as I see Lael in there finishing off her Science homework, I realise the only thing better than daydreaming about Zach is telling Lael all about him.
“Thank goodness you’re back!” she says, jumping to her feet.
I laugh. “Have you been waiting on tenterhooks? Then I won’t tease you. Your master-plan was a complete and total and utter success.”
She smiles. “That’s great, and I want to hear all about it. But first I need to tell you something, and I’m afraid you’re not going to like it.”
“Nothing you say can ruin my good mood today!” I declare, doing a few more pirouettes around the dormitory. Then I stop, struck by a hideous thought. “Unless you’re going to tell me he’s already cancelled our TV date. Please say it’s not that.”
“No, no, it’s got nothing to do with Postmatric Guy,” she says.
I breathe a sigh of relief. “Well, thank goodness for that. Okay, now there’s nothing you can say that would upset me, so what is it?”
“Have a look over there,” she says darkly, pointing at the one unoccupied bed in our dormitory. “What do you notice?”
“Someone’s moved in?” I hazard, noticing that the bed is made up and there are pictures stuck up on the cubicle walls.
“Not just any old someone. It’s Sophie.” “Our Sophie? Sophie Agincourt?”
Lael nods gloomily.
For a moment I’m too shocked to speak. Sophie has never boarded. Ever. In the whole history of her school career. If you think I’m spoiled, you should take a look at Sophie. When it comes to spoiling, her parents start where mine leave off. Anything Sophie wants, Sophie gets. Her house is not as big as ours (let’s face it, very few houses are), but Sophie’s room is roughly twice the size of mine. Sophie’s suite, I should say, because it includes a private sitting-room and a massive hotel-sized bathroom.
Sophie’s parents have gone overboard in terms of giving her every single thing she’s ever asked for. The thought of her voluntarily giving all that up to come and live in a dormitory with five other girls boggles my mind.
Except for one thing.
“You know why she’s doing this, don’t you?” Lael asks.
“Because I am?”
“Yup. If you weren’t boarding this term, it would never have crossed Sophie’s mind. She has to copy every single thing you do, and try to do it better.”
This is unfortunately true. Sophie and I used to get on fairly well until we both entered the Miss Sandton kiddies’ pageant when we were eleven years old. I won, even though I wasn’t wearing any makeup and just had my hair brushed down my back with an Alice band. And Sophie – who’d had her hair, makeup and wardrobe professionally styled – was my First Princess.
Ever since then, she’s taken our rivalry to a whole new level of thermonuclear insanity.
Normally I’d be furious that she’d moved into Sisulu House, but what with my TV date with Zach coming up, I can hardly even work up the energy. Plus – and this is very important – Sophie was the one who gave me the cage-fighting tip, which, as we now know, was totally on the money.
I tell Lael all about my meeting with Zach, and ask whether she doesn’t agree that this has earned Sophie a Royal Pardon.
“It’s weird, all right.” Her forehead creases. “It looks as though Sophie actually did something good for once. And in other news, low-flying piggies are expected over Joburg tonight…”
“I was just trying to be nice, okay?”
Lael and I both jump and turn around to find that
Sophie has crept up behind us.
“Is that so hard to believe?” she goes on, sitting down on her bed. “I already told you I’d rather see Trinity with Zach than with some smug matric girl. But don’t go thinking I’ve gone soft or anything, because I haven’t.”
She fixes me with her baby-blue eyes.
“Are you really seeing him tonight?”
“Yes. Well, sort of. He said I can come and watch the big cage-fight on ESPN at the Annexe with him, so I’ll go there straight after supper. I just need to clear it with Matron.”
“Okay, well, remember to say you also think base-jumping is cool, and you basically have a thing for guys who go in for extreme sports.”
I nod. “Got it.”
“Also, he wants to study actuarial science next year, so don’t say anything about how you think it’s the most boring career in the known universe.”
Although I do actually think that actuarial science – and accountancy, and quantity surveying – sound like the most boring jobs on earth. The only good thing about them is that they pay well.
“What are you going to wear?”
“Duh! School uniform, of course. There’s not going to be time to change after supper. And anyway, I don’t think they’d even let me.”
“Yeees…” says Sophie as though to an idiot. “But how are you going to customise it?”
I see what she’s saying. Sophie has at least seven Brentwood school shirts that are all cut slightly differently depending on what look she’s going for. She must have them specially made at a tailor. Frankly I can’t be bothered. The standard shirt-and-skirt combo fits me just fine – skimming nicely over my butt and making my waist look smaller.
