The Exit Plan

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Chapter six

“Why didn’t you guys back me up?” I almost screamed at Aaron and Cassandra when I met them outside Boulder Beach the next day.

Bastian was desperate for a run and I was desperate for a chat with the only people who weren’t embarrassed to be my friends.

“Because we were too busy,” Cassandra said as she watched me trip on one of those hidden boulders for what felt like the hundredth time.

“Too busy making out,” I said as I dusted my shorts and edged out of the way of the million penguins who gathered in a nearby bay to sleep, breed and to judge clumsy joggers like me.

“Making out was one of the many things we were doing,” Aaron said, giving his girlfriend a look of pure satisfaction. “Oh, we could have stood up for you buddy. But unless you wanted to see your two best friends naked while we told Chantel that you loved her, you’d rather we didn’t.”

“Very funny,” I said. “But did you guys see how his sleazy Mercedes drove in? How dare he? And why didn’t you guys stop him?”

I felt my voice rise my now. Aaron, Cassandra and the colony of penguins, who really had nothing better to do than to sit at Boulder Beach, gave me the side eye. I knew I was acting like a freak. I knew the whole student body of Westwood International would die of shock if anyone thought otherwise. And they didn’t want a perfect girl like Chantel to be around a freak.

“Why didn’t we stop him?” Aaron said. “You wanted Chantel to believe that Tristan is some demonic entity that has come to terrorize Westwood International. Good luck with that. Tristan is just like Chantel; thoughtless, reckless and uncontrolled. Do you really think a person like that would be an uninvited guest at Noordhoek Beach? I’m sorry Will but she wanted him to come and she’s a grown woman. She doesn’t need your permission to invite someone over.”

“You saw them together,” Cassandra added, raising her blue eyes to mine. “She looked happy when she was with him. I don’t think she ever knew what happiness really was until she met him.”

“Chantel is not like Tristan,” I said. “Chantel would never make fun of someone just because they aren’t well liked. Chantel does not have a destructive temper.”

“Oh, don’t bet on it?” Aaron said. “Destruction lives within that girl. It hasn’t hit her yet, but it’s there, snarling and biding its time.”

“I’m sorry,” Cassandra said. “I truly am. I know how much you’ve loved her.”

“Love,” I corrected her. “I never stopped loving her. I’d love her if she were a saint or a sinner. I’d love her even if every emotion of hers rips through my brain.”

“Then why didn’t you tell her?” Aaron asked. “Why did you walk away?”

“I hardly know,” I said as my knees trembled. “I was terrified that she wouldn’t like me back. But I was more terrified of being with her. I feared the drama, the endless chasm between emotion and reason, I feared every turn of her heart. And I let her go.”

“Well, the two of you really are poetic,” Aaron laughed. “In the rare event that she does choose you, remember this, I am not going to recite touchy poetry at your wedding.”

“How about babysitting our four poetic kids when we go out on date night,” I said, letting my mind wander to the possible future where Chantel and I would end up having a family. That is if she would agree to give up her beloved Pinotage during her nine month pregnancies. “Four artistic, poetic kids. Could you handle it Aaron?’

“I think I’d die,” he gagged. “Chantel, Tristan and you are trouble enough.”

I scowled. Chantel, Tristan and I? I felt a shudder creep up my spine at the mention of Tristan’s name. He was the agony I wanted cured. I wanted to forget him as much as I wanted the rest of Westwood International to forget him too. But they couldn’t. Every living being from the lunch lady, to the eighth-graders to the teachers heard Tristan’s passionate declaration of feelings for the girl they considered a legend. A girl most of them considered above me.

“There is no Chantel, Tristan and I,” I said. “How could you not get it? You can’t have a relationship with three people. She would have to make her choice someday.”

“Then it’s an easy choice for her,” Aaron smirked. “There’s Tristan who is as reckless as she is, as passionate as she is and who loves her with all his heart. Then there’s you. A boy who she frequently refers to as heartless. Someone who is too afraid to tell her how he feels or to be with her at all. Someone whose love is selfish.”

“So you back Tristan then?” I asked, feeling the stings of betrayal seep in. “You choose a man who you’ve only known for a day to me?"

“Of course not,” Cassandra said as her arms wrapped around my shoulders.

Her grapefruit lotion was nothing like the volcano of emotions that paint, Pinotage and carnations brought on. But for some reason I found it comforting. Her arms were soft and as I laid my head on one of her broad shoulders, I knew that however things turned out between Chantel and me, I had my friends like a bird has its feathers. I knew that they would never leave.

“Cheer up,” Aaron said. “Why don’t we grab Chantel and go see a movie together. There’s that horror movie night at the mall.”

“Love too,” I said, warming at the thought of drowning tub after tub of cheese popcorn and melted ice cream in the dimmed lights. “Let me just walk Bastian home and head out.”

I grabbed my flannel coat, smiling at the thought. Yes, I was a geeky guy who wore flannel and watched classic horror movies and devoured tubs of rocky road ice cream that would inflate me into a size that was more appropriate for an adult elephant. I weighed a hundred and five kilos. My cheeks resembled that of an overfed chipmunk. Maybe I wish I were skinnier than this. I mean Chantel would love a good six-pack and a chiseled face. Or maybe I’d rather be lean, with tight muscles stretching over my form. I’d be anything but this.

