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Authors: Jenna Black

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BOOK: Remedial Magic
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My mother’s bear was just about to let loose with its weapon when my bedroom door burst open, knocking the bear to the side.

“What the hell is going on in here?” Ethan yelled as he stepped in the door.

I was too busy deflecting the other bear’s charge to answer his question. Not that I could have given him a good answer if I’d tried. Failing to execute the spell was bad enough, but this unmitigated disaster elevated me from miserable failure to a menace to society. To have Mr. Magical Perfection witness my massive screw-up was almost unbearable.

Ethan took in the scene with a sweeping glance as all four bears once again set their sights on me, perhaps sensing that they were running out of time. Ethan is an arrogant bastard who annoys the crap out of me, but one thing I’ll say for him: he’s a good ally to have in a fight. He must have been pretty damn startled by what he saw, but he reacted with lightning reflexes.

The bears all charged at once, their most coordinated attack yet. There was no way I could block them all, and even if they didn’t manage to kill me, they were certainly going to hurt me pretty badly.

Suddenly, the level of magic in the room intensified, the air thinning as if it was being crowded out by the magic. It was more power than I’d ever felt Ethan pull before, and if I hadn’t been so scared of the damn bears, the power itself probably would have terrified me.

“Undo!” Ethan bellowed, emphasizing the command with a sweeping arm gesture.

The bears simply…exploded in mid charge. Every seam in every bear split wide open, the stuffing falling out. Eyes dropped off, as well as plastic noses and yarn mouths. When the magic cleared, the bears were nothing but indistinct piles of fabric, plastic, thread, and stuffing. It was only then that I realized I was shaking like a leaf, my knees wobbly and knocking together. I lowered myself to the floor and sat before I fell.

What Ethan had just done should have been impossible. I was willing to bet my life that he hadn’t trained up a tear-apart-teddy-bears spell before he stepped into this room. To craft a spell like that should have taken hours of trial and error, but Ethan had done it in a matter of seconds. Across the room, I could see Dee Dee staring at him like he was the Second Coming. If he’d wanted to show off his amazing powers, I doubt he could have manufactured a better way to do it than what I had just given him.

“Everyone okay?” he asked, coming quickly to my side.

I was too humiliated to say anything—even thank you—as he peered at the slashes the bear’s claws had made in my arm. Magic tingled over my skin as Ethan whispered a spell and the wounds closed up, the stinging pain vanishing as if it had never existed.

“How did you do that?” Dee Dee asked, sliding off the bed and still looking at Ethan in total awe. Notice how
wasn’t asking if I was okay. It was like I’d ceased to exist once he’d walked into the room. This was what I call the Ethan Effect, when perfectly sensible girls’ brains turn to useless mush. Human girls swoon at his feet because he’s good-looking, but it takes more than good looks to catch a Fae girl’s eyes. After all, a touch of glamour can make a troll look like a prince, so beauty really is only skin deep. But even when he isn’t doing magic, there’s an aura of power and confidence around Ethan that draws Fae girls to him like ants to a picnic.

I should have been grateful to Ethan for coming in and saving the day. After all, if he hadn’t shown up, I would have been in bad, bad shape by now. And maybe later, when I’d calmed down a bit, I’d find the grace to thank him. But not only was I completely humiliated by how horribly wrong my spell had gone, having Ethan have to come in and save me added a huge dose of insult to the injury. I have never been the picture of grace under fire when Ethan’s around anyway, and with Dee Dee giving him goo-goo eyes like that, I just couldn’t contain myself.

“What are you doing home?” I asked my brother, more to remind Dee Dee that I still existed than because cared. I knew from experience that trying to warn girls off never worked, but that didn’t stop me from trying. “Shouldn’t you be off shagging the flavor of the week?”

That got Dee Dee’s attention, but not for the right reasons. She looked at me in horrified shock. Then her face set into a scowl, as if I’d just insulted the love of her life.

Ethan shook his head at me reproachfully. “It’s that time of the month
?” he asked in mock surprise.

