Hazel and Holly — Fasting Friendship
Previous: Haunted Heart
“Lover’s spat, eh?” Tum said as Holly packed the dresses that he had strewn about her room.
“Hazel’s an idiot,” Holly said. “If Hawthorn ever held my hand or said anything like that to me, I… I don’t know what I’d do. Probably die. But in a good way.”
Tum nodded. “Death By Lover is the best way to go. It’s how Uncle Shem went–had a big old smile on his face, too.”
“Well, I… I don’t think I meant it like that.”
Tum scampered over to the bed, picked up Hawthorn’s shirt and whistled. “Mighty fine shirt, there. Is it silk?”
Holly marched up to him and snatched the shirt out of his hands. “That’s not yours! I don’t want you touching it or getting your… your beery, gnomey smell all over it. It’ll be ruined, then.”
Tum sniffed his arm. “Gnomey? What’s that smell like?”
“Like dirt and tobacco and… I don’t know… strawberries that have been out in the sun. It’s weird. You’re underground all the time. Why do you smell like sunny fruit?”
Tum smiled and rocked on his heels. “All part of the charm. Sounds like a good smell to me. If you want, I can rub that shirt all over my bits. Give you the full experience.”
Holly cringed and clutched the shirt to her chest. “What? No! You’re not to touch it! It still smells like him. I know it won’t last, but I want to enjoy it while it does.”
“What do warlocks smell like?”
“Well, I don’t know about other warlocks, but Hawthorn smells like chamomile soap and wig powder. Which is kind of weird since he doesn’t wear a wig.” She paused, her mouth hanging open. “Does he?”
Holly shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. It’s what he smells like, and it’s nice. So you don’t touch it. Go manhandle one of my dresses if you have to.”
Tum brightened. “Even the good one?”
“Except the good one.”
He deflated. Even so, he helped her pack, though his hands lingered on the fabric of her dresses a little longer than Holly was comfortable with. When they were done, Holly sighed.
“Well, I guess we’re supposed to go then.”
“Right. Meet you outside.” Tum ran out of the room.
Holly remained. As much as she wanted to leave this place, she didn’t want to leave like this–without Hawthorn and Hemlock. But she didn’t know what else to do. She headed downstairs.
Hemlock was there, leaning against the innkeeper’s counter. When he saw her, he straightened. He half-smiled and then moved his gaze to the ground.
When Holly stopped next to him, he said, “I’m trying to make arrangements for the coach. The inn doesn’t have their own, so you and Hazel will take ours to Sarnum, and then the driver will return here and pick up me and Hawthorn and return us home.”
“You can’t do that,” Holly said.
Hemlock blinked. “I thought it the best solution, given the circumstances.”
“No, you can’t give up! You can’t let Hazel go, just like that.”
He shook his head. “She let me go, Holly. I tried, but she has made her feelings very clear.”
“But they aren’t her feelings! She’s just afraid, you even said so!”
“Perhaps. But I’m not going to force myself into her life if she doesn’t want me there.”
Holly wrung her hands She felt like it was all falling apart, even though she wasn’t sure what “it” was. “Then stay for me!”
She nodded and rubbed her eyes to keep them from filling with tears. “You and Hawthorn both. We wouldn’t have gotten this far without your help. If you leave, we might get stuck again, and then it will just be a big mess. So stay and help me. Hazel can take care of herself.”
“Sarnum’s a big place isn’t it? Hazel doesn’t get to decide who goes there and who doesn’t. And, like you said, your coach is the only coach. You’d be doing me a favor by giving us a ride. Not Hazel. Who cares about Hazel, right?” She snorted as she tried to laugh.
Hemlock gave her a wan smile. “You are a dear girl. Though, I’m guessing you don’t want me to leave so much as you want my brother to stay.”
Holly looked down at the ground. “I want you both to stay,” she murmured. “Besides, finding Father is just as much your business as ours, you being warlocks and all.” She looked up at him. “Isn’t that right?”
He smiled again. “Yes, I suppose it is.”
She nodded. “So, it’s settled, then? Nobody’s going home? We’re all going to Sarnum? Together?”
He shrugged. “It would seem so.”
She grinned. “Good. So now there’s no reason to skip breakfast.”
Breakfast was silent and awkward. They all sat around a cramped circular table, eating waffles topped with blackberry jam and honey syrup.
“I don’t understand,” Hawthorn said. “Where is the bacon? I told you to order bacon.”
