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The Trouble with Flirting, Page 2

Rachel Morgan

  “Nothing since that last get-together we had before you and Adam went overseas and Logan left for Cape Town. Oh, hey, I wonder if you’ll bump into him.” She stands up and carries a neatly-folded pile of clothes over to my suitcase. “He’s at UCT, isn’t he?”

  “Yes. He’s in second year now, obviously, but we’re in the same faculty, so maybe I’ll see him. That’ll certainly be an awkward conversation.”

  “And you have to tell me all about it, if it happens.” Sarah turns and surveys my room with her hands on her hips. “Can we move the packed things into the passage? There’s still barely any room to move in here.”

  “To the passage,” I announce loudly, pointing at my doorway before picking up the nearest box of shoes. Sarah rolls her eyes and mutters something that includes the word ‘dramatic.’

  We’ve lined up several boxes, a bag of hangers, my music stand, and my violin case when Dad appears at the top of the stairway in his work suit. He’s home earlier than usual. “You’ll be done soon, I hope?” he says. “It’s our last dinner together tonight. I was hoping we could enjoy it without being rushed.”

  “Yes, yes, of course.” I look at Sarah. “Less chatter, more packing.”

  She salutes, and I stick my tongue out at her.

  It takes us two and a half more hours, but by 7:30 pm we’ve finished packing everything that will fit into my car. I want to hang out with Sarah for a while longer, but Mom is giving me that look and making comments about how she and I need to get to bed soon so we can be up early to face our full day of driving.

  I walk outside with Sarah to her car. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I’d ask you to stay for dinner, but I was told yesterday that tonight is Family Night.” Translation: awkward, tense conversation so my parents can tick ‘bonding with daughter’ off their to-do lists.

  “Don’t worry, I understand,” Sarah says. Her car beeps at us as the doors unlock.

  “And I’m sure you’re desperate to get back to Aiden, anyway,” I add.

  Her cheeks go pink as she smiles at her feet. As the fair-skinned red-head, I think I’m supposed to have the monopoly on uncontrollable blushing, but I’ve never been as bad as Sarah. “Yeah, I haven’t seen him all day,” she says.

  Oh, wow, ALL DAY? I want to make fun of her, but I think of a certain dark-eyed German guy and remember what torture it was when I went a whole day without seeing him.

  “He was meeting with some professor dude today about studying further here,” Sarah says. “He has some options in Joburg, but obviously I’m hoping he’ll end up somewhere in Durban. Anyway, no matter where he chooses to study, he still has to go home in two weeks when his holiday ends. Then he has to organise study visas and all that other boring admin stuff.”

  “But he’ll be back—that’s the important part.” Her blush intensifies, and I laugh at her.

  “I hope you find someone equally amazing,” she says, nudging me with her elbow.

  “Oh, I am going to find someone truly awesome, do not worry.”

  We hug and squeal and giggle some more, and then I try really hard not to cry. “I’m not saying goodbye,” I tell her, “because I’ll see you again soon. I’ll be home in April for the short vacation, which is actually really soon. So make sure you’re in Durban then, not jetting off to some exotic writing retreat or something.” After a year of studying courses she hated, Sarah decided to leave university and focus on honing her writing skills so she can publish amazing stories that everyone will love. I have no doubt she’ll be famous one day, and then I can tell everyone my best friend is a celebrity.

  “I’ll be here,” she says. “And don’t forget to tell me every exciting thing that happens to you.”

  I squeal again. “This is going to be even more exciting than Germany!”

  “There it is,” I say, pointing to the road sign as my mother navigates the narrow streets of Rondebosch in the ‘piece of crap’ I’ve decided to name The Tin Man. “Toll Road. That’s the one.”

  “Oh, finally,” she says with a small laugh. Her relief mirrors my own. An entire day in the car with her yesterday was painful. She took the first driving shift, so I was able to sleep through the early hours of the morning. After I woke up, she insisted on driving further because she didn’t feel tired at all. I told her I need practice, and what better way to get it than the 1600 kilometres between Durban and Cape Town, but she told me to relax a little longer. So that left me in the passenger seat with my legs wrapped around a cooler bag wondering what to talk about and feeling anything but relaxed.

