Chapter 1 : please help me
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Absolutely amazing chapter by AtomicPanda @ TDA
‘Hey, Aura, table two is ready to order.’ My best friend looked up at me, them momentarily over at table two, then back at me.
‘This job is so demanding.’ She complained, not moving from where she sat at end of the bar. She flipped her hair dramatically and I tried not to laugh. Aura was definitely a drama queen, but she was my best friend and I loved her immensely.
‘It’s a job, you’re gonna have to work.” I said while setting aside the glasses I had wiped with the towel. I brushed the fallen strands of hair away from my face and gave my friend a reproachful look.
She sighed deeply. ‘This was not how my life was supposed to turn out.’
‘Not glamorous enough?’ I teased, leaning forward and resting my elbows on the top of the bar. The boss wasn’t here right now and I could afford a little break.
‘I’m working at a bar, Kay. Of course it’s not how I wanted it to turn out.” She ran a hand through her blonde hair, pouting a little. ‘Prostitution is more glamorous than this.’ I gave her a look at that, barely resisting the urge to roll my eyes at her dramatics. ‘Okay, it’s not.’ She relented. ‘But I bet it’s never this boring...’
This time I couldn’t resist and rolled my eyes as I pulled out a tumbler from under the bar and filled it with whiskey, handing it to the young man who had just slurred his order to me. This would be his last drink of the night, I decided, as I watched him wobble and stagger back to his friends, who all cheered some drunken nonsense at him. There was an university dormitory a couple of blocks away, and every Saturday night we were paid a visit by this particular group of boys, who refused to leave until they drunk themselves stupid. Often, I had to call a taxi to get them, even though they lived so close.
I sighed and shook my head at their idiocy, then turned to Aura. ‘You think this is boring?’ I asked with a sarcastic edge to my voice. ‘Serving alcohol and burgers to college alcoholics and middle-aged man all night long? That is the furthest thing from boring.’ I stood on my tip-toes and reached for a bottle of vodka on top shelf of the rack. ‘Especially when you get the drunks and the lushes, or the occasional teenager trying to pass for a middle-aged man with the worst fake ID I’ve ever seen in my life. Seriously, what’s happened to the craftsmanship these days? The detailing? They just don’t make fake IDs like they used to.’ I shook my head ruefully and Aura finally smiled. I felt slightly victorious.
‘At least you got the work behind the bar.’ She said. ‘It beats waiting tables all night.’ Aura had tried working behind the bar once. She broke two bottles of vodka and a bottle of wine and was promptly demoted back to waitress.
‘I was supposed to be married with at least one kid by now.’ Aura whined. ‘I’m terribly behind schedule. I need to find a husband.’
I was about to open my mouth to give my you don't need a husband to have a fulfilling life speech when two men walked up to the bar and I had to mix them drinks. As I worked, I glanced at Aura, who was looking down and tearing a napkin to pieces. I sighed, deciding against the speech. It didn't look like it would be well received.
‘What's going on with Matt?’ I asked instead. ‘When do you think you two will get back together?’ Matt Davies and Aura had been on and off since high school. When they were together they would be in love, then they'd fight about something stupid, yell they hated each other and break up. Then they'd miss each other and a few months later they'd be back together and in love again. As sure as the sun rises every morning, they would get back together.
Aura's cheeks darkened and at first I thought she was blushing. "Not anytime soon," she mumbled. Definitely not blushing. That was anger. "He ran off and married Amy Carr." I had to keep my mouth from falling open.
‘As in Beck’s sister, Amy Carr?’ I'd dated Beck Carr for three years in high school. His sister hadn't really been known for her…marriage qualities.
‘That’s the one.’ Aura muttered darkly. ‘The slut.’
