DISCLAIMER: All the characters used within this story are the property of Shed Productions. I am using them solely to explore my creative ability.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This short piece is a follow on from Scottish Helen's Larkhall University piece which I can't find and also dedicated to a Nottingham professor who was featured in the Daily mail about Celebrity Worship Syndrome and it seemed fitting to INCLUDE him in a piece of the fanfic he most dislikes!! it has expanded to be a fanfic

Larkhall University

By Richard

Part One

The alarm clock rang and Nikki's sleepy eyes blinked into life and were temporarily blinded by the sunlight stealing in through gaps in the curtains.

"Bugger. I need a coffee fast to get into shape for the lecture"

As she tottered into the kitchen, she took care to ignore Trisha who was clearly having her latest drama scene with Lucy.

"Is there a mug or plate here that you two haven't broken between the two of you."

"Here" Lucy sulkily passed a handleless mug.

"Better than nothing" Nikki said lightly. She gulped it down fast partly to get the brain cells together and partly because she could feel the atmosphere.

"Going somewhere?" Trisha asked icily. "going to meet your new girlfriend, Slapper Stewart?"

"The answer to both questions is yes." Nikki said with precision. "Also that there is a visiting professor who is a total moron and has written an article in that lousy Daily Mail about Celebrity Worship syndrome and doesn't know his arse from his elbow. He's supposed to have a fit daughter but he keeps her well out of the way from this neighbourhood- what with the LGB."

"I read the Daily Mail" Lucy said.

"You would," replied Nikki dismissively.

Nikki strolled along to the lecture theatre where Helen greeted her with a smile. Since Nikki had become her friend, Helen had stopped getting the grief that had nearly driven her to a breakdown and life had opened up for her.

Outside the lecture theatre was a large coffee machine and next to it a chocolate machine. It had become a habit to her to feed the ever welcoming machine and learn the knack of holding a flimsy plastic beaker full of crappy machine coffee. If her drinking had gone up with her third year at uni, her coffee consumption had gone up astronomically in working through the night in finishing overdue assignments.

"Not your lecture today, Nikki." Karen said to her. "How come you're here"

"I've come to hear what that idiot Professor Mark Griffiths has to say. I read what he had to say about Celebrity Worship Syndrome in the Daily mail for Gods sake," Nikki spoke heatedly.

"Oh we love a good celebrity mag" the 2 Julies said in unison. "Don't we Ju."

"I love reading about all the scandal, that bleeding Daniella Westbrook on TV. You could see she has no nose." Shell's unsympathetic voice grated Nikki's nerves.

"Well, I think deep down, he's feeding the CWS that he's supposed to despise- he hasn't developed the opposite idea of celebrity if he was that bothered" Helen's voice broke in.

Shell was about to say something but she caught Nikki's eye and shut up.

They all trooped into the big room with the rows of uncomfortable seats and writing space while the Professor took his place at the lectern. He had an obvious air of self importance which he carried with him mixed with an earnest manner. Everyone got out pens and notepads and went into lecture note taking mode of scribbling down what he was saying,

"......And nowadays, we make social comparisons with celebrities and feel quite close to them, and fan fiction is an element of this. Some people might find this fiction quite strange but it adds to people's lives and makes them feel better about themselves, it's not unhealthy, but it would be dangerous if they started to get involved in celebrity worship to the detriment of everything else in their lives......people are buying into celebrity as a way of coping and escaping from their own problems. As the study by two psychologists at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine says....."

Nikki's memory was very retentive so she was able to sponge this up with minimum note taking and she started to take an opposite tack to the line of thought the Professor was outlining.

"Any questions" the professor asked, expecting there to be none.

"Excuse me, I'm Nikki Wade. can you explain in what way are the Queen and David Beckham not celebrities and the people you have named are. Was Robin Hood a celebrity or a hero and what is Melissa Etheridge?"

"Well, of course the Queen is not a celebrity, she's above all that and I trust you will be patriotic enough to watch the jubilee celebrations next Tuesday."

"So anyone who is set up in the media and is famous because they are well known is a celebrity. It has nothing to do with anyone you want to emulate and be whether they are totally obscure or not. Your methodology and definitions are flawed at the foundations" Helen's firm precise tones replied and Nikki was amazed at someone so young was so penetrating and so self assured in her reasoning in public though she hung back in a crowd.

"You are making value judgements," snapped the Professor. "You are here for rigorous thinking and follow the documented studies from the Professors from the Southern Illinois University......."

"Weren't we told when we started to be independent, questioning thinkers?" asked Nikki in her softest most dangerous tones. "And isn't half your lecture a rehash of the Daily Mail article a few weeks back- which I'm sure paid you big time"

"The lecture is closed," spluttered the professor in rage. "time for you to go to your next lectures instead of timewasting"

"Yeah Wade," yelled out Shell. "I was going to ask him if he knows any juicy scandals"

"John Lennon did an LP 30 years back with the Plastic Ono Band with songs like 'working class Hero' 'God' 'I found Out'. He said far more about the whole celebrity thing and exposed it for the lie that it is than that dickhead could ever say" said Mark Waddle, the cynical lecturer, one of Nikki's favourites who hated the professor. He was one who welcomed the rebellious but creative spirit in her and was pleased to spark the quick mind to offbeat but well written essays and foresaw a brilliant future for her "Pity a tosspot like him couldn't work full time for them and stop being a total arsehole around here."

"Who's John Lennon?" asked Shell in her most stupid aggravating way as the lecturer, Mark Waddle was about to start the seminar in room G6. He had an unlikely grouping of Nikki, Shell, Karen, Trisha and Shaz in a bit of a broom cupboard which he was stuck with since the Professor had grabbed the prize room for his extra secretarial services. Mark was pissed off with that as the Professor was lazy at the best of times and an expensive chunk of budget had gone down the river to pay for this.

"You're telling me that Heat magazine who writes about Jordan, Carol Vordeman and other here today, gone tomorrow faceless faces and because Lennon isn't covered, he doesn't exist."

"He might sound before my time," said Nikki diplomatically "but when I was little my favourite uncle who was in the student sit ins in the late 60s used to play me Lennon songs on his guitar so I've grown up with him and never thought of him as a '60s singer."

"You're just weird," Trisha said bitchily and Shell sniggered in the background.

"Looks like you two have a lot in common," Nikki said in her most mock innocent fashion.

Mark Waddle verbally stepped in with his scene setting of today's topic which stopped the incipient fight breaking out that John Lennon was a most useful intro for his topic of Rebels in History. Karen was fidgeting throughout the argument as her pen wanted to go into automatic note taking gear without the constant bickering breaking out. Mark had had a tough time in the group in his seminar who he'd had handed to him, the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

Shaz lost interest straight away and concentrated on drawing doodles on her A4 pad which was supposed to be for lecture notes but was a mess of odd scraps of notes, crossings out and blanks where she was daydreaming and had lost the plot.

