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Chapter 8 : You know things are bad when your voicemail is flashing.
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I kept myself on my feet long enough to pull my wand out of my bag, check down the corridor for any prying eyes, and then quickly charm the lock open.
I staggered into the apartment, slammed the light switch on with the back of my head and scowled at the familiarity. Same chipped walls, same paint splattered skirting boards, same dusty curtains, same scuff marks up and down the stained floorboards. My scowl deepened.
I was about to stumble my way to the bedroom and commit the ultimate crime against femininity that was going to bed with a face full of makeup, when something caught my eye.
The muggle telephone that had come with the flat was flashing at me – a blinking red light next to an illuminated number one. I cocked an eyebrow at it and shuffled my way over. I jabbed my finger at the big blue button labelled ‘play’, right next to the sign for dummies that informed me that it was indeed a voicemail that I had received.
“Erm, Aimee? I’m supposed to do this, right? I’m not just talking to a random stranger that thinks I’m a complete freak, right? Okay. Um, hi. It’s me.”
My heart stopped beating. Well, maybe it didn’t stop beating – that probably wouldn’t have been medically safe. But it sure felt like it had exploded in my chest, shattering into a hundred pieces and dropping into the bottom of my feet.
I hadn’t heard that voice in months. And there it was, speaking to me over the voicemail that I never really used. Without realising it, my hand had flown up to press against my mouth. My head felt a little lighter.
“Oh wait, you might not know who ‘me’ is. It’s Dan. Daniel. Daniel Richardson. I... I just wanted to say hello. Wow, that sounded even shittier in my head than it did out loud. Erm... shit. I – I’m sorry for just calling like this. Coward’s way out, I know. Sorry. I – if you want to, I mean – could you call me? I’d love to talk to you, Aimes. I’ve missed you a lot.”
Nope, it’s definitely stopped. There is no beating going on in my chest cavity right now. Everything has halted. Skidded to a screeching halt.
“Just – just call me. I need to talk to you. Right. Gotta go. I – bye.” The voice cut off abruptly as a dull, dead tone rang across the room. I blinked. My eyes felt a little watery.
Jabbing at a few buttons on the phone, I grabbed a bill from the table beside the door and quickly scrawled the number down with a pen I’d stolen from Molly. With a giant yawn, I dropped the paper onto the couch and staggered off to my bedroom.
One sleepless night, coming up.
What the fuck could Dan want with me?
There is nothing that I like more than eating a lovely, nutritious breakfast of half a tin of out-of-date beans. Why is there never any fucking food in this flat? I’m probably going to develop rickets at this rate. Or scurvy. Or whatever other diseases you can get from hanging around damp-infested shitholes all day eating food that went out of date last week.
My eyes flicked anxiously towards the small analogue clock above the cooker, which declared it to be officially half past eight.
Dan never got up before ten, and I knew that well. Waking him up before the clock reached double figures was much like jabbing a sleeping tiger in the eye until it woke up. You just didn’t do it. And because of all that, there I was.
Standing like a twat in my kitchen, half developing a twitch in my anxiousness for Father Time to take pity on me and suddenly make time super-speed up to ten o’clock.
My fingers drummed along the chipped counter as my eyes yet again flicked towards the screen. I sighed and ran my hands through my hair. I didn’t have to look good to speak to someone down the phone, right?
What if he could tell that the front part of my hair was sticking up, just from listening to me down the phone? He could always do things like that. If I would roll my eyes at him when his eyes were closed, he would immediately snap ‘don’t roll your eyes at me’.
He knew me better than I knew myself. He should do, we were almost joined at the hip for a year and a half.
I’d met Dan about three months after I graduated from Hogwarts, after I nearly set him alight with the tip of my cigarette when I was having a sneaky fag on the outside porch of some rundown pub downtown. We had gone out, my parents, Mark, Brent and I, to try and rekindle the family lurve. Well, that and celebrate the fact that my mother was once again out of hospital, after a relatively short three week stay, this time.
I had my arm stuck out at a strange angle as I was watching wisps of smoke trail out into the cold rain of the December night, and I was so engrossed in the patterns that emerged that I didn’t notice a bloke stagger out of the doorway and straight into me – well, into my arm.
