Oceans // Dan Howell fanfic

The Royal College of Music is where April Costello has always belonged, but her new life in London is worlds away from her quiet, introverted existence in the tiny Cornish seaside town of St Just. Struggling to fit in and failing to fight the urge to quit everything, April stumbles across Dan - who may just give her the encouragement that childhood dreams are worth fighting for.

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A story about crippling stage fright, midnight compositions on an out of tune piano, clumsy first kisses, and the Cornish sea. Because it always, always, always comes back to the sea.

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2. CHAPTER ONE

Soundproofed walls, they’d said in the prospectus, so you can freely practice your instrument without disturbing your flatmates. I’d been a resident in Flat C68 for a whole three weeks now, and it had only taken three days to work out that was bullshit. Every morning, at 6:30am on the dot, I could hear the distinct high-pitched screech of a violin reverberating through the plasterwork at just the right tone to make sure I never slept again. Julia – who I shared a wall with – didn’t seem to care about who she disturbed during her daily morning practice. And me, being me, felt too awkward to mention any of my severe pent up aggression to her in person, so I ended up just seething in silence wrapped up in my duvet until I felt calm enough to get up.

The Royal College had several blocks of student accommodation spread out across London, mostly within a 40 minute tube journey to the main campus, and to my relief I’d been placed as far out from the centre of town as you could possibly get. When I opened my curtains and saw the great, expansive branches of an Oak tree and a small lake splitting one block of flats from another, it was easier to believe I wasn’t in London at all.

My mum worried I was developing agoraphobia, mainly because I’d casually mention that I’d rather stay in bed in the dark all day than leave the flat for any purpose other than classes. Somehow, I’d gone from not knowing London at all to mastering my daily journeys on the tube, but I still hated the city as much as I did during fresher’s week. I wasn’t scared of going outside (which is exactly what I said every time she decided to throw the term agoraphobic in my face) but to go from Cornwall to London was just depressing. I missed the sea too much.

I was envious of the people who slotted into London life so easily – particularly Georgie, my outgoing and confident housemate, who strutted about the city like she’d lived there all her life. Maybe this was her post-teenage rebellion: she’d been cooped up in this seriously posh boarding school in Kent for most of her life, so letting loose in the UK’s biggest city was probably what she’d been waiting for years.

I thought it was what I’d been waiting for, but the more mindless hours I spent squashed next to middle-aged men with BO on the tube and panicking any time I found myself somewhere I didn’t recognise had me questioning everything.

By the time I’d trailed down to the kitchen to hunt out something for breakfast, the sun had slowly began to rise, casting a dim yellow glow across the laminate of the breakfast bar. Georgie was already up and dressed in tight, pale blue running gear, her long blonde curls tied in a tight ponytail. She flashed a bright, Hollywood-white smile in my direction once she’d noticed my presence.

“Morning!” she said chirpily, which somehow sounded more chirpy in her faultless RP accent. For someone who had been at one of the Student Union club nights until the early hours she looked intimidatingly together. Plus, she’d be on a freaking run. Even if I had all the energy in the world, I couldn’t be one of those people who got up before 7am to go jogging.

“Morning,” I responded, scrambling round my cupboard – I’d been lumbered with the one above the sink as I’d arrived last – for a crumpet or something that I could shove in the toaster. Unfortunately, I was just beaten to it by Niamh; she’d managed to sneak two slices of bread in whilst I’d been looking in the opposite direction.

Niamh was a six foot tall, red-haired clarinettist from Inverness, who literally lived in a tiny white cottage in the middle of the highlands surrounded by sheep and rugged terrain. If I suffered from culture shock, I couldn’t imagine how she felt about life here – but Niamh seemed to travel on a different, ethereal plane to the rest of the world. Maybe it was her height, or the fact her body had this wistful, faerie-like quality, but she took absolutely everything London threw at her in her stride. She was definitely the kind of person who translated her emotions into music. Her clarinet was deliciously melancholy. A trait I had tried, but failed, to recreate when composing for the piano.

“Ooh!” Georgie suddenly announced, twisting away from the counter to face the both of us, like she’d suddenly remembered something. “Are both of you up for a party tonight?”

I think Georgie kind of knew the answer before she’d asked the question. Parties, plus April Costello, didn’t usually mix. For a first year university student – who, admittedly, doesn’t go to a mainstream university – my social life was surprisingly lacklustre. In fresher’s week, I’d tagged along with Georgie and Niamh to a grand total of one club night, the peach schnapps I’d been drinking counteracting my better judgement. For about an hour, the drunken high was blissful, then I was stood in a sweaty nightclub with a ton of strangers and a fifty-year-old man with a bald patch and moustache was trying to touch my boobs. Getting crazy drunk and fucking strangers wasn’t really my thing, but it was Georgie’s, so she did her best to try and get me and Niamh on the bandwagon.

Niamh was the first to decline the offer. “Sorry – I’ve already got plans.”

