Right There with You – Chapter 1

Saturday, 15th September 2012

Why did I agree to do this? This is so not me. I sighed as I reluctantly pulled my stubborn, chestnut hair into a ponytail after ten minutes of trying to coax it into some form of style. My reflection stared at me from the small bathroom mirror. My blue eyes looked back, pale and scared. I wished I was better with makeup. I wished I owned more makeup. I resigned myself to the fact that the simple mascara and eye shadow combination was the best it was going to get for tonight. The less I have on; the less chance there is of me looking like a clown, I reassured myself.

Turning the lights off, I smoothed down the folds in my tight-fitting green dress, which ended just above my knees, slipped on my kitten heels, and grabbed my purse. Locking my room behind me, I squared my shoulders and headed into the kitchen to meet with the rest of my new flat mates.

“You’re ready?” Adam asked, trying and failing to hide the surprise in his voice.

“You said eight o’clock. It’s five to,” I answered, puzzled.

“Yeah, but you’re…” he broke off.

“I’m what?” I answered, starting to worry. “Is the dress not right? Should I get changed?” I could feel my cheeks turning pink. I’ve never been out like this before; I don’t know what to wear. I’ve made a fool of myself again. I never sh

“No, no, no! Not at all,” Adam interrupted my train of thought, shooting me a cheeky grin. “You look great. More than great.”

His eyes quickly scanned my dress and I saw them flick over to the two other guys sat at the kitchen table.

“I think what Adam was trying to say was that you’re ready on time whilst the other two girls are still locked in their rooms trying on ninety different outfits,” Bradley intervened.

I felt my shoulders sag with relief. Was that all he’d meant? I sat down on the plastic chair next to Bradley and beamed up at Adam.

“When you grow up with six older brothers, you learn to get ready quickly.”

“I can imagine,” Bradley answered, grinning sheepishly. “We had the honour of meeting a couple of your brothers while you were at Tescos yesterday.”

I winced, knowing from experience that it had probably not been pleasant for them. “Sorry, I hope they weren’t complete arseholes,” I joked, surprising myself with my boldness.

If any of them had heard me saying that they’d be kicking my ass right now. I’d only moved out the day before and I was already feeling a little brave knowing they were all at least seventy miles away.

“They’re protective, I’ll give you that,” Bradley joked. “Me, Adam, and Eric were unpacking our kitchen stuff and they sort of cornered us,” he nodded his head towards the third guy in the room with a clean-shaven head and kind green eyes.

“I think they just wanted to make sure we didn’t have any un-gentlemanly intentions towards their little sister,” Eric said, his eyes alight with humour.

I groaned, my head in my hands. That was so like them. There’d been a massive argument about me living in mixed halls of residence. Leeds University had been my second choice. When I didn’t get into my first choice, most of the halls were already full and I had to take whatever I could get. Personally, I was pretty happy; I was right on campus and only a twenty-minute walk from the city centre. But that didn’t mean my brothers weren’t going to give me hassle about it.

“Don’t worry, Jamie,” Adam said, flopping down in the seat beside me and brushing his caramel hair out of his hazel eyes. “We promised to look after you,” he said sticking his tongue out at me in a playful fashion.

I couldn’t resist smiling. “Thanks,” I said, looking up at him.

Eager to draw the focus away from me and my dysfunctional family, I looked around at them and asked what they were studying. We’d only moved in the day before and, aside from quick introductions, I’d only really had chance to chat with Adam. He’d knocked on my door to say hello last night and ended up staying to watch a film on my laptop. We’d missed the film completely and talked until two in the morning.

We had so much in common and I was delighted to discover that we were both taking English. It was a relief to have made a friend so quickly. I was so used to being surrounded by my brothers all the time; I never escaped them. I’d had a part time job at the gym the twins owned and, even though Matt wasn’t technically my brother, he’d lived at our house since around the time I was born so he was practically family. He’d taught P.E. at my school so I’d not even been able to escape their watchful eyes there. Even though I often resented their constant over-protection, now that I was actually alone, I felt pretty scared and vulnerable. Not that I’d admit it to them.

