“Look at that corn maze,” Tahati said.
It had been over an hour since they left the water centre, and the tension had been broken down by utter boredom once again. Tahati was now commentating on everything she saw out of the window. Most of them weren’t paying attention, but Simi was. She was commentating on the commentary.
“I’ve never been on a tractor ride,” Tahati said.
“No but you’ve had a traumatic incident with a sheep,” Simi said.
“It wasn’t that traumatic. She is welsh after all,” Tiana smirked, not looking up from her phone.
“I’m not welsh stop saying that!” Tahati begged.
Simi leaned forwards across her seat, closer to Tahati’s face. Tahati side-eyed her with the same terrified suspicion as a pug. With only the two of them in the far back of the car, no one saw it, or got the chance to appreciate it.
Simi got close to Tahati’s face, and said, “Baa.”
Tahati pushed her away. “Seriously man, don’t.”
Tiana was in the middle row, leaning her back on the wall of the car, with her knees up as she played on her phone. Now she looked up, eyebrow raised.
“Baa?” she repeated, curiously.
Tahati glared at her. “Don’t start.”
Simi looked at Tiana. Tiana met her gaze. Tahati noticed. She began her warnings that they’d “better not”, but it was too late. They had made a silent agreement.
“Baa, baa black sheep have you any wool?” Simi sang.
“Yes sir yes sir three bags full!” Tiana replied.
“One for the master,” Simi said.
“One for the maid,” Tiana said.
“And one for the little boy,” Simi began, and both of them finished with, “who lives down the lane!”
“Stop it now or I’m turning around and going back to the school!” Tristan warned.
He was in no mood for singing nursery rhymes.
“Do it, the schools more fun than this trip has been so far!” Zangi called.
“Do I care?” Tristan asked sarcastically.
“hey, don’t take your bad career choices out on us bro, we didn’t make them,” Zangi spat.
“At least we have a future,” Ravi added.
Tristan clenched his jaw. Ravi noticed his knuckles turning white as he tightened his grip on the steering wheel. Something in side of her said they were going too far. Something stronger said he needed to lighten up. The only way to make him do it, was to break him into it. Like in the movies.
“Where are we going anyway?” Zangi asked.
“Disney land,” Tristan stated sarcastically.
“Oooh, was that a joke? Could it have been? Could he possibly have a sense of humour?” Tiana asked.
“Nah, robots don’t have a sense of humour,” Tahati said.
Tristan groaned under his breath, and clenched the steering wheel even tighter.
“We wouldn’t be so bored if we knew what to expect. Why won’t you tell us what’s on the schedule?” Ravi asked quietly.
“Because the scheduled plan is incredibly boring. If you knew what it was, you’d throw a mutiny. The boss thought that if you don’t know, you won’t be so much trouble” Tristan glanced in the rear view mirror to see Simi pulling faces at him, “he clearly never met you.”
Well that was true enough. None of their risk assessment forms mentioned them pushing Tristan into rapid water, or him pushing them in, and another jumping in after her. It’s weird that they hadn’t thought of that.
A long while later, they came to their next stop.~
Tristan yanked the door open, to allow the girls to climb out. They gathered together on a path towards some grass, and looked around. As far as they could see, there was nothing of interest here.
Rye Meads was a marshland. Hidden by a huge fence of straw-like pond weeds, there was a muddy lake covered with bubbles of green weeds, and seagulls. Some areas were incredibly green, and some were very murky looking. Underneath the typically grey clad sky, this place did not look promising.
“Err, what are we doing here?” Simi asked.
“This is Rye Mead. It’s an environmental preservation area,” Tristan explained.
He had heaved Tiana’s camera bag from the van, and held her broken tripod on his shoulder.
“Leave that in the van, I’m not using it,” Tiana said.
“It was expensive. Even if you don’t appreciate the expense, I won’t let it go to waste by being stolen from the van,” he tutted.
“Is it likely to be stolen?” Ravi asked.
“Probably,” Tristan shrugged.
