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Those People by Faux Pax
Chapter 9 : Questions and Answers
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 3


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 AN: So sorry about the wait for the last chapter, I had to send it through validation like three times for various reasons. I had intended to have it out quicker, really I did, but I guess things like that just happen.



 



 

 


MS: It would seem Mr. Potter, that your relationship with Miss Marsden was characterized by a considerable amount of animosity. Was there ever a period of time when you didn’t hate her?

JP: Of course there was Micah! You know that—all of Hogwarts knew right after we got together.

MS: I was referring to the period after you learned of Alex’s existence.

JP: (pauses) Yeah, there was. After we were able to air everything that had been festering, then everything began to heal.

 





 

 


For the second time today I found myself standing in Jo’s kitchen trying to make awkward small talk with someone I should have been more comfortable with than I was. As messed up as it was, I could understand being awkward around Alex, I had never met him before, but Jo was the mother of my fucking child; I should be more than comfortable around her.

And yet here I was, fumbling through conversation with someone I used to be able to confide everything in. what the fuck has happened to my life? How had I ever let it come to this?

“Were you able to get any sleep?” I muttered staring down at the table, wishing Jo had made dinner or something, not because I was hungry but because I just wanted something to do with my hands—something to distract me from the tension of the situation.

But that probably wouldn’t have been enough. This entire affair had occupied my every though today—wakening or not. Even my dreams had been haunted by the ghosts of what could have been. A home, a family, more kids, and then I woke only to remember what she was and why it could never have been anything more than a lie. 

“Some, yes,” she muttered as she took the kettle off the stove.  “But not as much as I would have liked. You?” I could tell she was just as uncomfortable as I was, which wasn’t like her. Every moment with her had long ago been burned into my memory and even in the silence that had shattered my entire world she had kept her composure as if the conversation was as simple as deciding what program to watch on the television.  

“Yes. Thanks,” I lied. I refused to let her know just how much she bothered me. I refused to give her the satisfaction.

She sighed, stirring her tea and causing the disgusting, peppery smell of earl gray to assault me. I had to fight not to wrench. That sent had been as much a part of her as the lingering smell of potions and I hated them for it. There were just too many memories associated her—and too much hatred for me to enjoy any reminder. But now I had no choice.

“Where do we go from here, James?” Jo whispered, looking up from her tea for the first time in what had to be an eternity. Her eyes were soft and sad, but I couldn’t let that sway me. I was too mad.

Every word to grace her lips was a lie. I had thought that I had seen her true colors before…but now I see that there was an even deeper shade of black burred beneath it. The ironic thing was that now that I saw the true Johanna, I was bound to her—now we had to work together for Alex’s sake.

And that was why I was trying so damn hard to be civil. The only reason.

“I don’t know, I barely know how we got here,” I tried, really I did, but I just couldn’t keep the bitterness out of my voice.

She sighed again and her eyes narrowed slightly. “Oaky James, say it.”

“What?” I was confused. What exactly was she asking?

“We’re not going to get anywhere in this conversation until you get some of this shit off your chest, so go on and tell me how you feel.” Her conversational and slightly board tone set me off. She didn’t even have the decency to pretend to be sorry or affected in any way by what she had done to me. This was all just ‘getting it over with.’ there was no emotion and I had to wonder if she could even fee anything at all.

“You lied to me,” I hissed gripping the table tightly.  Everything in me wanted to stand up and get as I could to her face as I said it­—to make her shrink in on herself as though she were nothing—but she had seen it coming. We had been placed on opposite sides of a rectangular table so there was too much space between us. Besides, it would never have worked. The demon can’t feel, remember?

“Which time?” She breathed as cool as you please and I saw red. I couldn’t tell if she was making fun of me or not. But then again, when has my emotions been anything more than a toy to her?

“Anytime!” I shouted as if I could purge the sickening sensation from my chest if I screamed loud enough. I blinked before corrected myself. “Every time. The truth has never been anything but a tool to you. You lie when it’s convenient and don’t even think about anyone else.”

“But you’re talking about one time in particular,” said calmly taking a sip of her tea.

I hated her, really I did. When all this had first started—when Rose had let slip about the first baby—I couldn’t fool myself into believing I couldn’t forgive her, eventually. As bad as it all was, I just loved her too much. But she had never even bothered to face me.

