Today marks the start of a new regular feature on my blog – Wednesday’s Words. Each and every Wednesday I’ll be posting an excerpt from one of my novels or short stories.
Today’s excerpt comes from the short that was originally published at Ruthie’s Club, Ladz Local Lovelies #56 : Laura. If you enjoy it, you can download it, and the other Ladz stories, from the free stories section of my website.
As with all the stories from Ruthie’s, this one had a terrific illustration to go with it, this one by the artist Tzratzk. Unfortunately, the illustration is owned by Ruthie’s, and all I’m allowed to use is the preview thumbnail.
“Okay, this time next week we’ll start looking at Alex Garland’s The Beach, and its impact on contemporary culture. I’ll expect you all to be familiar with the text by then. And I don’t mean watching the film a couple of times. Read the book, people. Read the book.”
There was a thunderous din of chairs scraping on the floor and equipment being stuffed into bags as the class rose and prepared to leave the lecture theatre. Laura was at the centre of the crowd that slowly filed towards the exit. With so many people in such a small space, it wasn’t unusual for her to feel bodies pressed against her when they left lectures, but she could have sworn that at least two of her classmates grabbed her backside. And was it her imagination, or did someone try to slip a hand under her skirt?
The lecturer called her over to him as she passed his desk. “Just a quick word, if you don’t mind.”
Laura peeled off from the crowd. She held her textbooks and folder of notes in front of her, pressed against her chest like a shield. “What’s wrong, Professor Hussein? It’s my last essay, isn’t it? It wasn’t any good.”
“No, no. It was fine. Very good, in fact. No, it’s your outfit.”
“I don’t know if you’re deliberately trying to distract your male colleagues, or me for that matter, but that’s certainly what you’ve done today. Throughout the lecture, I saw more faces turning around to look at you than I did pay attention to the discussion of Tipping the Velvet, which quite frankly is normally the most hotly discussed novel of this course.”
“I can’t say that I noticed anyone looking at me,” she lied.
“Whether you noticed, is not the issue here. I will not tolerate distractions of any kind in my lectures. Do you understand?”
“I’m sorry, Professor. I didn’t mean…”
“I’m sure you didn’t. But, in future, tone it down a little. This is a place of study, not a fashion house. Either that, or sit in the front row. At least that way, your admirers won’t risk a neck injury.”
Laura sheepishly left the room to find her friend, Anthony, waiting for her. “What did he want?”
“Nothing. It was about my last essay.”
“You look upset.”
“No. I’m fine. Shall we go for lunch? I’m starving.”
They walked through the campus towards the Students’ Union. There were many people heading the same way and still more hanging around between lectures. Laura noticed that she was attracting more stares and second glances than she usually expected, even for this outfit. After all, there were plenty of other good-looking girls about. Anthony seemed to have noticed too. “You’re popular today. Can’t say I’m surprised. You look good. Great outfit.”
Laura smiled at him and said, “Thanks. I’m glad you like it. It’s one of my favourites.”
“Yeah, mine too. Any chance of seeing a bit more?”
“There’s not much more to see, Ant.”
Laura wore a short denim skirt and a tight white tank top. She’d chosen the outfit partly because of the unseasonably warm weather, but had a second, secret reason—she knew Anthony would like the outfit. He always liked what she wore, even the baggy jogging pants and thick sweaters that made up her winter wardrobe. He made no secret of how much he fancied her.
“I just hoped I might get to see what’s underneath it someday.”
“Who knows? One day you might.”
“So you’ll go out with me then?”
“How many times, Ant? I’m not interested. We’re friends. That’s all.” If you weren’t such a child, if you were a bit more mature, then things might be different.
“Are you still hung up on that Gavin bloke that shares your flat? You know it’s wasted effort, don’t you?”
“It’s just a matter of time…”
“I reckon he must be gay or something. If I was him, I wouldn’t have been able to keep my hands off you.”
“Then I should be thankful that you’re not him, shouldn’t I?”
They entered the cafeteria in the Student’s Union, and joined the queue at the food counter. After they got their meals, they found a table by a window and chatted about the lecture that they had just left. A young man sitting at a few tables away stood and crept over to them. He had a magazine in one hand and a pen in the other. On any other day, Laura wouldn’t have looked twice at a geek like him. But today…
“Erm…” The young man cleared his throat. “Erm, is it really you?” He nodded towards the magazine.
Laura grinned. Then she nodded.
The geek held out the magazine and pen. “Would you…?”
Laura blushed. She hadn’t expected to have to give autographs. She took the magazine. It was open at the page he wanted signed. Laura scrawled her signature on the magazine and handed it back.
“Th… Thanks.” He scurried away.
Anthony looked dumbstruck, his fork half way to his mouth. “What…? What was all that about?”
Laura ate a mouthful of her lunch before she said, “Do you ever buy Ladz?”
“God, no! It’s patronising that they think men are only interested in football, video games, cars and naked women.”
“You seemed interested in seeing this woman naked.”
“But that’s different. I mean, you’re gorgeous.”
Laura blushed. “So, you never read it?”
“There’s not that much to read. I browse through it in the newsagents, just like everyone else does, but I’d never buy it.”
“Well, if you look through it this week, I’m certain you’ll want to buy it.”
Laura didn’t answer. She ate some chips from her plate. “Have you ever read The Beach before? I’ve only ever seen the film.”
There were no more interruptions during lunch. After they had finished and left the cafeteria, Anthony turned towards the campus shop.
“Where are you going?” Laura asked.
“See what’s so special about this issue of Ladz.”
“Oh, okay. See you later then.”
“You’re not coming?”
I hope I will be later. “No. I have to get back to the flat.”
She walked a few paces and then looked back to see if Anthony had gone. She watched him enter the newsagents then quickly doubled back to follow him. Taking care to make sure he couldn’t see her, she watched him browse the magazine rack against the wall until he found Ladz. He took it down, opened it, and quickly flicked through. He stopped suddenly and stared at the pages. “Bloody hell!”
As if he could sense her watching him, Anthony turned his head and caught Laura’s eye. She smiled at him, raised her eyebrows and waved. Then she left, certain that Anthony was already heading for the checkout.