“Yes.” He nodded while looking in the bowl, he absolutely wanted pink on the cake. Though it wasn’t his cake, only Rickon’s. Besides, he didn’t really want to test him, since this morning proved him to be in good spirits. “Though it’ll probably look really stupid, so we can just have Shaggy on there. That’ll be good.” He conceded to her, because she was the baker, the master in the kitchen. This was her domain.
He gaped at her, “I’d never…Well then fine, I’ll get your dog hyper then, see how you like him then.” He stuck out his tongue and placed the bowl on top of the counter, “Already done,” He said, listening to her instructions. Add the flour, to the mixer, simple, simple. He grabbed the bowl with one hand, and held the mixer in place with the other. It was easy, sure, to make sure the bowl was in reach of the mixer. He tilted the bowl up, pouring the flour steadily, but then the bowl slid.
Bran tightened his grip on it, but that just made it jostle, and it coated the counter with flour and whatever else had been in the mixture. Not all of it had been poured out, some was in the mixer, some in the bowl still, but most of it had fallen on the counter. Bran’s face fell, and he put the bowl down. “Sorry, sorry.” He muttered, wondering if she had noticed. It wasn’t loud, flour doesn’t make a sound. Should he scoop the flour back into the bowl? The counter had to be clean….So he started scooping it back into the bowl.
It was a bit of a relief that Bran dropped the pink frosting idea, because Beth knew that if he did decide to push the idea a little bit more and gave her one of those silly smiles that made her stumble over her words every so often, the pink would end up on the cake and that would probably be a discredit to her work. Discredit to your work, honestly, she thought to herself, rolling her eyes. “Do you have a picture of Shaggy that I could use as a reference?” She knew that the dog was somewhat entirely black (or dark brown, whichever), but details were important. It could be any dog if she didn’t pick out the details.
“Good.” she said lightly, grinning at the easy, almost carefree feeling that was bubbling in her stomach. Turning away, she turned on the tap and allowed the water to pour over her hands before squeezing a bit of dishwashing soap to make sure it was extra clean. Not the best soap for her hands, she knew that, but going to the bathroom just for some handwash seemed too troublesome. Drying her hands on the towel hanging off the oven handle, she turned around just in time to catch Bran swiping the floor with his hand into the bowl.
Obviously he had just had a tip. Nothing too serious and Beth sometimes pushed the flour back in the bowl herself (she was a good baker but that didn’t mean she was the most patient or the most wealthy to waste good flour like that) but still. It would give her the opportunity to have a bit of fun.
“Did you just push dirty flour back into the bowl?” she asked, widening her eyes in mock shock, mouth falling open just slightly so that it wasn’t too unbelievable. “Brandon!” The scandalized tone her voice took on made Beth wonder if she could probably invest in a job as an actress. Still, a hint of a smile threatened to exposure her cover so she turned her head slightly away, though her shoulders were shaking with laughter.
“I looked up its height once, but I can’t remember now how tall it is. I don’t think you’d do well, at any rate.” Meera stuck her tongue out, teasing, and then winked to show her friend that she didn’t mean any harm in the words. She loved Beth to pieces; her friend spent more time worrying than she did letting go and living, but that was something Meera admired about her. Meera was known to give into more than one bout of worrying each week. She constantly stressed about the health and wellbeing of her family, particularly her brother — whenever Jojen mentioned anyone bullying him in school, Meera turned that worry into action. She’d gotten in trouble for being too intimidating or for doing physical harm to more than one bully in her lifetime. She suspected that part of her life would never really be over, as long as Jojen allowed her to take on those battles.
At any rate, Beth was a bit more in control of herself, which Meera couldn’t always claim. Her mum had always said she was wild at heart and Meera’s interests and behavior had always reflected that. Together, they balanced. Beth worried and Meera did crazy things and at the end of the day, they both curled up on the couch together to watch “Clueless” and laugh their heads off without anyone being too much worse for the wear. Meera loved Beth; she loved everything that came with their friendship and hoped she’d never, ever lose that.
