A WHOLE LOT OF MAIL:
The summer had been an unbearably hot one. And now, all of a sudden, people were forced to close their windows to keep the cold air out. The sky had turned an ugly shade of grey, and, though it rarely rained, there was moistness in the air that couldn’t be explained.
To Alex, this was a sure sign that something exciting was going to happen; that some life changing event was just around the corner. But then again, to Alex, everything was a sign – only sometimes you realized it, and other times, you let it pass you by, just like the storm clouds that drifted across the city, not shedding much rain, yet leaving behind a drop or two of fresh water; making their presence felt.
Not that Alex really wanted his life to change, he was happy enough, living with his aunt and uncle in a little cottage at the very end of Foster’s Lane. In fact, his life had already altered a bit, with him having to leave San Francisco behind, owing to his uncle’s transfer to New York.
And now they had rented a little cottage in the street that was otherwise filled with towering mansions with palatial gardens. Alex wasn’t really the type to complain, but when one lived amongst such people, it was difficult not to.
He did his best, however. Aunt Stacy had become increasingly fidgety lately, and Alex suspected that she hadn’t much supported the decision to shift here, either. But the pay was better, and they had got the house cheap (though their neighbors would have preferred to demolish the place-and would have done so if the previous owners hadn’t intervened.) because the couple who had lived there before them was on some sort of goodwill spree- saying they had only built the place there so that they could rent it out at a low price to the less well- off.
Not poor. Such people never used that word. Others were either better off or worse off than them. They never knew by how much.
‘Alex, dear, can you help me in the garden for a moment?’ Aunt Stacy’s head popped into his room, and Alex looked up with a start.
As he had been doing nothing but bending over his book and trying to decipher the sparse notes he had scrawled onto the page, Alex stood up immediately, ready and agreeable.
He followed Aunt Stacy into the garden, pausing only as she stopped near the door to pick up her gardening gloves. The rest of the afternoon he spent helping her dig up and then re-plant some flowering plants.
‘Anything else?’ he asked when they seemed to be done.
Aunt Stacy opened her mouth to say something; then hesitated. ‘Don’t you have any homework to do, Alex?’ she asked him with a worried air.
‘It’s Saturday’ Alex protested with a half- smile. Then he added reassuringly, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be done by Monday!’
His aunt still looked doubtful, but said, ‘Well, there are some things I would like you to buy … if you could just head to that store around the corner …?’
The store she had mentioned was, in truth, over two streets away, but Alex nodded. ‘I’ll go get my jacket while you draw up a list’ he said briskly, standing up and dusting the flecks of mud off his jeans. He was too preoccupied to notice the way his aunt stared at him until he reached the front door and went inside the house.
Alex whistled lightly as he walked down the street, checking his watch occasionally- he had a date scheduled with Adriane for later that day.
Adriane was clearly one of the most popular people in his new high school. Why she had chosen to go out with him after dumping her previous boyfriend Jamie, Alex had no idea. He had just been at the right place at the right time, he guessed, which was to say, a table away from Adriane when she publicly broke up with Jamie.
Anyway, it didn’t hurt people’s opinion of him at his new school when they found that he was hanging out with Adriane, so Alex had agreed most enthusiastically.
She wasn’t the nicest person he’d come across – overemotional, snobbish and teasing – but Alex had seen all types of people before. He had also seen people like Adriane before, and so he knew better than to do anything that could irritate her. Alex was the kind of person who preferred to stay on everybody’s good side.
So absorbed was Alex in his thoughts that he did not notice a girl heading towards him from the other direction. She did not see him either, owing to the teetering pile of books she somehow managed to carry, which resulted in a rather unfortunate collision, as the books the girl had been holding slipped from her hands and fell to the ground.
‘Are you alright?’ Alex was the first to recover, and, polite as ever, he stood up and held his hand out to her. She didn’t seem to have heard, for she simply remained on the hard road, scrambling to pick up all the books she had dropped. So Alex merely bent down and helped her to do so. ‘All done’ he announced cheerily, picking up the last book. Only then did the girl even look up at him.
Once Alex looked at her properly, he found it quite difficult to look away; she was unmistakably pretty, with long blond – almost white – hair which seemed to have come undone when he had bumped into her and now hung over her shoulders. Her eyes were a deep bluish purple, which Alex supposed would have seemed out of place on anyone else, but they seemed to suit her perfectly. She was, however, underdressed, in a loose T-shirt and a pair of jeans. Presently, Alex realized that he had been staring at her and held out her books to her.
