The Red Bracelet: Chapter Four

“The eye sees all, but the mind shows us what we want to see.”

—William Shakespeare

Val walked out of therapy feeling rejuvenated. For the first time in what seemed like forever, Val didn’t feel twice as aggravated as she had been before going into that orange room. Perhaps it was because she and Mrs. Delonguae were warming up to each other. But what worried Val was the fact that her parents were paying for the sessions out of pocket. How much good did they think this therapy stuff would really do?

The sun smiled on Val as she made her way down the old, dusty road. The air smelled sweet, considering the lake was to her left. Val did a double take when she saw footprints going to and from the water. Sure, it was a pretty hot day, but who had been out there? Hopefully not a small child, she thought.

Val noticed footprints made by shoes, then scuff marks, then more footprints, barefoot. Definitely a kerfuffle.


Val took a detour, running to the Woodings’ doorstep as fast as she could. The gravel under her feet crunched with her every step of the way. Val could see light coming from the kitchen window and bit her lip. Hadn’t Sherry noticed the storm clouds looming overhead?

Val prepared to knock on the pale vintage door three times, but it swung free on the second rap. Sherry’s mother had opened it too fast, expecting her daughter but finding her daughter’s friend instead. Sherry’s mother caught her breath. “Sorry, Val, Sherry’s out,” she said. A guarded expression sealed her face.

“Did she go to the lake earlier today?”

Sherry’s mother frowned. “I suppose she might’ve. Are you all right, sweetie?”

“Y-yes, it’s just that I saw Sherry’s footprints down by the lake and I haven’t seen her since this afternoon. Before my therapy,” Val added, wincing at the word.

Mr. Wooding met his wife at the door. “Wait the storm out here, Vally. Getting dark.”

Val opened her mouth, but Mrs. Wooding did too. “Don’t you worry about anything now. Sherry will be back soon. She has the sense to come home when she hears thunder.”

With that, Sherry’s parents ushered her inside before she could make another peep. Rain began to fall just as Mr. Wooding closed the door behind them. It pattered against the window while his wife all but waltzed into the kitchen. The couple always did like to keep a calm face, but Val knew better. Sherry hadn’t been home since she left to meet Val for ice cream, so what on earth could she be doing for hours?

“Would you like some supper, Val?” Mrs. Wooding called from the kitchen. “It’s almost six o’clock. I’ll go wire your mother.”

Val took her sweet time in the hallway, staring at the same old family photographs yet again. Sherry’s house was just as familiar as her own, but something felt off. “Thank you,” she told Mrs. Wooding absently. In one frame rested a photo of the Woodings’ farm while it was still in use. In fact, it had been two full generations since the state took it away. For reasons Sherry didn’t even know. Most of the frames were hung in the chronological order, from the 1880 Woodings to their latest family portrait, taken five years ago when the war was still going on and Sherry was barely eleven. Val always thought Sherry looked most like her mother’s side, but Sherry believed she was a Wooding all the way through.

Val heard Mrs. Wooding return to the kitchen after wiring her mother. Hopefully her ma wouldn’t be too upset at her for staying with Sherry’s family. Val didn’t want to ask.

She moved to the more recent photographs. The family portait she’d glanced over a moment earlier. A smaller drawing of Sherry swinging from the abandoned barn loft a little far from the Woodings’ house. Mr. Wooding was a terrific artist; every detail was captured. Sherry’s smile, her ten-year-old innocence, the natural lighting, the bristles of the rope.

“The barn,” Val gasped. She ran into the kitchen to find Mrs. Wooding stirring a pot of soup at the stove. “The barn,” Val repeated. “Sherry’s in the old barn.”

Mrs. Wooding raised a brow, turning to the window. All was dark and rainy. After a few seconds of squinting, Mrs. Wooding exclaimed, “Oh! I see her!”

Val went for the door, but Mr. Wooding was faster. “Hold your horses, young lady. Can’t you see there’s lightning out there?”

