Something has always been amiss with Rosebell channel. Every year when summer comes, the water rises and so does the death toll. Perhaps the crystal cool water is too tempting in the long forgotten heat; maybe we’re just too foolish to learn our lesson. As true as those statements may ring, I really don’t think that’s it. That river sings, and its song calls for blood. Can we get to the bottom of the mystery before we wind up sleeping on the riverbed with nothing but the current for comfort?
- - -
I’m looking for someone interested in a romance laced with a bit of mystery, and who is comfortable adding to the story.
As far as the mystery goes, I know what is going on, but it is up to you whether you’d rather be in the loop or remain spoiler free for the duration of the roleplay. Though the latter will limit you during our character creation process. That being said, what I have in mind isn’t set in stone. If you have ideas please feel free to share and we can work something out.
As for characters, there is a local who is trying to figure out what is really going on, and a stranger with a secret who wants them to stay out of it. But once again, this can be changed.
Despite how the hook is written, I am looking for a third person perspective, literate roleplay. I can be quite wordy and I want someone who can keep stride with me. I will probably ask for a sample post. Feel free to pull from another one of your RPs.
I prefer to play female roles, but I am flexible and will play male on occasion. I do not have a preference for my partner’s character’s gender.
I generally stick to anime or otherwise illustrated stuff for pictures.
18+ only please. Not for content, just because I am uncomfortable writing with minors.
If this seems interesting, PM me and we can figure something out!
There was a crispness in the air that day. It was the sort that came around just as the leaves transformed from bright hues of green to faded colors of red and orange. A gentle breeze blew through the sleepy town that Sunday afternoon, and with it came the light smell of pumpkin treats being prepared in lieu of the upcoming holiday season. The breeze sent puffy white clouds drifting lazily across the sky and eleven-year-old Ezekiel Young watched them go with a sad sort of thoughtful look on his face. What a beautiful day...for a funeral.
[tbl || Subject: Janine Alana Bennett-Young DOB | May 27, 1965 Age | 38 Race | Caucasian Weight | 146lbs Height | 5'5" Hair | Brown Eyes | Brown ] [#DAA520 "Ya mind lookin' this over for me, son?"] Ezekiel tore his eyes away from the figure covered in sheets to the slightly overweight mustached man talking to him. He held out a few sheets of paper and shook it slightly as he spoke, as if that would somehow make it more enticing to take. [#DAA520 "Just gotta make sure everything here checks out."] The young boy took the pages reluctantly, but it wasn't long after he had gone to reread the incident report that he found his eyes wandering up back to the body on the cold metal slab.
The police brought the boy in to identify the body. It wasn't the most ideal situation - exposing a kid to his parent's corpse - but finding other people to identify the body of a single mother who worked from home in a remote area was a tad difficult. Her only child was, unfortunately, the only option. Although the police implored the mortician to try and make the body look presentable for a child, there was little that could be done considering the body had been missing at the mercy of Rosebell Channel for days. The image was seared into Ezekiel's brain.
When the police had pulled the sheet off of Janine's face, Ezekiel almost stumbled back in horror. His mother's brown hair was still soaking wet and twisted up in a tangled mat of twigs, leaves, and dirt. The color and life that once lit up her smiling face had all drained out so that all that was left was a ghostly paleness. Her full cheeks had sunken into her face, accentuating her jaw and cheekbones and giving off a skeletal look. Judging by the shallow cuts and scrapes all along her face, it seemed as though the river roughed her up something awful. Despite the frightful condition she was in, Ezekiel managed to tearfully confirm her identity to the police.
The poor boy could feel the hot, salty sting of tears in his eyes once more as he stared at his mother's corpse. His body buckled a bit when, sensing the young boy's emotions were bubbling up, the mustached man clasped his shoulder with a firm grip. [#DAA520 "C'mon son, let's have a look at those papers somewhere outta here, alright?"] Although there was a gruffness in the mustache's voice, there was also an attempt at reassuring kindness. Ezekiel loosened the grip on the papers that he hadn't realized he'd been holding. The young boy attempted to keep his focus on smoothing out the newly created wrinkles on the files as opposed to the horrifying image of his mom as he was led out of the mortuary.
[#B22222 "Janine Alana Bennett-Young was a true light in this world. She was loved by all her friends and neighbors alike, many of whom would praise her positive attitude and parenting abilities. But sometimes, we are so attracted to how brightly a flame burns that we cannot see the darkness that surrounds it."] The pastor paused for effect with a hint of a silent smugness about his own analogy, in spite of the unfortunate circumstances under which it was written. The few spectators that came to the funeral stifled their sniffles and shifted slightly in the silence. [#B22222 "Our dearly beloved Janine suffered so greatly in this life that she felt the need to take it away. We gather here today in remembrance of her happy spirit with prayers that she suffer no more in the next life. Her flame was snuffed out too soon. But whatever she sought out, we hope our Lord, whose light never wavers, guides her there. Amen."] There was a gentle scattered applause as the pastor descended from his pedestal. Various people clad in black stepped forward to say some additional words, but Ezekiel tuned them out.
The boy exhaled deeply, a small bouquet of white roses clutched tightly in his hand. He looked way, way down into the deep depths of the earth where the cheap casket containing his mother rested. If she were alive, she'd hate it down there. Ezekiel's mother never liked small, cramped spaces. It wasn't exactly claustrophobia so much as it was a preference for open spaces that allowed light to warm a room; that's practically how every room in their house was designed. She would love to sprawl out on her back, fully extended under the sunlight as she read her Entertainment Weekly magazines. Sometimes Ezekiel would catch her like this and lie on his back perpendicular to her, propping his legs up on her tummy while he played his DS. Every so often, she'd reach down and tussle his hair. Ezekiel did the same to his own hair absentmindedly as he stared down at the grave.
As the funeral came to an end, Ezekiel stepped toward the hole in the ground and tossed in his flowers unceremoniously. [#9ACD32 "Are you ready to go, Ezekiel?"] The boy turned and looked at his father who stood smoking a cigarette. Joshua Daniel Young was a tall, slim man with a wide variety of colorful tattoos on his right arm. He sported a dark goatee and wavy hair that was cut close on the sides and left long on top. He wasn't a bad man; Ezekiel's mom had made that clear after the divorce. It was just a bad match. But now, the man was stuck with the boy as his caretaker. Ezekiel walked over to him, scrunching his nose up at the rancid smell of smoke. [#008080 "Ready,"] he mumbled softly. [#008080 "And...I like Zeke better now."] That was only partially true. In Ezekiel's opinion the name 'Zeke' was too easy to rhyme with things like freak or creep, so he didn't want to present others with such an opportunity. But when Janine was still alive, she always fondly referred to him as Cheeky Zekey as they played innocent jokes on one another. If she liked the name, it would be good enough for him. [#9ACD32 "Sure thing, Zeke."] His father said as he dropped the cigarette to the ground and put out the flame with the heel of his shoe. [#9ACD32 "Now let's get you home."]
[center [size17 || Fifteen Years Later ||]]
Zeke managed to make his way back to his hometown of Conway, South Carolina back in 2017. He had been staying there a year thus far. Not too long after he moved back had he found a job as a substitute teacher at Conway High. It wasn't difficult work. All one had to do was basically just show up, take roll, and follow the instructions left by the original instructor. The kids would take advantage from time to time, sure, but Zeke's backbone wasn't exactly comprised of particularly strong stuff. In any case, his current line of work wasn't what prompted his return in the first place.
A suicide, police ruled all those years ago. Zeke called bullshit. It was a cop out (no pun intended) move because there hadn't been any sign of struggle when they found the body. Yet, there was no former evidence that a woman such as Janine Alana Bennett-Young would ever want to do such a horrendous thing. There was no history of mental illness, no prior incidents of self harm, nothing. Zeke believed that not only did his mother lead a full life, but that she deeply treasured every moment of it. So why did she die? He intended to find out.
The halls of Conway High were buzzing with anticipation as the students prepared for their final days of class. Summer vacation was quickly approaching. At this point, no one even bothered to pretend to interested in their lessons. How could they? They didn't even pack their bags with school supplies anymore. Zeke sat at his desk with his iPhone in hand, scrolling mindlessly through some BuzzFeed top fifty list while a large majority of the juniors in class did the same. Since it was the last period of the day, their attention spans were anywhere else but the tasks they were assigned.
[#DB7093 "Ayo, mister!"] One of the students called out. Zeke lifted his eyes just over the rim of his glasses. [#008080 "It's Mister Young, um...Jake, is it?"] He referenced his attendance seating chart in order to get the name right. [#DB7093 "Yeah, well, mister, my bus is at like the front of the line so I gotta leave early to get to it before it leaves."] Zeke glanced at his watch before countering, [#008080 "There's only eight more minutes of class time so I'm sure you can-"] [#DB7093 "C'mon! Mrs. Gallagher let's us do it all the time."] Zeke seriously doubted that. Even still, he rolled his eyes and nodded his head reluctantly, signaling for the class to leave. He had work to get done anyways.
When the class had emptied out of the room, Zeke made his way over to the science supply closet on the second floor of the school. He had been snatching various odds and ends for the last few months, knowing that the blame would be placed on some mischievous students. As the rest of the school flooded the place at the ringing of the bell, Zeke went over to the bike rack and input the PIN on the lock. He ignored the snickers of the students as he donned his bright red helmet and took off down the line of cars in the student pick-up area.
It wasn't long before he moved from pavement to pathway down to the familiar Rosebell Channel - the place where his mom had died. He had been here too many times to count, trying to figure out the ins and outs of what happened that day. There had been little to no progress, but he was not deterred. Kneeling next to the running current, he removed small thin slips of paper from his pockets. pH papers. He carefully lowered them into the clear water and waited for the colors to change. As the man looked around, he almost wanted for the results to turn up empty; the place, he begrudgingly had to admit, almost made for a scenic site. Almost.
Another beautiful day, bright sun, warm weather, and bustling people. Spring was full of all three and even when the sun wasn’t shining, the heavy spurts of rain brought an assortment of flowers. They bloomed near the river and painted the bank in a mosaic of fascinating colors. Cordelia was fond of this time of year. It was most definitely a change of pace for her and her family. Although, that was a front full of tension these days.
[I [+mediumaquamarine “I’m tired of this. Can’t we just move on?”]]
[I [b “And I’m tired of arguing with you about it. This is the way things are.”]]
She truly was tired of it. No one seemed to be on her side about anything. She wanted to get away from it all. But that meant she would need to break away, and she wasn’t sure how to make that happen. She’d taken a couple of baby steps, so to speak, but she wasn’t sure it would be enough in the long run.
Sighing, Cordelia sprawled out on the sloped bank of the river. Despite the sun being out, the deep green grass was cool against her skin. It acted as a small layer of insulation between the warm air and the cool soil below. The faint dampness was comforting and she didn’t move from that spot for some time. In that time she let her thoughts run wild. Ranging from light daydreams to grand fantasies, she was rather enjoying herself even if it was completely unproductive.
A light breeze rolled by, stirring Cordelia’s hair all into a flutter. Her hand moved to brush the stray strands from her face, but made no other attempt to calm the mess that was on the rest of her head. With the wind picking up, she didn’t hear the man on the other side of the river. It was the flash of movement at the water’s edge that teed her off.
Eyes flashing to his figure, she recognized him, but only by face. His name still eluded her. He came to the channel often, so naturally she took notice of him. Her bright blue eyes watched his every move with interest. The young woman didn’t know a whole lot about the man, other than the fact that he was probably looking into the disappearances and deaths that cropped up every year. That seemed to be the only reason anyone out of adolescence came to the water in this area. What stood out to her was that he’d managed to stick to it so long. He was persistent. And while it was an impossible endeavor, she thought it was noble all the same. That was more than she could say for any of the other men she’d met, and so she found herself quite enamored with this stranger. It was almost a hobby of hers to look out for him, which was probably one of the only reasons he hadn’t been targeted yet. Those who snooped too far into this mystery had a tendency of disappearing.
By this time, she had sat up to watch him. His actions left her enrapt. Perhaps a little too much so, as it took a moment for it to sink in that he’d glanced back over to her. Panicking, Cordelia wasn’t sure what to do. He was going to think she was watching him, which she was. But she didn’t know how he’d take that. So before he could fully do a double take, the brunette was gone.
Out of sight, the woman was kicking herself. She’d been saying she would go and talk to him. Just now had been the perfect chance. It might have even seemed natural. Sighing, she wondered if it was too late... Even if it was, she knew she’d regret it later if she left without trying. After all, what was the worst that could happen, scaring him away? In the long run, that wouldn’t be too bad. In fact it might actually be the better option. Convincing herself that the stakes weren’t that high, she pulled herself from her hiding place and glanced back to him. He’d gone back to whatever it was he was doing before.
Using a nearby park bridge, Cordelia crossed the rushing water. It roared hasty over large rocks below. The cascading water was loud; she thought it strange that so little water made so much noise. Although she only considered it a small amount because she was comparing it to the infinite vastness of the ocean.
It wasn’t long before she came up on the man. Her sundress swayed softly as the intermittent winds passed by. He seemed focused on what was in front of him. So much so that Cordelia didn’t think he noticed her standing there. Taking his relative disinterest into account, it was clear she had overreacted a few minutes ago. Embarrassed in hindsight, she stood there quietly watching him for a little while longer. He on the other hand was staring down at a little green strip of paper. What could possibly be so interesting about it?
Motioning to the little strips of paper in his hand, Cordelia broke her silence. [+mediumaquamarine “What are you doing?”] Her voice was songlike and words unshaking, even though she was incredibly nervous. Raising a hand, she ran it through her light chestnut hair, hoping it might tame it some before he looked her way.
Cordelia was beautiful and she knew it. This was one of the times she felt it might come in handy. Crouching down next to him, she was a little closer than what was actually necessary for a conversation. [+mediumaquamarine “I mean, most people avoid the river this time of year don’t they?”] Nothing she said came out accusatory, after all she was down there too and it would only invite him to prod back at her. She hoped to avoid that if at all possible.
pH testing was a lonely, boring business. Slip the paper in the water, wait fifteen seconds (although Zeke held out for thirty, just to be sure), take it out, compare the color to the chart on hand, and repeat. Zeke wanted five samples from each individual location within a twenty-foot radius of where his mother had been discovered. Needless to say, the repetitive action lost its appeal rather quickly. The young man found himself berating such fruitless efforts. It had been a full year back in town with next to nothing to show for it. His coworkers had attempted to welcome him into the fold of friends from time to time, offered him drinks or an invitation to a game night on occasion, but he voluntarily chose to keep the company of a damn river instead. What a life.
Zeke took the strip of paper out of the water and compared it to the chart. The newly changed color revealed the same results as the rest: nothing. The acidity of the water was relatively neutral, if not slightly above. The man exhaled an unenthusiastic sigh, placing the strip into a ziplock bag with the rest. A gentle breeze ruffled his dark hair, displacing a few strands and trapping them behind his glasses. Zeke took the frames off and combed a hand through his hair, forcing the strays back into their original positions. He brought the glasses down to the hem of his shirt, wiping the lenses dully as he had done countless times before. As he did so, however, he thought he saw a figure on the opposite end of the bank. It was a bit blurry, but he was certain there was something or some[i one] there. And was this mystery figure…[i staring] at him?
Zeke jammed his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose for a better look, but whatever it was had vanished. He blinked a few times. The man was not usually one to give in to fanciful things such as curious disappearing bystanders, but he was sure that something had been there. And it unnerved him. After all, it was no secret that whenever civilians poked their nose too close to the river, they were likely to run into misfortune. But then again, if there were people out to get him, he must be close to some kind of breakthrough. Zeke set back to his work.
A few moments of silence passed as he busied himself with his task. Slip, wait, take, compare, repeat. Slip, wait, take, compare, repeat. Slip, wait, take, compare, repeat. And so on. He got to his fifth strip for the location when someone chimed out behind him with a question. Despite the natural charm of the disembodied voice, Zeke had figured himself alone and he became quite startled. His heart jolted in his chest and he stumbled forward, dropping the pH paper into the water. The greedy current swept it away instantly. The man’s eyebrows scrunched together in frustration and he rounded on his “attacker.”
[#008080 “Well, I [i was] conducting some personal research on the pH levels of the river here,”] he snapped bitterly. [#008080 “But now I-“] Zeke broke off midsentence when he whirled around and was overtaken with beauty. A woman in a sundress was standing over him with the wind in her hair and the sun at her back. She looked like she commanded the springtime. The man did not believe in love at first sight. That certainly wasn’t what this was. But there was definitely attraction. He faltered. [#008080 “Now I – um, well, I-I mean I –“] he had to swallow hard as his throat suddenly felt very dry. [#008080 “I think I, erm, I have a few more.”] Zeke did not do anything wrong, but he sounded extremely apologetic nonetheless.
He did not tear his eyes away from the woman as she lowered herself down to crouch next to him. She was so close that he could smell her; her scent was that of flowers and freshly fallen rain. As she looked at him in a friendly way, her arm just barely brushed up against his own. Not even two seconds afterward, Zeke stumbled and accidentally soaked his right shoe in the river. A short string of curses escaped his lips as he jerked it out of the water. There was a distinct heat he felt rising in his cheeks as he turned back to the woman in the sundress.
[#008080 “Ah, sorry,”] he mumbled out of embarrassment. [#008080 “Bit slippery, is all, I suppose.”] He cleared his throat in an attempt to shake off whatever was putting him so out of touch with things. He adjusted his glasses with shaky hands. They trembled more with adrenaline rather than nervousness, but it didn’t look good either way. He moved his focus back to the river. Perhaps if he kept his eyes off of her, she would stop affecting him so strongly. Sure enough, he found his words with a bit more ease.
[#008080 “Yeah. Um, yeah, I suppose not many are keen on being here. But I’m not doing much.”] He held up his ziplock of used pH papers. [#008080 “These are pH papers; they test acidity and alkalinity. So, you know, I’m just looking at some of the different spots here and, uh, yeah...”] He lost his train of thought momentarily as he looked at her again. [#008080 “Just, uh, seeing if there’s maybe anything out of the ordinary.”] He shrugged and dropped the bag back onto the ground to swap it out for the unused strips. He offered her one with a sideways smile. [#008080 “Would you like to try?”] A flash of self-deprecation flashed across his face. [#008080 “Oh, um, my mine is Zeke, by the way.”]
Not accustomed to being yelled at, Cordelia was somewhat taken aback by his initial reaction to her presence. That soon faded though and he was stumbling all over himself and into the water. She honestly hadn’t meant to startle the guy; she felt a little guilty. Perhaps she should have just left him be. This was all off to a very rough start.
[+teal “Ah, sorry.”] He apologized before she had the chance to.
Well, this was going spectacularly. Not. [+mediumaquamarine “No, no, no, I am sorry. I did not mean to frighten you…”] Quickly, she tried to rectify the situation with her own apology.
Things lightened up quite a bit from there, which the woman was grateful for. If it hadn’t she might just have ran away and there would be no recovering from that. Cordelia would never be able to show her face to him again.
As the wind blew softly, it carried his voice as he explained what it was he was trying to do. She wasn’t much of a science buff, but it was interesting when he said it. Smiling faintly, she looked at the plastic baggy of little green strips. [+mediumaquamarine “That is neat.”] The enthusiasm behind her voice was genuine, though she wasn’t sure how knowing how acidic the water was would help him to figure out what was wrong with the river. Their brains just worked differently she supposed.
As useless as she thought the task to be, she jumped at the chance to try it herself. [+mediumaquamarine “Yes, very much so.”] Her excitement only egged on by his sidelong smile.
Just as she was about to take the small scrap of paper, something in his smile changed. Then he introduced himself. Considering she was the one to approach him, Cordelia should have been the first to make introductions. Unfortunately it seemed her manners were out the window at the moment, she was too excited at finally having the chance to talk with him. Zeke, as he said his name was.
[+mediumaquamarine “Oh, yes, I am Cordelia. It is a pleasure to meet you… Zeke, that is a nice name. I like it.”] She smiled brightly, countenance matching the sunny atmosphere around them perfectly.
Taking the strip, her thin well-manicured fingers gently brushed up against his larger hand. It was barely more than a whisper of contact, but it made her nervous. The brunette still couldn’t believe she was doing this right now. Shifting around, she moved to her knees to get a little closer to the water’s edge. Zeke had mentioned it being slippery, so she did not want to look an absolute fool and fall in. From there she dunked the pH paper into the lazy moving water. The river must have been deeper here for it to go so slowly.
[+mediumaquamarine “This is how you were using it before, right?”] Cordelia had wanted to be sure that she didn’t hinder his progress further by messing up, but her face heated up as she realized she had all but admitted she had been watching him. [+mediumaquamarine “I mean, I was walking by and I think this is how I saw you doing it.”] Her attempt to not look entirely creepy fell somewhat flat with how defensive she sounded. And so she went quiet for a bit and hoped he would not think too hard on it.
After a bit, the paper changed color; it was the same shade of green as the others she had seen in the Ziploc. That meant she had probably done it correctly, which was sensational. Still, she hesitated to take it out, waiting just a touch longer before calling it good. When she was absolutely certain she had left the tester in the water for long enough, she pulled back and let the remaining water drip off and back in the channel. Cordelia passed it back to the man when it was no longer dribbling.
[+mediumaquamarine “Here you are.”] She beamed; glad to be helpful. [+mediumaquamarine “Um, you said you were going to test different spot. Would you perhaps like some help? I mean, the faster you get away from the river the better, right?”] Chuckling lightly at the superstition, but there was a hint of seriousness to her words. He really shouldn’t hang around for too long, something might happen, and if it did she would feel terrible.
[#008080 “Cordelia.”] He repeated softly with a grin. He liked the way the word danced on his tongue. There was an inherent grace and gentleness to the name that suited the woman perfectly. [#008080 “Pretty,”] he added, referring not just to her name.
A hard lump formed in his throat when she brushed up against him once again to take the slip of paper. This time, at least, he did not fall into the water. But he did avert his eyes quickly. He did not want to tempt fate a second time. The sloshing of his soaked sock inside his shoe was a cold, wet reminder of that. At least she had not laughed. After being surrounded by so many teens so often, he was accustomed to being ridiculed. He certainly wasn't going to judge his self worth from childish teenagers, but a hurried apology was a nice change of pace from the alternative.
He watched her closely as she moved closer to the water's edge. His muscles tensed ever so slightly, ready to reach out and catch her if she were to fall. Though he suspected she could carry herself a little less awkwardly than he had. As she lowered the strip into the water he continued to look on. His nervous slightly infatuated stare, however, melted away to reveal a more hardened and concentrated look. Her beauty, no matter how alluring, could not distract him from doing some actual work. And who knows? Perhaps the river would offer her some contrasting results.
Zeke only nodded his approval when she asked how she was doing. He might not have thought anything of it if she had left it at that; the teacher in him had taken over at this point. Help only when absolutely necessary and allow the student to hone their problem-solving skills on their own. Hence, his simple curt response. Yet he detected the sloppy cover-up. After all, he was pretty well familiarized with such things. He raised an eyebrow at her, wondering why she felt the need to lie around him. Did she feel unsafe? Had he made too bad of an impression? Was she hiding something? The thoughts buzzed in his brain a bit, yet he said nothing. He wasn't a forward kind of guy. He opted instead to [s obsess] ponder over it later in his free time.
The man deflated a little bit when the paper revealed the same coloring as it had for the past forty-five minutes. He held out his hand without any enthusiasm for the paper. Yet she held it in the water for just a tad longer. Much like he did. A small smile tugged at his lips and even though he had nothing to with it, he felt a little proud. Or, at the very least, he admired the fact that she had the same affinity for measured assurances. He took the paper back, continuing to grin. [#008080 “Excellent job, Cordelia. Thank you.”] There was genuine encouragement in his voice; the teacher in him was in full swing. When she offered to continue helping, however, he was a little caught off guard.
