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Chapter 7 : The Surrealness of Reality
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MS: When you first met Alex, you knew immediately that he was your son. What made you so sure?
JP: He looks so much like me.
MS: What about in disposition?
JP: I’d say he’s a mixture of both of us.
MS: So you saw some of Johanna’s traits in him?
JP: Of course, she’s his mother for god’s sake. Micah, where are you going with this?
MS: Did you think of those traits as faults in your son?
I had long ago accepted that there were just some answers the world would never give you—like why my mom and dad couldn’t have remembered the bloody charm after having me, and thus depriving me of the peace of mind that comes with being an only child—but that doesn’t mean I have stopped wondering about them.
This became especially true when I woke up at six o’clock in the morning to pee and found my brother sitting at my kitchen table, staring blankly out the window as he fiddled with a small piece of paper in his hands. I was long past wondering how people get in my hotel room without my permission—apparently the security in this place really sucked. What I wanted to know was why.
As far as I knew, he hadn’t come back to the party after dropping Jo off to pick up her kid, but then again, maybe we had just missed each other. For the first time in a long time I had come back from a party early and alone. I wasn’t in the mood for company in any sense of the word.
“What the fuck are you doing here, Al? Shouldn’t you be at your own place, asleep like every other sane person in the world?”
“I wouldn’t have been able to sleep.”
“Good for you.” So he had come here to make sure I couldn’t as well? How considerate. “That still doesn’t explain what you’re doing here.”
His eyes didn’t move away from the twinkling of lights across the dark skyline, lost in his own little world. A strange feeling took root inside me, part worry and part apprehension. This wasn’t like Al at all. I had never known him to be so detached from reality—so distracted.
“Al what’s wrong?” My voice was half concern and half commanding; the big brother combination I hadn’t had to use on him for years.
He looked up at me and then back at the paper, clearly torn. It took a moment for him to make his decision and I couldn’t help but wonder what could possibly be tarring him up so bad. What had Jo done this time?
“You need to talk to Jo.” The look in his eyes was so lost that I almost believed him. I had to say he was getting good at acting. Too good. I don’t know who else was in on this desperate plain of his to get Jo and I back together but I did know there was no way it was going to work; there was no coming back from something like that.
I didn’t have the energy to play his game. Not right now. Not on three hours of sleep.
“Good night Al,” I said, turning to walk back into my room and craw into the welcoming embrace of sleep. Al could do whatever the hell he wanted for all I cared as long as he didn’t wake me up.
“The kid is seven, James,” he said, voice shaking slightly, “I can count backwards.”
My hand stilled on the door frame and for a second I was about to turn and yell at Al. Pranks were almost as sacred as quidditch in our family but even the worst of us knew that there was a line you never crossed. Convincing Molly that she had managed to cook a pregnant turkey when she helped Nana with Christmas dinner was one thing…but this? Al knew better.
That right… he did. He wouldn’t do this to me. Ever. Which left only one option.
“Is that what she told you?” I said with a laugh. Al had never been that gullible, but I guess there’s a first time for everything.
A small part of me whispered that Jo had never been THAT vindictive either but I didn’t listen.
“I have eyes, James. She didn’t have to!” He said sharply as he slid the paper over towards me.
I had seen enough of my own baby picture to recognize the face staring back at me out of the muggle photograph. But I knew it wasn’t me. It couldn’t be. He stood there his backpack slung over one shoulder and a calm, curious expression dancing at the corner of his lips. Jo’s family was in the background as if they were seeing him off to his first day of school or something.
“If this is some sort of sick joke…”I whispered, sitting down in the chair opposite Al. I was numb with shock. Deep within my heart of hearts I had still wanted to believe better of Jo. I had still believed that she wouldn’t hurt me like that again but apparently I was wrong.
This was almost as bad as before. No. It was worse. Last time had only been about what could be. This time was about what was.
“Do you think so low of me?” He whispered but I didn’t answer. I didn’t need to. He knew that.
“Do you think so low of her?” He whispered in the same hurt and slightly shocked voice.
I looked up from the photo. Did he have to ask? Especially now? After this?
It took a second for the shock to wear off. The moment my mind could really work again, it took off at full speed. This time I didn’t have to remind myself to hate her. Al had done that for me.
“Where is she!” I said my voice raw and horse like I was exhaling ground glass. Why was my throat so sore? I tasted salt and realized that I had been crying, something I hadn’t done for a long time. I had reason though, didn’t I?
