Chapter 5 : Take These Hands
| ||Rating: Mature||Chapter Reviews: 8|
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“Thank you for walking me home.”
Eileen and Tobias stand under the streetlamp outside of the shop. Hannah and Liam’s celebratory party hadn’t ended until two o’clock in the morning. Winter’s fingers grip the urban landscape; snow falls as the wind whistles between the paltry spaces of the buildings. Eileen’s feet are surely chunks of frozen flesh, and she knows that Tobias must be even colder in his careworn coat.
Tobias shakes his head in protest of Eileen’s gratitude.
Sighing inwardly, Eileen briefly considers the notion that this man must think she is not worth the effort it takes to speak. She feels slightly uncomfortable dominating the conversation. It reminds her of her brother who told her time and again that she talked too much. Eileen hears his voice, a stunning baritone: Eileen, for the love of God, do you ever stop talking? A little twinge of sorrow races through Eileen as the thought brings memories of her parents and brother. She can only imagine what they would say about Tobias (probably that she’ll scare him away with incessant chatter, no doubt).
“It is absolutely freezing out here. I’d best head in…good evening, Tobias,” Eileen says.
“Until next time,” Tobias replies and with a last look into her eyes, he turns and saunters away.
Next time? Between her implicitly rude question about his trousers, beating him during his choking incident, and her continuous prattling at dinner, Eileen is completely taken aback by Tobias’s response. What had been so great about the evening that he assumed they would meet again? He was just being courteous, she thinks. Yet, Tobias does not strike Eileen as a particularly genteel man. He’ll come into the shop, Eileen amends her thoughts.
There comes from the nearby factory a few blocks over the clang of the bells that signal a change in shifts. Eileen battles momentarily with the Muggle key in the lock. With a jiggle and push-pull, the stone-cold handle turns and Eileen enters the dark shop. Weary, she hurries up the steep, creaking stairs. Eileen drops onto the couch , not even bothering to light the lamps scattered throughout the apartment.
As she settles more comfortably onto the couch, squirming deeper into the cushions, Eileen idly tracing the stitches of her sleeve. The warmth of her bed is alluring, but she is simply too tired to move. Worries of whether or not Tobias made it home safely carry Eileen into her dreams.
It is a week after the party and although she is busy, Eileen is distracted. There is something that lingers in the shadows of her thoughts. She does notice however, as the clock strikes three, that Lorraine visibly relaxes. The poor soul, Eileen thinks. Despite five days of constant customers, even after times in which they lined up at the door and out into the street, Lorraine has yet to adjust to the liaisons with so many Muggles. From ten in the morning until three in the afternoon, the two serve the Muggle community under the guise of “Pins and Needles” and from three in the afternoon until eight o’clock in the evening, they minister to those of magical abilities as ladies of “Magical Mends.”
“Thank God. Eileen…Eileen?”
“Mhmm…” Eileen does not look up from a difficult tear in a particularly hideous pair of striped shorts.
Lorraine stares at Eileen for a moment before pulling her wand from sleeve. Jumping from her seat, Eileen begins to laugh loudly, jerking violently. She tries desperately to hold onto her work, but the Tickling Charm Lorraine threw at her is strong. The sharp prick of the needle interrupts the sweet torture of the tickles.
“Lorrainnneeee, st-stop it!”
The counter-charm is spoken and Eileen stops her contortionist circus display. “Damn you, Lorraine! Look at my fingers!”
Her capable fingers are bleeding from dozens of needle pricks. The two glare at each other, both trying not to laugh.
“That’s what you get for day-dreaming on the job, which is what you’ve been doing for the past week. You hired me so that you could turn into a right slacker,” Lorraine jests, sticking her tongue out.
“Right up there with the Minister.”
Eileen clicks her tongue before offering her hands to her assistant. Lorraine fixes them instantly and the pain disappears. In the same moment, she wonders why she ever hired Lorraine and also can’t believe she ever worked without her. It has been an exhausting week made enjoyable only by the sound of Lorraine’s voice.
“But seriously, where has your head been all week? Ever since that party…what happened?”
Lorraine squeals, “I knew it! You met a man. What’s he like? Does he come in the shop? Oh, you naughty thing!”
Eileen is a bit startled and baffled. The only man she met and talked with was Tobias. Surely he wasn’t the cause of her mental distraction.
“That is ridiculous,” she says firmly. “I don’t know where you conjured such an idea.”
There, as if fate was actually invested in her life, is a knock at the Muggle entrance. Eileen and Lorraine move from the back room and into the front. As has become their routine, Eileen casts a silencing spell, Lorraine casting a disillusionment charm behind them.
