08 January 2010

Curse of the Other World, part fifteen

Riverside Café, the student union's answer to a restaurant, was a permanently chilly room with a lowered section near the back, connected by a short flight of steps and looking out on a balcony that could only be reached from outside. The lower level was constantly occupied by a group of scraggly-haired students in big, black coats; most of whom kept them on despite being inside, because of the cool temperatures. The place looked like a poor man's fast food joint, and priced itself accordingly; hence it was a popular haunt for students who did not fancy sitting in the bar.
Sarah squeezed past a crowd at the entrance who were having a loud discussion about how their courses were not all they had hoped for, and looked around the small, round tables for Howard. She saw the masculine-looking woman sitting in a corner, dressed in a dark grey shirt and sporting a short, spiked haircut. Her hair was dyed platinum blond, as were her eyebrows. Her overall appearance was striking and, Sarah had to admit, it was quite a good look for her.
'I take it you've ordered already?' asked Sarah as she sat down, noting the number on a stick sat on the table, next to a pile of Howard's lecture notes. She slung her jacket over the barrier between the upper and lower areas, and slipped her satchel under the table.
'Yeah, I've been here a while already,' said Howard. 'I've only got one lecture on Mondays, so I've just been in here, going over my notes and trying to get my head around them.'
'What is it you're having trouble with?'
'Quantum mechanics.'
'Ah. I can't really help there.'
Howard laughed. 'You're the third person to say that to me. I'll pick it up eventually, I'm sure.'
'Have you talked to your tutor about it? They should be able to help.'
'I'm seeing him this afternoon at three. I just want to give it one more read through myself beforehand.'
'Fair enough. Well, I'm going to get some lunch. Want a coffee or something?'
'Got one already, thanks.'
Lunch passed with little more than small talk. Sarah picked at her pizza and tried to ignore the fact that much of it appeared to be made of grease from the cheap cheese topping, while Howard devoured her egg and chips like she had not eaten in weeks. How she managed to stay thin despite her appetite always amazed Sarah.
'So, what was it you wanted to talk about?' Howard eventually asked.
'Actually, I thought it was you who wanted to talk,' said Sarah. 'I got the impression last night that there was something bothering you.'
'Oh. Right,' Howard looked uncomfortable now. 'Well, err, I don't know if this is the right place.'
Sarah half wanted to tell her to forget it and move the conversation on to something else, but she contained herself. There was clearly something on the younger woman's mind and it would be best if she just let it out.
'It's okay,' she said. 'You can tell me anything.'
'Well, it's kind of private, you know?'
'Fair enough. If you ever want to talk, you know where my office is.'
Howard nodded. 'That might not be the best place to talk either. It might give the wrong impression, you know?'
Since the start of the Michelmass term, the first of the three terms making up each academic year at Durham University, Sarah had been President of its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered students' association. Unlike most student society presidents, Sarah had a small office in the union building from where she could coordinate her society; liaise with both university and student union staff and meet students that were having problems with their sexuality or gender identity.
Most of the time, the office was staffed by volunteers from the society who had a free hour during the day, or some time to kill in the early evening before they went out to the pub, but occasionally Sarah would be confronted by a student with real problems, and those were the times she lived for. They gave her a chance to flex her counselling skills and sometimes, when there was a problem at the university level causing the student hassle, it also gave her an outlet for her constant desire to kick the world into shape.
Times like those were becoming few and far between since she had been able to convince the university and the union to have an LGBT association representative present at key meetings, to which she would often send a volunteer because meetings bored her, but she continued to live for the challenges wherever she could find them.
Howard put down her third cup of coffee with a determined thunk. 'Look, the thing is I've got this housemate, Liam, who's really been worrying me. He doesn't go to lectures much, doesn't talk to anyone in the house anymore and spends a lot of his time in his room. Now I know all that's kind of par for the course with some people but I've heard weird muttering and chanting when I've passed his door and that's the bit that's worrying me.'
'What sort of chanting?' asked Sarah. This was not the type of conversation she had been expecting but it had caught her interest nevertheless.
'I'm not sure. It's not English, I can tell you that much.'
'Do you think he's into the occult?'
Howard nodded. 'It's crossed my mind. I've done what protection spells I know of, but I'd appreciate it if someone with more experience could give me there opinion.'
'That's fair enough. I'll pop 'round tonight if you'd like?'
Howard smiled. Sarah could not help getting butterflies in her stomach when Howard smiled at her. The woman had such a bright smile, almost radiant; enhancing her already good looks. Sarah could not help but be attracted, current relationships notwithstanding.

No comments: