It was rare for Darrel and Emilia to show their faces in the Hex Shop these days, so when they randomly popped by towards the end of opening hours on the eve of Harvestfest, Cordelia wasn’t sure what to make of it.
She hadn’t seen Emilia since the fun fair incident, and the few times she Darrel had been in the store between then and now, he never brought up his interference with L Faba’s spell. Cordelia was grateful for that. As far as she was concerned, it would be best to pretend that whole night never happened. Add it to that long list…
Thankfully, Grace took it upon herself to greet the couple, so that Cordelia didn’t have to.
“Hi boss, long time no see!” She smiled at Darrel and Emilia. “What brings you two here today?”
Darrel seemed to be in an oddly good mood. “Just wanted to check up on the old shop before we shut for the holiday. Good day today?”
“Yup, people went mad for all of the potions affecting social interactions today. Probably in preparation for all those family reunions.” Grace told him with a slight smirk.
“I assure you, no potions will be necessary at the Charm residence tomorrow,” Darrel’s mood did not falter. “We’ve only invited the finest of guests.”
“Didn’t think you thought so highly of me, boss,” Grace chuckled softly.
Darrel looked like he was going to say something, but Emilia shot him a look, so he remained silent. Cordelia wondered if it was really Darrel’s decision to invite Grace. Then again, if Grace with her charming nature and potion-making skills was not deemed worthy enough, who was?
“What time should I come over again?” Grace asked Darrel.
Emilia left the two of them to discuss the details, and to Cordelia’s surprise, headed to the till instead.
“You holding up ok?” She asked Cordelia. Was she concerned about her? “The last time we saw you..”
“Oh yeah, I’m totally fine. Really fine. Don’t mention it.” Cordelia stumbled over her words. Think of something to change the subject. Anything… “Sounds like it will be quite the event over in the Charm house tomorrow.”
“I think so,” Emilia nodded. “It will be my first Harvestfest with family too, but Darrel is excited. Are you doing anything nice?”
Cordelia let out an awkward laugh. “Uh, nothing special. I’ve never really celebrated Harvestfest much.” It wasn’t a lie. Not exactly a choice, but not a lie, nonetheless.
“Oh, aren’t you going to be seeing your family?” Emilia asked. She seemed so genuine. Perhaps it was Cordelia’s turn to be honest.
“I… don’t exactly have a family.” She confessed.
“Oh.” Emilia’s smile disappeared. She turned to her fiancé. “Darrel, could we invite Cordelia over tomorrow too? Seeing as Grace is coming, wouldn’t it make sense to have all the employees along?”
Darrel wandered towards them. “I’m not sure if that’s such a great idea…”
Emilia pouted, her eyes wide. “Why not? The Charm manor could definitely fit one extra person… Do you think Minerva would mind?”
“Probably not…” Darrel admitted. Cordelia wasn’t sure what she was missing. But then Darrel never seemed all that fond of her. It was probably that. He sighed, examining Emilia’s face. “You know what, why not. If it makes you happy…”
“Brilliant!” Emilia’s frowned disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. She turned to Cordelia. “The festivities start at 6pm. You can come along with Grace, she knows where the Charm manor is. You will come, right? It will be lots of fun!”
Cordelia wasn’t sure what to say. She couldn’t exactly decline, after all this fuss. It would be nice to see how actual families celebrated Harvestfest, wouldn’t it? “I’m honoured. Thank you for inviting me. Both of you.” She added quickly. Not that it was needed. Darrel wasn’t even looking at her.
The couple made their exit shortly after the conversation.
“Won’t you look at that, somehow the two of us can count ourselves among the finest of guests.” Grace laughed heartily as Darrel and Emilia made their exit. “Darrel must be fuming!”
“Was it Emilia that invited you too?” Cordelia asked her co-worker.
“Oh yeah,” Grace confirmed. “Obviously. She’s a friend. They’re a strange couple, really, but she does have him wrapped around her little finger.”
Cordelia couldn’t disagree. She wondered how Darrel and Emilia came to be. Perhaps she’d find out tomorrow. Either way, both Grace and Emilia seemed excited for the Harvestfest celebrations. Cordelia decided she should at the very least keep an open mind.
The elf emerged out of the old tree passage at sunrise. He couldn’t sleep any longer. It was his favourite day of they year. And this year, he’d get to share it with a friend. He made his way to Cordelia’s shack with a grin on his face.
It was not particularly difficult for him burst right in, given that she still didn’t have a real door.
“Happy gnome day!” he cried out happily.
“Dandy?” Cordelia sat up in her bed, resisting the urge to scold the elf for barging in like that – it was only fair, given her own invasion of his home after her disastrous non-date with Morgyn. “Gnome day?”
“Yeah! The day all the gnomes come visit!” He explained. Not that the statement particularly made a lot of sense to her. “At least they do in Sylvan Glade. Does that not happen on human Harvestfest?”
“Ugh, not that I know of.” Of course, Cordelia hadn’t been party to many Harvestfest celebrations before, but even without being invited to dinners, she was fairly positive she would have noticed a horde of gnomes invading Gibbs Hill. “Maybe it’s a Glimmerbrook thing.”
“I guess.” Dandelion shrugged dismissively. “There’s already heaps of them down in my meadow. But I saw one up here, right outside the tree too.”
“A gnome. In my camp.” Cordelia raised an eyebrow.
“He’s by my mailbox, I suppose. He’s the bunny kind.” The elf babbled on. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
She followed him out of the shack without even bothering to get dressed. Clearly Dandelion was far too eager to show her this bunny gnome, whatever the heck that was.
