A Fresh Outlook Is All It Needs…
Autumn, Year 5
Nick is 21, Anna is 19, Arianna is 19, Elliott is 20, Rohan is 20, Ashley is 21, Sasha is 21, Raúl is 21, Nicola is 21, Christopher is 17
A new academic year had begun and the Foxbury campus was full with eager students, ready for the start of a new term. Most of them were gathered at Larry’s Lagoon for an impromptu meet-and greet. It was always a fabulous opportunity to meet up with friends they hadn’t seen over the summer and gear up for a brand new year.
Arianna was particularly excited to get the new football season under way! She posed excitedly with the team mascot and started organising training sessions for the team, as well as a session for new students to come and try out for the team. It was always great to get some fresh blood into the team and she had a really good feeling about this year!
Nick and Anna had been flirting since the meet and greet at Larry’s Lagoon. Last year, Nick had completely had his heart broken by Zoe and he’d been determined to keep far away from her. Since she was a student at UBrite, that shouldn’t be too difficult and if she happened to visit the campus to see Rohan, he was going to steer clear.
There was something magnetic about Anna’s personality. She was pretty, nice and funny and she was intelligent. Most of all, she was single.
Determined not to blow this, Nick invited her to the Tudor Tavern for dinner, a small gesture to her Italian roots.
Anna was delighted. She’d fancied Nick for a while but hadn’t quite had the courage to say anything. She was excited for their date.
Nick started chatting about their classes and Anna found herself staring dreamily at him. She started picturing them going to the cinema; taking him home to meet her parents. Holidays in Selvadorada; trips to the beach. Her brain was doing overdrive because finally, she’d met someone she liked who seemed to like her back!
Nick’s brain was also going into overdrive but not quite for the same reasons. Anna was looking very hot in her outfit and Nick was having a little trouble concentrating suddenly on their conversation.
When they finished the meal, Anna decided to test the water and leant forward to kiss Nick lightly on the mouth. He was pleasantly surprised; he hadn’t really expected Anna to be as interested as he was and the kiss was encouraging.
He pulled her into a tight hug. As much as he wanted to take her back to the dorm and get her into bed, he didn’t want to ruin a relationship like this so early on. He wanted to do this right.
They went for an evening stroll through the old streets of Windenburg. Anna adored the town with its cobbled streets, Tudor buildings and stone flowerbeds. There was something serene and gentle about the way the town centre was so quiet in the evening breeze.
“Anna,” Nick broke the silence. “I don’t want to mess this up. I like you; I like you a lot and I had a wonderful time tonight. I’d like to see you more often.”
“I’d like that too.” Anna pulled him into a hug. “I really enjoyed tonight, Nick. It’s been wonderful getting to know you better and I’d definitely like to go on a date with you again.”
Nick breathed a sigh of relief and held Anna just that little bit tighter. It was going to be a good year.
Nick had planned on being very gentlemanly and walking Anna to her dorm room and kissing her goodnight. It was Anna who made the first move and, with the rest of their dormmates either still out or sound asleep, Anna joined him for a hot shower.
The following morning, Raúl invited Anna to work out with him. They both worked on the Foxbury Gazette and he wanted to see her under the guise of discussing some articles to kick off the first issue of the year.
Truthfully, he’d liked Anna since his break-up with Hayley. He could hardly believe a whole year had passed and he felt ready to move on. Anna had been a wonderful friend to him in that time; most of the others had got sick of him when he’d been boasting about his relationship with everyone’s favourite singer.
His timing couldn’t have been worse and instead, he listened as Anna gushed about her date with Nick the night before. Raúl felt frustrated; he wished now that he’d made a move on Anna sooner. He’d waited too long and now she was seeing someone else.
Life didn’t seem fair sometimes.
Back at the dorm, Arianna was up to her usual tricks. After the cheating scandal at the very beginning of the year, she was trying to keep her head down with her studies. However, that didn’t stop her making the odd prank call to people to amuse herself when her studies got too boring.
Hearing one of her fellow students panicking about shipments of llamas made her day. She hung up the phone and punched the air triumphantly. This was far better than getting kicked out of the University, which she’d been warned would happen if she was caught cheating again.
Her other favourite pastime was just as childish as the prank calls. Playing in piles of leaves was something she’d done since her childhood and she felt a great sense of satisfaction by scattering the carefully raked leaves all over the lawn.
That evening, Elliott was pleasantly surprised to find his younger brother Christopher at the dorm.
“What are you doing here?” He asked, slapping his brother with a high five. “I haven’t been back long, you know!”
“I know.” Christopher grinned. “But I’ll be on trips to see the colleges with the school soon and I decided to nip on the train and see you first.”
