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Every Second Counts by A_Johnson49
Chapter 5 : Friends Don't Let Friends Dial Drunk
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 3


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It is the first of September and I am standing on platform 9 ¾ searching for Julia. She told me she might be late catching the Hogwarts Express, so I’m planning on standing out here until the last possible moment to meet her as she comes through the barrier. I need to finally see her. I had hoped we could spend our last ride to Hogwarts together, but I also am hoping that seeing her beautiful face after so long will put my overactive brain to rest. Talking on the phone with her is okay, but it didn’t quell the doubts that had surfaced on my birthday.

It’s been a month since my birthday and though I have tried my hardest to move past what happened that day, thirty-one additional conversations with Julia couldn’t stop my mind from making me wish I would never have to sit through another of Julia’s agonizingly boring stories about leather pumps or something equally as lame… or comparing her to Meredith. It definitely didn’t help that I had seen Meredith another five times in the past month with little difference in my reactions to her. I did succeed in having a complete conversation with her without stuttering the last time we’d hung out… well, almost.

******

Meredith, Fred and I are lying out in the grass at the Burrow after playing a game of two-a-side Quidditch. Teddy was my partner, but the game was cut short when he got an emergency summons for work. Being on-call must suck.

“How has the guitar been coming along?” Meredith asks. “Learn to play anything, yet?”

Fred laughs from the other side of her. “Right, Mer. He’s only had the guitar for a couple of weeks. We may be magic, but I don’t think amount of magic would teach him to play any better.”

“Hey!” I shout defensively. “What do you even know about it? You haven’t been over to my place since my birthday.”

“Whatever you say, James,” Fred says dismissively. “The only thing you’ve ever had dedication enough to learn in a couple of weeks is Quidditch. You’d have to have been playing practically non-stop since you birthday to have even learn one song.”

I hear a ‘thump’ as Mer whacks Fred on the chest. “Was I even asking you, Fred?” To be honest, he did have a point as to why he would doubt me. Unfortunately for him, he was completely wrong.

“Well, Mer,” I begin with a slight smirk, “Since Fred is so doubtful of my magnificence, why don’t I just show him what I’ve learned. Accio guitar!”

I flick my wand in the direction of the Burrow and Fred rolls his eyes, “You brought it here, with you? Blimey, James. What is wrong with you?”

Meredith is smiling brilliantly at me and I have to look away and gulp hard as the tiny instrument soars into my palm. I return it to its original size, place my left hand on the fretboard, my right hand over the strings, and look up at Fred. “It’s not going to be the best thing that you’ve heard, but I’m better than you’re letting on.”

“Just play, Potter,” Fred responds cheekily. “I bet you’re just going to play ‘Hot Crossed Buns’ or something like that.” I flip him off with my right hand and reach into my pocket for my pick.

I find my starting chord and strum, switch between a few chords before I start. “Alright, here it goes.” I start playing a pretty simple chord progression and get into a good rhythm as I play, enjoying the music and, of course, enjoying the attention. Mer’s face is beaming as she watches me play and Fred is trying to look unimpressed, but failing as his eyebrows rise at my playing.

“James, that was brilliant!” Meredith catches me in a hug and squeezes me tightly. My heart starts to beat a little faster at her proximity, but my reaction is overshadowed by Fred, who swats me on the back of the head.

“Hey! What the hell was that for? I thought swats to the back of the head were reserved for Mer.”

“That’s right! Only I’m allowed to do that.”

Fred just ignores both of our statements. “You really have been playing practically non-stop since your birthday, haven’t you?”

“Who cares?” Mer responds, stepping back and laughing freely. I join her as Fred just shakes his head. He hadn’t been wrong about the practicing, but I’m not going to admit it.

“Fred!” A voice calls from the house. Aunt Angelina was standing in the yard waving him towards her. “Get over here! I thought I told you we needed to leave at five!”

Fred glances at his watch and curses. “Whoa, five forty-five? Well, she could have called sooner if she needed to go. Honestly…” Fred turns back to us and gives a short wave. “Sorry guys, I’ll see you soon. James, that’s actually is pretty amazing, but don’t let it get to your head!” He shouts this last statement to me as he runs backwards toward the house and I flip him off again.  Laughing, he turns and continues to run.

