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Chapter 5 : I like my job.
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I can’t even think it without laughing. But really, though, it’s not all bad. I honestly do like the fact that I can call our manager, Gina, and take the weekend off because I’m not “feeling well” with no other explanation needed. That may be because I’m her most reliable employee, but hey, I’m not complaining.
I know. It’s a shocker.
So, instead of spending my weekend holed up in the diner, I spend it holed up in my flat, curled under my bed covers, crying and reading tattered old copies of Fifi LaFolle romance novels. I know. It’s pathetic. I’m not even quite sure why I have Fifi LaFolle novels; it’s not as if I read them at school or anything. I’m fairly certain that I accidently stole them from one of my roommates when we were packing up to leave at the end of seventh year. All the other girls were always so obsessed with the stupid books, squealing over Mr. Drancy and his mysterious ways. Needless to say, I never actually cared.
I know. Another shocker.
By the time Saturday evening rolls around, I’ve left my bed a grand total of three times. A stash of junk food graces my bedside table and my sheets have been twisted around so much that now they’re just one large clump. And, to top it all off, I’ve already gone through a large portion of my Fifi LaFolle novels. But regardless of my diminishing stack of books, I continue to flip desperately through the pages of Enchanted Encounters: The Notepad, and just as the two main characters are about to embrace in a heart-wrenching kiss in the rain, someone pounds at the door.
I ignore the knock and continue devouring the book, but whoever it is won’t be deterred. “Ava,” Impatient Door-Knocker yells, “it’s Matt.”
“It’s open,” I yell back, and the telltale squeak of my flat’s door opening reaches my ears.
Matt peaks his head into my bedroom and shuffles in tentatively. He’s wearing his white button-up shirt that comes standard issue for all male employees at the diner, but it’s untucked and the sleeves are rolled up to his elbows.
“I brought you something,” he says. He places a white Styrofoam take-home box from the diner on my bed, then pops open the top. “Thought you might want some food.”
“Thanks, Matty,” I say, pulling the box towards me. The aroma of a juicy cheeseburger wafts out and spirals around my bedroom, fighting off the smell of the stale junk food I’ve been munching on all day long.
“Ah, well, I can’t take credit. Louis told me to bring it for you - said he would’ve done it himself but he was afraid you’d throw a book at him.”
I glance up innocently at Matt as he cocks an eyebrow in suspicion at me, smile sweetly, and then bite into the burger. After living off of a bag of crisps, some peanuts, and several varieties of sweets all weekend, it tastes pretty damn good.
“Dunno what he’s talkin’ ‘bout,” I declare around a mouthful of burger.
Matt shakes his head disbelievingly and jumps onto the bed, landing next to me with a thud. As soon as I finish demolishing the burger, I shove the box away and cuddle up next to him. He throws both arms around me tightly, and my head presses up against his chest. It’s quite peaceful, being with him. Somehow he always knows how to calm my thoughts.
“How’re you doing, Ava?” he murmurs, catching a lock of my hair between his fingertips.
“I’m miserable, Matty.”
He stays silent and twirls the piece of hair around a bit. This is how we are - we don’t hide things, but we don’t exactly talk about them, either. It works for us. I’m not really one to dole out words of emotional encouragement, and neither is he, so we just... don’t. And that’s fine.
“I always hated that stupid git Ian anyway,” he says after a long pause.
“Shut up. You loved him.”
“Oh, please. When the three of us would hang out together, I was practically the third wheel.”
“Well, I’ve replaced him,” Matt announces proudly. “There’s a new bromance now, and I’m never forgiving that twat for breaking up with me.”
I snort and wiggle out of his arms, flopping backwards on my bed. “You’ve really taken to Louis, haven’t you?”
“Of course. And I think you should date him so we can be a trio again, just like old times.”
“You mean so you can steal him away from me, just like old times?”
“Come on, now. I never stole Ian away from you. He just liked spending time with me more than he liked spending it with you.”
I elbow him in the side and he laughs again, though he does rub his ribcage with his hand.
“I’m being serious, though,” Matt says. “He fancies you. He won’t admit it, of course, but he does. If you stopped chucking books at him for five seconds, maybe you’d see it.”
“One: I don’t chuck books at him. Two: he doesn’t date, and I’m not really in the mood to date, either.”
“Oh, please, Ava,” he says, rolling his eyes. “I get the part about you not being ready to date again, but the bloke is absolutely crazy about you. Seriously. You’re all he talks about.”
“I think you’re misinterpreting ‘I want to shag you’ with ‘I fancy you,’ dearie.”
Matt huffs and runs a hand distractedly through his tousled brown hair, tugging at the ends of it slightly. “Maybe,” he consents finally, “but you need to get over Ian. This isn’t healthy.”
“I know,” I whisper.
“Good. Now, are you going to be okay if I head out? I’m exhausted.”
“I’ll be fine. Thanks, Matty.”
“Anything for you, dear,” he says, shooting me that goofy grin of his before sliding off the bed. “If you need anything, just give me a ring. I may or may not answer. Depends on how much you’ve been getting on my nerves lately.”
“Get out,” I snicker and toss a pillow at his head. He waves cheerfully over his shoulder at me and quickly disappears from the room, slamming the door to my flat shut behind him. But before I even hear the door close, I’m curled up beneath my sheets, welcoming the familiar warmth and darkness of sleep, the only thing that’s always there for me.
Rap. Rap. Rap.
“Ava, I know you’re in there!”
Rap. Rap. Rap.
“Ava Moore, open the door!”
Rap. Rap. Rap.
Groaning, I swing my legs unwillingly out of bed and blink the sleep dust out of my eyes. I don’t know who’s pounding on my door at bloody nine in the morning on a Sunday, but I assure you that I do not appreciate it.
