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Chapter 3 : The Escape
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Well, I’m inclined to believe,
If we weren’t so dumb, we’d up and leave
Is there some happiness for me?
Not in Nottingham – Mumford & Sons
“Ni!” A five year old dark haired boy runs down the street toward the Leaky Cauldron.
“Hey, you little rascal!” I sigh happily as I lift up my little brother and receive a loving hug.
“I want to go Diagon Alley!” He mumbles excitedly, pointing over my shoulder at the place Louis and I have just exited.
“Say hi to Louis,” I say distractedly as I put him back down and look at my dad and grandmother approaching.
“Hi Lu. You coming too?” He asks Louis, who just smiles at him. “I want ice cream. Daddy promised me!”
I stare at the cotton candy my dad’ finishing, which surely belonged to the spoiled little boy before he grew tired of it.
“Hello, dear,” says Letty, my grandmother. She pouts her lips excessively, indicating that she’s waiting for a kiss from me. I peck her cheek quickly as a greeting. “Your father and I thought we’d go shopping a bit for clothes. God knows he barely has anything to wear anymore.”
I roll my eyes. What God knows is that Dad never has enough of anything. My dad’s that kind of person that always needs more than he can afford and his mother just loves to spend money on him. Perfect combination, you say? Yeah, I’m really looking forward to the day they both run out of money.
Letty pulls out her wallet and thrusts a number of tenners into my hand.
“In the meantime, get your little brother and yourself one of those famous ice creams. He’s been such a good boy, hasn’t he?” Letty puts an affectionate hand on my little brother’s head, which he knocks away cockily. I give him a stern look. “And your handsome boyfriend can have one as well of course,” Letty chatters on, ignoring the fact that I’m trying to give her the money back. My dad rolls his eyes at me.
“You know pounds are useless in the wizarding world,” I sigh, forcing the money into one of her pockets. She scolds me for it. “Don’t worry, I’ve got some galleons left.”
I can see Letty’s about to protest again but Dad has already turned around. She huffs and hurries after her son.
“Don’t you have to ask what time you need to be back here?” Louis asks while we turn back to the Leaky Cauldron. I shrug and pull out my muggle cell phone.
“Miracle devises for families with a severe lack of communication, like ours,” I say bitterly. Louis remains silent but I know he’s judging us, my family. It doesn’t really bother me, though; not anymore. If it was anyone other than Louis, then maybe I would try to defend my father and grandmother, but Louis and I have already had so many frustrating discussions about how dysfunctional my family really is that it would be rather pointless.
As we walk through the pub and exit through the back, Louis takes my hand in his. It surprises me. It’s not as if innocent physical contact between us ever bothered me but this feels kind of weird. I look up at him but he only smiles. It’s probably just me. My little brother takes my other hand and starts to drag us forward, not satisfied with our slow pace.
We arrive at Florean Fortescue’s Ice cream Parlour first. After taking forever to decide which flavours we want, I take out my money but Louis stops me.
“It’s alright. I’ll get it.”
“Louis,” I say threateningly. He looks alarmed.
“No, this is nothing like the way Letty always throws money at you! I just– you already had to buy me that splendid birthday present. This is me trying to say thank you,” Louis tries to explain. I frown. Louis knows how important this kind of independence is to me; I don’t like taking money from others.
“Don’t be stupid. I’m paying,” I say determinedly, turning to the counter where a cute blonde girl’s waiting, smiling brightly at Louis.
“Here you go, Mr. Weasley,” she says, handing him the ice creams which he passes along to me and my brother. The girl turns away immediately, not even glancing at the money in my hand.
I turn to glare at Louis.
“I said I’m paying,” I hiss. Louis puts up his hands in defence.
“I didn’t pay either, okay?” He hisses back. I frown. “Uncle Harry bought this place in honour of the original owner who was murdered by Death Eaters during the war. The entire family gets free ice cream.”
“Well, why didn’t you tell me sooner? I’ve been paying for years!” I yell, punching his arm. He narrows his eyes at me but keeps smiling – as if my skinny arms could ever do any real damage to Louis’ muscled ones.
