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A Pocketful of Posies - Chapter 1.2

by Panikos

When they left for school an hour later, Dante was quiet. He’d been quiet all through breakfast, stirring his porridge without eating it, scrunched up small on the bench. Matron Salma had crammed him between Darren and Walt to act as a buffer, but the two boys kept reaching across him to slap each other and have aggressive thumb wars. He’d ended up with juice knocked down his front.

He was still sticky now, trailing behind Hildegarde as she hopped down the zigzagging steps to the garden gate. She chatted as she walked, pointing at telephone wires, roofs opposite, trees lining the road, counting up a tally of the birds she spotted.

“You look too,” Hildegarde said, digging Dante in the ribs with her elbow. “I want to beat my record.”

At her best, she’d seen 56 birds in one day, the bulk of which had been pigeons (they’d had a rare trip to the city). Dante usually acted as a second lookout. Now, his eyes were on the pavement.

“You’re not going to see any down there,” Hildegarde said, grabbing his cheeks and tilting his face upwards.

His eyes were wet. She released her hands.

“Ooh, did I elbow you too hard?” she said. “You can do it back if you want. Go on, really whack me!”

She spread her arms out, making a target of herself, but Dante pushed a fist across his eyes and shook his head. She let her arms drop.

“What is it, then?”

“Nothing,” Dante said, pushing past her.

Hildegarde had to scurry to keep up. “Even you don’t cry at nothing. Is it school? Did Jordan—”

“No, it’s not—”

“Then what? Darren and Walt? They didn’t mean to knock the juice over, but I’ll give them a thump next time they start—”

“Yes, and then you’ll get paddled for it!” Dante said, rounding on her. He gave her a small push. “Why are you like this? You just get into trouble and they smack you and you act like you don’t even care. You just do it all over again, like this morning.”

His eyes were brimming, an angry flush pooling over his cheeks. Hildegarde’s mouth turned dry.

“What’s it matter?” she said. “She whacked me, not you. And she didn’t even do it that hard.”

Dante rubbed his eyes under his glasses. “She said nobody would have you. I heard it.”

“Yeah, but it’s not like she means it,” Hildegarde said. She poked his shoulder, making him stumble a little. “You’re such a worryguts.”

He batted her hand away. “But what if she does? They’ll be looking for positions for us by now. If you don’t get one, what then?”

Hildegarde opened her mouth to laugh, to say that she had loads of time to become a goody-goody like him, to call him a little old woman with the glasses to match, but something doused the words. They’d turned twelve last August, both of them. Since Florence left, they’d been the oldest children at the House. And now her brain drifted back to those outfits: the daffodil silk and the black suit, cut to children’s sizes…

“You need to stop flapping,” she said, after a beat. “I’ll be extra nice and help her do all the washing up later. Then I bet she won’t even tell old Grump-Humps about the attic. Okay?”

It took Dante a moment to nod. They carried on walking, twisting down the steep roads into the cramped sprawl of the village centre, where motorcars hummed and horses clopped and the emporiums were just starting to wake up. Neither of them spoke much, except to keep track of the bird tally, though Hildegarde’s attention kept drifting from the trees and telephone masts where they usually clustered. She’d never understood why Dante got so upset on her behalf. When they’d been very little, he’d cried if the matrons so much as shouted at her, even though the words slid right off her. Louise had fancied that it was because of a psychic twin connection.

“Or maybe God just messed the proportions up when He made you both,” she’d said, kneading pastry. “You get all the guts, while Dante gets enough tears and manners for the both of you.”

Cast away with her thoughts, Hildegarde didn’t notice the motorcar rumbling up to the curb until Dante held a hand out to stop her. They’d left the village centre now, meandering down the long, oak-flanked road that led to the school. Here, the houses were cliff-white and ivy-snarled, fronted by broad gardens and rippling ponds. A place for the retired, the landowning, the rich.

And the degas.

They were about six feet from where the motorcar stopped, and watched quietly as the driver scuttled out to open the back door for the passengers. First came the degas, whose name Hildegarde didn’t know. She’d seen them on her way to school before – she recognised the embroidered gown, the headscarf, the mask the colour of ivory. They held out a gloved arm as a girl climbed out after them. She was fair-haired, dressed in green, just a few years older than Hildegarde herself.

