Chapter 12 – In the Palm of Your Freezing Hand
I don’t like a gold rush
I don’t like anticipating my face in a red flush
I don’t like that anyone would die to feel your touch
Everybody wants you
Everybody wonders what it would be like to love you
gold rush, Taylor Swift
Cassiah couldn’t decide where to look. She was vaguely aware of the sounds of Harry and Dean splashing in the water, but she could barely register it over the sound of her own heartbeat in her ears.
It wasn’t like she was embarrassed to be jumping into the lake naked. The dare itself felt pretty benign to him – she’d known exactly what she was agreeing to when she started to play. What she had failed to consider was how being naked in Ron’s proximity would make her feel.
She remembered the first time he’d seen her naked. The memory made tears prick in the corners of her eyes. He’d looked at her with such wonder, like she was the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen.
Their first time together was, unfortunately, neither of their first times, but it had been the first time for both of them that was actually meaningful – the first time with someone they cared about, and not a random drunk hookup.
He’d been hovering over her, visibly shaking with nerves as he stripped her clothes off of her in a flurry. His eyes had gone as big as saucers at the sight of her bare chest in front of him, his to touch. Cassiah had felt so beautiful in that moment, feeling Ron’s hands running up and down her naked body appreciatively, his gaze heavy.
The sex had lasted all of forty-five seconds before Ron was above her, stammering awkwardly over his words and apologizing profusely. Cassiah couldn’t have cared less, however, because he’d given her something nobody else ever had. She’d never had someone look at her that way during sex before – like she mattered; like she meant something. Sure, they’d looked at her body, but he’d looked at her. It was the first time she had never gotten before, and she was so glad to have shared that moment with him. No amount of stamina or orgasms could compare to the feeling of warmth she felt in her chest (although Ron had made up for it by using his unbeatably skilled tongue).
Sure, they hadn’t said I love you yet at that point, but she could feel the difference. There was something there. As much as she denied it, it was never going to be just a hookup between the two of them. It had always felt serious between the two of them; special, like the beginning of something magnificent and all-consuming and inevitable.
And now Cassiah was going to be naked in front of him again, but this time, he wouldn’t be staring at her with wonder in his eyes. She wondered if he’d even look at her at all.
Fuck it, she thought to herself. If she didn’t strip now, she’d be the last one standing and all the attention would be on her.
She peeled off her sweater and then her long-sleeve, instantly feeling the goose bumps spread over her body. The wind was strong down by the water than it was on the hill where the others were waiting, biting into her skin and creating goosebumps. She took off her boots and socks, and then shuffled out of her leggings, too.
“Are you leaving your underwea–” she started to say, turning to Ron to ask the question, but it died in her throat when she saw him. He was standing there, removing his sweater so that he was standing in just his boxers. His back muscles flexed as he struggled with the fabric.
Cassiah couldn’t look away. She’d missed this: his freckled shoulders, his bulging arms, and the little layer of chub on his stomach that was always there despite the constant exercise he did for Quidditch. He was still the most mouth-watering man she’d ever seen in her life.
“What’d you say?” he called, not having heard her over the wind. He turned his head to face her as he did and their eyes met, standing there by the water in nothing but their underwear with no one around. It didn’t go unnoticed the way his eyes raked over his body. That made her feel hot all over.
They stood there just staring at each other for what felt simultaneously like forever and no time at all.
“I-I asked if we were meant to leave our underwear on,” Cassiah repeated, suddenly feeling self-conscious under his drunken gaze and folding her arms over her stomach.
“I reckon we take it off,” Ron replied, clearing his throat awkwardly and scratching at his shoulder. The muscles in his arms flexed and Cassiah forced herself to look away.
“Okay, yeah,” she nodded, “Of course. So, I guess I’ll just...”
She undid the clasp of her bra and slipped it off and then bent down to step out of her underwear. She didn’t dare to glance in his direction.
She stepped up to the edge where land met water and gulped. The dark water churned below her, promising an icy cold that would chill her to her bones.
“You have to just jump. If you dip your toe in or some shit, you’re gonna make it so much harder,” Ron’s gruff voice sounded from a few feet away.
And she dove in, head-first.
So cold that it almost felt hot.
And then she surfaced. The first thing she heard was Ron shrieking “Bloody hell!” in a high-pitched and decidedly emasculating voice. Cassiah couldn’t help but agree. That was like ice. However, she couldn’t resist, so she reached out and splashed him, cold water pouring over the back of his head.
Ron wheeled around, and Cassiah giggled at the way his red hair was plastered to his forehead, half-covering his eyes. “You did not just do that!” She might’ve believed that he was actually made if he wasn’t grinning ear to ear.
He disappeared under the water in a flurry of feet and splashed. Cassiah knew what was coming, but she shivered in anticipation as she was not able to see where he was in the dark water.
She barely had time to register the feeling of his hand wrapped around her ankle before he was yanking her back under. She thrashed to get out of his grasp, and they both resurfaced, laughing wildly and exchanging more small splashes.
