Chapter 4 : Breathless Smiles and Guilty Thoughts
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The familiar handwriting has me dropping everything else, including the toast - which is probably for the best; knowing me, I would have choked if I'd tried to swallow it.
My good moods are not allowed to last, it seems.
"Ciaran, are you alright?" Kyle asks, ignoring the fallen letters and the breakfast I'd stolen to stand in front of me. I barely acknowledge his presence, keeping my eyes on the letter.
"I'm fine," I manage to whisper. "I'll be back in a minute."
"I said I'm fine, Kyle!" I interrupt harshly, slamming my bedroom to shut. It seems to enforce the fact that I want to be alone, but I still manage to wince at the sound and feel guilty about what I did to my friend.
But I can't tell him. I can't tell anyone. If I did, they'd freak out, they'd probably go looking for the guy. Oh, and they'd tell Louis, who would get mad and kill him... Maybe.
I really don't want to and I wish I could lock it away or tear it up, pretend it never came, but morbid curiosity gets the better of me and I rip open the letter. I hate him and my myself with every word I read.
He keeps it simple, much like every other letter he sent me before the summer started and Louis came home. Louis wasn't in Paris, so he couldn't taunt me; after receiving no letters for a couple of months, I started to believe that they'd stopped for good. But no, he was just waiting for Louis to come back.
He talks about what Louis is doing when he's not in classes, the same places they go to. He makes it sound like they're together, like Louis wants this, but I know that's not true. It can't be true; Louis has never told me anything that might suggest otherwise.
He'd tell me... wouldn't he?
By the time I get to the end of the letter, it's a crumpled ball in my hand. It doesn't matter, I already know how he finishes his letter. He finishes them all the same.
I take long, deep breaths in and out, needing to calm myself down, to think straight. He can't do this to me, he can't make me this mad or this scared. He can't make me doubt myself and my relationship.
But he does.
I throw the paper ball at the door and, before I can over think anything, I grab my phone and call the number Louis gave me just before he left. There's no answer for a few minutes, just the ringing, and dread gnaws at the pit of my stomach; if no one's in I can't get my answers. Then again, if no one's in no one will ever know that I'm essentially checking up on Louis.
It's a dilemma.
Someone answers before I can decide to hang up.
"Ciao," Louis' roommate answers, his Italian accent strong but his English clear enough for me to understand; I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing.
"Hey. Nico, right?"
"Ciaran! Yes. Hello." I imagine he's smiling; hopefully because Louis has said good things, since I'm still yet to actually meet Nico. "Can I help you?"
"Is Louis not there?" I ask, wincing at my own hesitation.
"No, he has gone for breakfast before school. Mi dispiace," he tells me, sounding apologetic; it's enough for me to make out what he says in Italian. "Do you want me to give him a message?"
I shake my head immediately, almost forgetting that he can't see me. I don't want Louis to know anything... but that doesn't mean I can't ask Nico.
"No, thank you. Can I ask you a question?"
Now that is word I know.
"I have an old... neighbor in Paris. Have you seen him around? He's tall with light brown hair and hazel eyes. He's very... strong," I say awkwardly. 'Strong' sounded like a better word than 'buff' or 'huge in a good way', mostly because I don't want to think of him in that way. "Oh, he's very self-centered; he's, as much as I hate to say it, hot and he knows it."
"Ooooh, Ellis," Nico murmurs. "He is around a lot. Louis does not like him."
I'm so grateful, I almost start laughing. A small sound escapes my lips, causing Nico to question my sanity (well, he asks if I'm okay). I don't care. Louis does not like him. That's what he said to me. I'll always get Ellis' letters, that's no secret, and I'm still pissed beyond belief. But as long as I never have to worry about Louis, I won't kill him.
"I'm fine, thank you," I tell him. "Just tell Louis to call me back."
"I will. Good bye, Ciaran."
I hang up, feeling only slightly better about the situation, but I hope it's enough. I put my phone into my pocket and lean back onto my hands, a wish for the bed to swallow me whole and hide me from all the bad things happening to me whispering in the back of my mind.
"Ciaran?" Kyle calls for me, knocking lightly on my door. "We have to go to school."
"I'm coming," I tell him. I give myself another minute, hope that I don't look as angry or upset as I did before, and leave my room. Kyle is waiting for me by the front door, Luka watching me worryingly by his side.