Eileen’s heart skips several beats; her breathing is heavy, like she’s inhaling the thick smog from the factories. Standing in the doorway is Tobias Snape. Eileen is instantly curious. She wonders if Tobias had already planned a return visit, knowing that he would find his way back to the shop and to her. Lorraine smirks in satisfaction and takes her customary place behind the countertop.
Several more seconds pass and Lorraine coughs. Oh, right, Eileen thinks.
“What a pleasant surprise! How are things, Tobias? What can I do you for?” Eileen says, resuming her business-woman persona in an attempt to cloak her nervousness.
Instead of answering her – Eileen believes momentarily that the man knows less than two hundred words in the entire English language and resists the urge to roll her eyes – Tobias thrusts forward a shirt. It looks new, but has a ragged tear under the arm. She can handle the seams, but Tobias’s silent stature tests her resolve. He inclines his head, the gesture making him seem no less tall and domineering.
“I’ll fix this before you can blink an eye,” Eileen says, decorum keeping her from sprinting into the back room.
“What a mess.” She is unsure of whether she means herself, the shirt, or the situation. Either way, she refuses to consider what it all means, if anything. With a flick of her wand, she fixes the shirt. She waits. Eileen feels as if she has finally gone barking mad, but rationalizes her reaction with the undue stress placed on her by a very demanding, albeit rewarding, business.
Eileen surveys the room. Lorraine has cluttered her previously organized bolts of fabric. She busies herself with quietly rearranging the shelves according to color and type. After ten agonizing minutes desperately trying to ignore the pounding of her heart, Eileen takes a deep breath and reenters the potential disaster zone.
“Good as new.”
Before Eileen can wish him a good evening and rush into the safety of needles and thread, Tobias speaks. “Eileen?”
The deep vibration her name makes against his vocal chords is a spell. She freezes. This is the first time he has ever spoken her name. There is something surreal and unearthly about a second in time when someone says one’s name as if the world has paused in its infinite rotation to shine a spotlight on a single individual.
He looks nervous, really nervous.
“Here’s the thing...you, erm, would you...”
“Tobias?” Eileen asks.
Eileen can feel Lorraine’s eyes staring at them, completely engrossed in the spectacle. She wishes they were alone.
Tobias blurts, “Would you go to dinner and bowling with me tonight? I…well, there’s a lot of us going, and I’d…like for you to go with me.”
“Like a date?”
Tobias says nothing. But then again, he isn’t a conversationalist by nature. Of course like a date, you airhead, she chides herself. It is moment of confusion and excitement. What has she done or said to make him ask her on a date? Why should she? Why shouldn’t she?
The man visibly relaxes. “I will be here at seven-thirty.”
“So, tonight then.”
“Tonight,” Eileen mimics.
For the briefest of moments, Tobias gives Eileen an almost indiscernible, close-mouthed smile. There is no flash of white teeth or crinkle of eyes, only the glimpse of a sparkle in his black eyes. From across the room, Lorraine knocks the cash register off of the counter, in her attempts to keep her delight hidden. The crash is magnificent. The steel exterior of the machine is no match for the unyielding wood floor; it is dented in several places.
An awkward moment now intensified, Lorraine looks at Eileen in horror as if she has danced about naked in front of the man.
“Well, bugger,” Lorraine curses, running around the counter to view the damage. “Sorry, Eileen, sorry! I’m such a disaster. And oh, look-”
She hefts the cash register into her arms, examining the damage. Several of the keys have snapped off and scattered to the far corners of the room. Tobias picks up the “7” at his feet and walks over to the counter, setting it down. He takes a moment to look at Eileen, nodding slightly, and leaves, snowflakes taking his place.
“Oh, Eileen, I’m sorry! I just ruined that…did you see the way he was looking at you? He-”
“You should be more careful, love,” Eileen interrupts, determined to steer the conversation far away from herself and the impending date.
A date? She hadn’t been on a date in years. Her mind is racing and yet, the most prominent worry is what on earth she’s going to wear.
A few hours later, the question of what she’s going to wear has caused Eileen to try on almost every single piece of Muggle clothing she owns. She has dismissed wearing trousers and a blouse, tossing them onto the growing heap on the bed. Eileen is worried about everything: the date, her hair, her clothes, what she’s supposed to say, how she’s going to manage bowling, what Tobias is going to think of her, and how in the hell they’re ever going to have a conversation, if they can relate to each other at all.
Eileen hears distant voices from downstairs and knows she is running very late. She chooses a flower print dress with a square neckline and a hem that will rest at mid-calf. Although she is now in a hurry, Eileen carefully puts on the Muggle tights, trying not to rip them with her fingernails. Her hair, after much fussing, has been pinned and teased into a bouffant. Years of working with Muggles have taught Eileen how to mask her identity as a witch and blend into non-magical society.
