ON THE bright side, at least I’m not obsessing about food any more.
I get back to Sisulu House just as everyone else is returning from the social at St Declan’s. They’re all chatting happily about who was there, who they talked to, and who they got off with. Lael and Yasmin ask me how the movie was, but mostly they’re just focused on rehashing the evening.
I can’t help feeling a twinge of envy. It sounds like they had a really awesome time. If only Zach didn’t look down on high-school socials, we could have gone too and been part of the fun. I’m not sorry I got to see the movie, but the rest of my evening was an absolute disaster.
In a way, it’s a relief that everyone is too preoccupied to ask me questions. I notice Lael giving me a searching look – she has always been able to tell when I’ve been crying – but she doesn’t push it. She’s in too much of a good mood, having hooked up with a cute St Declan’s boy at the social.
I catch myself wishing my life could be as simple as Lael’s. She’s been a boy magnet ever since the day she first started to grow breasts. But the best part is that she never lets herself care too much. She enjoys the flirting and the dating, but she doesn’t take it seriously. I’ve never once known her to be really hurt by a boy.
Then I remind myself that we don’t do jealousy or resentment in our friendship, and I manage to snap out of it.
We take off our makeup, brush our teeth, pull on our PJs, and crash into bed, about ten seconds before lights out. The whispered conversations carry on for a while, but Matron’s last walkthrough of the night soon puts a stop to that.
I worry that I’m going to lie awake thinking about what happened tonight, but instead I go out like a light.
I wake up some time later to find the dorm pitch dark and silent. I lie still for a moment, wondering what woke me. Then I feel the wetness on my pillow and realise that I’ve been crying in my sleep. How pathetic is that? I’m not usually a cry-baby, but lately I’ve been grizzling like a three-year-old.
I dash my hands across my cheeks, then freeze as I hear a stealthy movement on the other side of my cubicle. What the heck is that? When people get up to go to the loo, they normally make way more noise than that.
I have to choke back a scream as a dark figure looms out of the darkness at the foot of my bed.
“Shhhh!” hisses Lael. “You know what Matron’s like. She wakes up if a fly farts in China.”
“What are you doing?” I hiss back. “Why are you out of bed?”
“You woke me with your crying.” A heavy weight descends on my toes as she sits down at the foot of the bed. “What’s up, babe? I thought you were looking peaky earlier. Tell Auntie Lael all about it.”
Somehow it’s easier in the dark. I open my mouth and it all comes pouring out – everything I’ve been
keeping from her. The scholarship dinner, the movie this evening. Everything that’s been on my mind comes out in a great big, self-pitying rush.
“But it’s okay now,” I finish on a hiccupping sob. “We’ve talked it all through. Zach doesn’t blame me for any of it. We’re going to work together to help me become more comfortable in company.”
There is a little light filtering into the cubicle from the window above my bed. It shows Lael’s face squinched up in a frown.
“I don’t know what to say,” she says after a pause. “That doesn’t sound like you at all. You’ve never had trouble making small talk. In fact, I used to think you were pretty good at it.”
“I know.” I sniff. “I’ve also thought of that. It’s got something to do with Zach. I love him so much that I get nervous around him. Plus he hangs out with an older crowd. I mean, most of his friends are already at varsity. I just don’t know what to say to them. And whatever I say seems to be wrong.”
“Ja, but still … I would have thought…”
We both turn around sharply as we hear another noise, and Lael ducks out of sight behind my bed. Then we both relax as Sophie appears at the entrance to my cubicle.
“Geez, you scared me,” Lael says, pounding a fist against her chest. “I thought you were Matron for sure.”
Sophie glides into my cubicle in one of the ivory satin negligee-thingies she always sleeps in. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” she whispers. “I couldn’t help hearing what you guys were saying. Trinity and I have already discussed it, but I just wanted to say one more thing.”
“You have?” Lael says, directing an accusing stare at me.
I can’t help squirming. “She’d already heard about it,” I mutter. “Anyway, I’ve told you now, haven’t I?”
“I heard about tonight as well,” Sophie goes on.
“How?” Lael demands.
“On BBM. Some of the people who were at the movie with you were discussing it this evening. They were all like, ‘Who is this Trinity girl and why can’t she speak up for herself? What does Zach see in her?’ and so on.”
I’m cringing at the thought of people discussing me on BBM, but I suppose it’s better to hear it from a friend than never to know about it.
Lael is still frowning like a Shar Pei puppy. “The whole thing just sounds odd to me.”
“Well, it was a big topic on BBM. I can show you the messages if you like. Basically everyone’s taking bets on how soon Zach is going to break up with you. I reckon you’ve got one more chance with him, and that’s it.”
“What?” whispers Sophie. “Isn’t it better for her to know about this stuff than to find out about it when it’s too late?”
Lael is about to say something when we all hear a noise in the passage outside the dormitory. Sophie and Lael melt back to their own cubicles like shadows, and I sink down under the covers. Two seconds later, Matron puts her head around the door and stares at us for a long time. When she’s satisfied that all is quiet, she backs out and softly closes the door.
This time when I fall asleep, I stay that way until morning.
It just goes to show that sometimes a wake-up call is all you need. I’ve now seen Zach three times since that night at Montecasino, and not one has been a disaster. All right, they weren’t really high-pressure dates like the scholarship dinner, but still. I got through them okay, and that’s all that counts.
