Chapter 7 : seven.
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“It’s happened, Payton.” My father was already speaking when he opened the door and dragged me inside. I was rewarded with the immediate emersion of cool air from their air conditioning unit, sounds of a quidditch game on the radio, and familiar scents of something barbequing and fabric softener. It was, in a single word, heavenly, and as much as I loved my flat – this was home. After a series of chaotic days, it was very nice to be back.
Per our custom, we were both clad in our Puddlemere gear – my father in his tight navy blue jersey with the number two emblazed on the back and me in my worn Theodori t-shirt. At one time the jersey fit my father loosely, hanging with room to spare over his abdomen. Now, it clung to the stomach he’d acquired with age. Meanwhile my shirt had been resized and sewn so many times it was permanently a size larger than necessary.
I yelled a greeting to my mum in the other room before taking my usual game-day seat on the couch next to my father’s recliner. The absence of a snarky response indicated Marie hadn’t arrived yet. She had graciously sent me an owl last week to notify me that Daniel would be joining us for dinner today and to prepare accordingly if I was to bring a dish. In response I had thanked her for the warning and notified her that I had been planning on bringing a bottle of wine, but I would now be drinking it before dinner to “prepare accordingly” for his presence. Load of fools, the both of them.
“What’s happened now?”
The radio responded to my question, crackling loudly and shooting up the volume for me to hear the announcers begin to report. “-they’ve taken to the field in celebration-”
“They won, that’s what happened!”
“I missed the game anyway, stupid watch.” I unlatched the old watch and threw it in my purse on the floor, annoyed that I had rushed the entire day with the girls in Wimbourne for nothing. Not that the girls had noticed my frazzled nerves or constant watching of the hands on my broken watch, especially after the game.
Traveling with fourteen overly excited girls to Wimbourne and then fourteen cheering girls after a win had probably knocked a couple years off my life from stress and introduced some grey hairs, but it had been well worth it. In the midst of a day and a half we had explored Wimbourne, played the Norfolk Kneazles, won, and returned to London as the Interleague Champions; which was kind of a big deal.
But I had missed the entire Puddlemere game, which was sure to be interesting since the replacement Keeper had been called in to replace a suspended James.
I couldn’t stop the smile at the mere thought of his name, despite his probable unhappiness at being sidelined. I could ask him about it when I saw him Tuesday. That thought caused a fit of child-like giggles to almost escape my mouth before my father stood to shut off the radio and looked at me intensely. Which was a good thing because I was not that girl; you know, that girl who giggled and threw her hair over her shoulder smoothly. The girl who put all her eggs in a basket on a relationship that might fall apart at a whim’s notice; no, I wasn’t that girl, or rather I would not be that girl again.
“The Cannons won.”
“And Puddlemere just lost.”
“Oh. Oh,” I repeated, realizing that this meant that the Cannons were continuing on their winning streak for the preseason and were guaranteed to enter the season with a better record than Puddlemere. “Well, that doesn’t mean anything. The Cannons have an entire season to muck up still.”
But my father was already burning a hole in the cream-colored carpet with his pacing. “No, no, no. Do you know what happened last week? I’ll tell you what happened, Payton! As sure as the hair on my head that is black-”
“You’ve gone grey, dad.”
“Last week, those forsaken Cannons beating Puddlemere made hell freeze over.” He raised his clenched fists to the ceiling and shook them vigorously, as if he was cursing the Ceiling Fan God above.
“You don’t think you’re being a bit ridiculous, dad?”
“You’re being ridiculous, Jonathan!” The noise of my mother screaming from the kitchen was accompanied by the clanging of pots to cover my father’s cursing of the Cannons. “Don’t you bring the Lord into this silliness either. My mother would be rolling in her grave if she could hear you using the Lord’s name in vain right now.”
He waved her words away. “Your mother is probably happy she’s getting a break from the heat wave now!”
“Dad,” I stressed. My mum was going to kill him in his sleep one of those days.
“I heard that,” the dividing door swung open and she came out brandishing a cutting board in one hand and knife in another. “One more word out of you about my mum, Jonathan Carter and you’ll be joining her in that heat wave, and you don’t want to hear what I’ve got to say about your mother. She is the queen of the blasted eternal heat wave. Payton, come properly greet the woman who gave you life. How did the game go?”
I made sure to carefully lower the knife, both of us ignoring when my father cried that his mum was a wonderful women; before giving her a quick peck on the cheek. “Well you’ll be having dinner tonight with the coach of the Interleague Champions, if that’s any inclination.”
