Natalie Rose (third-year BA English student) describes her experience of studying at Middlesex:
“Being a student is about indecisiveness and experimentation. It’s about trying everything possible so that, once you graduate, you know exactly which path is right for you. It’s about figuring things out, and then changing your mind and having to figure it all out again.
English at Middlesex University epitomised this experience for me. The course was so widespread that not only did we journey through the depths of language, we uncovered the definitive rules of genre, and marvelled at the complexity and importance of literature, both old and new. Each topic covered was not only interesting to learn, but with each class it revealed to me something new I could be capable of. Every experiment was a test – could this be what my future is made up of? And each lesson learnt was an accomplishment, an experience I had gained, something new to push me over and beyond what other students from other universities had to show.
There is no one path selected for you at Middlesex. You are not bound to academia, to teaching, to linguistics. You have every available option spread out before you, and you learn how to excel in whichever of these options interest you most. Extra-curricular opportunities and dedicated, friendly lecturers mean that your education does not stop when you leave the classroom. There is no limit at this university to the things you can discover, only how much time you give yourself to try each new opportunity out.”
Read Natalie’s outstanding romance, Disengaged that she wrote for her third-year module ‘Writing for Popular Markets’, taught by Adam Dalton.
All along the bar were shimmering, giggling girls falling over their half empty drinks while chatting to greasy looking guys. Unfortunately, Bree was one of them. I was pissed – tonight was meant to be our time.
We’d planned this months ago because nowadays it was “so hard to find any spare time” for Bree. I didn’t understand how she kept so busy. My life felt so empty sometimes, a simple routine which I cycled through day after day without thinking. Being with Bree always reminded me of just how boring I really was.
I even looked boring. My little black dress had seemed so great when I’d tried it on at home, but now I was out, I felt somehow underdressed. When did everyone get so sparkling and colourful and beautiful? How did people have the time?
I suppose I had good reason to be lazy. They were all here to flirt with guys, while I had one back home. The engagement ring felt somehow heavier on my finger in a place like this though. It made me stick out like a sore thumb – no, worse, it made me invisible. Even Bree had completely forgotten about me.
I sighed and sipped on my drink. The vodka tasted sour. I grimaced and thought of how much more comfortable I would be at home. Bored and restless, I started looking around the bar, watching the people. Across the room, I noticed a man looking at me.
He seemed to stick out a little too. He wasn’t dressed like the others – jeans and trainers and leather jackets. He was wearing a slim, fitted suit with a waistcoat and pointy brown shoes. His hair was a mess of soft brunette curls and his eyes, bright blue and piercing, were staring straight at me.
He was sitting in a booth with five other guys, most of whom were either on their phones or talking to girls. But he wasn’t talking to anybody or on his phone. He was watching me. And now I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I watched him get up and start moving towards me. It felt like I was paralysed in my seat. Then he was there, right next to me.
“Hey,” he said, cocking his head slightly and grinning. He extended his hand. “I’m Sam.”
“Belle,” I replied. I put my hand out to shake his and laughed. It was such a formal gesture for a place like this.
He sat down on the stool next to me. Within moments the bartender had appeared, eager to make more sales.
“You’re not going to think I’m one of them if I offer to buy you a drink?” he asked me.
I giggled. “Who’s them?”
His eyes darted towards all the other men slouching by the bar, and I smiled in response.
“How about we do it in rounds?” I offered. He agreed and I let him get the first one. He ordered himself a straight whisky, and I got another vodka cocktail despite the fact it tasted more like vodka than anything else and was starting to make me feel a bit sick.
We started to talk, and to talk, and to talk. Once we started, it seemed impossible to stop. We talked about everything, openly and honestly, without any concern or reservation. Time and space seemed to slip away, and the crowded bar disappeared from around us.
“I think it’s sad,” he said at one point, sighing, “the way these people cling to each other for some empty, meaningless satisfaction. I think it’s sad that people have forgotten how to love.”
“You’re very old fashioned,” I commented, trying not to think about how beautiful his eyes were this close.
“So are you,” he replied, gesturing towards my left hand.
