Chapter 1 : The Noontime Suprise
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On the canvas before me, glittering whites faded into rolling hills from which sprouted lank, dark trees. There was an Arctic sun, neon yet emanating no heat. A small squirrel hid in the boughs of one of the pines, and a white fox, almost blending in with his environment, crept around a rotting stump. At times like this, I fancied myself as Bob Ross, painting beautiful landscapes with a nonchalant sweep of the brush.
I looked down on my winter wonderland, and a smile lit my face. It was perfect. All it needed now was a signature. I signed the bottom with a twirling flower. I preferred not to use my name on my paintings. Lately, I did not much like my last name, for two reasons. One, the last time I checked, the other person who wore that name was not the nicest woman on the face of the planet. It was too bad. Most people were friends with their sisters. I suppose I was just destined for mine to loath me. And second, there was a different last name that I desired much, much more.
A dreamy look came over my face as I rinsed my paint brushes. Whenever I thought about him, my insides turned to melted butter, and my legs to noodles. I certainly was in love with—
A sudden knock on the door of my upstairs studio knocked me abruptly out of my reverie. “Come in,” I called.
My mother poked her head in through the door. “Lily,” she called softly. “I’m going out to the Plaza with Madeline and Antonia for lunch. I’ll be back by two.”
I glanced at the clock: 11:45. Taking off my smock, I said, “Oh, I’ll join you mum, if you don’t mind. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the ladies.”
“No!” My mother said sharply. It caught me by surprise, as she never raises her voice—especially at me. She spoke softer. “I mean, no. Someone has to stay to, err…watch the house.”
“Mum, I think the house will be alright alone for two hours,” I said slowly.
“Lily,” she said hurriedly. “Just no, alright? Please, just stay home.”
“Fine, mum,” I said, patting her arm. “I’ll stay; it’s not a big deal.” I walked down the stairs into the main house shaking my head. She had certainly been acting strange.
A few minutes later, she came into the kitchen, where I was reading a novel. “Goodbye, Lily dear,” she said, kissing me on the cheek. She gave me a great hug, squeezing me to death.
“Bye, mummy,” I said, puzzled. I knew she loved me, but she was being very...emotional about it right now.
“Oh, Lily,” my mother said right before she walked out of the door. “Please change out of those clothes, you look like a hobo.” She left abruptly, not sparing me even a fleeting glance as I choked on my orange juice from the shock of her last statement. I looked down at my attire. I was in my painting clothes, which, admittedly, weren’t in the latest fashion, but I was just staying at home reading! First, she practically forbade me to go to lunch with her and her friends, and then she told me to change out of my painting sweatshirt because I looked like a hobo. Nice, mum, I think. Very nice.
I was just about to re-enter the grand world of Pemberley Estate when there was a knock at the door. I sighed. "Oh, Mr. Darcy," I mumbled. "Why is it that whenever we get any alone time, we are so rudely interrupted by all kinds of external forces?" I stared at the glittering cover of my book. "I suppose we were just not meant to be," I said tragically. "Despite your atrocious ego and horrendous first impressions, you are meant for Elizabeth, and I--well, sadly I too am claimed by another." A second knock took me out of fantasy-land and into the real world. “Just ignore it,” I muttered to myself. But no, I should at least go see if I could help whoever was there. I opened the door and was greeted by a warm (not to mention tickling) ambusher. “James!” I squealed as he swept me up and deposited me onto the couch. I ran a hand through his ruffled black hair. “What are you doing here?” I asked, overjoyed.
He shrugged and ruffled his hair a bit. Old habits do die hard—or not at all. “I’m here to see you,” he said sweetly. He reached a hand over and touched my cheek. “What is this?” He asked, peeling off a blue flake.
“Oh,” I said, embarrassed. “I was painting, and I must not have washed up properly.” I was now regretting throwing my mother’s advice to the wind so carelessly. Maybe I looked more like a ‘hobo’ than I thought.
“Well,” James said. “Go wash up properly then.” He cleared his throat. “And change into something...summery while you’re at it.” I blushed vividly. The shade of my face was probably very close to the shade of my hair.
Mother, I thought as I ran upstairs. That will be the last time I ever ignore your advice again.
As soon as Lily left, my nerves returned in full force. It was time for the pep talk. “Steady James,” I mumbled to myself. “No time to back out now. Deep breaths, deep breaths old fellow.” Old fellow? I was starting to sound like my father. Good God, I was only eighteen!
