My friends took the news of Brad’s blackmailing considerably well.
“I’m going to rip his eyeballs out!” Gigi said immediately rushing towards the door.
I ran to catch her before she touched the doorknob. “No! You can’t. He said I couldn’t tell you and by telling you I’m going against that. If you attack him he’ll spill the beans about Starr and Andy.”
“Don’t you think that this is all a little drastic?” Melody said sitting on her bed. “I mean yes, we all love Starr, but Allie, you’re posing as his girlfriend against your will. There are limits to these kinds of things you know.”
“I love Starr, and I know we’ve all see it; she and Andy are perfect for each other. If they knew what was going on then they would a) never forgive us; b) probably never see what we see and; c) I am not willing to give that up. I care for her too much. We all do. It just means I have to pull a little more of the weight.”
“A little more?” Gigi growled. “Extortion isn’t just a little more. That goes to a whole other Quidditch pitch. Why would you agree? What about Jase?”
I grumbled. “Yeah well, I’m not so sure about Jase anymore.”
“What? Why?” Melody said.
“Because he saw Brad and I kissing. If anything that should have triggered any jealous recesses in his system and he should have snapped. Instead he let Nikki drag him away. He left me sitting there with Brad, who I’d just pushed to the ground.”
“I’ll bet you ten-to-one that he would not have done that if Nikki hadn't been there to persuade him,” Gigi said. “Which is why you just can’t give up; you can’t give up on Jase, Alls.”
“And I don’t want to,” I said going over to my bed and plopping down on it. “I want Jase more now than I ever did before. Being back with him is the best thing that could’ve happened to me, especially after the summer of not being able to see one another. I want Jase to see me for me and I don’t want to have to resort to complications to get him, but what else can I do? I’ll bet he’ll just run and hide.”
“You do not know that!” Melody snapped. “Gosh Allie, you’ve dug yourself a really deep hole. It’s going to take a whole lot of explaining when you finally decide to come clean.”
“I still want to rip his eyes out!” Gigi said. “And I want to smack you around for agreeing to this sick and twisted game with Brad. Ugh, Brad, did you ever suspect that one?”
“I sure didn’t,” Victoire spoke up from her bed finally. She’d been very quiet since I’d spilled my guts. “I mean, Brad Coogan, wasn’t he afraid of you?” she said standing abruptly and began pacing, a very un-Victoire-like thing to do.
“That’s what everyone thought. I guess not so much after all.”
“There must be some explanation. He would never do this without cause,” Victoire tried to justify.
“Or he could just be a hormone-driver teenager who thinks I’m fair game because I haven’t got a boyfriend and I’m in a very vulnerable situation,” I suggested. It seemed logical to me.
“No, that’s not it. That can’t be it. I mean I saw him with Jasmine countless times and he was never harsh or violent or even this manipulative. He always gave her what she wanted and he was really sweet about it. There has to be an alternative solution to what he’s doing to you,” Victoire continued as she paced around the room.
“I agree with Vic,” Gigi said moving back over to her bed. “This isn’t Brad.”
“Ugh, I don’t know anymore. Frankly I don’t care at this moment. I am going to go to bed now, I have a major headache and I am hoping that you guys have my back on this where Jase fell short.”
They all muttered their agreements and I changed out of my day clothes and into my pajamas. I crawled into bed and grabbed my book but was too upset that I turned out my light.
I fell asleep immediately.
The dream that snuck up on me startled me out of my skin just like the snake in my dream that shed its skin to reveal (I was totally freaked out now) Nikki. She slithered out of the snake skin and stood seamlessly as if she hadn't just been gliding across the floor in a copper-colored snake skin. I watched her as she walked towards me in my dream. Her hair that had been her cobra hood was flared and fire-like, her eyes were slits with red irises and when she opened her mouth to speak to me, instead of words, a forked tongue hissed at me and fangs descended from her perfect canine teeth.