‘Thanks’ she murmured feebly, as though she did not use the word much, and got to her feet rather shakily, the books weighing down her arms.
‘Need any help?’ Alex offered graciously, wondering at the same time why anybody would deem it necessary to have in their possession so many books, especially since it was the weekend.
The girl shook her head. ‘I’m almost at my house, anyway’ she told Alex, pointing out a particularly large building that stood only a few meters away. Alex had always (well, for the last week and a half, at least) wondered who lived in that huge ancient looking mansion at the other end of the street. Well, now he knew – sort of.
‘Ahh …alright then.’ Alex agreed, thinking at the same time that the girl looked fairly familiar. Maybe he had seen her on the street before? But he was rather sure that he had seen her in school, too. He ran his hand through his already tousled hair thoughtfully.
So, ‘Alex Summers’ he introduced himself, holding out his hand.
She didn’t take it, unwilling to let go of the books, but she said, ‘I’m Elizabeth … Lizzie, actually’.
‘Lizzie …? Oh yeah, Adriane’s told me a lot about you!’ Alex remembered, and wondered why he didn’t recognize her before. Then, as he recalled all that Adriane had told him about Lizzie, he realized that he should have kept his mouth shut.
Sure enough, Lizzie raised her eyebrow questioningly, ‘Really?’ though she pronounced the word bitterly, she seemed unsurprised. ‘And what did she say, may I ask?’
‘No … I’d really prefer you didn’t’ Alex admitted, aiming to lighten the mood, but Lizzie only shot him a fairly appraising look, which made Alex wish he had never brought up Adriane’s name.
‘You’re her latest boyfriend, aren’t you?” Lizzie said.
Alex didn’t like the way she said latest, but he nodded. ‘You know me, then?’ he asked pleasantly.
Lizzie shook her head, ‘Macy mentioned it once’ she said. Macy must be that short, buck-toothed girl who hangs out with her a lot, Alex thought to himself, remembering the many times Adriane had pointed out the two together.
‘Ahh … sure,’ Alex said, not knowing what else to say. Lizzie’s eyes fixed on his face were seriously unnerving – she seemed to have even lowered the stack of books to glare at him.
‘What’re you planning to do with all those books, anyway?’ he asked after a moment’s silence had passed.
‘Homework,’ Lizzie answered.
‘You actually complete all that stuff?’ Alex sounded half- amused, half- impressed.
‘You must know that there are some people who actually spend their time resourcefully – not merely going out every other night and spending the day in bed,’ Lizzie said.
The insult was rather direct, and Alex wondered what had he ever done to make her hate him as much as she evidently did. Maybe, according to her, going out with Adriane was enough.
Feeling that it would be pointless (and perhaps hurtful, in case she directed any more insults at him) Alex said, ‘Nice meeting you. (It was amazing how he could lie with such a straight face) See you later (He sure hoped not).’
Lizzie said nothing, but she nodded politely and walked off to her house, and Alex, with one last glance behind him, which revealed that the girl was struggling to carry all the books, not looking as confident as she had sounded, went on his way to the store.
‘I’m back!’ Alex swung open the rusty metal gate that separated his house from the rest of the street and heaved in the heavy bag he was carrying: his aunt had managed to cram a large number of things for him to buy into the misleadingly tiny piece of paper she had handed him.
Hearing no reply, Alex made his way to the front door. It was bolted from the inside, but Alex could hear hushed whispering inside. Scratching the back of his neck in puzzlement, Alex knocked thrice. Almost immediately, the whispers subsided, and a second later, the door was pulled open by his aunt.
Alex peered inside the small living room, and to his surprise, he saw Uncle Jeff seated on one of the chairs, apparently absorbed in a piece of paper he held in his hands.
‘What is he-?’ Alex began, but his aunt hushed him with her finger, looking to her right to see if their annoying neighbor was listening in- as it was, he seemed to be inside, for loud 80’s music blared from next door.
‘Come inside and we’ll talk,’ she said, gently pulling Alex into the house, shutting the door behind them.
All three people in the room were quiet for the greater part of ten minutes. His aunt had headed off to the kitchen to prepare some coffee for Uncle Jeff, leaving Alex seated opposite his uncle. Presently, Aunt Stacy reentered the room, holding a tray on which there were two cups of coffee.
She offered Alex a cup, which she already knew he would decline; Alex eyed her expectantly, wondering why his uncle had returned home from work so early.
