Chapter 35 : Can't Let You Go
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"You're too proud to say
that you made a mistake.
You're a coward til the end."
Marina & The Diamonds
Let’s start off with the facts, alright: sharks are made up of cartilage and no bones, there are over seventy species of sting rays that exist, and I’m a little bit buzzed running down the hallway of the aquarium with Jessica Finelly.
I should have questioned the travel size bottle she had of fire whiskey with her when I hopped into the car, but she told me it was an early Christmas present so I went with it. Frank stuck with his usual cigarettes at the stop lights, and Jess was in a chocolate phase this week so she was snacking on German chocolate squares for the duration of the drive. If these were going to become our signature car ride diets I didn’t even want to imagine us as fifty year olds.
I’m running down the rectangle and octagon block-colored carpet and I feel like I could run for miles. Or maybe I have been, I’m not sure. It’s a huge aquarium. We got here when it was completely dead. No crowds of senior citizens walking at a colossal pace or devil children at a birthday party surrounding us. No one except some sad janitor from earlier who was cleaning up a spill in the elevator. He kept us company while we rode up to the fourth floor. Apparently at this time of day during holiday break no one cares much to see a blowfish expand underwater. Kind of sad when you think about it. Maybe they should change their advertizing to little dolphins with Santa hats-
“You brats!” Frank calls from around the corner.
Oh! That’s where he went (we lost him a few sharks back). I thought we were running LOOKING for him, not running AWAY from him.
Jessica and I can’t stop laughing when we cease the running, slightly out of breath. My head feels floaty.
“Finally caught up with us, grandpa?” Jess sticks out her tongue.
Frank looks the opposite of impressed. He drapes his arm lazily over Jessica’s shoulders.
“You know I’ve got a bad hip,” he says monotonously.
“I want fudge.”
They both turn to look at me and then I remember that I spoke. “…Yeah,” I finish.
They both try not to laugh at me. Jess bites her bottom lip, knowing that it’s her fault that I’m slightly intoxicated and difficult to understand. Well, the latter was all my doing, as I’m a bit of a mess… if you haven’t noticed.
“You need actual food, not fudge,” Frank points out, draping his other arm over me. We walk into the fossil exhibit and stare at the huge rocks of extinct poop. We take all of ten steps before we stop and just… stare. Lemme tell you, it really makes you open your eyes to the wonders of this world when you see poop the size of a small automobile.
I look at Frank to find a horrified expression on his face. A mixture of fear and disgust. Jessica’s face is so close to the glass, it looks like she’s almost studying the turd. So I’m assuming that she’s fascinated by it. But I, on the other hand, feel very confused. Also… My stomach has lost its grumbling. Fudge doesn’t sound very appealing right now, and I know my friends are thinking the same thing.
“That was a bad idea,” Frank mumbled when he hauled us out of there five seconds later.
Jessica picks the next floor, where the starfish and the algae have their own mini theatre with documentaries about their history and how both have very important roles in the environment. Sometimes I feel like algae. I tell Frank this during the movie and tells me that I have the potential to be a cryophyte.
“You’re golden,” he winks.
An hour later, and my buzz has worn off slightly which leaves me sort of tired. I’m now in the art museum. Jess, Frank, and I have been in the contemporary art section for at least a half hour. Since we were all still reeling from the huge turd debacle we decided to wait it out before going to eat. Now I’m staring at squiggles and thick lines and split complementary colors with a queasy tummy and a skewed perception of some four legged object on canvas.
“Is that a billy goat?” Jessica asks behind me.
I tilt my head. “I think that’s a car.”
“It has a face,” she quips.
I see the area she’s talking about. “That’s not a goatee,” I explain to her.
Frank comes up behind Jess. “Why does that car have hooves?”
The pop art room is full of neon and fun and Jessica is mesmerized. She twirls like some girl at a rave, all slow and really rhythmic and it’s sort of embarrassing to everyone else except us. There’s a family next to us that slowly dissipates and the singulars hanging around try not to stare. Frank just looks at her with complete adoration before joining her. Then I somehow find myself tilting my own head back and closing my eyes.
