(Author’s note: This story is set in the fictional town of Mountford in England near Salisbury. As far as I know, there are no mountains in the vicinity. ‘Football’ here refers to the game played with a black-and-white ball, not the American game.)
It was chaos.
“Mum would say ‘I told you so’ if she was here,” Leslie said to her future roommate.
Kyla grinned. “But she’s not. Besides, isn’t it exciting? Don’t you feel smarter just breathing the air here?”
Leslie took a breath, then choked.
Kyla rolled her eyes. “Seriously, these people are living proof that you can make it to the end of your undergraduate degree alive!”
“We’re only one year away! I was awed back in first year.”
“Now you’re just cynical.”
“I prefer the term ‘realistic.'”
It took some time to find their new landlord and get the keys to their apartment. He grumbled about their choice of day, echoing the girls’ mothers’ statements that it would be best to wait until the day after the graduating students’ departure before moving in, rather than crowding the narrow streets of downtown Mountford any more than necessary.
It took them numerous trips to transport the contents of their residence rooms to their new abode. The apartment building was on the opposite edge of campus, which meant a fifteen-minute trek if one was carrying a computer monitor. The weather had temporarily given up its damp mists to offer brilliant warming sunshine. They’d been planning this event for months, ever since a fateful day in January when there’d been a thaw in the meat freezer and everyone who ate in the cafeteria got food poisoning.
“I’d rather die by my own cuisine,” had been Kyla’s statement as she’d launched herself for her garbage pail, and the sentiment was quite possible considering her culinary skills. Her mother had suggested that she spend the summer at home learning this fine art, but she’d been offered a spectacular position as a summer researcher with her favourite prof and couldn’t turn down the opportunity. Her mother had agreed to bring up some furniture and a few dozen of her simplest recipes to tide Kyla over until she could learn to cook, or make enough money to afford take-out every evening.
Leslie’s mother arrived just after work, bringing dishes, bookshelves, a futon and a black-and-white television. Leslie persuaded her mother to take her shopping for a desk, even though she had no intention of using it for another four months, so the two women left.
Kyla stepped out onto her new balcony, then decided to take greater advantage of the unexpected weather. She rode the slow, creaking elevator down seven flights – the journey was long, but it was worth it. She loved living on the top floor, loved looking out her balcony, even though she’d only done it twice, once today and once when she and Leslie were touring the flat. At the fifth floor, the lift doors opened and admitted a bloke about her age in a football jersey listening to headphones, a wire trailing down to his back pocket which curved perfectly over a sexily-rounded ass. He smiled politely at her as he got into the lift. There was an air of familiarity about him. She tried to examine him out of the corner of her eyes, but it proved impossible. She decided she was simply feeling connected to everyone in the building this evening and tried to put the thought out of her mind. There was only one more floor to go.
Which was just enough time for her to realize that he was looking at her. He was examining her from head to toe, but not the sleazy way of the meat markets she frequented when her favourite music was featured. Instead, he was lingering more on a noticeable birthmark on her thigh than some of the more popular aspects of her physique. She turned, and he averted his gaze, colouring. The doors opened and she was about to exit, when he said, “This is going to sound so clichéd, but do I know you from somewhere?”
She paused for a moment. “Quite possibly, but unfortunately I’ve lived too long to be able to call up all my ‘somewheres’ in as short amount of time as I’m sure you would desire.”
A spark of laughter burst from his lips. “Did you come up with that on the spot?”
She faltered, hesitant to reveal the source of her supposed spontaneity to a man whose sincerity was still in question. “I’ve had to learn how to dodge uncreative men at bars. That line confuses at least the drunk ones, and gives me a second to run away from the sober ones before they realize it.”
“Were you in my microbiology class last year?”
“You’re studying biology? I thought you’d go into music. You were always so much better than me.”
“I was horrible.” She looked closely at the man in front of her. “You look different, Jonathan.”
“Puberty does that.”
“So do straight teeth. Although you looked better in braces than most of our classmates did,” she said remembering the other students at her middle school.
“I owned those braces.” He pulled his headphones down around his neck, scraping them against cheeks roughened by years bostancı escort bayan and day-old stubble.
“So what brings you to Mountford – or have you always been here?” It seemed doubtful. The campus wasn’t that big, and she’d been a student for three years.