My cigarette had knocked into his rough cotton shirt and instantly started smoking. His startled yelp and consequent crash onto my foot caught me to squawk and shove him off me. So hard, in fact, that he landed on his back on the pavement and the noise attracted the attention of my darling father, who was sitting just inside the door.
“Aimee? You alright?” he poked his head around the door and blinked at me, before his eyes flicked down to the bloke lying sprawled on the pavement, batting at the charcoaled circle on his shoulder. My father’s eyes instantly narrowed into slits.
“Dad, I’m fine. Go back inside; I’ll be done in a minute.” I gestured to the ciggie, which was had almost burned down to the filter. My dad didn’t move, but shuffled slightly further onto the porch with me and adopted an expression of great distaste.
“This guy bothering you?” he grunted.
“No, no – we just had a little mishap with this.” I twitched my hand and the smoke floated a little towards him. My dad scowled at it and nodded, before retracting his head back around the door. Random Bloke with Dodgy Balance had managed to haul himself to his feet in the time we had been talking. He was grimacing at me.
“You burned my shirt,” he grumbled, glaring at me. I frowned and shrugged.
“Sorry about that, I didn’t mean to. You could have watched were you were going, though.” I muttered, jabbing the cigarette out on the bare-brick wall before dropping it onto the ground and treading on it with the toe of my shoe.
“You should be more careful around people if you’re going to stand in public places and suck on those cancer sticks,” he grumbled, shooting the thing an angry glance. I scowled. It was bad enough, the stick I was getting from my parents about smoking – I didn’t need it some bloke that I didn’t actually know.
“I’m sorry, but no one asked for your opinion. Maybe, if you want to go around stumbling like a common drunk, then you should wear shirts that aren’t so fucking cheap that they can catch fire from the tip of a fag.” The bloke’s face suddenly split into a grin, and I realised that he was actually very good looking, sans the scowl.
“Feisty, huh?” he smirked.
“I’m Dan. Dan Richardson. It’s nice to meet you.” He held out his hand and I took it, quickly shaking it up then down before dropping it.
There was a moment of silence, and then he broke it with a quick, booming laugh. It splintered through the icy night and seemed to echo off the walls of the small porch. The smell of cigarette smoke had been pulled away with the torrential rain pouring just half a metre away.
“You gonna tell me your name then, beautiful?” ‘Dan’ smirked, stepping a little closer to me, expecting me to step back so that my spine would be pressed against the wall. But I didn’t move, and the consequent moment of his chest almost obscuring my eyesight was just about as unsexy as could be. The only sounds were the humming of the bulb behind a security grid above the door, and the rain hammering down onto the pavement and the road.
“Smooth one, you, aren’t you? Tell me, how many girls have you called ‘beautiful’ tonight?” Dan smirked again and I found myself laughing along with him.
“Just one. You.” I smiled, and tucked my hair behind my ear so I could blink coquettishly at him from under my eyelashes.
“Well, another smooth answer from a smooth man,” I said coolly, and Dan grinned proudly. He looked like a schoolboy that had been prided on a piece of work in front of everyone, and was secretly proud but didn’t want to let it show for fear of having the piss mocked out of him. “And I’ll tell you my name at some point. When I see you again.”
Dan gaped at me and his face split into another huge beam, and soon he was rooting in his pocket for a muggle notebook and a ballpoint pen.
“Can I have your number then, beautiful?”
“Back to beautiful, are we?” I grinned, trying very hard not to laugh at him. He flushed a little and quickly leant his head down so that his long fringe flopped into his face and obscured his cheeks from view. His hair was a soft brown, almost bordering on dirty blonde – a direct contrast to the deep black of my own.
“Well, I have nothing else to call you,” he grinned to the ground. I winced a little when I realised that I really didn’t know the number of my new flat, and tried to think what came after the elusive 3. Dan glanced up at me a little suspiciously as the pen floated above the page, nothing being written.
“Aimee. My name is Aimee.” I said quickly, trying to diffuse the sudden tension. Dan’s grin quickly returned, and he ran his hands through his hair again.
“Beautiful name for a beautiful girl,” he winked cheekily, and I abandoned the thought of writing to lean back against the wall and smirk at him.
