v. Passing Fancy
Melody has little experience in the way of apologies.
She’s never been one to not recognize when she’s in the wrong, and no one ever accused her of being imperceptive. The instances she’s had to apologize have been few and far between—mostly to her mother, for coming home past curfew; to Poppy, when she brushed too hard and broke a chunk of fur from her skin; to—whom was it, again?
Melody is aware she has a penchant for overreaction.
She wouldn’t be caught dead exchanging pleasantries with Ursula, of all witches, but the guilt weighs on her heart and drags her farther and farther into the earth until she’s swallowed whole and gasping for air. Melody can picture Poppy’s reaction to this whole ordeal, her disapproving lilt as her pupils narrow to slits.
The sun isn’t awake, but Melody lies in bed with her eyes taped open. She kept her head under the covers and pretended to sleep while the other bed in their room creaked, until the sound of the front door sliding shut came, muffled, to her ears. Judging from the wafting mint-scented mist drifting through the window, Ursula and Madame Celeste are making tea outside.
Poppy is still fast asleep, curled into a ball by Melody’s knees, side of her belly rising with each breath, whiskers trembling on the exhale. A flash of red catches her attention. Garnet uncoils from Ursula’s bed, jeweled eyes glinting in the pre-dawn, diamond-shaped head rising off the sheets. She hisses pleasantly, black tongue flicking her smooth nose.
“Good morning, Garnet.”
“Good morning, Melody. I don’t mean to be a busybody first thing in the morning but I did notice you and Ursula seem to be in even more dire standing than normal.”
“What—how did you—”
“Oh, please, sweetie. You two are so obvious.”
Melody had nothing against Garnet. Garnet is intelligent, observant, to-the-point, and endearingly nosy. In many ways, Garnet and Poppy are similar. Which is probably why their friendship has spanned actual centuries, now Melody thinks about it.
“Oh, Garnet, I—to be honest, Ursula makes me so mad sometimes. But, yesterday I overreacted to something she said.” Melody sniffs. “It was a compliment, and I turned it into a fight.”
“Hm.” Garnet’s forked tongue flicks across her nose. “Are you going to do something about it?”
“I want to apologize, but I’m not sure what to say! Ursula’s always teased me for being bad in school, but I want to do well here, I do. Can you—will you help me? To apologize?”
Garnet’s long body drops off the edge of Ursula’s bed and glides across the floor. She winds up the corner post and over Melody’s leg, settling around Poppy like a hive around bees. Poppy twitches, but sleeps on. “Sweetie, I’d love nothing more than for you girls to get along. You’re both apprentices now; even though I want to help, I can’t break coven law. Poppy or I could have our powers stripped from us for even lifting a tail. I’m afraid all I can do is talk to you.”
“But I’m not sure what to say! Ursula never liked me. To her, I’m a stupid, lazy witch with no talent—”
It’s a startling sound, like a box of marbles dumped on a hardwood floor. It’s a thousand woodpecker beaks clacking to fresh bark. It’s bits of chalk pelted at a blackboard. Garnet throws back her head to laugh, fangs flashing, tongue bouncing with each note. Poppy stirs, blinks, head lifting from Melody’s knee. Poppy grumbles, tail waving in Garnet’s face.
“Some of us are trying to sleep, you snake.”
Garnet’s eyes shine. “I’m sorry, Melody. I didn’t know you hadn’t realized.”
“Ursula doesn’t hate you.”
She waits for the punchline.
“Ursula fancies you.”
She waits for the punchline.
“Pick your jaw up off the floor! It’s always Melody this and Melody that, she thinks you’re the coolest girl she’s ever met. The prettiest, too.”
“What—but—she’s been teasing me for years!”
“I’m not saying her behavior is defensible,” Garnet assures. “Even teenagers learn and grow. But. She has always thought you were particularly wicked.”
