This is the first part of a fiction serial, in 754 words.
I met her at university. Most of us were nervous. Eighteen year-old first-year students, living in halls, in a new town that felt strange. Few of us had lived away from home before, cooked meals, washed and ironed clothes, or any of those things that suddenly become such a big deal when there is nobody around to do them for you.
But not Gabby.
Gabrielle was one of those people who just stood out. It wasn’t just because of her looks, or her unusually short hair. It was her vitality, the way she exuded confidence, and her desire to befriend anyone.
Even a nerd like me.
Those of us studying History tended to gravitate together. After lectures, we would end up in the Student Union bar, each paying for our own drinks, making every one of them last as long as possible. And we would watch Gabby doing the room. Chatting in their own language to the Chinese students, comparing good places to eat in Tokyo with the Japanese ones, and laughing about Christmas on the beach with two girls who had lived in Australia.
To say she was well-travelled was an understatement.
Her father had been in a job of some kind that meant Gabby had grown up everywhere but England. Yet to my knowledge, nobody ever asked her what her father did for a living. Her parents were still abroad somewhere, but they wanted her to complete her education in England, so the story went. Her older brother had died in an accident of some kind on the island of Bali, so somebody else told me.
It soon became clear that everyone who thought they knew Gabby didn’t actually know her at all. And it was also very clear that I was besotted with her. Madly in love with her in fact. I wasn’t alone, as at least a dozen others appeared to be crazy about her, both women and men.
She called me Ben, and remembered my name straight off. No mean feat, when you were introduced to at least sixty people in the first few days. Her level of attraction was so strong, she was asked out on a date by the end of the second day. Then at least ten more times by the end of the first week. Not by me of course, I was out of her league, and knew it. But she didn’t say yes to any of them.
There were a few others like Gabby in that year. Obviously well-off, more worldly than most of us. Like her, they talked about where they had been, and cruised through the routines that were unfamiliar and confusing to the rest of us. But nobody seemed to like the others. They would say they were boastful, flash, entitled, even boring.
As for Gabby, I never heard a bad word said against her. Not even a bitchy remark from any other woman about her crew-cut hair. As long as I live, I doubt I will ever meet anyone else like her. I certainly haven’t so far.
Academic excellence came along with every other talent Gabby possessed. By the end of the first term, we all knew she was at the top in History, seeming to know as much as the lecturers and tutors. But she had a generous nature too, helping out anyone who was struggling; organising trips to places of historical interest at weekends, welcoming anyone who wanted to come along.
Naturally, I went on all of them.
Looking back now, the things we saw were a blur. I went to be near Gabby, just happy to be around her, even in the company of a dozen others. For a young woman who had never lived full-time in England, she knew more about the country than those of us who had never left.
When I went home at the end of year break, looking forward to being a second year student and maybe sharing a flat when we returned, I missed Gabby. I would have given up my holiday time to still be back at uni, just to be around her.
That first day back, she walked up to me, her thick lips opening in a smile. “Hey, Ben. I have found a nice house to rent. Mikki is keen to share, and I thought you would be perfect for the third bedroom. Interested?”
My throat went dry, and I had to nod my agreement instead of speaking. I felt like an idiot.
A very happy idiot.