Cassiah was in the middle of reaching out to push Ron’s head under the water when their eyes met, and the moment died as quickly as it had started. She was suddenly very aware of their nakedness and her proximity to Ron, and the others watching up on the hill.
Ron cleared his throat, wiping away the water that was dripping off his nose and mouth. “I, uh, I reckon we should probably get out before we get hypothermia or something.”
Yeah, or something.
Cassiah laughed, relieved for the excuse, “Yeah, for sure.”
She watched as Ron swam over to the edge of the lake. He effortlessly hoisted himself up and out of the water, giving Cassiah a glorious display of his back muscles with water dripping off of him as he did so. She forced herself to divert her eyes as the rest of him emerged from the water.
Cassiah followed Ron over to the edge and put her hands on the wet grass, preparing to hoist herself up.
Except she couldn’t. It was way too high up. Why hadn’t she thought of this before jumping in? She knew she was the upper body strength of a ninety-year-old. Cassiah was just starting to spiral into a state of humiliation and panic when a big, meaty, freckled hand appeared in front of her face. She followed the hand up to a pale, freckly arm, to broad shoulders, and finally to the owner’s face. He was smiling softly down at her.
“I’ve got you,” he said quietly, and he gripped onto her arm and started hoisting her up.
Cassiah blushed at her own helplessness, but also at the fact that more and more of her body was being revealed from the water. “I know this was just an opportunity for you to look at my tits,” she joked, but her voice was barely above a whisper and entirely unconfident.
Ron’s eyes grew wide and then dropped down to her chest before he quickly averted them anywhere else. “Oh, fuck off, Cassie,” he chuckled, “Was I supposed to just leave you here?”
He easily pulled her out of the water and placed her back onto the land. Cassiah flopped ungracefully onto the grass, but thankfully, Ron wasn’t watching. He’d quickly turned away from her the moment he’d put her down for some reason.
Cassiah quickly got to her feet and strode over to where her clothes were waiting for her, ready to cover herself up and finally be freed of this frigid cold. As she dressed, she heard the nearby sound of Ron hopping about, struggling to get his wet thighs into his jeans. She smiled to herself, fighting back a laugh.
That is, she was smiling until she went to put her sweater on over her long-sleeve and found that it was completely soaked and covered in mud. She picked up the sweater, face burning with anger, and turned to where Harry and Dean were getting their shoes on a couple of yards away.
“Which one of you gits dripped all over my sweater?” she questioned, knowing that her tone was harsh enough to scare the boys.
Harry hesitantly raised his hand, cowering under her stony gaze. “I’m really sorry, Cassiah. I-It was an accident, I swear,” he promised.
Cassiah shook her head, deciding not to push the issue further. The combination of the remaining water on her skin and her wet braid dripping down her back had already soaked her shirt, and she couldn’t help but let her teeth chatter. She looked down and her fingers were turning purple, just like they always did in the cold. She made quick work of tying her shoes, happy for the opportunity to duck her head so that the boys wouldn’t see her tearing up over something so stupid. She knew it wasn’t a big deal, but the walk back to the castle was so far and she was so freezing that her skin hurt.
“Here,” she heard a quiet, raspy voice say from behind her shoulder. She looked over her shoulder at the source of the sound and found Ron standing there still shirtless and dripping, his eyes so big and caring, and holding out his sweater – his only shirt he had with him.
Cassiah rose to her feet to loosely hold his hand. She couldn’t tell if it was actually warm, or just warmer than hers, which she knew felt like ice from the way he’d recoiled slightly at her touch. “Ron, I can’t take that. You’ll freeze,” she replied.
“Like how you’re freezing now?” he asked gently, and Cassiah felt her heart break at the caring and sweetness of his voice. She loved Ron and his big, old heart so much. “Besides, I’m fine. You know me, I run hot. I’m practically sweating,” he insisted, but Cassiah knew he was lying from the way he was shivering.
She also knew Ron well enough to know that he wasn’t going to back down from this. The reason being friends with him was so hard and so painful was because sometimes he did this; he acted like he did when they were together when he would do anything to make sure she was comfortable.
“Thank you, Ron,” she said earnestly, reaching out to take the soft, warm sweater from his hands, “You’re too nice.” She pulled the sweater on over her head and instantly, she felt warmer. It was big on her, the hem falling down over her thighs and the sleeves were so long on her arms that they were more like mittens.
The maroon fabric was bulky and warm, and she rubbed the soft knit of the sleeve against her cheek and sighed. Molly Weasley, who had once been starting to feel like a second mum to Cassiah, always knitted the best sweaters. When she and Ron were together, Cassiah had loved to steal them, and this one was one of her favorites – maroon with a big gold R on the front. She’d always loved that one in particular because when she was wearing it, everyone knew she was Ron’s. She ignored the harsh reality that she was no longer his and let herself sink into the warm, happy feeling of being wrapped up in this sweater...
Kind of like how she’d been ignoring her feelings for the past few days and just basking in the happiness of being in Ron’s life again.
