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Lessons in Love

Nikki O'Neill
Chapter 1

Louise Hepburn cursed herself. God, why was she always late? It was like a disease or something. Like she was physically incapable of arriving on time. She burst into her room and dropped the books from the college library in a huddle onto her bed. Tina’s bed, on the other side of the room, was neat and crisp and pink-sheeted, and everything Louise’s wasn’t. Louise glared at the mountain of stuffed animals propped up against the foot end. There seemed to be new ones popping up every day. Louise sighed, wishing for the umpteenth time that she’d had smart, demure Jeanie as a roommate instead of that ditz Tina. Well, at least “Teens” wasn’t in often. Being a living breathing Barbie-clone seemed to guarantee you a steady flow of boyfriends.

  Louise grabbed a towel, somehow succeeded in locating her shower things and make-up bag, and stormed out again. The mint-green corridors of Glover Hall, one of the Victorian buildings used for student housing here at Kingsmore College, were as good as empty. Everyone was at the Christmas Ball, an annual tradition before the start of the holidays. Louise wasn’t much of a party-goer; a waste of valuable study time if you asked her. But this year, things were different.

  I wonder what he’ll look like in a tux…

  The thought of David in a 007-outfit was enough to make her cheeks flush like traffic lights. Two years ago, when she had arrived at Kingsmore, a historical university town not far from London, she’d made a solemn promise to herself not to get side-tracked on the daunting road towards her master’s degree by a silly little thing like love. She’d worked too damn long and too damn hard to get here. This specific university, this exact programme... it had been a dream of hers for as long as she could remember. She wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of that. Louise prided herself in always knowing what she wanted and then going for it full steam ahead. A strategy that hadn’t failed her. With no financial means of her own, she had fought for and obtained a full scholarship.

  And then she had met David Brown.

  And all her lofty principles had gone straight out the window.

  Their paths had crossed during the summer, while doing volunteer work with inner city kids. Louise would never forget that moment. The little group of enthusiastic teachers-to-be had been standing on the patch of dried-out grass in front of the charity's building, clutching their morning teas while they listened to the word of welcome from the coordinator, and Louise had come running up, breathless and sweaty and born down by an overly full bag, muttering: ‘So sorry I’m late…’ – in other words: her usual entrance. She had looked up, squinting against the sun, and a flash of hazel eyes had changed her life in an instant. There was no other way to describe it. It had been quite shocking, really, especially for someone like her. A rational person, who had previously scoffed at concepts like love at first sight, banning such nonsense to the land of fairy tales. But there was no denying it. The bolt of lightning, the roll of the drums, the singing of the angel choir, it had all been there, the whole shebang. David’s eyes had held her hostage. She had stood there, frozen to the spot, blinking and blushing like a some love-sick schoolgirl, while the rest of his face slowly swam into focus. The eyes appeared to be sparkling at her from behind a pair of glasses. Tanned skin, unruly light-brown hair that kinked a little and a slightly ponderous frown completed the picture. Unlike the smiles the other participants gave her, David’s wasn’t the slightest bit pitying. It only showed a sweet interest, and maybe a little bit of amusement, at her dishevelled state.

  ‘Hi, I’m Louise,’ she’d mumbled, drawn in by this vision in front of her, as if the two of them were the only ones there.

  The heartbreaking smile had widened. ‘David. Nice to meet you.’

  He had held out a strong, beautifully shaped hand, and Louise had known she was in big, big trouble.

  ‘I’m studying International Relations at Kingsmore,’ she had blurted out, to distract him from the way her own hand was trembling.

  His eyes had lit up, revealing tiny specks of green in the hazelness of it all. ‘You’re kidding! I’m actually transferring there in the fall, to finish my bachelor's degree.’

  Fuck! she had thought.

  ‘My!’ she had said. ‘It looks like we’re going to be in the same class next year then. Lovely!’

  And she had meant it both.

  She and David had just... well, clicked. That was the funny thing about it. After her initial bewilderment at the mere sight of him, Louise had worried she would keep feeling awkward in his presence. She wouldn’t have liked that. Not being in control was something she didn't support well. But once she had regained her usual composure — outwardly, anyway ­— she had discovered David was actually ridiculously easy to talk to. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, Louise spent hours upon hours in his company, listening to him elaborate on his theories about the world and society and how it needed to change and how he ultimately hoped to have a part in it. He voiced every one of her own hopes and dreams, some of which she hadn't even been consciously aware of before she heard him speak about them. It baffled her. Not even with Jeanie did she have this much in common.

 It’s meant to be, she thought, as she turned the corner towards the girls’ shower room. There’s no other explanation. We’re simply perfect for each other.

  David was unbelievably smart, amazingly well-read and just very very relevant. Everything that came out of his mouth was important and made sense. When he spoke up in class or debated with the professors she always felt a jolt of pride. He shared her passion for education and the wish to work for a non-profit in Africa after obtaining his degree. He even liked the same food she did. Plus he loved dogs and played a mean bit of guitar. Louise swallowed hard, the butterflies in her stomach doing backflips. She’d fought it as long as she could, but there was no escaping it anymore. She had to have him. And she was going to, tonight…

  ‘Woops! Watch where you’re going, sweetie!’

