Chapter 23: Playing the Field

With only a couple of days left to go before the start of the summer school session, I did everything I could to make sure I was ready for Silverthorne. Each day when I wasn’t at work, I did some light exercises – ten push-ups, ten sit-ups, and ten squats, followed by squeezing a soft stress ball in both my hands to test my reflexes. I would have done a few more jogs around Emerson Park, but it rained on Thursday and I had a long day shift at Ada’s on Friday.

I’d been keeping in touch with the people on the Mystic Answers message board, as well. CarmineShade even congratulated me on getting accepted into Silverthorne. They said they’d never heard of the school before, having lived out far to the west of the state of Raiford and attending a small magic academy near where they lived. I didn’t have anything to compare my school to since it was the first one of its kind I’d ever seen.

The weekend was my last chance to get some practical training done. I called Sol after breakfast to see if she had time to go to Emerson Park. When she answered the phone, she sounded like she was in the middle of eating breakfast.

“Emerson Park? Again?” she asked.

“Did you have some other place in mind?” I asked. “I thought you came out to Emerson because you didn’t have enough room to practice at home.”

“Yeah, but if we keep going there, people are going to get this weird idea that only witches hang out there, and they’ll stay away.”

“I see your point, but where else can we go that’s close by?”

“Give me some time and I’ll get back to you on that.”

I left Sol alone to eat her breakfast and tried to get a couple more sketches done. At least one of them was going to be turned into a painting, but I wasn’t sure which one I liked best.

Dad was in the living room reading the weekend edition of the newspaper while the morning news was on in the background. There was a pile of coupon sheets sitting next to him waiting to be clipped. “Planning a big shopping spree?” I asked.

“No,” he said as he flipped the page past the “letters to the editor” section. “Not a big shopping trip, anyway. We might need a few extra things here and there, and it never hurts to save a few bucks when you have the chance, right?”

There wasn’t much of a counterargument one could muster against a statement like that. Everyone loved to save money. I needed to save money, too, given the increasingly limited opportunities I had to earn money for myself. I just didn’t know if he really wanted to buy a 24-pack of soda or a big drum of laundry detergent. That seemed like a bit too much.

“So, are you ready for your big day tomorrow?” he asked, turning his head to me slightly.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve got my forms, my money, and my magic supplies. I’ve memorized all of the spells I’ve been practicing for the past few weeks. I’ve even started doing exercises again so I can get in shape. I’m pretty much ready to go.”

“That’s great, Didi, but that’s not what I mean. I mean, are you ready to be part of a school where everyone’s got magic powers? Some of them who may be more powerful than you?”

“Well…it is a bit intimidating, but as long as I’m careful with what I say and how I act, I shouldn’t have too much of a problem, right? If I’m lucky, I might even learn something from them.”

“Just be careful, honey. Don’t forget that you’re going to be spending about an hour in a room full of people with dangerous weapons.”

“Yes, Dad. I know. I have one too, remember? I’m not going to go picking fights with people like that…or people in general. I like being free…and still having all of my teeth in my mouth.”

“I know you won’t.”

Before I could say anything else, I heard my cell phone ringing. I went upstairs, brushing past Mom on her way down, and shut the door to my room. As I expected, it was Sol on the other line.

“Hey, Deanna!” she said. “I just got in touch with my friends Violet and Alberto, and they say they’ve seen a few wizards and witches using the Sharonia High athletic field as a practice ground over the break.”

“Wait, what?” I asked. “Is that even allowed? I thought all school facilities were off-limits to the public.”

“Not completely. Only the buildings are closed. The field’s open to anyone who wants to run, read, fly kites, or whatever. Even when there’s no school in session, the field is under tight supervision. The only thing is that the offseason is the only time it gets opened up like this, so today’s the last day. Do you want to come with us?”

“As long as I don’t run into any of my old teachers up there, I’m down.”

I hadn’t considered Sharonia High a viable practice spot, mainly because there was only one family car and I couldn’t borrow it for extended periods of time, especially since there was a chance they would need it to go shopping or visit relatives. That was why I either walked or took public transportation everywhere – we couldn’t afford two cars and there wasn’t enough room for us to keep them both.

“So, uh…a couple of questions,” I continued. “Who’s driving, and what are you guys planning on doing afterward?”

