Chapter 24 : Chapter twenty-four - The Broom Closet Incidence
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Chapter twenty–four – The Broom Closet Incidence
This was a dream. Right? Surely it had to be, because there couldn’t be a rational explanation as to why my best friend of nearly fifteen years had suddenly pressed his perfect, amazing, soft, divine, perfect, wonderful, heavenly, lovely and most importantly perfect lips against mine.
I said perfect three times, didn’t I?
But oh, that’s because they were. They were absolutely and beyond perfect which was why I knew this had to be real. I had dreamed about this moment several times in my life, but none of them, not even a single one could live up to reality.
He had moved so fast. In a blink of an eye he had closed those few inches that separated us and captured my mouth with his, turning me into this gibbering idiot. And there he stayed. He wasn’t moving. His eyes were squeezed shut, the touch of his lips so careful at first, lingering – like he was waiting for something to happen. The moment before his lips moved seemed to last forever.
I was too stunned to move, too surprised to do anything else but stare at James. My best friend James whose lips were currently pressed against mine. The best friend who I was in love with. The same best friend who wasn’t supposed to feel the same way.
Those were the few thoughts that my brain actually managed to form during that everlasting moment in that tiny broom closet. I wasn’t even breathing, I had forgotten how to do that. It seemed like such a trivial skill.
And then, then he moved his lips, brushing them against mine once, twice, and I forgot everything I had been thinking a moment ago. I had already lost every little bit of control I had over myself and I responded to his kiss before I even gave myself permission, my fingers wrapping around the front of his hoodie as I pulled him closer.
I think he was surprised at first, but he didn’t freeze like me. He replied with the same amount of enthusiasm immediately, relaxing against me and losing whatever had been holding him back.
His hands left the shelf behind me, first cupping my face as his lips eagerly acquainted with mine, then sliding down against my sides. His fingers found the hem of my shirt and the bare skin under it and he wrapped his arms around my waist. The small of my back was tingling like never before and my whole body was shivering, yearning for more. I couldn’t have stopped even if I wanted to.
At least that’s what I wanted to believe. Because that’s what I kept telling myself, trying to silence the irritating voice in the back of my head that kept trying to tell me something. Something that I was overlooking. Forgetting. I tried to ignore it.
With every brush the kiss grew deeper. Hungrier. More desperate. I could feel the shelves behind me, digging into my back as James pushed me against them. Or perhaps it was me pulling him closer. I couldn’t be sure. Nor did I really care. All I knew was that it was driving me mental. I wanted nothing more than to tear all the unnecessary clothing away, not caring one bit about the fact that we were in a cramped broom closet, covered in several decades’ worth of dust and cobwebs.
But that nagging feeling grew stronger and started to actually make sense. ‘Stop kissing him! You’re with Joshua! Think of Joshua!’ it was practically screaming in my head. And finally it helped. The thought of my boyfriend felt like a bucket of ice cold water, drenching me completely and smacking me back to my frozen state.
What the hell was I thinking? I couldn’t be doing this. I was dating someone else for Merlin’s sake!
I stopped moving; untangled my hands from his hair; stopped responding to his kiss; stopped breathing again. James didn’t notice at first. His lips had just left my mouth, trailing kisses along my jawline. A small sound of pleasure escaped my lips before I could prevent it and I was momentarily drawn back to the moment, yearning to forget everything else and to just kiss him again.
But I couldn’t.
“Stop,” I said, my voice barely strong enough when I turned my head away from him. “You need to stop, James.”
“What?” he muttered absentmindedly against my skin between his kisses.
He probably hadn’t even registered what I said. I tried to force the words out again, but they got stuck in my throat and came out as a weird gurgle. Luckily my motionless state was enough for James to realise what was going on. He too seemed to freeze for a moment; his lips lingered right under my ear, his hot breath tickling the soft skin there. He was still pinning me against the shelf, his arms squeezing me close. I tried very hard to concentrate on anything but him. Something I wasn’t really succeeding at.
Every single rational thought had escaped me. I didn’t know what to do. And even if I had known, it wouldn’t have mattered. I was too stunned, too overwhelmed, too – I didn’t even have the words for what I was feeling. I just stared away with a bewildered look, trying hard to comprehend what had just happened.