Hildegarde watched as she linked her arm through the degas’, as the pair of them ambled through the gate and into the garden. Dante kept his head bowed, as per custom. Enough manners for the both of you.

When they had disappeared behind the gate, he lifted it again, and they set off walking without comment. Halfway down the street, he pointed out a pair of magpies to her, but Hildegarde hardly heard. She kept thinking about the girl’s arm nestled in the crook of the degas’, her fine dress and spun-sugar hair.

“Race you to school,” she blurted. “Last one there has to do the other’s maths homework for a week.”

Then she set off running, until the burn in her lungs blanketed everything.


Because it was a comprehensive, all of the teachers at Hildegarde’s school were human beings, and she didn’t rate any of them. Mrs Lipsett took her for maths. She had appropriately puffy fish lips that she liked to purse whenever Hildegarde did something impertinent – which was always, apparently. Mr Mosely took her for English, and he had a nervous voice and permanent damp patches under his arms. There were a flurry of other teachers for history and geography and games, whose names she would deliberately mix up just to irritate them. She wasn’t academically promising, they had decided.

Dante was. She’d meant to ‘encourage’ him into doing her history homework for her, but between the lock-picking and the clothes and his teary outburst, it had slipped her mind. Ten minutes into the first lesson, this earned her a slippering. She took it with the same nonchalance as the paddling earlier, then rubbed the soreness from her hands under the desk, watching through the window for birds.

Again, again, again, her brain looped back to the yellow dress, to how soft it had felt under her fingertips. She could feel a bumpy row of questions at the back of her mind like a line of stiches. To unpick one would free another – better to never ask, to just pile other thoughts in front of it, but there never seemed to be enough. She thought of that weird story about the princess and the pea, and how it—

The slipper slapped the desk, making her jump. She looked up into the face of Mr Peters, who was actually Mr Andrews, but she hadn’t called him that for weeks.

“Am I distracting you, Sneal?”

His eyes were almost lost under the bush of his frowning monobrow. In the corner of her eye, she could see Dante giving her one of his pleading looks.

“No,” she said. “You’ve got my full attention, sir.”

“I have?” he said. “So I suppose, seeing as you were listening so closely, you can tell the whole class about Anschluss?”

“It was a World War Two thing, wasn’t it?” Hildegarde said. “Germany got Austria and they united and became one thing. Sort of like your eyebrows have.”

She had just enough time to see Dante wince before the slipper landed.


The corridor outside the headmaster’s office wasn’t unfamiliar to Hildegarde, but she visited infrequently enough for it to still bring a prickle of excitement. They didn’t often drag her here for insolence. It was mostly for scrapping with people who picked on Dante, though she was never the one to throw the first punch. She was more creative than that. Beetles in their schoolbag, sour milk in their gym shoes. It was worth getting throttled, sometimes.

The door opened. Mr Loxley leaned on the doorframe, cigarette in his mouth, and appraised Hildegarde.

“What was it this time?” he said.

Hildegarde shrugged. “I said Mr Andrews had a monobrow.”

He sighed. “In you come, then.”

She slid into Mr Loxley’s office like a cat, sinking into the chair opposite his. The desk between them was heaped with papers, files, a pair of overflowing ashtrays, and the room was stale with the smell of cigarettes. Hildegarde breathed it in happily.

“Right,” Mr Loxley said. “How do I punish you this time? I’ve run out of the good ones.”

“You could expel me,” Hildegarde said.

Mr Loxley laughed. “And inflict you on some other school? I’m not that heartless. I suppose Andrews slippered you, did he?”

Hildegarde held up her red palms, shimmying them in a small jazz hands. Mr Loxley peered hard at her, leaning back in his chair. He wasn’t yet an old man, but grey had started to ease up through the hair at his temples.

“What do you find so disagreeable about school, Sneal?” he asked.

Hildegarde jolted one shoulder. “Dunno. The matrons say it’s ‘cause I don’t like doing what I’m told.”

“Well, that much is obvious,” he said. “But you’re a sharp child. You can do the work. Why do you make everything so difficult for yourself?”

