Up the stairs to the library, and look in. She’s not there. Not that I can see. I’m meant to be meeting her. Secret, like, no-one should know. None of her friends. Or her boyfriend. I don’t know why she asked me here. I have to pretend – what – I guess that we’re just off to lunch or something.
Carry on looking round. By the window, far left. Yes. She sees me, packs her books into her bag, grabs a bunch of pencils and her keys, and walks over.
“Hi Andy.” She stepped towards me. “Oh, have you met,” turning her head to the girl sat at the table. I shook my head. “Helen, this is, er, Andy. Andy, Helen.” I said hello. “Lets go.”
The department was equidistant from the main campus, my house, and her own. We headed away from hers, to the relative safety of where I lived, and the pub opposite. Less chance of seeing anyone she knew. Not that I’d be able to show any affection in public. That was strictly off charter, until she’s sorted out things at home. Always in hand.
Before I’d arrived at the city, I’d been told, the pub had been a place for bikers, and had a reputation as being unfriendly towards the tidal influx of new residents. Although it retained a general gloom, I found the cheap beer, pool table, and generally a few faces that I knew to be quite welcoming.
We hit the pool table.
I was never a great player, although I had occasional beer-induced boughts of inspiration. Nic was about the same. we had a couple of games, winning one each, and laughing all the way.
Having decided not to compete again, we sat ourselves next to the pool table, together on a bench seat that merged with the chocolate wood panelling. I put my arm around her.
“Sorry.” I removed my arm. Stared at the table.
“Someone might see us.”
“The pubs empty.” Looking up.
“And the door is just there. Someone might come in.”
Back to the table again.
“I’m sorry, I know its hard. But you’ve got to trust me. I’m going to sort things out between me and Mark. You’ve got to be patient. At the moment you can’t be seen with me. You know that.”
It didn’t help.
I drained my pint, and went to the bar for another. Sofia was there, a girl from my first year class who I had asked out, drunkenly as that was the only way I ever had the confidence, and who had at least now switched to laughing with me after the two years had past.
“Two pints of Magnet please.”
“You okay Andy?”
“Just great. Just got essays, you know what its like.”
“Sure. I’ve got a couple due in next week.”
“I might get started on them soon. Or it will be another all-nighter.”
I paid for the drinks with more of the graduate debt, and went back to the table.
She takes her pint, thanks me.
“I know its difficult for you.”
“Do you want me to tell him?”
“I can do.”
“You just have to trust me on this. I’m going to sort it out. We just have to.. ..to be patient”
She puts her hand on my leg, hidden by the table.
“You know I like being with you.”
I nod, but I don’t know. What I feel seems irrelevant. At the moment I don’t know whether she really does like me, or whether I’m once again a substitute whilst things are less than perfect.
The pool table nearly draws us back but, having finished the pints, she suggests we leave.
Back to mine.