“What an arse,” I say to Mer before turning towards her again. She laughs. The sound of her laughter fills me and it’s infectious, and I can’t help by smile at her crinkled eyes and wide grin. “If someone didn’t know me they would think I’m full of myself.”

“You are full of yourself.”

“Well… I have reason to be.” *Smack* I rub the spot on the back of my head where she hit me and stick out my lower lip. “Gosh, Mer. You hit harder than Fred.”

“And don’t you forget it.” She sticks her tongue out playfully and looks away across the property. I follow her gaze and see the lake. Oh, no. She’s going to ask to go swimming.

“Let’s go swimming!” she suggests happily as I’d expected. It’s not that I don’t like swimming. I love it. We’ve gone swimming a lot together. But just the thought of Meredith in her bathing suit…

I take a deep breath to try to steady myself. Meredith has turned back to me and seeing my blush (Oh. My. Gosh. I’m blushing… no, no, no, no, no) and raises her eyebrow.

“Are you feeling okay?”

“F-f-f-fine. I j-j-j-just don’t think now is the time to… uh… you know… swim.”

“Suit yourself! I’m going!”

“Uh… well, you really shouldn’t swim alone…”

“Then come on, Mr. Party Pooper, or I’ll throw you in, myself!” Meredith runs to the house to change and I stare after her in a stupor.

Meredith. Grabbing me. In her bathing suit. Oh, Merlin… no. Stop. I gotta think straight. I have a girlfriend! I shouldn’t be acting like this when I’m with Julia. Meredith’s just my friend. It’s not like I haven’t seen her in a bathing suit before. Just think of her like Fred or Phillip or Roger. Just one of the guys, right?

I’m still standing in the yard with my guitar in my hand as Mer reemerges from the house in just a pair of gym shorts and her bikini top. Oh please, you moron, says an annoying voice in the back of my head. Those guys have never looked that good.

I should just go with it. It would be a lot more awkward for me to try to tell her why I can’t swim with her than actually doing so. I’ll just get Albus to come with us.

*****

The final whistle brings my thoughts back to the platform. I shake my head in an attempt to clear my thoughts and hear Mum behind me. “James, the train’s about to leave! You better get on board.”

I say quick good-byes to my family and jump on board. As I make my way down the hall of the bus, my thoughts stray to that evening with Meredith. Albus had flat-out refused to go out and swim with me, so we ended up swimming alone together. It hadn’t been as awkward as I had feared. After we got in the water and I was able to focus on something other than what she was wearing, it had been relatively normal.

Julia had called me first that same evening… drunk out of her mind. That wasn’t the first time that had happened, but it didn’t improve my inner battle over her. I kept thinking about what Dad and I had talked about. I have such an obvious and slightly annoying reaction when Meredith is around… nothing like that has ever happened with Julia. This is why I want to see her. These thoughts are only because I haven’t seen her the whole summer, right?

I search through to compartments, wondering if I might have missed her get on the train during my time spacing out, but I don’t find her. I find my way back to Phillip, Fred, and Roger, and I join their compartment. Fred looks sideways at me. “Where’s Julia?”

“I’m sure she’s around somewhere. It’s not like I’ve got to find her first thing, right?” Fred purses his lips and breaths out through is nose. I get the feeling he’s not telling me something. I haven’t told any of the guys about my internal battle, but I know Fred, whom I’ve been around quite a bit with the start of school coming up, has noticed something going on with me. I haven’t been my normal arrogant self with so much on my mind.

We play Exploding Snap for the first part of the trip. Meredith joins us a little while into the game looking slightly out of breath, but eyes bright and smile as brilliant as ever.

“Where have you been?” Roger asks after she greeted everyone happily.

“I told someone I’d meet up with them and then ran into Lily and stopped to talk for a little while.” She’s not looking at anyone in particular after saying this, but something tells me that she’s not being completely honest right now. She seems like she’s avoiding eye contact at the moment.

