Chapter 8 : eight
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As illogical as my father could be at times there were certain things he was very wise about. If you’re going to commit one quidditch foul, might as well shoot for all seven hundred; was one of his not-very wise pieces of advice. But his motto that important decisions should never be made when one is upset, drunk, or hungry was something I had stood by my entire life. It was with this piece of advice that I passed my full plate to Marie and insisted she finish it before telling me another word.
As insensitive as it sounded, I didn’t want to know who she was in love with. I didn’t want to know her plans about the wedding’s future. I certainly didn’t want to hear about the moment when Marie was sitting in front of a thousand pink color swatches and she realized she had never cared about anything less. I just didn’t want to know any of it because the irony that I had never celebrated any of the good moments with Marie but was here, listening for one of the worst, was not lost on me.
But it seemed today was a day filled with things that I, in fact, did not want to do. Starting with Cormac’s insistence that I move from my cozy office across from Oliver’s to a larger, colder corner office with a window that provided too much sunlight and room than I knew what to possibly do with. And now I was across from Mickey Thomas, who played Celtic music at maximum volume all the time and had had pea soup that smelled like Hogwart’s dungeon for lunch today.
For dinner all I had wanted was something that would give me an early heart attack slathered in gravy but no, being the insane woman I was, my concern that it would cause me to suddenly not fit in any of my nice clothes for tomorrow outweighed my hunger and salad without dressing it was. But at least it would be quiet, right?
“Payton, what do I do? Do I tell Daniel and cancel the wedding or-”
“Ah, ah, ah!” I covered my ears and closed my eyes, refusing to be a willing participant in this plan. “I don’t know, Marie, I do not know what you should do because I don’t know what you’re talking about.” This, I had decided, was not my problem. It was not my fiancée or wedding and these were not my confused feelings.
“I came to you because I trusted you.”
Automatically, a snort came up from my chest and out through my nose. “You came to me because you didn’t have anyone else.” The waitress approached again and I ordered another salad and glass of water since Marie now had both.
People who didn’t know the history of our relationship would probably consider me a major reason it was so jaded and I did take a fair share of blame, but not without explaining that I was just walking on the pavement that Marie had spent over fifteen years laying down. “The last time I gave you advice to wear a dress to a party you blamed when you made the garage catch on fire.”
“Actions have consequences.” There went another mile of road.
“It was completely unrelated.”
“It was a blasted month later, you lunatic. Now I will not have you blaming me for the rest of your lonely life because I might have insinuated that you maybe talk to your fiancée. As soon as the waitress returns I am paying the bill, taking my meal, and leaving to worry about my life because I have a date with a very attractive bloke tomorrow, and before you ask, no, I will not be telling you who because it isn’t of your concern.”
Just like her life technically wasn’t any of mine.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that my father had a lot to say about men, especially when it came to any that were involved with his daughters. Before I left for Hogwarts when I was thirteen I remember him grabbing my shoulders at the platform and giving me a stern look before simply saying, “Men are liars. I am a liar and so is every male on this platform, in that school, and in the world.” No further explanation or birth control necessary in his mind, he rustled my hair and shoved me away to the train for my departure.
Ten years later that advice still left me confused about every nice thing a guy told me. That was probably also attributed to the fact that blokes didn’t tell me a whole lot of nice things, which was probably related to the fact that I usually didn’t put too much effort in well, anything beyond work. So to surmise, I generally didn’t receive many complements from the male species because I didn’t put too much work in for said-complements, but when I did receive them – as a rule, I assumed they were false. Thanks dad.
I had promised myself that today I would make the extra effort though. Today I would get home from work, shower, pick an outfit, do something with my hair and face, and eat a meal so I wouldn’t binge in front of James (but stick to a salad like respectable girls were supposed to, I was told). Instead it was a little past six o’clock when I had finally stepped out of the office, thanks to a feud I had gotten into with Cormac. He had the gall to suggest that I pass my “Player of the Week” segment to someone else so I could handle a larger number of bigger stories.
My answer had been a very adamant no, if you hadn’t guessed.
