Chapter 6 : Don't Tear Down My Walls, I Just Decorated Them
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(c) again to the wonderful scintilla
'Thank you, thank you, thank you—'
Marisa Rahimi looked amused. 'Shut it Jenny. You are welcome for the last time.'
Marisa was beautiful, no other word for it. Beautiful face, beautiful soul. She had thick black hair that cascaded down in curls, skin the colour of tea with just a skim of milk, and freckles that mapped a thousand constellations all over her face. She was on the Hufflepuff Quidditch team, a Chaser, and the Hufflepuff representative at the Inter-House Quidditch Accords. A pretty good Chaser too. Spoke to her good character.
I grinned at her one last time before heading back to my house.
'The Puffs never used their hardware slip,' I was explaining to Luke and James for the hundredth time—after they'd woken up and grumpily entered the kitchen, neither of them speaking a word about their dreams despite Dom and Freddie's incessant pestering—why we wouldn't get turned away at the furniture and hardware store with a technically expired slip. 'I thought they bought the hardware but they didn't. The Claws did. So they had this slip lying around just like the Claws had an extra food slip. I bet you anything the shops won't know what's been handed out this week. All it says is hardware! There aren't even any dates!'
'I still can't believe you lost our slip,' James muttered.
I didn't escape my keen observation skills that he was paler than usual (which was saying a lot, tan bitch), and there were dark purple shadows underneath his eyes. He was also a lot fouler than usual (also saying a lot because he was also just generally a bitch these days).
I glared at him but Dom rose to my defence before I could snap at him. 'Hey James? Shut up.'
Twenty minutes later we were all dressed and navigating our way to the furniture and hardware store. And in an eerily familiar and triggering situation to our first day here, we had stopped to the consult the map because we were lost. Or as Dom would say, navigationally challenged.
'No we're meant to go there …'
'That leads right into a thicket. There aren't even any paths there.'
'What's this then?'
'There's a river here? Why haven't we gone swimming!'
And so on. I sat down on a rock, face smushed against my palm. Out the corner of my eye, I saw Luke sit beside me. The three cousins in front of us began bickering over the best path to take ('Dom, SHUT UP ABOUT SWIMMING!' James cried).
'If I could wave a white flag and surrender at Newton's door step, I would,' I muttered. 'Only I have no idea where she's hiding.'
Luke snorted. 'Only three more weeks.'
I swivelled my gaze towards him. 'So comforting.'
'How are you feeling?' he asked.
My eyebrows met quickly then smoothened. I knew he meant well with his concern but he really didn't have to ask me that every time we had a conversation. By my calculations, James and I had been broken up for sixteen days. Then again, in those sixteen days I'd seen and spent almost every day with him in some form or fashion. Which was decidedly abnormal.
'Peachy.' I flashed him a grin. He frowned.
'Okay,' Dom said loudly, obviously flustered. 'I think we've all come to a unanimous agreement about the right way to go.'
'Thank god,' I said getting up and brushing the dirt off my jeans. 'I'm developing an allergy to trees.'
'What?' Freddie cried out suddenly, rounding on me. 'Jenny hates something? Inform the press! Where's the Prophet with the real news when you need them!'
I rolled my eyes and marched after Dom, who had already begun leading the way, dragging a grinning Freddie with her.
Somehow, I ended up walking a few paces behind James. I tried matching his stride, but his long legs never gave me a chance. So I gave up, naturally. Besides, I just loved branches hitting me in the face as James conveniently forgot that I was walking right behind him.
'Can you still see Dom?' I asked, loud enough for him to hear me.
'Yes—she's not exactly being quiet.'
Then, I couldn't help it, words bubbled up and out of my mouth, unfiltered, uninhibited. And I knew it was something about the way he was weaving through the greenery that had reminded me of walking through the park by my house in Surrey. It was intoxicating, the need to hear his voice—his real voice. The feeling was smog in my veins; a thick, strangely suffocating desire to clear the air.
'Hey,' I said, the memory flooding back to me with a small smile. 'Do you remember last Christmas? At my house when you gave—'
'Blaze a Playwitch magazine and your mum found it?' came the muffled, distant reply, and I was taken aback that he even said anything at all. 'Yes. I remember very clearly being reprimanded. Your mum read me three chapters of We Should All Be Feminists.'
'Well you had to be educated eventually—'
James stopped walking abruptly and turned around, mouth turned down in a scowl. I stopped, too, startled by the look on his face because it wasn't what I was expecting. His espresso eyes searched mine with hostility.
'I remember, Jenny. And as much as I love reminiscing about the past, I'd actually rather not.'
He glanced over my head and resumed walking—except this time he tore through the path Dom had left behind.
Feeling a little dejected and embarrassed about bringing up stupid old memories, I waited a minute to compose myself before trudging after him.
Of course he didn't want to talk about the past … Idiot … I just sounded like a clingy, stalkerish ex-girlfriend.
When I looked at him now, I got this insane urge to just run up to him and shake him. As if the real James was buried deep inside and needed some coaxing to resurface. But then, I thought, why was I always so concerned about how he felt? Hadn't my dream taught me anything?
Everyone else in the world already catered to James' every whim and emotional need—but who would cater to mine?
Even after suspecting he cheated on me, after finally acknowledging that, yes, James had been possessive, jealous and a maybe a little controlling in our relationship, and knowing how cruel and inconsiderate he'd been (saying those horrible things to me when we broke up and then dating Flora Morgan two seconds later), I still fretted over what he thought of me.
