“Hi, friend!” Louisa nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard Zelda’s voice, and quickly hurried to pause her podcast and pull her earphones out of her ears.
“Hi, Z,” said Louisa, trying to calm her racing heart. It was just Zelda, it wasn’t some random threat.
“Sorry,” said Zelda. “Did I scare you?”
“Nah, I was just caught up in my own little world,” said Louisa with a grin. “You know how it is.”
“Well, I thought I’d find you here,” said Zelda. “I saw your horse.”
“Is she still looking after Justin?” asked Louisa.
“He said he likes to bury his hands in her fluffy mane,” said Zelda. “Anyway, about that triple date…”
“Oh, did you talk to Jack about it?” asked Louisa. She knew that Zelda would definitely be down for a triple date, and that she’d convince Justin to come along.
“Yeah, I finally convinced him,” said Zelda. “I said that Lisa would probably pay for everything, I hope that’s alright.”
“She doesn’t mind,” said Louisa. “She’s like a Jorvegian sugar mama, always buying me horses and things. She’s been buying me things since she bought me a stable girl after I passed out in the hayloft.”
“Aww, she worries about you,” said Zelda. “I’m probably the only one in a relationship where it’s the other way around.”
“In our little group, anyway,” said Louisa. “But where should we go for this triple date?”
“Where do you and Lisa normally go? You must know some nice places,” said Zelda. “Her being a celebrity and all.”
“Actually, we consider McJarls a romantic dinner date if we’re eating at a restaurant,” said Louisa. “Usually I cook at home for us.”
“Oh,” said Zelda. “Well, what about Leonardo’s?”
“Lisa doesn’t like going there for dates,” said Louisa. “Leonardo always wants her to sing because she used to perform there with her band before she got famous. She likes the guy, but she wants to enjoy her date, you know?”
“That makes sense,” said Zelda. “Kinda. Justin doesn’t like seeing people he knows either.”
“What about Aideen’s plaza?” asked Louisa. “I don’t know Jack that well but I know that he likes being among nature. There are birds and probably some squirrels there.”
“I thought you helped him with the Dino digs,” said Zelda.
“We only spoke when I went there at night to get his horse and backpack. He was always asleep by the time I finished,” said Louisa.
“Then you two should talk more,” said Zelda. “Maybe on the date? And yes, Aideen’s plaza sounds perfect. Should we meet there or at the bus stop?”
“Bus stop,” said Louisa.
The six of them gathered together at the bus stop the next day, leaving their five horses to graze in Fort Pinta (James had suggested charging them for the favour, Lisa had suggested punting him off the cliff. James had reluctantly agreed to let the horses stay there). For the most part, the group was quiet, though Zelda tried to spark conversation.
“I know, why don’t we talk about how we first met our loves?” Zelda finally suggested on the bus, turning around on her seat to look at the others.
“I met Lisa when she saved me from the Dark Riders,” said Louisa.
“After you rescued me from Pandoria,” said Lisa, squeezing Louisa’s hand.
“I just woke the tree,” said Louisa, swinging her foot and wincing when it collided with the heater beneath the seat.
“That was pretty much the same thing,” said Lisa. “And then we went out for coffee after learning the song of Aideen, and we’ve been together since.”
“I met Justin when I first came to Moorland,” said Zelda. “Like everyone else. But I guess I made an impression.”
“Generally, saving someone would leave a good impression,” said Justin. “But you went beyond. Leaving a horse to keep me company is nice, but… Z comes over all the time to get me out of a funk, and she reunited me with my horse.”
“Ydris was the first one in Jorvik to call me by my preferred name,” said Jack. “I know it doesn’t seem that grand, but-“
“It was just as life-changing,” said Zelda. “Your relationship is just as important, even if the stakes aren’t as high.”
“Yeah,” said Louisa, then blushed as all eyes turned to her. “I mean, I don’t know what it feels like exactly, but being accepted as you are is really important.”
“Yes,” said Ydris, stroking Jack’s cheek and making him smile. “You never know how you can change someone else’s life just by being nice to them.”
“You two are relationship goals, honestly,” said Zelda. “Actually, make that four.”
“Gee, thanks,” said Justin.
“We all are,” said Louisa. “And it’s so good to hang out with friends who are all attached and currently have their partner with them.”
“Yep, no awkwardness here,” said Zelda. “Except the awkwardness of having two antisocial people.”
“I’m just shy,” said Louisa.
“And I prefer animal company,” said Jack.
“Same,” said Louisa, then fiddled with her necklace as Jack looked at her.
“If I ever can’t find her, you can almost guarantee that she’s over at the Hightower farm petting the chickens,” said Lisa.
“I’ve been looking after them while most of the Hightowers are away,” said Louisa.
“And I’m sure that looking after them includes many hours of petting and reading to them,” said Lisa. Louisa blushed, settling into her girlfriend’s embrace.
Once they changed to the tram, the conversation was a bit livelier. Jack had mentioned that he’d kept the fox, and he and Louisa had finally managed to strike up a conversation talking about their pets.