He looked conflicted almost like he was fighting with himself over whether or not to tell me. Whose side was he on? He couldn’t just barge in here, drop a bomb like that on me and then refuse to tell me where she lived.
“Where is she!” I repeated harsher than ever. Al’s eyes hardened and I knew he had made his decision.
“Give me your wand.” I stopped, confused. Of all the things he could have said, that was the last thing I expected.
“Give me your wand before I tell you.” His voice gained confidence until he had the balls to act like he was the one who had any right to make any demands right now, “I’m not going to let you go over there just to hex her.”
“She deserves it and more!” My voice dared him to challenge me. Hexing her hadn’t been my intention; actually I wasn’t sure what my intentions were beyond seeing my kid, but now that I thought about it, hexing her didn’t seem like all that bad of an idea.
“But in front of the kid? Do you really think that will help you any if the first time you meet Alex is when you hexing his mother?” His words stopped me cold. Damn Albus for being the voice of reason, but he was right. Oh God was he right.
Alex. That’s what Al had called him. Was that his name?
How fucked up was all this? I didn’t even know my own kids name. I didn’t know his birthday or his favorite color or anything.
I handed the wand over; hexing her wasn’t worth another day in the dark.
“Where are they?” I whispered.
Albus sighed. He took my wand and used it to write an address on the back of the photo. I took and read the words over and over as I got ready to desperate.
“James,” he said looking at me like he was talking to a small child, “don’t fuck this up.”
And that’s how I found myself standing outside my ex-girlfriend’s door at six in the morning feeling like an idiot. What was I thinking? No one’s going to answer the door; everyone normal person in the world is asleep right now and I wouldn’t put it past Jo to have bewitched the doorbell not to buzz for me.
If I was smart I would go back to my hotel room and sleep for another couple of hours and then comeback when I actually talk to someone, but I knew that with my luck if I did that then I would wind up missing them.
The door opened while I was there arguing with myself. Alex stood there in his pajamas looking up at me with an alertness that could only come from having been up for a while.
I just stood staring at him like an idiot but I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Shit. What was I supposed to say? Do I tell him the truth? Oh god that could go so wrong.
Suddenly I was having a flash back to when Jo forced us all to watch the entire Star Wars saga at once. I thought they were shit (although seeing the look on Draco Malfoy’s face when he realized his son had become obsessed with the muggle franchise was enough to make the sixteen hours of hell worth it). I mean really, Vader had no tact.
“Are you Mr. Al’s brother?” Alex said, bringing me out of my random musings. I looked down at him slightly confused and a little angry. So he already knows Al but not me. When I had talked to my brother earlier I hadn’t realized that they had managed to get to know each other. I had just kind of assumed that Al had seen him in passing or something.
“Er…yeah.” I muttered, trying to get my mind around the shear awkwardness of the situation. How much did he know? How much did I tell him? More importantly, if I waited for Jo to tell him, would she ever do it or would I just be the stranger at the door?
“What tipped you off?” Making small talk like this was painful but I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“You look like him,” he said opining the door wide to let me in. I wanted to refute him, to say that Al and I hadn’t looked alike since we were kids but my mind wasn’t working right at the moment.
“So that would make you either my uncle or my dad. I think it’s dad though, Al only mentioned one brother,” he continued as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. I blinked in surprise. What. The. Hell? This kid was not normal. No kid could be that perceptive. Not at—what was he?—seven.
My brain was hazy with shock, exhaustion, and the lasting effects of my binging last night. Forgive me if I couldn’t come up with a competent reply to his observation.
“Didn’t Jo ever teach you not to open the door for strangers?” I said, changing the subject as I stepped into the apartment.
“You’re not a stranger,” he said with a little shrug as he pulled a chair up to the stove and opened the refrigerator, “Besides, Mom put a spell on the bell; it sounds one way if it’s someone she trusts and it sounds a different way if it’s someone she doesn’t—that way she knows if she wants to answer it or not. It keeps the hobo witnesses away.”
“Oh,” I said. I had no idea what a ‘hobo witness’ was but the rest of it sounds like something Jo would do. Actually the most surprising thing about his explanation was that fact that I was supposedly included on the ‘trusted’ list. I would have put money on Jo trying to avoid me, maybe going to stay with her brother for the next few years or something.
“Do you want some eggs?” he said, turning his head away from inside the fridge.
“Shure,” I muttered. Maybe getting something to eat would help with the butterflies in my stomach.
