When the time came to awaken, he came to with the least audible sound that he could ever recall making. It was somewhere between a moan and a gargle, but his dry throat defeated any real sound from coming out. His face was sticking to the pillow from some liquid on his cheek. He silently prayed that he had been drooling and had simply rolled his face into it. The alternatives were not options that he wishes to imagine having his face sticking to.
His eyes scanned the cramped little room that the University had given him, finding Julia almost instantly. She was sitting in the chair by his desk, pulling on her shoes by the light that was managing to slip through the curtains. She looked quite impeccably groomed, despite how messy things had become during the night. She had obviously been awake for a while making sure that her blonde hair was in order. Julia didn't seem to want to leave without returning to her usual professional image.
Upon noticing Paul's somewhat unfocussed gaze, Julia fixed him with a rather arrogant, but very self-sufficient smile. "A word to the wise," she began, "passion is no replacement for technique. You'd do well to remember that if any girl ever makes it this easy for you again. Honestly, I saw you as the sort of person who went after what he wanted with some sort of energy and enthusiasm, but you obviously don't do that even remotely often enough."
With the effects of the previous night beginning to kick in, Paul found it very difficult to find the urge for criticism. Instead, he pulled the covers up to hide his face and keep him from having to look at her.
Of course, Julia found this quite comical. "Now you decide to hide?" she queried with mockery in her tones. "Oh, Mr Taylor, you know it's far too late for that. I've seen it, I've felt it, I can still see the evidence in a knot of the floor. Your sense of hygiene certainly leaves no stone unturned. Hiding now is useless. You should have been hiding ten or so hours ago."
"If you didn't enjoy it then why did you want to do it in the first place?" Paul mumbled through his comforter prison.
"How do you learn without trying?" responded Julia.
The sounds of movement convinced Paul to pull his head free of his little material prison. Julia was moving swiftly back and forth across his room, examining his textbooks and the clothes that had been strewn about in the night. He looked her over with a confused glare, which she answered.
"I'd found everything but three things," said Julia, responding to the question in his eyes. "I thought you might be the sort of person who would try and hide my underwear so that you could steal it, but I even found that easily enough. No, the trouble is my glasses and my earrings. I took them off and put them in my pocket before we even got here, but they're not there now."
"Maybe you dropped them on the way," Paul suggested groggily.
"Perhaps," she responded quite calmly. "I suppose I'll just have to look when I'm on my way to work. I'm annoyed that you don't even have a shower. I'll have to use the employee washroom now and deal with Phillips on the fifth floor trying to peek at me the whole time. Do you have any idea how annoying it is to have somebody watching you all of the time?"
At first, Paul tried to convince himself that performing on stage would fit the bill of what she was looking for, but he found himself very stubborn and difficult. Of course, she meant people with lecherous intent, so it was almost his obligation to say no. He felt that perhaps she just wanted a little sympathy, but that same idea warred in his mind with all but one of his experiences with the woman. Even during the previous night, when they had supposedly been sharing one of the most intimate experiences that any two people could share, she had been forward, demanding, and selfish. It had been very different to the last time that he had slept with somebody, which had been his first and only time with Ally.
Of course, the very thought of Ally began to force feelings of guilt into his head. Once again, despite having Julia moving around his room, Paul pulled the covers back over his head. In darkness, he found himself becoming more upset. His imagination was presenting him the image of the woman that he had been thinking of all night. With that came another wave of guilt that he had been unable to concentrate on Julia at all.
"You still haven't really told me why you wanted to spend the night here," he asked of her, his voice again muffled by his blanket. "I know you said that you were looking to find something enjoyable about a letdown of a night, but that's not really a reason to jump into bed with somebody."
She didn't pause in the hunt for her lost belongings, but answered him regardless. "A girl is allowed to keep some information to herself every now and again. The way I see it, I have plenty of reasons. Just because you don't know them, doesn't mean that they're not good enough for me or for anybody else that I choose to share them with. I'd best get going now anyway; I need to be in the office before the golden boy arrives. Thank you for trying your best at least, but I doubt we'll be doing this again."
