During my seven very celibate years of secondary school, I made myself a vow.
Too many times I’d seen girls – girls that I was wildly in love with – going out with awful men; braying, brutish arseholes who didn’t appear to appreciate them in the slightest. Every time I saw it happen (and I saw it happen a lot) I would sit and think to myself, “If that was my girlfriend, I wouldn’t be like that. If that was me, it would be roses, it would be chocolates, it would be champagne. I would spoil a girl like that.”
And so, sat alone in my sixth form common room, I made myself vow: When I get a girl like that, I will spoil her rotten. That is what I will do.
Then I got to university.
The gender split on my campus wasn’t too unusual – there was, I’d guess, about three boys to every five girls. However (and I say this without wishing to perpetrate any lazy stereotypes) the campus I was at specialised in the theatrical arts, and so there was perhaps a disproportionately high representation of attractive, athletically-built homosexuals in amongst our number. When taken into account alongside the boys who arrived at uni already in long-term, committed relationships, this goes some way to explain why there was such a frantic scramble on the Friday of our first week, of girls trying to snap up any single, straight boy they could find.
It also offers some explanation as to quite how I managed to get one of the prettiest girls on campus to agree to be my girlfriend.
Now, I wasn’t the only one in a mismatched couple – the girl-rich/gay-heavy situation led to some truly ludicrous pair ups – but my relationship was notable on campus for one very particular reason. Mine was the first to break down.
It happened about three weeks before we were all due to leave for Christmas and it left me absolutely devastated. I sat in my room – a cell with all the character of an unpainted squash court – and listened to the Beach Boys’ Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) on repeat, trying desperately to cry but not quite being able to manage.
After a day and a half of this, I realised I wasn’t helping myself. I needed to devise a plan to win her heart back. The way I decided I’d do this was to go back out into the world, my head held high, my chest puffed out, acting as though I wasn’t actually all that bothered about the whole break-up. Fight fire with indifference.
My logic was this. In a few weeks, she would no doubt begin to assess her options and start deciding who she should make her new boyfriend. When she did that , she would likely revisit my case. Remembering how incredibly cool and nonchalant I had been in the face of being dumped, she would think to herself “Well, that break up wasn’t that much hassle, Maybe I’ll just go out with him again.”
It took every ounce of fight in me to put this plan into action. The effort involved in putting on a brave face and going out, being normal around our friends was exhausting. Wholly, totally exhausting. So I was absolutely astounded when, the following Saturday, we weren’t back together again. I could not get my head around it at all.
Then it dawned on me.
I had become that guy. That awful guy. The braying, brutish arsehole. The one I had vowed I would never be. I had had the prettiest girl on campus and I didn’t spoil her once. Not a single bunch of roses, not a single bottle of champagne. I hadn’t bought her so much as a Bounty bar. So, again, I sat and I thought “Maybe I do it. Maybe this is how I win her back.”
I dashed across the hall and knocked on my flatmate Sylvie’s door.
“Sylvie, Sylvie, Sylvie!” I said. “I’m going to make a play for Chloe. A proper one. I’m going to win her back.”
Sylvie stood there looking up at me with her big, blinking eyes.
“Yeah,” I said, continuing at a superhuman speed, “I’ve got it. I get it because I took her for granted but I only did it because I knew I could because everyone all started fighting for us because everyone was gay and desperate and it all made it all too easy.”
She blinked again.
“But now I know that and I realise what I’ve got to do to put it all right. It’s got to be flowers and chocolate and champagne, hasn’t it? Girls like that, don’t they?”
“Yeah…” she said, her inflection making the word sound more like a question than an answer.
“Well, great then. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll go and I’ll get the stuff now.”
I hurtled out of the door, into my car and I drove straight into town to pick up all the requisite things. I picked up a nice bottle of champagne, I picked up some Milk Tray, I picked up some roses (not a full dozen – I was a student) and I put it all in my boot, in a Sainsbury’s Bag For Life, and drove back to campus. When the coast was clear, I picked it all up, huddled it all up close to my chest and ran up to my room to hide it all under my desk.
All I needed now was a moment to strike.
The room I had at university really was the best one for surveillance. I had a plain, unrestricted view of the car park and the quad area, so I could see the comings and goings of absolutely everyone. That being so, it was only a matter of minutes before I spotted Chloe walking across the carpark with a big bag of wet laundry.
I knew exactly where she was going. We had all figured out that the cheapest way to get your clothes clean was to wash your clothes on site in the campus laundry and then lug your wet laundry to the laundrette down the road to use their (cheaper and much more effective) tumble driers.
