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This is chapter one of Witch Ways, a teen witch novel. CHAPTER TWO AND THREE ARE NOW PUBLISHED AS WELL!
It happened in Biology when Troy, the kid that liked to chew paper, blinked at me through his Stephen Hawking glasses and told me that he would be honored to go the dance with me. If it had just been Troy, I wouldn’t have been so mad, but Troy was the final paper-chewer that blew my cool—literally. Earlier that day, I’d learned that I had supposedly also asked Harrison, the kid that wore a Justin Bieber button on the lapel of school blazer, and Frankel, the lead singer of the Wanna-be Lounge Lizards, a band that serenaded the Hartly cafeteria every Friday. Three dates to Homecoming. I didn’t even want one.
And so when I found out Melissa Blankley was to blame, I blew it. Literally. And everything caught fire.
Rage is like that. It builds up inside of you, like pressure in a teapot, until finally when the steam is so hot, so big, you let go—because really, there isn’t another choice. And everyone lets go differently. Some use body language—tight lips, a simple eye-roll. Some make noise and throw things against the wall. Others swear and name call. A few actually become violent, and throw punches or people.
Rage is like that. It builds up inside of you, like pressure in a teapot, until finally when the steam is so hot, so big, you let go—because really, there isn’t another choice. And everyone lets go differently. Some use body language—tight lips, a simple eye-roll. Some make noise and throw things against the wall. Others swear and name call. A few actually become violent, and throw punches or people.
Some of us burn stuff.
Although, not always intentionally.
Don’t ask me how. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before.
And because it was so frightening, I hope that nothing ever happens like that again.
“Teenage girls are genetically wired to be unkind to each other,” Uncle Mitch said. He adjusted his glasses and met the hostile gaze of Dr. Roberts head-on, making me proud. Uncle Mitch rarely met anyone’s gaze head-on, not even his students at Yale. “It’s in the DNA. They have to compete for mates.”
“But they do not have to burn down the science room,” Dr. Roberts said, taping his pencil on the pile of papers on the desk in front of him and fixing me with his cold stare. He had an uncanny resemblance to manikins: plastic-looking hair, big, too perfect teeth, and flawless skin.
“I didn’t—“I started.
Uncle Mitch sent me a warning glance, and I bit back my words. Before our meeting with the principal, he had made me promise not to speak. You are your own worst enemy, he had said in the car. I glared at Dr. Roberts.
“As I told you before, we have several eyewitnesses—”
“But teenage girls—” Uncle Mitch began.
“Not just the girls,” Dr. Roberts interjected, “but several of the students including the son of the president of the school board.”
Of course, Miles Carson would say something.
“And Mr. Beck,” Dr. Roberts added.
I liked Mr. Beck, and I hated to think that he would think I would do this. Even though I had. Not that I had meant to.
“It was an accident,” I said. Refusing to be hushed by Uncle Mitch’s foot pressing against my leg. “I don’t even know how it happened.”
Dr. Roberts continued to tap his pencil. Tap, tap, tap.
“According to Mr. Beck,” Dr. Roberts looked down at his papers, “sparks flew from your fingertips.” Tap, tap, tap. “Can you explain how that happened?”
“Would it matter if I could?” I folded my arms, leaned back in my chair, and kicked Uncle Mitch with my saddle shoe. That was the only upside of expulsion—I wouldn’t have to wear the Hartly Academy uniform anymore. Good-bye, tartan plaid pleated skirts. So long, itchy red sweaters, and knee-high socks. Adios, clunky black and white saddle shoes. But as I thought of other consequences of leaving the academy meant, I blinked back tears and hoped no one would see.
“I’m sorry,” Dr. Roberts said. “Evelynn is an excellent student—a credit to the academy, and a reflection of the outstanding academic program we at the academy espouse.”
He sounded like he was giving a speech at a school fundraiser, begging parents for more money. I glanced at the papers on his desk. My name at the top with a red slash through it.
“Of course, she’s an excellent student!” Uncle Mitch exploded.
I gaped at him. Uncle Mitch never exploded—except when he accidentally ate dairy—but that was a different, smellier sort of explosion.
“Which is why I’m sure she won’t have any problem adjusting to the public school,” Dr. Roberts continued.
Public school? Yes, please.
Uncle Mitch gave a small, almost imperceptible shake of his head.
“Because I was fairly sure you would feel that way,” Dr. Roberts said. “I took the liberty of speaking to Evelynn’s grandmother.”
Uncle Mitch blanched. His lips pressed into a tight little line, and he refused to meet my eye when I kicked him.
I kicked him harder.
He didn’t flinch, but continued to give Dr. Roberts his best death stare. Uncle Mitch didn’t have x-ray vision like superman, but with his dark hair, blue eyes, and square jaw, he sort of looked like him. Not that he would ever wear tights. He mostly wore button down plaid shirts with a pencil and small notebook in the pocket, khaki pants, and leather penny loafers. Today, in an effort to dress up for the occasion, he’d worn his favorite sports jacket with the frayed cuffs.
Dr. Roberts leaned forward, and placed his elbows on the table. “As you are aware, Baldwin Norfolk Academy is an excellent school, and as former Dean—”
Uncle Mitch pushed to his feet. “This meeting is over,” he said through tight, white lips.
“Have you consulted with Evelynn’s parents?” Dr. Roberts also stood.
Uncle Mitch gave Dr. Roberts a silencing look. “I am Evie’s legal guardian.”
“I just thought Mr. Marston would like to know. I rather hoped to meet him.”
Of course, he did. Everyone wanted to meet my father. Money makes insta-friends.
“And of course, I had hoped to see Mrs. Marston as well,” Dr. Roberts babbled, flushing, obviously trying not to look like the money grabber that he was. “Is she—“
“Still in India,” I said.
“I’m sure she’ll want to be appraised of this situation.” He paused and smiled at me. “I don’t know if you know that I knew your mother in school.”
For a moment, he looked almost human. I tried to picture him beside my mom—his starch suit and slicked back hair standing side by side with my mom with her strawberry blonde corkscrew curls and random freckles. They didn’t belong in the same room. Maybe not even on the same planet. They were definitely different species.
“We grew up together. That’s why I felt comfortable contacting Mrs. La Faye.”
Uncle Mitch headed for the door.
Dr. Roberts scrambled after him. “I would have hesitated to dismiss Evelynn if I hadn’t known she had a place at Baldwin Norfolk.”
Uncle Mitch spun on his heel. “Did Beatrix set this up?”
Dr. Roberts reeled back. “No-o,” he stammered. “How could she?”
Uncle Mitch studied Dr. Roberts through slit eyes.
“Arson is a serious crime.” Dr. Roberts visibly wilted and slunk back behind the safety of his desk. He shuffled the papers that bore@WD my name. “Again, I’m very sorry about this, Evelynn and Dr. Marston, but I’m sure that you’ll find Baldwin—”
With an angry grunt that sounded a little like the noise Scratch makes when he has to move, Uncle Mitch headed for the door.
My uncle stalked down the deserted hall, out the door, and down the steps.
I hurried to stay next to him. “Do you want to tell me about my grandmother?” I asked, my voice shaking.
“No,” he said without looking at me. “Do you want to tell me how sparks flew from your fingertips?”