Alex stopped up on the chair he had just moved into position and began messing with the dials. It took a second for what he was trying to do to register in my already shell shocked brain.
“Why don’t I do that?” I said reaching to take the carton of eggs from his hands. It’s not like I knew how to cook any better than he probably did but at least I wouldn’t catch the apartment on fire.
He tilted his head to the side and gave me a little smile. I don’t know if he just had a bit too much of Jo in him or if I was getting paranoid, but I could swear there was a bit of a condescending tug at his lips. “It’s oaky. Mom put a spell on the stove so that I can’t get burned or start a fire.”
“That’s good to know,” I muttered, my mind still not quite over the surrealness of the entire situation. “Do you always make breakfast?”
I mean really, what parent gives their seven year old kid free reign of the kitchen? And what kind of kid actually wants to cook? When I was his age I hated being in that particular room (usually because if I wasn’t eating it meant chores) and couldn’t wait to get outside to play. But this kid… my kid…
Alex leans over almost as if to tell me a great secret despite the fact that there was no one else around.
“Don’t tell Mommy I said this,” He whispered so earnestly, “but her cooking taste like butt. I had to do something. Really, a kid can only eat cereal so much before they feel like their ready to barf.” That was odd. I never remembered Jo being particularly bad at cooking, (she was no Nana Molly, but she wasn’t as bad as Alex made it seem) so either Jo had gotten worse in that last eight years, or Alex was one hell of a picky eater.
I filed that little factoid away in my mind for later before turning back to my son. God what a crazy thought.
“Besides,” he said continuing to stir the eggs, “Mommy says it’s good practice for when I’m big enough for her to teach potions.”
That brought my attention back to the here and now. I had been so focused on meeting Alex that I had completely forgotten why I had come over in the first place, but a part of me was glad of that. Having these few moments to get to know Alex before the inevitable explosion of drama was probably a good thing. It gave me a chance for him not to hate me.
If I was smart I would have drawn it out; would have held onto those moments harder. But then again I had never been mistaken for a Ravenclaw.
“Where is your mom?” I asked.
“She’s asleep. It’s only six thirty.” Alex just tilted his head to the side and looked at me like I was stupid and I couldn’t help but compare him to Jo. He looked like me—there was no denying it—but he was more like Jo in personality.
I didn’t hate him for it; I couldn’t…but I wasn’t sure I liked it either. Don’t give me that look. I know I have been using the same excuses a lot lately, but I was tired, hung-over, and angry. Add that to the fact that although I knew Alex was my son the truth hadn’t clicked in my mind yet, I had a good reason to be more than a little confused.
Really, didn’t most people have months to get ready for fatherhood and years of practice before they had to deal with a weird seven year old? I had what, an hour? All and all I think I was handling it pretty well.
“Then why aren’t you asleep?” It was a valid question. Hell, that’s where I would be if all this shit hadn’t come to light, besides isn’t that one of the things parents are supposed to be concerned about?
“I’m an innomeiac,” he said as if it explained everything but I had no idea what he was talking about.
“It’s Insomniac.” Jo said from the doorway. She didn’t seem surprised or perturbed in the slightest to see me standing here in her kitchen.
She was wearing a silky little number that looked really good on her but I wasn’t here for that.
“Did you get any sleep last night?” she asked stretching, the silky little nightgown creeping a little higher up her thigh. I couldn’t help but notice that she looked good despite here lack of sleep but I wasn’t here for that. I wasn’t here to gawk at her like the love sick puppy I used to be.
“Nope,” he said as he stood on tip-toes to reach the spices. For a kid who had allegedly gotten no sleep the night before, he was amazingly alert and I couldn’t help but wonder just how often an occurrence this was and why didn’t Jo do anything about it.
For the first time today she looked at me and gave a small, almost unnoticeable shrug towards Alex as if to silently ask ‘what can you do?’
I didn’t let her feeble attempt at lightening the mood work. I couldn’t.
I kept my face stoic; careful not to show enough animosity that Alex would pick up on it but at the same making it more than clear to Jo just how I felt about all this. She sighed and nodded telling me she understood.
Part of me wondered if she would hide behind the kid; if she would keep him around just so I couldn’t say what I needed to. It would be a cowardly move, but I was sure nothing was beyond her anymore.
She wrapped her arm around Alex’s shoulders and kissed the top of his head lovingly. Alex didn’t flinch at all and for what had to be the dozenth time this morning I was struck with the realization that the kid wasn’t normal…at least compared to the kids I had seen. Then again my family may not be the best benchmark for normalcy.
