“What’s having a baby like?” James had asked his grandmother once.
A bewildered little six-year-old, he had never really thought of his mother being Grandma’s child—or Grandma ever having a baby at all. Sure, she had to have, though—there was Mum, for one, and then Mum also had three brothers.
Strange as it seemed to him at the time, Grandma must have known a lot about babies, and having them, and so he had asked her.
“A death sentence,” the old woman had remarked caustically, and though James’s mother had both scolded and contradicted her, James was finding this to be truer by the second.
It was like a death sentence, all right.
From the moment Lily had given him the news, James had been filled with mixed emotions. At first, it had been joy and anxiousness and worry.
Now tinges of frustration were bleeding through paper-thin emotion-barriers and blending together with heaps of feeling as she got farther and farther along, and the whole business became more demanding.
“James, honey,” she would ask in the sweet, gentle “get-me-something” voice, “I don’t want to trouble you or anything, but could you please get me—” and then would follow the name of some food item that he’d never heard of in his life.
Whenever he expressed any confusion about whatever it was she had said, Lily would simply tell him, “Oh, they sell it at—” and then would follow the name of some store he hadn’t been to in years. Or ever.
Following this whole mess would be the innocent smile that signaled the conversation was over, and so off he would go in the search of a store in which he would start the search of some sort of food, and, occasionally, would go off after finding that in the search of a brand name of that particular kind of food.
It was on a certain night—morning, really, being that it was 12:04 when it so happened that Lily’s gentle but persistent cries sounded from the pillow next to him.
“Ja-a-ames…” she began, and he sighed, trying to ignore her for just a second longer.
No such luck.
“James!” Lily hissed sharply, just next to his ear.
“Mmh?” he returned, and the cycle began itself.
Only moments later, he was dressed (well, he had a coat on over his pyjamas and a pair of shoes on, if that counted as ‘dressed’) and heading out the door with an unceremonious slam of the door. (It was a rather quiet slam, but a slam all the same.)
Standing out in the driveway, James sighed. He peered down at his watch as though it might give him not just what the time was, but why. Why on earth Lily was making him go out to buy strawberry kefir at twelve in the morning.
Venturing a guess that the only people who might spot him appearing out of thin air would be the homeless fellows that wheeled their shopping carts about the parking lot of the small, rather dingy local grocery, he took the slight risk of Apparating, soon finding himself just outside a part-drugstore part-grocery store.
James ran a hand through messy black locks, leaving them to stick out at strange angles of their own will, and entered through the doors that parted upon sensing him.
They had better, he thought, with a bitter smirk. He had gone through hell and back, and was about to go down again, taking the stairs. He most certainly deserved that respect, even it was only from a pair of automatic doors.
He grimaced as he heard a high-pitched, warbling note blared from the crackling speakers all around the store. Eugh. Muggle pop culture was sickening.
Now, to find what the hell aisle strawberry kefir would be in. It was…what was it? It was a dessert, probably. It sounded oddly like “keeper”, he thought, and amused himself a moment with the mental image of a Quidditch goal post coated in strawberry gelatin.
Oh wait, hadn’t Lily said something about thirst?
Maybe it was a drink, then?
Or maybe she longed to quench her thirst with Jell-O.
James wasn’t particularly sure, but just in case he checked both aisles—his second choice, the drink, was found to be the correct one. (Apparently kefir was some kind of smoothie-like dairy-something.)
He was about to return to the checkout aisle, when he noticed something. A trickle of pinkish-white liquid.
“Don’t even tell me…” he snarled to himself, and sighed, lifting the bottle to survey its underside.
Yup, it was leaking all right—and, of course, chose the one time where James’ face was directly under it to let the leak grow and pour out the liquid all over him.
Growling profanities, he set the bottle back down with a bit of unintended force and grabbed another, now wiping a sticky hand on the leg of his pyjama pants after using it (in a sort of team effort with his sleeve) mop away the kefir from his face.
He was about to head for the checkout when he recalled something. The strawberries! Lately the Potters’ fridge had been crammed with strawberry-bloody-everything, but, as James had noticed, they were out of strawberries.
Lily would certainly have a bone to pick with him about this, and so he grabbed a good three cartons of strawberries.
…hmm. Quite a bit to carry.
James eyed the small hand baskets near the door. It wouldn’t be too far, but…
Yeah, he could use one.