‘Umm … why are we here?’ Alex said finally, if only to break the uncomfortable silence that loomed over the room. Nobody said anything; Uncle Jeff merely grunted and downed what remained of his coffee in one gulp while Aunt Stacy drummed on the table beside her nervously with her long fingers.
Alex stood up, feeling irritated now. ‘I’ll be heading up to my room, then. You’ll find me there if and when you guys decide to speak,’ he suggested, and started walking towards his room.
‘Wait!’ his aunt cried suddenly, and Alex turned around to look at her. ‘We received this letter, Alex …’ she began to say.
‘It’s about your school,’ his uncle said at almost the exact same time.
At these two statements, Alex’s imaginative mind began to jump to a million conclusions regarding what they could have meant, each thought more far-fetched than the previous one.
‘I’ve been expelled!’ he cried out at last, picking out the most plausible explanation that came to his head at the moment. Not that he really saw why he should be expelled.
Not unless the principal had somehow found out that it was Alex who had sneaked the rat into his drawer the previous Wednesday. But that was a dare, Alex thought, what else could he have done anyway? Besides, there really was no way Mr. Ronan could have discovered that Alex was the culprit, unless, of course, someone had had the nerve to sneak on him. Come to think of it, Alex had never really trusted Morris – that shifty-eyed, freckled loner in his group. Ruefully, he made a mental note to pummel the guy the next time they met.
Shaking his head self pityingly, as if he had already decided that he was to be sent out of his school in shame, Alex looked at his aunt, a tiny glint of hope in his emerald-colored eyes. To his great surprise, she seemed to be holding back a smile.
Feeling much offended, Alex folded his arms contemptuously, ‘Is my expulsion so funny to you, then?’ he asked.
She laughed again, then, on seeing his expression, cleared her throat and said, ‘Don’t worry Alex; you are not expelled from Riverside!’
A wave of relief washed over the boy, only to ebb when his uncle added with a serious expression on his face, ‘But you will have to leave school young man’
His uncle always called him that. It was always just ‘young man’ or sometimes even ‘nephew’. Not that Alex expected a ‘dear’ or ‘honey’ from the old man, but really, plain ‘Alex’ would have sufficed.
Once again, Alex’s temper rose; here he was, barely a week into his first year of high school – the peak of every teenager’s life – and he was being asked – no, forced – to leave it. He didn’t really think he could do that.
‘What?’ Alex didn’t really know what else to say, ‘But we just got here!’
‘Alex dear …’ his aunt sighed, and for a second, Alex felt sorry for her. She didn’t really seem to support the idea of him leaving his school. But then, why was she agreeing with his uncle? Why couldn’t she put her foot down for once and tell him what she thought of his stupid plans?
Then he looked up, his eyes filled with a resolute determination, ‘Well then here’s news for you guys … I am definitely not leaving school. Not now. Not ever … I mean, not until I finish high school anyway’ he corrected. He had stood up involuntarily by now, and, aiming to make himself appear fiercer, he stomped his right foot on the beaten carpet.
This action, however, only led to a rather large cloud of dust, which caused all three of them to cough suddenly, Uncle Jeff even topping it off with one of his humongous sneezes.
‘Now look here, young man!’ Uncle Jeff stood up, looking just as annoyed as Alex felt. At six feet two, he stood a good four inches above his young nephew.
Still, Alex glared up at him defiantly and said, though his volume was a notch lower than usual, ‘I will not leave …’
He was cut short by his uncle. ‘You will do as I say as long as you are living under my roof!’
His voice was so loud that the nosey neighbor next door actually switched off his radio and attempted to listen in on their intriguing conversation. Noting this, Uncle Jeff coughed a bit and quieted down.
But Alex merely said, his voice firm, ‘Then I’m leaving!’
His uncle opened his mouth to deliver a few choice words, but Aunt Stacy, who, up till that moment, had been as quiet as a church mouse, beat him to it, saying wisely, ‘And where will you go, honey?’
She does have a point, Alex admitted to himself grudgingly. Still, that didn’t really change anything. So he merely scowled noticeably and stared out of the window, looking vaguely at the neighbors’ unkempt flower beds.
Out of the corner of his eye, however, he watched as his aunt took the piece of paper that his uncle had been reading when he entered. She said something to Uncle Jeff in a low voice. He nodded his consent, and so she held the paper out to Alex.
‘This came for you some time ago, honey’ she said shortly.
