Jay Ridley was the boy the entire school was talking about. He was from London, England, and as if that wasn't enough to make him the talk of the town, rumour had it he had been expelled from his old school and his mother shipped him over here to live with his dad. I honestly had no idea why somebody would move their kid from London over to a small town in northern Montana, but hey, who was I to judge?
School hadn't even started yet, but the entire town knew his name. My friend Emily told me about him over the phone two days before school, and by the sounds of things, I was the last person to hear about him.
It always worked that way – me being the last to hear about the latest gossip. By the time it got to me, in fact, it was most likely old news. Don't get me wrong, I don't really care if I'm in on it or not. I remain indifferent to gossip because my mum always told me gossiping was the worst thing to do, and I hated the idea of letting her down.
So anyway, Emily called me up that Saturday night as I was painting my nails a bright lime green. I have an obsession with nail polish that includes dozens of different, bright colours. Unfortunately, I also have an obsession with chipping the polish off, so it never lasted more than a few days.
"His name's Jay Ridley and he's apparently gorgeous, a real bad boy." Emily told me.
"Have you met him?" I asked, awkwardly trying to balance my phone on my shoulder as I painted my index finger.
"No, but my brother's old girlfriend met him at a party last night, and she told me he's really cute." Emily said, shrugging it off. I laughed to myself at all the second hand news, but said nothing because Emily was just like that, and I was used to it. "She said he's got a bunch of tattoos," She continued. "I want a tattoo…"
"Don't," I advised her. She'd been talking to me about getting a tattoo for three years – since we were fourteen – but she never committed herself. "Wait 'til we're out of high school at least."
"You're right," She agreed. "You're always right, Hero."
No, Emily wasn't calling me her hero. My name was Hero. I know, right! What kind of parents would curse their child with such a terrible name? Tracy and Joshua Cade, that's who. Well, according to my dad it was all my mum's decision. She named me after a Shakespeare character from the play 'Much Ado About Nothing'. I liked the fact that my name had meaning behind it and that it wasn't an average name like Katie or Stephanie (no offence to any Katie's or Steph's out there), but did it have to be Hero? And they could have at least given me a decent middle name to go by, but instead, my full name was Hero Violenta Cade. Anyway, enough about the origins of my name.
I shuddered as Emily said my name and she giggled at my silence. "Oh, sorry, I don't mean to say it!" She knew how much I hated it.
"Whatever." I mumbled, twisting the cap back on the nail polish. "What were we talking about?"
"Oh, right! Jay Ridley!" She said his name fondly, like she was talking about a celebrity. Then again, he practically was one in this small town. "I'm just so glad to finally have a new guy to look at," she continued, "I've known the same ones since grade seven and they're all annoying."
"Yeah," I said apathetically as I waved my hands to dry them.
"You don't even care," Emily observed, sounding hurt; though I knew she was faking it.
"Sorry, Em, I just…" I sighed. "No, you're right. I don't care."
She laughed. "I'll see you Monday. We can talk all about Jay once we see him!"
"Sure, sure," I laughed, and we both hung up.
After a summer of staying up late and sleeping in, I couldn't believe Emily was actually excited to start school again. But I had to admit it—I was sort of looking forward to it, myself.
* * *
School started that Monday and I found it surprisingly easy to wake up to the sound of my alarm clock (which I knew I would grow to hate). I ran a brush through my dirty blondey-browny-reddish hair and spent extra time straightening it all out. My hair was long, past my shoulders, and had straight-across bangs. I was a shy person by nature and therefore wasn't very outgoing with my hairstyles. I tried to stay under the radar, if possible. I just don't like to be noticed.
After I finished my hair and put on a bit of mascara, I looked at my reflection and tried to imagine what I would look like to other people. They would see me, a 5'8" girl with lanky limbs and hazel eyes with freckles dotting my cheeks and nose…I wondered what I'd look like to Jay.
Okay, that sounded completely stupid. I don't want to come off sounding like I want to impress the new guy just because people say he's good looking, because in actuality I was just trying to look nice and make a good first impression. I rarely put much effort into my appearance – the first day of school was an occasion where I was willing to, though.
I pulled on some light skinny jeans that were ripped at the knees after falling off a go-kart this summer (long story), and a sky-blue, loose-fitting tank top that I felt complimented me nicely. I put a necklace on that had a blue glass pendent with a white dot on it, and a dark blue dot on that. It was called a 'Nazar', and it was supposed to ward off evil spirits. I wasn't a superstitious person or anything, but I'd had the necklace forever and I liked wearing it.
