Word count: 1,505
“Jess! Can you stop making that noise, please? I’m trying to nap over here,” I yell from my room, pulling a pillow over my head.
A loud whirr is coming from Jessica’s room. “I can’t!” she yells back. “I’m getting ready for tonight!”
I look for my phone in the artificial darkness of my room. The display says it’s a quarter past four, and ‘tonight’ doesn’t start until at least ten. I picture Jessica in her room, flowery clothes, university books and hair products strewn everywhere as she is busy curling her beautiful blonde extensions, using a contraption that makes the sound of a dying animal as it heats up and a beep that pierces your eardrums to signal it’s ready.
Jessica and I share a bathroom and the top floor of a semi-detached student house, which we share in turn with two other girls. It takes me nothing to roll out of bed and march to her room, ready to argue my way into at least another hour of peace and quiet.
As I walk in, her room is warm and smells like expensive fake tan and hairspray.
“Jess, please let me sleep. I’ve had nonstop lectures since nine and I had to wake up at five to take Iris to her interview this morning, remember?”
Iris is one of our flatmates; her room is on the floor below ours. She is the most responsible out of all of us, our rock, our safety net, but she doesn’t have a car, and I couldn’t say no when she asked me to drive her to a job interview one and a half hours away.
“Well, I think that means we have to do something about those bags under your eyes! Jessica to the rescue. Come on, sit down.” Jessica pats down the bed beside her with a perfectly tanned, manicured hand. “Wait, I’ll get these out of the way for you,” she says, picking up a mass of long wavy extensions.
“I can get rid of the bags under my eyes no problem. All I have to do is get some rest, if you’ll allow me.”
“No amount of rest can fix the fact that you look thirty-five right now. Nothing wrong with looking thirty-five, if only you weren’t twenty,” Jessica teases, wearing her usual cheeky smile. “Come on, don’t be a bore and get ready with me. Or at least keep me company. You have plenty of time to sleep tomorrow. Not every night is Summer Ball night!”
I start to feel my conviction relenting. She does have a point. It’s the second Friday in July, which means Summer Ball night. Exams are over for everybody, the weather has been tropical-hot all week and term officially ends today. Everyone from uni, every single person, will be in Liquid tonight. It’s the biggest night of the school year.
“But I’m tired…”
“Oh, come on. You don’t want to look like that, what if Adam sees you looking like that, huh?” She winks.
“I don’t care about Adam,” I protest. “If you think I’m agreeing to getting ready with you at four in the afternoon because of Adam, you couldn’t be more wrong.”
“So you are getting ready with me?” Jessica’s blue eyes light up.
“Yay! Let me just pop downstairs, then. I’ve got a bottle of wine in the fridge!”
She walks past me to get to the door, leaving behind a scent trail of Coco Mademoiselle. She stops suddenly and thrusts her blonde head back in. “Does this mean I can do your hair and nails? Oh my God, will you let me put fake lashes on you, for once? Please? Pleeeaseee?”
Several hours and several glasses of cheap white wine later, Jessica is adding the final touches, skilfully stroking a mascara brush close to my eyeballs. Too close for comfort.
“Just blending in your natural lashes with the fake ones… et voilà!”
“Wow, Jess, I’m impressed, I didn’t know you speak French,” says Amelia, who we all called Amy, as she sifts through Jessica’s lipstick collection. I swear she has more than the average beauty department.
“What do you mean, French? I thought that was just something people said,” she says, looking at Amy. She turns back to me, and smiles with her extra white teeth. “You look absolutely stunning. Adam will literally die when he sees you. Ready to look in the mirror?”
Despite my objections, Jessica hasn’t allowed me to look in the mirror all evening. She wants it to be a surprise. When I finally do, I see a version of myself that is me but doesn’t really look like me. My natural boring straight, brown hair has been expertly tousled at it looks longer, shinier. Despite my concerns, the fake eyelashes Jess picked out are natural-looking and really make my light green eyes pop. My whole face looks grown up, almost… beautiful.
Jessica beams, obviously very proud of her effort. “Amy, Iris! Come look!” She whirls me around like a puppet. “Doesn’t Mila look gorgeous? I swear, she looked like she was about to turn forty before I started with her.”
“You literally look like you’ve been through a mashup episode of Queer Eye and Extreme Makeover and 100% Hotter,” says Amy, applying the last dabs of a bright violet liquid lipstick that looks beautiful against her cinnamon brown skin.
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” I say, flicking my newly-curled hair at her.
“You look amazing, honey!” gushes Iris, touching my face as if to make sure it’s real. “Jess, you’ve done a great job. How about we open one last bottle of wine before we go?”
We are all in the ground floor lounge right now, French windows opening up into the twilit garden. The garden looks nicer in the dark: Iris hung up coil after coil of fairy lights, that draw the attention up to the trees and to the ivy climbing up the walls, and away from the fact that neither of us can ever be bothered to mow the lawn or can afford a gardener. Or a cleaner.
But it is our little garden of Eden. At night, we sit on these cheap plastic chairs that one day Amy mysteriously provided, dragging them out of the boot of her car, and watch the stars, chat, drink. On sunny days, we lay out blankets on the grass and have our own little picnics.
It’s hard to think that I’m going to leave all this behind in just a few days, go back home and not see anybody for a couple of months. I’ve gotten used to living here, in this small house with these crazy girls, going out with them, waking up and watching stupid shows for hours on end.
And maybe Jessica is right about Adam. Maybe he is one of the reasons I’m feeling slightly gloomy tonight. I know I will see the girls in two months, we’re keeping the house and we’re going to spend our last year together as flatmates, but where will the summer holidays leave Adam and I? We’ve gone through the past ten months without knowing what “we” are, always either on or off, most of the time something incomprehensible in between.
How are we going to make it through two months apart? I don’t want him seeing other people, and yet I don’t want him to be my boyfriend either, mainly because I don’t trust him.
I have a sip of cold wine and try to shrug off the feeling. Everything will work out. Adam will be at the Summer Ball tonight, we can talk and come to some sort of conclusion, or agreement.
Amy suddenly whacks a fork against her glass. “Ladies, ladies. Your attention please. I would like to mark this night with a commemorative shot.” She walks to the fridge and ceremoniously takes out a bottle of raspberry flavoured vodka. Iris and I groan. “Shush, you two. You will drink. Now, listen. At first, I didn’t like any of you.”
“Sorry, girls. I didn’t. So it’s even crazier to me that, just a few months later, all of you have become my best friends. It has been an amazing year. My — our — first and last second year of uni. And it has been an honour spending it with you three. I know I can be kind of a bitch sometimes but you know I love you.” Was she… tearing up? Amy life the shot glass to the ceiling, golden bangles clanging on her wrist. “To the best night of the best second year of uni ever!”
Minutes later we stumbled into a cab, excited about the night ahead.