Alex was quite determined to appear nonchalant, and he was now staring out of the window, and amusing himself with the various cloud patterns in the sky. And he managed it for about ten seconds before his dratted curiosity got the better of him and, with a short turn of his head, he pulled the paper out of his aunt’s fingers as ungraciously as he could.
Then, faintly furious with himself for accepting it, but at the same time glad that he had not abstained from doing so, he ran his eyes over the sheet of paper, wondering if it would explain his guardians’ strange behaviour.
“Dear Mr. Alex Summers, we deem it a privilege to notify you that you have been accepted into the ‘ELLIOT ACADEMY FOR YOUNG MAGICIANS’.”
‘Elliot Academy …?’ Alex looked at his aunt, puzzled; his eyes begged for a proper explanation.
‘Umm … yes,’ she said testily, ‘that’s where you’ll be going, Alex.’
‘Oh!’ Alex replied.
Then, ‘So you guys are taking me out of a perfectly proper school just to put me in this unknown school that I’ve never heard of before?’
His uncle nodded. ‘Just to be clear,’ Alex said sarcastically. Then he swore loudly.
His aunt, sensing a feud, quickly put in, ‘Your parents went to the same school, Alex!’
Alex was quiet for a nanosecond before shouting, ‘And why exactly do you think that would matter to me?’
‘I know it does Alex,’ his aunt replied quietly.
Okay … so maybe – just maybe – it did. In his defense, Alex was a boy who had never seen his parents. He knew nothing about them – their names, what they were like, and of course, he didn’t actually know what school they went too.
But all this was only natural for a boy who had no living relatives, wasn’t it? Aunt Stacy and Uncle Jeff had adopted Alex when he was a baby. They weren’t really his aunt and uncle, though Aunt Stacy had always insisted that he address them that way. Alex had always just assumed that they didn’t know his parents. He had even tried asking Aunt Stacy once before, when he was five years old, whether she had known his father, and from the expression she had given him, it had been rather clear that she had never met him.
Alex had always believed that. Until now, when Aunt Stacy said, ‘Emily was my best friend Alex. We were next- door neighbors. Once she was fifteen, she left for Elliot. But every vacation, when she returned, we maintained contact with each other.
‘It didn’t take me very long to grow curious about where she kept disappearing to every school year. And so, after a lot of coaxing, during her final year at Elliot, she told me everything. I’ll admit, I didn’t really believe her at first, but as she explained, it all fell into place for me.
‘After that, she had to leave, though we promised to stay in touch. But I didn’t see Emily after that, until she came to me nearly seven years later with a baby boy.
‘See, magicians are not allowed to stay with their parents when they are young – which explains why Emily lived in a large mansion with only her grandfather for company – so she had to leave you. You Alex, had no living relatives, and I was the closest thing poor Emily had to a sister. So she gave you to me.
‘I know your next question – you want to know whether your parents are alive or not – but I honestly don’t know the answer. I never heard from Emily after that night.’
Alex could do nothing but stare at his aunt, trying to see the truth in what she was saying- that his parents had not abandoned him on their own accord and that they may still be alive somewhere.
Not wanting to betray his true feelings, however, he growled, ‘So what, I ask you? And what’s this about ‘young magicians’ anyway’ he glanced at the paper clutched tightly in his hand, ‘something like whiz kids and brainiacs or something?’ he demanded, though he knew the moment he said it that whatever it was, it was much deeper than that.
‘It’s not what you think Alex …’ his aunt said softly, and Alex calmed down just a bit.
‘Then what is it?’ he whispered back. He expected poor Aunt Stacy to be stumped.
Instead, she said rather matter-of-factly, ‘Magicians, Alex. That’s what they were. Real magicians. That’s why they couldn’t see you for so long.’
After she said this, Alex just stared at his aunt, trying to see if she was merely joking to lighten the pensive atmosphere. But her face said nothing. She only nodded.
‘Wow, wow, wow!’ Alex stammered finally, falling back into his seat involuntarily.
‘Yes Alex’ his aunt agreed, ‘This is pretty “wow” as you call it’ she smiled.
‘So this means I’m a magician too, then?’ he asked hesitantly, for some reason – unknown even to himself – wishing that he was.
His uncle answered the question, ‘Of course, young man!’ Then he got up slowly and stretched his limbs, ‘I will be going now … it’s getting late, the boss will keep me over time for this,’ he said. And that was all. He just left.
