The Exit Plan

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Chapter One


I checked the figures on the scale. It read a hundred and five kilos and that was before I downed the bacon, eggs and creamed coffee my parents promised to make me that morning. My light blue and navy pants did a Pilates like stretch over my body. They were the largest size. Surely Chantel, the most gorgeous girl Cape Town had ever seen, wouldn’t want to date a man with thick glasses or acne blooming out of his skin or who wore the largest size shirt that our uniform shop had to offer? I brooded on this all through breakfast as my parents spoke of the weather.

“These hailstones were the size of fuc-” my dad said as he buttered his toast.

“Language,” my mum interrupted, putting her hand on his arm and indicating my presence.

The fact at I would turn eighteen this New Year’s eve didn’t stop my parents from watching their words around me. I felt a familiar sting of annoyance.

I wasn’t eight, I thought as I tore my bacon with an unusual intensity. I’m old enough to be around Chantel whose mouth needed a good washing out. I even held a part time job at BC Insurances, a local insurance agency where your clients swore at you for no apparent reason. My parents, however, didn’t think so and kept their swearing to a minimum as they spoke about the crackling of marble sized hailstones on our roof and the sleet that fell in uncensored abundance.

Despite being blessed with unwelcome layers of fat and going to the school with the best heating system in the whole of Western Cape, I still despised winter. I despised it like the sleet hated those warm beams of sunshine. I never thought about the changing of seasons much, but winter was the devil that snatched the girl I loved away from Cape Town. She was obliged to visit family in Bloemfontein and I was obliged to spend an eternity without her rather vibrant language.

“This is your new ride,” I said, gazing at Aaron’s silver-grey car as the longing that lay curled up in my heart banished my annoyance.

Aaron, who was my best friend since I was in kindergarten, always met me before school. This time he had decided to bring his car along with him. I shivered. The only way I’d be able to afford something like that is if I worked my ass off for the next thirty years. “It’s –um- nice.”

“Thanks,” Aaron said as a Rolex hugged his wrist.

Why would he need to spend money on something that pointless when he could just check the time from his phone just like the rest of us did? Why couldn’t he use that money for university or his first flat or anything that didn’t involve grandeur?

“By the way, did you see the car Chantel got for her eighteenth birthday? A Mustang. A cherry-red convertible Mustang.”

“I did see,” I said, recalling the excitement in her voice as her dad presented her with that beast. “She couldn’t stop talking about it for- uh- perhaps an hour.”

“Well, you know Chantel,” I said as the purr of the engine calmed my frazzled nerves. “She’d want anything that has a bright colour and wakes up half the city."

“Speaking of Chantel,” he said as he fixed his light blue eyes to mine. “Are you ever going to ask her out? You’ve been gawking at her for four years, you know.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I’m not so sure I’m the type of man she wants.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” he asked with a look that said, ’why haven’t you been listening to my lectures?’ “Chantel is only going to love you if you love yourself and right now, I don’t see you doing that.”

“I do listen to you,” I said. “But I’m ordinary and fat. I didn’t think I’d be ,well, worthy of her.”

“Will, you are anything but unworthy,” he said. “You got to believe in yourself. And besides, wait till you finally notice that Chantel loves you.”

“She does not,” I said. “Okay, maybe as a friend but not more than that. She longs for excitement and intensity and every wild emotion that crosses her mind. What am I to her?”

“You are everything to her,” he said as we finally glimpsed the light brown buildings that made up Westwood International School.

Hundreds of students gathered around wearing their blue uniforms as fliers for school clubs waited for them. “You’re kind and intelligent and sweet. There will come a time when Chantel takes a good look at reality and realizes how rare you are. And if she doesn’t she’d better start that Mustang and get the hell away from me. Because I will kill her.”

“Thanks,” I said as I stepped out into the open.

“Anytime,” Aaron said, shaking his head over my love life. “You’re my best friend and I love you dude.”

“Me too,” I said as he leaned over for a hug. “But if you expect me to break into a passionate ballad of my love for you and stick my tongue in your mouth, our friendship is off.”

Tiny eighth-graders flooded the grounds with their brilliant blue uniforms and backpacks flung over their shoulders. Hopefulness shone on their faces as they faced their first day of secondary education. Poor souls. They didn’t know the advanced lot of subjects that would pester them unless they loved studying like their own souls. My mind rushed back to when Aaron and I stood outside the gates, barely five and a half feet tall, with a backpack full of textbooks.

