Who: Astoria Greengrass, Cary Robards
Where: 6 Helga’s Hill Road, then elsewhere
When: 14 November 2001, afternoon
At long last — three days — Cary had his motorcycle back, but he now owed three of friends enormous favours. He had wanted them to name their price before they helped, but Heidi was indecisive and he had needed their assistance badly enough. He could count on Andrei not to ask for anything demanding but not the girls. Oh well. It was an issue for another time.
Right he was leant against the front gate, waiting for Astoria to appear.
Astoria thought surprises were nice in theory — romantic, even — but in actuality they were a bit frustrating, because how was a girl supposed to know what to wear? Especially where Cary was concerned, and the surprise could very well involve the outdoors, and even — ugh, she wouldn’t be surprised — the motorbike.
After a good deal of deliberation she finally settled on a set of simple navy robes and a reasonably comfortable but stylish pair of black button-up boots. She slipped a nice pair of earrings into her pocket just in case Cary was taking her somewhere a bit more upscale — but she sighed as she did so, figuring that wasn’t likely.
As she walked to meet him she found herself weighing, yet again, the pros and cons of this arrangement. Pro: kissing. Con: Heidi MacDonald being a nosy bint about it. Pro: having dates to get dressed up for. Con: dates might involve motorbike. She was frowning with concentration as she turned it over in her mind, but her expression softened when she spotted him, and she hurried the last few steps to him.
“Hello,” she said, leaning in demurely for a kiss. She was a bit late, from all of that debating over her outfit, but she’d been taught that was a lady’s prerogative.
“Hello, sweetheart,” said Cary. He slipped his arms around her. “What to see what I’ve got in store?”
“Well that depends what it is, doesn’t it?” Astoria replied pertly. “Am I dressed appropriately for the occasion?” She stepped out of his embrace to give him a little twirl, hoping to be admired.
“You are always dressed appropriately,” said Cary, who couldn’t have cared less about fashion. If Astoria had turned up in a ball gown his plans would’ve remained unchanged.
“Come with me.” He took her hand and lead her toward the backyard, where the motorcycle was parked. Cary had given it a polish and boy did it look shiny. It was almost cute. Least he hoped Astoria would think so.
A compliment would’ve been nice, Astoria thought with a pout as she followed Cary to the big reveal. “Oh. The famous motorbike,” she observed flatly once it was in sight. She had to admit, it looked much better than it had when he’d dredged it out of the lake. But she still didn’t really understand the appeal of something so bulky and… Muggle-y.
Part of her wanted to withhold a compliment because he hadn’t said anything about how nice she looked, but then she heard her mother’s voice in her head, reminding her to “take an interest in his interests.” Of course, she probably hadn’t intended for that advice to apply to Cary Robards but, it was good practice all the same.
“It’s very… shiny,” she said politely, running her hand over the chrome and leather. “Have you ridden it yet?”
“No,” said Cary with a sigh. “My father found it despite all the invisibility charms I put on it and raced it on the Isle of Man. He said he broke the Muggle lap record but I don’t believe him. It’s only a cafe racer.”
He patted the seat and grinned at Astoria brightly. “Come on, let’s go for a spin.”
“Me?” Astoria responded, taking an involuntary step back. “Do you know how?” She looked at it more closely now, suspiciously, like she was trying to make sure it was safe. And of course it wasn’t, it was all just bits and bobs stuck together, without magic, and it could fall apart at any moment. How did it even go?
“Well I’m coming along, too,” said Cary. “You probably don’t know how to steer… yet.” He cast a charm on it before releasing the kickstand. The bike stayed upright. “See? Perfectly safe.” He gave it a push just to prove his point. The bike swayed to one side before bouncing back up.
Well, that made Astoria feel much better. She bit her lip, but the nodded. “Alright. Do you…?” She took a step closer to the motorbike but then gestured to it feebly, not quite sure how they were supposed to mount it. Oh dear, her robes really weren’t very practical for this, but then, it wasn’t as though she owned anything that would be practical for riding a motorbike.
“Just swing your leg over,” said Cary. He did so and gestured for her to do likewise. “Then put your arms around my waist.”
With some awkward bundling of her skirts, Astoria managed. It didn’t feel very dignified. At least he couldn’t see her, as she snuggled in behind him. “Not too fast, alright?” she asked, resting her chin on his shoulder.
“Nah, of course not,” he said breezily. “Nice and leisurely. Like floating down a river.” He revved the engine. Not a very quiet river, it had to be said. They trundled down the path and narrowly missed scraping the fence on the way out.
“Where would you like to go? Town Square? Make all your friends jealous.”
Astoria couldn’t help but squeak when the engine came to life, and fortunately her eyes were closed tight when they veered close to the fence. But when a few seconds passed and she realized she was still alive, she opened them and realized, This wasn’t so bad. She relaxed her grip on Cary, but only slightly, because squeezing him was rather nice. “Take me somewhere we can buy chocolate,” she pronounced, leaning in close to his ear to be heard over the engine and wind. “I deserve it for being a good sport.”
Cary took that as a sign of approval and kicked the speed up. They drove down the road toward Town Square. Cary couldn’t see any ‘no motorcycles allowed’ signs and took it to mean he totally could ride onto the square itself. “Ooh, let’s leap over the fountain!”
