The trouble with avoiding my friends is that it’s easier said than done.
Yes, Lael is ignoring me at the moment, but that’s not going to last. When you’ve been friends with someone since you were both six years old, you tend to get the whole fighting thing down to a fine art.
When Lael is annoyed with me and we both know I’m in the wrong, she gives me the cold shoulder for exactly two and a half days. By the afternoon of the third day she starts addressing random remarks to me, and by that evening we’re BBMing up a storm as per usual.
So it’s easy for me to keep my promise to Zach for the first two days, but by the third day it gets a lot harder. What possible reason can I give Lael for continuing to ignore her after the official cut-off time? For me to freeze her out, she needs to have done something to me that puts her in the wrong. And how can she have done anything when we’re not even speaking?
Zach wants me to cut Lael and the others out of my life cleanly and effortlessly, but it’s not that easy. Still, it’s pretty flattering that he wants to keep me all to himself like this. It must mean that he loves me too much to share me with anyone else.
Just thinking about it gives me a secret little thrill.
But then Lael calls a meeting for seven to discuss the Gumede Shield, and things get really complicated.
Where do I go? How do I get out of this? When you’re a boarder there are only really two places you can be at seven in the evening. You’re either in your dorm or you’re in the common room watching TV. I think about sneaking off to the loo, but first of all, I don’t feel like spending an hour in there, and secondly they’ll find me.
Without much hope, I try to hide in the common room, sinking into a seat behind some biggish Grade 11s who are watching a Glee rerun on the series channel. I should really be Googling the latest cage-fighting results so I can talk intelligently to Zach about them tomorrow, but my concentration is shot.
As my watch clicks past 7pm, I feel a light sweat break out on my brow. Guilt churns in my gut. I’ve been involved in this project since the very beginning. Bailing out of it now makes me feel awful.
Before I can manage another thought, Lael marches into the common room and plucks me out of my seat by my arm.
“What on earth are you doing, Trinity?” she tuts, dragging me up the stairs. “You looked like you were hiding in there. When I say seven, I mean seven – not five past seven. Now we’ve got less than an hour before Sophie gets back from her violin lesson. Come on, everyone’s waiting.”
I open my mouth to protest, but can’t think of a single convincing thing to say, so I allow myself to be pulled into the dormitory and plonked down in a chair.
“Now that Trinity has deigned to join us,” Lael begins, “we can talk about where we go from here. My sources tell me that security has been tightened up at Dr Hussein’s office. They know exactly what we’re after, and Mrs Anderssen has been instructed not to leave the
inter-leading door open on filing days any more. So that avenue can now be regarded as officially closed. Frankly, I’m not too sure what more we can do.”
A depressed silence settles over the dorm. I can’t help but feel sad. I know I should be glad that plans to steal the shield are grinding to a halt. Zach wants me to have nothing more to do with it, and this will make it easier for me to keep my promise to him.
But somehow, I can’t feel anything except the misery and disappointment I see reflected on the faces of my roommates.
It’s not fair that the boys should have the Gumede Shield. It belongs to every student at Brentwood, and it should definitely spend six months of the year in Sisulu House. There’s nothing that makes it more of a boys’ thing than a girls’ thing. It used to be called the Florence Nightingale Shield, for goodness’ sake. I feel sick at heart at our failure to capture it.
“Maybe we should wait for all this to die down,” Nosipho suggests. “Everyone will have forgotten about it in a few months. I bet Mrs Anderssen will get careless and start leaving the door open again. By about September, I bet, we could probably steal it with no problem. It’s just a matter of being patient.”
I glance at Lael and our eyes meet for a second. I know exactly what she’s thinking. She and I won’t be here in September. We’re only spending one term in Sisulu House, not the whole year like the rest of the girls. So if they pinch the shield in September, the glory will be theirs, not ours. Even though it was Lael’s idea in the first place, and my information that gave us the knowledge needed to pull it off.
There’s a long pause while Lael considers our options. Then her shoulders sag.
“Yes, okay,” she says slowly. “That’s probably the best option. We’ll put the whole operation on hold for now. Is that all right with everyone?”
Nosipho nods. “Sure.”
“Fine with me,” says Priya.
“Me too,” says Yasmin.
