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Chapter 16 : The One with the Distractions
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For omgjamespotter and 12tmnt34.
“Falcon Cat. Shut it. It’s not even morning yet.”
“It is morning,” Freddie said from the doorway. I didn’t ask why he was in the doorway as I woke up. “And that’s not Falcon Cat.”
“Are you making cat noises again? I told you that wasn’t going to get you a promotion at the shelter. I also told you there are no promotions because you aren’t being paid.”
Fred huffed. “It’s coming from outside. Maybe it’s the mysterious TomCat you’ve grown so fond of.”
I leapt out of bed. “It better not be!” I said, rushing to the window in naught but my boxers. This matter was important. “Where’s Falcon Cat?”
“Currently throwing down her hair,” Freddie muttered. “Did you want toast with your rage?”
“Put a sock in it.” I threw back the curtains and had a pretty good look at the side yard. There was a tree, but leaves were masking its branches. Stupid summer. “I don’t see a cat.” There it was again. The meow. “HE’S TESTING MY PATIENCE.”
Bink told me to shut up through the wall.
I yelled back and asked if Rose was in there.
Rose said hi through the wall and then told Freddie to make her toast.
I rolled my eyes. “This is a serious matter,” I said, grabbing some rain boots (closest shoes) and heading for the door. I was going to find that cat. Falcon Cat was my cat and she didn’t need her mind on some demon TomCat with no way to support the two of them.
“You’re in your underwear,” Freddie said, but I was already down the stairs and outside.
I rounded the garage and hurried under the big tree. Freddie was watching from the window.
“TomCat?” I called. “Where are you? Show yourself, coward!”
No cat. But there was another meow. This was getting absurd.
I blinked. For a moment, I carefully took inventory of what I wore. Plaid rain boots. Plaid boxers (different color combination). That was it. And I could have used more of a tan.
Behind me, in an unfortunate turn of events, was Nia Baker. She was fully clothed and looked a little different even though it had been only a couple weeks since I’d seen her at graduation. She looked good. Cut her hair. Got some of those highlights. Dark crap around her eyes. But she looked happy in the way that people do before they say anything.
“This isn’t what it looks like,” I said. I looked up. Bink and Rose had joined Freddie at the window. They were all eating toast.
“What does it look like?” Nia raised a brow. “You’re almost naked shouting at a tree.”
“To be fair, I’m not shouting at the tree.”
“Just in its general direction?”
“There’s a cat up there.” I nodded to the branches covered in leaves.
“You’re shouting at a cat? Is it trapped?”
“Trapped in the act of trying to make eyes at my cat,” I mumbled.
Nia smiled. “You haven’t changed a bit,” she said.
I wanted to remind her it had literally only been a couple weeks, but I didn’t. Instead, I nodded. “I doubt I ever will,” I said.
“I heard you got married.”
I waved the ring. “Yep.”
“You’re going to owl me when that shit goes to hell, right? Because you’re too young to get married.”
Oh, Nia. What a great sport she was. Such a supporter of my relationship with Avery. Couldn’t exactly blame her given she was on the receiving end of some brutality from Aves.
“So you’re at my flat,” I said. “Alone. At my flat.”
“You never gave me a tour,” Nia said playfully.
“But you randomly stopped by. Why?”
She stuck out her tongue. “Fine. To business. I have some information for you.”
I paused. It could be information about Puddifoots opening a new branch in Diagon Alley or something obviously sexual, but at the same time it could be information I needed. About David Flynn or Mason or TomCat.
“Tell me then.”
Nia bit her lip and I remembered right then and there why we went on that date.
“I can’t tell you here,” she said softly. “Can we go upstairs?”
“Yes,” I said, glancing over my shoulder. “But we’re doing the one foot on the floor rule.” Dad told that to Lily before, though she never brought any boys home. I hexed them all first. He said it again when Wesley visited this summer. Again, hexed before he got that far. The rule stated when you’re in the bedroom, one foot has to be on the floor at all times. Also known as, no getting fresh on the bed.
Albus did not follow that rule.
