Magnetised

Magnetised is a romantic, supernatural, fantasy epic, set in the world that we know well. Or do we.

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1. Second Home

 

1. Second Home

 

First thing tomorrow morning, I would get a job. Even if it took me all day; tomorrow I would be ‘employed’. I’d definitely had enough of my Mum, Sharon’s embarrassing handouts. 

     ‘ “It’d be rude not to take it, Bethany,” ’ was the line she would always use. So I’d take it, grudgingly. 

     I didn’t desperately need the money. I wasn’t the type of girl that demanded high maintenance luxuries. I could live really basically and still be happy. As far as I could tell E45 did the job just as well as any over perfumed Crabtree and Evelyn toot, even if it was lovely to have. But I figured it would put her mothering mind at rest if I had an income. And hopefully stop the handouts. Generosity was Sharon’s biggest flaw. Not that I wasn’t grateful, I just knew that she was probably giving me all she had, which wasn’t much. It has helped me settle in though. I’d bought a new raincoat with a furry rimmed hood yesterday, and some nice new stationery to get me into the studious mood. I find good organized (and usually shiny) stationary really helps me to concentrate. 

     I was in my first year at University in Oxford. Not the Oxford, although sometimes I didn’t correct people when they assumed. I went to Oxford Brookes, my first choice University, to study English. I didn’t really know how a degree in literature was going to help me in the future, career-wise, but I’d always loved reading and getting lost in characters lives. Doing that for three years seemed like a good choice to me, especially as I didn’t have any other plans. I couldn’t let Sharon down either. I remember when I’d first aired my trepidations about whether or not I would go to University. 

 

     We were eating dinner on a blustery October day; slow cooked beef casserole, a Sharon specialty. The information about Universities had started circulating at school, and she’d managed to get hold of a prospectus. I still don’t know how she got her hands on it, but I imagine Linda, my history teacher and a close old friend of Sharon’s, had something to do with it. I figured then was a good a time as any.

     “Mum, I’m not sure if I really want to go to Uni.”

     She seemed to freeze. After a pause she put down her cutlery, and looked at me with a concerned expression.

     “But why Beth? You’re so academic and studious, don’t you want to fully realise your potential?”

     “I think University is about realizing your clubbing potential actually Mum.”

     “Don’t be so cynical!” She snapped back. After a few silent moments, she continued, “Look it’s up to you honey, but I think it would be a waste if you didn’t at least try. You can’t let anything or anyone get in the way or put you off.” I shrugged. “Don’t run away from opportunity. You might end up regretting it,” she said with what felt like the weight of the world.

     I guess I knew from that conversation that I had to go. She was right of course. I was a studious person and I was fully capable and blessed with ability, and I had really liked school and I enjoyed education. Why should University be any different? At least, it definitely wouldn’t be different in a bad way. 

     Over the following years of Sixth Form, all my friends and I were set on the course of University. Not a single one of my closest mates took any other path, although we all decided on different degrees and institutions. I knew it would be hard leaving them, but it wasn’t long before I started to get excited about the future University had in store for me, and my worries at first seemed utterly forgotten and irrelevant. 

     

     I’d arrived here a week earlier than everyone else; I was literally driving Sharon mad with my endless chatter and anticipation about it at home. She wanted me to go as much as I did, to make my room into a study no doubt, and I was bursting to start. There was something so attractive about opening a new chapter, where no one knew your history. It was like a reinvention. I could mould myself into who I was trying to be all this time, and no one would think any different. I’d made mistakes at home, everyone does; let people down, been a bitch, been wrong; but now none of that mattered. I was far too excited to worry about the possibility that I might not actually be clever enough to succeed. I’d convinced Sharon to drive up with me, in procession, so I could settle into my surroundings before all the new people arrived. Typically, she wasn’t quite as keen as me, the reality of me leaving was OK, at arms distance, but I managed to persuade her. 

     I thought I’d be fine, watching her drive away all by herself. But I broke down as soon as I closed the door to the silent house. I felt the immense crush of anticipation and expectation, the sudden loneliness of not being near friends and the work it would take to develop that new closeness with strangers. I wanted to call them, just to hear their voices, but I knew their lived had changed too, and I couldn’t start mine looking back. The gravity of this life changing decision finally dawned on me. I knew Sharon would be crying too, and it was that, more than anything else, that upset me the most. Luckily she’d dragged Eagle, our mammoth boxer dog along to say goodbye. She was in safe hands. 

