Fic: When You Need Friends More Than Physics
Characters: Luke Smith, Sanjay, Eleven
Word Count: 2862
Summary: In which Sanjay just wants a normal friend and Luke almost does a very good impression of one.
‘They’re letting us use a calculator for this stuff you know,’ he tells Luke. They’re both in the college library working steadily through their summative coursework on special relativity. Sanjay wants to be nice to him because it can’t be easy to be a year younger than everyone else.
‘Yeah, but it’s quicker to do it in your head.’ Sanjay peeks over at Luke’s work and is annoyed to see that he’s gone totally off topic. He’s doodled a series of equations in the margins about measuring the Kodicek scale of divergent chronons processed via Block Transfer Computations, which appear to be a string of words Luke has just made up.
His mum had warned him before he came to uni that he should be prepared for the big fish in small pond effect. But still, Sanjay had half believed he would always be cleverest person in any given room. He’s been proven wrong many times over since coming to Oxford. Really, he might have a massive insecurity complex now, but he’s come to terms with the fact he knows absolutely nothing compared to the people around him who were all probably grown in jars and raised by the Demon Headmaster as part of some very clever experiment.
And some days, he thinks Luke is just taking the piss.
Clyde and Rani, it turns out, have a lot of opinions on a lot of things. It’s kind of scary, and Sanjay has started feeling like he has two invisible extra friends. Friends who are critical of absolutely everything. Rani is even responsible for Luke’s three million scarves, which he discovers in town when Luke sends her a text asking for advice on a grey and white square thing, complete with pictures from three different angles.
‘Rani thinks grey is my colour.’ He explains.
‘Well, do you like it?’ He asks Luke over his coffee while a crowd of teenagers glared at them for blocking their access to cheap accessories. He doesn’t even know why Luke has to buy a scarf; weren’t all Londoners born with them hanging round their scrawny hipster necks?
And really, he’s still uncertain about becoming friends with Luke, who’s just the wrong side of socially awkward. He’s a sweet kid, sure, but he’s a year younger than Sanjay and, to be honest, a bit bland and nerdy. There isn’t much there to hold his interest.
‘It’s just a scarf,’ Luke explains, laughing like he’s the weird one here. ‘Clyde always says-‘
‘I’m just saying,’ and gosh, he never knew a thirteen year old in orange tights and a handbag bigger than her head could be so scary, ‘Just saying that maybe you can buy it if you want to buy it.’
Luke mulls this over, and he turns out to be much better than Sanjay at dodging tweenage elbows. ‘Alright!’ he says brightly, plucking the scarf off the rack. Sanjay, strangely, feels quite proud of himself. Like he’s herding a reluctant five year old towards a successful, free-thinking life of making his own decisions.
His phone rings while they join the mile-long queue at the checkout, and it’s fashion dictator Rani on hand to make sure Luke is following her strict rules about colour-coordination.
‘It’s fine, Rani. I’ve already decided.’ He listens to the squeaky voice on Luke’s mobile launching into a lengthy diatribe, feeling something like pride that he’s fostering Luke’s independence. They’ve shuffled forward three whole feet by the time Rani’s done.
‘Yeah, well,’ Luke’s saying, ‘It’s just that Sanjay says-‘
Sanjay drains the bitter dregs of his coffee. Okay, it’s not the amazing victory over the combined powers of Clani he was going for, but at least he’s not the only one who’s being subjected to Luke’s ridiculous co-dependence complex.
Luke’s mobile is a bit odd. It’s not that it seems to have an endless amount of space for music, movies and internet, and loads as fast as a computer. Or that he gets a new one every three weeks. Or that it has an app that connects it to the microwave. What he really finds weird is how Luke has neatly recorded the number of every single thing he’s ever met.
He only borrowed it to check the footy scores, but Luke’s keypad was wired up to an endless amount of shortcuts that were impossible to memorize (which was how he found out about the microwave thing) and he ended up looking at a very, very long list of friends for a guy who only seemed to know three people.
The really weird bit was how formal it all was. No one had any stupid nicknames like Spongebob or Sudsy. On the contrary, Luke’s M section of his phone book was as long as your arm, with a whole boroughs-worth of Mr and Mrs Something’s filed away. And there were several numbers listed on his speed dial that Sanjay wasn’t convinced were real. 1, 2 and 3 were Clyde, Mum and Rani, in that order. 4 was a Mister Smith, who Sanjay had heard him talking about before, though he hadn’t quite worked out whether that was his dad or his school teacher, and he was almost positive 5 was the code name and coordinates for a secret government organisation. 6 was The Doctor, who had a number with far too many 0’s and 7’s to work and who definitely wasn’t Luke’s GP, since his phone book listed clinics in Ealing, Oxford and, oddly, Cardiff. 7 linked to a collection of numbers that scrolled off screen and had dashes, for Christ’s sake. It was labelled in careful capitals as BANE PHONIC FREQUENCY.
He might be living with a mad genius, but he feels kind of guilty when Luke leans over him at that point and gently takes it from his hands.
