Chapter 40 : Black dresses, Reconciliations and the Kitchen of Confrontations.
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My mum bought me the dress because I refused point blank to go shopping for one. I hate shopping at the best of times, and shopping for a black dress for my brother’s funeral isn’t one of those better times. Mum cried when I said I didn’t want to go. It doesn’t take much to make her cry these days.
It’s a simple black dress with a ‘Peter Pan’ collar (I think my mum called it) which came in at the waist, not drowning me in material. I suppose it’s quite nice really, but I can’t like it. Not for the occasion I’m using it for. I stare at it, taking in each little fold and the shape of the collar. I count the buttons and measure how the colour of it changes slightly in the light. But it’s still black, whatever way you look at it.
I’ve been gazing at it like I am now for the last two hours.
I woke up like I have been doing for the last week or whatever- I’ve lost track of days. I woke up silently screaming, being shook awake by another nightmare. It was early so I lay in bed and stared at the ceiling for a little while. Then I showered and dried off, put on my underwear and laid out the dress on my newly-made bed. And then I looked. I got chilly after a while, so I put on my dressing gown; then I went back to looking at it.
A faint knock on the door startles me and I jump, despite it being so gentle. I don’t say anything but the door is pushed open slowly anyway. In the doorway is stood Rose. Her hair is pinned up in a bun, a few strands of hair left to curl around her face. She’s wearing a black skirt and a buttoned up cardigan; she looks nice. Rose has even put on a bit of makeup, covering the purple crescents beneath her eyes, so she looks better than she has done in a while. The bump is still very noticeable, protruding obviously and uncomfortably from her skinny frame. She pushes a thread of her dangling hair behind her ear and frowns slightly as she takes in the scene in front of her.
Then she steps into the room, letting the door creak shut behind her. “Are you going to get dressed?” she asks quietly as the door finally shuts into place.
“Yes,” I whisper back. “Soon. I’m just – just looking.”
She nods and doesn’t say anything more. Then Rose steps carefully next to me and she too looks at the dress. We stay like that for a little while before she says anything. “It’s a very pretty dress.”
I grunt in reply, a guttural sound from the back of my throat.
“Are you ready, Kat?” Rose murmurs, not looking at me still and instead tilting her head slightly as if trying to get a different angle of the dress.
“No,” I breathe back.
“Come on,” she says, this time her voice a little stronger and more confident. Her hand scrambles for mine in a moment of clumsiness, and she grips it hard and squeezes. I turn obligingly and she undoes my dressing gown, pulling it off my shoulders and letting it fall to the carpeted floor. Then Rose reaches for the dress and picks it up carefully, stroking any creases out of it. She helps me pull it over my head and then zips up the back whilst I hold my hair up.
I suppose I would’ve felt silly, I think as I sit down slowly at my chair and let Rose tug on my hair. I suppose I would’ve felt so stupid and pathetic before, letting Rose dress me as if I were a child. But I feel very numb. And sad. So I don’t care.
My hair is pulled back loosely and twisted into a knot. My baby hair is flaring up at the front but I don’t mind; somewhere in me I manage to nearly laugh- Ty always used to tease me about my baby hair, rubbing it to make it stick up some more. It used to drive me mad. Now I’d do anything for him to be able to do it again.
Rose spins me to face her and bends painfully so she’s my height. Then adds some concealer onto my spots and paints on some faint pink lip-gloss as well as a bit of colour onto my cheeks- I suppose I do look very pale and ill.
Then I stand up and stand in front of my mirror, looking at myself carefully. I look nice- still tired- but nice. My baby hair is still sticking up in all directions but I do nothing to smooth it down. Rose is stood behind me and I can see her reflection.
“Why are you here Rose?” I ask very suddenly, my voice louder than I anticipated, but still weak.
Rose looks startled and slightly embarrassed, so her reflection shrugs awkwardly. “You needed me, Kat. You were there when I needed you and now I’m here for you. You’re still my best friend. I mean, if you still want me…” she trails off, her eyes drooping to the ground.
“Thanks, Rose,” I say quietly back. She looks up in surprise and smiles a little.
“I’m sorry Kat, I’m so sorry,” she murmurs, her voice crackling. I’m not entirely sure what she’s apologising about, but I don’t ask. “And thank you for defending me. That meant a lot.”
I nod slowly and then revolve on the spot to face her. Her eyes are watering a little and are shining; without thinking, I reach out and hug her. Rose’s bump is so big that it sort of prevents the hug from being entirely comfortable, but it’s still good to hug her. When we break apart she wipes her eyes hurriedly and then smiles. “The baby’s kicking again, come here.” Rose reaches for my hand and places it on her stomach. For a moment nothing happens, but then I feel a little kick, making me jump. I grin for the first time in days and it feels good to smile.
