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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15. Fifteen

Josh and Zayn were going through all the barbecue ingredients that Josh had supplied at the same time Louis reappeared with shorts and a t-shirt on. Niall and Elle entered the kitchen together and they all cast a quick glance at them before resuming, except for Josh. His eyes lingered a little longer.

When he first met Elle outside moments ago he had naturally assumed she was with one of the guys. But he hadn’t expected it to be Niall. Now Niall stood with his arm comfortably around Elle’s shoulders, oblivious to anyone else. When Niall finally registered Josh’s gaze, Josh winked at him in a chummy fashion and suddenly felt quite elated for him. He also felt the dire need to catch up with him after having not seen him for a couple of weeks, especially in regards to Elle.

Once the meat for the barbecue was sorted, Josh and Zayn took it upon themselves to cook it back outside. Harry and Liam finally returned, also clothed, although Harry lacked a top and had a towel draped around his neck instead. Niall left to get changed and Elle tightened her towel around her body, tucking the corner of it in at the top so that it stayed put.

“How’s a salad, boys?” Liam asked Harry and Louis as he pulled the fridge doors open.

“Sounds good to me,” Louis said, filling a glass of water as he spoke.

“And girl,” Harry prompted Liam as Elle took a seat at the bench.

“Do you like salad, Elle?” Liam asked.

“Only if I make it,” Elle said cheekily, subtly insisting that she help throw one together.

“Looks like you’re out of luck then,” Liam winked at her over his shoulder.

“Do you really want me to go hungry?” Elle pretended to sound distraught.

“Oh, alright then,” Liam rolled his eyes whimsically. Elle hopped down from her stool and ran around the bench, clapping her hands and laughing victoriously as she went.

“I leave for a couple of minutes, and you buggers manage to turn her evil?” Niall said as he returned to the kitchen, having seen Elle laugh in a conquering way.

“She was always evil,” Louis said without a second thought. Elle stopped in her tracks and frowned at Louis, who only returned the gesture with a large, innocent smile.

“No, Liam finally let me help in the kitchen,” Elle explained herself as she turned around. There she saw Niall standing clad in nothing but a pair of grey tracksuit pants that were slung dangerously low around his waist. Elle naturally looked him up and down, and having done so, realised that Niall had seen her do it. She suddenly felt flustered under his conscious gaze and turned away briskly, joining Liam in his fridge search.

In moments they had a plentiful amount of salad ingredients set atop the bench and Elle followed Liam’s instructions in order to find a chopping board. She immediately set to work in preparing various vegetables in a professionally efficient fashion while Liam roughly shredded lettuce leaves and dumped them in a large salad bowl. Niall took a seat directly opposite them and Harry and Louis leaned on the far end of the bench, observing the other three and discreetly noting their interactions.

“You’re really good at that,” Niall said, watching Elle’s trained hands. Elle glanced up at him and then back at the chopping board, suddenly very aware of his watchful eyes.

“It comes with working in a bakery,” She shrugged, fighting the colour that tainted her cheeks.

“Yeah, you look like crap next to her, Liam,” Louis quickly pitched in, ignoring whatever it was that Harry was strategically trying to convey to him.

“Gee, thanks Louis.” Liam said sarcastically.

“He’s never going to cook for yeh’ again, now,” Niall said with a laugh, quickly leaning over the bench and pinching a cherry tomato before Elle could stop him. She scolded him as he chewed, earning a laugh from Louis and Harry. She began chopping again and Niall immediately stole another one, purposely provoking her and only fuelling Louis’ and Harry’s quiet and introspective conversation.

“Look at her. Maybe we should let her cook more often, Liam,” Niall said, clearly impressed.

“What type of hosts would we be then?” Liam quickly denied him. Niall sent a cheeky look in Elle’s way.

“We’d have amazing food all the time,” He said wistfully.

“You’ve never even tried my cooking before,” Elle said, laughing at his overpraise.

“Are you saying that we’re all bad cooks?” Liam asked, slumping his shoulders on purpose. Niall realised he’d dug himself into a slight hole and wouldn’t be able to compliment one of them without insulting the other, even when they were all laughing.

“Nope.” He said very quickly, sporting a large grin and taking another tomato before leaving the kitchen to join Josh and Zayn outside as fast as he could. The remaining boys laughed at Elle’s scowl and Harry and Louis replaced Niall by sitting opposite her and Liam. They chatted non-stop while Elle and Liam finished the salad, and then watched curiously as Elle asked Liam to find her a jar while she roamed the fridge and various cupboards. In moments Elle was pouring various amounts of oils and vinegar into the jar, added some seasoning and screwed the lid on tightly before shaking the jar furiously.

“Salad dressing?” Harry asked, and Elle nodded, still shaking the jar.

