I’ve had horrible hangovers in my time, but none of them quite held a handle to the hangover from Burns Night. Probably just as well; I felt so alcoholic that it was inadvisable to hold a naked flame anywhere near me. Even wine hangovers hadn’t been this bad.
I woke up feeling like I was locked into a suitcase with sandpaper stuffed down my throat. After a bit of wriggling about, I worked out that I was actually safely tucked up in bed, although the covers were the wrong way round and the pillows had vanished.
It also felt like someone had hit me over the head with a sledgehammer. Repeatedly. And it wasn’t just that I felt nauseous; the thought of food seemed so repellent that I swore, in that moment, that I would never let another morsel of it pass my lips as long as I lived.
I curled up into the foetal position and burrowed deeper into the covers like a child hiding from the dark. It felt as if my internal organs had decided to go on holiday but, a bit late for their bus, were subsequently trying to make a speedy exit through my mouth. I lay motionless for a few minutes, wishing I’d never been born.
The covers peeled back and Scorpius’ face loomed into my line of vision. ‘Alright?’ he said.
‘Do you need some of Auntie Angela’s Instant Pick-me-up Potion?’
I groaned a second time and shook my head. The thought of having to open my mouth and consume something appalled both me and my turning stomach, even if it was Auntie Angela’s Instant Pick-me-up Potion, which is a pretty cheery name for something that is essentially industrial strength painkilling potion for those well over the apparition limit.
‘Do you need water?’
I attempted a nod, and then pressed my hand against my mouth to stop myself throwing up.
‘Right-io,’ he said, departing the scene. I turned over on to my back, thinking I’d have to sit upright sometime soon. But that sometime soon wouldn’t be anywhere near this century.
After what seemed like hours, Scorpius breezed back in with a full pint glass of water. He looked fresh as a daisy, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, already dressed and washed. He waited for me to struggle upright before he handed me the glass. My head felt like it’d been bashed repeatedly by a pillow wrapped around a brick.
He steadied the glass for me as I sipped despondently at the top. ‘So. Do you want the good or the bad news first?’
I shoved the glass away, although my throat was parched and burning. ‘I don’t want…can’t remember…’
‘Well,’ he said, and began to fill in the gaps in my memory from the night before.
‘So, the good news is that you enjoyed yourself,’ he finished a few minutes later. ‘And the bad news is that you punched Prentice in the face, so you might want to apologise for that.’
Despite the pain and nausea, I felt myself go a little bit numb. ‘What? No!’
‘It wasn’t intentional!’ he said quickly. ‘And Prentice didn’t mind. It was during the strip the willow dance, you see, when everyone’s a bit violent and-’
‘Oh, you know, it’s all like, linking arms and spinning around really fast and…well, your fists where everywhere. But it all turned out okay!’ he added. ‘Jock managed to fix his nose up right away-’
‘Oh my god,’ I said, the nausea increasing.
‘Yes, and what you did when we got in was rather interesting too, but I won’t dwell on it.’
‘Did I punch you too?’
‘No. It doesn’t matter,’ he said, but had this kind of knowing look that I knew I needed to get to the bottom of. ‘Anyway, I’ll get you some Auntie Angela’s.’
‘Please,’ I said, inching off the mattress and into my slippers. I’d suddenly developed an urgent desire to spend the rest of my morning locked in the bathroom with my head over the loo.
But when I stood up, my efforts to ignore the general chaos of the room (a picture frame crooked on the wall, a tartan scarf dangling from the lampshade, an avalanche of Artistic Review Monthly that had once been a serviceable bedside table) meant that my eyes focused on the calendar. The calendar that reminded me that, this very morning, I was to pick up Gwen and Tarquin from the bus stop at eleven.
‘I’ve always said you were a happy drunk,’ Scorpius said blithely as he picked his way through the madness. ‘You get so athletic…’
‘Scorpius?’ I croaked. ‘What time is it?’
He poked his head back through the door. ‘Just past ten. Why?’
‘Er,’ I said.
