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Parallel Lines - An Oxbridge Fanfiction


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Writing university fanfic is kind of a challenge and I do have my own doubts, but I decided to give it a go anyway. I have tried my best to be as technically accurate as possible but since I never attended either of these universities (alas) please pardon my mistakes if any.

 

It was the kind of moment that appeals the most to poems and artists: the setting sun just beginning to touch the horizon, sitting on the border of late afternoon and early evening, on a day sitting on the border of spring and summer, when sweat has barely begun to bead on foreheads yet the chills still have not left the wind. The river glittered like a golden ribbon.

On the grassy river bank she sat, close to the Bridge of Sighs, beneath a weeping willow. She had on her a thin white cotton dress and no shoes or socks, with nothing shielding her from the chilly evening breeze except a badly-fitting pale blueish gown that went all the way to her ankles. Her slightly messy blond curls reached just below her shoulders, covering the crimson pin she wore on her gown. She poured herself yet another lemonade from the pitcher next to her and stared blankly into the distance.

The man next to her on the other hand seemed way more organised, both in the way he dressed and in his expression. A navy blue suit and overcoat matched perfectly his well-groomed dark brown hair, and his eyes, though soft and warm when gazing at her, had an air of authority only time could foster. He too took a sip from his glass of lemonade, before making another attempt to break the awkward silence:

“Yeah I mean, why would you start a foundation year programme?” With that he added, after considerable hesitation, “- Cambridge.”

She, now having been introduced to you as Cambridge, made no attempt to answer. She was distracted, to say the least, and far from comfortable. They had been drinking lemonade silently on the river bank for the better part of an hour, and most of it had now made its way to her bladder, the sole reason why she had put down her still-full glass and sat stiffly on her heel. Yet the pressure in her bladder was the least of her distractions at that moment; what troubled her more was his voice, or even his existence as a whole, that seemed to be fished out straight from the bottom of her memories.

“You need to write neater.”

It felt like yesterday when he, looking at her messy handwriting, said this to her; yet she knew all too well that that utterance belongs to a time and space far out of her reach. It was many and many a year ago, in a town quite similar to her own, just two hours away, with nice streets and a library with a beautiful dome above which the crescent often hung prettily. She did not have a name at that time, but that did not matter much to her, as long as he had a name; that was long before universities became a common occurrence in this world, the town was therefore her universe, he was her role model, and pretty much her everything.

“Your handwriting is too bad. You need to write neater, or else people wouldn’t be able to read it properly.”

He stuffed a pen into her hand, held it, and began to trace fancy letters stroke by stroke, but after just a couple of seconds she broke free from his grip and started giggling: “Oh come on Oxford! I can just leave all my writing to you - I’ll never leave you, will I?”

“Hey did you hear me - why would you start a foundation year?”

His voice broke her train of thought abruptly. It was that same Oxford’s voice - or is it? She had no answer to this question, just like she had no answer to why she made no attempt to answer nature’s call, despite squirming and shifting her heels like a toddler refusing to take a toilet break. Had she been on a date with anyone else, she would have excused herself long ago and go inside to relieve herself, but for reasons she did not understand she stubbornly refused to do that in front of Oxford - or rather, reasons her mind refused to process.

She grew up talkative and rebellious, diving headlong into any newfangled idea, and it was her personality traits that resulted in her breaking her childish vow - how she ended up in a fight with Oxford and his townsfolk, how she fled from her childhood town with scholars and students, how she managed to settle down in this new town, and how she finally got a name. She named herself in the same carefree manner as she did anything else: the first thing she saw as she stepped into this town was a bridge, a bridge across the river Cam, and Cambridge her name was. She could only speculate what Oxford would say had he learned how hastily she decided on serious matters like this.

