Chapter 16 : Perfection, Paradoxes, And All That Jazz
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I am not a morning person. Seriously. Even when I get, say, twelve hours of sleep, I’m still grumpy when I wake up. And now that I think about it, it doesn’t even matter if it’s morning or not. I guess you could say that I’m not a waking up person - I just like sleep in general.
And to be honest, sleeping on the cold hard floor for an entire night and getting around five hours of sleep doesn’t seem like it would improve my morning mood.
But right now, I’m not minding the morning so much.
It may have something to do with the fact that when I open my eyes, the first thing I see is James’s face. He’s already awake, of course. He would be, wouldn’t he? Freakish child.
“Morning,” he says softly.
I take a good look at him and immediately start to laugh. James’s hair sticks up crazily, a thousand times worse than normal, which is really saying something. The weird thing is, though, that on any other guy it would probably just look ridiculous. But on him, it looks ridiculous and kind of hot.
“What?” he asks defensively, nervously running his fingers through said hair, making it even more messed up.
“You look cute in the morning,” I giggle.
A sly grin tugs at the corner of his mouth as he moves around a bit, scooching upright so he can lean his back against the wall. “You think I’m cute?”
“Don’t let it go to your head.”
I feel my cheeks flush as his grin widens, so I duck my head into his chest to hide the growing blush. “You’re not that good looking,” I mutter.
“Really, you’re not.”
“If you say so.”
“You’re being quite rude, you know,” I comment mischievously, lifting my head from his chest. “I gave you a compliment, and you haven’t given me one back.”
James is silent for a moment, but before long his eyes find mine. “I think we both know what I think about you, Bel.”
My blush grows brighter, but this time I don’t try to hide it. Instead, I find myself caught up in absorbing every detail of his eyes, memorizing how the brown near the center slowly fades out into flecks of green around the edges. I think I could spend hours just sitting here, staring at his eyes, and it still wouldn’t be enough.
This whole moment reminds me of the first time he tried to kiss me, the night when we sat together in the middle of the hallway and talked about genetics for Merlin knows why. And just like before, I feel my heart rate ratchet up a notch, my pulse quicken, and my blood pump ever faster through my veins. And just like before, I feel time suspend itself as the world melts into the background. And just like before, I see his face lean in to kiss me.
But this time, I let him.
It only lasts a few seconds, but Merlin, it’s more than enough.
The thing is, whenever James kisses me, it’s so much different than from anybody else. Like this one - it’s just a light press on the lips, but it’s enough to make my head spin and send electricity flying through my body. And I don’t even think it’s all to do with the person, I think it’s something to do with the type of kiss as well.
It’s sweet - simple as that. I’m not used to this kind of kiss; I’m used to the longer ones that are a bit more physical. And sure, those are fun, but they never, never, made me feel like this.
As James moves slowly away from my mouth, I flutter my eyelids open, only to find myself locked into his eyes again. “You have to stop doing that,” I whisper as soon as I can find my voice.
“You have to stop letting me.”
All I see are his eyes, and nothing else matters anymore.
If this is what love feels like, then maybe it won’t be so bad after all.
“Can we just stay here forever?” I mumble softly, snuggling up against his side.
“That would be nice, wouldn’t it?”
“I just don’t want to deal with real life right now. Not that I ever really want to deal with anything because according to Alex I have no coping skills, but -”
“What did Alex say to you?” James asks, curling his arm around my shoulder.
“After the Quidditch match.”
“Oh.” I reach for his hand unconsciously as the memory floats up to the surface, just wanting to keep a hold on him so I know he’s still here. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Yes, it does,” he insists quietly. “He made you cry, Aria. It matters. Talk to me.”
A silence pulses between us for a few seconds before I breathe in deeply and punctuate the stillness with my response. “He called me a whore and then asked how much - how much it would -” I cut off into a ragged breath, turning my head away from James so he can’t see the look on my face.
“It’s okay,” he murmurs. “You don’t have to say it.”
“No, I want to. I want to have it out in the open. He - he asked how much it would cost and then - and then he - he gave - he gave me -”
Once again I find myself unable to finish, so James pulls me closer and says, “He gave you something?”