The moment seemed to last a lifetime. Complete silence had fallen in that tiny broom closet, only James’s loud breaths breaking it. I wasn’t making a sound, still holding my breath. Speaking seemed like a completely foreign ability, along with blinking.
Eventually he leaned away from me as far as he could. Approximately two inches, thanks to the ‘ample’ space we were currently in. I chanced a look in his direction, hoping he would somehow manage to lighten the situation and get rid of the awkwardness that was descending upon us. But it was no use. It didn’t help the situation at all now that I could actually see his expression. His confusion was clear, as was the utter surprise. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I guessed he was feeling as shocked as I was about the fact that he had just kissed me. Or maybe it was because I had kissed him back. Or maybe...
I had to stop my train of thought right there. I couldn’t start speculating or I would drive myself mental before either of us even uttered a word. I needed to concentrate, I could not freak out now or I might do something stupid. James would surely say something soon, something that would make perfect sense.
But the look on his face didn’t give me much hope. He was tense, rigid even, and a little scared – perhaps he was expecting me to punch him, I couldn’t be sure. I wasn’t sure of anything. Maybe I should punch him.
I watched him open his mouth only to close it a second later, and then repeat this action two more times. On his fourth attempt he managed to mutter a barely audible “Well shit.”
I might have laughed if I had any control over my own actions, but instead I just stood there like a statue. Still not breathing. Only staring forwards, straight towards his lips. Not a very good idea, I had to admit, but it was hard to focus on anything else when they were right there in front of me.
The moment went on and on, growing more and more uncomfortable with every passing second. I had already started to wonder if we would ever manage to speak again when James finally found his vocal cords.
“I’m sorry,” he said, right about the time the silence became too painful. “I wasn’t planning to... I mean I –” he stumbled with his words, something he never did, and then let out a frustrated sigh. “Shit.”
“What?” an unfamiliar voice said. It took me a moment to realise it was me.
Since when had my voice squeaked that much?
“I don’t know why I –” he started, then paused for a moment. “I wasn’t –” he tried again, but failed as miserably as the first time, still not able to finish the sentence.
I wasn’t doing any better. “What?” seemed to be the only word in my vocabulary.
“I’m sorry,” he said again, and then fell silent, trying to collect himself.
I kept biting the inside of my left cheek as hard as I could, just to cause enough pain to break through my paralyzed state. I needed to tell him I didn’t want him to be sorry. I wanted to kiss him again. Or punch him for being such an arsehole for kissing me in the first place while knowing very well that I had a boyfriend. Yeah, either one of those sounded good to me.
But I hesitated too long. James took a deep breath and then blurted the words out of his mouth before I managed to say what was on my mind. “I really didn’t mean to do that. I didn’t plan to kiss you. I don’t know what got into me. I never wanted to –”
He didn’t get to finish that sentence either. It was the thing that finally pushed me over the edge and I gained power over my body again. Because I couldn’t listen to that, I didn’t want to hear the rest of that sentence. I knew what he was going to say, it was written all over his face. The panic, the fear, the guilt. I didn’t think I would’ve been able to handle it if I had let him finish that word vomit. It would’ve been too much.
So I interrupted him, covering his mouth with my hand. An obvious mistake; I had to snatch my hand away immediately as his lips brushed against my palm and sent shivers down my spine all the way to my toes, reminding me only how they had felt against my own.
We gaped at each other for one moment before I shook myself out of it. “Stop talking,” I said instead. The next awkward silent moment that followed made me very aware of the fact that now he expected me to say something.
“Just – just stop, please,” I forced the words out. “It’s fine. You don’t have to apologize.”
But he was already shaking his head before I finished.
“I really do. I didn’t mean to do it. I –”
Nonononono. I blocked his words out, searching frantically for a way to make him shut up. The word bubbled out of my mouth before I had time to think it through properly. “Out!”
That had the desired effect though. “What?” he asked, a frown appearing on his forehead.
“I need to get out,” I elaborated in a much steadier tone, desperate for some more space and time to think.
“Gwen...” he started to protest, but I must have looked anxious enough since he yielded immediately.
