Chapter 19: Try-Out Thursday

In hindsight, I felt like I should have waited until Dad finished his shift before telling him about the broken window. He was angry even after I told him the details of the incident when he got home, and it didn’t look like he was going to calm down anytime soon. “Didi, I think you should stay home tomorrow,” he said.

“I can’t do that! My exam is tomorrow morning,” I protested.

“Can’t you reschedule it until a later date or something? Whoever threw that rock through our window might still be on the loose, and I don’t want anybody coming after you.”

“I don’t think they were specifically targeting us, Dad.”

“How do you know that? You said you called the police, didn’t you? Someone out there could have been trying to shut you up.”

“Come on, Dad. If that was the case, I don’t think a simple rock would have done the trick.”

Oops. I definitely should have rephrased that.

Dad didn’t appreciate my implication that I was this close to getting shot, and we argued for a few more minutes over how dangerous it was for me to go out to Silverthorne on my own. Once again, he offered to escort me there, supposedly so he could see the school for himself. When I asked how this would affect his work commute, he said he would drive me and Mom out early. I didn’t see how this would be convenient for any of us.

“Sorry, Dad, but can’t you trust me to go out to this school by myself?” I pleaded. “If I get in, I’m going to have to take the bus up there every couple of days anyway.”

After thinking about it for a moment, Dad said, “I’d still feel more comfortable if you had a friend to drive you there.”

When Mom came home to look at the damage, she ran over to check on me and Dad, hugging me with such intensity that I thought she and Dad had switched bodies. “Is everything all right, Deanna? Who did this? Did they damage anything else?”

Unprepared for the sudden barrage of questions, I alternated between nodding, shrugging, and shaking my head, unsure of which answers to give. After we all calmed down, Mom asked Dad to check upstairs to make sure no one had broken in through one of the other windows. A few minutes later, Dad returned to the living room with some good news. “Everything’s good on the second floor. I checked every room, closet, cabinet, and crawlspace, and it doesn’t look like anyone snuck in or tried to steal anything.”

“That’s good to know,” I said with a relieved sigh.

I wished I could have done more to help as Mom checked the internet for a reputable and affordable window repair shop. Dad gave me a tape measure and some scissors to cut out portions of a trash bag to patch up the holes until the contractor arrived. The black plastic bulge was unsightly, but at least I could count on it to protect us from any bad weather without worrying about it getting cut open.

I tried to take my mind off the day’s events by reading the first chapter of Violet Arcana. It was a typical heroic fantasy story that sounded like it was adapted from a role-playing game from 15 years ago. Unlike those old games where the hero was usually a kid who inexplicably knew how to use a sword before his 13th birthday, the main characters of Violet Arcana were an apprentice wizard about to turn 16, and his father, a lowly imperial tailor. The hero came off to me as an airhead and his dad an uncouth buffoon, but I was still interested to see how well it would tell a story where a globe-spanning empire wasn’t the domain of the bad guys, for once.

Later that night, I started drawing some rough sketches of some of the spells in my notes, with the intent of converting some of them into paintings. Coloring them with colored pencils and ink might have been more efficient, but they were easy to lose unless one carefully kept them in a binder somewhere.

Midway through my sketch of the “Shield” spell, I got a phone call from Sol. She sounded exhausted again. I almost forgot that it was one of her dance class nights. “So, you ready to take this exam and bend it over your knee?” she asked.

“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” I said, not intending to make a rhyme. “How’d your night go?”

“It was super awkward. Just when I thought I had finally learned the moves for this one swing routine my teacher wants us all to do, she suddenly puts on this fast song and expects us all to dance to it double-time! I’m usually good at keeping a beat, but when everyone else can’t keep up with the sudden change in tempo, I got thrown off, too! We all wound up freestyling for about twenty minutes until she made us do it again. I think she did that just to mess with us.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at the idea of such a chaotic scene. A dozen or more trained dancers spinning, kicking, and flailing about at the same time with no regard for choreography or rhythm sounded like the perfect thing to catch on video and share with the world. If that was a regular part of Sol’s dance training, then it was no wonder she came home tired after every session.

I didn’t want to tell her about the attack on my house or the brawl that led up to it. I was still upset about the whole thing, and I didn’t want my bad mood to spread over the phone to Sol.

“Have you thought about getting some kind of part-time job?” I asked. “You might be able to go up to Silverthorne in the fall or winter if you save up enough.”

“Yeah, a little bit,” she said. “Lynx sounds good, but there’s the problem with transportation again. Mom can only drive me up there in the morning because she works in the afternoon. I guess I could apply for Dollar Shack…”

“Why not Ada’s? They’ve got all that tasty food, it’s close enough to home for both of us, and I’m pretty sure they pay better.”