[#008080 “Oh.”] He said, blinking in surprise. [#008080 “Erm…I mean, you are certainly welcome to join me, and I truly appreciate the help, but I certainly hope you don’t feel obligated to do so.”] He shrugged and motioned toward the bag. [#008080 “It isn’t exactly the most riveting thing in the world, after all. Plus, if I’m in danger of being here,”] he followed her lead and chuckled a bit before continuing, [#008080 “You are as well.”] Even as the words were leaving Zeke’s mouth he was kicking himself in the ass for it. What was with it and his obsession with committing to solitude? Here was this beautiful woman who actively wanted to spend time with him performing an otherwise boring task. Honestly the last thing he wanted to do was push her away. He quickly backtracked. [#008080 “I mean, you are, of course, already here so what’s the harm? But,”] He collected his things and towered over her crouched figure. [#008080 “If you watch my back, I’ll watch yours.”]
Her face flushed at his compliment. After that she didn’t even care that he did not provide much in the way of input. And she all but forgot about it, and how weird she’d been only moments ago, when she received his thanks. His few words of praise and thanks had her giddy. [+mediumaquamarine “You are absolutely welcome!”] Her words were full of excitement as she mirrored back the genuineness he was exuding.
The way he twisted her own words back at her after that, made her heart sink. His logic was sound. Just as she was about to try and argue with him, tell him that having two people were cut the time in half and therefore the danger, he seemed to fall back on his own.
Her watery blue eyes stayed trained on him as he stood. He offered to keep a look out for her and she beamed. [+mediumaquamarine “Okay! I can do that. It should definitely be safe with more than one of us.”] Cordelia knew that wasn’t necessarily true, but she was too excited to show any signs of doubt.
Standing, she resisted the urge to grab his arm by clasping her hands behind her back. Though she was still standing a little closer than a normal person might have been. The brunette didn’t bother to ask where they were going next. She would follow him wherever without a care. But before they could get going, her gaze went to his bike, the red helmet sticking out spectacularly amongst all the green of the flourishing riverside.
[+mediumaquamarine “Oh, you rode here, didn’t you?”] She felt a bit bad knowing she was going to slow him down even more. [+mediumaquamarine “I am sorry… I walked.”] Steering them back towards the path, Cordelia allowed him the time to gather up the rest of his things so that they could walk with one another. When he didn’t seem too perturbed, the woman felt a little bit better, but silently promised herself not to be so much of a bother in the future.
Along the way, the pair infrequently passed others along the path. No one else seemed interested in the river, and some of the older folk wouldn’t even look that way. The superstition of its danger ran deep in this place. It made her a hair nervous, so Cordelia began to talk to distract herself. It wasn’t hard; she had been dying to know more about Zeke forever. This was finally her chance.
[+mediumaquamarine “So, are you originally from this area?”] This wasn’t exactly a tourist trap, so she couldn’t think of a whole lot of reasons to come here if a person didn’t have family in town. [+mediumaquamarine “And if this is personal research, what do you normally do for a living?”] There were a thousand more questions buzzing in her head, but she left it at that for the moment. Bombarding him was not on her to do list.
The walk to the next section of waterfront was filled with the same sort of blooming views as where they’d been previously. But after a while the landscape of the bank started to change. The last section was more rocky, millions of multicolor pebbles lining and containing the water. Here it was different. The turn of the estuary housed a less tranquil section of river. And after years of being bashed by turbulent waters around the bend, the bank was left sandy. Cordelia couldn't help but be glad for that. It would be less slick, so her new friend probably wouldn't slip into the water again.
Zeke watched Cordelia as she pushed herself to her feet, noting the distance (or rather, lack thereof) between them. He felt his breath hitch ever so slightly but, moved away from her in order to refocus. The man faced another problem when he ascended the bank and spotted his bike, however. Almost in tune with his own thoughts, the woman brought up the fact that he had ridden it to the river. A warm, unwelcome heat began to flood his cheeks as he quickly scrambled to think up some excuse as to why he had such a modest form of transportation as opposed to a vehicle.
[#008080 "Yeah...that's me,"] he said with a sigh and an unenthusiastic gesture to the bike. Before Zeke could cover for himself however, the woman was apologizing. He turned toward her with a furrowed brow, the redness ebbing out from his cheeks slowly. [#008080 "Oh, please, you don't need to apologize. We can both walk now."] His lips pulled up into a reassuring grin and he kicked the stand from under the bike, taking it by the handles instead. [#008080 "Just this way then."] Zeke began walking ahead of Cordelia and tried not to visibly stiffen when, instead of walking behind him or rushing ahead, she opted to walk beside him. Once again, she was very close.
As the two walked together, there was a brief silence between them. As much as the man wanted to think nothing of it, he fidgeted a little uncomfortably. How to make a good impression? Even more importantly, how to make good conversation? He ran through a list of things in his mind, trying to settle on one that would stick. Family: too personal; he didn't have any right to nose around in that business. Movies: too presumptive; she might think he was trying to figure that out in order to ask her to one. Hobbies: too broad; in any case, he would have to talk about his in return and with the plastic baggie of pH papers in hand, that was obviously far from interesting. Eventually he landed on asking her what motivated her to hang around the river that day. That was interesting, present, and compelling conversation - or, at the very least, it was the best he could do for the time being. After replaying how to phrase the question in his mind multiple times - even going so far as to mouth it inconspicuously while they walked - he finally opened his mouth and --
[#ADD8E6 "So, are you originally from this area? And if this is personal research, what do you normally do for a living?"]
[right Beaten to the punch.]
Slightly deflated he hadn't gotten to initiate the conversation, but also slightly relieved that there finally was something to talk about, Zeke nodded in response to the first one. [#008080 "Oh, yes, Conway-boy born and raised."] He paused for a moment before amending the statement. [#008080 "Well, I was born here, at any rate. I lived here with my mom until I was around eleven then went to live with my dad in Florida until about a year ago."] He omitted the reason. [#008080 "Now I'm back. Home sweet home."]
Once the two had reached the next section of the river, Zeke propped his bike up against a tree and descended the bank. It was easier to maintain one's footing here, but the man offered a hand to Cordelia to help her down anyways as he continued talking. [#008080 "For now, I've got some work up at the high school."] He considered omitting the fact that he was a substitute teacher too. He wasn't necessarily ashamed of the work, but he certainly wasn't proud of it either. Still, there was a nagging inside that urged him to want to be honest with her. [#008080 "I'm a sub there. Bit boring, really, but not any more so than this."] With a laugh, he handed her more pH papers of her own and some bags with which to separate them.
[#008080 "So what about you?"] He asked in return as he began the mundane task of dunking the slips into the waters again. [#008080 "Are you new here? It's not a very large town and I've managed to reacquaint myself with lots of the others around here, but I don't think I've seen you ever before."] Zeke sent her a pointed look over the thick, plastic frames of his glasses. [#008080 "I definitely would have remembered."]
That last bit sort of slipped out. It was evident by the way his eyes widened and his mouth tightened. Quickly he moved his attention back to the water, trying to cover for himself. [#008080 "I-I mean it's that [i and], you know, and everyone else who, um, who's lived here a bit stays away from the, uh, the-the river. Like you said, most people avoid it."] Smooth.
Cordelia thought it was neat that he had come and gone. Traveling was nice. Or she thought it would be. There were a lot of things that she would like to see in the world, but doubted she would have the chance to. Her own family moved around a good deal, but it was always within the same areas.
[+mediumaquamarine “Well, they say people always find a way back home.”] She spoke with a smile. That was especially true with smaller communities like this. Though, Conway wasn’t super tiny by any means, but compared to actual cities throughout the states it was not much.
The woman happily took his extended hand to get down the light slope to the water’s edge. She was hesitant to let go of his hand after that. This area was much rockier than the previous one. The flip-flops she wore were not ideal for this terrain, but she released him all the same. If she fell, it would be better if she did so on her own and did not drag him down with her. [+mediumaquamarine “Thank you!”] Her appreciation was given excitedly as he continued to tell her a bit more about himself. She held on to every detail, absorbing them like a sponge.
He did not seem very enthusiastic about his job, but she thought it was great. [+mediumaquamarine “It might seem boring or normal to you, but I was homeschooled. High school seems like it would have been a blast.”] Though to be honest she had only really seen it in movies and such. She wasn’t so naïve to take that as reality, but it must have been better than sitting in front of a computer screen and getting help from your parents and elder siblings.
Accepting the supplies to continue with his testing of the water, Cordelia got straight to work, but continued to listen. She was a little disappointed when the conversation was turned back to her, though that only meant he was considerate, not wanting to only talk about him self. Although, she would not have minded.
She didn’t have much time to respond before he mentioned not seeing her around. Then he sort of spiraled from there. The woman’s face darkened to a pinkish shade of red. And the way he seemed to fumble with his sweet comment was all the more endearing. [+mediumaquamarine “Um, well,”] her eyes fell down to the water. The little slips of litmus paper were darkening to the same shade of green as before. It didn’t seem there would be anything odd to find in this location either. A distraction that let her clear her head a little bit. [+mediumaquamarine “Well, you are kind of right. I’m not really from around here, but we visit every year around this time. Conway is pretty this time of year, so my family always makes the trip.”] A tradition that had been going longer than she had been alive, but Cordelia liked this place, so she didn’t mind too much. [+mediumaquamarine “I guess since it’s a more of a vacation spot for me I never had the chance to fully absorb all of those superstitions.”]
Glancing back up at Zeke, his face had just about returned to its regular shade, so she felt a little less self-conscious and went back to an average amount of eye contact. [+mediumaquamarine “Normally I stay over in Clearview.”] It was a coastal town, just shy of fifty miles from Conway and not much bigger. [+mediumaquamarine “My family owns a lot of beachfront property, so I help manage it in that area.”] It consisted of a lot of doing nothing; just making sure everything was working properly, which it usually was. [+mediumaquamarine “It’s not the most exciting thing, but I really shouldn’t complain since it is easy and I have plenty of free time.”] She laughed halfheartedly; not really content with how things were, but also not brave enough to step out on her own.
Trying to move on from her negativity, the brunette quickly pushed the conversation elsewhere. [+mediumaquamarine “So, when you are not meticulously testing the PH of local waters, what do you do?”] She was curious as to how he spent his time away from the river. [+mediumaquamarine “I can’t imagine this is your only hobby.”] Her voice returned to a more joyful, almost playful tone, as she continued to question him.
Cordelia finished up with her second paper tester. The same results again. At this point she was not expecting to find anything different, though that mattered very little to her. He had one more and they would be finished with this spot.
Zeke had never considered the fact that there were people in the world who had never been exposed to high school before. For a moment he thought about the experience in a new light. The cliques, the lunch periods, the drama…all things considered, yeah, it could be considered a ‘blast.’ At least it could be viewed in that light while taking in the experiences as a student, anyways. As a substitute teacher, on the other hand, it was more along the lines of a glorified babysitter. It was constantly keeping an eye on students, acting as an isolated entity among the faculty, and counting down the seconds until the bell rang. But it still wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
The man cast a side eye at Cordelia as she proceeded to slip the papers into the water. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust her to perform the task, but he just wanted to see if his help was needed. The ritual of the thing wasn’t difficult, so it was highly unlikely that any assistance was necessary, but it didn’t hurt to check. Once he realized that she could handle herself (a realization that did not take long to establish) he started to zero in on what she was saying.
He scoffed a little at the idea of Conway being an ideal spot for a vacation – especially for a family. With all the lore surrounding the place, it was hardly an appropriate place to get away from the stress of a day-to-day routine. But if it happened to be a tradition for the family, maybe they found something worthwhile to continue returning. The need to visit the sleepy little town baffled him further when she revealed that her family owned and managed a beachfront property. What need did they have to get away? He’d take the salty ocean spray over the babbling freshwater any day if he wasn’t already committed to the latter. [#008080 “Maybe we can trade places.”] he chuckled jokingly since each seemed to covet the other’s situation.
When asked about his other various hobbies, Zeke’s gaze lowered to the water as he finished up with the last of the tests. He gave a halfhearted shrug in response. As much as he wanted to pique her interests and wow her with his interesting lifestyle, there wasn’t much to offer. Cycling, Netflix binges, and debating on Internet forums over the latest Oscar nominees hardly seemed like an exhilarating set of activities. [#008080 “No, not the only one, but it – “] He cut himself off mid-sentence.
Just as those dull, gray eyes had been rising from the water to meet her spectacular blue ones he paused. He looked back down again. There was an intensity to his gaze that had thus far been unmatched. Zeke’s stare was glued to the water before him and narrowing as he focused on the river. He blinked several times, wondering if what he thought he saw had been a simple trick of the light. Suddenly, it happened again: the crystal clear blue waters of the river rippled with a shimmery iridescence that contained every color on the spectrum imaginable. Quick as the event occurred, however, it vanished. The man waited for the same thing to happen a third time but was disappointed.
With little concern for the wetness of his shoes now, he waded into the water in a hurry to the exact spot where the colors had appeared. There was nothing out of the ordinary to be found, but Zeke was certain of what he saw. He splashed around a bit more – probably looking a little more than crazed at this point – before he turned back to Cordelia. What little color there was in his pale face had all but vanished; he looked as though he had seen a ghost. Muttering nonsense to himself as he waded back to the bank, Zeke quickly gathered his things including rudely snatching back what Cordelia held. [#008080 “Thanks. Sorry. Have to. Yes. See.”] He managed to sputter in her general direction between disconnected thoughts.
Zeke scrambled back up the hill toward his bike and, without even putting on his helmet, took off quickly back home, leaving the woman by the banks.
Cordelia listened, very content to hear his voice. She wanted to know more about this gentleman, but as she was about to, he cut off. So that was more than a little disappointing, or it would have been if it weren’t for the look of wonder in his eyes. It was like he saw something amazing and she wondered if he always had a fabulous spark to him when he was interested in something. But it was just that, he was interested in something off in the water. Turning her head quickly to look out at the flowing river tide, she was just in time to catch the second glimmer. Oh no.
Then he was off, trouncing into the water with little care, or so it seemed. [+mediumaquamarine "Um, Zeke, maybe you should come back."] Her voice was on the quiet side, but there was a hint of urgency to it. It seemed he didn't hear her.
When nothing more came, a wave of relief washed over her, but the man was somewhat frantic. Confusion and urgency mingled on his features, as he couldn't seem to put more than two words together that made sense. He took the litmus paper from her and rushed off. Cordelia barely had time to say goodbye, let alone ask if they might be able to meet again. The woman watched his back until he was out of view.
When his form was gone from her vibrant blue eyes, she turned to the waterfront. [+mediumaquamarine "Brook, I know that was you! What the heck?"] Her face was somewhere between a look of anger and a pout.
There was silence for a moment, but eventually a woman surfaced from the water, eyeing Cordelia with a smirk. [+seagreen “Oh come now, I was just trying to help you out. Why are you so mad?”]
[+mediumaquamarine “You know what you did."] Her eyes narrowed at the other woman. Her short blonde hair clung to the face framing her cheeks, but covering her eyes and making it hard to tell if she was even paying attention to what Cordelia was saying.
[+seagreen "You mean save you from what looked like the most boring man alive? Yeah, I did that, you are welcome."] Her sass was spoken thickly through a smirk.
The brunette retorted with a matter of fact sort of tone. [+mediumaquamarine "He was fun. You don't know what you are talking about."] Her arms crossed in front of her, signifying she it was not up for debate and that any attempts would be promptly ignored.[+mediumaquamarine "Now leave me alone and stay out of my business."]
[+seagreen "Whatever,"] Brook did not seem all that hurt, nor deterred, by the comment. [+seagreen "See you later."]
Wrinkling her nose, Cordelia was still peeved. She looked back the way Zeke had gone, kind of hoping that by some miracle he might come back. Didn't happen, but she did notice something else. There was a paper on the ground; she thought he must have dropped it. It was tightly folded and by the looks of the bits she could see, there was writing on it. The woman didn’t want to invade his privacy, so she left it folded, but she decided then and there to try and return it to him. So after sticking around for what she thought was an acceptable amount of time, the woman headed home for the evening.
Over the course of the next few days, the blue-eyed beauty made it a point to go down to the river. Her main focus being on the place that she previously met the man, but unfortunately he never came. That or she never ran into him, which was probably more likely with how fascinated with this mystery he was.
By the third day, Cordelia gave up on that tactic. However, she hadn’t given up as a whole. She recalled he worked at the high school. Would it be going to far to drop by? What’s more, would she even be allowed in? Well, she wouldn’t know until she tried. So after looking around online and discovering when the school day ended, she headed that way.
The walkways in front of the school building were crowded with adolescents. Many of them stared at her, which made her feel overtly self-aware. Was there something on her face? No, she made sure there wasn’t, it was probably that she was swimming against the stream as they all piled out to freedom. Luckily, none of them said anything as she walked by. However, she did stop one of the older girls to ask about a substitute science teacher whose first name was Zeke, unfortunately Cordelia hadn’t gotten his surname. But it was for not, the senior didn’t recall any teachers who were talk, dark, and handsome as the woman described. Sighing, the Cordelia was beginning to think this was a bad idea when she caught sight of just the person she was looking for rushing out. Seemed like he was also in a hurry to be rid of his place. Did he have plans perhaps?
Getting a little closer so that they might cross paths, she waved. [+mediumaquamarine “Zeke,”] there was a bright smile plastered on her face, even before their eyes met. She waited till they were a tad closer and out of the way of all the traffic to start a legitimate conversation. [+mediumaquamarine “I’m sorry if this is kind of weird, I just didn’t know anywhere else to find you.”] Taking the paper from her dress pocket, she extended it to him. [+mediumaquamarine “You dropped this the other day… I didn’t know if it was important so I wanted to make sure it got back to you.”]
Zeke made it home in record time with sweat pouring from his brow. He dismounted his bike in a clumsy hurry, letting it topple onto the ground as he made a beeline for the front door. His heart was racing and his mouth felt horribly dry, but little could be done about either. There was work to be done.
The man spent the next few hours alone in his study surrounded by folders, papers, and about thirty open tabs on his laptop. Admittedly, he knew he shouldn't be so worked up about a shimmer of light on the surface of water. But it had been a year since he'd returned. That's 365 days of a gamble that never paid off. If this was the one thing that the universe was going to throw his way after an otherwise uneventful search, he was prepared to cling to it for dear life.
The longer he researched the more distraught he felt. There simply wasn't any explanation for what he saw at the river. Zeke's first inclination was that it was reflecting light from the sun, but there were two things wrong with this theory. The first was that there was way too much tree coverage for the sun to directly hit the river from the angle it was at in the sky. The second was that even if it did manage to hit the water, there had never been a recorded incident of reflections containing more color than a normal prism of refracted light. He then hypothesized that maybe there had been some sort of oily substance mixed waters. Yet if that was the case there was no way it could have disappeared and reappeared as it had. There was a specific type of bacteria that used non-oxygen processes including reducing iron in soil to create and iridescent film on top of water that might be the answer, but further research found that this type or organism mostly thrived in swamps. Zeke racked his brain for possible explanations, but nothing ever came.
Zeke awoke with a start the next day to his buzzing phone rattling on the desk. With sleep still heavy on his eyes after maybe only three hours of rest, he answered with a yawn, [#008080 "Yeah, hello?"] [#FF1493 "Yes, hello. May I speak with Mr. Ezekiel Young please?"] asked a cool, female voice on the other end. [#008080 "Speaking."] [#FF1493 "Good morning, Mr. Young. This is Principal Green."] Zeke immediately snapped up, suddenly wide awake. [#FF1493 "I am calling to ask whether or not you still intended to fill in for Mrs. Henderson's world history class today."] The man nearly fell out of his chair in a rush to gather up his things while still trying to keep a calm demeanor on the phone. [#008080 "Uh yes - yes [i ma'am] - I'm on my way as we speak!"] There was a pause on the other end. [#FF1493 "Is that so?"] she asked as Zeke sprinted out the front door and righted his bike again. [#FF1493 "Because the children have had thirty minutes of free reign in first period this morning."] At this point, he realized how difficult it was to pedal furiously with one's heart in one's stomach. [#008080 "Yes, sorry, sorry! Something...erm, personal came up. It won't happen again. I'll be there as soon as I can."] [#FF1493 "I advise you to hurry, Mr. Young."] Dial tone.
Frantic and sweating, Zeke made it to campus, chained his bike, and ran to class. Naturally, this was more than amusing to the rambunctious sophomores of Mrs. Henderson's class and he didn't hear the end of it for what little time remained. What was even better was the fact that the rest of the school had heard of his blunder before third period. So mix together the constant ridicules that he faced throughout the day followed by the lecture on responsibility he received from Principal Green during lunch and it was a perfect recipe for disaster.
Zeke was in less than a good mood by the time the school bell finally rang. Still, he mustered up what little energy he had left and returned to the river. Although he longed to get to the bottom of whatever he saw there the other day, he didn't end up staying for very long. He kept dozing off on the bank and as being around the river was dangerous enough, he didn't need to fall asleep and fall in too. He returned home and collapsed in bed (this time making sure to set an alarm).
The next few days passed without much incident. He continued to teach. He continued to return to the river. He continued to have nothing to show for it. He was beginning to think that maybe he had imagined everything when he heard someone call his name. He whirled around and saw the blue eyed beauty Cordelia walking briskly toward him with a large smile. Zeke was so wrapped up in his search for the source of the colors that the woman he had met that same day had all but slipped his mind.
[right Then he remembered how shitty he'd been.]
His face was glowing red by the time she stood in front of him. He sheepishly waved off the comment about her presence being weird. At least [i she] didn't leave him stranded by some cursed river all alone without any attempts at getting back in touch. [#008080 "Yeah...thanks,"] he mumbled taking the slip of paper back. He unfolded it. Smiling up at him from the sheet was his own face from when he was much younger as his mother shoved a kiss into his cheek. Her neat scrawl was on the corner of the slip reading [i Love my kooky kiddo!] With thin lips, he folded the paper and tucked it into the pocket of his jacket. [#008080 "It is very important."] He cleared his throat as a moment of awkward silence passed. Then it all came tumbling out, [#008080 "Listen, I feel really bad about the other day. I mean, yeah, that was sort of a shitty thing for me to do. Really shitty actually. It's just that I saw - I mean I [i thought] I saw -"] He played the words out in his head, realized they sounded crazy, and quickly abandoned that idea before continuing. [#008080 "Well, it doesn't really matter. I'm just really sorry I sort of ran out on you like that. And, ya know, I've just had work since then so it was hard to reach out. But I appreciate you coming, really do. I just - ugh, I'm really sorry again."]
Zeke exhaled deeply, running his fingers through his hair somewhat shakily. He ignored some of the whispers of passersby insinuating that he had a date. But then...a date? That didn't sound like a bad idea. He'd never been on one that his dad didn't try to set him up for in high school, but more words tumbled out without his permission. [#008080 "But maybe you can let me make it up to you? Do you like coffee? Tea? Or, ya know, drinks in general? Cause I'd love to get you one."]
Zeke seemed to be fixated on his own behavior rather than her being a total creep, so that was good. Kind of. Cordelia did feel a little bad that he felt bad. And how he was stumbled over what had transpired that day made her feel all the worse, the man probably felt like he was losing his mind. But as terrible as she felt, she did not say anything to confirm or deny that she had caught the illumination as well. It would be better if he did not go any farther down that path.
[+mediumaquamarine "Don't worry about it. It seemed like you remembered something really important. I just figured you must have left the stove on or something."] She smiled at him, chuckling lightly at the absurdity of the idea. [+mediumaquamarine "Truly, don't feel bad. I understand. Life can get hectic."]
Now that she was standing with Zeke, the students were paying even more attention to her. A foreign body caused some stir, but no one said anything outright. All conversation was kept discreet, even if the adult were still completely in earshot. She wondered if he was going to have to deal with rumors when he came back tomorrow. Cordelia did not imagine that would be any fun. But the thought did not distract her for long, as he promptly asked her out.
