James ran for his life. The prank that he and Sirius had been trying to play had gotten out of hand. Who knew that ten industrial sized bottles of soap were too much for one fountain? The security guard had stormed out of the museum, taser at the ready, looking like he was out for blood. Sirius and he had exchanged one look and scattered.
James always lacked the luck that Sirius seemed to have been born with. Security guy had completely ignored Sirius and was chasing him instead. He glanced over his shoulder. How was he gaining? James was young and in decent shape while the security guard seemed to be in his forties and, if the beer gut was anything to go by, he did not make the healthiest dietary decisions.
James poured on the speed. Being caught by this guy would be humiliating. Sirius would never let him hear the end of it. He knocked someone's shopping out of their hands. He shouted "sorry" over his shoulder and was pleased to see that the security guard was farther behind than he had been a minute ago.
James darted into an alley that he knew would take him to a busy pedestrian shopping mall. He could easily lose himself in the crowd there. His foot hit a patch of ice and he skidded halfway across the plaza. Luckily, he managed to stay on his feet by pinwheeling his arms wildly. He darted around a few outdoor cafes where teenagers were drinking coffee with their friends despite the freezing weather.
He slowed his pace to a brisk trot, keeping his eyes peeled for any more patches of ice. He pulled his flannel closer around his body and reached up to touch one of his ears gingerly. James would swear that he had heard a cracking sound when he touched it, as if his ear had been covered with a thin layer of ice. He had lost his beanie on the mad dash through the shopping district. The temperature was cold and dropping. Fast.
Keeping his head down to remain inconspicuous was his fatal mistake. James failed to see the security guard round the corner at the next intersection until it was too late. They were twenty feet away, just across the road from each other when James looked up. The guard wore an expression that seemed absolutely gleeful. James was sure he looked horrified.
There was nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. Neither of them moved, frozen like the ice hanging from the roof tops, for what seemed like an eternity. The guard lunged forward just as a car started to cross the intersection. The window of the car was open. James did not pause to think before diving through it to land on the backseat. Why was the window open anyway? It was freezing.
The girl that was driving screamed, rightfully so. Nobody expects someone to suddenly end up in the backseat of their car like that even if they left their windows open in the frigid January air.
"Please, just drive, that guy is chasing me," James pleaded.
Thankfully, the girl pushed the accelerator towards the floor. They raced for a few blocks before she started to slow down. James looked out the back window, scanning for signs of pursuit. When he saw nothing out of the ordinary, he clambered into the front seat, somewhat awkwardly due to his gangly limbs.
"Thank you so much, you can just…" he trailed off. The girl had turned to look at him and she was seriously beautiful. Her dark red hair hung in gentle waves falling past her shoulders. Her green eyes seemed to be looking right through him, rather than at him. She had a scattering of freckles across her nose.
She studied him for a minute before pursing her lips and turning her attention back to the road. With perfect timing since they had been about to coast through a stop sign.
"Do I want to know what I just helped you get away with?" James loved her voice, even if she was trying to berate him.
"Just a harmless albeit hilarious prank." James smiled in case she looked back over at him. She did not.
"What did you do?" she asked, taking a right onto a road that James was not familiar with.
"Put a little too much soap in the museum fountain."
The girl bit her lip to keep from laughing. James wanted to reach out and touch her lips, hold her hand, run his fingers through her hair. But he knew that he should not. For starters, she was driving. They also did not know each other. The little voice in James' head was running its mouth. Why not? It said. You'll never see her again if you don't do anything. It will always be your biggest what if. James ignored the voice in his head.
She took another turn, and James recognized one of the buildings at the end of the block. He could definitely find the way to his and Sirius's prearranged meeting spot from there.
"You can just drop me off up here." He gestured absentmindedly at the windshield. He was still looking over at this red-haired girl. In his past years, he would have asked her out already. But now? He was nervous. She intimidated him. The way she looked him up and down when he had crawled into the front seat unnerved him, her gaze was entirely analytical. And, to her, it would seem extraordinarily abrupt. There was no way she would agree to a date with someone who five minutes before had jumped into her car.
She pulled over next to a fire hydrant, which James noted was illegal, and killed the engine. She looked over at him and opened her mouth to say something but seemed to think better of it at the last minute. James opened his door and glanced back over his shoulder for a last look at this girl he would be forever indebted to.
"Thanks again," he heard himself say.
The girl nodded once, James straightened up and closed the door behind him. He crossed the street in front of the car. He was halfway across, standing on the middle line, when someone yelled at him.
He spun around to see the girl leaning out of her still open car window. "I'm Lily, what's your name?"
"James. James Potter," he shouted back before a car swerved around him, causing James to have to jump to the side. He leapt onto the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street and waved at Lily before starting his trek to meet Sirius.
Lily. He liked that. He already regretted not asking for her phone number. He turned around to run back over to the car, but Lily was already gone.
