A Slip of Tongue
FIVE DAYS UNTIL THE WEDDING…
There was a vase of calla lilies waiting on my desk when I arrived at work the next morning. My breath caught in my lungs and for a fraction of a second, I thought they were from James, but then I realised that was ludicrous as the only thing he was likely to send my way was a Stinging Hex and that the flowers were probably from Patrick. Once I shucked off my travelling cloak, I took a gander at the card and sure enough, they were from Patrick; I recognised his loopy handwriting at once. However, as much as I wanted to smile at the thought, I found my facial muscles unwilling to cooperate and it was with a heavy sigh that I sat down behind my desk.
“Good morning, Mara,” greeted Terra once she tottered into the office, her domed head gleaming. “How’re things?”
I shrugged, not sure of how to respond to such a weighty question.
Terra frowned. “Did you not have a good time with Mr. Kilpatrick?” I couldn’t help noticing the slight edge of hopefulness in her voice.
“It’s not that,” I said with a shake of my head. “I’m just…”
“Thrown for a loop?” suggested Terra.
“Suppose that’s one word for it,” I mumbled distractedly, trying and failing to push the memory of the feel of James’ lips out of my head. Besides, it wasn’t as though he had kissed me back; I didn’t give him the chance. “Got any work for me to do?” I asked as a means of deviating from awkwardness.
To my relief, Terra nodded. “Just got a stack of files from Collections. Apparently, there have been many defaulters lately, Ludo Bagman amongst them. I need you to track them -”
“Sounds great,” I interrupted.
Her thin eyebrows shot up. “Excuse me?”
“I said it sounds great,” I repeated, smiling slightly. “Seriously,” I added at her expression continued to grow more surprised, “I don’t mind. In fact, I’ll get started now. I need something to distract me.”
Terra stared at me for several prolonged moments before shaking her large, domed head and Summoning the intimidating stack of papers onto my desk. “Enjoy,” she said sarcastically, sending me an odd look.
“I will,” I replied with equal sarcasm, though it wasn’t scathing. She rolled her eyes and hoisted herself up into her desk chair, setting about her work. As I turned to the pile of my desk, I expelled another breath of air, hoping this would get my mind off the plethora of things currently distracting me, most of them beginning, containing, or ending with James.
Ha, fat chance of that happening, but a girl can dream, can’t she?
FOUR DAYS UNTIL THE WEDDING…
“What?” I called over my shoulder, preoccupied with adjusting the adhesive strips on Jack’s nappy as he flailed his legs and arms, making his characteristic grabby hands at my hair.
“Can you come down here for a minute?”
Ignoring her request, I grabbed Jack’s leg and flattened in against the changing table for what must have been the sixth time in the last thirty seconds. The kid was surprisingly flexible. “Stop flailing, will you?”
He giggled in response, a glimmer of James’ traditional shit-eating grin worming its way into his smile.
Expelling a breath of frustration, I released Jack’s leg and shouted, “Can it wait? I‘m kind of busy right now!”
“I suppose it can,” Mum called back, “but don’t take too long. I’m sure Sophie doesn’t have all day!”
It took a moment for the words to register, but when they did, I felt an egg had been cracked over my head and the yolk was slipping down my neck, underneath the collar of my shirt, and over the length of my spine. In short, it was a hideous feeling that made me feel like gagging and choking on the breath in my lungs at the same time. Trust me when I say it was as appealing as it sounds.
Sophie was here.
In my house.
A million and one possibilities raced through my head at the reason for her visit. The first was that she had found out about me kissing James and had come to kill me. Though Mum didn’t sound like she was being straggled or held at wand point, it was hard to know for sure, as Mum was excellent at keeping her cool.
The second was that she was asking me to help her with some of the wedding plans, as I was her maid of honour. I still wasn’t sure why she had chosen me of all people; I know she explained herself and all, but if she needed someone so badly, couldn’t she have asked Lily? I mean, I might be James’ best friend (or former best friend; I didn’t know where we stood now), but Lily was his sister, therefore the more reasonable choice. A part of me said that she had ulterior motives, but alas, I had no proof.
The third and final logical reason was that James had sent her in his stead to come pick Jack up for the afternoon. We hadn’t exchange so much as a glance, much less a word, yesterday evening when I dropped by his parents’ house to take Jack home, and I doubted that we would ever talk again - at least until he was married.
