River was alarmed when she received Ryan's text. She could not believe her eyes and even pinched herself to check she wasn't dreaming. Dominic ‘had the hots' for her? And she thought about her conversation with Tom in the car. Potentially, she fancied him too!
In case Ryan was playing a trick on her, she texted back saying, ‘Are you being serious?'
She nearly jumped when her phone buzzed in her hand, despite the fact she'd been expecting a reply. She didn't know whether to be pleased or worried by Ryan's response.
'Well, he just asked if you had a boyfriend then got all embarrassed when I asked if he liked you soooo....... YEAH!'
River's fingers flew over the keys of her phone at a rate she'd never texted at before. Her heart was fluttering wildly in her chest and she didn't know quite why.
'Oh my goodness! But I'm like ... your age! And he's like ... an adult! Promise you're not joking?!!'
'No I swear,' Ryan answered. ‘Besides he's only 19.'
'That's still three years older than me!' River pointed out, but she didn't understand why she should try to find a reason Dominic and her couldn't be together. If she fancied him, surely she should be thanking Ryan. But her cheeks felt flushed and she suddenly felt defensive.
'Omg! You like my bro back!!!'
River was terrified by this text. What if he told Dominic? And what if she discovered that she didn't fancy him at all? And what if he wasn't the right kind of guy? This was so crazy!
'I didn't say that!!!!' she texted hurriedly.
'He doesn't have a gf ;) if you wanted to know.'
That wink scared her more than anything else. That was the kind of wink accompanied the words ‘I'll tell him for you'.
River made a wreck out of her next text. She slipped up trying to deny that she was attracted and sounding like she wasn't the type of person who would date any guy regardless of relationship status if she were.
'No! I don't care! I mean, I would if I liked him - but I'm not saying that!' As an afterthought, she added, ‘Don't you dare say anything to him!'
'Calm, River,' was Ryan's infuriating response. ‘See you tommoz.'
River interpreted that as the end of the conversation. Feeling very anxious, she rushed to her brother's bedroom and knocked on the closed door.
"Hang on a second," he called.
A few moments later, Tom opened the door and regarded his sister.
"Yes?" he asked.
"Um," she said, flustered and embarrassed by what she was about to tell him. "Ryan just texted me to say that Dominic likes me. I don't know what to do."
Tom frowned slightly.
"Um, River, how old is this guy?"
"19," she replied, hoping her brother wouldn't react badly.
Tom showed visible signs of relief.
"Well, that's okay then. What did you tell Ryan?"
"I denied fancying Dominic," she said, averting her eyes and blushing. "And I checked he was for real and he said that he was but I didn't know what to do because you said I might fancy him."
"Well, why don't you get to know him?" Tom asked gently, completely understanding his sister's nervousness. "I can come with you tomorrow during lunch and we can talk to him."
"What if he doesn't know that Ryan's texted me?!" River asked, that thought suddenly occurring to her.
Tom's brow furrowed. "Hmm. That's a good point. Well, ask Ryan if he thinks it's a good idea to talk to him and make sure he goes along too, and don't let him know too much about you. Then, if you arrange to meet up again, ask if I can come too and we'll see if he's a decent guy. Don't let him touch you. That sound like a good plan?"
River nodded, still looking at her feet.
"Thank you, Tom."
"It's okay - I'm your brother. And if he refuses to meet up with me there, then cancel the arrangement. You don't know what he might want with you."
She nodded again.
"This is so surreal," she whispered.
She looked up to see Tom smiling ruefully.
"I know. But if you two do decide you like each other, something amazing could happen. Trust me on that one."
He gave his sister a quick hug before retreating back into his room. She sighed as she turned and headed to her room, feeling a lot better now that she had talked to someone. And Tom only wanted what was best for her - she'd always known that.
She lay on her bed for a while, enjoying the peace, before putting the right things in her schoolbag for tomorrow and preparing herself for bed.
The following day, the first thing she did in her tutor room was go over to Ryan and sit beside him.
"Hi," she said boldly, a little nervous in case he should mention their text conversation.
"Hi." He smiled back. "Dream about bro?"
River shook her head fiercely.
