“OKAY, WHAT’S wrong with this picture?” Lael asks, staring down at me with her hands on her hips.
“What do you mean?” I lift my Heat magazine higher to hide my face.
“I mean this,” she says, waving her hand at me. “You. Lying on your bed. In tracksuit pants. Reading a magazine. When you’re supposed to be getting ready for the social. Don’t tell me you’re so in lurrrve you’ve forgotten about it?”
I lower my magazine slightly to peep up at her. She has a very determined look on her face. She’s not going to let this go easily. I need to play it carefully. If there’s one thing that freaks Lael out (there are quite a few things, but this is a big one), it’s the girl who gives up her own plans to wait around at home for some guy. The feminist in her strongly disapproves of such behaviour, and she’s not shy about letting you know what she thinks. So unless I want a huge row in here, with Priya and Nosipho and everyone joining in, I need to think before I speak.
The air is thick with deodorant, perfume and hairspray. Everyone’s getting ready for the social.
They’re comparing outfits, borrowing clothes and shoes, and trying to force their hair into scary up-dos. Normally I’d be right in the middle of it, super-excited about my first social as a boarder.
I can’t pretend I’m not sorry to be missing it. Because I am – very sorry. But when it comes to a choice between dancing the night away with a bunch of Gumede House boys and possibly seeing Zach again, there’s really no choice.
“I haven’t forgotten about the social,” I say cautiously as Lael looms over my bed. “I just thought I’d give it a skip tonight, that’s all.”
What?” she booms. “Nonsense. Get up at once and start getting ready. Why would you want to skip it?”
“No reason,” I say casually. “I just don’t really feel like it.”
“Hmmm…” Her eyes gleam with suspicion. “I don’t believe you. What’s the real reason? Come on. Don’t make me choke it out of you.”
“Oh, all right!” I fling my magazine down on the bed.
“You’ve got me. I admit it! I’m not going because Zach isn’t going to be there.”
“Well, of course he’s not going to be there,” she says, looking puzzled. “He’s not in Gumede House, is he? The postmatrics never come to these socials. Did you think he would? Sorry, babe. That’s not how it works.” She’s looking all sympathetic now, which is way better than suspicious.
“I’m sooo disappointed,” I say, putting a bit of a tremor into my voice.
“Aww! Don’t be sad, Trinity. It’s just one night. Tell you what, instead of staying here and moping, you should come along anyway. We’re just going to have a bit of a dance and a laugh. Come on! There’s a rumour your brothers are going to slip a bottle of vodka into the non-alcoholic punch.”
Now Yasmin, Nosipho and Priya are also crowding around my bed and urging me to get up.
I smile weakly. “I know I’m being silly, but I really don’t feel like it. I’ll bring everyone else down. I’m going to have a long bubble-bath and an early night.”
I can tell by the looks on their faces that none of them finds this a very tempting prospect. And since they all know me as a party animal of note, they can’t understand why I’m bailing like this.
“Plus I’m premenstrual,” I add, clutching a continental pillow pathetically to my tummy.
Their faces clear and they start drifting back to their own cubicles.
“Well, in that case, okay,” Lael relents. “But if you change your mind you can always get dressed and come up to the hall. We’ll be going strong until about midnight.”
By nine everyone has left and I’m practically all alone in Sisulu House. There’s just Matron and a couple of her staff left. I’ve got a terrible case of the yawns. Goodness knows why. If I’d gone to the social, I’d be wide awake and ready to party right now. But staying behind makes me feel like putting my head down and having a long nap.
I have a terrible fear of Zach ringing the bell at 11pm and me staggering down to meet him with bed-hair and a pillow-crease down the middle of my face.
Okay, so sleeping is not an option. Maybe I’ll go down to the common room and watch some TV.
I change into my not-trying-too-hard, just-spending-a-quiet-night-in outfit that I’ve been planning all day.
