When did my life get this chaotic?
I kick open the heavy door to my building and somehow manage to simultaneously drop my wand, trip over the doormat, and jam my elbow into the doorframe. Bugger, that hurts. It's 4:00 a.m. and I'm so tired I can hardly stand. Just as I head up the stairs, I hear Mrs. Drinkwater's vicious little terrier start barking his head off. Superb. As if she doesn't loathe me enough as it is.
I hurry up to my flat and quickly make to enter, but then hesitate. Even in my exhaustion I sense something's wrong. There is a dim light escaping from beneath the door to my flat. And my Daily Prophet is gone from my mat. Stepped over it on way out because I was running late. No one in the building would nick it – everyone subscribes. Someone's been here.
Good news is I'm fair at defending myself; bad news is that if a Death Eater is in there waiting to kill me, the fucking dog has given them quite a heads up on my arrival.
Slowly I push open the door slightly, but stay in the hallway to the side and wait. I hear nothing. Just as I am about to start inside, someone jerks open the door the rest of the way and pulls me inside. Reflexes kick in. I swiftly reverse direction and sweep him at the knees; he goes down hard while I recover my wand.
"Ow! Shite, what the hell, Tonks?"
"Curtis! You scared me to death! Are you okay? What are you doing here!" I reach down and offer my hand, but he doesn't take it. Instead, he gingerly gets to his feet on his own. I think I really hurt his knee. "I'm so sorry, love." I smile apologetically, and move in to touch him, but he turns away. His back to me.
"Thanks for the warm welcome, Curtis," I say coolly. "I'm sorry if I hurt you, but you scared - "
"It's not that."
A sense of unease creeps in. I know what's coming. It's been inevitable, really, and yet . . .
"Where the hell were you tonight?" And there it is. The question that he's been avoiding asking me directly for weeks. Which was convenient, actually, because it's easy to avoid answering an unasked question. I don't answer now, and for some reason I can't quite look at him. So he continues.
"Please. Tell me where you've been. I've been worried." Part of me is bothered by this statement, because I can tell by his physical distance that he's more angry than worried. But I can't keep up the annoyance. I am, after all, the guilty party here.
My first instinct is to tell him I picked up an overtime shift from Scrimgeour. It's my best fallback explanation, been using it for weeks. He knows I need the extra money, and he can't confirm or disprove it, because he doesn't work at the Ministry and has no mates in my department. I almost do it. Open my mouth to deliver the lie for the umpteenth time, when I remember.
Saying goodbye this morning. He reminded me of his plans with friends tonight, and I teased him.
"Thank Merlin, I'll have a night to myself for a change. Getting a bit tired of having you around all the time." He took the bait, and pulled me to him, smiling.
"Is that so? And how will you manage with me?"
"Hmm . . ." I say into his neck, "Since it's my first night off in a week, I'm thinking takeaway a hot bath."
"Now that sounds even better than my plans," he says, kissing me.
My first night off in a week. Shite.Shot myself in the foot this time. No excuses.
He's waiting for me to respond.
"I don't know what to say, Curtis." I don't, really.
He deserves an explanation. He deserves the truth. But of course I can't tell him the truth. I was on duty for the Order tonight.
"You don't know what to say?" he says quietly. "What does that even mean?"
"Don't know." I almost wish he'd yell at me. It would be easier if he weren't so damn patient.
"That's a child's answer, Tonks." But I can see the patience waning now. "Here, let me help you," he says glibly. "Are you seeing someone?"
"No." And I know he believes me. Hell, if only it were as simple at that.
"Tonks. Are you involved in something illegal?"
"No! Curtis, how can you ask me that?" It's not illegal. Well, not exactly.
"I don't know what to think, Tonks. That's why I'm asking. Why don't you tell me what I should think?"
Finally, I look up into his face. He's really beautiful. Fell for him immediately, in fact. Met him in an uncharacteristically quiet bar near Sloane, and was fairly hypnotized by the combination of his chocolate skin, light eyes, and gentle voice. Not at all the kind of guy I usually go for. He went on for quite awhile about the publisher he works for in Diagon Alley, of which I heard little, before I finally had the presence of mind to ask him to come home with me. Like some slag. Have never done that before. Okay, at least not with a stranger. And I got lucky, I suppose, because he turned out to be bloody amazing and not some serial rapist.
Strange, I think, how it seems nostalgic thinking about it now. As if it's already a part of The Past. As if I already know I've lost him.
"Tonks?" His voice breaks through my stupor.
And now, six months later, he's standing before me, waiting.
"Tonks, listen. I care for you. A lot. Hell, I'm falling in love with you." Shite. No. This isn't how I wanted this to play out. I can feel the tears welling.
He continues. "But it's like you've got this other life I know nothing about, and . . . well. I feel like I'm in too deep as it is to let this go any further unless we can be honest with each other."
Still, I'm silent. And still, he waits. Waiting for some show from me that he can trust me. That what we have is worth that. And I can't do it. I can't give it to him.
"I'm sorry, Curtis. My life is just really complicated right now." And, then, "Listen, I'm going to go get some coffee. I know you have to be to work in a bit. Feel free to get ready here. I won't be back until later."
And just like that, I leave. It feels a bit odd, leaving him there, since it's my place. Hazily, I also consider that the absence of the yelling and/or door slamming breakup is new for me. Maybe this is the way people end relationships when they are responsible adults. Wouldn't know, really. But then the numbness doesn't feel so mature. It just feels empty.
I step outside only to be met by a rush of icy air. Damn. Forgot how cold it was. So I pull my cloak more tightly around me, and start walking. Have no idea where I'm going.
Can't go to my parents'. They'll kill me for buggering up this thing with Curtis. First bloke I've ever brought home that they actually liked. Mum was picking out flower arrangements after their second meeting.
The sun's just coming up now. I continue on.
Can't call on a girlfriend, for much the same reasons I am losing Curtis. I've let my friendships drift a bit over recent months to avoid explaining my frequent unavailability. I'm guessing they've assumed Curtis has been monopolizing my time, and I didn't exactly correct them. Now, to elicit sympathy for a breakup, I'd have to offer up some reasons why he's to blame, or at least why my actions were justified. And I can do neither.
And then, it hits me. Like a ton of bricks. This is how it is now. This is how it would be if I were to start something new, with someone else. My involvement in the Order has effectively robbed me of much of my previous life. I hadn't considered this when Kingsley approached me to join. Even though he told me it would happen, and warned me to consider it carefully.
Funny, though, I don't feel regret. And I'm not sorry for joining. The Order has given me a sense of purpose I was sorely lacking before, even as an Auror. I'd do it all over again.
And so, now at least, I know where my feet are taking me. Really, there's only one place to go.