Georgie raised a slender, perfectly-plucked eyebrow. We both had our assumptions that Niamh was getting on exceedingly well with another clarinettist that lived in the flat next door. For the past week or so she’d spent pretty much every evening round there, doing whatever Flat C67 did, and she’d wander into the kitchen next-door with a dreamy smile on her pale, heart-shaped face.

To my surprise, Georgie didn’t inquire further. She wasn’t usually the type to let sleeping dogs lie, poking around for the gory details. She loved it when we asked about her nightly escapades, particularly if we’d managed to catch the guy before he scampered out of the flat in yesterday night’s clothes and still smelling faintly like cider. One time I’d gone into the kitchen to grab a banana before I headed off to class and got an eyeful of a half-naked third-year stood in his boxers with a bowl of cereal, staring out the window.

“What about you, then, April?” Georgie asked, but her shoulders sagged when she saw my withered look. “Come on; don’t even pretend you have plans. You’ve been out, like, once this whole time.”

Ouch. Picking on my introverted tendencies was a bit catty, but Georgie blinked back with her big blue eyes innocently, like she hadn’t done anything wrong. I didn’t really know why she wanted to go out with me anyway – I wasn’t exactly the life and soul, and I was a terrible wingwoman. Maybe being the bitter, average-looking friend would boost her profile, but that didn’t tend to usually matter in an environment where everyone was under the influence of flaming Sambuca shots.

Ugh. Just thinking about them brought on a hangover.

“Whose party is it?” Niamh interrupted. Her toast had since popped out the toaster and she’d started slathering it in butter and strawberry jam, licking a bit that had trickled off the jar from her thumb.

Now this was the question Georgie couldn’t wait to answer. A contagious smile tugged at her lips, her eyes wistful and dreamy. This would be a look that I’d come to know well: the glassy gaze that Georgie adopted every time a boy came into the equation. “You know Alfie Knightley?”

Niamh and I blinked back blankly. Georgie sighed loudly, her shoulders rolling.

“The flautist in the fourth year?” When we both looked none the wiser, she reluctantly unlocked her iPhone and opened her Facebook app. The photo she flashed in my direction was of a guy with a mane of chestnut-brown curls and green-grey eyes, smiling straight into the camera lens effortlessly like he was used to being photographed. One of his hands held a glass of merlot, the other undeniably his prized possession: his flute. Niamh nodded – being part of the woodwind faculty, it was possible they’d crossed paths – but to me he was just another student at the RCM that I hadn’t met before.

“The head of the flute choir?” Niamh mused aloud, “Why is he having a party? It says his birthday isn’t until June.”

“It’s not his party,” Georgie explained, scrolling through the rest of her notification, “He’s really good friends with someone who composes music for, uh, I think he said it was Google? Anyway, it’s that guy’s party.”

“So… Are you invited? Did Alfie invite you?”

To her credit, Georgie tried her best to look all coy and mysterious, but in reality she was desperate to tell us why the attractive guy three years above us school-wise had taken an interest in her enough to invite her out. Like Alfie Knightley appeared to be, Georgie was a very talented flautist, and a keen new member of his flute choir. It didn’t take much for her excitement to completely spill over. “We started chatting after practice a few days ago. At first it was about the flute – he told me I had an excellent B flat trill – and then he started telling me about this café near the V and A he liked so we just like, sat and had lunch together.”

Now this was news to both me and Niamh, clearly surprised that she’d managed to keep this element of the tale to herself for so long.

“Then he added me on Facebook,” Georgie continued, “And we’ve been messaging each other for a while. He invited me along to this party yesterday when I got in. He said the guy – Jamie, he’s called – was cool with it, and that I could bring friends along if I wanted. Naturally I thought of you two.”

If we didn’t live together, I highly doubted Georgie would be my friend at all. We were nothing alike and had personalities that in any other environment would clash. But the RCM was different like that. It wasn’t a normal university and the people who studied there were very serious about the craft, so the attitudes you found here were vastly different to those you found in places like the university of Manchester or Glasgow or Exeter. In any other university, I was sure that Georgie would have no shortage of friends to go partying with, but the small class sizes and intense practice schedule meant there wasn’t a whole lot of time to go searching for very compatible friendships. The ones you found in your flat would have to do.

That being said, even if I was the partying type, I didn’t fancy being the gooseberry to Georgie and her hot senior flautist (who she was undeniably planning on banging). She’d end up going off with him for the whole evening, leaving me to stand awkwardly at the side of the room with a lukewarm beer, pretending that I wasn’t going to burst into tears at any second. It would probably result in her wanting to go back to his flat and me sheepishly tagging along, sat on a sofa staring at Alfie’s equally awkward flatmate and trying to tune out the creaking from the mattress on the floor above.

I shrugged my shoulders apologetically. “Uh, sorry, I’ve got a composition assignment due and I was going to work on that tonight.”

Georgie sighed aggressively to put across her displeasure, but she wasn’t going to pressure me. Compositions were a big deal here – even if what I said I was bullshit and that assignment didn’t technically exist. “I don’t want to go on my own. Alfie is going to think I’m a loser – I said I’d bring friends.”

