Monday, 20 May 2019, Evening
Paxwood, Whatcom County, Washington, USA
Eyewitness: Kerry

No one invited me to the meeting between my mother, Mx. Cardoso, and Rowen, but I knew it was going down Monday night. I spent my school day juggling between distractions—pretending not to notice that Char wasn’t there, sending my potential buyer everything I had on Silphium and the town meetings up to this point, hyping up this option to my mother, trading messages with Sly about nothing important.

Oh, and of course, attending my classes and doing what my teachers expected of me. Obviously, on a school day, education was the top priority.

Before I headed home, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up some fresh supplies for making dinner. Most of my cooking skills came from watching Char and her mother. If I wanted to know where my mother stood on backing Rowen as an alternative buyer for the house, a good meal would set the right tone for her to open up.
I beat her home easily. Dad was still out of town on business. I prepared some chicken sausage pasta with snow peas and fresh herbs in a cream sauce that I hoped would hit the spot, timing each step of the process to messages from the people in the know, so that when the garage door rumbled open and my mother’s car pulled in, I was plating and adding a little garnish like a contestant in a food competition.

Char would be proud.

I snapped a shot of the table and almost texted it to her, then remembered again that she needed time and space. I swallowed whatever I felt about that down and sat at the table, smiling as my mom entered. She set her Kate Spade designer bag in its place and gave me an assessing look.

“Should I be expecting another call from Officer Morgan?”

“No, Mom, this isn’t a getting-out-of-trouble dinner, although if you wanted to give me the car keys because this pasta is just that good, I wouldn’t complain.”

She shook her head and came to sit down across from me.

“It’s celebratory,” I said. “You’ve got your buyer, someone you can stand behind, who will be in line with the values of the independent business owners of Paxwood.”

“It’s an option that’s been on the table for less than a day, and I need time to assess it fully, especially considering the conversations I’ve been having with said business owners,” my mom replied. She lifted her fork, and I waited for her to take a bite. “This would almost be enough to un-ground you. Maybe for Memorial Day weekend.”

Hope fluttered in my chest. Memorial Day in Paxwood meant the summer tourist season. It was a great weekend to head for the mountains and wander among the trees, connecting to the real essence of Paxwood, not the Old West Lumber Town persona. I could hold on to that hope. By then, Char could…

Or, if Sly hadn’t spent much time off the beaten path, she might enjoy the opportunity.

That thought was easier on my heart.

Safer still, the business owners of Paxwood.

“Okay, what conversations?” I asked, leaning in, conspiratorial.

“Dr. Vogel has been throwing support behind the Silphium bid, and his enthusiasm is hard to argue with.” My mom took another bite, then pressed on. “Silphium is a mid-size resort brand with a loyal customer base. They already have their facility just outside of town. Paxwood House, as a smaller experience under their umbrella, would mean their customers would have more reason to come into our town and interact with local businesses. If I throw my weight behind this no-name Rowen Haywood, no matter how good her youth center concept would be for the community, and if our side loses to the financial benefits of the Silphium bid, I lose ground.”

My mother’s reasoning took me by surprise. “But… Rowen is better for Paxwood. She’d be another independent business owner, shoulder to shoulder with the rest, part of the spirit of the town. And a community center like the one she’s proposing of would mean that Paxwood House would be a historical site open to many, not the elite few who have the cash to afford a luxury resort stay.”

“Better is not as important as winning.” Her firm words, focused on the end goal, took me completely off-guard.

“But… in the long term, Silphium might be an enormous loss for everyone. Their clientele would look for name brands. More corporations, more franchises, driving out our independent businesses and family legacies,” I argued. “And isn’t your platform about the people of our town?”

She tilted her head, an acknowledging little nod. “I also need those people to vote for me, and they vote in the moment, not in the future. If I want to run for mayor, I need to keep the biggest names in town on my side. And it wouldn’t be awful to have a campaign donor with some extra cash flow, either.”

“Are they… buying your vote?” I put my fork down, harder than I intended. Heat pulsed through me. This wasn’t what I expected of my mother. It wasn’t what she’d taught me.

“No one from Silphium has made any explicit offers to fund my mayoral campaign, Kerry.”

That was a little too guarded for me. Teeth clenched, I stood. “I’ll take care of dishes.”

While I went about scrubbing pots and pans in the kitchen, just through the open doorway from my mother in the dining room finishing her plate, I took a few deep breaths and ran that conversation over in my head, again and again.
I’d found her the perfect buyer for this city, someone who could handle a haunted house because she knew ghosts were real. But I couldn’t exactly tell her that. My mom would only think I was going crazy.

My mom soon brought me her plate, but she didn’t take it as an opportunity to apologize or clarify.

It felt wrong, like Sly’s sudden change in behavior after Hugh’s charming whammy.

Could the vampire lawyer have gotten to my mother?

When my hands were dry and the dishwasher was running, I headed up to my room. Although I closed the door behind me, I was careful not to slam it. I didn’t need to get my grounding extended any further for disrespecting the house.

Then I sent Mx. Cardoso a message.

Me: When my mom was meeting with you and Rowen, did anything seem off to you? Like magic off?
Mx. Cardoso: No, there was nothing wrong — why?
Me: She just wasn’t acting the way I expected when we had dinner
Mx. Cardoso: Oh?

I laid out the scenario, and in response, Mx. Cardoso sent a laughing-crying emoji.

Mx. Cardoso: Welcome to the world of politics. Lines are fuzzier than you’d expect, even with good people. We’ve got an ordinary human fight ahead of us, that’s all
Me: You and Rowen are presenting at the City Council meeting on Wednesday, right?
Mx. Cardoso: That’s right
Me: I’ll give you the insider scoop to prepare
Mx. Cardoso: We’ll make this happen — Paxwood House is in good hands

I spent the rest of Monday evening winding down, texting with Sly, trying not to fret about how much I missed Char or how proud she’d be of the meal I’d made for dinner, and creating an outline of every piece of insider information on the city council that might help us out.

17: Is Winning Really Better?

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