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Chapter 23 : The Twenty-Third One
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Fuck, I'd missed this.
I mean, I knew I'd missed it, but – this was different. This wasn't even like before. Just James and I – it was different. Granted, this time James wasn't wearing a shirt and we were in my bed, but it was more than that – everything just felt different.
And whereas normally I run screaming for the hills at the slightest prospect of change, this seemed good. Really good.
James' stupid limbs eventually lifted themselves from their useless position on the bed and he slid one of his hands into the roots of my hair, his other winding around my waist so I was pressed against his chest. I brushed the sides of his hair down with the pads of my thumbs, and James smiled against my lips.
"Holy fuck, I've missed you," James muttered, pulling away and kissing me on each cheek. I snorted and planted a kiss in the gap between his eyebrows. Wrapping my arms around his neck, I pulled him into a hug and rested my cheek on his shoulder, my lips pressed to his neck.
"I've missed you too, James," I murmured, continuing my sudden, strange habit of actually speaking to James about things. "A lot." I added as an afterthought.
"Well, in that case," James muttered, and then he was leaning down and pressing kisses onto the exposed part of my neck, his arms circling my waist, my hands cupping his cheeks... and even though it was so similar to before, everything was different.
And I didn't know why.
I dropped my hands to his arms and ran them up and down as he continued to press open mouthed kisses to my neck, my nose brushing against the hollow of his throat.
As James' lips reached the underside of my jaw I started to hum contentedly, and James smiled as he brought his lips back to mine, his nose brushing the length of my cheekbone. I wrapped my arms tighter around his neck and pulled him to my chest, but quickly slid them down his shirtless back, pulling away so I could plant a kiss on the centre of his chest.
"Your kisses feel different," James murmured, running his hands through my hair as I slowly looked back up at him, my cheek resting on his chest and my hands drawing smiley faces onto his skin.
"Do they now? Maybe you'd just forgotten what they're like," I murmured back, stretching out one of my arms to trace the outside of James' lips with the pad of one of my fingers.
"Nah, I don't think I'd forget them in a hurry," James smiled softly, running one of his own fingers down my jaw.
"Wouldn't you, now? Do you need me to refresh your memory?" I winked cheekily and leaned forwards a little, running the tip of my nose up and down James', my lips only a few centimetres away from his. James groaned.
"You are a cruel, cruel tease, Summer Lancaster," James smirked, and before I could laugh he had pulled my face back to his and jammed his tongue into my mouth, the kiss taking a 180 degree swing from how it was before.
It was just like it used to be – fast paced, quick, thoughtless. None of the romantic shit, none of the feelings that had developed as of late – it was just James and I, in our own little bubble, kissing away our thoughts and feelings, kissing away our cares.
The way I wanted it to be.
I ran my hands down James' chest and tugged on the waistband of his board shorts, as James' hands became more intense and started to fumble with the bottom of my t-shirt, trying to pull my arms out of the sleeves and get it over my head without breaking the kiss.
The resulting moment of awkward kissing through the fabric of my shirt almost killed the mood, but a second later it was done, and I was re-plastered against James' chest, his hands resting comfortably on my arse.
I pulled my mouth away from James' so I could start to press kisses against the hollow of his neck, smiling when he lifted one of his hands to start running patterns onto the skin on the small of my back.
Half a minute later, James grabbed my legs and twisted them around his waist, pushed my back down so I was flat to the duvet and planted a kiss on my bellybutton, doing it several more times until I eventually giggled. James smirked triumphantly.
"You really are beautiful, Summer," James whispered, moving down the bed with me so he could rest his head next to mine, propped up on one elbow and one hip.
I blinked a little, my lips tugging up a little at the sides. It was the first time James had ever called me beautiful. He'd called me many nice things, yes – but never beautiful. I never ever thought I'd like the sound of him saying it – but I did.
"Thank you," I murmured, leaning across the miniscule gap between us to brush a chunk of his hair behind his ear. He smiled softly, and then shifted a little closer to me on the bed.
Brushing his fingers along my exposed collar bone, James leaned down and pressed a soft kiss to my shoulder, his fingers running up and down my bra strap. I blinked a few times, my mouth dropping open ever so slightly.
James shifted the strap to the side slightly, and gently kissed the skin where it had been. I struggled to press my lips closed again.
James glanced up as I was about to close my eyes, his own gaze wary and asking my permission to carry on with what he was doing. I nodded softly, running my fingers through the back of his hair. James smiled slightly and kissed my shoulder again, before kissing along my collarbone to my other shoulder, until he was leaning over me, propped up by his elbows.
I smiled and ran my thumbs of James' shoulder blades. He smiled too.
We were both just a pair of twits, lying on my bed with goofy smiles plastered on our faces, James' quirked lips pressed against the hollow of my collarbone, reaching out one of his hands to twine his fingers with mine.
After a few more minutes, James' soft kisses became a little more persistent, and I slid my hands to either side of his face to pull his lips back to mine.
And that was all that was needed.
It was like a flare, a firecracker – it shot up into the sky, burning, bright with fire, completely eradicating the part of my brain that would have usually told me that I was wrong, that I needed to stop doing what I was doing – the part of my brain that would have reminded me about my boyfriend.
But that was burned away as James' lips seared over mine, hot and insistent, his huge hands crushing me to his chest, his tongue thrashing with mine – it was almost too much. James had never been like this before – never so intense.
It was too much. I couldn't deal with it.
But fuck, it felt good. Good enough to stall me, good enough to make me kiss back as my thoughts whipped around in one huge mess, unable to differentiate between wanting to pull away and wanting to pull him closer.