He briefly set down the kefir and made for the baskets, grabbing one and loading his future purchases into it. There, that made the whole mess easier.
Speaking of easier, now that he had begun to plan ahead, James was growing fonder of this idea by the minute and was now grabbing more and more things that he knew Lily would be craving again by tomorrow.
There was lemonade…butternut squash…strawberry ice cream…deviled eggs…
James’ hunt proved to be a rather smooth one, until it hit a snag.
He was just about to grab a small carton of strawberry-flavored frosting when a short, very wrinkled old lady grabbed it.
The last one.
Oh, he would be through hell in three days if he didn’t have the frosting!
“Excuse me,” James began to the old woman, who continued on with her shopping, “My wife is pregnant and lately she’s been craving that sort of frosting loads…er, I was wondering, d’you think you could bear to part with that one…thing of it, and then—“
She turned around, having only just heard him now. “I’m sorry, honey, did you say something?”
“Uh, yes,” he said, and began his story again. “See, my wife is pregnant—“
“You’re pregnant?! What?!” The old woman said incredulously—and quite loudly.
What little customers the place had at that time turned around to stare at the pair of them.
“No,” James clarified, “my wife. My wife is pregnant.”
She nodded fervently and patted his forearm. “Ah! Sorry, son, go on, then.”
“Erm, yes. My wife is pregnant and that sort of frosting you’ve got there—“ he indicated the plastic jar with his index finger. “—well, she’s been craving it a lot lately, and—“
“I’m not giving it up, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
For such a sweet-looking old lady, she had a pretty menacing face and tone of voice when determined, James noticed as he suppressed the urge to quirk an eyebrow and slowly back away.
He was sorely tempted to ask what in the name of God she needed strawberry frosting for at 12-something at night, when she answered his unasked inquiry.
“My nephew is coming next week and I want to bake him a cake. He just loves strawberry frosting, he won’t have it any other way.”
I don’t care about your nephew, James’s thoughts fumed. Just give me the sodding frosting.
“So, you need that for…a week from now?”
Sure, he was being a little hypocritical, being that he wasn’t even sure Lily would want it for the same span of time. Still, she did know when her nephew was coming, and whether or not he could “have it any other way” didn’t really matter since he knew that neither could Lily if she wanted strawberry frosting, and that could happen any time.
She shot him a sort of glare. James recoiled a little, but not enough to give any signs of backing off, because he most certainly was not.
“Hey, I’ll tell you what,” he began, following her at a slow tread as she struggled to read the label on a box of vanilla cake mix, “if you give me the frosting now, I’ll pay you the whole cost, right here, and you can come back here tomorrow and buy it.”
The woman scrutinized him with a scowl.
“You still have to buy it from the store,” she informed him.
“I know,” James stressed—and perhaps he sounded a little too harsh, for she continued on, at a quicker pace.
“If you’re going to have such attitude about it, then I’ll have to decline.” She told him, and he stared, incredulous.
Lord, what the hell did she need the frosting for right then?!
“Please,” he began again, and she turned around.
“No, thank you.”
When she turned around again, James gritted his teeth in a scowl. Stupid senile old hag…his wife was carrying a human being inside of her! Surely Lily needed the frosting more!
“But you can just as easily buy the same stuff somewhere else!” He emphasized.
The old woman nodded and calmly but firmly returned, “As can you.”
“Oh LORD…” he sighed, and finally gave up, walking away to the woman’s little lecture about not being so rude, especially when it came to using the name of the Lord in vain, which was blasphemous, offensive, and…he didn’t hear the rest, having already turned the corner.
Now, what else was it that Lily had been craving?
Watermelon! Ah yes, watermelon.
Studying the small stock of the large fruits that the grocery had available, James frowned. There were only a few of them, and what little they had were bruised or beginning to go bad on some parts.
A moment of decision later, he had taken the least-bruised melon he could find and put it into his basket. Or rather, tried to, and had found it too big and too heavy. Sighing, he placed the large fruit on his shoulder and walked off to find the final item he knew Lily would need within the next span of however-long-hormones-said.
Cheese. Lately, Lily had been craving cheese. Brie cheese, if he remembered correctly—which he knew he did. (It was awfully hard to forget, since she had been habitually nagging him for it for the past few weeks or so—she was like some kind of Brie-demon.)
Taking a package of it in his hand, James dropped it into the already-loaded basket, but then paused, eyes scanning the other names of various cheeses.
