CHAPTER ONE

The sun had already begun to set, flooding the sky with hues of red and yellow, but April and her team were still grinding it out on the field. With every repetition and every interval, she could feel her heart racing and her feet pick up and her breath quicken with exhaustion and most importantly, anticipation. Sweat drenched her, and she revelled in it.

It was seven-thirty before Coach McHale finally called it quits and dismissed them. As per usual, she went about her cooldown routine alone; after three long hours of interacting with teammates, albeit with minimal conversation, she needed time to recharge, both physically and mentally. Dumping her shoes and socks beside her bag, she treaded carefully onto the soft dirt of the school field and began her ten minute cooldown routine.

"See you in class, April!" her teammates shouted. Those sods. As per usual, they'd decided to forgo the cooldown routine and headed straight for the bathrooms instead.

Warming up was her most hated part of training, and cooling down was her favourite, even though they both entailed a light jog and stretching. While warming up was delaying the inevitable toughness of the day's workout, cooling down let her recover from it, so she let her mind wander.

Soon April moved on to static stretching and she was having a pretty good time zoning out, leaning against the bleachers and stretching her Achilles tendon, when she got the feeling that she was being watched. It was not creepy per say, but it made her hyper-aware and she turned around to catch a pair of bright blue eyes staring at her from a distance.

River Montgomery - the name was on everyone's lips before the man himself even arrived on campus. Rumour had it he had been expelled from his previous school's for having sex with the Principal's daughter in his own office, defaced the school's donor mural as a parting gift, was secretly part of the Mafia and, to top it all off, a part-time calendar model. April believed none of those, but she grudgingly agreed that his attractiveness was undeniable. He had a sort of charisma that drew people to him, even though he wasn't particularly friendly or outgoing. He was certainly handsome, with a strong jaw and intelligent eyes and dark hair that looked permanently windswept and a tall, muscled body. Yes, he was new and interesting and attractive, but she still couldn't see the appeal.

But there and then, with his blue eyes meeting her brown, a cigarette in his hand as rings of smoke puffed out of his mouth, she began to see why he was so attractive. The guy managed to even make smoking look attractive, an act that April detested.

They refused to look away from each other, locked in a staredown that was bringing her heart rate right back up. Her body continued stretching out of pure habit, and his mouth continued to release puffs of smoke that faded into the evening air. She would not be the first one to look away, to concede defeat, but damn, his stare was certainly unnerving. Normally she could read people very well, through their body language and tone of speaking and most importantly, their eyes; but in River's eyes, she couldn't read anything. It was like a mask. She usually hated mysteries, preferring to abandon something that was bound to be a lost cause, but for some inexplicable reason, this mystery intrigued her. She wanted to know more.

And it seemed like she intrigued him too. The way he tilted his head as he looked at her, gaze still locked onto hers, suggested so. The beginnings of something resembling a smile - a smile, or a smirk? - appeared on his face, and it seemed like he was about to say something, but the moment was broken with a loud shout from the direction of the main school building.

"Oi, River! Where are you, man? Coach wants to speak to you!"

Nate Gregson came striding out onto the bleachers. River refused look away or even make a sound, though, until Nate came round the corner and placed a large hand on his shoulder.

"Come on, let's get you cleaned up or something first. Don't want you smelling like cigarettes when meeting Coach. I think he wants you to join the team," Nate said, a hint of excitement in his voice. Sarah, one of April's few close friends at Greenfield, had dated Nate once upon a time and described him as an excitable puppy. April was beginning to see the resemblance. His excitement was not exactly unwarranted though. In the past two weeks, River had been just as popular with the guys as he'd been with the girls. April had seen him around with the football team in particular, even joining them for practice on occasion - and she had to admit, he was pretty good.

River gave her a small smile, which looked much more like a smirk that promised a rematch in the future, before getting up from the floor. He turned his back toward her, which effectively blocked Nate's view of the sweaty girl doing something resembling circus contortion.

She began to zone their conversation out. It was mostly Nate talking about how cool it would be to have River on the team, especially since their star player had graduated, and River giving an affirmation every once in a while.

April turned away, unsettled by what had just gone on. And really, what had just gone on? They hadn't even exchanged any words, merely looked at each other from across the bleachers, but she could already feel the tension. Not sexual tension, necessarily, but there was definitely something, and she was both excited and scared to find out what.

