epilogue: part two
When the bus shuddered to a halt and deposited us out into the night with an exhausted sigh of steam, it felt like arriving at New New Elgin for the first time all over again.
It hadn't been a good day, to say the very least and possibly also make the understatement of the century. I was almost too nervous to function correctly. Someone else - possibly someone with a vendetta against my centre of gravity - was controlling my legs, and my stomach was a hard knot of anxiety that kept twisting and twisting itself tighter with each new thought that hurtled through my mind. It felt like things had slipped from my grasp once more: once more, the world seemed to be completely out of my control.
But when we disembarked and I could breathe in the mild air and link my arm through his, it all felt a tiny bit better, even if I knew at the same time that it wasn't. Truth be told, I felt bewildered. (Technically) jobless and careless, but at least I had a place to live and a near-perfect boyfriend. And a kitten. I should have been happy enough. But I wasn't, really, and I was a little too scared to think about why. Except for the enormous feeling of failure; I couldn't even hack writing smut.
But being outdoors on that unseasonably warm night in New New Elgin - I felt relatively okay then. It was one of those little scenes that I wanted to bottle and keep hidden away forever where nobody else could have it, because it was one of those scenes that felt like it had been made for us and us only.
The sky - a dusky, navy velvet, with the stars like a pot of sequins that'd been knocked over and stitched where they'd fallen, little celestial haphazards. The road underfoot, glittering, varnished, the evening's coat of rain presenting the sky with its own reflection. The distant silhouettes of trees: cardboard cutouts propped against a painted wall. It was like walking in an enormous stage set once the curtain had gone down; I half expected Scorpius to pull a lever and for the whole thing to fall away and reveal our old flat in Ealing with him yelling 'Surprise! We never actually moved! New New Elgin was just a fictional universe created by your broody, delusional mind! Wow, I really do pick them, don't I?'. I mean, I wouldn't put it past him. He's got the artistic vision and the existentialism. And New New Elgin was just a bit too surreal for comfort.
We dawdled along for a few metres before Scorpius pointed out the rather obvious fact that we weren't apparating.
'I know,' I said. 'I'm just...enjoying the ambience.'
He gave a derisive laugh. 'A dirt track is ambient?'
'It's a lovely night!' I protested. 'Look at all those stars!'
'Piles of them,' he looked skywards. 'Lettuce will be trying to wear the sky soon.'
Both too busy staring at the heavens to concentrate on the ground below our feet, we came to a halt.
'How did the book thing go, by the way?' he said, and I could hear a faint note of apprehension in his voice. I switched my gaze to the middle distance.
'Oh, you know. Well...I don't really know.'
'I guess...I guess you could say I resigned. I was fired. Or something. Scary Editor Lady said she'd forward the tripe I'd written on to a mate of hers though, says I've got a morbid imagination and a bloodlust the horror chart could benefit from.'
Now who was the one firing off the conversational double decker buses? Except not, because there was Bigger News to come with a capital B and N. But I felt like telling him both things at once would be a little harsh, so I shoved my hands into my pockets. My fingers closed around the scrap of parchment that served as the Manifesto for Troo Wub
'Right,' he said. 'What are you going to do?'
'I dunno,' I said. 'Write zombie smut without the smut, maybe. Got to bring in the Galleons somehow.'
'Yeah…' he trailed off. 'You look bloody miserable, I didn't think you liked the smut that much-'
'I didn't like the smut. But I liked the money.'
I forced myself to meet his eye, although I still felt a bit too scared for the Bigger News. Not really scared of telling him so much, more the inevitability telling him would bring - how it'd mean I'd have to figure out what I was going to do. And how I was going to fund it. And I couldn't pussyfoot around the subject like I had done with Albus; there could be no melodramatic 'I am with child' moments here.
'There's...another thing,' I said. 'I'm pregnant.'
There was a split second of electrified silence before he emulated Al and said 'Shit!' - then threw his arms about me and lifted me off my feet, spinning me around whilst he laughed in my ear - a sort of ecstatic, surprised laugh I didn't understand at the time. But then he stopped and set me down once he realised I was crying onto the shoulder of his suit jacket.
'What's wrong?' he asked, almost sounding dizzy.
'I'm scared!' I blubbered, and I really mean it - this wasn't the dainty tears of Fauna Hewitt, but the ugly, wailing, bawling tears Rose had cried in our kitchen several months ago. The sort of crying you get when you accidentally put a lump of reality in your tea instead of sugar. Or get a metaphorical lemon chucked in your face.
