“IS THAT what you’re wearing tonight?”
I tug self-consciously at my top. “Um … yes, it is. Why?”
“Trinity,” Zach says patiently. “Montecasino is quite a smart place. Don’t you think you should be wearing a dress? Ava is wearing one.”
We’re at the Postmatric Annexe waiting for Zach’s two friends and their girlfriends to get back from the loo. I already knew Ben and Muhammad from the Annexe, but I’d not met their dates, Ava and Nazeera, before. Ava has gone all out in a slinky dress and heels, and about a ton of makeup. I thought she looked a bit over-the-top myself.
“Nazeera is in jeans,” I point out.
Zach pulls a face. “I know. But that’s her. Muhammad isn’t a particularly trendy guy. It’s just that I made an effort tonight, and I don’t feel as though you really did.”
“You said I looked beautiful in this top.” I try to keep the hurt out of my voice, but don’t quite succeed. “The last time I wore it, you said you loved it.”
“And I do.” Zach puts an arm around my shoulders. “You do look beautiful. You always do. But it makes me feel bad that my girlfriend hasn’t made as much of an effort as Ava.”
“I can change,” I suggest. “Give me five minutes and I’ll dash back to Sisulu House to put on a dress.”
I’m expecting him to say that it doesn’t matter and not to bother, but instead he nods his head like he’s thinking about it.
“I guess there’s time. The movie only starts at eight. And while you’re at it, maybe you could … you know…” He makes sweeping motions in front of his eyes.
“What? My eyes? Should I do something to my eyes?”
“If you could kind of make them stand out a bit more. With makeup and stuff. Like Ava has.”
“Okay, sure. Give me a second.”
I whirl around and run out of the Annexe towards Sisulu House. I bound up the stairs two at a time, and throw myself into the dormitory. Lael and some of the others are getting ready to go to a social at St Declan’s High School. As I try to catch my breath, the room does a sick spin around me.
“Trinity! Hey, are you all right?” Nosipho steps forward to catch my arm as I stumble.
“Just a bit out of breath…” I puff.
“Here, sit down.” She guides me backwards onto her bed and pushes my head down between my knees.
Within seconds, everything comes back into focus.
“What happened?” Lael asks, hovering anxiously.
“I ran up the stairs. I must be really unfit because I felt all woozy when I got to the top.”
“You really should start running with me, Trinity. When you can’t even run up a flight of stairs without almost fainting, that’s a wake-up call.”
“I know. And I will. Soon.”
“What are you doing here, anyway?” Nosipho asks. “I thought you were going out with Zach.”
“I came back to change. The other girls are wearing dresses. Well, one of them is. Zach thought I’d be more comfortable if I smartened up a bit too.”
“Just to go to the movies?” Lael asks.
“It’s more about fitting in with the others. I don’t want to be the dowdy one.”
Lael’s face clears. This is something she can sympathise with.
“Your pink and black dress?”
“That’s exactly what I was thinking,” I agree, yanking open my cupboard and flipping through the hangers. “I need to get moving. I don’t want to keep everyone waiting.”
I change in record time, swipe on a ton of mascara, and dash back downstairs. I thought I was quick, but judging from the way Zach is pressing his lips together, they’ve been waiting for me for a while.
“Did you really need to change?” Ben asks as we pile into his SUV. “I thought you looked fine the way you were.”
“Well…” I don’t really know what to say to this, so I shrug.
“You know what girls are like,” Zach laughs.
I give his arm a squeeze and we settle into the backseat together.
Montecasino is its usual hectic self, only more so.
“Why is it so crowded tonight?” Ava asks as we join the long queue to get through the security checkpoint.
“It’s the last weekend of the month,” I say.
“What’s that, Trinity?” Muhammad asks.
I shrink a bit as all eyes swivel towards me. I’d decided that I was going to stay in the background tonight and not say too much. I’m still feeling a bit freaked about making a fool of myself at the scholarship dinner. I glance nervously at Zach, trying to work out if I’m doing the right thing or not, but his face is unreadable.
“I only said that it’s the last weekend of the month,” I say before my silence becomes ridiculous. “Everyone has just been paid, and now they can’t wait to lose all their money at the casino. This must be one of their busiest nights of the month.”
“Oh, right!”says Nazeera, like I’ve cracked the theory of relativity. “That makes sense.”
I subside into silence again as we hold out our bags to be searched and head down the escalators towards the movies.
