SHADOW

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CHAPTER 1

Three Years Before…

THE BROAD CORRIDOR instantly filled with a number of students chatting eagerly, some already pulling pranks as soon as the bell for break went off. A few of them were headed in a general direction – down the hallway towards the rear staircase and from there onto the school cafeteria, sports’ ground, library and just about anywhere else within the school that students usually congregated en masse to chill out with friends during the hour long recess.

Somewhere in the middle of the mingling was 14-year-old Alan Prince, heading off to the gymnasium with a couple of his buddies. His stride was quick and hasty; he was already about 10 minutes late for the handball practice that was taking place there, and he didn’t like missing the games for anything.

However, Alan wasn’t one of the players. In the first place, it was an all-girls practice session. But then, that was the main attraction. Whenever the girls’ teams were practicing, most of the spectators turned out to be boys, understandably, of course. The cat calls from here and there, the many cries of ’wows’ and ’ooohs’ from the boys’ often added a befitting rhythm to liven the tempo of the game and get the players in high spirits every time.

In the case of Alan though, he was only there to watch the session for one reason and one reason only.

Julie Sanderton.

One of the most impressive players on the pitch, Julie was trim and cute, with graceful legs and a smile that often melted the hearts of many of the boys in the school. She was the prettiest black girl Alan had ever seen, and Alan often comforted himself with the notion that something just might work between them.

That was until recently, however, when Julie told him officially that she wasn’t prepared to push the boundaries of their friendship; she simply preferred for them to remain non-intimate yet great buddies.

“Platonic,” was the exact word she used.

It had hurt his ego, but he reckoned that being friends with her was better than not at all, and so he stayed loyal to their ‘platonic’ arrangement. In any case, it was easy because they’d been close since their first year in Tempest High, when they met on induction morning. Although the attraction had been mutual, it just wasn’t strong enough on her part to warrant her commitment to him, romantically speaking.

Playing forward for her team, Julie lived up to her mettle by netting several shots and persistently breaking the defense line of the opponents. But in between, she found the time to turn towards the stands and roll her eyes fondly at her cheering fans and classmates. And every time she did that, the chants got louder.

Someone leaned over from behind, whispering gently in Alan’s ears, “Hey, Al, she just winked at you, did you see it?”

His friends were still encouraging him to persist in asking her out, hoping that the tide would soon turn and they’d become a pair. Alan smiled, said nothing and then turned around to continue watching the game just as a girl named Veronica Kazingsky, one of the most ample-sized girls on the court, hurled her massive body up to intercept the ball mid-air, missed and landed on the smooth floor like a sack of potatoes. There was a loud cry of ’aargh!’ from around the court, many people covering their mouths and eyes impulsively, and then a fit of laughter and howling calls rang out from everywhere.

Alan turned to look at Mike. “Veronica isn’t all that bad, you know?” he said, chuckling. “And she wants you; I’ve seen the way she looks at you, man.”

Mike grinned, tight-lipped and buried his face in the baseball hat he was wearing, and everyone around mocked at him playfully.

When the coach blew the final whistle and dismissed the practice session for the day, Julie came strutting like a goddess, in her all yellow jersey, toward her classmates. She wore a keen smile, her small breasts heaving gently up and down as she panted lightly, holding the brown Spalding ball under armpit.

She was intercepted momentarily by a tall boy who stood in her path, and Alan’s hair bristled immediately, the same way dogs’ hairs tend to stand on end when they got in fight-mode, and that was for two main reasons; the first being that this boy was handsome and aloof. His name was Kamil Parker. Well-built and athletic, Kamil was quite popular among the girls in school.

The other reason for which Alan sometimes felt like strangling Kamil was because he was the boy who succeeded where he, Alan, had failed; getting Julie to fall heads over heels for him. The sportsman beat Alan to the coveted trophy. It broke Alan’s heart when she broke the news to him out of courtesy, but he manned it up, told her it was fine and even wished them a blissful romance.

Alan and his friends were thus often uncomfortable around Parker; he was a formidable adversary that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

The two talked briefly on the court while Alan watched keenly like a hawk. They hugged each other, before Parker turned and waved casually in Alan’s direction as he went on his way, a gesture that seemed like adding salt to injury as far as Alan was concerned.

“Hi, guys,” Julie beamed, when she came up to her friends after leaving Kamil. She threw the ball at Alan, who caught it on quick reflex. “Enjoyed the game?”

“We sure did,” answered Mike eagerly.

“You should go play in the Nationals,” said a boy named Doug.

Julie smiled. “That’s in my plans, Doug, thank you,” she said. Then turned briskly, placed a small kiss deliberately on Alan’s cheeks, causing his friends to stare and clear their throats playfully.

Julie tilted her head slightly and winked at them. “Anyone else want some?”

They all stared back at her with glee, pushing their faces forward with lips puckered. The peck came, planted on each eager cheek slightly, one at a time. Each boy grinned proudly when he got his, but made a quick turnaround and got back into the line again for another peck. From the back someone whistled and there were shuffling of feet.

The line of boys became longer and Julie, giggling, backed off into a group of girls on their way out of the gymnasium, chuckled pleasantly and waved bye to Alan and his friends.

“Hey, Al,” she called, turning around halfway down. “Let’s talk, later.”

He nodded, smiling. “OK, J.”

Mike jabbed his side playfully, threw his hand across Alan’s shoulders.

Alan smiled forlornly, his gaze fixed on Julie as she went down the other way.

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