Chapter 1: Friendships Renewed
Dr Nicholas Richards sighed as he slipped his laptop back into his bag, and glanced around the now empty lecture hall one last time. Students could move pretty fast when they wanted to, he thought. His dismissal had signalled the start of their lunch break and so, within seconds the room had emptied. Nicholas stood for a moment running a hand through his thick black hair. He was slim, and shorter than most men. Standing there in his shirt and dark trousers he appeared much younger than his thirty years. He looked more like a student than a lecturer. With his chiselled features and deep blue eyes he had never been short of female attention, but somehow he had never really connected with any women. Not since her, and that hadn't exactly ended well. He pushed the thought of her aside. He couldn't stand here all day feeling sorry for himself, not while he had assignments to mark.
As he walked towards his office past students in the hall, he remembered his own time as a student here, at this very same university. He had come to the university at the age of 18 eager to throw himself into his classes and forget his broken heart. He had replaced one obsession with another as he delved deeper and deeper into his studies. By the time graduation came he was planning his doctorate, when that came to an end there had been an opening for a lecturer so he had stayed on to teach. With his enthusiasm for the subject and his phenomenal grades he was an obvious choice for the newest lecturer in classical mythology and civilisation. Deep down he knew that he wouldn't have done any of it if it hadn't been for her, at least he could be grateful that the past had brought him this far.
It was strange, but she had been in his thoughts so often recently and he wondered why. At first he had thought about her every day, then as his studies had continued every week, every month and then hardly at all. Until recently the only time his thoughts had strayed to her had been when he had spoken to her brother Dennis, his oldest friend. But then suddenly his thoughts had been full of her with no reason for it. As he entered his office however he stopped wondering, because he knew the answer.
Nicholas had been deep in thought as he opened the door, and for a moment he thought he was dreaming. With the way his thoughts had been going it would be no surprise for him to imagine her standing there, and so when she spoke it took him a moment to adjust to the fact that she wasn't an illusion.
That voice. He stared, stared into that face from his past, from his childhood. It couldn't be.
She flinched at the use of her old name. Her adoptive parents had meant well, but it had never really suited her. Nicholas hadn't been surprised to learn from her brother that she had changed it when she moved away. She had always hated it. Once, all those years ago, he had told her that she deserved a new name, a name as unusual as she was. But that had been over a decade ago, 12 maybe 13 years since they had last seen each other. Over a decade ago she had walked out of his life and now she was just standing there in his office as if it were the most natural thing in the world, as if she belonged there.
"It's Chimera now, Chimera Medusa."
He grinned as he took the seat behind his desk.
"Yes I heard, Dennis told me."
Chimera had been one of Dennis' nicknames for his sister. They had always been close and the reminder of her adoptive brother obviously cheered her. She smiled back at him from the window across the room and his heart skipped a beat. After all this time he was surprised that she could still affect him so much. In her presence he was a school boy again. She was the same as always, the name may have changed but the person was the same. She was older than he remembered her, but he supposed she was thinking exactly the same about him.
Standing there by the window to his left he couldn't stop looking at her, the one that got away. Her mostly black hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail; from there it cascaded down her back in a rainbow of different coloured pleats ending just above her waist. One shoulder was bare, the other draped in tie dyed silk from her neck to her long painted nails. No doubt the top was one of her own design. It fitted her perfectly and coupled with the tight black jeans she wore it emphasised her curves expertly. How could he not stare? Dennis had told him that she was a designer now, and judging by the excitement from the students concerning her possible arrival, she was a successful one at that.
"You seam surprised to see me Nicholas, I thought it was common knowledge about my little shop opening up on campus"
She said it as if seeing the progression of his thoughts. Yes, he had heard the rumours; he had seen the anticipation growing. But he hadn't dared to believe that it was her.
"I thought you would have called, to let me know you were coming"
That was a lie. In truth he had expected Dennis to call and give him a heads up. When the call hadn't come, he had told himself that she wasn't coming. But he had hoped secretly that it was her, isn't that why she had been on his mind so often recently.
"I was going to call" she said "But to be honest, I wasn't sure whether you would want to see me"
She stared at him with her dark chocolate eyes and suddenly he knew that this was as hard for her as it was for him. He stared straight back into those eyes so that she would know that he was telling the truth.
"Chimera, of course I would want to see you"
The worry vanished from her face and she took the seat across from him. He was surprised at how easily he had adjusted to her new name. It suited her, she had never really been Christine MacMillan, somehow she had always been Chimera Medusa.
"So, what brings you to my office?"
It wasn't the question he wanted to ask. That would have to wait. He wanted to enjoy seeing her. He wanted to savour every second, in case she decided to vanish again.
"I'm here to see you of course"
She said simply, as if it were obvious, as if he should have known. As if them seeing each other after all this time wasn't both surprising and incredibly painful. As if they had never been apart.
"When the opportunity arose to open a shop here I took it. Expand my business and renew an old friendship at the same time."
Inwardly she cringed. She couldn't tell him the real reason, not yet. For now she just wanted to see him, to forget for a while just how much she had missed him, how much she had wanted to see him, if only for a moment.
For the next half hour they sat and talked, talked about nothing. Neither one daring to say what needed to be said, neither asking the questions they wanted to ask.
"Have dinner with me"
She said it suddenly, as if on impulse.
"I'll cook something and we can catch up properly"
He had always loved that about her, she was almost childlike the way she could jump from one topic to another. For a moment it almost seamed like they had never been apart, Almost. The awkwardness was still there between them. Nicholas knew it would stay, at least until they talked about what had happened that night. But he couldn't bring himself to mention it.
"Nothing healthy I hope, I'm in a couch potato mood."
They could talk tonight. Wasn't that what she had really meant by catch up?
"It's a deal"
As she spoke she stood up to leave both releaved and reluctant to go at the same time.
"Nachos, chocolate, crappy horror films and a couple of bottles of wine"
But they both knew that wasn't all. They would have to talk, really talk, and soon. She scribbled her address on a scrap of paper and handed it to him.
"I'll expect you at eight"
It sounded like Nichols' idea of heaven. He had really missed her these last 12 years; they had been so close once. They had been friends through primary and secondary the three of them, Nicholas, Dennis and Chimera. By the end of secondary school he had finally admitted to her that he wanted more. They had gone to the prom together, but then she had left. She had needed the time away, he knew that. Maybe now that she was back they could finally work things out.
"I'll be there"
His mind was full of possibilities as he watched her leave. He picked up his pen to start his marking when he remembered. He remembered unlocking the door before she had announced her presence. The door had been locked and she had been inside. He looked over at the window and grinned. It was open; it couldn't open far, only an inch or so. But that was enough for her wasn't it. And hadn't he seen a flash of green in her eyes when their hands touched a moment ago. She really hadn't changed.