forever within our numbered days (part one)
“Will, I’m a grenade. And one day I’m going to explode, and destroy everything and everyone in my path, and I’d really like to minimize the casualties.”
She’d seen him staring at her from across Spattergroit support group one day while she’d been busy contemplating her mortality and trying to tune out the inspirational speaker. He’d seen her lips quirk up when he informed the others of what he feared. And then he found her after the meeting was over and told her that his name was Will and – oh, Merlin, she was a goner.
Tatiana had returned home that night with the copy of The Great Grindlewald after he’d lent it to her. One had to be pretty trusting to lend books, she’d thought as she curled up into her sheets, lifting the novel to catch the damp light that her lamp shed. She’d only recommended him to read her own favorite, To Kill a Hippogriff, and he’d promised ardently that he would before she’d left.
Perhaps it was jealousy of this boy that had drawn her to him at first, the brunette reasoned as she plowed further and further into the book, wondering why she’d bothered in the first place. He was quite attractive, she’d conceded, but perhaps that was due to her only seeing the health in him – he had, after all, recovered from his bout of Spattergroit, unlike hers, which was terminal (although thankfully, for the time being, not spreading).
Tatiana’s fingers twitched on the corner of a page as she continued reading, unaware that a few miles away, in a bedroom quite similar to hers, he was doing the same with her favorite book.
Their support group only met once a week, so she thought she wouldn’t hear from him until next time, but somehow he’d apparently got hold of her number – presumably from the curly-haired boy who’d dragged him to the group in the first place.
She slid the receiver beside her ear. “Hello?”
“You’re kidding, right? Bob Ewell dies?”
A smile traced up Tatiana’s lips. “It’s death, Will. It happens to everyone.” She paused before asking, “So does this mean you’ve finished it?”
“Of course. It’s terrible. Why did you force me to read it?”
She stifled a snort. “By terrible, you mean wonderful, don’t you? All the themes about racism, and sexism, and personally, the court scene had to be the best moment in the entire book for me. And hey, I didn’t force you to read it – I recommended it to you.”
She heard the smile in his tone as he answered. “It’s a bloody good thing that you’re pretty, Penvrane, or else I’d be even more upset with this ending. Have you tried writing to the author about the ending?”
“Harper Leviosa?” Tatiana rolled her eyes. “She lives in Chicago. I’ve been trying to write to her for ages, ever since I first read the book, but she never replied.”
“That’s horrible,” Will replied before he paused. “I’ll see you at support group, then?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for anything,” Tatiana replied with a grin, clicking the phone off after she spoke, butterflies starting in her stomach.
“You’re not going to guess what happened,” Will said by way of greeting as soon as she picked the phone up.
They’d been talking and meeting up with each other outside support group for several weeks now, Will occasionally bringing along Lee, that best friend of his with the curly hair, who was blind in one eye and awaiting surgery for the other eye. While they’d been talking about him only the day before, Tatiana hesitated, sensing the excitement in the boy’s tone had little to do with his friend.
“The spattergroit’s come back?” she ventured after a moment, trying for humor but realizing that she’d described a nightmare situation. She chewed on her lower lip. “Never mind. What is it?”
“You’ve been writing to this Harper Leviosa lady for years now, haven’t you?”
“She still hasn’t answered any of my questions,” Tatiana grumbled, settling her phone comfortably into the nook of her shoulder as she stepped around her room idly.
Will cleared his throat. “Dear Mister Shimizuno, I thank you for your interest in my book. Unfortunately, I cannot send you the answers to your questions because I fear you will make them available for public consumption, but if you and this Miss Penvrane you tell me about ever find yourselves in Chicago, please feel free to drop by and ask me them in person.”
Tatiana dropped to the edge of her bed, staring at the receiver in her hand. “Will. What the hell was that?”
“I managed to get in touch with Harper Leviosa through her personal assistant, and she wrote back to me,” he replied smugly.
She pressed her hands to her mouth, still in shock. “You talked to Harper Leviosa? She wrote back to you and invited us to come see her?”
The brunette could practically hear his grin through the phone. “Yes, it’s fantastic, isn’t it?”
