Hazel and Holly — Teatime Tribulation
Previous: Aired Affections
Holly stared as Hazel set the table for tea. Hazel never set the table, and definitely never with the china painted with the little yellow flowers that had been their mother’s.
“What are you doing?” Holly said.
“Honestly, Holly, it’s not complicated. We’re having guests over. You’re always saying how we should have guests over for tea.”
“Yes, but we never do. You always say something like, ‘Who decided that drinking tea needed to be a social event?’ and then no one ever comes over. I have to invite myself to other people’s tea.” Holly poked at her hip. “I’m pretty sure Aster thinks I’m stalking her.”
“Not without reason, I’m sure. And I don’t see why you’re complaining. If you’ve wanted this to happen for so long, you should be happy.”
“I-I am. It’s just weird is all.”
“That’s never stopped you before.”
“It’s never involved you before.”
Hazel gave Holly a flat look and handed her a bundle of little lace doilies. “Here, place these on the table.”
Holly’s mouth hung open. “Doilies? You hate doilies!”
“We have company coming over, Holly. How I feel about doilies doesn’t really matter, now does it?”
Holly stared at her sister. “Who are you?” she whispered.
Hazel rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so dramatic. I can cancel the tea, you know, if you’re finding it so upsetting.”
“No!” Holly snatched the doilies from Hazel’s hand. “I’ll help.” She placed the doilies under each cup and under the teapot. Hazel placed a jar of white and purple columbine flowers in the middle of the table.
Holly looked down at her clothes, only just realizing that she was wearing her ratty old house dress that she wore when cleaning. “I need to go change.” She started towards her room when a knock came at the door. She froze.
“No time for that,” Hazel said. “You look fine.”
“I do not look fine! I look like I just crawled out from under a rock!”
“Could you get the door? I still need to put the scones on the table.” Hazel returned to the great cast iron stove, grabbed a towel, and wrenched one of the heavy doors open.
There was another knock.
“Holly, please. I’m busy here.”
Holly let out a heavy sigh. “Fine.” She walked to the door and was about to open it when she remembered the handkerchief covering her head. She yanked it off, stuffed it in a pocket and, hastily smoothing her hair, she opened the door.
Her heart lurched and then sank when she saw Hawthorn standing there along with Hemlock.
Hemlock smiled. “Holly, hello. Thank you for inviting us.”
“Yes, thank you,” Hawthorn said. He looked perfect standing there with his wavy chestnut hair and lavender brocade waistcoat and breeches. He even wore a matching cape that seemed to catch the light with dazzling effect.
“Is that a new outfit?” Holly asked.
Hawthorn smiled. “Why, yes it is. How astute of you.”
Holly smiled as her cheeks grew hot. No one had ever called her “astute” before.
“I had it shipped all the way from Sarnum.” He rubbed a hand along the fabric on his chest. “You just can’t get quality silk around here, you know?”
Holly snorted and nodded. “Oh, I know.” She really didn’t, but a little fib never hurt anyone.
“Are you going to make them stand out there all day, Holly?” Hazel said as she stood in the doorway to the kitchen.
“No.” Holly said. The day they finally have guests over to tea, and it turns out to be Hawthorn while she wore the worst dress she owned. She smoothed the garment as best she could and, stepping aside, said, “Come in.”
Hawthorn beamed and, sweeping his cape over a shoulder, strode into the cottage. “Ah, there we are.”
Hemlock rolled his eyes and followed his brother in.
“One must always make an impressionable entrance,” Hawthorn said. “Don’t you agree?”
Holly clasped her hands nodded. “Oh, yes, definitely. Yours was very nice.”
Hawthorn smiled. “I thought so. The cape helps, you see.” He unclasped it and, with a flourish, snapped it off of his shoulders.
Holly squeaked and clapped. Then she reached out. “I can take that for you, if you’d like.”
“Yes, thank you.”
Holly took the cape, suppressing a sigh as she ran her hands over the silk. It felt so smooth. She bet it even smelled like him. She resisted the urge to sniff it and scuttled away to her room where she put the cape on her bed.
Then there was another knock at the door.
Holly stepped out of her room and frowned towards the entrance.
“More guests?” Hawthorn said, smiling. “How splendid.” He turned to Hemlock. “See? I told you I wouldn’t be overdressed.”
“You’re always overdressed,” Hemlock said.
“So say the small-minded.”
“You would know.”
“Holly!” Hazel shouted from the kitchen.
