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Chapter 1 : Final Call
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This story is fondly dedicated to all my fellow housemates. They help me see my world in new colors.
“And the water is so clear, you wouldn't believe it!” Marcy McArthur continued to gush. “I mean, you see those postcards and figure that it can't actually be that beautiful but, Petunia, let me tell you, it actually is!”
“You had a nice time, then?” I asked stiffly, wondering if my forced smile was actually coming through. It felt like more of a grimace. Not that Marcy McArthur would take a moment to notice another human being. I was sure that once she got done bragging about her most recent vacation, she'd move on to Number 3, and tell the same stories all over again.
“It was so much more than I ever expected!” Marcy answered with a wistful sigh as if remembering a wonderful dream. “Of course, I'll bring you pictures once I get them developed. I swear, we'll have at least three albums full!” She reached out and put a hand on my arm. “Why don't you and Vernon join us next year! I'm not exactly sure where we're going yet, but I know that Perry will havesomething planned; he always does.”
I pulled away. Marcy didn't really want us to go; she was only asking because she knew we'd never actually agree. Vernon couldn't just up and leave his job for two and half weeks. He was too important. And what about Dudley? The little angel was only seven years old; I couldn't see him having much interest in the romantic-type getaways the McArthurs were always disappearing on. In fact, Vernon probably wouldn't have much interest either. And, then there was always the problem of the boy. Mrs. Figg would take him for an afternoon or, very rarely, a weekend, but she'd never take him for days in a row.
“Thank you,” I offered as kindly as I could, deciding to do a little bragging of my own. If Marcy could do it, so could I. “But, I don't think Vernon and I could manage to get away any time soon. His expertise is always needed at the office and I don't think we could bear to leave Dudley behind for that long. He's at such a wonderful age; we wouldn't want to miss a moment.” And then, I added snidely, “I'm sure it's difficult for you to understand.”
Marcy's big smile drooped. It was a shot below the belt, and I knew it. The McArthurs had no children of their own. On any other day, I would have kept such comments to myself, but today was different.
It was eight years today. It was eight years, and my husband hadn't said a word about it. Besides, I hadn't asked Marcy to come over to my yard and prattle on about Bora Bora for twenty minutes.
“I should get back inside and clean up the rest of dinner,” I told Marcy, now wearing a big, victorious smile. “We're glad to have you back.”
“Goodnight, Petunia,” Marcy answered coolly, and I knew I'd probably never see those photo albums now. How would I ever recover from such a loss?
I returned to the kitchen through the back door. Dudley was on the floor scribbling with markers. Harry was putting the dishes in the sink.
“I'll do it,” I told him gruffly, and he stepped aside quickly and then disappeared down the hall. I heard the sound of his cupboard door close. I started to wash the dishes, trying to relax. Usually the rhythmic movement, the warm water, and the reassuring fact that I was able to remove the bits of filth from the plates (that some things could still be perfect) was enough to calm me. But, today was still different.
Usually, he'd at least get me a card. Offer to take me to a special restaurant for dinner. Let me order anything I liked. Get a fancy dessert. But, nothing this year. Was eight years of marriage so easily forgotten? Was it so easy to forget me? As I scrubbed at a particularly stubborn spot, I tried to tell myself that there was still time. The day wasn't over, and Vernon had spent the great majority of it at work. He could still come home with a bouquet of flowers, or some other kind of Anniversary gesture. I dried my hands on a towel, and jumped in surprise when I felt a tug on my apron.
“Mum!” Dudley sang with a grin on his pink face.
“Yes, sweetheart?” I asked him fondly. He just pointed to the floor, obviously delighted with himself. There were green and brown lines all over my clean tile. Whatever Dudley had been attempting to draw had migrated from the single sheet of paper he had started with. While part of my mind told myself that it was some kind of abstract piece of genius, another part told me that he just wanted to make a mess. But, Vernon and I agreed. We would always be positive when it came to Dudley; make sure that he felt special and loved. I knelt down and kissed him on the cheek.
