While Vanessa stayed in the practice room to clean up my mess for the next applicant, I slipped into the lounge to relay the good news to Sol. I was so excited to have passed the exam that I didn’t care about what was in the vending machine.
“Hi, Deanna,” she said. I could hear a vacuum cleaner running in the background on her side. “I’m a little busy right now. Can you call back later?”
“Aww… I wanted to tell you about my tryout,” I said.
“Oh. How’d it go?”
“Well…” I paused for about two seconds to try to build suspense. “I’m sitting here in the lounge waiting to receive my information packet.”
The background noise on Sol’s end quickly faded out. “Whoa! You mean to tell me you got in already? That was fast. Congratulations!”
“Thanks, Sol. I wish you could have been here with me, though.”
“Me too,” Sol said. “Not much I can do about that now. I’ll try applying next season.”
After another short pause, Sol turned her vacuum cleaner back on. “Sorry… I have a lot of vacuuming to do. I’d better get back to it before Mom yells at me again.”
“Oh… In that case, I’ll tell you more about it later,” I said.
It wasn’t like I’d have much time to tell her everything, anyway. Elisha had walked in a minute before I hung up, and I didn’t want him to eavesdrop on my conversation.
“It looks like congratulations are in order,” he said as he sat down on the couch to my right.
“Huh? How did you know I passed?” I asked. “Did one of the examiners tell you?”
Elisha shook his head. “Of course not. If you hadn’t passed your exam, you’d be on your way home by now. It’s simple logic.”
“You can’t be sure of that. What if I wanted to grab a snack from the lounge to eat on the way home as comfort food?”
“I don’t know about you,” he replied, “but it would take more than a few candy bars to lift my spirits on a bad day.”
I got up and bought a small bag of sour cream-and-onion potato chips from the machine. I felt like I deserved to treat myself.
“So…Elisha, was it?”
“Eli,” he quickly corrected.
“Sorry… Eli…you’re going to be a Silverthorne student, pupil, or whatever too, right?”
“That’s right. That ‘practical knowledge’ test was easy once you figured out the trick.”
I nodded in agreement, secretly wondering if he received the same test as I did. If the examiners knew what they were doing, they’d switch up the “final challenges” for each applicant so no one could pass the answer along to everyone waiting outside for their interviews, resulting in a larger influx of new students than they could handle.
A moment later, I heard a bell chiming from the loudspeakers in the corners of the room, followed by the front desk receptionist’s voice.
“Deanna Richardson, please report to the principal’s office. Deanna Richardson, please report to the principal’s office. Thank you.”
Normally, when a student got called in to meet the principal, it was bad news, but I figured that this call was telling me that Lillian had all my paperwork ready.
“Sounds like that’s for me,” I said to Eli as I slowly made my way out the door. “Congrats on getting in, and if I don’t see you again after today…good luck to you.”
Eli only looked up at me briefly before grabbing one of the magazines on the table. “Yeah, you too.”
I returned to the front lobby and entered the archway to the right of the front desk. The hallway and floor tiles on this side were a lighter shade of brown than the classroom area. I felt like the colors for the staff and student areas of the building should have been reversed. But what did I know? I was an artist, not an interior decorator.
A few plain green signs on the wall led me down a narrow corridor past the staff room and into Lillian’s office. As I expected, her room was well-lit, with a row of file cabinets nestled in the corner behind her desk, and a picture of her in Emerson Park posing happily with another man and two young boys.
There were a few other things about the room that caught my attention. The first was a collection of pictures to my left. One was a landscape painting of the school itself, commissioned shortly after its founding three years ago, according to the nameplate below it. Below that was a photograph of Lillian wearing her trademark blue cloak, and to the right of that, in a much less fancy frame than the others, was my “Sword constellation” painting from a few weeks ago. I had no idea that Lillian was a big fan of art, much less my art.
The other item that caught my attention was the ring on Lillian’s left hand. It had a light blue crystal – probably aquamarine – in it, just like the one Sol said she had in her magic wand. Did that ring have magic powers, too? I wanted to know.
