Chapter 4: Gossip
Victoire grabbed the dresses out of Rose’s almost empty wardrobe and slung them over her arm. She’d kicked an exceedingly heavy trunk out of the way (with some effort) and spotted four cigarette butts stubbed out across the white washed furniture, and was tempted to set light to the rucksack that was propped up on the chest of drawers. He barely deserved to even have a bed to lie on.
“What are they for?”
She glanced up to see James, in all his oddly adult glory, leaning on the doorframe. She glanced to him, pushing her hair out of her face.
“You don’t know?” she prompted. He shook his head and she shut the wardrobe door. “It’s a party. Some of my friends.”
“Bit posh, isn’t it?” he asked, peering at the clothes bags as she pulled them tighter to her. “Keeping them out the dust for just a party?”
She said nothing. Not because she did not have an answer but because of the gleam in his eye, the gleam of green in navy blue. The gleam that should not have gleamed at all but it shimmered nonetheless. A wink. A silent acknowledgement. Knowledge superior to her expectations.
Not a question. A steadfast, certain statement and the words trembled in the air. His eyebrow cocked up in that untouchable, insufferable way that only James could manage and it read ‘I know’ and ‘I have no idea’ at the same time. His tongue teased itself around the front of his teeth.
And she was trapped. With a glare that embodied contempt itself, she scowled and left. James didn’t move a muscle until the front door slamming shut shook him and his laugh tripped from his mouth.
He must have thought she was stupid. His ridiculous contagious laugh followed her through the front door and down the drive to the edge of the property, even if it hadn’t trickled out of his mouth yet. Compressing the dresses against her stomach, she slammed the gate shut behind her and checking for any straying Muggles, Disapparated.
Her feet landed her within view of the orchard that obscured all but the peak of the cream marquee erected at the foot of the garden. She slipped through the gap in the hedge and Banished the dresses inside with a lazy flick of her wand. They zoomed away, flying through the back door and she could almost hear the satisfied click of coat hangers lining up on the clothes rack at the bottom of the kitchen.
“You look stressed.” Lily’s matter of fact voice burst out of nowhere and Victoire twirled on the spot to see her cousin with her wand in the air, charming bells onto the tree branches around the marquee. The blonde felt her cheeks heating up and she shook her head, pulling out her wand to help. “Oh, thanks.”
The redhead’s toothy smile flashed in her direction at the same moment that she tucked her wand away, collapsing onto the ground with a gentle thud.
“Have you heard?” she asked, picking at the grass at her feet. Dry mud slipped beneath stubby fingernails and Victoire glanced down concernedly.
“What about James?” She could feel her voice trembling in her throat but continued to set the bells on the branches, the ribbons tying in neat golden bows smiling to the skies. “Lil?” The redhead sighed a sigh of a girl who felt like the weight of the world was resting on her slim shoulders and Victoire frowned. Her cousin was regularly melodramatic, but her slumped posture and the way she was chewing on her lip gave away something else.
“I’m not meant to tell anyone,” she murmured, tugging at another clump of grass. The hardened mud dug into her fingertips and Victoire lowered her wand and sat down opposite her.
“Then why did you bring it up?” she asked, placing her hand over Lily's and forcing her gaze up.
“I know. I’ve just seen him.” The plan to lie, to pretend she’d known otherwise and put on a look of feigned shock, had fallen apart at the sight of her cousin’s hand lifting to wipe angrily across her cheeks. Lily was many, many things but a crier was not one of them. The redhead turned away, a sheet of poppy red hair falling over her cheeks. “Why?”
“Dunno,” Lily shrugged, her voice deep in her attempt to put the tears at bay. “Haven’t spoken to him. Don’t want to.” Victoire nodded slowly, pulling herself up again. She lifted her wand and hung another set of bells onto a branch. “Did Dom invite him?” Lily rose to her feet and pulled out her wand too. The blonde turned and shrugged.
“Do you want me to find out?”
Lily didn’t need to reply. Victoire had already started to walk to the boundary of the garden.
Stepping through the open front door of her sister’s mid-terraced cottage, Victoire was greeted with a shrill cry of, “-wanted pink
, you imbecile
,” and she cringed with pity for whichever poor sod had made the last error he might possibly make. Following the sounds of Dominique’s wailings, she found herself in the kitchen.
deal with this daft mare. I’m going for a fag,” was her welcome, before the redhead turned on the spot and disappeared out of the back door. A helpless looking teenager with greasy black hair and a flatter body than an ironing board turned around clutching a small bouquet of flowers in her hands, and Victoire sighed, running a hand over her forehead.
“Two minutes, love,” she said to the girl, who looked on the verge of tears. Stepping onto the cracked patio, Victoire perched on the upturned plant pot beside her younger sister and followed her gaze down to the dandelion growing out of one particularly large fissure in the stone. Wilting in the unnatural July heat, it looked almost grotesque, twisting around on itself in an unnatural fashion like a broken bone.
“Is it that fucking difficult to get a fucking colour scheme right?” Dominique muttered, twisting her watch around her wrist, the smoke from her cigarette drifting under Victoire’s nose and she wrinkled it in disgust.
“I don’t know. Is it that fucking difficult to keep your cancer risk to yourself?” the blonde retorted, giving her sister’s arm a shove. Dominique scowled and tapped the ash off the end of the cigarette, pulling it back to her lips for another drag.
“Never used to be a problem,” she replied, though turned her head away to expel the smoke this time and stubbed the cigarette out on the wall behind her, dropping it on the slabs. She stretched out her arms, leaning her head back on the wall and groaned. “What are you here for anyway?”
