Chapter 5 : A Cruel Reminder
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This was one of those days.
He set down the quill, having finished the letter discussing Al's most recent appointment with his therapist, and he kicked back in his chair. He propped his feet up on his desk and laced his fingers together behind his head.
After a few minutes of tranquil silence, a pleased smile passed over his face. Then a knock came from his door. Without even opening his eyes, he granted them entrance. “Come in.”
The door swung open. That was when he peeked at the door with one eye. “Mr. Potter,” his assistant said kindly, “you have a visitor.”
“Ah,” he acknowledge happily.
Michelle stepped aside, allowing the visitor to enter, and James let a smile spread across his face.
Seeing the smile on his face sent a wave of happiness radiating through Norah. Her smile brightened. After dealing with him for months, thinking he had become a changed person—and for the worse—full of anger and mistakes, she finally saw the boy she used to know at Hogwarts. He peaked through the seams and took over the lesser James Potter. He looked like himself again after so long. She knew then that he had taken their conversation at the café together to heart.
James turned to Michelle, his smile remaining. “Thanks. That will be all, Michelle.”
She left with a nod, and James rose from his desk. He stretched out his back and shoulders before approaching Norah and placing a gentle kiss on her lips. He leaned over her to push the door to his office shut, his palm spreading out against the wood of the door. Being closer to her now, he pressed his forehead to hers.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” he joked with a cheeky smile.
Norah rolled her shoulders and placed her arms around his neck. “I've met all my deadlines for the day. Work was quiet, so I decided to drop by.”
“I'm glad you did. It's just as quiet here,” he said in reply. His hands went to her hips and he held her close.
He didn't know what exactly had happened between him and Norah. After that day at the café together, things between the two of them had changed. They were still uneasy with each other, and neither had made the decision that they were dating again, but they were speaking to each other and they both seemed to understand that they each had their issues to work on. With that, their physical actions reflected their relationship the way it had been before everything went wrong. James greeted her with kisses, he held her, and Norah toyed with his hair. All in all, it felt like they were dating, but neither of them were ready to have that conversation with the other just yet. The kisses, though, just seemed to come on impulse. James found himself kissing her these days before he could think twice about it. Perhaps it was their mutual desire to make up for their lost time that led to their current confusing relationship.
Norah grinned and tugged on the hair at the back of his head. “Does that mean we have time to do this?” she asked and rose onto her tip toes, giving him a passionate kiss just to show him what she spoke of.
When she pulled away, James was smiling. He didn't let her go far; his grip on her hips tightened and he was already pulling her in for another when he breathed against her mouth. “It sure does.”
Then he kissed her. Fully. Passionately. Like nothing had changed.
Norah responded well. She thrust herself full against him and let his hands play out across her smooth back as she moved hers up his broad shoulders, along his neck, and into his hair. There, her fingers knotted themselves within his dark locks, and she pulled his head even further down to hers, crushing her lips against his.
“Ah,” he made a noise into her mouth, her tongue brushing his bottom lip. “Gently.”
“No,” she argued, and for further response, she bit down on his bottom lip.
He jumped in surprise but also made a noise of approval. His grip on her tightened in response, his passion and lust matching hers, but before she would let him take charge, she did this time. She spun him around and pressed him against the door of his office. He went willingly, grunting into her mouth as they continued to kiss. His hands moved from her hips, up her back, up her neck, and into her hair where he knotted her brunette curls. Her hands played out along his chest. They kissed like that for several minutes, locked in each other’s embrace. With each passing minute, James felt his back sliding further and further down the wall until his knees were bent and Norah was the one to bend her head down to continue the kiss.
Finally, James had to peel Norah off of him. He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, panting. When he caught his breath, he reached out and looped each of his index fingers through the loops on her belt and pulled her in the crook between his legs.
“Would you like to go get lunch?” she asked, touching his cheek tenderly.
“You actually came on a day when I can't grab lunch,” said James with a wince. There was something he hadn't told her. Something he would have to tell her now that the moment had come. Here goes nothing, he supposed.
“Oh? Do you have an appointment?” she asked, nonchalant.
“I do,” he answered truthfully. “Now...What I'm about to tell you…Please don't get upset and please be understanding.”
“Okay, now you're scaring me,” she said uneasily and backed out of his embrace.
His arms fell to his sides as she moved out of his reach, and he stood up straight. “I have an appointment with Clancy O'Dell today.”
“Oh,” Norah breathed quietly.
“I know. I should have told you sooner. But let's face it; we don't know what's going on between us right now...and we've been doing really well! Which I guess is probably why I should have told you...But I didn't want to mess things up. It's just her usual follow-up. Nothing important, and I swear, Norah, I don't have feelings for Clancy.”
