Note: This is written in British/South African English, although almost all the media I consume is American, so that will have its influence. I’ll probably be using a few Southafricanisms, and omitting one Southafricanism in particular — replacing ‘Ja’ with ‘Yeah’, because even though I say it all the time when I’m here, I can’t write it down without feeling like a farmer.
I’m not sure what I use in this chapter exactly, but two domain specific terms that are going to come up are ‘Matric’ (What we call the final year of high school) and prelims (basically, mock-finals.) So bear that in mind, and let me know in the comments if I use a word that is not in the dictionary or doesn’t make sense in context.
I’m also not going to intentionally include a lot of local flavour, because honestly, I just don’t think I can do that sort of thing justice. But if any slips through, then I guess you should make no sudden movements, or you’ll scare it away.
I’m not a grim, depressive person. At least I don’t feel like one. Not all the time, anyway. I assume everyone has their low points, and I’m no exception, but I like to think of myself as relatively upbeat. I’ve been called an ‘Emo Kid’ occasionally at school, although I don’t remember why. Maybe song choice. High school is the sort of place where you listen to one My Chemical Romance song and people decide that that’s your personality now.
I definitely don’t look the part, and couldn’t even if I wanted to, because I go to a private school with a strict uniform code. I wasn’t in the uniform at that moment, but I’d spent what felt like most of my teenage years in it, and it’s hard to look like anything but a repressed Christian teen in a pastel blue button-down shirt and beige chinos. They also dictated what kind of haircuts we could have, and piercings and tattoos were forbidden. Not that I’d really considered getting tattooed or pierced, but my curly hair was somehow always deemed ‘messy’, and it got me in trouble more than I felt I deserved.
My colouring is also a bad fit for the ‘Emo’ look, since I have pale, freckled skin, light green eyes and auburn hair. The hair is a particular sticking point, since it’s hard to pull off ‘gloomy’ when you light up a coppery red colour in the sun. Since I had sat near a window that morning, my general appearance was doing a pretty poor job of reflecting my mood, as the rays of the rising sun fell directly on me. I probably looked angelic and serene, but what I was feeling was tired, bored, hungry, and absolutely miserable.
So, yeah, like I said: I’m not a grim, depressive person.
In my defence, school on a Saturday is a special kind of purgatory, and I hadn’t even done anything wrong. Quite the opposite, actually, since I’m part of my year’s academic ‘Top Three’, which was an ‘elite group’, comprised of the three students in each year with the highest averages — because we clearly weren’t doing a good enough job of tanking our own social lives. Honestly, it wasn’t all that bad. They spent a lot of money on us, and we got to skip school-days and go on ‘fun’ outings to museums, science centres and university departments. I didn’t mind the outings so much, because anything is better than the daily grind of school.
The problem was that there were certain things expected of a Top Three student, and if you were just trying to keep your head down and survive high school, they were kind of a drag. So when our school offered a voluntary ‘Advanced Program for Mathematics’, the ‘voluntary’ part felt pretty damn mandatory. It was basically designed to teach you university level maths, which would all but guarantee your acceptance to the university you chose.
I would have been on board if it had been a part of the normal school day, but due to scheduling, the course could only be taught Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at 3PM, after school. This year they’d added an extra class at 8AM on Saturdays, to better prepare us for preliminary exams and finals. The early hour was set so that we still ‘had the whole weekend’ or some well-meaning, but annoying, sentiment like that.
I had really tried to not get roped into it, because I didn’t even know what I wanted to study at university. Maths had never been my favourite subject, apart from the satisfaction of doing pretty damn well without really trying. The concepts often made sense to me instinctually, and it gave me an edge. I’m not bragging — because if I was, I would brag about literally anything else. I understood it was a useful subject, and the AP program would make a lot of university programs easier to get into, and easier to do. But I just couldn’t enjoy the subject for its own sake, and two to four more hours of it a week was a big commitment.
The pressure to join, however, had been intense. My principle even agreed to get an annoying teacher who was always after me for ‘uniform infringements’ off of my back. I guess it would have been a bad look for the school if I hadn’t joined, and in such a small class, bahis firmaları I’d probably have a big impact on the class average, which the school’s administration would definitely care about.