It had taken a few hours of just walking around muggle London to clear the numb shock out of my mind. When I was ready, I apparated back to my apartment, turned off the T.V. (it was a muggle apartment so I usually left it on to cover the sound of my apparating in and out), and waited. She never showed up to explain, to defend herself.  I waited as long as I could before continuing with my life and all I ever got from her were letters—lots of short little notes that all said the same thing—but I didn’t want to hear it. After all, there were just some things that can’t be said in a letter. There were just some things she should have had the decency to say to my face.  

 “You said you didn’t know.”

Jo rolled her eyes and put her cup down before answering me in that same tone that drove me up  the walls—the one that said she couldn’t take anything seriously. “You’re going to have to be a bit more specific; I’ve said that about a few things.”

I got up from the table and began pacing the kitchen in an effort to get rid of some of the unrest and pure anger that had begun to overwhelm me. Not for the first time today I was a little glad that Al still had my wand. It would have been all too easy (and all too satisfying) to hex her into oblivion, but being sent to Azkaban wouldn’t help me get to know Alex any.

“You said you didn’t know about Alex when you left but he told me his birthday, Jo, and I can count backwards; you had to have known for months.”

“James—” she began softly, but I cut her off. I didn’t want to hear any more lies or any more excuses.

All the hurt and frustration that had been building up since she had waltzed back into my life came pouring out like a struck artery and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to stop. As much as I hated showing weakness around her, there was something freeing about letting all that anger out. It was a form of catharsis I deeply needed.

I stalked back and forth in front of the table, not unlike a lion on the prowl. It would be a lie if I said that some part of me didn’t hope to see fear in her eyes—to see any form of reaction to what I was saying. Although I was far past knowing it, I wanted to know that her heart wasn’t stone—that there was some small chance that my love had actually meant something to her.

“You lied right to my face,” I said not even bothering to keep the hurt and anger out of my voice, “All you know how to do is think about yourself. You never once thought about how I would feel about all this or how it would affect everyone, not just you.”

She opened her mouth to say something and then shut it as if she had thought better of it—as if I wasn’t worth the words—and I just got madder.

“Even before when you killed the first baby,” I spat ignoring the fact that I had just said those words aloud for the first time before continuing, “you were only thinking about you—you never said anything; never gave me a chance to say I wanted it before you made me complacent in the murder.”

I bet Jo didn’t count on that, did she? It took about two years, but after I heard that truth I began to put the pieces together. All those extra ingredients I had stolen along with those needed to help her brother were required for the potion she used. At the time I hadn’t even blinked an eye as she added them to the list—she said it would throw the professors off our trail if they couldn’t tell exactly which potion the ingredients were for—but now that I knew the truth…

I knew it wasn’t my fault at all. I didn’t know what she was going to do with them—I didn’t even know that’s what the damn things could be used for—and I didn’t mix the potion, but because of her blood was still on my hands.

She opened her mouth again but I continued.

I had risked everything for her without thinking or fear. I had faced betraying my father, being sentenced to Azkaban, and losing the career I had worked so hard to earn all for her…and this is how she repays me: killing one kid and hiding the other. 

 “And after all that you didn’t even have the courage to tell me yourself. You had my family—my family!—do your dirty work both times!”

Her tea cup rattled as I slammed my hands down on the table.  She went completely still at the small puddle of liquid on the table and looked at me with a hardness in her eyes that I hadn’t seen since Hogwarts. Was she angry that I had spilled her tea? Well too damn bad, if I had my wand I would have probably spilled more than her tea.

 “If it wasn’t for Alex I wouldn’t be here,” I spat and my own words had a calming effect. That right. I wasn’t here to yell accusations and insults at Jo—no matter how deserving she was—I was here so that we could come to some sort of arrangement about Alex and this anger wasn’t helping.

I sighed, emotionally spent once I let go of the anger that had fueled me all day. “How did you do it Jo? How did you make me love someone who could never think of me? Not once.”

“Are you done talking about how selfish I am?” she asked, setting her cup into the saucer, letting no more agitation show than if she had been forced to listen to a rather boring conversation and just hadn’t been able to politely change the subject.

As much as I had tried to put my anger away, her nonchalance had me seeing red again in an instant.

“I’m just getting started.”  

“No, you’re done.” She hissed an anger that could have only been brewing under the surface for a while.

