As usual, summary and chapter title are quotes from J. Larson's RENT
“Romulus, are you going to come?”
Marcellus was putting on his jacket, getting ready to leave. Nadia and Aisling were waiting for him down the road.
“No, you go,” Romulus responded automatically, not even turning his head to address Marcellus.
“Come on,” Marcellus coaxed as he swung his bag over his shoulder, “I think you’d really enjoy it.”
Romulus turned around and frowned. “You think I’d enjoy that sob-fest? Those people need to get a hold over themselves.”
“Those people are your friends.”
“Why are you going? There’s no reason for you to go.” Romulus was growing weary of his brother’s persistent pestering.
“I’m going because I’m in this, too. It isn’t just you, Romulus. It’s us.”
Romulus scowled. Why couldn’t Marcellus understand that the fact that Romulus’ condition hurt him so much was one of the worst parts of the disease?
Marcellus frowned, seeing that he wasn’t going to be able to convince Romulus to join him. Before leaving, he said, “Make sure you eat something, Romulus. I’ll be back.”
He went onto the bleak street and looked up at the sky, hoping to see a hint of sunshine. Nothing. The weather report in the Muggle papers said that in the month of December, they’d had just over half of the already low amount of sunshine that they usually received. At least it’s a bit warmer than usual, Marcellus thought as he unzipped his outermost jacket. He headed down the road towards where he told Aisling and Nadia that he’d meet them.
It was nearly two weeks into the New Year, and time for the group counseling meeting. Nadia tried to organize two a month, usually a week before and a week after the Full Moon. Marcellus supposed that they really couldn’t call it “counseling” because nobody in attendance was actually a trained counselor, but he’d attended enough of the meetings to see that they helped the people who were part of the group. Romulus’ reluctance to attend was a constant point of frustration for Marcellus. Sometimes, Marcellus wasn’t sure how to interact with his brother. Sometimes, Marcellus thought that Romulus didn’t even want him around.
Marcellus shook his head in an attempt to clear his head and refocused his attention onto Hairy Snout, Human Heart. He’d been up late the previous night, writing. He’d been up late, trying to figure out what was going through Romulus’ head. He’d been up late, trying to figure out exactly what had happened between he and Maria. Romulus told Marcellus about her flirting and their fight, but his explanation seemed vague and incomplete. Marcellus wrote about it, despite the vagueness.
Writing about his brother and his friends, Marcellus had started to see them in terms of characters. He made an effort to take notice of their mannerisms so that he could more accurately describe them. Marcellus tried to pick apart his life and see clearly what archetype each character was. On an even more simple level, who was the protagonist? Was it Romulus? How could it be, seeing as Romulus expended so much effort in not moving forward with his life?
Marcellus abandoned this train of thought. It was useless to try to analyze a story that didn’t have a middle or end. He’d only been writing for three weeks. There was hardly even any plot, other than the drama between Romulus and Maria. Marcellus reminded himself that it wasn’t his goal to write a good book. It was to simply record the events of his brother’s life. Maybe a story would emerge.
When Marcellus reached Nadia and Aisling, he gave Nadia a one-armed hug and she gave him a peck on the cheek. The three of them set off in the direction of the church where the meeting would be held.
It wasn’t easy to find somewhere to meet. Most venues were reluctant enough to host a group that couldn’t pay, and that reluctance turned into outright refusal when they couldn’t reveal what the group was for. Nadia, with all her infinite charm, was able to find a small church that would host them. The priest was a surprisingly young man named Walter who took pity on them and allowed Nadia to host meetings. He said that everyone had secrets, and what they hid didn’t automatically make them untrustworthy.
Eventually, Walter gained the trust of the members of the werewolf community and Nadia broke the Statute of Secrecy and told him why they were there. He took the news surprisingly well (she thinks that, after being around them for so long, he’d started to guess that there was something unusual about them). He still let them have their meetings, but he still opted to not attend, despite his open invitation.
It was an extremely small building, and didn’t at all look like a church, apart from the cross above the doorway. The inside had a very intimate atmosphere, though. Candles, which had been charmed to never burn out, lined the aisle. The light that filtered in through the single stained glass window was dull, but gave the room an indefinable warmth.
Nadia, who had been given keys to the church, unlocked the cupboard and the three of them set to work arranging folding chairs into a circle.
One by one, the door to the church creaked open and the chairs were filled. Marietta and Maria came in and sat down next to each other. Maria looked like she’d had a rough night, and Marcellus wondered how much Euphoria she’d taken. Marcellus took a seat in one of the pews and took out his notebook so he could write during the meeting. He attended most of the meetings, which the members of the group didn’t seem to have any qualms about, but he never felt quite comfortable sitting in the circle.
The group sat in silence for about five minutes before anybody spoke.
“I did something bad.”
A young witch named Portia rose her head and addressed the room. “That’s why I wasn’t here at the last meeting. I was too upset.”
