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Chapter 22 : In Which Nefertiti is Demanding, Oliver is Anxious, and Kenna is Still Confused
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I woke up the morning after my birthday party with a strange and furry black creature lying across my stomach. For a moment, I contemplated screaming and waking all my dorm mates up, but then I remembered the party of the previous night. It was just Nefertiti, who was evidently quite affectionate in sleep. I’d never heard a cat purr as loudly as she did while I was struggling to gather my thoughts. All of a sudden, everything came rushing back to me; fighting with Aidan, arguing with Aidan over the bracelet, dancing with Oliver, the note Riley had written inside of my book cover, getting Nefertiti…and realizing I was completely in love with Oliver.
Oliver, the boy who’d pouted for a week when I beat him at Wizard’s Chess. Oliver, the one who’d convinced me to try out for Seeker as a second year. Oliver, who’d treated Smith like his own younger brother instead of some tag-along freak. Oliver, who’d tried his best to comfort me when I found out my first boyfriend was cheating on me.
Oliver, who shared my hatred of Percy Weasley, who always managed to land me in detention but emerge unscathed himself. The one who made me laugh and cry and shout and rage and sigh and roll my eyes. The one who’d been trying to tell me for so long that he wasn’t who I thought he was. The one person who made me miserable and furious and energized and overwhelmed and happy all at the same time.
How had I not known? How had I not figured out before yesterday that I was in love with him? How could I be so clueless??? No matter how much I wanted to protest, I’d been in love with him for a very long time. Certainly longer than I’d been dating Aidan, or even started considering it. Aidan was wonderful and sweet and funny and adorable, but when he kissed me, my brain didn’t ooze out of my head to lie in a puddle at his feet like it did that one time Oliver had kissed me. I didn’t feel starry-eyed and flushed all over every time he looked my way. When Aidan complimented me, I could laugh and joke about it, but any time Oliver said something the least bit nice about me, I got tongue-tied and shy and my stomach started pitching strangely.
I no longer had any doubts about who I should be with. But I still didn’t know what to do.
Yes, I was in love with Oliver. And no, I didn’t feel the same about Aidan. Maybe in a different place, a different situation, Aidan could have been ‘the One,’ but we were in this place and this situation, and he just wasn’t. Not for me. But a large part of me, one that was screaming inside, calling me horrible names for being such a fool, was afraid that I might be ‘the One’ for Aidan. Oh, I didn’t think he was going to love me forever and never go on with his life if we broke up, but I was nearly positive his feelings for me were much stronger than mine were for him. And I didn’t want to hurt him. Above all, I didn’t want to hurt him; not now, not when we were so close to being done with school. Part of me was saying that I could give Aidan these last three months. He couldn’t actually expect us to keep seeing each other after we were done with Hogwarts. We hadn’t actually ever talked about it, but I knew that he wanted to do something with international wizarding relations. If he got the internship he wanted with the Department of International Magical Cooperation, he’d either be so busy he’d never leave the office, or he’d be off heading to some other country to make sure we didn’t try to blow each other up. Not to mention he’d be working with Percy Weasley, which would almost be enough to make me fall out of love with Aidan if I’d ever loved him to begin with.
But I didn’t. Love him, that is. I didn’t want to date him after Hogwarts, I didn’t want to marry him and have his babies. But I couldn’t just tell him that. Regardless of any of my feelings, he deserved something better than for me to say “Oh, hey, I’m madly in love with Oliver and think we should both move on.” He deserved better than that. We both did. Even if I’d never loved him, we had a good relationship and I liked him tremendously. I would do anything to keep from hurting him.
So maybe I could suck it up. I could continue to date Aidan until we left school, and then when we were done, I could find Oliver and tell him…tell him what?? That I’d known my true feelings for months? That I was finally ready to be with him? That I wanted him to give up any Quidditch groupies he could have had and commit solely to me? That even though he was quite possibly the love of my life, he hadn’t been important enough for me to be honest with both him and Aidan, but that I was more important and he should give up his flavours of the month to be with me?
