CHAPTER 1

Laura swats at her phone in attempt to silence the alarm she sets thirty minutes before her online lectures are due to start. There was once a time when that same alarm had to account for getting ready for the day and a forty-five minute long commute, but that's not so much the case anymore these days. She guesses that's at least one good thing that's come out of all this.

She begrudgingly pushes away the blankets and swings her legs off the edge of the bed, her sockless feet finding purchase in fluffy house slippers. She moves to stand and does a stretch, shivering a little at the cool air that leaves ripples of goosebumps along her bare arms. There's a grey zip-up that's hanging off the back of her desk chair that she slips into then shuffles off towards the bathroom before her bladder bursts.

Laura falls into her usual morning routine and finds herself in the kitchen a bit later turning on the kettle. She gathers her faithful Tardis mug, a deep bowl, spoon and cereal box. While the kettle boils, she rests her elbows on the counter and eats her breakfast with a longing sigh.

Looks like another eventful day in Lockdown, Laura thinks as she takes another spoonful.

She turns on the news in hopes of any new developments but five minutes in and she can already tell there's nothing interesting to report: stay home, wash your hands, essentials only, etc. Same old, same old. When the ever-changing statistics blend into the sound of the kettle whistling, Laura sets off to make a coffee before moving to her desk in time for class.

Before the whole world practically shut down, Laura was probably one of the rare students that actually liked going to university. Granted, the endless assignments and pressure to succeed academically were a lot but there were other aspects that she enjoyed. She loved going shopping for new notebooks and colorful pens and highlighters at the start of the semester. She loved meeting new people and she was genuinely interested in most of her subjects. She didn't even really mind the forty-five minute train ride to campus; at least, she doesn't anymore now that she's confined to the four walls of her apartment. What she would give to be able to be out in the world again, taking in all the sights and smells.

Well maybe not all the smells. She could go without having to smell hot city garbage ever again.

But university isn't at all what it used to be now.

Most days consist of boring online lectures that are heartbreakingly void of the usual classroom banter which has been replaced with the ongoing battle of remaining focused despite being surrounded by distractions. She tries to keep a relatively normal routine; class, study break and lunch, back to class, snack time, and more class. But the longer the lockdown persists, the harder Laura finds it to stay productive. The act of staring at the computer screen for hours while her professors fumble through lecture slides in monotonous voices makes her want to pull her hair out and really miss the days when she'd physically be in class with her friends. Now she's just reduced to texting and an occasional phone call here and there, but she's finding it harder and harder to not feel so alone.

On top of all that, her professors are still assigning heavily weighted assignments as if everything's normal! The class she was most excited for in her second year, Features and Storytelling, is now one she dreads. How is she meant to get any inspiration while trapped in her tiny apartment? And without access to the campus library and all the glorious materials there, how the hell will she manage to get a decent grade? True, most of it is accessible online now but still! There's something about being in the library that really got her journalistic blood pumping. What is she meant to do now? The confines of her apartment don't offer up much on the inspiration front, if anything her writer's block is even worse now.

But, there is one idea she's been rolling around in her head for awhile now. She hasn't acted yet mostly out of fear of being caught by the landlord, but there's something about this day that's different. Maybe it's the way the afternoon sun trickles in through her blinds and how its warmth has already started to heat up her bedroom and it makes her miss the days of lounging in the sun on the South Lawn as she did her homework.

Or maybe it's the fact that if she doesn't get out of this room soon she might go completely insane.

Nevertheless, she closes the lid of her laptop and trades her slippers for some real shoes. She grabs her keys and phone off the kitchen counter and makes her way out into the hallway, the door of her apartment closing behind her with a loud thud. There's a determined but hesitant look in her eye as she takes the stairs up to the top floor. It's eerily quiet in the dimly lit halls and if she wasn't aware that everyone was most likely home, she'd think the place was deserted.

When Laura finally reaches the door labelled Roof Access: Authorized Personnel Only in bold letters she takes a moment to consider if she actually wants to do this. She has always had this fear of the door accidentally closing and getting trapped there, but desperate times calls for less time spent caring about the what-ifs. Laura eyes the door handle wearily but remembers the travel-size hand sanitizer she had stuffed in the pocket of her zip-up and pushes the door open with her elbow anyway.

When the burst of warm sunlight and fresh air washed over her, the first time in more than a week, she nearly fell over. Never again would she take being outside like this for granted she thought as she closed her eyes and smiled up at the sun.

She takes a brick that has been left off to the side of the door and uses it to keep it propped open before pulling out the hand sanitizer and squeezing some in the palm of her hand. She walks around the roof top, the satisfying sound of gravel crunching beneath her shoes with every step, as she rubs her hands together, the scent of vanilla mixing with the faint smell of smoke wafting from a nearby chimney. She surveys her new surroundings, relishing in the sounds of actual birds chirping. The new vantage point allows her to see a typically restless city now still and she thinks it's almost peaceful if it weren't for the certain circumstances that made it seem so uninhabited.