Uncle Mitch increased his speed, and I trotted beside him in my clunky shoes. “But—don’t you think having a grandmother is something I should have known before now?”
He stopped and met my gaze. “No.” He stalked off.
I stared at his back. I had never seen him angry before. Never. Not even when my friend, Carly, accidentally backed into his 1958 T-bird with her 2000 Toyota Corolla@, or when Scratch was a puppy and chewed up one of his loafers, or when I accidentally knocked over his moth habitat, and we had larvae everywhere in the house for months. Mrs. Anderson had been really mad about that, but Uncle Mitch hadn’t said a word and went back to his experiment.
Thinking about all the many ways I’d disrupted his solitary life made me once again grateful I’d gotten Uncle Mitch in the divorce. Dad got Maria, Mom got Fred, and I got Uncle Mitch. I had definitely won. But at the moment, my curiosity was having a face-off with gratitude, and curiosity was winning big time.
“I’m seventeen years old!”
“Sixteen,” Uncle Mitch corrected. “Your birthday isn’t until next week.”
“I know when my birthday is. What I don’t know…or didn’t know…was that I have a grandmother!” I stopped chasing him, and watched him stalk away from me. “Isn’t that something someone should have told me?”
“No.” He didn’t turn around, but marched toward his car.
I ran, afraid that he would drive off and leave me in the nearly empty academy parking lot. I climbed in the T-bird, closed the door, and stared at him.
After sticking the key in the ignition and putting the car in gear, he met my gaze. “I promised your mom and dad.” He lifted his shoulder in a defeated shrug. “You’ll have to tell them.”
“Does my grandmother know about me?” It stung that not only would my parents and Uncle Mitch keep such a huge secret from me, but that the mysterious Beatrix grandmother hadn’t even wanted to know me.
Uncle Mitch, grim faced, didn’t answer, but steered the ancient car out of the parking lot and down the tree-lined street. Red, gold, and yellow leaves fluttered past the window.
“Do I have a grandfather I don’t know about?”
“Aunts, uncles, cousins?”
He didn’t answer.
“So, I do.” I chewed on this. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” Anger, frustration and curiosity built inside of me like a dark cloud. I grew warm, agitated, and sparks tingled on my fingertips.
I curled my hands into tight fist. I really had to stop doing that.
Taking three deep breaths, I looked out the window and watched the familiar landscape flash by. I had lived on Elm Street my entire life. I had started at Hartly in kindergarten. I had never even heard of Baldwin Norfolk.
“Where’s Baldwin Norfolk?”
For a moment, sympathy flashed in his eyes. “North Harbor, off the Merit.”
“It’s expensive, then.” I knew my dad had money, but I’d always assumed my mother’s family was poor. I don’t know why, except that my mother was always, as Grammy Jean used to say, a free spirit in sandals. Mom wore long gypsy skirts and gauzy blouses even in the winter when everyone else wore itchy wool. A thought struck me. Maybe Mom’s clothes were more than just a fashion statement! Maybe, like me, she had a temperature problem.
I scrounged through my bag, looking for my phone. Then I remembered. Sticking out hand, palm out, I said, “Give me back my phone. I want to call my mom.”
Uncle Mitch glanced at me before reaching into his pocket and pulling out his phone.
“Aw, come on! I can’t even have my phone for two minutes?”
“By orders of your dad, you’re grounded.” He slapped his phone into my palm“Ugh.” I started to press Mom’s number, then froze.
“What’s the matter?” Concern touched Uncle Mitch’s voice.
I shook my head, blinked back tears and stared out the window. How could I ask my mom—or anyone, really—if she sparked, too?
I sat on my bed with a book propped up in front of me. I’d read Beyond the Fortuneteller’s Tent a hundred times. It was my go-to book—a paper and ink equivalent of comfort food—but today Emory Ravenswood held no, or at least little, charm. The words on the page swam before my eyes and refused to form into nice, understandable sentences. I flipped ahead to the gypsy scene and my gaze landed on the words, “Tell me, my lady Petra, if you were given the choice to shun the captivity of walls and ceilings and roam the earth, unburdened by possessions as the spirits direct, would you choose to stay at home?”
But I had no choice. I had to stay at home. Without a phone, computer or car. I rolled onto my back and held the book in front of my face, trying not worry about where I was going to go school on Monday, where I was going graduate from, and even if I was going to graduate. Would Uncle Mitch let me take the GED? If so, I could start going to a community college next semester—but that didn’t start until January. What would I do until then?
Get a job?
Knowing that my dad would throw a hissy fit and my uncle would dance right along beside him if I quit school early, I refocused on my book.
Right before she died, Grammy Jean said that there comes a time when you have to decide to change the page or close the book. She had chosen to close the book. If I could choose—and going back to Hartly wasn’t an option—which it looked like was the case—what would I do? Easy, public school with Carly.
A knocking on the window.
I put down my book and went to let Carly inside. We’d been climbing in and out of each other’s windows ever since my parents’ divorce twelve years ago when my dad and I moved in with Uncle Mitch. I lifted the sash.
Getting from the huge branch of the maple tree and into my room was never painless. Carly leaned forward, balanced her belly on the sill, and fell into the room head first with a bang.
“Ev—ie?” Mrs. Mateo called from the kitchen. She always managed to make the second syllable of my name an octave higher than the first. She missed her calling as an opera singer.
“I’m okay, Mrs. Mateo,” I called. “I just dropped my…stuff.”
“Brilliant,” Carly whispered, as she climbed off the floor. “You’d be great at improve.”
“I know, right?” I got up beside her.
“How long is your imprisonment?” Carly tried to brush off the twigs and leaves clinging to her favorite jeans and @BAND t-shirt—probably the same clothes she had worn to school. You could wear whatever you wanted at Norfolk High. Which was a good thing, because Carly would probably rather burn down a science room everyday rather than have to wear saddle shoes.
“I don’t know. My dad is coming to discuss the situation.” I made air quotation marks.
“Wow. Is he bringing Maria—or anyone?”
I knew that for Carly, anyone was code for Hugh, my gorgeous, but almost as self-righteous as his mom, stepmother. Maria was a Brazilian beauty, and Hugh had her dark, almost black eyes, thick lashes and curly hair. They also shared chiseled jawlines, dark red lips, and strong moral values that were more obnoxious than enduring.
I shook my head. “Just Dad. He’ll be here tonight.”
Carly’s lips twisted in a sympathetic grimace. “Why is there a situation? Wasn’t it an accident? I mean, no one can really believe that you intentionally set the science room on fire, can they?”
I lifted one shoulder in a shrug.
“And it’s not as if they found gasoline or anything.”
“It’s—or it was—a science lab. There were plenty of things to catch on fire and explode.”
Carly tried not to laugh, but her lips twitched.
“It’s not funny. I feel badly for the snakes and rats.”
“Yeah—all those poor rich kids…and the lab animals.”
“No one was hurt—except Liza, the iguana.”
“Yeah, but now you might get to go to Norfolk High!”
I rolled over and looked at the ceiling. “I hope so, but I kind of doubt it. Dr. Roberts talked about Baldwin Norfolk@. Seems my grandmother is a trustee.”
“Wait!” Carly bolted up. “What?”