Dante’s voice rang in her head: why are you like this? She shrugged again.

“Perhaps you feel like it doesn’t matter?” Mr Loxley offered. “That a posie-to-be has no need for an education?”

Hildegarde’s chest tightened. The teachers never talked about her future, not to her face. They skirted around it like a hole in the floor. Yet here was Mr Loxley, staring straight into it.

“Perhaps it would help—” he started.

A knock at the door silenced him. He heaved himself out of his seat and jarred it open. The school secretary, Miss Brent, stood outside, and her eyes caught on Hildegarde at once.

“Sorry to interrupt, sir,” she said. “There’s a Mrs Humphreys at reception, saying she needs the Sneals out and with her ASAP. Don’t know what it is, but she’s creating. Mind if I take her?”

Mr Loxley glanced back. “Not at all,” he said. “There you go, Sneal. Out of my clutches once again.”

Hildegarde laughed a little, but her heart was thudding. Mrs Humphreys, at reception? Now?

“What does she want?” Hildegarde said.

“Lord knows,” Miss Brent said. “Wouldn’t keep her waiting, though. Quick-sharp.”

Hildegarde looked to Mr Loxley, as if to read the truth in his face, but found nothing. Steadily, carefully, as if edging around a hole in the ground, she got to her feet and followed Miss Brent out of the room.  

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83 Reviews

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Fri Mar 01, 2019 8:19 pm
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Liberty500 says...

Oh man, literally you changed the emotion from excitement, to sadness, to humorous, then to seriousness. So many emotions! I love it! The story so far is going really well, and now, I'm off to read the next chapter! :)

(P.S:- Tell Hildegarde that she has a fan (aka me!!)!! XD)

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Mon Jul 16, 2018 6:28 pm
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Demeter wrote a review...

Hi Pan! Here for mooore. I already read this last night, but I didn't want to comment on my phone so I'm here now.

Omg, Dante is so precious <333 I just want to hug him and make sure he's okay. I love how vivid both of their personalities are, not necessarily literally (for Dante) but the way you describe them. And I guess it's quite common in literature for twins to be exact opposites (and in real life, I guess? Don't know any twins xD) but I really like how you've done it here.

I like Hildegarde's fascination with birds. I wonder if it will turn out to be important later, in which case it'll be very intriguing, but if not, it's still such a nice character quirk.

I really liked how the degas were introduced. Such a mysterious and creepy mood set in when they arrived, which was kind of helped by the fact that they disappeared again so quickly. I really like the subtlety, not at all like "THIS HERE'S THE IMPORTANT BIT, READERS". Very nice!

And I like how the thought of the clothes keeps reappearing in her mind. It's such a nice amount of foreshadowing/atmosphere.

Also Mr Loxley sounds like a really lovely teacher! He's firm but he clearly has a twinkle in his eye.

I hope you don't mind me just listing all the things I like about this xD I just really do! And I can't wait to read more about the degas and posies.

Panikos says...

Thanks so much!! :D

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Mon Jul 16, 2018 1:03 pm
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beckiw says...

Hi Pan!

Just stopping by to say that I am still really enjoying this!! I like how the presence of these new fancy clothes is a threat, is scary. It's such a counter point to how we would view new clothes. I definitely get this ominous feeling that they're building towards something not happy in regards to Hildegarde and Dante D: And I enjoy how these two are such opposites and also switched in 'typical' gender roles in a way? Dante is quiet and studious and Hildegarde is rebellious and adventurous.

I think my favourite line in this was about Mr Loxley's grey hair easing up from his temples. Such a good way to describe that!!

And it must be an English thing because 'creating' and 'didn't rate any of them' made perfect sense to me xD You should switch it to 'Don’t know what it is, but she’s getting het up!' (muahaha)

Can't wait for more!! <3

Panikos says...

Thanks so much! The next bit will go up tomorrow. :D

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Mon Jul 16, 2018 11:18 am
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Sins wrote a review...

