Jess is thinking about packing it in for the night and going to bed when her mobile rings.
She casts it a distrustful look from her nest in the middle of her bed, surrounded by a small mountain of notebooks and textbooks and pens and pencils and six hours accumulated study materials. They’ve got exams -- finals, she reminds herself, finals -- in two weeks and then it’ll be the blessed end of the bloody term and she can go home for a bit. Her mobile buzzes insistently from her dresser top, inching closer to falling with each silenced ring.
“Oh, sod it,” she huffs and stretches to snag it. She not really that surprised to see Jules’ name on the screen and she grins, a bit, as she answers. “It’s almost midnight.”
“I know!” Jules crows, sounding a bit metallic over the line. “I can’t study a moment longer or I will go mad and explode, and then they’ll be scraping bits of me off the ceiling and it’ll be tragic.”
Jess snorts and leans back, shoving her books away with her feet. There’s one window in her dorm and through it she can see the faint yellow glow of the campus street lights. Everything looks a bit sharp from the cold. It’s California, so they don’t so much get winters as a foggy dip in the middle.
“Why do I feel like this is leading up to me doing something stupid?” Jess asks.
Jules chuckles. “Come on, lets go play a bit of footie. I can’t stand telling one more American boy I play soccer and I’m tired of having them laugh at me when I say football. You’re the only one in a million miles who understands me. That hardly counts as stupid.”
“We have exams in a week,” Jess counters, even as she tucking her phone between her ear and shoulder so she shove her feet into her trainers.
“You’ll have one hour less to study.”
“Tell that to my mum and dad,” Jess snorts.
“Oh, please!” Jess can picture Jules rolling her eyes. “Yes, your mum who sends you packages every other week and your dad who calls you every three days are definitely going to kick you out because you studied six days and twenty-three hours instead of the full seven.”
It’s perhaps not her most dignified moments, but Jess still sticks her tongue out to the unoccupied side of her room where Jules ought to be, except she can’t stay awake to study when there’s an empty bed calling her name. “You’re a wretched best friend,” Jess tells her, standing and snagging her hoodie from the back of her chair. “Where are you?”
“Outside,” Jules says, with no small note of triumph in her voice. “See you in a tick.”
“Yes, yes,” Jess sighs and thrusts her phone into her pocket.
She takes the stairs down the four flights to the main floor instead of waiting for the ancient, rickety elevator to creak up and back down. There’s a lacrosse player with a bright ginger beard sitting in the little cubicle by the door; his name’s Jason and he waves to her when she goes out. Jess smiles. He lives a floor up, is in her English class, and makes her laugh sometimes.
Jules is sitting on one of the wooden benches that line the path up to their dorm, wearing jeans a sparkly scrap of a top. She’s got her favorite old practice ball on her knees, thick eyeliner on, and her hair’s been curled and scrunched up. She looks lovely. “I thought you were studying,” Jess says wryly.
“I was studying anatomy,” Jules says cheekily. “The anatomy of Ryan the sensitive souled poet with the deer tattooed on his chest.”
“The vegan one?” Jess asks, arching an eyebrow.
Jules bats her eyelashes. “The same. Come on.”
She stands on bare feet and shoulders her bag. Jess can see her heels sticking out beside her wallet and jacket. It’s chillier than Jess expected and she shoves her hands down into her pockets. She can’t imagine how Jules isn’t feeling the coolness with her bare arms and back, but she doesn’t even have goose pimples.
They’re in a dorm reserved for student athletes, so the field’s only a five minutes walk away. The big overhead lights are dim without an official practice or game going on, but there’s enough scattered illumination to play. Jules drops her bag on the front row of the bleachers and takes off running onto the pitch; she tosses the ball to Jess and grins bright and wide. “Come on!”
Jess jogs after her for a few paces, then tosses the ball up and boots it as hard as she can, without any semblance of technique or finesse. It flies over Jules’ head and she whips around to watch it arc a good twenty feet past her. “Wanker,” she shouts affectionately, and takes off after.
They play for a good twenty minutes, just kicking the ball around with stops every so often and score beautiful goals without bloody goalies to get in the way. Jules eventually sheds her jacket and likes how the cold feels between her shoulder blades. It’s easier, in the dark with Jules, to forget that they’re a million miles from home.
“I can’t go on,” Jules declares eventually, throwing her hands into the air and collapsing spread-eagle onto the pitch. Jess laughs and jogs over to her; she toes Jules in the side. “Stop that, I’m dead. You shouldn’t prod the deceased.”
“You’re mad is what you are.” Jess lays down beside her and looks up at the sky.
“Maybe,” Jules agrees, twisting her arm to pat Jess’ shoulder. “But you’re very fond of me anyway. Are you excited to go home?” she asks, changing topic so fast it takes Jess a moment to catch up. “Seeing Joe?”
Jess shrugs and smiles, throwing her arm over her face. “I am excited to go home,” she hedges. “Pinky’s got the nursery done for the baby, but I think I convinced her to put up a Beckham poster.”
“Well done, you.” Jules rolls onto her side. “And Joe?”
“I dunno.” Jess inches her arm so she can see Jules, laying there with her shirt crumpled and grass stains on her jeans. Joe’s not nearly the sore spot between him that he once was, but it’s not easy, necessarily. “We talked a lot in the first month or so, but not so much lately.”
“You’ve been busy.” Jules flops onto her stomach with her chin pillowed on her arms. “I’m sure he still likes you.”
Jess shrugs. “Maybe, maybe not. I dunno, I guess we’ll see.”
Jules grins and nudges Jess’ foot with her own. “There you go. And besides, you’ll always have me.”
“Thank God for that,” Jess says and they both giggle.