“You’re always so adamant on paying everything yourself. You know, sometimes it’s politer to just accept what people are offering you,” Louis explains, licking his liquorice flavoured ice cream. With a slightly disgusted look on my face, I turn to my own chocolate flavoured one. Mhm, much better.
We walk along Diagon Alley peacefully and Louis takes my hand again. I don’t want to hurt his feelings but I don’t particularly feel like keeping it there either, so when I see my devious little brother trying to sneak into Weasley Wizards’ Wheezes with his dripping ice cream still in hand, I let go and run after him.
“I wanna go inside!” He whines as I hold him back.
“You can’t go in with your ice cream though,” I point out. He stares at me with his big, innocent eyes and pushes the ice cream toward me so I’d take it. I chuckle and quickly toss it into a nearby bin. As I see his messy hands, I sigh and try to clean them with some tissues.
With a swish of his wand, Louis reappears beside me and makes the sticky mess disappear. I throw him an envious but grateful look, before going inside.
I freeze almost immediately upon entering the shop. My careless little brother has run straight into a black haired, handsome boy and the butterflies in my stomach go crazy. Albus Potter is laughing at the little kid that’s pouting and rubbing his forehead. Al pulls a chocolate frog out of nowhere and the little boy’s face lights up –and let’s not forget, Albus doesn’t share easily.
But you know what really makes me go weak in the knees? Al’s wearing his green jumper; the one I slept in last night. A broad grin creeps onto my face and, of course, that’s the moment Al decides to look up. Do his eyes look even greener than this morning?
“Hey, I didn’t know you were going to be here,” Louis says as we approach his cousin.
“Emergency gift shopping. Still need to find something for my dad,” Al explains, grimacing guiltily.
“Wasn’t his birthday yesterday?” I ask hesitantly. This makes him look even guiltier... but still so cute.
“Yeah... I really suck at buying presents.”
“Look! Look! I got Harry Potter!” My little brother squeaks, jumping up and down and pulling Al’s sleeve. He shows us the card that came with his chocolate frog.
“Did you know that this is his son?” I ask him, pointing at Albus.
“Hi, I’m Albus. And who are you?” Albus says politely to the small boy, whose eyes seem to have grown to the size of ping pong balls and who suddenly seems a bit afraid of the teenage boy in front of him.
“This is Pelops, my little brother,” I introduce him when it’s obvious he’s too star-struck to speak. Albus looks up at me.
“Pelops,” He mutters.
“Yeah, I know it’s a weird name. Blame my mother’s obsession with Greek mythology,” I explain, feeling rather self-conscious.
“Well, I’m not one to talk, am I? My full name is Albus Severus Potter,” he whispers to Pelops with a chuckle, but the boy just keeps staring.
My cell phone buzzes, pulling my eyes away from the endearing scene before me.
‘We’re leaving.’ is what my dad’s text message said. I sigh and look up at Louis who’s reading along over my shoulder.
“See you in a couple of weeks?” He asks as he puts his arms around me. I nod into his chest.
“We’ve got to go home, little man,” I say to Pelops, putting a hand on top of his head. “Say bye to Albus and Louis.”
But Pelops still seems far too intimidated by the son of Harry Potter to utter a word. Louis chuckles as he ruffles the boy’s brown hair and heads toward the back of the store where he’ll be able to floo back home.
I look up at Albus and find him staring back at me. There’s a silence which feels incredibly awkward to me.
“You smell nice,” Al suddenly blurts out. He seems surprised by his own words. “I mean the jumper, it smells like you. You–”
For a moment I don’t know how to process this information –Was that a compliment?– and this pause makes Al very nervous.
“I really need to go,” I say slowly. Albus’ eyes drop to the floor and I’m left with the feeling that I have hurt his feelings; that I have let him down somehow. I frown, not understanding my weird behaviour... nor his.
“See ya,” he mutters before disappearing between the aisles of the shop. I stare out in front of me a bit longer, until Pelops gets bored and starts pulling my hand.
