Friday 13 January 2017

Rewriting Destiny - First four chapters

Read the first four chapters of Ridgemont University Book 4, Rewriting Destiny, below

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Chapter 1

Rain beat down on the roof of the speeding car. Kyle Abrahams could hardly see through the thick sheets that pummeled down on his windscreen as he maneuvered through the winding roads of the Ridgemont Valley. He had to get to Professor Greer’s house as soon as possible, even though it was already the middle of the night. Kyle couldn’t wait another second to share the incredible news with his supervisor.
Kyle’s heart was racing furiously, and his short, curly black hair was plastered on his wet. The red t-shirt Kyle was wearing stuck to his chest in big, darkened blotches. He hadn’t even taken a second to grab a jacket or an umbrella as he ran out of the main building of the Ridgemont University Academy for Experimental Science and Technology. Kyle’s mind was only on one thing: get to Prof Greer house as soon as possible. The results of his latest experiment were so mind-blowing that Kyle had been in a frenzy. He couldn’t wait to see the look on Prof Greer’s face. Their hard work had finally paid off.
Kyle squinted his honey-brown eyes in the dark night. The roads leading into the luxurious homes around the Ridgemont Valley were not well-lit; Kyle wished that he could push down on the accelerator even more, but he had to be safe. He wiped droplets from his sharp cheekbone, his deep caramel skin glistening. Kyle’s right hand clutched the steering wheel tightly as he navigated the empty road in the rain. His mind was racing almost as fast as the car was going. There were so many possibilities now that he could prove that his algorithm worked. He couldn’t even fully wrap his mind around it yet. But he knew that it meant that he would be joining the ranks of the scientific greats. No one would be able to deny that this was one of the most groundbreaking accomplishments in modern science and technology.
Kyle finally pulled up to Prof Greer’s house as the rain was still hammering onto the roof of his car. He grabbed the thick stack of files on the passenger’s seat and clutched them to his chest as he ran out onto Prof Greer’s beautifully manicured lawn. Kyle rushed to the front door of the large, face-brick house and found some shelter under the front patio’s covering. Kyle was breathing heavily, his heart racing. He felt like he was about to explode from excitement. Kyle knocked loudly and rang the doorbell he found next to the large, ornamental wooden door. If Prof Greer had any idea what Kyle had just accomplished, he would’ve been at the door in seconds, Kyle thought. He tapped his foot impatiently, and finally, after almost a minute of waiting, he saw lights go on in the house.
Prof Greer opened the door, wearing only a skimpy sleeveless t-shirt and red silk briefs. Kyle was taken aback. Prof Greer’s dark hair had wisps of grey, and his strong, masculine jawline was clenched into a frown. Prof Greer’s green eyes scanned Kyle in confusion. “What are you doing here at this time of night, Kyle?” he demanded.
“Prof, I have to show you something right now. Believe me, you want to see this. Have you been watching the final election results for the mayoral race tonight?” Kyle pushed right past his professor into the house, feeling the bulging, tanned arms of the handsome older man brush against him as he passed. Kyle felt a shiver run up his spine. No time to think about how hot his professor was right now, he decided. The news he brought was far too exhilarating.
Prof Greer closed the door and followed Kyle into the living room, where Kyle had already grabbed the TV remote and was flipping through channels until he found the live election results. Prof Greer said, in his deep, stern voice: “I watched some of it before I went to sleep. It’s almost 2 in the morning, Kyle. I didn’t know you cared about politics that much, and I think we could have waited to talk about the results in the morning…”
Kyle spun around to look at Prof Greer, incredulous, and said: “This isn’t about the results, Prof. I mean, it is about the results. Just let me show you. Where’s your laptop? I need to get into my emails.”
Prof Greer looked mildly irritated with Kyle’s bluntness, but Kyle didn’t have the patience to worry about being annoying at that moment. Once Prof Greer saw what Kyle’s algorithm was able to do, all of his annoyance would disappear. Kyle was sure of it.
Prof Greer got his laptop from his study and set it up on the living room coffee table next to the TV. Kyle sat down in front of the laptop and logged into his emails, Prof Greer standing over his shoulder to see what he was on about. Kyle felt the heat from Prof Greer’s body radiate over his shoulder. He suddenly realized that he was still wet from the rain, and felt bad about sitting on Prof Greer’s expensive chair. But Prof Greer was clearly realizing just how important Kyle’s news was, as he stared transfixed at the laptop’s screen, waiting for the moment of revelation.
Kyle immediately cringed when his emails opened. There were a lot of emails from a gay dating site, and Kyle just hoped that Prof Greer wasn’t paying attention to those. He opened an email that he had sent himself the day before, with an attachment called “Paul’s Predictions”. Kyle turned to Prof Greer and said: “Look at the date and time that I sent this email to myself. Yesterday morning at 9.15 a.m. Now look at the TV. This election was insanely close. None of the polls could definitively say who would be elected mayor of Ridgemont, and in fact, the winner, Miriam Charles, was behind in all of the most recent polls. She won with 52.9 percent of the vote. Three days ago, when I configured the new variables for Paul, I asked him who would be elected mayor…”
“Did you say you asked him?” Prof Greer asked, smiling. “You’re talking about a computer program like it’s a person, now.”