“I know!” she yelled back. “Who else is coming?”
Holly frowned some more. She didn’t like surprises, not when they came from Hazel. Hazel always thought she was being so funny, but whatever it was usually turned out to be mostly scary. Like that one time when Hazel had put nettles in Holly’s night cream. Her face had gotten all puffy and itched for a week. Holly wondered if this surprise would also cause her to wrap her face in bandages like some kind of sick-room runaway.
She yanked open the door. “Rose! Uh… hello.”
Rose smiled, showing perfect white teeth that rivaled Hawthorn’s. “Hello, Holly.”
Holly stared at her a while. “You’re here for tea?”
Rose laughed–a deep, throaty sound that made Holly feel frumpy and dull. “Of course. Why else would I be here?”
“Not for a nosebleed, I suppose,” Holly muttered.
“Nothing.” Holly forced a smile and stood aside. “Please, come in.”
Rose swept into the room, pulling off the white gloves that covered her hands. She wore an emerald satin dress–completely unwrinkled–that matched her eyes and offset her perfectly curly auburn hair. Holly shrank away, smoothing the skirt of her roughspun dress and wondering if she should put the kerchief back over her head.
“Rose,” Hawthorn said as he walked over and took one of her hands. He kissed it. “Always a pleasure.”
Rose inclined her head, her long porcelain neck arching like a swan’s. “Hawthorn. As virile as ever, I see.”
“You bring it out in me.”
“I’m going to be sick,” Hemlock said. He wandered into the kitchen.
Holly also felt ill. Looking at Rose’s perfectly ringleted hair and her perfect skin and her perfect dress. She was so… perfect that Holly wanted to pitch a potted plant at her. Even worse was that she looked good standing next to Hawthorn. The two suited each other, and that filled Holly with a panicked dread.
She marched up to them. “We should drink tea now!” Holly said much more loudly than she intended. She waved her hands at Rose. “Go on, scootch!”
Rose stared at her. “Did you just ‘scootch’ me?”
Holly raised her chin. “I did, and I’ll do it again. Best get moving if you know what’s good for you.”
Hawthorn extended an arm. “Shall we?”
Rose smiled as she placed a delicate hand on his sleeve. “Only if you promise not to ravish me on the way.”
“I couldn’t possibly make such a promise, my lady. Not when you show up wearing a perfectly rippable dress.”
Rose gave a throaty laugh and the two sauntered into the kitchen.
Holly stood there staring after them. Her dress was much more rippable than Rose’s–it was even torn in the armpit–but Hawthorn barely even glanced at her. She marched into the kitchen and glared at Hazel. “You did this on purpose,” she whispered.
Hazel smiled and thrust a crock of butter into Holly’s hands. “I don’t know what you mean. I would never torment you if I thought you liked Hawthorn. You don’t like him, do you?”
Holly glared at her some more and then dropped the butter onto the table and slumped into a chair.
Hawthorn cut open a scone and spread some butter onto it. “You know, I’ve always thought a good butter resembles the creaminess of a woman’s legs.”
“My legs aren’t creamy,” Rose said. “They’re firm like granite.”
“Granite is grey,” Holly said. “You would look like a corpse.”
“I quite agree,” Hawthorn said. “You have a complexion of porcelain, dear Rose. Or alabaster, or–”
“We get it,” Holly said. “Rose is just like all the perfect stones in the world. Can we move on now?” She poked at her scone, no longer hungry. Just like Hazel to ruin their very first tea.
Hemlock said, “So, Holly, what have you been up to, lately? Anything fun?”
“I never do anything fun, Hazel makes sure of it.”
“Oh please,” Hazel said as she sat at the table.
“Sounds like you’ve been wronged, Holly,” Hawthorn said.
Holly nodded. “I have. Terribly.”
Hazel scoffed. “The only time you’ve ever been wronged is when the postman misplaced your letter.”
Holly narrowed her eyes. “And I bet you had something to do with that.”
“Yes,” Hazel said, flatly. “I’m quite the devious mastermind. A true puppet master of all written correspondence.”
“I knew it!”
Hazel shook her head and drank some tea.
Hemlock cleared his throat. “Surely things aren’t as dire as you might think, Holly.”
“You calling me stupid? You think I don’t know when I’ve been wronged?”
“I quite agree,” Hawthorn said. “Being wronged is a grievous offence and we shouldn’t make light of it.” He turned to Holly. “You can borrow my duelling rapiers for when you demand satisfaction.”