“You’re thinking of coming here, then?” Elliott asked.
Christopher shrugged. “That depends. If I get the grades and I get accepted onto the Distinguished degree, I’ll be studying Drama at UBrite. If I don’t get on the Distinguished course, I’ll be here.”
“So this is, like, a second choice then?” Elliott rolled his eyes in mock disgust. “I despair of you.”
“Not as much as Dad does.” Christopher’s face suddenly went serious.
“He’s not still giving you a hard time?” Elliott was surprised. “I thought he’d accepted long ago that we’re not his perfect little soldiers.”
Shaking his head, Christopher sighed. “Nope. He keeps saying that if Ryan can do it, why can’t we?”
Elliott winced. William could be very impossible sometimes. He was always giving Ryan a hard time over his choice of girlfriend and he’d been furious with Elliott for wanting to be a musician.
Anna was besotted with Nick. They were living in the same building yet spent hours emailing each other back and forth with lovey-dovey little messages and sentiments. When she wasn’t emailing him or talking to him, her eyes glazed over in a dreamy manner.
While the rest of the dormmates chatted, danced or gossiped, Rohan sat by himself with his textbook open and his head buried in it. He was trying hard not to think too much. He’d been having a lot of doubts over whether his engagement to Zoe was such a wonderful idea.
He knew she’d been flirting with Nick a lot early in the year but seeing Nick loved-up with Anna was something of a relief. However, it still begged the question; why had Zoe been flirting with someone else?
He glanced up in time to see his good friend, Elliott, holding hands with Nicola. He sighed and groaned inwardly. He knew Elliott had a girlfriend; and like Rohan, that girlfriend went to a different University.
If Elliott was cheating on Danielle behind her back and in a separate university; what was Zoe doing at UBrite when Rohan wasn’t around?
Ashley had been wondering the same thing. Nicola was a friend of hers and she was privately questioning her friend’s common sense in flirting with a man already in a relationship. She contemplated interfering then decided she shouldn’t. Ashley preferred having a very small group of friends. She didn’t find meeting people that easy and Nicola had been good to her right from the start.
Interfering now could jeopardise that friendship and she didn’t want to risk that.
Instead, she decided to talk to Anna and Raúl about it. They were her other closer friends and she also knew they wouldn’t say anything.
“I can’t stand it when people do that,” Anna commented. The trio had gone to Larry’s Lagoon the following day after classes were finished and Raúl and Anna were engaged in a fierce game of table football. “If you’re not in love with the person any more, just end it. It’s kinder on both parties.”
“I agree,” Raúl responded, flicking the handle with his wrist. “It feels terrible when you realise someone’s been making a fool of you. You feel like you’re not good enough, or something.” He sighed. “That’s how I felt, when I found out what Hayley was doing.”
Ashley and Anna nodded silently. Raúl still found the situation painful, although he no longer felt anything for Hayley. The entire situation had been awkward and even after a year, it still caught him off-guard.
“So what should I do?” Ashley asked. “I mean, Nicola’s my friend but it’s Elliott who’s cheating. I don’t know him that well and I don’t know his girlfriend at all.”
“I’d leave it, Ash,” Raúl said, shrugging. “I know it’d hurt his girlfriend but we don’t know her; she’d never believe us and if Nicola wants to make a fool of herself, she’s hardly going to listen to you now, is she?”
Ashley nodded, feeling relieved. “You’re right. I won’t say anything. Maybe it was just a one-off, anyway. I could be overreacting.”
Little did they know, Elliott and Nicola were downstairs in the cafeteria, flirting and sweet talking each other.
Elliott got back to the dorm first and was surprised to find a small book on the desk in his room. Flipping it open, he started reading a page in the middle of the book and found himself quite gripped. There was teenage drama, unrequited love and incredible suspicions and insights.
It was Christopher’s journal. Elliott realised his brother must have left it behind when he visited the day before and forgot to pick it up. Feeling a little guilty for having read so much, Elliott quickly closed the journal and stuffed it into his bag. He’d give it back to Christopher as soon as possible and pretend he’d never opened it.
Raúl was back soon after and made straight for the bathroom to wash his face. He still felt frustrated every time he hung out with Anna but he knew he’d been friend-zoned. There was no doubt about it and the thought hut him in the gut every single time it crept into his head. There was no getting around the fact that Anna was crazy about Nick.
It was a depressing thought.
Later that afternoon, Rohan had gone into Britechester town to get some air and get away from everyone else. He’d contemplated grabbing some coffee at Coastal, but he spotted Ashley with her drama group practicing their lines outside the café and suddenly didn’t feel like it.