“Whaddya want?” I slur angrily as I stumble my way to the front door. I jerk it open and wince at the ensuing squeak - that really should be fixed.
My landlord, Sergei, stands before me, taking in my disheveled state with his watery blue eyes. Despite the fact that he’s a macho tough guy from Russia with bulging arm muscles and scary tattoos, he’s not really an intimidating person. At least I don’t find him intimidating. Then again, he always has had a soft spot for me.
“Ava, you’re two weeks late on rent.”
“And you still owe me half from last time.”
“And a hundred from the month before that.”
“I need the money. I can’t keep letting you put off payments.”
“I know, Sergei. But you raised the rent last month and I have other expenses and things I need to take care of -”
“Ava, I’m sorry. The next time you walk into this building, you need to have the money. I can’t keep turning a blind eye. You know I would if I could.”
“I know. I - I’ll have the money. I will,” I whisper, gulping and avoiding his eyes.
“The next time you walk into this building,” he repeats slowly. “Are we clear?”
“All right. Have a nice day.”
Sergei shuts the door in my face and for a minute I just stand there, staring at it. Blinking. Processing. Searching for an answer.
There is none.
I can’t pay; I simply don’t have the money. Last month I sold everything I absolutely didn’t need and I still couldn’t make my payment. Not with the raised rent. I tried everything - I went through my bills, I slashed my budget, I picked up all the extra shifts I could. Nothing was enough. Not with prices going up everywhere.
I guess it’s a good thing I’m not too attached to my flat, because it sure as hell looks like I won’t be living here much longer. I suppose I could try to get my pay early, maybe use that to work off the past two months’ rent, and then see if I could negotiate my way into a few extra weeks for this month -
Fuck. I’m kind of actually screwed.
I have to literally drag myself out of bed the next morning. Actually, it’s not even morning - I’m working the afternoon to closing shift, so it’s more like noon. Yet I still have to force myself out of bed, away from the Fifi LaFolle novels, and into the shower so I’ll look mildly presentable to the customers. I just can’t afford to miss another day of work. I don’t even know what I was thinking taking the weekend off in the first place.
To make things crueler, it’s bloody miserable outside. I swear we’ve had nothing but rain for the past week. Dark, gloomy clouds inch across the sky, blotting out the sunlight, and the wind howls constantly. Add in the buckets upon buckets of water pouring from the heavens, and it’s no wonder I’ve been so depressed.
Things at the diner are even worse, if that’s possible. Business is slow; no one wants to go out in this type of weather. In fact, the whole mood of the place is lethargic. Usually the empty days at the diner are the best days - Matt and I get to goof around and chat and generally go nuts. But today things are different. I’m not really in a talking mood, and Matt just downloaded some new album or something on to his music player, so every spare second he gets is used for absorbing the “beats.”
Yeah, I don’t get it either.
The only other person I might be willing to talk to (if only because no one else is around) is Louis, but he’s not exactly in the mood to talk to me. And that’s fine. Because I don’t want to talk to him anyway. I mean, I am super bored, so if he struck up a conversation with me I would respond, but it’s not like I would voluntarily choose to speak with him.
Long story short: the day was terrible. Terribly boring. Terribly cold. Terribly rainy. Terribly depressing. Terribly sad (okay, that might just be me). Terribly terrible.
Closing time took forever to get here. I never thought I would actually be grateful for closing chores, yet here I am, praising the lord that I finally get to wipe down the counter.
I focus intently on my scrubbing as the boys busy themselves around me, shutting the diner down. There’s this one spot near the centre of the counter that absolutely won’t come clean, no matter how hard I scrub. I think it’s maybe a bit of dried mustard or relish or something - I can’t quite tell.
“Just give it up,” Matt says loudly.
I glance at him and cock an eyebrow at the volume of his voice. He bobs his head up and down to the “beats” innocently and continues fiddling with the blender, un-attaching the doodads and shelving it quickly.
“Ugh. Fine,” I consent, throwing my hands up in the air in exasperation. The mysterious mustard-relish will just have to stay until I can sneak a quick cleaning charm on it.
Counters, tables, glasses, utensils - everything’s been taken care of. All that’s left to do now are the menus. This is probably the easiest part of closing up; basically, all you have to do is set one menu down at each seat so the diner looks “fresh” for customers the next morning.
My eyes dart around the diner for said menus, but they’re not in their usual spot by the kitchen door. Someone must have moved them while we were closing up. Louis plods over to the counter behind the soda bar as I search, carefully balancing a tray full of ketchup bottles that need to be refilled. I must have been watching him subconsciously or something because all of a sudden I spot the little vinyl buggers tucked neatly behind a stack of dishes sitting next to him.
The problem, you see, is that I can’t get at them without awkwardly invading his personal space. Ah, yes. The woes of my life.
“Louis, can you pass me the menus?” I ask quietly.
“I would, but I'm afraid you might chuck them at my head.”
Sighing, I spin around, march determinedly to the counter, and grab the menus for myself, personal space be damned. To be honest, I don’t know what his problem is but it’s really pissing me off. I threw one measly book at him. So what? At least he has a nice flat to go back to, a bed to sleep in, and money to spare. He’s got no right to complain about things.
“You know what?” I snap. “Just shut up, Louis. Just shut the fuck up.”
“Excuse me?” he asks incredulously, turning around slowly to face me. The ketchup containers lay unfinished on the counter behind him, tipping precariously over to the side. “Do you know something? You’re a real bitch, Ava.”
Red practically explodes in my vision as I stare at him, pulse pounding in my head. I open my mouth to speak, face flushed violently with anger, hand curling like a vice around the plastic menus I’m holding, but Louis cuts me off.