Mark was talking passionately about George Orwell as the modern arch rebel who has had a lifetime standing out for causes that were unpopular but did so because he believed that it was right and mentioned in passing that the Age of Big Brother in 1984 had not passed by.

"Big Brother?" asked Shell in her most vacuous way. "George Orwell didn't invent Big brother, it was that what's her name, you know."

"That stupid brainless cow couldn't invent her way out of a paper bag" Nikki shot back at her most withering. "George Orwell created the nightmare of a 24/7 police state and those stupid bastards in TV land ripped off the idea and turned it into a party game."

"Oh I like Big Brother," said Karen. "If only that I'm running a betting operation with the Student Union has run as a fund-raising event. Can't stand the programme myself." with a sidewise smile at Mark who at these moments looked studiously busy at his lecture notes. Mark as a young lecturer found Karen's charms a bit of a distraction when he was trying to be serious and be professional while Nikki, though she thought the world of him, was someone who he did not think of in the same way though he was always aware of her presence as a welcoming support.

"Right, you've got your essays to hand in in two weeks time and make sure you make the authors credits clear at the end."

"Oh sir," pleaded Shell in her tartiest way, "I'll have to work all night so I won't be fit to work for you. And you know that you like your girls fit, everyone knows that."

Mark Waddle made a hasty exit for his next seminar making a mental note that unless Shell turned up anything more than averagely crap, she'd get a C-.

"Shut it, Shell," came Karen and Nikki in unison.

"Yeah bog brain, and you aren't pinching my essay and pretending it was yours." Shaz yelled indignantly.

"I wasn't gonna borrow it off you Shaz. You'd better watch it or you'll get a visitor to your room late at night if you're not going to help an old friend out"

"Shell I'm not the university police round here but if I find from the student councillor that another first year has ODd because you're too lazy to write your own essays so you have to intimidate someone with more brains to do it, I will grass" Karen rounded on Shell when the group had automatically moved into an alcove safe from inquisitive ears.

Nikki hadn't joined in the discussion as she was having a coughing bout at the thought of Shaz being an old friend of Shell. It was a big debating point as to who of them hated Shell more, Nikki or Shaz.

"Well at least I get good grades for one subject." Shell sneered back, "That Jim Fenner says that I have more talent than anyone he's seen. I'm in love with him" Shell carried on dreamily "One day I'll be married to him and have his kids."

"Yeah, we know what pair of talents he was looking down at and the lowest cut top he was staring down and I bet he took your crappy essay, rewrote it himself on his own PC and marked how brilliant he, I'm sorry you, were." Nikki cut back acidly. Nikki prided herself that her work which was highly marked she got on what she did. It galled her that Shell, who should never have been admitted to Larkhall, was still there despite her lousy track record in lectures and seminars apart from the glaring discrepancies in Jim Fenner's group.

"Just cos you're a dyke, Wade." Shell shot back at her.

"Just cos you're a tart, Shell. Go on you'd better find lover boy and massage his ego or anything else you care to think of." Nikki replied in a bored way. she really was bored because verbally fencing with Shell though occasionally fun was getting repetitive. She needed to get back to her room as she wanted to be on her own to work on that piece on her guitar which had been going round in her head.

"Come on," Karen said, "Who's for a drink at the union bar." A crowd of students followed on after Karen in that direction.

Karen was in her third year and one of those people who radiated confidence at an early age and to whom people gravitated to in total contrast to Nikki who was a bit of a loner and wasn't comfortable when the talk got louder and she found it harder to listen and anyway, the conversation was all the same. What really drove her into a recent period of isolation was the recent Big Brother competition which she could not stand for love nor money. The total brashness put her off, not to say the grotesqueness of the title which she found repugnant, she could not put over to any of the others so her guitar was a welcome comfort. Karen, on the other hand, couldn't be happier than surrounded by a group of people who were naturally drawn to her and who she was the natural leader. Yet in confrontation scenes like with the mad Professor, it was Nikki not wanting to be a leader, ended up as one despite herself.

The rounds was in as seated round a big table, they debated who was next to be thrown out of the house and they were discussing who was the fittest of the Big Brother contestants. The TV in the union bar was going to be packed out, not the bar in awhile. This was part of a world Karen was happy with.

"Why's Nikki not down here, Oh yes it's bleeding Big Brother, she's been shoving George Orwell down our throats ever since I saw her at the "freshers week"." Shaz said disdainfully.

"Well, I like Nikki," Karen spoke up for her friend. "I know she can appear difficult but get her on your own and she's a different person."

"That's not all you like," grinned Shaz "I've seen you flirting with that new lecturer Mark Waddle in lectures......there you're blushing"

"The rooms just hot, Mark has nothing to do with it. I find he has an interesting mind." Karen said totally unconvincingly." Big Brother's just starting up, lets grab the front chairs before everyone else does," Karen shot in with a 'saved by the bell' feeling thankful that the Power of Television does have its occasional uses in distracting awkward questions, besides fund-raising for the Students Union. The old fashioned "bring and buy" sales her mother organised and who lugged her into helping out just didn't have the same appeal.

Pretty soon the pub was packed with the TV on full blare and excited students likewise shouting about their favourite in the house. The announcement of who was going to be evicted brought to excitement to a fever pitch when suddenly, total blackness.

This was a paralysing shock and no one could see a thing and in the crowd people tried to move round and got tangled up. soon there was a little light visible and Shell reached out to feel thin material over soft skin of a shapeless black form in the blackness.

"Will you please stop feeling my breasts Shell Dockley." Karen's unmistakable tones rang round the pub. "If I wanted another woman to touch me I would ask for it."

At that point, the landlord had fished out a powerful torch that shone on Shell's sulky features and Karen's enraged face and she muttered some excuse.

"Can't you get this frigging TV working," Shell snapped.

"Take a look outside, you noisy lot, the entire block has been taken out, it must be a power failure.

The air was filled with curses, bitchery and generally pissed off students and anyone who had any sense would have cut their losses and retreated to the far corners of the room. The phone was still up and the landlord took a call from the police that a major fault had taken out the entire estate and the workmen couldn't guarantee when the power will be back on.

"Sorry, girls, there no point in hanging round here. I can't have a pub open in these conditions. I could do without this as I'll lose custom. still there's one good thing about it that you'll hit overdraft problems a day or so later than if you'd got pissed here tonight."

Grumbling the crowd of them wandered their way back to their rooms. They picked their way along the high level walkways and amongst the cubelike university buildings made mysterious without the external lights and in the distance, the grasslands gently sloping down to the river. It was dark and there was a full moon and a chill breeze getting up. The crowd split up in different directions with no particular thought of hanging out in someone's room. Karen found herself alone.

At that point, she could hear Nikki's voice sweetly singing and careful delicate guitar work coming from the direction of what was her room leading off the walkway right up high in the block of residences. Karen stood there fascinated as the delicacy of the music gave her a feeling of sadness and isolation that the writer intended and she picked up some of the words from the second run through.