His mind had been turning over the Elliott situation and it was getting him down. He kept feeling like he ought to say something; tell Elliott how Danielle might feel if she found out. Urge him to be honest but in his gut, Rohan knew he didn’t have the courage.
He felt like he’d failed Elliott as a friend because a real friend would stop Elliott from getting in too deep and ruining what he had.
Depressed, Rohan bowed his head and strolled gloomily through the leaf-strewn streets.
To Nick’s surprise, he found Raúl sitting by himself at the bar in the local pub. Sliding onto the stool next to him, he nudged him. “What are you having?” He asked.
Raúl looked up, surprised. His heart sank when he saw who was beside him. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Nick but jealousy was doing funny things to him.
“Oh, nothing for me thanks.”
Nick raised an eyebrow as he ordered his own drink. “Are you okay? You look a bit fed up.” He commented.
Raúl shrugged. “I’m okay.”
“Women trouble?” Nick persisted. “Come on, you can tell me.”
“It’s Anna.” The words came out of Raúl’s mouth before he had a chance to think about them.
“Ahh.” Nick nodded at the bartender and took a gulp of his drink. “Like that then. Crikey, I’m sorry mate. I had no idea you liked her.”
Raúl shook his head. “Nobody does, not even Anna herself. Don’t tell her though.”
“Not a word.” Nick slapped Raúl’s shoulder sympathetically. “I wish I’d known. I thought you were still hot for Hayley.”
“Don’t worry. I had a year; I could have done something about it. And no, I’m not interested in Hayley now. I got over that quick enough. The constant photos of her and that soldier guy looking all loved up cured me of that,” Raúl replied bitterly. He grimaced. “I should have done something about Anna but I didn’t want her to think it was a rebound thing. Just poor timing.”
Nick bit his lip. “Damn, I’m sorry. You must hate me right now.”
“Actually, no.” Raúl looked surprised. “I don’t. She’s happy; it’s nice seeing her happy. Gives me hope that one day, that’ll happen for me too.”
“Maybe I should go.” Nick suddenly looked concerned. When Raúl opened his mouth to reply, Nick shook his head. “I mean, Anna’s going to be here in a minute. We’re on a date tonight and-“
“You don’t want me feeling awkward,” Raúl jumped in. He laughed. “I’ll be fine. I’ll say hello and then I’ll head back. I’ve got a mountain of work to do, anyway.” He stood up. “Thanks for this. It’s weird but I do feel a bit better for telling you this.”
Nick smiled. “I’m glad you did.”
Before either of the men could say anything further, Anna walked into the pub and made a beeline for Nick. Raúl winked at his friend and stepped out of the way. He watched Nick and Anna talking, laughing and dancing for a while and smiled. What he’d said to Nick earlier was true; he did love seeing Anna looking so happy. Silently, he slipped out of the door.
Anna and Nick had a wonderful evening and ended up messing around in the car afterwards. The streets of Britechester were quiet and they were undisturbed.
Meanwhile, back at the dorm, Arianna was being her usual self. One of the UBrite students, Matteo, had come over to visit and Arianna enjoyed tormenting him. She had a thing against the UBrite students; possibly owing to their successful football team. Either way, she was having fun winding him up.
Raúl walked into the toilets to catch Arianna shoving Matteo during an argument. He really wasn’t in the mood for Arianna and her games.
“What are you doing?” he asked, sounding tired.
“Just telling this little dirtbag he shouldn’t be here.” She replied. “What’s it to you?”
“Grow up, Arianna. He’s visiting a friend; none of your business, since you don’t have any.”
Arianna was furious. Raúl had had the last laugh and both he and Matteo had gone away laughing at her. She’d been unable to find a suitable comeback and that wasted time allowed the two guys to get the upper hand.
This wasn’t going at all as she’d planned it.
After Matteo left, Raúl sat in his room and cracked open his books. Arianna got on his nerves and he got fed up with her relentlessly bullying any of the UBrite students.
Suddenly, Nicola ran into his room screaming incoherently. It scared the life out of Raúl and he couldn’t make any sense of her ramblings before she ran out again. He sighed and shook his head; she’d probably been watching a horror film with somebody in the lounge.
Sometimes, he felt that everyone in the world was losing their minds and days like this felt like proof.
“I can’t believe how lucky I am,” Nick commented to Anna the following day. They were out for a stroll in Windenburg, a short train ride away from the campus. It was a gorgeous day and still had the warmth of the summer; the autumn chill hadn’t completely crept in yet.
“Snap,” Anna said, grinning. “I didn’t know I could be this happy.”
It was amazing what love could do.