I was never going to like Louise, but I tried my best.
My best friend at Uni was a charming Irishman called Michael. A philosophy student, a heroic drinker, a weirdly-haired charmer he made an announcement at the end of the first year. "Look, you're not doing too well at this gay thing, are you? And, I tell you, if I get to see my girlfriend as little next year, I'll not be doing too well at the straight thing either. I'm wondering if it wouldn't be easier all round if you and I just... you know..." And then he raised an eyebrow. He had great eyebrows.
Of coure, these things never work out quite like that. Michael and I never actually got around to having sex. Mostly because next term he'd realised he could just get a girlfriend who lived a little nearer than Manchester, like at the teacher training college up the road.
So, when I was introduced to Louise, I wasn't going to like her, but I was going to try my best. She wasn't great company. She was a great pouter, but Michael put up with it. He was besotted. The reasons why were fairly obvious. "It's certainly livened up trips to Confession," he admitted.
Our other friend Rob was fairly wary of her as well - but he'd been in the army, so had seen more of the world than me.
But what made it hardest of all was that, polite as I was, Louise sensed something about me and Michael, and she was horrible to me. Never overtly. Nothing you could bring up in conversation, but sharp little looks when Michael wasn't around, "oh, i thought you didn't want to go" and "sorry, didn't think you wanted a drink". But that was okay. I took the hint and avoided her company. Which meant seeing less of Michael. Which was a shame. But I knew when I was beaten.
Eventually, Louise wanted Michael to move in with her full time at training college. But Michael didn't. He'd still see Rob and me, once a week, for booze and toast. But it wasn't the same as it had been.
Gentle, wise Rob tried to sort things out. He and his equally practical girlfriend arranged a supper halfway through the third year. "It should be like old times," he said. "Michael will be there," he paused. "And Louise." I tried a smile. After all, I missed Michael. And supper there was.
Michael was his old self. As was Louise. But oddly, she'd decided tonight was the night to finish this. Michael was out of the room when she struck.
"You're a poof, yeah. Is it insulting if I called you a poof?" she hissed.
I shrugged. "It's about the same as if I said you were fat."
Bingo! She screamed, and ran from the room, wailing "Michael! Michael! James said I was fat!"
Michael came in, a face of fury, his fists already bunching. It was Rob who stopped him from hitting me. And even though everyone else in the room said what happened, that was pretty much it. Louise at one corner of the room, sobbing, her face buried in Michael's shoulder, Michael glaring at me. Pudding was pretty much ignored.
Michael sent me a letter after that. It wasn't a nice one, but it was fairly long. I remember at the time he was favouring burgundy ink. I wanted to write one to explain. "No," said Rob, "It won't help."
So, I didn't really see Michael after that. Louise got her wish, and he moved out of our corridor. You'd see him at a distance at lectures. He'd nod. That was it.
And then one afternoon, I heard a knocking at his door. I popped a head out. It was an old couple. Quite startlingly old. They turned out to be Michael's parents. They'd turned up to surprise him for his last exam, but didn't really know what to do.
I took them down to the exam halls on a bus, and on the way, they talked, as proud parents talk. Of how Michael was such a good Catholic boy. Of how they sometimes wondered if he had the makings of a priest. I had a sudden image of Michael's giggling explanation of why there was a Mars bar smeared across his wall and the way Rob and I had stared at him. But they kept up their proud parent talk, and I did my best nodding public schoolboy thing.
And then there we were, waiting outside the exam halls. It was a small crowd for a not very popular paper. And then I noticed a girl standing there, with balloons and champagne and roses. It was Louise. She crossed over, sneering. "Are these your parents?" she asked.
"No," I said, "They're Michael's."
"And who might you be?" asked Michael's father, with that Irish sharpness that hints at distant thunder.
Louise realised that, all of a sudden, I could cause all the trouble in the world if I casually said that this was his long-term girlfriend.
"This is Louise," I said simply, "She's another friend of Michael's."
Michael's mother smiled. "Oh, he's lucky to have such good friends as you two."
And then Michael came out. Initially he looked relieved to have finished his exams. And then he saw the group around Louise. And his eyes fastened on me. They said, quite clearly, "This is your fault. I blame you for this." And then he fixed on a smile and walked out to his parents. And I melted quitely away.
And, apart from the occasional regret, I haven't thought about Michael since.
Until today when I get the following, ultimately puzzling message on Facebook: "Hi, this is Louise. I used to go out with Michael Curran. I'd love to know how you are."