I eventually agreed, because I’m not above accepting bribery. But after the second week of coming in at 8AM on a Saturday I really felt like I should have held out for more. I’d already read through the appropriate textbook chapter several times, and I was still taking notes, but Mr. Farrier hadn’t written on the board or said anything of value for about ten minutes. I looked out the window and yawned while I waited for him to stop rambling and give us the homework for the coming week.
“Am I boring you, Mr. Newell?” Mr. Farrier’s voice shook me to attention.
“No sir. I’m paying attention.” I said, trying my best to look innocent.
“Then tell me how to solve question three, please.”
I wanted to roll my eyes, but I refrained. He was in a bit of a mood that day, and he wasn’t the kind of teacher you could face off against without getting destroyed by sarcasm. Fake sincerity was the best approach. He’d come from an all-boys boarding school, so he was oddly formal, and his sarcasm tended to target only the guys in his class. His quips also largely involved insinuations of homosexuality, when he could work it into his material — which was something I really didn’t need right then. I looked up at the board and considered the equation.
“You would multiply everything by e to the power of x, factorise to get the two roots and then use the natural logarithm to solve for x.”
“Stop showing off.” Mr. Farrier said, but he was clearly quite pleased.
Jamie laughed out loud.
“Mr. Thomas, please flirt with Mr. Newell on your own time.”
Jamie winked at me when Mr. Farrier turned his back, and I smiled in response, before turning my face down towards my textbook to hide my emerging blush. I didn’t read anything into that wink, because he did it with everyone, all the time. I guess when you had high cheekbones, perfect hair and cool blue eyes, winks were charming and jocular, instead of creepy. It was still decidedly not helpful, even though I knew it meant nothing.
As far as I was concerned, I had no business having crushes on guys while I was still in high school. I’d only recently come to terms with being gay, I’d told exactly no one, and it was just going to have to stay that way. The closest thing to a social group I had was definitely homophobic, the school’s administration was very problematically Christian, and the whole thing just seemed ripe for a parade of drama that I just didn’t need in my last year.
My school was called ‘Elohim’. I’m really no expert on the topic, but I think it’s one of the five sacred names of God, and of deep religious significance in Christianity, and probably Judaism as well. I thought it was a little ridiculous to call a school that, but at the same time I was jealous of their confidence. They’d just decided to call their school GOD SCHOOL. I still had trouble looking figures of authority directly in the eye. Imagine feeling perfectly justified to lay a claim to the branding of the almighty.
The name, as well as some other choice behaviours, made us seem like ‘THAT kind of Christian school’, and although most of the people in my grade were either atheists or lazy non-churchgoers, it was kind of hard to make the case to outsiders that we weren’t a collection of crazy bible-bashers. Especially when the school kept making us sing hymns in weekly assemblies, or inviting youth pastors to provide us with ‘life guidance’. (Spoiler alert: Losing your virginity made you worthless, masturbation made the baby jesus cry, and of course, homosexuality is not okay, if it even exists. They had their doubts.)
That was a big part of why I couldn’t just be an out-and-proud teenager. Sure, if they got too ‘Wrath of the Creator’ about it, my family could probably sue them. But as that involved the destruction of what limited bit of a life I’d managed to cobble together, the idea wasn’t too appealing. Intrigue wasn’t an option either, since I sucked at keeping secrets. I’m too neurotic, with a panic-prone overactive imagination. I couldn’t actively pursue anything I thought might give me cause for a breakdown. Not this year.
Plus, I hadn’t exactly been ‘crushing it with the ladies’ before I’d realised, anyway. I’d had one ‘girlfriend’, which consisted of walking around school holding hands for about a week before a very confusing and vaguely insulting ‘breakup’. There’d also been a thing at my sisters twenty-first birthday party, where one of her friends had been quite aggressively flirting with me. But in both cases, I’d been less the predator, and more the prey. I wouldn’t know how to pursue someone I was interested in, even without all the extra hurdles being gay put in the way.