“Ah, classic,” Meera said, smiling in response to Beth’s conclusions about Ke$ha. Finishing their playlist with a handful of songs from the popstar, Meera got up and plugged her iPod into the speaker dock and put it on shuffle. A light, happy indie song came on first and she smiled wide, turning it up a bit and then turning her attention to her friend. “And now, we dance,” she said in the most dramatic voice she could muster. Meera laughed and clinked her champagne glass with Beth’s, taking a small sip before she wriggled her hips in what could barely be described as a dance move.
“So tell me, Beth Cassel, what are your hopes and dreams for the city of London? Red carpets? Princes? Endless makeout sessions in the rain?” Meera waggled her eyebrows and sipped at her champagne again, grabbing Beth’s hand to drag her into an impromptu (and spastic) dance.
The flutes were cool against her fingers as she moved behind the couch to peer curiously at Meera’s iPod, watching as she added a few Ke$ha songs (including the one with a lot of blahs, promptly named Blah Blah Blah), before quickly straightening up, passing a glass to Meera from the other side of the couch. It all seemed rather grown up, the champagne drinking and glass clinking, but there wasn’t any sort of urge to act more mature around Meera. If anything, her little hip wiggle only made Beth grin harder, choking down a snort of laughter (she knew she wasn’t the best of dancers either, after all) with some champagne.
The song breezing through the speakers had a fun beat to it and unconsciously, she started to bob her head to the tune as she did a little shimmy swaying walk towards Meera. “Makeout sessions? Meera, please.” Beth couldn’t deny that the idea of kissing someone, someone different, someone she hadn’t grown up with or gone to school with, was rather exciting. The heat rose to her cheeks and she squeezed her friend’s hand lightly, following along the dance with slower steps.
“Do you think that’s possible? Kissing in the rain? Who would want to kiss in the rain?” For all her whims and fancies, Beth was rational, irritatingly so. Kissing in the rain just seemed silly, one could get very sick from all that water, so it probably wasn’t for her. “Gods, I’m so boring, aren’t I?” She remarked suddenly, taking another sip from her glass before continuing.
“I’ll wait for you to come before pursuing the princes though. Two is always better than one when it comes to royalty.” She giggled at her words, feeling a bit better than before. Maybe it was the champagne, or just the thought of princes and London and kissing.
After Summer settles, Bran rests his hand on the back of his dog. It’s comforting, knowing that Summer has been by his side every moment for the past few months. Summer looks at Beth, and licks his muzzle as he hears her laugh. Bran can only assume it’s happiness, the dog can be feeling, because there’s another face in the house, not like the red-haired brother with his angry one. “That’s good then, most of it will be a surprise.”
He nods and stops petting Summer. The movie, isn’t terribly bad, at first glance. It’s only just started, but not too long after, Beth speaks again, and at first, bran doesn’t truly understand. What she’s saying, it doesn’t completely make sense. No, he hadn’t known, but now that she’s said it, he wishes she didn’t. It’s easier to pretend someone wasn’t around simply because they didn’t want to be, other than distance being a problem. He glances at Beth, from the side, not sure what to make of it, or what to feel. Had she only come over to say goodbye? So she at least saw him before she left?
Why is she, anyway? Is it her father, it probably is, now that he thinks of it. So she truly doesn’t have a choice. Bran nods, eyes fixed at the screen, the corners of his lips twitch up slightly. It’s okay, that she’s going, it’s fine. It isn’t like she’s his very best friend. No, the Reeds are still here, aren’t they? Suddenly he feels afraid, because he doesn’t know, and maybe everyone was leaving him for London, maybe his da would call and have Rickon go too.
Stop being stupid, Bran thinks, and nods again, “Okay, good. I’m sure you’ll like it down there.” He turns away from the movie, and smiles more. He’s happy, that his friend is going somewhere, somewhere new, at least. “I think Summer won’t take it as easy though.” He raises his eyebrows, and looks over to his dog.