That peculiar look on Al’s face haunts me as we walk back toward the Leaky Cauldron, with Pelops stopping at every shop and drooling over everything one can buy there.
Once back in muggle London, it takes us a while to get to where Dad has parked the car. Then, there’s another long drive home. Sitting in the back, I wish for music but Letty just keeps on talking. A few times, I catch my dad rolling his eyes and it reminds me of how alike we actually are.
I push the thought out of my mind because it doesn’t necessarily comfort me, although that was once different. Until the age of ten, my dad had been my hero and I relished in all the things we had (and still have, I guess) in common. I was a daddy’s girl all the way. My mum was the strict one that would always punish me too quickly and my dad was the one I’d go to afterward to get him to talk mum out of the punishment. He’d always comply to his little girl.
How blissfully ignorant I was back then. Everything was black and white; mum always the bad guy, dad my personal teddy bear. And then my mother died, and I found out my dad is no hero. He’s no hero without my mum. It was mum who had been the real hero, raising me to be a good person, not the spoiled brat Pelops will turn out to be. It’s because my mum played the bad guy that my dad was able pretend to be the hero.
Now, I have to play that role. I have been forced to be a mother –or rather, act like one– and it has broken something inside of me.
I turn away from my dad and wish for music.
Somewhere along the ride, Pelops falls asleep and I have to carry him out of the car when we arrive home.
I sit down next to him for a moment as he curls up in a little ball in Dad’s bed, and look around the room.
It’s small, too small for a soon to be six year old and his father. Yes, Dad and Pelops still sleep in the same bed. They have been doing so ever since Pelops was a baby. I’ve never liked it and have told my father so, explaining that it just isn’t healthy for the boy. Dad always brushes it off and there’s really nothing I can do about it, since there’s no easy alternative.
You see, the house we live in is actually Letty’s house which we moved into after Mum died. Dad couldn’t stand to stay in that big, old, secluded house up north and decided to move back in with his mother, who couldn’t be happier about it. But the house is small, too small for four people. I’ve mentioned finding a new house but neither he, nor Letty, will hear anything of it. They’re just fine with the way things are.
Everyone’s happy, aren’t we? Not really, Dad.
I walk out of the room and go up into the attic, which is where I sleep. Don’t get me wrong, I love my room and I love Letty but this situation is just not good for anyone, especially Pelops. It’s as if Letty only feeds and encourages Dad’s... unparentlike behaviour. He’s her son, he needs to be taken care of, and somewhere along the way it makes him forget how to be a parent, how he needs to take care of his child. Children.
But I’m not worried about me; I’ve grown up enough to see through Dad’s material world in which nobody lacks any thing. Pelops doesn’t know any better, does he? He has never had that hero in disguise like my mother who can subtly lead him down the right path.
I throw my bag into a corner and head for my desk . I rummage through the stack of papers that grows bigger each day until I find what I’m looking for. Putting my headphones on and plugging them into my phone, I head back downstairs.
I pass the kitchen where Dad’s eating grilled cheese and walk out of the front door without saying anything.
As if they care; they know I’ll be home in time for dinner.
Once outside I find myself thinking about a very frustrating thing my dad always says to me when we are, once more, having a disagreement about Pelops: “He’s a good kid, and he’s loved. He’ll turn out good as long as he’s loved.”
I snort. Clearly Dad doesn’t understand the real meaning of love. Sometimes loving someone means not showing them love, not showing them mercy and being ruthless. That’s a part which neither my Dad, nor Letty understands and which I understand a little too well.
I love Albus. I love him just as I will love his dead racoon breath in the morning when we’re seventy, but I can’t show it. Love isn’t showering someone with affection and presents. Love is rough and painful.
I push open the door to our local library and spot Ben immediately behind his desk. He gets up when he notices the grim expression on my face. I follow him all the way to the back of the library where he unlocks a door to which only librarians have the key. I smile kindly at him before he closes the door gently, leaving me alone. Sometimes he’ll come in with me and ask if he can listen, but not this time and I have a feeling it might’ve something to do with my sullen expression.
