The College Canteen was filling up quickly today. Sarah guessed it was because it was pouring with rain outside and had watched the steady stream of students pile into the inviting shelter that was much closer than the common room and had better coffee.
The red-faced dinner ladies bustled about, unprepared for the rush and the clatter of plates and cups, cutlery and pans could still clearly be heard over the chatter of the students, glad of the break, to catch up with the daily gossip. She was so glad she had skipped Latin and got herself a seat early. Mr Smith wouldnt mind, he probably wouldnt even notice she wasnt there; a kindly man, her latin teacher, but wildly eccentric and one suspected that he was deep in a monastic library in his mind for most of the time.
Sarah breathed in the aroma of the canteen, a heavy mixture of fag smoke and chip fat, the fresh ones only just covering the stale smells of yesterdays; slightly nauseating, yet oddly comforting at the same time. Not the place to ward off a hangover, certainly, and the food left a lot to be desired, but the coffee was great, a leftover from the previous manager; an American lady visiting from their ‘twinned’ college in Minneapolis, bless her, it was a great legacy.
She had been staring at the open folder in front of her for nearly an hour, but had been distracted by the graffiti scratched into the surface of the plastic table, that peeped around the edges of the folder, offering snippets of information about the previous occupants. She idly wondered how many bums had sat on this chair and if they all had knocked their shins on the bar that held the moulded orange seats to the tables, as she had and always did, no matter how carefully she climbed in. Great designer, she had commented sarcastically, more than a dozen times, obviously never tested the concept properly, at least not on students anyway.
“Cherry oh, Cherry oh, baby” sang Ali Campbell in her ears, marking the intro to her favourite UB40 song. She reached down and rolled her thumb over the volume dial of her walkman in an attempt to drown out the growing noise of the canteen around her.
Sarah sat back in the plastic chair, crossing her legs and lifting the coffee cup into her lap, wishing, not for the first time, that there was room in her bag for a cushion. It wouldnt be long before her bum was numb with the effort of trying to get comfy. The chairs were supposed to be moulded to bum shape for comfort, but she couldnt even imagine the shape of the poor person who had been the model for these seats! She decided that people watching was a better bet than the Classics assignment in front of her and studied the room from her awkward perch.
“I will never let you down” sang the voice in her ear and that was enough to make her switch it off. “huh” she said aloud and snatched off the headphones, thrusting the whole thing, walkman and headphones into the open bag next to her, irritated. The canteen sounds once more pervaded her ears, raised voices now, as everyone spoke a little bit louder to be heard.
Pete was such an arsehole. Two years of dating, sex (her first), meeting his damn family and all those bloody sunday dinners, being polite to his vile mom and walking his nan round the park every saturday, all for nothing when he decided to go off with Vicky Price, the cow.
Sarah could feel tears pricking the backs of her eyelids again, GOD, what a nightmare! She wished she could snap out of it, but her heart ached with sadness at her loss. The trouble was that she had dropped almost all her friends once Pete had come on the scene two years ago.
She had been in the last but one year of high school and he had been about to leave. He was so cool; all the girls fancied him. He was good-looking and trendy, with his spiky, dark hair and his stereo never far from his shoulder if you saw him up town. He was good at everything too; one of the best roller-skaters and even break-dancing outside ‘Presto’s’ with his team.
Yes, Pete Carter was a hunk and a half and she couldnt believe her luck when he had started leaning over her each week in computer club; her heart pounding, she had tried so hard not to blush, which was useless. Her cousin told her to play it cool and try to pretend she wasnt interested, so, after a few weeks of simpering idiocy, she had finally listened and had chatted to Dylan Brown the following week, touching his arm and laughing whenever Pete came near.
She smiled as she remembered poor Dylans startled face the first time she did it, but it had worked and, sure enough, Pete began waiting for her after school, just hanging around at first, then he started to make it more obvious and, before long, they had been a couple.
Sarah had only come to this college because he was here; it was a bit of a jaunt to get here, two buses and a long walk, but she hadnt even noticed the journey with Pete; it was only since she’d been making it alone that she’d realised what a pain in the neck it was.
She took in the room, quite full by now, with most of the tables taken. There was a faint blue haze of cigarette smoke swirling in interesting patterns above peoples heads, mixing with the steam as it moved closer to the long counter at the far end of the room. It began to resemble a skeletal , hand with long, bony fingers, reaching for the dinner ladies and she became fascinated by it until it was disturbed by the draught as the door swung open, bringing in Sarahs friend, Liz, all umbrella and raincoat; she hated the rain.
Liz threw back the hood of her bright yellow mac and shook her hair out. This was why she hated the rain, as her naturally curly hair sprang out of the hood. Sarah had to smile; Liz resembled Crystal Tipps at the moment, and she knew it without looking in a mirror. She tried to smooth it down, with her enormous brolly just getting in the way; she battled with it and ended up throwing it on the large pile of brolllies already sitting there by the door, discarded carelessly by a couple of dozen people before her. That would be fun when it was time to leave, Sarah thought.