After each one, Zach and I spoke honestly about how we both felt. He told me openly what he wasn’t happy about, and I tried to listen in a non-defensive way. I really believe that communication is the key to a successful relationship. Like he says, if I keep on bursting into tears every time he has a constructive suggestion to make, we’ll never get anywhere. So instead I try to listen calmly, and take on board any advice he gives me.
We’re getting on brilliantly at the moment and I’m more in love with him than ever.
There are only two things bugging me now:
My insane craving for carbs,
My guilty conscience because I still haven’t set up the dry run for our plan to pinch the Gumede Shield.
I keep meaning to go over to Gumede House to buzz James and ask him to help us, but I haven’t got around to it yet. Now never seems like a good time. Nosipho and Yasmin and Priya keep asking me when I’m going to do it, and I’m starting to run out of excuses.
It would help if I didn’t feel so utterly exhausted all the time. The other day, I planned to join Lael on her
early morning run, but I could hardly get out of bed. Luckily she also seemed to be having a low-energy day.
The plan was to go for a run, and then do a long session with those kettlebells we bought in Sandton City while we were still doing the Brand New You diet. We had such high expectations of those things. They were supposed to tone and firm us all over. It’s a bit mortifying to think how seldom we’ve actually used them. We eventually had to put them away in our cupboards because the other girls kept complaining about tripping over them every time they walked into our cubicles.
Instead of running and kettlebelling, we ended up flopped on chairs in the common room, taking about ten minutes just to tie the laces on our trainers. Then we wasted another ten minutes saying stuff to each other like, “Okay, let’s go now”, “Yes, we really should” and “I’m going to count to ten and then we’re going to stand up”, “Okay, on ten then.”
Once we finally did manage to get going, we only made it as far as the Founders’ Block before we had to stop. Bent double and dragging air into our lungs, we decided to postpone our exercise session for another day. There’s nothing weird about me being drastically unfit – that’s my default state – but Lael is a real exercise bunny. It’s strange that she should have been having a bad day at the exact same time as I was.
I’d feel better about it if we had recovered since then, but we haven’t. We’re both dragging ourselves around the school like a pair of ancient grannies. I guess we must have caught the same bug or something. Lael is as unmotivated as I am to do anything about the Gumede Shield, which makes me even less likely to take action.
Luckily, James takes the decision out of my hands by coming looking for me. It’s a Tuesday afternoon and I’m alone in the common room. I usually have Drama at this time, but it was cancelled. I’m leaning my head back against the chair, eyes closed, I’m drifting in and out of a half-awake state.
“You look like something the cat dragged in.”
My head jerks up. “What?” I stare dazedly up at James. “Oh, it’s you.”
“Yes, it’s me. What’s wrong with you, Trinity?”
“What do you mean?” I yawn hugely and rub my eyes.
“Your skin is grey, your eyes are red, and your breath stinks to high heaven.”
“My breath…” I put a self-conscious hand in front of my mouth. This is the third time someone has commented on my breath in the last week. I’ve been swilling Listerine like it’s going out of style, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference. And James must be standing at least three feet away from me. I think about excusing myself to run upstairs and have another go with the Listerine, but I can’t be bothered.
“Sit over there if you don’t like it,” I say, waving at a faraway chair.
“Are you sick or something?”
“Seems like it. Lael and I have both caught some kind of virus. We feel awful. We probably haven’t been washing our hands enough or something.”
“What’s that got to do with it?” He shakes his head. “Never mind. I wanted to know what was happening with this plan of yours to steal the Jan Smuts Shield. I haven’t heard anything about it for weeks.”
“I know, I know.” I pull a guilty face. “I’ve been meaning to get hold of you for ages. We want to do a dry run – like a walkthrough of the plan. The idea was to get as far as unlocking the trophy cabinet, but not actually taking out the shield. We wanted to ask if you would be our look-out, just to make sure no one walks in on us.”
“Okay,” he says. “So when do you want to do this?”
I hesitate, impulsiveness wrestling with tiredness. Impulsiveness wins. “Tomorrow!” I say before I can change my mind. “Let’s do it tomorrow. Tomorrow’s Wednesday. There’s no point in waiting, is there?”
“Fine. But we need to plan it out properly.”
About twenty minutes later, I say goodbye to James and start traipsing up the stairs. Extramurals will be over soon. I want to catch a nap before I have to go down to Homework. Talking strategy with James has cheered me up, but I’m still exhausted.
I listen to the breath wheezing in and out of my lungs as I climb the stairs and wonder for one scary moment whether there really is something seriously wrong with me. My knees are trembling and I’m light-headed. Somehow I feel hungry and nauseous at the same time. Maybe Lael and I should go and see Matron. Not now, obviously, because she might make us stay in bed and we’ve got the dry run to worry about. But tomorrow, when it’s all over. Yes, that’s what we’ll do.
Okay. One more flight of stairs to go. You can do this, Trinity.
I glance up and see Matron standing at the top of the stairs looking down at me – almost as though I rubbed a lamp and made her appear.
“Are you okay?” she asks me in Xhosa.
I try to summon up a bright smile as I hoist myself up the last couple of stairs. “Sure, Matron! I’m just fi—”
And then I slide bonelessly to the ground at her feet.