The Exit Plan

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Chapter eleven

I’d rather be schizophrenic than see what I just saw a minute ago, I thought to myself as I sat on the ground with my face over the cold seat of a toilet. I thought the creamed hazelnut latte I got from the cafeteria was delicious. I never thought it would come rushing out of my mouth a minute later.

“Will?” a familiar hoarse voice said before a sharp tap greeted me from the other side of the door. “Are you alright?”

I groaned. When nausea paid a visit, I didn’t really bother to check if I was in the right bathroom. I just needed to puke. And cry. I needed to do a whole lot of crying before I even thought about going back to class. In fact, I did a pretty good job at skiving off Accounts.

“Natalie?” I asked, gazing at her black combat boots that gleamed outside the stall. “What are you doing here? ”As I unlocked the door, I saw the round face of Natalie Zuma, warm and ever so comforting.

“Well, I sometimes do come here,” she said as she looked around. “It’s the girl’s bathroom, you see.”

So it was. As I looked around I saw groups of girls talking and laughing at the sight of me being here. Some of them even took pictures.

“I guess this will be all over school by now,” I said, thinking about the sneer on Zameer’ s face as he saw the rumors of my confused gender identity. There was nothing wrong in being non-binary, which I was not, but I didn’t think Zameer would get it.

She handed me my books and hugged me. Her hugs fought a losing battle against the ferocity of Chantel’s embraces yet having her close was a safety net I could not refuse. And I could use some safety. As I inhaled the scent of new books and sweat that spoke of her presence, a figure came up to me. It wasn’t the statuesque form of Chantel who had come to declare her undying love. It was a short, rather muscular eight-grader with her hair done in a million braids.

“Did you come here to make out with flabby arms ?” she said, indicating Natalie. "Honestly, I thought even a freak like you could do better?”

Natalie looked down and mouthed ‘ignore it’ but I couldn’t. Anger bubbled in my chest bursting forth towards the unsuspecting girl.

“You know our school has an anti-bullying policy right?” I yelled, making one girl mess up her eyeliner. I could understand their shock. I did not yell at people.

“Yeah, whatever,” the eighth-grader said as she rolled her eyes. “But even if you reported me to Mr. McCarthy, he isn’t going to care. No one is going to care about her.”

“You’re wrong,” I said. “I care about her. And if you can’t see that then you’re demented. Now apologize to Natalie or else I’m going to have to tell on you.”

“You wouldn’t,” she said as a scowl plastered her face.

“I would.”

“Will, don’t bother,” Natalie said as she tried to turn away from the still rather livid girl. “She’s just a kid.”

“A kid who has got to learn politeness,’ I said through gritted teeth. “ Now go on and apologize.”

The girl did as I asked her to and left with her friend who messed up her eyeliner, both looking rather mutinous. I didn’t care. They never found themselves stranded in a girl's bathroom until Natalie showed up to check on you. They hadn’t had her defend them when a sneering Mr. De Villiers was out to get you. They hadn’t comforted Chantel, a girl who never spared Natalie a glance, just so you wouldn’t have the agony of seeing the girl you love upset. In a world filled with monsters, Natalie was an angel.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Natalie said after the girl left. “Thank you.”

“But I did,” I said, smiling for the first time since I saw the dreadful blue diamond and gold ring on Chantel’s finger. “You deserve to be happy.”

As the cries of the class bell filled the hallways, Natalie and I sped through the school like it was the world and we thought nothing of it. It was appropriate too. I did think nothing of the world I lived in. I would never get Chantel in it.

“What can I do?” I said, drying the last trace of tears from my eyes. “I can’t lose Chantel. I can’t.”

“Then tell her how you feel,” Natalie said, looking at me with her sad eyes.

She knew I loved Chantel. The look of sorrow was etched on her soft face. She knew that I would always love Chantel, even if loving Chantel killed me. I never wanted to hurt Natalie, but it looked like Natalie wanted nothing but my happiness.

“You’re a good person, Will. She’s lucky that you love her."

We then entered the classroom of one of my most hated people in Westwood International; Mr. De Villiers. Mr. De Villiers paced among the desks with his hand raised to scratch one of his thick eyebrows. As Natalie and I walked in, his grey eyes greeted us with an icy stare.

“Well, think you could take a few minutes off to make fat little babies did you?” he said as a smirk played on his face. Zameer laughed.