“I’m studying Engineering,” Eric said, bringing me back to the now.

“And I’m studying Law,” Bradley said, raising his beer to his lips and taking a long sip.

“You want something to drink, Shorty?” Adam asked, heading to the communal fridge.

I shook my head, feeling the all too familiar blush returning to my cheeks. “We’re both studying English,” I said, gesturing to Adam.

“Cool,” Bradley replied, “You know what the other girls are studying?”

“I think Sarah was studying Fashion, I’m not sure about Emma though.”

The guys nodded. Phew, embarrassing moment avoided. I sighed inwardly.

“You sure you don’t want a beer or something, Jamie?”

Or not. I cringed, not really sure what to say. “I can’t…I mean, I don’t…” I trailed off, trying to focus all my attention on a crack on the linoleum floor and waiting for the awkward silence to pass.

“You don’t drink?” Adam asked, sounding a little surprised, but admittedly not as surprised as I had expected. I shook my head, sure that my cheeks were going to set off the fire alarms.

“No worries, you want some juice or something?” He said coolly.

“No thanks, I’m good,” I smiled, relieved that nobody was making a big deal out of this.

Friends and classmates had been nagging me to have ‘just one’ since year ten. It wasn’t like I’d never been drunk before, but in my experience, the benefits weren’t worth the consequences. I’d come home drunk once after a party when I was fifteen. It was stupid; I’d had to beg for a week to be allowed to go, and made all sorts of promises. Ian, my eldest brother and legal guardian, had eventually caved on the condition that my youngest brother, Jake, came with me.

The party was bigger than expected and Jake had gotten distracted playing football with some of his sixth form friends. I’d gotten a little excited by the situation and been talked into playing a drinking game with some others.

Jake had to carry me practically all the way home. I barely remember any of what happened. Both of us had gotten a good ass kicking the next morning. Jake hadn’t talked to me for weeks afterwards and made a point of making my life a living hell for a good while after that.

I sat contentedly listening to the guys chat about their A-level results and which sixth forms and colleges they’d been to. At around twenty past, the other girls came in. They looked fantastic. They were both wearing tiny dresses which barely covered the essentials. So much for me worrying about my dress being too short. Emma had styled her auburn hair into luscious curls that fell around her shoulders and onto her milky white skin. Sarah had plaited her straight, dark brown hair into a fishtail plait, which she had worked round the side of her head to fall over her right shoulder. I once again cursed my hair and my inability to do anything attractive with it. The girls were both wearing impossibly high heels that amplified their curvaceous figures and I found myself extremely disappointed with my boyish, flat body. They popped open a bottle of Lambrini and poured it into a couple of highball glasses.

“Classy, ladies,” Eric joked, flashing them both a cheeky smile.

“We’re students now, guys, no point fighting it!” Emma giggled as she took a generous sip from her glass.

“Looking forward to tonight?” Sarah asked, sitting down on one of the spare chairs and glancing around at us all.

Everybody nodded and the discussion turned to the bands that were going to be playing. Emma pulled up her chair next to me and handed me her smartphone.

“I can’t find you on Facebook!” She whined. “Type in your name so I can add you!”

I did as I was told and handed the phone back to her.

“Jamie-Lea Carter,” she said, seemingly to herself, as she read my name and searched for me. “That’s cute, you should use your whole name!”

“Thanks,” I smiled shyly at her. “I haven’t been called Jamie-Lea in years, barely anyone even calls me Jamie anymore. It’s a refreshing change,” I admitted.

“Oh? What do people usually call you?” She asked just as Eric shot his empty beer can into the bin on the other side of the room, making an impressive but noisy shot.

He was met with eager squeals and a round of applause. He’d thankfully distracted Emma who bounced up from her seat and decided it was time to take a group photo.

“You know, before we all start hating each other for being awful flatmates!” She joked as we all stood up.

I tried to position myself behind Adam and Bradley but Adam grabbed my shoulders and pushed me in front of him.

“No chance, Shorty, nobody’ll be able to see you back there, you’re too little.”