With a twenty minute drying cycle, a ten minute walk there and a ten minute walk back, I reasoned I had about forty minutes if I was going to make this happen.
If I was going to win Chloe’s heart back, I had to act and I had to act then.
Here’s something you ought to know. Chloe never locked her door. She couldn’t. She lost her keys sometime in the second week of term and had never got round to replacing them. I knew this. I knew the code to her building – I’d been going there for months. I knew there was a certain way you could pull and push the outer door to her flat to pop the lock – in fact, it was she who had shown me how. I knew that the door to her room would be open. It always was.
I dashed across the hall again, and knocked for Sylvie.
“Sylvie, Sylvie, Sylvie,” I said. “I’ve got the stuff. I’ve got it under my desk. I’m going to go and give it to Chloe.”
“But she’s not in.”
“Now I know that she leaves her door open and the thing is, if I leave it outside her flat I’m worried that people might take it. Or, worse, people might take the piss out of her if they see it sat there. So what I thought I’d do is just pop it in her room. You know, so that it’s safe.”
“That’s not… breaking in, is it?”
I didn’t give her the chance to answer.
“Because I know the code for the building – I’ve been going there for months – and I also know about the door with the pushing and the pulling. She showed me how and she never locks her door because she lost her keys that time in the second week, so really, technically, I’m not breaking in so much as I am walking in. If you think about it like that.”
Sylvie said nothing.
“She’s at the laundrette, is all, so if I’m going to do it I sort of need to do it now.”
“Well, I suppose…”
That was all I needed. I grabbed the stuff from under my desk, I raced down the stairs and across the quad. I punched in the code for the building, I pushed and pulled the door and I went barrelling straight into Chloe’s room.
It wasn’t until I was safely in there that the most damaging thought of all hit me: How was I going to make my mark on this?
It was all very well and good getting Chloe some presents but anyone could have walked in there and done that – she leaves her door open for Christ’s sake! – so how was I going to let her know that all of this was from me? How was I going to make this romantic?
I know, I thought. Rather than give her them all in one go, I’ll hide them around the room a bit – make it a bit like a scavenger hunt. That’ll be fun for her and that way she’ll find these little tokens of my affection for the rest of the day. What a brilliant plan, I thought.
I started with the chocolates, opting to leave those on her pillow – like you might find in an upmarket hotel. The roses I thought would be needing some water, so I filled her sink and left them in there. I left the champagne behind her curtains thinking that it might even be morning before she opened them and found it. Then I’ll have managed to squeeze two days’ worth of attention out of this rather than just one. Talk about value!
Once they were all in position, I ran back to my room. Despite my best efforts not to, I couldn’t help but sit by my window and look out thinking, “When’s she going to come back? When’s she going to come back?”
I must have been waiting for about three hours before there was any word from Chloe. When I did, the message I got brief.
Was that you?
I’ve always been bad with text messages. Instead of seeing this for the obvious accusation it was, I somewhat optimistically misinterpreted it as her asking for confirmation that I was the one to thank for this wonderfully sweet and touching gesture.
So I replied without hesitation,
Of course. Who else?x
To which I got the instant reply,
Did you take anything?
Honestly, it hadn’t occurred to me before then that my actions could have been in any way misconstrued – but as I read those four words a cold wave of panic swept over me.
I could. I could have taken stuff. As it happened, I hadn’t taken a thing, but I could have done. Come to think of it, I could have done anything in there. I broke into her room! I broke into her room and I left stuff everywhere!
And I’ve just admitted to it!
I traipsed back across the hall. My fist felt thick and numb as I thumped it on Sylvie’s door. She opened it. I saw her big, blinking eyes. All I wanted to do was fall asleep.
“Sylvie,” I said, “I think I’m going to go home for a few days.”
She smiled, sadly.
“OK,” she said.
Also listened to:
The Bandwagon – A single song from a Northern Soul compilation.
Barry White – I’m Qualified To Satisfy You. Highly repetitive and probably not the finest thing he’s ever done but my lasting favourite.
Basement Jaxx – One of the finest singles bands of the last fifteen years. They’ve done so many brilliant songs and I always forget how happy they make me. [site]
Basia Bulat – Little Waltz. Her voice is absolutely sublime. [site]
Bat For Lashes – Try as I might, I really can’t love Bat For Lashes. I like it enough – and I enjoy Two Suns as an album more than I do Fur and Gold – but none of it is a patch on her step-mother’s work… [Salma Agha – Move Closer] [site]