“Do you get all of these from a book of some sort, or are you just coming up with them off the top of your head? Because if so, then I suggest you get a therapist.” Dan laughed again, and glanced back down at the paper edgily before checking the watch on his wrist.
“Look, I’ve gotta run – if you don’t want to give me your number, then that’s fine. I – um,”
“No! No! I do want to give you my number, I just... 4! The number after the 3 is a 4! A 4 and then a 7! Right, okay!” I gripped the pen in my hand again and quickly scrawled down the whole number, in handwriting that could pass for that of a muggle doctor’s.
Seriously. It looked like a house elf had written it by dipping the tip of their ear in ink and then rubbing it all over a piece of parchment.
“I’ll call you.” With one final smile, Dan turned and walked away.
Watching Wookery, I could see exactly why Harry Potter had tried to serve that abomination of a soup the evening before. The bloke that presented it was an unfortunate looking lad – high waisted beige trousers with a red check shirt tucked into the waistband, held up with a leather belt the same thickness as a loaf of bread.
His head was speckled with old acne scars, and the bridge of his nose was pinched together with a pair of glasses that enlarged his eyes to the size of galleons. His cheeks were ruddy, his forehead pale and freckled, his teeth crooked with a large gap between the centre two.
He was short – too short for any respectable bloke. Five foot four at a maximum, and that was including the badly-disguised platform dress shoes that he had somehow managed to match with his pants.
His tuft of greasy blonde hair stuck up in balding patches across his scalp, falling down into lengthy sideburns on either side of his cheeks. Why they would ever choose someone with no facial charm whatsoever to present a television show was beyond me.
He was more of a man for radio, if you catch my drift.
“Right, ladies and gentlemen, we are now going to tell you how to make a serving of egg and spinach noodles for one – let’s face it, if you’re watching this show at nine o’clock in the morning during a weekend, then chances are that you aren’t going to need a portion for two!” He chuckled awkwardly as his poor joke went down like a lead balloon with the audience.
I scowled at the screen and tucked my knees up under my chin, wrapping my arms around my legs in an attempt to keep myself a little warmer. The bastard that ran the building had decided last night that because the generator was playing up and it was the middle of summer, then we didn’t need to have the heating on all the time.
So despite the fact it was the coldest July for the last thirty years, the radiators were icy and the pipes that led to them were no longer creaking with the sound of badly running water through a blocked tube.
“Anyway... erm, right – we’re going to head over to Gustavo, who will tell us the ingredients and equipment you will need to make this delectable dish!” The bloke grinned cheerily, exposing us to more of the inside of his mouth than anyone cared to see – the three golden crowns lined up next to his molars were particularly delightful.
“Urgh, I hate that prick – he’s not exactly easy on the eye, is he?” A deep male voice cut across that of Einstein Barrackbottom – legit, that was his name – and I whipped around in shock, nearly tossing myself off the couch and onto the coffee table.
“Mark! How the fuck did you get into my apartment – I found the keys that you and Brent had cloned and stole them back! I told you that you were not allowed to randomly burst into my apartment to check that I’m behaving ‘appropriately’, and to check who I have over!”
Mark smirked, looking quite proud of himself, and then sat down on the armrest of the sofa, leant back until he fell and landed with a dull ‘oof’ on the cushion next to me.
“Relax, Aimes, your building manager let me in. He was walking down the corridor and he recognised me – said he’d let me in so you didn’t have to get up, as long as I made you promise to get him your rent by next Wednesday. So get the man the money by next week.” Mark shrugged offhandedly and settled his head back down onto the cushion.
“’Kay. But that doesn’t explain what you’re doing here.”
“And what are you on about, Aimes? As soon as you start dating again, I’ll restart my random visits. I have to make sure you’re being treated right.” I opened my mouth to protest, but he cut me off. “And I only ever used that cloned key out of courtesy – I’ll just apparate here in future.” He shrugged and smirked at my outraged expression.
“You can’t do that! I am fucking twenty years old, Mark – stop treating me like I’m a fucking child. I don’t like it.” Mark shrugged.
“I don’t give a fuck what you do and don’t like – I will keep you from those blokes that want nothing other than to be between your sheets. You’ll lose your... you know what, when you’re in love and when you’re with a bloke that you’re ready to settle down with.” Mark nodded firmly, and my mouth dropped open a little in disbelief.