She breathed heavily, listening intently to his words and trying to decipher his gaze. Her instincts told her to be upset. She didn't want him to see Clancy O'Dell. She didn't want him to ever have to see her again; that woman had done things with her James, things that James was supposed to only do with her, and that made her uneasy. It made her feel threatened, and she hated that. But she knew she couldn't protest; she knew she couldn't show how upset she was or how uneasy it made her. Not if she ever wanted James to forgive her.
If she wanted things between her and James to get better—which she desperately did—she would have to be okay with James seeing Clancy, and she would have to trust him. If she wasn't okay with James seeing her, the road to James' forgiveness would triple. He was right; they were doing so well, and she couldn't be hypocritical about the situation. After Norah had told James that she had considered breaking up with him because of his behavior before Kiernan ever drove a wedge in their relationship, James had started down the path to forgiving Norah, for he understood that he was partially at fault. They had made progress and started down the right path, and Norah couldn’t jeopardize that.
She swallowed a lump in her throat, trying to ignore the churning feeling in her stomach that made her wish to vomit, and she nodded. “Okay. I–I understand.”
“It's strictly business,” he reassured her.
“Okay,” she said again, finding herself unable to stop nodding. Then she spoke the words she wasn't sure were entirely true just yet, but right now, they had to be true. It was the only way they could ever begin to make amends with each other. “I trust you.”
“You do?” he asked, surprised. Why did he have her trust when he couldn't quite place his trust back in her?
Norah closed her eyes. Why? Why did he have to ask that now? She choked on her lie, but as she looked him in the eye, maybe it wasn't a lie at all. His eyes were swimming with the James she knew so well, the selfless, brave, strong, and determined one who still had a weakness for something in particular: for her. When she looked him in the eye, she could feel the truth of his words. She believed him fully, that it was strictly business, that he didn't have feelings for Clancy. Maybe she could trust him. A brief smile tugged at her lips.
“Yes, I do.”
James looked at her silently and with a smile for several moments after that. He was still, in deep thought somewhere, and Norah almost asked him if he was all right, but finally he shook his head, pulling himself from his thoughts, and he finally suggested quietly. “Norah, we should...We should talk again. About us. And where we stand.”
Uh oh. Would this be a good talk? She hoped it was; she had hardly given him a reason for a bad talk. “Yes, we should,” she agreed.
He nodded and kissed her forehead. “Come over tonight? I'll make dinner.”
“Sure,” she said gently, her voice catching in her throat.
“I really want this—us—to work,” he said quietly into her hair. “You just have to trust me.”
At that, Norah had the sudden urge to cry. She squeezed her eyes shut with her head against James' chest. She didn't understand why he was being so sweet to her, so kind. She didn't deserve it, that much she knew. He wasn't supposed to be the one asking for her trust; it was supposed to be the other way around. It was she who betrayed his trust, and he was speaking as if Norah had done no wrong.
This was so different. He was so different in that moment. He had been so full of anger and rage lately. He had been relentless and unforgiving, not at all like the man she had fallen in love with. Now today—it was like he was himself again. So she forced her guilty thoughts aside and tried to enjoy it while she could. Who knows? She could arrive at his flat tonight and he could be his angry, unforgiving self once more.
Norah smiled and nodded. “I know I do. Your trust is all I ask for, too.”
“Why don't you take a seat? I'll get our drinks,” Parker suggested as they strolled into their normal coffee shop promptly at noon.
Parker didn't know what had gotten into Clancy within the past hour. They had a fine morning; they had shared breakfast and then a pleasant walk in the park a few streets over. Then, seeing the time, Clancy had quickly tried to work their way through the streets to make it to the coffee shop by noon. Parker didn't know what the big rush was, but he just went with it. He watched Clancy pick a table—an entirely different table from their usual. They normally either sat on the patio outside or at the table against the window with two chairs. Instead, Clancy picked a square table with four chairs at it.
Parker rolled his shoulders and went to stand in line. He smiled at the barista he too now knew on a first name basis. He didn't even have to place his order. Instead, the barista Eileen picked up two cups and scribbled their order onto the cup. They exchanged a few pleasantries, Parker handing over the muggle money, and he only had to wait a few minutes for his and Clancy's drinks. He took the cups in his hand, an apricot chai tea and a salted caramel mocha, and pivoted on his heels to look at the table he had seen Clancy choose.
And he nearly fell over in shock. There, sitting at the table with Clancy, was James Potter.
Parker could feel his breath catching. His heartbeat quickened, and he could feel the heat rise to his cheeks as he became terrified of the sudden situation at hand. Needing a moment to gather his bearings, he turned his back to them, his eyes wide.
What the hell was James Potter doing at their coffee shop? Was he just saying hello to Clancy? If he was, then should he wait for him to leave? What was he to do? He looked at the corner of his eye at the Potter and came to the conclusion that James and Clancy weren't just exchanging quick hellos. In fact, James Potter looked as if he had settled in quite nicely.
“Fuck!” Parker cursed under his breath.