“Oh, hello, Deanna!” she said. “Why don’t you come on in and have a seat?”
I sat down in one of the green chairs in front of her desk. The cushions were uncomfortable, but I tried my best to endure it on the off-chance that it was a “bonus round” for my entrance exam.
“Before we get on with your signing,” she added, “I wanted to let you know that I saw your name in the paper.”
“Nothing bad, I hope?” I joked, unaware if my smashed window had made the news.
“No, of course not. I was talking about the library incident. It looks like you’re putting your new powers to good use. As soon as I saw that article, I realized that I had made the right decision in personally scouting you for this school.”
Seeing Lillian sitting behind her desk with her cloak on made her look like a queen, and yet she still had a casual air about her. I didn’t know if I was supposed to start addressing her as “Ms. Silverthorne” or keep calling her “Lillian”.
“Thank you,” I said. “I’m honored…and kinda flattered, to be perfectly honest.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Deanna. I go out every season to invite potential students to this school. Some of them make it in, and others don’t. That’s just the nature of the application process. If you keep applying yourself the same way you did in today’s tryout, I’m certain you’ll become an amazing witch one day.”
Hearing this much encouragement from Lillian before I had even taken a class made me eager to step my game up even further.
She pulled out a folder with the school’s name and logo, a stylized double-S with a red eight-pointed star background. The folder contained papers on the short history of the school, the different levels of classes one could take, and the general schedule. It looked like the more difficult classes took place after the noon lunch hour. I wasn’t confident enough in my abilities yet, so I asked to sign up for the 10:30 Tuesday-Thursday class, which lied somewhere in the middle of the difficulty scale.
Behind those documents was a set of forms asking me and my doctor to list any chronic medical conditions that might prevent me from attending class. The worst I had to worry about was the hole in my hand where my enchanter’s sign was, but even that stopped hurting after a few days. It looked like I was going to have to move up my appointment with Dr. Keller to get him to examine my hand and complete this physical form.
As I examined the contents of the folder, there was one more question I felt I needed to ask:
“How much is this going to cost me?”
At first, I thought Lillian was going to give me a mean look for derailing the good vibe we had going, but she quietly nodded and pointed to another pamphlet in my folder that showed the price structure.
“To get your official Silverthorne School magic certificate,” she explained, “you’ll need to complete a twelve-week training program. It’ll cost you a total of 200 dollars for the whole thing. If you feel like twelve straight weeks is too much, you can pay just 100 dollars to do six weeks at either the beginning or the end of the season, and pay another 100 to do the other six at any time. Compared to traditional schools, that’s not a bad deal, don’t you think?”
“What do I get out of having a certificate?” I asked. “Are there, like, super-top-secret jobs out there looking for certified wizards and witches?”
“Nope, nothing like that, I’m afraid. You do, however, get the satisfaction of practicing your skills with other experienced wizards and witches in a controlled environment to help you understand them better, as well as how not to accidentally kill anyone with them.”
Even though I went in knowing what to expect, I was still a little disappointed that there wasn’t more to it.
“Is there anything else you’d like to talk about, Deanna?”
“Well, um…” My eyes darted back and forth between Lillian’s aquamarine ring and my painting on the wall. “That’s a very pretty ring you have there.”
“Thank you,” she said as she held up her left hand to show it off. When it hit the light just right, it gave off a bright blue twinkle, much like my magic wand did when Sol held it.
“Is that a magic ring?” I dared to ask.
“Nope…nothing magical about it. It’s just an ordinary engagement ring.”
“Oh! Uh…congratulations. How long ago did you get it?”
“Just yesterday, believe it or not.”
Lillian showed me the picture on her file cabinet and pointed to the man who I assumed was her new fianceé. He was a handsome guy with a close-shaven blonde beard and – at least in the picture – a polo shirt that didn’t look like it had a single wrinkle on it. One of the children in the picture looked like a spitting image of him, minus the beard. The other child didn’t look like Lillian or her fianceé at all – his skin tone was a few shades darker, almost like Sol’s skin. Despite that, they all looked like one big, happy family.