‘I’m really sorry, Aura.’ I said sincerely, reaching out to put my hand on top of her clenched fist. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
She shrugged. ‘I only found a few days ago. Beck told me, actually, and then you went to visit your family –‘ She looked up at me briefly, like she was making sure I wasn't going to freak out at the word. Satisfied, she continued. ‘—and you were in a terrible mood. I figured the last thing you wanted to hear about were my problems.’
‘Aura, you’re my best friend. You can tell me anything. Anytime. We could have cried on each other’s shoulders and raged together.’ I meant for it to come out light, joking. But instead my voice sounded more soft, and solemn. Aura smiled softly. I hoped that meant she appreciated my effort.
I noticed the people at table two waving a menu at me. I held up a finger to tell to give me a minute. The man holding the menu scowled, but he set it down and waited.
‘You better go take that table’s orders.’ I said, nodding in the direction of the annoyed customers.
Aura stood and grumbled. ‘I wish it was the table I was dealing with.’
I filled a few more drink orders before my phone started ringing. I pulled it out of my jean’s pocket and raised my eyebrows in surprise when I saw the caller ID. What on earth did my sister want with me? The only reason I even had her number in my phone was because she was my sister and it would be weird if I didn’t. But we’d never called each other. I wasn’t sure why she even had a phone. The people in her world didn’t need technology.
I sighed and wiped my wet hands in my black apron, then hit accept. ‘Did someone die?’ I asked the moment I picked up, my voice bored.
‘How did you know?’ I grimaced in surprise, pulling the phone away from my ear. The voice that had shouted through the speaker was not my sister's. In fact, it didn’t belong to a female.
‘Who are you?’ I asked after a pause, leaning my back against the bar. I glanced over my shoulder to make sure Aura was attending the tables, and then focused my attention on the call.
‘I’m James!’ The man shouted again and pulled the phone away from my ear. Why on earth was he shouting? It wasn’t loud where he was at. Did he think I was deaf? And wait, James? Wasn’t that the name of Nerissa’s baby daddy?
‘Stop shouting.’ I snapped in the receiver and sighed. ‘Are you the James that Nerissa’s dating?’
‘Was dating.’ He corrected me, lowering his voice. The sudden sadness in his tone caught me off guard and I frowned.
‘Did you guys break up?’I asked uncertainly, wondering why he was calling me to tell me that he and my sister had broken up. I didn’t even know the bloke. Hell, Nerissa herself would never call me to tell me she had broken up with her boyfriend.
‘No, she, uh... I don’t know how to say this...’ His voice jumped an octave and I heard a choking sound coming from his end of the line. My eyes widened in horror. Surely – surely he wasn’t about to – to cry, was he? I might have all the girl parts and everything, but I was an absolute invalid with the emotional crap. I highly suspected something went wrong with my birth. ‘Um, Nerissa is dead.’
‘Huh?’ I blinked, my brain going blank for a split second. ‘Come again?’
‘Nerissa is dead.’ He repeated, his voice low and pained. I leaned against the bar even more, bringing a hand to my forehead. She was... dead? Wha— ‘What happened?’ I blurted out, incredibly confused.
‘She was testing some new spells in the Ministry. It was supposed to be safe, but something went wrong, and, well, they couldn’t help her in time. Some sort of an explosion happened and it burned her inside or something like that.’ I pursed my lips at his explanation and closed my eyes. Yes, you heard right. He did, in fact, say spells.
My sister was a witch. First in the family. It was a real shock when we found out, let me tell you. That was the major reason why we never really connected. When we were eleven, she left to study in a magic school, while I stayed behind, living a normal life, with our normal parents and going to a normal school. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been jealous of her but I got over it fairly quickly. I’d always had great friends and my parents (before they divorced, that is) were awesome, and I pretty much loved my life.
Point is, after Nerissa found out that she was magical and in her words ‘pretty fucking special’, she felt like I was beneath her and she couldn’t be bothered to deal with me. That was mainly why we were never really close.
Still, I was sad that she was dead. She was my sister, after all.