It feels a little odd, waiting for Bran to respond her sudden announcement. Her eyes are trained on the television and Gods, can a dog really grow that big?, but it seems inappropriate to ask Bran a question when he was obviously still processing her words. A small part of her wants him to be upset, though she knows that would only make it harder to leave. But Meera was still here and Jojen, Bran wouldn’t be all alone. Rickon counted for someone as well, even though he was a brother, not a friend.
(Beth is selfish though. She wants him to be upset, she wants to know that someone besides Meera will miss her.)
“Summer?” For a moment, she forgets that the dog is beside Bran and it isn’t until Summer lifts his head up, staring at her from the side that Beth remembers how much she really wanted a dog. But it seems a bit silly, getting a dog and then moving around. “Oh Summer.” Surprisingly, Bran is happy for her. Maybe he was just pretending, but he’d have to be a very good pretender. The fact that she was going to move (really move now, for real) settles uneasily in her stomach and she sighs through her smile. “Well, best make the last few days worth it then.” she says lightly, patting Bran’s hand and then grinning when Summer nudges her fingers, asking for a pat as well.
Bran knows that she’s holding back laughter, but it would be welcomed, among most things. Through all the worry, it’s nice to just laugh, even if it’s directed at him. At least it’s good natured. “Thank you!” He beams at Beth, taking the spoon and starts to mix the ingredients together.
He wasn’t too sure if he’s doing it right, but he sort of positions the spatula under, and lifts all of the flour, and baking soda and all of the other things, sort of folding, he guesses. He hopes he’s doing it right, lest Beth take it away, and have to do it all herself. “A picture of Shaggy?” He smirks, keeping his eyes on the flour, he didn’t want to get carried away and start spilling things since he wasn’t paying attention. “I think that’d be awesome, by Rickon’s standards. We should make the background pink though, just call it dried blood colour.” He laughs, into a comfortable rhythm with the mixing.
“Not too big though,” Since half their family wasn’t even there now. He wonders if Rickon’s heard from Sansa, or Jon…Would Arya call if she has a phone? He shakes his head, freeing his thoughts from his family, and those who weren’t there to those who are. To Robb, and his mum and da. Beth too, and besides, Rickon could always tell Sansa that she isn’t invited because he wasn’t invited to hers. Even if he wasn’t allowed down in London yet.The same situation applies, he supposes.
Still mixing, he re-addresses the question, “Maybe enough for a little leftover, but nothing too large. We don’t want Rickon on a sugar rush longer than a day.”
She couldn’t help but watch him shift through the flour and sugar and whatever else she had dumped into the bowl, making sure he was doing it right through the corner of her eye. Beth didn’t want him to think that she didn’t trust him, but it must be difficult for the boys to be without their sisters (and Jon Stark, of course), and she wanted this to go as smoothly as possible. “Dried blood?” The baker in her grimaced and her face pulled into a similar expression before she quickly shook her head. “You just want pink on there, don’t you?” He had mentioned it earlier, in one of his messages, and Beth had jokingly agreed to maybe sneak on some pink but pink as dried blood?
That just sounded gross.
Still, she couldn’t help but smile at him, somehow knowing that if he pushed for pink again, she might just oblige. It was hard to say no to Bran Stark, especially when he looked so happy and at ease with what he was doing.
(It reminded her that he wasn’t always like this and that there were things to be sad about now. And she didn’t want to make him sad.)
“Oh God, Rickon on a sugar rush. I…I don’t even want to think about it.” she said, closing her eyes in mock dramatics before cracking one open, shooting him a cheeky grin. “I’ll let you deal with the after effects.” Peeking into the mixer, she saw that everything was nicely mixed and blended together, so Beth began to line up the tray with butter and a few baking sheets, just so nothing would stick. “When you’re done with that, you can add the flour and stuff to this.” She moved the mixer nearer to him, hands still a bit greasy from lining up the tray. “Gotta wash my fingers.”