Features instantly brightening, both in embarrassment and excitement, she nodded enthusiastically. [+mediumaquamarine "Yes, I would like that very much... I was actually just trying to think if a way to ask you close to the same question."] Admittedly, she had been thinking about it for the past few days. But he still managed to beat her to the punch.
[+mediumaquamarine “I am partial to tea, but I am fine with whatever sounds good to you. I am not picky.”] There were several places she had been thinking of going, but since he asked her first Cordelia thought it was only fair that he got to pick where they went. Maybe if it went well, she could drag him to something later as a thank you.
It didn’t take much more than that for the pair to head out. As fascinated as Cordelia was with the school, she didn’t really want to be stared at too much longer. Especially not when she was trying to un-fluster herself. Much like a few days prior, they walked together. Cordelia rather liked walking, especially when the air was nice and clear like it was today. It wasn’t so convenient when it was scalding hot, but on a mild spring day, it was wonderful. She shared some of these feelings as they went along, though with all the traffic from school getting out, it did feel a bit like she had to shout to be heard. But once they got a little father away from the hustle and bustle, or what could be considered bustle in Conway, things became easier. They continued with idle chit-chat until they stopped in front of a shop.
From the outside, the place was not anything special; she could tell it was a mom and pop kind of shop. Definitely not a Starbucks, which she thought might be intentional. Those sorts of places were likely swarming with freshly freed teenagers right about now. They walked through the stained glass door together and a bell rang to signal their arrival. Inside there was an assortment of places to sit. The options ranged from sofas to small tables surrounded by chairs. Quiet jazz played over the small collection of patrons in the place, many of which sat silently on their laptops. Overall, it was cute.
A middle-aged woman greeted them from behind the counter; hair in a messy bun and laugh lines prominent on her face. It lent to the jolliness she was exuding. Cordelia happily returned her hello as she half bounced up to the counter with Zeke. So far, the brunette was eating this place up. She just wondered how she had never stumbled upon it before.
Making it up to the front, Cordelia happily took up one of the simply printed, paper menus from a display stand. It was quartered into sections: coffee, tea, sandwiches, and desserts. There was also a chalkboard declaring the soup of the day with some flowery art up the side. It was very fitting for the time of year; she thought they must have changed it seasonally. [+mediumaquamarine “What would you suggest, Zeke?”] She called for his opinion, working under the assumption that he’d been here before and knowing she could stand there all day debating on whether she wanted chamomile, a cappuccino, or something else entirely.
Zeke's expression mirrored Cordelia's when she not only agreed to go out, but also admitted to wanting the same thing. It was refreshing to be on the same page. [#008080 "Tea sounds great."] He paused a moment, considering her thoughtfully. [#008080 "And I...well, I think I know a place that you might like."]
As the two walked together the frantic distraught that Zeke faced over the last couple of days seemed to ebb away. Instead there was a pleasant easiness. He liked listening to Cordelia talk, hanging onto her every singsong word. Topics that were otherwise considered dull, such as the weather spring brought, seemed to come to life as she spoke. He offered up some commentary here and there in response, but he was largely content with listening.
The man stopped in front of the shop with her. A sort of melancholy look briefly passed over his face. It quickly cleared, however; he did not want to worry his [s date] friend. He chained his bike to the nearby rack and reached for the handle of the door swinging it wide open and beckoning her inside. He took a deep breath and followed closely behind her.
The shop hadn't changed much since he last saw it. Some of the furniture had been rearranged and the music selection was updated, but aside from that it was just as he recalled. The smell of fresh baked goods lingered in the air, mingling with that of coffee grounds. Sunbeams danced in different dim colors across the floor as they shone through stained glass trinkets hanging in the windows. A heavy warmth filled the shop lending itself to a calming atmosphere enough to make anyone want to doze off.
Zeke almost found himself in a drowsy daze before Cordelia's voice snapped him back to reality. [#008080 "What's that?"] he asked stupidly. He squinted at the paper menu for a brief second before it finally clicked. [#008080 "Oh, right. Lemme see."] He took the paper from her hands, scanning it over. Everything looked good. Although the shop was small, the menu was chock full of options to appease even the pickiest of eaters. Some of the sandwich options such as the tomato and mozzarella panini particularly caught his eye. He had skipped lunch in an effort to try and get more research done. In spite of all the options there was really only one thing he ever had when he came, and he wasn't feeling adventurous enough to try something new. [#008080 "We'll do the Afternoon Tea for Two, please. And that'll be with the Very Berry Blend as well."]
Zeke placed the menu back into the plastic stand from whence it came and fished his wallet out of his back pocket. As he was handing over his Visa, he locked eyes with the woman. There was a spark of recognition in her hazel gaze that he didn't return. [#9370DB "Oh my goodness, I don't believe it! Is that [i really] you Ezekiel?"] [#008080 "Yes...?"] he replied hesitantly, with his arm still holding out the debit card awkwardly. His eyes looked from Cordelia to the woman behind the counter, unsure of how to respond. The woman took charge of the situation by coming out from behind the counter and hurriedly pulling him into a tight embrace. Zeke looked taken aback by this, her identity still not clicking. She released him, grinning from ear to ear. [#9370DB "I had no idea you were back! And just look at how much you've grown!"] She exhaled in awe, eyeing him up and down. [#9370DB "I haven't seen you since you were this big."] She lowered her hand to about the middle of her thigh with a laugh. And then he finally recognized her.
[#008080 "Miss Macy?"] She nodded enthusiastically and Zeke couldn't help but smile too. [#008080 "Oh, wow - it's great to see you again. Erm, Cordelia, this is Miss Macy. She used to babysit me when I was a kid."] [#9370DB "Ooh, you're a lucky girl,"] she said, turning to Cordelia with a knowing wink. [#9370DB "Ezekiel here's always been such a sweet boy. Doesn't surprise me one bit he managed to nab a pretty thing like you."] Zeke's face burned a bright red. [#9370DB "Now you two cuties go and grab a seat. This one's on me."] She shooed them in the direction of one of the love seats, but Zeke made a point to grab one of the hightops by the windows instead. He still looked a little pink. [#008080 "Sorry about that..."] he murmured sheepishly. [#008080 "Family friend."]
Miss Macy returned in a few moments with a three tier tray and a small white kettle with pink flowers circling the top. The lowest level was filled with cucumber, salmon, and egg salad sandwiches. The middle had a small variety of different scones with clotted cream and jam. The top tier held brightly colored macaroons, cakes, and cookies. Miss Macy poured them both two cups of a pretty red brew that smelled of hibiscus blossoms and berries, speaking pleasantly as she did. [#9370DB "So how long have you been back in Conway?"] [#008080 "Oh, about a year now - ouch!"] Miss Macy had planted a well aimed swat right on his shoulder. [#9370DB "You've been back a whole year and didn't think to say anything?!"] She huffed indignantly. [#9370DB "Why, I remember when you and your mom would come in [i every Sunday.] Oh dear, I was so upset after what happened. Thought I would never seen you again once you went off to Florida."] She shook her head with a sad sigh before continuing. [#9370DB "Well, now that you're back, you had better think to come in more often. Both you and your lady friend."] Zeke nodded quickly at risk of more bodily harm. She flashed them both a warm smile of approval before heading back to the counter.
Zeke shifted uncomfortably in his chair, hoping Cordelia wouldn't ask too much about 'what happened.' He didn't need more of the same pitying looks that Miss Macy gave him. He hurriedly tried to change the subject. [#008080 "So, um, these cucumber sandwiches here are my personal favorite."] He grabbed one of the tiny squares of fluffy white bread from the bottom and popped it into his mouth. There was a satisfying crunch from the cucumber as he chewed. He smiled at her once he'd finished and pushed the tray closer to her side. [#008080 "I'm really glad you came."] He admitted while Cordelia eyed the plate. [#008080 "Not just here, but to the school, I mean. It's good to see you again. How'd you even manage to find me?"]
It wasn't a probing question. This was probably the one and only time someone like her ever wanted to seek someone like him out. Naturally, it piqued his curiosity. He took a sip of the tea, scrunching up his nose in mild annoyance when it fogged his glasses.
Cordelia watched as Zeke seemed to contemplate what they would have. It did not take him long as he ordered for the both of them. His choice of a berry blend seemed fitting for the season and she was excited to try it. This place seemed like the type that might use local products, so she wondered if she would have a taste of springtime Conway.
Just as she was about to drag him back to take a seat, the woman behind the counter exclaimed in realization. She came about, ruffling the man up a bit. There was a dumbstruck expression on his face until recognition washed over him as well. It was a humorous scene, but the blue-eyed woman held back laughter not wanting to make the gentleman any more self-conscious than he already looked. Miss Macy, as it was, gushed about him. Cordelia couldn’t help but nod in response. [+mediumaquamarine “This is our first date, but I have a very good feeling about it.”]
As much as Cordelia would have loved to sit at on one of the small couches, she was also happy to sit at the tall table that Zeke picked out. It would be easier to look at one another as they talked. Though there was not an excess of conversation before Miss Macy returned. She came carrying all sorts of delicious looking things. The chestnut haired woman was very much looking forward to trying the assortment of finger foods with what had turned out to be a rather aromatic tea.
But before then, the others were speaking. She listened intently. Cordelia was all excitement to glean what she could from the conversation. The familiarity between them brought a smile to her face. It was a warm look as the older woman reminisced about times long passed. A few curious things came up, something about the gentleman's mother being one of them. He seemed to skirt quickly around it, obviously not wanting to linger on the subject. Cordelia was not about to force him into it either. It was none of her business, so when he went to change to subject to sandwiches she did not protest.
[+mediumaquamarine “I will start with that then.”] The young woman wasn’t sure she had ever had the pleasure of eating a cucumber sandwich before. It just was not something her family made. With a delicate touch, she picked up one of the small cut creations and took a bite. The cucumber filled her mouth with a refreshing taste and a satisfying crunch. Despite the somewhat bland appearance, there was a lot of flavor. Cordelia wondered what spices and seasoning Miss Macy had packed into the creamy spread.
She finished the morsel before speaking; covering her mouth with her hand just in case anything had stuck to her teeth. [+mediumaquamarine “That is super yummy. I can’t believe it has taken me this long to try one.”]
[+teal “I am really glad you came.”] Blinking, a little caught off guard by the confession, her face got a little red when he asked how she’d found him.
[+mediumaquamarine “Oh well, you said you worked at the high school. Conway is small, so there is only one. I just had to check online for when the day was out… I didn’t want to bother you while you were working.”] She finished just in time to catch the bunching of his face in protest to the steam on his spectacles. Cordelia giggled lightly, he was adorable, but she decided not to embarrass him by mentioning it. Most men didn’t particularly want to hear that they were cute.
For a bit she stared at the three-tiered platter, coming up with a plan. Cordelia mentally decided to start with the savory flavored treats so that she could save the sweet ones for last. But before concreting that strategy, she needed to know how the tea tasted. How things paired with it could be a huge game changer. She wore a look of concentration as she blew lightly at the surface of the deep red drink and took a sip. It was tasty, and she thought it would lend its tang well to chocolates. Her theory of saving the desserts for last was a good one.
With that done, she looked back to Zeke who was watching her. Instantly she became self-conscious. It was probably weird to get so serious over tea and treats… [+mediumaquamarine “Um… so how was your day at work?”] She was still very interested in that part of his life, but before he could say anything a whimsical melody began to emanate from her pocket.
The woman groaned. [+mediumaquamarine “Sorry.”] Fishing around in the pocket of her dress, she pulled out her phone. It was adorned by a shimmery turquoise case with silver outlines of narwhales on it. Cordelia quickly hit the button on the side, temporarily silencing the device. Based off the ID, she knew it wasn’t important, so her next move was to change it to silent mode. She did not want to be interrupted again. [+mediumaquamarine “I will call them back later.”] With that, the phone went back in her pocket. Hopefully not to be seen again. [+mediumaquamarine “Anyway, you were saying?”] She knew he hadn’t actually started, but she leaned forward full of interest.
[#008080 “I find it hard to believe you’d ever be a bother,”] he said with a small laugh as she stared at the three-tiered plate. He watched her concentrated look and assessment of the various foods as he absentmindedly swirled the contents of his teacup. When her gaze met his against after she had sipped her tea, he felt his stomach do a somersault. She followed up with a relatively mundane question, but for all the clouds in his mind, she might as well have been reciting Shakespeare.
He opened his mouth to answer but closed it again when her pocket began to chirp and chime. Zeke waved her apologies away, grinning at bit at the back of her phone case. As she put the device away, he was quick to interject, [#008080 “No, no, you can take it if you need to. Are you sure?”] When she reassured him that he was free to answer the original question, he couldn’t help but swell with moderate pride. So, she preferred his company to whoever was on the other end of the phone? She wanted to be uninterrupted as they chatted together? High praise. It was something the young man was unaccustomed to, but he relished the feeling, nonetheless.
[#008080 “Work was fine, I suppose. As I’ve said, it’s a bit boring.”] He shrugged as he took another sandwich from the platter. Egg salad this time. He took a bite, glancing out the window, trying to think of more to say. He felt the need to impress her, to entertain. She wouldn’t decline calls for anyone that bored her. [#008080 “Actually,”] he said, thinking fast. [#008080 “There was this once incident with a student today. I was subbing for the environmental science teacher, and we were going over pH levels, you know, that thing that you and I did back at the river? Anyways, we were talking about different pH levels for various bodies of water, and one of the kids brought up Rosebell Channel. They were wondering if it might react differently to the test, considering the rumors surrounding it. I just sort of laughed and confirmed that it didn’t since, you know, I’ve been testing that for ages now.”] He gave a sardonic sort of laugh. He paused for a moment, before adding at the last minute, [#008080 “The student seemed sort of disappointed by that. When I pressed them as to why, they said that they thought it’d have an unusual pH level not only because of the rumors, but an actual unusual sighting. Uh…sort of iridescent colors on the surface of the water…”]
Zeke trailed off. He didn’t know why he just passed off his own sighting as one of his student’s instead. Perhaps because he was too embarrassed to claim it in front of Cordelia. He didn’t want her to think he was crazy or seeing things. Perhaps because the discovery had been gnawing at him for three days and he needed to share it with someone else. Either way, he sipped his tea in the moment of silence that followed, eyeing her just over the rim of his cup, watchful for her reaction.
Cordelia could not help but smiling at his comment. It was a relief to know she wasn't pestering him. And on top of that, it was sweet as can be. In the type of way that filled her stomach with a happy, bubbly feeling. It did not settle any as he politely offered to let her take her call.
[+mediumaquamarine “Oh no, it's fine. It was just my cousin.”] And the chestnut haired woman already knew exactly what she wanted, so Cordelia waved his concern away casually. All that waited on the other end of her phone was incessant nagging. [+mediumaquamarine “She wants me to go out with her on some errands, but I already told her no. Besides, I found something better to do.”] Ocean spray eyes gleamed at him from across the table.
Then the topic of conversation fell back to Zeke and his day. Despite his initial disinterest, she listened intently while munching quietly on the snacks before them. Then, as if he was struck by inspiration, the man became more animated in his speech. She figured he must have remembered something from the day. This thought excited her all the more. However, in the end, Cordelia was left a little taken aback. She blinked, expression reflecting mixture of confusion and what almost looked to be concern.
That soon passed and it became obvious the gears in her head were turning, as though she was trying to fit some puzzle pieces together. Eventually her mulling came to light. [+mediumaquamarine “...Are those things normally connected?”] She felt a little dumb having to ask, but science wasn't exactly her forte. [+mediumaquamarine “I'm sorry, I don't know much about pH.”] Much less its correlation to refractivity and color.
[+mediumaquamarine “But that is interesting though! Your student must have caught some sort of rare phenomena. At least, I don't think I've ever seen anything like that happen or really heard anyone talk about it... so it has to be unusual, right?”] Eyes shifting momentarily down at her cup, Cordelia lifted it to take a sip before continuing. [+mediumaquamarine “Did your student say where exactly they saw this?”] Her head tilted as she asked, expressing more curiosity to this mundane question than almost anything she had asked up until this point. Her bouncy hair fell to the side as she stared at him, hoping he had an answer for her.
Zeke slowly put his teacup back down as he watched Cordelia absorb what he had just said. In the brief amount of time that he had known her, he had only seen her with a bright, chipper countenance. Her frown and furrowed brow piqued his own concern. He was tempted to apologize immediately. He wanted to explain that he hadn’t meant to upset her, that these were just the silly musings of an adolescent, but he hesitated. The concentrated expression she wore was only all too familiar to him, a man of science, logic, and reason. It was best not to interrupt such thought processes.
He straightened up slightly when she finally spoke again, asking about correlation between the sighting and the pH levels. Encouraged by her curiosity and his natural talent for education shining through, he explained, [#008080 “Normally connected? That’s hard to say. But knowing the pH levels can clue us into the circumstances that might have allowed something like this to happen, at the very least. pH reflects the chemical conditions of a solution, so it can inform whether or not the makeup of the solution would be viable to host something such as light refractions my student described.”] His tone was didactic, but never condescending. The fact was never lost on him that he was in the minority population of people that would know about this sort of thing. The last thing he’d want is for someone who asked good, genuine questions to be insulted off the subject feeling incompetent. [#008080 “So, yes, you’re right. Given the pH levels that I’ve detected there this incident is…highly unusual to say the least.”]
Zeke propped his arm up and rested his chin on his fist, one long slender finger on his other hand slowly circling the rim of his teacup as he considered her last question. He noted that there was an uptick in the pitch of her voice and those bright blue eyes felt like they were boring into him, expectant. What did it matter to her where the sighting was? Briefly, he wondered whether she might share as much interest in the river as he did. Perhaps she too was trying to get to the bottom of its mystery. But then again, if she was, he’d have likely seen her investigating prior to four days ago. The information wasn’t a secret, but Zeke felt that if he disclosed the location, she’d know that was what he’d seen the very day they were there. He still wanted to keep that to himself at the very least. [#008080 “No…no, they didn’t say where.”] The man exhaled deeply, rubbing his eyes a bit. He seemed, for a moment, older than he was. More tired, at any rate. [#008080 “But believe me, I’ve scoured the channel from top to bottom. Nothing to note really. It’s perfectly safe. More than likely it was a trick of the light, or quite frankly the power of suggestion. If you hear a certain thing over and over again, you’re bound to eventually take it at face value. The rumors and the stories, well, they can run away with people sometimes – particularly kids,”] he said reassuringly. He then considered her for a moment and offered a smile. [#008080 “What about you, what’s your hypothesis about the occurrence?”] While Zeke certainly liked the young woman, he doubted that she’d draw any sound conclusions that could be of use to him, but it was always nice to get some outside perspective.
Cordelia nodded thoughtfully along; she liked learning new things. So Zeke just happening to be awfully cute as he switched into teacher mode, was a bonus. A pleasant one at that. As she listened, she began to realize there might be a million things to explain what this curious mind had seen. If only she knew where, she might be able to nail down the truth, but it seemed a lost cause since it never came up. [+mediumaquamarine “That's too bad, it might have been fun to go check it out ourselves.”] It was probably for the best. They didn't [i really] need to be trouncing about the river side. But it did sound like a solid excuse to extend their date, so the woman was a little sad to lose that chance.
[+mediumaquamarine “It is awful difficult to not commit something to memory when you've heard it about a thousand times, so who can blame them.”] The brunette shrugged thinking about the old wives' tales that ran rampant through this town. Despite the fact that the dark haired man across from her was clearly looking for something out there, he assured her there was nothing to fear. It warmed her smile. [+ mediumaquamarine “Oh yeah, I spend a lot of time by the water, so I can attest to that as well... There's nothing in that river. Nothing but a strong spring current that people can't help but underestimate.”] That was just the way of things in towns so close to the water's edge.
That being said, he did decide to ask for her take on what was going on with the glint on the water. [+ mediumaquamarine “Hmm... that is a toughie... Maybe it was hickory shad. Those are pretty shiny when the light hits them right. Almost iridescent. And they definitely come up to snap up bugs that land in the water.”] Cordelia wracked her brain for more ideas. [+mediumaquamarine “Could have been that someone dumped something into the river too. That might have caught light.”] Those two things were really all that came to mind for normal explanations. [+mediumaquamarine “Neither of those are particularly exciting answers though.”] She admitted a bit apologetically. [+mediumaquamarine “If we wanted a theory with a little more pizazz, it could be that something bio-luminescent washed up river from the ocean!”] That was a long shot, but it was a fun thought. One that had her chuckling softly at her own silliness.
Calming her giggles with a sip of tea, Cordelia was still curious as to what Zeke had invested all his time at the river doing. [+mediumaquamarine “Well, I know you have done the pH testing, but is there any other fun data you have gathered on Rosebell?”] It was a whole other side to the river she'd never thought about, and it brought a dabble of mystery to something she once thought of as mundane. However, her enthusiasm was soon curbed, abruptly.
The high toned jingle of the bell on the door announced the arrival of another customer, which in and of itself was no cause of concern, it was the sound that followed that perturbed her.
[+royalblue “Cooooordeliaaa!”] A sharp toned voice sang out her name, long and drawn out. The woman to whom it belonged wasted no time in zipping over to their table. She was a bombshell: tall, blonde, the works. And just as soon as she reached the couple she draped her arms dramatically around Cordelia. [+royalblue “You were supposed to go out with me today.”] Sea foam colored eyes traversed the table and looked Zeke up and down. [+royalblue “Ooo, he's cute.”]
As if that single look was enough to pull her away from her pouting, the blonde detached herself from Cordelia just enough to pull over a third stool and sit right in close to her. [+royalblue “So... are you going to introduce us or what?”] Her voice held a humorous, though expectant, tone.
Cordelia sighed a lung's full of air out before giving in. [+mediumaquamarine “Zeke, this is my cousin Brooke. Brooke, Zeke.”] It was a stilted introduction, as it was clear that the woman was less than thrilled with the new situation.
Brooke took it from there. [+royalblue “A pleasure to meet you, Zeke.”] Her eyes fluttered between the two and the spread in the middle. [+royalblue “And I am so sorry to interrupt,”] she did not seem sorry in the slightest, [+royalblue “but I needed to speak with my lovely cousin and she did not answer her phone... Could I borrow her for a bit? It will just be a second.”]
Zeke grinned at the thought of this lovely woman wanting to accompany him during his investigations of the mysterious river. She didn’t have a stake in the game, not like he did anyways, so that must have meant that she truly did just enjoy his company. [#008080 “Well, there’s still certainly plenty of river to ‘check out.’ Maybe we’ll stumble upon it ourselves sometime.”] Truthfully, though, he hoped that he would happen across the phenomenon again on his own. As much as he liked spending time with her, his resolve to uncover the water’s secrets remained as unwavering as ever. Especially with such an alarming new development. If he saw something unusual while he was with her, he’d be just as likely to leave her hanging in his scramble to document the incident. He did not want to be caught in that situation again.
The man nodded as Cordelia confirmed that there was nothing in the river, but his smile seemed plastered onto his face now. He didn’t truly believe his own words, and in that same vein he did not believe hers. If the river was truly safe, he’d still have a mother. The only reason he chose to say something to the contrary was to keep her from worrying. There wasn’t any sense in stoking the fires of the rumors surrounding the river and inadvertently causing a panic.
He listened to her theories then with a bit more ease. He could almost see the gears in her head turning. And, he had to admit, her conjectures were not without some merit. The presence of a hickory shad was a good guess. The species was prevalent in the area, and their scales could cause at least some kind of iridescence. Unfortunately, Zeke had seen their reflective bodies before, and they were nothing like what he had seen the other day. If it was a case of a discarded abnormal substance or a displaced bio-luminescent one, then surely it wouldn’t have been able to appear and disappear as this sighting had. Even when Zeke waded into the water shortly after the sighting, there wasn’t any trace of its existence. He should have at least been able to see it once more even if it was rushed upstream by the current. Still, he appreciated Cordelia humoring him and offering up speculations. The fact that her final guess made her chuckle prompted Zeke to do the same.
