Life's a Zoo

Oregon Zoo 
" Being a student is a lot of work,' she agreed, the response half mumbled. Between work and school, she barely had any time to function. Which, truthfully, was how she liked it. She spent her time studying with her birds, them "helping" her by chewing on the pencils she used and shitting on the books. They were cute though, she couldn't blame them too much.

At his observation about young love, Elisabeth just felt...empty. She'd long given up on finding love again. After what happened with Brook, she couldn't find the will to ever try again. She used to feel a dull ache of grief, but not, there was nothing. No reaction at all.

At his question, she shrugged, lips curling at the thought of putting one of the fried concoctions the zoo served into her mouth.

"I had a nutrition shake. I doubt there's anything here I would like. I'm...particular." That was the nicest way of putting it. Elisabeth's food of choice could be put into three groups: Crackers, fruit you have to peel, and pasta. There were things she would eat that were outside of these categories, such as vegetables, but she didn't eat anything mashed, no soups, no meat, She'd spent a lot of her childhood and teen years being yelled at by her family for refusing condiments, meats, and a lot of other things.

"Drinks are a different story. I'm sure there's hot chocolate at the food stand. If you're cold." He was rather thin. He was likely to be cold.

“It is. And, you know, a lot of people underestimate it because of tunnel vision. I try not to pretend my class is the only one my students have, and it keeps the pressure down.” Also that grad students were people being paid a pittance while acting as the backbone of the academy, so he was kind to his advisees and never sent them to pick up his dry cleaning, which was more than could be said for some of his colleagues.

Irony of ironies, Charlie was, perhaps, the last person in the world who could or would judge her for food preferences. As such, he didn’t raise his eyebrow at the remark about nutrition shakes, his thoughts turning not to potential eating disorders as some others might based on stereotypes about women and liquid diets, and instead to assuming that she had a flavor she liked and had taken an even earlier morning than with the zoo’s opening hours. Further solidified by her choice of words which echoed his own when apologizing in advance or politely declining an invitation.

“I could drink.” A twist on I could eat, the bog standard reply among his ethnoreligious cohort which ran the gamut of “mildly puckish” to “starving in the desert for a week with nothing but sand.” The empath wouldn’t turn down a cup of something warm if they found a stand. He smiled a bit to demonstrate sincerity.

“The last time I was here, the churro stand sold coffee and hot chocolate.”

Elisabeth was relieved that Charlie wouldn't load her up on homework. A lot of teachers, like he said, forgot that their students have other classes, and would assign them two to five hours of homework, with the other classes doing the same. Even she needed a break once in a while.

She untucked her legs and stood up, stretching a bit as she accepted getting a drink in lieu of food. "Hot chocolate sounds acceptable," she said, as if she hadn't been the one to suggest it. The food stands were towards the center of the zoo, and she didn't mind walking over there to get a drink. They had tables you could sit at, and a couple of sit-in places to eat. She didn't fancy sitting inside in a cramped pseudo-diner where prying ears were. She didn't feel the all too familiar tingle of other witches, so their only risk, if talking about powers, was human ears. Even so, Elisabeth would just pretend they were in some sort of secret club. She'd heard about LARPing, and while she'd never done it, it was easy to pretend to others, since the hobby wasn't too popular with those not already nerds.

She waited for him to stand, then began walking with him towards the center of the zoo. They passed all manner of animals, from the Birds of Prey exhibit(which she did not open her powers up to) to the building for the reptile house, and the lions exhibit. She allowed herself one glance at him as they walked.

"Do you ever wish you weren't alone?"

Charlie unfolded long legs to rise to his feet, pausing long enough to brush the sides of his jacket with the back of his gloved hands, before stuffing them into his pockets again. As they began their walk and lapse into silence, he glanced briefly at the exhibits that they passed. The Birds of Prey, the Reptile House which had always been a mixed experience for him (scales made him uncomfortable), and then the lions.

He paused in front of the lions’ enclosure, where a mother was bathing two cubs in the water. Withdrawing his phone from his pocket, he snapped a photo for posterity; parental, affectionate, or familial animals left a soft spot. Then he resumed the walk towards the center of the Zoo where they could find a hot beverage and occupy a table far away from prying ears. It remained early, and the lunch rush wouldn’t begin for hours, even among those parents of young children who took their meals in shifts between all-day grazing.

With the question, he whipped his head around to face her, eyebrow arched before he could hope to smooth the expression. The question was ambiguous, and she had already asked him about his dating life once. For the briefest moment, he worried that he might have to explain boundaries and the fraternization policy, before he dismissed the idea without opening his mouth.

He didn’t feel the slightest bit of interest from her. That was a non-issue, and he had no reason to travel that path in the first place.

This left the topic of family, of friendship, or a coven. They hadn’t addressed the second topic at all, and there was no reason for her to assume that he didn’t have friends, aside from him coming to the zoo this morning alone. Something bad had happened with her family, and he didn’t want to make her relive that or rub her nose in how his family was intact and supportive, just living 3,000 miles away because Portland had the first tenure-track position in his field willing to hire him. Which left…covens and witches. That struck him as odd given her obvious preference for avoiding others of their ilk.

People remained complicated even at the age of 30 with a PhD that entitled him to demand others call him Doctor Glass.

“I’m not…alone alone. I have people I can be myself with. Maybe a rare bird but not an extinct one. Do you wish you weren’t alone?” In his experience, such meaningful questions were less about bonding than they were about sorting through emotions and gauging what was normal.

Maybe it was his age, maybe it was because he was a professor, therefore an authority figure, but Elisabeth had asked the question, and she couldn't take it back. She thought about apologizing, telling him to forget it, but she wasn't one to backtrack, nor apologize if she didn't think she was wrong. She pursed her lips as he explained to her that he wasn't truly alone. The words Unlike you echoed in her mind, and her mouth quirked to the side as she stared straight ahead, listening. When he posited the question of if she wished she wasn't alone, she could have slapped herself. She couldn't help the stab of loneliness that shot through her chest.

"Sometimes. I'm not much of a people person. My last coven was...awful. But it is nice to talk freely," she glanced around. "Mostly freely, about ourselves."

Elisabeth would be remiss if she said she wasn't lonely. Some nights, despite the stance she took of not wanting to engage with other people, she missed the comradery of another witch. She doubted Charlie would take up that position. He owed her nothing. She could give him nothing in return for friendship or guidance(not that she needed it) or any type of platonic companionship. She doubted very much he was willing to spend much more time with her.

She was, however, confused as to what his motives were. Was he still building up to what she could do? He knew she was a student, so she couldn't give him anything financially. Maybe he was buttering her up for something in regards to a ritual. He might need a ritual. She could feel the suspicion trickling in, and she wondered if that would make him reel back on whatever he was working towards.

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