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Heaven help a fool

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He wanted the night to be over before it even began but alas, Remus dragged them all inside the little pub where soon enough, familiar faces greeted their lot.

On any other day, James wouldn’t have refused to get bloody shattered and maybe do a little duet with Sirius where they would shout out love songs he’d secretly listen to in his room while moping about a relationship that doesn’t exist. But back to the main point, he didn’t want to get sloshed tonight. He didn’t even want to leave the flat. He just wanted to lay on the couch and watch Peter lose to Sirius in chess while Remus tries to coach him.

The pub was crowded as expected but they had easily maneuvered their way near the back where people they had known from school were already catching up merrily. James admitted to himself that he was delighted to see them again. They haven’t changed much apart from their physical appearance. Frank Longbottom seemed to have put on some weight but he had smiled so kindly nonetheless next to his longtime girlfriend, Alice. She still snorted endearingly when she laughed. Marlene McKinnon had flipped off Sirius in the span of three seconds when they greeted each other. Mary McDonald was almost unrecognizable under the heavy make-up she had put on and when James did a double take and realized she was the same girl who socked Mulciber when he made fun of her acne, he gave her a one-armed hug. Then, his stomach suddenly lurched.

Lily Evans raised a hand to wave hello at him.

James was quick to put in mind that he and Peter had too much take-aways for lunch so that must be why he felt funny. He certainly wasn’t expecting Lily Evans, not that she’s the reason as to why his insides are clenching. Back at school, she was the one he’d notice first upon entering a room but then again, she was the only ginger in their class.

Remus nudged him to take a seat because apparently, everyone already has. James thanked the heavens that the lighting in the pub was a bit dim for he could feel his face warming up and if anyone noticed, he could just blame it on the heat.

Everyone was talking and listening and so James leaned back in his seat and laid an on the back of Sirius’, attempting to appear comfortable because in all honesty, he wasn’t. She was seated across from him, chin rested on the palm of her hand as she listened to Alice. She was pale but it wasn’t in an unhealthy way. She has always been pale and got a bad case of sunburn when she basks in the sun. If he would move just a little bit closer and let his sight adjust to the lighting, he’d be able to see the constellation of freckles splashed across her face. Her eyes moved from one person to another yet they never crossed him. He wasn’t exactly participating in the conversation anyway. If he’ll talk, he’ll surely catch her attention. (He definitely wasn’t trying to sound egotistical).

Maybe if she’ll meet his gaze, he’d see the forest in her eyes before he would have to look away quickly because he didn’t want to be caught ogling her. Not that she’d notice anyway because James spent a fair amount of time back at school doing just that. Remus, Sirius and Peter called it a lost case and it seemed like it was when he used to sneak glances at her whenever he can. He used to look at the stands at every football match, hoping he’d see her cheering. He wasn’t really invisible to her even if it seemed like it. It was impossible that she did not know him even though Sirius taunts him otherwise. She was mates with Remus and obviously, neither of them would have attended their little reunion if they didn’t have mutual friends.

Contrary to Sirius’ belief, Lily Evans was aware of James Potter’s existence. At least, he hopes she still remembers that one afternoon under the school’s damp and lonely shed.

She was alone and poring over her Chemistry notes when James decided to stop being a hopeless git and joined her on the bench. It took only one close look to notice that she was crying as she tried to hide behind her hair. Of course, he couldn’t help it but to ask her what was wrong and she laughed dryly. Nonetheless, she talked and he listened. He also felt like socking Severus Snape. He offered to buy her ice cream because it was what his mother always did and it coaxed a genuine smile out of her. She looked directly at him for the very first time and smiled with watery eyes. In that moment, James regretted all those times he had the opportunity to walk her to class or even just strike up a conversation with her.

He didn’t think he’d ever stop regretting it because after that damp day, it was all just smiles in the corridors and little waves after class has ended. There weren’t any more talks.

Lily tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and James tore his gaze away from her, turning to Sirius who was babbling on about his university classes.

He wanted the night to be over even though it was only beginning.

James waited for at least thirty minutes before he downed his drink and excused himself. He went outside, breathed and plopped down on the curb. He was content just sitting there for a few minutes. Cars passed by occasionally and he caught pieces of conversations from a few people. He thought of weaving them all together to make one story when the door of the pub opened and closed. He wouldn’t be surprised if it was any of the lads but it was Lily who stepped out with her hands tucked inside the pockets of her coat.