“I know, super weird, right? I have a grandmother and no one even told me!”
Carly gave me an open-mouthed stare. “Baldwin Norfolk?”
“Did you hear me tell you that I have a secret grandmother?”
“Okay, that’s weird, but your whole family is a little weird. I mean, I love you, and I love Uncle Mitch, and I really want Hugh to love me, then we can truly be sisters, but your mom is so out there, and then your dad married Maria, who is like her complete opposite.”
“I know,” I sighed thinking about my stepmother. Often when I was with her, I felt like she was watching, waiting, and praying for the opportunity to crack open her Bibles and call me to repentance. Fortunately, arson wasn’t one of the Ten Commandments. In fact, God seemed to like using fire himself. Although, I knew my dad and stepmother wouldn’t see things that way.
“I don’t know how or why my dad shifted from my mom to Maria. It’s like there’s a missing puzzle piece to that love story.”
“Okay, you have a grandmother. Do you know anything about her?”
I shook my head. “She’s coming, too. She’ll be here when my dad comes. Uncle Mitch isn’t happy. He really hates it when he’s ousted from his science cave.”
“Okay—but Baldwin Norfolk!”
“What about it? Have you even heard of it?”
“Yeah. Dylan Fox goes there.” She said his name as if I should know who he was—as if he was someone to be revered, like Santa Claus.
“So—I would love to go to Baldwin Norfolk, just so I could breathe the same air as Dylan Fox.”
“How do you know him?”
“He’s a friend of Josh’s.” She bounced off the bed, went to the window and pulled back the curtain so she could watch her house. “In fact, they went to the comic store this morning. I wanted to come, but they wouldn’t take me. Even when I swore I was a huge Spiderman fan.”
“They didn’t believe you?” I rolled off the bed and went to stand beside her. I loved that I could see Carly’s house from my room. The Henderson’s lived in a giant Victorian that must have been added onto a hundred times. It had jutting gables, and a crazy wampum roofline. The original house had been built sometime before 1820, like ours, because both houses had plaques from the Stonington Historical Society stating that the house had been there when the town was incorporated, but that was where the similarity ended.
Our house was a boxy colonial with perfectly symmetrical windows. The Henderson’s house had a turret, a widow’s walk, and a mishmash of dormer windows. Our house was white with black shutters and a cranberry colored front door. The Henderson house boasted about ten different shades of blue with splashes of white thrown in. Our house was quiet. Carly’s house sang with the noise of eight kids, two parents, three dogs, five cats, and a couple of rabbits. Although, to be fair, the rabbits didn’t live inside the house with everyone else. They had their own cages in the backyard. They were the only creatures in the Henderson household that didn’t have to share a room.
“They asked me a trick question.”
“The name of Peter Parker’s uncle.”
“How is that a trick question?”
Carly shushed me when a red convertible BMW pulled into their drive. “They’re back,” she breathed in a reverenced whisper. Car doors slammed, and Josh, Carly’s brother, and a tall, lean guy with honey-colored hair climbed out. Carly grabbed my arm and squeezed.
“Hey, I thought you liked Hugh.”
Carly blew out a sigh. “I do love Hugh, but he’s in Virginia and I’m here. And so is that.” She nodded at Dylan. “You got to love the one you’re with.”
And as if he could hear her, he turned and looked directly in my window. Our eyes met briefly.
Giggling, Carly tugged on my hand as she dropped to the floor. I landed next to her with plop.
“Ev—ie?” Mrs. Mateo called.
“I’m okay, Mrs. Mateo,” I called through the door.
Carly sat up and inched toward the window. I followed.
Dylan was in the exact same spot, staring.
Laughing, Carly put her hand on the top of my head to push me down. “How can we get him to pay attention to me?”
“Why not stand up and wave? Wouldn’t that be better than scrunching and hiding?”
Rolling her eyes, Carly frowned at me, looking exactly like her mother did when Carly forgot to feed the dogs. “You can’t be so obvious.”
“What if you fell out the window and he ran over and caught you?”
She blinked at me. “You’re joking, right?”
“He’d have to sprint really fast to get her in time.”
“I don’t think this is a joking matter. I’m serious. How can I make him pay attention to me.”
“Just think how romantic it would be, you’d flutter down, calling for help like a good little damsel in distress—“
I stopped mid-sentence when on the opposite side of the house the garage door opened. “My dad. You have to go.”
Carly nodded. Standing, she threw one leg over the sill.
From inside, I heard, more than saw, Carly fall. From the reflection in the mirror, I saw her flailing arms and hands, searching for a hand-hold. I heard branches and twigs snapping beneath her weight, and her screams. I ran back to the window.
“Carly, I was joking!” I called.
She gaped up at me, her mouth a perfect O as she tumbled backward. She landed on the grass.
Josh and his friend, followed by the Henderson’s three dogs, sprinted across the lawn.
“Gabby! Go get Mom!” Josh called to his little sister over his shoulder right before he vaulted over the hedge separating our yards. He landed with a one-footed thud.
Feeling a little like Rapunzel, I leaned out my window. “Carly, are you okay?”
She moaned without opening her eyes. Her arms spread out wide, she lay flat on her back. If not for her left leg sticking out at an odd angle, she looked like she could be taking a nap on the lawn.
Her brother and Dylan stared down at her as if she was strange fish washed up on shore. Josh looked up and frowned at me. Dylan met my gaze with a smile.
“Hi,” he mouthed without noise.
I waved. Heat crawled up my neck, and I hoped he couldn’t see my blush. We stared at each other until the back door screen opened and shut with a bang.
“What happened here?” My dad strode onto the porch and stopped when he saw Carly, surrounded by two boys and mulling dogs, moaning at his feet.
Riddler, the German Shepherd mix, tried to snuffle in Carly’s hair, but Josh pulled him away and held him by the collar. Joker, the half-terrier and pinches and smidgeons of lots of other things, poked Carly’s hand with his snout. Without opening her eyes, she swatted at him. Gabby, her baby sister, grabbed Joker and Penguin, a black and white Boston Terrier and hauled them away.
A door slammed shut at the Henderson’s house, and Jill, Carly’s mom, raced across the grass, barefoot. She stopped short of Carly, worry and anger battling in her expression.
“Mom?” Carly peeked open an eye. “I-I-I think my leg is broken.” She stuttered through obvious pain.
“For once, we agree on something,” Jill said as she squatted down beside her. “We need to get you to the doctor.”
Carly rolled her head so she could look at Dylan. Batting her eye lashes, she looked at him through her tears. “Will you take me?”
“Don’t be silly!” Jill said, placing her hands on her hips. “Josh, go and get the van. Then call your father. Tell him to meet us at the emergency room.”
Josh shot his sister a pitying look before he turned and jogged toward the barn where the Henderson’s kept their large collection of motley cars. All three dogs followed, because, obviously, Josh was the leader of the pack.
But Dylan stayed. He grinned up at me, but his smile faltered when he met my dad’s glare.
“I didn’t ask her up her,” I told my dad.
He shot me a glance before returning his attention to Carly.
“Want me to help you up?” Dylan asked.
“Yes, please,” Carly said through white lips. She tried to smile at him, but it looked painful and off—lots of teeth, but no happiness.
