x. Notes of June
“I need to apologize,” Ursula begins.
“No, I have to do this. My decision to slip you forget-me-nots was childish and ill-advised. I thought I was doing what was best for you, but I didn’t stop to think the memories you would regain might be too painful all at once.”
Melody sits in her bed, Poppy curled up on her lap. Poppy’s belly rises and falls with every breath, expirations small puffs against Melody’s wrist. Ursula paced a good twenty minutes outside their shared room before beelining toward her, fire in her eyes, jaw clenched. The muscles in Ursula’s face tick even now. Her throat works as she swallows. Melody hums.
“Ursula, what you did was very dumb.”
“I knew it—”
“And that rush of painful memories was quite strong.”
“Yes, it was—”
“And I know you had good intentions and were trying to help.”
“I was, I—what?”
Melody can’t help but laugh at Ursula’s dropped jaw. She covers her lips, chuckles slipping past her fingers. “Don’t be so shocked! I’m not saying I think what you did was a good idea. But I also don’t think I would have realized what I was blocking out without you.” Melody smiles, holding back a fresh wave of grief. “I’ve been taking Broken Hearts Brew since the day of Hazel’s funeral. At the time, it hurt so bad to think she was gone, that she wasn’t coming back. My mother ordered the brew for me but I kept taking it. I didn’t even know her name, Ursula.”
Ursula’s mouth closes. She’s regarding Melody with something—it isn’t pity, nor is it grief. It’s something deeper, something softer. “I spoke to Hazel before she died,” Ursula admits. “A week or so before. She told me she was worried for you. She didn’t want you to be left alone.”
“I promised her I’d look after you,” Ursula says. “But after the funeral, you were fine. I thought you didn’t need me. But Melody, when we came to Blackberry Thicket and I started piecing things together I realized how much I failed you. How much I failed your sister. I shouldn’t have forced you to recover your memories. I’m sorry I did.”
Tears swim in Melody’s eyes. She lets them fall. “I forgive you. Now I can learn how to heal through my own power. It’s what I should have done from the beginning. I miss her, Ursula. I miss her so much.”
And when Ursula’s arms wrap around Melody’s waist, her forehead falling to Ursula’s shoulder, Melody knows mourning will never be easy. But, maybe it won’t have to hurt so much with a friend at her side.
Perhaps, one day, someone more than a friend.
--- --- ---
Madame Celeste’s request to the coven that Poppy be restored her magic is granted in record time. The coven agreed Poppy’s interference in Melody’s apprenticeship was necessary, and they sent their thanks for saving Melody’s life in the form of can upon can of premium rainbow trout. Poppy’s amber eyes gleamed with a wicked light upon their arrival; the fish didn’t last long.
Summer slips by in imperceptible moments. Melody mightn’t have noticed the season changing at all, were it not for the color of oak leaves and the constant scent of cloves and pumpkin drifting from Sasha and June’s house. The eve of the autumn festival arrives and Melody finds herself hanging garlands and arranging desserts on tables in front of town hall. Madame Celeste chats with the townsfolk, as barefoot as the day they met, a secretive smile sweeping over them all.
Ursula helps Melody set string lights on the buildings and around the lamp posts, using their magic to weave the strands around the iron like snakes curling up branches. Garnet herself has stayed by Poppy’s side the whole day, wound up on Poppy’s belly as they bask in warmed sun, then the pale light of the full moon.
June rides atop Ursula’s shoulders and Melody is grateful to her for it; she isn’t strong enough to hold June up herself. Ursula keeps sending her these smiles, dazzling, bright, even as night grows darker and the lights they put up begin to glow. It’s beautiful here. But, with moonglow on her skin and caught in the plaits of her hair, Ursula might be more beautiful.
“I wanted to thank you,” Melody says before she can stop herself.
Ursula blinks, tilting her head. “For what?”
“You’ve been good to me. Since I fell, I mean. Maybe even before.”
“We’re friends now, silly.” Ursula nudges Melody’s shoulder with her own. June smiles at them, hands clutching Ursula’s dress sleeves. “I’d do a lot for you, now we’re on good terms. Besides, you’re okay to be around, I guess.”
Courage surges through her. “Just okay? Odd. A certain snake once told me you might fancy me.”
Ursula’s smile drops, rouge draining from her cheeks. She’s agape. Her teeth clack shut. “Garnet, you snitch—”
“Don’t blame her! I was trying to mend our relationship and she let it slip. She was being honest.”
“I’m so embarrassed,” Ursula groans, a free hand covering her eyes. “You weren’t supposed to find out like this. You were never supposed to find out like this.”
“I’m glad, though.”
“We are friends now, and that’s a hard-fought victory. As your new friend, I think it’s time you know… I think I fancy you back.”
The rouge is back in Ursula’s cheeks. She’s radiant under the mix of moonbeams and soft electrical glow. “Well, that’s. Well.”
Melody grins. “I’m thinking of making a new broom. My own, this time. Would you like to come flying with me when it’s finished?”
“Yes. I’d like that.”
Something catches her eye—a flash of color, a brief glow of something soft. Periwinkle. It draws her attention, and Melody isn’t alone. The rest of the townsfolk are drawn to it, too, every head turning. Melody’s breath stalls in her lungs when she realizes what it is.
A reindeer, antlers filled with baby’s breath and snow-in-summer, her eyes carrying all the seasons with her, wide, powerful wings upon her back. She emerges from the road, the forest beyond. She’s breathtaking and, for a long moment, no one speaks.
“Melody, Ursula, look!” cries June, “It’s the forest goddess!”
June’s eyes are sparkling, excitement growing her smile. She laughs, and the sound is so pure it shocks the townsfolk out of their stupor.
“June,” Sasha whispers, happy tears dancing in her eyes.
June scrambles down from Ursula’s shoulders, dashing through the crowd to her mother’s skirts. “Look, mama! She’s here for the festival! She’s so pretty!”
Melody wipes the tears from her own eyes. As the town she has grown to love pays homage to their watcher, their protector, the song of the forest accompanying her footsteps, Ursula slips her hand into Melody’s.
Melody inhales. “Hazel would have loved this.”
“It’s for her, you know. That’s why the goddess is here. To honor her.”
For a moment, Melody doesn’t know what she means. Then, she finds it—from the peryton’s antlers sprout creamy flowers with petals smooth as silk. Daisies and jasmine. She drops her head to Ursula’s shoulder, hardly believing this is real, running with the wild horses galloping in her chest. She squeezes Ursula’s hand.
“Yes. It’s for Hazel.”
And finally, Melody is ready to welcome the snow.