“James,” I chided myself out loud. “Just because you’re young, that doesn’t change anything. You could be eighty and it would still have to happen just like this. It’s too late to back out. This is for the best. It will be good, it will be fine.” My pep talk continued in such a manner until Lily appeared at the top of the stairs like a vision. I stood up, amazed by her sheer beauty. She was radiating light, whether because of her personality or because I thought of her as my own personal sun, I didn’t know.
I walked up to her and offered her my arm. Smiling a dazzling smile, she looped her own through it. “Are you taking me somewhere, James?” She asked.
I smiled mischievously. “Perhaps,” I said as I led her outside. I picked up the wicker basket that I had left on her front porch.
“James,” she said slowly. “Is that a picnic basket?”
I turned my head away. “Perhaps,” I said again, in what I hoped was a mysterious voice.
“Oh, James,” she said excitedly, pushing me a bit. “You shouldn’t have! Is mother in on this? I swear, she was acting so strangely before she left, I should have known something was up!”
I smiled a regular smile, but inside my body, things quite irregular were going on. My heart was pounding faster and harder than it ever had before. So hard that I was sure it had to pop straight out of my chest if it didn’t calm down soon. I would say that there were butterflies in my stomach, but that would have been a horrendous lie. From the way it felt, it must have been bats at least, flapping their wings around in there.
Deep breath, James, I said to myself again, for the millionth time. Don’t back down now. I looked at my watch. Noon. Lily was in for a noontime surprise that she could never imagine.
James led me through town, to the park. Children played amiably on the jungle gym, and mothers looked on at their antics fondly. Couples walked around on the cobblestone paths holding hands, and murmuring sweet nothings in each other’s ears. I thought it was all very strange. James was romantic, sure. But a noontime picnic in the park? Well, it just wasn’t something he did. I did love it of course. We were like one of those couples on television that always did something cliché and romantic on weekend afternoon. I smiled to myself and tried to picture James and me as a pair on a sitcom. This thought drew a little chuckle from my mouth and James looked over at me quickly.
“What?” He asked suspiciously. “What’s so funny? What are you thinking about? Why are you laughing?”
I widened my eyes. “James, chill out,” I said, confused. “Oi, you’d think I stumbled onto some grand secret or something.”
James’ face drained of color. What the hell? What was going on? Why did everybody seem to know something that I didn’t? I decided to let the subject go. The old Lily would have gotten fired up over such a little thing, but the new Lily was calmer and much, much more mature. She is the kind of woman who can roll her eyes and let it slide off her back. So that is what I do—with difficulty. Because old Lily is still there, scratching right under the surface, struggling to get free and scream up a storm.
We walked, hand in hand, to the top of the manicured hill. The whole park was at our feet, and we sat on our grassy thrones like king and queen. James drew a checkered quilt out of the basket and laid it down for us to sit on. A checkered quilt? I thought to myself incredulously. Where did he even get a checkered quilt? I realized the trouble he must have gone to for it. He must have gone to some muggle store for outdoor equipment, searched the aisles until he found picnic blankets and then struggled with muggle money to pay for it. Maybe he even brought Sirius along to help (like he could be any help). That could be an entire episode on our sitcom: “The Marauders Take on Muggle Shopping”. I almost laughed again at the thought, but this time I restrained myself. No need to give James cause for another panic attack.
“Alright,” James muttered as he pulled up the basket. He flushed suddenly. “Err, well as you know, I can’t really cook—erm, anything at all—so my mum help me make all of this.”
He began unloading cartons of food from inside the basket. My mouth dropped open at everything that I saw. “You know, James,” I said laughing. “We’re not at Hogwarts anymore, sweetie! And I’m not that hard to please. I can eat peanut butter and jelly for example and be fine.”
He looked at me seriously. “But I don’t want you to have to eat peanut butter and jelly today,” he said quietly. “I just wanted to make you something nice to eat; something extraordinary.”
“Okay James,” I said, appeasing him. I was growing more and more uneasy by the moment. Something was different about today. I had an unnerving feeling starting to unfurl in the pit of my stomach. Everyone was acting so strangely. What was happening? What was going on?
But I ate James’ amazing lunch without asking a single question about it. Whether because I didn’t care or because I didn’t want to know the answer I cannot say.
“Lily Flower?” James asked suddenly.
“You ever think about the future?”
“Sure I do.”
“You ever think about what we’ll be doing right now in ten years?”
I lay down on the grass beside him and looked up at the sky. “I suppose. Sometimes I look forward to the day I can wave goodbye to my children on Platform 9 ¾.”
James turned to look at me. “You think about our—your children?”