“Why don’t you go to your room and let the adults talk?”
“But…” he said motioning towards the eggs.
“I’ll take care of them.” I had to give the kid credit, he managed to hide his distress well but Jo saw right through it.
“Don’t worry; I’ll make sure they don’t taste like butt.” He looked sheepish and I had to wonder just how long she had been there listing to us without saying anything.
Damn she couldn’t even let me have a few moments alone with him? She couldn’t even give me that? And here I thought I had seen her true colors when the truth came out. Just goes to show that some people just love to fuck with your head.
“Don’t forget to take a shower before school!” she called down the hall. Alex stopped and came back to the kitchen. The kid was smart enough to know that the puppy dog look only worked if your target could actually see it.
“But mom! Do I have to go to school? I went to the doctor’s yesterday—I have a note and everything!” he said holding up a bandaged hand. I couldn’t help but notice that it was the same hand I had my own bandages around. In the chaos of the day I had forgotten why she had left the party in the first place. Alex had been in the hospital. That was one more thing to add to my ever growing list of questions but I guess the fact that he was here walking around meant that whatever it was hadn’t been too serious.
“If you’re well enough to breathe, you’re well enough to go school,” she said, hands on her hips in full out ‘mom’ mode. Personally I thought it wouldn’t hurt him to stay home just this once, besides I wanted more time with him, but I agreed with what she was trying to do. Jo wanted him out of the house when the eventual hell broke loose.
“Mom!” he wined, widening his eyes and sticking out his lip just enough. The kid was good, he sounded so heartbroken, but Jo wasn’t going for it.
“You should have woken me up already,” she muttered to him, irritated.
“You were tired. I wanted to let you sleep in,” he said so earnestly I believed him completely, even though I knew there had to me more to it than that. Maybe.
“Then who would have taken you to school?” Jo wasn’t going to just call him out. No, that wasn’t her style; she was going to try and trip him up.
“I would have called Uncle Max.”
Jo rolled her eyes, “No you wouldn’t. You would have used it as an excuse to skip. Now go get in the shower.”
Alex opened his mouth but Jo cut him off.
“Now!” She said sternly.
“Can’t blame a kid for trying,” he muttered as he walked down the hall. Jo just shook her head and went over to the counter to set up the coffee machine.
I waited until he was gone before turning on Jo, ready to demand the answers I should have had years ago, but she just held up one finger telling me to wait. I blinked, confused until I heard the water running. At the sound, she lowered her finger and nodded, giving me permission to speak.
I was silent for a moment, although I couldn’t tell if it was out of some sort of defiance against her attitude or because I just didn’t know where to start. Probably both.
“You should have told me!” I said, the emotion raw in my voice. I wished I was better at hiding myself from her then this. I didn’t want her to see how much power she had over me.
Jo sighed and leaned against the counter, knuckles white from gripping the hard edge. She refused to look at me, refused to at least let me try and get the upper hand here—to see some clue to what was going on in her head.
“I tried, James, god did I try,” she whispered, sounding so much more tired than I felt. I didn’t know if the moisture in her eyes was real, a trick of the light, or some perverse attempt to manipulate me somehow. “How many letters do you think I sent? How many did you open?”
My heart froze at her words. Had she confessed his existence after I had stopped reading? Had the very answers I had been demanding been at my fingertips since the beginning? At least until I let flames kiss the ink stained parchment forever goodnight. Wouldn’t that be just perfect.
I didn’t answer. I couldn’t.
“Two hundred and twenty four,” her voice didn’t harden past the breathless whisper, but there was an edge to her words that threw me off.
“That’s how many letters I sent,” she spat and I couldn’t help but glance at the floor. How was it that I came here to take out my rage on her and it was I that was shrinking away like a scolded dog? How is it that despite my burning hatred she could still have this kind of power over me? “At one point I had four different owls trading off making trips so that I wouldn’t have to work them to death trying to get you to talk to me. How many did you read?”
The question wasn’t rhetorical and for the first time since I learned about Alex’s existence, I felt ashamed. I could no longer deny that it could be at least partially my fault that I didn’t know about him. Just a little bit. I mean there was no doubt that the vast majority of the blame laid at her feet—not only was it her fault that our relationship had crumbled like a paper ship in a storm, but she had been the only one to know and she knew how stubborn I could be; she had to of known that overrunning my life with letters would not be enough.
She saw my silence as what it was—a moment of weakness and pounced, picking at the first open wound that was visible to her all too keen eyes.
