Chapter 1

It was early into the first month of the new year and I was returning to University, after a Christmas break spent at home with my father and the friends of my youth. My father had offered to drive me back but I'd declined, opting to take the train instead; we'd already moved my belongings into my new home during the late September of the previous year.

Christmas was always a relaxed time in our home and I quite preferred it that way, it was a welcome come down from the stresses of coursework deadlines and exams. I enjoyed spending time with my old friends, but it was nice to be able to step back without having to worry about obtrusive family gatherings or awkward celebrations and just rest.

I might not sound like the most normal of girls in their late teens and in truth I probably wasn't, nor am I still. Normal was a concept I'd always had a little difficulty with, for as far as I was concerned everyone was their own self and that was the most normal thing they could be. It took me a long time to understand that my social difficulties and reclusive tendencies were not what was usually considered 'normal'.

I'd spent the first year of my student life living in the halls of residence of the University of Leicester, but I hadn't much enjoyed the cramped and crowded atmosphere - I was raised as the only child of a single parent family and was used to a degree of solitude. My original plans for this year had been to move into a small house with a friend from my course, but things had unfortunately taken an awkward turn and my friend had failed the exams and dropped out. I was left paying the entire rent for the property myself, stuck with the prospect of straining my limited finances further or finding a replacement room mate at an extremely odd time of year.

In truth, I hadn't much liked the idea of sharing with a stranger, but circumstances had left me with little choice and I'd posted an advertisement on the University noticeboard as one of my last actions before going home for the holiday. However, all students had long since secured their accommodation arrangements for the year and I'd received no replies by either mail or e-mail. I almost gave up, and perhaps I should have done.

My train had pulled into Leicester in the late afternoon and despite my careful planning, the light had already begun to rapidly slip away. My house was a good thirty minute walk away from the train station, on the opposite side of Victoria Park too. In fact, the prime reason I had chosen to arrive early in the day was so that I could avoid crossing that park in the darkness.

Back when I first joined the University we were warned by our sub-wardens to avoid crossing the park at night. A number of attacks on young women had taken place there in recent history. We'd all laughed it off at the time, but sure enough a young girl from the block opposite mine was attacked that very year and had later died of blood loss in hospital. We'd heard she'd been involved with some unpleasant characters and had probably been drunk at the time, but I still had to feel sorry for the poor girl. I took the warning more seriously after that.

Fortunately my trip home that day was uneventful, if a bit mind racking. I arrived back safely as the short winter day began to reach its end and relaxed by myself on the sofa watching evening television. It was during this period of calm and apparent safety that the first terrible event of several would occur.

My house was a small terrace, one of dozens built amongst a small network of intersecting streets. The whole local area was usually very quiet at this time of the day, owing largely to a high number of dead-end roads and lack of points of interest. Strange exceptions aside, the only people around were usually those who lived there. That day was one such exception.

I was shaken from my reverie by an extremely loud crash from the street outside my house. I sprang to my feet and dashed to the window, but by then it had become far too dark to see anything of interest. Against my better judgement I took the torch from the shelf above my shoes and went to the front door. On opening the door I was granted with the sight of scattered bins and debris, some propelled a great distance from where they had originally stood.

Amongst the wreckage of the strewn bins, the beam of my torch fell across the body of a young lady. I shrieked in shock and dropped the torch to the concrete, the impact instantly returning me to darkness. Composing myself, I ventured forwards, gaining confidence with every step, finally stopping over her limp body. At first I thought her surely dead, but a tiny movement of her head made me realise she was still very much alive. Without thinking I scooped her into my arms and carried her into my home.

I don't really know what was going through my mind that made me do it, I should have known better than to have moved an injured person. Had events unfolded otherwise, I could have very easily been responsible for the worsening, or even death, of some poor victim. It boggles the mind how one can so easily act so horrendously when confronted with disaster. A hero I am surely not.

Under the dim artificial lighting of my living room, I was so taken aback by her apparent beauty that I almost failed to register the blood running down her pretty face. In retrospect I should have called for an ambulance or the police immediately and perhaps if I had then things would have developed differently, but I found my gaze locked onto her and my body immobile. I think I might have stood there watching her all night, had she not chosen that very moment to return to conciousness.

