Chapter 9: Thorny Issue

Of the many lessons I learned from Sybil and the other managers at Ada’s, always making yourself available to help others was at the top of the priority list. The other important lesson was to give the customers enough space to find what they were looking for and let them come to you if they had any questions. This guy, whoever he was, was clearly violating both of those rules. When I turned around, he was standing so close to me that I could almost see every individual hair on his mustache.

Not wanting to be rude or knock down the bookshelf behind me, I stepped to my left to put a bit of space between us.

“Actually…” I started to say before another sneeze came on.

The man went to his front counter and ripped off two sheets of brown paper towel and handed them to me to blow in. The towels were rough on my nose, but it was certainly better than using my arm as a tissue.

“As I was saying… Is there a way you could open a window or a vent or something? It’s kinda stuffy in here.”

The man gestured toward another young man in a polo shirt with the store’s logo over his right breast and ordered him to flick a switch along the wall near the corner window, causing several ceiling vents to open up and circulate fresh air into the room. I took a deep breath and tried to soak it all up, but a few stray dust particles got into my throat and made me cough. No ventilation system was perfect, and I figured that was as good as things were going to get, being on the second floor of a shopping building at all. Complaining about it any further was just going to be a waste of time.

“Okay, what else do you want?” he asked quickly.

“I’d like to buy a magic wand, please.”

“May I see your ID card first?”

I followed the man to the front counter and gave him my photo ID card. He couldn’t verify the information right away because the other worker was at the register, ringing up Lydia for a jar of reddish-orange powder labeled “dragon’s breath” and an accompanying recipe book. From the name alone, I imagined she was going to try to make something hot and spicy with it when she got home, hoping her and Sol’s taste buds could handle it.

While the clerk checked my ID, I took a closer look at the wands on the wall behind him. A few of them had the same citrine gemstones on them as the one in my pocket, and others were tipped with garnet, amethyst, aquamarine, and other precious stones. I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to get for Sol. I assumed that they all could cast the same spells with the same intensity and efficiency, and that picking the “right” wand was simply a matter of personal preference.

“Looks like your record’s clean. That’s good,” the clerk said. “Now, let me see your hands.”

I was afraid someone was going to ask me that eventually.

After taking a deep breath, I removed my gloves and showed my enchanter’s sign to the clerk. Even though he wasn’t touching my hands, I could feel the hole in my palm tingling again.

“What in the— How in the world did you get that?”

The moment the clerk saw the hole in my hand, he jumped back a few inches, almost bumping into the wands behind him.

“It was an accident,” I said. It didn’t do much to calm him down.

“What would you need a second wand for? Wouldn’t you much rather have one of our fine jewelcrafting kits?” he begged. “You could turn a nice profit with them! Plus, they’re not that expensive…or dangerous.”

“No thanks. I’d just like to buy one of your wands, if you don’t mind. I promised a friend I’d buy one for her.”

“Is this ‘friend’ of yours with you right now? I want to make sure these wands don’t fall into the wrong hands before I sell them.”

I spotted Sol standing by the bookshelves and asked her to join me at the counter. She had a thin book tucked under her arm entitled Charms, Chants, and Cantrips: Simple Spells for Aspiring Wizards and Witches.

“Check this out, Deanna!” she said as she flipped to the middle of the book to show me a picture of the basic “Lift” spell. “I recognize some of the spells in this book from my notes. Do you think you could pick this up, too?”

“In a minute, Sol,” I said to her.

Sol plopped the book on the counter, and it landed loudly enough to get the clerk’s attention. The two glared and frowned at each other, exchanging tense greetings. I was ready to continue my line of questioning, but Sol beat me to what I was about to ask next.

“Um, why didn’t you tell me about needing to touch a wand’s crystal before I could use it?” she asked.

“You didn’t ask,” he replied.

“Yeah, I did.”

“You only asked me how to charge the wand. You never asked me what you needed to do to activate it. Two totally different things. From the look of your friend’s hand, it seems she figured that part out before you did.”

Sol gritted her teeth and massaged her temple with her left hand. “Don’t remind me.”

“However,” the clerk said, turning his attention back to me, “it looks like you went overboard here. All you had to do was press or grip lightly on your crystal. See this?”

The man laid his right hand on the counter with his palm facing upward, showing us an orange flame symbol nestled underneath his index and middle fingers. “This is what an enchanter’s sign should look like when applied properly,” he continued.