Hey, maybe he did but I didn’t want to know the details.
Nia followed me upstairs and tried not to laugh as my rain boots made absurd noises on the floor. Fred, Bink, and Rose were still in my room.
“Found your cat,” Rose said, pointing outside. “Oh, whoops. Nope. He’s gone.”
“I didn’t see a cat,” Freddie announced. “Nia. Nice to see you again. Here. Not at Hogwarts.”
Nia waved. “Pleasure, boys.”
The three of them shot me very puzzled looks, but left when I shot them an angered one. Bink shut the door. I knew their ears were pressed against it.
“All right,” I said. “What’s this information and why did we need to be inside?”
Nia sat on the bed and scooted back so her feet didn’t touch the floor. What a girl. She swung her legs, but made no moves. “As you may not know, I have some ties in the Quidditch world right now.”
She grimaced. “Let’s just not go there, okay? I’ve been seeing someone who might be involved in an attempt to ruin your life…to put it nicely.”
My eyes widened. “The plan. Who are you seeing? Do I need a machete?”
Nia sighed. “He’s being blackmailed,” she said. “Blackmailed into helping. I wish I knew more, but from what I overheard, it’s going to happen just before the first exhibition game.”
“I’m not even playing that game,” I said, perplexed. “Lindt benched me.”
She leaned back on her elbows. “I don’t know. I just know that’s the plan. Whatever it is. I also know it’s dangerous and it’s meant to keep you from playing Quidditch. He said something about you getting out of it last time because of someone called Ballo?”
“How do you have ties in the Quidditch world and not know Ballo?”
She stared. “By ties, I meant I’m shagging someone in the Quidditch world, James. I’m not being quizzed on it.”
“Sorry.” I leaned against the window and the glass cooled my back. “Something dangerous. Just before that first game. To keep me from playing. Goddamn. They’re really not letting this thing go.”
“Is there anything I can do?” Nia asked. “I’m being serious. I know we kid around a lot, but I don’t want you to get hurt. You’re a nice guy with a big heart. And as much as I hate to admit I know anything about Quidditch, I know how talented you are.”
It felt good to hear her say that. I was pretty sure that was the most she’d said about Quidditch … ever. And it was nice of her.
“Thank you,” I said. “If you figure anything else out, please let me know. I’ll try to piece it together.”
“I hope you figure it out,” Nia said, hopping up from the bed. She opened her mouth to add to it, but then stopped. “Ugh. Freddie, stop breathing so loud.”
I looked at the closed door.
“I BREATHE PERFECTLY NORMAL THANK YOU.”
Avery had errands, so I met her at the shopping center and filled her in on my visit from Nia and the information.
“You were wearing your boxers the entire time?” she said.
“Can we please focus on the important things?”
She smirked and elbowed me. “Fine. Just before the first exhibition game. That gives us a little time to figure it out and stop it.”
“I’m thinking… kidnap Mason and just drop him in a stable with horse droppings,” I said.
She shot me a look. “You need to talk to Lindt about this. Tell him what happened. Worst-case scenario, even if things don’t work out, Mason hopefully won’t get the call-up.”
Even if things don’t work out. Meaning if I get offed.
“I don’t want to whine to my captain.”
“Better idea?” she demanded.
“Yeah, okay, I’ll whine to my captain.”
Avery wrinkled her nose. “The problem is, we have very little evidence. We have our own accounts of what happened when you were kidnapped. We have that elderly gent you met in the petrol station. But we don’t have hard evidence. They’ll have alibis placing them elsewhere and will have covered their tracks. Without something solid, we have nothing other than you vanishing for a few hours and turning up looking like shit … which, we obviously could have made up.”
“Mum saw me,” I said.
“And she could be making that up too,” Avery argued. “We have no hard evidence linking Mason and Emerson to the kidnapping. Which means we can’t rely on that to get justice.”
“How about we rely on whatever you did to Twitwards to get him in the hospital?”
Avery linked arms with me and we went down a moving staircase. “That won’t work for Mason,” she said. “Unfortunately, he’s smarter than Emerson.”