“Afraid of heights, you say?” Meera repeated. She grinned and started unwrapping the foil at the top of the champagne bottle with one hand, refusing to let go of Beth’s hand with the other. “Well, we won’t have any romantic trips on the Eye, then. Wouldn’t want you to hurl in my mouth when I try to kiss you,” she teased. She bumped their shoulders together and hummed a few bars of a Joan Jett song as she popped the cork on the champagne, laughing when it barely cleared the coffee table. Meera’s da had taught her how to make corks fly far when she’d begged to try it after seeing someone do it in a film, but she still wasn’t very good at it. It was a skill she didn’t think she’d ever perfect.
“Do you have fancy glasses we can use?” Meera asked. “I’m all for drinking champagne from plastic tumblers, but if there are actual flutes, we can be classy for the evening.” She set the bottle on the coffee table and stood, dragging Beth up with her. Meera let go of her hand once they were standing, though reluctantly, and nodded in response to her friend’s question. She promised to set up a playlist while Beth retrieved glasses from the kitchen, then dug into her bag for her iPod. She knew that Beth didn’t like a lot of the punkier, rougher music Meera listened to on a pretty regular basis. Luckily, Meera’s music collection was expansive. She had a decent collection of pop from various eras and a lot of indie music that was dancy rather than slow. She started compiling a playlist, dumping happy and fun songs onto a mix with heavier, clubbing songs, knowing that once she hit shuffle she’d have no idea what was coming on next so it didn’t really matter if she grouped songs from albums or artists together.
Meera sat on the arm of the couch as she worked, focusing in on the task at hand with startling precision. She and Jojen were often hyper-focused when it came to creating mixes and playlists, whether they were for friends, occasions, or just personal listening. It was one of the things Meera loved most about her brother — the fact that they could put a Bowie record on their dad’s old record player and get high together without arguing.
“What are your thoughts on Ke$ha?” Meera asked seriously, looking up at Beth. She accepted a glass of champagne from her friend and widened her eyes. “I feel as though she needs to dominate the playlist for our epic sleepover, but if you have objections, you should probably voice them now.”
“Oh, I would never.” This was easier than worrying, Beth had to admit. Laughing, teasing, just talking and being girls with Meera. It wasn’t that Beth was lacking friends, it was just that it took some time for her to get friends. She had to make sure she had space for friends, in her life and in her head. She had to make sure she was ready to worry for yet another person. It had been easy as a child. Everyone had been a friend, but when she started to grow and her worrywart nature kicked in, all those friends gave her headaches more than smiles.
(Not that she would ever give them up. Bran, Meera, Rickon, Sansa and Jeyne. Beth couldn’t possibly imagine life without them.)
“It does seem very high though…That Ferris wheel thing.” She didn’t want to be a bore, but Meera was probably right. That high up, in a situation that she had no control over? Beth would probably pass out. She nodded when Meera asked about the glasses. She had just seen a few the other day, her father’s old glasses back from when her mother was still alive and people still visited the Cassel residence. The lost of Meera’s hand made Beth frown slightly and quicken her steps to the kitchen, just so she could curl up next to her friend again, before her fingers started to grow cold. It took her a while to find the glasses, they were so high up that she knew her father had meant for them to never be taken out again, but with a small stool and carefully balanced legs, she managed to get two down, shutting the cabinet door before the other glasses could fall. That would be a disaster.
Wiping the insides of the flutes with a clean cloth, she nodded when they seemed clean enough for use and walked back to the living room, kneeling down on the carpeted floor where the champagne bottle was resting on the table. Carefully pouring a glass for Meera and then for herself (half a glass, really), she handed one to her friend before getting off the floor. “I quite like Ke$ha, though I haven’t heard anything from her besides…Cannibal and erm…that one with a lot of blahs in it.”
He noticed that she seemed embarrassed, and that seemed weird to him. It was a good thing right? Didn’t most bakers make a mess of themselves? “Don’t worry,” He said with a bit more laughter, “Aren’t bakers supposed to look a mess?” Bran joked, grabbing the bowl placed in front of him. It just had flour and other…stuff, he assumed. “Aye aye, Ma’am.” He nodded his head, looking for a spoon or something to mix it together.
