Chapter 12 : Mothers
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“You’ve been quiet lately.”
I glanced up from re-arranging my bag to see James watching me quizzically. My cheeks warmed.
“I’m just nervous to see Mum, I suppose. You know, the whole lying to her about you and everything,” I laughed nervously.
James raised his eyebrows. “Really? And there’s nothing else that’s bothering you?”
I shook my head before turning away from him, trying to hide the tell-tale blush on my cheeks. I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about our conversation after he kissed me. It haunted my dreams and followed me at work, distracting me from everything I was doing.
Miraculously, things hadn’t been too awkward between us. We had gone through a whole week without arguing. And I found out exactly how right Luke was. I did miss James and how easy our friendship had been before. But there was one thing that was holding back our relationship, that silent question hanging over us. I still didn’t understand why he had been so upset. What would he have told me that I didn’t already know? But regardless, I knew he wouldn’t bring it up again and I was too much of a coward to do it myself. I’d been so used to avoiding these kind of situations—the ones you have no control over, where you have no idea what could happen—that I couldn’t bring myself to pluck up the courage to talk to him about it.
“Lee?” He questioned softly.
“Sorry,” I said, coming out of my thoughts. “I was just wondering what changed your mind about telling Luke about the whole thing,” I found myself telling him. “I know it’s been awhile now but I was just thinking about it the other day,” I lied smoothly.
The concerned look on his face changed. “Oh,” James replied a little sheepishly. He ran a hand through his hair. “I guess I felt bad. He’s always been there for me and vice versa and I felt guilty.” He paused, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before I told him. Luke told me he talked to you and I wish you could have heard it from me.”
“It’s fine,” I replied quickly. “I’m not angry or anything. I was just wondering why…” I trailed off rather lamely.
James nodded. His mouth twitched suspiciously and I knew he hadn’t bought it. “Did Luke tell you anything else?” He asked then, his face suddenly serious.
I shook my head quickly. “Shall we go?” I questioned, eager to change the subject. I adjusted my t-shirt, hoping James wouldn’t see the lie on my face.
James nodded again. He reached out his hand to clasp mine, intertwining our fingers easily. We looked at each other for a moment. My heartbeat increased the slightest bit until I closed my eyes, ready to apparate.
The image of James, his dark eyes gazing intently at me, was burned into my mind even as my eyes fluttered shut.
We appeared at my mother’s doorstep a few seconds later. My free hand rang the doorbell and I waited apprehensively.
The door swung open and all my nerves suddenly left as my eyes landed on my mom, smiling down at me. “Natalie!” I was pulled into a quick hug. She smelled like she always did—a familiar mix of lavender and vanilla.
“Are you going to introduce me?” Mum asked, smiling politely at James.
“Mum, this is James Potter.” I said, somewhat awkwardly. “James, this is my mum, Emma.”
James gave her a charming smile. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Moore.”
My head jerked. I didn’t remember ever having told James my mother’s maiden name.
Mum laughed. “That makes me feel old. Please, call me Emma.”
“Mum, you are old.” I interjected, trying to cover up my surprise from James.
When my parents had divorced, I had chosen to keep my dad’s name, with my 10-year old hope that he would come back, that he wasn’t actually leaving. By the time I finally realized he wasn’t coming back, “Natalie Wood” had been used on all my official documents. And I was too stubborn to change it. A small part of me wanted my father to see my name someday and remember us, the family he had abandoned.
James raised his eyebrows at me as we followed her into the house and I couldn’t help the smile that appeared on my lips.
“Come sit! Your timing was perfect. I’ve just made some tea,” Mum said, gesturing us to sit across from her.
“So, you have to tell me. How did you two meet?” She asked with a smile as she poured tea into three cups.
I glanced at James, my eyes wide.
“I’ve known Lee forever,” James replied smoothly. He reached over to clasp my hand in his, giving me a squeeze which I knew was meant as a warning to keep calm. “I’m sure you know she’s best friends with Al. She was always around, pestering me.” He shot me a sly look as Mum laughed.
“And then one day, I stopped seeing her as just another little sister.” The look on his face changed as he continued to gaze at me. “And luckily she felt the same way about me.”
“What, I stopped thinking you were just another little sister too?” I teased. His eyes were too soft, too sincere and I was desperate to escape them.
They both rolled their eyes at me. James was smiling but my stomach leapt at the trace of disappointment remaining in his eyes.
“Well, I’m glad you’re together. You see like you go well with each other.” Mum said. I stared at her in shock. “Sometimes my Natalie’s too serious and from what I can see…I think you’re just right for her,” she told James who tilted his head appreciatively. However he avoided my eyes, instead focusing his gaze on the cup in his hand.