Instead of walking up to me though, she walked past me and as I turned I saw Jase there, stretched out on a couch, lazily reading a book. But when he looked up and looked directly at me, our eyes met, he set the book down and started unbuttoning his shirt.
I started walking towards him instinctively but he started to hiss violently as he shucked his shirt and stood. Then I saw Nikki glide up and over the back of couch where Jase had been sitting and she looked positively evil. The red eyes reminded me of glowing embers from a dying fire. With a final hiss Jase turned from me and stretched himself out overtop of Nikki. They kissed. He looked back up at me and I saw his eyes go from their beautiful blue to the same glowing red as Nikki’s.
I couldn’t bear to watch any longer so I turned from the sight. I was startled when I found Brad standing directly behind me. He didn’t have glowing eyes or fangs. He looked the same as he always did, his handsome face and sharp green eyes, and he looked at me with such tenderness that it made me want to cry. He reached up and stroked my cheek with the back of his hand. He leaned forward and kissed me delicately on the forehead, like a butterfly’s wings touching my skin, and then as he looked forlornly over my shoulder to where I knew Nikki and Jase were, he evaporated whispering two words to the wind that scattered his image. “I’m sorry.”
I woke up with a start.
I was in my bed.
Everyone else around me, including Starr who must’ve come upstairs after I’d fallen asleep, were in their beds, some snoring and some curled in little balls under their blankets. It was just a dream, I told myself. It was just a scary dream that seemed freakishly real. But as I closed my eyes again I was not haunted by Jase’s blue-turned-red eyes or even Brad’s sad face. I could clearly see Nikki however, but she didn’t frighten me as much as my best friend or even Brad did. Nikki could be taken out, distinguished and trampled on so she went back to Australia with her tail between her legs. It was Jase and Brad I had to live with afterwards.
If things went back to the way they were, could Jase still find it in his head to love me as I wanted him to? And when that happened, what would Brad’s reaction be?
Two questions I dreaded the answers to, yet I wanted to know those answers more than I had ever wanted anything before.
December could be summed up in a single word: miserable. Not only was the homework load consistently unbearable, but also, for the first time in almost seven years, Jase was avoiding me.
I would go up to talk to him and he would greet me, say hello, whatever, and then find some excuse, which usually had something to do with Nikki, and leave me standing there with my pants down, so to speak. I wanted to give him a right good smack across the face, but that wouldn’t get me anywhere I figured. I concluded that for a few reasons.
Firstly, and I could tell because I am a girl, because I knew Brad didn’t like it when I talked to Jase, even in passing. And although I didn’t care what he thought most of the time and usually ignored him except when he found it necessary to pinch me or so on, I did pay attention to him because of the threatening looks he would give me. He was using this blackmail to the fullest potential and although he hadn't gotten me to give up my sense of decency, he was definitely pushing for it.
And secondly, the girls were being more reserved around me, all except Starr, who didn’t know what was going on really. I’d discussed Brad to her and she still thought I was the one using him to make Jase jealous. And because Jase got tight-lipped and white-knuckled whenever Brad made a move towards me, Starr assumed it was working. She was surprised that even after kissing Brad that Jase hadn't done anything, but she’d let it go. But the other girls were being silent when I came into the room, which indicated that they had probably been talking about me before I’d walked in and that was never a good sign.
Our ‘Starr and Andy Matchmaking’ had come to a slow-down as well.
They’d at least discussed that strategy with me beforehand. The way they figured it, Brad was just biding his time before he had something else to use against me, i.e. more ‘Starr and Andy’ co-hooting. Therefore, and Gigi had come up with this one, if the four of us backed off for a while, then Brad would have less of a solid footing to manipulate me into doing something really against my will, like getting me to have sex with him, which I was really freaked about.
So, on tentative ground, the girls and I were tip-toeing around the subject of when we were going to give Starr and Andy their next ‘opportunity’ to realize they loved each other.
I was thankful for that at the very least. But everything else was starting to get even more intolerable, like the homework and Jase’s avoidance.