As James' hands slid to my back, to the back of my bra, I made a decision – fuck it. Fuck. It. I wanted him, I'd wanted him for a very long time – so what the fuck?
Life is full of decisions, and some are good, some are bad. They all have consequences. And you know what; if the consequences are bad then you just have to deal with it. And that's that. We're teenagers; we're gonna fuck everything up anyway – why not live a little while you're at it?
Nearly grinning with my newfound philosophy, I slid my hands down to James' hips and fumbled with the waistband of his – my shorts, as he struggled to unfasten the clasp of my bra.
It's not that hard, blokes. Seriously, you just push both sides together and then let go. It is not rocket science. It's not like we're asking you to solve a Rubix Cube before we'll take our shirts off.
He'd just cracked it – I'd like point out that he grinned proudly like he'd solved some kind of impossibly problem – when something very, very unfortunate happened. The kind of thing that nearly made me decide that my previous philosophy of just taking consequences as they came was a load of bollocks.
The kind of thing that makes you want to curl up into a ball under your duvet and refuse to come out until no one remembers and the hedgehogs have taken over.
Do you want to know what happened?
My dad walked in. Yes, my dad, whom I was not even speaking to at the time, somehow managed to break through the lock charms on the door to my wing and barged into my room, without knocking. To find James and I making out – shirtless – on my bed.
You know, maybe it wouldn't be such an awful thing to wait until the hedgehogs took over. I mean, they're covered in spikes; it couldn't take too long for them to kill off all the humans. Or just my father, whatever. I'll see if I can speak to a few hedgehog overlords when I get back to Hogwarts.
"WHAT THE BLOODY FUCK? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING –" Dad was cut off as I launched myself across the bed, snatched my wand off the bedside table and shot a random spell at the entrance to my room, launching my dad out of it and slamming the door behind him. YOLO and all that, you know.
"Just a minute!" I yelled, scrambling around for my underwear and shirt as James flushed crimson and flopped off the bed, scrabbling around desperately for his own clothes.
"Summer Oriona Lancaster, let me into that bedroom this second!" My dad roared, hammering on the door as I fumbled with my twisted bra straps, James cursing under his breath as he couldn't figure out which was the head hole and which were the arm holes of his t-shirt.
"When did this bloody thing get so sodding complicated?" James hissed, clawing angrily at the material as he struggled to get his head through the left sleeve.
"Get your sodding head out of the sleeve, twat," I hissed, tossing a slipper from under my desk at his head, which smacked him straight in the face and bounced off onto the bed.
"SUMMER! You have five seconds to get out into this hallway or I will curse my way in, regardless of how many clothes you're wearing!" My dad was back to hammering on the door, clearly getting more and more pissed as time went on.
"I said, just a minute!" I yelled back, my voice getting more and more panicked as I struggled to find my t-shirt. I dragged a random jumper from a drawer and dragged it over my head, checked to see if James was decent and crawled over to the door, regular ninja-style.
"Hello, Daddy," I said mildly, blinking up at my dad from where I was sitting, cross legged on the floor. My dad's mouth was hanging open, blinking down at me as I anxiously tried to smooth down the back of my hair.
"What the hell do you think you're playing at, Summer?" he snarled, and I glared down at my hands.
"You know, Dad, most people consider it polite to knock before they barge into someone's room," I muttered, blinking innocently at him as the tip of his nose turned an amusing shade of beetroot.
"You – knock – polite... you – you – knock!" My dad spluttered, seemingly losing the ability to formulate words correctly. I resisted the urge to smirk as the beetroot shade faded out of my dad's nose and pooled into his cheeks instead, as his words grew even more indistinguishable.
"I'm sorry, I don't seem to be able to understand you," I said calmly. "Maybe once you've calmed down a little, we can have a mature discussion about what is bothering you." When I had turned into the Queen, I didn't know, but I had suddenly started talking like her.
"You – I –" My father seemed to be finally lost for words, and so decided to become a man of action instead. Shoving my past me, he pushed his way into the room and glared around for James, who was standing next to the desk, staring at his shoes, red in the face.
My dad seized James by the collar and pulled him a little closer to him, his eyes blazing and his fists curled so tightly around James' shirt that I'm surprised he didn't tear if off.
"What the fuck do you think you're playing at?" he snarled, watching the colour drain out of James' face. "How dare you come into my house and try to do that with my daughter – in my own house." I flushed and James gaped a little.
"I – I, I'm very sorry, Sir," he stammered, and I watched my dad warily.
"Get out. Get out my house, and don't ever come back."
My dad's voice was so chilling that I nearly followed the instructions – despite the fact he normally couldn't give a rat's fart about what I was doing and who I was doing it with, this seemed to have hit him quite hard. Maybe it was him trying to contradict me – to prove that he did care, even though I believed he didn't.
James grabbed his shoes from the side of the bed and yanked them on, before quickly shooting me an apologetic smile and scampering out the door.
I blinked a few times and turned my glare onto my dad, before pushing off the ground and staggering out of the room after James, jumping over my keys, which had fallen to the floor at point. Something flickered in my chest when I noticed the heart shaped keychain. I wasn't sure why.
Maybe I had indigestion from all the shit that James and I had eaten that day.
"James, wait!" I yelled as I got to the front door, barefoot. I glared around for a pair of shoes, but there didn't seem to be any. So with nothing else to do, I scowled and darted out the front door, wincing at the freezing cold gravel.
Small note for you all, because I love you so much – running around on gravel, barefoot, at ten o'clock at night, in the middle of December, in England – yeah, not the brightest idea on the planet. I would recommend trying to avoid doing such a thing.
