Chapter One: Aria Stephenson
Vibrating violently, the alarm clock started its hopeless battle with me. Insisting that I wake up at eight o’clock on a Saturday morning was pointless. There was no way I’d ever get up earlier than nine, even on a good Saturday. So, as usual, I started the never-ending fight with yet another inanimate object. Now it's smashed to pieces and I’m wide-awake, so I don’t really know who won.
Once the daily stress of waking up was over, I clambered numbly back into bed and attempted to sleep. Sunlight peered inquisitively through the sliver of window not masked by curtains, which had been left unclosed by mistake the previous night. Glaring garishly through the window, the beam of light decided to land on my resting eyes, preventing me from any further sleep. I began to moan as I sat upright in bed, stretching in the way that only an exhausted teenager can after a night of abandoning the idea of sleep in favour of many hours of games.
Rubbing my eyes, I grimaced. The remains of yesterday’s makeup smeared across my eyes and stuck stubbornly to my bunched up fists. Sighing, I glanced at the clock. I’d managed to waste an hour trying to get back to sleep. Panic filled me rapidly – I was supposed to meet Kyle on the bus and go into town. I was almost certainly going to be late. With as much energy as I could muster, I threw myself into getting ready to go out in an hour’s time. A shower was followed closely by deciding what to wear and getting dressed. Half an hour passed as I did these things. Plugging in my straighteners, I began work on the mess that existed instead of my hair. After applying my make-up that made me look half -way decent, I got some money together and headed down the stairs, out the front door and down the overgrown path.
Sprinting was the only way I knew that I’d be able to get to the bus stop on time. Even then, I nearly missed my bus – I picked up so much momentum that I’d to swing around the pole to slow down enough to be able to stop to get onto the bus. Luckily, I knew the bus driver, and he knew me. He knew me so well that he purposely left the doors open longer than usual to give me enough time to jump on. I paid for my ticket and stepped heavily up the aisle leading to the seat next to Kyle. Even now, I was still panting – I hate exercise, especially in the form of running. Think of all the people who have died because of exercise. Phidippides! He died running a marathon. The man who invented jogging – I heard he kicked the bucket because he jogged a bit too much.
Slumping quickly next to Kyle on our regular seats, I smiled warmly. Awkwardly, he returned the grin. Then, he spoke and started the usual joke, “So, I suppose you’re going to tell me that you aren’t late then?” Raising an eyebrow, he struggled not to giggle.
“Of course not!” I exclaimed falsely. “I’m on the bus, aren’t I?” When I wanted to, I could be very good at acting. Usually I didn’t bother with acting at school because I didn’t want to be the one everyone labels as a drama queen. If I need to big something up, I’ll do it, otherwise it stays small. Looking at Kyle with an expression that said I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, I continued. “And I don’t suppose that you’re ever late, or even rushed slightly then?”
“Oh no. Never have been, never will be,” he replied, trying to keep a straight face. “Besides, what’s the excuse this time? House burned down? Straighteners wouldn't work? Toaster blew up? Shower ran out of water? Aliens abducted you and you spent the early morning zapping them with laser-powered guns? Or did your alarm clock just fail to go off again?” he ended, rolling his eyes dramatically.
“Actually,” I said, seriously. “I destroyed it. My alarm clock I mean.” Kyle looked at me with genuine disbelief. “Really. It was set to wake me up at eight. I decided I wasn’t going to do what it told me and so I smashed it up,” I finished.
“You really need to stop being so violent,” he said, chuckling quietly.
“Me? Violent?” I shouted. “Why are you saying that? I’m not violent at all! Take it back!” I pushed my face closer to his, squaring up to him, joking. Kyle apparently found this hilarious and started to laugh uncontrollably.
Now I don’t know whether you’ve ever been on a bus, sitting next to the one person who’s the most infectious laugh that you’ve ever heard, who decides to laugh. It is almost embarrassing as you laugh along with them, watching the stares you get from other people who have no idea what you’re laughing at or why you’re laughing. Almost. You find as you’re laughing so much and enjoying yourself that much that you just don’t care about the funny looks and stares from anyone else who might be about.
“So I’m guessing you spent a little longer than recommended on games last night then?” enquired Kyle.
“Got it in one. Although the alarm clock definitely had it coming! I mean, waking me up ridiculously early each morning for school and not realising that today is a Saturday and I’m going to want to sleep in? Awful,” I replied.
“I’m pretty sure you can just turn it off. Unplug it even,” he said, unhelpfully.
“Why do you know so much? Where do you keep all this knowledge?” I asked, jokingly.
“I’m just a fountain of knowledge I guess.” He shrugged and winked at me. “Nah. Not really. I just have this thing that isn’t named properly. It’s actually very rare.” He stopped and pretended to think. I raised an eyebrow. “Ah yes!” he said after a while. “That’s it. Common sense!”
If looks could kill, he’d be dead many times over. Naturally, he was a sarcastic person, and I couldn’t pull of sarcasm unless I was angry. It was a trait that didn’t click with me, although many a time I wish I could.
