Once the steaks were ready, Dad called us to the dinner table to join hands in prayer. It was customary for us to pray silently when we were the only ones eating, and pray out loud whenever Grandpa Rupert, Grandma Shenelle, or Uncle Lamont and Aunt Monica came to visit. However, we hadn’t eaten dinner with anyone in our extended family since the last Dawn Festival, so Mom blessed the table on their behalf.
Mom prodded me to tell Dad about the woman in the blue cloak. She told me it was because they were interested in hearing about my work day, but I thought I was because they didn’t have anything interesting to say about their own work days this time. There was little I could tell Dad about Blue Cloak Lady other than her appearance and her unusual ability to defy the day’s weather report.
“Is this girl some kind of storm chaser or something?” Dad asked. “She’s probably gonna wake up with one hell of a cold tomorrow.”
“I think she’ll be fine,” I said.
I continued to eat my steak by cutting it up into portions small enough to fit on my fork. Each bite I took felt even juicier this way. I really needed to figure out this secret and steal it from him.
Dad let me help him wash the dishes after we were done. There was something weird about watching some of the soapy sink water pool into my right hand. I expected it to have some kind of reaction to my hand doodles, but nothing seemed to happen.
After drying my hands off, I went back upstairs to continue practicing lifting, heating and cooling random objects in my room until I had a good idea how to do each gesture without looking at Sol’s sheet first. I started taking notes of my own using a blank notebook I stored on my bookshelf. Perhaps drawing sketches of the spells in action was going overboard a bit, but I found that visual depictions just seemed to work better for me than trying to read blocks of text.
I waited for a few more hours until I was sure Sol was finished with her class before calling her back.
“Hello?” Sol answered the phone with a muted sigh. At least I knew she was still awake.
“Hey, it’s me, Deanna,” I said. “You okay over there, Sol?”
“Just tired, that’s all.”
“Class got you worn out, huh?”
There was a short pause, and then another sigh. I imagined Sol drooping her head and nodding.
“What kind of class are you taking?” I asked. “Creative writing? Woodworking? Computer training?”
That would have been my next guess. It probably should have been my first, considering how we met.
“That’s good. Why so late at night, though?”
“It’s the only time I could get an instructor,” Sol said. “She only works on Wednesdays and Fridays, so I can at least get some time off to practice on my own. The only downside is that the classes are really long.”
I knew the feeling. I had never taken night classes in college, but whenever I got assigned to a night shift at work, it always felt twice as long as my day shifts, even when it wasn’t. I wouldn’t even bother hanging out downstairs when I was done – I’d just rush to my bedroom, take off my uniform, and go to bed.
“Anyway, you said you saw someone at work today, right? Who was it?”
I rolled over on my stomach to make myself comfortable. Not that it made any difference, since Sol couldn’t see what I was doing. “I think I spotted another witch.”
“Really?” Sol’s voice perked up almost instantly. “What did she look like?”
“She had brown hair, brown eyes, and this blue cloak that might actually have been a raincoat, but I couldn’t tell because it never got wet. She didn’t look very tall…maybe an inch or two taller than me, and a few inches taller than you. If I had to guess how old she was, I’d say she was in her late 20’s, or early 30’s.”
“Wait a minute… Did you say you saw a woman in a blue cloak?”
“Yeah,” I said, bracing myself for a startling revelation.
“I think I may have seen her before,” Sol said. “No, wait… I did see her before! I’m sure of it!”
Sol told me that on the day she visited the Blank Scroll, she saw Blue Cloak Lady at the counter purchasing a wand just like the one she eventually bought, except it had a light blue crystal instead of a golden one. The woman also bought a hardcover book that was about half the size of a notebook and had a picture of a cluster of stars on the front cover. She and the cashier appeared to be very chummy with one another, and he even let her leaf through the book before buying it to make sure none of the pages were missing.
“I thought you said these wands didn’t come with manuals, Sol,” I reminded her.
“I’m not lying!” she insisted. “That witch girl had to pay for the wand and the book separately. From the look of it, I think she paid almost 200 dollars for the set.”
“200 dollars?! I barely spend a fraction of that on my art supplies every month! It’s no wonder you only bought the wand.”
“I thought that was all I needed. After I bought it, I asked the guy behind the counter how to power it up, and that’s when he told me about the dance.”
“And he didn’t tell you that you had to touch the crystal before you did the dance?”
I needed to have a talk with this Blank Scroll proprietor and ask him why he withheld such crucial information.
“Hey, Sol, what’s the rest of your week look like?” I asked.
