When I woke, I felt warm and the inside of my head was buzzing. Harry's red tunic swamped me where I lay on the beige carpet of my bedroom. The house seemed so empty without him. Our small house was at number 12 on Violet Road, and in order to help the bleak town road look more like its namesake, my brother and I had planted dozens of violets in the cramped square of soil that our garden consisted of. The violets were past their best now and had withered in the cold frost that each new morning brought, their shrivelled forms slowly and agonisingly dying.
I rolled haplessly over onto the tunic, feeling the hardened part of fabric where Harry's blood had set. My breathing was steady and numb as I stared blankly up at the ceiling, where my pale blue lampshade hung still in the centre. Harry had hated it, I remembered. I'd picked it out because of the assortment of dangling beads that fell around the bulb, softening the light and casting the occasional rainbow on the teal painted walls.
Propping myself up on my elbows, I took inventory. There was a slight fizzing sensation in my foot where I had laid awkwardly the night before, tossing and turning with restlessness. My stomach growled hungrily, having been sat in the hospital when dinner time came and went.
"Put the glass down," I mumbled to myself. It was something Harry had found on the internet for dealing with stress.
"No matter how light the glass is, when you hold it up for a long time, the muscles in your arm are going to get stressed," he'd told me. I had been on the verge of a panic attack at Castle mall, leaning hard over the steel railings, breathing quickly.
"Put the glass down," he'd said, passing me a pen and my diary, open on the notes pages. "Write down what's stressing you and what you are going to do about it." I looked over to him, uncertainty in my face.
Complying, I'd written down all the people I had to call and things I had to do. When I'd looked over it, there really wasn't that big of a list at all.
Standing up, Harry's fight tunic gripped in one hand, I went out to the hall, snagging the pad of yellow post-its and pen we'd always kept by the telephone.
1. Call work for bereavement leave
2. Call POE officials
3. Call funeral people
4. Call solicitor for Harry's will
5. Register certificate
I blanched at the thought of funerals and wills for Harry. God I hated it all, but it had to be done. I'd added the Prevention of Exposure officials out of necessity. The bullet wound, though I cringed at the thought of it, could be explained by the doctors. If my brother was otherwise injured from an arena fight, those wounds would be harder to explain to normal people.
I had to think for a little bit before I continued the list, slowing down my breathing and taking deeper breaths as I slumped against the wall, post-its cradled against my belly.
6. Call police
7. Find out why
I hesitated before adding the last bullet, afraid that when I did, I wouldn't be able to go back. Harry wouldn't have wanted me to stay on this. He'd have wanted me to move forward. Part of me felt like staying here, curled up in the empty house on Violet road, agonising about how things could be different. Part of me hated even the idea of 'moving on'. It sounded too much like forgetting.
If I was going to agonise, I told myself, I would damn well agonise, but I would do it by laying Harry to rest properly. He wasn't here to pick me up anymore but I'd remember him and pick myself up in his place.
It was a Sunday, so I had to wait until Thornton's opened at ten to phone in my bereavement leave with them. I'd worked there for two years and my job safely paid for the house. Harry always gave a third of his arena winnings for food bills but had never got a job outside that for the mortgage. That was okay, I supposed. If we'd had a bigger house I wouldn't have been able to pay for it on my own, and moving wasn't what I needed right now. At least while I was on leave I would be paid for my contracted hours.
When ten o'clock ticked by I dialled the manager to get the time off. There was little dragged out conversation in which I heard how sorry she was and how they were going to miss me and yadda yadda yadda but the conversation was over in less than ten minutes and I got my next call underway. The POE officials seemed content to take everything off my hands, even if there was no evidence of magic on Harry, though they advised me not to call the police as they had their own task force for investigating murders in the magical community and the details the hospital would give were more than enough. Another few short calls later and I'd booked appointments to see a funeral director and a solicitor. Glass officially put down, I thought, scribbling haphazardly through each bullet on my list. At least now everything was done, even if I'd hated every minute of it.
I looked down at the last bullet on my list and, making a snap decision, tore the scrap of yellow paper off and began to pack a bag. I was going back to the arena.
Then I realised my abysmal bed head, morning breath and that I was wearing yesterday's clothes. Oh fuck it, time to get dressed again.
Taking my time in the shower to wash off the hospital-cross-dirty-laundry smell, I thought about what to do when I got there. As it was Sunday, no fights would be scheduled, save some informal sparring, so trying to blend in as a spectator was out. Figuring I'd just have to stand out as a spectator, I left the shower to find some clean clothes from the drawers under my bed. I tossed on a dark blue button-down shirt, stonewashed skinny jeans and a cardigan with NYC printed in large white letters across the front. Tugging a plain black belt through the loops of my jeans, I scouted a hairbrush to run through my knotted cinnamon curls and brushed my teeth simultaneously, which is way harder than it sounds.