From the moment Cassiah parted ways to head back to Slytherin, Fred and George had teased Ron the whole way to the common room for being so whipped by a girl he wasn’t even dating and giving Cassiah his only shirt. The other boys didn’t say a word, knowing that only Ron’s own brothers could get away with making fun of him over Cassie. No one else got to do that and lived to tell the tale.
He was fed up with it by the time they got back to the Gryffindor dorms, feeling the anger he hated himself for so much boiling up in his chest once again. Deep breaths, he reminded himself. He just needed to spend some time alone.
“I’m honestly really chilled,” he announced to the boys, “I’m just gonna lie down and warm up by myself if you don’t mind.” He was lying. Sure, he was a little cold, but he really just needed to decompress after the whole skinny-dipping-with-his-ex-girlfriend-in-front-of-all-his-best-mates situation.
“We all know you just wanna go jack it after seeing Cassie naked,” Seamus joked, and Ron wheeled around. He wanted to pulverize the short, Irish boy for that cheap shot but then he’d be a hypocrite because Seamus wasn’t entirely wrong. He’d been half-hard in his jeans the whole walk home just replaying the brief memory of Cassiah’s naked body on the shore and on the water. However, that didn’t make Seamus’s joke any less of a low blow.
Ron retreated back to the dorm without saying another word. It was just easier to ignore it all sometimes, he’d learned. If he didn’t engage with the little things that irritated him, it was so much easier for her to control that hot, ugly anger that lived inside him. He was getting better at it. He felt so much more in control of his emotions these days.
Once inside his dorms, he quickly changed into some warm soft pajama pants and a new sweater, delighting in the warm, cozy feeling after being out in the cold shirtless for the last twenty minutes. At least he’d saved Cassiah, though. He knew how her fingers would turn purple and her skin would hive in the cold, just like his mom.
Ron buried himself under the covers, staring up at the ceiling.
He supposed it could’ve been worse. He was watching the guys, and he was pretty sure none of them had been looking at Cassiah down by the lake – probably because they knew he wouldn’t hesitate to swing if he’d caught them. The only bad part had been when Harry and Dean had jumped in, leaving him and Cassiah standing on the shore to strip right in front of each other, alone.
Cassiah had tried to ask him a question, but he hadn’t even been able to hear it the first time because his blood was roaring so loudly in his ears. And then he’d looked over at her and bloody hell if she hadn’t looked like a goddess standing there on the grass – like an angel sent down just for him.
Or maybe not angel, considering the things he wanted to do to her at that moment were anything but holy.
They’d locked eyes and the combination of those big, innocent hazel orbs and her breasts spilling out of her bra and her cute little tummy and her long legs and her arse in a thong – he was instantly hard and throbbing, his boxers tented out in front of him. It was all Ron could do to fight the primal instinct to pin her to the grass and fuck her in front of everyone right then and there. He didn’t care about anything, he just needed her.
But then he’d noticed a change in her demeanor. Suddenly she was shy and fumbling with her arms to cover her stomach. He felt his heart drop in his chest at that. He hated how she got self-conscious when he knew she was the most beautiful person he’d ever laid eyes on. He’d spent the last year telling her so, telling her that her body was just as beautiful as she was and that she should be proud of it. How could she not see what he saw?
Ron wished he could be worthy of her. She was so extraordinary, even though she didn’t want the broadcast it to everyone like other people did. In school, she was brilliant: an excellent writer with a natural gift for academics. Physically, she was the most understatedly beautiful girl he’d ever seen. She didn’t even have to try – he even thought that she looked beautiful on days when she’d declared she looked “ugly.”
And her personality? She was endlessly selfless, giving every fiber of her being to every friendship, whether she’d known the person for six years or six days. She treated all the things of the Earth – the people, the animals, the plants – like their feelings mattered to her personally, especially the ones that seemed different or broken. Sure, she had her moments of weakness, but in general, she had the kindest soul Ron had ever met.
And he had... Well, Ron had this rage, this selfishness deep inside him. For so long, he hid it because he wanted to keep Cassiah for himself. She was the best thing that had ever happened to him. However, he couldn’t hide his volatile emotions from her for long, especially with the turmoil of their final year at Hogwarts coming and his future being so unclear. It was all too much for him, and he found himself swinging back and forth from happy to sad to angry...
He had come to the decision that Cassiah deserved better than to be on that emotional rollercoaster, no matter how much she reassured him that she wanted to be on it. And he needed to stand by that decision now, no matter how much being around Cassie as a friend made him want to be with her like before.
He knew he would be happier being friends with Cassiah than not having her in his life at all, but he was realizing that friendship with her was a little bit more difficult than he imagined, especially on days like today. He’d happily take the hard days, though, if it meant getting to take care of her like he did earlier. He’d told her he’d always be there for anything she needed when he broke up with her, and it felt good to be a good guy again, living up to his promises instead of avoiding her in the hallways.
And he was working on himself. Maybe someday he would be worthy of a girl like Cassiah, but he knew that it wouldn’t be her. She would find someone who was as good as she was, and he’d be there, as her friend, watching and knowing that he did the right thing.