He settled back into his high-top chair with a content exhale. He felt much easier around her now. It was a stark and welcome contrast to fumbling over himself at her sudden appearance at the river as well as the mild embarrassment he endured at the hands of Miss Macy’s fussing. He was eager to answer her question about his further research, when his attention was diverted by a loud voice at the door. Zeke turned in his chair to see a gorgeous blonde woman flouncing over to meet them. Judging by the physical familiarity, and the mention of cancelled plans, the man deduced that this was the cousin who called Cordelia earlier. He swallowed hard. Was everyone in her family so abnormally stunning? He averted his eyes from the newcomer as she examined him and pretended as though he didn’t hear her compliment. His cheeks burned red though.
Any ease that the man previously felt when it had just been he and Cordelia alone instantly vanished as the cousin pulled up another stool. While any other man would have been praising God for the unexpected stroke of good luck being seated across from two beautiful woman, it just left Zeke’s stomach churning and his mouth inexplicably dry. [#008080 “Brooke. Hello,”] he said stiffly after Cordelia introduced them, still not quite meeting her eyes. He did look up, however, when Brooke expressed the need to speak to Cordelia. His gray eyes darted between the two women uncertainly, but he quickly nodded. [#008080 “Uh… yes! Yes, of course. Please take all the time you need. You can also have, um, help yourself to,”] he motioned to the platter of sandwiches and snacks awkwardly. [#008080 “If you want. You can come get me – or, I mean, I’ll just be over there.”] Without indicating where he was going to be, he hurriedly slid off his stool and walked away toward the front of the shop feeling utterly foolish.
[#008080 “Ow!”] He cried out as another swat landed on his shoulder. He had wandered back to the counter where Miss Macy stood. She had apparently been watching him, and now she was all in titters. [#9370DB “Not one, but [i two] pretty lady friends? Well now, Ezekiel, you do get around, don’t you?”] Her tone was a mixture of excitement and reproach. Zeke shushed her briskly, glancing over his shoulder at the women. [#008080 “Miss Macy, [i please,”]] he urged. [#008080 “Keep your voice down. I only just met the blonde one today. She’s Cordelia’s cousin.”] [#9370DB “Oh!”] she exclaimed, but at least this time in a lowered voice. [#9370DB “Meeting the family already, are you?”] [#008080 “Yeah… yeah, apparently,”] Zeke said begrudgingly. He couldn’t help but feel a little resentful toward the brash Brooke for crashing his date. He wouldn’t even have minded as much if he hadn’t clammed up so much. He supposed, in that regard, that was more his fault than hers though. [#9370DB “Well, I hope you made a good impression then, Ezekiel.”] She wagged her finger in front of his face. [#008080 “I’m not sure,”] he admitted. He looked over at the women again. [#008080 “What do you think they’re talking about? …Me?”] [#9370DB “I can swing by and see if you like!”] She almost began trotting off in the direction of the high top, but Zeke only just managed to grab hold of her arm before she fully left the counter. [#008080 “No!”] A couple heads swiveled in their direction at the outburst. He tried to casually wave it off, noting that the Cordelia and Brooke had both looked over at him as well. He’d have given anything for the floor to open up and swallow him whole. Sensing his growing unease, Miss Macy clasped both of his hands in her own and patted them gently. [#9370DB “It’s alright, dear. Come here, you can make yourself useful for now then.”] She pulled him behind the counter with her and put him to work separating tickets and receipts. He was grateful for the task. Thinking of literally anything else was better than this anxiety.
Cordelia's heart sank a bit as Zeke hurriedly excused himself. Part of her wished he might have stayed, but she knew he was much too sweet for that. That was why she liked him so much anyway, so it was just as well. However, it meant she was left to fend off Brooke all on her own. At least this way there would be minimal embarrassment for the whole party.
The blonde made herself right at home. Sitting tall on the already tall chair, she took up the timid man's offer for some of the food and placed a finger sandwich into her mouth. All the while looking down on her shorter cousin. Leaning her elbow on the table and catching her head in her hand, she looked pointedly at Cordelia. [+royalblue “It's rude to blow people off like this.”]
[+mediumaquamarine “I did not blow you off, I told you I wasn't going.”] Indignation filled her stomach, but the blue eyed woman managed to keep her voice low as not to disturb the rest of the cafe any more than they already had.
Brooke's green eyes looked expectantly at her younger cousin. [+royalblue “Gramps is getting all up in arms about it, you can't keep putting it off like this and I'm not going to cover for you just 'cause you're the baby.”] The animosity in her gaze conveyed the fact that she thought it was a long time coming.
Cordelia rolled her eyes. [+mediumaquamarine “Fine, tell him. I don't care.”] The flippant attitude was not one she often took, but at this point she really did not much care what Brooke did.
Animosity melded into amusement and a smile bubbled up on the blonde's lips. [+royalblue “Oh I will.”] It was like she was just waiting for a chance to tattle on the other girl. But, that did not stay her focus. Not for long, and Cordelia could see her mind at work as her attention flickered back to the counter where Ezekiel stood. [+royalblue “Well, probably... I might not. Not if you tell me what's going on with him.”] A wicked smile flickered on her features. [+royalblue “We never get to talk about boys... He really [i is] kinda cute. ”]
Brooke really did seem genuinely curious about what was going on between Cordelia and her new beau. This caused the brunette to let out a long sigh. Cold one moment and hot the very next, it never stopped with Brooke. [+mediumaquamarine “I met him the other day by the river, now we are on a date. Well, we were...”] She shot an accusatory glare across the table.
[+royalblue “Glad you finally took the plunge and talked to him, you damn near burned a hole through him with all the staring. Stalking isn't a good look, Deli.”]
Face reddening fast, Cordelia was mortified. [+mediumaquamarine “I was not!”] The statement escaped her a tad louder than she meant, only embarrassing her further. She lowered her volume to a whisper after that. [+mediumaquamarine “I wasn't stalking anyone. He just kept popping up at the river, so I got curious was all.”] That really did not help her case at all. [+mediumaquamarine “Whatever, we can talk about it later. Just leave me alone right now.”]
Laughing lightly at her floundering relative, Brooke decided to let it be there. After all, she was getting at least one thing she wanted out of this conversation. [+royalblue “Alright, alright. I'll let you be... for now.”] Scooting back in the chair, she snatched a few more treats off the tiered platter before returning her stool. Darting off toward the door, that seemed it would be the end of it, only for her to pause in the entryway and call over to where Zeke was, much to Cordelia's continued chagrin. [+royalblue “She's all yours Tiger, don't have her out too late!”] With a wink, she blew a kiss his direction and was gone.
Cordelia's head hit the table swiftly thereafter, hiding her face in her arms. She had thought there was no way her cousin could make a bigger mess of things than she already had, but unfortunately she had been dead wrong. When Zeke finally returned to her, all she could do was apologize. [+mediumaquamarine “I am so, so, so sorry. I don't know what is wrong with her.”] She was just kind of like that and there was no way to really explain or make up for it. [+mediumaquamarine “She just kind of does whatever she wants with no regard for others, I'm sorry.”] Her face was still flushed from the whole ordeal.
Gray eyes flashed to the high top where the two women sat, at once alarmed by Cordelia’s sudden outburst. A sudden burst of adrenaline coursed through Zeke’s veins. He felt compelled to leap over the counter and run to the beautiful brunette’s aid to dispatch whatever it was that bothered her. But that’d be ridiculous. For one thing, it was far from the man’s nature to burst into any sort of dramatic action like that. At least not without thinking first. For another, she was with family. Although the conversation sounded now as though it was strained, it would not be his place to intervene even if he wanted to. Still… the heat of the moment had Zeke clenching his fists.
[#9370DB “Mind the tickets, Ezekiel,”] Miss Macy snapped sharply. He had been crinkling the papers he was supposed to be sorting almost to the point of tearing. [#008080 “Right. Sorry, Miss Macy!”] The bravado he briefly felt vanished instantly, and he released the tickets looking abashed. He set back to his assigned task, making a point to block out any of the rest of the conversation happening across the café, lest another surge of inexplicable emotion rush through him. He was so focused on the work, that he didn’t even notice the blonde getting up to leave. Not until she shouted at him, anyways.
[+royalblue “She’s all yours, Tiger, don’t have her out too late!”] With a wink, a kiss, and a flip of her pretty tresses, she strode out the door. Heat rose through Zeke once more, but of a different variety this time around. He looked over his shoulder to make eye contact with Cordelia and try to discern if it was safe for him to return to the table, but she had just slammed her head on top of it.
At a loss of what to do next, Zeke turned around again chewing on the inside of his cheek. He was about to resign himself to continuing to work on the tickets, but Miss Macy was looking squarely at him from the kitchen window, eyes wide and eyebrows raised. His brow furrowed and he shrugged at her. She rolled her eyes, pointed at him, then pointed at Cordelia. He shrugged again, unable to pick up on her cues. The middle-aged woman repeated her hand gestures, this time mouthing the word ‘GO.’ Unsure of what he’d say to Coredlia and hoping to put off that awkward conversation for a while longer, Zeke shook his head. Miss Macy’s nostrils flared, and she disappeared from the window with surprising speed for a woman of her age. She came barging back into the shop, making a beeline for Zeke, who, desperate to avoid more physical scolding, quickly rushed over to his date.
As he approached the table again, she was the first to speak, apologizing profusely on behalf of her cousin. Zeke choked out an awkward laugh and shook his head as he took his seat. [#008080 “No, no, there’s no need to apologize. Really. It’s not your fault.”] He tried to offer her a reassuring, gentle smile. It came off much bigger and brighter than he intended, however. Zeke couldn’t get over how cute Cordelia looked, even if her face was flushed. The redness of her cheeks only caused her bright blue eyes to shine more brilliantly. [#008080 “It was, um…”] He didn’t want to lie and use the word ‘nice.’ [#008080 “[i Interesting] meeting your cousin. She’s… well, she’s very pretty.”] He wished there were other positive attributes he could have referenced aside from her appearance.
[#008080 “She also mentioned something about not having you out too late? Do you actually have a curfew?”] Zeke tried to pass it off as a joke, but having met one member of the woman’s family, he was not keen to have to answer to anyone else who might come looking for her. Judging by the continued embarrassed expression on her face, however, he quickly covered, [#008080 “You know what? Uh, nevermind. Nevermind. So. What, um, what did she want then? Was it about those errands you said you didn’t want to do?”]
Often times, words like 'it's not you fault' were used in a shallow attempt to placate other. But somehow, when Zeke said it Cordelia felt like he really meant it. That might have been the rose colored glasses at play, however it helped improve her mood all the same. Just knowing her cousin's poor behavior wouldn't completely reflect negatively upon her was a great relief.
She smiled as he waffled in looking for something nice to say about Brooke. [+mediumaquamarine “Well, she does have that going for her.”] And unfortunately there were many people who would overlook an awful lot just for a pretty face. [+mediumaquamarine “I almost wish she wasn't, that way she would have to do something about that personality of hers.”] Despite somewhat harsh words, the woman took up a humorous tone, laughing lightly under her breath.
At mention of Brooke's parting words, Cordelia's face flushed bright once more. She had been hoping Zeke wouldn't pay too much attention to that last bit, however it seemed he to zero on the fact that it wasn't entirely a joke. She internally groaned, but thankfully she was left with little to no explaining to do as he wisely changed the subject.
Nodding at his question, her singsong voice returned. [+mediumaquamarine “Yes, she was half determined not to take no for an answer. I managed to hold my ground though.”] She was particularly proud of that. Brooke was a pill, and a particularly stubborn one at that. Cordelia omitted the details on how she got the other woman to agree to leave her alone. Telling him that she agreed to 'girl talk' as a barter sort of lessened the accomplishment. [+mediumaquamarine “Besides, she's just surveying some property. It's definitely something she can do on her own.”] Especially now that she had helped herself to their teatime snack.
[+mediumaquamarine “Anyway, that's enough about her.”] Brooke got enough attention, she didn't need to be the center of their conversation as well. [+mediumaquamarine “I think you were about to tell me a little bit more about your research.”] Tossing the ball back into his court, Cordelia sat back in her chair, still warm cup of tea in hand, fully prepared to listen to all the little details about what he was doing and learning about Rosebell.
Content to listen to Zeke for as long as he felt like talking, the time passed joyfully between them. The young woman wasn't sure just how long they had been there, but the weather took a turn at some point. A bout of spring rain was coming heavily down upon the town. The mood between them was almost cozy though, and they happily made it through the whole pot of tea. The food was nearly gone as well, all that remained was the last finger sandwich. It sat untouched out of an abundance of courtesy. It was about then that the pair decided it best that they go their separate ways for the evening.
[+mediumaquamarine “Thank you for taking me out, I've really enjoyed talking with and getting to know you.”] A delicate hand came up to brush her hair back behind her ear on one side as she said her farewell. They were about to part ways when a look of realization flashed across her face, as though she just remembered something. [+mediumaquamarine “Oh, just a moment.”] Scurrying back over to the counter, the woman exchanged a few words with Ms. Macy before plucking a pen from beside the register and a napkin from the counter. Quickly, she scrawled something down before practically bouncing back over to Zeke at the door. [+mediumaquamarine “Here.”] she placed the napkin in his hand. On it was her name followed by a heart and a phone number, presumably hers, all written neatly. [+mediumaquamarine “So we can get in touch easier next time.”] She smiled warmly up at him.
After that Cordelia became squirrelly again, however, instead of running off this time she leaned in. Taking to her toes, she placed a gentle kiss on the tall man's cheek. Face red again, it almost seemed as though it would become her permanent complexion. [+mediumaquamarine “I hope to see you again soon.”] And with that she was out the door and ducking the rain on her way home, unfortunately the opposite direction as her date.
The next day the high school was abuzz. Rumors flew in every direction, all hearsay, but all centralized on a single topic. The death of a student. A boy had drowned in the flooding river the evening before. His body had been retrieved early that morning. In mourning, his friends, which were many, opted to stay home to grieve. As a result, the student body was thin that day. All of which Zeke would notice, as the boy was in one of his classes.
[#008080 “Well, good for you,”] he complimented about Cordelia’s efforts to hold her ground against her cousin. He did not press her for details about the ins and outs of their exchange. He was impressed enough about her facing off against such an unstoppable force of a woman. As someone who often felt as though he had little to no spine himself, he greatly admired the presence of one in others.
Zeke smiled as she turned the conversation back to him and his research efforts. He was happy to ramble about his findings and muddled conclusions. The man rarely, if ever, got the chance to discuss the topic and bounce his ideas off someone so he proceeded to talk at length. The fact that Cordelia was an attentive and inquisitive listener helped greatly. She nodded at all the right moments and asked all the right questions. Despite the rocky interruption that threw Zeke off his rhythm earlier, it did not take long before he felt at ease with the woman once more.
When it came time for the two of them to part, he was tempted to make up an excuse to keep her with him longer. Given the rain, however, there weren’t many options for more activities around town. [#008080 “Anytime. I really enjoyed spending more time with you too.”] He watched with a mildly bemused smile as she went back to the counter to speak with Miss Macy for a moment. His smile widened still when she handed him the napkin with her number on it. Butterflies erupting in his stomach, he traced his thumb over the heart next to her name. It was probably just a friendly signature addition, he thought to himself. Surely, she meant it in a casual way. But then –
Zeke inhaled sharply when her light lips planted a kiss on his cheek. Color flushed into his face almost as quickly as it did into hers. Mouth slightly ajar, at a loss for words, he watched her as she said her goodbye and rushed out into the rain. He stood there for a moment, completely dumbstruck. A wide smile broke across his face and he looked over his shoulder at Miss Macy. She had been watching, of course, and she was beaming back at him with an enthusiastic thumbs up. The rain was cool as the young man stepped outside, but he couldn’t help feeling impossibly warm.
[#008080 “Austin Davis?”] Zeke looked up from his roll call to look around the third period environmental sciences classroom. The class was abnormally empty. The two prior periods had been the same. But Austin was, admittedly, a favorite student because he was attentive, eager, and curious. He was also well-liked by the student body in general. Austin had a charming, easy-going nature about him, and he participated in numerous clubs. [#008080 “Where’s Austin?”] He asked one of the girls, Katie, sitting in the front row. She looked on the verge of tears as she exchanged glances with a few other kids in the room. They all looked uneasy. [#008080 “Wait, what’s wrong? Where has everyone been today? Is it a skip day or something?”] [#C71585 “No…”] Katie answered, her voice catching in her throat a bit. [#C71585 “A lot of people stayed home today because Austin… he died.”] Zeke blinked, stunned by this news. [#008080 “What? A-are you sure?”] Several heads nodded in class. [#008080 “How?”] [#C71585 “The river. He drowned yesterday.”]
Zeke felt his heart plummet sickeningly into his stomach. He stumbled back into his chair; his legs suddenly too weak to support himself. A cold chill sent a violent tremor through his body. Sucking in a deep breath, he managed to pull himself together enough to put on a movie for the rest of the period, but as the kids focused on the screen he felt as though he was about to crumble into a million pieces.
It had been one year since he decided to move back into his hometown. One year of dedicatedly visiting that godforsaken river every single day to try to uncover its secrets. One year of seeing next to nothing out of the ordinary except for a flash of color. And now this. It was jarring to say the least, but for Zeke it also felt much heavier than that. There was an inescapable weight sitting in the pit of his stomach. It was the knowledge that the day that Austin Davis died also happened to be the one day that Zeke excused himself from having to scope out the river. To drink tea and eat sandwiches with a pretty girl. The one day he let himself get distracted…someone had died. It felt as though the guilt was going to consume him: could he have prevented Austin’s death if he had gone to the river yesterday? Could he have warned him somehow? Maybe even saved him from drowning?
Zeke went through the rest of the day on autopilot, going through the motions of his work, but feeling empty and hollow inside. Toward the final minutes of the last period of the day, he pulled out his phone. There were a few text messages he exchanged with Cordelia the night prior about making plans to meet up again after school let out. He quickly tapped out a new message, [#008080 [i Can’t meet today. Something has come up. Need to do some research.]] The bell rang shortly afterward, and Zeke packed up his things, making a beeline to his bicycle sitting out in front of the school. There was still some residual drizzling from the previous night’s showers, but he barely took notice of the water droplets landing on his glasses. He did take notice, however, of Cordelia already standing and waiting for him by his bike. With a heavy sigh, he approached her.
[#008080 “Hey,”] he said, his eyes downcast. [#008080 “I’m sorry, I should have sent you the text sooner, but I can’t hang out today. I hate to bail but…”] He swiped some of his dark damp hair off his forehead. [#008080 “A student died yesterday. The one I told you about who was interested in pH levels. He… he died at the river.”] Zeke could feel his throat getting tighter just thinking about it. [#008080 “I-I think I should have been there yesterday. I could have… I don’t know, done something? It was the only day I didn’t bother going to the river.”] He rubbed his eyes underneath his glasses, but it was difficult to tell whether he teared up. [#008080 “So I need to be there today. You don’t have to come.”]
But, of course, she insisted that she would join him. A part of him wanted to keep her safe and keep her away from the waters, but another part of him craved the company. He didn’t think he’d be able to handle going back on his own. Not when images of Austin’s face were swimming in his mind along with his mother’s at this point. Selfishly, he agreed.
The walk to the river was a largely silent one. Zeke noted Cordelia’s efforts to strike up a conversation, but the best responses he could muster up were short and left little room to expound. He had too much on his mind. When they arrived at the river, it was not as empty as it had been the day they met. There was a small crowd of people hovering around the outskirts of a police line that blocked off the water’s edge. While most of the police’s investigation was complete at this point, it seemed that they still wanted to keep pedestrians at bay for the time being. That didn’t stop the people of Conway from congregating to erect their own makeshift memorial in honor of Austin. People had already placed flowers, teddy bears, letters, and electric candles around the edge of the yellow tape.
With a sigh, Zeke commented, [#008080 “It looks like I won’t be able to conduct much research tonight then.”] He looked down at Cordelia as she surveyed the scene. [#008080 “I’m sorry I’m not the… best company today. But I do appreciate you coming here.”]
The previous night had been long for Cordelia. Between time with her family, Brooke pestering her, and sending messages to and fro with Zeke late into the night, there hadn't been much time for sleep. And beyond that, what she did manage was not restful. However, the woman wouldn't let that, or the weather, dampen her day. She had plans to meet with her new friend again today. She waited excitedly for the school day to end, glancing continually at the clock upon the wall of her family vacation home.
When time neared, she checked her appearance one last time in the bathroom mirror before grabbing a wavy blue pattered umbrella and setting out. Motivated by her fervor, Cordelia walked a mite speedier than normal and made it to the high school gate a bit earlier than expected. The wait was tolerable though, her nerves lulled by the song of the fine rain against the ground.
Then her phone buzzed quietly in the pocket of her dress. Fishing it out, she read Zeke's message and became downcast. She knew what must have come up. Perhaps it would have been better to respond with a simple 'okay,' and save it for another day. But she couldn't bring herself to do it. She was already here and part of her wanted to be there to console him, even if it was only with her presence. So, she stayed put near the place she had found the bike she recognized as his.
When he arrived, the man was apologetic right off the bat. Cordelia wondered if she had made the right choice, but upon hearing a bit more she decided it didn't matter. She was here, and his words were cause for concern.
Brow furrowing over sad eyes, she placed a hand lightly on his shoulder. [+mediumaquamarine “Zeke,”] calling for his attention, her gaze fell down to the slate gray sidewalk. In that moment, she couldn't bring herself to look at him. There was quiet for a second before she continued. [+mediumaquamarine “It's not your fault.”] There was nothing he could have done, nothing anyone could have done. But she kept that to herself. Cordelia doubted it would make him feel any better to be reminded that sometimes tragedies simply were.
Taking a deep breath, the brunette realized her hand was shaking ever so subtly. Withdrawing it to herself, she started again. [+mediumaquamarine “If that's what you need then, please let me come too. At times like these, it's best not to be alone.”] That might have been a blanket statement, since everyone dealt with grief differently, but she desperately wanted to be there for him. And so the whole way there she did her best to keep some semblance of normalcy in striking up conversation. It came to nothing in the end though. Not until they came to the yellow tape of the police scene.
[+mediumaquamarine “No, you are just fine.”] She attempted to reassure him so that he might not add that to his worries. It was true though. Cordelia didn't expect him to be a sparkling conversationalists right now. Something terrible had happened and he was processing it. In a way, so was she.
Seeing all the things left behind, the woman swiftly scanned the surrounding area. Across the street there was a public park. A thought came to her. Wordlessly she handed her umbrella off to Zeke and crossed the idle road over to a blooming camellia tree. The blossoms were a pink so deep they might as well have been red. Cordelia plucked a couple of the flowers that hadn't yet dropped to litter the ground with their petals. Hustling back, she offered one of the large blooms to Zeke. Continuing up to the line, the blue eyed woman crouched down. The hem of her dress bunched on the muddy ground, but she heeded no mind. Instead, she gently placed her flower among the rest of the offerings to the boy she'd never meet, but mourned for all the same.
Head turning back to the man she'd come with, she encouraged him to do the same. To her, it didn't make much sense to leave things for the dead. But she understood it was a ritual of sorts, albeit not a very formal one. Placing a flower here was a personal ceremony to help let go and find catharsis. So with that in mind, she beckoned him over. And he obliged her. Though watching him, she wasn't sure if it was out of obligation or if he was actually taking anything from this moment. Still, she stayed crouched there until he stood and followed shortly thereafter.
