The Exit Plan

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Chapter fifteen

Will

A week had past after Chantel and Tristan were pronounced man and wife. The next day the two of them disappeared faster than fog in early spring. Their desks were cleared out. An Indonesian exchange student sat in her place. The girl shuddered as my scowl hit her during first period English. I didn’t mean to be unkind. But how can you have a heart when your heart is irreparable?

“Where do you think they are?” Aaron said as he flicked his notes.

I saw a few neat sentences that sentenced Gatsby as a lying, family-abandoning man whose love for Daisy and the American Dream destroyed him. I just thought Gatsby was a hero. Aaron, however, scoffed at the idea.

“Who? Chantel and Tristan?” Cassandra asked, fidgeting with her hair and comparing her essay to mine. She didn’t have a very favourable view on Gatsby either. “I think they ran off to Paris. It’s a beautiful city and it’s somewhere Chantel would have loved to go.”

I thought of Chantel skipping puddles on the wet streets of Paris with dozens of other tourists. I thought of her raiding the shopping malls and the cues just to get a glimpse of the Eiffel tower. I thought of Cassandra fidgeting with her hair. That was her tell wasn’t it? And my mind replayed the one thing Chantel used to say.

I want to go somewhere so far away that nobody will ever find me, she said. Paris seemed to be too noticeable a place.

I don’t think so,” Aaron said, echoing my thoughts. “Chantel wanted to go somewhere far away. Maybe some place that will offer her some peace. ”

“Where are you suggesting?” Cassandra asked as she now started comparing her notes with Natalie. “You think she went somewhere a little more quite like the Maldives? I don’t think so. She can’t stand boredom for very long. I don’t think she’d like a whole lot of silence either.”

“She kept saying she wanted to get away,” Adam said as he kept flicking a photo of Chantel and Tristan kissing under one of the weddings’ many crystal chandeliers. “But what did she want to get away from? Boredom or the lack of it?”

“I don’t know,” Aaron said. “Maybe she just hated life here. I mean, her mum abandoned her when she was a little kid and her dad is the human version of the prudence concept.”

“Really?” Cassandra said smirking. “Accounting terms? In English class? I think Mr. De Villiers will have a heart attack.”

“Well, he is really practical,” Aaron said. “And he expects her to be a miniature version of him. He moved her from Bloemfontein to Cape Town when he knew that there was a piece of her that didn’t want to leave.”

“Do you think she’d move away?” Adam said, now flaunting a picture of the newly-weds as they shared their first dance. I watched as Tristan seemed to guide the intoxicated Chantel through the dance. I watched as Chantel’s slumped body glided next to his.

“Shut up.”

I looked around, trying to find the source of the roar only to find thirty-three other faces looking back at me. I saw surprise wash over their usually unconcerned faces but I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything anymore.

“What is it?” Cassandra said as she tried to put her arm on my shoulder. Her grapefruit lotion embraced me. She was soft and sweet and tried her best to be comforting. But if she thought she was comforting, she was so terribly mistaken.

“Oh, like you don’t know,” I yelled, feeling my desk topple over. The glass water bottle, which Chantel had painted violets on, smashed making Mr. De Villiers spill his hot chocolate. I still didn’t care.

“We do know,” Cassandra said as she backed away. “It’s okay to be upset about Chantel. It’s okay to feel like you’ll never see her again. We understand.”

“Don’t you fucking act like you don’t know what it is,” I screamed. “You know what it is and you talk about it like I fucking care. I don’t. I don’t care about Chantel or where ever it is that she disappeared off to. And I don’t fucking care if she dies….”

“That’s enough,” Mr. De Villiers said. “I don’t tolerate people yelling at each other in my class. This is the kind of thing I expected from Chantel. Not you.”

I stood still. I knew I was expected to get up and apologize to Mr. De Villiers, who I’ll admit had scalding hot chocolate spilt on his shirt thanks to me. But I didn’t. I was sorry for what I said but not for how I said it. I felt rage sail through the calm waters of my soul. I felt the cages inside of me explode as it unleashed the creature that bided its time. I didn’t see the point of controlling how I felt any more. Or rather, I just couldn’t see how I could control it.