Alex looked bleakly at Aunt Stacy, whose eyes followed Uncle Jeff out. He decided that this was probably a good time for questions. ‘Where are my parents? Are they alive? Don’t they want me? And where is this school? What do they teach? Magic? That’s all? What kind of magic, exactly? Is this why you’ve been so nervous lately, aunt? And-’
‘Alex! Slow down!’ his aunt laughed, ‘Come, let’s go to the kitchen … I’ll make you a cup of tea, then we’ll discuss this in detail’ Aunt Stacy always thought that a steaming hot cup of tea was the solution to every one’s life’s problems. And before Alex could protest, she had steered him into the kitchen.
‘So much work!’ Lizzie commented to herself as she adjusted her reading glasses on her nose.
She was sitting in her bedroom – a huge, spacious area on the top floor of her mom’s mansion – in the midst of a dozen or so piles of books of varying heights- the smallest one containing merely two tiny dictionaries and the largest having around twelve reference books, all of which she was browsing through for information for her science project.
On the large, plush bed sat her laptop- open and running. On the screen was a page on ‘Pride and Prejudice – a review’ which she was looking up for her book report. Really, did they have to make her read such a dry book? Lizzie had decided, five pages in, that it was nothing more than a ‘silent movie in words’ and had decided to modify one of the reviews on the internet.
Lizzie stared up helplessly at the red wall, on which she had tacked up many self- made charts saying, “Don’t delay! Do it today!” and “GET A 9.0 G.P.A!”
Looking at them now, rather made her feel like laughing instead of helping her out in her work, which was the intended purpose of those messages.
After around ten minutes of attempting to work out math sums, she buried her head in her math book that lay, open and threatening, in front of her. Not that she didn’t enjoy homework – quite the contrary, in fact – but this was far too much for one day. School had not been going all that well lately – and by lately, Lizzie meant that she hadn’t enjoyed school for the last couple of years. The last week was no exception – she had managed to lose a mark in the first Math test of the year, got into a fight with her supposed best friend Marci, and bump into Adriane’s dumb boyfriend. And that was just the beginning of her troubles.
Just as she was wondering which piece of work to tackle first, she heard a loud knock on the front door. Glad for an excuse to abandon her books, she jumped up enthusiastically.
Then she sprinted down the spiral staircase so quickly that before she knew it, she had lost her footing. The rest of the trip was spent tumbling down the remaining three steps.
‘Ow, ow …. ow!’ she yelped, finally landing on the soft red carpet. As she rubbed her leg sorely, feeling more irritated than ever, the knock sounded again. ‘I’m coming!’ she groaned loudly, dragging herself up and limping towards the door.
Maybe it’s mother, back early from Paris, Lizzie thought hopefully. Then the fall would be sort of worth it. Her mother was a famous fashion designer who spent most of her days away in exotic locations, forgetting that she had a teenage daughter back home in some suburb in New York. Like now, for example, she was away in Paris, opening up some new boutique.
It was not her mom who stood in front of her, however, when she turned the knob hesitantly. She was greeted – rather warmly – by Matthew, their local postman: a young boy of only eighteen years of age, working to pay off his college fees.
‘I ran all the way down … and nearly broke my back and foot … for a bundle of lousy letters?’ she cried out incredulously, addressing no one in particular.
‘And to see me, of course’ Matthew replied with a wink.
‘Oh seriously, Matthew? I’m having a bad enough day without you being part of it’ Lizzie said, rolling her eyes.
He replied in a slow drawl, that he considered very appealing- though to Lizzie it looked like he was talking in slo-mo and said flirtatiously, ‘Why, of course, Elizabeth.’ And Matthew grinned. He, for one, knew that Lizzie’s bark was worse than her bite: though the girl snapped a lot and was rude, she was a pretty nice person when she wanted to be.
‘Don’t call me that!’ Lizzie protested. ‘Anything else?’ she asked, taking the letters from him.
‘Yeah – sign here,’ said Matthew, indicating where on the piece of paper clipped on to the green pad he was holding. ‘So ... why do you sign your name as “Elizabeth” then?’ he asked mischievously.
Predictably, the door was slammed on his face less than a minute later. Clearly, Lizzie was in a bad mood.
Slumping down onto the couch in the living room, Lizzie sighed deeply; she had really been hoping for her mother. It had been almost three weeks since she had last seen her.
Well … who am I kidding anyway? She thought sadly, hugging her favorite red pillow close to herself. Mother’s probably got more important things to do. If only I had a father, Lizzie thought wistfully. Her mother rarely spoke of her father. She seemed pretty disturbed whenever Lizzie asked her.