Kyle bit his lip and averted his eyes. It was true that he had been spending a lot of time with the program they called Paul. In fact, he felt like he was starting to have conversations with it, and it wasn’t the first time that Kyle had slipped up and called Paul ‘him’. “Just a slip of the tongue, Prof,” Kyle said. “Anyway, it took Paul seventeen hours to calculate the answer. The new variables I added can look at people’s public social media updates to add to the accuracy of predictions. There are now over five thousand variables Paul uses, and he’s… I mean, it’s adding more all the time thanks to its artificial intelligence. Look at what Paul’s prediction was…” Kyle clicked on the file and he immediately felt Prof Greer’s breathing stop. Kyle looked back to see his professor staring at the screen with wide eyes and his mouth open. He scanned through the results and turned his attention back and forth from the TV to the laptop’s screen, looking completely dumbfounded.
“Let me see the date of the email again. There has to be some way… If this is real…” Prof Greer couldn’t string a full sentence together. There, on the screen, in the email that Kyle had sent to himself the day before the elections had even taken place, were the exact same results as those shown on the TV screen: Miriam Charles elected mayor with 52.9 percent of the vote. Amazingly, Paul had even predicted the exact percentage takes of each of the other candidates. Prof Greer looked floored. “That’s very impressive, Kyle,” Prof Greer said when he finally got his bearings again. “It’s a major accomplishment. It looks like you’ve been able to make Paul’s predictions much more accurate. Show me the files on the new variables.” Kyle handed the folders he had carried from his car to Prof Greer. Prof Greer looked over the large stack of files carefully. Some of the pages were damp with rain, but Prof Greer didn’t even seem to notice. He was completely blown away by what Kyle was showing him. As he read through the files, Prof Greer said, without turning to face Kyle: “Of course, we’ll have to verify all of this in the morning, and see what kinds of predictions Paul can really make. But what I’m seeing here is astounding.” Prof Greer flashed Kyle an enthusiastic smile. Kyle still couldn’t completely wrap his mind around any of it. He had never expected Paul to be that accurate. His mind was spinning, and he could see in Prof Greer’s eyes that he was considering the same possibilities: as amazing as Paul was, it could also be incredibly dangerous, and its power could be seriously abused if it fell into the wrong hands.
Prof Greer said: “I trust I don’t have to tell you to keep this all to yourself, Kyle. There is far too much at stake if any of this gets out, and we’re not even sure yet if Paul really works. Can I count on you to be discrete?”
Kyle nodded immediately: “Of course, Prof. I’ll see you in the morning so that we can go through my notes together and try and think of some more tests for Paul. I haven’t slept much for the past few days. I’ve just been so pumped to see if the new variables would make Paul better. I hope I can sleep after this…”
Kyle stood up and walked to the front door, leaving his files for Prof Greer to go through. Prof Greer said: “You deserve some rest. This is excellent work.” A glint of something strange flashed in Prof Greer’s eyes, and Kyle got the impression that he wasn’t completely happy with what he had seen. Was he just worried about what it all meant? Was he angry with Kyle for using new variables without first running them by his supervisor? Kyle decided to ignore it. This was a great moment, and he didn’t need to be bogged down by paranoia.
Kyle walked back to his car as the rain finally died down. He looked out to see the lights of the university buildings in the distance, down the winding road. It felt like a moment of triumph, staring out at the sleeping campus. This was how Kyle would finally achieve greatness. This was his path to glory.
He drove home with a million thoughts buzzing through his mind. Even though Prof Greer had sworn him to secrecy, Kyle would have to at least tell his best friend, Riana, about what had happened. And surely, asking Paul a few questions of his own wouldn’t be that bad if he kept it quiet. Prof Greer would never have to know.
Kyle made his way back to the outskirts of Ridgemont University, seeing the magnificent buildings designed in French architectural styles. There were Greek pillars in front of some of the academic buildings, and a large, lavish student hall and library. In the distance, Kyle could see the rugby stadium, with the towering floodlights and a giant billboard advertising the current rugby tournament’s matches. A picture of the Ridgemont University rugby team’s star players stood proudly on the billboard next to the match dates. As Kyle drove past the billboard, he saw the smiling face of the rugby captain staring down at him: Marshall de Villiers. Marshall was handsome and one of the most popular guys on campus, and he had led the Ridgemont team to many rugby victories. Kyle felt a tinge of jealousy. It was so easy for star athletes to find fame and glory, and flaunt their accomplishments. And Kyle had to keep his major accomplishment, Paul, a secret. Kyle wanted to get some of that attention for himself, and be admired the way that Marshall de Villiers was admired. Maybe he could ask Paul for some predictions that he could use to impress people. Maybe, if he could show Marshall what he could do, he could steal just a little bit of the spotlight from the rugby star. Kyle drove to his apartment with a satisfied smile on his face, energized by all of the possibilities.

Chapter 2

The sun was blazing down on the field as the crowd cheered for the teams in the semi-final of the annual intervarsity cup. The Ridgemont University team members all huddled around their coach, beads of sweat dripping from their faces, their taut muscles rippling in the sunlight. Coach Barker, the slightly overweight, middle-aged man who had been a professional rugby player himself in his youth, was trying his best to hide his frustration. His balding, tanned head was turning redder in frustration. Coach Barker could rarely hide his emotions when the team was struggling to win a match. “I need you all to remember the plays we practiced. We need to come together as a team now. Get the ball to Marshall so that he can push through their defenses.” Coach Barker’s breathing was so heavy that he looked like he was about to pass out.