  Tina’s big baby blues blinked innocently at her. She and her friend Katy had been coming out of the shower room just as Louise was dashing in, a head-on collision only narrowly avoided. Louise had to suppress the urge to roll her eyes at the sight of them. Tina and Katy looked like they’d just been unwrapped from their Mattel boxes. Perfectly coiffed, covered in layer upon layer of make-up and simply oozing perfume. And those outfits…

  Louise pulled a pained face. ‘Are you two actually wearing identical dresses?’

  Tina shrieked like she’d just heard the funniest thing in the world. ‘We are! How cute is that, right? We thought it’d be fun, us two being bestest of friends and all.’ She and Katy gave each other a hug, carefully, so as not to smear their make-up, filled lips pouted.

  Louise sighed inwardly. Bestest of friends… How Tina managed to navigate the courses here was a mystery to her. She was probably sleeping with one of the professors... Or several.

  ‘Are you still getting ready, Louise?’ Katy asked, arching her carefully shaped eyebrows in astonishment.

  ‘Oh, that’s Louise to a tee,’ Tina giggled, not in an unfriendly way. ‘She’s always late! Aren’t you, sweetie?’

  Louise shrugged. There was no denying that.

  ‘Say, you are coming to the Ball, aren’t you?’ Tina asked, suddenly sounding a bit worried.

  ‘I was planning to, yes,’ Louise answered. If I can just manage to get past you two and take a shower, that is.

  ‘Oh, good!’ Tina sighed.

  ‘Why?' Louise frowned, wary. 'What’s the matter?’

  ‘Nothing. It’s just that I’ve got a big surprise for you!’


  She wagged her manicured finger in front of Louise’s face. ‘Tut-tut. No use trying to pry it out of me. You’ll just have to wait and see!’

  ‘I’ll try to contain myself,’ Louise said flatly. She shoved past the two girls and opened one of the shower stalls.

  ‘Come on, Teens,’ Katy said, tugging at her friend’s arm. ‘We have to go. We’re ever so late!’

  ‘Okay! See you at the ball, sweetie!’ Tina waved.

  Not if I can help it, Louise thought, closing the stall door with a bang.




Louise established a new record in showering. Less than five minutes, hair washed and all. Quickly, she massaged in some of the caring conditioner she had spent a good deal of her month’s wages on. The product was meant to disentangle and “give definition” to her curls, for whatever that meant. She wrapped a towel around her head to let the stuff sink in, then proceeded to put her make-up on. A little blush, a little lipstick, and a lot of mascara. Normally, Louise preferred a more natural look, but tonight was special; her eyes were her strong point, she needed to play them out. Satisfied, Louise took the towel off and grabbed her brush. To her delight, the conditioner had delivered on its promise. Almost no knots to speak of, and after blow-drying she was actually left with flowing, wavy locks instead of the bushy mess she usually had to deal with. She bit her lower lip, a spike of nerves billowing up through her body again. She wondered if David would notice the difference. He was such a typical guy when it came to these types of things!

  With nothing more than a towel on, Louise hurried back to her room. The gown she had bought for the occasion had been sitting on its hanger on the side of the wardrobe for weeks now, as eagerly awaiting this moment as she had been, it seemed. Louise tore the cellophane wrapping off and gave it a last critical glance. It was a dark green velvet off the shoulder, with long sleeves and a side-split. Very Christmassy, very classy, and very very expensive. She ran her fingers over the rich fabric. The dress had been an ever bigger assault on her bank account than the conditioner had, but she had decided it would be worth it.

  Think of David’s hands on your body. David’s lips on yours…

  Immediately, she felt her knees go weak. God o God o God! Heart racing, she slipped into the dress. It fit like a glove. Black strappy sandals and a tiny, bejewelled purse finished the look. Louise considered herself for a moment in the narrow mirror on the wardrobe door. A slightly flushed undergrad with thick brown hair, brown eyes and distinctive eyebrows gazed back at her. To say the dress  hugged her body in all the right places was an understatement. Her chest rose and fell under the soft velvet, straining with each breath she took. It made her look… ready. Like a plum or a peach, just asking to be plucked. And for the first time in her life, Louise Hepburn like a woman instead of a girl.

  I guess that’s what I will be, too, if everything works out tonight...

  She cringed at the thought of how limited her experience was. She’d be twenty-one in February. Some women already had a husband and babies at that age. Or a string of past lovers. Or both.

  My priorities have just been elsewhere, that’s all, she encouraged herself. With all the work she put into her studies, there simply hadn’t been time to develop that side of herself. Surely, there was no shame in that?

  David will understand. Better to have too little experience than too much, right? Besides, think of the fun we’ll have discovering things together! The corners of her mouth curled upwards. She was sure he’d make a great teacher. Anyone who played the guitar that well just had to be!

  Louise took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. Then, with a bounce in her step and a sense of some grand new adventure lying before her, she walked out of the room and into her future.

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