We had a special assembly on the last day of the term before we broke up and went home for a week-long holiday. I sat near the front in the auditorium, since those were the only places left by the time the eighth graders were ushered in. It was also a sign of respect to let the older students sit near the back. As I sat there between Rhys and Kerry I listened to my dad announce that not only would we be getting our report cards as soon as we got to class but he would be announcing the three eighth graders that would represent their class on the Student Representative Council. Usually, the new council the new councils were voted for at the end of the year so that they could start their duties as soon as they got back to school from the summer vacation. But because we were still in our previous schools during that time, we only voted at the end of the first term so that we learn to know each other before making our decisions.
Suddenly, Ms Geldof got up from her seat on the stage and handed my dad a piece of paper.
'Congratulations to the following students who will represent their respective classes on the SRC until the end of the year,' began my father, 'So, in alphabetical order, could the following students please come up on stage and receive your badges, Adriel Atwood, Gretchen Price and Tyler Sutherland.'
I stayed sitting for a few seconds before Kerry started pushing me out of my seat. As I walked up to the stage I realised everyone was applauding. I was the last one on the stage and the last to shake my father's hand and take the badge. He pulled me into a quick shoulder type hug, which I found a bit awkward since it was in front of the entire school, and I heard a couple of the teachers cooing 'awww' and 'sweeet' on the stage behind me. We walked off the stage and as some of the students stood up so that we could get back to our seats; they patted us on the back and cheered some more.
The last day of term was always a short one without any formal classes for training. We simply went to school, got our reports and many of the students left for home the very same day. As we walked to class, various people came up to me and congratulated me while other shouted their well wished from afar. I felt light and the nervousness of the impending results had completely vanished. I was about to walk into class when someone grabbed my elbow. It was Tyler. Gretchen was standing next to him.
'Hey congrats,' said Gretchen leaning forward to hug me.
'Yeah congrats,' said Tyler and also leaned forward to hug me. This caught me a bit off guard as students who hardly knew each other hardly ever gave each other spontaneous little hugs, especially guys. I accepted his embrace in an effort not to be rude. He was quite tall already for his age and I was pretty much engulfed by his arms. I patted him politely on the back.
'Thanks guys,' I said, 'Congrats to you too. I can't wait for us to work together.'
'See you next term Adriel,' said Gretchen as she left to get to her class.
I turned to enter mine when Tyler, also on his way back to class which was next door to mine, called out from where he now stood in his doorway.
'No hard feelings?' he said.
I had no idea what he was talking about but I nodded anyway and disappeared into the class. Mr Schiff was already handing out brown rectangular envelopes in what seemed to be alphabetical order.
'Adriel, here's yours. You weren't here when I started. Congrats on SRC and on your excellent marks. I'm very proud to have such a top student in my class,' said Mr Schiff, squeezing my shoulder.
I took the envelope and went to sit in my seat. I was beaming from ear to ear. He had called me a 'top student'. The nervousness dissipated and was replaced by a confident glow. I slipped my small finger into the tiny opening in the top right corner of the envelope and opened it. I pulled out a few papers. There were four folded sheets of paper. The first was a very comprehensive evaluation of our arts training. The second was a newsletter that I didn't bother looking through. The third was my actual report card. I skimmed over it. Overall I was pretty pleased. I ended up getting only 98% for Maths after that last test we had written. Apparently Tyler was the only person who had gotten full marks. I looked over my marks again. They looked good enough for me to be the 'top student'. My average was 93.3%.
I took the last of the papers in my hand. I already knew what it was: a list of the top ten students in each grade. I held it in my lap before opening it slowly and placing my attention on the first list of names. My heart sank. There it was.