“Let’s wait for the van,” my dad sounded growlier than any of the Henderson dogs. He focused on Dylan. “Who are you? You weren’t in my daughter’s bedroom, too, were you?”
“Huh, no sir.” Dylan brushed off his hand on his jeans before extending it. “Dylan Fox.” He nodded at the Henderson’s house. “I was hanging out with Josh when I heard Carly fall.”
My dad grunted.
Mrs. Henderson knelt on the ground and brushed the hair out of Carly’s face. “Sweetheart, you’re going to be okay.”
“Oz-z-z,” Carly moaned.
“I know, sweetie,” Mrs. Henderson said.
“She can’t be in the play!” Gabby squealed, as the thought hit her. She rose to her toes and twirled. “I can be Dorothy!”
Mrs. Henderson silently shook her head.
“Who ever heard of an eight year old Dorothy?” Carly said.
Gabby stopped spinning. “But—who else can step in—into the red shoes—at the last minute?”
“We don’t need to discuss this right now,” Mrs. Henderson said. She climbed to her feet as Josh pulled the jacked-up van down the driveway.
“Mom,” Carly grabbed her mom’s hand. “Promise me, you won’t let Gabby be Dorothy.”
“Carly, you aren’t dead, yet,” Mrs. Henderson said. “Let’s just see what the doctor says.”
Dylan knelt down beside Carly and gathered her into his arms.
She winced and blinked. Tears rolled down her face.
“You’ll be okay,” Dylan said, smiling down at her.
Mrs. Henderson pulled opened the van’s sliding door and moved aside so Dylan could load Carly into the back seat. He fussed over her leg, propping it up beside her. Backing away, he shot me another glance and his smile went from being pitying and kind, to something else.
Mrs. Henderson climbed in the passenger seat and rolled down the window. “Gabby, you’re responsible for getting dinner on the table,” she said. “Meredith will be home from swim at five. Lincoln isn’t done with soccer until 5:30. The twins are at piano until almost five—Mrs. Rochester will drop them off. I don’t know where the boys are. I’m sure they’ll show up when they get hungry. You can put in a frozen pizza, but make sure you put out some sort of vegetable.”
Gabby put her hands on her hips. “Okay, I can do that, but only if I get to be Dorothy.”
Mrs. Henderson rolled her eyes, and Gabby seemed to realize that she’d gone too far. Her shoulders slumped as she headed toward the Henderson’s and frozen pizza.
Dylan, his confidence stuttering under my dad’s glare, said, “Maybe I should go and help her.”
“That would be good,” my dad said.
A strange car, maybe even older than Uncle Mitch’s T-bird, turned down our drive. Baby blue and white, as long as a hearse, the car looked a lot like the one I’d seen in the film clips of JFK’s assassination, which meant it was about the same age as my dad.
“This day just keeps getting better,” my dad mumbled, watching the car approach. He turned to me. “You better get down here, Petunia.” Then he said without about as much enthusiasm as he would say the city is overrun with rats, he said, “Your grandmother is here.”
I leaned out the window, resting my forearms on the sill. “Don’t you think you should have told me about her before now?”
He grunted and turned away.
“No! You don’t get to be mad at me! I’m mad at you!”
He didn’t answer, but banged through the back door.
I ran down the stairs, wanting to confront him before the mysterious grandmother arrived.
I stopped short when I saw her standing in the almost never used living room. She stood on the tapestry rug, small, trembling, fuzzy-haired, and bright-eyed. Despite the warm, autumn air, she wore a long, crimson velvet skirt, a brown wool blazer, and a pink feather boa. She came to me with her arms extended.
“There you are, beautiful!” She pulled me in for a warm, lavender-smelling hug. She felt fragile and brittle in my embrace, and the boa tickled my nose. “You must be very brave, dear,” she whispered in my ear. Her words fanned my neck, and a trill went down my back.
Pulling away, she took hold of both of my hands. “You look just like your mother did at your age.”
“Sonya has strawberry blonde hair,” my dad said. He stood in the center of the room, frowning at us, and looking, for once, awkward.
“And she has honey,” my grandmother quipped without looking at him, “both delicious and edible.”
Uncle Mitch, who must have shown up some time during the hug, snorted.
My grandmother threw him a nasty look over her shoulder. “What’s that, Mitchel?”
She said Mitchel, but for some reason it sounded like Michelle. I had never noticed how similar sounding the two names were until just that moment.
“Shall we all sit down so we can discuss my granddaughter’s education?”
Interesting, officially the house belonged to my dad and uncle, and yet this tiny women acted like she owned the place, and she had the two grown men, both well-respected and exceptionally successful shuffling into their seats. What was there about her? She had to weigh less than a hundred pounds. She looked about as old and as harmless as @THE BOSTON TERRIER. Sitting on the sofa, she smiled at me and spotted the cushion beside her.
“Now, my dear, why don’t you tell us where you would like to go to school?”
I looked at the two brothers. My dad wore a pin-stripe suit, a heavily starched shirt, and burgundy tie. Uncle Mitch had on his khakis and a button-down cotton shirt. But they both wore identical scowls.
“I want to go to Norfolk High school,” I said, smiling into my grandmother’s dark eyes.
“The public school?” she asked, sounding genuinely surprised.
Uncle Mitch gave a small shake of his head.
“Why not?” I demanded, jumping to my feet.
Uncle Mitch met my gaze. “They won’t take you.”
“They won’t take me!” I echoed. “What do you mean, they won’t take me. They’re a public school. They have to take everyone.”
“No, they don’t have to take those who may put their students at risk.”
“Put their students at risk?” I echoed again, feeling woozy. I sat back down on the sofa and it let out a puff of dust. “They think I’m dangerous?”
“Do you know anything about this, Beatrix?” my dad asked.
“And if you can’t go to the public school,” my grandmother pressed.
“Well,” I shot both my uncle and dad quick glances. “Then I guess I would want to be homeschooled.” But even as I said it, I knew it wasn’t true. I wanted to go to Baldwin Norfolk, if only to see Dylan again.
“You must call me Birdie.” As if she could read my thoughts, Birdie continued, “Baldwin Norfolk is a wonderful school. Your great-grandparents both attended there, as well as myself, your grandfather and your mother.”
She must have read the surprise on my face. “Your mother never talked about Baldwin Norfolk?”
“She never talked about you!” I blurted.
“Oh, that naughty Sophia.” Birdie tsked her tongue. “And what does my daughter say about this turn of events.”
The two brothers exchanged glances.
“We haven’t been able to get a hold of her,” Uncle Mitch said.
“Well, aren’t you a couple of pansies,” Birdie said, laughter softening her words.
Both men bristled.
“It’s true. I’ve tried calling her. She must be somewhere without cell service.”
“With that awful, Fred, I suppose,” Birdie murmured.
“You know about Fred?”
Birdie fixed her dark eyes on mine. “She’s my daughter.”
“This is settled,” Birdie said. “Evelynn must attend Baldwin Norfolk.”
Dylan’s smile flashed in my mind again. If he was Josh’s age, he’d be two grades ahead, so we probably wouldn’t share classes, but I could still see him…at least more than I would if I was homeschooled and stuck in my bedroom alone with a computer. I thought about all the stuff I’d miss if I was homeschooled—the prom, the games, the clubs.
