Nobody Said Life Was Easy…
Winter, Year 6
Jack is 41, Ashley is 23, Nicola is 23, Nick is 22, Anna is 20, Keith is 20 and Kathleen is 20
University never was quite straightforward and Ashley was finding it all the more difficult. She was easily one of the eldest in her dorm, owing to the fact that she’d messed up several times and ended up restarting her course. One of the newer girls, Niamh Buckley, was always pranking her. Ashley wasn’t much of a prankster herself and hated being on the receiving end. Nevertheless, she frequently found herself being pranked by Niamh yet hadn’t quite the heart to get cross with the new girl, so she let it slide.
The girls enjoyed the occasional night out and bowling was an activity they all enjoyed. Infuriatingly, Niamh turned out to be quite good and Ashley had to resist the urge to roll her eyes. She knew this kind of resentment was childish but she couldn’t help it.
After their game ended, Kathleen found Keith sitting at one of the tables with his laptop. He was getting an early start on some of his coursework.
She asked him what he was working on and Keith began to explain his physics coursework to her. She tried to pay attention but he’d lost her at “Well, you see…”
Anna, meanwhile, was meeting up with Nick at the cinema. Their date was, as usual, going very well. Nick was going to be graduating this year and Anna wanted to make the most of her time with him now. Once he graduated, he was aiming for work as an archaeologist and would probably be abroad a lot, mainly in the jungle in Selvadorada. She was proud of him but she couldn’t deny that she was definitely going to miss him.
Later that evening, back at the dorm, Keith and Kathleen were playing chess on the balcony. Keith had been enamoured with Kathleen taking an interest in his studies and had really enjoyed talking with her. Ever the impulsive Sim, he decided to make a go at asking Kathleen out. Being fairly new to the dating scene, he jumped straight into asking her to be his girlfriend.
“Keith, you can’t just ask me a question like that. We’ve never even been out together.”
Keith looked confused. “I thought that’s what I was doing?”
Shaking her head, Kathleen sighed. “No. If you’re going to ask me out, ask me out to dinner or for a drink or something. And no, Keith, don’t ask me now or I will accept and break up with you on the spot for being so dense.”
Bewildered, Keith nodded and they finished their game of chess in silence.
After the game, Keith ducked into the bathroom and splashed his face with water.
“You’ve blown it now,” he muttered at his reflection. The memory of asking Kathleen to be his girlfriend resurfaced and his cheeks reddened with embarrassment. How could he have been so…stupid?
Taking deep breaths, Keith tried to forget the look on Kathleen’s face. He knew when he’d been friend-zoned.
The following day, Keith received a thoroughly unexpected text from Nicola. Still reeling a little from Kathleen’s rejection, he shrugged and decided it couldn’t hurt to see how things went with Nicola. So he texted back and agreed to meet her at the local pub.
The two settled at the bar and began to chat. Keith knew that Nicola and Elliott had been flirting back and forth for a while but after Nicola’s confession of a crush on him, he wanted to see if any sparks flew. Certainly, the conversation flowed easily and Keith was beginning to relax and enjoy himself.
Nicola made the slightly mad suggestion of bathing in the river. Keith bit his lip; it was freezing out and he thought she was crazy to suggest such a thing but he didn’t want to appear a wimp. So he braced himself, stripped to his underwear and hastily plunged into the river.
He was right, it was freezing but either Nicola was very good at hiding it, or she simply didn’t feel the cold. Either way, they chatted and laughed until Keith thought his limbs would turn blue.
Much later, after he’d dried off and Nicola had left, he sat on a nearby bench. He felt a bit dazed; like the date hadn’t been quite real. Yet the chill in his bones hadn’t yet left him and his imagination wasn’t that good.
He blinked a few times, wondering just what had possessed him to plunge into the river on a very cold, wintery evening with a woman he hardly knew. Somehow, he didn’t think that date had gone all that well either.
It was time to make a move back to the dorm before he froze to the spot.
A few days passed and Keith kept to himself. He hadn’t been able to face Nicola and had been ignoring her texts. He’d been avoiding Kathleen as much as possible to try and forget his awkwardness with her.
So it caught him off guard to bump into her outside the pub one evening when he’d been out with the guys. He’d drifted off on his own a little to gather his thoughts and almost literally bumped into Kathleen doing the same.
“I’m sorry!” He gasped. “Are you okay?”
