Every pair of eyes turned on me as I re-entered the kitchen after watching Owen disappear back into his room. Pippa’s eyes were particularly piercing as I sat down in my seat.
“It’s fine,” I said when no one would speak. “We’ve sorted some things out and I think we’re better friends for it.”
“Oh thank God,” Darren said, falling back in his chair. “I was getting worried we would have to cope with you two tiptoeing around each other for the rest of the year and I don’t think that’s how any of us envisaged university life being.”
“Where is it you’re going to university, Pippa?” Natalie asked.
“Cardiff,” she said. “We don’t enroll until next week so I thought I would spend some time with my friends before I head off, get a taste of what’s to come.”
“Which reminds me to ask you what you want to do today?” I chipped in, ready to get a plan for the remainder of the day sorted. “I was thinking we could do something together, all of us.”
“What about Owen?” Natalie asked cautiously.
“He said that he’s up for it, he just has a few things to sort out before he joins us.”
“I thought you wanted to find Lloyd,” Aislinn said quietly.
“It can wait another day,” I replied, trying to convince myself that I believed in the words coming out of my mouth. “And today is all about Pippa so we should do something fun.”
“You are different, Nessie,” Pippa said, staring at me with wonder in her eyes.
“In what way?” I asked.
“In a good way, I promise. You just seem more…confident. It suits you.”
I shied away from the compliment, hiding behind my wall of hair so no one could see me blushing.
“I think we should grab some lunch,” Aislinn said, taking the conversation away from me. “What do people want?”
“Whatever’s in the fridge,” Darren replied, not getting up from his seat.
“We have a guest,” Aislinn said pointedly, “we can’t just give her any old rubbish that’s been sitting in the fridge.”
“Don’t do anything special on my account,” Pippa insisted. “I don’t want to put you guys out of your way.”
“You’re not,” I said, “trust me. If we let Darren give you something to eat you’d probably be ill with food poisoning within half an hour.”
“That hurt Vanessa,” Darren protested, clutching at his chest like I had just shot him.
“Vanessa,” Pippa exclaimed. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone call you that, Nessie. Not even a teacher.”
“Darren likes using people’s full names when he’s messing around,” Aislinn’s voice came floating out of the fridge. “There’s some tomato sauce in here and I think James’ mother left some pasta in the cupboard. Pasta alright for you guys?”
“Sounds wonderful,” Pippa said with a smile on her face.
As Aislinn cooked our lunch for us, first cooking the pasta then heating the readymade tomato sauce, we chatted, the atmosphere growing more and more relaxed as the conversation went on. Soon it felt like we’d been living together for years, not like Pippa had only met my flat mates only an hour earlier. There was a moment of tension when Owen entered and no one quite knew what he was going to do but a quick smile and a joke set everyone at ease again and we continued to talk even while eating the pasta Aislinn dished up for us.
Some of the others wandered in. Eric was looking rougher than I had, clearly suffering from a colossal hangover as he staggered into the kitchen to hunt for coffee. He said nothing to us, only walking in and walking out again once he’d had a caffeine fix.
The moment the smell of food wafted down the hall, Olly was in the kitchen and eating up any of the leftovers straight from the pan and then starting on any food the rest of us couldn’t eat quickly enough.
Even when we’d finished eating, none of us could decide what we wanted to do with the afternoon. It was still raining outside so any form of outdoor activity was hastily rejected by both Aislinn and me much to Darren’s disappointment. But on the other hand, there weren’t many things for us to do indoors so we were equally challenged when it came to thinking of something to do that didn’t involve venturing outside.
In the end Olly got out a pack of cards and began dealing, deciding that he would teach us all poker. Darren already knew how to play but the rest of us were surprisingly ignorant and so Olly took great delight in teaching us all how to play. As we had no money to bet with, cutlery was pulled from the draws and handed out, knives being worth the least and teaspoons the most valuable.
To everyone’s surprise, Natalie was a natural, even taking ‘money’ off Olly and completely wiping me out. Aislinn was far too cautious, not willing to bet high in order to win a bigger prize and Pippa and I were too risky, betting on hands we couldn’t possibly win.
But despite the fact that we were all beaten we all had a wonderful afternoon. I’d never seen Aislinn laugh so much or so loudly in the time I had known her, something sparkling behind her eyes that I hadn’t seen before. It made me wonder if there was more to my room mate than met the eye.
When the time came for Pippa to leave everyone hugged her goodbye and made her promise to visit again soon. As she hugged Aislinn I saw her whisper something in my new friend’s ear, something that made Aislinn turn to her and nod.
“What was that about?” I asked as I walked Pippa out of the building.
“What was what about?”
“You said something to Aislinn. What was it?”
“Nothing important,” Pippa said suspiciously. “She’s a great girl, Aislinn, I like her a lot. I approve.”
“Do you think there’s something familiar about her?” Pippa asked, her face scrunched up in thought. “I have this feeling that I know her from somewhere but I can’t quite place her.”
“I’m not sure,” I lied, not wanting to admit that I had been having exactly the same feelings about my room mate since I’d arrived. “Maybe she just has one of those faces.”
“Maybe,” Pippa muttered thoughtfully. “You’ve got to come and visit me soon.”
“I will, I promise.” I gave Pippa a big hug, standing on tiptoes to reach properly. “Give me a call when you get to Cardiff and tell me all about it.”
“Speak to you soon.”
“Bye.” I waved from behind the door as I saw Pippa hurry across the path towards the bus stop. I was sad to see her go. She was one of my best friends and I had no idea what I was going to do without her.