"Are you coming tonight?"
Varun's text flashed brightly on her phone. A week ago, fresh during the hustle of welcome week at the university, she signed up for the Literature Society's first pub quiz of the year. Why did she sign up? Well, she was a writer after all, obviously naturally drawn to anything that was to do with books. But why EXACTLY did she sign up? What on earth was a pub quiz? She dreaded social situations with strangers, let alone never having gone to a pub.
She's only been at university for a month, and the expectation of socializing to cure the homesickness was not helping at all. But staying shut in her flat did not help either. Scotland was not Sri Lanka, she was thousands of miles from home now. She knew she had to put herself out of the comfort she'd basked in for the past 18 years to make this new chapter in her life meaningful.
"Yup!" she replied. Varun was a friend she'd made at her accommodation. He was a third year exchange student from the US; a social butterfly who's Indian roots made her feel a little close to home.
"Amazing! My friend from home who's visiting will join too!"
Oh god she thought. The addition of another person made her anxious for no reason. She pushed the thought away, got dressed and walked to the pub. The kind bartenders downstairs told her that the quiz was happening upstairs. She nervously climbed the stairs as the sound of conversation and laughter closed in on her with every step. As she reached the landing, Varun called her name from the sofa at the corner.
She flashed a smile at him and gave him a welcoming hug. The guy who sat next to him smiled at her politely and stood up for a handshake.
"Hi, I'm Nathan." The tall American with a deep voice and dark hair introduced himself.
She firmly returned the handshake and introduced herself.
The pub quiz started as soon as a few late strangers joined their team. The questions weren't anything she couldn't answer, and having Literature students among the strangers helped too. She was quiet and observant like she always was, but Varun and Nathan- in true American politeness, were initiating conversation. It was Nathan who conversed with her more than the others. He asked her about her country, her new life at university, the culture shock, and she was surprised. Because unlike everyone else she had come across, Nathan showed genuine interest in what she said. He paid attention to her and asked questions curiously.
She learned that he was from New York, but currently lived in Los Angeles. He told her about the terrible traffic in LA, his days at university and his exchange to Edinburgh two years ago. He was nice, outgoing and the initial social anxiety she had was gone. When the quiz broke into a quick break, everyone went downstairs to the pub for a drink. She felt nervous again as she was not used to being in a crowd of people who were drinking. She swore she won't drink till she was comfortable doing so.
"Hey, are you getting something?" asked Varun.
He noticed the look of uncertainty painted all over her.
"Don't worry, I'm not drinking. We can get something non-alcoholic."
They got themselves two San Pallegrinos; she got grapefruit, he got lemon.
Nathan, who was unfamiliar with the beverage took her can in curiosity and read the brand name.
"You can have some if you like," she offered.
"Oh, so kind of you. Yes, I would love to!" he said with a smile as a he poured some into a glass. He took a sip, tasted it and a look of approval flashed across his face.
The quiz reached its final questions and concluded. They handed over their sheet of answers and waited for the results to be announced.
"You've some very posh accessories," said Varun as he inquisitively took her colourful scarf laid on the table and put it on himself. Nathan followed suit and put her small hand bag across Varun's shoulder and neatly kept her gloves on his forearm. Varun looked absolutely comical as he imitated a posh lady, they were all in fits of laughter. Nathan and Varun were very good at being social, she felt more comfortable and her social side was slowly coming out of its shell.
When the results were announced and their team received fifth place, they all started to get ready to leave. As she out on her scarf and reached for her gloves on the table, Nathan playfully grabbed the one she was reaching for. She looked at him and he had a cute smile across his face. Taking his playful nature as an invitation to hers, she took the other glove and threw it at him.
"There, take them both. Happy now?" she said with a chuckle.
Nathan laughed and threw one at her, then the other, calling for competition. She threw both fast like frisbees to see if he could catch them on time, unsurprisingly he did. The girl who sat beside her said a polite goodbye, and as she returned it, one glove hit her on the side of her face and landed on her lap. She smiled and turned to see Nathan smiling in pride.
As the crowd was clearing up, she retrieved both gloves from Nathan and they stood up to leave. It was only when he stood beside her did she realize that he was an entire foot taller than her 5'0" frame.
"Wow, you're pretty short," he said teasingly.
"So I've been told..." he sarcastic side was coming out slowly.
When they reached the door, Varun suddenly remembered that he had to use the bathroom. She stood beside the door with Nathan behind her, waiting for Varun.
"Let's just wait outside for him?" he said.
She nodded in reply and opened the door. As she stepped out on to the street, he put the hood on her jacket from behind. She turned around and looked up at him, "yeah, you're way too tall for me to do that to you."
"Well, my jacket can actually be folded into a bag." he said.
So till Varun was done with his business, he demonstrated how his waterproof jacket could be folded into a bag and carried with the few belongings he brought with them.
When Varun was done, they all walked back to the accommodation- deep in conversation. The night was still young when they got back, so they went to the common room to play pool.
She sat down on one of the high chairs and watched everyone play. Amidst the competitiveness of Varun and the other residents who were already playing and their fits of social laughter, Nathan sat next to her and talked with her. He showed interest in the conversation, and her observant nature told her that he wasn't having it for the sake of being nice. His extroversion was encouraging her introversion to come out the shadows and express herself, and it was a welcoming and warm invite.
As the boys concluded their game of pool, Varun invited her to come and slide the billiard balls across the table to see who could get them into as many pockets. Her small stature stood at a disadvantage, so she sat on the corner of the table - her legs dangling over the ground - and competed.
Just a she was about to slide her final shot, Nathan - who sat at the chair on the side and was watching, came from behind and tickled her on her waist.
