William got me into cycling but it could have been anything. If he'd joined the chess society I would have signed up. If girls were even allowed. But thankfully it was cycling he was into and after a short, fumbled conversation he thought I was into it too. He said he'd sort me out with a bike, and he found an old Raleigh in a dusty bike shop squeezed between a supermarket and a bathroom store. The bike had a silver woman's frame with handle bars wrapped in tan-coloured leather and gears on the end. I fell in love with it immediately. It was the first thing I owned that I had truly valued since I'd moved away from home. I couldn't wait to get out into the countryside on it.
I began to cycle to university every morning with William. I wasn't a very confident cyclist but I felt safe behind him. I watched as he darted between the old buildings, ran over the cobbled streets, and I tried to emulate as best as I could. My favourite part of the ride was a long hill just outside of the university quarter. We'd bomb down that hill at insane speeds, and I'd lift my feet off the pedals, pretending I was flying, just like a child. The wind roared in my ears and I watched William, his shirt fluttering in front.
Perhaps it was the childishness of it all, but I started playing a little game every morning as we descended the hill. I would whisper things to myself - about the university, friends, William. The wind was so loud I knew the secrets couldn't be heard by the rest world. And then the gradient would even out and the wind would calm, and I would fall silent as we rolled into the university quarter.
Each morning I played the game, while the long summer slowly became autumn, and the brown leaves started to accumulate on the road. It felt so good to be spilling all of these thoughts into the morning air, feeling them whipped away and shredded; dispersed in the atmosphere like flocks of birds. And each morning I would look at William longingly as we rode together and he gazed steadily ahead, his feet fixed on the pedals. I wondered what he was hearing - what he was seeing.
One morning I arrived outside the halls but there was another girl next to William, perched on her bike. She was a tall girl, with short blonde hair, and she was wearing a brown vintage jacket. I recognized her vaguely as one of William's friends - a French girl called Florence. I'd seen her in one of the student plays William had acted in.
She looked at me with vague disinterest and we shuffled out onto the road and rolled down the hill. Florence pulled alongside William and I remained behind. I concentrated on the wet autumn leaves that lined the road, almost certain I would fall and injury myself badly if I ran over some of them and my bike tyres slipped.
More of William's friends began to join us on the ride. Like Florence, they were mainly actors - exuberating confidence and stories, jostling for their position in the peloton that had evolved around him. Eventually it became too much for me. I began to take the bus instead, and told William I was nervous about the wet leaves. He said he understood.
I sat quietly on that little shuttle bus as it rumbled into town. I had a little corner where I could sit in peace, read my book, and watch people as they got on the bus. The glass gently shook and rattled with the engine - tenderly bumping me awake.
One morning William got on the bus. He walked over to my corner sheepishly and sat down next to me. He asked if I was coming on the long ride in the countryside with everyone on Wednesday. I'd heard nothing about it - it must have been organised by Florence and her friends.
"Unfortunately I've got to study," I replied.
"That's a shame. The weather forecast is great. Everyone is going to be there."
The bus bumped into town and I looked out of the window. It went slowly down the hill. It felt like the world was coming to a standstill. I was going to be left on this bus when it stopped; a statue for future alien civilisations to find. I thought some more about the ride - if everyone was going to be away on Wednesday it would mean I would have the hill to myself. Not even William would be there. I wanted to go down one more time - fast.
It was a cold, bright morning that Wednesday. The trees had almost been entirely stripped of leaves by the winter, and on the ground they had decayed in the rain. The road was solid and damp. I waited at the top of the hill, watching the branches shake in the breeze, and looking over what was visible of the university quarter below. I pushed off, starting to roll forward, when I heard a shout from behind me. I looked around to see William rocketing toward me with a big grin on his face. He was alone, and he waved at me as he rushed by, signalling for me to join him down the hill.
I pedalled hard, just catching him as the gradient steepened. We both shot down the hill. Air tore at my limbs. I was silent with excitement and joy. I wanted to fill myself with what was happening, and everything in the world at that moment, from the grass by the roadside to the birds in the sky. And it was in that quiet that I thought I heard the faint whispering of a boy's voice.