In all my ranting and raving, there was one important fact I had forgotten: while Al had taken my wand for her protection (and to protect any chance I had at a relationship with Alex) I didn’t have the same protection. No one had taken her wand.

Almost before I had registered it, I was yanked backwards across the room so fast I thought speeds like that were impossible without a broom or a portkey. With a resounding thump, I hit the wall and slid down into a hard kitchen chair that I was sure hadn’t been there before.

Rage flared inside me but I could do nothing; not even my eyes would move. She had put a full body bind on me as well as a silencio charm. I was stuck sitting there in the lion’s den helpless and voiceless. I could do nothing but watch as she took her own turn to pace back and forth in front of me.

“Did you ever realize James, that not once since Rose opened her big mouth have you asked me ‘why? Not once have you given me a chance to explain myself. Well guess what? Now I’m taking what you won’t give. You are going to sit there and listen to every word I have to say then—and only then—can you call me selfish.” There was something in her voice that I could not place—pity, or was it sadness? Whatever it was, it got to me. I couldn’t help the doubts that started seeping in past the red.

She was right though, as much as I hated to give her any concession in this, that word had never graced my lips. Of course I had wondered why, but I should never have had to ask.

Her voice softened, and for the first time I could see the cracks in her armor—the same cracks I had wanted to see so badly and now looked so out of place on her face. “You can’t say I never thought about you—that’s bull shit and you know it. how could I not when a miniature version has been sleeping down the hall for the last seven years or so? The truth is that I have been thinking too much about you since the moment I realized that I love you.  You had me wrapped so much around your fingers that I would have done anything you ask. Even things I would have hated you for.”

The words were whisper quiet and I had to almost struggle to hear them. There was something surreal about seeing the same anguish I had been feeling splashed across her face. Every defense I had screamed that she was faking—that this was all a carefully produced act to get under my skin, but somehow I knew better.

She sat leaning against the table, picking dirt from under her nails as she talked. There was no anger in her voice, just an all-consuming pain and sadness that tugged at the romantic little boy buried deep down. The rest of me, however, was jealous at her ability to let the poison melt away.  

“That’s why I didn’t tell you the first time. I always knew you were an infinitely better person than I was and all you had to do was ask—or I would have seen the excitement in your eyes—and I would have kept it. I would have quit school—give up every dream I ever had. “

“And I would have hated you for it.”

She gazed out the window before looking back at me and I couldn’t tell if it was just my imagination of her eyes were actually a little wet as she explained her twisted little fantasy—or was it nightmare.  I could see every moment of it playing out in my mind as she told her dark tale of what could have been.  

“Every day I would have seen you living your dream while I was left at home with a drooling, shitting, crying mess maker and the knowledge that nothing would change. When it was grown and off to school I would have nothing outside of you left; but you have quidditch and whatever came after that.”

I wanted to ask if she still felt the same. I mean all those complaints about keeping the kid would have just rolled over to Alex, right? And there was no way she could think the same about him—if there was one good thing I could say about her it’s that she adores him. So what had changed her mind and why couldn’t she have learned that lesson just a little earlier?

“That would have made me despise you—even if I never showed it­—and that would have made me despise myself. So yeah, I was being selfish, but I always thought of you.”

She sighed and ran her hands through her hair before plopping down ungracefully into a chair right across from where I was trapped. Jo put her elbows on her knees and rested her face in her hands. It took a few moments of ringing silence before she raised her eyes back up to face me and I realized that she had, in fact, been crying.   

 “I thought making the potion would be easy—that it would be like it never happened. That it would go away and you would never have to know because I knew that if you ever heard the truth, you would hate me for it. I was half right. There was almost nothing to the potion but living with myself after was a lot more difficult than I imagined. I didn’t realize that I was stuck in a catch twenty-two. I couldn’t win; either you were going to hate me or I was going to hate myself.  

“Those ingredients I put on the list were common and a part of a few dozen potions. I didn’t even know I was pregnant at the time—hell, I might not even have been pregnant then—so it’s not like I specifically set out to make you a part of it…well, any more a part of it than you already were. I just happened to have the ingredients handy.”

Her voice was begging me to understand; begging me to listen. Although she hadn’t asked, I knew she wanted me to forgive her…and I wanted to. Trying to keep this fiery wall of hatred burning between her and my heart was exhausting but what would happen if I let that flame subside? If I could somehow manage to forgive her, I knew I could never trust her.

