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Bras & Broomsticks Excerpt

Magic in Manhattan 1: Bras & Broomsticks

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Excerpt: Chapter 1

I’ve wished for lots of things in my fourteen years...a boyfriend, world peace, cleavage. But none of my wishes have come true.

Until now.

I’m standing by my locker, zipping up my black puffy coat, when I notice the sneakers. They’re the green suede designer ones I admired at Bloomie’s last week. My mom said I couldn’t have them because they cost more than our TV. And they’re on my feet.

“But how—” I mumble, blinking in confusion. Where are the beaten-up black boots I always have on? “I mean, when...?” Did I accidentally swap shoes with someone after gym? Am I a thief? Impossible. The only time I ever took anything that wasn’t mine was when I inadvertently wore Jewel’s retainer. Gross, yes. But criminal? No.

My heart starts beating erratically. This is so weird. How did these shoes get on my feet? Wait a millisecond. Maybe my mom bought them to surprise me? Not that she normally does stuff like that, but I have been on my best behavior lately (after being grounded for something completely ridiculous, don’t even ask) and she’s big on rewarding good deeds. I guess I must have laced them up this morning without even noticing. Lame. But I went to bed really late last night, and I’m always zoned out when I’m tired. That still doesn’t explain why I didn’t notice I was wearing them until now though. I glance back down. The shoes are a luminous green. Sparkling, even. They’re practically screaming at me to notice them. Whatever. New shoes! The ideal accessory for my awesome after-school plans. I smile like someone who just got her braces off.

“Can I borrow your phone?” I ask Tammy. She’s busy rummaging through her satchel. The least I can do is thank my mom — maybe she’ll cave on a cell phone for me next.

“Cool shoes,” Tammy says, glancing down. “When did you change?”

“I...didn’t. I’ve, uh, been wearing them all day.” Haven’t I? Now I’m totally unsure again.

Tammy gives me a thumbs-up sign with her right hand and passes the phone with her left. She uses finger signals to indicate her thoughts. She learned to scuba dive with her family last year in Aruba and now frequently communicates by underwater mime. Thumbs-up means “Let’s get out of the water,” which means she wants to hightail it out of here.

My mother answers on the first ring. “Mom, thanks for the sneakers. They’re perfect! Sorry I didn’t notice them this morning.”

Pause. Then muffled static.

“You still there?” I ask, tapping my heels together. Who knew green suede could look so glam? “I can’t hear you.”

There’s furious whispering in the background, and then a loud “Shhh!”

“You need to come home,” my mom tells me.

“What? Why?” I ask. My stomach free-falls.

Another pause. More furious whispering. “I have something to talk to you about,” my mom says. Her voice sounds uneven. “Something extremely important.”

“But I have extremely important after-school plans!” My destiny is waiting for me at Stromboli Pizzeria! This is a complete and utter disaster. “And when I called you an hour ago you said I could go!”

“Things have changed,” my mother says, her clipped words ruining my life. “I want you back at the apartment.”

My down-filled coat starts to feel like a furnace. “Can’t we talk about whatever is so earth-shattering later?”

My mother heaves one of her why-must-I-carry-the- weight-of-the-world-on-my-thin-shoulders sighs. “Rachel, enough.”

“Fine.” I sigh right back. I have a sigh of my own, and it’s just as martyrish. In a small triumph, I press the pink End button before she can say good-bye. “I can’t come,” I tell Tammy, handing her the phone. My cheeks feel all blotchy. Why couldn’t I have just thanked my mom when I got home?

Tammy adjusts her light brown ponytail and makes a fist in front of her chest, her “low on air” sign, meaning she feels bad for me. Tammy is an excellent sympathizer, as well as smart and reliable. She’s always there when I need someone to talk to, and more important, when I unintentionally sport poppy bagel seeds between my teeth, she immediately and covertly lets me know by tapping her lips. She’s a great friend. It’s just that — okay, I hate to play favorites — I like Jewel more. But the way Jewel has been treating me, I might as well be walking around with an I-just-got-dumped sash across my nonexistent chest.

Sigh.

