There was something strange about my room mate as she almost floated across the room towards me, smiling and holding out her arms for a hug. I couldn’t think of any polite way to stop her from embracing me so I just went along with it, having to stand on tiptoes to hug her back properly.
“It’s so lovely to meet you,” she said enthusiastically. “I was hoping I’d be able to find you.”
“Find me? We’re living together, I didn’t think it would be that difficult to find me.”
“I just meant before I went to bed,” she said, totally unflustered. “I don’t think I would feel comfortable going to sleep in a room with a total stranger. And this place is so big that my room mate could have been anywhere. But you’re here so everything is fine.”
“Yes, it is,” I replied, unsure how to speak to Aislinn. “Have you met the others yet?” I asked, quickly changing the subject. “I can introduce you.”
“That would be wonderful,” Aislinn said cheerfully, smiling and almost skipping out of our room. I followed her feeling utterly confused and unsure what to say. I led her across the hall to the kitchen where the others were still sitting and, with some help from Darren and Owen, called everyone’s attention and proceeded to introduce my room mate.
It didn’t take much to grasp the interest of some of the boys. Eric took one look at Aislinn and he was paying attention, whereas James was practically drooling from the moment she walked in. What was it she had that seemed to draw everyone towards her? Sure, she was pretty, but that couldn’t be the only reason why the rest of the room was gazing at her like she was some mythical creature.
“Aislinn?” Eric said, turning on the charm as he spoke. “That’s an unusual name.”
“I think it’s Gaelic,” she replied, completely oblivious to Eric’s charms. “I don’t really know much about it.”
“It’s very pretty,” James said, clearly uncomfortable talking to her, yet still looking up at Aislinn with adoring eyes.
“Thank you,” Aislinn replied, turning her gaze towards the speaker and transforming him into a gibbering wreck.
“Where is it you’re from?” Eric said, trying to draw Aislinn’s attention back to him. “What sort of school did you go to?”
“I was home schooled,” Aislinn replied. “My father didn’t want me educated in the same way as everyone else and he thought he could do a better job than everyone else so I didn’t really get a say in where I was taught.”
“That’s really interesting,” Eric said, trying his best to sound sincere when even I could tell that he was more interested in what she looked like than the words coming out of her mouth.
“Yes, my father is a very interesting man,” Aislinn continued, a strange glint appearing in the corner of her eye. “He was half man and half horse. Made an awful mess in the house whenever he came in.”
“I’m sure it was,” Eric said, completely oblivious to the sniggers coming from the table as everyone realised that Aislinn knew exactly what game Eric was playing. It wasn’t until Olly snorted rather loudly that Eric was snapped out of his bubble and brought crashing back down to earth. “What are you sniggering about?”
“You haven’t been listening to a thing she said,” Olly laughed. Eric cringed at this, knowing that he couldn’t defend himself.
“Next time you talk to a girl,” Aislinn said to Eric, “remember her face is up here,” she pointed to her face, “and not down there.” As she pointed to her chest to clarify her point for Eric, Aislinn received a round of applause and cheers from some of the members of the group and James clambered up from his chair to offer it to Aislinn who took it gratefully, smiling sweetly at him as she sat down.
Owen offered his chair for me, but I shook my head, telling him I would be much happier standing.
Everyone was much more wary of Aislinn after she made a fool of Eric, realising she wasn’t the sweet girl she appeared to be. Not that she wasn’t friendly; she even managed to coax a few words out of Natalie, something we hadn’t been able to manage before. Everyone was focused on the new girl, just in the way they had focused on me when Owen had first brought me into the kitchen to introduce me.
Aislinn told them all about how she grew up in the countryside, near a small village in Warwickshire. “I never knew my mother, she died when I was little, so my father brought me up all by himself.”
“And he taught you himself too?”
“Yeah, he did. I never went to a proper school, my father is very protective of me, probably because I’m the last thing he has that reminds him of my mother, so he didn’t like to let me go off anywhere without him.” Aislinn spoke in a very matter-of-fact tone, like she was saying the words but there was hardly any feeling behind them, something that unnerved me. Either she was very good at hiding her emotions or there was something not quite right about her.
“But he let you go to a public university?” Joanne questioned.
“He’s just about learnt that I need to become my own person and I can’t do that if I’m locked inside a house all my life with him watching over me.”
“It must have been so hard for him to let you go,” Natalie said quietly, more to herself than to anyone else in the room.
“I’m sure it was hard,” Aislinn agreed. “But sometimes there are things you have to do for the ones you love and no matter how much it might hurt you you’ve got to do it for their sake. My father knew that and that’s why he let me go.”
I watched Aislinn carefully as she told this last part of her story, searching for any signs of emotion behind her perfect face. There was a shake in her voice that I hadn’t noticed before and the fingers on her right hand were busily fiddling with the ring finger of her left hand. I was taken aback for a moment; why on earth would she be doing that? She wasn’t wearing a ring, at least not that I’d noticed, but it was almost like she expected one to be there in the way she appeared to be twisting an invisible ring around the base of her finger. I tried to put the thought out of my mind, telling myself I was making things up.
And yet, there was something about Aislinn, something strangely familiar and foreign at the same time that I couldn’t put my finger on. Something I needed to find out what it was.