One Shot –Five Tasks of the Riverside
There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing homework on a Saturday night.
This does not, as some would have you believe, indicate that you have no friends or life with which to occupy yourself. It may, in fact, mean that you partied so hard on Friday night, and intend to do so again on Sunday, that there is simply no other option than to complete your required home-bound educational pursuit on the Saturday.
As it happens, that was not the case for me. I genuinely did have no friends or life.
That is to say, I have friends, but they informed me that they were too busy doing their homework on a Saturday night to be able to fulfil any sort of social engagement. It was a tricky Catch 22-esque situation, but one I countered by vociferously rehearsing the 'busy Friday and Sunday' argument in my head, in the event that I should ever be questioned on it.
And so it was, that when he climbed in through my window, I was nightie-clad and concentrating hard on polynomials.
It was the scuffling outside my window that I heard first, but I simply assumed it was a possum. I was disabused of this reassuring explanation, however, when the 'possum' let out a string of curses.
I shrieked, and clutched my laptop to my chest just as a boy with shaggy brown hair bounded in through my open window, making me shriek again.
"Hello cupcake," he said jovially, straightening up and brushing himself down in the manner of one quite pleased with his own athletic prowess.
I shrieked for a third time.
"Right," he nodded, as if I'd just engaged him in polite conversation. "It's nice to meet you too. I don't want to be rude, but I'm on something of a deadline here, so if you could just point me in the direction of your undies drawer, I'll be off."
My undies drawer? I couldn't help it, I let out one last piercing wail.
He scratched his neck, looking a bit uncomfortable.
"Yeah, any chance you could stop that?" He asked, and I bristled at the cheek of him. "If you stop screaming, I'll let you hold my knife."
That shut me up.
"You have a knife?" I asked tremulously.
He looked horrified.
"No of course I don't have a bloody knife!" He swore. "I was going for sexual innuendo, what kind of nutcase walks around with a knife?"
"What kind of nutcase does a break and enter through a girl's window!" I rebutted and he frowned.
"I didn't break," he said, sounding offended at the accusation. "I entered, sure, but I didn't break. There's a distinction."
He was right of course, but that didn't make him any less insane.
"Look," he continued, holding up his hands, "I'm not here to define the finer points of the legislation on trespassing. I just need a pair of your knickers, and then I can be on my way."
"You are not getting a pair of my knickers," I told him firmly.
"Oh come on, just one?" He wheedled, dipping his head to one side in a way I'm sure he thought was a lot more endearing than it actually was. "It's not like you need more than one pair at a time."
"What is this?" I demanded, certain now that I wasn't in any danger, but equally sure that I wasn't parting with any of my under garments. "Who are you?"
"Smithy." He smiled, a bright reassuring smile. "Who are you?"
"Elspeth Marie Angelica Duspre-Holstaff," I introduced myself, and his smile widened.
"Right, cupcake it is then. So about those pants?"
"Look, Smithy,I have absolutely no inclination to part with any of my possessions," I informed him regally. "But I can say that I am especially loathe to hand over any of my intimates."
"That's a shame," he cocked a hip against my window frame and eyed me with bright eyes. "Anything I can do to make you less loathe? I have..." he dug in his pockets and then eyed the contents, wrinkling his freckle spattered nose in concentration, "60 cents and a receipt for sparkly eyeshadow."
When I quirked an eyebrow at this last piece of information he shrugged and said enigmatically, "Some Wednesday nights are more interesting than others, aren't they?"
As my Wednesday nights were never interesting, I had nothing to say in response to this. I had, however, made a connection in my mind and it was in tones verging on the smug, that I said,
"You're a Riverside boy, aren't you?"
"And proud," he sketched a small bow.
"You always call the St Mary's girls cupcakes," I said by way of explanation, even though he hadn't asked how I'd known where he went to school. "Why is that?"
"Because you're always so nicely decorated," he said, as if it should have been obvious. "Now, look, about that deadline, are you sure there isn't anything I can do to get you to hand over something small and frilly?"
It wasn't that I was in any way loosening to the idea of handing my knickers over to this 'Smithy' fellow, but I couldn't help asking curiously,
"If I did, what would you do with them?"