“You look gre-, I mean, beautiful. Beautiful always sounds better than great.” It was the first thing James had said when he saw me after I had stepped outside. My stomach did a familiar lurch at the sight of him in front of me, dressed in black trousers and a button-down shirt, the sleeves rolled up and revealing muscles in his forearms that stretched at every movement. The mere sight of them made my heart flutter. “Don’t you agree?”
“I think either is fine.” I said quickly, returning the half-smile and praying my cheeks weren’t as red as the heat on my face was indicating.
“Well then, I think you look both, great and beautiful.”
I moved to disregard it as one of mere courtesy. After all, I had arrived from work with only enough time to shower, change, and apply some basic cosmetics, so I knew I couldn’t look that good. But just for tonight I had told myself before; I would be as nonsensical as I desired in my thoughts.
Just for tonight I would not over think or overanalyze. No, I would believe the compliments James gave me, laugh when something was funny, be as quick-witted as I wanted, and eat something beyond a salad because I was on the verge of collapsing I was so hungry. After all if there were no expectations that anything would go beyond this encounter, what did I have to lose?
The setting sun’s heat, a contrast to the manufactured cool air inside my flat, caused prickles to appear on my arms and legs as it warmed them. I enjoyed the sensation until the heavy combination of heat and humidity caused my skin to feel too hot and already sticky. By day’s end, August would have come to a close; taking with it the sweltering heat, never-ending summer storms, and soon – quidditch’s preseason.
Some people had the winter season and all that came with it; the family, food, presents, and cheer. Some had summer and its vacation days. But this marked point in the calendar was my Christmas and holiday combined because it meant quidditch, trips to the bar for games, and a legitimate excuse to live in my jerseys and team shirts. This point made the previous three months bearable.
“Is this your car?” I managed to mask my surprise with genuine curiosity at the sight of the ancient light blue vehicle already idling and loudly awaiting our arrival.
“Ay,” he had reached up and began to scratch the back of his neck; his lips scrunched up and dark eyes looking away uncertainly. “I’ve got another but it’s been in the shop, something with the transmission they tell me – whatever that means. This one,” his voice rose to an excited volume, “has quite a back story though.” I slid into the car, the polyester seats burning my thighs upon contact and squeaking at every uncomfortable movement.
The car rumbled to life after a few guns to the motor and James fiddled with the various buttons in front of us. Neither Marie nor I had ever learned to drive, usually living close enough for some sort of public transportation accommodation. Nor had I ever learned anything about how to work a car, this setup entirely foreign to me.
“Bad news,” he explained with both hands on the steering wheel, “it seems the air isn’t quite working.”
I moved my eyes away from the intimidating arrangement of buttons in front of me, catching James at the exact moment that he was biting his lip and looking from the wheel to me. “Can’t we just do a cooling spell?” I said after a beat, forcing myself to look away from his endearing face of frustration.
“Not exactly, see part of the back story explains that my Aunt Hermione spelled the car so it couldn’t be spelled… It’s really a great story.” At this point I’m not sure who he was trying to convince.
“Ah,” I replied, turning away so that he couldn’t see my poor attempts to hide my laughter. I had spent literally days worrying about what could possibly go wrong, never thinking that it would be James mucking things up.
Next to me, I heard the polyester crinkle as he shuffled in his seat to face me. “I am not this much of a disaster. I have a nice car that’s usually working and I had flowers to further apologize for my previous behavior but I forgot them. If my luck continues I’ll need to buy you an entire greenhouse by our next date.” Next to me, he looked completely flustered and well, human.
“Next date?” My heart fluttered and I bit my bottom lip to hide the grin, watching as James closed his eyes slowly at his gaffe. “I prefer the windows down anyway.” It was only partly the truth but it seemed like an appropriate thing to say at the moment.
With renewed gusto he smiled at the open road in front of us and began to push buttons on his door, nothing happening. “So, um, I just remembered that only one window opens and it’s the one behind me.”
“At least my hair won’t get messed up!”
At the first red light I opened my door a crack to get fresh breeze revolving in the stuffy car, not missing when James pounded his head on the steering wheel several times. “It worked out better, really,” I explained, “I don’t really like flowers. They’re always in the way and make a bit of a mess, and I can never keep them alive past two days.”