“Do you think this place would change us all?” I said as I stood beside Aaron. We both wore identical expressions of awe at the russet buildings that towered when over our primary school.

“Well what is really is going to change is that we get older and our lessons are going to be so much tougher,” he said but I wasn’t listening.

I could barely hear him since the most stunning girl in Cape Town had just gotten out of one of the many busses. Her dark, wavy hair swept over her face in a sort of wild rebellion as she spoke to Cassandra Smith, another one of our primary school friends. I shook, shivered and doubted my already weak eyesight. I was sure that no mortal could ever look like an angel.

“I’ve already changed?” I said looking at the girl with a sort of desperate longing I had previously thought beneath me.

Aaron looked at me and then looked at her. I saw the acknowledgement of her gorgeousness mirror in his eyes as he said, 'she’s pretty but taller than you. Do you really want a girl who is the height of a fully grown man?’

The girl we spoke off not only had the a sort of uncommon beauty but also very decent hearing that made her whip her head around to face Aaron.

“I’m sorry to disappoint your fragile egos midgets,” she said, rolling her coffee brown eyes at us. “But I don’t think I’ve ever expressed any interest in being his girlfriend.”

Aaron opened his mouth to laugh but before he could I felt a thin layer cloud my eyes. I studied my spectacles but they seemed fine. It took me a while for my thirteen-year-old self to digest that the shimmery veil in front of me was only tears. I felt the roars of Zameer Hussein, my primary school bully, fill the air and even though the girl gave me one of her tightest hugs clouding me with the scents of carnations and paint, my heart was numb with weakness.

“Please don’t cry,” the girl said as her thin arms wrapped around me. “I really like you. I’m Chantel.”

“I’m W-will,” I said before trying to dry my stubborn tears.

Four years had passed since that embarrassing incident and never had it been banished from my mind. It paced an arrogant pace determined to humiliate my memories.

“Hey,” said a familiar high-pitched voice jolting me back into reality. “Who’s planning to stick his tongue in Aaron’s mouth? Because whoever she is, I’ll knock her teeth off.”

“Hey, Cassandra,” I said, turning to greet one of my oldest friends. Cassandra Smith was as ordinary a girl as the thousands who went to Westwood International School. She was one of those five foot six girls with blonde hair and a rumoured C cup. At least, that’s what Aaron, who was dating Cassandra, told me.

“Hey, Will,” she said as she waved. I winced.

Will was a dreadful name. It had none of the beauty that Chantel had. In fact, it didn’t have much of anything. My parents named me after my father whose parents named him after his father who inherited the name from some long dead uncle of his. Our family had a whole bunch of dark-haired bespectacled men called Will. It made me feel ordinary. Almost like a cog in a machine, just like in that horribly pessimistic poem ’A prayer before birth’.

“Now, who wants to stick her tongue in Aaron’s mouth?” she said with a light smile.

Beneath that smile was sadness in her eyes. Cassandra often told me of her doubts. She didn’t think Aaron would commit, she didn’t think he would love her the way I loved Chantel. To be honest, the way I felt for Chantel was a volcano to their flame.

“Oh, we were just discussing why Will should tell Chantel how he feels,” Aaron said pausing to kiss his girlfriend. “And the kissing thing just sort of came up.”

“So are you going to do it?” Cassandra asked, clapping her hands like an overexcited seven year old. “Are you finally going to ask her?”

“He will once he gets over his inferiority complex,” Aaron said as we walked across the car park to the outdoor cafeteria, where people usually got their early morning coffee while chatting under the thatched cabanas. I always got the hazelnut latte despite Chantel’s insistence that I tried something new. By new she meant a strong cup of coffee laced with even stronger alcohol.

“He doesn’t have an inferiority complex,” she said, patting my shoulder. “He doesn’t need to have. He’s kind and innocent. I’ve never come across someone so innocent in my life.”

They walked hand in hand towards school and I usually followed them. I found that the best way to avoid Natalie was to stay in a group. But today I stopped letting Cassandra’s words wash over me. ‘Kind and innocent,’ she had said. It was all nice to hear of course, except that I longed to be so much more.

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