Luke caught up to me and threw his arm around my shoulder, startling me out of my thoughts. He flashed me a dazzling smile.
'I like your hair like that.'
'What, in plaits?'
'Yeah.' He gave one a yank.
I shoved him away, a reluctant smile tugging at my lips.
Luke grinned, plunging his hands in his pockets. 'Do you remember when I took you to Hogsmeade?'
I looked at him, surprised at the sudden topic of conversation, scanning a rolodex of memories.
'In third year? When Dom and Freddie were banned and James was in detention for turning all the pumpkins into ... a certain male body part and we went together?'
'No. Well, yes.' Luke frowned. 'It was a date.'
'No it wasn't you bellend.'
'Yes it was! We went to Puddifoots!'
'Because we wanted to hex all the hearts into the Fat Friar's head!'
'And it was romantic …'
'If you think that's romantic, then I pity the girl you try to woo—'
'Woo? Who even says woo anymore?'
'People say woo, Luke, it's not that—'
'Er … I think we're here!' Dom's disembodied voice called out. 'No. No we're definitely here.'
Luke and I broke free of the last thicket of branches and leaves. I stepped to James' left as Luke flanked his right.
I frowned slightly.
'What is this place?' Luke said, eyeing the store sign with suspicion: FURNITURE & HARDWARE. 'Was this all built specifically for us or something? It's like we're in The Truman Show.'
'The grocery store was called Groceries,' I said unhelpfully.
'Oh overlords,' Freddie bemoaned, falling to his knees, hands pressed together as if in prayer. 'We have suffered much for your boons! Deliver us from this artifice, this mortal coil—'
James yanked Freddie up to his feet by the back of his collar, making him squawk, and walked into the store wordlessly.
'Okay,' Dom said authoritatively, smacking her glasses on. 'Here are the lists—' she shoved us each a ripped page from her journal, each with a list of items that we needed for our house '—go forth and conquer and meet back here in, like, an hour?
We all nodded, murmured assent and separated.
I went over my list. I was to buy bathroom, kitchen and general cleaning products. Easy enough. I found the appropriate aisle and trailed down, searching for anything we might potentially need.
I turned, startled to see James pushing an empty trolley towards me.
I looked at it then back up at him.
He didn't appear bitter anymore; his expression was … unusually normal. Defenceless.
'You didn't get yourself a trolley,' James explained, at my blank expression. 'So I thought I'd bring you one …'
A sudden, violent rush of adoration went through me, a starburst of gold, pink and blue.
My head and heart were split in half, as always; how was it possible to love someone who had done everything in his power to make him hate you? I couldn't disentangle the two conflicting emotions from each other anymore—my heart was his, and it was blackened by him. His hostility, his sweetness, it overstimulated my synapses, short-circuited my neurones. It bewildered me.
Because, as always, his unreachability just made me want him more.
It wasn't the right time to ask him what he thought I'd done to him, I knew that, but the question had never burned so desperately on the tip of my tongue before. I wanted to walk up to him, take his face in my hands and admit everything, anything to him. I wanted this awkwardness between us to burn at the stake.
If he didn't want to be with me anymore then fine, I would find a way to live with it. Millions of other people have loved and lost and they've gotten through it just brilliantly. I was no exception to love or heartbreak! I was just a sixteen year old witch who'd been cheated on and dumped for the first time. I certainly wouldn't be the last.
But our friendship—it meant more to me than anything else.
Just this simple act of careless thoughtfulness was why I couldn't bear to lose him.
'Thanks,' I said. I cleared my throat awkwardly. 'Would you wanna maybe do this—together? It might go faster …' Catching the look that flickered across his face, I amended hastily, feeling stupid again. 'You don't have to—
'No! No …' James reached up to ruffle his hair, sweeping and attempting to flatten it to the side. He didn't quite meet my gaze as he walked past me. 'Let's do it. I'm supposed to get paint and all that and I wouldn't even know where to begin anyway.'
I nodded once, lips pressed together, squashing the manic eruption of butterflies in my stomach.
I walked behind him, trying, and failing, not to stare. James pushed the trolley, his arms folded languidly on the bar, gaze drifting lazily across the shelves. Sure, this sudden tenderness was jarring, and yes, it was especially weird after his flare of hostility in the woods. But, honestly, I've stopped trying make sense of him. The only question at this point was was I going to humour his hot and cold bullshit any longer.
I still haven't decided yet.
My eyes wandered over his back, up his perfectly sculpted shoulders, shoulders with a fading, golden brown tan, speckled with freckles, shoulders I've seen, felt …
I bit my lip. I crushed the fluttering of my heart; the molten, wild tempest that rose and engulfed my body.
I had to look away.
This was insane. I felt insane. What was wrong with me?
Dream James had been a ghost, an surreal figment of my imagination, and the real one was sending my mind, my body into a disheveled, flustered state.
He suddenly snatched something from the shelf and shoved it in my face. 'This? Do we need this?'
It was a pack of Brillo Pads, for cleaning dishes.
He brought the pack up to his face in confusion. 'What are these anyway?'
I raised my eyebrows. 'You've never seen a Brillo Pad before?'
James met my gaze quizzically. 'No … am I supposed to've?'