"Holy mother of Merlin, what the fuck did I do in life to deserve this?" I hissed, running down the driveway like an insane leprechaun to where James was standing, watching me with an amused expression on his face, his eyes occasionally darting towards the door in anxiousness, like my dad might suddenly march out with a shotgun and make a rug with his brains for daring to stand in his driveway.
Mind you, he had seemed pretty pissed before.
"Summer, look," James said running his hands through his hair, which was still sticking up at strange angles from... ahem, certain activities.
"What?" I asked, rocking back onto my heels so less of my feet were touching the floor.
"I'm – I'm really sorry, I feel like I took advantage up there, in your room – I'm sorry, I just..." I frowned as James ran his hands over his closed eyes. "I didn't mean for it to go that far, I just – I fucking wanted you so bad, and I – I mean, you have a boyfriend, and..." James trailed off at the look on my face.
Holy toast. Jack. I closed my eyes softly and ran my hands through the front of my hair, wishing the ground to swallow me up right there and then and take me back to two months ago, when everything was still normal – when what was going to happen upstairs would have barely changed anything.
"I – I," I stammered, chewing on my bottom lip. "Fuck. I forgot about – I forgot about Jack, and – shit, what have I done? I mean, you're always telling me that I've got to learn to be faithful to people, and... I just... Oh, shit."
I pinched the bridge of my nose between two of my fingers and let James drag me into a hug, patting my softly on the back.
"Summer, are you not wearing any shoes?" James asked suddenly, pulling away and staring down at my feet. I shrieked a little and curled my toes under, trying to hide the chipped purple nail polish that was covering my toes.
Not the sexiest thing in the world, I have to say.
"There weren't any by the front door," I muttered, and James sighed. Bending down, he pulled my up into some kind of backwards piggyback and carried me over to the wall that surrounded the expensive conifers in the front garden, setting me down on it so my feet dangled in mid air.
"I don't want you to hurt your feet," James shrugged, and I nodded.
I leaned forwards and rested my head on James' chest, just above his heart, and wrapped my arms around his waist, pulling him closer.
He smelled like me. He smelled like me, but he smelled like himself at the same time. It was actually a lovely smell – the strange muskiness of the James Smell with my stupidly expensive perfume, from some random shop in France.
I only bought it because the sales assistant had a stick up her arse and was being all funny with me, because she didn't think I could afford the shit that she sold in her shop. So I bought the most expensive perfume in there, just to stick it to her.
Of course, since she got the profit from flogging it, it most likely wasn't the best thought through plan that I had ever formulated.
"Hey James," I murmured, thinking back to what he had said about feeling like had been 'taking advantage', "I wish my dad hadn't walked in, you know." I could feel James tense in my arms, and then he pulled back a little.
"Really?" he asked unsurely, brushing his fingers down one my cheekbones.
"Really," I confirmed, staring up at him sincerely.
James' lips twitched up into a slight smile, and suddenly he was pulling me back into a hug, his lips brushing my hair and his hands squeezing my waist tight enough to make me squeal.
"Well, I'm glad about that – I really am," James murmured into my hair, and I opened my eyes slightly to stare at the side of his neck. "But Summer – whilst you're seeing someone else – I... I'm not going to make the mistake of letting anything else happen between us. Not whilst you're still someone else's girlfriend. That's not right."
I pulled back and wrapped my arms around James' neck, tucking another piece of hair behind his ear.
"Summer, I know what it's like to be cheated on," James whispered, and I felt my stomach drop a little. Other than when I was drunk and he'd told me what had happened, he'd never talked about how he felt about being cheated on. "And trust me when I say it is one of the worst things in the world. It makes you feel like you're not good enough, like you'll never be good enough, because on top of you they had to have someone else."
My mouth dropped open a little bit, but James wasn't done. I couldn't help but feel like a dam was being broken down, like James was finally going to move on from everything that had happened with Natalie and Albus. Like he was finally going to be able to let it go.
"And I know what it's like to find out that your girlfriend has slept with someone else – and that is one of the worst feelings on the planet. I know it would hurt you if Jack found out – I know it would hurt you to know that you'd hurt him. And he would feel shit too – thinking he's not good enough, thinking that he wasn't enough for you. He'd feel used. He'd feel like shit. And I don't think I'd be able to stomach making another person feel like that, no matter whether or not I can't stand the bloke."
I blinked, my mouth hanging even further open. Never before had I seen James so sincere, so completely serious, all pretences lying on the ground.
"And so I'm not going to touch you, Summer. Not until you're single again. And if you don't want to leave Jack, then fine – but things will be done with me. Summer, we're not ready for a relationship with each other. We're not. And I know you probably don't want one."
"But I want to be friends again. I want to be friends again so bad. I mean, you piss me off to no end, and sometimes I just want to push you off a cliff and be done with it because you're so goddamn frustrating, but... I don't know. I miss you. I started to miss you from the second I started trying to ignore you. And if we can only be friends, then I'll take that. I'll take that over nothing."
I blinked and went to speak, but I didn't know what to say.
Fuck, I wanted to be friends with James again. Of course I did, I missed him way too much not to. But at the same time, there was a part of me that wanted to be what we were before – friends with benefits, for lack of a better phrase.
There was just this thing about James – I didn't know what it was, but... No, in fact, I knew exactly what it was.
I fancied the pants off him, and I wanted to be able to snog his face off whenever I pleased.
But something made me think that James wouldn't take the kind of relationship that we had before. Something was niggling like an annoying little mushroom in the back of my head, telling me that if I wanted the good stuff with James, then it would come with the relationship label.
And fuck, that terrified me.
It just... it seemed so different with Jack. It was like being with James again, but without the fireworks and the all-consuming feelings. But it was just like having a friend that you could snog the face off when you felt like it.
