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I’M WEARING COLOGNE. I realise from the moment the door opens that I shouldn’t have bothered. Gil’s room greets me with a wall of pungency straight away. The first thing that comes to mind is rotting carpet. How can it be rotting carpet? Then again, it’s university halls. The carpets are probably from the 80s. I feel bad for blaming him immediately.

I hurry to show him my best smile, fumbling a bit over a simple “Hey!”

The bottle of wine I spent ages agonising over in Tesco now feels...

Gil looks down at it in my hand.

“Oh. You shouldn’t have.”

I can tell from how we look at each other’s outfits then that I really shouldn’t have. I ironed—I borrowed an iron. The lines in my cream chinos are as crisp as the day I bought them and the front of my loose-collared shirt is as smooth as sheets of printer paper. None of my nervous sweating has rumpled it.

Gil is in jeans—the same ones he wears every day. His baggy t-shirt looks like a pyjama top. Maybe it is.

“Uh… we are still on for tonight... yes?” Maybe he was asleep. Maybe he forgot. His face reveals nothing. He’s always like this. When we talk in tutorials, and even when we got talking regularly afterwards, the way he looks at me reminds me of my counsellor’s expression: cool, steady, gives nothing away, but lets you know that you certainly are.

“Mhm. Come on in.” He steps aside from the door and lets me pass him. Closes it behind me.

“I’ve only got mugs.” He’s rinsing them out in the sink.

He’s got a small room. I hate that I notice this, but it’s a lower budget residence than mine. Smaller rooms have nowhere for the air to go. The smells build up. A trickle of conditioned air comes through the ajar ensuite door. He’s left the light on, so the fan is going.

It’s only a single bed, a wardrobe, a chest of drawers, and a desk and an office chair. Only two places to sit—the chair or the bed. Most university halls have this set-up, but these walls feel closer together in Gil’s room.

He hands me a mug—too full of the wine I brought. Red sloshes over the edges. I try to avoid touching it because I have nowhere to wipe my hands.

“A girl died in this room.” Gil says.

I try to control my reaction so the wine doesn’t spill. “What?”

He lifts his mug to his lips. Still no smile.

“I can’t tell if you’re joking or not.”

“I’m not.”

“The fuck, Gil?” I try laughing, to prompt him into copying. I know he’s capable of it. I succeeded one day, one of the times we stood outside a lecture. I said something clever and I made him laugh. I remember it so well I have it memorised like music—the cadence of it, every note. He doesn’t laugh this time. I drink some wine.

“How do you know that?”

“Did my research.”

“When did it happen? Not last year, surely. We’d have heard about it. The Principal would—”

“No. Before we were here.”

“Wait, was that Kate someone? Her name was like some famous actress’s name…”

“It’s apparently haunted in here. Do you believe in ghosts?”

“I...” I laugh again and take a drink. A little bit of it slips out into the corner of my mouth. Gil’s thumb is there before mine. He swipes the wine away from my chin, deftly as a razorblade.

“No problem.” He says, as if I had said thank you. As if I would be able to speak at all after that. I’m laughing, looking down at the ground, at my wine, feeling the heat of his touch like it might glow under an infra-red camera. I wish he would look away. I don’t even want to know what colour my face is now.

“You want the chair or the bed?”

“Whatever is easiest for you!”

He takes two paces and sits on the chair. I lower myself down onto the bed. At least he’s made it up—that’s something. The dark duvet cover sits squint across the single bed, the pillows slumped against the wall like they’ve been punched.

He has his back to me, typing into his laptop on the desk.

“One sec.” he says. “It takes a while to load up so I’m just doing it now.”

“Doing what?”

“My AI.”

“Oh! Oh yeah. Yes, of course.” Our conversation from this afternoon comes back to me, and it comes like a little boat being carried on the top of slow but deep waves of anxiety. We had been, as we always are, talking computer science. Ethics and AI. He wanted to show me a programme he’d built—he had invited me round to see it. To see it.