Lizzie did know that her father was British however, and the reason they lived in a mansion was because it reminded her mother of the house in which she had lived together with Lizzie’s father- complete with a butler and maids.
Lizzie didn’t even know his name. Often, when she was lying on her bed, all alone, staring at the dark ceiling, she thought of her father and who he really was. Lots of thoughts sprung up in her mind, until she finally fell asleep dreaming.
Without really meaning to, a tear slipped from her eye and fell onto the pillow, deepening the red into a dark shade of crimson. Shaking her head and coming out of her stupor, she started to sort out the letters in her hand, mainly to occupy herself, and also to avoid returning to her homework.
Most of them were – predictably – addressed to her mother: brochures for the latest fashion and bills for her various purchases. After all, her mother was the only occupant of the house other than Lizzie herself, not counting the two maids and the aged butler; and he was, at the moment, vacationing in some remote island in the Caribbean, leaving Lizzie to fend for herself- little things like answering the door.
‘Mother, mother … mother,’ ‘Lizzie chimed rhythmically, rifling through the many letters, disheartened. A small heap of letters was now forming beside her.
She had just decided to abandon the task and return to her room- even homework seemed more interesting compared to this meaningless occupation- when she came across a blood red envelope that stood out contrastingly amidst the other spotless white ones and the few brown covers.
‘Wonder what this is?’ Lizzie said to herself, fishing it out of the bundle, unconsciously careful about it. Turning it over, she saw the words on the cover, in neat, cursive script:
“To Miss. Elizabeth Parker”
‘Me?’ Lizzie squeaked disbelievingly in a low voice, barely audible even to herself. She stared at the letter, surprised to see her name on it; she hadn’t known that any of her friends actually wrote letters … not that she had many friends. Still, she was pretty sure Marci wouldn’t be caught dead posting one.
‘Then who the heck is this thing from?’ Lizzie whispered quietly, and, bubbling with mingled excitement and apprehension, she ripped open the envelope. Inside, written on a plain sheet of white paper were the words,
“Dear Miss. Elizabeth Parker, we deem it a privilege to notify you that you have been accepted into the ‘ELLIOT ACADEMY FOR YOUNG MAGICIANS’.”
Lizzie stared blankly at the paper for a few seconds before she actually registered the strange words on it. ‘The Elliot Academy…?’ she mouthed, thrown of balance by the strange letter. She had never heard the name before, and she had most definitely not sent in an application.
Then Lizzie briefly wondered if this was her friend, Marci’s, idea of a prank. After all, the girl had ruefully sworn to get back at Lizzie for embarrassing her in the cafeteria earlier that day.
Lizzie didn’t think it was such a big deal, really. She had accidentally- as she reminded poor Marci three times – tipped her lunch tray onto Marci’s new pink parka- really, who wore a parka in autumn? She had only tripped in the first place because Adriane had stuck out her foot, and Lizzie was quite sure that that was no accident.
Anyhow, it hadn’t changed things: Marci’s sweater was covered in spaghetti anyway, red sauce dripping onto her blue jeans. ‘My outfit! I-i-it’s ruined!’ the poor girl had shrieked, staring at her dress in horror.
And what had Lizzie done? On her part, she was already in a pretty foul mood, having lost one measly mark in the geometry test and she was in no mood to hear Marci bawl about her blemished outfit.
So, pushing her hair back irritably, she simply said, ‘Just a little sauce, Marci. It’ll wash off’ at which Marci had looked more mournful than ever. Lizzie had just rolled her eyes – which she had quite a habit for doing – and said carelessly, ‘Wipe that stupid expression off your face, Marci. The parka didn’t look too good on you anyway.’
She had really meant to offer succor to her friend, but it hadn’t turned out that way. Instead, Marci had shot her a look of loathing and cried out, ‘I’ll get you back for this, Elizabeth Parker-’ most definitely a bad sign; Marci only used Lizzie’s full name when she was really angry- ‘just see if I don’t!’ and she had stomped away to the restroom.
And what had Lizzie done after that, with all the students looking at her expectantly? Well … she was not really the dramatic type, so she didn’t rush after Marci, calling out the latter’s name.
Instead, she glared at Adriane, who had a slight smirk on her piggish face, and walked slowly back to her table. Once there, she sat down in her seat and started to read the first lesson in the history text book, cramming for the test that would be held during the next period.