“How’s work, Natalie?”
I silently thanked Merlin that Mum had some tact to change the subject, sensing the sudden tension between James and I. “Its fine,” I replied automatically although I was still in shock at her blunt observation. “It’s tough some days but it’s my last year so that’s expected.”
Her eyes were filled with pride. “I’ve never seen anyone work as hard as Natalie,” Mum told James. “I’ll be so happy when she’s finally licensed.”
I blushed horribly. When I had said my mum and I weren’t very affectionate or very open with our feelings, I meant it. But over the past couple years she had been more prone to saying things like this. And I wasn’t used to it.
“Thanks Mum,” I mumbled, before taking a sip from my cup.
James chuckled. “I don’t know how she does it. I can only hope if I ever end up at Mungo’s she’ll be attending to me.”
Mum smiled. My cheeks grew warmer.
“You know, I never knew why Natalie wanted to be a Healer.”
I froze. The smile on Mum’s face was strained as she asked, “You haven’t told him Natalie?”
I shook my head. This time it was me studiously looking away from James’s prying gaze.
“Well.” Mum paused. “I don’t know if Natalie ever talked about Kate—,”
“I was always interested by how magic could heal people,” I interrupted, my heart pounding wildly. “That’s why I became a Healer,” I interrupted, my voice sounding sharper than I meant it to be. “Mum, how’s Mrs. Jordan doing? And her kids?”
Her eyes flitted to James quickly. “They’re fine, sweetheart. We can pop-over and say hi after dinner.” She glanced between the two of us again. “Why don’t we get dinner started? I thought you both could help me cook it.”
She flicked her wand and our cups floated with her into the kitchen. James abruptly got up and followed her, not staying to wait for me. But I caught a glimpse of his face—his lips pressed into a thin line, his cheeks slightly flushed with anger. He hadn’t believed a word I’d said. And to be honest, I hadn’t been that convinced either.
At first, the kitchen was silent and tense as James and I helped Mum cook. And then James started telling Mum about his childhood and what it was like to grow up with such a huge family. I listened quietly to his deep voice and Mum’s soft laughter, grateful that he was at least getting along with Mum and leaving me to my thoughts.
“I always admired Oliver—he’s actually one of my Quidditch role models.”
My hand jerked from stirring the soup.
“He was such an amazing flyer, even at Hogwarts,” Mom said. Her voice was wistful. “Natalie?” She asked hesitantly.
I glanced up slowly, trying to keep my face blank. Mum’s eyes were bright with worry as she watched me. “Actually, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about this….I really think that you should meet with Oliver. He’s owled me several times—he really wants to get in touch with you, sweetheart.”
“Mum!” I stared at her in shock. My eyes flickered to James and understanding showed on her face.
“Natalie, please. We can’t just avoid this anymore. And I think it’s good that James is here. Maybe he can talk some sense into you,” she said, her voice sharp “Oliver is your father—you cannot just avoid him--,”
“Like he avoided us all those years after Kate died?” I snapped suddenly. We both fell silent as my words rang loudly through the kitchen. I slammed a lid on the soup before walking out the kitchen.
My vision blurred, I sank down in the hallway and buried my face in my hands, trying hard to keep in the sobs that were desperately trying to break free.
“Natalie hasn’t spoken to Oliver since Kate passed away.” Mum’s voice drifted down the hallway softly.
“She never really talked much about her family at Hogwarts. I don’t think I even knew she had an older sister until Al told me.”
There was a beat of silence, broken only by my ragged breaths.
“Natalie was about to start her second year and Kate, her third. They loved to fly during the summer. They were always out playing Quidditch with the kids next door. After we divorced, Oliver would come to see the girls sometimes but one night he wasn’t able to. Natalie shut herself in her room but Kate,” Mum paused. “I didn’t know she had gone out flying until I couldn’t find her an hour later. It was dark and I had no idea where she was. And then when we found her…we’re still not sure what happened. Maybe she crashed into a tree. But somehow she had a head injury and she’d lost too much blood—,”
Mum stopped abruptly. My eyes were closed, but I still couldn’t escape that image of Kate that would forever be in my mind: her face pale and covered with blood, her eyes cold and lifeless.
“Oliver never came to the funeral. He stopped visiting. Natalie hasn’t talked to him since.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been,” I heard James say, his voice low.
It was quiet again. And then I didn’t want to sit there anymore. I stumbled out the back door, frantic to get away.
