Downtown Paxwood came alive only during certain times of the year–typical of a town that thrived primarily on tourism. The biggest seasons were the winter holidays and summer break. Sometimes the tourism board managed to snag the opportunity to host regional high school or college performance competitions, especially choir, band, and orchestra. But, two weeks before Memorial Day, Main Street was still pretty sleepy.
Some business owners were preparing for the summer rush. When Kerry inhaled as she passed by several store fronts, fresh paint smell assaulted her nose. Many of the stores were shuttered, considering it was more cost-effective to close shop and save on paying on employees and utilities during the off-season, and especially on a Sunday.
Kerry loved to take note of the displays, the store signs, the paint color choices. Would the audaciously rainbowtastic unicorn themes linger another year, or was everyone jumping on a new trend? Who was sticking with the rustic browns and forest greens that reflected Paxwood’s history as a lumber town? Where was a new business popping up, and how long would it survive?
The antique shop where Sly worked wasn’t the only one in town, considering tourists loved to go antiquing when they visited little cities that touted their historic legacy like Paxwood did. They loved to pretend to be treasure hunters, seeking out a special deal on some unique item that would get them a spot on one of those antique auction shows. Sometimes the professional antiquers came through, too–and every antique store owner in Paxwood understood that the story of the item was just as important as its condition and age.
When Kerry was seven, she’d annoyed one of the antique shop owners so much with her questions about every single item’s story that she got temporarily banned from all the antiques shops in town.
“When can I come back?” she’d asked.
“When you grow up and learn to be more respectful of your elders,” the shop owner had declared.
Kerry hadn’t understood then why the questions came off as disrespectful. Now, she understood that she’d been consuming a business owner’s time and energy on something that would never make them a profit. Many of them loved to talk stories to a certain extent, and fortunately she’d managed to get back into their good graces by her freshman year. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be able to visit Sly at work without causing a fuss.
The shop bell chimed cheerily when Kerry pushed open the glass door–reinforced with wrought iron bars that served as an artistic protection against thievery. Inside, that old antique shop smell greeted her–a lingering potpourri of wood and dust and fading perfume that bordered on stale without actually becoming offensive. Also, literal potpourri masked some of the staleness.
Sly leaned against the glass counter from the storekeeper side, an old paperback open in her hands. When she looked up, a frown of annoyance graced her face for a split second before vanishing at the sight of Kerry.
“Thanks for taking me up on the invitation,” Sly said. “I swear I don’t know why the shop’s open this early on a Sunday when it’s not even tourist season yet. All the town Christians are at church, all the tourists still have school, and it’s so dull that I’m actually rereading Dracula. I snagged it from the Little Library on the corner on my way in a few days ago because all the books in the shop are antiques that I’m not supposed to read unless I buy them.”
“Learned that from experience?” Kerry guessed. She was delighted that Sly had actually used the Little Library. There were a few of the birdhouse-sized boxes with shelves for people to leave their old books and take away used books that interested them, but so many of the high schoolers refused to touch used books. If they liked reading at all, they wanted new and unspoiled pages.
“Yep.” Sly waved a hand toward the bookshelf behind the counter. “All of these are out of print, or signed, or rare first editions, and not to be handled except with delicate care at the request of a customer.”
That sparked Kerry’s curiosity. Now she looked at the books on the shelf with a bit more curiosity. Was it possible that any of those books could be magic? A spell book? A tome that, when you read it, gifted you with some special power?
The questions struck her in a wave: Magic was real. She’d seen it, felt it, heard stories about it from Mx. Cardoso and Rowen. Magic wasn’t just real around Mx. Cardoso. It was real, everywhere, and why wouldn’t there be hints of magic lingering around an antique store like this?
But she wasn’t here to find just any sort of magic. She was here for some Paxwood history.
“Okay, so, what sort of Paxwood House treasures do you have?”
“Paxwood House served as the mayor’s house for so long that it can be kind of hard to verify that something is an antique that the Paxwood Family owned before they all passed away, not just something from the same time frame or made by a craftsperson who lived then, or something one of the mayors picked up and left there,” Sly started–it sounded like the recitation of a common disclaimer.
“But…?” Kerry prompted
Sly walked around the corner and wove off into the depths of the antique shop–tight spaces full to the brim with beautiful old things. She came to a stop in front of a shelf that contained a number of ornamental boxes and picked one of them up.
“Now, the individual who sold us this box swore up, down, and sideways that it belonged originally to Lady Paxwood. When you turn it over, you see her initials carved in the center.”
Sly placed the ornate dark-stained wooden jewelry box in Kerry’s hands, letting her turn it over for herself. Sure enough, she could see the cursive FMP in the center of the wooden base, and it could stand for Florence Marie Paxwood, the wife of lumber baron John Paxwood.
“But that alone isn’t enough to prove a chain of ownership,” Sly continued. “There’s no proof of purchase history. There’s a crafter’s mark that places it in the same time frame, though. The wood is cedar, which does line up to John Paxwood’s lumber operations right around here. It looks about the right age, and the local carpenter legacy does make it a valuable find even without proof of the story.”
Kerry felt the tingles run through her as she turned the box over again. Something inside of it shifted with just the slightest weight. She opened the box with delicate care. The lid moved smoothly on its hinges and rested at a perfect angle on its own, revealing a lovely polished mirror. The whole inside of the box was lined with deep emerald green plush velvet. Nothing inside, though.
“Beautiful.” Kerry breathed in the cedar scent and stared at herself in the mirror, imagining just for one moment what it might have been like for Lady Paxwood to open this jewelry box up for the first time and see her own reflection. She tilted the box at a slight angle, then tilted it the other way. Again, she could just faintly feel a shifting weight. She passed it over to Sly. “Tilt it back and forth slowly and tell me what you feel.”
Sly did what Kerry had done, and at first she pursed her lips and shook her head, but when she tilted the box at a bit more of an angle, her eyes widened.
“It feels like there’s something in here.”
Kerry held her hands out to take the box back. She first put her hand to the outside of the box and measured the height of it. Then she did the same with the interior. “That’s half an index finger of difference between the external height and the internal depth–more than I think this plush lining and the wooden box should leave. There might be a hidden compartment.”
“And there’s something inside,” Sly agreed. “Come on. Let’s go back to the cashier’s counter. I’m sure I can find something there we can use to try and open it up.”