“That’s amazing,” I whisper, holding my hand there for another kick. I feel better than I have done in a while and manage another smile when I catch eyes with Rose.
“It gets a little annoying actually- the baby kicks at the most inappropriate of times,” Rose laughs softly. Then her smile fades and she becomes serious again. “We’ve got to go down now, Kat. It’s nearly time.”
The actual funeral passed by very quickly and I don’t remember much of it. I just remember the tears, the murmured condolences and the salutes. It all happened in a blink of an eye, and the next thing I remember, I was back home. We were having a sort of party- for want of a better word- back at my house for close friends and family after the funeral.
I’m getting a drink in the kitchen- receiving condolences is hard. Each time someone apologises, it hits me again and knocks the wind out of me. Angus is taking it particularly hard and is sat in the corner of the living room, sipping on a glass of water and staring off into space. He hasn’t said anything since the funeral; he cried a lot then. Mum is trying hard- she’s meeting all of the guests and Dennis is by her side, ready to step in when it gets too difficult. I think she blames herself for letting him go off in the army. She didn’t like the idea, but he wanted to so much, she let him in the end.
“Excuse me,” a girl’s voice jolts me out of my daydream. I look up tiredly and take in the girl. She’s quite a bit taller than me though still obviously short, with brown curly hair and dark blue eyes. Her eyes are red and puffy, as if she’s been crying a lot. She’s quite pretty. I recognise her- I’ve seen her in the picture.
“I’m Lottie,” she says in a hushed voice (which everyone seems to be talking in at the moment).
“You knew T-” I freeze; saying his name is painful. “You knew my brother?”
“Yes. I fought with him. I don’t know whether he told you, but we were-” she starts, taking a deep breath.
“Seeing each other,” I finish flatly. “He fancied the pants off you.”
Lottie blushes profusely and looks down. “I just wanted you to know. I loved him. I wish we could have met be – before he – “ she breaks off suddenly, her eyes filling with tears. Don’t cry, don’t cry.
Past tense- loved. He really is gone.
“He mentioned you a few times,” I answer back, taking a sip of water for something to do. “He showed me a picture of you all, when you all first went out.”
Lottie gives a watery chuckle and looks skyward. “I remember when he got his hair cut… Oh god, he hated it! Complained about it for months – even when it grew back he claimed it was never the same…” she trails off again, something she keeps doing- something I keep doing too. Lottie looks lost in thought for a moment, obviously remembering better times. “He talked about you a lot. He loved you to bits, you and Angus. He’d whine about you, but would bang on for days about you whenever he got a letter from you.”
I can’t help but smile and my heart twists painfully.
“I really can’t explain how much I miss him,” Lottie whispers, looking up at the ceiling. “I just feel so guilty, you know? I was still on leave when he went back. I often just wonder if it would’ve made a difference, if I’d been there… And then when I feel really sorry for myself, I think of you and your family. I can’t even imagine what you must be going through; whatever pain I’m experiencing is trebled for you.”
“You were his family too,” I murmur and she looks at me suddenly. I clear my throat and rasp out the words I know I have to say. “He loved you, all of you, a lot. I think he felt a bit misunderstood here. We were… different. And maybe we didn’t quite understand why he wanted to join up- but you did, obviously. So thanks.”
Lottie just manages a nod, not even bothering to wipe away any of the tears rolling her cheeks. Very quickly, she crosses those few steps that separate us and pulls me into a bone-crushing hug. She lets go very quickly, but I can tell by my aching bones that it meant a lot. Lottie nods and sends me a weak smile. Then she slips out of the kitchen, sniffing loudly and dabbing at her eyes.
I only have a few moments to properly absorb what just happened. I take a few more sips of water, realising how thirsty and hungry I am. There’s a little buffet laid out on the table so I grab a few sandwiches and eat them quickly. I haven’t really been eating much since I find out- I’ve mostly been hidden in my room, reading. Sometimes I read fictional books- helps me to forget everything and lose myself in a different world- but most of the time, I revise. It keeps me working and concentrating on anything else.
Plus- it’s so weird really, considering everything that has happened- I’ve had this completely all-absorbing and irrational fear of my incoming OWLs. When I’m not grieving, I’m running facts and figures about the Second Wizarding War through my mind. When Albus walks in, I’m actually going over the Cheering Charm and picturing the wand movement.
“I thought you’d be in here,” Albus says clearly, smiling at me. The smile lifts my heart and I can’t help but smile back (albeit a little weakly).
“Hiding,” I murmur back, blushing slightly. I’m not sure why I’m embarrassed. For want of something to do, I head to the sink and fill up my glass with water before turning back to him. “Why are you here, actually?” I say bluntly.