I blushed and looked down, then took a very large sip from my drink. He seemed to understand, and quickly moved on. He didn’t bring up my engagement again.
We talked for the rest of the evening. Bree disappeared at some point. I got a text from her saying she’d gone home with someone and not to worry, and I didn’t. I knew my night had to end at some point, and I would have to leave too, but I didn’t want to think about that.
Sam and I stayed there talking until they asked us to leave. We did, but slowly, purposefully taking as long as we could. We both knew that we had to leave this – whatever this was – here, that it could never go further. But neither of us wanted that. My heart was twisting in ways I hadn’t felt for a long time. All I wanted was to run my hands through his hair, to touch his lips.
He said goodbye first. It was painful but quick, and he walked off with a furious stride as if he had to force himself away as quickly as possible. Feeling exhilarated and guilty, although I wasn’t sure why, I turned around and made my own way home.
* * *
The next morning, I was woken up by sunlight streaming through a gap in the curtains. I groaned and rolled over, blind and in pain. It was funny, I always felt the vodka more the next day.
My head was swimming and my vision was blurred, memories of last night like a haze in my mind. But I remembered those eyes, bright and blue, staring into my soul. Sam.
Had it all been real? It certainly didn’t feel real anymore, not now that I was lying in the warm sun of the next day, in the bed that I shared with my fiancé.
I heard a squeak and squinted in the direction of the bedroom door. Peter was there, holding the door slightly open with one hand, and a cup of coffee in the other. I could smell it from bed, and it made my stomach squirm.
“Good morning, beautiful.” He swept over to me, placing his mug down on his bedside table, and wrapped me in his arms. I groaned and, curling up into a ball, crawled into his body. He felt warm and comfortable.
It felt good to be here with him, cuddled up and protected, but I couldn’t ignore the gnawing guilt that was eating away at me. Here was a man who loved me, who cared for me; but I couldn’t stop thinking about somebody else. I felt terrible, like I was betraying Peter, like I had cheated on him somehow even though I hadn’t actually done anything wrong.
I snuck a glance up at Peter, my perfect lovely fiancé, and smiled painfully. Before he could see my face, I pressed my lips against his and kissed him hard.
“I love you,” I whispered in between breaths and kisses as our skin brushed against each other, and I meant it. I loved him, I really really did love him.
In that moment, I vowed to never let myself think of Sam again. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to stop the thought from entering my mind, but I could dispel it, destroy it. I was Peter’s, forever and always, and I would never let myself forget that.
Months had passed since that fateful night when I’d met Sam. Since then, I’d become the most dedicated, loyal and loving girlfriend I could, adoring Peter in every moment of our spare time, caring for him like I never had before. It hadn’t felt forced. On the contrary, the more I acted like I had the perfect love, the more it seemed to be perfect. Most importantly, it was working – I hadn’t thought of Sam in weeks, not really. The mental image of his eyes, hair, and smile, had drifted through my mind, but never settled, like light snow that melts instantly when it touches the ground.
It was tougher on days like today though, with the sky being clear and bright. It teleported me right back to that place, swooning under his stare, gazing thoughtlessly into his bright blue eyes. To rid myself of his memory, I tried to numb my thoughts completely. Like a zombie, I moved through the paces of my day, finishing my shift at work and gliding onto the bus that took me home.
There, on the bus, my breath caught in my throat, my heart jumped into my chest, and my stomach felt like it was going to explode. There, on the bus, was Sam. He had noticed me first, smiling at me with that beautiful crooked grin that I had worked so hard to eradicate from my mind.
It was only as I slid into the seat next to him that I noticed what I was doing, but it was too late to stop myself now.
“Hey, you,” he said softly. His arm was lying right next to mine, separated only by a few centimetres of space. It was unbearable. The tension was so thick, I could almost catch it in my hand.
“Hey,” I replied. I hated the way my voice sounded. I spoke in an exhale, as if I’d been holding my breath since our last meeting. Maybe I had, but I couldn’t, didn’t want to, admit that. He was looking down at me now with those eyes and I could feel my knees trembling.
We started to catch up – light topics, easy conversation. It flowed naturally, the only awkwardness coming from me as I trembled with anxiety, anticipation and that gnawing feeling of guilt that had been tugging at me for the past few months. We were both on our way home, with no plans for the evening and no good excuse not to do something else.