Hey! Back for chapter 1.2 :D

This second half of the chapter was super intriguing, bravo! I found myself finishing chapter one with a lot of curiosity and thirst to find out what in the heck this fantasy world is all about. I love how you introduced the fantasy element into things here, but did so with immense subtlety so that it got me all intrigued. I'm not a huge fan of hardcore, fantasy everywhere you turn type stories, so this is alluding to the perfect balance of fantasy-reality for me. Hildegarde's character is blossoming nicely, and I'm eager to see how the dynamic between her and Dante plays out and changes as the story progresses. Oh, and I'm super interested to find out what Hildegarde's pre-planned future is all about, and what the deal is with the degas. You sure know how to write a cliffhanger of a first chapter, that's for sure.

I don't have much in the way of critiques this time, just one or two little things. Also, in case you're unsure, I've not read any of your notes, plot summaries etc on this story because I like to read things on here from a completely clueless perspective, so apologies for any comments that make me sound dumb :P

Anywho! I'm curious about the time period here, and the general world really. This isn't necessarily a critique so much as it is an observation, but I am a little confused by when this story is set. It's obviously post WW2, but the use of words like 'motorcars' and the mention of horses makes it seem quite historical. That may be more to do with me not understanding the world itself though, more than the time period e.g. it could be set in 2065 but the world has reverted to some historical tendencies, like a lot of dystopian novels, for example. What I'm trying to say is that I don't feel like I have my head around this world yet, however, it's chapter one. I don't need, or want, to know about every blade of grass and its history at this point (or ever, I mean, that would be a bit much). It's just something to be wary of as the plot moves on, especially for readers like me who know zilch about this world and its story in advance.

Other than world-building, I don't really have anything else to say. I noticed a few reviewers pick up on some of your phrases used, but I'm also British, so that wasn't an issue for me. I wouldn't say you need to change them for the sake of a non-British audience #brexitmeansbrexit and all that (jk, I'm a Remoaner). But nah, jokes aside, that's not something I'd worry about. Although the one thing that did throw me is the use of the expression 'creating' as kicking up a fuss. I don't recognise that, though maybe it's an English thing? (or Scottish/Irish, depending which area you're from, as I'm Welsh).

That's all I have, really. The chapter as a whole is a really slid start to the novel, I think. It has intrigue and action and all that jazz, but it's subtle, and I like that. It has plenty of mystery, and you've struck the balance so as to not make it confusing. I'm really looking forward to seeing where you're taking this story, and can't wait to read the next chapter!

Keep writing,

xoxo S(k)ins

Panikos says...

Thanks so much! Yeah, I think 'creating' might just be English, because Biscuits is Scottish and they didn't recognise it. Maybe it's a bit archaic, as well - it's not really a word I hear a lot.

In regards to the time period, I am completely winging it. This is a sort of parallel England to ours, and my thinking is that it's not as technologically advanced, but I'm not actually sticking to a particular era. I wanted it to be hard to place, kind of like the Lemony Snicket books. That might be something I'll change in future drafts, but I'm just going to go with it for now.

Thanks again! :D

Sins says...

Maybe it is just an English thing, yeah! I don't think it's a huge problem, either way :)

Oh I see! That's quite interesting actually, I like that idea. If it translates well as the novel progresses, I'd definitely keep it like that. It's too early to tell atm, but it'll be interesting to see how that contributes to the overall vibe of the novel!

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Sun Jul 15, 2018 8:05 pm
BiscuitsLeGuin wrote a review...

Hey, you're 4th up on my great LMS-Chapter-2-adventure-quest!

Nit-picks, nice moments and a couple of questions:

Dante rubbed his eyes under his glasses. “She said nobody would have you. I heard it.”

Remember a few sentences ago you said he put a fist over his eyes, that did not bring the image of glasses to mind, so this caused me to revise my image of him in my head.

And now her brain drifted back to those outfits: the daffodil silk and the black suit, cut to children’s sizes…

The mention of the clothes was important to bring the suspense back in from before, but I think it would have been better to do some sort of hint towards what on earth this could be about. I'll get back to this in a moment because it popped back into my head later on.

First came the degas, whose name Hildegarde didn’t know.

Is degas meant to be so mysterious? It seems like it might just be a fancy word for servant, which is slightly confusing.

They didn’t often drag her here for insolence.

Really? Seems like she'd be insolent very often.