"And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
people hearing without listening
people writing songs that voices never share
and no one dares disturb the sounds of silence"

Funny, Karen never knew that Nikki could play guitar. After an age of wondering whether to knock, she decided to do so and Nikki could be seen in her room illuminated by a large candle.

"Fancy seeing you here, Karen." Nikki spoke shakily but smiled at her unexpected guest "I thought you'd be in some van with Shell desperate for their Big Brother fix."

"Everyone got unsociable so I thought I'd have a wander round." Karen smiled. "Didn't know you could play guitar. Where's Helen?"

"We've just had an argument because she wanted to go home to her miserable dad as he was doing a 'moral blackmail' routine that she was wanted home desperately when I knew it was a put up job. Thank Christ you've come as four bare walls in a little room can get to me with loneliness. There's all of us in our little cutoff hutches......" At that point Nikki burst into tears.

Karen was totally taken aback but instinctively put her arms round the other woman and soothed her as Nikki cried her eyes out. It was the loneliness that was getting to her. Behind the tough confrontational front, it was feelings of isolation at university that was tearing her apart. She was reasonably on the level till she came to university and then she had been going through a switchback of horrible downs from putting herself so far out on a limb that it terrified her as much as she wanted to be proud and independent from all she saw wrong. Her sexuality, her radical stance, her taste in music and TV was all totally Nikki and what some admired her for but she couldn't know it or feel it. So much came spilling out that Karen kept holding her in the candlelight stroking her face till she felt better. The real need for close friends who could get behind that shield was what she craved most. It seemed an age that Karen was looking at the gentle glow of the flickering candle and feel Nikki next to her. Presently, Karen broke the silence.

"Tonight wasn't the best experience with Shell Dockley touching my breasts. Urrrrgh." Karen winced with distaste at the experience.

"What" Nikki said startled, smiling through her tears. "Did you jump or were you pushed? I mean I never thought you had it in you, Karen."

"It wasn't funny, Nikki. I'm not that sort of girl, you must know that one. Least of all Dockley. " Karen replied pretending to be cross though she was starting to see the funny side of it as she explained her apparently out of character behaviour. "Please play some songs for me, Nikki. You're good", Karen said, genuinely wanting to hear a new side of Nikki.

Shyly, but with a trace of pride with which Nikki strapped on her guitar, she soothed away her own feelings and the shadows of the night with a series of spellbinding songs while Karen occasionally replaced candles but sat there fascinated as the music and the beauty of the candlelight took them away to a magical place which framed the angles of Nikki's face .The hypnotic dancing single notes or delicate guitar strumming were in harmony with Nikki's soft voice which was so in balance as her voice told stories new to her. Karen only knew some of the songs, a couple of Tori Amos songs she'd heard from a cassette she had round her room. It seemed a million miles away from the loudness of Big Brother on the box and Karen wondered in retrospect why she had ever bothered going. The big thing about a gang of them going out and all the planning was in such contrast to the good feelings of an accidental happening. Neither of them wanted the night to end but eventually Karen's eyelids kept half shutting and the music wavered in and out of a dream. She said good night to Nikki whose peace of mind was visible on her face and stumbled her way down the staircase, turn right three doors and back to her room dog tired and the thought then struck her.

"Shit, all my foods in the freezer has defrosted, bloody hell, I'll have to chuck a load out. Sod it, leave it till the morning"

At which point, she stumbled into bed and sleep took her straight away to dreamland which was resonant with Nikki's echoing guitar strings.

Karen was up fairly early ready for her first seminar which luckily wasn't till 11 and went for a coffee transfusion. when she got to the communal kitchen she said "shit."

The place looked as if a bomb had hit it with stools lying anywhere where they were last thrown and the long suffering toaster which did duty as spare cooking ring when you shoved a frying pan on top was on the floor. There were empty bottles lying around.

"Must be Dockley and her psychotic friends" Karen said to herself. She really wasn't comfortable on the floor she was on and made a mental note that enough was enough and she'd better go down to the guy in charge of student residences and get a transfer fast, as life on that floor was coexistence at best which tried her patience. Even Nikki, with a room leading off the walkways and physically marginalised and from the floor she was on, not to say Trisha and Lucy's latest drama epic wasn't as badly placed as Karen with the neighbourhood psychotics who you didn't know which crazy way they would go next.

The place was as quiet as the grave when you would expect the odd communal early morning sounds. Karen stuffed her books and writing pads into her "straining at the seams" bag and wandered along the walkways to the lecture theatre. A cheerful sunny sky made the day look new and all's right with the world. She'd got all the more reason to feel cheerful as Mark Waddle was going to take the group which was good news.

Climbing up the staircase, she made her way to the ever popular coffee machine. The coffee itself she wasn't thrilled with being used to best Bolivian coffee at home where this stuff was just caffeine "quick fix for late nights, prop your eyes open stuff". she was driven into drinking the stuff after dozing off in the middle of a lecture to hear in her dreams Jim Fenner's sarcastic tones and the ring of grinning faces to witness her sudden shock. She didn't like to look stupid so the coffee machine started to gradually wreck her taste buds.

To her surprise, it was as quiet as the grave also, only Nikki Wade was there ahead of her, very soft eyed. She let her defence shield down to thank her from her heart for the best evening she'd had and to be proud that she was a friend of Karen's. Nikki always got emotional when she received any unexpected kindness and for the first time for ages, was at peace with herself when she first woke up in the morning. It wasn't that she suddenly fancied Karen but a strong friendship was something she had a great need for and knew Karen would be around her and that was what counted.

"Come on, Karen. Let's go to the seminar with the one guy around her who makes sense. And of course, you have your own reasons for liking him." Nikki grinned impishly.

To their amazement, they went into the room and there was no one else.

"Surely my seminars can't be that shit," Mark bantered at them. "What's happened, has Jim Fenner become Mr Wonderful, Mr Pinup amongst you student girls - and of course Neil Grayling though I'm not supposed to know such things like that. Have the university got to knock down a connecting wall to double the size of the group queuing up to get in for Jim Fenner on stage in concert"

Nikki and Karen fell about laughing at that one as the very absurdity of the one lecturer who made them both feel uncomfortable being Pop Idol was too insane for words.

"It's the power cut, Mark." Karen explained. "I was down at the union bar when the latest eviction was due at the Big Brother house and all the power went. I think everyone's in mourning."

"Christ, and as if you couldn't get the latest news repeated twenty times a day on the bloody thing." Mark spoke passionately. "My TV watching has gone right down the pan what with the bloody Jubilee, the World Cup and Big Brother. Anyway, I'm happy to carry on with two of the best brains around and I'm sure with the three of us, we'll make something out of this session. The others will have to catch up somehow."

Nikki hung on every word Mark said as his views on the author in question was similar to her own only that he took it further and the high point was him striking sparks off her ideas so that her next thought with free time was to dive to the library to read up on the references he made. Always, she found Mark had got it right. Karen was looking dreamily at him with half her mind on the subject in hand and the other half trying to figure out how she could get through to him how attracted she was to him with all the signals she was putting out. She could tell he felt the same but she knew that his status as lecturer was holding him back from a relationship with one of his students. Ah well, where there's a will there's a way.

