Like most people, Agnes Pullinsworth was one-of-a-kind in a number of utterly mundane ways. For instance, she is the only human in Skymoore to ever speak the elvish sentence “tohli duv ildamayn ardvnas.” She is the only living person in history to ever set foot in both Rollin’ Roland’s, the bakery in Castiron and Rollin’ Roland’s, the bowling alley in Skymoore. And, perhaps least interestingly but most relevant to the story at hand, she was the first customer to ever visit Odd & Ends.
She hated it, and she left
Donovan Allman had considered this something of a defeat, and kept it in the back of his mind that one day he would prove to Agnes Pullinsworth, whose name he did not know, that his shop was not some foolish waste of time.
In time, he did. It started with volunteering at the Church of Sol once or twice a week, helping out at their daily lunches for the underprivileged. Agnes also volunteered there, and although she remembered Donovan as the rude man with the strange shop, it was clear to her that he was nicer than he first seemed.
Through conversations here and there over several weeks, Donovan pieced together that Agnes had wanted to be a chef, but a scorned lover had magically cursed her long ago to have poor eyesight that could not be corrected. On top of that, she was naturally cursed with a terrible memory, so whenever she thought up a recipe, she had to write it down. But of course, she couldn’t read her recipes, so it didn’t do her very much good.
“…and that’s when he said to me that you could enchant a cookbook that would write my notes for me and read them back to me when I asked it to. I couldn’t believe it at first, I thought that was the most absurd thing I’d ever heard, but then Ulblech, one of my ex-husbands, was talking at my yearly reunion with them all, and he said that the mayor had some magic pen that writes on its own and that he got it at this shop, so I decided to give it a try. And it works! You two are the most thoughtful men in this whole city, I swear.”
Nestor Pinky, standing on the stool behind the register in Odd & Ends, had his hands on his hips and beamed with pride. “My pleasure, Ms. Pullinsworth!”
“Where is Mr. Allman? I’d like to thank him as well.”
“Oh, he’s out at the polardogm playoff with his friends. It took him some time, but he’s really gone from a homebody caterpillar to an outsidebody butterfly! I’ll be sure to pass that along, though.”
“Oh, bless him for being so involved in the community. You know my nephew is playing in that game. But I’ve taken up enough of your time; how much do I owe you, sir?”
“It’s on the house!”
“Nestor,” Karessa said as she came out from the back room, cookbook in hand, “Donovan says you have to stop doing that. It’s bad for business.”
“Right, yes, of course.”
“I appreciate the thought,” Agnes said. “But the book is worth any price you could put on it.”
“Let’s hope you mean that,” Karessa said as she handed her the billing form. Agnes’s face fell for a moment, but she left the store with a smile on her face and a restaurant in her future.
“Why so much?” Nestor asked when she had gone.
Karessa shrugged. “Capitalism? I mean, you’ve got a valuable service here. Skilled labor and all that. People it, so we are willing to pay for ought to charge for it. Pus I think Donovan is a bit desperate and putting that goodwill to use.”
Nestor pondered this for a moment. “I don’t really like it, but our shop is good, and keeping the shop open is good, so I guess making money to keep the shop open must also be good.”
“That’s the spirit, little guy.”
Nestor tucked the receipt beneath the register, adding “good job, Donovan!” beneath his signature. “It’s been great to see Donovan in such a good mood recently,” he said. “I was beginning to worry he didn’t like Skymoore very much, which is impossible, which would have meant that impossible things were possible, which would have meant that all my studies were meaningless and that the fabric of reality could come apart at any minute, and that really would’ve dampened my afternoon.”
Karessa stood on her toes and rested her elbows on the counter. “Well, I’m glad we don’t have that to worry about. But if he’s in a good mood, I haven’t seen it.”
Nestor almost frowned. “I’m sure you’ve just misinterpreted him.”
“Uh huh. Hey Nestor, can I ask you a favor?”
“Anything for a friend, Karessa, you know that.”
“Um, well, it’s more of a boss favor. Could get my next two payments…today?”
Nestor’s moustache twitched thoughtfully. “Oh, well. I’m not so sure about that, I’d have to check with Donovan. As you said earlier, we are running a business here, and money is, er, lacking.”
“Please. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important. And come on, I show up to work on time every day, I work hard, I almost never take breaks, and I tell everyone I know how great this place is. Plus, like you said, we’re friends.”
Just for a moment, Nestor frowned. Then he brightened. “Right you are, Ms. Plunderton. I’ll be right back!”
Nestor left, and he counted, and he returned.
“I’m sure Donovan won’t mind,” Karessa lied.