It wasn't like Dom and Connor – or ConDom, as James still refers to them as – where they had to tell each other how much they loved one another three times an hour.
That would be too much. I'd be running for the hills if the L word ever cropped up into a conversation. In fact, I wouldn't be running for the hills. He'd be rolling down one, strapped up in a barrel.
I'm such a lovely person.
"We're going to be the best motherfucking friends on the face of the planet, twit," I said firmly, pulling James into a tight hug and patting him on the back in traditional bromance fashion. Like all the cool kids, you know. James looked a little surprised, but patted me on the back in return.
"You're a nutter, you," he muttered, pulling away and pulling me off the wall, so my feet were back on the gravel. Did I ever mentioned that gravel is really uncomfortable to stand on? Well, it is. It feels like hairy midgets are lying on the ground with spears, trying to stab me in the feet.
And it's not very nice of them.
"Erm... not to butt in or anything..." James eventually said, rocking sheepishly backwards and forwards in his converse, chewing on the inside of his cheek with awkwardness.
"What?" I asked flatly, and James stared quite hard at the floor. Maybe he's trying to impale a few of the hairy midgets to death with his eyesight alone.
"Do you – do you have any idea what you are going to do about Jack? I mean, are you going to stay with him, or..." James flushed as I cocked an unimpressed eyebrow at him. "I just, I mean, you – you snogged me. For fuck's sake, you were going to shag me – you clearly can't care about him that much."
I blinked and crossed my arms across my chest. I did care about Jack. I cared about him a lot. I actually did – he was the one that had been there for me when I fell out with James, when the other four gits stopped paying any attention to James and I because they were too busy being wrapped up in their other half's tonsils.
But I didn't care about Jack in the relationship sense – just in the friend sense. I only really agreed to go official with Jack because I was worried that he'd stop hanging out with me altogether if we didn't put a title on it all.
And even though it was true – I wasn't going to let James pick holes in my relationship.
"I care about Jack plenty, thank you very much," I snapped coldly, and James recoiled slightly, surprised by the one hundred and eighty degree turn that my mood had suddenly taken.
I wondered suddenly whether that was what James meant when he said that I was frustrating, that he never knew where he stood with me – the fact that if he said one thing then I was likely to snap his head off for it.
I frowned a little as I remember getting dressed for bed – when James was convinced I was going to have a go at him for something as trivial as having forgotten his pyjamas.
Was my temper really that bad?
"Woah, woah," James said, stepping back and holding up both of his hands, both of his eyebrows raised slightly, "Don't speak to me like that – you're the one that's been implying it all night." James narrowed his eyes at me and I flushed a little.
"Sorry," I muttered prissily.
"It's alright," James shrugged, "I don't give a shit if you speak to your prick of a dad like that, but don't talk to me like a bitch just because you've suddenly gotten yourself into a bad mood." I glared a little at the floor as he told me off like a misbehaving toddler.
I was not happy.
"Look, I've said I'm sorry, you don't need to keep harping on," I said tightly, struggling to bite my tongue and stop myself from snapping at him.
James sighed and ran his hands through his hair, and I kicked at a random stone with one of my big toes. We both stood there in silence, both of us a little pissed, both of us cold, both of us wanting to go back home – but neither of us moving.
"I'm sorry," James said suddenly, and I looked up in surprise.
"What do you have to be sorry for?" I asked in confusion, and James shrugged a little sadly.
"Despite nearly being throttled by your father, I actually had a really amazing day – and there was one part of it that I will probably remember for a long time," James winked cheekily and swatted me on the bum, causing me to scowl. "And I don't want to end that on a bad note – I want to remember this as being a good day when we started to patch things up."
I smiled and rolled my eyes at the soppiness, wondering when James became such a giant sap.
"I had a really good day, too," I smiled, and James grinned like a twat, a giant goofy grin that contorted his face so much that he almost looked like a cartoon. "You should probably go, if my dad looks out the window and sees you here, I wouldn't put it past him to hex your pretty face off."
"You think I have a pretty face?" James asked hopefully, and I rolled my eyes.
"Yes, I do. But I think the part of that conversation that you ought to have taken away was the bit about my father hexing said pretty face off." I cocked my head to the side sarcastically.
"Right, well, I'll go," James grinned, leaning forwards and planting a soft kiss on my cheek, smirking a little when I pouted. "And Summer – I hope you realise that I'm going to call a rain check on this."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Well, the reason I came here tonight was to have you talk to me, to prove that you trusted me. And to be honest, we didn't really get to chat – your dear daddy put a stop to that. But don't you worry – I will make sure we find some time soon to get together and talk about our feelings." I glared as James laughed.
"Bye, James," I said softly as he started to walk back out the drive. He turned around to grin at me.
"See you soon, love."
"Surprise!" I gaped at Jack, who was standing in the doorway to my house with an enormous grin on his face, his fringe flopping into his face quite sexily. He did look fit that morning. Nice chest in a tight grey t-shirt, arse looking quite fit in a nice pair of navy jeans. Not bad.
"I – Jack? What are you doing here?" I asked stupidly, blinking a couple of times in shock as his grin, if possible, got even bigger.
"Are you surprised to see me here?" Jack asked, stepping into the house as I rigidly waved him in and closed the door softly behind him. I nodded stiffly, gesturing him into the living room.
"Well, I think the shocked expression on my face speaks for itself," I said mildly, shoving him down onto the sofa behind him and dropping down to perch on the edge of his lap. "Would you like anything to eat, or a drink or whatever?" I asked.
"I'd love a coffee, if you have it. I'm really tired this morning, I could do with a bit of a boost, you know." I thought for a second, and then nodded. Pushing myself off his knee and pecking him quickly on the lips, I headed off to the kitchen.
