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Chapter 19 : February II.
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It was the sort of thing that I should have expected. It was the sort of typical thing that would happen to me. And Max... he wasn’t a good man. I’d known that. He was sexist and an idiot and used me, but that was fine because... because I was using him to not feel quite so lonely and pathetic. It was just unfortunate that there was a wife involved.
I hated the encroaching feeling that, no matter what happened, I could still end up here with this harrowing empty hole in the middle of my chest. This was the thing that no one seemed to understand: that I’d do anything, anything, if I thought it would curb the edge f the feeling. This feeling when everything seemed pointless and hopeless. It was worse than feeling dead and flat, because at the least then it was easier just to exist.
I stood in front of the mirror and look at myself. I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d let this happen. Twenty eight: a smoker, a drinker, a mistress.
What the hell had I gained from living through all these years? I was stood here with nothing to show for twenty eight years but a bunch of stupid stories and a bunch of vices that were keeping me standing – just about. I could disappear and no one would notice. I wasn’t doing anything, wasn’t affecting anyone.
That’s what I get for running away from everything for ten years. That’s what I get for letting myself become self destructive and stupid, for always taking the easy way out and for allowing something to take over my life and define who I was.
I think it was the first time I realised what it was. What the feeling was. The stupid word that people threw around so haphazardly, as if they could understand it, as if anyone could understand sadness without reason and limits.
So, I turned back to my reflection and continued to pluck my eyebrows.
“Hey George,” I said, leaning against the bar with my fingers clasped around a drink, “do you want to be my rebound?”
“Always, Grace,” George grinned, “so, how married was he?”
“Very, I think. I’m a bit hazy on the details.” I admitted, thinking of the half admission that I’d gotten from Cherry – for all I knew there could be children involved, a whole life built up that I knew nothing about and that I was slowly ruining without even intending to get involved. Some poor woman was going through hell because of me: because of course she knew – what about the phone calls where no one spoke? And when Max hung up and rang back later claiming he’d had an argument with his mother? Damn, I was an idiot.
“You better have had serious words,” Jill said grumpily, supporting another fabulous t-shirt this time with a slogan ‘putting the weird in the weird sisters’ which was entirely appropriate and wonderful, “men like that deserve strong girls like you hexing them into next week.”
“Try next year,” I returned, “I feel like such an idiot.”
“Well, you annihilated him, right Grace?” George suggested, grinning. “I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong end of our Grace.”
“Awh, George,” I pouted slightly, “all my ends really are wonderful.”
George cracked a grin at that and I raised my eyebrows in response – they probably didn’t realise that there was a degree of avoidance surrounding their questioning about how my confrontation with Max had gone (not that they knew I was talking about Max, mind) mostly because the idea of lying to two people who I was beginning to consider calling my friends did not seem like a very good idea.
There had been no confrontation.
As far as Max knew, I was as naive as ever. Nothing had changed except the fact that I ended up feeling physically sick a lot more than normal; but, I hadn’t had the argument in me. James, for all his stupidity, had gotten that assessment right on – I took the easy way out. Right this second, blissfully pretending my boyfriend wasn’t married to someone else was much, much easier than facing the truth, losing my job, my dignity and the longest relationship I’d ever had in one swoop. Denial may not exactly be healthy – in fact, I was very much avoiding delving into the psychology surrounding that one – but damn was it easy.
“What about James Potter then?” Jill asked. “He still waiting around for you?”
“James Potter is damaged goods.”
“And you’re squeaky clean?” George asked.
“No, I’m one crack away from broken,” I said, assessing my drink for a second before finishing the rest of it with one final gulp, “hence the whole idea of that could only end in two humungous breakdowns.”
“How damaged is damaged?” Jill asked, making a face. “My ex-husband was… a bit messed up. Then the utter dependence, well, it doesn’t make for a happy break up.”
“I don’t know yet,” I admitted, “he’s utterly intent on, I don’t know, saving me. Being saved has never been such a bloody occupational hazard. He doesn’t even know about the married boyfriend thing yet. So, George, enough about us women – how’s your ex-wife?”