“You have how many horses?” asked Jack.
“A hundred and seventeen now,” said Louisa, still playing with her necklace. “They have a big pasture though, and most of the time Spirit gets out and runs with the wild ponies on South Hoof.”
“I hope you’re paying your stable girl well,” said Jack.
“Are you paying her well, Lisa?” asked Louisa.
“Yeah, and it’s not one girl doing all the work, don’t worry,” said Lisa. “There are a few of them.”
“Good,” said Jack. “As long as you care about all the horses.”
“I know them all by name,” said Louisa.
“Oh yeah? Then list them,” said Jack.
Louisa spent the rest of the trip listing off the names, breeds, colours, and personalities of her horses. She was just up to the last one as the group walked past the fountain in Aideen’s plaza.
“…And finally Dany, my palomino Andalusian named after Danyearas Targaryen from A Song of Ice and Fire,” Louisa finished, then exhaled. “Wow, that was an exercise.”
“Okay, so you do know and care about your horses,” said Jack, smiling. “Good.”
“That’s also the most you’ve talked all day,” said Zelda. “Both of you. Good job.” She patted them on the head, receiving a disgruntled look from Jack and a laugh and grin from Louisa.
“Oh good, the place with the second-best ice cream in Jorvik,” said Lisa, seeing Café Harpan.
“It seemed like the best option,” said Louisa. “Zelda, did you bring that picnic blanket?”
“I have one,” said Ydris. He took his jacket off, flapped it once as if it were a sheet, and suddenly it was a checkered picnic blanket spread out beneath the large tree outside the café.
“You look smaller without that on,” said Jack. “Scrawny. Makes me feel fat.”
“I feel the same way around Lisa,” said Louisa. “She’s too damn skinny.”
“You sound like every old woman in Jorvik,” said Lisa, laughing. “So, who’s ordering lunch?”
“You mean apart from you?” asked Louisa. “You watch, she’ll ask for the chocolate cake even though it’s not on the menu and they’ll have it.”
“I’ll order,” said Zelda. “Jack, what do you want?”
“Just a sandwich I guess,” said Jack, looking at the menu.
“I will have the rye one,” said Ydris, looking at the menu over his boyfriend’s shoulder. “I’m planning on trying some new magic today, so I’ll need my energy.”
“Okay, so one of each of the sandwiches, and I want to try this pink soda,” said Zelda.
“I prefer something more predictable,” said Justin. “Like the orange soda.”
“And strawberry ice cream,” said Zelda.
“Are you sharing with me, babe?” asked Lisa, looking to her girlfriend.
“Yeah,” said Louisa. “And get me a cappuccino with full cream milk and a strawberry macaron please.”
“Done,” said Lisa, giving her a kiss. She got up, leaving her girlfriend alone with the men. Louisa picked at the picnic blanket, then at the grass after remembering that the blanket was actually Ydris’ jacket.
“Did you use up all your talking earlier?” asked Justin.
“Yes, there’s a finite amount,” said Louisa. “Sorry, I guess I’m just more comfortable around girls.”
“Well, I am the only one here close to your age,” said Justin.
“Do you have a good chat with my horses when I leave them with you?” asked Louisa, looking at him.
“They’re not very talkative but they are good company,” said Justin.
“Good,” said Louisa.
“Your girlfriend won’t tell the other Soul Riders about me being here, will she?” asked Ydris.
“No, she doesn’t like mixing that part of her life with the personal stuff,” said Louisa.
“Good,” said Ydris. “Now I can relax.”
“Leave that grass alone,” said Jack, and Louisa immediately stopped tearing up the grass.
“Sorry,” said Louisa.
“So, what other pets do you have?” asked Jack.
“All the cats Freja has ever found,” said Louisa. “And both toygers that are sold in Jorvik. A lot of the cats, really, and some puppies. That and some seals and all the frogs and pigs.”
“Cool,” said Jack.
“I know Zelda said you like being alone in the wilderness with animals but do you think you’d mind if I tagged along?” asked Louisa. “I can be quiet, and I’ll just sit there and read. You won’t even know I’m there.”
“I can believe that,” said Justin. “Remember when you first came to Jorvik, and you just sat around reading most of the time?”
“Oh yeah, I used to pat that cat,” said Louisa.
“You mean Jenna’s mean old thing?” asked Jack.
“Yeah, he wasn’t mean. He just didn’t like to be around too many people,” said Louisa. “I used to sit up in the hayloft reading and patting him. He’d sit in my lap between the book and my face because that wasn’t in the way at all.”
“I do wonder what happened to him,” said Ydris.
“He was an old cat,” said Louisa with a shrug. “Maybe he just died of old age.” She looked a little sad at that thought.
“Actually, I might know,” said Justin. “I don’t like to talk about my time there, but uh… on the oil rig, there were these two cats hanging around. I think Sabine took them back to be her ‘evil mastermind’ cats to pet.” Louisa snorted.
“Sounds like her,” said Louisa.