The car made a left turn and I enjoyed the looks we got from the people on the street around us. We had entered the upscale, nicer part of the West end that was filled with restaurants and expensive shops; a place that James most likely frequented often with another choice of transportation. On my side of the car I recognized a bridal shop that Marie had mentioned before.
Probably won’t have to worry about that anymore, I mentally joked before backtracking. It was a bit too cruel, even for me.
“I know what you’re doing but I’ll take it. What do you like then?”
“Food,” I responded automatically just as my stomach released another growl that I covered up with a cough and shuffle in my seat. You, I mentally checked before pausing. It always took being asked your interests to realize that perhaps you didn’t have many. “And uh, quidditch.” I sounded like my father. “I really enjoy writing for the Prophet as well and coaching the Charming Cannons. All that keeps me busy enough.” By the time I had finished grasping onto every possible hobby I could think of the car was nestled in a parking spot and we were out, reveling in the fresh air.
“This place has the most amazing bread, wait – do you eat bread?”
My first reaction was to laugh at his joke before realizing that it was a legitimate question. “What kind of monster doesn’t eat bread?” I blurted, both of us thinking of the blonde monster in question at the same time. “I have no dietary restrictions, at all.”
Marie was on an organic diet and Rachel on a gluten-free one. Even my mum had been converted to dairy-free after one-too-many fart jokes from my father. Come to think of it, I was probably the only girl I knew who didn’t have to alter my restaurant selections; unless “more cheese” or “extra avocado” counted.
“That’s actually kind of a- you know what?” I had still been vaguely lost in my thoughts when James had grabbed my arm and pulled me away from the restaurant door, a thoughtful expression on his face. “I don’t think I made reservations and this place, the bread isn’t even, you know, and I’m not even that hungry yet. Are you? Let’s take a walk.”
We went in the opposite direction we had come from, not giving me the opportunity to peer inside for what had changed; although I was pretty sure I had a good idea.
The funny thing about the West end was the potential to be in a completely different area with a few turns. One minute I was peering inside of Chanel and the next we were passing a retirement home and residential park, James apologizing profusely the entire time. I listened, not having the heart to tell him that I knew the true reason we hadn’t been able to enter the restaurant with the amazing bread, and offered no more words of comfort for James’ ego.
Unfortunately, a component of not over thinking or overanalyzing was not hiding from the obvious. Acacia Wood, though never mentioned, was still wreaking havoc with James.
So I stayed relatively silent as we walked, my hands fiddling with the thin material of my summer dress and eyes on the pavement under my feet. After a bit, James stopped apologizing and we continued in silence. I only had a faint idea of the area we had wandered into now, although it appeared to be littered with smaller businesses and some apartment complexes. For all I knew, and cared at the moment, we could have been heading back to the car.
“Payton,” without realizing James had stopped walking and was standing in front of a darkened corner building. With his hands in his pockets he gave me a little shrug and embarrassed smiled, “I know it’s not much to look at but everything on the menu is delicious.”
I gave the building another glance, now realizing the multi-colored lights hung inside that were shining through the dark window panes. Above James’ head hung a wooden sign that read “The Watering Hole” and swung lightly with the breeze. It looked like a place I would have never wandered into at all, much less on a date.
“We could pick another place if you prefer but-”
“No, this is perfect.” I replied, not wanting to further elaborate that anyplace that passed health code standards was perfect at the moment; even one that looked like I might get stabbed once I was inside.
“I’m sorry about that.” James said, pulling the wooden door closed behind us and cutting off the chorus of goodbyes. “They can be pretty embarrassing.”
From the exterior, the Watering Hole looked like your average dump pub. Hell, from the interior it looked like your average dump pub. The floors were sticky, the windows darkened or covered, and almost every free space on the wall was taken up with old posters or photographs. It was too loud, too crowded, and only slightly smelly; although it was early. But the beer-battered fish and deep-fried chips were heavenly, our stomachs full of them when we stepped out of the Watering Hole a little after ten o’clock that night, the audience was composed of regulars that were all familiar with James beyond a ‘Quidditch-Star’ way, and the tap selections were some of the best I had ever seen, ever.
