(The following was paid for by a grant funded by the generous contributions of @moonflowers. Her contributions to the School of Havoc’s art gallery can be found here. If you’d like to sponsor content in The School of Havoc Library, that is, commission me, you can find more details here)
“We should come here more often.”
This thought treads a well-worn path through my mind. I think it every time we go on a froyo date. I know that “Colder than a Witch’s…” is her favorite place in town, despite being perhaps the worst-named eatery in the entire manasphere. Which is why I know it’s the best to place to go if I want to discuss something with Stella that she’d prefer not to discuss. If I don’t take her on an actual date here every once in a while, she’s bound to catch on, but I keep forgetting. And every time I’m here I can’t help but imagine how much sweeter the Newt’s Eyes Surprise would taste if I could just enjoy it in peace with my girlfriend, but-
“So, what’s the bad news this time? Are you finally breaking up with me?” Stella asks, half-jokingly. “What? No, of course not!” I say, “I love you. I’ll always love you.” “Always is a long time to love someone like me.” Her tone says she’s just joking, but we both know better. “Well, you are pretty rubbish at kissing, but I’m sure you’ll get better at it eventually,” I say. She immediately looks down at her rocky road in a futile attempt to hide how much she’s blushing. “I… that’s…!” she sputters, too flustered to form a coherent thought, “It’s just, some of us haven’t done as much kissing as you have! N-not that there’s anything wrong with that it’s just, I don’t have a lot of practice.” “Then why don’t we practice right now?” I ask teasingly as I lean towards her and pucker my lips. She gives me a quick smooch, clearly self-conscious about how much tongue is usually involved when she kisses. “I only kissed you because I wanted to, not because you told me to,” she fake-pouts, “And besides, you know I wasn’t talking about my kissing.” “I don’t,” I say, “It’s the only thing I can think of that I don’t absolutely love about you.” “Well now you’re just flattering me,” she says, “You can’t really think I’m perfect except for one thing.” “I guess you’re right,” I say, “You’re so bad at kissing that it’s actually kind of cute, so I think you’re perfect except for zero things.” “I’m being serious,” she says, “If you think I’m perfect, you don’t know me at all.” “Well of course you’re not perfect. You may be a witch, but you’re still human. And humans are imperfect, but they are more than their imperfections. To me, someone like you is someone who’s brave, and determined, and cute, and powerful, and so much more. Always isn’t long enough to love someone like you.”
“I… wow,” she says, holding back tears. “Thank you, Luna. That was really beautiful.” “No, you’re beautiful!” I retort. She laughs, then leans in and kisses me. Or at least, she does what she thinks kissing is, despite it more resembling her trying to scrape leftover thawed yogurt off the roof of my mouth with her tongue. And I’d love nothing more than to keep kissing her, but it isn’t what I came here for.
“Anyway,” I say, after carefully disengaging my mouth from hers, “Why did you think I was breaking up with you?” “Oh, I was just making a really bad joke, because you only ever take me here when you have bad news,” she says, “Sorry.” “I do not only take you here when I have bad news!” I say, half-truthfully. “Or when you need me to do something I don’t want to do,” she says, “I’m guessing that’s the case this time?” “It is,” I admit, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t treat you like a kid who needs to be bribed with ice cream to do chores.” “As long as I’m getting bribed, you can treat me like a kid as much as you want. Should I call you mommy?” She asks, hopefully joking. “You shouldn’t!” I say, indignantly, “I’m not even that much older than you!” “Whatever you say, granny,” she says. “Granny? I’m 28! For a wi-” I suddenly remember that we’re in public, and lower my voice. “For a witch, that’s extremely young.” “It’s six years older than me,” she says. “Which is normal!” I say, “We are adults in a normal relationship.” “I completely agree,” she says, “Anyway, I think that makes us even for you teasing me about my kissing.” “Fair enough,” I say, “So, now that we’re even, no more calling me old.” “What are you gonna do, ground me?” She asks. “I just might, if you keep talking back like that, young lady!” I say. We both laugh, then watch the smile fade from our girlfriend’s face as we remember that we have more important things to do than exchange banter.