“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” I say vaguely. “Well, don’t take too long,” Sophie says, jumping up
from her bed. “Zach’s not the kind of boy you want to make mistakes with. There’ll be plenty of girls waiting to snap him up.” And she runs lightly out the dorm.
“Why’s she being like this?” Lael asks suspiciously.
“Maybe she’s turned over a new leaf,” I say. Then I catch Lael’s eye and we both start to giggle. “Unlikely, I know.”
“But who cares, as long as it helps me hook Zach.”
I’m so nervous at supper I can hardly eat. Maybe this is nature’s way of helping me lose a quick half-kilo in the next hour. I stick to foods that will not make my breath too stinky, and skip the chicken curry completely, even though it’s one of my favourites. Not that I’m expecting any up-close-and-personal action this evening – of course not – but I don’t want him reeling away in disgust from me either.
Lael and I are a bit silly and giggly all through supper, but Sophie is as cool as a cucumber. She’s busy being friendly to Nosipho, Yasmin and Priya. They don’t really know what to make of it, because she’s never paid the slightest bit of attention to them before.
Matron tells me I have permission to watch TV at the Postmatric Annexe tonight, provided I’m back in Sisulu House at 8.30 on the dot. She makes it sound like she’s going to be standing at the door with a stopwatch.
Before I know it, supper’s over and Lael is wishing me luck. It feels weird not joining the stream of girls heading back to Sisulu House. Instead I veer off towards the Annexe. In a moment, there’s hardly anyone around. The postmatrics have a little kitchen and mostly seem to make their own food – you hardly ever see them in the dining-hall.
As the sound of chatter disappears into Sisulu House, the evening suddenly seems very quiet. It’s still quite light, but long shadows are starting to stretch across the playing fields and the world seems drained of colour.
There’s a coolish breeze, and I reckon there’ll be rain later. The sky looks inky to the south, and swallows are swooping low around the grounds, plucking insects out of the air.
I give a little shiver and cross my arms over my chest. The sight of the shut Annexe door brings me up short.
I try the handle, but it is very definitely locked.
Then I notice a doorbell tucked away and give it a timid prod. I can hear a faint buzzing sound and, within seconds, footsteps.
“Can I help you?” A guy in his twenties dressed in civvies opens the door.
“Um … hi! I’m here to visit Zach Morris?” “Name?” he asks in a bored voice. “Trinity Luhabe.”
“Come on in.”
He makes me sign a register and makes a note of the time. I’m wondering whether he’s going to take me to the TV room himself, or whether I have to find my own way there when Zach walks in.
“Hi, Trinity,” he says coolly. “Thanks, Mike. I can take it from here.”
The guy called Mike leaves, and Zach takes me through to the TV room where an ad for a dirt-biking show is playing.
“Who was that?” I ask.
“Oh, Mike’s one of the wardens. We have two. They’re here to keep an eye on us. There’s the other one.” He nods in the direction of another older-looking guy in the TV room, who’s texting on his phone.
There are a few other guys scattered around the place. The Postmatric Annexe is supposed to be co-ed, but like I said, hardly any girls choose to do postmatric. And this year there are none, so I’m the only girl in the place.
I’d probably be more freaked out if anyone were paying attention to me, but they’re not. Even Zach is fixated by the TV screen. It looks like the fight has already started. All I know about cage-fighting is what I picked up from Wikipedia in ten minutes flat this afternoon. I don’t really trust myself to say anything intelligent, so I limit myself to going “Ooh!” and “Aah!” Hopefully in all the right places.
And, okay, there’s a tiny part of me – that seems to speak in the voice of Ms Potgieter, our Life Orientation teacher – that says I should never pretend to be interested in something I’m not just for the sake of a guy. But in the first place, that rule was never intended to apply to anyone as hot as Zach – he’s clearly the exception. And in the second place, Ms Potgieter must be nearly thirty by now and she’s still single, so what does she know?
So I sit in an armchair next to Zach and put on my eager face. Every now and then I have to shut my eyes when the fighting on the screen gets too horrible. It turns out cage-fighting is really awful – way worse than boxing. They keep having to stop the fight to patch up somebody’s split lip or flapping forehead skin.
There’s blood flying all over the place. Eeuw, eeuw and gross!
“You’re not really enjoying this, are you?” says Zach. “What?” I say, startled. “Of course I am. I love cage-
fighting. Love it!”