The tense atmosphere created by mine and Niamh’s declination was partially broken by the entering of Julia, her violin bow still propped in her left hand. Her sleek, black hair was tied back into tight French braids; a style she was attached to, it seemed, because I’d never seen her hair out of them. Her pale complexion and short yet slim stature instantly gave away her Singaporean heritage. The first thing that struck me when I was introduced to Julia was how strikingly beautiful she was (not one blemish, spot or pore was visible on her porcelain-perfect face) but her mouth seemed to be in a semi-permanent frown when she was around me. The only time I’d ever seen her naturally smile was when I’d passed her outside the canteen with a group of other international students.

I couldn’t blame her, really. Being stuck in a flat full of white girls who didn’t speak your first language (I’d heard her talking quick Mandarin on the phone the other day) couldn’t be a whole lot of fun, but I’d wish she’d express her dislike through any medium other than ridiculously early violin playing.

Georgie’s attentions were thrown momentarily out of desperation to the only person in our flat none of us could click with. As Julia sidled over to her cupboard to retrieve a banana, Georgie followed close behind. “Hey, Julia, do you fancy going to a party tonight?”

She didn’t even need to speak to iterate her displeasure at the thought of going anywhere with Georgie. Once she’d got what she came into the kitchen for, Julia narrowed her eyes slightly in Georgie’s direction, before leaving almost as quickly as she’d came in.

“Well,” Georgie announced dejectedly, her shoulders slumping, “I might just message Alfie and say something has come up. I’d rather he thought I was overrun with plans than a complete loner.”

Niamh looked a little guilty about leaving our flatmate out in the cold, but out of the two of us, she was the only one who genuinely had something on tonight. She flashed me a look, slyly hinting that maybe I should give up on my non-existent assignment and help Georgie out. “I’m sure Alfie will understand if you say everyone is busy. It happens. Besides, he clearly wants to see you, not me or April.”

Georgie mulled this over, taking a seat at the breakfast bar and drumming her long, elegant fingers on the laminate. For student housing, Flat C68 was definitely not as grubby or decrepit as I was expecting. It was surprisingly modern, and nothing like the poky, damp hovels people I knew from home had posted on Facebook and Instagram. My friend Jesse had commented on one of my more recent posts: you have a fucking breakfast bar? In my first year halls we didn’t even have a table!

“I just…” Georgie frowned, “I just really like him. He’s older, mature, sexy as hell, but—I really don’t want to go on my own. I would if it was a club round here, or something to do with the SU, but it’s at a house a good forty minutes away on the tube in the opposite direction to uni. I might get lost, or…”

Georgie’s concerns had caught me off guard, because she’d always struck me as the kind of person who didn’t have any. I looked uneasily back at Niamh. I didn’t want to go. I really, really didn’t want to go. But thanks to the fact that the RCM accommodation team had put us in a flat together, Georgie was one of my only friends. I didn’t want her to be upset, or feel like she’d missed out on something, because if the roles were somehow reversed I wouldn’t want to go alone to that party either with a guy I hardly knew.

Oh, fuck it, April. Statistically, it was very unlikely that one party would end up with me dead or something. Extremely uncomfortable, yes, but no lasting physical or emotional damage.

“Fine,” I relented, Georgie’s face glowing with excitement, “Yeah. I’ll go.”

Georgie arose from her seat and grabbed me into a tight hug, squealing loudly in my ear. I couldn’t help but laugh a little as her blonde hair tickled my nose – it smelled distinctly like coconut and lemongrass, still fresh despite having spent the morning jogging. “Thank you! Trust me; Alfie says it’s going to be great. You’ll have a good time with lots of interesting people.”

I tried to push back the haunting image of me standing in a corner whilst some randy man in his early twenties tried to chat me up, his breath smelling like the excessive alcohol consumption that went hand-in-hand with being a student. I gritted my teeth: I really hoped I wouldn’t come to regret this. “Yeah. Sounds good.”

“And I’ll buy enough alcohol for the both of us,” Georgie released me from the embrace, “As a thank you.”

Georgie’s idea of enough alcohol was at least two bottles of wine and half a bottle of vodka, so at least if the night went horribly I could drink enough to forget it actually happened. I nodded hesitantly.

“Well,” Georgie picked up her phone, checking the time, “I’ve got to shower before my flute lesson, so I’ll see you both later. I’ll text you the details about tonight when Alfie’s given me them, April.”

Georgie spun on the heels of her brand new Adidas trainers and left the kitchen, heading out into the hall. Niamh had finished her toast and brushed the crumbs into the bin, shoving her plate into the sink that was constantly full of unwashed crockery. “It probably won’t be as bad as you think.”

I think my unconvinced look gave away absolutely everything I was feeling about the occasion. Niamh laughed, covering her mouth with her hand, each finger covered in at least two rings. There was no making me feel better on this one. 

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