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Just a Regular Saturday Night, Except for All the Witches
It was a chilly Saturday night at the tail end of spring break, and Jenah and I were sitting at Blue Moon Pizza, watching Devon’s band play.
Well, we had been watching Devon’s band play. The pizza place wasn’t exactly the classiest venue. The band had stopped to deal with a power cord that kept falling out of the wall socket. One of the college kids who staffed the place was getting a longer cord to run to the outlet in the restroom.
“Wait wait wait, Cam,” Jenah was saying. “You turned him into what?”
“Hush!” I said, waving my packet of Parmesan at her. “I don’t want everyone to know.”
“That you turned him into a—”
“An anything. You know I don’t want anyone to know I’m a witch.”
“And especially not—”
“A witch who turned her boyfriend into a turnip. Yes. That.”
A bubble of laughter escaped Jenah, but she immediately put on a serious face again. “Cross my heart,” she said. And then ruined it by adding, “Hope to die; turn me into a turnip if I lie.”
Jenah is my best friend. She’s tiny and Chinese American and she marches to the beat of a fashion drummer that only she can hear. Today she was wearing a vintage electric-green dress with silver tights.
She’s also one of the only people in the world who knows that I live with a mostly wicked witch, and that I’m a very reluctant witch in training. See, 99 percent of all witches are horrible, miserable people who treat people like animals and animals like ingredients. So if I’m going to—maybe, possibly—be a witch, then I have to go down a different path. A good path. An ethical path.
And somehow not turn my boyfriend into a turnip while doing it.
“It’s a different world,” I grumbled as I tried to tear open my Parmesan. “You don’t have to deal with people who have problems that maybe you can fix.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Devon’s been dealing with on-again, off-again stage fright for a while. You know.”
“Like the time when he forgot all the lyrics to his songs except for the bit about the butter?”
“That was because of some wicked witches casting spells on him.”
“Still. The point is, I know a spell that can help with stage fright. But I’m not going to use it, since it contains animal parts. So, the last few months I’ve been researching vegetarian replacements. Finally I tried the finished spell on him, and…”
“I’m sure he appreciates it,” said Jenah. “Except maybe the ready-to-be-put-in-stew part.”
The packet finally opened, scattering Parmesan everywhere. I stared at it glumly. “I should just give up,” I said. “Then we could have an actual date night instead of me frantically trying to humanize a root vegetable.”
“I’m sure you’ll solve it eventually,” said Jenah. “I bet you’re already working on a new version of the spell.”
“I am, but…”
“See? You’ll get there. You worry too much.” She neatly scraped the cheese off her pizza and took a bite of tomato sauce crust.
Despite her show of confidence in me, I frowned at her. “If you have actual power, you have to worry how you use it. Like, what if I do something so bad to him that I can’t fix it? It would be safer if I never experiment on him again.” I brushed the powdered cheese into a pile and reached for a new packet.
“So you finally tried something, and it didn’t work, and now you’re going to give up?” Jenah looked skeptical.
“I don’t want to be a witch. You know that.”
“Maybe I don’t want to be able to read auras, but I can’t turn it off,” said Jenah. “Like in auditions last Friday. I could tell that this other girl was going to flub it because her aura was sickly green. And then she puked, so I was right.”
“Your boy isn’t the only one with stage fright.”
“I don’t need any more people to turn into turnips, thank you.” The new Parmesan packet opened without trouble. I could finally eat.
Jenah rolled her eyes. “The competition can take care of themselves. Now’s the point where you ask me what I’m auditioning for.”
I put down my slice of pizza. “I’m sorry.” I tended to get wrapped up in my own thoughts, especially when they went all doom and gloom and turnip-shaped. “What are you auditioning for?”
Jenah bounced. “Cabaret!”
“Is that the one set in Nazi Germany? About a girl with short hair?”
“Hey, you have short hair.”
“I’m not going to get Sally Bowles,” Jenah said matter-of-factly. “We’re sophomores and the lead is obviously going to a senior. But I am hoping to get one of the Kit Kat dancers. Cast list gets posted Monday.”
“Well. Good luck,” I said, in the hearty way that you cheer someone on about something that is completely incomprehensible to you. I mean, that was okay, though. There were only two people whom I regularly talked to about my home life—Devon and Jenah. Jenah couldn’t really understand what it was like to live with a wicked witch, and I couldn’t really understand why anyone would want to put on a tutu, or whatever it was that Kit Kat dancers wore, and get up in front of people and have them look at you. “It sounds … dance-y.”