“It is! But, just –“ And then the realization hit her, and she cleared her throat, looking away even though he couldn’t see her through the phone. “She’s all the way in Chicago, Will. That’s an ocean away, and with my spattergroit treatment and all, I just don’t think that I can get there.” Her favorite author had given her a chance, one chance, and Tatiana wouldn’t be able to take it. She might have been crying if she didn’t want to upset Will with her own misery.
Evidently, she already had. “Oh,” he murmured, dismayed.
She paused, biting her lip. “I’ve got to go, then, Will,” she added after a moment, clicking out of the call and tossing the phone down beside her.
Maybe her parents had concluded from her gloomy mood (well, more than just gloomy – apparently depression was a side effect of dying, but when Tatiana managed to transcend that was when they began to grow worried) that something was upsetting her, and they’d made her her favorite dinner; soup, potatoes, and chocolate cake, which she poked at listlessly.
The door rang and her father went to get it, muttering something about how people weren’t meant to come around dinner time, and then he emerged with the Japanese boy in tow, looking simultaneously confused and amused. “He says you’re meant to come with him,” her father informed her as he seated himself again.
The brunette turned her hazel eyes to the boy, who lifted his lips into a smirk and held out a hand toward her. Abandoning the bowl of soup on the table, she glanced back at her parents, who hesitated and then nodded, giving them their tacit approval.
Will was a spectacularly terrible driver, she noticed while wincing as he turned sharply through narrow roads and slammed on the brakes. She suspected it had something to do with that prosthetic leg of his after the spattergroit had caused the healers to amputate it, but either way, she merely clutched to her seat belt as he pulled into a park.
It was the sort of place that she played in as a child; when she’d been healthy, once. The memory brought a lump to her throat as she surveyed the area, before Will’s movement beside her distracted her. “What are you doing?” she inquired as he reached into the backset and pulled out a basket.
“We’re having a picnic,” he informed her matter of factly as he started down the grass. Tatiana hesitated and then followed him out of the car and down the slope, where he’d settled near a tree and had begun unpacking the basket.
She was still a bit wary, but she watched him carefully anyway as he pulled out some sort of thick… pizza? It was large and deep, filled up in a way that reminded her more of pasta than it did pizza.
“Deep dish pizza,” he explained, handing her a piece on a plate, which she took. “Do you know what this park is called?” A pause. “The Windy City,” Will added after a moment. His dark eyes took in the empty swingsets, the abandoned slides, the violet glow that the evening began to shed upon it. “It’s nice, isn’t it?”
“Will.” Tatiana was firm now as she glanced back at him, putting down the plate in her hands. “What’s going on?”
“Well, if you haven’t guessed by now, everything here should remind you of Chicago,” Will replied, his lips curving up into that familiarly endearing smirk of his. “Deep dish pizza, the ‘windy’ city – hell, even this,” he pointed down at the shirt he was wearing, emblazoned with a picture of a crup, the mascot of Chicago’s Quidditch team.
The brunette frowned. “I’ve already told you that I couldn’t go –“
“You didn’t let me finish.” His eyes sought hers. “When they took my leg, the Make A Wish Foundation gave me one wish to use. I’ve been saving it for something special, and this is it. I’ve already talked to them, and they’re okay with you coming with me. We’re going to Chicago.” At the last words, his lips lifted up even higher as he waited, gauging her reaction.
“You’re serious?” She stared intently at him for a moment and then let out a small squeal, reaching to wrap her arms around him (and nearly knocking his pizza away from his hands in the process). “This is great! Thank you so much.”
“I couldn’t go without the girl who introduced me to To Kill a Hippogriff, could I?” Will grinned down at her.
She was suddenly aware that his face was only inches from hers and that she could practically count every eyelash of his. Suddenly afraid, she pulled away, and he reluctantly unwrapped his arms from around her. She tried to cover up the awkwardness by picking up her slice of pizza and shooting him a hesitant smile. “Thanks again, though.”
He’d dropped her home that night, where she’d been able to inform her parents of what he’d done. Her mother was initially unwilling, and it took a few phone calls to the healers and to Will and the foundation to clear things up for them. Tatiana couldn’t travel without a chaperone; her illness wouldn’t allow it, so her mother had to come with her. Still, she was going to Chicago with Will and her mother. There were far worse fates.
