The Exit Plan

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Chapter four


“Alan, there’s a piece of trash that’s blocking my way,” a familiar drawl came from behind me. “Do you think you can get it away from me? It seems to heavy too move on its own.”

I turned around to see Zameer, Alan and Emmet miming me fiddling with my buttons and adjusting my glasses as I waited in line at the cafeteria. Some ninth-grade boy was ordering a massive amount of food for his massive amount of friends and it looked like I had to wait a while.

“I don’t know Zameer,” Alan, a boy with the height of a prepubescent, answered as he fiddled with his shirt button. “This dump looks rather massive.”

Zameer and his friends were all short, skinny boys with the brains of an ameba, but they compensated for that with their giant egos. They got along well with everyone, including Cassandra and Aaron, which made them doubt my claims that they had taken their rudeness with them from kindergarten to the twelfth grade. The only person who didn’t like Zameer was Chantel but right now Chantel was not here.

“So you,” Zameer sneered.

He always called me ‘you’ or ‘this one’ and every word he cast ate into a bit of my soul. His comments have ceased to make me cry since my first day at the secondary but that didn’t mean his it hurt any less.

“Where’s your girlfriend? Or rather I’d say Tristan’s girlfriend because I saw the two of them hold hands near the parking lot today.”

My heart tumbled as his words ripped me. I remembered the way Chantel’s thin fingers curled around mine before she laid eyes on Tristan. I remembered the way her dimples crowned her smile whenever she saw me. I saw it now pass to Tristan and it was then that the fear of losing her loomed like the biggest schoolyard bully that I had ever seen.

“I’d have taken her out myself if she wasn’t so into artist types,” he said as his dark eyes stared into mine. “But at least she would have preferred me to you.”

“N-no,” I said, feeling my eyes sting.

No, I will not cry. I will not cry the way I cried in kindergarten or the first grade or the second grade or any other subsequent grade where a bathroom stall would see me my tears flow over like an exploded dam. I would be brave.

“Y-yes,” Zameer snorted in an unimaginative imitation of me. “Chantel would prefer to date that rotten-toothed Mr. Reddy to you. Trust me; she’d rather die than be with you.”

The boy with the large order finally collected his food and I was left to collect my two double lamb burgers, fries and Oreo milkshake. Staring at it, I felt the giant void grow larger and larger as it swallowed me up into oblivion. I wanted to know what Chantel saw in him. Was it those gleaming emerald eyes or the wild smile that illuminated the halls of this everyday school? Whatever it was, I wanted to be him. I wanted to be the man with the heart as big as the universe. I wanted to be Tristan.

Pushing past Zameer, I saw Chantel and Tristan huddle into some sort of complicated embrace. I should have known that Tristan would walk out of his literature class with his hand inches away from Chantel’s. I should have known that she would allow him to sit with us at lunch. Everybody sitting at those wooden tables expected it. Everybody but me, that is.

“Hello Chantel,” Aaron called to her as sat in our under our cabana for lunch. “And hello to the biggest car thief in all of Westwood.”

“Nobody else steals cars?” Tristan said in mock surprise as I wondered what on earth they were talking about. “I must say the kids at your school are rather tame.”

“Will, you seem to have a look of perpetual confusion on your face,” Aaron said as he and Tristan shared a protein bowl. “Don’t worry, these two delinquents were in literature together focusing on the musings of….what are you doing in class, anyway?”

“Hardy,” she said, kicking a piece of gravel that had come loose. “Focusing on the opal and the sapphire of the wild, wandering sea kinda grows on you.”

“Is that poetry?” Cassandra said, shrugging. She never did appreciate poetry or anything that involved reading. “Who wants to hear about that? I want to hear about what Tristan did before moving here.”

I felt my temper rise as I tried to eat my lunch in peace. Why were my friends rooting for the new guy when I was sitting here? Why was Cassandra asking for his entire life story as she gazed at Chantel and him with unwavering support?

“After breaking every rule I could while I was in that piece of shit orphanage,” Tristan said in response to Cassandra’s questions. “I finally got adopted. The caretakers warned Elizabeth that I was a wicked boy who only deserved to get a good kick in the ass but she disagreed. She thought I looked like her long lost son. So she took me in. And I guess after years of living in Gauteng she brought me here. ”

“Elizabeth?” Chantel said, gulping her boozy coffee. “Is that your mum?”

“Yeah, Elizabeth Burnham,” he said, reaching for the coffee. “Have you heard of her?”

Chantel spat her coffee. Aaron, Cassandra and I dropped our gaze to the uneven ground below and didn’t dare look up unless someone changed the topic.

“Okay look guys, I know she has a big reputation…..” he began but I didn’t let him finish.

“Elizabeth Burnham? She supports apartheid,” I gasped. “I heard one of her speeches a few days ago. She kept saying that the people of colour in our country sees the whites as land thieves.”

“Thieves?” Tristan said. “I’ve never stolen anything except old Mrs. Pretorius’s oranges. Okay, maybe that wasn’t stealing; it would be stealing if I took them from her tree and sold them. I didn’t. I just flung them at her and her cats.”

Chantel laughed. I felt a wild beast growling beneath my very skin. It wanted to scream, run and destroy Tristan to a million bite sized pieces. I wondered why I couldn’t just have the daring to climb a tree and throw oranges on the unsuspecting Mrs. Pretorius or risk my life to piss off a bus conductor. I wondered why I was Will and not Tristan.

“Poor Mrs. Pretorius,” I said.

“Please, you wouldn’t dare do what Tristan did,” Chantel said, gazing into his eyes.