“We’ve got this, Coach!” Marshall de Villiers called out, and clapped his hands rhythmically in an effort to drum up the enthusiasm of his teammates. Marshall was tall, with broad, muscular shoulders that he used effectively when his team was locked in a scrum. His dashing, boyish dimples, large brown eyes and velvety, bronze skin made him the object of many flirtatious glances. His short, wavy black hair was neatly combed with just a flare at the front to frame his face. As Marshall towered over his teammates, he knew that it would be his job to motivate them to close the gap. The Ridgemont team was trailing by two points, and they only had a minute left in play time. Marshall turned his head slowly to look at each player staring back at him: “It’s the quarter-final. We’ve beat this team before, so we know we can do it. All we have to do is focus on this one play. We’ve worked hard and I know we’re the best team in this tournament. We just have to go out there and show them what we’re made of. What do you say?”
The teammates roared in agreement, some even applauding Marshall’s inspiring words. Coach Barker looked relieved that Marshall was able to rouse the team, who had been struggling against the vastly improved University of the Free State team that faced off against them in the semi-final. Coach Barker looked up at Marshall and nodded in thanks, and the team trotted back to the center of the field, ready for action.
Marshall was staring into the face of a menacing UFS student with a missing front tooth. The player was giving him a sideways smile, and Marshall felt a lump in his throat. He hadn’t been prepared for the challenge that UFS was putting up, and was regretting the fact that he had underestimated them. A few weeks before the tournament, in a friendly match, the Ridgemont team had thrashed the UFS team in a 34-15 victory. Now, the teams were in a close finish, with UFS ahead 25-23. If Marshall could somehow get through their hulking defenses, he could score a try and lead his team to victory.
Marshall turned to face his teammate, Reinhardt, just before the whistle was blown. Reinhardt gave Marshall a reassuring smile, and mouthed the words: “You’ve got this.” Reinhardt’s delicate, almost feminine features and fully, rosy cheeks were always reassuring. His blond hair that hung over his ears and forehead made him a strange fit for a rugby field, but his extremely muscular physique showed that he was made to play the sport. Reinhardt was a good friend of Marshall’s, and idolized Marshall for his rugby prowess. Marshall felt pressure not to disappoint Reinhardt, and turned back to face the oafish UFS guy with the missing tooth as he heard the sound of the whistle signal that play would resume.
The guys pushed into a scrum, holding onto one another’s shoulders as the ball was held just outside. Marshall could feel the rock-like muscles of the other guys and smell the pungent sweat of a swarm of young men after almost ninety minutes of play. As the second whistle sounded, the ball was thrown into play and the teams fought in the scrum to secure possession of the ball. Marshall pushed as hard as he could, thrusting his shoulders against the guy in front of him, and finally he felt the ball below him. He kicked it out to the teammate waiting patiently behind the scrum, Quinton, and like lightning Quinton was racing off past the opposing team’s players. Marshall took a second to find his feet, and quickly sprang into action, zipping past the UFS players as they tried to stop his approach towards their goal line. Marshall turned to the scoreboard and saw the timer: only twenty second left on the clock. He saw Quinton with the ball, about to be tackled by a particularly large and aggressive UFS flyhalf.
“Pass this way, Quinton! He’s going to take you out!” Marshall shouted. Quinton ignored him and tried to sidestep the guy, but he was knocked back in a dangerous tackle. Marshall shook his head and cursed under his breath, but pushed forward. He was shocked that the referee wasn’t giving a penalty for such a harsh tackle, but all he could do was try to get the ball again after Quinton’s selfish mistake. He came up to the aggressive player who had tackled Quinton and went for the ball, and a devilish look in the UFS guy’s eye made Marshall pause for just a second. He ducked just as the player swung his elbow and almost hit Marshall in the face. Luckily, Marshall was at the perfect angle to pluck the ball from the player’s hand, and the risky move from the UFS player had cost him the ball. Marshall grabbed it quickly and ran for the goal line, feeling the wind push past his face. He could hear the thunderous footsteps of the UFS defenders as they chased after him, trying to get possession of the ball again. Marshall could see the line only ten feet away, but suddenly felt a hand pull at his shirt. A penalty for sure, Marshall thought, but the guy couldn’t grab a hold of Marshall, and he managed to slip by. It was happening! He was about to get there.
Reinhardt’s voice called out behind Marshall: “Don’t stop! Only three seconds left!” Marshall powered on, running as fast as his legs could carry him. Suddenly, a deafening silence descended on the entire stadium as everyone held their breath to see if Marshall would make it in time. It felt like time stood still, and Marshall closed his eyes as he zipped past the last defender and gasped deeply…
“Ridgemont University wins the semi-final match!” the announcer shouted out. Marshall could hardly hear the announcement. In an instant he was hoisted up in the air by his teammates. He finally came back to reality and realized that the match was over, and they had won. He had scored the winning try and ensured that the Ridgemont University team would be in the finals of the intervarsity cup!
Marshall felt a hundred hands on him, tapping his shoulders in congratulations and fighting to get their chance to shake his hand. He felt happy that the match was over, and he was glad that he could help to carry his team to victory, but in the chaos of the moment he sighed deeply. Even though he was the star of the team, he often hated the attention.
The teams respectfully shook hands and eventually left the field, and Marshall saw a brightly smiling face in the sea of people coming over to congratulate him: his father, Lionel, walked over to Marshall, looking so proud he could burst. Lionel was only in his mid-40s but his hair was completely grey and he looked years older than he actually was. A sporting injury in his youth had taken a lot of the wind from his sails, and for Marshall’s whole life he had always thought of his father as an old, rickety man. But Lionel was very well-respected by everyone in their community, and had sacrificed a lot to make Marshall’s life better. He had worked as an electrician for years, saving as much as he could so that Marshall could study at Ridgemont. He had taken Marshall to rugby training since Marshall was eight-years-old, and Marshall could see how much joy it brought Lionel to see him doing so well. Marshall pushed aside any conflicting emotions and hugged his father.
