Let’s be Train Wrecks Together

The rain had been sudden and unexpected, but most of all it had been thick. When Oscar turns uo to the Little Bean for his mod-morning coffee, he’s not just hung-over and tired, he’s sodden. Tessa tosses a tea towel at him, and as Lina makes him a drink, fetches her sweater and tosses that at him as well. He ends up at his table wearing a top that fits him surprisingly well, groaning into steaming coffee and shivering.
As Marcelle enters the shop, sunglasses pushed right up to her nose, he perks up slightly. “Please say it went better for you?” he asks. Beside her, Cerys Carlisle frowns and heads to the counter.
“When I lost you, I panicked and went to Cerys’s house, because I thought I didn’t have my keys,” she says, sitting next to him with her head lowered in shame, “That’s Tessa’s sweater, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” he says, lowering his head, “How could you tell?”
“It’s the only dry thing about you. You’re literally dripping,” she says, and laugh. The hangover they’re both having isn’t as bad as the utmost failure they can’t help but experience.
Oscar shakes the water droplets out of his hair. “Maybe I should run away back to Taiwan. If I go now, I can keep the sweater,” he says, and looks over to Tessa, laughing with Cerys as she tales the order.
“You told me you’ve never actually been to Taiwan,” Marcelle points out, “And if you’re gonna be like that, give her the top back right now.”
Oscar considers, and then stands up. Tessa looks over at him, just in time to see her balled up sweater flying towards her, she catches it easily, and frowns at him but by now he’s leaving, with his coffee still on the table. Marcelle looks at the counter, at Cerys and Tessa looking puzzled, and then follows him out.
“I can’t do it,” he says, hearing the siren behind him, “I can’t sit there while she’s being so goddamm nice without even trying. I am a train wreck.”
“You’ve just got to ignore it,” she says.
“It’s very hard, Marcelle, when I’m so tired. I don’t even want to, like, kiss her or anything, I just want to tell her how perfect she is, but if I even try to compliment her, I’m scared it’s all going to slip out. I need to go home, and get into warm clothes that I own, and concentrate,” he says, spinning round to face her.
Marcelle storms closer to him, so he’s backed against a wall. “I have a plan, but it’s not very clever, and it could go very wrong,” she says.
“Well, that sounds about right,” he says and even when he’s so angry and in love, he sounds faintly amused.
She takes a deep breath and takes a hold of his wet t-shirt collar. For a moment, that’s it, her arm resting against his collar bone, her fist tightly curled as he breath hitches. Then she pressed herself into him. His confused lips resist only for a second.
“You’re not going to sing to me, are you?” he whispers, as his hands find her hoodie and cling to it.
“That never ends well,” she whispers back, and kisses him again, forcefully.

Questioning

Tessa had been in an odd mood all day. Thinking back, she decides it was the child, who had come into the Little Bean, asking for something overly large and very extravagant, and tipping her hugely. This in itself wasn’t what set her off, because spending an absurd amount of money is something that happens all the time, and just because the customer was pre-pubescent, doesn’t change anything.
It was the look in the child’s eye as Tessa scanned the shop for a parent. Impatient and tired, it had made Tessa feel young again. Even was Tessa was actually young she had never really felt young, and it was unnerving to finally feel it now. The child had taken the cup that was much too big, and thanked her sullenly, and the odd mood was there.
Because now Tessa was starting to think about everything she didn’t know. Growing up the way she did, there was no use thinking about that. She’d never find out all the things she wanted to know, so why bother even questioning.
Tessa Osbourne had been a very quiet child.
With Oscar in her life, and Cerys and Marcelle, she was learning new things. And if she could, contrary to her childhood beliefs, learn things she was curious about, new doors could be opened. Information was not lost to her.
The discovery should be a good thing. But Tessa leaves positive thinking to the optimists. There’s so much she doesn’t know, and so much she only learnt by accident. She hadn’t even known these people who became her friends have magic.
And know she was coming home, having pissed off Lina with her constant questions. At least she always knew Lina keeps secrets.
She unlocks her post box, and rifles through the flyers for anything important. She’s been hoping the bad mood might mean something good would happen, but nothing has changed here.
When she turns around, she knocks into a shape. Well, it’s less knocking into as turning around and discovering something already there, and not really a shape as a well-dressed block of person.
The man from 24D reaches out and pulls her back off the floor. “Are you alright? Your tail bone might be bruised; I suggest applying ice,” he says, looking her over critically.
“I’m fine, don’t worry,” she says. She could have sworn he wasn’t there. She should have heard the elevator open, or his shoes against the tiled floor, or anything to show he existed.
He nods, and turns to leave.
“Actually, I’ve forgotten,” she says, frowning, “What’s your name again?”
He’s never told her his name, and they both know it. He doesn’t smile exactly, but something about his face changes, looks open. “Daniel. Be careful, Miss Osbourne.”
She doesn’t want to be careful. She wants to ask him more questions, until she can say there’s a person in her life without any mystery. She knows he’d answer every one of the, with that same not-smile.
But he opens the door and goes, with the sound of traffic and nature.