I couldn’t do it. Not to Oliver, and certainly not to Aidan. I couldn’t just keep going in a relationship that would be a total lie. I couldn’t let him keep thinking that he was the only one I wanted. But I also couldn’t just break up with him. That would require an explanation, one that I couldn’t give him. I didn’t want to lie to him and tell him we’d just stopped working out, but I couldn’t tell him the truth.
And I certainly couldn’t tell Oliver the truth. If I did...if I did, he’d tell me I had to make a choice between the two of them. I knew who I wanted to choose. I knew who I would choose if I had any choice at all. But I didn’t have a choice. No matter what I did, I’d end up hurting one of them.
If I broke up with Aidan, Oliver would immediately start chasing me again. I couldn’t lie to him and tell him I wasn’t interested because he knew better and because I was so tired of playing all the stupid little games. But if I broke up with Aidan and immediately started dating Oliver, I’d end up hurting Aidan even more. I couldn’t ask Oliver to keep it a secret; that wouldn’t be fair to him. I couldn’t ask him to wait, because he deserved to go on with his life, too. In short, I couldn’t do anything at all except hope that one of them would do something for me.
By the time I’d finished thinking all of my deep thoughts, it was barely dawn. If I could have, I would have just tried to go back to sleep; Oliver had decided we’d switch off between weeks of morning and evening practices and this was one of our evening weeks. But Nefertiti had decided she was hungry. And when I tried to roll over and ignore her, she bit my shoulder. Hard. I scowled at her, and she just mewed. I knew I wasn’t going to get back to sleep any time soon, so I figured I might as well do something about her. I thought for a moment, then went over to the box she’d come in.
Sure enough, there were some tiny food and water bowls, a bag of litter, and a bag of cat food, not to mention this weird toy mouse thing, lying on the bottom of the box. I dragged the box over to the bathroom, deciding kitty litter belonged around other toilet-like things, and that it was better to put the food and water under one of the sinks than risk finding half-eaten morsels on our floor.
After filling the two dishes and setting up a litter box, I picked a highly-disgruntled Nefertiti up and deposited her nearby so that she would stop her pitiful meowing. She seemed satisfied, with no desire to follow me, attack me, or anything else, so I figured it was safe to leave her. If she started tearing things up and howling, I could always tell the girls that some strange kitten fairy godmother must have snuck inside in the middle of the night to take care of the kitten, and that it was not at all my fault that there was a kitten locked in our bathroom. Not that anyone but Katie would know what a fairy-godmother was; Angelina lived with her single wizard father, Alicia with her practically pure-blood parents, and Riley with her father and her feminist Muggle mother who believed that fairy tales were all about the subjugation of women and therefore refused to allow her to read them as a child.
There was no way I would ever be able to get back to sleep; I had too much to think about, and the last thing I needed was to end up dreaming about Oliver and Aidan duelling for me and one of them ending up dead. And since I couldn’t sleep, I decided to do the next best thing; head down to the Great Hall for breakfast. I wasn’t particularly hungry, but this early in the morning, no one else would be up, and I could have time to myself where no bloke was demanding something from me that I didn’t know how to give. As I made my way past my four-poster, ignoring the snores and snuffles coming from the other beds around me, a gold glitter caught my eye. I recognized it almost immediately as the bracelet Aidan had given me.
Once again, I was torn. I didn’t want to wear the bracelet. I didn’t want Aidan to see it on me and think that we were more than what I knew we were. I didn’t want Oliver to see it and think the same thing. But I didn’t want Aidan to see its absence and wonder, especially considering one of my friends would probably slip and tell him Oliver had gotten me a kitten. And then he would want to know why I could accept a gift from Oliver and not from him. He wouldn’t understand if I told him a kitten was different from a really expensive piece of jewellery. Ignoring my misgivings, I snapped the thin gold link around my wrist. It felt like a leaden shackle, but I had to ignore it. I had to if I wanted to keep my sanity, keep from hurting either one of them.