Black work-out pants (they’re from Lorna Jane and are very flattering to the butt and thighs), tank top with ruffled, sweetheart neckline (also very flattering), and a pair of jewelled slipslops. I brush my hair and don’t put on any makeup apart from a smudge of lip-gloss.
A quick check in the mirror tells me I’ve nailed it.
I pick up my Heat magazine and head downstairs. As I reach the ground floor, I spot James hanging out in the common room.
“Oh, hi!” I say, quite pleased to see him. “Are you waiting to take someone to the social?”
He gives me a grumpy look that tells me I’m way off the mark.
“What’s wrong?” I ask. “Why aren’t you at the social?”
He gives a huge shrug. “Ag, what’s the point? My girlfriend’s not going to be there, and I don’t feel like dancing with anyone else. I just don’t see the point of going.”
“I didn’t even know you were dating someone. Why isn’t she going to be there?” A thought occurs to me. “Does she even go to Brentwood?”
“She used to, but her parents moved away.” He looks at me more carefully. “And what about you? Why aren’t you going to the dance?”
For a moment I think about giving him the whole I-just-don’t-feel-like-it lie, but then I also shrug. Something about this guy makes me want to just be myself.
“Sort of for the same reason as you, except that Zach is going to come around here to visit me later when he gets back with his friends. Must be nice to be a postmatric with your own car and everything, don’t you think?”
“I suppose,” he says, grumpier than ever. “So are you saying that if he weren’t coming to visit, you would have gone to the dance?”
I hesitate for a second. “Honestly?”
“Yes, of course, honestly. Do you think I want you to lie to me?”
“Well, okay, yes. I would have gone. There, are you happy now?”
“It doesn’t make me happy to see you making a sap of yourself over a guy, no.”
“So? You’re making a sap of yourself over a girl. And what kind of word is that anyway – sap? Who says that?”
“It’s different for me.”
“Ja, ja, of course it is. And seriously, dude, why are you in such a foul mood? Did someone take your rubber ducky away this morning?”
This gets a tiny smile out of him. ‘Don’t call me that.” “Don’t call you what?”
“Dude. It sounds common coming from a young girl’s mouth.”
“Common? What century are you living in?”
Still muttering to myself, I flounce over to the coffee table to make myself a drink. This guy is unbelievable.
“Aren’t you going to offer me some coffee?” he asks as I practically throw a teabag into a mug.
“No,” I snap.
There’s a beat of silence and then I relent. “Oh, all right then. Would you like some coffee?”
“Yes, please. White with one sugar.”
I make the drinks and put his mug down in front of him with a click that almost spills some coffee.
“That bad mood of yours must be catching,” I say as I sit down opposite him. “Because now I’ve got it.”
This time he smiles a real smile. The one that crinkles up his eyes and makes him seem somehow older than me. “That must be why I’m feeling better now – I’ve passed it onto you.”
This makes me laugh. We sit together in companionable silence for a minute. I’m just about to suggest switching on the TV when he clears his throat.
“Trinity…” “Uh huh?”
“You will be careful with this Zach guy, won’t you?” “What do you mean?”
“I mean he’s quite a bit older than you, and…” “Only by three years,” I put in quickly. “Three years
is not ‘quite a bit’. Three years is nothing.”
“Three years is nothing when you’re twenty-five and he’s twenty-eight, but at your age, it’s a lot.”
“Hey, you’re practically the same age as me,” I remind him. “Sometimes you sound like my grandfather.”
“It’s just that you seem young, and kind of … inexperienced.”
Oh, so now I’ve got a sign on my forehead that says “virgin”, have I? The cheek of this guy. Inexperienced – what does he mean by that?
“Zach is different,” he goes on. “He’s been a boarder since he was eight years old. He’s got his own car. He doesn’t have to follow the same rules as you do. I don’t think you know what you’re getting yourself into.”
I can’t help laughing. “And I don’t think you know girls very well. So he’s a bit of a bad boy – do you really think that’s going to put me off? Have you never watched Gossip Girl?”
