Chapter Five: Broccoli

Of finally accepting.

Accept everything about yourself - I mean everything; you are you and that is the beginning and the end - no apologies, no regrets.
-Clark Moustakas


Reaching up on her tiptoes, she leaned in and kissed his still grinning lips.

It was an awkward kiss- little more than a peck, and clumsy, but for Eloise it was more than perfect- it was enthralling, it set her nerves on fire and made her dizzy simply from realising what she was doing. It was the most exciting thing she had done in her life- at that moment when all rational thought and memories had fled her mind except her complete, sheer knowledge of her actions- she was sure of it.

She wanted to do it again and again and again.

But when she broke away, her gaze landing on his pale face, her pulse thunderous behind her ears and her breathing shallow, she saw his expression. It was nothing short of flabbergasted, his eyes were frozen wide and a light blush was creeping on his cheeks. Eloise couldn't help but grin.

Finally, he moved, his mouth opening and closing like a fish, his slack hand which had been limp at his side came up to run through his curly hair.

"Eloise..." he murmured, closing his eyes and shaking his head, a frown forming between his eyebrows.

She froze. Eloise. He had called her Eloise. She had never been Eloise to him before, not when they had first met, not when they had argued and fought in the most ridiculous of ways. It had always been a direct transition from Midgeon to Els and, to her annoyance, Broc. He opened his mouth to speak again, but she had already backed away, away from him, staring at him in a kind of horrified trance. The obscurity of her actions and the relative serenity fled away, receding to the edges, so that it was clear for her to see what she had done.

What have I done? What had she done? Panic overwhelmed her, and looking at him, she realised he was looking everywhere except at her. Dread rose like bile in her throat, and no longer able to control herself, she whipped around and did what she did best. She ran.

"Eloise, wait!" his shout would have stopped her at any other moment, but he was still calling her Eloise and he was mad and disgusted and she would not wait. How could she? She didn't think she would be able to look him in the eye ever again; she was so embarrassed and ashamed and horrified of her ownself. Tears formed at the corner of her eyes as she reached at the bottom of the staircase, making her conscious of the fact that she was hurt at the rejection, but she could not dwell on the feeling, not when she had just put a much bigger, stronger thing in jeopardy- their friendship.

His footsteps were echoing behind her now, and she tried to run faster, but her heels slid from under her and she fell, her hands coming up to break her fall. She stayed like that on the floor, on her scraped knees and scraped palms, knowing he would catch up with her in few short seconds. Her face burned with humiliation.

She finally felt his cold hand on her shoulders and his muttered 'hey' as he sat down next to her on the freezing floor. Eloise gulped, letting her hair fall forward to shield her face from his gaze.

"Look at me, Els..." She was so surprised that he had used her nickname that she did, before she quickly ducked her head back again. She could feel his gaze on her, piercing her even through her curtain of hair and she couldn't take it anymore.

"I'm sorry!" she finally burst out in a wail, hiding her face behind her hands. Her voice echoed strangely in the deserted corridor, lingering for a few more seconds before dying out.

"Els," he said more forcefully this time, the grip on her shoulder tightening. "Els, look at me."

When she didn't respond, he forced her hands away from her face, crouching in front of her. She looked up despite herself, her face getting warmer when their eyes met.

"I understand," he said softly, half a smirk on his face. She blinked, not expecting those words from him. He continued, "I saw Cedric downstairs with that Ravenclaw girl." He was outright smirking now. "I know how it feels." And before, she had a chance to respond, he had pulled her into a hug.

Oh. Oh. He misunderstood. He thought that she kissed him because she wanted to forget about Cedric, a person she couldn't care less about at the moment. A part of her wanted to correct him, tell him that it was him she was attracted to. But then she remembered that he wasn't mad or disgusted, and that he had actually acted understandingly, for once, and she swallowed back the truth and let him hug her awkwardly on the cold stone floor with chilly winds blowing around them.