'Why are you scared?' he said, but I was incapable of telling him, so instead he just hugged me again and let me sob onto his shoulders.
'Well, I'm happy,' he said. 'Delighted. Brill.'
I leaned away from him, held almost at arms' length. 'I'm - I'm not old enough! I'm not even old! I can't do it!'
'Of course you can!'
'What on earth
makes you think that!'
'Well, you're pretty good at looking after Mr Andrew Socks-'
'A cat is not a child!
came out of nowhere!’
‘Buh – huh – how does growing up come out of nowhere?’
‘I didn’t expect it! I never thought about it!’
‘I – I – well,’ he floundered. ‘I kind of thought about it!’
‘In what way?’
‘I…’ he seemed a little lost for words. ‘I just think…we’re still a bit student-y, you know? Crummy flat and stuff. And…maybe we can try for something better. Maybe we can even have a place with a vegetable patch, you know? I could grow radishes, peas, stuff like that. Fresh garden peas. I dunno, it’s just been…going around my head. A bit.'
'Is that what you aspire to?' I said, wiping tears (and a lot of ruined make-up) off my face. 'Garden peas?'
'Maybe,' he shrugged. 'Why, what do you aspire to?'
'I don't know, just...being happy. And being with you.' Forever
sounded too corny. 'For a really bloody long time. Until we're old and decrepit and wrinkly and don't want each other anymore.'
'A really bloody long time sounds alright to me.'
'But you want garden peas and...settling down.'
'Yeah. Although I'm easy on the peas, I could live without them.'
'You're growing up faster than me,' I said. 'I mean...next you'll be insisting on marrying me to preserve my honour, I bet my nan and grandad would love that.'
There was a tiny pause before he shrugged. 'Why not?'
'Well, they're kind of old and traditional and dig that whole thing-'
'Nah, not that,' he said. 'I mean, the whole...marrying you thing. Although not for your honour. Why not?'
I was a bit flummoxed and wasn't entirely sure of how to respond. 'You and your double decker buses,' I said.
'Sometimes you say things and...it's like being hit by a bus,' I said. 'Out of nowhere.'
'That was a bus?'
I didn't even know if he'd been joking or not. 'Marriage...not your thing,' I shrugged. 'An institution. The ball and chain. Whatever. Not for you.'
'It makes sense...financially, logically and the like. I just don't approve of the whole...I don't know, chucking money at ceremonies, empty vows…'
'Why the change of heart?'
'Well...when you've got half a share of the rent, a kitten and a sprog on the way, it's probably about time you tied the knot.'
'Garden peas,' he nodded.
'I'm not growing up faster than you,' he said. 'I'm twenty four. There isn't any growing up left to do.'
'For you, maybe, but me…'
'You do the dishes without me asking, Lucy, you must have grown up.'
'Doing the dishes,' I said. 'Garden peas. We're...old. So...should we…'
'Might be an idea.'
An unstoppable grin split my face. 'I can't take your name.'
'I wouldn't take my name either. Maybe I should take yours.'
It still felt a little like a dream.
'Do you mean it?' I said.
'I do,' he said.
'I dunno what you think but Scorpius Weasley doesn't quite sound right-'
'Nah, not that, I mean...why don't we just do it? Run off and get hitched and start looking for a new place?'
My mind flooded with all sorts of sensible comebacks (proof that I was, truly, getting old) about how first I needed to find a job, he needed to up his salary regardless, and it wasn't like either of us had the expertise or energy to cultivate a patch of garden peas from soil to plate and besides
it's a bit impractical to think about upping sticks and leaving when you know you've got a 'sprog on the way, so to speak', but the first thing in my mental filing cabinet was also the first thing that sprang to my tongue.
'Gretna Green,' I said. 'When I first realised I fancied you, I...I had all these weird little fantasies of running off to Gretna Green. To, you know, tie the knot. Double knot it with a bow.'
He burst out laughing. 'A lot more sensible than me thinking about...er...gardening. And teaching. It’s kind of mad.'
'Times change, right?'
I wondered if the sky had hijacked my emotions; at that moment, it started to drizzle, just light enough to let us stay out in the open. The pressure had been building up all day though. I was pretty certain heavier rain was on the way, even though I felt like I'd got most of my crying out of my system. Sure, it's a cliché, but…perfect pathetic fallacy or what?
