Chapter 1

"Jack, I need you!"

Never had truer words been spoken.

Although how true I had no way of knowing at the time. This sentence was just one of many things that turned out to be somewhat prophetic that night…note how similar 'prophetic' sounds to 'pathetic' and you have the whole scenario pretty much summed up.

However, I've begun at what is not technically the beginning. The impetus behind me uttering those four rather fateful words is not pretty, in fact it is downright humiliating, but spilling the beans, the more embarrassing the beans the better, is inescapably cathartic. And thus I must take you back, back to 7 in the evening on a Wednesday night not so long ago…

The music for the 7 'o' clock news started as I walked into my boyfriend's flat, my bag weighing heavily on my shoulders and my body weary from a very long day. I dumped my bag on the floor and staggered over to the kitchen where I turned on the kitchen tap and, cupping my hands beneath it to capture the water, took a long drink. OK, so it would've only taken a couple of extra seconds to get a glass, but it was one of those days where even that tiny amount of additional effort could have been my undoing.

I hate Wednesdays. Thinking of all the crap you've gone through by Wednesday and then realising you've got that much time again before the weekend rolls around is absolutely heartbreaking.

I hated this Wednesday in particular.

My classes had been interminably boring, I had missed lunch due to unfinished coursework that I had to complete in my break, and work had been hellishly busy. The only saving grace was that I had got off duty early as one of the other girls was desperate for more hours. I had willingly given them to her and headed off a couple of hours earlier than I normally would have done, not with a spring in my step as you would imagine, but with a heavy heart knowing that I would just use the extra time to get some reading done.

Well, I would get onto the homework bit after visiting my boyfriend, Brad (not the best of names I know, but we work with what we have). After all, aren't we university students always being told that study isn't everything and that we have to have a balance between work and play in our lives? Well, that was the line we were being fed at the moment anyway due to the worryingly high levels of stress being detected amongst those of us doing first year law at Grove University.

Wiping my wet hands on my jeans I wandered down the corridor towards Brad's bedroom wondering why he hadn't come out to greet me. He must have heard me come in, after all I wasn't exactly tiptoeing about.

I began talking before I'd even put my hand on the doorknob, an old habit of mine, and so it was that the true awfulness of that Wednesday began with, "Brad, are you busy? Sorry to just barge in, but...huh."

The 'huh' came out as it did because of the huge, heaving, naked bosom I encountered as the door swung open. Well, really, what was I supposed to say? 'Nice rack?' I think that would really have pushed the boundaries of decency which were, by the looks of it, already being severely tested.

So, we've established that my first reaction was 'huh', the second, I'm afraid, was no more dramatic. The only thing I could think of was covering up those massive mammary monstrosities (yes, even in my darkest hours I can pull off a good bit of alliteration) and so I grabbed one of Brad's jumpers which was hanging over his desk chair. I then wordlessly passed it to the girl who had the enormous responsibility of lugging those bazookas around everywhere.

Finally, thankfully, those breasts were put away into the dark and my visual boundaries expanded dramatically. I lifted my eyes up from the chest area and saw that I actually recognised the girl standing awkwardly in Brad's hideous, knitted jumper.

"Hi Allison," I said politely. "What the fuck's going on?" OK so I said that less politely, but I believe, under the circumstances, I had fair reason to use the profanity.

"Hi, Talia," she said nervously. "I'm just, um, going to go…" She started edging around me towards the door, but I put an arm out to stop her.

"You've only got a jumper on. Get your stuff," feeling I was being a bit too nice I added in a harder tone of voice, "and then go."

It was at this point that I finally looked at Brad. He was lying in amongst the dishevelled bedclothes, but had propped himself up on one arm while the other searched about on the floor for his boxer shorts. While Allison collected her clothes and hurriedly changed, I watched with no small amount of satisfaction as the tips of Brad's fingers continually just missed the silky fabric of his undergarments.