“Anyway,” I say, “Have you been thinking about what coven you might want to join?” “Uh, yeah, I looked into a few,” she lied, before immediately realizing that I could easily call her bluff. “Which ones?” I ask. “Yeah, witch ones. Exactly.” I bite my lip to prevent myself from smiling at her dumb joke. “C’mon, you have to admit, that was pretty good,” she says. It was, but I do not, under any circumstances, have to admit it. “Stella, I’m being serious,” I say. “OK, yeah, I didn’t really look into it,” she says, “Is there any way I could just… not join a coven?” “Well, technically, yes,” I say, “It’s not like you’ll die if you don’t join a coven.” “Then I just won’t!” She says, “Problem solved.” “Not doing anything isn’t going to solve anything,” I say. “There’s nothing to solve!” She says, “If you think there’s a problem, you need to explain it to me, because I don’t see it.” “Magical society isn’t very… accepting of witches who don’t join covens,” I say, “You’d be an outcast.” “Who cares?” She asks, “I’d proudly be an outcast of a society that refuses to use their power to help people.” “You know why we don’t,” I say. “Because you’re cowards!” Stella snaps. “They’re cowards,” she adds, apologetically, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have called you that.” “It’s OK,” I say soothingly, grabbing her hand to try to calm her down, “I know you’re upset, and you have every reason to be. But I don’t think that isolating yourself from everyone is going to help you in the long run.” “I don’t want to isolate myself from everyone,” she says, “Just everyone who isn’t you. You’d still love me, right?” “Of course I would,” I say, “But-” “Then it’s fine!” She says, “I don’t need anyone else!” “That’s not healthy,” I say, “You can’t spend an eternity with just one other person. You’d go mad.” “An eternity?” “Yes. You’re a witch now, remember?” I say, “And besides, other witches aren’t so bad. Most of them won’t see eye-to-eye with you at first, but you changed my mind, right?” “I guess…” she says. “And if you really want to make a difference, it’ll take more than just you and me,” I say. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” she says, “As usual. But how do I decide? What if I join one and then later I realize I hate it? I don’t know if I’m ready to make a decision with consequences that I’ll have to live with forever.” “But you are,” I say, “You’ve decided to be with me forever, haven’t you?” “I guess,” she says, “But it’s not like I decided to fall in love with you. It just… happened.” “Maybe it’ll just happen again,” I say, “Er, I mean, like, you’ll fall in love with a coven. But you won’t know unless you try.” “And how do I try?” she asks. “Well, that’s what I’m here to help you with,” I say, “I am a librarian, after all. I can find information on covens you might find interesting.” “That’s a really good plan! It’s a shame we can’t do that right now, though. I guess we’ll just have to enjoy the rest of our date flirting and eating frozen treats.” “Not so fast,” I say, despite how much I want to accept her proposal, “There’s at least one coven I could tell you about while we’re here.” “And here comes the sales pitch,” she mutters under her breath.
“I understand why you’re hesitant to join the Mistresses of the Tide, which is why I’m not asking you to,” I say, “I’m only asking you to hear me out. I personally think you’d fit in great with my sisters. Maybe you’ll disagree, and that’s fine, but if you reject us without at least giving us a chance, you may regret it later on.” “I already gave you – them – a chance, and they blew it the moment I heard the word “Tide” in their name,” she says. “A tsunami is not a tidal wave,” I say, “That’s a misnomer.” “But it’s still the ocean, isn’t it?” She asks, “Would you ask a victim of arson to join the Order of the Undying Flame?” “No,” I said, “Mostly because I’m not in the Order of the Undying Flame, and I’m not sure that such a coven actually exists, but also, The Mistresses of the Tide are about more than just the ocean.” “Really?” She asks, skeptically, “Fine. You got me. What else are you about?” “Well, the Moon is of particular importance to us, obviously, but-” “Obviously?” She asked, confused, “How so?” “I… do you not know what causes the tides?” I asked. “I dunno, magic?” She offers. “Well, you’re not entirely wrong,” I say, “But more specifically, the Moon’s gravity. But even more foundational to our doctrine than the Moon or the Sea is the cycle, the ebb and flow, not just of the sea, or the phases of the moon, but all things in nature. That which rises will surely fall, so that it may rise again. Day and night, summer and winter, life and death. These cycles appear disjoint and unconnected, but like the sea to the moon, they all share an intimate relationship.”