James reached for the handle behind him and after a moment of searching, he finally managed to open the floor. His eyes never left my face. Light filled the tiny closet, revealing the little details that had escaped my attention in the darkness. Like his tousled hair that pointed in every direction, or the state of his bottom lip that looked like he’d just stepped out of a heated snogging session. Which I guess he had...
Oh damn, had we really done that?
I had to divert my gaze down as I slipped past him to the – fortunately – empty corridor, because looking at him made me only want to grab his collar and drag him back to the closet to finish what we started.
The following moment was uncomfortable and long. I kept my gaze on the floor, cleaning my clothes of all the dust and thus ignoring James’s sexy appearance while he closed the closet door much slower than he could have, his lips pressed in a tight line. Yeah, I might have peeked a few times.
But dear Merlin, this wasn’t going to end well if we kept acting like his.
Forcing myself to look up, I faced him again, keeping my facial expressions as neutral as possible. An incredibly hard task as his hazel eyes pierced me immediately. He quirked an eyebrow in surprise, knowing that awkward situations and I didn’t really get along, and that I very rarely did something about it. The ‘brave’ Gryffindor in me preferred to handle these situations by punching people or simply ignoring them.
I cleared my throat. “We should probably talk about that,” I managed to say, even though I wasn’t feeling very articulate at the moment.
‘You can do this,’ I chanted to myself. ‘Just stay strong. You can cry it all out later.’
But the rest of what I was planning to say escaped me and I had to glance away to collect my thoughts. A small movement on the wall caught my attention immediately and I noticed several inhabitants of the nearby paintings, all crouched in the closest one, listening to every word we were – or weren’t – saying. They scattered instantly when they saw me looking and tried to act indifferent, like they weren’t doing anything suspicious at all.
I’d forgotten how nosy all of Hogwarts’ paintings were.
“Private conversation,” I grunted at them, a frown on my face.
Most of them obeyed, slipping through several frames back to their original place. Only a few remained – probably the ones whose paintings were nearest. I gave them another glare and eventually they moved too, muttering something about how impolite I was.
“Bloody eavesdroppers,” I said, glancing at James again only to find him still staring, but this time trying hard not to laugh.
“What?” I shot at him.
“Nothing,” he replied, abandoning his attempts to keep his smile at bay and flashing a full grin in my direction. “Can’t believe I’d forgotten your issues with the paintings.”
“Oh come on! They’re constantly trying to listen in on people’s conversations,” I pointed out, recalling my past incidents. James had always found it incredibly funny when I was shooing people away from their paintings. Something we very strongly disagreed about.
Okay, fine. Maybe a tiny bit amusing?
He was chuckling now and I found it hard to resist smiling. “Shut up,” I muttered at him, pursing my lips together. Unfortunately I was unable to stop the corners of my mouth from twitching.
“They’re paintings, Gwen,” he laughed. “Let them have their fun. It’s not like they have much else to do.”
I rolled my eyes at him, but didn’t argue about it anymore.
And then came the silence again.
Dear Merlin, why was this so hard?
I had to say something. Something that would make the truth sound less painful. Something that did not involve the words ‘It was a mistake, I did not want to kiss you, Gwen,’ coming out of James’s mouth.
Maybe I could tell him that we should just forget all about that? I could, but I didn’t really want to. I didn’t want to forget. I could never forget.
Urgh, just say something, Gwen. Anything.
“Look,” I started, trying to form my thoughts into something coherent. “About that – that didn’t really – that didn’t mean anything, did it?”
Oh lord, that only made it sound worse.
James didn’t reply at first and his burning gaze almost made me turn away so he couldn’t see how I didn’t mean those words at all. I got caught trying to decipher the meaning behind his eyes, but for once I couldn’t do that and it confused me.
But before I could take a better look, he seemed to empty his gaze of everything and nod. “Yeah. Exactly. I don’t know what got into me. Whatever would possess me to kiss my best friend?”
Was that sarcasm? It was, wasn’t it?
I was too overwhelmed to understand anything.
“Right,” I said, because it was the only thing I came up with.
Awkward silence followed – again. This had to be some kind of a record for us. For anyone.
