The Study Group

by Holly Fleming
 

“S’appnin cunts?”

            I’m about to press enter when I realise that I’m on the wrong group chat window. This message is for friends I’ve known for years – best friends who see “s’appnin cunts” as an appropriate and normal greeting. Instead, I’m talking to a project group for uni.

            I don’t know these people. I’d say I don’t particularly like them, but I don’t even know them well enough to not like them. They’re blank people. Nothing to be said about them positively or negatively, really. Even so, I can’t be calling them cunts.

            Or can I?

            Our grades so far as a group have been…so-so. There’s not much chemistry between us at all, so not much communication. Not enough to pass extremely well. We meet the bare minimum times we can to plan and do our projects, and it’s all business. No banter. No chat. No gossip. Nothing fun. But there’s that phrase, fake it ‘til you make it. If I greet them like I would my friends, will they become friendlier?

            I press send.

            The little bubble goes from blank to full – the message has been sent and received. Immediately after being received, one group member, Danny, sees it.

            Usually I’m left on read for ages. I can see they’ve seen my message and for the first hour I tell myself they’re typing a long, well thought message. After two hours I know I’ve been patched.

            A wave of embarrassment falls over me. “S’appnin cunts” to strangers? What kind of dickhead am I? Fucks sake. This has to be remedied –

            I’m half way through typing “sorry guys, wrong group,” when Danny replies. It’s only a simple “hi” but a reply is a reply. Mark and Alison’s faces pop up next – they’ve seen both mine and Danny’s messages.

            “Hiya Kelly,” Alison sends.

            “Awrite,” Mark chimes in.

            There doesn’t appear to be any outrage. In fact, this is the most attentive these people have ever been. Honestly? I’m shocked. I watch my screen, my jaw fallen. The little line in the text bar begs me to type something.

            In my disbelief, I didn’t even clock that I had been gawking at the screen for so long – the next message comes in at 11:43pm, four minutes after I had started the conversation. It’s Alison; she asks, “What’s up Kelly? Did you want to talk about the assignment?” Mark and Danny see it immediately. Are they sitting here watching the screen like I am?

I stretch my arms in front of me, crack my fingers and roll my head back and forward. My fingers dance along the keyboard before I actually type my message. What do I even say?

            “Yeah. I think we should maybe meet soon. Like, early this week.” I press send. Should I call them cunts again? Is this the key to this social progression?       

            Danny replies first this time. “Good whenever you are Kells.” Now we’re doing nicknames?

            Once again, the second any messages are sent, they are read. It’s Friday night. Aren’t they out? “How’s Tuesday?” I ask. “Maybe around half 12?”

            They all reply at once.

            Alison: “Perfect.”

            Mark: “I’ll be there.”

            Danny: “I’ve got class then but I’ll be there don’t worry.”

            The last time we tried to organise a meeting it took two days. Two days of pestering the chat over and over again. Two days of being left on read and ignored. Two days of feckless excuses. Now they’re abandoning other plans for this? Mental.

            “Cool.” I send. I feel cool. “Meet in the library then?”

            Alison says, “I’ll bring coffee. Kelly, what do you want?”

            Mark says, “I’ll get there a bit early and get us a table and seats.”

            Danny just sends a happy face. I start to type that I’ll just get a small flat white. I delete it and tell Alison I’ll have a mocha with whipped cream.

 

Tuesday morning rolls by and before I know it I’m rubbing my hands together fighting the nipping cold in my fingers. I’m on my way to the library and honestly? I won’t be surprised if I’ve been fucked with and no one’s there. But I walk over anyway, quickly, eager to get out of the chilly air.

            The second I step into the library I am battered by stuffy heat. I throw my jacket off and roll the sleeves of my jumper up – only a few steps in and I can feel a tiny bit of sweat on my forehead. My cheeks are probably flushed and red, my skin’s probably shiny as well. I bet I look a state. Fucks sake.

            I soldier on to the group area of the library, where I assume Mark is. If he is. It’s crowded and I don’t immediately see him. I walk up and down the aisles, first from the centre of the room, to the right, then to the left. I definitely don’t see him. Too good to be true. I was looking forward to my mocha as well.