‘I’m meant to be picking up Gwen and Tarquin in an hour.’
There was no time to lose. The hangover could wait. The two of us sprinted into the kitchen, Scorpius dithering around me like a moth about an electric flame.
‘We have to tidy. No, you tidy, I’ll pick them up. You do the bedroom – no, do the kitchen first. Check the sofa bed still works! Repair anything I broke – and make it snappy!’
First things first; I had to make myself more presentable. I dashed back into the bedroom and, with one hand, threw open the wardrobe and clawed at the tangle of clothes within, whilst the other worked at tugging off the baggy t-shirt I used as pyjamas.
‘Don’t just stand there!’ I shouted, as the still-dithering Scorpius dithered around in the next room. ‘Or do you have work?’
‘I took the day off!’
‘-on the condition that I work the late shift the rest of the week barring Wednesday when I…I...’
I froze, the shirt stuck around my ears.
‘Well,’ I said. ‘At least it’s something.’
He dithered off to clean and I dressed in the cleanest things I could find, shoving my feet into the same well-worn grubby excuses for trainers I wore every day. Then I bounded out of the bedroom, downed the glass of Auntie Angela’s Scorpius had set out for me in one, and then cuffed said Scorpius around the head as a sort of goodbye. Seizing my anorak, I darted out the door.
Out in five minutes. It had to be a record. Even for a scatterbrain like me, and a hungover scatterbrain at that. I hadn’t exactly had the chance to put on make-up or even wash my hair, but I figured Tarquin and Gwen were probably well used to seeing me at my worst.
The bus stop was a full half hour’s walk from the flat. Despite me being early, they were already there when I arrived. I’d quit running a long time ago, slowing to a brisk pace instead, but I was still short of breath and in severe danger of throwing up everywhere.
The two of them seemed to perk up at the sight of me. Gwen tried to wriggle out of the large rucksack she was sporting, whereas Tarquin threw all caution to the wind and bounded up with his industrial-sized rucksack still strapped on. I only had a moment to catch my breath before he crashed into me and, seconds later, Gwen came running up and threw her arms around the both of us.
‘It’s been so long!’ Tarquin cried.
‘It’s been two months!’ Gwen corrected.
‘I’m so sorry!’ I said, as the two of them did a brilliant job at impersonating boa constrictors. I was more than aware that I probably looked (and smelled) like the walking personification of a morning after. ‘I’m so hungover!’
I felt like they’d be angry and, to be honest, I felt pretty crummy for not having made an effort for them, but then Tarquin released me and gripped me by the shoulders.
‘Aw, you started without us!’
Gwen, who had broken away to rummage about in her rucksack, reappeared with a bottle of wine in each hand.
‘Hair of the dog!’ she said brightly. ‘Now, take us to your leader!’
It took us a while to get back to the flat, a mixture of me dawdling to give Scorpius more time to clear up the trail of destruction I’d caused the night before, and Tarquin and Gwen stopping every few minutes to point at something and laugh. They seemed very taken by the tartan fiesta and cuddly Loch Ness monsters on display in the window of CUMBERNAULD NEWSAGENTS.
The door to the flat was opened by a very flustered Scorpius, who was holding a tin of baked beans in one hand and had a paintbrush between his teeth.
‘E-yo,’ he offered by way of greeting, before spitting the paintbrush out into a corner, putting the baked beans onto a bookshelf and letting us into the flat.
It was pretty tidy, I had to give him that. It was a little higgledy-piggledy and the toaster was mysteriously upside-down, but there was a general air of order that had not been there when I’d sprinted out earlier. The sofa looked a little out of sorts, as if the cushions had been stuffed with duvets and then inflated. This concerned me.
‘Did you hide something in the sofa?’ I muttered, as we busied ourselves with taking Tarquin and Gwen’s coats.
‘Nope,’ Scorpius said. ‘Just checking to see if the sofabed still worked.’
Then he threw out his arms, stepped back, and declared-
‘Ta-dah! Our snazzy, crappy flat!’