Lionel said: “That was excellent, my boy! You were fantastic on the field. I just want you to work on your scrum a bit more. But we can talk about that tomorrow. For now, I just want you to know that I’m so proud of you. When I watch you on that field…” Lionel’s voice started to shake and he almost broke into tears. Marshall was moved by how proud his father was, but at the same time he felt guilty. Lionel had always dreamed of seeing Marshall become a professional rugby player, but Marshall wasn’t so sure that it was what he wanted.
“Thank you, dad. I should get to the showers. The team is celebrating with a party tonight. I’ll see you afterwards. I won’t be back too late, okay?”
“Go and have fun, son. I’ll see you at home. I love you.”
Marshall gave a soft smile and ran after his teammates towards the locker room. He had to have a serious talk with his father, but the fear of disappointing him was overwhelming. All Marshall wanted to do was be the son his father wanted him to be, but he felt like his heart was pulling him in another direction.
In the locker room the rest of the team were already taking showers and getting changed. Coach Barker was congratulating them on their victory, but the team members were only half-listening. Marshall found Reinhardt at his locker, and started to remove the sweaty, muddy rugby gear to get ready for his shower. Reinhardt was already shirtless, and his large chest was rippling with sweat. “Great work out there, Marshall!” Reinhardt said. “I don’t know where we’d be without you. I just hope that someday I can be as good a rugby player as you are.” Marshall smiled at Reinhardt’s child-like innocence and sincere admiration. It was good to have a friend who was so loyal.
Marshall pulled off his shirt, exposing his bronze torso. His body was leaner than Reinhardt’s, but the tight, compact muscles showed that he was equally strong and was a formidable force in a scrum. Marshall had a light scattering of hair on his chest and a trail leading down his belly. Reinhardt eyed his body flirtatiously.
Marshall was well aware that Reinhardt had feelings for him, but Marshall only saw him as a friend. Even though knew that Reinhardt was attractive, he sensed that Reinhardt was more interested in idolizing him as a rugby player, rather than seeing him as anything else, and it could get slightly annoying at times.
Suddenly, Marshall felt a hard knock against his shoulder, and saw Quinton’s sneering face next to him. “Watch where you’re standing!” Quinton scowled, his bushy eyebrows flaring with anger.
“What’s your problem, Quinton?” Marshall shot back, trying to maintain his cool. Quinton had always been a nuisance to Marshall, ever since Marshall was made captain of the team. Even though he was a good player, Quinton often made some costly mistakes on the field, like not passing the ball to Marshall and losing possession to the UFS player. Marshall knew that Quinton wanted to be made captain instead, and his bad attitude really made Marshall’s blood boil.
Reinhardt reached out to grab Marshall’s arm, trying to calm him: “Leave him, Marshall. He’s not worth it.”
Quinton walked away looking smug and self-satisfied as Reinhardt and Marshall watched him go. Reinhardt tried to reassure Marshall with a broad smile. “He’s just jealous. You know that right. When you’re at the top, there’s always someone who wants to knock you down. Don’t let him get to you.”
Marshall shrugged, “I’ll be okay. It’s just irritating how he doesn’t stop with me.”
“Ready to hit the showers?” Reinhardt asked, raising his eyebrow at Marshall. Marshall nodded and removed his shorts and underwear, exposing his perfectly round butt. Reinhardt did the same, and Marshall caught a glimpse of his friend’s body. “I’ll need you to wash my back for me again. You know I struggle to reach back there.”
The guys hit the showers and lathered up, Marshall helping Reinhardt wash the strong, broad back. Marshall felt the weight of the day descend on him, and remembered his father’s proud expression. He wondered if there was ever a chance that he could talk to his father about pursuing a life outside of rugby.
Marshall said, still gently rubbing a loofah over Reinhardt’s back: “Can I ask you something?”
Reinhardt nodded in agreement, “Of course. Anything for you, Marshall.” Reinhardt’s blond hair was plastered to his face as he turned around to give Marshall a warm smile. The soap suds were dripping down the contours of Reinhardt’s back and his ample butt. Marshall tried to avoid looking.
“Do you ever feel like you’re not really in control of your life? Like you’re just following a script, and everything’s already planned out for you? Do you ever wish that you could just completely break free and do something totally… unexpected?” Marshall’s voice was soft and uncertain. He wanted to trust Reinhardt. They had been friends for almost two years, and Marshall really needed someone to talk to about all of the confusion he was feeling.
“What do you mean, Marshall? I think we’re both lucky to have the lives we have. I wouldn’t want anything to change. Why would you? You’re the rugby star of Ridgemont University. You’re a stud, and everyone wants to be with you… I mean… you know. What do you want to change, Marshall?”
Something in Reinhardt’s tone told Marshall that he would never understand. Of course, all anyone could think was that Marshall should be grateful. He was a talented rugby player. He had a bright future ahead of him, probably being picked for the provincial team in a few months if he trained hard enough. That was all he ever heard from Coach Barker and from his father. But what if he didn’t want any of it?
Marshall dropped the loofah and reached for a towel, stepping out of the shower. Reinhardt turned to face him with a deep crease between his eyes. “Did I say something wrong? Is there something you wanted to talk about?”