"Now, see," he looked delighted at this progress, "that's the thing, isn't it? I know what you're thinking, and you're wrong. We don't want to do anything perverted with your underpants, on the contrary, they'd be revered. They're rare things, St Mary's knickers, practically holy relics. Us Riverside boys have been on this pilgrimage for many a generation and yet we only have a handful to our name. It's an eternal truth that anything worth having is difficult to obtain."
This was obviously an oft quoted speech and he seemed quite proud of it. I, on the other hand, was unimpressed.
"I don't know," I disagreed, "some of my favourite possessions were just bought in a shop. Actually, that's a point, why don't you just buy some underwear and say it belongs to a St Mary's girl?"
I knew instantly I'd offended him. He drew himself up to his, not inconsiderable, height and looked down his nose at me in disgust.
"We have our honour, madam."
"Right," I said slowly. "So what happens after you get a pair of knickers, not that I'm saying you can have mine," I added hurriedly as some of his affront faded to be replaced with keen interest.
"Ah, well," he tapped the side of his nose conspiratorially, "that's for those in the know to know."
"Meaning you don't know," I said, unimpressed.
"No, but I'd really like to!" He bounced from one foot to another, clearly very excited about his less-than-noble quest. "I have to complete the Five Tasks of the Riverside tonight. This is my fourth year trying and I graduate this year so it's my last chance."
"What happened the past three years?" I asked, interested despite myself.
"I was arrested, slapped, and then arrested again." He ticked the occasions off on his fingers without a great deal of fanfare. "But this is my year, I can feel it."
"I'm half an hour in and I haven't been arrested or slapped," he said patiently, as if I was being a bit dim. "That's a record by my grade's standards."
"Alright," I'd reached a decision, and I was simultaneously horrified, and thrilled to bits with myself. "Just let me get my coat."
"I don't understand." He followed me as I hopped off my bed and headed for the cupboard. "Why do you need your coat?"
"Because I'm going to hand over a pair of my knickers on one condition," I whirled around to face him and held up a finger to indicate how serious I was. "I get to come with you to complete tasks 2 through 5."
"I don't know..." he sounded unsure. "I'm don't think that's how it works."
"Well you don't get past task 1 without me," I pointed out. "Do you really want to go and try your luck with another St Mary's girl? You want to go over all this again?"
When he looked a little bit nauseous at the thought I nodded decisively. "Precisely."
I slipped my arms through my long, green coat, only a sliver of white lace from my nightie peeking out underneath the hem, and slipped my feet into my black ballet flats.
Crossing to my underwear drawer, I pulled it open and considered my options. Not ever having had to sacrifice undergarments to a Riverside boy before, I didn't know what was deemed acceptable. Luckily, Smithy seemed to have a firm opinion on the right choice, and he reached past me to pluck out a red satiny pair with black lace along the top and leg holes. Well, a girl had to have a couple of nice pairs, didn't she?
"Satisfied?" I asked and he nodded, holding my knickers up to the light with an expression of grave respect.
Then he reached into his shoe, plucked out his phone and took a quick snapshot. Quite why he kept his phone in his shoe, I don't know.
"The council will send us our next task once they've verified authenticity," he explained to me and I nodded as if this made perfect sense. Which, of course, it didn't.
Sure enough, though, only thirty seconds or so passed before his phone let out a little buzzing chirp, and we both leant over the screen to see what was coming next.
"Break into St Mary's esteemed Chairman of the Board, Magistrate Huffinworth's, house," Smithy read out loud. Then, he looked up at me quickly. "I'm sure they just mean enter."
"Of course," I said sarcastically.
"Look," he put a hand on my arm, and I looked down at it in surprise. I'd never been touched by a Riverside boy before. "If this changes things...I mean...if you don't want..."
"No, breaking into Magistrate Huffinworth's house presents no concern to me," I reassured him brightly. "Consider me an entourage for my pants. Wherever they go, I go."
"Oh, right." He looked quite impressed with my laissez faire attitude and I felt quite pleased with myself, although, obviously, I knew something he didn't.
