I come to with the smell of something sharp and astringent in my nose. It seems to stab into my brain, forcing me to wake up.
“What … what?” I open my eyes and find myself in Matron’s office. She’s holding a little bottle of something horrible under my nose. “What happened?”
“You tell me,” Matron says grimly. “I came out of my office because I heard you wheezing up the stairs like an asthmatic and then you fainted clean away. You’re not asthmatic, are you, Trinity? It’s not in your file.”
“No, I’m not asthmatic.” I have to bite my cheeks against a ridiculous urge to burst into tears. What on earth is wrong with me? I must be sick.
“I think I’ve caught a bug,” I say at last, drinking some of the water she hands me. “Lael’s got it too. We haven’t been right lately.”
Matron sticks a thermometer under my tongue and attaches a blood-pressure cuff to my arm. “I’ll examine her when she gets back from extramurals, but right now let’s see what’s wrong with you.”
I close my eyes while she notes down my temperature and blood pressure. “Both normal,” she says.
“That’s good, isn’t it?”
“Well … yes and no. Trinity…”
Something about the way she says my name makes my eyes snap open in alarm.
“What is it?”
“I’m going to take some blood from you now to send off to the lab. You need to know that it will be checked for suspected diabetes.”
“Diabetes!” My heart gives a huge bound in my chest. “But I’m not diabetic. I can’t be.”
“You’re in ketosis, Trinity. I can smell it coming off your breath. Your body is actually consuming itself. I’m sorry, but it’s one of the symptoms of diabetes. Have you found that you are any thirstier than normal?”
“Wait … wait.” I screw up my face as I try to think. Ketosis? Wasn’t there something about that on Google? It’s coming back to me now. I was Googling high-protein diets, like the one Lael and I are on, and it said something about going into ketosis. I wasn’t paying much attention at the time, but that word definitely rings a bell.
If there’s anything worse than actually having diabetes, it’s explaining to Matron that you’re on a diet. The d-word makes her practically froth at the mouth. Maybe I should just let her test me for diabetes – it’ll be negative, and everything will be fine.
“Roll up your sleeve, please.”
Okay, now she’s coming at me with a needle. A very long, sharp needle.
“Just a minute … just hang on a minute!” I squeal, wriggling away as she reaches for my arm.
“Trinity,” she says patiently. “This is no worse than getting a vaccination, and you’ve had plenty of those.”
“I know, I know. But just … wait a minute.”
She watches me with tight, pressed-together lips. Any minute now she is going to grab me by the ear and force me back onto the table.
“Okay…” I take a deep breath. “Let’s just say, hypothetically speaking, that someone had been on a high-protein diet for a few weeks. Could that potentially cause these same symptoms? Hypothetically speaking, of course.”
Matron continues to eye me narrowly for a moment. Then she sighs and puts down the syringe.
“Wait here,” she says curtly, and goes out of the room.
My heart is pounding uncomfortably in my chest. That’s another thing I’ve noticed lately. If I have any exertion or excitement, my heart jumps around in my chest in a super-unpleasant, you’re-going-to-die kind of way.
A few minutes later, I hear footsteps coming down the corridor, and my nostrils are attacked by an aroma. A wonderful, enticing, mouthwateringly blissful aroma.
“Eat this,” Matron orders, shoving a plate of toast under my nose. “No nonsense and no arguing. If you refuse, I’m calling your mother right now.”
I sit up, groaning in protest. But the truth is that I have absolutely no intention of refusing. I’m only too delighted to have someone take the decision out of my hands and force me to consume carbs for medicinal purposes.
“Strawberry jam?” I say, pulling a face for form’s sake. But inside I’m going, Strawberry jam! At last! Come to my arms, sweet nectar of life!
I lift up a piece of toast and let the wonderful, homey smell wash over me. Then I bite into it and it is literally the most delicious thing I have ever tasted in my life. The texture, the crunchiness, the sweet tang of the jam,
the wheaty, yeasty deliciousness of the bread. I think I might faint all over again from the sheer joy of it.
