So many stories will at some point quite naturally – or sometimes artificially – gravitate towards a certain theme. A certain topic that touches so many people in life, sometimes pleasantly and sometimes painfully or with something in-between and more. A complicated feeling that can weave many stories on its own. A force, a set of emotions, thoughts and acts known as love.
Well, not her specifically this time, though she does tie into the story in many ways. And perhaps she did have even more of an impact on the events of this story than people may have thought. But this time – like most of the time, to be honest – the love was not a person, but more a set of ties that people build between each other and that they have given many names and forms throughout the ages. And it made sense considering how many flavours love had.
Love was a moment between lovers, or a hug from a friend, a game night with family or a phone call of support on a very bad day.
Love could be lost and mixed with grief. And sometimes it could just cause pain.
Love could be preparing for the worst when one adamantly stayed by the people one cared about. And sometimes it could be something else entirely.
Amelia had been thinking about love a lot lately. Or more specifically, she had been thinking about romance. It was no surprise to her – she was a romantic at heart, after all. The kind who liked grand gestures and small, fluffy moments in the moonlight. She dreamed of a long romance that would make her as happy as her parents had been. Or even as happy as her mum was now with Philippe. Amelia was the kind of person who could usually be patient and just occasionally take a few moments to sigh longingly when she saw a loving couple passing by or watched a romantic film where the best-looking characters happened to be immediately attracted to each other and got together in the end, usually with music swelling in the background. Lately she had managed to push it all to the back of her mind. Or more like it had been pushed to the background for her. Her life had been so strange lately that she had been preoccupied by other things. But now, as her life had settled into somewhat of a routine again, the thoughts about romance and love came back, and Amelia found herself staring into space and imagining a life with a loving spouse.
Sure, she had her dates with Jon, but that was more like a footnote in her life rather than a major chapter. A footnote written by a shaky hand, no less. She didn’t even know if they could be called a couple. They were much closer to being friends. Their more romantic moments didn’t get much farther than some uncertain, meaningful glances and a bit of cuddling. Amelia had tried to convince herself that it was all good. That dating that consisted mostly of talking and doing friend-things together was a good way to go. But it had been going on for almost a year already, and Amelia knew that she wanted something else too. She just had no idea if she wanted it with Jon.
So far she hadn’t had much luck with boyfriends. She had dated a couple of times during university, but those had gone nowhere. And Hal had been very adept at the romantic gestures that made Amelia weak at the knees, but in the end he had turned out to be the kind of man who moved on without a second thought when he got bored. And Amelia didn’t even want to think about Jay – not that he even counted.
Amelia sighed. She knew that love wasn’t something that just happened without people building and nurturing it and pieces falling into place. It was a process. A connection. Something that grew with time and effort. She shouldn’t rush things with it. But she also shouldn’t sit still and do nothing about it either.
So Amelia called Jon and asked him on a date. A serious, we-need-to-talk kind of date. Nothing that would end in walks by the river under the stars, but something that needed to happen before walks and starlight could even be properly thought about.
Jon asked Amelia to come by to his house. He had lit a fireplace, but not really in a romantic context for fireplaces. Amelia had come straight from work, and she was feeling too formal with her suit on and her hair in a bun. Jon was dressed in black, like usually, and he looked mostly carefree, if a little sleep-deprived. He and Amelia sat in one of the many sitting spaces in Jon’s massive house, and after exchanging pleasantries Amelia decided that she would have to get to the point quickly or she would just chicken out and leave things once again floating in the not-knowing they were now in.
“So, Jon…” she cleared her throat, “I’ve been thinking… we’ve been sort of dating for some time now…”
“Um, yeah?” Jon said, and it sounded like a question, “So that’s what this is, huh? Are you breaking up with me?”
“I don’t know if I can,” Amelia said, “I mean, have we even ever been a couple? Sure, we’re friends, but it’s… I don’t know what this is that we have. A couple of dinners and no talk about our future?”