For once in his life, River Montgomery didn't know what to make of something. This time round, that something being the girl at the bleachers.

He did not even know her name, and to be completely frank, he would probably not have noticed her if it had not been that fateful evening's encounter. She was pretty enough - straight, black hair (though matted with sweat) and a long, lean runner's body (though a little on the skinny side) - but she wasn't someone who would turn heads. She wasn't someone he would look twice at in the hallways. But tonight, he did.

He didn't plan on meeting her, nor did he plan on meeting everyone else. He'd only planned on heading out onto the bleachers for a quick smoke; it was one of his vices, and even though he did not indulge in it excessively, he'd decided that the hecticness of returning to school life warranted a fifteen-minute stint with a cigarette. At seven-thirty, there probably would not be anyone out on the field, but he had been proven wrong.

What was it about her that drew his eyes to her like moths to a flame? He found her attractive, yes, but physical attractiveness was not what made him unable to look away. And besides, she did not look like the kind of girl he usually went after; his 'type', if you could put a label on it, would be those petite girls with tiny waists and large assets, easy to please and easy to leave. This girl, was a little too tall and a little too lean and lacked the curves that he loved to run his hands over. But the way with which she moved, bare feet against the grassy field, moving like a gazelle even though it was a slow pace; and the way with which she stretched, all long limbs and lean muscle; it kept him captivated.

And he had not planned on being caught in a staring match either. When she turned to look at him, he felt almost ashamed, as if he was a peeping tom and had intruded on a private moment, but he refused to look away. (Because, after all, conceding defeat is admitting guilt.) When she refused to look away either, he felt a small amount of begrudging respect for her and an inexplicable tension in the air.

The only thing that brought them out of their little competition was Nate Gregson's untimely appearance, coming with the news that Coach Fintry, the coach for Greenfield's football team, wanted to speak with River. For the past two weeks he had been here, he had begun to hang around the members of the football team and eventually joined them in a few friendly matches here and there. He was good; after all, he'd been captain at his old school.

River gave a small smirk before standing up and turning his back toward Runner Girl. It might have been slightly over-possessive of him to do so, seeing as he didn't even know who she was, but he didn't want Nate Gregson seeing her. He didn't want him seeing her lengthen her muscles, stretching to the sky as if she could touch the stars if she just reached up a bit more. It was a moment between him and her, and he didn't want anyone else intruding.

As he walked with Nate and Nate talked about what their competition was like, he threw his cigarette onto the field and stomped on it and let his mind wander. Nate was a perfectly nice guy, but he had too many words and at times, River simply tuned him out. At this time of the night, the school hallways were quieter, with everyone either in the canteen or in their rooms. It was almost peaceful.

Coach Fintry was in the gym. He was a tall man who had probably been a star player, but was no longer in his prime, and now spent more time researching football strategies and techniques than actually trying them out himself, preferring to leave that to his players.

"Hi Coach, you wanted to speak with me?" River asked. Nate had slipped off surreptitiously, preferring not to incur the wrath of Coach Fintry.

Coach Fintry looked up from whatever he had been doing on his computer. "Yes, yes. Recently you've been joining us for some practice and you're pretty good. Good stamina, and decent technique. We've got an opening for midfielder position if you'd like to have it."

River knew this would be coming. His time as football captain had been stellar, until the expulsion came along and ruined it all, but he did not know if he wanted to commit to another team again. Joining the team would be akin to being accountable to more than ten different people, and he didn't know if that was what he really wanted to do.

"Thanks for the offer, Coach Fintry. I'll consider it and give you an answer later."

He narrowed his eyes at River. "I want an answer by Monday. If not, the spot's going to someone else."

When River headed back to his room, his mind was no longer on football. On its own accord, it had wandered back to the girl on the bleachers - Runner Girl - and more importantly, what he had seen in her eyes. He had seen nothing. He knew his own eyes; they were bright blue, but they hid everything that he wanted to hide. But her eyes, they were just empty. At least in his own there was something - although what that something was exactly was up for debate - but her eyes held nothing, except perhaps a slight curiosity about the strange boy who was staring at her on a Friday evening.