MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
A chisel, a hammer, a wrench. A sander, a drill, a power saw. A laser, a heat gun, a flaming torch. Nothing cuts through the bangle. Nothing I conjure even makes a scratch.
I had to try, just to be sure. But the silver bangle encircling my wrist can't be removed. It was smart of my mother to secure it in the middle of the night while I was asleep, unable to protest.
Though my Jinn ancestry means magic has always been inside me, the rules don't allow me to begin drawing upon it until the day I turn sixteen. The day I receive my silver bangle. The day I officially become a genie.
I slam my newly acquired accessory against my bedroom closet, leaving a rounded indent on the wood door. The pristine, gleaming metal mocks me. For the rest of my life, I'll go where I'm told, perform on command, and do it all without question.
Barefooted, I can't kick the pile of tools without impaling myself. I settle for shoving the saw, but in the blade, a flash of gold reflects back at me. I've ignored the unusual sensation of hairs tickling my bare shoulders all morning ... the new tap, tap, tap of my nails against the conjured metal ... the hem of my pajama pants now flirting with my calf. Ignored just in case. Just in case this bangle wasn't here to stay. But even my talent for denial is no match for my curiosity when it's been piqued.
Standing at the bathroom mirror, my breath catches in my throat.
The deepening of my olive skin, the angling of my cheekbones, the lengthening of my torso. I've seen them all before. On my mother, who wears them like she owns them. Unlike me, who wears them like a rented Halloween costume.
I lay a finger on the bangle and push, watching it spin around my wrist. Somehow this thing stimulates my body to reach full maturity. As an inherently attractive species, this tends to make us Jinn ... well, hot. I'm pretty sure it's less a quid pro quo thing (thankfully, otherwise we Jinn would be the most shallow of species) and more an ancestral one, but then again, I'm not privy to the inner workings of the Afrit, the council that rules over our Jinn world.
I run my tongue along my bright white teeth and give thanks that my birthday falls during the summer. Not that I think the HITs (humans in training, aka teenagers) I go to school with would likely question this new and improved Azra Nadira staring back at me. Guess there are benefits to not being popular. Unlike other newbie Jinn, I certainly won't need to change schools or even incite hushed rumors about plastic surgery. For me, one or two fibs about a to-die-for stylist and an oh-so-talented makeup artist will do. Laughably out of character, of course, but, again, there are benefits to not being popular.
Inspecting all the ways my body has been altered while my mind was unable to resist, I note a distinct lack of curves remains. Seriously, a little va-va-voom here or there (and by "there" I'm talking to you, status quo B cup) was too much to ask?
I upend the basket next to the sink. A pair of nail clippers clanks against the marble counter, landing in between dental floss and a barely used compact of blush. I drum my nails, now as luminous as ten perfectly polished pearls, against the cold stone and brandish the nail clippers like a sword.
I knew this was coming. Click. I grew up knowing this was coming. Click. But still a part of me believed something would stop it. Click. Maybe my mother would finally realize I was serious. Click. I've been begging her to find a way around me having to become a genie since I was old enough to understand what the word "destiny" meant. Click. Maybe the Afrit would decide my well-honed lack of enthusiasm was an insult to the long line of Jinn from which I descend. Click. Maybe they'd take one look at me and realize that, for the first time in Jinn history, powers should skip a generation. Click.
I turn on the faucet and watch with satisfaction as the tips of the long nails that replaced my short ones overnight swirl around the basin and disappear down the drain.
A lock of my newly long hair falls across my eye. With a puff, I blow it aside and drop the clippers on the counter. Peeking out from under the overturned basket is the pointy end of a pair of scissors.
Running away was never an option. Snip. I found that out when I was ten, twelve, and fourteen. Snip. My Jinn blood is the equivalent of a permanent tracking device. Snip. And now it's not just my mother who can find me anywhere, anytime. Snip. The Afrit will be watching. Snip. If I refuse to grant wishes, if I screw up, if I expose our Jinn world to humans, I will be extracted from this human life I'm pretending to live. Snip. I'll be tossed in a cell deep inside the Afrit's underground lair where they sit, rubbing their hands together and cackling as they toy with us Jinn pawns. Snip. It's not a death penalty. Snip. As much as it may feel like it is. Snip.