It was a crush that had caused me to come to terms with being gay in the first place. I’d realised that I’d been overinvesting in a friendship with this kaçak iddaa guy named Marc, who had been new to the school the previous year and had started hanging around with me. Whenever he wanted to spend more time with me, I was elated, and I was devastated when he couldn’t be bothered to. I’d also found myself starting to dream about him every night. My suspicions about my feelings for guys had been there for a while, safely repressed, but I eventually just couldn’t ignore the way he was making me feel.
I didn’t harbour any delusions about his sexuality — not for long, anyway. He’d leant me a hard drive to copy some anime from, and I’d found enough animated porn to keep an astronaut entertained on a trip to Mars. Investigation had brought me to the conclusion that he was very straight, and into some weird shit. Afterwards, I’d managed my heartbreak so well that he had probably just thought we’d drifted apart as friends, if he even thought about it at all. After that, I decided I would stop myself from having any more crushes on anyone in high school, and actively tried to shut down my brain before it went down that path with anyone new.
But Jamie, well, that was a little harder to ignore. He’d had me off balance since I’d arrived, and I’d basically never recovered. Maybe I had still been traumatised from the dog-eat-dog attitude and strict social hierarchy at my previous school, and as the most confident and outgoing person in Elohim High, he’d become a symbol of the friendlier and more relaxed nature of the way that things worked there.
On my first day, he’d come right up to me and greeted me, shook my hand, and stared right into my eyes with those impossibly beautiful blue eyes of his. At the time, it made me feel things I didn’t understand — or didn’t WANT to understand. He’d asked about a million questions about me, and told me things about himself. His easy-going friendliness had completely floored me, and the impression had persisted over the years.
That particular crush predated my resolution on the subject of not having crushes, so I’d decided just to let it run its natural course. It also wasn’t as serious as my crush on Marc had been. I think, maybe, because we had less in common and didn’t really spend time together, it hadn’t really progressed into anything too hard to handle. I just ignored it where I could, and lazily indulged it when I couldn’t.
Besides, it was harmless. Talking to him for five minutes before and after AP maths classes, sharing notes with him and hearing him laughing at my jokes — it made me feel good, and broke up the tedium of what was otherwise a very difficult and very boring class. I couldn’t feel guilty about that.
Before I went back that year, it felt like high school was basically over. Lots of things were obviously going to happen in the coming year, but I felt like none of it would feel like the day-to-day grind of school as I’d experienced it so far. I’m one of those annoying people who actually enjoys tests, so I was fairly excited for a year that was going to be mostly exams. Especially the last high school exams I’d ever write. I had two older siblings, who had both said the year was over before they knew it. So I thought I knew what was coming, and I couldn’t wait for this part of my life to be out of the way.
After my second week back, it was clear that I was mistaken, at least about the first half of the year. School was, by-and-large, still very much school. The same old pattern of classes, social awkwardness, byzantine administration processes, and endless lectures on ‘behaving responsibly’ and ‘fulfilling your potential’. It had always felt like something to be endured rather than enjoyed, and I had one more year of it to survive. Which was going to be a lot more difficult, now that most of my Saturdays were going to be ruined.
What made that day so much worse was that five of my classmates weren’t there that morning, including a girl named Caitlyn, which was pretty fucking hypocritical. She’d been gunning for my position in the Top Three for years, and she wasn’t above trying low tactics to get there. The previous year, she’d tried to gum down my grades by accusing me of plagiarism in a project. Nothing had come of it, unless you count Caitlyn managing to alienate one of the last teachers who would listen to her. My partner in the project, Sue, had also vowed vengeance on her, although I’d yet to figure out what that had entailed. I hadn’t really had much trouble with Caitlyn since, but Sue scared me a little, so it seemed wiser not to ask.
The amount of people missing had also caused Mr. Farrier to work himself up into a foul mood, which he was now taking out on those of us who HAD actually attended. Five missing people might not seem like a lot, but the whole group was only twelve people, so it was almost half the class. I think he also thought we were setting a bad example, since two of our newest classmates, who were both there that morning, did not go to our school.