Finally, I looked in the mirror, assessing my reflection to decide whether I looked too much like a kicked puppy. My hazel eyes were red rimmed and swollen, and just looking at them made me want to tear up again. I was someone who couldn't take being asked if they were okay. It just made me feel more and more not okay and looking at my fucked up tearful face in the mirror had much the same effect. Why did I look? I asked myself as I blinked away the stinging in my eyes, stepping back from the round bathroom mirror.
Screw it; I'd decided I was going anyway, even if I did look significantly more like a train wreck than usual. Noticing the wind was picking up outside, I donned a thick brown coat and gloves from the hooks mounted on the utility room door, then as an afterthought, reached to pull a cotton scarf down too.
I was out the door and into my car, which sat in the tight allotted parking space beside our square of dead violets, before I had a chance to regret it. Not speeding this time but trundling slowly, I had a chance to look around the town. I lived relatively close to Norwich town centre, and had an NR1 postcode, so the drive to the arena warehouse was never long but it felt as though I'd crossed into another world when I got there.
Parking in a different car-park than usual, I jogged the distance to the warehouse, conscious of the cold sweeping into me and permeating the layers of clothing I wore. I wrenched open the stiff outer door and ascended the clunky metal stairs to the fold up spectator seats, parking my behind on one of the countless empty ones available. At the top, I had a good view of the sparring going on below, and without the usual assortment of heads to peak over, the vista was ideal.
In the ring below, Lord Drake Fortier sparred casually with a witch I knew to be Lady Cassandra Logan. Her mask twisted like the roots of tree and was a dark brown colour, obscuring only the skin around her large brown eyes. Lady Logan was another of the 100 who - interestingly - favoured water, rendering a lot of Lord Fortier's fire attacks useless. All the more reason to spar together, I reasoned. Both presented a challenge to the other. Lady Logan seemed to have got the better end of the deal when it came to naming, I mused. I wondered how hard it must be for Lord Fortier to function in the outside world with a name like Drake Fortier, but I supposed he got by. At least the Knight was just an alias for Harry.
My own name, Jamie, was so boyish and people often expected me to be a boy. When I'd cropped my hair short in my youth, my school mates were continuously mistaking me for Harry. It couldn't be helped, but it did chip away at my self-esteem after a while. I'd tried wearing makeup for a while, to hide both my boyish and my twin features, but had stopped after a while. I was way too lazy to consider faffing about with it every day, so now it was favoured as a night out look only.
In the ring below me, Lord Fortier used a subtle transformation spell that bordered on alchemy to turn the water Lady Logan had conjured into petrol before setting fire to it and knocking her out with the backlash of the consequent explosion. I released the breath I'd held. At least he hadn't burned her, I thought. He easily could have sent the explosion back towards her before lighting it, but this way she was still okay, even if the end of her black pony tail looked a bit crispy.
After helping her up, he turned to the charred area of arena and fixed it, using one spell to remove the top layer of rock and another to order it to fold itself again and again until it dropped into his hand, now the size of a small black and white marble, which he toyed with lazily in his open palm.
Bowing dutifully to Lady Cassandra Logan, and gaining a short curtsy in return, Lord Fortier jogged to the edge of the arena and climbed down the few short steps with her so that a new pair could spar on the arena training grounds.
I didn't take much notice of the next pair that came on. They were both members of the 100, but had only moderately high magical strength and therefore never lasted long in the Tournament and the arena fights that ran up to it. Harry and I could exercise pinpoint control over our magic, and crossed it with a mix of dance and mixed martial arts in such a way that we could cast without speaking, marking the intent of the spell with movements instead. Lord Fortier used prolonged flames and multi-layered attacks. The two fighter in the arena used only short shots of magic at each other that were uncontrolled and sloppy, something even I turned my nose up at.
The faint sound of footsteps on the staircase behind distracted me from an internal rant on sloppy magic, and I turned to see Lord Fortier striding towards me purposefully. I twisted away, straightening my spine, and he faltered a little in his pace towards me. Was that rude? I panicked; yeah I'd just completely blanked royalty. Fuck, if I turn round now he might be angry. The 100 weren't known for tolerating idiocy and I always seemed to have enough to share around.
In the end I didn't have to turn, as out of all the empty seats in that side of the spectator's seating, Lord Fucking Fortier chose the one next to me.
"Is there something incredibly interesting down there?" He murmured, referring to the way my eyes were stubbornly glued to the not-so-brilliant fighting in the arena.
"Yes. They are fighting." And I was now going to throw myself out of the nearest fucking window.
He leant back luxuriously in the splitting plastic seat. "I fight too. All the time in fact, and I've never seen you at any match that doesn't concern the Knight."
"Do you usually stalk the audience?" Oh fuckety fuck fuck fuck. At least he wasn't threatening me. Yet.
"Only when they're too beautiful to ignore," He commented, in such an offhand way that I turned to stare at him, eyes probably bulging out of my skull.