“What about you, Trinity?” Lael asks as I stay silent.
They all turn to look at me. This is my chance to tell them that I won’t have anything more to do with stealing the shield. I know Zach would want me to. But somehow I can’t bring myself to say it.
So in the end I just nod. “Yes,” I say. “That’s fine with me too.”
The next few weeks drag by. I don’t know why I was so worried about putting on weight when I came off my diet because it turns out I’ve lost nearly 3 kg. I just don’t seem to feel like eating at the moment. A lot of my clothes are sort of hanging on me.
Everyone keeps saying how ill I look and asking me if I’m okay, but they’re just jealous that I’ve managed to lose all this weight without even trying. Zach thinks it’s fantastic, which is all I care about.
I honestly don’t know why I’m feeling so down. I’m now spending nearly every free moment with Zach. So obviously I’ve never been happier in my life. It’s just that I’m finding it a bit difficult to let go of my old life.
At the moment, I just use Sisulu House to eat and sleep in. When I’m in my cubicle, I hardly speak to anyone.
The hard part is how nobody seems to be trying to break through the barrier I’ve set up around myself. They don’t even seem to care. Everyone is just busy getting on with their own lives. Even Lael stopped trying after I brushed her off a few times. And, yes, that does make it easier for me to do what Zach wants, but it still hurts a bit. I guess I won’t really be happy until I’ve learned to let go of that.
Now it’s lunchtime again, and I still don’t feel like eating. It’s Saturday today and we’re having mealies with butter and salt, but I can’t seem to work up an appetite.
I push a bit of salad around my plate for a while before wandering back to Sisulu House. No one at the table even comments on how little I’m eating, or asks me where I’m going when I excuse myself. It’s like they don’t care anymore.
Fighting back a bad case of self-pity, I flop down in the common room and start flicking through some celebrity gossip sites on my phone. Zach and I are spending the whole afternoon together. I’m going to do some research for him for a paper he’s writing about the latest experiment results to come out of CERN. Not the most interesting subject in the world, but I’m doing it for Zach, so that makes it special.
I’m slumped in a chair with my eyes half-closed when James rushes in looking all hot and bothered.
“Trinity? Now what’s wrong with you? You look terrible. You’re not on another diet, are you?”
“No.” I’m getting tired of hearing this from everyone. “I’m not on a diet and there’s nothing wrong with me. What do you want?”
“You look like you’ve shrunk in the wash or something,” he says, ignoring my question. “Aren’t you people supposed to have meat on your thighs and … you know?” He pats his butt. “This new look doesn’t suit you at all.”
“Whatever.” I’m feeling too flat and miserable even to respond to that “you people” comment.
“Anyway, listen. Why I’m here. You have to come with me right now.”
I slump deeper into my chair. “Come where?”
“To Gumede House. That secretary is in the office today putting in some overtime. And she’s left the door between her office and Dr Hussein’s office unlocked. I think she’s let her guard down because it’s the weekend. She’s just made herself a cup of tea and sat down in the staff lounge. So if you come really quickly, you can grab the shield before she gets back.”
I sit bolt upright. “Really? Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. I’ve just seen her. Come on, Trinity!”
I’m halfway out of my seat when I remember that I’m not supposed to be doing this anymore.
“Wait,” I say. “Hang on. I can’t.”
“What do you mean, you can’t?”
“I’m not involved in this anymore. I promised my boyfriend I’d give it up.”
James’ jaw drops open.
“You’re talking about that Zach guy?”
“The guy who is supposed to go down on his knees every night to thank heaven that he’s been lucky enough to get a girlfriend like you?”
“Oh, please.” I laugh scornfully. “I’m the lucky one.”
“The boy who should be making it his life’s work to think of new ways of trying to please you?”
“He does please me. He does.”
“Trinity, you’re a disgrace to girls everywhere.”
“No, I’m not!”
“Yes, you are. But never mind that now. This isn’t only about you. All the girls in your dormitory want that shield. You can’t let them down. If you don’t come right now, there might never be another chance. And anyway,” he adds, grinning, “Zach doesn’t need to know anything about it.”
I hesitate while he shifts from foot to foot.
“All right!” I say, jumping up. “Let’s go.”