Jake was in the kitchen of his student house, making a "man meal." It was his preferred way to cook his food. The instructions consisted of: "if it's going in your meal, it's going in the pan."
His pan was filled with two cracked eggs, two rashers of bacon, two sausages, and some tomato. He added some butter and milk for the eggs, and then set the whole thing on the stove top. Perfect.
He grinned as he glanced at the mess inside the pan. When he had cooked the man meal for his last girlfriend, she'd proclaimed it to be lazy. Jake preferred to think of it as efficient. Why create more washing up when you didn't need to?
He went into the living room and sat down on the couch, digging in the back pocket of his jeans for his phone. Absently he scrolled through old sent and received messages, deleting those that were no longer relevant. Then he re-read his own reply to the text Fiona had sent him this morning.
He hadn't put a kiss. Did that make him seem unfriendly? Nah, he decided. It wasn't manly to put a kiss on the end of a message. He'd hate for Fiona to see him as some sort of sissy.
He turned on the TV. It was the usual Saturday morning crap. He flicked through channels, past World News, cartoons and some animated drama, until he reached a kids' TV show with a hot female presenter. He happily watched her prancing around the screen with some kids until the timer on his phone went off and it was time to eat his man meal.
Food plated, he came back into the kitchen and, thanking his landlord for installing satellite TV, switched to a sports channel. Some sort of football programme was on. Jake was a big fan of Australian football, and played a lot when he was home. English football was a pretty good substitute for when he was here.
He kept half an eye on the TV as he ate, and pondered what he was going to do with his Saturday. It was the beginning of his third year, so he had to make a start on his dissertation, as well as applying for internship on archaeological digs.
Like Fiona, he was a one-hundred-and-ten percent dinosaur geek. The beasts fascinated him.
He'd been lucky enough to go on a dig in Australia when he'd been sixteen. He'd helped out for days, eventually getting bored, hot and tired when hours and hours yielded nothing but bottle caps and stones. And then, just as the team had been about to give up, they'd found a piece of jawbone. It had been identified as belonging to a Caenaganathid, a meat-eating dinosaur that grew up to three metres in length. The find had thrilled Jake to the bone, and since then, he'd known that discovering ancient beasts was what he wanted to do above all else.
There weren't currently a lot of palaeontologists in Australia, and the few that did exist had a hell of a lot of ground to cover. Jake planned to change that. He was itching to get out there and find things. It was his passion.
However, it didn't mean that he enjoyed all the paperwork that came with it, he thought sourly, his mind wandering unhappily to his dissertation.
Fiona returned to the library, laptop and charging cable firmly in hand. On the way, she checked the student mailboxes under FIRST YEAR and then K – M.
There wasn't any post – it was her second day, why was she surprised? But there was a reading list and schedule for seminars, classes, and workshops. Fiona picked it up eagerly. She was looking forward to seeing what the essay topics were. She enjoyed writing essays, organising her thoughts, and it was this area in which she excelled.
She entered the computer area of the library through the automatic doors. It was quiet in here, except for the hum of many computers and their monitors.
Facing the door was a help desk. A young man sat at it. He wore headphones and was bopping his head to some imaginary beat.
He looked up, and removed the headphones. Fiona noticed that his lip was pierced. My God, didn't that hurt?
"Yeah?" he asked, in a friendly tone.
"Where can I plug my laptop in for internet access?"
"Over there." He pointed to a slightly out-of-the way area, like a large cubicle. Fiona was pleased because it would allow her some privacy, even though this early on a Saturday the computer area was very quiet. She suspected most new students, like Gwen, were sleeping off hangovers.
She thanked him and slid into a seat, then plugged her laptop in. She stroked the keyboard as a woman might stroke a cat. Her laptop was her favourite toy. Reaching into her shoulder bag, she took out her headphones and plugged them in, then turned down the volume on her laptop.
She logged into MSN messenger, and then her shoulders slumped. No one in their right mind would be on MSN now if they lived in New York.
Why? Because it was around three a.m in her home city.
Oh, well. She'd check email and her favourite sites.
