Baggage and Bones

Ninnik Nishukan

Summary: Coraline's friends from Michigan come to visit much earlier than expected. And then there's Wybie, who's sweet, but a little off. Takes place a few months after the movie.

Prequel to both Kappa! and Going to a Desert Unknown (all my Coraline stories are related).

She's turning twelve this weekend. Her parents have measured her, and she's grown half an inch since they first met. She's also grown slightly in the…chest area. She's got what some of the older kids at school call 'mosquito bites', which Wybie thinks is stupid, because he spends most of his time outside and has been bitten enough times to know it'd have to be a mutant mosquito or something to leave marks that big.

Her mom gets her a training bra a couple of weeks before her birthday, and she refuses to wear it, ranting to Wybie about it, although he has no idea where she got the crazy notion that he wants to hear about that kinda stuff. Before now, he hasn't imagined she'd ever wear a bra. Ugh. Not to mention the phrase 'training bra' makes him think of 'training wheels', and then he's irresistibly imagining her rolling helplessly down a hill with wheels strapped to her chest. Inevitably, she thinks he's making fun of her and her body as he falls about laughing— and oh boy, that girl can kick.

So he changes the subject, trying to coax out of her what she wants for her birthday. He has no idea what to get her. Except for his Cousin, he's never bought a birthday present for a girl. Grandma usually handles that sort of thing, anyway, but this is Jonesy, so he's gotta man up and get something decent. Can't have Gramma buying her a Bratz trapper keeper or something humiliating like that.

When taking his motorized bike and his weekly allowance downtown to the tiny comic book store for one of his regular visits, he spots a display case full of rubber shrunken heads, all ghastly and ghoulish with their sewn-shut eyes and mouths. Ignoring her pre-stated birthday gift wishes (she'll probably get those things from her parents, anyway), he doesn't hesitate a second.

"Wyborne Lovat! Now that's hardly an appropriate gift for a young woman!" When he returns home, Gramma looks on in horror as he triumphantly pulls a bag of three heads out of his backpack to show her.

She nevertheless starts helping him wrap the present up properly, so he returns the favor by not objecting to her calling Jonesy a "young woman", of all things. As if. He wonders if Jonesy would find it equally preposterous, or if she'd be flattered. You can never quite tell with her.

When she tells him her friends from Michigan are coming to visit her in a couple of days, he gets the feeling she's waited this long to tell him because she's not quite sure she actually wants to introduce them.

From time to time, and with great enthusiasm, she's mentioned that they were coming to visit in the summer, but now, out of the blue, they're already coming on a short visit for her birthday in January, before the end of winter break. Something about one of them also having relatives over in Medford. Coraline must've known about it for a few weeks at least, though. Mrs. and Mr. Jones don't seem the types to enjoy surprise visits.

Brown roots began to show in Coraline's hair for the past few weeks, and she hasn't seemed too bothered about them, even for Christmas, but now they're gone. She must've touched them up for the arrival of her special guests. He comments on it, not for the first time; "Seriously, you do buy your hair dye from the same store as Marge Simpson, right?"

He had a plan (still has a plan) that he wanted to tell her about, but now it somehow doesn't feel like the right time. It involves Salem and ghosts and had sounded exciting and cool and important…up until she told him the unexpected news.

She gives him an odd, uncertain look as he leaves earlier than he usually does (he likes to hang around for as long as Gramma will let him), promising to be back the next afternoon.

It's okay, he's been that sort of friend before, the sort it's fun to spend time with alone, but whom you don't want to embarrass yourself with by trotting out for special occasions, such as actually meeting other human beings.

Once, before Coraline moved here, he confessed to Gramma (in a moment of weakness) that it seemed like the other kids at school thought he was kinda weird. She told him that if he was, then it was the kind of weirdness people would come to appreciate once they were a bit older and could see a bit further than the ends of their own noses.

Now, Wybie wonders how much older 'a bit' was supposed to be.

Coraline's parents are supposed to take all the kids out to dinner tomorrow, when her friends arrive. Today is just for the inhabitants of the Pink Palace and the Lovats, who are all gathered in the living room of the Joneses.

Gramma and Mr. Bobinsky are talking animatedly and sharing a small bottle of something that smells like it belongs in a garage. Both their faces are red, and their frequent laughter fills the air. It's good to see Gramma's enjoying herself; heck, it's amazing that she's even inside the Pink Palace to begin with.

