Baggage and Bones
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 both to Kappa! and Going to a Desert Unknown (all my Coraline stories are related)
It feels wrong and awkward— he barely even lets Coraline borrow his bike— but she's given him a not-so-discrete look like 'don't be a spaz, Lovat' and he has no magic words with which to get himself off the hook. Explaining why he hadn't brought a gift was bad enough— doing this on top of that would definitely be what Gramma would call "just plum bad manners". Besides, both he and Coraline are aware that there are limited things for kids to do around here, and they've already been another trip downtown today. Wybie doesn't want to add to her embarrassment by boring her guests.
He hears Josh whooping in the distance. While the two girls jump up and down, cheering him on, Wybie simply winces.
"Be careful!" he calls before he can stop himself, immediately realizing how lame he sounds. He might as well be Gramma. "The…engine can be a little tricky sometimes," he elaborates feebly, when Lauren gives him a sideways look, "so just don't…push it too hard."
"Okay!" Josh laughs, but then almost instantly bumps into (or rather half-crashes against) a telephone pole, scraping the side of the bike along it. Josh curses loudly, but is drowned out when, again, Wybie can't resist being completely uncool: "Don't chip the paint job!"
"Alright, already!" Josh is clearly irritated; it dawns on Wybie that he should've probably asked if Josh was all right instead of the bike. Crap. He's already embarrassed himself enough by attempting to get the other boy to wear a helmet, even if he himself never does. When Coraline pointed this out, he retorted that Josh wasn't used to the bike like he was, which Josh somehow took as an insult and promptly drove off without the helmet.
"You okay?" Lauren shouts, getting a grouchy affirmative answer from Josh. "Great, then maybe you can give me a turn, if you don't know how to handle it!" Lauren's good-natured mocking doesn't miss a beat.
Grumbling, Josh heads back and hands the bike over to Lauren, glaring at it as if it's offended him personally.
Wybie holds out a warning hand, as if to physically stop Lauren, but lets his arm drop to his side, realizing just in time that this would be crossing the line of the inexcusable social faux pas. He's already been traumatized by Josh's reckless treatment of his most prized possession, though, and isn't sure he can handle a replay, so he attempts to stop her verbally instead: "Uh, Lauren, are you sure you wanna—?"
Coraline's scowl silences him, however, and other than a faintly exasperated glance, Lauren doesn't respond as she climbs onto the bike.
She's off, experimentally circling the yard a few times before confidently taking off up the hill, whooping every bit as loudly as Josh now. "YEAH! WOOO!"
When she finally decides she's had enough and is speeding down towards them again, Wybie's heart is pounding and he's shuffling his feet and biting his lip, trying to figure out how to politely ask her to get the hell off his bike so he can check for damages. Lauren's treating his bike a bit more carefully, probably because of Josh's little accident, but she's still going too fast and too wobbly, and she's not exactly avoiding the half-frozen puddles of mud along the way.
"Awesome bike, Wybie!" she calls, which might've pleased him if he didn't feel like such a wreck.
Just as Lauren comes to a halt in front of them, a bombastic greeting echoes all around. "Good morning, Coraline!"
"Morning, Mr. B!" Wybie replies, glad of the interruption.
"Good morning, Wyborne! Good morning, strange children I have spoken with never before!"
"Hey," Lauren and Josh chorus uncertainly.
Mr. B pauses for a moment, studying Lauren, who's still straddling Wybie's eccentric bike. Then he grins with realization. "Ah, children training for circus also, am I right? But you should put bear on motorcycle instead— bring in much bigger crowd, yes?"
Without waiting for an answer, he's on his way.
Josh gapes at him as he jogs by. "Uh, yeah, we'll…do that."
Wybie barks out a goofy laugh at Josh's flabbergasted expression, but his mouth snaps instantly shut as Josh frowns at him.
Coraline waves at Mr. B. "Don't ask," she mumbles when she notices Lauren and Josh staring quizzically at her.
Josh chuckles, shrugging, but Lauren seems to have already redirected her attention from Bobinsky. "So, anyway, Wybie…how about that crazy hair, huh?" she teases, patting his head briefly. "Think we could cram some more of the forest in there?"
