This is the third part of a fiction serial, in 774 words.
When I didn’t get the grades to apply to Oxford, I had to settle for what I considered to be a lesser university. The University of East Anglia in Norwich had a decent reputation, nice grounds and accommodation, and it was close to the ancient city.
But it wasn’t Oxford, as my parents were always happy to remind me.
The others in my set looked shabby, to be honest. I got the feeling that most had been lucky to make it to uni at all, and were going to struggle financially while they were there. Many of them only wanted to be History teachers in the school system, nowhere near as ambitious as me.
Then I saw her. Standing out from the crowd with her cropped hair, her wide mouth looking like it was always ready to smile. She came straight over to me as I stood outside the Campus Shop. “You’re History too, I think. Call me Gabby”. Then she leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek, close to the side of my mouth. It felt like being caressed by tiny velvet pillows.
“Kimberley, and yes I’m History. I live off campus though, my parents rented me an apartment near the river in the city”. She made no comment about that. “I shall call you Kim. Kimberley is such a mouthful. Why don’t you come to the Student Union Bar tonight, meet up with some of the others?” I didn’t even drink alcohol, but found myself agreeing instantly. Then I stood and watched her as she walked off to talk to two Japanese guys.
Suddenly, I was glad that I didn’t get into Oxford.
My parents had come to England from Hong Kong just before it was handed back to China after ninety-seven. I was young so didn’t remember much about it, though I did remember how cold it was. As my mum was from England, my maternal grandparents were here too, so settling in was easy enough. Especially at a private school in Kent that my dad insisted I went to. Studying was his obsession, and he had wanted me to be a doctor. When I was more interested in History, he accepted that, as long as I did well enough to become a professor one day. Preferably at Oxford, where my mother had studied.
There was a lot of pressure, and that was when I stopped eating. Next came private therapists, followed by a stay in a facility for girls like me who wouldn’t eat. When they thought I was cured, my parents allowed me back home. Then I threw up the food they made me eat, until I thought I didn’t look fat anymore. Naturally, that affected my studies, so when the grades were too low for Oxford, my dad hardly spoke to me. That didn’t stop him buying a flat for me to live in, next to the river in Norwich. He would sell it once I graduated, and no doubt make a good profit.
I told the others he rented it for me. I never wanted to boast about how rich he was. I even bought a second-hand bicyle to use to commute to uni.
Sitting in the bar that night, I was introduced to Ben. He seemed nice enough, though a bit of a doormat. He was obviously crazy about Gabby, but I could understand why. Then Gabby went over to the back, and returned with a hideous fat girl. Her legs were wobbling as she walked, and her boobs were repulsively huge, like cow udders.
After a few seconds, I thought looking at her was going to make me physically sick, so I pretended I had to talk to someone. I picked a guy who looked like a member of the Taliban, and asked him where the toilets were. Anything not to have to stay at that table.
Compared to most of my set, I did really well that first year. Not as well as Gabby of course. She excelled, making us all look like we were struggling. When they all went home at the end of the year, I stayed in the city. It was very clear I wasn’t wanted back in Kent. Besides, my dad was in America on business, and mum was busy writing her seventh novel.
So it was a surprise to see Gabby one morning, as I walked past the football stadium. She was crossing the road, carrying two bags of groceries. I ducked back so she couldn’t see me, and my stomach was fluttering as I watched her walking away.
Could this really be love I was feeling?