Sunday, April 25, 2021

Conquerors

 


Since I started writing three years ago there have been very few weeks when I have not been working on something or other. I have surprised myself at how much I love writing and how sure I am that I will not give it up now that I have started!

So what have I been working on lately?

At the moment Return to Kalathan, third novel in the series, is in the "drawer phase". This means I close the doc and leave it there for a few weeks before reading it again with fresh eyes. Then I will send to my trusty beta readers who will hopefully give me some feedback. It's a short novel, about two thirds of the length of the other two. I originally intended for it to be a novella but the story took me further than I thought it would! 

I also have another novella, Queen of Kalathan, 90% finished, waiting for me to get the last bit done. But in the meantime I have been distracted by another story which I think I started thinking about when my husband and I watched the Netflix series Barbaren. The story (apparently based on fact!) of a child taken in and trained by the Roman Army growing up to have very divided loyalties was a fascinating one. The Empire in the Kalathan books is of course inspired by the Roman Empire; in fact the whole thing began with me wondering what might have happened if it had never fallen and had continued spreading its influence into Asia. Although I never went into it in the first book, the Western Conquerors of Kalathan came from a Germanic branch of this Empire. So even though the events of the series occurred about 1000 years before my story, it the connection inspired me! 

So since watching the series, a reluctant conqueror has begun to appear in my imagination - a soldier closely connected to the first king of Kalathan, Albrin. His story will reveal some of the details of the conquest which happened five hundred years or so before the events of The Curse of Kalathan. It will explain some of the culture, the origin of the Temple and even the source of the Devilclaw Curse. There will be romance, of course, a journey, and a battle (or two) as a new nation emerges. 

I should be coming up with marketing strategies.

And I'm keen to get going with Kaspar's story, Prince of Kalathan. The more I put off starting the more ideas I get for it. So best put it off a little longer. (Although at this rate it will end up being a 500 page epic.)

Anyway ... for now my mind is full of exhausted conquerors trekking through rain and mud, wary tribespeople staring from doorways, and one man's audacious plan to take back what has been stolen from him. 

I leave you with a video of these three beautiful Georgian girls who make me think of Kalathan and Trina :)






Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Twins

TWINS



Hi there readers ... Brothers of Kalathan is getting closer and closer to being ready. We're in the final edits, yay! In the meantime, here's the original opening of the first draft which
sadly I had to ditch for the sake of space and pace!

Jandrin was born first, Jameth only a few minutes afterwards; both screaming inconsolably, the midwife told the queen later, until they were wrapped up and placed side by side. Even as the Temple fatir and the priest leant over them with the vial of pigeon blood, smearing it over their foreheads as the blessing was recited, the tiny boys lay still, downy heads touching, content in togetherness.  They were a sign, the priests told the king, of God’s great favour on him, a double blessing: two strong, healthy sons, their fair heads and blue eyes a testimony to the blood of the conquerors that ran in their veins.  

The people of Kalathan City rejoiced in the streets for days at the news of their birth, waving red flags, delighting Temple bursars with gifts and offerings of thanks to God and to the great Spirits of Victory and Plenty. For generations the royal family of Kalathan had been hanging onto the throne by threads, plagued by sickly monarchs, barren queens and more recently, a string of foolhardy princes who kept getting themselves killed hunting or riding or engaging in foolish duels. The young king Theoland II, only surviving son of his father and king since the raw age of seventeen, had frustrated the hopes of both nobles and ordinary people by taking more than a decade to find a suitable wife. But ever since he had finally made his choice and married the graceful, accomplished NuriaKalthan’s prospects for a more robust monarchy seemed to be looking up. Not only had the queen already produced one strong son, now she had (at no cost to her health it seemed) produced two more at once. The nobility were ecstatic. And as the years passed and then twins grew into handsome, talented, personable young men, followed by three more brothers to make six in all, there could be no doubt as to the favourable status of Kalathan in the Heavenly Realms.  