"Minty, do we have coffee anywhere?" I asked, padding into the kitchen to find Minty stirring a giant metal pot over the oven, which smelled delicious.
"Yes, Miss Lancaster. How many cups would you like? One for you and one for Mr Goldstein?" I blinked and shook my head, wondering how she had learned his name without speaking to him. The little thing knew everything.
"Just one for Jack, I don't want any. Though a glass of iced water would be smashing, Minty." I grinned at her once and headed back out the kitchen, back up the stairs, down the corridor, to the left, past the other three living rooms, under the clay arch and back into the living room that Jack was waiting in.
Why we had to have a house like a labyrinth was beyond me.
"Um, Summer? Love – you seem to have forgotten something... you know, the drinks you went out to get?" Jack laughed in amusement and shook his head.
"No, I did go and get them... Minty will be bringing them in as soon as she's made them." I smiled at Jack and dropped back down onto his knee, wrapping my arms around his neck.
"Minty?" Jack asked, sounding confused. I frowned a little. Isn't 'Minty' fairly self-explanatory? I mean, how many people does he know that name their children Minty? And it's not like I'd be asking the dog to fetch him some coffee.
"Our house elf," I muttered. I was beginning to feel a little irritated, for some reason.
"You have a house elf?"
"Well, yes, that's why I just told you that Minty was our house elf."
"Oh. I didn't know you had a house elf."
"That's because I never mentioned it to you."
Our discussion was cut short by the entrance of Minty herself, which was probably a good thing – my tone had been growing colder and colder with every passing word. Jack was really beginning to get under my skin. Why does it matter whether or not I have a house elf? She's older than I am, and she's lived here for longer than I have.
"Mr Goldstein, your coffee," Minty squeaked, setting it down on the armrest of the couch and sinking into a curtsey, before handing me my glass of water. "Miss Lancaster, your water." I smiled and took a sip.
"That's fine. Thank you very much, Minty." She sank down into one knee in one more curtsey, and then left the room. Jack was blinking at his coffee, but hadn't touched it.
"Is there a problem?" I asked softly, tucking a chunk of hair behind my ear and forcing myself not to narrow my eyes at Jack, who was still staring apprehensively at the cup, like it might suddenly grow fangs, leap out and bite him.
"I didn't know you have a house elf, that's all," he shrugged, but there seemed to be something a little too cavalier in the way he was speaking.
"And do you have a problem with the fact I have a house elf?" I snapped coldly, shifting off his lap so I was sitting on the couch next to him.
"Sorry, it's just the way I was raised. My mum has some pretty intense opinions about house elves being slaves without a choice in the matter, and that all house elves should be set free. My dad told her she should join 'Granger's spew' or something, but neither of us knew what he meant by that. But I was just raised to believe that house elves are forced to work, and it's not right. And I didn't know you had one." Jack shrugged uncomfortably and I breathed out hard through my nose.
"Minty is actually paid to be here, and she chose her own wage, after the law was passed by Hermione Weasley that meant house elves could no longer work for nothing. My father gives her the option of leaving once a year, and she has never taken it. She enjoys working here – it's no different to being a maid, to be honest. She cooks, cleans, is paid to do so and is treated well. I don't see the problem." Jack shrugged again.
"It's slave labour," he shrugged, and glared at the side of his head.
"I just told you that she gets paid – you cannot be a slave if you get paid. Maybe you should actually listen to me before you and formulate some cock and bull opinion on the way I live."
"I'm not judging the way you live, Summer –"
"Yes, you are! You just told me that you think I have a slave – do you really think I'd treat another living creature like a slave? I'm actually offended that you think so little of me – and I'd always let you explain for I just went and jumped to conclusions."
"Look, Summer, I don't want to argue with you,"
"Yeah, of course you don't want to argue with me. You never do want to disagree with me, do you? You just agree with everything I say because you think I'll get angry if you don't! Do you have to be so spineless all the time?"
"Hey, love, I'm not a Gryffindor –"
"Oh, don't spin me that bullshit. People use their houses like an excuse – if they're a wimp, they claim it's alright as long as they're not in Gryffindor. If they're mean to people, it's alright because they're in Slytherin. It's bullshit. It's absolute bollocks. Whatever house you're in does not mean that you can't possess qualities of the other houses – look at Penny!"
"Why are you getting so pissy?"
"Because you're being such a prick!"
"Are you on your period or something?"
"What the – no! No, I'm not! I'm just angry!" I ran my hands through my hair and crossed my legs, folded my arm over my chest and leant back into the couch.
"Summer, calm down," Jack sighed, shifting up on the couch and wrapping his arms around my shoulders. I went to shove him off, but didn't. I just sat there rigidly, waiting for him to drop his arm. But he didn't. "I didn't mean to offend you, and I'm really sorry if I did. Really, I extend my utmost apologies for upsetting you."
"You didn't upset me," I grumbled, but Jack just raised an eyebrow at me.
"Alright," he murmured, but I could tell that he didn't believe me. "Now come here, I've gone nearly the entire Christmas break without snogging you, and I don't want to wait any longer." I smiled and leaned in to meet his soft kiss.
It was nothing like James' kisses from the night before, but I was grateful for that. I didn't want Jack to be like James – I wanted them to be different.
Jack was my coping mechanism for dealing with James, and I didn't want the two to collide. Jack was normal, he was sweet, and he was easy. James was complicated, addicting and confusing. And I wanted the two to stay on opposite ends of the Richter scale.
Of course, my dear father didn't seem to want the differences between them to stay too dramatic for long, because all of a sudden it was like history was repeating itself – déjà vu, other than the fact that I was wearing my shirt, we were on a couch and it was a different bloke...
