There’s a stranger lying in my bed. The streetlight casts an orange glow through the open curtains and across the tell-tale mound. I’m standing in the doorway, and underneath my brand new and expensive bedding is a snoring figure. A male, judging by the size, and by the decibels. When I left for work this evening, the bed was definitely vacant.
I drop my bag on the carpeted floor and swear loudly. He doesn’t hear. I’m not surprised, the noise of voices and music downstairs would drown out the sound of me murdering this moron. I suppose I should be thankful there’s not a couple using my bed.
Slamming the door behind me, I head for the stairs. The tatty furniture of the lounge room is covered with people. Littered is the term I’d use looking at the state of them. Half a dozen inebriated, scruffy students draped over the brown sofa or propped against each other on the threadbare carpet. A couple gaze at me absently. My housemate, Abby squints and pulls herself unsteadily to her feet. She staggers towards me, wine sloshing onto the dirty floor.
“Ness!” she cries, trying to hug me.
I step back, tensing. “Yeah, I came home. About five minutes ago.”
She blinks. “Did you?”
Her long brown hair escaped the straightening tongs this evening and sticks up on one side. Abby’s smeared lipstick, and her boyfriend Matt nearby, indicates why she didn’t notice me coming home.
“Who is in my bed?” I shout, above the music.
Abby gives me a look. One I’ve learned to identify over the years. She’s beyond any chance of reasonable conversation. Then she frowns. “No idea.”
“Abby! I’ve been working all night. I want to go to bed and there’s one of your guests occupying it.”
“Not funny!” I yell, “you can’t do this every night, we talked about this. Weekends only. Please.”
We agreed to share a house; her as a student, me working full-time. What a huge mistake.
“It’s not my fault…” she burbles.
“What? You mean we were invaded? They just let themselves in?”
The people in the room are becoming familiar, the same set of friends arranged in their favorite places around the room. Drinking wine and smoking pot. Oh, so serious, discussing politics and listening to Lou Reed. So hip, so retro. So clichéd.
“No, but…” She puts a hand over her mouth, making a noise somewhere between a hiccup and a burp. No, but… she’s the only first year student who lives in her own house. When the pubs and clubs shut, they can’t fit everyone into one of their dorm rooms. So I have the pleasure of their company most nights. I want to shout at her, tell her how selfish she’s being but there’s no point. Her goldfish memory is worse when she’s drunk. She won’t remember a thing I say.
“So where do I sleep?” I ask, hands on hips like a petulant child. As if I’m going to get any sleep in party central anyway.
Again she looks at me blankly. Such a fantastic combination – alcohol and pot. She’ll be spewing in the sink next.
I pick my way through the bohemian bodies on the floor and into the kitchen. Empty bottles and dinner plates vie for a place on the cluttered metal draining board. There’s two glasses left in the white cupboards and I fill one with water.
I agreed to this, why? Join student Abby in Leeds when I’d rejected a place at the university myself. Rubbing my parents’ face in it while I lowered myself into the life of a call center drone. Pride of the family, Vanessa, was always going to be a doctor, like Daddy. Until I said screw that. I’m not their precious Vanessa who they can mold into what they decide. I’m Ness and I’m doing what I want with my life.
And now, as I regard the state of the so-called elite, studying class around me, I’m glad I’m not one of them.
I side step the sink and turn. A guy leans against the doorframe, trying to appear nonchalant but his slackened stance indicates he’s attempting to keep himself upright. His brown hair is longer at the front and spills into his face, and unfocused brown eyes appear to be looking in my direction. He’s one of the regulars. I don’t pay a lot of attention, but he’s a good-looking guy and they never go unnoticed.
“Yes?” I snap. I’m so not in the mood.
His eyes sweep my figure. Unbelievable… I straighten my sleeves and look at him with an eyebrow raised.
“Are you Abby’s housemate?”
“Who are you?”
“Evan.” He rubs his nose. “You’re not a student?”
“Correct, I am the one not lying in a drunken haze on the floor contemplating my navel.”
Evan takes a step forward, steadying himself with one hand as my witty repartee sails over his head. “Why?”
“Why am I not on the floor pissed?”
“Why aren’t you a student?”
“Because I work instead.”
“Hmm.” He pauses and grasps onto the sink, searching for a glass. I pass him the spare one. “Did you fail?”
Evan fills the glass. “Or are you just not smart enough for uni? What is it you do?” He gulps the water in three mouthfuls then wipes his mouth with his hand.