“We do have some in the fridge, love, all you had to do was ask,” Louis said.

“I know, but try this,” Elle said as she ceased shaking and removed the lid, offering it to the boys. They each wiped some of the dressing off onto their fingers and tasted it, then looked at each other with extremely satisfied expressions.

“That’s really good,” Liam said, his finger returning to the inside of the lid immediately.

“I think we’d better throw out that salad dressing in the fridge,” Louis said offhandedly.

“Me too, I’ll have extremely high expectations of salad dressing wherever I go now,” Harry said, also going for seconds.

“Niall will be sorry he missed this,” Louis said. Harry instantly began laughing and turned to face Louis as they high-fived each other.

It wasn’t much longer before Josh, Zayn and Niall all returned to the kitchen with a tray full of cooked meat. Liam set a stack of plates and cutlery on the bench and they all helped themselves before heading back outside to sit at the outdoor table as it was such a fine evening. Louis and Harry were quick to steal the seats on either side of Elle, and Josh was sure to sit beside Niall after having chatted with him while Zayn and himself cooked the barbecue.

“Gee, this is good,” Josh said with his mouth full.

“Is that the salad?” Niall asked, and Josh nodded in response. “Where’d you get the dressing?”

“I didn’t bring it,” Josh said after swallowing. Louis and Harry chuckled.

“Elle made it in, like, two seconds. You should’ve seen her, Niall,” Louis said, mischievously glancing at Harry over Elle.

“Really?” Niall asked, sounding the slightest bit disappointed, and Louis and Harry both nodded. Niall looked at Elle, who appeared to have shrunk back into her chair in embarrassment, and then looked down the table at Liam.

“Liam, are you sure we can’t just let her cook every once in a while?” He asked with fake vexation. Liam simply ogled him with a blank expression on his face as though he was sick and tired of him asking, and a small giggle escaped Elle’s lips.

“One day I’ll make an entire meal. Just for you, Niall,” Elle resolved, and Niall’s eyes glistened with appreciation.

Once dinner was over, they all helped to clear the table and then moved to relax in the outdoor lounge. The outdoor lounge consisted of a three-seater couch and two single armchairs, though every piece was quite large, and was all made of wicker with fitted cushions adorning them. Niall and Louis had taken the armchairs while the rest of the boys comfortably squeezed onto the three-seater with their legs propped up on the low table centred amongst the chairs. Elle had slipped her clothes back on over her dried bikini by now, and as she put her towel back in her bag, her keys fell out and clattered loudly on the pavers. Louis, who was sitting in the wicker armchair closest, jumped and caused the chair to scoot over the pavers with a loud screech.

“Oops, sorry, Louis,” Elle apologised while picking up her keys.

“So you should be! I think I’ve just had a heart attack,” Louis said dramatically, falling in a limp heap in his chair and causing Elle to laugh.

“Elle, are those every one of your keys to your flat?” Liam asked with a slight frown. Elle ducked her head a little and pressed her lips into a thin line to suppress her knowing smile.

“Maybe...” She muttered cheekily.

“You do know that’s exactly beside the point, right?” Liam disapproved, though his face sported an amused smile.

“Yes...” Elle replied, reminding Liam very much of a child who had gotten themself in trouble. Instead of responding he wiped his hand over his face and let out a sigh of frustration, still amused nonetheless.

“You’re bloody hopeless, you are. Come here,” Niall ushered Elle over, bearing an even bigger grin than Liam. As the armchairs were quite wide and circular, Niall shuffled over, leaving plenty of space for Elle. Elle quickly occupied half the seat and left an appropriate amount of space between shirtless Niall and herself. However, Niall didn’t notice and used up the remaining space between them after adjusting his position for comfort, not at all minding the proximity, and strictly speaking, neither did Elle.

“Our managers dropped in this week,” Niall said, striking conversation with Elle.

“I wondered if they did. Or if it was just you that moved all that stuff inside that you’re not allowed to touch,” Elle said and Niall looked thoughtful for a moment.

“I knew you’d give into that rule,” Elle concluded, narrowing her eyes playfully. Niall laughed at her, bumping shoulders.

“No, really, they came. I haven’t touched anything I shouldn’t,” He said, and it was Elle’s turn to laugh.

“Good.”

“That’s why Josh came back up from Bournemouth,” Niall started to explain. In hearing his name, Josh zoned into the conversation.

“It’s time to do some song writing.” Niall stated.

“But that’s not my job,” Josh quickly said.

“They said we have about six weeks left in this place, and we’re also starting back up in the studio a week from now.”

“I didn’t think you had written any songs yet,” Elle said, confused as she was very much unfamiliar with the boys’ career.

“Well, we work with this guy and he’s like a song writing genius. We’ll sit down and write with him, but we’ve got to have some things in mind,” Niall explained.