The large coconut-chocolate cake rests on the coffee table after the mass assault it's been subjected to; only a couple of small pieces remain. The bucket of vanilla ice cream is almost completely empty, a small blob of creamy goo melting away at the bottom.

Miss Spink and Forcible are reclining in a couple of armchairs by the fire, sipping tea with rum and chatting with Coraline's parents about local shows they simply must go and see when they have the chance.

Wybie and Coraline are slumped on the sofa, happily bursting at the seams with cake, ice cream, chips and soda. Soon enough, however, Coraline, dressed in the new outfit her parents bought for her birthday (a neon green knitted sweater and a puffy, white skirt with a black pattern of tiny frogs), sits back up and purses her lips with curiosity, her gaze scanning the room. It's obvious that her feeding frenzy lethargy hasn't dampened her yearning for more birthday presents.

Catching her anticipating eye, Mr. Bobinsky leaps up from his chair. "Ah, I see is time for Coraline to have present, yes? Can't keep leetle girl waiting on birthday, is cruel!"

As Coraline eagerly starts unwrapping her gift, which is unfittingly wrapped in Christmas paper, but nevertheless neatly so, Mr. B goes out into the hallway and comes back with a bulky instrument case.

When Coraline's done unwrapping and looks up in puzzlement, Mr. B is brandishing a trombone. "I wanted to give you real mushka, but mama, she say papa's allergic," he explains apologetically, but then goes on in a more optimistic tone: "Unfortunate, yes, but instead, for you I have procured these mechanical mushkas, very spectacular!"

Chuckling, Coraline holds up three tiny, white and caramel-colored wind-up mice. "You wind, I play, we put on birthday show— go, go, go!" Mr. B orders, waving the trombone like a conductor's staff, and so Coraline obeys.

When the mechanical mice start zigzagging, spinning and whirring around, Mr. B strikes up a bracing, quirky, chipper melody, and indeed, under the sudden spell of his music, the robotic rodents do almost appear to be dancing.

Coraline cheers, her exhilaration lighting up her face like fireworks in the sky, and Gramma laughs out loud, clapping her hands.

Mr. B takes a low bow when it's over, even earning the pleased chuckles of Mr. and Mrs. Jones and much applause and handkerchief waving from Spink and Forcible.

Next, the two old theater stars struggle up from their seats and make their way towards Coraline; Miss Forcible is clutching a silver and turquoise, star-patterned gift box in her hands, and both ladies are smiling hopefully.

Coraline's a bit more careful in opening this present, either because of the delicate gauze ribbon hugging the box and lid together, or perhaps because she's (like Wybie) wondering what in the world these two could have possibly gotten her. Hundred year old candy? A do-it-yourself taxidermy manual?

When she sees what's inside, there seems to fall a sort of hush, but only around her and the two ladies, as if they're in a sound proof bubble.

"Well, you said you'd lost the adder stone we gave you, dearie," begins Miss Spink, but is cut off by Miss Forcible, who continues: "But you said it'd helped you, so we thought we'd get you another one! Finally found one lying around, knew we had one more—"

"See the silver chain, sweetie?" Miss Spink interjects with a kindly smile. "We bought it new in town. This way you won't lose this one."

"Quite right, April," Miss Forcible pipes up, "I'm glad I thought of it."

Spink shoots Forcible a brief scowl. "Oh, no, Miriam, I think you'll find I was the one who came up with the idea— remember, on Wednesday when we were having Oolong tea and those teensy, delectable vanilla biscuits?"

Forcible's lips curl for a second. "No, I'm fairly sure it was I who— don't you recall, we were talking about going to the library to borrow some new volumes on drama to keep up with the times, and I said, oh, speaking of drama, didn't our little friend Caroline have some trouble, and then— and besides, we were drinking Jasmine tea—"

Spink clucks her tongue. "Well, perhaps you were, dear, you know I cannot abide Jasmine—"

"Thank you," says Coraline, and there's a certain brittle quality to her voice that causes even the two forceful, elderly ladies to stop bickering.

Wybie watches the frightening memories kaleidoscope across her face and wishes he had something helpful to say. He notices her glancing quickly over to the far side of the room, at the little door. Her hands tremble almost imperceptibly as she reaches out to pick up the old orange stone by the chain looped through the hole in its middle.

