I'm smoothing down my outfit when my alarm clock tells me it's seven and there is a knock on the door to the dorm. I feel for each button of my waistcoat one more time and check the cufflinks Declan fastened for me before he went to meet his other friends for dinner. He'd wished me luck on my date and said to say hello to Simon if I saw him. He's still out, with just his girlfriend now apparently. I can't believe I still don't know her name. I must remember to ask Louis. He'll probably know. As soon as I know I can't do anything more to stall, and I know I'm stalling because I'm nervous, I pull on my sleeves. "Yeah," I call so he knows to come in. The door opens and I can smell him before I can hear him. "Right on time."
Louis let's out a soft whistle. His shoes squeak against the hard floor as he walks closer to me. "You look amazing. Is this designer?"
I nod slowly, my fingers still curled around the edges of my sleeves. I stretch my fingers, putting hands in the pockets of my pants to try to look natural not nervous, and smile. "You like?"
"I love," he murmurs.
He sounds surprised. Maybe he didn't think I actually owned smart clothes, which I wouldn't blame him for considering he's only ever seen me in jeans and t-shirts, one shirt I wore for New Year, a cowboy costume and my underwear (still so glad I had actually decided to wear underwear that night). My uniform doesn't count. So, wearing this suit, which is very fancy and I bet smart-looking, even with my jacket open to show my waistcoat and without the matching tie, would be a bit of a surprise. "Thank you. We should go if we want to eat." I take a hand out of my pocket to point to the door, then I hold out the same hand for him to take. After a heartbeat, he does. Maybe I shocked him. I'm just full of surprises today. "Lead the way."
He does, smiling I bet, and I follow him down the stairs to the common room. Jack and lucy are here, finally talking again. I really hope they weren't waiting for us. "Wow," she gasps and I have to act a little smug. I can put effort into my appearance if I want to. "CJ, you look... And Louis, too, of course, but... Wow."
Jack clears his throat, something a jealous boyfriend would do if they caught their girlfriend staring at his best friend. Aww. Wait. Boyfriend. Did they make up? I should ask them later. Right now... "Well, we're going to enjoy Seventh Year privileges and have dinner. Form your words into coherent sentences and you can tell me when I get back. Carry on, Louis."
"See ya," he says and carries on walking to the door.
"I hope you're not disappointed," Jack calls out in that annoying singsong-type voice. I know what he means; he doesn't believe I can get us into Ellie's without a reservation. I'll show him.
"I know things you don't. Enjoy your night," I reply, copying the stupid voice. You'd think that, as someone who spends most of his time at home singing and writing songs at his piano, I'd not hate the singsong voice. I do.
Maybe it's because I spend most of my time at home singing and writing songs at my piano. I need to not sing at some point.
"Yeah, right," he scoffs. But he's not as loud as he was before. He wants me to hear, but he's not talking to me. So I don't answer and leave the common room. "About enjoying our night; I'm locking the door. They can sleep in here for all I care."
I just manage to hear that and Lucy's responding 'no' and I walk that little bit faster, so I can't hear any more. He can't make me sleep in the common room. That's not fair. The others will get there before me and I won't get my couch. I'd tell them to move, but I'd prefer my bed.
"He won't keep you out, Lucy's already said no," Louis assures me and squeezes my hand gently as we make our way out of the castle.
How did he know?
I believe him, though. Jack can't not take no for an answer all the time with Lucy. No one can. We're quiet as we walk, he's swinging our hands backwards and forwards lightly. I can feel his eyes on me every so often; I wonder why he's watching me. But I also feel the eyes of other people on me. I finally ask him why once we're outside and I'm sure there is no one around. Louis guides me to the step and into the carriage taking us into the village.
"They're staring at the miracle that is you," he answers me as we move, echoing Albus' words at New Year. "You turn heads, CJ. And it's not because you can't see, so don't think that. You're incredibly smart, even though most of the time you use it against people with riddles, you're funny when you're relaxed and you can be so confident and carefree when you're not thinking about all the things that stop you." His thumb grazes my lips. "You're special, baby. Why do you think I tried so hard, despite everything I said about my crappy relationships?"
"I did wonder," I murmur. "Why you tried so hard," I elaborate slowly, even though he didn't ask. "I mean, I already know how amazing I am."
"You're so full of yourself," Louis laughs. "Sometimes I wonder why I tried so hard, too."
"Ouch," I pout, sticking out my lower lip as much as I can. He bats my lip with his finger and then kisses the corner of my mouth, over the stubble. I should shave again. "I must be really special if you can get past what is essentially me."