“It's beautiful, darling,” I told him. “I wish it could stay here forever.” Yes, that part might have been a lie. My cleaning instincts were already tingling.
“Leave it!” Dudley said, and it sounded like an order. “I like it. It looks good.” I stroked his soft, blonde hair.
“It can stay for a little while, Duddy,” I tried carefully.
Dudley glared at me. “You said you liked it!”
“I do, precious,” I tried to insist. “But...”
His face went from pink to red. I knew we were moments from tantrum mode.
Thankfully, I heard the front door burst open.
“Dad!” Dudley cheered, streaking away from me and into the hallway.
“Dudders!” I heard Vernon roar. I quickly checked my reflection in the spotless toaster, and patted down a few stray hairs. Was it too late for us to go out for dinner? We could at least do dessert somewhere. We could get dressed up just like the old days. I would wear my maroon dress.
I heard Dudley whoop about something, and then my husband of exactly eight years walked into the kitchen, setting his briefcase on the counter. No flowers. No present that I could see. Though a jewelry box might be small enough to fit inside his pocket.
He pecked me quickly on the lips, his mustache tickling me as usual. I could tell right away that he was in a good mood.
“I have exciting news!” he said.
I expected him to sit down. Normally the first thing he did after work was kick off his shoes and take a seat. Maybe he had plans that we had to leave right away for. Maybe he had gotten Mrs. Figg to watch both boys for the evening. Even Dudley could handle it for a few hours. He could just bring one of his hand-held video games. I'd seen him be silent for full days with one.
“What's that, dear?” I asked him, trying not to sound too excited.
“We're going away!” he answered, and my heart jumped. He had remembered! Maybe we were going to Paris! Or Rome! Maybe he remembered that on our third date I told him how I've always wanted to see Rome. Maybe he had been smart enough to send for Aunt Marge to come stay with the boys. Then we could be gone for days. The very thought.
“W-we're going away?” I stumbled over my words in my excitement.
“Well, I should rephrase,” Vernon answered. “Dudders and I are going away.”
It didn't sink in right away.
I just stared blankly at him, my mouth partway open.
“Mr. Mitchell is taking some of the higher-ups away for some recreational retreat thing this weekend,” Vernon continued to explain, not noticing the strange expression on my face. “He's letting us bring our sons. Now, originally I wasn't asked to go, but after I stood out at last week's meeting...” He finally paused. “Are you alright?”
I snapped back to attention. “Of course I am,” I said, wiping at the tingles in my eyes, wondering if I wanted him to notice or not. “What exactly is this retreat?”
Vernon shrugged. “Mitchell's got some place on the water. Fishing. Golf. Boating. Important business talk, I'm sure.”
“Will Dudley like it?”
“What's not to like? He can learn how to play golf like a future businessman should. Plus, he can make friends with all the other boys. Show 'em what's what.” Vernon chuckled. “He's already upstairs packing.”
I sighed. It would be another project for me.
“I should get packing too,” Vernon said.
“Can't you do it in the morning?” I asked quickly. “I thought we could...”
“We have to leave in a half an hour,” Vernon cut in, looking confused as if he had already mentioned this in our conversation.
“You're leaving tonight?” I gasped.
“We all wanted to get out there as quickly as possible,” Vernon explained. “So we can have the full Saturday.”
“When are you coming back?” I demanded probably a bit too harshly.
“This isn't just for the weekend?!”
Vernon came to my side and put an arm around my shoulders. “I'm sorry, Pet. I know this leaves you alone with the boy for a few days in a row. But, if I want to get that promotion, I have to go. It's important.”
I was hoping that he'd at least tell me that he'd make up for it when he got back, but instead he just checked his watch and said that he had to get packing. I couldn't remember the last time I'd packed.
Twenty minutes later, Vernon and Dudley were pulling out of the driveway. He hadn't said anything about our Anniversary. He really had forgotten.
I tried to take my frustration out on Dudley's “art.” By the time he got back from the extended weekend, Dudley wouldn't even remember that it had been there. Because that's what vacations did. That's what a change of scenery did. It let you take a break from the things that normally would upset you. It gave you perspective. It changed you.