“Very pregnant.” George said, making a face.
“What’s the dirt with that?” I asked. “I think I missed most of the fun drama by not coming out with you guys for months.”
“She didn’t want kids,” George sad, “with me, anyway. Apparently the bloke she met two weeks after the divorce came through has better genes than me.”
“Ouch,” I said, swallowing slightly “makes a married boyfriend seem trivial.”
“Suddenly blows my problems under the bridge,” Jill said, frowning; “now he thinks we should go on a honeymoon too. As if a wedding wasn’t bad enough.”
“I take it back, George,” I grinned, nudging him slightly; “I don’t know how Jill is managing it.”
“Too true,” George returned, grinning, “to love being a pile of shit!” George declared, holding up his drink. Jill grinned and held her glass aloft too. It took me a few moments to join them because my brain had jarred on one solid very important word. Love.
Well, I wouldn’t know much about that.
“And to relationships being the socially acceptable equivalent of a dementor’s kiss.” I finished, clinking my glass against theirs and placing it back down on the table.
I’d never been in love with Max. Love was one of those woolly concepts that I’d ended up not capable of feeling properly (or at least, that was my assessment of things). I’d never exactly tried it but then again it seemed to me like one of those things that you weren’t supposed to try for – at least at the beginning, anyway, falling in love was supposed to be easy and staying in love was the bit that took the effort.
But, given I wasn’t in love with him, why was I even upset? I supposed I’d gotten used to him. I’d been wronged. I certainly felt like an idiot.
“So,” I said, ordering another drink and sending another look at George, “you’re not volunteering your services for a rebound?”
“Sorry, Grace,” George said, pulling out a couple of galleons to pay for my drink, “wouldn’t want to ruin our friendship.”
“Good,” I said, thinking of James all of a sudden, “it’s nice to have someone who doesn’t want me to ruin the friendship, even if it does mean that sorting out a rebound situation will be much more difficult.”
“I’ve got faith in you,” George said, “what about that guy?”
“You mean the balding one with grey hair?” I asked, taking a sip of my drink. “Shit, one day I’m going to be so old that I’ll look at that man and think he’s attractive.”
“I’m not there yet,” Jill shrugged, “and I’m nearly forty.”
“Shit.” I muttered appreciatively.
“How old are you then, Grace?” George asked.
“Loaded question. How about you guess?”
“I’ve fallen for that one before,” George said with a grin, “I’m curious. Tells us.”
“Twenty eight.” I answered, feeling the growing age panic flutter in my stomach for a minute.
“I don’t even remember being twenty eight,” Jill said, shaking her head, “I think I was with the ex-husband.”
“The closest I’ve got to married is being in a relationship with someone with a wife,” I frowned, “I feel like I should have a couple of serious relationships under my belt at this point.”
“Oh, sod it,” Jill shrugged, “wizards last forever, anyway. My great great Uncle is still alive and he’s only just gotten married for the first time – said he didn’t want to be tied down, bloody git. Now he’s talking about how he’s finally found someone he wants to settle down with. How much settling is there to do when you’re a hundred and eight?”
“Don’t plan on living that long,” I said frowning, “the cigarettes will have killed me by then, right?”
“How long have you smoked?” Jill asked, curiously.
“Decade. Christ, that’s depressing.”
“I smoked once,” Jill said, “well, more than once; I mean I maintained a smoking habit for a period of time. I had a stoner boyfriend.”
“You know, that doesn’t even surprise me,” I said, shaking my head slightly, “I should probably go home and drown my sorrows in a bottle of something too expensive to buy by the shot.”
“Classy, Grace.” George grinned, nudging me slightly. “See you at the office on Monday? Or will you be pulling another sicky like yesterday?”
“Hey,” I said, “I was seriously ill with suspected spattergroit.”
“Suspected hangover,” Jill said, “possible case of wallowing in self-pity.”
“We’ll let you off,” George said consolingly, “given he was married.”
“Bit shit, really.” Jill said, sending me a sympathetic look which, on her, looked slightly alarming.
