Chapter 17 : Conundrums, Shock, And All That Jazz
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“So, I hear you two are in love?”
For a second, my heart literally stops beating - or at least it feels like it does. All I can do is stand there, immobilized, eyes darting back and forth between Alex and James.
James’s stare bores a hole through Alex’s head, expression gone from uncontrollable panic to one of blank unreadability in a flash. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says gruffly.
I watch on silently as Alex rolls his eyes, and I know that he knows exactly what’s going on here. I bet he’s been piecing this entire thing together for weeks now, and he’s finally figured it all out. He’s not stupid, and James is completely insane if he thinks that he’s got a chance of fooling anyone.
“Don’t play dumb with me, Jim,” Alex drawls, leaning against the stone wall with that ever present smirk etched across his face. “I’m not blind or deaf, so let’s save the games for another day.”
“You don’t know anything, Harrison, so back off,” James practically growls as he reaches instinctively for my hand.
“I’m sure Nolton would just love to hear about how his girlfriend fell for his best friend -”
“It’s not like that.”
“Oh?” Alex cocks his head to the side, eyeing me carefully before finally landing his gaze on our hands. “Because from here it looks like a two-way street.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not.”
“You really believe that, don’t you?” Alex asks seriously, studying James intently.
My panic kicks up a notch as his words ring around the corridor, heart beating frantically in my chest and breathing nearing the point of hyperventilation. Don’t, I mouth at Alex, begging him with my eyes not to say anything more.
“Do you actually want anything, Harrison, or are you just here to piss me off?” James hisses.
“Eh - mostly the latter. It’s actually totally coincidental that I stumbled upon you two, but apparently luck is on my side today. Since I do have such luck, though, it would be a shame for me not to use it, don’t you think? So, just a warning - you might want to hide from Nolton tomorrow. I have a feeling he’s not going to be too pleased with you.”
And with that, Alex pushes off the wall and saunters down the corridor, leaving James and I in shocked silence. I let out a slow exhale in relief as his shadowy figure rounds the corner, grateful that he didn’t say anything more about me to James, at least for now. Tomorrow’s going to be a different story.
James, meanwhile, turns to look at me, fright evident in his wide-eyed expression. I squeeze his hand gently in comfort, but he just shakes his head minutely and slips his hand out of mine, backing away from me slowly.
“I can’t do this, Aria,” he whispers, voice pulsing with panic. “I can’t.”
“You can’t do what?” I ask softly.
He lets out a soft exhale of breath and shuts his eyes tightly. “I can’t be near you anymore.”
I blink a few times as I attempt to comprehend his words, mouth instantly turning dry and stomach clenching. “What?” I somehow choke out.
“I - I can’t. I can’t - Jett - he’s too important to me. You - I - I have to stay away from you.”
Oh, God, no.
This can’t -
He can’t -
“But you just made me promise not to leave anymore,” I say quietly, still trying to understand the situation.
“I - I know.” James swallows roughly, eyes looking everywhere but at my face, and begins to walk backwards, edging away from me. “But - I just - Alex - I have to stay away.”
“We can get through this. You don’t have to go,” I say, following him and reaching for his arm.
“Don’t - don’t touch me,” he says frantically as he scrambles backwards. “Please. I just - I need to go.”
As I watch him disappear down the corridor, a bit of pain somehow stabs its way through the numbness. And then it all comes crashing down on me in a wave, drenching my entire body, filling it with heartache.
It feels like I’ve been torn in half.
That’s really the only way to describe it. One colossal pain, splitting down through my chest. That’s how it feels to watch the person you love walk away.
I stumble into my dorm ten minutes later, thoroughly ready to collapse into a ball and cry. In fact, I’m just about to do so when suddenly a pair of skinny arms are around me and springy auburn curls are flying into my face.
“Aria, thank God,” Sophie says, wrapping her arms even tighter around me.
“I was so worried - you didn’t come back last night and Aiden said Alex was waiting for you outside the locker room and I thought maybe you’d done something stupid that you’ll regret and I’m so sorry and -”
“Sophie, calm down,” I say, giggling a bit as I pry myself out of her grasp. “I fell asleep in the library, in a little area that’s pretty much invisible.” I tack on the end hastily in response to her questioning eyes.
“Oh, okay then...” Sophie trails off, eyes wandering over my face. “Are you sure you’re all right, Aria? It looks like you’re about to cry.”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I say, but even I can hear the tell-tale quiver in my voice and feel the stinging of approaching tears in my eyes.
