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Friday afternoon. The end of another long week of fourth grade.
The principal hadn't called Mike's parents. Not even once. Mike had earned two green tickets for being a good citizen of his classroom, and no red tickets for poor choices. He'd finished his homework on time and sat through the Friday spelling test. But man, was he tired. And it felt like he was getting a cold. Mike didn't know how Nora, his next-door neighbor, handled being a model student week after week. Maybe it was easier if you were a genius.
The car slowed down and Mike's mom pulled into a parking spot just as a bleep announced she had a new text. "Why don't you go on without me?" she said to Mike. "I'll be there in a second."
Good thing, because he couldn't wait much longer. He'd been counting the hours since Monday. His reward for a smooth week? A trip to The White Rabbit, the local magic shop. To Mike, it was better than a ride on a roller coaster. Better than a week of snow days. Better than an ice-cream sundae! He practically ran to the door.
Anyone walking into The White Rabbit for the first time might think it was an antiques shop or a flea market. That's what Mike had thought, anyway. It was full of dusty furniture and things you might find in someone's attic after they died. All that stuff was sort of awesomely mysterious. But the best part about The White Rabbit was a little room, hidden in the back. It was full of equipment for magic tricks!
It turned out that the owner of The White Rabbit, Mr. Zerlin, was a magician. Did that mean he was a guy who could do tricks? Or a guy who had magic powers? Mike still didn't know. But there was one thing he knew for sure. For some reason, Mr. Zerlin was convinced that he—Mike!—could be a magician too. It was like some sixth sense allowed Mr. Zerlin to see something special about him. No wonder Mike was grinning as the door shut behind him.
"Hey, Mike!" said a teenager behind the counter. Carlos was here most afternoons. You'd call it a part-time job, except it wasn't like any job Mike had ever heard of. Mostly what Carlos did was play with the magic stuff, show it off for customers, and practice new tricks.
Mike's smile grew even bigger. Carlos knew his name now!
"Want to see something cool?" Carlos asked. "I just can't figure this out."
He came out from behind the counter and walked to a nearby table. Carlos wiped the dust off with the arm of his sweatshirt. Then he put his right hand down horizontally on the table, fingers facing toward the left. Slowly, he began to twist the hand toward his body.
"Okay…" said Mike. He didn't get it. Carlos wasn't doing anything unusual at all.
"I bet you can do that," Carlos admitted. "But can you do this? I'm pretty sure this isn't normal. Maybe I'm double-jointed or something—I don't know."
Mike knew a kid who was double-jointed. He didn't know what that meant, exactly, except that the kid could bend his thumb all the way back until it touched his wrist. He did it on purpose, to freak people out.
So he watched as Carlos kept twisting his hand, a little more slowly. It was facing toward the right now. It looked like it hurt, but Carlos kept twisting. And twisting. And twisting … until the hand went all the way around, like a hand on a clock. There was a terrible cracking sound while he did it. That double-jointed kid couldn't do anything like this! No one could—outside of a horror movie.
Carlos stood up and shook his hand in the air. "Ugh," he said. "Hurts like crazy. Can you believe that?"
A part of Mike knew that Carlos had fooled him. It was impossible, what he did! But Mike loved that moment when he wasn't sure, when he didn't know how a magic trick worked.
"Great effect!" said Mike. That was how magicians gave each other a compliment.
Then he sort of stood there, waiting. Hoping.
Outside The White Rabbit, Carlos would never tell how the effect worked. That was an important part of being a magician: keeping the secrets secret. Inside the store, though, magicians shared their tips and tricks all the time. Mr. Zerlin had taught Mike some illusions step by step. Maybe Carlos would teach him, too?
But no. The phone rang and Carlos ran for it and Mike tried not to be disappointed.
His mom came in with a paper cup from the coffee shop across the street. "Did you find anything you want to buy?" she asked.
"Not yet," said Mike. "I haven't even started looking!" That was when he headed for the room in the back. His mom wouldn't get him anything too expensive, he knew, but she'd be good for a new deck of cards. Or maybe a wand. It was just so hard to choose! If Mr. Zerlin were here, he might be able to help. But Mike didn't see him anywhere.
While Mike poked around, his mom stayed in the front of the shop, peering into a case of old jewelry. Carlos was moving furniture, trying to make some space in the middle of the floor. After a while, he set up some folding chairs. Mike could hear them clanking together.
"So, are you guys coming tomorrow?" Carlos asked Mrs. Weiss.
"What's happening tomorrow?" Mike's mom said.
"At three o'clock, we're having a special show by a visiting magician," Carlos replied. "An expert in transformations."
That was turning one thing into another, Mike remembered. Like a blue silk handkerchief into a red one. Or an eight of clubs into a six of hearts. He didn't know how to do that yet. He wished he knew how to do that. But the Weisses were busy tomorrow.
"We have other plans," he heard his mom say. "Sorry, but we just can't make it. Maybe another time." Mike didn't even get a chance to speak for himself.
It was his grandma's birthday. She was coming for dinner with his aunt and uncle and cousins. A pair of tiny twins. Okay, it wasn't as bad as it sounded. Mike didn't have brothers or sisters, so his cousins were the next best thing. Plus he was crazy about his grandma. But he wanted to see the magician, and he knew there was no chance it would ever happen now. His parents always made a big deal out of birthdays.
He picked out a trick he hadn't learned yet—a set of blue cups and red foam balls—and walked glumly toward the counter to pay. Carlos was still chatting with his mom. "Supposed to get cold tonight," Carlos said, almost like he was a grown-up.
Carlos was just a kid, though. He came to The White Rabbit on his bike after school. He wasn't even old enough to drive.
Suddenly, Mike thought of something. If Carlos could do that, maybe he could do it, too. Ride his bike into town, all by himself. He'd had one good week, right? If he had a few more good weeks, maybe his mom and dad would trust him to come to The White Rabbit on his own.
If he was ever going to be a magician, he couldn't wait around for his parents, right? The more Mike thought about it, the more he was convinced. If he had his way, he'd never miss another magic show again. He'd be a regular at the shop. In no time, Carlos would be sharing secrets with him, too!
Mike turned around and walked back into the magic room. He'd get those cups and balls another time. Today, there was something else he needed.
On one shelf there was a little section of stuff that was supposed to bring you good luck. Mike bent down to take a close look at what was there. Four-leaf clovers. Horseshoes. There were even some rabbit's foot keychains.… Not so lucky for the rabbits, Mike thought. But whatever.
The horseshoe was small enough to stick in the pocket of his backpack, but big enough so it wouldn't get lost. Mike knew, because he lost stuff all the time.
"Ready?" his mom said as soon as she spotted him. She was at the counter with her wallet.
"Ready," said Mike. Ready to leave, since he had to. But mostly ready to work on his plan: becoming the new Mike. Like the Mike he'd been all week … only better. Mature, responsible, totally trustworthy.
He'd need all the good luck he could get.
Text copyright © 2014 by Kate Egan and Mike Lane
Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Eric Wight