In a flash, his definite assurance about the kind of cheese Lily wanted vanished.
Was it Brie? Some other sort called Camembert was on the shelf just next to the Brie, and it sure looked an awful lot like what his wife had been scarfing down days ago.
Just in case, James placed a wedge of Camembert in his tiny (but now considerably heavy) basket.
…but then, what was this? Abondance also bore a striking resemblance to whatever it was he was supposed to be buying. And so did Neufchatel. And Quatre-Vents. And so many other types of French cheeses that James felt like the voice in his head reading over the many labels had become bilingual for all the times it had attempted to roll varieties of accented letters around on its metaphorical tongue.
Eyeing a cheese called Gris de Lille for a moment, he finally seized it and added it to the now-growing pile of items stacked upon items in his little basket, the handle of which was pressing into his arm so fiercely it had left a pinkish imprint. Lille was only a few letters away from Lily; maybe it was a sign.
…in which case he didn’t need all the other cheeses, right?
James unloaded these back onto their respective shelves (or rather, left that to some clerk to do later, instead piling them just about wherever they landed) and then...swore loudly as the watermelon did a spectacular flip off of his shoulder and onto a large display of tomato soup cans.
“Ooh! I’m so sorry about that, can I help you?” A strident voice cried from behind him, and James turned around to see a short, bug-eyed girl staring up at him with a single, stubby-fingered hand placed delicately over pursed lips.
“No, that’s fine.”
Picking up the cans in a frenzy, she shook her head. “No, you’re the customer, and it’s my job to help you.”
James, who had picked up the watermelon by now, shook his head a little. “Really. ‘S’fine.”
The clerk, now having stacked the cans at hyper-speed, seemed not to have heard him.
“Have you heard about our special this week?”
“No,” he curtly informed her. And for the life of me, he internally begged, please, DO NOT try to tell me what it is.
“Well—“ she began, and then went off on some robotically (although it was a hell of a peppy robot) pre-rehearsed monologue about getting two somethings for the price of one. (James thought he had heard a snippet in there about rubber gloves, but he wasn’t sure; he hadn’t really been listening. At all.)
“So, would you—“
James cut her off before she could even try. “I’m not interested in buying whatever it was you were just trying to sell me, but thank you anyway.”
The girl gave him an almost incredulous look which seemed to say “Augh!! Who in their right minds wouldn’t want to buy two packages of rubber globes for the price of one?!”
But she still didn’t leave him alone.
James spent about five minutes just wandering through various aisles in an attempt to lose her, but she was following him like a lost puppy.
A lost puppy who happened to be exuberantly keen to inform anyone it came across about the little supermarket’s various sales, none of which even sounded remotely appealing.
Finally, as Stephanie, as her nametag, plastered in garish smiley-face stickers, read (‘Stephie’, as she told him to call her, but he flat-out refused) was wrapping up her harangue about that week’s sales, he just about snapped.
“I don’t give a damn about your weekly specials, so please, for the love of God, leave me alone.” he said sharply, and she looked a little hurt; James paid her little to no mind.
He was done with shopping for a long time. This trip alone had just about ruined the whole thing for him.
Heading for the checkout, he almost breathed a sigh of relief—he caught it before it left his throat.
The same lady who had snatched the last can of strawberry frosting was in a little dispute with the groggy-looking teenage cashier about what appeared to be a handful of crinkled old coupons.
It was a full fifteen minutes before the line so much as twitched in the hints of movement, and even then it was only a false alarm. No, now the old hag had to pay in exact change.
Sighing, he looked around at the store, desperately racking his brains for anything else he needed. (He wasn’t about to come back there again. …Ever.)
James watched a clerk go back near the far end of the store with boxes of something. Curiously, he peeked over to get a better look at the edge of the cardboard—though he couldn’t make out the brand name from where he was standing, he did notice something important.
He waited a moment to let the clerk unload some of it, and then, setting his basket down, made a quick dash to the back of the store and grabbed one of the cans.
Finally, fortune had given him some kind of break!
…but it was about to even things out again. Or rather, turn the tables so far that it would have to do an awful lot before James could even reach them.
Returning to the checkout line, his smirk faded in a flash.
His basket was gone.
James got there just in time to see the same old lady hauling it outside and into her car before driving away. Fuming, he peered down and saw a plastic basket, not unlike his, sitting on the ground; it was filled with coupons and a few coins were scattered here and there.
