Hazel and Holly — Haunted Heart
Previous: Homeward Heart
Hazel stood near the fire in the common room. The hour was late, and she suspected everyone else slept, except for that creepy innkeeper, of course. Every now and then he would appear, fluff the pillows on the armchairs near the fire, all while grinning at her and not saying a word. It was unsettling and Hazel would glower at him, but the man seemed unconcerned with her displeasure.
She walked to the bookshelf and perused the odd selection.What kinds of books were these? Pressed Woodsprites that Impress; Seasonal Beverages for the Lunar Touched, and, her favorite, From Melting Faces to Melting Cheese: How to Turn Your Culinary Mishaps into Appetizers that Dazzle. Against her better judgment, she pulled that last title from the shelf. She cracked open the book to a page with a wood etching of a cook brandishing a club at a cornered rat.
“Hazel?” Hemlock said.
Hazel slammed the book shut and returned it to its place.
“What are you still doing up?” he said.
“I’m not tired,” she said, trying to get the image from the book out of her mind. Then she eyed him. “I could ask the same of you. You’re not even dressed for bed.”
Hemlock looked down at his clothes, still rumpled from the long journey. “Ah, yes. I thought I’d leave a note for our host regarding breakfast. It might make things easier.”
Hazel peered at the sheet of paper in his hand and suppressed a grimace. “Just make sure there’s not any meat. Or cheese.”
Hemlock opened his mouth but snapped it shut again. He nodded and sat on the edge of the sofa, pulled out a pencil from his pocket and, using the tea table as a desk, began striking out long passages of whatever it was he had written.
She sat down next to him while staring into the fire.
Hemlock glanced at her as he made amendments to his list. “Something troubling you?”
Hazel shook her head. “What do you think we’ll find when we get there? To Sarnum.”
He paused writing. “Hopefully we’ll find Ash. That’s the plan, anyway.”
“And since when does anything in life ever go according to plan?”
He tilted his head, scribbled something else and then set down the pencil. He turned towards her. “What do you think we’ll find?”
She shook her head and looked away.
Keeping her gaze fixed on the fire, she said, “I’m afraid I’ll find that my father and I aren’t all that different.”
She shook her head. “No, it’s really not.” She let out a breath and rose from the sofa. “I should go to bed.”
Hemlock rose with her. “Wait.” He took her hand. “You are not alone in this, Hazel. Whatever we find.”
Hazel’s heart quickened as she looked down at his hand holding hers. She swallowed. “It’s late, Hemlock.”
He lingered a moment before letting go. “Of course.”
Unable to look at him, Hazel turned and hurried upstairs. She passed painted black doors without really seeing them. Somehow she managed to stumble to hers, jerk it open, and dart inside.
She was such a fool. What had she been thinking, spending so much time with him? It had all seemed so harmless, so safe. But it wasn’t. It never would be. She had been out of her mind in letting herself care for him. After everything that had happened. She’d been so worried about not becoming like her father, she had failed to notice that she was becoming like her mother.
Hazel had vowed never to make Willow’s mistakes. It wasn’t too late. Nothing hadn’t been done that couldn’t be undone. She’d undo it tomorrow.
The night was long. Hazel hadn’t known about the bear theme in her room, and now, lying in bed with the covers pulled to her chin, it unsettled her. There were bear heads on the wall, a bear rug, a bear leg trash bin, and a paw with long black claws on the writing desk, though why it was there, Hazel certainly didn’t know. She wanted to go downstairs and request a different room, but she didn’t want to risk running into Hemlock, and so she stayed.
By the time dawn started to peek through the heavy, fur-patterned curtains, Hazel was already dressed and packed. She ventured out into the hallway and knocked on Holly’s door.
“Holly? Wake up. We’re leaving early.” She waited but was met with silence. She sighed. Waking Holly was always a near-impossible feat. She opened the door and walked over to the bed and shook the form burrowed under the covers.
“Honestly, Holly, just this once couldn’t you wake up without me having to drag you out of bed?”
The covers pulled back and Hawthorn blinked up at her, his glamor gone and his lined face puffy with sleep. He sat up, pulling the blankets up to his bare chest along with him. “I am not dragged anywhere madame. It is far too early, and far too filthy a task.” He sniffed.
Hazel jerked back. “Where’s Holly?”
“How should I know? Do you see her here? I’ve not pinned her to the walls like so many butterflies, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Hazel frowned. She hurried out of the room and into the hallway. “Holly! Where are you?” She returned to the room just in time to see Hawthorn’s bare ass as he got out of bed. She reeled back and covered her eyes, unable to prevent herself from emitting a disgusted sound. “Are you naked?”
“Of course I’m naked. Only heathens sleep while clothed. It goes against nature, the very core of our existence.”
