Authors: Lisa Graff
Tags: #Action & Adventure, #Family, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #General, #Orphans & Foster Homes
ARIGOLD ASHER TWISTED HER RED TALENT BRACELET
around and around her wrist. It was the thing she treasured most in the world, because it was the thing that was finally going to help her discover her Talent. This was the day, she could feel it. Anything could happen on a foggy morning.
Marigold studied the nearly finished goldfish piñata on the kitchen table before her. Just one more piece of tissue paper and it would be complete. She dabbed a thin leaf of black tissue with glue and . . .
Tipped over the glue bottle. Marigold grabbed for it, but knocked over a teetering stack of tissue paper instead. She lunged for
but whacked the piñata. The goldfish crashed to the floor. It broke in two. With a sinking stomach, Marigold watched its severed head roll, roll, roll across the kitchen.
Your piñata skills need work,
its gaping fish mouth seemed to tell her.
“Where’s Mom?” asked Marigold’s younger brother, Will, appearing from nowhere (Will was always appearing from nowhere). He plowed across the tissue paper battlefield, his shoes collecting colorful scraps. His pet ferret, Sally, was right behind him, snatching up small bits of paper in her teeth and sniffing them before spitting them out again.
Marigold snatched her sticky pencil from the table and crossed
off her list of possible Talents. “Mom has the hospital this morning, remember?” Every few weeks their mother dropped off a load of scarves and blankets for patients at the Poughkeepsie Medical Center. She knitted most of the objects on her way, clasping her knitting needles around the steering wheel as she drove. Mrs. Asher’s Talent for knitting was so keen that she could finish an entire afghan in eight city blocks.
Will scooped Sally off the floor and settled her on his shoulder. “You tried all these Talents this morning?” he asked Marigold, studying her list on the table.
“Yep.” Marigold gathered her brown curls off her shoulders and counted off in her head. “Running backward, making applesauce, doing jumping jacks, gargling, blowing bubbles, slicing garlic, making a house out of playing cards, stringing popcorn, organizing furniture, drawing mazes, and making piñatas.”
“Dad even convinced me my Talent might be vacuuming,” she told her brother, scraping a bit of orange tissue off the tabletop as she spoke. “He got me to do the whole living room before he left for the grocery store.” Mr. Asher was the head librarian at the local high school, so he had summers off. (He also had an unusual—if not particularly useful—Talent. While most people in the world could fold a sheet of paper in half no more than seven times, Mr. Asher could do it twelve. It was a trick he’d often perform for school groups, if someone brought him a bit of orange nougat. Mr. Asher had a soft spot for orange nougat.)
“Don’t worry, Mari,” Will said, scratching Sally’s belly. She clicked a few satisfied
s, then wrapped herself around his neck, settling into a quiet snore. A sleepy scarf. “You’ll find it.”
Marigold grabbed a damp dish towel from the edge of the sink to better scrub at the tabletop. “Thanks, Will. Maybe next I should try something a little less mess—” Marigold looked up. “Will?”
Her brother was gone.
It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, Will going missing. He had a Talent for it, after all. Even in the cramped space of their twelfth-story apartment, Will managed to get lost at least once an hour. Sometimes he popped right out of the woodwork after only a second, and other times it might take all day to find him.
“Zane!” Marigold called to her other brother, marching toward the living room with the dish towel clutched at her side. “Will’s missing agai—”
She saw it coming just in time—the arc of spit heading down the hallway, straight toward her. Marigold shrieked, covering her face with the dish towel. The glob of spit zoomed—
—over her head.
“Zane!” she hollered. He was sitting, calm and smug as ever, in the armchair by the window, reading a book. Under his feet was his trusty skateboard, rolling a few inches this way, then that. Zane was the only Asher without a jumble of brown curls on top of his head. He wore his hair in short, pointy spikes. Marigold often wondered if it would be possible to smooth out her brother’s prickly personality just by chopping off that hair. “Mom said if you ever spit at me again, she’ll—”
“I didn’t spit
you,” Zane replied, barely lifting his eyes from his book. “I spit
you. If I wanted to spit
you, I would’ve hit you.”
Marigold huffed, but she knew he was right. That someone as annoying as Zane Asher had been given the Talent of perfect spitting was truly unconscionable. “Well . . .” She searched for something to blame him for. Her eyes landed on the red Talent bracelet around her wrist, now sticky with glue-water from its run-in with the dish towel. “You got my bracelet all gunky.”
Zane shrugged, eyes still on his book. Out the open window behind him, a thick blanket off fog rolled peacefully across the sky. “I can’t believe you think something you got out of a gumball machine will actually help you find your Talent,” he said.
get it out of a gumball machine,” Marigold growled. “For your information, I got it at the state fair last week, and the man said it had a ninety-nine percent success rate for helping people discover their Talents within one year.” She rubbed the stickiness out on the edge of her T-shirt. “It cost three whole months’ allowance.”
Zane turned a page in his book. “You’d have better luck with a gumball,” he replied.
kids had older brothers who were friendly, Marigold thought. Supportive, even. “I’m going to tell Mom and Dad you spit at me,” she retorted. But she knew it was useless, like a poodle puppy yipping at a full-grown rottweiler.