“What did you just say? Repeat that last thing you just said...” Mark frowned.
“I want you to lose your... thing, well, never really, but when you’re in a loving and serious relationship. And not a moment before that.”
“Mark... I don’t... I don’t really know how to tell you this, love,” Mark’s face instantly stiffened, and he sat up straight and whipped around to face me. My words instantly failed me, and I felt the strange urge to giggle. “I – I can’t believe you honestly thought...”
“What twat shagged my little sister?” he growled, glancing around as though he expected the perpetrator to be hiding behind the dusty curtains, hovering so that Mark wouldn’t be able to see his feet. I rolled my eyes.
“Mark, I was with one bloke for eighteen months – we fucking lived together! Do you honestly think that we never did anything?” Mark blinked a couple of times, and the complete look of bewilderment that passed over his face that told me that it was indeed what he thought. I almost biffed him over the back of his head for his stupidity.
“So Dan, then? I always liked him... right, well that’s done.” I rolled my eyes again. They’re going to get stuck like that if I keep doing it. “Well, at least you lost it with someone you actually cared about, as opposed to just some random party shag.”
I stared at the knees of jeans to try and hide the flush on my cheeks, to hide the fact that I had in fact lost my ‘thing’, as Mark so nicely referred to it as, to a party shag. To this day, I still don’t know the bloke’s name.
“Yeah, you’re right, hypocrite... I should never shag someone I’m not in love with. Because otherwise I could end up getting knocked up by some random bloke from a graduation party and have to spend a nine-month pregnancy alone, before deciding that a kid would cramp by style and loading him off to his dim-witted father.” Mark shot me the finger as I grinned at my own genius and propped my feet up on the coffee table.
“Alright, you’ve made your point,” he grumbled.
“Good. Anyway, you never told me – what are you doing here?”
“I wanted to ask you when you were going to invite Potter around for dinner – I think it’s especially important that I have the Older Brother Talk with him after a couple of things I’ve just found out...” He shot me a grin as I scowled. “Nah, mum and dad just want to meet the bloke. They’ve been worried about you since things ended with Dan.”
I instantly slowed a little, and my eyes instinctively to the clock on the wall, checking to see whether the hand had managed to crawl itself to ten o’clock yet. When the disappointing face of half past nine blinked back at me, I scowled.
“I’m not bringing him to meet them,” I said, I frowned as I wondered how I was going to explain why not. Oh, because we’re not actually dating and I’m not trying to convince anyone that James Potter is the love of my life. And if I bring him home, then my mother will set her heart on him being The One for Me and then I’ll never hear the end of it when we inevitably split in a couple of weeks.
Yep, no thanks.
“Well, mum is going to be very disappointed. She’s already started choosing what she’s going to wear – she said that she has to look nice when the son of the most famous man in the wizarding world comes for dinner – that it’s of vital importance that she looks decent. Like he’s going to give a shit what his girlfriend’s mother looks like.”
“Aimes, you seem kind of on edge, and I think you’re developing a twitch. You keep glancing at the clock like a creepy little weirdo – you alright?” Mark looked concerned, a little suspicion etched across his features.
“I – I need a shower. Can you leave, please?” It came out a little more abrupt than I had wanted it to, and hurt instantly replaced the suspicion on her face.
“Well if you want your darling older brother, who you spend next to no time with anyway, to just leave so you can pretend to shower and really watch the speccy git on there tell you how to cook noodles, then fine. I’ll leave. I’m clearly not wanted.” Mark pouted and pushed himself to his feet, before stalking off into the middle of the room.
“Mark –” I protested, but with a loud crack, he was gone.
“You alright there, beautiful? You look half dead. Want to go for a quickie in the bathroom – that would cheer you up.” I jumped slightly and quickly raised about a foot in the air, dislodging my head from the large stack of official looking papers that I had been resting my head on. A random bill remained stuck to my cheek, and I beat it away impatiently as Dan smirked at me.
“Shut it, you. Is it time for me to leave? Can I go now?” Dan grinned and rolled his eyes, before holding his hand out and pulling me to my feet.