“Even though it’s broken?” Ravi asked.
“Probably,” Tristan repeated.
“That’s reassuring,” Ravi said sarcastically.
“If you use that, it will bend and fall, and the camera will fall with it. Especially since Tahati broke it. No matter how much you paid for that tripod I spent more on this camera. I’m not risking it,” Tiana stated firmly.
Tristan took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Tahati suddenly realised that she would willingly attack him if he dared lay a finger on any of her friends. She found it strange to have finally realised her loyalties the same year that she was going to lose her group to new schools.
But he didn’t lay a finger on anyone. He just threw the tripod into the boot of the van (bending the leg further as he did) and set off down the path to find a view point.
The gravel crunched underfoot as the girls trudged after him. They were so noisy that they scared away any creatures that may have been lurking nearby.
“Why are we here?! This is an ugly place. No one would want to come here, it shouldn’t be in the tour guide,” Simi complained.
“It’s full of beautiful wildlife that people want to see. Look, there some cows over there,” Tristan stated.
“There are some cows over here,” Zangi said.
“If you’re looking at me ill punch you so hard you go blind,” Ravi threatened.
Zangi looked over at her, grinning, and shook her head. “So violent!”
Tristan looked up in frustration. “Girls just shut up and look for something pretty to take photos of.”
“That a lot of tourists will come and disturb because a guide book told them too,” Tiana said.
“I don’t see any interesting wildlife. Just some seagulls, a grey heron, and a couple ducks,” Zangi said.
Tahati raced to the edge of the water to look at the ducks. She grinned with delight and called “Hi Duckies!” Childishly.
“Quick, get back in the car and leave her behind while we still have the chance!”
“Do not do that! Tiana get this picture taken,”
Tiana lifted her camera in a rather bored manner, and snapped a picture. It wasn’t going to be any good, because it was taken half-heartedly. Tristan seemed annoyed by that.
“What do you expect? I live near a common. I see herons and kingfishers and rabbits and seagulls and ducks all the damn times. They’re no fun to photograph anymore,”
“Do it anyway!”
Tiana scowled at him. She turned back to look at the marsh, and lifted her camera. Immediately she was grateful that she did, because it was just in time to get two photos. One of a great brown bull swaggering over towards the edge of the pond - presumably to drink from it - only to find Tahati in the way. The other, of Tahati jumping so far out of her skin when the cow mooed in protest, that she fell - face first - into the pond.
While Tahati thrashed in the water in a panic, the others cackled so hard that tears formed in their eyes and they were finding it hard to breath. Tristan made his annoyance known as he had to help heave Tahati from the marsh himself.
“Are you alright mate?” Tiana asked through her giggles.
“Yeah fam are you ok?” Zangi grinned.
“I’m fine. I’ve fallen into worse,” Tahati said.
She was trying to decide if she was annoyed or found it hilarious. Either way she was bundled into the back of the van to change into something dry. Again. She left her wet clothes in the boot to dry out. The smell of damp didn’t leave the van again.
After that the girls were in higher spirits, even if Tristan wasn’t. And he really wasn’t. Tristan forced Tiana to take photos of the cow as she drank from the pond. Tiana was already planning to, but now she was being forced, she took less than she was going to.
“I already have a million photos of these lot, why would I take photos of another brown cow?” Tiana asked.
She was smacked by each of the others, as hard as they could, and Ravi rose her middle finger. Meanwhile Tiana laughed again. After taking their revenge the others laughed too. Tristan rolled his eyes in disdain. Tahati tapped his shoulder, leaving a damp imprint on his shirt again.
“Are we done here yet?” She asked.
“Go and get changed again. We’re going to have to find our hotel soon and I don’t want them to be put off by a child covered in mud,” he said.
“That’s not mud Tris, she’s just brown. Damn dude, don’t be so rude,” Simi joked.
“Simi could you just shut up for five minutes please?! I’ve only known you one day and I already have your voice stuck in my head because you don’t shut up! None of you do! Just shut up!” Tristan snapped.