“It’s been nice. You’re nice to talk to. Although lately you’ve been kind of lost in your own world.”
“We haven’t even gone out more than a couple of times in the last few months.”
“Yeah. Exactly. Even when I’m not busy with the band.”
“Look, I don’t know if I’m even looking for a girlfriend right now. You’ve been nice, like I told you, and I like spending time with you, but if you’re looking for something else, then… well, I mean, I have the band, and it’s a lot of work.”
Amelia looked at the crackling fire behind Jon. Sure, it wasn’t really a surprise that Jon would say something like that. And maybe this was what she too wanted. Still, it stung.
“Okay,” she managed to say.
Well, this was rather anticlimactic. Amelia had to admit she had been expecting something more dramatic. Jon smiled apologetically.
“Look, um… so, what would you want out of this, really?”
“I don’t know. I guess just… some certainty.”
She let out a sombre hum.
“I guess you’re right. This is for the best.”
An awkward silence managed to almost drown out the sounds of the fire. Jon fidgeted nervously and then let out an awkward laugh.
“You know, I should get back to practising. Can’t get too rusty.”
He got up, but stopped when a crash resounded through the house. Amelia gasped.
“What was that?”
“Nothing, really. I hear stuff like that all the time. Sometimes I could swear this house is haunted.”
“Really? Are you sure it’s safe here, then?”
“Sure. No one’s ever got hurt. And uh… I really think I should practise.”
“Right,” Amelia said, feeling quite lost and abandoned when Jon started walking away without looking back, “Well, take care.”
“You too. And let’s talk sometime.”
That was it, then. Amelia got into her car and noticed that the night was falling very quickly already. Soon it would be winter, a time of lovely snowfalls and hot chocolate. And Amelia would be single and with no one to cuddle up with in front of a fireplace. Again. Not that she minded. Really, she didn’t. Oh, who was she kidding? She did mind a little bit.
But at least now she knew. She was free to find someone, or at least let life give her opportunities to find someone. Someone who suited her and she would suit for. There were no loose ends to tie anymore.
Despite trying to focus on those positive thoughts, Amelia returned home with heavy steps. She brewed a cup of tea and tried to ignore the sounds of her mum and Philippe giggling and whispering while they watched a film with their arms around each other.
Amelia went outside to drink her tea even though the weather was already a bit too chilly for it. Tad was in his garden, probably helping it prepare for winter, and he turned around when Amelia sat down on one of the chairs on the terrace. His eyes glimmered in the dark.
“Hello. How was your day?” he said.
“It was… good,” Amelia said. She spun her teacup on the table. The smell of jasmine made her feel a little better. Still, her gloomy mood must have been obvious, because Tad dropped his gardening tools and was sitting across from Amelia so quickly that Amelia could have sworn he had teleported. She barely managed not to spill her tea out of surprise. She would probably never get used Tad being able to occupy several points in space at the same time.
“Is something the matter?” Tad asked.
“No, no… well, a little bit. But you don’t need to worry about that.”
“Of course I do. We are friends, are we not? Friends worry about each other’s worries.”
“Yeah, they do,” Amelia admitted, “Oh, alright. I’ve just been thinking about… love and stuff.”
“Oh. Then I am afraid I cannot help you with that much. Sorry.”
Tad smiled and added:
“I do not know much about love. Except that she likes pink, sweet cocktails and sings very well.”
“Um… right… Well, it’s okay if you don’t know much about it. I don’t think I do either. I just… well, I’ve kind of been dating Jon Lessen. You know him, right?”
“Yes,” Tad said, “His grandmother passed away about two and a half years ago. And I believe he is still also grieving the man who used to play guitar with him.”
“Uh, yeah. Him,” Amelia cleared her throat, “He’s really sweet, you know? And it’s nice to be with him, but… well, I don’t think we’re in love or anything.”