“I’m free tomorrow, but I have another dance class Friday night,” she replied. “Why? You want to go somewhere?”
“Yeah. I get paid on Friday, so I’d like to go down to the Scroll and help you get your wand. Will you be available this weekend?”
“I think so.”
“Great! Hope to see you soon. Bye!”
I forgot to tell Sol that I didn’t know exactly where Coral Street was. I figured she wouldn’t care since it was easy for me to look on a map for the store’s rough location. Unfortunately, getting to the Blank Scroll meant having to go back toward St. Gabriel. At least the fastest route wouldn’t force me to take the highway and crawl through traffic. Either way, I felt as if I’d be better off learning how to fly or teleport there and save myself a lot of frustration.
As excited as I was about visiting a real magic shop for the first time, I had to stop for a moment and think about everything I just said. Magic, witches, crystals, and scrolls – all of it sounded like it came straight out of some old fantasy cartoon or movie. And here I was not only witnessing it, but living it! I was one of those witches. I was the one with the sparkly magic wand. And soon, I was going to enter a shop with a name that sounded like it belonged on a tavern sign. If I tried to explain all of this to one of my past selves, she would probably look at me like I was speaking a foreign language.
I tried to force myself not to dwell on it any longer. I was getting tired, and there was work for me to do the next morning.
I slowly got up from bed a little after six o’clock, wishing that my day would be totally normal. No magic, no witches, and no other weird supernatural stuff. I needed a break.
Mom and Dad were still asleep, so I tiptoed downstairs to eat breakfast and try to read part of one of the military thrillers Dad bought at a flea market last summer. I don’t know if I ever saw him read any of those books before. Each one had to be at least five hundred pages long, maybe even more. It looked like it would take a full season’s worth of continuous reading just to get halfway through. At least the aircraft carrier on the spine made it look nice on the bookshelf.
Dad was the next to come downstairs, with Mom following closely behind. It felt like the best time to ask one of them to take me out to Coral Street while they were still energized and in a relatively good mood.
But I couldn’t do it. It was too soon. I promised myself my day was going to be normal and I was going to stick to it.
I joined them in the living room while they ate their breakfast bagels and watched the morning news, but didn’t say anything about my plans. I couldn’t even look at my hands without being reminded of my witch-hood. One was faintly glowing, and the other was sweating. And now my mother was staring. Wonderful.
“Didi, honey? Is everything okay?” Mom asked.
“Yeah, Mom, I’m fine!” I said, perhaps a bit too quickly to quell any suspicion to the contrary.
Mom leaned over to her left side and wrapped her arm around me, pulling me in for a quick cuddle. For a moment, I felt a little bit of my anxiety melt away. “If there’s anything you need to ask from us, don’t be afraid to let us know. But make it quick… Your father and I have to leave for work soon.”
And just like that, it came creeping back.
“Uh… Is it okay if I tell you guys after work?” I asked.
“Why not now?” Dad countered. “We’re right here.”
“It’s really not that important.”
Dad shrugged. “All right, if you say so.”
They finished their bagels at around the same time. Mom went to the kitchen to wash their dishes while Dad checked the mirror to brush his hair and fix the collar on his shirt. I waited for him to finish so that I could look at my own hair in the mirror. I felt like I was long overdue for a haircut. Either that, or get some curls.
By the time I was done brushing my own hair, Mom and Dad were ready to head out. “Have a good day at work, Didi,” they said as we gathered for a group hug.
“I’ll try,” was all I could say in response. Saying “I will” would have implied there was no way anything could go wrong. There was always a chance I’d have to deal with some dissatisfied customer or an annoying co-worker, or worse. Fortunately, moments like that were rare where I worked, or at least it looked that way since there were so many customers. I was going to give it my best effort regardless.
Just before I headed off to work, I looked up at the sky to see if I’d need my umbrella again. Some of the clouds were fluffy and white, and others were loosely formed clusters of gray, with occasional bits of light blue peeking out. I didn’t know which side would eventually win out, and I doubted that even the sky knew what it wanted to do, either. I figured it was better to stay prepared and have nothing happen over hoping it would stay dry when I went in to work, only for the rain to come back in full force in the afternoon.
When I went to the break room to put my jacket and lunch down, I saw my shift manager, Sybil Armstead, writing something on the scheduling sheet.
“Good morning, boss,” I said as I sat down in one of the chairs.