“Sorry.” Val was about to run out to see her friend, and interrogate her, of course, when she was summoned to the kitchen table. Using a chipped ladel, Mrs. Wooding filled four bowls with her delicious-smelling soup. Val’s stomach seemed more at ease now.

“Meredith,” Mr. Wooding called from the parlor, “better make that five bowls.”

Mrs. Wooding raised both of her eyebrows this time. Reluctant, Val sank into her chair. She tried to think of who Sherry could be bringing home. A kid stuck in the storm? A stray animal seeking shelter? Val’s own mother?

The front door swept open and Val escaped the kitchen. In whooshed a yellow-clad someone holding a sopping wet Sherry. The rescuer’s shoes were tracking in mud. The person looked up, rain trickling off the hood of their raincoat, their expression occupied.


Val’s hallucination cleared his throat and put Sherry on the damp rug. “Hello, Mrs. Wooding, Mr. Wooding, V-Valerie.”

“Mr. Longsworth,” Mr. Wooding grunted. “Long time no see. How about you stay here for a li’l while and eat some soup?”

“That would be wonderful. Thank you,” Jacob replied. Val knew he was no hallucination.

Mr. Wooding faked a smile as he left the hallway, saying, “Why don’t the three of you catch up a bit? Dinner will be ready in just a minute.”

The raincoat was glaring at Val. So Val glared at Sherry, who glared at Jacob. The irritating silence lasted for a few minutes. Val heard Sherry’s parents arguing in hushed voices over what they should do concerning Jacob. Sherry’s name was whispered a few times as well.

Jacob was first to break the silence. “For the love of anything that’s good, Sherry, wring out your hair.”

Sherry all but paralyzed Jacob with the look she gave. She grabbed her short, bobbed hair and squeezed the water out of it as if her life depended on doing so. The rug was drenched. “I’m going upstairs to change,” she announced. “I’ll be down for dinner.”

“I’ll go with you,” Val blurted out. “You might need help with drying your hair. It’s thick, you know.”


Val followed her lifelong friend up the steep flight of stairs, not knowing what kind of emotion would jump out of Sherry the moment her bedroom door clicked shut. Val wasn’t usually afraid of the unknown, and this time was no exception.

“Val,” she began, teeth chattering, “I am so, so sorry. I had absolutely no idea he would be here. He just showed up. Randomly. I swear.”

“Mind your swearing,” Val snapped. “I don’t want to hear it. I want to know why on earth he was carrying you back to your house and what excuse he has this time.”

Sherry rubbed her hair with a rosy bath towel and tilted her head. “What do you mean by ‘excuse’? Val, leaving wasn’t really his de—”

“How else could he leave? Ants hauling him out of his house? Sherry, I’m not upset with you, but I’d rather hear what happened from Jacob himself.”

Sherry was quiet for a few minutes while Val looked wistfully out of the window. There was a storm both outside and inside.

“Okay, Val, but I’ll tell you this. The moment you left for therapy he just showed up, and he got the bracelet after I threw it into the lake and he felt bad he hasn’t seen you yet, until now, and now I’m yammering. Oh, Val, please stop looking at me like that.”

“Like what? You’re the one with the knight in shining armor.”

“Valerie!” she gasped. “Don’t even try saying you’re jealous.”

“I’m not.”

Sherry said she believed Val, but her eyebrows were still raised. She was just like her mother.

“Girls, dinner,” Mrs. Wooding called. She sounded exhausted. Val could picture the woman in her mind’s eye, leaning against the banister, apron sagging over her thin body, her hand clamped over the post, the other holding a dishtowel. Both of them were rough and red from all of the housework she did. A Proverbs 31 woman.

“Coming,” Sherry hollered back. After a few brushes through her damp hair, the girls hurried downstairs. Soup was steaming and ready.

After an awkward moment of saying grace, Jacob ate his soup as if he hadn’t ingested a meal in weeks. Val savored the delicious broth. Maybe, just maybe, she thought, we can piece the puzzle back together.

And the table was filled with laughter by the time night fell.


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