“And sing-y,” said Jenah.
“And rehearsally,” I said. “In the theater every afternoon.” Not that I was one to talk. My afternoons were spent doing things like hanging up snakeskins and watering the deadly nightshade.
“You’re thinking about how our lives are diverging,” said Jenah, pointing her pizza crust at me. “When the truth is, they won’t unless you let them.”
“I’m not,” I protested. Jenah’s uncanny skill at reading people frequently discomfited me.
“I’m here for you, and you’re here for me.”
“Even if you’re not a witch,” I agreed. I didn’t know what I’d do without Jenah. But, at the same time, there was so much gap in what I was able to explain to her, to share with her. It often tripped me up.
“You could always go hang out with Sparkle,” Jenah pointed out.
I rolled my eyes. “She may be the only other teenage witch in town, but that doesn’t mean we’ll ever be BFFs again. That ship sailed when we were six.”
Up on stage, Devon’s band was finally ready to resume. The little pizza joint was right near the high school, and it had long been the place where new high school bands could get their feet wet before moving on to book real gigs.
Or, in the case of Devon’s band, allow a shy songwriter a chance to get more confident performing his own material.
Devon was taking the front spot on the tiny plywood stage. I put down my pizza. “This is his song,” I whispered to Jenah.
“And he’s really going to sing it?”
“Knock on wood.”
Devon picked up the mic. “I’m going to sing an old song for you,” he said. “‘Liontamer.’”
I peered around our booth, scanning the dimly lit pizza place. The dinner rush was long gone and most people had cleared out. There was one family finishing up, a booth with a trio of soccer moms, and a couple tables of high schoolers. They were laughing and chatting and not paying any attention to the trio on stage. I turned back around and shouted, “Woo!”
He gave me a small smile. “Roar,” he said into the mic.
Devon is white, with floppy blond hair, and a sweet, shy face. He’d been wrestling with stage fright since before he’d moved to town last October. For a few days, a demon had briefly taken possession of his body, which had given him a crazy amount of cool confidence. But it had quickly been followed by some nasty witches casting spells on him that wrecked his performances, and so his struggle went on.
Nnenna, their drummer, started the opening riff and he launched into the song. “She’s a cool stick of butter…”
The bell over the door clanged and a bunch of guys crowded in, hollering about the college basketball game, their pizza order, and some girl’s party later tonight. Devon trailed off.
Maybe he just wasn’t cut out to be a performer.
I suppressed that traitorous thought.
The riff looped around again. Devon took a deep breath and lion-roared into the mic. I could see him trying to sell it, trying to put over the casual confidence needed of a rock star.
One of the dudes looked his way and laughed.
It wasn’t necessarily a mean laugh, but I saw Devon’s face crumble. He trailed off.
From the back, Nnenna started into the song. “She’s a cool stick of butter…”
Devon took a deep breath and joined in with Nnenna. “… with a warm warm heart.”
The two of them together finished the whole song.
When it was over, Jenah and I applauded heartily. So did a small girl from a high chair. The group of guys had already picked up their pizza order and gallumphed away.
Devon trudged off the plywood platform to our booth as Nnenna and the bassist started packing up their stuff. His sweet face was hangdog.
“Hey, you did your song with Nnenna,” I said. “You’re a step closer to doing it by yourself.”
He just looked at me. “I feel so dumb,” he said. “It’s like … like I can’t make our music matter anymore. I look at everyone, with their real lives, and I think, how can I make them care about something so silly?”
“Hey now,” I said. “The song you wrote for me is not silly.”
His face flushed. “I didn’t mean—”
“Teasing,” I said.
“Nnenna doesn’t have that problem,” Devon said. “You saw her on the first songs. You could give her ‘Old MacDonald’ to sing and she’d make everyone rock out to it.”
Jenah tapped her chin, thinking. “So that’s where the stage fright gets a toehold,” she said. “As soon as you think it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you get self-conscious. And then…”
He stared at the table. He was as low as I’d ever seen him. “I’d better help pack up Nnenna’s van,” he said.
“Come back when you’re done,” I said cheerfully, trying to jostle him out of his low mood. “Sarmine said I didn’t have to be back till ten thirty, if you can believe it. We can still have our date.”