A fluorescent light is timed to go on and off every five minutes in a smaller room in the gallery, some sort of light fixture display, and we sway and move our arms and dance across the floor like fairies until we go into the room. We close the door and the three of us silently move and jump and hop around the pitch black room until we hit that five minute mark. And the lights flicker strongly on and off and I’m really glad that I don’t suffer from light sensitivity or epileptic fits because this shit is intense. There was even a sign that gave a warning before you entered.
I see Frank rolling his head back and forth and Jessica is kicking her legs out like a maniac and it’s just us three in this little room that feels like a party. We’re in some museum just frolicking like idiots and I love them so much I almost cry.
I’m laying on the roof of Frank’s dad’s car in some parking lot, eating French fries. We stopped at a very greasy fast food place and are devouring burgers and tacos and anything else you can eat without utensils.
Frank’s on the roof, dangling his feet. Jessica’s changing the radio station in the car. And I’m staring up at the sky, bloated and tired. I ate way too much too fast.
“I need to stop smoking,” Frank says to no one in particular. I try to look at him from my position on the hood but it hurts my eyes, and I only see his legs.
“Yes you do.”
“But these little buggers are so good to me,” he whines.
“Yeah, better than the buggers I’m with right now,” he jokes.
I roll over and like, ten French fries fall off my chest. Classy. I crawl up to where Frank is sitting.
“Why do you smoke?” I ask gently, resting my arms and head on his lap.
He exhales loudly, sending puffs of smoke swirling around his head. “I was young when I started.”
“That’s not a reason.”
He looks down at me and bites his cheek. “It was a way for me to deal when my mum bailed,” he takes his time saying.
He takes the last few puffs from his cigarette before putting it out and flicking it away.
I like Frank. He goes with the flow. He isn’t difficult to talk to and I feel more comfortable with myself when he’s around. I hope that nothing in this world separates him from Jessica because they click so well together that I need them both.
I wait a while before I ask him another question. “Do you miss her?”
Frank looks anywhere but at me. “Not really. There used to be a part of me that felt like it was missing something, but… I got over it. You do what you have to do, Lils. That’s the way life works.”
He has two bites of his burger left, and he gives it to me when he sees the puppy dog eyes I keep giving him.
“Oi! I just found an old boyband album in this car! Frank Longbottom, I don’t know who you are anymore!” Jess shouts from the passenger seat.
“DON’T JUDGE ME!” He yells back at her.
I try to suppress my giggles but I fail. Frank shakes his head, a ghost of a smile on his face. “You two will be the death of me.”
Jessica finds a techno mix and puts it on full blast. She crawls up on the car and joins us. We position ourselves next to each other and try to dance in unison while sitting down, but Frank has no rhythm.
“Be glad I’m not dating you for your dance moves.”
He tries to shake his boobs like a woman but he has none so it looks horrible. “You couldn’t live without me, Finelly.”
We spend another fifteen minutes on top of the car. Sooner rather than later, the mix finishes and we’re back to silence. At this point we’re all lying on our backs. The only thing running through my head at the moment is the fun I had today and how great it feels to have a day off from my problems. I didn’t have to deal with my dad or my sister today, I got to see my friends, and Mrs. Jenkins taught me a new knitting technique. And since I’ve left the house, not once have I thought about-
“Have you talked to James at all?” Jessica asks me.
The sky has changed colors since we’ve gotten out of the museum. It will get dark soon.
“Lily.” This time it’s Frank that tries to get my attention.
I huff, knowing my answer will disappoint them both. “No.”
I can feel Frank shaking his head back and forth across the roof of the car. An exasperated sigh leaves Jessica.
“Why the hell not?”
“Because, Jess. It’s not like he wants to talk to me.” I cross one foot over the other and close my eyes.
“Of course he does.”
And how would she know that? “The sod hasn’t made an effort to say anything to me, so if he wanted to talk to me since we had gotten home he could have. But he hasn’t.”
Frank pokes my arm. I open my eyes and look at him. “It isn’t always up to him, you know. He’s made some shitty mistakes, and Jess and I both know it, okay? But you can’t keep dodging this.”
I hate that I can see how right he is. I can see it right in his eyes and I just wanna smack him.