Sybil was used to most of us either calling her “boss” or “Sybil”. I didn’t feel comfortable addressing her by her first name because she was a few years older than my mother. I made the mistake of calling her “Miss Armstead” after I first got hired, and she wouldn’t let me hear the end of it for the rest of the day. She turned around to acknowledge me, but she didn’t smile or frown. All I saw was a look of cold indifference on her face. Sybil was only about an inch taller than me, but I still noticed how her shoulders drooped as she looked my way. “Hi, Deanna,” she said, the words not so much coming out of her mouth as dribbling out of it and spilling onto the carpet.
“Is everything okay? Did you sleep well last night?”
“I don’t really want to talk about it.”
Rather than risk getting punished for criticizing my boss’ sleeping habits, I tried to steer the conversation on-topic by pointing to my name on the scheduling board, which had been scribbled out from the register logs.
“By the way, Deanna,” Sybil said, picking herself up slightly, “I’m moving you to shelf duty today.”
I nodded quietly. It seemed like harmless enough work – unpack pallets and put newly-arrived products on the shelves while taking down anything that was damaged or outdated. If nothing else, it would give me a chance to get some much-needed exercise.
“I noticed you were a little out of sorts yesterday,” she added. “Do you mind telling me what it was outside that you found so interesting that you nearly turned your back on a shoplifter?”
How’d she find out about that?! I didn’t see her anywhere near the registers. Did Ken squeal on me? No…he couldn’t have. That would have implicated him, as well. He looked first, after all. The security camera footage would prove it.
What was I supposed to tell her? That there really was a lady out there who walked through a rainstorm without getting wet, and the would-be thief was probably as surprised as everybody else when he saw it? There was no way she would buy that!
“Anyway, I’m only switching you over for a couple of days. You can go back to bagging next week once you’ve got your focus back. Understood?”
I took a deep breath and sighed. If I exhaled any further, I feared I might melt. “Yes, boss,” I said with my remaining breath.
“Great. You can start in aisle six and work your way up from there. Don’t let me down, Deanna.”
I tried to straighten myself up after I left the break room. It wasn’t that I was intimidated by Sybil. I didn’t want to look tired in front of her or the customers when I really wasn’t. It was bad for business – theirs and mine.
There was a pallet full of boxes of cereal waiting for me in aisle six. Cereal had a pretty long shelf life compared to a lot of goods in the store, so there wasn’t much for me to put in the basket for outdated products. The hardest and most tedious part was getting the new cereals behind the rest of the ones in each stack. Pushing and pulling everything into place felt like unnecessary busywork.
The next aisle over was the pet care aisle. It was full of large, heavy bags of dog and cat food, with the occasional can of bird seed or fish food for variety. The newer bags were bound together by a few thick layers of cellophane. I had to use my hands instead of the store-issued box cutters to remove the cellophane to avoid ripping any of the bags open and spilling food or cat litter all over the place.
I took another deep breath and continued my work, moving past the greeting card section and entering the laundry and cleaning goods section. I felt like I was doing good so far, but it was getting harder to concentrate on my work with the strong fragrances coming from all of the detergents. I had to step away from the aisle for a few minutes to get some fresh air before going back to work, taking shallow breaths and moving as quickly as possible to get everything done before moving on.
While I was working, I noticed that nobody approached me to ask for help or strike up a conversation. I knew the store pretty well and would have been happy to direct any customers to where they wanted to go. Sybil didn’t come by to check on me, so I could only guess how much more work I needed to do before I was finished. I couldn’t even get in touch with Randy or Sol on my lunch break because they were both busy with other things.
By the time the second half of my shift started, I had grown accustomed to working on my own. The shopping traffic was much less dense on the floor than at the checkout lines, which meant there were fewer opportunities for distractions. I hadn’t completely forgotten about the Jacket Guy incident, but it didn’t weigh very heavily on my mind throughout the day.
I began thinking about my reassignment less as a punishment and more as an opportunity to once again see the store as the customers saw it – merchandise first, checkout lanes last. If everything was organized properly and people like me remained focused on our jobs as clerks, then more customers would be inclined to shop at Ada’s.
When my shift was almost over, I got called into Sybil’s second-floor office, which I had to enter through an “Employees Only” door next to the break room. She was looking out one of the one-way mirrors along the front wall, giving her a good view of most of the store floor. It was much easier for her to see everything going on through those mirrors than it was to review the security camera footage from the monitors on her desk. As I approached the mirror wall, Sybil turned to me and cracked a half-smile. She looked like she had life in her again. “Impressive, isn’t it?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I mumbled. “Do you wonder if anyone can see you from up here?”
“You probably could, if you stared hard enough.”
Sybil walked over to her desk and pulled out a green padded chair. Judging by the sound she made when she sat in it, it couldn’t have been very comfortable.