“OH MY GOD.” He growled through his teeth, and then had to go back through the store again and get everything he had already gotten. (Not to mention receive a number of dirty looks from Stephanie as he passed.)
Suddenly remembering the kefir near the end of his little escapade, version two, James grabbed the first bottle of pink liquid he saw, and then…a magical thing happened.
James checked out.
Walking out the door, he checked his watch again—the trip had taken two and a half hours.
Blinking groggily, James walked out to a shadier place in the parking lot to Apparate. But just as he got there, he realized he had missed an important thing.
Specifically, watching out for the curb.
He fell to the pavement with a dull thud, and though a little winded and slightly injured, that wasn’t the worst of it.
“No…oh, no, no, no, oh no…”
Everything had spilled everywhere.
The canister of frosting was dented, the lid lifted up slightly to reveal a peek of the silver seal; the watermelon had nearly broken in half and pinkish-red bits of fruit were bedaubed over everything in flecks; the butternut squash was bruised so badly that its contents were beginning to leak through holes the ground had ripped; strawberries trickled in a thick trace from their plastic container and out onto the asphalt.
James just about lost it.
“OH-MY-GOD!! WHAT IS THIS?!” He yelled up into the sky, dropping to his knees and scrambling to salvage what he could of the undamaged food. “IF THIS IS SOME KIND OF SIGN THAT MAYBE I SHOULDN’T BECOME A FATHER OR SOMETHING...!!”
He trailed off, staring inimically into the Heavens.
“WHAT in the WORLD DID I DO WRONG?!”
As if attempting somehow to answer him, a single droplet of water splashed delicately onto the bridge of his nose.
“Don’t even tell me.”
Within minutes of this statement, it seemed as though the very Heavens he had just been screaming at had opened up and dumped all of its concentrated contents onto James’s head.
“Don’t EVEN TELL ME!”
Holding for dear life onto what he had been able to salvage of his purchases, James Apparated straight into his living room, sopping wet and tracking mud and rainwater everywhere.
He stormed through the kitchen, dumped his purchases onto the counter, and entered the bedroom with little to no regard for sleep. Lily’s, that was.
“James…?” she murmured, rolling over to get a better look at him. “Oh, is it raining?”
“No, I was in the loo and I fell in the toilet. Yes, it’s raining.” James gritted his teeth to stop himself from continuing his sarcastic answer. “Now do you want some…cheese or something?”
Lily opened her arms for a hug, and with a tiny smile, James obliged, leaving a big, wet James-print on the covers. She kissed him on the cheek.
“Sure, thanks honey.”
There, it was worth it.
Grabbing the unopened package of Gris de Lille, he kicked off his shoes and sat next to her on the bed.
“Thanks so much,” she mumbled to him, resting her head on his shoulder.
James smiled and patted her head lightly, but didn’t say anything. He wasn’t glad to have done it, and she certainly wasn’t welcome to ask him to relive that. Although he knew she probably would anyway.
“It was worth it,” he told her, after a pause. It was, just to see how happy she looked when she—
“EW!” James covered his nose with a cupped hand as he ripped open the package of cheese, which apparently had a very pungent odor.
“Augh…!” Lily gave a tiny yelp, followed by a stifled gagging noise, and quickly turned away. “Okay, I can not have that in here!”
As James entered the kitchen, he heard her frenzied cries of, “Or in the fridge!”
He paused, awaiting her final warning.
“Or…or anywhere in the house!” She finally yelled, and so he took it all the way outside, in the rain, barefoot to dump the bloody thing in the dumpster.
Only to spot the price sticker, still adhered to his hand.
Apparently that foul-smelling dairy product had been the most expensive thing on his mental list by a long shot.
And James had just tossed it hurriedly into that huge, green rubbish bin.
Silent, he returned to the house.
“So then what do you want?” He called to Lily from the kitchen. “Ice cream, lemonade, vegetables…”
“No,” Lily returned, and for a second, he feared another trip to that hell. “Just the kefir will be fine, thanks.”
Ah. Now that, he could handle.
…or so he thought.
Picking up the bottle of pink liquid, James groaned loudly.
It was pink. It was liquid. And it was in a bottle.
But looking down at it, he saw that it might just have made that whole trip pointless.
With a labored sigh, James grabbed his coat and set the bottle of bright pink fluid on the counter.
If things kept going as wrong as they did, he and Lily might need it.