"Are you going to snap again?" Luka asks with a slight smile.
"No, but if you continue looking at me like I will, I'll throw something at you," I answer with wry grin. He steps away from Kyle, says good bye and uses the floo to get to St. Mungo's.
"You scared my boyfriend. I'd hurt you for it, but I didn't think it was possible," he mutters with frown. He shakes it off and opens the door. "Come on, Key, we have school."
Nodding, I grab my bag and make my over to him. Kyle grabs my arm once I get to him; his grip is tight enough to tell me that I shouldn't try to move away, but not so much that it hurts.
"Don't think this is over. It's not the first time you've been pissed off over a letter and I will find out why. You don't scare me so easy; remember that."
He lets me go and stretches out his hand for me to leave first, his smile seemingly pleasant. But I know him well enough by now to see the strain on his face and the worry for me he's trying to conceal.
Newsflash: everyone's worried about me.
"Good luck with that," I tell him honestly. I know he means it when he says he'll find out, or he'll try to anyway. I even suspect he's been poking around my bedroom once or twice. But I'm always home before him and the letters are always burnt before the day is over; he'll never know.
I won't let him.
The day drags. I manage to put the letter and everything else to the back of my mind, let the anger whisper in the corner with the voice that tells me to hide away.
The music I try to finish is horrible, I throw it away and try again more times than I can count. It doesn't help with my mood.
I want nothing more than for the day to end, to crawl back into bed and let it hide me. Maybe call Hugo first and see if he knows a spell that can help. Instead, my mood darkens and anger continues to raise its ugly head until I pack my stuff away and walk out as soon as I'm able.
The fresh air helps, if only a little. It clears my head and helps me to breathe. It makes me not want to wish I could punch Ellis in the nose again; my mind chooses to relive the moment I punched him at Graduation.
It's a nice distraction. Maybe a little too much of a distraction; I don't see where I'm going exactly and the next thing I know, another body collides into me, hot coffee splashing over us both.
"I am so sorry," I gasp, my skin burning a little.
"It's fine, I wasn't -" He stops suddenly, which has me looking up to meet his stare, my hands on my face just to make sure there's nothing there. "I wasn't looking where I was going," he finishes, a smile on his face that leaves me a little breathless.
Just a little.
He continues to blurt out apologies, maybe even some sort of an explanation as to why he wasn't paying attention, I'm not sure. I can't seem to focus on his voice, not when his eyes are as green as they are and his lips look so soft and -
...Okay, maybe 'just a little' is an understatement. Crap.
"You're Ciaran, right?" My name forces my attention back to the conversation. "Ciaran James?"
"Yeah, I'm Ciaran. And you're the second person to say my name right." Not counting Louis, who should anyway, the first is Hugo. "And you are?"
"Douglas Thorn," he replies, with an even wider smile. "We go to school together, I'm a songwriter as well. I'm in my final year," he adds when I frown. It makes more sense now; he's a year older than me, he's not in my classes, and it's a big school, so I'm less likely to see him because of it.
"Are you in a rush, Douglas?" I ask. When he shakes his head and asks why, I can't seem to help but laugh as I point to the coffee shop across the street. The shop with the same logo on the side as the logo on his now empty cup. "Then let me buy you a new cup of coffee. It's the least I can do to make up for you wearing your last one. You weren't the only one not looking where he was going."
"Thanks," he says sincerely and walks with me to the shop.
Inside, he tells me what he wants and finds us a table while I get in line. The queue is short, thankfully, and I'm able to order quickly; it's just his coffee that I want. I pay the woman, who offers me a slightly flirty smile in return until she sees the coffee stain on my once light t-shirt. I must have dropped on her 'cute customer' scale now that she thinks I'm a slob. I wave the issue away and find Douglas, handing him his coffee and sitting across the table. He pulls a bar of chocolate out of his pocket, which is the oddest part of our meeting so far in my head, and waves it at me.
"You didn't want a coffee?"
I shake my head, still smiling over the random chocolate bar. "No. I can't drink it, it makes me jumpy."
"Ah. I can't eat chocolate, it makes me itchy," Douglas chuckles at the little piece of information he's given me in return for mine.
Now I'm confused. "Huh?"
"Oh, I'm allergic."
"Yet there's a bar in your hand." I frown and gesture to the chocolate, so he knows exactly why I'm confused.