Sirius would not be hearing about this incident, James decided. He knew that Sirius would tease him unmercifully for months about not getting Lily's number or even trying. James had certainly had ample opportunity to shoot his shot.
Clouds were gathering thickly overhead and drops of rain were beginning to fall sporadically. Wasn't it too cold for rain? James sighed and put his head down, wrapping the flannel tighter around his body once again, and trudged off to meet up with Sirius at a downtown pub. Why was is so cold and dreary this time of year?
Lily watched him walk down the street until he was just a blurry smudge at the end of the block. She did not know what had come over her when she leaned halfway out her window to ask him his name. He had almost been hit by a car for God's sake.
She did a tight U-turn on the street and drove back the way she had come. She had missed her turn since she was preoccupied looking at Potter. Lily was not sure what about him attracted her, whether it was the hair that looked like it had been through a hurricane or the gentle charisma that underlay his spontaneous, nervous energy.
As she parallel parked in front of her apartment building, the rain began with earnest. The sky was almost black with storm clouds. She rolled up the windows as the water drops pounded down onto the windshield blurring the world. The timing of the rain was fitting, Lily thought as she made the mad dash to the door.
Lily ran. She was not proud of it. But there was nothing else to do. She ran, her rainbow scarf flying out behind her, cardboard sign being ripped out of her grasp as she dodged through the crowds of people busy with their weekend shopping. Who would have thought that flipping off a cop would cause a mad chase? Thin skin. That is what he had. She spun around a corner of a building and jumped over a bench that lined one of the many city greens.
She paused in the middle of the grass and looked all around; gaze wild like that of a cornered animal. The man in the blue uniform rounded the corner and saw her.
How was he able to keep up with her? Lily herself barely knew where she was going.
Lily took off like a sprinter at their blocks, not pausing to think as she ran across the busy road on the other side of the green. Horns honked as she tried to dodge through the never-ending flow of slow-moving traffic. She managed to avoid getting hit. She would be a natural at parkour if she could keep this up.
Lily reached the other side of the street. The cop seemed to be having more difficulty than she had getting across the road, but he was still making significant progress. She sprinted past a grocer's and caused a shopping woman to drop her cantaloupe. Lily did not stop to apologize; there was no time. How on earth had the cop made it across the rest of the road that quickly?
There was a red convertible sitting at the traffic light up ahead. She poured on the speed. Her mind flashed back to the boy, Potter, who had jumped into the back of her car four months ago. Part of her wondered if she was actually about to do this, but she had already jumped.
James turned up the Def Leppard as he turned the street corner. He felt as cool as ever. He had no idea how Sirius had managed to score a red jaguar, but since he was allowed to borrow it on occasion, he had no problem with any potentially illegality.
The day was beautiful – not a cloud in the sky. The sun was overhead and beating down strongly. James could feel the heat radiating up from the pavement when he pulled up to the traffic light. He was finally first in line at a stoplight and could not wait to rev the engine before taking off across the intersection. There was a strong breeze ruffling through his hair, even when he was stopped. He ran his hand through his hair to mess it up just the right way. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel while he watched the cross-traffic creep across the intersection at snail speed.
His thoughts drifted back to the chance meeting with Lily months ago. Every time he closed his eyes her face seemed to be burning itself into his eyelids. Her red hair and green eyes, the flowery scent that must have been her perfume seemed all too real at the moment.
"Drive. Fucking drive." A body that sounded out of breath thudded into the passenger seat of the car.
James jumped and got yanked back down by the tightening of the seatbelt. He looked over at the girl next to him and felt his mouth drop. She glanced over at him before craning her neck to check behind them. She froze and slowly turned her head back around to look at him, her eyes widening. They exchanged mutually astonished expressions.
James was forcefully reminded of the Spiderman meme, where the two men are pointing at each other. That is about what he felt like. And from Lily's expression she was feeling it too, based on the way she was holding her finger up to point at him.
"Lily," he heard himself say.
"Potter," she returned.
The light turned green, but James was too shocked to press on the gas. Lily, the girl he had been thinking about, pretty much nonstop, for the past few months, had just jumped into the car next to him. The parallelism to their first meeting was making his brain short circuit.
"Right." He let off the brake and yanked on the gear shift. The engine roared, ridiculously loud, and they shot off across the intersection and down the street, leaving the smell of burning rubber behind them.
She had remembered his name. That single fact made him happier than he had been in weeks. He had never, in a million years, expected to get a second chance. James was determined not to let it go to waste.
"If you don't mind me asking," he said as he spun the wheel to take them skidding onto a road that would lead out of downtown, "what are you running from?" He rested his elbow on the top of the car door, enjoying this moment far more than he should have. He let more gas into the engine and the car jumped forward. The increased wind flow ruffled his hair. He felt good. He felt on top of the world.
"Just the cop I flipped off." The way she said it was so nonchalant, even James was impressed by her disregard for authority.
