Makso and Hiroko wouldn’t be back for a while so he made the bold step of inviting Ildie to sit and share some of the home-made lemonade his mother always kept in the pool fridge.
“Come sit in the shade of the trees. How are you? This is such a wonderful surprise.” He was aware of the ice in his glass clinking as his hand shook nervously and he struggled to stop it.
He was also crushingly aware of the birth mark on his cheek. As if to cool himself, he put the drink up against it. Pressing the ice-cold glass to the unsightly mark made him feel that he could dissolve it, as he had so often wanted to do.
Amazingly she chose to sit beside him on the bench made for two, not on the chair opposite him as he had thought she would.
Her hair was loose today, tumbling over her shoulders like the jasmine tumbling over the wall, scenting the garden air.
She couldn’t have looked prettier with her simple cut-down jeans and white lace top. If only his pulse would stop racing.
He longed to look like his trendy cool friends, with their lazy swaggers. But he sat stiff and upright, aware he looked dusty and tousled from all that sweeping.
Ildie didn’t seem to notice.
“I have been thinking a lot about what you told me about your father. Neither of us knows what it is that he and Makso have become involved in, but I always think it is best to be forthright and honest in dealing with people. I have found that out through my own experience.”
She looked down, as if she were about to confess a secret.
“Mihovil, do you remember earlier this year? When we were queuing to go into the chemistry exam? I was terrified that I would fail. You comforted me; you were very kind. You know I so badly want to be a doctor and my parents are counting on me succeeding.
“Do you remember I said I felt sick? Mr Tudman took me aside and said I could have five minutes to lie down in the first-aid room and pull myself together before the exam started. He is the scariest of teachers; I’ve always been terrified he will tell me off.
“In fact, the reason I felt ill was because I had done a very bad thing. I’m ashamed now to tell you about it, and I will never do anything like it again. I’d written some chemical formulas on my wrist in ink, and I’d worn a long-sleeved cardigan to the exam. I was going to cheat.”
Ildie took a breath before continuing her story.
“Just as Mr Tudman was about to close the door of the first-aid room, I told him everything. It just poured out. I thought he would explode and expel me, but he was so different from his usual way of being.
“He said I had been silly, but by being brave enough to tell him, I had given myself another chance. He told me to go to the sink and wash the writing off.
“He was so nice, I couldn’t believe it. He said I was a model student and that I had learned everything I needed to. That I should have confidence in myself, not panic, and I would do well. Do you remember, I went in and I passed with top marks?”
“Yes, I do.” Mihovil smiled.
He had always thought Ildie was perfect and now he knew she was because she could face up to her mistakes and make things right, as well as being the most beautiful creature he had ever beheld. She was sitting very close to him; so close their thighs were touching.
“What I am trying to say to you is that secrets cause us troubles,” she said. “Also, that sometimes people who are powerful have a front that they put on, but that underneath they can be understanding.