The Carding Chronicles are weekly short stories about the small town in Vermont (population 3,700) that no one seems to be able to find on a map.
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“Faye? What are you doing up so early?” Diana Bennett asked as she stumbled out of her bedroom, rubbing her eyes.
“Mom, you should see your hair!” Faye said.
Diana reached up to find an odd bristle on the side of her head, just above her ear. “Do I look like a cockatoo?” she asked.
“More like a crazed rooster.” Faye turned her attentional back to the thick layer of peanut butter she was spreading on bread slices laid out on the kitchen counter. “I’m headed over to the beach to see if the bald eagle shows up to roost on Belmont Island again.”
Diana silently counted the slices of bread. “And you need three sandwiches for that? Not that I mind but you don’t normally eat that much.”
Suddenly, Faye’s face felt quite warm, and she turned it away from her mother’s view. A tiny smile flickered over Diana’s lips. Aha, so it’s a boy, she thought. This should be interesting.
“Um, some other kids might be coming along so I wanted to have something to share,” Faye said quickly, dipping a spoon into a pot of strawberry jam and smoothing it over the peanut butter. “We’re all bringing something.”
“Uh huh. And how are you getting down to the beach? Is Wil taking you?”
“Hmph, I don’t think so, Mom.” Faye shook her head. “If it’s not baseball or basketball or football, Wil doesn’t know anything about it. This is birds, not balls.”
“So how are you getting to the beach?” Diana leaned against the wall. It wasn’t that she like to watch her daughter squirm but it was only a month ago that Faye had declared her undying devotion to the idea of never letting “any boy, ever” into her life.
“Um, Brian Lambert’s picking me up.” Faye made quite a show of cleaning up after herself. “You’ve met him. He’s Wendy’s older brother.”
“Wasn’t he on the basketball team last year?” Diana asked. “And he’s a friend of Wil’s, right?”
“Yeah, he and Wil hang out but Brian also likes birds, and he’s got these really cool binoculars, and he’s already showed me how to tell the difference between a hawk and an eagle when they’re way up in the sky.” Faye took a deep breath, and turned her still-burning face toward her mother. “Please don’t tell Wil. He’ll tease me, and I just don’t want to hear it. It’s just bird watching.”
Diana strolled into the kitchen, tilted her daughter’s face up, and kissed her on the forehead. “Not a word. Promise,” she whispered. “But in the future, tell me where you’re going, and who with, okay? I don’t need to know all your business but you know how I worry. Deal?”
Faye nodded. “Thanks, Mom. Deal.” She started piling sandwiches into a small cooler.
“Do you want some cookies to go with those?” Diana asked.
“I thought they were all gone,” Faye said. “They just disappeared out of the bakery after that bus showed up yesterday.”
Diana opened a cupboard door. “What’s the sense of being a baker if you don’t have a stash of chocolate chip cookies in case of emergency. Help yourself.”
Faye gave her mother a quick hug, grabbed a handful of cookies, and slid out the door without another sound.
Diana yawned, stretched her arms above her head then turned to go back to bed. The alarm would go off soon enough so there wasn’t a moment to lose.
“Was that Faye?” Stephen asked sleepily as Diana snuggled up close. “I thought I heard her voice.”
“Where’s she going this time of the morning?”
“What?” Stephen didn’t sound so sleepy any more. “Are you serious?”
“Quite serious,” Diana said, “and you can’t say a word to Wil, though I figure he’s going to find out soon enough because it’s his friend Brian.”
“But I thought…?”
“That your daughter was going to be a nun? Never have a boy in her life? Shun all male company forever?” Diana asked.
“Well, that’s what she told us, and not too long ago,” Stephen said.
“Hmmm, that’s what they always say…just before it happens,” Diana reached up her face for a kiss, and Stephen obliged. “They’re headed down to the beach to see if that eagle shows up again.”
“Mmm, do you think I should get in the car and follow them, just in case?” Stephen asked.
“No.” Diana laughed. “I think you’re going to stay right here, and let Faye figure this out on her own.”
Faye’s nerves had reached the jangling point by the time she slid into the passenger seat of Brian’s car. This is totally stupid, she chided herself. Brian and I have been hanging out for a while now, and we never have a hard time talking to each other. So why is my tongue glued to the roof of my mouth?
