Who: Susan Bones, Astoria Greengrass, and Blodwen Cadwallader
Where: Heaven Scent
When: 16 September 2001, morning
Astoria made a self-pitying whimpering noise as the lights went on in the shop. Unlike Hannah Abbott, she hadn’t had the foresight to stock up on hangover remedies, and now her head felt unpleasantly heavy and throbby and it was far too early in the morning to be up and dressed.
But she’d made it into the shop — only a few minutes shy of being exactly on time — and while she hadn’t made the time to do her hair, she had remembered to fill her flask. She took a discreet nip from it then shoved it deep in her pocket when she heard footsteps approaching. She hoped it wasn’t horrible Blodwen. She couldn’t stand the chubby Welsh girl even when she was in the best of moods.
Unfortunately for Astoria, it was Blodwen who emerged from the storeroom with a box of body butters. “I was beginning to think you weren’t coming in,” she said sweetly, setting the box down and beginning to unpack the tubs onto the empty display. “Are you sure you’re all right? You don’t look very well.” Her gaze travelled over Astoria, taking in her less-than-perfect appearance, and she pursed her lips as though in sympathy.
“I could say the same for you,” Astoria grumbled, under her breath, as she stoically went to join Blodwen in unpacking the box. Ugh, this new one smelled sickly sweet, and she couldn’t help but get a big whiff of it each time she set a new jar on the shelf. “Start from the outside in,” she directed the other girl sharply. “You’re going to run out of room that way.”
Blodwen paused for a moment before setting down the jar she was holding and directing a bright smile towards Astoria. “Why don’t you go sit down?” she suggested. “Just leave this to me.” She pulled the box closer towards her, her smile never slipping for an instant. “I think I know what I’m doing.”
So Susan could walk in and see Astoria sitting around uselessly while Blodwen once again got all the credit? Astoria didn’t think so. “Well, I think you’re doing it wrong,” she snapped back, not even bothering with a fake smile. She firmly pulled the box closer to her and started stacking the jars as fast as possible, grimly determined to show Blodwen who was best.
“I’ve been working here a little bit longer than you have,” Blodwen replied, her tone losing some of its sweetness. “Susan’s never had a problem with the way I do our displays.” She grabbed for the box again, and succeeded in knocking it onto the floor, the jars rolling in all directions. “Well!” she exclaimed, placing her hands on her hips, the very image of self-righteousness. “Look what you’ve done now.”
“Look what I’ve done!” Astoria’s voice rose shrilly. She’d had it with Blodwen getting to be the ‘perfect’ one all the time. “You knocked over the damned — OW!” A jar had rolled off the counter and squarely onto her foot. She snatched it up off the floor and impulsively hurled it in the direction of Blodwen’s feet — thinking it would be very satisfying if it shattered into a million pieces and splattered this treacly gunk all over her cheap robes.
However, Susan had taken care in sourcing quality supplies for her business, and the jars were spelled with a simple charm to protect against being accidentally dropped. The force of Astoria’s throw was enough to crack the jar, though, and Blodwen gasped. “You spoilt little madam! Throwing things about when you don’t get your way. Damaging Heaven Scent property!” She swooped down and picked up the cracked jar, clutching it triumphantly to her chest. “We’ll just see what Susan has to say about this.”
Even through her pounding headache, Astoria had the self-awareness to realise she’d crossed a line. She half wanted to tackle Blodwen and keep her from flouncing off to report to her precious Susan, and she half wanted to melt into a puddle on the floor. She clenched her fists but managed to suppress her more violent impulses. “Fine, see if I care,” she said, unconvincingly, as her cheeks flushed bright red with anger and humiliation. She started picking the jars up off the floor and stacking them into the display, trying to act like nothing had happened, though her hands were shaking.
Blodwen could barely contain her glee as she scurried out to the workroom at the back of the shop, but she managed to put on an appropriately serious face as she knocked on the door. “Hmm?” Susan said distractedly, looking up from her cauldron as Blodwen entered. There were purple smudges under her eyes and she looked tired and a bit sad, but Blodwen didn’t really pay much attention. She held out the cracked jar as evidence.
“Astoria just threw this at me. I don’t know what’s the matter with her, but she’s acting very strangely. She’s insisting that she does the new display all by herself.”
Susan closed her eyes briefly and prayed for patience. Then she squared her shoulders and, with a brief, “Thank you, Blodwen,” went out onto the shop floor.
