A Box of Chocolates
It's bad enough when your brother steals your girlfriend; it's even worse when you watch him fuck it all up.
And, yes, you can curse in Heaven.
In case you haven't realized by now, I'm dead. My name is Fred Weasley, and that prat of a brother I mentioned is my twin, George. He stole my girlfriend.
Well, no. That's just a joke that Bill started when George and Angelina were going together. He didn't actually steal her from me, not when I was the one who put the idea in Angelina's head that it was okay to go with George.
Looking back now, it's funny how it all started. Our sixth year at Hogwarts, I suggested to George that he ask Angelina to the Yule Ball. He had liked her since second year, but he'd never gotten up the nerve to ask her out. I kept telling him that one of these days someone else was going to ask her and then it would be too late. I never would have guessed that the "someone" he'd lose her to would be me.
Yes, I asked Angelina to go to the Ball with me that year, but that was only because George was being too much of a pansy to ask her himself. I wanted to make George jealous. I wanted to make him angry. I wanted to make him feel something that would spur him into action and finally tell Angelina how he felt.
That night, I ended up enjoying myself a lot more than I thought I would. I told George afterwards what I had meant by it, that I had just wanted to motivate him. I told him that I wasn't really interested in her, that she was his for the taking.
I stood back and waited, but he never made a move. I should have asked him why he didn't do it, but I was too happy by his inactivity to complain. I had discovered at the Yule Ball that I liked Angelina a lot more than I ever thought I did. So, after waiting fruitlessly for George to take the initiative, Angelina and I started dating.
Long story short: I died; we stopped dating.
George was a mess at my viewing--heck, everyone was, but it was George I worried most about. I had never seen him like that. He didn't look like he was really there. He seemed like a ghost. I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd suddenly floated right through my coffin, through the wall of the house, out into the yard and beyond, never stopping, just floating endlessly onward.
As it was, he never left my side. He stood by me the entire time, never taking his eyes from my body, an expression on his face that showed just how clearly lost he was. I tried to help him.
"Hey, George." I said. "Remember Uncle Bilius's viewing?" I knew he couldn't really hear me, but if he listened hard enough, a thought or a memory would be able to get through to him.
We were twelve when Bilius died. We stood beside his body and, much to mum's dismay, dared one another to touch him. In the end, neither of us had gotten up the nerve to do it.
I knew that had I been physically standing next to my brother with someone else lying in the coffin, even if it had been a close family member, George would have genuinely smiled, if only the tiniest bit, at the memory of our early mischief making days. So, regardless of the fact that I was the one lying the coffin and therefore wasn't physically able to be with George, I couldn't understand why my musings didn't merit even the slightest response. George looked just as lost as ever.
What I failed to realize at that moment was that I wasn't having as hard of a time with the duo to solo transition as George was. For me, the duo lived on as long as I could still see George, and though I never forgot the fact that George couldn't see me, I was frustrated with not being able to get through to him. I knew if he listened hard enough, I'd be able to get through, and since I wasn't able to, that meant he wasn't trying, and I was angry with him for that. I couldn't comprehend at the time that my brother felt like half of him had died and was therefore going through emotional turmoil and therefore had a perfectly good reason for going completely emo.
I decided to try Angelina. I found her talking to my parents.
"How's George?" I heard her say as I eased in on their conversation.
Mum turned to look at him. "He's taking it hard. Granted, we all are, but . . . We've all tried talking to him . . . I don't know what else to do for him. I think he just needs some time alone. At least, I hope--"
A rather loud and shameless voice suddenly traveled through the room. I, fortunately, could tune it out. Just like she did with the couples at weddings, Aunt Muriel wasn't afraid of pointing out what she considered to be the bad qualities of the deceased at funerals. Don't get me wrong. She's my aunt and I love her, but sometimes . . . I really hate that woman.
Mum and Dad went to go sort her out, which left Angelina alone and staring at George, who was too far gone to notice.
"Go on," I said. "Talk to him."
She heard me. Well, she didn't hear me hear me in the sense that she heard my voice, but I got through to her. She gave a sharp intake of breath as though she had been struck by a sudden idea and she moved forward. I was so happy I could have kissed her had I not . . . well, you know.
She walked up beside George, placing her hands on the edge of my coffin. "He looks . . . peaceful."
I chanced a look myself and then quickly pulled away. Let me tell you, seeing yourself dead . . . is weird.