I nod and squeeze my eyes shut, fighting against the tears threatening to spill out at any second. “A Galleon.”
James doesn’t have any words for this; all he can do is tug me a bit tighter to him and softly rub his hand up and down my arm.
“He reminds me of Ryan,” I whisper, not even quite sure why I say it.
“You’re telling me you dated someone like Alex?”
“I mean, not exactly. Just in the general way they both make me feel like shit.”
James sighs heavily and switches from rubbing my arm to tracing patterns on it with his finger tip. “At least Ryan was only around for a month, right?”
“You told me you dated him for a month.”
“Technically I dated him for a month the last time I dated him.”
“It was more than once?”
“Well, yes. It was off and on for about a year.”
James’s finger stops tracing, and he turns his head so he can look directly at me. “So you lied to me, then?”
“Not exactly,” I say slowly, “I just didn’t tell you the whole story.”
“Would you care to tell me the whole thing now?”
I sigh and drop my head onto his shoulder, threading my fingers carefully between his before I begin. “The thing you have to understand is that I’ve never had a lot of friends. Girls don’t like me. Never have. So I guess I just... I become very attached to whatever guy I happen to be dating. Does that make sense?”
“Okay. So, um, Ryan. See, at home, he was the king. He was that guy. He was the guy that every single girl coveted.”
“So he was the Salem version of me, then?” James says jokingly.
I roll my eyes, but can’t help but laugh at his ridiculous comment. “Take the ego down a peg, will you?” I ask as I nudge him in the side.
“All right, all right. I was kidding. Jeesh.”
“Anyway, that was Ryan. And then suddenly he wanted me. I mean, what was I supposed to do? Yeah, he was the cockiest bastard on the face of the planet, but he was popular. He was like a god back then, walking among common men. And being with someone popular makes you popular, too. As soon as I started walking around with him everyone wanted to be my friend. And it just... it made me feel good.”
“Then what?” James asks softly, lightly beginning to trace his patterns again.
“Then... nothing. We dated, simple as that. I mean, I knew from the beginning that he couldn’t care less about me. I’m not stupid, James. I know why he was interested in me. He only kept me around so he could have something to show off and something to play with. It was almost like a game to Ryan and his friends - ‘let’s see who can date the hottest chick.’ It’s the only reason any guy’s ever interested in me. I know that. Like I said, I’m not stupid.”
“You don’t really think that, do you? You can’t think that the only reason blokes are into you is because of how you look -”
“James, I know that’s why.”
“It’s not,” he protests quietly, “and I don’t want you to think that way.”
I stay silent as his words ring softly around the little balcony, staring at the way my hand fits perfectly into his. And as weird as it may seem, even though my life is going horribly wrong right now, just being around him makes me happy. But I know this can’t last forever, and that makes everything about this moment hurt.
I don’t think I’ll ever have another moment as heartbreakingly perfect as this. Nothing about this is over the top or romantic; it’s just the two of us sitting quietly on the floor of the little alcove. I think it's that simplicity that makes this moment so perfect. It's the fact that it’s just the two of us, two people in love. My perfect moment doesn’t have to be elaborate or extravagant. He just has to be here with me, and then everything will be okay.
“Hey,” James murmurs. “Talk to me.”
It’s almost strange how well he knows me now. He knows when I’m holding back; he knows when I’ve put the wall up again.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I say, still absorbed by our hands.
“I don’t want to ruin this moment.”
“And how exactly would you ruin it?”
“I know that if I start talking truthfully about Ryan, I’m going to cry.”
“That wouldn’t ruin anything, Aria. You need to talk about this with someone.”
“I - I just -” I break off, eyes trailing out over the library below us. “The whole relationship was horrible.”
“I thought he made you feel good about yourself.”
“At first, yeah, it was great. Everyone wanted to be friends with me. But after a couple of weeks, things got bad. He turned cold, I turned cold, the whole relationship, everything - it turned colder. That's where it ends.”
“What do you mean by cold?”
“I don’t know... he just had this way of making me feel worthless. It was never like he would come out and say anything, he would just make these snide little comments that would eat away at me.”