Fuck, my dad is going to think I'm the Whore of Babylon.
"What the – I thought I told you never to come back into my house –" The moment I realised who was speaking, what they were saying and where it was going, I froze, pulled my mouth away from Jack's, and started to sing.
Look, I never said I was good at this kind of thing.
"THERE WERE THREE GREEN BOTTLES SITTING ON A WALL, THREE GREEN BOTTLES SITTING ON A WALL, THREE GREEN BOTTLES SITTING ON A WALL. OH, AND IF ONE OF THOSE BOTTLES, SHOULD ACCIDENTALLY FALL, THERE WOULD BE TWO GREEN BOTTLES SITTING ON THE WALL!"
My dad and Jack were both gaping at me, both looking a little dumbstruck. It's not my fault I can't carry a tune to save my life.
My dad turned his eyes onto Jack, a little wide and a lot less angry than they would have been, had I not started... well, singing. His mouth dropped open a little when he took in the face – the face that was different to the one I had been making out with the previous night.
Yep, he'll think I'm the Hogwarts Whore. Wonderful.
"And who do we have here?" Dad asked, his tone oddly bright and cheerful. This seemed to completely throw Jack off, because he stumbled to his feet and instantly started stammering his apologies.
"I'm so, so sorry, Mr Lancaster. I didn't mean to – I promise I'm treating Summer... I mean, your daughter, with a lot of respect, and – I mean, um, should I leave? I mean, I can leave, if you want –"
"Jack, sit down," I snapped, pulling on the back of his shirt so his arse was back on the couch.
He gaped at me for a second and then looked back down at his knees, as my dad's unimpressed gaze flicked to me instead.
"Summer? Who is this?" Dad asked, looking greatly amused. Oh, I bet he was just praying that I was dating him, so he could drop me in it for being with James. Or he was praying I was dating James, so he could be in the papers for being the father of the girl that cheated on James Potter.
"Dad, this is Jack Goldstein, a good friend of mine," I said calmly. Well, it was calm until Jack snapped his neck to the side to look at me, looking nothing short of very offended.
"And by good friend," Jack started through gritted teeth, looking a little pissed, in all honesty, "She means I'm her boyfriend of two months. It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr Lancaster." I flushed and stared down at my knees, avoiding my father's amused gaze at all costs.
"Really? Summer's boyfriend? Right, well, that's very interesting. Tell me, son, how serious do you believe your relationship with my daughter is?" I glared harder at my knees.
"Pretty serious," Jack said, and I could practically hear the smile in his voice as he reached across to squeeze my knee. My dad looked like he was trying his hardest not to burst out into hysterical laughter.
"Really? Pretty serious? So I guess you're at that stage when it's an official relationship, and you don't see other people, right?" My dad's voice was shaking with barely suppressed laughter, my eyes crinkling at the sides under the strain.
I hadn't seen my dad laugh for years – and he chooses now to suddenly decide to become Mr Funny Man. Typical.
"Well, yes, that's why I introduced myself as Summer's boyfriend – that generally is what you call each other when you get into the exclusive phase," Jack informed my father, and I resisted the urge to pull of my shoe and break his nose with it, just to get him to stop talking. Why was he so posh? And proper? Was he not capable of just having a laugh?
I mean, yesterday James didn't start kissing my dad's ass when we got caught. He just walked down to the driveway and started talking to me. But no, instead Jack is practically molesting my father's trousers with his lips.
Ew. Mental image.
Suddenly something James once said floated back to me, something I had completely dismissed at the time, but something that seemed a little too true for comfort right now – he'll bore you to tears, Summer. Why would you want to date such a snobby, snooty bloke?
Get out of my head, Mental James.
Now is not the time.
"Oh, that is interesting. If you don't mind, son, I'd love to just have a word with my little girl – she'll be right back, I promise." My dad smiled reassuringly at him, seemingly the very personification of the word 'friendly', before holding his arm out to me and beckoning me out of the room. I scowled and followed him.
My dad was not a friendly bloke, and never before had he ever been decent to any of my friends – let alone one of my boyfriends. So why the sudden change? Why suddenly did he decide to ask permission to do things in his own house?
It was an act – lulling Jack into a false sense of security. But I couldn't tell what he was trying to fool him for, what he was planning to do once Jack had relaxed.
And I was pissing myself with the tension. I mean, my dad was a nasty bloke – just look what he did to my mum. Can you imagine what he'd do to someone that he didn't know?
"So, Summer, how come I hadn't been introduced to your boyfriend before now?" Dad asked as we strolled down one of the hallways together, both of us pretending to take in the finger paintings/modern art that cluttered the walls.
"Because I didn't want to introduce you to him," I muttered, cocking an eyebrow at a particularly crude interpretation of a woman. It was barely possible to differentiate between the head and the body.
"Strange, because you've introduced me to James Potter many times," Dad said casually, taking a particular interest in a window that we passed, which showed a fascinating view of our second conservatory roof.
"Well, James has been my best friend for six and a half years. Jack has only been my boyfriend for two months." I muttered back tightly, glaring at the end of the hallway – a large door that lead to the ballroom we had held the party in just a couple of days ago.
"James is your best friend?" Dad asked, turning his head from the wall so he could shoot me an amused look. "Didn't look that way, from what I walked in on yesterday."
My dad smirked again as I scowled at the carpet, blood rushing to my cheeks. If there is ever a conversation I didn't want to have, it would probably be one about my love life with my dad. I mean it's bad enough with any parent – but when you don't like said parent, and you're actually arguing with them at that moment – well, it just makes it one huge big pile of shit, really, doesn't it?