I was amazed by the detail in the line work on the man’s sign. Considering how much pain I was in after getting jabbed by my wand and my doorknob and only coming away with some small dots and lines, I could only imagine that getting a shape that complex tattooed on his hand must have hurt like hell…or worse.

There was something else unusual about the sign, other than its unnaturally smooth shape. Something shiny and pink appeared to be pulsing around it, like highlights or shading on a picture. Mine was too small for me to clearly notice any change in color. I could see it in the wands behind him, too. What did it mean? What was causing it?

I went to check my pocket to see if my wand was having the same reaction, but the clerk got agitated and pointed a finger at me. “Hey-hey-hey-hey! Put your hands where I can see them,” he ordered.

Realizing my mistake, I quickly apologized and put both of my hands on the counter to show him that I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. Whether or not I actually could was a different story.

Just then, I heard someone rattling a paper bag right behind me.

“Hey, Dustin! I got some extra beef jerky from the store. Want some?”

It was a bit early for lunch, but the thought of a quick snack was making me hungry. I dug into my pocket again – the one with my wallet, not my wand – and turned around, holding out hope that the holder of the bag had enough jerky for three or more.

It turned out to be the same blue cloak-wearing woman I saw at Ada’s the other day. She wore it a bit more loosely this time on account of it only being partially cloudy outside. Only the top button under her hood was buttoned, revealing a light blue halter top and matching skirt that fell just beyond her knees.

“Yeah, sure. Just set it over there somewhere,” the clerk said, pointing to the other side of his register.

Blue Cloak Lady dropped off a pair of strips of beef jerky from her bag before turning her attention to me and Sol. “You look familiar,” she said, scanning us the same way the guard outside did, except without a metal- and crystal-detecting wand. Curious, Sol looked back at the woman and pointed to herself while asking “Me?” without saying it out loud.

“Not you,” the woman added. “I meant your friend here.”

“Oh, right!” I said, awkwardly chuckling when I realized she did recognize me. “I remember you. How were the ribs?”

“Delicious! Probably the best set I’ve had in years. I can’t say the same for the bread, though.”

Was she still sore about that? I couldn’t tell. She didn’t frown much when she brought the subject up after raving about her ribs.

“What’s she talking about?” Sol whispered to me.

“It’s a bit of an embarrassing story,” I said quietly. “I’d rather not talk about it.”

Our parents appeared ready to leave, with Lydia looking like she was getting the most impatient. “Marisol! Are you almost done?” she called.

“Just give us a few more minutes, Mom!” Sol shouted.

“All right, but hurry up! The meters are still running!”

I didn’t notice Mom or Dad putting any money into any parking meters before we came in, but Sol’s mother had a point. I’d allowed myself to get sidetracked for too long. It was time for us to get what we came for and get out before our cars got ticketed.

“Quick, Sol…which one do you want?” I asked.

It only took a few seconds for Sol to settle on the amethyst wand furthest to the right behind Dustin.

“Could you give me two cases, too?” I asked him just as he was about to take the wand down from the wall shelf. The spellbook on the counter, coupled with the wand and the two protective cases I just bought, cost more than I was willing to spend on this trip, but Sol and I needed to study from real books if we were going to make any progress as witches. I slid a second copy of the Simple Spells book onto the counter, knowing I would have burned through more than half my paycheck until the money from my commission got credited to my account.

“Anything else?” he asked.

Sol grabbed the bag with her wand in it as I paid for my order. “Nope! I think we’re good for now,” she said with a smile.

“All right, then. You girls take care now. Try not to hurt yourselves again.”

Despite Dustin’s dismissive tone, I thanked him for his service. If I didn’t have to travel so far from home to buy all this stuff, I’d come here more often.

As we were about to leave, Blue Cloak Lady looked back in our direction, first at our bags, and then at my right hand again. “I knew it!” she said, slamming her left hand against her right palm.

I scrambled to put my glove back on to cover up my sign. “Knew what?”

“That you had one of these.” The woman held her left hand out and gave me a close-up of her index and middle fingers, which had a zigzag pattern on them just like the one on my palm for some reason. One part of me was excited to confirm my own suspicion of her being a witch. Another part wondered what would happen if she ever needed to be fingerprinted. Would her enchanter’s sign show up on the prints, too?

“No need to be embarrassed,” she assured me. “It’s nice to see someone else around here with such dedication to learning about magic.”

Was that why she was looking at me sideways at Ada’s the other day? Not because I almost messed up her groceries?

