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short story

title. University

date. 2019

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Katie was new, and she wanted to be. Her first steps into the hot aired, humming atrium were light. There wasn’t quite a smile on her face, but she wasn’t trying to be abrasive. Just, casual. Katie squatted down in an empty seat and placed her heavy bag on the angular table, plucking her excessive water bottle out and standing its breadth proudly on the laminated wood. Now, base established, she scoped the room.

 

After her first month of University, Katie stopped bringing her water bottle to lectures, mainly because she had stopped bringing herself to lectures. Katie had quickly found fascinating friends. She had expected University to be a war, and so she was armed for contention and rivalry, for disputes over drinks, for burning and growth and questioning and correcting. But fortunately, it turned out that lots of people thought exactly like her. She could skip all of that, and focus on what mattered. Like the now, the present, tonight. Last night maybe, and tomorrow night too. God, it was so freeing to feel involved in things. To talk about so many things which she had already known about, she could never be alone now, how could they argue if they all said the same things?

 

She found that after a while she didn’t generally have to worry about dealing with others unlike her and her friends, they were just so far away. But sometimes they managed to find their way to her, and it always felt too close and the world would seem suddenly hot and fragile, she didn't enjoy it. Why waste her time? The lecturers were on her side, sure they may not know her but they loved her. Everyone did, even if some couldn’t admit it. She told her friends she loved them incessantly, and they said it back even more. Sometimes the bedroom they sat in would fall to a natural quiet, and her heart would beat and beat until someone said it. Maybe one day the friends would change, but it didn’t matter. There were so many just like her now who could quote the same stories, who could talk about the same people, who could tell the same jokes, who could remind her who she was.

 

The friends did change in her second year, they changed faces and outfits. She wasn’t quite sure if they were still the same people, but they made her feel the same, and they loved each other. Things were getting better, and bigger, she had more friends, and less others to deal with. She found there were less and less places she had to go to, less chance of difference, less chance of surprise. In fact, the places she went were always already full of friends, packed to the ceiling even. They could no longer fit in bedrooms so they took to a lounge, a lounge they’d stripped of furniture and where they would roll around in bliss and a hum of unspoken panic. As they felt the warming communion of each other they would quietly fear the swelling of encroaching walls and the ever-enlarging mass of their communal identity. It was hard to see in there, but they would urgently remind whatever body next to them that things were best like this before rolling away. One girl started to feel like she wanted to leave, it was hot in here now, she couldn’t tell what limb was hers in the flurry and now she desperately wanted to go but became tearfully afraid that when she tried to leave it wouldn’t be her body that moved. Katie tried to look for the door but her bearings were gone, the room was a sea of frantic joy and reassurance, and she no longer knew what was on the other side.

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