And therein lies the problem. If I forgave her I don’t think I could keep her from worming her way back into my heart and if she managed to do that what was to keep her from hurting me again. I was barely holding together the second time and really didn’t think I could survive it the third.   

“Really you need to stop holding my silence about Alex against me. We’ve already covered this; I tried and you wouldn’t listen. End of story. There is no one to blame for that but yourself. Yes, I could have resorted to drastic measures, but by that time you made it clear you wanted to do with me and I had promised not to contact you again.”

It irked me that she was laying the blame for this at my feet, but what really bothered me to no end was the fact that she had a point. I wasn’t going to say that I was the only one to blame—she had done more than her fair share—but I could no longer deny that there were some things I could have done differently.

And her utter defeated tone didn’t exactly help my denial any.  

“Maybe that was one promise I should have broken. I don’t know, and it’s not like I could change them now. What I do know is that where ever my mistakes lay, I’ve paid for them and I’ve kept paying for them.

“You say I never thought about you and what this would do to you, well did you ever think about what it would do to me? Did you ever once consider what keeping that promise cost me? I’m betting not.”

She would be betting right. I hadn’t allowed myself to give her the benefit of the doubt in any way. I couldn’t—I had always needed her to be the bad guy but that kind of attitude wasn’t going to help us now, no matter how much I would wish otherwise.   

“I hope you never have to feel what I felt when I wrote to Scorp, Rose and Al and asked them not to contact me again; that it wouldn’t be fair for me to ask them chose between us.” Jo tried, I know she did, but she couldn’t completely suppress the bitterness in her voice as she continued, “I cut the people who had been closer to me than my own brother completely out of my life for you, so can you really say that I have never once thought about you?

“Can you imagine how much it hurt me when Scorp wouldn’t listen: when he kept sending pictures of Orion and Cassiopeia, until finally I had to force myself to send them back unopened every time? What about when Alex came almost two months early and I had to watch as he struggled, hooked up to machines just like Connor, all because I had insisted on having him in a muggle hospital just so I could give him your name? Was I not thinking about you then?”

 An image of Alex, tiny and fragile , hooked up to the same horrible machines her brother had been, popped into mind and I couldn’t help the cold, sick feeling from twisting my guts into something unrecognizable. Even seeing Connor like that (and I didn’t even know the guy) was bad—muggles just didn’t know what they were doing—but Alex…

And there was Jo. I mean, when Alex had told me his birthday, my mind had immediately gone to the worst possible explanation. I hadn’t even considered that there was another reason the math didn’t add up and had come here ready for a fight. I knew I had a good reason to be angry—but maybe I hadn’t gone about all this the best way.

“Say what you want to about me James, but there hasn’t been a moment over the last ten years when I haven’t thought about you in some way. Can you say the same?”

Of course I have and I didn’t even have a kid to remind me. I had spent every day of the last few years running from everything that even remotely reminded me of you. a smell, a hair color, a biting and sarcastic sense of humor. Even if was only to run from the demons you had set on me, I always thought about you.  

I took a deep breath and didn’t feel the constricting binds that had kept me seated. Although Jo had lifted the spells, I didn’t say anything for a long time. What could I say, really? I refused to offer her the absolution she craved, but at the same time I couldn’t bring myself to lay all the blame at her feet—not anymore.

“What do we do now?” I whispered, lost.

“We figure this bitch out,” she said as if it were the most obvious thing. And I guess it was. It’s not like we had a world of options spread out before us.

“And if we can’t?” It was a fair question; it had taken how much pain and anger to just get us this far and we hadn’t even truly accomplished anything. How much would it take us to do what we had set out to and could we even get that far without killing each other? 

“Then you can’t see Alex.” She said bluntly. Jo had to have seen the anger in my eyes, because she continued quickly, unwilling to lose what small measure of fragile peace we had won.

“I would rather him not have any father in his life than one who he’d hate, and I know that if you can’t be civil to me he would.” She sighed and lowered her voice until it was little more than a whisper as she looked out the small window over the sink, “I’m not asking you to forgive me if that’s something you can’t do, but you do have to put that anger on a shelf—at least around him. Can you do that James?”

I nodded and let out a strained laugh. “You know, he kind told me the same thing this morning.”