“I am!” Sol said confidently. “I’m going to pick up Violet and Alberto first, and then come get you, okay?”

“Are you sure your mom’s okay with this? Doesn’t she have to work today?”

“Not on weekends. Her workplace gives her at least one day off so that she doesn’t get totally burned out. We’re only going to be out for a few hours, anyway. Maybe spend an hour there, grab some lunch, shoot some pool at Matrix, then go back home.”

“That sounds good to me. Let’s try to avoid any police barricades if we can this time, okay?”

Sol laughed and reassured me that it wouldn’t be necessary for us to take any detours. Mom and Dad agreed to let me go out, but only after I helped wash the dishes, take out the trash, and vacuum the carpets. They were certainly going to make me earn this afternoon outing. If nothing else, it was a decent time-killing exercise.

I waited for Sol to pull up in the mother’s sedan, and I still couldn’t believe she was driving it. She had the driver’s seat pushed almost as far back as it could go, making her look smaller than she actually was. Alberto, the short, brown-haired guy, was sitting in the passenger-side seat with his arm reaching around her shoulders. Sol’s other companion, Violet, sat behind Alberto and checked her hair and eyebrows in the rear-view mirror, not paying attention to what either of them was doing.

“Ready to roll, Deanna?” Sol asked as she opened the rear left passenger side door.

“You bet!” I said, trying not to hit my head as I took my seat.

As the car pulled off on its way to the high school, Sol turned the car radio to the local news station in order to listen to the traffic report. Cleanup crews were picking up debris from an accident on Lord Avenue earlier in the morning, but it was nothing Sol couldn’t drive around. When Violet finished examining herself in the mirror, she turned to me and asked, “So you’re one of Marisol’s friends too, huh?”

“Yeah. My name’s Deanna,” I said. “You must be Violet, right?”

“Yup. Marisol, my brother, and I all graduated from the same class.”

“Cool, cool… Are you guys in college right now?”

“I’m waiting until next year, and so is Al. I was hoping to get in on a scholarship, but that didn’t happen. My parents don’t like the idea of taking out two student loans, so they’re looking to get us into a smaller school that doesn’t cost as much.”

I had the opportunity to get into a bigger school. Raiford State University offered me a partial art scholarship, but it only covered a small percentage of the tuition, so I wound up going to Mountain Road instead, which was much cheaper and closer to home. I used to wonder where my life would have gone had I chosen to go to Raiford State instead of Mountain Road. Violet told me that she and Alberto had part-time jobs at the mall to get them through the year, which I wouldn’t have had access to up there. Maybe taking that path would be better for them in the long run. I didn’t know.

“Are either of you guys magic users?” I asked.

“She’s not,” Alberto said, “but I am.”

Alberto showed me his enchanter’s sign – a diamond-shaped mark between the knuckles of his left index and middle fingers. Compared to my sign and the other ones I’d seen so far, Alberto’s looked normal.

“How did you find out about the high school allowing witches and wizards to use their athletic field as training grounds?”

“We live uptown and there’s not a whole lot of open space,” Alberto said. “I was jogging around the high school a couple of weeks ago to get myself in shape for cross-country when I saw four or five guys dancing around with magic wands and flinging spells back and forth. I thought it was weird, so I asked one of the security guards what was going on, and he told me that they would be ready with an appropriate response if things ever got out of hand.”

“I get it, but…why a high school, though? Even if there’s no one working there, there’s still a chance that someone might get hurt, or something might get damaged.”

“It’s no different than when we go out to practice in the park,” Sol said. “It’s still better than having them running around and casting spells in the street.”

“Come on! I only did that one time to see if your old wand worked.” I turned to Violet and added, “It did, by the way.”

While we were driving toward the high school, I learned that Alberto had also been accepted into Silverthorne and was taking the early morning class before mine, so there was a good chance we’d be seeing a lot more of each other. It looked like he was seeing a lot more of Sol, as well, as they had just recently started dating. Violet didn’t have any interest in practicing magic. She only agreed to go with Sol and Alberto because they told her she’d get a chance to shoot pool later.