I’ll Drink To That

With less than two months living in the city under his belt, Oscar still feels like a tourist sometimes. The city is foreign after a few blocks walking.. So when he calls Marcelle, he feels completely entitled to ask her out to dinner, and let her pick the place.
She agrees, of course. She knows there’s no romantic intent, and she does have a good knowledge of the food scene in the city.
They meet in a park that Oscar hadn’t previously known about. He arrives early to explore the meandering paths. Marcelle finds him sitting in a tree next to the bench they agreed to find each other at.
Oscar talks idly about nothing much until they’re seated, at a seafood place that borrows Cerys sense of style. “Could you be any more stereotypical?” he jokes.
“I could be wearing seashell bra instead of a hoodie,” she replies, flourishing the orange striped garment.
He waits until they have drinks to start talking about things he’s really interested in. “So when did you and Cerys meet?” he asks, innocent expression on as Marcelle takes a sip of water. He didn’t take her out entirely to find out about Tessa’s suspicion, but it’s been stuck in his mind, and he’s curious.
For a second she doesn’t reply. “Is there a reason you’re asking?” she asks calmly.
“Tessa thinks you like her a lot more than you’re letting on. I’m just curious, if you do, why don’t you make a move?” he asks, shuffling. In his head, this situation had been less uncomfortable silence, and more sarcastic repertoire with a hint of inspirational speeches. Maybe he should have gotten her drunk first.
“I thought I told you, I know when people are in love. I know you like Tessa more than she likes you. I know I like Cerys more than she likes me,” she says, and then laughs sadly, “I’d know it even if I wasn’t a siren.”
“Do explain?” he says, leaning forward. It can’t be obvious, or Oscar would have picked up on it, or he thinks he would have.
“We met, to answer your question, quite a while back. The exact situation is irrelevant. I was there for private reasons, and Cerys was there because she doesn’t fall in love. Not ever,” she says, folding her napkin carelessly.
“That must suck,” he says, his face creased with sympathy.
“No, it’s why we’re friends. I can sing in front of her, and she just tells me what I’ve done wrong. It’s pretty great, apart from the whole unrequited crush thing,” she says.
“It still sounds like it sucks,” he says, “We should go out and get super drunk, find a cute girl who’ll like you back. Maybe one for me too.”
“I’ll settle for a cute guy, if it helps me,” she says, a helpless beginning of a smile starting, “I’m not picky.”
“I can’t argue with that. Honestly, so would I,” Oscar says, and the smile blooms fully.
“Let’s do it. After we eat, we’re doing this. We’ll find someone to like that isn’t our respective best friends,” she says.
Oscar knocks his glass against hers. “I’ll drink to that.”