"You're quite welcome, darling," says Miss Forcible, smiling gently. "Many happy returns of the day!"

Miss Spink beams. "Oh, yes, happy birthday— and we're glad you like it, Caroline!" On this, apparently, these two can finally agree for once. Well, on this, and on getting her name wrong.

Wybie excuses himself to go to the bathroom. He still has no idea what to say. He only had a little taste of that other world, and for all the stories she's told him, he probably isn't even close to imagining what it was actually like there. If he was older, maybe he'd go over to her and comfort her, stroke her back, whatever, but he doesn't have the nerve, and he believes she'd only shrug him off. It's too bad, because her parents, simply thanking the two pensioners for the lovely gift, aren't picking up on their daughter's muted distress; how could they? To them, it must hold no other significance than a pretty bauble on a string. Will she ever tell them? Would they listen?

He returns to the living room to discover that Gramma's just given Coraline her sister's old silver-backed mirror. Again, Coraline is wearing that unfamiliar, crumbling, moist-eyed look of stunned gratitude. Wybie's not sure if he's surprised about Gramma's choice of gift or not, but lets them talk quietly in the corner while he sits down and skims through the small pile of books and illustrated novels Coraline's relatives have sent her for the occasion. The hushed conversation goes on at length. Coraline eventually gets up to unwrap the last few presents from her parents (some audio books, light blue roller skates and a stripy, yellow scarf), but after she's thanked them, she returns to the corner to sit with Gramma again.

In the kitchen, Wybie can hear Mr. and Mrs. Jones starting to do the dishes now. Mr. B is gathering up all the crumpled gift paper in a plastic bag to take it out to the recycling point; by the time he shuts the door behind him, Spink and Forcible have dozed off in their armchairs.

Coraline has said that Wybie could give her his present tomorrow, when they meet Lauren and Josh. He's secretly pleased; it implies that while he's part of this, here, today, he's also grouped with her "cool" friends rather than just with her family and neighbors. It puts him apart somehow. He wonders if it's just a coincidence, if she merely wants to show her old friends that she's got new ones that even brings her gifts, or if it really does say something about how she views him.

And will it change her view of him if her friends don't accept him?

As he lies in bed that night, trying to fall asleep, his stomach flutters and pinches with apprehension for the coming day.

Wybie twiddles his thumbs, letting Coraline's ceaseless, animated chatter wash over him. She's so impatient for her friends to arrive that they're sitting outside on the front porch (well, he's sitting, she's pacing), and she scouts expectantly for her guests while entertaining herself and him with tales from "back home". He wonders if this means she doesn't yet think of Ashland as home, and whether her friends are really as awesome as she says or if it's mostly nostalgia.

When a dark blue car finally pulls into the driveway, Coraline makes a rather un-Coraline-like squeal of delight and leaps down the porch steps.

Josh and Lauren turn out to be a tall, gangly, dark blonde boy with braces and a short, brunette girl with glasses and a high forehead. So…okay, probably not exactly the coolest kids in school back home, but still confident, still radiating some sort of sense of ease that he's always appeared to lack— and it's clear to him from the very first moment they arrive that these two and Coraline are close.

"Hey, eloper!" greets Josh loudly as soon as he opens the car door, while Lauren is already outside and rushes over to hug Coraline, making one of those odd high-pitched noises girls sometimes make, where you don't know if they're happy or if they've just seen a giant spider or something. Coraline reciprocates, bouncing on her toes.

"Oh, no way, they really did let you go blue, I figured it was just some sorta temporary dye," Lauren comments in awe, tousling Coraline's hair before chuckling a bit: "Hah, you really put that parental guilt over movin' ya here to good use, huh?" Lauren flips her hair, then, cupping one hand behind her own ear. "Check it out, my parents wouldn't let me have a dog, so they finally caved in about letting me get my ears pierced!"

Coraline laughs appreciatively at this and makes all the obligatory best friend comments of approval that Wybie hears all the time at school whenever somebody's got a new video game or something.

Josh is more laidback, striding across the drive and patting Coraline soundly on the back with a grin when he reaches her, wisely having given the girls some time before interrupting. Behind him, Wybie can see his parents struggling with the luggage. "Good to see ya, Jonesy!" He grins. "How ya been?"

