Thanks to all who reviewed. Your much appreciated advice has the first chapter looking significantly different to what it did when I first posted it. Like before, I'm submitting this chapter in two parts, so the ending will come at you a bit suddenly. I'm just worried about the reader suffering from the affects of prolonged exposure to my words.
Talisha Bedford and her hulking boyfriend had taken up their rightful positions at the back of the bus, surrounded by other sportsmen and future catwalk stars. Rocca and I had chosen seats in the midsection, far enough away from Tyler for comfort, but close enough to him to appear unfazed by that morning's brush with death. Zoe was seated towards the front, along with the supervising teachers and the unpopular, downtrodden students who were always forced to congregate at that end of the bus. Yet Zoe had chosen to seat herself and Julia there, and was chatting pleasantly to all around her, completely ignorant of the school's caste system. I simply couldn't fathom how someone could be so nice; it was almost infectious. If Jesus had possessed half the friendliness that Zoe did, it was no wonder that Christianity had caught on.
"So, are you going to grow a pair and ask her out?" Rocca asked me suddenly. Realising that I must have been staring up the front for too long, I quickly diverted my eyes to the roof of the bus; an idiotic move, as it simply incriminated me further. Rocca's own eyes performed a roll. "That was subtle."
"Ask who out?" I replied innocently, now sounding desperate to save face. I wasn't sure why I was even bothering, as I usually had no problem discussing potential relationships. Rocca had just caught me off guard, and this seemed like the appropriate response.
"I'm not going to answer stupid questions," Rocca said, glancing out the bus window. The passing buildings were beginning to increase in size as we approached the inner-city, where the Museum of Human History could be found. "I, myself, can't believe Zoe's still single," he continued. "With looks like that, you'd think any of the boys at the back of the bus would jump at the opportunity to have her on their arm."
"She's been asked out by fourteen different guys, but she's said no to every one of them," I informed him. There was a pause. "I mean, I've heard it was fourteen…or some other less specific number."
"Clearly you haven't been keeping count. But come on, Ethan - Zoe's nice; you're…predominantly nice. You two would get on like a burning abode."
I shrugged, not wanting to get drawn into unrealistic talk. If fourteen other guys had been rejected by Zoe, there was little chance that she would accept my offer for a Rom-Com and Chinese food.
"We're not in the same social circle any more," I explained. "We're in a couple of classes together, but, other than today, we haven't talked to each other recently. Actually, I wouldn't even consider what I said back there to be 'talking'."
"You made a dick of yourself, to be sure, but all that can be easily rectified. Look, if she's willing to chat with those who dwell at the front of the bus, then certainly she wouldn't turn down the chance to chat with you. After all, you're an old acquaintance. We've been going to school with her since Kinder; used to hang out with her a fair bit back when we were kids, remember?" How could I forget? "And the fact that she stepped in to save your bacon from Tyler's frying-pan fists means she obviously cares about you."
"I think you're reading too much into it. You know she's always stepping in to resolve fights at school. She's like a blonde peace summit. I really doubt she chose to save our bacon because of any romantic reasons."
All that talk of bacon resulted in the incident with Talisha and Tyler flashing through my mind again. I swiftly remembered that I should be acting irately towards Rocca.
"Anyway, what was with that whole prostitute thing?" I asked heatedly, shoving Rocca so that his head hit the bus window with a glassy thud. "That whole mess could've been avoided if you'd just kept your freakin' mouth shut."
"Ow! Well, what was with the whole groping thing?" Rocca retorted, rubbing the point of his head that had made contact. "Are you insane? Why would you even want to touch Bedford? On the list of things you shouldn't do, touching Talisha Bedford is, like, nestled right between self-mutilation and making a fourth Indiana Jones film. You just don't do it. I hope she singed your hand with her demon-flesh."
"Look, I wasn't groping her, it was an involuntary action. You see some girl tripping over, you grab hold of her to make sure that she doesn't. It's not my fault my Dad's hammered chivalry into me from a young age. Whatever. I was just going to 'sorry' and move on with my life, but then you had to start up with your usual antagonising. And that's what brought Tyler into things."
Rocca's hands flew up defensively. "Hey, he's not in my class and I didn't see him standing there; how was I to know he does this subject? That's just some shoddy luck right there. I mean, it makes no sense at all - ancient history does not suit him. You'd think his timetable would be filled out with woodwork and metalwork and what not."
"He's tall enough to be in the Guinness Book of Records! How did you not see him? And once again, you retreated like a coward when push came to shove. You're meant to be my bro, and that was a total non-bro move back there. I'm just sick of you always doing a French on me whenever we're in trouble."
This rant made Rocca fall silent. He could counter almost anything thrown at him, but his cowardice was a significant chink in his armour.
"I've got a brittle body, okay? I don't take damage well," he murmured after a while.
I snorted, knowing that was a lie, and looked away in frustration, staring again at the front of the bus. Zoe was listening intently to the person sitting behind her, Dale, a guy with an unfortunate lisp that caused him to project spittle a few times a sentence; the exact volume of spit dependent on the number of 'S's in that sentence. Julia was shielding her face with a textbook while Zoe sat smiling and nodding, not even flinching once. Her niceness really was infectious; it was as though she exhaled nitrous oxide or something. As I continued to watch the saliva dripping down her face, I felt my frustration being slowly eroded away. When I was ready to face Rocca again, I found him surveilling me with a knowing look.