I sigh and comb my free hand back through my hair, pulling at all the knots that amassed in it during the night. I know that I should talk about this, I know I should tell him, but I really don’t want to. I don’t want to go back to that time, no matter how much I need to. But I trust him, and if he thinks talking is what’s best for me, then I guess I can do it.
“It was just - you know how I like to eat, right?” I begin.
James snorts at this, so I elbow him in the stomach. Hard. “I think we all know how much you like to eat,” he says, removing his hand from my grasp so he can rub his stomach.
“Okay, so I eat a lot. But I exercise and I have Quidditch, so I don’t really put on weight. I mean, I’m not skinny but I’m not heavy, either. I’m normal, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Is there a correct answer to this question?”
“Oh, shut up,” I mutter, elbowing him in the stomach again.
“What? I’ve learned to never discuss a woman’s weight with her after growing up with a multitude of female relatives.”
“Okay, whatever. My point is, I know I’m perfectly fine as far as my body goes. I know that. But Ryan would just make these comments when we would go out to eat or whatever. It was like, ‘are you really going to eat all of that?’ or ‘don’t you think you’ve had enough already?’ I don’t know... it was just the way he would say things and the way he would look at me. It was like I was never good enough for him. I knew he only wanted me because of how I looked, and I even failed at that.”
“Was that it?”
“No, God, no. It wasn’t just about weight - it was everything. Everything I did was wrong. I could never please him; I always had to mess something up. But with the thing about food, that was the worst of it, at least in my mind. I - I just - I don’t want to talk about this.”
“I know you don’t, but I think you should. It’s not good to keep these things inside. I didn’t want to talk about Alex with you, but I did, and it’s made things so much better,” he says as he reaches for my hand again.
“I was in such a bad place, James,” I whisper, feeling the beginning stings of tears forming at my eyes. “My parents begged me to break up with him. It got to the point where every date we would go on would just end up with me crying and screaming at him. It got so bad - I - for a while, I stopped eating -”
“What?” he demands.
“I just wanted him to like me. But nothing I did was ever good enough for him - I was never good enough for him. And you know - you know how a while back I told you that Adam punched him because he was bragging about all the girls he’d slept with? Yeah, that wasn’t completely true - he was bragging about all the girls he’d slept with while he was dating me. And I just - I -” I cut off abruptly, turning my face away from James so he can’t see the tears that start to roll down my cheeks.
I know that if I look at him I’m going to lose it. And to be honest, I think I’ve made him sit through enough of me crying this year to last a lifetime. I feel like I shouldn’t have to make him put up with this, not after everything else he’s gone through.
So I look away, press my lips into a hard line, and squeeze my eyelids shut as tight as they can go, trying to focus on anything except for Ryan. This is why I don’t dig up those memories. This is why I lock them away as far as I can. I can’t do this. I’m not cut out for dealing with emotions.
But no matter how hard I try, I just can’t ignore the damage he’s done to me. I can’t ignore how all of his comments continuously knocked down my self-esteem. I can’t ignore how his wandering eyes made me feel like I could never be good enough. I can’t ignore what he’s done to me anymore, not now that I’ve brought it up. I can’t ignore the fact that he’s the reason I’m so screwed up.
I can’t ignore him. Not anymore.
I feel James’s hand slowly untangle itself from mine, and for a brief moment an uncontrollable panic rushes over me. He can’t leave - I need him here. I just told him everything; I told him everything that I could never tell anyone else. And if he leaves - I don’t think I could take that.
But all of my panic dissipates instantly as I feel his hand lightly grab onto my chin and turn my face around towards him. “Open your eyes,” he says softly. I shake my head defiantly, but he persists with his coaxing. “Look at me.”
And this time, I do. I find his eyes immediately, and right away I feel a pain running through my chest. It hurts because I know this is all I can ever have from him, that we’ll be forever stuck as only friends. It hurts because I know how much he wishes we could be something more, and how he thinks I don’t feel the same way. But most of all, it hurts because I have the words on the tip of my tongue, the three words that I want so desperately to say, the three words that would make all of this better.
