Authors: Maureen Lipinski
Tags: #young adult, #teen fiction, #fiction, #teen, #teen fiction, #teenager, #drama, #romance, #magic, #fantasy, #urban fantasy
“Do you think the CrÃ©atÃºir like working with her instead of you?” She furrowed her brow and took a step backward.
“Don't know. Don't care. Not my problem.” I shrugged, which made the creases on her face grow a little deeper.
“I'll never connect with my true self,” a voice wailed out of my mom's office.
“Mom, I think Melvin is calling you,” Gia said with a giggle.
My mom exhaled. “I know, Gia. I'm heading right back in there. I need to finish his reading so I can start dinner before Dad gets off his shift.” She turned and walked back into her office, clucking her tongue.
“Try the rose quartz number four,” Morgana called out after her before turning to me. “Glad you had a good day.” She looked down as Doppler, our tabby cat, quietly padded into the room and rubbed against her bare legs. “C'mere sweetie,” she said, bending down to pick her up. “What's the weather going to be tomorrow? Hmmm? Tell me.” She leaned in and pressed her ear against Doppler's head. “Okay.” She nodded. She placed Doppler back on the ground and stood back up. “She said it's going to be sunny.”
“And you guys wonder why I won't invite any of my friends over?” I muttered. “Besides, your cat was wrong about the weather today.” I pointed toward the window, which had sunlight streaming through it. “Doppler said it was going to rain. It's beautiful.”
“Oh, well, you know. She can't be right all of the time.” Morgana shrugged.
“More like ten percent of the time. Kind of like a real meteorologist,” I said to her.
“She'll get better,” Morgana said confidently. She turned to Gia. “Ready for afternoon meditation?” Gia nodded and they walked toward their bedrooms.
I hauled my messenger bag full of books into my bedroom. I closed the door behind me, lay down on my huge, puffy white bed, and closed my eyes.
I didn't even realize I'd fallen asleep until I heard my mom call through the intercom, “Dinner's ready!” I peeled myself off my bed and inhaled the smell of lavender chicken. I walked down the hallway to the kitchen and saw everyone scrambling around setting the table, filling drinks, and causing general chaos.
“Hey Pumpkin!” my dad called out from the table. I rushed over and put my arms around him. He was still in his policeman's uniform, and he smelled like starch and dryer sheets.
“Hi Daddy!” I said as I sat down next to him.
“So, what's the review?” he asked, his long cheeks already showing signs of beard stubble.
“Great! Loved it!” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rhea roll her eyes again.
“Good for you! I knew you'd love it!” Dad said, giving me a little pat on the arm. “To think, my little girl going to the same high school I went to. It just â¦ ” His voice broke a little and I felt everyone in the room freeze.
My big burly policeman father and emotionsâtwo things that usually did not go together.
Which I still find somewhat funny, since I think my mom literally says, “I feel â¦ ” at least fifty million times a day.
“I loved it,” I said again, and punched my dad in the arm a little.
Dad regained his composure and patted me on the shoulder. “That's my girl.” He walked over to the cabinet and pulled a glass out, leaning his large frame past my mom, who was turning the burner off. She gave him a playful little shove and he leaned down and kissed her. “And Alex?” he asked me, reaching out and trying to grab a piece of chicken off the serving plate before my mom whacked him with the spatula.
“Good. He was good. Introduced me to everyone. Really, really nice,” I said.
“Good, good! He â¦ ” Rhea started to say, in a mocking voice, before she realized everyone was giving her Look of Death expressions.
“Alex comes from good people. His dad is great. I'm proud of you, Leah,” my dad said, ignoring Rhea.
And I knew he was proud of me, and relieved as well. Relieved that I was home, and in no danger of leaving again for twelve months to play in the mystical realm. Although my dad isn't “gifted” like my mom and my sisters, he usually takes all of the meditating, past-lives discussions and invisible-beings discussions in stride. He didn't even protest when my mom sent us to Oracle Prep. Until I disappeared last year and he decided to give us all a dose of normalcy by moving us to Westerville.
“Thanks, Dad.” I smiled at him.
“Why are you proud of
?” Rhea spat out as she sat down at the table. “
is a quitter.
gave everything up.