There's a sharp little sensation somewhere between his stomach and lungs when Wybie hears that; even though it's not an unusual nickname, he somehow still thought he was the only one who called her that. Looks like he was just the only one around here

"So, is this who's been keeping ya company after you decided to abandon us?" Lauren teases, and all of a sudden, all eyes are on Wybie, jerking him out of his thoughts. He gets up quickly, trying his best to look alert and friendly. "Hi," he says, before pausing and hoping somebody else is going to speak next.

Coraline grins at Josh and Lauren; Wybie wonders if he's just imagining how nervous she looks. "Yep!" she says, announcing cheerfully: "This is Wybie, he lives next door and we go to school together and stuff!" She glances at Lauren. "By the way, remind me to show you the school uniforms later, I swear they're totally depressing!"

"Wybie?" Josh demands, eyebrows shooting up with perplexity.

Automatically, Wybie's shoulders rise in defense, his head lowering. "Uh, yeah…it's short for Wyborne," he explains on autopilot, experiencing an irrational but acute burst of betrayal; he feels that somehow, Coraline should've just instinctively known to prepare her friends about his name. After all, she's got issues about her name, too, and should've thought ahead, been sympathetic to the fact that this would happen, right? But while people merely get her name wrong, a misunderstanding that's usually cleared up in the end, with him the trouble is that they basically just think it's really—

"Weird," Lauren concludes, to nods from Josh. It doesn't sound malicious; it's probably just a kneejerk reaction, and he can't blame her. She's not the first. That doesn't necessarily make it any less awkward, though. A quick look at Coraline's face tells him she agrees.

"Hey, not like it was my idea," he says, attempting his standard joke and even a chuckle.

"Good point." Lauren laughs, and Coraline relaxes.

By playing the universal "parents are nuts" card, he seems to have passed for now.

Dinner downtown is fine. Wybie tries to say as little as possible, which Jonesy would probably find hilarious if she knew (or maybe not, considering Other Wybie). It's easy, though; the three reunited friends have so much to catch up on that nobody expects him to contribute much to the conversation after the initial, mandatory self-presentation.

Apparently, they used to play field hockey together, and love to reminisce over the many times they've bruised each others' shins. He tries to concentrate on his food, but keeps one ear in the conversation, just in case there'll be some sort of test later (it's a feeling he often gets around crowds).

Her parents chat happily with Josh's parents, probably glad to get out of the house, and don't notice his discomfort.

Then it's home again for birthday cake and presents. On their way to the kitchen, Wybie notices Coraline glancing apprehensively at the room with the little door as they pass by, and that perhaps she's a little too eager to get to the kitchen, jokingly pushing her friends along.

When they've been eating for a while, Mrs. Jones puts a stop to Mr. Jones' surreptitious attempt to grab a second helping of cake and ice cream by sending him a frosty look that clearly reminds him that they're having cake for the second day in a row and pigging out isn't going to help his developing writer's gut.

Mrs. Jones drags a pouty Mr. Jones outside to go for a walk with Josh's parents, leaving the kids alone to talk and feast.

When the trio laughs uproariously for the fifth time at something Wybie doesn't get, and Coraline shrugs and says (again) 'You kinda had to be there', he wants to get up and run out the door to get away from all these inside jokes. However, it's not only Jonesy's birthday, but also the first time they've ever celebrated it together.

It's kind of like seeing the fairy circle of mushrooms for the first time at eight, and being terrified to step into it, his head full of fairy tale warnings. Except now there's no real danger, and it's more that something's stopping him than it's him stopping himself. He just can't step closer, can't get inside. There's no decoder ring for this. He doesn't speak their language of shared memories.

He wants to tell her his Salem idea so badly, but the presence of her friends looms large, and it feels as if his mouth has been sewn shut whenever he contemplates voicing the concept aloud. Ixnay on the Alem-say.

When it's time for presents, the urge to escape intensifies, his palms starting to sweat. He's last, of course. Her friends have given her gifts that have made her practically dance with nostalgia, she's so impressed. To him, they look like ordinary things, a detective novel and a big box full of colorful, new barrettes, so they must be connected to that untouchable past back there. In Pontiac. Where they probably solved the Michigan Mystery of the Missing Molasses Pie together or did each others' hair or something. They probably all went water witching together, too. Who knows. The important part is that it didn't involve him.