I want to say them so badly, so badly that it’s ripping me in half. After all the time I’ve wasted, I’ve finally found the one person who is everything Ryan never was. And it just seems so unfair that the one person I’ve been looking for is the one person who is completely off limits.
I just have to keep reminding myself that I’m doing this for Jett. He deserves to be happy. For once, I can’t be selfish; for once, I have to put someone else before myself.
“He really hurt you, didn’t he?” James asks quietly.
All I can do is nod, and then both of his arms are around me before I can even think. But really, I don’t even need to think. It’s all just feeling right now; all the feeling of letting everything go. It’s the hurt and the anger and the insecurities and just all of it out in a rush of emotion through my body.
And then I completely breakdown.
His shirt muffles the sound of my sobbing, but that’s not the reason I cling so desperately to him. I grab onto him, bury myself in him, because I need to know that he’s here. I need him so incredibly much that I can’t even begin to comprehend how I couldn't see my feelings for him before.
My world is so uncontrollable, so unpredictable, and yet somehow he’s always here for me, my constant. I need that. I need him.
I feel like I’ve been so blind. I don’t know when or why or even how, but I know that I’ve fallen so hard and so fast. I just don’t understand any of this. I don’t understand how this could happen, especially without me knowing it.
Please, Wizard God, I’d just like you to explain - I’d like you to explain how I could be dating the nicest, sweetest, most adorable guy I’ve ever met, but somehow manage to fall for his best friend.
Because I really just don’t get it.
And do you want to know something? That absolutely terrifies me. I don’t know how this works and I sure as hell don’t know how it’s going to end. For someone who always needs control, always needs logic, always needs order, this is a complete nightmare.
I’m terrified of love. Completely and utterly terrified.
But at the same time, I’m so terrified of losing him.
How’s that for a paradox?
I hate you, Wizard God, I really do.
So I cry not only because of how much it hurts to think of Ryan, but also because I’m scared and confused and in love. I cry because I can’t even begin to understand how someone like James could want me, could fall for me, when no one else does. I cry because I’ve done nothing but hurt him, and yet he’s still here for me when I need him. And most of all, I cry because I know I’m going to keep hurting him, every single day, because I can’t ever give him anything more than friendship.
“I’m sorry,” I somehow manage to choke out.
“It’s okay,” James whispers, pulling me closer. But it’s not okay, and it never will be. I’m sorry for so many more things than he knows, so many things that he will never find out. “It’s okay. Just let it out.”
And then I feel my heart break all over again.
This is so unfair. Just so damn unfair. It’s not fair that he does so much for me and I can’t do anything for him. It’s not fair that he’s the person who always has to get hurt. It’s just not fair to him.
He deserves better than me. Maybe that’s why I always stick it out with guys like Ryan - maybe it’s because I know that I’m no better than they are.
My breakdown slowly melts away as the minutes pass, and after a time I find my body still and eyes dry of tears. But James and I don’t move, we just stay as we are, my head flush against his chest and his arms comfortably around me.
“He’s the reason I didn’t like you at first, you know,” I comment softly, breaking the stillness.
“I met you and I immediately labeled you the new Ryan. You acted like a jerk, so I just associated you with him. He was the last guy I dated before the move, and it was really fresh in my mind. I just wanted to avoid ever feeling like that again, so I checked you off as another asshole and stayed as far away as I could.”
There’s a brief pause of silence after I finish speaking as James ponders my words. While I wait for a response, I gently pull my head away from his chest and maneuver around so I can lean my back against him.
“You were right,” he says eventually. “You were right in labeling me that way. I did act like a git when we met, and I’m not proud of it. But you have to know that’s not me. That’s not me at all.”
“That guy you met on the train was society’s expectations of me. There’s something about being the firstborn of a famous person - people expect me to be that guy; they expect me to be like Ryan. I’m supposed to be arrogant and rude. I’m supposed to be the one who always wants to be at the center of attention. But that’s just not me.”
James sighs and plants a kiss on the top of my head before continuing on. “I mean, I guess to some extent I am like that naturally. Not a lot, mind you. You know who I am, and I’m not really like that. I’d be perfectly content to go sit out under a tree and read all the time, but unfortunately that doesn’t go over too well with the rest of the world. It’s so much easier to act the way they want me to. And I just - I’m afraid that I might actually be turning into that guy. I’m scared that I’m losing myself.”
