OTW Book 1 – Chapter 5

OTW Book 1 – Chapter 5

“So, what’s the plan for dinner?”

Avery blazed the trail ahead of Ryder, already on the next subject. It was hard for the shorter of the pair to keep up this time around, their body weighed down by countless questions. Truth be told, they had no dinner plan. How could they when there were arguably more important questions at hand?

“Ryder? Earth to Ryder!”

Ryder walked directly into their sibling’s chest. Avery stood in front of them like a wall, having noticed Ryder’s distinctly distracted nature and stopping to look at them. The pair collided with an audible thud, but Avery didn’t even flinch. Looking up into their eyes, Ryder caught a glimpse of stern concern. “You’re wandering like a lost sheep,” stated the masked figure, picking Ryder up like a lamb and swinging them over their shoulder. “C’mon. I’ll carry you so you don’t wander off.

Ryder wanted to bite back with some retort in reply, but went silent. Avery’s hand patting their back made them feel at least a little more relaxed, and they sighed. “Apologies. I’m just… lost in thought, I guess.”

“It’s fine. You’re thinking about that kid, aren’t you?”

“H-how’d you know?!” Ryder sputtered, squirming in their sibling’s arms in vain. Avery let out a big belly laugh and shook their head.

“Because I know you, Ryder. I know you and I know your habits and I know that this is the exact kind of thing you obsess over. Every time you meet someone new, it’s like a puzzle, and she more than anyone is someone you think needs to be solved. She’s smart, you’re smart, you want to unpack how smart she is.”

Ryder sighed, shaking their head. “She’s just… so casual about it! Not to mention her being one of the first humans to move to Oakwood in years! How come she’s taking it so well?”

“I dunno. I think it’s a good thing, though. Means she rolls with the punches. Cool kid.”

“You think everyone who understands sarcasm is cool.”

“You should take that as a compliment because it means I think you’re cool.”

“Gee, thanks.”

Forest turned to seaside meadow, and Avery set their sibling down upon a grassy dune, letting them lead the way back to their house. Ryder’s quaint cottage by the sea wasn’t much, but it was just enough for them and served both spirits quite well whenever Avery visited. It was filled with fond memories and old knick-knacks, many of which involved or had been owned by Ryder’s mother, Deb. She’d moved out once her two children had become adults, but her memory still burned bright in the place and hung comfortingly over the home like a blanket. That, combined with the company the two frequently kept each other, made living alone a little easier.

Sudden energy kicked through Ryder’s body, and without even thinking, they were carried by their legs across the sand, graceful as a gazelle fleeing like the last rays of sun. Avery bolted after them, significantly slower in part because of the head start Ryder had. It was almost no time at all before they were on the familiar porch with its peeling white paint and numerous wind chimes made of sea glass, shells, and bones. The creaky front steps sang under their feet as they ducked inside, surrounding themselves with the pleasant aroma of sea salt and spices.

“Tea and toast for dinner?” Ryder offered, bowing playfully as they held open the door.

“Why, I thought you’d never ask!”

With that, Avery flopped down on the couch like an oversized dog, watching as Ryder went to the kitchen to prepare their meal. Tragically, they were no longer allowed in the kitchen after several mishaps involving plates, cupboards, and their face. ‘It’s for the best,’ Ryder had insisted after the fourth or maybe fifth time that Avery had walked directly into an open cabinet door and broken several saucers with their face. Such was life.

They laid in the silence for a bit, surrounded only by shelves upon shelves of books waiting in silent vigil over the living room. There was never any escape from books in Ryder’s house, whether they were physical copies or on someone’s digital device. It was a miracle that Ryder had actually, truthfully read every single one they’d amassed over the years. Book store people probably adored them. 

Picking up a light novel about some kind of coming-of-age-story Avery had gotten Ryder for Christmas a few years ago, the bigger spirit leafed quickly through it, trying to see if any chapters caught their attention. They’d read this particular book bit by bit every time they came over for dinner, but they often forgot exactly where it was they left off. Ryder’s bookmarks were always occupied and Avery wasn’t allowed to dog-ear the pages even if their life depended on it. They’d just found the page they were pretty sure they’d left off on before when toast smell permeated the room, signifying the readiness of dinner.

Like a bull in a china shop, Avery bounded over to the table to sit down across from Ryder, who had made beautiful toast with butter and brewed them some kind of mystery tea. Avery could never tell which kind, though it was always too bitter for them. A teaspoon or two of sugar was always much needed.

“This looks great!” they exclaimed, taking their teacup in their hands. Ryder hunched over their own, seemingly appreciating the warmth.

Or at least they had been before they saw what Avery was about to do. “Avery-”

Too late. Avery flinched as they poured some of the (fortunately only warm) liquid in through the eyehole of their mask to drink, drenching their face in the process. “Aw, man!

“Avery…” the dismayed Ryder put their head in their hands, massaging their temples with their delicate fingers before a headache could try to make its way in. “Avery, we don’t do that… Just take off the mask…”

“I can’t have a straw?”

“Please, just take it off. You need it off to eat toast either way.”

“You underestimate my toast-eating abilities.”

Avery…”

“Okay, okay, fine,” the bigger spirit spoke gently, removing the mask and the fur that covered their head, grabbing a napkin to dab the excess tea off their face. “You have a point, I just…”

Oh, how Ryder hated it when Avery’s face fell like that. Something about everything Avery had been through always made their hands tremble and their eyes dull when they removed their helm. Sentiment and grief hung in that object’s history, something that time would never ease, but that only made Avery love it more dearly. Their massive hands carefully checked it over for damage. Undamaged, save for a few tea stains.

Setting the mask aside on the floor next to their feet, Avery turned their attention to the buttered toast that sat patiently on their plate, picking it up and immediately taking a nibble. Sharp teeth took away a chunk of the soft, butter-soaked bread, chest rumbling happily at the taste. Ryder never ever failed at toast, and Avery was extremely grateful for that trait. Nobody else could make a glutinous slice of heaven quite like their sibling, and it was scarfed down in heartbeats.

“Must you always eat so quickly?” Ryder inquired with a playfully disdainful tone. As far as they knew, Avery had never even taken the time to savor their food before, which to them was grounds for poking fun at them.

The bigger spirit glowered at them with similar underlying amusement, consuming the last few bites of their meal before pointing a semi-accusatory across the table at the other. “Hey! It’s not my fault you make good toast,” Avery chuckled, shaking their head in gentle mirth. “You should be flattered that I ate it so fast!”

Ryder’s shoulders shook, a soft titter rising from their throat and morphing into a soft yet open laugh. Unable to contain themself, they buried their face in their hands, snickering and giggling like a gremlin. Their teddy bear of a sibling followed suit with a belly laugh that would make Santa Claus jealous. “You,” the blue-cloaked individual gasped out between wheezes, pointing to their companion, “Are the most ridiculous, lovable idiot I’ve ever met!”

“Likewise, egghead!”

“Dunce!”

“Nerd!”

“Buffoon!”

“Know-it-all!” The little cottage erupted into a chorus of laughter, the sun finally setting on playfully flung insults and warm banter. Come hell or high water, strangers and old friends, nothing is better than having you by my side, Ryder thought in Avery’s general direction through giggles, only halfway listening as Avery strung together some kind of elaborate jab at their sharp mind. Nothing is ever going to change that.

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