I rushed out of the classroom and into the open courtyard where basketballs were flying everywhere and the smell of a hot cafeteria lunch drifted across the campus. My best friends Molly and Maya (they're twins) and Josephine waved at me.
"Hey guys," I said casually, biting into a chicken and pesto panini, "you know that history project on the second world war? It's crazy! Fifteen pages in just three days? You've got to be kidding me." Maya groaned.
"You know guys, why don't you all come over to my place after school. We can exchange research and it'll make this whole project a lot easier," I suggested.
Everyone murmured in agreement and we hiked up the hill to my house.
I live on the Peak, so by the time we got there, we were exhausted and dying for the cool blasts of air conditioning.
"Hold on a sec, let me just collect the mail," I said.
I flipped through the assortment of envelopes and postcards. There were bills and a card for my mum from my aunt in Colorado. The usual. I sighed and went back to my friends. As I approached them, I tripped over a small stone in our garden and sent the letters flying. Everyone rushed to pick them up.
"Thanks guys," I said wearily. I had slept so late working on the project and I was dead tired.
"Hold on," said Josephine, "what's this? It's addressed to you, Alice."
I frowned. I never got letters unless it was my birthday or Christmas. Josephine handed me a brightly coloured envelope on which was written "Congratulations" in big, bold letters. There was no return address. Shrugging, I opened it. It contained a glittery orange card, tickets and money.
"That looks cool," said Maya, "but who's it from?"
Minutes later we were huddling inside my bedroom examining the mysterious letter.
"Read the card, Alice."
I picked it up and started reading: Dear Alice, You have won! We have sent your prize - a trip to Hawaii! Included are your plane tickets, hotel key and money for eating and spending. Oh, and a taxi will be waiting outside your house at 9am. Don't be late.
There was no signature.
"I don't understand," I said. "I haven't entered any competition!"
I looked up at the others. They seemed equally puzzled. I shook the envelope. Everything fell out. I saw a taxi call-card with a number on it, tickets and US dollars. Great timing, I thought. The summer holidays start on June 15 and the trip was from the 16th to the 20th.
"These look real enough to me," I said. I was dreaming about golden sand, sun, swimming in crystal clear waters and getting a tan when, suddenly, Molly poked me.
"You aren't really planning to go, are you?"
"Well, why not?"
She looked angrily at me and said, "You can't trust these people! It's probably some stupid scam. It's dangerous and you could ..."
She droned on and on. Suddenly I got frustrated. You see, I want to be a marine biologist when I grow up and I've always wanted to go to Hawaii and look at the sea life there.
"Well, then how come they know my name? It can't be a scam!" I shot back.
"Don't go," admonished Josephine.
Maya joined in. "Stop being stupid, Alice, there's no such thing as a free lunch."
I lost my temper. "Stop it!" I shouted. "You guys aren't my parents, so stop telling me what to do. You're all just jealous because you haven't won the trip to Hawaii and your parents wouldn't dream of going there because all of you are poor."
The words flew out of my mouth before I had a chance to think.
"Oh gosh, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean a word of that."
I tried to apologise, but it was useless. Maya, Molly and Josephine got up, ready to leave.
"You're just another one of those rich kids, aren't you? You think you're better than anyone else," Maya screamed.
"I-I'm so sorry. Please, don't go," I stammered.
I had never been so embarrassed. Ever since Molly and Maya's dad lost his job last year, they had been in a terrible financial situation.
They stormed out of the room and I looked at Josephine.
"You should have kept your mouth shut," she said coldly and slammed the door.
The next day, at school, they gave me the cold shoulder. Back home, I longed to call my friends, but knew I had none. They were right; I was stupid.
Suddenly, I noticed the orange, glittery card from yesterday under my bed. I picked it up slowly and then turned on my iMac and googled Hawaii and the hotel name, which was printed on the letter. It looked fabulous. The hotel was ritzy and glamorous and the view was stunning. I made up my mind. I was going and nobody would stop me.
Thirty websites later, I was ready. I knew my parents would never in a billion years let me go, so I decided to write a note to say I was going camping with Molly, Maya and Josephine. I knew they would approve because they were always nagging me about doing outdoor exercise.
They always sleep late on the weekends, so I planned to take a taxi to the airport, board the plane and be on my way to Hawaii before they knew I was gone. It was the perfect plan - or so it seemed.
Hours passed, then days. But soon it was D-Day! I'd packed everything, kissed my parents goodnight and set my alarm clock for 8.30am. I got up slowly, walked quietly down the cold marble stairs and made myself a breakfast of Coco Pops and milk. Every second was an hour. I thought I would have a heart attack.
I could hear the noise of tyres crunching on the gravel. I tiptoed quietly out of the house. With the envelope in one hand and my iPhone in the other, I was ready to go. I got out the taxi call-card.
"Um ... Mr Liu?" I said to no one in particular.
