Okay, so this was my entry for NanoWrimo 2012. I'm currently going through and editing all the chapters (with help from my friend), and it should all be nice and correct by June. Hope you enjoy!
I'll admit that I wasn't doing a good job of convincing myself that everything would be alright, but things could've been worse. The car journey down to the West Country had thankfully been uneventful, which put my mind a little more at ease, but it was still difficult to relax when I knew what was ahead of me. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy meeting new people, but I hadn't had an experience like this since the beginning of high school. Knowing that the people I was about to meet could affect my entire future was a little bit too daunting for such an early hour that Friday morning.
I had Rage Against the Machine going at full blast from my car radio to wake up my groggy brain, and by the time I passed the Devonshire border, my ears were ringing. I felt my palms slipping against the steering wheel as the nerves kicked in, my free leg shaking and knocking against my arms. I turned the volume down on the music, wanting to make the best first impression I could. Admittedly, it's quite difficult to do so when you rattle into town in a car that looks like it might break down any moment, loud music playing and the boot stuffed with bags.
What? I just have a lot of clothes. You didn't expect me to leave them at home, did you?
Although, I thought to myself as I reached the outskirts of the town, this is home now. Welcome to your new life, Dominic. I passed an off-coloured sign welcoming me to Exeter and nodded my head at it, peering at road signs so that I wouldn't get lost on the way to my new 'apartment'. A strange shudder ran through me and I laughed at my own anxiety, choosing to focus on not driving off the road. My ringtone began blaring out in a horrific clash with the music and I leapt out of my seat, muting the radio and pulling over to the side of the road to relieve myself of the noise.
"Hello?" I called into the receiver, frowning.
"Dominic? Are you there yet?" I heard my mother ask me frantically and I sighed at her over-protectiveness.
"Mum, I've only just crossed the border. Right this moment." I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel impatiently. It wasn't that I didn't want to talk to her, but I'd only left home a handful of hours ago. I was enjoying my freedom, despite my nerves.
"Oh, okay then. You weren't as quick as I was expecting you to be." There was a pause. "Wait, Dominic, are you driving? You know you're not supposed to use the phone whilst driving, Dominic. You could get hurt!"
"Mum, I pulled over especially to take your call," I reassured her. "Don't worry yourself so much; I remember everything I was taught." I heard a sigh of relief from the other end of the line.
"I'm just worried about you, Dommie." I rolled my eyes but retained my patient tone.
"Mum, I'll be fine. We only saw each other a few hours ago."
"It feels like years. I don't know how I'll cope without you in the house." I chuckled softly, feeling slightly sorry for my mother. It was difficult to leave my family behind, but it had to be done if I wanted my dreams to come true.
"You've still got Emma to keep you company, Mum. And now you can have your girly time without me interrupting." Her laugh was tinged with sadness; perhaps, like me, she was remembering the times I'd walked in on my mother and sister gossiping about other females in the village. Mortifying for me, but rather amusing for the two women.
"True, true. Just, oh, stay safe, Dominic. I'll call you every day, okay?" I tried to stop my horror from seeping into my voice, not wanting to offend her by telling her how uncomfortable that would be.
"If you want to, Mum. Just don't worry if I'm not there to answer. I'm going to be really busy in the first few weeks, getting settled in and going to lectures, you know."
"Of course, Dommie. Well, I must dash now, anyway. Need to get Emma to school, now that you mention her. Have a wonderful time today, sweetie. And stay safe." Even through the phone, her orders were clear.
"Of course, Mum. And you too." I put the phone down after she kissed me threw the phone and ran a hand through my mussed blonde hair, my mother's call stressing me out even further. My schedule was jam-packed for the following weeks; the new university undergraduates had introductory days planned, I had lectures to go to, people to meet, a room to 'decorate'...the list seemed endless.
