Saturday 2nd August 2014
The hollow emptiness of the church seemed sort of threatening. Bonnie did not like this feeling even a little bit. It was kind of like an invasion of something sacred and peaceful. She wished she could identify why this particular inanition bothered her so much but she couldn’t put a finger on it. Like an itch in that spot between her shoulder blades that she couldn’t quite reach no matter how she twisted.
Her footsteps sounded funny in the quiet… too big. Hesitantly, Bonnie stuck her head in the side room, wondering if maybe someone was here. It was Marceline she was searching for, but Hansen would probably be able to point her in the right direction.
The storage room was empty. The bathrooms around the side were silent and nobody was lurking under the stained glass windows behind the pillars. There was not a soul to be seen. She supposed that wasn’t such a surprise, Marceline avoided the church like the plague, but her house was dark and she wasn’t answering her phone so where else was she meant to look?
Something clattered loudly behind the altar.
Bonnibel whirled on one heel so fast she should probably be worried about whiplash. And she blinked. A candle was the offending object and it was currently being replaced on the table pressed against the back wall by a tall man dressed all in black. An inexplicable shiver tingled across her shoulders and raced down her spine.
He turned, deep green eyes peering at her from sunken sockets, rimmed in shadows that stood out on his pale complexion. His face was gaunt, with high cheekbones that didn’t help his eye sockets look anything other than cavernous. Thin lips and an angular nose, slender and hooked, made him look like some subterranean creature that preyed on small furred mammals and the innocent dreams of children.
This time, Bonnie knew precisely why she trembled. He blinked at her, the fabric of his tailored black suit whispering as he rotated somewhat stiffly to regard her front on. The drawn, narrow shape to his face was carried through the rest of his body, she noted. The man was painfully skinny, the kind of lanky that almost seemed emaciated. Bonnibel probably would’ve been worried for his health if he didn’t give off a rather pungent creepy vibe.
“Hello,” he rasped in a scratchy voice, reminisce of a snake slithering through dry grass. Literally everything about this guy screamed crazy weird. She should probably leave but found her feet were rooted to the spot. “I don’t mean to sound impolite,” he went on. “But who are you?”
Her brain didn’t want to answer. “Bonnibel,” slipped out huskily anyway. “Banner.”
His slit of a mouth tilted upwards in the vague semblance of a smile. It didn’t touch his eyes. “Mortimer Wight,” he introduced himself. “I’m a deacon from Blackwater. I have business with the preacher here, do you know his whereabouts?”
She shook her head slightly, afraid to speak. Afraid she wouldn’t be able to.
He sighed, a gloved hand shifting at his side, fiddling with a pocket in his pants. “And what are you doing in the church on a Saturday?” he asked her. “Shouldn’t you be out with your friends? Or studying?”
Bonnie’s throat worked, trying to force moisture into her mouth. “I… I was looking for the preacher’s daughter.” She couldn’t say any more, she wanted to lie to him. But she didn’t think he’d believe her.
Mortimer did not appear to be blinking. She added that to the things about him that made her anxious. They stood there for a very long and very awkward two minutes. He did not appear to move, or fidget, every last motion was controlled and eerie. He simply stared at her and she stared back; he with an impassive face and a seemingly infinite supply of patience, she with a growing sense of uncontrollable unease and a mad desire to run as far away from him as she could get.
The door opened behind her.
His deep eyes flicked up and – finally – he blinked. That wispy not-really-a-smile curved his pitiful excuse for lips once more. As if by looking away, Bonnie was released from a spell, she slumped, relaxing somewhat (but still burning with the strangeness Mortimer exuded). She turned to see who had opened the door and was unbelievably happy to see Marceline framed by the doors.
“Hey,” she said quietly, sizing Mortimer up, brows furrowed. “I got your text. Do you want to go now?”
Before Bonnie could reply with a relieved affirmative, Mortimer whispered into the silence. “Where is your father?” The words carried across the massive room even though he’d put little effort into projecting himself.
Marceline’s frown intensified. “He’s in town,” she replied waspishly. “He’ll be along in about half an hour.” Her fingers twitched and Bonnie knew what she meant, hastening towards her friend. With one last glare at the emotionless deacon, Marceline pulled the doors closed again, looking Bonnie up and down as if expecting to find her injured. “I see you met the deacon. Such a pleasant fellow.” Her mouth twisted into a wry parody of her usual smirk.
“He’s kind of creepy,” Bonnie murmured. “Does he visit often?”
“Thankfully, no,” Marceline replied, smiling at her properly now. “He comes by to give sermons occasionally and scare the general populace into following the Bible’s strict regulations. You know; the usual stuff. Love thy neighbour, don’t kill folks, do your homework. Pretty boring. He is really weird though. He’s got all these funny little nit-picks that he makes sure to remind us of. He hates alcohol and lies and gays and people who are famous for doing nothing and politics. He’s hard to please. You alright?”
Obviously Marceline had noticed the way Bonnie collapsed into herself when she started listing all the things Mortimer took offence to. “Yeah,” she breathed, forcing a grin. “I’m good. How much of an influence does he have on the town?”
She shrugged. “None when he isn’t here. People only pay attention to him while he’s around because they’re afraid he’ll excommunicate them or condemn their eternal souls to fiery oblivion. Dad buys into a lot of his gibberish though.”
Bonnibel rolled her eyes. “But you don’t?”
Marceline scoffed. “Please, no. The man is freakishly strange. Like I’d listen to a word he says. I don’t put stock in the words of weirdoes.”
“You listen to me.”
“You’re a good weird. He’s a creep.” She paused. Then, “Do you really want me to come to Eleanor’s birthday shindig. It’ll piss her off, you know.”
Bonnie just smiled brighter, hoping to banish the lingering shadows Mortimer had cast over her life. “She’ll have to deal with it. I’m going to watch you perform tonight and this is much more convenient. Besides,” she added, taking a bold leap and linking her arm through Marceline’s. “You should get out more.”
Marceline burst out laughing. But she didn’t pull away.
Seriously. Eleanor’s house was massive and it was with apprehension and a little bit of vicious anticipation that Marceline stood on her impossibly green lawn staring up at all three storeys of it. The exterior was completely undecorated, but Bonnibel had assured her that the inside was dressed to the nines. She’d said something about how everyone needed to have an overly extreme sixteenth birthday and that Eleanor’s words would bite her on the butt one day. Marceline didn’t understand a word of it, but the look on Bonnie’s face was funny.
“We’re late,” Marceline noted, eyeing the cars in the drive.
“It’s a surprise party, Marceline,” Bonnibel told her primly. “It doesn’t matter when we show up.” Then Bonnie dragged her by her arm (still linked together) up the yard. “Plus I don’t think Ellen will mind.”
Marceline pouted. She tried to come up with a more dignified term for the expression, but ‘pout’ was the only thing that fit. “I didn’t get her a present,” she complained.
“Is the pleasure of your scathing company not enough?” her friend asked sweetly.
“I doubt it will be for Eleanor,” Marceline remarked dryly. “No matter what you might think to the contrary.”
“You’re so self-depreciating,” Bonnie grumbled, hauling her inside the house. “One day you’re going to realise that you’re not an idiot with no hopes or prospects and I’m going to be there when it happens. No. Better. I’m going to be the one who convinces you of it.”
Before Marceline had a chance to say something witty in response to that, she was assaulted by the whole… party… thing. Eleanor’s house was that kind of chic modern type style that’s seen in home decoration magazines. With all the pastel things and the square-ish furniture and those funny little metal things hanging from the wall that are meant to look like art but really just make her head spin. It was surprisingly minimalistic in the living area (although there was nothing Spartan about the gigantic flat-screen hanging from one wall), but Marceline suspected the word Eleanor would prefer was ‘refined’.
“Bonnie!” Eleanor stuck her head into the entrance hall, her hair strung with purple streamers and glitter. “What took you so long?” Her eyes glazed slightly then when she noticed Marceline. “And why did you bring her with?”
Bonnibel laughed. “My birthday present to you, Ellen,” she proclaimed. “Marceline will be civil with you.”
Marceline squawked. “Hey!”
Eleanor on the other hand, looked positively tickled by the notion. “I’d like to see that,” she chuckled. “Get in here, anyway. There’s food in the kitchen and Pippa’s making me open all my presents.”
Bonnie finally slipped her arm out of Marceline’s and beamed at her. “Since you’re so anti-social, I won’t make you participate. But try not to be too intimidating, for me?”
“Sure,” she replied with a smirk and a calculated eye roll. “Do you want a drink or something?”
“Look at you being all nice and things,” Bonnibel laughed. “Sure, so long as you’re offering. I’ll save you some cake.” Then she winked and vanished into the living room. Marceline was left staring after her in complete bafflement.
She stepped slowly past the wide open arch leading to the living room, watching silently as the people interacted loudly. Since the house was open plan, there wasn’t much chance she could hide with any amount of success, more’s the pity. She lamented this as she headed for the kitchen.
“Marceline,” Penelope cried, delight obvious in her tone. “I didn’t know you were coming. How are you?”
She suppressed the urge to roll her eyes again. “Bonnie dragged me with,” she mumbled. “And I’m fine, I guess. I like Saturdays.”
Pippa bumped her fist against Marceline’s shoulder on the way out of the kitchen. “You better stay for the cake at least,” she chided happily. “It’s got strawberry filling if that means anything to you.” She was gone then, but Marceline could only blink after her. These people were so weird.
Grumbling about it, she stuck her head in the fridge to dig up a drink. It was stocked with cans of soft drink and nothing else. Oh wait, there were some water bottles hiding in the back. Bonnie being Bonnie, she wouldn’t drink anything but that so she grabbed one around the neck and a can with an unfamiliar but promising mauve label for herself.
Tentatively she headed back towards the living room. Cheering erupted as she froze in the doorway, worried that they were screaming excitedly at her. They weren’t. When she peeked around so she could see the whole room, it was Eleanor they were clapping. She had just opened a box that had exploded in her face, confetti in the shape of some rather nasty things floating down around her and settling in her hair. She threw the box – and its remaining wisps of paper – at Melissa who only laughed harder.
Bonnibel was seated on a cushion by the door; Pippa sprawled out on the floor beside her with Jake. Marceline couldn’t see Finn, but the new girl – Hayden – was hunched awkwardly on Bonnie’s other side, trying not to look like this whole thing didn’t overwhelm her. Marceline could relate. Eleanor was pretty over the top.
“Pst,” she hissed at Bonnie. Her friend looked up and grinned, smile taking up her whole face and then some. “Catch,” she muttered, tossing the water bottle at her underarm. Surprisingly, Bonnibel was pretty well coordinated and snatched the bottle one handed out of the air just before it hit Pippa in the side of the head. ‘Sorry,’ Marceline mouthed, retreating back into the kitchen.
She slid up onto the counter, popping the ring pull on her can. The sooner this was over, the better. That was her assessment, and she wasn’t wrong.
True to her word, Bonnie didn’t force her to get involved in any way. But Pippa did. The persistent blonde simply waltzed into the kitchen, grabbed her sleeve and tugged her off the bench and back into the lounge. Whereupon, she placed hands on Marceline’s shoulders and shoved her into a rather uncomfortable seated position beside Bonnie.
Marceline weathered the whole incident with wide eyes and a stunned expression. Pippa – now without a spot since Marceline had hers – flopped onto Jake’s lap and acted as if nothing had happened. Marceline turned her eyes up at Bonnibel, spluttering wordlessly in an attempt to ask what had just happened.
Bonnie smiled apologetically at her, patting her shoulder. She sighed; feeling like this was going horribly wrong. Marceline resolved to stay out of any more similar situations and remained glued to Bonnie for the duration. She figured there was less chance of being shanghaied into something that way.
Over the years, Marceline had perfected the art of glowering. It was a skill she wielded expertly as people attempted to speak to her. It took another hour before the cake was pulled out and she was of the impatient opinion that she should leave now.
“Bonnie,” she whined for the thousandth time, plucking at her friend’s sleeve. “Can we go now? Please? I can’t put up with Eleanor for another minute.”
Bonnibel snorted. “Cool your jets. We’ll go in a little bit.”
Marceline huffed right back at her, folding her arms petulantly. She wondered if there was some sort of conspiracy going on here. Perhaps… Perhaps she jinxed herself.
“Marceline,” Eleanor cried in a much too delighted tone to be real. “Enjoying yourself?”