He roared toward the wall of water and did a sharp swerve at the last minute. “Nope, only kidding.”
Astoria’s heart had been in her throat. She didn’t put anything past Cary and he’d gone just close enough to make her think they’d really try to leap it. “That isn’t funny!” she yelped, smacking him on the shoulder. So much for being a good sport.
“OK, OK, I’ll be good,” said Cary, glad that she couldn’t see him grin. God, it was fun to push her buttons. Irresistible, even. “Are you alright, darling?” he asked, once they had slowed to a comfortable speed. They were practically idling now, the balancing charm he’d put on it keeping the bike upright. Maybe it was too early for his next trick; look, no hands.
“Would you like to go for a hot drink?”
Sometimes she liked it when Cary teased her, but lately, she was just tired of being teased. She’d been happy for a while, when they first started dating, but she was happy less and less often it seemed. “I’m alright,” she said unconvincingly. “Maybe let’s ride a little longer, if you won’t do anything wild. Fast and straight,” she instructed, and even risked releasing her grasp on him with one hand to point straight ahead down the road. But she quickly wrapped both arms around him again, because she didn’t trust him not to do just the opposite of what she’d asked.
Cary did as he was instructed. They were riding out of Helga’s Hill now toward… well, he didn’t know where, but it hardly mattered, did it? He assumed they would come across another little town soon and they could stop there.
“Do you want a go? It’s not hard and maybe you’d like being in control and not subject to my whims.”
“No, keep going. Faster.” Astoria pronounced, leaning forward so she could feel the wind sting her cheeks. Unfortunately, the wind also took this opportunity to whip her hair into Cary’s face, threatening to obscure his vision.
Cary made a face of surprise but complied. “Faster it is, the lady has spoken.” They roared through the countryside. “Enjoying the view?”
“Of the back of your neck?” Astoria teased. It seemed like a good time to give it a nibble.
“Well if you’d only relax a bit you could—” Cary swerved off the road. He managed to right the bike onto a dirt path through a lumpy field. “Astoria!”
This time Astoria just laughed. “If I’d only relax then what?”
“Then you might see a view,” said Cary through gritted teeth. He wasn’t watching and the bike hit a grassy knoll. The impact threw them both off a short distance. Cary rolled a few times before stopping. He immediately got to his feet. “Astoria!”
Astoria hit the ground hard and had the wind knocked out of her. Shakily she raised herself onto her elbows but didn’t dare risk trying to get to her feet just yet. Even in her shock, she registered a note of approval for how urgently Cary had called out for her.
“I’m alright,” she said, a bit uncertainly, sitting up. She frowned when she saw her robes were somewhat worse for the wear, but it was nothing a few mending charms couldn’t take care of.
Cary ran to her side and dropped to his knees. “Are you sure?” he asked. “I don’t believe you’ve ever crashed off a motorbike before.”
“I certainly haven’t!” Astoria agreed quickly, as though being the sort of person who frequently got in motorcycle accidents could be considered a character flaw. She winced a bit as she shifted to better face Cary. “I’m going to have bruises,” she observed, gesturing toward where she’d landed rather hard on her right hip. “But really I think I’m alright.” She held out her hands to invite him to inspect her for injuries.
“Bruises are alright,” said Cary. “It’s broken bones that you don’t want. Though since you’re not raining curses upon me right now I’m going to guess that you haven’t broken anything.”
He took an enormously deep breath and put his hand on Astoria’s shoulder. “Darling, I’m sorry.”
It really was nice to have him fret over her a bit. Sometimes he was like a proper boyfriend. And the trouble was that whenever she thought maybe she ought to break things off, she’d remember how he could be very sweet sometimes, and there wasn’t anyone else around who seemed to want to fret over her and call her darling. So she put her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek to show all was forgiven. Almost.
“Do you know what you can do now?” she asked sweetly, although it wasn’t so much a question as a lead-in to a series of demands. “You can take me home, and draw me a bath, and make me a hot cocoa. Oh and pop into Heaven Scent to get me more bubble bath.” She was still avoiding the place, and wished she’d thought to stock up on Dream Clean before quitting.
Oh, she was so milking it. There was barely a scratch on her. But Cary did not roll his eyes because he wasn’t an idiot. “As you wish,” he replied. He put an arm under her legs and picked her up. “I’m just going to carry you up to the road, OK? I need to see a street sign so I can come back and get the bike later.” He glanced over at it. Well, it’d been in a river for the last few months, sitting in a field for a few minutes wouldn’t kill it.
“And then we’ll go home and I’ll take up a quiet hobby like knitting instead. But only if it’s competitive.”
Astoria was thrilled to be carried. If she’d been a cat, she would have purred. From now on, whenever Cary was being annoying and making her do something athletic or outdoorsy, maybe she should just throw herself in harm’s way, so he could redeem himself by being her protector. “I would trounce you at competitive knitting,” she observed dreamily. “If you’re nice, maybe I’ll bake you something.”
“Competitive knitting is much too dangerous for you,” remarked Cary. “Someone could take your eye out with a needle, then I’d have to take their eye out as revenge, and then everyone will end up blind.” He looked down the road and took note of the motorway sign. “And I’m always nice,” he said, getting the last word in before they left Pontypool.
Ew, Astoria didn’t think talking about blinding people was very ‘nice.’ She sighed. He wasn’t perfect, but at least it was nice to be held.