All of them looked at him, wide eyed in shock. It dawned on them that they weren’t at school anymore. None of their teachers would dare snap like that. Not if they wanted to keep their job. But he wasn’t their teacher. He could yell. He could snap. He could be miserable. What could they do about it?
As they looked between each other, they could see the penny dropping for each of them. Despite their sarcasm, loud opinions, bad jokes, and camera, they were just kids. They weren’t in control of this situation. Suddenly they felt a lot less happy with it.
It was an incredibly disinheriting revelation.
The feeling of helplessness caused the girls’ confidence to fracture. They buried themselves in their phones and iPods and stared out of the window, silently daydreaming about school. They’d be heading home by now.
Home seemed so far away right now.
Although it felt a hell of a lot closer when they got to their hotel. As they were checked in, the blatantly bored receptionist boasted about how the view from Tristan ’s floor (the top) could stretch as far as London central on a clear day.
They had been driving for hours and they were still only about an hour and a half from home. Or school. All of them found themselves wishing for their own beds, since they were so close anyway.
Instead the girls were shoved into a family room on the first floor. Tristan was grateful that his room was so far away from theirs, and a single room at that! A double bed, a TV, and a bathroom, all this space, to himself.
Meanwhile the girls’ room had a double bed, two single beds, and a pull out mattress beneath one of the singles. There was also a TV, a kettle, a hair dryer, and some mugs.
The girls ignored these in favour of the free Wi-Fi and the chance to charge their phones.
Tiana backed up the images on her camera to the cloud, so they could be accessed at home later. She placed the camera on the table and unplugged the TV so she could charge her camera instead.
“Where’s everyone sleeping?” Ravi asked.
The others looked around the room. One of them would get their own bed, two would sleep on what were essentially mattresses on the floor, and two would share the double bed.
“Ravi and Zangi are the closest thing to a couple, they can go in the double,” Tahati said.
Zangi and Ravi looked at each other in disgust. Zangi kissed her teeth.
“Bitch please I’m out of your league,” Zangi said.
“In your dreams!” Ravi huffed.
“Tahati you’re on the floor,” Tiana said.
“Why?!” Tahati squealed.
“You’re most likely to give in first,” Tiana said.
“I don’t want to sleep on the floor,” Tahati whined.
“If you sleep on the floor you can have the front seat tomorrow,” Tiana offered.
“I’m Fine on the floor,” Tahati agreed.
“Simi you can have the bed,” Tiana said.
“How is that fair?!” Tahati asked.
“She’s most likely to fight back,” Tiana shrugged.
There was a murmuring of acceptance between the others. One by one they flopped down on their beds, and began to settle in.
Tahati was told to have a shower first because she still stank of mud and murk. The bathroom was completely white. White tub-come-shower, white toilet, white sink, white ceiling, white tiled walls, white floor, white bathmat, white loo roll, it was white. Tahati winced at the shine that it gave off under the bright lights. She was exhausted and annoyed, and stinking, and now the bloody shower wasn’t working.
“TIANA COME AND FIX THIS UGLY WHITE BATH!” Tahati yelled.
Tiana staggered over, and leaned in the doorway to the bathroom, calmly.
“Why would I know how to fix it?” she asked.
“You’re white right?! Synch with it!” Tahati spat.
Tiana raised an eyebrow. “You think I can connect with a bathroom because we’re both white?”
“Please just fix the bath,” Tahati sighed. She was exhausted and pissed off.
Zangi shoved through the doorway, pushing both of them aside, and declared, “move aside idiot-faces, I’ll deal with this.”
So they left Zangi to it, and wandered back to where their mattresses had been placed.
Tahati pawed at her duvet, pushing it up against the wall until it vaguely resembled something between a nest and a seat. Then she settled into it carefully, and rooted around in her rucksack until she found an anime comic book.
Tiana turned her attention to Simi, who was lounging back on her bed, already planning which of her spare hijabs to wear tomorrow.