"He doesn't look right," said George.
Angelina reconsidered. "Well, no. You're right. He doesn't."
Granted, I had only gotten a brief glimpse of myself, but I had to agree with them. I looked like a wax model . . . a very handsome wax model.
The two stood in silence for a while. George currently wasn't one for talking, Angelina didn't know what to say to him, and I couldn't think of any words to give her.
At length Angelina put her hand on George's arm. "George, it's gonna be okay. Really it is. Everything is going to be fine."
He turned and looked at her. I noticed there were tears in her eyes.
"It will be fine," she said. "We'll make it through this."
She stared crying, and I was seriously considering attempting to possess George if he didn't stop standing there stupidly and do something, but at length he put his arms around her. What surprised me was that he was crying too.
- - -
I learned from my viewing that if I wanted to help George, I was going to have to do it through Angelina. She had been able to get through to him where I hadn't. And so, on August 13, Angelina came through the shop's front door. It had been three months since my death, and even though George and Angelina had made contact with each other during that time. I decided things needed to get moving faster.
Ron was in the shop restocking shelves. Mum hadn't liked the idea of George being at the shop on his own. So good old Ron volunteered to help him out on top of all the stuff he was doing for Kingsley. Sometimes, Ron's just so brilliant that I really do feel bad about turning his teddy bear into a spider all those years ago.
George was walking around the shop and conversing with customers. He looked up as Angelina came in. She walked over to examine the pygmy puffs in their cage and George walked up to her, greeting her the way I used to by grabbing her sides.
She screamed, saw who it was, and laughed. "George!" She hit him. "You scared me."
He chuckled. "What can I help you with?"
"My sister is having her birthday in few days, and I thought she might like a pygmy puff."
Actually, I thought she might like a pygmy puff.
"Well, as you can see," George gestured at the cage. "They are pretty popular."
There were only three left. One was pink, the other purple, and the third was strangely red. I wished I was alive so I could ask George when we figured out how to breed pygmy puffs in colors other than pink and purple.
"How did you get a red one?"
Or I could just think hard enough and have Angelina ask for me.
George shrugged. "It just happened."
And here I was hoping there was going be a more exciting answer involving an explosion of some sort.
George opened the door to the cage. "They are all pretty friendly." He took the purple one in his hands and it rolled around on his palms.
Angelina smiled and reached into the cage to take the pink one. She put it on her shoulder after George told her that they liked it up there. It rolled gleefully down her arm and back into her hand.
"And sometimes they just like palms."
The red pygmy had rolled up to the edge of the cage was looking at Angelina. George pointed it out to her. "I think he likes you."
"How can you tell it's a he?"
She smiled. "Fair enough." She reached out for the red pygmy but it rolled away from her. "You know, I'm not so sure he does like me."
"That one's just shy. I'm sure he likes you, he's just afraid to let you know."
She looked up at him. "And why would he be afraid of letting me know?"
"Well . . . because you're holding his brother."
"Really?" She put the pink pigmy down.
"You see," said George. "He's shy because you seemed to have really liked his brother, and even though he really likes you, he's afraid you might not like him as much and he really wants you to."
I rolled my eyes. George was really bad at this kind of thing.
"He knows things are complicated and he knows things might be awkward, and he doesn't want them to be, but there's always the chance--"
"I'll just take this one." While George had been blabbing, Angelina had put her hands into the cage and the red pygmy had rolled willingly onto her palms.
George looked confused for a moment, but then he led Angelina over to the counter. He rang her up and put the pygmy in a pet box.
"You know," said Angelina. "I'm free Friday."
George looked up at her. "Really? That's great! I mean, uh . . . well . . . would you be willing to . . ."
I slapped a hand to my face. George, seriously, it's not that difficult.
"You can pick me up at six," she said.
And before George could fully comprehend that Angelina had just consented to go a date with him even though he hadn't actually gotten up the nerve to ask her, she had turned from the counter and walked out of the shop.
"George," I said, wishing he could hear me. "You are so pathetic."
Six o'clock on Friday came sooner than I expected. George picked Angelina up punctually and they went out and, as far as I could tell, they had a good time. They seemed happy enough when they returned, anyway.