“All I’ve tried to do is help you. Do you understand that? And you just scream at me, and throw books, and swear -”
“Maybe I don’t want your help,” I hiss. “Maybe I don’t want to be your game for the week. Maybe you can go back home to Mummy and Daddy whenever things get tough and have everything be fixed, but some of us can’t. And maybe I don’t care if you feel bad for me or not. Maybe I don’t want your pity. Stop trying to pretend like you understand things about me. You don’t. You never will. This isn’t some sort of game for you to try and play. This is my life.”
“You think this is a game to me? You think -”
“I know what your kind is like, always looking for the next week’s pet project -”
“Stop!” he yells, hand slamming down on the counter. The ketchup bottles tumble to the floor, crashing to the ground in a furious avalanche of glass and spewing tomato paste. “Just fucking stop, Ava! You don’t know one God damn thing about my life!”
I laugh bitterly and shake my head, tossing my hair over my shoulder as I walk away from Louis and the ketchup bottles. My shoes clack against the floor, and outside the rain crashes down with a fury. Wind whistles past the diner as I stare out the window at the dreary sight before me, traffic and streetlights blurring into one swirling mass of colour. I knew I couldn’t do this. I knew I couldn’t work with him.
“Yeah? Well neither do you,” I call back snidely.
“Is there a problem here?”
My eyes snap to the door as Gina strolls in, dark hair pulled back taut into a bun. Her faded old jeans and casual t-shirt might deceive the uninformed spectator, but I know better. Gina runs this place. And if you piss her off, you can bet you’re going to be working rush hour for the next two weeks straight.
“No. No problem,” Louis mutters. I slap the menus down in their proper place on the counter, purse my lips, and continue to work silently as Gina surveys the tense scene before her.
“That’s what I like to hear,” she says. “Now everyone about your business - oh, and Louis, clean up the ketchup.”
“Yes ma’am,” he responds sarcastically.
I roll my eyes and finish with my final closing chore quickly, then sign out for the day. Before I put it back, though, my eyes flicker across the sign in sheet and I count the number of hours I worked last week. Then I double count. And triple count.
“Dammit,” I mutter. Not enough hours. Not nearly enough hours to cover my rent plus everything else on the side.
“Everything okay?” Gina asks quietly.
I glance up at her through the strands of hair falling over my eyes and shake my head slightly. “Is there any way I could get my pay early? Or - or maybe you could give me an advance on tip money?”
“You know I can’t do that, Ava.”
“I know. I - it’s fine. Thanks anyway, Gina,” I snap before turning my back to her and gathering my things.
But it’s not fine. Not at all.
Sergei’s words echo in my head as I pull on my coat. I’m sorry. The next time you walk into this building, you need to have the money. I can’t keep turning a blind eye.
There’s got to be something else I haven’t thought of it. There has to be some food I can do without, some expense I can cut that I haven’t already. There has to be.
Well, I guess if I cancelled the monthly cheque I send to - no. I can’t do that. That’s not an option, so I shouldn’t even think about it.
I could crash at Matt’s place until I can put together the money. He wouldn’t mind.
But I would.
I can’t ask Matt for help - I’m too proud to do that. I don’t need help. I never have and I never will. I am not a charity case. I can take care of myself; I have been for years.
“Ava, do you have your key?” Gina asks suddenly. “I forgot mine at home -”
“Yeah. I do,” I say, fishing the little bronze object out of my pocket. “Do you need me to lock up?”
And suddenly, like a crack of lightning splitting across the sky, the solution to my problem is illuminated. The diner. I can sleep in the diner. I have a copy of the master key; no one would even know. It’s perfect.
“If you could, that would be great,” Gina says in relief. “Everyone ready to head out?”
Matt ignores her as he rocks out to his music, and Louis nods dumbly, wiping remnants of ketchup off his fingers and tossing the rag into the laundry pile. Gina beams and guides me through the proper tasks for locking up the front door and the till and such, and soon the four of us are walking out the back and into the pouring rain.
“Have a good night, everyone! I’ll see you tomorrow!” Gina says before hustling off under the cover of an umbrella.
Matt waves silently at us and flicks a hood over his head, probably to protect his stupid music-playing ear buds, and saunters off down the sidewalk. I, meanwhile, shiver and slide my hands into my pockets as the rain drenches my body - not the best day to forget my umbrella. Louis glances at me like he wants to say something, then shuts his mouth and disappears with the quiet pop characteristic of apparition.
Gratefully, I spin around and wrench the key out of my pocket once more. The rain pours down in a deluge, so I fumble as I try to put it in the lock. My skin feels like it’s saturated with water, my clothes are so wet that they’re plastered to my body, and my hair could literally double as a mop. I can’t feel my legs, and my fingers are on the verge of losing feeling as well. I need warmth.
Finally the key slides in and I shove the back door to the diner open gratefully. I know I could get in huge trouble for this - even though I’m technically allowed to be here - but I don’t see another option. Not until I can scrape together enough money to go home.
Through the darkness, I stumble into the kitchen and search around blindly until I find the sack of potatoes that doubles as my chair during the day. Spreading out a few of the dishwashing station’s rags over the sack, I settle down onto it, wincing as the lumps cut into my back. It’s not the most comfortable bed, but it’s better than nothing. Beggars can’t be choosers.
Gradually my eyelids grow heavier and heavier, and I can feel the waves of sleep crashing over me. I’ve been so exhausted recently; since the Ian incident I haven’t had a proper night’s sleep. Crying your eyes out will generally do that to you.
My eyelids fly open as a voice echoes around the kitchen. Bright light illuminates the room, seemingly emanating from - well, fuck.
“What are you doing?” Louis asks. “Have you been sleeping here?”
“It’s none of your business,” I mutter defensively, but I can see the curiosity burning in his eyes.
“I said it’s none of your fucking business!”
