“This is a very bad idea,” I told Rowan as we plodded up Andrews Road. The Hill from Hell I liked to call it. My calf muscles were screaming.
There was enough moonlight for me to see Rowan’s grimace. “This party means a lot to me,” he said.
“I don’t care,” I said. “And I don’t see why you’re invited to parties all of a sudden.”
My friend was the class geek, the one who was the butt end of all the pranks and teasing whenever I wasn’t there to look out for him.
“Angela invited me,” he said.
“Are you sure?” Knowing Rowan, he had made all of this up. Angela Fourie was the most popular girl in our grade. Everyone except for me seemed to be obsessed with her. Okay, she was kinda cute, but she wasn’t my kinda cute.
“She sent me a Facebook invite.”
“Does your mother know you’re on Facebook?”
“The only thing that’s saving you is that Oryxis and your mom believing you’re sleeping over at my house,” I said. “If they hear that we sneaked out ...”
“You sound like Oryxis now, blah, blah-blah-blah.” Rowan made little talking hand movements. “We’re just going for a little while.”
I growled at him but bit my tongue. Besides, I needed my breath for the last stretch of road before we got to the security gate. If Rowan’s claim that he had an invite (of course I hadn’t received one) wasn’t all a pile of dog poo, then we’d be allowed in past those hallowed gates to Tierboskloof. If not ... Well, we could go back to my place and play console games or something.
I waited next to Rowan while he sweet-talked the security guard at the gate. My mom had brought me here a few years ago when she was visiting a friend, and then they hadn’t had all the security.
I allowed myself to relax a little. Rowan would be safe enough.
As his Guardian, I had to look out for him, just like Oryxis made sure nothing happened to Persia, Rowan’s mum. They were royalty in exile, from the magical kingdom of Sunthyst, and how I had gotten myself tangled in their lives was definitely another story for another time. (That’s if you wanted to cue The Neverending Story.)
But Angela confirmed that we were on the guest list, the security guard buzzed us through, and we followed the avenue up until we reached our destination. We could hardly miss it. The music was pounding doef-doef. Yay, my favourite. Not. I was already cringing and wishing I’d brought my earplugs by the time Rowan rang the doorbell. Squeals of laughter sounded from the other side.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked him.
“Sorry?” he said, cupping his ear to me.
Whether he genuinely couldn’t hear me or if he was just joking, I decided to ignore him. My night had been ruined, in any case. I could only ride it out until the bitter end.
Fay opened the door and blinked at us with heavily made-up eyes, and my heart did a little jig.
Okay, Fay was my kinda cute. My mouth went dry but that was okay, Rowan did all the talking and got us inside.
Oh. My. God. Fay.
Things were looking up. Definitely. Just about everyone from our class was here, and then some. I didn’t recognise some of the older skate punk guys who were hanging out on the balcony smoking cigarettes and trying to look cool.
“Now what, wise guy?” I asked Rowan.
He shrugged and pointed to the kitchen. Drinks, I suppose. Angela’s parents were loaded, so they could afford to let their daughter throw big house parties. Not an adult in sight ...
Loads of fun, but things could also go horribly wrong if we weren’t careful.
Rowan, of course, was completely oblivious to all the dynamics around him – all the more reason for me to look out for him.
Everyone was helping themselves to fruit punch in the kitchen, and I made Rowan dilute his with more orange juice before we headed out to the balcony. From the smell of things there was already way too much vodka in the punch.
It was like we had some anti-cool device strapped to us. The kids sort of shuffled out of our way so that we clearly stood on our own – outcasts. We might as well have that tattooed on our foreheads.
“Happy now?” I scowled at my friend.
Rowan sipped at his drink and tried not to grimace. He obviously wasn’t used to hard tack, for all the times he bragged about sneaking beers from Oryxis’s stock. The stuff tasted pretty vile, so I took small sips. I didn’t want to get drunk. Not here.
Just as I feared we’d be standing around with nothing to do the entire night, I heard it in a brief lull between dance tracks: one of the most beautiful sounds in the world – a softly played classical guitar. The mystery musician was sitting on another patio to our right, screened by a thick stand of wild banana.
The next track started up and I grabbed Rowan’s sleeve. “C’mon, we’re not going to stand about like a pair of lost farts in a perfume factory.”