“Exactly right,” I agreed, standing up (stumbling only silently: damn sympathy drinks), “really quite shit. Night guys, see you on Monday.”
“Good to have you with us!” George said and it almost sound like he meant it. Maybe I was being a bit presumptuous about the whole thing, jumping the gun, but… it almost seemed like I’d been accepted into their little duo – friendship. It was nice.
Maybe I’d failed on all other accounts: I was still single (sort of: the status of singledom had yet to be truly confirmed, given the confrontation with Max simply hadn’t happened yet), having almost gone backwards on that account, I was no doubt on the verge of having to leave my job and I definitely wasn’t about to be fulfilling the children criteria of my childhood perception of what my late twenties would be like…. But friendship was one thing. Before coming back to England I’d been more emotional stable – if no emotions counted as stable – but I’d also had a distinct lack of anyone I could go and see just if I was feeling sad. Now there was James and there was Jill and George. Liz/Beth didn’t exactly count. Cherry wasn’t exactly like a friend, but they were people I could almost rely on.
So maybe I wasn’t as doomed as James Potter thought I was.
James said he was going to still be there.
James had somehow become my best friend, so it almost seemed natural to turn up at his apartment with a hangover feeling ashamed and bit crap: nothing like a morning after to make you painfully aware of how much of a crap person you are and given this wasn’t the first consecutive morning after the levels of self-hatred were increasing exponentially per day.
“Gracie?” James questioned as he stepped out of the bathroom to find me curled up on his sofa, one hand supporting my head in case it fell off (as a forth night of excess in a row, I was beginning to think that I’d over done it and it was best to swear of alcohol forever – it wasn’t young enough to hack it anymore, and I’d become that random slightly older person in a room full of under twenties). “Didn’t expect to find you here. Adding breaking and entering to your resume?”
“Well it’s looking a bit thin,” I countered, stretching my neck upwards to look at him, “and I might need to search for a new job soon.” James was lent on the back of the sofa, looking at me curiously, and from this angle I had a rather strange view of the muscles in his neck.
“Drink?” James asked, pushing off from the sofa and heading towards his kitchen-bar area.
The thought of alcohol made my stomach churn slightly.
“Course.” I said out loud, for reasons unbeknownst to my liver who seemed to have gained a voice and was using it at full, head pounding volume.
“Need to look for a new job?”
“Very shortly, I imagine.” I grimaced, taking the bottle of Red Currant Rum from James and feeling the cool glass against the palm of my hand.
“Discovered you know balls about Quidditch?”
“No, James,” I countered, smiling as he collapsed onto the sofa next to me, “that’s the problem, I don’t know anything about the balls involved in Quidditch – I’ve lasted thus far calling them the red one, the gold one and the one with anger management problems.”
“Write a comedy novel about your life,” James suggested, nudging me with his shoulder, “so, your utter incompetence at understating Quidditch aside, why would you possible need to leave your job?”
“Take three guesses.”
“Okay, I’m good at these games,” James said, passing his own bottle between his hands for a few seconds and looking thoughtful, “you were covering a Snogalicious article, you accidentally ate someone’s face and they’ve decided to take you to court?”
“But it would have been a great chapter in your autobiography.” James grinned.
“I know I managed to stretch a kiss with you to five hundred words, but I don’t think I could make that into a whole chapter.”
“Five hundred words about kissing me? Gracie, love, you were condensing. Okay, so, a second guess… you went utterly crazy and suggested that I might lose a match at some point in my future and everyone knew that was utter crap and tested you for crazy potions?”
“So close.” I said, smiling at him before taking the sip of the Red Currant Rum. Damn, I’d missed spending time with James. It was a stupid and inconvenient truth, but it was a truth all the same. Still, I’d got a promise about that – he was still going to be there.
“Thought I had it then,” James said, “okay, so… you slept with your boss?”
“Bingo,” I said, taking a longer drink from the bottle, “although that was working out for me pretty well until recent events…well, made things a bit… shit.”