“I hope she treated them well,” said Jack. “That’s not really a good place for cats.”
“Please don’t organise a rescue mission for two cats,” said Ydris. “I don’t like it when you risk your life.”
“I’m down for a mission to rescue two kitties,” said Louisa. “Jenna’s cat can go live with Jack if he wants.”
“That sounds really dangerous,” said Justin. Upon hearing Lisa returning, he turned around and said, “Lisa, your girlfriend’s planning on doing something dangerous.”
“What is it this time?” asked Lisa, handing Louisa her drink and placing down the food.
“We want to go rescue Jenna’s and Steve’s cats,” said Jack.
“I am against the idea,” said Ydris.
“Yeah, is it really worth risking your life to go get two cats?” asked Lisa, sitting down beside her girlfriend.
“Yes,” said Louisa, taking a sip of her drink.
“We’ll take our first horses just in case we need to make a quick getaway,” said Jack.
“That does make me feel a little better,” said Ydris.
“I’m still worried,” said Lisa. “We’ll talk about this after.”
“Okay but I’m not changing my mind,” said Louisa. Jack chuckled, picking bits of bread off his sandwich and giving it to the pigeons that had flocked to the area upon smelling food.
“Hey, I bought that for you to eat,” said Zelda. “Not to feed to the birds.” Jack took a big bite of the sandwich.
“Happy?” asked Jack with his mouth full.
“Ew,” said Zelda. Lisa laughed.
“This pink soda doesn’t have an ingredients list,” said Justin, holding up Zelda’s bottle of drink and looking at it.
“Yeah, it’s some secret recipe,” said Zelda. She opened the lid and took a sip. “Tastes like strawberry. Mystery solved.”
“Can I have a taste?” asked Justin, holding his hand out. He took a sip. “No, that tastes like bubblegum to me.”
“Now it’s raspberry,” said Zelda. They passed the bottle back and forth, coming up with a different taste each time. Cotton candy, watermelon, pink lemonade…
“Maybe a magician made that,” said Ydris.
“Oh, speaking of weird food magic, how the heck did you manage to get something that wasn’t on the menu, Lisa?” asked Zelda.
“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m kinda famous,” said Lisa, gesturing to herself. “I am using my fame for great evil.”
“Getting cake and buying horses for your girlfriend,” said Louisa, smiling at her and sneaking a bite of Lisa’s cake slice when she wasn’t looking.
“Hey,” said Lisa. “I’ll bite you.” Louisa looked about to say something, but then remembered where she was and stayed silent, merely poking her tongue out at her girlfriend.
“I’m glad to see that you came out of your shell a little,” said Ydris, letting Jack lean against him.
“Yeah, well, I’m befriending birds here and I’m bonding with someone over a shared interest. Plus you and Zelda are here, which helps,” said Jack.
“Good,” said Ydris, giving him a kiss. “You can eat that, you know. And too much bread isn’t good for birds.”
“Yeah, Jack, listen to your boyfriend,” said Zelda. “You’ve gotta eat.”
“Eating now,” said Jack with a sigh, but he knew that he’d thank her for it later.
“You should probably have a rye sandwich too,” said Lisa to her girlfriend. “I know you’re going to go off and work after this.”
“The Spirit shop is only around for a limited time,” said Louisa.
“I’ll buy you all the stuff anyway,” said Lisa. “You know I will.”
“Maybe I should buy you something too,” said Justin to Zelda.
“Like what?” asked Zelda. “A ring?” Justin turned bright red and stammered, but Zelda just laughed. “I’m joking, you goof. You don’t need to buy me anything.” She smiled at him, and Justin smiled back at her before kissing her.
At last, after a few hours of chatting and lazing about in the sun and filling their bellies, the group got up. Ydris turned the picnic blanket back into his coat with the same shake, and then he took Jack’s hand.
“Are we going anywhere else now or just going home?” asked Zelda.
“Home,” said Louisa. “I might even have the day off from work, I’ll just train because Dany could do with the exercise.”
“Good,” said Lisa. “I knew socialising would tire you out.”
“Oh good, so it’s not just me,” said Jack. “I’m going to go to my second home and pass out for a few hours.”
“Sounds like a plan,” said Ydris. “I’ll let you sleep while I do some of the boring bookwork for magic. I need to write down spells, or I’ll forget them.”
“Well, I had a good day,” said Zelda. “It wasn’t as awkward as I thought it’d be.”
“That’s mostly thanks to you,” said Louisa, smiling at her. “Thanks, Z.” It felt weird having to pronounce the letter in the American way for Zelda’s nickname, but she was used to it now.
“Always happy to help,” said Zelda.
The tram and bus rides back to Fort Pinta were very quiet, but it was companionable silence. Jack almost nodded off in Ydris’ arms, and Louisa stared quietly out the window. She was tired, but happy. She didn’t know if Jack would take her up on her offer to sit quietly in the wilderness somewhere, or if he still wanted to go on a rescue mission for those two kitties, but she was happy that at least they’d talked more now and found some common interests.