“Please,” he said eventually, “come and get a drink with me.”
“Coffee,” I insisted. “No alcohol.”
He laughed. “Sure,” he agreed.
He took me to a coffee shop in town, a small boutique place I had never even heard of before. We got ourselves drinks and sat down in a cosy booth at the back. I should have stopped us, should have steered us to one of the more-formal round tables in the centre of the café, but I wasn’t thinking straight anymore. I was back in the dream.
We talked about our lives and everything in it, the kind of conversation that speeds up, faster than you can think, rushing so far ahead that you feel out of breath when you try to remember what you’ve said. I could feel him moving closer to me by the second, the pressure of his body, the intensity of the heat growing stronger and stronger until I felt like I would scream.
My head was still trying to catch up with the conversation, with this place where only we existed, but it didn’t feel like I was really awake, didn’t feel like any of this could be really happening.
That’s when I kissed him.
* * *
Skin on skin, lips on lips, hands everywhere. His breath trickled along my neck, his voice slurring through my mind, the words cycling over and over again as he whispered that he loved me. His body pressed into me, each move making me feel like the sun was erupting, the stars were colliding, the planets had found their perfect alignment and would never move in orbit again.
He sighed suddenly, satisfied, the largest of smiles stretching across his beautiful face as he beamed down at me. Rolling over, with his arm still under mine, he grabbed his phone and snapped a quick picture of us two together.
“Stop,” I said, my voice playful although I was starting to feel anything but. “You can’t do anything with that picture, you know that, right?”
He laughed, as if that answered me, and ruffled my hair. “You’re silly,” he stated.
“And you’re terrible,” I replied. I grabbed his phone from his hands and deleted the picture myself. It was if that, the simple gesture of capturing the moment, had snapped me from my daze. This wasn’t a moment that could be, or should be, captured. This was the moment of my demise, the lowest moment of my life.
Guilt came crashing down on me with the sudden intensity of a heatwave. I could no longer feel myself breathing. I was worried I was dead already.
“I have to go.” The words tumbled out of my mouth. I was already up, hurriedly pulling my clothes back on.
“Please, no,” he begged, his arms outstretched trying to pull me back. “Stay here with me.”
My voice was firm. “I can’t, I have to go.”
“I love you.”
I whipped round in a sudden fury. He’d said that a million times already, although in the heat it had just felt like something, not the everything that it felt like now. Now, I could see the meaning behind the words in his eyes, and it was burning into my soul.
“Never,” I said harshly, “say that to me again.”
With that, I grabbed my bag and all but ran out of the door. I was crying – I could feel the tears on the apples of my cheeks. I wiped the moisture away and jumped onto a bus, the normality of my actions helping me to slip back into a zombie-like trance. Against my leg, my phone buzzed gently. I pulled it out of my jean pocket and read the preview on the screen.
I’m sorry. Please forgive me. – Sam
For the next few days, we couldn’t stop texting. From the moment I woke up until the moment I slept, we were talking. We told each other everything about our lives, relayed every second. Even the things he didn’t want to know, he listened to. Hours in, I felt like I’d known him better than I’d known anyone else.
But things weren’t simple, far from it. Peter was still there, in fact, more there than ever. All those months of adoration had led him to believe we were more hopelessly in love than we’d ever been before, and he was ready now – ready to set a date. The wedding was all he ever spoke about.
I knew I needed to decide what I wanted to do. There was this feeling of intense doom pressing down upon me. I couldn’t think or act normally, distracted by my impossible decision, obsessed with it.
I called Bree and scheduled an emergency night out. As if fate had decided it, that night her calendar was empty. I ran home after work and made myself up, throwing outfit after outfit out of my wardrobe until I found something that made me feel a little better. I managed to finish an entire bottle of wine in the process and was swaying when I left the house.
The night moved past in a vodka and wine filled blur. The club was packed and full of energy, alcohol and heat. Bree and I danced all night with each other.
