It's an alright day today, I guess. It might be better if the sun could pierce the cloud cover. Just a sliver of light, that's all I'm asking for. One ray to bathe me in warmth. But the clouds don't move, they just hang there limp and grey like dirty dishcloths, and the sun never appears.
Mia told me to meet her at the Martyr's Memorial, probably one of the busiest places in Oxford when the tourists are out and about. And just as I get here, bang on time, a whole coach load turns up, taking one thousand pictures a minute. The group of teenagers sat at the base of the steps throw the tourists dirty looks; it had been quiet till they turned up.
My phone buzzes in my pocket and I take it out. It's a text from Mia, saying she's going to be five minutes late. I groan and cross my arms over my chest. From my vantage point at the top of steps I'll be able to see her coming at least. That's if I don't get pushed down the steps first. The tourists are scrabbling their way up in a huddle, all trying to peer at the writing on the memorial. I could read it to them if they wanted, it would save them the need to push and shove to get up the steps.
One of the tourists steps up right beside, forcing their way into my personal space. I have to quickly move down a step to avoid being nose to nose with them, but in my haste I back into someone. I stumble and the stranger catches me.
"Whoa, hey, watch it!" he shouts out, grabbing me by the upper arms as I steady myself. His tone is irritable and I immediately feel my cheeks burn with angry embarrassment.
"Sorry," I grumble, not really meaning it. I shrug my arms out of his tight grip. "Next time I'll just proceed to fall down the steps and crack my head open."
"It would have saved me the trouble of catching you."
I turn around, ready to glare at my unwilling saviour, only to find that he's beat me to it. A sharp, icy stare, droopy eyes, a sculpted nose and soft lips, all framed by a halo of unruly brown hair. He's short, for a guy at least, but still taller than me. Tall enough to look down at me with that stare.
Feeling my cheeks flame again, I throw him a weak version of my initial glare and pointedly look away from him. I scan the streets that feather out from the junction, waiting – praying – for a glimpse of sleek black hair, any sign of Mia arriving. I tap my foot impatiently and beside me I hear the guy chuckle. I have to restrain myself from saying anything, biting my tongue so hard I risk drawing blood. Out of the corner of my eye I can see him grinning with amusement as he glances at me.
"What?" I snap, less of a question more of a demand.
He chuckles again. "That guy, over there, you see him?" He points across the junction to a man just stood at the crossroads, staring straight ahead. "He's been staring at you for the past five minutes," he continues, laughing again. "That's quite a stalker you've got there."
I peer at the man at the crossroads. He's just standing there. What's he doing, staring at me like that? I can feel his eyes on me, digging into my flesh. A shiver rockets down my spine. "I think I know him..." I mumble.
Another shock of laughter. "Really?"
I frown, trying to put a face to a name. There's something about him that looks familiar. Short blonde hair, strong jaw. I shake my head, trying to clear the mist from my mind, but I just can't think properly.
"Well it doesn't matter now, he's walked off."
I look back and, sure enough, the blonde-haired guy is walking away, heading right. He merges with the crowd and I lose sight of him entirely.
"Did you see where he went?" I ask, looking this way and that, my eyes getting lost in between the cars and throngs of people.
"Nope, he must have found better people to stalk," Mr. Annoying replies, still sniggering.
"Oh," I say, a sickly feeling creeping into my gut. Biting my lip, I check my phone again. No messages. Please Mia, just hurry up so I can get out of here.
"Well, I'd better be off," Mr. Annoying says, still smiling to himself. "Have fun with your stalker. Oh, here he comes now!"
My head whips to my right, following his gaze, and my heart leaps into my throat, panic shooting through my limbs. The blonde-haired guy is tearing his way through the crowd of tourists, parting them like the Red Sea. His jaw is set, a vein throbs in his neck and there's a look of determination in his eyes.
"No wait," I choke out to my earlier saviour, hoping he can save me all over again. I stagger towards him, hands latching onto his black leather jacket before he can realise.
And then we're gone.
There's a whoosh of air, colliding with us like we've just run into a wall, but somehow we manage to push through.
Only to appear in my room.
I hit my bed so hard that I bounce on the mattress. The entire room shudders, books drop from the shelves, the light swings violently. The guy stumbles, momentarily losing his footing. Then he snaps his eyes onto me, glaring at me so hard that I recoil. There are a thousand questions swimming in the intense blue of his irises, questions I don't think I could ever answer.
"Where the fuck are we?" he shouts, so much venom in his voice that I just stare back at him, unable to answer.
"Alexis? Love, is that you?" Mum, calling from downstairs.
The guy's face morphs from angry confusion to panic, and then he disappears. I gasp and kick backwards, scrambling up my bed till I'm huddled at the top. There's a funny haze in the centre of my room, like a mirage, and I can't take my eyes off of it. What the hell just happened? How did we suddenly get from the Martyr's Memorial to my room? How did he just vanish?
"Alexis! Are you up there?" Mum calls again, the sound of her feet tramping up the stairs.
I swallow the lump in my throat and open my mouth, but it just works like a fish; I can't form any words. Mum continues up the stairs and knocks on my door before entering.
"Ah, I thought you'd come back," she says, smiling at me as if everything is fine.
I force a smile, a weak copy of a real one, and nod.
A frown line crosses Mum's forehead. "When did you come back? I didn't hear you come through the front door."
My eyes fly wide open with panic, but I push a lie out. "Urm, really? I came in a couple of minutes ago."
Mum frowns harder. "Oh, okay, I guess I just wasn't listening." She goes to leave and I release the tension from my shoulders, but she quickly pops her head back into the room. "I thought you were meeting Mia."
"She phoned, said she was sick," I splutter the first thing that comes to mind.
"Okay, well tell her I hope she feels better before you two go back to university."
Mum finally leaves and I feel myself inwardly collapse, my muscles shaking with relief. This day just went from alright to downright traumatising.