'So…you, me, Mr Andrew Socks, a...sprog…I'd be crap at it,' he said. 'The...family stuff. Awful.'
'What makes you think that?'
'I…' he faltered. 'The thing I remember most about growing up is having two sets of house keys. And never feeling like I had a family.'
'That won't make you a bad father.'
'Er…wait and see?'
'Nah. You'll be cool.'
The rain came down heavier. On a normal day, I might have pulled an umbrella from my bag (if I'd remembered one) or drawn my anorak tighter around myself, but this was August and I was still in my borrowed frock, still all bedraggled from London and barely waterproof - Scorpius, in his crumpled suit and tie, barely fared better. But we had shelter in way of a bus stop, and so we retreated into it and sat side-by-side, much like we had nearly four years before on a grey, miserable promenade hundreds of miles away. It gave me the feeling that my life was coming full circle somehow. Which would be wrong, because circles have no end and life - well, life is more like a bellowing concertina that occasionally glitches and repeats itself. Or carbonated water. You can really make metaphors for life out of everything.
'Nice weather,' I said.
'Yeah, if you're a duck.'
A pause, to let the conversation we'd been having sink into my mind.
'So do we have to go home and starting booking DJs or-'
'Oh, god, no,' I said. 'Ten minutes in a registry office would suit me. I should probably tell my dad. He'll weep.'
'Yeah. Just something simple. It's just a bit of paper, after all.'
'It's more than that-'
'Hark who's talking!'
'No, I mean...it means
more than that. But really, it is just a bit of paper. A really symbolic bit of paper.'
'And a ring. It'd be nice to have a ring.'
He glanced at me; the streetlights sparked off his glasses. 'I should probably do this the proper way, then.'
'The proper way?'
He grinned at me, then slid off his seat and got down on one knee in front of me - yeah, that
cliché - putting himself out into the pouring rain and right on the tarmac road.
'It'd be really naff if a bus came now,' I said.
'Really? I think it'd be a miracle if a bus came at all.'
'You're supposed to be proposing…'
'Then don't distract me.'
He started fiddling about in his pockets for something. I wondered if this would be the moment he'd pull the lever and the world would collapse about us, imagining that he'd have a stash of confetti in his pockets to chuck over my miserable little head - but eventually he pulled out a scrap of foil, which he twisted into a loop.
'Best I can do,' he said, turning a faintly luminous shade of red. 'I'm sorry this is so rubbish.'
'Mr and Mrs Rubbish,' I said. 'I like it better this way.'
Okay, fantastical visions of levers and stage sets aside, I wondered whether this would really be the moment Scorpius would pull a little mental lever and turn himself mute, because the moment was already so - well, spur of the moment - that it was almost ridiculous. Wondered if he was serious, and, if he was, if he'd even have the guts to do it - or if I'd kick him in the face out of sheer nerves first.
It was the weirdest thing to come to my mind, but the only thing I wanted to tell him at that point in time was how brill it would be if our unborn sprog had my looks and his brains. Because the other way around would be a bit of a disaster and a real kick in the teeth for natural selection.
He met my eye, holding up the makeshift foil ring so it caught the orange glint of streetlights; if I squinted, it was like battered, weathered precious metal, tarnished and charred and nobody
would have to know it had actually once been the home of a wafer biscuit.
...be my wife?'
I actually felt like I was about to cry again - no big deal, just opening up another drawer in my mental filing cabinet to file Scorpius into - but did my best to crack a smile. 'You don't have to say please, Mr Rubbish. Yes.'
I stuck out my hand so he could slide the foil onto my finger.
'I promise I'll get you a real ring someday,' he said.
'Nah,' I said. 'I like my foil.'
The rain kept on coming down (if it really was a stage set and the whole thing was an illusion, it was incredibly waterproof) and I extended both hands to help Scorpius up: sodden, knees muddy with dirt, he took the seat next to me again.
'We may have to wait for a bit to plant the garden peas,' I said.
'Lucy, we don't even have a garden…'
grow things indoors-'
'Oh, shut up!
' he said, pulling me towards him to seal the proposal with a kiss.