“What happened?” Nadia asked gently.
Portia rubbed her hands across her knees a few times, biting her lip apprehensively. The rest of the room stayed patiently silent before Portia started, “My Mum has always been really supportive. She lets me live with her, even though she made my brother move out when he got too old. I’m older than him, but she lets me live with her. She struggles a lot, financially. Because of me. When people find out that her daughter is a werewolf, they usually find some bullshit reason to lay her off. We had to move out of our house, the house she grew up in. She couldn’t afford it anymore, because of me.
“I try to get jobs, but you all know how hard it is to get hired anywhere. And if you do, they fire you once you take two sick days a month. At a minimum. We were two months behind on our rent… and we really needed money. It wasn’t looking good for us. My brother was supporting us, and that was making him struggle.
“I was approached by Fenrir Greyback. He offered me enough money to pay the rent for a year. All I had to do was just go somewhere for the Full Moon. He said that they wanted to study the behaviors of a werewolf.”
She started to shake her head back and forth, clearly distressed by her words.
“Right before the moon rose, someone walked towards me. I didn’t recognize them, but I figured that they were there to observe me. Then I noticed that they were walking with a kid. Just a kid. I tried to run away, but it was too late. I transformed.”
She buried her hands in her head for a moment before once again looking up, her eye makeup running down her cheek. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I didn’t want to, I swear,” she insisted through a voice on the verge of sobs.
“In the morning, I tried to find the child. I tried to find them to help them. I wanted to help them, I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I went back to the meeting place, and there was blood. I didn’t see the child. I don’t know if I killed them or did the unimaginable and condemned them to hell.”
She finally broke down and sobbed into her lap. Nadia kneeled in front of her and gently kissed the top of her head, saying, “Sweetie, Portia, it wasn’t your fault. You did what you could. When you figured out what was going on, you tried to get away. This isn’t your fault.”
Portia looked up. “But I shouldn’t have ever accepted the money. I should’ve known better.”
Nadia shushed her, saying, “Stop it, Portia. Remember, we don’t say ‘should’ve’. It’s dangerous to say ‘should’ve’.”
“They were just a kid, Nadia. Just a kid. I ruined that kid’s life. They had parents. Those parents lives will never be the same. I destroyed a family.”
One of the other people sitting around the circle, a burly wizard named Julius, said, “Portia, we’ll try to find out who it was. And we’ll try to make it better. We’ll all do what we can to make amends. If the child is one of us, we’ll give them what support we can. Okay?”
She nodded, and the rest of the circle took turns offering words of comfort and support. Her tears had stopped flowing when the door to the church opened. The group turned around to see who was entering, when they were all surprised to see Bennett.
“Bennett, get out of here,” Aisling said, crossing the room and placing a warning hand on Bennett’s chest.
“You said that all are welcome,” he said, pushing Aisling’s hand away and continuing towards the circle.
“You don’t have lycanthropy,” Julius said.
“Neither does he,” Bennett countered, gesturing to where Marcellus sat. At the mention, Marcellus sank as low as he could without falling off of the pew. He avoided eye contact with anyone else, instead focusing entirely on the bible in front of him.
“Just say whatever it is that you want to say, and then leave,” Nadia said.
Bennett nodded and walked straight over to Portia. Nadia stayed in front of her protectively. Aisling stood close to Bennett, close enough to quickly remove him from the church is needed.
“I’m sorry,” he said simply.
Portia looked up at him with sorrowful eyes. “Sorry for what?”
“I gave Greyback your name, but I had no idea that’s what they were going to make you do.”
The entire room was silent for a moment while they absorbed the betrayal. Portia was the first to speak.
“Do… do you know what happened to the child?”
Bennett bowed his head. “The child died.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of parchment. He handed it to her, saying, “This is the information for the funeral. I’m so sorry, Portia.”
He turned on his heel and exited the church. The rest of the meeting was quiet. It was mostly just Portia crying and deciding whether or not she wanted to go to the funeral. Eventually, they decided that they’d all go, but wouldn’t stand with everyone else. They’d watch the service from afar.
That’s what they were used to. Being on the outside.
“It’s like we aren’t even people,” Marietta said. “We’re werewolves, but that’s only one night a month.”
“People don’t realise that, Sweetie,” Nadia said softly and partially to herself. “All they see is the wolf.”
“Hairy snout, human heart,” Marcellus muttered. The group laughed and Marietta smiled at him knowingly.
The meeting drew to a close and one by one, the chairs emptied as people left the church. Aisling and Nadia stayed behind to clean up, telling Marcellus to go on home.
After everyone had gone, Nadia turned to Aisling. “What the hell are we gonna do?”
Aisling shook his head. “I don’t know, Nadia.”
“Our friends are being hired as hitmen. We can’t be mad at them, they don’t have a choice. We don’t have money or any means to help. What the hell are we going to do?”