“Seeing as I could turn you into Gina for being here after hours, I’d say that it is very much my business,” he says hotly, and I curse quietly under my breath.
“I could do the same to you.”
“But then you’d have to explain why you were here in the first place.” He smirks like he knows he’s won and leans casually against the wall. “So let’s hear it, then. I can explain why I’m here - you, not so much.”
“Fine. But you have to go first.”
“Forgot my wallet,” he says, grabbing the item in question off of one of the shelves lining the storage room. “Your turn.”
I sigh and purse my lips, fighting against every urge to smack that stupid smirk off his face. This is so bloody unfair. Can he just keep his nose out of my life for once?
“My rent got raised,” I mutter under my breath. “I can’t pay it. Landlord said the next time he sees me walk into the building I better have the money or he’ll kick me out.”
I think it physically pained me to admit that to him. Like, actually, physically pained me. I hate this. I hate admitting it to someone, let alone him with his elitist, fancy car and expensive flat and everything paid for by Mummy and Daddy. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be me. To be poor. He never will.
“You need a place to stay,” he says softly.
Louis sighs and runs a hand distractedly through his hair, expression one of resignation and tiredness. The light from his wand is warm and soft and it kind of lights up his eyes in a way that brings out their gorgeous hue.
In fact, his eyes might just be the most beautiful shade of blue I’ve ever seen. I don’t know why, but they’re just so mesmerising and stunning - fuck. What am I doing?
Lord, there is something wrong with my brain. Come on. Pull it together.
“All right,” he says slowly. “You’re coming back to my place, then.”
“Sorry?” I ask confusedly.
“I’m not letting you sleep here. I can’t, else my mum would have my head if she found out.”
“But I’m not sleeping at yours.”
Louis blinks and stares at me blankly. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me.”
“Ava, you’re sleeping on a sack of potatoes -”
“I know. And I’m doing just fine, thanks. I don’t need your help. I’m all right on my own. I always have been.”
“Ava, you’re coming back to my flat. This is not a negotiation. I won’t let you sleep here.”
“You can’t make me.”
“My God, you are the most irritating - well actually, yes, I can. Because if you don’t let me help you out, I’ll tell Gina you’ve been sleeping here. So get off your arse, and let’s go. I’m tired.”
“I - I - no -”
“Sorry, but you don’t have a choice. Now up.”
I squeal in protest, but he hauls me to my feet despite my noisy objections. This is like kidnapping, right? I could totally sue him for this. I mean, I could if I was able to afford a lawyer. But if I could afford a lawyer I wouldn't be here right now, so... Dammit. It’s a vicious cycle.
“Ready?” he asks softly. I sigh and nod reluctantly, grabbing hold of him so we can apparate. It’s just not worth the energy to argue over this, nor is it worth the potential loss of my job.
There’s a pop, darkness, squeezing, another pop, and my feet hit solid ground again. That’s basically how apparition feels to me - it doesn’t bother me like it does most people. I dunno why, it’s just one of those things that never has.
Apparently we’ve apparated right into his flat, as Louis simply strolls around and flicks on the lights. He disappears quickly down a hallway and reemerges just as fast, tossing a pile of clothes at me.
“You look like a drowned rat. Put that on - I’ll dry what you’ve got on now.”
I glance down at the lump of cloth in my hands, then my eyes flicker back up to him. He leans casually against the doorframe, both hands stuck in his pockets.
God, he looks like Ian.
No - Ava, stop. Stop it now.
“Well, go on,” he says. “Bedroom’s just down this hall. You can change in there if you want.”
I nod and swallow, but my throat has gone utterly dry and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s his kindness or maybe it’s Ian or - I don’t know. I don’t understand anything right now.
The hallway that leads to the bedroom is lined with picture after picture after picture. Some of the people I recognise - his sister Dominique, his cousin Lily - but others only look vaguely familiar. I know for a fact, though, that the pictures are of nothing but family. There are no mates from school, no girlfriends, just cousins and sisters and uncles. It’s weird, but also kind of cute in a strange sort of way. Maybe he has a soul after all.
I shut the door to his bedroom quietly and scan my eyes over the area before me. Looks pretty much the same as I remember it - shocking, considering I was just one hung over blob that morning. The same large chest of drawers sits across from the bed, the same desk is tucked into the corner, and there’s still that huge closet opposite the pristine windows on the left hand wall. One thing in particular, though, catches my eye that I definitely didn’t notice last time I was here.
It’s a picture.
It was clearly taken at Hogwarts - the lake lies prominently in the foreground, and I can just make out the spirals of the castle beyond it. Louis grins at the camera, his arms flung casually around the two boys that surround him. And that’s what it is that strikes me - the two other people in the photo.
It’s the only picture I’ve seen in his flat featuring someone other than family members. The boy on his left - tousled brown hair, flashing green eyes - has to be Parker Borden. No question about it. He was my partner in potions seventh year, although I’m pretty sure he never knew my name. The other boy, who stands on Louis’s right hand side, is Chris Lowry. He’s kind of half-laughing, half-smiling, which is typical Chris. He could never put on a straight face, not even during an exam, the annoying bugger.
I don’t know why the photo fascinates me so much, but it does. Maybe it’s the weirdness of not having his family members in it, maybe it’s nostalgia for school - ha, yeah right.
With a snort I stick the photo back on the desk and change into the clothing I’ve been given, which is essentially nothing more than a really old, really baggy t-shirt with something written on it French. I think it’s some café in Paris, but then again, I don’t speak French. Thank God for that, otherwise Louis would be capable of annoying me in two languages.
“Here, I’ve got some bed sheets,” he says as I emerge back into the hallway. “There’s a linen closet just there, so if you get cold you can grab some more.”
