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“How do you know each other?”

 

The question is simple enough—or, at the very least, it should be a simple one.

 

How does Pippa know Hecate? They grew up together, she could say, the story of two young witches meeting at school and becoming the best of friends one the young witch before her could easily understand and relate to. Yes, a simple answer that would be.

 

And yet, that is not the first response that comes to mind.

 

She was my first love.

 

It catches on the jagged edges of the shattered bits of her heart that have remained untouched, the truth, the full truth, unable to escape the cage Pippa has banished those thoughts to.

 

And just like that, a simple question becomes anything but. Memories of a life before flash through her mind, time immeasurable as it slows and she sees, so incredibly vivid, all that once was. She stands in the top tower of Cackle’s Academy, in young Mildred Hubble’s room, but her mind has escaped her body, has traveled through time, back to a place she normally would not revisit for it pains her too much to do so.

 

She is young again, an adolescent with dreams bigger than the eyes that shine brightly as they watch the most remarkable witch of her year perform yet another spell levels beyond what any other student in the school could perform with such ease.

 

She is enraptured by the power of the girl on the other side of the table at which she sits, her own magic feeling like it just might break through her skin and burst in the air around her like billions of burning stars, her breath held inside her throat, muscles tense, every single molecule that makes up Pippa’s body, in that moment, only knowing of one thing, and that one thing is Hecate Hardbroom in all her understated brilliancy.

 

To watch Hecate do anything magical is to be offered a treat, Pippa has believed from the very first day the tall, shy, quiet girl arrived at her school and had been made to display her abilities before the class. Even then, when they were only twelve, Pippa had known there was something special about Hecate, something magnificent, and it had not taken long for others to notice exactly how gifted Hecate was.

 

It had made her prey, that talent, the rawness of her magic, the power inside of her that Hecate had yet to learn to fully control but could wield with more skill than students years above her year showed. The other girls envied her because of it. The praises, the extra attention paid to Hecate by even their most strictest mistress, they craved it but were always compared to Hecate, constantly falling short when the mark set for them was so high. Perhaps they would have known better than to wish to have everything Hecate had if they truly knew what that entailed. If only they had known how much Hecate hated being put on a pedestal, Pippa always thought, maybe they wouldn’t have felt so jealous.

 

Pippa knew. Pippa made it her mission to know everything about Hecate. Because Hecate was not competition to Pippa, not the weird girl who read too many books and didn’t fit in with the rest of their class. Hecate was...

 

Hecate was...

 

Time unfreezes. The world continues to spin. The cool air of Mildred’s room whispers across her heated neck.

 

Pippa blinks, mind and body once again in the same place, the thought of Hecate still so vivid, however, eyes focused on only Pippa when she looks up from her cauldron with a satisfied gleam that quite possibly could be Pippa’s undoing at any age.

 

She almost chokes on her breath when she inhales. Emotions she wishes to remain hidden prickle the corner of her eyes, forcing her to glance upward as a way to compose herself and not reveal how even the thought of Hecate can make her feel unbalanced and less than the confident, put together witch she likes to present herself as to the world.

 

She was my first love.  

 

Pippa aches in ways that she would never wish for another to hurt, but she mustn’t show it, mustn’t allow decades-old pain the control over her that it once had. No, she mustn’t.

 

“We were friends once,” she says in answer to the question, the simple question that is not quite all that simple. It is both truth and in ways a lie—not so much a lie as it is a simplification, one that is appropriate for the discussion and one she needs for herself. She takes another breath, repeating the word friend in her mind.

 

Friend.

 

Friend.

 

Friend.

 

“But you’re not anymore?” Mildred asks with intuition that reminds Pippa of a young Hecate.

 

In this school, this room, there is no escaping Hecate it seems, and Pippa doesn’t think it wise to allow herself any more trips down memory lane. So she answers, “I’d rather not talk about it,” with a shake of her head, hoping that is enough to eradicate the thoughts.

 

It is not.

 

Oh, of course it isn't. When has it ever been easy to push aside any of her feelings about Hecate? Never, that is when. And so, despite her words, she finds herself crossing over to Mildred’s bed and taking a seat, vulnerable heart far too open for the words that rush out of her mouth with very little thought.

 

“It was a broomstick water-skiing display. We’d been practicing all term,” she tells Mildred, turning to look her in the eye for the briefest of moments before she begins giving in, letting the flashes of memories play in her head, “and then suddenly on the day of the competition, she didn’t show up.”

