Chapter 16: A Toast

Now that I had a full complement of supplies again, I could continue my painting. My new Ashlynn CD was probably the least fitting music I could listen to while painting a creepy hooded ghost. It didn’t really matter, though, because it got me in the mood to paint again, and it was the only CD I had that wasn’t borrowed from my parents’ collection. Now I wanted to paint a DJ whose music emitted colorful magic waves, or someone listening to music with giant headphones that did the same thing.

Even with my best efforts, I couldn’t finish the whole painting, even after sleeping and eating breakfast. The hooded ghost’s body was complete, but I still needed to work on the background and special effects. All that would have to wait until after I visited Sol and Lydia.

After going downstairs with my bag of goodies, I asked Sol for her address. She told me that she and her mother were staying at a place called Atlas Gardens, a few blocks south of Emerson Park. It was within walking distance of our house, but Dad insisted that we would drive there, just like Lydia did when she visited us. It looked like it was going to start raining again, anyway.

Mom came downstairs wearing a stunning red-and-orange dress that stretched down to her calves. It was the kind of outfit one would wear to church, but we hadn’t gone to a weekend service in two-and-a-half years, shortly after our last pastor retired and we moved to Sharonia. Dad was in the dining room ironing one of his new sky-blue polo shirts. I compared their outfits to mine and realized that my slacks and funny graphic T-shirt weren’t going to be good enough. Mom took one look at me and seemed to come to the same conclusion.

“Deanna, you’re not going over to Marisol’s place wearing that, are you?” she asked.

“No,” I said. I really wasn’t planning on wearing the clothes I had on; I just needed a few moments to wake up before choosing a better outfit.

“I didn’t think so. Now go upstairs and change. She may not know you’re wearing the same clothes you slept in last night, but I do.”

I hurried upstairs to my room to change into something more fashionable. There were a few shirts and blouses in my closet that I hadn’t worn in a while. On the far right side, I picked out a brown blouse-and-skirt ensemble that was comfortable without being too flashy or ratty. It took me a few minutes longer than normal to get all the wrinkles out of the skirt. I didn’t want to overdo it by pressing too hard on the fabric or turning the iron temperature up too high. That would have been embarrassing, walking around with a burnt skirt and everything.

We took our bags of gifts and loaded them into the empty seat in the back of the car. I snuck a peek at one of the cookie boxes, wondering how long it would have taken us to bake them ourselves. They all looked so delicious!

“I hope you’re not thinking of eating any of those cookies, Didi,” Dad said, nodding toward the rear-view mirror to catch my bug-eyed expression. The moment he caught me, I yanked my hand out of the bag and put it on my lap. “We’ve got another box at home, and you can eat as many as you want from that one.”

“Uh, no! Of course not,” I said. “I was just admiring them, that’s all.”

Instead of continuing to examine the cookies, I double-checked my bag to make sure I brought my wand case with me. It was sitting on top of the St. Nina CD, so I lined them both up vertically so that they wouldn’t get broken.

We drove all the way to 21st Street where the Atlas Gardens apartment complex was located. With a name like that, I was surprised to see how little greenery there was outside. I thought the place might have been named for the large spherical stone statue next to the equally big “Atlas Gardens” sign, but the statue didn’t have any landmasses or mountains carved into it like a real atlas.

The apartments themselves looked no different on the outside from the many row homes around town. The roofs were flat, and the brick siding on most of the buildings appeared to be slowly chipping away. They were neatly lined up in rows of six to ten on either side, each with its own parking lot. I texted Sol again to let her know we had arrived, and she told us to look for apartment 267.

We drove around the complex for a while until we found the 200-block. There were a lot more buildings than I thought there would be. Mom looked in the side-view mirror to check her hair one more time before stepping out of the car, and she let me borrow her comb for a moment so I could fix mine. I started to worry if I was overdressed for the occasion.

We walked up to the 260s building and entered the lobby, which had mailboxes along the left wall arranged in three rows of three boxes each, like a tic-tac-toe board. The mailbox for room 267 was stuffed with bills and junk mail. It didn’t look like Sol or her mother had much time to clean it out.

I pressed the button next to the mailbox to activate the intercom. “Hey, Sol! Are you there?”

After a second or two, I heard a few short beeps, and then Sol answered. “Deanna? Is that you?”

“Yeah. My mom and dad are here, too.”

“Okay, just sit tight. I’ll buzz you guys in.”