They both clapped their hands together before enveloping me in hugs and pats on the back. One (of the many) great things about my parents was that they could make even the smallest accomplishment feel like a major lottery win. Back when I was an intern they spent a year congratulating me on my coffee making skills before I realized the coffee tasted horrendous and everyone I made it for had been pouring it down the sink.
“And Adam, did you get to see him?” My mum had been drastically more upset than I was when nothing had romantically had happened between Adam and me. Apparently, she was still holding out hope, and as much as I wanted to share the news about my date, I couldn’t.
What if it wasn’t even a date and then I had to face my parents (and my sister) about that one time I had thought I was going on a date with James Sirius Potter and it was actually just a quick bite to eat?
Or, what if it was a date and I flopped like a fish on land?
What if we went to dinner and talked and laughed and then he told to hold my hand or kiss me? What then? What if I had bad breath or sweaty palms? Merlin, I needed to shave my legs and actually above the knee.
More than likely this was not a date and I was just sitting here, panicking for no good reason. I’d seen Acacia Wood and there was no feasible way that James Potter would go from her to me. It wasn’t as if I was hideous or say, Daniel. I had a healthy amount of self-confidence, but anyone would face a blow to their self-esteem when they were being placed against a girl that weighed as much as their right leg, or left, I suppose. I mean, I had offered to arm wrestle with him. That was not normal.
“Elizabeth, we’ve got bigger things to worry about than if Payton saw that git!” He grabbed my shoulders and turned me away from my mum so I was facing the radio and stared at me intently. “We’ve still got two more games of Potter being out! He’s the only one that can shove that devil team back into their place. Can’t you do anything?”
“What do you expect me to do exactly? Petition with the officials that he didn’t mean to break Browne’s nose in two places? And hey, why is Adam a git?”
There was two knocks on the door and my father pushed me away so he could answer, still mumbling about quidditch going to hell in a hand basket with all these rules and regulations. “In my day, you could punch a man for stealing what was yours and the referee got in a hit of their own. Oh Merlin, Elizabeth! You didn’t tell me Marie was bringing the troll.”
“Dad!” I called Daniel a troll all the time but I didn’t do it within his earshot, I had some decency.
Arriving to dinner early with Marie was essential if I wanted to discuss anything with my parents. Despite having been engaged for, I don’t know, ever and having no future date set yet, Marie and Daniel always insisted on dominating the conversation about their future nuptials when they were present. Four months ago an entire dinner and desert conversation had been spent on the possible season selection. Three hours.
There were only four choices.
“We were thinking French rose and lavender pink for the wedding colors. They’ll go perfectly for a spring wedding.”
My right eye twitched from my efforts to not roll it behind my head and I could only imagine what my father looked like next to me. Pink for both of the wedding colors? I wouldn’t be surprised if a horde of bees crashed the wedding because the wedding party looked like a giant field of flowers from far away. But my mum ate it all up because of course pink flowers on pink dresses with pink centerpieces were perfect for a winter wedding! Or spring, whatever season they had possibly picked.
“Payton would look stunning in a lavender pink dress as a bridesmaid!”
Daniel and my father scoffed in their food in response to the statement and I would have been a little more offended by their reactions had I known how lavender pink even differed from regular pink. Honestly, it’s not as if I was some giant brute dragging my knuckles and picking my nose as I went along. I wore dresses and knew a healthy varieties of pink and purples.
Instead I smiled gracefully at my mum’s naiveté and brushed a piece of food that had flown from my dad’s mouth onto my plate, off. “I’m sure Samantha will look great, mum.” Samantha, the friend Marie had spent her entire school career referring to as the “sister she never had” and obvious pick for maid of honor or bridesmaid selection.
“Actually,” Marie placed her fork down on her plate and cleared her throat, hands folded in front of her in a poised and collected manner. “As planning for the wedding furthers I would be honored if you were my, ahem,” another clearing of the throat, “well, I know we’ve never been close but as my sister,” Merlin, she was actually having that much difficulty saying nice things about me. I could’ve stepped in to help at any moment but I decided watching her agonizing expressions brought me considerable amounts of joy. “Be my maid of honor. Please.”
“I’m sorry was that a request or demand?”
“A request, of course. Now tell me Payton, what do you think of lavender pink and French rose as the colors?”