'No, I guess not. They're used for cleaning.' At his questioning glance, I elaborated. 'For cleaning dishes.' I made a scrubbing motion. When he just grimaced at me, I threw my hands up in defeat. 'Really, James? Maybe this project is what you need—'
'Yeah, yeah,' he interrupted. 'I get it. I'm incompetent and ignorant and—'
'A boy who's grown up with a pureblood mum and a half-blood dad,' I finished for him. I took the Brillo Pads. 'I wasn't really expecting you to know what these were anyway. And yeah, we need them.'
'Great,' James said in a huff. He gestured at the shelves. 'What else?'
I scanned the shelves, arm accidentally brushing against his as I walked past him. I felt him stiffen and my heart twisted. I just kept moving and looking, pretending not to notice his blatant revulsion of me. I grabbed a couple more cleaning things for the kitchen and bathroom and dumped them in the trolley. I caught a flash of his face: stubborn mouth a hard line, arms tense, eyes everywhere but on me.
It was like I was physically torturing him.
My stomach sank.
'Are you ever going to tell us what your dream was about?'
James flinched, as though I'd hit him with a hot iron. But he didn't turn to look at me.
'I was a Healer,' he said in a clipped tone, closed the conversation off. 'It was fine.'
'What woke you up?' I asked tentatively. Was I in it? I wanted to ask.
'Jenny,' he said, voice abruptly weary. His eyes flashed up to me, a flicker of something unreadable in them. 'It wasn't a dream. And I don't really want to talk about it.'
Flushed with embarrassment, I simply nodded my head.
And just like that, we pretended, like we'd been doing for the past week, that we were just two people on a project together and that we weren't both thinking about something else, wishing we were somewhere else.
We stopped at the paint wall. It was a massive display of various paint colour cards. The entire spectrum of rainbow existed here, every niche colour our eyes weren't trained to see. We were meant to pick one—or two, or however many we fancied—and show it to the cashier, who would then dutifully retrieve the correct can.
James and I balked at the looming selection.
'I don't know.'
'Don't you care?'
'About what colour our walls are going to be?'
'Er … yeah. It's important.'
'Is it though?'
'Well, I'm sorry I take this project seriously.'
James grinned out of nowhere. A goofy grin that was so unlike him these days it made me furious to see. Where did he get off? How was any of this easy for him! Did not feel even an ounce of guilt around me?
'You don't take this project seriously. You hate it. You rue the day you took Muggle Studies.'
'I took it for you,' I retorted hotly, without thinking, brain scattered by the things his smile was doing to me.
'Oh Merlin, yeah …' His eyes glazed over, remembering and seeing something I couldn't. 'We were one of those supremely weird couples.'
A blush spread down my body, chagrin and fluster. Were we seriously talking about our relationship in FURNITURE & HARDWARE this indifferently? Was he really being so nonchalant about everything? Had he really moved on and I was still being extremely naïve and oblivious about it? Was it so easy for him to forget how he's cornered me three times in the past two weeks, drunk and flirtatious, calling me pretty and telling me I smelled nice?
'No we weren't,' I said quietly.
James looked at me, his expression serious. 'No, we weren't.'
'Anyway,' I said, blinking. 'You and Flora Morgan make a cute couple.'
'Jesus, Jenny. We aren't talking about her—'
'Why not?' I said, suddenly angry. I turned to him, barely suppressing the same tumult of rage and desperation that had flooded me in my dream. 'I never asked you, because it hadn't actually crossed my mind until just now but—did you—was it because—' I struggled to find the right words. 'If this was because I wouldn't have sex—'
'Stop,' James muttered, going a little red. 'You know it wasn't because of that.' He turned away, closing himself off to me, ending the conversation.
Well I didn't know what else it was because of!
'You've changed,' I said spitefully. 'You really have.'
I moved past him to look at some colour cards. I picked up a green one, pretending to be engrossed. Anger, irritation—it kept my frantic and frayed senses at bay. I could barely fucking look at him without wanting to either kill or kiss him. What was wrong with me?
'You think I've changed?'
Suddenly, I was all too aware of his burning chest hovering dangerously close to my shoulder blade. I tore my eyes away from the cards and stared at a point directly in front of me, forcing myself to breathe normally.
'What do you think?'
'I never know what you think.'
I turned to face him—and found him barely inches away from me, his face above mine, eyes dark and pensive. I was a little taken aback, but I answered him anyway, forcing the words out of my mouth.
'You have changed. Into some, like, moody, brooding, tortured artist.' I scoffed, too on edge to sound detached. 'And I know you and you—you are neither tortured nor an artist. I don't think you can even draw a straight line.'
'I can definitely draw a straight line. I'm also very tortured. Son of the Chosen One … The Chosen Son … if I don't find a Dark Lord to kill, I'll be blasted off the family tapestry …'
'Oh shut up.' I turned away, rolling my eyes. Trust James to turn everything into a joke.
I trailed my hand along a row of cards, searching for the lovely green in Oliver Gamble's house.
Suddenly, I felt his fingers brush against mine. I whirled around, alarmed. He took a step towards me, hands shoved in his pockets, eyes suddenly liquid and molten as they roved insolently over my body up to my face. His chest rolled off waves of heat that I could feel from inches away.
My body blazed in a pillar of fire. Blood rushed to my cheeks. And there it was. The flat sun pressed between us. Just like always. The heat flickered at my already thin edges, curling, turning soft and smoky. I pressed my lips together in a vain attempt not to say or do something stupid. Dimly, a spark of annoyance flared through me at the effect he still had on me. My body didn't understand that it was not allowed to react to him anymore.
'What are you doing.' My voice was steady, controlled. Completely the opposite of what I was feeling.