I only managed to get a few of the marker streaks cleaned before I needed a break. I scooped up Dudley's markers and put them in the little plastic bin I gave him to keep them in. Somehow they always ended up scattered all over the house. At least I could get caught up properly on my cleaning while they were gone. I went upstairs and put the bin back in Dudley's room, tripping on one of his remote control cars. I hadn't planned on stopping in mine and Vernon's bedroom, but found myself walking in anyway.
Our wedding picture was on the bedside table, right where it had always been. How could you forget something that stared you in the face every day? I remembered how beautiful I had felt that day. For once, I felt prettier than Lily. For once, people had been looking at me. I knelt beside the bed, reached underneath, and pulled out the box. The top had white satin on it and the words “Wedding Memories” were stitched in gold. It had been a gift from Mum. I remained sitting on the floor and opened the box. There were a bunch of things nestled inside. My garter. The blue hair clip that Nana had let me borrow. The pillow that held our rings.
And, there it was.
At the very back.
A scrapbook with a worn, red cover. It was labeled in Lily's curvy writing. Our Travel Book.
“It can be your something old,” Lily had told me on my wedding day. “I put in a few pictures of my Europe trip with James, but I figured that you and Vernon could fill up the rest.”
When Lily and I were young, we used to make pages for all the different places we wanted to visit. We'd cut out pictures from travel magazines, or even draw some ourselves. Lily would work on as many different pages as she could; I focused mostly on the Italy section. I wanted to stand under the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. I wanted to go to the Uffizi and learn that the art I'd seen in all those pictures was actually real. I wanted some days with nothing planned at all. Just to walk and explore the streets. It was a chance to feel history. In my mind, there was probably no place more beautiful in the world.
After Lily married Potter, he took her on a tour through Europe. Since they had the ability to travel by magic, they could hop from country to country with ease. She had seen more in three weeks than I had seen in my entire life. She was able to put real pictures in the book. My pages were still blank. My honeymoon with Vernon had been at a bed and breakfast forty five minutes away from where we lived now. I had tried to talk him into Italy, but he thought saving money would be smarter. That way, we could afford a house sooner. I had been so impressed by his ability to look to the future, but now I was wishing we had taken a few more chances. So, maybe our dishwasher wouldn't be top of the line. Or maybe we wouldn't have been able to get that extra television for the bedroom. Did it really matter?
I thumbed through the blank pages that Lily had left for me. There were so many. Did she really think I'd be able to fill them all? I hadn't even filled one.
For a moment, I thought I could simply burst into tears, but then I was struck by an idea.
I had four days to myself.
People travel every day, in every country of the world. Why couldn't I travel? Why couldn't I fill some of these pages? Was Italy really that far away? I had the ability to get on an airplane. We had money saved. It couldn't possibly be that much. Travelers took risks. They went on adventures. You just had to have the courage to step out your front door.
I got to my feet.
I was going.
I was going to Italy.
And I was leaving right now.
Spurred by my own daring, I went all the way down to the basement to pull out my old luggage. I had just managed to get it back up to my bedroom, and was starting to throw things in it, when I heard a voice.
“What's going on?”
Harry was in the doorway.
I stood in front of the suitcase, as if I thought my thin frame could hide it from his view.
“Is everything alright?” he asked next, clearly wondering if I had lost my mind.
Part of me was wondering the same thing.
But, I was going. I had to go. And I was going to have two glasses of wine with my meals at lunch. I pictured Vernon's shocked face at such behavior, and got even more exciting. So, I would bring the child with me. Despite being a Potter and belonging to that strange, ridiculous world, Harry was rather well-behaved. He'd be quiet and easy to travel with. He got excited about driving in the car; he would probably be over the moon to ride on an airplane. It would be my first time as well.
“Pack your things,” I told him crisply.
“Why?” Harry asked.
“Just do it,” I ordered. “We're going out of town.”