I nod, and he tosses the sheets onto the sofa, where I assume I’ll be sleeping. The sofa. My sofa. The sofa Ian bought me. Ian.
I was doing so well, too. I didn’t think about him for almost the whole day, and now - and now he’s all I can think about.
My eyes dart desperately around the hallway, trying to look anywhere but at Louis and his knowing looks. One of the pictures hanging on the wall strikes my fancy, so I study it closely and will the emotion on my face to disappear.
It’s a simple shot, taken on the beach, with Louis and his sister standing in front of the ocean. But just like with the sofa, all I can think of is Ian. I remember the pair of us strolling along the sandy shore as chilly water nipped at our bare feet. I remember how absolutely nothing felt wrong that day. How we left all our problems behind in the city and passed the hours soaking up sun. The picture of the two of us, with the sun setting over the sparkling water, that’s still sitting on his bookshelf.
So maybe it’s the picture that does it. Maybe it’s the sofa. Or maybe it’s just the fact that I miss him more than anything. But whatever it is, I can’t help it. I can’t stop little tears from leaking out of the corners of my eyes. I just can’t.
And suddenly, I know. I know why I can’t help but cry. It’s because my life has come full circle, right back to where it was so long ago. I might as well be starting over again in a new city. My life is such a joke. I’m pathetic; just look at me.
“If you really feel that strongly about it, you can have the bed,” Louis says quietly, and my eyes snap to him immediately. He offers me a small smile as a few tears unwillingly roll out of my eyes, staining my cheeks with their telltale watermark.
“Don’t mock me,” I hiss before brushing past him and busying myself with the sheets.
“You don’t get it, all right!” I scream, whirling around to look at him. I don’t know why I’m suddenly so angry, but I am. In fact, I’m furious.
I hate him. I hate everything about him. I hate his entitlement and his money and - and - everything. It’s not fair. It’s not bloody fair that I work my arse off every God damn day, only buy the cheapest things available, never go out, never take a day off, and I still can’t afford to pay off everything that I need to. And yet he has life given to him on a fucking silver platter and suddenly he can help me because we’re so alike. And - no. Just fucking no.
“You don’t understand me! You don’t know what my life is like! Just - just stop, Louis! Just fucking stop! We may have the same job, but we will never be the same person. Stop trying to help, stop trying to care, and stop trying to understand. You don’t know what my life is like. So just stop.”
Stifling a sob, I drop onto the sofa and bury my head in my hands, fighting the stinging tears that come burning out. My hair clings to the wetness on my cheeks and my nose itches and I hate everything and the world just sucks.
Louis clears his throat softly, and I feel the sofa cushions shift slightly as his weight settles onto the perfect white plush seat. “Why are you mad at me?” he asks quietly.
I flick my head out of my hands to glance at him, all too aware of how pathetic I must look. Running nose, red eyes, tear stains, matted hair - the picture of a wretched plebian. Nothing could look more out of place than I do now, surrounded by the elegance and style and richness of his flat.
“I - I - I don’t know!” I splutter. “I just - I don’t - I can’t -”
“Look, I’m sorry that things are rough right now. I’m sorry times are hard. But yelling at me is not going to help.”
I fight back the bitter laugh building inside and instead settle for shaking my head sadly, watching the colours of the room blur before my eyes.
“Just drop it, Louis. Please,” I say. “There’s so much more to me than you’ll ever know. So please stop trying to make me feel better. Stop trying to care. You don’t even know half of my story. Yeah, you saw me lose it once, but that doesn’t mean anything. Trust me, I’ve been to some pretty low points in my life, and you have not seen any of them.”
Except for the fact that he has. And I hate it.
Last week, when I went to Ian’s - that was the second worst night of my life. I thought I might actually die from the pain and heartbreak and aloneness. But still, it wasn’t the worst night I’ve had, not by a long shot, and that’s something he’ll never know about. Only one person knows about that night, and it’s going to stay that way.
“Well, I may not be able to help you,” Louis says slowly, “but you know who can?”
I laugh softly and shake my head at his offer. “No thanks. That stuff brings nothing but trouble.”
“Just saying. It serves me well and often.”
“I appreciate the thought, but I’ve recently undertaken a strict ‘no alcohol’ policy.”
“Good for you.”
“Hey, Ava?” Louis asks softly, and I jump slightly at his sudden shift in tone. “I’m sorry. For everything. And I’m not trying to mock you, or - or - I’m just trying to help. I would do the same thing for Matt.”
“I know. I just - I overreacted. I’m sorry - I just - I have problems,” I admit. The tinge of a blush creeps into my cheeks, and I feel the heat spreading across my face as I look straight at him.
“Well, you seem pretty great to me,” he says quietly.
His eyes are really close to mine. And really blue. A crack of thunder crashes through the air and the rain pounds down on the roof. Lightning flashes. The air sizzles.
I think that’s the moment I know. I’m pretty sure it is, actually. That’s the moment I know what a mess I’ve gotten myself into with him because God at that second he looks so much like Ian that I swear they could’ve been twins and I really don’t know if I can handle it.
“You look so much like him,” I murmur.
“Ava,” Louis breathes. His eyes search mine, then drop to my lips before flickering back up again. “I’m not Ian.”
“I know,” I whisper. “I know you’re not. But just - please. For two seconds, just close your eyes.”
Louis sighs but obliges, and I swallow roughly to help hold back the tears. They look so damn similar. And before I can even think about what I’m about to do, I lean forward and kiss him. Not a long kiss or anything, mind you, just a simple one. If he’s surprised, I can’t tell; he doesn’t jerk away and he doesn’t react, save for kissing me back.
“Ava,” he says abruptly, eyelids flickering open. “Ava, you need to stop. This isn’t healthy. You have some serious problems that you need to work through.”