Tatiana curled up onto her bed, nestling her head against the pillows thoughtfully. She liked Will – she really liked him, and yet there was something holding her back from hoping that anything would actually happen between them. Why did he seem to be interested in her, anyway? He was healthy, she wasn’t. She was damned, he wasn’t. They weren’t a good match. She paused and then pulled her phone toward her, trying to find him on that Muggle social network thing that she’d joined ages ago just out of curiosity.
It was here that she found her answer, scrolling down his page and finding that his ex-girlfriend was a lot like her. Not necessarily appearance; where Tatiana’s eyes were hazel, the other’s were brown, and while her hair was chocolate brown, the other’s was sleek ebony. Her name was Quincy Lee, and she’d died just a bit over a year ago – from the exact same illness that Tatiana had. Spattergroit in the lungs. The brunette tossed her phone aside in frustration.
She didn’t want to be an echo from his past. Tatiana Penvrane was no ghost, and she was no replacement, either.
Heaving a small sigh, she went to reach for her phone again to call him – and then suddenly found that she couldn’t breathe. Panic flooded her system and she managed out a cry for her Mum as her chest constricted, her breaths shallow.
Rushed to St. Mungo’s to have her lungs drained, she awoke the next morning to the sight of her exhausted mother beside her and her father just outside the ward, getting tea from the tea room. They’d nearly called her brother in this chaos, fearing the worst, but she’d managed to pull through it again. Whatever medication she was on was working for her; it wasn’t a cure, but she wasn’t getting worse.
Her father entered with two cups of tea and took a seat beside her bed. “Will’s in the waiting room,” he informed her. “He’s been there all night.” There was a pause. “Shall I ask him to come in?”
Tatiana shook her head and nestled herself into the curve of her mother’s shoulder wearily.
The swingset at the park creaked as Tatiana swung forward and back, her legs pumping evenly as the wind blew her dark hair past her shoulders. She shivered, and then catching sight of movement from the corner of her eye, turned to see the familiar boy approaching.
He took a careful seat on the swing beside her, mimicking her movement. For a moment, no one spoke, and then he spoke up quietly, “I thought I’d find you here.”
She didn’t answer, swinging out farther.
“Your Dad told me that you didn’t want to see me,” he observed, somewhat sullenly. Onyx eyes snuck a peek in her direction, and she refrained from answering, her eyes cast downward. He leaned a bit closer. “I hope you know that trying to keep your distance, trying to push me away – this isn’t going to work. It’s not going to lessen my affection for you in the slightest.” His lips crooked up quickly. “You can’t really keep me away.”
Tatiana sighed and then glanced at him quickly. “Look,” she began, her voice low, “I like you. I really like you, and I like being with you. But I can’t let this continue.”
His lips had been inching higher at her words, but now they stopped abruptly, and he blinked in surprise. “Why not?”
“I don’t want to hurt you. I know that if this keeps going… I’m just going to end up hurting you. Just like Quincy did. I’m not her — and I refuse to compete with a ghost.”
Will looked hurt. “I never said you were her.”
“It’s why you were interested in me in the first place, wasn’t it? I don’t know if you’re looking to get your heart broken again, but I can guarantee that if you stick with me, it will be.”
He regarded her briefly. “Tatiana, it would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.”
“No.” She turned away abruptly, feet scraping the gravel of the ground as her swing slowed. “Will, I’m a grenade. And one day I’m going to explode, and destroy everything and everyone in my path, and I’d really like to minimize the casualties. And I don’t want to hurt you when I finally do, you know –“ she didn’t want to say the word, but she felt the need to force the reality of the situation to him, “when I die.”
Now it was his turn to look away, at his feet scraping the ground. He was silent for a long moment, and Tatiana was the one who broke the silence again as she prompted, “Okay?”
“Okay,” he replied, looking back over at her, seeming to have accepted this.
She nodded shakily. “Okay.”
“Merlin, stop flirting with me,” he groaned, and when she raised an eyebrow at him, he grinned and nudged her swing sideways with his arm. “I’m joking, Penvrane.” Will paused and then asked, “Are you still going to Chicago?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” she replied, a slow and hesitant smile curving up her lips, but when he returned it, she beamed at him. “You’re still my best friend. I hope you know that.”
“I do, Tatiana. I do.”