“Then why do you keep wincing and shutting your eyes?”
“Um … that’s because of the blood. I’m not that good with blood, to be honest. But the fighting’s really cool. You can totally see the Japanese influence in that guy’s style.” I gesture vaguely at the screen.
Zach watches for a few seconds and then turns to me.
“You’re right. He’s definitely modelling himself on the Japanese fighters. Whereas the other guy has more of a Brazilian influence.”
Now I just need to get through the rest of this with my eyes open and no flinching.
I’m staring at the screen so hard my eyes are almost watering when I become aware of Zach leaning in really close.
“I think it’s cute how you enjoy the sport, but can’t stand the sight of blood,” he says softly. “It makes you seem … I don’t know … more feminine.”
I smile at him and swivel my head back to the screen. My heart is pounding in my chest.
Zach Morris called me feminine. And he’s not done yet.
“A lot of the girls who watch extreme sports are really bloodthirsty,” he goes on. “But not you. You’re different. You enjoy it for the skill and the technique, but you still flinch at the sight of blood. You’ve no idea how cute that is.”
No, I don’t. Tell me more.
“Well…” I clear my throat. “I’ve always been interested in how … in how it evolved as a sport from several different martial arts traditions.” I’m quoting straight from Wikipedia here, but he doesn’t seem to notice. “And … and also how it represents a search for the most effective form of unarmed combat in the world.”
“Wow.” He smiles. “You know almost more about it than I do. What else do you do to relax, Trinity?”
I pause for a moment, as though I’m thinking about my answer. Which of course I am. Now is my chance to get real with Zach. I’ve already caught his interest with this cage-fighting stunt, so I should really start being honest with him about the stuff I enjoy doing. Otherwise our relationship will be built on a whole bunch of lies.
“I’m … I’m interested in all extreme sports really,” I hear myself saying. “Base-jumping … skydiving …”
“Base-jumping!” he says eagerly.
“In a strictly … um … theoretical way, of course,” I add hastily. “I don’t think I could ever really do it myself, but I’m fascinated by it. I love to watch it.”
No ways am I jumping out of a plane or off a cliff for this or any other guy. There are limits to love – very clear limits.
I get my reward right away. Zach is looking at me with a new glow in his eyes, as if he can’t quite believe that I’m real.
“That’s amazing!” he says. “I started training to skydive in the December holidays, and soon I’ll move on to base-jumping. Most people think I’m completely crazy when I tell them. It’s so great to finally meet someone who understands.”
Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I’m a horrible liar who doesn’t deserve a guy like this. But, seriously, what was I going to say when he asked me what I was interested in? Music, movies, fashion and cellphone apps? Do you know how shallow that would make me sound? And anyway, show me one girl who doesn’t lie a bit when she’s trying to get a guy interested. I’ve heard girls telling guys that they simply adore rugby or football or whatever. When I happen to know they’re lying through their teeth. And they always pretend to support whatever team the guy supports, even if they’ve never heard of them until that moment.
So I just smile and nod, and agree with everything Zach says as he starts talking about the differences between skydiving and base-jumping, and all the new skills he has to learn.
It’s only when he reaches up a hand to push his hair back that I catch sight of the time on his watch.
“Oh, my goodness!” I jump up. “It’s twenty-five to nine. I was supposed to be back at Sisulu House by half-past eight.”
He leans back in his chair, hooking his hands behind his head and stretching out his legs. “Chill!” he says. “It’s no big deal.”
“It is a big deal,” I say. “If I mess up on my very first time out, they’ll never let me come here again.”
There’s a short silence. A tidal wave of heat sweeps across my face as I realise what I’ve just said. Because he hasn’t asked me to come here again, has he? In fact, he hasn’t even hinted at it.
“I … I mean…” I start stuttering. “They won’t let me out at night again. You know … to go anywhere.”
Oh, cringe. Cringety cringe cringe.
Luckily, Zach seems to be smiling. He stands up lazily and catches my hands in his.
“Well, that would be a pity, wouldn’t it? Because I’d really like to see you again. But maybe not at night next time. How does Friday at three sound? Are you free then?”
“Oh, absolutely! Definitely, yes.” I nod madly. I know I’ve got something on this Friday afternoon, but whatever it is, I’ll get rid of it.
“Great! Meet me at the tuckshop then. Three o’clock. Don’t forget.”
And he turns to lead me out of the Annexe.