  She asked me about random stuff, like what I’m most looking forward to this year and what societies I plan to join. When she ran out of questions, I tried to think of all the things I hadn’t yet told her about Germany—not the dark-eyed guy of noble birth I managed to fall for, of course—and after that, we lapsed into silence. I couldn’t handle it, though, so I put on one of my collections of epic movie scores and told her about the game Adam and I used to play. We’d put the music on shuffle and see who could name the movie first each time a new track started. But Mom didn’t know any of the movies—and didn’t seem to appreciate me yelling out “The Hobbit! Braveheart! Indiana Jones!”—so after a few tracks went by, we simply listened to the music. Three times.

  I was so glad when we reached the B&B Mom had booked for last night, I think I climbed out before she’d even brought the car to a complete stop. She suggested we get to bed as soon as possible so we could leave even earlier this morning—and I had no problem agreeing with her.

  Now, as we turn into Toll Road, I’m so excited to finally be here it’s all I can do to contain the squeal threatening to burst from my lips. “We made it, Mom. We made it!” I squeeze her arm, then check my phone for the message from Adam to make sure I’ve got the right house number. “That one.” I point to a gate that was probably painted white once upon a time, but is now more rust than paint. I call Adam.

  “Hey,” he answers after three rings. “Are you here?”

  “Yes! Open up, please.”

  As we reach the gate, it shudders, then starts rolling open at the speed of a granny pushing a walking frame.

  Mom beams at me while we wait for the gate. “10:17 am,” she says. “We made excellent time.”

  “We did.” My smile matches hers. “Well done.”

  Mom drives through the gate, looking for a spot to park. Adam’s car—which belonged to his grandfather until two weeks ago—is taking up most of the short driveway. In front of his car the driveway ends at a single garage, which I’m guessing is where Luke’s car is.

  “Well, I suppose we’ll be parking on the grass,” Mom says, turning the steering wheel and aiming for the tangled weeds in front of the house. We unstick ourselves from the car seats, and Mom places her hands on her hips as she looks around. “Well. The, uh, garden could certainly do with some work.”

  “Hey, you made it,” Adam calls from the open front door.

  “Hello!” I wave, then run—or rather, attempt to run—through the weed jungle towards him. “When did you get here?” I ask after I’ve jumped up the two steps onto the verandah and hugged his skinny frame. “Yesterday, right?”

  “Yes. And my mom’s been in a cleaning frenzy ever since.”

  “Livi! You’ve arrived!” As if to illustrate Adam’s point, his mother appears in the doorway behind him, complete with a pair of yellow gloves, a feather duster in one hand, and a bandana keeping her hair out of her face. “It’s wonderful that you’ll be sharing a house with Adam and Luke.” I smell Handy Andy when she hugs me. “Oh, hello!” She waves over my shoulder, and I turn back to see a startled look on my mother’s face. I doubt my mother’s ever held a feather duster in her life, and the only reason she knows which supermarket aisle to find the rubber gloves in is because she buys them for the two maids who keep our house clean. A second later, the startled look is gone, replaced with the pleasant smile she keeps for acquaintances and strangers.

  “Lynda, how
lovely to see you,” she says, walking up the stairs. “You poor thing, working so hard to clean this house. Livi will be happy to take over now.”

  I give Adam a look. See how she doesn’t offer her help?

  “Oh, don’t be silly,” Lynda says with a laugh and a wave of her feather duster. “I’m happy to do it. Cleaning everything out helps me to see all the amazing potential this house has. It was disgustingly dirty after a year with three boys living in it. And it’s half-empty because most of the furniture belonged to Mike and he took it with him to Wits, but we found this darling little second-hand furniture shop yesterday afternoon. I’m sure we can find plenty of affordable items there to fill the house.”

  “Lovely,” Mom says. Her smile stays perfectly in place, but Lynda may as well be speaking a different language. ‘Affordable’ isn’t something my mother ever considers when furnishing a room. Lynda heads back into the house, saying, “And we discovered an ancient lawn mower in the garage, so Adam’s going to tame the garden later this afternoon.”