Welcome to the life of a university student, Dominic, the sarcastic voice in my head commented. I put the car back into gear and continued travelling, minus the music, to my new place. It was the cheapest place going, right next to the train station, and I was sharing the floor with four other students. I was hoping to get along with them well, having a fairly good history with most of the boys in our area. People told me that I was easy to get along with and I could only hope that would transfer to my position as a new kid.
Reminding myself that we were all in the same boat, I pulled up on the street outside our flat and scanned the building. It was simple red brick, fairly monotonous in shape and obviously not looked after too well. In some of the windows I could see people's belongings decorating the windowsills, giving it a slightly more homely look. I slowly put my CD back in its case and got out of the car, locking the door behind me and looking up at the building in front. Fetching my rucksack from the boot of the car, I set off in search of my room.
Entering the building, I found the halls to be eerily quiet. I'd been expecting music, maybe loud laughter or at least the chatter of other new arrivals, but there was nothing to be heard. My footsteps echoed in the silence.
I peered at the list of floor numbers on the wall and fetched my floor key from the receptionist before heading up the stairs. There were posters covering the walls advertising the introductory days that we'd already signed up for, and there was also a vending machine on every floor I passed. Other than those features, there was nothing that stood out to me at all. My flat was on the top floor and, when I reached it, I began to regret leaving my suitcases in the car. I didn't really fancy lugging them up and down the stairs with me again, but now there was no going back now. I glanced out of the window for second before entering my room, checking on the car. The road was cluttered with other vehicles, so much so that it would probably inhibit the driving on said road. As I watched, I saw a brief flash of bright blue. My eyebrows knitted together as I peered down, but there was nothing unusual to be seen. Shaking my head, I wiped my clammy palms on my jeans and twisted the key in the lock.
"Intruder alert!" a male voice yelled. A bright foam disc flew at me from somewhere through the doorway, followed by several LEGO missiles, and I held my hands up in defence.
"Hello?" I asked tentatively. "Uh, I, I'm, this is room 318, right?" My paranoid side kicked in, and I began contemplating what I would do if this happened to be the wrong room. Knowing me, I'd probably just end up walking away with red cheeks, hanging my head. To my relief, a masked head appeared from behind a shabby sofa and commanded,
"Yes. What is your wish?"
"Um, I'd like to see my room, please. If that's alright with you?"
The head ducked back down and then two people crawled out from behind the sofa, unmasking themselves. The first, the man who spoke, stuck his hand out towards me. He had dark brown hair and tanned skin, presumably from a nice beach holiday over the summer. His eyes smiled warmly as he grinned at me.
"Hi, I'm Tom and this is Chris." He pointed to the bigger guy behind him who was having a little difficulty getting out from behind the sofa. He waved and simply shoved the sofa out of the way, standing up to reveal his full height. He also had an impressive grin, as well as stubble gracing his jaw and a small tattoo on one arm. "You must be Dominic, right?" I bit my lip.
"Uh, yeah, yeah, I am. But, uh, you can call me Dom. How did you know?"
"We were told that you'd be arriving today. Chris and I have been here since Monday and I've been desperate for some new company!" His cheeky remark resulted in a playful shoulder punch from Chris, the pair chuckling.
"Well, it's great to meet you guys. Do you know either of the other two yet?" They shook their heads.
"We haven't spoken to the other residents much, either. To be honest, most people have been arriving yesterday and today."
"We had the building completely to ourselves on Monday," Chris interjected, "so we took the liberty of making friends with the receptionist."
"Got a free hot chocolate!" I glanced back out of the window.
"Yeah, the weather looks nasty enough for hot chocolate. You wouldn't think it was September, would you?" I commented. The skies were grey, a strong wind shaking the trees that lined the street. Back in Manchester it had been fairly sunny, even in the early morning.
"It's been terrible all week. My Mum called me up to say how lovely the weather was back at home. 'S making me really jealous, to be quite honest. Exeter doesn't look anywhere near as pretty as it should when it's raining." I nodded in agreement. "Anyway, I guess you'll be wanting to see your room, right?"