 

     So there I was three weeks later, my University expectations somewhat jaded, just on the edge of sleep, any anxiety about the sparseness of my CV fading into that otherworldly stage between sleep and alertness, when someone started calling my name. It took me a second to realise I wasn’t dreaming.

     “Beth! Beth! BETHANY!!” the voice got louder but still sounded far away. A quiet tapping sound joined the voice when I realised who it was. 

     I shrugged off my quilt, hastily deciding that that was not a good idea and pulled it around me again, dozily pulling back the curtains. One thing student houses definitely weren’t was warm. Below the window was Abby, jumping up and down on the spot with her legs crossed.

     “C’mon woman! I’m busting here and it is bloody freezing!” 

     I gave one short, disbelieving laugh. Had she never heard of the practicality of always having a key on you? I took my time walking down the stairs, smirking at the image of her through the frosted glass. It magnified her; what a drama that would cause if she ever caught sight of herself looking that enormous.

“Thanks Bethany”, she said as she rushed in. She said my name with distaste.

Irrational distaste. 

“Abby where is your key?”

“It’s in my bag but my fingers are too cold to open the zipper.”

     Nice. She dashed into the bathroom and closed the door.

     I couldn’t resist moaning at her when her face was hidden. It made me feel more in control, “I was asleep you know, Abby. And so are the others. You’re being very inconsiderate.”       

     Diplomatic. I was simply highlighting the point.

     “Me?? Inconsiderate? You deliberately took ages to get to the door when you could see how much I needed to pee!” 

     Wincing at the amplification of her voice in the toilet, I tried to keep my voice lower, to avoid waking everyone else in the house up. “That’s not the point. You had your key, Abby.”

     She flushed the toilet and was outside before I could put on an angry face. I must’ve just looked scared because she walked past me muttering under her breath. 

     “Whatever”. 

     I’m not a huge fan of confrontation, but I wouldn’t let myself be walked over and with someone as self absorbed as Abby, no amount of tutting, cold shouldering and hurt expressions would register for her. You just had to outright tell her she was being a bitch.  

    But no one dared to. At least to her face. I tried my best not to moan about her, but I had to offload it somehow, without getting caught up in a pointless argument. My diary was practically an Abby hate book. Sometimes I just wanted her to find it. 

     No. No I definitely did not want her to find it.

     I tried not to let it get to me as I clambered back into bed. It was freezing now that I and the quilt had been off of it for too long. Shivering, I put Abby to the back of my mind. Difficult, when all I could hear was her heavy footsteps wandering around above me. Grabbing my iPod I stuffed the headphones in my ears, turned the volume up full and frowned myself to sleep. 

 

     I slipped out before anyone could talk to me the next morning. My mood hadn’t much improved from the night before, and my ears ached from having slept on the headphones. This was just typical of Abby, getting on my nerves without even realising it. I took a deep breath of the chilly air that surrounded me. I wasn’t going to let her make me bitter; I would just rise above her, move on and concentrate on the task in hand.

     The city was a bus ride away, but I decided to walk. It gave me time to clear my head and think about trying to convince people to let me work for them. I’d only ever had one real job before, although that wasn’t entirely my fault. Sharon said she didn’t want me getting a paper round because I would get too tired with all the early mornings. She had always been a bad liar. Really she was just being overprotective and didn’t want her daughter traipsing around by herself in the early hours. But then I am an only child, I guess she only had the one shot at parenthood and didn’t want to mess up. And she hadn’t. Not in the slightest. I loved every minute of my childhood. We used to go to Centre Parcs every year. Sharon would hire bikes and we’d spend all day on them. That is, we spent all the time we weren’t in the pool on the bikes. 

     My Mum is a landscaper and she absolutely loves it. To be under the sky all day just planting and growing and creating an idyll for people is like a drug to her. I remember the look on her face when her epiphany came, and she quit her stressful office job in the city. She’d always be in our garden, making it beautiful, accentuating it, really working with nature. A French couple lived next door and all it took was a few words of encouragement from Marianne and she bought herself a van and an ad in the local gazette. It meant we had to live modestly but I never wanted for anything. 

     Except my father….I caught that thought before it could progress and locked it away. 

     The sound of traffic lights beeping at me to cross the busy junction at the bottom of main road into Oxford pulled me out of my reverie. 