“No she didn't!” Gia cried out. An angelic light rested around her shoulders, visible in the dim kitchen lighting. Ever since my sister had started her serious study for becoming a Muse, a soft white light had followed her everywhereâlike Pigpen in
with his cloud of dust. It was kind of annoying to go see a movie with her.
“Leave her alone, Rhea,” Morgana said calmly. She wound her long hair up into a ponytail. I could see that she'd written
on her neck in black eyeliner, the
slightly smudged. She'd started writing random, weird words on her body about a year ago, claiming it helped with her energy healing and flow. I've never told her this, but it just makes her look even more like she belongs at a Salem Witch Trial.
“Do you even know how much stuff I missed when I was gone, Rhea?” I said. “How much it sucked to find out that my boyfriend had a new girlfriend? How you guys had to make up lies about me studying abroad in Australia?”
“We had to move because of you!” Rhea shouted, throwing her tanned arms in the air.
“ENOUGH!” my dad bellowed. He took a long drink of water and set his glass down on the countertop. He turned to Rhea. “Would you rather she was kidnapped by those things again?”
Rhea opened her mouth. My dad looked sharply at her and she quickly closed her lips.
My mom cut in. “All right, everyone. Let's just eat.” She gestured to the table.
“Sit down, girls! Don't be rude to our dinner guest!” she said when we didn't budge.
I shot Rhea an I Will Kill You Even If It Means Going to Jail look as I took my seat. “Dinner guest?” I asked.
“Just sit down. Yes, your mom has a guest.” My dad lowered himself into a chair at the head of the table.
“Leah, you're not setting a very good example for our family in front of our special guest.” Mom pointed to the empty place.
“There's no one there,” I said, confused.
Rhea began to laugh uncontrollably while Morgana shook her head. Even Gia smiled a little at my expense.
“Our guest is my main spirit guide, Morpheus,” my mom said quickly. She turned to the empty plate. “I'm so sorry, Morpheus. She isn't in touch with her gifts anymore.” She paused. “Yes, yes, I know. I've tried.” She turned and gave me a long look.
“O-kay. So sorry, Morpheus,” I said sarcastically.
“Just eat your food, everyone,” my dad grumped out. “That includes you, invisible Morpheus.”
We all roared with laughter as my mom sputtered out apologies to Morpheus, who, no big shocker, didn't seem hungry. My dad caught my mom's eye and winked at her.
“He's just teasing. I'm soâoh, okay. Good,” my mom whispered to the empty place setting.
As we finished eating and clearing the table (well, at least most of us; all Rhea did was offer to clean Morpheus' plate), I announced, “Everyone, I'm off to my room. I have homework!” I waited for their looks of jealousy and envy, but I don't think anyone looked up.
I sat down on my bed and was just about to delve into my homework when my cell phone chimed. I reached over and flipped it open. It was a text message from Alex. It said,
Take care of that arm, Brett Favre. See you tomorrow.
I threw my hands in the air in silent victory as a goofy, uncontainable smile settled into my face. I read the text over and over again, as though a secret code was hidden in the two sentences. I clutched my phone to my chest and sighed.
I woke up the next morning before my alarm went off. I'd forgotten to close the blinds the night before, so when I opened my eyes, I had to shut them again quickly because of the blinding morning light.
I shielded my face from the sunlight as I sat up, notebooks surrounding me in bed. The energy of yesterday still buzzed around my head. Thankfully, I'd gotten a full night's sleepâsomething that had eluded me the entire time I'd served as CrÃ©atÃºir Shaman. I'd always woken up a bunch of times throughout the night, plagued by weird, twisted dreams and whispers from the CrÃ©atÃºir.
I swung my legs over the side of my bed, stretched my arms over my head, and stood in front of my closet, trying to decide what to wear. I was dying to wear my new, hot pink tank top, but I couldn't find it in my closet or in my dresser. I bent down and searched under my bed, pushing aside random shoes, old magazines, and worn paperbacks. As I groped around in the black hole under my bed, my hand wrapped around something dry and rough.
“What the hell â¦ ” I pulled it out. As soon as I saw what it was, I dropped it in front of me like a dead snake. Then I stared at the crumbling bouquet of dry flowers now scattered around my bedroom carpet.
It was a dried bouquet of bluebells, a gift from Fiona.
She'd given it to me two years ago, when I'd helped her find her missing enchanted emerald ring. I remembered how I could barely keep up with what she was saying; she always spoke so quickly.