'I don't know,' he said, voice so low and rough it made my spine shiver. He brushed a loose strand of my hair away, leaving a trail of fire wherever his skin grazed mine.
I shut my eyes for a brief moment.
'No—what are you doing?' I repeated angrily.
James shook his head imperceptibly, eyes searching my face.
Abruptly, I was beyond furious.
Whatever haze of glorious midday-sun-burning-my-bare-skin-in-Capri feeling I had, evaporated.
'No you idiot! Stop, just stop! Stop with your …' I flailed my arms around wildly. 'Mind fucking! I know you James, I've known you for way too long for me to bullshit you! You know what you're doing. You made your choice!'
I knew I had to keep reminding myself that James and I weren't a couple anymore. That no matter how much the universe implied the opposite, no matter how much I ached to touch him, to be with him, that I couldn't. He wasn't mine, I didn't belong to him, he didn't belong to me. But maybe James needed reminding, too. Maybe despite Flora Morgan he was still struggling. Maybe it was hard for him to forget that the space between us, the electricity thrumming through the air, wasn't a broken toy. It couldn't be fixed with a few murmurs and a secret touch.
Both of us stared at each other, me, breathing heavily as if I've just run a marathon, and James, surprised, lips slightly parted.
And you know what the most annoying thing about this was? James looked hot when he was surprised. In fact, he was hot, period. With his wide, dark eyes, full lips … James was unfairly pretty. I couldn't even force myself to look away.
So I whirled around and grab two random paint cards off the rack and shoved them in his face. 'Which one?'
I looked down at the two cards. Earl Grey and Silvermist Tin. Good grief. They were identical.
'Which one?' I demanded, arching an eyebrow. 'For the living room.'
James stared at me, his jaw locked. 'Jen—'
'Because I'm not sure what's going to go with whatever furniture Dom buys. She told me she was going for cosy but eccentric, which means it's going to be horrible and—'
'—grey, especially this sort of light grey could be a great neutral colour because Merlin knows we're not buying beige or off-white—'
My eyes snapped up to meet his, green clashing with espresso. 'What?'
James raked a hand through his hair in aggravation. 'I'm sorry.'
What was he even saying sorry for? Interrupting me? Being a general idiot?
'Which colour?' I asked again, quietly.
'Are you really insisting on—'
'Look at them.'
'I—I don't really see a difference.' He licked his lips. 'Sorry.'
'What are you talking about? They're completely different!'
James clamped his mouth shut, casting his gaze skywards. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he took a step away from me, finally giving me some fucking personal space. His gaze slid slowly to meet mine, lips twisted in a grimace.
'They're exactly the same, Jenny.'
'No they're not!' I lied hotly. 'Look properly!'
'I still don't see it,' he snapped. 'Can you just bloody choose one so we can go home?'
'It's not our home, but fine. I'm going with Earl Grey.' I liked the name better. 'What about the colour for your room?'
'I don't know.' He walked away from me, glaring down the colour wall with such lividity I thought maybe he intended to burn it down with just his eyes. 'I really couldn't fucking care less.
My temper rose. 'You know how difficult you're making this? All because I called you out on your bullshit? What the fuck is wrong with you?'
His head snapped around, expression acidic. 'Thanks for staying so vigilant on my bullshit Jenelle! Meanwhile let's just keep pretending you're not a fucking hypocrite for acting like you have the moral bloody higher ground. Where do you get off? I haven't done anything you haven't.'
'Me?' I said, astonished. 'What the hell have I done!'
James looked thoroughly disgusted. 'I don't know how you do it. Acting like a wounded animal when you're the one who fucked things up.' He turned and ripped a card off the wall and flung it at me without looking, knowing I'd catch it.
I snatched it out of the air.
Aloe Vera. A clear, calm green.
My brain blistered with fury and frustration. We had just done it again. Talked in circles around each other, not understanding what the other was saying but too proud and stubborn to ask what the other meant. Jasper had told me to to admit to It—whatever It was—but James hadn't asked me to yet. He just threw meaningless words at my face and pissed me off.
I haven't done anything you haven't.
And WHAT exactly did I fuck up?
I was too angry to think properly. To decode the riddle in his words.
'All right, whatever. Let's go.' I threw the card into the trolley without a glance and snatched another for my and Dom's room. It was nice enough for a random, unthoughtful pick. A light golden, buttery yellow called Honey Bee.
We wandered down in stoic silence for a solid minute before James' voice carried back to me, still tinged with deep annoyance.
'There's a whole aisle on paint supplies that we might need. Like turpentine and stuff.'
He turned down the aisle.
I followed, still angry, not paying attention to where I was walking, eyes trained on the shelves.
Then my foot caught the jutting wheel of the trolley and I lost my balance.
'Argh!' I squawked and went flailing, grey floor blurring as it rose rapidly—
James' hands shot out and grabbed my upper arms. He pulled me straight into him, stumbled and crashed into the shelf. Out of breath and dizzy from my near death experience, my gaze flicked up to meet his. His back was pressed against the shelf, my chest flush against his. His fingers were still curled around my arms, chest rising and falling evenly. I felt his steady heart beat beneath my palms.
James appeared lost, like he had no idea what he was doing, no idea how he'd gotten here and I just thought, you and me both mate.
Steadily, my gaze still fixed on his, I started to slip out his grasp when, suddenly, James tightened his grip and yanked me back into him. My heart sputtered before it lost all feeling completely. His eyes turned abruptly determined, flickering, burning with emotion—and it was the most unreadable he had been in weeks.