I glared at him. I’m 5ft 5” that’s not really that little. Seeing as he was a good few inches taller, I didn’t correct him.

Half an hour and an empty bottle of Lambrini later and we were on our way to the Student Union. It was only a five-minute walk from the halls so we braced the September winds with our jackets wrapped tightly around us.

When we got to the SU building, there was already quite a queue. We joined the end of it and looked around at the sea of freshers and returning students ready for the start of a new academic year. Emma and Sarah were chatting away with Bradley and Eric about music and I stood just behind them listening with Adam. I shivered slightly, feeling that bare legs weren’t really appropriate for the time of year.

“You okay, Jamie?” Adam asked.

“I’m fine, just a little chilly. I’m sure it won’t be long until we’re inside,” I smiled up at him.

“You’re nesh,” he scoffed putting his arm around my shoulder and pulling me into his side.

I would have protested but he really was quite warm.

“You’re vibrating,” he said

“I’m not that cold,” I retorted, looking up at him quizzically through my pathetically mascaraed lashes.

“No, I mean your phone,” he chuckled.

“Oh,” I mumbled, quickly tearing myself away from him and searching through my clutch purse like a mad woman. I grabbed my phone and saw Karl’s name on the screen. My second oldest brother. I sighed and pressed the answer button.

“Hi, Karl,” I answered as cheerily as I could.

“Where are you?” He said abruptly, sounding less than happy.

“What do you mean? I’m at uni, of course.”

“Don’t be a smartass, Jelly. Where are you?”

“I’m outside the SU, queuing to get in, but-”

“Dressed like that?” He sounded pissed.

“How do you know what I’m wearing?”

I glanced around, half expecting to see a few of my brothers dotted around, keeping tabs on me.

“Facebook,” he grunted in reply.

Emma must have uploaded the image and tagged us already. I sighed inwardly. I’ve been away from home one night and nothing’s changed.

“Karl, I-”

“You’re asking for the wrong sort of attention, Jelly.”

“But-”

“You look like a right slag!” He spat and I could feel the tears threatening at his harsh words.

“I’m sorry, sir,” I said quietly, taking a few steps towards the bushes so that people were less likely to hear me. “Everyone else is dressed like this. I wasn’t trying to dress inappropriately, I swear,” I pleaded with him. I heard his exasperated sigh down the phone.

“None of us are there to clean up after you, Jelly. Don’t do anything stupid and text me when you get home. I don’t care what time it is. I swear down, if you don’t text me, I’m driving up there first thing and bringing you home.”

He hung up the phone without giving me chance to reply. I sighed deeply, trying to blink back the tears forming in my eyes and remind myself that this was just his way of showing he cared.

“You okay, chick?” Adam asked, replacing his arm around my shoulder and guiding me back to the others. “You look kinda upset, who was that?”

“I’m fine, honest,” I replied, forcing a smile. “That was just my brother worrying about me going out. They’re somewhat over-protective,” I said resignedly.

“Yeah, I noticed. Isn’t that more your parents job?” He joked.

“I, eh… my brothers raised me,” I stammered awkwardly. You’d think I’d be used to answering that question by now but the stab of pain never went away.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry,” he said, a slight blush gracing his fine cheekbones.

“No, it’s okay,” I smiled as best I could.

At that moment, the queue started moving forward and Adam was spared the awkwardness hanging in the air.

As we all made our way into the middle of the dance floor, my anxiety returned a little. I don’t dance. Sarah had grabbed my hand and was already gyrating her hips and clearing a space for us all. The music was deafening and the general level of intoxication was obvious in the atmosphere. I glanced cautiously around at all the other people dancing and tried to copy some of the less indecent, simpler moves, feeling completely ridiculous.

After an hour and a half on the dance floor, I was hot and sweaty and only slightly less uncomfortable. I’d witnessed several people making complete fools of themselves around me, but that didn’t mean I was any more willing to do so myself.