As I’d expected, there was no one else around when I took a seat at the Gryffindor table. I was sort of surprised-I’d expected Percy Weasley, at least, to be there. He would never be able to stand it if he thought some misdeed was going on where no one could see it. I guess even Percy didn’t want to be up that early, though, and it wasn’t as if I’d miss his company. The bright pinks and oranges of the rising sun had finally begun to fade into blue skies, and I expected my solitude wouldn’t last for much longer. Someone was bound to be up sooner or later. Just hopefully not Percy.
One of the benefits of being the first to rise was having first pick of the muffins. By the time Oliver usually let us out of Quidditch practice, the only things left at breakfast were the lemon muffins, bananas, and kippers. I pretty much despise kippers, and I’m not a huge fruit fan, so I normally end up mooching off of someone else’s plate. But not today. Today, there were more than enough chocolate-chip muffins to satisfy even my appetite for chocolate, as well as plenty of bacon, which is about the only meat I’ll eat in the morning. So I was feeling somewhat smug; I’d managed to snag the good muffin before anyone else was even thinking about muffins. I was even starting to feel rather hopeful about the whole situation between Aidan, Oliver and me.
That is, I was feeling hopeful until Oliver wandered down the staircase, wearing only a white t-shirt and a pair of athletic shorts. He didn’t appear to see me at first; he was too busy trying to rub the sleep from his bleary eyes. It gave my stomach the opportunity to pitch and remind me that I was completely screwed. Not to mention an opportunity to observe him when he wasn’t aware I was doing so.
The corner of his shirt rose about inch up, as if he’d indeed come down straight from rolling out of bed. His hair was a tangled mess, his feet were bare, and one side of his face had lines from his pillow all over it. I’d never seen him look so...normal. As if he didn’t wake up in a good mood with perfect hair and perfect breath and something to say other than a yawning “Good morning.”
I knew I was in trouble if the sight of Oliver Wood looking like a hobo who had recently escaped from the travelling circus made me want to melt inside.
I knew the moment he finally realized he wasn’t alone. His face was turned away from mine, but I could sense the sudden stillness around him, as if he’d stopped breathing. He slowly turned my way, scratching his head as if to say “Now, what’s this?”
I pretended to ignore him. For once, and it was probably only because he was barely awake, Oliver took the hint and ignored me back. After selecting an apple for himself and piling a plate with eggs, kippers (yuck) and fried tomatoes, not to mention a heap of bacon, some toast, and fried potatoes, he wordlessly picked up a fork and started shovelling food in. I watched him out of the corner of my eye for a few minutes. He seemed perfectly comfortable with the silence, and I was just glad that he wasn’t taking the opportunity fate had granted by leaving us alone together to start talking about our relationship or something. For one thing, it was just awkward, and for another, I wasn’t quite sure I was ready to handle a discussion like that just yet.
After about ten minutes, he seemed unable to ignore me any longer. “You’re up early.” he said hoarsely.
I nodded. “The cat woke me up.” I made an effort to put a note of reproach into my voice, but Ollie just smiled.
“Figures.” he replied between bites. After swallowing a mouthful of juice, he began again. “Why didn’t you just go back to sleep, then?” he asked.
“She wouldn’t let me.” I frowned, picking at a piece of toast because it allowed me to look down at the table instead of at Oliver. True to form, my response made him chuckle.
“So I was right then.” he said smugly. Not for the first time, my curiosity got the better of me.
“Right about what?”
“You two are perfect for each other.” He grinned at me from across the table, and I felt my stomach clench again. I needed to move the conversation away from things we’d been involved in together, and I needed to do it fast. If I didn’t, I would end up blurting the truth out to him and he’d hate me and Aidan would hate me and my life would be ruined. Or something along those lines.
“You’re up pretty early yourself.” I commented. His grin turned into a frown.
“I couldn’t sleep.” he said simply, offering up no other explanation. Against my wishes, I felt a wave of annoyance rise up.
“Why?” I asked, trying to keep that annoyance from my voice.
Oliver shrugged. “I went to a few try-outs over the winter holiday...” he started. When I didn’t interrupt, he frowned again, but continued. “I’m supposed to get notification from a few teams today on whether or not I made it.”
It was my turn to frown. “How many is a few?” I asked.