  Adam gives me a look similar to the one I just gave him. “My mother is a slave driver,” he mutters.

  “Your mother is awesome.”

  “You wouldn’t say that if you were the one forced to spend an hour scrubbing mould in the shower this morning.”

  I make a show of sniffing the air around him. “So that’s why you smell like chemicals.”

  “I think I lost a few thousands brain cells inhaling those chemicals.” He leans against the doorway and watches my mother following his. “Okay, so my mom is now going to give your mom a tour of all the parts of the house she’s already cleaned, she’s going to point out the layers of grime the landlord has either ignored or knows nothing about, and then the two of them will comment on how male students, and possibly men in general, are the messiest creatures on the planet.”

  “I’m guessing you’ve had to listen to that little speech several times.”

  “It’s a song that’s been on repeat since we got here.” He sighs. “This house is in pretty bad shape. Doesn’t bother me too much—being a messy male student and all that—but it’s going to be a definite step down for you, princess.”

  I punch his arm; he knows I hate that name. “Hey, you have no idea how much I’m looking forward to living here, okay? I’m tired of being alone inside a house large enough to shelter a small village.”

  “Really?” he looks doubtful. “You’re tired of Chateau Zimbali?”

  “Yes! I want to be here. Creaky floorboards, old pipes, rusted window frames, the works. Bring it on, Toll Road.”

  He smiles. “Well, we’d better unpack The Tin Man and get you moved in, then.”

  “Wait, I want to see inside first. Give me the tour.”

  Adam was right about the house being in bad shape, but his mother was also right about it having potential. The cracked window in the bathroom can be covered up with a curtain, the splintered floorboard on one side of the living room can be concealed with a couch, and the fireplace that looks like it was used as a rubbish bin on top of about twenty years of ash will be quite charming once cleaned up. The kitchen, which hasn’t yet been tackled by Lynda, is currently a health hazard, but the counter tops are probably a pleasant colour beneath the layer of congealed food. At least, I hope that’s a layer of something and not the actual colour of the counters. I put my hand over my mouth and try to keep my stomach from reacting.

  Across the passage from the bathroom is a closed door, which is apparently where Luke is hiding. Further along, past a peeling section of paint, is Adam’s room. I recognise the grey-and-white striped duvet cover and the computer screen on the desk. Everything else is still in boxes.

  “And here’s your room,” Adam says, gesturing to an open doorway opposite his. The room is empty, aside from the built-in cupboards along the wall opposite the window. Smudges of dirt—probably from shoes kicking the wall while sitting at a desk or lying on a bed—cover the vomit-coloured paint, and the wooden floorboards are dull and scratched from years of wear. At least the room is a decent size, though. I walk to the window, which is wide and gives me an excellent view of the overgrown back garden. I think I spot a wheelbarrow out there, but it’s been taken hostage by a tangle of weeds.

  “Well, this will be nice, won’t it, Livi?”

  I turn as my mother walks into the room. “Yes, this place rocks.” I spot a poster of a half-naked woman on the back of the door. I wander over and push the door open completely so Mom won’t see it. Unlike her, I actually mean what I’m saying. She’s trying to keep her nose from turning up in disgust, whereas I can’t wait to get all my things in here and make this space mine. Sure, it’s not exactly Chateau Zimbali—as Adam likes to refer to it—but that’s the point. Chateau Zimbali is the last thing I want.

  “Help me unpack?” I say to Adam.

  We navigate back and forth across the weed wilderness while balancing boxes and bags in our arms. Adam’s long legs don’t have much of a problem, but I trip over hidden garden debris more than once. When I fall into a bush for the third time, spilling hangers out of the packet I was balancing on top of a box of shoes, Adam orders me back inside the house while he carries the last few items across the garden.

  “You missed some hangers, Princess Clumsy,” he says as he squeezes through my doorway with my puffy winter jacket over his shoulder, a suitcase in one hand, and several hangers in the other.

  “Hey, knock it off with the ‘princess’ names, Mr Dust Bunny.” I take the jacket and open one of the cupboards to hang it up.