     Of course that was the reason I’d never really had a job before either. Sharon made it so I really didn’t need one. She didn’t dole out money willy nilly, but I’d wash the car and she’d give me a tenner, clean the windows for fifteen, wheel her piles of soil around all day in the summer for some pocket money. Stuff like that. Said she would rather it was that way so I could concentrate on my studies, which I did. I only had myself to blame for being very ill prepared for job hunting. But I had determination and resolve; this one wasn’t getting away so easily. 

     I reached the main sprawl of shops and restaurants and still had no idea where to begin. I decided on hot chocolate. I was stalling. But I was so nervous, the cocoa was a necessity to calm me down, and allow me to focus and look professional. Hardly. I caught a glimpse of myself in the café window as I walked in. My hair was flatter than any pancake I’d ever seen and a slight sweat glistened on my forehead. It was literally written all over my face. 

     I had to narrow down my options. I was looking for weekend or evening work. Or both. Working in a shop would take away the evening option, plus I was willing to listen to Dolly Parton on this one. Working nine to five would probably drive me crazy. Clubbing was something I wanted to steer clear of. I’m not exactly a huge lover of clubbing; getting royally wasted and gyrated against by some equally wasted guy is not my idea of a good night out. And I’d had some good nights out to prove that. They say it’s the people you go with that make a night. Agreed, as long as it’s not in a club. It was even worse when you were sober, which is what I would be if I worked in a club and I’d always had a gangster type view of club owners. Getting mixed up with Oxfordian Mafia wasn’t high on my ‘to-do’ list. Equally, I didn’t think I could handle pub clientele, especially ‘old man pub’ clientele. I like to think I’m witty, but I’m not exactly sharp. If I even ventured into an ‘old man pub’ I’d be fair game for teasing and mockery. They’d get away with murder. 

     A restaurant was my best option. It couldn’t be that hard, I could bluff it to the manager. And if I picked a smaller place my tiny exaggerations probably wouldn’t even be noticed. I was a quick learner. A miniscule elaboration was definitely outweighed by Sharon’s reaction. The ends definitely justified these means. 

In that moment of clarity, it came to me. I knew exactly where I wanted to work. I’d walked past the place a million times on my way to The Last Bookshop, after my first wayward encounter with it, and always admired its old English beauty. It summoned up images in my mind of Hardy’s rustics and The Quiet Woman Inn of Egdon Heath, now attracting a less gossiping, more food orientated crowd. 

     So I grabbed my leather bag and abandoned the warm hot chocolate, completely focused on my goal. Suddenly, I was really driven. It would make a difference to me, but it wasn’t life changing, I don’t know why I got the feeling it was. In three weeks away from home had I really matured enough to be this responsible for myself? It occurred to me that I was more ready for University and a life change than I had realised, even if it wasn’t the new life everyone around me was living. It was an uneasy contradiction in my head, the need to fit in versus the need to live my own life, my wearied expectations still bitter that it hadn’t been an easier transition.

     The Folly Inn sat on the banks of the Thames as it marched through Oxford. Away from the busy hustle and bustle of the shopping district, tourist sites and hollow amusements, The Folly Inn was an escape. And a well kept secret that only few were privy to. It was the sort of place that if you weren’t told about it, or didn’t have a wandering sensibility, would go untold of in your life. 

     I’d only been once before and even that‘s a stretch. I’d sat outside the eatery to catch my breath, on one of the picnic tables usually reserved for drinkers. I’d gotten lost, thinking it would be a good idea to try and find The Last Bookshop I’d been told about, laden with heavy shopping. I’d been looking for a reason to go into the Folly since then, but protectively had never wanted to tell anyone I knew about it. That The Folly Inn was essentially a secret to most people, and that that was the extent of my knowledge of the place, gave me a smug feeling. My anxiety evaporated as I strode confidently over the bridge, completely fooling myself that I knew what I was applying for.

     “Morning Miss, what can I get you?” The man behind the bar had the body of a twelve year old but an off-putting older looking face. 

     “Erm nothing actually. Well nothing to consume,” I said letting out an uneasy laugh. I was faltering already. Breathe. “I was wondering actually if there were any job vacancies?”

     “You’ve knocked on the right door….?”

     “Bethany.”