Just then, a sound of clumping feet and Shell's vocal tones which always made Nikki feel that someone was scratching a blackboard, shattered the calm.

"Couldn't you wait for us, Waddle," Shell shouted "We're only a bit late."

"A bit late, Shell Dockley. I've just got a couple of minutes left of this one hour session and you have the cheek to be all mouthy. You and your hungover gang might just as well hang out in the corridor and make your own arrangements to catch up with your coursework. I've not forgotten yesterdays performance and your coursework better be handed in on time. None of this flashing your tits at me to wheedle a couple of days extension out of me. Either in time or you get a D from me. Now get out, the lot of you."

Shell and her gang flounced out with a "teachers pet" hurled over their shoulder at Nikki and Karen who were both grinning.

In the staff room, Mark and Fenner were having a set to with the other members of faculty staying out of it.

"Fenner, I'm getting tired of having to nurse around the most useless slacker in my seminar group, Shell Dockley. She doesn't give a toss about her work. She's a distraction to the others in my seminar group who clearly think she's as thick as two short planks. My group aren't all angels but the worst of them is pissed off as I am with her antics. she should never have got to university in the first place. Our wonderful Professor, our esteemed leader, starts changing the subject when I ask awkward questions, like what were her A level grades, I'm not surprised if she didn't get here by shagging the headmaster (or headmistress) of the school she was dragged up in."

"You think so, Waddle," glared Fenner back at him, enraged already. It didn't take much of Mark to make Fenner lose it. "She does bloody good stuff in my group. Too bad if you're such a lousy lecturer filling all your students with communist ideas. My dad when he was a lecturer blamed people like you for doing the same in the '60s so that in no time at all, you had long haired student militants kicking off on national television. He could never forget when Robin Day did a television debate at the University of East Anglia and all hell was let loose. He remembers to this day Robin Day storming off with a couple of loud mouthed yobs shouting the odds. Mark my words, we'll have student revolts again and it will all be the fault of communist agitators like you."

"Look lets drop this National Front talk of yours. We've got a problem. I'll mark her coursework as "sloppy, no thought or research behind it, derivative, no logical structure" and you'll come up with "inspired, just what I would have said, the model student, going someplace". How in hell can a final coursemark be pulled together from that."

"Well, that's not my problem, Waddle" and Fenner stormed off in a huff.

Mark was at boiling point but rather than swear very loudly or kick the wastebin, he cleared off for a drink. He knew that his boss would only side with Fenner and news of the stand up row would only bring on a "carpeting". He hated the message of "would you call at the professor's study for a chat". That pillock didn't have "social chats" with him as they couldn't stand each other. It meant that git being all pompous and opinionated (is that new?) and him having to take it in silence.

"What the hell, I need a stiff drink."

There was nowhere open for a quickly downed scotch or three but the Student Union bar. What the hell, he needed a drink and fast.

He had downed the first two drinks and was staring into space when he felt a light hand on his arm and turned round to look into the eyes of Karen Betts.

Instantly Mark was lost in those brilliant blue eyes framed by a blond mane of hair which made him feel weak at the knees.

"Something wrong, Mark? You look in need of some help" Karen said with a voice of concern.

"Nothing much, Karen." Mark tried unsuccessfully to cover up his vulnerability with an attempt at a joke ."Only yet another argument with the would be leader of the Hitler Youth."

"You mean Jim Fenner" as Karen read the signals, for who else fitted the bill?

Mark slumped a bit as if Karen had lifted a heavy weight off his shoulders and she steered him in the direction of a quiet alcove in case he lost it in front of a crowd of students. unconventional as he was, that wouldn't have done him any good right now. All he knew was that he ought to tell Karen what was most on his mind as, young though she was, she had that ability to listen and understand.

"So how has Fenner got to you as much as he has. If he disturbs you as much as he seems to, he has really got to you."

"It's not so much Fenner but he's creeping up to the Professor, he's up his backside. I have a run in with Fenner, he tells tales to him and I'm on the losing side of things. Besides I've a strong suspicion that Fenner was really at the bottom of the research that went into the Daily Mail article and writes his lecture notes for him. That pompous git is so bloody lazy that he offloads all his work to anyone greedy to suck up to him. That's why he made a total hash out of that lecture that Nikki Wade took him to the cleaners about- he couldn't do a thing but try to browbeat Nikki. He's so out of touch that he's used to getting his way among us lecturers who half of them "know what's good for them" and don't speak up. I went and mouthed off after the lecture and word got back to Fenner and I've had a hard time since." and Mark finished up by burying his face in his hands.

Karen was moved by this, she wasn't used to seeing what pressures could wear down a grown man and how he covered up so brilliantly in his seminars. She felt very protective for him and had an idea.

"Look here, Mark, I don't want to push myself on you...."

Mark smiled "You do. You always have."

".....all right, I'm being very pushy, someone's got to be but what about going out for a drink after work." Karen stammered her way through what she was building up to say.

A smile lit up Mark's face. "You're on. I could do with your company. 7 o clock outside the Book Shop."

"I'll be there. Oh hell, I can see a very drunken Lucy and Trisha coming my way. you're ok to go back to work?" Karen asked with concern.

Mark's smile this time wasn't to cover up his place in the world but that he could go back into the den of lions instead of doing a runner which he was close to doing.

"Karen," wailed Lucy wobbling her way up to her having had a skinful. "Lucy told me you'd try and hire a video of the Big Brother final that we missed. you're so good at organising these things..."

"Shut up you stupid bitch," hissed Trish. "All Miss Moneybags is interested in is how to earn her first ten grand and she's only interested in Big Brother for the money."

"Yeah, right." sighed Karen. Other times she would have given them a piece of their mind but she was only a bit actress in their eternal drama. She'd got an essay she really needed to start so she needed to go to the library and get browsing. once select her books and get ready for the night....

Nikki was tapping away at her PC working her way through one of her assignments with a mug of coffee on one side and ash tray on the other side when there was a knock at the door that was very insistent. Sighing, she saved her work and closed down and was less than pleased to see the wobbling shapes of Lucy and Trish in front of her.

"Nikki, we've heard that you'll be able to help us get a video of big brother. We're both desperate to see it...."

"Cos we were down the union bar and some bitch cut the power off so we missed the highlight..." and they both rambled into incoherence and propped themselves against the walkway wall.

She suppressed the thought of pushing the pair of them over the walkway wall and killing them, not a good idea as were they really worth it.

"Get real, as if I'd give a toss about you or what you want. Remember all you lot went charging off to the union bar, what do I matter, I'm only Nikki the killjoy. The one who badmouths anything that's fun and rams my politics down people's throats. Go and find some other sucker to hassle and DON'T fall off the walkway. The cleaners aren't supposed to dispose of dead bodies and all that blood and stuff. Their union might think, sod it, this isn't in our contract and the university might have a walkout on their hands"

Lucy and Trish recognised, even in their drunken state, that a dose of Nikki's verbals was telling them they were getting nowhere so they tottered down the staircase, slithering at odd times as they missed steps and they were gone.