1. Tyler Sutherland (94%)
2. Adriel Atwood (93.3%)
I quietly slipped the paper back into the envelope and looked up at the chaos around me. Everyone was going through their own report cards. There was a bit too much excitement in the air for me so I asked if I could be excused. I walked out into the deserted hallway and as I was passing the class next to ours I caught a glimpse of Tyler. He saw me and nodded and smiled. I carried on walking. I reached the bathroom and sat down in one of the fancy armchairs. All of the bathrooms were, despite being bathrooms, elaborately decorated with antique furniture much like the rest of the school and had two armchairs and a small table with a vase of flowers between them. So this is what He was talking about when he said 'no hard feelings'. And I had nodded, not knowing what he was talking about. In actual fact I was feeling completely miserable and there were a million hard feelings sinking my heart even further. I tried to think of where I had gone wrong. It was one of the best report cards I had ever gotten and it still wasn't good enough. Was this what it was going to be like for the rest of the year, for the rest of my high school career? Was I always going to 2nd best from now on, dwindling in his shadow? My disappointment turned to anger. Who the hell was he anyway? This kind of thing never happened to me. I was always number one, I couldn't be anything else, I didn't want to be anything else.
Suddenly the door opened and Rhys came inside. He sat in the other armchair and stretched out his legs.
'Are you coming to check up on me?' I asked.
'Yes,' he said blatantly. I smiled. People usually didn't admit that and I was surprised he didn't make up some excuse for coming to the bathroom.
'You did really well,' said Rhys.
'Not well enough,' I replied. Rhys didn't say anything. 'I suppose you think I'm silly for being upset about something so small.'
'That's not what I was thinking. I was thinking that I can understand why you're upset. This probably isn't a small a thing for you as it is for me and a lot of others. You've always been number one and I promise you will be again in the future,' said Rhys.
Rhys always had a way of calming people down, I had seen it often, and it always worked. He stood up and tugged on my wrist before pulling the bathroom door open.
'Let's go back to class,' he said holding the door open for me, 'There are a few people I know that want to see you before they leave for holiday.'
'Thank you,' I said passing him on the way out.
During our last few minutes in class I learnt that Kerry had placed 9th on the top 10 and that both she and Rhys were going to be staying in the hostel during the holidays. They said it was too short a time to home and would rather go during the mid year break.
I stood in my room staring out of the bay window. It was about eleven in the afternoon and from where I was standing I could see a multitude of taxis picking up students and taking them to the airport so they could catch their planes home. I turned around and went to lie on my double bed. I stretched my arms and legs out like a starfish. The duvet was cool under my arms and the backs of my knees. I was still wearing my shorts and long school socks. I looked at the brown envelope on the bedside table. I picked it up and looked at its contents a second time. As much as Kerry and Rhys tried to console me I still wasn't feeling the love. I looked at my report card and took solace in the fact that it was a better one than I had received at the end of last year. At least I was improving in that regard. I unconsciously opened the drawer of my bedside table and took out a photo frame. I looked at the woman smiling back at me. I held it close to my chest. I started breathing a little heavier and in no time at all, the tears had started to quietly stream down form the corners of my eyes and over my temples. I held on tighter to the frame.
'Why did you have to leave me here?' I whispered to myself, 'I need you.'
When I finally woke up I was curled up in the foetal position, covered in a blanket and the photo frame had vanished. I panicked and sat up to look where it had gone. I looked to see if it had fallen off the side of the bed or if it was under the pillows. I searched frantically before realising that it was propped up on my bedside table. My report card was next to it. I swung my legs over the side of the bed. I took the frame and put it back inside the drawer. I looked outside. It was starting to get dark. How long had I been sleeping? I looked at my watch. It was seven o' clock already. I undressed and put on a pair of sweat pants and a loose knitted sweater. I went downstairs and found my father in the kitchen. It was warmer in the kitchen and I went over to see what my dad was busy with at the stove. I saw some chicken pieces and a variety of vegetables in what was obviously a stew. I rested my head on his bicep and watched him stir the pot. Nobody said anything; we just stood there, alone yet with one another. He turned to me and took me into his arms. My head was flat against his broad chest and I could feel his chest rise and fall with each breath.
