The morning came, and with it a bleariness that came from the lack of sleep rather than alcohol. Jessica knew as soon as she woke up and saw the clock – god damn eight o clock, are you kidding me? – that she was going to be in a foul mood. Her bladder and her empty stomach reminded her why she couldn’t just go back to sleep, and with some muttering to herself she forced herself up.
Jessica plodded down to the kitchen, the cold air worsening her mood (she refused to acknowledge that she could have avoided this by taking her dressing gown; it was one of those days). It was barely quarter past eight, fucking hell. She didn’t even have class until ten, and that was if she could even be bothered going.
Jess made the mistake of assuming her mood couldn’t get any worse, but then she walked through the arch to the kitchen.
The shock of seeing an unfamiliar face – and her natural clumsiness – made her catch her foot on the edge of the arch, momentarily unbalancing her. She flailed, showing an embarrassing flash of her knickers, and somehow recovered it. The new guy watched her, a smile slowly spreading over his face.
“Good morning,” he said pleasantly, and took a big bite of toast.
She knew immediately that this was the guy Kelsey had taken home, if only because he could be no one else.
“Oh, fuck off,” she muttered.
She saw him gesture to the bread box out of the corner of her eye and scowled. “The answer is no, then. Why are you helping yourself to free breakfast?”
“Reckon I’ve earned it,” he said cheekily. “Worked up an appetite, y’know?”
“Trust me,” Jessica said sourly, “I know.”
“The point,” she went on, well aware she was being a pedantic asshole and not quite caring, “Is that this isn’t your dorm, nor your food, so if you would kindly get to fuck –“
“Yes,” Jessica grunted. “Does Kelsey know you’re still here?”
“I reckon she’s still asleep,” he said with a shrug. “I think I tired her out.”
“Modest,” Jess rolled her eyes, taking a bowl of cereal to the breakfast table.
“Nothing wrong with knowing your strengths,” he grinned, and she knew he was just teasing her, but she was inclined to believe he was an ass if only because her bad mood made her incapable of believing anything else about him.
“Look,” Jessica said patiently. “Were you planning to leave Kelsey as a one night stand, or…?” She didn’t know Kelsey well, though the girl had struck her as the shyest of the lot, and she couldn’t deny her protective urge even if the girl had kept her awake for far too long.
“We hooked up at a party, and I do not have her number,” the boy shrugged. “I reckon that was the intention. If she wants to get in touch, though,” he said, slipping off the stool, “tell her to ask for James Junior at the Andrew Davidson Dorm.”
“James Junior,” Jessica said derisively, “who the fuck is called that?”
“Someone with an arrogant douche for a dad,” James shrugged, not quite as humorous as before. He brushed the crumbs off his jeans onto the floor – Jessica scowled at him – and left his plate by the sink. “I’ll leave that as a gift,” he grinned. “And I’m going now, so don’t get your pretty pink panties in a twist!”
Jessica flushed and glared at his back while he wandered away and out the door, laughing to himself the whole way.
There was a second of silence, and then Connor burst out into loud laughter. Jessica covered her face with her hands.
“You’re one classy lady, Jess.”
“It was an accident! He startled me.” She scowled at the dartboard. “I’m naturally clumsy, okay.” To prove her point, she walked forward and threw her dart – she wasn’t really bothered about the game – and somehow half tripped over herself while throwing it. “God damn it!” she cried. Connor continued to cackle in the background.
Connor finally calmed down enough to wipe his eyes and compose himself. “Where’s the – Christ.” He squinted up at the dart stuck in the ceiling. “How did you manage that one?”
“I don’t even know,” Jessica said miserably.
The girl jumped and looked up at Jessica, eyes wide like a startled animal. “Um, yes?”
“Your guy friend you bought back the other night,” Jessica said, sitting next to her. “Did you plan on getting on touch with him?”
She looked confused. “No. Why?”
Jessica shrugged. “I guess he didn’t know what you were planning.”
Kelsey blinked at her with her doe eyes. “Um, no. I just wanted – you know, to try it.”
Jessica raised an eyebrow. “Sex, or…?”
The poor girl’s face was so red it must have been boiling. “No, the one night stand thing. I’ve only ever been with my boyfriend, and we broke up before I came here, so…”
Awkward… “Oh, I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” she shrugged. “It was the right thing to do. Why are you talking about the guy?”
Jessica sighed and explained.
“Oh my god,” Kelsey exclaimed. “I can’t believe you heard everything! I’m so embarrassed…”
Jessica couldn’t help but laugh about it now. “I’m just happy that you sounded like you were enjoying yourself,” she teased, cackling when Kelsey squealed and hid her face behind her hands. “Just warn me next time, I think I have some ear plugs…”
“Stop,” she moaned. “I can’t handle it!”
“What, me? Or the –“
Kelsey swiped at her playfully. “Go back to your biochemistry, leave me alone.”
Jessica smirked. “For now,” she promised.
Another day, another lecture. First year was just general science, so Jessica shared her class with Courtney (who was studying Animal Biology) and Kelsey (who was doing Environmental Science). Sometimes the lectures were great – the topic was interesting and complex, and the lecturers were passionate and knowledgeable. Other times…
Well, Jessica got a few extra hours of sleep, let’s just say that.