I slung my backpack over my shoulder and bit into a Pink Lady apple and left my house, calling goodbye to my mum. My father lives in Toronto, Canada, where his parents and siblings live. My parents divorced when I was six and as much as I love my mum, I miss my dad so much that it sometimes physically hurts. We have a lot in common, my dad and me. Neither of them have remarried or really tried to date as far as I know, except one boyfriend my mum had when I was about eight – but that didn't last long. So anyway, when I got outside the first thing I saw was my baby – my car – sitting in the driveway. She was a sleek, sage green, 1973 Volkswagen Squareback. She was in pretty good condition even though I knew very little about cars. When my dad comes down in the summer he works on it with me, and he's a real car fanatic.
I tossed my bag into the back seat and started the car, pounding on the gas a couple times to get the revs down. I rolled down the window a crack and turned on the radio, tuning the stations until I settled on one that was playing a half-decent song.
I drove to school and ate my apple, humming along to a song I vaguely recognized. I wasn't very knowledgeable when it came to modern music, and was very pleased with myself for knowing one.
Turning into the school parking lot, I was instantly cut off by a beater car. I couldn't tell you what type it was because the doors and hoods were different colours, obviously having been patched together onto their new frame.
If there was one thing I learned when my mum taught me to drive, it was that road rage was a good venting system. I leaned on the horn and shouted "Come on!" To the driver who cut me off, but whoever it was just stuck their hand out the window, giving me the middle finger. I cursed under my breath.
"Feeling violent much?" Emily asked me, meeting me as I got out of the car.
"That asshole cut me off." I growled, my good mood going down the drain. "Besides, violent is my middle name."
She grinned at me. "Violenta is your middle name. Besides, Hero is your first. Stick to that one. Be the good guy." Emily had blonde hair, big brown eyes, and delicate features. She was pretty popular at my school, and had pretty much dated every guy. I was her lesser-known sidekick.
"Ha-ha." I held back a smile. "What classes do you have?"
We walked towards the school as she fumbled for her schedule. We were in our homeroom by the time she found it.
"I have…" She scanned the sheet. "Socials, P.E., Business, and then Biology. How about you?"
I got my schedule from our homeroom teacher, Mr Philips, and narrowed my eyes as I scanned the words. The bell went and Emily and I sat down in desks next to each other.
"Looks like we've got P.E. together." I said, shrugging. "I've got Art, P.E., Socials, and A.P. English."
"Aw that sucks!" She frowned. "Let me see." We traded schedules and looked at each other's teachers as Mr Philips started talking about something. I wasn't really paying attention, but I would bet he was talking about school policies and reminding us to dress according to school clothing regulations. No tube tops, no skirts higher than six inches above the knee, etcetera. I don't even know why the school bothered with those rules, though, because nobody ever followed them.
I continued to eat my apple (trying to stay quiet because there's nothing worse than a loud chewer), and stared vacantly out the window. I could see fields for miles until they hit the mountains off in the horizon, looking foggy because of the distance. Our small town of northern Montana had no more than two thousand people, and was mostly a farm town. There was a cluster of businesses, houses, and of course the school, right at the centre of town, but otherwise all the houses were sprawled apart. My house was less than a mile from school – just a little place with two bedrooms and the typical white picket fence. Emily lived not far from my place, but her house was a split-level place with cement floors in the basement. We spent most of the summer lying on the cool ground down there, cherishing the coldness of it.
As desolate as this town was, I loved it. It was beautiful and inspiring. I loved the sprawling landscape, the ancient, rusted farm machines, the people I've known since I was a child.
But at the same time, there was so much world out there that I wanted to see. I dreamed of visiting the Louvre; being pushed around in the bustle of New York City; sketching the countryside of Ireland.
I'm a bit of an artist, you see.
I mean, I've just always had this affinity for art. Not just doing it, but looking at it. I'll let you in on how obsessed I am: Once, I got a biography on Vincent van Gogh from the school library. By page three I was already crying. I mean, he made such beautiful art, but only ever sold one piece of it in his lifetime. All he wanted was to share the world as he saw it, but nobody saw the beauty in his works. He killed himself when he was only thirty-seven – a self-inflicted gunshot. His best friend and brother, Theo, died six months later. It just hurt me to know that such a brilliant man never got to see how much impact he had on the world. Vincent's last words were "the sadness will last forever".
I'll admit it – I'm a little weird for such a small town. Most of these kids would end up staying in the same place, and I have dreams that are probably too big for me. But still, I couldn't allow myself to want anything less.