“Er, okay, so listen, I’m really sorry about how I’ve been treating you lately. It wasn’t right how I walked away after the Quidditch match - I was really upset and I know I should have heard you out but then it was like ‘well, I want to talk to you, but no one else is’ and - Aria? Seriously, are you okay?”
I shrug noncommittally at her question and quickly drag the back of my hand across my eyes to clear them. More than anything I just want to be alone right now. No, scratch that. More than anything I just want to be with James.
Sophie gives me a light smile and slides off my bed before pacing over to her own four poster and flopping down on it. “I’m really sorry,” she says, voice muffled by the pillow that her face is currently buried in.
My words ring softly around our room for a few seconds before a comfortable silence settles over us. I pad quietly over towards the window and sit myself down on the ledge, curling my knees up to my chest and looking out blankly over the grounds. Ravenclaw Tower really has a spectacular view - you can see everything from up here.
Even though it’s the dead of winter, no snow blankets the ground. The sunshine is bright in that clear and crisp wintry way, showering everything in a white glow. A few brooms zoom around above the Quidditch pitch and I wonder idly which team is practicing - either Hufflepuff or Slytherin.
“What really happened?” Sophie’s voice cuts through my thoughts, the question hanging heavily in the air.
I turn my head away from the window and see that she’s moved to sitting upright, staring at me intently. “Does it really matter?” I ask quietly. “The damage is already done.”
“I think it does matter. I don’t believe all the rumors going around - I’d just like to know the truth.”
I sigh and tuck a loose strand of hair behind my ear, eyes traveling back to the window. “We kissed twice. Once at the party and once on the train. But on the train - I had nothing to do with that. My eyes were closed and he leaned over and kissed me. That was it. Three seconds, maximum. It was just - I don’t know why he did it. He just did. And I know I should have told Jett about it, but I didn’t, and that’s my mistake. You have to know, though - I didn’t cheat on him. I wouldn’t do that. I would never screw around with his best friend. Never.”
“The way Alex made it sound -”
“I know. I was there.”
“Right, sorry. But Jett - he hasn’t heard what you have to say?”
“He hates me,” I whisper. “He won’t even look at me, let alone listen to me.”
And then we lapse back into silence.
Sophie leaves a few minutes later, but I don’t move from my seat by the window. It’s a Sunday, which means no classes, so I spend my day locked up in the dorm. I read for a little bit, but mostly I just sit at my window seat and let the tears slip down my face, replaying the image of James walking away over and over again in my mind.
The universe has a sick sense of humor. The way everything has turned out this year... It’s so twisted. Nothing is as it should be. All of this is wrong - my whole life is wrong.
I never thought something like this would ever happen. Not to me. I was so safe in my patterns. I always knew what would happen. But now... I just...
I don’t understand. That’s probably the thing I hate the most about this whole mess. I have no idea how any of this happened nor any ideas about how to fix it. It all just... materialized. And there was nothing I could do about it. Hell, I didn’t even know I was falling in love before I was actually in love, so how could I have possibly prevented that?
I guess I really couldn’t have stopped it anyway. Falling in love, I mean. And God, that scares me. Forget everything else - this is something that I have absolutely no control over, no understanding of, no experience in. For the first time in my life, I have no idea what to do.
The sense of dread I feel the next day is indescribable. It’s just an entire sickness sweeping through my body, building its home in the pit of my stomach. A heavy weight hangs there as I follow my morning routine, pass through the hallways, and make my way to the Great Hall for breakfast.
Sophie smiles and waves me over to sit with her and Aiden, as she’s apparently gotten past the whole ‘I don’t want to be seen with you in public’ stage. I guess that Aiden makes his amends with me as well - I can’t really be certain because right now all of the world is one huge blur to me. All I can focus on is the insane sense of fear and panic running through my body.
I know it’s going to happen during our first class of the day - Charms. Alex, James, Jett, and I all have that class together, so that’s got to be when he does it.
The realization is about as blindsiding as a Bludger, hitting me right in the gut. Jett and Charms - that’s when he talked to me about his problems. Specifically his anger management problems. How he bottles everything up, then one more thing happens and he explodes.
He’s going to snap.
He’s going to get pushed over the edge by this and completely lose it. And he’s going to take it out on James.