Sol’s reply was quick and sharp. “No thanks.”

That was the second time she rejected my offer. I decided not to bring the topic up again, for I was sure she had a valid, secret reason for not wanting to work there.

“So, you working on any new paintings?” Sol asked.

“A couple of things, but I can’t show them to you right now,” I said as I looked over my sketches. It would have been awkward to try to send them over the phone while I was talking to her.

“Okay, then. I look forward to seeing them when they’re all done. You’ll tell me how your exam went, too, won’t you?”

“Of course!”

I quickly excused myself after yawning, and then slid back over to my bed. I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t even eight-thirty yet. There was no point in trying to pretend I wasn’t tired. My body was going to make me pay for it in the morning if I didn’t go to sleep right away. I bid Sol good night, said a short prayer, and curled up underneath my blanket. I needed all the good vibes I could get for my exam.

I woke up at six o’clock to the sound of shrill alarm clock buzzing. I felt like I should have bought a radio clock instead of one with a regular alarm. That sure would have been weird…to wake up in the middle of a dream by someone playing rock music at full blast…

This time, I didn’t wake up freaking out over mysterious robed figures without faces. In my latest dream, I was one of those robed figures, except my robe was purple and made of polyester and cotton, and it felt like my high school graduation gown. I didn’t think it looked as good on me as Lillian’s cloak did on her. It felt too heavy, which was a bad thing when you needed to move your arms around a lot. I preferred to wear loose-fitting clothing, with no accessories at all if I could help it.

I planned on going through my normal morning routine – wake up, shower, brush teeth, get dressed, eat – with a little more gusto than usual. I didn’t feel like I’d slept any better or worse than any other night, but I was going to pretend that I’d had the best sleep of my life as long as it helped me get through this exam.

As the first one downstairs, I tried to make pancakes for myself and my family. Keeping the kitchen clean to cut down on my cleaning was hard to do when I had to deal with eggs and powdery instant pancake mix.

Mom and Dad both came downstairs a little while after I started cooking. I’d made enough for everyone to have at least two, so no one would go hungry. The look of shock on Dad’s face when he saw me in the kitchen was unmistakable. I remembered seeing that look last year when I tried to make sausages. I didn’t set the smoke alarms off this time, at least.

“What’s this? My daughter’s actually making breakfast again?” he said. “Now, if we could get you to help out with dinner every once in a while, your mom and I could take a break!”

If only I had enough time after I came home from work, I would have cooked more often.

We sat down and ate our pancakes in the living room while watching the morning news. The brawl that happened outside our house was only given a brief mention before the sports report, and nothing at all was said about the idiot who smashed our windows. Apparently, a fight between two groups of rowdy high school-aged kids in a small town only warranted a short graphic and a “police are still investigating” aside. It was a good thing nobody was seriously hurt, but I wished those kids had picked a different place to fight.

After we finished our breakfast, Mom and Dad were ready to walk out to the car when Dad turned around and beckoned to me. “My offer to take you up to Silverthorne is still open if you want it,” he said. “Better hurry, though, because we’re about to leave in a minute.”

“I’ll be fine, Dad, I promise,” I said. “If anything happens, I’ll call you. If anything bad happens, I’ll call the police. Deal?”

“Uh…deal, I guess. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Before she walked out the door, Mom kissed me on the cheek, patted me on the shoulder, and said, “Good luck, sweetie. I probably don’t need to say that because I know you’re gonna do fine.”

I went back upstairs and put my spellbooks, notes, and magic wand into a bag. The only one I thought I really needed was my wand. I only planned on doing a quick review of my notes on the bus, but I wanted to have them with me in case the testers allowed me to “cheat” and use them during the exams.

I strolled out to the bus stop after locking my front door, wondering what I’d be asked to do once I got there. Would I get a chance to tour the campus, or were certain sections off-limits until I actually got selected?

Then, there was the matter of the mysterious vandal from yesterday. Who threw that rock at our house, and why? I expected the police to call or mail us back in a day or two as soon as they had more information, but who would pick up the message? Mom and Dad both had to work, and I was on my way to Silverthorne School, followed by a Friday morning shift at Ada’s, so we’d have to wait until the afternoon to reply. There was no guarantee we’d get to talk to someone close to the case unless Officer Yates reported her discoveries to another officer.