North Grove High was our kaçak bahis ‘rival school’, although all that really meant was that they were the only other school nearby that was as small as us, and we were always pitting our sports teams against each other. I think they probably saw us as crazy religious weirdos, and we saw them as debauched hipsters, but the rivalry wasn’t a bitter one. Ultimately, we had more in common with each other than with kids from nearby public schools, who saw us all (not entirely unfairly) as out-of-touch rich kids.
Last year, North Grove had switched their syllabus to a slightly less respectable, but much easier, alternative syllabus. Their top two students had been unwilling to do their finals in the new syllabus, thinking it might affect their chances for university applications and scholarships. They’d arranged with our school to complete their assessments here, while most of their schooling still happened at North Grove. That deal had also resulted in them joining us for this program, which their school no longer wanted to offer to just the two of them.
Simone was a diminutive dark haired girl that I was pretty sure none of us had ever talked to, possibly not even the guy from her own school. His name was Louis, and he was tall and thin and vaguely nerdy, with a big pair of glasses and messy brown hair. We’d talked a few times after he’d broken the ice by asking me if he could borrow my notes from the last year of classes. I was perplexed, because he’d said he’d covered all the right material already.
He’d told me that he had just wanted to make sure his teacher hadn’t missed anything that Mr. Farrier had covered. I’d redirected him to Angela — who was more likely to understand that incredibly strange impulse, and whose pristine notes were likely to be much more helpful than my indecipherable scribblings.
Louis was nice, but incredibly awkward — and that’s coming from me. It was almost hard to talk to him sometimes due to second-hand embarrassment. He was also definitely cute enough that he sent my ‘do not develop crush’ alarm systems ringing. It didn’t help that he looked a bit too much like my former friend and epic-straight-crush Marc, with the same shade of light brown hair and a similarly prominent nose. That was enough to make me consciously try to avoid him, although I still tried to be friendly. Angela seemed to like him, and she was a quick and effective judge of character.
“Mr. Calvet, I’m sure your daydreams are lovely, but if you don’t stop staring out that window, Mr. Newell is going to become self-conscious about his hair.”
“Sorry, sir.” Louis stammered, blushing slightly.
Poor guy. Not having gone to Mr. Farrier’s classes as long as the rest of us had, he was poorly equipped to deal with Mr. Farrier’s weird, vaguely homoerotic barbs. He looked over at me when Mr. Farrier turned his back, and I rolled my eyes. He smiled and shook his head, and fastened his eyes back on his textbook.
The Top Three were all definitely in attendance, of course. Angela — number one of three — wouldn’t miss it for the world, and she was the kind of person who was up at 6AM on a Saturday anyway. She was calmly taking perfect notes, her eyes flicking up to peer through her thick glasses and out from under her mop of frizzy hair while her hand industrially put ink to paper. We weren’t very close, but we frequently worked in group projects together. Her mature and organised demeanour had always been the perfect foil to both my lazy chaos and whatever it was that Sue had going on. Vibrant chaos, I guess.
Sue — number two of three, but only just — was sitting next to her, taking notes that were every bit as perfect, but in a much more frantic way than Angela. It almost seemed comically exaggerated, the way her fashionably bobbed black hair flicked back and forth across her face as she looked across at the board, and then down to write her notes. It kind of reminded me of how she’d look playing the piano — obsessed, violent and passionate. If you asked her why she was there that morning, she would have probably leaned into the asian stereotypes and told you her parents had forced her to come. But if you’d ever done a project with her — or met her relaxed, easy-going parents — you’d know she was there because she was so compulsive and competitive that missing a difficult class was just not an option.
I’d skipped classes before, but I felt more secure in my academic position — number three of three, which surprised me as much as anyone — because of how much Caitlyn had struggled to catch up to my grades. Maths was also my strongest subject, so I felt like I could afford the occasional break. Still, I was there that morning, if a little unhappy about it. I had to be there mostly out of pure social anxiety.
I’d gotten a car and driver’s license recently and was driving myself in. My mom had offered my services as a chauffeur to my neighbour Ellie, who also took the class. I think it was strategic on my mom’s part, knowing me as well as she did. Ellie never seemed to miss a lesson, and I was too anxious about the prospect of unpleasant social interactions to risk making her miss a class and having to apologise for it. So there I was.