Tad stared at her, nodding like a person who had no idea what was going on, but who wanted to pretend they knew in order to be polite.
“I talked to him today, and… well, we decided to be just friends,” Amelia crossed her arms, “So yeah. It’s not a big deal, really. We haven’t really been serious about it since… well, ever, so… I still wish he didn’t get so awkward about it. I mean, sure it is awkward and all, but I… well, my point is it’s over now. And it’s probably for the best, but it still hurts.”
“I am sorry you are hurting.”
“Thanks…” Amelia said, “In a way it’s a relief. To know I’m free to find someone else.”
“It’s just… Sometimes I feel like I’m just terrible at romance. I either pick the worst guys – like Hal or… Jay, though that doesn’t count because we didn’t even properly ever get together – or then just don’t seem to even get to properly dating.”
“I am sure things will work out,” Tad said, “Somehow.”
“I hope so. I mean, I’m mostly fine with just being like this, you know? Having lots of friends and some family. But sometimes… I kind of want lovely walks by the river, or planning a future family, or just dancing with someone to some nice music. I’m sappy like that.”
There was a silence, and then Tad said almost apologetically:
“I like dancing.”
“I am quite good at it. If you ever want to, I can dance with you.”
Amelia stared. If it had been someone else, she would have interpreted it as an awkward attempt at flirting. But this was Tad. A person who just seemed to have no romantic interest in anything whatsoever.
“Um… good to know,” she managed to say.
“If it makes you uncomfortable, I of course understand,” Tad said quickly, and almost looked like he was blushing, “I… I did not mean… well, I should go. There are still a couple of plants I have not talked with today.”
“I…” Amelia began, but Tad was back in the garden before she had time to even form a proper sentence.
She stared at Tad’s bony silhouette in the fading light, not really sure what to think.
Tad seemed to be avoiding Amelia during the next few days. Amelia decided to leave him be. She figured it was one of those times for him. Times when he needed to clear his thoughts or figure something out before he was ready to talk again. Yes, it was tough, because Amelia was bursting with curiosity. If she didn’t know better she would have thought that Tad actually might have a crush on her. A crush. The Grim Reaper in love. Amelia remembered reading a story about that during her university years for her elective literature course. Back then it had been interesting and romantic, but now just the thought of it made Amelia confused. Sure, Tad was sweet, but he was… well, Death. Though of course, it could be that his awkwardness wasn’t actually caused by a crush. It could be something else too. Simply the fact that Tad found such topics difficult or – like he had said – not something he knew a lot about. Amelia wasn’t sure, and she really hoped that she would get an explanation soon.
But while she waited for Tad to come out of his shell again, she figured she could do something else to get her mind off things. Something nice. Treat herself to a bit of culture and rest and relaxation. Yes, culture would do nicely. She had left that aspect of life to the sidelines as well lately.
Amelia decided to see if Dewey would really be okay with her dropping by to see his sculptures. She was interested in them, and it was always nice to see the Nexus people again. She called Brigitte, because she only had her number. Brigitte was overjoyed to hear her voice.
“Of course you can come over!” she said excitedly when Amelia explained herself, “I’m sure Dewey would love to show off his art! He’s a bit shy about it, but I’ll talk to him. Drop by whenever you want!”
It was settled, then. Amelia put on her jacket and walked over to the Nexus, breathing in the cold air and enjoying the deceptively sunny day. About twenty minutes later Amelia knocked on the door of the Nexus, and it opened on its own. Amelia was startled, but then she heard Brigitte’s voice:
“Basil, what have I said about not using magic to be lazy? It’s polite to actually get up and answer the door.”
“Oh, come on, it’s just economical. Hello, Amelia! Come on in!”
Amelia heard Brigitte sigh, and then she heard music. She shrugged off her jacket and scarf and closed the door behind her.