“No. I’m just being silly. I’ll get over it.”
“Good,” Reinhardt said, the smile returning to his face. “We can’t have our champion player get distracted by his thoughts.” Reinhardt winked at Marshall, and Marshall faked agreement as he went back to his locker and got dressed. He wished that there was someone who could understand what he was going through. Maybe he just needed to de-stress, he thought. They Meyers twins’ party that night, celebrating the semi-final win, would be a good place to unwind.

Chapter 3

Kyle’s best friend Riana sat on the passenger’s seat of Kyle’s car nervously fidgeting as Kyle pulled up to the Meyers twins’ house. “Are you sure we should be here,” she asked, adjusting her large spectacles on her nose. Riana had dark freckles on her cheeks which she had tried to cover up with makeup, and she had tied her hair into a ponytail. It was her best attempt at dressing up, since she hardly ever went to parties.
Kyle rolled his eyes playfully. “Come on, Riana, we deserve to party sometimes too. We spend way too much time at the Academy. Besides, I have something to show you at the party. Let’s see if we can make some waves.” Kyle was looking particularly stunning. He wore a striped blue collar shirt and tight black jeans. His hair was styled into short spikes with gel, and he wore a bit too much deodorant, just to be sure. He was excited; this was finally his chance to be the center of attention with the most popular students on campus. The Meyers twins were campus legends, always throwing the most elaborate parties. They were both drop-dead gorgeous, almost identical with their soft brown hair and alluring, delicate features. Both twins were also athletic, with Eli on the gymnastics team and Jan one of the Ridgemont rugby players. Being invited to their parties was a surefire ticket into the inner circle of the gay elite of Ridgemont. Of course, Kyle and Riana weren’t actually invited to the party, but that didn’t stop them. Kyle had convinced Riana, a fellow master’s student at the Ridgemont Academy for Experimental Science and Technology, to join him at the party so that he could show off the new software that he had developed. Riana wasn’t sure how software would impress a bunch of undergraduate partygoers, but she often found it hard to say no to Kyle’s whims. He could be persistant when he had a brainwave that he needed to pursue.
“It’s just not really my scene,” Riana said, but Kyle was already getting out of the car and she realized that her resistance was futile. She followed Kyle out of the car and joined him as he stood staring at the double-story house which was pumping with music.
“Just trust me, Riana. Have I ever led you astray before?” Kyle said, flashing his persuasive smile.
“Well, there was the time you convinced me that your new zero-calorie chocolate would be a good dieting alternative. I don’t think I need to remind you how long I had to stay home with an upset stomach.”
Kyle giggled. “Yeah, that was a rather… smelly mistake of mine. I guess food isn’t supposed to be zero calories. Worth a try though. And the chocolate at least tasted good, right?” Kyle grabbed Riana’s sweaty palm and led her towards the door. “Let’s just go inside. It’s not like they’ll chase us away or something.
“I’m coming. No need to rush me,” Riana huffed. She looked around nervously as she followed Kyle to the doorway.
Kyle finally felt his own nerves start to boil over. He looked at his phone just before pressing the doorbell. On his home screen was an app called “Paul”. He had managed to route Paul’s interface through his phone and converted it into an app, so he could ask Paul questions on the go. If he kept the questions simple enough, Paul could usually calculate responses within a few minutes. If it worked, he would be able to really make an impression.
No one answered the door after almost a minute, and Riana looked increasingly impatient. “Maybe we should just go,” she said, almost pleadingly.
“Nonsense,” Kyle retorted, and opened the door to let himself in. He was greeted by loud music and dozens of students playing drinking games and chatting jovially in the house’s entrance hall and living room. Kyle saw the rugby players all celebrating their victory and being praised by the guys and girls around them. Wait ‘til they see what I can do, he thought.
Kyle walked into the kitchen and grabbed two open beers that he saw on a counter, passing one to Riana. “Drink this and let’s try and socialize a bit. It’s not time to break out my secret weapon yet.”
Riana reluctantly took the beer with a look of disgust, and took a small sip. She eyed her surroundings cautiously, and remarked: “These guys are so hot! Look at the captain over there. Yummy!”
Kyle turned his gaze back towards the living room. At the far end, near the sliding doors leading to the pool, was Marshall de Villiers. He was strikingly handsome, and Kyle was taken aback by seeing him after so much time. Kyle and Marshall had started high school together at West Park Boys’ High School, but Kyle had skipped two grades and hadn’t seen Marshall since he had started studying at Ridgemont. Now, Marshall was a sophomore and Kyle was already doing his master’s. Kyle had forgotten just how handsome Marshall was, with his dimpled cheeks and smooth, caramel skin. It was strange seeing him again. For the past year, Marshall had gone on to become the captain of the Ridgemont rugby team, excelling at the sport and becoming a hero on campus. Rugby was like a religion at Ridgemont, and, along with swimming, it was the biggest and best-funded sport on campus. The rugby team walked around like royalty, getting lots of attention and being invited to all of the best parties. Kyle couldn’t help but feel a surge of jealousy pass through him at seeing how Marshall was being treated by the gaggle of students who were fawning over him as he spoke to them in the living room. Rugby stars had a much easier path to fame and glory than engineers or scientists.
“He’s okay,” Kyle responded to Riana lamely. “I don’t get all of the die-hard fans, though. Is it really that impressive to be able to run with a ball?”
Riana pursed her lips. “What Marshall de Villiers does isn’t just running with a ball. He’s an artist. You should watch the matches with me and you’d see.”