Holly blinked. “Satisfaction?” She wasn’t sure what he meant, but she didn’t want to ask and look stupid. Especially after she accused Hemlock of thinking she was.
Hazel leaned forward. “He means you can stab me with a thin little sword if it will make you feel better.”
“What? That’s terrible!”
“Well, yes,” Hawthorn said, “but so is being insulted. I find it best to follow protocol in these kinds of situations.”
Holly stared at her plate as she resumed poking her scone. “No, thank you,” she murmured.
Hawthorn shrugged. “As you like.”
“I’m confused,” Rose said. “What happened that insulted Holly?”
“Yes, Holly,” Hazel said. “What happened?”
Holly’s face flushed hot. Was Hazel taunting her? After everything she’d done? Holly stood up, bumping the table and sloshing tea onto the tablecloth. “You know what happened! You know I like Hawthorn! I didn’t think you knew, but I know now that you know because you have that smarmy look on your face when you think you’re privy to some secret and you’re feeling pretty special about yourself. You knew I liked him so you invited Miss Perfection over here with her rippable dress while I look like the town idiot dressed in a potato sack. You always do this! You always take that tiny little thing that’s mine that I love and you find a way to ruin it!”
Everyone grew silent as they looked at her, and the realization of what she just said crept in. She felt sick. Her lips trembled and her hands shook. Unable to look at Hawthorn, Holly turned and ran from the cottage.
She darted into the woods, letting branches tear at her dress. She hated her dress. She wanted to burn it. If it got torn enough, maybe she would. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she ran, but she didn’t care. At least she hadn’t cried in front of Hawthorn. After everything that had happened, at least she hadn’t done that.
Holly came to a pond and she stopped to lean against a tree. She could never go back there, not after what she’d said. She had said she liked him, in front of everyone. She might have even said she loved him, she couldn’t remember–it all seemed so hazy now.
When she had been a girl, she had heard stories of solitary witches living out in the woods. Maybe she could become one. She’d hide from everyone. Squirrells never played tricks on her. Or mice or deer. It was safer out here, away from people.
“Holly?” Hazel said as she approached.
Holly scowled at her. “What? Have you come here to gloat? It wasn’t enough seeing me humiliate myself? You need to come here and rub my face in it even more?” She turned around and stared at the pond, at the way the mottled light glinted on the surface.
“I’m sorry,” Hazel said. “I… I didn’t mean for that to happen.”
“But you’re glad that it did?”
Hazel sighed. “No, I’m not. I knew you liked Hawthorn, yes, so I thought I’d tease you a bit, kind of like how you were teasing me, remember?”
“It wasn’t the same. What I did and what you did weren’t even close to being the same thing.”
“I realize that now, and I’m sorry.”
Holly shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. He probably thinks I’m complete idiot, or… crazy or something.”
“Well… you are a little crazy.”
Holly smiled, but then she caught herself and frowned.
They stood there a while, letting the birds chirping and the rustling trees be the only sound between them.
Then Hazel said, “You know Rose isn’t the least bit interested in Hawthorn, right?”
Holly studied her. She couldn’t tell if Hazel was being serious or not. “Really?”
Hazel nodded. “Really. Rumor has it that she and Linden have a thing going.”
“Linden? But she’s a witch.”
Hazel smiled. “I know.”
Holly’s mouth fell open. “Oh. Then why was she flirting with Hawthorn?”
Hazel laughed. “Everyone knows Rose is a terrible flirt. Well, I thought you knew, anyway. You usually know more about this kind of stuff than I do. It was part of the joke, and I thought…” She shook her head. “Never mind what I thought. I’m sorry.”
Holly took a moment to consider. “Does Hawthorn know that she and Linden… you know…?”
Hazel shrugged. “I have no idea what knowledge that man holds in his head. That’s for you to figure out, not me.”
“I don’t think he’ll want to talk to me again.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”
“But how do you know?”
“Because you’re my sister, and if having him in your life will make you happy, I will make sure he’s there. Even if I have to drag him over kicking and screaming.”
Holly smiled and linked her arm in Hazel’s and rested her head against her shoulder. “Thanks Hazel.”
Hazel said nothing, though she rested her head against Holly’s.
Then Holly said, “You know I don’t really want you to drag him over, right?”
“You have a really terrible sense of humor, you know?”
“Well, we can’t all be Miss Perfection.”
Holly giggled. “No, certainly not.”
Next: Zinnia’s Return