Then James sighed. “Look, Gwen. I didn’t want to –” he started, but I was already interrupting.
“Good, because I didn’t either,” I blurted the words out, making James close his mouth abruptly.
Could I be any more obvious?
“I mean, I don’t know why I – I’m with Joshua, I shouldn’t have –” I tried to explain, embarrassment burning my cheeks, but the mention of my boyfriend made my chest squeeze painfully and I swallowed the rest of my sentence.
I was the worst girlfriend in the world. I had known that before already, but now I had definitely hit rock bottom. How could I ever face Joshua after this?
“Yeah,” James was saying, but I barely even heard him through my guilt. “Damn. What are you –”
“It’s fine. It doesn’t matter. Let’s not talk about it,” I hurried to say. I couldn’t go there right now. I couldn’t think about that or I would probably just scream.
“We have to talk about it,” he protested immediately.
“No,” I was firm. “Not here at least.”
“Why not? It’s an empty corridor. You’ve even scared the portraits away, now is a perfect mo–”
He didn’t get to finish that sentence. “What are you two doing here?” a voice called from behind me suddenly.
I squeezed my eyes shut. Seriously?
Our former Defence Against the Dark Arts professor Barnaby Anders had appeared at the other end of the corridor with a group of Quidditch players – former Ravenclaws – that he was guiding through the school. The old professor was eyeing us quite suspiciously while the rest were giving us curious glances.
“Where’s the rest of your group?” Anders asked as they walked closer, observing us both, searching clues from our appearances.
Luckily we had both already cleaned all the dust from our clothing, but I automatically sucked my lower lip between my teeth, hoping its possible swollen state wasn’t as obvious as James’s. Or was it just me who noticed things like that so easily about him because I knew every inch of his face and knew when something was out of place?
“We got separated,” James replied quite casually, sounding perfectly natural as he flashed a grin at the others and brushed his hand through his shaggy mane. “So we decided to do a little tour of our own. The professor wasn’t covering any of the important places.”
“Mm–hm,” Anders commented dryly, his eyes finding the door next to us. I sent silent thanks to every single dead witch and wizard that James had thought to close it. “So you’re not up to something? Some kind of a prank?”
James chuckled. “Nah, just on our way to the kitchens to see old Kreacher.”
“The kitchens?” The old professor asked, trying to stare James down.
Did he not remember him at all? That would never work.
My best friend only nodded with an innocent look on his face and the professor had no other option but to believe him.
“Well, you have no time for that now. The kitchens are quite far from here and the house-elves are busy anyways. You shouldn’t disturb them,” the professor said and started to move along the corridor. “The feast is about to begin at the Great Hall as soon as we get there. So follow me and I’ll lead you there.”
With that he walked past us, the group following right behind him, granting us with amused looks. We fell in step with the rest, walking in silence. I could feel James’s eyes on me several times, but I kept my gaze firmly on the long, plaited hair of the Tutshil Tornadoes seeker in front of me.
Yet it didn’t matter how much I avoided looking at him because I couldn’t stop thinking about him. During the walk the only thing on my mind was that kiss. And most importantly why had he done it. Why had he kissed me? What did it mean? I couldn’t quite understand that.
And I shouldn’t be speculating it either. I should let him explain, no matter how much it hurt. Speculating would only make it worse. I did it every time. I read too much into the situation and I ended up getting more hurt. Hearing him turn me down would cause far less pain than getting my hopes up first and then hearing him say it.
I forced myself to stop thinking about it as our group reached the Great Hall. Students were sitting at their house tables already and the rest of the Quidditch players were standing in a large group at the front. We joined them.
The Headmaster delivered yet another speech which I ignored completely, not out of disrespect, but I simply couldn’t find the concentration to listen. I kept staring at the ceiling and the walls, rememorizing every single detail of the grand room to keep my mind occupied.
The next thing I knew I was being pulled towards the Gryffindor table and seated amongst the group of girls I had met earlier on the pitch and in the common room. I’m pretty sure they had all told me their names back then, I could recall one of them was named Darla and the other was Jess or Jen or something. The rest of them – I had no clue. I was never that good with names and given my distraught state, it was a wonder I even remembered my own.