“So he’s smarter than a box of crayons. Not by much.”
“Much smarter,” Avery added. “He’s been trying to get on that team for years. Years. He’s ruthless. Emerson just wanted a girlfriend, a shag, and to get revenge on you for making him look like a fool so many times. But trust me when I say he will still follow-through on whatever he promised my father. I’m guessing it’s a pardon from the Minister.”
I groaned. The very idea of David Flynn back out and about spitting my name at people was beyond hate.
We walked past a few clothing shops and Avery paused before wrinkling her nose and continuing. Her heart wasn’t in shopping today.
“What I’m saying is we’re figuring this out from the ground up,” she explained. “Without evidence, we have to find evidence.”
“This isn’t any fun,” I muttered as we walked by a shoe store. “I just want to play Quidditch and sign posters.”
“I just want to play Quidditch,” Avery shot back. “It’ll be fine, okay? I’m going to find a way onto the Harpies even though Cooper has been bought and you’re going to keep being famous and play your first game.”
“I might not even play the first game I’m benched from,” I said.
“You might be benched from the second anyway,” Avery said, shrugging. “That’s the day after our thirty is up.”
Bollocks. So it was. The first exhibition game was a week before, yet I couldn’t play.
Technically, we could just stay married for the second so they could see how fantastic I was before benching me again.
I didn’t want to think about that. If we didn’t figure out this stupidly sinister plot, I wouldn’t make it to watch the first game, let alone warm the bench.
“And my father?” I said.
“Talk to Lindt first. One step at a time.”
Avery stopped and peered to her left. Then back to me. Then back to the shop. She smirked.
I glanced. Ah.
“C’mon.” She tugged me inside a very pastel lingerie shop.
Lingerie. Like tiny pieces of silky and lace fabrics all over the bloody place. On mannequins and draped across countertops and on models in photographs. All sorts of undergarments. The kinds that are normal and the kinds that are for wedding nights and the kinds I should not be looking at right now because oh Godric Gryffindor this was going to end badly.
“Should we change the subject?” Avery was in front of me, walking backward, with a sly grin.
“I’m not sure this relates to the plan,” I said. Quickly. I said this very quickly. And loudly, as the clerk shot me a look.
Was I disturbing the customers? Great.
“Can I help you find something?” she asked.
Avery smiled. “I think we can manage. Thank you.” She took my hand and led me past rows of things I tried desperately not to picture on her. This was torture. It was just plain mean.
And awkward when she draped a pair of lacy things in my hand.
“What do you think?”
“This is fabric?” I blurted.
“Should I try it on?” Avery asked.
“Is that sanitary? What if other people tried it on?” I whispered. A few browsing girls looked at me in disgust. “Am I not supposed to say that? What are the rules in here?”
“The rules are… don’t drool on the merchandise.” Avery plucked the lace things from my hand and tossed them back onto the counter. “No. I think we need something more fun, don’t you?” She led me into another connected room.
This is where they kept the sheer things and the fitted things with ribbons for straps and the silk nightgowns that more reminded me of napkins.
Unfair, Avery Flynn.
She took a hanger and placed it against her bust, letting a black silk nightgown fall over her figure and skim the tops of her thighs. There was a lace trim. I didn’t notice much else other than my voice when I (loudly) shouted at her to tell me the price because I had money and I needed that in my life.
Yeah. Really loud.
I did this several times and the more she pulled things off hangers, the more irrational I became. I tried to fight it. I was a grown wizard. I graduated Hogwarts. There could be press tailing me right now snapping photos through the window of the store. I had people plotting to ruin my life.
But I went weak at the knees when this woman held slinky clothes against herself.
Call me shallow if you want. There was nothing Avery Flynn didn’t look sexy in.
It was just a bonus if there was more skin.
“James?” Avery waved her hand in front of my face. “I’m going to try this one on.” She held the first black nightgown and had the rest draped over her arm. “I just want to make sure it looks right.”