“Uh- sorry Mr. De Villiers,” I began, thinking of an excuse worthy of this man. “We-uh…”

“Of course, uh…we must…uh… interrupt our uh…speech,” Mr. De Villiers said, trying to do a brutal imitation of me. I, of course, prayed to God that I didn’t sound like that. “I suppose I must uh..give you detention for being late.”

“We’re only two minutes late,” I said, feeling heat rush to my face.

“And it’s the first time we’ve ever been late,” Natalie said, looking from the clock to Mr. De Villiers.

“Whether you are two minutes late or two minutes early your presence has cursed my class,” he sneered. “None of you have turned in an essay worth reading. If I have to hear about how you two think that Gatsby is a head case, I think I’d …..”

He couldn’t finish his sentence. At that moment, Chantel burst in; her hair tore every idea of neatness. Tristan followed; his hands tugging the bottom of her sweater. I felt my insides tear. Did Chantel let him touch her? Why wouldn’t she? They made love on the very desk I was about to work on, didn’t they? I thought of Chantel kissing him as his hand cupped her breast. It was Tristan she chose. It was him who would walk her down the aisle and tell her he loved her every single day.

Mr. De Villiers offered his congratulations to them with no threat of detention and I took my seat feeling the throb in my eyes conquer me. I sat down, trying to fight off my impulse but my tear glands just refused to listen. Instead, I hid my gaze in the assignment that Mr. De Villiers passed around.

Is Jay Gatsby a victim of a series of events or is he a tragic figure whose doom is brought on entirely by himself? Discuss with reference to the text.

Like I gave a damn. How could I possibly care about the life of some bootlegging fictional character when my own life tumbled away from me? I knew what I would usually do. I would pray to a God who I felt sure was going to give me peace of mind. Sure, up until now I thought my prayers fulfilled. I got those straight A’s I’ve been dreaming of and existed with decent meals at home. I never doubted my faith. I doubted the God who made me watch as the girl I loved was in the arms of a tyrant. I wondered where he was. Was he doing some lucky person’s bidding? Or was he up there laughing at me, the only human in Westwood International, who has two chins instead of one.

Chantel was already in class sitting beside Tristan, Aaron and another one of her Art Club friends. The whole class watched as she flicked her ring, letting the gold band flicker in the sunlight.

“Have you set a date for the wedding?” the Art Club girl asked Chantel in an audible whisper. “Or is it going to be one of those really long engagements?”

“The wedding is next week,” she said not bothering to be quiet. “Tristan and I don’t want to waste a second in making Elizabeth Burnham mad. And guess what? I want you, Cassandra and Joanne to be my bridesmaids.”

“Oh my god,” said the other girl as she jumped in her seat. “I do want to be a bridesmaid. I’ve never really been to a wedding. Oh, can I wear a two-piece dress with a slit up the side? And what colour will it be? I know you two hate pastel colours with a passion you only reserve for math and boring speeches.”

I couldn’t listen anymore. I didn’t want to know about the date or the dresses or who the bridesmaids were. All I wanted to know was whether Chantel was really going to marry him? Natalie told me to tell her how I feel. Would it work? There was only one way to find out.

“Hey Chantel,” I said as went over and tapped her on the shoulder. “Is your dad still in Gaborone?”

“Yeah,” she answered, looking up at me with those beautiful eyes. “He’ll be gone for God knows how long. Why?”

“Because I need to talk to you about something,” I said. “Can I sleep over at your house?” She said I could and I walked away feeling a slow sense of triumph rise up in me. I was going to change her mind.

The sight of that ring was odious to me. It was the very blue diamond and gold-banded ring that Chantel had always dreamt of getting since she was old enough to realize what an engagement means. It was the ring I always wanted to give to her.

“So,” Chantel said, taking a sip of her Pinotage, “what do you want to tell me? Or did you just decide to stop by at my house to sample my excellent driving skills? ”

Riding shotgun in Chantel’s Mustang was an addiction you couldn’t explain. The scarlet paint of that car screamed death but all Chantel would do was laugh at in. So did I. I laughed at death and caution and every sinking feeling that trapped me. I thought the first time I rode in Chantel’s Mustang would be a horrifying experience. Now when I was inside the cocoon of Chantel’s four-bedroom house, I knew I did her driving a grave injustice. Her inability to take her foot off the accelerator coupled with the inability of my heart to stop thumping didn’t seem so bad. In fact, the speed of it all cloaked me in unexplainable homeliness.

