Chapter 3 : Apathy
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I deeply regretted my apathy to sleep the next morning. Elizabeth charged into my room, the door bouncing off the wall and nearly out of its poor hinges, and yanked my pillow from under me to begin beating me around the head with it.
“If I have to tell you to get up one more time, Rebecca Lewis, I’m going to kill you! You have work in half an hour! Get up get up get up!”
She punctuated the last sentence with three evenly spaced blows, although there was very little need to.
In my panic to scramble out of my bed, my feet tangled in my sheets and I fell out, face-first.
“That looked like it hurt,” Elizabeth said drily.
Elbows pain knees pain face pain-
“I’ll get the coffee, you get a shower,” she said, and marched out the room and slamming the door behind her, before I’d even got on all fours.
Hastily, I clambered to my feet and whipped open my wardrobe door: my first-day-officially-Mr-Ryland’s-assistant-outfit had to be perfect- professional, attractive, but not attention seeking or sluttish. I had to ooze sexuality and intelligence.
Neither of which were particularly achievable, with my collection of clothing.
“Elizabeth?!” I yelled, opening my door and storming through to the kitchen, still wearing my pyjamas and long sleeve top. She turned to me, her cup of tea in hand. “Do you still have that cream blouse, with the buttons?”
“The one I wore to the interview? Yeah. Do you need it?”
“I have the best skirt but all my tops are rubbish.”
She dashed through to her room, rummaged for a while, then struggled to pull it out from behind a pile of her favourite jeans, t-shirts and shirts.
“Thank-you-so-much!” I huffed out, dashing back through to my room and grabbing the skirt to rush into the shower on the opposite side of the flat.
“Do you want toast for breakfast?” she called through the door as I frantically stripped my clothes off and glanced in the mirror.
“Whatever’s easiest!” I yelled back, yanking the levers and getting the usual stream of tepid water.
I winced at my grazed knees and elbows as they stung under the water: diving at the boy had been effective, but concrete hadn’t been the softest of landings.
I checked myself over in my usual routine. Left leg: bruised, grazed, a few small cuts- all healing. Right leg: less bruised, less grazed- all healing, including shallow knife wound on upper thigh. Stomach: black bruises nearly gone, slight scarring on left side. Arms: grazed, bruised, and deep scratches clearing up, but a long sleeve top would be necessary for a lot longer. Back: scars, bruising, deep-but-healing glass wound still healing, and bandages needed replacing. Face, chest and neck: almost completely normal.
I clambered out of the shower as fast as I could, and studied the thin chiffon of the borrowed top as I towelled myself dry.
“Do you have a white vest top to put on underneath this?”
“I might... why? It looks great with just a bra on underneath. White is best, but black looks good too.”
I wasn’t sure Mr Ryland would appreciate seeing my somewhat tattered and overly colourful skin.
“I don’t think he’ll think I look professional enough- I don’t want to risk it.”
I heard her sigh, but a second later she passed it through.
Replenishing the bandage, I pulled my tops and rolled my tights on (the perfect opacity to hide most injuries), before sliding into and zipping the pencil skirt in place, neatly tucking the blouse in and ensuring all the creases were smoothed out. I checked nothing particularly serious was visible in the mirror, and I looked exactly how I wanted, so I smiled at my reflection before hurrying out of the bathroom to throw my pyjamas in the general direction of my bed. Shoes on and cardigan in hand, I grabbed the toast that Elizabeth had wrapped in a napkin, and blew her a kiss for the coffee in a polystyrene cup next to it, used only in ‘I’m-late-for-an-important-thing-like-crap’ emergencies.
I managed to reach the office five minutes early: toast eaten, coffee drunk and cup disposed of, and a light layer of makeup applied. I looked perfect and felt perfect for my first full day.
Smoothing my skirt one last time, I straightened up and purposefully walked through the old cubicles full of paper people and their paper work. A few glanced my way, including that older lady with the permanently frazzled hair who was actually pretty nice to me, but I sped up a little, worried about being seen with her.