“It didn’t really start out that way,” I admitted. “I was walking down to Emerson Park one day and I sort of wandered into it. Marisol here was the one who helped me get started.”

I gave Sol a few taps on the back as she dug into her bag to check out her new belongings. She looked up at the woman in the blue cloak and stood to full attention for a moment, and then relaxed a bit.

“Is that so?” the woman asked.

Sol and I both nodded.

“In that case, if you’ve got some time, why not go and find yourself a tutor? There’s only so much you can learn from reading textbooks alone.”

To our surprise, she reached into her pocket and handed each of us a card with her picture and contact information on it. Inside the fancy woven border, the card read:




I was surprised that this Lillian lady was already teaching magic at such a young age, and even had her own school! Most of the teachers and professors I knew were already well into adulthood. She must have spent a lot of time studying and practicing to make it this far.

“Are you offering to teach us?” I asked.

“Only if you think you can handle it,” she said. “Think it over and call me if you’re interested, and we can set something up.”

“Will I eventually get to learn how to do that bubble thing?”

Lillian blinked rapidly, as if a bug had flown into her eye. “Wait…you saw that?”

“How could I have missed it? I mean, it was a pretty big bubble.”

“Oh… You know, it took me a while to get that spell just right. If we get to it at all, it’ll probably be an intermediate or advanced lesson.”

Our conversation was cut short by Dad calling for us from the entrance. “Deanna! Marisol! You guys almost done?”

“Yeah, Dad! We’ll be right there!”

I turned back to Lillian, nodded, and said, “Sorry…we should probably get going. It was nice meeting you again.”

“Same here. See ya!”

Suddenly, the jerky in Lillian’s bag was shoved to the furthest recesses of my mind. The business card she gave me was far more valuable than any snack I could have bought off her.

When we got back to the car, the first thing I did was put my wand inside my new case, which looked like a cross between a jewel case and a miniature suitcase. It was still too big for me to put in my pocket, but at least the hook on the outside was sturdy enough to hang off my pants without getting knocked off.

As for my new spellbook, it didn’t look anything like the one Sol said Lillian bought the first time she saw her. All this one had on the cover was the title – no fancy pictures, fonts, or borders. It didn’t even tell me who wrote the book. Maybe you were only allowed to get the fancy books after taking some classes. Who knows?

This time, Dad took the lead and guided Lydia back to our house. We still had to go around the same police blockades, but there wasn’t much to look at on the way. There were only one or two squad cars left in each area. It might have been safe to ride through again, but we weren’t willing to risk it.

“Hey, Didi,” Dad said, still looking forward so that he could focus on the road. “Who was that woman you were talking to in the store?”

“Oh! Uh, she was the one I met at Ada’s a couple of days ago,” I said.

“You mean the one in the blue cloak?” Mom asked.

“Yeah! That’s the one.”

“What were you two talking about over there?” Dad asked.

I held up Lillian’s business card so that it was slightly visible in the rear-view mirror. “Something about a magic school of hers.”

Mom took the card and examined it for a few seconds before giving it back to me. “Was she trying to recruit you or something?”

“I think it was more of a suggestion than anything else, really. She didn’t have time to discuss the finer details.”

“Are you sure you want to pay more money to go back to school?” Dad asked. “I mean, you just got your certificate from art school not too long ago, and we’re still trying to pay off your student loans. Besides, how are you going to find time to fit this new hobby into your schedule? Between you selling your paintings at Cherry’s and working at Ada’s part-time, there’s only so much you can do with your time in a week.”

“I’m still trying to figure it out. I haven’t even decided if I want to go to this school yet.”

“We just don’t want you to burn yourself out, Didi. Maybe once you sleep on it, you’ll know whether or not you still want to go. If you do, good. If not, that’s fine, too. If this Lillian Silverthorne is a reputable teacher or mentor or whatever, I’m sure she’ll be considerate enough not to hold it against you if you decide not to go.”

“I sure hope so,” I said, sighing and looking at Lillian’s card one more time before putting it in my wallet.

When we all got back to the house, I started to get hungry again, so I made myself a tuna fish sandwich. Sol sat down at the dining room table and skimmed through her copy of Simple Spells, not saying a word and only occasionally looking up to see if anyone else was watching her. We didn’t know how much longer she and Lydia planned to stay, so Mom offered them both something to eat.

“Do you have any tomatoes?” Lydia asked as she followed Mom into the kitchen. “I just got a great idea for a recipe.”

“I think I might have a few,” Mom said. “Marisol, do you want anything to take home with you?”