“I - I - I know - I’m sorry, Ia-”
“Ian,” he spits out bitterly. “You were about to call me Ian.”
“No, I’m sorry - I didn’t mean - it just slipped out -”
“Is that all you see when you look at me? His replacement? A quick fix?”
I blink once and feel my breathing quicken subconsciously. I don’t know what the fuck is going on right now. I don’t know why he has such a hurt look on his face, and I don’t know why this is so damn complicated. I don’t know anything anymore.
“No, of course not -”
“Then why does this happen every God damn time?” he asks angrily.
“You know what I mean, Ava! Every time - every fucking time that we’re alone, you call me Ian. Every time. And I don’t particularly like it.”
“God, I’m sorry - I - I didn’t mean -”
Louis sighs and shakes his head, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefingers. “Yeah. I know. It’s just really shitty of you to do it.”
“Well, I’m sorry. And I’ll try not to do it anymore. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
“Vous serez la mort de moi un jour, je le jure,” he mutters under his breath. I don’t know what it means, of course, but I’d imagine it’s just more of him complaining.
“Why do you do that?” I wonder aloud.
He glances at me, eyebrows scrunched together in confusion. “Quoi - I mean, what?”
“That,” I say, giving him a light shove to the shoulder. “Why do you randomly switch languages?”
“Oh. That,” he says lamely. “I dunno, it’s just the way I was brought up. My mum switched between languages all the time. She’s full French, you know, so we always spent a lot of time visiting her half of the family, especially during the summer. So there was that, and also the fact that Mum’s never really gotten English quite down. Whenever she couldn’t figure out how to say what she wanted, she would switch into French. In fact, while I was growing up, as long as Dad wasn’t around to hear her she would just speak French all the time -”
Louis stops suddenly and looks away, jaw snapping shut. It’s quite weird, really - one minute he’s prattling on and then the next he goes dead silent for no apparent reason. Just when I was beginning to tolerate him, too. How annoying.
“What? Why did you stop? I was actually kind of interested.”
“I - it’s nothing. You don’t want to hear my life story.” He shrugs and leans back on the sofa, stretching his legs out onto the coffee table.
There’s something else, though. I’m sure he’s not worried about boring me; Merlin knows my feelings have never been something he’s considered before. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something bothering him. He won’t look at me straight on and there’s the slightest hint of a blush colouring his cheeks.
“I have nothing better to do,” I say nonchalantly. I tuck my knees up to my chest and rest my chin on top of them, setting my gaze intently on Louis. “Why don’t you keep talking?”
“I - what? Stop speaking French. I don’t know what you’re saying,” I snap, and he laughs quietly.
“C'est bien, parce que maintenant vous ne pouvez pas comprendre ce que je dis.”
Really? I tell him to stop speaking in a foreign language and he goes and writes a bloody novel in it. Is it so hard to just use English? Or is he just trying to piss me off? Smart money’s on the latter - God, this is so annoying -
“Je ne peux pas arrêter de penser à vous, Ava. Et je ne sais pas quoi faire à ce sujet.”
“Translation, please,” I say half-heartedly.
“Non. You’ll never know. I’m not telling you.” He laughs again as I pout, and then leans forward so that we’re just centimetres apart.
“What did you say?” I whisper.
Louis rolls his eyes, but before he starts to speak we lock gazes again, so close that I can see every shade of blue in his eyes. “I said,” he begins slowly, “that you drive me absolutely crazy.”
“Of course you did. Finding ways to insult me in two languages must be your favourite past time.”
“Oh, no doubt.” A smile twitches mischievously at the corner of his lips, and his eyes search mine curiously. “And just so you know, I meant every word of it.”
“I’m offended,” I breathe, but the words barely come out. Suddenly my throat goes totally dry and heat rushes to my cheeks as I realise how close we are. The world kind of stops. Neither of us speaks. The only sound is the persistent pelting of rain against the windowpanes, but I barely even notice it.
Here I am, staring into the gorgeous eyes of a bloke who couldn’t be bothered to give me a second glance in school. Who couldn’t be bothered to give anyone a second glance. Here I am, laughing and talking with the guy who was always so distant and cold and he’s giving me a place to stay, and dry clothes, and -
Wow. I’m such an idiot. Lord, how could I not have seen it before? How naïve can I get? Let’s be real now. What’s the only reason someone like him would invite someone like me back here? What’s the only reason he would pretend to care?
I mean, really. How much more vulnerable could I be right now?
“Ava,” Louis says softly, “I’m trying to help you. You know that, right? I want to help you.”
His voice is so sincere that I almost believe him. I almost think that maybe he does care. Maybe he’s not acting.
And that’s probably the thing that hurts the most. The lying. The manipulation. Because God dammit that’s exactly what I want more than anything right now, and he knows it.
“Really?” I whisper, and the words nearly get caught in my throat because no matter what I tell myself, I don’t want to play this game. I don’t want to pretend to be stupid and vulnerable and naïve. I don’t want to act like I’m falling for his every word. I don’t want to hear any more lies.
But before he can finish, I press my lips against his and pull him closer, shutting my eyes and imagining for just two seconds that it’s real and I matter to him. That someone finally cares about me.
And I do believe it, at least for a while. I let myself fall for the tricks and lies and everything else because it’s just easier that way. It’s easier to imagine that he cares about me than it is to live in reality. If I don’t, I’m going to fall apart because I really can’t keep living like this. Everything is too damn much and no matter how much I tell myself I can handle it and everything’s going to be fine, I just fucking can’t.
I need Ian. I need him.
His lips press against my skin hungrily, and my fingers trace the ridges of his chest, tearing at the buttons on his shirt. I really have no idea what the hell I’m doing, but it feels good and it makes the pain stop for a little while, so why not? My job sucks, my heart’s broken, and my flat’s basically gone, so who the fuck cares if I want to sleep around and make bad choices? Might as well fuck up everything, right?