Well, he wasn’t surprised but he would never get used to the feeling he’d get when he sees her.

“Mind if I join you?” she asked, lightly.

He simply nodded and she sat down on the curb beside him and let out a breath.

“How are you?” he found himself asking and the fact that he didn’t choke on his own words was a motivation enough to look at her.

Her mouth curved into a smile. “Getting by. I’ve been living with Mary.”

“I’m still stuck with my mates,” he returned.

“You were barely apart from each other in school,” she mused.

James nodded. He marveled at how people who knew the four of them seem to remember that they are a tight-knit group. They never saw one of them alone. At the thought of his three mates whom he’d introduce to others as brothers in a heartbeat, his insides seemed to swell with warmth and it rushed to the tips of his fingers. He cleared his throat.

“Why are you living with Mary?” he asked, glancing at her.

She sighed and hugged her knees. “Petunia. She and I had a row.”

“Did she kick you out?” he trailed off and then bit at his tongue at the lack of tact.

She didn’t seem to mind, however.

“No,” she answered. “I left.”

“I’m sorry,” he consoled even though he knew little of the depth of Lily’s relationship with her sister.

She looked back at him. “Don’t be. It was about time anyway. If it is in any consolation, I felt a lot lighter when I left.”

James could sympathize with that. He knew all about walking away and he was about to express that thought when he realized how beautiful she was under the light of the lamppost. Her hair was a fiery halo on her head. She was glowing... and he was a sap. 

He looked away.

“How have you been?” she spoke. “I haven’t- you were.... I never got to ask how you were when your parents got divorced.”

He managed a dry laugh, much like the one Lily had emitted under that shed when he first talked to her. When he glanced at her again, her cheeks were pink and maybe he could blame that on the cold wind but he knew that she was embarrassed for asking about his parents. It had been years. He was okay now. He had shoved all his photo albums at the back of his closet.

“People fall out of love,” he simply replied. “That’s just how it is.”

“Yeah,” she whispered. “That sucks.”

And he agreed to that but he had long been resigned to the fact that there’s nothing he could do about it. 

“I guess,” he said. “You just have to get out before it gets worse.”

“It’s more like you have to do something before you get hurt,” piped in Lily. “Or cause more pain for the people you love.”

James turned his head and realized that she was already looking at him. The feeling of regret weighed down upon him once more. He should have just plucked up the courage all those years ago. He could have at least been close friends with her and stayed in touch over the years.

In any minute now, she will be dusting herself off and going back inside. He would be handling a drunk Sirius after Remus has given up on him and Peter will want to come back home early as they all have finals tomorrow.

Soon enough, the night will be over and he will wish that it didn’t.

It’s quite simple, really, but Sirius has been disowned by his family and Peter hasn’t talked to his mother for years. Remus’ father left him because it was all suddenly ‘too much’. James has held Marlene as she cried because her boyfriend cheated on her. He has seen Mary’s desk empty for almost a whole month when her older brother died and when she came back, it felt like she wasn’t really there at all. He has driven Frank home to Alice twice and when she opened the door, her eyes were swollen red and her hands shook while Frank looked so lost and on the verge of crying. Petunia Evans didn’t even stop her sister from walking out of their flat. James had watched his mother break a plate and sob while his father barely uttered a word and then left.

Lily would walk away just like James has let her so many times.

“Do you want to go get some ice cream?”

He saw the recognition in her eyes. He saw how her lips pulled into one of those gentle smiles which Lily Evans was famous for. She released a breathy laugh and she shook her head. James would have interpreted that as a ‘no’ but then he jumped to his feet and held out a hand to her. Her fingers slid across his and to his palm. She gripped his hand and with combined effort from them both, she was up on her feet. Their hold on each other loosened just the slightest bit but neither let go.

James was an idiot but there was really no other way around it.

“I hope you’re treating, James,” said Lily.

A million times he would but he didn’t say that out loud. Instead, he squeezed her hand as an understanding passed between them. He tugged gently, leading her away from the pub and hoping to the heavens that an ice cream shop is still open.