WHEN THE bell goes for the end of the day at twenty-past two on Friday afternoon, I hurtle back to Sisulu House to change out of my uniform.
On Friday afternoons, boarders are allowed to change into civvies unless we’re taking part in some official school function.
I’ve got my outfit all laid out on my bed. I decided not to wear jeans for a change, but opted for a flirty little skirt instead. It’s long enough to hide my butt and thighs, but short enough to show off my calves and ankles, which are the best parts of my legs. I’ve teamed it with a frilly strappy top and a pair of gladiator sandals. We’re not supposed to wear makeup at school, but I swipe on some coloured lipgloss anyway.
When I step out of Sisulu House into the sharp, bright sunlight, I know I’m looking good.
That confidence puts a spring in my step as I head for the tuckshop. Zach said three o’clock. I wanted to get there at 3.05, but didn’t quite have the nerve. So it’s approximately 3.02 as I arrive and start scanning the groups of kids hanging around.
“Hold it right there,” a voice says behind me, making me jump. “Don’t move for a second. I want to remember how gorgeous you look.”
I hear the shutter of a cellphone camera. “Okay, you can move now.”
I turn around to see Zach slipping his phone into his pocket.
“Did you just take a picture of the back of my head?” I ask, smiling at him.
“Yes.” He grins back. “Is that a problem?”
“No, although I like to think the front view isn’t too bad either.”
“It’s lovely,” he says, slinging an arm over my shoulders as we walk up to the tuckshop counter. “You’re lovely. Do you have any idea how pretty you look today? I bet every guy in school wishes he was me right now.”
I think it’s much more likely that every girl in school is wishing she was me, but no guy has ever said something like that to me before. I feel all lit up from the inside.
“Would you like something?” he asks, getting out his wallet.
I’m about to ask for a Coke Zero, but then I remember how bubbly they are – I don’t want to spend the whole afternoon burping. “Just a still water, thanks.”
Zach gets himself a toasted sandwich and a can of cooldrink, and hands me my water. We perch on the low wall around the fountain while he eats.
“So did you see the fight last night?” Zach asks between mouthfuls.
I almost say “what fight?” when I suddenly remember that I’m supposed to be a big fan of cage-fighting. I should really keep tabs on the TV guide to see when these things are happening.
“Uh … no,” I say, thinking fast. “No ESPN in Sisulu House, remember? So what happened?”
“Oh, it was great!” He launches into a long description of a fight between a Russian and a Costa Rican. I listen with half an ear while keeping an eye on what’s going on around us. Specifically, who has noticed that we’re hanging out together, and who is looking green with envy.
Most people are just getting on with their normal Friday afternoon stuff. The day kids are drifting home, with plans to meet up on the weekend. The weekly boarders are packing up their stuff and waiting for their parents to collect them. And the term boarders like me are just hanging out, enjoying having nothing urgent to do.
I notice Sophie Agincourt standing in a noisy group near the swimming pool. She has her back to me, but I know she’s seen me. Sophie has foolproof radar when it comes to me. It starts beeping when we’re within a thirty metre radius of each other. BEEP BEEP BEEP.
It’s beeping now, I know it is. BEEP BEEP BEEP. Yes, look, she’s turning around and totally zeroing in on me. And now she’s coming over.
“Hey, guys!” she says. “How’s it going?”
“All right, and you?” I answer guardedly. I’m still not convinced that she doesn’t like Zach. I mean, look at him. He’s practically a Greek god. How can she not like him?
“Hi, Sophie,” he says. “I’ve hardly seen you since Howick in December. That was fun. We should do it again.”
What was fun? What?
“Well, I’ll be there over Easter again. See you then?” “Sure,” he says.
“I didn’t know you knew Trinity,” Sophie adds, lying like the sociopath she is. “We’ve been friends since Grade 1.”
“Really? I didn’t know that,” Zach turns to me.
I smile weakly. I suppose it’s true enough. If by friends, you mean mortal enemies.
“Trinity’s a great girl. I’m so glad you guys are getting to know each other. You know who her father is, right?” I glare at Sophie, but she’s not looking at me. Zach pauses for a second and then nods.