And so we headed out into the night. My parents weren't home, so we left via the front door rather than the alternative route in that Smithy had so criminally discovered earlier. It was a mild evening and we walked along fairly companionably talking about this and that until, by the time we reached the Huffinworth's, I was pretty much convinced that I'd handed over my knickers to a fairly affable sort of chap.
Presumably because it wouldn't do to make the Five Tasks of the Riverside too easy, the Huffinworth's property was guarded at the front by a towering pair of wrought iron gates.
"We're going to have to climb them," Smithy said to me, casting a furtive look around presumably in case someone was loitering in the shadows waiting to spring us.
I looked down at my far from grippy flats and then up at the heights we'd have to scale.
"I'm not sure..." I started to protest, but Smithy had already taken a running jump and was now clinging to the railings about half way up.
"Come on, cupcake!" He said and I wasn't altogether reassured by the glee he seemed to be experiencing during a so thoroughly illegal activity.
He was holding a hand back for me, though, and I could see a scrap of my red pants sticking out of his pocket so I shelfed my concern.
With a more genteel hopping motion, I managed to reach up and grab his hand, finding that he was able to haul me up beside him with extraordinary ease.
"You're very strong," I said in surprise and, even in the gloom of the evening, I thought I saw his cheeks darken with pleasure.
"You go up first," he nodded, but I tightened my grip on the railings.
"I don't think so," I said sardonically. "You already have one pair of my pants, you don't get to sneak a look at any others."
"Ah, found out," he spoke without rancour. "It was worth a try." And then he was off, nimbly stretching, reaching and pulling until he was sitting across the top of the gates and leaning down for me again.
"This," I puffed as I tried to follow his easy route up and found that, actually, it wasn't that easy at all, "is so unnecessary."
"Don't be silly." He gave me one last yank and I popped up beside him, straddling the gate with him. "It's totally necessary. Holy relic, sacred tasks, remember?"
"No, I mean-"
I broke off as a security light out the front of the house suddenly flicked on.
"Oh shit!" Smithy looked round in horror. "Quick, cupcake, get down and run, I'll cover you."
Cover me with what? I wanted to ask, but I didn't get the chance as someone appeared out of the house, leaning forward to peer at us up on the gate.
"Elsie, honey?" A voice asked and Smithy turned his head to look at me incredulously.
"Hi Aunt Annie," I called back before shrugging at my fellow gate climber whose mouth had fallen open. "Like I said, unnecessary."
He gave me a little glare, tinged with amusement, and then he was sliding down onto my aunt and uncle's patio.
"Trust me to catch you?" He asked, bracing himself against the gate, and holding his arms up.
"Not even slightly," I laughed, picking my route and landing with a thump next to him.
"What are you doing out there?"
My Aunt Annie came forward, so I was forced to stop grinning inanely at Smithy and go forward to explain.
"I was just passing by with my...friend and we thought we'd say hello."
"That's nice," Aunt Anne politely didn't mention the whole gate climbing thing. "Well come in, Archie and Ravit are here."
"My cousin and his boyfriend," I whispered out the corner of my mouth.
"I'm your friend?" He whispered back.
"For the purposes of task 2, yes."
We followed my aunt into the stylish, welcoming foyer and I saw Smithy's eyebrows rise.
"Nice digs," he complimented Aunt Annie and she smiled, pleased. I guess she could see it was genuine.
"Elsie?" I looked up to see Archie and Ravit coming down the stairs. "What are you doing here? It's a Saturday night, don't you have homework to do or something?"
Geez, thanks Archie.
"Not tonight," I said cheerily. "I'm on a crime-spree so the homework will have to wait. Where would you say is the most distinctively 'Huffinworth' part of your house?"
Aunt Annie had wandered off, probably to plump another cushion in her perfect abode, so it was just the four of us left to ponder this question.
Archie looked confused, which, actually, was nothing new for him, but Ravit widened his almond shaped eyes and said confidently,
"The upstairs bathroom. Have you seen the upstairs bathroom?" He asked Smithy, who shook his head. "It has the family crest in the tiles."