“Need a spoon, yeah.” He said while looking down at the bowl, but that was not what she had been talking about. Bran looked up, seeing her hold a apron. An apron with a floral pattern on it. He looked at her, seeing if she was joking, but he knew she wasn’t. The apron wasn’t entirely ridiculous, maybe it would make him honorary assistant baker or something. “Fine, I’ll wear it. I should look the part I guess, if I’m making a cake.”
He took the apron from her hands, and put his head through the loop. Sure it looked a bit silly, but he was with a friend. He tried not to think about friends, but now that he had, he realized that Beth was his only friend on this side of the border. The only friend he knew for certain was safe. Bran’s smile faded away as he put the bowl on top of the counter, and sat up a bit, so he could tie the apron behind his back. “Okay.” He said, another smile coming to his face as he reached for the bowl. “Just need a spoon, right? To mix it all up, then.”
It’s familiar, Bran’s voice and the way his jokes don’t exactly seem like jokes. They were more like statements, half of the time, but she always has a soft laugh ready for him. It’s a routine, almost. Bran would say something to make her feel better and she would grin or laugh and nudge him with her elbow. She settles with grinning for now, however, though she is still embarrassed. There is truth to his words, she remembered reading that a messy baker was a good baker, but it was almost ridiculous how much her appearance started to come into the picture whenever Bran Stark was mentioned.
(It was like that with any boy, Beth told herself. Not just Bran Stark. He was just around more often, that’s all.)
She does manage to push aside all cares for vanity and flour in her hair when he takes the apron from her. This time, her cheeks turn red, not from embarrassment, but from the effort she had to put in to keep herself from giggling. The slow rumble of the mixer under her palm does calm her down quickly and she nods in approval. It had taken a while for Beth to stop worrying about Bran. It had taken an even longer while for her to stop helping him with the smallest things, like getting his phone or picking up something. Bran could do things, he didn’t always need her help, she knew that now. “You look like a very professional baking assistant.” she says teasingly.
Beth pulls open a drawer and starts looking for an appropriate spoon. Something easily handled, she knew that shoulder aches were a possibility if Bran put too much strain on his arm. Injured whilst baking a cake didn’t seem like something to be proud of. (Not to mention, Rickon would probably think it more amusing than it actual was.) “Ah ha!” Her fingers brushed against a familiar spatula, one her mother had used and one Beth saved for special cakes. This was special, it was for Rickon.
“Here you go.” Handing him the spatula, she frowns at the mixed up wet ingredients. She’d have to wait for Bran to shift through the flour and get all the lumps out, but still, there was a lot to worry about. “I’m still not sure about the frosting. Do you think I should do like… a picture of Shaggy on the cake, maybe? How big should it even be?” She was making something that could feed twenty people, maybe. Extra birthday cake for breakfast was a must on the day after in her books.
He wishes he could just laugh, and joke around, like he used to. It’s just harder to hide when someone’s around. In his room, he could just retreat to his mind, to his own devices and dream and hope. Now, with Beth next to him on the sofa, it’s just that much more apparent how much he’s changed. And it’s only been two months. I’m still me, he thinks, smiling a bit as she takes the remote.
He can do this, because he had to do this. He had to reconnect with his friends, with the world.
When she lands on Dracula, Bran thinks she’ll stop and lean back. Dracula is a classic, everyone knows it, but she skips on after a moment. Hadn’t she said that today was horror? Dracula is horror, as far as Bran can remember. Though maybe she doesn’t want to watch a scary movie. Beth has always been a bit more delicate about things, more sensitive, even. She hid behind her baking, because she’s good at it, and it’s easy to bury yourself away behind a hobby, a staple, like her cookies.
A few channels later, she stops clicking, and seems to have made a decision “Marmaduke?” Bran says, not too eager to watch this movie, but Beth has come over, and Beth made cookies. Beth could choose the movie too. Stop being selfish, he says. It’s as though he cannot think of himself, otherwise he loses himself in his mind, so he shrugs, and smiles, more genuinely, feeling better already, “Fun, even Summer can watch it.” The dog hops up on the sofa, laying next to Bran. He’s still very much a puppy, only having got him nearly six months ago. Bran leans forward, reaching for the cookie jar, and tilts it towards himself. Grabbing two cookies, the jar jostled against the wood of the coffee table, and he leans back against the sofa. “Have you seen this?” He says, taking a bite of the cookie.