On the main bed, Ravi was laying on her stomach, fiddling with the remote to try and find something interesting to watch on the tiny TV. Zangi sat on the edge of the bath, glaring at the taps, trying to psychically will them to work.
“So who’s having fun?” Tiana asked suddenly.
The girls were slow to respond, and even slower to reply. They really didn’t need to. All of them knew the atmosphere of a dull classroom painfully well, and the journey so far had been overly similar.
“There has to be something good. Someone think of something funny so we can call Sapphire and make her regret not coming too,” Tiana groaned.
She watched as the others glanced between themselves, searching for anyone who might have an idea.
“When Tristan fell in the water,” Ravi said suddenly.
Simi sniggered, “Yeah that was good! And When Tristan pushed you two in.”
“That wasn’t good, that was terrifying,” Zangi spat.
“It was good when we were getting everyone else wet though!” Tiana smiled.
“Till Tristan ruined it,” Tahati said.
The mood dipped again, but only momentarily.
“It was funny when Tahati fell in the pond!” Zangi smirked.
“Yeah. But Tristan ruined that too,” Ravi said.
Zangi wrinkled her nose in annoyance. “We should leave him in a ditch.”
“We should steal the van and drive away,” Tahati said.
“How? Man can’t drive,” Simi said sarcastically.
Ravi rolled her head to look over at Tiana
“Tiana you’re eldest and white, have your parents ever let you drive?”
“What because I’m white my parents are so neglecting and relaxed that they let me drive before its legal?” Tiana asked sharply.
There was a pause as the others pondered the question.
“Did they?” Ravi asked again.
“Yeah,” Tiana shrugged immediately.
Tahati sat upright in surprise. “So you can drive the van?”
“If we avoid motorways, yeah I’m pretty sure I can. I can show you lot how to as well so I can make you take the blame,” Tiana warned.
Tahati frowned. “How do we avoid motorways?”
“Most motorways have a road that goes to the same destination, but is less violent and have lower speed limits,” Ravi explained.
She had been reading up on Highway Code in preparation for learning to drive, even though she still wouldn’t be allowed to for a year.
“So it could be done?” Zangi asked.
“We’d have to stay close if we did. Once we get away we’re entirely alone. If someone else falls into any kind of water source, there’d be no one to help her out,” Ravi said.
“We can take care of ourselves you know, we aint kids!” Tahati said.
Zangi cleared her throat pointedly. Her voice was echoed by the tiles in the bathroom, where she was fixing the shower for Tahati.
“Bismillah, it’s never gonna work!” Simi groaned.
“Not with that attitude!” Ravi argued.
“How you gonna get the keys?” Simi challenged.
“If we work together, we can do it. We’d have to be fast, and quiet, and there’s no going back if we do, but we can do it,” Ravi insisted.
“Where would we go?” Simi challenged.
“Tahati, you wanted to see Edinburgh right?” Tiana remembered.
Tahati had pulled her hair out of her hijab, but doing so had made it go even more frizzy than usual. Behind her glasses her eyes became saucers. This was only amplified by the frizz of her hair. She looked like a terrified rabbit that had been electrocuted.
“I was kidding. I only wanted to go because I called it Edin-bruh, and it became a joke!”
“Do you want to go or not?” Zangi asked sharply.
A bright grin grew across Tahati’s face, excitedly. “Hell yeah!”
“Right, so we’ll go to Edinburgh,” Zangi declared.
“We can go anywhere! We can go up to Edinburgh and up to John O’Groats, and back. We can go to wales!” Tiana grinned.
“We have our passports, we could go to France!” Ravi gasped. Her eyes widened at the ideas and possibilities. “We could go through France, and into Germany, and through all the counties and down to India!”
“All we need is money,” Simi said drily.
Ravi dimmed. “There’s always a catch.”
“Well we can go to John O’Groats anyway. Leave Tristan behind and make our own way,” Tiana said.
“As long as you still take pictures, we’ll still be paid,” Tahati said.