“That a posie-to-be has no need for an education?”

Well this was intriguing as hell. Very smoothly slipped in. And this is where I bring the clothes back in. Does that have something to do with her future as a posie, whatever that may be? If so, I think this would have been a better, or just additional moment, for a call-back to it. Would put pieces of the puzzle together and build suspense.

Don’t know what it is, but she’s creating.

Think this might be an unfinished sentence?


I still love this so much. Your flow and pacing is still perfect, as is your characterisation. Lots of little elements of setting here and there also, which is always nice.

And your plot is going at a very good rate towards something that seems extremely interesting. She's worried about not being chosen, which would make sense if she was in a children's home and in danger of not being chosen by a foster family, like the main plot hook in all those series of Tracy Beaker xD But the clothes sound sinister, so maybe she's not looking forward to it? Then the tone with which the headmaster refers to "posies" it sounds like Snape talking to Harry Potter so I start to think that it's something posh which would maybe be a good status symbol but would actually be really restrictive of someone like Hildegarde. There's lots of possibilities here. Feel free to when editing direct the reader in some sort of direction but honestly I'm just really really interested of whatever is to come.

Hope this helps,
Biscuits :)

Panikos says...

It's really useful to have another reader who hasn't read anything about the plot summary. Re: degas - they're not servants, and they are supposed to mysterious. You'll find out much more about them in chapter 2.

Also, regarding the mention of the clothes, I kind of hoped that Dante talking about the matrons 'looking for positions' for them would be enough to hint's not really your regular orphanage? But maybe I need to make that more evident.

Also, as I mentioned to Mea, 'creating' means 'kicking up a fuss'. I might change it at some point, though, just because multiple people have been confused by it.

Thanks for the review! I love seeing you trying to figure out the plot direction - it's great to get that outside perspective. I hope that I can meet your expectations with it. :D

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Thu Jul 12, 2018 4:41 am
Mea wrote a review...

Hey Pan! Back again to review this next chapter. :D

What to say? This flowed smoothly pretty much the whole way through, dropped some excellent hints about Hildegarde's future and some of her reasons behind how she acts, and was generally fun to read. I especially thought the part of the chapter that took place at her school was really well-written, even if the "What was it this time?" is a bit cliche.

I think the weaker section is the beginning, when Dante and Hildegarde are walking to school. I think it's because the viewpoint shifts weirdly? Overall, I can tell you're sort of doing omniscient, but at first, when you talk about how Dante was crammed in between the other two boys on the bus, without the mention of Hildegarde it makes it pretty clear that we're following Dante around at the moment, and then you say he's still "trailing behind her" - the focus is pretty clearly on him. So when Hildegarde grabs his face and you reveal that his eyes are wet, it feels jarring because that revelation would clearly only be a revelation from Hildegarde's point of view, not Dante's, and we'd just been following Dante and been given no indication that he was crying.

About the degas - that whole segment confused me, if I'm honest. Between your usage of "they" as a pronoun, but then saying "whose name (singular) Hildegarde didn't know," I was really confused as to whether there was one degas or multiple degas. (And is it the same singular or plural?) Plus, you don't give any details about what they look like, but I guess that just adds to the mystery for now. :P (I haven't read your notes, so I have no idea what they are.)

Because it was a comprehensive, all of the teachers at Hildegarde’s school were human beings, and she didn’t rate any of them.

I didn't really know what you meant by "didn't rate any of them." As in she didn't like any of them? Maybe I'm just missing something lol.

Also the concept of slippering is hilarious. (I'm literally just picturing them getting whacked with a slipper and I hope that's what you intended lol.) And my absolute favorite thing is that monobrow line. (It's true!!! And she was right about Austria lol.)

I also really want to know what a posie is, of course. :P And what on earth does it mean that Mrs Humphrey's "creating"?

And I think that's about all I've got! Can't believe I have to wait a week for the next part. See you there!

Panikos says...