For more years than she cared to count she perfected herself relentlessly. She remembered Oxford being keen in Humanities so she started with a Mathematics department, something that would surely make him jealous, or so she thought. She used Oxford’s textbooks she brought away with her, she employed the skills of running a university she learned from Oxford, she aligned all her teaching and admissions to Oxford’s standards, yet Oxford himself was something she tossed into the depths of her memories and refused to dig out. He had somehow become a whiplash that would come out and sting her from time to time, reminding her that she was still not good enough and had someone to chase after. She was diligent to the extent of compulsion, and no one would see her take a toilet break before her work that day had been done. For some reason her bladder control had been something she prided herself upon along with many other things; that was, until she realised how much that bladder was still torturing her this afternoon.

“Cambridge?”

She let out a little gasp, not because of Oxford’s voice, but because of an unexpected leak that dampened her knickers. No, she should not have sat at this river bank this afternoon, not with Oxford at least. For some reason he had traveled all the way from his town to hers and asked her out for a pitcher of lemonade, and so far the only thing he had bothered to say was to ask her why she started a foundation year programme for disadvantaged students. She was upset to say the least, upset that her weakness was exposed unreservedly to someone she so desperately wished to prove her strength to.

“Cambridge? Are you okay?”

She closed her eyes for a couple of seconds, and when she opened them Oxford had moved much closer to her, the scent of his all-too-familiar aftershave teasing her nostrils the same way it did so many years ago. After all these time she could still tell from his eyes that he was genuinely concerned: “Are you okay? Do you need to go to the toilet?”

It took Cambridge a few moments before she managed to form an answer. “You know, Oxford......I, I started a foundation year programme because......”

“Yes?”

“......Because I want to be better than you.”

For a moment Oxford fell silent, yet Cambridge, despite her vision blurring and the same water threatening to come out from the other end of her body, carried on.

“I want to be better than you so I started the foundation year programme for disadvantaged students so that they would apply to me instead of you. I’ve wanted to be better than you ever since I left - no, ever since you told me my handwriting isn’t as good as yours. I’ve worked so hard not just in Math and natural sciences but also in Humanities and I’ve achieved so much but I’m still not as good as you. Still not.” As she blurted everything out she finally saw clearly what she had not understood over the years, and that realisation left tears streaming down her cheeks, “For all these years I’m always ranked below you in so many university rankings and I never, I mean I never am able to shake off that label of someone who ran away from Oxford town. I’m not going to the toilet ‘cause I want to prove I’m strong and can hold anything in, but now - but now I can’t even control my bodily functions in front of you. I’ll never be as good as you. Never.”

Oxford did not say or do anything for a long time, nothing except gently wiping the tears from Cambridge’s face. Slowly, he turned to face the river again.

“Let me ask you, math genius. You know what parallel lines are?”

Through a mist of tears and a thicker mist of desperation, Cambridge nodded.

“Parallel lines, they don’t intersect, and neither line is longer or shorter than the other. I’d always been aware, since you left me all those years ago, that our lives would never intersect again, but throughout these years I’ve seen your hard work and I’m more than impressed by how far you’ve come since you got yourself a name. I’ve never looked down on you because of anything, never. Remember, we are just like parallel lines - not intersecting, but neither is better or worse than the other.”

Hearing Cambridge’s sobs gradually cease as he spoke, Oxford carried on.

“And you know why I come visit you today?”

“Why?” She whimpered.

“......I just want to tell you how awesome you are to provide such an educational opportunity to disadvantaged students.” Oxford smiled, the same smile Cambridge was used to when her handwriting miraculously fitted his standards all those years ago, “Well done, Cambridge.”

Cambridge smiled as well, for the first time that afternoon. Pausing for a moment she bit her lip and gingerly stood up. “Please excuse me for a second, I need to......”

“Yeah,” Oxford giggled heartily as the pale blueish figure hurried towards the building behind the river bank, “Go ahead.”

By now the sun had fully submerged beneath the horizon, leaving behind radiant beams that dyed the clouds blood red. The willow tree they had been sitting under, also a deep shade of crimson, trembled in the breeze like a bonfire. The river glittered like a golden ribbon.

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