They did save me from an agonizing meal sitting next to James and for that I was very grateful. I could see him sitting a few seats down, glancing in my direction, but I made a point of ignoring him and concentrated only on the questions the girls kept asking. And of course the delicious food, compliments of the Hogwarts house-elves. I might have forgotten many things from my time at the wizarding school, but I could never forget this. Nothing was better – well, almost nothing. I think Nana Weasley’s cooking still held the first place, but this wasn’t that far behind.
After finishing with our meals we were supposed to mingle with the students and sign some autographs for them. For me that meant chatting with people who were as far away from James as possible. He seemed to be keeping his distance too, or maybe giving me space to avoid a very possible freak out. It worked for the time being and I was able to concentrate on what I was supposed to be doing.
At least for a while.
“Are you fighting with Potter because of me?” a voice behind me said, whispering it in my ear so no one else could hear.
Alex. Great, this was exactly what I needed... Not.
“No,” I replied, not even bothering to glance up from the photo I was signing at the moment.
“But you are fighting about something, aren’t you?” he continued to push the subject when he appeared by my side.
“No,” I repeated, returning the photo to its owner.
“Really? So it’s just a coincidence you keep bolting to the other side of the Hall whenever he gets too close?”
Stupid, perceptive git.
“That’s really none of your business,” I said, finally glancing up at him.
Alex looked a little surprised by my blunt dismissal, but then just shrugged. “Fair enough. How have you been then?” he questioned, changing the subject.
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at him and just walk away. “Alright, I guess. Not much has happened lately other than getting back into shape,” I replied.
Yeah, nothing much. Other than my best friend just kissing me and completely messing everything up.
But yeah, for obvious reasons I did not mention anything about that.
“Any idea when you’re getting back on the field?”
“Nope. I guess I’m still too heavily drugged to pass the tests,” I told him, recalling the amount of potions I still had to take every day, especially prior to my practises.
“That sucks,” he said, then starting an explanation of a time he was injured and couldn’t play for a month.
While he kept talking, I glanced in the direction where I’d seen James the last time, hoping he hadn’t noticed Alex approaching me. Pointless. His hazel eyes found mine immediately, but on a positive note he was still standing where I’d last seen him, this time chatting with Hagrid, and didn’t seem like he was going to disturb us. I guess he had also decided that things were awkward enough without the unnecessary drama that would come if the two of them confronted each other again.
I turned my eyes away from James and tried to concentrate on what Alex was saying, but the effort didn’t last long. I stopped listening at some point, just nodding absentmindedly and agreeing to everything. The only thing that registered was when he said he’d owl me with more details when he parted. I wondered what I had agreed to – maybe meeting with him? I didn’t really care. I could always cancel it later.
James was at my side only moments after I’d settled down at the Gryffindor table.
“What did he want?” he asked, sitting down next to me. I could tell he was trying to keep his tone neutral and not show his annoyance towards the other man. I appreciated the effort. Still, I couldn’t help but notice how he left more space between us than normal.
Was this how it would be from now on? Little things like that would start to change? And eventually everything would be all different?
I didn’t want that.
I faced him with the most natural expression I could conjure. “Honestly, I’m not sure. I wasn’t really listening. I think I might have agreed to meet with him, I was just nodding to everything he said.”
“I’ll just cancel it later. When my attention span is a little higher,” I tried with a small smile.
He did smile at that too, and then let out a sigh. “Why are we being so awkward?” he asked.
I could only shrug at that.
“I mean, we shouldn’t be. There’s nothing we can’t talk about,” he continued.
“I guess it has something to do with the setting,” I offered as a lame excuse, glancing toward a group of fourth years that was slowly advancing on us. “Hard to talk about things when there are so many people around.”
“Later then?” he asked when the first girl reached us and shyly shoved a gossip magazine with James on the cover in front of him.
“Yeah, later,” I agreed, watching him sign the photo and flash a smile at the blushing kid.
The second one was already approaching him and the first girl stepped in front of me, opening that same magazine to a spread with a picture of me. My next few minutes were spent signing photographs and watching James interact with the students. I tried to smile, and at least managed to act friendlier than I had in the past moments. Apparently he noticed it too.
