Rosie and Charlie, Part 1

(Link to Introduction: https://benjamintunwell.wordpress.com/2015/12/25/rosie-and-charlie-introduction)/

Freshers Week, three years previously.

For three years the friends of Rosie and Charlie had envied them the gift of love they seemed to have found; but of course, only they knew the truth – that the reason love is painful is because, as you want it to make you stronger, it proves to you just how weak you really are.

They had met on the first night of freshers week in their first year, in a nightclub called Syndicate in Bristol’s city centre. A boy on Charlie’s corridor in halls, whose name was Sam Hall, knew Rosie from home. The two of them had the briefest of meetings when Sam went over to say hi to her – Sam had to spend a moment remembering Charlie’s name before introducing him, and Rosie only just got caught it over the blaring sound of the nightclub. Since they had only arrived at university that day they were having trouble remembering the names of the people on their corridor, nevermind anyone else. Nevertheless they both smiled and waved at each other appropriately, and within a few moments they separated again as the night went on its way. The encounter was barely a fleeting moment in the rush of their first night in Bristol. In fact they fully would have forgotten each other had they not met again.

But they did meet again, the very next night at Bunker on the Triangle. Rosie was with her new corridor friends. They were sitting in the smoking area when her friend Sam Hall appeared again with his new mate Charlie. Rosie and Charlie were introduced once more, and this time were able to hold a conversation. They discovered that they were both in Badock Hall, she in Unit 3 down in the quad, and he in Unit 10 up on the hill, and that she was studying English and he studying Engineering Maths, the same as Sam. She was from South-West London, and he from Oxfordshire. Before long, as they both worked their way through cigarettes, they were chatting happily about what they had got up to in their gap years. The conversation did not last too long, however, before Sam decided to head back to the dancefloor and they separated again, this time with a smile and a polite remark that it was nice talking to each other. It occurred to Charlie to ask for her number, though he had thought this of almost every girl he had met so far and decided against it. In the rush of freshers week every boy wanted to try and find a girl for themselves, but Charlie was patient and reasoned that these things would come in their own time.

As it happened he did end up with a girl’s number that night: her name was Izzy Isitt, and they had met before. They had met whilst travelling in Thailand and got together at a Full Moon party in Koh-Pha-Ngan – she had told him then that she was going to Bristol too and had applied to be in Badock Hall as well, but had ended up being assigned Hiatt Baker next door. As soon as they bumped into each other on the dancefloor they recognised each other, and by the end of the following hour they had exchanged numbers on Izzy’s suggestion. The two began texting each other the next morning.

Rosie, meanwhile, was fretting gently over her social situation. Although it was only two days into freshers week, she worried that she wasn’t meeting the right people, or wasn’t presenting herself well enough to the people she did meet. She worried about the boys she met – she wasn’t sure how forward to be with them, as she didn’t want to give herself a reputation, while at the same time she was afraid she would let someone she might like slip through her fingers. She had met a few nice boys since being here, like that Charlie guy who was on Sam’s corridor, but she felt powerless to do anything to show she might like any of them. She watched other people socialising and networking in the smoking area and felt jealous that she was not doing the same. Oh, how difficult this was!

Near the end of the night, however, she got talking to a friend of one of her corridor-mates, whose name was Richard Terrence. They chatted for half an hour. He seemed friendly and charming, with long, swept hair and an attractively unusual way of dressing, his clothes draping loosely around him in that style she was quickly coming to associate with Bristol. He was studying Politics and lived near her in London. At the end of their conversation, when the time had come for them to leave, he asked for her number, and in her quiet anxiety she gave it to him. She couldn’t see why not – it would at least give her some kind of sense of connection here, and there was no need for her to act on it. And if as time went on it turned out that she liked him, then that would be a good thing. She had only to wait and see.

On the third day Rosie and Charlie didn’t see each other at all, apart from Charlie thinking he saw her from across the dining hall at dinner. His eyes hovered for a few seconds over the space where he thought he’d seen her face – then he returned to his conversation with his new friends on his corridor. At this point he knew Rosie as Sam Hall’s very good-looking friend he’d chatted to in Bunker, but she was one of many good-looking girls he’d met so far. If there was anything to distinguish her, it was that she seemed more genuine than most he had met, and this made him think she was probably out of his league. Still, he couldn’t keep his mind from wandering over the possibilities. The problem with fresher’s week was that there were too many pretty faces flying by, so how were you supposed to settle for one when there might be a better one round the corner? Although Charlie was generally a calm and unrushed person, the fear of missing out dogged him as much as everyone else his age. He checked his phone to see if Izzy had text him, then asked if anyone knew where they were going out that night.

*

The truth was that Rosie was not at dinner that evening at all. The reason was that she had broken up with her boyfriend only a week before coming to Bristol, and this was troubling her mind greatly.