If you had known me when I was living, you probably would have expected me to follow the two of them around. I'll admit that watching my brother make a complete fool of himself on his date was something I had always thought would be fun to do. So, yes, I followed them . . . for about five minutes, and then I turned back around. As it happened, it much wasn't fun at all. It was extremely uncomfortable, and I felt like I was doing something that I shouldn't be . . . kind of like that time when I talked George into trying to do an Unbreakable Vow with Ron and dad caught us. Somehow I just didn't think following George and Angelina around on their date was something I should be doing. Not like that ever stopped me when I was alive but . . . well, let's just say that some things change when you die.
- - -
Summer faded away and October came, along with Halloween. The shop was in full swing; Verity had been called in for additional help and when Angelina arrived, she barely managed to push her way through the crowd. Lee Jordan was throwing a party for some close friends and, whether George liked it or not, she was going to make him go.
"Come on, George." She grabbed onto his arm.
"Are you sure you can manage without me?"
"We'll be fine." Ron finally succeeded in tugging off George's magenta robes. "Go enjoy yourself."
Verity threw George's green dress robes at him.
"Come on." Angelina gave another insistent tug on his arm.
But George suddenly latched onto the counter, reaching for a stack of papers that Ron had just placed his hand on. "Just throw those in a drawer for me. I'll do them when I get back."
"But I can--"
"I can't let you two do all the work. Look, just save me the incoming orders. You guys can knock yourselves out with the rest of it if you really want, but just save me that. At least let me feel like I didn't dump everything on you."
"All right. All right. Fine." Ron opened a drawer beside him and slid the stack of papers inside it. "There. Happy?"
But Angelina had managed to loose George's fingers from the counter and was already pulling him through the mass of people toward the front the door where the cool night air awaited them.
I followed suit. Let me remind you that this was a party, not a date, so it was okay for me to follow them.
Lee had given all of his friends permission to apparate inside his flat. The six of them sat around and played games, told stories, munched on festive foods, and refused to answer the door. George cracked jokes left and right throughout the evening, and I thought he was the life of the party. Angelina, on the other hand, seemed a little detached.
It took a little while longer for George to notice than it took me, but he eventually put an arm around her and gave her side a squeeze. "Are you okay?"
She smiled at him and nodded. "I'm fine."
George didn't press it. The evening wore on, he tired, the frequency of his jokes lessened, and Angelina seemed to enjoy herself more.
- - -
Christmas rolled around, and the missing stocking on the wall that should have been a blaring sign that I couldn't be there was overlooked by the four stockings that had been added. Not only had all the Weasleys gathered together that Christmas, but Harry, Hermione, Fleur and Angelina had joined as well.
Consequently, that Christmas was when Angelina received her first Weasley sweater. "We want you to know, dear," my mother said to her, "that whatever happens between you and George, we consider you a member of our family."
It was also that Christmas when Bill started the joke that George had stolen my girlfriend. Bill had meant it all in good fun, but George hadn't liked it very much. I thought it was funny considering that, depending on how you looked at it, it was actually me who had stolen George's girlfriend back in sixth year.
Throughout the day, gifts were unwrapped, and laughs, smiles, and hugs were shared. By the end of the day, all that was left was for the speech to be given--the one that George and I gave at the end of every Christmas dinner--when we attended, that is. I hadn't expected him to do it without me, but he did.
As was our usual fashion, George climbed from his chair--the chair I usually sat in, to be exact--and onto the table, glass in hand. This time however, there was no one to climb up with him. Immediate silence fell. There were a few surprised looks around the table. I don't think the rest of my family had been expecting him to do it anymore than I had.
George took a deep breath and let it out slowly, his eyes darting to and from each person sitting below him. "I'm afraid this isn't going to be as funny as it would have if Fred could have been here, but I'm going to do my best."
He took another breath. "There should be a chair at this table without an occupant. However, thanks to all of you," he looked pointedly at Angelina, Fleur, Harry and Hermione, "I'm able to look around this table and see how our family has expanded rather than notice how there's something missing from it.
"And yet, I think it's important on this day to remember Fred and why he isn't here. I think it's important to think back before the battle on May second and to remember what life was like and to realize that if things hadn't changed, we most likely would not have had Christmas today.
"We sacrificed a lot, all of us did, and not just on that day at the battle but throughout that entire year. We lost friends, family," he indicated his missing ear, "various body parts." He won chuckles from the group sitting below him. "Some of us even lost our lives. And I think that today of all days, it's important to remember what was sacrificed so that we could all be together. It's important to think back to that time, when we didn't know if we'd make it to tomorrow, and to realize how lucky--how blessed--we are now to be able to dream of the future, and to recognize that we're able to do so because of what was given up.