Tears sprung in my eyes, surprising me. I tried to blink them back, but a few fell down my cheeks and landed on my hands clenched in my lap.
“I will pick her up tomorrow.” Birdie lifted herself off the sofa, and smoothed down her ruffled feather boa.
“Why?” my dad asked.
“So I can take her to school, of course. Mrs. Lovelace is quite looking forward to meeting her.”
“She is?” I asked.
Birdie cupped my face in her hands. “Of course, she is. She’s intrigued by your powers. We all are.”
She turned and headed for the door. “I shall be here at noon tomorrow,” she said over her shoulder.
“Powers?” I asked my dad and uncle.
Neither replied, but both studied the tops of their shoes as if they held some really fascinating text or information.
I tried another question. “Noon? Wouldn’t school start at like, eight?”
That got a response.
“Your grandmother has never been a morning person,” my dad said.
Uncle Mitch stood. “We need to tell her.”
“Tell me what?”
Dad rolled his eyes. “You’re right.” He turned to me. “Your grandmother is a kook.”
“She’s loony.” Uncle Mitch sat down, looking relieved.
Loony? Uncle Mitch didn’t use words like loony.
“She thinks she’s a witch,” Dad said.
“And is Faith Despaign a witch school?” My mind went to my sparking fingers. Witchcraft could explain a lot. Maybe.
Dad and Uncle Mitch both snorted.
“No, there’s no such thing as witches,” Dad said.
“No!” Dad heaved a sigh. “Your mom and grandmother don’t speak.” He cleared his throat, as if what he was about to say hurt. In all the years since they’re divorce, I’d never once heard my dad say something unkind about my mom. “I didn’t agree with your mom about this. I think she was too hard on your grandmother. She’s goofy, but not mean or malicious.”
I tried to put all of this information into a pattern I could understand.“So Mom went to Faith Despaign, and she doesn’t believe she’s a witch. I’m not being sent to a state-side Hogwarts?”
Uncle Mitch snorted again.
“Of course not. Look, Petunia,” Dad settled next to me on the sofa, “right now, your options may seem limited, but you know they’re not. For you, the sky’s the limit. If you want to come and stay with us—we would love to have you.”
He must have read my expression, because he pressed on. “I spoke to Maria, and she agreed that you wouldn’t be expected to maintain the same religious training as your step siblings.”
That couldn’t be true. “I wouldn’t have to go to church on Sundays?”
“No-o. You know how your stepmother is. We’re a Christian home. You would be expected to go church with us on Sundays.”
“Oh, so…” Why was I even thinking about this? I put my hand on my dad’s. “That’s sweet, Dad—and sweet of Maria—but I don’t want to move away from my friends. Besides, think of Uncle Mitch.”
My dad smiled, and looked a little relieved…and a little guilty. “And your mom, you know that she’d love to have you as well.”
He could say that now that I already told him that I didn’t want to leave Woodinville. We both knew the conversation would be completely different if I said I wanted to live with Mom.
“I’m not good with new places and people.” The thought of having to have face classroom after classroom full of unknown teachers and students gave me a heavy, sinking feeling in my belly. I’d be expected to raise my hand and participate. I’d have to stand in the front and give oral reports, and worse of all, I’d have to brave the cafeteria alone. “I’ve gone to Hartly my entire life, and this is the first time I’ve ever done anything wrong! Isn’t there something you can do to make them take me back?”
My dad shook his head. “Petunia, it’s only three years.”
“I think Maria told me that Jesus’ earthly ministry was only three years. Look at all the bad stuff that happened to him.”
Dad chuckled. “She’ll be glad to know you were paying attention.”
“Three years is a really long time. Lots can happen in three years. Heck, your life can change in three minutes. Just look at Bree.” I took a deep breath. “And this is my whole high school career! It’s the only high school I’ll get to have.” I decided to borrow a few of Mrs. Mateo’s clichés. “Life isn’t handing out re-dos. We can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”
Dad laughed again. “Actually, I think you can put a genie back in its bottle—but let’s not tell your stepmother that we talked about the Lord and genies in the same conversation. Do you want to go to a different private school? There are plenty to choose from if we leave the area.”
“That’s what I don’t get—why do we have to ‘leave the area’?”
He fixed his gaze with mine. “You. Burned. Down. A school.” He spoke slowly and distinctly, carefully enunciating every word.
“No, I didn’t!”
“A room full of terrified students and a teacher are saying you did.”
“It doesn’t matter what they say.” I blinked back tears, and the growing fear in my head and heart. I couldn’t have burned down the science lab. I would never do that. “It had to be a wacky Bunsen burner or a gas leak or…I don’t know! Something, but not me! Why doesn’t anyone believe me?”
“I believe you, sweetie. I do. I just…We’re doing the best we can. Norfolk Baldwin is a great school. We’re lucky that they’ll take you, because NO ONE ELSE WILL.”
Dad looked out the window, his lips tight and his brows lowered. Standing, he reached down, took my hand, and pulled me into a hug. “I don’t want you to make up your mind about Faith Despaign so quickly,” he said into my ear. “Go with Beatrix tomorrow. See what you think. You can even start, and if you don’t like it after a week, I’ll pull you out and we’ll come up with a different plan. Maria said she’d be happy to homeschool you along with Bianca.”
Oh, please no.
“That’s nice of her,” I said, thinking, that sounds like hell. I pulled away from him. “If I can’t go to Hartly or Norfolk High, I guess Faith Despaign is my third choice.”
My dad smiled at me, and tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear. “Okay, but remember. It doesn’t have to be your entire career. Genies can switch bottles.”
I laughed, feeling a little better. “No, they can’t!”
“Okay, you’re right, they can’t. But you can change schools.”
As soon as Dad left, I ran upstairs and booted up my computer to look up Faith Despaign. A stone building with white woodwork and trim popped up. I scrolled past its awards, student population information and recommendations until I reached the history section.
Faith White Despaign (c. 1660 – c. 1740), known as the Witch of Woodinville, is the last person known to have been convicted of witchcraft in Connecticut. A farmer, healer, and midwife, her neighbors accused her of transforming herself into a cat, damaging crops and causing the death of livestock.
No drawings or paintings of Despaign exist, but contemporary accounts describe her as attractive, tall and possessing a strong sense of humor and wit. Despaign grew medicinal herbs and wore trousers while working on her farm; both traits were atypical of ladies of that era. It is speculated that this combination of clothing and good looks attracted local men and upset their wives. Despaign biographer and advocate Cory Fowler suggests that Despaign's neighbors may have been jealous of Despaign and that the witchcraft tales may have been conjured up in an effort to remove her from, and subsequently to gain, her property.
Today, Faith Despaign’s property is home to Faith Despaign Academy, one of the most prestigious schools in the state of Connecticut.
At twelve ten the next day, I sat in the living room on the sofa waiting to go and see Faith Despaign’s school. Uncle Mitch sat beside me, his hands clenched in his lap. He seemed more nervous than me.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you?” he asked for about the twelfth time.
“No, don’t be silly. I’ll be fine.”
“But I’m not sure I’ll be,” he muttered.
Mrs. Mateo wandered into the room, feather duster in her hand, caught sight of us and frowned. “Where is that woman?”
Uncle Mitch looked at his watch.