"Hero? Hero?" Mr Philips suddenly called. Apparently he was doing attendance.
"Oh, uh, yeah. Here!" I called.
"It's the first day, Hero. Try not to day dream too much." He smirked. Mr Philips was fairly young for a teacher, with dark hair that had flecks of silver in it. I used to think he was cute until he started saying my name all the time. It's like he wanted to say it as much as possible because it was so weird. Seriously, every time he spoke to me, he'd use my name. I, obviously, was not fond of this. He quickly fell in my favourite-teacher-rankings.
Before I knew it, Emily was dragging me out of the class. She looked at me strangely, wondering why I was so out of my mind today. I couldn't explain it, either. I usually wasn't so easily distracted.
* * *
"Everything they say is true!" Emily declared as we waited in line for lunch. The first two classes went by painfully slow, and I was about ready to go home.
"About what?" I asked her, trying to stay focused.
"The new boy!" She squealed like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Jay Ridley!"
"Shh!" I said urgently, holding a finger to my lips. What if one of Jay's friends were around, listening? We'd look like such creepers, just talking about him randomly.
Emily raised her eyebrow at me. "It's not like we're the only ones talking about him."
I couldn't help but agree with her on that one, so she kept going.
"I saw him on my way out of gym!" She exclaimed as we grabbed our trays for food. "I mean, he was kind of far away, but it was definitely him. He's got full arm tattoos and black hair…he's so hot!"
I laughed lightly at her enthusiasm.
"Seriously, Hero, he's something else." She let out a low whistle.
* * *
And that's how lunch went – with Emily just telling me about Jay and how perfect he was. She went into great detail about his hair, which was dyed black and was shaggy and sort of wild. According to her, he was over 6'0" tall, with pale skin, sleeve tattoos, and perfectly kissable lips. I couldn't help but laugh uncontrollably at that.
But eventually lunch ended, and I had my last two classes to get through.
Social Studies came first. I liked that class – it wasn't my best, but I was decent. My teacher was Mr Scott, the same Socials teacher I got every year. He was pretty cool, in his mid-forties with greying hair and laugh lines. He was so into history that his classes were actually fun.
"Ah, Hero, we meet again," He said to me when I entered. I smirked and put my books down at a desk next to the window. I knew sitting next to such a pretty view would probably be counter-productive for me, but I couldn't help myself, and my feet just led me there.
As expected, I found myself staring out the window before the final bell even tolled. I had a view over the school field and into a surrounding cornfield owned by some farmer. On this side of the school, all you could see was farmland. On the other side, however, it was mostly buildings. Granted, they weren't skyscrapers. They were mostly little corner stores and markets.
"Okay, class!" Mr Scott clapped his hands together enthusiastically. I looked up and saw that all the seats were filled and Melody Armat was sitting next to me. She was on the cheerleading team, and had long brown hair and brown eyes. She had a tan that was suspiciously orange. I'm sure you're thinking she's a snobby girl, but she's actually pretty nice. She and I aren't really friends, but she's a genuine person and I like that.
"Since I'm such a great person," Mr Scott continued, "We aren't actually going to be doing any work today." Cheering. "Yes, yes, I know. I'm sure you all had your hearts set on homework, but you'll have to wait until tomorrow for that. We're just going to get warmed up and play a round of Jeopardy! It's just to help you all remember everything."
He pulled out a large piece of cardboard with a number of little white squares of paper attached to it, separated into columns. Each column was titled with a different subject, like Middle Ages, World War II, etcetera.
"Who wants to chose first?" Mr Scott asked. Somebody shouted out 'Crusades! Four Hundred!' so that's what we started with.
Mr Scott pulled the card away dramatically, and read, "For four hundred…What event began in 1095 and ended in 1099?"
The class looked generally dumbfounded for a moment until somebody right behind me said, in a low, accented voice,
"Uh, what is the first Crusade?"
"Correct!" Mr Scott grinned. "Well done, Mr Ridley!"
I furrowed my brows and turned around to see, sitting directly behind me, a tall boy with messy, dark hair and sky blue eyes. He had a very boyish face that contrasted with his tattooed arms, shown off by the black shirt he wore with the sleeves cuffed up a bit. The tattoos were of various things, but the first thing I noticed was the delicate script that sat next to a Mexican Day of the Dead skull. I found myself staring at it, and I didn't even hear him ask for the next question. I only realized I was staring when Jay waved his hand slightly, trying to get my attention. I flinched and looked him straight in the eyes, and he smirked at me.
Crap. Some first impression that was.