“Dodging what, exactly?” I say a little too loudly. “We had a friendship when we were little. It went to shit when we got to school. He teased me and provoked me for years, and then out of nowhere he gets the bright idea to just torment me-“
Jessica sits up abruptly, making me pause. “Lily. This isn’t just about you. I’m saying this with complete and total respect for you, but what you’re doing is childish. Nothing has to go right or go smoothly but something needs to GO. If you want him out of your life, at least let him know. And if you want him to stay and be a part of it, then grab him by the ass and tell him. But not trying… that’s… it’s not fair to the both of you.”
I just don’t want to deal with this.
“Ugh,” I cover my face with my arm dramatically. “Jess, I don’t WANNA.”
“Do it,” Frank nudges again. He pulls my arm off of my face. “Trust me when I tell you that his feelings for you haven’t changed and I honestly don’t think they ever will.”
My eyes flicker at his words. I stare at him. My heart starts to beat erratically.
“What am I supposed to do?” I mumble.
Jessica leans over Frank and elbows him in the abdomen. He curses. She ignores him. “Go to that Christmas party. Go there and talk to him. Get everything straightened out. Explain to him why you feel the way you do. But listen to him, and I mean really – listen to him. He deserves to be understood. At least about this.”
I don’t know when my friends decided to slap me with the cold hard truth, but I feel like this has turned very motivational for me. Jessica’s always been very good at this kinda stuff, I just never thought she’d motivate me to confront James Potter.
It’s night time when they drop me off. Close to 9 o’clock. I open the door and walk in to find my father flipping through the channels on the television.
“It was about time you got home, Lily. Where were you off to?”
I kick my shoes off. “I told you, I went with some friends to the museum.”
“Oh, alright. Well how was it?”
There’s a boxing match on the tv he finds intriguing and puts down the remote. I walk behind him and kiss him on the cheek.
“It was just what I needed actually.”
“That’s good. I’m glad you had fun.”
I walk into the kitchen, hoping to find dinner. But there’s nothing. “Do you want me to make dinner?”
My dad is delighted at the idea and thanks me for being such a great daughter. I shake off the disappointment and take out a cooking pot. “Where’s Petunia?”
“Working the late shift. She should be home in twenty minutes.”
I put the water to boil and walk past the living room and up the stairs to my room. I’m tired all of a sudden and I just plop face down on my bed. I’m so frustrated at my father and I don’t really even know why.
No, I do know why.
He expects so much of me all the time and it angers me that he thinks I’m always going to be here to cook for him. And to clean for him, and to do all those things I do all the damn time. I used to not mind it, but I’m at that point where this shit isn’t avoidable anymore.
Not that I’ll say anything about it. But I know now that I’m aware of what the problem is. And let’s not even start with Petunia. I just…
I just for once would want things to work out. Without me having to stress about it or take care of it or fix it. I’m just so tired of being the one to think things through and overanalyze stuff and be the one who has the lowest energy at the end of the day because it’s spent worrying about other people.
And now I’m thinking about James and I just want to cry from the angst and the frustration. Just… Why?
Jess and Frank were right. I’m being childish. A part of me doesn’t care but another part of me remembers what Jess told me and it makes me feel guilty. Because I want things to be better. I’m just tired of being the person who needs to make the first move.
I was enjoying breakfast, filtering through the mail, when my father’s voice boomed from the top of the stairs.
“Lily, I got called into work. I’ll be out all day and I won’t be done until midnight. I’m sorry, I can’t come to the Potter’s Christmas Party.”
I put down my cereal and walk out of the kitchen to the foot of the stairs. His sad face is apparent.
I sigh and shrug. “It’s okay. I didn’t really know if I wanted to go anyway.”
My dad studies me and scrunches his eyebrows. “Why not?” He takes a few steps down until we are a few steps away from eye level.
I scrape my bottom lip with my teeth and think about what to say to him.
He raises his eyebrows expectantly. “Lily, why wouldn’t you go? You love the eggnog and isn’t James your friend?”
Hearing him call James that makes something in my chest clench, but I hide it. I scrub a hand over my face tiredly. “I don’t know, If I get done with wrapping presents and cleaning the bathrooms then I’ll go, I guess.”
My dad rubs my arms soothingly and smiles warmly. “Good.” He feels guilty, I can see it in his face.
This whole Christmas holiday has been extremely morose in this house. Maybe I should go. Get out of this house. Although I highly doubt Petunia will want to go with me if dad isn’t coming with us.