“Abel Luhabe, the billionaire mining guy? The one who was on Robben Island?” She drills the point home. “Very useful contact for you when you’re looking for a job, Zach.”
There’s another millisecond pause. Then Zach shakes his head. “I know about that, but that’s not why I’m hanging out with Trinity. She’s gorgeous and funny and likes the same stuff as I do. That’s enough reason for me.”
Sophie gives me a raised-eyebrow look as though to say, “See what a keeper this guy is?” Then she blows kisses to both of us and goes on her way, telling us to have fun. “But not too much fun!” she adds, giving a cheeky little wave.
We watch her leave in silence.
You might think that bit about my dad was meant to be bitchy. Like she was trying to imply that Zach is only interested in me because of my family’s money. But I know Sophie. She sees my family connections as an asset that I should exploit. In fact, those were her exact words. “Trinity, your family is an asset that you really should exploit more.” She truly thought that if Zach didn’t already know who my dad was, she would be doing me a favour by telling him. If you think I’m shallow and materialistic, you should try Sophie Agincourt on for size. Next to her, I’m practically the Dalai Lama.
“Trinity?” Zach is saying, waving his hand in front of my face. “Earth to Trinity. Come in, Trinity.”
“Sorry about that. I zoned out for a minute. You were saying?”
Zach lobs his can and sandwich wrapper into the nearest rubbish bin. I’m about to point out that it’s a plastics-only bin, but I stop myself in time. A first date is not a great time to turn into a nag.
“I was saying that we should really go somewhere more comfortable,” he says. “I want to be able to talk to you in peace and not be interrupted all the time.”
“How about the Sisulu House common room?” I suggest. Although the moment the words are out of my mouth, I imagine us running into all my friends there. “I was thinking of the Postmatric Annexe rather,” he says.
“Oh, right, sure … although it feels a bit weird being the only girl in the common room.”
“Actually…” Zach brushes a finger against my cheek and hooks a strand of hair behind my ear. “I was thinking more along the lines of my room.”
My heart gives a huge thud and my eyes fly up to meet his. “Your room?” I say, sounding a bit hoarse. “But that’s against the rules, isn’t it? No girls allowed up in the rooms.”
As I listen to my own voice bleating on, I want to kick myself. I sound like the clueless virgin in a movie. I mean, I am a virgin, but that’s beside the point. I shouldn’t be sounding like one.
Zach leans forward until his lips are almost touching my ear. “Have you never done something that was against the rules?”
A delicious shiver goes down my spine.
“Of … of course I have,” I stammer. “In fact, my friend Lael and I are planning something way, way against the rules. I mean, if we get caught … wow, we’ll be in so much trouble. We might even be expelled. I was just saying to Lael last night…”
Okay, shut up, Trinity. Just. Shut. Up.
“Well then you won’t object to breaking this one tiny rule,” says Zach, brushing his lips against my ear.
“N-no…” I agree. “But … but how? I mean, I thought it was impossible.”
“Nothing’s impossible,” he breathes against my cheek.
He pulls back and grins at me like a little boy. Then he takes my hand and starts pulling me in the direction of the boarding-houses. “Come on! I can’t wait to show you how to do it.”
I follow Zach down to the Postmatric Annexe, half-running, half-walking, and giggling all the way. We arrive at the door out of breath. Underneath the manic excitement, I’m aware of little beats of panic hammering away inside my chest. This is it. It’s really happening. And I never did get the chance to Google the Kama Sutra. Perhaps I can still slip off to the loo and look it up on my phone.
“Just wait around out here while I go and do a quick recce inside,” he says, peering into the gloom of the Annexe. “Try to make it look like you’re waiting for someone to come out of Gumede House.”
As he dives into the Annexe, I wander casually up towards Gumede House with my phone clenched in my hand.
Okay, quick. Kama Sutra. How the heck do you spell that anyway? I try “Karma Sutra” and end up with a book about a South African doctor. What on earth? I swear, if my mom has gone and installed a net-nanny app on my phone again, I’ll…
Too late, darn it. Zach is waving at me from the door of the Annexe. I trot over, but instead of joining me in the doorway, he pulls me around the corner and backs me against the wall.