“If you do that,” Zane told her, the skateboard whirring under his feet as his eyes scanned his book, not even the least distracted, “I’ll tell them you haven’t practiced oboe in a week.”
Marigold fought the urge to stick her tongue out at him. She wound her bracelet around her wrist again, fingering the knotted red thread, the three sparkly silver beads. Ten years old and no Talent, that was Marigold Asher. No one in the Asher family could possibly understand what it was like to still be searching, to constantly worry that you might be Fair. After all, weren’t the majority of the people in the world without any Talent middle children, just like Marigold? Middlings, that’s what they called them.
wasn’t. Marigold had a Talent hidden somewhere deep inside her, she was sure of it. All she needed to do was find it. So what was the use in wasting time at something you knew you stunk at—like practicing the oboe—when you could be discovering your one true Talent?
“I’m going to look for Will,” Marigold said, shooting Zane a final glare as she left the room. “Try not to kill anyone, all right?”
If only she had known what a wise warning that would turn out to be.
OR A SINGLE BRIEF SECOND, SHE’D THOUGHT SHE’D DIED
. Total blackness, total silence, swallowed by nothingness. And all she could think was,
If she were dead, she could see her daughter. Talk to her again.
But she was not, as it turned out, dead.
When she came to, she was lying on her back in the middle of the highway. There were people looming over her—four of them, a woman and three men, strangers all—peering down, blinking, looking concerned. And there were cars stopped still in the street. The red and blue lights of a police car whirred in circles. She could just barely make it all out through the thicket of fog.
But what was truly unnerving was that the people around her were not speaking any language she’d ever heard before. When they opened their mouths, the noise that came out wasn’t words. It was the clamor of bees buzzing, or horns honking, or waves crashing against the shore. Not a language at all.
she tried to tell them.
But what she spoke wasn’t English, either. It certainly wasn’t words. She could hear the noise, with her own perfectly functioning ears, escaping her perfectly functioning mouth. She was speaking gibberish, too.
A stroke. She’d had a stroke. It was her
that wasn’t functioning properly. She’d spent the majority of her sixty years cooped up in her house, and then the day after her doctor told her she better start getting more exercise—for her health, he said—that’s when she went and had herself a stroke crossing the wooded highway. And now she’d lost her words.
One of the men was bending down, pointing to his driver’s license, a question painted on his face. Her name. They wanted to know her name.
She did not have any real identification. (Who carried identification when they were off for a short, pleasant stroll in the woods?) So, by way of an answer, she showed them the locket. The silver one she wore around her neck. There was no picture inside, not anymore, not since her Caroline had left, but there was one clue etched on the outside. She could see it herself with her perfectly functioning eyes, although she found it difficult to read (she supposed she had lost that, too—reading): two straight lines inscribed in the center of the silver oval, meeting at a sharp point.
The man bent down and inspected the locket, grasping it between thick fingers. She waited, holding her breath, to see if perhaps he was Talented at solving mysteries. But he only looked up at the others and shook his head, confused.
They did not know who she was. Perhaps if she found a map somehow, she could show them where she lived. Or if there was a book she could get her hands on, she might . . . She squeezed shut her eyes as they lifted her onto the gurney. What was the point? First she’d lost Caroline and now, her words. And without those two most precious things, there really was no point to much of anything at all.
ORMALLY ZANE WASN’T MUCH FOR WORDS ON A PAGE. HE’D
rather be skateboarding, or spitting, or sticking gum on the floor 9 elevator button so that cranky Mr. Watkins had something to give him the stink eye
But Zane’s father always said that reading a good book helped take your mind off your problems, so here Zane was. Reading.
that was the book, a mystery novel by Victoria Valence. He’d found it in his mother’s knitting basket.
It wasn’t helping.
That was the noise Zane heard as he turned the page. He pressed it flat and did his best to focus.
The plot was interesting, at least, about a rogue treasure hunter with a Talent for changing his face—a chameleon, he was called. Right now he was posing as the Egyptian detective assigned to gather information about the museum heist the chameleon himself had pulled off in the first chapter. (As sneaky and shifty as the chameleon was, he had a charm about him that people couldn’t seem to resist.) Juicy stuff, and yet Zane couldn’t keep his mind from wandering.
It might be nice, Zane thought, to be able to change your face whenever you wanted, to start fresh, just like that. And if the stupid principal ever sent a stupid letter to your parents, you could just slap on a new face and no one would even know it was you the letter was about.
WORTHLESS, Zane Asher, that’s what you are. A delinquent. A waste of a perfectly good desk. I’ll be writing to your parents and letting them know as much. If you come back to this school again next year, God help me, Zane Asher, it won’t be me who has the problem.
Zane tossed the book across the room. What did Principal Piles know, anyway? That old bat was the one who ought to be sent to boarding school.
He turned his attention to the fog out the window and aimed a spit attack at an unsuspecting pigeon passing by the fire escape.
Right in the beak. Spitting was one thing Zane never failed at. If only he could spit that letter right out of the mailbox.
Until he could grow a Talent for making mail disappear, Zane decided he should probably work on a good lie to tell his parents when they actually did open the mail. Because sooner or later, that stupid letter was going to arrive, and if Zane didn’t have a plan, he was done for.