It was strange how time seemed to speed up at points and slow down at others. It was strange to pack up the dorm, to know that she wouldn’t be sharing with the same people next year, and to move back home. It was strange to miss another place so much as if it was home.
For better or for worse, Jessica had moved back in with her mother for the three months of Summer.
Jessica snagged a summer job in the only nightclub the town had; being this far north also meant the nights were light. That made her shifts drag, but it was the only thing keeping her occupied while she waited for second year to begin.
Sometimes she had company, which was very welcome as a distraction from more than just her dragging shifts.
If Jessica wasn’t working or spending time with Courtney, chances where she was spending time with Jasper.
He was easy to get along with, and an easy distraction. They’d done this before, though had mutually agreed to stay as friends as Jessica went to university. And then James happened, of course. She hoped that Jasper would distract her thoughts, but she still got that stupid flutter in her stomach whenever she saw James had texted her.
The best thing about being done with work (except sleep) was the stream of messages from James. There was no sense to them, merely each one a random observation or thought, but it was a nice thing to look forward to.
In a way, she got to know his family; he’d talk a lot about his mum and step-father, and occasionally about Nate who lived in Australia with his girlfriend, Rihanna. More often than not, though, he would talk about his grandmother, who he spent the most time with. Jessica had never been close to her grandparents, due to how far away they were, so it was nice to hear.
Summer was unprecedentedly hot, even for them. It was muggy enough at midnight to walk about in swimwear, and Jessica’s favourite thing to do was go to the sea-pool and hang out until the early hours.
No matter how often she did it, however, Jessica was getting no better at cooking…
“So, you and Jasper, huh?”
“Right.” Courtney thought about that for a few moments. “Because of James.” It was no question; they both knew she was correct.
“Why don’t you like him?” It was a question Jessica had never planned to ask, but now she couldn’t keep it in.
Courtney narrowed her eyes and tilted her head back to gaze at the clouds above them. “I’ve never seen you like someone so much,” she said. “And he could hurt you so easily.” For Courtney, it was a surprisingly well thought out answer.
Jessica’s knee-jerk reaction was to deny it, to defend James. He was, as much as she called him an ‘asshole’, a sweet guy. He’d never given her a reason to believe he’d hurt her. Even after she broke it off, he was still as friendly and warm as ever.
Jessica stared at the pool, frowning, and didn’t respond to her friend.
Thankfully, Summer couldn’t last forever. The nights inched in, Autumn sat on the horizon and Second Year began.
Just as Summer was searingly hot, Autumn followed its lead. The new dormitory was bathed in light from a near cloudless sky as Jessica moved her boxes into her new room. There was no curiosity about who was sharing her dorm with her this time; she knew exactly who she was living with. The old dorm had been split into two; Ash, Sam, Brian and Kelsey all were assigned to a different dorm, and Jess, Courtney and Connor found themselves together also.
Jessica spent the morning making her bed and putting up her posters. She reckoned this room was about the same size as her last, but she hadn’t spent a lot of time in it last year. This year she suspected she would spend even less time, given the other people she was sharing with.
It didn’t take long for Jessica to be called downstairs to celebrate the first night of freshers. With Aja, the hardcore partier, by her side, Jessica reckoned she was going to have a lot of hangovers this year.
Jeremy, Sam’s boyfriend, was easily the new dorm-mate that they knew the least. This didn’t stop them from getting on with him quickly, however. He was sweet and cheeky, and Jessica already knew he was a good guy given that he was dating Sam.
Last but not least, the other new addition: Aiden.
Aiden had been James’ dorm-mate previously, and it was common knowledge around many groups of friends that he was desperately in love with Aja, and Jessica knew that those feelings weren’t entirely unrequited.
Well, it looked like Jessica would be playing cupid this year.
She had kept in touch with James over Summer, and although it didn’t help the way her chest hurt every time she talked to him, she couldn’t keep away.
Seeing him draped over one of the benches in the garden, squinting up at the clouds drifting above, his top stretching over his shoulders and chest – fuck.
James must have heard her approaching; he sat up on the bench and grinned widely, flashing rows of straight white teeth. “Did you have a nice summer, sweetheart?”
James tutted. “You complain it’s too hot and you complain it’s too cold.”
“I’m British,” Jessica grinned. “What do you expect?”
There was a moment of silence, and out of the corner of her eye, Jessica saw James studying her.
“What?” she asked. She felt her cheeks flush. It was rare for her to feel self conscious, but James could have that effect on her.
“You have freckles,” he grinned. “It’s cute.”
She swallowed and met his gaze. The way James was looking at her made her… well, not uncomfortable, perhaps, but that was the closest she could come to describing it. “So do you,” she said, eyeing the smattering of freckles high on his cheeks and over the bridge of his nose. “They don’t suit you.”
James gasped. “Whoa, careful, you might hurt my feelings.”
Jessica cackled and leaned back to cloud watch. The silence that fell over them was comfortable, until James had to go and break it.
“Can I ask you something?”
Jessica felt her stomach tighten with panic. “Yeah?” she said, keeping her voice as neutral and even as possible.
“Why the fuck do you have a trampoline?” he asked.
Jessica burst out laughing, the tension suddenly lifted. “Aja invested in it. She swears that going on it drunk is the most bizarre experience she’s had.”
James glanced over his shoulder and eyed the object. “Can I have a go?”
“How old are you?” Jessica snorted.
“I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?”
James giggled. “Come on, I bet I can jump higher.”
“I think you won,” he called. She landed and half stumbled, so he reached out and steadied her.
“You ass,” she huffed breathlessly.
“You were practically flying!”
“There’s a reason humans don’t fly!” she gasped, shuddering. “I hate you.”
James looked at her with a little smile. “Nah, you don’t.”
It was mid-morning, only a couple of weeks into the semester, when Jessica’s phone began to buzz on her bedside table. She raised an eyebrow at it and perched on her bed. The ID said it was James, but he never called her.
There was a strange feeling buried deep in her gut, and she didn’t know what it meant.
“Hello?” she asked hesitantly, hearing heavy breathing from the other side.
“Jess.” James’ voice didn’t sound like him. It sounded emotionless and neutral and distant and she didn’t like it one bit. “I need to ask you for a huge favour.”
“You have a car here, right?”
There was a long pause, and she heard him take a deep breath. “I know this is a lot to ask for but – but my nan is in hospital, and – and -” his breath hitched and broke.
“Do you want me to drive you down?” Jessica asked gently.
“I’ll pay for petrol, I promise. I just – the trains take ages and – and -”
And I don’t know how long she has. The words sat in the air, unspoken but no less true because of it.
“It’s okay, I’ll take you down. How are you feeling?” Jessica’s voice as quiet and as soothing as she could make it. She’d never experienced a close loss herself, and neither had Courtney – she had no idea how to help.
“We knew it was coming,” he said quietly, and she heard him sniff. “She was getting really frail – I just – I’d hoped -” he broke off and she murmured what she hoped were soothing words into the phone.
“I’ll see you in about half an hour, okay?”
“Thank you,” James whispered. “I just – God, you’re so great, Jess. I love you for this.”
Jessica smiled, though of course he couldn’t see it. “No problem.”