Smithy's eyebrows shot up again and then he turned to me as if checking that Ravit wasn't taking the piss. He wasn't.
"Yeah, that's a good idea, Ravit," I gave him a thumbs up and then nudged Smithy towards the stairs. "Come on then."
"You have a family crest?" He asked incredulously as I hustled him up towards the bathroom, Archie and Ravit trailing behind us.
"Well, this side of the family does. And I wouldn't get too excited," I warned him as we reached the landing, "it's just a shield with a cock on it."
"A shield with a what now?" Smithy's voice rose to an un-gentlemanly pitch, but I ignored him to throw open the door on the right, revealing our destination.
Ugh. It really was a disgustingly ugly bathroom; all gilt and marble and everything flashy. My dad often muttered that my aunt and uncle were 'all money, no taste', which would usually lead my mother to chime in with 'fur coat, no knickers!'
I reassured myself that, as I was in the near vicinity to two pairs of my knickers, I was all class.
"Oh, it's a rooster!"
I looked round to see that Smithy had gone over to the middle of the room and was crouched down where the blue and red emblem was emblazoned across the floor.
"Of course," I sniffed. "I told you that. So, photo?"
"Hang on, what's this all about?" Archie asked suddenly, puffing out his chest and striding forward in an affected, Lord of the Manor sort of way. "Elsie, who is this guy?"
"Some Riverside kid," I shrugged, reaching for Smithy's mobile as he once again pulled it out of his shoe, and then gesturing for him to lie down on the tiles.
"A Riverside boy?" Ravit tittered and I hoped my voice hadn't been as twittery as his when Smithy had first introduced himself. "That's exciting."
"Isn't it, though?" I agreed. "Alright, Smithy, say cheese."
With his mop of hair arranged so it looked like the rooster was wearing a wig, Smithy gave a big grin and I snapped the photo.
"Aw, man, this is so awesome!" He hopped to his feet and retrieved his phone, his fingers whirling across the buttons as he sent off his evidence. "Two tasks down, I knew this year was going to be my year."
Then, in a move I patently did not see coming, he suddenly grabbed me by the waist and spun me round saying, "You're my good luck charm, cupcake."
I'd never been whirled before, it was thoroughly off-putting.
As I caught sight of my face in the large mirror over the sink, however, I saw that 'off-put' was not the primary emotion displayed on my face. I squinted as I tried to make sense of the unfamiliar expression and then hurriedly batted at Smithy's arms as the truth sank in.
It was giddiness. I looked giddy.
My oh my, it really was a night of firsts.
"I'm not your good luck charm," I told Smithy as I tightened my ponytail, trying to regain some composure, "I'm your entree into polite society."
He grinned, displaying a charmingly crooked incisor. "If you say so."
I didn't have time to throw out any more damage control for the whole 'giddy' thing as his phone beeped and he read out the next task.
"Turn the St Ignatius clock forward 12 hours." He looked up and met my eyes quizzically. "What's the St Ignatius clock?"
"More to the point, what's with turning it forward 12 hours?" I asked. "Wouldn't that just show the same time?"
"It's the post office clock."
I had honestly forgotten that the others were still in the room and so I started as my cousin spoke.
"The post office clock?" I repeated. "How do you know that?"
"It used to be our school clock, like back in the 1800's or something," Archie shrugged. "They're always banging on about it in history class or whatever saying its real name is the St Ignatius clock. Don't know what the deal is with changing it to the same time, though."
"Really?" Smithy slipped his phone back into his shoe and then straightened to look at us in amazement. "You don't get how cool it is to have the main clock in this town showing the future? It's practically time travel."
I opened my mouth to disagree, but he grabbed my hand and started to drag me out of the bathroom before I could speak.
"Time travel, cupcake," he said firmly as he pulled. "Let's go do it."
We drew up short as another voice entered the mix and I looked up to see my uncle walking down the corridor towards us.
"Blimey," he said as he got closer, his gaze firmly fixed on Smithy, "that's not...? Is it that time of year again, already?"
Going a little bit red around the ears Smithy nodded abashedly. "Yes, sir, it is."