Wondering where to go from here, Cordelia felt awkward breaking the silence. What if he needed more time? It felt horribly rude to interrupt, but her mind was sorting through all sorts of things to say that might distract him or even make him feel a little bit better. And somehow, before she fully thought it through to stop herself, she landed on what might have been the worst to actually speak into existence. [+mediumaquamarine “You know, often times when a person drowns, the place their body is recovered isn't necessarily where the incident occurred. The river usually carries them down stream. So, you could probably still conduct your research today-”] finally it struck her that she was being incredibly insensitive and her hand flew to her mouth to cut herself off.
[+mediumaquamarine “I'm sorry,”] she stuttered out the apology. [+mediumaquamarine “I shouldn't have said that...”] regardless of whether or not it was true, she didn't need to say it. Cordelia wanted to move away from the topic, so she continued on quickly trying to distance them from her faux pas. [+mediumaquamarine “You know what, why don't we do something completely different? We could watch a movie. That's what I always do when I feel down and need an escape.”] Escapism might not have been the perfect option, but she really wanted to take his mind from the terrible events of the day prior. [+mediumaquamarine “Do you have a favorite movie? I'd love to watch it with you, and I'm actually pretty good at making popcorn, so I could do that... what do you think?”] Looking up at him with crystal blue eyes, she hoped she wasn't being too pushy. Zeke very well might have just wanted be alone at this point.
Zeke watched as the woman went across the road and soon returned with two large pink blossoms. He took the one she offered him without thanks and continued to keep his eyes trained on her as she crouched down, placing her flower in line with the other many articles people left for the boy. He held fast to his and couldn’t help the unwelcome and unbidden thoughts that circled in his head. Images of white roses swam to the surface the most prominently. The same ones he had thrown unceremoniously atop his mother’s coffin.
He was only pulled back into the present when those bright blue eyes turned to look at him again. Heaving a heavy sigh, he walked up to her side and knelt next to her as well. Zeke placed his flower adjacent to hers and considered them for a moment. While he didn’t take much meaning from the mourning ritual, he was touched that she was thoughtful enough to find a way for the two of them to participate. She didn’t know the boy that perished, and she barely even knew Zeke. Yet she had given them both flowers in this sorrowful time. He would not soon forget her kindness, her compassion. Clearly there was more beauty to her than that which was observed with the naked eye.
The young couple stood again amongst the other gatherers, gazing down at the offerings, and maintaining a respectful silence for the dead. As inappropriate as it felt in the moment, Zeke could only focus on the fact that their two hands were but a hair’s breadth away. His own itched to take hers, but that seemed presumptuous. Cordelia already made the journey to this place with him when she did not need to; she could hardly be expected to be readily willing and able to comfort him now. Was it even comfort that he sought? Or was it just more of his own selfish urges to keep the woman close by his side even in the face of this horrible tragedy? And yet…she was the one who kissed his cheek only yesterday. Surely, holding hands was not that far from a leap above that.
Just as he was willing his muscles to make the move, she broke the silence, keeping him frozen in place. [+mediumaquamarine “You know, often times when a person drowns, the place their body is recovered isn't necessarily where the incident occurred. The river usually carries them down stream. So, you could probably still conduct your research today-”] Zeke stared at her in incredulity. Based the abruptness in which she cut herself off as well as her hurried apology, it seemed as though she assumed his look was one of disbelief at her lack of tact. He was in disbelief, but it was not directed at her. In fact, quite the opposite – it was at himself. [i [#008080 Of course!]] he thought as she quickly tried to backtrack her suggestion into a movie night instead. [#008080 [i Why didn’t] I [i think of that?!]]
In a surprising burst of speed and urgency, Zeke pivoted to face Cordelia. He gripped her by both of her upper arms tightly, looked intensely into those endless eyes, and exclaimed, [#008080 “You’re brilliant!”] With that, he took off in the direction against the current of the water. He’d only made it a couple paces when he realized that she wasn’t with him. The man could have slapped himself in that moment. He’d left her alone by the water’s edge once before; he did not intend to do it a second time. Doubling back, and with none of the hesitation he had before, he grabbed her dainty hand and pulled her along with him. He ignored the odd glances they received from the other people around them. His giddiness could not be extinguished.
[#008080 “You fantastic – you wonderful – I could probably use your help some more, really – genius!”] he panted as he walked at a brisk pace. His long legs covered the amount of distance in one step that two of Cordelia’s could barely manage, but he hardly took notice. Zeke was muttering to himself now, the woman he dragged with him barely an afterthought. [#008080 “Judging by the current, I’d say… two or three miles per hour, give or take. Found him at 6:15am, roughly, I think. Kids knew before school started. Photos online looked like he died earlier, though. The deterioration, discoloration, bloating. Likely died night before. Hours in the water… hm, maybe six. Six and three, let’s say, that’ll be eighteen. Can’t walk all that way.] He realized then with a pang that he’d left his bike by the makeshift memorial. [#008080 I’ll get us an Uber.”]
Zeke finally dropped her hand to pull his phone from his pocket, leading them toward the street now rather than the river. He quickly identified their current location, and their desired one. The car came in a matter of minutes. Zeke at least had enough wits about him now to open the back passenger door for her. Once she was inside, he made his way to the opposite end, whispered something to the driver through the window before quickly sliding into the seat behind him. He didn’t even bother with his seatbelt as he sat [i tap, tap, tapping] away at his phone. [#008080 “If you’re right,”] he said without tearing his eyes away from his phone. [#008080 “And I think you are, we should be able to find something closer to where Austin – that was his name – went missing. I’m not sure what, but there’s gotta be [i something.”]] A hint of desperation slipped into his voice. He didn’t only want to find something for the boy’s sake.
A drive that would normally take thirty minutes only took fifteen thanks to a prearranged deal. Zeke looked a little worse for wear thanks to the driver’s expediency, but that did not stop him from bolting out of the vehicle even before it had fully stopped. He sprinted around the car once more and opened the door for Cordelia, offering her a hand to help her out. [#008080 “Just this way then.”] He motioned toward the river. Zeke walked a little ahead of her, his eagerness getting the better of him again now that they were so close. Then, there. Almost as if they were waiting for him to reward his efforts, there were a set of footprints set into the mud. Their shape was less distinct and had pooled with water after a day of sprinkled showers, but it was unmistakable that someone had been here.
[#008080 “Here,”] Zeke said as he crouched down next to the prints, his voice now barely above a whisper. [#008080 “Austin was here. Last night, I think.”] Then scanning the area for more footprints, he added, [#008080 “Alone.”] The man straightened, casting a glance at his company. He looked less erratic now, a cool seriousness washing over his features. Without speaking, he began to follow the prints, careful not to disturb them. The trail led the two parallel to the water and upstream for a short while, opposite the way they came. Then, suddenly, the tracks changed course and headed right to the water’s edge where they vanished.
Brow furrowed, Zeke approached the water’s edge himself and stood there for a long moment, staring into the current. This didn’t make sense. Why would Austin have walked right into the water in the middle of the night? The most obvious answer was suicide, but Zeke wouldn’t accept that. He knew his students, even if he was only a substitute teacher. It was possible that he knew them better than their real teachers purely because they acted more like their true selves in the absence of their regular authority figures. Austin had a happy home life, more friends than he knew what to do with, and kept himself active in both his studies and his extracurriculars. No, Zeke [s wouldn’t] [i couldn’t] accept a suicide. If a boy as happy and well-off as Austin was liable to commit such an act…that meant Zeke’s mother might have been able to do the same.
Finally, Zeke looked over his shoulder at Cordelia who had lagged a bit, presumably to give him some distance. [#008080 “So,”] he said a bit sardonically. The derision was not meant to be directed at her. But the similarities between this situation and the one he had experienced so many years ago - the confusion, the inexplicability, the profound sadness, the overlapping anger at the unfairness of it all - left a bitterness in his chest that he could not quell. [#008080 “What’s your hypothesis?”]
Cordelia sort of jumped at Zeke's sudden exclamation and reaching out. [+mediumaquamarine “I am?”] He thought she was brilliant? The compliment filled her with a warm bubbly feeling. Was it the movie idea? Because she thought it was a pretty good idea herself, however, that didn't seem to be what he was referring to. Despite her desperate attempt to move passed her misstep, the topic of the drowning returned much like a boomerang. The tall gentleman didn't turn out to be quite as perturbed as expected with her morbid musings. In fact, he was enthusiastic at the idea of heading up river.
Then he was off again, or at least she thought he would be. A spark had flashed in his gray eyes signaling he was very much absorbed in his thoughts. However, much to her surprise, he turned face and came back to take her hand and string her along. Cordelia didn't much care about the details of where they were going, she was just giddy that she got to come along... that and the whole hand holding thing. She must have been truly smitten if such a simple act made her lose rationality this quickly.
Legs moving not quite fast enough to be considered a jog, Cordelia did her best to keep up without being a burden. Ahead of her Zeke mumbled to himself some calculation for distance based off time and speed of the water. He sure did know a lot about the river. It was fun to watch him all focused like this. She felt like she would be content to do so for hours. And who knew, maybe she would have the chance.
At the mention of an uber, Cordelia truly was just along for the ride.
Part of her wondered why he was so determined to figure out the secret of the Rosebell. Was it simply the innate curiosity of scientist, or was there something else driving him? She did not ask. Whatever it was felt like a personal matter. With those thoughts fulling her mind, they made record time to their destination.
After ever so kindly helping her out of the car, Zeke made off toward the water. Cordelia on the other hand took a second to thank the driver before he continued on his way to the next client. She followed along after that to see the trail of ghostly footprints left upon the soggy earth. [+mediumaquamarine “Whoa...”] she expressed a genuine awe with her soft sigh. The brunette truly could not believe he found this place with only offhand mental calculation.
The pair followed the trail as long as it went. She too noted the abruptness of the boy's change of gait. The muddled prints of where he turned gave the impression that he stopped there a moment. Allowing for Zeke to take the scene in, Cordelia stayed a few paces behind. Her brilliant blue eyes on the tumultuous surface of the water now that there were no more prints to inspect. After a moment longer, he asked what she thought. The woman hadn't expected him to actually want her opinion. It was flattering since he was so dang smart, but she felt a little self conscious for the same reason.
[+mediumaquamarine “Well, I'm not sure...”] the admittance trailed off as she bit lightly at her lip and brought her arms behind her back, fingers laced. Her expression and posture were that of deep contemplation. It was difficult for Cordelia to know what to say. [+mediumaquamarine “It looks like something must have caught his attention in the river. You mentioned that he said something about a shimmer on the water right?”] There wasn't a whole lot she knew about this Austin boy, so she was trying to draw from all of her knowledge to stitch this thought together. [+mediumaquamarine “Maybe it was something like that, that sort of drew him in. It would be an extra odd phenomenon after dark.”] The scene was clear as day in her mind. Hands clasping all the tighter to one another, her knuckles pressed white against her skin as the eeriness of it all sunk in.
Zeke nodded thoughtfully when Cordelia admitted that she wasn’t sure what the cause of the boy’s disappearance might have been. He didn’t know what he had expected. Although, he suspected that some part of him wanted her to find another stunning new revelation. But that wasn’t fair to her. She had no connection to this mystery. He shouldn’t put it on her shoulders to help him figure it out. He was already turning back to the water when she spoke again.
[#008080 “Yeah, maybe…”] He offered little more in the way of acknowledgement. It was a good guess. Just based off false information. It was Zeke, after all, who had seen the water shimmer so unnaturally, not Austin. Now did not exactly seem like the opportune time to come clean though.
His gray eyes went back to scanning the surface of the rushing water. Even now, the picturesque scene taunted him. Although some clouds still lingered overhead to sprinkle the land with rain, sunbeams managed to peer through the gloom. As the sun began its descent in the sky, the light now took on a dreamy, golden glow. The spotlights shimmered on the reflective surface of the water here and there. It wasn’t the same array of colors that Zeke had seen only days ago, but the prism was pretty, nonetheless. Couple that with the wildflowers dancing at the water’s edge and one would have never guessed that this scene once set the stage for death.
[#008080 “I want to see something,”] Zeke mumbled without turning to Cordelia. It appeared he spoke half to himself and half to her. The tall man stooped down and quickly began to unlace his shoes. When he straightened again, he took a deep breath before stepping out of his footwear, out of his socks, and into the water.
The river was cool, but not cold. It sent goosebumps up Zeke’s shins, but at least it didn’t send his teeth into an embarrassing chatter. After so many years in Florida the man really couldn’t cope well with the cold. What shocked him more than the temperature was the fact that this was the first time he had willingly immersed himself in the river since his mother’s passing. It used to be common for the two to dip their feet into its depths during the warmer summer months. Since her death, however, Zeke had come up with a million and one excuses to avoid going in again while he conducted his research. With Austin gone too, though, it was high time to bite the bullet and dive into the deep end. So to speak.
He carefully navigated his way across the smooth stones of the riverbed which were slick with algae. He held the length of his trousers up in both of his hands, trying to avoid getting them wet. There wasn’t much need for this gesture; the water only went up to his ankles. As he waded deeper toward the center of the river, however, he was submerged to just above his knees. He stood in the middle of the channel, looking both upstream and downstream. Then he looked skyward, a hand hovering just above his glasses so as to avoid the incoming rain. As Zeke brought his gaze back down again, he dipped his hand into the river as well, letting the water rush between his fingers. Shaking the water from his hand as he retraced it, the man began to trudge back to the riverbank.
Once Zeke was back on even ground, he rolled and tucked his pantlegs up around his thighs in order to keep the material away from the water still dripping off him. Despite his scrawny look, this action revealed surprisingly toned and muscled legs presumably from all the bike riding. He took off his glasses as well and began wiping them on the hem of his shirt. [#008080 “I’m not sure what happened to Austin,”] he said as he continued polishing the lenses. [#008080 “But I don’t think it’s as simple as the press and the police are going to make it out to be.”] He put his glasses back on, looking at Cordelia with a hardened gaze. Maybe Zeke couldn’t have saved the boy since he had been distracted with [i other] things, but he’d be damned if he didn’t find out the true nature of the circumstances of his death.
He waved Cordelia closer. When she approached, he turned back to look at the water again. [#008080 “Austin was about as tall as me. Maybe a few inches shorter. Regardless of whatever compelled him to step into the water, there’s not enough there for him to drown right off the bat. Even with the amount of rainfall we’ve had,”] He motioned up to the sky. [#008080 “That would have only resulted in a rise in water levels of maybe one or two inches, tops. Again, not enough to drown. We could say that he got swept off his feet by the river. It’s not moving fast enough right now for me to readily believe that, but the rocks are slippery, and the rainfall might have caused some runoff that accelerated the flow, so I suppose it’s possible.”] He shrugged, but then shook his head. [#008080 “However, even [i if] that happened, Austin would have surely found his footing further down; he was an athlete. He could have simply stood back up. Perhaps he went under as he was swept away. Sure. But bodies full of air will naturally rise to the surface since the density of a human body is less than that of water. The river isn’t deep enough that he would have been underwater for so long that he wouldn’t have been able to rise. If he was underwater long enough to drown then something or some[i one] forced him to be there.”] Zeke let the words hang eerily on the air for a moment before he shook his head again. He looked at Cordelia, apparently only just then remembering that she was there too. That she was a person, not a sounding board. [#008080 “I’m sorry. I probably sound crazy. I don’t mean to make a conspiracy theory out of this kid’s death I…I just cared about him, ya know? A lot. And this river, these [i deaths] they just..."] Zeke trailed off, his eyes falling to the ground.
Zeke wasn't quite so enthused with her response this time, part of her was glad for that. Though she had liked when he praised her before, this wasn't exactly a topic she wanted to be knowledgable in.
As the silence set in, Cordelia could tell the bespectacled man was deep in thought. The break allowed her to unwind to a degree. Her hard pressed hands unclasping to cross comfortably in front of her, as she no longer wracked her own brain for suitable ideas to explain what was going on. But it wouldn't last long as Zeke decidedly stated there was something he wanted to test, then proceeded into the river.
Shifting from one foot to the other, she watched nervously from the sideline as the man moved about the flowing water. They were already wet from the light shower of rain drizzling down on them, so getting in the river wouldn't make much difference aside from the cold. However, it dawned on her then and there that she must have forgotten her umbrella in the car. A minor inconvenience, so Cordelia decided not to worry about it. Her eyes stayed trained on Zeke, watching him half ready to go in herself if something happened, though she doubted it would come to that.
Zeke returned to her not long after, then he began to share his thoughts. With each one she thought to his movements and actions in the water and lined up how he might have come to these conclusions. In the end, the man spiraled some, an attempt to reach out from what she had already noted as obsession from all the times she had seen him at the water's edge.
[+teal “,these deaths they just...”] he cut off.
[+mediumaquamarine “...They're unusual, unnatural even.”] Cordelia wasn't certain that was the direction he was going in with that comment, but it's what came to her mind. [+mediumaquamarine “People drown, especially this time a year, it happens. Any town on a river sees these sort of incidents just about yearly... but Conway is different. The Rosebell is slow flowing and in most places pretty shallow. And while that doesn't exempt it from tragedy, I can understand why you feel the way you do. It [I is] strange.”] Conway generally saw at least three deaths a year to the flow of the spring waters. That number was high and that was what they saw on a good year. So no, Cordelia didn't think he was crazy. Not by a long shot.
[+mediumaquamarine “But,”] her words came hesitantly, [+mediumaquamarine “sometimes there's not always a logical answer to every mystery.”] Some things were simply without rational explanation. Though from what she could tell from her short acquaintance with him, Zeke refused to just accept that. In that way, he was unlike anyone else in Conway. Still, she wondered if they pressed on together and uncovered the truth, if he would be able to believe it or if he would reject it so that he could continue to find solace in the enigma.
[+mediumaquamarine “I mean, who would want to hurt a high school boy so badly as this?”] She fell back to what he was saying before. [+mediumaquamarine “And if it wasn't an accident, and there was someone behind this, don't you think there would have to be a connection between all the victims?”] Generally there was something of that sort, right? Even if there was a murderer on the loose, killing for the rush of it, a pattern usually emerged. [+mediumaquamarine “It could be that terrible people are just taking advantage of a wives' tale that's already there, but this has been going on for some two hundred years... so maybe it's a mix of both?”] She poked some holes in his idea, while adding a bit of her own speculation. [+mediumaquamarine “Does that mean the next best step would be to look into the when, where, and who to see what we can draw from that?”] Cordelia wondered if this was really the route Zeke wanted to take. To treat all of these deaths as possible murders. The thought unsettled her, twisting her stomach in a complicated sort of way.
Zeke kept his eyes trained to the ground as Cordelia finished his unspoken thought. He feared what he might see if he looked up. Disgust? Pity? Concern? Any one of those could be a contender given his… fixation on the river. He was well familiar with each. It was close friends and family members who he had turned to first with his suspicions, after all. None of them took him at his word. And even now as Cordelia sounded like she was mostly in agreeance with him, he braced himself for her hesitation too.
[+mediumaquamarine “But, sometimes there’s not always a logical answer to every mystery.”]
There it was. He had known that it was bound to come eventually, and still the doubt lacing her voice hurt him. She had at least come this far with him, so he thought that perhaps she would have been different. Zeke desperately hoped that she would have been.
His lips pursed together tightly as she asked him questions that he had no answers to. It felt like she was trying to talk him out of his theories just as others before her had done. He could feel the mild prickling of indignation bubbling up inside him at the thought. He raised his eyes to meet hers, ready to fix her with a cold glare. Instead, he blinked a bit in surprise. She was still offering new ideas to continue their little escapade. She wanted to gather more intel about the lives the river had claimed. She had said [i we.]
Zeke cleared his throat. [#008080 “I think that’d be a good idea, yeah.”] He brought a hand up to tousle some of his own damp hair. [#008080 “There might be a pattern if we assume it’s just one person behind this, but as you’ve said, it could very well have been – could currently be – multiple people committing the acts over time. In either case, though, yes, I think looking into an in-depth history of some of the victims might give us some intel. I’m thinking if we took it decade by decade then that could reveal patterns. If there’s a single person operating, it’d be most likely that they’d do so within that time frame. Perhaps even over multiple decades. And then maybe it could shift from there?”]
It wasn’t much, but at least it was the foundation of a plan of action. Zeke had already investigated some of the other deaths surrounding the river, of course, but he hadn’t even come close to tracing all the way back to its origins. Maybe only the past twenty years or so since those were the years that were the closest to his mother’s death. [#008080 “I…”] Now it was his turn to hesitate. [#008080 “I already have some records of the people that have passed this century.”] He desperately tried to pass this off as casual information. [#008080 “Just, you know, some stuff I’ve checked out at the library. Public records, not personal. That sort of thing. I’ll probably start looking over that more closely tonight. I know it’s already getting a bit late in the day,”] He motioned to the setting sun. By the look of it, the time was already going on 5pm. [#008080 “But you’re more than welcome to come over and help if you’d like. I’ll be sure to compensate you for your time too; I make a pretty decent spaghetti.”] Zeke offered her a small smile.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket and quickly averted his gaze to concentrate on the screen instead. [#008080 “Of course, if you have other things you need to do tonight, I understand that too. I can get you an Uber for wherever you need to go.”] After all, he had dragged her along for the better part of the afternoon on what was supposed to be another romantic date. It’d be silly to assume that she’d willingly want to keep it up, even if she said she wanted to investigate the victims with him. She likely meant later as opposed to diving right into it then and there. Of course, this realization only hit Zeke after the fact. And he was kicking himself for it. Spaghetti, case files, and obituaries could still be romantic too, right?
At the idea of doing more research, Zeke was off to the races. Within moments he was already hammering out a plan for them to read through old records with a side of pasta. Cordelia reached for her own phone to check the time herself. It was later than she thought, but not so much so that she had to miss out on the next leg of this adventure. [+mediumaquamarine “I've still got a few hours.”] She announced, thinking it convenient that he had already gathered a number of the papers they needed. For the moment it didn't cross her mind that this was perhaps strange for him to do, even with the level of obsession she had previously seen in him. [+mediumaquamarine “And I haven't had spaghetti in ages, so that sounds wonderful.”] Honestly, she was more excited about trying his cooking than anything else. But what that was probably to be expected with the gloomy nature of the undertaking.
The pair did not stick around long after that. He hailed another uber and they were off to retrieve his bike and head to his place. Sparse conversation came and went, though the topic stayed lighter in nature than what came before. This was likely for the sake of the driver, so Cordelia spent most the time looking out the window. The world passed quickly by in flashes. Her ocean blue eyes took it all in, but processed very little. She was nervous, in a way that was born both of anxiety and excitement.
Upon arrival, they got straight to work. Well, first Zeke had to start dinner up, lest they wind up too absorbed to eat and miss it all together. Which would have been a shame, because Cordelia was looking forward to it. The brunette watched him toil away, asking to help where she could. Unfortunately, there wasn't much for her to do. Or maybe that was a fortunate thing since it afforded her the chance to stare at him to her heart's content. Either way, she was having a fantastic time just idling away the minutes while the enticing smell of herbs and tomato sauce wafted about the home. It definitely made for a cozy setting in what had been an otherwise dreary day.
After they ate their fill, the papers came out. They were neatly organized by date, which made it easier for the two who each took a couple of years worth of articles to look through. The data was all over the place. Gender, occupation, physical appearance, there were no threads that seemed to connect every person to the others.
[+mediumaquamarine “I don't see any homeless folks or sex workers here, which are generally the targets when it comes to murder for the sake of violence.”] Vulnerable demographics like that were usually hit the hardest because it was less likely to be noticed or looked into. However, the river took out all thoughts of being inconspicuous. Every death was highlighted, like a message that would only fall on deaf ears.