            A lone computer beckons me and I’m on my way over to it when, at the corner of my eye, I see an arm fly up and a hand waves erratically. I can’t help but notice it. It’s Mark – a book lies in front of him on the desk. I walked right by him! Even though it’s so busy and groups of six and seven are crowded round tables made for four, we have a large spacious table surrounded by plenty of outlets for charging phones and laptops. There’s enough chairs and Mark looks very comfy. I go over to him.

            “Awrite Kelly?” He grins, even standing up to greet me.

            I take a moment to decide whether or not to take the risk of re-realising my frank greeting. Fuck it. “S’appnin cunt?” I say.

            He laughs; it’s real and warm. “Aye man, aye…” He answers, shaking his head as though I’ve just told the funniest story he’s ever head. I get real stoner vibes from Mark. Danny as well, but Mark especially. I pull a chair out and take my place. I’ve never actually spoken to Mark outside of assignment stuff, so I don’t really know what to say. “Ye huv a good weekend Kells?” I barely catch that he’s spoken to me, I was so caught up in thinking about speaking to him.

            Before I can answer, Alison plants a large mocha down in front of me. I can smell the chocolate and coffee lofting out of the cardboard cup. “Hiya guys. How’s you Kelly?” she asks.

            “Aw, thanks Alison,” I say, wrapping my hands around the cup. Should I have called her a cunt? Mark fucking loved it.

            “It’s Ali, doll,” she tells me. She sits next to me, smiling sweetly. “How ye doin’?”

            “Am good,” I say as Danny rushes into a seat.

            “Soarry am late,” he says. I can tell he’s being genuine by the pleading look in his eyes. He’s breathless as well – did he run here?

            Time to expand my vocabulary, I think. “No worries ya prick,” I tell him. He shoots a finger pistol at me, laughing. Alison and Mark join in. I laugh as well, but it’s a bit forced. I’m so confused. Why is this working so well?

            All eyes are on me after we’ve all taken out our notebooks and class books. “What ye thinkin’ Kelly?” Alison asks. “You’re best at this,” she adds.

            A small creeping voice of doubt suddenly understands – they’re just pulling this for a good grade and for me to do the work. Doesn’t matter. When’s the last time I had people acting so attentive towards me? Fuck knows.

“Well,” I start, spreading open my notebook and pitching my ideas for our project and ensuing presentation. They hang onto my every word.

 

Everyone was assigned equal work in the research part of our project as well as presenting it. I was given regular updates on the chat and all research was sent to me first for proof reading and fact checking. The question, “is that awrite Kelly?” was asked frequently. I felt like a CEO. Shame this is our last project of the semester, I’m quite liking this.

            My list of derogatory, but affectionate, pet names for my group expanded. They became dickheads, wankers and arseholes over the week. It kept them wrapped around my finger.

            After I personally approved of all the research, we all met again to throw together a PowerPoint presentation. Danny insisted in taking the wheel of making it, claiming he made amazing slide shows. I let him and he said, “whatever you want Kelly, you let me know and it’s in.” Seemingly effortlessly, he added text and pictures and graphics and videos wherever appropriate and made it look damn good. Under my direction of course. We built a information packed, stylish presentation. I beamed pride for my wee collection of scum.

            This is the day: we stood together at the front of the classroom, before our peers. Danny loaded up the presentation and it trickled onto the screen. Danny really did know his PowerPoint – it was a suave animation. Alison begins, talking confidently as she always did. She was one of those girls. Nice hair, cool clothes, long legs. She radiated certainty and tenacity.

            I survey the faces watching us and can’t help but smirk. We’re going to get a fucking amazing grade.


It’s two weeks later. Mark’s popped up on the group chat. “Fucks sake,” he types. “We’ve failed the presentation.”

            “Fucks sake,” Danny chimes in.

            “Kelly ye cunt,” Alison sends.

            Mark has left the group.

            Alison has left the group.

            What the fuck? I think Danny’s blocked me.

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