As I passed her to go into my office, Jess stopped me and asked me to follow her, because she had a couple of things to talk me through. She briskly took me to a cupboard, full of differing matching robes in various sizes. She chattered away to me as she handed me mine, ones that matched her and all the others in the office, saying that I could keep them, but they had to be pressed and clean every single day. Oh, but if you were having an off day and forgot them that was fine, just speak to Mr Ryland, he was very sympathetic.
I nodded, smiled and thanked her as I shrugged them on- they were a nicer fabric and more carefully stitched than my other ones had been.
My hard work had finally paid off.
She also told me that I didn’t need to wear them much, unless other departments were visiting- they were mostly used to identify who had authority over who, but everyone knew everyone in this office, and if I needed any help give her a call okay?
I told her I would, and we parted. I immediately settled at my desk. The day before I had done thirty reports, and put them in one of the empty draws as I completed them. It had, quite frankly, become an exercise in my memory as I tried to remember each one as I wrote, so the work was not difficult or boring. There was no one better to do that report, and I wanted to jump up and down in glee.
Jess had to force me to go on a lunch break.
While nibbling salad, I calculated it would take me four more days’ intense work to get everything done- so on Monday, I should finish. It was a nice thought- to be done before the tight schedule that Mr Ryland had set- so I pulled out a quill, just as someone swept into my office, without knocking, and stopped in front of my desk.
I looked up. “Can I help you?”
She dropped a folder on my desk, and snapped her manicured fingers at me, pointing at it.
“I need a report on this,” she told me in a French drawl, smoothing her already-immaculate styled blonde hair down a little more. “To be done in the hour. Can you do that?”
I was taken aback, but decided to be as unruffled as she was. “...I’m sorry, but who are you? I’ve only been told to answer to Mr Ryland.”
Her hand paused, and she stood straighter. This elongated her neck and gave the uncanny impression of a swan: graceful until pissed off. She looked down at me with notable disgust. “I am Cheri Mathieu. I am one of the commanding chiefs of this department- I am your superior, and you will do as I say.”
I shrugged, and unnecessarily straightened up some of the piles of papers on my desk. I refused to bend to her totalitarian attitude. “I’m sorry- I really am- but I don’t know who you are, so I don’t feel comfortable following your orders until I’ve explicitly been told that’s something I do. And I really don’t have the time. So, I’m sorry, but I’m sure there are other assistants around that you can ask.”
Her painted lips were parted in shock, but she snatched up the work after and moment. “I demand to see your supervisor. Where is he?”
“Mr Ryland is in the office next door,” I said, pointing coolly with my quill. “But I think he’s a bit busy right now-“
Her overly-high heels didn’t reduce her speed as she strode to the open door and slammed it behind her before I could even finish my sentence.
Very quickly, the door opened again, although this time it was Jess.
“Did you piss her off?” she asked.
“...I think so.” I rolled my eyes.
“Don’t worry, everyone does that at some point,” she said. “She’s just a bitch in a too short dress.”
I snorted. “It is a bit revealing, isn’t it?”
“Her sister’s a muggle model, so she gets most of her clothes from her. Anyway, sorry, I’ll leave you to it.”
“Thank you-!” I called after her as she closed the door.
Ten minutes later, I heard Mr Ryland’s door slam shut, and I set aside my quill and sat up, waiting. I waited barely a second-
“Monsieur Ryland,” she snarled, “has informed me of your very important project. I apologize for distracting you from it. However, he has also told me, after this project is over, I may occasionally ‘borrow’ you if I need extra help. Do you understand?”
“I accept your apology, and I do,” I coolly responded, not even looking up.
She sniffed, and left without another word. She was not a paper person and never had been, clearly.
Often, reading the report made me laugh out loud- I mean, taking three burglars out of a house and dangling them from a tree for the police to find sounded like something I’d do, but recalling the act of doing it was escaping me.
Lunch came and passed, and eventually I caved to my urge to corner Jess, and my opportunity came when she offered to get me coffee on her travels.
“Yes, please!” I said quickly, beckoning her to come in. “And I was just wondering if there were any more files to add to my...uh, collection... today.”
“You know, the ‘superhero’. Did she get up to anything last night or anything?”
“Erm, he normally just appears on the weekend, so no.” She cracked a smile.
I laughed and nodded, trying not to flinch.
“Right, yeah. Obviously.”