Kyle’s eyes creased. “Well, I went to school with him, and he seems to have become super arrogant since then. Not really the type of guy I would find attractive,” he lied. Kyle decided that it was time to try out using Paul. He motioned for Riana to follow him and walked over to a group of guys playing cards. The guys looked at Kyle suspiciously, but he ignored their icy reception and said: “How would you guys like to challenge me at blackjack? You can deal, and if you win…” Kyle dug into his pocket and pulled out a few crisp, blue notes,” ...this R500 is yours. I’ll start off with ten chips, and if all of them are gone, you take the money. But if I get to five hundred, I win. Deal?” Kyle started grabbing some of the blue poker chips that the guys had been playing with.
The guys smiled deliriously, and agreed. They shuffled the deck, and dealt a pair of cards to Kyle. Kyle focused his phone’s camera on the deck as the cards were dealt, and typed in a short message to Paul.
One of the guys looked confused, and asked: “What’s that? Asking your mom for help?” The guys laughed idiotically.
“Just calculating the possibilities. You don’t mind if I use a bit of science to help me, do you? The dealer still has the advantage, after all.” The guys seemed hesitant, but Kyle flipped through the money on the table. “No risk, guys. I’ll give you this if I lose, and if I win, you don’t need to give me anything.”
The hesitant guy smiled and said: “Sure, if you want to give away money, no problem!”
Kyle’s phone buzzed a few seconds later, and Paul returned the message: “Hit. 31% confidence.”
Kyle raised his eyebrow. Paul wasn’t very confident that he would win if he chose to take another card, but Kyle was determined to trust Paul and follow the instructions he gave. He had to know if Paul could really be as accurate as he suspected. Kyle put in one of his blue chips. “I’ll hit,” Kyle said. The guys laughed at his decision. Kyle had a king and a seven, and hitting would almost certainly cause him to go over 21. The dealer flipped over a card, and revealed a five. “Over! You lose!” the guy shouted. “Looks like we’re getting some cash tonight, boys!”
Kyle reeled in embarrassment. Was Paul letting him down? He would have to keep on going. He knew that Paul’s accuracy would increase every time more cards were played.
Another hand was dealt, this time a nine and a five. Kyle typed in his message to Paul and took a deep breath. Kyle’s logic told him that hitting was the best decision, but Kyle decided not to trust his own thinking. It would all be up to Paul.
“What’s there to think about?” Riana whispered over Kyle’s shoulder. “Just hit.”
“Shhh!” Kyle said. “I need to test out my program. Give it a chance.”
Paul returned a message that only read: “Stay. 55.6% confidence.”
Kyle took a deep breath, pushed in two chips, and said: “Stay.” He felt uneasy, but needed to be bold and make his point. The guys who were dealing the cards were laughing uproariously at that point, clearly thinking that they would see Kyle embarrass himself and lose R500. They turned over the dealer card and had a count of fourteen as well, and were forced to hit. When they turned over the next card, they were left in stunned silence. The next card was a jack, and the dealer was over the limit of 21.
“Lucky guess!” the guy shouted. He passed four chips back to Kyle, and a look of determination came over his face. “It doesn’t mean anything.”
After a few more hands, Kyle was amassing almost a hundred chips. Paul was right in every prediction after the first hiccup, and was consistently showing confidence levels of higher than 60 percent. A small crowd was starting to gather around Kyle as he kept on winning, and the guys whom he had challenged were looking increasingly annoyed. Every time he won a hand, Kyle could hear the loud gasps and whispers from the rest of the crowd. He did his best to hide Paul’s messages from prying eyes. He was proud of the fact that Paul was working so well. As Kyle scanned the room, he saw Marshall staring at him, those deep, big brown eyes growing larger with recognition and seeming to greet Kyle. Kyle just turned away. He loved the thought of Marshall seeing him be the center of attention for a change.
Soon, Kyle had 270 chips, and he pushed all of them to the center of the table. “All in, boys,” he said. “If I win this one, it’s over. If I lose, you take all of the money.”
The dealer had drops of sweat on his brow from frustration. “I don’t know how you’re doing this,” the guy said, “but it’ll be very bad for you once you lose this hand, you cocky bastard!”
Kyle just smiled and watched the cards land on the table. He had a pair of queens. There was no question of what he was supposed to do. But Kyle asked Paul just to be sure. When Paul responded with the message “Hit. 75% confidence,” a few seconds later, Kyle was torn. It would be completely idiotic to hit. Anything but an ace would mean that he lost the game, and he would be the laughing stock of the party. The guys at the opposite side of the table were leering at Kyle, already seeming to admit defeat with Kyle’s winning hand. All of their faces sunk when Kyle said: “Hit!”
Riana squealed loudly, and rushed to put her hand over her mouth as her cheeks turned red. She whispered into his ear, almost loud enough for others to hear: “What the hell are you doing, Kyle? Are you crazy? You’re so close to winning!”
“I have to trust my software, Riana,” he said, feeling his belly turn with nerves. He said to the guys, “I’m sure. Hit me!”
The guys were positively beaming as they pulled out the next card and placed it on the table. As the card fell, the entire room went silent. A hundred eyes were on the ace of spades that fell at the center of the table. No one even made a sound when they realized that Kyle had won. It was just too unlikely, almost spooky how accurate Paul had been.
“How did you do that?” the dealer finally asked, his face white as a sheet. “Is it a rigged deck? Or do you have some kind of x-ray vision on your phone? I saw you typing before every hand.”
