Sunday, 19 May 2019, Morning
Paxwood, Whatcom County, Washington, USA
Eyewitness: Kerry

The thing about the phrase “butterflies in your stomach” is that, yes, it connects to a churning nervous feeling, something uncertain or nerve-wracking in the world, but it’s also that beautiful sort of nervousness. Something worthwhile, positive, enjoyable, or pleasant follows butterflies.

The unsettled nervous churning in my gut after I left Char at the hospital and went home? It wasn’t the weight of swallowed rocks. It was more like, sure, there were butterflies in there, but a knot of warty toads sat in the stomach acid pond beneath them. The butterfly wingbeats were uneven, desperate for escape from the ravenous toads’ tongues.

As I laid in my bed and tried to sleep, the butterflies and toads wouldn’t let me.

Two times in one week, I’d placed my best friend in some kind of trouble. The second time, she was hospitalized. So she needed time. She’d take that time and use that space and she’d realize how bad I am for her. More than once, I impulsively checked my notifications, my social media feed, noted her absence, and there went another butterfly.

It was stupid to lose sleep over this. It was nothing. We were friends. School friends, at that. Friends who are thick as thieves until they go to different colleges. Then the next thing you know, you both have completely different lives.

After the third or fourth or tenth time I checked for messages and noted the time (now 2 AM), I tossed my phone oh so lovingly in the general direction of the wall. The dull thunk did not satisfy.

Sunday morning couldn’t come too soon.

Both my parents were actually home in the morning. Instead of scolding me for getting my best friend in trouble, they asked me how I was doing, and how she was doing. One or the other made waffles. They forced me to sit at the dining room table for family breakfast.

“She’s going to be okay,” I said, as if Char had actually contacted me. As if I actually knew.

They didn’t probe any harder. My mom was off to some county government luncheon, and my dad had to go up into his home office and start digging into the background information for his next consulting job.

Since I was still grounded from the car—not enough pity to reverse that decision—I took my bike and pedaled hard as I could to the library. The physical exertion made it easier to ignore whatever was happening in my gut.

Most of the year, Paxwood Library was closed on Sundays, but from May to August, the heart of summer tourist season, they kept their doors open to give tourists free wi-fi and host community events. Like last time, when I stopped at the desk and asked about the records room, the librarian told me it was already open.

“Hey, Sly.” I kept my head turned toward the shelves, looking for Luella’s journal. I hadn’t touched up this morning. My face was probably blotchy and puffy and I just didn’t want questions. So, instead, I tossed a question over my shoulder. “You’ve even got homeschool homework on a Sunday?”

“I’m trying to get ahead so I can enjoy a long Memorial Day weekend. Maybe finish up the school year early and get a long summer.” Sly shuffled something on the table. “Plus my shift at Harrison’s Antiques starts in an hour, and home’s crowded when Tricia’s around.”

“Char was in homeschool before we met.” One of those warty toads leapt into my throat, and a tear left a cool trail down my cheek. I tried to wipe my face against my upper sleeve discreetly, but Sly was too observant.

“I’ve got some tissues in my bag. Here.”

I grabbed Luella’s journal from the shelf, then sat down at the table next to Sly. Before I took the tissue, I placed the journal square in front of me. Sly gave me a minute or two—however long it takes to get an ugly cry out and soak three tissues through with tears and snot. Thank goodness no one else came running in to stare at me. Sly went back to reading and taking notes, passing me a tissue each time I used one up.

She wasn’t cold, pretending ignorance, or feigning concern. Her motions were… matter of fact.

When I’d gathered myself together enough to actually meet her gaze, though, she raised an eyebrow.

“Want to talk about it?”

Though I’d only met her once before, I wanted to. At least part of it. Not everything. But… “Char, my best friend, broke her arm yesterday at Paxwood House. I was the one who brought her there.”

“What, did Luella’s mysterious ghost dog attack her?” Sly asked, tone playful.

I grimaced. “Real dog, actually.” I took a steadying breath and slipped into storyteller mode, only leaving out the part about the woman’s ghost breathing down my neck.

As I finished my tale, Sly let out a sigh. “I’m sorry about your friend. Too bad she said she needs time away from you like that, though.”

“She ended up with a broken arm,” I said in Char’s defense.

“Yeah, but I’d think that would be when she wants her best friend close.” Sly held up a hand then. “Just one woman’s opinion. Take it how you will, but I won’t press. I am going to give you my number, though. If you’re dishing out the deepest feelings of your heart to me, that makes us friends in my book.”

“Friends.” I gave her my number, and she sent me a quick text to confirm she had it right. Then, with all that weight off my shoulders, I tapped Luella’s journal. “Any recommendations on good entries?”

“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 picked her pencil up again, but then turned toward me, conspiratorial. “Okay, so, she doesn’t ever outright say it, at least not that I saw when I was skimming through her journal, but I think Luella and Nellie were thick as thieves until a boy came between them. I think it happened just before Nellie and John passed away. I think the reason Luella feels haunted by Nellie is that she regrets the jealous feelings that tore them apart. Or, I’m trying to make a dusty journal more interesting than it really is, so I’m using any plot holes I find to add in my head canon.”

“I… don’t think we call it plot holes when it’s a real person’s life.”

I laughed, and a few of the butterflies rode the mirth out, escaping the toads. A little more calm settled into my gut.

Before I could get too settled into building a historical head canon for Luella Paxwood with Sly, though, my phone buzzed on the table next to me. I snatched it up, a little too eagerly, but it wasn’t Char.

Instead, it was a text from Cardoso Auto—which I only knew because the last message I’d gotten from that number was confirmation that an oil change was complete. This new message was personal: “It’s Mx. Cardoso. I think I have your buyer. Meet me at Cardoso Auto?”

My pursed lips and furrowed brow gave my confusion away.

“What’s up?” Sly asked.

I closed the journal, resting my hand on top of it. “Guess the mystery of Luella and Nellie will have to wait. I wish I could take this with me, though.”

“We’re just lucky they keep it out here in a place where anyone can handle it.” Sly picked up her pencil again. “I’ll be leaving for the antique shop pretty soon. If you find yourself with free time later today, I’ll probably be there. We’ve got some stuff in our authentic historical Paxwood collection you might actually like.”

I grinned at that. The local antique shops hadn’t crossed my mind, though for good reason. A few shop owners had kind of banned me when I was younger because I asked too many questions. But I was older now, and if an employee was inviting me, that had to make it legitimate, right?

“I’ll see you there later.”

10: Butterflies and Toads
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