“Don’t you have anything to say?” he said as his cold eyes met mine.

“Then I’m going to ask you to leave class and see Mr. McCarthy,” he said as he looked at me in obvious amazement. “Aaron, see if you can get the caretaker to clean this glass.”

Fuming, I stepped over the glass and left. The white tiled corridors were deserted. . It suited me since I felt a hot tear slide down the side of my face. It wasn’t long until I felt a stream of tears pouring down as I flung my glasses aside and waited in the lonely lobby of the principal’s office.

“Oh, Chantel, I do love you,” I whispered into nothingness as the saltiness of my tears flooded my mouth. I loved her even when loving her seemed hopeless. I loved her when my love for her would tear me apart. Maybe, love is not the smiles or the sex or the expensive gifts. Love is the unchanging intensity that charred your soul.

“Will,” Mr. McCarthy said as he put a hand on my shoulder. “I just off the phone with Mr. De Villiers and I….”

“What?” I said, staring at him through a curtain of tears. “You’re going to give me detention?”

“I was going to ask you what’s wrong,” he said as he shook his head. “And I don’t want you to tell me that everything is okay, because it’s not. At least, not from the time Tristan stepped into my school.” I said nothing. I simply stared as I let my myopic eyesight take on an intense blur with an army of tears.

“Listen, you aren’t the first person who lost the one you love and neither will you be the last,” he said, offering me one of the malt cookies that lay on his table. “I’ve been principal for five years and taught at this school for twelve. I’ve seen my fair share of tears and heartbreaks.”

“This is different,” I said, feeling stings of annoyance as he compared losing Chantel to the millions of heartbreaks that took place within these walls. “And I don’t think I need to stay here a minute longer if you enjoy smirking at my pain.”

“Sit down,” he said as I stood and prepared to walk out. “I never did say that your pain is anything worth smirking at. In fact, I find it quiet sad that a typically well-behaved boy like yourself would scream at his friends and refuse to apologize to a teacher.”

“I’m sorry,” I said at last as I fought a losing battle with my tears. They still refused to stop streaming down my face. “I didn’t mean what I said; I honestly did. Can I go to class now?”

“Not yet,” he answered. “Now tell me. What did you say to frighten an entire class of students? It must have been something dreadful.”

“I s-said that I-I didn’t care if Chantel died,” I screamed. I saw Mr Kitching; the deputy head, look at me over his morning paper. The paper, I saw, had a large picture of Chantel and Tristan, exchanging rings.

“Is that true?” Mr. McCarthy asked as his soft grey eyes looked into my own. “Do you think you could keep a straight face if you saw her casket descending amidst the earth? Would you be at peace if you knew that wretched Mustang would never disrupt the silence at Westwood? I know I wouldn’t.”

The possibility of Chantel lying in a casket seemed impossible. No, Chantel would live forever, with her bright eyes blazing with emotion.

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I’d die if she did. I’d never be that heartless.”

“I know you aren’t,” he said as he offered me another biscuit. “This is why I’m going to let you off easy. I want you to go home, not to class and not to detention. Home. I need you to go and think about your feelings towards Chantel. Because you cannot go on like this. And you can come back on Monday with enough cash to pay for Mr. De Villiers’s shirt.”

I need you to sort out your feelings, he said. Those words kept playing in my mind all through the walk home. I felt more tears rebel against my control. No. I could never sort out my feelings for her because, well, because I love her too much. I loved her more than life itself and I clasped my hands praying that wherever she was, she’d forgive me for loving her with selfish desire.

I opened the door of my house with a sense of satisfaction. My parents were visiting my sister and her husband in Durban and I was left alone to cook a simple dinner of meatloaf. As the aroma of meat surrounded the kitchen, my eyes drifted upon the skies. The sleet, which fell so gently at first, ravaged with the ferocity of a hungry beast. The heavy falling of sleet and the wild early spring winds were the only sound I heard as I turned on the stove. At least, that was all until someone pounded at my front door.

The figure that stood on the porch was tall with soaking dark hair and perhaps a dozen bruises that stood on her pretty face.

“Chantel?” I gasped, dropping the pan and the meatloaf to the ground. “What are you doing here?”

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