She walked into the living room to see Brigitte playing the electric piano by the living room windows, the happy tune brightening up the room where natural light wasn’t allowed into. Mimosa and Basil were sitting in armchairs, lost in conversation about vampire sunscreen.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t find enough silver on the flea market,” Basil was saying, “I promise I’ll get back to it soon.”
“It’s okay. The nights are getting longer anyway,” Mimosa said, “And thanks.”
She waved shyly at Amelia, and Basil greeted her again. Brigitte looked up and didn’t stop playing. She looked a bit tired, and Amelia remembered that it had been full moon just a few days ago.
“Hey there! It’s so great to see you!” Brigitte said, “Dewey is upstairs. He’s nervous, but he promised to show you his art. It’s so nice that you’re spending time with Dewey. Having friends will do him a lot of good! I’ll brew some tea for you while you enjoy the art show!”
Amelia nodded and smiled.
“Thanks. It’s good to see you too, Brigitte. How are you?”
“I’m doing fantastic! And you look well too.”
“Lovely! And I’m sure Dewey’s art will make you feel even better!”
Amelia walked upstairs and saw Dewey standing uncomfortably against the wall near some bookshelves. He had a frown on his face, but he struck Amelia as the kind of person who frowned a lot anyway.
“Hi, Dewey!” Amelia said brightly, “I’m so glad you wanted to show me your art!”
“Yeah, sure. Whatever,” Dewey said, “Let’s get this over with.”
He shook his head.
“Sorry, I haven’t shown my work to many people.”
“It’s okay. I’m sure it’ll go fine!”
“Yeah, yeah. Right. Well, come on.”
Dewey led her outside to the balcony, where Amelia had first seen him working on something with a chainsaw. He had arranged several sculptures around his workspace. Amelia clapped her hands in delight.
“Oh, they’re really good!”
Sure, most of them were rather abstract, and Amelia was – as she herself would admit – a representational art kind of person. But the work was still beautiful. Some were sturdy and fun, some delicate and looked more like liquid than stone. Amelia admired the smooth lines and the carefully carved details and saw rivers and fish in them. There was also a strangely cute monster bunny in the corner, as well as an unfinished statue that seemed to be shaping into a woman. Amelia looked at it for a longer while.
“That looks like something,” she said.
“Yeah, I’ve been trying to sculpt something more realistic too, just to challenge myself,” Dewey said, “Not sure about it, though. It feels weird sculpting people. It’s kinda like cutting them.”
Amelia turned to Dewey.
“I think it’s more like creating them.”
Dewey gave her the ghost of a smile.
“I like that.”
“These really are gorgeous,” Amelia said, “You’re very skilled.”
“I mean it! You should really try to get this into an art gallery or something!”
“Flattery gets you nowhere,” Dewey said, “I already got enough perspective to know that’s not going to happen without some serious effort. And marketing. And I’m not marketable.”
“But I guess my work could be. I hope. So I’m trying.”
“That’s the spirit!”
Amelia looked at the bunny sculpture in the corner more closely. It had too many teeth and it looked ready to swallow a planet. But it also had adorable bunny ears.
“That’s so cute!” she said, “A bit scary, but cute. I like it a lot.”
Dewey tilted his head.
“Oh, that one? Thanks. It was pretty fun to do. Less weird than people. I fought a killer bunny-thing like that once. Nearly took my head off.”
Amelia turned to stare at Dewey.
“Mm-hm. It had gone feral, but me and a couple of guys from a magical creature shelter managed to detain it. I think the shelter people managed to calm it down later.”
“Oh. That’s nice.”
“They don’t exactly make good pets.”
“But a sculpture-version is nice.”
“Yeah,” Dewey smiled, “You know, I didn’t think you’d like that. You seem more of a non-creepy kind of person. Then again, you have Dustpine as your tenant so maybe not.”
“That’s not very nice.”
“Hey, I’m okay with creepy. It’s not an insult coming from me.”
“You’re really nice, Dewey. You should visit my house sometime. You and the others.”