"How wonderful," she spoke languidly, as if in daze, "to find such a kind person in this modern age of fears."

Even marred by blood and a thin sheen of sweat, her fine features and large, dark eyes were exquisitely beautiful. Her eyes especially glimmered with a keen intelligence that was only embellished by the subtle dimples of her amused smile.

"What happened to you?" I asked, ignoring her strange exclamation and attributing it to her unfortunate condition.

"I was struck down by a car, but really I'm quite fine." She paused. "Could you tell me if a Laura lives around these parts? I was looking for her before the accident."

I was shocked at this, unsure of what to say or do next. She seemed well enough, but for someone who had only been in an accident moments earlier to ask something so reckless struck me as utterly bizarre. If this Laura had been a good friend or family member then I could understand her wanting to contact them first, but this couldn't have been the case because I was Laura!

"I'm Laura," I finally answered her, "what did you want to speak to me about?"

"What a wonderful coincidence indeed," she replied with a stunning smile that brought colour to my cheeks, "I was hoping to talk to you about the advertisement you placed."

"Advertisement," I repeated dumbly. "Oh, you mean to live here?"

"That's correct."

"We can talk about that later! Shouldn't I call you an ambulance? Do you want to contact the police at all?" I asked her as my sensibilities returned and I broke free from surreal feeling of comfortability that had overtaken me.

"A wash and a good rest is all I need, but thank you for worrying about me. I shouldn't like to waste the time of such important public services over something as trivial as this."

"I hardly think this is trivial..."

In fairness I had never experienced what it was like to be knocked down by a car, but I didn't tend to think of such an event as 'trivial'. Being bitten by a cat was trivial, or tripping on the path and scraping a knee. Didn't people die from being hit by cars?

"I feel fine now, honestly."

She was polite and sincere, but her voice held little room for negotiation and I felt compelled to allow her to have her way. This was a feeling I would find increasingly common in future, as there was an ethereal weight behind the elegance of her speech and actions. I would liken it to a stream, flowing smoothly and calmly, but effortlessly resisting opposed motion.

I showed her to my shower and explained that she could use my bed for the night, while I would use the sleeping bag on the spare bed. It was ridiculous what I did; inviting an injured stranger off of the street into my house and letting them spend the night in my own bed, but there was something about her that escapes explanation. An aura of familiarity. I felt as safe and comfortable with her around as I did when I was alone. Even now I struggle to understand it.

I was up early the next morning, having slept poorly in the itchy old sleeping bag. However, I was surprised to find my guest up even earlier and in the kitchen making breakfast.

"I wasn't sure what you liked, so I just used what was there," she said with a warm smile.

I hadn't had time to restock my fridge and cupboards yet, what they held were only the temporary provisions I had brought back with me or bought from the station.

"Oh, it's fine... wait, this is for me?" I was surprised, a little shocked even.

"It's the least I can do. I don't think it even begins to show my thanks for last night."

"What about you?" I asked, hoping she wouldn't notice my blush.

"I've already eaten," she said with a memorable smile.

She briefly placed her delicate hand over mine and nudged the simple breakfast plate under my nose. I was hungrier than I had thought I was and the warm buttered toast and peeled, sliced apple went a long way to making up for the uncomfortable night of sleep I'd had.

"Do you have time to talk about the contract this morning, or does your course start early?" she asked me.

"I'm afraid I need to be in early, so we'll need to sort it out later today."

She looked disappointed and ran one of her slim porcelain hands through her long, rich, dark brown hair. I'd never met anyone before who could look so effortlessly stunning at such an early time in the morning.

"I see. Do you want me to leave and return in the afternoon?"

"No, you can stay here if you want to. I've already decided to let you move in."

"I'm glad," she said, creating a disturbingly comfortable silence between us.

"What course are you on?" I asked her out of a necessity to change the atmosphere.

"The History of Art. You could say I have a bit of a natural affinity for it," she replied with a sly smile.