Not for the first time, my stomach felt as though it was being corroded by battery acid or something equally potent. It hadn’t escaped my notice that James was getting married, but I hadn’t expected the time to fly so quickly. There were only four days left and from what I could tell, there had been no significant changes in James and Sophie’s relationship, aside from all the interruptions caused by yours truly.
“Mara!” Mum screeched up the stairs.
Shooting a look of impatience over my shoulder, I shouted, “I’m coming!”
I turned back to Jack, who was sucking on his fingers with a goofy expression on his face, and took advantage of his momentary distraction to secure the straps of his nappy. Swallowing a noise of triumph, I caught the dissatisfied glare Jack sent me as I snapped the closures on his onesie shut and picked him up. I liked to think the glare was the result of the idea of having to face Sophie, not because I had duped him.
As always, he wrapped his fist around my hair as I carried him down the stairs and into the kitchen. Mum and Sophie were sitting at the table, the latter cupping her hands around a mug of piping hot tea. My stomach twisted at the sight and I silently wondered what Mum was thinking, arming her with a weapon.
At the sound of the kitchen door opening, Sophie twisted around in her seat, a huge grin appearing no her face. “Jackie!” she exclaimed, rising from her seat and coming towards us; I tried not to flinch both at her approach and her unfortunate nickname for my son.
Fortunately, Jack didn’t seem too hip on the nickname either as when she held out her hands for him, he tightened his grip on my hair and made a weird grunting sound. I could’ve danced the conga around the kitchen, watching as her hands fell to her sides and the smile slid right off her too pretty face. She might have stolen James’ heart, but my little boy was just that - mine.
Mum stood up. “I’ll leave you two to it,” she announced, patting me on the shoulder as she excited the kitchen.
“Hello, Sophie,” I said with a slightly mocking smile.
To her credit, she returned it. “Hi, Mara. Are you well?”
I grinned down at Jack, resisting the urge to squish him to death. “Never been better.”
“That’s great to hear,” Sophie said with a bit too much geniality to be taken seriously, as she returned to her seat the table, “Because I have something I want to tell you.”
My stomach hardened as I sank into the chair opposite her. “Oh?” Please Merlin, don’t tell me she and James had eloped. Please, please, please, anything but that.
“You don’t have to look like someone shot your puppy, Mara,” commented Sophie as she lifted her mug to her lips and took a sip. She wrinkled her face in disgust and set it down, pushing it away from her. Cow. “It’s nothing too horrible.”
I tried to look relieved, but it was harder than I expected it to be. “Oh,” I repeated, forcing another smile, “that’s - er - good.”
Sophie nodded her head, her blonde curls bouncing. “It is,” she agreed. “I can’t imagine what I would do if something drastic happened so close to the wedding. I’d probably lose it!” She laughed to herself.
“Right,” I drawled, feeling a bit sceptical. “So…you wanted to tell me something that’s not too horrible, but still not the best news I’ll receive all year.”
Again, Sophie laughed, though I detected a note of condescension this time. “Yes, I did.” She reached up and smoothed her hair behind her ear. “You know how I asked you to be my maid of honour?”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Y-yes,” I replied shakily.
“Well,” she began, sitting up straighter in her seat. “It looks as though I won’t be needing your services any longer.”
“Services?” I parroted, a lick of anger coursing through me. “I wasn’t aware that you employed me!”
Sophie snorted. “Oh, Mara, you’re so silly,” she chortled with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Now I can see why James always says you’re funny; before, when I first met you, I didn’t think you were all that funny, but I was wrong.”
“I’m not laughing,” I muttered darkly, wanting nothing more than to reach across the table and slap her round the chops. Merlin knew she deserved it.
Either she was pretending she hadn’t heard me or she actually hadn’t, because she was wearing a stupid smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Anyway,” she said once her laughter died, “where was I?”
I had to remind myself to breathe. “You were about to tell me why you’ve released me from my shackles.”
“Right! Well, you see,” she started, pinning me with a serious look, “the only reason why I asked you in the first place is because my best friend in the whole wide world came down with a case of dragon pox, but she’s recovered, so she’ll be able to come to the wedding after all. So, as much as I appreciate you stepping in to fill her shoes, you don’t need to anymore because, well, she’ll be here!”
I raised a brow, suspicious. “Isn’t that pretty much unheard of?”
Sophie furrowed her brow. “I don’t know what you mean, Mara. Isn’t what pretty much unheard of?”
“Recovering from dragon pox,” I explained, absentmindedly shifting Jack about on my lap. “I thought there was something like a one in a million chance of recovering from it; the damage done to the immune system is so vast.”