My eyes dart over to him immediately, and just as quickly I wish I could look away. He sits alone at the Gryffindor table, staring at his breakfast, face drenched with misery. He already knows what’s going to happen. He knows that whatever chance he had of regaining Jett’s friendship is going to be gone after this. Gone for good.
Jett’s going to freak out. And honestly, I can’t blame him. If I were in his position - if I found out that my significant other and my best friend fell in love while we were still together - I would lose it too. I can’t even imagine how utterly betrayed I would feel, how hurt.
My eyes flicker over to James again, and once more I wish I could just look away. The expression on his face - I can’t bear to see him like that. It’s like he’s resigned himself to defeat. Like he’s just going to accept whatever happens and take his punishment. Like he’s totally given up.
I push off of the bench and shove my untouched breakfast away from me before swinging my bag over my shoulder and heading off for Charms. I have to get out of the Great Hall. I can’t watch this any longer.
But as soon as I step foot into the Charms classroom I immediately regret my decision. For lounging by my usual seat with a smug look on his face is Alex, sprawled out in his chair with his legs haphazardly stretched out in front of him. Most of the other seats are already taken, save those usually reserved for the Gryffies and a few scattered along the outside of the classroom. So without much of a choice, I grit my teeth and sit down in my regular chair, right next to Alex and his group of friends.
I feel my heart pumping furiously in my chest, but I pretend as if nothing’s wrong and simply take out my textbook and study it quietly. Maybe he’ll just leave me alone if I don’t bother him. Maybe I’ll be able to avoid the whole situation.
But alas, it is not to be. Just as Jett is walking past us on the way to his seat, Alex says loudly, “Guess where I was Saturday night, boys.”
Alex’s group of friends murmur softly amongst themselves and I notice Jett pause slightly to listen in on the conversation. No one answers Alex, so he answers his own question with a smirk playing on his lips. “With Aria.”
There’s a round of derisive laughter from Alex’s group, and I feel my cheeks start to burn with embarrassment. I duck my head further down into my textbook, letting my hair swing along the side of my face so that it’s hidden from view. But covering my face doesn’t stop me from hearing the next three words spoken.
“Doesn’t surprise me.”
And with that icy comment, Jett walks off.
I slowly lift my head and find Alex leaning back in his chair, a wicked grin of delight stretched across his face. “Oh, don’t worry, love. I’m just getting warmed up,” he says, nodding pointedly in James’s direction as he enters the room. “I -”
But before he can finish his thought, Professor Abberly wanders in as well and begins today’s lesson. I try to concentrate, I really do, but all throughout class I can’t seem to find my focus. All I can think about is the impending explosion that's going to occur as soon as Abberly says -
“Alex,” I hiss as the class begins to mobilize to their next lesson. “Don’t do this.”
“Don’t do what?”
“You know what.”
“I don’t believe I do.”
“What’s this going to accomplish? What’s the point of this? All you’re going to do is break his heart even more -”
“Wrong, wrong, wrong,” he says, a smile quirking up at the corners of his lips. “This is not about Nolton. I actually quite like the bloke. And it’s not about you either. I honestly couldn’t care less about you. No, this is all about our good friend James.”
“I don’t -”
“Because this juicy little piece of information will absolutely destroy their friendship. I know it. And Jim losing his best mate for good - that’s just too good of an opportunity to pass up, wouldn’t you agree?”
I stare at Alex in shock, hardly able to believe that someone could be so... malicious. “How can you do that to him? To both of them?” I ask in a small voice, barely above a whisper.
He snorts at this and runs a hand back through his hair, taking his sweet time before bothering to respond to my questions. “Are you kidding me? Oh, wait, I forgot. James Potter is the perfect, noble, brave Gryffindor and obviously doesn’t have a single bad bone in his body. And I, clearly, am the horrible nemesis with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Here’s a tip for you,” Alex says suddenly, leaning forward onto my desk with his elbows so he can look me dead in the eye. “Real life isn’t black and white. Sometimes the heroes are also the villains.”
“He hasn’t done anything to deserve this. It isn’t fair -”
“Wrong, wrong, and wrong again, Aria. James Potter is not what everyone makes him out to be.”
“I know what happened between you two. Why can’t you just let it go and leave him alone?”