I really was pretty inconsiderate, Lizzie realized now, thinking back on the incident. Then, sighing, she said softly, ‘Nothing can be done now, however!’ and she looked again at the letter.
‘I don’t think Marci would have had the time to post this letter anyway … then …’ Lizzie continued to stare at the red envelope, partially entranced by it. It was important, she knew. She didn’t know exactly how she knew that, though.
‘This is really weird’ she finally concluded, picking up the phone to call her mother. She dialed the number hopefully, praying that her mother would pick up.
A soft melody sounded on the other side- one that Lizzie was so used to hearing whenever she rung up her mother. Halfway through her favorite part of it, it stopped abruptly.
‘This is Charisse, Mrs. Bella Parker’s secretary … she is not available at the moment … can I take a message … please press 1 if you … press 2 …’ the connection was pretty pathetic, and Lizzie could only vaguely hear Charisse’s voice.
However, she had heard enough to know that she wouldn’t be able to contact her busy mother for some time. So, she decisively punched the number 1 on the phone and said, ‘Hi mother! This is me, Elizabeth (her mother had always preferred her given name; she was the one who had given it, after all) I’ve received this strange letter … so could you please come back as soon as possible? Like, say, tonight? I hope you take the trouble to at least listen this message!’ she finished.
Then she sighed again and stared out of the window unregistering, wondering when her mother would be returning … whenever that would be.
‘Race you home, dear brother!’ Diana yelled over the bellowing wind. She rode her cycle swiftly along the muddy road, maintaining her balance perfectly. After all, she did ride the cycle almost every day after school.
‘You are so going to lose this one!’ her brother, Carter, called back from somewhere behind her, though he seemed to be having quite a hard time keeping up with her; every time he came close, she simply revved up and shot ahead, laughing like a maniac.
In reply to his seemingly meaningless threat, Diana merely gave another one of her devilish laughs, ‘Yeah right Carter! That would be the day, now!’ she scoffed. Her short black curls flew behind her in the strong gusts of wind as she raced ahead of Carter, clearly enjoying the race, even more so the fact that she was seemingly sure to win.
Carter grumbled and tried to speed up, only succeeding in further falling behind.
‘Almost there!’ for one glorious second, Diana had nearly won – she was just inches away from the finish. The next second, her wheel struck against a jutting rock and she took a tumbling fall into the creek below.
‘Diana!’ her brother screamed worriedly as his sister took a spectacular fall, but not before riding well past the finish line – a clothesline that hung between two tall trees in the backyard.
Then he kicked his bicycle aside and rushed over to help her up. He found her all right – save a little wet – but it could have been worse, he told himself.
Even then, as Carter hoisted her up, Diana gave a deep moan, ‘My arm … ow … this is all your fault!’ she groaned irritably.
‘What?’ Carter was incredulous. Even he couldn’t really see how his sister was going to blame him for this accident.
‘Well …’ Diana started, looking at him ruefully from under the thick curly mop of hair that covered her face, ‘If you hadn’t been so slow at bicycling, then maybe you would have won and there would have been no need for me to try to go so quickly, because I would have known you could win, and so I wouldn’t have tripped on that stupid rock!’ she concluded- and once she had done so, the excuse sounded feeble even to herself.
‘I don’t believe you!’ Carter snorted in disbelief, dropping his sister’s hand so suddenly that she fell right back into the muddy water, evidently caught by surprise. Uncaring, Carter added, ‘And I did win, anyway!’ Angered by his words, Diana pulled him into the water too and landed a blow on his face.
Needless to say, a pretty wild fight ensued, and when the two siblings emerged up the mound, dragging their misshapen cycles behind them in a most pathetic manner, they resembled the two old vagrants who begged for food at their doorstep during harsh winter days.
‘Oh – not again!’ their mother cried out disappointedly, as they left two sets of muddy tracks behind them when they entered through the back door, Diana neatly avoiding the laid out mat.
‘Were you two fighting again?’ she asked them, mopping up the footprints. Carter nodded while Diana shrugged guiltily. Then she slumped down on the straw chair and began to wolf down the cookies on the plate in front of her.
‘Did I ever tell you that you’re really disgusting?’ Carter asked his sister, staring at her pointedly.
‘Only about ten times a day!’ Diana remarked cheerfully, still stuffing her face. Carter sighed and turned to his mother, ‘Why did you ask us to come home early, Mama?’ he said to her.
Mrs. Forsythe was now sweeping the ground, and she looked up at the question. She didn’t answer, though.