The large door to our right clicked open. Mom entered through the door first, hoping to get inside before it locked again. I double-checked to make sure it stayed locked after I entered so no one would try to sneak in behind us.

When we entered the main hallway, we saw doors numbering from 261 to 264 from right to left. The only door that wasn’t numbered was the one closest to the stairway on the right. I guessed that the unmarked door was supposed to be the building manager’s office.

As we went up the stairs, I was reminded of the stairwell at the Blank Scroll. This building had more lights in it, but somehow it felt darker than the one at the Scroll.

The door to room 267 was ajar when we got to the second floor. Sol stuck her head out and waved excitedly to us as we approached.

“Hi! Welcome!” she said as she led us inside. “So glad you could make it. Come on in!”

Sol’s apartment was pretty small. The living and dining quarters were one combined room, with a sofa and a folding chair surrounding a small flat-screen TV to our left, and a square wooden table with more folding chairs on the right. Aside from the ceiling lights, the only decorations I saw were a few potted plants near the living room window and my painting of Sol on the wall behind the sofa. They must really have been impressed by it to make it one of the first things people saw when they walked in.

“Where do you want us to sit our bags?” I asked.

“Oh, you can just put them over there somewhere,” Sol said, pointing to the plants by the window.

We decided to sit down on the couch and watch TV while we waited for Sol to call for her mother. The TV was tuned to a reality show about a group of friends trying to keep a hole-in-the-wall bar afloat. The so-called friends were arguing with customers about food being too cold or the drinks being watered down. No one looked happy, but I wondered how much of the drama was real and how much of it was being played up for the audience’s benefit.

Just before the commercial break, Lydia came out to the main room wearing a loose-fitting T-shirt and white sweatpants with a brown stripe down the side. She didn’t look like she was going out for a jog, considering the weather. At least she looked happy and comfortable.

“Val! Pam! Deanna! Hi!” she said, shaking each of our hands. “I hope you didn’t have too much trouble finding the apartment.”

“No, not at all,” Dad said before quickly backtracking. “Well, okay…maybe a little bit.”

“I don’t blame you. This complex is pretty big. It took Marisol and I a while to find this place when we moved in.”

Mom picked up two of the bags from the corner and handed them to Lydia. “Here…we got these for you.”

Lydia dug through the bag and gave us a big smile when she held up the glass set. “Thanks, you guys,” she said cheerfully. “You know, I’ve been working on a drink that I think you might like. Want me to make one for you?”

After talking it over between each other for a few seconds, Mom and Dad both nodded.

“What about you, Deanna?” Lydia asked. “Would you like some, too?”

“No thanks,” I said. “I’m not much of a drinker.”

“Don’t worry. There’s not that much alcohol in this one. I should warn you that it’s got a bit of a kick to it, so, uh…be careful how much you drink at a time.”

“Well, I guess I could try a little bit, then…but only this once.”

“Oh, Lydia!” Mom called out before Lydia had a chance to go to the kitchen. “We brought some cookies, too.”

Lydia took the box from Mom and placed it on the table. “Where’d you guys get all this stuff, anyway?”

“There’s this place in Mucci’s called Serene Thirteen. They make the best cookies. Have you ever been down there?”

“To Mucci’s? Yeah, maybe once or twice. I don’t think I’ve been to or seen that cookie place, though, so I’ll take your word for it.”

While Lydia went off to the kitchen to prepare her special drink, I waited for Sol to come out from the back so I could give her my gift bag. She reached into the bag without looking at it, pulling out the Basket Boy and Flower Girl statuettes and examining them thoroughly. I was confused by her taking the same analytical approach to the CD that she did with the little figurines I bought. Maybe I should have asked her what kind of music she liked after all.

“These are kinda cute,” she said of the statuettes. “They could use some color, though. Did you make these, Deanna?”

“Ha! I wish,” I said, trying not to sound too proud of myself. “If I had a lot of free time and a chisel, I might be able to do one of these.”

Sol placed the CD on the table next to the cookies, not really paying any attention to it. “What about the CD?” I asked.

“I’ll listen to it later,” she said. “I’ve never really listened to any of Ashlynn’s stuff before. How good is she?”

“I don’t know. I just bought this CD yesterday, so I’ve only listened to a little bit of it. I got it for you because I thought it might help you with your dancing.”

“Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but I’ll give it a shot. Thanks, Deanna.”