I glanced at the group, trying to catch somebody’s eye to let them know I was going to step out, but they all seemed pretty engaged in their dancing. I grabbed Adam’s elbow and shouted into his ear but he shook his head and pointed to his ears, indicating he couldn’t hear me. I shook my head at him and waved him off and he went back to dancing with a pretty blonde girl, a boyish grin on his face. I forced my way through the crowd, getting bashed around a fair bit in the process. Eventually, I broke though to the somewhat cooler edges of the room and could finally breathe again.

A glass of cold water was just what I needed so I made my way towards the bar. I hesitated when I saw how packed it was. Sighing heavily, I placed myself behind three rows of sweaty students, all clambering to be served. After ten minutes, I hadn’t made any progress so I gave up. I turned around and found my way blocked by a wall of muscle. I looked up and was met by a pair of startlingly clear, green-blue eyes, framed by thick, black lashes. His dirty-blond hair was tousled in a ‘just-out-of-bed thanks to £50 of product’ look.

“Careful there,” he said, steadying me as I almost fell into him.

“S…Sorry,” I stammered, regaining my balance as he took his strong hands off my shoulders. I was slightly breathless and I wasn’t sure that it could be entirely attributed to my near fall.

I took a closer look at the man that I’d fallen into in my usual clumsy style. Those eyes. There was so much colour in them, so much emotion. It was like looking into a well; thousands of shades of blue and green, hiding treasures and wishes in their deepest depths.

“Decide that the booze wasn’t worth the wait?” He grinned at me, gesturing to the bar. He had an air of control about him, as though he was aware of everything happening around him. It was a familiar expression, one that I associated with Ian. He always knew exactly where everyone in the room was standing and nothing ever escaped him. Feeling the same aura from this enticing stranger made me feel inexplicably safe and slightly cautious at the same time.

“I was only after some water,” I said, standing on my tiptoes and leaning into his ear so he could hear me over the music.

He nodded and motioned for me to follow. Unsure if I really ought to be following a strange man in a club, I hesitated a little. He turned back and looked at me quizzically, but smiling.

“I’m just going to get you some water, don’t worry,” he said, bending down to meet me at my level.

I felt his warm breath against my ear and felt my skin break out in goose bumps in response. Deciding that there were plenty of witnesses, I followed him to just outside the nightclub, next to the now closed Co-Op and coffee shops.

“They always have a water machine out here,” he gestured to the contraption behind me. “The SU’s attempt to promote responsible drinking,” he grinned.

I helped myself to a glass of ice-cold water and knocked it back straight away, refilling my cup.

“Not working for you, I see,” I nodded towards the beer bottle in his hand.

“I’ll have you know this is alcohol free,” he said, showing me the label. His eyes flashed with what almost looked like hurt. As though he was a small child being reprimanded.

“I was only kidding,” I said quickly. “Thanks for the help,” I smiled up at him.

“Anytime,” he answered, offering his hand out to me. “I’m Jason.”

“Jamie-Lea,” I replied, taking his hand.

I felt my fingertips tingle as he shook my hand firmly and I started to wonder if it really had been water that I’d just drunk.

“Nice to meet you, Jamie-Lea,” he said, flashing me a million dollar smile.

“And you,” I said, taking in his appearance more fully now that the light permitted. He must have been in his mid twenties, he looked around the same age as my brother, Craig. He was wearing a tight fitting pinstripe shirt, rolled over his muscular forearms. The top two buttons were open, revealing a toned chest with a spattering of light chest hair. He had a woven rope bracelet around his right wrist and a pair of perfectly fitting stonewash jeans that hung loosely on his hips.

“I’m guessing you’re not a fresher,” I said quietly, lowering my gaze down at the floor and blushing as I realised I’d been quite obviously staring at him.

“No,” he laughed. ”I’m a PhD student, I did my masters here and loved it so much I didn’t want to leave,” he said with another of his heart melting smiles.

“Oh, cool,” I said, suddenly feeling a little stupid. “I guess that makes you a bit of a genius”. Oh way to go, Jamie, real smooth. I cursed myself inwardly, feeling more and more awkward by the minute.

“I don’t know about that,” he said smoothly. “How about you? You’ve got that scared squirrel fresher look.” He shot me a cheeky grin.