Not even two weeks in and the dorm had become theirs. Courtney and Ash supplied most of the posters, but they tended to find a few things on sale at local charity shops or the Fresher’s giveaway. Although they were all getting on well, there was no doubt in Jessica’s mind that Sam and Brian were on the outside of the group.
It turned out they were brothers and both doing Sports Science. Brian was older, having taken a gap year to go to university with his brother, but they both had the mental age of a ten year old. Jessica supposed that she wasn’t much better (there were times when toilet humour had its place) but she could tell that they were getting on Connor and Courtney’s nerves.
In the first month, Jessica had learned a thing or two about Ashley: she had four brothers, two snakes and when she was drunk (or ‘pure steamin’’ as she said), she reverted to a thick Glaswegian accent that no one could understand.
Within that first month, Jessica learned many new words and phrases, such as “what’s ‘e’ crack ae’ day boiy?” and “ma heid’s fit tae burst”, neither of which she truly understood.
“Courtney!” Jessica responded in the same tone, grinning when her friend glared. She flumped down onto her knees and leaned against the wall.
“I think I’m in love,” she said miserably.
“Sure,” Jess said. She eyed herself in the mirror. “Who is it this time?”
“Ash.” Courtney lifted her head from the bed briefly, meeting Jessica’s gaze in the mirror.
She smells like cinnamon, it’s amazing.”
Jessica shook her head in amusement. “Okay, do you remember the number one university rule?”
Jessica gave a put upon sigh. Why wasn’t she surprised?
“Court, we made that rule for a reason.”
“Ash is cool, she won’t let it bother her,” Courtney promised.
“It’s not her I’m worried about.” Jessica carefully applied mascara, knowing that her clumsy nature would more likely give an end result of mascara all over her forehead if she didn’t concentrate. “Don’t throw yourself at her, for the love of all that is holy.”
Courtney gave a long sigh. “I can’t promise anything.”
Again, why wasn’t Jessica surprised?
“Connor – oh, wow –“ Jessica stood, momentarily shocked. “Dude!”
Connor glanced away from the mirror where he was scratching at dried paint on his cheek.
“How can I help you?” he asked.
“Well, I was going to ask for a hand with something, but first – wow. You’re an amazing artist!”
Connor glanced at the paintings with a smile. “Painting him makes the home sickness easier.”
“Who is he?” She glanced around his room and saw a couple more leaning against the wall.
“My… partner.” The hesitation grabbed Jessica’s attention.
“It sounds complicated,” she observed.
“Not so much,” Connor shrugged, wiping his hands on a damp cloth and sitting on his bed to view the piece of art. “Calling him my boyfriend is a little misleading.”
“How so?” Jessica asked curiously, leaning against the wall. “If you don’t wanna –“
Jessica nodded slowly. She and Courtney had come from a relatively small place, and while she hadn’t known anyone who was asexual, she’d heard of it. “Is it… difficult?”
“No,” Connor shrugged. “It works for both of us.”
Jessica looked back at the paintings. She didn’t know if the guy was really as pretty as Connor painted him to be, or if he was biased. “You said your parents were quite posh and Conservative. Do they know?”
“Oh, yeah. They’re supportive. Honestly, my family is lovely. They don’t quite understand but they try,” he smiled. “That counts for a lot.”
“Anyway,” Connor went on. “What can I help you with?”
“Oh!” Jessica blinked. “There’s a party tonight I want to go to, but no one else is in the mood for it. I don’t have money for a taxi but I’m also not going to walk back alone. You feel like coming along?”
Connor grinned. “Sounds like a plan.”
Connor’s blank expression didn’t change. “Did you know him from back home?”
“Oh, god no,” she said. “He was the guy Kelsey took home the second night of Freshers.”
Connor laughed suddenly. “The guy you flashed?”
“Shut up!” she protested. “I hope he doesn’t see me – CONNOR!”
Connor chortled as he caught James’ eye and beckoned him over. “You invited me to this party; I didn’t promise to behave myself. Enjoy,” he said, twisting away to take his place in a new game of truth or dare.
“Nice to see you again, sunshine,” James greeted.
Jessica scowled, and then realised she was only making it worse for herself. “You didn’t have to come over.” She glanced around to see if there was anything she could use to rescue herself, but James spoke again before she could.
“I wanted to see if your mood had improved.” James took a sip of his drink and met her gaze over the top of the cup. “And if pink was your favourite colour.”
“Oh, shut up,” she snapped, face flooding with blood. “And no; it’s purple.”
“A very worthy colour,” James said solemnly. “And I’m sorry. No more mentions of your incident, I promise.” He mimed zipping and locking his mouth and then throwing away the key.
“I hate you,” Jessica sighed.
“Straight coke, I’m afraid,” James said.
“Not much of a student, are you?”
He didn’t seem bothered. “I don’t drink. If you want a refill, my mate has some beer lying around.”
Jessica eyed him. “So long as I open it, I’m happy.”
“Very sensible,” James nodded. “Come on; I’ll challenge you to a game of beer-and-coke pong.”
“I’m going to beat you so bad,” Jessica said smugly.