The room’s small and stacked with boxes and cardboard signs. All the way in the far right corner stands what I’m looking for; a piano.
As I sit down, I place the sheet music I have brought along before me and plug my headphones into the piano. Deciding to turn up the volume really loud, I let my fingers hover an inch above the keys. It always takes me a moment to get myself together.
You see, I didn’t touch a key for years after my mother died. She taught me how to play and under her strict supervision I got rather good at it, yet I have never considered myself a pianist. No, my mum was the musician and I only played with her, never without. So, when she died and we moved out of the house, leaving the piano behind, it didn’t even cross my mind to continue playing. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think my father would’ve allowed it. He hates everything that reminds him of her.
The moment I decided to play again though, it had been more of an act of teenage rebellion against my father, really. My plan was to put up a note, asking if anyone in town had a piano on which they might let me play (only in the summer off course, since I would be off to Hogwarts during the rest of the year). Fortunately, Ben was working as a librarian at the time, and he told me there was an unused piano in one of their storage rooms.
His eyes had lingered a bit too long on my chest as he said I could use it whenever I wanted, as long as I didn’t tell anyone. In his defence: that was two years ago and he was sixteen... blame it on the hormones. We’re friends now.
I study the notes on the sheet of paper before me and hear them inside my head, forming a melody. It’s one of the pieces that I played so many times two summers ago –very dark, very satisfying for an angry, pubescent girl of fourteen– that I’m able to play it with my eyes closed if I want to.
Taking a deep breath, I place my fingers gently on the first notes and start playing. Having forgotten that I put the volume up so loud, I find myself suddenly immersed in the low sound. A part of the resentment that has been building up inside of me during the day flows through my fingers and leaves me. There’s truly nothing like it.
With a weird sense of urgency, I rush to the higher notes. I know I’m not playing at the right pace but I can’t slow down. It’s as if I need to get something off my chest.
As my hands move to the left again, forming a very dark, slow melody, I stop and sigh. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to play something so dark when I’m already feeling quite bitter. I flip through the rest of the sheet music I have brought with me.
Kiss the rain. My mother’s favourite.
The paper is old and crumpled. It’s still the same sheet music my mother had used to teach me this song before she died. I must have taken it with me by accident ‘cause usually I’m too afraid to play it. Afraid that I won’t be able to play it as beautifully as my mother once did.
I stare at it for a very long time, until I have memorised all the notes on the first two bars. Carefully and slowly I try to sound them out on the piano, first with my right hand, then, even more slowly, with both hands. My fingers seem to remember the tune quicker than I would’ve thought. My right hand manages to play in the right tempo after just a few minutes of practice, but my left’s a bit slower.
Suddenly, I have this incredible urge to finish it, to be able to play it right. I continue to work on it for hours, so completely consumed by it that I don’t notice my empty stomach which is growling uncomfortably.
I’m finally starting to get it right when the touch of a hand on my shoulder makes me jump in surprise. Ben seems equally startled by my jumpy reaction.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you,” he says friendly, leaving his hand on my shoulder.
“It’s alright. I shouldn’t have put the volume up so high,” I apologise as well, taking off the headphones. “What’s up?”
“Ehm, I have to close up?” Ben says slowly, as if to a child. I keep staring at him incomprehensibly. “We close at eight.”
My eyes widen as I realise what he’s saying. Is it really eight o’clock already? I stare at the clock on my phone: 8.04 pm.
Yet no messages or missed calls. Normally dinner’s at seven, but sometimes we eat later. More irregularity in Pelops’ life. I quickly collect all my things and say goodbye to Ben.
I run all the way home, sweating after about two seconds. When I reach the house, I can see the lights on in the living room and the flickering images of the telly. There’s probably a football match on, and that’s why dinner is postponed. I sigh.
Upon entering, I smell the thick air of cooked food and immediately head for the kitchen to see if I can help with dinner. Letty’s bustling around, but she’s not cooking. She’s cleaning up.
They ate already. I look at the nearly empty kitchen table. Why didn’t they wait for me?
