"Christie! You're back!"
I grinned and opened my arms for a hug which she happily and readily obliged to. Behind her the others were starting to come over to greet me, except for one. He knew I would come to him in my own time.
"It's so good to see you again!" Katie beamed. "How's Uni?"
"Good! Good. It's much better than I expected it to be."
"Have you settled in now? Made friends? How are you finding your course?"
"Katie, enough of the questions!" I laughed. "I'm much more settled in than before, yes. I've made plenty of friends, although I'm only one of two girls in our little friendship crew. And the course is good, but by golly is it confusing sometimes!"
"Christie! How's it going, bro?"
"Hey, I didn't know you were coming home this weekend!"
"Christie! Wow, deja vu! Last time I saw you was in this house, specifically in the bathroom while you-"
"Yes, yes, I know, Jake. And it's not going to happen again, I can assure you." I could feel myself going red due to the memories.
"Good," he smiled before hugging me. My gaze wandered over his shoulder and locked with the eyes of the lone figure in the corner by the docking station that Radiohead was blaring out of. His smile was awkward, though I would be very surprised if it hadn't been after last time he saw me - a sobbing drunken mess, telling him things he really needn't know about me.
I braved it, walked up to him. "Hey, Ben," I said; my fingers danced with each other.
"Hey." Yeah, this was awkward. "I, ah, I didn't know you were coming today," he said in a matter-of-fact manner.
"Yeah, well, surprise!" I chuckled. The hug we shared said everything we wanted to say:
I haven't mentioned it to anyone - I promise.
"You having a drink, Christie?" one of the lads joked.
"Actually, I've quit drinking," I grinned. "Completely."
"Yep - tee-total!" I chanced a side-glance at Ben. He seemed impressed.
"Good on you, man," Jake nodded, giving me a hi-5. Other hums of admiration followed along with hi-5s and fist bumps after that before everyone got back to their drinking games without me. Except for Ben. Ben kept me company.
"So how's uni?" he asked eventually.
"It's good, not as bad as I thought," I shrug.
"Yeah, you really didn't want to go, did you."
I willed the slight blush away. "No, I didn't. I thought I didn't belong there."
"Maybe." A thought suddenly came into my head. "At least I'm not one of the dumbest in my lectures like I thought I'd be," I chuckled. "There's this guy who is constantly asking stupid questions, like REALLY stupid questions!"
"Yeah! Like the other day we were looking at stress and strain - simple stress and strain that you would've done in Maths and Physics at A level - and he asked something like, 'Is this to do with string?' I nearly fell off my seat laughing!"
"Yes! At first I thought he was just trying to wind the professor up, but now he's really starting to piss us off. Everyone knows who he is - you mention 'the guy who asks stupid questions' to anyone in our lectures and they're like, 'Oh, you mean the guy with glasses and a stupid hat?' That's what you call a bad reputation!"
Ben talked about his course at college as well, and upon realising we were both learning the same modules, we were instantly engaging in an elaborate conversation, confusing anyone who came by with complex numbers and the diffraction of bending beams. To feel smart and intellectual was a feeling I hadn't experienced in a long time. It felt good to be back.
I went to see Katie and Laura later, only to watch them fall over and giggle hysterically in their drunken states. At one point I was dragged to the hallway to dance with some of the lads and later I was covering Jake with a blanket - he'd passed out in the bathroom. The party was dying down, the kitchen completely deserted. I decided to take full advantage of this and started flicking through the different tracks that were on the iPod in the docking station.
"Put that one on."
I jumped a mile. "Ben!" I scolded, slapping his arm. "You scared me to death!" He allowed only the smallest of smiles to grace his lips. That's what I liked about him: preserved. So unlike me. Mysterious. Interesting. "I'm thinking of going to sleep in a bit seeing as nearly everyone's passed out now," I noted. "But then again it's 03.10 and I'll be getting the bus with Emma at about 07.30, so I don't know if there's any point."
"Probably no point," he shrugged. We sat on the worktop for what felt like forever, talking about random things that really didn't matter, and then the next thing I knew we'd been cuddled up together for about ten minutes. It was nice to feel close and secure with someone; it was hard to explain what I was feeling, but it was nice. Very nice.
We decided to make a bed on the kitchen floor out of spare blankets we found in cupboards upstairs. It was cold to say the least, and so we snuggled together, Ben trying to soothe away the shivers that ran through my body. We slept consciously, unable to properly fall asleep due to the cold that every so often bit at us and the tell tale sounds of people walking into the kitchen for a glass of water. It was maybe about 5 when the house stood still, everybody settled. And that's when it happened. I don't know why - maybe the closeness overwhelmed me - but I inched close enough to kiss Ben's lips. We came alive in a world of hungry kisses and roaming hands. I felt high, like I was on a drug; I wanted more, but I felt Ben's advances slow.
No, I tried to plead with him silently. Don't treat me differently because of that.
He was ignoring me. I forced him to look me in the eyes.
Don't think about that. Please.
He did though. He rolled off me and instead held me close again. I rested my head on his chest with a sigh. I should never have told him, but I had been drunk and sobbing into his shirt about every little thing that had caused me pain. It was something I could now only regret and try to forget.
Later that morning Emma woke me up and I left Ben asleep on the kitchen floor while we slipped out of the house to go home. I haven't been able to figure out what to say to Ben, though I feel I should say something, even if we haven't had to bump into one another since. I wonder if he also sometimes stands, phone in hand, typing and deleting a message to me, unsure of what to really say to me.
One day we will bump into one another - when I next come home - and we will have to address that night. But for now we seem to stay in a confused silence about the matter.
It's ironic - I stopped drinking so that I would stop doing stupid things. Is this not just another stupid thing that I have done?