"Sounds very interesting. I dabble in a bit of art myself, but I was never very good at the theory side of things, kind of ironic really," I chuckled.

I sometimes regretted not taking my love of art any further, but it was a talent I held onto and still practised often and one which I hoped to retain because of that. I had always had an awkward time making choices about my education, as I had always found myself to have a appreciable skill, luck or talent in everything I had ever tried and yet I could never claim to be a master of any one subject, sport or field. My interests were narrow but my skills were abundant and thinly spread. It made me feel guilty as it wasn't something one should ever really complain about.

"Oh, why the irony?" she sounded confused.

"Ah, sorry, I should have explained. I'm studying physics, which is quite solid in regards to the theoretical."

I'd had a love and hate relationship with mathematics and science as a child, always lured in by the cosmic elegance and beauty of physics and the whispering promises of fundamental secrets only to be put off by the inane and seemingly pointless operations and complications of mathematics. It wasn't until I begrudgingly took Mathematics A-level to accompany my physics and we began to study calculus that it truly dawned on me how profound and important it was.

"How amazing, I didn't imagine many women would choose to study such a pure science."

She seemed genuinely amazed and somehow pleased at this, not at all the reaction I had been expecting from her.

"Most people just gasp or tell me I'm mad, I think I'm looked on as being a bit strange because of it."

"Nonsense," she demanded kindly, "I think it's brilliant that you can do it. If there's one thing that my life has shown me, it's that nothing advances, changes and defines mankind more than the constant progression of science in the wake of curiosity."

"Ah, thank you. You make me sound so much more focused than I really am though, I could have just as easily studied English Literature or History."

This was also very true, History had originally been my fourth choice A-level subject until I had finally made my decision to replace it with Mathematics. History had never really been a subject I had greatly enjoyed, always being more interested in the future than the past, but had nevertheless been one I had excelled at in my early school life. Sometimes even now I still look back at the choices that defined my early life and laugh at how little thought I really gave them. However, to ponder on what could have been is a useless hobby we are all quite guilty of.

"But you didn't study those things and because of that you're here now in this city of Leicester and I was able to meet you."

Again her soft hand feathered over my own and I felt my breath catch in my throat as her thumb lightly stroked once against my down-turned palm. The feeling of her cool, smooth skin against mine felt so inappropriately wonderful that a sigh of discontent escaped my lips when she slowly pulled her hand away. I was at a loss to understand the effect she had over me and the confused thoughts that danced through my mind.

"I... I should really be leaving now," I managed to stutter out.

"A shame, but you must not be late. Do you have a spare key?"

"I do, but you won't be here when I get back?" I asked, my disappointment more apparent than I had intended.

"I have to return to fetch my belongings sometime, if I am to live here," she responded politely. "I wouldn't like for you to be locked out of your own home."

"Ah, of course. I'll take my spare key then."

Upon leaving my home the reality of my unexpected situation seemed to rush upon me as the icy cold air. I still didn't even know the name of the person who, at the time, I had only met the night before and was that moment sitting alone in my house with my keys and most of my worldly possessions. I very nearly turned on my heels there and then with a mind to sprint home and throw her onto the street. It was only the fresh image of her bright face and large dark eyes in my mind, along with memories of this morning's conversation that stopped me.

I had trouble concentrating for the rest of the day, my mind a confused mess of thoughts and rationalisations. Exaggerated simulations of terrible possibilities flickered through my imagination constantly, punctuated only occasionally by significantly more pleasant but equally disturbing ones that I dare not mention more of.

Eventually my troubled day of work and lectures came to an end and I was due to return home. I have to admit that at the time I had felt a slightly guilty eagerness and the length of my trip was marginally shorter than even with my usual brisk pace. Unfortunately the locked door indicated that my new friend was not waiting for me with a pretty smile and a hot, cooked meal.

I noticed some new items had been moved into the house and the spare bed had been made up with clean sheets and a fresh mattress. Evidently the moving in had required several trips and was still under way. I removed my shoes and placed them in the hall alongside a couple of unfamiliar pairs before putting on a DVD and collapsing onto the sofa.