“That’s right, I’m not smart enough. I’m living with Abby until I can find a nice man to marry then I can have 2.4 kids and a house in the suburbs. Because, as I’m not a student, I have no future.”
Evan leans against the sink. “Fair enough.”
Oh my god he believes me. How pissed is he exactly? “So, you think anyone who doesn’t go to university is inferior to you?” I demand.
I’ve seen her friends looking down their noses at me. Inverted snobbery. On top of that, the locals hate students and the students hate locals. I’m neither. I can’t win.
We’re close now and he stinks of alcohol and pot, a faint hint of deodorant lingering on his clothes. Evan’s T-shirt has come untucked and rides up as he leans against the sink. He’s toned, evidently works out. I can’t help myself, I check him out. Beneath his curls he has deep brown eyes. Incoherent eyes. I hate to admit, but something about him is seriously sexy.
Even if he is a dick.
“Well, if you’ll excuse me,” I say.
“You sound like the Queen.”
Not this again. I get enough crap at work. I move from Cheltenham to Yorkshire and suddenly I’m ‘stuck up home counties girl’.
I don’t dignify his comment with an answer and turn away from him, and walk out of the kitchen.
“Want me to get the guy out of your bed?” he calls after me.
I stop and look round. “You know him?”
“I could replace him.”
My mouth drops open at his arrogance. An attempt at a flirtatious smile plays around his lips but the unfocused eyes kill the effect he’s trying to achieve. He’s serious. I imagine he has a ready supply of eager girls. No surprise with a body and looks like his, such a shame he needs a personality transplant.
I step towards him. “Evan. I am not pissed. Nor are you getting into my bed. Good night.”
Feeling happy with my retort, I saunter towards the stairs. Behind me, Evan impersonates my sentence with an exaggerated posh accent.
It’s a good thing that I’m sober otherwise I’d go back there and punch him.
Light assaults my face, forcing me awake. There’s a god-awful taste in my mouth. I squint. Why do student houses never have curtains that work? Too short or too narrow. These are both. The sun floods though the three centimeter gap between the thin pink material pulled across the bay window.
I unfold my limbs from the confines of the small sofa and stretch my stiff neck. Someone bangs around in the kitchen, plates rattle onto the draining board and a radio plays loudly. Whoever’s in there intends to wake the whole house up. I grope around for my phone and slide the screen. Eleven am. What time did I go to sleep? Pass out. Whatever.
I’m the only person from last night who’s left in the room. Cans and bottles litter the floor, ashtrays overflow and a couple of open pizza boxes reveal congealed cheese and grease. Gross. Good job I’ve got a strong constitution because I feel like crap.
The door bangs and I wince. A draught of cool air passes me and a girl sits in the blue cushioned seat by the bay window, and tucks her legs beneath her. Without a word, she eats her toast and drinks from a mug.
“Hey,” I say and smile.
She turns her unimpressed green eyes to me. Something is vaguely familiar. For a make-up free girl who recently got out of bed, she’s pretty hot. Well, pretty. Her dark brown hair falls across her face and there’s a natural rosiness to her pale cheeks. She’s dressed in shapeless clothes – yoga pants and a sweatshirt, huge socks covering her feet. Only her delicate hands are visible. For once, I’m lost for what to say. Mostly because of the death stare she’s giving me.
“You live here, then?” I ask, pushing hair out of my face.
“We established that last night.”
“Oh.” She jams in another mouthful of toast.
“I don’t remember.” It’s true. Crap. I hope I didn’t try and hit on her. No, if I had she’d probably be in bed with me. And I’d be naked. I touch my chest, confirming I’m still dressed.
“I remember all too clearly. Are you going soon? Or do I have to politely tell you to piss off?” she continues.
Wow. Rude. I must’ve hit on her. Or said no. Don’t think I would’ve said no.
“Whoa, okay, babe.”
The toast drops to her plate and she chokes. “Babe?”
“I’m only trying to make conversation, you’re being shitty for no reason.”
“Apart from you insulting me last night, no reason.” She drains the contents of her mug and stands. “I have to get ready for work.”
Work. A memory filters into my brain. “You’re Abby’s housemate?”
“No, I’m the Queen.”
The cool blast of air follows her back into the kitchen. She does sound a bit like the Queen but it’s an odd thing to say. I rub my sore neck, stretching out my shoulders. She passes me again. This time she stomps up the stairs and I watch her small frame disappear around the corner.
I wish I could remember how I insulted her. Normally I wouldn’t insult a chick to her face, and then usually just the dodgy looking ones trying to come on to me. Nothing about her would’ve put me off. Apart from the attitude.