They were too tempting to resist, although I certainly did try. The last thing I wanted was to get sloppy and make a fool of myself. But my will was broken when James ordered himself an Irish ale I didn’t even recognize and tentatively handed me the flimsy paper listing the choices, already half-expecting me to turn one down for a diet soda.
But I, in yet another surprise move for James, I’m sure - ordered a Flat Top. And by the time my bottle had tapped against his for a cheer, I already had my next two in mind.
“What are you talking about? I’ve spent years trying to become a known regular at the Sundown Café with no avail and you’re recognized by a whole bloody bar!” I took small steps backwards on the pavement, trying to be careful not to fall and keep my eyes on James behind me at the same time. He kept his hands in his pockets and a slightly entertained, albeit perplexed smile on his face. “What?” I finally asked, stopping in my tracks and folding my arms across my chest.
I watched as he took long strides, stopping when he was inches away from me. His cologne began to tickle my senses, the summer humidity amplifying the scent until I felt I was surrounded. “What…” He repeated back vaguely, waiting for me to complete my thought. His voice seemed to catch for a moment, although I couldn’t be sure, my own thoughts fuzzy and warm from the beer and lack of distance between us.
“Your expression,” I explained, wishing I had pockets to stuff my hands into at the moment. They felt utterly useless in front of me and even my purse wasn’t large enough to adequately keep them occupied. I folded them at the small of my back and took a step backward, my movement catching the moonlight’s reflection on one of the lights overhead and casting me in a circle of light. “I think I’ve seen it every time I’ve seen you, usually when I was yelling. I ‘pose you’re a bit frightened of me, no? The amount of times I’ve yelled at you.” It wasn’t something I would’ve said out loud normally but fueled by liquid courage, the statement seemed strangely appropriate.
Three times I had seen James Potter as of late, not counting this meeting, and three times I had yelled at him. All for good reason, mind you, but it seemed a bit strange that he kept returning.
James laughed and matched my step, placing him closer to me than before. “It’s refreshing, if you can believe that. There aren’t a lot of people that are willing to yell at me and fewer that I actually listen to.”
“Ah,” I breathed, still not quite understanding. Most likely because Acacia Wood was still in the back of my mind – much like she was probably still in James’; and how could I not compare myself to her?
Perhaps it wasn’t completely Acacia Wood’s fault and she was just the closest excuse I could find to pin my fear for failure to. Caring for James had been a lonely and pathetic rollercoaster ride for the past twelve years. Twelve years I had spent imaging how perfectly we would fit together if only I was given the chance.
“So where to next, boss? I picked dinner; the next activity is all yours.” He extended his arms around us, as if he was offering me my selection of star from the sky.
I gazed at the closest street sign behind me, Clarke and 13th Street, and smiled at the perfection of this moment. “James Potter, how do you feel about a friendly game of quidditch?”
“Are you sure you want to play? I mean, you’re wearing a dress and-”
“Oi, is that fear I’m sensing?” My voice was slightly muffled from where I stood in the shed but when I peeked out to throw out another broom in his direction, I knew he’d heard. “Besides, I’m sure I have an extra pair of practice clothes in here… ah-ha!” I put on my shorts quickly, giving James a slight curtsy to reveal them under my dress. “Ready?”
He hardly had enough time to nod before I had kicked my sandals off and shot in the air, stray pieces of my hair from a quick ponytail flying around my face. The air, brisk and cool, brought me back to so many school nights and I finally allowed myself to breathe out all of the nerves I’d been holding in all night. Up here, on a broom and on a quidditch field, felt as much like home as my parent’s house did.
I placed the quaffle on my broom, balancing it with my hands until James finally reached me in the air. “Did you just break into a shed? Because I’m not a particular fan of getting arrested.” He moved his shoulders back and forth in discomfort at the fit of his shirt, although I certainly wasn’t one to complain.
“It’s not breaking-in if you’re the coach. I hope.” I mumbled the last piece as an afterthought, although I didn’t miss his eyebrows elevating anyway.