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’ I said and winced at how emotionless that sounded. Like he had just told me that instead of my sister, his dog or distant, annoying grandmother had died. ‘I mean, yeah.’ I gritted my teeth at how stupid I sounded and decided to not speak for now. What was I supposed to say? I was sad, but, well, I don’t know. I’d never been good at his sort of thing, to be honest. He sounded way more heartbroken than me, and I had no idea how to deal with heartbroken people.
‘Uh, thanks.’ He said. He sounded a little confused, but at least he wasn’t angry or anything. ‘I thought I’d call you and tell you. Nissa told me you don’t speak to your folks and I figured they won’t call you to tell you so... the funeral’s Thursday. I’d be glad if you came, and you could finally meet Michaela.’
‘Michaela?’ Oh, right, my niece. Oops. “Oh, right. Um, sure. Of course I’d come.’ It was my sister’s funeral, after all. I couldn’t not attend.
‘Cool.’ He said. Silence. I rubbed my hand against my thigh, glancing awkwardly at the bottles of liquor displayed on the rack before me. ‘So, uh, I’ll see you Thursday, then?’
‘Yeah, sure.’ I replied, sounding like a complete moron. I closed my eyes in mortification. ‘Um, bye now.’
‘Bye.’ He said, and I could detect some relief in his voice. Yeah, he was weirded out, all right. Great. I sighed as he hung up and pocketed my phone.
My sister was dead.
She was dead. As in gone. No longer alive.
My sister was only a corpse, a shell. Just a body, without a soul.
My sister was dead.
‘Hey, Kay?’ Aura’s voice distracted me and I looked over my shoulder at her. She sat down her tray and frowned worriedly at me. ‘Are you all right? You look really pale. Who was that on the phone?’
‘I—‘ I shook my head. ‘Nerissa’s dead.’
Aura’s worried frown transformed into an expression of shock, and then sympathy. ‘Oh, honey...’
‘No, I’m all right.’ I said, pushing away from the bar and straightening my spine. I nodded to myself for some assurance and smiled at Aura, who looked far from convinced. ‘No, seriously. It’s okay. We were never close anyway. Oh, look, new customers!’ A group of young people walked in and seated themselves at one of the booths. ‘Shouldn’t you go take their orders?’
Aura glanced over her shoulder at the new customers. ‘They just sat, Kay. They don’t know what they’re going to order yet.’
‘You don’t know that.’ I said quickly, grabbing the bar to keep myself steady. I felt dizzy all of a sudden. That wasn’t good, was it? Why was I feeling dizzy? ‘We should better our service, don’t you think? Why don’t you go check?’
Aura clearly saw that there was something seriously wrong with me, and sighed, her eyes darkening with worry. It was obvious that she didn’t want to leave me, but I was glad when she nodded, grabbed her tray and headed towards the table.
While she stood by their table and took their orders, I made a beeline for the bathroom. I leaned against the door as soon as I was in and took a deep breath.
I waited for something, I don’t know what. Maybe a tear, maybe a pain somewhere, in the chest or a lump in the throat, or something to indicate the painful loss of a sister. Nothing came.
My sister was dead, and all I could think was that I wasn’t as sad as I was supposed to be.
The funeral was long. So long in fact I had to keep myself from falling asleep. I’d just finished my night shift at the bar when I had to change clothes and race over to the church, and I almost couldn’t find a seat. There were so many people, many I didn’t know. There was a spectacular crowd of redheaded people seated together, just behind me and my so-called family, and I had a chill when I had seen the dark-haired young man with a squirming child in his arms upon entering the church.
I didn’t need an introduction to know who he or the baby was.
I stood next to the closed casket – being that I was family it was what was deemed appropriate, though I thought family was a strong word. A tall poster board stood on the other side of the casket. It read: Nerissa Welch in big black letters along the bottom and just above that was what everyone considered Nerissa's best picture. In my opinion she looked like a prostitute in it, but then again when did Nerissa not look like a prostitute?
