Two sets of fingers hammered out on two different keyboards to the soundtrack of a samey sounding pop turn on the radio. That was how we were happiest. It can be a dangerous balancing act sharing a flat with a friend. Sometimes you'll run the gauntlet and both come out the other side unscathed. However, it's just as likely that you'll tear a friendship to pieces as the little irks and disagreements mount up into a time bomb that can, and probably will, go off at some point. Luckily, Lucy and I seemed to co-exist quite happily. Perhaps she hogged the shower for too long in the morning but that was about it.
"What do you think of this?" she said, popping a link into the chat box. I suppose I could have just leaned over and looked at her screen. But that would have involved moving. I clicked and a dress popped up into the window from an online store.
"S'pretty," I mumbled with half-hearted interest. Lucy liked her dresses. Not that she had much occasion to wear any of them. We settled back into the white noise of keyboard tapping.
"Oh, you've passed all your winter exams," I announced a little while later.
"What?" she spluttered, followed by the frenzied clicking of her accessing the university website. "You're talking rubbish, the results aren't up yet!" was her dismayed cry a few moments later.
I sighed, sat upright and passed over my MacBook. She set hers onto the floor and took mine. Her eyes slid rapidly across the screen, then looked up at me over the lid of the laptop. The bluish glare from the screen reflected in her accusing eyes.
"How did you get these?"
I shrugged, "It's not that hard."
She handed the computer back with a frown. "I thought you said you'd finished with all that."
Again, I shrugged. She snapped the laptop shut. Her forehead wrinkled as she frowned. "Anna, you promised me."
"It's no big deal. It was just an attachment on an email. Oh, do you happen to know a girl called Carrie? Yeah, I think she's sleeping with one of your professors because she did horribly on the tests but one of them is arguing that she had 'exceptional' circumstances in her personal life but is refusing to back it up."
"I knew it," Lucy hissed, then as quickly as her face registered the shock of the Carrie scandal, it turned irritated again. "You're going to get into trouble."
"I've just saved you another week of stressing about results," I laughed, "the least you can say is thanks," I replied, both dodging her question, and relieving the tension between us. Lucy sighed and went back to her virtual dress shopping.
"Thanks," she grunted.
My dad was in IT pretty much at the beginning of when computers became a 'thing' and worked in the London Apple offices. It was a family joke that he would tell anyone who would listen about the one time Steve Jobs had called him 'indispensable'. I pretty much grew up around computers and at the age of about eight could pretty much run circles around any adult. If ever there was a problem, everyone knew to send for Anna Winterman. I was ten when he died. I know because he died the day after my tenth birthday, which is the 10th of September 2001. My dad had been at the head of team that was pitching new software to a company in the World Trade Centre. I think the incident is famous enough for you to work out the rest of the story for yourself. After my dad died, computers went from being a hobby to a full blown obsession. I think a part of me was convinced that somewhere in the circuit boards and World Wide Web, I'd find some lasting connection with my father. Part of me is still looking.
The hacking started after my mum had sent me to counselling. She was concerned that I was spending far too much time on my computer. My counsellor sent e-mail reports to my mother on my progress. I was simply curious as to what they said. It was all useless psyco-babble about obsessive tendencies and improper handling of grief. My 'problem' spiralled out of control when I got to secondary school and broke into my biology teacher's computer and switched out her sex ed video with a porno. Needless to say it was the most interesting lesson that Miss Shanks had ever given. When I was eventually caught for my 'pranks', my saving grace was Mr Harris. He begged the Principle to give me a second chance. My 'punishment' was to help with after school computer club, where he showed me some more creative outlets for my technological prowess.
At University I had taken an Undergraduate course in computer science, and was currently spending my third and final year on my PhD in computer engineering. Kings College London didn't exactly have the best Postgraduate programme in the world, but I didn't know what else to do, and looked doomed to be a perpetual student, forever burying myself under more and more student loans. My 'hacking' had quietened down to simple, and harmless stuff like getting exam results early for close friends.