And at that moment, the cushions toppled off the sofa and the wire bed frame within rose, elegantly unfolding like a woman’s leg emerging from a taxi, landing with a soft thud on the coffee table.
‘Wow,’ Tarquin said. ‘Your flats just…’
‘Keep getting crummier?’ Scorpius offered, trying to hoist the sofa bed back up again.
‘Just leave it,’ I said.
‘It’s nice, actually,’ Gwen peered round the kitchen/living room and up along the corridor to the jumble sale we called our bedroom, where the chaos of magazine furniture and tartan could just be seen through the open door.
‘Bit poky,’ I shrugged.
‘No gremlins in the cupboard?’ Tarquin said.
‘Nope,’ Scorpius grinned, dropping the end of the sofa bed back onto the coffee table with a thump and an ominous clatter. ‘But we inherited a cat!’
After it became obvious that neither Scorpius nor I had seen Mr Andrew Socks that morning, the four of us set about searching for him, whereupon he was discovered curled up on the kitchen shelf where we kept our condiments. Scorpius, holding the pepper mill in one hand and Mr Andrew Socks in the other, stood and beamed at us all like he was the lord of the manor. That or like the cat that got the cream, only cream that was going off a bit and probably unsafe for human consumption.
The one thing about having a scuzzy flat is that there isn’t a lot to do in it. On the plus side, the one thing about being nauseous and hungover is that one generally requires a lot of fresh air to speed up the recovery process. So, after we’d had a cuppa apiece, we resolved to go out and take a bit of a stroll up the beachfront in search of bacon butties. Anoraks on and boots laced, we left the flat.
‘So what are you two up to these days?’ Tarquin said, as we meandered down the High Street. ‘I mean, we pick up stuff from the letters, but not everything…’
‘Uh…’ I faltered.
‘Odd jobs,’ Scorpius said.
‘A lot of odd jobs,’ I chipped in.
‘Mostly photography stuff.’
‘And I’m pretending to be a writer,’ I said.
‘You’re not pretending…’
‘I’m writing a smut for cash,’ I said. ‘Covering topics as broad as the zombie apocalypse and, er, smut.’
‘Sounds fab,’ Tarquin said, although he didn’t sound so sure.
‘And what are you up to?’ Scorpius asked.
‘Travelling, mostly,’ Gwen said.
‘Well, making the most of the great British railway infrastructure,’ Tarquin cut in. ‘We had a bit of a cash windfall last year…’
‘But mostly we just, er…’
‘I don’t really know what we do.’
‘Busk? Street theatre? Card tricks?’
‘I mean, card tricks look way more impressive if the muggles don’t know you’re just using a vanishing charm…’
‘But nothing very…fixed. Or legal.’
I shared a look with Scorpius.
‘Same with us,’ he grinned. ‘Nothing very fixed. But legal in our case.’
I didn’t say anything – I was still trying to suppress the urge to vomit - but I was pretty relieved to hear that our two closest friends were just as unemployable as we were.
‘Looking forward to seeing your book out,’ Tarquin elbowed me.
‘Oh, no,’ I grimaced. ‘I’ll have to use a pseudonym. My dad would go crazy if he knew what I was doing for a living…’
‘What, writing bad sex scenes?’
‘You know what he’s like.’
‘What’s your pseudonym?’ Gwen asked.
‘Uh…’ I said the first thing that came into my head. ‘Prunella Pinkington-Smythe.’
‘I like it,’ Tarquin nodded.
‘Bit posh, but still a bit of je ne sais quoi,’ Gwen said.
We shared a murmur of assent before falling into silence.
‘Nice place,’ Tarquin said, a few minutes later.
‘Quiet,’ Scorpius smiled. ‘Cold.’
‘Cheaper than London,’ I cut in. ‘But, you know, not quite cheap enough.’
The silence that followed was a little uncomfortable.
‘Things will pick up,’ Scorpius said eventually. ‘I’m sure.’