I didn’t give Rowan a chance to argue and all but dragged him with me down a small flight of steps into the garden then around the vegetation to where a girl was sitting cross-legged on a pile of cushions. It was Fay, and she had a nylon-string guitar clasped to her chest.
“Hey,” she said.
“You’re not going to get heard over the music.” I gestured behind us.
“It’s fine. It’s still better than being out there with all the posers.”
Rowan made to go into the room behind Fay.
“It wouldn’t go in there if I were you,” she told him.
He froze. “Why?”
“Angela’s in there with Tom.”
Rowan tried and failed to hide his disappointment. I hid my smile behind my hand.
“Yeah, I know. Sucks. She asked me to keep chips out front.”
“That’s just twisted,” I said.
Fay gave a little shrug and played a trill of notes. “It beats getting hassled by boys out there.
Mike’s been trying to make me do shooters.” She stuck out her tongue.
“Mike’s an idiot,” I told her and sat down next to her. “Whose guitar is that?”
“Angela’s brother’s. He’s gone overseas. I always play it when I visit.”
“You’re anti-social.” I smiled at her.
“So are you.”
Well, that was one way of chatting up a girl.
As it turned out, Fay and I shared a bunch of similar favourite bands and we took turns showing each other different songs on the guitar. I hadn’t even known to speak to her at school, but thanks to the party, we were good. Fay and Jay – it had a nice ring to it. We had a laugh about that. I guess that’s why I didn’t notice that Rowan had wandered off. The first we heard of any drama was when the music got turned off and there was shouting.
“Where’s your friend?” Fay asked me.
I swore, and my “Spidey” senses as I called it were tingling – I knew on a gut-deep level that whoever was responsible for the disturbance, it was Rowan. He was in trouble.
“Crap, crap, crap!” I muttered under my breath as I rushed through the bedroom behind us and into the house. Fay and I had been so busy talking music we hadn’t even noticed when Angela and Tom had finished whatever it was that they’d been doing. Not that I cared.
My main concern now was saving Rowan from getting beaten up. That kid couldn’t hit a fly if his life depended on it, and it wasn’t difficult imagining a dozen scenarios varying in degree of horror – Rowan with a black eye; Rowan with his front tooth knocked out; Rowan with a broken hand ...
All these scenes ended the same way: Jay having to “please explain” to Persia, who could possibly literally fry me with whatever weird magic she kept up her sleeve. If she knew we were even here ...
There was a circle of kids out front in the driveway, and for a moment I thought the boy sprawled on the ground was Rowan. But it wasn’t.
Mike lay there, moaning. Big-ass bully Mike, who was at least a head taller and twice as large as Rowan. I couldn’t help but gape, as surprised as Rowan, who stood there over him rubbing at the knuckles of his right hand.
“Angela’s dating Tom, you douche,” Rowan spat. “When she says she’s not interested in seeing you anymore, she means it.”
Some of Mike’s friends, eyed up Rowan and were muttering among each other, and it was at that moment that I figured it would be a good idea if we went back to my place to play console games. Less chance of Rowan causing any trouble.
“I’ll see you on Monday,” I told Fay.
She gave me a knowing smile and melted back into the house, clearly uninterested in what was going on out here. Well, there went my chances of having something with a girl tonight. Plus she’d been sending out all the right signals.
I sighed and ploughed through the crowd and grabbed Rowan by the elbow. “C’mon, mate, we gotta chuck.”
He glared at me but didn’t bitch, thank goodness.
I cast one look behind me, but Mike’s friends were too busy helping him up off the ground.
Then I groused at Rowan, “What did you go and do that for?”
Rowan’s grin was devilish. “That was payback.”
“Dude, seriously, what would you have done if his friends had piled into you? You were outnumbered.”
“You’re here now.”
“Dude.” I shook my head. Had he honestly thought I’d haul his ass out of the fire? No. He was right. I would. Even if I got hurt.
Running footsteps from behind had us spin around. I tensed then relaxed. It was only Angela coming up the driveway.
She was breathless and grabbed both of Rowan’s hands in her own. “Thank you! I can’t believe Mike was such an idiot.”
Then she kissed him. Full on the lips.
Before either of us could respond, Angela dashed down the driveway again, leaving us reeling.
“What was that?” I asked in disbelief – Rowan, getting lucky with the girls?
Rowan just smiled and touched his fingers to his mouth. “I don’t know, but her lips tasted like cherries.”
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