“Your mum invited me and Rose round for the party thing. We’ve been giving you space for a while, but I heard Rose talked to you before the funeral, right?” Albus answers easily and politely.
“Oh,” I reply. Of course Mum invited them- she knows they’re (or at least were) my two best friends. “Sorry – I was rude. It just –“
“I get it,” Albus interrupts and nods understandingly. He takes a step forward so he’s directly in front of me and he leans on the island like I had been doing. My back is now to the sink and for some reason, I do feel slightly trapped. I suppose I haven’t had close contact with anyone for a while now.
I look at him, properly now, and gaze into his beautiful green eyes. They really are amazing. For a moment I get this overwhelming urge just to grab him and kiss him. It would let me forget – just for a second – I could lose myself… But wouldn’t James be better for that- he always makes me forget everything. Then a wave of disgust washes over me. How could I ever even think that?
“I’m walking away,” Albus’ voice cuts into my internal monologue suddenly, causing me to crash land back into reality.
“What?” I say blankly, not absorbing the words properly.
“This – whatever me and you and James are doing – it’s over. James wins. I’m stopping this between us,” Albus continues, resuming the quiet voice everyone has been using lately. But he doesn’t have that stupid pitying look forced onto his features; instead he has a hard, blazing look on his.
The words hit me hard as I finally comprehend them. Breathing hard, I struggle for my words for a minute. “I thought you were going to fight for me?” I stammer.
Albus just looks like he’s in pain as he takes in my words. He closes his eyes for a moment before he answers. Albus is choosing his words slowly and then he looks at me straight in the eyes. “This is my way of fighting for you. I’m doing it because I love you. I don’t want to hurt you anymore. You’ve just lost your brother and I want to be there for you and fully. Not as your part-time boyfriend. I want to support you as your best friend.
“He’s the better man, Kat. He stood up and did something whilst I sat back and watched from a distance. He deserves you so much more than I do. He loves you so much it hurts watching him. You love him too, Rena,” he takes another step closer to me so he’s only inches away. His breath is warm. “This is going to work out for the best. You two are going start off where you left off before I ruined everything. I’m just going to be your best friend and I’m going to help you through this like I should have done. And I’m going to move on. This is because I love you. I’m letting you go."
And then he takes my face in his hands and kisses me gently. It feels like a very final thing to do, like it’s the end. His lips linger on mine even after we’ve finished kissing, resting on them. I can feel his warm breath blowing my face in rasps. And suddenly the tears come again and I can’t quite work out why I’m crying. He looks down at me and pulls me into a fierce hug, cradling me in his arms. I can’t breathe – I can’t think – after everything, everything, that happened, it’s gone. We were so close…
My mum jumps when she sees me and clasps a hand to her mouth. “Oh gosh, Kat! You made me jump – I didn’t realise you were here!”
“I just needed some space,” I mumble into my glass, looking anywhere but at her. Hastily I wipe away the leftover tears. Albus left soon after that, once I’d calmed down a bit. Even he looked fairly upset as he was leaving. Maybe that was hard for him. Maybe he was acting. Maybe he didn’t really care.
I’d cried for a little longer afterwards, finding it calming almost. It was good to get everything off my chest again. But I still feel like complete shit; I can’t help it. After there were literally no tears left, I headed back to the tap and splashed my eyes and face with cold water to take away some of the redness. It smudged all of my makeup but I had no energy left to reapply. I simply wiped it away and hoped for the best. My eyes were still a little red, but they had been for the past week or whatever- it didn’t look too obvious. Besides, I realised bitterly, I had an excuse for crying too.
Out of the corner of my eye I see her nod. “I came here for that too, I suppose. It’s so… exhausting. I needed a moment. Dennis is handling it.”
I nod in reply and lean against the island, finally looking at her. Mum looks exactly how she described herself- exhausted. She’s gaunt and thin, her face more shallow than usual and her cheekbones jutting out painfully with her sunken eyes decorated with purple crescents beneath them. Her eyes are red and look watery- mum always looks close to bursting into tears recently.
Mum regards me for a moment. She opens her mouth several times but closes it again almost immediately. Finally she breathes deeply and whispers a name in her hoarse voice that sends a shiver down my spine. How does she know that name?
“What?” I can’t help but mutter, frowning up at her.
A/N Hello! So a seemingly fillery chapter but with some serious revelations. What does everyone think of Albus walking away? What does this mean for Kat? See- that was his “big gesture” a lot of you were asking about! And what about the name of Kat’s dad? I gave you a hint or two actually, see you can spot them now ;) That will be developed more in the next chapter or so, so don’t worry- it will be explained!
Anyways, thank you for reading- I hope you enjoyed! So, if you have time, please leave a quick review for me to read. They really to keep me going, even if it’s just a word. They’re always so appreciated and fun to read. Thanks again, see you all soon at the next update!
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