He managed a small smile. Then trudged to where Nnenna and the bass player were setting their gear by the bead curtain that led to the back, clearing the platform for the next performer.
The next musician just had a keyboard and stand—no amps or whatever they’re called. He had dark hair and brown skin and a very serious beard going. College guy, probably. He dragged a chair over from one of the pizza tables and started right in playing, unbothered by the chaos of Devon’s band packing up behind him.
That was the kind of confidence Devon needed, I thought, as I watched the piano player. He was good, actually. Too good for Blue Moon Pizza. I didn’t know much about music, but I would assess the piece he was playing as “some kind of tricky jazz thingy.” We were seated close enough to the tiny stage that I could clearly see his hands on the keyboard. His fingernails were much longer than I would expect for a piano player.
There was the dink dink of the bell over the front door and I turned to see Sparkle and Leo walking in. Leo is a gorgeous sportsball quarterback something or other who looks Middle Eastern. Also, a shifter. Sparkle is tall, half Japanese, and head cheerleader. Also, a witch.
Her eyes were sweeping the restaurant as if looking for somebody. I hoped it wasn’t me. I couldn’t think how I might have ticked her off lately. Usually she liked to ignore me. I turned back to the piano player—and saw him frozen, staring at Sparkle.
Well. Guys often did that. Maybe it wasn’t too weird.
I watched his eyes get wider and wider as she strode toward him.
But she stopped at our table. “Hey, Cam,” she said. “Gotta talk to you.”
“Me Cam?” I looked around. I was the only Cam in sight.
Sparkle rolled her eyes and sat down in the booth across from me and Jenah. Leo followed behind like a lapdog. Although probably you’re not supposed to say that kind of thing about a shifter. Not that witches concerned themselves with tact very often. “It’s about your mother.”
Oh. “What has my mother done now?”
Sparkle pulled up something on her phone and slid it across to me. “Just look!”
I looked to see an email addressed to “Sparklebarkle, VValdaVelda, PrincessEsmerelda, etc.,” with a subject line of “CASCADIA COVEN MEETING CALLED.” The body of the email was equally terse—it read “SATURDAY AT 11:30 PM,” and gave our address. “SIGNED, SARMINE SCARABOUCHE.”
Somehow I wasn’t surprised that my mother wrote her emails in all caps.
“What is this?” I said.
“That’s what I’m here to ask you,” said Sparkle. She lowered her voice. “No one’s called a coven meeting in thirteen, fourteen years. What is your mother up to?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “She didn’t invite me.”
Eye roll. “Of course not. You have to be a member. There are thirteen witches in the coven, and if a meeting is called, we all have to show up, or lose our spot. I just got back from skiing with friends, and Leo and I had plans for tonight. That did not involve this pizza place, or your house.” She flipped her hair back. “Ugh, so inconvenient.”
“So tedious,” I agreed. Sparkle is not wealthy herself, but as top girl in school she has everyone who is securely under her thumb. Gotta say, I also would rather be off on some fancy date than dealing with my mother’s witch coven. “Why don’t you just not go?” I said. “Have fun at your party instead.”
“And lose all that power? My old self fought to get that spot.” Sparkle picked up a napkin and toyed with it. “I guess it’s hard to give that up.”
Jenah looked at her intently. Then: “You don’t want to step back into your old life.”
“I said that.”
“I mean … they’ll have expectations of you.”
Sparkle’s shoulders slumped. “I wasn’t always very nice in my past life,” she admitted. “There are certain witches in that coven who may expect me to … take their side on things.”
I could see how that would be challenging. See, Sparkle was older than she looked. Witches look the age they feel on the inside, and Sparkle was actually about forty. Fifteen years or so ago she had put an amnesia spell on herself to regress to a toddler and live in hiding while she waited for some magical plans to come to fruition. The amnesia spell had been removed last Halloween. But what she hadn’t expected is that, after living her childhood over a second time, she would grow up into somebody different.
“Plus, Valda and that Emerald lady will be pretty ticked at you for helping get rid of Malkin last November,” pointed out Leo.
“Wait, what?” I said. There had been an episode a few months ago where my mother had invited three particularly nasty witches over for a little reunion. After I had discovered the high school star quarterback was secretly a shape-shifter, Sparkle and I had to protect him so the wicked witches wouldn’t tear him up for their spells. “I thought you were going to make Esmerelda and Valda forget all about that week in November. I gave you a vial of dragon tears to do it.”
