Cathy Martin pulled her flimsy coat around her as she made her way back across the windswept grounds towards Dykesbeck House.
Note to self, thought the pretty blonde 18 year old, go to the shops tomorrow and buy a new coat. Not that this coat was old. In fact it was brand new. But she had bought it just before she had left home in the States, yesterday, and it was clearly no defence against a windy October morning in England today.
Cathy clutched her college key and welcome pack to her chest as she stepped onto the small wooden footbridge to cross the pretty stream at the edge of the college grounds. She looked up again at the 3-storey house that was to be her residence for the next year and worried for a moment how she would be accepted by her fellow students - all of whom she guessed would be English.
As she strode up the steps to the large front door, she saw other girls unloading impossibly large suitcases from their anxious parent's cars. In the entrance lobby, she saw with relief that her own collection of cases were still in the place where she had left them forty minutes earlier. As she crossed to the stairs, she nearly collided with a conservatively dressed young brunette of about her own age, coming out of what looked like a common room or lounge.
The girls exchanged apologies, although the brunette didn't meet her gaze, but after taking a moment to orientate herself, crossed the hall and passed through a door marked with a "1".
"Guess she bagged the ground floor room," Cathy said to herself.
The only other room on this floor was a bathroom, so Cathy grabbed her luggage and started up the imposing staircase of this old house. Her room was number six and situated on the second floor, according to the information that she had been given.
But when she got to the second floor, she found only numbers 2-4. The other room was another bathroom.
"Well, no problems about keeping clean round here," she thought, "but where do I fucking sleep?"
"Are you okay?" asked an East Indian girl, emerging from room 4.
"Well, I'm cold and I'm tired and I can't find my room," responded Cathy, "but other than that I'm pretty good.
"Oh you're American!" said the Indian girl excitedly, "I love your accent!"
"I was going to say the same to you. Hey, look, I'm Cathy," she held out here hand, "Can you help me?"
"Sure, I'm Anita. What room are you looking for?"
"Room 6. Its supposed to be on the second floor, but I can't find it anywhere."
"That's because you're on the first floor," smiled Anita.
"Oh, God, yeah I remember," replied the American, recalling her orientation classes in the states, "you call the first floor the ground floor and the second floor the first floor, right?"
"Something like that," replied the Indian girl. "You say potayto, I say potarto. Do you want a hand with your case."
"Oh sure. Thanks," Cathy said gratefully. Then, as they went up the stairs to the next floor, she asked: "So how long have you been over here?"
"About 18 years," smiled Anita.
"Oh Jeez, sorry."
"No problem. There is another exchange student here. Suki? She Japanese and she's in room 3, next to mine."
Finally, they reached the top floor, where two redheads and a black girl were deep in conversation. With relief, Cathy spotted rooms 5 & 6 - and a third bathroom.
"Okay, we're here," said Anita, "now if you will excuse me, I am busting for the loo."
With that she disappeared into the bathroom.
"Hi guys," said Cathy, plucking up her courage to address the remaining 3 girls.
"Hi," they chorused.
"Well, I'm in room 6, so I guess that makes one of you guys my roomie."
"We were just discussing that," said one of the redheads.
"We were wondering if you would consider swapping," with one of us, said the other.
"Allison doesn't mind," continued the first.
"What Allison said," corrected the black girl, who Cathy assumed must be Allison, "was that it was up to you."
"What's up to me?" asked Cathy, confused.
"We've been put in separate rooms," said one of the redheads, "and we wanted to share and we thought you might prefer a single room."
"They're sisters and they want to share," explained the black girl, "personally, I couldn't wait to move out of my sisters room."
"And you and me are supposed to be sharing a room, but they want us to swap into single rooms," Cathy said slowly.
"'sright," replied Allison.
"Well I guess I don't mind going into a single room. I suppose they wanted us to be together, because I'm new to this country..."
"Well, that's sorted then," said the second redhead. Do you want my room or Sam's?"
"What's the difference?"
"Mine's right here," said Sam, indicating room 5, "and Eric's is on the next floor down."
"I've just carried my cases up two flights of stairs," protested Cathy, "I don't want to have to take them all the way down again."
"Oh great," sighed Allison, "so all the brown girls go on the middle floor, huh? You know I've just unpacked all my stuff up here? Doesn't that count for anything?"
"I guess, I could go down a floor," Cathy replied, "Anita's pretty cool."
"Great, that's settled, then," replied Allison, briskly, "well, good to know you, roomie, see you 'round. Guess I'll get my shit together and move it across the hall."