“Well, if you really want to know,” Kyle said, clearly loving the fact that the room was in awe of what he could do, “I can predict the future. I knew which cards would come up before they were played.”
“Nonsense!” a girl behind Kyle exclaimed. “There’s no such thing as a psychic.”
“I agree,” Kyle responded. “It’s not psychic. It’s just science. Watch. Ask me something that you want to know, something that’ll happen pretty soon that you want to know the answer to.”
“Okay,” the girl said, smiling and pushing her thick brown hair over her shoulder. “My chemistry marks are being posted on the student portal tonight, in just a few minutes actually. What mark will I get?”
Kyle got the girl’s name and the class she was in, and typed the information into Paul. The girl furiously checked her phone to see if the marks had already been posted. Kyle’s phone buzzed a few tense moments later. No one in the room had moved; everyone was waiting to see if Kyle could actually predict the girl’s future. Kyle looked at the message from Paul: according to Paul, the girl would get a mark of 48% for the test. Kyle told the girl her results, and saw the look of annoyance on her face.
“Impossible!” the girl shouted. “I’ve been studying for weeks for that test. I felt great when I finished. There’s no way I failed it. Let’s take a look; the results were just posted.” The girl’s defiant smile soon turned into a frown and then a look of complete shock. “You’re… you’re right,” she said, and tears welled in her eyes as she stormed out of the room. Kyle almost felt bad, but the looks of astonishment around him more than made up for it.
“I’m sorry!” Kyle called out after the mortified girl. “Better luck next time!” After that, the students barraged him with requests. Nothing else mattered at the party for the rest of the night besides Kyle’s predictions, and he loved the feeling that he could impress so many people. There was just one person who didn’t seem to care about what Paul could do. Out of the corner of his eye, Kyle watched as Marshall slipped out of the sliding doors of the living room into the night, clearly not as amazed by Kyle’s program as everyone else was. Kyle had to find out why. He waved off the group of students who were still trying to ask him questions, and said that he needed to take a short break but that he would be back to answer more questions as soon as he could. Kyle went out after Marshall, ready to confront the high-school friend who he hadn’t spoken to in years.

Chapter 4

Marshall leaned against a wall outside in the courtyard of the Meyers twins’ home. He needed to be alone, to think about the tough decision he was facing. Besides, everyone at the party seemed way too enthralled with Kyle Abrahams, and there didn’t seem to be any point in hanging around inside. Marshall took a sip of his drink, taking a deep breath as the cool night air touched his skin. It was hard to play the part of proud rugby champion at parties, and Marshall was glad that he got the chance to take a break. There was a lot more to being the captain of the team than just playing a good game. Marshall also had to keep his team motivated and united, and he had to show up at all of the parties to make sure that no one caused any scandals that would cause Coach Barker any added stress. Marshall hated that he always had to be ‘on’.
It was also strange seeing Kyle again after all this time. Kyle had changed a lot. When Marshall had known him in high school, Kyle had been friendly and approachable. Now, Kyle hadn’t even greeted Marshall, and just looked away when Marshall tried to make eye contact earlier. Seeing Kyle was stirring up all kinds of confusing emotions in Marshall. Marshall had always admired Kyle, who was often an outsider at school. Kyle was way smarter than the other kids; everyone knew that. Some of the other guys would pick on Kyle, but Marshall always tried to defend him. He looked up to the way that Kyle was so unashamedly himself, never caring what anyone else said about him. Kyle loved science and he pursued his dream without hesitation, even when it wasn’t what everyone else thought of as cool. When Kyle skipped two grades, no one was surprised. His talent and genius was always far beyond his years. But Marshall was hurt that Kyle seemed to drift away from him, and that they had lost touch over the years. Marshall sighed, wondering what his life would’ve been like if he had followed his own dreams the way that Kyle had pursued science.
His thoughts were cut short by a deep voice in the dark: “You’re not impressed by the predictions? Not worthy of your time?” Kyle emerged from the darkness into the light of the small overhead lamp that Marshall was standing under. They were alone outside, and the music was muffled through the sliding door. Kyle had an angry expression on his face.
“Kyle! It’s good to see you!” Marshall said, and walked over to Kyle to give him a hug. As Marshall embraced Kyle’s lanky shoulders, he felt Kyle’s body stiffen and his hug was not returned. Marshall decided to brush it off. “We haven’t spoken in so long.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” Kyle said, seeming even more annoyed. “Are you too high and mighty to care about anything I do?”
Marshall creased his eyebrows and tilted his head sideways. “What are you talking about? It seemed very impressive, definitely. You just seemed to be getting a lot of questions. I figured you probably didn’t want another person nagging you, so I just slipped away for a bit.”
“Figures,” Kyle said, turning his head to the side. Kyle’s breathing was shallow, and Marshall realized that he had angered Kyle deeply for some reason. “You probably hate someone stealing the spotlight from you, right?”
Marshall took a step closer to Kyle, and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I have no idea where this is coming from. We haven’t even seen each other in so long. Maybe we should just talk about all of this. You seem really angry and I’m not sure why.”
“For once in my life, I’m the one getting all the attention. You were always the one who everyone adored. Even at school, you were the rugby prodigy that made all the other kids swoon. It must be great being so amazing, right?” Kyle’s voice was rising, and Marshall tried to reach out his hand to calm Kyle down, but Kyle pulled away.
“Kyle, you really have got this all wrong. I was jealous of you in school. You were a genius! You were making your dreams come true. And here you are doing great things with your life.”
