It was the size of Johannesburg that first struck me. It made Cape Town look like a village. And the airport had more people in one place than I'd ever seen before.
I'd spent the whole flight wondering what my dad would be like... what we'd say to each other... whether or not he'd like me. But the moment we shook hands, all my fears were instantly dispelled.
His new wife was about ten years younger than he, and a real looker. Their two kids, a boy and a girl, took to me immediately. They spent the whole time making such a fuss of me, it was almost embarrassing. Hey, that was a lie. I loved it. Every chance they got, they'd drag me off to places so they could show off their new big bro to their buds.
I also made some new friends, and went clubbing with them a couple of nights. That was unusual for me -- making new friends -- so I guessed it must've been a combination of a new place, a new family, and the absence of shitforbrains back home, that put a permanent smile on my face. In fact, I was having such a total rave in Johannesburg, that my dad delayed the flight home for as long as possible.
Having arrived back late from Spring Break, I didn't get a chance to catch up with Kyle until I'd returned to school. Naturally, Sherlock was giving me the third degree the moment he opened his mouth. But that was OK. I was happy to tell him all about my amazing new family.
"They've got a boy of ten... blonde, swims, plays soccer... and he's way too fucking young for you, Kyle. Anyway, if you touch him, you're not gonna see any pension. His sister, who's seven, is a real little cutie. Both of them loved me to bits. So did my dad and stepmom. It was a whole new experience for me, Kyle... I mean, having a family like that, and a strong sense of belonging. You've had it all your life, so you're used to it. Anyway, I could easily live in Joburg 'cause the sea isn't my main thing like it is with you. And there's loads of work up there, and money to be made."
Well, that last comment soon wiped the smile off my bud's face. "You're not fucking serious?"
"Hey, I'm not planning to go up there right now. OK? Stop fucking stressing, Kyle. Jesus, you make me nervous when you jump to conclusions like that."
"So how did you get along with your dad?"
"We had a lotta opportunities to chat, so we've really got a good thing going now. I asked him why he'd treated me and my mom like he did, and he said he really didn't have an answer, except that he wasn't very happy in those days. He had to escape the whole situation of marriage and a kid. But now? Now he wants to make up for all the wrong he's done, like leaving me without a dad."
"It was here in the quad that you once told me you didn't have a dad."
"Yeah... that's the way I felt then. But it's different now."
"My dad said if I came up to Joburg for a couple of years he'd pay for me to go to college up there. But he also said that if I wanted to stay in Cape Town, he'd pay part of my college fees here."
"So what are you thinking?"
"I don't think it'd be fair to take my dad's money, and live down here."
"So you're thinking about going to Joburg?"
"Fuck, Kyle, your bottom lip looks like it's been stepped on. Anyway, shut the fuck up. I never said I was going anywhere. I'm gonna try to work things out so that I can pay for myself. I told you that already. Fucking hell, you'd swear we were lovers the way you're carrying on." Suddenly, the corners of his mouth curled up. "And wipe that fucking smile off your face."
I knew how Kyle was feeling. If I moved to Joburg, I'd break his heart. But what he didn't appreciate was that I'd discovered a side of myself that hadn't existed before. I wasn't the same guy who flew out of Cape Town. On the other hand, friends like Kyle didn't come along every day. Hey, try once in a lifetime. Anyway, I had a helluva lotta thinking to do, and it wasn't gonna be easy.
That week, the school had its Valedictory Service, the final assembly for the Year 12 guys as pupils. All our parents were there, including my mom and shitforbrains.
During the ceremony, awards, based on votes from students in years 10, 11, and 12, were presented to some of the seniors. Ross was voted the person most likely to succeed. Fucking hell, we all knew that. Kyle was voted the most caring, for always putting others ahead of himself. We all knew that, too, and we weren't surprised to see tears welling in his eyes as he accepted his certificate. Alan's award was for showing signs of promise. What signs? They must've used a fucking microscope. But when I heard my name called, I looked for a crack in the floor that I could disappear into. "The most likable person in school. To Mark for being a fair prefect, and an example of honor for the school."
After the service, and the singing of the school song, all the Year 12s had to walk through the hall, and say goodbye to the rest of the students. As usual, Kyle and I were joined at the hip as we made our way through the crowd, and eventually approached Wingnut, who was beaming from ear to ear despite the tears in his eyes. It was obvious as all hell that he was putting on a brave face.
"So, Conan, now you can't touch me any more."
"Says who? I can still beat you up."
Then the grommet split. I figured he would've cried his little heart out if he'd stayed a moment longer. As it was, Kyle was on the verge of tears as well, and I wasn't doing much better.
"Hey, I'd better go find Wingnut. I think he's taking it pretty bad."
"He's not the only one Kyle. Catch you later."
When I next saw Kyle, I noticed that his folks were chatting to my mom and shitforbrains. If only they knew what that asshole was capable of. But, hey, it was Valedictory, so the bf was on his best behaviour. I imagined him telling Kyle's folks how proud he was of me for being presented with an award. Bet he didn't mention anything about laying into me with the rubber hose, though.
"So how's Wingnut? Is he OK?"
"Nope. But it's one of those things he's gotta handle. It's not like we can carry on with school... well, not now. He's come to like you a stack."
"I've always liked him. He's a kick-ass little shit, with a big heart."
"The most likable person in school? You? The guy who called me a fag, and had me beaten up?"
