Rick looked at Anne. She was already looking at him, but the issue of where the staff were was on neither of their minds – he could tell that she was thinking about the same thing as him – what had happened between them. There was a pause since Tom couldn’t think of a come-back to Victoria’s cynicism.
“Why don’t we go look for them?” Anne said, slightly unexpectedly.
“What?” Victoria snapped back.
“Yeah,” she said, “we could go looking, and if we run into them, we could say… I don’t know… one of us is sick, or something, we needed to find someone.”
“She’s got a point,” Tom said. “They’re supposed to be there for us in case we get sick.”
“Why would two girls be looking for the staff with two boys?” Victoria speared the proposal.
“Someone got sick on both sides?” Anne suggested.
“Look, we only need the plan if we get caught – it’s the final defence,” Tom said. “It doesn’t have to be genius. We’ll risk it – are the staff going to be worried about whether we’re really sick or not? They’d be worried that we knew they were being slack, not doing their jobs.”
“Let’s get moving,” Rick said. “It’s getting cold hanging about in the air conditioning.”
“I know how to warm you up, Rick,” Anne whispered mischievously to him, and he jumped slightly, having not noticed her getting closer to him.
“Aren’t you even a little bit curious where they are?” Tom said to Victoria. “You’d be willing to just go back to bed and forget all about it? What if something weird’s happened? You wouldn’t want to be the one to find out?”
“Come on Toria!” Anne said, “let’s find out where they are!”
There was a slight pause, and then Victoria said: “well, okay. But they’re not going to believe one of us and one of you is sick. So if we get caught, you’re just messing around – we’re here because one of us is sick.”
Rick smiled – of course it was an unfair deal, but he knew Tom was willing to gamble that they wouldn’t be caught anyway, and he just wanted time with Anne away from the strict discipline of the normal school time, or maybe even just any kind of assurance that they would continue where they’d left off – either tonight or after graduation.
“Sounds good to me,” Tom said.
“The officers’ mess is that way, but if they’re having a meeting, chances are it would be in Commander Beeny’s office,” Tom said, “and that’s the other way.”
“We can split up,” Anne suggested. “Synchronise watches and meet up back here.”
“Good plan,” Tom nodded.
“You can go with Victoria,” the pretty imp told Tom, “I’ll go with Rick. It’ll be fun that way.”
“That would defeat the whole idea of us looking for the staff because one of us is sick,” Victoria said, seemingly more put out by the suggestion of teaming up with Tom than the actual dissolution of their excuse.
“Oh live a little, Victoria!” Anne said. “When we graduate we’re all going to get boring office jobs – we might as well have some adventure while we can!”
“Oh, okay!” she said, frustrated at her lack of control over proceedings, and grabbed hold of Tom’s hand, yanking him away down the corridor.
Nervous butterflies started fluttering inside Rick’s stomach as he realised he was now alone with Anne.
Rick was more nervous than ever. Not only had he lost the security of Tom’s presence – no matter how risky the mischief, if Tom was there he always made it seem safe – but he was now in the company of a girl, prove positive that they were breaking the rules. If caught, they’d really be for it now.
Plus the fact that she was a girl he’d had a crush on ever since year one. She was the stuff of wet dreams, and in a place like Aurelius, where there was no space or privacy to relieve frustration and definitely no way of revealing feelings to the opposite sex, a crush was likely to simmer until boiling point in a recruit.
Right now, Rick felt dangerously close to boiling point – Anne was there, holding his hand, with no one else around at all. Seemingly, they had all the privacy and space they could possibly need, but why would she be going for him of all people? There were more popular boys, there were boys who were much better at the end-of-semester performance tests.
Maybe he was all that was available. Maybe she was planning on making a fool out of him. He hoped not, and lead by the weakness of his desire, he had no insurance against such a possibility.
After a fair stretch of time, they came to the eerily familiar corridor outside Commander Beeny’s Office. Rick had been there a few times – every time one a dare went wrong, every time one of Tom’s suggestions went awry.
“Wait,” she whispered to him.
“Wait here in the dark. I’ll knock on the door – if it opens, no one will see you. It’ll be like it’s just me standing there, and I can say I’m feeling sick. You can make an escape.”
“Okay,” he said obediently.
“Will you let me kiss you again?” she asked.
“Huh?” his stomach leapt within him.
“You know, in case this is the end of our time together tonight.”
“Uh… I guess…” he said nervously.