“Don’t patronize me, Marshall! You have no idea what it feels like to be treated like you’re… irrelevant, like you don’t matter at all. Why would someone like you be jealous of me?” Kyle looked ready to storm away, and Marshall grabbed his arm to stop him.
“I’m not patronizing you. It’s a bit weird that you come here and shout at me when we haven’t even spoken in years. I’m not trying to hurt you, Kyle. I respect you. A lot. I’ve always thought of you as someone to look up to. I’m sorry if I’m not acting the way you want me to act. Maybe I just don’t believe that we can predict the future. It’s just weird to think that you’re a psychic all of a sudden.”
Kyle looked incredulous. “It’s got nothing to do with being a psychic! It’s science. Maybe that’s too much for a jock like you to understand.” Kyle’s expression seemed to immediately change to one of regret after his harsh words, but Marshall felt the words sting him deeply. Instead of pulling back on what he had said, Kyle only hesitated for a second before he doubled down: “Besides, I’m sure it’s not hard to predict your life anyway. People like you never do anything surprising. Loved by everyone, micromanaged in your perfectly orchestrated life, you’ll just end up being exactly what everyone expects. No psychic abilities needed to see that. And you’ll just look down on people like me, people who try and do something really great with their lives.” Kyle gave a satisfied grin, and Marshall felt his insides turn. How could Kyle be so cruel to him?
Marshall responded in a low voice, feeling defeated by Kyle’s onslaught: “Kyle, do you even know why I wanted to be friends with you in school? It’s because you didn’t care what anyone thought about you. But now, it looks like that’s all you care about. When we first started getting to know each other, I wanted to be like you. I wanted to be around you… There’s a lot more to me than you might think. Maybe I’m not as predictable as you make me out to be.” Marshall felt overcome with something in that moment. The memories of what Kyle had meant to him in high school mixed with the anger and frustration that he was feeling in the moment. How could someone that he had once admired so much, that he had once felt so connected to, be so cruel to him now? Marshall watched the shadows on Kyle’s face, the way that his sharp features and piercing, serious eyes bore into Marshall.
Suddenly, there was a sign of tenderness. Kyle’s expression became softer, almost sad, and Marshall could see that there was a lot more to Kyle’s anger than he had thought. Kyle’s eyes sank to the ground, his shoulders slackened, and he seemed defeated. He started to say, “I…” but before he could finish his thought, Marshall moved in and grabbed Kyle by the waist, pulling their bodies tightly together. Marshall was face to face with Kyle, seeing the soft stubble on his cheeks, seeing those brown eyes looking questioningly, uncertainly, at Marshall. Something was different. All of the things Marshall had projected onto Kyle, for all of the years they had known each other, came together in that moment. “What are you doing?” Kyle whispered.
“Surprising you,” Marshall said, and his lips met Kyle’s. Marshall put his hands on Kyle’s cheeks, feeling at first Kyle’s hesitation, and later his sweet return of the kiss. Passion exploded between them. Marshall’s hands were on Kyle’s body, those slender shoulders, his tight, thin waist, the strong chest. Kyle’s own hands were running over Marshall’s back, their hips grinding together. No words were needed. They were entranced.
Marshall broke the kiss softly, and immediately, gently planted another quick kiss on Kyle’s lips. Kyle looked like he was barely functional as he stared back at Marshall, like he couldn’t believe what was happening. And in an instant, Kyle snapped back to reality. “What… what?” he stammered. He pushed away from Marshall, a look of bewilderment coming into his eyes. Marshall felt suddenly stupid, like he had made a terrible mistake. Did Kyle not feel the same rush of emotions that he had felt?
Kyle rushed back into the house as Marshall watched him leave. How could he be so presumptuous? If Kyle had been mad at him before, this would surely be enough to make Kyle never speak to him again.


Kyle didn’t even stop to think, he just ran straight to the front door of the Meyers twins’ house, grabbing Riana’s hand along the way and telling her that they needed to leave immediately. Riana didn’t question it. The look of complete shock in Kyle’s eyes was enough to tell her that something intense had happened when he had spoken to Marshall. They left the party in a flash, and Kyle started his car as soon as they hit the seats. Before a single thought could pass through his head, Kyle was driving back towards Ridgemont campus.
“What happened, Kyle? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” Riana said, her voice high and her expression locked in a confused stare. She adjusted the large, bulky frames of her spectacles, which were askew on her nose from their hasty exit.
“It’s just… I don’t even know where to start. It was… completely… That wasn’t what I expected at all!” Kyle felt an adrenaline rush surge through him. Kissing Marshall had been incredible. He had of course fantasized about it for a long time. Marshall was incredibly hot. But there were all sorts of mixed emotions as well. Something about Marshall had really triggered Kyle into a frenzy of anger. Kyle realized that even though everyone else at the party was giving him the attention he craved, the only person he really wanted to impress was Marshall.
“You have to tell me what happened. And tell me about how you managed to make all of those crazy predictions tonight. You can’t keep me in the dark!” Riana said, her voice even more hysterical than before. Kyle’s erratic behavior was clearly getting to her. She wasn’t used to this much excitement on a Saturday night.
“Okay,” Kyle said, finally finding his composure. “Let’s go back to the Academy right now and I’ll show you what I’ve been working on. Maybe you can help me figure out this thing with Marshall too.” Kyle tried to focus his thoughts, but too much was happening. He had to confide in his best friend. She was the only person who could help him to get his thoughts in order when he became frantic with a new idea. Maybe it was time to tell her everything about Paul.

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