“Hell yeah I’ll take photos! I’ll take at least six hundred photos!” Tiana grinned.
“So were going to steal a van, drive underage and unlicensed, all the way to the top of Scotland, alone, while taking photos of everything, and we’ll get paid to do it?” Simi asked, drily.
The way she summed it up cause a ripple of silence across the room. At first it was dubious and sullen, but the more they thought about it, the easier it sounded. Soon, even Simi’s eyes were bright with excitement.
“Awesome!” she grinned. “How do we get the keys?”
“Can we get them from his room?” Tahati asked.
“That’s impossible,” Ravi shook her head.
“There were three Mission impossible. They did all of them!” Tahati pointed out.
Ravi frowned at her, and then looked over at Tiana, pointedly. Tiana just smiled back, showing her silent pride to Ravi, but not to Tahati.
“I’ve got an idea, but we’ll need the shower to work to do it,” Simi said, slowly.
Zangi glared at the taps in frustration. That’s when she noticed a small lever just above the drain that said “pull for shower”. She took it as a good omen.
His pillow was soggy from his hair after his shower, and his shirt was damp too. Now he was clean and warm, the exhaustion of dealing with five unruly teenage girls, came slamming down on him. His bag sat on the ground, opened enough for him to get his pyjamas, but otherwise untouched. He hadn’t even managed to get his pyjama bottoms on before he crashed onto the bed.
Then came a quiet knocking at the door. Tristan groaned inwardly. He knew it had to be them, but he didn’t want it to be. Tristan attempted to ignore it, but they just knocked again. He groaned and slid off of the bed.
Tristan looked through the peep hole. It was being covered by a finger. Tristan gripped the handle, and sighed. This couldn’t end well. He opened the door slightly, keeping it mostly shut to hide the fact he was only wearing a shirt and underwear. As the door creaked open, Tiana glanced up from her shoes to his face. She changed from eyes filled with anxiety, to a smile.
Tristan was taken aback by her outfit. She had changed into a white shirt with a union jack on, with a denim jacket that was actually Ravi’s and a little too small for her. Then she had Zangi’s black leggings, and a red and white tartan skirt. She had gone as far as to find a matching hair bow, and let Ravi braid her hair. It was still damp in patches, but she had clearly tried to use the blow drier to fix that. She smiled at him.
“What’d you want?” he asked.
Tiana raised her hands in front of her chest as she spoke, and Tristan noticed a broken bead. He glanced at the ground instinctively, and noticed that she wasn’t wearing shoes. His shoulders sagged as he sighed inwardly.
“We’ve been talking, me and the girls,” Tiana explained, “and we’ve been bitches.”
“No, no,” Tristan began unenthusiastically.
“Disagree all you want, we know we have. It’s in our nature. An all-girls school is a ruthless place and you have to be bitchy to survive, it’s become our armour. We know you’re in charge, and you have a plan, and we need to stop fighting it because, at the end of the day, you’re the one who’s looking after us, not the other way around. Right?”
Tristan straighten up, just enough for his bare leg to come into Tiana’s peripheral vision. She had to fight her eyes from rolling.
“We’ve decided that, since we’re being paid to be here, we could pool our money together, and have dinner together to say sorry. We’ll pay,” Tiana explained.
Tristan shook his head, “oh, you don’t have to do that.”
“We insist,” Zangi stated firmly.
She appeared in skin tight denim jeans, a loose fitting grey shirt that said “Humans Are Boring” in black bold letters, and in a brand new pair of black ballet-slipper shoes that were ever so slightly too big.
The shoes – along with Tiana’s hair bow and skirt – had been in the lost and found. Since all of them were too socially anxious to send one person to talk to the receptionist, they had all gone down to ask them for help. The receptionist had just showed them a room in the back were the items left behind in the rooms were kept. There was shoes, watches, jewellery, books, sunglasses, blow up toys, scarves, sex toys, shoes, ties, tin cars, socks, you name it, if anyone left it in a hotel room it was here.