“A summer job. I’m subletting here.”
“What’s the job?”
“Working at the riding office of the MP.”
“Really? That’s great. Kevin Arlington’s done a lot of things for the community.”
“You follow politics?”
She smiled shyly. “Just in December and April. During terms I’m too busy and in the summer I’m working as hard as I can to make money.”
There was a moment of uncertain continuance. He pushed open the door and let her walk out.
“So where are you headed?” She asked.
“Looking for a grocery store. My parents brought me down a couple days ago, but I’ve already run out of milk and biscuits. Could you point me in the best direction?”
“I’ll walk you. I was just coming out to enjoy the weather.”
“That would be great.”
He picked up half a dozen items, taking care to select a certain cheese. “Regiano parmesan. It’s from a specific region. It tastes much better than the processed stuff,” he said to her quizzical glance.
On the way home he asked if she was hungry.
“I haven’t had dinner yet, but I’ll probably just make myself a sandwich.”
“A sandwich? That’s not dinner. I’ll feed you.”
“You don’t have to feed me just because I walked you to the grocery store.”
“No, of course not. I’m doing it because I intend to pump you for information about what there is to do in Mountford.”
“You don’t have to make it sound like this city’s the armpit of the country.”
“No, I think that distinct honour goes to Stoke.”
“There’s lots to do in Mountford.”
“Do you think it could take a whole dinner for you to tell me all about it?”
“Depends how quickly I talk.”
He let her take a look around the flat as he began preparing dinner. “But very little of it is my décor.” Only the bedroom had his affairs. It had been part of the deal of the subletting that the resident remove everything but the furniture from the bedroom. It was being stored in the hall closet so that Jonathan had at least one room that felt like his for the summer.
She returned to the kitchen after her self-guided tour. His back was turned, giving her the chance to take a good look at him. There was very little of the awkward and gangly teenager he’d been. He looked to be just under six feet, with long legs packed with muscle. He was barefoot, and Kyla could see faint tan lines left over from the previous summer. A slow perusal up his body revealed that his athletic activity was mostly limited to his lower body. He filled out his white t-shirt comfortably but not with the over-bearing attitude of frequent gym rats. Her look dropped to his fingers as the purposefully tore lettuce for a salad. His hands were clean and strong, and she wondered what it would feel like to have them run over her body. She realized she’d been appraising for too long, and didn’t want to be caught staring. “I like it. It’s comfortable,” she said, referring to his apartment.
She sniffed, once again aware of her other senses. It appeared only noodles cooking on the stove top, which couldn’t be the source of the aroma. Suddenly the buzzer interrupted her half-phrased question and Jonathan pulled out of the oven a baking sheet with little wedges of –
“You make your own croutons?!”
“Better than store-bought?”
“Much. I’m in awe. I haven’t even learned how to peel a potato. Where’d you learn to cook croutons?”
“In high school, there was this girl I liked. I wanted to be in one of her classes, but there were so many sections of Math and Science and English that I didn’t want to risk not sharing a class. I heard she signed up for Cooking, and there was only one section of that.” He shrugged, as if it finished the sentence.
“Did you end up getting the girl?”
“No, she didn’t want to date such a sucky guy. Her words.”
Kyla winced in sympathy. “Tough love.”
“The experience was far more significant than the girl could ever have been. I was one of two guys taking the class. It was the first time I was ever part of the minority.”
Soon Jonathan presented her with a bowl of Caesar salad and sat down opposite her with his own. They reminisced about their school and their classmates through dinner and dessert before Jonathan demanded payback for the food. “So what is there to do in this fine city of yours?”
“What are you interested in?”
He put his hand on his chest and pouted. The gesture assaulted Kyla with the longing to feel and taste his lips, not just see them. “You don’t remember my interests from eight years ago? Kyla, I’m hurt.”
“At least I remember that you were one of the few boys who wasn’t more interested in the music they could make with their bodies than with their assigned instrument – and you were the only one of those guys who was cute.”
“You ümraniye escort think I’m cute?”
“I said I did. I think it was those knobby knees of yours.”
“Oh no.” He moved his leg out from under the table to give Kyla a closer look at his muscular calf and well-proportioned kneecap that he’d obviously grown into some time in the past eight years. “Am I less cute now?”