Sighing, Nikki resumed her work but that incident had taken off a bit of the pleasure in the day that she found sometimes wasn't easy to find. She needed another ciggie to concentrate and she was also thinking of how Helen was coping since she shot off on the train up to Scotland to see her father. She could remember him on the one day he came to see Helen. All her "observer" instincts kicked in at that point and the word "duty" repeated itself like the hypnotic riff in her favourite music piece in the conversation between them.

Helen was young to be at university, even as a first year. In a crowd, she was young and shy and all sixes and sevens with herself and unable to pretend to cover it up like others did. When she did get self confidence, as at the Professor's lecture, some steely self confidence in what she was saying came through and this was usually when she was driven by something inside of her, like that magic word "duty". Her father's version of this was a colder idea altogether and was more like his excuse to dominate Helen and treat her as an extension of his own cold, self contained personality. Nikki's cynicism figured out that being a member of the Church gave him the perfect cover so what was locked in doctrine equated to what rigid ideas were fixed in him for all eternity. What most angered Nikki was his coldness and total lack of encouragement to Helen that no matter what she did, and she did it to be worthy of him, it had no meaning for him. Nikki could see with blinding clarity that that lack of love was the one thing that was tearing Helen apart.

This was so much in contrast to her own father who, right wing Naval captain though he was, instinctively sympathised with Nikki's leader like qualities. she knew where she came from and while her sexuality was a sticky point between them, they were so like each other that they had that natural bond between them. Nikki knew instinctively to accentuate the positive and to put the negatives in the background was the way to a good relationship. Her mother tended to sort of fade into the background. When he came down for the day, much though his tendency to carry his seafaring days with him and give orders could be tiresome, she had always been able to affectionately take the piss out of that which he responded to with equal banter. Despite his naval background, he had a natural curiosity and her earliest memories growing up were of her father's wall to wall book collection and, again, she knew where her love of reading came from. Her own ability to keep things solidly weighted to earth was something her father valued. Her older brother in contrast, was training to be a solicitor, deadly boring, so that sometimes she wondered that they could be brother and sister except that he resembled their mother that way.

Nikki opened the door and took a breath of fresh air gazing vacantly into the distance along the line of the walkways and looking at the approach road below. It was a pleasantly sunny day so that even the grey concrete walls were somehow humanised by the blue skies and white fluffy clouds drifting along in the breeze. Perhaps life wasn't so bad though she was beginning to feel that the university setting itself encouraged a the sense of dislocation where she had hit an all time low last night. From some of the poetry sessions she had sat in on, it was this feeling almost of imprisonment locked into a campus on the outside of town that repeated itself in various forms.

The sound of a taxi stopping outside underneath was something she half registered but the girl who emerged with her cases and starting sobbing to herself woke Nikki up in a flash. She clattered down the staircase double quick and, as expected, saw a tearful Helen surrounded by luggage in an empty street with no one around but Nikki.

"For Christ sake, Helen, what happened," Nikki was really worried at this point.

"Oh just my father, it always is," Helen said between sobs. "He'd laid it on that he was ill and he really needed me so of course I hopped on the nearest train and when I got there he said it was a 'test of my love and loyalty' and just acted as normal. I was supposed to skivvy for him, while his parishioners were fawning on him that he was a 'pillar of the community' and 'aren't I proud I have a dad like him' from people who really don't know him when the audience is gone...." and at that point Helen collapsed into tears while Nikki instinctively held onto her.

Nikki bit back the angry retort what a moral blackmailer and utter bastard her so called wonderful father was and that using people came very high up her list of her own 'ten commandments' (ironical that as she did not pretend to be a Christian). She knew that wouldn't help so saying nothing, holding Helen and being there was the best she could do.

Mark Griffiths was brooding in the sanctuary of his plush office sat in a swivel armchair that he moved round from time to time as his thoughts wandered back and forth. He had been boss in his empire with subservient lecturers in the palm of his hand. He was similarly pleased with the students these days who were nothing like the generation a few decades back that he could still remember. He could remember first going to university in his neat jacket and trousers and was appalled at the slovenly long haired animals that disgraced what he thought of as a hallowed seat of learning. If there weren't guitar playing crazies blowing out of tune harmonica and singing some song called "Dust My broom" it was equally crazy lunatics spouting left wing drivel. Everyone seemed so worked up about the Vietnam war as if British troops were in the paddy fields. The Americans were standing up for freedom and democracy and he didn't mind saying so. Daddy told him that that was why the Americans were there and daddy must be right. As soon as he said this, some long haired yobbo would hurl abuse at him for being a "fascist". He hadn't gone round to the nearest bookshop buying "Mein Kampf" had he? He went down to a few student union meetings and all they were doing was banging on about the proletariat and South Africa and fascist oppression. He quite liked eating South African oranges, didn't he. All those students wore their hair long so if you looked at one from behind you couldn't tell if it was a woman or a man- made touching up someone else from behind a bit risky as from in front it was the beard that was a dead giveaway. Anyway, those days made him have this burning wish to Stand Up For Great Britain and the "Daily Mail" seemed to have the right ideas. Trouble was that he had to be a closet "Daily Mail" reader as everyone else was reading "International Socialist" and "Red Mole". Anyway, he got his degree and got to be a lecturer as soon as he could and made sure his students got the right (i.e. right wing) ideas.

Over time as he got older, he rose to be a Professor by pinching promising work that he saw around and rewriting it. He had his connections which helped.

The recent Daily Mail article was a real coup. that toadying creep Jim Fenner did the real work which the Professor tarted up a bit and Jim Fenner fixed it all to go to the Daily Mail and that increased his profile so that he had a few speaking tours lined up so that he could give everyone the benefit of his learned views.

Only problem was that troublemaker Mark Waddle, too cheeky for his own good, another communist subversive type. You could see it in his eyes, that thinly veiled contempt and the way that, disguise it how he might, he had a total lack of respect for the Professor. It was this lack of deference that drove him into a rage more and more these days. Youngers should show respect for their elders or the country will go to the dogs.

It's easier these days with today's students. In the old days, they were mollycoddled by the state with grants they had "as of right" and brought up on rock and roll singers singing all that dreadful rubbish. Now today's students are stressed up and up to their eyeballs with student loans and overdrafts and get pissed regularly because of the stress and they have all those nice clean cut boy bands to listen to. They haven't got the time for Setting Free the Peoples of Indonesia and everywhere else as they are working Saturdays in Tescos. Only problem is all this Gay Liberation stuff around and there's this LBG society that if he had his way, when he was sure of what the initials stood for, he would ban if he could. When he was growing up "gay" was someone happy, vivacious and party going.