She raised her eyebrow but didn’t really look all that surprised. “Really? What did he say?”

“Pretty much that he didn’t know me so if I was an idiot and made him choose then there really wasn’t much of a choice in his eyes.”

She gave a little laugh and I could tell she was glad that the conversation was taking a lighter tone. Honestly she wasn’t the only one. Too much angst is not good for one’s sanity.

“He’s a smart kid,” Jo said, tapping the side of her cold cup of tea with her wand. Steam rose up from the surface of the liquid.

“Almost too smart,” I muttered, looking up and studying her face intently. I half expected a smart ass retort—something about how could anyone be too smart or if I would have preferred a stupid kid—but she just sighed into her tea.

“I know,” she muttered just as quietly.  

I was glad that I wasn’t the only one to see it—to see that he wasn’t a normal seven year old. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the kid, but there was just something about him… I wouldn’t call it wrong but there were times when he just seemed a little off. I knew some kids are just born as old souls but sometimes he just seemed impossible ancient…and that scared me a little.

“How are we going to do this?” I asked in a desperate attempt to change the subject. She didn’t ask what I meant—she didn’t have to. It’s not like there was a whole lot we were trying to get done here.  

“I don’t know,” she said, taking a drink, “It would be great if we could wipe the slate clean and start over but that’s not like that’s going to happen.”

I have always been an impulsive person, my impressive prank record at school could prove that, but I always had a line. There was always something in the back of my mind that would let me tip-toe the fine line between just going far and going too far. I guess that was the surprising part of all this: the little bell was silent.

I don’t know why I said it, but I did; the words tumbled out of my mouth faster than I could think to stop them.

“Why can’t we?’

I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy the slightly confused look that crossed her face. “Why can’t we what?”

“Start over,” it was my turn to act like I was stating the obvious. 

Jo tilted her head a little, completely lost in the oddity of the situation. “What the—” I stuck out my hand, cutting her off.

“Hi, I’m James. And you are?”

She looked at me oddly, almost as if she were trying to decide whether or not that was all some sort of joke or if I was being serious. She should know better. I’m always serious. It is my middle name, after all.

It took her a few seconds but she took it as she gave a little chuckle. I could tell by the glint in her eyes that she had decided to play along and when Jo played, she played to win.

“I’m Jo. I’m your baby’s mamma.” I almost couldn’t keep a straight face. Hearing those words in such a nonchalant tone was just too ironic. She had to go there didn’t she?

“How did that happen?” I asked in mock surprise before wanting to hit myself. Knowing her she would go into the whole ‘when a man and a woman…’ bit despite it being more than a little over used.

“I think the stork messed up our orders.”

I did a double take, confused. What did a bird have to do with this?

Jo looked left and right as if to make sure we were alone and leaned in close to whisper her grave secret to me. “Just between you and me, I know a little thing called magic…”

I widened my eyes like I imagined a muggle’s would at the news. Part surprise, part wonder, and just a dash of fear.

 “Like…like witchcraft?”

This was an odd, childish game but I was thankful. For a moment it was like everything never went to hell and I felt strangely at home in the way the corners of her lips twitched in humor. It was just too much; neither of us could keep a straight face and we both started cracking up.

Jo clutched her sides and before I knew it she landed with a resounding thud as she slid out of the chair and hit the floor. It was all just too much; I had to lean against the table to keep from following her to the floor. 

She started gasping; laughing so hard she was having trouble breathing. It wasn’t that funny, but I was close to having the same problem.

It was just too easy to slip back into this and forget that Jo and I weren’t actually hiding out in some hidden nook of the castle during my last year.

As least until the doorbell rang in that strange, whimsical melody that I assumed was the ‘trusted’ ring. Jo would have ignored it otherwise, but the moment she heard it she forced in a long breath of cool air and picked herself off the floor before crossing the room in three strides.

“Connor…Alex…what are you doing here?” She asked in surprise and confusion. I guess she was under the impression that the kid was spending the night at her brother’s place.

“I live here mommy!” Alex said, punishing past her to stare at me. I still couldn’t get a read on what the kid thought of me just yet.

“I figured you would want to get him into bed soon since he has school tomorrow.” Connor’s voice sounded genuine but he wasn’t fooling anyone. The hateful glint in his eyes when he looked at me over Jo’s shoulder spoke volumes and I got the distinct impression that Connor Morsden doesn’t like me for some reason.