"So, has yet another dose of Mulligan calmed you down?" he asked.
I shoved him again, though this time he was prepared for it, his cranium staying clear of the bus window.
"If you get into an argument with any of the museum staff, I swear, I will terminate this friendship," I threatened him, though my words held more than a touch of light-heartedness. I never did stay angry at Rocca for long, and watching Dale made me thankful that at least my friend didn't spit in my face whenever he said 'spit'. "But seriously, Rocca, you need to be more selective with who you attack. You even started in on Mr. Jennings for God's sake! You've just got to cut down on all this provoking. I'm more certain than ever that it's going to get us killed."
"As your friend, I will be honest with you: not going to happen."
It wasn't long before immense shadows were being cast over the bus, the soaring buildings they belonged to indicating that we were well and truly in the city centre. Town Hall passed us by, as did the War Memorial, the Gallery of Contemporary Art, several McDonald's, and all the grim towers of commerce that made up the CBD. Eventually, the bus came to a halt out the front of a wide, old-fashioned sandstone building, four stories in height, its exterior lined with the columns and arches common to civic buildings from the earlier part of the Twentieth Century. It was our city's Museum of Human History.
A large banner had been hung over the museum's entrance, with 'The Lost Relics of Alexander the Great' written on it in a capitalised, weathered stone-esque font. Some of the English-Latin letters had been replaced by letters of similar appearance from the Greek alphabet; the symbol for Delta replacing the 'A's, the symbol for Sigma replacing the 'E's, and so on. Images of what I assumed were some of the relics that the banner spoke of surrounded the writing: a white stone bust of some noseless head (possibly Alexander's, I wasn't sure), a polished torc comprised of twisted gold, a vase or amphora with an unmistakably Egyptian-styled human painted on its side, among others.
Each ancient history class had been assigned its own civilisation to study that school term, with my class learning about the Greeks, others the Persians, some even focussing on the ancient peoples of India. Since Alexander the Great played a significant part in almost all of their histories, Mr. Jennings had obviously decided the museum's temporary exhibition would be a relevant and ideal change of pace from our usual lessons, and I couldn't fault him. Anything was an ideal change when compared to writing essays about the importance of bread in ancient Greek society. Not that I didn't like bread or anything.
The bus was soon empty, with Mr. Jennings and the other history teachers demanding every student's best behaviour as we progressed under the banner and into the museum's front lobby. It was a spacious, echo-inducing area, with marble floors and a curved ceiling far above us, surrounded on all sides by open doorways, directional signs, and even more columns and arches. A reception desk sat to the left, with the centre of the lobby occupied by a large tableau of our ancient indigenous people; wax models that were holding spears and foraging and clacking sticks together in what would have been a rhythmic fashion, if the models had been, in fact, capable of movement.
I could hear adolescent shouts and chatter originating from somewhere off in a nearby room, telling me that our school was not the only one visiting that day, though the lobby itself was fairly devoid of life. I imagined the museum didn't see its turnstiles rotating a great deal on mid-week workdays…or perhaps it was just that busy all the time. I wasn't really up to date with the average daily attendances of museums.
Some movement came from behind the reception desk, and soon a lady in a sensible navy dress-suit was upon us, her head burdened by a mass of red curls that hung down around her bespectacled face.
"Ridgevale College?" she asked Mr. Jennings, who nodded in response. "Ah, good. I was watching the clock, thinking that perhaps we had our dates mixed."
"Yeah, sorry about that. Bus difficulties," Mr. Jennings explained, his bald head reddening a little from embarrassment. Teachers got embarrassed over the strangest things.
"I'll keep the introduction short then," the lady said, turning to address her crowd. "Welcome boys and girls – or, should I say, 'ladies and gentlemen' - of Ridgevale College. My name is Veronica, and I'm the Assistant Curator of Art here at the Museum of Human History. I'll be guiding you through our latest exhibition today. No doubt you're all very eager to see what-"
"Woooo!" Kevin interjected with a fist-pump.
"Yes. 'Woo' indeed," the lady named Veronica replied, glaring at Kevin, understandably thinking that she was being mocked. "As I was saying, no doubt you're all very eager to see what extraordinary new artefacts have been uncovered from the age of Alexander. Since we're already a tad bit behind on schedule, I won't delay proceedings any longer. Follow me this way please, and try to refrain from much noise, as well as from touching anything that looks to be two-thousand years of age or older. This way now."
Veronica performed an about turn and started towards a doorway at the far side of the lobby, her curling strands of hair bobbing about like limp Slinkies with every step. My fellow students and I, herded on all sides by the teachers, followed closely behind, with Talisha whipping out her smart-phone, more than likely to post on Facebook about how ungodly bored she was already. I made certain to keep myself on the other side of the group of students from her and Tyler, as I didn't exactly want my excursion to be interrupted by sudden unconsciousness.