Lucy was an undergraduate student a few years younger than me, studying English literature. Unlike me she had everything planned out. She was going to be an English teacher for a few years, build up a nest egg, and then write romantic yet poignant best sellers for the rest of her life.
It was mid-January, and bitterly cold. The route from my flat to the bus hadn't been salted, and was treacherously slick. Because it took me so long to traverse the paths, by the time I sighted my stop, the bus was already pulling out into traffic. London buses were, if not reliable, at least fairly frequent and it wasn't too long before another of the two storied red monsters loomed into view through the mid-morning darkness. I tapped my Oyster card onto the pad and found a seat on the upper deck. When I eventually got to my desk, there was a packet of 'luxury' cookies sitting on my table. A little silver bow was stuck to the corner. I ran my fingers through my hair and tried not to groan out loud. John clearly wasn't getting the hint. He was a computers undergraduate student on placement with our team and for some reason, god knows what, had become besotted with me. Every Monday he would leave bakery goods on my desk. Part of me felt mean, but I had absolutely no feelings for the guy in that way. I may have been rejecting his advances, but I wasn't going to reject the free confectionary.
I went shopping after I'd finished up at the University, and crashed into the apartment, arms laden with bargains from the January sales about 7pm. Lucy was fixing her hair front of the hall mirror in a sparkly dress and shoes that looked several inches past comfortable.
"I'm going out with some of the girls from my course, I'll see you later!" she touched my arm as she passed, grabbed a coat and scarf before she disappeared out the door. I spent the evening putting away my new purchases and gave myself a manicure while watching several back to back episodes of Mad Men. Just as I was about to turn in for the night, the boiler in the corner of the room gave an all too familiar clunk. We were out of gas. I topped it up online, reset the boiler and went into my bedroom.
It was shortly after 2am that the door slammed. I was under the duvet, satisfying my addiction for funnily captioned pictures of cats. I closed the computer lid and went to tell Lucy that she owed me half the money for the gas. I knocked on her door and was about to go in when I head a muffled cry of "busy!" from inside. It was followed by a throaty giggle and I backed away from the door. My suspicions were confirmed when I saw an unfamiliar coat and a pair of guy's shoes by the door. The gas money could wait to morning. I went back to my room, thankful that it was at the other end of the flat, and well out of earshot of whatever 'busy' was going on.
The next day I decided to work from home. That was the luxury of my degree, because most of the data for my research was on the University server, I could choose whether or not to go into the offices. I padded into the kitchen in my night clothes and slippers and flicked the kettle on. I was leaning against the counter waiting for it to boil when I heard an unfamiliar tread in the hall. A few seconds later, in walked Lucy's 'busy' from the night before. Pale skinny legs protruded from comic book print boxers and equally lean arms jutted out from a white vest top. His dark brown hair was jutting out from every angle, a poster child for 'bed head'. He stopped short when he saw me and stared through black rimmed glasses.
"Em…" he faltered, his face flushing red.
I had to bite down on my lip to stop from giggling.
"I'm looking for the bathroom," he blurted after several moments of agonising silence.
I pointed at the door at the other end of the kitchen. He muttered thanks as he disappeared through the door. By the time he emerged again, I had booted up my laptop and was pouring hot water onto the teabag at the bottom of my cup. Feeling sorry for the poor guy, I held up the steaming kettle. "Can I get you anything?"
He stared at me oddly for a moment. Clearly being offered a hot beverage by the roommate of your booty call was not an interaction he had expected.
"Actually," he replied, rubbing his hands over his bare arms to warm them up, "Have you got coffee?"
I pulled a face and rooted through the cupboard. I never drank the stuff, but there was probably still some of Rob's lying around. After two years of dating, he'd taken both my heart and my dignity when he'd left, but had forgotten to take his jar of Brazillian roast.
"Sugar and milk?"
"Just milk, please," the stranger replied in a typically 'Oxbridge' accent, sliding awkwardly onto one of the breakfast bar stools. I gave it a stir and pushed the cup towards him. "Thanks."
"My names Anna, by the way."
He took a drink, sighed, and cradled the cup close to his chest. His response was a single consonant.