Tuesday, 14 May 2019, Night (New Moon)
Paxwood, Whatcom County, Washington, USA
“Kerry Rhys-Hansen.” Officer Adrien Morgan tipped his head at us. He wore plaid and denim and he had no senior partner anywhere in sight, so he was definitely off duty. The first time I met him, before he joined the force, he kept his long straight black hair in a ponytail, but ever since he signed up to protect and serve, he had a short buzz cut. Conformity could drain the life out of a person, and Adrien hadn’t exactly been fun when he was in high school and I was in middle school, either.
Even with a dozen potential Paxwood police officers who I might encounter while researching local lore and legends, it was always Adrien Morgan getting in my way. At least he’d never caught me around Paxwood House. He’d have an absolute field day over it. It’d be the excuse he needed to issue an arrest instead of a stern warning.
“And Charlotte Muso,” he added, looking over at Char. He had his phone out in one hand, flashlight in the other. “So Councilwoman Rhys-Hansen’s car wasn’t stolen and ditched at the edge of the woods.”
I locked eyes with him and flashed my best innocent smile. “Borrowed, with permission, sir.” Would he pick up the note of sarcasm, or had I swallowed it? “We’re looking for a good place to do some stargazing for an astronomy project for science. Arietids, and the weather’s perfectly clear. The meteor shower?”
Char wouldn’t see the harm in telling Officer Morgan that we were out here seeking out a faerie-made sanctuary in the birch trees because of a story I’d read on the internet. If he called my parents, and he said anything other than that they were conducting research for school, I could lose my car keys with summer right around the corner.
“Had reports of wolves in the area.” Officer Morgan looked past us, down the gravel road. “Plus, it’s a school night.”
I wanted to point out that Officer Morgan was not, in fact, my parent or guardian, and there wasn’t any kind of curfew for Paxwood High students. But there was no way I’d be able to say that politely, so instead I stuck with two crisp words.
“We heard a wolf howl,” Char said. “I thought it might be a good time to go home?”
“You’re out here on a silly little ghost hunt, not a school project, aren’t you?” Officer Morgan flicked his thumb across his phone screen. “Looking for ghosts of murdered lumberjacks or something like that?”
His tone was mocking. I tried to cut it off with quick words. One last attempt. “Look, we’re not doing anything illegal, and we’re not being a danger to ourselves or others. We’re about to go home. You don’t need to–“
But the phone rang a death knell to that dream, then my mother’s voice answer: “Rhys-Hansen.”
“Hello, Councilwoman, this is Officer Adrien Morgan, with the Paxwood PD. I’m sorry to call at such a late hour, but your daughter and her friend are out on an old logging road at the south end of town. There are reports of wolves in the area, but they’re fine. I’ll send them home now, for their safety.”
“Thank you for calling me. I’m glad that they’re both safe. Tell Kerry to drop Charlotte off first, then come home.”
“I will, ma’am. Have a good night.”
I seethed as he hung up the phone. But what could I do? The damage was already done. “I guess we’ll be on our way,” I said once I worked my clenched jaw loose enough for words.
“Thanks for protecting us,” Char said.
“Of course, Miss Muso.” Officer Morgan nodded once more before he started up the gravel road.
There was no way I could stick around now that my mom expected me, so apparently he didn’t feel the need to escort us to my car.
I still stomped back, seething, putting distance between me and Char. I waited until we’d both fastened our seatbelts before I let out a frustrated groan.
“Why is he always there?”
“He said there was a report of wolves in the area,” Char noted.
“Okay, but how can an off duty cop deal with a wolf? That’s a job for animal control or a forest ranger. And it’s weird that he came at us from the treeline instead of the road, isn’t it? Now my mom’s going to take the car. No Bellingham trip for Memorial Day weekend. We’ll be stuck in town with all the tourists coming in. And we’ll have to bike to school. And she’ll probably give me a curfew.”
“Well, it sounds like you lied to her.” Char said this softly, tentative, but I wasn’t angry with her, and I couldn’t be when she was right, either. “It could be better to tell the people you care about the truth, then let them decide how to respond.”
Only the rumbling car engine filled the space between us for a long moment. She meant well, but my parents and her parents were not alike in the whole empathy department. Don’t get me wrong—my parents weren’t abusive or neglectful. But neither of them understood me or my interest in the stories I was chasing. My mother loved it when I used my skills of observation to keep an eye on the audience at tonight’s city council meeting and provide her with my insights. But looking for a gate to a faerie-made sanctuary in a stand of birch trees? That was deviant behavior, and I needed to grow up.
“Well, at least it’s summer soon. Even if you’ve got a curfew or we’re stuck on bikes like middle schoolers, we can still explore and have adventures. I’ll put basket on my bike for when we go to the grocery store to buy cooking ingredients, and we’ll have to keep it small without a trunk.”
There was another thing I loved about Char: She found the best in things—whether she whipped together random foods from a cupboard or she built something amazing and functional from scraps in shop class, or she polished the tarnished silver lining around any challenge she faced. It was a fine trait to possess, even if it wasn’t the most helpful at the moment.
I wanted to be angry, hurt, frustrated, and so I turned on the radio and let myself stew as I navigated my lifelong hometown, headlights more than enough even when there weren’t streetlights. The street corners, stretches of roads, and landmarks gleamed in my memory, despite the darkness.
Char tuned in a smooth jazz station that provided soothing, meaningless background noise until we reached her driveway and I put the car in park.
“I wish tonight had gone differently,” I said, breaking the long silence.
“Me, too.” Char managed a smile. “See you at school tomorrow. Text me if it turns out you can pick me up?”
“Of course, but don’t bet on it.”
I waited until Char was safely through her front door before I shifted in reverse. Char’s smooth jazz station buzzed against my nerves. Once again, I hadn’t told Char how I felt. Worse, she hated when I lied, and I’d lied all the same.
Honestly, it was for the best. After senior year, college would take us apart. I wanted to study history or journalism, and she was mostly looking at culinary schools and colleges with costume design majors. We’d be on separate tracks, probably in different states. This whole confessing my love to Char thing was pointless. I needed to let it go.
Soon enough, I was pulling into the garage—no sign of my father’s car, but that was no surprise. He was off on another business trip for his consulting firm, running some kind of efficiency seminary for businesses, and he probably wouldn’t be home until the weekend at the earliest. He wasn’t the one I had to worry about, anyway.
Time to go weasel my way out of getting grounded until legal adulthood.