‘Your mum is a total MILF,’ Sufyan the completely inappropriate History student in room 406 tells Luke. Sanjay would deck a guy who told him that, not that anyone would ever tell him that, but Luke looks sort of helpless in the face of gross social situations.
Maybe out of self-preservation, he wipes the context from his mind and says, ‘My mum’s here? She never said she was coming.’
Sufyan snickers and Sanjay cuts him dead by pressing the sofa cushion over his face.
‘What?’ Luke asks. Sometimes Sanjay can’t work out whether he honestly is lost in these conversations or if it’s part of his evil mastermind plan to goad them into a false sense of security before completing his total domination of floor four. He’s already made clever use of dirty cutlery to achieve control over the kitchen draining board, earning them all fines from the cleaning ladies in the process.
‘We saw her in the Physics library,’ Where she totally knew their names just from looking at them, and Luke’s ridiculous co-dependent complex goes too far if he’s facebooking his parents with his flatmate’s toga party pictures. ‘I think she’s totally checking up on you.’
In fact, he was positive she was. She was going through the previous year’s undergraduate examinations and tutting over the questions. Even Sanjay’s dad, who kept wondering aloud why Sanjay wasn’t doing his PhD in medicine in his spare time, wasn’t that cynical about the advanced coursework they were learning.
‘She can give me a check-up- Ow!’
‘You should probably get that looked at,’ Luke tells Sufyan. ‘I don’t think that density of mould is supposed to make contact with the blood stream.’
Sufyan slinks off as Sanjay starts piling his shopping into their near-empty fridge. He’s bought enough ready meals and jars of Levi Roots curry sauce to take up two whole shelves. He stays very far away from Luke and that steak knife he totally absolutely accidentally whacked Sufyan with.
‘Ignore him, you know he’s still going through that weird blonde humiliation fetish. I looked at his computer history the other day and he was looking up used cock rings on ebay.’
Luke gives him a funny look, and employs that selective hearing thing again. He’s getting really good at it. ‘Mum isn’t blonde.’
‘Maybe she bleached. It’s a mid-life crisis tactic.’ Sanjay knows all about those, he still has nightmares of his Aunty Meera showing him all the places she bleached blonde once she hit forty…
Luke’s expression has gone from gentle befuddlement to utter horror, which means his eyes are very slightly wider than normal and his lips are parted. Sanjay wonders if he said that last bit out loud, but Luke jumps up very suddenly.
‘Oh yeah, that mum. Right, I- you said the department Library?’ In a move that’s very blatantly an attempt to get out of doing his washing for the seventh day in a row, he scarpers towards the stairs. ‘I… probably won’t make it to the union tonight. Bye Sanjay!’ And then he’s gone.
Sanjay nearly takes pity on him, and fills the sink with hot soapy water. He gets as far as making Luke’s cutlery wet before he decides no, he can bloody well do it himself. Then he goes to the union and gets very, very drunk.
Sanjay really likes coming home at 3am, nicely warm and fuzzy-headed in the cold January air. Everything is magical and adult when it’s dark. Eric the porter is missing from his post, but Sanjay’s more focused on how his insides are glowing. His footsteps echo off the linoleum, tackier than usual in the soft yellow light. Lonely neon-lit areas are another essential part of adulthood.
He’s making his way through the quad when his phone goes off very loudly. Which isn’t weird in itself, but Sanjay’s sure he had it set to vibrate. Someone he doesn’t see throws a Starbucks cup at his head from a window.
‘I need you to break into my room and skype my attic.’
Sanjay could tell him to piss off. He could say it’s too late for Luke’s weird sense of humour. He could even inform him that contrary to what he believes, in the real world people aren’t born with the innate knowledge of how to break and enter.
Instead he says, ‘What if no one’s in your attic?’
Alarms start going off and he swears he can hear someone start screaming.
‘Trust me,’ Luke says, sounding far too relaxed for whatever’s happening to him, ‘There’ll be someone in there.
Sanjay spends the next messed-up hour with a robot dog wheeling round his legs screaming ‘INTRUDER, MASTER SANJAY MUST VACATE,’ while he talks on the computer to an invisible man who clearly hates him.
Really, that evening explained a lot about Luke.
The next day all lectures and tutorials are cancelled because the Physics labs caught fire in the night, and in a completely unrelated event, a nearby dilapidated factory incurred several small explosions, releasing enough toxic fumes into the atmosphere that the whole town has to be quarantined for several days.
Secretly he thinks Luke’s not-mother must have really disapproved of the Oxford syllabus.
Sanjay hears the odd noise halfway through microwaving dinner, still congealed in last night’s take away boxes. Luke and Valentine who does mathematics and Sandra who does Medieval Languages are all perched round the tiny kitchen table, ostensibly revising for exam week and in reality chatting about last night’s Celebrity Big Brother.
He’s just about scraped everything onto plates when three completely ridiculous looking strangers fling themselves into the kitchen.
They watch as rainbow streamers float gently into last night’s chicken korma.