Thanks so much for this, Mea! It's really useful. I'll fix the head-hopping at some point, but that's one of those mistakes I'm very prone to in early drafts so expect to see more of that :P Thanks for the feedback on the degas scene, as well. I get that using 'they' adds to the conclusion, but, like, degas aren't strictly speaking male or female so I wasn't sure what else to use. They do have their own neutral pronouns which will show up later in the story, but I didn't think using them here would help the confusion. I could've used 'it', but that's disrespectful even for Hildegarde. Gah. I'll figure it out at some point.

I think you might have run into a few typically British expressions, now I think about it. I definitely hear 'I didn't rate any of them' to mean 'they all sucked', and 'creating' means 'kicking up a fuss'.

But honestly, thanks for this. Given that you haven't read my planning notes, your feedback will be so useful if you keep reviewing, because I'm particularly anxious to see how the degas element of the story comes across to somebody without any prior knowledge of them. I hope I can keep you interested! ;)

Mea says...

I wondered if those expressions were British lol. They felt British but I hadn't come across them before. I think with the pronoun trouble, it's only because it's the first introduction, so we don't know anything about them. You introduce them with "And the degas" - if you said "a degas" instead somewhere in there, that might be all you need to clear it up. :D

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Tue Jul 10, 2018 7:43 pm
BlueAfrica wrote a review...

You know what's funny is that even though I read your notes on this story and I already know about degas and posies, I legit thought they were in an ordinary orphanage here until late in this chapter. I think I might have assumed that no one really knew about degas - I forget if that was established in your notes or not, but I guess because that's the way these stories usually go, you know. Like how everyone was in my first chapter like "uhhh wait why aren't they more surprised to see a wizard, is this a normal thing here?" Because normally magic is more...hidden, in fantasy stories involving the real world (as this obviously is, given the mention of WWII).

Anyway, I think you did a great job introducing the degas early in this chapter, in a way that shows that people in this world know about them. Like we've seen that we've got what appears to be an ordinary orphanage and ordinary classes and real world stuff, but then we get this unknown strange creature or person but also the Sneals know how to react to it but ALSO they're obviously a little wondrous/afraid/uhhhh idk kind of curious/uneasy. So it's a great way to introduce these beings and show us that they're common knowledge in this world, and it's also a great balance of explanation and mystery.

And then you know from WFP that I obviously love all the sass in this chapter and Mr Loxley and Hildegarde being so sweet to Dante even though she also gives him lots of grief and ahhhhhhhhhhhhh just wonderful

Panikos says...

THANK YOU. I'm so glad the degas thing worked because that was the bit I was most worried about. Everybody knows about them, but they're kind of this weird elephant in the room for a lot of people. Or at least a lot of people in Hildegarde's life, given what her fate is going to be. But thanks so much again!! :D

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Tue Jul 10, 2018 4:02 pm
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Zoom wrote a review...

“It was a World War Two thing, wasn’t it?” Hildegarde said. “Germany got Austria and they united and became one thing. Sort of like your eyebrows have.”

Oh the burn

Hildegarde shrugged. “I said Mr Andrews had a monobrow.”

He sighed. “In you come, then.”



This is just fantastic. So impressive. I don't know what to say. Your characterisation of Hildegarde is truly something to be proud of. It's hard to write cocky, sarcastic characters in a way that isn't typical and what we've all seen a million times.

If I had to be really picky:

They skirted around it like a hole in the floor

Steadily, carefully, as if edging around a hole in the ground

You used this analogy twice.

I thoroughly enjoyed this. All that keeps running through my head is that YOU HAVEN'T INTRODUCED THE FANTASY ELEMENT YET and the story is STILL this enjoyable? That should be illegal!


Panikos says...

Thanks so much! The repetition of the analogy was actually deliberate, because it's a metaphor for her future, but maybe I'm trying to be too fancy haha. Thanks for the feedback! And I'm so glad you like Hildegarde! :D

Zoom says...

Oh haha that might be my bad, then. Sometimes I can be too literal. Now you%u2019ve told me it seems really obvious. ^_^ Hildegarde is amazing. The sass. When she burned that monobrow teacher I winced along with Dante.

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Tue Jul 10, 2018 2:11 pm
Lightsong says...

You made me have feels. Whhhyyyy? :'(

Panikos says...


Treat all disasters as if they were trivialities but never treat a triviality as if it were a disaster.
— Quentin Crisp