For a moment I was confused, but then I remembered what Smithy had said about being arrested. Obviously the other St Mary's girls he'd tried to charm undies out of hadn't been as obliging as me and he'd been dragged up before my uncle in court. I wasn't sure whether I was embarrassed or proud of not having either slapped him or had him arrested. Then again, the night was still young...
"And, oh Lord," My uncle groaned slightly, "that's not a pair of my niece's pants in your pocket, is it?"
Smithy ducked his head, but answered again, "Yes, sir."
"They're clean," I interjected, "and I'm keeping an eye on them to make sure they're not used in some undignified manner."
"Well they're your pants, sweetheart," my uncle smacked a kiss against my forehead indulgently. "If anyone gets to decide what they're used for it should be you." He patted me on the shoulder and then turned his attention to my companion.
"I'll no doubt see you in court next week, Smithy. Then again," he smiled jovially, "you never know, fourth time might be the charm."
"Here's hoping!" Smithy grinned back and then gave my hand a little tug and we were off.
As we clattered down the stairs I heard my uncle say, "Hello Archie, hi Ravit, could you go tell mum that a bunch of Riverside boys are probably going to try and break into the house tonight? She could make some of those delicious biscuits of hers and hand them out to the ones who make it."
"Nice guy, your uncle," Smithy commented and I nodded the truth of it.
We barrelled back out of the Huffinworth house through the, now open, gates and down the road. I noted as we sped along that Smithy's enthusiasm was decidedly infectious; I was fairly sure it wasn't just our quick pace that was making my heart beat so eagerly.
This was...quite enjoyable. Polynomials be damned.
As if he could read my thoughts, Smithy turned bright eyes back to look at me.
"Fun, hey?" He asked. "Just wait until we turn forward time, it's going to blow your tiny mind!"
My mind was actually very large, large enough to know that was just an expression, and I let it go.
In the way of small towns, it didn't take us long to reach the main square that was our destination. The post office clock was the main feature, sitting atop a brick tower out the front of the, you guessed it, post office. I'd never really taken much notice of it before, but now I was dismayed to note how high up it was...and how bright the floodlight was that shone on it.
Smithy, as I should've guessed, showed no such reticence.
Dropping my hand, he bounded forward and launched himself with a giant leap onto the clock tower. He clung like a limpet to the brick for a moment, his body throwing a long shadow against the post office, and then started to drag himself up.
"Your ability to illegally scale structures is unnerving," I said snarkily even as, or maybe even because, I found myself wringing my hands anxiously as he went ever higher.
"Evolved from monkeys, cupcake," he called back.
A somewhat simplistic view of evolutionary theory, but I couldn't deny there was something monkey-like in his surefooted ascent.
As there was nothing I could actually do to help with this task and as the hand wringing seemed to be getting worse, I found myself staring at Smithy intensely, as if my gaze alone would help pin him to the tower.
Unfortunately, it seemed that he could feel it.
"You're staring at my butt, aren't you?" He laughed somewhat breathlessly, the only indication I had that the climb was having any affect on him. "You St Mary's girls and your naughty ways."
"I don't have naughty ways," I informed him indignantly. "Your bottom just happens to be the only part of you I can see clearly from this angle."
"A likely story," he puffed. "And, anyway, you're not supposed to be looking at me, you're supposed to be on lookout."
"If anybody within a kilometre has even the slightest inclination to look in the direction of the clock tower you'll be seen," I pointed out dryly. "I'm more use to you staring at your bottom."
"Ah, if I had a dollar..."
He made one last big reach and pulled himself up next to the big silver clock. Clearly forgetting about any need for subterfuge he let out a shout of triumph.
"Look at me, cupcake!" His grin was lit up by the spotlight and I couldn't help returning it. "I'm the king of the tower!"
"Yeah you are," I humoured him. "So now what?"
"Time travel!" He answered, as I should've known he would.
Flicking open the catch at the side of the clock face he gave an almighty tug and managed to swing the glass case open. As I bit my lip nervously he reached inside and grabbed hold of the big hand.