“You’re driving is amazing,” I said, grinning at her. “But no, that’s not why I came here. Chantel, there’s something I need to tell you.”

“Well, that’s obvious,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“I love you,” I said, feeling my heart exploding in a battle of emotions. “I know I’m a freak and a total jerk sometimes but I do have a heart. And that heart belongs to you.”

Chantel stayed quiet as I said those words, her almond eyes grew big as saucers.

“It always has since the eighth grade,” I continued. “I always have loved you ever since you walked into Westwood as a fourteen-year-old. I love you for your intelligence. I love you for your emotionality; I love you for the bravery that makes you lean off the side of a train. I do love you Chantel. Nothing in the world is ever going change that. Not even that ring on your finger.”

Chantel said nothing. Her eyes, usually so full of expression, stared straight ahead. It wasn’t the look I imagined. It wasn’t that comforting expression of revulsion as she looked at Tristan’s ring before tossing it down to the sapphire-blue waters of her pool. It wasn’t even regret.

“What about Tristan?”

“He’s impulsive,” I said, trying to conjure up the most unappealing picture of Tristan Van Eeden. “And his worse impulse is destruction, and I’m not talking about his own destruction.”

“What?” Chantel said. Her Pinotage bottle landed on the ground with a loud smash.

“Chantel?” a voice came from her dining room. It was the family’s cleaner, Jackie, who always made me the hazelnut latte I liked so much. “Are you alright up there?”

“Fine,” she answered before turning to me with a glare that I’ve only seen her give Natalie when she tailed us in the eleventh-grade.

“You think Tristan is destructive?” she yelled, as the crack of broken glass came from her boot. “You? Whose lack of emotion scares everyone around him?”

“Now who have I scared away with my supposed lack of emotion?” I said, trying not to smirk.

I think I knew the answer to this question. I scared her and Tristan. I scared them because I had control of something they could not hope to muster.

“Everyone except that pest, Natalie,” she spat.

“Natalie isn’t a pest,” I said. “I’m sure if you took a few minutes of your day to get to know her you’d find that she….”

“That she what?” she interrupted me. “That she makes some stupid analysis of every damn decision she makes. That she likes you because you are as cold and heartless as she is.”

“Don’t talk that way of Natalie,” I said.

“I’LLL TALK ABOUT ANYONE I WANT TO,” she screamed. “I DON’T CARE ABOUT WHAT NATALIE OR YOU OR ANYONE ELSE THINKS. I LOVE TRISTAN. YES, LOVE. IT’S SOMETHING YOU ARE YET TO LEARN.”

“I DO KNOW WHAT LOVE IS,” I screamed right back at her. “I’VE KNOWN WHAT IT IS FROM THE MOMENT I MET YOU.”

Our eyes met and as they did, my heart urged itself to rip into a million pieces. Never have I felt so torn.

“I’m sorry,” I said as I reached out to touch her hand. “I didn’t mean to yell.”

“I know you didn’t,” Chantel said. “But you know I can’t do this. You don’t know what it’s like to love. I don’t even think you know what it’s like to love me.”

“I do love you. I always have.”

“No,” she shook her head. “You love the girl who is kind and generous and interesting in every way. You don’t love the girl who drives drunk and has cuts splattered all over her arm. I know you don’t.”

I didn’t answer. The truth was I liked Chantel a lot more when she was the beautiful, artsy soul instead of the destructive force. But that didn’t mean I loved her because of it.

“I love you,” I said again. “I love every part of your torrid soul. And I just want to see your happiness; you know that, don’t you?”

“And my happiness is Tristan,” she said as dark tears sprawled down her face. “He’s sensitive and emotional and he understands me the way no one ever does. I love him.”

“I don’t understand,” I said as my heart shattered. “Why him? Why him and not me? I’ve lived for you and learnt for you. I have learnt. I’m the not the same heartless boy that I was a month ago.”

I gasped at my own words. Chantel was the one who usually called my tight reign over my expressions heartless. She was the one who cried, laughed, or defended someone in distress. Not me. Up until now, I never knew what made Chantel her fiery self. Now I knew that it was every emotion in her heart.

“I’m not heartless anymore, Chantel,” I said as I cupped her cheeks in my hand. “I’m not heartless and I will never ever be. My heart is yours.”

“You’re too late,” she said as her ebony tears painted my palms in inky smudges. “I’m sorry.”

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