“Well, we’ve got a full game,” Phillip says, guesturing to the four of us, “but I’ll let you take my place next game if you want to play.” Meredith’s entrance reminded me that I still had no clue where Julia was.

“Actually, I’m going to go look for Julia, again,” I insert before Meredith can respond. “You can have my spot Mer.” Meredith makes a very similar face to what Fred made earlier and breathed out of her nose. She’s disappointed. “Don’t worry, Mer,” I add quickly. “I promise I’ll be back.”

She rolls her eyes, but gives me a half smile. “Whatever, loser. I saw Julia walking down the hall a couple carriages down. She may still be walking around.” She gives me a little shove towards the door. “Don’t keep us waiting too long.”

“Oh c’mon Mer,” Roger says as I walk out the door. “We all know it’s going to quick. James doesn’t last that long.” I turn and see Roger smiling smugly at me as it slides closed.

I walk down a couple carriages, as Meredith had suggested, and found Julia wandering the halls with several of her friends. She’s hopping from one compartment to another talking with people she deems worthy and ignoring those she doesn’t. I watch for a few minutes willing myself to feel something. We have been dating for a while, but even before it wasn’t sappy. I had just decided that I liked her because guys like me don’t do sappy stuff.

“James!” She seems surprised and not all too happy to see me. Her beautiful face flicks with annoyance for a moment before she relaxes and hugs me.

“I’ve been looking for you.” I try to sound frustrated; to get across how confused I am, but she doesn’t get it. She just looks at me, smiles, and kisses me lightly on the lips. I groan inwardly. That’s all she has? I haven’t seen her in three months and such an unenthusiastic greeting is not making me feel any better.

“I’ve been with some friends.” She puts her hand on my arm and pulls at the sleeve of my shirt. “You look great, babe. I love this shirt on you!” I look down on my favorite worn Puddlemere United t-shirt. She always says she hates it whenever I wore it. She seems really distracted right now and stares over my shoulder.

“Do you want to come and sit with me?” I ask her hopefully. She jumps slightly as I address her and looks at me with her eyes wide. “I was hoping we could spend some time together after not seeing each other in so long.”

“Uh…” Her eyes dart quickly over my shoulder, again, and then to the floor. Julia is trying to think quickly, which is not her strong suit. “Actually,” she begins, grabbing my hand and leaning into me, “I was hoping that we could spend some time alone for a little bit.” Her friends give her a knowing look as she says “I find you later,” and she pulls me into an empty compartment. She wraps her arms around my neck and whispers “Happy Birthday, James,” seductively into my ear. I don’t even have a chance to respond or even think before she kisses me fiercely.

I place my hands on her hips as I get into the kiss. I think I’m forgetting something. Was I angry? I can’t think straight when I haven’t had a good snog all summer… The hell with it, I think to myself. Pushing any real thought out of my mind, I put my arms around her and pull her closer, deepening the kiss.

**********

Some time later, we emerge from the compartment looking as normal as possible, though my hair is distinctly rumpled. Never mind. That is normal. I grin and take Julia’s hand to lead her to the compartment with my friends, but she pulls away with a roll of her eyes.

“I told my friends I’d meet them later.” I put on a disappointed face, but she just frowns at me. “I love you, James, but I need time with my friends, too.”

“Seriously?” This girl really is frustrating. Sure, the snogging was great, but she’s had the whole summer to herself and she still doesn’t want to be around me!

“I’ll find you when we reach the station,” is all she says as she walks away leaving me standing stupidly in the hallway.

She’s really got to do something soon before I change my mind. I had thought she was going to come with me after kissing me like that. Why the hell did she do that anyway? If she loves me, like she says she does, why doesn’t she want to be around me? I slide my hands across my face and muss my hair a bit more before heading the opposite direction of Julia to the compartment with my friends.