“I did let it go,” Alex spits out violently, shocking me with his sudden anger. “He’s the one who hasn’t let go yet. He’s the one who always brings it up. He’s the one who always starts it. Not me. Do you think it’s fair that for two years I’ve been the target of vicious ‘pranks?’ Do you think it’s fair that what he pulls on me isn’t just for laughs, but is actually dangerous? Do you think it’s fair that he always gets away with it? Because I sure as hell don’t.”
“Do you even know what he’s done to me? Do you know that last year he put Venomous Tentacula juice in my drink? Do you know that I could have died? Does that seem fair to you?"
Once again I find my mouth dry and devoid of words as I stare at Alex in shock, unable to even comprehend this situation. He could have died. Venomous Tentacula juice... even I know that’s dangerous stuff. Sure, a little bit of it can be funny if used properly, but...
“Not so perfect after all, is he?”
I contemplate Alex’s words as my eyes dart to James. He’s just finished shoving his parchment and books back into his bag, which he then pulls over his shoulder roughly. Thing is, I’ve never seen him as perfect. And this - this doesn’t change how I feel about him. I’ve known he’s had a temper since day one - to what extent, I couldn’t tell you, yet I knew all the same.
“And now the real fun begins,” Alex says dryly, cracking his knuckles in anticipation as Jett begins to walk towards us on the way to the door.
“Don’t,” I manage to choke out one last time. “He won’t believe you anyways -”
Alex rolls his eyes. “Of course he will. Who do you think he’s going to believe - me, the guy who’s never given him a reason to be doubted, or you, the girl who cheated on him?”
Alex falls silent as he studies me for a second, then transfers his gaze over to James, who has begun to make his way towards the exit as well. For a moment I feel a bit of hope grow inside me, and then I realize that Alex isn’t being quiet because he’s relenting - he’s being quiet because he’s figured something else out.
I see it in his eyes as he stares at James. It’s the cold, calculating look of someone who has everything figured out - someone who knows exactly what they want and how to get it. “Fine,” he drawls slowly, “I’ll give you another option. All you have to do is give me a kiss. Right now, so everyone can see. Do that, and I won’t say a word.”
I feel the confusion register on my face as I look warily at him, not quite sure of what new game he’s playing. “What?” I ask softly.
“Make a decision for dear old James. His friendship or his heart. Choose wisely.”
Then it clicks, and I know exactly what he’s doing. It’s the same game as in the hallway Saturday night, with the exact same goal.
“Time’s running out,” Alex says as I follow his gaze to Jett’s approaching figure. “Better make a decision fast.”
Thing is, it’s not that hard of a decision. I know exactly what James would want me to pick. It’s so obvious - he would put Jett before himself in a heartbeat, no questions asked. And I’m pretty sure Alex knows that too.
So, I make my choice. The obvious choice, the one James would want me to make. I lean forward and I kiss him, just like that, in front of everyone. And it really makes me feel like a slut to do it.
A loud bang ricochets around the classroom as the door slams shut violently, and Alex grins and shoves me off of him. “Sounds like Jimmy’s having a bad day.”
“Go to hell,” I whisper, grabbing my bag and walking away as quickly as I can.
As I exit the classroom I immediately turn left, in the opposite direction of my next class. My next lesson is Potions, a class I have with James, and I can’t bear the thought of looking at him right now. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to face him. It’s not like it matters, though. I’ll be lucky if he even looks at me again.
I walk as quickly as I can down the corridor, heading for the sharp corner at the end of it. As soon as I make it around the bend, I collapse onto the ground, leaning my back against the wall and burying my head in my hands. I don’t have the energy to do this anymore. And I really just don’t care.
I don’t care if I get in trouble for cutting class. I don’t care if I get detention. None of this really matters anyway. Maybe they’ll just fail me and kick me out so I can move back home. Everyone would be better off that way.
I’m so tired of this. I’m tired of being treated like nothing, I’m tired of getting used, and I’m tired of ruining everyone’s lives. I’m tired. And I don’t want to do this anymore.
I hear footsteps echoing down the hallway as I sit there, slumped over, exhausted. I don’t bother to look up, though, not even when the footfalls come to a stop directly next to me. Whoever they are, they can go to hell along with Alex. I’ve had enough torture for now, thank you very much. I don’t need anyone else to make me feel like shit today. That’s already been taken care of.
“So, how many people have you slept with now? Or are numbers just moot at this point?”
I jolt upright immediately, eyes widening instantly. But it’s not the words that shock me. It’s the voice.