     “Bethany. Well isn’t this the best coincidence ever? We’ve just lost three members of staff. Left us a bit in the lurch really,” he looked a little hurt. “If you could just fill this in for me, that’d be great, and I’ll give you a tour.”

     That was it? That easy? Technically I hadn’t even applied for the job and I’d already got it! Waitressing must be automatic. 

     “There’s a pen. Want to grab a seat, I’m just popping out for a cig, won’t be sec.”

     Once again a wave of hyperbolised joy washed over me. I didn’t know what it was about The Folly Inn. Something about the quaint tradition of a gastro pub like this just appealed deeply to me. I dismissed my own melodrama as the little red guy on my shoulder informed me that the feeling would wear off once I started pulling double shifts. Sharon would be stoked. I had to remember to ring her on the way home.

     “All done there?” The small man with the old face said. He’d gotten through his cigarette very quickly. I took that to be a measurement of stress and guessed I really had come at the right time. Lucky me.

     “Yes. I haven’t got my National Insurance Number on me though….” 

     “That’s ok,” he cut me off, “Just bring all that with you on your first shift, I’ll sort it all out. Right so I’m Billy, I’m the General Manager. This is The Folly Inn, part of the Olde English chain. We’re the only Olde in Oxford. As you can see the restaurant itself is quite large, there‘s four sections with about eleven to twelve tables in each…you’ve been a waitress before right?”

     “Yeah.” Quick, easy, painless.

     “Excellent. That is definitely a plus, makes my job a lot easier. Well I’ll probably get Natasha to show you all the stuff on floor anyway. You’ll like Natasha, she’s a nice girl.”

     I followed Billy around the restaurant taking in all the features. Exposed beams and artifacts lined the walls, mainly relating to the Oxford rowing traditions. The view of the river from inside was stunning. The Thames caught The Folly on a meandering curve, and from this angle you could see a long way west. I imagined watching the sunset from this view. It would be quite something even in a British summer. I saw there was decking out there too, I assumed used during the summer, which sat on stilts above the river. It was really charming.

     “Gets quite busy of an evening and at the weekends, but there has been a bit of a lull lately, everyone tightening their belts for Christmas.” I tuned back in. “So this is the kitchen. Pablo, this is Beth. Beth this is Pablo our KM.”

     “Morning lassie, welcome to the funhouse,” the Kitchen Manager said. He was in chef whites that were slightly yellowy and a bulbous belly strained the seams. His over emphasised Yorkshire accent almost made me laugh out loud. I’d expected a more European sounding twang to his voice, judging from his name. From that moment, when I should perhaps have been showing some respect to my new authorities, Pablo became a comedic character to me. It went unnoticed but I think that was the way Pablo wanted to be seen. 

     “Alex should be around here somewhere, he’s also a kitchen boy,” carried on Billy, disregarding Pablo’s sarcasm.

     “He called in Bill. Having trouble with the missus. Might be a bit tardy,” explained Pablo of Alex’s absence. 

     “Oh oh alright. No change,” was Billy’s reply. He didn’t seem too bothered, his tone of voice certainly didn’t reflect his almost put on expression of annoyance. Intuitively I knew that Billy, as manager, didn’t demand as much respect as he liked. I felt a twinge of sympathy as I followed him out of the kitchen into the other end of the restaurant, making a complete circle. I pushed the sympathy aside, a little uncomfortable that I’d felt it. 

     “That’s it then. The Folly Inn. As I said before we’ve lost some staff recently and our workforce wasn’t that large anyway, so it won’t take long for you to meet everybody. They’re all OK, no nutters,” he joked.

     He took a piece of paper out of his pocket that had been folded too many times, and revealed the rota. It was very sparse. Billy was at the top, his row almost full of times, typed and penciled in. There were three long lines of deletion on the rota, deep lines, obviously rage driven. Well, at least I was here to counter one of those lines.

     “When is good for you? Obviously the rota will change each week, but once I get a better idea of where you fit, it’ll all smooth out. Oh yeah, almost forgot, we ask that everyone works Sundays, it gets pretty manic, and either a Friday or a Saturday night.”

     “Well I’m at University on Monday’s, Wednesday’s and Thursday’s. Oh and I have an evening lecture till eight on Tuesdays.”

     “Hmm ok so today is Saturday, wouldn’t put anyone through starting on a Sunday,” he laughed a little, but I could tell the laugh was from dread not politeness. “How about…Monday evening after Uni? Put you on for a 5.30 - close? Nice easy shift to get you started?”