Regardless, the sun's out and it's not too cold atop the roof and for the first time in a long while she feels genuine happiness. It's not the kind of happiness she felt when her dad dropped off the huge care package full of Laura's favorites as well as a bunch of essentials and toilet paper just before the lockdown took place, but the kind of happiness that makes her feel childishly giddy.

She sputters out a laugh and begins to do a little dance. At any other time, this would totally be weird, dancing without any music, but she just doesn't care now. She's out on the roof, dancing in the warmth of the sun, and there's freaking birds chirping! Who the hell cares? It's not like anyone's wat-

Laura's movements come to an abrupt stop when her eyes land on a neighboring rooftop.

There's a pale-skinned, young woman in a black blouse with dark sunglasses shielding her eyes facing her direction. Laura watches as she pushes the glasses to sit atop her head before moving to the roof's edge. She tilts her head to the side, arms crossing over her chest, a puzzled look plastered on her face.

A gasp escapes Laura's lips and she is quick to drop to her knees out of the woman's sight, face already flushed from embarrassment of being caught having a music-less dance party alone. The woman probably thinks she's weird and has gone crazy, but she's the first person Laura has sort of seen in days and the budding journalist in her is intrigued. The longer she stays crouched out of view the more curious Laura becomes.

She moves slowly to peek over the edge but all she finds is a door that must lead to their roof slowly closing and the woman nowhere to be found. The sight makes her feel a little disappointed for some reason and she rises to her feet dejectedly.

Are my dance moves that bad? Laura thinks, hands on her hips, eying the spot the woman occupied.

After a moment, she shrugs her shoulders and turns her gaze out to admire the skyline once again. She soaks in the sights and sunlight a few minutes longer before returning to her apartment for her next class.

/

She ends the day with her usual routine of microwaving whatever leftovers she has for dinner and a movie marathon. The movie marathon is purely there for background noise in hopes to distract her from the loneliness and a way to kill time before her bed begins to call for her and she repeats the whole thing all over again tomorrow.

But again, this day seems different.

/

A couple texts cause her phone to vibrate on the coffee table and Laura reaches over to see who it might be. It's not really a surprise when she finds the name of a group chat she's in with two friends she met at university: Laf and Perry. They check in on her every couple of days, catching up on what she's been up to and how she's finding the university's online platform. Other than her dad's phone calls, they're really the only ones she's spoken to this whole time.

She usually doesn't have anything new to report though, but today she tells them about the young woman she saw on the roof. Of course that leads to Perry scolding her for being up there in the first place when she doesn't exactly count as authorized personnel, but Laf shows equal interest in this mysterious woman and wonders who she is and how she's handling being in lockdown, you know, for like scientific purposes. Laura wonders too and that confuses her because she only saw a glimpse of her before she disappeared.

Don't know. I probably won't ever see her again, Laura tells her friends and the thought hurts a little.

She hopes that she's wrong though.

/

Laura sits through the following days' classes as per usual, but she often finds herself drifting off thinking of the woman again. She wonders who she is and how she feels in all this and those thoughts take Laura by surprise because why does she want to know so bad? She just blames her inner journalist and being bored out of her mind and hungry for interaction with someone new. Besides, it's the only interesting thing that's happened in days and she thinks maybe it'll prove to be useful for her Features and Storytelling assignment?

Which is precisely how she finds herself cautiously making her way onto the roof again. At first, Laura doesn't see anyone there but then her eyes are drawn to sudden movement near some kind of utility shed. It's there that she finds the woman perched on a ledge that's half shrouded by shade with a book in her hands. This time she's rather entranced with whatever she's reading and doesn't notice Laura standing there so she is able to get a better look. Again, she's dressed in a black top and the sunlight reflects off tight leather pants and clunky combat boots.

Laura looks down at her own outfit consisting of sweat pants and a grape soda stained t-shirt that hangs off her small frame and frowns because she suddenly feels extremely underdressed.

What kind of crazy person chooses to wear pants? Laura questions as she continues to stare. She curses herself for not bringing one of her many notepads with her and makes a mental note of her findings instead.

Just then the woman drags her fingers slowly along her scalp through dark wavy locks and tosses it over her shoulder carelessly before turning the page of the book. There's a slight crinkle between the young woman's perfectly sculpted brows and Laura thanks the heavens for being blessed with 20/20 vision because it allows her to acknowledge that this woman is absolutely stunning. Like frighteningly stunning. Like no one should be that stunning while the whole rest of the world is pretty much carb-loading and binge watching Netflix in the same pair of pajamas for the past three days.

But the glamorously grungy look of leather and studded accessories only highlight the woman's ivory skin, the prominent cheekbones and that jawline that could cut through glass.

Laura gulped and crept closer, finding herself being drawn in, hungry for more. But, despite her perfect eye sight, she was too far away to make out what the woman was reading.

