Before I left on my epic adventure, I got a little more addicted to the Sims 3 than was probably healthy and spent a lot of times raiding tombs in fake Egypt and fake China. But for all the time I whiled away playing god with computer people, some of the misadventures that my characters got up to inspired me to write some more ordinary stories. I don't always write about the real world, but when I do I'm usually inspired by the fake world.
So without further ado, here is a little something from one of those moments of inspiration that I wrote back in April before La Vie began.
Mary Jane Jenkins started at the university in the summer of her 22nd year, having spent the time after finishing high school working and travelling abroad as she’d always wanted to do. She failed her first term of Technology, unprepared for the life that university brought when it was so different to the previous years she’d spent either aboard a ship, living in hostels or riding the subway of whatever city she’d made it to.
Study was harder than she’d thought it would be, and after some appalling results on her first exam, MJ took a serious step back to consider her options.
If MJ’s parents had still lived she’d have sought their counsel, and as it was with friendly only abroad and a cat named Lucifer who, sadly, couldn’t respond to her questions, MJ had little choice but to return to her psychologist.
“You need to adjust,” Dr Fisher told her, as MJ sat across from her on a plush couch fiddling with the fringe on her skirt. “You’ve spent four years travelling and looking for a place to call your own, something you haven’t had since you were eight.”
MJ remembered being eight a lot more vividly than most women her age, it was the year her parents had died – rather traumatically. They’d always loved her, and she them, and as a little girl she’d never wanted for anything. But that year they’d been killed by a drunk driver less than a block from their house in the suburbs.
MJ’s father had been relatively wealthy, accruing a large amount of assets and shares in companies like Google and what had back then been IBM, and his death had left money to grow in folds over the years. Her mother had been successful in her own right, and alongside her husband had left MJ more than enough to live on.
However, being so young at the event of their deaths and with no other living relatives, the officials had had little choice but to leave her to the foster care system and seal her inheritance into a trust left locked until MJ’s 18th birthday. Luckily, the woman at the bank in charge of the account had seen enough movies about what would have happened to a young heiress fending for herself a world of greedy money grabbers, and made the executive decision to have the inheritance remain a secret. And so, MJ’s childhood after that had been stable, uneventful and almost happy but for becoming so quiet and introverted that she hardly made any friends.
Dr Fisher tapped at her notepad with a purple biro, contemplating MJ’s fears. Despite being the psychologist and grief counsellor appointed all those years ago to help a scared little girl through the untimely deaths of her parents, she had grown very fond of her and perhaps knew Mary Jane better than anyone alive.
She was a self-made trap; afraid to bond with anyone lest they die as her parents had before hence the introvertedness, but desperately lonely. Not an uncommon psychoanalysis considering the circumstances.
“What do you suggest?” MJ finally asked, dropping the hem of her skirt and looking up to meet Fisher’s eyes. “Return?”
“An adjustment period, Mary.” Fisher was old fashioned in some things; never called MJ anything but Mary to her face. “This is a second chance to make friends, finally break out of that lonely world you live in and perhaps even try to settle a little. You’ve been alone a long time, and as wealthy as you are you can’t afford to travel forever.”
MJ’s gaze flicked towards the window, out into the city beyond and remained silent for long moments. Fisher forced herself not to smile, knowing that she had pulled the right strings, and steepled her fingers, resting her elbows on the desk.
“Alright,” MJ turned back to her only confidante and sighed. “You’re right; I need to try this adventure as I have others in the past. I owe it to the memory of my parents, and to myself, to try. They never would have given up and I won’t either.”
With a nod back and forth, Fisher rose as MJ exited the office, watching her through the window as the younger woman walked to her car and got in. At the sound of the door slamming shut, Fisher finally gave in to her impulse to smile.
MJ didn’t know it yet, but Fisher was positive that the next year was going to be better for the young woman than either of them could even imagine.