"We need to remember people like Fred and to ask ourselves on days like this what did he sacrifice and why did he do it. And we need to be able to look around the table as I'm doing now and see the answer. It's really not all that dramatic when you think about it; Fred gave his life for nothing more or less than the very same reason we come together every holiday. As cliche as it may sound, we fought because we had something worth fighting for, and we come together now because we have something worth coming together for. We have people who love us and, in the end, that's what's important above everything else."
He raised his glass. "And so," he glanced at Harry and Hermione, "to friends," at the large majority of redheads at the table, "to family," at Angelina, "to loved ones," at no one in particular "and to those who can't here with us--either because they've moved on from this world or because" he smiled, "they're out celebrating with their own family--merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," was muttered around the table, glasses came together and everyone drank.
I was surprised at what a well carried out speech that had been, even without the humor I would have provided. I was touched too--might have teared up a little had I still had a body.
George climbed down from the table just as everyone else began to rise from their seats. Angelina was there to put a hand on his arm. "That was beautiful."
George shrugged. "Fred would have been able to make it funnier. With just me it was kind of depress--"
She pressed a finger to his lips. "It was better."
He stared at her for a long moment, wanting to say something but not really knowing what it was.
At length, Bill gave a catcall. "Is that mistletoe I see?"
George looked at him, saw where his older brother was pointing, and glanced up above his and Angelina's heads. That had not been there five seconds ago.
George frantically looked around for the culprit. Dad was helping Mum gather the dishes from the table. Bill and Fleur were innocently standing with Charlie nearly ten feet away and there wasn't a single magical device to be seen in either of their hands. Hermione was gathering up dishes on her end, and Ron appeared to be talking to Harry and Ginny who hadn't even gotten up from the table yet. Percy stood suspiciously just a few feet from Angelina, but, under George's gaze, he quickly held up his hands to show that he didn't have his wand.
What I had noticed and George hadn't was that earlier mum had tucked her wand inside the pocket of her apron and had been quick enough to grab it as she stood from the table. She'd stashed it back away before anyone had noticed, and she'd done all this without prompting from yours truly.
It was around this moment, when I was wondering how else our mother had mischievously influenced our lives without our noticing, that George realized everyone was staring at him, waiting for him to make a move.
He broke into a stuttering mess. "Well, I-I haven't--I mean we-we're, uh . . ." He looked at Angelina for help. "The-the thing is . . ."
Did my ears deceive me or was my blundering twin trying to explain that he and Angelina had been dating since August and he hadn't gotten up the nerve to kiss her yet? Oh, my vow to not follow them around was so broken. If I had been there to keep an eye on them, I would have made sure that he'd kissed her by now.
"George." Angelina turned his face toward hers and kissed him firmly.
It was plain to not only me but to everyone else in the room that she had been waiting to be kissed for a while now and was only too happy for the excuse.
George looked shocked at first, but then he relaxed and held out his glass for someone to take. Fleur grabbed it, though George wasn't paying enough attention to notice who did it. As soon as the glass left his fingers, he put his arms around Angelina and kissed her perhaps a little more eagerly than was appropriate for mistletoe kissing--not that it looked like Angelina minded.
I saw Bill eyebrows shoot upward. "Well," he said after a few moments. "That table isn't going to clear itself."
Everyone quickly rushed to help with the dishes, leaving George and Angelina alone--except for me, who was watching the two of them and grinning like an idiot.
Eventually, they pulled away from each other, their faces barely an inch apart.
Angelina smiled. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"
George let out an embarrassed laugh. "I'm sorry that I didn't--"
Like before, she brought a finger to his lips. "George. Don't talk." She kissed him again.
- - -
I must have missed January because when I turned around it was not only February but Valentine's day. Angelina and George had plans to spend the afternoon alone in George's flat above the joke shop.
George had spent the earlier part of the day running the joke shop on his own, opening it for only a few hours and getting relatively good business during that time. Then he went up to the flat and started preparations on what he and Angelina would have for dinner. By the time she knocked on the door, George had just finished setting the table.
He opened the door and handed her a rose, pink in color. She took it from him, smiling. She moved in to smell it and it squirted her in the face with water. Angelina looked stunned for a moment and then laughed. I tell you, that girl has a fantastic sense of humor, and that's the only way she managed to put with me for two years.