The only other trend pertained to age. Ages did vary, but for the most part there were few elderly folks among the files. [+mediumaquamarine “There aren't many older folks here, but they don't go down to the water as often... they tend to be more superstitious.”] That and it was harder physically, but that seemed obvious. [+mediumaquamarine “The only ones I see in these years were survived by large families, so maybe that's why they were there?”] She pointed at the two or three articles she found. Like the others they were tearfully written. Every obituary on the table was like that, sorrowful beyond the words on the paper. In fact, that was the only constant. The one thing linking every case was that each victim was greatly mourned. Every death touched the community in some way; as if they were those who would be missed the most.
It was absolutely mind-boggling that this gorgeous, kind, and compassionate woman would ever want anything to do with him, Zeke thought. Let alone that she’d want to join him in his apartment for weeknight spaghetti and obituary research. He wasn’t a religious man by any means, but he did often wonder what deity he ought to thank for this particular stretch of what was clearly some kind of divine intervention. Rather than continuing to question the will of such gracious gods, Zeke ordered another Uber to take the pair back to his place.
It was on the ride over that Zeke began to feel sweat building up on the palms of his hands. His right leg also wouldn’t stop shaking of its own accord. He should have thought to clean his apartment before inviting company over. Maybe at least stop on the way to buy a candle or two. The place which had been built in the seventies and hadn’t been renovated since the nineties could desperately use a fresh scent. Or – no, was that too romantic? Candlelight and spaghetti and dead people. Hard to say. But then again, it had been she who kissed him just yesterday. It couldn’t hurt to set the mood just a little bit. Yet it would be despicable and unethical to try and use this tragedy as an excuse to get closer to the woman. And in any case, he [i did] want to get some actual research done. Surely, he could make some smoother moves at a different – [i literally any other] – time. Zeke was grateful for the lack of stimulating conversation between them on the ride; his mind was buzzing.
Once they reached the apartment, Zeke found that it was much easier to focus. It wasn’t as dirty as he had feared, and Cordelia either didn’t notice the lingering smell or was too polite to say anything. Likely the latter. But he quickly pushed that from his mind and set to work in the kitchen instead. Although Cordelia offered to assist, Zeke insisted that he had a handle on things himself. For one thing, he wanted to make and share food specifically for her. It wasn’t a grand gesture, but one that he thought meant something all the same. For another, the recipe he worked from was his mother’s, so it was special and important that he do it on his own.
After they finished eating and Zeke tidied up the kitchen, he transferred the papers he had collected over time from his study into the living room where they sat. He divided the files up between both of them. When he did, he also made sure to leave his mother’s file on a nearby bookshelf and out of their working space entirely. Zeke wasn’t quite ready to share that with Cordelia yet. Maybe even ever. If she was interested enough to help him without needing to know his reason, it was best that it stayed that way. Otherwise, he was another grieving family member in denial.
After about a half hour’s work, she spoke up about her findings. Zeke looked up from his own papers to listen to her fully. [#008080 “Yeah, I’ve noticed the same thing.”] He also referenced a handful of articles from his own stack. [#008080 “Large families here, here, and here too.”] Zeke went silent again, eyeing the clippings. He scratched his chin as he sat on the floor in thought, brow furrowed. [#008080 “Maybe…”] he mused. [#008080 “Maybe it has something to do with the superstition itself? Like, these people and their deaths – not just the ones from big families, but all the victims – are pretty well known. I mean, yeah, everyone knows everyone in a small town, but these weren’t traditional targets like homeless people or sex workers, as you said. It’d be easy to keep their deaths off the radar for a while. But when people have actual connections and relationships with those that have died, their deaths become much more visible. Everyone would know that they died either at or because of the river, and the superstition lives on rather than fading out.”] He let out a heavy sigh and shrugged, shaking his head. [#008080 “Why anyone would want to fan that flame, however, I don’t know. What’s to gain from that?”]
It felt like a weak hypothesis. But since the data pool didn’t offer up many more similarities across the victims, he could see no other reasoning. He stood up and stretched, his joints popping here and there in protest. Zeke bent back down again and gathered up the articles of the victims with the large families he and Cordelia pointed out. He walked back into his study and light shuffling could be heard from the living room. When he returned, he carried a large corkboard and set it on the couch. It contained a range of information about the river from its early naming, to his recorded pH levels, to its wildlife in certain areas, to the newly pinned articles of the deceased. And at its center was the picture that Cordelia returned to him from the day they first met. A much younger looking Zeke being smothered with a kiss on the cheek from his mom. The man took the photo down hurriedly. [#008080 “It’s a bit much, I know,”] he said before Cordelia could say anything. [#008080 “But thought it’d be good for both of us to get a full picture of this thing, ya know? For context.”] He looked from her to the corkboard a little anxiously. [#008080 “Does this bring anything new to light for you?”]
There were a couple of things that came to Cordelia's mind that could be accomplished by keeping the legend alive and well, but none of them were particularly helpful for what Zeke was looking to find. So, she kept quiet on those for now. Besides, he zipped out of the room shortly thereafter. His absence was not a prolonged one, however, as he reentered with a board that was somehow both organized and chaotic with all his findings. There was probably more information about the Rosebell here than she had ever seen in one place before.
A lot of the scientific information was lost on her, but the brunette assumed it was all fairly standard for rivers in the area if Zeke had't drawn any conclusions from it already. Still, she look discerningly over everything that was there in hopes she could add some sort of insight. There were only two things missing from from what she could see, one more pressing than the other. [+mediumaquamarine “I don't really see anything that would pull it all together unfortunately, but I think it would be worth looking into the superstition surrounding the river... I don't see the legend behind it here though.”] Most young folks these days didn't pay attention to those sorts of things. And she doubted there were that many people left in Conway that knew the whole thing to begin with. [+mediumaquamarine “I bet the library might have a recorded history of local folk stories, or maybe the museum.”] Wondering about that, she took out her phone to up the library's page. They had an online index of their inventory. It might have been easier to find in person if they asked the local librarian though.
[+mediumaquamarine “I'm sure the story has survived orally as well, someone around here has to know it.”] Cordelia mused as her thumb scrolled through a list of books that came up when she searched the town's name. [+mediumaquamarine “Ah, here we go.”] A book titled “Conway: Stories and Tales to Tell” sounded a great deal more promising than anything else she'd seen. Plus it was published in the early 1900's, so she figured the superstition was alive and well then. Clicking in to see more, the description made her all the more hopeful. [+mediumaquamarine “It says its a collection of local events, heroes , and legends-”] Excitement made her voice bubbly again, but she cut short and her nose crinkled. [+mediumaquamarine “It's only available for physical check out.”]
While many books were digitally archived and available for check out online, it seemed that was not the case with this one. And it was too late for the library to be open now. The woman couldn't help but sigh. She'd been on such a roll; now she couldn't do anything with this line of thought till tomorrow at the soonest.
Going back to the drawing board, or the cork board in this case, Cordelia wracked her brain for some other connection to give him. [+mediumaquamarine “I'm sorry, I can't make anything else from all this.”] Given the impressive amount of material he'd gathered and time he must have spent to do so, she felt a bit bad not taking anything else away. Well, other than an admiration for the man and his dedication.
For a while longer the two sound boarded ideas off one another. Nothing felt quite right, but Cordelia still enjoyed her time with the man. Even if it wasn't necessarily productive. Glancing down at her phone she saw that it was later than expected. The woman dragged her feet about it, but eventually did politely excuse herself to leave. Zeke was gentlemanly enough to offer to walk her part way, especially now that the rain had lessened to a light mist, but she declined. The bouncy haired woman did not want to keep him out too late. So, they said their goodbyes at the door, making a loose plan to meet at the library tomorrow after school got out.
It was not to be though. Part way through the day, sometime around lunch, Zeke received a text from Cordelia saying that some family drama came up and she regretfully wouldn't be able to join him. She did urge him to go on without her though, as she wanted to hear what he found as soon as possible. That way when they met again they could share their new theories.
The Conway library was a quiet place. Not many people came nor went from there. Over the years the budget had been cut many times over, so the building basically only operated for a few hours a day in the afternoons. Except when they held events. Today was no such day though, so it remained desolate. The librarian was the only other person there. She would help him locate the book he was looking for if Zeke so needed.
“Conway: Stories and Tales to Tell” was not an exceptionally long book. There wasn't a lot that happened in this town, even looking all the way back to its inception. Still, the collection contained an index and in it he would find a story labeled “Curse of the Rosebell,” which sounded just dramatic enough to be what he was looking for. The chapter read as follows:
There was once a family who lived in a house overlooking the Rosebell river. The man of the house made a meager living fishing there. Everyday he would come down, fill his basket with fish, and then have his children carry it to the market to sell. His oldest daughter, who was known for her beauty, was the most diligent of all. One day her hard work caught the eye of a water spirit. Mesmerized by her beauty, inside and out, he asked her to marry him, but the girl declined. If she left with him, who would help take care of her family? Seeing her worry, the spirit made the girl an offer. If she married him, he would make her father such a prosperous fisher that he would certainly be able to hire all the help her family needed. Considering his offer, the girl asked for three days to think on his proposal. The spirit agreed and returned to the river. On the third day he returned and the fisherman's daughter asked if, like this, he would give her three days every year to see her family if they were married. Thinking this a modest condition, he agreed and the two were wed. Many years passed and while the girl's parents and siblings grew older and became elderly, she always returned the same as the day she left. Regardless, her family looked forward to her visit each year. However, one unfateful year, a man who worked for her family saw her and told the town how she had not aged a day from how they all remembered her in their youth. The church soon caught wind of this and called for the woman to be brought before their lord. And so on the third day of her visit, the girl was burned as a witch. On the fourth day, when she should have returned to the water, a pair of clergymen went out to console the grieving family. On their way to the home, they saw a strange woman weeping by the river. She was like water itself. When they went to see what was wrong, the stranger turned on them; furious. She told them that by killing the water spirit's wife, the town had invoked his wrath. But when they asked what she meant by this, the woman simply turned to retreat into the river. However, she did not go alone. As though transfixed by her, one of the clergymen followed and was swallowed by the water. He was the first to be taken, but not the last. Every Spring, when his wife would visit, the spirit and his family return to Conway. They come singing a song of retribution. A song that calls for those we hold most dear. ... Beware the Rosebell ... Beware the women of the water
[#008080 “The legend?”] he repeated with a hint of disbelieving amusement coloring tone. [#008080 “Well, it’s right…”] He scanned his corkboard, his pointer finger raised and ready to indicate the famous superstition. But a frown lined the corners of his lips instead. [#008080 “Oh. Huh.”] Son of a gun. Cordelia was right. Despite the dizzying amount of information he’d gathered on the river, there was nothing there on the harrowing tale that surrounded the place. The warnings about the dangerous springtime waters were such common knowledge around town that he supposed he didn’t think it pertinent information to add to the research; it should have been a given. And yet, try as he might, he could not rack his own brain about where the warnings had initially originated. The stories – if any were still told, that is – dated back before his time. What an embarrassing oversight.
Zeke lowered himself onto the floor next to Cordelia as she took out her phone to search for a book on the history of the river as well as the town itself. He craned his neck over her shoulder, gazing at her screen while she scrolled. In retrospect, this was highly impolite, but he was too taken in by the smell of her hair to care much. He smiled and leaned in closer still once she found a book to suit their needs. Her excitement was contagious. Zeke shook his head as she tried to undercut her own findings. [#008080 “Hey, don’t worry about it. This is a really good lead. We can look into it more tomorrow.”]
Although Cordelia seemed deflated that she couldn’t offer him more help, Zeke found that he was constantly impressed and grateful that she was able to offer anything at all. After a year of conducting research on his own, having a sort of partner-in-study was a welcome change of pace. And clearly beneficial; she was already three for three in the course of just one night. Not only had she been the one to suggest they look for clues upstream, but she was also responsible for taking the next steps to research past victims of the river. Now, she discovered this intriguing book which would hopefully help answer more questions. Zeke was beginning to believe she could be his good luck charm. This felt like it was leaps and bounds ahead of where he had ever been in the investigation of this mystery.
The rest of the night was relatively uneventful by comparison. While the two didn’t make any ore progress together, Zeke enjoyed their wandering theories and sidetracked conversations. He sensed it was time for her to leave well before she said anything. It was late and he had kept her from doing anything else for the entire afternoon and evening. He felt selfish about it, but not regretful.
The man stood when she did and offered to walk her part of the way home. The sun had long since made its descent past the horizon and gave way to a dark, starless night. Conway wasn’t a dangerous town by any stretch of the imagination. Well, aside from the river anyways. But Zeke was not naïve about the hazard women faced when walking around alone at night in any place, safe or not. He worried about the pretty young lady traversing the town on her own but did not press the matter when Cordelia said that she’d be fine by herself. Zeke did not want to insinuate anything that would insult her independence. Still, before she left, he insisted that she share her location with him. That way should anything happen, he’d at least have some idea where she, or at the very least her phone, might be. Added to that he also asked that she text him after she arrived safely home. Once she agreed to these terms, the two parted ways with plans to dive deeper into their research the next day. Zeke stayed up until he was sure that Cordelia made it home unscathed. She sent him a very cute picture. He smiled at it then went to sleep with a gentle giddy excitement about whatever lay in store for the pair at the library.
The next day at school, the man showed more interest in the time passing on the clock than his students typically did. He wondered eagerly whether this book could be a key to unlock an element he’d maybe missed in his many days of continuous research. More than that, he was greatly anticipating meeting up with Cordelia again. In the face of Austin’s death, it felt good to be doing something to get to the bottom of it. When he mourned with the rest of the town yesterday, he felt as though he was a long way from feeling anything positive ever again. Yet she’d been there for him, and she made him smile, made him excited. It was difficult to think of anything other than her. Some of that dissipated, however, when he received a text from her that stated that she would be unable to join him at the library. Zeke heaved a heavy sigh at this. He’d continue with the search on his own, of course, but even if he did find something, the thought of not being able to share it with Cordelia immediately left him feeling slightly hollow.
When school let out for the day, Zeke lingered by the entrance with his bike for a while. There was some residual hope that Cordelia would resolve whatever drama had cropped up and still be able to make their date. He waited for a half hour, but it was clear that she would not show. He walked to the nearby library with a little less pep in his step than from when he had started his day.
The library was as familiar to Zeke as it had ever been. He was one of the few patrons who made regular appearances in spite of its uninviting interior. The walls were painted a sickly green, half the tables and chairs were in desperate need of repair, and there was little to no real organization on any of the bookshelves. Still, the elderly librarian at least was a very kind woman. She enjoyed seeing the bespeckled man and always offered him peppermints when he came in. Zeke took them out of politeness although he never consumed them. He wasn’t sure whether or not the hard candy had an expiration date but wanted to err on the side of caution regardless.
Zeke scanned the haphazard shelves in the general area where the online index said the book should be located. It took about ten minutes of searching, but he finally found it some five shelves down and two columns over from where it should have been. [i Conway: Stories and Tales to Tell] was not an impressive book at all. The publication was thin with a faded dull cover of an illustration of City Hall. But Zeke still hoped he’d find what he was looking for within its contents. While he was sure that it wouldn’t be a long read, he settled into a wobbly plastic seat with a cracked back by a nearby window and flipped open the novel to the chapter entitled “Curse of the Rosebell.”
After he finished reading, the man sat back in the chair with his brow furrowed and a frown on his face. He thought that this book might have shined more light on this mystery, maybe led him toward another detail or clue. But it was, in fact, useless. Zeke shut the book with an exasperated snap. The force of it caused the crack at the back of his chair to worsen, so he quickly got up and began walking back to the shelf where he found it. So, the so called ‘legend’ was less that and really more of a fairytale. Beautiful ageless women? Vengeful water spirits? It was too much to be believed. Zeke felt personally affronted that the tale was even included in a nonfiction book; it was laughable. Legends were supposed to spring from truth, not the other way around. How was anyone expected to take this as the cause for all the river incidents at face value?
Zeke shoved the book unceremoniously back on the shelf and made his way to the front desk where the elderly librarian sat thumbing through a houseplant magazine. She looked up as he approached and beamed. [#00CED1 “Find everything alright, dearie?”] [#008080 “Not exactly. I’m trying to find more information about the origin of the superstition surrounding the Rosebell channel.”] [#00CED1 “Oh, well, have you tried looking at [i Conway: Stories and Tales to Tell]? If I’m remembering correctly, I believe that should have a decent account of what happened.”] Zeke scoffed, but quickly covered it with a cough so as to not seem rude. [#008080 “Uh… yeah, I just read it, but there has to be something else, right?”] The librarian looked thoughtful for a second but shook her head. [#00CED1 “Not that I’m aware of. I’m sorry, dearie.”] [#008080 “No, no, that’s okay. It was just a little disappointing is all,”] he said dejectedly. [#00CED1 “Oh? Why’s that?”] [#008080 “I don’t know. I guess I was expecting more concrete facts, not fairytales.”] [#00CED1 “Well, the fairytale is the fact, you know.”] This time Zeke couldn’t help but smirk. [#008080 “You believe that story?”] [#00CED1 “It’s not just a story, dearie. It happened. As real and true as you and I standing here now.”] [#008080 “And how do you figure?”] He humored her because he didn’t want to say outright that something like that story couldn’t have happened. People were entitled to their beliefs no matter how delusional. [#00CED1 “That same spirit that’s in the story took my grandmother, if you can believe it.”] She smiled at the dumbstruck expression on the man’s face. [#00CED1 “That’s right. It was some years ago now. She was by the water with my grandfather and their children one spring day. My grandfather took the three boys further downstream to skip stones in calmer water, but my mom stayed with my grandmother upstream to prepare a picnic for the boys’ return. When they were almost done setting everything out, my grandmother suddenly got up and started walking to the water. My mom said it was like she was dazed, under a spell or something. At first, she thought it was a game, but she saw something in the water that alerted her to something off. A figure’s head bobbing just above the surface. A woman made of water. My mom cried and screamed for her mother to come back, but she went in and was gone. She told people what happened, but everyone assumed she was a child in shock and simply making up stories to explain a suicide.”] The old woman shook her head sadly. [#00CED1 “Terrible, really. A child having to witness something like that. But my mom warned my sister and I growing up about that water. We were never allowed to go near it because of what happened. Because of what [i keeps] happening.”]
By the end of the story, Zeke looked as though he’d seen a ghost. All the color had drained from his face, and he felt like there wasn’t any warmth left in his body. Additionally, his chest was collapsing in on itself, squeezing the air from his lungs and crushing his heart. His knees buckled underneath him, and this caused the librarian to hobble out from behind the counter to help steady him. [#00CED1 “Are you alright, dearie?”] There was intense alarm and concern in her voice. [#00CED1 “Do you need me to call an ambulance?”] An ambulance? Yeah, that sounded good, Zeke thought. Something to whisk him away, knock him out, have a machine take care of breathing on his behalf instead of facing this impossible reality. But he knew he couldn’t escape it. Not now that this seed was planted in his brain. It would take root and, if he didn’t act on it, it would consume him. [#008080 “No,”] he managed to choke out hoarsely. [#008080 “No, no. I need… I need that book. Check out the book. Got to go.”] The librarian looked at him dubiously, but she hurried off to look for it, nonetheless. Zeke leaned weakly against the counter in her absence. When she returned with the book in hand, he was grateful that she didn’t badger him with more questions. Instead, she scanned the book’s binding, stamped the back cover, and handed it over along with three individually wrapped candy cane-colored peppermints. [#008080 “T-thank you,”] was all he could manage before he stumbled outside.
It felt a million times easier to breathe in the fresh air, but his head still felt like it was ringing. It was as if he had been in too close of proximity to a bomb. It obliterated his senses, and it was difficult to get his bearings. He clutched the book to his chest like it was a life preserver. All around him the world spun on undisturbed. Birds still sang sweetly from above, people milled around casually looking at their phones, and – [i phones.] Zeke shoved his hand into his pocket and gripped his phone tightly before dialing the only number he could think to call at such a time: Cordelia. She had said that she wanted to hear what he found out as soon as possible, after all. It didn’t cross his mind that she was likely too preoccupied in the aforementioned family drama to answer his phone call. And indeed, he received the robotic voice of the answering machine. He tried to dial the number again, but the results were the same. Zeke’s teeth grinded together as he desperately tried to think of how to get in touch with the one person who might be able to help him make sense of all of this. Then, as he stared imploringly at their exchanged messages as if waiting for an answer from that, he noticed that there was an address from Cordelia’s shared location the night before. Without thinking, he leaped onto his bike and pedaled furiously to get to her as quickly as possible.
Zeke rolled up to Cordelia’s address in record time, flinging his bike onto the ground. The book was still clutched tightly to his chest. He charged up the driveway and to the door, smashing his finger into the doorbell. And, for good measure, he banged on the door with a surprising amount of force. [#008080 [i “Cordelia!”]] he called loudly. [#008080 “Cordelia, it’s me! We have to talk. [i Please!”]] This was the most crazed Zeke had ever been. His normal cool and thoughtful composure had vanished and was completely replaced with something else entirely. He felt out of control, out of his mind. Maybe that was the reason that, instead of waiting for an answer, he placed a hand on the door handle and finding that it was unlocked, he burst into the home uninvited.
Zeke had been so focused on Cordelia, that he was under the impression he'd only find her in her home. Instead, he found himself face to face with who he could only assume to be her entire family. It wasn't an ideal first impression. His eyes were wide, his hair was unkept, his glasses were slightly askew, he still held the dingy book, and he could very well be sued for breaking and entering. Well, entering at the very least. He sputtered, his gray eyes searching wildly for the familiar hazel haired woman. [#008080 "I-I'm sorry. I was l-looking for C-C-Cordelia?"]
The address Zeke traveled to wasn't entirely out of town, but it was certainly at the edge of it. It was a large plot of land, one that the river cut through in a wide bend. The house itself was rather generous in size as well and while the building did not look to be new, there was a sort of timeless feel to the architecture. It was a beautiful home nestled prettily atop a hill.
Bursting through the door and passed a mudroom of sorts, the man found himself in a living room chalk full of strangers spread out in a way that made it seem like they were in the middle of a serious conversation. However, that came to a screeching halt as they were all now staring at the intruder in their midst. The general expression was one of confusion, though some were quickly turning to anger.
Looking over the faces, seven of eight of them were women. All strikingly gorgeous in their own way. With them stood a single gentleman. It was difficult to pin his age, but he seemed on the older side with salt and pepper hair. He was handsome as well, or he might have been if he didn't look quite so intimidating. Out of everyone, he seemed the least amused to have been interrupted. [+seagreen “What in the hell do you think you are doing here?”] His voice was booming in a way that wasn't necessarily loud, but commanded attention, though his question seemed rhetorical. Zeke had already made his intentions known to all. As the older man went to continue, his deep green eyes glanced down at the book the teacher was holding and it caused him to pause.
This moment was enough for Cordelia to come hurriedly shuffling around the others. She looked frazzled to say the least. [+mediumaquamarine “I was supposed to meet him earlier to talk about something important. I will be back.“] With this poorly thrown out excuse, the woman wrapped her arm around Zeke's and rushed him straight back the way he'd come.
The pair was out the door before anyone could say anything about their leaving. Cordelia hadn't even bothered to put shoes on. The wet grass did not seem to bother her as they continued down the hill and toward a wide branched willow tree. Beneath its tendrils was a bench, nearly dry now that the rain had let up the day before. The metal and wood seat was well weathered. Rust here or there and the planks in need of a new staining. Still, it seemed sturdy enough to hold both of them, which was good because bright-eyed woman sat them exactly there before releasing Zeke's arm back to him.
Part of Cordelia was kicking herself for essentially handing him over her address. He really should not have come here, but another part of her was too excited to see the man to really care. It was an odd imbalance inside of her, albeit not an entirely foreign one. [+mediumaquamarine “So... it looks like you found the book. Did it have what we are looking for?”] Her segue was awkward in a way, like she was hoping to stay away from the whole kerfuffle that just was and stick plainly to his findings. And in truth, she was, but Cordelia was also interested in knowing what he found... and if he believed it.