The whole thing felt so surreal. Brad and I had been dating for about six months and I had thought we were pretty solid. He was two years above me in law and we had met at one of the 'get to know you' BBQs the uni was constantly holding. He was good looking in that 'I spend my spare time brooding about the futility of life in dark rooms' way with pale skin, black wavy hair and similarly dark eyes. Despite his looks he wasn't one of those deep, philosophical types who wanted to take me to indie films in different languages. No, he was just a typical third year law student meaning he drank a lot of beer and knew more than was decently possible about torts.

I'd been a bit astonished, to be honest with you, when he'd approached me and asked if I'd wanted another drink. The older students, as a general rule, didn't often descend from on high to mingle with the first years and, although passing pretty when I made the effort, I didn't consider myself attractive enough to have voided the year group divide.

My honey brown hair leans towards blonde on some days, whilst, on other days, couldn't be described as anything other than brown. Following the example set by my hair my hazel eyes never seemed to be able to decide what colour they should be either. I'm medium build, medium height, medium everything really. Even my dress sense screamed medium; I usually went for layered tops and a pair of jeans, perfect for my life that revolved around uni and work, neither of which required an excess of halter tops or miniskirts.

Considering the situation I'd walked in on with Allison, by all rights on that first day I met him Brad should have leeringly asked me if I wanted some sausage, which would have seen me walking away very quickly. That wasn't what had happened, however, I'd accepted the offer of a drink and, after he'd brought back a plastic cup filled with tepid beer, we'd spent the rest of the afternoon talking together.

He was polite, interesting and, most importantly, he didn't treat me like a JAFFY (just another f-ing first year) as most of the other older law students I had met had done. When the sun had begun to set and we'd realised that just about everybody had left he had asked me out for a proper drink and I'd had no hesitation in saying yes.

After that we dated as much as possible, but, as we had different classes and jobs, it wasn't always easy to snatch time together. Still, we'd managed to go out a couple of times a week and I'd been happy with that.

Fine, there had been moments when I'd thought he was a bit of a dick, like when he'd not turned up at my cousin's wedding when he'd promised he'd be there, or when he'd said he didn't understand why people got so het up over footy. Still, I'd forgiven him those trespasses and the other little niggling things weren't worth getting upset over. So what if he was a touchy feely person and I, well, wasn't? He respected that I liked to keep my distance and we got along fine.

Or so I'd thought. Clearly the Brad fumbling around to cover his nakedness wasn't the one I knew.

Allison finally had all her stuff together and she'd thrown on a skirt, not bothering to fix it as it hung askew off her hips. Scuttling to the door she paused only long enough to mouth 'sorry' although whether it was directed at me or at Brad I don't know. She closed the door behind her with a soft thump and my boyfriend and I were left staring at each other in complete silence.

I wasn't trying to unnerve him with the silence or anything, I just honestly didn't know what to say so I waited for him to begin. He'd finally found his boxers and he wriggled them back on under the covers, making him look for all the world like a pale grub amongst his dark sheets.

Apparently my silence got to him and he snapped, "Well go on then, yell and scream and all that. Let's get it over with."

Thinking back I can't believe how I managed to hold my temper. How dare he be angry at me? I hated when people did that, turned the tables when they were feeling guilty. However, I was so much in a state of shock that I only lifted my eyebrows slightly in response, something that seemed to unnerve him even more than if I had pulled a full harpy act on him.

"For God's sake, Talia, say something," he exploded after another few moments where all that could be heard was the traffic outside his window.

Finally emerging out of my stupor I said, rather randomly, "You don't even like Allison."

He snorted and then shrugged in that kind of 'what's a guy to do?' sort of way that finally succeeded in cutting through my stupor and woke me up to what I had walked in on.

"You were having sex with Allison, in your flat, on a Wednesday evening while I was at work?"

Don't ask me why I felt the issue needed clarification, it wasn't as if the situation was in any way ambiguous. He opened his mouth to answer, but I cut across him. "How long? How long have you been rooting her?"