Her and Marco had gone to the same secondary school from the age of 13, but they had only started going out in the January after leaving school. He had gone to study Economics at Durham while she took her gap year, and for this reason they had initially decided to stay apart. When he came back for the Christmas break, however, they hooked up and decided to give being boyfriend and girlfriend a try. Over the following months their relationship was difficult, as he was mostly in Durham and she was working in London, but she came up to visit him as regularly as possible and they spent all their time together in the holidays. After getting her rejection letter from Cambridge she couldn’t decide between her offers from Bristol and Durham; on the one hand she wanted to be with her boyfriend, but on the other she felt that she would be happiest in Bristol. For months on end she was undecided, until finally deadline day came and she made her call. It was to be Bristol. Their relationship suffered a dent it could not realistically have survived from.

Marco was a pleasant and attractive fellow, though in a rather sartorial, metropolitan sort of way; he wore smart jeans and middle-aged jumpers, with suede, ankle-high boots and an expensive silver-chain watch that had been bought for his eighteenth birthday. His hair was thick and greasy, and he gelled it back to emphasise his striking cheekbones. He emanated a certain arrogance that often led people to judge his character as more snobbish than it really was; many assumed that he had tried and failed to get into Oxbridge, for example, when he had not. After Rosie chose Bristol over Durham he was still keen to try and keep the relationship up, and they followed through with plans to go to South-East Asia together with a few friends that summer. Over the two months of travelling their relationship appeared weary, though, and perhaps contrived. In the days leading up to their respective departures for university they broke up on his suggestion.

It hadn’t seemed half so sad to Rosie at the time, but now she was here in Bristol his absence panged horribly in her heart. She had never felt so lonely in her entire life. She watched all the other new students making friends and socialising and worried herself stiff that she wouldn’t fit in because she was too anxious. Her mind wandered over and over again to Marco; she imagined him in Durham, meeting new freshers and starting a new relationship, and she despaired at the idea of him with another girl. She hated herself for feeling this way, but still she could not let go. Her days in her new room in Badock were spent texting her friends at other universities about how miserable she was and how she wondered if she had made the right decision. Her friends continually reminded her that she was not in love with Marco, though she doubted this now. She text Richard Terrence, the boy she had met in Bunker, albeit half-heartedly and misleadingly. She wished she could tell him how lonely she felt.

*

Nobody else would have known this inner conflict was occurring. To the people she met Rosie seemed more confident than most. In fact she often came across as untouchably beautiful; girls would wilt jealously in her path and boys would turn their heads in the street whenever she walked past. But people confuse beauty with happiness, and she rarely felt this to be the case. Inside she continued to feel unsettled and concerned.

Charlie, it had to be said, felt the same in many ways, though nowhere near as strongly. Although there were the inevitable few concerns for finding new friends and meeting girls, he was by his nature a very relaxed individual and not one to stress about things. When on the fourth day of freshers week he bumped into Rosie in Badock, this was one of the things that struck her about him: he seemed to glow with a gentle, easy authenticity that was really quite endearing. He was genuine and unchanging. In fact he seemed exactly the same as when they had their first conversation in Bunker two days before, and this was very reassuring for her because most freshers were putting on a front of some kind. They chatted briefly about how their week was going and what they were up to. He enjoyed the humorous way she told him about her introductory lecture, and how she smiled so easily at what he said, and she liked the fact that he seemed so cool and straightforward. People who come across as if they are not hiding anything are a gift to those with worries, and Rosie found this quality of Charlie’s delightful.

That night they both went to the same nightclub, Lakota, and spent the entire evening together with their two corridors. Charlie by now was getting to know Sam Hall very well, and Sam was very close with Rosie as they had known each other since they were sixteen. This friendship made it inevitable that Rosie and Charlie would get to know each other very quickly – and indeed they did. That night at Lakota they hardly talked to anyone else. They talked and talked in the smoking area for as long as possible, then every so often would go inside and dance; then as soon as possible they would be back outside where they could resume their conversation. It came so easily that it almost did not require thought, and their manners seemed to compliment each other perfectly. It had caught both of them off guard somehow, as if they hadn’t been expecting to get on with each other quite so well, but the evening flowed delightfully as if it had been bound to happen. Their friends noticed how well they were getting on, and made humorous remarks to each other about them. Sam Hall in particular watched with interest.

At 3am they left and returned to Badock, where they went to Sam’s room and rolled a joint. They had both smoked weed plenty of times before, but after four nights of clubbing it knocked them all clean out within minutes. Clemmie Hutchinson suggested they return to their corridor in Unit 3, and Rosie said her good nights and left with her corridor mates. As soon as she was in bed she put on Sgt. Pepper by the Beatles and fell asleep to it.

When the girls were gone, Sam asked Charlie whether he liked Rosie. Charlie laughed and said she was cool, but he had no idea about anything. Sam told him she had broken up with her boyfriend just over a week ago. Charlie shrugged his shoulders and said he was sorry for her, then mentioned he was texting Izzy Isitt. Sam told him he was texting no one, but he was meeting plenty of cool people so it didn’t bother him. They slapped hands and went to their respective beds, and Charlie thought about Rosie until he fell asleep.