     “Sounds great.” It really did. My lecture finished at three on Monday’s so it would fit perfectly. Plus Monday was student night. I would be able to avoid the awkwardness I felt about having to say no all the time to clubbing.

     “Lovely jubbly. OK so it’s a white shirt, black trouser job here. Most of the girls just wear black jeans, so don’t worry yourself about buying a tailored pair. We ask you wear a tie, but not black, anything that suits your personality really.” I liked the way he Billy said “we”. It made him sound like the face of a company, the captain of a team. It was laughable coming out of his mouth. I think he realised that too though, made him easier to gel with. He was more human, less the big bad boss. But then maybe I was wrong, I was sure Monday would smooth that one out in my mind. 

     “Any questions?”

     “How much do I get paid?” I didn’t mean to sound materialistic, but this was basically the reason I was here. And it was a standard job interview question; I’d just have to work on my delivery.

     “It’s only £6.00, but floor staff tend to make it up in tips.” 

     Tips! Totally forgot that one. I smiled. It showed my financial situation if I forgot about tips. It meant I wasn’t giving them.

     “Great.” I said.

     “Super dooper, ok well Beth, if that’s everything; I’ll see you on Monday!” Billy reached out his hand to shake mine. His hand was tiny.

     “See you then.” It was hard to keep the rush out of my voice. I was so pleased to have landed the job so effortlessly. It proved that lately, I definitely worried too much. 

 

     I capitalised on my current cheerfulness and rang Sharon. 

     “Hey Mum, its Bethany,” I said as I walked back over the bridge to the city.

     “Hello sweetie! It’s good to hear from you! How are you today?” She chirped. I loved talking to Sharon on the phone. It was funny to hear her shouting to be absolutely sure I could hear her, like she wasn’t quite confident that her phone was working.  

     “Great actually, thanks Mum. I just got myself a job!” 

     “That’s brilliant!!! Well done Bethany! Where?” To anyone else it would’ve sounded fake, the amount of accentuation Sharon put into that sentence, but I knew it was genuine delight.

     “At The Folly Inn. It’s like a gastro pub, so I’ll probably be serving food more than pulling pints, but it suits me. It’s tucked away from the main drag. It’s really quaint Mum, I have to take you there sometime.” 

     “Oh darling it sounds lovely. When do you start?” 

     I told her about my manager and the pay and all the other things that she was interested in. I don’t even think she was really that bothered about what everyone I’d met looked like, she was just so happy for me. Maybe having a job was a big deal after all. Even though I hate to think of my Mum being at home all by herself, I knew she didn’t want me to feel I had to stay with her. She was more keen for me to be independent than I was to realise that’s what I wanted to be.  

     “So um Mum, you don’t need to send me anymore money. Trust me, I’ve got this one covered now,” I added just as we were wrapping up.

     “Aww honey, I know that extra money makes a big difference to you.” It did, but that wasn’t the point. Now that the chance to be totally in control of my life had finally arrived, I wanted it, on my terms.

     “No no it’s cool Mum. I’m really grateful for it, but I don’t want it. I’ve got an income now. I’m going to start taking control.”

     “Ok my darling,” there was hesitation in her voice, “but if ever you need money don’t you ever feel like you can’t ask ok?”

     “OK, Mum. Thanks.” I wanted her to spend her money on herself and not me after all these years, even if she wasn’t ready to do it. 

     “I’m really proud of you Bethany. After what we’ve been through…” 

     “So I’m going to go and buy a tie now, for my first day at work.” Sharon was talking about my Dad. I’d already repressed any thoughts on that issue for today, and they weren’t escaping now.

     “Ooooh! Exciting!” She mused, taking or oblivious to the hint. “Talk soon sweetie, love you. Bye. Bye. Bye. Bye.” 

     “Bye Mum.” She was so bad at saying goodbye on the phone, like she had to say it until she absolutely knew the person on the other end had gone.

 

     Walking back into the city, I could feel my emotions running out of check. I was jubilant that I’d landed the job but Sharon had unintentionally reminded me of the things from home I was trying to forget. I could feel my happiness dissipating as I got to Cornmarket Street, being replaced by an unjustified anger. Why bring it up? Why add those issues to my new life? Why not just pretend we’d led a normal life? I could kid myself, why couldn’t she? 