Happiness

As the sun sets, Oscar kneads dough, preparing it for cooking tomorrow. Anas has left, and the radio plays gently. Tai-Yuan sits on a rickety stool, unmoving apart from the movement of his tail. Time feels paused, as if this one moment could go on forever, repeating itself back and forth like Oscars pressing knuckles and the cats swishing tail.
Oscar takes a deep breath. His phone buzzes, and with that urgent noise, the moment is irreparably lost. He stabs at the phone with his elbow, furiously rubbing one hand on his apron to get rid of the dough.
“Hello?” he says, the phone flat in his palm with outstretched fingers covered in dough.
It takes a moment filled with giggling and gasps to get an answer. “Oscar, I love you,” Minni Khu croons, the words stretched out like a child straining their arms to prove their love.
“I love you too. Are you drunk?” he asks, slipping the phone between his shoulder and ear, to continue kneading the dough.
“No” she says childishly and laughs unevenly, “Sera and I were working on a happiness charm, and it back fired. I just love you so much.”
“Thanks, I guess. Is there anything else you want to tell me? Can I help?” he asks, chuckling. Minni has a long and complex history with spells going wrong. Oscar experienced that first hand when both his arms were turned invisible for twenty two hours and fourteen minutes.
“I was just trying to cheer up Sera’s greyhound, and it went a tinsy bit wrong, a smidge too much cocoa powder, and I thought I haven’t talked to my baby brother for a while. I miss you,” she pauses, and listens to some insistent muffled hiccups, “Sera misses you too.”
Oscar rolls his eyes, though the actions is lost to the witches drunk on happiness. “Hi Sera,” he shouts into the phone.
“So how are you? Happy, I hope,” Minni says, as in the background, Sera rolls into a new peal of laughter.
“Not as much as you, I’m willing to bet. I’m good though,” he says, “Are you two good? Beneath the happiness?”
“We are both absolutely perfect. Everyone’s been great. I do miss you. You should come back up and visit. Oh my Gods, better yet, we’ll come to see you,” she says, putting on a fakely serious voice until the excitement bursts out again.
“I’ve barely been gone. Concentrate on Sera’s sad dog for now,” Oscars says, shaking his head.
“No, we’ve got to see you. We’ll set off right away,” she says and then gasps, “We can meet your lady friend.”
“No, she’s not-“
“You have a lady friend!” Minni’s girlfriend has clearly wrenched the phone from her gasp, “Tell me all about her.”
Oscar stutters nonsense into the phone, trying to think of a way to end the conversation. The bell above his door rings brightly. “She’s here.”
“Let me talk to her,” Sera yells.
“I’m hanging up. Goodbye, have fun guys,” he shouts, and stabs the button.
Tessa appears at the doorway, grinning. As Tai-Yuan hops away, Oscar wipes one hand across his face, remembering the dough after it’s stuck to his face.
“Hi,” he says, breathlessly.

The Radio

While Tessa works in The Little Bean coffee shop, she listens to the radio. It’s not by choice. The dusty radio has sat on the far side of the shop, with its dials constantly tweaked by the coffee-drinking patrons. It’s unusual for Tessa to hear something she like playing, but as long as the volume is reasonable, with no profanities, the customers love it.
Sometime she glances at the customer fiddling with the radio with exasperation, but at least she doesn’t act like she has a personal vendetta against most pop songs, like Lina.
She hands a customer a large hot chocolate with the smallest blob of hot chocolate she could manage, like he always orders, and looks over to the window sill the radio sits on. The noise wavers around, whines of static with snippets of songs escaping from the noise every now and again.
“Pick one station, then leave it,” she yells over, with a glare, then retreats into the storeroom to refill the milk jug.
While in the cramped room, she gets distracted stacking bags of coffee which Lina has thrown higgledy-piggledy onto a shelf. By the time she reappears, the coffee is organised, the three o’clock rush has started, and the indecisive customer has been replaced. Marcelle Dubois, who’s started to spend more time sitting in with her drink, leans over a notebook as the radio plays sad quiet songs.
“I like this,” she says, bemused.
“It’s good enough,” Lina agrees. The only music Lina actually likes is loud, angry and old so good enough is a victory for the radio.
The Little Bean works like clockwork. The rush lasts just over twenty minutes before it slumps and Tessa can approach Marcelle.
“Hey there,” she says, swiping a damp cloth at the table, pretending to clean.
“I’d say it’s a surprised to see you here, but it’s not,” Marcelle says quietly. As she looks up, she throws one arm over the small notebook, careless in a fake way.
“Yep, if I’m anywhere, it’s here or home,” Tessa says, smiling nervously, “What’s that you’re doing?”
Marcelle frowns, not moving her arm. “Just writing a song. It’s what I do.”
“Yeah, I remember,” Tessa says.
“I’d sing it to you, but…” she says, sighing.
“Yeah, no, I get it. I’ll just presume it’s good,” Tessa says and Marcelle smiles. It’s the sort of smile that feels like an accomplishment.
“Can I get another one of these?” Marcelle asks, gesturing to her empty cup, after a few seconds of silence.
“Yes, you can. I’ll go do that right now,” Tessa says, hurrying back into professional mode and grabbing the large mug. She doesn’t know Marcelle’s order, which changes slightly every so often, so Lina will have to be consulted.
Tessa never expected to want to be friends with anyone, especially not a cautiously quiet siren. She has no idea how to make Marcelle like her, and two people who’ve lived their lives trying to fade away don’t make great conversation. But at the same time, she doesn’t want every interaction to be buffered by the extroversion of Oscar or Cerys.
Like usual, friendship continues to baffle her.

