Chapter 1: The Way Things Were
I climbed down the rose-masked trellis that was right outside my window on the second story. It was pouring rain and thunder clapped overhead, but I just had to get away. I knew I'd be trouble for it tomorrow, but I had reached my limit.
I had accidentally dropped a plate while washing dishes and it shattered. My father had not been pleased. He yelled words I'd rather not mention at me. He told me I was worthless. When I tried to tell him that the thunder had frightened me and made me lose my grip, he scoffed and backhanded me across the cheek, then sent me to my room – after I had finished cleaning up, of course.
By now it was late and I had waited to make my escape until I heard my father turn off the telly and stalk into his bedroom.
My mum? Six feet under. Died last winter from a bad case of influenza. That's when everything turned around. My dad had become bitter, and for some unknown reason took out his heartache on me.
I leapt down the last two feet to the ground and tore off across the front lawn. My bare feet squished into the runny earth and splashed mud over my nightdress. Soon I was sprinting along the sidewalk, the pit-pat sound my feet were making drowned out by a fresh boom in the darkened sky.
One block… Two blocks… Three blocks… Four. I once again crossed a lawn and reached up to the wooden rungs of another trellis, only this one was covered in just creeping vines, no roses. There was a light on in the window of my destination that told me they were still awake doing God knows what. You could never predicate with those boys.
Looking in the window I saw them. Sure enough, they were all laughing at something Sirius had said. For a moment, just a moment, I envied them. Not for sure why, I guess because they were there, having a good time, when I had been stuck in my bedroom, scared out of my wits at what my dad had in mind to do next. I shook my head sharply. Lord forbid if my father's acidity ever rubs off on me. I tapped on the window. James' head spun around and he scrambled up from where he had been sitting Indian-style on the floor and hurried over to unlock and open the glass barrier separating us. He helped me inside, not caring how much my drenched red hair splattered on him. The others had already gone to get towels and call for Abby, James' mum. It was sort of a routine.
I was shivering furiously because of the freezing precipitation droplets that had pierced my skin. Abby came rushing in, followed my John, Sirius, Remus, and Peter, all clad in their nightwear.
"Good Heavens, Lily! It's down pouring out there! You're going to get sick!" Abby scolded. She didn't mean to, it's just what she does when she's overly worried, concerned, or scared for those she cares deeply about. I should know. I'm the closest thing she's ever had to a daughter… and a friend, well, since last winter, anyway.
She grabbed a blanket that had been folded neatly off the end of James' bed and wrapped it around my shaking body. She gently guided my over to the bed and sat me down. She started wringing out my hair with a towel. "James, give her one of your shirts and a pair of shorts." The black-haired boy immediately complied.
Ten minutes later, everyone had congregated in the sitting room in front of the fire. I was dry, clean, and steadily warming as I leaned against James and he had his arms around me securely.
My family and the Potters have been neighbors for as long as I can remember. My parents and Abby and John helped each other throughout my mom and Abby's pregnancies. James was born two hours before me, oddly enough. He and I have never had anything in common, from our likes to our dislikes, but you know what they say, opposites attract.
In the ten years we've been alive, we've learned to swim together, we rode our first bicycles together, we attended the parties our parents or their friends were always throwing together, and we even used to take baths together. Don't worry, that stopped when we were two. My point is: we're joined at the hip, the very best of friends, practically brother and sister.
It was only a month ago that we were at the park and noticed a moody-looking boy we guessed was around our age skulking around. Being the outgoing rebels we were, James and I decided to ask him to play football with us. He was snappy and ignorant at first, but soon he gave in to our persistence. Later we learned his name was Sirius, named after my favorite constellation, and now he's our best friend, besides each other. He was sitting on my other side.
I've always believed in fate and destiny, and I think it was just that that had James, Sirius, and I once again wondering the sidewalks heading to the park when we caught sight of a boy with light brown hair sitting on a bench, looking at his hands that were folded in his lap, appearing extremely lonely and bored. So, naturally, Remus became our fourth comrade when we invited him to a sleepover.
And lastly, just two days ago, the four of us were, obviously, making our way to the park when we came across a stout little pork being harassed, teased, and bullied by some other older kids. Being the tomboy I've become, and the mischievous group the four of us made when we were in sync, we had a few tricks up our sleeves, needless to say, waiting to be released. Peter is presently sitting on the floor confused, for we have not told him of my nor Sirius' home difficulties.
I inhaled deeply and let it out as a sigh of contentment. I loved it when I could just snuggle up to James. I can't explain how thankful I am to have him. I tell him everything. He was there when my mom got terminally ill. He's been there every time I come over with bruises from my father. He's warm and makes me feel safe. God, how grateful I am for him.
"What'd you do this time, Lils?" James asked quietly while stroking my hair out of my face.
"The thunder scared me and I dropped a plate. It broke."
"Your cheekbone is purple. What'd he do?" he inquired, lightly tracing my bruise. I winced because it was very tender. "We should put ice on that." Remus stood and went into the kitchen.
"When I told him it was an accident, he yelled at me and hit me. Then he had me clean up the mess and go to bed."