“I don’t think you’re losing yourself at all,” I say quietly, running my finger along the outline of his left hand. “All you have to do is let people see the person I see.”
“That’s why I liked you so much at first, you know,” he comments slyly.
“You didn’t care who I was or what my ‘justification’ was. You saw that I was an arse and didn’t put up with it.”
“And that made you like me?” I ask skeptically.
“Well, yeah. I felt like if I only got to know you better - and if you didn’t hate me - then I could be my real self around you. I mean, you didn’t have any expectations of how I should act, and I liked that. I still do.”
“How long what?”
“How long have you fancied me?”
I twist around so I can glance at James’s face, only to find it turning slowly red. He avoids my questioning gaze, eyes locked determinedly straight in front of him. “You know how on the train I couldn’t remember your name?”
“Yeah...” I say slowly, continuing to watch as his face progresses to a brighter shade of red.
“That was acting.”
“I don’t follow.”
“I actually sort of maybe knew your name before you introduced yourself.”
“Still confused here.”
“Okay, look,” James says forcefully. “You know I’m a big fan of your dad, right?”
I nod, thinking back to that infamous night in the hallway. “Yeah, you mentioned it to me once.”
“You and your dad are very close, so you do a lot of things together. And your dad’s sort of famous, so he’s in magazines a lot. Well, when you two do things together, your picture gets put in the magazines as well. Like Quidditch Weekly, for example. You two are almost always in that one.”
“I’m still confused as to what you’re getting at here.”
“What I’m saying is that I’ve seen you a lot in magazines. I read all of your dad’s interviews, and he mentions you in them fairly often.”
“So, the point is...”
“I knew who you were the moment I saw you.”
“Well, that’s absolutely fabulous, but you still haven’t answered the original question,” I remark dryly, slowly beginning to trace the outside of his right hand.
“Merlin, you’re thick sometimes,” James mutters. “I sort of maybe started fancying you before we actually met.”
“You did not!” I exclaim, twisting around so I can look at his face again. By now he’s gone completely red, and his eyes still stare straight ahead, never daring once to look down at me.
“Yeah, haha, it’s very funny. I know.”
“Oh my God, you did have a crush on me!”
“Do we really have to talk about this?” James asks, and if possible, his face gains even more color.
“Aw, is wittle Jamesie embarrassed of his wittle crush?
“I knew I should have never told you that.”
“I personally think it’s adorable,” I say, sitting upright so I can peck him on the cheek. Too bad James has other ideas.
He turns his head so my lips go crashing into his, and then he’s kissing me and I’m kissing him and it doesn’t stop, it just keeps going.
I know I should push him away because this is leading him on, but I just can’t. Let it be known to the world that I, Aria Fields, have no willpower. And all because of a boy. Granted, it’s a boy that I’m in love with, but still.
Everything about this is so right, so perfect, and I want him so badly. How his lips feel against mine, how his hand is slowly inching up my back, how our bodies press together - it’s just perfect.
James’s kisses become more tentative as the minutes pass, and I know he’s trying his hardest to back off, to get himself under control.
But I don’t want to stop.
And then suddenly I’m the one who can’t control myself, I’m the one deepening the kiss, I’m the one pushing our bodies closer together. The feeling of him everywhere drives me crazy, makes me slide my hands up his chest, flick my tongue towards his lips - I just want more.
But then the idiot goes and pulls his mouth away from mine, pushing me away gently with a palm to my shoulder. “Aria,” he says, “I -”
James’s words are lost as I force my lips back onto his mouth. I don’t care what he has to say - I just want him. My fingers slide farther along his chest, trace up his neck, wind up through his hair - God, this is perfect -
“Aria, please,” he whispers, somehow managing to pull himself away again. “Please stop.” His eyes search mine questioningly, our faces barely an inch apart. I slowly relax my fingers, letting his hair slip softly out of my grasp, never tearing my eyes from his.