Beth feels a pang of regret for choosing Marmaduke when she realizes that running and rolling around with Summer, all of that could never be something Bran would be able to do again. Perhaps, after a few more months, he might go through physical therapy. Maybe that would work, or maybe it would make him worse, but it would be long before he would be able to run, even she knew that. But still, Bran is smiling so maybe he isn’t too upset by her choice. She gives him a tentative smile in return and settles into the soft couch, pulling a pillow over her lap, just to have something to grab onto.
Summer kneads the cushioning underneath his paws before settling and Beth manages to stifle a laugh at that. It’s adorable and she knows that if there was one thing she’d miss about Scotland, it’d have to be Summer. (And Bran, always Bran, but that was given.) Did he even know about her moving? A small part of her hopes he’d understand. She had to look after her father (she was all he had left, after all), to make sure he slept enough and ate healthy food. Simple things that perhaps aren’t necessary for her to move all the way to London, but if she stayed here, worrying would eat her alive in a week.
“I…” she pauses, thought broken by his voice and it takes her a moment to register his question. “I’ve only caught bits of the beginning. Oh and the ending.” She grins, remembering the dancing dogs and how her father had called her over to watch. She had ran over, thinking something was amiss, only to see dancing dogs. It hadn’t seem so amusing then, she was more annoyed than anything, but it was funny to think of now, sitting beside Bran. “I’m…I’m moving to London. I wasn’t sure if you knew.” Her fingers grip the pillow on her lap tightly. It feels as though she’s abandoning him, just when he was starting to open up again and it makes her sick to her stomach.
Shortly after Rickon left his room, Bran got ready to leave for Beth’s. Summer whined when he got the hint that he wasn’t taking him, but he was baking a cake, and didn’t Beth already have a dog? No, Summer would stay here, and keep his brother (both his own and Bran’s) company. Hodor packed his chair into the boot and Bran sat in the front seat, buckling his seatbelt.
Soon they were off, and arrived at Beth’s not long after. After situating himself again, Bran told him that he didn’t have to stay, most likely they’d be ready in a couple of hours. Cakes took like an hour didn’t they? The frosting, and such as well. So Hodor said goodbye and Bran rolled up to the door.
He would’ve greeted her, had not a small dog attacked him. Well, it didn’t so much as attack, as yip, and hop. Bran laughed all the while though, as Beth tried to subdue him. Finally, when the dog was off, Bran grinned, and looked up at her, “I’m hardly new, Beth!” He watched amused as the dog hopped and twirled, barely able to contain the excitement. “No, he isn’t. Said we’d be done in a few hours, hope that was alright.” He rolled himself in, hands firmly on the metal rims, “So, where is the bakery?” He looked down, hoping the puppy wasn’t near him, he didn’t want to roll over his tail and make him yelp.
Today, he wouldn’t think about anything but Rickon’s birthday, and helping Beth make the cake. It wouldn’t do to be selfish, or morose about things he couldn’t control. Cake, he could control however, with Beth’s help of course. He rolled into the kitchen, still wary of the small dog roaming about, trying to get acquainted with him. Maybe he should’ve brought Summer. When Beth looked at him again, in the kitchen, he noticed a smidge of flour, on her forehead. He grinned, and snickered, “Beth,” he pointed to his own forehead, “flour.”
A small part of her is pleased that Bran sent Hodor back to Winterfell. Of course, she loved the giant of a man as much as anyone else did; He was very nice, always quick to do whatever she asked of him and didn’t mind trying out a few of her wilder creations, but it had been a while since it was just Beth and Bran doing things together. Besides, she would be teaching him how to bake and she knew that if she turned her head just for a second, something could go horribly wrong.
