Lereko stared at Rhandzeka. “What bet?”

Rhandzeka gave a laugh. “With some of his friends from schooldays. I saw him with them now, so he’s probably reporting his progress. They bet him he couldn’t get one of the more rural girls from his course to fall for him, he said he could, and it looks like you’re the girl he chose. His strategy was to pretend he needed help with some work. What exactly did he say he wanted help with anyway?”

“Animal science…husbandry.”

Really it was none of Rhandzeka’s business, but Lereko was so stunned, she answered automatically, her voice small.

Rhandzeka laughed again. “But he’s brilliant at those. Shall I tell you how I know? Because he shared some lecturer’s comments with his family, and it got his mother going on about how animal genetics and breeding aren’t a million miles from some branches of medicine, and maybe Xikosi was the son meant to follow in her footsteps and his brother the one who should have done law.”

The disbelief and faint hope Lereko had still held began to collapse. She had thought that Xikosi didn’t really need her help. So it was true, he had deceived her.

It tore her heart apart, but then anger rose, pushing aside hurt for the moment.

“Excuse me, please,” she said to Rhandzeka and walked away — not back to Ikhutse and Candice, but to go and find Xikosi.

He was in a room, leather and wood everywhere, proper bar at one end, and a pool table in the middle. No one was playing; Xikosi and his friends sat at the bar.

They hadn’t noticed her entering. Lereko paused.

Oh God, don’t let Xikosi be talking about her, boasting about his success. She couldn’t bear it.

“C’mon dude, when you gonna give up this farming story and get back where you belong?” one friend was urging. “Like, you’ll never own land. Your family are too upset with you to ever set you up with your own farm.”

“It’s not about owning land for me, it’s about working it, feeding people.” Xikosi spoke quietly but firmly.

Tears stung Lereko’s eyes. That was exactly how she felt. Why did he have to be so…so kindred?

“Working for another man?” another friend mocked. “Man, we’ve all heard the stories about abuse and exploitation on farms.”

“Do you honestly think I’d allow anything like that?” Xikosi shook his head. “I know my rights and the law.”

“Yebo, bring a case and get your father to represent you.”

“Or the gorgeous lawyer-to-be.”

There was laughter. The reference to Rhandzeka woke Lereko and she stepped forward.

“Xikosi?” His answering smile seared her. “This time it’s me needing to talk to you.”

“Of course,” Xikosi said at once, and led her out of the room. “What is it, Lereko?”

“You never needed my help with any subjects, did you?” She was shaking as she stood still and faced him. “It was all a pretence.”

His smile had faded, but he didn’t lower his yes.

“Yes, it was,” he admitted, and the last of Lereko’s hope died.

Tell us: Why would Xikosi have pretended to need Lereko’s help?