She pulled a dusty smile from her pocket and slipped it on, hoping it fooled the incorrigible gossip. “Of course, it’s great,” Marceline told her. She kept her eyes wide, praying she looked at least innocent enough to be believed. “Happy birthday.”
“Thanks. Did you get cake?”
Naturally Eleanor would want to push the conversation. “No, but Bonnie said she’d wrap a slice for me. I’m not really hungry and if my dad knows I ate before dinner he’ll be in a grouch for the rest of the day.” Not that she needed to know any of that.
“Sure, yeah. We’re going to play Bullshit,” Eleanor chittered. “Are you going to join in?”
Marceline cast a pleading look over Eleanor’s shoulder at Bonnie who just smiled her adorable smile and blinked at her. “Much as I’d love to,” she said as pleasantly as she could manage. “I’m not sure it would be fair to play against amateurs.” That probably decimated her ‘be nice’ thing.
Bonnibel finally intervened. “Yeah,” she said, sliding in beside Marceline. “And I have to go, so… We’re just going to head on out.” She snatched Marceline’s wrist and flashed a grin at Eleanor. Bonnie dragged her (still caught somewhere between bewildered and grumpy) through the house. “Enjoy the rest of your party.”
Once they made it outside, Marceline heaved a deep sigh of relief. “That sucked,” she exhaled. “You owe me big time, Banner.”
She got a sly smile for that. “Sure,” Bonnie said wryly. “You let me know when you want to call in that favour. In the meant time, let’s go, huh?”
Marceline exhaled, almost happy. “That’s the best thing I’ve heard all day.”
It was unnaturally quiet in the car and Bonnie didn’t like it. She was used to there being some sort of rock music blaring from the speakers, or some eclectic mixed collection of songs pumping through her auxiliary cable. But not today.
“Is there an album I can put in?” Bonnie wondered aloud, rummaging through the glove compartment.
Marceline nodded. “Should be one in there. I don’t know what it is though, Keila was the last person to drive anywhere with me and she has this habit of putting a ‘mystery’ disc in before she leaves. Keeps me on my toes.”
“Sure,” Bonnie muttered. She could see Keila doing exactly that. She pulled her hands out of their sleeves (because even with the heater on it was cold in the old car) and fiddled with the buttons. It took her a moment – it always did – before she got sounds to sputter alive. And when they did, she had to bite down on a smile. “Avril Lavigne?” she asked, eyebrows shooting into her hairline. “Really? I would not have picked you as a fan.”
Marceline hunched over the wheel. “She’s pretty good,” she grumbled. “Lots of emotion in some of her stuff and lots of rock. Gotta appreciate the girl’s ability to rock, yeah?”
Bonnie smiled. “Fair enough.” And she really could only agree and hum along softly to the songs. Out of the corner of her eye, Marceline had this little quirk to the corner of her mouth; an almost-smile.
As was the norm, the rest of the drive out to the Café will filled mostly with quiet conversation and the occasional string of lyrics. Also as usual, Marceline always seemed surprised when Bonnibel knew the words to one song or another. But it was generally a pleasant – seeming – surprise and typically earned a crooked smile.
“Have you and Keila spent much time together lately,” Bonnie whispered into the car as they turned off the highway towards the café. It probably was no good to ask, but Marceline’s earlier comment had gotten her wondering.
Marceline’s hands wrung the steering wheel, carefully bottled emotion evident in her posture. “Not as much as we used to,” she reluctantly confided. “I mean, I know I should be the supportive best friend and all with this boyfriend thing, but I just…” She glared out the windscreen.
Bonnie glanced over. “You miss her. I get that. I was just wondering if she was going to be here this afternoon.” She paused, then added, “And I wouldn’t suggest it, but you’re really mopey about it so I’ll give you just one word: sabotage.”
And with that, Marceline beamed, shooting her a roguish look. “Oh, yes, you’re a lot more devious than you let on, hey, Banner? You want me to meddle in my friend’s relationship with the intention of breaking them up? That’s cruel. Not even I could do that.”
“Just a thought, what you take from my Word of the Day is entirely up to you,” Bonnibel shrugged, doing her best to look innocent. “Keila’s car’s not here,” she noted as they pulled into the lot. “So she’s not coming?”