As always when I walk into the endless twilight of Montecasino, I feel like Jonah being swallowed by the whale. This is a strange, disorienting place where the sun doesn’t rise or set. It feels like we’re not really in Africa any more.
“I love how everything is made up to look like a Tuscan village,” says Ava, as we stroll past a fake washing line.
I open my mouth to speak, but catch Zach’s eye and close it again. I was going to say that I’d been to Tuscany a couple of times and it didn’t look anything like this. But maybe that would sound boastful or know-it-all. It’s better to say nothing.
“What movie are we going to see?” I ask as we join the queue for tickets.
“Blood Frenzy,” he replies.
“Yay! Is it out already? I’ve been dying to see it ever since I first heard they were making it.”
Feeling a lot happier, I slip my arm through Zach’s and snuggle up against him as the queue inches forward. I’ve been watching the Blood Frenzy series on TV ever since it started two years ago. It’s one of my all-time favourites. Apparently this movie is a prequel that explains exactly how the vampire-human hybrid community came into being, and how the rivalry between the two factions originated. It stars all the original cast-members, and I read a rumour that Taylor Lautner makes a cameo appearance.
The evening might have started badly with my stupid choice of clothes, but now it’s turning out to be awesome.
There’s one awkward moment when Ben and Muhammad pay for their girlfriends’ tickets, and I kind of hang back as though I’m expecting Zach to pay for mine. Then I realise that he’s not going to, and have to fumble for my purse. But I think I brushed through it pretty well. It’s not as though I was actually waiting for him to pay for me, exactly. It’s more that I wasn’t concentrating and reacted a bit late.
But obviously I get more pocket money than he does, so it’s ridiculous to expect him to pay for me. In fact, to be fair, I should probably pay for him. And as we join the popcorn queue, I decide to do exactly that.
“I’ll get that,” I say as the server starts ringing up our purchases. My reward comes right away as Zach gives me a warm smile and takes my hand as we start filing into the movie theatre.
“Thanks!” he whispers against my ear, sending little shocks of pleasure all the way down my spine.
I feel filled to the brim with love and happiness. Not even the fact that I can smell delicious hot, buttery popcorn all around me while I’m clutching nothing but a diet soda can spoil my mood. Getting thin will be totally worth the sacrifice, and Zach will be even more attracted to me than he is now.
The movie is every bit as good as I expected – creepy and sexy at the same time, just like the TV series. Muhammed and Nazeera kiss all the way through the movie, and I’m quite relieved that Zach doesn’t want to do the same – this is one movie I’m really keen on seeing.
Afterwards we go to a Bridles steakhouse for supper. It’s nearly ten by now and I’m feeling a bit hollow from lack of food. Everyone else orders burgers, but I go for the lamb chops and a side salad. The chops are perfect – crispy and slightly charred on the outside, and tender and pink on the inside. The waiter remembers to bring me little bottles of oil and vinegar instead of the creamy ranch dressing that they normally serve.
It’s the perfect meal for my diet. And the first bite goes down really well. But, somehow, as I’m about to start my second chop, my hunger deserts me and the thought of cramming one more piece of meat into my mouth fills me with horror.
What’s the matter with me? I really need to eat. When we walked out of the movies, I felt like I was floating from hunger. And not the good kind of floating, either. More like the kind where there’s a rat gnawing away at your insides. How can I possibly not be hungry now?
Okay, if I’m honest, it’s not that I’m not hungry, it’s just that I’m not hungry for my chops. But when I look across the table at the golden pile of garlic bread gleaming next to Ava’s plate, I feel a longing so strong
I can only call it a craving. I want to lean over the table, smack her hand away, and grab all that bread for myself. I mean, where does she get off ordering garlic bread and a hamburger, anyway? Does the girl actually want to die of a carb overload?
It would do her good to cut back a bit. I’d be doing her a favour if I reached across the table and started to stuff some of that delicious crusty bread into my mouth.
“Er … Trinity?”
“Yes?” I look up, dazed. Ava is waving a hand in front of my face.
“I just asked if you liked the movie, but you were a million miles away,” she says.
“Sorry. I was thinking of something else. Yes, I loved the movie. I thought it was awesome. It answered a lot of questions that the TV series left hanging. Like why the Bloods and the Whites have been feuding for so long, and why a Blood female can only have children with a White male, and that kind of thing. And I loved the ending, because you know that the child Hecate is carrying will turn out to be Ivan.”
“Really?” Nazeera leans across the table. “I didn’t get that. I realised she was pregnant, but I didn’t know she was Ivan’s mom.”