“Sounds fun,” Cassandra said, totally oblivious to my fears. “But Chantel told me she has a uh…an art project to work on. So why don’t we leave her for today.”

Aaron shrugged but my heart filled with ripples. Art project? Chantel never spoke of anything that was due in the recent future. I told them I’d head home to drop Bastian but I wanted to get home to moan. I wanted to banish every agonizing fear that haunted me.

No, I thought to myself as I stood up strait. I wouldn’t cry over a girl whose heart loves another. I’d go out with the friends whose heart belongs to me. Screw Chantel.

I gritted my teeth because it was a lot easier than crying. Each tear you shed was a battle with forces you could not win against, but gritting your teeth? That was just a battle of bone and muscle. It turned out I had to grit my teeth even harder when I realized that it was my wallet, and not a piece of wreckage, that had fallen out of my pocket outside Chantel’s place.

“I left my wallet at Noordhoek,” I said to Aaron’s voicemail. “I’m going to go get it. Don’t wait up for me.”

The moonlight painted the street in hues of silver light. It was a light that shone on each rock and crevice and although crime rates were astronomical and wild animals were hungry for their next victim, I walked alone. I walked alone with a sole belief that nothing would attack me. The night looked too good to be dangerous.

Noordhoek Beach was lonely. The wind growled through the wreck as each gust bought a wave of cold water. In the summer, tourists came in birdlike flocks to lie on the sparkling sand and take in the sights the beach had to offer. On this winters’ night, the beach was deserted. It was just me, the wreck and two people huddled together on the sand. One of them had glimmering drops of sea spray flow along her long, dark hair. The other was as tall as the girl who sat beside him.

“You really believe in an exit plan?” Tristan asked as he flicked the sea spray off Chantel’s hair.

“I do,” she said as she cuddled beside him. The giant waves threatened to carry her away every minute, but she didn’t give it the satisfaction of scaring her. As the waves trashed nearer so did she. Tristan, however, wasn’t feeling so brave and pulled her back.

“I’ve always wanted to get away from here,” she said as the moonlight bathed her in its glow. “I want to go far away that distance wouldn’t know where to find me. I want to go to a place where I would never return.”

“So you want out of Noordhoek Beach? Is that what you’re saying?” he asked as his arm slid over her. I wanted to smack it right off. I wanted storm down that beach and yell at him for taking my girl away from me. But I couldn’t. She was never my girl to begin with and that hurt. It hurt that Chantel preferred Tristan, who she met a day ago, to me, a man who loved her since the eighth grade.

“I want to get away from more than just Noordhoek,” she said. “I want to get away from the pain and the conflict and the misery that surrounds it. Sometimes, I think it’s impossible. But sometimes I just long for an eternity away from it.”

“I understand you,” he said, tracing her high jawbone.

“You do?” she whispered.

“Yeah, I do. I had to sneak out of the house today since Elizabeth decided to hold some sort of music workshop and there was no way she’d let me out on a date with someone who isn’t white.”

“That’s fucked up,” Chantel said as she shuddered. “What’s her problem? It’s not like every biracial person is chasing her around with machetes for the colour of her skin, is it?”

“No, no one is chasing her around,” he said. “But someone did chase the person she loved must in the world; her son.”

“What do you mean?” Chantel said as I prepared to listen to a story that she had told a million times before.

“She was doing a concert in Pretoria back in the eighties,” he said as I let his words and the crashing of waves engulf me. “As she was singing her little boy wondered off into the audience. He was just three. She watched him as from the stage as he approached a group of anti-apartheid protestors. Elizabeth had only time to see the twisted gleam in their eyes before they pulled out a pistol and fired it into the child’s heart. After that, she never was the same.”

“That’s –that’s horrible,” Chantel sobbed as she huddled in Tristan’s arms.

“It is,” he said as every muscle of his strained to shelter her from the demons she wanted to escape. “It isn’t easy for her to live and I know that.”

“But what's that got to do with people of colour? Sure, some people in that protest were murderers and some were fighting for that longed for justice. Equality isn't damning one race because of one person's actions. Equality is about accepting that every person of every hue is as human as everybody else. And some humans, regardless of race, are killers. If she really wants to live,” Chantel said as she felt her face for the tears that she shed. “She should forgive.”

“Forgive? People who killed her son? I don’t think that’s possible,” he said.

“It’s the only way you could live without getting seeped in destruction,” she said as she looked into his eyes. “I’d forgive and I’d want the people who love me to forgive too. I’d want them to live.”

Her words battled in intensity with the pounding waves and I knew what I finally ought to have known all those hours ago. Tristan was in love with her. I saw it as his emerald eyes shone as it looked at hers. I saw it when his face lingered a few inches next to hers. I saw it when he kissed her. The half moon basked that night, showering them with heavenly glory. A light flashed a couple of times illuminating them in a heavenly glow. Yet every inch of me knew it was in hell. Hell was hiding in the darkness while losing an angel a few feet away.

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