Wybie feels his face flush; he'd been so sure he'd combed everything out this morning.
Coraline gives Lauren a playful shove. "Jeez, Lauren, flirt much?"
"As if!" Her cheeks pink, Lauren snorts with indignation, elbowing Coraline's side.
"That's probably why he doesn't wear a helmet, he can't fit his hair into it," Josh mutters to Lauren. He's nursing a bruised arm and obviously still ticked off, as if it had been Wybie's fault that he hadn't looked where he was going. Or maybe he's pissed off because Wybie laughed at him.
Trying not to let this whole exchange bother him too much, Wybie focuses instead on his bike, which he discovers now has a broken light. He can't quite bring himself to complain about it.
The only upside to all this is that (miraculously) nobody remembers to mention the missing present.
On the way home, Wybie takes a detour to the old well. He would never dare to remove the wooden lid anymore, and certainly wouldn't drop any stones down there, like he used to before the Joneses arrived.
Staring at the frost-covered ground, longing for the mushroom markers to grow back (not that he'd ever wander across the well by mistake, but anyway), he wonders if Coraline ever comes up here by herself just to watch and think and feel a thrill of fear go through her. Or if she's ever afraid the hand is still alive down there.
He wonders if she's told them anything about what happened to her yet.
It's a rare snow day in Ashland. They've left footprints in the thin layer on the ground, trailing from the front porch of The Pink Palace, crossing the garden and venturing into the woods on the little path. Wybie leaves his bike and follows after them on foot, walking quietly.
The cat meets him on the way.
There were footprints going up to his house, too, which means they must've come to fetch him while he was out picking up some groceries for Gramma this morning.
When he's walked through the first large patch of trees, Wybie finds them on the bottom of the little hill down to the partly frozen river, where Gramma doesn't like him playing even in summer (that doesn't necessarily mean he never does, though). They're basically just hanging around, testing the ice on the river with sticks, chucking a few rocks in, scuffing the snowy ground with their shoes, laughing, talking.
He's curious (nervous) as to whether they're talking about him. He can already imagine their conversation.
Josh: "So, what's that Lovat kid's damage?"
Lauren: "Yeah, either he spazzes out or he clams up. Can't get two decent words outta him."
Coraline: "Funny, 'cause I usually can't shut him up. Never mind him; he must be off his meds again or something."
And endless variations on that theme, unraveling in his head. Wybie wishes (and doesn't wish) he could actually hear any of what they're saying.
"What should I do, Cat?" he whispers, crouching down. "Should I let 'em know I'm here?"
As always, the cat has no answer other than that blue, unblinking stare.
For a minute, Wybie muses on what it would say in that Other world, where Coraline says it could talk, or how these new kids (button-eyed or not) would've responded to him there.
Down the hill, a snowball fights suddenly erupts as Lauren throws a direct hit to the side of Josh's face, knocking his hat off his head. Coraline's laugh of wicked, happy delight echoes in the forest, but as Josh starts scooping up a handful of snow, soon both girls are scrambling to make some ammunition.
Wybie realizes he's not sure when he last had an actual snowball fight. He's usually more of a target than a participant.
He sneaks back before any of them can notice him. He's been caught stalking Coraline a million times, but it's different if she's not alone.
It's not until he's returned home that he remembers the fact that he actually had a pretense to talk to them, considering they went to his house today. It probably shouldn't have felt so much like trespassing. As he eats the baloney sandwich Gramma's made him for lunch, it begins to sink in that he might've been wondering whether Coraline had to convince the others to ask if he wanted to tag along, or if they were cool with it.
Besides, he still hasn't given Jonesy her present, and knowing her, it'd probably be the first topic on her mind if he showed up. Again, he thinks it's a wonder she didn't mention in yesterday; must've been distracted by that whole bike ordeal. He can't hand over those shrunken heads in front of them now, he just can't. Another thought strikes him, another one that was hissing, ignored, at the back of his mind since he'd left the house: What if they only came around to finally see what his mysteriously absent gift was? What if they hadn't been intending to take him with them at all?