The physical interaction made her ticklish and fall on her side on the table with a laugh. Her laugh was not only an indication of her having fun, but it was a distraction for her to process what had just happened.
They arranged the cues and billiard balls back to their usual places and were forced to leave since it was already past 12 AM. As she parted ways with Varun and Nathan to go to her block, she saw the tall figure of the American wave goodbye to her. It seemed like he wanted to say something, and she waited for him to. But all he managed to say was "sleeping this early?"
To this she said, "yeah, I have a nine AM tomorrow!"
The following day Nathan had left, his flight was in the afternoon and Varun had seen him off. They didn't add each other on Facebook, like every social interaction at university. She knew that it was the first and last time she met him. There was no other way they were to meet again. Her mind was a chaotic confusion of thoughts as she tried to process everything that had happened that night. Was there really something that happened between them? Was Nathan's outgoing and playful personality something he always had with people, or was it just with her? It took her several days to push aside the American from her head and tell her writer of a mind to not romanticize anything.
Two months later, Varun left back to the US after the end of his exchange. They bid their goodbyes at a flat potluck and kept in touch.
3 years later.
She was now 21 and in her final year of university. Three years had passed since she first moved to Scotland, and she could not believe how fast the time had gone. She had a close circle of friends now, and was confident to go out to pubs and socials to drink. She even had a favourite local pub that she'd frequent with her friends.
A month before she started her final year, she'd had a video call with Varun and a few friends from their accommodation. Varun was planning to visit. She was excited to meet a good friend once again in her favourite city.
They were to meet at pub in the city centre with live music, it was a group meetup so a few friends from the accommodation were to be there too, all of whom she knew. She dressed up for the occasion since it was a pub in the city area, did her best eyeliner and was out the door. She walked the brightly lit streets she knew like the back of her hand after three years of living there. She admired the beauty of the city at night and inhaled the fresh night air, feeling like the main character of the story like she always did.
She reached the pub and went inside. At the designated table she saw the familiar faces of Varun and the others. Who she wasn't aware was joining Varun, sitting right next to him, was a face she hadn't seen in three years.
He sported a short haircut, a neatly trimmed stubble beard and the same kind smile.
They locked eyes, both their expressions full of surprise. It was like meeting a stranger from the past and a friend from the present at the same time.
"Hey!" he stood up with a playful smile and came for a hug.
She hugged him back. She had so many things she wanted to ask him.
The night progressed as the reunion meetup it was supposed to be. She had to hold back her excitement and conversation for Nathan to an exchange of formalities. After two rounds of cocktails and many servings of loaded nachos, it was time for Varun and Nathan to take their leave. They had a one-day hiking trip the next day and had to make an early start to the day. As they left the pub and said their goodbyes to go back to home, Nathan took her by the arm.
"Tomorrow, seven PM. Will you meet me here?"
She wasted no time with her response, "yes."
She met him outside the pub, right on time. He was wearing a dark blue overcoat with a matching Burberry-patterned scarf. She wore a camel coat with a black scarf that matched her magenta top and black jeans.
They hugged before they said hello.
"I had no idea you were coming with Varun! This is such a surprise." she said.
"It was a last-minute decision, and here I am. I never thought I'll see you again, it's been three years...."
"Three years is quite some time, isn't it?"
"It is. I didn't expect to run into you and- well, here you are." He smiled down at her.
"Do you have a place in mind?"
"No... I didn't think of that at all, I just wanted to see you again."
"There's a jazz bar down this road, I've never been there, but I love jazz and it would be a nice reminder of New York for you." she smiled.
"Take it away!"
They entered the bar with two free tickets she had sitting in her purse. They sat at a table for two next to the performers and dived straight into conversation. Cocktails came and went, baskets of food sat cold as their conversations took priority. She told him all about the past three years of university, the places she'd visited around Scotland and her plans to study Filmmaking in New York for her postgraduate degree. He told her about his new job, his travels to Hawaii and the Bahamas and his adopted dog Loki.
He was charmed by how much she had changed; she didn't wear her glasses anymore and he noticed how pretty her eyes were, she was sociable and very witty, her hair was worn down compared to the ponytail she wore three years ago, and her straight hair framed her face perfectly. She found his new haircut and beard quite suiting and handsome on him, he was still as playful as he was and held her gaze intently while she spoke. She felt at ease talking with him, she felt like she could tell him everything.
They drank, ate, and then she took him around the city. They explored the city of Literature in its glory at night, the coldness of November complementing it all perfectly. They talked and talked; about their passions, their past, the cities they'd love to visit and the books they loved reading. Their hands crawled out of their pockets and held each others', and decided to hold on for the rest of the night.
Their final spot was the star of the city: Edinburgh Castle. The grand edifice had its final lights turned on before they closed for the night.
"I was in this city five years ago, oblivious to the fact that I would return here, two years later, to have an unexpected meeting with a mysterious girl. Only to visit again three years later to cross paths with her." he smiled at her.
"Life works in unexpected ways, doesn't it?" she said, the colour rushing to her cheeks.
He nodded, "one night in Edinburgh was all it took. Can it be anymore perfect?"
She grabbed his coat and captured his lips in hers. She didn't know where this wave of confidence came from, but she was reassured when her held her by the waist to pull her closer and kissed her back. She was on her toes and stroked the hair at the back of his neck to kiss him passionately. His arms were firm around her waist as he made no agenda to let her go.
They released as they ran out of breath. They stood nose-to-nose, taking in the beauty of the other. Not wanting the moment to end.
"This time next year, you're going to be in New York." he said, cupping her cheek. "Will you come see me there?"