Over the past four months, since she strutted her stuff for the JFK fashion show tryouts and got in, Juliana Sanchez (Jewel for short, Bee-Bee for shorter/longer) has morphed from my sidekick and best friend into a card-carrying member of the inner circle. Yes, she made the A-list. Except for a few minutes in math class, I hardly ever get to talk to her anymore. I miss her.

Going to Stromboli’s would have been a step toward reclaiming our Bee-Bee status. (Sorry for the cheddary Best Buds acronym, but Jewel and I have been using it forever.) The entire cool crowd will be there. I was lucky even to have been asked. Mick Lloyd invited Jeffrey Stars, who invited Aaron Jacobs, who invited Tammy, who invited me. And you don’t go if you don’t get an invite. You can’t. You wouldn’t know what pizza place/coffee shop/parentless apartment the A-list selected, so you wouldn’t know where to show up. If only they would just choose the same place every time, like they did on Friends. Monica never showed up at a new coffee spot, The Not-So-Central Perk, wondering where everyone was.

Down the hall I see Raf Kosravi at his locker, pulling out his coat. A strand of his midnight black hair falls into his matching dark eyes, and he brushes it away
with the back of his hand.

Heart. Beating. Erratically. Not. Because. Of. Shoes.

Sigh. Because of my mother, I will potentially be missing out on precious flirting time with Raf, the boy I’m in love with.

I am also in love with Mick Lloyd. Yes, I know it seems strange to love two boys at the same time, but since I’ve never spoken more than two words to either of them (“Happy Holidays!” to Raf and “Excuse me” to Mick), I’m not concerned about my divided heart. Mick Lloyd is the cute, blond, all-American type that’s cast on every dating show. Big smile, dimple in each cheek, great hair. Raf is more mysterious-slash-sexy. He’s not too tall, only around five foot six (which is still much, much taller than me at five foot one — I’d better still be growing), and has a lean, fit body like a champion tennis player or an Olympic swimmer (not that I’ve ever watched professional tennis or swimming). Raf is also in the fashion show with Jewel.

Ah, the fashion show. It’s really a dance show with a catwalk and designer outfits. Or so I hear. Since I’m only a freshman, and the show is in April, I’ve never seen it. And since a former JFK student who’s now an It Guy Hollywood director launched the idea ten years ago to raise money for the prom, it’s always been a cool thing for guys to do. Like football or baseball. There is an overlap of boys who play football with those who are in the show. Unfortunately for the school trophy case, the quarterback is a better dancer than he is an athlete. Mick isn’t in the show, but he does play on the JV baseball team, the only sports team at our school that doesn’t always lose. And — impressive residence alert! — he lives in a massive brownstone. Since his mom and dad are frequently out of town, he throws a lot of wild parties (not that I’ve ever been). Raf and Mick are both very, very A-list. But that isn’t the reason I like them.

Raf buttons up his coat and slaps one of his friends on the back.

Sigh.

I am such a liar. Of course that’s why I like them. I don’t even know them, so why else would I like them? They’re hot and cool — as in sexy and popular — and if either of them were interested in me, I would actually have a real kiss to brag about. (I claim my first was with a Texan named Stu who I met on a cruise. This is a total lie. Although there was a boy named Stu from Texas, he was seven.) Plus, I would instantly be promoted from the B-list (B+ on an excellent hair day) to the A-list.

I really want to be A-list. Yes, I know I’m being colossally pathetic, and I’ve seen enough movies to know that popular people always get their comeuppance. And being A-list in high school doesn’t guarantee you’ll be cool in college. But...like blondes, the A-list always seems to have more fun.

I ask you: Is it so wrong to want to be happy? Is it so wrong to want to be liked? Is it wrong to want my life to be like a soda ad, with lots of laughing, jumping, and high-fiving?

Aaron, otherwise known as Tammy’s connection to the A-list, waves to her from across the hallway.

Tammy doesn’t believe it, but Aaron has a thing for her. Aaron isn’t quite A-list, but he went to junior high with Mick and is friends with Mick’s best friend, Jeffrey, so sometimes he gets invited through a few degrees of separation. Tammy says that if Aaron liked her, he would have asked her out by now. Instead they’ve become “friends.” They IM every night. Tammy claims she doesn’t like Aaron, but I don’t buy it. She giggles around him and her hand signals go into overdrive.