It isn’t like we make a big deal out of ‘family-time during dinner’ but is it really that insignificant? Am I really that unimportant that they can just start without me? I don’t really know why it stings so much because, really, it’s something I could’ve expected but the sudden anger and frustration overwhelms me. And the fact that they don’t realise it makes me feel so angry, frustrates me even more.
“Oh hello, dear,” Letty says cheerfully once she notices me standing there. As if on cue, my stomach growls. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t think you’d be eating with us.”
Where else would I be eating? Straight off the streets? I want to scream at her, but she has already started to look for something she can make me.
“There’s still some leftover pasta from yesterday. I could warm it up for you, if you want?” She offers, her head hidden behind the fridge door.
I’m allergic to tomatoes, which are in the freaking tomato sauce!! Why can’t she remember that?
“There are also some mashed potatoes from... last week. Don’t think they’re still good to eat, though,” She’s murmuring to herself, while my anger builds up inside me.
“It’s okay. I’m not hungry,” I reply coldly and turn back around.
“Oh no, dear! You have to eat something. I’ll make you whatever you want,” I hear her say behind me as I walk out of the kitchen and into the living room. I ignore her as I turn my anger toward my father, who’s lazily watching the telly with Pelops’ head on his chest. The little boy’s eyes are drooping tiredly.
“Hey dad, guess what,” I say boldly.
“What?” He replies uninterestedly. I resist the urge to go stand in between him and the TV.
“I’m hungry,” I say, clenching my jaw.
“Then eat something.”
“That’s kind of a problem since, you know, you decided to exclude me from dinner,” I snap at him, earning me my first glance from my father.
“You were late for dinner,” he replies in that same bored voice. I huff, not satisfied with his unperturbed reaction.
“For the first time ever, I lose track of time. One time!” I exclaim. I pull my phone out of my pocket. “What the hell is this stupid thing for if not to call me?”
I toss him the cell phone, which bounces with a hard thump against his shoulder. He looks back at me and finally his expression changes, but not in a good way. His eyes widen as he glances at the phone –Pelops quickly snatched it away and has started playing games on it – and then back at me, giving me that ‘respect your father’ face.
“Well, if you don’t want it maybe I should give it to your brother here. He seems to appreciate it,” Dad says, thinking he’s threatening me with taking away my phone. As if I care. I don’t have friends with cell phones.
“That’s not the bloody point!” I yell, throwing up my arms. Both my little brother as well as my father look at me with wide eyes. Language, Niobe! I roll my eyes. As if Pelops isn’t going to turn out to be the most foul-mouthed kid in the neighbourhood.
I give up my attempt to get through Dad’s thick skull tonight and walk toward Pelops, taking him into my arms.
“You should be in bed already,” I mutter. He protests while still trying to continue playing the game on my phone.
I take him upstairs to Dad’s room and order him to put on his pyjamas and brush his teeth. Knowing that if I’m not watching over his shoulder while he’s doing those things, he won’t do them, I stay and repeat myself a million times until he finally lies in bed.
“Do you want me to read you story?” I ask hopefully. Pelops narrows his eyes at me, knowing what I’m getting at.
“Can I still watch a movie after?” He asks cheekily. I sigh.
“I’d really wish you didn’t. It’ll keep you up longer,” I explain, although I know it is futile. This is such a familiar routine that we both already know what the other is going to say.
“No, it won’t! I can’t fall sleep if I don’t watch a movie. I’ll be up all night,” he pleads, as if I’m being unfair. I sigh again, growing listless of forever wanting to change Pelops’ upbringing for the better only to have every step forward annihilated again by my dad or Letty.
“I’ll read you a story anyway,” I say, heading for the landing where the only bookcase inside the entire house is and taking out the first book that I find.
After reading the story and feeling like Pelops wasn’t listening to a word of it, I find him still wide awake, much to my annoyance. When I ask him what movie he wants to watch, he tries my patience by thinking very long and hard, only to choose one he has already seen a hundred times.