(Simi had found some bibles – and a Quran - while searching, and stacked them up around the many boxes of sex toys, “to defend innocent eyes”.)
All of them had ended up taking something (sometimes more than one thing) from the lost and found. And then washed them all in the bath before scrubbing them dry with the towels, hair dryer, and radiator. They were still damp in some places.
“Where are the others?” Tristan asked.
“Getting ready. Tahati’s in the shower and Simi and Ravi are arguing over a leather jacket,” Zangi explained.
“Let’s hope Simi wins. Ravi might look good in leather, but she’s still Hindu and it’s still a cow,” Tiana said.
“You’re a cow we still put up with you,” Zangi said.
Tiana shot her a deathly glance. Zangi poked out her tongue at her. She had her hair out around her shoulders to dry easier, but her fringe was pinned back by bobby pins the same colour as her hair. When she moved they stuck like glue. She couldn’t hide behind her hair to whisper jokes that Tristan couldn’t hear, or stop him from being able to read her lips anymore. That and the bow in Tiana’s hair made them seem sweeter.
Loathe as Tristan was to admit it, they actually were nice. For a while anyway.
“Alright. Let me get some trousers on, and I’ll catch you up,” Tristan said.
He tried to shut the door but Tiana threw out her arms to stop him.
“Err, actually we wanted to walk with you!” She blurted.
Tristan squinted suspiciously. “Why?”
Tiana looked at Zangi helplessly. She was never good at improvisation in their drama classes and Zangi could usually come up with something.
“So we can snoop through your stuff while you’re not in the room,” Zangi said, drily.
Tiana stared at her, and gritted her teeth. Tristan glanced Zangi up and down. She held his gaze, challenging him. He sniggered.
“You girls should try to hone that sarcasm. One day it might get you into trouble,” he warned.
Tristan shut the door behind over as he ducked back in to find his jeans. He’d kicked them off in the bathroom, and now they were baggy. He shrugged. The girls would look good, it didn’t matter if he did.
Zangi smirked at Tiana, smugly. “Yeah Tiana. Don’t be so sarcastic!”
Tiana shook her head, grinning hard as she bit back her giggles. Tristan had no idea. He came back in his baggy jeans, and smiled at the girls.
Tiana walked beside him, on her tiptoes, still barefoot. Tristan asked her why she was barefoot to begin with, so she lied about not being sure if he was willing to come to dinner, and saving time on lace tying. Truthfully she knew that he would notice her lack of shoes, because she was going to force him to. Then he would be distracted, and wouldn’t notice as Zangi stuck some chewed gum on the lock sensor, so when the door shut, it didn’t lock. They knew it would work because they’d tried it on their own door first. Zangi jogged to catch up with them before Tristan noticed she was gone.
Simi and Tahati leaned around the corner at the other end of the corridor. They watched their friends lead Tristan away. As soon as they heard the door to the stairs clatter open, they set off. Tahati kept low. She run down the corridor while crouching. Simi just ran down like an anxious fairy. She was on her tip toes and glancing back repeatedly. Tahati thought she was in an assassination plot, Simi was just terrified of being caught.
Tahati had dressed all in black. The black blouse she stole from Tiana, the black trousers from Ravi, and the black hijab from Simi. The hijab, she felt, turned her into a ninja.
At the other end of the spectrum, Simi was in light, bright, summery clothes. A floaty pale pink shirt, a thin beige cardigan, and two hijabs. A thinly decorated lilac one for a head dress, and a latte coloured one as a scarf.
They looked ridiculous together.
Tahati gripped the handle, pressed her shoulder against the door, and was about to creep the door open dramatically, when Simi shoved her through urgently.
Tahati stumbled out of the way as Simi dashed inside.
“You ruined that, that was gonna be awesome,” Tahati grumbled.
Simi rolled her eyes wide. “Bismillah I’m surrounded by idiots.”
“Hey shut up Man I can be bare smart sometimes,” Tahati lied.
Simi scoffed. “Yeah, and sometimes I listen in citizenship.”