“Huh. You weren’t kidding.” Cordelia examined the pink gnome. It seemed that every day, Glimmerbrook was finding new ways to become more and more peculiar. She wondered when she would get used to it.
“Of course not. Gnome day is seriously awesome. It’s basically a big party!” Her friend smiled. “The gnomes like pie, you see. I’m making a whole feast down in Sylvan Glade, if you want to come over.”
She had plenty of time till dinner at the Charm manor. Why not embrace the madness. “Sure. Let’s meet some gnomes.”
Dandelion had not been exaggerating, she saw several gnomes as soon as they entered the meadow. The elf made her greet them all, saying it was important not to be rude.
The two friends climbed up the rickety stairs into Dandelion’s kitchen.
“Have a seat, have a seat!” He urged her with a sweet giddiness. “I’ll prepare the feast, it won’t be long.”
She sat down at the table and watched her friend wrestle with a bowl of ingredients. “You need a hand, Dandy?”
“But you’re the guest!” He protested.
She was not letting him deter her. “So? I can help out. It’s not like the gnomes will. I think.”
Dandelion considered her offer. “I suppose. Are you a good cook?”
“Not really,” She shrugged with a little chuckle. “But I’ll do my best not to set your house on fire.”
“Ok good,” he nodded with a serious tone. “Tree houses burn down easily.”
Neither of them was much of a master chef, Cordelia had to admit, but they had fun preparing the meal together anyway. It felt so… ordinary, in the best sense possible. Was this how people spent Harvestfest? Joking around while dropping vegetables and cutlery? It had to be, Cordelia thought. It felt nice. Normal. Cordelia sad a silent prayer for the sprites to continue to leave her alone today. At least this one day…
They took all of the food they prepared outside and laid the little picnic out right beside Dandelion’s garden patch – and several more gnomes. They had to share, Dandelion insisted.
“Hey there, Mr Gnome.” Cordelia greeted the one stood beside her. Not that she expected a response. She wondered where they came from. Was there a place where the gnomes gathered for the remainder of the year? “They don’t really talk much, do they?”
“Not really, no,” Dandelion agreed, taking a bite out of a brownie. “But if they have fun with you, they bring you little seeds and stuff. I just like the company.”
This again. He looked content while chewing on the dessert, but was he really? Cordelia couldn’t help but wonder back to what he told her back when they were carving those pumpkins before Spooky Day… “Do you get lonely here, all on your own?” She asked him.
“Well no, you’re here.” He said with his mouth full.
“And before that?”
“Before that, the gnomes would visit.”
Once a year, Cordelia thought to herself. “How long have you lived here, Dandy?”
“I dunno. Most of my life, I think.” He finished his brownie and leaned back on the blanket. “I don’t really count it or anything. Whatever. Come watch clouds with me. There’s one that looks like a really fat pig.”
She sighed, lying down next to him. He clearly didn’t want to discuss the subject any further.
How many gnome days was that, Cordelia wondered? How many years would have to go by for one to lose track of them? But she didn’t ask. “Which one is the pig one?”
“Over there.” He pointed upwards. “Next to the castle.”
“Right.” She wished her imagination was as colourful as his, but she gave it her best shot anyway. “I see one that kind of looks like a horse. Right there.”
“Oh yeah, I can see that.” Dandelion nodded. “Maybe it could be friends with the pig. Can horses and pigs be friends?”
“Of course they can,” Cordelia didn’t hesitate. “Humans and elves can, after all.”
A grin spread across his face. “That’s true.”
She wished she hadn’t agreed to go to the Charm house for dinner. Spending the rest of the day with Dandelion here in Sylvan Glade sounded far better. Not to mention she didn’t want to leave him on his own again. But she couldn’t bail on Grace now… And she didn’t want to offend Emilia either.
“Dandy, I can’t stay much longer.” The girl forced herself to say, getting up. “I promised I would come to the Charms’ place tonight. I… I would bring you along, but I’m not sure Darrel really wanted me to come in the first place…”
“Oh. If he doesn’t want you to come over, why are you going?” Dandelion stood up next to her. It was a fair question, she thought.
“It’s complicated… I guess sometimes people do stuff because it’s expected of them, not because they want to.”
Dandelion pondered her words for a moment. “Hm. I think I know what you mean. Sounds lame though. I’m glad I don’t have to do that.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”
“Don’t worry. I have the gnomes to keep me company, remember?”
That just made her feel more guilty. “For what it’s worth, Dandy, this has been the best Harvestfest I ever had.”
He seemed surprised. “Oh really? Me too, I think.” Cordelia pulled him into a hug.
“Don’t tell Lulu I said this, but I think you’re my best friend.” The elf whispered in her ear.
Best friend. Nobody had ever called her that. She squeezed him tightly. “And you’re mine.”
Of course, one could also say Dandelion was her only friend. But then again, she wasn’t sure if his situation was different. Could you really call what he had with L Faba friendship? The more Cordelia heard, the less convinced she was. Why was he so fond of that horrible woman, she wondered?
“I best get going.” She said with another sigh, pulling herself away from him.
“Ok. Have fun at the Charm house.” He didn’t seem upset, at least.
Still, Cordelia couldn’t help but hesitate as she walked towards the tree passage. She looked back at him. “Hey Dandy…”
Cordelia kicked herself. What was there to say, really? Nothing could change the fact she was leaving him here, alone, like L Faba did. “Happy gnome day.” She said quietly.
“Happy gnome day, Cordie.”