*********

As the Hogwarts Express pulls into Hogsmeade station, Julia comes running over to me. At least she wasn’t lying about finding me. Getting off the train, she latches onto my side, almost to the point where I can’t move, and waves to everyone she knows who’s worth a damn. She is Potter’s girlfriend, and she’s acting it up, too. Even if I don’t introduce myself, everyone already knows who I am from their parents or from people on the train, and by now they all probably know who Julia is as well. Before the end of the train ride, I’m already known by everyone and by the end of the night, everyone will know who Julia is.

I vaguely recall my dad telling me about what it was like adjusting to life after the war and feeling so alone realizing how so many people only wanted to be closer to him to try to share some of his fame. They were only around when they could be seen with him. That sounds all too familiar, now. I look over to Julia hanging on my arm and waving constantly.

As James Potter’s girlfriend, Julia Carter is the most popular girl in school. Merlin knows she’s not the smartest by any stretch of the imagination, but she is quite attractive. Unfortunately, I’m noticing a pattern when she’s around me. For her to be around me; to even talk to me, she’s either bored, drunk, or at a place where a large number of people will see her. When we’re in these situations, she usually takes it upon herself to say things to me she wouldn’t normally say.

Running her hand through my hair, “James, I love your hair like this!” or while stroking my arm, “James, Quidditch is really doing you good!” or when I say something funny, she’ll laugh unreasonably hard and yell “James, you are too funny!” All the exclamations and more draw attention to me, and also to her. Ever since I’ve asked her out she seems to have soaked up all the attention she could and I’m only noticing it now.

Before we reach the carriages to take us up to the school, I managed to pull Julia aside to talk. “What exactly is your problem, Julia?”

Julia looks at me incredulously. “What do you mean?”

“Why can’t you stand to be around me unless there’s other people around?”

“What about on the train? Weren’t we alone then?”

“Well, yeah, but I mean… why don’t you hang out with me around my friends?”

“What’s wrong, James? Why are acting like this?” I look at her and see her angry expression. I can’t really tell what she’s so angry about, but she looks furious about it all the same.

“Well… uh…” I rub the back of my neck nervously. Julia’s beautiful face looks back at me with that same odd expression. I didn’t really expect for her to be angry and I suddenly feel as if I really should have thought out this conversation better.

Suddenly, I grab Julia’s hands and stare into her eyes, willing myself to feel something. Momentarily I see deep blue eyes that make my heart pound and I blink them away to see her eyes staring at me haughtily. Her eyes are brown and dull. No light behind them; no laughter being held back. It’s no small wonder I couldn’t remember what they looked like. Staring at our hands I stumble through my words, praying they come out sensibly. “Julia, I love you. I want to spend time with you and be with you, but I’m really confused about how you’re acting right now.”

“James, you know I love you, too. Why are we even having this conversation?” Her head is tilted back and she sniffs after her question.

Somehow I can’t bring myself to believe her. The way she didn’t look me in the eyes to say this and how her fear became annoyance made me understand that I there was absolutely no reason for me to still be with her.

Standing out in the chilly September evening, holding Julia’s hands in my own, I realize just how terrible Julia is. She never listens to me, she doesn’t care about what I like, and worst of all these things is her ever-present reminder about how she only hangs out with me when she’s bored.

I also realize, to my increasing horror, that I do feel something for Meredith, whether I want to or not. I have never been in a relationship without first deciding in my head if I liked the girl or not after she had shown obvious interest in me. But to be on the other end, to feel these feelings come suddenly and knowing that they are probably not returned, is horrifying to me. Meredith’s face pops into my head. Not a pretty made-up-to-make-her-look-completely-different face, but her face after a hard Quidditch practice, covered with sweat and dirt and her brilliant heart-stopping smile on her face. Her face with slight sunburn across her nose as she wipes lake water out of her eyes. Her deep blue eyes which captivate me…

I’m shaken back to the present when I hear an aggravated tapping on the floor beside me. Focusing, I see Julia tapping her foot impatiently, crossing her arms, and appearing to expecting a full apology from me for what I have been saying during this conversation. This puts me over the edge. She doesn’t think she’s done anything wrong or even suppose I would possibly walk away from her.

She’s dead wrong on both counts.

“Julia,” I finally say, looking away from her. “I can’t do this anymore. We’re through.”


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