“Nice?” Dewey repeated with a raised brow, “Not many people have said that.”
“Well, I just did.”
Dewey didn’t seem to know what to say. He smiled and looked at the reddening evening sky. For a quite a long, nice moment, they didn’t say anything.
Then Brigitte opened the door.
“Hi! Sorry, am I ruining a moment?”
“No,” Dewey said quickly.
“I just wanted to say that we’re having evening tea soon. And afterwards we can maybe light the fireplace and warm up before Amelia goes back home.”
Her eyes shone when she looked at Amelia and Dewey.
“Dewey’s really talented, isn’t he?” she said.
“Okay, enough with the flattery. It’s getting embarrassing,” Dewey grunted, but Amelia could see that he was pleased.
The rest of the evening was lovely too. There was delicious tea made by Basil, and after the dark had fallen the blinds were rolled up and starlight was let in. The fireplace was lit, and Amelia sat with the Nexus people and watched them chat.
Even Mimosa and Dewey came out of their shells to tell silly jokes, and Amelia was struck by the feeling of love that surrounded the small, supernatural commune of Riverview.
Amelia was feeling better after the visit to the Nexus, but the matter with Tad was still unresolved. And Tad was looking even more restless. Like something was really bothering him. He seemed to be looking at Amelia almost wistfully sometimes. Like he was afraid she would disappear at any moment. And sometimes he just stared into space even longer than usually. And it could have been just Amelia worrying too much, but she could have sworn Tad’s skin looked even more translucent that normally and the reddish shadows around his eyes had darkened a little bit.
She really needed to talk with him. Again. Not just for her own peace of mind, but possibly for his as well.
She asked Tad to meet her by the river. Fresh air would do them some good, and a somewhat remote place would allow them to talk without mum or Philippe or someone else hearing. The part of the river Amelia chose was near the only industrial area that marred the otherwise very close to nature feel of Riverview. Old, abandoned storage buildings littered the shore. It wasn’t the nicest place to meet in, but it was at least peaceful.
Amelia turned to look at Tad, who was sitting on the riverbank next to her. He looked almost normal in the dark blue jacket and purple scarf Amelia had given to him as a gift back when he had been away. Tad had loved getting the new clothes that would help him blend in, even though he definitely didn’t need them for warmth. Amelia smiled uncertainly.
“Hey. Sorry to drag you here.”
“It is fine. I like this place.”
“I like water.”
“The river is nice,” Amelia said, “You know, when the sun starts to set, this whole place will start to look pink. It’s really beautiful.”
“I can imagine. I have never really looked at it that way, though. Is that why you wanted to meet here?”
“No, I just…”
Amelia didn’t know how to start. What was she even going to ask? She heard a faint rustle when Tad stood up. His large eyes studied Amelia with worry.
“What is the matter?”
“That’s what I was going to ask!” Amelia sighed, “You’ve been so… you look like something’s bothering you. I’m worried.”
“Oh. Nothing is wrong.”
It was a lie. Tad still wasn’t a good liar.
“You yourself said that we’re friends, and friends worry about each other’s worries. Remember?”
Tad shifted his weight nervously.
“Yes… I remember… I appreciate your worry. But I told you, nothing is wrong. Nothing you need to know, anyway.”
“Even after I’ve caught you staring at me so often?” Amelia said.
Tad’s eyes widened. Then he looked away.
“It is nothing.”
A heavy, stubborn silence dropped between them. Amelia bit her lip and – with nothing else to go with – decided to settle what had been bothering her for a while now:
“There was another reason I wanted to talk… I mean… I kind of need to know where we stand.”
Tad looked at her again, this time surprised.
“Um… By the river?”
“No, I meant, as us. As in… what we are to each other.”
This was way more difficult than Amelia had thought. And she hadn’t really imagined it to be easy to begin with. Tad looked just as lost as she was.
“Um… you are you, and I am… a fact of life made somewhat physical.”