Kissing and Junk

Being a werewolf, Tessa doesn’t get drunk like most people. Where as her guests had drank over half a bottle of wine each, Tessa had slowly drank one glass, as her body slowly was taken over with bubbles of inebriated laughter. It never took much.
She didn’t get hung-over though. The benefit of being so easy to get drunk was that all the time that other people spend drinking alcohol can be spent drinking water. She wakes up feeling sunny.
When she steps into the Sweet Basil, Oscar peeks round the doorway, and pulls back quickly. Tessa has sat down at her table to wait for him when he comes out, with a twitch in his eyebrow betraying how hard it is to keep his composure.
“So, you want to talk to me?” he says, scraping his chair against the floor slowly before easing down into it.
She nods thoughtfully, “You know Marcelle.” She doesn’t notice the anxiety seeping from him. She barely makes eye contact, but Oscar is used to this.
“Indeed, I do, actually. Surprising, but I have seen her around,” he says sarcastically, the words sticking in his mouth in their haste to get out.
“So we had a girls night, me and her and Cerys, don’t ask why. And anyway I think, but I’m not sure, Marcelle likes Cerys,” she says, leaning back and looking at him exoectantly.
“I know, they’re like best friends,” he says, and frowns, “Is it seriously so absurd that someone might like Cerys. She’s not that bad.”
Tessa rolls her eyes. “No, like kissing and junk. Marcelle likes her in that sort of way. God, I like Cerys. She’s not that bad. Sometimes.”
She watches his face explode from wary confusion to emptily blinking eyes as he processes the new information, and grins. All he manages to sputter out is, “Are you sure?”
“If you’d been there, you would be too. The way she looked at her, it was ridiculous,” she says. Tessa hasn’t seen many people in love outside of TV, but the way Marcelle looked at Cery was the way most people probably looked at sirens.
“Oh my Gods. This is amazing. Why are you telling me this?” he says, tilting back on his chair and letting snap back forward with a sharp scrape.
“You flirt with her like the world is ending. Just thought you should know it’s a lost cause,” she says, “And, maybe I was pretty excitable when drunk, and thought it was important. Whatever.”
“I don’t flirt with people I actually like, like kissing and junk,” he says, “I’ve told you this already.”
She shrugs, “That’s really stupid. Well, now you know.”