"No! Did you say anything to him?"
"Nope, I was studying Biology all night. He was asleep when I left."
"Did you even tell him you texted me?" River asked, one eyebrow raised.
"No," Ryan replied.
"Poor him," she murmured, imagining what it would be like if his feelings were definitely unrequited. "Well, d'you want to see him at break?" she asked brightly.
"You go. I'm hanging with someone else."
"No, I can't go alone," she said quickly. "What about lunch? Are you free then?"
He shook his head.
She frowned. "Well, that's really such a shame." She blushes and looks at the table. "Would you go if I told you whether I liked him or not?" She thought that maybe Ryan was protecting his brother in case she didn't like him back.
He shook his head. "Sorry"
She sighed, having been slightly looking forward to seeing that handsome young man again.
"Then I guess I won't be able to see him today. That's really too bad."
"Why not just go?"
"I can't go to see him alone! I hardly know him! Plus, that wasn't part of the plan." She flushed, wondering if she would be better off not telling Ryan about the help she'd asked for from her brother.
"Huh?" Ryan looked confused, which was understandable.
"Oh, never mind," she replied, waving a hand dismissively. "Just tell him I say hi when you next see him."
She sighed again, really disappointed about not seeing Dominic. "Is there any time when you /are/ free?"
"Um, not today no."
"Tomorrow?" she asked hopefully.
"Not sure. Kati didn't say anything about tomorrow."
"Oh, you're pursuing a girl?" River asked, grinning widely, her sadness having been forgotten for a moment.
"Um, we're just friends.... ish."
She laughed. "Well, good luck to you. Is she in our year?"
He shook his head.
"Well, that's cool. Tell me when you are free. I'll be honest with you - I don't know if I like your brother. I really want to get to know him better. But I don't want to do anything dangerous."
Ryan burst out laughing.
River glanced around to see if anyone was looking.
"Sh!" she whispered, mortified and a little annoyed. "What's funny, anyway?"
"My brother is as harmless as a feather," he told her. "He may look bad. The most dangerous thing about him is his motorbike. He has all these old fashioned morals."
"Oh?" she inquired, intrigued by the revelation.
"Yeah, like being chaste till marriage" he teased.
Her eyes widened fractionally in awe.
"That's amazing." She blushed slightly. "I have to admit, Tom and I were both expecting that this attraction would lead to something bad."
Ryan started laughing again but stopped himself.
River smiled. "My older brother. He's lovely. He's the one who said I shouldn't go to see your brother alone. He's constantly looking out for me. He goes to this school, too, actually. He's in the year above."
She considered what she had told Ryan and was a little worried about having revealed the fact she'd told her brother about Dominic. She waited anxiously to see his reaction. She sighed internally with relief as Ryan's response, though involving the raising of an eyebrow, didn't take the mick out of her.
"He obviously doesn't know my brother."
"Well, of course not. That's why he was worried. I don't know your brother. Thank goodness my brother has experience with relationships."
Ryan raised his eyebrow.
"He has a boyfriend, you see," River explained. At that point the bell for first period rang. "Wow," she murmured. "Time flies..." She stood up and said, "Nice talking to you, Ryan. Catch up later, yeah?"
Ryan waved as she headed out of the classroom to her next lesson.
River met Tom on the way into lunch.
"Apparently Dominic is chaste," she told him quietly as they found a table to sit at.
Instead of looking relieved as she thought he might, Tom's brow creased in concern.
"Oh dear. As much as you may think that's a sign of purity and he's a sweet guy for doing so, he might be a bit crazy. If a guy wants one girl forever..."
"Oh, I ..." River tried to see the problem but failed. "I don't understand," she confessed.
Tom sighed. "Well, I don't know ... They could be a little possessive. Did you go to see him with Ryan?"
River shook her head. "Ryan's interested in a girl in Year 11. He's spending all his free time with her."
"Well, I'll go with you if you like. I was thinking about it and I'm sure it wouldn't look too weird if I came with you just so you weren't on your own."
She smiled. "Cool."
Tom smiled back.
So they finished their lunch - they had both chosen cottage pie and chocolate sponge - and left the school grounds to go into town.