Feeling tired –but also a bit dizzy from the lack of food– I exit the room and go up to the attic to put away the sheet music and my headphones. I stuff a bit of money into my pocket, along with my keys and head back downstairs, tossing my phone onto my bed –it is obviously useless, isn’t it?
Letty is still busy cleaning the kitchen so I decide to avoid that room, noticing the annoying headache my hunger is giving me and knowing I will unnecessarily snap at her the moment she opens her mouth. My father hasn’t moved one inch from his position in front of the TV –although he now has a glass of red wine in his hands– and is talking in a frustrated voice to the newsreader as if she’s the one to blame for all the crap that’s happening in the world.
“That’s it! I’m moving to South-Africa!” He exclaims, throwing up one arm. Seeing him so passionate about that, I feel a short stab in my chest as I compare it to his lack of interest toward me earlier on.
I close my eyes and rub my temple, deciding that the headache is making me so bitter. Not granting anyone another look, I head for the door. I hear my father ask where I’m going but I ignore him. As if he cares.
Ten minutes later, I find myself sitting down on a lone bench with a pack of chips that’s already turning cold.
Someone calls my name and I look around.
My eyes widen as a fairly muscled man starts jogging my way. I can’t make out his face because the lowering sun behind him is blinding my view. If I wasn’t such a paranoid pessimist, I might have thought the sight of him sort of angelic, but I know about 5 people in this town and most of them don’t even like me. Is the person coming this way one of the people that likes me or not?
“Niobe,” the stranger repeats and I sigh as he sits down next to me. It’s Ben.
“God, you scared me,” I whine as Ben leans back and spills a bit of his beer. “You seem drunk.”
“Just a bit,” he replies with a chuckle, not embarrassed about it. Not that he should be. The embarrassing thing is that I have never even been drunk, ever.
“How is that possible? You left the library less than an hour ago. Did you skip your dinner?” I tease.
“Nah, I ate in the library.”
“I am shocked!” I exclaim. “Eating in the library, Benjamin? Isn’t that the worst kind of violation of a librarian’s Ten Commandments?”
“You know what they say about librarians...” he says, wiggling his eyebrows at me.
“Yeah yeah, I really don’t want to hear about your basement full of sadistic sex toys!”
Ben laughs and whispers: “You’d be surprised by what you’d find,” as he leans back and puts his arm around me. I ignore him.
“You know what I don’t get, Niobe? Why you don’t allow people to like you more,” he says, frowning a little.
“I don’t really know why but that feels like an insult,” I reply, staring down at the beer in Ben’s hands. I reach down and bring it to my lips.
“No, it actually really isn’t. You’re way more fun than people here think you are,” he continues as I take a sip of beer. It is lukewarm and sticky.
“Again, kind of insulting!” I say with a chuckle, before drinking from the beer again. Ben is clearly more drunk than he’s letting on and so I’m not really paying any attention to what he’s saying.
“No, it isn’t! You could have so many friends, if you just made an effort!”
Now he’s just trying to piss me off.
“Well, I won’t. Okay?” I snap at him. “If being a bit reserved is enough for the narrow-minded people of this godforsaken town to call me a freak and think I’m retarded or something, well then that’s their loss.”
I push the glass back into Ben’s hand angrily and get up. I really don’t need another person pretending to know how I should be acting.
“Yes!” Ben says immediately, grabbing my arm before I can walk away. “You’re absolutely right. It is their loss. The problem is that you don’t allow them to see the real you.”
That’s rather a problem when you’re a witch; it’s even against the law...
“Trust me, there isn’t much to see. My life here is so incredibly fascinating that I’m counting down the days until I can return to school,” I say sarcastically.
Sarcasm is always the way to go when confronted with how much life sucks.
“You have no idea how great you are. You don’t see yourself properly, and thus others can’t either,” he concludes, turning around and sitting back down on the bench as if that settles the matter.
I sigh and follow his example.
I know Ben’s just trying to be a good friend, and he really is. He has been trying to make me enjoy my two months during the summer ever since we met. What he doesn’t know is that it wouldn’t change a thing: I can never show people who or what I really am. My situation at home would still suck as much as before; my dad would still be as unable to raise my little brother. I would still want to leave this entire town behind from the moment I graduate.