The noise around her was positively deafening as she sidled between people to reach her seat, binoculars in hand. She didn't understand why people needed to be so loud, for Merlin's sake. The task hadn't even started yet. Scowling as two second-years trod on her foot in a hurry to get better seats, she finally reached the row her housemates were seated on.

"Broc!" Justin waved frantically at her, nearly knocking off Professor Sprout's hat, who was seated in the row below him. Eloise rolled her eyes, unable to hide the amused grin that crept up her face. When she finally reached him and sat down, she hit him lightly on the head, as if to say, 'yeah-you're-pretty-hard-to-miss-when-you're-acting-like-a-lunatic'.

He simply grinned in response, before turning back to the front. "It's starting!" A shrill whistle pierced the cold air to thunderous approbation. "Oooh, look! Cedric's entering at the water!" He jumped in his seat like a first-year, and people behind him protested at being robbed of their view. Eloise, who hadn't once glanced at the champions, grabbed his arm, and made him sit still, ignoring his pout. The sight of his lips brought back memories of that night and made it difficult for her to breathe.

As she stared at him, however, drinking in the different emotions dancing on his face one after the other, the shining eyes, and the small pimple near his ear, she felt something else. A feeling that was detached, different from heartache. Other. It was pure exhilaration, she realised, unadulterated happiness that being near him gave her.

He felt her gaze on him and turned to look at her quizzically, and when she just smiled, he smiled back, a genuine, beautiful smile that made her heart soar, before he turned back to the front. She turned too, but her mind was still on his smile.

For the first time, Eloise felt, that maybe, just maybe, she hadn't needed the popularity, the acceptance of people after all. Perhaps, all she had ever needed was a friend. Him.

Eloise, broccoli makes you beautiful, her mother had said eons ago. She realised now, more than ever before how fitting her nickname was. Hadn't she begged her mother for anything but the vegetable?

"I'll eat anything! Spinach, cabbage, beans…anything! Just not broccoli mum, please!"

How true that was, that she made other people beautiful. Just like the ugly broccoli made you appreciate other eatables you may never have liked before. Just like she gave beauty meaning. Not because she was such a good person that she was practically an incarnation of goodwill or anything. Not that she was special, like Justin had told her to lighten her heart. It was because without hideous people like her, there wouldn't be any definition of beautiful, would there? The word 'beauty' would have no connotation.

It is me, Eloise thought with a sudden surge of fierce pride, that makes them beautiful. Who would they compare themselves to to boost their self esteem, if there didn't exist girls like me? Nobody.

Beauty and repulsiveness, both of them were twined together.

And all of a sudden, Eloise felt, knewshe was better than them, all those vain, arrogant, shallow people inside the castle.

Her happiness just amplified.

I only callyouBroc, because that's what you are, you know? Els, broccoli is my favourite vegetable. It's delicious, it's special. Even if the rest of the world can't see it, I know just how exceptional it is. Just like you.

She laughed to herself at that. She wasn't exceptional in a way Justin had meant, but she was exceptional alright. And she was with him. She now knew, her grin stretched wide across her face, just how lucky she was.

How was it that she had never noticed that before?

She had him.

A/N: This is it! Finally, the end! I'm so happy that I've finally completed it! :D

So, thank you! to everyone who reviewed, favourited or thought this worthy enough of reading! Thank you to everyone who stuck with this fic so far, and thankyou to those challenge-givers, (without whose deadline, I'd never have finished this. Possibly :P)

So if anyone was dissappointed by the ending- this fic was not about Eloise growing out of her self-deprecating character or turning pretty or getting the love of her best-friend. It was about her beginningto realise that she wasn't so bad, afterall. ;)

AND, if you guys still want to read more, there's a sequel coming up! :D It has been tentatively titled 'Mushroom Tea', but that can change. And, that one is going to be in Justin's PoV. So look out for it if you want to keep reading! I'll post it before the end of the month. :)

Until we meet again,