"Yes, please." He led me through the flat, past the lounge, past the shared kitchen and into the main hallway where six doors were crammed into one tiny space of wall. He rapped on the third door and pushed it open.
"This is you," Tom told me, gesturing inside. I peered into the room, taking in the size of the bed, the wardrobe, the desk. It was fairly small, but I had a bit of floor space despite the furniture already in my room. Hopefully the wardrobe would be big enough to fit all of my clothes. I considered the possibility of buying some boxes to fit in the bottom but shook it out of my head immediately-that was definitely something Mum would suggest. "The bathroom's in the final door at the end. I'm next door to you on the left here and Chris is opposite. Have fun!" And with that, he skipped back into the lounge and left me alone.
I walked into the room and placed my rucksack on the bed, inhaling deeply. The room had that smell that suggested it hadn't been used in a long time, like an old hotel room that nobody ever bothered booking. The covers were plain white, the walls a soothing cream and the furniture made of pinewood. However, instead of the exciting feeling you should get when you get a new room, I only felt fear. It was almost as if the person behind hadn't left, despite the room being immaculate and clear of any possessions. I could still feel their presence with me, and it unnerved me greatly.
I decided that I just needed to make the room my own to shake this unease, so I hurried down to my car and lugged the suitcase upstairs. The noise of the wheels rattling up the stairs echoed around the halls and I saw another guy open his door to see what all of the racket was. After apologising, I attempted to carry the bag up the stairs, but it proved too heavy. Chris and Tom raised their eyebrows as I brought my bag in.
"That's just the first one, lads," I answered their unspoken question, and I could've sworn I saw Chris' jaw drop. I suppose they'd been expecting to live with guys like them, but unfortunately I was about to change that. After bringing my second suitcase and another stuffed beach bag upstairs, I went to park my car in a proper position so that it wouldn't get in the way. There was a small area for car parking at the end of the road, but it was nowhere near big enough to fit all the cars of new arrivals in. We were lucky in the sense that the campus wasn't even ten minutes away on foot, so I wouldn't be needing to use the car too much.
As I pulled into a space, I saw yet another flash of blue. I saw a dent forming between my eyebrows in the rear view mirror and worked to smooth it out before exiting my car.
"Hello?" I called, curious as to who the person was. At least, I presumed it was a person. Silence. Following the path I'd seen the blue blur take, I headed over to investigate the hedge lining the parking area. After standing silently for almost five minutes, I heard somebody whisper,
"Sonic here. Still new arrivals, nothing suspicious. Nobody suspects. Over."
"Excuse me?" The branches of the shrub shook and then steadied themselves. "I know you're there. What are you doing?" A head peeked out from the side of the hedge and then retreated again. "Is this some sort of game?"
The man pulled himself out from behind the hedge and stood in front of me.
"It's not a game!" he spat. "This is important business and you're interrupting me!"
I felt my eyes widen of their own accord. The man seething at me had a skinny, pale face topped with a shock of blue hair. Dark circles lay under equally blue eyes and thin lips curled up in a sneer. His body was so skinny it looked like he would snap in half with the slightest breeze, and one arm remained behind his back. "Who the hell are you, anyway?"
"Dominic. Dominic Howard. I've just arrived here." He sniffed. "H-How did you get coloured hair?" I saw him twitch a little and suddenly felt rude. "Sorry, I just thought that hair dyes were banned. They were banned in 2017, weren't they?" His sneer turned into a slightly friendlier smirk as he shrugged at me.
"I'm not exactly a law-abiding citizen, Dominic." He drew out my name in the most peculiar way and I bit my lip to keep from retorting. "You can get everything somewhere. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to rush off. Because, as you said, coloured hair is illegal and I do believe the monitors will be patrolling this road in five minutes. Cheerio!" His change in temperament bewildered me, and I stood by and watched him disappear behind the hedge and out of sight once again.
"What a strange man," I mumbled to myself, trying to process everything that he'd said. Our conversation had lasted no longer than a minute, his speech so fast that it was difficult to keep up with, and I was already struggling to understand what he'd said. Monitor patrols? What were they all about? And who was he talking to behind that hedge?