I got a letter/package from my dad in the middle of December though and that significantly brightened that day…for about an hour or so.
Dear Allie, he wrote:
How is school? I’m sorry that I haven’t gotten around to writing before this. I know how great it is to get things in the mail when you’re sitting with all your friends at the Gryffindor table. How I miss Hogwarts. I really should have gone back to teach there, except they don’t have an Archeology course there. It’s too muggle of a profession they must think, despite the fact that the Ministry of Magic condones and funds a lot of our digs.
Anyway, I just got home from a dig in the northern part of Wales. That technically wasn’t a dig though because it’s mostly rocks and green rolling hills if you’ll remember from when we were there a few years ago. It was more like a deep and cavernous tunnel inside this giant green mountain I guess you could call it. Inside we found a beautifully preserved chest, magically preserved of course, but we haven’t been able to get inside it yet. We hauled it back to the museum for further studies and testing before we crack out our wands and try and get inside. I don’t know about you, but ancient gold and gems sounds pretty good to me. But if there are old documents inside I will be just as thrilled.
I know this isn’t a very long letter, but I'm meeting Bernie at the museum in about an hour and I still have to change out of my pjs.
Oh and have you made any decision about Christmas yet? Short notice, I know, but I know you said at the beginning of school that you and your friends might go somewhere or do something. Let me know and say hello to all your friends for me.
Love you honey,
P.S. I got the car alright on September 1st. I also found what’s enclosed in the box on the backseat. It looked important. Sorry I took so long to send it to you. Dad.
Melody read the letter over my shoulder at the breakfast table. “You’re dad is so cool,” she said after we’d both finished.
“Yeah,” I agreed as I folded the letter and replaced it in the envelope. I stared down at the still-wrapped package and knew what was inside. I’d made it up over the summer for Jase. It was his Christmas present.
“How is ‘ole Timmy?” Gigi asked from across the table.
I laughed. Gigi had always called my dad, Timmy, and it didn’t seem to bother him a bit. It was still rather strange though, and awkward. “He’s good. Says hi to all of you.”
“Oh, well that’s sweet of him,” Starr chirped from beside Gigi. “Is he still growing that hideous mustache that he had last summer?”
“No,” I chuckled, “thankfully he decided it wasn’t his thing. He was then thinking about a goatee, but I talked him out of it.”
“Way to go you,” Melody said. “He looks better clean-shaven anyways.”
“I keep telling him that,” I said, spooning some rice-pudding onto my plate. “But he’s convinced that facial hair makes a man. When I get home I’ll have to give him a haircut as well because he will not have cut it since I left.”
“Oh dear,” Victoire said.
“Yeah, well, that’s my dad for you.”
“Be sure to tell him hi from all of us when you write him back,” Gigi told me.
“Are you going to tell him about Christmas?” Starr asked.
“Yep, he asked what I was doing anyways. Seems only fair to answer him. I’ll probably write him later in between homework and exhaustion.”
“Sounds like a fine idea,” Starr said cheerily.
I laughed, it was just like Starr to act so excited about homework and exhaustion because, and this was just a wild guess, Andy was somewhere in the middle of that. I still didn’t understand how and why they didn’t/couldn’t see how much they liked one another. Even with all the throwing together that we’d been doing they’d never expressed anything akin to a romantic relationship. It was all Quidditch and homework and that left very little space for other things from the looks of it.
Speaking of which, “I wonder where Andy is,” Starr said looking up and around the Great Hall. “He’s usually here earlier.”
“Why?” Gigi asked trying to keep the most innocent smile she could manage plastered on her face.
“No reason. He was going to let me borrow some of his Quidditch books.”
“Books?” I asked. “You don’t do books Starr. We’ve all tried to lend you our books before and you keep saying no.”
“Yeah but have you ever tried to give me a Quidditch book before?”
“Two years ago for your birthday I asked you if you wanted Quidditch: From the Beginning and you said ‘no thanks’.”
