It was no real surprise to Kerry when first her mother texted that she’d be home late, then her father texted that his business trip had been extended so that he could assist another client. She almost regretted leaving Char’s home early, just to go home to her quiet empty house, where only the dishwasher awaited her with a load of clean dishes that did need to be put away. The older she got, the more her parents seemed to think that she could handle being home alone for hours or even practically days at a time. Give it another year or two, and her parents would come to the conclusion that really Kerry could just go live by herself because she could feed herself, do laundry herself, and they knew she wouldn’t throw one of those stupid my-parents-aren’t-home drinking parties that every teen movie asserted really did happen.
Which, to be fair, those parties probably did happen somewhere. The people who threw them just didn’t invite the local crazy girl who spent all her time reading about ghosts and faeries.
So, she took care of the chores, turning on a light here where she needed it, then turning it off when she’d finished. From outside, she imagined she looked almost like a will-o-the-wisp wandering from room to room in a trail of lights, until she settled on the sitting room couch with her notes about Luella’s journal open on her laptop screen in front of her, trying to connect dots, wishing she could have the journal itself in her hand. She’d wait to see which happened first: Her mother coming home, or sleep calling her to rest her head.
The rumble of the garage door opener stirred her from her notes, though. The door out to the garage was through the laundry room, which was adjacent to the kitchen, so Kerry snapped her laptop shut and headed to the kitchen to greet her mother.
Her mother swept in and placed her luxury leather purse gently on the hook next to the garage door, precisely in place. Then she shrugged out of her coat with an exasperated sigh and hung that right over the top of the purse.
“I don’t know how I can convince the rest of the city council members that selling Paxwood House to Silphium is a bad idea, when Silphium is almost definitely slipping them vacations passes for when the new Northern Cascades Spa and Wellness Center opens and travel brochures to travel far and wide to Silphium’s more tropical resorts, besides.”
She went to the fridge and opened it up, taking out a bottle of sparkling water as she did.
Kerry did appreciate that even when she was in trouble, her mother still had a way of acknowledging that Kerry was something of a budding journalist, someone who could handle all the facts presented to her deftly.
“And there’s no way to prove that anyone is getting those gifts they’re not allowed to receive because it’s overt bribery of elected officials?” Kerry guessed.
“Exactly.” Her mother set aside the sparkling water, then grabbed out a silicon ziptop bag that contained last night’s leftovers. This went into the microwave.
“Well,” Kerry said, finding an opening in that. “I’ve been doing a bit of research into the history of Paxwood House and the Paxwood family, too. I thought… maybe if could get some human interest stories published about the history of the house, get people in Paxwood thinking about our fierce streak of independence, our founders, and our hometown pride, maybe that could help shift things your way?”
“It couldn’t hurt.” Her mother leaned against the counter, thoughtful. “But, honestly, there’s just a lot of pressure in terms of fiscal responsibility. We have this old city-owned property that’s just sitting there, empty, and it has been sitting empty for over twenty years. We’ve got people who want to buy it and do something with it. Unless I can find another buyer who can place a competitive bid, I just don’t think I’ll be able to sway a simple majority my way.”
“So, I make sure that anything I write isn’t just about town nostalgia. It’s a sales pitch, too.”
The microwave beeped, and her mother grabbed her leftovers, then headed to the dining table. Kerry sat down across from her. Even though the table was the same size as Char’s, even though her family was the same size as Char’s, the table felt vastly emptier with only the two of them sitting at it.
“I can’t really expect my sixteen-year-old daughter to fix all my problems with the magic of journalism, especially when she’s grounded,” Kerry’s mother said, raising an eyebrow. “I appreciate your enthusiasm, though it isn’t going to get you out of the grounding. Anything you’ve found out about the Paxwood family that you think might help, I’m all ears.”
Kerry folded her arms over her chest and leaned back, throwing an intentionally overplayed pout her mother’s way. “Had to try.”
“I was a teenager once, too. I get it.”
“Well, there is one other thing, actually,” Kerry said, tilting her head a bit. She might as well tell her mother about it. Maybe another adult could get Mx. Cardoso talking in even more detail, even if he’d shut Kerry down so hard. “I was asking Mx. Cardoso about the house, and he did mention he has a friend who might be looking to buy a property like that. Maybe you could swing by Cardoso Auto and ask him about it?”
“I’ll put that on my list for tomorrow. They’re a good person, Alex, and their dad and their family have cared about this city a long time.” Her mother nodded, grateful. “Just, stay out of trouble and keep your head down for me for a bit. I don’t need ‘She can’t control her daughter’ to be a personal attack people leverage against me right now when I’m already fighting a losing battle.”
“No trouble at all,” Kerry lied, giving her most demure smile. She’d already agreed to show up at Paxwood House on Saturday. She wasn’t going to back down and give Cody Bennet and company the excuse to call her a coward. They just had to be especially careful not to get caught.
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