After Sol and Lydia left, it was back to painting for me. I figured that whatever money I missed out on by not selling my last painting to them could be made up for in a couple of days if I got back on it right away. Rather than paint or draw another witch, I thought I would go back to landscapes for a moment and paint a picture of Emerson Park, where Sol and I first met. This time, I wanted to challenge myself by painting the park at night, with all of the sidewalk lights on.
There wasn’t much for me to go on as I hadn’t actually been in or around Emerson Park after dark, so I had to use my imagination to figure out what kinds of people and things would go there if people were allowed to visit when the sun went down. While I was painting, I got a text from Sol showing off her new enchanter’s sign – a cloud symbol scratched on both of her thumbs, which were bright red around where the symbols were drawn.
“How painful was it?” I asked.
“Very,” she replied. “But that doesn’t matter, because I’m official now! Mom’s probably not going to be happy about the carpet, though…”
It wasn’t easy for me to figure out exactly how happy Sol might have been through text messages alone without her throwing in a smiley face or two. Even so, I knew she had to be excited to be part of such rare company as myself, Lillian, maybe that Dustin guy, and whatever students Lillian might have been tutoring.
“That’s awesome! Just make sure you put plenty of water on them so they can cool down,” I warned, recalling my own sign-branding episode.
After about three hours of painting, I decided to take a rest and see what Lillian was up to. Since it was the weekend, I doubted that she would have any classes in session, so I figured it was the perfect time to call her up.
“Silverthorne School. Lillian speaking. May I help you?”
“Hi, Lillian. Er, I mean, Miss Lillian…” I said.
“Who’s this?” she asked.
“It’s Deanna. We met at the Blank Scroll earlier today.”
“Deanna! Of course! I remember you now.” Once she remembered who I was, her tone suddenly relaxed. It felt like I was talking to an old friend, even though we had only met twice so far. “So, what’s up?”
“About your school… What days and times are you open?”
“Well, we usually hold classes Monday through Friday in the morning and afternoon, and take a day off for the weekend.”
“So it’s a lot like grade school, then?”
“Yes and no,” Lillian said after a short pause. “We run on the same basic schedule as Sharonia High, but we don’t accept anyone under 18 here.”
“One, we want to make sure nobody’s skipping school just to watch one of my pupils use magic. Two, you need to be at least 18 to buy a magic wand, and we use them quite a bit in our lessons.”
“So then, it’s more like college?”
Lillian laughed out loud. “I wish! My school isn’t that big. Yet…”
“Oh. Okay then…”
“Anyway,” she said, adopting a serious tone again, “what’s your work schedule usually like?”
“I usually work three days a week, but it’s not always the same three days every time.” I dug into my supply drawer to get the notepad where I wrote down my shift schedule for the upcoming week. “This time it’s Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. All night shifts. Wonderful.”
“That’s one of the reasons I don’t schedule classes after four o’clock,” Lillian said. “Sometimes you just want to curl up on the couch and watch TV after a long day. Know what I mean?”
If we had been standing face-to-face, I would have nodded in agreement.
As a follow-up to that question, Lillian went on about her school’s class scheduling structure, which really did remind me of college with its Monday-Wednesday-Friday and Tuesday-Thursday blocks. Without a predictable work schedule to report, I had to take a guess and say that the Tuesday-Thursday block was the better option for me in spite of those sessions running longer than the Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes. That way, I’d only need to request two days off from work every week. Trying to convince Sybil not to call me in on those days was going to be a bit of a challenge, given the nature of this school.
“Normally, I’d invite you down to sit in on a session to show you what our classes are like,” she continued, “but we’re currently approaching seasonal exams, and I don’t think it would be fair to you or the class to show you the advanced stuff right away.”
“However, if you decide you want to join us and can afford the entrance fee, you’re welcome to join us the following week for Try-Out Thursday, where you come to the campus and take a short exam for us to gauge your general knowledge of magic. If you pass, you’ll then get to choose what time and days you want to take classes. Don’t worry about spending a whole lot of money on textbooks. Just bring your wand, some pencils, a notebook or two, and an eagerness to learn. We’ll supply the rest.”
Now I was confused again. Her school had a college-style scheduling system, but they supplied the students with the materials like a high school would. What kind of place was this?
“Tell you what… I’ll send a packet out to you and you can decide what you want to do. Registration closes the weekend after exams, so you’d better hurry!”
Just a few minutes after I hung up, I got a text alert from Lillian with links to an application and a short information package covering most of what we talked about on the phone. The picture of the school on the front page of the packet showed a building surrounded by beautiful flowers and trees. I couldn’t tell by the camera angle, but the main building looked a lot smaller than even the one at Mountain Road Art School, and that was just a couple of buildings, a park, and a parking lot. Maybe Silverthorne was like that because it was just teaching one field of study and didn’t need a whole lot of different buildings to confuse people.