“Ah, well, sorry I guess. I probably wasn’t thinking right that day. But don’t worry about it now ‘cause I think Andy has that one.”
I swiveled my head to look at Melody whose smile went all the way up to her ears. Starr had gone back to eating and I looked at Vic and Gigi as well who were all giving me similar looks. Brightly I returned to my rice pudding and that gleeful feeling lasted for all of ten minutes when all the guys, including Nikki unfortunately, decided to show up.
Melody only took up one side of me so Brad slid easily into the empty space and caught me for a kiss that I obligingly gave but secretly I seriously was pissed. He didn’t even say ‘good morning’ or ‘hello’, just KISS and then started talking to Teddy who’d sat down beside Victoire. Jase and Nikki had taken the seats beside Teddy and as I tried to catch Jase’s eye Nikki started brushing his hair with her fingers and he simply smiled at her and went to work on his eggs, the usual breakfast for him. He still wouldn’t look at me.
Brad spoke up then from beside me. “Did you get the Potions assignment done?”
I looked at him, eyebrow raised. As if he was going to make small-talk with me. “Yes.” I stood up and walked away from the table with Melody close on my heels as well as Gigi. Starr had stayed behind to talk with Andy and Victoire had only just seen Teddy and there was no way she was leaving. But I had to get away from Brad.
“I’m still going to rip his eyes out,” Gigi growled as we made our way to our first class.
“I wish you would. Just make up another reason other than the fact he’s basically using me.”
“I could do that. I’m sure I could put some wheels in motion that would make him do something stupid that would warrant my ripping his eyes out,” Gigi said actually sounding cheerful at the prospect of ripping out Brad’s eyes.
“And then to swing in and save the day,” Melody said, getting in the ‘Brad-killing mood’, “I’ll find a nice big book or brick or rock and bring it down soundly on his head. When he comes-to I’ll say it slipped or I meant to hit Gigi or something.”
I wrapped my arms around my two friends and smiled, “I love you guys.”
They did likewise. “Love you too,” Gigi said. “Don’t worry. This won’t last for very much longer. We’ll work something else out over Christmas. It might even include decapitating our dear friend Brad.”
“Yeah,” Melody agreed. “Or shoving dozens of nails into his skin, or gluing his nuts to the ceiling of the Great Hall.”
I laughed and we walked into our first class with a smile our faces.
December 20th we were on the Hogwarts Express going back to King’s Cross Station for Christmas break. I was partially happy to be getting away from school, but mostly it was just being away from Brad. Two weeks with the girls was going to be nice. Spending quality time with Starr as well was great, so long as nothing go out. We were all pros at keeping our mouths shut or coming up with excuses that were equally true. I was looking forward to going to Starr’s house as well. I’d been to everyone else’s house over summers and break and such, but never to Starr’s. I’d met her parents briefly at the beginning and end of school some years but this would go to a whole new experience.
On the downside, Jase was still avoiding me. It was getting to be too much. I missed my best friend and I was damned if I wasn’t going to wish him a Happy Christmas. I had planned on sending my gift to him by mail, but I just didn’t think that was right seeing as how we’d been exchanging gifts to one another for the past six years in person.
I wound my way through the train and finally found the compartment he was sharing with Nikki, of course, and Teddy and Victoire.
“Allie,” Victoire greeted, rising to hug me just as she’d done the first day on the train this year. It was a sign that I was welcome and that Jase could just stuff it if he or Nikki thought otherwise. “What brings you here?”
I sat down beside her, across the compartment from Jase who was staring blandly out the window. I looked at Victoire pulled the small wrapped package out of my jacket pocket. She nodded in understanding.
“Jase,” she said. He didn’t respond. She snapped her fingers in front of his face, which made him look at her. “Jase, Allie has something for you. Come on Teddy. Let’s go see if we can find the trolley. I feel like something sweet.”