“Well done,” James said to me when he kids moved on. “You didn’t even scold once, must be a new record,” he added with a smirk.
“Oh shut up,” I murmured back, but I was pleased by how much more natural this already felt.
He must have been thinking along the same lines. “See, this doesn’t have to be awkward at all,” he said. “Nothing’s changed.”
“You didn’t even punch me,” he continued, his grin only widening. He was clearly pleased by that outcome. “In fact, I recall a conversation where you said you’d beat us senseless and never speak to us again if we ever tried something like that.”
“Haven’t ruled it out yet,” I told him, to which he chuckled and tried to ruffle my hair.
“Should’ve known you’re just all talk and no – OW!!”
He totally deserved that one.
The little girl from earlier passed by the table then, a shy smile on her face as she watched our bickering. When I noticed her, I signalled her to come and sit with us. She couldn’t have looked more pleased as she sat on my left side, a deep, red blush covering her cheeks.
I learned that her name was Viola – I made sure to remember that one – and that she indeed was a first year, dreaming of becoming a professional Quidditch player when she grew up. She hoped to be a Chaser someday, but her size and lack of strength were still holding her back, making her more fit for the role of a Seeker.
She told me about her family and how her dad took her to every Pride of Portree game. I listened with interest and tried to ignore the fist that tightened around my heart, reminding me of my own childhood and how similar it had been. Until he ruined it all.
Luckily that subject didn’t last long and she started to question me about the classes I had attended when I was in Hogwarts. I gave her an honest answer, but tried to encourage her to study more than I had. I wasn’t the best role model out there with only three N.E.W.T.s. But I had always known that my future career would have something to do with Quidditch, even if I couldn’t play in a professional team, and I didn’t need grades for that. It wouldn’t have hurt to have a backup plan though, but the teenage me didn’t care about anything other than flying and dropped every single class she didn’t have to or didn’t want to take.
I chatted with Viola for pretty much the rest of the time, interrupting only to sign a few photographs every now and then. James hovered nearby the whole time, a proud smile on his face as he watched me interact with my new favourite fan. He joined in on the conversation a few times, indulging us with his oh–so–funny comments. I couldn’t stop smiling. Everything was going to be fine with the two of us. We would get past this.
The awkwardness didn’t return until our time at Hogwarts was over and we had just made it back to the front yard of our apartment building.
“So, my place?” James suggested, trying to hide the nervousness from his glance as we stepped through the front door.
I nodded. Better get this over with. “Sure. I’ll just – I need to tell Joshua I’m back. I promised to let him know the moment we arrived.”
Oh lord, I didn’t even want to think about how that conversation would go.
“Oh, alright,” I heard James comment, nodding as he turned his eyes away from me and pressed the elevator button.
Seriously, how could I face Joshua now after the broom closet incident? How would he react if I told him? Should I tell him? Would I ever be able to act normal if I didn’t?
And what the hell was taking that elevator so long?
I didn’t have to wait too long to get that last question answered. At that moment the elevator finally reached the ground floor, revealing a smiling man behind the grills.
“Joshua,” I stated the obvious as my boyfriend slid the gate open and stepped out.
“Hi,” he beamed as he came closer and leaned in to give me a small kiss on the cheek. “You’re early. I wasn’t expecting you for another half an hour.”
“Oh, yeah. It – it ended a bit earlier than I thought,” I managed to say in a surprisingly steady tone as I tried to recover from the shock. I sure as hell wasn’t feeling steady. My heart was beating out of my chest and I was certain the guilt was practically written on my forehead.
“That’s good. I was worried you might be running late and we’d be in a hurry, but now we have lots of time.”
“Err, what?” was my very fluent answer. Then I remembered. “Oh right, the surprise.”
“Did you forget?” he teased with a smile on his lips. I had after all been quite impatient about that for days now, so it was highly unlikely that I’d forget. But truth to be told, I had forgotten, just for a second.
“No, no, I just –” the rest of my sentence got stuck somewhere in my throat and I glanced quickly in James’s direction.
He was staring back with those burning eyes of his and I had to look away immediately for they only made me feel even more ashamed.
