Episode 16: Butterflies and Toads

When people talked about butterflies in their stomach, that churning nervous feeling that came from something uncertain and nerve-wracking happening in the world, it was always a sign that something good was about to happen. Kerry wished there was a better phrase to describe the unsettled churning that came when the world was falling apart. This wasn’t a weight like rocks, and it wasn’t exactly a dropping sensation. It was more like the butterflies were there, but at the base of her stomach a knab of warty toads kept catching them and swallowing them into oblivion. The butterfly wingbeats were uneven, desperate for escape, but there was no escape from the toads’ tongues.

Kerry pedaled her bike harder, propelled herself more quickly, hoping that the exertion would override the nervousness in her stomach, but really it just added a racing heartbeat and burning thighs on top of everything else. The whole thing was stupid–the dare, Char saying she needed space, Kerry feeling this way about a friend. All of it. She didn’t need to feel this way.

If only telling herself that on repeat for the entire ten minute bike ride to the library actually helped her feel it.

Saturdays were a busier day for the Paxwood Library. The children’s librarian liked to host different kinds of events, and it always brought in at least a small slice of the family crowd. Kerry might have sought comfort in the teen fiction section if it weren’t too near the excited hyper-observant little kids that could very possibly spot the puffy redness around her eyes, point it out, and then someone would ask her if everything was all right. She just didn’t need that.

So it was straight up the stairs to the old records room for Kerry. And, once again, she was not alone.

“Oh, Sly, hey.” Kerry headed over to the shelves where she knew Luella’s journal would be, keeping her face turned away from Sly to give herself a moment to try to somehow blink away the puffiness. Sly had a math textbook, a calculator, and some notebook paper spread out in front of her–nothing fun and interesting from among these old books. Kerry had been able to tell that just from a glance, even though she was looking away now. “Math homework?  On a Saturday? Even with homeschool?”

“I’m trying to get a bit ahead so I can enjoy a long Memorial Day Weekend. Maybe finish the whole school year’s curriculum early and get a long summer, at that.” Sly shrugged. “Plus my shift at Harrison’s Antiques starts in an hour, and let’s just say I’ve spent enough time at home for the week.”

Kerry could only imagine, but she did have one point of connection. “Char was homeschooled, before she started at Paxwood Middle.”

The answer came out unbidden, quick, natural, but then one of those warty toads hopped heavy, and her throat choked up, and a tear escaped. She lifted her sleeve to her face and tried to wipe it away discreetly.

“Who’s… Oh, I have some tissues in my bag, if you need one.” Behind Kerry, she could hear Sly rifling through her bag.

Well, there was no hiding it, not now. Kerry grabbed Luella’s journal, then sat down at the table next to Sly. She placed the journal squarely in front of her before she took the tissue and dabbed at her eyes.

“Char’s my best friend,” Kerry managed to say. “I guess you wouldn’t know a lot of the kids around town, huh?”

Sly inclined her head, gently affirmative, but raised an eyebrow at the same time–a question asked without asking it verbally.

“Sorry. Char and I… Well, we were at Paxwood House with Cody, doing a dare thing, and Cody got hurt. Char’s upset. I’m just more shaken up than I thought, I guess?” Kerry explained.

“Was it the ghost dog that Luella wrote about?” Sly asked, tone playful. If she’d been trying to lighten the mood, it didn’t help.

“Real dog, actually,” Kerry replied. Slipping into storyteller mode put a layer of safety between her and the experiences, and Sly’s inquisitive expression was enough of an invitation. By the time she finished recounting the afternoon’s excitement, even down to Anholts lying to cover for her and Char, she felt more at ease in her own skin.

“If I’d known there’d be that much excitement around Paxwood House, I would have accepted Trish’s invitation,” Sly said. “I figured it was just a visit to a moldy old abandoned house. I’m sorry Cody broke his leg, and I’m sorry Char freaked out about the whole thing on you.”

“It wasn’t an easy morning for her, and not what either of us really expected, either,” Kerry said in Char’s defense.

“Yeah, but I’d think that would be when a best friend stands by you instead of leaving you hanging.” Sly held up a hand as Kerry opened her mouth. “Look, just one woman’s opinion. Take it how you will, but I’m not going to press it. I am going to give you my cell number, though. If you can tell me stuff like that, I guess we’re friends now.”

Sly ripped the left bottom corner off the notebook paper where she was doing her math homework and jotted down her digits, then slid the scrap over to Kerry.

“Friends,” Kerry agreed. She held out a hand, and Sly got the hint and gave her the pencil. With it, Kerry wrote her own number down on the remaining bottom corner of the notebook paper. Then she tapped Luella’s journal. “Have any recommendations on good entry dates?”

“Any year, around February, that’s the anniversary of Nellie and John’s deaths, and Luella indulges most in her ghostly imaginings around then,” Sly offered almost instantly. She tapped her pencil on her math work, then dropped it, rested her elbow on the table, and turned toward Kerry instead. “Okay, she doesn’t ever outright say it, at least not that I’ve found yet, but I think that Luella and Nellie were thick as thieves until a boy came between them. I think it happened not too long before Nellie passed away. I think the reason Luella feels haunted by Nellie is because she regrets the jealousy getting between them. Or I’m trying to make a dusty journal my adoptive father is making me read to get a better sense of town history sound more interesting than it really is, so I’m using any plot holes I find to add head canons.”

“I… don’t think it’s a plot hole when it’s a real person’s life.” Kerry laughed, though, and on the laugh, some of the butterflies escaped from the toads, making way for a little bit more calm inside of her.

Before she could get too settled in to the journal and her conversation with Sly, her phone buzzed in her pocket. She pulled it out–maybe too fast, maybe too eager, hoping to see Char’s name in her notifications.

But, no, it was a text from someone who wasn’t in her contacts: “It’s Mx. Cardoso. Can you meet me at Cardoso Auto?”

Kerry pursed her lips, brow furrowing. What, had they found out about the excitement at Paxwood House, and now they wanted to scold her in person?

“What is it?” Sly asked.

Kerry closed the journal, resting her hand on top of it. “Guess I’d better go find out. Wish I could take this with me.”

“We’re just lucky they let anyone come in this room and handle the old books.” Sly picked up her pencil again. “I’ll probably be on duty at the antique shop later, if you find yourself with more free time. You can come find me there if I don’t answer my texts. We’ve got some stuff in our authentic historical Paxwood collection you might like, actually.”

Kerry’s heart fluttered at that. Sometimes objects from history told stories all their own. “I’ll have to see what happens.”

Episode 16: Butterflies and Toads

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