“She said she’d be here, so I’m sure she will.” Although, I really had no way of knowing that. I’d met Birdie the wanna-be witch once and talked to her for a grand total of maybe two minutes.
“I’ll take you myself,” Uncle Mitch said.
“No! You have a class in an hour.”
“I can miss it.” Uncle Mitch started to jiggle his leg, making the sofa bounce. If he didn’t stop soon, my woozy stomach was going to lose its insides all over the carpet.
“No you can’t,” I said, just as the scrunch of tires sounded from outside. I bounced up to look out the window and watch Birdie’s old Cadillac pull down the driveway.
Looking old, feeble, and about as powerful and influential as a butterfly, Birdie climbed from her car. She wore Mary Poppins sort of shoes, a skirt that looked like it’d been patched together from about a hundred different pieces of fabric, a burgundy colored sweater, and a fur thing around her neck.
Without bothering to knock, she let herself in the door. No self-respecting teenager wants to be caught dead in the company of a parent, let alone a grandparent. And especially not a grandmother who wears a creepy fox-fur thing with its head still attached and glass beady eyes around her neck.
Birdie eyed my jeans, sweater and boots. “Is that what you’re wearing?” she asked.
I flinched beneath her gaze. “Yes,” I said, lifting my chin. At least an animal didn’t have to die for me to get dressed.
“No. Go and put on your navy sweater dress.”
I flashed Uncle Mitch a questioning look.
He gave a brief nod.
“Chop, chop,” she said, waving her hand to hurry me along.
Sighing, I climbed the stairs, wondering how Birdie knew I had a navy sweater dress. Maybe she had magic all-seeing powers. Once in my room, I reached into the far corner of my closet and pulled it out. I tried to remember the last time I wore it—church with Maria? I slipped it over my head, and since it looked cute with my boots, I left them on, briefly wondering if Birdie would object.
“Much better,” she said, running her gaze over me when I returned. She reached into her bag and pulled out a heavy silver pendant. “I brought this for you to wear.”
It dangled between us, catching light from the window, and sending mini rays of sunbeams around the room.
“It’s beautiful,” I breathed, feeling a mesmerizing pull. I wanted to cradle it in my hands, but I also knew I shouldn’t take it. “It’s too nice to wear to school, don’t you think?”
“Of course, I don’t think!” She caught herself with a laugh. “That’s not what I meant. Of course, I think. If I didn’t, I would cease to exist.” She sent Mitch a warning glance. “Don’t say it,” she said.
Leaning forward, she placed the pendant around my neck, and I caught a whiff of her lavender scent. “There,” she said, smiling and looking pleased. “Now everyone will know who and what you are.”
“They will?” I asked, picking up the pendant, holding it to the light and watching the dancing light rays.
“Of course, they will.”
Good, I thought. Maybe then they can tell me.
“You’ll find your place soon enough,” Birdie said. “No need to hurry. Come along, we don’t have all day.”
Which just seemed like a contradictory thing to say, but I followed her out the door and to her car.
“Let’s leave the top down, shall we?” Birdie asked after we settled in.
I had a thousand questions I wanted to ask, but with the wind blowing in my hair and the roar of the traffic around us, I kept my questions bottled up inside, promising myself that I’d have other opportunities.
I watched the familiar landscape pass by, but after a few minutes we turned down a road I had never even known had existed. Woods, dark and deep lined the way. The trees’ canopy hung low, and sunlight flicked through the branches and red and gold leaves. I wondered how it would look in the dead of winter when the trees lost their leaves and their black branches reached for the sky.
A witches’ forest, I thought. Twisting my hair around my hand, I tried to keep a hold of it, worried that by the time I reached the school, it would be wild and untamable.
Birdie didn’t seem to mind the wind tossing her silver curls about her face.
After a few quiet miles with nothing to see but woods and brambles, we turned off the road and stopped before a large wrought iron gate. Without any sort of remote that I could see, the gates rolled open. Birdie flashed me a beaming smile. I tried to return it, but I was pretty sure that her excitement far outweighed mine. We rounded a hill, and the school came into view.
It sat in a small valley, surrounded by hills covered in autumn’s trees. A stone mansion with white window casings and trim, it looked just a bit larger than the Henderson’s sprawling house and a couple of hundred years older.
The pendant warmed against me. I placed my hand on it, feeling its growing heat. The enthralling pull I felt when I first saw the pendant returned, letting me know that house and pendant belonged together.
But that didn’t mean that I belonged to either.
“This house is one of the oldest in Connecticut,” Birdie told me after she cut the car’s engine. “The stone walls are nearly two feet thick. It’s been a fort, a church, a private home, and now it’s a school.” She chuckled.
“What’s so funny,” I asked, keeping my hand on the pendant. I knew that its eerie warmth should bother me, but instead I found it steadying and comforting.
“Don’t you find it ironic that this once was used as a church?”
“Why would that be ironic? The pilgrims came here to escape religious persecution. This was probably one of the largest houses in the area. Why not meet here?”
Birdie gave me a disappointed look, slowly shook her head and climbed from the car. Slamming the door shut, she turned to me. “Your mother taught you nothing.”
I got out and placed my hands on my hips. “If you want to know the truth, I was raised by my dad and my uncle. Right now, my mom is in India, but before that she was in a country with a name that I can’t pronounce and that no one has ever heard of…except for the people and yaks that live there, of course. I see her sometimes. She calls when she’s someplace with cell service. So, yeah, my mom hasn’t taught me much. I wanted to ask her what she remembers about this place, if she liked going here. But all the stuff I really need to know, I learned from my dad and Uncle Mitch.”
“Well! That explains so much!” She slowly turned around, as if wondering what to do or where to go next. Finally, she sat on a stone bench and patted a spot beside her.
I sank slowly beside her, wondering what was coming next.
“You must have a thousand questions for me.”
I bit my lip, afraid of my questions and even more afraid of the answers.
“I didn’t burn down the science building.”
“Of course, you did.”
I shook my head. “No! I would never do that!”
“Not intentionally, but you still did it.” She heaved a big sigh. “This is really your mother’s fault. You have powers and you need to learn how to control them.”
“What about my mom. Does she have powers, too?”
Birdie made a noise that sounded a lot like Sparky grunting. “Your mother…such a disappointment.”
“So she doesn’t have powers.”
Birdie shook her head. “Of course she does. She just refuses to acknowledge them.” She caught my chin in her fingers and stared into my eyes. “But you listen to me. You can choose to ignore your powers, but doing so will only make you frustrated and bitter.”
“Is Faith Despaign a witch school?”
Birdie’s gaze turned to the school and her expression softened as if she was caressing the stone building with her attention. “As I’m sure you are aware, we witches have a long and painful history. Even in this supposedly enlightened era, we must ever be vigilant and protect our powers from idle curiosity and those who would harm us with their jealousy.”
“The world is an evil place.”
“And…are…you a good witch?”
Birdie’s lips twitched. “Sometimes.” She pulled herself to her feet and smiled down at me. “Here’s the thing, my pet. No one is ever black or white. A true villain, just like a true hero, is a hard thing to find. People are people and witches are witches—both for good and for bad. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we try to do a good deed and it backfires. Sometimes when we set out to cause a curse, it brings a blessing and vice-a-versa.” She shrugged and gave up trying to hide her smile. “Sometimes a science building—or two—goes up in flames.”
