The seminar was the last of the year. The last time she would see this particular group of people, sat in this particular room, talking about this particular module. It was possibly the last time she would ever see the seminar leader, John. She didn't know if she felt sad or not, but there was a something writhing in her gut. A small creature brewing, building, demanding her to feel something, but retain its anonymity.
There were fewer people in the room than usual - most people had disappeared off to the library, viewing their own methods of revision to be better than sitting in this slightly stuffy room on such a nice day. John sat opposite the students, the far side of the table, his books untouched as they discussed the various texts they would be examined on. No one had opened a book, looked at their notes. It was uncharacteristically relaxed, just a group of people, sat around a table, talking about some interesting books. Cassie felt uneasy as the clock ticked ever closer to 1pm, ever closer to the end of the seminar. She was going to miss the creative writing aspects of the seminars, even though she endlessly complained about them, whining that she wasn't a creative writing student, so why did she have to do this stupid work. But then every week John would praise her for her creativity, for her understanding of the characters, of the form, of the text as a whole. Every week, without fail.
It was nice. Even though she was hideously embarrassed by it, turned bright red, and hid her face, hiding the smile beneath the bush of hair that always seemed unmaintainable, she loved it. Writing was something she enjoyed above all else, and to get validation for it was something that made her heart swell with joy.
Then the seminar ended. The others gathered up their stuff much faster than she did, something causing her to linger, to purposefully drop her books. John helped her gather them up as she frantically swept the papers into one bundle. Her hand lifted to her face automatically to brush a strand of hair back off her face, tucking it behind her ear.
"Thanks." The word didn't quite come out fully formed, far too quiet, far too short sounding - had she even said the right word? Oh Jesus, what had she said?
"No problem," John returned before she could cringing into her downwards spiral too much. "Do you have a minute? I wanted to talk to you."
Those words filled her with dread so much more than she could ever have imagined, she felt the blush spread up her cheeks, and swallowed difficultly. The nod was as much response as she could manage, dropping her gaze to the papers in her arms, and reshuffling them, purely for a distraction. Her attempts to stop thinking of the worst possible outcome failed miserably.
"What have I done?" She laughed, as lightly as she could manage. "Did I accidentally attach the wrong study group file?" She dragged her gaze back up from the notes, and met John's gaze. He was leaning back on the table, legs stretching out in front of him. God he was tall - his legs were practically the length of her entire body; she had never felt so small in her life. A wry smile graced her feeble attempt at humour. He seemed to falter, his smile seemed to plaster itself on to his face, turning from genuine to a delaying tactic. His hand, splayed out on the desk behind him, propping him up, found a pen and he grasped it, gratefully toying with it. A distraction.
"I…um," He began. And then stopped. He dropped the pen and ran a hand through his hair. "I was just wondering. If - I don't know, if you maybe -" He cut off, the words failing him once more.
"You okay?" Cassie asked, tilting her head, to look up at him, his face fixated on his feet. "You sound as nervous as me trying to ask someone on a date." Her laughter filled the room, an awkward, half-forced laugh. She placed the notes on the table behind her, next to John's pile of books, and lifted her now free hand to the back of her neck, rubbing it anxiously.
"Funny that," John spoke to his shoes. "That I sound like I'm trying to ask someone out, when that's exactly what I'm failing to do."
Cassie dropped her hand, John raised his eyes. He was serious.
"Oh! Right. Okay." Cassie was lost. Her mind didn't quite work as fast as she wanted it too, rational wasn't functioning, she wasn't thinking, and so it was nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction, a gut instinct, when she responded: "That'd be nice."
"Wait," John faltered. "Really?" He beamed at her, a broad smile that light up his whole face. Cassie nodded, the creature stirring in her gut pacified and named: regret. If she had left now, without this interaction taking place she would have eternally regretted it, but never have realised why.
The sun still shone hot, so hot in the afternoon light, as the two of them left the English block together, a plan to meet up that very night in place. The separated at the arches, the distinct point on campus where everything came together, and everything spanned from. It was there that they would meet, 7:30, allowing Cassie to finish her essay, and John to pretend to work on his PhD. They separated with a smile, a wave and a "see you later", and then disappeared to different ends of campus.
Cassie could feel herself smiling as she walked towards the library, her bag heavy, but her heart light. Her cheeks started to ache slightly, but still they persisted in smiling, her day had been made. Then a question rose in her mind that she had never thought of until this moment. How old was John?
He didn't look all that old, but the guy had done an undergraduate degree with a year abroad, a masters and was working on his PhD, which made him at least 5 years older than her, but surely more. Surely he would not have gone from one degree straight to the next? An age gap didn't bother Cassie, but it would bother her parents, her friends. This was a very new relationship, but if it genuinely became something she would be invested in, how would her family react? Would they even accept it?