She wiped the water from her face. "I should have seen that coming."
"Well, Fred gave me a squirting rose for the Yule Ball."
George looked slightly deflated. "Yeah, well, the water gag's a classic. Faded away due to overuse a few decades ago but it's making a comeback. Oh, what am I saying? Here." He pulled out his wand and charmed Angelina's shirt dry. "Sorry about that."
She patted where the wet spot had been and smiled. "No harm done."
He didn't look too comforted.
I didn't understand what the problem was. "Okay, so you unintentionally copied off of me, but it was a success, George! She laughed! Don't frown at it."
She stepped into the flat. George moved behind her, shutting the door and taking her jacket from her shoulders. They sat down together on the couch, Angelina resting against George's chest. He had an arm slung along the back of the couch, the other around Angelina.
They talked for a long while, and I tried not to listen. It just made me uncomfortable, not because it was my ex-girlfriend with my brother, but just because watching them being all cute and gentle and mushy with each other was slightly sickening. I needed to get away from the cuteness, so I sat in a corner on the far side of the room and tried to entertain myself.
I'm not sure how much time passed, but at some point something Angelina said made me start, and George, too, apparently.
"What?" He straightened from his resting position, bringing his arm down from the couch.
She sat up and turned to look at him. "I love you."
He stared at her and nodded slowly. "I thought that's what you said."
I couldn't tell if George was having one of his awkward moments or if there was something wrong.
He reached out to take her hand. "Angelina, I--"
The kitchen timer went off and they both jumped.
"Hungry?" He stood.
"George--" She reached for him, but he slipped from her grasp.
He was shaking as he walked over to the stove and grabbed the potholder.
"George." Angelina got up and made her way to him as he bent down to pull the small roast out of the oven. She reached to place a hand his arm. "George, I--"
He jumped at her touch, dropping their dinner, the roast and vegetables rolling out of the pan, spilling hot juices. The pan dropped from George's hands, clanging on the floor.
Angelina brought a hand to her mouth. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean . . ." She grabbed the potholder, picked the pan off the floor and put it on the stove.
George dropped into a chair. "I can't do this anymore."
"George, it's just dinner. We could--"
"No, Angelina. I mean, this," he gestured between the two of them. "I can't do this anymore. You don't love me, Angelina."
She turned toward him slowly. "What are you talking about?"
"You don't love me," he said. "You love Fred. Being with me is just another way for you to be with him."
She stared at him, her mouth open in indignation. "How can you say that?"
"It's not," she told him. "You really think I'm that low? That I would use you like that?"
He stood from the chair. "I don't think you're low, Angelina. I just don't think you realize that you're projecting your feelings for him onto me."
"George." She stepped forward and put a hand on his shoulder.
He shook her off. "Just leave me alone, Angelina."
"Not until you talk to me and explain what's going on."
"I want you to leave."
"I'm not going."
He grabbed her by the arm and started dragging her toward the door.
"Just go! Get out!"
He snatched up her jacket with his free hand and shoved her outside, throwing the jacket out after her and slamming the door.
"George Weasley!" Angelina pounded on the door from outside. "You open this door this minute! George! George!"
He fell with his back against the door, and then he slowly slid down to the floor and put his face in his hands. Angelina's yells gradually turned to sobs and the pounding subsided until there was nothing.
I was in shock. What the hell had just happened? I couldn't wrap my mind around it. I couldn't make sense of how George had acted. "She tells you she loves you and you . . . You think you're a placeholder, is that it? You think she's going out with you because she liked me?"
I watched as George brought his hands from his face. There was moisture on his cheeks. Instead sympathizing with George, I just became more frustrated. "I was the placeholder, dumb ass! Not you! You liked her from the beginning!"
George shook his head and slowly picked himself off the floor. I continued to yell at him. "Valentine's day! It's flipping Valentine's Day! You broke up with her on Valentine's Day! What in the name of Merlin's baggy Y-fronts--?" All right, so, yes, it had always been agreed upon that I was better with girls than George, but this was just ridiculous. "People get together on Valentine's Day, not the other way around!"
George walked passed me. "You always were the biggest prat that ever lived! Wait, no. That was Percy. Fine! You're the second biggest prat that ever lived. And considering all the prats out there, that's still a rather impressive title to hold! I mean, just what the--?"