(She had learned that lesson baking scones. Beth had forgotten to put the baking powder in and eventually settled with making a custard pie.)
“This way.” she says lightly, pushing the puppy along with a gentle nudge of the foot. Beth made sure to keep an eye on the small dog as she walked into the kitchen, scanning the floor for any bits of plastic wrap or foil that had fallen whilst she answered the door. It wouldn’t do any good for her to have a sick dog on Rickon’s birthday. She didn’t need more things to worry about. Once in the kitchen, she was more at ease than before, falling into the routine of making sure everything was already on the table in front of her. Thankfully, the table wasn’t too high that Bran would need a lift to see what was on it. Beth wasn’t sure she could handle the tenseness of that situation. “What?” She blinked when he pointed to his forehead, a bit confused for a moment.
He didn’t have flour on his forehead.
Her eyes widened when she realized he meant her forehead and gave herself a mental facepalm as she brushed the powder from her skin, cheeks turning slightly red. “Thanks, Bran.” she said lightly, putting a bowl in front of him. It was not empty (she had been shifting the flour with the sugar in herself before the doorbell rang), but that was where the dry ingredients were supposed to go into. “You can help me shift together the dry stuff, and I’ll mix the butter and eggs and all the messy bits.” She wondered if she should give him an apron, or at least a towel to keep his clothes clean, and pulled out an extra one from the drawers, holding it up for him.
“You think you’re gonna need this?” she asked, smiling to show that yes, if he did want to put it on, Beth wouldn’t make fun of the floral pattern on it. And she wouldn’t share any pictures that she accidentally took of him with Rickon either, if that was what he wanted. “Cookie, stop that.” Her dog was sniffing curiously at Bran’s wheelchair and Beth wasn’t worried about Bran getting annoyed over that. She knew he could handle a small puppy, but she didn’t want her dog to be poking her nose in places where it could get stuck.
Beth told her she could take London by storm by herself and Meera bopped her friend on the nose, taking off her backpack as she followed her friend into the house. “Nope. You can provide cookies while also helping me take the city by storm. Fly free, Beth Cassel! London will give you a chance to spread your wings.” She winked and flopped onto the couch next to Beth, dropping her backpack on the cushion next to her. She knew it wasn’t in Beth’s nature to be as loud and crazy and out there as Meera usually was — though as she’d gotten older, Meera had gotten quieter and more sarcastic, biting with her words in a way that sometimes worried her.
When Beth slid down to the floor, Meera frowned a bit and reached inside her bag for the bottle of champagne. Then she leaned over and kissed the top of Beth’s head. “Can’t party very well on the floor, Dollface. That’s where you’re supposed to end up after the party.” Meera laughed a little and slid down next to her friend. She set the bottle between her thighs, gripping it tight, and reached over to take Beth’s hand. Meera intertwined their fingers and squeezed, gazing at her friend with undue adoration. There were times when their relationship was the kind of comforting that Meera was sure some people found only in romantic relationships, though she’d never looked at Beth as anything more than a friend. They were just comfortable together, safe and warm and physical in a way that made Meera feel appreciated and just a little less weird for being so obsessed with everyone around her.
“I’d love to come with you now, but it won’t be that long. Besides, who’s to say you won’t meet some super fantastic guy and ride off into the sunset once you arrive? London could be just the place for you, beautiful.” Meera laughed and held up the champagne, shaking it with a wide grin on her face. “Champagne?”
She’s always had a way with words, Beth mused, as she cracked a small grin at her friend’s theatrics. Whilst Meera was funny and smart and always knew how to make someone feel better, Beth relied on her baking to show her concern, words often failing her or worse, she would just end up sound a bit too insensitive or insult someone. “I’m afraid of heights.” she said dryly before giggling. Where Beth was a homebody, Meera knew how to socialize. She didn’t freeze up when someone greeted her and somewhere inside her, Beth was jealous of that.