The even more frustrating thing is that I want to be able to disappear, be free and not have to think about anyone but myself, not have to think about anything but being myself. But every time I think of the future, Pelops is there. I can’t leave him with my dad and Letty – however arrogant or condescending that sounds, I believe it’s true. Even when I’m at Hogwarts, I try to write to him as much as possible – thank Merlin for magic that can make letters read themselves out loud – and try to be there for him, keep an eye on him.
“I like you, Niobe. I really do,” Ben says slowly, pulling me out of my train of thoughts. “But you never had any feelings for me, did you?”
My eyes widen as I suddenly realise what he’s saying. This is awkward.
“Don’t worry, I’m over it. I mean, I get it. Why let someone in just to lose them again right? Or at least, why take the risk?”
“Wow, Ben, you should become a therapist instead of a librarian,” I say, trying to steer the conversation away from myself.
“Let me tell you something: you learn a lot from watching people who think nobody’s watching them.”
“That sounded far creepier than you intended, I assume,” I joke, happy that Ben didn’t expect a reaction to his little psycho-analysis.
Across the street, three men suddenly stumble out of a bar noisily, followed by a short but well-built female, who’s pushing them outside and yelling that they shouldn’t come back anytime soon. Ben laughs and wave them over.
Oh Merlin, I am about to be introduced to friends of friends. I hate situations like that. But then I remember Ben’s words about how I need to make an effort.
“Did you really just get kicked out of a bar by a woman half your size?” Ben asks laughingly, and then turns to me. “Niobe, this is my pathetic older brother, Nick, who is celebrating his 22nd birthday today – hence the drinking, although he usually doesn’t need an excuse – by getting thrown out of the only bar in town.”
I nod at Nick, not that he’s paying me any attention. He’s too busy trying to zip up his pants while holding a beer in each hand. Ben is introducing the two other boys as Liam and Will, when Nick suddenly gives up his attempt at making himself look a bit more decent and says:
“That was not a woman, I’m telling you! Women don’t start yelling at you when you offer them a drink,” Nick slurs.
“She was being a bitch because birthday boy here still needs to pay his tab and doesn’t have any money left,” the dark-haired friend, Liam I think, explains to us.
“Ergo, I told her to have a drink and chill!” Nick continues. “My treat, I said!”
Ben and the two friends start laughing. I roll my eyes.
“She then continued by suggesting I perform sexual intercourse upon my own person...”
“And the rest is history,” Ben concludes, still laughing. “We probably should get you home anyway.”
Nick finds a soft spot of grass and seems to consider going to sleep.
“Do you want to come with?” Ben asks me as he gets up. I shake my head automatically.
“No thanks. I should probably head home and do... nothing.” I decide not to make any excuses once I see the sceptical look on Ben’s face.
“There’s pizza,” Ben suggests as he looks down at my now mushy chips. My stomach seems to like the thought of pizza.
“Resistance is futile,” I murmur as I get up and follow him.
When Nick, Liam and Will started getting in a car, I stop and put a hand on Ben’s arm but he just smiles at me and says we can walk; it isn’t far.
We walk in silence mostly, and I can’t stop wondering whether Ben is analysing me again. I don’t like it but I can’t think of something to say either.
“I shouldn’t have come. I’m sorry, but I’m going to go home,” I say, suddenly anxious when we reach his house.
“No, please stay. There’s something I want you to see... and it’s not my collection of sadistic sex toys,” Ben jokes with that same sweet smile. “I’ll walk you home after I showed you.”
And so, I walk into the house with Ben. It is dead silent, and I wonder where the three party-boys are. Shouldn’t they be home already? They are drunk, though. I hope they got pulled over.
“Nick and his mates are probably in the basement,” Ben says, answering my silent question. “It’s like his room nowadays.”
“Hence the sex toys...” I say, continuing our little joke. He chuckles.
“I wanted to show you this.”