He shrugged again. “I don’t know, a few.” He started shovelling food in again as if his life depended on it. Knowing Oliver, he probably thought it did.
“Don’t try and tell me you don’t know the exact number of teams you haven’t heard from yet, Oliver Ewan Wood.” I persisted. He mumbled something around a bite of toast. “What was that?” I asked sweetly. He looked up at me in annoyance.
“Five.” he said tersely before going back to his toast. I wanted to reach out and pat him on the back, but I knew I couldn’t.
“No wonder you couldn’t sleep then.” I said softly. He jerked his head and pretended to be angry at my nosiness, but the small smile on his lips said otherwise. Then it hit me. “Just how many teams did you try out for anyways??” I demanded. His smile faded.
“Five.” he said glumly. “The Irish International team, Puddlemere, the Magpies, the Falcons, and the Tornadoes.”
I knew Oliver’s heart was set on making the Puddlemere United team, and that he was probably a nervous wreck, thinking that no one waited for three months to let a player know whether or not they were on the team. The small, rational part of me agreed with him, but I couldn’t tell him that. Despite my resolve not to touch him, I grabbed his hand. “Oliver.” I said seriously. “You’re probably the best Keeper Hogwarts has seen in years. You’ll get an offer. It might not be Puddlemere, but you’ll get one.”
“Yeah, right.” he replied, but I knew he didn’t believe me.
I tried to move the conversation to other areas, but Oliver would have none of it. He just responded in monosyllables, or worse, he didn’t reply at all. After half an hour, I made an excuse to head back up to the dormitory, but just I was about to leave, a lone owl swooped in. I suppressed the urge to duck and cower, but my heart still raced, partially because there was no telling when an owl could attack, and partially because the owl was headed straight for Oliver and personal post didn’t typically come in this early unless it was important.
Oliver’s face paled as the owl dropped a packet of letters in front of him. I dashed over to him.
“What do they say?” I asked avidly. “Come on, Oliver, open it! I want to be the first person you tell that you made a professional Quidditch team!”
“Kenna...” Oliver said softly. “What if I don’t? What if these are all rejection letters?? What am I supposed to do then?”
I looked at him. “They’re not.” I said firmly, trying to make myself believe it. “But if they were, you’d go on with your life. You could always try out for an American team, or you could take a year off, but you won’t have to. Just open it.” I shoved the letter with the Puddlemere seal towards him. He shoved it right back at me, shaking his head.
“I can’t do it, Kenna.” he said morosely. Then his expression changed fractionally. “I want you to do it for me.”
“What?” I asked incredulously. “No, come on, Ollie, this is your big moment.” When he showed no signs of budging, I shoved the other letters in his hand. “Fine, save the big one for last. But open up these others.” He shook his head.
“I can’t.” he insisted. “You do it.”
I stared at him for a moment. He wanted me to be the bearer of bad news; not that I thought it would be bad news, but he certainly did. Oliver was asking me as a friend to help him out. How on Earth could I say no?
“Alright.” I said finally. “But don’t come crying to me when you have five offers and don’t know which one to pick.” I tore one open at random, scanned it for a few seconds, then picked up another and did the same. By the time I got to the last one, the one with the Puddlemere seal, Oliver was practically a nervous wreck. His face was gray, his jaw clenched, and he looked as if he thought I was about to tell him his dog had just died. Except Oliver doesn’t have a dog, and I wouldn’t know if it had died.
I ripped the top of the envelope open and pulled out the first sheet. It was completely full to the very last line on the back of the parchment.
“Well?” Oliver asked anxiously.
“To Mr. Oliver Wood, Gryffindor House, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Scotland.” I read in a voice I couldn’t quite keep from shaking. Oliver stood up and started pacing, which I thought was ridiculous, but it was his future I held in my hands, not mine. “Unfortunately, there is not a Keeper position open on our first team at this time—“ Oliver’s face fell dramatically. “But we are pleased to inform you that there is a position open on our reserve squad. Should you choose to accept it, the position is yours.” I practically shrieked it at him, I was so happy for him. “It’s signed ‘Sincerely, Andrew Williamson, Scout, and Marcus Bigsby, Team President.” I had to laugh at the expression on his face. It was...stunned...to say the least, and he looked almost as if he was six years old and Christmas had come early.