"That was a stupid mistake," I snapped, not really believing myself. But my tone was convincing enough. James and I had been sneaking around for long enough to make me a bullshitting pro.
"Right, and a stupid mistake that would cause your boyfriend to break up with you – the boyfriend that has a lot more manners than Mr Potter, I have to say. Summer, if word about what happened with James Potter ever got out..." My dad trailed off as my eyes snapped upwards.
"Why would it get out?" I asked suspiciously, narrowing my eyes. "I don't have any plans to let it get out – like I said, it was just a mistake." I thought back to what James had said. "It's not going to happen again."
"Summer, James Potter is the firstborn son of Harry Potter," Dad said suddenly, jerking to a stop and turning to stare at me.
"Really? I had no idea, thank you for telling me."
"Less of the sarcasm, young lady. I will not be spoken to like that." I stared down at the floor. "But I'm only trying to look out for you, Summer. If the press ever found out what happened between you and James, then you would have the press hounding you. And if they found out you had a boyfriend... Summer, I will not have the family name tainted. I refuse."
I blinked coldly at him, refusing to drop my gaze as he refused to drop mine.
"Yeah, don't worry about me and what would happen to me – just worry about the family name."
My dad blinked and then sighed, running his hand over his jaw in frustration as he believed that I had completely missed what he had been trying to tell me.
"Summer, that's not what I meant –"
"I know what you meant."
"Then why would you – Summer..."
"It's not going to happen again," my voice rang with finality, signalling the end of the conversation. My dad blinked twice, and then nodded.
"Summer, are you happy with Jack?" Dad asked suddenly, and I jumped a little. This was not like any conversation the two of us had ever had before – it was so much more personal... and it wasn't even that personal. I wouldn't even be comfortable talking to my mother – talking to Dom like this, but my dad... it made it all worse.
"That's none of your business." I snapped coldly, and my dad cocked an unimpressed eyebrow. But I didn't back down – I was not going to have this conversation with him.
"Summer, tell me."
"No. Why don't you go and ask darling Lulu?" I snapped, and my dad jumped slightly at the mention of her, his eyes narrowing as he realised where the conversation was going.
"You don't need to bring her into this – you're just angry. It's rude to leave guests waiting, Summer, and you are not leaving my presence until you tell me whether or not you are happy with the boy sitting in my living room, waiting for you."
"I – I am comfortable. I am comfortable and safe in a relationship with Jack – and that's all I need. I am happy. I am. He makes me feel safe – and safe means happy. So it's fine. He's my security blanket. It's fine. Really fine. We're good. We're going to be okay. Jack and I are going to be okay."
I nodded firmly, and my dad's eyes softened a little. I had never seen them look like that before – he looked like he cared. He opened his mouth as though he was going to say something, but then softly closed it again. He was lost for words.
Again, a first. And not a bad one.
"Look, Jack is waiting for me. I should probably go back." I nodded again and quickly whipped around, half sprinting down the hallway to get away from him. It was bad enough that I had James picking holes in my relationship; I didn't need anyone else to do the same.
I whipped around a corner quickly, not looking where I was going, and crashed into something – no, not something. Someone.
With a startled squawk, I leapt back and flattened myself to the wall, my hand flying to my back pocket where my wand was stored. The person I had smashed into shrieked a little as well, and raised their hands in the universal sign for 'surrender'.
"Jack?" I shrieked, rubbing the tips of my fingers over my heart as it slowed down its frantic hammering in my chest.
"Summer – look, I just –" Jack looked like he was going to apologise for... well, doing whatever he was doing, but suddenly his expression changed, his eyes crinkling at the sides and his jaw clenching and tightening.
"Jack, are you alright?" I asked, as he closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers. He looked pissed – he looked angry. Why? Is my house too big for his mother's tastes, or something?
"Am I alright – am I alright? Fuck! Fuck, no Summer, I am not alright! I just – I wanted to know what you and your dad were talking about and – fuck!" I jumped slightly with each swearword – I'd never heard Jack swear before. He was far too prim and proper for that.
"You were listening to our conversation," I muttered weakly, moving my hands to press them against my mouth, instantly skimming our conversation to see what he might have heard.
The bottom seemed to drop out of my stomach.
"What did you do with James Potter?" Jack asked quietly, keeping his eyes closed and leaning the back of his head against the wall. I blinked. "Summer, what did you do with James Potter? Your father said he walked in on something – what did he walk in on?"
I gaped at him, my mouth unable to form the words. What if he left me? Shit, I'd be single.
And what if James thought that I'd left Jack for him – he might think I'm ready to be his girlfriend and... shit. Jack can't do this to me. He can't. He's supposed to be my safeguard.
"Summer, tell me, or I'm leaving." I winced and dragged my hands through my hair, wondering whether my dad had fucked off or whether he was listening. Everyone else seems to be listening to my private conversations, anyway. "Summer!"
I jumped a little and Jack's eyes opened, softening a little as he looked at me. I probably looked pathetic – but I was panicking. He was going to change things.
And if there is one thing you should know about me by now, then it's how much I hate change. I hate it. If I could have my very own time turner and whip back in time whenever I wanted, to stop anything that might change things... I'd do it in a heartbeat.
"Did you sleep with him?" My neck snapped up. For some reason, that really seemed to hit a chord with me. It hurt that he would think that. And I wasn't really sure why.
"Of course not!" I half shrieked, and I was surprised at how offended my tone was – he was pretty much right, wasn't he? I mean, I was planning to... but I didn't. And that was the thought that I clung to. I wasn't lying. I was just... withholding information.
"Then what did you do?" Jack was holding no prisoners. Shit.