A feeling of unease began to gnaw at my stomach, but I brushed it away. I was sure she was fine; she most likely was off in some meadow having fun with a hot satyr, just like Melissa said.
Everyone loves her; the CrÃ©atÃºir wouldn't let anything happen to her.
I jolted when my alarm buzzed on my nightstand, breaking the trance the dried flowers had put on me. I leaned over and shut off the annoying alarm. I grabbed the pieces of the dried flowers and stood up.
She's fine. I can feel it. Besides, I have a new life now.
“Good luck, Fiona. I'm sure you're having more fun than all of us,” I said. I dropped the flower scraps into the metal trash can. They settled in the bottom with a soft whoosh. I dusted off my hands, picked up my English paper from last night, and walked out of my room.
Melissa will be fine. She can handle it. It's not rocket science or anything. A few territorial disputes here, working out the kinks in sacred monuments and locations there, and playing mediator when the Light and Dark CrÃ©atÃºir have a dispute.
And I'm sure Fiona loves her. Or maybe she can learn to.
Because my old life is as good as dead to me.
I didn't sense any other messages from the
the rest of the week at school, and I began to think that Melissa was rightâit was nothing after all. Fiona must have reappeared, probably with red cheeks and disheveled clothes and an even brighter smile on her face.
And I was fine, too. Well, fine after I had to lie to Brooke about the strange girl on the sidewalk outside of Buzz. I told her that I went to my old town to see a few friends and ran into Melissa, this weird girl who used to stalk meâwhich at first Brooke misunderstood as my old
, as in romantically involved
âbut then she seemed to understand. I got the sense that she'd had more than a few stalkers of her own, both male and female. She rolled her eyes and explained that her mom was making her see a counselor to discuss her parents' divorce, so she went a few towns away to avoid embarrassment. Lucky me on the timing.
Yet all thoughts of Melissa and the coffee shop were pushed aside thanks to rising hysteria as Friday night approached.
Friday night. The first football game of the season. Westerville Wildcats versus Park High Panthers.
Park High was, from all accounts, a good team. They were nationally ranked and huge rivals of Westerville, plus it was rumored that their starting quarterback was hurt and they were going to start the backup. Beating them would mean that Westerville's winning streak from past years would remain unbroken.
Apparently, this was a big deal.
I nodded along all week throughout lunch, gym, math, English, Spanish, and history whenever anyone reminded me what a big deal this game was. It seemed important to everyone that the new girl understand the significance of the game, as though if they could make a believer out of me, they could do it to anyone. I don't think I played the part well when I asked Sharice, a girl in my history class, if I had to get to the game early to find a seat. She looked at me like I'd asked her if she thought eating kitty litter for lunch would be a good idea.
I took that to mean, “Yes. You should probably get there just a smidge before kickoff.”
Alex asked several times if I would be at the game, and I always responded, “Wouldn't miss it. Besides, if you get hurt, I might have to step in or something.” One afternoon, he kind of put his arm around my shoulders when I wished him luck. Like a half-hug. Whatever it was, it sent shivers down my back, and it took everything in me not to lay my head against his strong frame.
Since Brooke and everyone else I'd been hanging out with had a role of some sort during the gameâbe it cheerleading, working the concession stand, or actually playing in the gameâI was forced to go with my parents. On the drive to the stadium, my dad reminded my mom and me what a big deal the team was to the community and not to be alarmed at how crowded and insane the game would be. My mom murmured and flipped through a tarot card deck and I rolled my eyes so many times I seriously thought they were going to roll right out of head, out of the car, down the street, and into Baskin-Robbins to have an ice cream cone until my dad was done talking.
My parents and I finally pulled into the packed lot and joined the throngs of people walking toward the stadium, which was lit up like an airport runway.
Dad was right.
I think the whole town's here
I thought as I shuffled behind my parents, feeling like the Biggest Loser Ever.
“Now, look about half a mile westâthat way.” My dad pointed as we walked toward the admission gate. “That's the site of the new football stadium. It's going to be great for the team.”
I nodded as my mom paid for tickets. I looked down at her hands, still holding her tarot deck.
“Mom!” I shrieked and grabbed her elbow.
“I'm putting it away. Relax!” She shoved the cards deep into her beaded leather bag.