“Come on James,” she hissed and I knew that if the island hadn’t been between us she would have had me backing into the wall, “tell me. How many of the fucking things did you read?” She hissed, ignoring the small ding that came from a rather large ceramic jar labeled “curse jar” sitting on the shelf.
“Three,” I couldn’t keep the fear out of my voice at the thought of what the latter ones could have held.
“And you let me continue that long before sending the howler? Classy, Potter, real classy. Don’t worry, none of them mentioned him. After all, there are just some things you don’t put in a letter.” She scoffed, her voice bitter and caustic, but despite that I felt relieved.
Maybe she was lying and all of them had been about him—like a kind of diary of her pregnancy—but I never wanted to know. I could never forgive myself if that were the case. A small part of my brain recognized that if she was lying, she was only doing it to protect me. It was a breed of kindness I had long ago convinced myself didn’t exist within her.
That didn’t make me any less mad. That didn’t take away my fury or the sting of her latest betrayal.
“You still should have told me!” I roared.
Jo sighed and looked at me with an infinite sadness and I had to fight to keep the tide of anger from abating—I needed it too much right now to let it go.
“How James, how?” She whispered. “You made it clear you never wanted to talk to me again. I thought that many letters would be a pretty big clue that something was going on. Then again, how would you know? You only read three of them.”
“You could have found a way!”
Her eyes narrowed and she tilted her head down the hall. I had forgotten that Alex was just a few doors down and the last thing I wanted was for the only thing he remembered from our first meeting was how much I hated his mother.
“What? Should I have sent you a howler and told you that way? Should I have told your parents and let them tell you?” That was rich. Wasn’t that pretty much how I found out anyway? Really Jo, couldn’t you have saved us all a bunch of heartache and just opened your mouth a little earlier? But that was one of the things that got us in this mess in the first place: her extraordinary ability to keep her lips sealed.
“Did you know?” I whispered, for once letting my hurt show through my anger.
“Did I know what?” She asked and I couldn’t tell if she was being sarcastic or not—she had always been too good at guessing my thoughts to be able to play that card…even after eight years.
“Don’t play with me Jo, not now. Did you know you were pregnant when you ran?” My voice sounded heard even to my ears, but I had managed to let some of the hatred go. Not much, but enough that maybe, just maybe, I could keep from alarming the kid.
“No,” I breathed a sigh of relief I didn’t know I was holding. For some strange and inexplicable reason, I didn’t want her to give me a reason to hate her—no matter how much I forced the emotion on myself. That brief respite was shattered, however, by her next words, “but I suspected.”
“Fuck, Jo!” I said grabbing at my hair in frustration, “Of all the fucking things you could have fucking done to me you fucking bitch! Fuck!”
“Well that certainly demonstrates the diversity of the word,” she muttered and I got the distinct impression that it was a line from a movie, but I didn’t know or care which. This was just too much for me, but it wasn’t like I could just run away. Not from this; not with my only chance to know Alex hanging in the balance.
“Now’s not the time for your games!” I snapped, justifiably hostile. I crossed the room in a single sweeping step. Jo didn’t even blink as I got right in her face and whispered with such hatred it was a wonder I could have ever loved her, “Of all things you could have done, you had to find the one thing that could top yourself.”
Her head snapped up at my words and looked at me with a frustration and disgust to match my own fiery emotions. “Pull your head out of your ass, James! Believe it or not, I have not spent every waking moment of my life since age seventeen trying to find new ways to screw up your life.”
“Well forgive me if it seems that way to me.” I snarled an inch from her face, “but it—“
A sharp pain in that back of my head cut me off as my vision swam and stars danced behind my eyes. I ran my hand over the back of my head to make sure there wasn’t blood. There wasn’t but that was going to be a nice little knot in the morning.
“Hey assbutt! Leave her alone!”
I turned towards the voice and couldn’t help but be a little surprised. Alex stood in the doorway with only a towel wrapped around his waist. His hair was still sudsy from the shampoo and he held an arm full of bath products cradled in the crook of one arm. A bar of soap was on the floor from when he had thrown it at my head.
The quidditch player in me couldn’t help but notice that he had an impressive arm for a seven year old. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine him on a house team in a few years. Despite that, the newfound father in me couldn’t deny the hurt that had formed at his actions. I had known the kid for less than an hour and he already hated me, but I had no idea why. I hadn’t done anything to him.