I wonder if knew what I had risked to help him.

Alex looked up at him and I don’t think Connor was fooling the kid any more than he was fooling me. “Uncle Connor, don’t lie! You said you wanted to get a look at the juice bag! But why would juice come in a bag?”

Jo eyed her brother, as unsurprised as the rest of us. All of us except Alex (although with that kid I had to wonder) knew that Connor wasn’t talking about juice at all.

“Yes Uncle Connor,” she hissed turning the spotlight back on him,why would juice come in a bag?”

“Because the factory was out of jugs,” Connor said, never missing a beat. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to run to the little boy’s room.”

Alex crossed his arms across his chest and pressed his lips together as he watched his uncle retreat down the hall.  He wasn’t happy about something but his face broke out into a shark faced grin which disappeared when Jo stooped down to pick him up; Jo noticed nothing but Alex’s arms snaking around her neck and the wide, excited smile the dominated his face.

 “Guess what Uncle Connor got me, mommy!”

”What?” She asked with enthusiasm.

“A puppy!”

The grin slid off of Jo’s face and I got the sense this was a sore subject around here. She placed Alex on the floor without a word and stalked down the hall after her brother.

Alex walked over to where I was sitting and sat in the chair beside me.  I turned to him and began to say something, but he put a single finger to his lips, silencing me, before pointing down the hall. He held up three fingers and slowly started counting down…three…two…one…

As if on cue, I heard Jo’s fist pounding on the door and her angry voice carrying down the hall.

“Zip it up! My fist has a bone to pick with your face.”

“What did I do now?” Connor whined through the door and I got the sense that this kind of thing was at least a semi-regular occurrence between them.

“You damn well know it you jackass!” In a way I kind of felt for him; growing up with Jo as a younger sister must have been hell despite him being half a decade older.

Alex smiled softly at the exchange gave me a knowing little look before reaching to the floor beside him and pulled his backpack onto the table. Slowly he unzipped it and I got the distinct impression he was testing me as he pulled a black, floppy thing from inside the bag.

“What’s that?” I asked, but I was pretty sure I already knew the answer.

“My puppy,” The cat and canary grin spreading across his face told me that he knew exactly what he started between his mother and uncle and I couldn’t help but wonder why. I may not have known the kid long but he didn’t seem like the kind of kid to cause undue chaos (he was too much my kid for me to believe him completely innocent in the chaos department but I imagined he would always have a reason).

Alex clicked his tongue and shook his head before looking at me out of the corner of his eye. “Uncle Connor should know better than to be mean to people or someone might just be mean back.”

I was shocked. Had he just acted in my defense?

Jo came stalking back into the room before I could say anything on the subject but the twinkle in Alex’s eye and slight nod told me that he already a bit ahead of me.

Connor followed his sister, rubbing the back of his head as if she had just smacked him there rather hard and knowing Jo, it was entirely possible. When he saw me he stopped and leaned against the doorframe—just far enough away that he wouldn’t be intruding but close enough that I couldn’t miss him shooting me an evil look as if he would like nothing more than to meet me wandless in a dark alley one night.  

I could tell Jo wasn’t pleased as the pointed at Alex with that hard look in her eyes that could only come from motherhood. “You. Bed. Now.”

 “But mom it’s not like I’m going to get to sleep anyway.” Alex said sighing, amazingly able to keep the whine out of his voice as he argued with her but Jo wasn’t in the mood.

“Now.”

Alex started gathering his thing but didn’t bother hurrying. “I don’t know why you’re mad. I was just trying to cut the tension a little. Geese momma, you act like it’s a capital offence.”

“Alex.” She didn’t need to say anything more.

“I’m going, I’m going,” Alex muttered, heading towards the hallway.  

“Come on, I’ll tuck you in.” Connor said, his eyes never leaving my face as he tussled Alex’s hair.

Alex looked back and waved at me as Connor lead him away. I waved back numbly, trying not to let myself get too disappointed that he didn’t give me a hug goodnight or anything like that. As sucky as this entire situation was, the worst part (besides my lingering feelings for my ex) was that I couldn’t get even an idea of where Alex and I stood.