What drove him to take a triple measure of scotch was the "odd woman out", that Nikki Wade as bold as brass who cheeked him and would not accept the weight of accepted ideas. She was a throwback to those communist militant students that came into his nightmares only he thought she was one of those gay women but he couldn't be sure though there was a bit of gossip about her. He could see her speaking at the students union calling on everyone to go out and occupy the Arts Block till some druggy American student had been allowed to infest this university instead of being kicked out and being drafted to fight for freedom and Democracy and the American Way in Vietnam.

Oh yes, Mark Griffiths had many grudges he would never forget.......

Fenner's seminar group was sheer bedlam and had settled down to the same set routine, expression of brotherly love and goodwill to all mankind (in a species sense) and friendliness of the Western Front in World War One. Each side were metaphorically deeply entrenched, protected by huge coils of barbed wire, snipers placed to pick off the careless and periodically a dose of Caring Christianity as expressed by a concentrated cluster of flying high explosive arching overhead to fall smash in the mud and hopefully obliterating each other. The miracle of it was that essays were finished and marked though then the second battle opened up over The Mark.

On the one side, Jim Fenner. On the other side, Yvonne, Denny, Cassie and stumbling somewhere in no mans land, Lucy. Shell was "teachers pet" and a bit more than that but that was an open secret.

Fenner entered the room with heavy tread and obligatory scowl and slammed the door behind him causing Lucy who was still half pissed to jump with a start and scatter a collection of biros all over her desk. She went to pick them up while Fenner tut tutted impatiently and launched into his set piece on "Shakespeares Soleoquees" as pronounced.

"You mean soliloquies" Yvonne answered brightly, opening the hostilities.

"Just shut it, Atkins. You're here to be taught not give me a load of backchat."

"Back what," smirked Atkins "I was only putting you right but then you are the lecturer and my father always told me to listen to my betters." finishing in an innocent tone that Fenner should have been on his guard against.

"Well then, listen to me."

"I'm sorry, sir, that lets you out as I did say betters, not elders."

Fenner turned his back, going red with anger and quite naturally the seminar went from bad to worse as sniggers went round the group. At this point Lucy had given up the struggle to stay conscious and openly slumped forward on her table and took no further part in the seminar, ignored by all sides.

Shell managed to chip in to the battle that everyone was being horrible to Mr Fenner to be greeted by a chorus of "shut it, Shell"

Cassie next entered the battle that Fenner was a totally useless nobbing lecturer and she might as well have done open University, cut out the useless nobbing middleman and saved herself a lifetime of student loan to pay off- that was apart from the social life and loads of fit girls there were that gave her loads and loads more prospects than at home and her own place to take them back to. Yvonne fell about laughing at that one and for the fifth time came Fenner's yell to "Shut it everyone."

It was last seminar of the day and when they streamed out, they got together in a corner to hammer out what the next essay for Fenner was about, what reading should be done, where they could crib some half way decent lecture notes and when they thought the essay should be in for though that was a matter for interpretation. Shell had remained behind to comfort Fenner though there were scurrilous rumours just what form that comfort took. Lucy had been dragged to her feet and had been lugged out of the room and arranged on a long padded bench where she could sleep comfortably for a bit. Next, it was down to the union bar.....

Mark parked his car a little away from the Union Bookshop in an attempt to not be too conspicuous though the building was some distance from the university complex and halls of residence. It was a bit before 7 but he didn't want to be late. He was a bit uneasy in why he was going out with Karen for a drink but reasoned to himself that Karen would be a sympathetic presence he could do with right now. Just at a point where he was starting to worry if he'd got the time wrong, he heard footsteps and Karen opened the door and let herself in and her warm smile reassured himself that he had done the right thing.

"Where to?" Karen asked with a smile.

Mark drove to a little riverside pub that was quiet in the week and they found an alcove where they could talk and Mark bought in the drinks.

Things felt a bit weird to Mark to begin with as he was outside the lecturer/ student framework but Karen was her self possessed self which gradually dissolved that barrier not to say Karen's warm smile and brilliant blue eyes.

They were talking about Marks little talk on John Lennon after the Professor's disastrous lecture and Mark felt sheepish about talking about something a bit before his time and well before hers.

"It was about a guy who thought he was tough and cocky and could handle anything till he realised that inside, he didn't feel that tough" Mark explained.

"Are you talking about him or you?" Karen's clear blue eyes held his and he didn't need to say and Mark got that feeling that at times Karen knew more than he did and was glad of it.

The evening faded to a magical carpet ride where time stood still and Karen soothed away all the worries of the day.

"Look Mark," Karen said in her direct way. "I'm twenty one and a rather forward twenty one." and Mark blushed a bit at this which Karen smiled back at. "And I'm sick and tired of boys in my year- and they are boys- who act as if they were presenters of crappy TV programmes. You know I'm attracted to you because you are so different that way and I know you feel the same- and I like your leather jacket." Karen grinned impishly.

Time stood still for both of them as Karen put her arms round Mark and they kissed and held each other while they were bathed in the dim lights and intimacy of the pub. No one and nothing existed outside their world.

"I didn't really think you'd want me the way I want you"

"Oh come now, Mark, you must know you have quite a fan club and it's not just because you give brilliant lectures. Nikki's about the only exception to look at you platonically I am really a lucky girl to be out with you tonight." said Karen as she kissed him again full on.

Mark could not believe his luck that the beautiful blonde girl that had been facing him for weeks in lecture rooms was transformed into a woman that, in some ways, was more certain of herself and understood the language of feelings which at this moment seemed to say more than the world of books he had surrounded himself from his teens onwards.

"I get the feeling that you're totally scared to be so close to me as if you'll risk losing me. Don't be." Karen's warm voice sounded in his ear which became transformed into certainties." Have you've been hurt before in love?" and Mark nodded soundlessly.

Mark painfully told Karen the story of the woman he'd fallen in love with who had kept him on a string so that all his initial certainties got twisted around and all was vague and could mean anything. He's never forgotten the day when he'd come home from work early, had called upstairs and got no answer even though the lights were on. He'd walked upstairs and seen his girlfriend in bed with another man, someone that he never thought was the remotest threat to him. He couldn't remember much apart from shouting at her and she bundled on her clothes and went downstairs and he kept asking why did she do it to him but got no real answer, just that he asked her to take her clothes off "for old times sake". He didn't hit her because that was the last way he reacted even then. Mr Arrogant came downstairs to take her out of the room but he stopped him. He didn't hit him but did a bit of verbal fencing that shut him up and was more satisfying than if he had landed him one. That was the last he saw of both of them but the nightmare lingered on.

Karen was alarmed at the pallor in Mark's face and that he was sweating so she took his face with both hands.

"Mark, I would never, never treat you that way and you are a good man and deserve better. You will get the absolute truth from me and you will know exactly where you are with me. I'll look after you as you deserve to be looked after."

Mark nodded at this as Karen went on. "So how about we go back to your place and we go to bed together." looking him straight in the eye. "Come on, lets finish up."