“You’ren’t a fountain of knowledge at all,” I said laughing. “You just think you are. All you are really is a really lucky person who happened to become best friends with someone as amazing as me.” Winking, I could see him smirking. “What? You think I’m wrong?”
Soon we arrived at the bus station, swaying with the constantly with the rocking movement of the bus. It was almost comforting, given how often I took buses. They were like a second home to me, any opportunity to take a long ride on a bus I jumped at whole-heartedly. I don’t think I could last a week without going on a bus. They soothed me and helped me to sort my thoughts out.
Jerkily, the bus jolted to a halt at the station. Glancing at Kyle, we went through our usual routine: who can get off the bus first? Standing up quickly, I stepped out into the aisle. Kyle tried to follow, but I reached out and shoved him back into his seat. Grinning devilishly I ran swiftly down the length of the bus and leapt triumphantly out onto the pavement. I turned around and waited for Kyle to follow behind, watching the door carefully. Something in my pocket vibrated and I took my eyes off the door to the bus. Reaching into my pocket, I retrieved my phone and saw it was a message. It read ‘boo!’
Just then, someone clamped their hands across my eyes, pulling me back. “Guess who Miss Queen of Lateness?”
”Kyle!” I roared happily. “Okay. Off my eyes now,” I said seriously.
“What was that?” Anticipation oozed from his voice. “You want me to tickle you until you scream for me to stop? Well… Okay then.”
“No!” I squealed. He knew exactly where I was most sensitive to tickling attacks. After all, he’d had years to practice and find out. We’d known each other practically all our lives and been best friends just as long, although he was a few months older than me. “Please don’t Kyle! No! Kyle! Stop tickling me!” I exclaimed. It was beginning to become embarrassing how much he could make me squeal and writhe.
“You want me to stop the tickling?” he said teasingly.
“Please yes.” I nearly screamed.
“Hmm… No. I don’t think I will since I’m just a very lucky person apparently,” he said as a devilish smile spread across his face. I could tell then that he wasn’t going to give up. Unfortunately for him, while he said this, he made the mistake of pausing the tickling.
“Stop!” I yelled, finally breaking free of his tickling grasp. Taking the opportunity, I sprinted as quickly as I could away from him and into the hustle and bustle of the milling Saturday shopping crowds. I tried to head for somewhere where he’d never go. Somewhere he’d never dream of entering. Then again, I thought, knowing Kyle, he wouldn't care. He wouldn't have a care in the world if he walked through a shop specialising in women’s underwear. He was just that sort of person.
Instead I just kept running, knowing I’d slow eventually and that he’d find me. Passing the fountain we ate lunch at every week as a ritual, a thought popped into my head. What if I could get him soaked?
This fountain wasn’t unique – there were probably loads more like it all over the place, but it was special to us. Small pipes shot water from out of the cobbled stone in a seemingly random pattern. Although, when you know the features as well as I do, you can begin to predict the pattern. After waiting for a few moments, I darted into the centre of the huge feature and watched as Kyle ran down the road.
“Oi!” I shouted at the top of my voice. “Kyle! Over here!”
Looking up from his concentrated jog, he focused his eyes on me and a look of triumph crossed his face. He squinted his eyes and sped up towards me, thinking that he’d finally caught me. I stayed in my position in the middle of the fountain for as long as I could stand it. Timing was essential in this practical joke to set him in his place. Now I was beginning to get nervous. It was going to be a tight getaway – even better! I couldn’t have him making me panic attack in public again. This was how I was going to extract my revenge.
With a devilish smile, I jogged backwards away from the oncoming Kyle. It was perfect. The water squirted out of the pipe at exactly the right time. His face filled with shock, as he was drenched from head to toe in water. Looking up at me, I could sense what he was about to do. I had no time to run away and hide again. Laughing, he lunged out at me, grabbing my arm. I knew exactly what he was going to do. This might not be part of our routine, but I knew Kyle like no other did.
From the bag he carried on his back, he pulled a large pair of speakers and set them up. Plugging in his i-Pod, he turned back to me. “Well?” he said.
“Go on then.” It didn’t take much for me to give in.
He pressed play on his i-Pod, the best music emanating from the speakers like the smell of freshly baked bread – it always found you and it was always good. I grabbed his hands and together, we danced around the pipes of gushing water, twirling between each one, never pausing to take breath. It was in no way romantic, just great fun.
Another song blasted out of the speakers, this time an upbeat, very happy piece of music. With only a glance, we broke away and launched into our best Charleston routine.
Busy shoppers stopped in the street and crowded around the powerful pumping pipes that joined to make the fountain. People started clapping in time to the music, whistling and cheering as we jumped and danced, as we got even more soaked. Each step meant we got more and more wet, but by this time, we just didn’t care.
As we wrapped up the Charleston, people cheered and whooped as though we’d put on a proper show for them. Some liked it so much that they threw money to us, pounds and other coins were thrown at us. Taking off my hat, I walked around the crowd as lots of people gave us money for our act. As I finished collecting, a chant began for us to dance some more. A look shared between us was all we needed to decide.
So, listening to the music, we launched into yet another one of our many dances that were once exclusive only to the living rooms of our houses.