The look on his face tells me that a) he has never watched Gossip Girl, and b) he doesn’t think much of my taste in TV series. Or in guys, for that matter.
As I watch the disapproval harden in his eyes, I start to feel annoyed. Who is this guy to judge me for going out with Zach? I mean, it’s not as though he likes me himself – he made that perfectly clear at our first meeting, in his usual racist way. And it’s not as though he really knows Zach either. They don’t stay in the same boarding house, they’re not in class together, they don’t play for the same sports teams. How could James possibly know anything about him?
He couldn’t. But he still seems to think he’s got the right to slag Zach off, and tell me how to live my life. This is a sore point at the moment, because my parents aren’t too thrilled about me going out with a postmatric boy either. I’ve been keeping my mom up to date on BBM, and I speak to her and my dad every couple of days.
They haven’t exactly forbidden me to see him, but I can tell they’re worried. They also think the age gap is too big, and they don’t like the fact that, strictly speaking, he’s out of school. Mom always said she wouldn’t let me have a varsity boyfriend until I was at varsity myself, and going out with Zach is kind of pushing the boundaries. I told her that Sophie Agincourt knew his family, but that didn’t reassure her much. She’s not overly keen on the old-school-tie types that Sophie’s family knows.
So, all in all, I’m in no mood for being lectured by James. I turn away from him and start flicking through my phone to pick up some Facebook messages.
But apparently he’s not fluent in body language, because he just keeps on at me.
“And what about tonight, Trinity?” he goes on. “Why couldn’t you have gone to the dance first and seen
Zach afterwards? I bet he told you not to go, didn’t he? Probably told you it was childish or something, right?”
My eyes fly up to meet his. How does he know that?
Could he have overheard us?
“I’m right, aren’t I?” he persists. “He didn’t like the idea of you grooving with the Gumede House boys, so he made sure you were waiting here for him like some Cinderella he can keep on ice until it suits him to see you.”
My heart is starting to beat uncomfortably fast, but I refuse to let it show. “Grooving?” I scoff. “Where did you learn your slang – some old movie from the 1960s?” He refuses to be diverted. “You know, Trinity, a girl doesn’t make herself more attractive to a boy when she puts herself at his beck and call. Boys like a bit of a challenge. They like a girl who plays hard to get. I’m sure it’s the same with your people. Nobody likes a girl who makes herself too easy.”
“My people?” I repeat dangerously, wondering if steam is starting to rise from my ears. “And what people would those be?”
“You know…” He’s looking at me like I’m being deliberately thick. “Coloureds.”
“For the last time, I am black!” I hiss at him. “When will you get that into your head? I might be of mixed race, but that doesn’t make me any less black. ‘Coloured’ means something else. The Coloured community is …
it’s…” I wave my hands around in frustration, trying to remember what we learned in History. Why, oh why, don’t I pay more attention in class? “It’s this group of people who have a common history involving slavery and stuff that started in the Western Cape, like, three hundred years ago. For goodness’s sake, weren’t you in class in Grade 9? We learned all about it then.”
Now he’s pursing his mouth up into a kind of cat’s bum expression.
“You really shouldn’t shout like that, Trinity. It’s most unattractive in a young girl.”
I make a noise that sounds like “aaarrgh!” and grab hold of the TV remote. If I’m going to make it through the evening, I’ll need a buffer between me and this pest.
I flick through channels, hoping to find a watchable movie or something decent on the Series Channel. As I flip quickly through the sports channels, including some cage-fighting programme, I can hear James muttering about how we should watch that seeing as I’m so keen on martial arts these days.
Of course, I ignore him. What else can you do with such a maddening person?
Two hours later, we have watched most of Pride and Prejudice (The Colin Firth one. Okay, I know he’s old now, but seriously? Yum. And you can tell him I said so.) We’ve also watched the last half of a Mad Men episode, which James really seemed to enjoy. He must be a hardcore fan because he kept pointing out to me how some brand of cigar the actors were smoking wasn’t a hundred per cent authentic and how they really should have made the lapels on Don Draper’s suit wider or something.