That huge cherry blossom tree that I had run to when Oliver left us was still there, the swing I had fixed to its branches swaying slightly with the gentle autumn breeze that floated by. I sat down, leaning against the trunk of the tree. My eyes fluttered close and I forced myself to think of something else, anything that would distract me from the ache in my heart, that hole that could never be fixed.
I couldn’t tell how long it was until James found me. My eyes were still closed but I felt him sit down next to me.
My face burned with embarrassment when I finally turned my head to look at him. He was watching me closely with his dark, unreadable eyes. His hands toyed absentmindedly with several of the blossoms that had drifted down.
“Are you happy now? You know all my deep, dark secrets,” I said bitterly. A few stubborn tears trailed down my cheeks.
His eyes were soft. I shivered as they scanned my face, taking in my red eyes and flushed cheeks. The tenderness on his face was overwhelming. I shut my eyes again.
“Look at me, Natalie.”
A warm hand cupped my chin and turned my face back to his. “Lee.” His voice was like a cares, brushing gently across my face. “I don’t have some ulterior motive—I didn’t come here to pry.” James paused. His hand moved to stroke my cheek, leaving a burning trail of warmth. “But I think I’m starting to know you better than you know yourself.”
Another tear fell. His thumb brushed it away gently.
“You’re a Healer because you never want to be as helpless as you were when Kate died.” He paused again. “But you don’t need to be ashamed for people to know that about you. Honestly, Lee, knowing that about you—I, I’m so proud of you. You’re one of the youngest of your class at Mungo’s, not to mention the best. And I know Kate’s happy for you too.”
My breath caught as his words crashed into me, washing over me and spreading warmth through my body. I stared at him, my eyes wide, unable to say anything.
James understood. He reached over and wrapped his strong arms around me, tugging me onto his lap as I curled up against his strong chest. His hands rubbed slow circles on my back and I relaxed into his embrace, letting his warm touch comfort me, making me forget the ache I carried in my heart.
His lips brushed lightly against my hair and I found myself tightening my hold around his neck, puling myself closer to him.
Dinner went surprisingly well, considering what had happened before. James was able to make the both of us relax, his voice booming through the room as he told Mum and me story after story that left us laughing till our stomachs hurt.
Just before we were leaving, Mum pulled me aside as James offered to clean up dessert.
“There’s something that’s still bothering you,” she stated, her eyes scanning my face.
I blinked in surprise. “That’s exactly it!” I found myself exclaiming. When she looked at me in confusion I sighed. “A couple years ago you never would have even asked what was bothering me. You wouldn’t have brought up Oliver in front of a boyfriend like that. You wouldn’t have even considered telling him about what happened with Kate. You’re just…different,” I trailed off.
“Oh, Natalie.” Her smile was sad. “I’ve had a lot of time to think. I’m sorry for some of the things I’ve done, especially how distant I’ve been with you.” Her face was wistful again. “I shouldn’t have done that. I should have told you more how much I love you.” She stopped abruptly. “You know, that was one of the reasons Oliver left. I kept pushing him away,” Mum said slowly. Her eyes were bright as she blinked quickly.
I stood there in shock, not believing that she was telling me all of this and not knowing what to say. Impulsively, I reached forward and pulled her into a hug.
“I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did, Natalie,” she told me, her voice muffled by my shoulder. She pulled back and gave me a small smile. “I think James can be really good for you, sweetheart.” She tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear gently. “Don’t run away from the chance you have with him.”
My heart jumped at her words.
James poked his head into the hallway, his eyes lighting up as he watched us hug. He waited patiently for Mum to pull back from me. She ran a hand quickly over her face before turning to James.
“It was a pleasure spending the day with you,” he said, smiling charmingly at her.
She laughed. “Likewise, James. Be good to my daughter.” Mum winked at him. My cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
A devilish smile tugged his lips. “I will.”
I gulped. My stomach filled with butterflies at the expression on his face.
Once we returned to the flat, James disappeared to take a shower while I settled on my side of the bed, brushing up on some medical notes.
My attention wavered when James walked back into the room, shirtless. Water still dripped down his tan chest and the muscles in his back flexed as he opened his wardrobe to pull out a white t-shirt. I was reminded so much of our first night sleeping in his room, how nervous I had been to sleep next to him. Well, nothing’s changed I thought wryly.
He turned around and my eyes immediately flicked back to the book in my lap. But I still watched out of the corner of my eye as James climbed into bed next to me, a yawn on his lips.
Deciding that this was the best time as any, I took a deep breath. “James, thank you,” I said shyly.
James raised his eyebrows quizzically. “What for?”
“For today. For being so patient, especially—you know. When I lost it like that,” I said quietly.