We walked through the gate and my senses were immediately assaulted by all things Wildcat. The cacophony of thousands of people's excitement; the smell of beer, popcorn, and hot dogs; the thick September air, humidity still hanging onto the last vestiges of summer. Blue and white face painting, jerseys, signs, banners; Wildcat fans screaming, cheering, and taunting Panther fansâand those were just the parents.
I followed behind my dad as he periodically stopped and talked to old high school friends and acquaintances. Mom smiled and shook everyone's hands, yet I couldn't help but notice how different she was from all the other momsâwho were dressed in Wildcat T-shirts, tight Capri pants, dangly blue and white earrings, and high wedge heels. The other moms, wearing about fifty pounds of makeup framed by perfectly highlighted and blown-out hair.
We made our way to the stands and I lowered my head, following my parents up the metal steps and praying that Alex wouldn't stop talking to me because I was the Girl With No Friends Who Has to Sit With Her Parents. As I sat next to a hugely overweight, perspiring dad, I reminded myself of Alex's easy smile and half-hug and decided that being sweat on was totally worth it.
“This is so great, Leah. Isn't this neat?” My dad leaned over my mom, who was sorting the crystals in her purse, and tapped my knee. His eyes were wide and twinkling, his mouth hanging open. “Just like the good ol' days!”
Despite feeling slightly like I'd been abducted and helicoptered to a parallel universe, the buzz running through the crowd soaked into my body and I started to cheer as the band began playing. Following the crowd, I stood up as the cheerleaders ran onto the field to make a tunnel for the players to run through.
The music built to a crescendo and a herd of football players, dressed in blue and white, burst onto the field like a group of satyrs going into battle. I jumped up and down as I saw Alex, number 4, and I wished he would see me and wave. Pride swelled through me and I quickly realized I was starting to become a member of the Wildcat football cult.
We sat back down as the game began. I quickly discovered it was kind of hard to pay attention to the game itself, thanks to how awesome Alex looked in his uniform.
As halftime drew near, my dad said, “Hey! There's Alex's dad!” He leaned over and waved. I awkwardly waved too. Alex's mom shot me a slightly confused look, probably wondering why the heck I was sitting with the fifty-year-olds and not with anyone remotely young enough to be called a teenager.
At halftime, I walked down the stairs to the chain-link fence surrounding the field to say hi to Brooke and Caroline. The cheerleaders were all touching up their makeup and tightening their ponytails.
“Hey guys!” I waved to Brooke and Caroline, who looked perfect in their tiny cheerleading uniforms.
“Hey!” Brooke said as she and Caroline walked over. “Amazing, right?” She looked around the packed stadium.
I nodded. “Unbelievable. You guys are doing a great job. Very cheery!”
Caroline laughed, her brunette ponytail swinging behind her. “Thanks! We aim to please!”
“Isn't Alex doing great?” Brooke said. She sighed dramatically, beaming at me. At this point, she and everyone else assumed that Alex and I were on our way to coupledom. I was still afraid to believe it, considering how uncool and awkward I felt ninety percent of the time.
I nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah, and he looks great in his uniform.”
At the end of the fourth quarter, the score was tied at 14â14 with only a few seconds left. We all rose to our feet and held our breath to watch the Wildcats' last chance to score before the game went into overtime. The offense lined up and the crowd began to sparkle with electricity.
Alex got the snapped ball and dropped back a few feet. He waited several seconds, looking downfield for a receiver. A linebacker wrestled free from Troy and headed toward Alex. At the last possible second, Alex heaved the ball downfieldâa Hail Mary passâand the linebacker threw him to the ground.
The crowd watched in silence as the ball drifted through the air. It seemed to be moving in slow motion, like in the movies. We watched the ball land perfectly in the arms of a receiver, who ran the last ten yards into the end zone for a touchdown.
The crowd flipped out and the players came running onto the field. I lost sight of Alex amidst the blue and white uniforms all jumping up and down and pumping fists in the air. I threw my arms in the air and screamed, too. I hugged the sweaty fat man next to me. I jumped up and down with my mom. I high-fived my dad about a million times.
And I stopped and watched as everyone circled around Alex. An intense surge of delight filled me as the crowd started chanting his name. Everyone loved him. He was their golden boy.
Alex took his helmet off, raised it to the crowd, and blew a kiss.
And I blew him one right back.