Be warned: there might be some slobbery teenage spit-swapping in here.
The Choir Concert - And Colin
The girls in Jill's boarding school choir can't contain their excitement - they are doing a joint concert with the boys' school. The girls don't get to meet boys too often, so this is a big deal. Jill isn't especially excited to meet boys, but at the first rehearsal there is one who is friendlier than most.
“Really, girls," Miss Webster was saying over the buzz of whispers and squeals. "I know you don't meet too many boys in the normal course of events but honestly, this is a little extreme!"
"But Miss Webster!" said Zikho, literally bouncing up and down on her seat next to Jill. "Have you seen the boys in the choir?"
Miss Webster was trying not to smile. Jill could see it and she liked her better for it. "Of course I have, Zikho. They sing very nicely." There was more excited giggling from the thirty or so high school girls in the room. The teacher sighed and put her hands on her hips. "I don't suppose we're going to get anything much more done today," she said, closing the plastic flip file on the music stand in front of her. "We'll continue with that cantata next time. Now off you go."
Jill and Zikho closed their music files and stood up, then helped to stack the chairs at the sides of the music room. It was after four in the afternoon and they were glad for the early finish today. Exams were looming and they both still had work to do. They trudged up the path from the music block back to the boarding house.
"My cousin is in the choir," said Zikho. "Do you remember him from the Valentines Dance?"
"I remember," said Jill. She shifted her heavy school bag on her shoulder. She was at least a head taller than Zikho, and many shades lighter - their friends teased them and called them "Day" and "Night" when they were together. They certainly were opposites in almost every way. Zikho was round where Jill was lean; Zikho's skin was dark, flawless and glowing, Jill's face was milky white and peppered with freckles; Zikho's hair was a thick mass of neat, even braids in a perfect ponytail while Jill's was between red and blonde, scraped into a paintbrush ponytail with a regulation green hairband.
"I know you remember Jaden," said Zikho, in a small voice. "Do you think he's in the choir?"
"I hope not, for your sake," said Jill. "It's not worth thinking about him, Zeeks. He just used you."
"I know," said Zikho, scowling. "Boys are such idiots."
"I hope they aren't all idiots," said Jill. "But let's not get all funny about them, okay? We're only fifteen. There's lots of time for all that. We should focus on other stuff - like that History project."
"You're right," said her friend, sighing as they reached the hostel and paused at the steps before they went their separate ways. "The boys in the choir are probably all music nerds anyway."
Jill laughed as she headed upstairs to her dorm room. A music nerd sounded quite interesting, actually. She dumped her bag and lay on her bed, staring up at the ceiling, wondering what kind of boy she would like one day, when the time came. She closed her eyes and tried to picture him. Someone kind, someone friendly. Someone who had something interesting to say. Someone who believed in God, as she did. That was important, of course. She had never had a boyfriend, unless she counted her little friend from primary school who had kissed her on the cheek and told her he was going to marry her one day. She had boys who were her friends back home in Marshall Bay, the small beach town where she lived, but she had never felt romantic about any of them.
The first joint rehearsal was a fiasco. Miss Webster found her voice not up to the task of calming down and controlling thirty boys as well as the girls in her own choir. It was a Saturday afternoon at the girls' school, and although they had to wear school uniform, much to the kids' disgust, some of the girls had clearly spent hours on their hair and had ignored the no make-up rule. Jill sat with Zikho in their spot with the second sopranos, feeling simultaneously sorry for Miss Webster and frustrated at her inability to get anything done. The boys' choir master was unfortunately down with the flu and couldn't make the rehearsal, and the boys were accompanied by a young boarding house master who sat on a chair looking at his phone the whole time, oblivious to their disruptive behaviour. They were performing a selection from Handel's Messiah for a concert in a couple of months' time, and by the time Miss Webster sent them out for a break they had done little more than sing haltingly through the Hallelujah chorus a few times. Jill thought it sounded awful.
Jill found a sunny spot outside on the grass with Zikho and another friend, Nicole, a day girl who sang alto.
"That boy is looking at us," said Nicole, who had taken out a nail file and was neatening up her already perfect nails. "The zitty one over there next to that guy who looks like a gangster."
