Hazel and Holly — Fastened Friendship
Previous: A Future Found
Tum toddled down to the common room as Holly trailed after him. Hawthorn sat at a table, sipping some wine, and Tum clambered onto an empty chair beside him.
“Of all the empty tables,” Hawthorn said, “you have to sit right there? Go find somewhere else.”
“It’s rude to let someone sit alone, you know. Tum’s nothing if not polite.”
“Oh, I can think of a few things that Tum is.”
“Don’t bicker,” Holly said. “It’s nice that we’re all back together, isn’t it?”
Hawthorn muttered something into his wine glass that Holly couldn’t hear.
A willowy waitress came over and Tum ordered some beer while Holly ordered tea. When their drinks arrived, both Tum and Holly grimaced after taking a sip.
“When are we going home?” he said. “It’s past time for a drink at the Green Man. This place doesn’t measure up.”
“I think we’ll be heading home soon.” She looked at Hawthorn. “Won’t we?”
Tum looked around as he sipped his beer. He eyed the three women knitting on the sofa near the fire. “What’s going on there?” Beer in hand, he hopped off the chair and wandered over to them.
Hawthorn made a great effort in swirling and examining his wine. He didn’t even seem to notice that Tum had gone.
“It will be nice to go home, won’t it?” Holly said.
“I suppose. I suppose everything will go back just as it was.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?”
“Wonderful.” Only he didn’t sound at all pleased. He drank more wine.
“Except,” Holly said after a while, “it probably won’t all be the same.”
“Well, Hazel and Hemlock are going to get married.”
“What? They are?”
“Well, probably. I’ve kind of been assuming they would. That is, if Hazel doesn’t ruin it.”
Hawthorn grunted and nodded and drank more wine.
“And if they get married… well… I’m not sure what I’ll do.”
“Why would you need to do anything?”
“Well, they’re not going to be the sort that live separately. I can tell. Plus, Hazel’s never liked that custom.”
“So… it just feels like it will be awfully crowded with me milling around while they start their new lives together.”
He shrugged. “Come live with me, then.”
“Have you noticed? My house is huge. Hemlock and I will sometimes go days without seeing each other. You, too, could have that pleasure.”
Holly stared at her tea as she pressed her lips together. “It’s very nice of you, Hawthorn, and I am very fond of you, but…”
“But what? It solves all our problems.”
“But I can’t marry you!”
Hawthorn blanched. “Marry? I… what…?”
“Well, that is what you’re asking, isn’t it? You can’t just ask a girl to move in with you without thinking that you… you know…”
Hawthorn’s mouth hanging open as he dumbfoundedly stared at her suggested that he, in fact, did not know at all.
Growing flustered, Holly waved her hands. “Well aren’t you looking for a wife? Isn’t that why you had that party all that time ago?”
Hawthorn winced and looked down at his wine. “Uh, yes. Yes I was. But… to be compulsively honest… I don’t want to marry. I never have. I was only looking because I felt it was my duty. You know, keeping up the family line and all that. I’m the eldest and Hemlock was hopelessly reclusive, so, that was never going to happen. It seemed necessary. But now… if Hemlock and Hazel, well… I’d happily hand over that responsibility to him.” He took a deep breath. “You have no idea.”
“It was quite an elaborate party for something you didn’t want to do.”
“One may as well have a little fun before one ruins one’s life, don’t you think?”
“Getting married wouldn’t really ruin your life, would it?”
Hawthorn continued to stare deep into his wine glass. “Holly, me and women don’t exactly get on.” He looked up at her. “If you know what I mean.”
“Well, if you scaled back on the sarcasm you might…” But then his words sank in as did his intent gaze, and her mouth fell open. “Oh.” She blinked several times. “Oooh. Well. Then I suppose in that case having a wife would not be ideal.” She stared at her cup, unsure how she should act.
“I mean, women: they are soft, and squeaky, and you never know which direction their moods will take. That party I threw was only the least bit fun because they were all appropriately adoring of me. The one true solace I found in the idea of taking a wife was the fact that I wouldn’t have to live with her.”
“You do know that I’m a woman, right?”
“Yes, which is why my affection for you is most puzzling. But there it is.”
Holly couldn’t help but smile. “You like me,” she taunted and poked at his arm.
“Stop it, shrew.”
She giggled. “Okay, so you don’t want to get married. But what if I do?”
Hawthorn’s expression turned slightly panicked.
“Not to you! But to… someone. I would like to get married, someday, I think.”
He shrugged. “Then I will be the first to offer you my best wishes.” He sipped some wine. “After I kill the man.”
Holly grinned and Hawthorn smiled with her. He must have sensed her lingering hesitation, though, because he said, “You don’t have to move in. But just know that you have a home beyond Hazel’s and Hemlock’s walls. If you want it.”
She smiled and nodded. “Thanks, Hawthorn.”
He looked down and cleared his throat. “Yes, well. That’s quite enough of the unsightly bearing of one’s squishy heart for the afternoon. Don’t you think?”
Holly giggled and sipped her tea. “Quite.”
Tum waddled over, swathed in knitted scarves, mittens, and socks, all several sizes too large for him.
“Charming ladies!” His voice was muffled from layers of scarves. “I haven’t been this warm since cousin Lur accidentally lit my pants on fire. The beer here might be unremarkable, but the hospitality is fantastic!” He started heading for the stairs, tripped on one of the trailing scarves, and tumbled down into a well-padded heap. “Marvelous!” came his muffled cry.
“I better go help him,” Holly said. “Before, I don’t know, he suffocates or something.”
“No rush,” Hawthorn said and took another sip of wine.
Next: Heart Fire