Episode 4: Distracted

 Maybe Kerry would have taken a wolf over the near-guaranteed presence of Officer Morgan, but apparently Char had no such qualms. Kerry barely missed grabbing hold of her best friend’s hand when Char shifted directions and started running straight toward the flashing blue lights, kicking up gravel and dust as she went.

“Thank goodness,” Char gasped out, coming to a stop just short of the officer.

Officer Morgan joined the force a couple of years ago, and even with over a dozen other cops working for the Paxwood Police she could encounter, he was always there, no matter where she dug into local lore and urban legends. Tonight, he stood next to his navy blue pickup, the blue flashes coming from a small dashboard light. He wore plaid and denim, no senior partner in site—definitely off-duty. When Kerry had first met him, before he became an officer, he’d had his straight black hair pulled back in a ponytail, but ever since he signed up to protect and serve, he kept it in a short buzz cut.

“Charlotte Muso?” He tilted his head to one side. He had his phone out in his hand, his other hand resting at his hip—probably close to his holstered gun, though Kerry couldn’t see it from this angle. “Then, Councilwoman Rhys-Hansen’s car wasn’t stolen and ditched out in the woods. Hello, Kerry.”

Kerry locked eyes with Officer Morgan and flashed him her best innocent smile. “Borrowed, with permission!”

“There was a wolf,” Char cut in. “We were just enjoying an evening stroll, and we heard it howl, and I don’t think it chased us, but they usually come in packs, don’t they?”

“Heard reports about wolves in the area.” Officer Morgan looked past Char and Kerry then, toward the gravel road. “It’s a dark Tuesday night. Not summer break yet.”

Kerry’s instinct was to point out that Officer Morgan was not, in fact, her parent or guardian, and even if he was an officer, there wasn’t any kind of curfew for Paxwood High School students, but she was still trying to catch her breath, so stringing that whole sentence together and sounding polite wouldn’t be possible.

Instead, she managed two words: “I know.”

“Did you get a good look at the wolf?”

“No, sir,” Char said. “The second we saw it, we started running back for the car.”

“You’re out here on one of Kerry’s little ghost hunts, aren’t you?” He flipped his thumb across his phone screen, unlocking it. “Looking for ghosts of murdered lumberjacks?”

His tone was mocking, and Kerry knew what he was doing with his phone. “Nothing we’re doing here is illegal, and we’re not being a danger to ourselves or others, either. We left the area when we realized there was a danger. We’re going home. You don’t need to–“

But she could already hear the phone ringing on speaker, then her mother’s voice. “Rhys-Hansen.”

“Hello, Councilwoman, this is Officer Adrien Morgan, with the Paxwood PD. I’m sorry to call at such a late hour, but your daughter and her friend are out on an old logging road at the south end of town. They had a run-in with a wolf, but they’re fine. I’m sending them home now.”

“Thank you for letting me know, Officer Morgan. I’m glad that they’re both safe. Tell Kerry to take Charlotte home first, then come home.”

“I will, Ms. Rhys-Hansen. Have a good night.”

Kerry seethed as he hung up the phone. But what was she going to do? The damage had already been done.

“I guess we’ll be on our way,” she said, loosening her jaw enough to let the words hiss through. “Come on, Char.”

“The wolf wasn’t that far away,” Char said, pointing.

“Thank you, Miss Muso.” Officer Morgan nodded his head to her one more time, then started down the gravel road for himself. 

Kerry waited until she’d started the car, turned it around, and gotten back on solid pavement before she gave a frustrated groan.

“Why is he always there?” 

“Kind of glad he was tonight, considering,” Char noted.

“He didn’t have to call my mother—or accuse me of stealing her carr or remind me it’s a school night. He was out of line.”

“He was there for a reason.”

“Was he, though? How can a cop deal with a wolf? That’s a job for animal control or a forest ranger. Now my mom’s not going to let me use the car for Memorial Day Weekend. No Bellingham trip. We’ll be stuck in town with all the tourists coming in. And biking to school. And she’ll probably give me a curfew, too.”

“At least it’s summer soon. Curfew? Bikes? We’ll still go exploring, just like middle school. We would be in much worse shape if we’d gotten mauled by wolves.”

Char found the best in things—whether she whipped together random ingredients she found in the cupboard to make a meal, or she built something in shop class, or she polished the silver lining around a challenge. Usually Kerry loved this about her, but at that moment, it wasn’t helpful.

Silence fell between the two friends as Kerry navigated the roads of her lifelong home town, headlight beams more than enough for her even where there weren’t streetlights. The street corners, stretches of roads, and landmarks gleamed in her memory.

Driving these familiar roads, Kerry could sink into the silence and work out a plan to negate the worst consequences.

Char reached out and turned on the radio, tuning into a smooth jazz station that provided general soothing meaningless background noise, cutting through the silence until they reached her driveway and Kerry put the car in park.

“I wish tonight had gone differently,” Kerry said, turning toward her friend.

“Me, too.” Char managed a smile. “See you at school tomorrow?”

Kerry waited for Char to unlock the front door and vanish inside before she shifted into reverse. Then it hit her.

She’d spent the entire ride silently figuring how to get herself out of trouble. She didn’t think to ask how Char felt after facing a wolf.

Once again, Kerry missed her chance to tell Char how she felt. Worse, she’d neglected to care for her best friend.

Honestly, it was for the best. Once they’d moved on to college, they wouldn’t be together anymore. Kerry wanted to study history or journalism or both. Char would probably attend a culinary school with her love of cooking. Different schools. Maybe different states.

She beat her head back against the driver’s seat head rest to the smooth rhythms of the jazz, since her left foot was too busy with the gas and brake pedals to kick herself. This whole ‘confessing her love to Char’ thing was pointless. She should just let it go.

She pulled her mother’s car into the garage—no sign of her father’s car, but that was no surprise. He was on another big trip for his consulting firm, running efficiency seminars for businesses, and she doubted she’d be seeing him until the weekend at the earliest. Still, the front window lights glowed, and she saw her mother’s silhouette through the curtains.

Time to weasel her way out of getting grounded until legal adulthood.

related 🧶 for ko-fi members – Kerry’s Notes for the Pixie-Bitten: How I Met Adrien Morgan

Episode 4: Distracted

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