'Did you see the top 10?' I asked.
'I did,' he said.
It was the first time since the funeral that I felt safe enough to break down completely. I started crying properly into my father's shirt and did so for a few minutes before I finally calmed down again. I pulled away from him but his hands were still on my upper arms.
'I miss her so much,' I said sniffing and wiping the tears from my face.
'Me too,' said my dad holding my jaw in his large hand, 'It's going to be okay.'
I smiled at him and went to sit at the kitchen table on the other side of the kitchen counter, taking two plates and two glasses with me.
'So this Tyler is giving you a hard time, huh?' asked my father.
'Yeah, I mean I knew he was smart. The others were always telling me how good he was doing, but I just really thought I was doing better. I really thought that I would win out in the end,' I said to my dad who was lending a sympathetic ear.
'Well, it's only the first term and there are still 5 years of high school for you to look forward to,' said my dad reassuringly.
'I guess,' I said, 'I think I've bee under a lot of stress lately.'
'You mean about mom's funeral?'
'No, not that,' I interjected, 'The whole learning to dance on Pointe. It's almost like learning to dance all over again.'
'Why don't you take a little break from it then? I'll tell Ms Chirac that it's taking a toll and you need to slow down a little bit. I'm sure she'll understand,'
'No! Don't do that,' I said a little too loudly.
'Why not?' asked my dad.
'Well, I'm looking for a part in a solo or duet for the annual dance recital in November and the best chance of me getting that is if I'm competent enough to dance on Pointe. None of the other boys at this school are dancing on Pointe so I'll be a shoe-in to get a lead,' I said excitedly.
My dad began chuckling.
'First you're sulking about not being first and now you already planning how to get a solo performance at the end of the year. You're very resilient,' he said while laughing.
'I've actually been thinking about it for a while. It's why I agreed to dancing on Pointe in the first place,' I admitted.
'Look Adriel, your brain is overworked. In my opinion you need to vegetate for a few days before getting back to practice and all that. What are you doing for the next week?'
'Well, I was thinking of inviting Rhys and Kerry over for a sleepover tomorrow. They both didn't go home for the vacation. We were going to watch movies and stuff. Also, Rhys wants me to help him with some of his techniques,' I said.
'Well, it sounds like you've set it all out. And yes, Rhys and Kerry may come over tomorrow night. You guys can camp out in the lounge if you want,' said my dad brining the pot over to the table and putting it on a large metal coaster.
'Cool,' I said going to get some juice from the fridge, 'I'll let them know. Thanks Dad.'
We sat down and ate heartily. It had been a long day for both of us.
The following day, after I had done my morning practice session on Pointe, Rhys and Kerry came over at about lunch time. We had some egg salad sandwiches which our maid Edith had made for us. We played board games all afternoon and I was surprised at how good Rhys was at Monopoly. He had hotels on every single one of his properties while I was effectually bankrupt. It was a cool day so it was spent mostly in the lounge or up in my room where I showed them all of my books and dancing paraphernalia, including my first pair of ballet slippers which I had gotten when I was just five years old.
By the time evening began to settle my father finally withdrew himself from his office and we ordered a few pizzas for supper. The rest of the night was dedicated to watching movies. I had chosen Centre Stage, which I loved because of the awesome choreography but had a terrible screenplay, while Rhys chose Scary Movie 3 and Kerry decided on Cold Mountain with Nicole Kidman and Jude Law. We watched Cold Mountain first, as my dad wanted to watch it with us, and thereafter watched Centre Stage and Scary Movie 3. It was two-thirty in the morning when I woke up and realised we all had fallen asleep half way through the movie. The movie had gone back to the menu since it had long finished and I went and switched off the TV. I made sure all of the lights had been switched off before I returned to the lounge and once again cuddled up into a blanket on the couch.