While I printed the information out on Mom and Dad’s computer, I glanced at the weather report in another window. The next few days promised some rain, with a possibility of a thunderstorm or two. There was no way I was going to make it to Cherry’s to show off my new painting to Elias…at least not until the weather cleared up.
Later that night, we ate spaghetti for dinner. Dad cooked enough for us to eat for two days, but Mom talked him into sharing some of it with the neighbors so that it wouldn’t go to waste. She planned on taking some of the leftovers to work the next day.
Before getting serious about studying from my spellbook, I decided to go out for a walk. The streetlights started to come on just as I rounded the corner across from Cherry’s. I had to make it quick – one loop around Cherry’s, Emerson Park, and back before sunset.
The park was mostly empty, with only a few police officers watching the area to keep trespassers and fence-climbers out. The metal fencing was almost a foot taller than me, and even the most determined of climbers would have to be careful not to touch the arrowheads sticking out of the top.
On the other side of the park, on the corner of 27th Street and Sylvania Avenue, was a corner store called Fifth Corner Goods. It was the one place in town you could go if you wanted snacks, lottery tickets, or cheap cigarettes. I wasn’t in the mood for any of those, so I passed on by while one of the clerks stepped outside to take a quick smoke break.
When I got back home, Mom and Dad were cuddling on the couch and watching the beginning of an action movie together. I hadn’t seen this one before, but I recognized the two guys with guns as the lead actors from another action movie called Unsafe Haven. It was one of the first movies I ever walked out on at the movie theater. They looked like they were enjoying themselves so far, so there was a chance this movie would turn out better than that one.
“Hi, sweetie,” Mom said as she lifted her head from Dad’s lap. “How did you walk go?”
“It was refreshing,” I said.
Mom sat up and slid to her left to make room for me to sit down. “Want to watch Saltwater Shakedown with us?”
“I guess I could sit and watch for a little while…”
The first hour of the movie wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, especially when compared to Unsafe Haven. The effects were better and the plot made a lot more sense. I didn’t make it all the way through Saltwater either, but this was more out of a desire to continue studying from my new book than because of any faults with the movie.
I liked that the Simple Spells book explained everything in easy-to-understand terms while still remaining accessible to readers of all skill levels. The illustrations were a nice touch, but a bit too intricate for a book with the word “Simple” in its title. The only thing missing from my study session was someone else to discuss it with. Try-Out Thursday was more than a week away, but I felt like I needed to find someone else to talk to so I could better prepare myself for Lillian’s tests.
I slept comfortably through the night. The rain had come a little earlier than the weather report predicted, but it meant less traffic for me to drown out with my pillow, so it all balanced out.
After a quick shower and change of clothes, I headed downstairs to eat a bowl of corn flakes and watch the morning news. It looked like the police had arrested a suspect in connection with one of the shootings, while the suspect in the second incident was still at large. I still wanted to know what Lydia was looking for when she stopped by those blockades, but that would have to wait until we visited their apartment.
Mom came downstairs looking half-asleep. “Why can’t it be the weekend again already?” she groaned while gently rubbing the left side of her neck.
“What’s wrong, Mom?” I asked.
“My neck is so sore right now. I think I need to get some new pillows. You should probably change yours too, Deanna. I know at least one of them must have lost its fluff by now.”
I hadn’t really thought about changing my pillows. I tended to fluff them every night before going to sleep, so whatever soreness I felt was usually gone by the time I woke up.
“Do you think you’ll still be able to go to work?” I asked.
“I think so,” Mom said. “Why do you ask?”
“Uh…can I go with you?”
Mom stopped rubbing the back of her neck and started scratching her head. “What for?”
“You know…to read stuff. Plus, it’s going to be lonely being in the house by myself.”
“How do you plan on getting back home? It’s going to rain all day, and your father’s going to be at work, and he’s going to be in control of the car.”
“I don’t mind taking the bus.”
Dad, who was listening in on our conversation, slipped behind Mom and massaged both sides of her neck, causing her to smile wider as he applied more pressure. “Thanks for that, honey,” she said as she turned to give him a kiss.
“Did you say you wanted to go to the library, Didi?” he asked.
“Yeah, maybe just for a few hours,” I said.
“I’ll take you over there after your mother and I eat. Just be careful on your way home, okay?”
“Don’t worry, Dad. I’ll be fine. Trust me.”