I stayed rooted to my bench. “Can you help me?”
“Of course. That’s why we’re here.” Birdie put her finger to her lips. “Most of the students and many of the teachers here are not witches. That’s just the way of the world. We have always been a select minority.”
I didn’t know if I believed anything Birdie had said, but I did know one thing. I didn’t want to ever burn anything ever again.
“Come.” Birdie turned and marched down the drive and up the stone steps.
I trailed after her. I wanted to stop and read the historic marker on the porch pillar, but Birdie opened the door, and I had to hurry after her. Going to a new school was horrible, but going there alone, and getting lost would be a hundred times worse.
Passing through the massive wooden doors, we paused in the foyer. A circular stairway twirled in front of us. I looked up, counting the stories—three, maybe five. A small parlor dominated by a tall enough to stand in fireplace to our left, curtained French doors to our right, a hall sneaking away in front of us. It certainly looked like a witch school.
“Where is everyone?” Birdie asked.
“I don’t know, class? This is a school.”
“Don’t be cheeky. Especially not with Mrs. Craig.”
“Headmistress? I thought they only had those in Britain.” Sounds like the leading slut, I thought.
Birdie turned her beady eyes on me. “Do not be crass. What did you call the headmaster at Hartly?”
“Dr. Roberts. That was his name.” Just then, an amazing thing happened. Something that I thought never, ever would. I missed Dr. Roberts and his plastic hair and too perfect teeth. Maybe because he was the most un-witch-like person I knew.
“Forget about him,” Birdie said as she strode to the double French doors and pushed them open.
Could Birdie read my mind? Or was she just guessing what I was thinking?
A large boned woman with a mop of curly white gold hair sat behind a massive desk. Light streamed in through stained glass window, casting a warm glow in the small room. Shelves jammed with books, jars of odds and weird ends, and boxes and containers lined the walls. Regina looked up, her expression open and friendly. When she saw Birdie, she hastily climbed to her orthopedic shoe clad feet.
“Mrs. La Faye!” She extended her hand. “We’re so pleased to have your granddaughter joining us.”
Birdie clasped Mrs. Craig hand briefly, before pushing me to stand before the desk and the big-boned woman.
“This is Evelynn Marston. Her education has been sadly lacking.”
“I’m a straight A student,” I said, insulted.
Birdie continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “Although, she is an incendiary.”
Was I? She made me sound like I was a case of dynamite or a bucket of lighter fluid which in either case was definitely not a compliment. “How would you like it if I called you a gas can?”
“Spunky little thing, isn’t she?” Mrs. Craig smiled at me, even though she spoke as if I wasn’t in the room.
I fumed, and my fingertips tingled. I curled my hands into tight fists while my heart pounded in my ears. I fought not to lose my temper.
“I have her transcripts here,” Mrs. Craig said, resting her hand on a pile of papers sitting on her desk. “But they can only tell us so much.”
“Agreed,” Birdie said with a sigh. “So many things have to be discovered for oneself.”
Mrs. Craig nodded, as if Birdie had said something remarkable and profound. Turning to me, she asked, “And what do you like to do, Miss Evelynn?”
“Do?” Dr. Roberts had never asked me that before, nor had any of my previous teachers. I was supposed to do whatever they told me. That’s what going to school was all about, wasn’t it? The teachers told me information and later asked me to regurgitate it onto tests.
“What’s your passion, child?”
I disliked questions that I didn’t know the answer to, and I really hated being called a child.
“Well,” Mrs. Craig broke the awkward silence, “we’ll find out soon enough, won’t we?”
I wondered how she could be so sure. Because even with all the things Birdie had told me, even with all her pretended clairvoyance, I still preferred to believe in Uncle Mitch’s science, or even in Maria’s religion, than in Birdie’s witchcraft.
“Follow me.” Mrs. Craig stood, her big, boney frame reminded me of the scrawny cows at the diary outside of town—all loose limbed, with knobby knees. Of course, I couldn’t see Mrs. Craig’s knees, since her shapeless dress hung to the middle of her calves, but I was pretty sure that all that gray wool hid a pair of knees as big and round as frying pans. She headed for the door. “Everyone is outside today for a pep rally. It’s a big game tonight!”
Birdie and I followed her down the hall, through the doors, and down the steps.
“You have a football team?”
This place looked so prehistoric, it was hard to imagine them having sports teams. We crossed a wide lawn, taking a path down a hill. There, past a thicket of trees, stood a large stadium.
“Do you like sports, dear?” Mrs. Craig asked.
“Right now, I’m pretty busy with play practice.” I paused. “I’m in the Wizard of Oz.”
Birdie and Mrs. Craig exchanged glances.
“It’s a community theater production. My best friend’s mom is the director.”
“And what role do you play, dear?”
“I’m a munchkin.”
“Of course, you are,” Birdie said, shaking her head. “This is all your mom’s fault,” she added beneath her breath.
I thought about telling Birdie what Mrs. Henderson told the cast—there are no starring roles. She even read a Bible scripture to back her point. I wished I could remember how it went. Something like, there are many people in the cast, but one play. And the woodsman cannot say to the munchkin, "I don’t need you"; or the witch to Toto, "I don’t need you." Because there was one play made up of lots of people and everyone needed everyone else. But most of all, we needed people to pay to see the play
Mrs. Craig paused by the stadium’s gate. “This will probably seem overwhelming to you now—everyone gathered together this way. But in reality, we are a small, friendly school, specializing in the arts.” She winked at me. “With your love of fire and drama, you’ll fit right in.”
Inside the stadium, stamping feet and cheering thundered around us as the high school band pounded out a song I didn’t recognize.
“Freshman on your left,” Mrs. Craig yelled above the din, pointing across the field. “Sophomores, your class, on your right.” She turned, and faced the crowd directly behind me. “Juniors and seniors to the right and left respectively.”
I turned, and there, directly in front of me in the senior section about five rows up sat Dylan. He watched me with a warm, steady stare.
I flushed and looked away, no longer caring that Birdie had called me an incendiary, or that the bovine Mrs. Craig was the headmistress. As long as Dylan looked at me like that—I was going to like it here.
Not much else mattered.
The next morning, I bounced on the balls of my toes while waiting for Uncle Mitch. I wore the same navy dress I’d worn yesterday, since it was the only navy thing I owned so far. Last night, with the help of my dad’s credit card, I had purchased online a navy blazer, five white button-down shirts, three gray pleated skirts, three pairs of navy tights, and five pairs of gray pants. I really hoped I liked it there, because I was about to have a closet full of drabbiness. But somehow, the pendant made everything chic. And thoughts of seeing Dylan made everything worth anything.
I suffered a few guilty twinges when I thought about Bree. She’d liked him first, and in best friend code that was the same as a double-dib. But I wasn’t going to go out with him. After all, he was a senior and I was a sophomore, and sure, Faith Despaign was different from Hartly, but it probably wasn’t that different. I couldn’t think of any universe where a hot senior guy went with a beige sort of sophomore.
“Nervous?” Uncle Mitch jingled his keys, breaking my Dylan induced trance.
I shook myself to try and get back into the real world. “Yeah.” I swallowed.