“Jett,” I breathe, hardly daring to believe it. But it’s him. It’s really him. I would know his voice anywhere, recognize that little scar on the bottom right of his chin.
“Come on, Aria. Let’s hear it then. How many?”
I laugh hollowly as I drink in the sight of him, the closest he’s been to me in weeks. “You want to know the most ironic thing about this whole situation?” I say bitterly, pushing myself to my feet. “I’m a fucking virgin.”
“Yeah, oh,” I say derisively. “But do you think anyone cares about that? No, because according to everyone, I’m still the girl that slept with half the school. Do you think anyone’s actually asked me about it? No, because everyone knows I’m a dirty whore. Can’t you tell just by looking at me?”
Jett lets out a short breath and pinches the bridge of his nose with his fingers, expression unreadable. “So you didn’t - with him - you weren’t -”
“I didn’t do what? Sleep with your best friend? Of course not - God, I can’t believe you would even think that -”
“But Alex -”
“I know what he said, all right?”
Jett flinches and backs away from me, and I instantly realize that I’ve been yelling. I blink a few times and breath in slowly, trying to calm my pounding heart. This is the first time that I’ve realized how upset this topic actually makes me, how much it ached to have Jett leave me like he did.
“And it really hurts that you believed every word he said, but wouldn’t listen to a single thing out of my mouth,” I say gently, bringing myself back under control.
“Don’t expect me to say sorry, because I won’t.”
We stand there in silence for a solid minute while I study him intently, looking over the small details I haven’t seen for weeks. The soft brown of his hair. The way it falls just over his eyes. That gorgeous stormy grey color.
I’ve missed him. A lot. More than I knew before.
“Yes,” I say slowly, “we did kiss on the train. But I swear that was it. And it wasn’t even like - it lasted three seconds. Maybe. At the absolute longest. My eyes were closed and he leaned over and did it and I don’t know why and I should have just told you -”
I shut my mouth with a snap and gaze at him some more, letting the feeling of missing him wash over me. But as much as I have missed him, as much as I want him not to hate me anymore, I can’t deny that whatever I felt before, whatever feelings I had for him - they’re all gone. I still do want him - but as a friend. Nothing more. We’re just not... We’re not meant to be. I know that now.
“If you need someone to hate, then go ahead and hate me. Not James. He needs you too much,” I say quietly. Jett nods once and looks down at his shoes, so I continue on. “I just - I wish we could start over.”
“Sorry,” he says coldly, “but we can’t.”
I feel my heart drop a little bit at his words, but I nod my head in resignation. “I understand.”
Jett turns to leave, and as he does so, I catch sight of a strange look on his face. I can’t really describe it - it’s like a weird combination of anger, regret, and confusion all mixed together and boiling through him. But it doesn’t matter, not really, because he still finishes turning and walks away.
I turn away as well and begin to walk in the opposite direction as him, not caring where I go as long as it’s not Potions. As I advance down the hallway, however, I hear his footsteps quicken and grow louder so I pause, listening carefully.
“Hey,” his voice says by my ear. In shock I wheel around, only to find myself staring directly into his eyes, his hand extended toward me. “I’m Jett.”
I grasp his hand and shake it, heart pounding rapidly, almost paralyzed by disbelief. A smile slowly spreads over my face as he looks back at me, the ice partially melted from his eyes.
“I’m Aria. It’s nice to meet you.”
It’s been a long time.
Don’t hate me.
I could give you a million excuses to why I haven’t updated, but I’ll just be frank - I’ve been super busy. Like you wouldn’t believe. But I swear I thought about you guys the whole time and I felt so guilty because I didn’t have enough hours in the day to update :( I love you all soooo much - please forgive me!
I wish I could tell you that updates will come like lightning because summer’s here, but sadly, this is not the case. See, I have this thing called a “summer job” which is supposed to be “part time.” But somehow I always end up working thirty to forty hours a week. Which majorly sucks because it’s SUMMER and I have NO FREE TIME. RAWR.
But anyway, the point is that I am still very much alive and here. And I do have more time now, so you can expect updates much more frequently - just don’t expect one every week. On the upside, I don’t have homework anymore! Or tests! Or school in general!
...until college starts in August.
So, I hope you enjoyed this or something. My writing seems to grow more and more depressing with each new chapter. SORRY! But hey, it’s always the darkest right before the dawn... or something like that. And I’m actually quite pleased with this chapter. So there you go.
That is all.
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