Like when we'd beaten a hasty retreat to the bus shelter earlier to avoid the rain, our return to the flat felt like life had, once again, come full circle and we were back to square one - because on that last night in Mordenton-on-Sea, after the arguing and the drama and skip-full-of-lemons impersonations, when me and Scorpius had sat in that bus shelter and finally
worked ourselves out, that last night had been a bit like having to introduce myself to him all over again. We'd gone back to the house in Mordenton-on-Sea and, truthfully, it had been a little awkward, because I wasn't sure whether to deck him by the front door or just say a chaste little goodnight and head back up to my single room in the eaves. But instead both of us had gone up there, first so I could point out the view from the attic window and how the rainwater on the glass broke up the streetlights, and then we'd lain there all night on the little bed, just talking. It had struck me some time before how little I knew about him compared to Rose, but that night was enough to fill in the gaps. By the time the sun came up and the distant rush of the motorway filtered through the window-glass I think we both felt like very different people. I did, anyway.
So life, in its glitchy, bellowing, concertina way, had evidently riffled through its back catalogues and reprised 'Mordenton-on-Sea: last night' for us, except played it a little differently. No room in the eaves, although the window was still streaked with rainwater and shot through with orange. No getting-to-know-you talk about the past or memories: this time, in New New Elgin, we ended up going without sleep just to talk about the future. And the future's a funny thing I'd never been able to visualise till that night, because it had always stopped short somewhere after my mid-twenties and never accounted for employment or flats or even the big, scary prospect of settling down
. After I talked it over with Scorpius, though, and we wore the garden peas story out till it was threadbare, the future suddenly seemed to grow and stretch out before me until, yeah, I could actually see it. Tiny, distant, a washed-out blur just
on the horizon - but...there.
For a long time I hadn't really wanted to grow up. But I think life was trying to make a point by chucking me lemons. Sometimes it really does take a lemon in the face to show you how far time's marched on underneath your nose.
And we wore the story out like this, until it was as soft and familiar as the sheets wound around us: Mr and Mrs Rubbish in their little townhouse with their cheap rent and their horror-writer pseudonyms and art-teacher grumpiness, with their inherited cat and missing cupboard gremlin, with their tiny vegetable patch in their tiny garden and tiny garden peas for pecking at, with their extended ginger family to pop in for visits and not-so-extended blonde family to slowly, surely repair, with their battered old Ford Granddad Weasley would surely sell them for Mr Rubbish's daily commute, with their sprog on the way who - naturally - would have to have a family name, but was a name like Abraxus really better than Arthur?
All in good time. Mr Rubbish at least
must learn to drive first.
When the sun came up and dully lit the saturated skies we finally stopped pretending we were going to get some sleep and got up. But what to do with our day? No smut to write, no photography shop to toil away in. And a week until that Ministry teaching course he'd been interviewed for even started. He went downstairs for a smoke and I wrote a letter to my dad asking if they wouldn't mind having us to stay, because Mr and Mrs Rubbish had already had a coin toss-up to decide whose hometown to double-hitch the knot in and Liverpool had won out. No time like the present.
We would have been gone by midday but, of course, someone
had to cat-sit and it was a bit of a hike over to Mary-Susannah's place. When would we be back to pick up Mr Andrew Socks? Oh...in good time.
The debate continued onto the Knight bus. Narcissa or Audrey? We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
All in good time.
: it's over, it's finally over! apart from the remaining chapters of the prequel, this is the last you'll see of this bunch of nutters...they outstayed their welcome a little in my writing notebook, and I'm happy to end it here. if you've got any questions, comments or theories about characters, plot etc beyond the end of this fic, feel free to type them into that wee box down there and I'll do my best to respond to them.
It's a pretty weird feeling to be sitting here, typing the end of the sequel to starving artists
- a fic that I started way back in 2010, when I was muddling my way through school and dreaming of being a starving art student myself. times change. I made it. I'm delighted to report that I am, now, a bona fide art student, starving and all, and writing the end of this fic mostly took place late at night when I should have been working on my painting project. I suffer for my art, you know.
Some thanks are due. thanks to all the readers who stuck with me right from the start, from that clumsy first ever
chapter about Lucy running off to art school that spawned a million chapters and launched a thousand ships. to everyone who reviewed, nominated and/or voted in the dobbies, to anyone who shipped or squeed or to those who requested, through other channels, a sex scene (the answer's still no). to the ones who proofread or merely listened to me rant about Mr-Andrew-Socks-this and Scorpius-that on skype in the small hours of the mornings. to the raving puffins, who know who they are. to you, yes, you, random reader. you're cool. and stuff.
okay, time for me to shut up.