By Chance

‘“Elle,” Niall smiled. “It’s a pleasure to meet yeh’.” He said, shaking Elle’s hand gently. Elle recognised the twang that was evident in the way he spoke to be an Irish accent. She caught his bright blue eyes in her own and felt somehow that Niall was also familiar to her.’
Elle has lived in central London for a little over a week with just one key to her flat. One afternoon she bumps into somebody in the street, losing her only key down the drain. The stranger, somehow familiar, convinces her to stay the night at his place where she meets his flatmates, who are also familiar to her. They are generous, humorous and very welcoming, and it doesn’t take long for Elle to recall who they really are. From there laughter, talent, friendship, romance and careers ensue, all by chance.

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11. Eleven

Harry and Elle were greeted by raised voices, shrill noises and muffled laughter as they took off their shoes in the entrance hall. Elle gave Harry a startled look with which he returned a smile as he entered the kitchen. Elle followed him and peered into the lounge room where the loud and abrupt sounds were coming from. Zayn was curled in a ball on the floor clutching a cushion, being the source of the shrill noises, as Liam stood over him and repeatedly hit him with an enormous grin on his face. Louis assisted Liam with the raised voices, shouting out things about cheating, while Niall sat in a beanbag situated beneath the TV laughing so hard he had tears streaming down his flushed face.

“Boys,” Harry semi-shouted over the noise they were creating. Louis stopped shouting and Liam paused, Zayn daring to peek out from behind his cushion. At the sight of them all being caught off guard in front of Elle, Niall threw his head back and laughed even harder.

“Oh, hello, Elle,” Louis said, standing up straighter.

“Hi,” Liam greeted smugly, stepping away from Zayn who quickly stood up.

“Hello...” Elle said quietly, slightly frowning at the scene before her. Niall continued to laugh hysterically, nearly rolling out of the beanbag as he rocked.

“Honestly, I leave you for five minutes,” Harry ridiculed, rolling his eyes.

“It was Zayn’s fault!” Louis quickly pointed his finger at Zayn.

“Me?” Zayn appeared startled.

“Yes, you!” Louis said. “He cheated, Harry!” He didn’t seem very happy. It was then Elle saw the tangle of cords on the floor that was attached to a gaming system beside Niall, a red ‘Game Over’ flashing on the huge TV screen.

“Oh, Louis,” Harry quickly brushed him off, entering the lounge room himself. “Come on, round two.” He insisted, shooing Niall out of the beanbag. Elle reclaimed her corner of the lounge yet again as Harry began controlling the screen, Zayn taking the second control. Niall moved up onto the lounge and sat next to Elle, the other two boys sitting beside him. Elle watched the game, which appeared to be some sort of race, when after a few minutes it suddenly ended and Harry harshly shoved Zayn who fell out of his own beanbag as a result.

“You are a cheater!” Harry shouted, amused. Zayn lay where he was on the floor and snickered at his tricks when Louis took the control from him and took his place in the beanbag.

“I told you so. Louis Tomlinson does not lie!” Louis affirmed loudly as Harry began the next game. For the next half hour the controls were rotated around, though Elle refused several times, and they were having an enjoyable time. As the next game ended Elle’s stomach rumbled louder than ever and she clutched it in embarrassment as the boys turned their heads.

“That was impressive.” Zayn mused from the other side of the lounge.

“Oh, Elle! I forgot!” Harry said as he jumped out of his seat. “I’m so sorry, you must be absolutely famished.” He apologised as he hastily ran into the kitchen, when in all honesty Elle herself had forgotten how hungry she was with all the distractions these boys posed.

“Don’t worry, it’s fine, really.” She quickly waved off Harry who was now rushing about in the kitchen in preparation. Naturally, the rest of the boys dropped what they were doing and also left for the kitchen, except for Liam who quickly tidied up the gaming system. Elle was just about to take a seat at the kitchen bench when Louis ushered her away.

“Why don’t you have a shower now, love?” Louis said, guiding her towards the downstairs bathroom.

“Dinner will be ready by the time you’re out.” Harry said before she left his sight. Without getting a word in Elle found herself in the bathroom with a fresh towel. Hardly resisting the temptation for a hot shower after her long Friday, she did as she was told. When she got out, Niall’s navy track pants and grey jumper that she had folded that morning were still set on the vanity where she had left them. Assuming Niall wouldn’t mind, as he had given them to her the day before, she slipped them back on instead of her dirty work clothes.

