First day nerves.
Little sleep. Crippling nausea. No breakfast.
My stuffed wardrobe showed me nothing I wanted to wear. Over-cautious, I chose my black jeans then worried over the t-shirt. I wanted to appear interesting, but fun. I wanted to seem creative and deep, but not in a self-obsessed way. Approachable, but not puppy-dog. I needed to look casual, as though I’d hardly given my clothes a second thought. It didn’t matter really – everything looked terrible. Only the stuff worn the day before, and consequently in the wash, looked good.
My twin, Ned, offered to walk me down the hill to the bus. He was starting a Drama course, but not for another week. We talked about everything except my first day at Art College, and the subject was more conspicuous by its absence.
At the bus stop, Ned frowned at the dark clouds gathering above us that hadn’t been there when we set off, and asked if I had a raincoat.
“No. But I’ll be fine,” I told him. It was too early to tell whether coats were cool or not so I’d decided against one. If there was nowhere to store it, I’d have to lug it around all day.
Ned ruffled my hair. “Beth, you will be fine, you know.”
He knew how nervous I was about this. About being parted from him. I examined his expression and caught an uncertainty in the grey-blue eyes that were exactly like my own. “Will I?”
“Yes, of course.” He sounded more confident than he looked.
“This feels so weird. We’ve always been together. And now we’re moving apart.”
“We still live in the same house,” he said, hooking his arm around me to pull me close. “I’m not going anywhere.”
He smelt of toast and butter and the warm bed he’d just left. When the bus came, I found it hard to let him go. He was my life-raft on the turbulent ocean of life. My boy-shaped rock. He was my better half.
“Break a leg,” the life-raft said.
I released Ned to climb onto the bus. The doors closed behind me and he turned and walked away, his shoulders slumped. I felt the familiar tug in my chest watching him go and made a conscious effort to pull myself together. You only had a first day once, and then it was done. Only one excruciating day to get through.
The bus was already full of passengers, so I had to stand, reaching up to hold onto a dangling rubber strap. We were having a late-summer stormy heatwave. The sweat was soon trickling down my spine. Did I remember deodorant? A sly sniff in my underarm area and I caught freesias and freshly mown grass. The man sitting beside me noticed my action, but his face was blank. I turned away and watched the grey town rush past me. Up Chapel Hill, down Queen Street and left into Baker Street. Past the dark, Victorian church and the open market. We gained more passengers with each stop and the press of bodies awakened my latent claustrophobia.
There would be nobody I knew. None of my friends were going to be there. Not even an enemy. In a pocket on the side of my rucksack was a tiny amber bottle of Rescue Remedy my brother had bought for me last week. I wondered if I could get it out and take a few drops without anyone seeing me but didn’t have the nerve. It made me smile a little; I didn’t have the nerve to take the potion to reduce my nervousness. Stupid.
We zoomed up towards the Art College. It was the next stop. I couldn’t wait to get off the bus, but at the same time, I didn’t want to get where I was going. Closed in near the back, I tried to find a button to press so that the bus would stop, but I couldn’t see one. It was an elbow job.
“Excuse me, I have to get off,” I said, tapping on backs and nudging past.
Everyone looked around, but nobody was smiling. They stared critically at my painstaking wardrobe choice. I saw a push-button just as we were about to sail past my stop. I reached for the button, but a huge woman stood in the way.
In a rising panic, I tapped at her frantically: “Press the button! This is my stop.”
It was at least half a mile to the next one, and I had a heavy rucksack full of art stuff weighing my shoulders down. The women glared at me, but the bus started to pull in. Someone else had pressed the button.
A guy up front got off, and I forgot about nudging, and started to shove. Getting off the bus was more important than being liked. I stepped on a few toes and someone shoved me back so that I bashed my head against a metal pole. The driver put his foot on the gas pedal.
He couldn’t hear me over the drone of the engine. Nobody seemed to understand why I really needed to swear. I was the most hated person on the bus, and I was going to be late on my first day.
As I finally made it off the bus and onto the pavement, the heavens split open and dumped an astonishing amount of water on me. I stood there for a moment, incredulous. There were things I could have done to avoid the situation. A raincoat, an earlier bus, a seat nearer to the door. The next day, things would be different.
The rain found a route that took it directly down my spine. My hair was already dripping like fern fronds stuck in a waterfall. I started to walk as fast as I could, but my canvas bag was so heavy, sodden through with water. Everything inside would be ruined.
Just as my ladened shoulders were sending shooting pains up the back of my neck, the college appeared through the curtain of rain. I aimed for the arched door of the gothic building and threw myself through it. My bag hit the floor as hard as a sack of coal and I shook my head like a wet dog. Only then did I notice the vast entrance hall was filled with students and silence.
“Woof, woof,” said a dry girl nearby with perfect hair… and just the right outfit.
What Did I Just Read?
This short is part of something new I’m writing called ‘APPLEHEART’, in which there will be a lot of really creepy things happening in an old Art College. More to come…
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