But now we have totally run out of stuff to watch. It’s half-past eleven and I just can’t help glancing at my watch every thirty seconds.
“He’s not coming, you know,” says James. “Who?” I snap.
“Zach, of course. If he were going to come and visit you, he would be here by now. He knows no visitors are allowed into the common room after midnight on a Friday.”
“Nonsense. He’s probably on his way back with his friends and is going to pop by for a few minutes before twelve.”
“If it were me, I’d want to spend as much of my Friday night as possible with my girlfriend. I wouldn’t be interested in what my friends were doing.”
“Yes, well, it’s not you, is it? You’re not Zach and he’s not you. You have no idea what he was doing tonight and nor do I. In fact, why don’t you just go now? You also have to be out of here at twelve, remember?”
“Is that what you want?” he asks. “Do you really want me to go?”
He’s looking all hurt now, but I can’t bring myself to care. I hate him for saying out loud what I’ve thinking for the last hour. Where is Zach? Why hasn’t he come like he promised? And why are his friends more important to him than I am?
“Okay then.” James stands up and moves silently towards the door. “Goodnight, Trinity.”
“Goodnight,” I say, not looking at him.
But just as he’s leaving, I remember that I was supposed to ask him something. And who knows when I’ll run into him again?
“Wait!” I shout. “Just hang on a minute, I need to speak to you.”
For a second I can’t see him at all, but then I spot him halfway down the corridor with his hands in his pockets doing his Elvis Presley walk. He looks back enquiringly.
“Please come back. I really, really need to ask you something. If I forget again, my friends are going to kill me.”
“I thought you couldn’t wait to get rid of me,” he says stiffly.
“I know, I know, and I’m sorry. I was just upset about Zach not turning up and I took it out on you. I’m really sorry. I need to speak to you. Please come back and sit down.”
For a moment he hesitates, but then he heads back into the common room.
“So what’s up? What the big emergency?”
I take a deep breath and tell him all about the Gumede House Shield and our plans to steal it and put it in the Sisulu House display cabinet. I tell him about the old rumour that the school would let it spend six months of every year in Sisulu House if any girl ever succeeded in pinching it. Then I remind him that it’s kept in the headmaster’s office with a state-of-the-art security system. And that said headmaster’s office is in Gumede House … on the second floor … where the Grade 11 boys have their dormitory.
“And what’s this all got to do with me?” he asks. “You can’t possibly want me to steal the shield for you because that won’t count. Unless you lie about how you got it, which would lose you a lot of respect.”
“No, of course we don’t want you to do the actual stealing. We’ll totally take care of that ourselves. We just need you to do a recce of Dr Hussein’s office. Like find out where he keeps the keys to the cabinet and if there’s any way of to get around the security system. It has to be a Grade 11 boy because you can hang around near his office and no one will get suspicious.”
“You know they’re talking about moving his office out of Gumede House and into the administration building?”
“Yes, I know. But it won’t happen this year, and even if it does, the shield will still stay in Gumede House. And that’s the point – the shield should belong to everyone, not just to the boys.”
He sighs wearily. “You feminists are getting completely out of hand with your Simone de Beauvoir and what-not.”
I stare at him. “Simone de who’s that now?” “Nothing, don’t worry.”
“Never mind your irrelevant interruptions. The point is this – do you think you could snoop around Dr
Hussein’s office without being seen?”
He gives a snort of laughter. “Oh, yes,” he says. “Yes, I think I could just about manage that.”
“So you’ll help us?”
“Well … I think you’re all completely cracked, but yes, I’ll help you.”
“That’s brilliant, thanks!”
We arrange to meet for a report-back in about a week’s time and I finally let him go. As I wander back into the common room, I see that it’s already five minutes to midnight. Not even I can kid myself that Zach is still going to appear. I’ve been stood up – it’s as simple as that.
I start clearing away our mugs and find that James’ is still full. After all that, he didn’t even touch his coffee.