“EILEEN! YOUR DATE IS HERE!” Lorraine nearly screams from the foot of the apartment’s stairs.
“I need five minutes, please! Tell him five minutes!”
Rushing to the antique jewelry box that once belonged to her great-grandmother, Eileen searches through the fake stones inset into rings and necklaces. Frustration begins to take the form of a headache. She untangles several necklaces, only to see that what she is looking for is at the bottom. The very real and antiquated emerald shines, as if it has its own sun within its depths. Bending her head forward over the box, she clasps the necklace around her throat. Her eye catches a ring, the ring. After the deaths of her family, she had hidden the two pieces of jewelry as they were constant reminders of what she’d lost. Eileen reaches for the ring and as soon as she touches the black diamond, her fingers burn.
Gasping, Eileen quickly shuts the box. Her fingers have begun to ache and sting as if she has grasped a piece of burning wood from a fireplace. Before she can wonder what just happened, Lorraine calls for her again. “EILEEN!”
Eileen picks up a pair of shoes and rushes into the bathroom. She puts them on and inspects her figure. Her black hair is lackluster and her tall frame looks ungainly in the mid-calf dress. Hoping for the best, Eileen does not look at her image again as she flies through the apartment, grabbing her bag. Before she can run down the stairs, Eileen remembers her wand. Even though she will be surrounded by Muggles, she cannot leave her cypress wand behind. Eileen rushes to grab her wand and then heads downstairs.
“Look at you!” Lorraine exclaims, beaming as Eileen enters the front room.
Eileen smiles timidly. She looks at Tobias who is dressed in a leather jacket and trousers. The jacket looks to be brand new, its leather shining and squeaking with his movements. He stands by the door, a silent sentry. Eileen considers apologizing, but doubts that Tobias will do anything more than nod, so she says, “Where are we going for dinner?”
“The Half Moon.”
“Well then, let’s get going, shall we?” Eileen says, “Lorraine, I’ll see you on Monday.”
The two companions head out into the night. They walk several blocks before taking a right turn toward the center of town.
Tobias turns his head as he says, “If you do not like the Half Moon, we can go somewhere else.”
He is rather stiff as he speaks.
“Oh no, the Half Moon is a fine choice. You did mention that there are other people coming?”
“Yes, for bowling.”
“Who are they, if I may ask?” Eileen needles.
“Two of my co-workers and their wives.”
“I’m sure they’re delightful.”
The two fall into silence again and for the first time since their chance meeting, Eileen feels a sense of serenity. They walk several more blocks before crossing the street and entering the pub. Its white exterior is framed by dark shutters. Faces in the windows are sunny and flushed from drink.
Inside, the establishment is crowded with customers. A great gust of laughter rises from the bar, the proprietor chuckling at his own joke as he refills pints of ale. Eileen follows Tobias to a table by the window, where she can watch the empty street as it begs for activity. He pulls out her chair, then sits in his own seat. They disappear behind two menus on the table, Eileen using the cover to fidget with her hair and pull at the bosom of her dress restlessly. She is so tense that she cannot read the medieval-style script with its loops and curls.
“What would you like?"
Eileen doesn’t have any idea. “I’m not sure...what are you having?”
“Pie and pint special.”
“That sounds lovely. I’ll have that.”
Tobias struggles through the haphazard placement of tables and chairs as he heads toward the bar to order their dinner. Eileen observes him; his back is to her and she is safe from embarrassment. He is leaned casually against the bar, chatting with a very large, robust man who laughs as Tobias speaks. She can imagine the black eyes and unwavering stare, their recesses haunting. She wishes that they were more relaxed around each other. He has yet to prove particularly fascinating, but neither has she. Although she tries to push the thought away, it persists: perhaps ordinary and normal will become extraordinary.
Tobias turns and Eileen diverts her eyes to the patrons at her left who are intertwined and caressing each other. Bad choice, she thinks. She resorts to looking fixedly at Tobias, smiling as he meanders toward her. During the short time she has spent with him, Eileen continues to wonder why he asked her on a date.
Eileen’s curiosity and nervousness are a deadly combination. As Tobias sits down, she asks bluntly, “Tobias, I’ve been wondering, and I don’t mean to be crass, but why did you ask me on a date?”
He is not perturbed, but rather seems to soften at her honesty. “Because I like you.”