The sandwich becomes a heavy, dry lump in his mouth all of a sudden; he's forced to finish his entire glass of milk in order to swallow.
He spends the rest of the day inside, doing the homework they were assigned for the holidays, and waving away Gramma's questions about why he's not outside playing with his little friends.
When Jonesy's front door swings open the next afternoon, he braces himself for the stare he knows he's about to receive. That really won't be a surprise, considering the state of his hair; he can even imagine the comments, word for word. The only variable left is who will be doing the staring, and possibly the laughing: It could be Mrs. Jones, Mr. Jones, Jonesy herself or, goodness forbid, any of her Michigan guests.
Gramma said he looked handsome, the sort of praise that immediately translated even in his mind to "completely dorky". Relatives didn't count. Mr. Bobinsky praised it as "very military, very admirable" as he bounded past Wybie on his morning jog. This wasn't necessarily a good thing, either.
As Coraline appears in the doorway and doesn't defy his theories by not staring at him, he's acutely aware of how the new hair, or lack thereof, makes his already large ears appear even larger. Once again, he wonders what possessed him to do this last night. He suspects it had to do with some vague and not so vague notions about her friends, and their comments, and possibly her, and possibly the kids at school, and how they all see him.
He shoots her a sheepish sort of half-grin. "Uh, yeah…s'just me."
"You cut your hair!" she exclaims redundantly; it couldn't have been more obvious even if he was wearing a neon sign. He feels like a turnip.
"Shaved, actually," he mutters, his face growing hot; he fishes a navy blue woolen hat out of his coat pocket and pulls it down over his protruding ears. Hats didn't use to fit him. He debated on whether he should've just worn the hat in the first place, to cover up his rash fashion decision. In the end he supposed people were going to see it sooner or later, anyway (and a tiny, raw part of him hoped for approval, impossible though it was).
"No kidding," she says, her expression and voice strained with baffled hilarity, "Wow, guess your Gramma got tired of raking entire pine trees and stuff out of your hair every day, huh?"
His blush abates somewhat, what with her assuming it was Gramma who made him go through with this. This new concept definitely makes him seem less idiotic. Why hadn't he thought of it himself? "Go ahead, laugh," he says flatly.
"It'll grow back," she says with exaggerated solemnity, patting his shoulder.
"But not in the next five minutes," he deadpans.
She shakes her head, grins; expectant. "So, anyway…do you have my present, finally?"
He was right; she didn't forget. "Ah…yeah, it's…yeah. Here," he mumbles, reluctantly handing her the wrapped box.
As she starts unwrapping the present, he finds he's actually holding his breath.
"Oh, whoa," she whistles, gawking, "cool…!"
He exhales. "You like it?"
"Uh huh." She nods, still slightly awestruck. "Too bad you didn't bring this to the party, woulda been really awesome."
"Oh?" He blinks. "I kinda just didn't…think it was real appropriate to show this to your friends. They don't seem the types to, uh…"
A sort of puzzled suspicion covers her face. "Whaddaya mean? You mean you left it at home on purpose?"
He shrugs, examining his scuffed boots. "Well…to be honest, I figured they probably thought I was weird enough already, so…"
"You kiddin'?" She tilts her head at him skeptically, favors his arm with a friendly punch. "With Mr. B and the two dingbats around, who's even gonna notice you, right? I mean, I love 'em, they're great, but yeah…they're kind of a little…hard to explain to people who're meeting them for the first time. We ran into Spink and Forcible in the garden yesterday, and it was so obvious Josh and Lauren just had noooo idea what their deal was!"
Wybie gives an uncomfortable laugh in return, not quite sure if he believes her casual joking. He wonders if she'd gotten so used to them all, including him, that it was a bit of a shock to her to suddenly see them through outsider eyes again. "Where are they, anyway? Your friends, I mean. They're not leaving for Medford until tomorrow, right?"