Hazel took a deep breath and, still covering her eyes, said, “Where is Holly?”
“I told you, she’s not here.”
“Where is she?!”
“Great Grandfather’s Ashes, woman, you’ll wake the dead. I gave her my room, as she didn’t find this one to her liking. Why don’t you go check there?”
Hazel staggered out and walked to Hawthorn’s room. At least she thought it was his room. She’d find out, soon enough. She yanked open the door, sparing only a fleeting hope that it wasn’t Hemlock’s room.
The walls were papered in a lily pattern, with vases of lilies on the end tables and desk, and a little pot of potpouri simmering over the hearth. Hazel felt a passing twinge of envy that she hadn’t been given this room as she walked over to the bed. She gently pulled back the covers, saw Holly’s golden hair, then ripped the blankets entirely off of her and dumped them on the floor.
“Get up,” she said. “We’re leaving.”
Holly groaned and reached for the blankets, but her hands found only air and the bare mattress.
Hazel opened the drawers in the dresser but found men’s clothes. She eyed Holly, and sure enough her sister was wearing a man’s long shirt. “Are you wearing Hawthorn’s clothes?”
Holly sat up, frowning and blinking at her. “What?”
“Why are you wearing Hawthorn’s clothes?”
Holly blinked some more and then looked down at herself. She giggled. “Oh. Yeah. My clothes are still in Hawthorn’s room. I mean my room, that’s now Hawthorn’s. And his clothes are here, so I borrowed a shirt.” She snuggled down into it, burrowing her nose in the collar. “It still smells like him.”
“Take it off and get dressed. We’re leaving.”
“It’s not even light out.”
“Dawn’s broken, it’s light enough. Get dressed, I’ll not say it again.” She marched out of the room and nearly collided with Hemlock.
Her cheeks turned hot, but she resisted the urge to look away.
“Is everything all right?” he said. “I heard shouting.” He wore a purple and black evening robe over what looked to be matching pyjamas.
Feeling the heat creep down her neck, Hazel stiffened her back and said, “Holly and I are leaving.”
Hemlock raised his eyebrows. “So early? Has something happened?”
“No, I’d just prefer to get this unpleasantness over with.”
He nodded. “All right. Hawthorn and I will get dressed at once, and then we’ll be on our way.”
She shook her head. “No, thank you, Hemlock. For everything. But I think it’s best that we go alone. This is, after all, a family matter.”
Hemlock frowned as he studied her. “Does this have something to do with last night?”
Holly poked her head out the door; she still wore Hawthorn’s shirt. “What happened last night?”
“Nothing,” Hazel said. “Go get dressed.”
“Don’t you think you’re overreacting?” Hemlock said.
“This has nothing to do with last night,” Hazel said.
Holly bounced out into the hallway with them. She clapped her hands. “Something happened? What happened? Did you kiss?”
“No,” Hazel said. To Hemlock, she added, “You flatter yourself, but as I said, this is a family matter.”
“Is someone kissing?” Hawthorn said as he wandered towards them. He also wore a purple and black robe that matched Hemlock’s.
“Hazel and Hemlock kissed!” Holly said as she bounced up to him.
“Nobody’s kissed!” Hazel shouted.
“What are you afraid of, Hazel?” Hemlock said.
“I’m not afraid. I told you, it’s–”
“‘A family matter.’ So you said, but I don’t believe you.”
Hazel raised her chin. “You can believe whatever you want. I don’t care.” She started to walk past him but stopped when he grabbed her hand.
“I held your hand, Hazel. Like this. Nothing else. I didn’t ask anything of you, other than to remain near you. Why does that frighten you so much? Because, up until last night, I think you’ve enjoyed my company just as much as I’ve enjoyed yours.”
Holly clasped her hands and sighed.
Hazel went rigid. She wanted to pull away, but she dared not. She didn’t want to prove him right, or let him think she was afraid. She looked him in the eyes and, hardening her heart, said, “Keeping your company was an obligation. The usefulness of that obligation has now come to an end and I see no reason to keep up the pretense.”
Hemlock flinched, then his face took on a stony calm and he let go of her hand. “I see. Well, I will certainly not keep you.” He walked away.
Hazel swallowed as her stomach wrenched in a sickening way. She had to stop herself from turning to look at him. It was better this way. It was always going to end badly between them–how could it not? Better to end it now and get it over with. Better to end it on her terms and not his.
Hawthorn followed his brother down the hall as Holly lingered behind with Hazel.
“Are you an idiot?” Holly hissed. “What’s wrong with you?”
Hazel swallowed again and shook her head. When she could, she said, “Get dressed. I’ll wait for you downstairs.”
Next: Fasting Friendship