Carter picked up a cookie from the tray that Diana had already half- finished and chewed on it decently, whilst staring at his mother, an expectant expression on his face.
‘In a second, dear.’ Mrs. Forsythe replied, dusting at some invisible speck of dirt on the ground. ‘Sure’ Carter said bracingly, looking around- anywhere but Diana: the sight of her when she was positively ravenous was not a pretty one.
The Forsythes lived on a farm, right at the center of one, in fact. They had literally grown up with cows and chickens and pigs. The mother was the head of the household- both Carter and Diana had never seen or heard of their father. Nor did they care. Anyone who left their mother was a waste of their time. They were happy enough as it was: a little wooden cottage in the middle of nowhere.
Diana was a girl of about fifteen, eight months younger to her brother. They went to the same school in the country – to the very same class, in fact. She was rather short for her age, with thick black hair, dancing black eyes and elfish ears that stuck out a bit. She was cheery and helpful most of the time, though she did fire up every once in a while.
Diana’s brother, Carter, was not really much like her. With his fair hair and grey eyes, he had an ever- serious expression on his face, though in truth, he was really a rather nice person, though a bit over- protective of his little sister.
Of course, they went to school – a humble country school just two miles away from their dwelling. There were only about twelve students in their class. The whole little town was a small, close-knit one, free from external influence.
‘Oh God!’ Mrs. Forsythe plopped down onto a chair, wiping her brow with the same dirt- streaked cloth she had used to wipe the ground minutes ago. Carter pretended not to notice; Diana, on the other hand, really hadn’t.
She was done with the cookies, and now sat contentedly, waiting for her mother to start talking. ‘Are you going to say anything or not?’ she demanded crassly after ten seconds of silence, ‘Lucy called me to a movie with some others after school, you know! And I declined, saying that you had something to tell me. Anyhow, if all we’re going to do is sit here and stare mutely at each other’s faces, then I might as well …’
‘That’s enough, Diana’ Carter broke in – his tone soft but firm. He, for one, had noticed how tired his mother looked and he felt that his sister was being really inconsiderate.
His mother, however, shook her head and said, ‘She’s right, Carter. I called you both here for something, and it’s about time I told you.’
And so, surveying the two pairs of eyes- one black and the other a deep blue- staring intently at her with a smile, she continued, ‘It’s about your father …’
The two teenagers didn’t really know what to say to this totally unexpected piece of news.
‘Oh!’ Diana said unsurely. Carter was quicker to react.
‘Yeah, so what about him?’ he asked his mother in a rather clipped tone. Carter had always maintained that his father had abandoned the family, and so he had no desire to talk about him.
His mother looked like she wasn’t really sure of what she was going to say, but said it anyway, ‘He was a magician.’
And again, her two children looked rather stumped. Diana gave a low cough and said, ‘You mean to say that father some sort of a ‘stage’ performer? …. Oh! And did he suddenly make himself disappear?’ she sounded pretty enthused by the idea.
Carter ignored his sister’s questions and said, ‘Really, mama, is that what you wanted to say to us … that our father was a magician … that was some news I could live without knowing …’
‘Not that kind of a magician!’ his mother said suddenly, ‘A real one … who can perform good old magic … you both are magicians too!’
Diana stared at her mom, ‘Oh, come on, mama, I’m not a first grader any more. So you can’t really think of fooling me with the idea that magic actually exists, like you did on my fifth birthday so long ago. Now come to think of it, that was pretty dumb …’ her voice faltered when she caught sight of the serious expression on her mother’s face. Then she whimpered, ‘You’re … not … kidding … are you?’
Her mother simply shook her head and pulled an envelope out of one of the drawers in the table next to the chair on which she was perched. ‘Read this please’ she said to the two of them. ‘Umm … okay then’ replied Carter vaguely, taking it from her.
He opened it delicately and took out the paper inside. Twenty seconds lapsed as the two siblings stared at it, not knowing how to react to what was written on it.
‘So …’ Carter said finally, ‘we’re going to become magicians too?’ he looked dubious at the very thought. When he thought of his future- which he did quite a lot- he had always pictured himself as a doctor … not a magician, of all things.
Diana, on the other hand, looked faintly excited, ‘Do we … do we get to wear starry cloaks and pointed hats … and carry wands? And …’
Her enquiries were endless. She had so many questions that in the end, her mother had to cut her off with a laugh. And the rest of the evening was spent explaining.