When she gets back home at noon from her last minute Christmas shopping, I open the door for her. Since my dad had left for work the sun still hadn’t risen, making the sky a darker shade of blue. It started to snow lightly, and it little white flakes were splayed in Petunia’s hair when she walked in. I ask her about the party and she shakes her hair out.
“Dad’s not going?”
“No, he’s at work and he’s gonna stay for the late shift until midnight.”
She studies me up and down, cocking out her hip. “Vernon’s family is out of town for the day,” she says lamely. “So I won’t see him until tomorrow…” She quirks an eyebrow at me and contemplates going to the party. She huffs with the weight of extreme annoyance on her shoulders. “If there’s free food, I’ll go. There isn’t much to do here anyway.”
Well I’ll be damned.
Later that evening, Petunia and I get ready. I pull a long-sleeved scoop dress over myself and look in the mirror. It flares out at the hips, and it’s just dressy enough, so I don’t change. I slip on some thick black tights and grab my boots next to the front door. Petunia puts her hair in a loose bun and wears some gold and blue smock ensemble with a pair of heels. I grab the pound cake that I made earlier and wrap it up to bring it to Mrs. Potter.
The weather hasn’t changed. Not that it’s gloomy or unpleasant, but it’s night time now, so there isn’t a cloud in sight. Just a dark blue sky and a cold winter wind. There are a few inches of snow covering the front lawn. It’s nothing but soft and fluffy under our feet as we make our way next door. All of the houses on the block have a few lights hung up outside, and I guess I never stood outside long enough to pay attention to them. They’re pretty. I take in the sight of about twenty parked cars all along the street and curving over the corner. Half of them have at least got to be for the Potter’s Christmas party.
I feel weird. The last time I was this close into Potter territory, James was dangling off the roof by his foot. The memory sends a bucket of nostalgia washing over me, and I can’t help but smile once Mrs. Potter opens the door to Petunia and I.
“Lily! Petunia! I’m so overjoyed that you made it!” She ushers us in and I’m engulfed in the warmth and toasty-ness of their household. It smells like cinnamon and vanilla.
“Where is your father?”
“He couldn’t make it, he had work last minute.”I hand her the cake I baked for her. “This is for you.”
She beams at me and brings it into the kitchen. We follow her into the dining room area where we shrug off our coats. She opens a large closet in the hallway and hangs them up for us while trying to engage in small talk. I can barely hear her over the Christmas music and the laughter coming from all parts of the house.
“How are you ladies liking your holiday so far?”
I nod politely and smile. “Good. Quiet.”
She leans her head closer to me, a knowing look in her eyes. “You won’t find any quiet in this house,” she jokes.
The next five minutes at the Potter’s Christmas party consist of me trying to get out of everyone’s way, finish the champagne Mrs. Potter handed me, and trying to keep my eyes out for her deranged son. Petunia found some of her neighborhood acquaintances and sauntered off not ten minutes in, leaving me to my own devices. There are so many people here. Everyone’s dressed in dazzling colors and there are children running around. Yes, children! Children in multiples running through curtains and hiding under tables and falling face-first into the carpet. I feel out of my element, but it’s not because I don’t feel comfortable. The scary thing about this house is that it’s like I’m a resident to this place but I feel like a stranger in my own skin. Like there’s something about this place that’s mysterious and holds my curiosity enough to keep me here - and I should feel weireded out - but I feel so content it’s almost confusing.
It smells like evergreen where I’m standing, wedged in between the end of the stairs and the living room. I tug on the hem of my dress and try to sip from my glass. The rim scrapes against my nose and confuses me. I pull it back and look at the glass, quirking my eyebrow. After proper inspection, I concur the flute glass as being too thin and narrow at the opening and too wide at the stem, because my nose is blocking me from sipping from it. Go figure. I can’t even drink in piece. When has my face ever given me any problems?
I now have nose out to get me, and it’s my own!
I lean back with my head upright and my neck straight and awkwardly tilt the glass forward enough to drop a few tastes of the champagne on my tongue. I’ve never seen a champagne class like this before. Mrs. Potter has a nose like a button, so she probably doesn’t have to deal with situations like this and can buy whatever she wants and doesn’t have to worry about her face giving her problems. I keep tilting until half the glass slowly dribbles into my mouth and I reach some sort of success.