I turned back to Joshua who was also looking at me, with a concerned expression this time. “You alright?” he asked. “You look a little pale. You didn’t exhaust yourself today?”
Damn it, no more looks in James’s direction!
“No, I’m fine. Just a little overwhelmed, that’s all,” I made up quickly. “It was a long day.”
He smiled. “Well I have a perfect cure for that.”
I seriously doubted that, but forced a smile on my lips too. “Oh?”
“Yes. I’ll make a quick trip to the corner store to pick up a few last minute items. While I’m away I want you to pack your bags. Take everything you need for a weeklong trip, and don’t forget your Quidditch kit and broom,” he said.
My eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Are – are we going somewhere?”
“France, to our estate. We’ll be back next Saturday.”
Okay, I definitely hadn’t expected that. I don’t even know what I’d expected. Maybe a weekend getaway at most, but not that. Definitely not that.
When the first shock wore off, my eyes immediately found James even though I had just promised myself I wouldn’t do that. I needed to see what he was making from all this.
But his eyes were directed towards Joshua, a look in them that I couldn’t quite interpret.
“Surprised?” I heard Joshua ask and turned to look at him again.
“You could say that,” I admitted, desperately trying to search through my brain for a good enough explanation that wouldn’t hurt his feelings. Because I couldn’t go! Not now, not when everything was such a mess.
“Well I’m glad. I was certain you had guessed it, especially since my sister already prattled about the estate. But luckily that wasn’t the whole surprise. I do still have a few more tricks up my sleeve, but you’ll have to wait a little longer to find those out.”
“Right,” I said and had to force the next words out. “I just – I’m not sure I – I can’t just leave like that.”
James eyes were on me again, I was sure of it, but I didn’t dare to check this time.
“Oh?” Joshua replied, his expression completely unchanged. In fact, he was still smiling.
“Well, I have scheduled practises for next week, and a big press conference. I don’t think –”
“That’s all been cleared up with your coach and Healer Smith. The press conference has been moved to another date, and as for the practises, well, you’ll get to fly as much as you want at the estate under my supervising eye. You might even get to try your own broom at the end of the week,” Joshua smiled.
I opened my mouth, but closed it only moments later. I had to admit it, that did sound tempting, very tempting in fact, and if the situation had been different, I would’ve been eager to go. But now...
“Really?” I asked just to buy myself some more time and think of more excuses.
“Yes,” he nodded. “This was originally your coach’s idea, and Healer Smith was in complete agreement. With all the attention from the press and now with the troubles at your stadium, they thought it would be better for your healing process to get you somewhere where you could practise without all that pressure. They had a few ideas of their own, but when I suggested this, they agreed it would be a much more relaxing environment for you.”
“Ah,” I said.
My mind was drawing a blank. I had no excuses. How could you even decline something like that?
“Still having doubts?” Joshua asked, and this time I was certain his expression fell a tiny bit.
I hated that. I didn’t want to disappoint him, he didn’t deserve that. He had gone through so much trouble for this. And a part of me didn’t even want to decline. ‘Why should you?’ it kept asking me.
I glanced at James. Yes, why? He had practically said it already. He didn’t mean to kiss me, it was just – well, an accident, for the lack of a better word.
James’s eyes were on me, just like I’d suspected, but they weren’t revealing anything. He was waiting for me to answer, just like Joshua was.
Joshua turned to look at James too, realising why I was hesitating, but not the exact reason behind it. “He’s a big boy, I’m sure he’ll manage a week without you, right?” he said with an amused smile.
James didn’t reply. He wasn’t offering any help, this was all on me.
Whatever I answered, it wouldn’t feel right. But I guess it came down to choosing again, just like it did every single time I was in a relationship. And I always chose James. Always.
The grip around my heart tightened as I hesitated, the internal battle only growing stronger.
‘He kissed you,’ another voice seemed to be shouting to me. That had to mean something. But he had also said he hadn’t meant to. That didn’t sound like something more, it sounded like a mistake. I just happened to be there for it. It didn’t mean anything to him.
Yet my heart refused to believe that. It wasn’t that kind of a kiss. It had to mean something. I had felt it. Or was I just wishing that because it had meant something more to me? Was I really going to ruin another relationship because of James, only based on my hopes and expectations?