  “Mr Dust Bunny?” Adam peers into the mirror inside the cupboard door. “What are you talking about?”

  “There’s, like, a whole family of dust bunnies living behind your right ear,” I tell him. “Someone obviously told them your mom was on the loose with a feather duster, so they evacuated whatever cruddy corner they were living in. They’re refugees now. You should take care of them.”

  Adam adjusts his glasses, then swats at the cobwebs in his dark hair and mutters something about my tendency to exaggerate. His hair is longer now than it used to be, and product-free. He did the short, spiky, gelled look in high school, like all the other guys who thought they were awesome, but this more natural look is so much better on him. I stand back and nod approvingly. “You are well on your way to completing Project Ditch the Nerd, Adam. Good job.”

  He rolls his eyes and heads out of my room without commenting. He bangs on a door. “Hey, Luke, thanks for all your help with unpacking,” he shouts. “Livi really appreciates it.”

  Crap! What the hell is Adam doing? I’m happy for Luke to stay hidden in his cave and never come out. I rush into the passage to tell Adam to shut up and leave Luke alone. The bathroom door opens and my mother comes out looking traumatised. I guess the toilet experience wasn’t up to her high standards.

  “All right, then,” she says, holding her wet hands away from her body as though trying not to contaminate herself further. “Shall we, uh, go and find some furniture for your bedroom?”

  “Yes. Sounds great.” Maybe I can get out of here before Luke surfaces and starts the creepy staring thing. I dash back into my room and find my handbag. “Okay, Mom, let’s go.” I find her in the lounge watching Lynda kneeling in front of the fireplace giving instructions to Adam. “Thanks for helping me carry stuff,” I say to him. “We’ll see you later.”

  He gives me a wide-eyed look that clearly says, you’re leaving me here?

  “Um, hi, everyone.”


  I cringe at the sound of Luke’s voice behind me. I suppose I can’t avoid him indefinitely, though. I may as well get the awkward greeting over with, then try to stay away from his creepy gaze as much as possible.

  I swivel around—and drop my handbag on the floor.

  Oh. My. Incredible. Hotness.

  It’s a universal truth that the majority of people are more attractive at the end of their teenage years than at the beginning. Who hasn’t had the urge to
burn their pimply-skinned, brace-faced, weird-haired early high school photos? I know I have. Then you get the people who are lucky enough to become not just attractive, but properly beautiful. You look at their pictures on Facebook and wonder where their supermodel genes were in grade eight when no one seemed to fit into their own skin properly. And then you get the people who look so vastly different it’s entirely possible they climbed into a new body.

  Luke is one of those people.

  His skin is perfect, his blue eyes are bright, and his chiseled jaw and artfully tousled bed-head would make any of the top one hundred hottest men in the world jealous. The only thing remaining of the creepy boy who used to stare at me is his hesitant demeanour and the way his eyes dart away when I try to meet his gaze.

  After several moments of gaping on my part, Luke looks up briefly, gives me a shy smile, and says, “Welcome to Cape Town, Livi. Um … I hope you enjoy staying here.”

  Blank. I’m going blank. My knees feel oddly weak, and I think my mouth is still open.

  “Thank you, Luke” my mother says, filling in the gap left by my sudden inability to talk. “Livi is so looking forward to living in this … lovely house.”

  Be cool, Livi. BE COOL. Salivating over hot guys like a groupie at a concert is not part of Project Ditch the Nerd. I suck in a breath of air and clear my throat. “Yeah, um, thanks. Anyway, Mom and I were just heading out to do some shopping.” I casually bend down and pick up my handbag, arranging the expression on my face so it says, No big deal. I drop my handbag all the time. Nothing to do with the hot guy in the room. I catch Adam’s eye, and he sticks a finger in his mouth and mimes puking. I glare at him before straightening.

  “Yes, we have lots to do,” Mom says. “Lynda, do let me know if you need anything for the house. I’ll be happy to pick it up while we’re out.” After nodding to Adam’s mom, she heads past Luke. I follow her, refusing to look at the blue eyes that could potentially freeze me in place.