Sparkle looked defensive. “I forgot how tricky it is to put amnesia on resistant witches. The best I could do was kind of blur the fact that Leo was a shifter. They remembered Malkin was after him but not why.”
Ice formed in my stomach. “And they remember that I foiled their plans and let Malkin be eaten by a giant lindworm?” I said.
“Me,” said Leo. “I ate her.”
“Well. Yes.” Sparkle saw my expression and hastened to reassure me. “Valda and Esmerelda are incredibly lazy. Malkin was always the brains of the operation.”
“So you were allies with them before? You hung out with them?”
“No! I mean … maybe we voted the same way sometimes. But everyone comes to the coven masked, you know. We certainly weren’t friends.”
“That’s why they didn’t recognize you last November,” I said. “Out of context. Different name. Cheerleading costume.”
“And I used to dress like this,” said Sparkle. She flipped open her wallet, pulled out a battered, laminated piece of chipboard, and passed it over to me.
“Dude, is that a trading card?” said Leo.
It was a picture of an older Sparkle, maybe mid-twenties. But instead of Sparkle’s typical ultra-glam appearance, this Sparkle was uber Goth, all in black, with a pale face and heavy black eyeliner that curled around her eyes and cheekbones. Cursive font at the bottom spelled out “Hikari Tanaka.”
“Fancy,” I said.
“You should do that more often,” said Jenah.
Sparkle shot her a look, but I figured Jenah meant it honestly.
“How many people know about your reappearance?” I said.
Sparkle sighed. “Mostly just your mother. Malkin might have realized who I was, but she’s gone. I was kind of hoping I wouldn’t ever have to get back into it. I just want to be a regular person.”
“And protect Leo.”
“And magic up new clothes from time to time.”
“And maybe a few more things, like—”
She gave me the side-eye.
“A regular person. Sure. I got it.”
It was about then I noticed that the piano music had stopped. I looked up to see the piano player staring straight at the old photo of Sparkle. He glanced up and saw me looking at him.
Then he grabbed his keyboard and stand, jumped off the plywood platform, and booked it through the bead curtain that led to the kitchen and restrooms.
“Uh, where’s that dude going?” said Leo.
“I don’t know,” I said, standing.
“He’s been listening in,” said Jenah, and then added, “He’s cute, in a kind of fuzzy way.”
“You should make a move on that,” advised Sparkle.
“I’m not interested in dating,” Jenah said calmly. “I appreciate cuteness in people, is all.”
“And you enjoy setting up other people,” I reminded her.
“Purely vicarious,” said Jenah.
Sparkle furrowed her brow as she stood. “Cute in a fuzzy way, huh? There was something familiar about him.…”
She made a move as if to follow the piano player, but just then the door to the pizza place chimed again.
In blew a small woman, white, with short black hair, in a black and white checkered dress. Her eyes scanned the darkened room. I meant to look away from the sweep of those black eyes, but there was something unusual about her face that commanded attention. Her face was magnetic. Arresting. But not because she was so particularly beautiful or anything.
Her face was cold. Like ice.
Behind me, Sparkle swore. I reluctantly pulled my gaze away from the woman, turned to see genuine fear on Sparkle’s face.
“Leo. Down,” she whispered urgently.
Leo was in the corner of the booth. He couldn’t see the woman at the front door.
But he could see Sparkle’s expression.
He dove under the booth. And there was a lot of him to dive, so it was not graceful and it involved a lot of Jenah pushing and him grunting.
The woman’s gaze swept the dim restaurant, searching for someone.
The family had left. The tables of teenagers looked back at the top girl in school. Sparkle raised black eyebrows at them. “Scatter,” she said.
To a person, they did, down to every last tennis player and flautist and Goth girl. They picked up their pizza slices and they all rushed different directions in an attempt to obey Sparkle.
The woman turned, trying to track who went where.
I stood next to Sparkle. I couldn’t let her face this person alone—whoever she was.
“Don’t be stupid,” Sparkle hissed. “I’ve worked on my shields and you haven’t. She’ll get anything she wants out of you.”
“Claudette can read your thoughts,” said Sparkle.
I could believe that of this strangely magnetic woman. I pulled a fact from the depths of my memory. “But that was outlawed by the Geneva Coven,” I said plaintively.
“Tell that to her.”
