One: Ain't It The Life
Well I never should have settled down
Hanging around in a one horse town
Where everyone started sleeping around
No I never should have settled down
'Cause hanging around in a one horse town
Does nothing for your state of mind
The Thrills – One Horse Town
Welcome To Buckley, Maine.
The wooden declaration standing limply at the side of the road looked like it had seen better days. It had been welcoming me to my own town for years now, since way back when I was actually halfway proud to live there, and every morning on my way to school, it winked at us from the grass verge as the bus trundled back into Buckley after its convoluted round-trip through the neighbouring district of Knebford.
I say us, although I can never be sure whether I'm the only one who seems to hate this place so much. It isn't that it's a particular bad place, don't get me wrong. It's just…. I don't know. Lifeless.
Lifeless, and predictable, and the kind of place where when you walk down the street, people know your name, they know your parents, they have an opinion on where your life is heading. The worst part is, in this place no one's life seems to be heading anywhere. Sure, there are good jobs, and there are average jobs, there are opportunities, if you look hard enough, to make something of yourself in Buckley. It isn't so small that it simply swallows you whole without a backward glance. But sometimes it's depressing, the way that no one ever seems to leave. Once you're born here, that's all there is. The ambition to stick around.
I get the feeling Olivia has been trying to get my attention for a while. Or maybe not. Livi's expression, after all, does tend to verge on exasperated on most occasions when we are together.
"Yeah?" Mornings were never really my speciality, and I am still half asleep as we trundle towards another thrilling instalment of our lives as we knew them- above all, as downtrodden seniors at East Buckley High. Not that there ever has been a North, South or Western counterpart. But giving the impression we have the potential for four separate high schools does at least make Buckley seem that little bit bigger and more exciting, I guess.
"You've been out of it since we left," Olivia grumbled, refusing to answer me immediately. "What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing. I'm just tired, that's all." I raised an eyebrow at her expectantly. "What did you want to say, anyway?" I already know what she is going to talk about, even as I ask, but Livi likes to believe she is keeping me in suspense as much as possible. As though I am endlessly enlightened and intrigued by her own personal rollercoaster.
"I just wanted to ask you one last time." Livi dramatically took a deep breath and looked me straight in the eye, and if it hadn't been so early or so unspeakable I would have laughed. "Do you honestly believe I can win in the class elections?"
"Course I do." It's true, although my answer would have been the same even if not. See, Livi was desperate to become the senior class president. All she needed to be told was that the rest of the senior population were desperate for her to be it too. And Livi was nothing short of a popular choice. People liked her. At one time or another, a good proportion of them had wanted to be her, or at least imitate her life to a certain extent. In a place where fame was a rarity, Livi had risen to the top.
She grinned. "I'm so nervous," she confessed, bouncing in her seat all the same.
"You'll be fine." I grinned back. Life at Easy Buckley High had been one long arcade of fun for my best friend ever since we had made the transition there just over three years ago. Sure, we had both shared our fair share of angst and anxiety along the way, the difference being that while mine seemed to seep from every pore, Livi managed to cover hers with a sheen of exuberant cheerleading and collection of beaming smiles. I grinned further at the thought. If Liv constantly managed to land on her feet, I had a feeling I had the knack of landing on my head.
The bus slithered unconvincingly into the grimy bay that ran adjacent to the student parking lot. Livi turned to me, troubled once again. "You have to come with me," she pleaded as we stood up to disembark. "I…." She stopped, mid-sentence, as we hit the ground. "Sam!" she yelled, loud enough to attract not only her boyfriend's attention, but most of the surrounding students' too. "Over here!" Despite her words, she was already heading towards him. "I'll catch you later, August!" she promised, the words catching in the wind as she raced towards Sam.
I watched her go and waved as she turned around. "So much for nervous," Maria observed dryly behind me.
I grinned. "That's Livi."
Maria laughed. "Some things never change."
"True." I didn't want to dwell on that prospect too long. "You wanna get inside?" The interior of East Buckley High was just as uninspiring and grey as the exterior, but in the October chill, at least it was halfway warm.
"Sure." Maria slung her bag over her shoulder and I jammed my hands in my jacket pockets. "Wow. Practice is gonna suck later," she groused good-naturedly, as we made our way towards our homeroom.
I looked up at the sky, with all its clusters of clouds, and had to agree. Maria was part of our varsity swim team, and like Liv's cheerleading commitments it had always played a big part in her life. The three of us had grown up within yards of each other, and my mother still despaired now that while Livi and Maria were doing something practical with their time, I was, in her words, 'floundering'. Even Livi had pointed out to me, quite cheerfully, that I was a drifter.
"Hey, Liv. What's up?" On reaching our homeroom, we had encountered Livi yet again, this time Sam-less and looking less than thrilled for whatever reason. I loved my best buddy to bits, but she never did anything by halves- when she was happy, the whole world knew. And when she wasn't, she made it just as clear. There was never, seemingly, any middle ground, which was part of Livi's way of looking at life, it appeared.
"New kid." She pulled a face and then smiled ruefully. "And being the first one in today, Ms Whelan thought it'd be a treat for me to go collect the newbie." Another grimace. "Who heard of coming to a new school for the last eight months?"
"Guy or girl?" Maria asked.
Livi shrugged and held up a slip of paper. "Girl, I guess. K. Gray." She stuffed in back in her pocket. "I should go," she said finally. "I'll see you guys in history, right?"
Maria and I nodded as she scooted round the corner. "You'll never guess who called me last night," Maria said suddenly, as we slipped into the empty classroom.
"Who?" I dropped my bag under my desk and twisted round so we could speak face to face. I held up a hand. "No. Wait a minute. Let me guess." Maria looked amused. "Okay. This couldn't have anything to do with a certain friend of a certain boyfriend of a certain friend of ours, could it?"
Maria giggled. Go figure. That was new in itself. "Got me," she admitted, smiling from ear to ear.
I grinned. "So….?"
"So…. I don't know." Maria rested her head on her upturned hands and looked thoughtful. "We talked for a while. About lots of stuff, and we seemed to, y'know, get on pretty well." A small grinned tugged at the corners of her mouth. "It just seems kinda…. unreal."
I smiled. "He'd be lucky to have you, Maria, and you know it."
She grinned back. "That's what Livi said."
"Then go for it," I urged her, as the bell sounded. "You two would be great together." Even before Livi had intervened with her special brand of matchmaking, it had been obvious to most of the student body that Sam's buddy Ollie had been pretty keen on Maria. And it was no secret, at least not to Liv and I, that Maria had always had something of an itsy bitsy crush on old Ollie. The only negative point was the fact it had taken them months to do anything about it.
Maria literally beamed, despite the early hour. "You know what this means," she proposed, lowering her voice as Mr Rodriguez took the stand at the front of the class.
"What's that?" I had just enough time to whisper back as he set down the roll call and pulled back his customary chair, eyeballing us all in turn.
"We just need to find you someone," she hissed back, all-serious despite her playful tone, "and we'll be all set."
Now why didn't that fill me with the utmost confidence?
**A/N: Feedback is appreciated as ever!! How often this will be updated I have no idea, as I have two other stories on the deck that I'm working on already, but hopefully it should be pretty regular **crosses fingers**. Anyway, hope you enjoy. Peace. **