“Ava,” he murmurs against my jaw, “Ava, stop.”
“Because I’m not going to.”
“Good,” I whisper, and the kisses come even more frantically and pressured than before, trailing along my jaw, my neck, my collarbone.
My heart rate accelerates as the hand on my leg climbs higher and higher and everything grows more and more intense. I feel my back gently rest against the seat of the cushions - I guess I’ve been slowly leaning backwards - and suddenly, as I stare up at him, I’m not so sure I want this.
This is regression.
A form of coping. Exactly what’s happened so many times before.
The summer before seventh year, when everything changed. The summer after, when I was so lost and scared and alone. The time before I met the person who turned my life around. Before I met Ian.
Do I really want this?
Suddenly limbs are flailing everywhere as Louis topples off the couch, landing with a hard thud on the floor. I immediately sit bolt upright, one hand flying to my hair to smooth it down while the other self-consciously tugs down on the t-shirt.
“The fuck, Dom?” Louis yelps as he gathers his composure and manages to sit upright as well.
I glance up at the doorway at his words, my eyes tracing over the figure standing there. She looks almost exactly the same as in the pictures on the wall, perhaps just a bit older, with long, strawberry blonde hair streaming past her shoulders instead of cut into a short bob like in her Hogwarts years.
“Put on a shirt, Lou,” she snaps before taking a small step inside. Louis’s face instantly blooms bright red, and he snatches his shirt off the couch quickly, muttering curses under his breath.
Dominique Weasley places one hand primly on her waist and brushes non-existent crumbs off of her cream coloured blouse as she casually surveys the sight before her. If she’s surprised at all, it doesn’t show; in fact, her eyes quickly graze over my figure and skip right on back to her brother.
“There is this little common courtesy called knocking, Dommie,” Louis shoots snidely, and her bright blue eyes roll back into her head instantly.
“Yes, brother dearest. Whatever you say. Now, aren’t you going to introduce me?”
If looks could kill, well, Dom would be going for a trip to visit Hades right about now. The glare Louis shoots at her is so utterly withering, so dark and scornful, that - hey, that’s the look he uses on me when he’s angry, the bastard -
“No, I’m not. Tell me what you want and then get out.”
“Well, if you’re going to use that tone of voice -”
“Dom, I swear to God -”
“Fine,” she snaps, “I’m supposed to remind you that we’ve got that family dinner thing next Saturday, so clear your schedule. Oh, and Luc will be there, so don't get too drunk beforehand. Toodles!”
And with that, Dom wiggles her fingers happily before marching out of Louis’s flat with a slam of the door, leaving the room in stony silence. Louis drops his head into his hands as the door shuts and mumbles something incomprehensible, while I simply sit on the sofa and watch him.
“That was -”
“I’m gonna -”
“G-goodnight,” he stammers before practically sprinting out of the living room.
I flop back onto the sofa in exasperation and stare up at the ceiling, trying to figure out what exactly is actually wrong with me. I - I - why? What did I just do? This is not the way to get over Ian, and it’s not the way to fix things. I know that - I’ve been here before. I don’t want to go through this again. I don’t think I can. For all I know, there’s no one to catch me when I inevitably start to spiral downwards again. I can’t go back to my old ways, or I won’t get out.
I’m a mess. No two ways around it. I’m one giant mess and I don’t know what the hell to do.
Sighing, I slide under the sheets and shut my eyes, hoping to at least get some rest. Yet despite how exhausted I am, I can’t fall asleep. I don’t know how long I lay there, tossing and turning, trying to get my brain to turn off. It just won’t. I have a thousand thoughts buzzing through my head, and the more I think about them, the less able I am to fall asleep.
The clock across the room reads half eleven. The minute hand ticks by so slowly that I swear someone’s frozen time. This is seriously just painful. My brain is exhausted, my head pounds, and I feel the tiredness seeping into the muscles of my lower neck, but I can’t fall asleep.
My eyes must travel around the room twenty times, absorbing every tiny detail in an effort to entertain myself. It’s just an ordinary living room, to be honest. A sofa, a few extra chairs, a coffee table, a bookshelf - nothing exciting.
During my twenty-first eye sweep of the room, however, something different happens: I hear of footsteps echoing down the hall. They pause at the entrance to the living room and then continue to pad quietly across the floor, stopping at one of the chairs just opposite the sofa.
I know it’s Louis - I mean, who else would it be - but the shadows of the night obscure the features on his face. All I can make out is his profile in the darkness, one hand tiredly rubbing at his eyes in apparent frustration. He curses under his breath and switches to distractedly running his hand through his hair, tugging slightly at the ends of it. I don’t know if I should talk to him or sit up or what, as he clearly thinks that I’m asleep.
I sigh and stretch my arms a bit, taking the intermediary route. Louis glances at me and stops with the anxious rubbing, settling instead for leaning forward on his elbows.
“Are you awake?” he asks quietly.
“Go to sleep.”
“Well, gee, let me get right on that. It’s not like I’ve been trying for the past who knows how long -”
“All right, I get it. Cut the sass.”
“You know I can’t.”
“Why aren’t you asleep?”
My question apparently catches him off guard, as the room falls silent. Well, silent except for the rain still pounding against the windowpane. You would think we would run out of rain at some point, but no, because obviously the weather gets to defy all rules of logic.
“I can’t sleep either,” he finally says. “I dunno why. I just can’t.”
“So you came in here to sit across from me while I’m supposedly sleeping. Because that’s not creepy at all.”
“What? I’m not allowed in my own living room anymore?”
I prop myself upright into a comfortable seated position and gaze out the window mindlessly, not bothering to respond. There’s really no point in arguing over something as stupid as this. It does make me wonder, though, why he decided to come in here, of all places.