When we got to the high school, finding a parking spot was easy. The only car that wasn’t parked in the staff parking area belonged to a pair of twin sisters who had come to jog around the track. There were three more non-security guard visitors on the field – two girls and one guy, just like our group if you didn’t count Violet – who had taken advantage of Sharonia High’s “visiting wizards” policy. While the two girls were standing on opposite sides of the field trying to match each other spell-for-spell, their male companion was standing in one spot off to the side and waving his wand around and above him. It looked like he was trying to recharge his magic wand in a way that didn’t damage the grass on the field. I couldn’t blame him – the only person I’d seen make a dance like that look good was Sol, and I bet even she didn’t like the way it chewed up the ground more than a dance was supposed to.

We went to the far side of the field, getting as far away from the first group as possible so that neither of us hit each other with our spells. We also had to time our magic to avoid hitting the jogging sisters. It wasn’t easy, but we eventually found a rhythm to it. The sisters left about 20 minutes after we arrived because they found all the noise and lights distracting.

I asked Sol and Alberto to hit me with everything they had so I could test my “Shield” and “Barrier” spells for durability and how other spells reacted to them. The shields could block most non-magical projectiles easily, just as I expected. When it came to magical projectiles, things were a bit trickier. “Sting” bolts fizzled out the moment they hit, but when Alberto surprised me with a “Fire Bolt” spell, the flames lingered in mid-air for about a second before disappearing in a puff of black smoke.

“Where did you learn to do that?” I asked, still shocked by having a fireball thrown at me.

“Nope, sorry…not giving that one away,” Alberto said. “If you want to learn it, you’ll have to watch closely.”

As if to taunt me even further, Alberto made very subtle hand motions with his wand, producing another fireball that was smaller and faster than the first. It was hard for me to see just how he did it, but Sol, who was standing next to him, was able to replicate the move after watching him do it a couple of times. I had to hold my shield out a bit farther than normal to keep from getting burned because I didn’t know how well Sol knew that spell. She showed me how to do it in exchange for me teaching her one of my protective spells.

“When am I going to need to use this?” Sol asked after blocking a baseball with her “Shield”.

“You could say the same for any of the spells we know, really,” I told her. “I’m just here to figure out how all of this works.”

While we were still testing out spells, Violet was recording our every move on her cell phone camera. It was only a matter of time before our exploits made it to someone’s ChatterWall, and there wasn’t anything I could do to stop someone else from showing off my weird abilities to the world without looking like I was trying to hide a dark secret. When you practiced an art that involved waving your arms around to create esoteric symbols in the air and dancing in circles to recharge a magical battery, it was impossible to avoid looking like you were showing off.

There was nothing Dustin told us about being required to stand on grass to do the recharge dance, so we tried using the dirt track and the sidewalk next to the bleachers to fully recharge our wands before we had to go to class the next day. It worked without causing too much damage to the surrounding area, but it took almost twice as long, leaving us all in need of a short rest. I was glad I used the dirt track for my dancing space. It made me feel lighter on my feet than I actually was. It also helped that Alberto told me to “just let go” and do what I wanted since he and Sol weren’t following the same steps.

After we finished our business at the athletic field, we all went to Matrix to eat lunch and play a few games of doubles pool. I thought Sol was going to pair up with her new boyfriend, but she chose Violet as her partner and beat me and Alberto in three straight games. It turned out that I wasn’t nearly as good with pool as I was with painting.

At last, it was finally time for us to go home. I exchanged phone numbers with Violet, but not Alberto. I didn’t have anything against him. He looked and sounded like a nice enough guy, but I didn’t want to get in trouble with him or Sol for sending him texts or calling him at inopportune times.

“Thanks for inviting me out, Sol,” I said as we got closer to my house. “It was nice to finally get to meet some of your friends.”

“Sure thing,” said Sol. “Now you’ve gotta introduce me to some of yours sometime.”

“You’ll have to catch me on my next shift, then. Wednesday morning.”

Sol laughed. “We’ll see. Anyway, my friends and I are going to head back to my place for a little while. Good luck with your first day of class!”

“Thanks. Drive safely, now!”

A simple “you too” wouldn’t have made sense for me to say even if Sol was going to join me at Silverthorne. The best I could hope for was that she didn’t mess up her mother’s car on her way home.

I felt like I’d prepared myself physically, if not mentally, for my first day at Lillian’s school. Now all I needed to do was write a 100-dollar check to make it official.

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