Coraline throws her arms up, having apparently been reminded of something that bothers her. "Well, they weren't going to, but Josh's Aunt called and said there'd been a change of plans. Which really sucks, of course, but Mom only said it gave me the perfect opportunity to finish that essay I haven't done yet— hah! And can you believe they gave us actual homework over the holidays? Who does that?"
He shrugs. "Sadistic teachers? Anyway, it's just a page-long essay. They'll probably let you get away with half a page, even, since it's the holidays."
She flaps a dismissive hand. "Whatever, I'm so not taking any chances— and why do you always tell me not to sweat it, when you totally do all the assignments down to the very last detail— plus extra credit if you have the time?" She peers intensely at him for a moment. "Are you trying to eliminate the competition or something?"
Wybie laughs incredulously. "Aww, c'mon, what do you think this is, Wall Street or something? We're still in grade school!"
"Well, not for much longer, and I hear high school's hell— so spill!" Coraline wags her finger at him; the shrunken heads flop around in her other hand, by her hip, and she makes for a strangely intimidating picture. "Why that attitude?"
"I dunno, you always make such a thing out of school work, so I'm just trying to tell you it's not a big deal—" He holds up his gloved hands in supplication, then. "Look, just because I spend some time on my school work doesn't mean I completely stress out about it, I just do it."
She scoffs. "Not everyone's a big nerd like you."
His hands drop to his side. He knows she doesn't really mean it, that she's mostly just annoyed at herself over procrastinating with her homework, but it still hits too close to the mark. Even normally, before her friends visited, her comment would've upset him a little, but now it's worse.
"Gramma's just taught me some self-discipline, that's all," he murmurs, feeling exposed and vulnerable somehow, "business before pleasure and all that— you know she won't let me go outside and goof around until I'm done with my homework." His gaze lowers to his hands, which he wasn't even aware he was wringing. "Maybe you should start doing the same," he suggests, an unexpected edge creeping into his voice, "so I don't have to listen to you whining because you always do everything last minute."
When he dares to look up, she appears disarmed; torn between annoyance and guilt. He waits for her to say something, and in the end she heaves a big sigh. "You sound like Mom and Dad." It's not malevolent, so he doesn't comment. She goes on, her voice softening: "Why'd you chop off all your hair right before the start of school, anyway? They're gonna call you Mr. Potato Head or something— not to mention it's January. Must be freezing," she says, reaching out and tugging almost affectionately at his hat; grinning when he squawks an objection, swatting at her hand.
He scowls weakly at her, his face hot with embarrassment; more from the prospect of going to school like this and what an idiot he's been for doing this than her friendly ribbing. "Haha," he grunts, "well, you got your present and everything, so I guess I'll be off…"
"Hey," she objects gently, tugging at his sleeve this time.
His answer is flat, still a touch of wounded pride in there. "What?"
To his surprise, she bites her lip, looking suddenly shy. "Michigan Me and Oregon Me are different," she explains, swinging the shrunken heads casually back and forth by her side for a moment before meeting his eyes quizzically. "Does that make sense?"
"Not really," he says, slowly shaking his head at her.
"Michigan Me doesn't live in the middle of nowhere with no kids around or chase ghosts or play with mud or slugs or wear a school uniform or— I dunno, dress up as Ghostbusters for Halloween," she says, rather meaningfully.
"So…what does Michigan Coraline do, then?" he challenges.
Looking out into the grounds behind him, she cracks her knuckles and purses her lips before she starts explaining herself with a list that almost sounds like she's casually reading it off a blackboard. "Play sports. Go to football games. Go to the movies, go to the mall, the zoo, go rollerblading and biking— and I didn't read trashy horror comics."
"Well, weren't you the little urbanite," he remarks dryly. "And I thought you said you'd already read half my collection."
Wybie shoots her a blank look. "Oh, so another thing Michigan Me does is pretending to be cooler than she really is?"
She makes an irritated, haughty little noise. "Well, just because you don't recognize social suicide when you see it…"
Oh, he does recognize it, just sometimes too late. Thinking he's got an advantage, he continues teasing her, refuses to let her comment get to him: "I'm disappointed in you, Jonesy," he sighs dramatically, "I thought you were stronger than that."