It was a magical trail that took them the short drive to Mark's flat. The rest of the evening was a series of flashes of the first time Mark saw Karen innocent of any clothes and the loveliest sight he had ever seen and for Karen that Mark was tender and considerate in his lovemaking that she mattered. The evening faded to a close with the feel of Karen's long blond hair and her gentle breathing against his face as they drifted off to sleep with a feeling for both of them that all was right in the world.

Mark's eyelids reluctantly separated themselves to drag himself into the conscious world from the best night he'd had for so long to have a mugful of best Bolivian coffee put in his hand from an already dressed Karen who started brushing her hair and doing her makeup ready for an early morning lecture and likewise Mark followed her lead for the same.

They fell into discussion and Karen mentioned to him how fed up she was with the neighbourhood psychotics on her floor and that keeping the peace at her expense was wearing her down. She added that she really needed another place to stay. Mark was all full of advice about seeing the secretary of the Halls of Residence about how to get the best deal and not to have some substandard single room foisted on her or beware of the "easy to get" rooms available to share because the other person was a Student from Hell. Karen's blue eyes looked at him pleading with him to make the obvious connection that she was laying out, not for once being totally controlling when the penny dropped.

A big smile split her face in two and an amused gleam came into her eyes. Mark laughed with her in his own mind how the lecturer with the most brilliant analytical skills whose grasp of books was so original yet failed to draw the obvious conclusion from a simple situation put before him if not thrust under his eyes.

He kissed the woman who was rapidly becoming part of his life, then they grabbed their stuff to drive to the University.

Helen was in a bit of a flap. She has had a note left with her that the Professor wanted to see her, no reason mentioned.

"I don't suppose, bloody Griffiths will be giving you an Honorary Doctorate," Nikki said ironically, "So it must be your recent stay at your father's. I suppose the fact that your Course Grades are hitting a regular B+ matters sod all. Don't let the bugger get you down." she said to Helen, concern in her eyes as Helen could be vulnerable in the face of authority. her part in the Professor's recent humiliation ought not to be forgotten.

Helen was jumpy and walked at a quick pace, making the taller girl have to work at it to keep pace. Up the flight of steps, through the double glass swing doors and up three floors in the lift and Helen was in the professor's lair.

"I've had a report that you missed lectures and took yourself off without letting anyone know where you were. Nobody in your group could say where you were."

"But I had a family crisis. I had a phone call from my father to come without delay." Helen replied, already upset and in her mind being convinced she was guilty though quite what it was was news to her.

The Professor moved in for the kill talking about having 'buckshee' days away from college and when there were loads of students who could take her place, how dare she, etc., etc. Helen started crying as she was locked into the "guilty whatever" frame of mind in the same way her father could do to her. When the Professor dragged out the oldest cliché in the book about "in his day students knew how to behave themselves and acted responsibility", it wasn't possible for her to pick up on the outrageous rewriting of history that made Stalin's frame up and shooting of the Old Bolsheviks accused in the 1930s of being in league with the Nazis as a mere slip of the pen in comparison. She ran out of the Professor's room to be met by a very worried and soon to be lividly angry Nikki Wade.

After Nikki had comforted Helen in a quiet corner away from prying eyes, she sat Helen down and became Case for the Prosecution against the Professor.

"I cannot believe that even Griffiths could be such a lying hypocrite. Anyone with any brains would know that the late '60s was the height of disrespectful students . Massive demonstrations against the Vietnamese war and sit ins everywhere- I know because my uncle was there. Sitting down to TV every night and seeing Americans bombing the shit out a foreign country. And if you weren't a student militant, what about the "permissive society", all that hippie stuff and free love, the pill (not that that is a great deal of use to me) . What about all the music around, people sat up and listened and didn't get pissed to seek oblivion.? Only thing they didn't have then that we have now is the LGB. Where the fucking hell was that sad bastard? Is he some kind of alien life form ?"

"All right, all right, I've been an idiot for letting him get me on the run. It's been all through my life, first my father, then teachers." Helen said, still teary eyed.

"I'm sorry, Helen, sorry about the rant but hypocrites like him really get to me." said Nikki a bit conscious that, politically spot on though it was, it was a shade mistimed in Helen's present frame of mind. "Come on, lets have a word with Mark Waddle. I know he isn't your tutor as you're stuck with that no hoper Stubberfield who can't organise a piss up in a pub. There he is, coming out of the lift."

Nikki managed to get his attention and talk things over in a quiet room but Mark wasn't as helpful as Nikki had hoped.

"I'm sorry, Nikki, you know I'd like to help but, as you say, I'm not Helen's tutor. You two see yourself as together which I have no problems with but the powers that be don't see things the same way and Helen would have to go through that tosspot Stubberfield. That bastard Griffiths, if I am honest, has got Helen on a technicality and, if I were in his shoes, a quiet word in passing would have sorted it out. I know I'm talking like an authority but put yourself in my shoes, what would you have done?"

Nikki was silent as the last sentence hit a chord of "being in the hot seat" which she could never ignore but in her feelings for Helen's pain started accusing Mark of 'copping out'.

Mark gently and without anger explained his own background battles with Griffiths and Fenner.

"It's not 1968 any more Nikki, more's the pity," Mark said looking Nikki straight in the eye. There's too many insecure people out for number one and if students have had a hammering over the years, so has the working population. That bastard still gets to me every bloody day, especially that Daily Mail article. There's something about it that's chewing in my mind."

Nikki felt sorry for her outburst and the two of them resolved to get a bottle of Smirnoff and drink that in the security of Nikki's room.

"You want to what" Shell glared at Karen. "Is this some kind of frigging joke, you nutter?"

"I am out of here." Karen repeated herself. "I am sick and tired of sharing a floor with a load of psychos like you. I'll get along with most people but I can't get along with you. I go into the fridge, half my stuff's stolen or the fridge door is left open so half the stuff is gone off. You idiots left a chip pan on that caught fire and needed the fire brigade to come all sirens screeching and fire brigade people pouring through the residences with hosepipes at the ready. I am totally sick of you Shell trying to cadge help with essays when I have enough on my own. I am totally sick and tired of your drunken friends kicking up a row when I am trying to sleep. I'm not even talking when if by some bad luck I am stuck in the same room as you lot and I've had more back biting, bitchiness and vicious behaviour in one week than there is in a year of "Eastenders". And the brilliant thing is that, if the porters come with yet another justified complaint, you carry the can and I hope they throw you out on the streets."

"But I thought you'd like the atmosphere round here." Shell said still not understanding. "We give the place a bit of life"

"You have got to be kidding." Karen finished on a note of total exasperation. "Now if you don't mind, I am moving my cases. At the very least, stay out of the way."

Karen stuffed the last of her clothes into an overstretched suitcase, packed her books into cardboard boxes she had thank goodness, not binned, almost as if it were a lifeboat. Plastic carrier bags just about held her shoes and her PC and music system were unplugged. She thought it was counterproductive to ask for help, she might have got more help from chimpanzees. Shell and her gang were sulking in the kitchen and clattering away.