About ten minutes later, Lydia came out of the kitchen carrying four glasses of varying sizes, each filled with what looked like orange juice. Mom and Dad took the regular-sized glasses while Lydia gave me one of the wine glasses, which held less juice but looked more elegant. Sol didn’t look too bummed about being left out of the drinking party. She sat down at the dinner table and looked at the rest of us with anticipation. She could also have been looking at the TV to watch the end of that bar show; I couldn’t really tell.

“I’d like to propose a toast,” Lydia said, raising her glass in the air, its plastic stirring straw rattling against the edges. Sol quickly grabbed the remote and hit the mute button so we could all hear what her mother had to say.

“Not too long ago,” Lydia continued, “our daughters met in Emerson Park and bonded through a common interest in magic. Though they took different approaches to their discoveries – Marisol by observing a professional magician, and Deanna by observing Marisol – I believe that they can help each other grow and learn more about this often weird, but sometimes wonderful art. A toast…to the kinship between these two young aspiring witches.” 

And their parents,” Dad added.

“Of course! May the kinship between these two young women also help enrich the relationship between their parents.”

We all cheered and tapped our glasses together, encouraged by Lydia’s speech. Sol didn’t have a glass to raise, so she just raised her fist triumphantly.

Mom and Dad took a sip from their glasses without hesitation. Lydia took a moment to stir her drink before taking a larger sip from it. Meanwhile, I inspected my glass to see if anything weird had been added to it. There had to be a secret ingredient in this drink if Lydia had to warn us about it beforehand.

Dad took another sip from his drink and puckered his lips really hard. “Mmm! That’s some good stuff!” he said.

“Mine’s a bit gritty,” Mom said after sampling hers.

“Try stirring it around a bit,” Lydia said. “That should help.”

Mom borrowed Lydia’s stirring straw and mixed it up a bit more, trying not to spill too much on the floor. I continued to sit there with my untouched drink in my hand, astounded by what was going on. When Mom and Dad would throw parties with the neighbors, or whenever there was a “big game” on, they didn’t have fancy drinks or glasses like this. It was just them, the game, the TV, a few beers, and whatever snacks they had on hand.

Mom sipped her drink again, slowly at first, and then drinking almost half of it with one big gulp. She put her glass down and grinned, apparently not finding it as bitter or sour as Dad did. “You’re right, Van…this is good!” she said. “What’s it called?”

“A ‘wyvern’,” Lydia said.

“That sounds very…exotic. What’s in it?” Dad asked.

“Ah ah ah…that’s a secret!”

Lydia waved her right finger at Mom and Dad while simultaneously counting down with her left hand hidden from their view. The moment she stopped counting down, Dad patted his chest a couple of times, and Mom started fanning herself. “It’s very…spicy,” she said, sounding like she was gasping for air.

“That’s the ‘kick’ I told you about,” Lydia said. “That’s why I told you to drink it slowly.” She then looked my way and added, “You still haven’t touched your drink, Deanna? Where’s your adventurous spirit? If you let that sit too long, it’s gonna get warm!”

I noticed tiny puffs of smoke coming from everyone’s mouths and nostrils, and that’s when I knew Lydia hadn’t served us any ordinary drink.

“I think it just did,” I said.

Not wanting to be seen as a party pooper, I drank from my glass very slowly to try to avoid the smoking sensation that was sure to come afterward. At first, all I could taste was the orange juice, but as I drank more of it, I started to taste a mix of lemon, something powdery, and another flavor I couldn’t really identify. The combination felt smooth going down despite its powdery texture, but once it hit my stomach, it felt like my body temperature shot up by about five degrees.

I quickly and quietly excused myself to go to the bathroom, hoping that I wouldn’t throw everything back up. After about a minute of huffing and puffing to get all the smoke out of my system, I drank some tap water to try to cool off. On the bright side, I didn’t feel dizzy or woozy or anything, but I sure wasn’t going to drink any more of that for a while.

“Deanna? You okay in there?”

I opened the bathroom door to see Sol standing a few feet away, holding a bottle of water and a couple of cookies for me to consume. “I’m fine now,” I told her after eating one of the sugar cookies. “Thanks.”

Sol and I peered into the main room to see what our parents were up to. It looked like they were getting ready to watch another episode of that bar reality TV show, which the title card helpfully referred to as Deep in the Hole. Sol didn’t look like she was interested in watching the show, so she led me toward her bedroom where we could speak in private.