“Don’t look so damn pleased, James, and no. Wish it was your fault.”
“What is it then?” James asked, the first lines of concern appearing across his features.
“Do you have an Uncle called Charlie?” I asked, sending a glance towards the door of the spare room, the front door, anywhere but directly at James. It didn’t want to see the slight smugness that was going to accompany the truth, because he wouldn’t be James if he wasn’t at least a little bit overly satisfied with the fact that he was right and I’d gotten so caught up in trying to decipher my double bluffs and self-destructive decisions that it had been too hard to know which was the bad decision. As it turned out, my gut had wanted to go with what would probably have been a marginally better decision – it had wanted, originally, to pick James.
“Grace, don’t change the subject.” James said, leaning ever so slightly, ever so subtly, closer towards me. I should have known that instead of being my friend he’d go back to trying to pull me out of the depths of my darkness, or whatever. I mean right now I was fine and I genuinely mean that: I was a little hung-over, a little tired, but I actually felt better than I had in a long time. Slightly more free, slightly more aware of my own issues and for the first time I had every intention of sorting them out. I’d try and do something, although I hadn’t worked out what yet, which could possibly push back the edges of this grey, nasty feeling from my stomach.
I wasn’t supposed to feel like this. Apparently, there was an alternative. Right this second, I felt on the cusp of that alternative: and it wasn’t because of James or Max or anyone else, it was because I was prepared to change.
“Yeah, ginger, works with dragons. Oldest bar Bill.”
“Why, are you interested?” James asked, raising an eyebrow. “Wait, is that what happened? Is Max married?”
“Yes,” I said eventually, frowning slightly, “that was… did you know?”
“No!” James said hastily, “No,” he said again, calmer this time, “you don’t think if I knew I’d have used that to sink your relationship rather than an ultimatum? I think I met him like… eight years ago I thought there might have been a wife there, but I just thought he was probably divorced. Grace, honestly, shit… so, he was properly married?”
“It was legal and everything,” I said sarcastically, “do you remember what his wife was like?”
“It was eight years ago,” James said, making a face, “I wouldn’t exactly call it a clear memory.”
“James, you remember every detail of my graduation party in frightening detail and you weren’t even in attendance.”
“Yeah,” James said, “because I’ve heard Albus tell the story so many damn times. She was blonde, I think, possibly a brunette -”
“You’ve just covered about eighty percent of all hair colours.”
“Hey,” James said, “in my world, ginger accounts for at least fifty percent all by itself.”
“Which obviously shows you need to spend less time with your family.”
“Well,” James said, finishing the rest of his drink, “I would like to spend more time with my beautiful brunet best friend, but she chose her married, boss boyfriend over me.”
“Sounds like I’d have a lot in common with this girl, you should tell her to write to me.” I said sardonically, finishing my own drink and placing in on James’s carpet feeling immensely tired all of a sudden.
“She’s probably hate you.” James said with a side order of grin.
“Was that your I told you so?” I asked wearily. “I don’t think I could handle anything more garish.”
“It’ll do for now. Sorry he’s married, Grace, but I’m not sorry I’m right.”
“Course not.” I said.
“Are you okay? Other than the rebounding?”
“Whoever said anything about rebounding.”
“So you’re suggesting you didn’t sleep with a ginger bloke called Charlie and then mentally convinced yourself he was my Uncle? You’re safe, Gracie, Charlie’s in Romania.”
“Oh thank Merlin,” I said, pressing a thumb to my forehead, shutting my eyes and smiling slightly. “Didn’t think I’d ever be able to face you again if it had been that Charlie.”
“It would definitely make for an uncomfortable family dinner when I introduced you to all my family.”
“Are we playing imaginary scenarios that will never happen? Because I have a whole host stocked up.”
“One day, Gracie, we’re going to be a couple.”
“You really are spectacular. I didn’t come here for a rebound.”
“No,” James said with a grin, “this Charlie took care of that. Anyway, Gracie, I have no intention of wasting a chance with you on being your rebound.”
“Please stop talking,” I said, turning towards him with a slightly pained expression, “you know it will only irritate me.”