"You are. What did Jack mean when he said that he hoped we won't be disappointed?" he asks suddenly, but he sounds curious enough for me to think that he's been thinking of asking that question for a while.
"You'll see," I wink. And the rest of the conversation is about how I can't believe I can put up with him.
"You seem confident about us getting in here."
I laugh at Louis' lack of confidence in me, same as Jack. Is it because I've never been on a date? Do they think I don't know what to do? I'm pretty sure I can get into a restaurant like anyone else. And I don't even need to worry about getting into this restaurant. He'll see that soon. The cold air wraps around me like a blanket and I can't warm myself with only one arm wrapped around me since Louis has hold of my other hand. He's guiding me to the restaurant.
"Don't laugh," he whines, amused. I shake my head. "I'm serious. Did you plan ahead before you asked me out? Did you make a reservation? Because I know this place has a reputation. It's supposed to be amazing and fancy and romantic and they're all reasons why I've never been. I've never had a reason."
I laugh again. "I planned to ask you out the day you made me jealous. I planned to bring you to Ellie's the day you made me jealous. I did not make a reservation that day or any day after. You are about to see why. Are we there yet?"
"We're here," he answers. I hear the door open and I'm led inside. I instantly feel warmer. That is much better. I rub my hands together while Louis rubs his hands up and down my arms. I had no idea I'd even started shaking. "Better?" he whispers and I nod and ask where the maitre d' is.
We don't even have to open our mouths.
"Good evening, Mr. James."
"Good evening, Jennifer," I smile, recognizing her voice instantly. She's a good friend of my cousin and manages this restaurant. "A table for two please."
"Of course." She speaks to another quietly. "We didn't know you were coming tonight, they're just getting your table ready." I thank her. By 'your table' she means a private booth near the end of the restaurant where any members of my family and my friends can go. Though only my cousin really uses it. Jack has twice. "Jay is here if you want to say hello, I can let him know."
"You can tell him, I'm sure he'd love to see me on a date finally." We both laugh at that. Jennifer knows all about my lack of a relationship. She and Jay talk about everything. She's lucky I like her. "But don't let him come out and say hi."
"You think he'll embarrass you?"
"I know he'll embarrass me," I smirk. "This is Louis Weasley, by the way." I point to my left. He finally opens his mouth, although I can tell that the shock of me being friendly with other people has not worn off when he says hello.
"Hello, I know who you are, Louis." Just as I think she's going to talk about knowing his family, she narrows the field down to just one person. "I know your sister, Vic. Oh, your table is ready, boys. This way."
I take Louis' hand again and nod in front of me. He starts to walk and he finds his voice again along the way. "Jay? As in your cousin, Jay Delaney? The Jay Delaney, the young entrepreneur."
"The very same."
"Oh, my God. That's how you can get in so easily; your cousin owns this restaurant."
And the lightbulb flashes. He's finally got it. "Food is his most recent and favorite business venture." He guides me to my seat and I sit down, hearing the seat across from me slide. Jennifer hopes we enjoy our night before she disappears and a waiter tells me he's given Louis a menu, then asks about drinks. We both order a Muggle beer. "He bought this place around two years ago, fixed it up and renamed it. His daughter had just been born, he named it after her."
"Wow. Do the others know this?"
I shake my head. "No. Jack's been here a couple of times, made reservations, and they've given him this table because Jen knows we're friends. She's the manager, has been Jay's friend since school. This is Jay's place and it's his passion, it's not for work. He didn't buy it to expand his businesses. So he hasn't told many people and neither have I."
"Then I'm honored to know," he murmurs as the waiter brings our drink. He asks if we're ready to order. "Any recommendations?" he asks me.
"I am having the lamb," I answer, a little loudly for the waiter to hear. Though I wouldn't be surprised if he already knew; it's my favorite dish, Jay makes it at home, and he probably would have told them if he knew I was here. He has his own recipe. I've never been here, though, so I don't know what it's like when it's not being made by Jay. I assume the chef is good or Jay wouldn't have hired him or put our favorite dish on the menu for him to make. I know it's on the menu because he told me he was putting it on. "The chicken's good, too," I add. That's Jack's favorite.
"Chicken it is." Louis gives his order and the waiter leaves us alone. I drink a small mouthful of beer, fully aware that this is it. There are no distractions, no games. We're really here, on a date. I'm both excited and terrified all over again. I have another mouthful, a bigger one this time. "Are you okay?"
I shrug, playing with the rim of the bottle. "I'm a little nervous, I guess," I tell him honestly. "I keep thinking I'm going to do something stupid and embarrass myself or ruin things."