“Anyway,” she said, squirming as she tried to sit upright, “I wanted to commend you on a job well done. You kept your focus, and you got all of your aisles looking nice.”
“Thanks, boss,” I replied. “Does this mean I’ll get to go back to bagging tomorrow?”
“Weren’t you listening to me earlier, Deanna?”
At that moment, I thought Sybil was going to jump back out of her seat, but she merely raised her right hand in protest. “Just because you had one good shift doesn’t mean I’m going to put you back on bagging duty right away,” she said. “You’re going to have to step outside your comfort zone every once in a while if you want to grow.”
“Is that why you paired me with Ken yesterday instead of, say…Corey?” I asked.
“Sort of. I wouldn’t have done it if Randy hadn’t hurt himself.”
I started wondering if Sybil had given Ken a similar pep talk, or was planning to do so at some point. I couldn’t see him anywhere from behind the mirrors, so I figured she must have given him the day off.
When I left Sybil’s office, the crowd had thinned out a bit. The other cashiers braced themselves for the after-school rush that usually followed.
As if right on cue, a few yards after I stepped out of the store, I brushed past a group of schoolchildren on their way to Ada’s and the nearby Dollar Shack, chatting among themselves about buying some candy and packs of trading cards. I only had a few dollars left in my wallet after buying my new umbrella, which was just barely enough to buy a bag of potato chips, but not much else. It didn’t feel like it was worth it to stand in line just for that, so I went straight home.
Dad hadn’t returned from work yet, so it was up to me to retrieve the handfuls of letters from our mailbox. Most of them were bills, but one of the letters – the only one addressed to me – was from Cherry’s Consignments. I was so excited to open it up that I almost forgot about the small package wedged between the front door and the screen door.
Tucking the package and the mail underneath my arm, I unlocked the door and dumped all of the letters on the table, keeping the Cherry’s letter for myself. I wasted little time tearing the envelope open with my key, fully confident that I knew what was inside – a check for thirty-seven dollars and fifty cents for selling my painting of “The Sword”. It even came with a small postcard signed by Mr. Cherry and his son congratulating me on my first sale, which I thought was a nice touch. Sadly, I couldn’t write my own thank-you note to the person who bought the painting because the buyer’s contact information wasn’t included on the receipt that came with the check.
I turned my attention to the package, which was also addressed to me. I had a feeling I knew what was inside this one as well, but Dad came in before I could open it.
“Hey, Didi!” he said, muttering something else too quiet for me to hear as he saw the pile of bills on the table. “How’d your day at work go?”
“Good,” I said. It was technically true in that nothing bad happened at work. It was a perfectly ordinary day, just as I had hoped. “But not as good as when I got this!”
I held the check up and stretched it a couple of times to show Dad that it was real. It seemed silly to get excited over a couple of dollars when I was only a day away from receiving a paycheck from Ada’s that regularly paid a lot more money than the Cherry’s check, but I couldn’t help myself. “I got my first commission check today!” I sang.
“That’s awesome, sweetie!” Dad said. “You should do more like that one. I’m sure the Cherrys would love to see more of your work.”
“I’m thinking about it, but I haven’t decided what I’m going to paint next. I just need a little more time.”
Dad tore through the pile of mail one letter at a time, tossing aside anything that vaguely looked like a subscription or donation appeal. I thought one or two of them had my name on them, but there were so many letters that I couldn’t tell for sure.
When I opened the package containing the black gloves I ordered, I didn’t get the same rush of excitement that I felt when I opened the Cherry’s check – just the satisfaction that they’d arrived on time and felt comfortable on my hands. It was the first time I’d consciously thought about my witch powers since leaving for work. Discovering a new hobby was cool and all, but I just didn’t want it to be all I talked about after discovering it.
I waited for Dad to run the junk mail pile through a paper shredder before approaching him with my question. “Dad… Can I go to Coral Street this weekend?”
“Coral Street? Why do you want to go all the way out there?”
“Well, Marisol told me about this shop, see,” I said, my voice fluttering like a butterfly. “She says it’s got all of these different kinds of magic things there, and I just wanted to go and take a look around, you know?”
“Oh. Well, if that’s all you wanted, you could have told me this morning,” he said. “We can go scope it out if you want.”
When Mom came in, I told her the good news about my check. She also seemed keen about the idea of going up to Coral Street, mainly because she had never visited that part of town before.
“Don’t you want to go and visit the bank first?” she asked. “That check won’t do you any good sitting there on the coffee table like that.”
I quickly picked up the check, folded it up and stuffed it in my pocket, pretending that was my plan all along.