I sat outside the waiting room in a plush purple chair twirling my thumbs. There was a bloke beside me on his phone looking bored. How was he bored? Did he know where he was? This place was sensory heaven. So many fabrics and it smelled like melons. The good kind. Like summer melon outside at a picnic. I wondered if that was a smell.
Not that I’d get it. It’s obviously not manly, but it smelled nice. Maybe Avery could smell like that.
No. I liked whatever it was she wore. Did she wear perfume? Did she just smell nice?
So many life questions.
Avery opened the door. I didn’t know she was going to open the door. Part of me hoped she’d try the nightgown in privacy and make her own judgment call so I didn’t have to be part of this moment.
Not that I didn’t want to.
I did. Oh, Godric, I did.
But Emerson’s stupid voice kept playing through my head. The v-card. The stupid v-card. I’d never done anything like this before – watch a girl try on lingerie – especially in a public place with this bloke totally not looking at his phone anymore sitting beside me.
Avery looked … well, Avery looked like I knew she’d look. Perfect.
It was silk and cut low with tiny straps and lace. As I thought, it barely went over her bottom. She was tan. How did she get so tan? How did her hair spill over her shoulders that way? Did she just wake up like that or did she do something with her hair to make it do that? How did her legs look that long? How was she so unbelievably sexy that she could take a serious conversation about my potential ruined career and turn it into me pondering if pulling the fire alarm would give us enough time to shag in the dressing room?
“You like it?” Avery said, biting down on her bottom lip.
Yeah. I couldn’t even talk. I just opened my mouth a few times and then punched the guy next to me in the thigh when he wouldn’t stop drooling. Seriously. Drooling on the pretty purple sofa.
Erm. Super masculine purple sofa.
She smirked and retreated back into the dressing room to change. I let out a sigh and fell back into the sofa. My heart couldn’t take much more of this.
I heard Bink and Freddie asking when we were going to do it. Shag. We’d been together for a while now and we were married. You’re supposed to shag after you get married. Something about rose petals on a bed and I totally failed that one. Worst husband ever.
She returned fully dressed and with the same sassy smirk.
I narrowed my eyes. “You’re the worst,” I said.
“By worst you mean the best.”
“Yes, well, I assumed you knew that.” I took the clothes from her and put them on the counter, paying for the lot. I made her carry the pink bag, though. I drew the line at pink bags.
“Was that a good change of subject?” Avery asked as we wove through the crowd.
I nudged her. She knew the answer. “Should we do it soon then?” I said. “You know, shag?”
I could tell had she been drinking, the liquid would have soaked the floor in front of us. “Should we shag soon?”
“Right. Yeah. I can see how that would come off as insensitive. In retrospect.”
“James.” Avery stopped and steered me to the side of the hall, next to the window of some cooking shop with knives on display. Was this a commentary on the situation? “We don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with. If you’re not ready, you’re not ready.”
“Wait, me?” I said.
“Sure. I don’t want to pressure you into anything.”
I gaped at her for a minute as people brushed by us. “Hold on. You’re waiting on me? You’re ready?”
She bit her lip again. “Sort of been ready. Yeah.”
“For how damn long?” I shot back.
She laughed nervously. “Look. Let’s go back to your place, hmm? Your parents invited me for dinner. I love dinner. Don’t you like dinner?”
I grabbed her hand. “Wait. Seriously, how long have you been ready?”
Avery looked uncomfortable, which wasn’t a common look for her. “Can we drop it?”
I didn’t want to drop it, but people were starting to stare as they walked in and out of the kitchen shop. I nodded and we went home and dropped off the pink bag in my bedroom. We had dinner with my parents and said nothing about David Flynn or Emerson or Mason or the first exhibition game. We did talk about practice and my tie collection and TomCat. Dad didn’t agree with my idea to cut down the tree.
When we got back to my room, however, I closed the door and Avery pulled the receipt from the bag and tucked it into the pile with all my other receipts I was ignoring.
“Aves,” I said. “I want to talk about this.”