We ended up wandering along the beach, none of us really quite hungry enough for a bacon butty in the caff on the promenade. The weather was pretty nice for New New Elgin, with a mild feel to the air despite the snow that was still heaped along the edges of the pavements. Walking along, just the four of us, with the waves breaking on the shore and the seagulls cawing in the sky above – it was pretty lovely. Even though I still felt like I’d been beaten up with a sledgehammer, I almost wanted to keep on walking for as long as possible.
It was probably a good thing, then, that we got lost. We didn’t mean to at all and, to be honest, it was pretty thick of us to have wandered away from the beach, off the beaten track, and into the woodland beyond. Eventually, we ended up in another little seaside village that barely even merited a name on the map. And it took us about half an hour to find said map.
‘Huh,’ Tarquin squinted up at the little dot that said you are here. ‘That’s not very helpful.’
‘Well…we are here,’ Scorpius said, pointing to the dot.
Gwen peered around their shoulders at a bench on the promenade, where three old ladies were sitting. ‘We could ask for directions?’
‘No,’ Tarquin and Scorpius said in unison.
‘Good time to stop for a rest?’ I hazarded.
We ended up settling down onto a spare bench. There wasn’t room for Scorpius, who dithered about on the left, kicking ineffectually at a couple of drinks cans that had been abandoned there.
‘How about we have a poke around and try to find out where we are?’ Scorpius said, after ten minutes or so of swapping anecdotes and dithering. ‘You two stay here, and me and Lucy will go and have a wander, report back in fifteen minutes?’
‘Sure,’ I stood up, plunging my hands into my anorak pockets. Fifteen minutes for me to wallow in my hangover, removed from the pressure of being presentable for my guests. Scorpius aimed one last kick at the can at his feet, missed, and then the two of us walked in towards the town, leaving Tarquin and Gwen on the bench.
‘I’m exhausted,’ I told nobody in particular.
‘Yeah, me too,’ he said.
‘You can hardly talk,’ I said. ‘I have the worst hangover ever.’
‘Your fault for drinking,’ he said pointedly.
I changed the subject. ‘What are we looking for? A tourist office?’
‘Probably. I don’t think this place is magic.’
‘Yeah. Muggles…I should really cut down on the drinking, shouldn’t I?’
He turned to face me, evidently surprised. ‘What, has hell frozen over?’
‘No, you just missed the flying pigs.’
We ambled along in silence for a few more minutes.
‘Sorry, this is my fault,’ he said.
‘What, ending up in the middle of nowhere?’
‘We’re really lost!’
‘I can see this going the shape of the pear,’ I said. ‘Knowing us.’
‘Yeah,’ he smirked. ‘Zombie apocalypse. Bet it’s right round the corner.’
‘Those three old ladies at the beach – I think that’s the zombie apocalypse just starting…’
‘To be honest,’ he said. ‘I’m not sure I’d last long in the zombie apocalypse.’
‘Nah, me neither.’
‘I guess it’d be fun, though.’
‘Oh, yeah, an experience.’
‘Survival is just a bonus. It’d be a great story, huh?’
‘Yeah,’ I laughed. ‘Something to tell the kids!’
There was a strange pause.
‘Do you want kids?’ he said.
It was the conversational equivalent of a runaway double decker bus travelling at full speed down a very, very steep hill, in the sense that it came out of nowhere and knocked me a little bit senseless.
‘Sorry – I just-’
‘No, I didn’t mean-’
We flailed about for a while before eventually regaining control of our senses.
‘It’s…it’s a turn of phrase,’ I said, fidgeting. ‘I didn’t mean it in a broody way!’
‘Oh, I get it now,’ Scorpius, who looked mightily embarrassed, ran a hand through his already messy fringe. ‘I just…’
‘That is to say,’ I said, hurriedly. ‘Not that I don’t ever want kids ever because I probably will when I’m a bit older and broodier and-’
‘I was just…concerned in…in case…’
‘In case what?’
‘Well, um, in case that was your way of trying to say you were, um, er…expecting.’
My mind flashed up an image of myself standing at a bus stop, but then it clicked.