He was in love. Someone, who on top of being seriously beautiful, had the exact same insane manic energy that resulted into jumping into strangers' cars as him? It was perfect. He was perfectly aware she had been at the protests downtown, between the scarf, flipping the bird at a cop, and her general air of righteousness. And if anything, it made him like her more. Causing chaos for a beneficial reason was much better than causing chaos because it was fun.
"Where are we going?"
Lily's voice brought James back to the present. His smile was so wide he probably looked insane. They were flying past an orchard. It amazed him how quickly sprawling farms took over the land once you got out of the city.
"I have no idea." He looked over to see her staring at him. Her hair was a mess, whipping all over the place in the wind. James thought she looked great. They held eye contact for more time than was probably safe. James wrenched his eyes away and righted the car to keep it straight in the lane. He felt like his body was electrically charged. Energy was humming through his veins.
A sign for a farm stand was up ahead, advertising fresh strawberries. James steered into the parking lot, gravel crunching under the tires as he pulled into a parking spot next to a minivan.
"Strawberries?" Lily looked amused.
James gave her finger guns and climbed over the car door, not bothering to unlock or open it. "Back in a flash."
"You're a spaz!" Lily called after his retreating back as he disappeared into the shop.
"Says the girl that jumped into my car," he teased. But she was laughing. That was good. James wanted to see her laugh more.
James reappeared less than five minutes later, juggling three containers of strawberries in his hands. He passed two of them to Lily, who was lounging low in the passenger seat, a pair of sunglasses now perched on her nose.
James bit the tip off a large berry on the top of his stack, eyes widening at the burst of flavor. Strawberries never tasted this good. He shoved the rest into his mouth, causing his cheeks to puff up like a chipmunk's. He flicked the berry top onto the gravel and clambered awkwardly back into the car.
He could feel Lily's eyes on him, though they were shaded from his sight by her glasses. He ruffled his hair while he chewed on the strawberry to give himself something to do with his nervous energy.
Lily picked up one of the berries and spun it on her fingers, in a way quite like a basketball. James watched, transfixed as she plucked the top off and tossed the berry up to catch it in her mouth. She looked over at him and arched an eyebrow, so it appeared over the frame of her glasses.
Taking it as a challenge, James picked up one of his own berries and tossed it in the air. It hit him in the nose and rolled down his chest. His reflexes were quick enough to catch it, but he still felt the blood rush to his cheeks.
Lily laughed at him, perfect lips stretching to reveal a perfect row of teeth.
James set his basket on the center console next to the stick shift and turned the key in the engine. "You want me to take you back to the city?" he asked.
"Yeah." Lily gave him an address. He whipped out of the spot, nearly hitting a man in a pickup truck. James gave the guy a casual wave as he yelled obscenities at them.
For James, the buildings of the city were approaching too quickly. The way they were towering over the surrounding fields gave him a sense of foreboding. Before they reached Lily's apartment, he needed to say something to her. Professing his love seemed to be a little too much. But he needed to get her number at the very least. Preferably, a date but her number would suffice.
James looked at her for a second and when he returned his focus to the road, they were at the outskirts of the city. Lily started to point out turns and they wove through the maze of streets. James had to parallel park the car on Lily's block, fortunately that was something he was good at.
The two of them sat in silence for a few seconds that felt like an eternity to James. He needed to say something, right now would be preferable, but he could not make the words appear. Usually he had the opposite problem. The words would not stop coming and he would make a fool of himself.
As a distraction, he looked around the neighborhood. He had always wanted to live in one of these older stone buildings rather than in a modern complex where he shared an apartment with Sirius. Even the sidewalks were nicer, laid in brick rather than straight concrete with trees arching overhead. James liked it. A lot.
Lily tried to pass the other two containers of strawberries back to him, not that there were many left. She had been eating them for the entire drive back. He shook his head. He still could not speak, but he had bought them for her.
"Thanks," she said as she opened the car door. James felt like he was about to throw up. The perfect girl was about to walk out of his life for the second time, and he could not make himself do anything to stop it. What were the chances that they would ever meet again? Very slim.
She closed the car door and turned to lean her hip against it, so she was facing him. "Hey, Potter? We should do this again."
James nodded mutely. He completely agreed. He also knew that he should say something. "The jumping-into-the-car thing or the strawberry thing?"
Lily did not answer his question, instead setting the berries on the hood. She reached into the car to grab his hand and pull it over to her. She produced a sharpie from her pocket and pulled the cap off with her teeth. James was stretched unnaturally and very uncomfortably across the console, the stick shift digging into his ribs, but he was not about to complain when Lily started writing on his arm.
She let go of his arm and returned the sharpie to her pocket. James could not keep the grin off his face when he saw a phone number scrawled across his arm.
"Oh, I definitely will."
"See you James." She turned to walk down the sidewalk to one of the entrances in the middle of the block. After she unlocked the door, she waved at him. He returned the wave and watched as she disappeared into the building.
He put her number into his phone - not that it was going to come off his arm for a few days – and pulled out of the parking spot. He could not wait to tell Sirius what had happened.