“Ready?” he asks, bundling his scarf like a helmet around his neck and over his ears. He looks like one of the evil sandmen in Star Wars who try to kill Luke.

Yikes. Only a freak would allude to Star Wars. How am I ever going to achieve cool status when I’m such a loser? I need to start laughing and jumping. Maybe if I raise my hand, Tammy will give me a high five?

Not.

Instead, Tammy gives Aaron the scuba OK, which conveniently happens to be the universal okay sign, an O with the thumb and index finger. This has always mystified me. Where’s the K? What if you just want to say Oh, as in Oh, Raf, why don’t you notice me? Or, Oh, at least I have cool new shoes.

“See you tomorrow,” she tells me.

Oh why oh why do I have to go home?

***

I turn the corner onto Tenth Street and run the last bit to my apartment building — I hate to do this to my virgin new shoe soles, but I have no choice.

My earlobes have frozen into blocks of ice, and now the doctor will probably have to amputate. Seriously. That’s what they do with frostbite. Just call me Van Gogh.

I press the Up button to call the elevator. To pass the time — what’s taking it so long? — I make a mental list.
 
Possible Extremely Important Topics Mom Insists on Discussing Today of All Days

  1. Maybe her travel agency, HoneySun (they specialize in honeymoons, wink, wink), has folded. Maybe she’s going to tell us that we have to start saving money. Tighten our belts. Cook more, eat out less. Cancel call-waiting. Return the new shoes.
  2. Maybe Miri, my twelve-year-old sister, saw a mob hit man butcher someone and the DA wants her to testify and we’re joining the witness protection program and moving to Los Angeles. California would be awesome. Except that everyone in L.A. has implants. Who wants something foreign in her body? Braces were bad enough — they made me look like a robot. (Although, I have always wanted a robot. Particularly one programmed to fold the clothes that are currently carpeting my bedroom floor.)
  3. Maybe my mom’s gay. Tammy’s mother came out four years ago. Since both Tammy’s biological parents remarried, now Tammy has three mothers — one biological and two steps. As if one mother isn’t annoying enough. Nah. My mother isn’t gay. I’ve seen her bat her long eyelashes and twirl her hair whenever she runs into Dave, the twenty-seven-year-old hunkalicious fireman who lives on the second floor.
  4. Maybe, bite my tongue, my mother or sister has a terminal disease. But Miri is always hungry. Are you hungry when you’re terminally ill? I think no. Not that I’ve ever hung out with someone who was that sick. I’ve never had the occasion. But in a TV movie I saw a few weeks ago, two boys made fun of this poor kid with leukemia because he was losing his hair, and it fully pissed me off. If I ever knew someone who was dying, I would be extra nice to her. My mother is looking pretty pasty, so maybe — omigod — she has cancer. Although her pale skin tone could be because of her ridiculously unhealthy eating habits. Honestly, she eats marshmallows for breakfast. And not the good kind in Lucky Charms — she eats the white ones out of a bag. And she packs herself one lousy bagel for lunch. And then we have tofucrap for dinner. She refuses to cook meat. Even my sister is a vegetarian now, so it’s two against one. Obviously, I don’t think anyone is really sick, or I’d be hysterical. And if someone were sick, I would have detected it. I notice stuff. Like my mother’s birth control pills. Fine, I found them in the secret side compartment of her makeup case — yet another reason I know she’s not gay. I don’t know why she takes them; she hasn’t had a date in two years. I tried to sign her up on an Internet dating site, but she freaked out when she caught me Photoshopping her eye wrinkles from her picture and made me delete her entire profile. This is turning out to be a really chaotic list. No wonder I never make lists. I’m so bad at them. They’re too restrictive, like tights. Miri loves them. (I’m talking about lists, not tights — we both hate the latter, especially itchy wool ones.) I’m the disorganized, lastweek’s- socks-still-under-my-bed kind of girl, but Miri types and pins her Things to Do Today! Packing List for Dad’s! Reasons Why I’m Anal! (just kidding on that last one) memos to the massive bulletin board above her desk. The rest of her room is covered in Tae Kwon Do certificates. She’s a brown belt, which is two levels away from black. How nuts is that? She’s only four and a half feet tall and she can beat up my dad. Okay, fine, she probably can’t beat up my dad. Definitely me, though. I went to a class once, but all the kicking, bowing, and focusing required was exhausting. Never mind the impossible no-talking rule—