"What makes you think that I'd want to do this again?" questioned Paul. "What makes you think I even wanted to do it in the first place? I was drunk, wasn't I? I could barely even walk without staggerring. You had your hand on my arm for most of the trip. I was coerced."
"Were you bollocks," Julia said with a laugh at Paul's expense. "You might not have wanted it that much, but we'll never know now, will we? Do we really care? You were hard enough to do it, and that makes it seem to me as though you wanted it as much, if not more, than I did. Stop complaining and looking for excuses and accept your actions like a real man. Honestly, it's like you live in a little bubble where everything works in tandem to keep you out of trouble. Welcome to the world Mr. Taylor. Since you're so obviously indesposed, I'll see myself out. I'll see you at the office."
Paul didn't reveal his face again until he had heard her leaving, closing the door smartly behind her. As soon as she had gone, he let out a groan of annoyance and pushed the covers back. It was something that he had not wanted to do while she had been there. He had revealed far too much the night before, and he couldn't help regretting it. Everything had gone wrong in the last twelve or so hours. Annoyed even by the fact that it was the morning, Paul ignored any plans that he might have had for the day and surrendered to his comforting urge for more sleep.
He was rudely awakened, though still exhausted beyond belief, by the sounds and vibrations of his mobile phone. He reached out quickly down towards his trousers on the floor, and scrambled through his pockets until he had managed to retrieve what he was looking for. Looking down at the little device, he could see Jace's name and number on the screen. His thumb danced between the accept and reject buttons. In the end, there was no real option to consider. It was more than likely just going to end up being a conversation for Jace to argue, abuse and complain at him. For some reason, he just didn't feel like facing Jace right now, friendship intact or not. Muttering a few choice words under his breath, he let his finger wander back and forth for a little while longer until the music stopped playing. Then, he dropped the phone back on to the ground and curled into a tighter ball. Sleep soon found him yet again.
Once again, he was rudely awakened, but this time by a loud and almost ferocious banging on his door that made him near jump out of his skin. In a panic, he threw back the covers and leapt out of bed. He pulled on his clothes as quickly as possible, not even bothering to pull the long, stray hairs out of his eyes. He was about to call out that he was coming when he recalled the phone call from Jace. Quite suddenly, he paused, forcing himself to stay as still as possible just in case he was heard from outside.
His visitor remained insistent. Another loud bang came, but this time Paul refused to move. His mind was filled with the idea of just going straight back to bed, quietly and without regard for whatever might come next. Fortunately, his mind was quickly changed when he heard Ally's voice coming through the door.
"Paul, I'm skipping lectures for this!" she shouted at him, adding to the intensity of it with another loud bang on his door. "You'd better stop moping like a child and let me in or I'll kick the bloody thing down."
It was difficult to describe the rush of gratitude that shot through Paul's body at the mere sound of her voice. At once, the sense of panic evaporated and was swallowed by the air around him. The very idea of not answering the door with a smile that betrayed his feelings and a hug that betrayed his intent was simply ludicrous.
Unfortunately, a moment afterwards, the guilt returned to the forefront of his mind, forcing the smile that had been forming on Paul's face to drop instantly. Betrayel was certainly a good word to use. He had always been devoted to Ally; the one woman he wanted above all, but now was hardly the right time to confess it, if ever there would be a time again. Turning his back on the door, he saw the condom from the night before that Julia had mentioned. He felt repulsed by himself.
She shouted and battered her fists against the door, but Paul stood as still as possible. He might as well have been turned to stone: mind, body and heart. Nothing really mattered at this point. As soon as the sounds outside began to die down, he crawled back into the shelter and relative safely of his bed.
Nightmares were waiting to greet him. Nightmares of Matthew Cooper and Alice Steadman.