I turned away, intending to head back to the flat, and caught sight of a security camera staring at me from the side of the nearest building. I peered at it cautiously, wondering whether it had captured the blue-haired stranger. A red light blinked at me from below the camera and I frowned, positive that the cameras back home hadn't been like this. Were they recording, or did it just signify that the camera was working? After all, we wouldn't want broken technology around here.
I jogged back to the flat and, as I reached the top floor, I chanced to look out of the window again. A stocky man in a leather jacket strode the street, an intimidating expression on his face. His head swivelled around on his neck automatically, scanning the street and poking his nose into people's windows. I watched him pass by and, as he turned to look at our building, he caught my eye. I nodded my head at him. He remained unresponsive, simply turning away as if he hadn't seen me.
Pulling myself away from the window, I noticed that I had goosebumps on my arms. I shoved my hands into my pockets and nudged the door to the flat open. Thankfully I wasn't pelted with foam objects this time round, although I did receive a few stares from Tom and Chris as I walked by.
"Something wrong, Dom?" Chris was frowning at me, little dents forming between his thick eyebrows.
"Not exactly," I mumbled. I didn't know Tom and Chris very well at this point, so I was unsure as to whether I could trust them. However, they'd been in the city longer than I had, so perhaps they could give me some information. "Just...do you guys know about the 'monitors'?"
"Monitors? What are you talking about?" I shook my head, turning to make myself a glass of water.
"I guess not then. I met this guy outside. He said something about monitors and patrols and stuff. He had blue hair-do you know him?" Both Tom and Chris shook their heads.
"Never heard of him, nor about these monitors. But if he had blue hair he was probably a nutcase. You know the rules, Dom."
That was true. Three years ago, the British government had enforced several new rules that had been getting people into masses of trouble. Petty things such as hair colour and the pattern you had on your shirt were now against the law, and we'd all been issued what looked like infringement cards. It was as if we were wandering around a huge school, getting told off by the teachers for not wearing our uniform correctly. Except, instead of just receiving a detention, three strikes on your card and you could end up arrested.
Of course, nobody agreed with them over these policies. It was our right as humans to wear what we wanted and have our hair the colour we wanted, right? The government made the excuse that it was offending people, which was incredibly see-through, but nobody else thought of an explanation to replace it, so it stuck. However, most people ignored the rules. They ignored them, and then they got into trouble, and then they continued to ignore them. The police had been struggling with ways to act on the rules and actually punish the offenders, and there'd been rumours flying around of new policies in place, one-strike arrests and isolation areas. Who knew what was right and wrong? Mum had always been convinced it was a huge lie woven by conspiracy theorists, but I wasn't so sure.
"I guess you're right. It just seemed really strange, is all." I waved goodbye and headed off to my own room, taking the glass of water with me. I flexed my fingers and decided to get to work.
It took me over an hour to sort out all my clothes and put them in the wardrobe, by which point it was full to bursting. I had to make sure everything was in colour order, but I couldn't decide whether I wanted to organise it by shade or size. In the end I went for size because it looked neater instead of prettier. It pained me to stuff my underwear and various ties at the bottom of the wardrobe, and I eventually added the mum-sy storage boxes to my mental shopping list.
Once I'd done that, I could get on with the fun bit. My room at home hadn't been huge, but it had been a fairly good size. I knew that my new bedroom would be pretty compact, so I hadn't brought too much in the way of decorating, but I realised that even the meagre decorations I'd brought probably wouldn't fit in here. I made my bed, replacing the plain white sheets with a dark blue striped pattern that still smelled like home. We weren't allowed to paint or wallpaper the walls, but I had plenty of posters to cover it with and, by the time I was done, there was barely a patch of white that wasn't covered. I also placed all my books that I'd brought with me on a bookshelf, ordering them by preference instead of alphabetical like I did at home- I decided that University meant I needed to follow a different pattern. New home, new me- and placed my textbooks in a box that my mother had helpfully decided to pack at the last minute.
