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I'm pretty sure my camp backpack is not supposed to be levitating off the sidewalk of Fifth Avenue. Whoopsies. I make a (somewhat) discreet lunge for one of its red straps and plant it back next to my feet.
My mother, who is fortunately too busy eyeing the parked camp buses lining the street to notice my infraction, asks, "Do you know where you're going?"
"Yes, Mom," my sister says, rolling her eyes. "We know how to read. We're both on the same bus. The sign says 'Girls grades seven thru nine,' and since that's both of us, that's where we're going. Unfortunately."
Miri is not happy about being shipped off to Camp Wood Lake in the Adirondacks for seven weeks. She'd much rather stay in the city, free to spend the summer as she pleases, helping the homeless. That's her cause du jour. Unfortunately for her, she can't help the homeless when she is being sent to a summer camp filled with spoiled rich kids. Those are her words, not mine. I'm perfectly happy to spend the summer with spoiled rich kids. No, wait. That didn't come out right. What I mean is I'm perfectly happy to be going to camp, because I'm perfectly happy doing anything these days. Deliriously happy. Jumping-on-couches-like-they're-trampolines happy.
Why? Because I'm finally a witch!
No, not witch as in mean or cranky. I don't pull my sister's hair or rip off her Barbies' heads. (Not that either of us still has Barbies. Okay, fine. Not that I still play with them. Sure, they're in a bag at the back of my closet, and I sometimes take them out just to see how they're doing, but that's it, I swear.) I have powers, like Hermione and Sabrina. Like my sister. And my mother.
We found out in February that my sister is a witch. My mom, who chose to live her adult life as a nonpracticing witch, had never mentioned anything about this particular family trait because she was hoping her powers would somehow skip over her kids. And for a while it looked like they had with me. But oh no, they didn't. Both of us are witches. Finger-snapping, broom-riding, spell-canting witches. Yes! And since I am a witch, nothing that could possibly happen this summer can burst my bubble of glorious happiness. I mean, hello? I finally have magical powers! I can zap up anything I want. More handbags? Presto. Tastier food? Kazam. Friends? Zap! Nah, I probably won't cast spells on any possible friends, since enchanting individuals is so morally wrong. But I could if I wanted to.
Why? Because I'm a witch!
But even if nobody in my bunk wants to be my friend this summer--and I don't see why they wouldn't, since none of them goes to my school, and therefore they don't know anything about my previous social mishaps (we were a bit wild and carefree with Miri's powers in the early days)--I won't care.
Why? Because I'm a witch!
Even if Raf doesn't fall in love with me this summer--yes, Raf Kosravi, the hottest guy in my class and, I should mention, the love of my life, is going to be at Wood Lake too--so what? It will be his loss.
Why? Because I'm a witch!
Okay, that's a lie. Not the witch part (yay!) but the part about Raf. I'd care a lot if he didn't fall in love with me. But you get my point.
My ego has gained about seven hundred pounds since I discovered my magic at prom last month. My mom and sister were thrilled for me, of course. Thrilled that I was happy--and thrilled that they would no longer have to listen to me complain about not having powers.
For the first week after prom, I could not resist zapping everything in sight. Lights. The television. Miri's stuff. "I'm doing it, I'm doing it!" I cheered while gleefully lifting her pillow.
Which is when my mom walked in and told me that I'd better relax with my magic. "If you want to go to camp, you have to promise to control yourself."
"Of course," I said. "But check it out! I've finally got game!"
Since my mom scores frighteningly low on the hip-ometer, I had to explain. "Technique. Ability. Style."
"Got it," she said, and left. And that was when the pillow exploded. Feathers and Miri's pink pillowcase shot across her room like confetti. "Sorry," I squealed.
"Game over!" Miri screamed, cowering against the wall.
"Tiny accident," I said sheepishly. "Don't tell Mom." I didn't want our mother to have any excuse to keep me home and away from Raf.
Where is he, anyway? I step up on my tiptoes and peer first into the busy street, then into Central Park. The six waiting buses are supposed to be picking up all the campers from Manhattan, but unfortunately, Raf doesn't seem to be one of them. I know he's going to be a camper at Wood Lake this summer. He told me he signed up. And he's been going for years. So where is he?