“What about that song that you’re trying to write?” Elle asked. Niall’s eyes widened and he frantically shook his head, glancing around at the other boys. Confused, Elle raised an eyebrow. Niall sunk lower into the chair, bending his knees and resting his feet on the edge, somewhat confining himself.

“Nobody knows I’m trying to write it except you,” Niall near-whispered. Elle copied Niall, also sinking lower and raising her knees, secluding the both of them now.

“What? Why not?” Elle asked, an anxious expression overruling her face. Niall’s eyes brightened the slightest bit.

“It’s sort of just a challenge that I’ve set myself... I want to write a song on my own to see how it goes,” Niall construed. Elle still appeared apprehensive.

“Not for any particular reason, I mean, if I like it I’ll show the boys,” Niall added.

“Why am I allowed to know?” Elle asked. Niall shrugged.

“You saw, you asked. But let’s keep it a secret,” Niall winked, and Elle smiled, agreeing.

“Eleanor’s coming on Friday night!” Louis said rather loudly, easily gaining both Niall and Elle’s attention as their heads popped up.

“She’s staying for the weekend,” Louis expatiated.

“Who’s Eleanor?” Elle whispered to Niall.

“Louis’ girlfriend,” Niall whispered back.

“Oh,” Elle nodded once.

“Hey, you should come over on Friday night and meet her!” Niall said enthusiastically at a regular volume.

“Yes! That’s a great idea, oh, you’ll love her, Elle,” Louis confirmed, adjusting his position in his chair out of excitement. Elle’s eyes lit up at the prospect, but her smile gave way as she looked to Niall then back at Louis.

“I’d really love to, but I’m going home that night...” Elle said. Earlier on that week, during those couple of days where she hadn’t heard from any of the boys, Elle had organised to go home to catch up with her family for the first time since she had moved to central London.

“Oh, really?” Louis asked disappointedly.

“Don’t worry, there will be plenty of other times to meet her,” Niall reassured her confidently, completely understanding the necessity of going home to family as he had to deal with it in an extreme case. He spoke with such confidence for that exact reason, but also with the gut feeling that both Elle and himself intended to keep on seeing each other at no expense, and therefore would indeed be plenty more opportunities. Elle returned his graciousness with a smile.

“I’ll be back on Saturday, though. It’s my day off then,” Elle apprised.

“Great! Come on over as soon as you’re back,” Louis immediately insisted. An excited smile appeared on Elle’s face as she looked to Niall once more as if for approval.

“Sure thing,” Elle complied.

They all sat comfortably for over an hour with steady conversation and the occasional banter. It was completely dark out and the temperature was mild, though the breeze that had blown up made it seem cooler, and all the boys were aware of how cosy Niall and Elle seemed to be getting as they held a separate conversation behind their propped up knees. It had been that way for most of the time.

Suddenly both their knees fell away and the pair stood up, walking around everybody else and towards the pool. Elle stood on the top step in the pool, the water enveloping past her ankles. She turned around as if to say something, only to be caught off guard by Niall running and jumping into the pool in just his underwear. With a huge splash and a startled scream escaping Elle, the rest of the boys turned around in surprise. Niall resurfaced, shaking his wet hair.

“It’s so warm!” He enunciated loudly.

“Niall!” Elle scolded him, wiping away the water droplets scattered on her arms.

“It feels even warmer than this afternoon,” Niall said, bobbing down so that his shoulders were immersed.

“That’s because it’s much colder out here than it was before!” Elle disclosed. Testing her reasoning, Niall stood up to expose his chest to the night air.

“Geez, that is chilly,” He said, quickly dropping back into the water again.

“It isn’t exactly the perfect weather for night swimming,” Elle frowned and Niall whined.

“I don’t want to get out! It’s too cold!” Niall asserted, swishing the water around him to keep warm as the coldness sunk in.

“Come on, you’ll get sick,” Elle said, stepping back onto the pavers which still held a bit of heat from the warm day.

“I won’t get sick,” Niall laughed, brushing her off.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Elle said smartly, turning on her heel and heading back to the outdoor lounge where the boys had returned to their conversation. She pulled her towel out of her bag again to dry off her feet, catching Harry’s attention.

“How’s the water?” He asked slyly.

“It’s quite nice,” Elle said.

“Where’s Niall gone?” Liam asked, looking past Elle.

“He’s still in there. He doesn’t want to get out because it’s too cold,” Elle said, a small smirk looming over her lips.
“What an idiot...” Liam murmured more to himself than anyone else, craning his neck to see the pool while Elle returned to the armchair she had been sharing with Niall. As soon as she had, a dripping wet Niall quickly jogged over from the pool, his arms tightly crossed over his chest and his teeth chattering, bouncing from one foot to the other as he stood in front of everyone in nothing but his underwear.