“I have no idea why you work here. You’re way too smart for this. A girl like you should be applying for healing school and training to become a healer – you’d be a fuck of a lot better than some of the thick wankers they have here at the moment.” I rolled my eyes and shoved my bag into the crook of my elbow, before tucking myself into his side. “Seriously, I asked one of them the other day what I could do if I got a disease from one of the foreign fruits that I was sampling at work, and he just told me that if I ran it under the tap first, then I should be fine. What kind of bullshit advice is that?”
I giggled and rolled my eyes, waving a quick goodbye to Maureen the cleaner, who was cleverly charming a mop to clean the floor at the same time she was using good ol’ elbow grease to sponge down the windows.
“How come you came to get me from work?” I asked into the silence, and Dan suddenly stopped in the middle of the doorway, turned to face me, kissed me smack on the mouth before seizing my hand and continuing on his merry way.
He ignored the irritated muttering of the random people that were shuffling out of the hospital behind us.
“I thought it would be nice. I was watching some muggle TV series and the bloke was about as whipped as a guy could be – and he kept doing all these romantic things for his girl. So I thought I’d give it a go.” I laughed and jabbed him in the side.
“You know, I actually reckon most girls expect to be met from work every now and again – and they wouldn’t consider it to be especially romantic.” I shot Dan a look, before quickly shutting my gob as his expression darkened.
“Well I won’t bother in future, then,” he snapped, and I quickly sighed, before wrapping my other arm around his waist.
“That’s not what I was saying, wanker. Stop being so sensitive.” I leaned forwards and pressed a kiss onto his chest through his scratchy shirt. A blackened mark caught my eye, and I realised that it was the same shirt he had been wearing the night we’d met.
He’d never let me charm the thing back to normal – he said he liked the reminder of the night he met me. Of course, he kept it like that for a while because he didn’t know I was a witch, and thought I would get suspicious if the mark suddenly disappeared. But after all that, he still wouldn’t get rid of the little burn mark.
He could be sentimental when he tried – he just didn’t try often.
“What do you want for dinner, baby?” I asked eventually, as we slowly turned the corner and began to stroll down the pavement towards our towering block of apartments.
“Why don’t we go out for dinner? There’s Popeye’s down the road – we could have pizza – or we could go that Wendy’s cafe and get that burger dinner for two. What do you fancy?” I frowned and tried not to think about the burger dinner for two that Dan knew was my weakness.
“Can we afford to go out right now? I mean, what with paying all those decorators to come in and have a look at the apartment, and paying for your car – can we really afford it?” Dan sighed and dragged his free hand through his hair.
“I don’t fucking know whether we can afford it – do you want to go out or not? Because if you want to make dinner, then we’ll cook. But if you do want to go out for dinner, then I hardly think that one little meal is going to break the fucking bank.” I scowled ahead of me. I didn’t like being spoken to like an irritating child that didn’t understand.
“Don’t snap my fucking head off; I’m only trying to protect us.”
“There is a difference between trying to be sensible and just being a killjoy – do you really think we can’t afford a fucking twelve quid dinner?”
“Yeah, I know it doesn’t sound like much, but all the little things add up and eventually –”
“Oh, just shut the fuck up.”
I pulled myself out from under his arm and clamped my arms tightly over my chest, biting my lip to try and stop it from shaking. Dan could be quite horrible when he was in a bad mood – which was often. He had a stressful job that paid peanuts, and when he did get home all we ever seemed to do was fight.
I always comforted myself with the thought that we only got together in the first place because we started arguing about the way I held my cigarette when smoking on the front porch of a pub.
“Fuck off,” I snarled, and sped up a little. Dan sighed and slouched along grouchily behind me. Chances were, we were both going to be a foul mood for three days at a minimum. And yet neither of us tried to communicate with the other to try and fix it.
That was just the way we were.
“Hullo? Who the buggering hell is this, ringing at this ungodly hour of the morning?” A sleepy voice grumbled down the phone, and I bit my lip to try and stop myself from bursting into pathetic tears. His voice was just as I remembered it – his accent hadn’t changed one jot. I had been expecting it to, what with all the travelling.
“Dan? It’s me, Aimee. I did wait until ten.” I could hear the bed covers rustling as Dan sat up in bed, and then he laughed.
“Beaut. Of course it’s you. Hi. I... um, I didn’t think you’d call.”