Matron watches me grimly as I practically inhale every morsel of the three slices of toast she has brought me.
“Better?” she asks as I pick the final crumbs off the plate with the tip of my finger.
I take a deep breath and slide off the examination table. I wave my arms around experimentally and take a couple of steps across the room.
“You think you’re going to live?”
“I do, yes.”
“Then sit down again so I can kill you.”
Half an hour later, still alive but only just, I slink out of Matron’s office and look from side to side. I’m planning on finding Lael to give her a heads-up that Matron is on the warpath. But as I turn towards our dormitory I hear Matron shouting down the stairs, “Lael Lieberman! I can see you. Get your sorry butt into my office. NOW!”
I creep to the corner and peer down the stairs. Lael is reeling up them like a drunk person. Her skin is pale and pasty-looking, and she’s puffing and panting as though her school bag weighs three tons. Basically, she looks like I felt less than an hour ago, before I had my emergency injection of toast. I just hope she doesn’t keel over at the top of the stairs like I did.
As she gets to the top, her eyes meet mine with dull disinterest. I give her a sympathetic smile, but it doesn’t even seem to register. She is so caught up in the misery
of feeling horrible that she’s not even curious about why Matron is calling her. I’m just glad she’s going to get some carbs like I did.
The lecture part wasn’t fun, that’s for sure. Matron blasted me about the dangers of high-protein diets. She told me stuff about kidney function and organ failure that basically scared the spit out of me. Then she launched into a diatribe about how my weight is completely healthy and normal, and how I should just sign up for more sport so I could get some exercise.
The whole lecture was in the rapid-fire mixture of Xhosa and English that she uses when she gets excited. Lael will just get the English part, but she won’t get off any easier than I did. And to add insult to injury, Matron ended up taking blood from me anyway – not to mention making me wee into a bottle – so she could check that my kidney function hasn’t been damaged by the overload of protein. I’ll get the results back tomorrow. I’m pretty sure it’ll be fine, but a tiny part of me is terrified that I’ve gone and seriously damaged my health.
No more diets for me, I decide. Seriously, no more.
Just before suppertime, Lael comes back into the dormitory, pressing two fingers against a little wad of cottonwool on the inside of her arm. She’s looking a bit disgruntled, but apart from that she’s a completely different person to the zombie I saw climbing up the stairs. There’s colour in her cheeks, that sweaty sheen is gone from her skin, and she’s walking with a suggestion of the old bounce in her step.
“The vampire got you too, huh?” I say sympathetically.
She pulls a face, before lifting the cotton pad and checking for bleeding. When there’s none, she tosses it into a dustbin.
“I got a plaster as well,” I say, pointing to the Band-aid that is still attached to my arm.
“They make me itch,” she explains.
She flops down on her bed and for a moment we look at each other.
“Look, I didn’t tell on you,” I blurt out. “I wasn’t like, ‘Oh, Matron! Lael is also on a diet.’ That’s not how it happened.”
“So how did it happen?”
“I was walking up the stairs and I fainted when I got to the top. When I came around, she was all like, ‘What the heck?’ So I told her I thought you and I had caught a bug because we’d been feeling so lousy lately. It didn’t even cross my mind that it could be the diet. Then she wanted to draw blood from me to check for diabetes, and that’s when I told her everything.”
“It’s just as well,” she says. “There’s no way we could have carried on like that. Man, I’m looking forward to having some dessert after supper. I checked the website earlier – it’s apple pie and cream tonight.”
A huge smile splits my face in half. “Apple pie and cream! I thought I’d never taste that again.”
“Why were you here this afternoon, anyway? I thought you had Drama.”
I start explaining that it was cancelled, when my meeting with James comes back to me in a rush.
“Oh, hey! I totally forgot to mention that I ran into James today. We’ve set up the dry run for tomorrow morning.”
Lael sits bolt upright and goggles at me. “You’ve what?”
“The dry run. I’ve organised with him that we’ll do it tomorrow. Tomorrow’s Wednesday, remember? If we don’t do it now, it’ll be a whole week before we get another chance. And there are only a few weeks to go before the end of term. We really need to get going on this.”