* * *
Waking up the next morning, the unfamiliar setting kicked me into an instant panic. Then I was able to place my surroundings. The window, the desk, I remembered these objects, the placement. Sam’s. That’s where I was.
The world came crashing in on me.
Next to me, he lay there sleeping still. In his sleep, he looked more beautiful than I had ever seen him. His mouth was parted slightly, his lower lip sticking out in the sweetest pout. I just wanted to nibble it. His hair was messy and the curls sprayed out over his pillow like a beautiful brown cloud. I longed for him to open his eyes so I could fall back into his stare.
He was all I wanted, now and forever. My eyes gazed over him as I prepared to, yet again, say goodbye. I watched the way his collarbones moved up and down with each breath, fascinated by the gentle movements of his body in slumber. Before I knew it, I was kissing him again.
I didn’t know what I was doing. I only knew one thing – I didn’t want to say goodbye. I didn’t want to have to leave him, not now, not ever. I didn’t want anything else in the world to exist if it got in the way of me and him. I just wanted this, forever and for always, his warmth and smell and touch and him kissing me back like he needed me to live.
And then I knew one thing more. I knew I didn’t need to decide, that the decision had been long since made for me. Sam was all I needed, all I wanted, and I would sacrifice anything for more time with him, for more mornings spent waking up beside him and more evenings lost in his company.
He kissed me back and his eyelids fluttered open, and my mind was made then and there as I fell, like a helpless heroine, into the love he held in those perfect blue irises.
The next day, I asked Sam to meet me in the bar where we’d first met. I hoped that the sentimentality of it all would give him some indication of what I was going to say.
It had been a long day already. I’d known, from the moment I’d left Sam’s yesterday, what I’d needed to do, and I wasted no time in doing it. Only hours after I got home, Peter had already left. I hadn’t told him everything, but I’d told him it was over. He needed to know the truth, he deserved it.
Now it was time to tell Sam the truth.
With my cutest outfit as my armour, and the most sparkling eyeshadow I could find, I ran out to the bar just after midday, the anticipation making me feel queasy. I arrived before Sam and ordered us both drinks.
The bar was different earlier in the day – far quieter, almost nice. The bartender was less pushy and the customers less slimy. I wondered at what time of night the place suddenly changed, leaving behind this cool and relaxed atmosphere and becoming a central watering hole for the desperate and pathetic.
I didn’t notice when he arrived. Only when he slid onto the barstool next to me silently did I look up and notice him. He looked especially beautiful today. He was wearing a sharp, clean, white shirt with black suit trousers and a bright red tie, pulled so that it was loose. He looked effortless and handsome and I wanted to have him right there.
Instead, I slid over his drink. He started sipping on it silently, waiting for me to speak.
“I want you to say it again,” I said finally, speaking under my breath, nervous about my words.
“Say what again?” he asked.
My fingers twitched against each other. I looked down and blushed furiously. I could feel the heat running through my cheeks and down my neck.
“You know,” I mumbled. “The thing. The thing I said you could never say.”
I dared a glance up at him. He looked frustrated, even a little angry. His brow was furrowed, and a deep set of lines had appeared above his nose. He doesn’t get it. I started panicking. He was obviously thinking very hard, and he was getting annoyed, I could see that. I wanted so badly to just hear him say it again, to hear him tell me that he loved me. I wanted to see his smile when I said it back, the thing he must have thought I would never say.
“For fuck’s sake, Belle, what on earth are you talking about?” He sounded very angry now.
Inside my chest, my heart began to break. This wasn’t how it was meant to be. Maybe he didn’t really love me. That thought was crippling. My body suddenly seemed to weigh double, my heart dragging the rest of me down into the ground – even further: straight down to hell.
Then, suddenly, his hands, his lips, his breath, his touch. He was everywhere, his curls surrounding me.
“I love you,” he whispered. “I love you, Belle. I love you so much.”
My whole world flipped upside down, the entire universe spun. Where I’d just been sinking down to hell, now it seemed that I was in heaven, walking delicately on clouds.
“I love you too,” I said, and then his lips were on mine and his hands were trapped in my hair. Over and over we whispered the words until we didn’t need to anymore. We could hear them in each breath, we knew them with each look, we could feel them in each smile.