The final addition was the fairly lights around the noticeboard. I considered not putting them up, wondering what my roommates would think about having something so girly in my room, but then my own words came back to me. I remembered standing on the doorstep, promising my Mum I would be okay, that I would be myself no matter what happened. So what if they thought my fairy lights were girly? I'd had them since before I could remember; there was no way I was taking them down for somebody else. Besides, making it obvious might be an easier way to reveal myself.
When I was finished, I plugged in my iPod into the speakers resting on my desk and lay back on the bed, staring at the ceiling. It wasn't particularly comfortable, and I could feel a spring digging into the middle of my back, but I'd had worse before. In fact, it wasn't all that bad, and with the radiator beside me, I curled up on my side and drifted towards the warmth.
I must've fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew, Tom and Chris were knocking on my door and yelling for me to get up.
"Dom, Dom, our new roommate has arrived!" one of them called. I sat up slowly, rubbing my eyes and yawning.
"I'll be out in just a second," I mumbled, although they probably didn't hear. A quick glance in the mirror showed me a horrific bedhead, which woke me up enough to swiftly rearrange the blonde strands falling in my eyes. I smoothed down my shirt and stepped out, noticing Tom peering into my room with wide eyes.
"Wow, mate, you really went all out," he noted. I shrugged.
"Want to make it feel like home," was my only explanation, following Chris to the lounge. Our new roomie was another big guy, slightly taller than Chris and with more bulky muscles. I felt a bit intimidated just looking at him, but a friendly smile graced his face as he held his hand out. I took it carefully, praying that he wouldn't accidentally yank my arm off with the force of his handshake. After all, I was only a small man myself.
"I'm Luke. It's nice to meet you," he introduced himself.
"Hi, I'm Tom. This is Chris, and Dom." Tom gestured to the pair of us and we nodded, taking in Luke's massive form.
"Are you the leader then?" The room fell silent. Chris and I glanced at each other nervously.
"Sorry, the w-what? Leader? Uh...no, we don't have a leader. We just uh-"
"Tom's the most talkative out of the three of us," I interjected. "He's always got something to say, but there's not a hierarchy here." A wave of relief washed over Tom's face as Luke took us in.
"Ah, okay then," Luke muttered. "You haven't figured it out yet." He trained his dark green eyes on me, pushing a floppy bit of sandy hair away from his forehead. "There's always a leader in the end."
We paused, the three of us exchanging perplexed looks with each other. I briefly wondered why Tom and Chris hadn't given him the same greeting they gave me, but my thoughts were interrupted by Luke asking where his room was. Tom led him down the hallway and I plopped onto the sofa beside Chris.
"What do you think?" I asked him.
"He seems alright, I guess. I'm not sure about him, though," he admitted.
"He does seem a little bit...forward." I got up, heading over to the counter. "Fancy a cuppa?"
"No, thanks. Actually, Tom and I were just going to go and get some dinner. You're welcome to join us, if you'd like."
"Oh, that'd be great, actually." My stomach rumbled with agreement and I gave a nervous laugh. "I'll just get a coat. It's pretty nippy out there." I hurried back to my room, noticing that all the other doors were shut and wondering where Tom had gone. He's probably just in the bathroom, I told myself, pulling my charcoal button-up from my wardrobe and locking the door behind me again. Neither man was back when I reached Chris again, who was no leaning against the wall with his arms folded.
I patted my pockets, feeling the loose change through the material and hoping it was enough to buy some food. I'd decided to live in the self-catering part of the campus simply because I assumed it would be cheaper and I wanted to be more independent. I had the safety of knowing that my family would be there for me if I got into financial trouble, but I was determined to keep them out of it as much as possible.
Tom jogged up to us-plus crumpled jumper, minus Luke-and said, "Are we ready? Let's go!" a little too cheerfully to seem normal. I shared a sidelong glance with Chris before following him out of the door.