“But Trinity!” She’s drumming her fingers on her thighs like she does when she’s stressed out. “We’ve got no time to set it up. Why didn’t you tell me before? You could have dropped me a BBM at least.”
“Oh, so sorry,” I say defensively. “I was a bit busy being unconscious and having blood drawn, in case you’ve forgotten. And anyway, we have got time. Just tell everyone there’s a strategy meeting tonight and we’ll go through all the details. Sophie has a violin lesson at seven, so it’ll be perfect. James is totally on board for tomorrow. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can pinch the shield for real.”
Lael jumps off the bed with more energy than I’ve seen from her in weeks. She grabs her iPad and flicks to the Operation Shield file. “Okay, let’s do this. I’ll work out a schedule for everyone and email it around just before supper. Meeting in my cubicle after seven. We’ll start as soon as Sophie leaves.”
At supper I choose a tiny bit of roast chicken (I really can’t face protein at the moment), three pieces of roast potato, and some veggies. And for dessert I help myself to a healthy wedge of apple pie with cream. It
is literally the best food I have ever tasted in my life. It’s so wonderful to feel something crunch between my teeth at last after all those weeks of chewing on fibrous pieces of meat. And the sweetness of the apple pie has me almost swooning. Plus I don’t have that cheesy taste in my mouth any more. Now that I know it was actually coming from my lungs as I exhaled ketones, I understand why all the Listerine in the world wasn’t helping.
With my new energy, I just want to get up and do something. It’s good that we have the dry run tomorrow. It’ll give me something to focus on.
“See you at seven,” Lael mutters in my ear as she stands up from the table. I notice Sophie giving a quick glance in our direction, but there’s no way she could have heard. I wish I could run through the whole thing with James one more time, but there’s no sign of him in the dining-hall. He must have come down to supper early and left already. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I know exactly what we need to do.
Zach’s voice speaking directly behind me makes me jump almost out of my skin.
He puts a hand on my shoulder and looks at me narrowly. “What’s up? Why are you so jumpy?”
“Sorry, I was in a bit of a dream-world,” I say with a smile. “You startled me.”
“Were you expecting someone else?”
“No, of course not. I mean, we didn’t have an arrangement for this evening, did we?”
“We didn’t, no,” he says.
“Oh, that’s good. I mean…” I realise what I’ve just said. “I don’t mean it’s good that we didn’t have an
arrangement. I just mean it’s good that we didn’t have an arrangement that I forgot about. Because my forgetting would have been bad, not the arrangement.”
And now I’m babbling. I force myself to stop talking and smile at him.
He shakes his head. “You’re so absent-minded, Trinity. It’s getting worse every day. You really ought to do something about it.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Are you in a hurry?” he asks, as he notices me glancing past him. Nosipho, Yasmin and Priya are all heading into Sisulu House. They’re looking back over their shoulders at me. The meeting is going to start soon.
I bring my eyes back to Zach’s. “No, of course I’m not in a hurry.”
“That’s good,” he says, sliding a hand up my arm and starting to rub the back of my neck. “You’re looking so tense.”
“No, honestly. I’m not tense at all.”
“I was just wondering whether you wanted to hang out tomorrow. I’ve got a bit of free time during your first break.”
“Oh!” Disappointment clutches at me. “I … I can’t.”
His eyebrows snap together. “What do you mean, you can’t? You know how seldom I manage to get time off during the day. Are you telling me you’re already busy?”
“I … no … not exactly.”
I turn away from him, trying to scrape some kind of excuse together. It’s true that Zach and I don’t often manage to hang out at break time. The postmatrics are on a different schedule to the rest of us. Their A-level tutoring happens at odd times during the day,
depending on when their tutors are available. But it’s not totally unheard of for us to spend breaks together. In fact, we usually manage it once or twice a week. And now that I think about it, Wednesday is usually one of those days.
“Trinity?” Zach says impatiently as the silence stretches out between us.