Cathy exchanged keys with the redheaded girl referred to as Eric by her sister and Anita emerged from the bathroom, in time to help Cathy take her things back down to the next floor.
"Is your name really Eric?" Cathy asked the redhead, who had at least had the good grace to help with her luggage also.
"Erica," said the girl. Eric's just a nickname. Samantha & Erica? Sam & Eric? Geddit?"
"Oh sure. So let me get this straight. There's only one double room and all the rest are singles, right?"
"So there's seven of us in the house?"
"Yeah, that's about it."
When they got down to room two, Erica's rather larger suitcases were waiting inside the door, still zipped closed, so Anita and Cathy felt obliged to help the redhead take her cases upstairs also.
When, Cathy finally found herself alone in her new single room, she breathed a sigh of relief and looked around. There wasn't much to see: A bed, bookshelves, a chair and a desk; a small sink and a window with a nice view of the college grounds, including the little stream at the back. It looked like it could be really pretty in summer. It didn't look quite so great with the winding howling and blowing the leaves everywhere.
On her bed Cathy found a neatly typed note that said:
Girlie night in!!!
Meet in the lounge at 7:30pm
Bring a bottle
Jo (Room 1)
P.S. Off License in Victoria Street, first on left, outside Dykesbeck House.
Cathy took the note to Anita, and found her explaining a similar one to an oriental girl she introduced as Suki. Anita offered to take the two girls out to the Off License round the corner, so that they could stock up with some bottles of booze.
They went out at 7, having finished unpacking and changed their clothes and taken turns in the bath. They returned arm in arm, laughing and giggling with two carrier bags full of clanking bottles, at 7:35.
As they entered the ground floor common room, Sam, Eric, and Allison turned to face them and smiled. The brunette girl, who they guessed was Jo, turned also and smiled.
"Hi, guys," she smiled, looking vaguely in their direction, "would you like some of my patent fruit punch?"
She indicated an innocuous looking bowl of fruit floating in juice. Cathy noted a number of empty spirit bottle in close proximity to it.
"Its good stuff," commented Allison, raising her own half empty cup. The twins just giggled.
"Yeah sure," said Cathy and Anita, Suki just smiled.
"Are we all here now?" asked Jo.
There was a generally positive murmur.
"Okay, girlies, circle time," said Jo, as she brought the tray of drinks across with careful, but assured steps. "Now how about we all introduce ourselves?"
There were murmurs of agreement from the other 6 girls who were sitting around the communal lounge. They were all 18, it was the first day of college and none of them had ever lived away from home before.
"Why don't you go first?" Jo said, prompting Allison, who was sitting to her left.
"Oh, right, yeah sure. I'm Allison and um I'm 18... You knew that anyway... I'm in the first... you knew that too... Oh yes, I'm studying Geography... And I'm missing my man!"
There were sympathetic "Aaahhh"'s from the other girls. Then it was Cathy's turn.
"Hi, I'm Cathy. I'm from the states and uh, I'm also 18. And I'm missing a whole country full of men! Oh yeah, and I'm studying English History... British History, sorry. So, I'm over here on an exchange program so I can study it actually in England... Britain... The UK... Whatever." Cathy frowned for a moment, and looked into her cup. "Hey that's good stuff."
"Hi," said a quiet voice, "I'm Suki. And I am studying Mathematics. And I am from Japan also on an exchange program. That's it."
"I'm Anita. My family is Indian, so of course I am studying Accountancy. It was either that or Medicine." She smiled at her own joke that nobody else seemed to get.
"Hi, I'm Sam... Samantha..."
"And I'm Erica..."
"And we're studying..."
"We're sisters," added Sam, for the benefit of anyone who hadn't yet realised.
"Hmmm, American, Indian, Japanese, black, white," began Jo, "we're a regular United Nations here."
"Yeah," laughed Allison, "all we need is a disabled girl and we'll be the most politically correct house on campus."
"That would be me then," smiled Jo.
"What?!" cried Allison.
"Oh, God, you're blind," announced Sam.
"Yeah, I guess I am," smiled Jo.
"Shit, man, I didn't realise," said Allison.
"If you don't mind my saying so," Allison added, "You seem to get about pretty well, for someone who can't... you know..."
"Yeah, well. I've been here a week. Getting familiar with the place? Waiting for my new neighbours to arrive? I'm Jo, 18, blind, reading Politics... in Braille. Want another drink?"
"Er... yeah sure... Do you want me to get it?"
After a while, all seven girls began to chat and giggle and find out about each other. And then suddenly one of the girls said something that changed the whole nature of the evening.
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