     The pointless questions were running me in circles and ruining my mood. I wasn’t going to let it take over. I clenched my fists in my pockets, my nails digging into my palms, and took a bet on hot chocolate again. I could feel the tension in my arms build as I marched back into the same coffee shop I’d stopped in this morning, just concentrating on the relief a hot, sugary drink would bring me. 

     The first thing I saw was my cup from this morning, still sitting on the table I’d left hours ago, stagnating. My fingers dug even deeper into my palms, but I couldn’t hold it back any longer. I stormed out of the coffee shop, the other caffeine addicts eyeing me warily, and made for the wide expanse of Port Meadow to clear my head. 

     How could they be so lazy? Why was it still there? Did they not care? Is this society so nonchalant that procrastination stems even to the service industry? It made me angrier that I would soon be working in a hospitality environment and I wouldn’t have such absence of mind or conscience to just leave it. Was I singular in that?!

     I reminded myself it was just a cup and had nothing to do with me as I walked, silently repeating it in my head until the anger started to subside and I could rationalise. I put it down to the pressure I was putting on myself, the pressure of forgetting the troubles of the past and becoming the person I had always wanted to be. It was Sharon’s fault for mentioning it, but I couldn’t blame her for my reaction. And I couldn’t let it get that out of hand again. I was responsible for the way I felt, I should’ve held onto my happiness. 

     In the calm of the Meadow I took a seat opposite the cathedral and took some deep breaths. I wasn’t usually this highly strung. I like to think I’m more mature than that childish outburst. I started to feel guilty for thinking badly of Sharon when she only cared about me. I needed to let go of that thought too, before it upset me and added to my emotional bombardment for today. 

     Breathe. 

     Letting my slowly relaxing mind wander, I took in the scene before me. The space was poignant, something I needed in my mind when I got stressed like that. I promised myself that if I ever got so irrationally mad again, I would remember this space and feel it in my mind, let it envelop and extinguish the fury, rather than letting the anger take over. My thoughts drifted tentatively towards speculation about how my father would’ve reacted to the news of my job and my degree. But I would never have the opportunity to ask…..

     The need for me to imagine the meadow in my head came quicker than I’d wanted. The anger and upset didn’t have time to develop, but I decided to stay in the meadow for a while longer, just to be sure.     

 

     It was getting on for dinnertime when I decided to leave Port Meadow. After I’d calmed down more, I spent some time reading, not wanting to return to the busy city until most of its patrons were making their way out. I quickly purchased a vintage style skinny tie from one of the many charity shops on the way to the bus stop. It didn’t represent my personality, but then I was glad I couldn’t sum myself up in a tie. I took the bus home, my stomach finalising that decision for me.

     The only food I had at home was instant noodles and crisps, but I didn’t really feel like taking a trip to the supermarket. Instant noodles had grown on me since I’d become a student. They were cheap, easy and most importantly, didn’t create much washing up. Not that I really minded washing up, just that our kitchen was so small. 

     Our house was the worst proportioned place I’d ever seen. There were three huge bedrooms upstairs, one at the front, one at the back and one was a loft conversion. The other bedroom was downstairs. The long and thin kitchen was badly designed, and the toilet led off from it, even though the shower was upstairs. There was a poky living room too, which was used mainly for drying laundry. And that was no small feat. Our house was constantly cold, any central heating immediately escaping through paper thin walls. But it was manageable.

     When we first found out I didn’t live far enough away to qualify for halls, Sharon went mad. 

     ‘ “Eighty miles! Eighty miles and it’s not far away enough! Too many people coming from the bloody continent!” ’ It made me laugh then, although I’ve realised since being here, her outrage might be based in truth. I figured that Sharon’s annoyance had more to do with the fact that I wouldn’t be under the watchful eye of a Hall Warden for the first year, than nationality prejudices. I could understand how safety was an issue for parents, but I just wasn’t the rebellious type.   

     I pressed the bell for my stop; made sure I had everything with me and hopped off the bus.

     One good thing about where I was living was how close the bus stop was. Opposite the main University campus, down a few interlacing mainly student residing streets, I was home. I was surprised at how quickly it came for me to call Oxford home. Sharon and I had done a lot of moving around over the years, so I wasn’t devotionally attached to home or a house, but I did have good, lifelong friends there who cared about me. But then we’d all moved away to University, it would have been strange staying there alone.  