“Concern for my sister’s welfare, perhaps?” the blonde suggested. “Or for the welfare of the poor sods who stand in her way.” Dominique opened a closed eye to glare at her sister before sitting up straight again. “Okay, fine. I’m not going to beat about the bush. Did you invite James to the wedding?”
“James?” the younger woman said with such distaste and disgust that it would be hard to believe they were related. “What the fuck do you take me for, Vic? Of course I didn’t. I wouldn’t even know where to find him.” She glanced to her watch. “Fuck.” She got to her feet and wiped the back of her jeans swiftly. “I’ve got to go. Can you sort out that daft cow?”
Victoire bit back reprimanding comment that she had stored on the tip of her tongue and nodded, following her sister inside. The florist was still stood in the middle of kitchen where they’d left her, and for a moment, Victoire thought Dominique was going to punch her but she merely grabbed her jacket off the back of the chair and sent the girl a scathing glare before disappearing out of the front door. The blonde sighed and turned to the girl – who was looking more pathetic by the second. “Right. What’s the problem?”
James spun the hat he’d found in the bottom of his backpack around on his forefinger. His gaze was somewhat blurred as he strode through the town, his walk lacking purpose and destination, even effort. He seemed to move like he was being blown by the still air, twisting and turning with little concern for where he ended up. The spare change jangling in his pocket was useless; all spare Knuts and the odd Euro, and there was nothing in the town to even begin to interest him.
With a groan fuelled with boredom and petulant irritation, he fell onto an empty bench opposite the bank, the smell of freshly baked sausage rolls and jacket potatoes fluttering under his nose temptingly. He threw the hat back onto his head brushing strands of mocha brown hair out of his eyes and away from the thick rimmed glasses that rested on the bridge of his nose.
This was not
how it was meant to be. He was meant to be in control. He had planned every moment out. His mother was always going to be the challenge, Lily too, but he had expected tears first, arguments later. The way she looked like he wasn’t even worthy to grace the sole of her shoe had made him feel sick. Superiority complexes weren’t something he tolerated well.
“- two fucking
weeks it took me! I told her, mate, I said ‘you ain’t my kind of girl’ but would she listen? No, she went all clingy on me and look where she is now, sobbing her little heart out in Mona’s office. Daft bint.”
The conversation of two suited business men led the pack of suits and briefcases that were swarming up the high street. Shimmering grey jackets slung over their arms, pristine white shirts glowing in the sun, they seemed endless. Women in pencil skirts putting a whole new meaning on the term sexy secretary
followed in teetering heels. James didn’t need to think about it twice. He stuck on his swagger and tagged on at the back. When the brunette with the laddered tights held the door of the pub open for him, he smirked: every time.
Her name, it turned out, was Mia. Twenty-six, an underwriter, very, very
single. Her red lipsticked pout made the men’s wallets open without a word, the trail of her fingers down their arms made them pull out another tenner and pass it through her hands. A heavy wink in reply made them hiss at each other like overexcited school boys.
“Easy,” she murmured to James, tipping back another mouthful of the new drink. He drained his pint and smiled. “So, you new?”
“Not as such,” he replied, twisting his hands around the empty glass. He didn’t need to look up to see her cocked eyebrow. “I know my way around town, if that’s what you mean.” Her hair rustled against the neck of her blouse when she nodded.
“The house is empty, if you want to go back to mine?”
Her tone was light, playful, bordering on sultry. He could feel the alcohol taking effect under the cool exterior and glanced from her to the guy with arms like a gorilla and a face to match across the bar. His mouth twisted up into his favourite smirk and he closed the ever decreasing gap between him and the girl. His lips on hers gave her the answer she needed; his hand on her thigh merely a double confirmation.
Hand twisting into hand, they left.
“So, come on, why have I never seen you before?” the brunette murmured later in the day, tucking her hair into a makeshift ponytail and pulling his shirt tighter around her slender body as he rose from the nap he’d fallen into. He groaned, sitting up and pulling the remainder of his clothes towards him, tugging his boxers and trousers on and ruffling his hair.
“Living with my aunt and uncle for a bit. I’m not in my parents’ good books.”
He swung off the bed and crept up behind her as she tucked stray hairs behind her ears and swept her fingers under her eyes, dusting away bits of mascara she’d rubbed off upon her own awakening. His hands slipped around her waist and he rested his chin on her shoulder, kissing her cheek and smiling. She turned in his grasp and raised her eyebrows.
“And why might that be?”
He held her gaze for a moment, eyes drifting from neatly arching eyebrows to tight lips to the mirror where he could see his shirt barely covering her lower body and back to her dark brown eyes. With a wink, he released her, tapping his nose with one finger before dipping his head back down to peck her lips.
“Can I have my shirt back? I’d best get going.”
She didn’t argue with him, merely grabbed her dressing gown from the back of the door and slipped his shirt off her back. Faintly stained with the smell of her Givenchy, he pulled it on and made to kiss her again.
“No, best not,” she muttered, ducking away and pulling the belt of her gown tighter. “Let’s not pretend you’re coming back.” He said nothing, merely nodded in a complete understanding of what she was saying, and left. Rolling his sleeves to his elbows, he shut the door of the flat quietly behind him.
The ‘morning after’ conversation wasn’t quite as bad as he’d thought it would be. Perhaps he ought to have tried it sooner?
A/N: So the quality is slowly going downhill! I had such a problem with this chapter and I'm struggling with the next, but hopefully there will be some answers to your questions in the next one.
Thoughts on James? He's kind of spiralling out of control every time I sit down to write him. I'm not sure he's staying in character so anything you can say on that would give me a huge hand. Other characters are much the same; they all keep appearing for about 500 words a piece and I'm not sure their characters are really coming across very well.
Next chapter iiis about 3/4 done. Hopefully I can get that finished over the queue closure and make a start on the 6th too. Hope you enjoyed!