Slowly, it dawns on Eileen that she has, once again and in the space of a week, asked a particularly rude question to a perfect stranger. Feeling ridiculous, she strikes up conversation because that’s what she always does. “I know that you work with Liam at the factory, but not much else. I want to know about you. I don’t even know how old you are or where you come from or what you like to do.”
“I don’t have any holes in my trousers, if that’s what you’re asking.”
At his cheeky response, Eileen laughs. Her head thrown back in mirth, her bouffant bouncing with each shake of her shoulders. Still giggling, she grabs her cheeks, the teeth in her mouth aching. Oddly enough, her fingers hurt too. Eileen is finally able to look properly at Tobias and finds that he too is laughing. It is a close-mouthed laugh, his lips pulling tightly together as his thin face plumps at the cheeks.
“Bit cocky to be laughing at your own joke, you know.”
“I was laughing at you.”
“That’s one way to win a woman’s heart.”
Several seconds pass as the two gaze at each other. Eileen scolds herself for saying that. She shouldn’t even be considering the idea of falling for this man. He’s not winning her heart because...well, she doesn’t need a reason. But those black eyes are relentless. They are animated like the nighttime rain ricocheting off of the crenelated platforms of a city. It is an indistinct sentiment that Eileen feels connected to.
The bartender-proprietor is headed toward their table, breaking the solemnity of the moment, bearing two plates and two pints of ale.
“‘Ello Tobias. Who is this? You haven’t kidnapped her, have you now?”
Eileen laughs as Tobias, not the least bit flustered, responds, “Tom, don’t be an arse. This is Eileen.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Tom.”
“The pleasure’s all mine,” He smiles at her, laying his hand briefly on her shoulder, and says to Tobias, “Tobias, you’d better hang onto this one, she’s beautiful.”
“Remember you’re married, old man.”
Tom guffaws, slapping Tobias heartily on the back. Tobias must come here often, Eileen assumes as she observes the interaction. The men continue to joke as Tom sets the food and drink down. The steak and ale pie is fresh out of the oven, steam rising from cracks in the crust. Tom leaves.
“This looks delicious, Tobias.”
“It is. Trust me.”
Eileen’s skin tingles for an inexplicable reason; she trusts him about more than the taste of steak and ale pie. The two dig into their food, muffled chewing and swallowing the only sounds between them. All around, the revelry has burst into full-swing, men and women dancing and drinking, others slumped over tables and chairs. Tobias has spoken more in the past hour than Eileen would have thought; it a pleasant surprise. Eileen grimaces as she picks up a fork. The fingertips of her right hand are burned and have formed blisters - she has been so immersed in the evening that she has failed to notice the stinging tenderness. It is the second time in a single day that Eileen’s hands, the very things that define her identity and her career, have been assaulted.
Tobias has finished his food, having practically shoveled it into his mouth. Eileen is studying her hands and does not notice as Tobias reaches across the table and puts his fingertips on her arm. She jumps slightly. He does not speak, but looks at her with concern, his forehead creased and brows hunched together.
“I’m fine, fine...it’s nothing. That was wonderful.”
“You were looking at your hands.”
Eileen is keenly aware of the powerful grip Tobias now has on her wrist as he looks at her hand. He is unconcerned with the fact that he has just crossed an unspoken, salient barrier and is physically touching her. It is as if the burns bubble before their very eyes.
There is absolutely no chance that Eileen will tell a man she barely knows, a Muggle no less, that one of the family heirlooms passed down through her magical bloodline burned her. It is impossible and yet, the tangible evidence is there on her hands.
“I don’t know.”
“You can’t bowl like this. I should take you to a doctor.”
Shame clouds Eileen’s face. “I’m so sorry, Tobias. I’ve ruined our evening. I haven’t been any fun.”
“I’ll be okay. Don’t worry about me.”
Standing, Tobias takes out his wallet and tosses money on the table. Distress muddles Tobias’s features; the square, clenched jaw incompatible with his narrow face whose eyes draw Eileen’s attention. Time slows and Eileen really notices the man. His black hair is slicked with pomade and high cheekbones dominate his face. Tobias stares down at Eileen and pulls her to her feet and does not let go of her left hand as they shuffle their way out of the pub. They walk out into the night, hand in hand.
Hello lovelies! Thank you SO much for reading chapter five! Of course, I've got to send some major love to Jchrissy (Jami) for her wonderful beta skills, patience, and support. I'd like to offer a friendly reminder to allow Eileen and Tobias's relationship to flourish (for now) without the bias of Severus's recollections in canon.
What do you think about the chapter? Is the normalcy/realistic nature of the story surprising or refreshing? What do you think is going on with the ring? How do you like Tobias?
Do leave me a review and tell me what you think! Thank you so much for reading!
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