She smiled. “I’m fine. I didn’t realise you were here tonight,” she said, gesturing towards the pub.
“Oh, well. I was on a night out with the guys.” He felt awkward again. “Um, I didn’t know you were here, either.”
“Night out with the girls.” She shrugged. “I needed some time away from them though.”
“Mmm, me too. From the guys, I mean.” He felt himself going red. This couldn’t get much worse.”
Grinning, Kathleen nodded towards the pub again. “Why don’t we get ourselves a drink?”
Relieved, Keith agreed and they set off towards the pub again.
“Listen Keith, about the other day,” Kathleen began. “I don’t want you to think I was rejecting you outright. I realised afterwards that I could have worded that better. Then you began avoiding me and I realised I’d probably embarrassed you completely.”
“Maybe a bit.” Keith sighed. “You were right, though. I wasn’t exactly subtle; probably quite crass, in fact and I shouldn’t be quite so forward.” He sighed again. “I’m not…used to this kind of thing. My parents are quite conservative – dating etiquette was never discussed so this is new ground for me. And I’m making a complete mess of it.”
“Not really,” Kathleen smiled. “Just a little rough around the edges. But I don’t mind that at all.”
“Wait – you mean…?”
She nodded. “Yeah, I do.”
They left the pub later and walked along the river bank.
“I really hope I don’t mess this up,” Keith said. “I’ve never really had a girlfriend before. My parents didn’t allow it.”
“Don’t worry about it, Keith.” Kathleen said, standing to face him. “I’m sure you’ll be just fine.”
Before Keith could respond, she leaned forward and kissed him gently.
Keith was speechless. He’d never been kissed before but that certainly hadn’t been what he’d expected. It was incredible.
“Kathleen, I-” he began but Kathleen shushed him.
“Don’t worry.” She smiled again. “I really do like you, Keith, and I think we can make a go of this. I’m not exactly used to this either so it’s new ground for both of us. We’ll be okay.”
“And yes, Keith. I’d love to be your girlfriend. I should have said it the other night.”
Stunned into complete silence, Keith pulled her in for another kiss. He’d been so afraid that his inexperience had ruined everything that he still couldn’t believe that she was giving him a chance.
They weren’t quite ready to head back to the dorms yet. The night was still young and the sky was clear, so they lay on the rough ground and gazed at the stars above them.
Kathleen was relieved. They did seem to have a lot in common and she knew enough to know that it was a good start. If they could have a solid foundation, they could work through anything. She really didn’t want a relationship like her parents had.
Days passed and while they fooled around a bit, they kept the pace fairly slow. Neither wanted to risk making a mess of their fledgling relationship, so they agreed on a pace that was comfortable for them.
While Keith and Kathleen were slowly developing their relationship, Ashley had found herself spending more time with Niamh. It was bizarre because the woman irritated Ashley beyond belief yet she found herself asking Niamh is she wanted to join her for dinner at The Tudor Tavern. She actually enjoyed Niamh’s company when she wasn’t being pranked.
In fact, Ashley felt more comfortable with Niamh than she did with Nicola at the moment and the latter had been her best friend for a few years. So comfortable that she had no hesitation coming out to Niamh.
“I can’t believe I just did that,” Ashley said as she waited for Niamh’s reaction. She didn’t know why, but hearing what the other girl said was paramount to Ashley.
“That’s cool.” Niamh said, smiling. “I think it’s great that you’re so open about this kind of thing. I hate that so many people feel like they have to hide their sexuality because people can be so close-minded. Why do people care so much, anyway? It doesn’t change anyone else’s life, after all.”
Relief flooded through Ashley as she listened to Niamh putting all her thoughts into words.
The conversation during the meal flowed easily after that and Ashley relaxed more. Niamh wasn’t so bad once you got to know her; she wasn’t half as obnoxious as Ashley had first thought. It was great to be able to have another close friend.
On leaving the restaurant, Ashley spotted her favourite actor, Jack Goldsmith. She’d seen most of his films and series and she simply adored him. As a budding actress herself, she was desperately hoping to get an autograph and thankfully, jack was happy to stop and chat to a fan for a while. Ashley felt giddy with excitement.
There wasn’t much time for elation, however, as it was exam season and the students all had to give up any semblance of a social life in order to finish off their projects and presentations. For some of the students, life was just beginning to fall into place.