'Jenny,' he murmured, voice rough and low. His eyes flickered down to my lips and back up so fast I was sure I imagined it.
'James.' I couldn't say if it was meant to be a warning or an invitation.
The words I just said echoed in my head, that he made a choice and that choice wasn't me.
James leaned in, my heart jumped … And I didn't know what I told myself when his hand slipped behind my waist and pressed against the small of my back, closing the gap between us. I didn't know what excuse my heart frantically whispered to my mind as his other hand started to trail my jaw, his callused thumb, rough and warm, running over my lower lip, as if committing it to memory. I didn't even know how to breathe when he tilted my chin up so I was looking directly at him. His eyes were dark, liquid, smoky with flecks of gold and amber.
He brushed his lips against mine, featherlight and gentle.
A spark. A single flame of lust so raw, tangible and flaring consumed my veins. It filled me up with a desperation and longing so strong my body reacted violently.
And there was nothing else we could do, nothing that no one, not even Flora Morgan could say to stop us.
I kissed him back, flattening against him, throwing my arms around his neck.
His lips moved deftly over mine with such demanding fierceness, my mind spun dizzily out of control, drinking in the scent of him. I opened up for him, deepening the kiss; one hand gripped my waist with bruising force, the other necklaced my throat; I kissed him with dangerous fevor, electricity sparking as his mouth slid over mine. A slow, heavy warmth blossomed inside of me, melting into the very cells, the very atoms of my being. It spread through me body like a painkiller, like the cloying taste of an anaesthesia.
It was like coming home after walking endlessly in the rain, like opening the door to a bed so soft and arms so comforting it made you want to bury yourself in their skin, or sing, or just shut the door.
I wanted to shut the doors on this moment; I wanted pull him closer—and I did—I wanted his skin burning against mine, I wanted this to be truly, wholly, honestly, mine.
James' hands buried themselves in my hair, a desperate edge to his lips as the kiss turned softer, slower.
We pulled apart like two dazed bees, knocking into each other, our limbs graceless. Like resurfacing after an alcoholic haze, finding a moment of lucidity, thinking what the fuck. We stared at each other, not knowing what to say because what could we?
The space between us became vast, an ocean of dread. The air became charged with an electric, static energy.
We both knew that what we'd done was inexcusable.
And I'd wanted to be that honourable girl that had pushed him away, the girl that respected the fact another girl, someone just like me, would be hurt by this silly mistake.
But mistakes didn't happen more than once.
'I won't say anything,' I promised breathily, stepping away, feeling drunk and delirious.
I wasn't sure what he meant by saying my name like that. Was he asking something from me? Was he telling me something?
'James,' I teased, feeling increasingly out of step. One more move, one more word and I'd tumble right off the edge of the cliff I was perched so precariously on.
There was regret in his eyes, and it made my chest burn with acid and my throat tighten with a pain I haven't allowed myself to feel.
'I never meant—'
'Don't say that,' I laughed, a hollow sound. The sight of him made my bones ache.
'Don't call me that—'
'Jenny,' he said imploringly.
Then the words were spilling out, tinged with fury. 'Don't, James. Just don't.' Forcing myself to meet his eyes, I wasn't the least bit surprised to see despair burning his eyes, the shame and guilt. The absolute horror he felt. 'I don't care.'
'Don't apologise,' I lashed out, each word frosted and dripping with self-pity. 'I don't want … I don't want you to. It'll make things worse.'
'Jenny, I need to explain—'
'Please,' I begged, and I sounded scary even to myself. Like an animal dying, like a soul being ripped out of its body.
James searched my face, alarm and desperation spreading across his features, contorting, disfiguring it.
'I don't care what you think this means. It was just a kiss.' I turned away from him, lips numb, swollen and bruised with the memory of his. 'Let's just forget it happened. It was a mistake.'
I felt the phantom weight of James' white-hot gaze burning my skin.
'Yeah,' he replied, voice detached. 'Yeah. Let's forget it.'
It should've hurt more than it did, to hear that.
But I'd buried my emotions so deep, I didn't know where to find them anymore.
'I really well and truly am sorry that you have to spend your birthday here.'
Dom's expression blackened as she dipped her roller into the tray of Earl Grey paint.
'I'm going to get fucked up regardless and you better get fucked up with me in solidarity.'
'You know I will,' I said solemnly.
We'd taped the edges of the floor, ceiling and windows and were now carefully painting around it. The boys were fixing the porch, having first ripped up all the floorboards. The door was open but Luke's music was blaring in the background, drowning out their voices.
Painting your house, contrary to popular belief and the plethora of DIY montages—in which people discovered they were in love and found lost happiness—was not fun.
It was boring, hazardous and painful. My shoulders and arms ached from having to push the roller up to the ceilings and down, my legs and back were screaming from crouching down for hours, making sure that all the edges were painted perfectly.
Not to mention the unforgiving smell of it all.
We had the lovely choice of the acrid reek of paint, all chemicals and acerbic oils, or the pungent, acidic smell of turpentine—which, incidentally, was covering most of the floor because Dom had accidentally knocked over an entire can of paint all over herself (privately, I felt that she did this on purpose for the attention, particularly Luke's, who'd laughed and tried to help her clean up).
Her hands were currently caked with light grey flakes from the dried paint, skin was rubbed raw and pink from trying to clean the latest mistake she'd made. And to top it all off, everyone was becoming increasingly irritated with each other from the overwhelming, choking stench.