A little of the colour drained away from her face and her eyes hardened. “It turns out it wasn’t dragon pox,” Sophie said stiffly, her eyes becoming narrower with every word she spoke. “It was a misdiagnosis.”
“You don’t sound too terribly upset about that,” I remarked caustically. “I know that if my best friend in the whole wide world was misdiagnosed with a disease that’s killed thousands of witches and wizards over just as many years, I would be absolutely livid.”
“I was upset -”
“I can tell,” I deadpanned, wincing slightly as Jack gave a sharp pull on my hair, as if reminding me to play nice and not fight fire with fire. The very last thing I needed was World War III in my parents’ kitchen.
“I don’t have to justify myself to you, Mara,” Sophie said, an edge to her voice. “You’re not my mother.”
“Thank Merlin for that,” I quipped, unable to help myself.
Her jaw locked and she gnashed her teeth together. “Yes, thank Merlin for that,” she growled, every word dripping with venom. “You aren’t much of a mother anyway! Hiding your son from his father! Who does that?”
Surprised, I looked towards the doorway and saw that Mum was standing in it, her arms folded over her chest, looking positively thunderous. Despite the fact a jab had just been made at my parenting skills by my son’s father’s fiancée, I couldn’t help grinning; it was nice not to be on the receiving end of that glare for once.
Sophie scoffed, raising an eyebrow. “Excuse me?!”
“Get out,” Mum repeated, stressing both words.
“You heard the woman,” I said, meeting Sophie’s smouldering eyes. “Get out. And don’t even think about coming back here.”
Slowly, Sophie rose from her seat, removing her jacket from the back of the chair. “Don’t think that James won’t hear about this,” she stated gruffly.
“By all means, tell him,” I responded casually. “In fact, why don’t you tell him that if he’s got anything to say about it, he should come over and say it to my face?”
Instead of replying, she merely huffed, flipped her hair over her shoulder, and marched out of the house, taking care to slam the kitchen door so forcefully, one of the small windowpanes shattered. Once she had Apparated, Mum flicked her wand at the shards and they flew back into place.
“What an awful bitch,” Mum said as she glared out the window.
From my position at the table, I grinned. “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
TWO DAYS UNTIL THE WEDDING…
After work, I went to pick Jack up from James’ flat, just like I had been doing for the past few days - except yesterday; James had an impromptu Quidditch practice and instead, I brought him over to Harry and Ginny’s, who were all too happy to watch him for the day. Normally, I didn’t feel a bout of nausea when knocking on someone’s door, but after the unpleasant end to my discussion - for want a better word - with Sophie, I had a feeling that this meeting with James wasn’t going to be a good one.
It took a minute for him to get to the door and I shuffled my weight from foot to foot, shortly debating leaving now and coming back later, with reinforcements. Before I could make a decision, I heard the rattle of the lock sliding out and a few seconds later, the door was pulled open, revealing a not-too-happy James.
I wasn’t able to say so much as a word, for James stepped out into the hall and grabbed my shoulders, forcing me backwards. I had to throw out my arm to prevent myself from stumbling back into the opposite door.
He didn’t waste a breath. “What do you think you’re doing?” he questioned fiercely, his dark eyes searching my face.
Attempting to shrug off his grip and failing, I glared up at him. “What do you think I’m doing? I’m here to pick up my son!”
Instinctively, he flexed his fingers, his short nails digging into my skin. I tried not to wince. “You know that’s not what I meant, Mara,” he seethed, the muscles in his jaw contracting as he spoke.
I should’ve known he would want to talk about the kiss eventually. How could he not? If his thought process was anything like mine (which it was; our friendship had proven that long ago), he had been dwelling on it since it occurred. However, unlike me, he wasn’t confused - no, it was more like he was, well, seething with anger.
Finally, after a lengthy glaring contest, I said, “I’m not sorry.” And I found that I actually meant those words. I wasn’t sorry, regardless of the conflict it caused within me, between us.
James snorted, lessening the intensity of his grip. “Of course you aren’t. You’ve always hated Sophie.”
I frowned. “I didn’t do it because I hate her.”
“Oh, don’t lie to me,” he scoffed. “I know that’s the only reason why you did it. Anger has always been your primary motivation for pretty much everything.”
Though it did nothing to help my case, I flared up. “No, it hasn’t!” I rebuked. “I mean, sure, I’ve done things and said things because I’ve been angry, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only reason why I ever do things!”