“It’s not a big deal,” she insisted, her cheeks turning pink. “I just know you wanted to take things slow and have a relationship and I get that. Hell, we broke up right in the middle of it so it’s not like I was concerned.”
“You never said anything,” I argued.
“We were kind of busy trying to save our careers.”
“This whole time you were waiting for me?”
She groaned. “James, it’s not like that. I wasn’t just waiting around pining for a shag. I just figured when you made the first move it’d be fine. I’m not in a hurry. We’re young and it’s a big step. There are consequences for big steps and we haven’t talked about them.”
“Babies,” Avery said seriously and I made a face that suggested immediately I didn’t want a baby. “Diseases.”
“Why? You think I have a disease?”
“You’re a virgin, love. You don’t have a disease. I hope.” She snickered and nudged me so I laughed too. “I don’t have any, if you’re wondering. But it’s something we haven’t talked about.”
“How does one… talk about it?”
“Like we are now,” Avery said. She smirked and kicked off her shoes. “Don’t look at me like that. Like I was keeping some big secret from you.”
I leaned against the window. Same as I’d done when Nia was in here this morning, but this time I was fully clothed and something far different was on my mind.
I opened my mouth and then closed it again. Something I’d been thinking about for a while surfaced. “Aves, you don’t have your v-card, do you?” I said, arms folded.
Avery looked up, her expression not so much as flickering. “No,” she said. “I don’t.”
“You never said anything.”
“Not some of my proudest decisions.”
“We’re best mates,” I stated. “We told each other everything. We still do.”
“Don’t get into this honesty debate. You’ll lose.”
I sighed. “I’m serious. Even before the relationship. You never mentioned it. Even after I told you about all my sloppy makeout sessions with girls over the summer, you didn’t say anything.”
She leaned back on the bed and hoisted her feet up and then under the blankets. “Last summer,” she explained. “A boy called Francis – do NOT laugh at that, James Potter – A bottle of wine. A few nights. A few mistakes.”
I tried really hard to focus on the name and not the fact that some bloke had so much as touched Avery Flynn. I tried not to react how I used to, hexing guys for talking to her. Before I realized I fancied her. I tried not to consider how many ways there were to find this Francis and teach him a serious lesson.
I tried. And I succeeded.
I sat at the foot of the bed. “You regret it?”
“I try not to regret things,” Avery said softly. She draped an arm over her eyes. “It’s what I wanted then. In the moment. I try not to regret things like that. Do I wish I would have realized I fancied you sooner? Sure. But then you just would have yelled something about a different pastry burning.”
I flushed. Not my finest moment either.
“Are you mad?” she said.
“Why would I be mad? Kind of embarrassed, frankly.”
Avery nudged me with her foot. “You could take him.”
“Obviously,” I said with a huff and crawled under the covers with her. I wrapped her in my arms. “Aves?”
“I’m not ready,” I said.
She kissed me. “Thank you for telling me,” she said and kissed me again.
Avery tried on the rest of the outfits for me and I played music as she walked the catwalk of my bedroom. After a while I tackled her onto the bed and we had a great snog that didn’t result in babies.
A really, really great snog.
It’s crazy how when you’re so absorbed in your own crazy threat problems, you forget about the things around you. Okay, I didn’t forget about TomCat or that Freddie promised to make Avery a chocolate cake, but other things dissolved. I had a harder time keeping up with whether Rose and Bink were snogging or fighting since I was spending so much time tailing Mason and watching my back.
I worked hard at practice to show Lindt I was exactly the player who threw the Quaffle past him a couple months ago. I took ice baths and hot showers, careful to check for toasters in the water.
I couldn’t remember which days Freddie was at the shelter and which he visited Amy since she was un-grounded. They still weren’t allowed back at the flat and had to keep Amy’s bedroom door open while Fred was over. He mentioned wanting to shag her, but the timing wasn’t right.
Obviously. The door was wide open.
I didn’t tell Bink and Freddie about my decision not to sleep with Avery yet. I should have. I shouldn’t have been ashamed, but I didn’t look forward to the looks they were going to give me. The – why the bloody hell not?