Brian glanced over at her, still trying to figure out if this was a good idea or not. He liked Faye. He liked her a lot, in fact. But she was Wil’s sister. What if she didn’t like him? What if Wil didn’t want him anywhere near Faye? What if everything that came out of his mouth was completely stupid?
And why was his tongue suddenly glued to the roof of his mouth?
He struggled against the thick silence between them for a moment before he finally blurted: “I brought stuff to drink.”
“Good thing,” Faye said, wishing her face would cool down. “I think I put way too much peanut butter on the sandwiches so we’re going to need it.”
“Did you…does your…I mean, Wil…?”
Faye shook her head. “Wil’s still in bed. My Mom got up so I didn’t need to leave a note. She gave us some cookies out of her stash.”
Brian concentrated more than he needed to on the turn down Beach Road. “I mean, there’s no reason not to tell Wil, you know.”
“I know,” Faye said. “But he doesn’t tell me everything so it’s okay.”
The two of them sighed at the same moment, glanced at each other, and then giggled as Brian parked the car near the path to the local diving rocks. Once there, they’d be able to see the dead cottonwood on Belmont Island, the tree that had become the favorite roost of a bald eagle who was new to the Carding neighborhood.
“I brought a couple of blankets, the ones my folks use when we go camping,” Brian said as he extracted stuff from his trunk. “I figured it will be cold down by the water.”
Faye nodded, and noticed that her heart rate rose a little at the mention of the word blanket. This is really happening, she told herself. I’m down here at the beach when there’s nobody else around with a boy who’s got blankets. She wanted to look at Brian, to indulge herself in enjoying the curve of his cheek and the way his eyes crinkled in the corners when he smiled. But she felt quite shy, a rather rare emotion in Faye’s experience.
“What do you think the odds are of seeing the eagle?” she asked as they trekked off down the path. But Brian didn’t bother to answer because the trees were suddenly filled with the clatter of crows warning of an intruder. He looked at Faye, and they grinned at one another.
“It’s got to be here now,” he said, grabbing her hand and quickening his pace over the slippery rocks. “Crows don’t make that much noise just because we show up.”
Faye followed, quite breathless. Brian’s hand was warm and strong, and she liked the way her fingers felt wrapped in his. Did he realize what he had done or was this just a way to hurry her along to their birdwatching post?
He pulled up at the edge of the trees, fixing his eyes on the stark, white tree just visible in the dusky light. But he had a difficult time concentrating because Faye had not pulled her hand away when he took it. Now that she was standing so close, would she notice how hard his heart was beating? And if so, would she guess why?
“Do you see anything?” Faye whispered, moving up close to his side. They were both vividly aware of the shared warmth of their arms touching one another’s from shoulder to elbow.
“I think so,” Brian said, pointing with the hand he was willing to move. “I think that white spot might be the bird’s head.”
Brian took a deep breath, and looped his arm over her shoulders, nudging Faye over until she stood in front of him. He slowly lowered his head until it was at the same height as hers. Their cheeks brushed. Neither one of them moved, and if you’d asked Faye in that moment, she would have sworn that neither one of them breathed.
He pointed again, and Faye carefully followed the trajectory of his finger. “What do you think?” Brian whispered, and she felt his words whisper over her neck. Goose bumps tingled down her back, and she involuntarily shivered.
“Are you cold?” he asked.
“A little, yeah. Do you think that we could…um…?”
“Oh sure.” Brian plucked a blue and white blanket from the pile of stuff at their feet, fluffed it open but then stopped. The two of them stared at one another then at the blanket. “Um, you can take this one,” he said. “I brought two.”
Okay, Faye thought, this is it. He either likes me or he doesn’t. She raised her head, and looked Brian straight in the eye. “Why don’t we put the other one on the ground so we have something to sit on?” she suggested. “We can share this one to keep warm, if that’s all right with you.”
Brian started a little but then grinned from ear to ear. “Yeah, that’s a good idea. I think…I think sharing would be perfect.”
Thank you for journeying with me to Carding, Vermont. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find a short story in your inbox every Thursday morning along with food photos and recipes from the Crow Town Bakery, and other Vermont moments.
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The Carding novels are (in order of appearance):