Feeling refreshed she exited the bathroom only to enter into darkness. Confused as to why it was so dark, she squinted her eyes and didn’t move from her spot until her eyes were better adjusted. She followed the clanking sounds of cutlery and whispers coming from the kitchen up the small hallway. When she entered the kitchen she was greeted by several small glowing lights set upon the properly set table which had huge portions of steaming spaghetti bolognese at the ready.

“Just on time,” Harry said, noticing Elle’s return.

“Wine?” Zayn asked her, although he set down a glass of it in front of her place anyway.

“What’s this?” Elle asked, gesturing to the candlelit table.

“Dinner, love.” Louis said, whisking past her to take his place.

“Is there something wrong with the lights?” She joked, taking the place Zayn had indicated for her.

“We like to kick off the weekends in style.” Harry simply responded with a cheeky shrug.

“Style, alright.” Elle said as Niall and Zayn took the seats on either side of her, Harry and Liam sitting on either side of Louis on the opposite side.

“Thought I’d make it worth the wait. Bon appétit!” Harry said, kissing the tips of his fingers and signalling for everyone to dig in. It was safe to say it was the best spaghetti bolognese Elle had ever tasted. The boys chatted away and warm laughter filled the air as they ate. Elle watched on, seeing how the candlelight accented all the boys’ different features when they moved with the shadows surrounding them and listened to their undying cheeriness. She was eating a beautiful meal by candlelight with people that were so normal she could hardly believe they were actually famous. It still hadn’t quite sunk in.

“What’s gotten you so tied up?” Niall suddenly elbowed Elle gently. She had been so caught up in the moment that she hadn’t realised how silent she had become. As Niall watched her, anticipating her answer, a warm smile spread across her face.

“Nothing.” She said happily, taking another forkful of spaghetti and making sure to keep up with the conversation. Even after they had finished their huge meals they sat around talking animatedly, never running out of topics, until the first candle finally went out.

“Oh no! The darkness is taking over!” Louis said shrilly, clapping his hands to his cheeks. Harry then abruptly took out his phone and shone it right in his face.

“No, the light!” He cried out instead. As laughter engulfed the happy atmosphere once more Harry stood up to take his plate back to the kitchen. Everybody followed suit, leaning forward and pushing out their chairs. The wind they created together blew out the remaining candles and left them in absolute darkness. Not being able to see a single thing, a clatter was heard from the kitchen as Harry, with his hands full, misjudged the location of the sink and the scraping of chairs as Liam ran into them. Beside Elle Zayn dropped his cutlery on the marble floor and bent down to retrieve it, causing Louis, who had been silly enough to attempt to navigate through the darkness, to stumble over his arm. Elle took a step back to avoid being run into, only to run into Niall herself.

“Sorry!” She quickly apologised, looking through the darkness but seeing nothing.

“Watch out,” Niall’s voice came from the darkness. “Where are you?” He asked. Before Elle could respond, Niall’s hand had already found her. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders to guide her away from the fuss at the table and further into the kitchen before leaving her standing in the darkness all on her own. She wasn’t exactly sure where she was standing, but it wasn’t half a moment later when Niall had successfully found the light switch and a bright, artificial light stung their eyes. Zayn finally got up off the floor with his cutlery in hand and Harry was able to find the sink.

“How did you get there and not me?” Louis asked Elle, shielding his eyes from the ceiling lights at the end of the kitchen bench.

“Uh...” Elle hesitated as she turned around to see him.

“She’s not nearly as stupid as you, for one,” Zayn said bitterly, narrowly avoiding a hit from Louis.

“She must have night vision.” Harry said thoughtfully as he finally rinsed his plate. Louis folded his arms and stared at Elle inquiringly while Elle looked back to Niall who shook his head and gave a small laugh at his friend’s immaturity.

It didn’t take long for the kitchen to be returned to its previously spotless state as it was cleaned quickly in a similar manner to the night before. As soon as it was, everybody returned to the lounge room to laze about and watch whatever Louis chose. With full stomachs and the comfort that the lounge was offering, it wouldn’t have taken much for all of them to fall asleep and spend the night on the couch once again. As silence and dreariness settled over the lot of them, it was barely ten o’clock when Liam unexpectedly stood up and clapped his hands loudly.