Argh! I wanted to groan out loud and walk away from this ridiculous situation. I needed time. I needed to think this through. And most of all I really needed to talk to James, to hear him confirm it, no matter how much it would hurt. Why hadn’t I let him explain earlier?
“Gwen?” Joshua asked, that concern in his voice again. Apparently I had stayed silent for too long.
“Yeah? Oh, sorry, I got a bit distracted.”
Alright. Decision time. I was going to have to agree to this, there was no way I could decline when it was all planned with Coach and Healer Smith. Hopefully I could talk to James before we left. I still had time for that, right?
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Joshua asked, cupping my face and searching for signs of deliria or whatever.
“Yeah, I was just...” I stared, blushing at the gesture while my guilt kept punching me in the gut. “Right, so when are we leaving?”
“The Portkey is scheduled to leave in two hours, but we have to be at the travel agency thirty minutes earlier for security check,” he explained and I was certain I paled even more.
The Portkey? All the way to Southern France? Oh lord, I was going to hurl all over him when we arrived.
I offered Joshua a very shaky, “Right.”
“You go pack now. I’ll drop by when I come back, alright?”
I nodded. “Sure.”
“Great,” he said and leaned closer to give me another kiss on the cheek and then glanced at the other man standing next to us. “James. I hope you don’t mind me stealing her away?”
I turned my eyes in his direction too, but he was already looking away. “No, I agree. She does need that, to get away from the media and all,” James said with a smile, but I got a feeling it was a bit forced.
Joshua nodded. He glanced at me once more with a “See you soon,” before turning around and starting towards the store around the corner, leaving me alone with James and our new best friend, the awkward silence.
“Shall we?” he said eventually, avoiding my eyes as he pulled the grills open and gestured me to get in the lift.
“Yeah,” I managed to say and stepped inside.
We didn’t say a word for the whole trip upstairs. Only when we stepped out of the elevator, he opened his mouth. “I guess I’ll be seeing you in a week then?” he said, still not looking at me.
I sighed. “Yeah. I – I know we need to talk about – so I know it’s not the best timing, but I couldn’t just – you know – decline...”
Oh lord, did I seriously sound that awkward?
“No,” he said. “Of course not. And why should you have? It’s good for you. Hopefully you’ll get back to the team faster this way. And we don’t really need to talk about it, do we? I mean it would just make things more – maybe just forget it completely? We can do that, right?”
“Oh, I –” I stumbled with my words as I had not expected him to say that. Wasn’t he the one who had wanted to talk? “I just thought...”
“There’s not really that much to say about it. It just happened.”
“Great,” he said and smiled, finally facing me. It was obviously a fake one and I frowned a little, trying to understand.
“Are – are you really sure?” I asked, a bit confused by this all. Was he lying about it being okay? Because I was quite sure he was. “We can talk about it now. I’m sure Joshua could arrange for a later Portkey, or cance–”
“No, of course not,” he interrupted and pulled me into a hug. But even that felt a bit forced. “I meant it, let’s just forget that whole stupid thing, no need to make a bigger deal out of it when it didn’t mean anything.”
“Oh, okay,” I replied automatically. What else could I say?
“Now go pack before you’ll be late. And remember to take a few deep breaths after you land or you’ll puke all over the place,” he said with a small smile as he let me go. “I’ll be fine, I’ll just hang around with Freddy and Hayden while you’re gone. You have fun with your boyfriend.”
I watched him lean closer once more, like he was going to give me a kiss on the forehead, something he so often did, but then seemed to decide against it and instead just ruffled my hair. He took a step back, his smile fading little by little. Before it disappeared completely, he turned around and went for his door. Without another glance back he stepped inside his flat, leaving me alone in the corridor, feeling more confused than ever.
A/N: Tada! I'm here again, late as always... But gosh, this chapter - it's been the bane of my existence for a while now. I actually finished it once several months ago, but disliked it so, so much. Ended up rewriting the whole thing. But now it's finally finished and I'm satisfied with it ^^ Just - try not to hate me too much after you read it d:
And once again huge thanks to my amazing beta, CambAngst!
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