“Ugh!” Cressida jerked awake in precisely way that people with hangovers don't wake. Her hind brain was a teeming anthill of activity, screaming for bladder emptying, begging for fluids, sending unpleasant signals to her roiling acid stomach. Higher up the cerebral ladder was a muzzy fog of jumbled fragments of thought and memory; sat right on top was a nice medium-large sized headache. Groaning in self pity she reached out a bare arm to drag back the curtain and let in some daylight ... it couldn't do any harm. Her small bedroom filled with a softly over-bright pellucid light; it was exactly the sort of light that triggered an ancient memory: snow day
It had been a typically good student party. Cressida had started with good intentions and drank only weak spritzers which were more soda than wine. When the soda ran out — or maybe she just couldn't bothered to look for some, she wasn't sure — she discovered that the wine wasn't entirely undrinkable in neat form. Beyond that her memories were jumbled and indistinct.
She remembered that Richard had treated her with perfunctory politeness, a sort of distant aloofness which she found unnerving and artificial. It was exactly the sort of behaviour which shouted from the rooftops about concealed issues. If he kept that up, Phaedra was sure to confront one or the other of them about the reason for it.
Then there was Pierre. She had not really expected to see him again, although she had known they were at the same university. It was a big place and they were on different faculties, there would have been little opportunity for them meet. Except he was now a damned neighbour! But he had been odd with her, too. Stiffly formal, polite and gallant, more like a brother than someone she had once almost had sex with. And that was another thing: why had she lied about that? Well, OK she had maybe not actually said so, but she had implied it. Why did she work so hard to maintain her image as a good time girl?Why am I lying here asking myself so many damned questions, when my bladder's about to burst?
With a deep sigh she hauled herself out from under covers, shuddering as her shoulders and thighs pimpled up with gooseflesh.Damn! Not the weather for sleeping in the buff ... still the snow's come early this year.
Irritably, and squirming with knees clenched, she tossed through the pile of clothes and laundry at the end of her bed in search of something to wear. When she got to the bathroom she decided to skip classes and instead to go across campus and see if Gray was around.
* * *
The snow had laid a crisp white blanket over the campus. It was only a couple of inches, but it brightened air with light and deadened the acoustics making it seem as though everyone was tiptoeing around, that cars were fitted with extra silencers, that the walls were built to swallow sounds instead of merely throwing them back.
“Ooh, I almost feel nostalgic,” Cressida inhaled deeply as Gray gave her a welcome hug. “Mm, I had almost forgotten how this place smelled.”
“Ha, like damp towels and burned toast?”
“You got it,” she smiled back. “How do you suppose that smell gets made? It's not as if anyone ever makes any toast ....”
“Or takes enough showers for towels to get get damp.”
“Ugh, don't. I still remember Smelly Frank, is he still here, or has he moved on.”
“I heard he'd dropped out,” Gray said. “He's not here anyway. Can you imagine taking your clothes off for a doctor like that? How he ever got into med school in the first place is a mystery.”
“How 'bout this snow, eh? Early isn't it? You think we're gonna have a hard winter?”
“Maybe ... I guess the heating bills'll hurt you some, if it gets very cold.”
She looked at him sharply, trying to judge if he was being sarcastic. He knew she was not hurting for money, or was he just obliquely inquiring into how Society finances were organised. “Actually we're on campus steam, so it's a fixed cost.”
“Ah,” he fingered his wispy chin strip beard thoughtfully. “So how are you since you went Greek? Did you have a good holiday? Seeing anyone?”
“Um,” she pulled a face. “It's OK, I guess. The holidays were kinda nice, quiet, you know? Got some serious me time.”
“So no-one interesting then?” He said with a soft smile. “I'm not sure I expected to see Cressida going all intro. You really OK? You look tired ....”
“Oh, you mean these big dark bags?” she brushed under her left eye with a neatly manicured finger. “We were all out late last night. Fruhm was having a party ... you should've come along, it was fun.”
text you around eight-ish,” he said quietly.
“Did you? I think I left my phone behind, when we went out.” She hated lying, but somehow found it too easy, easier than to deal with the truth.
“Never mind. I don't think I could cope with being that wrecked,” he said.
“Don't!” Cressida groaned. “I can't cope with being this wrecked. From now I am strictly teetotal.”
“I bet that's what everyone with a hangover says ... until the next time.”
“You! I'll hit you if don't stop picking on me.” She was laughing.
“You want to look in and say hi to your cousin, while you're here?”
“Shelley? Yeah, OK. Byron lives across the street from me; they're twins, in case you didn't know.”
“Yes, I did. Er ... is Byron ...?”
“Gay? As well?” She snorted. “No, my dear cousin Byron is as butch Vin Diesel with extra testosterone.”
Gray, laughed softly. “It's funny how genes mix up and make people so different from each other.”
“Yeah, but we all just want the same thing?”
“Do we? What?”
“To be loved.”
“Oh ... yeah, I guess ....”
“What? You thought I was going to say: get laid. Didn't you?”
“No,” he frowned. “No! Even if I thought that, and I don't, I wouldn't say it.”
“You're too nice, Gray.”
“Am I? Is that a compliment? It doesn't feel like one.”
“Aw, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be mean. It was
meant to be a compliment.”
“In that case I'm happy ... unless you think I am too nice for you.”
Cressida smiled sadly. “No, Gray. I think you are too nice for you
"Um ... I suppose if I ever understand what that
means, I'll be halfway to understanding what goes on inside you head."
"Crikey! If that ever happens, make sure you tell me as well ... I've always wondered myself."
Three pictures from their conversation. I can't believe how restrained I am, and how much fun I am having exploring Cressida's complicated personna.