My attention wants to wander back to the garlic bread. With an effort I pull it back to Nazeera.
“Sure,” I say. “It was in the second series. Ivan and Jessica are talking after the battle of the cave, and he tells her that his mother’s name was Hecate.”
Ava chimes in with some remark, and I go back to staring at the garlic bread.
Okay, this is not good. I can’t spend my whole life obsessing about carbs. I need to finish my chops and
force my body to realise that it has eaten. I pick up my knife and fork and attack my plate like a serial killer. I manage to finish the three small lamb chops without gagging, and almost throw my cutlery down in a gesture of victory.
There! Take that, meat.
I grab my glass of Coke Lite and take several long swallows, trying to enjoy the sweetness of the drink. But all it does is make me aware of another craving. Fruit juice. It’s been nearly two weeks since I had any fruit juice. I’d give anything to drink a beverage that isn’t fizzy. I’ve even been having Coke Lite for breakfast. Lael and I buy cans of the stuff at the tuck shop and keep them in our cupboards to drink when we come back from breakfast.
No one should have to drink Coke Lite for breakfast. It’s just not natural.
Stop it, Trinity. Stop thinking about food.
I try to focus on how this date is going. Tonight is very important for Zach and me. It’s the first time I’ve been out with him since the scholarship dinner. This is my big chance to prove that I’m not always a complete disaster in company. I’m trying not to talk too much, and not to flash my opinions around all the time, because that’s what got me into trouble last time.
It hasn’t been easy. Just after the movie, Muhammad made some boring and predictable remark about how lame the ANC Youth League is. I was dying to chip in with a comment about how the ANCYL is one of the few organisations that forces government to keep focusing on the lives of the poor. But I didn’t. It would have led to a political argument, which is exactly what I’m trying to avoid.
Then Ben said something that proved he was getting confused between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. I know I’m not much of a soccer-watcher, but even I know where Chiefs are standing in the play-offs at the moment. I could have corrected him, but Zach doesn’t want me arguing with his friends. We’re out to have fun, not to score points off each other.
So all in all, I think I’ve done pretty well this time around. I’ve been friendly and occasionally chatty, but not too full of myself. It looks like I’ve finally managed to find the right balance.
Now if we can just get back in time for Zach and me to have some time alone together before I have to clock back in at midnight, this will have been the perfect evening. There’s so much I want to say to him. I know he’s been having skydiving lessons this week, and I’m dying to ask about them to make up for the time I showed no interest in his tandem jump.
We pay the bill just after eleven and troop back to the SUV. Zach and I hold hands in the back seat and I find myself tensing up every time we stop at a red light. Can’t this stupid car go any faster?
Ben pulls up in front of the Postgrad Annexe at exactly 11.25 and I send up a little prayer of thanks. There’s one awkward moment when it looks as though we might all be going to have coffee in the common room, but luckily Muhammad and Nazeera are just as keen on that idea as I am – which is to say not at all.
At 11.34 we all say goodbye to each other, and by 11.37 Zach and I are up in his room, thanks to his black-bag-over-the-security-camera trick. We have 23 whole minutes alone together!
The second the door closes behind us, I put my arms around Zach and lift my face for a long kiss. There’s no point in wasting time.
For about ten blissful seconds, he kisses me back, and then I feel him pulling away. I smile up at him, thinking he wants to relocate to the bed or something. But he’s looking preoccupied. “What’s wrong?” I ask, concerned. “Are you feeling okay? You don’t have a headache or anything, do you?”
He shakes his head as though to clear it. “No. I’m fine. There’s nothing wrong. Come back here.”
And he wraps his arms around me for another gorgeous kiss. I run my fingers through his hair and sink into it, trying to recapture that lovely, floaty feeling. But something’s not quite right. He feels distracted – like he’s not fully committed to this.
I open my eyes a crack and see that his are wide open. Now I’m sorry, but no one can really lose themselves in a kiss when their eyes are open. Something is definitely wrong.
“What is it?” I ask again, leaning back from the kiss but keeping my hands linked behind his neck.
“No, really, it’s nothing.” He tries to pull me against him again, but this time I resist. With a soft sigh, Zach sits down on his chair, while I sink onto the bed.
“Now you have to tell me what the matter is,” I say.
He shakes his head. “It’s nothing important.”
“If it wasn’t important, it wouldn’t be bothering you,” I say, sounding weirdly like my own mother. I hesitate. “It isn’t anything I’ve done, is it?”