“Alexander James Potter, go to your room. Now!” Jo roared in that terrifying voice only mothers had. Even though she wasn’t yelling at me, I reflexively stepped back a bit. I had been on the receiving end of that tone from my own mother a few too many times not to be wary.
“But…” he began, looking back and forth from the door to his room to me like he was trying to decide what was more important: listening to his mother or his attack on me.
“Now!” Jo yelled, if possible even fiercer than before.
Alex shrunk back, finally, his mind made up for him. He gave me one last hateful look and pointed two fingers at his eyes then back to mine in the universal signal for ‘I’ve got my eyes on you,’ before doing as ordered.
After he left there was a deafening moment of silence between us and I couldn’t tell if Jo was horrified at his behavior or if she was about to die laughing. To be honest, I don’t think she knew either. Figured she would condone my kid hating me.
“Why do you have to hate me?” She whispered in a defeated way that tugged at my heart harder than I would ever admit, even to myself, “Even before you knew about Alex you seemed only content to hurt me. And is that fair? Really? I’ve only wanted the best for you; that’s why I let you go—why I stopped writing. If I would have told you about him, you would have stayed and you would have hated me for it. I thought that maybe if I was out of your life you could move on, maybe find a nice girl or something and be happy.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. I mean really, what could I? it’s not like I could just blurt out that I had to hurt her; I had to constantly remind myself why I could never love her again, how I couldn’t stand allowing her to hurt me again.
The worst part about her words, though, was the fact that they were true. I would have stayed and I would have hated her—maybe as much as I do now, maybe not—but then I would have known about Alex…and that would have been worth it. That would have been worth it wouldn’t it?
A small voice in the back of my head whispered that maybe it wouldn’t have been. We had just met and Alex already hates me just because I was yelling at his mother. How would it have been if he had been raised around that? If it was a constant thing? Would I have stood a chance?
“And I guess you did move on... just not in the way I had hoped.”
She paused, biting her lip like she was about to say something she really didn’t want to but the moment she started to speak I could hear the relief in her voice. I imagine it wasn’t too different from religious muggles at confession; the weight just melted from her shoulders.
“I could have told Max everything and he would have sent someone else. You probably would have liked Viv, after all that more the merrier,” I had no idea what she was talking about, but that didn’t stop me from studying the lost look on her face—a look I could have never associated with her. The cynical side of me that had grown since our explosive breakup was convinced that she was just manipulating; that every look was carefully engineered to elicit a specific response for me to further her own goals—whatever they might me. But that side couldn’t get the rest of me to agree enough to call her out on it; not if I wanted to actually believe what I was saying.
“But I didn’t say anything, and do you know why?” Maybe because that’s what you’re best at? “Because I was relieved. I figured maybe fate had stepped in to do what I had always been to chicken to do. There was no way I could keep him from you… not now,” she whispered and her voice had all the strength of fractured glass.
She took a deep breath and looked me in the eyes, her voice gaining back all the fire and strength that had always defined her. “But when I saw the way you lived, the girls, the chronic alcohol, and the drugs? Well forgive me if I didn’t want my son around that.”
I wanted to defend myself, to tell her that the drinks and the parties were an occasional thing (a lie) and the drugs were a never thing—that they hadn’t even been mine (not a lie). I’m not sure it would have mattered, but I didn’t have a chance to try.
Before I could answer Alex came into the kitchen and sat down at the table and Jo gave me a piercing look telling me to shut up while he was in the room. I rolled my eyes. I may be new to this parenting thing, but I wasn’t stupid.
Jo a plate full of eggs down in front of Alex and he took a bite. He chewed slowly, laboriously, trying really hard to force it down. Jo sighed and rubbed her temples, fighting off a headache. She was tired and frustrated and I couldn’t tell if she wanted to avada him, me, or herself.
“Still taste like butt?” she asked, careful to hide her frustrations.
He nodded sheepishly, “Yes ma’am.”
Jo sighed and walked over to the cabinet before pulling out a box of the heavily sugared cereal muggles seemed to love so much and tossing the whole thing at him. Alex caught it close to his chest, a little surprised.
“Oh sugar, and before school too. It must be my birthday.” I snickered. Half Jo or not, that kid would fit right in with my family.
Jo turned to look at me, choosing her words carefully as Alex ate.
“Look I know that you’re mad, and you have every right to be, but we both are tired, stressed, and not feeling well—”
“The word’s hungover, mommy.” Alex offered innocently, his spoon an inch from his lips. Jo took a deep breath before answering tersely.