“My parents didn’t like Graham very much,” Lillian said, “especially when they found out that I was pregnant with Todd and later adopted Darrell to give him a ‘big brother’ to play with. When Graham told them that he’d let me keep my Silverthorne name when we got married because he thought it was ‘too awesome to give up’, they were suddenly cool with it.”
I didn’t want to chuckle at Lillian’s story because it sounded so sweet. It was just that one tidbit at the end that got me – that Lillian’s parents would approve or disapprove of a potential spouse based solely on what their daughter’s name would be after marrying.
“These are some amazing paintings, too,” I said, turning my attention back to the wall. “I wish I could paint something that detailed.”
“So you’re an artist too, huh?” Lillian asked.
“Yes! In fact, one of the paintings on the wall is one of mine.”
“The constellation one, right?”
I nodded. “It’s a bit rough compared to those other two paintings, but I was inspired to paint it when looking up at the sky one night, so I did.”
“It makes a nice addition to this room. It gives it that sort of ‘magical air’ my office has been missing.”
I started to fill out the registration form when I was interrupted by a knock on the door. It sounded like another happy applicant was on their way in, so I excused myself temporarily to take my form to the lounge. It was the only one I needed to turn in right away, and I wanted to get it done as quickly as possible so that I could catch the next bus home. Luckily, the person who entered Lillian’s office after me didn’t spend too long in there, so I was able to turn my completed form in without much hassle.
“Ah, excellent! Thank you,” Lillian said as I handed my papers over. “You’re now one step closer to becoming a full-fledged Silverthorne student. When you come back here on the day of your first class, I’ll need you to bring along a couple of things: your wand, of course; your doctor’s form, and a check or money order to cover at least six weeks of classes. Try to come at least 15 minutes early, if you can. It wouldn’t be a good look if you showed up late on your first day, now would it?”
She didn’t have to tell me twice. Sybil gave me the same piece of “advice” when I first started working at Ada’s. It was easier there because I didn’t have to walk very far to get to work. When I was at the mercy of the McCarthy Area Transit System, things were a little more unpredictable. I had to take a second look at the bus schedule to make sure I had plenty of time to get up to the school, because there weren’t many shops I could visit to kill time.
“Just so we’re clear,” Lillian added, “your first day will be the second Tuesday of the summer. There aren’t any classes for the first week because I don’t want to have an uneven schedule on account of the Summer Dawn Festival.”
“That makes sense,” I said.
“Look at it this way: it’ll give you an extra week of prep time before the real thing.”
It was weird how Lillian could flip back and forth so easily between formal and casual tones of voice. She didn’t sound like the type of person who liked handing out punishments, but I still didn’t want to get on her bad side.
“Anyway, thanks for coming out to Try-Out Thursday, and I’m happy that you’ve decided to join us. I wish you the best of luck.” She extended her right hand for me to shake, and then pulled me in close to whisper in my ear. “Don’t let me down.“
It was a surprisingly creepy moment from someone who had given me faint praise for my artwork just moments earlier. Did she do this with all of the new students, or just the ones she personally recruited?
“You don’t have anything to worry about,” I said after breaking the handshake. “I’ll do all I can to make you and this school proud.”
Getting into Lillian’s school was the next best thing to having her teach me herself, and definitely a lot less expensive. I was shivering with excitement when I returned home, so I went into the living room, popped my Ashlynn CD into the music player, cranked the volume up and danced until I felt like collapsing on the couch. There was no better way to celebrate passing an exam than with loud, bouncy pop music.
About seven tracks into the CD, someone knocked on my door. It wasn’t the newspaper guy again, whom I expected to show up to investigate the brawl between those olive-jacket kids, but he must have found a scoop on a more important story at the time. I looked through the peephole and saw, to my surprise, Sol standing outside and gawking at my still-broken window.
“Wow… Who did you guys piss off to have them vandalize your house like this?” she asked.
While I was curious about what Sol was doing at my house, I didn’t see the harm in letting her inside while my parents were at work. She sat down on the couch and pulled a pair of cranberry granola bars out of her Dollar Shack bag, flicking one toward the left arm.
