Cassandra stumbled through the Back Door, pushing her way past the arcane barrier that kept the Library and whatever destination the Door was set to separate. No matter how many times she travelled that way, she would never really get used to the feeling. No matter how she tried to account for force or acceleration or resistance or her own body weight, she still ended up clumsily tripping through it.
But that made it more fun – it was a puzzle to solve, an equation that she hadn’t quite cracked yet.
She wasn’t, however, thinking of that particular fun at that moment. When she stumbled out of the Back Door, her face stung with the abrupt shift from the warmth of the Library to the cold outdoor winter air.
She was also distracted by nearly colliding with somebody as she charged through the Door.
“Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry!” Cassandra gasped and took a step back, brushing off the other woman’s arms as she did. “I swear, I’m usually better about exiting the Back Door, I haven’t ever knocked anybody over or anything, oh, god, I’m sorry…”
Karla – since that was who the other woman was, and she was not only expecting Cassandra’s arrival, but knew enough about magic and its unpredictability to know that something like that could happen – chuckled warmly.
“It’s alright, really; no harm done.” The corners of her eyes crinkled when she smiled. “I’m so glad you could make it.” She extended a lidded coffee cup towards Cassandra, and held a matching cup in her other hand.
Cassandra giggled nervously and smiled back, gratefully taking the offered drink. “I’m glad you invited me.” Karla winked, and Cassandra felt her face flush. Karla turned to be beside Cassandra, and with her now free hand, took Cassandra’s. She swung their clasped hands between them as she began leading them through the town of Havenport.
Truth be told, Cassandra was just as anxious for the day as she was excited, but she didn’t want to say anything to make it seem like she didn’t want to be here. Or like she didn’t want to be with Karla. Which she did! Want to, that is. It’s just that, well, she didn’t really have a lot of experience in this area.
Dating, to be specific. She didn’t have a lot of experience in dating. Or any, actually.
In her high school years, she was always on the outside, whether because of her being a prodigy with mathematics or because of her goth phase. Add in the pressure from her parents and her tumour diagnosis, and a romantic life was the furthest thing from her life. Even after she graduated she didn’t put herself out there. At the time, she probably would have just said that she wasn’t interested in anyone, or that she was too busy for dating, rather than admit that she didn’t want to fall in love with anyone if she was just going to die in a few years.
And then there was the whole thing last year, with her tumour reaching terminal status and the whole convoluted, emotional mess with Jenkins and Estrella. One desperate attempt at not dying without ever going on a damn date, in which she was rejected, and one warm and meaningful connection forged on the brink of death, in which she shared one kiss and then never saw her again.
Cassandra shook herself out of her thoughts and huffed out an exasperated breath, which plumed out into the cold air. It didn’t matter if she hadn’t ever been on a date before – what mattered was actually being here, in the moment, for her actual date.
She and Karla didn’t speak on their journey. They walked with their gloved fingers intertwined and their breath spiralling in steamy columns into the sky, comfortable and familiar beside one another despite how new their relationship was. They sipped at their drinks, which Cassandra was delighted to discover was white chocolate hot cocoa. The snow crunched under their boots, and more snow glittered and swirled gently down to join it. Cassandra remembered the snow globe, the one that the former Councilman Weeks had trapped that poor fairy in to protect Havenport.
This felt just about as magical.
Karla led them to the edge of town, where a makeshift ice rink had been set up for the winter. It looked like half the town was taking advantage of the beautiful weather. People of all ages were skating: couples with their arms around each other, teenagers showing off for their friends, little kids managing a few feet at a time before wobbling and falling over. On the far side of the rink, a dozen or so people had put together a hockey game, though occasionally the puck shot out across the pond and a chorus of “Not it!”s rang out, until whichever unlucky soul was the last to speak up had to break off and retrieve it.
Cassandra’s nervousness spiked from “present, but manageable” to “oh god, please no”.
“Skating?” she squeaked, and then winced at the squeak where she hadn’t intended for there to be a squeak. Karla, somehow, didn’t seem to notice. She just smiled and took Cassandra’s empty hot cocoa cup from her and chucked in into a nearby garbage can. She then walked over to a bench by the rink and set down the duffel bag that she’d been carrying with her.
Honestly, Cassandra should have figured it out sooner; the duffel bag was a bit obvious, in hindsight.
“Yeah! I used to skate all the time when I was a little girl, but I haven’t had the chance in ages. You remember what I was talking about when we first met?” She sat down and pulled off her boots. She dug two pairs of white figure skates out of her duffel bag and bent over to start working one set onto her feet. “I had really bad anxiety – I was scared to go anywhere or do anything, I was a wreck! But then Freddy and I moved out here, and it was so safe, and nothing bad could happen. Even then, I didn’t try to skate; I thought that wearing shoes with blades on them would just be pushing my luck.”
“What made you change your mind?”
“You did.” Cassandra was taken aback at how matter-of-fact Karla was, and how warmly she said that one little word. “You came here, and you showed us how I, and all of us, really, were still living in that bubble. Sure, it’s safe, but it’s not really living, is it?”
Karla straightened up again and caught Cassandra’s eye. “It took me a little while to work up the courage, but I think it’s about time that I try.”
“I don’t know how to skate,” Cassandra blurted out. Her cheeks flushed again and she looked away, embarrassed; she was halfway tempted to march over to the nearest snow bank and shove her face in it – it would get rid of the heat and also make it so that she didn’t have to look at Karla while she made a fool of herself.
“Hey.” A gentle touch against her hand drew Cassandra’s attention back to Karla, who was smiling softly. “It’s okay. I haven’t skated in years; I’m gonna be rusty as hell. But you know what? We can both be terrible skaters, together.”
Cassandra’s nerves were still annoyingly present, but that thought did make her feel a little better. She ducked her head a bit and gave Karla a little self-conscious smile, and then shuffled over to sit down on the bench.
“… Okay. That doesn’t sound so bad.”
She took the skates that Karla held out to her, toed off her own boots, and slowly worked on getting ready to skate. They were a little tight on her, and heavier than she was expecting. Just two more little discomforts.
They were worth it for the way that Karla beamed at her like she’d hung the moon and the stars in the sky.
Karla stood up and walked around to stand in front of Cassandra and extended both hands to her.
“I promise I won’t let you fall.”
And she kept that promise. Walking the few feet from the bench to the rink wasn’t the most fun, but it wasn’t particularly difficult either. Once they were on the ice, though, Cassandra was as wobbly as a newborn fawn. She could barely go a couple of feet without nearly falling on her face or ass, but every time, Karla was there to catch her.
They went slow, starting off by just carefully skating laps around the outside edge of the pond. As the afternoon wore on, Cassandra picked up the motions bit by bit, and Karla’s muscle memory had clearly kicked in. They skated a little bit faster, and Cassandra clung a little less tightly to Karla’s arms.
By the time the sun began to set, they were flying over the ice, Karla skating backwards while Cassandra went forwards, their hands still clasped together. Eventually, Karla skidded to a stop, and the momentum swung Cassandra around her. She laughed and whooped as she gently collided with Karla, and she laughed in return, and as the fiery setting sun danced across the ice, they met in the middle for a breathless kiss.
Pretty magical, indeed.