  For years no one but Mother could tell them apart without looking at the tiny inked marks on their ankles: one tiny dot for Jandrin and two for Jameth. Even Father couldn’t tell; they were “Jandrin and Jameth” to everyone they knew and even, perhaps, to themselves. “We are tired,” they would say, or “We don’t like that!” often in unison. They insisted that when one felt pain so did the other, prompting sceptical older brother Theo to undertake many mischievous experiments, like pinching one under the dinner table then calling the other one out for not noticing. There were differences, of course: Jandrin was always quicker at his books, always a little more likely to lead the pair in mischief. As they approached adulthood it was clear that he was more confident with the court girls who dotted the courtyards and gardens, ready and waiting to catch the eye of a prince, or perhaps even two. Jameth followed his brother without thought of any inequality: their cooperation was instinctive, without any idea of one being better than the other. So they wore their golden hair long on their shoulders, and sang songs together in harmonies that were sensed rather than arranged beforehand. They rode identical horses through the streets side by side on temple days, waving to the crowds in synchronised motion, dressed alike in bright silks and brocades.  

 And neither of them, not for a minute, imagined that there would be a time when it would be any different.  

Maybe it would have continued that way for the rest of their lives. Perhaps their inextricably connected existence would have continued until they were old men, until they left the world of the living together just as they had entered it. But when they returned from the war, one carried in half-dead on a stretcher, the other half-dead with worry, there would be no more mistaking one for the other. Jandrin was much as he had been when they had left the palace months before – a little thinner, a little harder, new frown lines on his forehead. But Jameth was broken, his hair shaved short by the priests who had attended to him in the hospital tents, his body shattered by the explosion that had killed Dazmar and made possible their escape from behind Empire lines. But the truth was that even before that day, even when it was still all but impossible for a stranger to tell them apart, a shift had begun. From the moment they had begun to run for their lives, from the start of the journey that had taken them out of Kalathan, something had begun to change. The luxury and ease of palace life had disappeared in a moment, replaced with hard ground, dreary food, thirst. Obscurity and dependence, fear and uncertainty had marked each day, pressing each of them to reveal the character that lay beneath. And so it had begun to be apparent, during those long months, that they were different after all. They were still brothers, still closer to each other than to anyone else, still making harmonies, even if their songs rang out in woods and mountains rather than lush courtyards and gilded halls. But by the end it was undeniable even if it was unspoken between them: they were two different men, not one soul after all.  

Jameth, miraculously some said, survived his injury, the fever that followed and the long journey home. By the spring after the war, the wound he had sustained in the explosion on the battlefield had healed into a grotesque patchwork of scars and gouges, the muscle all but wasted or simply missing on his shoulder and upper arm. He could move his left hand and lift his shoulder a little, but he would never again hold a bow or a lute. He could barely even hold a fork at the dinner table. He had tried to ride and managed it one handed, but could never keep up with Jandrin, who now had to make do with his other brothers to enjoy what had once been the twins’ shared pursuits.  

So when Jandrin rode out on a hunt with Kaspar, or met Theo for archery practice or to spar with their swords, Jameth was left behind to sit with Mother as she worked on her embroidery, to play parcha in the courtyard with Ben or to allow Maikal to read him halting stories from his school books. He had lost one companion, he said to his mother one particularly difficult afternoon, only to gain another: instead of a brother he now kept company with pain. Most of the day he was all right, constant movement keeping the worst at bay. It was at night that it flared up, like a demon in all its fury sometimes, making him want to to cry out and beg for mercy, for rest and sleep and please, God, just a moment of respite from the burning persistence of it.  

“Your father has lived with pain most of his life,” she had said, her eyes filling with tears at the desperation in his face. “He was only a little older than you when he had his accident.” 

“I know,” Jameth had said. “I wonder what he would have been like without it.” 

“Harder,” Mother had replied earnestly. “More reckless, more proud. It changed him, son, and it will change you. Don’t be afraid of it. This is part of your destiny and you must embrace it.” 

Jameth had clasped his mother’s hand and not known what to say. He didn't want to be changed, for good or for anything. He wanted a different destiny than this half-life he found himself living. He wanted the life his brother was enjoying right under his nose, a life of music and adventure and the grateful adoring attention of pretty girls. He had not learnt, during the long months of suffering, to be content with his lot. Sometimes he was not even sure that he was glad to be alive.  



