Friday, September 6, 2013

Cambridge Connections

Those of you who were on the site a few months back may remember a small fiasco regarding my first story. These characters have now been re-written into a completely different scenario, and I hope to leave it at that. I'm a bit rusty on posting procedures, so please bear with me if I make a mistake with formatting etc...

Sam, a vivacious girl with a troubled past, is sitting in the university library before the day of her last finals exam, and glances up and sees a dark haired, handsome young man with a scar running from eyebrow to lips. Overcoming their initial shyness, they strike up a connection in Cambridge University Library.

As ever, comments are welcome, in the form of positive and constructive criticism!




Dedicated to J.W. in apology and respect.



Chapter One – Connection


Cambridge University Library is a brutish, modern construction, but nevertheless, is a cathedral of learning, a bastion of education;  its atmosphere has been hallowed by the academic aspiration (or desperation) of scholars and academics since its construction in the 1930s, and it stands in counterpoint to the gothic Victoriana tower of St. John’s College, and the pinnacles of King’s Chapel, on the horizon of the ancient city.

Sam, with one more finals exam to go, pushed the heavy, rotating doors into the echoing hallway, feeling the cold brass beneath her fingertips, and peering through the smudged glass of the panels. Aside from the clack of heels on the marble floor, the hushed whispers were the only other sounds she could hear. She’d been there for three years, and was still never quite sure if it was the endless shelves of books, stacked in almost geological strata from floor to ceiling that made the susurrating sound, or the nervous students. Late afternoon sunlight poured gleefully into the silent entrance hall, frolicking silently in the cavernous space, while wraith-like students hurried or shuffled along with their minds on one thing; exams. She heaved the armful of books on truly fascinating topics like numismatic evidence for Anglo-Scandinavian relations in York, or cremation urns from some place called Spong Hill, which still made her snort with laughter a bit, and smiled as the librarian said, “Thank you, that’s all done.”

“And I never have to look at another sherd of cremation urn pottery again,” she chuckled to herself as she made her way up the stairs towards the tea room, where she intended to stay for a while to take notes for her last exam.

The UL was a vast hive of activity, and its little worker bees were fuelled in exam term almost solely by caffeine. Without these tea rooms, it was certain that most of these students would have slumped into bored and snoring wrecks over their books by at least half way through the morning. As it was, the frequent caffeine breaks meant that even the least dedicated and most desperate of students were supplied from opening to closing hours with the magical black liquid. Sam was one of the few who could exist without a constant, IV drip of coffee in her system. She was made of tougher stuff than most, nowadays she was anyway.

There was hardly a spare seat in the cafe when she got there, and as she slid into a small space beside a woman with wiry grey hair and a pinched expression on her face which told Sam she lived for nothing but feminist literature and telling students that they needed to “go beyond the standard bibliographies”, she saw a gorgeous young man with very dark hair and a face that belonged on a Greek statue of Apollo sitting obliquely opposite her. There was a long, silvery, gashing scar which sliced his right eyebrow in half and trickled over his extremely high cheekbone and down his angular cheek, over his pale lips and finished just above the slight cleft in his strong chin. He looked like he’d walked out of the pages of some Napoleonic romance novel – a dashing First Lieutenant, wounded saving the life of his captain during the Trafalgar action or something. Cool it, Sam, she scolded herself, feeling her face prickling with embarrassed heat.

Her cheeks had indeed flushed pink, as they always did when she saw someone she liked, and she found she suddenly had to concentrate really hard on lifting her tea cup to her lips and not pouring the whole thing down her front. Something in his expression made her really uneasy; it was as though he was both fascinated by her and appalled by something, but what that was, she couldn't have said. She hoped it wasn’t her, shuffled in her seat and looked away.

Next to her lieutenant was a wise-looking man in his late fifties with short, dark hair peppered with white and very large spectacles. Resting in the space between these two men, like they were a personality all by themselves, was a pair of very smart looking black-handled forearm crutches. Her eyes snagged on them for half an instant, and as he followed her gaze, she thought she saw his cheeks fill with a similar colour to the hue that had only recently graced her own. His dark eyes flitted away from her face, back to his iPad which lay on the table in front of him, the obsidian, locked screen reflecting the harsh lights in the ceiling.

She now tried to look anywhere but at him. And failed. Her eyes were drawn back to him in a nanosecond, and they slithered down appreciatively over his impressive biceps - perfectly revealed by a black, close-fitting, NASA t-shirt – nerd, she thought affectionately, with an internal smile that spread outwards and quickly beamed from her dark eyes without her permission – and her gaze then wrested on his hands, which he held together on the table, square-ended fingers interlocked, his knuckles large and strong-looking.

There was a shuffle of footsteps behind her, and her scarred companion’s head darted up reflexively to look at the new arrival just as she felt a pair of hands plunge down on her shoulders and a male voice say, “Dost mine eyes deceive me?! Sam, here, in the UL?”