Again with the noise, and then she's off on a lecture: "Oh, get over yourself— like you're some kind of misunderstood rebel? Did it ever occur to you that I like playing sports? That I like going to the mall? There's just not a whole lot to do around here except hang around the weird, dorky neighbor kid."
There's a strange itch in his chest, but he tries to ignore it, sticking out his tongue at her. He'd meant that comment as a joke; she didn't have to go that far, even if she's sort of half-joking as well. "We could go to Salem," he finally says, though not nearly as confidently as he planned.
She cocks her eyebrow. "That's pretty far."
Fishing for something to say, he comes up with: "There are malls there…and football games."
The eyebrow doesn't relent. "Oh, really? And why do you wanna go there?"
"Well…" he begins, holds the idea in his mouth for a while, as if tasting how it sounds before he lets it go: "We could visit Oregon State Hospital."
"Why?" This unusual wish seems to have taken her for a loop, and no wonder; what kid would willingly hang out a hospital unless they had relatives or friends there?
He gives a one-shouldered shrug. "I read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was filmed there."
"What? When did you watch that?" she demands, suddenly envious and accusing, "You're not old enough."
Wybie snorts. "So? We weren't old enough to watch The Shining, either, but we still did that."
Coraline grins, conceding him that point, but he can still tell she thinks he should've waited for her so they could've watched it together. "Anyway, what's so interesting about a hospital?" she asks, then, waving an impatient hand. "Whaddaya expect's gonna happen, Jack Nicholson jumping out at us and going booga booga?"
"No," he says, brow lowered and face full of pouty reproach.
She's relentless. "Yeah? Then what's the real reason you wanna go?"
"To-free-the-tortured-souls-of-people-who-were-forcibly-committed," he blurts out in rapid succession; it almost sounds like a single, tongue twisting word, like something out of a German dictionary.
Coraline gives a strange sort of cough-laugh at this. "What?"
"Well, y'know…what if they aren't at peace?" Wybie asks, forcing the shyness down, forcing himself to talk more normally. "People say it's haunted. A lot of bodies went unclaimed after the patients died there, and they were just cremated. I've read that the remains were later installed in a Memorial Circle, but there's bound to be somebody who was forgotten— and considering they dug up the graveyard to cremate those bodies as well, there's gotta be some angry spirits around."
She stares at him for a while before she sighs. "Look, I just got lucky last time, and I had a lot of help, from Cat, from the adder stone, from the Other Father, from y— the Other Wybie. Without 'em, I dunno what would've happened. Who's gonna help us in Salem?"
"Aww, c'mon, Jonesy, that doesn't sound like you—"
"I'm always up for adventure, Wybie, and I won't say some of it wasn't exciting, 'cause it was, but…but I took up that challenge because I had to, because it was right there in my house. It was a struggle for freedom and survival," she insists, sounding ridiculously serious for a twelve-year-old; he might've laughed at her if he didn't know what she's gone through. "Salem is miles and miles away, and maybe we shouldn't be interfering with that kinda stuff, anyway."
Nevertheless, he tries once more: "What if they're really ghosts, just like Gramma's sister? Trapped?"
She pauses at that, looking so thoughtful and torn that he almost expects her to go grab her cap and bag and whisk him away on a quest.
"But Jonesy, what would the Ghostbusters do?" he nearly whines.
She gives him a pointed look. "Uh, I dunno, trap the ghosts forever in a place that might be environmentally dangerous or unstable mainly 'cause they don't know what else to do with 'em? That's what you said, anyway."
He deflates. "…oh, right."
"Ugh, you're like a puppy, I swear— just like Ray Stantz!" she complains in a way that tells him she's not actually all that irritated. "If it makes you feel any better, you can go ahead and research Salem 'till you finally become an actual hunchback."
This compromise (and its potentially underlying promise) brightens him up at once. "Will do, Dr. Venkman!"
"You're deranged, Why-were-you-born," she says, complete with a withering stare he's seen Mrs. Jones giving countless times to Mr. Jones.
His fresh grin merely grows at that.
