As soon as he’d delivered his message, Rick left. He walked off with the sign tucked under his arm like nothing of any consequence had happened. The half of his face that was visible showed no emotion.
The class filled with chatter and Mr Drews began banging his computer mouse on his desk like it was gavel.
“Enough,” he yelled over the noise of the children. “Ignore what just happened. One more sound and there’ll be a test tomorrow.”
No one really believed him, he wasn’t the sort of teacher who would create more work for himself, but everyone quieted down anyway.
Fortunately for Britta, no one even thought to consider her as the object of Rick’s interest. It was universally acknowledged Rick must have been trying to woo one of the girls in class, and there was a mixture of guessing who could have caught the weirdo’s eye and revulsion at the idea of where such things might lead. Chloroform and the back of a van was the popular guess, which Britta considered plainly ridiculous since Rick was too young to drive.
Britta sensed that the girls in class both keenly wanted to be the one who was special enough to warrant messages at the window, and at the same time, they desperately didn’t want to be the girl in question.
Rashida was the only one to look nowhere but at Britta. She didn’t say anything, she just raised an eyebrow on her hijab-framed face.
After the lesson ended, Britta left the class in a panic. She didn’t care what Rick wanted, but if people saw him hanging around her locker at lunchtime — and they were bound to be watching — she would become the focus of unwanted attention and a laughing stock. Even if she didn’t turn up to the meeting, it would make no difference.
How did he even know which locker was hers? Had he been spying on her? It was all very disconcerting.
There was no real threat involved. She didn’t think he was going to do anything other than try to get her to introduce him to Dad. It was even sadder than people would assume.
She had to stop him, but she didn’t even know where to find him to tell him to leave her alone. But she had a good idea who to ask.
The next lesson was English, and Lewis was sitting at his desk with his laptop open. Britta walked up to him holding a notebook. He slowly dragged his eyes from the screen to look up at her, and then at the book she was offering him.
“Take this and pretend I’m asking you something homework-related.” She wasn’t about to start any rumours herself.
He took the notebook and opened it. There was nothing in it. Britta took notes on her own laptop, the book as just for emergencies.
“Why am I doing this?”
“Never mind that, you told Rick about my dad.”
Lewis looked back up at her. “What? No, I didn’t.”
“Then how does he know? You were getting all chummy with him and then suddenly he wants to talk to me about my dad and holds up signs to get my attention.”
“Oh, that was you?” He’d already heard about what had happened earlier in geography. News travelled fast.
“I told you not tell anyone,” said Britta. “You have to tell him to leave me alone.”
“Me? I didn’t tell him anything. Why would I?”
“Because you want to get on his good side so he’ll let you see his helmet.”
Lewis looked even more shocked. “You think I’d tell him just so I could… Okay, maybe I would do something like that, but I didn’t. Really. He never even mentioned you or your dad. Maybe he met him in the game.”
It was a possibility, one Britta had already considered, but it seemed very unlikely. Much more plausible was that Lewis had used the information to start a conversation related to New World, and was now lying. Although that still didn’t explain how Rick had known about Dad’s video-making side-career.
“You really didn’t tell him anything?”
“I swear. On my mum’s life.”
It was a bold declaration, and Britta was inclined to believe him.
“Okay. Sorry. He’s just freaking me out. He followed me home yesterday.”
“Shit. Maybe you should report him.”
“He didn’t do anything,” said Britta. “I don’t think he will, either. He’s more interested in my dad than me.”
“Why don’t we go ask him what he’s playing at?” said Lewis. “After class.”
“Really? Thanks, I’d appreciate it. I don’t have to go, too, do I?”
“I think it would be better if you confronted him. He doesn’t really register things if they aren’t aimed directly at him. If I told him you wanted to be left alone, he’d assume that was just my opinion.”
Britta had also got that sort of feeling about Rick. That he wasn’t being malicious, he just didn’t get what the big deal was. He’d followed her home to meet her father and talk about video games. What could be more normal than that?
“Do you know where he’ll be?” asked Britta.
“Same place he always is,” said Lewis.
After class, Britta quietly left as normal and waited around the corner. It was breaktime and people were wandering around in large groups, chatting and generally wasting time until the next class began.
Lewis walked past her, nodding once. She fell in behind him, doing her best to make it look like she just happened to be going the same way.
He led her out of the main building, into the computer annexe, up the stairs, into a small room full of older computers no one used any more.
Rick was in the far end, seated in front of a large desktop PC. What was surprising, though, were the two people with him — Toby and Lucas.
They weren’t fighting or arguing. They were chatting and laughing and getting on like a house on fire.