They were right. This was a scam and I was crazy to believe it. But then a man did come out of the taxi.
"I am Mr Liu," he said in a deep voice, "and you must be Alice?"
He was one heck of a man, more than 1.8 metres tall, casting dark shadows on our driveway. With one shockingly meaty hand, he opened the door of the cab and gestured to me to sit inside. I was having some serious doubts. I tried to push the thoughts away. I can do this, I thought. I sat inside. It smelled like sweat, cigarettes and rotten tofu and I wanted to puke. We moved off, but after half an hour or so, he stopped the car and got out.
"Wait! We're not at the airport!" I told him. He didn't listen and lit a cigarette. I tugged at his shirt.
"Excuse me, sir, my card says you're to drive me to the HKIA." He just laughed. "Stupid girl! You really believed that? Ha ha!"
Then it dawned upon me and I realised what a fool I had been. I had fallen into this stranger's trap. I felt hot tears rise and fall. I wanted to go home, I wanted to disappear. I swallowed hard.
"What are you going to do with me?" I choked.
The big man just laughed again. "Come here, girl."
I snarled at him. I knew how to defend myself and I wasn't going to let him get away with this. He grabbed my arm and pulled it towards him, twisting it. I gasped in pain, but I wasn't going to give up that easily. I tried to wriggle free, but his grip was tight. I lowered my head and bit his arm. He screamed as the blood trickled down. He let go and I ran faster than I'd ever run before.
I could hear Mr Liu catching up. I cursed silently. Why hadn't I worn trainers?
"Because you were a fool and thought you were going to Hawaii, stupid girl," I said to myself.
I thought of my family panicking and that made me run harder. My vision blurred and I could taste the blood in my mouth. I was running that fast. I closed my eyes and just tried to get away.
By the time I heard the screech of brakes as the speeding car lurched around the corner, I realised it was too late.
Pain erupted like fireworks. The car banged against my hip and sent me flying. I landed hard on my back with my legs bent at a horrible angle. My whole body throbbed. I heard the couple in the car rush to my side and people shouting. I tried to open my eyes, but it was too much. A wave of darkness swept over me like lifeless waves crashing against the sand.
I woke up staring at a white ceiling. I was in a hospital. My legs were covered in two long plaster casts and my left arm - the arm that Mr Liu had grabbed - was in a sling. My body was in agony, and every time I moved, I wanted to throw up. It felt as if a million surfboards had fallen out of the IFC and landed on my legs. Jolts of pain ran down my spine every time I moved.
I should've listened to my friends. The words flashed like neon lights in my head.
I heard footsteps coming my way, but my head hurt too much to look behind. I heard voices. It sounded like Maya, Molly and Josephine. But that was surely impossible; they warned me, but I chose not to listen. Now they were coming towards me, touching the blanket, calling my name. They really were there!
"Oh my God, I'm so sorry," I croaked. I started crying. I tried to wipe my eyes, embarrassed, but my arm hurt so much I cried even more. Molly smiled at me, her expression kind.
"A couple found you. You had your eyes closed and you were running straight at their car. You were in an accident." Molly faltered, but Josephine picked it up.
"Then they called the ambulance. They said you passed out. They found your phone and called your parents, too. You were admitted to hospital straight away."
She patted my hand. "You broke your right knee and fractured your left leg in three places and you dislocated your hip. Your forehead was bleeding badly and you needed stitches. Your left elbow is badly sprained, too. And there's the internal bleeding. You know ... they didn't think you'd make it."
Because of my sheer stupidity, I would be stuck in hospital for the whole summer break. Maya gave me a sympathetic look. "I am really sorry, Alice. You don't deserve this."
I shook my head, and then winced. "No. I've been such a horrible, selfish pig and I'm so sorry," I murmured. "You guys have been so good to me and all I've done is hurt you. I'm sorry."
There was a brief moment of silence.
"We all know you didn't mean it, Alice, and it's over now. Let's forget it. The doctor says you'll get better soon and we'll start Year Nine together. We'll help you catch up with your schoolwork and we promise to visit you every day. Right, guys?" Molly and Josephine nodded.
I started crying again, but the tears were of happiness.
Friends are everything: linking the past, guiding you down the pathway of your future and driving you further; they are the oil that makes the rusty pedals of life turn smoothly.
Read the other entries to our 2012 Summer Story competition.
- The winning story, Eyes of the Departed, by 16 year old Lorenzo Chim
- Don't Mess with the Old by 13 year old Justin Yu
- All's Fair in Life and War by 15 year old Brandon Mok
- Dreams of fame turn to tragedy by 15 year old Chaang Vi Ka
- A love to remain forever unspoken by 15 year old Lorraine Ho
- The sad tale of a drowned ghost by 16 year old Gene Lin
- A prank goes out of control by 8 year old Anoushka Hemnani
- It will be spring by the time you awake by 15 year old Emily Archibald