She rolls her eyes. "Anyway, thanks for the gift. I'm gonna head inside, I need to finish my homework, and so should you."
"Already finished it," he says, sounding supremely nonchalant.
"Jerk," she replies matter-of-factly, making him laugh.
Almost through the door, she turns back just in time to catch him before he speeds off on his bike.
He flips his visor back up. "What?"
Coraline hesitates for a second or two, suddenly not looking exactly sure of what she wants to say, or how to say it. "Michigan Me…also hadn't visited a creepy dimension full of…full of button-eyed people who wanted to eat her life. Michigan Me hadn't been in a deadly situation. At first I thought it was because I didn't associate them with the Other World like I do with you, but I kinda do. After all, they were in a picture there, talking to me. I thought I didn't want them tangled up in that mess, and it's not like I'm gonna tell them all about it."
"Really?" His head tilting, he studies her face with a frown, trying to focus on her instead of the amazed elation bubbling acutely in his chest. Despite how close they seemed, she hasn't told them. He's still the only one (well, he and Gramma) who really knows.
She shakes her head vigorously, an almost wild look in her eye. "Oh, no way, they're gonna think I'm crazy— they already looked at me like I was nuts last night!"
Coraline's expression tells him that she thinks she might've overshared. She reluctantly goes on: "I think I might have freaked out a teensy bit when they wanted to know what the deal was with the little door in the living room wall," she sighs, then adds: "…but anyway, it's not necessarily that."
Wybie frowns curiously at her, waiting for her to elaborate, to explain.
She shrugs, glances down at her feet and back at him. "Wybie, so far, the two of us…we've never really hung out with anybody else here, ya know? So I didn't really know how to— and me and Lauren and Josh were pretty close, so it's kinda hard to know how to…include you in that, somehow. And I guess I was kinda hung up on everything being perfect, 'cause I hadn't seen 'em in so long."
He blinks, momentarily astounded at what almost sounds like an apology. "Well, uh…it wasn't just you. I could've of course acted less…less like, uh…well, or more like…yeah."
"Whatever, anyway, right? I mean, it's not like I was gonna— " she says hastily, before interrupting herself with an odd little laugh. "And don't worry, those rubber heads are nothing, you should've seen Lauren, we found a rat skeleton yesterday and she wanted to take the skull with her, said she was gonna freak out her little sister— Josh thought it was totally gross!"
His eyebrows jump. "Really?" It's not about rubber heads or grossness or chopping off all your hair, it's always been like this, he simply has no idea how to talk to other kids, especially if it's more than one at a time— but now he still wishes he'd taken a chance and stuck around.
"Of course, then Cat came and dragged the whole rat skeleton off— figures." She squirms a bit again, appearing to struggle for the appropriate words, before throwing her arms out in a facsimile of a careless gesture. "But anyway, Lauren and Josh'll be back this summer, so…"
Finally relaxing, he grins crookedly at her. "So…I'll bring the popsicles if you bring the shrunken heads?"
Coraline throws him a half-hearted raspberry in response to his half-hearted bravado. "If you insist."
As Wybie starts pedaling away, he catches her relieved laugh before she shuts the door.
Author's notes: I had no idea how this story got so long, it was only supposed to be a tiny one-shot like the others. Ah well.
Besides, both he and Coraline are aware that there are limited things for kids to do around here: No offence to anyone from Ashland, Oregon. I think the place looks gorgeous and would really love to visit. I just got the impression from the movie that it's a small town with not much to amuse modern children— or at least there isn't if they were going to hang around the Pink Palace for a while.
It can be up to your own interpretation whether Lauren did indeed flirt (in an eleven-or-twelve-year-old kind of way) with Wybie or not, or if Coraline teased her about it because she was unconsciously jealous (also in a twelve-year-old kind of way) or not.
Something out of a German dictionary: I had an example here, but FF Net kept simply deleting the word while I did my editing. What's up with this random deletion? Not to mention random squishing together of words? Has anybody else had this problem? Anyway, if there appears to be missing a word in a sentence or if two separate words have been pushed together in this story (or in my other stories), then it's due to whatever the hell FF Net's deal is with that.