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From the Hardcover edition.
By the time the day is over, I’ve sold all but five necklaces, made thirty good beads at my station and fixed the cracked one, done a little welding at a welding exhibit, and gone outside to grab lunch and watch the fire-breathers dance. Farida, the welding instructor, came by to point out the judges from Fallon, and they’ve walked by slowly three or four times. I pretend not to notice.
When Starr climbs on her makeshift stage and quiets the crowd for the announcements from the Fallon judges, I cheer for the people who are being selected for the juried show. Then Starr is pointing at me, a little manic grin on her face.
“Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we’d also like to introduce our prodigy at The Crucible, Ysabel Nicholas, a freshman at Medanos Valley Christian Academy!” she shouts into the mic, and over the applause, she yells, “Stand up, Ysabel!” and I feel like I’ve been struck by lightning. On suddenly shaky legs, I stand, wave, and immediately hunch back onto my stool.
Starr gestures at me frantically to stand again as the group of judges comes toward my table. All of them shake my hand and say something nice. A woman with a blond-frosted afro and a massive silver and turquoise medallion hanging around her neck beams at me, and I’m almost blinded by her grin. She shakes my hand and says, “Great job, young woman!”
“On behalf of The Crucible,” Starr says as she puts a small glass phoenix in my hands, with its wings outstretched and curlicues of glass flames beneath it. She gives me a hard hug, and I can only grin. Suddenly my family is visible at the front of the crowd, and Dad and Justin are directly in front of me. With a carefully choreographed move, the two of them lift up bouquets of roses and toss them. At my feet. In front of everyone.
I can’t decide if I should laugh or run. I put my hands to my face and groan.
It’s not possible to die of embarrassment. But as I hastily scoop up the bouquets and scuttle back to my seat, to the amusement of everyone around me, I’m almost positive you can at least have a coronary, or a stroke or something.
“It could have been worse,” Mom says, tucking me against her side as we walk out into the parking lot. With my boots on, I’m almost as tall as she is. “Your poppy wanted us all to throw the roses one by one. I reminded him that your father and I didn’t have the insurance to cover the potential breakages and eye injuries.”
“Think of it this way,” Sherilyn says, grinning. “The next time you get that many roses, you’ll be doing a solo show. This is just practice.”
“A solo show. I wish,” I say, watching as Dad stands the hard-sided pink case that holds my torches and glass behind the driver’s seat in Mom’s van and closes the door securely. For tonight, she’s removed the Wild Thyme Catering magnetic signs from the doors, and I’m glad. She gives me one last squeeze, then heads for the driver’s seat. Sherilyn hops in the passenger side, and I slide in back, next to my case, and lean forward between the front seats. We’ve done this so many times we all three go to our spots without any thought.
“See you at home,” Dad says, and we wave as he and Poppy join Justin and Grandmama at his car.
“So, did you see the cute blacksmith instructor?” I ask Sherilyn. “Levi?”
“Ysabel, he’s, like, thirty,” Sherilyn complains. “What’s with you and the geriatrics?”
My mother laughs, a particularly loud hoot, and shakes her head. “Geriatrics?”
“Well, just because he doesn’t have fangs or skin that sparkles,” I strike back, teasing Sherilyn about her latest vampire romance craze. “Levi might be thirty, but at least he’s alive.”
“Don’t knock the vampires,” Sherilyn says defensively. “You know they’d be way more mature than any guys we know.”
“Mature, Sherilyn? Really? Let’s just say ancient.”
Sherilyn and I keep laughing about nothing in particular as my jitters dissolve. By the time we get home, I’m starving and just about on the verge of collapse. We could have stayed at the Phoenix Festival and eaten there, but I know my parents have something better planned. Sure enough, as soon as I come into the house, I can smell it. In the dining room, a pan of stuffed mushrooms sits over a chafing dish, and I head straight for the table and pop one into my mouth, savoring the garlic-and-cheese stuffing.
Sometimes it’s really great to have a caterer for a mother.
“Madam?” Poppy, Mom’s dad, motions me back to the door. Now swathed in a long apron over his black suit pants and white shirt, he holds out his arm to Sherilyn like a waiter, his silver-lined hair giving him an elegant appearance. “Your wrap?”
I kick off my boots and scrunch my toes in the wool rug in the entryway as Mom hurries into the kitchen, checking on all of the things she has prepped. “It’s just a little bit of this and that,” she explains apologetically to Sherilyn as she reappears carrying a platter of fresh veggies and dip, “but these are Ysabel’s favorites.”
“It looks great,” Sherilyn says, examining the spread on the candlelit table.
“Mom, yum! You made a torta!” I exclaim, mouth watering as I see the thin layers of pesto, potato, goat cheese, and bell pepper. “Yes!”
“And deviled eggs, and corn cakes,” Grandmama adds, bringing out a pitcher of iced tea, “just so we could be sure to have no theme to this meal whatsoever.”
“But it’s what I wanted,” I sigh, reaching for another mushroom. “It’s exactly what I wanted.”
“Belly-Bel, can’t you wait for the blessing?” Dad asks, swatting at my hand.
“Well, let’s pray already!” I exclaim, dodging him and snagging another bite.
When Dad calls me Belly, I don’t say, “Don’t call me that,” as I usually do. Tonight, I don’t care if Dad drags up all of my baby nicknames. I have everything I want right now, everything I need.
“People, I have things to do,” my brother announces, coming down the stairs. He’s changed into his blue Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed T-shirt and jeans. “Let’s eat.”
“Justinian,” my mother sighs, and Justin rolls his eyes. Though he’s only six minutes younger than I am, sometimes my brother just seems like he’s six. He’s this huge brain and all, but occasionally he has zero social skills.
“What? I’m hungry!”
“Can’t you at least greet our guest of honor?” Poppy asks reprovingly.
Justin snorts. “Sherilyn doesn’t count as a guest.”
“You know that’s not what he meant,” my mother murmurs, swatting my brother with the flat of her hand. He glares at her, then turns to me with exaggerated attention.
“Greetings, Ysabel, beloved Twin of Awesome Artistic Ability. Hey, Sherilyn, Mom, hi, Grandmama, Poppy, and Dad. Can we eat now? Finals are in three weeks and I’ve got papers out the wazoo.”
Dad snorts, cupping his hands to disguise it. He coughs. “Justin . . .”
“What? I could have said something worse.”
“Oh, spare me that,” Grandmama mutters, rubbing her forehead. She eyes Justin’s smirk and raises the back of her hand to him mock threateningly.
“I’m ready,” Mom says, sliding a covered dish on to the table and wiping her hands.
Dad puts his long-fingered hands on my shoulders and looks down at me, his brown eyes crinkling on the edges as he smiles. “I’m proud of you, Belly,” he says softly. He raises his head and smiles around the table as we all join hands. “Everybody ready? Then let’s pray.”