I notice the sign on the building elevator: OUT OF ORDER. Groan. I guess the stairs will be my exercise for the day. For the week, actually. All right, the month. I fly up the first flight. I stride up the second. By the fourth I almost black out. Maybe I should have stayed in Tae Kwon Do. Then I wouldn’t be so out of shape. I’m not one of those girls who obsess about the size of their thighs, but it’s kind of sad that I’m so young and out of breath. Maybe there’s a sports team I could join.

Nah. Puff, puff. Exercise. Puff, puff. Is. Puff, puff. Too. Puff, puff. Hard.

By the time I insert the key in the lock of the front door, I’m gasping.

I hang up my coat in the front closet. “Hello?”

“We’re in here,” my mother calls from her room.

I wipe the bottoms of my funky new sneakers, turn on the kitchen lights, and pour myself a glass of water. Then I pass my room, my sister’s room, and the bathroom and then enter the warden’s. She and Miri are sitting side by side on the bed, their legs hidden under a faded purple comforter, their backs against the headboard. Both are in their usual sleepwear: oversized concert T-shirts.

“Why does it reek of smoke in here?” An ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts is stationed between the humps I assume are my mother’s feet. What’s going on? She hasn’t smoked in more than a year.

“Minor relapse,” my mom says with a hangdog expression. “Won’t happen again. Sit down. We have to talk to you.”

Uh-oh. I try to forget about the revolting butts and focus on the issue at hand. This must be really bad. If we’d won the lottery, she’d have greeted me with a smile and champagne. Fine, probably not champagne, since that stuff’s pretty pricey. But maybe chardonnay. Occasionally she lets me have a small glass of wine with dinner. Says she’d rather I try it with her than at an unsupervised party. Not that I’ve ever been to an unsupervised party. (But if anyone does invite me, I’m game. You can call me on my home [not cell] phone or e-mail me at—)

“Oh, Rachel,” my mom says. “Where to begin?”

Miri’s eating from a bag of sunflower seeds. Watching her is disgusting. She sucks one seed at a time, licks her fingers, then sticks her grubby, nail-bitten hand (a habit she picked up from my mother) back into the bag. One wet seed is clinging to a frizzy strand of her shoulder-length brown hair. Very appealing.

“Want some?” she offers.

Ew!

“Are you wearing shoes in the apartment?” my mother asks, peering over the edge of her bed.

“No.” I’m about to thank her for them again, but curiosity about what they need to tell me takes precedence over manners. So I untie them and place them neatly on the floor. Then I slide, baseball-style (see how made for each other we are, sweet Mick?), stomach first onto her bed. “This had better be important.”

Instead of responding, my mother lights up.

“Hello? Enough with the smoking,” I say, but she has the nerve to ignore me, so I turn to Miri.

“Why are you still in your pajamas? Didn’t you go to school? Don’t you have Tae Kwon Do?” She gets to skip class when she’s not even dying?

“I stayed home all day,” she says, exposing mashed-up seeds. “Mom and I had stuff to discuss.”

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” I say. Being the big sister, I try to give Miri constructive criticism. Often.

She closes her lips, swallows, then says, “Don’t give me orders when I’m eating.”

My mother rubs her fingers against her temples, almost setting fire to her bottle blond hair with the tip of her cigarette. “Girls, please. I can’t handle fighting now.”

I get nervous again. “Is everything okay? What’s going on?”

A smile spreads across Miri’s face. “Everything’s fantastic.” She peeks over the edge of the bed, eyes my new shoes, and giggles. “Amazing!”

My mom shoots Miri a warning look. “Looks can be deceiving, Miri. I meant what I said before.”

My family is more confusing to interpret than Tammy’s underwater mime techniques. “What are you talking about? And if things are so great, why am I here?”

“Rachel.” My mother takes a deep breath. “Your sister is a witch.”

 

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