Marceline shook her head, the smile frozen, turning melancholy. “No. She said she had to study today to make up for how much time she’d lost or something. Then I think she said she was going to the movies.”
“Her loss. So is dinner on you tonight then?” Bonnie stared at her, wondering what Marceline would take from that. She often had the weirdest reactions to Bonnie’s comments.
This time it was pink creeping across her face that was the only outward response. “I-If you want… I guess?”
She laughed. “I’m kidding. Since you’re being so generous and opening up with the sharing of things, I think I’ll buy you dinner.”
Marceline made a strangled sound. “It’s no big deal,” she rasped, the pink in her face darkening. “I’ll eat when I get home.”
Bonnie clucked her tongue as the car ground to a halt. “Nonsense.” Marceline took a little longer to get out than usual, but once she’d joined Bonnie and they were heading for the Café, she relaxed. Just a little. “It’ll be nice.”
Marceline blew out a big gust of air, holding the door open for Bonnie, lips pressed tightly together as if she thought that would prevent words from falling out. Obviously, keeping her mouth shut was preventing her from speaking, but Marceline often suffered from the worst cases of word salad known to man. This time she resisted the urge to barf whatever she was trying so desperately to keep trapped behind her teeth.
“Marceline!” Ivy cried, shuffling over to them. “And Bonnibel. This is wonderful; it’s good to see you, dear. I didn’t expect Marceline to bring someone with her.”
“She’s a pest,” Marceline grouched between gritted teeth. “She made me bring her.”
“Don’t be such a sour-puss, Marceline,” Bonnie said, allowing Ivy to envelope her in a warm hug. “You’re always on about how music is your life and it’s high time I got to witness it firsthand.”
When Ivy released Bonnie to greet Marceline in a similar fashion, the older lady did the most surprising thing. She slapped Marceline on the shoulder and glared. “Do you see that?” she asked, eyebrows arched, demanding. “She thinks you’re good at music too. Let her be nice.”
Bonnie was going to say something about how she wasn’t entirely convinced Marceline was good at music just yet, but when she saw the look on her friend’s face she closed her mouth. It was the strangest play of emotions she’d ever seen; part confusion, part doubt, part wonder. Then Marceline scowled and the moment was over.
She brushed past Ivy with a brusque, “We’ll see about that. Nobody really believes it’s a worthwhile investment you know?”
Ivy glanced at Bonnie as if expecting some sort of back-up. Bonnibel could only splay her hands and shrug, a ‘what can I do’ gesture if ever there was one. The woman sighed and headed back to the counter with Bonnie trailing silently, casting worried glances at Marceline.
“Are you staying for dinner, dear?” Ivy enquired in a much more temperate tone.
“Yes, we’ll be eating here tonight, Ivy,” she replied, sliding up onto a stool. “Can I ask why you’ve never let her perform before? You say she’s good, right?”
Ivy bobbed her grey head absently. “Oh yes, she and Keila have been practicing their music for years. They use Louis’s garage and I live next door. I’ve been hearing music pouring from the Amsel’s household since they were anklebiters.”
Bonnibel blinked, taking a moment to place the name. Louis… Amsel…? Oh yes, Keila’s mother. “Then why not let them play before?” she pressed.
“Rock music isn’t something I’d generally like in my café, dear,” she said with a chuckle and an eye roll. “I agreed to let Marceline play on the condition that she didn’t blow anyone’s ears out. Mellow is what I stressed.”
“I bet that was grudging compliance,” Bonnie muttered, swinging her chair around to watch as Marceline settled herself at the piano in the corner. “Where’s the piano from?”
Ivy waved a hand in the air. “My late husband played. I could never throw it away.”
One of the few other people in the café stood from his table and wandered over, ordering something from Ivy. Bonnie slid a menu over the countertop and mused through the offerings even though she knew they’d both get the same thing they always did. Her concentration focused maybe seventy percent on that, while the rest of her watched Marceline. All one hundred percent of her snapped to attention when Marceline put her fingers to the keys, however.
Her jaw dropped.