"Nobility for one hundred." Mr Scott declared. "This was the name give to the eldest son of the king of France."
My hand shot up on it's own accord, and he nodded at me.
I felt my cheeks reddening and I pulled my arm down. "Uhm…what is a dauphin?" The word just came to me as I had a mental flashback of watching 'Joan of Arc', where I'd heard the word.
"Correct!" He cheered, "What next?"
"Art, one thousand." I said confidently. I'd studied the art history texts from the library over and over.
"Going for the high numbers, Hero?" Mr Scott beamed. "Okay. Art for a thousand."
He eyed the card for a minute, scanning the words before reading them out loud. "This is the name given to books that were re-written over and over by hand."
The class was silent, half of the students looking completely dumbfounded.
I raised my hand shyly. "Er…what are…Illuminations?" I guessed, biting my lip.
"Correct again, Ms Cade!"
I wish I could tell you that I completely owned at the rest of the game, but I really didn't. After that question, I changed subjects and went for 'World War II', and from there I was pretty much useless. I got a few more of the Art questions (by fluke, mostly), but the real star of the class was the new kid, Jay Ridley.
Pretty much two seconds after every question was asked, he was answering it happily. I could tell from his tone that this was a subject that he was interested in, which surprised me because I hadn't really expected him to be interested in schoolwork at all. Then again, I was just basing this on his appearances. I knew nothing about him.
After the game was over, Mr Scott let us all talk amongst ourselves since there was only ten minutes left of class, and he just went to his computer and played Solitaire. I crossed my arms and leaned back in my chair, stretching my legs out in front of me. God, I was ready for this day to be over. It seemed to drag on and on, and all I could think about was the fact that I'd have to keep this up for a year.
"Excuse me?" The familiar accent asked from behind me.
I glanced back to see who Jay was talking to, and was surprised to see him looking straight at me, a mischievous smirk on his face. His desk partner, David Tripp, seemed almost in awe of him.
"Uh…Yeah?" I asked shyly, turning around to face him more.
Jay grinned and chuckled slightly. "This might sound completely absurd," he said with an English accent so thick I had trouble keeping up with, "But did the teacher call you his hero?"
I frowned and opened my mouth to reply, but my desk partner beat me to it.
"No, her name is Hero," Melody said with a smirk, like she was making fun of it.
"I'm named after a Shakespeare character," I grumbled, like that would make it better.
"Hero? Are you serious?" He cocked his head, and his words sounded more like "are y'seriuz?"
I nodded curtly at him and turned to face forward again. Jay snickered slightly and leaned back in his chair.
"Hero," He repeated to himself. "Now that's a name. My name's Jamie, y'know, sort of a girls name, but Hero? Really?"
"If you have a problem with it, you can take it up with my mother." I said coldly.
"No, no! No problems!" He laughed. "Naw, it's a great name! Hero. I love it. It suits you perfectly."
His smirk didn't go away, so I just glared at him.
"You're not as awesome as everyone thinks you are, Jay Ridley." I mumbled under my breath, and the bell finally sounded.
* * *
I left the class quickly and ran straight into Emily when I turned a corner.
"Fancy meeting you here!" She grinned, then raised an eyebrow at my annoyed expression. "Er…did I do something wrong?" She asked.
"No, no," I sighed, shaking my head. "I'm just…Jay Ridley was in my last class. He was laughing about my name."
"Oh," Emily nodded. "I don't see why you care so much about your name. I like it."
"I like my name, too, Em, it just annoys me when people constantly talk about how 'different' it is." I closed my eyes and exhaled slowly. "I'm just tired, that's all."
Thank god Jay wasn't in my last class, because I don't know what I'd do with him pestering me for half of the day. Except, I did see him once more that day.
I threw my stuff into the passenger seat of the Squareback and started up the engine. I leaned back in my seat and sighed, thankful the day was over, then started backing out. The second my car moved, a horn blared behind me. I turned around to see that patchwork car that had cut me off in the morning. In the front seat was who else but Jay Ridley, grinning at me, waving enthusiastically. I frowned and flashed him my middle finger, and he drove away laughing.
Somehow, I knew things were going to be different from now on.
A/N: Hello! This is a story I've been fiddling around with. I'm in the process of writing 'Downfall' still, but this is one I work on when I'm facing writer's block. I'm liking Hero's character so far (although she is based largely on my personality, so I'm biased). ANYWAY, I hope you enjoy this extremely long first chapter. Let me know what you think.
Note: I live in Canada and don't know what Montana's like at all, so I hope my research has done me well and the setting is fairly close to what it would be like.