River was usually a slow walker: nine times out of ten she ambled along with her head in the clouds. But the new boy trudged even slower than her and consequently she ended up in the seat beside the last of those her class was occupying in assembly rather than in it.
"What's your name?" she asked conversationally.
He looked at her then shrugged. His face was a mask and there was nothing revealed through his movements. "Ryan," he said and stared ahead.
River frowned slightly. She wasn't full of herself and so she didn't expect people to ask her her name but she thought it a little strange that Ryan hadn't done so.
"Well, I'm River.
"Which school did you go to before you came here?" she inquired, hoping he'd be a little more responsive.
"Um, somewhere...," he mumbled, flashing a nervous but adorable smile. "Sorry, I've moved so often in the past three years I can't remember."
She was interested by this answer and charmed by the smile but she couldn't say any more as the usual teacher-induced hush descended over the room to indicate that the headmaster was coming.
After the assembly, as the students were beginning to leave, she asked Ryan, "What d'you have next?"
"Um, Room 12, English," he replied, looking tired and, to be honest, a bit bored.
"Oh," she said, pleasantly surprised by the revelation and always able to ignore other people's boredom in her persevering optimism; "I do English too. Do you know where you're going? I can show you the way to the classroom." She picks up her bag from where she left it on a rack near the assembly hall and then continues walking with him.
He shrugged. "I'm a bit worn down actually. So help would be nice."
She smiled. "Cool, come with me then." She led him to the classroom, feeling quite responsible. "So, what else are you doing?"
"Biology, Music and Art."
"Quite an interesting combination," she remarked, impressed. "I'm doing English Lit, Chemistry, Art History and Art. Which Art are you doing?"
"The creative one," he said, chuckling.
"Well, it's cool we do two of the same subjects," she said. At this moment, they drew up at the classroom where they were about to have English. As of yet the teacher hadn't arrived and the door was locked so they stood outside, waiting.
"How was your summer?" River asked, moving the conversation away from school.
"I moved and helped my brother set up his shop," Ryan said with a shrug.
"For the whole summer?" River inquired.
Ryan nodded. "Lot of boxes, guitars. Paper work. Study catch-up."
River felt sympathetic towards Ryan. It can't have been much fun constantly working during what was supposed to be the principal holiday of the year.
"Well, if you don't get too much homework this week, d'you want to come hang out at my place at the weekend?" she asked.
"Um..., I'm not sure. I was supposed to be hanging with my brother but... I'll ask."
She smiled warmly.
"Well, I hope you can come."
At this moment, the teacher appeared: a tall young lady River had never been taught by before. She let the students into the room, heading to the front desk to put her handbag behind the desk.
"Morning," she said cheerily as the students took their seats wherever they liked. River sat next to Ryan near the back. "My name's Miss Wund. I hope you've all had a restful summer holiday because the work is going to be more difficult than you're used to this year. If you ever have any questions, though, don't hesitate to approach me. I am here to help you achieve the best possible AS result and I can't do that if we don't talk to each other. So, now, I'm going to give you all your English folders - yes, folders, not exercise books: you're mature students now; and give you a summary of the AS English Lit course."
She smiled and proceeded to do what she said she would.
As Miss Wund walked around with a cardboard box full of lever arch files, River noticed Ryan sketching in a book. He appeared to be sketching the outline of a girl.
"May I ask who that is?" she asked, hoping she wasn't being rude.
"Uh..., he blushed. "Someone I saw this morning."
"Ah, well, I won't pry then," she said, winking, though deep inside she yearned desperately to know all about the girl, to know if Ryan was in love with her.
For the rest of that lesson, she didn't really have much of a chance to speak to Ryan again. But afterwards, when the bell rang for break, she asked if he would like to go into town with her - leaving the school grounds during the school day was a Sixth Form privilege and she was keen to have this novel experience.
River felt quite shy as she did. She didn't usually talk to people in school. In fact, she wasn't even sure why Ryan was a special case: perhaps she just wanted to make sure he wasn't on his own because he was new. Also... there was that curious feeling that he was a link to the romantic knowledge she wished to gain.
Ryan hesitated. "Would we be back for lunch?"
She laughed out loud, despite the fact he was new and didn't know a lot.
"I'd personally like to get back for my next lesson," she told him. "I'm not a rebel - this is within school rules."
"Oh... well... I guess..... We could pop by and see my brother."
"Does he live nearby?" she asked. "Town is a five minute walk away. Break lasts half an hour."
"Um, we're the end of the main street. 10 minute walk?"
"Oh, cool. Will your brother be in?"
Ryan nodded, looking worried.
River noticed Ryan's expression and frowned slightly.
"Hey, are you worried about something?"
"No, nothing worrying just..." He sighed. "You'll see when you meet him."
"Right," she said, slowly, totally mystified. With that, they set off away from the school and along the high street of the town, which wasn't really all that long. Still, River found it exciting to be out of school bounds and enjoyed the overpowering sense of freedom it brought her.
It felt like less than ten minutes when they arrived at the last shop in a row of small local stores. The name was ‘Rock It'.
Ryan gestured at the shop and opened the door for her. Inside, a young man with dark brown hair, playing a guitar, his legs kicked up on the counter.
River couldn't help but stare at Ryan's brother. He was the most physically attractive person she had ever seen in her life. She couldn't be sure whether it was the slightly tousled nature of his hair, his gentle facial features or his oddly soothing chestnut brown eyes that made her suddenly want to forget all her troubles and join him on the counter - even stay the whole day and not think about school. Perhaps it was none of those things about him. Perhaps it was his muscular build. Perhaps it was all of those things put together.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Ryan roll his eyes. Her eyes didn't move from his brother, though.