“You have to earn such revelations.”
“How would you like?”
“I’ll make you dinner every week this summer.”
“My, my, my,” she said, raising a single eyebrow. He was caught by the exotic quality of her gesture. The defined arch of her brow gave her a naughty look, and he hungered to find out what other comments or activities would bring out that look again. “Aren’t you bold. I don’t remember you being like this.”
“I plead loneliness. And familiarity.” He reached for her hand, intending a friendly squeeze, but neither was surprised at the heat that flashed through them from the gesture. “Seeing a face I never expected to see again doesn’t happen every day.”
She pulled her hand from his, smiling. “Until two hours ago, you probably hadn’t given me a single thought in eight years, if you even did then.”
He considered her words. “That’s not true. I wondered occasionally what you were up to, whether you’d continued in band or not.”
“I did, probably to the consternation of Mr. Yanek. Did you?”
“I gave it up when we moved to Edinburgh.”
Over pasta with tomato sauce he’d made himself she talked about a few of the Mountford attractions. Jonathan was interested in renting a canoe or a kayak for a day on the Swift River, the free movies that the university played Tuesday evenings. He’d already signed up for the amateur football league that was partially fielded by the University of Mountford students who stayed in town for the summer.
“Do you play for your team at school – wherever school is?”
“London, double major in Mass Communications and Political Science –”
“Exactly. Football’s how I stay sane. I play forward for the school team. Do you do anything to relieve the pressure of school?”
“I’m too busy,” she said with a smile. “Most of my time is either in class or in the lab, but I volunteer every week at the hospital.”
“Do you want to be a doctor?”
“It’s a thought. So’s medical research. I want to be the person who cures cancer.” They talked more about their future plans, realizing that they had much in common. They were both interested in fields of work that would probably confine them to big cities, even though they preferred the more relaxed pace – and traffic – of less-populated areas. They caught up on each other’s lives through high school and the first years of university before Kyla glanced up at the wall, shocked at the hands on his clock. “Is that the time?”
“Sorry, I gotta go. I didn’t know it was so late. Leslie – my flatmate – will be worried. I didn’t leave a note or anything.”
“Do you want to call her?”
“I don’t know the number by memory yet. And I’ve got a meeting with my professor tomorrow morning.” Kyla stood and started to head for the door. “Dinner was great. I really enjoyed it.”
Jonathan followed her to the entrance to his apartment. At the threshold, she turned. “We’re having a housewarming party on Friday night. Would you come?”
“Great. Nine o’clock, room 704.” She whirled out the door, ran down the hall and bounded up the stairs two at a time.
* * *
“Where were you?” Leslie asked when she heard her roommate enter their place. She was already in her pajamas. “Do you like my desk?”
Winded, Kyla could only nod. “Very nice.” When she’d regained enough of her breath for complete sentences, she said, “I ran into someone I knew back in middle school. His family moved away just before high school. We shared a stand in band class. The two suckers who got to learn oboe.”
Leslie carefully examined Kyla’s face. “And now you’re thinking about making beautiful music together.”
Kyla’s eyes opened in surprise. She should have known her casual deliverance wouldn’t fool her confidante for the past three years. “Something like that, maybe…. We were each other’s first friend of the opposite sex. We were both a bit shy, but it didn’t feel awkward or anything. We weren’t boy and girl, we were just kids together.” She smiled at the memory. “We had our first slow dance together in grade eight. We were talking about it in class one day when the tuba player was having trouble – neither of us had ever slow danced before. It just made sense to be with each other at first. We stepped on each other’s toes at least twice, but it didn’t matter.”
“What was the song?”
“Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You.'”
Leslie nodded knowingly. “It’s fate.”
“Do you think Jonathan would have a recipe for salsa that we could use?” Kyla asked Leslie Thursday evening when they were planning the food they’d be serving at the party.
“How would I know?”
“Do escort kartal you think I should go ask him?”
Kyla frowned at her flatmate until she explained, “With your skill, you’d render it inedible, and he wouldn’t be impressed.”
Kyla pondered this an instant. “I could say you made it.”
“We’ll buy salsa.”
