Before Summer Ball, before this second year of uni, Adam and I were basically strangers. I knew who he was because he was among the most popular guys on campus, and he knew who I was because I was Jess’s and Iris’s and Amy’s flatmate — definitely the most anonymous out of the four, and the least popular.
When I compare myself to Iris, with her perfect long black hair and distinct sense of style, or to Jessica, the kind of girl that makes everybody turn around for a second look, to to Amy, with her beauty and confidence and the body of a ballet dancer, I feel small, useless and plain.
I could never wear the clothes they wear, although they sometimes try to push them on me. What none of them understand is that where I feel most comfortable is blending into the background, drawing very little attention to myself. From here, I can observe others, take my time to think and reflect. I don’t want to be noticed, and I feel stupid when I do. I feel like everybody must be thinking: what is this stupid girl trying to do? Doesn’t she realise she looks ridiculous?
And yet, cut back to the beginning of term, and Adam seemed to have eyes only for me. It was a little weird in the beginning because Jessica had a slight crush on him, but Jessica had a different crush week in, week out, and when Adam started getting serious about me she assured me she didn’t mind whatsoever.
Although maybe ‘serious’ is too strong a word when describing Adam’s feelings and attitude towards me. Or any other girl, for that matter. As far as I knew, he had dated — or slept with — most of the pretty girls on campus.
To be honest, I didn’t see the appeal in him. Yes, has broad shoulders and a great body, sculpted by all the rugby he plays. But something didn’t sit quite right on his face. It’s not that I found him ugly, just not quite as handsome as everyone else seemed to. I always thought his eyes were slightly too small for his face. Beady, I guess, and maybe too close to each other. And his lips are on the thin side, too. Almost not there.
That’s why I was so surprised when he started paying attention to me. At first he would just talk to me if he bumped into me around campus or on nights out. He would always have a free VIP pass handy for the girls and I. Then one day, out of the blue, he texted me asking if I wanted to go for a drink, just him and I. I said no because I had early lectures the next day, and didn’t think too much of it.
But when I told the girls, they were shocked. Apparently he’d never taken anyone from uni out on a date, not without at least having slept with them first.
I didn’t find this very appealing, and it strengthened my resolve to not go out with him.
But Adam didn’t give up easily, and I ended up giving in. Our first date was nothing like I expected: I pictured a crummy pub and cheese & onion crisps, but he surprised me by taking me to a beautiful gourmet bar right on the canal. It was early October and still warm enough to sit outside in the sunshine, drinking one glass of Prosecco too many and eating some delicious tapas.
If I look back, it’s all been downhill from there. On my part, I came round. It took a while, but I actually started liking him. He, on the other hand, is just not the type to settle down. We will get along perfectly for one, maybe two weeks, then argue and spend another two without speaking to each other.
Our arguments are always about the same things: apparently I’m ‘controlling’ because I don’t want him getting with other girls, which he believes to be his indisputable right as a male in his early twenties. But the moment I gain a little independence, the moment I pull away and stop being there for him twenty-four seven, suddenly I’m a ‘cold-hearted bitch’ and I’m ‘breaking his heart’.
Right now we’re at the point where everything is going pseudo-well, but we’ve been through this so many times that even the good times are starting to drain me. Also, it’s the end of term, and I need to know where I stand before we’re apart for two and a half months.
But right now, inside Liquid on Summer Ball night, all thoughts of Adam have been wiped from my mind.
Ever since I laid eyes on that guy sitting in the back, I haven’t been able to concentrate on anything else. What is he doing here? Does he go to uni with us? If so, why have I never seen him before? And what are all those people doing fussing over him?
I notice his table is loaded with bottles of champagne (probably the expensive kind, since I don’t recognise the brand) and magnum Grey Goose vodkas. The girls look like glamour models, almost. Tall, tanned, with skinny legs and tiny, glittery dresses.
If there’s somebody who probably knows who he is, it’s definitely Jessica. She knows everything about everybody, even people she’s never met. Although not a stalker per se, Jessica is very skilled at social media and she has a few tricks up her sleeve. She could ruin a few friendships and several relationships with the amount of stuff she’s got on people.
“Jess,” I say, trying to grab her attention. “Jess!”
“Miiilaaaa! Are you finally ready to party?” She waltzes next to me with a pirouette and a little stumble. “Just stop thinking about Adam.He’s stupid. Come have fun with us!”
“I’m not thinking about him,” I say defensively. “Do you know who that guy is?”
“Wait! Don’t turn around until I say so.”
“Okay, okay. Tell me when.”
“All right.” I try to think of how to point him out to her. “So, when you turn around super casually — and I mean super casually — because he has already caught me staring at him—”
“Oh god, I’m already excited. Okay, keep going.”
“He’s in one of the booths behind you. If you count from the first on the right it’s three booths down and he’s sitting on the left. Go. Now.”
Jessica expertly swings her long blonde hair behind her back and pretends to drop her handbag. “Oops!” Her round blue eyes swiftly sweep the whole of the VIP area and then lock on the target.
“Wow! Who is he?”
“That’s what I’m asking you.”
“I have no idea, I’ve never seen him before. He’s definitely not in uni with us.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes I’m sure,” she says, looking slightly annoyed that her photographic memory and stalking skills are being questioned. “Have I ever been wrong?”
“But then, what is he doing here?”
“Do you think he’s, like, Japanese or something? Or maybe Korean!”
Just then Amy comes into view, carrying four shots that are spilling sticky sambuca all over her hands. I can smell it from here. “My girlies! Shooooootssss!” she drawls. “And after this we’re going downstairs, okay? It’s all right up here but I want to dance.”
When Amy mentions going downstairs, I suddenly remember Adam and panic a little. I don’t really want to leave our table. I want to stay up here and wait for him, talk things through once and for all, for better or for worse. What if he comes looking for me when I’m on the dance floor and thinks I don’t want to talk anymore?
I sigh, take my shot and, without thinking, look up at the hot guy again. He is without a doubt looking at me. Is it possible? I look away as quickly as I can, my heart instantly racing. Why does he make me feel so nervous?
Suddenly the VIP area seems tiny, stifling. Adam will have to find me. I need to get away.
When we’re all done with our shots (even Iris, who has a ‘problem’ with sambuca that we think stem from drinking way too much of it in her first year), Jessica grabs my arm to drag me downstairs with them.
I oppose no resistance.