During her life, the number of people Bella Pleasance liked could be counted exactly on the fingers of one hand. If Jona could be called the thumb of that hand, Bella was shortly to meet the index finger.
Bella lived in Jona's flat until she was eighteen. During that time, they lived as two separate entities, and interacted very little. They bought their own food and prepared their own meals, which they ate separately, at different times. They never went out together, and they did not converse very much. Any conversations they did have were always initiated by Bella, but Jona always managed to cut them short. She craved eye-contact with Jona, because of the nice feeling it gave her, but her her intense, unwavering gaze made him feel very uneasy.
Conversations apart, he did not mind Bella being there. She minded her own business to a large extent. He did not know what her business was, exactly, and he cared even less. She went out most weekday mornings, and came back most weekday afternoons. What she did in between, he had no idea. He went out most nights and came back in the early hours of the morning, not always alone. She didn't ask where he went, or ever ask to go with him. She rarely went out in the evenings at all, and she was usually in her room when he came home. On the rare occasion she was still up, she went to her room as soon as he came in.
Thanks to her very generous monthly contributions he had managed to overpay the mortgage on the flat every month, and now owned it outright, but he still accepted Bella's payments, which she handed over without being asked, and with no apparent reluctance.
The day before Bella's eighteenth birthday, she went to see the solicitor who had been handling her financial interests until she came of age. She knew exactly how much her fortune amounted to. She had made sure, since her parent's death, that it was invested wisely, and knew that it had more than quadrupled in size. She instructed him to arrange for a certain amount in cash to be ready for her to collect the following day.
She took a taxi back there next day, then with the money in a holdall, went to a large house on the outskirts of town. She met the man with whom she had set up an appointment, had a quick tour of the house, and handed over the holdall, saying that this was how much she was willing to pay and no more. The man accepted without hesitation.
''I've bought a house.'' she said to Jona, when she returned to his flat. ''I'm going tomorrow. You can come too, if you want.'' No pressure, no begging, just a statement.
Jona thought, for a minute, then said no. He felt neither pleasure nor disappointment that she was going.
''If you change your mind, let me know.'' and she handed him a piece of paper with her new phone number written on it. ''I'll need a driver, and you can drive. I'll pay you the same as I've been paying.''
''Maybe.'' Jona said.
While Bella was collecting the holdall from her solicitor, another eighteen year old girl was packing a similar size holdall not very far away. It was her birthday too. Her name was Catriona Savage.
She had waited for this day as eagerly as Bella. Catriona had had a miserable childhood, with parents whose tempers were a mean as hers was sweet. They had resented her very existence and counted every penny spent on her. As baby and toddler, she had been clothed in hand-me-downs and as she grew, her mother frequented jumble sales and charity shops for her daughter's clothes. Her parents were not poor. They made sure that they had all the best things for themselves. They were not physically abusive, and they fed her adequately. But they starved her of affection and stimulation. Despite this, Catriona was a happy child. She was loving and affectionate towards them, and always smiling. This did not really help her to win their love. All it did was make them suspicious. They did not like this child who was unendingly cheery and ... kindhearted.
When she was sixteen, she left school – she had never been encouraged to further her education. - in fact, her parents had never attended a parents' evening, or any other event at her schools. She was the only child with no-one to see her perform in school shows. This was a shame, as she often had a leading role. Catriona was blessed with a beautiful singing voice.
She took a job at minimum wage in a fast-food takeaway. The majority of her wages she handed over to her mother, as rent, but she managed to save a little every week, so was able, at last to buy decent clothes for the first time in her life. The first thing she bought, though, was a guitar, and she taught herself few chords using a book from the library. And on her days off, she sat on a bench in the park, and sang songs she had composed herself, gratefully accepting the money she was thrown by passers by. This helped her to save for the three months rent she needed to deposit on a room in a house nearby. She moved in the day she turned eighteen, the same day as Bella had moved into her new house.
The day after that Bella walked through the park and saw a girl singing with a guitar.
Bella looked at Catriona. She was the same height and build as Bella, and had the same bright blue eyes, but wide-set, giving her a look of wistfulness and innocence. She had a long, straight nose, in a heart-shaped face. Her hair was the same colour and texture as Bella's, but she had it cut in a pixie-ish style, showing off pretty ears, very much like Bella's own. Her nicely shaped lips were parted in a joyful smile as she sang, showing her pearl-white, perfect teeth. Bella looked at Catriona Savage and part of her saw the girl she might have been, had nature been kinder and arranged her features more attractively.
One might have expected Bella to dislike her on the spot, and been pierced with envy, but surprisingly, she felt the opposite. She stood watching the girl, and when she had finished her song, went over to her.
''I like you.'' she said. ''What's your name?''
''I'm Cat.'' she said, smiling and holding out her hand. Bella did not take it, but sat beside Cat on the bench.
''I'd like you to come and live in my house.'' said Bella.
''Well, that's very nice of you, but I've just moved into a room and paid three months rent, and it's not returnable, so I can't really afford it. ''
''I don't want any money. I have lots already.'' she said.
Cat sat and thought for a minute, looking at Bella. She smiled.
''Yes. I think I will. I'd like that very much.''