Still, it payed off to have a friend who actually cared about her. Who asked how she was feeling and who knew that when Beth made brownies, it was only because she was very upset and needed someone to stop her from eating a whole tray. It was nice to be cared about for once, Beth realized, instead of fussing over everyone. Meera wasn’t the typical motherhen sort, but Beth knew she could be when she wanted to. “I’ve never ended up on the floor after a party before.” The extend of Beth’s alcoholic experience only went up to sneaking sips of her father’s canned beer whenever he wasn’t looking.
And she didn’t even like the taste than much, so that only happened once.
Of course, she had tasted champagne before at a wedding, where she had pouted and frowned until her father relented. “Champagne.” she nodded her head, only because she knew she liked champagne and there was nothing wrong with drinking a little bit. (She knew by the end of the night, her little bit would probably be more than just a bit.) “You got your iPod with you? My music is pretty dull, I transferred some relaxing tunes for the flight and stuff.” she shrugged her shoulders, pressing a kiss to the back of Meera’s hand.
He looks down at his hand, her’s on top of it. She’s his friend still, and this gesture confirms that. Why he would even think that Beth wouldn’t be his friend any more is beyond him. He turns over his palm, so that it’s facing hers and stretches out his fingers, grasping her hand and giving it a light squeeze.
It’s already as if things have returned to normal, but as he tries to sit up more, it doesn’t work, and looks more like he’s squirming than anything. Letting go of Beth’s hand, he nods to the cookies, hoping to distract her while he pushes up against the seat cushions. Then as she speaks, he stares off at the coffee table.
Startling as it is to hear her say she’s glad, with a…strained voice it’s comforting. He’s been hiding in his room the past two months, rarely coming down out of shame, guilt, or embarrassment He’d done this to himself, to his family, and to anyone who ever cared about him. Beth, sadly, is one of those people and he doesn’t want her to feel sad, or worried about him. He hardly deserves it.
“No, no, horror is fine.” He says quickly. No special treatment even if he didn’t really want to watch a horror film. Though just by hearing her say, ‘we can do whatever you want’ rubs him the wrong way. He doesn’t want to be…treated differently.
Like we used to, she says and he wants to send her away, because why does she have to bring up before? It’s no shy fact that when Bran is in his room, he dreams always of how it was before, and how it would probably never be again. It’s his nightmare to be reduced to before, and after, but it’s already happened; he’s living it now. He looks back at her and nods, but doesn’t smile. “Sure.” He grabs the remote by his side, and starts flicking through the channels, looking for something suitable to watch. Then he hands her the remote, “Here, yo-you pick something. Anything is fine.” A light smile whispers across his face before fading altogether.
Beth isn’t sure what she could say to make him feel better, if she could. She knew that he was probably feeling horrible, and perhaps bringing up the past was not a good idea at all, but she does want to make him feel comfortable. Beth doesn’t want him to push himself just to keep up with her. She was fine with slowing her pace down for him. Eventually, she knew, Bran would adapt. He was good like that, smart and different, always nice even if he wasn’t feeling the very best himself.
Watching a horror movie would probably give her a nightmare tonight, but she had been hoping for Bran to suggest something else. But his quick answer and the way he seemed almost upset when she said that they could do whatever he wanted to do suggested that he didn’t want to be treated differently. She felt a bit bad for doubting if Bran was going to ever be the same Bran like before. Obviously not, but it didn’t mean that he wasn’t still the same nice, friendly boy she had known since her childhood.
(Though he did push her down that one time when they were kids and that was hardly nice.)
Again, she is at lost for words, so Beth just sticks her hand in the cookie jar and takes one out, biting on the edge with her teeth to keep it firmly in place before setting the jar down between them. Don’t treat him any different than you have had treated him before, she reminds herself. “Oh.” The word is a bit muffled around the cookie and she is very sure she looks silly with it gripped between her teeth, but she takes the remote anyway, flicking through the channels. Dracula is playing on one channel and she pauses when she sees Christopher Lee’s face on screen before quickly switching to another channel.
No horror. There’s a movie about dogs that seemed to have started a few minutes ago and Beth squints at the television before nodding. “This should be fun. Marmaduke, I think.”