“Bit cold, Niall?” Louis teased him.

“Bloody freezin’,” Niall pitched, “Harry, where’d you put that towel you had?”

“That towel I had... hmm... umm... let me think,” Harry drawled out very slowly, stroking his chin as he did.

“Hurry up!” Niall shouted, a grin cracking his desperate features. Harry laughed at him.

“It’s on the table over there, mate,” He finally told him. Without another word Niall ran to the table, snatched up Harry’s towel the moment he laid his eyes on it and disappeared inside before anyone could blink twice.

The boys carried on talking and Elle merely listened as Zayn tried very hard to make a point about a certain Asian dish, much to the amusement of all of them. Minutes passed before Niall finally returned, clad in his previous grey tracksuit pants as well as a hoodie, and a blanket bundled up beneath his arm. Elle scooted over as he approached the armchair, and he sat down, throwing the blanket over the both of them. Teeth still chattering, Niall had no hesitations in snuggling up to Elle, laying his head on her shoulder and wrapping an arm around her to keep her close.

“Niall, your hair’s all wet!” Elle protested, turning her face away to prevent Niall from brushing it with his hair.

“It’s still cold,” Niall claimed, squeezing Elle even tighter, “That was a bad, bad idea.”

“That was poor decision making on your behalf,” Elle said, a smile forcing its way onto her face as she turned back around to see Niall holding onto her as if his life depended on it.

“I blame you,” Niall said, nestling even further.

“I didn’t tell you to jump in the pool,” Elle defended.

“You’re the one who said ‘I wonder what the pool feels like now’,” Niall quoted her.

“Still poor decision making... That’s not what I meant,” Elle said, unable to move, “Niall...”

“Yeah?” Niall piped up.

“You’re squeezing me so tight I can hardly breathe!” Elle said. Harry and Louis took one look at each other, and Harry looked as though he couldn’t hold back his excitement as he stuck his tongue out mid-smile. Liam then grabbed Harry by the head, pulling him over and clapped his cheek a couple of times to stop him while Louis looked on and laughed.

“Sorry,” Niall said, relaxing his grip on Elle, causing her to relax as well. They stayed that way for the remainder of the night up until the rest of the boys decided it was finally too cold to sit outside any longer. As they all moseyed on inside Elle discovered it was half past ten.

“It’s getting late,” Elle said to Niall as they shuffled through the kitchen.

“Already?” Niall asked, knowing what she was hinting at.

“Unfortunately,” Elle said, pressing her lips together regretfully.

“Do you want me to walk you home?” Niall offered.

“No, no, that’s alright,” Elle politely refused.

“Are you sure?” Niall pressed.

“It’s only a two minute walk, I’ll be fine,” Elle smiled graciously.

“Bye, guys,” Elle waved to the rest of the boys who were sprawled across the lounge room as she walked past, Niall following her.

“Bye, Elle!” They chorused.

“It was nice meeting you!” Josh said, waving to her from across the room.

“You too,” She smiled, “I’ll see you all on Saturday.” Elle reached the entrance hall and leaned her hand against the wall as a prop while she slipped on her shoes she had discarded upon her arrival. Niall stood by the front door and watched her.

“Thank you so much for inviting me, it was a lot of fun,” Elle said, standing up straight and slinging her bag over her shoulder.
“Thank you for coming and making it fun,” Niall said, wrapping his arms around her and hugging her very tightly. Elle hugged him back, resting her head against his neck. Neither of them made the move to break it, and they ended up swaying lightly.

“Are you sure I can’t walk you home?” Niall asked again.

“Positive,” Elle said, finally breaking contact and opening the front door.

“Goodnight, Elle,” Niall said as he watched her walk down the front steps.

“Goodnight, Niall,” Elle said, turning around to give him a small wave and beared one last smile before going on her way and Niall closed the door. Within seconds Elle heard her phone ringing. She stopped walking right before leaving through the front gates to rummage through to the bottom of her bag and pulled out her glowing phone. Niall’s name appeared on the screen.

“Hello?” She answered, turning around to look back at the huge house. Only the first floor was lit up.

“Hi,” Niall replied.

“What are you doing?” Elle asked, wondering if she’d forgotten something.

“Well, if I can’t walk you home I could at least talk to you until you get there,” Niall said.

“Why?” Elle asked, not holding back her big smile at all. Niall paused.

“... It’ll seem like I was there all along,” He decided, “I’m talking you home. Where are you now?”

“Just walking through the front gates,” Elle said as she started moving again, and the gates closed with a loud click as if to prove her right.

“Okay... I can hear a car. Look both ways before you cross the road,” Niall instructed and Elle giggled.

“I told you, I’m perfectly capable of walking myself home,” Elle reassured him.

“I know,” Niall said, smiling from ear to ear.

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