"Aw, Nicole - just because the poor guy has lost his belt, and his underpants are showing, doesn't mean he's a gangster," said Zikho.
Nicole raised her eyebrows at Zikho. "Put the pants situation together with the hair situation, and that earring story, and I rest my case," she said. "But never mind him, it's the one next to him I'm talking about."
"That one with the glasses?" asked Zikho, peering at the huddled group of guys leaning against the tennis court fence.
"Yes," said Nicole. "He keeps looking at us. It's super obvious."
"I believe you. Chill!" said Zikho. "I think he's looking at Jill."
"He is not," said Jill, blushing hard. The truth was that she had noticed it too. For the past few minutes she had been trying not to look his way, because every time she did she seemed to catch his eye. "Okay, he is. I think."
"He is so watching you, Jill - and he's coming over!" Nicole put her nail file away and brushed the dust off her lap. Before Jill knew it, the boy had reached them and was standing there awkwardly, his hands in his pockets.
"Hi," he said.
"Hi," said Nicole and Zikho. Jill was silent. She didn't know what to do.
"We're just ... going to throw our rubbish in the bin," said Nicole, getting up. She grabbed Zikho's arm and pulled her up too. Jill tried to glare at them but they hurried off. She was left alone, sitting on the grass with her lunchbox in her lap, a boy she didn't know standing nervously beside her. She was wondering if she should stand up, but he sat down instead, his arms resting casually on his knees.
"Did I chase your friends away?" he said.
"I don't know," said Jill. "I suppose you did."
He grinned. "Sorry. I just ... I've seen you running with the cross country team, past our school. I wanted to come over and say hi."
"Oh," said Jill. She didn't know what else to say. She turned her head to look at him. He was a bit zitty, but he had a nice face, she supposed. She liked the glasses. And she did sometimes run past the boys' school during cross country training. He wasn't making that up. He really had noticed her.
"I'm Colin," he said.
"Okay," said Jill. She felt frozen, as if she was in Science class and the teacher had just asked her a question she didn't understand at all. She knew there was something she should say but she didn't know what it was.
"Are you going to tell me your name?" asked Colin. He looked a little amused at her silence but he didn't seem embarrassed.
"Sorry," said Jill, feeling ridiculously stupid. She was bombing this, she knew. She wasn't sure if she minded bombing it - but she knew she must seem really silly and childish. "I'm Jill."
He grinned. "Jill." He nodded. "It suits you. I'm glad I have finally met you, Jill."
Jill blushed again, smiling back. This wasn't so bad, she thought to herself. She was talking to a boy, he was nice and he seemed to like her. He was in Grade 10, a year ahead of her, and he was a boarder too. His parents lived on a farm about an hour away. That was about all they managed to say before Miss Webster appeared at the entrance to the music block, calling them to come back inside. Nicole and Zikho materialized from somewhere behind them, and the conversation was over.
"See you around," he said as he joined his friends. She could only nod stupidly.
Jill didn't sing much for the rest of the practice. She felt strange, grown up and surprised and just strange. She couldn't see Colin from her place in the choir, and she wondered if he could see her. Did she like him? She had no idea. But the whole idea of liking him grew on her as the hour passed, an hour of poor Miss Webster trying to get the boys to stop talking and the girls to stop giggling, and to get them all to sing something half decent. When it was over the bored housemaster shuffled the boys into the two school minibuses that had brought them over, and Colin was gone before she had a chance to talk to him again.
There were three more practices before the concert, and she saw Colin at every one. Fortunately the boys' choirmaster had recovered and the next rehearsals were much more productive. The kids worked hard and by the last run-through Jill thought it sounded incredible. When they sang the Hallelujah chorus she got goosebumps all over her body. She imagined that there would be something like it in heaven – it was beautiful. Every rehearsal Colin would seek her out and find something to say to her. At the third one he gave her a hug when he had to leave. That surprised her. She had just stood there in shock and managed to pat him awkwardly on the back before he let her go. One time he told her she looked pretty, which she didn't really believe seeing she was in her green school uniform as usual. But she enjoyed hearing it.