The woman’s—no, the witch’s—eyes met Sparkle’s. She strode to us, chairs scattering out of her path like frightened squirrels.
“Think of Devon,” whispered Sparkle as Claudette approached.
“Romance! Crushes! Strong emotions help shield.”
I marshaled my thoughts to think about my boyfriend, who was still in the back of the restaurant somewhere. Unfortunately, most of my current thoughts were not of the strong crushy-love variety and were more of the poor Devon variety.
Claudette stopped at our booth and my attention was irresistibly drawn away from thoughts of Devon and back to her. She glanced at me and Jenah and dismissed us, turning to Sparkle. She was not as tall as Sparkle and me, but it didn’t matter one bit. I wanted to crawl under the booth myself.
“Where is the … the pianist?” she said to Sparkle in a heavy French accent.
“The—Sam. Where did he go?”
“I do not have the time for this, Hikari,” said Claudette. Sparkle tensed at the confirmation that the woman knew who she was. “You have seen the email. Whatever Sarmine has planned, I am not walking into that without preparation. Out with it! Voyons! Where did he go?”
Sparkle’s chin firmed up as she called upon her everyday hauteur. “I am not interested in your turf wars, Claudette,” she said with a sneer. “If you feel you have a claim to the Bigfoot, you find him.”
Turf wars? Bigfoot?
“Eep,” said Jenah. I glanced down into the gloom under the table. Just peeping out of the darkness was one small fluffy white rabbit foot.
Oh no. No wonder Sparkle had shoved Leo under the table.
Shifters were in high danger around witches. See, witches—terrible, horrible people as far as I was concerned—were definitely not vegetarian, and they used lots of animal parts in spells. Magical animals—pixies, unicorns, et cetera—had more potency than regular animals. And since shifters, who were extremely magical already, could theoretically change into any animal required for a spell … I shuddered. If this ice-faced witch was willing to chase an innocent piano player through a pizza parlor, just imagine what she would do if she found a shifter.
“Eep?” said Claudette, shifting her gaze to the booth.
“Burp?” said Jenah.
“It would be very foolish to be hiding something from me,” said Claudette, and her attention was laser-focused on Jenah now. “Très, très stupide,” she reiterated in French, apparently to make sure we got it. We got it.
That was when Devon bounded through the bead curtain, his guitar slung over one shoulder and a wide, goofy smile on his face. He pushed himself into the conversation, arms draping over our shoulders. “Yo, girls,” he said, in a total stoner-dude voice. “Did you, like, see my set? Ama-a-a-azing, huh? I really killed those songs.” He turned to Claudette, who looked slightly stunned. “Whoa, gorgeous. You must be up next, right? You’re a singer, yeah? You gotta have some great act.…”
My heart melted. Devon was trying to distract the witch from all of us. So brave. So stupid.
Claudette pointed her finger at him. “You. Are not an idle distraction. You have seen the pianist. You are hiding him.”
He demurred, backing away. “No, dude, I’m just a—”
She crooked one finger at him. I saw him lurch toward her, stumble a half step. His eyes were wide. Her finger beckoned, as if thoughts were coalescing inside his brain and she was going to pull them out, one by one.
“Think of your girlfriend,” hissed Sparkle.
His eyes went glassy as the finger kept beckoning.
“She did, eh?” said Claudette, a smirk on her face. “Très intéressant. Tell me more.…”
The trials and tribulations of our relationship might fill a couple books, but even so, I knew idle gossip wouldn’t hold Claudette for long. Not when she got wind of Leo.
I had to do something.
The only thing I had ready to go in my backpack of magical ingredients was the new compound I had been working on for Devon. While it might seem unlikely that an anti–stage fright spell would help Devon at this moment, on the other hand, the Showstopper potion had worked once to distract a witch by making her victim completely, irresistibly charming. Same idea, right? And my mental Good Witch Ethics List had determined that it was okay to cast a spell on someone without their permission if it was to save a life.
And this was.
I reached into one of the backpack’s pockets and grabbed the ziplock bag of ingredients I had been compounding. No time to do anything fancy like combine it with unicorn hair sanitizer or heat it in a silver bowl or anything else.
Claudette was staring deeper into Devon. “You saw him go through the curtain,” she was saying. “And then—”
I blew the compound off my hand and onto Devon. It coated the back of his head. And then—
He was gone.
Copyright © 2017 by Tina Connolly