“No! I meant… oh, this shouldn’t be this hard… Tad, do you have feelings for me?”
Tad blinked. Several times.
“I… wait, what? Seriously?”
“Well, I am capable of feeling things,” Tad said, sounding almost offended, “I am happy when I get to spend time with you and I am sad when you get upset. Sometimes I fear for you. So yes, I do have feelings for you.”
He smiled almost proudly at his answer, but then he frowned.
“Wait… Are you asking about some specific feelings?”
Amelia nodded slowly. Tad, to his credit, finally got it.
“Are you asking if I am in love with you?”
Amelia blushed. When Tad said it out loud, it sounded so silly.
“I… um… well, no… yeah… Not that… look… I was just wondering… you talked about dancing and stuff, and you’ve been acting strange and dropping hints… so I… wow… this is awkward.”
“I just want to know for sure, I mean, it’s nice to actually know what my relationships with the people around me are.”
“Right… Well, you do not need to worry about me. I am not in love with you.”
Tad studied his shoes for a long, incredibly awkward moment.
“I… how do I put this…” he cleared his throat, looking so painfully uncomfortable about the whole thing, “I do care about you. A lot. You mean so much to me, and you make me feel like I am someone instead of just… a thing. I wish to see you happy. I want to be a part of your life, if you just let me. I want… I want to matter to you, and I want to do what I can to help you and to spend time with you. I do not know what you would classify that as.”
He paused, a bit unsure.
“I do not, however, feel the need to have walks in the moonlight or… or to hold your hand or kiss you. I do not want to trap you into sharing your life with me too much. I do not desire to see you without clothes and I do not need to touch you in any way, really.”
He thought about it for a moment again while Amelia was trying to wrap her head around the incredibly unromantic ways to describe actions that often were involved in courtship.
“Well, hugs are okay, I suppose,” he added a bit uncertainly.
“I… oh. Well… this is still awkward,” Amelia rubbed her hands nervously, “I’m sorry I assumed… you must think that I’m ridiculous.”
“Of course not,” Tad smiled softly. Amelia realised that he had got pretty good at smiling, “I am flattered, mostly. And I hope I did not… hurt you by saying all those things.”
“No. I mean, I do care about you, but not that way. Actually, what you said you feel about me pretty much sums up what I feel about you too. It does sound a lot like love, really. Friendly love, but that’s just as awesome as the romantic stuff.”
Tad smiled again.
“So what is bothering you, then?” Amelia asked. She had hoped to catch Tad off-guard with the sudden question, but it was clear that she failed.
“Oh. Just a… larger than usual amount of extinctions,” Tad’s smile became much less convincing, “It will pass. How about you? Are you feeling alright?”
“Me? Sure. Just worried about you.”
“Good. And you do not need to worry. Really.”
Amelia still wasn’t convinced that Tad was telling her the truth about what was bothering him. But she supposed this was the best she could do. For now.
“Okay,” she said, “So, friends?”
“Of course,” Tad said, looking a bit bemused, “I like to think so.”
The river was turning a warm pink when the sun set. Tad turned to look at it.
“It does look beautiful.”
“Yeah. Come on, let’s go home. I think I want to bake something with berries in it. Do you want to help? I promise you don’t have to touch the oven.”
“That sounds nice.”
“Let’s go, then.”
There, in the rich, waning pink light, the two of them walked home by the river, side by side.
Amelia’s worries weren’t laid to rest. And neither were Tad’s.
Unlike Amelia had initially assumed, Tad was not preoccupied by the matters of love, but rather the matters of death. Specifically, the marks of death that hung heavy over everyone who lived in the Sprigg household.
Author’s Note: Oh man, it’s been way too long since I’ve had time to properly write this story (and my other stories, but I managed to remedy that during the last few days too so yay!). My life has been consumed by schoolwork, and I really hope I’ll soon have a bit more free time again. Fingers crossed.
Well, anyway, uh, I hope you enjoy?