Nobody else came out to the bus stop in the seven or eight minutes I was out there, so I wound up boarding the bus by myself after it arrived. Most of the seats in the front were occupied, so I looked for a window seat near the back where I could read and have a few moments of relative privacy. There were at least two people in the seats behind me playing music on their cell phones without wearing headphones, making it hard for me to concentrate on my notes. Both of my feet were stuck to…something pink and gummy, and there were a few candy wrappers at my feet begging to be tossed out. It seemed that the signs discouraging playing loud music or eating appeared to just be suggestions no one cared to follow.

About five stops into my trip, I noticed a tall guy in a purple and gray checkered shirt take a seat off to the side. It was such a weird color combination that I couldn’t help but notice him. He sat down and flipped to the Lifestyle section of the newspaper in his hand, glancing over at me for a few seconds before returning to his paper. I didn’t know whether he noticed me reading my magic notes or if he caught me looking at his shirt, but it was unnerving either way. We didn’t say anything to each other for the duration of the trip. It was probably for the better because I had no idea what to say to him as a conversation starter.

Just as the bus approached King Boulevard, I tugged on the yellow wire by the window to signal for the bus to stop. When I got up to get off the bus, the guy in the checkered shirt got up and left through the back door. Was he on his way to Silverthorne, too? He didn’t appear to have a magic wand or anything on him, so I didn’t know what he was up to.

I looked around for the path to the Silverthorne School building, only to find a single sign pointing in its general direction. At least it was in a nice part of town.

I followed the winding sidewalk past some houses, a church, and a fire station. Soon, I saw the main building – actually, the only building – of Silverthorne School rise into view as I walked up to a large iron gate with a few large oak trees behind it. The building looked a little bit bigger than the brochure photo led me to believe, despite only being one story tall. The annex to the left was made of a darker color of bricks than the rest of the building. I thought I saw a shadow moving past one of the windows, but by the time I walked toward the front door to get a closer look, it had disappeared.

When I stepped into the school’s main hall, it reminded me of the hallways of Sharonia High, only cleaner. The low-hanging ceiling lights dotted the wooden walls with hundreds of tiny stars, with some of them shining on a large portrait of Lillian behind the front desk. The young man sitting at the computer was tending to another young man who looked to be a few years older than me, directing him toward a room off to my left. I approached the desk cautiously, looking over my shoulder to see if the guy in the checkered shirt had been following me. The clerk looked up at me and gave me a smile and a handshake, alleviating my stress a little bit.

“Hi! Welcome to Silverthorne School of Arcane Artistry,” he said. “Are you here for Try-Out Thursday?”

“You bet I am!” I said, trying to psyche myself up.

“Okay, then. Could you give me your name, please?”

“Deanna Richardson.”

I started to reach for my ID card when the receptionist typed my name into a reference database. “Ah, there you are,” he said, still maintaining his happy expression. “Thanks for signing up. Just make a right down this hallway and enter the first door on your left.”

The receptionist gave me a name badge and directed me toward the main classroom. I stood outside behind two other women, with the older-looking one peering into the crack in the door to see what was going on. The younger one behind her was frantically looking through a spellbook of hers, trying to cram as much information as possible before it was her turn to go. I didn’t want to disturb her, so I looked the other way.

Several minutes later, the older woman was called into the classroom, with the younger woman following her seven minutes after that. I took a few moments to examine the surrounding area before I was called in

On the opposite side of the classroom was a lounge, with dark green carpeting and matching sofas and couches, soda and snack vending machines along the back wall, and a coffee table with a bunch of magazines stacked on top. Apart from the main hall, it was the most inviting place in the building because it was the only room whose doors were open. The other two rooms further down were a dining area and a practice range, which looked like it was used by the applicants after spending some time in the classroom. I could hear a lot of thumping and crackling noises from over there, making me wonder how anything could get done in the classroom if both had to be used at the same time.

The man in the checkered shirt stepped in line behind me, wearing a nametag that read: “Elisha Pickett”. He looked more like he should have been a staff member at this place…not an applicant!

A minute of awkward silence later, I spoke up. “Hi there.”

“Hi,” he said.

This conversation was going nowhere. I needed to think of something to say to him to lighten the mood. “Pretty impressive school, don’t you think?”

Elisha just scoffed at me. “Yeah…if you’re easily impressed.”

“That’s not what I…never mind.”

So much for that idea.

More awkward silence. It was a good thing I didn’t ask him why he came to Silverthorne. That would have been rude, which was way worse.

A little while later, the young woman ahead of me came out of the classroom and signaled for me to go inside as she walked toward the practice grounds. I slowly entered the room, ready to face my first real test toward membership, yet still not fully prepared for what I would find inside…

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