 

The sadness she felt that day creeps its way back to the forefront of her mind. The rejection that had been growing stronger and stronger even before that reached its boiling point when she finally accepted Hecate had truly abandoned her. Alone. In front of a crowd, dressed to perfection to put on the show of the year, Pippa had felt utterly alone, gutted, the space beside her where her best friend should have stood empty.

 

“Let’s just say, a doubles display with only one of you doesn’t go well,” she tells Mildred, emotion building inside of her, wild like the sea during a storm. She attempts to push all of it aside again, into a neat box, not willing to allow it to unravel and make a mess of her.

 

Without fully noticing that it is Mildred’s donut, the very same donut she had brought the girl, she reaches for the closest thing to her that can soothe a bit of the ache that’s burning inside of her. But the sugary treat does not stop the images of Hecate from attacking her, pulling her in, transporting her once more to the past, not to the empty space where Hecate should have been for their routine, no, but to where they had sat together the week before after rehearsals.

 

She is alone again, but this time she is alone with Hecate, and there has never been a better way to be alone. None of the other girls remain, no teacher, not a single witch to witness the way Hecate’s cheeks blush from exertion and something far more private when Pippa lets raven locks free from their plaits and whispers how pretty she thinks Hecate is when she lets her hair down.

 

Pippa thrills, belly warm, heart racing, looking at Hecate, perhaps a bit too close but unable to look away. She feels almost sick around Hecate sometimes, sick with the intensity of her feelings, her love, unspeakably tangled and twisted on the inside. Sitting on a wooden bench in the garden, her thigh pressed to Hecate’s, so close that the heat from one body transfers to the other and threatens to burn their clothes, her belly is an absolute mess of nerves.

 

The past is the present, and the present is the past, and Pippa doesn’t know for a moment if she truly sits on the bed beside the young pupil or on the bench as the sun dips behind the trees and the evening reminds her and Hecate they cannot stay away from the rest of the school forever.

 

Does her hand help balance her as she holds her weight up on it and the mattress, or does it boldly slide over Hecate’s, her fingers greedy for the touch of skin far cooler than her own, needing to fit into the empty spaces between Hecate’s digits and curl down around her hand, holding it, safe, hers, even if only for that moment?

 

Is it the donut and its sweetness she chews and swallows down that nearly lodges itself in her throat? Or, is it the words she wishes she could say, the ones she has tried time and time again to tell Hecate but can never get out for fear that Hecate would see her differently and no longer wish to be her friend that she can't swallow around?

 

She was my first love.

 

You are the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

 

She was my first love.

 

You are the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

 

Past or present?

 

The ache she feels in her chest is too painful for her not to know the truth. Sitting on that bench, nervous, simplifying her words and feelings so they weren’t too much, weren’t too revealing, just enough to have Hecate know she was important but not enough to know Pippa was impossibly in love with her, there had been hope in her heart. But this pain...

 

She has felt loss. She no longer hopes without simultaneously experiencing pain, and it is that ache in her chest which reminds her where she is currently sitting and what shall remain in the past.

 

“Still,” she continues, as though she is not fighting her memories, fighting to remain there with Mildred and not revisit the last happy memory she has of being with Hecate, “it’s all in the past now.”

 

Yes, the past. She breathes out a sigh. The sugar on the inside of her cheek doesn’t taste like the saltiness of the tears she cried every night Hecate ignored her without even the simplest of explanation after the night they spent holding hands until Miss Broomhead called for Hecate, and for the moment, it is enough for her to push the thoughts of Hecate back, back, back to the places she knows she should not revisit.

 

But how much longer will she be able to keep those thoughts in the dark, cold places inside of her now that they have found a way to escape again?

 

How much longer will she be able to go on before she either lets the unanswered questions and the feeling of being pushed away consume her or she confronts Hecate about it?

 

Another thirty years or so? Oh, how terrible that would be. It just won’t do, she knows.

 

Perhaps...

 

She shouldn’t hope.

 

She shouldn’t wish.

 

But maybe. Maybe, maybe they have been brought together again for a reason, and if that’s the case, perhaps it is time she either lets go for good or they, both she and Hecate, find a way to fix all the damage that has kept them apart all this time.

 

Could they?

 

Should they?

 

Pippa likes to think they very well could, if only Hecate also believes they are worth the chance. And it is that line of thinking that proves she is still hopeful, still wanting, still wishing after all this time. 

 

She was my first love, and perhaps the only one who truly mattered. 

 

The question is, has always been, how does Hecate feel about her? Perhaps, before this trip comes to an end, she'll muster up enough courage to find out once and for all.