‘What?’ says the ginger girl, who is actually ridiculously hot and in an intriguingly tiny skirt. She crosses her arms defensively as the staring goes on too long. ‘That’s it?’
The beaming man, not deterred by awkward silences, barrels into the room, clapping a hand on Luke’s shoulder and shoving a half-wrapped squirmy glowing thing under his nose. It was covered in ten types of ribbon. ‘No need to thank me, just popping by for the party.’
‘Doctor?’ says Luke, like he isn’t sure, staring at the lanky weirdo with a look they’ve dubbed the “screwed up badger face” behind his back. He sounds an interesting combination of pleased and mortified. ‘Thanks, but, uh, it’s not my birthday.’
‘What?’ The man, Doctor Whatever, clutches his gift to his chest, where it leaks a trail of orange slime. The girl looks supremely pissed off.
The other guy has sidled next to Sanjay, picking bits of paper out of their rapidly cooling dinner. ‘Sorry about that.’
‘No. Nooo, it can’t be. Can it? It’s July isn’t it?’ He spoke with enough spare vowels that Sanjay could bottle them and fill most of their empty cupboards.
‘It better be,’ Ginger snapped, ‘We were in that bed and breakfast three days.’
‘Actually,’ Valentine started, then quailed when all attention turned to him. ‘It’s April. 27th.’ He finished bravely.
‘And my birthday isn’t in July, Doctor. It’s October.’
The cute redhead had found the flat’s stash of liquor with a speed that spoke of practice and experience, and was unscrewing the lid of the white rum.
‘Yeah, I was going to go to Oxford, you know.’ Sanjay’s new best friend stretched his arms in the most uncasual way he’d ever seen; and he hung around with Luke a lot. ‘But really it’s got nothing on… Leadworth College.’
‘Right.’ Agreed Sanjay.
‘It has to be July, look!’ Doctor Lanky had obviously lost the “understanding what day it was” war, but he still had some life left in him. He rooted out a crumpled bit of paper from his jacket pocket and dumped it on the table ceremoniously, jabbing the date on the top left hand corner. All six occupants of the room leaned forward. The date was partially obscured under some brown grainy substance, but it did clearly specify that Luke’s birthday was in July, no matter what his personal opinion was on the subject.
‘Aren’t adoption certificates like, confidential to the government?’ Sandra asked.
‘Never been much good at governments,’ The Doctor said.
‘Doctor.’ Luke stressed the word, and Sanjay got the feeling that while they’re having one conversation out loud, Luke was trying to have another, completely silent and subtextual conversation. A conversation that used eyebrows as the primary method of communication. The Doctor looked rather upset.
‘S’pose we can always come back.’
Redhead threw back her head, and Sanjay looked at the bottle and wondered how much rum one girl can consume in five minutes. ‘God, we’re already here, Doctor, and I am not spending another week in a B&B that’s been colonised by a sentient mobile library just so we can do this all over again. Kids, we’re having a damn party. Right now.’
Luke is half-sprawled in Sanjay’s lap, and if he wasn’t totally smashed Sanjay would be embarrassed. Luke had loftily declared to the room that he was incapable of getting drunk, which was clearly a personal challenge. It had taken a while, but they’d gotten there eventually and now Luke was probably dying of alcohol poisoning from trying everything in kitchen. He’d told him that earlier and Luke hadn’t been able to stop laughing. ‘No, Sanjay, I’m, I’m the drinks tester! I have to test all the drinks!’ And if that was supposed to be a joke, it only made sense to himself.
The Doctor giraffe dances onto the table above them, and he hasn’t even had any alcohol the whole night.
‘Luke! Love the scarf. Scarves are cool.’
Luke is busy investigating something sticky on his fingers, but he nods. ‘Thanks. Your bowtie is cool too.’
The Doctor beams at him, and Sanjay wonders not for the first time what planet these people who gate-crashed his life are from.
‘That’s what I tell everyone! Maybe I’ll start wearing scarves again. I used to, you know.’
‘I’ve seen the pictures,’ Luke replies muzzily, turning his head so it’s totally pressed against Sanjay’s thigh. He’s the only one who seems to notice this is really awkward. But luckily, the only other normal person who’s paying attention to his precarious situation is the robot dog. Who is turning out to be a surprisingly hard partier.
‘Hey, d’you want to swap?’
Luke needles the Doctor with a stare that’s equal parts ruthless and pitying. ‘Sorry Doctor. Scarves are actually cool in reality.’
‘Oh. Right, right.’
Then Amy pulls out the tequila slammers and Sanjay pulls a cushion over his head in self-defence.
His mum and dad will kill him when he fails his exams and flunks out of uni, and they won’t believe him when he blames the fact that his flatmate is secretly a mad genius, with way too many unconventional contacts for a social loser who was probably grown in a vat somewhere. He definitely can’t tell them he might be a tad infatuated with said mad genius, because maybe it’s a bit weird.
But then Sanjay remembers he is a grownup who gets drunk, and he’s on his way to becoming a criminal mastermind physicist, or at least a petty burglar, and decides his parents can wait. Right now he’s gotta go meet Luke at the union.