The man might have been taken in by the stunning women surrounding him if the circumstances were different. But he only sought out one. Or he would have liked to, anyways. As soon as the only other man spoke, however, his searching eyes were instantly pulled to focus on the green-eyed man instead. Zeke was a relatively tall man, but he shrank down at the reverberatory voice of the older gentleman. He swallowed the hard lump that formed in his throat. He might have fallen back on more repetitive apologies if Cordelia hadn’t sprung from the ranks of women. A flash of relief rushed over his features at seeing the beautiful familiar face, but he did not have the chance to properly take her in. She swiftly intertwined her arm into his and ushered him out of the home.
Normally Zeke would have been beside himself with the initiated contact. There were no such feelings this time. He only felt anxious to be away from the awkward situation he’d stumbled into, and an overwhelming yearning to share what he found at the library. When Cordelia sat the two of them down beneath the tree, his intense gray eyes bore into her brilliant blue ones. It was as if he was trying to communicate via telepathy. And maybe he was. Words were still difficult to grasp given all the information flooding his brain. This truly did feel like drowning too. Frantic, desperate, impossible to breathe.
[#008080 “Yes. The book,”] he said, finally releasing it from his chest. His knuckles had turned white with the tight grip and there were indentations in his palms. [#008080 “I… well, I’m sorry about – ya know. Yeah. Sorry. I didn’t mean to, um, I mean I didn’t realize that I – you – [i fuck.] Sorry.”] The man pinched the bridge of his nose beneath his glasses. His eyes were shut tightly, and his face was screwed up. Tension seemed to emanate from every ounce of his being. Zeke took a heavy shaky breath. When he opened his eyes again, he passed the book to Cordelia and opened its pages. By some stroke of lucky coincidence, he’d managed to flip exactly to the chapter “Curse of the Rosebell.” He tapped the page rapidly like he was imploring her to read the source for herself.
Needing to shake off his excess energy, the man stood to begin pacing back and forth in front of her. That seemed to do the trick. The words came tumbling out before he even knew what he was saying. [#008080 “It’s [i supernatural,] Cordelia! Some kind of curse from a water spirit or something. It’s in search of vengeance, like retribution, for the death of its loved one. So it takes [i other] loved ones. I-It, I dunno, it transfixes people with a spell or, or hypnotism or [i something] that makes them want to go into the water of their own volition. That’s why they all look like suicides! That’s why they all come from big families! And I talked to the librarian earlier – Cordelia, she says her mother watched her grandmother get taken. Just up and walked right into the water. Do you remember the article you pulled last night that said something about a hysterical girl as the only witness to her mother’s suicide at the river? That was [i her] mother!”]
Zeke took a moment to catch his breath. Then he continued, [#008080 “Listen, I know how it sounds, okay? I swear – I [i swear] I’m not crazy though. It’s right there in the book. Fact and fiction fucking [i blending] together, and I [i know] how it sounds! It is crazy, but I’m not. You’ve got to believe me. I’ve been looking at this case for a year now and there hasn’t been anything to explain it because it’s inexplicable. And this! This is the fucking reason why. Research and logic and reason can’t quantify or account for the goddamn [i supernatural.] And this, this, this [i thing,”]] he spat the word out in raging disgust. [#008080 “It going to keep coming back. It’s going to keep [i killing] people, Cordelia. Breaking families apart and ruining people’s lives if –”] Zeke broke off, his voice cracking with emotion. He doubled over for a moment with his hands on his knees. He took some heaving gasps, sorrow threatening to overtake him. He was right in the end. His mother had not committed suicide. But to learn of this as the cause of her death? There wasn’t any rhyme or reason to it at all. Not by a long shot. She’d died for nothing. His chest ached and his eyes stung, but he straightened choking his emotions down. [#008080 “We have to do something.”]
There was something more to the man now. Sadness, yes, but a steely determination too. The same kind that had him researching a seemingly fruitless mystery for the last year. This answer to the question he’d been asking wasn’t enough though. He could not sit idly by and continue to let this horrendous thing take place. Going to anyone aside from Cordelia about it was out of the question; he’d be locked up instantaneously. So, he crouched down in front of her, taking one of her hands in his own. Any passersby might think it was a marriage proposal. He looked up at her pleadingly. His face was lined with pain. [#008080 “Do you believe me? Will… will you help me? Please.”] He spoke softly, his crazed mania seeming to have dissipated. In truth, he simply did not want to scare her more than he was sure he already had. She was his only ally in this.
Cordelia reached a hand out as Zeke fumbled over his apology. [+mediumaquamarine “It's okay.”] It was definitely out of line, but he was clearly very upset. And considering the day he had yesterday and the sensitive material they'd been handling, she was willing to forgive him. [+mediumaquamarine “They were already all in a tizzy anyway.”] Her family had been at it for a good portion of the day at this point. A break was nice, especially one with the gray eyed man.
After that he handed over the book. Her blue gaze skimming over the tale, she confirmed all the details. It was as she expected. Glancing up at the pacing man, she did not think he was taking it well. Or perhaps he was trying to find a nice way to say he thought the entire thing was poppycock and needed to put their noses to the grindstone to find a different avenue to explore. When he finally spoke, Cordelia found it was the former.
Zeke went spiraling from there. She could practically see all the things he read and heard from the library clicking into place in his mind. It was the perfect solution to what was happening, despite being completely unorthodox. Honestly, given what she knew of him. How grounded he was in facts and science, Cordelia had not thought he would jump headlong into a fairytale like this, but here he was surprising her once again.
[+teal “We have to do something”]
[I I'm trying.]
Her expression fell somewhat. Even with the two of them, the task felt impossible. How could anyone stop a force of nature? Let alone one so set in his ways as this.
Then he fell to his knee and looked at her more desperately than she thought she'd ever seen a man look before. Her brow furrowed as he practically begged for her to hear him out, to help him, whatever that meant in a situation as desolate as this. It filled her with a sorrow so profound it almost felt as though she would never escape its depths. It was cold and quiet in the most uncomfortable way. Part of her wanted to look away from him, away from those imploring eyes and be done with the whole thing. But the same guilt that made her want to run away, held her in place. She had to do this, no one else could help him. Not like she could.
Squeezing the hand that held hers back, she nodded so subtly it was nearly imperceptible. [+mediumaquamarine “Of course I believe you,”] her voice was quiet, but unwavering. When she had said there wasn't always a logical explanation for every question, this was exactly what she had meant. [+mediumaquamarine “I don't know how we could possibly ever fix this, but I want to help you try.”] If nothing else, they could try.
A gust of wind blew by, tussling Cordelia's brown locks in much the same manner it did the willow branches. They twirled and twisted with a soft rustling; a sound akin to mother nature herself hushing their words so that others might not overhear.
Taking in a deep breath, Cordelia held it for just a moment. Then she brought her free hand to the other to hold his hands back fully. Again she squeezed, this time tighter than before. [+mediumaquamarine “I'm sure it's going to be dangerous.”] That probably went without saying, after all, hundreds had already lost their lives before them. [+mediumaquamarine “But I want you to know, no matter what, I am on your side.”] Just like she believed him, she hoped that he too would take her words to heart.
Now having gotten that off her chest, the woman was able to breath just a little bit easier. [+mediumaquamarine “Um... so do you possibly have any ideas on how about we should go about trying to stop a vengeful river spirit?”] Something told her he wasn't exactly going to be the type of person you just reason with. [+mediumaquamarine “I think it might be a good idea to come up with a plan before we go looking for him.”] Just marching straight up to an angry supernatural being and making him even angrier did not sound like the best place to start.
There was a short, sharp intake of breath as Cordelia squeezed his hand. For a moment he feared the worst. This could be interpreted as a consolatory gesture. A final act of pity toward a man who’d clearly lost his mind. But then she nodded and said, [+mediumaquamarine “Of course I believe you.”]
The raging tempest that swirled in his eyes suddenly calmed and he breathed a sigh of relief. With the heavy burden now shifted slightly onto Cordelia’s shoulders Zeke did indeed feel lighter. Greater than her belief in this fairytale, which was already more than he could have hoped for, she [i still] wanted to help. Zeke shook his head in incredulity, the shadow of a baffled smile playing on his lips.
Allowing the woman to join him on his research escapades was one thing. But to enlist her help to try and take down a murderous river spirit? He was selfish for asking. She was insane for accepting. Whatever they were getting themselves into was sure to be fraught with danger, if not next to impossible.
As if echoing his thoughts, Cordelia acknowledged the peril they were sure to face. Zeke nodded, swallowing a hard lump in his throat at the thought. He’d be the last kind of man to throw himself headlong into anything dangerous. Yet desperate times often called for desperate measures. In any case, he at least took great heart in hearing the woman pledge to stay by his side through it all. It felt like more than he could have wished, and certainly more than he deserved. [#008080 “Thank you, Cordelia. Sincerely.”]
At her question, Zeke choked out a laugh. Still holding onto her hands, he rose off the ground to seat himself on the bench next to her once again. Did he have any ideas? Far from it. Spirits and otherworldly beings were, unfortunately, way beyond his wheelhouse of expertise. He tried not to focus on the vastness of the problem itself, however; he’d surely spiral again if he did. Zeke rattled his head a bit, trying to shake the intrusive thoughts away.
He noticed the breeze shaking the lovely brown tresses of the woman in front of him. A stray strand of her hair had detached itself from the rest and hung limply from the shoulder of her clothes. He leaned forward and gently brushed it off. Not necessarily full calmness, but something close to it came over him. Though his thoughts continued to ricochet wildly around his head, he felt as though he could at least grasp a few ideas here and there.
[#008080 “I think you’re right; we’ll need a plan of attack first, so to speak.”] Zeke recalled the story both from the library as well as the librarian herself. [#008080 “According to legend, this thing presents itself in a physical form. Despite its humanoid silhouette, however, the shape itself appears to be made of liquid. Water, to be more precise. So, the question then becomes: how can we contain or otherwise attack water?”]
Although Zeke’s eyes were trained on Cordelia’s face, he seemed to be looking past her, thoughtful. [#008080 “Maybe…”] He focused on her a bit more clearly. [#008080 “Maybe if we were able to lure it out…? I don’t think we’d be able to do much while this thing is in the river. It’s a constantly moving body of water and that’d be too much to try to overpower. If, however, we drew it away we could stand a better chance of taking it on then. Not in its water form, though. But maybe if we could solidify it…[i freeze] it… dry ice or liquid nitrogen might do the trick. A lot of it.”] There was a modest amount of both at the school for science experiments, but they’d need to acquire a lot more to have any real effect. He offered he a joking smile before asking, [#008080 “You wouldn’t happen to have an obscene amount of either on hand, would you?”]
Cordelia could visibly see the relief wash over him. She was glad to be able to help, even that much. Actually tackling the true problem at hand would be another issue entirely though. He took the place next to her as he seemed to try and think over the enormity of the question she just asked. So distracted watching him she didn't even notice her hair was out of place, the woman could not help but smile as he brushed it idly back. He really was too sweet.
Then he started to take direction with his idea. That direction, however, caught her off guard. It took a moment for her mind to fully catch up. He wanted to try and kill the spirit? Brow furrowing, she tried to think of how best to word her concerns. [+mediumaquamarine “I, um, don't think that they story was being literal about the water thing...”] How she saw it, it was more figurative. [+mediumaquamarine “Rather there is something otherworldly about them.”] Like they were the personification of water itself, but not necessarily made of it. [+mediumaquamarine “I could be wrong about that though...”] It was anybody's guess when it came down to it.
A little embarrassed to be speculating over something as silly as fairytales, her clear blue eyes cast themselves downward. If it weren't quite so dreary, it might have been nice, or even romantic, to prattle on about folklore and the real life magic in it. Her hand sought out his beside her. She wished that were the case instead, but here they were, stuck with the hand life had dealt them in Conway.
[+mediumaquamarine “I also, um... don't want to kill anyone.”] Her voice was quiet, nearly trailing off at the end, and her hand squeezed his just a little bit tighter. More than anything she wanted this senseless violence to stop, but Cordelia did not think she had it in her to actually hurt anyone herself. It was the sort of thing she hoped never to be a part of. [+mediumaquamarine “I mean, how long do you think it has been since this spirit has actually talked to a human being? Maybe he is just so out of touch that he doesn't see how blinded by his own grief he is. His wife was human too, so he must have had compassion them at some point.”] His pain might have been great, but it was not worth all this suffering to others.
[+mediumaquamarine “I don't want to excuse his action, because they are terrible, but killing him might just start the cycle all over again. If he still has some other family out there, and they do things like he does, they would come for revenge in the same way. Nothing would change”] It made sense to her, but beyond the desire to break the cycle, she just didn't want to hurt anyone if she didn't have to.
[#008080 “Hm. Yeah, you might have a point there,”] Zeke said with a nod, considering how silly it would be to actually see a person made of water. Then again, the entirety of what they were dealing with was silly. Nothing could be too far fetched at this point. Either way, he still thought it’d be best to lure whatever it was out of the river where it resided. It would be too dangerous to try to face it on its own home turf.
The dark-haired man was caught off guard with Cordelia’s next soft-spoken comment. His brow furrowed and he frowned slightly. He wondered what she must have thought he meant earlier when he said that they had to do something. It seemed obvious to him that there would be no way other than to kill the thing that had in turn killed so many others. It was clearly beyond any sort of redemption if it sought out these deaths as something of a yearly ritual. Putting an end to the cycle, in his eyes, meant putting an end to the spirit itself.
He took no pleasure in the act. Zeke was mild-mannered and gentle by nature. However, the spirit [i had] murdered his mother. More than the desire to protect the residents of Conway there was also the cold desire for revenge. An eye for an eye. Some semblances of justice.
[#008080 “Cordelia…”] he said slowly. [#008080 “Do you really think that this is a thing that we can talk to? It’s killed innocent people – [i children.] Whatever compassion it might have had toward humans, I seriously doubt it’s there anymore.”] He squeezed her hand in return. He admired her empathy but thought that, in this situation at least, it was misplaced. Of course, said situation wasn’t as personal for her as it was for him; he knew that he had to take that into consideration. That, and the fact that killing the spirit might indeed start up the cycle again if it had a family. Could these things even procreate? That’d be something he would have to investigate. [#008080 “But,”] he continued, his expression softening. [#008080 “I’d never ask you to do anything you’re not comfortable doing. You don’t have to kill anything, okay?”]
Zeke failed to disclose that he’d be more than willing to take care of that bit on his own. If Cordelia didn’t want to get her own hands dirty, then that was fine. However, Zeke wouldn’t – [i couldn’t] – let it get off scot-free. Not after how long he’d searched looking for some reasonable explanation for his mother’s death. This was beyond reason, and beyond a mere friendly conversation now. Reparations needed to be paid.
Cordelia was glad that she could pull him away from the idea of water people, at least in that sense. Not that it was something that should have bothered her. There were much more troublesome things afoot here. Still, it was a small victory for the time being. Especially since he seemed much less convinced when it came to her other ideas, which were arguably much more important.
Zeke doubted that the spirit was capable to redemption. And that words alone would be enough to change his mind. That possibility weighed heavily on her stomach. Like a capsized ship sinking deeper and deeper into open waters. [+mediumaquamarine “I don't know... but water is an element of change, so if anyone is capable of change it should be a deity of water.”] Maybe not her most convincing argument, but she truly hoped they could do something more than add more fuel to the fire.
The man's promise not to push her into things she didn't want to do was comforting. It set her mind to ease and distracted her from the fact that he had made no guarantee that he would take a path of nonviolence here himself. So, for now she was appeased with that. [+mediumaquamarine “Okay.”] Cordelia nodded, a solemn yet contented smile on her face. Zeke was good at making her feel better. He listened to her and it made her feel safe with him. Though her rose colored glasses might have had something to do with that as well. Still, that security bolstered something in her. Her lips parted as she went to say something more, but through the backdrop of the rain that felt so natural to her she heard footsteps.
Turning to look, she spotted someone descending the hill and they did not look happy. Not in the least. Gritting her teeth, Cordelia knew she was about to be in trouble. She clicked her tongue, unsatisfied with the short amount of time she had gotten away. [+mediumaquamarine “Oh good, here comes Vanora.”] There was a mild undertone of sarcasm in her voice.
The woman stomping their way was not one of the faces Zeke had seen in the front room when he bounded into the hilltop house. But she would have fit in with the rest, albeit her beauty was a different kind. To put it simply, she was intimidating. With chocolate brown hair, a touch darker than Cordelia's, cut in a dramatic a-line, she looked like she could and would beat your ass if the whim crossed her. She made it to the pair in no time flat.
[+darkseagreen “Cordelia, we are in the middle of a conversation. Get back up to the house right this instant.”]
Matching eyes locked on the fluffy haired woman until she sighed and stood from the bench. [+mediumaquamarine “Sorry, looks like I have to go back now.”] Cordelia spoke dejectedly, but shrugged in a way that suggested she knew this was coming. [+mediumaquamarine “I'll see you soon.”] A sparkle in her bright eyes betrayed her desire to lean in and give a more romantic farewell, however a glaring stare put a stop to that. She dragged her feet over to the taller woman who shook her head as if she was dealing with a child.
[+darkseagreen “And you.”] Clearly she meant Zeke. [+darkseagreen “You've caused enough trouble for one day. Get out of here.”] Hard gaze seemed to almost pin him in place until she turned around and began the march back up the hill toward their home.
Zeke followed Cordelia’s gaze up toward the hill’s peak as a female figure came stomping down. He noted the hint of sarcasm in Cordelia’s voice as she recognized the other woman apparently known as Vanora. He stood as she approached them, hoping to deflect some of the unpleasantness he was sure she would direct toward Cordelia. Although, truth be told, he wasn’t much looking forward to receiving the brunt of it either. She was as gorgeous as all the other women he’d seen in the household, but strikingly severe as well. Zeke didn’t like to admit to judging books by their covers given his own… “excessively academic” appearance, however at the end of the day that’s what books covers were for. And he would have preferred to steer clear from this one.
The man had to fight the urge to wince as Vanora snapped orders at Cordelia. She reminded him of a strict schoolteacher he had in the fourth grade, Mrs. Lead. Zeke never particularly cared for the woman who saw fit to announce his grades to the rest of his peers whenever he made anything less than a B+. As the leading student in his year, she thought it was a good idea to make an example out of him when assignments failed to meet expectations. Looking back on it now, he could at least see some reason for the torment. Mrs. Lead was old, widowed, and embittered by a system that offered her little to no financial help to successfully do her job. So, what was Vanora’s excuse?
[#008080 “Yeah, of course. Just, uh, feel free to text me.”] Despite the other woman’s piercing gaze, Zeke smiled down at Cordelia. He felt an all too familiar stirring in his stomach and a magnetic pull toward her. Judging by her twinkling eyes, she was experiencing something similar. The fleeting moment ended all too soon as she broke the connection to heed Vanora’s beckoning stare. Just before she could fully disengage however, Zeke, still holding her hand, gave it another firm squeeze. He waited until those brilliant blue eyes met his own again and, with all the sincerity he could communicate into two words, mouthed, [#008080 [i “Thank you,”]] before letting her go.
His head snapped up as the other woman chided him. He swallowed hard, a sheepish grimace contorting his features at her accusatory tone. After what seemed like an eternity trapped within Vanora’s glare, Zeke let out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding as she turned to usher Cordelia back to the house. His face was as red as a tomato. Waiting a couple of beats, Zeke grabbed the book and followed behind them at a respectable distance back up the hill.
When they were within a few feet of the house, Zeke jogged up the rest of the way to close the distance faster. Rather than returning to his bike, however, he quickly followed Vanora and Cordelia to the front door. Again uninvited, he slipped inside before the taller woman had the chance to shut him out, once more face to face with Cordelia’s family at large. [#008080 “Please, this will be quick, I promise,”] he implored the stern-faced woman. Then without waiting for a response, he looked around at all the other faces trained on his. [#008080 “Hello again. I’m Ezekiel Young. I would just like the apologize for bursting in earlier. I was…"] He cleared his throat uncomfortably. [#008080 "There was an emergency, and I don’t have that many close contacts in the area anymore. Cordelia, well – being as lovely as she is – was the first and only person I could think to contact. But I shouldn’t have acted the way that I did, so I’m sorry. To all of you.”] Zeke looked pointedly at the patriarch of the family. He tossed a final glance at Cordelia before giving a curt nod and making his exit.
Zeke gave a huge exhale as he crossed the threshold back outside. He looked to his bike, knowing full well that he should make a hasty departure from the premises. But he hesitated. Chewing on the inside of his lip, his gray eyes lingered on the now closed door. Against his better judgement, he leaned his ear against the surface gingerly; he was all too eager to hear the impression he made on Cordelia’s family, knowing full well it could either make or break their future plans together.
The march back up the hill was a silent one, aside from the squelch of the mud beneath their feet. Thankfully Vanora didn't say anything else, but Cordelia knew it was coming. Her sister was just saving it for when they got inside. Then the real nagging would begin, from her and whoever else felt like jumping in. Though maybe this would be enough to distract from the previous landmine of a conversation they were on.
The brunette took in a deep breath before crossing the entryway, however the door didn't immediately close behind her as expected. Zeke followed right behind them. After a moment's apology he spoke his spiel. She thought it terribly sweet of him to face them all again just to introduce and explain himself. No one else looked half as enraptured as her, albeit there were a few entertained looks. Vanora, the most on edge, even seemed a hair less irritated than before, though she still practically slammed the door behind Zeke as he went.
Letting out a long sigh, the intimidating woman shook her head. [+darkseagreen “If nothing else he has the good sense to apologize, I suppose.”] It came out half mumbled but sharp with the bite of sarcasm as Vanora turned to Cordelia with a look that didn't exactly scream approval. [+darkseagreen “Just don't get [I too] attached. I know how you are, but I don't want you to wind up like mom, Corduroy.”] That was her word of warning before she took a few long strides to meet with the other's in the living room proper.
Thankfully that was tame. Stepping into the living room, many of the faces who were there before had cleared out. Most likely trying to escape before any more drama kicked up. Her leaving with Zeke had been the perfect opportunity for an escape. Too bad she couldn't do the same. As she finally mustered up the courage to look over to the grandfather, he wore a curious expression. He didn't look half as mad as Cordelia expected.
[+seagreen “Well, that was something. A good something, I am not so sure, but something all the same.”] There was still a grumpiness in his voice. [+seagreen “Definitely not the politest fellow you could have found, was he Cordelia?”] He rose a brow her direction as he less than silently judged her taste. [+seagreen “But this does explain a thing or two.”] As he released a large huff of a sigh, Cordelia wondered if the trend of her family sighing down at her would continue. [+seagreen “He must be the reason you've been particularly sensitive as of late. I suppose that is understandable... I'm still not happy you lied to everyone, but I will let it slide this once.”]
Beckoning her over with a motion of his hand, Cordelia came over to be wrapped in a tight embrace. This was much better than him being angry. She loved her grandpa, but he was a pill when he got in a tizzy. [+seagreen “Besides, you look too much like your grandmother for me to stay mad at you for long.”] That was certainly the truth. Between that and being the baby of the family, she got away with a little more than she probably should at times. Much to Brooke's chagrin.
[+seagreen “And who knows, maybe we will have the pitter patter of little feet around here again soon. That would definitely make me feel better.”]
[+mediumaquamarine “Papa!”] She pushed away from the old man who smiled mischievously at her. The storm had certainly passed if he was ready to start teasing her. He only laughed at the embarrassed flush that darkened her face.
[+seagreen “Alright, alright. I will let it be for now.”]
Now that that seemed to be wrapped up, Brooke came dashing in to hug their grandfather. She had her biggest puppy dog eyes going as she asked if this meant she was off the hook as well. Thankfully she received a favorable answer. Cordelia would have never heard the end of it there wound up being a disparity in their treatment.
