It begins. This year — THIS is when I find my first ever girlfriend.
A girl on my course has invited me to a pre-drinks party. I tell my flatmate this as I leave, and she looks at me with raised eyebrows and says, ‘Aren’t you forgetting something?’ I say no. She shakes her head at me through the kitchen window, and I give her a thumbs up. Then I realise.
SHIT, FORGOT THE DRINKS.
The image of her stays in my mind’s eye as I sprint to the shop. Her grin that’s so wide and exuberant, it’s done with such minimal effort it comes so naturally. It reminds me of Julia Roberts or Rachel McAdams for the sheer magnitude of joy it emanates. Then there’s the white hair hanging past her ears like paper strips, curling at the ends, her green irises the same colour as the Subbuteo pitch I once had when I was a kid, the white light reflecting off her pupils making them look like footballs. What’s her name again? Oh yes, that’s it: Janet.
Once I’ve left the shop, I sprint off down the Street and across the Square, and run up the steps. I turn right, and as I approach University Drive I smell cigarette smoke, and I look behind me, and beyond the vanilla-tinged concrete of the Arts Building the clouds are grey and white, the sky a butterscotch sea with pink foam clouds scudding against the trees.
The buses emit a rackety hiss as they trundle away from the stop, and I hear squealing peals of laughter from a group of girls (or are they called women now they’re nearing their twenties?) presumably heading for the shop to get even more vodka and coke.
I turn right, and I hope and pray for the best.
It is now January. The memory of me leaving the LCR all alone is but a distant memory. The sunlight is even more beautiful now it sets at 4pm. I sit in the Enterprise Centre, and gaze out the window in the seminar room, at the indigo fields and the glowing streetlights bathing everything in gold. God, it’s fucking frustrating to see all this beauty, and not have anyone to share this vision with.
Once the seminar has ended, I wait for a girl who’s willowy and has curly black hair, like the waves of the ocean drawn in charcoal. Some day I’m gonna say that to her. Her name is Nikki. She smiles at me as I stand waiting for her in the doorway.
‘So how’d you find it?’ I ask her.
‘Find what?’ her face changes, like I’ve said something wrong.
‘It was alright,’ she says.
‘Yeah,’ I reply.
There comes a pause.
‘You think you’re gonna be able to do all that reading?’ I ask her, and she nods.
We walk down the staircase, then through the two front doors as they slide open, and out into the tiled expanse of the courtyard, the lamps still bathing everything in gold. The air is the kind of cold that makes friends with my blue fleece, the phthalocyanine sky looking so serene as people hurry by in their black Doc Martens and purple Vans, some of them stumbling about as their feet turn numb from inside thin Converses.
‘Are you trying to look like a swot, with all those Post-It notes sticking out?’ Nikki asks me once we reach the pavement, and I look at her, and she glances down at my copy of Moby Dick that I’ve tucked under my arm because it won’t fit in my canvas bag.
‘No!’ I say, and then think, Shit I sounded really angry.
‘Sorry,’ I add. She doesn’t respond. We remain silent as we pass the Sportspark, and then past Earlham Park. At this point I glance at Nikki; she’s on her phone, scrolling through her News Feed. I try not to feel too hurt by that.
At the zebra crossing, I say I’m going this way, and she says, ‘Well, I’m going this way, so bye.’ She walks off, and I turn right. I get a strange sense of deja vu, but I shake it off, and I gaze up at the night sky.
At last it’s June 1st. The last week of my first year. And what a fruitless search it’s been. Closest I got to finding a girlfriend was with Nikki, but she turned out to be a right piece of work. There’s a knock on my door as I’m taking the Edvard Munch poster down from my bedroom wall. I jump down from my bed and open it.
Subbuteo eyes and white paper strips dangling past her ears, it takes me a millisecond to realise that my flatmate Janet is standing right infront of me.
‘Hey,’ she says. ‘Just wanted to say that my family’s here, and I’ll be heading off soon, so… have a good summer, Benjamin!’
‘You too,’ I say. And she pulls that Julia Roberts smile, and she stretches out her hands, and I wrap my arms around her ribs, across her back, and against my chest I feel her frame, and her heart tremoring, and her shoulders like biscuits, hard on the outside but soft on the inside. Her hair is against my ear, and it’s like a jumper, soft as wool.
The heaviness behind my eyes is leaking. The world’s going blurry. But I’m smiling. It comes so naturally to me.
She breaks off, and she sees me, and she grins wider than ever before, and she waves again and heads back to her room.
I watch her close the door. I stand there for a minute or so. I can’t help but feel her pressing against my chest.
I walk down the hallway.
And I turn left.