It’s the piano from the library. I rush toward it and open the lid.
“How did this get here? Did you steal it?” Ben laughs and I take that as a ‘no’.
“I bought it!” He says. “The library had that auction last week and when I noticed that you didn’t place a bid on it, I did.”
“I left,” I whisper, still mesmerised. “I left the auction because I knew I couldn’t buy this thing and didn’t want to see anyone else get it. I didn’t even realise it shouldn’t have been there in the library when I came in to play on it today.”
“I left it there. You didn’t show up for an entire week after the auction. I started to think you didn’t want to play anymore and I had just made the stupidest purchase ever.” Ben explains, still amused by my reaction. “But today you showed and I thought I’d finally take it home with me, so you don’t have to sneak around... you can come play it here, as much as you like.”
I finally understand why Ben bought the instrument, even though he doesn’t know how to play it and it clashes horribly with the rest of the furniture in the room.
If I want to play on it, I have to come to his house... It seems a small price to pay though, if it means I can play whenever and however long I want.
“What about your parents?” I ask sitting down on the stool. My fingers are itching to play something.
“My parents are on holiday in Spain for the rest of the month.”
“Well, isn’t that convenient,” I comment.
“Go ahead, play me something. I’ll put a pizza in the oven in the meantime. There’s only one left, so you don’t really have a choice. I think it’s one with chicken, or maybe tuna...”
Ben’s voice fades away as he keeps going on about pizza from inside the kitchen, while I stare at my fingers on top of the piano keys. They are tingling, and a smile creeps onto my face.
I play my mother’s song. It isn’t as perfect as I would like it to be but I don’t mind; it still gives me a sense of freedom. I will play my mother’s song on a piano as often as I want, no matter how much my father would hate it if he knew.
“Dude, what’s with the...” One of Nick’s mates begins, but Ben shushes him and he keeps quiet. I barely even heard him because I’m so focused on doing the song justice.
When it ends, the sounds around me return and I hear someone snoring behind me. As I turn around, I see it’s Liam – I think – while Ben smiles and eats his pizza.
I actually want to continue playing – I have a feeling that I could be able to go on the entire night – but the idea of food draws me to the couch.
As I lie in bed later that night, I don’t feel like sleeping at all. I’m too excited. Yes, I will take Ben up on his offer; it is that or no piano at all, and now that I have the guts to play my mother’s favourite piece, I don’t want to stop playing it.
And so, I call Ben the next day; he has to work until four. At precisely four o’clock in the afternoon, I stand waiting outside the library for him and walk him home. I don’t show up for dinner, and I continue not showing up for dinner. I always tell Letty up front that I’ll be out, so there isn’t really anything my dad can be angry about, but I know that he doesn’t like it.
Most of the time I go back home in time to put Pelops to bed, only to take my bike and go back to Ben’s house. After a while, I stop waiting until Ben gets home; I just show up and hope that his brother, Nick, is home, which he is most of the time – certainly if I show up before two in the afternoon.
But September first is nearing and I start thinking about leaving the piano behind. Ben’s parents will be back soon anyway.
“Why would you ever want to go to a boarding school? You’re always going on about how you wish you were here more for your little brother,” Ben says.
“It’s fun,” I shrug, not feeling like explaining myself. I’ve been feeling rather sad that I won’t be able to play the piano again for months. “It really is! Besides, it’s not like I have a choice.”
Luckily Ben doesn’t push the subject. We hug and I say thank you for at least a hundred times. He makes me promise to text or e-mail him sometime. I won’t, off course, and for the first time I feel rather bad about that.
Saying goodbye to Letty is always a trial. Every time you go in for a hug, she remembers something that she wants to give me: money (I just can’t get it through her thick skull that pounds are useless in my world), make-up (even if I ever wore any make-up, it wouldn’t be the muggle kind), food (I am kind of grateful for that), more clean socks, etc.
More than an hour later, dad, Pelops and I are in the car driving to London.
First song Niobe plays on the piano is 'Moonlight Sonata' by Beethoven. 'Kiss the rain' is by Yiruma.
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