'What's the plan?' I asked seriously.
Dom's birthdays were always a detailed and meticulously planned out affair. Granted, all her birthdays had been celebrated at Hogwarts, making the specifics easy to control, but ever since her fifteenth just we snuck off to Hogsmeade, then Diagon Alley, to go clubbing. They were wild and insane, not for the faint of heart and usually involved a surprise visit from Tor that was never really a surprise at all, thus resulting in a drunken shouting match of some kind that got us kicked out of the club.
But now poor Dom had to suffer her seventeenth—arguably the most important and momentous day in any witch's life—at a Muggle Studies project.
'Well,' Dom said reasonably. 'James has actually snuck in quite a bit of Muggle alcohol, so we're sorted on that front, and once we finish up in here and get all the furniture inside—' everything was currently wrapped in plastic, miniaturised (thank Merlin for magic) and lounging on the front lawn outside '—it will be a good venue to invite the rest of the class in, I reckon.'
It truly was shit because other than a couple of people here (Marisa Rahimi, Ella Sommers, Will Pine—this was a stretch—and Milo Bennett) neither Dom nor I were friends with anyone in our class outside of Muggle Studies.
And she had to spend her birthday with them.
'You're going to die at your prez …'
Dom looked at me sharply, desperation flooding her features. 'Ooooo. What did you get me?! Please tell me! I hate surprises!'
'It's not a surprise,' I said, grinning, heaving the paint roller up and down. 'It's a birthday present.'
'I'm neurotic and needy, please tell me!'
Dom looked betrayed—then angry.
'I'll spray paint on you.'
I gaped. 'No you won't—No Dom! Don't you dare!'
She held up her roller, advancing slowly, ready to lunge.
My eyes widened. 'Dominique …'
'Jenelle …' she said in the same hushed voice, eyes narrowed. 'Tell me or die.'
'Don't you fucking dare—' I screeched as she jumped and flicked a spray of paint on me. It splattered all over my body and face.
I looked at her, outraged.
I grabbed a fistful of her t-shirt and a struggle ensued. She fought back viciously as I tried to roll paint on her face, but I just nicked her chin when we both went crashing down on to the floor, jabbing paint painfully into each other, squealing and rolling and laughing hysterically as we tried to one up each other.
'DOM! JENNY! STOP YOU FUCKING IDIOTS!'
We both separated, flat on our backs, wiping tears from our eyes, trying, and failing, to sober up.
Luke looked as though he didn't know whether to be pissed off or astonished. He stood at the door, shirtless and in gym shorts, covered in a thin sheen of sweat from the effort outside. Bronzed Adonis.
'What the fuck?' he demanded, an elegent mix of astonished and genuinely angry. 'There's paint all over the floor now!'
Dom and I shared a look.
Ten minutes later, Freddie, Luke and James were covered head to toe in paint and we were currently at war. I couldn't stop laughing, it was a hysterical bubble in my chest. Dom looked ridiculous, her face serious and determined, all the while paint splattered and sweating. We'd taken off our old t-shirts (mine had been a Puddlemere United shirt that'd once belonged to Jasper) and we were currently in shorts and bikini tops.
Dom held her freshly dipped paint roller in both hands and peered around the corner of the house. A spray of yellow paint arced over her head just as she ducked back.
'Okay,' she breathed. 'They've seen us.'
She turned to me. Her face was a kaleidoscope of yellow, grey and green. 'What's our plan of attack?'
'Why don't we rush attack them? Like just fucking take the hits and demolish them.'
Dom's mouth popped open.
'That is … inspired,' she said, awed.
'Let's do this.'
Dom nodded once, game face on. 'Watch my six, bitch.'
She turned the corner and screamed as she was immediately lashed with paint. I let out a war cry and ran after her, shrieking as cold paint splattered all over me. I gasped and spotted the guys rolling around in laughter, cheering and shaking each other in victory.
Dom and I shared a look, eyebrows raised.
We both roared a war cry and ran towards the boys. Freddie's head turned and he spotted us racing towards them, arms raised with dripping paint brushes. His eyes widened, big as saucers. I could see his lips forming words as if in slow motion: GUUUUYS, THEY'RE COOOOOMING.
I tackled Luke the same time Dom crashed into both James and Freddie, knocking them down like bowling pins, thrashing wildly about, getting paint absolutely all over them.
With a garbled cry of terror, Luke's slippery hands caught me by the waist as I body slammed him and we both went tumbling down the shallow hill by our house. Luke's grip tightened and I threw my arms around his neck, screaming in utter delight as we lost all control and rolled rapidly down. Our elbows knocked hard earth, our knees knocked each others, and I'm pretty sure I hit Luke in the throat, for which he jabbed me in the ribs.
All at once we stopped rolling and I found myself on top of him, out of breath, miraculously still holding the paint brush. His eyes were wide and I let out a peal of maniacal, euphoric laughter as I lashed grey paint all over his chest and face.
'All right, Jenny!' The rest of his words were muffled by another layer of paint.
Suddenly he grabbed both my arms and rolled us both over, pining them over my head.
Luke hovered above me, straddling my hips, breathing as hard as me. His gold-blue eyes flicked down and up my body. The corner of his mouth was curled in an incredulous smirk.
'Happy?' Luke panted. There was a grey streak, fur inches wide, running up from his belly button to his hairline like war paint.