Okay, I was speaking ill of the dead. Pardon me.
I’m sad that Nerissa died, don't get me wrong. But I can't say I'm heartbroken. Life will go on.
‘I’m so very sorry, dear.’ Mrs. Coleman said, wrapping her arms around me. I’d gotten more hugs that day than I’d care to admit. I looked at my brother pleadingly; he standing aside from out family, his arms crossed and his face scrunched up in his usual brooding expression that managed to fend off old ladies and their sympathetic, pitting hugs. When he saw my pleading look, he shook his head and turned to stare at the pile of dirt that was being thrown over our sister’s casket. ‘Nerissa was a wonderful girl.’
Lie. Nobody liked Nerissa. They were only here because they were old and had nothing better to do than gossip about my family; one of their favourite past times. Nerissa was not only rude, but she was also the one that disappeared to some exclusive boarding school that only accepted incredibly bright people. No one really bought that because Nerissa clearly wasn’t incredibly bright. Even magic couldn’t charm you a new brain.
People loved to speculate where she went off to study. They also loved to comment on her ‘scandalous’ behaviour, as they put it. I couldn’t say I disagreed. Nerissa was a bit of a slag.
‘Thank you, Mrs. Coleman.’ I said out loud, pushing on her shoulders, hoping she’d go away. Funerals never made sense to me, anyway. Who wants to celebrate death? I’m sure any grieving family would rather be home, crying into their pillows.
‘Such a same, to die so young...’ Mrs. Coleman said distantly. ‘Twenty-four, was she not?’ I nodded. She was a year older than me. ‘Such a shame.’ She said again, before she walked away.
I sighed. I really wanted to leave but I knew I couldn’t. I could feel a burning stare directed at my back and sighed deeply again. I had no other choice but to meet him. There really was no getting out of this one, this time.
I moved away from my parents, who were receiving hugs and condolences from the redheaded family, and towards the man carrying the small child. He was standing under the shade of the tree and I met his eyes as I walked towards him. His eyebrows rose to his hair line and that made me raise my eyebrows as well.
‘Something wrong?’ I asked as I finally reached him, my eyes falling on the child in his arms. She looked like Nerissa – and me, people like to say we look astonishingly alike – she had our chocolate brown hair and eyes of the same shade. Her skin was tan and her cheeks were rosy, but she’d gotten a splattering of freckles from her father. She was blinking curiously up at me, her fist shoved into her tiny mouth. I barely managed not to wrinkle my nose at the sight of the drool dripping from the side of her mouth and attempted a smile.
I liked kids, I really did. In fact, I sometimes baby sat my friend Shay’s kids. But I could never get used to their drooling. I have extreme aversion to drooping saliva. It was a positively revolting sight.
He shook his head, but there was a look of wonder on his face. ‘You really do look a lot like her. It’s kind of creepy, actually. Are you sure you’re not twins?’
I snorted. ‘Yeah, I’m sure. People keep asking me this. So, uh, this is Michaela?’ I asked, looking at the baby. ‘She’s how old now?’
‘Six months.’ James replied, smiling fondly down at his drooling daughter. ‘She’s a real treasure, that one.’ There was some exasperation in his voice, beside love, and I wondered if she was a difficult baby. ‘Mich, look at this lady here. This is your aunt.’ He pointed at me, speaking in a slow, gentle voice to his daughter. She blinked at me again, and suddenly held out her arms for me to take her. ‘Oh, she wants you to take her.’ He said, pointing out the obvious. ‘Do you...’
‘Oh, sure, it’s fine.’ I said, holding out my arms. I took the baby from him and had an awkward moment as I tried to arrange her comfortably against my body. Finally, she wrapped her chubby, short arms around my neck and I put my arm around her body gently, the other supporting her tender head. ‘Hi there, Michaela.’ I said in my best baby voice, hoping it was enough to break the ice. My niece blinked again – she sure did that a lot, didn’t she? – and reached out her wet hand that she previously gnawed on and touched my face. I put a smile on my face to hide the internal cringing, and turned to James.