Well she meant ship. Only her P sounded a lot like a T. It often did when citizenship was involved.
Both of them took a moment to appreciate how tidy his room was. The mess was confined to the bathroom, and his bag.
“He’d leave em on a table,” Simi said, “check the bedside tables.”
Tahati grinned to herself. She opened her arms out wide, and threw herself onto the bed. The pillows bounced out of place as she did.
“Tahati!” Simi scolded impatiently, “put those back or he’s gonna know we were in here!”
“Alright fam chill!” Tahati said. Under her breath she muttered, “Bismillah.”
“Don’t go praying to Allah to clear your stupidity, that’s all you Mann,” Simi snipped.
Tahati, mature as ever, responded by blowing a raspberry. Simi rolled her eyes and shook her head. She turned back to the main table, and dug under the empty milk pots, in search for the keys. All she found was his wallet. Simi raised an eyebrow. She flicked over the band keeping it closed, and opened it. Inside was a neat row of cards - mostly loyalty cards - and a clear pocket for photos that contained an almost complete sticker collection from the side of a coffee cup. Where the notes should have been, there was a tenner, and a bundle of receipts. Even the coin pouch was mostly twenty pence pieces or less. Simi tutted.
“Man this guy is broke A.F,” Simi said.
Tahati ignored her. She was busy hanging over the edge of the bed, trying to see if the keys had fallen underneath. Simi flicked through the cards in their slots. Most were useless to her, but then she came to the credit cards.
“Hey, I found the company card! Now we can pay for dinner,” She grinned.
Simi slipped it into her back pocket. Tahati rolled off of the bed, legs flailing as she did, and crashed onto the floor. She leapt back up to her feet, and picked up the leather wallet on the table.
“Take the whole thing. If he drops the company card that he had in his wallet it’s more suspicious than if he drops the whole wallet, and it’ll be easier to get the card back into it without him noticing,” Tahati said.
Simi raised an eyebrow at her. “Maybe you can be smart.”
She took the wallet from Tahati’s hand, and slipped it into her back pocket. Then she looked back at the table.
“The keys clearly aren’t here.”
“They’re not in his jacket pocket either. Maybe they’re in his trousers.”
“Where’s his trousers?”
“Check the bathroom while I check his bag.”
Simi got down on her knees, and began to carefully root around his bag. She didn’t want to give him any reason to be suspicious, and she definitely didn’t want to find anything that would make this dinner awkward.
Meanwhile Tahati looked around the startling white bathroom, and found it empty.
“There’s nothing here!” She called.
“Nothing here either,” Simi called. She sat back on her hunches, “they’ve got to be in the pocket of the trousers he’s wearing.”
“Then there’s no way were getting them,” Tahati said.
Simi sighed. “I said it was impossible.”
Tahati flicked the gum off of the door frame, and the door locked behind them.
Ravi was waiting by the entrance to the lobby. She was in a white dress that came to her knees in a tutu skirt, but had golden leaves stitched along the collar. She had taken time to thicken the fluff on her hair, making it look bigger, and add some crimson lipstick and eyeliner. She even had high heeled ankle boots with sparkles along the tops. She looked fierce, if overdressed.
“Dude its just dinner,” Tahati said.
“Bitch I look fine for everything. Dinner or more. That’s why I have a boyfriend,” Ravi kissed her lips.
Simi frowned. “I thought you broke up with Reed?”
Ravi’s face fell. “Shut up.” She continued to glare during a long pause. “Keys then?”
“Aint got em. They’re in his pocket,” Tahati shrugged.
Ravi sighed. “We ain’t getting them.”
Tiana and Zangi were already sat down at the round table when the other girls arrived. Tristan had gone to the bathroom, so for a while they were safe.
“Did you get the toffees?” Zangi asked.
Zangi and Tiana had been making up code words for the keys out of boredom, and not told the others yet. Everyone but Tiana looked confused, but it was Zangi, so they ignored it.
“No. They’re in his trouser pockets,” Ravi said.