When I spun around to holler some more, I noticed he had collapsed in my old bed. I shook my head at him. He used to joke back when I was alive and Angelina and I were having one of our little spats that "A box of chocolates can fix anything." I knew at that moment that all the chocolate in the world couldn't help him.
"George," I said, "you've bollixed things up worse that I ever have."
- - -
"Are you all right?"
"George--I've got those."
"No, I've got them. It's all right."
"George . . ." Ron stared after his brother as he began gathering up the incoming orders. "I'm here to the help. That's why you asked me over here."
"I didn't ask you over here. Mum did."
"I've got these, Ron. If you want to help, you can do something else."
"You've got enough to do already." Ron reached for the papers. "Why don't you let me--?"
"I said, I've got it! Okay?"
"They're just papers, George." When his brother didn't say anything, Ron sighed and asked, "Who did the incoming orders before I got here?"
Ron rubbed the back of his neck.
"Go on," I said bitterly, "maybe he'll listen to you. He won't listen to me." It had been three days since his break up with Angelina and I was still irritated about it.
Ron sighed. "I know you didn't want me to come here because . . . because you didn't want me replacing Fred."
My head snapped up. Who would have thought little ickle Ronniekins would listen to me better than my own twin?
"I didn't--" George started.
Ron held up a hand. "No, George. Listen for a minute. I know what's going on and you need to hear this. You've been a mess since Fred died. I've noticed. You've tried to pull yourself together, but really you've just been . . ."
He sighed again. George tried to interject but Ron pushed on.
"You won't let me do any of Fred's work or stay in the upstairs apartment. You're doing all of Fred's work, you've taken on aspects of his personality and his habits. You sat in his chair at Christmas, you greet Angelina they way he used to, you crack jokes at everything. It's like you're trying to keep Fred alive by living his life, and now you're wondering if you only started dating Angelina because Fred liked her."
Ron looked like he was going to end it there, but I urged him on, feeding my own thoughts to him.
"I can understand that you don't want to let go, George. I can understand that you don't want me taking Fred's place, but you can't take his place either. You can't be both yourself and Fred. It doesn't work that way. You know that, and that's why you broke it off with Angelina, because you're not yourself when you're trying to be Fred and you know that's not fair to her.
"You didn't want to kiss her before because you knew what you were doing to yourself and you didn't want to drag her into it. But then she kissed you at Christmas and you realized you were in love her and that you had been for a long time. It's been driving you crazy ever since because you keep asking yourself if she likes you because of you or because you're pretending to be Fred.
"You have to let him go, George. You've got to live your own life, because otherwise you're not really living and Fred wouldn't want to see you going on like that, I know he wouldn't. We all miss him, but the fact is he's gone and no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we might pretend, none of us can bring him back, not even you."
There was silence. I looked up from Ron at my twin. There were tears in his eyes. For a long moment neither of them moved. Ron waited awkwardly for George to say something.
"I miss him, Ron," he finally said.
"I miss him too. We all do. But we miss you as well."
"Have I really been that bad?"
"Why do you think mum asked me to help you out? I mean, she probably would have done so regardless, but I wouldn't have come here if I hadn't been worried too. And I certainly wouldn't have stayed if you didn't want me here unless I thought I had a good reason too."
George rubbed eyes and then surveyed his younger brother. "When did you grow up, Ron?"
Ron smiled and shrugged. "Hermione might be rubbing off on me a little bit.
"I guess so."
They embraced for a moment.
George looked toward the storefront door. "Would you mind if--?"
"What are you asking me for? Just go get her."
George didn't need telling twice, but when he neared the door he turned back around. "Hey, Ron. Do those orders for me, will you?"
- - -
George apparated in front of Angelina's house. He climbed the step to the door and knocked three times. The door opened to reveal Angelina's father standing in the foyer. I had always thought him to be a good-natured man, but he suddenly seemed very large, very frightening, and very capable of hurting George very badly. He stepped forward, framing himself in the doorway. He crossed his arms over his chest and stared down at George. "Yes?" He raised an eyebrow and seemed to be inquiring George's right to be there.
"Uh . . ." George was fighting the rather strong urge to take a few steps back out of arm's reach of Angelina's father. "I'd like to talk to Angelina."
"She doesn't want to talk to you right now," said Mr. Johnson.
"I realize that, sir--believe me, I do--but I really need to talk to her."