“I - James -”
“I need you to stop talking. Just stop. Please.” It’s hard to miss the desperation in his voice, the desperation that rips through each word. James sighs and shuts his eyes, breathing in deeply as he does so.
“What’s wrong?” I ask quietly after I give him a few minutes of silence.
“What’s wrong?” he repeats gruffly. “What’s bloody wrong? What’s wrong is that this doesn’t mean to you what it does to me. What’s wrong is that if you don’t get away from me, I don’t think I’ll be able to control myself. What’s wrong is that I fucking love you, and this is how you treat me.”
“I thought - I thought this was what you wanted -”
“Of course I want this! Of course I want you - Merlin, I want you - but I don’t want you like this. I want to mean something to you. I want to mean something more than just a good snog.”
“James, you’re not just -”
“Don’t you get it? I don’t want to be just another guy, Aria. I don’t want to be just another cycle in your pattern. God, wasn’t Alex enough for you?”
His words sting mercilessly as they echo around our little alcove, biting at my heart. He’s right, though. I didn’t even think once what this would look like to him, how it would seem like I was using him.
“I’m sorry,” James mutters, running his fingers angrily through his hair. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Aria, look at me,” he says softly. “I know you don’t understand when I say this, and I know you don’t want to hear it, but I’m in love with you. I don’t think I could handle being just another bloke - I want to be your everything.”
I back away slowly from him as I process his words, putting a large space between our bodies. “You have to get over me,” I whisper, feeling my heart break with every word.
“I don’t think I can.”
“I know,” he murmurs. “I know it’s pointless. You think I don’t realize that? Jett’s my best friend. I know what that means for us - I know it means we’re never going to happen. I know that I could never hurt him like that. But most importantly, I know how you feel about him. I get it.”
I pull my knees up to my chest and stare blankly out at the library, eyes lingering on each individual stack of books as I slowly comb my way through the entire room. But this doesn’t distract me from the pain in my chest, so I wrap my arms as tight around my legs as they can go, hoping that it will keep me together. I feel like a gaping hole has been drilled right through me, and any second now I’m just going to fall apart.
“We should go,” I say quietly, praying that he can’t hear the pain in my voice.
James gets to his feet wordlessly and offers a hand to pull me up. We head out of the alcove and I let him lead me, as I have absolutely no idea where we are. Eventually we emerge out of a secret passage and into a main corridor, which I recognize as being in the west side of the castle near Ravenclaw Tower.
James softly brushes a few strands of hair behind my ear as we stand still in the corridor, both of us unwilling to leave the other. “I love you so much,” he whispers, thumb brushing gently down the side of my face.
Then I stand on my tip-toes and press my lips to his, knowing that if I don’t keep my mouth busy I’m going to tell him how I feel. I expect him to pull away like he did before, but he doesn’t this time. Instead, he places his hands on my hips and tugs me closer, so I wrap my arms around his neck, unwilling to let him go.
If this is all I can have, then I’m going to make the most of it.
“Well, well, well. Isn’t this cosy?”
I jerk away from James suddenly as the voice registers in my brain, terror taking over my body instantly.
“Fucking hell,” James mutters.
“Really, you’re making this too easy for me,” Alex says, smirking as he walks towards us. “It isn’t even fun anymore. No, scratch that, I’m still enjoying myself quite immensely.”
“What do you want?” James spits out, hands curling into fists at his sides.
“Me? Oh, nothing, just your pain and suffering.”
My eyes dart to James just as his eyes find mine, and for a moment all we can do is exchange looks of fear. There’s no way that this situation is going to end well.
Alex’s smirk grows ever wider as he looks at us, delight evident in his expression. “So, I hear you two are in love?”
A/N: So... lots of James/Aria for you in this one. I hope this chapter turned out all right; I’m getting less and less certain with these as the story goes on. I mean, I was happy with the way the last chapter (15) turned out, but I feel like not a lot of people liked it because it seeemd like a lot of people unfavorited. Or maybe it's just my mind playing tricks on me. Who knows. I guess that's why I'm just not very sure about posting this one :/ Hopefully you liked it! Either way, please tell me your thoughts.
Anyway, enough of my worries. Here's hoping this chapter was better for you all :)
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