‘No!’ I nearly shouted. ‘Oh, no! No surprise buns in the oven-’
I nearly hit myself over the head for using that particular turn of phrase. Really, pregnancy should never be associated with baking like that. I quite like baked goods. I’m not as keen on pregnancy.
‘I just know we’re kind of careless!’ he threw up his hands in alarm, and the flailing and dithering started all over again (it was a vicious cycle). ‘That is to say – not like I’m going all psycho boyfriend or anything and yeah maybe if I’m older and stuff but-’
‘Just not right now!’ I cried, aware that we were both losing control. ‘Besides, you idiot, you’re not meant to binge-drink when you’re pregnant.’
‘Ha, ha, sorry,’ Scorpius sounded a little weak, as if he’d just been hit over the head or something. ‘Yeah, like that! I mean, we’re not even married or anything yet!’
This was conversational equivalent of a double decker bus travelling at speed number two with bells on. Like, really noisy, jangly sleigh bells in the wrong season.
‘Not married…yet?’ I echoed.
‘Well, it’s only been three years,’ he said dismissively.
‘Nearly four,’ I said.
‘It’s only been nearly four years,’ he corrected.
‘Is it something you want?’
He let out a nervous laugh. ‘Hardly.’
I could almost see a routemaster appearing over the top of a hill, brakes cut.
‘You don’t want to get married?’
‘Not for a very long time.’
This small statement surprised me a little, because I’d always been of the impression that Scorpius was a more committed person than I was, a little more traditional.
‘How long is a long time?’
He wasn’t looking at me anymore, but kept his eyes fixed on the ground, one hand rubbing the back of his neck. ‘I dunno. I think it’s just something you do when you’re forty and confident you’ve done the right thing.’
We walked on in further silence. I wasn’t looking out for the tourist office anymore. I’d never really bought into the idea of marriage much myself – it was a legal formality, nothing more – but this conversation was getting under my skin in an unexpected way. I was suddenly reminded that it had only been three – nearly four – years. Nothing, really, in the great scheme of things. A mere sneeze in comparison to all the years behind us and the ones we’d surely come to live.
I tried really hard not to sound miserable when I next spoke. Adopting a somewhat forced grin, I said this: ‘so – would I be the right thing?’
He did this move that was somewhere between a shrug and a shiver. ‘Of course you are.’
The body language did a lot to suggest otherwise.
‘I know, it’s early days yet,’ I said.
‘Mmm,’ he agreed. ‘It’s just a legal agreement, anyway. For finances and stuff.’
‘Sure,’ I shrugged. He glanced at me, a little wary. We’d gone from hypothetical zombie apocalypses to hypothetical children to the whole bloody concept of marriage in the space of about five minutes. He seemed to guess that he’d said something to offend me, because he gave up whatever else he was about to say and went back to staring at the pavement beneath his feet.
Believe me, I tried not to make a fuss or disagree or anything. I wasn’t really in the mood to argue or debate or anything. I felt like I’d been hit by a sledgehammer and three metaphorical buses.
I just wanted to pretend that I was completely fine. Not, you know, hungover and a bit surprised and also a little lost in the middle of nowhere. So I just tried to act normal. Took his hand, started looking for a tourist office again, you know. Living together had lulled me into a false sense of security, a belief that we were permanent and unbreakable. This had reminded me that, after all, we were only young, that the love we shared was younger still, and, one day, we might wake up to discover that neither of us had done the right thing after all.
a/n: I don't usually wait for ages to update, but when I do, I give you a triple serving of angst. Sorry, guys. I've got interviews for art schools soon and it's a bit stressy~ I just want to write ALL the angst. And make ALL the difficult chapter images, including the frankenraven I made for this one my photoshopping bits of zooey d. and kstew together. Crivens.
Hopefully things should be a bit more interesting and, er, fun soon (and please don't kill me for that last little bit. It was coming from the start. This is actually one of the first things I wrote for this story. Bit of trivia there).
Anyway, thanks for reading, & I hope you enjoyed (regardless of angst)! ♥
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