“Is everything all right, Astoria?” she asked quietly.
Astoria was too overcome with anger to even try to come up with a strategy for dealing with Susan. Normally she might have tried to play it sweet and innocent, or at least deny everything. But now she was just angry, and tired — tired of always trying to look perfect and obedient and good when it never got her anywhere, it only worked for people like Blodwen. But nooo, Astoria could try potions one time and get found out and publicly shamed for it. And Astoria could get angry and throw something one time and now she’d probably get sacked for it.
“I don’t want to work with her,” she replied, still angrily working on stacking her display. “She’s a bossy cow and she blames me for everything. I’m not sorry I threw it at her, I’m only sorry I missed.” There, honesty. Astoria had thought it would feel good to just be honest for once. But instead she still just felt awful all over.
“There are always going to be people you don’t get on with,” Susan said. “That’s life. I’m sorry you and Blodwen don’t always see eye to eye, but you can’t resort to name-calling and throwing things when you don’t get your way.”
She resisted the urge to tell Astoria to grow up, since she was certain that wouldn’t go down well, but how were you supposed to treat someone who acted like a child? Susan had seen the amount Astoria had drunk last night, and she was willing to bet her last Sickle that Astoria hadn’t taken a hangover potion this morning.
“For the sake of the shop you need to figure out a way to make it work between you,” Susan said, hating to deliver an ultimatum but hoping that it might sort things out once and for all. She couldn’t have her shopgirls constantly fighting, after all.
For the sake of the shop? Astoria couldn’t give two beans about the shop. “I need to figure out how to make it work?” Astoria repeated incredulously. “What about her, she’s the one who ran to Mummy. I’m the one who stayed out here working.” And the one who threw a jar at her coworker, but — that was not the point at the moment.
And suddenly, Astoria realized she didn’t care about trying to smooth things over with horrible Blodwen. She never wanted to work with her again. All she and Susan ever wanted to do was tell Astoria what to do, and what she was doing wrong. And all Susan ever saw was how ‘wonderful’ Blodwen was. Astoria fumbled for her nametag and unclipped it, setting it meaningfully on the counter. “I just don’t think this is a good fit,” she said, with as much dignity as possible, but her voice was thick as she fought tears.
“You don’t have to do that,” Susan said immediately, filled with guilt at the thought that she’d let down someone she was responsible for. She should’ve noticed that things between Blodwen and Astoria had got so bad, and not been distracted by… other concerns. Her heart twisted at the sight of Astoria looking so wretched, and she opened her mouth to say that she would sort things out.
But then Susan remembered the reckless way Astoria had behaved in the club last night, and all the other little incidents that had niggled at her over the previous months. Snide comments, unprofessional behaviour, refusing to listen to advice… Nothing major, but added all together they caused her concern. Susan bit her lip, realising that underneath the guilt she felt relief.
“But if that’s your decision…” she said slowly, picking up Astoria’s nametag in case she was tempted to take it back again. Maybe this was for the best.
Astoria felt a wave of panicky nausea as she watched Susan pick up her nametag. She hadn’t exactly planned this, and now it was suddenly too late to take it back. But then she caught sight of Blodwen’s horrible smirking face and her resolve returned. Now there was nothing to do but leave with what dignity she had left. “It’s been a pleasure working with you,” she said, pointedly extending her hand only at Susan. “I’m sure things will continue to go very well for you.”
As she left the shop, she still felt shaky and unsettled, and it wasn’t just the hangover. She couldn’t tell yet whether she was excited or appalled at what she’d just done. She slipped her hand into her pocket to cup it around the reassuring weight of a nearly-full flask. She was going to lie in bed with her flask and her kitten and have a good cry and a hot bath, and then she’d work the rest of her life out later.
“Likewise,” Susan responded as she shook Astoria’s hand. “I wish you all the best for your future, whatever that may bring.” The bell above the door tinkled as Astoria left, and Susan took an involuntary step forward — but then Blodwen placed a sympathetic hand on Susan’s shoulder.
“If you need me to do any extra shifts, just ask,” Blodwen said kindly, giving Susan’s shoulder a squeeze. “I’m so sorry it didn’t work out with Astoria, but… well, I think you did the right thing. So don’t worry. And if you need another pair of hands to help out around the shop then I could ask my cousin Myfanwy from the valleys. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind.”
“I’ll bear that in mind,” Susan replied, already feeling a headache coming on. Why couldn’t life just be simple for once?