He dipped his head down, so close I caught the flecks of green in his eyes, close enough to kiss.
'You look really nice by the way.'
With that, he prised the paint brush out my hand and threw it aside, as far as he could chuck it, and got up.
I laid there for a moment, watching Luke climb up the hill, wondering why I was still so breathless.
I couldn't believe I was saying this but … our house was done.
What had taken the other two groups an entire week to accomplish, we had finished in one day.
The walls of every single room were painted; the boys had shirtlessly and sexily carried in all the enlarged furniture in, unwrapped them and then were promptly subjected to Dictator Dom's instructions to move them about; Freddie and Luke, the tallest, replaced the light bulbs; we swept and scrubbed and mopped and hoovered every inch of the house; most important of all, the hole in the porch was gone.
A lesson I've learned: building furniture together was a very insightful way to get to know someone.
Dom and I now set about making the house a little more homely. We put much needed bathmats in the bathroom, spread an Afghan rug in the living room, positioned three black barstools by the kitchen counter, hung semi-sheer cream coloured curtains along the windows, placed numerous candles at various corners of the house (including the boys' room), and hung a few statement paintings on the walls.
It was no Flora Morgan work of art, but it was snug and, as Dom said with satisfaction, cosy.
Dom had bought the red and black Afghan rug to compliment the dark grey velvet couch Freddie had chosen. There was a faux fur blanket artfully thrown over one corner and a black wooden side table paired with a coffee table from the same family to compliment the whole effect. The bedrooms also looked much better with a little colour and all the lights fully functioning.
All in all, it was rather lovely.
I threw myself onto the couch, between Freddie and Luke, all three of us exhausted.
'I don't know. I just don't know. What if we move it an inch to the left—'
'Noooo, Dom, please,' groaned Freddie. 'No feeling. In body.'
'Look what you've done to them!' I said. 'They’re exhausted. Poor things.'
Dom made an unimpressed noise. 'Oh, please! All they did was move around the furniture. And it's not like I can do any of the heavy lifting! I'm so supple—not a muscle in my body! I would've just been a useless deadweight —'
'You already are a useless deadweight,' moaned Luke, cheeks a flushed, hectic red.
'Just move it the left,' Dom snapped.
Obliging her demand, I got up as they pushed the couch a little to the left. They turned to Dom with half hopeful, half pained expressions.
Dom surveyed the room, extending both her thumbs and index fingers in an L-shape to make a rectangle, pretending she knew what she was doing. She stepped back, biting her lip dubiously, which immediately made Freddie moan because he knew it was her I'm not so sure face. James, who'd come up beside me from the shower, made an impressed noise.
'I just don't know! It still feels … undone.'
'Oh for god's sake!' I said incredulously. 'It looks fine, Dom!'
She shot me a dark look. 'I've seen your room. You have no taste, I wouldn't expect you to understand.'
'I've seen her room too,' Freddie said frantically. 'It's very nice.'
'Nice? So you're okay with our house looking just nice?'
I rolled my eyes while Freddie began to squabble with Dom, Luke joining in the mix every now and then with a remark that just set Dom off all over again ('Honestly this place still looks like a dustbin so I don't know what you're on about' and so on). Out the corner of my eye, I gave James a quick once over: he was wearing plain black joggers, ones that didn't have a visible brand but you knew somehow were designer, and his signature lopsided smirk that was both incredibly annoying and really fucking hot.
Oh, and no, he wasn't wearing a shirt, thanks for asking!
He caught me staring at him and I started with chagrin.
I wasn't ogling! It wasn't my fault he was fucking fit! I couldn't help that I was attracted to the biggest fucking moron on planet earth. Because the biggest fucking moron just happened to have a nice set of abs and a really nice tan and rather nice arms and nice was such an awful word!
God I fucking hated him.
'Shut up,' I snarled.
'I didn't say anything,' James said, taken aback.
'Yeah,' I sneered. I was on a roll now, defensive and bothered. 'You never do, do you, you little—little mangy prat.'
He raised his eyebrows. 'Okay …'
Why did he have to be tall? Why did he have to have a body like that? What was the point of that face and that hair? That arrogant cut of his jaw, his sloping nose, the stubborn set of his mouth. His devilish eyes and wet and tousled hair.
How dare he kiss me?
'Is there something you want?' James asked, tone shifting suddenly. He raised a single eyebrow, pretending to be curious when he knew I knew he was being a facetious fuck face. His gaze traveled arrogantly up my body, raking over my bare legs, my shorts, up my naked stomach, lingering there for a moment, and my chest until he finally met my eyes. There was a challenge in them. 'You look a little thirsty.'
'Me?' I squeaked, simultaneously mentally axing myself for sounding so wound up and trying not to show him how wound up I actually was. 'I'm not the one who can't keep their hands to themselves.'
'Oh so now we're suddenly remembering—'
'Shut up,' I snapped furiously, eyes furtively darting to Dom, Luke and Freddie.
They were still engaged in squabbling about the positioning of the sofa.
'This is just what you do, don't you?' I snarled quietly. 'Take advantage of girls who like you and use them. Why are you with her when you obviously still have feelings for me? How is that fair to her?'
James' eyes darkened, mouth twisting in real anger. 'As if you give a shit about her. Jealousy doesn't suit you, Jenelle.'
'Oh fuck you—'
Fortunately for James, Freddie came running back into the house (I didn't even notice him leave), waving an unmistakable letter from Newton and Fig.
Damn. And I was just about to rip into him.