“Sorry, sorry! I was just trying to remember what I’ve got on at break tomorrow. I’ve got it now – it’s an extra Drama practice. We missed our practice this afternoon, so we’re making up for it tomorrow at break-time.”
“Skip it. It’s not important.”
“You don’t even have a performance coming up. How can your practice be more important than spending time with me?”
“We … we have to meet so that we can organise the … uh…”
“Trinity.” Zach grabs me by the shoulders and forces me around to face him. “You’re lying to me. I don’t know why, but you are. Now why don’t you stop embarrassing both of us and tell me who you’re really meeting at break tomorrow?”
Tears of frustration are gathering behind my eyes. “I’m not meeting anyone else. There’s no one else. Honestly.”
“The only one not being honest here is you.”
“Is there a problem here?”
We turn around to find Matron glaring at us. Her eyes flick to where Zach’s hands are squeezing my upper arms and back up to his face. He immediately lets go and takes a step back.
“No, no problem,” he says stiffly.
“Trinity?” She turns to me with raised eyebrows.
“There’s no problem, Matron. We were just talking about some arrangements for tomorrow.”
“Dinner is finished, in case you hadn’t noticed. The staff are trying to clear up.”
“And we’re in the way,” Zach says with an easy smile. “Not to worry. We’ll take it outside. Then I’ll let Trinity get back to Sisulu House. We’re just sorting out what time we’re going to meet tomorrow morning.”
“Well, sort it out more quietly next time.” She clicks her tongue, gives us one more glare, and walks out.
Zach grabs my arm again, just above the elbow, and marches me out of the dining-hall. He finds a quiet place next to the kitchen and spins me around to face him.
“Trinity … if you wanted to end it, you should have just said so. This lie about Drama practice is making fools out of both of us.”
I have to swallow against the tide of panic rising up in my throat. This situation is running away from me and I have no idea how to reel it back in.
“Of course I don’t want to end it, Zach,” I say desperately. “I love you. I’d do anything to be with you.”
“Then tell me the truth.”
“Okay … okay. Just give me a minute.” I take a deep breath as my mind races ahead like a freight train, trying to figure out how to handle this. “All right, the truth is that there is no Drama practice.”
“Really?” He narrows his eyes.
I rush on nervously. “I just said I had Drama because I have something else to do at break tomorrow. Something very important. It doesn’t have to do with meeting anyone or anything like that. It’s completely
innocent – just something I’m doing with some of the girls from my dorm. But we’ve all agreed to keep it secret, so unfortunately I can’t tell you about it.”
I steal a glance up at him, but he’s just nodding his head.
“So … are we okay then?” I ask tentatively.
He stops nodding and I see immediately that the angry, slit-eyed look is not gone from his face. My stomach clenches at the sight of it.
“No, Trinity, funnily enough we are not okay. You were lying to me before and you’re lying to me now. I don’t like liars. A liar is not somebody I want to have a relationship with.”
“I’m not lying to you! I’m just asking you to trust me and not ask me any more questions. We all made a promise to each other that we wouldn’t tell anyone about this. It’s a girls-only thing. Except for James, of course. But we told him about it right at the beginning.”
Zach’s face turns dark red and I know I’ve made a mistake.
“Who the hell is James?”
“No one, no one,” I say quickly. “Forget I said his name. He’s kind of helping us a little bit with this thing we’re doing. It’s not anything important.”
He pushes me backwards until my back bumps the wall of the kitchen behind me.
“I’m giving you one more chance to answer me, Trinity. WHO IS JAMES?”
He shouts the last bit, making me jump.
“James Ellison,” I babble. “He’s this guy in Grade 11. He’s no one, really. He’s just helping us.”
“Helping you with what?”
“I can’t tell you,” I say miserably. “I really can’t. I promised.”
“Trinity, correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought our relationship was more important to you than some stupid promise you’ve made to your girlfriends. Or am I wrong? I want to know where I stand here.”
“You’re the most important person in my life, Zach. You know that.”
“Then prove it,” he says coldly.