A Chance to Relax
The houseboat swayed with the night waves, its decorations bathing the water and the docks in multicolored light.
Dozens of people had noticed Vivian’s boat by now, decorated with salvaged LEDs in yellow and red and green, some formed into a neon green sign facing the beach that read, “Come in!”
The girl in the purple cloak was the one hundred and twelfth person to take the invitation, and given that they were alone now, Vivian thought she might be the last. That would be a little disappointing, she thought, even as her arms and head ached a bit. It had been nice to treat everyone who came, without reservation, to a bit of hot chocolate and a little chat.
“So,” began the girl at the table, whose name was Matsumi, as she put both of her hands around a tall, steaming mug. “I want to know, why are you doing this?”
It was helping the town get through a cold and dry winter, and with the drop in spiritual ennui, Vivian felt better already. But she didn’t want to get into the second part, at least; it was like everyone had forgotten the rumors about her being a witch, which were true, and the way they treated her now also made her feel better.
“Just to be nice,” Vivian said, sitting back down at the table with her own mug of hot chocolate. “Things have been tough. You know.”
Vivian knew that Matsumi knew, in fact. She’d seen the darkness inside her. It was a normal amount, like the carpet of her heart was a bit dirty and someone had left stains on the bottom of the wall. But it wasn’t like Eleanor’s heart, boiling and dark. Matsumi was just a grumpy teenager. But she was working hard, and life hadn’t always rewarded her in equal measure. That’d cast a shadow on anyone’s heart.
“What do I know? What do you know?” Matsumi squinted at Vivian through the steam over her mug.
Vivian laughed, a ringing laugh, bright except for the scratching sounds it caught as it left her throat. “Is this a philosophical question? I don’t think that’ll help you relax.”
“Just answer the question.”
Vivian smiled and folded her legs, bobbing her knee against the bottom of the table. “Well, I know the zoo has been closed for a month, and a lot of people were hoping they’d get to visit. I know they ran out of coffee beans at Cozy’s place because of a vampire on the roads.”
She gestured out the window, at the glitzy shops along the waterfront. “It’s hard to see, because Moss Bay’s still going along as usual, but these things add up. It’s not a hard winter, like you might have on the road, but it’s an inconvenient one. People don’t like that, so I decided to bring a little joy back into their lives.”
And her own as well, Vivian thought, considering how closely intertwined they were. Being a witch wasn’t glamorous or easy, unless maybe you were Eleanor – and she was born with demon blood in her veins and a chip on each shoulder, so of course she made it look easy.
“But what do you get out of it? Come on.” Matsumi leaned her elbows against the table, pushing her shoulders up and making herself look bigger. It didn’t work quite so well, though, with her face still dipped down into the steam from the mug.
“No one does anything for free these days,” she said, “unless they’re an idiot. And you don’t seem like an idiot.”
“Well,” Vivian replied, “maybe I am an idiot. But the fact you’re enjoying the hot chocolate is payment enough for me. And that’s that.”
That part, at least, was true. That was the benefit she derived from this whole arrangement: the better off everyone else was, the better off she was, in every way.
“So this isn’t to drug me?” Matsumi pressed one red fingertip against the side of the mug. “Or… to fatten me up, so you can cook me, or something? You’re not doing some freaky cannibal shit, right?”
Vivian laughed, again, and hoped that this laugh didn’t sound too derisive or nervous.
“I’d have been arrested by now, you know,” Vivian said, “and I try to stay out of prison. Just like everyone else. Say, would you like a cookie?”
Matsumi squinted at her for a few more seconds, no harder than she had before, before finally leaning back and taking her mug with her.
Vivian tried to conceal her sigh of relief by exhaling through her nose as she got up and walked over to the deep blue tin full of sugar cookies on the shelf. It had taken some effort to get Matsumi to relax, but now, finally, she was. Which was just as well; seeing so many guests had taken its toll on Vivian, no matter how much of a toll it had also prevented.
She pulled two cookies out of the tin, deciding maybe she’d have one too.