Sol’s bedroom was peculiarly-shaped. It was long and narrow, with her twin-size bed and a single nightstand situated all the way in the back. The space between the bed and the closet was occupied by a flat, pink rug, which I guessed was what Sol used to practice her dance moves.

“This room is really…cozy,” I said.

“I know,” she lamented. “It’s the best we could do with the money Mom makes. Her room is only a little bit bigger than mine.”

“Oh? What does she do for a living?”

“She’s a bartender.”

That certainly explained her choice in TV shows, and why she offered to serve us drinks instead of taking us out to eat.

“Fortunately, the place where she works is a lot cleaner than that crappy Deep in the Hole bar on TV,” Sol said. “So at least there’s that.”

I sat down on the dance mat and found myself looking up at Sol. Her bed was a bit higher up than I thought it was, and it was making me uncomfortable. “Speaking of drinks…what in the world was in that thing your mom gave us, anyway?”

“I didn’t see Mom make the whole thing, but I did watch her put one ingredient in at the end, and I think it might be the reason why you and your parents flared up like that.”

“What? Is there some kind of super-alcohol mixed in that sets your insides on fire? Who the hell would want to drink that?”

“You’d be surprised,” she said half-sarcastically. “No, it’s nothing like that.”

“Then what is it?”

“I’ll give you a hint: it’s right there in the name.”

Lydia called that drink a “wyvern”, which was probably named after those big winged dragons from fantasy novels and video games. The only thing I could think of was that “dragon’s breath” powder she bought at the Blank Scroll that day.

“Do you mean that powdery stuff?” I asked.

“Yup,” Sol replied. “I overheard Mom talk about a ‘hot idea’ for a new drink with some of her work friends one night. I didn’t think she was actually going to make you guys drink one of her potions!”

“Wait a minute…are you saying that your mother can use magic too?”

“Well…yeah, but it’s not the same kind of magic you and I use.”

That revelation caught me completely by surprise. I didn’t see any magical tattoos or imprints anywhere on Lydia’s arms, so she probably didn’t own a magic wand. Potion-making didn’t look like it required any specialized magic knowledge. All someone needed to do, so I thought, was to find the right ingredients and follow the recipe, just like with regular cooking or drink mixing. If that was her real passion, then working at a bar certainly sounded like the most appropriate cover job to practice making all the potions she wanted.

“Mom was never one for the whole ‘wands and spellcasting’ aspect of magic,” Sol explained. “She liked earning money as a bartender, but she got bored with serving ‘normal’ drinks and wanted to start making things you couldn’t find in most bars. One of these days, she wants to try to serve her concoctions to the public, either by starting her own business or whispering into her boss’ ear to let them sell those drinks at happy hour or something.”

“Do you think either of us could learn to do that?”

“Maybe, but you’d need another license.”

“That sounds kinda dumb,” I said, trying to get back on my feet, “but whatever.”

At that moment, I heard Mom call out to us from the main room. “Deanna! We’re getting ready to leave soon!”

I walked out of Sol’s room slowly, as I started to feel a stinging pain in the back of my head. So much for not getting a hangover…

Sol turned around after placing one of her statuettes on top of her radio to check up on me. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay, Deanna?”

“I just need a little bit of rest,” I said. “I should be fine after that.”

“Okay. Give me a call when you get a chance.”

“I’ll try.”

Sol and Lydia escorted us out of the apartment and helped us find our car in the parking lot. “Thanks again for coming over,” Lydia said, “and thanks for the gifts. I promise that I’ll try to make your next drink a lot less spicy.”

Dad laughed. “Don’t worry about it. That was probably the most unique drink I’ve ever had.”

Mom looked like she was about to start fanning herself again. “Thank you for inviting us, Lydia,” she said. “You’re welcome to visit us anytime.”

“And you’re all always welcome to stop by here if you’re in the area. Especially you, Deanna. I’m sure Marisol would love for you to visit every now and then.”

“Uh…sure!” I said. “I think we might be able to work something out. This week might be difficult, though.”

Sol pouted when she realized I was talking about Tryout Thursday and the practice days leading up to it. “Maybe we could meet up again next weekend,” I suggested.

“That would be nice,” she said. “Hopefully our schedules will align so that we can meet up earlier next time.”

I hugged Sol and Lydia before getting back into the car. I definitely would have liked to return to visit again, as long as I wasn’t going to be served anything that would make my head hurt.

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