Emma helped Rozena get dressed in her fancy clothes. The two girls didn’t talk much, and they were very quiet in the bus.

The auditorium looked exactly as it had done on the night of the competition. Even though it was bright daylight outside, inside the hall the lights were low, and the place hummed with the excitement of the competitors as they went to their chairs.

Music played, and Melinda Gosling made a last speech, thanking everyone for their participation. Then the judges walked onto the stage, glowing in the camera lights. Rozena sat, staring blankly at it all. All she could see was the hurt look on Natasha’s face. She’d been so sure that all she needed to do was talk to the girl, and explain it all, but somehow it had all gone wrong.

And now, they would all be going home, and not only had she let down the SCRAM kids by not doing her task, she’d also lost a new friend.

Suddenly Emma was shaking her by the arm and shouting something in her ear. Rozena tried to focus on what was going on. Everyone was clapping, people all around her were turning to look at her, their faces smiling, calling out her name.

“You’ve won. It’s you, it’s you!” Emma was nearly screaming with excitement. “You’re the Rising Star, Rozena! You won!”

Dazed, Rozena got up and looked around, not quite understanding what had happened. A smiling Melinda Gosling was beckoning to her to come up the stage, and all the judges were smiling and clapping as well.

“Congratulations to Rozena Claasens, our new Rising Star!” said Melinda Gosling into her microphone, and the music played as somehow, Rozena stumbled up the stairs and onto the stage.

She’d won the competition. This was what she’d worked so long and so hard to achieve, but she simply couldn’t believe it. Now she’d be able to go to university, to do everything she’d always dreamed of, but never believed would be possible.

Somebody put an envelope in her hand, and then Rozena was squinting into the glaring camera lights while somebody else shook her hand.

She’d won.

So why did she still feel like crying?

In the bus on the way back to the hotel, everyone was in a festive mood. They were singing and joking, and congratulating Rozena on her win. Even Justine and her friends, who’d been so unfriendly at the beginning, were smiling at her now, although Rozena thought they looked a little sour about it.

Rozena saw Natasha, sitting right at the back of the bus. She was not singing or smiling, but staring out of the window, and Rozena could not see her face.

She turned away, and tried not to look at Natasha again.

Back in the hotel, Emma was dancing around the room, throwing her clothes into her suitcase. They were flying back that evening, and they didn’t have much time to get ready.

Rozena tried to put on a happy face for Emma’s sake. But she still couldn’t really believe that she’d won the competition, even though the organisers had given her a fancy certificate in a gold frame, which was almost too big to fit in her suitcase, and a big glass trophy.

“Wow, your mom is going to be so pleased,” Emma said, holding the trophy up to the light so that it sparkled.

“She will be,” said Rozena, and the thought made her feel a little better. Her mother would be more than pleased, and all at once Rozena realised how much she missed her. It would be good to be home again, with her mother, in her own home, with her own things around her.

At that moment, there was a tap at the door.

“Hello?” called Emma, bouncing over to open it, and then “Oh!”

Rozena looked up, to see Natasha standing there, her face very serious.

“Oh. Okay,” said Emma. “How about I go downstairs for a bit? Then you guys can talk.” She was out of the room before Rozena could answer.

“Hi,” Natasha said shyly. “Congratulations. I’m so glad you won. You deserve it.”

“Thanks,” said Rozena. “Come in.”

Natasha closed the door behind her. “Actually, I came to say I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?” Rozena thought she had heard wrong.

“About how I chased you away.” Natasha looked at the floor. “When you tried to tell me about my father.”

“Oh.” Rozena didn’t know what to say. Natasha looked so unhappy. Her eyes were swollen, and her face looked puffy, as if she’d been crying.

“You see, I knew something, already.” Natasha hugged her arms about herself as if she was cold. “Not that … not the details, like you were telling me, about … weapons smuggling.” She said the words as if they tasted bad. “But I always knew my father was doing stuff. Dishonest things, you know?”

She glanced at Rozena. “He always brags about how he never pays any taxes, and how he gets away with not paying our gardener or our domestic as much as he’s supposed to …” Her face grew red, and she looked away again. “But that just means he’s dishonest. What you were saying – it seemed so much worse.”

Natasha walked over to the window, and looked out, pressing her hands against the glass. “What you said about his friends, about uncle Bernard, and Andy, and all that. It made me think. It made me remember stuff that I didn’t want to remember. Things I’ve overheard them say, you know. When they thought I wasn’t listening. I’ve been putting together the clues.”

Rozena went to stand close to Natasha. She wanted to comfort her, but she could see that Natasha needed to say these things, even if they hurt.

Natasha gave a deep sigh. “I think you are right. I think that he’s in charge of these … things they’ve been doing. With the weapons smuggling and all that.”

For a long moment, she didn’t say anything. Then she turned to look at Rozena. “You said … you told me that you were part of a secret organisation. The people who found out all this stuff. Is that true?”

Rozena nodded.

“Well,” said Natasha, wiping her eyes. “I want to join them too. I want to help them stop my father from doing the things he’s doing.”


Tell us: How do you like this twist in the plot?