Monday, January 4, 2021

Working on it ...

 



The cover is done, and there are words in the document - many, many words! But it's not done yet, not nearly done. 

After my best critic read my first draft and had some comments to make, I realised there were some major flaws that needed to be fixed. I could have fiddled things around a little and still made it kind of work, but I want this story to be great, not just okay. It needs to be exciting and pacy. The characters need to be relatable and entertaining. The plot must be believable and without holes. All that takes time. I have already pretty much rewritten the entire first half. Somehow on the way my characters changed a little and now I need to bring all that through to the end. 

I will get there, hopefully in a month or so. And then the best thing to do would be to put it away for a few months and then bring it out to read with fresh eyes. That's what I did with the first Kalathan book and I think it was better for it.

It's three years since I decided I was going to try to write a book, since I sat down in January 2018 and began work on Alex on the Edge. I don't think any of the words I wrote in those first weeks actually made it into the final book but I am so glad I started! 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Kalathan!


It's out at last! I finished writing this book over a year ago but for many reasons it has taken this long to get it published. Part of it was that I wanted to be closer to finishing a second book in the series, and as of today I am a few chapters away from finishing the sequel, Brothers of Kalathan. 

Some fun facts about this new book:

  • I wrote an entire 90 000 word novel with the same title and characters and then binned it. It was BAD. But by then I knew my characters and my land and the new book was worth all the "wasted" time. 
  • I based it on a scribbled idea I had in high school. The original heroine was Trina because I wanted her to be me! Trina was short for Katrina, close enough to my own name. This Trina, however, is nothing like me at all.
  • The original story had magic in it. Didn't work for me!
  • I changed the ending A LOT a few months ago. My mom suggested it and she was right :) 
  • I wrote at lest four chapters in one day while my then 12-year-old son was in hospital for a day and a night having a sinus operation.
  • I have planned out plots for 5 novels (one for each brother with the twins sharing a story), 3 prequel novellas (One about Nuria, one about Shandar and one about Trina's father) and 3 sequel novellas. Kalathan is going to keep me busy for a while. One novella is done and one is 80% done!
  • My favourite character to write: Jandrin. He's awful but I love him. He says the worst things and always gets away with it. 
  • I never planned on Nasa appearing. He just materialised when Trina was on the run and I am glad he did. He'll get a novella of his own later on. 
  • I'm very chuffed that I managed to write a sword fight scene. It was hard!

As always, I need reviews so get in touch for a free digital copy - anyone at all! There are also free copies available on Booksprout if you want to join up there for many more free books to review. 

 


Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Reedsy

If you'd like to read some of my short stories check out this link. "I Was Fifteen" was shortlisted for a prize which was cool :)

https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/author/kate-le-roux


My favourite of these is "Between Me and the Universe" which was quite a departure from my usual style!

