Colin stared across the dining hall at the stunning blonde who was sitting at a table with her friends. She was laughing at something. He was captivated by her beauty; her big blue eyes, her slender neck, her pouting lips. He watched as she brought her fork up to her mouth. She wrapped her lips around the piece of pasta on the end and pulled the fork free. It was a simple, everyday act but Colin's mind raced, and his groin reacted.
"Come on, Col. Get a move on. Some of us actually want to get something to eat."
Janie's words shook Colin out of his trance. "Sorry."
"No need to be sorry, Col," said Billy, Colin's other best friend. "Just choose something. It's all shit so it doesn't matter what."
"Excuse me," said the plump lady behind the counter. "If you think the food is that bad, you can always go and eat somewhere else."
Except they couldn't, and they all knew it. As students they were on a tight budget. The refectory that serviced the hall of residence where they lived offered the cheapest food around.
Colin chose from the meagre selection, paid and then found a table with three empty seats. He could still see her. She was still laughing. She looked in his direction. He didn't know if she saw him staring, but he looked away. He didn't even know her name. Janie and Billy sat down either side of Colin.
"I don't know why you're so interested in her," Billy said. "She's a stuck up cow."
"How do you know? You don't know her any better than me."
"Exactly. We've been here nearly four months, and she hasn't spoken to any of us yet. She's got a chip on her shoulder."
"Ignore him," said Janie. "I'm sure she'd like you if she took the time to get to know you."
"I'm going to ask her to the Ice Palace Ball."
Billy laughed. "I can see it now. 'Hi, you don't know me but... '" He shook his head. "You're a good bloke, Colin, brilliant programmer, but sometimes you can be really thick."
The Ice Palace Ball was the university's second most prestigious event, ranking behind only the Midsummer Ball. The staff and students took great pride in their appearance for both. The men wore the finest dinner suits they could afford, and the ladies spent more time selecting their gowns than wearing them.
Colin and Billy waited for Janie to make her entrance. She and the other girls on their floor had been getting ready for over two hours. The lads didn't mind waiting; it gave them an excuse to crack open a bottle of whisky and smoke fat cigars. They continually slapped themselves on the back and complimented each other on their finery.
Janie was unquestionably attractive, although she insisted that she was at least a stone overweight. Neither Billy nor Colin could understand why she would want to be stick thin.
"Personally, I like a bit of meat on a girl," Billy had said one drunken night. "It gives you something to grab hold of."
She strode into the small kitchen that they shared, and Billy trumpeted a mock fanfare. "Ladies and Gentlemen! May I present, all the way from Telford, Shropshire — the delectable, Miss Janie Fox!"
Janie had hired a dark green, satin evening gown, the same colour as her eyes. It had a tight fitting bodice, which she claimed was to 'hold in the flab', and it hung loosely from her hips, rippling and catching the light as she walked. She had teased her dark brown hair up on the back of her head, and left loose strands curling down her back and around her face. She'd finished off the outfit with a pair of fake diamond earrings, which, although cheap, caught the light and sparkled as if they were real.
"Magnificent," said Colin. "Whoever it is that you've got your eye on is a very lucky man."
"Thank you." Janie blushed. "You don't scrub up too bad yourself."
Colin straightened his lapels and puffed out his chest.
"You look really nice, Janie," Billy said. He kissed her cheek. "Can I get the lady a drink?"
"That would be delightful, kind sir. Do we have any white wine?"
"Unfortunately not, ma'am. We have half a bottle of red, Jack Daniels, or cheap beer." Billy laughed. He was finding it difficult to maintain his phoney posh accent.
Janie laughed too. "I guess it'll have to be the cheap stuff then."
It was already dark as the students made their way to the students' union building. The venue for the Ice Palace Ball was affectionately called 'The Warehouse' by the locals. A stark concrete box, devoid of any architectural merit, it was revered and reviled in equal measure.
The night was crisp and clear, although dark clouds gathered in the distance. There was a light frost and the pale moonlight gave familiar buildings an eerie quality. The grass verges were tinted white. The asphalt sparkled.
Many of the students were in pairs, excitedly chatting as they walked arm in arm. Others were in small groups, still more in large groups. No one was alone. Not tonight.
Janie walked arm in arm with Billy and Colin, clinging to both of them and cursing her high heels.
"Damn things. I should have worn sensible shoes."
Billy had offered her his long black coat as soon as they left the hall and discovered how cold it was. He draped it around her shoulders but she still shivered.
There was a queue at the union. It took them almost twenty freezing cold minutes to be admitted. Inside, the building had been transformed into a winter wonderland. Fake icicles hung from the ceiling and staircase. The walls were decked with fake snow and the windows were frosted.