"I don't believe you'll ruin anything," Louis tells me gently and I can't help but want to believe him. I want to, I can't quite manage it. "As for embarrassing yourself? I've seen you in your underwear, watched you walk into walls and doors and just shake it of like it was nothing and let's not forget my favorite," I raise an eye-brow, "you talking in your sleep in History of Magic."
I feel my face heat up and put my head in my hands. My grandmother would kill me if she knew I had my elbows on the table, but I don't care. What's worse is that people laughed when they saw me for the rest of the week, asked when Carrie was coming to get me. Carrie is my other cousin, the pouty and flirty one, Jay's big sister. She likes to shop, as some girls love to do, and she tries to make me her personal doll. Tries. I refuse to try the stuff on. I don't want to help her shop anymore. As soon as I get word saying she's in town, I hide at Jay's. "I hate you," I mutter.
"But nothing can be as embarrassing as that, so I'm sure you'll be fine tonight," he assures me. "Question; what's it like being rich?"
"I'm not rich, I'm just well off," I counter him. "My grandparents are rich and they like to buy me things. Jay is rich. I am not rich. Having money in my family, however, is alright."
"Answer accepted," he chuckles. "Why are you such a cheater?"
I roll my eyes. Again with the 'cheater' thing. I thought we'd dropped this. He's referring to the night before we left Hogwarts for Christmas, before his detention, we'd been playing a 'Who Am I?' game. Every time it was Jack's turn to give someone a name, he'd give me hints so I'd guess it right. "I didn't cheat," I deny anyway. "With help, I manipulated the situation to suit my needs."
"Yeah, that's just rich boy talk for 'I'm a cheat'."
My lips twitch while I try to hold it in, but in the end I can't help it, and the laugh that practically erupts from my mouth is so loud I wouldn't be surprised if people were watching. And, for once, I don't care. It doesn't take long for Louis to join in, though he manages to ask why I'm laughing so much. Why am I laughing? He just called me a cheater... Well, I did. "I thought we established that I'm not rich?" I ask instead.
"I changed my mind; you're wearing Ralph Lauren." I raise an eye-brow. How does he know I have Ralph Lauren? "Am I not special enough for the lovely Armani suit you've got locked away?"
Okay... "How do you know about that?"
"A couple of months ago, you made me go upstairs and find a school book because you'd just come down and you were so tired," he said sadly, faking like I did that day.
"Yeah, I did that. I was really tired," I assure him.
"You'd just gotten up, lazy ass," he scoffs. Calling me what I already know I can be just makes me want to shrug and go 'so' in that bored tone that makes the person you talk to want to hurt you. So I do. Only because I know Louis is too nice to hurt me. And he's used to me, knows what I'm like, so he'd just laugh at me.
Oh, listen to that...
"I can't believe I let you go through my trunk." I shake my head, faking disappointment in myself.
"Never mind that; am I not special enough for Armani?"
I can tell he's amused, he's finding this funny, but there is also that hint of genuine curiosity coming through. And suddenly I don't want to tell him what I said to Jack before, that I chose something else to punish him for what he did. I definitely don't want to tell him what I didn't tell Jack, that I'm punishing him because what he did still hurt a little. We're here and everything is as it should be, I want to forget everything else that happened. I don't want to even think about that anymore. So I lie. And I hope he never finds out what I actually said. I'll talk to Jack tomorrow.
"It's nothing to do with you not being special. Apparently I've been getting comments about being sexy as hell in that suit. It just wouldn't be fair on you if I put you through that on our first date. Making you want what's underneath and knowing you can't have it seems too cruel."
I try to look disappointed. It's not that hard to do. Maybe I am a little bit disappointed. This would be so much easier if I didn't have my want to make it special. Wanting it to be special was so much easier when didn't want anyone.
"Oh, so you're being understanding about my needs and doing what you think is best, I see." He sounds serious, playing along I bet. "I don't believe it, though. You've never been very nice around other people."
"People, no," I concede to his point with a quick nod. "You on the other hand? I spent money for you because I liked to, I wrote a list because you asked me to. I listen to you, which is hard for me to do, so it surprises people. I'm nice to you, I like you. Believe me now?"
"I believe you a little more if that's any consolation."
The waiter comes with our food before I can say anything to counter that, so I just smirk like I imagine he's doing and I take a drink. He hopes we enjoy our meal and leaves us alone. For the first couple of minutes we're eating we fall into a comfortable silence, then he asks me more about Jay and his businesses. I tell him about the different businesses my cousin owns, how he's always loved to cook and how he plans to expand the restaurant idea and buy more. He asks about Jay's family and I tell him about how he met his wife, married young and had Ellie. I tell him about Carrie and how annoying she can be. By the time he's done asking questions, it dawns on me that it's only really my parents I've told him anything about. He doesn't even know everything about me.