"Shuddup, Kyle," I laughed, "before I smack you."
"Hey, I've always thought that. It's you who's always put yourself down. I believed in you all the time, Mark... even when you were beating me up." Then, he added with a giggle, "I believed I was gonna get hurt."
"There's one amazing thing that's come outa my years at school."
"You. They were right. You are the most caring person here. You were the first person to show me that it's OK to care about someone... like when you came to visit me in hospital. Actually, I think you came to see if they had bed covers over me."
"You would've done the same."
"Nope... don't believe that. I was an angry, pissed-off-with-the-world person. The only reason I would've come to visit you in hospital was to make sure you were hurting more than me. I've learned a lot from you."
"Oooo! Want me to get down on my knees now? Is that a button-up fly or a zip?"
"Jesus, Kyle, get off your fucking knees before I fist you." But I couldn't help cracking up at the sight of my totally outrageous bud kneeling before me, with that idiot grin on his face. "You're fucking crazy. What if someone sees you doing that? Don't answer that. You don't give a shit. I know. Hey, listen, we'd better meet up with our folks."
At 4pm, all the Year 12 guys boarded a bus, which we'd all chipped in a few bucks to rent, together with the driver. The damn thing had more booze on it than a pub. We went for a tour around the peninsula, drinking, joking, laughing, being helluva noisy, and just letting off steam. The bus stopped at Hout Bay, where we all had fish and chips on the rocks. Then we boarded the bus again for more partying.
It was 10pm by the time the bus arrived back at the school to unload us. We were all trashed out of our brackets, but trying to act very sober. Yeah, right. But it was no surprise to anyone. Everyone knew we'd get wrecked... like an unwind before the final exams.
I was in no fit state to walk Kyle home, so I said goodnight at my gate -- make that slurred -- then somehow made it to my room before collapsing on my bed, and passing out.
It was after lunch when I phoned Kyle.
"Get home OK?"
"Yeah. I stopped at the tree for a piss. I felt so fucking alone all of a sudden. A million memories flooding my mind all at once... like it's all coming to an end... school, friends, the swim team, everything."
"One door closes, another one opens."
"What fucking door? It's like I wasn't prepared for any of this. It's not like the end of a chapter, it's like the end of the fucking book."
"Hey, buddy, you're stressed. Things will work out."
"Yeah, right. And you'll be in Joburg."
"Jesus, Kyle! I don't have any plans yet. Anyway, you got a vision of you and me in wheelchairs in some fucking Cape Town nursing home when we're both 100?"
"Don't make me laugh."
"You taught me to laugh. Now it's my turn. Feeling better now?"
"You seen Steve lately?"
"Nope. He's probably hanging with his larny buds. Leave me outa that."
"He was at Carol's while I was away. Carol told me about it. And I know the fucker wasn't there for a cup of tea."
"No. And I believe Carol. But you know what happened between him and Steph. That blonde bimbo can't help himself. It's like he's gotta prove something all the fucking time. What's the matter with him? He's got enough pussy to last him a fucking lifetime."
"Insecurity? What the fuck? He's an ace surfer, looks to kill, popular. What more does he want?"
"I dunno. Maybe he feels like he's gotta keep testing people. Y'know, to see how far he can go."
"He won't be going very fucking far if I catch him with Carol. Anyway, buddy, I just thought I'd call to see how you're doing."
My birthday was October 17... the big eighteen. Now I could legally do all the stuff I'd been doing for the past two or three years. Ha! What a joke. The most amazing thing, though, was getting a call from my dad to wish me happy birthday. It was like the first time in my whole life that I could remember him wishing me. We rapped for what seemed like hours, and the inevitable subject of college came up again.
"I dunno yet, dad. I know you said you wanna make it up to me, but I'm kinda stubborn. I'd prefer to put myself through college. I think I'd feel better about it if I made it on my own. Hey, no offence, dad, but I'm kinda used to it. Anyway, remember that friend I told you about? Kyle? He's gonna do the same thing... put himself through college. And it would be cool if we both did the same thing together. Y'know, like buds with a common goal supporting each other. He's my best friend, dad. He's the coolest. We kinda lean on each other."
My birthday celebration was a pretty laidback kinda thing. There was no way I could invite people to my place... not with shitforbrains there. So we celebrated at Wipeout... just the four of us... Carol, Steph, Kyle, and me. I didn't have a whole bunch of friends like Kyle did, but that wasn't a prob. The friends I did have were worth more than a thousand others.
I got a load of presents from my mom and shitforbrains. Maybe shitforbrains figured my turning eighteen meant that I'd soon be getting my own place. Maybe he was trying to make up for all the crap he'd dumped on me. Who knew? And who cared? Carol gave me a beautiful silver chain with a heart attached. It was dated October 17, 2000, and had "Love, Carol" engraved on the back. Steph gave me a CD, and Wingnut, bless his little butt, gave me a Harley Davidson keyring, plus a handmade card. And Kyle? Hey, what could I have expected from the craziest dude on the fucking planet?
"It's a Harley Davidson 2001 calendar."
"I can see that, Kyle. So what are all these little notes written on each page?" I asked as I flicked through the calendar.
"This is the day last year when we all went on hols up the Garden Route. This is the day last year when you decked me. This is the day last year when we both pissed against the old tree. Jeez, Kyle. What's the matter with you? You keep a diary or something?"
"Yeah. But I only write about stuff that's important."
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