Aisling walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her. She let her head fall into his chest and looped her arms around his waist.
“We’ll be together. That’s one thing we can do.”
“How does that help anyone?” she asked, her voice muffled in his thick jacket.
“Families with two parents do better than with one parent.”
Nadia laughed and looked up at him. “I guess we are sort of everyone’s Mum and Dad, aren’t we?”
“It’s becoming rapidly apparent,” Aisling noted.
“Well…,” Nadia said, smiling, “parents should probably live together.”
Aisling smiled. “What are you saying?”
“Move in with me. The boys could use some space to themselves, anyway.”
He kissed her. She kissed him. They cleaned up the chairs and locked the doors to the church before returning to her - their - flat.
“Hey, Marcellus! Wait up!”
Marcellus turned around to see Marietta trotting after him, her long hair blowing in the wind and her cheeks red from the cold. Behind her, Maria slowly made her way out of the church.
“What’s going on?” Marcellus asked when she’d reached him.
“I got a letter back about my article.”
Marcellus beamed. “Marietta, that’s fantastic! When are they publishing it?”
She frowned. “They aren’t, Marcellus.” She pulled a piece of parchment out of her pocket and handed it to him.
He read it quickly and furrowed his eyebrows. “They won’t publish it because you didn’t go to school? What bull!”
He handed her back the letter, and she caught his hands. “Marcellus, I want you to resubmit it under your name.”
“What? No. You wrote it. I’m not saying that I wrote it.”
“I don’t care if I get credit,” Marietta said. “I just care that it gets out there.”
“No,” he said firmly. “I’m not going to let you do that."
"You can't stop me. I'll be submitting it either way. I can forge your signature well enough. I'd just rather do it with your permission."
He sighed. "You really want to do this?"
Maria caught up to them and laughed before saying, “She already did. Before the meeting.”
Marcellus gaped at Marietta. “What? You already did it?”
Marietta glared at Maria and then looked sheepishly back at Marcellus. “Yes, okay? I already sent it in with your name. But you were about to say yes. I know you were.”
Marcellus was annoyed, but couldn’t help admitting that she was right.
“How’s Romulus?” Maria asked as they set off in the direction of their buildings.
“He’s pouting,” Marcellus replied honestly. “He’s always been angsty.”
“Tell him to come to dinner next week,” Marietta said. At Marcellus’ confused glance, she explained, “We’re all going out to celebrate your first published article.”
Marcellus rolled his eyes, but the more he thought about it, the more he considered her proposal. It had been weeks since Romulus had left the house, and the promise of food just might lure him from his fortress of negativity.
Romulus proved to be just as difficult as Marcellus predicted.
He groaned when Marcellus invited him to dinner. “It’ll be noisy and everyone will be there.”
“Everyone wants to see you, Romulus,” Marcellus said, trying not to be irritated with him.
“They’re not going to dinner to see me. They’re going to celebrate with Marietta,” he countered as he picked up his guitar and started to strum randomly to tune out his surroundings.
“You should ask Maria if she’d like to go with you,” Marcellus suggested quietly.
Romulus put down his guitar and faced Marcellus. “She’s got problems that she needs to sort out before I go anywhere near her.”
“You’ve got problems, too. Maybe you can help each other out,” Marcellus responded.
Romulus leaned back into the cushions. His strong jaw tightened and the veins in his forehead pulsed. His thin lips formed a straight line across his face and Marcellus could nearly see his frustrations boiling onto his skin.
“It’s what Avril would’ve wanted,” Marcellus finished, his voice barely a whisper.
Romulus glared at him. “You don’t know what she would’ve wanted.”
“I know just as well as you. She was my best friend.” Marcellus wasn’t lying. While Avril and Romulus fell in love, Avril and Marcellus developed a deep and not at all romantic relationship.
Romulus swallowed hard before countering, “I thought you lot didn’t say ‘would’ve’.”
Marcellus chuckled, but then frowned. “How do you know that, if you’ve never been to the meetings?”
Romulus didn’t answer, and Marcellus simply leaned forward slightly and raised his eyebrows, urging him to speak the truth. Finally, he accepted that Marcellus wasn’t going to ease up and answered, “I’ve gone to a few of the meetings. I don’t go in, I just stand outside and listen.”
Marcellus shook his head and smiled. “That’s ridiculous, mate. Just come in and sit down. You don’t have to say anything. Not everyone who goes really speaks. And it’ll mean a lot to Nadia.”
“I guess you’re right,” he conceded. “Next time, I’ll go.”
Marcellus smiled triumphantly and decided to go for one more victory while he had Romulus talking. “And you’ll go to dinner with Maria?”
“Fine,” he responded. His voice was rough and ambivalent, but Marcellus could see a shadow of excitement behind his eyes.
Marcellus smiled and went to his bed so that he could look through the notes from the meeting.