By the time Char’s parents picked up the phone, Kerry, Char, and Ms. Anholts were back outside the wall surrounding Paxwood House–this time through the front gate. Kerry held her phone in her hand, running her thumb up and down the edge of it as she debated whether to follow Char’s example and call her mother now, or just to wait it out. Her mother was going to find out sooner or later, anyway, so it would probably be best to call her, but there was no point in rushing that call, either.
Instead, she listened to the side of Char’s conversation that she could hear.
“I’m okay, I’m just, I’m at Paxwood House?” Char was saying. Every sentence lilted upwards, transforming every statement in a question. “I came with Kerry, and–” Pause. “I’m okay, I’m fine, I promise.” Pause” She’s fine too? I mean, she is fine, yes. One of our friends got hurt, though, and I just… do you think you could come pick me up?” Pause. “Yeah, there’s already help here.”
Ms. Anholts stepped up then, and she held her hand out in offer, her fingers curling out and in expressively. Did she just really like talking with her hands? “If you’d like me to explain, Miss Muso?”
Char nodded, then handed the phone over.
“I understand you must be worried, but it’s honestly all my fault, Mrs. Muso. This is Tricia Anholts. Yes, that’s me. You see, I know that Kerry is something of an expert when it comes to town history and research, and I asked her to come with me for an inspection of the house today. Char and their friend Cody came along, as well, and unfortunately we were separated and there was a wild dog on the property that attacked Cody. Char and Kerry are fine. Brave, even. They tried to scare the dog off to protect their friend. I can tell it’s shaken them both up. I feel terrible. I should have realized an old house like this that’s stood empty for so long was a danger. Certainly, I’ll gladly check with you in the future if I do something like this again. All right. We’ll see you soon.”
Kerry’s mouth gaped as Ms. Anholts handed the phone back to Char. Had she just covered for them? Catching Kerry’s look, Ms. Anholts gave her a friendly wink. “I can talk to your mother, as well, of course.”
“I’d… really appreciate that,” Kerry said. Now she did swipe her passcode across her phone screen.
The conversation with Kerry’s mother played out much the same way as Char’s had, although Kerry felt so much more calm for her parts of it. No waver in her voice, no fear or uncertainty. At least for now, Ms. Anholts had saved her from dire trouble. And since she was the one who’d created the lie in the first place, it would look bad if she switched it up and told the truth later.
The pale lawyer walked over just as Ms. Anholts returned Kerry’s phone.
“Tricia, all things considered, I would advise against continuing with an inspection today. It think it would be best if we made sure there aren’t any other wild animals around first, wouldn’t you?”
“Of course, Hugh, of course. Let’s send everyone home. Girls, you’re both all right waiting for your parents on your own?”
“Yes, we’ll be fine,” Kerry answered quickly. And now she had a name for the apparent vampire lawyer, too–at least a first name.
“Good, good.” Ms. Anholts smiled. “I’ll see you later.”
She waved, her fingers fingers curling just a bit more expressively, not a uniform up and down, not quite one after the other, exactly. Then Ms. Anholts was off about her business, and Kerry turned toward Char, giving a sigh of relief as she did.
“I can’t believe she helped us out,” Kerry said.
But Char’s brow furrowed, and she shook her head. “I can’t believe Cody just got mauled and broke his leg, and you’re more worried about the trouble we could have been in? And now I guess I have to lie to my parents about what happened because someone else started it.”
That wasn’t the response that Kerry had expected. Her heart sank like an anchor inside of her, weighing down her tongue completely.
“And all for a stupid dare, chasing after your stories,” Char pressed on, though, fists clenched at her sides now. “The wolf in the woods earlier this week was bad enough. It was fun when we were in middle school and everything was looking for mushrooms growing in circles or watching for people who might be ghosts while we went on walking tours of the town and stuff, but lately, it’s like you’re obsessed. I keep on thinking, no, Kerry’s a good person, she wouldn’t do things that would let me get hurt. But Cody. Broke. His. Leg.”
Kerry tried to catch hold of the storm inside her and ride it out. “But you were so brave today. You charged right in and helped Cody. And he’s alive, and he’ll recover, and it’s not like either of us told him to go rushing toward the house without checking it out and making sure it was safe first.”
“So, it’s Cody’s fault?” Char asked.
“Why are you defending him?” The words came sharp, honed with more jealousy than Kerry would have expected. No, she had no reason to feel jealous of Cody. Char and Cody weren’t dating. Besides, Char would have mentioned something if she had a crush, wouldn’t she? They were best friends. That was best friends did.
“I’m not defending him, and the fact that you can’t see that is what makes this whole thing even worse.” Char’s shoulders slumped, and she looked down and away from Kerry. Her voice came out husky, with a soft sniff, and that was what nearly broke Kerry to pieces more than anything else. “I just… need a break for a while, Kerry. I’m going to go wait for my parents.”
Char started to walk away then, down the street. In a love story, the sky would break and it would start raining right then, but the late spring Western Washington skies didn’t oblige. No, it was warm, and it was absolutely clear what was happening. Still, Kerry knew her role here.
“Wait,” Kerry said, holding her hand out. “I… I want to be there for you.”
Char looked over her shoulder. “I’m not so sure. I think, maybe, you want me to be there for you, and that’s not the same thing.
The world went watery, and now Kerry looked away, too. She didn’t need to bother anyone with her tears. What did she have to cry about, anyway? She and Charlotte were just friends, after all. It didn’t matter that much.
She texted her mom that she was going to head to the library instead of waiting around. No point in sticking around when Char wanted her to leave, and Kerry had a perfectly good bicycle anyway.
This was fine. Absolutely fine.