“Scared squirrel?” I scoffed, realising that it was probably very true. “Yeah, I just moved here yesterday. I’m studying English.”

“There you are, Jamie-Lea!” Emma said coming up behind me.

“Hi, sorry, I was just grabbing some water. It was hot in there.”

She took a few seconds to look at Jason, her eyes taking in his well-toned body for just a little too long, which made me inexplicably uncomfortable.

“Hi, I’m Emma,” she said to him, fluttering her eyelashes.

I frowned.

“Jason,” he replied, returning his eyes to me. “Listen, you should drop by the athletics booth at the freshers’ fair on Monday morning. I’ll be there. I can show you around a bit,” he said enthusiastically. He held my gaze for a few seconds. I couldn’t ignore the intensity which gleamed out from behind his dark pupils. I smiled and opened my mouth to answer but Emma got there first.

“We’ll be there,” she nodded vigorously.

“Cool.” His eyes flitted to her and back. “Enjoy your water,” he winked and strolled back off towards the nightclub.

“He was fit!” Emma announced as soon as he was out of earshot.

I giggled and she dragged me back towards the dance floor. We danced for a while longer until we decided to call it a night at around two. We lost Adam to the leggy blonde, and Sarah disappeared with a well-built Italian. The rest of us made a hasty retreat through the chilly air back to the flat. It had been a pretty good night, all in all. I smiled as I thought about the freshers’ fair. It would be nice to get a better look around.

Relieved to be home and somewhat exhausted, I changed into some shorts and one of Craig’s old T-shirts. I climbed over a few as yet unpacked boxes and slid into bed with my phone. I plugged it into the charger on the bedside table and sent a quick text to Karl.

Hi Karl.

I’m home. Sorry it’s late.

Had a good night.

Sorry if I worried you.

xx JL

I shut my eyes and was asleep before I knew it.

***

Sunday, 16th September 2012

I woke up to the sun shining through the fairly ineffective, vomit-coloured curtains in my room. I picked up my phone and glanced at the time. It was half past eight. Pretty late rising for me; I was used to being up at six. It felt like a real luxury to have been allowed such a lie-in.

I noticed a few blinking messages on my phone. I had a few notifications from Facebook taggings and comments, and a few texts. I opened my inbox to read the texts I’d missed from last night. Two from the twins at around 20:45 and one from Karl at 02:20 this morning. My identical twin brothers had sent me identical texts.

Karl’s pissed.

You’re in trouble!

Cursing myself for not reading them last night so I at least had a warning, I messaged them both back.

Thanks for the heads up.

Miss you all

xx JL

I opened the message from Karl.

Ok. This isn’t over.

I groaned loudly into my pillow. Why can’t they just let stuff like this go? I get the whole wanting to protect me thing, but I’m eighteen now. They have no right to tell me what I can and can’t wear, do they? I sighed, feeling guilty that I was questioning them after everything they’d done for me. I rolled out of bed and, in a moment of defiance, didn’t re-make it. Ian and Karl made sure our beds were made up every morning, making us redo them if they weren’t up to scratch.

I nipped into the cupboard-sized, en-suite bathroom and pulled on my running gear. I enabled the GPS programme that Ian had put on my phone so that anybody on my friends list could see where I was when I was running. For my safety, they’d insisted. I headed out the door, locking it behind me and trying to put my ear buds in so that they sat comfortably. I almost crashed into Adam as I went through the building doors.

“Hey, Player!” I greeted him with a small hug.

“Ugh, don’t judge me!” He groaned, sounding a little worse for wear.

“I’m not!” I protested, giggling slightly. “Six brothers, remember!”

He grinned back at me. “You off for a run?” He looked at me as if I was insane.

“Yeah, I thought I’d look around a bit before breakfast.”

“You’re a mad woman!” He grinned and waved as he headed inside.

I turned up the volume and set off to explore the campus, making a mental note to make my bed when I got home, because staging an impromptu Skype bed inspection was exactly the sort of thing Ian was likely to do.

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