“I know baby, I know.”
“And hungover,” she continued, “If we try to talk it out now, we’re just going to fight and that won’t help us any,” Jo said taking two vials out of the cabinet and handing them to me, “One’s a sleep potion and the other is for hangovers. Go home, get some rest and come back later tonight—say eightish. I’ll make sure we can’t be heard.”
“That means she’s going to dump me on Uncle Connor or maybe Grandpa and Poppy,” Alex said looking right at me. It was amazing how quickly he had gotten over his little fit from earlier, so maybe there was a chance of us actually having a relationship. If his mom didn’t insist on being an ass and screwing that up for us.
“Then we’ll hash it out like adults,” she said, deliberately ignoring Alex’s commentary and I knew where she was going with this. We would either manage to put our differences aside long enough to really talk about this in a calm and mature manner (yeah right) or we come to blows with Alex safely out of the picture.
“Alright.” I said although I really didn’t want to leave yet. I didn’t want to leave ever and it wasn’t because of Jo.
“Can he walk me to school?” Alex asked curiously and we both turned to look at him.
“What?” Jo asked.
Alex shrugged before explaining his thinking as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “Well you’re not dressed and since I have to go I might as well be on time. Besides, it will give us some time to talk and stuff.”
“James?” she asked making it clear that it was up to me.
“Er…yeah, of course.” What else could I say? Hadn’t I just been wishing for more time? “But I don’t know where it is.”
“If you did it would be a little creepy,” Alex said, putting is bowl in the sink and grabbing his backpack. “I know where it is. I would walk myself, but the people at the school get all mad. They think I’m too young to know how to take care of myself.”
“Their right, you could get kidnaped or something!” I said in shock. Jo started chuckling, probably at the scandalized look on my face, but i didn’t care.
“If someone tried to grab me, I’d kick them in the ‘nads and run.”
I winced because I knew he would do it—he was too much Jo’s kid not to—but still, drastic situations or not, I had had enough quidditch accidents to sympathize.
“Kid don’t you know that’s against the man code?” I teased.
Alex shot me a you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me look that could have given Jo a run for her money.
“When it comes to someone trying to hurt me or my family, there is no code,” he said with absolute conviction. Something about the hard edge to his voice sent shivers down my spine; it had no place coming from the mouth of a seven year old and spoke too much of a lost innocence for me to reconcile it with the kind of kid I already knew Alex to be.
“And what if they chase you?” Jo asked, changing the subject. I couldn’t tell if she recognized the unease on my face or if she was feeling the same, but either way I was grateful.
“Yell ‘fire.’” Alex answered as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“Fire?” I asked confused. Wouldn’t the more instinctual thing be ‘help’ or something?
“Yeah, if I scream and cry everyone would just think I was a little kid throwing a tantrum,” he said with a shrug, “With ‘fire’ people come to watch. Everyone knows that.”
“I didn’t.” Jo muttered, looking at me, just as lost as I was with this. He had put far too much thought into this. Aren’t kids supposed to be a bit too trusting?
We probably weren’t doing such a good job at hiding just how freaked we were, because for a split second Alex looked just as disturbed as we did. But it was just for a second before he expertly changed the subject.
“We should get going if we don’t want to be late,” Alex said grabbing my hand and pulling me out the door. I locked my legs and held my ground, not quite ready to leave.
“Eight o’clock?” I asked firmly, looking back at Jo.
She didn’t answer out loud but nodded her elbows on the counter and her head in her hands. I could tell she was exhausted.
I was almost at the door to the apartment when I turned around again.
“Jo?” I asked so softly it surprised both me and her. Jo raised her head to look at me.
“Hun?” she muttered.
“You should take your own advice. Get some sleep,” she looked at me confused, probably at the utter lack of hatred in my voice, and to be honest so was I.
In the brief moment I had only seen her tired and defeated posture; for that singular moment I was back in school and wanted to take care or her. But we weren’t in school anymore and I had to hate her or she would break my heart again.
I opened my mouth to say something—to remind myself how I had to feel about her now, but Alex didn’t give me a chance. He pulled harder and I somehow knew he was trying to stop me from doing something foolish.
The muggle were far too crowed for comfort at this time of the morning. I gripped Alex’s hand a bit harder than was necessary, but really I didn’t want to lose him on my first day as his father… or the first day I knew I was his father (I mean hadn’t I always technically been his dad, even if I didn’t know it?) .