“Some cookies, I guess,” Marisol replied.

“I have some oatmeal raisin cookies here. Is that okay?”

“Yeah, that’ll do.”

I sat down next to Sol and watched her eyes dart back and forth as she continued to read her spellbook. I hadn’t seen anyone so engrossed in a textbook before, even in high school or art college.

“So, did you do it yet?” I asked.

“Do what?”

“You know…’get signed’.” I demonstrated by pinching my two front fingers and thumb together, pretending there was a magic crystal between them.

Sol looked up at me and shook her head. “I was about to do it, but then Mom told me to put the wand away and wait until we got back to the apartment.”

I hadn’t thought of the safety issues that would have been raised if Sol tried to release her energy into a moving vehicle. Sure, it would have been much safer to rest one’s hand on a cloth or leather seat cover, but what if she grabbed the doorknob or locks instead? Would they break off?

With those questions on my mind, I looked at my copy of the Simple Spells book for answers. As a beginner’s spell manual, the first few pages after the foreword showed how to safely touch a crystal to break its seal, but it didn’t give any further details on what surfaces were “safe” to touch in order to create an enchanter’s sign without getting hurt. I started to think the reason Dr. Keller knew about these signs was because a lot of people who had them, like me, forgot to read the manual first and just touched any old thing they could find.

Lydia emerged from the kitchen carrying a half-dozen tomatoes in one plastic bag and four of Mom’s oatmeal raisin cookies in a smaller bag. “Wow…you girls certainly aren’t wasting any time on your studies,” she said. “Come on, Marisol. Pack your things up and let’s go.”

“Yes, Mom,” Sol said, slapping her book shut and tossing it into her bag. She started to get up from her seat when I, maybe a little hastily, motioned for her to sit back down, causing her mother to give me a mean look.

“Before you guys go,” I said, “can I show you something for a quick moment?”

“Sure,” Lydia said.

I rushed upstairs to my bedroom to grab my painting of Sol. When I came back downstairs, she and her mother were watching TV in the living room with Dad.

“What do you have there?” Lydia asked.

“It’s a painting I’ve been working on,” I said, turning the canvas around to show them the actual painting. “What do you think?”

They passed the painting around, with each of them nodding and smiling to various degrees. Sol showed the least excitement out of the three of them, probably to signal to her mother that she’d already seen it.

“Very impressive!” Lydia said. “I especially like the colors on the rays coming out of the wand.”

“Thanks!” I said.

“How much do you want for it?”

“I wasn’t really planning on selling it, to be honest…”

“Name your price, and I’ll pay it,” she said a little more forcefully.

“That’s okay, Miss Lydia. I couldn’t–“

I looked over at Dad, who was silently mouthing at me to “take the money”. I knew I needed as much money as I could get, especially after buying all that stuff at the Blank Scroll. But I couldn’t do it…not after Sol paid for the wand she eventually gave me. If I took the money, it would feel like I was breaking my promise and making them pay for both wands. It seemed Lydia was dead-set on buying my painting, though.

“Are you sure?” she asked as she dug through her purse.

“Yeah. You guys can have it.”

“You mean it?” Sol asked.

“I probably wouldn’t have even thought of the Blank Scroll if you hadn’t introduced me to it, Sol, so this is my way of saying ‘thank you’,” I said, handing the painting to her. “Well, that and the wand, of course.”

“Awesome! You’re the best, Deanna!”

Sol took me by surprise when she put the painting aside and jumped off the couch to give me a hug. I probably would have done the same if someone else had given me two free gifts worth more than 100 dollars.

“Hey, Mom!” she said. “Where do you think would be a good place to hang this? The living room? The kitchen?”

“We’ll figure something out,” her mother replied.

Lydia got up from the couch and slung her purse over her right shoulder, shaking Dad’s hand vigorously. “It was a pleasure meeting all of you,” she said, “but I think it’s time for Marisol and I to get going now.”

“It was nice meeting you, as well,” Dad said.

A few seconds after Lydia pulled out her car keys, Mom came out of the kitchen, eating a bowl of salad. “Oh, are you guys leaving already?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Lydia said. “Maybe you guys could come down to our apartment one day for some food and drinks?”

“I’d love to!”

“Looking forward to it,” I said.

As we all said our goodbyes to Lydia and Sol, I already wondered when they were going to invite us down for our next meeting, and what kinds of food and drinks they would have in store for us. I bet one of them would include some of that “dragon’s breath” powder she bought at the store…

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