As she waited for the CNN website to load, along with Youtube, she flipped through the reading list and schedule, pleased that the fresher's events only lasted a week. While Fiona was perfectly sociable and enjoyed meeting new people, she was here to learn about excavation and dinosaurs, and wanted to do that as soon as possible.
Someone came to sit down next to Fiona in the wireless internet area. She glanced up, and then found herself looking back.
The guy next to her was good-looking in a blonde, blue-eyed teenage dreamboat way. He looked a little like that blonde guy in the OC, and Fiona couldn't help watching him as he slid into his seat, and took out his own laptop.
He sensed her looking at him, and looked her straight in the eye. Embarrassed, Fiona flushed and looked away, but she heard him say, "Hi."
"Hi," she said back, hoping a hole would open up for her to crawl into. She slipped her headphones out of her ears and turned her chair a little so she faced him. "I wasn't… I mean, I didn't mean to stare."
"No worries," he assured her. "I'm Joe." He wore a black t-shirt under an open, short-sleeved blue dress shirt. His wide-legged black jeans were belted, and from under the leg hems she could see airwalk trainers.
"Second day?" Joe asked.
She flushed. "Yeah. You?"
"Second day of second year," he said. "Term doesn't start for us until next week, but I want to get an early start on my essays for this year."
They chatted for a bit longer, and then Joe asked, "So, what're you doing tonight?"
Fiona remembered her engagement with Gwen. "I'm hanging out with a girl in my dorm – well, that's if she feels up to it."
Joe grinned. "I take it she overdid the first night of Fresher's week?"
Fiona nodded with a smile. "Oh, yeah. Did she ever."
"Well, it's too bad you're busy," Joe said, combing a hand through his slightly messy hair. "I was going to ask you to come down to the SU for a drink."
Fiona frowned. That sounds really nice. But she'd made arrangements with Gwen.
Gwen abandoned you last night without a thought, didn't she though? A little voice in Fiona's head hissed.
No. I won't do that, she thought determinedly. I want to be a good friend.
As if sensing the internal debate within Fiona, Joe said, "Hey, why don't you take my number. If your friend isn't feeling herself, call me, and we'll meet up. What do you think?"
"I think that sounds neat," Fiona replied, beaming.
Fiona looked at the chest of drawers in her dorm room. The top one was open.
What the hell am I going to wear?
Gwen had declared that she was "still utterly wasted" and so would be no use to anyone for at least the next twenty-four hours. So, Fiona had a green card to go out with Joe tonight.
For a second, her mind flashed to last night, when Jake had leaned towards her outside her dorm. Nothing had happened, but she'd almost wanted it to. Which was silly, because Jake was practically family, although not by blood.
While thinking of him, she checked her phone to see if he had messaged her. No, he hadn't. Of course not – why should he have? Perhaps he was at work, or out with some friends.
Fiona promised herself that she'd take him for a drink or lunch, to thank him properly for rescuing her from Dave.
Dave, who she now fervently hoped was suffering from the alcohol he'd drunk, and from the manly way Jake had dismissed him.
It had been pretty manly, she thought with a grin.
Then she shook her head. What silly thoughts. And turned her mind to Joe, who she was seeing tonight.
She sorted through the clothes she'd brought with her. What to wear? She wasn't a skimpy-clothes girl, and never would be. She had progressed from black and purple to other colours, but she didn't like to flash too much flesh.
She settled on a short-sleeved, snug black top with a rose emblazoned down one shoulder, and a long denim skirt. Slip-on wedge heel sandals completed the ensemble.
Fiona smiled at herself in the mirror. She liked to think that she had inherited a mix of the style sense of her step-mother and her three Aunts.
How she missed them, even though she hadn't been away long at all. She missed the noise of them, the chatter, the scent, all the hugs she protested at but secretly enjoyed. She even missed the kids. Fiona thought of all her Aunt's children as her own brothers and sisters, as she saw them so much.
She made a mental note to buy them all some silly London souvenirs and post them, while she was relatively free of assignments in Fresher's week.
She grabbed her make-up bag and carefully applied a light coat of mascara, dark brown eyeshadow, and tinted lip balm. A few squirts of Rock'n'Rose perfume and she was ready to go.
