Wednesday, 15 May 2019, Evening
Paxwood, Whatcom County, Washington, USA
Luella Paxwood’s voice caught me somewhere between the turn of a page, where her journal became less like reading and more like listening to an old friend. I absorbed her life story, took notes on my computer, forgot about the existence of time or food. At some point, Sly cleaned up her books and placed them on the return shelf, but she left quietly. Whether she respected my focus or found it dull, I didn’t particularly care.
I didn’t discover any obvious mention of a hidden treasure in Luella Paxwood’s journal, but would it be a secret hidden treasure if someone blatantly wrote about it in the open text of a journal?
I also didn’t notice the time or the text messages until the on-duty librarian arrived to inform me that she was locking up the library.
I apologized for holding her up and only then checked my phone.
My mother messaged to let me know she was busy with city council work and I should handle my own dinner. That was typical, though.
Then there were three messages from Char.
Char (3:40 PM): Finally done with math retakes—brought my score up to an A! Heading home, lmk when you’re on your way over?
Char (4:37 PM): Did a book eat you? Should I send help?
Char (5:24 PM): Dinner might be leftovers by the time you’re here, but you’re still invited!
I kicked myself as I sent a reply.
Kerry (6:04 PM): Sorry! Lost track of time — omw
Leftovers at Char’s still beat whatever I’d piece together on my own at home. Though I found Luella Paxwood’s company entrancing, my reverie was broken. My stomach demanded attention.
Char was a once-in-a-lifetime friend who deeply understood me, and I never wanted to lose that. So, I spent the whole bike ride to her home filing away all my thoughts and research notes about Paxwood House, the haunting, the potential hidden treasure, and lawyers that definitely weren’t vampires.
Even with my research notes physically closed away, my mind was all wound up. It felt like stuffing springs into a box and securing the lid before the thoughts could jump out. I layered each line just right so it would rest without bumping into another and causing an explosion of new thoughts.
After last night’s debacle, I had to let Char lead the conversation. Everything in our friendship couldn’t always be about me and my investigations.
By the time I knocked on her door, I’d ratcheted my mental box of investigative springs tightly shut. The flower beds in the front yard were in full bloom. Char’s father loved doing landscaping and gardening to relax, and his love showed through the bright selection of colors in elaborate arrangements.
Still hadn’t found faeries in those flower beds, but one of these days I’d set up an outside camera and watch for them. It was just that kind of perfect dreamy paradise for a faerie dance.
Char called for me to come in, so I pushed the door open. The sound of the sink running and dishes clanking cut off.
“Sorry you missed dinner with us,” Char’s father said from his open study, off to the right of the doorway. I pulled off my shoes and left them on the shoe rack. His costume design work featured in stage productions and on screen all over the world. Fabric, sketches, and costume projects in various states of completion filled his work space.
“We saved some for you, though,” Char’s mother chimed in. She was no doubt curled up with a relaxing book in the living room.
Which meant that Char was doing the dishes.
“Thank you,” I said, loud enough that both adult Musos would hear me. I went to the kitchen to see what was leftover.
Char was wearing an apron—adorable—while she worked on the dishes. The microwave hummed, a plate already inside, warming just for me.
“How was the library?” she asked.
I shrugged off that question, much as it strained my mentally coiled springs.
“How was your day?” I bit my tongue to keep the terms of endearment inside.
“I’m working on a design for a puzzle box in shop class,” Char said. While she finished pre-rinsing and then loading the dishwasher, and I ate the leftovers—still deliciously fresh—Char recounted her day to me. She lowered her voice as she got to her own frustrations, though. “When I got home, my dad spent the better part of half an hour checking my math work and making sure I had a plan, so I wouldn’t need a retake for the next quiz.”
I wasn’t going to say that my parents did far less for me. Instead, I gave an affirming, “Mm.”
“He doesn’t believe I can be responsible for myself. I’m used to being in a public school now. I know how to ask teachers questions. I took the initiative, studied at lunch, went right after school to take care of it. No one made me do that.”
Char homeschooled her way through her elementary school years. I still remembered the shell-shocked look on her face on her first day attending a public middle school, even one as relatively tame as Paxwood Middle. All middle schools were war zones.
“I hear you,” I said. The best three words I could offer were not the three words I wanted to use.
“I wish they’d realize I’ve grown up. They’re always going to think I’m that shy girl who couldn’t talk to anyone.”
Suddenly, she was swapping my cleared dinner plate for a ramekin of mysterious chocolate fluff, which was fortunate because I really had no words. Her parents had to recognize that Char was a confident force to be reckoned with these days. But what did Char want to hear?
I took a bite. The chocolate fluff was airy and sweet, with notes of chocolate bitterness making it all sweeter. I enjoyed a few bites, then gave my verdict.
“This is perfect. Thank you.”
She relaxed at the words of approval, releasing tension from her shoulders. “All right, your turn. I know you’re dying to tell me what you learned at the library.”
Since she asked, how could I deny her?
“I found the journal of John Paxwood’s youngest daughter, Luella. Or, at least, one of her journals. She might have more. And if I could have checked it out to keep reading, believe me, I would have. Her perspective about early Paxwood is enchanting. Plus…”
I told Char about overhearing Tricia Anholts and the Silphium lawyer’s conversation, leaving out exactly where I heard it. She’d assume at city hall, after the council meeting, and that was fine by me.
“So, there’s a hidden treasure?” Char asked, checking if she’d heard me correctly.
“You’d think someone would have found it by now, if there is,” I said. “I doubt it, but if they believe it, I might as well investigate that, too.”
“Okay, I’m surprised, legitimately surprised. You doubt it, but the full-grown adults believe in it? That’s a reversal.”
“You have me there. I don’t know enough about this treasure to be confident. What I know foremost is that for a long time, Paxwood House was occupied by non-Paxwoods. It used to be the Paxwood mayor’s home until they built the new one around twenty years ago. I haven’t checked over the mayoral period yet.”
“Mayor doesn’t feel right for a treasure hunt. It would be the original owners, the Paxwoods, wouldn’t it?” Char said.
“Based on the conversation I overheard, it feels like they’re looking at the Paxwoods, not a Paxwood mayor,” I agreed. “I could see the Paxwoods hiding some of their wealth for a rainy day. See, in Luella’s journal, she writes about when her father and sister Nellie passed away. The burden of managing Paxwood Lumber and keeping the whole town alive falls on the shoulders of Luella’s mother, eldest sister, and herself. And, considering women didn’t have the right to vote yet, I could understand three women running a business choosing not to trust the male-dominated banking industry.”
“Women’s right to vote was… 1920? The nineteenth amendment, right?”
“Give her a prize!” I made a dinging noise. “So, I could see it, but I doubt it because of the nearly hundred years of people who weren’t Paxwoods living in the house, and the likely remodels throughout the decades to keep it in modern living condition for the mayors.”
“Right.” Char nodded.
“And… I’m hoping to pay the house itself a visit. The inside. I’ve got to experience Paxwood House, through and through, to understand its story.” I’d been weighing that desire out in my mind. If I even mentioned that Mx. Cardoso cautioned against it, Char would almost definitely side with them. Which, honestly, should have given me pause. “If I get permission through the proper channels, will you come with me? Saturday, hopefully?”
My heart soared. Adventure awaited us on Saturday.