Again, James snorted in derisive amusement, rolling his eyes. “Like I’m going to believe that after what you did.”
That very nearly knocked the wind right out of me. My insides ached, as if someone had punched a hole through my chest. Was he really so repulsed by me, by the idea of kissing me when he could’ve been sucking face with Sophie? I tried my best not to let the hurt show in my face.
“Well,” I began, looking him in the eye, “if I had the chance to do it again, I would.”
He laughed hollowly. “Why am I not surprised by that? You would do just about anything to make Sophie look bad. I get that you don’t like her, but did you really have to chase her out of the house when all she was trying to do was let you down gently? She could’ve done it by owl, but -”
“Wait a minute,” I interrupted, after taking a moment to scrape my jaw off the floor, “what the fuck are you on about?”
James snapped his mouth shut, his lips forming a thin line as he regarded me. Curiosity glimmered amongst the swirl of green and brown, and after a handful of seconds, he raised a brow. “About Sophie’s visit to your house the other day and how you ran her out without giving her a chance to explain herself.” He blinked, cocking his head to the side. “What are you talking about?”
Against my will, a wave of heat surged to my cheeks, all but giving me away. “N-nothing,” I stuttered, wishing I knew a way to Apparate without taking James, whose hands were still on my shoulders, along with me and leaving Jack unsupervised - unless the bloody wench herself was inside, bouncing him on her lap.
“Mara,” James said forcefully, giving me a little shake. “What were you talking about?” Once again, his eyes swept over my face, searching for any giveaway. I flinched underneath his scrutiny. “What aren’t you sorry for?”
“I - can’t,” I managed, knowing that if I told him this, it would open up a brand new can of worms that neither of us wanted, much less needed in our lives. He was getting married in just two days and I had a baby to take care of.
“Mara,” he repeated, his gaze boring into mine. “Tell me.”
I averted my eyes then shook my head. “No, I can‘t.” I reached up and prised his fingers from my shoulder. “I won’t.”
“Because,” I said, shrugging off his other hand.
Instead of frowning as I thought he would, James pursed his lips and once again, narrowed his eyes. Vaguely, I wondered if that was the only way he would look at me from here on out - with a scowl on his face and a sharp word or two on his tongue. “How we are supposed to fix things when you won’t even tell me what you meant!”
The situation was hardly humorous but I couldn’t resist snorting. “Trust me when I say that if I told you, it would hardly help us fix things. In fact,” I continued, chuckling mirthlessly, “it’d probably only muck things up further.”
“Honestly, I don’t think things could get any more fucked between us, Mara,” James replied, “so you might as well tell me. I’m a big boy,” he added before I could negate his assurance. “I handled Jack - I’m sure I can handle this.”
As much as I didn’t want to tell him, as much as my instincts were insisting this would only lead to a tonne of trouble, I knew that he was right. Between his discovery of Jack and our fragmented friendship, I doubted anything could get much worse between us - unless, of course, he returned my feelings, which wasn’t very likely as he was getting married two days from now. Deciding to throw caution to the wind probably wasn’t the best decision I could make, but it was better than not saying anything at all and never knowing what would’ve happened, what could have been.
I expelled a long breath. “I was talking about -”
“-the other night,” he finished for me, sounding oddly distant despite how close he was.
He stared at me, long and hard, the faintest of creases appearing in his brow. Neither of us spoke for a considerable length of time, but when he broke the silence, the sound of his voice made my heart rate increase and my palms start to sweat.
“So,” he started hesitantly, licking his lips, “when you said you weren’t sorry, you mean -”
“And you would do it again -”
“Oh,” was all he said.
Several beats of painful silence pulsated between us. I didn’t dare look at him in fear of what emotion may be written across his features. There were so many possibilities, but the likelihood that the expression would be one of happiness, one that wouldn’t make me want to crawl under a rock and die, was slim to none. More than likely, he would go inside, retrieve Jack from the clutches of his evil wench, and hand him over, telling me not to bother coming to the wedding. And I would listen to him because, well, I was almost positive that if I did go, I’d end up leaving anyway.
Like most silences, this one became unbearable, pressing down upon me to the point where I felt claustrophobic. I even started hyperventilating just a bit. But that might have also been because James took a step towards me, which forced me to take a step backwards, which in turn made my back collide with the wall.
The sudden press of his lips against mine swallowed the rest of his name. I was so shocked, so startled that I did the first thing that came to mind when I started panicking - I reached up and walloped him on the side of the head.