"Knock 'em dead, baby," she murmured, and then felt sad. It was a phrase her step-mother Cassidy used a lot.
For God's sake, learn to be less clingy! She told herself. It was the by-product of growing up in a large family – you were rarely alone. Fiona thought being rarely alone produced one of two side effects.
Either you cherished solitude, or you couldn't stand it.
Unfortunately, Fiona had developed the latter. She didn't like to be alone, and often pottered about aimlessly if she was. She was beginning to realise that perhaps she shouldn't have come so far away to study.
But her bed was made now, and she'd have to sleep in it. At least if she missed her family she could turn to Jake, as he represented a link to them in this country.
She grabbed her evening bag and her dorm room and hall keys. She checked her reflection one last time, and then the door closed behind her.
The wooden wedge heels of her shoes clattered on the dorm room steps as she made her way out. As she walked towards the SU, her heart started to pound in her chest. Was this a date? She guessed it was. She'd been on dates before, but they'd taken place when she had someone to pick her up (her father) and someone to give advice on what to do in all eventualities (her step-mother). Fiona didn't know Gwen well enough to ask advice from her, and all her friends in New York were too expensive to call.
She was alone, but at least it was a short walk home if things turned sour.
The night had a very slight chill to it, and Fiona rubbed her arms a bit as she reached the SU building.
It was after eight and music was already pumping out. Fiona wondered if Jake was at the bar. She glanced that way, but the queue was three deep and she could not make him out beyond the throng of beer-hungry students.
She searched around for Joe, but couldn't see him. Perhaps he hadn't arrived yet. She made her way to the pool table/seating area and plopped herself down on one side of a cushy leather sofa. She had to credit UCL, their student areas were ridiculously luxurious.
She looked up to see Joe standing before her. "Oh, hey there," she said automatically, and then cursed. God, that sounded so stereotypically American, didn't it?
Joe stared at his feet for a moment, then said, "I'm glad that your friend's still feeling ill, although that makes me sound like an arsehole."
Fiona laughed. "No, it doesn't."
"Would you like a drink?"
She stood. "I'll come with you to the bar." Rather that than sit here alone, looking like a loser or a wallflower.
Joe smiled warmly at her. "Did you have major jetlag when you arrived?"
Fiona nodded. "Oh, yeah. But I feel fine now. I think I was so excited about this whole thing that I shook the jetlag off."
They made their way through the press of bodies. Fiona smelled aftershave, perfume, sweat and beer as they waited to reach the bar.
"You look great, by the way," Joe said into her ear.
"Thanks." Her lips curved up in a flattered smile.
"So, you want to dig stuff up, huh?" Joe asked, grinning.
Fiona got a bit irked by the phrase he used, but she told herself to ignore the slight irritation. What else would laymen call it? "Yeah," she said after a pause. "Dinosaurs specifically. I really love them."
Joe tapped the purse she held. "I can see that."
Fiona stared down at her purse. Dangling from it was a keyring which held a tiny stuffed model of a stegosaurus. She bit her lip. "I'm…."
"Slightly obsessed?" Joe asked with a cheeky grin.
Fiona smiled when she saw his grin. "Maybe."
He nudged her playfully. "I think it's cute. It's good to have a passion in life."
Jake was working the bar.
He had just gone out to the back room to fill up the box holding steak flavoured crisps when his gaze landed on a familiar face crowned with sunshine-blonde hair.
Fiona. She wasn't alone. She was with a guy. They were chatting, their heads bent quite close together. Jake checked out the other man. He was blonde and blue-eyed. He looked as if he belonged in a teenage girl's bedroom, on a poster.
Jake served a few more students, keeping his eyes on Fiona and the poster boy. He wondered if they were on a date, or just friends.
Why did the thought of Fiona on a date make him feel uncomfortable, itchy inside his own skin? There was simply no reason for it – she was like a cousin to him, for heaven's sake.
Even if, and it was a big if, even if he did like her, he wouldn't risk dating her. A broken heart for Fiona would mean a broken leg for him, courtesy of his half-brother Noah. He didn't want a broken leg. He needed his legs to play football.