But I still look like an idiot.
“Woah! Slow down, Noah!” A small blonde child bursts out of the kitchen and runs towards the living room, pulling a guy with dark messy hair behind him. He continues to stumble as James calls out for him to slow down.
I almost choke on my champagne. James Potter’s face changes when his eyes land on me and he comes to a halt. He lets go of the little boy’s hand, giving him the freedom to run around in circles and chase more of the children throughout the house.
Oh. Wow. He looks good. He’s wearing a dark blue button-down shirt with a skinny black tie in a half Windsor knot. Black pants, black shoes, freshly shaven face. I gulp. I should have stocked up on food at the snack tables because my stomach feels full of frogs and their jumps in my tummy become more frantic with every step James takes towards me.
I feel a headache coming on. “Hi.”
“How’s your holiday?”
I spent it trying not to think about you. “Quiet,” I conclude after a moment’s hesitation.
He nods. Doesn’t take his eyes off mine.
“I’ve been thinking about you,” he says like he’s been waiting this whole time to blurt it out.
I don’t know how to respond so I just swallow the lump forming in my throat. I want to touch his face but also slap it, so I grip my champagne glass a little too tightly. It feels so impersonal just staring at him like this. He’s so close to me.
He shuts his mouth and breathes through his nose for a moment, trying to figure out what else to say to me. I stand idle. We don’t say anything for a while. I can feel the frustration coming off of him in waves. All this empty space is filling up with words we haven’t said.
He shakes his head and looks down at the floor. “I’ve missed you. I- I still miss you.”
James flickers his eyes up at mine, and the look on his face makes my chest constrict.
I open my mouth to speak. But before a single syllable reaches my lips, his mother comes up to us.
“James! I’m so glad to see you with Lily. It’s been such a long time, hasn’t it?” She beams and throws a motherly hug over her son’s shoulders. She squeezes him tightly and smiles at me. “I still have those pictures of the two of you around somewhere in this house. I’ve a shoebox full.” She winks openly. “He used to follow you around everywhere, do you remember?” James has the decency to blush.
“Mr. Carter was looking for you,” he tells his mom quickly.
Mrs. Potter looks befuddled for a moment. “He was?” She scans the room, oblivious to her son’s embarrassment of the current reliving of our childhood at her annual Christmas party.
James huffs. He spares me a quick glance, until I realize I’ve been staring at him the whole time. I didn’t notice how badly I was staring until I saw him look surprised and then look away just as quickly.
Now it’s my turn to blush.
Her brain goes in super party woman mode and her people radar starts to blink. Her eyes land on who I assume is Mr. Carter.
“George!” Mrs. Potter calls, waving to a lanky shaped man across the room. And like the wonderful hostess she is, she takes off to see what exactly Mr. Carter needed her for.
I’m not actually sure if what James said had any truth in it, but it worked. We’re alone again.
Mrs. Potter is halfway across the room before she turns her head back to us and calls out for James. “Don’t be impolite! Your French cousin arrived ten minutes ago, young man, and he’s been standing by that snack table this whole time! Introduce your friends!”
James has an expression on his face that would usually make me laugh, but I try not to make him more embarrassed than he already is, so I just bite my lip as he hangs his head. He motions for me to walk ahead of him. As we pass through the kitchen, I hear the laughing and the talking and the awkward dancing coming from every person here. It must be nice to have such a full house.
It doesn’t take long for us to find James’ cousin. I don’t remember any of his family being French, though. Must be extended family.
James must have read my mind when he leaned in close and said, “My aunt Zelda moved to France and remarried three months ago. He’s her stepson.”
I nod and follow him around the snack table. He taps a boy no taller than him, with short blonde hair and a square face. His cousin smiles when he realizes its James, and they hug briefly. The music is a little loud and there’s an old couple laughing really obnoxiously next to me, so I don’t hear a thing.
His cousin’s eyes eventually land on me, and I inhale. Two awkward seconds pass by before James relaxes himself in between me and his cousin, his back facing the snack table. He claps his cousin on the shoulder like two old men about to start a poker game. James turns his face around to look at me then, and that signature glimmer I’d always see in his eyes makes a small comeback.