“Um, should we talk about what happened earli-”
“No,” Louis says abruptly. I swear I see a bit of a flush creep into his cheeks, but it might just be the tint of the streetlights seeping in through the windows.
“Well, okay then.”
“Just - just go to sleep, Aves.”
The word is like an electric shock through my body. All my muscles tense up as it rings in my ears and swirls through my brain, digging up memories and flooding my chest with pain.
“Don’t you ever call me that name,” I hiss at him furiously. “You are not allowed to use that name. No one is. Especially not you.”
“I’m sorry - I didn’t mean -”
But I don’t hear the rest of his words. All I hear is anger and hurt pounding in my head, followed by the slam of a door as I run out of his flat and down to the lobby.
The rain drenches me as soon as I set foot outside. The only thing I’m wearing is Louis’s old t-shirt, but I don’t care. I just need to get out of there, get away from him. Away from everything.
The wind rips past furiously and the rain pours down from the sky ceaselessly, endlessly, mercilessly. I’m shivering from the cold now, which is weird because the tears running from my eyes are scorching hot. I’ll probably get pneumonia and die if I don’t go inside soon.
Yeah, if only I could be so lucky.
“Ava,” a voice behind me says. “Ava, come back inside. You’re going to catch a cold.”
I can’t. I can’t look at him. I’ll lose it if I do. The resemblance is too much. Everything is too much.
“Ava.” A hand gently touches my shoulder and shakes me slightly. “It’s pouring out here. Let’s go back inside.”
“You were right,” I whisper. My eyes fix onto a green sedan pulling up to a traffic light, and I watch the rain stream down the sides of its smooth, metallic body. “When I look at you, all I can think about is Ian.”
I flinch, expecting him to freak out like he did earlier - yell or scream or something. But I’m wrong. Nothing happens. The only noise comes from the rain pattering down on the sidewalk and the cars rushing by in the street.
“Come inside when you’re ready,” he says finally. “I’ll leave the door unlocked.”
I turn around slowly as his hand drops off my shoulder, but Louis is already gone. Only the outline of his figure is visible as he stalks through the lobby, though it’s apparent that he’s just as soaked as I am.
A burst of lightning streaks through the night sky and the rain begins to come down even harder. It’s falling so hard now that they actually sting when they hit my bare skin, but I can’t bring myself to move. I just want to stand here and let everything fall where it may. Let the world burn without me.
A car speeds buy and splashes up a flood of water onto the curb, and it’s only as my feet are drenched with the tidal wave that I realise I’m slowly going numb. If I could stay out here all night I would, but the reality is that it’s cold, raining, and I’m wearing nothing but a ratty old t-shirt. The warmth of Louis’s flat is too tempting to ignore, and let’s be honest - I need to get over this ridiculous aversion to anything he touches.
It’s time to accept that it’s not him that’s the problem. It’s me. It always has been, at least since the first day he sat down in the diner.
(Well, it’s mostly me. I still maintain that he’s a stuck up, spoiled, whiny pretty boy who wouldn’t know what hard work was if it smacked him upside the head.)
The receptionist glances curiously at me as I walk back into the building, but I can’t really blame him. I look like I right mess, and it probably looks like I’m taking the walk of shame too, given my clothing situation. But I give no fucks - the bloody receptionist can judge all he wants for all I care.
The lights are off in the flat when I finally push open the door. I stumble my way into the living room and manage to find the couch, where a new shirt is waiting to replace the drenched one I’m currently wearing.
Okay, so maybe Louis isn’t all that bad. Maybe he really is just trying to help, but I’ve been too busy blindly hating him to see things clearly. Maybe I need to take a step back, clear my head, and try and see things for what they are.
That’s not going to happen, though. Not until I get over Ian, which, to be perfectly honest, might never happen. You don’t just “get over” someone you love and then move on like it’s nothing. It takes time, healing, a whole lot of ice cream, and probably a little closure, too.
My mobile buzzes on the coffee table as I snuggle into the couch, illuminating the darkness with its eerie white glow. I slap at it lazily and somehow manage to grab it - Merlin knows how. A new text message flashes on the screen, so I squint through the brightness assaulting my eyes and somehow manage to decipher that it’s from Gina, and I got called off of work for tomorrow. Only one person on the wait staff is working, apparently, because business is so slow.
Great. Now I’ll have even less money on my pay check so I can not pay off my bills even more. How bloody fantastic.
I really never thought I’d be complaining about not spending enough time at the diner. Guess there’s a first time for everything, though, like staying on a guy’s sofa instead of in his bed or not accepting alcohol when it’s offered. I suppose I’m turning over a new leaf or however that saying goes.
Who knows? By the end of the week I might even be talking crazy and saying how much I’m over Ian. Maybe it’s one of those things where if you visualise it, it actually happens. Might as well give it a shot, seeing as it couldn’t exactly make things worse. So...
I’m over Ian. And I like my job.
A/N: Woah. It’s been a long time. I’m so sorry! College is super busy during spring semester :/ I promise I’m not going to leave y’all hanging for so long ever again. Kay? Kay. Now you should be nice to me in return and leave a friendly little review. That sounds like a good deal. Yeah, you should do that. :D
Vous serez la mort de moi un jour, je le jure. = You’re going to be the death of me one day, I swear.
Quoi = What
Parles-vous français? = Do you speak French?
C'est bien, parce que maintenant vous ne pouvez pas comprendre ce que je dis. = That’s good, because now you can’t understand what I’m saying.
Je ne peux pas arrêter de penser à vous, Ava. Et je ne sais pas quoi faire à ce sujet. = I can’t stop thinking about you, Ava. And I don’t know what to do about it.
Non. = No.
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