I nodded. “Yes. I think about what he’ll look like.” Just like you, I hope silently. “I think about what House he’d be Sorted into.” Gryffindor, of course. Just like us. “I think about who his friends will be.” Hopefully someone a bit more responsible than Sirius…but someone just as fun and loyal. “I think about a lot of things, I guess.”
“You ever think about his name?”
I sat, puzzled for a minute. “No. I haven’t.”
“I like Harry,” James said suddenly. I looked over at him. He was staring into the sky like he was watching a distant scene. “I don’t know why. I always have, though. I want to name my first son Harry.”
“Harry,” I said, trying out the feeling of the name on my tongue. “I like it, too,” I said slowly. Harry James Potter, I thought to myself. If only one day my son could be Harry James Potter, I would be happy. I would love him more than I could love anyone else.
Suddenly, James let out a huge sigh and ran his hand through his hair in an irritated manner. “Lily!” He exclaimed waving his hands about through the air. “I was going to wait until later but—.“ Grumbling, he rummaged through the basket. Oh Merlin, I thought. There has been something going on! Why is he so irritated? What is he getting? He must have found whatever it was he was looking for because his hands stopped searching. He took out the package and handed it to me. “Here,” he said.
I looked down at it. It was a heart-shaped box of chocolates. “James,” I said, daring to breathe. “Valentine’s Day isn’t for six months. Where did you get Valentine’s chocolate in August?” I opened the box and my heart stopped beating. My hand flew to my mouth and suddenly, there seemed to be a cotton ball lodged in my throat. “Oh my…”
I looked up at James, and saw that he had gotten in front of me and knelt down on one knee. “Oh my God,” I said, more shaky this time.
James took my hand. “Lily Flower,” he said quietly.
“Yes?” I stuttered. I was crying but somehow laughing at the same time, so my words came out as a sort of strangled, giggling gurgle.
“Lily,” he said again softly. “I love you. I don’t know how to make those words fancier or more eloquent to fit the situation. I can’t think of anything else to say, because that is everything. I love you. That’s all there is to it. And I can’t picture spending my future without you. Every scenario about the future that plays in my mind features you on my arm.”
He paused. “And I know—I know we’re young. But I don’t care. Because how I feel about you is never going to change whether we wait five months, or five years. I already asked your mother, and she agrees. She helped me set this up, actually,” he admitted. Mother! I thought. She was keeping this huge secret bottled up inside of her for so long no wonder she was acting so strange this morning! “So Lily,” James continued. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to wake up in the morning and roll over to see your beautiful face before anything else. I want to marry you, Lily. So please, please.” He stopped to collect himself. His eyes were overly bright. “Say yes. Say you’ll marry me. Say you’ll spend the rest of your life with me. Promise me forever.”
I could hardly see anything at all because of the tears in my eyes. But even through them, I saw the glittering ring in the middle of the box of chocolates. And I saw James, staring at me so intensely. Choking back sobs of happiness, I threw my arms around him. “Yes!” I spout. “Yes, yes, a million times yes! Oh James, you have no idea how happy I am.”
He withdrew from my arms to look me in the eyes. “Oh I think I do,” he said, his voice cracking. “I think I know exactly how happy you are.” He smiled at me, and I wanted to drown in his eyes and never resurface.
I wrapped my arms around him again tightly, burying my face into his shoulder. I never wanted to let go of him—and I wouldn’t have to, I realized. I would never have to let go of James for as long as I lived.
James took the ring out of its place in the box. “One more thing,” he said. He slipped it onto my ring finger. “Perfect fit,” he said softly. “You’re my kind of Cinderella,” he joked. I laughed a watery laugh. Ever since I had told James about muggle fairytales, he referenced them regularly. Usually it seemed silly, but now nothing could be more appropriate. I really was in a fairytale.
He took my hands in his, the promise of our love shining brightly on my finger. “Forever,” he whispered.
“And ever,” I answered. I closed my eyes and breathed in the sweet smell of the grass around me. When I opened my eyes, I tried to absorb the color of the sky and the buzz of the bees. I tried to memorize the look on James’ face, and exactly how light my heart felt. I wanted to take every aspect of this moment and capture it so that I could revisit it whenever I wanted to. I wanted to remember this noontime surprise forever…and ever.
A/N: So I hoped everyone thoroughly enjoyed this little story! In the first chapter, I mentioned the wonderful, talented, American painter Bob Ross. Credit for the idea of Lily's winter wonderland goes to his television show, The Joy of Painting. RIP Bob.