Hazel and Holly — Soup and Secrets, Part One
Previous: Archived Amity
They returned to the carriage and traveled across town to cramped little district where the buildings were built too closely together, which seemed to sag with the weight of years pressing upon them. So Hazel was surprised when the carriage slowed and then stopped, and even more when Hawthorn hopped out without so much a backwards glance at them. He strode into a rickety looking establishment with a sagging roof and wooden walls blackened with pitch that gave off a slightly burnt and pungent smell.
Hazel, Holly, and Hemlock followed him. Inside, the burnt smell was replaced with pleasing aromas of roasting meat, onions, and herbs. The walls were spared the pitch treatment from the outside, and the naked wooden walls were adorned only with pots of herbs and trailing vines that supplied a rather homely feel.
The room had a few tables scattered about, all of them filled with patrons holding onto steaming mugs or slurping soup from chipped clay bowls. Behind a counter stood a little old woman who was barely tall enough to peer over the top of it. She was surrounded by a series of great copper kettles almost as large as she was, all fogging the windows on the wall behind her with their steam.
She squinted at them from behind a pair of thick glasses as they approached. When she saw Hawthorn, her face split into a luminous smile. “Hawthorn, my boy! What brings you here?”
Ada came around the counter and put out her hands, and Hawthorn took hold of them.
“Little Hawthorn,” she said, blinking up at him several times. “Unchanged from the last time I saw you. You still fooling around with those silly glamors?”
Hawthorn grinned. “You know me. I always like to look my best.”
Ada tsked. “You always were a handsome boy. Probably more handsome now as a man. You shouldn’t hide that.” She blinked as she took in the others. “You must be Hemlock. You’ve the look of your father, make no mistake.”
Hemlock shifted his feet. “You and Hawthorn know each other?”
“Oh, aye. Little whelp’s been coming here with Lupinus for years.” She turned back to Hawthorn and blinked at him some more. “When was the last time you were here? It’s been a while.”
Hawthorn nodded. “Before Father died.”
Ada spit on the floor then smeared it with her foot. “Sad business, that. But the inevitable end for us all, I suppose. But enough of my rambling. I’m guessing you came here to eat and not reminisce with an old woman.”
Hawthorn flashed her a bright smile. “You were always too clever for your own good.”
Ada scoffed and slapped his arm. “And you were always too charming for your own good. That charm get you in trouble yet?”
Hawthorn grinned. “Not yet.”
“Then you’re luckier than a hog in a midden heap. We haven’t any tables out here, so I’ll take you to the back.” She turned and headed through a door and led them down a narrow little hallway before herding them into a cramped, but cozy, room with a single round table. An oversized window nearly took up an entire wall, so the snug room was awash with light and pleasantly warm.
They situated themselves around the table and, after a few minutes, Ada returned carrying a great round tray upon which sat a number of bowls and mugs. She set them out on the table.
“I’ve brought you a bit of everything. You all look like you could use a good warm lunch. If you need anything else, I’ll be out front so you just let me know.” Ada turned and left.
Holly was the first to grab a bowl. She sniffed it, then passed it to Hazel before grabbing another. She passed on two more before finding one of the mugs to her satisfaction. She sipped from it as she glanced at the others.
Everyone remained silent. Hemlock ignored the soup Holly had set in front of him as he glowered at Hawthorn.
“Care to tell me what’s going on, brother?” Hemlock said. “You’ve been here before. Why lie about that? Why wouldn’t you tell me?”
Hawthorn sighed. “To avoid this very conversation. Father brought me here from time to time when I was younger. I never asked him to, but he did. So there it is.”
“He was trying to spare your feelings,” Holly said.
Hemlock glowered at her. “You knew? Does everyone know except me? Have you all had a great laugh playing me for a fool?”
“No, I–” Holly said.
“Not everything is about you, Hemlock,” Hawthorn said. “You’ve always been so sensitive about me and Father. Can you blame me for wanting to avoid all this nonsense?”
“Nonsense?” Hemlock said. “Is it nonsense to want to be included? To feel like I belong in a family? Because I never have, Hawthorn. I expected this sort of thing from Father, but it’s worse that you’re still doing it, even though he’s long been in the ground. You truly are his heir, in every conceivable way.” Hemlock got up and left.
Silence fell around the table. Hawthorn stretched his neck and straightened the cuffs of his shirt. He fixed his gaze on Hazel. “Shall we get on with it then?”
Hazel tightened her jaw and thrust a finger at him. “You wait there.” She got up and walked out to the main room, but Hemlock wasn’t there. She went outside, looked around, and found him sitting on a squat barrel underneath the drooping eave of a particularly ramshackle building further down the way. His head was lowered as he rested his weight against his knees, so he didn’t see her as she approached.
“Are you all right?” she said.
He looked up at her and then away again. He stared out towards the street a long while before saying, “Somehow it always manages to take me off guard how much of a ratbag Hawthorn can be. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.”
“Does it matter so much that he lied about coming here?”
Hemlock shook his head. “It’s not that. It’s everything. It’s life-long years of being overlooked, and of having to brace the brunt of Hawthorn’s smug indifference. And I’m… tired. I don’t know why I’ve continued to care. I’ve tried not to, but…”
“Everyone wants to feel like they matter.”
He nodded. “I suppose so.”
Hazel leaned against the building. The wooden slats were damp, and a chill began to seep through her clothes, but she remained anyway. Fixing her gaze on the ground, she said, “Mother always favored Holly. She tried to pretend like she didn’t, but I could tell. Her face never lit up when she looked at me like it did with Holly. Even now after her death…” She shook her head. “Some things never change.”
