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By Juliana Amir
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Juliana Amir
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJagger sat in the front row of the Falls Theater imagining all the places he would rather be.
Outside rain and wind lashed in a violent rage, though earlier it had been calm, peaceful. Ohio's schizophrenic weather was puzzling, a forever-ongoing mystery, but currently it comforted Jagger. The wrath of the storm was an ally tonight, mirroring his increasingly dark mood.
After many grueling auditions, he had found the one who made all his searching worthwhile. With sparkling aquamarine eyes and a charismatic smile, she stood elegantly before him, not an apparent fault in the world. His remarkable discovery resulted in a rare smidgen of happiness, but now she reduced his dreams to ash and scorched the last of his patience.
"No! What in hell are you doing? This is a stage, not a bloody runway! Get your hand off your hip."
Her arm fell to her side hanging limply. Fearful eyes peered in his direction, but the dim auditorium lights hid Jagger's features in shadow. "I-I thought ... you wanted me to command attention and l-look ..."
"Stop stuttering. I need you to look stunning, not like an ill-tempered brat. And stop pouting! Can you do absolutely nothing right?"
Jagger watched her confidence shrivel like a sun-dried raisin. Pressing her lips together, she gazed toward the ceiling. It helped only for a moment. Large tears began rolling down her flawless cheeks.
"Well, don't cry! If you keep this up, your face will become puffy and blotchy. You will lose your one redeeming quality—your beauty."
"I-I'm sorry," the lovely assistant-in-training quivered.
"What did I tell you about that insufferable stuttering? Start from the top."
"How did the trick begin again?"
Jagger massaged his temple with his fingertips. "This has been an excruciatingly long evening." Jagger rose to his feet. "Go home, get some rest, and don't come back."
The silent tears turned into heart-wrenching sobs. She brought her trembling hand to her mouth. Surely the sight would have softened any other heart, but Jagger remained perfectly still as she made her way off stage. Finally, the door closed. A lasting echo accentuated the silence.
Jagger walked up the stairs onto the stage. Perfect, thought the young magician. Now I must find a new assistant. The sound of applause cut through the silence. Jagger turned and spotted a menacing silhouette creeping toward the light.
"Well done! You've always had such a way with the ladies."
"Griffin, what the bloody hell are you doing here?" Jagger demanded, mentally chastising himself for neglecting to lock the theater door.
Griffin emerged from the shadows. "I'm here to cheer you on, of course."
"Nothing better to do?"
"Nothing gives me greater pleasure than spending time with you."
"With me, or infuriating me?"
"Now, now," Griffin replied stepping onstage. "It's those rash actions that will keep you in the doghouse for the rest of your sorry days. Remind me ... when was the last time you had a girlfriend?"
"I'd say about the same time you managed to hold onto a job for more than two weeks. You see, at least if I were to have a girlfriend I'd be able to indulge her."
"But you know what they say: 'all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'."
"It's Jagger, not Jack. The fable of the grasshopper and the ant suddenly comes to mind."
"Oh, here we go! Allow me, this time. Once there was a lonely, insignificant ant and a devilishly handsome grasshopper. Ever since their childhood back in England, the ant attempted to make the grasshopper look bad."
"Oh, the grasshopper needed no help. While the ant worked diligently, the grasshopper frittered away his time. Then ... when the cold days of winter drew near the ant had accumulated a surplus of food, but the lazy grasshopper had nothing," Jagger taunted.
"Mmm ... such a greedy little ant. Greed. It's one of seven deadly sins, isn't it?"
"I seem to recall it was the grasshopper that starved to death," Jagger concluded snidely.
"I've had my fun. You on the other hand have lived your life in a box. The theater may change, but your daffy tricks remain the same."
"Don't waste what little sensitivity you have on me. My silly tricks will soon be taking on a life of their own."
"Such wild dreams. Perhaps if my dreams were as grand, I too could have girls fleeing from me as if I had the Bubonic plague."
Staring at Griffin, Jagger's olive green eyes shone like glass, reflecting a look of utmost annoyance.
"Alright, I'm leaving." Griffin held up his hands in surrender. "I only came to help. After all, they say laughter is the best medicine. I simply thought I'd share my wonderful sense of humor, but you have repaid me by insulting my intelligence. Anyway, I must be off to track down an extremely vulnerable and exquisite blonde. Poor thing had a rough time at work, thanks to her brutal, ill-tempered boss. Goodbye." With that, Griffin hopped off the stage and vanished through the open door.
Thoroughly displeased by his unwelcome visitor Jagger wasted no more time. He posted an ad for an assistant on the Internet. Auditions were always terribly disappointing. Still, it was a vital part of the process.
Chapter TwoStepping outside the small apartment Alexia shared with her mom, she braced herself for the frosty morning air. The gray weariness of winter quickly approached, though it was only the first day of November. Soon the weather would morph from the spectacular beauty of autumn to the dismal days of winter. Glancing toward the sky, she shuddered as she saw the dark, ominous clouds rolling in.