‘She’s really cute.’ I said, looking at her again.
‘Thanks.’ He said, ruffling his already messy black hair. ‘Uh, do you want to take a walk? I don’t really want to stay here any longer.’ He looked around him, at the tombstones and the crowd that was slowly dispersing and the corners of his mouth titled downwards in an unhappy expression. I noticed that his eyes were bloodshot and the skin under them was starting to get a little purple and shook my head. He was definitely heartbroken. Maybe I had underestimated their relationship. I always thought they were only together because she got knocked up – after all, before she got pregnant they were only fuck buddies or whatever. And since Nerissa and I never got in the habit of sharing personal information with each other, I was never privy to their relationship and its depth.
I was sad for him and Michaela. He obviously cared a lot about her, and the baby was going to grow up without a mother.
‘Sure, let’s take a walk.’ I said, hugging Michaela closer to me. She laid her head on my shoulder and shoved her finger in her mouth, sucking contentedly on it. James smiled at her, but his eyes were distracted. I didn’t blame him.
He spoke once we were outside the cemetery, his eyes staring at the cloudless, blue sky. ‘I’m really going to miss her, you know?’ He murmured, closing his eyes.
‘Yeah.’ I said, nodding, even though I didn’t know. I had never lost someone close to me. Everyone that I held close to my heart was alive and well, and I hoped it was going to stay that way for a very long time.
He looked at me, his eyes calculating and thoughtful. ‘You two were never close. Why?’
I shrugged as much as I could with Michaela’s head on my shoulder. ‘We just never clicked, I guess, and the whole magic thing only made us grow apart even more.’
‘Oh, sorry.’ He said, sounding apologetic. I opened my mouth to say that he had nothing to be sorry for, but he continued. ‘I have siblings. A brother and a sister. They’re both younger than me. We’re close. I can’t imagine my life without them.’ He cocked his head to the side. ‘You don’t seem very sad.’
My mouth dropped a bit at his blunt statement. Did he really just say that? I wasn’t used to people blurting out things like that to me. Especially if they were true. ‘I’m sad.’ I said eventually, still staring at him in surprise. ‘But I suppose you’ll be sadder if your siblings died. As you said, you are close. Me and Nerissa, not so much. We’re basically strangers who happen to share the same blood.’
‘I see.’ He nodded and looked up at the sky again. ‘If I asked you to be in Michaela’s life, what would you say?’
I stopped walking abruptly, my eyes widening in surprise. ‘What?’
He stopped as well and turned to face me, shoving his hands in the pockets of his dark jeans. ‘Michaela. She’s your niece and I want you to be a part of her life. I know that you and Nerissa never got along but I think it’s only fair to give you a choice to be in her life.’
I frowned. ‘Nerissa didn’t want me to be a part of her life.’ I had to remind him.
‘Well, Nerissa’s dead.’ Despite the blunt delivery, his face contorted in pain. I felt incredibly sorry for him as I watched him swallow heavily, and blink rapidly to prevent tears. ‘And I’m her father. I can decide who can be in her life. So, do you agree?’
‘I—‘ I looked down at the baby and I felt myself melt when I saw that she’d fallen asleep – in my arms – her finger still in her mouth. I wasn’t going to lie. I did want to be in her life. She was just so small and precious and so, so defenseless. She didn’t yet know that she had no mother, and that she was going to grow up without her. She needed someone to be there for her when she needed her. A female someone. ‘Of course.’ I said softly, kissing Michaela on top of the head.
When I looked up, James was smiling at both of us, a relieved glint in his eyes. ‘I’m glad.’ He said softly, and then looked up at the sky again.
I wondered why he kept doing that, and then I remembered the lowering casket and understood.
A/N: Please tell me what you think in the review box! :)