I push my plate away a fraction when I'm done and finish my drink. "That was delicious. We should come here again."
"So I didn't bore you with family talk?" I ask with a smile.
"If it had bored me I wouldn't have asked so many questions." Well, that is a fair point. I tell him so. "I like that you're talking to me. I ask so many because I'm not sure when it'll happen again. I've figured out what my limit is, obviously."
Limit? I frown, try to remember what questions he could have possibly asked that I haven't answered. Then it hits me. He's tried to ask about me and I've interrupted him. I've stopped him. I'm the limit. I take a deep breath. I know what he'll ask me. I have to do this if we want this relationship, I know that, too. "Ask me anything. No limits. I'll answer you."
"How did you lose your sight?"
I really wish I hadn't finished that drink. The waiter is back to take our plates. I ask for another beer and he leaves, comes back with my drink and a dessert menu and leaves again. Louis waits patiently the whole time. I don't answer him until I've had a drink. I think he realized that.
"I was three," I start quietly. "My dad already worked in the Ministry, he travelled. Just before my third birthday, my mum got offered her job. She said yes and they started packing and looking for a new home in England. They found it and they got it sorted. They enrolled me into daycare. They had a party for me at my grandparents, where I'd lived my whole life until that point, and we moved in the next day. Mum said she was nervous about me starting at school because I'd be with kids my own age for the first time and I was only really speaking French. I'd learnt English at the same time, but I wasn't as good because my whole family were speaking French. That was my first language. She was also worried about my cold, I'd been sick since before my birthday and it hadn't gone. But I was so excited, she said. She took me, hoping I'd be okay."
I took another drink, longer this time, and leaned forward against the table. I keep my head down, where I know the bottle is, my fingers playing with the label. "I was in England for two weeks, my cold getting worse, until my mum took me to St. Mungo's. It turned out to be Meningitis. I was lucky, they said, I'd been brought in in time. But Dad said something was wrong, I'd fallen asleep and not woken up. I was unconscious. I'm not sure about the details, I don't know why. They'd managed to save my life, they couldn't save my sight. I woke up to nothing. It was so dark, like -"
"Like the lights had gone out," Louis whispers, remembering what I'd told him months ago. "That must have been terrifying at three years old."
"Dad said I freaked out, cried for days. Then I'd just sit there. I didn't move or speak, he told me. That's when the therapy started," I mutter. "Fat lot of good it did. They tried to help me move past it, but I kept clinging on to what I wanted, I always got what I wanted, and I wanted my sight back. I remember thinking so hard, not wanting to forget what I'd seen."
"But there was nothing they could do?"
I shake my head. "They tried. Healers take their name literally. They'd been working on magic and potions for the blind, still are I assume. They gave me all different kinds as a kid, but they never worked for me. They just made me ill. So dad stopped it. I asked about Muggle doctors once, depending on how your sight is lost they can restore it with surgery. I wasn't expecting a miracle, I knew there was a chance I couldn't have that, but because I have Haemophilia, Mum refused surgery as an option. Too many risks even if it could work, she says."
"I'm sorry," he replies softly. "But I'd rather have you as you are than risk not having you at all. I'm sure your mum feels the same."
"I understand my mum's reasons, I don't hate her for not letting me, she just doesn't know what it's like." I pull the label between my fingers and it falls to pieces out of my hand. I hope Jay doesn't mind if I've made a mess. "I hate it, Louis. Reason number two why they sent me to a number of therapists. I never let myself accept it, I didn't want to. I went to a special school and not even being around kids like me made me want to. I started to play music and I loved it, but it didn't change anything. I dreamt about you at New Year, we were lying on the grass in a field, and I could see you, or what I'd imagined. Then I woke up and it was dark again. I hate the dark. I don't want this."
I bite my lower lip, I refuse to cry over this any more. I bite so hard, I have to stop before I taste blood, then I control my breathing. Not a single tear falls. Good. I expect him to be like the others, tp tell me about how I can't change anything and that I should accept things and move on. But he doesn't. I'm grateful for that.
"What made you start talking again?" he asks. "I wanted to say the piano, but you didn't learn to play until you five. Unless you were silent for two years?"