Winking, Douglas leans in close, one arm on the table and the other propped up to hold the chocolate bar between us. He keeps his voice low, like he's sharing a personal secret.
"I figure if I eat a piece or two, I'll get a rash. If I eat half, things will swell. But as long as I don't eat the whole thing, I won't die."
"Wild," I whisper, mocking him just a little.
"I'm a daredevil," he says seriously. The amused sound that escapes me breaks whatever moment was between us and allows us to laugh. He sits back and takes his coffee, dropping the bar on the table. "I was given it, but I really am allergic. I was going to put it in the bin, unless you want it."
He points to the bin behind us, then nudges it closer to me. I grab it quickly.
"I normally don't take things from strangers," I admit, which is mostly true. "But I love chocolate and I haven't eaten all day."
The rest of it is, unfortunately, true.
"I heard a rumor that in the last few weeks before the music competition you won, you mostly lived on chocolate coins."
I nod reluctantly, my mouth full. "I was stressed."
"As stressed as you look now?" he asks, completely serious this time. And also a little concerned. But I don't want to push it away this time. Probably because he's not a friend, he's not someone I know personally trying to fix everything. He's a stranger just willing to listen.
I ignore my mother's voice in my head telling me not to talk to strangers. We go to the same school, we were bound to meet eventually.
"Not as stressed but close," I tell him. He leans in again, waiting for me to continue. I swallow the last piece of chocolate and I talk.
I don't tell him everything; he's a Muggle, he'll think I'm crazy if I mentioned specifics, like Louis being likely to use curses. Hell, he'll think I'm crazy with just my non-magical issues. I tell him about my long distance relationship and my tormentor being my fiancé's ex, but I leave out the letters. Who sends out letters in this day and age? It's all about technology.
His only judgement is calling Ellis a bastard. His only show of surprise when I mention my almost engagement is a raised eye-brow. I like Douglas Thorn.
By the time I'm done, my anger is gone. Not completely, I still want to hurt the guy making my life miserable, but it's not all I'm able to focus on. I feel better, ready to take on Ellis' next letter. Hopefully I'll just throw it away, though I know I'll probably read it, but it won't hit me as hard as it did today. I won't yell at my friends or call to check on Louis.
Talking is good. Those words always come back to bite me on the ass.
I change the statement a little: talking to an unbiased stranger is good. Things would have gone a lot differently if I had told this to Kyle this morning.
Speaking of Kyle...
"I have to go," I tell Douglas, genuine regret in my tone. We both stand and I hold out my hand. "Maybe I'll see you at school."
"Definitely," he promises, his smile leaving me breathless again. He shakes my hand twice before letting me go. I stuff my hand in my pocket, say good bye and all but run out of the coffee shop.
I can't remember the last time someone's touch made my hand tingle and my head feel fuzzy. The only person to ever get that type of reaction from me is Louis.
I ignore it. I have to.
By the time Kyle gets home, the letter is destroyed, the television is on and the pizza is here; he's too hungry to talk. He grabs a slice and flops onto the couch. We sit in silence, neither of us wanting to break it - me because I'm guiltily thinking of my afternoon with Douglas and Kyle because, well, I imagine it's hard to talk when you're fast asleep.
Well, you could, apparently I've talked in my sleep more times than I'd like, but Kyle doesn't do that. He's a really deep sleeper; he doesn't talk, he doesn't snore, he barely even moves. It's very weird.
I leave him alone; Luka will wake him and move him when he gets home. It's safer if Luka does it. I shower, dress for bed and grab my guitar, hoping that with my head now clearer than this morning, I might finally he able to get some work down before I go to sleep.
After I couple of hours, I have an opening that's good enough for me to leave the rest for tomorrow. I remove my glasses and settle into bed, content to lie in my natural darkness and wait for sleep to come. For a brief moment, I remember that my last interview is in the afternoon and I hope it'll go well.
The thought quickly changes: Louis didn't call me today.
I roll onto my stomach and squeeze my eyes shut.
A/N: Hey, guys! Finally we have a new chapter... So, that Ellis, huh? And what do you think of Douglas? ;)
Ciao - Hello in Italian.
Mi dispiace - I'm sorry in Italian.
Si - Yes in Italian.
I used an online translator, so if anything is off, my apologies.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Please let me know what you think. :)
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