A blanket of dark espresso hair surrounds my feet. I've sheared off the three inches that are new since yesterday and then some. The color, which morphed from mouse to mink while I slept, is an exact match for my mother's. That can stay. The sheen helps the choppy bob I've given myself look halfway decent.
They can make me grant wishes, but they can't dictate what I'm going to look like while doing it.
I splash water on my face and feel the length of my eyelashes. The gold flecks of my eyes have consumed the hazel. The new color is an exact match not only for the color of my mother's eyes but for the color of all Jinn's eyes. And I can't have that.
Lucky for me, my learning curve with this conjuring thing has been fast. One crooked wrench, one inoperable lighter, and one unrecognizable reciprocating saw preceded the plethora of tools turning my bedroom into a hardware store. And in all fairness, the mangled saw stems less from my lack of skill and more from my ignorance as to what a reciprocating saw actually looks like.
Just as I did when conjuring each tool, I steady my breathing, tune my ears to the beat of my heart, which pumps my Jinn blood at a rate closer to that of hummingbirds than humans, and close my eyes. In my mind, I form the perfect image of a pair of transparent contacts tinted dark brown.
An icy tingle snakes through my body. I shiver. My body craves heat. In all the ways I take after my mother-in all the ways I take after all Jinn-an intolerance for cold is the one that bothers me the least.
I concentrate until a bead of sweat forms on my upper lip and the slimy lenses float in a sea of saline in the palm of my hand.
Good-bye gold. Good-bye Jinn.
I plant my face an inch away from the mirror. With my index finger on my top lid and my thumb on my bottom, I create a larger bull's-eye for the brown contact. My first attempt sends the lens down the drain. After conjuring another one, I force myself not to blink. I'm successfully affixing the lens to my eyeball when I notice my fingernails are once again long. And red.
My hair shoots past my chin, flies down my neck, and leaves my collarbone in the dust. Post-bangle, pre-haircut, it barely skimmed my shoulders. It now lands mid-B-Wait, is that now an A?-cup boob. The gold of my eyes deepens and shimmers until my irises resemble balls of compacted glitter.
Apparently the Afrit can dictate what I look like. I dump the contact lenses in the trash and poke my finger in and out of the intricate carvings etched into the bangle. I wouldn't be surprised if one of these indents housed a tiny spy camera and the Afrit were really just a bunch of pervy Peeping Toms.
I dive into my bed and burrow under the soft down of my comforter, grateful for its instant warmth. Ignoring the sound of the dog barking outside, I drink in the sweet smell of the lilacs in perpetual bloom in our backyard and catch a faint hint of sea beneath the floral perfume. Our house is close enough that, when the wind blows a certain way, we can smell the ocean. It doesn't happen often, mostly because the windows are usually shut to seal in the warmth and the curtains are usually drawn to seal in, well, us.
I will myself to fall back to sleep. Even if I can't sleep, I can still choose to skip today.
All I have to do is stay in bed. All I have to do is not open my eyes. All I have to do is pretend. Fortunately, being skilled in pretending is another way in which I take after my mother, another way in which I take after all Jinn.
Turning toward the window, I breathe in the lilacs. Along with the fragrance comes the pollen. Along with the pollen comes the coughing. Along with the coughing comes the involuntary opening of my eyes.
Who am I kidding? I can't skip today. I don't have that kind of control. The bangle assures that I never will.
I crawl out of bed and shed my pajamas, dropping them on top of the drill. Of course the black tank top I pull over my head and down my newly elongated torso is too short. As I move, the hem plays a game of peekaboo with my belly button, an unintentional homage to the midriff-baring genies of fairy tales and fantasies.
I rummage through the top drawer of my bathroom vanity until I find an elastic and the pair of bug-eyed sunglasses my mother bought for me last year. I gather my hair into a ponytail and hide my gold eyes behind the tinted shades. It's summer. Well, almost summer. In New England, summer doesn't debut until July. And only if we're lucky. June is always a tease. Still, with tenth grade in the rearview mirror, I can camouflage my new look this way until school starts again. By then, no one will remember what I used to look like.
As if that's a valid concern. I could walk into calculus tomorrow with rainbow-colored dreadlocks and half the class wouldn't even blink an eye.
Being invisible is a trait I've learned all on my own.
Copyright © 2015 by Lori Goldstein