“You always feel like something sweet,” Teddy grumbled but didn’t argue about leaving.
That left me alone with Jase and Nikki, and Jase still wouldn’t look at me. He was staring at his shoes. I held out my hand to give him the small package. He didn’t take it or make any indication he was going to take it. Instead Nikki held out her hand to grab it. “Oh that’s so sweet of you,” she said with her tone dripping with sickly-sweet honey. Ugh!
Before she grabbed it I snatched it back. “Excuse me, Nicole; this gift is for Jase, not you. We’ve been exchanging gifts with one another for the past six years when you were not around so if you’ll just leave us for a moment I would greatly appreciate it.”
Her eyes widened and then narrowed. “I’m his girlfriend.”
“I’m his best friend, which takes precedence, even if Jase has found an excuse not to talk to me in the past few weeks. So leave or I will make you leave.” I tried to look as menacing as humanly possible for someone who had no real practice with looking menacing.
She got up and huffed from the compartment. Jase jumped to start after her but then turned and snapped, “You have no right to talk to her like that!”
Finally he was looking at me. “And you have no right, none whatsoever, to ignore me as you’ve been doing. What is your problem?”
“I don’t have a problem.”
“Go away Allie!”
“What for? If this is the only way I get to talk to you then so be it! Do you realize how lost I’ve been for the past few weeks? We tell each other everything and this stalemate between us is killing me!” Not just because I loved him, but because I sincerely and deeply missed him.
“You don’t need me anymore. You have Brad.”
“What?” I gasped. “Is that what you think? That I would ditch you when I finally got a boyfriend? Brad is nothing compared to you. You were there first!”
“You don’t like Nikki,” he said.
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Nikki doesn’t like you. It’s like I can’t do anything to please you both.”
“So you chose her over your best friend? Shit Jason, if that’s how it’s going to be then, fuck, you two deserve one another. To hell with you both.”
“You never call me Jason.”
“You never ran away before now. I never took you for a coward, Jason. You’ve always been my best friend. You’ve always been the one I ran to and vice versa. But now I don’t know anymore. Despite my feelings for you if Nikki tells you she doesn’t want you talking to me, you’ve got less backbone than I’d originally thought.”
“You can say anything you like about me, but leave Nikki out of this,” he growled.
“Nikki’s poisoned you against me,” I cried, realizing now that I had tears running down my face. “Nikki wasn’t there before and she won’t be here afterwards. Maybe this time you won’t have me to run to when you finally see her for what she is. She’s a snake, Jason.”
“Shut up!” he yelled, making me fall back onto the seat behind me. “Shut up!” he said more softly. “Just leave, Allie.”
I rose with my head down, tears still streaming down my cheeks. I looked up at him one last time and held out the present. “You don’t deserve this,” I said. “You don’t. I never thought you’d be less deserving than me, but I know I deserve better than you. I spent two years loving you Jason, two years of my life is gone because you didn’t love me back.” I shoved the package into his hands. “That’s what you’ll have instead of me, six years of friendship and nothing more.” And I walked out of the compartment and back down the hall, my heart breaking with every step.
Back in the compartment Jason simply stared down at the colorfully wrapped package in his hands. He was tossing over her words in his head. Loved him? Two years? What was she talking about?
He ripped off the wrapping to find a simple but elegant picture album inside with a picture of Allie and him in the front frame. It was taken after their fifth year when he’d spent a week at her house in Cambridge. They’d taken hundreds of pictures that summer. Jason had a copy of it back at his house in Ireland as well as a framed one in the drawer of his side table at school. He’d hidden it because of Nikki though. Shit!
He flipped through the album and found many other pictures of them inside, taken over the years. Each one of them showed Allie smiling at him or with him. The older pictures he noticed the friendly smile on her face, but as the pictures got more recent, her smile changed. She looked at him differently. How come he hadn't noticed this before?
Maybe because he’d been too wrapped up in himself to notice that the bookworm who he had loved for years actually loved him back…