"No," I answer and I actually laugh a little. I can be stubborn, but the thought of me being quiet for that long is just impossible. Even if I'm not talking to one person, I'm talking to another. "I'm not that dramatic, Lou. It was Jay. A couple of weeks after I got better, after my first therapy session, we were at my grandparents. I was sat on the couch on my own and Jay was in the kitchen baking cookies. He came in with a fresh batch and asked if I wanted one. I nodded, but he wouldn't let me until I'd asked nicely. He started making up stories about what the cookies where doing, the adventures they were having in his tummy and not mine. He made me laugh and I asked nicely."
"You and your need for sugar," Louis chuckles. I roll my eyes, but smile. "I think I like Jay more than I did before. You remember that?"
"Yeah," I nod. "It's my earliest memory, happy memory anyway. After that, the next memory I have was when I was four. Everything I told you, though, about what happened to me, my dad told me. He was willing to tell me. Mum never wanted to. She found it hard to accept, too. She's okay now, though. It's just me who isn't. Any more questions?" I ask hesitantly.
"Just one. Dessert, yes or no?"
"I can't believe she wouldn't let me pay."
I squeeze Louis' hand and we walk back to the carriage at the end of Hogsmeade. It's almost eleven thirty, so we have time, and we walk at a leisurely pace. It's peaceful tonight and I'm not as cold as I was walking to the restaurant. Maybe it's the alcohol I drank. I'd rather Louis didn't moan about Jennifer telling us Jay wouldn't let us pay, though. "Jay never let's family pay. Or friends," I add, even though Jack did pay since he didn't know Jay owned it. It would have been weird if a stranger had said he didn't have to pay. Jack would have been thrilled, though. Ellie's is kind of expensive. "Just enjoy the fact that we had a good time. You did have a good time, right?"
"I did," he reassures me. "It's been an amazing first date and I'm grateful you let me get to know you more."
"Jack and Lucy don't even know that, you know. Just how old I was," I point out quietly.
"Then I'll respect your decision and I won't tell them. If you want to, that's up to you. But they won't hear it from me."
"Thank you," I whisper.
He helps me into the carriage and I feel a lot better. Like a weight has been lifted or something. Maybe it's not quite as big that it needs the 'weight off my shoulders' simile, but I am glad I told him. Now we can only go forward in this relationship.
"Cutting it kind of close, guys. I'd suggest you hurry up, Louis. Your House isn't even on this floor."
I follow the cocky voice to my left, listening to him get quieter as he walks away.
"I'll remember that next time I find you on the seventh floor. We both know what's on the seventh floor," Louis answers the cocky voice.
"I didn't see you. Good night."
"Who was that?" I ask, leaning against the wall by the Hufflepuff entrance.
"That was Luka. He's spent way to much time around Kyle, he sounds like a dick."
"From what I deduced, he spends a lot of time with Kyle in the Room of Requirement," I smirk.
"You know about the Room of Requirement? Did Lucy tell you?"
"No." I shake my head, grinning wider. "Did you think it was only your family who knew about that room? My dad told me."
"I didn't think it was only my family who knew, I just guessed how you could have known. Now, I will see you tomorrow." He brushes his thumb over my lips and his forehead touches mine. "Good night, CJ," he whispers and then...
...His lips touch mine for the briefest moment before he kisses the corner. I glare. "That is not nearly enough to count," I growl when I feel him move back.
"Oh, I know. I have a plan." This time I frown. There's a plan now? "You said you wanted it to be special," he says likes I need reminding. I bite back a retort because I'm curious as to what's going on. But I know what I said and right now I'm not liking it. He starts to walk away, his echoing footsteps are getting softer. "I promise I'll make it all special. But I'll still be holding your hand and kissing every available bit of skin I can find and gloating to everyone that you are indeed my boyfriend and, you know, generally making Jack uncomfortable in every way I can."
"Oh really? And who said anything about me being your boyfriend?" I call out, even though I can't help the huge smile.
"I decided while we were walking. After four months of whatever this was, you just are, okay."
"But boyfriends get to kiss their partners," I point out.
"We're old fashioned."
Then he's gone and I'm inside the common room. I can't hear anyone else, so I assume Jack did not get his own way and the other guys are asleep in their own beds. I lean against the entrance and process everything that happened tonight. Boyfriend? It sounds weird to say, even to myself. But the good kind. It's definitely a title I can get used to.
A/N: So close to twenty chapters. That will be a huge moment for me. Also, I can't believe we've passed 100 reviews. THANK YOU SO MUCH!
And... Ciaran has been nominated for Best OC in the Dobby awards, while Enchanted has been nominated for Most Original. Very excited about that. Thank you!
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