With a quick glance down at me, he started to turn the hand forward, the minute hand seemingly scurrying to keep up. When he'd done a full rotation through the numbers he stopped and admired his handiwork.
"Wow," he murmured, making me step forward a couple of paces to hear him. "Do you feel that?"
I raised my eyebrows. "What?"
"The clock thinks it's 10 in the morning." Smithy tapped the white face gently. "It's sitting there wondering why you're still in your nightie this late in the day."
"Awfully judgemental for a clock," I said, pulling my coat more tightly around myself. "Besides, it thinks it's Sunday and it's perfectly acceptable to still be in your nightie at 10 in the morning on a Sunday." I realised what I was saying and gave myself a little shake. "No, I won't be drawn into this madness. The clock isn't wondering anything, Smithy, it's a clock, now chuck me your phone and come down before you hurt yourself."
"Your problem is that you have no imagination, cupcake," he tutted, nevertheless throwing me his mobile for the evidence gathering.
"I suspect your problem is that you have too much." I snapped the picture as he struck an exaggerated pose. "Great, now come down."
"I don't get what you're so anxious about," he kicked his legs over the edge of the tower and then started to lower himself down, "I'm the one in danger here."
"Sure, but if you die it's not like you'll suffer any consequences, you'll just be dead. I'll be the one having to explain to the police why the contents of your head are spread across the front steps of the post office." I spoke cattily even as my heart leapt into my mouth as his feet sought for purchase.
"Why do I have to die?" He asked conversationally as he continued to swing himself down much too cavalierly for my taste, "why not permanently disabled or something."
"Because if you fall, I'm going to kill you," I growled. "Be. Careful."
Another few heartstopping seconds and he landed with a thump down on the ground next to me.
"Ta-da!" He threw his arms wide and I had no hesitation in leaning forward and punching him in the shoulder.
"Time travel is dangerous," I said stiffly. "Don't do it again."
He saluted. "Aye, aye cupcake!" He held his hand out for the phone and I handed it over, dreading to think what this mysterious 'council' of his was going to make us do next.
Of course I didn't have long to wait to find out, we'd barely finished brushing the brick dust off him before that little beep chimed in.
He lifted the screen to read the instruction and then lowered it, his lips pressed together in a way that had me suspecting he was hiding a smirk.
"How good are you at swimming?"
I snatched the phone off him and read the text.
"Bounty River?" I asked glumly.
"They want us to swim to Riverside?"
"I should've stuck with polynomials," I sighed, passing the phone back.
His forehead crumpled, and he said hesitantly, "Wait, can't you...?"
I rolled my eyes. "St Mary's girls are accomplished at everything, including swimming. You?"
"Riverside boys live in constant fear that the bridge'll go down and we'll have no access to the St Mary's girls." He grinned. "I've known how to swim since I was in kindergarten. Let's go."
That sorted out, and knowing we were over halfway through the tasks made us positively skip towards the river.
The thrill of Smithy not diving to his death off the clock tower faded somewhat, however, as we reached the riverbank and I belatedly remembered all the rain we'd had recently. The dark mass of water swirled and bubbled around the bridge, clipping along at quite a pace. Great. Now I had to worry about him drowning.
Smithy obviously misunderstood my hesitation and he put a hand on my shoulder. "No pressure, cupcake, I can do this on my own."
"Entourage for my pants, remember?" I pulled away and leant down to slip my shoes off. "I let you go in there alone and you'll probably fake your own death and swim off to live the high life in Barbados with my knickers as your hostage."
"Bit of a leap from 'no pressure', but okay." He tugged his own shoes off and then, as if it was no big thing, started to unzip his jeans.
"Woah, steady there cowboy," I said, positive in the next second that that was the first time in my entire life that I'd ever referred to someone as 'cowboy'.
"Well, shucks, little lady," he said in an exaggerated American accent, "my mama raised me right. I gots me some clean boxers on underneath."
And he did too. There was a large peacock on the front of them, upon which I decided not to comment.