"Allison? Only for a couple of weeks. Honestly, she meant nothing, baby." Brad got off the bed and came towards me with his arms outstretched, but I stepped quickly out of the way. Something about the way he'd wanted to check if I meant Allison in particular making my stomach feel queasy.

"She's not the only one is she? You've been having it off with other girls while we've been going out? Jesus, Brad, how many?" I asked.

He reached for me again. "Not that many, don't make a big deal out of it. It was only sex," he added as an afterthought.

What a cliché! Did any guy out there actually think that made it OK? If so they're in for a rude awakening and it was my duty to explain this to Brad. I thought about calmly explaining to him that I had this thing called a conscience and believed in the concept of fidelity, but it seemed too time consuming so I settled for the shortened version.

"You bastard." There. That about covered it I felt.

He dropped his arms and his conciliatory tone then and looked angry again. "Well come on, Talia, you can't really have been surprised," he snarled.

Not surprised? Was he insane? Did he really think I would have stayed with him if I'd suspected he was cheating?

"Why wouldn't I be surprised?" I asked with, what I considered, admirable self-restraint. What I really wanted to do at that moment, you see, was smash something hard into his private bits.

He laughed, a little irritating laugh that made me clench my hands behind my back to hold myself in check. "You can't possibly be that naïve. You know things have been awkward for ages now ever since Rory's party."

I winced.

I hadn't thought about that for ages now. In truth I had tried to block it completely from my memory, but it was one of those moments that I knew, no matter how I tried to erase it, I would always remember.

Rory was one of Brad's friends renowned for the extravagant shindigs he threw where just about the entire university was invited and nearly everyone showed up. They had been known to carry on over the entire weekend, only breaking up on the Monday when people blearily staggered off to lectures.

Brad and I had been officially an item for about five months at the party in question, and so I was feeling pretty good when I rocked up on Brad's arm that night, confident on having a good time. The evening had passed in a blur of dancing and chatter, although the blur hadn't been alcohol induced on my part. I'm not a huge drinker in large groups, after a rather unfortunate incident with a guy at a friend's 16th, I preferred to keep my head at parties.

At a little after 3 in the morning I was beginning to droop and I headed upstairs to try and find Brad to tell him I was off. My brother was going to give me a lift so Brad didn't have to leave if he didn't want to. I found my boyfriend coming out of the bathroom upstairs smelling very strongly of beer. He slung an arm around my shoulders and steered me into one of the bedrooms talking loudly in my ear about what a good time he was having. I laughingly allowed him to prattle on, ignoring the steadily increasing pressure of his arm around me. Slowly, though, his attitude changed and he had begun backing me towards the bed. My legs hit the edge and I fell backwards onto the mattress at which point Brad climbed on top of me.

Enjoying the attention, I had let him kiss me, ignoring the sour taste of ale and that I wasn't really comfortable making out with him where anyone could walk in. However, once I realised that the hand that wasn't sweetly caressing my face was undoing the buttons on my top, my mood changed abruptly. I broke my lips free from his and pushed him off of me without any warning so he toppled to the floor where he had looked up at me, balefully.

"What was that?"

"Not here Brad," I said curtly, closing my top and getting off the bed.

"Not here, not anywhere," he'd grunted. "My girlfriend, ladies and gentlemen, harder to get into than the best restaurant in town."

"I've told you I'm not ready to have sex with you yet," I said with dignity. "And my first time certainly won't be upstairs at one of Rory Murragh's parties."

"I won't wait forever you know. There are plenty of other girls prepared to do the business with me even if you're not," Brad had mumbled into the carpet, already looking as if he was about to fall asleep.

Stung, I had left the room in a hurry, running into my brother, Matt, in the corridor. He had come looking for me and wasn't very impressed to find me upstairs in the designated 'for couples only' area. Older brothers. What can you do?

Anyway, Brad had been profusely apologetic the next day, doing everything up to and including getting down onto his knees and begging for my forgiveness, and like the idiot that I am, I had let the incident slide. It was only one time in six months and I'd believed he was truly sorry.