*

The next day Rosie continued to text Richard Terrence, and Charlie continued to text Izzy Isitt. Although the night before had undoubtedly sparked something in both of them, they still hardly knew each other, and preferred to keep their options open. In Rosie’s case she was still thinking about Marco, and this frustrated her more than anything else.

Charlie, Sam Hall and their corridor-mate Archie Mann were on the bus into university together when Izzy Isitt and her friends stepped on; as soon as she saw Charlie she waved at him, then went up to the top deck out of sight as it was too busy to sit near him. As soon as she was gone Sam and Archie asked her who she was, and he told them they’d met in Thailand over summer. After a bit of prying they eventually got an abashed Charlie to reveal that they had got together at a Full Moon party and that they had been texting since Monday. They both said boisterously that he should go for it because she was fit, but he waved it off with an embarrassed laugh and said he didn’t know.

That evening Rosie and Charlie met again in Badock bar. They seemed delighted to see each other, and for a few minutes it was almost as if their conversation was taking off from where they’d left it the night before – but then it turned out they were headed to different clubs that evening, and in fact they were both about to leave. As Rosie was about to go, however, Charlie stopped her and asked if he could have her number; she of course agreed, and he text her his once she was gone. From their respective locations they exchanged a few texts on how their nights were going.

Richard Terrence turned out to be at Mbargoes with Rosie, and as she danced he began to make timid advances on her on the dancefloor; Clemmie Hutchinson noticed and asked her what she thought of him, to which Rosie replied she was really not sure. Once more drinks had been sunk, however, the approaches of Terrence seemed more and more appealing – but at the last second before anything could happen, her ex-boyfriend flashed through her mind and she decided she wanted out. She text Richard after in apology, and lied that she was feeling sick and had to leave swiftly.

She also text Charlie telling him that they’d left early, and Charlie read this just as Sam Hall was vomiting in the nightclub toilets. Him and Archie Mann agreed to take Sam home. Izzy Isitt was at the same club with them, and perhaps something would have happened between them had Sam not got so drunk. Charlie apologised to her as he helped his friend stagger out the exit and into a cab back to halls.

The two parties encountered each other in Badock’s upper car park stepping out of taxis; Rosie ran over to give Sam a massive hug and asked if he was alright, then wished them good night as Charlie and Archie helped him back to his room. Clemmie asked her as they headed down to Unit 3 whether she liked him, and she replied that she didn’t know, but she might do.

On Friday they all travelled down to Harbourside for the Freshers Fair. The end of September had turned into an Indian Summer, and inside the tents that were set up along the harbour it was crowded and almost unbearably hot. They all signed up for many more societies than they would possibly ever have been able to attend; Sam Hall and Archie Mann signed up for the Pokémon Trainer Society as a joke, and all three of them with Charlie signed up for football. Rosie and Clemmie Hutchinson signed up for the drama society. It was at this time that she told them all that she wanted to be a professional actor after graduating. Charlie found this interesting, and they had a conversation about what plays they’d been in at school.

In the evening it was decided that their blocks were going to one of the tacky nightclubs on the Triangle. Rosie and Charlie’s corridors had pre-drinks together in Clemmie’s room, and once suitably drunk they piled into the bus down to the Triangle with all the many others heading out for the last night of Freshers Week. Once arrived there was some dilly-dallying as to where the group were headed – it seemed that two or three people had been thrown into decision-making positions, and everyone was looking to them to see where they would go. Bunker was full, as apparently was Mbargoes – so it was announced to a cheer that they would go to Lizard Lounge, notoriously the smallest and grimiest club in Bristol. Still none of them had been there before, and they all piled in regardless.

Inside it was unusually dark and warm, and they found their shoes stuck to the floor when they tried to lift their feet. The music was cheesy and terrible. Nonetheless they were all as drunk as could be, and every last one of them was determined to make a good time out of it.

Sam Hall, Archie Mann and Charlie started dancing foxtrots with each other, and Rosie and the girls cried with laughter at their stupidity; then they spotted two middle-aged men dancing with beers in their hand, and Rosie imitated them behind their backs, and this caused all of them to laugh even more. They moved onto the packed dancefloor, and the DJ put on Twist ‘N’ Shout by the Beatles – Rosie and Charlie laughed at how they loved the song – they noticed that they were a little separate from the rest of the group – Charlie put his hand on Rosie’s hip – Rosie put her hand on his back – and then, before either of them could be sure that it was happening, they kissed each other, and the world seemed to stop around them.

After a moment their friends noticed, and cheered at them. They broke apart and laughed, but did not release each other.

Before long they were spilling out on the street and heading back to halls, and although Rosie and Charlie went back to their separate rooms and fell asleep in their separate beds, both of them thought about what had happened, and when the sun came up the next morning they were both less certain and more confused than they could possibly have expected.

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