The words “out of town” sounded marvelous.
“I don't have a suitcase,” he reminded me, and then added quietly, “...or things.” I tried to ignore it, but a sharp pang of guilt stabbed at me. I snatched one of the smaller bags from my luggage set and handed it to him.
I was taking him to Italy, I told the guilty feelings. This would make up for a lot.
“Pack what you need for a few days.”
Harry was still looking doubtful and confused, but he left the room without another word, pulling the little bag behind him. I filled my own bag with outfits I hadn't worn in years. Bright colors. Dresses that were a tad short. Little, strappy shoes.
I rushed us into the car fifteen minutes later. I called ahead to Heathrow, and found that there was a flight to Rome leaving in two hours. Things were falling into place perfectly.
Harry sat quietly in the backseat. I expected him to have lots of questions about where we were going, but he said nothing. I didn't turn around, but I could sense that he was watching me closely. It made me nervous. Or, were those simply tingles of excitement? It was difficult to tell.
A few cars honked.
Had I just blown through a light?
I took a calming breath but didn't slow down. The next flight to Rome wasn't until tomorrow morning; by then the spell would be broken. I'd be back to a plain old pumpkin instead of a coach. I needed to make sure that I was already in Italy by then. That way I'd have no choice but to enjoy myself. I knew that I'd be different when I returned. After seeing the wonders of Rome, there was no way I could be the same. I would have to come back to my old world on Tuesday, but I'd see it in new colors then. I deserved that.
The drive took me longer than expected, and after getting messed up in airport parking (and probably parking in a lot where I'd have to pay through the nose), we had a little over a half hour to make the flight. My suitcase clattered behind me on its little wheels, Harry had his slung over his shoulder. I could tell that there wasn't much in it. Well, what couldn't he survive with for just a few days?
When we finally managed to get inside the airport, I stopped and took in the scene. People were everywhere. Pulling their luggage, hugging, listening to music with headphones crammed over their ears, chugging coffee, reading newspapers, waiting in line for the loo, being checked in at security...I was lost. And so very out of my league. I knew practically nothing about airports. I tried not to be scared. Adventures took courage.
I could barely believe the amount of people. This many people traveled everyday? And just from this room in this airport. How was it that I hadn't gone anywhere?
I knew enough to get in line by the desk of the airline I would be flying. The wait was painstakingly slow. I kept glancing nervously at the big board that showed the arriving and departing flights. Mine was still there on the departing side: BA0552. I reached the head of the line with nineteen minutes to go before the flight left.
“You're very lucky,” the man behind the desk said after I explained. “We have just a few seats remaining for that flight.” He typed away at his computer. “Now, you'll need to hurry, so I'd recommend having your passport and...”
Any excitement I had managed to hold on to up to this point melted away. My passport. I had packed ridiculous things like an evening gown and my diamond earrings. The stupid Our Travel Book. But, I had left the one thing that I really needed. There wasn't even a chance that I had packed it; I could picture it in my mind, sitting on the dresser, mocking my attempts to be spontaneous.
“Excuse me,” I said to the man, my mouth dry and my legs weak. I somehow made it away from the counter and to a nearby seat. Harry followed me, looking more confused than ever.
I put a hand to my chest as I shuddered through another breath.
It was all for the best in the end. Vernon and I would just row about the money I had spent to go. Marcy McArthur would still go on more elaborate vacations. I didn't speak any Italian. In fact, what would I have done after stepping off that plane in Rome? Get a hotel? Where? Which one? What if it wasn't clean? And how would I ever tour the Colosseum without my sensible walking shoes? Had I even remembered to pack a toothbrush? Traveling took courage. I wasn't brave anyway.
It was fine.
It had to be fine.
I held it together well until I heard the final boarding call for BA0552 being announced over the speaker. Then the tears came. I jumped when I felt Harry's hand lightly touch my shoulder. We didn't speak. We just stayed that way until the flight was gone.
I wiped my eyes.
We went home.
I spent the evening cleaning up the rest of Dudley's mess in the kitchen.
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