Years spent thinking Ursula hates her, gone. Poof. Vanished. Like a hermit crab swept off the beach by a wave. Ursula fancies her. Thinks she’s pretty. And god, with Ursula’s thick locks of hair and cherry-painted lips and rich, midnight skin, Melody thinks she’s pretty right back.
Melody leaps to her feet. Poppy shrieks and bolts under the bed. Garnet settles back into the covers. “Why didn’t she ever say something?! She’s so good with words!”
“Ursula? Good with words?”
Garnet cackles again.
--- --- ---
Ursula and Madame Celeste huddle around a small fire, sipping their mint tea from heavy brown mugs and tossing roots and berries into a small cauldron dangling above the flames. Melody smooths the wrinkles from her dress and takes a deep breath. When she steps from the cottage, Madame Celeste’s booming voice cuts through the still air.
“Good morning, Melody! Glad you could join us!” She holds out a fresh mug. “Tea?”
Wordlessly, Melody takes it.
Ursula waves her hand over the cauldron, sniffs. The contents bubble and spin, melting from creamy white to watermelon pink.
“You slept well, I trust?”
“Yes, ma’am, I did. Um…”
They glance at her. Melody shuffles her feet.
“Ursula, can I—can I speak to you? Alone?”
Ursula follows Melody into the garden, where the perfume of the sweet peas dances delicately on the summer breeze. It reminds Melody of fresh-cut flowers her mother used to place in their breakfast nook. She’d tie the stems together with the leftover ribbon from Imbolc, the white kind with flecks of gold woven between the threads that shimmered in the right light. For a moment, Melody is lost in the pastel blues of the love-in-a-mists, likens them to the hue of clouds that hang over her mother’s kitchen, filtered through the skylight.
Ursula crosses her arms over her chest, cherry-painted lips twisted in a complicated little frown. She’s waiting.
“Look,” Melody sighs, “I don’t know how to say this so I’ll come out with it. I decided to do my apprenticeship in earth magic because I admire and respect Madame Celeste. I’m no good at studying, and I got very low grades in almost every subject growing up, but I want to be here.”
Ursula blinks, her hard stance softens at the edges.
Melody pushes on. “I’m feeling insecure about my ability to do well during this apprenticeship. I don’t want the coven to send me somewhere else, to learn a different kind of magic. I may be bad at it but I like earth magic and it’s what I want to do. So… Sorry. For overreacting. You didn’t deserve what I said to you.”
A wrench of warblers breaks into song overhead, yellow wings flapping amongst the oak leaves and fresh-scented pines. Melody’s teeth catch her lip.
Ursula lets out a rush of air. “Um, Melody, I have something to confess.”
She stiffens—is this about what Garnet told her? Is Ursula about to confess? What does Melody say?
“I’ve been horrible to you. I have my reasons—not that they’re admissible. I wanted to be there for you two years ago, but I was worried if I started being nice, you wouldn’t believe I was genuine. It was a poor excuse. I should have reached out when Hazel died. I’m sorry I didn’t.”
Melody’s mind melts, and all that’s left are warm, beige grains.
Melody tilts her head. “Who’s Hazel?”
Ursula freezes, and something is wrong. Her eyes are steel, lips pressed tight together. Her expression prickles Melody’s skin, like eyes are watching from the trees. She’s out of the loop, somehow.
“What are you talking about? If you’re going to say nonsense, then I don’t need—”
“Hazel is your sister.”
“Your sister, Melody.”
“I don’t have a sister.”
Ursula’s face blanches. Her voice is distant thunder. “What did you do?”
Melody takes a step back. “Look, Ursula, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I wanted to say I’m sorry for overreacting yesterday, so are we good?”
Ursula inhales. “...Yeah. We’re good.”
Melody can’t help but stare for a moment longer than she wants to. Ursula’s expression is shock and determination in one, like storm clouds rolling over a still, calm lake. She’s rigid, holding herself as if her spine is cracking glass. One wrong move and it’ll all break. Melody turns back to the cottage.