“Okay, this is how it works,” he says, holding me pinned to the wall with his arm. “You see that camera?” I crane my neck forward and spot a security camera on a sort of gooseneck thingy mounted high up in the entrance to the Annexe. It’s tilted away from us. “Huh,”
I say. “I never noticed that before.”
“It’s monitored by a security guard who sits in a little office inside the Annexe. There are other cameras inside, but none of them are recorded. It’s just a live-feed.”
“Okay…” This doesn’t look very promising to me. “So basically what we need to do is distract the guard so that he leaves his post. Then we just slip you into my room.”
“But what if we run into someone else? Like the warden, for example.”
“There’s no one around on a Friday afternoon, trust me. Okay, watch this.”
He reaches into his backpack and pulls out a black nylon bag with a long string attached to it. He opens the neck as wide as it will go. Then, still keeping out of the sight of the camera, he starts tossing the bag up towards the camera. On his fourth try it lands neatly over the camera, covering it completely.
“Come on!” He grabs my hand and pulls me into the Annexe. We slip into the little room near the entrance where guests have to sign in. Zach pushes me out of sight, but sticks his head into the corridor. He seems to be listening for something. Soon we both hear footsteps creaking on the floorboards as someone comes down the passage. Zach gives the long piece of string a sharp tug and quickly reels the black nylon bag back in and stuffs it into his backpack.
Two seconds later a man in a security uniform walks past the door carrying a screwdriver.
Once again, Zach grabs my hand and hustles me out the room. We walk quickly along the passage, up some stairs, and along another passage. Then Zach produces a key and opens one of the doors with a flourish. We both almost fall inside and he slams and locks the door behind us. We grin at each other.
“Wow, you are good!” I say.
“Told you – nothing’s impossible.” He’s looking hugely pleased with himself.
The thought flits into my mind that the reason he’s so good at getting girls into his room is that he’s had a lot of practice at it – just like Sophie said. Then I give myself a shake. Of course he’s had practice. He’s nineteen, for goodness sake. I’m going out with an older man now. I can’t expect him never to have had any girlfriends before.
“Coffee?’ he asks, spooning two heaped teaspoons of Ricoffy into a mug. I wince.
“Do you have any tea?” “Sure.”
“Great, thanks.” The truth is I have an ambivalent relationship with coffee. I only really enjoy it if it’s an extra-foamy, extra-sweet frappuccino from Vida. The thought of Zach’s super-strong instant with only a splash of milk makes me shudder.
I look around his room while he makes tea for me. Right now it looks amazingly spacious to me, but that’s because I’m comparing it to my cubicle. If I’d seen it straight after coming from my own room at home, it would have seemed quite pokey. He’s got pictures of cage-fighting and other extreme sports all over his walls, and lots of pics of himself taking part in all kinds of scary stuff, like scuba-diving and parachuting.
He’s a bit of a neat freak, I notice, with all the pens lined up on his desk in size order, and a tidy little pile of work placed in the exact middle of the desk. His bed is neatly made with hospital corners and a wrinkle-free bedspread. My eyes keep being drawn to it.
I’m trying to imagine Zach and me falling onto the bed, clutched in a passionate embrace. We’d kiss for ages, and then he’d start tugging at my top … trying to get it over my head…
Oh God, stop thinking about it. If it happens, it happens. I’ll deal with it then.
“What are you doing?” Zach’s voice breaks in on my thoughts.
“Sorry?” I look up blankly, and then at my hands clutching my mug. “Oh, I’m just jiggling the teabag around with the spoon to make the tea stronger. I always do that.”
“You know if you just leave it to steep for five minutes, you’ll get the same effect.”
“Yes, I know, but I hate waiting for things.”
A slow smile spreads over Zach’s face, making my heart go skippity-skip. It’s not possible for someone to have such perfectly even white teeth. Or such gorgeous blue eyes and dark eyelashes.