“OI!” he cried as he broke away.
“Sorry!” I apologised, my chest heaving.
“What was that -”
“Merlin, James, shut up,” I commanded breathlessly and bracing myself against his chest, leaned forwards to connect our mouths again.
For once, he listened to me, one hand instinctively coming to rest on my hip, the other gravitating to the small of my back. The kiss was just that - a kiss. It wasn’t a snog; we didn’t suck face…at least, not until my shoulder blades were pressed into the wall and I could feel the hard line of James’ stomach against my own. Whether it was the familiar feel of his body against mine or the rush of heat that accompanied the movement, I couldn’t be sure, but one moment it was a chaste kiss and the next, my fingers were tangled in his hair, one of his hands was dangerously close to my breast, and we were exchanging salvia.
My conscience told me this was wrong - as in, oh-so-very wrong, but if this was so damn wrong, why did it feel so good? So right? It was the classic question of morals, yet for some reason, in this instance, I didn’t give a damn about morals.
And evidently, neither did James as he nudged my knees apart to slip his thigh between mine, pushing his body closer to mine, and my back now fully flushed against the wall. Our bodies were so close, I could feel the frantic thump thump, thump thump, thump thump of his heart against my fingertips through the fabric of his shirt. I raked my nails over the spot before returning my fingers to their original spot - in his hair.
Somewhere along the line - I think it was when I felt the scorching warmth of his palm against my bare skin - reality came crashing down upon me and I realised that this - this seemingly perfect moment - was entirely wrong, no matter how good it felt. We weren’t together. We weren’t in love. At least, James wasn’t in love with me. And most importantly, we were snogging in the middle of the hall (though it was more to the side as I was still nestled between the wall and James’ body), where anyone could see us.
So, as wonderful as his lips felt against mine, as sweet as he tasted on the tip of my tongue, and as perfectly at home I felt in his arms, I pulled away, my chest heaving. Unfortunately, James didn’t quite understand my message. Instead of backing off, he kissed his way along my jaw and down my neck, where he suckled on the flesh.
“J-James,” I panted, fisting his hair, intent on pulling his mouth away from my skin, but actually just holding his head in place. And then that all-too-familiar sinking sensation appeared in my stomach and I lowered my hands to his chest, giving as forceful of a push as I could manage. He didn’t go very far, but his lips were gone.
With his body heat gone, I felt cold.
Dragging a hand along the back of his mouth, James stared at me, his eyes glazed over. “Mara -”
“Don’t,” I whispered.
I held up a hand. “Can you just -” I took in a much-needed breath. “Can you just go get Jack?”
“You know that we just can’t ignore -”
“Actually, we can,” I countered, refusing to meet his gaze in fear of what would happen if I did. Not but five minutes ago, I gave into my curiosity and look where it got me - with lungs searing from lack of oxygen and an even more complicated situation than I had ever bargained for.
The dazed look faded from his eyes and they turned cold. “You’re right. You’re absolutely right,” he chuckled, shaking his head. “I’ll just go get our son and you can be on your way, pretending like this never happened, just like you always do.”
“James,” I sighed.
“No, Mara, if this is what you want, then fine,” he said, throwing up his hands. “Give me a minute to collect his things and I’ll be right out.” He turned to open the door.
Before he could disappear inside, I grabbed his hand. “James,” I repeated, searching his face for something I didn’t even know where to look in the first place.
“I’m getting married, Mara.”
“I’m not going to invite you in.”
He cleared his throat and looked at our hands, which were still linked. “You need to let go.”
I met his eyes for a fraction of a second before nodding softly. “Okay.” So I let go and watched as he opened the door and disappeared inside. When the door clicked shut, I released a shaky breath, praying that I wouldn’t start crying until I was in the comfort of my own bedroom, burrowed under the covers with a pint of strawberry ice cream to stuff in my face as I wallowed in my own misery.
I wanted to doubt that things couldn’t get any worse, but with my luck, I knew they would.
A/N: There’s the chapter! I hope it kept you interested, and that the formatting wasn’t too odd. I’m not too sure if I like it or not, but oh well. Anyway, if you have questions, comments, or concerns, please leave a review and I’ll try to answer them to the best of my ability!
On another note, just one more chapter and an epilogue, and we’re done, people! It’s been a long journey and I’m so happy to have shared it with you all! But I’ll leave the rest of my sappy, departing speech for the next chapter! Until next time! ♥
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