Suddenly he realizes that Jonesy is looking at him with anticipation, and to his horror, he finds himself lying. "Uh…oh no, I think I f-forgot your present at home," he stutters; the present is right here, in his backpack out in the hall, where he left it earlier, before they went to dinner. It had seemed so awesome and perfect to him. Now it somehow feels corny and inadequate. And compared to all these other gifts (not just from her friends, but from her family and even her neighbors), which are heavy with meaning and sentiment, his feels thoughtless and flimsy. What had he been thinking?

"Oh." Her tone is flat with surprise, and vaguely annoyed. "Well, can you go get it?"

"No! I mean, um, Gramma…she's taking her nap right now and I don't wanna wake her up." Something in his chest is tying itself in knots as he adds more lies, making the first one grow like a snowball rolling down a hill. He's never been good at lying, but nevertheless manages to add: "She just took her pills."

She tilts her head at him, puzzled, but relents, and he feels rotten for using Gramma against her like that when he's come to realize she's got a soft spot for the old lady. "Ehm…okay," she agrees, but can't keep the disappointment out of her voice. He catches her exchanging an uncomfortable glance with her friends; first one, then the other, then a shrug.

The look on her face when she turns back to him makes his stomach churn. Unable to stop himself, he makes a risky promise: "I can get it for you later, okay, Jonesy? I know you're gonna love it."

"Okay," she repeats, sounding a little brighter now, yet her smile is still not quite genuine.

There's a moment of awkward silence. He had a long way to fall, bringing her this bad news after her earlier enthusiasm.

Josh volunteers to break the tension, then, talking so briskly and loudly he almost makes everyone jump. "So, I never asked you— what's your game?"

Wybie blinks at him. "Game?" he echoes reluctantly. He gets a crazy thought: Do they think he's pretending to be somebody else or something? Is he?

Josh nods, prompting him eagerly: "Football? Baseball? Basketball? Hockey?"

Wybie senses himself freezing up, just for a second. When they found out he didn't care much about rooting for the home football team, some of the jock kids in class gave him a wedgie and dropped his math textbook in a puddle, back in fourth grade. He highly doubts Josh would do anything like that, especially in front of Coraline, but he's still petrified as he desperately tries to think of something to say that'll be approved of. "Oh. Uh, I don't really— sports aren't really my, uhm—"

Coraline clears her throat, coming to the rescue. "I think Wybie's more into bikes."

"What, like Tour de France or something?" Josh asks with a rather skeptical grimace. "Dude, that's as boring as tennis."

"No, like motorbikes," Coraline clarifies, slugging Josh on the arm with an unexpectedly smug look that Wybie finds he's absurdly grateful for. "Like he builds his own."

Josh and Lauren's faces seem to light up in unison. "What, like for real?" Lauren clasps her hands together, grinning widely at him. "You've got a motorbike you built yourself?"

Wybie gives a self-conscious chuckle. "Yeah, but it's not a big deal, I mean, it's just a converted bicycle, I'm obviously not old enough to own a real motorcycle yet—"

Lauren shakes her head in enchanted disbelief. "Yeah, but still— that sounds awesome!"

"Hey, can I try it?" Josh asks, looking eager again now.

This startles Wybie, but he sees no way out. "Okay," he mumbles grudgingly, "but, um…tomorrow, okay? Like I said, I don't…wanna wake up Gramma."

"No problem," Josh agrees, all devil-may-care, "we'll be here all weekend, after all."

Wybie's not sure how much of a non-problem this really is.

To be continued.

Author's notes: I did this story from Wybie's viewpoint, since I did Going to a Desert Unknown from Coraline's viewpoint. Kappa!, on the other hand, varies between both their viewpoints.

Sweet, but a little off: Quoted from Henry Selick's feature commentary on the Coraline special edition DVD. This was how he said he wanted Wybie to be.

A neon green knitted sweater and a puffy, white skirt with a black pattern of tiny frogs: Inspired by some of the concept art for Coraline's character design in Coraline: A Visual Companion (Stephen Jones, 2009).

Coraline/Caroline: I have Mr. B getting her name right because in the book, he did so in the end. With Spink and Forcible, I'll let them take a bit longer to stop getting it wrong. They're old and a bit absentminded, and this story is only set a few months after the movie, after all. :P

Josh and Lauren: Coraline's friends from Michigan weren't given names, as far as I understand, so I just gave them some. Their physical appearance is based on the picture of them that we see in Coraline's bedroom.