The concert went well, and the combined choir got a standing ovation for their performance. Jill enjoyed the whole thing so much she felt buzzed and excited afterwards, as if it was Christmas or the last day of term. They trooped out of the boys' school hall, flushed and excited. For most of the kids the best part was yet to come – a little party in the quad. There was ice cream and cake, and hot chocolate, and most exciting of all, they were allowed to change out of their school uniforms. The girls got a lecture from the housemistress who was their chaperone as they changed in the stark cloakroom that had been allocated for the purpose. No disappearing out of the quad, no eating or drinking anything that wasn't provided, and they had to be waiting by the bus at ten. Jill was done changing into her jeans and T-shirt in five minutes and sat waiting for Nicole and Zikho while they put on make-up and fussed over their clothes.
"It is so ironic!" said Nicole, peering into the little mirror she had brought while she put on her mascara. "Jill is the only one of us who might get anyone's attention this evening and all she's done is put on a T-shirt."
"It’s my best T-shirt," laughed Jill, as she helped Zikho zip up her top. "I don't know why you are making such a fuss. It's nearly nine now. There is one hour to hang out and eat cake and then we're going home."
"I'm determined to talk to that cute guy I met last time," said Nicole, scooping all her make-up into her bag and standing up to go. "If it's just a good first impression it won't be for nothing."
"I suppose," said Jill, looking around at the cloakroom of excited, busy girls. It smelt strongly of deodorant. "Let's get out of here. I want some ice cream before the boys eat it all."
As usual Colin found her and in a few short minutes she found herself standing alone with him, her friends nowhere in sight.
"You look nice," said Colin. "Different."
"You too," said Jill. She couldn't decide but she thought he actually looked better in his school uniform. He had changed into scruffy jeans and a shirt with a band logo on it, and he too smelt strongly of deodorant. He got her some ice cream and they ate together, not saying much. Jill stole glances at him, wondering what this all meant. Did he like her, or was he just being friendly? Did she like him? She supposed she must like him. This must be how it happened then, this boy/girl thing. It was kind of nice, but still kind of weird. She still felt as if a different, older Jill had swapped places with her for a while. Wasn't she just a kid, really, doing homework and listening to boybands with her friends?
They finished their ice creams. Colin wiped his mouth, adjusted his glasses and looked at her. "You want to go for a walk?" he asked. "It's kind of crowded here."
"Okay," Jill found herself saying. Colin looked pleased. He took her hand and led her to a corner of the quad where there was a door leading onto a dark passage. He looked around and put his finger on his lips.
"Not supposed to do this," he said. He ducked through the door, Jill following, her hand in his. All she could think was that she couldn't believe she was doing this, breaking a bunch of rules all at once, and holding a boy's hand for the first time. And that his hand was too slack in hers, and sweaty. Kind of cold, and clammy.
They emerged on the outside of the building, and Colin took her across a parking lot to a cricket field. It was dark but there were lights on the outsides of the closed-up buildings. As they crossed the grass she saw another couple heading in a different direction; the guy put his hand up to greet Colin and Colin did the same. They reached a big grandstand on one side of the field, and Colin led her behind it.
"Here we are," he said, turning to face her. "Are you cold?" he asked, noticing her shiver a little.
"A bit," she said. "But I'm okay."
"I can help you get warm," he said. He stepped closer and put his arms around her. Jill leaned forward too, tentatively, completely unsure of what to do. She put her arms around his waist, resting her face on his shoulder. He was just a little taller than her, and it was kind of nice standing there, leaning on him. And he was right, she did feel warmer. It was better than holding his damp hand.
After a few seconds Colin moved his hand a little on her back. Then he turned his face and put his cheek against hers. She knew he was going to kiss her, and she knew she was going to let him. I can't believe this is it, she thought, as he maneuvered his face into the right position. For just a second, she wondered if she should stop and pull away, if this was actually a terrible idea, and so not the way she wanted it to be, but it felt as if it was too late. Then his lips were on hers, and she didn't know what to do. It felt weird; soft and slimy and wet. She realized too late that he was pushing his tongue between her lips and she fought an urge to laugh. It reminded her of how she and a friend, at the age of eight or nine, had once dared each other to touch tongues, and had recoiled in disgust at the funny squishy feeling. Now she was doing this on purpose. Was this what all those kisses she had seen in the movies felt like? She tried to like it, she tried to tell herself it couldn't be all that bad, but soon she had to pull away. Colin smiled, his arms still around her, but he didn't meet her eyes.