What if Potter recognized him? He would be screwed. Surely Potter wouldn't recognize him, though. It had been three years since that day at Azkaban; Parker had grown into himself. He was more than a half foot taller, and he had packed on pounds of muscle. Besides, his hair was a different style, and even when he looked at himself in the mirror, he could hardly recognize himself these days. James Potter also believed the face of Parker Namken to be a dead one.
But could he really take that risk? Did he have a choice?
He realized the barista was gently trying to get his attention. Parker shook his head to pull himself from his thoughts and looked to Eileen.
“Nolan? Is something wrong with your drinks?”
“Oh, no, Eileen,” he said calmly. He tried to smile but felt sick to his stomach. “Everything's great, thanks.”
She gave him a smile before Parker sucked in a deep breath and spun around on his heels.
Was this why Clancy had been so intent on making it to the coffee shop by noon? She had an appointment with the Unspeakable, didn't she? And she hadn't told him. Parker wondered why not. He didn't care that Clancy had her regular appointments with him. He tried to convince himself that he didn't give a damn what Clancy did in any of her spare time, but he wished she had told him. He would have come up with some bull-shit excuse as to why he couldn't go.
He groaned and sucked in a deep breath. He hoped for the best as he approached the table. He set her mocha in front of her and slid into the chair next to her. Her conversation with James Potter came to a pause as he sat down. Clancy beamed, looking from man to man. “Oh, James, this is my boyfriend, Nolan Paxton. Nolan, this is my Unspeakable, James Potter.”
Parker plastered a false grin to his face and extended his hand across the table. “Hi, James. It's wonderful to meet you.”
“And you, Nolan,” beamed James.
James shook his hand, but when their skin touched, something strange flickered across James Potter's expression. It wasn't recognition—not of the fact that he was truly Parker Namken—but something else. Of what? It almost looked like pain.
Potter pursed his lips and quickly withdrew his hand. He looked sick, like he was holding something within that he didn't want them to know about. When he pulled his hand back inward, he took it into his lap and clenched his right wrist with his left hand. He tugged on it and clamped it between his thighs as if it would soothe whatever pain had reached him.
Parker tried to ignore it and turned to Clancy. In that moment, he found his false smile sickening him, and his words were like acidic poison. All he wanted to do was leap across the table onto James Potter and beat him until he begged for death. “Clancy,” he began, his voice cool and enticing, “you didn't tell me you had an appointment today!”
“Didn’t I? It must have slipped my mind.” Clancy's reply was witty, if only to Parker.
James was oblivious to the exchange, but Parker knew she had planned everything out. Parker then understood that Clancy had avoided telling him of her appointment on purpose—perhaps due to that night at the pub a few weeks back when he had so adamantly refused to let Clancy speak with him. Perhaps Clancy had interpreted that to mean that Parker didn't want anything to do with the Unspeakable, which was completely true but for all the wrong reasons.
Parker knew he would have to keep face. Clancy would grow suspicious if he didn't. Besides, Parker had weaved his string of lies through Clancy's mind already. He would have to interfere before anything could be tampered with. Things had to go his way.
“Hogwarts, right?” Parker asked, his voice fake and laced with polite tones.
James looked surprised, but it was very brief. He nodded, sipping at his own coffee in front of him. “Yup. You too?”
“Yeah,” Parker answered. Here came the hard part; he would have to make Potter believe him. “We were there at the same time, too, I'm pretty sure. Not the same year. I was two ahead of you, I believe. You're—?”
“Twenty,” James answered.
“Ah,” Parker said with a purse of the lips. “Then yes. I was two ahead. In Ravenclaw.”
Lies. All lies. Parker had been a year under him. He was nineteen; not twenty-two. And he was a proud Slytherin.
Clancy just nodded along as she listened to the exchange of information that she already knew and believed to be accurate.
James shook his head, continually rubbing at his wrist. His brow furrowed as if in deep thought. “I'm sorry. I don't remember you, but you do look familiar. Like someone I used to know. I can't quite place a name to it.”
Relief swept over him. “That's all right. I liked to fly under the radar then. Still do.”
“Don't we all like to do that at times,” grinned James as he sipped at his coffee again.
When he set it down, he latched onto his right wrist once more. Parker could tell he was trying not to grimace, and he couldn't help but watch Potter curiously. What was up with that wrist of his? He had been keeping a close eye on James Potter closely, but he hadn't noticed this. Did he have a rash or a bite? Was it fractured, broken, or sprained?
James caught Parker looking at it, and he motioned his head toward this wrist. “Yeah, sorry,” James apologized for himself. “I don't know what's going on with this bloody thing. It hurts every now and then, some days more than others. Ever since a day quite a few years ago that I don't like to think about. But right now it's just...agonizing. I'm really sorry.”
“Don't apologize,” said Parker. “Some events leave painful scars.”
“They do,” nodded James in agreement. “I guess this one's just a cruel reminder.”
A/N: Edited 9.20 for grammar and accuracy.
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