It started raining harder, so I went upstairs to pick up my jacket and umbrella, and to make sure my magic wand was still in its case. Once Mom and Dad were finished eating, I put my spellbook and wand case in a plastic bag to keep it from getting wet, and rode with them to the Sharonia Free Library.
There were two small square tables near the front desk for kids to sit and read some of the picture books behind them, while the larger round table to their right was meant to be used by teens and young adults around my age. That area was where most of the books were kept. For some reason, there was a giant orange stuffed rabbit propped up against the romance novel section. I thought it would have fit better somewhere around the kids’ tables just so the hidden message behind its current location was a little less obvious.
Mom clocked in at the front desk, and I took my bag over to the adult table and continued reading where I left off last night. The library slowly began to fill up over the next 15 minutes, with a group of five kids and a young woman meeting by the kids’ area. Two of the boys went to the bookshelf to grab picture books to read to themselves, while the babysitter picked out a larger one to read to the others.
I saw another young woman to my right hauling a crate full of books to the general shelf area. She was tall and bulky, and I guessed she also had to be strong to carry that many books all by herself. Then I noticed two more crates of books next to the one she sat down, so it didn’t surprise me when she sat in the chair across from me and rested her head on the table, panting heavily.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
Without even lifting her head, she said to me, “I’ll be fine. I just need a few minutes.”
She only got about thirty seconds of rest before Mom called on her to help another library assistant file the books away. Reluctantly, she got up and went over to help the boy, putting away books on the shelves too high for him to reach.
Several minutes later, I saw Elias come in with what looked like three of his friends. He was holding the hand of the only girl in the group, and the two boys behind him sported matching brown backpacks that didn’t look like they had a lot of books in them.
“Deanna?” Elias asked with surprise. “What are you doing here?”
“Eh… I just wanted to get out of the house for the day, so I came here,” I said. “Don’t you have work or something?”
“Dad gave me the week off. Me and my friends are here to study for our spring exams.”
Elias and the others sat down in a semicircle across from my seat and unloaded their backpacks, pulling out pencils, notebooks, and textbooks on algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. I had learned some of those concepts in my last few years of high school, but a few of the problems they were reviewing were too advanced for me.
“So, are you guys all in college?” I asked.
“Yeah,” the girl said. “We’re freshmen at St. Gabriel College.”
“St. Gabriel? That must be pretty far away for you to go.”
“Not for me. I live in St. Gabriel, so it’s only a bus ride away.”
“What about you guys?” I asked the other two boys at the table. “Where are you from?”
“Uptown,” the boy at the far right of the table said.
“We don’t usually ride to school together,” the boy next to him said, “but we all agreed to meet here today. I know the weather sucks right now, but this was our last good chance to meet up before exam day.”
“I see. Well, I wish you all the best of luck on your exams,” I said.
We took turns introducing each other. The scruffy-haired boy sitting next to Shaniya was named Antoine, and the short-haired boy next to him was named Stefan. Once Elias’ study group started discussing review questions with each other, I tuned out and continued to read from my spellbook so that I didn’t distract them. I got a few weird looks, but nothing more than that.
Midway through their study session, Stefan reached into his jacket pockets and passed out chocolate bars to everyone at the table, including the big library assistant who came back for another rest after emptying one of the book crates. At that moment, I recognized him as the guy standing in line behind Lillian at Ada’s a few days ago.
When he slid one of the chocolate bars my way, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where he got them. For all I knew, they could have been stolen from Ada’s or the Dollar Shack. I didn’t want to be an accessory to a potential crime, but I hadn’t eaten anything since I left the house and didn’t want to appear discourteous or ungrateful, so I took it. No one else seemed to care. They all just looked happy to have candy to eat.
By the time I finished studying, I learned a few more new spells, including how to detect magical and metal objects. The only problem was that I needed to have my wand out to use it as a scanner, robbing me of the element of surprise.
I wanted to read something different after that. There were dozens of different young adult and romance novels on the shelves behind Antoine. I got up and picked one out at random, hoping that it would at least be good for a laugh.
Just as I picked the book up from the shelf, several bright flashes of light blinked through the windows in rapid succession, followed shortly by a loud rumbling noise.
“What the hell was that?” Elias asked.
“Come on, E! Stay focused,” Antoine said. “We just have a few more of these to go.”
Soon after that, there was another lightning flash and a peal of thunder so loud it almost made me drop the book I was holding. Two of the kids at the square tables started crying and curled up close to the babysitter for protection. For the rest of us, there was nothing we could do but continue what we were doing. That didn’t last very long, as all the lights in the room went out just a few minutes later.
“Anybody got a light?” Shaniya groaned.