Episode 9: Just Friendship

 Maybe Sly found Luella Paxwood’s journal a bit dry and boring, but once Kerry started reading it, she got carried away. Between the words on the page and the notes she took on her laptop, she lost herself in a world of research. The only thing that finally pulled her out of it was when Char messaged her through the chat app she had installed on her laptop.

Char: You didn’t answer my text, so I bet you’re still at the library with your phone silenced. It’s almost dinner–hungry?

Kerry looked up at the clock on the wall, then over across the table. At some point, Sly had cleaned up her books and placed them on the little rolling shelf the Librarians preferred to have books returned to. (This helped them keep records of which books actually were used by patrons, so whenever they weeded out unused books, they wouldn’t accidentally remove things people used in-library.) Kerry didn’t have to ask to know that this book would not be eligible for check-out, so she carefully noted exactly where she was in her notes, snapped a couple of quick pictures of some entries that had especially interested her, and placed the book on the return shelf.

A big part of the reason she chose to pack up first, before scrambling to the text, was because Kerry knew her own heart. If she let herself get caught up in her feelings about Char, too available, answering messages too quickly, she’d be setting herself up for disappointment. Instead, she tried to put intentional space, intentional pauses into her interactions. She and Char were friends, close friends, but still friends. That was all. That had to be all.

Once she was packed, she actually looked at her phone.

There was a message from her mother that she would be late and Kerry should make her own dinner–no surprise there.

Then there were two messages from Char.

Char: (3:40) Sorry — Math stuff took longer than I expected it would. I had to retake the whole test, but I brought my grade up by 25%, so that feels good! I’m going to head home 🙂 Let me know when you’re done and if you want to come over then?

Char: (4:37) It’s getting close to dinner–finding good story?

Kerry bit her lip. Enough time had passed. She could reply now.

Kerry: Dinner sounds lovely. On my way, bicycle style!

Char: See you soon

Char was the kind of friend that came into your life so rarely that you had to take care of them if you wanted to keep them around. Even if Kerry had to make sure that she didn’t let her heart wander off the edge of a cliff and plummet into the deadly chasm of unrequited romantic love, she still needed to make sure that she took care of this friendship that mattered so much to her.

So Kerry spent the whole bike ride carefully filing away all the thoughts about Paxwood House. Sure, her research notes were closed, but her mind was always so hungry for story that putting the thoughts aside was like stuffing coiled springs into a box and securing the top before anything could come popping out. She had to hold each thought down with care, layer them just right so that they wouldn’t go bumping around and setting each other off. It was definitely not the time to let her vampire research from the night prior start her rabbiting down a road of curiosity: Why would a vampire want access to a house once inhabited by a family with at least a few occult-dabblers in it?

No, she absolutely had to let Char lead the conversation.

By the time she knocked on the door, she was pretty sure she had a neatly ordered list of things to follow up on and ways to follow up on them, including finding out if her mom happened to have the name of the pale man in the suit who’d been presenting along with Ms. Anholts, and his exact connection to Silphium. Maybe there was something there. Maybe not. He didn’t have to be a literal vampire to have an angle worth investigating.

Char called for Kerry to come right in, and when she crossed the threshold, the rich smells of a well-prepared dinner wafted around her.

“So glad you could join us tonight,” Char’s father said, beaming. He was a lean man of Japanese descent, with long black hair pulled back in a ponytail and an easy smile. Char got some of her creativity right from him. He’d taken up an interest in sewing as a child because his mother had been a seamstress and he fell in love with doing anything he could with scraps of fabric and spools of leftover thread. He’d grown up to become a costume designer, and he worked with all kinds of people and organizations nowadays. Like Kerry’s own father, he did end up traveling for work, but Char’s father always seemed to want to come home after a stretch away at some filming location. 

“Mom’s on her way home, and we’ll eat then,” Char added. “How was the library?”

Kerry shrugged that question off quickly, though the coiled springs of story inside of her wanted to pop.

In some ways, this was always how dinner at Char’s went. They ate together, with Char’s parents, like family, talking about their day. Kerry got to listen to Char’s father talk about the latest script he was reading and designing costumes for, and Char’s mother would relay what beautiful human moments she got to be part of with her catering services–most especially the weddings. Char and Kerry chimed in with how school was going, what they were learning, and then it would be time to clear the table and put dishes away, like the whole meal had been the cozy closing scene out of an old family sitcom.

Kerry could barely even remember the last time she’d had dinner at home with both her parents, but there was no reason to interrogate that.

With dinner over, Char was able to take over the kitchen to make a dessert, as long as she cleaned up afterward, and Char’s parents went off to spend some time together after a day apart.

“They’re wonderful,” Kerry said, not for the first time.

“And smothering,” Char said, rolling her eyes. “When I got home, my dad wanted to spend the better part of half an hour talking with me about why I did so poorly on that math test in the first place and what my plan was for the next test so I can pass it the first time.”

As Char spoke, she went fluidly through the motions of pulling out the stand mixer, measuring out ingredients familiar to her, and putting them all together. Kerry leaned on the counter, knowing better than to ask if Char wanted help with any of the process. This was Char’s way to decompress, and if she did need a second pair of hands, she’d ask.

“He doesn’t believe that I can be responsible for myself,” Char pressed on. “It’s not like I’m new at being a student at a public school any more. I know how to ask teachers questions. I know how to ask for help. I took the initiative and went after school today and no one had to tell me to.”

Before Char’s family moved to Paxwood, her parents had homeschooled her, and Kerry could still remember how shell-shocked her friend had been on her very first day. Public schools were kind of a warzone, and middle school was where some of the most harrowing battles happened.

“I hear you,” Kerry said, though, simple and direct. This was the best thing she had to offer in the moment.

“I just wish that they could see that I’ve grown up.” Char sighed. Mixing done, she poured out a fluffy chocolate concoction into two bowls and pushed one of them toward Kerry. “They’re always going to look at me and see this shy little girl who can’t talk to anyone. And that’s not who I am.”

“I’m not about to tell them you faced down a wolf the other night to prove it,” Kerry said, keeping her voice conspiratorially low. “Are you… feeling all right after that?”

Char jabbed a spoon in Kerry’s direction. “Not you, too.”

“All right, all right,” Kerry replied, hands up then. “I didn’t mean to put you in such a dangerous position, though.”

“I know that, and it’s all right, really.” 

The chocolate fluff was absolutely perfect, everything that Kerry could have wanted from a dessert and more–light, airy, rich, decadent. She enjoyed a few bites in silence before she realized that Char was watching closely, waiting for a clear reaction before she started eating  her own.

“It’s perfect. Thank you.” 

Char relaxed immediately at the approval and began to eat her own with more enthusiasm. “All right. I know that you’re dying to tell me. What did you learn at the library?”

Well, if Char had asked, who was Kerry to deny her a story?

related 🧶 for ko-fi members – Kerry’s Notes for the Pixie-Bitten: Two Vampires and a Vessel

Episode 9: Just Friendship

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