"Looks like you've got a decision to make, cupcake," Smithy said, thankfully back in his normal voice now. He tugged his t-shirt off over his head and looked pointedly at my significantly more substantial attire. "What's it gonna be? Swimming the Bounty in your coat and nightie? In just your nightie? Or...?"
I didn't groan out loud, but I think my feelings on the whole thing were pretty clear as I started to strip off.
"You're so lucky I decided to wear a bra tonight," I muttered, neatly folding my coat and nightie down next to my shoes and then straightening to face the first Riverside boy who had ever seen me in my underwear.
"Lucky wasn't the first word that popped into my head, but whatever." He looked me up and down frankly and then gave me a double thumbs up, a move that spared him a lecture on how annoying sexual innuendo was when you were facing jumping into an icy river.
I followed Smithy down to the very edge of the water, strutting confidently in case anyone was watching. I didn't want anyone to see me about to go almost skinny dipping (slim dipping? Curvy dipping?), but if they did I wanted them to think I was absolutely fine with it.
"Don't try to swim into the current," Smithy advised, our toes squelching in the mud. "Swim parallel, and don't-"
I cut him off by diving past him, making sure I made an almighty splash and copping him a big wave of dirty water to the face. I heard him give a spluttery laugh, but then any sounds he was making were drowned out by my own loud piercing scream as the shock of the temperature hit home.
There was another splash and Smithy appeared in the water next to me.
"You alright, cupcake?"
"It. Is. So. Freaking. Cold!"
He chuckled again and then struck out for the opposing bank, calling over his shoulder, "Better get swimming then."
He had a point.
With a big effort I forced my icy limbs to get moving and followed him across. I knew the exact instant that I left the lee of the bank and hit the current proper, it was like being towed behind a boat it was so strong.
I'd grown up on and around the Bounty, though, and I turned my body to hit the pull side on and focused on a point on the opposite bank to head for. The river wasn't too wide so it didn't take too long for me to force my way across and then Smithy was grabbing me under the armpits and hauling me up beside him on the Riverside shore.
My teeth chattered so loudly in my mouth that I barely heard him as he said,
"Wait here, I'll go get your coat." He sprinted away and I brought my knees up against my chest and let out a puff of laughter.
Having swum the river, he'd just run back across the bridge to collect our things. This night was turning on the random in a way it never had before.
He returned in a ridiculously short period of time and I looked at him in admiration.
"You climb, you swim and you run, you've definitely just become the most expensive player in the Riverside fantasy league." I informed him generously. "If my hands weren't numb I'd applaud you."
"Number one in a fantasy league?" He asked, helping me pull my nightie on over my head as I hadn't been kidding about the numb hands thing. "I like that!"
What I was liking was the way he was wrapping my coat around me and then rubbing at my arms, helping to get my circulation going again. Still, I wasn't the only one who had gone all Huckleberry without the raft and so I forced myself to ask,
"Aren't you cold?"
"Bloody freezing," he admitted, "but let's get you sorted first, yeah?"
"Afraid there'll be some kind of voodoo at work if the owner of your sacred panties dies of hypothermia?" I asked archly and he nodded as he started chafing my hands between his own.
"Yeah, I hear red satin can be a real diva if her entourage dies en-route to her big premiere," he agreed before leaning back to ask, "You good?"
And I was actually, still freezing, but good.
"Yes indeedy, let's get this photo done."
And so Smithy draped himself artfully along the bank, curls dripping, goose pimples prominent across his skin, but his smile wide. It was my favourite of the photos.
"We're up to the last one," I pointed out fairly redundantly. I knew the Riverside boys had a reputation for being all brawn and no brains (a reputation that in my eyes at least had taken a significant beating this evening), but I doubted they hadn't mastered counting up to five by their final year.
"Yeah," he nodded. "Who would've thought?"
There was a sudden contemplative mood in the gap between sending off the evidence and the council getting back to us with the final task. Smithy pulled his clothes back on as we waited and then settled back down beside me, bumping my shoulder lightly.
They seemed to take longer than usual to respond, but, as was always the way, Smithy had just turned towards me and started to say,
"Hey, after this is over do you think-?"
When his phone interrupted him.