There are certainly lots of other cute boys, though. Not that I'm looking. Oh, no, my heart belongs to Raf.
Honk! Honk! Honk!
It's so loud in this city. And the noon sun is scorching and everyone looks uncomfortable and sweaty. Unlike Miri, I'm seriously looking forward to getting off the disgustingly smoggy island of Manhattan. Good-bye school, subways, and skyscrapers. Hello summer, suntan lotion, and sleeping bags!
My mom grabs me in a hug. "You two are going to sit together, right?"
"Yes, Mom, we'll sit together," I say from under her left armpit. She'd better not mess up my flawlessly applied mascara or perfectly straightened hair. It took me half an hour to get my ocean of a head to look flat, and this is probably the only time all summer my hair will be de-rippled. I bought myself one of those megapopular hair straighteners, and let me tell you, it makes my hair look flatter than the sidewalk we're standing on. But no matter how much I begged (I'm talking down-on-two-knees pleading), my annoying mother was convinced I'd burn down not only my cabin but the entire camp and forbade me to bring my flatiron with me. She's spent the past month mucho paranoid that I was going to burn down our apartment, and every time I emerged from my room minus my usual fuzzy crown, she ran straight inside to make sure I'd unplugged the iron.
I don't know what her problem is. I've only left it plugged in once.
Okay, twice, but still, I never started a fire.
Wait a sec. What am I even worried about? If my hair gets curly, I can just zap it straight. Hah! Straightening irons are for mere mortals. I am a witch. An Ÿber-powerful, glorious witch.
Crap. My stupid knapsack is rising again. Why is it doing that? I pull away from my mom to grab it, but this time I swing it over my left shoulder to keep it in place. I furtively look around the crowded street to make sure nobody saw my uplifting experience.
Nope. People do not appear to be scratching their heads in confusion or gasping in shock. Whew.
Lex, my mom's new boyfriend, returns from finding a parking space and takes hold of her hand. They've been inseparable since they started dating. Whenever I see them, they're holding hands, gazing lovingly into each other's eyes, or they're--
"Ugh," Miri says. "Can you please stop smooching in public? It's going to make me carsick."
"Bus sick," I say, and cringe. Now, that would make a great first impression. Still, I don't blame my sister one bit. All that smooching is, well, nauseating. And yes, my mom and Lex are kissing. Right here. On the street.
They're always kissing. They kiss in the kitchen when they don't realize we're watching. At restaurants when they forget we're sitting across from them. On Fifth Avenue between Eighty-fourth and Eighty-fifth when we're leaving for camp. Not gross, open-mouth kisses, but constant little love pecks that are highly embarrassing. I mean, really. I can't help noticing that random kids and tourists keep glancing over at the pair and grimacing. This is one of the reasons I begged my dad and my stepmom not to come see us off today. If it freaks me out, imagine how it would weird out my dad. The other reason is that my mom would have had to talk to Jennifer, and my dad would have had to meet Lex, and for some reason the idea of the four of them being on the same continent, never mind the same street, makes me want to hide under my covers. Divorce issues, anyone?
My mom giggles. Ever since she hooked up with Lex (or Old Man Lex, as Miri and I call him secretly, since he's like a hundred--okay, fine, probably only fifty--and since his bushy eyebrows and the eight strands of hair left on his head are gray), she's been doing a lot of giggling. "Miri," she says now, still clutching Lex's hand, "you'll keep an eye on your sister this summer, right?"
"Hey!" Is it normal that my mother is asking Miri, two years my junior, to look out for me? I think not.
"I want her to make sure you're careful with your"--she lowers her voice--"Glinda."
Is Glinda a doll? A Barbie that I'm insisting on taking to camp despite the risk of other campers mocking me for my infantile attachment?
Glinda is my mom's new code word for magic. And yes, she named it after the good witch in The Wizard of Oz.
"I promise, Mom," I say. "I'll be careful with my Glinda."
Lex looks at my mom and then at me. He obviously has no idea who this Glinda is or why I have to take such good care of her. As close as they've become, Mom still hasn't told him her deep, dark secret. But since she never told my dad, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for her to spill the beanies to the new man in her life.
She runs the bitten fingernails of her free hand through her short tinted blond hair. "Please don't use it, unless you absolutely have to."