The rest of the holiday went by quite fast, not that it was a long holiday to begin with. Rhys and Kerry came over quite a bit and I helped them with their dancing. The weather was beginning to get chilly so I stayed in doors most of the time either watching TV or reading a book and took my father's advice to lay off dancing and school work for a few days.
It was the Friday before school was supposed to begin and I was at the Waterfront, which was a landmark mall in Cape Town, milling in and out of shops while my dad got his hair cut. I was walking passed the Levi store when I heard someone call my name. I turned to see Tyler running over to catch up with me. I smiled and he stopped right in front of me.
'So, you come here often?' he asked jokingly yet somewhat awkwardly.
'Just doing some browsing,' I replied trying to cut the conversation short. I didn't really want to start talking to him yet. I knew it was childish but I couldn't bring myself to let the fact that he pipped me in the top 10 go.
'Yeah me too, I'm actually just tagging along with my sister. I've been staying with her for the week,'
'Oh,' I said.
A tall dark haired, olive skinned girl walked up to us and smiled.
'Hi,' she said.
'Oh, Adriel this is my sister Natalie. Natalie, this is Adriel,' introduced Tyler.
'Hi Adriel, I hear you're really giving my little brother a run for his money at school,' she said punching Tyler lightly on the shoulder.
'I can't say I wish it wasn't the other way around,' I said while laughing nervously. I suddenly couldn't believe I had said that, I was never so blatant about the way I felt about these things and I could feel myself start to blush. I needed to get away from them.
'Well, I should be getting back, I'm sure my dad's hair is short enough by now,' I said starting to move my legs slowly in the opposite direction.
'Okay, well I'll see you back at school,' said Tyler.
'Yeah sure,' I said, 'It was nice meeting you Natalie.'
'Likewise Adriel,' and she smiled sincerely.
I turned around immediately and walked away as fast as possible without looking suspicious. I quickly slipped into a bookshop nearby and wandered off to the gay section which I knew was somewhere near the back. I looked around to see if anyone I knew was in sight. I perused the spines of the books and picked one of the novels. Just as I pulled out the book someone touched my shoulder. I froze for a second before turning slowly to see who had caught be out, no pun intended.
I recognised the face as that of Marcus, the boy who had bumped into me on that first day of school. I was now in his class and not only haven't we danced together, but we hadn't exchanged any words since the beginning of class.
'Anything specific you're looking for?' he asked, the corners of his lips starting to stretch into a smile.
'Do you work here?' I answered back smartly.
'Hey, your secret's safe with me,' he said looking serious.
I glared at him, put the book down and began walking away when he grabbed my wrist. I turned around.
'I have a proposition for you,' he said lowering his voice, 'I must admit, I've been watching you in class, the way you're dancing on Pointe...'
'Yes, and what is your Point?' I asked putting emphasis on the last word. He smiled again.
'Well, I've been inspired to start choreographing a dance, something different from the mainstream, something that'll push the envelope. It's very...modern,' he said.
'And you're telling me this because...' I said.
'Because I want you to dance it with me. You are getting really good on Pointe and if we start rehearsing now you'll be ready to execute some of the more advanced stuff by the time we go to DanceFest in October,' he explained.
The moment he said DanceFest I was more intrigued by his proposition. DanceFest was the largest dance exhibition in the country and our school always sent a few troupes to compete. Six Kramer students had won top awards there previously, since the festival began 20 years ago, and to win one would be one of the biggest honours in dancing in our country.
'DanceFest hey?' I asked.
'Yes, The DanceFest. Is it starting to sound more intriguing now?'
'Well, take the weekend to make a decision and on Monday at school come and give me your answer,' he said.
'I don't know Marcus,' I began, 'I don't know if I'll be ready by then with my Pointe technique...'
'Just think about it,' he said, 'I want only you.'
His hand touched my tummy just below my navel and as he walked away, his fingers dragged along my abdomen. I held my breath at his touch and as soon as he had completely disappeared did I start breathing again.