“Surely you’d know that? You’re going to be an Encyclopedia of knowledge on this guy by the end of this project.”
“-right. Of course,” I said, trying to return her smile and relax. “Maybe it’s making me a little bit crazy.”
“I wouldn’t blame you if it was,” she laughed.
The rest of the day passed mercifully repetitively, my moment of overconfidence suitably muting me- after Mr Ryland came in and apologized for Miss Mathieu, of course- and when I got home, Elizabeth had only just boiled the kettle, so I made a cup for myself.
“How’s your day been?” I asked her.
“Fine. The lecture was long, but I managed to actually talk to Cute Guy afterwards,” she said, and I cheered for her, and she waved me off. “I only asked if I could borrow his notes for the last class. Oh, and, um- your dad called.”
“He what?” I demanded, rounding on her in horror.
“He called, and asked if you’d, you know, quit yet. And I told him you hadn’t and you probably wouldn’t even though you really missed him, but he didn’t really want to know, he was just adamant that I tell you to ‘leave it all behind you’ before getting in touch with him,” she said in a rush.
I swallowed. “...thank you for telling me.”
She nodded. “Are you going to? Leave?”
“Of course not,” I scoffed, picking the paperback up again. “I like my life here.”
I struggled to keep steady- his audacity, passing a message through Elizabeth, shocked me: I’d told him about the Statute of Secrecy. I didn’t need Legilimency to see the doubt dancing through her.
My explanations were worn and vague. He could have crumbled it like a house of cards.
“Good,” she said softly, then busied herself on her laptop. After a while she called over to me. “Guess what?”
“Someone else has come forward- they reckon they were saved by the superhero, too!”
I leapt up and looked over her shoulder. “Yeah?”
“Yeah- said it was over in blur, being mugged and all- but no one believed him and he didn’t really believe it himself until he saw the news article on him! I’m so proud of him,” she crooned, smiling stupidly at the screen. I grinned at her, flushing when I read a few comments the man had made.
“What, the dude?”
“No, the superhero!”
I grinned. “Sooo... does he have a superhero name yet?”
She shrugged. “Nah. A couple of people are being deliberately daft and calling him ‘Ninja-man’ and a some are seriously considering ‘the Black Spirit’ but nothing that really fits has been invented yet. Personally, I like just calling him a sup-“
The phone rang, and she snatched it up from the table.
Her face dropped, and she covered the mouthpiece. “It’s your dad again,” she murmured.
I flinched, but took a deep breath and nodded, indicating she pass it to me. She told him I was here and gave me the phone, busying herself with the washing up. I knew I’d have to watch everything I said, with her in the same room, but we both knew she’d listen, and I didn’t mind.
“Dad, it’s Rebecca.”
He paused. “Hello, Rebecca. I assume you got my message?”
“Don’t call here again.”
“I just wanted to speak to you,” he said coldly.
“No. I’ve had enough of it,” I snapped. “It’s not fair of you ask me to quit, but it’s even less fair of you to call here and interrupt my roommate- who by the way has a dissertation to write- and ask her to pass on messages she knows I really don’t want to hear. You said you wanted nothing to do with me if I chose this.”
“Rebecca, you’ll change your mind,” he bristled. “That- that world that you think is so wonderful will ruin you. You’ll lose everything, like I did-“
“I’m not losing anything, dad. Just don’t. I’ve living my own life now, not one you dictate to me- anyway, I’m not like you, you’ve said yourself-“
“-and you’ll want to come back here. I know you will. You’ll want to forget everything, that witch friend of yours included-“
“Leave her out of this!”
“-and that’s what I want to tell you, Rebecca: I will be here for you when you do. When you’ve decided that you hate- magic-“ he spat the word like poison “-and you want to come back here, you can.” He took a deep breath. “I will be here for you when you give it up,” he crooned soothingly. I wanted to throw the phone across the room.
“I don’t want you to be there for me! I am happy! What part of that don’t you understand? Why can’t you just- when will you realise that I’m not coming back? I’m not your little girl anymore, and I never will be. I don’t want to be. I want nothing to do with you.”
“I’m your father, and-“
“And you kicked me out at eighteen because I took a job!”
“A job that made you use- that stuff-“
“Yeah, dad, exactly. That stuff. Heaven forbid I have something in common with mum.”