She gasped in shock, then laughed in relief, saying, “Bloody hell, Dan! You scared the life out of me!”

The curly-haired boy took the seat that had been vacated by the prudish scholar to their right, and he said, his green eyes suddenly burning with concern instead of jest, “Seriously, how are you? I’ve hardly seen you for weeks, and you take forever to reply to my texts.”

She chuckled and said, “You’re such a girl! I’m fine. I’ve got one more exam to go, and then, I will reply to all of your texts, and I will never have to set foot in here ever again.”

“Whoa, slow down,” he said, raising a hand. “The only way we’ll ever get an instant reply from you is if we superglue your ancient, decrepit phone to your palm, and chain you indoors. But also, making it to the tea rooms in the UL is hardly cause for concern; the day I find you holed up in some dusty corner is the day we mourn Samantha Fey’s demise, and not an instant before!” Her mouth lurched into a wry smile, and she punched him lightly on the top of his arm, making him yelp. “Hey! Keep your ninja taekwondo skills to yourself, will you?!”

“Haha,” she chortled. “Sorry. Listen, you up for going to The Castle tomorrow? My last exam is tomorrow - I’ll be done by four thirty - and I’ll need some way to celebrate. A few of us are heading down to the pub, and I’d love you to come.”

The boy’s green eyes crinkled into a smile and he said, “Oh I’ll be there tomorrow when you finish, don’t worry.”

The onlooker’s lips twitched, and he knew what her friend had planned. The fact that her eyes widened told him that she knew what he was thinking, and she didn’t exactly relish the thought.

***

Slender, athletic, and unfathomably stressed, the girl who had placed herself in the only available seat in the tea room, had nearly knocked the breath out of him, just by turning those dark eyes to him. Of course, the shock of seeing his scar which had widened them beyond the huge saucers that they already were had taken away some of the pleasant effect of her gaze, but still, he thought, small blessings

He wondered what her subject was. Most people at Cambridge, despite desperately trying not to, fitted the stereotypes of their subjects like Cinderella’s little foot and her dainty glass slipper: perfectly. He, a physics nerd, frequently wore t-shirts like the NASA one he wore that day, and he read websites like Wired and The Register. His best friend, a computer scientist, or ‘compsci’, wore t-shirts bearing gaming or coding references, and rarely socialised. This girl, however, didn’t really fall into the category of nondescript scientist or hipster arts student, and he found that kind of fascinating. She wore an army green tank top, and brown shorts which came to the mid-thigh – and what thighs, he thought, recalling their toned form as she’d crossed the room bearing her tea tray and apparently concentrating hard on not tripping. Her long hair was braided so that she looked for all the world, and without giving the impression that she was trying, like a living Lara Croft. For that reason alone, he decided she was an archaeologist.

He felt something wither inside him however when those dark and painfully observant eyes had finished scanning his scarred face and instead moved to the crutches which he’d parked next to him, leaning them up against the table. He knew he wasn’t innately ugly – six years ago he could have had his pick of girls, but that was before the accident, before the scars, and before the wheelchair. Maybe if he’d chosen to wheel in that day, she never would have noticed the chair tucked beneath the table, and she would have spoken to him without ever having to know about his disability. Now, however, she knew there was something wrong with him, and he thought that any moment from now, she’d start to get uncomfortable. He sighed and returned his attention to his iPad.

Was that her boyfriend who descended on her like a golden retriever? His huge puppy-dog eyes plainly adored her, but she didn’t behave like a girlfriend towards him.

When retriever bounded away, excusing himself to return to his books, the girl turned thoughtfully back to her tea. Something in her face, her whole demeanour in fact, seemed to be inviting him to speak to her, but he just didn’t have the guts he had used to. Well, he had the slightly soft gut which his L1-L2 incomplete paralysis had given him, but that was hidden by a combination of the table and his t-shirt, and was a completely different kind of gut from the one he needed right then.

He glanced at her open text book and saw the dry chapter title: Continuity or colonization in Anglo-Saxon England? Isotope evidence for mobility, subsistence practice, and status at West Heslerton. “Wow,” he said out loud. Her head snapped up and she frowned curiously.

Seeing where his dark, almost ebony, eyes had rested, she said, “I know. But after tomorrow, I’ll never have to look at isotope analysis reports and boring articles like this again. Give me shiny gold and garnet objects any day…”

She smiled, and he felt something lurch in his chest. “I was wondering what your subject was,” he said, his voice low and strangely gravelly.

She glanced again at his shirt and said, “I’m guessing physics?”

He laughed, surprising himself with the sudden sound, and also surprising himself at the absence of the usual burning self-consciousness, which nearly always flared when he smiled because of the way his scar tugged the corner of his eye down slightly, or twisted his smile up a little awkwardly. “You got me,” he said. “And you? History or Archaeology?”