He looked at me for a moment before saying, “I know you try really hard to be strong. And you are actually one of the strongest people I know.” His hand had somehow found mine and my fingers laced with his instinctively. “But sometimes it’s okay to just…cry, as cliché as that sounds.”
I couldn’t help but laugh softly. The smile on my face faded when I noticed his warm eyes trailing slowly down my face, past my eyes and cheeks, lingering on my lips. My stomach leaped and my hand trembled slightly in his but I found myself doing the same, my eyes taking in his strong jaw, the light freckles dusting his nose and finally, his lips.
The butterflies in my stomach increased hysterically.
My eyes drifted back to his and my throat went dry when I saw the way he was looking at me. The air between us was thick with tension as we waited, longed for something to happen.
And then to my surprise, James turned away. “Good night, Lee,” he murmured before stretching out on the bed, facing away from me.
I spend the next couple days avoiding James as much as possible. For some reason, this seemed to make James very amused—I couldn’t walk around his apartment without seeing that insufferable grin on his face. He seemed to have accepted my cowardly ways rather than being angry about it and that was more than fine with me.
That is, until he showed up at Mungo’s determined to take me out to lunch.
“James, I’m working,” I told him firmly. Inwardly I was trying to tell myself that the smile on his face as he watched me had no affect on me whatsoever.
“You have to eat at some point,” James pointed out. He followed me into my next patient’s room, ignoring my pointed glares. “Plus, I asked your friend Katie. She said you always take your lunch break around this time anyway.”
My scowl deepened. I shoved him out of the room and turned to finish examining the miserable looking boy sitting on the bed, covered in fish scales. Once I was done, I stepped out of the room cautiously only to see James leaning against the side of the doorway, looking at me expectantly.
“People will think we’re fighting if you keep ignoring me,” James picked up the conversation again. “And that’ll just end up in the papers and people will think I’m leaving you because you’re pregnant.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “What?”
His face was deadpan. “The papers twist everything around, I swear. That wouldn’t even be the craziest rumor they would spread.”
“Fine.” I sighed dramatically but secretly I was pleased by his persistence.
I was startled when he took me to the same café that both Al and I usually go to and it showed because James shot me a questioning look. “Al and I always come here,” I explained. “It’s our lunch-break place.”
“We can go somewhere else if you want,” James said quietly. A frown tugged his lips and he glanced away.
“No! It’s no big deal, I mean obviously you and Al have similar tastes.” I said quickly, now suddenly worried why he was acting odd.
The rest of lunch was filled with a tense silence. I stared at my half-finished sandwich miserably. Things had been going so well since my talk with Luke and that day at my mum’s house and now all of a sudden I felt like we were back to how we were in the beginning.
“You done?” James asked quietly. He wasn’t even meeting my gaze. I nodded, quickly turning away so he wouldn’t see the frustration in my eyes. But it didn't matter because when we walked out of the café, my eyes were blinded by the flash of two cameras.
Suddenly, my hand was grasped tightly in his and James was striding down the street, practically dragging me along. “Come on,” James urged. All the while he ignored the calls of the reporters following quickly behind us, asking all sorts of different questions.
I had no idea where James was leading us. We walked down narrow streets I didn’t even know existed in Diagon Alley. And then abruptly he tugged us into a small alley, pushing me against the wall.
James placed a large hand over my mouth, stifling my loud protest. “Hush,” James whispered.
We were quiet then, straining to hear the footsteps of the two men. We both breathed a sigh of relief when they followed the main pathway, not noticing the two of us at all. And then I ealized how close we were. My hands were lightly clutching his chest; his were wrapped around my waist. I looked up slowly, steeling myself for what I would find in his eyes. His hand slowly started to stroke my hip as his eyes drifted down to my lips, which trembled under his warm gaze.
James’s other hand reached up to clasp my face. His thumb traced my jaw line, leaving the skin burning before it reached my lips. He lightly stroked my lower lip. My eyes fluttered shut.
“Lee,” James murmured.
Just kiss him, the voice in my head said suddenly. Grow a pair already and just tell him.
I took a deep breath and readied myself for the feel of his lips on mine when he abruptly stepped away from me “We should go,” James muttered, his voice rough.
He returned me to Mungo’s in silence and he gave me a wary smile before he left, which told me that like every other instance—which was increasing alarmingly—we would just try and forget about it the instant it happened.
A/N: so...don't hate me. LOL. All will be resolved between Natalie and James very very soon! I do understand everyone's frustration though! I also sometimes just want to shake Natalie and yell at her. But I hope now you can see the reasons why she avoids everything. Anyway, I hope you liked this chapter--please review and let me know what you think!
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