Oddly enough Alex didn’t insist he was old enough not to have to hold a grown up’s hand or that he didn’t’ want to seem like a baby or any of the other complaints kids usually made. He just held my hand almost as if he were just humoring my own insecurities.
“What’s your favorite color?” I asked, remembering the long list of things I didn’t know about him. I was fishing for information, but what else could I do at this point?
“Blue,” I parroted, filing the information away for later.
“But not any blue, a special kind of blue,” he continued.
“A pretty blue,” well that was specific, “mommy calls it Ravenclaw blue.” I scowled. Call it the lingering house pride, but I was a little irked that it wasn’t Gryffindor red, then again, it could be worse—much worse; at least it wasn’t Slytherin green.
“So when’s your birth day?” I said, trying to keep the conversation going as came to a group of muggles that had just stopped at the edge of the side walk. I found it incredibility odd that they were just standing there like that but that didn’t stop me from trying to push past them. I gave Alex’s hand a little tug, but he wouldn’t move. Just then a harsh gust of wind hit my face as a cherry red streak flew past me, probably far faster than the automobile was allowed.
“It’s not our turn.” He said motioning to a sign with a little red caricature of a man. Maybe I should have taken muggle studies rather than divination because I had no clue what it meant, but a second later the sign turned white and the crowd moved.
“December thirty first.”
“What?” I asked, a little lost.
“My birthday.” He reminded me.
“Oh right,” I said still a little shaken from my brush with death, “Tough luck kid, one more day and you would have been able to go to school a whole year earlier.”
“Mom picked it.”
“What?” That didn’t make any since. as far as I knew even magical parents couldn’t choose the kids birthday (or I knew there would be a lot more Christmas babies—only one set of presents required) and I was damn sure muggles couldn’t either.
Something about that didn’t sound right. I did some quick calculations in my head and realized with a jolt that Jo had to have lied to me earlier. We broke up in early June, so if he was born in December then she would have had to been at least three months along when it all went to hell.
Bile rose in my throat. Not only had she just lied to my face, she had to of been lying to me then too—even when we were together.
“Mommy said that I was born right at midnight on New Year’s Eve and that the doctor didn’t know which clock was right—the one on the wall or his watch—so they let mom pick,” he continued, but my mind was still reeling too hard to give him my full attention.
“That sucks.” I muttered.
He either didn’t notice or was ignoring my distractedness, because he continued with all the innocence that seemed to define kids his age. “Mom said that it was cause so many bad things had happened that year, she wanted a reason to remember that good things happened too.”
I couldn’t help but feel like a dick and I didn’t know why. Don’t get me wrong, I was still livid at the lie Alex had unknowing blown open, but for some reason his words still dug at my already too bruised heart.
By then we were at the gates of the school but Alex stopped just shy of the door.
“I’m sorry for throwing the soap at you I just didn’t want you to hurt my mom,” he said, looking up at me with those big blue eyes.
“You think I would do that?” I asked, not even bothering to hide the hurt in my voice.
“I don’t know you.” ouch. That hurt.
“That’s not my fault,” I snarled, struggling not to mention just whose fault it was.
“Does that make it any less true?” He said letting go of my hand and walking up the steps towards the door. He stopped half way up and turned to look at me, his brows furrowed in concentration as if he were considering next words very carefully.
“I know you hate her,” he began and I reflexively started to deny it but he cut me off, “and maybe you have a good reason, but you should at least be nice to her. I know Mommy would never make me choose between you and her, but like I said I don’t know you and right now there’s not much of a choice.”
Alex walked into the building and I was left at the foot of the steps contemplating his no-so veiled threat. If I didn’t play nice with Jo, he would make it impossible for us to have a relationship. He would make it impossible for us to get to know each other.
I waited until everyone was gone before I ducked into an alleyway and apparated back to my hotel room. If I was going to have to play nice with my bitch of an ex, then I might as well follow her advice and get some sleep.
That line from a move James noticed is from Boondock Saints II, just so you know. Don't own it.
Fair warning guys, after the next chapter I may be taking a little while extra (but not more than a week) to post chapter nine. I honestly considered taking the break after this one but I figured you guys have been waiting so long to find out the nitty-gritty that you would kill me. Don’t worry though; the next chapter is big enough to make up for it and then some.
Chapter eight turned out to be A LOT longer than I expected and most of that was done in one day because my friend wanted to read it before I went home for the summer. Needless to say, writing seven thousand words (the finished product is over fifteen) in one night tired me out, besides I need to keep up with my reserve chapters.
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