"Do I think what?" I asked impatiently. I'd never taken well to not knowing what someone had been about to say.
It appeared I'd lost Smithy to his final task, however, his attention firmly fixed on the instructions regarding our last wacky adventure.
"So...?" I pressed when he hadn't said anything for one long minute.
He wordlessly passed the phone over and I read, Task 5: Find the Head Girl of St Mary's and sneak a kiss off her. P.S. good job so far, Smithy. Legend!
Of course the grammar and punctuation was nowhere near as good as that, but I filled in the gaps as best I could.
"Shit!" Smithy suddenly swore, for the first time not overdosing on blind enthusiasm with regards to his tasks. "I don't wanna...I don't even know the girl!"
I let out a strange little constricted noise and he looked at me.
"What?" He asked. "Do you know her?"
I nodded. "Yes."
"And?" He didn't appear at all satisfied with my answer. "What's she like?"
"Cold?" Smithy repeated, catching a drip of river water running down his neck and flicking it away. "I'm not liking the sound of that. Anything else?"
"Eh?" It took him a moment to process, but then his eyes widened in understanding. "...oh."
"Yep." I leant my cheek on my hand and looked across at him with interest. "So, whatcha gonna do, Smi-?"
I didn't get to finish as he suddenly leant forward, replacing the hand on my cheek with his own and pressing his lips against mine.
Our mouths started off cold against each other, but quickly warmed as I turned more fully towards him and reached forward to tangle my fingers through his hair. I was never usually this brazen, but...it was Smithy. Who cared that I'd only met him a couple of hours ago? We'd already ticked most of the necessary requirements off; he'd found his way into my knickers, he'd met the family, he'd made me worry for him, he'd made me want to kill him and he'd made me feel warm all over. If all that didn't deserve a kiss I didn't know what did.
When we finally pulled away I saw that he was grinning a cheeky grin.
"Head girl of St Mary's," he leant his forehead briefly against mine. "I sure know how to pick 'em."
"Oh yes, you're a regular connoisseur of climbing into random windows and demanding underpants off girls." I gave his hair a sudden tug as I added, "actually, you better not be."
He laughed low in his throat. "Nothing random about you, cupcake."
Even if there was perhaps a hint of sarcasm in his tone I decided to let it pass.
"Hang on," I suddenly pulled away and looked round. "We didn't take a picture!"
Smithy appeared flatteringly unfazed. "So we go again?" He suggested.
"Seems the only thing to do," I agreed.
The second kiss was even better than the first...and appropriately documented.
With one of Smithy's arms thrown comfortably across my shoulders we sent the council this final proof.
"So what now, Mr Five Tasks?" I asked easily. "Is there a parade? A sacrificial burning of my knickers? A statue of you out front of Riverside High?"
"I think it's more along the lines of a beer and a pat on the back," Smithy admitted. "But that's cool, I was never in it for the glory."
I snorted at this and he shrugged innocently. "What? I wasn't. A sense of accomplishment in my heart and a girl's undies in my pocket, what more could a boy want?"
I was laughing so hard at this pomposity that we didn't hear the reply come back from the Riverside council, but it hardly seemed the point anymore.
So, no, there was nothing wrong with doing homework on a Saturday night, and polynomials definitely have their place. It just turns out that there's something to be said for indulging in the truly odd every now and again as well.
Even if you do lose a pair of underpants in the process.
Yep, it's one of my patented 'I've forgotten how to write, it's crunch-time in my story and I have absolutely no idea how the creative process works...ooh, random one shot' moments.
As per usual, this was written all in one go late in the evening with a focus on just letting whatever was in my head come on out!
Oh, and Lil Bazza has been asking for a one shot for so freaking long that this one's for her. Told you I'd get round to it eventually, Jen!
I'd love to hear your thoughts...
Edit - someone pointed out that Elspeth Marie Angelica Duspre-Holstaff sounds a bit like Wendy Moira Angela Darling, which got me thinking. A boy comes in her window, and she's wearing a nightie with a green coat over it, which is how Wendy is depicted in a copy of Peter Pan I have. So, yeah, totally accidentally I think this story is Peter Pan based!