The building had two bars. One had a traditional layout, with seats arranged around tables, dim lighting and a strange smell coming from the beer stained carpet. The other was in the dance hall, occupying the length of one wall. Both bars were surrounded by a throng of people trying desperately to attract the attention of one of the bar staff. The three friends opted for the bar in the dance hall. It was more crowded, but had more staff and less smell.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome on stage, a local band that are going to be huge this year. You will love them and they are here to rock your world tonight! It's Marvin's Androids!"
The crowd cheered as the band took to the stage, and the cheers grew louder when they launched into an hour-long set.
After they finished, the resident DJ took over while the stage was reset. Billy, Janie and Colin hadn't been able to get near the stage during the performance. Instead they had watched from the raised seating area opposite the bar.
Colin leaned on the railing that separated his area from the dance floor, watching people come and go as they refilled their glasses.
She was there. Her blonde hair straight and sleek. Her blue eyes sparkling. He stared at her. She looked his way and this time he was certain she caught him watching.
"Who you looking at?" Janie asked. She followed his gaze. "Oh. Her. How come you haven't asked her to dance?"
"I couldn't. Not now. I mean, I asked her to be my date, and she laughed in my face."
"You know, Colin, if I didn't know you and you asked me to the Ball out of the blue, I think I'd turn you down too. You can't be too careful these days."
"She didn't just turn me down, Janie. She laughed in my face. I mean, she actually laughed at me."
"It was probably out of nervousness. Forget it, come and dance with me instead."
"How could I refuse?"
They joined Billy, who was already dancing. He was delighted to see them. He gave Janie a hug and kissed her cheek. It wasn't long before the second band took to the stage. The Steromatics were billed as stars because of two recent top twenty hits.
The students rocked along with The Steromatics for a full hour and a half. It was approaching midnight when the band finally quit and the DJ took over once more. He gleefully announced that there was four hours of the party left and launched into a string of hit songs and party tracks. Colin, Billy and Janie danced along with everyone else.
After half an hour of frenzied dance floor activity, Billy wanted a drink. He had a quick word in Colin's ear before he left.
"Your sweetheart seems to dancing with all and sundry. You're bound to get in there tonight. Why don't you go over and ask her. You never know, you might even get a snog."
Colin smiled and Billy set off for the bar. Colin left his other friends and headed for his dream girl. She had her back to him. He tentatively tapped her shoulder. She turned around.
"Oh. It's you."
"Would you like to dance?"
"I'm already dancing, thank you."
"With me, I meant."
She laughed. "With you? Are you joking?"
"If I'd have had any intention of dancing with a nerd like you, don't you think I'd have let you pay for my ticket when you offered?" She laughed again.
"I just thought..."
"Go back to your keyboard, you computer freak." She turned her back on him and joined her friends in a loud, hearty laugh.
Colin trudged wearily away. He headed for the DJ's booth, which was on a raised platform at the rear of the dance floor. He leaned on the railing that surrounded it and stared at Shelly. Billy appeared and shoved a bottle of beer into his hand.
"Cheer up, mate. It might never happen."
"It already has."
"Oh. Right. Well. Never mind, eh? Bottoms up."
Billy took a swig from his own bottle and then bounded to the dance floor where their friends were enjoying themselves. Colin stayed put, leaning on the rail and staring out across the throng of revellers. When he came to university, he thought he'd get away from the name-calling and stereotyping.
He sucked on his beer and wallowed in his misery. None of the people who he watched enjoying themselves had a clue how he was feeling. None of them felt as bad as he did. Why had he been so stupid as to ask a girl like Shelly to dance?
"Colin! Colin, come and look." Janie's words shook him out of his trance as they so often did. It was as if she could sense when he was wallowing.
"Janie? What? Look at what?"
"Come. Look." Janie tugged on Colin's arm.
She led him to the exit. Her eyes had a misty glaze caused by too much to drink, and her voice had taken on child-like excitement.
"Where're we going?"
"Outside, come on."
The doorman stamped their hands with invisible ink before he let them out.
"It's snowing." Colin was surprised. He'd never know it snow this early in winter.
"Isn't it lovely?" Janie seemed even more excited now she was outside.
Colin nodded his agreement. A thin dusting of snow covered the pavement and the surrounding buildings, and large white snowflakes drifted down from heaven. Janie held out her hand and caught one. It melted almost instantly. She squealed. Colin thought it as if she'd never seen snow before.
Continuing her childish behaviour, Janie ran out into the snow and spun around, trying to catch as many of the fat flakes out of the air as she could. Colin shook his head, and wondered how many drinks she'd had to make her act this way.
"Janie, come on back inside. You'll catch your death out here."
"Oh, stop being such an old fuddy-duddy. It's not cold, not really."
"Janie, it's snowing. It has to be cold or it wouldn't be. Now come inside."