Also why did God have to bless him with such magnificent green eyes? Why couldn’t he have ordinary brown eyes like I had?

“You are the guy who’s too scared to go to Cape Point for fear of getting bullied by a gang of baboons.”

I winced as the whole cafeteria burst out laughing. That was the problem with Chantel’s voice; she was far too loud. Her statement was unfortunately true. Cape Point baboons were generally peaceful creatures. Okay, they sometimes stole your luggage as you went hiking but they never threw the contents of another’s luggage down at you. Well, unless you were me.

Unlike what Chantel said, I wasn’t fearful of them. I sometimes liked to take Bastian out for a hike so that my stubborn stomach would shrink. Not only did I break into sweat a minute into the walk but those wretched baboons decided that they were in a mood for target practice whenever we showed up. So fearing for Bastian, I had no choice but to flee.

It was a useless exercise since the tiny numbers on the scale mocked me. ‘I would never impress her with this weight,’ I sighed as I staggered to the kitchen and made myself a grilled cheese sandwich.

“And supports the degradation of every other race besides her own,” a stern voice rang behind us. “I mean, come on. I’m black and Chantel here is biracial; do you think that we should be discriminated against?”

“No, that’s not what I said,” Tristan said, turning around to look at the speaker.

It was the stout, bespectacled Natalie Zuma. Her rectangle glasses seemed crooked somehow, yet, through those crooked lenses, I could see her eyes, pure raven, staring at me. They weren’t the explosion of colour that Chantel’s eyes had. They didn’t have powers of bestowing the intensity or the passion or the nerve-grinding excitement that a glance from Chantel could give. But they had kindness in them. And even though her very affection was starting to get a little annoying, she was someone I respected.

“Then why do you stick by her?” she said, edging close to Tristan.

Tristan, however, was not intimidated. He puffed out his wide chest and faced Natalie with a scowl drawn on his face.

“Would you really stay with her if she insulted and destroyed someone you really cared about?”

At that moment, Chantel left the table to use the bathroom. She said she had to throw up all the booze that she had snuck to school. I wondered why she always did this after she ate. Why did she drink so much at all? Was she bored of the endless classes and school rules like the rest of us? Or did she drink to escape something she felt inescapable?

Tristan watched her go. He watched her turn her back on the table and exit the cafeteria. Then his eyes gleamed.

“If she insulted you a million times, I’d be her biggest fan,” he sneered. “So why don’t you do us a favour and sit all alone near those trash bags. It’s where you belong after all.”

I gasped, letting my sausages plummet from my mouth to my plate. Even Aaron, who I considered the most insensitive person in my social circle, had a similar expression to mine. Cassandra had even tried to run over and comfort Natalie.

But Natalie remained calm. Her face showed no sign of either tears or anger that Chantel would have had if anyone had dared be rude to her. But the fact that Natalie remained calm did not mean that Tristan had the right to be rude to her.

“Apologize to Natalie,” I said as my eyes met Tristan’s deep green ones.

“Or what fat face?” he said as he threw a smirk at me. “I’m not going to apologize to a girl who isn’t worth a damn.”

“How can you say that?” I said as I felt my heart pounding.

I never ever got mad. Never. But this guy stole Chantel from me. He insulted a poor girl who was just trying to buy her boerwors from the cafeteria.

“Natalie is worth so much more than what you think. She gets top grades in class, she’s…….” My voice trailed off. I didn’t have much to say about Natalie.

“Go on finish your sentence,” Tristan said as a mocking look played on his face. “What exactly is she? Is she brave, is she kind, is she generous?”

“She’s a much better person than you ever will be.”

“Don’t bother about it Will,” Natalie said. The tears that refused to come now clouded her unremarkable eyes. “Thank you so much for defending me. You mean a lot.”

She left shortly after saying those words leaving me cringing at it. I mean a lot to her. What could I say to something like that? I couldn’t lie and tell her that she meant a lot to me too. I barely knew the girl. Besides, Natalie was a mere mortal; Chantel was an angel.

“Okay,” Aaron butted in. “Natalie saying you mean a lot to her after four years of just staring at you is kinda creepy.”

“That poor girl needs to get a life,” Cassandra said. “She’s always pining after Will who is besotted with Ch_” I saw Aaron nudge her with his elbow. Yet, he was too late. Tristan, who still had the gleam in his eyes caught on.

“Will’s feelings for Chantel are the only thing that is more insignificant than porpoise Natalie,” Tristan said in so loud a voice that the people in the band, who were sitting a few tables away from us, looked over. “What really is pitiable is that he feels that he lost her when she wasn’t even his to lose.”

“Chantel is my friend,” I said, feeling my teeth press against each other. Hatred surged into me as I thought of the best way to grab this guy by the hair and sink his face into the mashed sweet potato.

“Is she now? What type of friend looks at their friend with some sort of unrestrained passion,” he said. “What sort of friend tries to ask their friend out?”

“How did you know about this?” I yelled. “How the fuck did you know about this?”

“It wasn’t really smart of you to tell Aaron about your plans to ask Chantel out right outside the orientation room, was it?”

“And why would you care?” I asked. “You’re new here. You don’t know me or Aaron or Cassandra. You don’t even know Chantel. Why do you want to know my feelings for her?”

“Because Chantel De Carvalho is no ordinary girl,” Tristan said. “She’s beautiful and exciting and intense as the fires that torch hell. And I know people may say that it is too soon, but to hell with that. I don’t care how fast I fell for Chantel, because the truth is, I fell for her. And I would be damned lucky to have her.”

As he said those very words, soft footfalls made its way across the cafeteria and approached our table. Chantel stood behind him with her mouth wide open.

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