Alyssa was in a lecture, towards the back of the theatre. It was a bad place to sit with this lecturer, she was quickly learning. She made a mental note to make sure to sit closer to the front in the future. He was an older man, white hair poking out in tufts above his ears, and he had a tendency to wander around the lecturn as he spoke. Much of his address appeared to be directed at his projected notes, rather than his audience, and subsquently his voice got lost in the cavernous roof of the lecture theatre. Alyssa yawned. This was the last lecture of her busiest day of the week. To be cursed with a lecturer who was this hard to concentrate on was going to be bad news for her results, she could just tell.
She was doodling in her notebook as she she tried to concentrate, little pictures of flowers and love hearts intermingled with Luke's name and words that she picked up here and there from the lecture. She sighed. These lecture notes weren't going to help her study later on. She continued doodling and her mind started to drift sleepily. Luke was coming to pick her up in his car after this class. It was the only thing stopping her getting up and leaving - she knew he wouldn't be there until 6pm, so she might as well stay and try to absorb something in the meantime. Her mother knew not to expect her for dinner on Thursdays now. Alyssa's Thursdays started with a Biology lecture at 10 o'clock, and went through virtually non-stop until this 2 hour Ethics in Medicine class at 4 o'clock. Punishing, but it was made up for by an easy two lecture day on Fridays. She hoped she could even things out a little next year. Maybe when she got used to how things work, she would be able to plan it a bit better. Luke was a second year engineering student, he seemed to have a much better schedule than her own. But then she suspected that he was a bit selective about which lectures he went to sometimes. She checked her watch yet again - still an hour to go. She wondered where Luke would take her for dinner. She decided she would ask if they could find a curry - Indian maybe. Or Malaysian. They had been going out more or less officially for nearly a month now. They hadn't slept together yet, although Alyssa though it probably wouldn't be long. She was still a virgin, and while she wasn't aching to give it away, she certainly wasn't keen to hold on to the status for too much longer. Luke had been quite the gentleman so far, always leaving before dawn, and never pushing her past where she was comfortable going. It was relaxing, reassuring, and the lack of pressure made it easier for her to lay back and let it happen. She wondered why more men didn't realise this. When they icnreased the pressure, women were just more likely to increase resistence, surely. She scribbled a little graph, showing the positive correlation between sexual pressure and sexual resistence, and smiled to herself. Always the scientific brain, that's what her mother told her. Alyssa guessed she was right. She had always been analytical - thinking in terms of numbers, statistics, graphs and correlations. She made sense of the world like that. It worked for her.
Belle was chatting on the phone to Kayla, trying to convince her to come out late-night shopping with her and a few other friends. Kayla claimed she had homework to do, and Belle scoffed. "It's only March! How much homework could you possibly have at this time of year?"
Kayla laughed, then pointed out that her History teacher this year was particularly fond of lengthy research assignments, "I swear, this is the second one already, and she's already planning the third. I'm sure she only does it so she get us all to do library research during her classes, instead of having to actually teach us anything. Mind you, Mrs Greene is particularly sadistic. Perhaps she gets some kind of cruel pleasure out of seeing us all turning ourselves inside out to get five thousand words written on the rise and fall of the Roman empire in less than three weeks. I mean, seriously, there's only so much you can write about a bunch of guys running around in togas."
Belle giggled at the image that conjured up in her mind, "Well, OK, how about instead of coming out, you bring all your stuff around here and I'll help you with it?"
If Kayla and Belle ever wanted to study together, it was better to do it at Belle's place, so that they had access to the Braille editions of the textbooks, and the text-to-speech software on her laptop. Besides, as Kayla pointed out, Belle's Mum bought nicer biscuits. And they had better coffee, too. Belle agreed on the coffee, at least.
Kayla gave a little sigh on the phone, but Belle sensed that she was cracking. Both of them knew that once she got there, very little study was going to happen, but Kayla was considering it anyway. "Oh, okay." she said eventually, "But I'm only staying until 10. No later." she stated.
Belle laughed, "Yeah, right. I'll meet you at McDonald's for dinner first. Say in an hour?"
"Yeah, OK, sounds good, Belle."
"See you soon." Belle responded, and hung up with Kayla's laughter still tinkling in her ears.
Mandy and Jamie were dining alone - Alyssa was on her fast becoming normal Thursday night date with Luke, and Belle was out somewhere with Kayla. The weather was still warm, and Jamie had finished work early and cooked dinner for Mandy. A simple salad, light ingredients thrown together in a sweet mango-tanged sauce, a bought barbecue chicken and fresh Turkish bread from the bakery Jamie passed on the way home. They were eating outside, enjoying the last hour of sunshine offered by the remaining few weeks of daylight savings. Mandy was commenting that it wouldn't be long before she unpacked the slow cooker and got back into the habit of casseroles and curries. Jamie agreed, lamenting the dying days of Summer. He suggested they should make sure they got to the beach again this weekend, before it got too cold to enjoy it for a few months. Mandy nodded, her mouth full of salad.
"You know, now I'm working again, I haven't gotten to the beach in weeks." she said, once she had swallowed.
"Yes. You know, you don't have to work full-time, Mandy."
"I know, Darling, but I prefer it this way. Besides, the practise needs me at the moment. They're so terribly understaffed. It's no wonder they jumped at the chance when I applied. To get someone who had half a clue, let alone a clue, was quite a shock for them, I think."
Jamie nodded, thinking that as long as Mandy was happy with it, he would go along with the idea.
Mandy launched into a story that had happened to her the other day. The senior office manager had gotten flustered over a scheduling problem, and Mandy had jumped in with a suggestion. She had come across the problem in her previous position, it seemed, and her experience gave her the requisite knowledge to handle the issue. She was laughing, recounting the look of shock on the manager's face, as she went back to the salad for seconds. She spotted something hiding amongst the shredded lettuce and, thinking it was a little grub, started to chide Jamie abotu it, "you really must make sure you wash the lettuce, Jamie. Although, you know what they say, it's better to find a whole worm in your salad than half a ..." her sentence was cut off by a blood-curdling scream, she leapt off her chair and stood staring at her plate in horror.
"What? What is it?" Jamie asked, worried.
"It's a. Oh. My God," Mandy stammered, a hand over her mouth as she tried to regain her composure. "A doll. A worry doll. In the salad." Her hands still covering her mouth, as though she was afraid she was going to throw up, she looked at Jamie, and he noticed how haunted they looked.
"What's going on, Jamie? What's happening to us?"
Jamie shook his head, not knowing how to answer.
"What does this mean, Jamie? Just what does this mean? And what are we supposed to do about it?"