"What'd he say?"
"I'm an hideous little tramp that isn't adequate enough to be his daughter."
Abby spoke up. "He calls you ugly because you look like your mother and have inherited her beauty. You remind him of her. You're far from hideous, dear. And it's the other way around. He's not worthy of being your father. Not anymore, at least."
Remus came back and handed me the dishtowel filled with ice. "Don't believe him, Lily. You're the prettiest girl I've ever met."
"I can second that!" Sirius agreed.
I gave a small smile and nodded. I did, in fact, look so much like my mother it was uncanny. We shared the same "redhead complexion", meaning pale, freckled skin, pink lips, and blush-prone cheeks. My hair was more of an auburn color; you know, a darker red, not the bright orange type. I also had my mother's petite, curvy figure. She always used to comment on what a beautiful young lady I would become. Not to be arrogant or anything, but I can't help but hope she's right. I should be well off in looks as long as I grow a chest here in the next year or two. I must admit, aside from all the negative remarks I receive from my father, I have a lot of self-confidence and pride in who I am.
"What do you mean he hit you?" Peter hesitantly squeaked from the floor. Everyone looked from me to Sirius. We glanced at each other and spoke in a quick eye conversation, then nodded in permission.
It had always been John's job. He had explained my situation to James that first night I had run away, then to Sirius, and finally Remus. He started with a sigh. "Pete, don't tell anybody, okay? We do the best we can to nurse the injuries, but it's between parents and children, agreed?" Peter nodded vigorously. James pulled me closer in a tighter embrace. I didn't object. Who would fight it when you strangely seem to just mold into the other's shape?
"Well, with Lily, it all started just after her mum died last winter from a bad bout of the flu. Her father was so distraught, so helpless. Some kids' folks start nasty habits like drinking or smoking to make them feel better, but others feel the need to physically release the hurt. When Lily would do some petty thing wrong, like accidentally break a dish or knock something over or step on the cat's tail setting it in a fit, her father would take the frustration out on her. He sometimes hits her, or shakes her, or pushes her, or once when he got really angry for some stupid reason, he completely picked her up and threw her across the room. He's not some weak little nerd, never has been. If Lily's lucky, once in a while he'll only yell profanities."
I took deep, slow, steadying breaths and buried my face in James shoulder as he rocked me back and forth slightly (by now I was in his lap). It was the repulsive, shameful truth. I remember that time he threw me. My back had been stiff and sore for days and my shoulder had popped out of socket. When I had gone to James' house, he and Abby had to leave the room while I screamed as John forced it back into place. I shuddered from the memory.
"Now for Sirius, he, unfortunately, has suffered with being shunned since he could think for himself. Being short and to the point, he doesn't agree with the opinions of his entire family. He gets beaten, too, but I don't think it's as often as Lily. Don't get me wrong, that's a good thing. No offense, Lily."
I nodded, my face still covered by James' nightshirt. My intuition told me Sirius had grimaced by now because I heard Abby walk over and give him a motherly hug and pat his back. James probably would have, too, but I was feeling selfish at the moment. I wanted my best friend all for myself, so I clung to him. I felt him kiss the top of my head.
One thing always confused me though. There just had to be more to Sirius' story than John led on. Just like there was more to the flowerpot of dust the Potters always had full by the fireplace. Each time I ask about what the dust was for, they would just tell me it was ashes. Now, let's get something straight. I'm not a moron. I know for a fact that there has got to be more ashes than what could fill that pot. But if they're not leading on, I won't push.
Suddenly, I realized I could sometimes be a hypocrite. I just said I'm not dense, when here I am with an ice pack clutched in my hand, nowhere near my bruise. So that's what the painful pressure on my face was. I think I got some of the blonde genes from my father. At least it didn't show. I pulled away from James and sheepishly put the ice back under my eye. I glanced at Peter. He looked stunned and slightly overwhelmed.
As if a pail of cold water was poured directly over my head, I unexpectedly realized how exhausted I was. Resting my head on James' shoulder, Abby seemed to notice the time as well.
"Well, best you all be off to bed. Lily, you can sleep in James' bed and he'll move to the floor. We'll sort out arrangements so you can come over for a couple of days tomorrow. Oh, and there's something we need to talk to you about as well, but it's late, and we'll not burden you with it at the moment. Goodnight."
Something they had to discuss with me? What on earth could that be? I frowned as James, Sirius, Remus, Peter, and I made our way upstairs and into our own rooms. Soon, though, I had forgotten about it when James laid down next to me in the bed. Mua ha ha ha ha… When did we ever listen to rules and regulations? He smiled at me and I returned it. We got into comfortable positions and sighed simultaneously.
"'Night, Lils. You okay now?"
I nodded. "Yeah, I'm with you. 'Night." I reached over and clicked off the lamp.
Just as I was about to fall asleep, I ventured, "Jay?"
"Thanks for being there."
I felt him grope around for my hand. When he found it he squeezed it affectionately. "Anytime."
I had a small smile playing on my lips as I lapsed into a peaceful and dreamless slumber, my fingers still laced in his.