I should’ve said yes, but that would’ve been equally cruel for the both of us. We both knew she was only asking to save face with our parents. “Will your dress be pink as well? You would look absolutely stunning in a pink dress, add in a tweed design and you’ll be a mini-Dolores Umbridge.”
One laugh met with more food landing on my plate and setting came from the direction of my father’s seat. But I kept my eyes on my sister as she obviously struggled to keep a pleasant smile on her face.
“Who’s Dolores Umbridge?”
“That’s not quite what I was going for, Payton, but what a great observation.” Her lips were stretched tight, the ends of her teeth just showing. “Shall I mark you down for a plus one? Or will you be alone, as usual?”
“She was a Ministry worker during the war, Mrs.Carter. Plump woman, wore lots of pink, really liked cats, and was a bit uh, well, she was pure evil that one.”
“Daniel,” Marie hissed, “are you calling me fat?”
“Pure evil” and she had really decided to go with fat?
Obvious to the rest of us, he had not but Daniel responded by shoving food down his throat and pointing to his mouth with a sorry expression. If that was going to be his defense mechanism for the rest of his life he was going to get very fat, very quick.
Our poor mum didn’t enjoy anyone being put on the spot like that and with the intention to help, rose to Marie’s defense. “Oh, well, Marie darling you like cats and wearing pink as well!”
Thank Merlin my father had had enough sense to stop eating because he was shaking with silent laughter now, pointing back and forth between my mum and Marie until he poked me with the end of his fork. “Maybe,” he wheezed, still trying to get his breath back, “maybe Marie can have framed cats as centerpieces.”
“Dad! Mum, God, can you please tell him to stop encouraging her?! This is my wedding and no one is taking anything seriously!”
“You know what, Marie? You’re right, I’m sorry.” Everyone’s eyes shot up considerably at my apology and Marie huffed out a breath viciously, probably somewhat disappointed I hadn’t given her an adequate reason to yell.
“Thank you, Payton. That’s very mature of you.”
“Oh it’s no problem after all, when Miss Umbridge demands order, she will get order!”
Later that evening I had said my goodbyes and was preparing to leave when Marie grabbed my arm and pulled me aside. Honestly, my entire family was so pushy. “I was thinking we could meet for lunch this week to discuss some details about the wedding.”
“Why would we need to meet for that?” I asked obliviously.
“Because you’re my maid of honor, sis.” She raised a tiny fist and went to lightly hit my arm in a playful manner but I moved away quickly, eyeing her suspiciously. This was not my sister, no. This was not the girl who had spent the first eight years of my life telling me I had been found in the bottom of a trashcan in Knockturn Alley outside of Tom Riddle’s flat. “Payton, don’t make this harder than it has to be.”
“What about Sam?”
Her eyes flitted away and mouth tightened at the mention of her best friend’s name. “What about her? I think it’s perfectly normal for someone’s sister to be a maid of honor.”
“Yes, that would be normal if we were normal but alas, you hate me and I’m not very fond of you most of the time. No one would be surprised if she was your maid of honor and I wasn’t even invited.”
“‘Course you’re invited!” She exclaimed just before she began to examine her nails in a slightly bored manner. “Although you never even mentioned the “save the date” cards we mailed out. What?” She snapped in response to my expression of astonishment.
“Are you kidding me?” She had to be joking, because I had just been joking about not being invited. “I didn’t get a bloody save anything, Marie! I know nothing about this wedding; I didn’t even know you had a date set.” The child in me was demanding to know how our parents had let this happened. “Now I don’t know, nor do I care, what’s going on with you and Sam but I am not some backup plan bridal party so you’d do well to solve your matter with her because it’s going to take a lot more time to fix whatever the hell is wrong with us.”
I was accustomed to only seeing Marie on a weekly basis for dinner within the safe confines of our parents’ home. It was for that reason I had barely registered that it was my brillo-haired sister rapidly coming closer until she had already taken a seat the following evening when I was in the Sundown Café. She was dressed in her customary work uniform of dark slacks and a button-down shirt, in comparison to the cargo shorts and Charming Cannons shirt I had worn to the office, and bore her usual frown at being within an immediate vicinity of me.
“Payton,” she breathed, flattening out the invisible creases in her shirt and setting her eyes on the paper menu in front of her. “I suppose you know why I’m here.”
In all honesty, I had no idea. Our fight last night hadn’t been anything spectacular among our standards and despite my annoyance I knew that I would eventually get an invitation, if only upon my parents’ insistence. She had never actually set foot in Sundown Café, insisting that the fumes she could smell from the outside were enough to shorten her lifespan by a few years.
