Guess what? Today was my sixteenth birthday. Pretty cool, huh? Sure, if by cool you mean worst day ever . . . and it was only noon.
I sat in the Stassen High School’s cafeteria staring at “tuna surprise.” Let me tell you, it was a surprise all right. I was surprised it passed the health code. It was gray, for crying out loud. Food should not be gray.
Also, it might be tolerable if I lived somewhere exciting, but, no, I’d be turning sixteen in nowhere’s ville: St. Paul, Minnesota.
I pushed the glutinous mush around its little container. At least the potatoes looked edible. My stomach growled, so I poked a forkful into my mouth. I sighed. What I really wanted was my turkey sandwich, or at least someone I could joke around with about the whole stupid situation.
But, no. I was sitting alone.
Bea was supposed to be here. Sometime in middle school we made a solemn blood vow. We’d always sit together at lunch so neither of us would ever have to look like that sad, lonely loser.
Hello, yes, that’d be me! Loser in corner number one.
On my birthday, no less.
Bea, Beatrice Theodora Braithwaite to her mother, was my kind-of sort-of best friend. She was the only person in school with a more arcane name than me. Get a load of this: Anastasija Ramses Parker. Yeah. You can see why most people just call me Ana.
Anyway, Bea and I, we’ve known each other since second grade. That’s a lot of history. It’s hard not to be close to someone you borrowed your first tampon from, giggled your way through puppy- love crushes with, and survived that god-awful middle school sex education with. Though, honestly, I don’t always like her. We’re pretty different. Bea has diva tendencies, and I lean toward being a bookish, shrinking violet. But, we’ve been kind of thrown together by fate because she’s the only other True Witch at school.
It’s a secret, but real magic exists. True Witches can make shit happen. Not just that New Age-y feel-good stuff, but, like, things you’d notice: storms, sickness, dead cattle. You know, all the stuff we used to get burned at the stake for. That’s why we don’t talk about it.
There were plenty of Wiccans at school and elsewhere, of course. It’s all the rage to be a teen witch, but Bea and I could do real magic.
Or at least Bea could.
I was supposed to be able to. I’ve got the pedigree, but, well, something’s off. Maybe it was the same off something that made one of my eyes ice blue and the other a deep, mahogany brown.
When a chair scraped the linoleum floor, I looked up expectantly. Perhaps Queen Bea had finally deigned to put in an appearance. Well, better late than never.
Instead of Bea, it was Matt Thompson, hockey jock extraordinaire, and two of his cronies, Thing One and Thing Two, who sat down at my table. Between you and me, I had this secret crush on Thompson. He was pretty in that classic square-jaw, he-man way, okay? I appreciated the way his ultra-short, nut-brown hair curled at the tips, and the boy did have a way of fitting into a Tt-shirt and jeans that was pretty . . . noticeable.
Too bad he was such an asshole.
“If it isn’t Ana Parker, Witch Girl,.” hHe made it sound like some kind of superhero moniker. His buddies chortled.
I retorted with: “What do you want, Thompson? Did you get lost on your way to ‘Caveman 101’?” Which was a pretty snappy comeback for me, considering the quivering in my stomach. Guys like Thompson could smell fear, so I tried to hide mine under an air of contempt.
His friends looked at each other with perfect Neanderthal, heavy- eyebrow frowns and shrugged like they didn’t get the joke. Thompson, meanwhile, didn’t let it faze him. “How come you’re all on your lonesome, anyway? Couldn’t conjure up some friends?”
Oh, touché, you maestro of wit and repartee.
Thing One and Thing Two, however, found his little pun absolutely hilarious.
“Right. Ha. Ha,” I said. My tough-girl facçade cracked a bit. These sorts of scenes never broke in favor of the geek. If I wasn’t careful, there was going to be a drink in my face or some other embarrassment in my future. Worse, I knew I’d fare much better if Bea were here as back-up. Why were they still harassing me, anyway? Usually, Thompson and his crew did fly by pot shots and left Bea and me alone. Was this his sad, grade -school way of flirting?
“Careful, man,” said Thing One. “She might put a hex on us.”
I wish. The sad thing was that these three boys were perfectly safe from little ol’ me. I was a dud in the magic department. But they didn’t know that. No one did, not even Bea. That was my own special secret. One I tried to keep from myself. If I wasn’t a True Witch, then I was just a plain, old loser, wasn’t I?
Ironically, I could tell underneath the huff and gruff, the boys were a teeny bit nervous at calling me out. After all, if Bea were here, they might easily find a colony of spiders in their gym shorts or locker combinations that no longer worked.
The only thing I had going for me was that I totally looked the part of a witch. I had long, wicked straight hair complete with a slight widow’s peak right in the center of my pale, pasty forehead. Okay, Bea said my complexion was porcelain, but I always felt ghostly -white and washed- out . . . except for my eyes. I hardly needed mascara for the thick lashes that made my mismatched colored eyes stand out. It was my biggest weapon against guys like Thompson and his crew.
So I turned my patented “spooky eye” on them. It was a look I’ve perfected over the years. I squinted directly at Thompson with the ice-cold blue eye. I muttered under my breath about hex and flex and sex and t-T. rex and other rhyming words because, you know, people expect spells to rhyme.
They looked nervous. Thing Two’s Adam’s apple bobbed. Glances flitted between them. Thompson tried to act like he was unimpressed, but suddenly he saw someone he knew across the room. “Hey, there’s Yvonne. I need to talk to her about the band coming to her house party.” As he stood up to flee, Thompson mustered one last bit of nasty. “Too bad you’ll never be popular enough to be invited to a house party, freak.”
“Boo!” I said.
Thompson jumped and uttered a sound not unlike a squeak. Thing One—or maybe it was Two—actually snickered.
Score one for the freak! I only wish I didn’t feel like he might be right about me. Thompson swaggered over to flirt with Yvonne Jackson, whom everyone figured he’d take to hHomecoming, since she was, after all, the captain of the cheerleading squad. So cliché. I watched them surreptitiously as I attempted to ingest the edible parts of lunch. He leaned in to talk to her, propping himself on the table with his elbows, which made his pecs bulge. She giggled. It was gross, really, but . . .
Here I was, turning sixteen on the sixteenth, and was I having any kind of party? Would there be music and dancing or anything cool? Would I get any presents? No. Tonight, what I had to look forward to was a long, boring drive to a cabin in the far suburbs while Bea and my mMom chatted on like the whole thing wouldn’t flop.
The cabin was our “covenstead,” the place where our group of those capital- letter True Witches practiced magic in secret. Once there, I’d get to fail spectacularly in front of everyone when I was called on to perform a simple elemental spell as part of my official Initiation, or welcoming into the Inner Circle.
Only there wouldn’t be any welcoming.
Because, after I fubared the ritual, my mother would cry. I’d be shunned, cast out of the cCoven , and I’d finish my days at Stassen High School just like this: sitting alone at lunch, while everyone . . . EVERY one, even Bea . . . thought I was a weirdo freak.
It was going to be so awesome.
And I still hadn’t even made it half-way through the day yet.