“You love it,” James grinned, “another drink?”
“Will it make me ill?” I asked, frowning up at him.
“The third one might,” he pushed off the sofa and returned with several more bottles, “or maybe the forth. I’m betting on the forth, actually.”
“As long as we all know where this is headed,” I said, watching as James opened the bottle and passed it over to me, “alcohol induced vomit and a Sunday morning hangover; lovely.”
“That’s my Gracie,” James grinned, “wait, you haven’t lost your job yet?”
“No,” I said slowly, “not yet.”
“James,” I said irritably, “why don’t we cut the faux deductions and questions and skip to the part when you tell me how messed up I am?”
“You haven’t dumped his ass. And he’s okay with you knowing his married?”
“He’s hardly got a moral compass.”
“You haven’t told him you know he’s married,” James said incredulously, not sitting down from when he’d gone to fetch the drinks and instead staring at me with raised eyebrows, “you’re pretending you don’t know he’s married?”
“I’m not pretending, exactly, I’m just… not mentioning it to him. It’s great, he’s not mentioning it, I’m not mentioning it – it’s like it never even happened.”
“So you’re still sleeping with him?” James asked, tilting his head slightly at me.
“Only a bit.”
“Only a bit?” James grinned. “How does that work?”
“What, you want a diagram?” I asked irritably. “I haven’t… I am avoiding him. It was necessary the other day though, to get him off my back. Not like that James, mind out the gutter. But, yes, I suppose I am technically still sleeping with him.”
“That puts you on the wrong side of moral correctness, you know Gracie.”
“Yeah,” I said, scrunching up my face, “I’m not entirely sure when I ranked ease of life above morals, but you could probably hazard a guess if you wanted James – as my unpaid, unwanted therapist.”
“That’s not fair, Grace,” James said, frowning, “I’m not saying anything.”
“And you’re not going to hit on me?”
“Nope,” James said, “we’re just going to have a nice, friendly evening talking about relationships fuck ups. So, first time you’ve slept with a married man?”
“Third that I’m aware,” I said, “suspected forth, but he didn’t speak English so I’m not entirely sure. Your married woman count?”
“Two,” James said “and one who had just separated.”
“Nice,” I grinned, “thanks James,” I said finally, “if you don’t hit on me or try and council me, there’s this small chance you might be a decent friend tonight.”
I think it’s a sign of making a very bad decision when, as the decision was being implemented, I was already working out what exactly I was going to blame the whole thing on: it was currently a toss-up between alcohol, James, myself and Snogalicious. Because, indirectly, if I’d never been forced to snog James and write about it, I probably wouldn’t have been aware what kissing James was like and I probably wouldn’t have… well, I don’t know, but it might have not ended up here.
As in, back down on James Potter’s sofa, not quite drunk enough to explain it away, with former mentioned James Potter also adrift the sofa, one of his hands at my waist, one of mine on his back, lips connected and altogether a terrible, terrible decision in the making.
Ah, to self destruct.
I would apologise for leaving on a cliff hanger and then making you wait for ages, but then… well, I haven’t really resolved anything here and there is yet another cliff hanger so I don’t think I’m in a position to apologise. But I am sorry about the wait – WIP juggling when you’re as uncoordinated as me usually ends up with me getting hit in the face with a spare WIP, but this is one of my favourites so I shouldn’t think it’ll be too long before it’s update time again (especially as I have a large proportion of the next chapter written). Anyway, thanks for reading and review – it really makes my life – and I’m very excited about so very close to three hundred reviews! As it happens three of my stories were all teetering round the brink of the 300 mark for a while, which is strangely what happened when Curiosity, NJAB and TAOS were all on the edge of getting 200 – so it means a hell of a lot that SG has caught up with Curiosity and NJAB! I also thought I was going to get to a million posted fanfiction words, but it’s not to be so… next update, one-shot, anything will do though. Thanks for sticking around with me guys, hope you enjoyed the chapter and didn’t hate the long authors note too much. Reviews are, as always, lovely :)
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