Sunday, March 1, 2020

#WINNING



I drive my yellow golf carefully through the heavy Joburg traffic. Not entirely sure of the way, I have my phone open next to me. My passenger, like the three others in the back, is fifteen years old, in red and gold sports kit, neat takkies with white socks, her smooth brown thighs spread out against the faded tweedy fabric of the seat. She has her own phone on her lap, and is looking out of the window, her thick ponytail of braids swaying as I pull off at last from a jam at a traffic light. The girls in the back throw the netball around, talking so loudly that I am tempted to ask them to stop. It is Zulu, I think, recognising a few words similar to the bits of Xhosa I learnt as a child in Cape Town. We are on our way to a match at another school. My whistle is around my neck, I have changed out of my teacher clothes into track pants and a T-shirt, and I am nervous. I can do this, I think, as I park outside the smart entrance to the school. I’ve done it before. It’s not hard. But as the girls spill out, joining their teammates who have travelled in a hired minibus, I walk behind them and I am nowhere near confident. This school, this fancy institution where parents pay three times the value of my car for a year’s fees, will likely have career coaches umpiring the matches we are about to play. I am just a very junior teacher at a government school, armed with a certificate that proves nothing other than that I once knew the rules of netball, doing my extra-mural duty this afternoon when I would rather be getting through my endless piles of marking. I am newly married, eager to get home to my honeymoon-nest to bake or re-arrange the pictures in my wedding album. But I go over the rules in my head: contact, stepping, obstruction. Keep to your half of the court, blow the whistle confidently, keep score. I can do this. I walk behind my girls towards the courts. I am not their coach; I am only the teacher in charge of their team, the one who gets to make arrangements and umpire when the coach is unavailable. I have enjoyed watching them play this term. They are a spirited bunch; all various shades of brown, all fit and strong and fast. They have won all their matches so far and are top of their under 16 league. Only this match remains, although today, they warn me, might be the end of their winning streak. This school, they say, is going to be tough to beat. I look around at the expansive grounds, the modern buildings, the BMW’s and huge SUV’s in the parking lot, and I understand. This place oozes privilege and wealth. Mbali, who sat next to me in the car, has her phone out and is making a video of her friends. They flirt with the camera, sticking out tongues and pouting as they walk. We pass a cluster of tables below a sign for a popular coffee shop, and I do a double take. There’s a restaurant in this school? No tuckshop selling tuna sandwiches and packets of chips? I picture my mish-mash of rainbow nation students sipping lattes and eating cheesecake with forks during break time, paying with credit cards and leaving a tip, and I want to laugh. This is, in every way, a different world. We reach the courts. The other team is waiting, and I shake the other umpire’s hand as my girls stand to one side. Mbali gets them into a circle and they begin to stretch and squat, reaching their strong brown arms over their heads, rolling their necks, rotating ankles. There is no laughter now. This is serious business. I take a look at our opposition. Except for two, all are white. Their skirts are short, their legs tanned and smooth, hair is scraped back into ponytails and serious topknots. As I turn to make my way to my team, I hear it. We are so going to beat those little black chicks! The malice in the voice makes me turn, looking for the source, but it could have been any one of the sleek, confident girls in front of me. Whoever said it does not notice that I have heard – either that, or she doesn’t care. They pay my team only the most cursory glances and carry on with their own warm up. The umpire, a short, powerful-looking woman with close-cropped hair, is in a huddle with the captain. She is clearly the coach, not just an impostor like me. I feel invisible. The match begins. It is fast, and at first I am overwhelmed, running to keep up with the ball when play is in my half, craning my head to see what is happening. The ball goes out and I blow my whistle, stand with one arm up and one out to the side, go through the motions. When play begins again I am relieved when the ball passes into the other half. But then one of my girls stumbles, reeling from a push. Another player’s glasses fall off as an elbow makes contact with her face. Play continues, and I wonder why the other umpire hasn’t blown up the offenders in her team. Someone catches the ball and passes it on, clearly out of bounds. Their goal attack shoves our goalkeeper away, so shamelessly that I gasp, and they score. For the first time since the ball went out on my side, the whistle blows and the girls return to the centre, my team looking at me in confusion. I don’t understand what is happening. It sinks in more slowly than it should: the other team is playing rough, and the coach is ignoring it. The rules mean that I am powerless; I cannot point out an error on her half. Play begins again. For a while we have an advantage and play moves to my half. One of their players obstructs a pass from one of ours, I blow the whistle and make her stand aside. But they defend with impressive skill and energy, careless of the rules. They are strong and fast, functioning as one mind, and before a minute has passed the ball has passed to the other side of the court. They seem to know there will be no repercussions for their behaviour, and the pushing and shoving continues. Arms reach up in front of surprised faces, ponytails fly, they catch the ball and run before passing it on. The umpire does nothing. When my girls make an error she