"Well, you should have thought about that before you hurt her and gave up your right to talk to her." Mr. Johnson stepped back into the foyer and had nearly shut the door when a voice said:
"I've got it, Daddy. Thanks."
Angelina came out onto the step, forcing George to step down onto the sidewalk. She closed the door behind her and folded her arms in the same manner her father had. "Yes?"
The sigh of relief that George had been halfway through releasing stuck in his throat, and I couldn't help but wonder if George might have been better off with Angelina's father. "I-I wanted to talk to you."
"So I heard."
George took a breath. "I, uh, I hurt you, and I apologize for that."
She nodded, waiting for him to continue.
"I haven't been the same since Fred died," he said. "You may not have noticed, but I've been . . . adopting habits of his. I've been sleeping in his old bed and I've been taking on all his former duties. Ron said I was trying to live both his life and mine at the same time, and I--"
He sighed. "I've always liked you, Angelina. Always. Ever since second year, but I just couldn't get up the nerve the tell you. I didn't think you'd like me back. I saw so many imperfections with myself, especially when I compared myself with Fred. He was the funnier one. He was more outgoing. He was better with girls. He could talk his way out of almost anything. He had that reckless attitude that I always went along with but could never adopt. And when I saw the two of you together at the Yule Ball, I just . . . you deserved each other. Why would anyone pick me over him?"
I was stunned. I had no idea George had an inferiority complex with me.
"If I had died and Fred had lived, he wouldn't have fallen apart like I have. He was always the stronger one. He could hold his own. I was the tag-a-long. I could come up with ideas but I never had the guts to put them in motion. I needed Fred for that. I would have chickened out of a lot of things if it hadn't been for him. If I liked a girl, I could never say anything. Fred had to egg me on. I'm not reckless or careless or cool like him. I'm the one who's always aware of the consequences, always erring on the side of caution. Fred knew what he wanted and he wasn't afraid of getting it. But me, I can be shy and backward. I can be weak and pathetic . . . stupid."
"George--" Angelina and I protested in unison.
"I'm missing an ear!" he told her. "An entire ear! It's gone! These are my imperfections, Angelina. You need to know them so you can't say you weren't forewarned." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "But you said you loved me. And if you can see past all my flaws, then . . . then I guess I can too . . . if you'll help me . . . and if you'll forgive me for being a dick earlier. And if you'll help me with this multiple personality thing that I've apparently developed and I hope I've gotten over."
She chuckled at him. "George." She shook her head. "I wouldn't go so far as to call it a multiple personality disorder."
"What would you call it, then?"
"I always thought it was just some grieving process you were going through."
"You 'always thought?'"
"George," she unfolded her arms. "I noticed from day one that there were times when you weren't acting like yourself."
"You could be pretty obvious about it at times," she told him. "But I never confused Fred with you. I knew when you were being yourself and when you weren't. The rose was you. The water gag wasn't, but the rose was. You drove me up at the wall at Lee's party when you had to make a joke out of everything like Fred would have. But all those nights together when we just enjoyed each other's company, that was you." She stepped down toward him. "You sat in Fred's chair Christmas but that speech was yours. And don't grab my sides. I hate that."
"You let Fred do it."
"Yes, well that was Fred, and this is you."
She pressed a finger to his lips. "And that day in the shop when you were being all cute and awkward while trying to ask me out, that was you too. You don't crack jokes at everything little thing, but when you let one fly, it's perfect. You look before you leap. You might be shy and backward, but it can be cute. And the ear doesn't bother me. I know the differences between you and Fred, and, to tell you the truth, even though I dated Fred for two years . . . I really like George."
George couldn't help but grin idiotically. "Really?"
They stared at each other for a long moment. It was a perfect cue for George to make a move but he just stood there. I wanted to hit him over the head with something. "George! Go on already!"
As though he really had heard me, he leaned in and kissed her. Angelina put her arms around his neck and kissed him back.
The both parted to look at Angelina's father who was standing in the doorway.
"Be right in, Daddy," she said before turning back to George. "We'll work on this."
"On the you being you thing, on the missing Fred thing, on the why I like you more than him thing, on us, everything. We'll work on it."
He smiled. "I'd like that."
She hugged him.
At that moment, I knew I didn't have watch over them any longer. They were going to be just fine without me. George had come through, and he hadn't even needed a box of chocolates to make things right.