Stress Baking

Oscar Khu learnt the habit of baking when stressed before he moved to the city. It began with helping his mother grind some herbs, and he decided crushing the pestle against the leaves felt good. The next time one of the witches sent him to the nearest used bookshop to buy a couple of things, he picked up something else. A battered recipe book wasn’t on the list, but it came home with him anyway.
His kitchen is a temple, and even his garden isn’t as organised as it is. Ingredients are weighed and sorted into plastic tubs, labelled with whatever baking product they’ll eventually transmute into, and put away in the appropriate place. Whenever he wants to cook, he just has to find the relevant tub.
He stirs chocolate and butter as they both melt. Stirring is where the de-stressing can start. Simple repetitive movements to the time of whatever song is on.
Last night he got a text from Tessa. It was badly spelt and vague, and he suspects Tessa might have actually gotten drunk. From what he understood, there had been Cerys and Marcelle, and an unexpected amount of wine, and now she needs to talk to him.
Even thinking about it makes his rhythm mess up. He moves from the melted mess to the chocolate. He could have cut the chocolate when he was boxing up the ingredients, but brownies are his ultimate stress recipe, and cutting the fridged slabs takes effort.
He’s worried that Marcelle plus wine has equalled secrets being spilled. If Tessa found out how much he really liked her, she would maybe want to talk.
Even if she was coming here to profess her own love, it still freaks him out. The thing is, he wouldn’t know what to say. He’s never had anything like this. Everyone at the coven was practically family. Everyone at the school picked on witches. He didn’t know anyone else.
As he starts to overthink this, he starts beating eggs. There’s nothing like beating eggs and sugar together to get rid of stress. It requires everything he can give to get the right texture.
He’s had crushes, of course, but they were pathetic. He likes Tessa because she’s actually likeable, no matter how hard she tries otherwise. He was planning on ignoring it. As much as he’s never had a crush like this before, he’s never had a best friend like this either. It’s nice to take a break from someone. He doesn’t want to lose that for some inexperienced attempt at dating.
It’s time for everything to come together. This is stressful in its own way. He pours each component into the bowl, folding it carefully. His arm trembles with the effort of keeping everything together.
It probably isn’t even what he thinks it is. If it was, Tessa would ignore him, and Marcelle would come and tell him, and it’d all be on him to go and fix this. But there’s a part of him that wants her to be coming and saying how much she likes him, and it’s terrifying.
He pours the mixture into a tin slowly, as the bell rings above the door at the shop. “Hey boss,” Anas shouts, “Your girl Tessa’s here.”

A Bottle Of Wine & Trashy Films

When the doorbell buzzes, Tessa is looking at a jar of extraordinarily cheap pasta sauce as a pan of slowly softening twists boil gently. The noises sounds almost as surprised as she is. She scrambles through the furniture until she’s standing a foot away, unable to take the last step and open the door.
Tessa doesn’t get visitors. She hasn’t seen her parents since she moved here, and Oscar always checks that it’s okay to come round so she knows when to expect him. The landlord leaves her alone, and her neighbours don’t bother her. There isn’t really anybody else.
She can hear them behind the door, vague wordless chatter. One of them is angry. Maybe they’ve realised this is the wrong floor, wrong building, wrong friend to visit.
The other one is chuckling, she thinks, and as she thinks it, the door goes off again, and it’s true, they’re here for her. She dives for the door, grasping the handle, and full of endless curiosity, opens the door an inch.
An inch because the chain is still on, and then she has to shout an apology, shut the door, fumble with the lock and then open it again, victorious.
“Tessa, hello, how are you, may we come in?” Cerys says, holding a bottle of wine.
Behind her, Marcelle waves, looking not as lost as Tessa, but close. Tessa blinks, wondering if Oscar put them up to this, but then again, Oscar still doesn’t know what to make of the grinning sea witch, so maybe this whatever this is is sincere.
She lets them in. “I was just cooking, but there won’t be enough for you,” she says, deciding to go with the flow.
“There’s a Chinese we always get anyway,” Marcelle says, and yes, she doesn’t really know what she’s doing here, with those words stumbling from her mouth.
Tessa nods, and tries to guide Cerys to her sofa. It’s hard, because she’s clearly wanting to explore, and Tessa has to really make the sagging seat sound appealing to get her to stay on track. Marcelle follows obediently, thank god.
Cerys waits until they’re all sitting, which takes a while, because Tessa has to go stop her cooking pasta, and get wine glasses, and have an internal crisis because her wine glasses don’t match, before she can take a seat.
“Tessa, I’m here as an apology. We haven’t entirely got on, and tonight we’re going to make it right. Marcy has trashy films to watch, I’ve got the wine. We can have fun,” she explains, like fun is a novel concept for all of them. Looking around, Tessa realises that maybe it is.
“I’m here because it’s better with more people,” Marcelle adds. She still sounds like everything is slightly a question.
Tessa nods. As Cerys orders Chinese for all of them, the werewolf and the siren share a bemused smile. A totebag full of DVDs is emptied onto the coffee table, and Tessa, like usual, relies on her knowledge of books to pick the movie most likely to be watched in this circumstance, feeling foolish, but daring to hope that this could work.