“Intimate relationship? You mean like the sea and the moon are dating?” She asked. “I… don’t think that’s what I mean.” I say. “So it’s more of a ‘friends with benefits’ situation. Gotcha,” She says. “I’m not really sure that you do.” I say. “So then they’re just really good friends? Not that there’s anything wrong with two lesbians just being friends, but I wouldn’t really call that ‘intimately related’,” she says. I know it’s a bad idea to humor her any further. “I… wait, if they’re not going out, why would you still think they’re lesbians?” I ask, humoring her anyway. “Because they are?” She said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world, “I already knew that. Did… did you not?” “So you knew that the sea and the moon were lesbians, but you didn’t know they shared an intimate relationship?” “What, do you think I should’ve assumed they were dating just because they’re both lesbians?” she asks, “Don’t be ridiculous.” Because I was clearly the one being ridiculous. “Anyway, I don’t know if you can really call it ‘just friends’ if the sea is always leaning in to kiss the moon. I mean, that’s what the tides are, right?” She asks. “Of course not,” I say, “If that were the case, then only the side of the Earth that’s closest to the moon would experience high tide. But the opposite side also does, because it’s further away from the moon, so the downward gravitational pull on it is weaker.” “Oh, so then it’s like… uh… when you sit down and your thighs do the thing?” “Yes. Exactly,” I deadpan, despite having no clue what “thing” she is referring to. “Wait, but isn’t the thing that she’s sitting on the Earth? That sounds kind of lewd. Does that mean the sea is constantly cucking the sky?” “Stella,” I say, gently but firmly, “You’re getting distracted.” “Oh, right,” she says, “We were being serious. Sorry, it’s just… I don’t care. I’m sorry, I don’t want to say it, but it’s true, and I have to. I know you’re all about the theory of magic, and how it all works, and why, and that’s brilliant. I love that about you. But it’s just not my cup of tea. It’s hard for me to learn and even harder for me to care. And I’ve accepted that about myself So, while I’m grateful for all the time you’ve spent trying to teach me, I don’t plan to continue studying magic.”
“It’s hard, isn’t it?” I ask. “Huh?” “Telling someone you love something they need to hear, even if they don’t want to.” “Huh. I guess it is,” She says, “I’m sorry you always have to be the one to tell me what I don’t want to hear.” “It’s fine,” I say, “And I’m proud of you for making a difficult decision like that on your own. I support your choice 100%.” Well, maybe not quite 100%, but I knew how much she hated quitting, and I didn’t want to make it any harder for her. “Thank you,” she says, “I know you liked our lessons, and of course I liked spending time with you, but I just think there are more productive things we can do apart, and more enjoyable things we can do together.” “Like coming here on an actual date for once?” I ask. “Yeah,” she says, smiling, “exactly.”
“But since we’ve pretty firmly established that this isn’t an actual date,” she says, “I guess you might as well continue explaining your coven.” “Oh, right,” I say, “Well, we mostly use water magic and lunar magic. Especially-” “Are there any really notable types of spells that I haven’t already seen you use?” she asks. “Well… not that I can think of,” I say. “Then what about the Oath, then?” She asks, “I guess it has something to do with how particular you are about what you drink?” “Uh, yeah,” I say, trying to muster the courage to say something I know that she absolutely does not want to hear, “You can only drink water in which someone has drowned.”
Her eyes widen in shock. “I… are you- No, I know you’re not stupid enough to joke about that. But I also didn’t think you’d be stupid enough to think I’d ever be OK with that!” Her face softens, just a bit. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have called you stupid. But you should have known I would never make that Oath.” “I didn’t expect you to be receptive of the idea at first, but-” “But what? Did you expect to convince me to be OK with being reminded of my parents’ deaths every time I drink anything for the rest of eternity?” She asks, nearly hysterically, “Or maybe you think I’m just overreacting. After all, the force of the wave probably killed them long before they could have drowned. Or maybe it was my magic-” “It wasn’t your fault,” I say, putting my hands on her shoulders and looking into her eyes, “You didn’t know you were a witch then. There was nothing you could have done. None of it was your fault. You know that, right?” “I, yeah, I just…” She breaks into tears. I hold her close and let her cry into my shoulder. I knew that somewhere on the path to eternity, time would heal her scars. And long before then her Oath would be stripped of its meaning, a seemingly arbitrary restriction, rather than a mandate to subsist on death. Just as mine had. The heartbreak she now felt, no matter how deeply, was finite, and would always be outweighed by the infinite regret of choosing the wrong coven. But, as I held her in my arms, trying to console her, I couldn’t say what I knew. I was neither courageous nor cruel enough to do so.
