Who: Mandy Brocklehurst, Stephen Cornfoot
Where: Smith Manor
When: 30 November 2001, after Gavin’s confession at the Blue Moon Ball
Mandy was feeling a bit dazed. She’d just seen Gavin Orpington tearfully confess to murdering his uncle and then be taken into custody by Henry Radford and dragged off presumably to the DMLE. They’d all seen it. Somehow, after seven months, she’d begun to think they’d never know who was the killer in their midst.
And she certainly hadn’t thought it would be someone who had been making romantic overtures towards her!
She glanced at Stephen when he appeared by her side and let out a heavy sigh. “I was dancing with him less than an hour ago.”
Stephen sighed and wrapped a friendly arm around Mandy’s shoulders. A few days ago, he would not have planned for the evening like this. Things always seemed to change quickly in Helga’s Hill.
His jaw tightened as he nodded. “Yes, you were.” Now that Gavin had confessed to killing Orpington, Stephen’s biological father, he was hoping to move on to better things in his life. “Seems stupid to think I was jealous of him less than an hour ago.”
Mandy tilted her head at Stephen in confusion. “Why on earth would you have been jealous of Gavin? We’ve talked about this, Ste. Legally, you’ve got the better claim to the inheritance. He might have tied it up in the courts for years, yes, but you would have gotten it all eventually.”
He chuckled softly, shaking his head. “You know, the inheritance wasn’t as great as everyone seems to think it was.” There were a lot of invisible strings attached to being an Orpington, too. The future of Calliope Heights was just one of them.
Stephen looked down at her, smiling wryly. “I was jealous because he was dancing with you.”
“With me?” Mandy asked, frowning. “But you’ve danced with me several times already. Don’t be silly.”
“Yes,” Stephen said with a longing sort of sigh. “And I wish that I could have danced with you all evening. I was going to invite you to the ball, but then you organised this group outing before I could ask.” Not strictly true — there had been plenty of time for him to ask, yet he’d hesitated for so long that the time had nearly run out.
“I— What??” Mandy sputtered. “You wanted to ask Sally-Anne!”
Surely that was who he’d meant when he said the person he’d wanted to ask had made other plans, right? Mandy had never for a second imagined that he meant her. She’d already gotten burned by going down that road when he’d asked for baking lessons.
A rather goofy smile crept onto her face. “Didn’t you?”
“I never said that. Sally-Anne’s nice and all, but… no.” Stephen grimaced slightly. “I even asked Michael if it would be a good idea to ask you out. Michael.” He laughed. “Merlin, you’ve been all I can think about lately. Seeing Gavin flirt with you was excruciating.”
Mandy blinked. And then she blinked some more. And then she blinked even more. Because in all the time that she’d been mad about Stephen Cornfoot, he’d never even remotely seemed to return the sentiment. Not really. Not outside of her misreading thing and daydreaming a little too hard. And… what?!
“Well, I’d much rather you flirt with me than Gavin,” she blurted out before she could stop herself.
“Yeah?” Stephen smiled, a weight lifting from his shoulders and chest. Thoughts of Gavin slipped from his mind, as well they should when Mandy was looking at him like that. “Good. I mean, that’s great. Really great.” His arm slid a little lower into a less friendly territory.
He couldn’t help but laugh. “Merlin, I wish I could ask you to dance again.”
“You can ask me another time,” Mandy said, grinning up at him in a totally besotted manner that she usually had to hide in order to keep him from realizing exactly how she felt about him. “Anytime you like.”
“Alright. I will.” She’d never looked at him like that before, Stephen thought, but he liked it. There was probably a similar sort of expression on his own face, he realised.
“Want me to walk you home?”
“Yes,” Mandy said quickly with an enthusiastic nod. She quickly scolded herself for being so lame and ordered herself to calm down. “I mean, sure. That’d be nice.”
“Then let’s get out of here,” Stephen said, giving her a gentle squeeze. They walked in silence for a few long moments, during which he tried to process this small shift in their relationship. Or maybe it was more than small. Maybe it was monumental. Whatever it was, it felt good.