I get it, the kid had only known me a day, for god’s sake, but I was pretty sure he knew where we stood—I just couldn’t make heads or tails of the situation. Half the time he seemed curiously indifferent to our connection and yet he still came to my defense in his own sneaky little way when the closest thing he had to a father insulted me. 

It was just too confusing. But then again, I have been saying that a lot lately.

Jo waited till she was sure they were safely in Alex’s room before saying anything. I followed her lead; I figured she was better at keeping things from a pair of overactive little ears than I was.

“So where were we?” she asked

“Plains.”

“Oh, right.” She said before continuing. “So—”

I cut her off with a sudden flash of insight. “Jo?”

“Huh?”

“Why don’t you bring Alex to Sunday dinner?” I said, letting my mouth run faster than my brain. We still had a lot of work to do and I wasn’t sure I wanted my families impute just yet—too many cooks and all that—but I couldn’t stop myself. I think a part of me wanted to be able to pretend, even if it was only for a few seconds, that things had never went to hell, that our story had a different ending.

She blinked in surprise and studied my face, considering all the angles.  

“Does your family know about all this yet?” she asked licking her lips.

I shook my head. Unless Al had opened his big mouth no one would know just yet—hell, I hadn’t even known a full day… but then again in my family that was more than enough time for the news to spread.

“Perfect.” She muttered. It wasn’t hard to guess where her mind was going.  Jo probably thought I was going to have her show up with Alex, unknown and unannounced as far as my family was concerned and let her deal with their reactions while I just watched. A week ago I might have done just that but her story had left enough pin pricks of guilt in my heart that it wouldn’t be near as satisfying as she seemed to think.

“Alright.” She said looking down and nodding. Wow… even knowing what their reactions would be she was still willing to… just wow.

“I’ll tell them before then.” I reassured, even though I wasn’t sure how I would manage that. She looked up and gave me a thankful little smile.

Connor stood leaning against the door way, watching our exchange with narrowed eyes. For some reason I got the impression he didn’t like me much and despite the fact that none of this was really any of his business, I couldn’t deny that he made me uncomfortable. There were just some conversations that didn’t need an audience.

“Listen Jo, I need to go. I have practice in the morning and…” it was a flimsy excuse and we both knew it. I had showed up for practice more than once tired after a long night of partying and no one would be any wiser but I didn’t want to finish this within earshot of the brooding brother in the corner.

“Yeah. Goodnight James,” she said picking up the tea cup from the table and began washing it.

I walked away, fully intending for that to be the end of it all but I only made it to the door. I turned around and paused for a moment trying to find the right way to phrase what I had to say.

“Jo?” I whispered half hoping she didn’t her me.

“Huh?” she said just as softly.

I don’t know why I said it. In hindsight it was cruel, but I never meant it that way. I guess I just wanted to make sure there was nothing left to infect the gapping wound that was only now getting tended to. I mean if we were really to start over there could be nothing left to fester.

Connor was still there watching, his eyes burning into the side of my head, but I ignored him. It was none of his damn business what I had to say now and frankly I didn’t give a damn what he thought. For some reason this was too important to me to leave unsaid.  

“Before everything fell apart, I had something I wanted to ask you but never got the chance. I had a ring picked out and everything,” I said softly, surprised my voice hadn’t failed me.

It was something I hadn’t said aloud before; I hadn’t even told Al or my parents. This was something that was between me and Jo. I wanted to wait until she had answered before I said anything but then the point became moot and it was too painful to talk about at all…even when everyone wondered why I just couldn’t have let her go.

Her face hardened as she put down the rag, but I couldn’t stop. I had to know.

“What would you have said?”

There was a clank as her tea cup hit the sink.

Her shoulders tensed as she gripped the edge of the sink. I could see the reflection of her pained face in the window and it killed me. This wasn’t about hurting her; this was about clearing the air so we could move on—to whatever—for Alex. 

“If you really have to ask Potter, maybe the slate isn’t as clean as you would like to think,” she muttered.

It took me a moment to understand what she meant. I knew what my Jo would have said—the person I thought Jo was then. But maybe that was the point. Maybe that was what she was trying to say. There was no ‘my’ Jo and ‘new’ Jo. There was just Jo. It was only the hatred I had so desperately clung to that forced me to separate them.  

I sighed, internally conceding her point.

“I guess not.” I muttered, walking out the door. There was nothing left to accomplish tonight. 


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