Later that afternoon, a big group of small children dressed in business attire came through the shop as part of a field trip for the Children of Affluent Skymoore Homeowners. They were on a tour of locally-owned small businesses that they or their parents might one day acquire and make into flavorless ingredients in the life-giving stew of industry.
The children were milling about excitedly, prodding various products and debating over which would be likely to turn the most profit for minimal work, and discussing how much they think Nestor and Karessa ought to be making. Their teacher insisted that it was rude to debate such things, as the poor did not enjoy such discussions like their parents did.
At one point, as the children were wrapping up their Q&A with Nestor (which included such questions as “why don’t you sell those cool new top toys,” “how come you’re letting the halfling girl stand around and do you dock her pay when she does,” and “if you have a robot at home why don’t you just create an army of them to do your work for you?”) and preparing to buy a few goodies before they left, the gnome turned to Karessa to ask her to guide them around the shop and make sure they didn’t break anything. Only, he couldn’t find her anywhere.
“Karessa? Karessa! Are you in here?”
Originally, the plan was to meet up with Lawrence at night, right after work, because Odd & Ends was right by Skymoore’s elevator. But knowing that she would be leaving Skymoore in a few hours made it very difficult to care about work at all, so she opted to surprise him with an early visit instead. Besides, she wanted more time to prepare, and take care of the situation with her mother.
On the way over, she couldn’t help but pass by her apartment one last time. The finality of it all failed to sink in. It didn’t feel real. This had all come so fast. She thought she would cry. She thought she would have second doubts or go say goodbye to her mother. Instead, she bought some peach-colored flowers from Dingleob Boelgind, the (literally) stone-skinned man who lived beneath her. They reminded her of Lawrence.
She hummed on her way to the Dufton Estate. No particular song, just the tune of her heart, which today was uncertain and repetitive. Then, as the mansion came into view, the music swelled. This was it. This was right. There would be no more judgement, no more doubt. Just her, and Lawrence, and the world.
Since she was on the magically-maintained guest list, the guards to the Dufton Estate waved Karessa in without a second thought. No one answered the door when she knocked. Dufton Estate was often empty on weekends, because their staff had the days off, and Lawrence’s parents were probably setting up some charity event. But the door was opened, so she went in.
Lawrence’s door was not unlocked, but she had a hairpin, a deft hand, and a plan to surprise him, so it soon was.
In retrospect, she wished the sound of the flowers hitting the floor had been louder. She did, after all, have an appreciation for theater. A thump or a crash or the tinkling of glass shattering into a hundred thousand pieces would have been appropriate. The flowers were almost silent.
Inside was Tillen, the gothic elf all other goths wished they could be. Only she didn’t look especially gothic today. Mostly because she wasn’t wearing much. And she seemed to be enjoying herself. With her, of course, was Lawrence Dufton, of whom much the same could be said.
“I’m sorry,” Karessa said, and closed the door. Except she wasn’t sorry. She was embarrassed and confused and hurt, but she wasn’t sorry. She took a breath, and she threw the door open. “What in all the hells.”
Lawrence and Tillen were still disheveled, but they were almost decent.
“I’m not blind or stupid. Please don’t treat me like a child. Not you, too. What is going on. I mean, I know what’s going on, but.” Karessa started to cry. “How could you. Either of you! I mean, I know you’re awful, Tillen, but.”
The elf walked out of the room without saying a word. The two simply stood. Lawrence was guilty. Karessa was shaking.
“I was going to leave with you.”
“You still are. This was nothing, this was…look, Karessa, this was just one last time, okay? I meant everything I said. Just you and me, and the world.”
“One last time? So this has happened before? A lot?”
“Yes, but it doesn’t mean anything, look, Karessa-”
“No! I get to talk! I don’t understand, but I don’t want you to explain. I just want it not to have happened. So what, are you just fooling around with every girl in Assembly? Giving us drugs and then, what? Is that all I was?”
Lawrence remained silent.
“Do you even believe any of it?” she asked.
“Yes! Yes. Of course.” He put his hands on Karessa’s shoulders and looked down at her. “Yes of course. And I know you do, too. I don’t think Tillen does. I don’t think half of them do. But you do. You’re special. And that’s why you should get this – this isn’t cheating. This isn’t a betrayal. We are all one within the Great Bear’s hall, Karessa. You’re me, I’m you, we’re Tillen and Grandolin and your mother and-”
Karessa shoved his hands away. “I’m nothing to the universe, but I thought I was everything to you.”
“Leave me alone!”
Tears blinded her as she ran aimlessly through Skymoore. She just wanted to be away. Away, away. She collapsed, breathless and sore, beneath the barren limbs of King Dundermoat, at the heart of Dewknot Gohere Park. There she sobbed, she heaved, and she slept.