Mary Jane Jenkins stood in the entrance hall of the Student Union building and tried not to panic. It was the first day of the Fall semester and people were everywhere as the Union hosted its annual ‘Welcome Back’ event with free food, drinks, Frisbees and the occasional poster. It was where friends caught up, new acquaintances were made and the university mascot cheered newcomers with the school song. It was effectively one big party to celebrate new friends, and old, returning to campus and an indication as to how the rest of the year was going to be.
It was a sort of common knowledge on campus that those who partied hard at the WB were probably going to do so all year, and would know where the best soirees were going to be.
MJ was not one of those people. With her chocolate brunette hair pulled to a side ponytail, clear lens Ray Bans, and high-waisted rose shorts with suspenders, she couldn’t have thought of a way to describe her discomfit if she’d tried. So on entering the building, following the crowd to the extra large common room, she had swiped a slice of piping hot Hawaiian pizza and tried to become one with the shadows in the corner.
And it worked for a little while, enough to let her racing pulse calm a little before attempting to circulate the room.
It was purely her attitude that kept her from having many friends; she was a good person at heart, gave to charities, had volunteered a lot whilst abroad, and did her best to treat everyone she met with kindness. And she wasn’t a physical underdog either; standing at 5”6 she had big blue eyes even hidden by her glasses, was slim because she never ate enough and had been said to be ‘hot’ by some of the boys at her high school and that she’d met overseas.
But it was her intense quiet and shyness, not to mention panic at speaking to people other than Fisher, which stood between her and her ability to make friends.
It was also why she froze like marble when a hopeful youth bounded up to her when she went to the refreshment table to acquire a napkin for her oily hands.
“Hey there,” he said, flipping a lock of strawberry blonde hair out of his eyes. “I saw you move into the dorm today. Royal House, right? You starting this year, too?”
He was tall and gangly, and looked to be around MJ’s own age. She vaguely recognised him from common room at the dormitory house she’d moved boxes into earlier in the day.
“Yes – sort of.” She replied in a rush, nerves springing back up. “I’m technically a second year, but I botched the first few classes I took so I’ll be supplementing them. And yes, Royal House.”
He grinned down at her. “I thought so, I’d never forget your pretty face or those bizarre shorts. Name’s Scott Macklamore, I just transferred. I’m second year, too.”
“Mary Jane Jenkins.”
Scott whistled. “Nice name – what do your friends call you?”
MJ couldn’t help the blush that spread across her cheeks and practically singed her eyebrows off. “MJ – well, at least they would if I had any friends.”
Chuckling at first at what he found a ridiculous joke, he slowly drew to a halt as he realised she was serious. A kindred spirit though she didn’t know it yet, Scott took her hand and squeezed it. “Well, MJ, now you do.”
The next hour saw Scott and MJ chatting, as his good-natured enthusiasm and jokes gradually drew MJ a little out of her shell enough to smile and laugh at his stories. During that hour they consumed a total of five beers between them and much more pizza than they needed, and MJ learnt that Scott was studying to be an historian. Having transferred from UCLA , he had a sunny disposition like his homeland and a passion for history – particularly European – that most people just didn’t have.
It also turned out that they had a lot in common, too; they both enjoyed Studio Ghibli films, loved cats and considered Halloween to be the best time of year. Scott argued it was second only to Christmas, but MJ, having found Christmas hard since her parents died, thought otherwise.
It was when they were entering their second hour that Scott was called away by a gaggle of girls, ladies man that he apparently was, and promised to see her later since she ‘couldn’t escape him while they lived in the same house’. MJ couldn’t help the smile that statement had given her.
After he left, MJ slowly began to return to her familiar and comforting state of quiet when a ping pong ball sprung off the nearby table, smacked someone in the face, rolled along someone else’s arm and with a surprisingly big splash landed in MJ’s beer. Face sprayed with fizzy alcohol, MJ gasped and stared down at the perpetrator floating like a giant peal on the surface of the ruined drink.