“Come on, there’s no way we’re spending another night on the couch when we’ve got bedrooms like the ones we have here.” He directed with clear authority as everybody was jolted from their light slumber. “Especially you, Elle.” He insisted.

“But I don’t want to...” Zayn nearly slurred, his face buried into the softness of the lounge and his eyes firmly closed. Everyone unwillingly stood up and altogether made their way towards the large marble staircase while Liam coaxed Zayn out of his happy place. When they reached the top of the stairs they bade each other goodnight and headed into their rooms, closing the doors behind them. Elle immediately made her way into the last room Niall had shown her the night before, and feeling very satisfied but utterly tired, slumped on top of the bed and hugged the pillows close, falling asleep within seconds.

Only a few hours had passed before Elle woke up again. Rubbing her eyes, she rolled over to realise she had slept on top of the covers and felt uncomfortably cold, assuming that is what woke her up. As she began to pull back the covers to climb into the bed properly, she heard a soft noise. She paused, not making a sound and listening hard. After a few seconds she heard it again. It sounded like a guitar.

She dropped onto her bed and sat still, staring into the darkness and listening to the muffled sound. She heard gentle strumming, the exact same every time. It stopped for a moment. Elle turned her head, and a proper tune began to play. A soft, rhythmic and kind melody that was unfamiliar to her. She tried to focus on where it was coming from. After several rounds of the tune stopping and starting, she realised it was coming from the wall that separated her bedroom from Niall’s. Wondering what he was doing up, she glanced at the clock. It was nearing half past one in the morning.

While the guitar continued to be heard, Elle walked softly out of her bedroom and stopped outside of Niall’s door. She glanced up and down the big empty hallway, wondering if she was the only one to hear it. Without another sign of life evident to her, she gently rested against the doorframe and lowered her head to where the door was firmly closed. She stood there for a while, longer than she had anticipated. Niall kept on strumming, and then playing that same pleasing piece repeatedly. Something in it changed every few times. Elle wondered if it was the song he had been trying to write.

Finally, the music ceased. Elle waited, her ear against the door, wanting to hear more. Maybe he was writing down what he had played. She wondered what it looked like. She expected him to begin playing again, to further adjust the sound. But nothing happened. Perhaps he had given up and gone to bed.

Then the door was cleanly pulled open and light spilled out into the dark hallway. Niall was just about to step out of his room when he noticed Elle standing right in front of him, making him jump severely and he gave a tight-lipped yell. Elle was taken aback by his suddenness and clamped one hand over her mouth, her other on her chest as her heart rate increased in astonishment. Niall turned on the spot and placed a hand on his forehead as though it helped to calm him down.

“Elle, you frightened the absolute daylight out of me,” He scarcely breathed.

“Oh, Niall, you nearly gave me a heart attack!” Elle whispered back.

“What are you doing out here?” Niall asked, glancing up the hallway the same way Elle had before.

“I was, uh...” Elle realised she had been caught red-handed listening in on Niall’s guitar playing. “Was that you playing your guitar?” She asked instead.

“No, I trained my guitar to do that by itself.” Niall joked, having calmed down considerably. Elle found the strength to smile at his wittiness.

“Is that the song you’re working on?” She asked curiously. Niall’s expression faltered a little bit.

“It’s meant to be... it’s not really working out for me.” He admitted, scratching his head nervously.

“But that sounded amazing,” Elle blurted out, seeing past Niall and into his room where the guitar was leaning against the desk. Niall looked down at her harshly for a few seconds, analysing her genuine expression that caused him to seriously hesitate. She had liked it?

“... Thank you.” He finally responded blankly. Elle tore her eyes away from the guitar and focused back on his face.

“What are you doing up at this hour anyway?” She asked.

“Playing the guitar.” Niall responded smartly, his eyes glinting.

“What kind of person plays the guitar at this time of night?” Elle frowned at him as though he were crazy.

“I do.” Niall said quirkily.

“Are you mad?” She whispered loudly.

“What are you doing up?” Niall asked her instead.

“I woke up because I was cold.” Elle said as plain as day.

“Cold?” Niall repeated.

“I fell asleep on top of the blankets.” Elle explained as though it happened all the time. Niall raised an eyebrow at her, positive that that was in fact an uncommon occurrence, and thinking about what a coincidence it was that she had woken up at just the right time.

“I guess we’re both mad then.” Niall established.

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