“That’s what I love about you, Trinity,” he says. “You’re so impatient.” Then he leans forward to where I’m sitting perched on the corner of his chair. He’s going to kiss me! He’s really going to kiss me. As his face gets nearer, I close my eyes and kind of lean towards him. For one magical moment his mouth lands on mine, firm and warm, and then it’s gone again.
I’m left leaning forward with my eyes closed like an idiot.
I open my eyes and rock back into place, feeling a bit flustered. Okay, so that wasn’t the big one. That was just a peck. The big one is sure to come later.
“Shall we listen to some music?” Zach jumps up before I can answer and starts fiddling with his iPod.
It’s in a docking station on his bookcase, with a pair of serious-looking speakers attached.
“Er … what are we listening to?” I ask as screaming guitars and fast-pounding drums start up.
“Lynryd Skynryd,” he says. “I’m a modern rock freak. This is some of their new stuff. It’s really awesome.”
I sip my tea and listen to the wailing vocals and screeching instrumentals of what I privately think of as “white people’s music”. I wouldn’t say I hate it exactly, but my heart belongs to hip hop. Normally, Avril Lavigne is about as hard rock as I get. Zach tells me all about Lynryd Skynryd’s origins in the 1970s and how the band disbanded when three of their members were killed in a plane crash, and how ten years later they got back together again, and are still making music.
I have to lip-read what he’s saying because the music’s so loud, but after a while he turns it down. Then he shows me the new cage-fighting game app on his iPad, and I manage not to hurl at all the virtual blood flying around.
Then Zach says it’s probably not safe for me to hang around in his room much longer. His friends are going to come knocking on the door to talk about plans for the evening. I take a look at my phone and see that it’s nearly six. How did that happen? I feel like I just got here.
I jump up, nervous again. “How do I get out of here? We can’t use that same trick with the bag again, can we?” “Getting out is much easier than getting in,” he says. “The guard only reacts when he sees a girl coming in. Because then he comes to make sure she signs in. We’re going to make it look like you were just meeting me at the entrance.”
Zach does a quick scout around the corridors to make sure no one is hanging about, and then he rushes me out the way I came. As we approach the camera at the entrance, I walk closely behind him that the camera will only see one person. Once we’re out the door, we separate so that it looks as though I’ve just arrived from outside.
“Are you going to be in next Friday evening?” Zach asks as he walks me back to Sisulu House.
“Next Friday evening?” I repeat, stalling for time. “Um … well … you know it’s the boarders’ social then?” “Yes,” he laughs. “You weren’t thinking of going to that, were you? Those things are so lame they need their
I don’t miss a beat. “Of course I’m not going to it. I was just about to say that Sisulu House will be really quiet while everyone else is at the social.”
“Cool. Well, I’ll probably stop by some time to see you. The guys and I are going out that night, but we won’t be back late.”
“That would be great!” I say enthusiastically. “I mean,” I add, trying to sound more casual, “if you can make it, of course. No biggie if you can’t.”
We’re at Sisulu House now. There are lots of girls milling about, most of them shooting sidelong glances at us. It’s so obvious that even Zach notices.
“Is it just me or are all those girls trying to pretend they’re not staring at us?”
“It’s not just you. They are staring,” I whisper back. “But why?” He looks honestly puzzled.
“Well, you’re kind of a celebrity in these parts,” I say with a smile. “Hilton Old Boy. Rugby star. Cricket star. Not exactly hideous. Girls notice these things. And they talk about them.”
“Really?” He looks around with more interest. “Uh huh.”
“Then let’s give them something to talk about.” Before my mind can even begin to compute what’s happening, he whips me into his arms and brings his lips down on mine in a crushing kiss. I feel like I’m in a Mills & Boon novel. He’s got me bent over so far backwards that my hair is almost dragging on the ground. I can practically hear the gasps of amazement around us.
Just when I feel like I’m going to pass out, he pulls me up straight and lets go. I stagger and almost fall. He reaches out a finger and chucks me under the chin.
“So I guess I’ll see you next week.”
Then he puts his hands in his pockets and walks away whistling.