Zeke had a minor moment of celebration for himself as he heard the voice he now recognized as Vanora comment on his ‘good sense to apologize.’ It wasn’t exactly a resounding win, but it was a few points better than nothing at least. Even with the sarcasm. Then she mentioned something about their mom. This gave Zeke some pause. It was difficult to believe that out of all the women he’d stumbled upon, none of them were Cordelia’s mother. Absently, he wondered what happened to her. Since Vanora spoke about her in the past tense, he had to assume that she was no longer in the picture. A more unsavory part of himself also wondered if this was something else he could bond with her about, the loss of a maternal figure. He grimaced in disgust at the fleeting thought and quickly shook it from his mind.
As he continued listening, he again heard the commanding voice of the older man. This time he was deemed ‘not the politest fellow.’ His face fell laced with a shadow of shame. It was not an inaccurate assessment, considering how Zeke acted, but it still felt somewhat unfair considering the circumstances. Not that he expected the patriarch to know anything about the context that had influenced his behavior. If anything, he was likely only considering Cordelia’s well-being. And, taking that perspective, Zeke knew that he likely wouldn’t have approved of himself either were the positions reversed. He at least took some comfort in knowing that he did not cause more trouble for the brunette. At least for ‘this once.’
When the conversation switched gears to the insinuation of future children, the rising heat to Zeke’s cheeks told him it was time to take his leave. He grabbed for his bike in a hurry to make a quick getaway. At least as he rode this time, he was in much less of a panicked haste than he had been riding up to the house. He took solace in the fact that he had Cordelia on his side in this. It made him feel a little less crazed. True, the day had more than gone than off the rails completely, but as the man rode away still thinking about the beautiful brown-haired woman, he couldn’t stifle the growing grin spreading across his face.
Life calmed down a bit after that, at least on the home front. Brooke still liked to give her a hard time, but that would probably never change. Cordelia had accepted it as a fact of life. Her older cousin was just the type to be a pest. Plain and simple. That being said, recently the fluffy haired woman didn't mind too much. She was in too high of spirits. A single message here or there with Zeke had her on cloud nine.
After all the commotion at her home, the two had fallen into given one another a bit of space, which was fine, but she did miss him an awful lot. Part of her wanted to pop in on him after school as a surprised, but she decided against it. Instead she opted to see what he was doing this coming Saturday. There were several interesting movies that hit theaters over the last few weeks and she desperately wanted to take him to one if he'd let her.
Thankfully, Zeke seemed receptive to the idea, so the pair spent some time going over the interesting options. Eventually they settled on a more lighthearted romantic comedy sort of thing. They had gotten enough drama in their real lives as of late, so they steered away from the darker toned Oscar-bait film which might have normally caught their eyes. When it was all settled, Cordelia was more excited than ever. She wondered if she was going to be able to wait for the weekend to come.
Against all odds, the woman curbed her enthusiasm and not-so-patiently made it to the end of the week. Much of Saturday morning went to dolling herself up. Not to the extent that she was overdressed, but she took her time ironing out the details of her outfit, accessories, and hairstyle. This passed the hours until it was time to meet up at the cinema. Or a little before the time to meet, Cordelia wanted to be extra sure she could get the tickets for the two of them. It might have made more sense to get them online and ensure she had the tickets, but she liked to do things in person. Plus, it got her out of the house just a little bit earlier.
With the tickets in hand, the woman stood outside waiting for her date. Thankfully, the weather was warm enough to be comfortable. The thick rainclouds from days prior had dissipated, which allowed the sun to shine down beautifully on Conway, heating it, as a gentle spring breeze rolled through. The wind was just strong enough to tousle her hair, despite it being pulled to the side in a ponytail. A loose braid held the front in place, but the rest swayed about her shoulder in wave-like tresses. This bouncing movement only intensified when Zeke came into view and she waved excitedly at him as if he wouldn't see her if she didn't call to him.
When they were close enough that there would be no need to shout, Cordelia spoke. [+mediumaquamarine “You're early.”] It was a mundane fact, but it brought a breathtaking smile to her face all the same. [+mediumaquamarine “Here's you ticket.”] She offered one of the small card stock slips of paper to him. [+mediumaquamarine “I don't know if you like to snack during movies, but I was thinking of getting some popcorn to share if you are interested?”] God knew what was in the butter they put on the stuff, but theater popcorn hit different.
In the days following Zeke’s near mental breakdown the man tried various ways to keep his mind otherwise occupied. While he’d normally take to digging further into the mystery surrounding the Rosebell channel, he forced himself to turn a blind eye to it for the time being. He was still in the throes of coming to grips with the most recent discovery; he didn’t need to add more to his plate. So instead, he spent time focusing on his work, riding his bike around town, and catching up on a few Netflix series. Nothing really held his interest for extended periods of time, however. The thoughts that truly lingered all centered around Cordelia.
Zeke was perfectly content with their unspoken agreement to give one another space, but that didn’t stop him from longing for her company. Only in her absence did he realize how lonely he’d been prior to meeting her. It didn’t help that the few times he ventured into the tea shop they visited together, Miss Macy was always insistent on pestering him about the whereabouts of his ‘pretty lady friend.’ She almost seemed more disappointed than he was about the fact that they weren’t together.
When Zeke received Cordelia’s text suggesting that they see a movie, he was only all too eager to respond with a resounding yes. The newest romcom didn’t interest him nearly as much as the opportunity to see the hazel-haired beauty again. He would have been just as excited to watch paint dry or grass grow if she was with him.
The rest of the week passed by with an agonizing slowness. Zeke longed for the weekend more than his students. When Saturday finally came, the man was up before the sun. He spent the early hours of the morning running several errands. He wanted his schedule for the rest of the day to be completed devoted to Cordelia. Where he might have normally dragged his feet performing household chores such as grocery shopping and dish washing, he completed all the tasks on his to do list with astounding expediency. To say there was a pep in his step would have been an understatement.
Zeke wrapped up his errands right around the time he needed to leave for the theater. Despite this, he still took a moment to take a quick shower and change his clothes. The last thing he wanted was to show up looking disheveled for his date. In the end he settled on a nice blue button down and a pair of khaki pants. It felt like overkill compared to his regular all black attire of standard shirts and jeans, but he actively wanted to make an effort. After fussing with his collar for longer than was necessary, he hopped on his bike and made his way to the movies.
As soon as the man saw Cordelia from a distance, he returned her friendly wave. He locked up his bike at a nearby rack and took long strides to close the space between them sooner. Zeke felt bad for making her wait even if she was the one who arrived so early.
Up close the woman was as breathtakingly beautiful as ever. Whoever came up with the line ‘absence makes the heart grown fonder’ was spot on. Zeke felt his pulse race as inexplicably as it had the first time he met her, which was ridiculous considering their budding relationship. Perhaps it was the fear of being judged for his previous faux pas with her family. Still, there was no stopping the slight tremor in his hand as he took the offered ticket. A simple [#008080 “Thanks,”] was all he could manage. At the question of movie snacks, he only nodded and turned to open the door for her. While the box office attendant took their tickets and told them their theater number, Zeke focused on steadying his infuriating nerves. Some deep breaths helped. By the time they stood second in line for the concession stand, he had finally regained control of himself.
[#008080 “You look really nice by the way,”] he said to her as they waited. [#008080 “It’s great to see you again. How’ve you been?”]
Before she could get a chance to answer, the cashier was calling for the next guests. Zeke stepped forward, his eyes scanning the overhead menu. [#008080 “Hi. Yeah, we’re going to do one small popcorn, two regular drinks, and – did you want anything else? You sure? Okay. I’ll just do a Sour Patch Kids for myself then.”] He smiled sheepishly at his choice in candy. [#008080 “I really like sour stuff,”] he explained with an almost apologetic tone.
The total for the concession snacks should have been considered theft, however, Zeke offered up his debit card since Cordelia purchased the tickets. The cashier handed over the candy, the popcorn, and two empty drink cups for the soda machine. Zeke gave one of the cups to his date and the pair walked over to the Coke Freestyle machine. There was an overwhelming number of options and flavors, but the bespeckled man stuck with the familiar: one Coke. As he was securing the lid, he revisited their previously interrupted conversation. [#008080 “So, you were saying how you’ve been? And, oh – how’s your family too?”] The follow up question was less out of politeness and more out of self-consciousness about his own reputation in their eyes.
[+mediumaquamarine “Oh, thank you.”] A twinge of color came to the woman's cheeks. She'd gone her whole life being told how pretty she was, but it turned out it was different when it came from someone you actually liked. [+mediumaquamarine “And you too.”] Cordelia worried that it might seem she was only returning the compliment out of obligation, but that was not the case. She genuinely thought he looked extra spiffy today. [+mediumaquamarine “You look nice in blue.”] It made his gray eyes pop, but she was sure he probably heard that plenty growing up.
Before she knew it they were at the front of the line for snacks and Zeke took the lead in ordering. [+mediumaquamarine “Oh no, I don't need anything else.”] Cordelia had had every intention of paying for the snacks too, but she let him have this since it seemed this was his attempt to be gentlemanly. They were walking away before she spoke again. [+mediumaquamarine “I feel a little bad. I was the one who invited you out... Thank you.”] She gestured with the drink she was holding in hand, then her voice got sort of whispery and quiet. [+mediumaquamarine “And to be honest, I have some contraband candy in my purse. I'll share mine if you let me try yours. I don't think I've ever had a sour patch kid.”] Smiling brightly up at the man, she couldn't help but feel giddy. There was something inherently exciting about getting away with something harmless.
Shortly after that, they were able to return to the previous topic. [+mediumaquamarine “I've been well. Just spending time at home.”] It might not have been half so boring if she hadn't been so excited to come out today. [+mediumaquamarine “Since the weather got a little better, I've been going on walks when I can. You know, so I don't end up too stir crazy.”] She laughed sort of nervously at the thought. [+mediumaquamarine “I don't do too well stuck inside all the time.”] Though that might have been partially because she was stuck at home with her entire family. [+mediumaquamarine “Everyone at home is doing well too, all healthy and full of energy. Especially grandpa.”] He'd been in an almost obnoxiously good mood since the event of days prior.
[+mediumaquamarine “And you? How have things been at the school?”] No doubt that was still a somewhat depressing matter, but she'd like to hear how Zeke and the others were holding up. Even if it was unlikely there was anything she could do to help.
Along the way back to the theater, another employee took their tickets and gave quick directions for them to follow. The teenage girl seemed almost automaton-like in action, which made Cordelia wonder how long she'd been working here to have found such a rhythm. But that was a thought that came and went in an instant as they pressed on back to the door marked with a large white 6. An overhead light display signaled a confirmation that this was the room playing their movie.
Walking in, they had the entire place to themselves. It was not likely to stay that way, given it was a weekend, but they were early enough to beat everyone else here. Cordelia didn't waste any time claiming a pair of seats dead center and just far enough back to have an optimal viewing distance. She settled in and made herself comfortable by flipping down the armrests. This both gave her a place to put her hands and her drink. Though it was somewhat regrettable to put a barrier between here and Zeke. If it wouldn't have been terribly awkward, she might have put it back, but it was too late now.
Zeke leaned down instinctively to better hear Cordelia when she began whispering conspiratorially. She surprised a laugh out of him as she mischievously admitted to smuggling in her ‘contraband candy.’ His smile only widened when he angled his head just in time to see her clutching her purse with giddy delight. [#008080 “Well, I certainly wouldn’t want your devious deeds going to waste; you’ve got yourself a deal.”]
He nodded along as she gave him a brief rundown of the goings-on in her life. Admittedly, he couldn’t relate to going stir crazy while stuck indoors over prolonged periods. In fact, before meeting Cordelia, that was oftentimes his preference opposed to venturing out about the town. He grew up in Conway, after all, so there wasn’t much left for him to explore. Plus, as a substitute teacher, the only options as far as social interactions had been either the rowdy children who he avoided like the plague outside of school, or the other teachers who he saw too infrequently to strike up any lasting relationships with. So, he found solace in keeping his own company. Zeke could keep himself more than occupied with his books and research at home. Really the only place where he was a regular outside of the school was the Rosebell ch –
[i No,] he quickly reminded himself. Zeke had made it a point to keep his mind off the puzzling mystery today. It could wait. He simply wanted to enjoy his time with Cordelia.
[#008080 “That’s good to hear. You’ll have to show me any interesting places you might’ve stumbled across on your walks.”] He briefly wondered if there would be any new places she found that were unfamiliar to him. Doubtful. But, there was something in seeing someplace familiar through the eyes of someone else that brought new light to it.
[#008080 “School’s been fine, I guess. Just as well as it can be given…well, the circumstances.”] There was a brief pause filled by the teenager taking their tickets in which Zeke momentarily scrambled to find a different subject to talk about. He failed. [#008080 “They’ve had to bring on some temporary grief counselors. Mrs. Reeves – that’s our tenured counselor – was swamped with appointments for students needing support. Austin was a popular guy, so it makes sense that there’d be a bunch of ripples after his loss.”] The premature death of a well-liked kid hardly made for engaging date conversation, but as it was so deeply entangled in his world at that time, there was little else Zeke could think to talk about. [#008080 “Even though I’m pretty sure a small percentage are just using the opportunity to get out of class,”] He laughed once without mirth. [#008080 “I guess I’m glad the kids are taking advantage of the offered resources.”]
By the end of his update, the two had arrived inside the empty theater. He followed Cordelia to the seats of her choosing, a self-conscious frown flashing across his face for a moment. Zeke couldn’t help but become hyperaware of the fact that she’d chosen to flip the armrests down immediately, a definitive wall between them. He took his seat next to her, mentally kicking himself for bringing down the mood with his uncomfortable conversation topic. As he settled in, the man leaned a little further away from her than he might have otherwise done. Though he was upset by the turn of events, he wasn’t about to toe any boundaries she so clearly set either.
Still desperate to regain his footing in her good books, he opened his Sour Patch Kids with offensively loud crinkling that all but echoed throughout the empty theater. The previews hadn’t started yet, so any sound the pair made seemed to reverberate back at them off the walls. He held the open bag out to her. [#008080 “Here, after you.”] He shook the bag enticingly as an invitation and to get a more even distribution of… what were they? Sour crystals? Flavor rocks? Whatever coated the colorful gummies. [#008080 “I’m interested to know what you think. They’re not too tart, but you strike me as more of a sweet than sour type of girl. Which also leads me to assume, if I may, that you probably brought some type of chocolate as your illegal candy of choice?”]
[+mediumaquamarine “I'd love to show you a favorite spot of mine.”] The idea of spending more time together was always enticing. [+mediumaquamarine “It might be nice to stretch our legs after the movie, assuming the weather holds up.”] It was supposed to, but that didn't mean much this time of year. Rain clouds came and went from Conway's skies seemingly on a whim. Generally Cordelia did not mind, aside from the gloominess of it. [+mediumaquamarine “I mean, if you are feeling up to it.”] The woman realized she was making plans before they were even able to finish the last. Perhaps she was too eager, but it didn't look like Zeke minded too much.
Hearing of the happenings at the school filled Cordelia with an empathetic feeling. She wished there was more she could do for the kids. [+mediumaquamarine “I'm glad there is an outlet for those who need it.”] She would rather it be there and be abused than not be there and be missed. Though she was of the opinion that the high schoolers could use the break from the glaring shadow cast on them even if they weren't particularly close with the lost boy.
Part of her wanted to ask if he was doing alright. It seemed a silly question though, so she kept it to herself. Cordelia opted instead to lean towards him so that her arm was available on the rest between them. A silent offering of a comforting touch, if he wanted it. However, the crinkling of thin plastic told her his attention was elsewhere in the moment.
The sour patch kids were offered to her right after that. Reaching over, she plucked a few from the open bag with a smile. [+mediumaquamarine “That's right! How did you guess?”] An amused expression of bewilderment crossed her features as she wondered how he could have possibly known her flavor partialities. [+mediumaquamarine “I brought some malt balls.”] Popping the couple of gummy candies into her mouth she reached for her bag.
Immediately her jaw tensed at the sour and her mouth began to water. It was a little more intense than she was expecting, which proving her sour tolerance to be quite low. Her wince was almost comical, but it faded quickly and she was left with a more pleasant sugary fruit flavor. [+mediumaquamarine “By the gods, those are sour.”] The tasting experience had been enough to distract her from what she was grabbing for. [+mediumaquamarine “... it was kind fo fun though. I don't hate it.”] She wondered if that was the true appeal of sour candies.
[+mediumaquamarine “Oh yeah!”] Remembering what she was after, Cordelia went back to her bag and brought forth a box of whoppers. The paper container proved to be less noisy to open, which was good since this was a covert mission. The same could not be said as she tilted the box to pour some into her open hand. [+mediumaquamarine “They are a little old fashioned, but I like them. There's just something sort of satisfying about sucking the air out of them.”] It might have been weird, but that was the way she always ate them, so she didn't think anything of it. Bringing the container forward, she offered to pour some into his hand.
The mumbling of voices soon intermingled with the local ads playing on the screen. A group walked in and they were no longer the only two in the theater. Cordelia thought it a shame, but it was to be expected since this [I was] a public showing. She was just thankful that everyone who came in after them seemed to be polite enough to spread themselves out so that no one was crammed next to anyone else. It probably wouldn't be too long before the ads switched over to proper previews and they would have a sneak peak at what was to come this summer.
[#008080 “Just a lucky hunch,”] Zeke said with a shrug and a smile. Though truth be told, he was proudly patting himself on the back for that one. When she said she brought malt balls of her own, however, that candy choice caught him off guard. If he had been a gambling man – and he was very far from it – he might’ve guessed something along the lines of a cookies and cream Hershey’s bar, or a packet of peanut M&M’s. Malt balls were still a good choice by his standards, albeit a very dated one. As Cordelia used the expression ‘by the gods’ to exclaim about the tartness of the treat, Zeke surmised that she was simply an older soul. [i Of course] she’d like malt balls.
The man couldn’t help but laugh as his date’s face contorted with wincing eyes and puckered lips. He’d done his best to refrain from it so as to not come off cruel, but he couldn’t help the reaction. She still looked cute while mildly overwhelmed. Perhaps even more so than normal. It was nice to see that such an immaculate face was still capable of making exaggerated expressions. He also found it amusing to see just how susceptible she was to the sour candy. As a kid, Zeke used to eat the stuff by the handful. He’d shovel it down until his taste buds numbed and the corners of his lips threatened to crack. Sour Patch Kids stood at about a two on that scale of ten.
[#008080 “Well, I’m certainly glad you don’t hate it,”] he said with another laugh. [#008080 “But I really don’t think they’re all [i that] bad.”] He took a few of his own from the wrapping and popped them into his mouth. Zeke barely so much as blinked at the sudden sharpness of the taste. [#008080 “You let me know if you want anymore.”] He doubted she would. [#008080 “But otherwise, I’m more than capable of killing this bag by myself.”] Zeke said as much so that she wouldn’t feel obligated to continue eating them if she actually didn’t enjoy them.
[#008080 “Wait, sucking the… okay, now you have to show me whatever the hell that means.”] He’d never heard of anything like that. And he couldn’t quite wrap his mind around the concept either. Peeling Twizzlers apart or using them as a straw, sure. Eating a KitKat layer by layer, yeah, made sense. But air-sucking a Whopper? That he simply had to see to believe.
Zeke watched her demonstration closely, just barely suppressing his smile. He was an academic, after all! It took concentrated focus to learn a new skill. Though all the concentration in the world couldn’t have fully censored his amusement as Cordelia pierced the chocolatey outer shell with her teeth and proceeded to vacuum out the inner malted center. It took everything in him not to double over with laughter at the ridiculousness of it all.
[#008080 “Okay, okay, my turn. Let me see.”] He held out his hand for the offered snack. Five or six balls tumbled out onto his palm. Following Cordelia’s step-by-step instructions, he too was air-sucking Whoppers. And… it was surprisingly [i delightful.]
Zeke was having such a good time that he hardly noticed the steady stream of patrons now entering the theater and filling in the seats surrounding them. But soon enough, he realized that their voices were only now two of many. The volume of the room rose slightly as everyone and their parties began chattering, several conversations all taking place at once. Then, as the lights began to dim to half of their brightness capacity, the voices quieted down. It didn’t stop completely as the previews started, however. Every once in a while, someone would lean over to give their hushed opinion on a trailer the moment it ended. Zeke was guilty of this too. The other rom com trailers evoked a ‘That looks cute’, whereas some of the heavier dramas earned a ‘That looks good’.
Once the actual movie came on (prefaced by about fifteen distributor logos), true silence finally settled. Zeke was someone who enjoyed investing in whatever he was doing at any time, so he wasn’t one to talk during a movie. As light from the screen illuminated Cordelia’s silhouetted face beside him, however, he found that he was unusually distracted from the film. He thought he might mitigate this by making the bold move to finally grasp her hand on the armrest between them about twenty minutes in. It didn’t help. If anything, it made things worse. Every couple minutes or so, he’d still catch himself stealing sidelong glances at her, completely unconcerned with whatever was happening on screen. The movie passed by in a blur.
Once the credits began rolling, he stretched and turned to her as the theater began emptying. [#008080 “So, what’d you think?”]
Cordelia was pleased as punch that Zeke was entertained by her peculiar way of eating her candy. She had been worried he would just find it weird, but this was much better, and quite the relief. He even tried it for himself and seemed to like it, which melted the last shreds of her self-consciousness away. The man really was practically perfect. Part of her wondered where he had been hiding from her her whole life.
Soon thereafter the movie started up. An excited hush fell over the room. Full focus going to the screen, the woman was swept up by the opening scene and quickly pulled into the story being told. There was not a whole lot to it, but she was enamored all the same. It wasn't until the man beside her took her hand that her attention was pulled away. A giddy smile formed on her lips as she stole a glance over to him. His eyes were up ahead, but her heart was still off to the races all on its own. In hindsight she should have chosen a different movie. If she had dragged him along to a horror film she might have been able to use that as an excuse to cling onto him. But it was what it was, and Cordelia would have to be content with squeezing his hand from time to time. Besides, anything too scary would have left her with nightmares.
When all was said and done, people began to stand and file out of the room. The two of them opted to stay put to avoid the crowd, if just by a few moments. [+mediumaquamarine “It was pretty cheesy and kind of cliche.”] She spoke with an amused smile, looking over to him now that the lights were slowly coming back on. [+mediumaquamarine “But I liked it well enough. Cliches are fun from time to time, but that's just me. I am a firm believer that classic tropes are popular for a reason.”] There were certain ones she'd never tire of. They were just fun to watch, even if you knew exactly where it was going. [+mediumaquamarine “The scene with the best friend though, that was just awkward.”] She didn't know if she was just getting too old for that brand of humor or what, but she suspected that might be the case considering she heard a couple of younger moviegoers snickering at that bit.
When the theater had just about cleared out, they stood as well. Cordelia made a point of keeping a hold on Zeke's hand though. She was not ready to let go, not if he was willing to keep holding hers. Thankfully they had little enough trash that she could dispose of it with her free hand. [+mediumaquamarine “How about you, how did you like it?”] Her bright eyes were filled to the brim with the hope that Zeke had just as good of a time as she did. It gave the impression that she might be crushed if she discovered that she'd forced him out to a movie he hated, even though that wasn't really the case.
Walking back out the way they came, Cordelia was sure to thank the workers as they exited the building. That same bored girl was there. She nodded, but did not acknowledge them apart from that. That was just as well though, it wasn't like they were going to stop and chat even if she did say something.
Outside the weather was much the same as when they went in. The sun was shining brightly and it was comfortably warm, albeit there were a few more clouds in the sky. It was not enough to cause concern though. [+mediumaquamarine “So, um, did you want to go on a walk together like I mentioned, or did you have some other plans today?”] She really hoped he didn't; she was not ready to say goodbye.
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