“Your sister adores you, though.”
“I can only wonder why. I haven’t always been a good sister to her. I’ve tried, but… well, sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing, to say the right thing, especially when you don’t know what the right thing is.”
Hemlock screwed up his face as he looked at her. “Are you… defending Hawthorn?”
Hazel snorted. “I wouldn’t go that far. But he is your brother. I’d be willing to wager that somewhere beyond that puffed-up exterior of his, he cares about you. He… probably just doesn’t know any other way.”
“You are defending him!”
Hazel winced. “Good grief, I am.” She took a breath. “I’m not saying you don’t have a right to be upset–you have every right. Had I been in your place, I doubt I’d have handled things nearly as well. But he is your brother. Your mother and father are both gone. He’s all you have left.”
“I thought I had you.”
“I can never fill that part in your heart that belongs to your brother. Just as you can never fill that part of mine that belongs to Holly. You owe it to yourself to find a way to mend this rift.”
“You don’t think I’ve tried?”
She fixed Hemlock in a stern gaze. “Try harder.”
He shook his head. “No. I’m done trying. I’m just… I’m done.”
Hazel tightened her jaw again. These brothers, pig-headed the both of them. She marched back inside the soup shop and to the back room, grabbed Hawthorn by the sleeve of his brocade jacket, and hauled him out of the chair.
“Unhand me, you shrew,” Hawthorn said. “You’ll rumple the fabric, or stain it with those sweaty paws of yours.”
Hazel ignored him, tightening her grip on him as she dragged him outside.
Hemlock got up as they approached and glowered at Hazel. “I’ve nothing to say to him.”
“That will be a refreshing change,” Hawthorn said. “I’ve no need for a wife with you nagging at me all the while.” He smoothed out his jacket once Hazel let go of him.
“Enough of this,” Hazel said. “You two can’t stand each other, is that it? Well, let’s have it out, then. Let’s air out every grievance you have with each other.”
To Hazel, Hemlock said, “I know what you’re trying to do, but it won’t work. Not with him. He’s got his head so far up his own ass that’s it’s a wonder he can walk.”
“Ah, yes,” Hawthorn said, “the ass quips. Your standard fall-back of insults. One would think you’d find more material after all these years.”
“Why? Your sorry ass proves to be most ample in that regard.”
“My ass is many things, but ample is not one of them.”
“You see?” Hemlock said to Hazel, “There’s no talking to him. Everything’s a joke. Everything is cheapened and made superficial. I’m sick of it, and I’m done.” He turned to leave, but Hazel got in his way.
“Why have you come here, Hawthorn?” she said, looking at him past Hemlock. “Why do you care whether or not Holly and I find our father?”
Hemlock tried pushing past her, but she put a hand on his chest and gave him a sharp look that took some of the fire out of his eyes. He straightened his back and stared past her, but he remained still.
“I didn’t have much choice,” Hawthorn said. “You’ve dragged me into this whole business of finding your father.”
Hazel narrowed her eyes. “Don’t give me that. You’ve helped us, and you didn’t have to. Why?”
“Of course I had to. Can you imagine the mess you all would have made without me?”
Hemlock rounded on him. “Of course, without you we’re all just a group of bumbling idiots. Nothing and no one has any worth until you decree that it has. How foolish of us for not realizing that.”
Hawthorn fixed him in a cool gaze. “Indeed.”
Hemlock’s face twisted and again he turned to leave, but Hazel grabbed him by the arm.
“Hazel, let go.”
“Why do you care whether or not we make a mess of things?” Hazel said to Hawthorn as she tightened her grip on Hemlock’s sleeve with everything she had. “What does it matter? Is it because of Holly? Do you want to be near her?”
Hawthorn’s smug look dissolved into a dumbfounded stare. “I… what? N-no, not exactly.”
Hemlock pried her hand away and so she latched onto Hawthorn instead, grabbing him by the collar of his jacket and giving him a shake. “Answer me!”
“I wanted to be included!” Hawthorn shouted as he wrenched himself out of her grasp. “Mercy alive, woman, you can be loud little thing.”
Hemlock, who had been walking away, now turned back. “Oh, no. You don’t get to feel left out. Not about this. You don’t get to make everything about you!”
Hawthorn glared at him. “You think you’re the only one who’s felt left out in life? You think you’re the only one who’s ever been lonely? You’ve always been so jealous of me and Father, but you didn’t miss a whole lot. Do you think he was affectionate? That we shared some bond? The man barely spoke to me, and only when it suited him. Even on our trips here together he kept me at an arm’s length. Combine that with a younger brother who despises you, and what did you expect me to do? Grovel at your feet so I can take more of your scorn? Have you look down on me with that air of superiority you’re so fond of? You’ve always thought you’re better than me. Smarter. You’re an arrogant jackass, just like Father.”
Hemlock’s face blanched, as if he had taken a blow to the stomach. “I… I never despised you.”
“Yet you’ve held no love for me, either. You’re not the only one who’s felt excluded from family, Hemlock.”
The two brothers stared at each other, and Hazel remained frozen as she held her breath, unsure of what to do.
Holly wandered out of the soup shop and walked towards them. “Why’re you all out here? Are we leaving? What’s going on?”
No one said anything for a long while as Hemlock and Hawthorn continued to stare each other down. Then Hawthorn turned towards Holly and brightened. “I’m starving. I hope you haven’t eaten all the soup.” He walked back into the shop, leaving the others behind in dumbfounded silence.