I get so mortifyingly swept up in his eyes that I completely blank on what’s going on.
“…This is my French cousin, Arnold.”
I put my hand out and Arnold shakes it. I say hello to him and he says hello back. I can hear the accent a lot more clearly now that I’ve gotten a god damn grip because (WOW) I was swimming in James Potter’s eyes. Someone stab me.
When Arnold let’s go of my hand, he turns to James and points to me. “Julia?” he asks.
Wasn’t expecting that.
James inhales; a surprised gesture. As in, he definitely wasn’t expecting his French cousin from France named Arnold to say that out loud.
I go from zero to sixty in no time, and my mind starts to throb.
WHO THE HELL IS JULIA?!
James huffs out a nervous laugh, his grin as lopsided as ever. He looks sheepish.
I want to smash something.
My mouth hangs slightly open. I know I should probably close it but if I move any muscle on my face I will flip out! I! Will! Flip! Out!
It’s not the fact that Arnold doesn’t know who I am, or that he has me mistaken with another person. It isn’t. This is the first time Arnold has met me - I can’t get mad over his confusion. But what’s starting to itch under my skin like a line of fire ants is, however, the expression on James Potter’s face. He doesn’t even look guilty!
At least look guilty! Come on!
I start feeling queasy, so I excuse myself and ignore whatever words James says to me to get me to stay. I weave through people dressed in light taffeta and hair buns and long red festive nails and tall men with light up ties and I end up stepping on a few leather loafers, but I finally make it to the front door. I grab for my jacket until I realize how heated I am.
I take in a big breath, and exhale. Screw the jacket. I open the front door and step outside onto the snow covered driveway.
I welcome the big chill and let it seep into me. I need this. I need this cold air. I need the snowflakes and the occasional wind. I need to stay upright.
This is the thing: I care. I care about him so much. Too much. I’m annoyed and aggravated. I shouldn’t care but I do. Even after all this time. Something bloomed a long time ago in my chest and it never went away. It grew, and bloomed to the nth degree. It’s not fair. It hurts knowing that he can hurt me. I shouldn’t care.
It’s not even about Arnold’s name mistake.
I love him. I know that now. I love him and I don’t know what I’ll do if he isn’t in my life. I hate him. He’s juvenile at times and he’s done so much shit to me but he grew up and I grew up and nothing is ever fair. Nothing works out the way you think it will. And now I’m outside and I feel like crying from the frustration of knowing that I love someone who is just as much of an idiot as I am. I’m so angry.
I am so angry at him.
The front door to the Potter house whips open, and James loosens his grip off the door knob once he sees that I’m still here and haven’t gone home. Relief floods through him, makes his shoulders slump back a bit.
He bites his lip at me and takes a step forward. There’s a secret lying right on the tip of his tongue, I can feel it. I know that face. I know that face better than anyone. Maybe it’s a secret for himself, a secret he doesn’t want to say out loud. A secret that isn’t meant for me.
“Lily, what are you doing?” He steps through the door frame and walks up to me. His neck twitches at the sheer chill nipping at his exposed skin.
I cross my arms over my chest but I don’t turn my body. I keep facing the street, but I turn my neck slowly. And just when I think I can’t bring myself to meet his eyes, I do. I can’t hide the hurt in my voice when I open my mouth.
“Why did you leave?”
James recognizes my defiance immediately. His face falls. The tension is so tight between us; it’s giving a voice to everything else. The puffs of breath escaping my lips sound like humming in my ears.
“You want to do this here?” he asks grimly.
I lock my jaw, facing the street again, and respond with nothing. But he hears me. He hears me loud and clear.
Author's Note: This story is almost over. Just a few more chapters to go... Wow, this is going to get me emotional.
I'm sorry that my life got hectic. I was jumping all over different fandoms and I fell a bit out of love with writing fan fiction for a while but I'm okay now. I have the fuel, I'm just trying to find the time. Within the next two months, I think this story will come to a close. Thank you so much. I just wanted to say it in advance. It's been years in the making (i mean talk about slow build! LOL) and I know I've lost some readers but thank you to everyone who helped me go on when I thought I couldn't. Just don't want you to think you've been forgotten.