He doesn’t answer, and my anxiety level ratchets up a notch.
“I really don’t want to get into this.”
“You’ve got me worried now,” I plead. If I’ve done something wrong, please tell me what it is. How else will I have a chance to fix it?”
He drops his head into his hands. “You’re just going to think I’m hypercritical. Like I’m always finding fault with you.”
“I promise I won’t! I would never think that about you. What do you take me for?”
“You’re just going to get upset.”
“I promise I won’t,” I say again.
“Well…” He looks agonised for a moment, but then comes to a decision. “Okay. If you really want to know, it’s about tonight.”
I nod to show I’m listening carefully.
“I was really looking forward to showing you off to my friends, you know?” he says, looking down at his hands. “I mean, I know Ben and Muhammad have met you before, but they’ve never gotten to know you. And Nazeera and Ava didn’t know you at all. I just wanted to show them what a cool girlfriend I’ve got. You know what I mean?”
I nod vigorously again. I know exactly what he means. I feel the same way. I keep wanting to shout from the rooftops how lucky I am to have snagged Zach as my boyfriend.
“Then why were you so quiet and dull tonight?” he demands, making me jump.
“Quiet and dull?”
“Yes. You hardly said a thing the whole evening. The other girls must have thought you were a total airhead. Everyone else was chatting away, but you just sat there like a lump.”
He looks up at me, waiting for me to answer, but my throat has closed up. I promised him I wouldn’t get upset. I promised.
But as I open my mouth to reply, he rages on, “Don’t you see that it makes me look bad when you just sit there with nothing to say for yourself? Those were my good friends. Don’t you know how much I’ve been looking forward to spending time with them? I wanted you to be a credit to me. I wanted to show them what a cool, fun girl you are. But instead you just came across as stupid.”
“But … but…” My tongue is all tied up in knots. “But after the scholarship dinner, you said I was talking too much,” I finally manage.
“You see!” He bangs his hand on his desk. “I knew you’d say that I’m always criticising you.”
“No, no,” I say timidly. “What I meant was, I knew you were right about the scholarship dinner and that’s exactly why I was trying to be less talkative tonight. I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice, you see?”
For a second the angry red flush in Zach’s face deepens. Then it fades and he drops his hands at his sides.
“Trinity,” he says patiently. “Can’t you see that there’s a happy medium between monopolising the whole conversation and not saying a single word? Don’t you think you could possibly pitch yourself somewhere in between? Does it have to be one or the other – total silence or non-stop talking?”
“But … but I wasn’t totally silent the whole night. I talked to Ava about the movie, and I talked to Nazeera about … about…” I try to remember what other conversations I had tonight, but my mind has gone blank. It’s like trying to think through thick porridge.
“One conversation the whole night, where you basically just said yes and no, doesn’t count. Can’t you see how embarrassing it was for me to have my friends see you like that? They must be wondering what on earth I’m doing with you. Don’t make me wonder the same thing, Trinity.”
He bites his lip and turns away from me. I feel a familiar burn of anxiety in my belly.
“Zach…” I touch his shoulder gently. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t realise how quiet I was being. I didn’t mean to let you down, honestly. I’m still learning. I was trying to compensate for talking too much the other evening. So by mistake I went over to the opposite extreme and didn’t say enough. Please give me another chance. I’ll do better next time.”
For a moment he hesitates, but then – thank goodness – he turns towards me and takes me into his arms. As I let my body melt against him, his hand comes up to stroke my hair. For some reason, this sweet, simple gesture unleashes my tears in a way that his earlier anger didn’t.
“Shhh … shhh,” he soothes as he feels me shaking silently against his chest. “It’s okay, Trinity. You’re doing your best – I know you are.” He cups his hand under my chin and makes me look up at him. Then he reaches for a tissue and carefully dries my eyes. “You really are a silly-billy, aren’t you?”
I give a little half-sob, half-laugh.
“I just don’t understand how someone with your upbringing can be such a funny little thing in company. I’d have thought your parents would have taught you how to handle all kinds of social situations.”
I try to think back to the kind of life we led at home, but everything is a bit confused. All I can think of right now is how good it feels to be in Zach’s arms.
“I … I guess they never got round to it.”
“Well, it’s not too late. It’s lucky you’ve got me to help you. I don’t think a boy your own age would be much use with this kind of thing.”
I snuggle against his chest and let the warmth of his body soothe my worries away.