     

     Pushing open the stiff blue door, Dominoes pizza wafted in my direction, setting my stomach roaring and my mouth watering.

     “Beth? Perfect timing! We’re in here,” said Abby’s voice. 

     I walked into the living room without hesitation.

     “Hey guys,” I said. They were all there. Ryan, Sarah and Abby, number 17 Cardwell Crescent, “I’m absolutely starving.”

     “Good job,” said Ryan, smiling at me, “There’s fuck loads of pizza, no wonder obesity is a problem in this country! We used one of those fifty percent off vouchers.”

     The benefits of being a student were definitely comforting if ever homesickness struck. I threw my bags on the sofa and sat down on the floor in between Sarah and Abby, secretly glad to be saved from another instant noodle dinner. The TV buzzed quietly in the background. 

     “That one is the dominator base,” said Sarah pointing to the biggest untouched pizza in the mass of greasy fast food. My favourite. I grabbed a huge slice and had nearly finished it, cheese oozing everywhere, before anyone could speak again.

     “So yah, this guy was being really pervy, like really touchy feely. And you know usually I don’t mind, but last night I so wasn’t in the mood. Like I need a break you know!” Yes. Unbelievable but true. Some people really do talk like this. It was Abby. 

     “So I told him to get lost, but then he poured his drink all down my skirt!”

     “What the hell? Why would he do that?” Said Sarah.

     “I know right, what a freak. So I started shouting off at him, and he makes out that I’m trying to have a fight with him. What a creep! I mean just because I don’t think you’re hot! Get over it you know.”

     “Mm. Mm.” Said Sarah. I thought she was listening, but I think even she had tuned into Dominoes FM.

     “Anyway, this huge bouncer just happens to be walking past when I’m completely losing my rag, and chucks me out!” Abby shook her head in disbelief, as if anyone would dare to throw her out.

     “What exactly does ‘losing your rag‘ entail Ab?” Ryan said, becoming more interested as a commercial break played out on the TV.

     “Well I slapped the guy. He was a perv!”

     “You hit him?” Said Sarah, her eyes wide with wonder. I didn’t like to think of her innocent soul being drawn in by Abby’s base behaviour.

     “Ah c’mon then Abby! Fair play,” piped in Ryan, “If you slapped the guy you should’ve been kicked out.”

     “Ryan! How can you say that? A lone girl all on her own in the middle of Oxford late at night? What if something happened to me? The bouncer was such a pig, what kind of a man does that!”

     “I’m not trying to defend the honour of a bouncer,” Ryan said, building his argument, “But you were technically fighting Abby. What kind of a woman does that? He clearly thought you could handle yourself. And I’m pretty sure he was right about that.”

     “I prefer to think of myself as a girl, actually Ryan,” replied Abby, not sure whether he had just complimented her or not. By the way she said girl, flirtatiously raising an eyebrow at Ryan, I think she’d liked the implication.

     Ryan smirked and turned back to the TV.

     “So where have you been all day?” Sarah asked me, “Heard you leave at like half ten.” Which might as well be 6am in student time.

     “Yeah, I had a rough night’s sleep,” I said throwing a glance at Abby, but she was absorbed in the TV with Ryan, “But I went job hunting.”

     “Oooh, any luck?”

     “Yeah actually, at the Folly Inn near where the river is.” She looked at me blankly. I knew The Folly was a well kept secret, but I was willing to bet that Sarah only knew where her classes, the bars and the clubs were. “Yeah, it’s out of the way. I start on Monday.”

     “Is it like a pub?” Said Sarah.

     “More of a restaurant, but there’s a pretty big bar.”

     “Drinks on you then,” Said Abby looking at me. She seemed almost warm. She’d forgotten about last night already. Maybe I should too, put this one down to Abby being Abby.

     “Once I get paid,” I replied taking another slice of pizza. She confused me. She was hot and cold, and most of the time, I couldn’t be doing with her. Until she made me feel bad about ignoring her. Then, sure as eggs are eggs, she’d change my mind again.

     We sat for the rest of the evening, in the living room, watching rubbish TV and finishing every bit of pizza. Abby recounted the rest of her eventful evening, including multiple calls of nature on her walk home. 

 

     “Beth. Bethany,” I didn’t answer. “Ok just to let you know, you’re asleep on the sofa.”

 

 

 

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