"I may have... kissed him a little bit." Jack cocked an eyebrow. "In my bed." Jack's eyebrows rose even further. "Whilst he wasn't wearing a shirt." I glared down at my feet as the colour bloomed into my cheeks.
"What was he doing in your bed?" Jack snapped quickly. Right, quick-fire round, is it?
"We were having a sleepover."
"A – a sleepover? Bloody hell. Right – why wasn't he wearing a shirt?"
"He'd forgotten his pyjamas and I didn't want to go and get him one of my dad's."
"Why did you lie to me?" My head snapped up as his tone dropped. "A long, long time ago, I asked you whether anything was going between you and James Potter – and you hit the roof. I mean, I always knew there was something... have you been cheating on me the entire time?"
"No! Of course not! And I really don't think you can call it cheating, Jack, I mean -"
"I'm sorry, I was taught that cheating was when you were in a relationship and you still engage in activities with other people. You are my girlfriend, and yet you sucked face with James Potter – that's cheating. Plain and simple. I don't care how you spin it. It is."
"I – I..." Jack sighed and shook his head.
"You know, most people would apologise – most people would apologise to their boyfriends if they got found out for snogging someone else. But not you. Of course not. No, you're above having to do things like that, aren't you?"
Jack jumped slightly and ran the palms of his hands over his eyes, looking like he wanted nothing more than to start ramming his head into the wall.
"Have you done it before? While you've been with me, have you done anything with James?"
"No! I've barely even spoken to James since we got together, because we had a massive falling out." Jack nodded.
"Have you done anything with anyone else?"
"No!" I was starting to get a little frustrated, even though I did know that I was the one in the wrong.
"Did you ever date Potter?" I blinked a couple of times.
"Are you telling me the truth?" Jack stared hard at my face, trying to decipher any emotion that could be flickering across it, giving me away.
Jack sighed and ran his hands over his face.
"Why did it have to be Potter? Why did it have to be him? Do you have any idea how paranoid he has made me since day one? He's the reason I've been so clingy lately – I just knew something was going to happen between the two of you." Jack sighed. "I mean, I know you must have a severely fucked up past with him, you can see that just from looking at you –"
I pouted. There was nothing wrong with mine and James' relationship, thank you very much.
"But – but why did it have to come into our relationship? It's just not – it's not what I wanted for us. I really thought we could have been going somewhere, Summer. I mean, I know I'm more invested than you are, but you could have all the time you needed... why... I don't..." Jack trailed off again.
I was sick of the talking around it. I wanted to get to the point. I wanted to know.
"Are you breaking up with me, then? Are we done?" My voice was emotionless. I was good at that voice. I'd gotten so used to using it that it just rolled off the tongue.
"I – I didn't say that," Jack muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose again. I wasn't sure why he was doing that. Maybe he thought it was just erase all his stress.
Maybe he had a secret button on his snozzle that instantly drained all the stress out of his body.
"So what are you saying?" I said again, in the same tone.
"I – I don't know. I need a break. I need a break from you. I need – I need you to just think about things – whether you even want to be in a relationship with me. I – maybe I'm not enough, if you needed Potter –"
My heart started hammering again as I thought back to James' words – he'll feel like shit. He'll feel like he's not good enough, because you needed someone else on top. I couldn't stomach doing that to another person.
But it wasn't like that – it wasn't like that at all. It wasn't that Jack wasn't enough... was it?
"I just think we should take the rest of the Christmas holidays to think. And when we get back to school we can decide – decide whether this is going to work for us. I hope it does, but I need to know you won't do that again – I couldn't stand it. If you're my girlfriend, you're mine, Summer. And that is that. If you're not ready for that, you're not ready for me."
There is that word again – mine.
That one word that nearly made me run sprinting for the hills whenever someone I was in a relationship with dared to utter it. If I ever became Minister for Magic, then I would probably have it banned. It shouldn't be allowed.
A person is not a possession – they cannot belong to another person.
"I – I think the break will be good for us," I said quietly, and Jack nodded heavily. Leaning forward, he pressed a kiss against my forehead, and I instantly winced. But it wasn't a bad wince – it was a wince in the sense that it felt like was saying goodbye. I wrapped my arms around his waist and pulled him into a hug – the kind of hug that I usually reserved for James – and pressed my face into his chest.
Jack chuckled under his breath and patted me lightly on the back, but made no effort to do anything else. I didn't expect him to. In all honesty, I didn't really want him to. So when I pulled away, he turned around and headed off down the hallway, leaving me standing all aloney on my owney.
At least, I was on my own for about thirty seconds. That's when Jack poked his head back around the corner with an adorably confused smile on his face.
"Erm, Summer? How do I get out of this place?"
"Down the hall, left, right, left, left, through the arch, down the hallway, right, through the entrance hall and the door is in front of you." Jack nodded, his eyes widening a little, and then he poked his head back around the corner.
I didn't move for a while.
"Bye, then," I murmured.
Because for some reason, it did feel like a goodbye. It didn't feel like I was going to rush back to Hogwarts and leap into Jack's arms. A girl could dream, but it didn't feel like it. I was pretty sure that that was it for Jack and I – that it was the end of the road.
So maybe it was the last goodbye.
disclaimer: nothing in this chapter belongs to me. the rubix cube does not belong to me, and neither does the 'green bottle' song.
ooh, there was something really important i needed to say and i can't remember what it is now. oh no. erm... so yes. how many of you are pleased that jack is finally leaving the picture? anyone feel bad for him? i do. and lots of james/summer action in this chapter. whooo. little present to all you james/summer shippers out there.
fred returns next chapter! whoo :D anyway, i hope you liked it :D
ellie :) xx
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