"Have fun, girls," Lex says, squeezing both of us on the shoulder. Even though he spends every day with Mom, he hasn't quite reached the potential-stepfather, hug-the-daughters level yet. As nice as he is, we're not just going to start hugging some old man.
Fine, he's not that old. But he's pretty old.
"Take care of our mom, Lex," I say while tugging on Miri's wrist. "Let's go."
"Will do," he says. "Have fun, and remember to write home."
"We will!" I sing as I inch closer to the bus. Time to get this party on the road!
My mom makes a hangdog face. "Bye, girls. Love you."
"Love you!" Miri and I say simultaneously as we lean into yet another group (minus Lex) hug.
"I'll miss you," my mom says, her voice catching.
Aw. Oh, no. Itchy eyes! Itchy eyes! No, don't, don't . . .
"We'll miss you too," Miri says, and bursts into tears.
Sob. My tears are so going to mess up my mascara, run down my cheeks and my neck, and make my hair frizz.
"Name?" asks the pen-chewing girl standing in front of my gateway to happiness, aka the bus door. Her short blond ponytail is peeking out of her Mets baseball cap, and she's chomping on the end of the pen like it's a pretzel.
Chomp, chomp. "What grade did you just finish?"
"Ninth," I say proudly. I'm going into tenth grade. That is so old. I've practically graduated. I'm practically in college! I'm practically an adult. Next thing you know, I'll be driving my own car, having kids, sending them to camp. Omigod, that is so cute! My kids going to the same camp that I went to! The same camp that I'm going to, if this pen-chewer ever lets me onto the bus.
"You're an oldest Lion, then."
She takes another bite of the pen and it explodes into a navy blue mess on her lips.
"Um, you got some ink on you," I tell her.
She touches her face, then stares at the sticky blue on her fingers. "I hate when that happens," she says with a sigh. She ticks off my name and sighs again. "I'm Janice, your unit head."
I have no idea what a unit head is, but apparently it's stressful. "Hello, Unit Head Janice," I reply.
She studies her clipboard and sighs yet again. "You're going to be in bunk fourteen. And who are you?" she asks Miri.
As Miri introduces herself, I skip up the three steps into the excruciatingly hot bus. The backseats are filled with sweating and chattering teenage girls, all of whom abruptly stop talking the second they see me. They collectively look me up and down--I have no idea why, since we're all wearing the same assigned pale brown Camp Wood Lake cotton T-shirts and matching shorts--and resume their conversations.
Of course, at first I balked at wearing any kind of uniform, but these aren't too bad. A little boring, but not awful. The shirt says Camp Wood Lake in bubbly white and orange letters, and underneath there's a cute drawing of a girl and a boy in a white canoe. The shorts just say Camp Wood Lake across the butt. The glossy Welcome to Camp brochure explained that we'd have to wear it only today and during any out-of-camp trips. The brochure came with a funky DVD that flashed images of all the camp amenities (tennis courts, lakefront, arts and crafts, indoor swimming pool) while playing set-the-mood camp songs, like Green Day's "Time of Your Life" and Frankie Valli's "Stay," in the background.
Some of the seats in the middle are empty. I look for a place where Miri and I can sit together. Thank goodness she's on this bus. Imagine if I were all by my lonesome and had to sit by myself! I'd be known all summer as the girl who sat alone because no one wanted to talk to her. Just as I'm about to scoot into an empty seat, a tall brunette sitting three rows back stops talking to the two girls behind her, turns her head, and waves at me.
Huh? I look behind me to see if she's motioning to someone else. Nope, just me. Unless she's a nutcase who waves arbitrarily. Or maybe she's just done her nails and is air-drying?
"Hi, there," says the girl, looking into my eyes. "You can sit with me, if you want."
I am dumbfounded. The girl is smiley and not at all loserish-looking. Her layered curly dark hair is tied into a low ponytail, bangs clipped back, showing off clear skin, bright blue eyes, and a big smile. And she's friendly. "Sure," I say, plopping myself down next to her on the sticky leather seat, my backpack at my feet. Perfect! Miri can sit in the empty row across the aisle. It will be just like we're sitting together . . . except not.
"I'm Alison," the girl says.
"Rachel," I tell her.
From the Hardcover edition.