Episode 18: Yogurt Drops

 “You went to Paxwood House, didn’t you?”

The question was not unexpected, but the way that Mx. Cardoso was looking at her when he asked it felt weird. Kerry stood in the lobby of Cardoso Auto, between Mx. Cardoso and their friend Rowen, and both of them were staring at her like she was a lab specimen in a jar that had grown an unexpected and rather deadly form of mold.

“What?” Kerry asked–not so much an intentional denial as pure confusion at this reaction.

“I told you not to go there. I warned you that it was dangerous.” Mx. Cardoso rounded the counter and came to Kerry’s side then, reaching into their pocket as they did. Of all the things they could possibly have removed, a small cream-colored mouse was pretty low on Kerry’s list of expectations, but there the mouse was, twitching its nose at her. “Hold RC for me, will you?”

“RC?” But Kerry cupped her hands, more out of the absurdity of the moment than anything else.

Mx. Cardoso didn’t so much drop the mouse into her hands as hold one hand close to Kerry’s and let the mouse climb over. Almost immediately, Kerry felt something like warmth spreading outward, starting from her hands. It wasn’t actual warmth, and she hadn’t been cold, but it was the only way that she could describe it.

“Reepicheep, RC for short,” Mx. Cardoso confirmed. “She’s a real sweetheart–and, yes, I do know that her namesake is a boy mouse. She’s been napping in my pocket and I can tell she needs some air and a treat.”

They rounded the counter again, opened a drawer, and pulled out a ziplock bag full of something that looked like chocolate chips in shape, but creamy pink instead of chocolate brown. Then they came back to Kerry’s side.

The mouse sat there on its, no, her hind legs, grooming her whiskers, nose twitching softly. Her attention snapped straight back to Mx. Cardoso as they approached with the bag of little cream-colored chips in hand.

“Yogurt drops,” Mx. Cardoso explained. “RC loves them. Want to give her one?”

“I’m… very confused right now,” Kerry stated. Still, with the mouse perched in one palm, she reached out and took a couple of yogurt drops from the bag to offer to RC. She’d had a teacher with a class hamster once, but that was the closest she’d ever gotten to holding a mouse. The warmth-but-not-warmth kept moving through her as the mouse gave a surprisingly cheerful tiny squeak and took one of the yogurt drops in her nimble little paws.

Rowen circled around to the other side of the counter, too. She rested her hand on Kerry’s shoulder.

“What I’m about to say is just going to make you feel more confused for a little while, but magic is real.”

Mx. Cardoso sucked in a sharp breath and shot Rowen with an accusatory look.

“You’re going to put your mouse familiar in this teenager’s hands and work an aura cleansing spell through her and say nothing about the reality of what happened, then expect her to start listening to you when she’s already chosen not to once?” Rowen asked. “She’s better off knowing.”

Kerry looked down at the mouse, up at Mx. Cardoso, over to Rowen. “Mouse familiar? Like, a witch’s familiar?”

“I prefer mage, personally.” Mx. Cardoso shook their head and sighed. “Okay, you have a point, Ro. I might not like it, but you do. Yes, RC is my mouse familiar. And, yes, I’m using her to channel an aura cleansing spell into you. Some places, when you visit them, well, it’s like how firefighters will say that they always smell like smoke–“

“Firefighters, really?” Rowen cut in.

Mx. Cardoso shrugged. “You do something that annoys me, I do something that annoys you. This is how you know we’re friends. So, it’s like how firefighters will say that they always smell like smoke because the smoke gets into their clothes, into their skin, into their hair, and it takes a lot to wash that strong smell out. Now, did you actually go into the house?”

Kerry was  too confused to lie–she told Mx. Cardoso and Rowen everything, from the dare, planning with Char, all the way through Ms. Anholts lying to her mom about why she was at Paxwood House. As she did, she fed RC yogurt drops, slowly, one at a time, and Mx. Cardoso–Alex–listened and sometimes moved their hands through the air in odd purposeful gestures, their fingers forming particular shapes. At some point, Rowen locked the lobby door, and the three of them sat down together in the comfortable waiting room chairs while Kerry recounted all that had happened.

“But, there was nothing paranormal there,” Kerry concluded. “It was an ordinary stray dog. The salt struck its side and startled it off. Cody broke his leg because he fell backward down the stairs when the dog tackled him. All totally normal.”

“But you could tell, couldn’t you?” Alex asked. “You said yourself that the grounds of Paxwood House seemed darker than they should have been at midday. If you’d actually gone into the house, well, the darkness just keeps getting thicker and denser inside the walls.”

“It was just the trees. Dense canopy,” Kerry argued. She’d had so many things she thought were paranormal debunked in front of her eyes that these arguments came naturally to her now. “If it were magic, well, even when I was a kid interviewing your best friend the Olympic fencer for my elementary school newsletter, I was always asking questions about magic, and you and everyone else were always telling me why and how magic wasn’t real, so, why is it that this Rowen Hayward comes here and says magic is real, and now the jig is up? What makes her special?”

She didn’t mean to raise he voice as she pressed forward, word from word, but by the end of the last question, she was on her feet, and RC had leapt back over to Alex’s hands.

Alex was dumbfounded, but Rowen smiled at Kerry.

“You are a truthseeker. I love your fire, but an auto shop waiting room might not be the best place for this conversation,” Rowen said. “Is there a best local restaurant around here? Somewhere cozy, comfortable, maybe diner food? It was a bit of a drive from the airport, and they didn’t serve any meals on the flight, either.”

Kerry blinked. “You’re… not mad?”

“You mean, I’m not mad that you’re mad that people have been lying to you and now you don’t know what to think?” Rowen asked in return. “You have a right to be confused and upset, even if the people around you have been hiding things to protect you. Which, they have been.”

“I have been, at least,” Alex said, leaning forward. “Once someone knows that magic is real, once they start to make the connections that you’re making, it increases the likelihood that danger will come find them. There are dark and terrible beings that don’t like mere mortals looking their way. Plus there are mages and manipulators of all kinds who will take advantage of someone who has just started to enter this world and doesn’t understand it well. You’ve got enough trouble in your life, just being a human with human problems. Are you sure you want to open this door?”

Alex was being sincere–Kerry could tell this from the way that the faintest frown of concern curved their mouth and the weight that made their shoulders slump.

Still, she stood, head high, shoulders straight. “Maisey’s Diner. Let’s go.”

Episode 18: Yogurt Drops

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