I’m glad his back is to me as I take three, big, deliberate gulps of wine. A red drop falls on my lap.

“Shit.” There’s no room on his bedside table to put the cup down. He doesn’t turn around to help. “Can I use your bathroom? I’ve spilled wine.”

“Honestly, don’t worry about it. These sheets have seen worse.”

“I mean on me. I’ve spilled wine on me.”

“Oh.” He half turns. “Yeah, ‘course.” His face is just then illuminated by the flash of a green loading screen. There’s an icon above the loading bar. It’s two pixelated crossed plasters—bandaids, or whatever he would call them.

I put my wine cup down on his desk. It’s with a bit of a clunk that I both did and didn’t mean. I hurry to the bathroom before he can react—or not react.

I try to wash out the stain as much as I can without looking at anything. I leave the door ajar—as if that helps make this feel any less invasive. The bedroom and the ensuite bathroom—the two most sacredly intimate parts of anyone’s house. It’s all a university student gets to entertain guests. I feel stared at by imaginings of packets of condoms and bottles of lube. I keep my eyes firmly on my own trousers case I even catch a glimpse of a stray dark hair.

I emerge with a fresh smile and present a damp leg to him with a flourish.

“Unless you have any white wine, that’s as good as it’s going to get!”

His eyes linger. They seem to track and record each moment of the journey up to meet my eyes. I stand so still I think I’m trembling. And I’m standing on one leg, even more like a damn flamingo on account of the colour of me now.

He hands me back my wine.

“Not got any white. Just vodka. Don’t think that would do any good. Drink up. I fancy some vodka now. You want?”

“Sure!” Maybe the best way for this evening to progress is to get pissed. Maybe then I’ll have no shame when I throw myself at him later. It would give my counsellor something to shake her head about. I’ve been doing so well recently that she’s probably missed the routine.

Red wine should never be ‘chugged’. He’s making me do it now. A stupid drinking song that I never thought I’d hear coming from between his sullen lips.

“We like to drink with Robin, coz Robin is our mate. He drinks in moderation and that is what we hate. So, drink drink drink!”

He does a good impression of a Lad. Even more impressively for him, a Glasgwegian one. I feel that’s a talent of his—soaking up the acts of others—yet I don’t know why I think that. I think this is the first time I’ve seen him do an impression of anyone.

I follow his lead and roar like a Rangers fan when I’m done.

We laugh—he laughs!

The way the loading screen behind him backlights him makes his sharp edges glow. I really want to take photos of him. He doesn’t have social media. Believe me, I’ve checked.

“You make me kinda like college.” He says. He’s pouring vodka into my now-empty wine mug. I’m watching the red turn pink and vanish into the swirl of stingingly-clear liquid, so I almost miss how my own heart leaps. “Huh?”

“Yeah, I hate it here. I’m only going to get the official credentials. I learned all this stuff when I was like thirteen.”

“Oh... I see. Wow.” Drinking vodka straight is definitely not something I’m good at. I try not to screw my face up. I try to look serene as it somehow burns the entire inside of my face right up to my forehead. Gil knocks his cup back, fills his mouth with vodka, and swallows. If it nipped at all it only shows on his face mildly as he says, “Not bad.”

I quickly change the subject in case he makes me chug this drink too. All the wine I quaffed has begun to make my brain feel hot. “So uh, why—uh, why here? Why did you come over here for uni if you didn’t even want to go?”

“It’s as far away as I could get from home where they still speak English. Plus, it’s cheaper to study here.”

I want to go back to the part where he said I made him like university. I leave a silence for him. He glances behind him to check on the computer. The green loading screen is still there. Bandages and a loading bar. It’s about three-quarters now.

“Almost there. She’s slow tonight.” He says, shaking his head. “Probably shy ‘cuz you’re here.”

“Am I allowed to ask what she is, or is it a surprise?”