Previously in ‘Freddy the Fresher’: Freddy arrives in Oxford – Freddy falls in love – Freddy has his heart broken – Freddy reconciles himself to his life.
Oxford…shit. I’m still only in Oxford.
It had not been a good Christmas for Freddy. The break had been punctuated by power cuts and flooding, and he’d had to spend Christmas sharing his bedroom with his grandfather, whose snoring felt like a passing train.
‘Glad to be back?’ Over-Eager-Twat asks him, a smug grin on his face.
‘Yeah, really excited for this term.’ Why, after months in Oxford, was he still lying about his levels of excitement? Why was he still pretending that he didn’t hate this place? Without Bernadette…without Bernadette…well, that’s another story.
Under the terms of his New Year’s resolutions, Freddy had decided to have a better time. He had decided that he would drink more, party harder and generally ‘put himself out there’. He’d do his work, of course, but not worry about it too much. If I fail, I fail, he thought, and I’m back where I started. No better, no worse.
On the penultimate day of 0th week, with collections looming like a ninja from the ceiling, Freddy decided that the first change he would make would be to visit a new library. (DISCLAIMER: His desire was in no way motivated by a profound longing to avoid bumping into Bernadette at the SSL).
Wearing a hoody and dark glasses, Freddy left Judas College and wandered through town, avoiding eye contact with anyone. This isn’t really putting yourself out there Freddy, his internal devil’s advocate told him. Shut up.
Skirting down Mansfield Road (past ATS, scene of that fatal chicken malay satay baguette of love), Freddy headed to the Vere Harmsworth library, occupying a booth from where he had a strategic view of the entire library.
After a few minutes of feeling generally paranoid and agitated – to the extent where he could hardly sit still – Freddy got up and headed downstairs, looking for the water fountain. Nothing cools off a young stud like an icy drink.
Arriving, he noticed another young man standing by the cooler, staring blankly at the cover of a copy of Time magazine. He was looking deep into the eyes of Janet Yellen, and she looked back at him.
‘You can open it, you know? I think they’re for everyone.’
The man looks up at Freddy and Freddy realises that this is someone even more paranoid and agitated than himself. The man nods and places the copy of Time back on the shelf.
‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude,’ Freddy blurts out, proffering a hand, ‘I’m Freddy.’ The man grasps it and gives it a light shake.
‘Nick. Are you a fresher?’ Freddy nods and asks: ‘You?’
‘Finalist,’ he says, and skulks back off into the library.
‘Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you…’
His macro class sing it with a pointed lack of enthusiasm, but their new tutor, a blustery old man with a smiling red face, conducts them along all the same.
‘Happy Birthday dear… Freddy!’ Two or three people get his name wrong, which, considering he’s only been here for about four months, isn’t too bad going. There’s muted applause at the end, mainly from his tutor who is wiping a tear from his eye as though he’s been moved by particularly profound music.
After their class he heads back to his room and sits on his bed, alone, considering how it feels to turn 19. He certainly feels older than he did this time last year, when he celebrated his 18th birthday by going to the one nightclub in Worthing with his dorky best friends (both of whom are now Kettheads at Goldsmith’s).
Outside his window a pigeon is pecking away at an almost-empty bag of chips. He wonders, briefly, how those chips came to be purchased on his windowsill. Probably a hate crime, he thinks, with resignation.
That evening he is taken out to dinner by his parents, along with a select group of friends that includes one of the Kettheads (down for the night), three college chums who are surprised to be invited, and Nick, the miserable finalist with whom he has struck up a tentative friendship over the past few weeks.
The nine of them cram into the upstairs part of the Golden Cross centre Pizza Express, and when the waitress comes, Freddy’s father produces a ring binder file in which he has sorted a collection of printed Pizza Express vouchers. The deal works out that they can all have free dough balls, which they enjoy.
Freddy’s mind, however, is, unsurprisingly, on a subjunctive history of what could’ve been, if he was still seeing Bernadette. Perhaps they’d be out for a meal, just the two of them… Perhaps she’d cook for him, and they’d eat it together in bed…
‘Freddy!’ he looks up, and sees his mother holding a package, wrapped in glittery silver paper. ‘Here you go,’ she says, smiling, and handing the present down the table.
Freddy unwraps it with all the enthusiasm of peeling a rotten satsuma, and, once it is open, he pulls out the box set of the complete West Wing. He smiles, ‘thanks Mum,’ she smiles back.
No-one else has brought him a present, thus the ceremony is concluded and they can all return to their American Hots, Sohos or Quattro Fromaggios. Conversation, it seems, isn’t a necessity in this disparate group of misfits.
And then, at the end of the evening, once he has waved his parents goodbye at the train station, he goes back to his room, sleeps alone and dreams of the pigeon at the window.
Tap tap! The pigeon’s beak rings against the window – his eyes open – tap tap, the pigeon strikes again. He walks over to the window and opens it. The pigeon hops in and flutters over to his bed, where Freddy joins it. Gently, he gets back under the sheets and tries to fall asleep whilst the pigeon whispers to him and strokes his forehead.
‘My name eez Patrice,’ he says, with a thick French accent, ‘and eet is all going to be alright! Get zum sleep, leetle boy…’
Freddy looks over his shoulder nervously. He would be nervous about this even if he was doing it with one of his close friends, but because he’s only just met this shifty red-chinoed man he’s all the more nervous.
‘There’s no one here, mate. Just snort it up and we’ll be cooking!’
With one final glance behind – backwards towards his childhood, towards his pet dog Snuffles, towards his family who love and trust him – he leans in to the toilet seat and snorts up his lines.
‘Shit…’ he says, leaning back, whilst Red Chino guffaws with bilious laughter.
‘Total head fuck, no? Let’s get out of here; you’ve got to hit the books during the first part of your high, otherwise you won’t get the full effect.
Red Chino hastily wipes down the toilet seat, scattering the surrounding area in a light dusting of what looks, to Freddy’s untrained eye, like icing sugar. Delicious.
As they exit the toilets, they see a lanky, tousle-haired boy entering after them, carrying a stack of surgical looking swabs and humming ‘Bailando por el mundo’ under his breath.
Freddy frowns and scampers out onto the staircase that leads up to the Lower Camera. In an attempt to appear nonchalant, he takes a long drink from the water fountain and browses the posters, taking an excessive amount of time to study the Labour Club’s action-packed term card.
Once he is convinced that no-one suspects a thing (not that anyone is around to suspect anything) he plunges down into the Glink, in order to really matter out some brilliantly gacky Economics work.
It takes him about five minutes before he realises that today’s work is PURE SOLID FUCKING GOLD. It’s unbelievable, but he reckons he’s cracked Economics; not just at a university level, but for all humanity. There’s a Nobel Prize for him here.
Swelling with pride, he looks around at the people who are studying diligently around the room. His mouth falls open.
Bernadette is there, scribbling away on a piece of paper and not looking up. Fuck, Freddy thinks, I’ve got to have sex with her. I can have sex with her. I can do anything I want. But I’m starting to sweat…it’s too hot in here…
In order to solve his heat problem and also show off his abs which he momentarily believes he’s been cultivating, he pulls off his jumper and t-shirt and lies back, shirtless, exhaling loudly until Bernadette looks up.
A shocked look passes over her face at the sight of Freddy, sitting topless in the Gladstone Link, winking at her and rubbing his thigh.
She begins to pack up her books, stuffing them into a Fleet Foxes tote bag, before standing up.
Before she walks away, however, she strides over to Freddy, leans in and whispers in his ear.
‘Meet me in the toilets…’