“I’m sorry,” she sobs, “I know I shouldn’t be crying, but…” “It’s OK,” I say, as she continues bawling, “If you have to cry, then you should. It’s OK.” She cries in my arms for several minutes, and I gently whisper “It’s OK,” to reassure her, and perhaps myself. She eventually calms down, or at least stops crying so loudly. “Feeling better?” I ask. “Not really,” she says, “I’m just more embarrassed than I am sad. Are people looking?” “Probably.” I don’t need to look around to know that they are, and that they’re doing a terrible job of hiding it. “You wanna go home?” I ask. “Yeah.“ We make our way outside, avoiding making eye contact with any of the other customers. Once outside, we find a secluded spot and open a portal home. I step through it, and immediately collapse onto the couch, sighing with my entire body. “Stella, sweetie, is something wrong?” “No, yeah, everything’s fine,” she says, as she moves the portal above the couch, “Could you sit up straight at the end of the couch?” “I can.” And I do. “I don’t know what you’re planning, but I want it on the record that I think it’s a bad idea.” “Noted,” she says, “Now, could you take your hands out of your lap?” I sigh and prepare a levitation spell. I cast it on her when she jumps through the portal, suspending her in the air. “Hey, what gives?” She asks. I slowly lower her onto the couch and wrap her in blankets. “Did you really think I’d sit there and let you break your neck against my thighs?” I ask. “Well, I could think of worse ways to go,” she says, smiling playfully. “Well, if it’s all the same for you, I’d prefer if you didn’t go at all,” I say. “Fair enough,” she says, “But the whole point was that I’d have my head resting on your lap.” I sigh and levitate her once more before sitting under her and setting her back down. “Better?” I ask. “Much,” she says, snuggling up against me. “I hope you didn’t have anywhere you need to be, because I plan to stay here forever and you’re not allowed to get up until I do.” “I’ll cancel my appointments, then,” I say, patting her head. It’s nice. I feel like I really could just stay like this forever. Or at least, I certainly wish I could.
“I’m sorry,” I say, hoping she’s fallen asleep and can’t hear me, “I shouldn’t have brought it up.” “It’s OK,” she says, “I know you were just looking out for me. And I wasn’t crying because of what you said, It was because-” “I know,” I say, hoping to cut her off before she can dredge her pain back up, “I know.” “I’ll get better, right?” She asks, “Maybe it’ll take ten years, or a hundred, or a thousand, but it’ll eventually stop hurting, right?” “It’ll get better,” I say. I hope. That was what I’d always heard, but seeing her grief firsthand has made me doubt. “I don’t know if the hurting will ever stop, but it will subside with time.” “That’s what I thought,” she says, “And I keep thinking that it has. But then something reminds me and it’s like it just happened yesterday. What difference will a thousand years make if I haven’t gotten any better in the few years it’s been?” “But you have gotten better,” I say. “I don’t feel better,” she says. “Maybe not now. But you did yesterday, didn’t you? And the day before that?” I ask. “I guess,” she says. “When we first met, you were more likely to cry for two days straight than to go two days without crying,” I say, “Grief, too, is a cycle. It will always have ups and downs. And even if the downs are just as low as they’ve always been, if there are more ups between them, that’s progress.” “So I’ll always feel this bad sometimes?” she asks, “Just less and less often?” “I don’t know. But no matter what, I’ll always be here for you. So if you fall… I’ll be sure to catch you.” I gently boop her nose with my finger. “Wow, that’s the cheesiest thing I’ve ever heard,” she said, laughing. “Yeah, OK, Miss ‘If you think I’m perfect, you don’t know me at all’,” I retorted. “I… wow, did I really say that?” She asked, “Yikes. Sorry.” “Yeah, I’ve been waiting to give you shit for it this whole time,” I say. “Good. I deserve it.” We laugh.