Sure, I’d look back on this and slap myself on the back of the head.
But the truth was, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready for the consequences of a baby or mutant or Surprise Slytherin. I wanted to focus on our careers and we’d have plenty of time for a shag after we got out of this mess.
If I got out of this mess.
It occupied my mind more than I wanted it to. My turns were off at practice and Lindt noticed. Ballo noticed. He gave me extra laps and AliCat asked what the hell was the matter with me.
All the things.
At least family dramas had subsided. Lily and I practiced every Wednesday evening and I told her how shit her dives were and she told me where I could stick the Beater’s bat. Albus was around a lot and, because of that, so was Paloma Dove. She sunbathed in the backyard one day and I dumped cold water over myself. I couldn’t help it.
The parents were doing well, despite Mum’s attempt to weasel out of me who kidnapped me so she could have them arrested and killed (her words, not mine). Dad told me a few more times that he was here for me.
I knew that. I did. And I wasn’t trying to hide information from him.
I just wanted to go to him when I knew I really needed it. When I could no longer rely on myself.
This time I would. I’d ask him for help.
Not yet, though. Not quite yet.
Because of the focus I had on trying to find Mason’s plot and what he had offered David Flynn in order to have my career destroyed, I missed a few things. Rose’s announcement that she had accepted an internship for her final month of the summer in Greece. Bink’s rage in which he threw every glass in the cabinet at the wall while drinking whiskey. Albus purchasing a new set of sweater vests for the fall. Mrs. Flynn inviting me to dinner (I had practice – whoops!).
The one that made me feel the worst, though, happened on a Friday night.
I stopped by the pub after practice, before heading home, and ordered a drink from Gaia. “Where’s Legace? Thought he worked tonight.”
“He’s on the schedule. Didn’t show.” She wiped out a few glasses and lined them neatly behind the bar.
“That’s not like him.”
“It’s not,” she agreed.
“Might have something to do with Rose taking that internship.”
Gaia frowned. “I don’t know,” she said. “He was here yesterday and the day before…snapped at the customers, but he was here.”
“Maybe Mason kidnapped him too,” I said, still furious Mason had no nickname.
I’m the worst.
“Owl me if something’s wrong?” Gaia said when I finished my drink and paid. “I want to make sure I have coverage if he’s just not showing up for work anymore. I also have to set aside time to properly kick his ass and I’ll need a good pair of heels for that.”
I smirked and gave her a salute before heading home down the gravel road.
It wasn’t like Bink to miss working at the bar. He took a lot of pride in that job and had only missed one day because he had the stomach flu. Even then he owled so far ahead he found a replacement and still showed up for the final hour, ducking into the bathroom to throw up every ten minutes.
It couldn’t be Rose.
I mean, it could be Rose. Something could have happened. She did take the internship in Greece. No more midnight snogs and arguments that wake me two hours before my alarm.
No more pretending to be indifferent, but secretly fancying the pants off her.
The lights were off when I keyed open the door. “Bink? Freddie?” I called. No answer. Falcon Cat meowed from the top of the stairs.
I checked their bedrooms and found them vacant. No notes on the fridge.
“Great,” I mumbled, ready to develop a locator for Mason when I noticed a wrinkled envelope on my bed. The window was open, so an owl must have been inside.
OR THAT DAMN TOMCAT.
I looked over my shoulder. “You better not have a suitor,” I said to Falcon Cat.
She got sassy with me and walked away.
“You’re replaceable,” I muttered and grabbed the envelope, ripping it open.
Please come. Amy’s in the hospital. Emergency.
Oh what the real fuck.
Eek - thank you all for your amazing continued support.
I actually finished Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell two weeks ago and it's books like that that make me appreciate all of you even more. Seriously. You're so cool. Cooler than sliced bread. All that jazz.
James gets to the hospital - quick, and finds a friend so broken he hardly recognizes him. Rose gets ready for her final interview. Henrik lets his true feelings about the marriage slip through. Things start to get rocky and James knows he must do something drastic.
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