Soon Karen manhandled her belongings into a blue Commer van that belonged to the student Union that she had access to. A smile came to her lips that Shell had not thought to ask about any mail being redirected, that took brains but she'd sorted that out herself. A bigger smile took over when she realised that only a few miles down the road and her belongings and her life would be at Mark Waddle's flat. That needed a bit of sorting out but the big compensation was Mark being round and not Shell and her gang. Definitely a better bet.

"We have got to get something sorted out about rooms. You're stuck as first year in sharing rooms with a religious fanatic called Crystal. OK she plays some nice guitar but her repertoire is a bit limited to "Kumbaya". The downside is that we're both bloody miserable in being stuck on our own at nights even though you are a couple of floors up. It seems a million miles at night time."

Nikki said as she lay on the floor on a couple of huge cushions and a large measure of Smirnoff poured into a coffee mug. The room was dark and soft music was playing. Already the amount she had drunk was making her feel woozy. Helen was a drink ahead of her and lay on Nikki's bed where she had drink to hand and didn't have to move unless the call of nature called. Tonight was a real change from the nights of isolation that were getting to her and gave an edge to her impatience with the petty restrictions.

"Don't tell me about it, Nikki. I came to university to escape my father's religion. Instead I get a religious fundamentalist that is worse than my dad. I'm running out of polite excuses to turn Crystal down from prayer meetings. And her friends aren't much better."

"You're lucky, Nik. I've heard you talk about your dad and it hurts me why mine can't be like yours. He'd never understand anything about the side of me that wants to be with you." and Helen started to cry.

Nikki thought about this, that he was due to pay a visit which she was looking forward to but she was wondering if she could introduce Helen to him, a risky move but in her present frame of mind seemed the right thing to do even allowing for the Smirnoff. Helen was going to stay the night on the one night that Crystal and her friends were at a religious festival headed by the Rev Ian Paisley who would preach hellfire and damnation. Ah well, Ian Paisley has served one useful function in his life. better get into bed right now or I'll never make it with the booze.

Nikki was on the way out of the LBG meeting when she caught sight of Cassie with a light case headed for the taxi rank. It was a sunny afternoon with a faint breeze to make the day feel fresh.

"Going home for the weekend to your parents" Nikki asked jokingly knowing very well that Cassie would sooner stay over at university in term time if at all possible even if it meant serving at a McDonalds to pay for it. To her surprise, Cassie was most reticent about the matter. It had to be to stay at her latest girlfriends and it was a common joke that Cassie had not only "come out of the closet" but had burned the closet down and thrown a party round the bonfire. Grinning to herself, Nikki went on her way.

Cassie was in fact going to stay with an old school friend, Caroline Griffiths, the Professors very fanciable daughter who was kept out of reach of the students in case she was lured off the straight and narrow, There was some gossip at the LGB about what she looked like. Cassie kept it a close secret as she knew, having grown up with her till the Griffiths had moved house to the present university job a few years back. Luckily, Cassie had made fresh contacts and she knew very well what Caroline, with her long blond hair, looked like.

Arriving at the Griffiths house, Cassie had to mentally adjust to her "ultra best behaviour" if she was not going to blow her chances. It was an old "mock tudor" mansion white painted in contrast to black wood with everything in its place. Caroline's mother greeted her, very fashionably dressed and welcomed her into the front room where she and Caroline sat demurely while her mother talked over the old days. It was always about girls they were at school at least ten years back whom they had nothing in common with but whom Mrs Griffiths assumed were closest friends, The real reason was that Mrs Griffiths had got to know their parents and who were invariably solicitors, chartered accounts (not ordinary accountants), doctors and all these "school friends" had the irritating knack of doing better than they were on course to being chartered accountants, etc. themselves and to perpetuate the species. Both Cassie and Caroline gave up any attempt to follow the conversation but intervention beyond the occasional nod and "yes" was not necessary. Beyond that, Mrs Griffiths was well known for keeping a stern eye on the moral standard of any film appearing at the run down Gaumont Cinema.

The most embarrassing moment came when they went to see a film called "Kissing Jessica Stein" which was advertised as a Woody Allen type film. When the moment came when the two lead actresses kissed in a New York street, Mrs Griffiths bundled them out of the cinema past to their total shock and humiliation . It was bad enough for Cassie as it was not her hometown but Caroline's "street cred" was totally destroyed for months on end especially when she saw other former school friends at the cinema who knew one essential fact about Caroline that Cassie knew but her mother was blissfully ignorant of.

Mrs Griffiths started talking to Cassie as if she were a parent figure for Caroline.

"You know, Cassie, when Caroline was growing up, both me and my husband used to worry about Caroline meeting some 'unsuitable' boy and getting pregnant. It's so difficult these days. fortunately Caroline doesn't seem to have any boyfriend problems."

"I quite understand, Mrs Griffiths," said Cassie doing her best Lady Di impersonation totally erasing (with great difficulty) "nobbing" from her vocabulary."

The next thing Caroline had to explain to her father that, no she wasn't planning to be a lesbian as she didn't wear dungarees and cut her hair short. Her father, having long read the "Daily Mail" and absorbed its views on the subject was reassured on this point. It was ironical that, for once, the bigotry of the Daily Mail had its use in enabling Caroline to have the perfect cover.

Cassie then discreetly enabled the getaway by saying. "In fact Caroline and I were going to bed to have an early night if that is all right with you."

"You know the way, Cassie. I wouldn't let a boyfriend share a bed with Caroline but I'm much happier with an old school friend,"

A little while later, they were tucked up demurely in Caroline's single bed wearing the angelic smiles that daughters reserve for their parents.

"Night night you two." said Mrs Griffiths.

Five minutes looking less angelic and less dressed anticipating one of those really good nights, and thanking that old fashioned houses have conveniently thick walls, Cassie said to Caroline.

"Don't worry, Caroline, I'll make very sure you don't end up pregnant"

Karen was in Mark's flat at the end of a day with the feeling of contentment she had not known before. She had taken the micky out of Mark's less than organised house and reshaped everything to their needs very unobtrusively. She could sit for ages looking at the back of Mark's head as he was dug into her lecturework apparently on his own but not for one minute unaware of Karen's presence behind him, not least for a refill of Brazilian coffee placed on his desk. They did not need to speak when there was no need to but Karen was a good listener to Mark but with ideas of her own beyond her years.

It was strange in the seminar room when Karen was transformed into student Karen with all the other students chattering away while Mark was the Mature Lecturer he never was at home. Mark for his own part saw the girl Karen on the other side and kept on the same guise he had had which at one time was for real.

When they got home, the woman took over and Mark was always conscious and could daydream of the curve of her hip, the lightness of touch of her hand and the smoothness of her voice and the wisdom beyond her years. Such was life as he ought to be living. At home the assumed barriers came down.

Part 2

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