Hemlock glanced at Hazel and said, “It was my understanding that the meat here was less than optimal.”
Hawthorn sniffed and flipped his hair. “Hard to get bacon wrong,” he murmured.
“The waffles are yummy, though,” Holly said. “Aren’t they yummy?” She broke off a piece and dropped it in her pocket for Chester. The mouse grabbed it in his hands and nibbled on it.
Hawthorn wrinkled his nose. “Women eat breads for breakfast. Men need meat in their diet.”
Holly screwed up her face at him. “That’s just stupid.”
Hazel snorted. Then she cleared her throat and put on a sober expression.
Holly kicked her under the table.
Hazel glared at her. “Stop being a child, Holly.”
“I’m not the one being childish.”
Silence settled among them again.
“What about sausage?” Hawthorn said.
Hemlock sighed. “Sausage is meat, brother, or didn’t you know?”
Hawthorn waved a hand. “It barely is. They could grind up just about anything in there, and you wouldn’t be the wiser. It should be standard fare in places of ill repute.”
“I was trying to avoid ill-reputed meat, but if that’s what you want, then you go right ahead.”
Hawthorn threw his napkin over his plate. “I will.” He got up and wandered through the door that the innkeeper usually disappeared behind.
Holly removed his napkin and transferred the half-eaten waffle from his plate to hers. She topped it with extra jam and syrup, took a bite, and said, “It’s nice of Hemlock and Hawthorn to give us a ride to Sarnum, isn’t it Hazel? Given their coach is the only one around. Bet you didn’t think of that earlier.”
Hazel glared at her. “No, I hadn’t and, yes, it’s very kind.”
“Should we talk about what we’re going to do when we get there?” Holly said. “How’re we going to find this ‘Elder’?”
“I know where he is,” Hemlock said.
Holly’s mouth hung open. “What?”
Hemlock shrugged. “He was listed in an old Conclave Registry. Assuming the address is still current. Even so, it gives us a place to start.”
“Well, all right. It’s doubly good that you’re coming along, then. Right, Hazel?”
Hazel tightened her jaw. “Of course.”
Hazel continued to glare at Holly. She knew what Holly was up to. She was trying to throw her and Hemlock together. And it seemed to be working. Hemlock was going along with it like nothing had happened. Hazel wasn’t sure if she was upset or relieved that Hemlock had decided to stay. She admired him, though. She doubted she could have behaved so well if he had said such cruel things to her. It made her feel even worse.
They ate in silence until they had finished. Holly, wondering where Hawthorn had gone and if there were any more waffles to be had, also got up and disappeared behind the door.
Hazel stiffened, feeling awkward at being alone with Hemlock.
Then, as if reading her thoughts, he said, “I don’t want you to be uncomfortable.”
“You clearly are not. You’ve hardly said a word, and you didn’t snap at Hawthorn once. You’re not yourself.”
Hazel stared at her plate. Then, taking a deep breath, she said, “I’m sorry for what I said earlier. You were never an obligation, and I regret saying it. But I cannot give you what you want.”
He shook his head. “I’ve only wanted to see you happy, Hazel. If your happiness does not lie with me, then I can accept that. But I still want to help you. That hasn’t changed.”
Hazel shook her head, biting her lip. What was he up to? How could he just want to help her, and want nothing in return? It made no sense.
Holly returned with a fresh stack of waffles, while Hawthorn trailed after her munching on a handful of bacon. She set the plate on the table and, leaning towards Hazel and Hemlock, whispered, “You should see the cook. He’s bald and massive, like a big wall with legs. I… I don’t think he has eyes.” She speared some waffles with a fork and dragged them to her plate. “Isn’t that remarkable, though? A blind cook?”
Hazel suppressed a groan. Who knew what went into the food. “Please hurry up so we can leave.”
Holly nodded. “We can go right now. She flopped the waffles back onto the waffle plate before picking up the whole thing. Then she grabbed the honey syrup pitcher. “Ready.”
“We can’t take that with us.”
“Sure we can.”
“The dishes don’t belong to us.”
“And all the dead animals nailed to the walls don’t belong to that creepy innkeeper. But he’s done it anyway. It’s what he gets.”
Hemlock leaned over and whispered, “I can leave a little extra payment for the dishes.”
“That’s not really the point…” Hazel said, and then she closed her eyes and took a breath. It didn’t matter. Holly would do what she wanted, no matter what Hazel said. “Fine, let’s go.”
Next: Elder Night, Part One