“Is one of those for me?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said through a mouthful of granola. “I know it’s not much of a reward, but I thought you might be hungry after your exam. Those granola bars we got from Ada’s were so good, I just had to buy more!”
“You said it!”
I let Sol channel-surf as we enjoyed our granola bars together. Because my family had a cheap cable plan, most of the specialized channels, such as Home Movie Theater and Cooking World, were off-limits to us until Mom or Dad chose to buy a more expensive package. We were stuck between choosing either the afternoon news or midday soap operas, which neither of us really liked. Eventually, Sol gave up on trying to find something entertaining to watch and just turned the TV off.
“You know, it’s funny… A few weeks ago, I had gone out to Emerson Park as the only one in my circle of friends to take an interest in magic. Then you came along and offered to help me out when I was having trouble getting my magic wand to work. The way you were just standing there with your cell phone camera, I thought you might have been a foreign spy or a paparazzo or something.”
Did I really give off that vibe with my wimpy little video camera? I thought I could do better than that.
“It didn’t turn out the way either of us expected,” Sol said, “but it still worked out in the end. I got a working magic wand out of the deal, and you picked up a new hobby!”
“Yeah. I’m starting to think it wasn’t such a bad idea to come by Emerson Park after all…even if you did come off as scary when we first met,” I said.
“Scary? Me?” Sol said in a sarcastic ‘shocked’ tone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I decided to play along with her. “Come on, Sol. You have to admit that playing around with a magic wand in the middle of a public park doesn’t exactly make you one of the most approachable people in town.”
“Look who’s talking, Miss Hides-Behind-Trees-Videotaping-Strangers-for-Art-Projects!”
Sol leaned over the left side of the couch and lightly slapped me on my right arm. I stood there and took it, knowing that if she was seriously upset with me, she wouldn’t have been smiling and giggling the whole time.
“All right, all right, I’ll admit I was being weird that day, too,” I said as I sat down next to Sol. “Now that we both have these powers, I say we should embrace whatever weirdness comes our way, magical or otherwise.”
“Eh…it’s not like I’ve had much of a choice in that matter since I got this wand.”
Sol got up to answer her cell phone. From the sound of her conversation, she was trying to beg her mother to allow her to stay over for a few more minutes.
“I think you might like it at Silverthorne, Sol,” I said, suddenly remembering what I wanted to tell her in the first place. “The atmosphere inside the school is really nice. I only met one of the instructors there, but she sounded like she knew what she was doing.”
“Do you think you’ll get to personally study under Lillian?”
“Probably not. She runs the place, remember?”
“That’s too bad. If she’s really good enough to own a magic school, any of her pupils would become master wizards and witches in no time!”
I simply nodded, noticing that Sol was inching her way toward the front door. It looked like her “few more minutes” had run out.
“Hey, Deanna… Don’t forget about our little deal. If you learn something cool at Silverthorne…”
“…I’ll pass it on to you,” I said, ending with a wink.
I was surprised Sol didn’t end the conversation with the usual “Good luck with your studies” cliché. Maybe she trusted me enough to do a good job in this new school that such a line didn’t need to be said. After all, she was the one who showed me – indirectly – how to get started with my new magic wand. I was ready to expand my knowledge of magic by any means necessary, but I wasn’t sure how well I’d fare with the role reversal of teaching, especially as an unofficial intermediary for actual magic instructors.
“Oh, and one more thing…” she started to say.
“What is it?” I asked.
Sol’s left foot was already halfway out the front door, but before I could turn around and sit back on the couch, she walked up to me and said, “Thanks…for not running away.”
I didn’t have time to ask what she meant by that, as I got lost in thought when she pulled me in for one more hug before leaving for real.
It was a pretty stupid thing for me to say, but it got her to laugh, and that was good enough for me. I hoped I’d be able to impress my new schoolmates with a less embarrassing brand of humor. Getting on their good side was going to be just as important to my success at Silverthorne as memorizing spell motions and their effects.