Today my friends would go to Mr. Harnett’s for home room, Mr. Beck’s for biology, and to the cafeteria—the same cafeteria where the same lunch ladies had been serving me lunch since I was five. My breath caught in my throat.
“Maybe if I’m good they’ll let me go back to Hartly?” I asked, my voice trembling.
“Evie,” Uncle Mitch jingled his keys and headed for the door, “you know it wasn’t a matter of being good or bad. It was your grandmother. I think she’s been waiting for an opportunity to get you where she wants you.”
My steps faltered as I thought about Birdie and her witchy-ness. “You don’t think she burned down the science room, do you?”
“No. She wouldn’t do that.”
“So, what makes you say that she’s got me where she wants me?” I closed the kitchen door behind us and trailed after Uncle Mitch to his T-bird. “Why would she even try? She didn’t even know I existed until I was sixteen years old.”
“Fifteen,” Uncle Mitch corrected me. “And of course she knew you existed.”
“So, why now? Why did she wait so long?”
“Knowing your grandmother, I’d say she waited until she thought you’d be interesting.” He climbed into his car and turned over the engine. “I’m sorry if that hurts your feelings.”
“If I stop being interesting, can I go back to Hartly?”
“I think that ship has sailed. Besides, you’ll always be interesting. It’s who you are.” Uncle Mitch pulled the car down the drive and paused at the mailboxes. He changed the subject. “When does Bree come home?”
“Tomorrow. It’s been really weird not being able to talk to her.”
Uncle Mitch smirked. “Because you don’t have your phone?”
I nodded and tried to look lonely and pathetic.
“No worries. All that weirdness will end tomorrow when she comes back. Although, she’s going to have a hard time climbing trees with that cast on her leg.”
We fell into a charged silence while the woods flashed by the car’s windows. Uncle Mitch was probably thinking about eco-systems and I thought about Faith Despaign Academy. No one would feel as awkward and new as me. School had started two weeks ago, so I’d be two weeks behind. Everyone would have already chosen lab partners in biology, a study group in history, locker partners. Teams would have been aligned, cafeteria tables claimed, projects assigned—everyone would have an established place, except for me. All the other new kids—if there were any—would have already integrated. I’d be on the fringe. Alone.
I checked my ponytail in the mirror, and rummaged through my purse for a tube of lip gloss.
“You look great,” Uncle Mitch said, taking his gaze off the road to throw me a smile.
“Thanks. It’s temporary.” I smeared the gloss on my lips. Its familiar strawberry taste made me feel a bit better.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I’ll have to start wearing school-issues as soon as they get here, and they’d make Mother Teresa’s clothes look vogue.” I closed the mirror on the @. “If I went to the public school, I could wear whatever I want.”
“Really? Is that what you think?”
“So, you think that if you showed up in a gorilla suit no one would mind?”
“Why would I wear a gorilla suit? That sounds really hot—and not in a good way.”
“My point is that in every social circle norms and mores are established. They might be subtle, but they always exist. It’s just like eco-systems. For a species to survive, a careful balance—”
I stopped listening. I loved Uncle Mitch, but at that moment, I was way too worried about Faith Despaign to listen to a lecture on eco-systems and abiotic components. At Hartly, the thespians didn’t associate with the student government. The jocks didn’t mingle with the chess club. The only two circles that overlapped in any acceptable way were drama and choir. Even the band had an established hierarchy—the jazz band was cool, but not as cool as the drum line, while the kid playing the triangle was bottom tier.
I played the cello. Not cool. Not to mention huge, bulky and awkward.
I hoped to make it on the school newspaper, because I liked writing stories and I thought the kids wearing cameras around their necks looked boss. Did Faith Despaign even have a newspaper? Or a journalism class?
I slumped back in my seat, miserable.
“Any introduction of a non-native species can and will cause substantial shifts in the ecosystem function,” Uncle Mitch said.
I tuned in. Just because it was easier. “You mean me?”
He beamed. “Exactly! Ecosystems, like any social gathering, is dynamic, subject to change. By just being there—someone new in a new place—you’ve already disrupted the status quo. After today and your introduction into this school, things at Faith Despaign will never be the same. Returning to how things were before your arrival is an impossibility.”
“Maybe I liked things way they were.”
“If that were true, you wouldn’t have burned down the science building.”
“I didn’t mean to burn down anything! You know I wouldn’t do that.”
“I don’t think it was intentional.”
“What? You think I had this burning ulterior motive?”
“I think you were angry.”
“Of course, I was angry. Carrie Hopkins told three guys that I was going to ask them to homecoming.”
“And you weren’t planning on that?”
“No! Especially not those guys.”
“Because they wouldn’t be suitable mates?”
“Ew. No. Just stop. You are not helping.”
“I’m just trying to understand why you got so angry.”
I swiveled in my seat to look at him. “Okay—just because I got angry, that doesn’t make buildings spontaneously combust, and you know it.”
He smiled as we pulled up through the gates. “My work here is done.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, still seething.
“You’re no longer nervous. You’ve successfully converted all your worries into anger.” He put the car into park and met my unblinking stare with a goofy grin. “You’re ready to fight.”
“Ugh!” He was so right. How did he do that?
“Go get ‘em, tiger. Remember, by just stepping onto that campus, you have the power to change it. You can make it better, or you can make it worse. But whatever you decide, you will change it.”
I climbed out of the car, shut the door, and squared my shoulders, ready to make some changes.
Students dressed in gray, navy and white swarmed around me. Curious gazes flickered over my face, took in my dress and tall black boots. I stood out now, but soon I’d blend into this monotonous crowd.
“Do you know why we wear uniforms?” A voice spoke just behind me, and I turned to see Mrs. Craig. Her big horse face angled toward me with a welcoming smile.
I shook my head.
“It’s so our ideas will shine, not our apparel. Keep that in mind. True beauty comes from the good we share, not cosmetics or fashion.”
I thought Mrs. Craig could use the help of some cosmetics and fashion. Especially since today’s outfit—a black bag with mid-length sleeves—was, if anything, even more shapeless and colorless than yesterday’s giant gray pillowcase. Still, despite her horrible sense of style, I was glad for her company.
“Come, let me show you to your first room.”
I followed her up the steps. Yesterday, the foyer had been reverent-quiet, almost like a church, but now it teemed with students and rang with hundreds of voices all talking, laughing, and joking at once.
No one seemed to notice me. Their gazes slid past me as if they were looking for and hoping to see someone else. Someone who belonged. A few people stared at my boots, and I regretted wearing them. All of the girls wore black flats with a single strap secured with a silver buckle. The boys wore black leather slip-ons, the sort of thing that Uncle Mitch liked to wear and Sparky liked to chew.
For a moment, I envisioned Sparky, or some other large dog—preferably not a bull dog, but some other faster, hungrier breed—chewing up the student’s shoes, turning leather into slobbery mush.
Screams broke out. Students started pushing and shoving each other.
“What now?” Mrs. Craig groaned.
I stood on my toes, looking over the chaos. Books flew as students jumped out of the way of a fierce-looking, extremely slobbery Great Dane. He held a shoe in his mouth.
My knees buckled. Lightheaded, I sank to the floor, muttering, “Oh please, make him go away.”