It was far too much to be thinking before even the first date, but the question of societal expectation would linger in the back of her mind constantly. It would underpin all her actions. She would not be able to let go of the fear of rejection from her parents.
The library was packed when she arrived there, a determination to rid her mind of thinking about John - they hadn't even been on one date yet, they might not work as a couple! Cassie found her usual spot empty, and gratefully sank into it, heaving a laptop out of her bag as she sat, stretching her back as she knew she'd be there a while. She retrieved her glasses, opened the essay document and the hundreds of tabs she had researching the novel, and began her attack on the essay.
She stayed in that position for four hours, her leg aching with cramp when she finally looked up at the clock. The word tumbled out of her mouth before she could stop it, falling helplessly when she saw that it was already 6pm.
"Shit!" The apology followed even faster, if was even possible, and she quickly shoved her laptop in its case, and hurried out of the library.
At some point in the afternoon she had tied her hair back into a bun, and now, as she fled from the building back to her accommodation, it fell from the bobble, demanding freedom. It streamed out behind her, a war-banner celebrating a victory. She muttered under her breath the whole way back, her feet switching between a fast walk and a run. She would not have anywhere near enough time to get back, get ready, and then meet John by the arches. She was going to have to sacrifice something. Well, it couldn't be getting changed - she looked an absolute disaster. Well, it was acceptable for uni, but who would go on a date in leggings and an oversized t-shirt? Someone with less self-respect than her, Cassie decided, as she fumbled for her keys in her bag, stumbling down her street, and failing to keep a solid footing.
Cassie fell, and her hand, still lost in the depths of her bag, could not break her fall. She landed solidly on her shoulder, the painful crunch of bone grinding against bone echoing through her skeleton, bouncing around in her ears. Her other hand managed to brace itself slightly, but, being in a student area, the ground was littered with glass, and Cassie felt the shards of glass dig themselves into her palm.
Great. Another thing to deal with. Fucking ideal. Now that was hair and make-up gone. Or the alternative was to be very late. She could use be late - oh! But she didn't have his phone number, how was she to message him to make sure he would wait for her? Would emailing him be too weird?
She answered her own question decisively aloud as she jammed the key into the lock.
Cassie called out to her flat mate as she entered, demanding assistance. She felt such a prima donna in this moment, garnering all the attention for herself, yet unable to explain why. She found herself rushed into a seat, the medical student housemate already pulling tweezers from thin air, wielding them in from of her like a longsword.
"Right, I'll fix this mess, Sarah, you get her makeup and Danni, hair. Now." She had burst into full doctor mode and Cassie could not be more grateful. She slumped into the chair, only allowed a moment's relaxation before Dr Housemate snapped at her to sit up straight. The snap of her fingers was so authoritative that Cassie had not choice but to oblige.
"Sorry ma'am," She teased, receiving a condescending glare back. Cassie relinquished her mockery, and let her housemate fix the palm of her hand.
John loitered uncomfortably by the arches. He fidgeted, moving from leaning against the red brick of the building, to standing upright and toy with his phone, looking around every ten seconds for a glimpse of Cassie. He moved to the other arch, and leant against that instead, still holding his phone in his hand. The phone drooped, held loosely in his fingers, only the edge of the phone in contact with his hand. Screen faced up, ready for a text. It didn't occur to him that she had no means of texting him. He stared into the still light evening, the sky absent of a single cloud, trying to not to look around him, searching for her moving towards him. He glanced down at his phone again. Then up - then back down again, having immediately forgotten the time.
Cassie was nearly half an hour late. John was trying not to work himself up into a fit of anxiety. He was failing.
Was this a prank?
Was he being stood up? Did he do something wrong? Oh God, why did he ever ask her out in the first place - was it even appropriate - fuck. He hadn't thought of that before, but he was technically in a position of power over her. Was this bad?
Oh Fucking Hell - was this against the university's regulations or something, he hadn't even thought of any of the technicalities but now, now that she wasn't going to turn up he had a chance to think of all the possible terrible things about asking Cassie on a date.
A tap on the shoulder broke him out of his spiral. Cassie stood behind him, her hands returning to their position of being folded in front of her. She smiled up at him, without tilting her head back so she looked up through her mascara-laden eyelashes. Her smile faltered somewhat when she realised that, in spite of all the effort that she had gone to in order to dress up, look nice, seem like a person you'd want to go on a date with, John was wearing the exact same as he had been in the seminar. Except now he had a jacket with him too. Cassie resisted the urge to roll her eyes and instead widened her smile, and linked her arm through his:
John started walking, his strides far too long for Cassie's shorter, high-heeled legs to keep up. Three steps in, John adjusted his pace.
Apparently, they shall.