THERE’S A strict separation of the sexes going on in the dining-hall.
I’m the only girl in the whole place, along with a grand total of five boys, two of whom are my brothers.
But I still have to sit at a separate table from them. Matron waves me over to one of the girls’ tables as I start sitting down next to Aaron. I carry my plate over to the other side of the hall, feeling a bit silly.
The teachers sit at a long table raised up on a platform under some portraits of old headmasters of Brentwood. The only other person at my table is Matron. As I look around at the huge space between us, I have a sudden urge to shout, “Pass the salt!”
Instead, I look down at the food on my plate and realise that all my worst fears about boarding-school food have come true. I’m looking at a heap of rice, three boiled potatoes, and a mound of cottage pie. And what does the cottage pie have on top of it? That’s right – mashed potato, with a yummy crispy cheese topping. So that’s three servings of carbs right there.
How am I supposed to stick to my diet when these are my options? Huh?
Okay, there was some salad that I could have instead of the rice and potatoes, but let’s face it, salad isn’t going to win the day when it’s up against that kind of competition, is it? At least when I’m at home I can ask my mom to put only salad and protein on my plate, and not let the potatoes anywhere near me. Not that she listens or anything. She’s always trying to tempt me with carbs. But still. At least I have the illusion of control.
Oh, what the heck. I’ll start my diet again tomorrow. “Hey, Aaron?” I say as I’m queuing up for dessert behind him. “Who’s that racist, obnoxious guy in Gumede House? Brownish hair. About this high…” I stand on tiptoe and hold my hand up above my head.
Kind of a trendy dresser.”
Aaron thinks for a moment. “Oh, you must mean James Ellison. He is pretty obnoxious, isn’t he? Where did you meet him?”
“In our common room. He said he was hanging around to check out the girls arriving.”
He laughs. “That sounds like James, all right. I’d steer clear of him if I were you. He’s not very nice.”
“Mm. I kind of figured that out for myself.”
“I wonder why he’s not at lunch.”
“He said something about not being hungry.”
“Oh, really? Well, I…” Aaron gives me a narrow look. “Trinity…”
“You haven’t got one of your crushes on him, have you? Because I can tell you right now, that is really, really not a good idea…”
“Of course I haven’t got a crush on him!” I hiss back, as one of the lunch ladies looks at us with interest. “You are so … so … clueless. I was just wondering who he was, that’s all.”
“Well, if you say so. But I know that look you get when you fancy a guy. And I’m just saying that Ellison is trouble. He’s a real bad boy. You don’t want to go getting involved with him.”
By now there are two spots burning in my cheeks. How did we get here? I ask an innocent question, and the next thing I know, my brother – my younger brother, at that – has got me going out with the guy. For Pete’s sake.
“Well, I don’t fancy him in the slightest, so there’s no danger of that. And anyway, he’s only attracted to white girls. He basically told me that.”
Aaron pulls a face. Then he takes his bowl of ice-cream over to the boys’ table and leaves me alone with mine.
What? I said I’d start my diet tomorrow, remember?
Even though I’m not at all attracted to this James guy, I can’t help skimming my eyes across the common room as I walk past it after lunch. No sign of him.
I stop and stick my head in to have a proper look. But no. He really is gone.
Only now I find I have no particular desire to sit there anymore. So I amble up the stairs to the Grade 10 dormitory.
It’s creepily quiet and empty. I’m trying to imagine Sisulu House bustling with people and echoing with the shouts of girls coming and going, but it just won’t come into focus. The beds are empty and waiting – stripped down to their mattresses and pillows. The walls and cubicles are bare and flecked with old Prestik marks.
Only my cubicle looks pretty and homelike, thanks to my mom.
I spend the afternoon messing around on BBM and going for a walk around the grounds. It sounds like my friends are all enjoying their last couple of days of freedom before the new term starts. Then I have a long bubble-bath after supper while I still have the chance. I wonder if there will be queues outside the bathrooms when term starts, and a prefect standing at the door with a stopwatch, making sure we don’t take more than two minutes in the shower.
I go to bed early and lie awake for ages listening to the unfamiliar noises of Sisulu House. It’s a very creaky place, probably thanks to all that wood. Every few minutes there’s a crack or a groan as the building settles. At around half-past ten, I hear Matron going up the stairs to bed. Her room is on the floor above me. Her sensible nurse’s shoes go “squeeeka squeeeka squeeeka” on the springy floorboards.
I shiver slightly as I hear her footsteps getting fainter and fainter. I can’t help remembering a story Lael told me once about a student who died here years ago. Nobody seems to know who she was, or how she died.
Then I turn over in bed and snuggle deeper into my duvet.
It’s hard to stay frightened when you’re wearing a gorgeous new nightie and cuddling into 400-thread-count linen – both guilt-gifts from my parents. And in just a few minutes I feel myself drifting peacefully off to sleep.
Tell us what you think: What do you think is going to happen between Trinity and James?