Alexia drove to school dreamily thinking of hot lattes and mentally listing all the yummy flavors. Her calm, sea-blue eyes, framed by thick black eyelashes, longed to close and return to a deep, peaceful sleep. Unfortunately, sleeping would have to wait as another endless day of school taunted her.
Moving the gearshift into park and cutting the engine, Alexia heard the first bell ringing obnoxiously while students hurried through the black double doors. Cuyahoga Falls High School was a massive building, but instead of a learning institution, it was more like boot camp—survival of the fittest. Taking a deep breath, she proceeded, dreading each step that brought her closer to whatever torturous events were on today's agenda.
As she forced her way through the swarming students, she spotted, Adam, surrounded by his admiring fans. A gifted athlete who slid by solely on talent and good looks, Adam was boyishly handsome, with platinum blond hair curling around his ears and bright blue eyes. He might nod or even speak to Alexia, if no one else was around, but usually he disregarded her. Going out with Adam the majority of her junior year had ended in a monumental heartbreak. A crushing blow she tried hard to forget.
She made it halfway through the day without any unwanted encounters, but too much time spent rechecking her chemistry formulas caused her to lag behind. Even though her teacher complimented her exceptional and precise work, she was the last to finish. Rushing over to the sink to rinse off the test tubes, she flipped on the water and shrieked as cold liquid squirted everywhere, drenching her white T-shirt. Quickly she turned off the rigged faucet noticing the rubber bands wrapped around it. The bell rang, and the class left laughing hysterically.
Mr. Risand, her chemistry teacher, wrote Alexia a late pass. "Here. It's a pass to your next class. Go and dry off," he continued in a consoling voice.
Thanking him, she gratefully accepted the hall pass. Alexia hurried out, grabbed her purple hoodie from her locker, and quickly changed in the restroom. After wringing out her soaked T-shirt, she stuffed it into her book bag and rubbed the sleeves of her sweatshirt, hoping the friction would warm her. She was anxious to get to drama. It was her last class of the day as well as her most favorite. Acting came to her naturally, as movement comes to a gifted dancer, and she loved to lose herself to the characters she portrayed. Hopefully the class would end her humiliating day on a better note.
Alexia's talent always landed her the lead role in every school play. Unfortunately during this evening's performance of Cinderella, fascination and enchantment would cease to exist since Dominic, her royal prince, wasn't the least bit charming, and evil came naturally to her wicked stepfamily.
"I'm so proud of all of you!" Miss Vitanno gushed, winking at Alexia. "You've worked extremely hard, and I'm confident the play will be a huge success. So go home, rest up, and do not stress! You are dismissed!"
Gathering their belongings, students poured through the door as the bell rang.
"Alexia," Miss Vitanno called. "I must apologize for casting Dominic as Prince Charming. There was absolutely no one else! Tonight simply close your eyes and imagine you're kissing a chivalric young man who has come to sweep you off your feet."
"If only there were such guys." Alexia swung her forest-green book bag over her shoulder.
"Oh, they do exist!"
Only in your dreams.
"Well, I'll let you go. No one wants to stay here longer than necessary. I know I don't."
"Alright, see you tonight, Miss Vitanno." Alexia grabbed her notebook, folder, and script from the chair and hurried out.
As she rounded the corner, Shelly, the head cheerleader ran into her, sending her books and papers flying. Alexia watched everything spill to the hallway floor and swiftly knelt to retrieve her papers.
"You see girls," Shelly announced, "this is where the little outsider should be ... on her knees."
Alexia's notebook landed by Shelly's foot. The cheerleader swooped down, snatched it, and began flipping through the pages.
"Hmmm, what's this?"
"Give it back," Alexia demanded.
"Look at these precious doodles. Who's the heart for?"
"For a compassionless witch, named Shelly, who has no heart of her own. Give me my notebook and back off."
"Look who's forgotten her manners," Shelly chided.
"Book-dropping was the best you could do? That's pretty pathetic, but what more could I expect from you?"
"Excuse me? I have beauty, modeling experience, Adam. Which one's so pathetic?"
"Well, your beauty comes from boxes and tubes, the modeling experience from a photographer you paid, and your boyfriend was stolen from your former best friend. So, pretty much all of it." Alexia snatched her notebook and strode out the door. A sense of dread churned in the pit of her stomach as she wondered how Shelly would retaliate. Still, it was well worth seeing her face suffused in that priceless shade of red.
Alexia and Shelly had been longtime best friends. Then one day Adam came along and chose her over Shelly. Although they remained good friends, a black caldron of jealously slowly started to brew. Then homecoming weekend arrived. Alexia came down with the flu right after Friday night's football game, so she encouraged Adam to go to the dance on Saturday night with a group of their friends. Slow dances, stolen kisses behind closed doors, and finally—the ultimate betrayal. Suddenly Alexia's first boyfriend became her first heartbreak, turning her closest friend into her worst enemy. Since Shelly was confident, popular, and capable of picking and choosing whose life to make a living hell, their friends had chosen wisely. Now almost a year later, the cheer captain and the varsity quarterback were still a couple. And who said villains don't win?