“-well. When you know you’ve picked wrong-“
“You’ll be the first I call, don’t you fucking worry.”
I slammed the phone into the receiver, before folding into the chair, hands shaking and breathing uncomfortable.
Elizabeth slid next to me, wrapping her arms around me and cuddling close.
“-sorry,” I muttered, holding her tight but determinedly not crying.
“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” she said softly.
Eventually, I relaxed and she kissed me on the forehead.
“Do you want me to remake your tea?”
She worked silently, and when she carefully passed it to me, she hugged me again. “Well, you know my parents adore you, so we still have a set of parents.”
“Better set of parents than I’ve had thus far in my life.”
We were quiet for a while, and I listened to the clock ticking. Into the calm, she asked, “did he- what did he say about me?”
I sniffed. “He just- assumed something about you- that was untrue. He thought you had a job like me.”
I hummed softly and blew steam off my tea.
She shifted from one foot to the other, twisting her hands together and not quite making eye contact.
“Just- don’t feel obligated to answer, alright? I know this is touchy for you and I don’t want to upset you or anything, but... well, I was thinking after the call, about you and your dad, and I realised I didn’t know the answer- to a question, that is- and it bothered me, because I like-“
“Spit it out, woman,” I laughed, turning to properly face her.
It was strange. Sometimes I wondered why I didn’t just use Legimency on her- it’s not as if she’d know, or even understand if she felt it inside her. Elizabeth was a muggle. She was simple and I didn’t have to fear being caught by her, but it would be useful to see where I had slipped and how her suspicions arose; what she was suspicious of. I could make my life easier.
By not taking away her right to privacy, I actually felt like her friend. So I never did.
She finally caught my eye.
“-right. You know your mum?”
In shock, I inhaled sharply, but I sighed it out and slumped a little. Maybe a little heads-up would have been nice. “Yes?”
“Well... what happened to her? You never talk about her.”
I swallowed. “She left when I was three. I don’t really remember her. All dad would ever say was that we weren’t enough for her, that she hated us and didn’t want us, but I don’t trust his version of events much anymore, so I don’t really know what happened.”
“Right. Thank you. I just... wondered,” she said quietly.
“I think she’s one of the reasons dad hates me so much,” I added. “I look like him, but he always reckoned I acted like her.”
“I’m sure you’re nothing like her.”
At that, I turned away from her, and coolly said, “oh, I don’t know. I picked my job over him, didn’t I? She picked her other man over him.”
“She had another man?”
“What else would she leave for?” Elizabeth conceded that, shrugging. “So... yeah. There’s never been much to say about her. Her name’s Riah, but I don’t know about her surname... she was a Lewis, obviously, and she might have changed it back to her maiden name, but I never knew that,” I concluded with a shrug, starting the washing up. Elizabeth didn’t ask anything more.
There was a lot I had lost, or maybe had never been given. What she looked like, because dad burned all the photos of her after she left, or what her laugh sounded like, or even her perfume.
All I had left was a blur of comfort and warmth that faded every day.
A/N Some of this was written in Edinburgh- and to/from it! And yes, I did visit the cafe where JK first began writing HP. I wanted to kiss the ground, but my mum wouldn’t let me. Incidentally, my mum reads some of these, so if you’re reading this- HI MUM.
And you know when you’re writing a story and you suddenly make this profound connection that you just did not see before and you bounce around the room for ten minutes because YES THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT I THOUGHT OMG I AM GENIUS THANK YOU BRAIN. Well, that happened whilst writing this chapter.
Now: the spelling of 'Encylopedia'. On further inspection, (I was reading a book about the development of language) it has become apparent that the original spelling I used- 'Encylopaedia'- is the original English spelling, and the way I was corrected to by our lovely theblacksisters, is the American version. I have decided to keep the American spelling because it's the more commonly used one. BUT ISN'T LANGUAGE SO COOl?!
And I am basing Elizabeth’s fangirl-iness on my own fangirl issues, so I cannot promise there won’t be any squealing.
There’s a lot of tea in this story for some reason. And coffee. Not quite sure why, but there is. It might be because they’re British, but just go with it.
For Dana and Lea; the girls left behind.
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