I answered her statement with silence and a pointed glance, not that she could exactly tell with her eyes still stuck on the table in front of her.
“You don’t have to act like a child, you know. I’m pushing aside a lot of my pride to come to this grease trap and talk to you.”
“What do you want, Marie?” I finally snapped just as the waitress arrived to drop off my salad and drink refill. It was enough to deal with her selfish attitude when I was forced to, it didn’t mean I had to listen when I was trying to eat dinner. “I don’t know why you’re here and the only reason I care is because you saying it will get you out of my face. So what? What is so wrong in that perfect little world of yours that you had to ruin my dinner for a second night in a row?”
She finally looked up at me, the rim of her brown eyes puffy and swollen, and released a silent breath.
I learned at a relatively young age that crying accomplished nothing. That’s not to say that I didn’t cry because I was human, but I was more of the “suck it up” category. Through heartbreaks of different varieties, frustrations, and disappointments I had all but narrowed mourning down to an art. Two, that’s the amount of opportunities I allowed myself to cry before throwing myself into something with an almost unhealthy enthusiasm.
In my sixth year I broke my arm during the last game of the year and despite the season being over, took it upon myself to learn how to fly with only one hand. The first time I was turned down for a promotion at the Prophet I threw myself even more into work, arriving early, leaving late, and offering to edit and staple every piece of parchment I could hold onto. After Nick left I decided to become a tae-kwon-do master so I could kick his ass the next time I saw him. Fortunately for him, I couldn’t manage practice with my schedule so I had to quit after a month but in that month I had learned enough to at least kick him in the face.
My point being, that I hated crying. Loathed the entire anatomy, process, and implication of it and wanted to avoid doing it in all costs, and despite my many differences with Marie – we were at least alike in that aspect. So when she showed me her face for a fraction of a second before rubbing her eyes tiredly with both hands, I set aside my fork and annoyance and asked her what was wrong.
“Sam and I are fighting.”
Marie was also a bit dramatic when she did cry though. “Merlin,” I breathed, “I was worried your flat had burned down or something was wrong with mum and dad.”
True to form, she was instantly insulted, as if I wasn’t taking her feelings seriously. “Why don’t you practice some sensitivity? I’m obviously upset and you’re making a joke-”
“I am not making a joke of anything. Contrary to what you think, not everything I say is intended to make a mockery of you.” Sometimes, it just worked out that way, I mentally finished. Marie relaxed across from me and grabbed my untouched cup of water, taking a large gulp. “Now you’re fighting with Sam, so what? Friends fight. You don’t think I want to strangle Rachel on a weekly basis? She leaves her stuff everywhere and is the world’s worst grocery shopper unless it involves tea or alcohol. But she’s still my best friend, and I still love her.”
“That’s exactly the problem.”
I had taken the opportunity to stuff a large amount of spinach and chicken in my mouth and was probably quite a pretty sight when I spoke through my mouthful. “What does that mean?”
“Look, I love Daniel, alright? Perhaps not as obsessively as you loved Potter but-”
“That was hardly necessary.”
“But,” she stressed, as if she had to make sure that I really truly got what she was saying, “I do love him.”
Her silence after the statement made me incredibly uneasy. I had no prior experience in telling the difference between wedding jitters and the crashing realization that you may not actually want to spend the rest of your life with your fiancée. For years the only advice I had ever received regarding the matter was the generic, “when you know – you know” motto. Had Marie never known with Daniel or had the feeling simply melted away through years of walking the lines of commitment?
“So what’s the problem then?” It was the question I didn’t want to ask for fear of hearing the worst possible reply, but I still refused to believe that Marie didn’t love Daniel. They’d been together for years. Maybe they were just in a temporary rut. Couples went through those all the time but they were just that, temporary. My hunger faded away in her silent contemplation and I found myself praying for what I already knew was coming next.
“The problem is that I am in love with someone else.”
a/n: dun dun dun!
Any bets on what's going on with Marie?
&I'm veryveryvery sorry this chapter doesn't include the date (as I originally planned) but it got pretty long without it so I decided to dedicate it on the family.
Happy Holidays everyone! I'll try to update ASAP, and if you haven't already - go check out the awesome chapter images for the previous chapters, eh? They're featuring Payton, James, Rachel, and Acacia.
Please keep reviewing, I love reading them. Let me know what you think!
updated 2/21 with an amazing chapter image by allege at tda!
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