“You called me and asked me to call. Why wouldn’t I call?” Dan laughed again and I smiled, leaning my head against the doorframe of the entrance to the kitchen. He sounded so similar.
“I just didn’t think you’d want to speak to me after everything that happened. I was a coward, I know that, and I didn’t think that – well, that you’d ever want to see me again, really.” He chuckled nervously and I frowned a little, worried that the conversation had turned so serious too soon. Dan didn’t seem to be able to feel the tension.
“Of course I want to speak to you. How was... was it Haiti? Or was it Cameron? I can’t remember which country you were at last, sorry.” Dan hummed for a second and then coughed. Clearly he was hoping that we wouldn’t talk about his travelling. Why we wouldn’t was beyond me – it was one of the main moments that defined our relationship... or lack thereof.
“No, I was in Cameron, but then I moved on to Tanzania. I was only there for three weeks, and then I decided to come back. I wasn’t supposed to be back here for another month and a half – I skipped out Sri Lanka and Cambodia to come back.”
“Oh.” I replied, for lack of anything else to say. “And why did you decide to come back early?”
“I... I wanted to see you.”
And for the second time in two days, my heart seemed to implode in my chest. But this time it didn’t feel like it was being shattered and thrown around my body, but like a fist had curled its way around my heart and was squeezing it as tight as possible, until it couldn’t beat anymore. I felt sick.
“And you couldn’t have just written – you... you could have just written a letter. You didn’t have to cut your trip short.” I murmured, and even I could hear how weak my voice sounded.
“No. I didn’t want to write, I wanted to see you. I – look, I know that I’ve got a lot of nerve to ask this after leaving and everything, but – can you meet me somewhere today? Like, in Wendy’s cafe, or something? We can get that burger meal for two – that one was always your favourite. My treat – and I mean it this time.”
“I... okay. I – I haven’t had the burger meal since you left, so that will be... nice. I guess.” Something occurred to me suddenly, and I felt my heart sink a little. “But, um, we’ll have to get a booth in the back. I don’t want anyone to see me.” I could almost hear Dan’s confusion buzzing down the phone.
“Have you seen a newspaper since you got back here? When did you even get back?”
“Two days ago – and no, I haven’t looked at a paper yet. Why, is there something I should have seen?” I blinked and swallowed, wondering if I should bother to mention anything. Eventually I decided on the truth – or the distorted version that was being force-fed to the press from the mouth of a poisonous rattlesnake. Or Potter, as some of you might know him as. Would it be worth all the stress, trying to hide it from Dan? No, it wouldn’t.
“Because... because I’m dating James Potter – and if the press see me eating lunch with my ex-fiancé then there will be hell to pay.”
There was dead silence on the other end of the line.
I love you. Please don’t doubt that. I really do love you. And I want nothing more than to stay here with you and get married and start a family and have the life that we always said we would. But if I stay, we’re never going to get that. We’re too young – we’re only just twenty, for fuck’s sakes. We were nineteen when we got engaged. We were stupid. We need space – we need to split. I never thought I’d see the day when I broke up with you. And I never thought I’d do it over a letter. I’m sorry about that.
I’m going to take an opportunity that was offered to me at work – the Department of International Magical Cooperation has a programme that sends people around to various countries across the world to make notes and reports on daily life and society in that country – what it’s really like. Not what you can learn from books. I’ll be leaving for Thailand tomorrow morning. I’m being paid a fortune to do this – when I get back, we’ll have our life together. If you still want me.
We’ll never get anywhere if we stay together now – we need to be apart. Don’t be with too many blokes – I won’t like it. You’re mine, Aimes, and I love you. I’ll see you when I get back... I hope. I really hope you forgive me.
All my love always,
Your Dan x
PS. Keep the ring. You’re going to need it one day, I swear to you. But one piece of advice – enjoy your time as a single girl. You’re twenty, not thirty five. Learn to love life. Please. For me.
disclaimer: nothing in this chapter belongs to me.
quick sorry for the amount of mistakes in the last chapter ~ grammar and punctuation and whatnot... it was awful. sorry. i was horrified when i noticed and had to go through the whole thing and edit it. so sorry about that :/. anyway, hope you liked the chapter :) any thoughts on dan so far?
ellie :) xx
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