Verbal invitations had been extended to about fifty friends between the girls, though the number of attendants would probably be reduced because a quarter of the students had already gone home for the summer.
The evening was cool and Kyla regretfully changed the tank top she’d been planning on wearing for a sweater, but kept the skirt she’d selected. She wondered how much of her outfit was for her and how much of it was for Jonathan, but the doorbell rang and forbid further thought on the subject.
Kyla was chatting with her friend Taryn when the buzzer rang at exactly nine o’clock. She stood up to answer the door while Taryn remained seated.
Jonathan stepped into the flat carrying a bottle of wine and a plate of brownies.
Taryn rose and came over. “Kyla, you didn’t say you’d be inviting fresh blood – or is he yours?”
“Taryn, this is Jonathan. We were music partners in grade eight. Jonathan, this is Taryn. She’s scarier, and more interesting, than an entire women’s basketball team.”
“Noted,” Jonathan said, shaking Taryn’s hand. The woman immediately guided her prey to a seat in the living room while Kyla went to put the wine in the fridge and the brownies out on the table with the rest of the snack food. For the next half hour, she was occupied with greeting guests, throwing occasional glances at Taryn, who was moving increasingly closer to Jonathan. She caught snatches of their conversation, until Taryn stood up, made her way over to Kyla and hissed, “You could have told me,” before joining a small group on the balcony. The hostess was surprised. What had Jonathan said to Taryn that had managed to shock the girl who’d done everything?
Kyla was occupied all evening refilling snack trays or chatting with friends who would be leaving the school in the next few days, though she was conscious of the fact that her eyes would seek out Jonathan at regular intervals. Their eyes met often; obviously he was looking at her as often as she was looking at him. At first she blushed and looked away, but when she realized that Jonathan was holding her gaze without the least embarrassment at being caught, she began maintaining the connection for a moment longer.
As the hour of midnight waned, most guests left. Conversations merged as people departed until there were only five of them left. When Leslie’s first-year roommate and her boyfriend left just shy of two a.m., Leslie stretched and stood up.
“I’ll clean up the food tonight,” Kyla offered. “Don’t you have the early shift at The Coffee Shoppe tomorrow?”
“Thanks,” Leslie said, nodding and walking out of the room. “See you tomorrow.”
“Need a hand cleaning up?” Jonathan asked.
“You’re a guest. I’ll do it later,” she said, stifling a yawn.
“Yes, but if I’m a guest, I should leave now. If I offer to help, I can convince myself that I’m not overstaying my welcome and infringing on your obvious need for sleep.”
Kyla nodded guiltily, and fought, but lost, to contain another yawn. There wasn’t that much that had to be done. They bagged the food and put what they could into the fridge.
“That Taryn was quite a character.”
“Oh, that’s right! What did you say to her that made her react so strongly?”
Jonathan paused for a second. “How close a friend is she?”
“I know what she’s capable of – I’ll believe whatever you tell me.”
“Well, bluntly, she started to put a hand on my crotch and so I said, ‘Please don’t do that. My venereal disease makes me extra sensitive right now.'”
Kyla burst into laughter and then pressed her lips together to prohibit sound. She didn’t want to wake Leslie if she’d successfully fallen asleep. While hanging onto the counter for support, she sucked air heavily through her nose in an effort to control her amusement.
“Now that’s attractive,” Jonathan commented, moving closer, not deterred by the sound, but attracted to her uniquely feminine scent. He briefly pressed his lips to hers. The gesture was completed before Kyla was aware of it.
“What was that for?”
“To make you stop laughing. It worked, didn’t it?”
She nodded. “Very effective.”
“Too effective. I thought I could at least get in two before you calmed down.”
“I could pretend to laugh.”
“Or we could give up pretending.”
Kyla let go of the counter and put her arms around Jonathan, running her fingers up his back to play at the exposed skin at the nape of his neck before meandering into his hair. She felt her lip tremble with anticipation as she stared into Jonathan’s compelling eyes. She could feel his hands on her back, light but tense. Neither one moved. The electrifying distance was maintained until both were comfortable and couldn’t remember when they’d broken the proper distance between friends. Kyla started to rise up on her toes just as Jonathan lowered his head, causing the impact to be stronger than they’d expected, but the physical pressure only mimicked the current that had been running between them that night.