is quick to see and penalize, but she seems blind to what her team is doing. Play comes to my side of the court only a few times. I stand in the middle, my outrage growing. It is so blatant, so mean, so unfair! When Mbali goes flying after a blatantly illegal jump, I can’t be still any more. Her teammates help her up as she wipes the blood dripping from her knee with her hand. I blow my whistle. That was contact, I say, feeling heat rise to my face. Are you seriously allowing that? This is my half, says the woman. She is instantly defensive, even angry. You can’t blow for my half. She flicks her hand, dismissing me. I know, I say, helplessly. But – She walks away, blowing her whistle to restart play, drowning me out. All right, I think. Just you wait. Wait until your team want to score on my half. Let’s see how you like that. We score a few goals but they are in the lead by far. Mbali’s knee drips blood, and someone else is nursing a swollen finger. At half time they are furious, some teary and emotional. These girls are so rough, Ma’am! Did you see how that blonde one pushed me? My glasses are broken! Don’t worry, girls, I say. You keep on playing the way you know is right. We can’t beat them, Ma’am! It’s pointless! It’s not pointless, I say. They are breaking the rules and they know it. We must be better than that, even if we lose. They drink their water and eat the neat orange segments provided by the host school, brought to us on a paper plate by a sour-faced girl in a tracksuit. I take a deep breath. I am not confident about my umpire skills. I am not confident that I will see all the errors or that my instincts are quick enough to be entirely fair. I don’t love this part of my job at all – I would far rather be in a library or directing a play. But as I take up my position again, I clutch my whistle tightly in my hand and I know that this is just another way that being a teacher is more than the subject or the sport. I am their defender. I am their example. Right now I stand between my girls and humiliation, and I will not lose my nerve. The next twenty minutes are a whirlwind. I run, I blow my whistle, I raise my arms, I shout out the words. I stop play five times before anyone scores a goal. No one gets away with obstruction, contact, shoving or hair-pulling. A red-haired girl with smudged mascara leaps up and down in front of our shooter like a crazed cheerleader, trying to put her off, but the minute she crosses the line I blow and she is penalised, standing quietly beside our girl like a kid in the naughty corner as the ball flies seamlessly up and through the hoop. I am tough as nails; I take no prisoners. I even mediate a toss-up when an out-of-bounds decision is not clear. My girls are not spared either; in their eagerness to win they are making mistakes too. We score more than we did in the last half, but they are too much. When the time is up there are no more skinned knees or broken glasses, but they have won by more than a few points. My girls shake hands and congratulate as they have been taught. The other team accepts the handshakes and grunt a few thank yous but they are too busy high-fiving each other, making a show of their victory, glaring hairy eyeballs at me. I do not react; I have only enforced the rules and they know it. The coach disappears and I have to ask one of the players to find her to sign my match form. When she returns she shoves the paper into my hand without saying a word. Back in the car, we get out the first aid kit and mop up knees and elbows. The broken glasses are put away, their owner concerned that her mother will be angry. Thanks Ma’am, says Mbali, as I pull out of the school, wincing as she moves her bandaged knee. The traffic is going to suck and I have a headache from all that concentrating. I reach over and pat her arm. You did good, I say. You did your best. She shrugs. That school is always a challenge, she says. You guys were the better team, I say. I’m proud of you. She nods, looking at me sideways. I know. There are different kinds of winning, right? I smile, thinking of how nervous I was at the beginning, so worried about looking amateur, about making mistakes and embarrassing myself. She lifts up her phone as we halt at a traffic light, snapping a selfie. Later she posts it on the group chat, and as I sit down at last at home that evening I see it. Every girl is smiling, arms around each other, fingers twisted into heart signs. I am there too, my face a sweaty, pale smudge in the corner. The caption: #winning! I listen to my husband tell me about his day in the corporate world and although I am tired, although the day wasn’t pleasant I am glad that I was there with them today. Tomorrow I will get into my yellow golf, make my way through the traffic and stand in front of my classes. There will be conflicts and unpleasantness and sadness. There will be “aha” moments and laughs and celebrations. I will teach, and I will learn. My door will be open, and so will my heart. I will be there for them. I will advocate for them. I will be a little light in the murky maze of obstacles and hurdles they must navigate every day. #winning, kids, I think, as I lean my head against my husband’s shoulder and thank God I don’t have to do his job. We can so do this.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Alex on the Edge Extras

A short piece for you today, written before Alex was published. This one is a little story from Jill's high school days, about an event that shaped some of what happens in the novel. I can't remember why I wrote it, perhaps to reach into Jill's character a little more deeply. It's interesting to me, as I work on the sequel to Alex, how defined her character is in my mind. It doesn't work like this with all my characters, but I usually know exactly what Jill will think or do in any situation! I have one from Alex's perspective to post next, also from his high school days.

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.