“Oh jeez, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get you – you can blame Ethan for that one.”
MJ looked up dazedly into the darkly handsome face of the man who stood over her, racquet in hand and sheepish grin on his face. He thrust a thumb in the direction of a buff blonde god across the table who began to whistle surreptitiously like it proved his innocence.
Stunned, she turned back to the man in front of her and sputtered. Even when Scott had cornered her earlier, she hadn’t felt this flustered.
“Can I get you another drink?”
Later, MJ wouldn’t be able to recall what had possessed her or what magic had worked on her, but despite her misgivings she place her hand into the one he offered her and let him lever her to her feet. Even following him to the keg, she wondered why she didn’t feel that intense panic and desire to run like she had with Scott and practically everyone before him.
At the keg her took the red plastic cup from her with another apologetic grin, tossed the contents into the sink, rinsed it and refilled it.
“No point in wasting a perfectly good cup,” he explained handing it to her. “I hope you can forgive me.”
Still dazed, MJ nodded.
“You don’t talk much, do you?”
She shook her head.
He laughed. “Well, how about a conciliatory game? Ethan’s forfeited his game, I think, after the damage he’s already caused.”
MJ half smiled. Nodded again. A part of her wondered what else she’d have agreed to at that moment, oddly charmed by this tall stranger in a different way to how Scott had before.
“Excellent. Well, I’m Jeffery – Jeffery Dean. Friends call me Jeff. How about you?”
“I’ll tell you if I win the game.”
In a move bolder than she’d ever been and made MJ think she’d actually lost the plot, acting completely out of character; she watched the look of surprise cross his features, soon replaced with a dazzling smile.
“I like the way you play – you’re on.”
Jeff led her back to the ping pong table and poked Ethan in the ribs. “Alright, buffoon, game’s over for you after that little show of public nuisance; hand over the paddle to my friend here and let someone else have a go.”
Ethan, the blonde god who’d hit the ball across the room and into her drink, just laughed at his friend’s antics. “Sure, Jeff.” He handed the racquet to MJ with a courtly flourish, laughed, scratched the back of his head and wandered straight into the arms of some big-busted blonde to watch from the sidelines.
MJ had a moment of panic that she was the centre of attention, but a quick survey of the room and a glance at the clock indicated that the bulk of the WB had headed either out on the town or home for the night. There was maybe fifteen people left to see her play and that thought was strangely comforting.
“Alright, let’s rumble.” Jeff declared, wiggling his hips in a little dance football players sometimes did to warm up, before bouncing the plastic ball once and serving it across the table.
What ensued quickly became a hard and fast ping pong duel the likes of which few had ever seen. MJ was actually quite good at ping pong, having convinced herself she’d win and escape unnamed, but then so, it seemed, was Jeffery. Eventually, it was panic that spurned MJ to hit harder and led to her overshooting the ball off the table. He lunged, they volleyed, she parried, but eventually her panic and desperation got the better of her and Jeff scraped through ahead.
The crowd cheered, Ethan slapped his friend on the back and Jeff laughed, little droplets of sweat beading at his forehead as he breathed hard. MJ figured she probably looked just the same as her chest heaved to suck in oxygen. Her eternal lack of appetite had made her thin, but it sure hadn’t made her fit.
Amidst the cheering and congratulations all round, Jeff managed to extract himself from the gathering groupies and job the few steps around the table to snag MJ before she could skulk away.
His hand lacing unconsciously – at least on his part – with hers, he gave her another of his disarming smiles and nodded. “I believe we had a deal, milady – what do I call you?”
MJ glanced down at their joint hands, then back up to his face, bewildered. “Mary Jane,” she murmured. At that moment, amidst a cheering, chattering crowd, her hand in his, MJ had the distinct feeling that she’d spent her last moments in the familiar loneliness she’d known for almost fifteen years. Life, as she knew it, would never be the same again.