“I...I made the team??” he whispered, his eyes bright.
“You made the team.” I confirmed, and I had to laugh again. “Oliver, you made them all. Every single one!” I told him, and I’ll never be able to forget the sheer joy on his face as I told him that.
“I made the team.” he roared, and then he picked me up off my feet and swung me around like I weighed less than a feather. We were both laughing as the Great Hall spun in circles around us, and we were both out of breath when he finally let me down.
“Oliver...” I repeated, standing up on my toes to embrace him. “You did it! You’re going to be a professional Quidditch player!” He grinned at that, and his arms banded about me tightly. I forgot all about all the mess between us, about my conflicting emotions, my boyfriend, and what the hell I was supposed to do. I was just so happy for him. Oliver had been working for seven years to pull this off, and even in his wildest dreams, I doubted he could have ever imagined being offered spots on five different teams. For the moment, he had no one else to share it with, and I was more than willing to be the one he told first.
“I’m going to be a professional Quidditch player!” he repeated, and his smile was wide enough to crack his face. “Can you believe it?”
“Of course I can!” I told him. “I always knew you could do it. Now the only question is, which team are you going to pick?”
If anything, his smile grew broader. “What do you think?” he asked, and then he leaned down and kissed me.
It wasn’t anything serious; it was just a smack on the mouth, one that was meant to convey his extreme happiness and nothing else. I knew he didn’t have any other way to express his feelings, and I understood.
And still, we both froze. Oliver’s eyes were open and wary on mine as he drew his head back. I could feel colour flooding into my face, and it seemed neither of us could say anything in that moment. Oliver’s arms tightened around me fractionally as he searched my face for...something.
“Kenna...” he began, his voice sounding confused and unsure. His eyes were still dark, still locked on mine, and I shook my head to rid myself of the lump in my throat.
“Oliver...” I started, but I didn’t have a chance to finish whatever it was I was about to say, because then his lips were on mine again and I couldn’t remember the words anyway. The kiss was infinitely different from the one we’d shared before; his lips were soft on mine, and he made no effort to force me in any way. I wanted to back away, to shove him from me. I wanted to tear his mouth from mine and slap him for being so bold. But I couldn’t. The words wouldn’t come, and instead of shoving him away as I knew I should, my hands moved up to link with his. His fingers curled around mine, and again, his lips brushed mine in a motion that was so unexpectedly sweet that I wanted to cry. It was exactly what a girl would want from her first kiss, except we’d both passed that milestone long before, and I was dating someone else. And it was thinking of Aidan that made my decision for me.
With an effort, I tore my mouth from his. He looked as confused, as stunned, as I felt. I had to control the urge to reach out to him again. “Oliver...we...I...this...I can’t.” I stammered. His fingers, still tangled with mine, tightened for an instant, but then he let his hands fall, and his expression, which had been emotionally fraught just a moment before, dulled until there was nothing left. His face carefully blank, he stepped back from me.
“I have to go.” he said shortly, and without even turning around to pick up his letters, without giving me a chance to say anything, he walked away.
My hand shot up involuntarily to press against my lips. Had I really just let Oliver kiss me? Had I really just kissed him back?
Had I really just done the unthinkable, the one thing I swore I would never under any circumstances do? Had I just cheated on my boyfriend?
With a sense of dread, I glanced down at the bracelet encircling my wrist.
It was still there.
And it burned like fire.
A/N: In the immortal words of someone or other...dun dun DUN. I told you it was an emotional chapter, and I told you you'd get Ollie/Kenna action. But really, you didn't expect them to suddenly start throwing flowers and reciting poetry and declaring their undying love just yet, did you? Well, if you did, sorry to disappoint. If you didn't, well, you'll all have something to look forward to fairly soon. So how about leaving me a review to tell me what you guys think? Favorite quotes? Predictions for the next chapter? Ways to break Aidan and Kenna up without anyone dying? If you've got an answer, well...I probably have more questions. So come on. You know you want to! =]
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