I should bring binoculars next time! Laura thinks but then shakes the idea away, Wait no- that's kind of creepy. Scratch that.

Laura continues to- stare? Admire? Leer? Laura settles on observe. She's observing the woman, for an assignment at that, so not weird at all. Besides, what's the harm in people-watching? Everyone does it and at least hers is for academic reasons.

She watches the woman then tilt her chin up and roll her head to the side, revealing the pale expanse of her neck. Laura finds herself hypnotized by the movement, swallowing dryly, as her eyes rake up the slight flex of tendons and smooth skin.

She makes another mental note to bring something to drink next time too because wow these observations sure did make me thirsty!

She snaps out of it when her phone vibrates in her back pocket. It's an alarm that signals the start of her next class and she really can't be late to this one, so she gives the woman one last fleeting look before scurrying back to her room.

/

The trips to the roof become a part of her daily routine if the weather allows; choosing to spend her break between classes eating lunch and studying there instead of migrating to her living room. Most of the time the young woman is there too, either reading or wearing bulky headphones and bobbing her head to whatever she's listening to. On those days, Laura feels strangely less lonely because although they've never spoken to each other and although they're separated by a whole building, the woman's company is comforting. It reminds her that she's not completely alone in all this.

Also Laura has decided that the woman is now the official star of her journalism assignment. Not that it took much convincing; it was either her or the succulent she named Peat that she's been trying to keep alive on her window sill.

She has begun to keep a little notebook of findings as well and her new subject is proving to be quite interesting. Well, more interesting than Peat the Succulent. Most days, the woman is usually lounging on the fold out chair soaking in the sun or perched on the ledge in the shade. She's always reading, Laura notes. She must have her own personal library or something because the books Laura finds her reading change almost daily.

Some days the woman changes it up though, choosing to paint her nails and bob her head to something she listens to through the bulky, red headphones. Sometimes she looks like she's just taking a nap, book left open on her stomach, one leg propped up and the other hanging off the side of the chair. Laura notes the woman doesn't think too much about sitting like a lady. She doesn't blame her though, whatever's comfortable is the way to go!

One day Laura even watched as she devoured an entire pizza by herself in record time then plop herself down on the fold out chair looking like she was nursing a wicked hangover. Dark sunglasses shielded her eyes and her arms dangled over the arms of the chair haphazardly.

If Laura didn't watch the whole thing go down she would've thought the woman was dead or something, but she guessed she was just sinking into a serious food coma. Or maybe she really was hungover? Laura didn't judge, just logged the findings.

For some reason though the thought made Laura smile because this mysterious roof woman with consistently amazing outfits and impeccable hair was in some ways just like her: defenseless against a large pizza.

Laura applauded her for that and jot down the observation in the notebook, suddenly craving a pizza of her own.

But the biggest development yet is the occasional glances the woman tosses Laura's way and by occasional she actually means two.

It has happened twice so far and each time it has made Laura's stomach do a crazy flip. Why? Who the hell knows. Again, Laura just figures it's the lack of physical interaction and not because a pretty girl acknowledged her.

The first time it happened, Laura had been trying to feed the crusts of her sandwich to some of the seagulls gathered at the far corner of the roof. Which was all fun and games until they started chasing after her, wanting the rest of her lunch. She had shrieked and took off towards the usual end of the roof she occupied, terrified they'd carry her off into the distance. She eventually had to throw her whole sandwich at them in order to make a break for it. When they finally lost interest in her, she flipped them the bird, no pun intended.

When Laura finally felt the woman's eyes on her, she smiled awkwardly, wondering how much of that she saw.

This time the woman's shoulders bounced with a chuckle as she shook her head and smiled back before diving into the book in her hands.

Laura found herself blushing at what resembled fondness but at least this time she didn't duck out of sight and that was progress!

It was no surprise that the exchange ended up being the highlight of Laura's day, but she omitted that little detail from her notebook of findings.

/

The second time was a little more embarrassing than the first because it was the time Laura was caught red-handed in her observations.

She had just arrived on the roof when she found the woman in mid-stretch. She looked to be wearing leggings, a dark purple with black streaks, that did wonders for the curve of that ass and her wavy hair was bunched atop her head in a messy bun. She had her arms were out stretched, hands towards the sky, eyes focused somewhere off in the distance. The muscles in her forearms tensing with every flex of her fingers and as her back arched, the tank top she wore rode up just the slightest to reveal a sliver of toned stomach.

Laura didn't realize her jaw was on the floor until the woman turned to her like she had heard it fall to the ground.

She smirked slyly.

Laura felt her whole face flush. She probably would've ducked out of sight again too if she could move, but she couldn't because holy cow she's hot and also maybe if I stand perfectly still I'll turn invisible. So she remained frozen, eyes bulging in panic, jaw slammed shut.

The woman didn't seem bothered at all though. If anything, there was a hint of smugness in the way she slowly sauntered away.