He glanced down at her. “So, Mandy, if I asked you out on a real date, what do you think you might say?”
“I’d say yes,” Mandy said, thankful for the darkness that hid her blush. “Honestly, Stephen, I’ve wanted you to ask me for years.”
She knew she probably ought to play it cool, but it was almost impossible to flat out lie to Ste.
“Years?” Stephen echoed. “Really? And I never noticed? I’m really thick, aren’t I?” He waved his hand, trying to sweep away that statement. “On second thought, don’t answer that. I know I’m a bit dense.” Michael hadn’t noticed it either, he realised. That gave him just the smallest amount of comfort.
“Do you want to have dinner tomorrow? At my place? Just the two of us. I’ll even do all the cooking.”
Mandy smiled. He wasn’t thick. Not at all. She’d done her best to hide it from him, after all. But she wasn’t going to tell him that right now. Maybe another time.
“I’d love that,” she said, ducking her head a bit shyly. “Shall I bring something? Some wine? Dessert?”
Even in the dark, Stephen could make out her cute smile. He felt better and better by the second, as though this was washing away the worst parts of this year so far. “No. Just bring yourself and I’ll be happy. I’ll handle everything else.” He’d been wanting to show off a few things for a while.
“Well, all right,” Mandy said with a faux sigh. “I suppose I can stand to be pampered for the evening if you absolutely insist.”
“Yeah, I insist. I know that putting up with my cooking is hard work, but someone has to do it. Might as well be you. I’ll make sure there’s plenty of wine, so I’m sure we’ll survive.” A date. With Mandy. How terrifying but also thrilling.
The Brocklehurst home was far too close for Stephen’s liking when he was enjoying the walk so much. Stopping outside the house, he stood a little awkwardly in front of her, rubbing his neck as he considered his course of action.
“I know we’re not at the ball any more,” he said carefully, “but do you think all the good luck stuff still counts?”
“Yes, I think so,” said Mandy after a moment’s contemplation in very certain, Ravenclaw-ish tones. “The tradition is about kissing under the moon, not at the ball, really. It isn’t like Helga Hufflepuff met her husband at the ball since the ball didn’t exist yet.”
In for a knut, in for a galleon.
“So if I kissed you,” Stephen said, gently taking Mandy’s hand, “we could theoretically live happily ever after?”
“Yes,” Mandy whispered, completely breathless. “Yes, I think we could.”
“I wouldn’t mind a little happily ever after.” Stephen lowered his head, closing the distance between them until he could tentatively press his lips to hers.
“Neither would I,” she breathed just before his lips met hers.
It was like something out of a fairy tale. Or off the wireless. Or from the Muggle cinema. Kissing Stephen was everything that Mandy had daydreamed it would be and then some.
So she pushed herself up onto her tiptoes and deepened the kiss just on the off chance that she was about to wake up.
Stephen wrapped his free arm around her waist, tugging her just a little closer. Her lips were beautifully soft beneath his and he wondered why they’d never done this before when it felt so natural and right.
When he finally pulled back, it was only just enough so that he could see her face as he smiled at her. “I don’t want to say good night,” he admitted quietly.
“Me either, but we have to,” Mandy said, with a bit of a blush. She could hardly invite him in where her father and stepmother and little sister and Daisy Radford were all lurking. “But I’ll see you tomorrow night?”
She pressed another kiss to his lips. “We can do more of this then, yeah?”
Stephen nodded, stealing another kiss and wanting to draw this out for as long as possible. “Definitely. I’ll see you tomorrow. Is six o’clock okay?”
“Sounds perfect,” Mandy agreed. One last kiss followed because she couldn’t help herself, but then she all but forced herself to pull away and open her front door. “Goodnight, Stephen.”
A good night didn’t begin to cover it, really, she thought as she closed the door behind her and leaned back against it with a delighted sigh. It was the best night she could have possibly imagined.