We were collected from school at 10am on Saturday by a purple-painted minivan. The journey was the most boring thing in the world, James being quiet and brooding and the driver not seeming interested in his passengers in the least. This almost unbearable trip lasted something like two hours, and I was so relieved when we finally stopped at the Institute that I could’ve hugged the nearest passer-by.
Two people were standing there waiting for us. The first was Melanie, the second was a boy a little older than James and I. I found myself staring at the latter. There was something… radiant about him. With warm brown hair, golden tanned skin, deep blue eyes that seemed to twinkle like the sun’s reflection in moving water, he was a captivating sight. My mind tried to warn me that the captivation ran deeper than what I merely saw, which should’ve made me wary, but I pushed it away, opening the van door and stepping out, hoping the boy was another psychic kid at the Institute. When the boy noticed me, he broke out into a wide smile that made me feel slightly dizzy.
“Hey, there!” he said, striding forwards and proffering a hand. “I’m Ryley Orkal.”
I shook his hand shyly, forgetting how bored I’d been a moment ago because of the happiness in Ryley’s eyes, which I found myself slightly drawn into - perhaps against my will, but the sensation wasn’t unpleasant.
“Can I help you with your bags? It’s so exciting to meet the newbies.”
I felt myself smiling.
“That’s so nice of you. Thanks.” I let go of his hand and brought my bag out. He slung it easily over his shoulder. It kind of made me feel special that he paid no attention whatsoever to James.
“I’ve got this one, Mel,” Ryley called to Melanie, surprising me slightly with his informality. He turned to me. “Come on, let me give you the grand tour.”
It was now that I looked at the actual Institute building. I stared at it, not quite sure what to think. It resembled an old-fashioned manor house: a vast rectangular block beneath a long pyramidal roof. It was built out of pale yellow bricks and had large windows which looked like lovely places to sit and look at the vast lawn I caught a glimpse of behind it. To be honest, the Institute more resembled the sort of park you visited with your parents because it contained some historical museum of toys or dolls houses etc. I could tell that living in it for the first few weeks would feel surreal.
Ryley was walking ahead so I joined him.
“How long’s the tour?” I joked.
He smiled. “Would you believe we’re only allowed on one floor?”
“How annoying,” I said. “What goes on on the other ones?”
Ryley shrugs. “Nobody knows.”
“Mysterious,” I joked.
“Very,” he agreed, smiling.
Ryley led me to the door and through a long entrance hall furnished in wood with walls decorated by portraits of how the area looked a hundred years ago or so: all hills and forests.
We walked up a flight of stairs to the first floor corridor, which had a thick, red carpet with silver lines curving along it in random places, making me think of a river.
“So, this is our floor,” Ryley told me. He gestured to the right, saying, “This wing contains the bedrooms.” I noted big wooden doors, which meant high-ceilinged rooms, individualized by each occupant (for example, one was almost covered by posters of rock stars). Ryley gestured to the left. “And this side is where everything else is: eating room, workroom, library, games room.”
“Games room?” I asked.
Ryley grinned. “Let’s put your stuff in your room first, eh?” He took me down the right-hand side of the corridor to a door with a sign on it reading, ‘Welcome, Diana!’
“Oh, how nice of them,” I said, touched by the gesture.
Ryley nodded. He gave me my bag and stepped back. I opened the door and was astounded by the size of the room. It could have fit two of the bedrooms back home. The bed was a four poster with actual hangings, there was a wardrobe like the one leading to Narnia, and I opened a door in one of the white-painted walls to find …
Ryley chuckled from outside the room. I reflected on how decent he was to wait outside rather than walk uninvited into a girl’s room.
I joined him again, beaming.
“This place is amazing.”
“You get used to it.”
I closed my door.
“So, where are we going next?”
“Well, where would you like to go?”
“Um, the games room, please.”
The games room seemed out of place in the historical-looking Manor. A 32-inch HD TV screen was attached to the wall, surrounded by a modern-looking Xbox and Blu-ray player, a leather sofa sitting opposite it; laptop computers sat on a table at the other end of the room and there was a stereo near the window tuned into a radio station playing the music that was popular this week. I noticed board games on another table as well but the overall impression was of a rich teenager’s bedroom, minus the bed and clothes cupboard.
“This is nothing like what I expected.”
“There’s never an excuse to be bored.”
The other rooms that I saw during the tour were the library (with towering shelves and a ladder to reach the top one), the snooker room (literally a room just containing a snooker table), the dining room (containing four round polished wooden tables around which stood four or five upholstered chairs and a large chandelier) , the workroom and the music room (a room containing a grand piano, a cello and an array of woodwind instruments in a box).
“You can learn new instruments here,” Ryley told me at the last room.
One thing I noticed was that I didn’t see any people.
“Where are the other people?” I asked as Ryley led me back to my room to chill before lunch at 1pm.
“Well, we can go home at the weekend, or go into the city, or hang out in the grounds. I think Kyle got tickets to see a football match. You’ll see them all later.”
I smiled, pausing at my door.
“Well, thanks for the tour.”
“You’re welcome. I hope you like it here. Consider yourself befriended.”
“You’re so kind,” I told him.
“Thanks. See you at lunch.”
And with that, he walked off. I shut the door and walked over to the bed. I lay down on it and smiled as I closed my eyes to have a quick nap. It looked like this had been the right decision after all.