"Are you chatting me up?" Because if you are, you need to realize that I'm as subtle as a brick. I guessed me and my brother did have something in common after all. Oh god what if he wasn't chatting me up, I thought, what if I've just been insinuating? Oh god, kill me now. Please just spare me the misery.
"Yup," he answered, not looking away or hesitating in the slightest. His eyes narrowed minutely as he saw my reddened eyes. "Have you been crying?"
Ah fuck, I hated these questions. Tears made my eyes shine and my voice was rough when I said. "No,"
I turned back to the mediocre match, concentrating on my breathing and blinking back my stupid loitering tears. It wasn't like my brother had died yesterday or anything. It was then I realized that coming out today had been a very bad idea. I needed to be at home, crying into something like peri peri chicken. I needed to be grieving today, not getting ready to solve a murder.
Standing quickly, I let the plastic seat flip back to its upright position.
"You had a good match today." I spoke as fast as I could. "Thank you for your company, Lord Fortier. I look forward to seeing you in the Tournament."
I tried to brush past his seat to get to the stairwell, but I wasn't fast enough and he'd already stood. Without any warning what-so-ever he pulled me into a hug, arms going round my back and pressing me close. Thankfully, his head fell over my shoulder and he couldn't see when the tears slipped onto my cheeks, though I was sure he knew what I was doing when I reached a hand up to wipe them away.
"My name is just Drake," he told me, his voice incredibly close to my ear.
At the top of the staircase, I caught sight of Lady Logan and wrenched myself away from him, giving myself whiplash and almost falling over.
"Aw, you scared the poor thing, Fortier!" Lady Cassandra's voice called. "I told you, subtlety is the way with women."
Oh good, it looked like she was another royal with a sense of humour.
"Lady Logan," I greeted her and curtsied.
"That's cute," she told me. "But my name is Cassie."
I must have given her a significantly confused look, because she answered my unspoken questions almost immediately.
"We," she said, putting a hand on Lord Fortier's shoulder, "are second generation 100. Only the snooty old farts in first generation actually expect that crap from you."
"Second generation?" I asked, still confused.
"We are like the more modem, updated version. We are the iPhone 6 to their Nokia. We were responsible for voting in the Knight! Though Fortier looks like he regrets it, now that he's been trounced." She laughed and poked him in the cheek affectionately and he swatted her hand away.
"So you really can call me Drake," the warlock tacked on, smiling with his eyes again.
"Come on, Fortier." Cassie tugged on his sleeve. "Let's go back to the manor and watch Finding Nemo on the flat screen. You owe me a movie."
"Please Cas, anything but another sodding Disney movie!" he moaned, sounding suitably tortured.
"Well, I'll be going then." I rushed again as I side stepped round them.
Apparently it was never going to be that easy, as Cassie grabbed my arm with talon like fingernails.
"Why don't you come too, darling?" Cassie asked. She had a glint in her eye that I really didn't like.
"I really have to…" I trailed off, rushing to think of something to have to do.
"You really have to come watch Finding Nemo with us at Fortier manor." Cassie supplied, pulling both myself and Drake towards the stairs.
Abruptly, she stopped leaving me to run into the back of her.
"Wait, what was your name again?" she asked turning to me. "Or should I just call you Fortier's beloved?"
"I'm hardly his beloved," I argued. "My name is Jamie."
"Ah, another one with an unfortunate name," she observed. "Never fear, it can only get as bad as Fortier."
"Hey!" Drake protested from behind me as we were both dragged along again. Cassie held our arms in a vice like grip all the way down from the stadium and down to the changing rooms before she turned to us.
"I need to get my things. Can I trust you two not to a) run away or b) have hanky panky in the hall?" she asked, and I was only half certain she was kidding.
Drake nodded and said he had some things to get too, pointing vaguely to another changing room door. Apparently, his affirmative was enough for the both of us, as Cassie removed her nails from the skin of my forearm and started to head into the door.
I bolted, not looking back. In fact, I intended to run all the way back to my car, get in, drive to Nandos, and order my peri peri, before going straight home to commence a much-needed grieving/comfort eating fest. In this mood I was certain I'd find even Finding Nemo depressing so I ran.
Unfortunately, I didn't get very far before I reached the heavy fire escape door I always left through, usually with Harry in tow. In the time it took me to wrench the stiff metal door open and step into the frigid air beyond, Drake had caught up to me.
"Why are you running?" he asked, panting a little from exertion. Soon Cassie showed up too, doubling over with what I assumed was a painful stich.
"Girl, what could be so important that you don't want to watch Nemo with us? What do you really have to do?" Cassie panted at me.
I looked at the ceiling when the answer came from me, blinking back the tears once more.
"Grieve," I told them. "I need to go home to grieve."
Without another word I ran the longer distance to the car park. Even though I was fit from my training, my sides still burned and my lungs ached. Or at least it could have been my lungs. After all, the pain did originate in my chest, but after thinking about it, I knew it was my heart that was hurting.