“We’re not getting them then,” Tiana said, but at the exact same moment that she did, Zangi said, “So you want me to get them?”
They stared at Zangi. Tahati and Tiana had been pickpocketing each other, and the others, since year seven, just for a mild entertainment. They had created a game with a strangely cool pen, where they had to steal it off of each other, without being caught. Whoever had it at the end of the day, won. Whoever had won most by the end of term got to keep it, and they chose a new pen. Zangi was not their best pickpocket. Nor was she the best at flirting. Ravi was. But that was only one other way she could get into those trousers.
It took quite a bit of sharp hissing and bickering to prevent Zangi flirting with their guardian. Even when Tristan came back and stopped them hissing, they couldn’t trust Zangi not to flirt, so they boxed her in between Simi and Ravi, so she just couldn’t.
Before he came back to stop them, they did manage to make a plan of how to pay with the company card, and get the wallet back, unnoticed. Tristan sat back down, and looked like an older sibling out for dinner with his daughter and her friends after prom.
“Are we doing starters and mains or mains and desserts?” He asked, opening the menu.
“I’m starving so I’m getting all three,” Zangi said.
The other girls created an orchestra of “yeah”, “same” and “me too”. Tristan shrugged.
“You’re the ones paying,” he said.
Tahati and Ravi shared a subtle look, but no one said anything. They returned their pointed glare at the menus, unnoticed.
“If it’s halal I’ll have all three,” Simi said.
“It is. Says so. Right there.” Tahati leaned over the table to point at the note at the bottom of Simi’s menu.
She knocked the salt flying. Ravi tutted at her, and the others scolded her in turn while she scooped the salt into her hand. Then Ravi made her throw it over her shoulder. Tristan asked her if she was superstitious.
That promoted a long conversation that weaved between superstitions, conspiracy theories, politics, the royal family, tourist attractions, British values, Brexit, foreign cultures, religion, ext. The conversion basically never faltered unless the waiter came over.
Despite dressing up, they were still teenagers. There was stakes, burgers, half a roast chicken, and many, many, chips. They drained the free-refill of all their Pepsi and sprite, Tahati used almost an entire bottle of ketchup for herself, and Simi complained about “white chefs never use spice because their taste buds would explode”. For a moment or two Tristan seemed to be offended, but Tiana laughed, and he realized it was just a joke they shared.
Tristan was continuously surprised by the level of genuine facts and logical opinions they had, from such a young age. Some of their opinions were slightly naive, but that was to be expected. Tristan found himself laughing along with them. By the time dessert rolled around, he was enjoying himself.
A meal is always tastier when it’s free anyway.
“Alright,” Tristan cleared his throat and leaned forward against the table, “I think we got off on the wrong foot. It’s been a long day, and you were all excited about leaving school. I didn’t need to be so grumpy and ruin that. I’m sorry.”
The others talked over each other as they forgave him. He waited for them to apologise too, but Simi just got to her feet and said she was going to the bathroom. Zangi and Tiana got up and went with her, leaving the others behind. Tristan’s shoulders sagged. He took a step back towards his original opinions.
Tiana had gone to the bathroom to get the card from Simi. Once she had the card, she swerved to find their waiter, and pay at the screen away from their table. She didn’t want Tristan to see the card she was paying with. The waiter wished her a good night, and walked away without another word. Tiana went back to the bathroom to give the card back to Simi, who was waiting in the bathroom until the others left, so she could leave the wallet for someone else to find.
Zangi just needed the loo.
As Tiana ushered them out of the restaurant and back in to the hotel, Tristan found himself doubting that they had paid. He was almost certain that they were dining and dashing. His fears were amplified by the way that they all but ran back to their room.
When he got back to his room, he didn’t even notice that his wallet was missing. He was so full from dinner that he sat on the edge of the bed and turned on the TV to relax. Meanwhile, some elderly gentleman found a wallet on the stairs, and took it over to reception. When he missed the phone call, having fallen asleep, he had his own turn in lost and found.