She smiled, attractively tucking a wayward strand of hair behind her ear, suddenly looking shy. “Archaeology, but…”

What? What was it? She wasn’t happy? Wasn’t it a bit late in the year to hate her degree, or was that just finals getting to her? Hoping he was keeping his questions from his face, he smiled curiously, and said nothing. Then, in a rush of confidence that came from God-knows-where, he said, “I heard you friend say you had your last exam tomorrow… I guess that means I won’t see you here after today?” Oh god, he thought, mortified, worst line ever. I’m so rusty with this whole thing...

Her smile seemed more pleased than unimpressed though. She opened her mouth but he still dreaded the reply. “I’m aiming not to come back here again,” she chuckled. Then she added, “I didn’t think you scientists even knew where the UL is – I mean, most of the stuff in here pre-dates the building itself… not exactly the cutting edge stuff you guys need, right?”

Again, laughter bubbled out of his lungs and spilled across the table. “True. The department isn’t all that –” he was about to say ‘accessible’, but suddenly caught himself, changing the end of his sentence to, “All that conducive to work – a bit too intensely ‘physics-y’ if you catch my meaning.”

Her bright laugh reverberated right through him and her voice echoed with the of the memory of it as she said, “I do know. I like to shake things up and work in all sorts of places. I’m glad I came here today though.”

He grew in confidence. Is she flirting back? ”Maybe you…” Suddenly reality caught up with him as one of his crutches slid along the table, slipping under gravity’s influence, towards the floor. He caught it quickly, but the incident drained him of his new-found confidence, and the blood from his cheeks went with it.

“Oh?” she said, her doe eyes big and innocently curious.

That smile almost broke his heart. He forced himself to go on. “Maybe you’d like to get coffee somewhere else?”


The heartbeat she paused nearly made his own stop, and then she parted those rose-coloured lips and gave her answer.


28 comments:

  1. So excited!! Love it already!

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  2. Nice beginning!

    Thanks for starting another story.

    More, more!

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  3. Very happy you posted your revamped story. It's a great beginning. Look forward to reading more. Thanks for posting.

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  4. Awesome story:-D please keep it up!!

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  5. Love the story and love that you dedicated to J.W.

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  6. I like where you are going with this one. Great beginning.

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  7. Very good beginning, I'm excited about this story and hope you can continue it soon!
    Thanks a lot!

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  8. Wow, really interesting start. I can't wait to see where this goes.

    You're a really good writer and I was very disappointed when your previous start was taken down (though I understand why). Well done for giving it another go and not being scared off completely.

    I'm looking forward to the next installment!

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    1. Thanks for your support. Are you a UK dev too? I'm glad you like my writing style - just posted chapter two, so if you like, check that out too :)

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    2. Yep, I'm another UK Dev, though more BIID than Dev really.
      anybeth at hotmail dot co dot uk if you want to contact me.

      I'm off to go read chapter two now...

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  9. Great start, I love it already! Can't wait to read more. :)

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    1. Thanks! I'd never have guessed that English isn't your first language - your story is so good! I always look forward to another post from you, so thanks for taking the time to read mine :)

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  10. Welcome back, Rose!
    A great start of a new story - I'm in love with the characters already! Looking forward to the new chapter!

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  11. This is amazing. You are such a talented writer... love the details about the scar. And it's really big of you to dedicate to story to JW after the way she treated you.

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    1. Thanks - I find scars incredibly hot, so I just naturally saw Alex with one...! Part two is up, so check it out. More scar stuff in the pipeline too :P

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  12. Love this story already. Thanks for sharing this with us! Looking forward to the next installment!

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  13. This is terrific! Thank you. Can't wait to read more.

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    1. Thanks! 'More' is now up, in the form of chapter two :) By the way, I just love Madison in your story, so keep posting more of yours if you can!

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  14. This is awesome on so many levels:
    Level 1: the plot and the characters. Boss. Love scars
    Level 2: Your writing. Sounds awesome, and I learned a new word or two
    Level 3: The way you handled the previous debacle you alluded to. Very graceful

    I'm so excited to read more!!

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    1. Great - I'm glad you approve! 'More' is now posted :)
      I felt it was only right to allude to the debacle... not my proudest moment...

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  15. Loving this already. Can't wait for more. sounds like interesting characters forming.

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  16. Yay, you're back! intrigued by Alex and his scar please post more soon! :P

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    1. Chapter Two is up! And more scar descriptions on the way, somewhere down the line... :D

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  17. I'm very excited to read more as an archeologist and devotee. A man with a low incomplete injury described in a gritty fashion would be a nice change.

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  18. I'm really glad to see you taking a shot with your own story. It's unfortunate what happened with JW (I'm a friend of hers), but what you have here is not only definitely yours, but intriguing. I look forward to seeing what else you have in store for us.

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    1. Thank you Chie for your comments, and for being gracious about my first go at fiction on here!

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  19. OMG, Rose!!.... I love "Cambridge Connections". Thank you for sharing it with us. I am enjoying this couple a lot, and I can't wait to read more about them.
    Again, thank you so much.

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