'Tyra Mail!' Freddie cried. He opened it and began reading aloud. 'Dear ASBO Five, well done on the quick work you've made of your house! Now it's time to take a closer look at the quote you were given in your folder. Make sure your house reflects this quote. Good luck! Yours warmly, Professor Newton and Professor Fig.' He frowned. 'What quote?'
'The quote Freddie you idiot,' Dom said. She stalked off into our room and returned, flapping the folder with a grim expression. She flipped to the last page and snatched the slip with the quote on it. 'The Oscar Wilde one.'
'He was that wizard who massacred a Goblin village in 1612 wasn't he?'
Luke shot Freddie a look of incredulity. 'First of all, I don't know how you even think that's right but you should know you are completely wrong. Secondly, Oscar Wilde was a Muggle author that we studied in class. Don't you remember his poetry?'
'Oh well, excuse me for not being up to date with all my ancient bloody literature,' Freddie muttered, glaring at anyone who made eye contact. 'And you all know I never did any of the readings.'
'All right, stop making Freddie reflect on his status as a shit student,' James interjected ('Hey!' Freddie cried half heartedly). 'What was it again?'
'Right,' Dom said, clearing her throat. Her voice became misty. '"We are all in the gutter … but some of us are looking at the stars."'
'All right ladies, time to critically analyse and interpret—I expect a three foot long essay at the—'
There was a loud thump that made us all jump and we turned to the window.
'What the hell was that?' I asked.
'Who wants to check it out?' Luke said.
'And what?' Dom said waspishly. 'Get murdered by the machete wielding grocery cashier?'
'No Dom,' Freddie said with the air of having discussed this plenty of times with her before. 'Alena wouldn't have a machete—she'd have twin swords—'
'Katanas,' James interrupted. 'Like Deadpool. She'd have katanas—'
'Oh for God's sake—' I stormed out the house and went around the corner, stopping just outside the window. Brow furrowed, I picked up the only odd thing there. A crumpled piece of paper. With a unhelpful look over my shoulder, I took it back into the house, smoothening it out, and found they were all still yammering away about what kind of weapon Alena would be wielding when she inevitably came to murder us.
'Listen,' Luke was saying hotly. 'Why would she be using swords and knives at all? She'd use a gun I'm telling you—'
'She knows about magic,' Dom argued.
'Which means,' James said. 'She knows that a bullet couldn't stand a chance.'
Luke was astonished. 'You think your reflexes are faster than a bullet?'
James spluttered. 'That's—completely besides the point—'
'We'd more readily be able defend ourselves against a katana with magic than a fucking bullet—'
'Hey!' I yelled, shutting them all up effectively. They all swivelled their gazes towards me. 'Shut the fuck up! Alena would obviously poison our food. Now can we please look at this?' I waved the wrinkled piece of paper in my hand. 'It's a note—'
Dom snatched the note from my hand and scanned it quickly. A gleeful smile spread across her face at once. Her sea glass eyes were huge and maniacal as they looked up at us. Her grin became even more skull-like.
'Guys …' she said in a scarily low voice. 'Marisa Rahimi is the love of my life.'
'Someone please just tell me what the note says. I really am not in the mood for a play starring Dom Weasley today.' Luke looked at me pointedly.
I shrugged. 'I didn't read it.'
Dom suddenly made a noise of outrage as Luke ripped the note out of her hand. He scanned it quickly, eyes widening.
'Holy shit guys … Marisa's—'
'MARISA'S THROWING ME A BIRTHDAY PARTY!' Dom screamed before he could finish.
'Oh fuck yes!' Freddie cheered. He threw his arm around Dom's shoulders and they started doing an impromptu Can-Can. 'Time to get fucking fucked up!'
'Finally, a reason to drink all that alcohol I brought,' James said approvingly, grinning.
'As if you need a reason,' I snapped. 'You've been getting drunk almost every night here!'
'Really?' he said sarcastically. 'So that's why I can stand to be around you. I'd been wondering …'
Livid fury boiled in my blood.
Dom and Freddie chants of 'Time to get fucking fucked up … Time to get fucking fucked up …' became louder with every word, reaching almost a deafening level.
'It's Dom's seventeenth right?' Luke quickly interjected before I could start properly shouting at James.
Dom was chanting loud enough not to hear.
'You didn't actually forget did you?' I asked, rounding on him angrily, distracted. There would be hell to pay if he did.
Luke's eyes widened. 'And inflict upon myself the wrath of Dom Weasley? No thanks. I like my face the way it is …'
'James, come dance with us!' The boy rolled his eyes before being forcefully yanked into the Can-Can line. He tried to protest but Dom shrieked 'It's my fucking birthday and you are my bitch!' Grudgingly, he grinned and threw his arms around Freddie and Dom, singing loudly along with them, 'It's time to get fucking fucked up …' kicking his legs up to the Can-Can.
'Teenagers,' Luke commented with a smile.
'Tell me about it.'
Parties were the refuge of the bored and mistakenly trusted.
Of course there's a party ... wouldn't be Next-Gen without one right? ;)
I don't own The Truman Show and once again, the quote "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars" belongs to the brilliant Oscar Wilde. We Should All Be Feminists is an essay by Chimamanda Ngozi Adicie. I also don't own Deadpool or Tyra Mail (never thought I'd put that in a sentence together).
Thank you all for continuing to read this story! Your reviews seriously put such a huge smile on my face. Can't wait to read them!! xx
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