The Body Known as Anas Nejem

She doesn’t know why she’s doing this, walking through the waking-up city so early when she doesn’t have work until the afternoon. She had planned to sleep in, then spend her time cleaning. Long showers and spray bottles of soapy fluids. But at seven o’clock, Oscar had texted her, and she, in a dream state, had reached over to read it, and got caught.
He had told her, on all capitals, to come down right away. Something important. Tessa wasn’t quite sure; Oscar was appalling at texting, and she still wasn’t awake enough to retain information at anything like her usual rate.
So now she’s heading to the Sweet Basil, pausing every so often to look in empty shop windows and check her judging face. She’s debating if it looks better or worse with only one eyebrow raised.
The shop is open, though it’s too early for people to actually come in yet. She pushes the door, listening for the bell. Maybe he had bought a new one and in his state of euphoria, decided she needed to listen to it? But no, there it was, the same sound as usual.
“Hi there, can I get you anything?” the man behind the counter asks.
Tessa frowns. “You’re not Oscar.” This person is decidedly smaller then Oscar, with short curly hair and glinting eyes.
“He’s in the back, I’ll go fetch him,” the stranger says with a smile, pushing himself into the kitchen. Tessa follows in a dazed step, standing at the doorway and watching Oscar interact with the new face, only stepping away when he looks at her.
When Oscar appears, it’s without the stranger. He’s not smiling yet, but his eyes are creased happily. “Tessa, may I have the pleasure of introducing you to Anas Nejem,” he says, flourishing his arms. The stranger comes in enthusiastically, trying to wave, even while pushing his wheelchair forwards.
“Nice to meet you. Why?” she says, nodding politely at Anas, and aiming the much practised brow raise at Oscar.
“I hired him. Now I have more time to bake,” he says, grinning sunnily. Anas has his own version of the broad grin, and at least she can see why Oscar chose him.
“Plesure to meet you Tessa,” Anas intercedes, offering a hand, “Oscar has told me about you.”
Tessa takes his hand, starts to shake it when the body known as Anas Nejem collapses into a pile of snakes. Tessa looks at the snake she’s now in possession of, holding it up for inspecting with a frown.
“You hired a jinn?” she asks, turning to Oscar, as the snake starts to curl around her arm.
Oscar grins. °Is that a bad thing.” Anas asks, reforming into a rumpled human
“Just don’t do that to customers,” she says, and thinks, “Or Cerys.”

Love and Lust and All That’s In Between

“So, why is it called Sweet Basil?” Cerys says from one of the steel chairs, leaning back like she owns the place. When she leaves, Oscar will throw down some new protections, in case she has taken into her head that she actually does.
“Basil is my favourite herb. It’s a good strong taste,” Oscar says. By now he has resigned himself to a life time of Cerys Carlisle lingering in his bakery making idle chitchat and judgements.
“It’s not used for baking though,” she says, ripping into a croissant and looking inside like she’s checking for the herb.
“That’s not the point,” he sighs.
Marcelle, leaning in the counter with her own croissant, laughs. As Oscar has already found out, the siren doesn’t follow the sea witch around as often as it looks. She mostly came because she likes the bakery. Oscar had blushed at this point.
“My mum cooks with it a lot. Food cooking, not spells,” he adds.
“That’s cute,” Cerys says, but she sounds distracted, presumably by the breakfast. The surprisingly loud sounds of her eating fill the shop, as Oscar serves another customer.
He puts the money in an old fashioned cash register that only started to work after Minni tinkered with it, and can now hold more money than previously possible, and always has change. Marcelle adjusts her stance until she’s leaning over the counter some, looking towards Oscar.
“So Tessa, huh?” she says quietly.
“What about her?” he asks, stepping closer, somehow aware already that this will be a conversation to keep away from Cerys.
“You two friends?”
“Yeah. Why?”
Marcelle smiles though it doesn’t quite reach her eyes, “Didn’t look like it last night.”
“What are you saying?” he asks, shuffling even closer.
“I saw how you look at her. I’m a siren, remember. Love and lust and all that’s in between, that’s all I know,” she says, “You like her.”
“So what? She doesn’t like me back; I know. We’re just friends,” he says. He doesn’t sound sad about it.
Marcelle shuts her eyes. “I saw what you feel. You need to get it under control, or it’ll take over,” she says. She sounds overwhelmingly sad about it.
He steps back, and the conversation is over. The next time Cerys tries to bait him, she gets an empty glance and a grunting that neither agrees nor dissents. When the time comes, he skips getting his regular coffee.