The difference, although slight, was noticeable for James as well. On the ground we moved like pawns in a game of chess, carefully and calculating to each other’s movements but here – we almost seemed to be in sync. At least we were once James unbuttoned his shirt and threw it to the ground, rolling his shoulders and cracking his hands. What a pair we were from the ground, I was sure. James with his fancy slacks getting coated in dust and dirt, his shirt on the ground carelessly and me, bare-foot with my mint-colored summer dress bunched up in front of me and revealing my ugly workout shorts.
“Anyhow, you can forfeit at any time but that is acknowledging that you were bested by a girl who was literally wearing a dress.” I watched him circle me effortlessly on his broom, sometimes using one hand but never both.
Sometime during another circle he had stopped behind me, “I may be a gentleman but I will not be bested by anyone, especially a girl in a dress.” His voice sounding directly in my ear and sending chills I hoped he couldn’t see down my spine. Using the momentary distraction he slid the quaffle away from me and I could partly understand why girls would feign ignorance on sports. “I’m also a big enough man to admit that I’d like to go first.”
At least I did for a second.
We were still tied at no score when he approached me slowly, the quaffle under his arm and hands held up in the “time-out” symbol. “I think we should take into account that this is a second practice for me today.” The pause was a good opportunity for me to take a giant breath of air and wipe the sweat from my forehead before he came closer. There was nothing like playing quidditch with an adult to remind you that it was much harder than practice with a bunch of ten-year olds.
“Doesn’t that mean you should be slightly more prepared than me?” It was my turn to balance delicately on my broom, holding on only with my legs as I fixed my ponytail and circled around him.
“Perhaps… You know,” he paused for a second, “we were about a minute into this game when I remembered why I never spoke to you at school.”
“Yes?” I swallowed, grateful for being out of his eyesight during my response. Five school years I had spent insisting that James had no idea who I was. Now I was half-hoping he would suddenly reveal that he had been in love with me all along as well.
“Your playing skills, Payton.”
“What of them?”
“What of them?” He mocked, looking at me in disbelief before I disappeared again. “They’re excellent, and that terrified me. I mean, what kind of girl plays quidditch that well?”
“Only the best, I ‘pose.” I smiled, sliding my hands under his arms stealthily enough to grab the quaffle without his noticing until it was already in my grasp. “Now, are you ready for another round or are you declaring a loss?” The heavy leather ball balanced precariously in my hand and I was praying for him to declare a loss because my muscles were beginning to ache. Although the thought of the night ending was slightly distressing.
“Neither, I declared time-out and I intend to keep that in motion until we play again.” He leaned forward on his broom, his face half-eclipsed by darkness and the other half shadowed by the distant light. I caught a brief sight of the dimple in his left cheek as I passed by again.
“Ah,” my stomach was already beginning its series of continuous flips despite my exterior calamity. Again, again, again, again.
“If you’d like to, of course, because I would like to see you again.” I searched his smile for traces of what I’d seen before with Acacia, returning it only when my eyes confirmed that they weren’t there.
Twelve years of caring for James Potter and I realized that I was only strapping in for the ride at this moment. And all of the fear from before had just been me waiting in line, passively, too scared to do much of anything that would compromise my role of unrequited love. But now here I was, at the top of the hill and waiting, breathlessly, for the moment that I would plunge into the unknown with this strange faith that I would be okay on the way back up.
“I’d like that as well.”
Sorry this took me a bit to put up, I actually wrote it a while ago but I was trying to make sure I had at least two more chapters written before putting it up (fail). I'm almost done with the next chapter which will be in James' POV, fyi.
I'm in school again (sigh-raspberry-tears) but I'm still aiming to post every 2 - 4 weeks, so that really shouldn't affect things. Please just continue to let me know your thoughts, etc - I love reading them because y'all are awe.some.
p.s. thoughts on the chapter images and characters?! I just love them all. It took me a long time to pick Emilia Clarke but I love her because I just think she's gorgeous but not like, unrealistic-gorgeous. If that makes any sense... One of those pictures of "James" kind of makes me laugh, I'm sure you can pick which one. But I love them and will hopefully be getting more for the rest of the chapters eventually. Yay!
updated 2/21 amazing chapter image by allege at tda!!
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