So the fact that he was bringing up that night, when he'd promised that it had been nothing but drunken idiocy, really, really hurt.

"You knew the deal early on, Brad," I spat. "I told you when we first started dating that I wasn't going to just jump in bed with you."

"Yeah, but I didn't realise the embargo was going to last for the entire time we were going out. Are you waiting until you're married or something? What's wrong with you?"

"Yeah, because your attitude right now is making me feel so stupid for not sleeping with you the first chance I got," I said sarcastically, beginning to feel a little sick.

The problem was that he was cutting a bit close to home. I didn't know what was wrong with me. I'd just never felt that comfortable with the physical part of relationships.

Maybe it was having a protective older brother, or left over psychological damage from my run in with the guy at that party where I'd ended up in a bad situation, that made me how I was. I didn't know, but every time action with a guy went further than a kiss, I became tense and uncomfortable. Being with Brad, who had seemed so understanding, had quieted my fears about being a prudish freak, but all my insecurities were back with a vengeance now.

"You can be as bitchy as you like, babe, but the truth is that you're never going to be able to hold a boyfriend for long if you can't put out a little more…actually a lot more," he continued cruelly, perhaps sensing he had the advantage.

"When did you become such an arsehole?" I snapped, my eyes filling with unwanted tears. "I can't believe I didn't notice what a wanker you are until now. Honestly, Allison and the other girls can have you and welcome!"

I stormed out of his bedroom and back down the corridor, realising almost immediately that he was following me and that he had morphed back into caring, sensitive Brad.

"Talia, baby, I'm so sorry I didn't mean it. I'm prepared to wait, I really am."

Grabbing my backpack, I wrenched the door open and only waited long enough to shout, "Oh rack off and die!" Before beating a hasty retreat down the path and to my car.

I could only drive a couple of kilometres before I had to pull over to the side of the road because my tears were obscuring my vision too much to drive safely. Turning off the engine, I put my feet up on the seat and, wrapping my arms around my legs, sobbed against the denim of my jeans.

A little while passed with me in this state, and it was only when I could feel the tears that had seeped through the fabric becoming cold against my skin that I realised I had stopped crying. Reaching into my bag for a tissue I cleaned myself up and sat back feeling completely drained. What a day. I knew I hated Wednesdays for a reason.

Replaying Brad's cutting words over and over in my head made a few more tears beat a hasty retreat out of my eyes, but it was having another effect too. I was becoming very angry. Furious in fact. And not, as you might expect, at Brad. No, I was angry with myself. How long had Brad been playing me for a fool? How long had I let myself think he was the perfect bloke for me? How long had I let my fear of physical relationships stop me from living life to the fullest extent?

The last question was causing me the most upset and I turned the problem this way and that in my head trying to figure out how I could overcome it. Only an hour or so ago the obvious answer would have been to let myself 'go all the way' with Brad and be done with it, but that was not an option now and, anyway, I still baulked at the idea of doing it just to make someone else happy.

Suddenly, like a bloody great lightning bolt, the answer came thundering into my head. I couldn't believe it hadn't occurred to me before! What I needed was someone to teach me about those parts of a relationship that I had such trouble with. Someone who cared enough about me to understand my plight and who would be considerate and patient with me. Someone who was like a brother, but clearly not my brother (ewgh!) and I knew just the person.

I turned the car back on and slammed it into first gear. I raced home, smashing the speed limit to pieces, but luckily not encountering any police officers as I doubted they would have been entirely sympathetic to my reasons for breaking the law. Whizzing my little car into my parking space, I hurried across the asphalt towards the block of flats I lived in and up the steps to my flat door. I had to wait there for a moment as I fumbled in my bag for my keys, but, eventually, I found them and I burst into the living room in an explosion of urgency.

Throwing aside my bag, I practically ran across the open plan living room/dining room/kitchen area to where there were four closed doors. I flung open the door second from the left and gasped, "Jack, I need you!"