Alexia climbed into her dark blue Focus. The car had been a surprise gift from her mom on her sixteenth birthday. After purchasing it from World Auto Net, one of the dealerships on Front Street, she taped an enormous red bow to the hood of the car and handed over the keys while relaying a funny story about the dealership's cat, Shaky Tail. Alexia longed for pet, something to devote her affection to, but for now their houseplants would have to suffice.
Driving home, Alexia longed for her dad's support at the show tonight, but that certainly wasn't happening. She pointlessly replayed the night he died. The horrific car accident, the crushing loss still haunting her, and the knowledge the other driver was never found, transformed his death into a blistering wound incapable of healing. Her vehicle seemed to have a mind of its own as it changed direction and chauffeured her to the place she swore she'd never revisit. Her phone rang, jolting Alexia from her trance.
"Hey, honey. How's my favorite maid of honor?" her mother squealed, a habit recently developed whenever speaking about her soon-to-be wedding.
"How was school?"
Alexia groaned inwardly. "Fine."
"Good! What are you doing?"
"Oh ... nothing much."
"Okay, your play is from seven to nine?"
"Yeah, do you still think you can come?"
"I'll try my best. Whether or not I'm there, I know you'll be amazing!"
"Alright, sweetie, I've gotta get back to work."
"Okay, love you."
"Love you too."
Her fingers absent-mindedly grazed the spot on her neck where the silver chain and sapphire-encrusted pendant used to be. Last year, her mom pawned it to pay rent and other bills. Alexia told herself she wouldn't go down to the little pawnshop in North Hill, but the necklace still remained in the display case, after all these months. Just a little longer, then maybe she could buy back her father's final gift to her.
After finding a place to park, near a darkened alley, she crossed North Main Street, hurrying inside the old brownstone with its cheap vinyl floors and scuffed green walls. Alexia watched the owner as he looked up. Recognition set in. He rolled his eyes, groaned, then resumed counting the cash in the register.
"Good afternoon, sir."
He grunted in acknowledgment. Fingerprints smeared the glass of the display case. Peering in, she spotted her beautiful shimmering necklace and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Maybe we could work out something, sir? Like a payment plan, perhaps?"
The owner burst out laughing. "Do I look stupid?"
Choosing to keep her mouth shut, she lowered her gaze. The bell jingled again and Alexia glanced over. It was the owner's nephew, Tyler. He had the warmest brown eyes, flecked with gold, and a captivating smile.
"Still here?" he asked, amused.
Alexia smiled shyly. "You remember me?"
"You're difficult to forget."
Alexia blushed wildly. "I'm just looking at the jewelry."
"That dang necklace," the owner growled. "If I'd known she'd be here every day, getting her grimy little paws all over my case, I wouldn't have bought it in the first place!"
"That one?" Tyler pointed, standing very close to Alexia. "Oh, no."
"What is it?" Alexia asked, anxiously.
"Wasn't there a lady in here yesterday who said she'd be returning for it soon?"
The owner grumbled something unintelligible.
A knot formed in Alexia's stomach. "I have to go," she murmured softly. Rushing outside to her car, she pulled the keys from her coat pocket, ready to unlock the door and make her escape.
"Hey, hold up," Tyler called, as he crossed the busy street.
She turned to face him, resisting the temptation to get in her car and drive far away.
"Look, I realize I don't know you. Heck, I don't even know your name."
"Well, Alexia, it doesn't take a private investigator to figure out my uncle is a cold-hearted businessman. That necklace obviously means a lot to you, and I don't want to see you lose it forever. No pressure, but what if I purchased it for you? Then you could repay me."
"I don't have a job."
"Well, I'll give you my number anyway. If something comes up, maybe we could revisit the idea," he replied kindly. Tyler pulled his black wool coat around his lean frame as a gust of wind whipped through the alley.
"Thanks." Digging through her purse for a piece of paper and a pen, she handed them over.
"I'll also give you the Web address to the Falls Theater. My dad owns it. I don't know if you'd be interested, but whenever a position becomes available it's always posted online."
"Thank you." Alexia forced a smile, completely crushed. No way could she possibly repay him and besides acting, she had no desirable skills to entice a theater owner. It was doubtful she'd obtain the lead role at a popular theater, and Alexia couldn't sew costumes, construct props, or figure out the mysteries of complicated lighting systems. Returning her pen and the old receipt with his number on it, Tyler said a quick goodbye before strolling off.
Alexia had to check out the website before the play, otherwise, she would never be able to concentrate on her lines. Returning home, with no more than ten minutes to spare, she was anxious to view the website's content.
Alexia was elated to discover a single job posting for a magician's assistant. A magician. Really? From the wording, she could only assume he was a narcissistic jerk, but that didn't faze her. She was desperate. Perhaps this could be her lucky break. Her mom had a staggering amount of debt from her father's surgeries and the days spent in the hospital fighting for his life. Now she was saving for Alexia's college education. Since asking her for money to repurchase the necklace was impossible, Alexia decided it couldn't hurt to apply for the position. She rapidly keyed in the number.
Excerpted from Midnight Magic by Juliana Amir Copyright © 2012 by Juliana Amir. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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