She’d heard the other girl pluck chords on one of her assorted guitars on numerous occasions, but she’d never actually heard her play. It was mesmerising the way the room filled with the soft notes. The menu whispered to the bench, forgotten. Marceline didn’t sing along with it, simply allowed her fingers to dance across the ivory, a string of sounds echoing forth in possibly the most beautiful melody Bonnibel had ever heard. It almost sounded classical… but… this was Marceline.
Her whole body swayed as she played, eyes closed. She didn’t have any sheet music, Bonnie realised. Ivy appeared beside her then but she didn’t notice until the lady spoke.
“She’s good, yes?”
Bonnie nodded. “Wow. Who knew?”
Ivy let a secret smile flicker across her face and pushed a glass of water at Bonnibel. The question didn’t need an answer. Not many people were aware of this particular side of Marceline, evidently.
It was so easy to get lost in watching Marceline perform. She faded in and out of songs, some Bonnie knew and some she didn’t, but her fingers rarely stilled. Not once did she sing along to what she was playing, but on the odd occasion, the lyrics filled Bonnibel’s mind without so much as a thought. So thoroughly engrossed she became that she didn’t realise the time until her watch beeped at her.
She glanced down. Four-forty-five, it read. It was set at the same time every day so they had a fifteen minute warning during the week before Marceline’s compulsory two hour study sessions were done. As if she’d been waiting for that exact signal, the final notes trilled, wobbled, faded and Marceline closed the piano.
With a tiny little smile, Marceline strode over and slumped onto the stool beside Bonnie. It was uncertainty that was etched into the line of her shoulders and the way her face kept trying to frown. She glanced once at Bonnie, the hesitance loud and clear, and then snatched the glass of water Ivy set down as if glad to have something to do with her hands.
“That’s was awesome,” Bonnie breathed. “I am definitely coming to watch more often.”
Marceline’s face exploded into a grin. “Yeah?”
“Definitely. You do the unexpected so well that I can’t begin to imagine how mind-blowing it must be when you play something rock and roll.” Bonnie’s comment was carefully offhand, but elicited the desired response.
Marceline went red again and Ivy started laughing. “Seems like you made quite the impression. Next Saturday is Trivia Night,” Ivy told her around her cackles. “We often have karaoke too, it’s necessary on the evening before our dear deacon gives his sermon.”
“Yeah,” Marceline growled. “And then we all spend Sunday thinking on our sins and generally feeling lousy about ourselves.”
“Isn’t there a pub in town,” Bonnie wondered. “Why do you have it out here?”
Ivy smiled again. “We don’t have a liquor license here at the Café,” she said. “So all the underage kids come out here to enjoy themselves. My point was, if you want to watch Marceline rock then next week is probably your best bet.”
Marceline muttered something then but Bonnie didn’t catch it. Ivy clearly did and it made her smile widen. Bonnibel just blinked.
“So you’re going to let her do something… louder?” she asked, just to make sure.
“Of course,” Ivy concurred. “But only on Trivia Night.”
At that, Marceline beamed. “Sweet. Can we eat now?”
“I took the liberty of making your usual,” Ivy replied happily. She pottered off to get their plates. She muttered to herself the whole way.
Marceline twitched, fingers playing with the corner of a napkin. Her mouth opened a few times but nothing came out. Eventually, Bonnie grabbed her hand (mostly to stop her fidgeting). “You’re really good, Marceline,” she said. “And I swear I’m not just saying that.”
As if those words were what she’d been waiting for, Marceline slumped, relief now plain on her face. “Seriously though?”
Bonnie could only smile at her. “Seriously.” She nudged Marceline’s shoulder with hers. “We should do this more often. I don’t mind letting you off some afternoons early if you promise to play for me.”
“Uh…” Marceline slurred ever so eloquently. “Are you for real right now?”
“Absolutely. I’d never have expected you to be able to pull off classical…ish as well as you do. You never know, if academia turns out not to be for you, showbiz seems like the logical alternative.” She nodded, lidding her eyes, trying her best to look serious. When a smile crawled across her face though Bonnie knew it hadn’t worked.
Although Marceline smiled so brightly she could’ve outshined the sun. “You’re not so bad, Banner. For a nerd.”
She laughed. “And for someone so irritating, you’re not so bad yourself.”
When Ivy chased them out an hour later they were both still grinning. As they sang their way back home Bonnie found herself hoping this became a weekly thing.