Why doesn't he say something? thought Jill. She thought maybe this should be the part where he said how lovely she was, how much he liked her, that he was longing to know everything about her. But he said nothing, just put his cheek back against hers as they stood there in a silent embrace.
After a minute or so he kissed her again. This time wasn't as wet and slobbery but still Jill felt that he was definitely enjoying it more than she was. Again she had to pull away.
"This is nice," he said, still not meeting her eyes. Jill nodded, her head still spinning. It had been more gross than nice, actually. She pictured what might happen now. Was he her boyfriend? He must be; he had kissed her. Twice. He would phone her and visit her. They would go on dates. She wasn't sure. It was all a bit overwhelming. And he didn't exactly seem to want to chat now.
"Should we go back?" Jill managed to say. She suddenly thought that she didn't know what the time was and if she missed the bus she would be in huge trouble. The thought terrified her.
"Okay," said Colin. They walked back across the field, their arms around each other. That part was nice, and by the time they ducked through the dark passage and back into the quad, she was feeling less freaked out and more excited. Colin, she thought, looking over at him. My first boyfriend. As she got onto the bus he said he would call her, but Jill didn't have her own phone so it would have to be on the boarding house landline. She didn't mind. We'll make a way, she thought. Colin and I.
Jill felt a little nauseous when she woke up the next morning. She told her curious friends as little as possible, wanting to keep it private, still not sure what she thought of it all. She went to church, and felt funny when the minister asked them to spend a while confessing the wrong things they had done. She wondered if that strange experience on the cricket field had been wrong. It hadn't crossed her mind before, but it did now. She didn't know if Colin went to church or even believed in God, and that wasn't great either. She would have to talk to him about that when she saw him. But when would that be? She felt nervous and edgy all day. She didn't even know his last name. And whenever the phone rang in the passage, it was for someone else.
Monday was windy and grey and miserable. Jill went to her classes and did her work, still feeling nauseous and restless. Zikho, Nicole and her other friends knew something was up and guessed what it was. Colin didn't phone. Should she phone him? Maybe he had tried but he couldn't get through? But she knew that wasn't likely. He hadn't phoned because he just hadn't. By Monday evening she felt stupid. By Tuesday morning she felt ashamed. She shut herself in a shower stall and stared at herself in the mirror, watching the tears well up and spill over. She was angry, ashamed and stupid. Angry with Colin, and angry with herself. So, so stupid. On Wednesday evening she put away the last of her hope and knew that she had been used. She had warned Zikho not to let it happen to her again, but she had been duped, tricked, played. She pictured Colin going back to his friends, chalking one up on his tally, as they slapped him on the back and made comments about her nice legs or something. This was not how it was supposed to be, and she knew that now.
On Saturday morning Jill sat on her bed, opened her journal and stared at the blank page. She knew she could put it all out of her mind if she really wanted to; intentionally forget and file it away with the other painful things she had to live with. She glanced over at her Bible on her bedside table, and she knew that she needed to learn from this. There was love in the Bible, there was romance, there was passion and of course there was marriage. There was a path to follow, not always easy to figure out but the only path worth following. And there was also Jesus, holding out his arms in forgiveness for all her silliness and thoughtlessness, urging her to find a way to live her life for him. She bent her head and started to write, the jumbled thoughts of the last week sorting themselves out in her mind as they made their way onto her page. Love was not something that she was going to let happen to her. She was going to be intentional from now on, and not let a silly boy shmooze her and flatter her into sneaking off with him behind the grandstands. The next time she kissed a boy it would not be an awkward slobbery embrace with a guy whose last name she didn't even know. It would be much more than that - it would mean much more. And despite the memory of the first one, she still had faith - that the next one would not be gross.