Dee Dee giggled, as if he’d said something remarkably witty and clever. I rolled my eyes and wished I were an only child. Obviously, my magic lessons were over. Yeah, I know, they probably would have been—and certainly
have been—even if Dee Dee wasn’t already succumbing to the Ethan Effect. But I couldn’t help feeling that Ethan was about to steal my friend when he’d already long ago stolen my pride.

You see, the fact is, I’d never really expected my lessons with Dee Dee to suddenly make me into a competent spell caster. I’d had hopes, of course, but that hadn’t been the point of the lessons. The point had been to spend time with one of my classmates, to try to make a connection and have a real live friend. Believe me, that’s hard to do when you’re a fifteen-year-old college freshman.

Ethan gave Dee Dee his God’s-gift-to-women smile, and it made me want to puke. I swear, he’s never met a girl he didn’t immediately want to shag. She, of course, ate it up, blushing and batting her eyelashes at him.

“Do I even want to know what the two of you were up to?” Ethan asked Dee Dee while giving me a sidelong look that said he knew perfectly well that whatever had gone wrong was my fault.

Dee Dee smiled at him. “Probably not.”

I sighed, knowing a lost cause when I saw it. Ethan was going to make a play for Dee Dee, and by the time he was done with her—which with his track record would be in a couple of weeks—she was going to hate me by association. I tried to tell myself it was good riddance. After all, if she were really good friendship material, she probably wouldn’t start ignoring me the moment she caught sight of Ethan. Not to mention that she hadn’t even
to help me when the bears attacked. If they’d attacked her, you can bet I’d have done something more useful than plaster myself to the wall and scream.

But I couldn’t help mourning the loss. I’d give anything to have a real friend. One who didn’t care about my magical shortcomings, one who liked me for who I am, not for what I can do. One who could be in the same room with both me and Ethan and still remember I existed.

Dee Dee departed on Ethan’s arm, leaving me alone in the shambles of my bedroom. The place was a freaking disaster area, and I needed to clean up the mess before my dad got home. Ethan wouldn’t tattle on me—I have to grudgingly admit he has some redeeming qualities—which meant if I could hide all the evidence, my dad never had to know what a complete fool I’d made of myself.

It wasn’t until I picked up the bowtie that had adorned my mother’s bear that I fully understood what I had lost that afternoon. Not just my dignity, or my hope, or my friend. But also the teddy bear that represented my last link to my mother. My eyes filled with tears, and no matter how glad I was that Ethan had saved me, I couldn’t help wishing he’d found some other way to do it.

Heartsick, I fastened the plaid bowtie on one of the surviving bears, knowing that although it was Ethan who’d cast the spell that destroyed the bear, I had only myself to blame. From now on, I vowed, I was going to be satisfied with what little magic I had. I was going to be proud of myself for my academic achievements, and I was going to stop feeling like a pathetic loser. I was even going to stop comparing myself to Ethan.

Too bad there wasn’t enough magic in all of Faerie to make a vow like that come true.




Available Now From St. Martin’s Griffin


The absolute last straw was when my mom showed up at my recital drunk. I don’t mean tipsy—I mean staggering, slurring, everyone-knows drunk. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, she was late, too, so that when she pushed through the doors and practically fell into a metal folding chair at the back, everyone turned to glare at her for interrupting the performance.

Standing in the wings, I wanted to sink through the floor in embarrassment. Ms. Morris, my voice teacher, was the only one in the room who realized the person causing the disruption was my mother. I’d very carefully avoided any contact between my mom and the students of this school—my newest one, and the one I hoped to graduate from if we could manage two full years in the same location just this once.

When it was my turn to perform, Ms. Morris gave me a sympathetic look before she put her hands on the piano. My face felt hot with embarrassment, and my throat was so tight I worried my voice would crack the moment I opened my mouth.

My voice is naturally pretty—a result of my ultra-secret, hush-hush Fae heritage. Truthfully, I didn’t need the voice lessons, but summer vacation was going to start in a few weeks, and I’d wanted an excuse that would get me out of the house now and then but wouldn’t require a huge time commitment. Voice lessons had fit the bill. And I enjoyed them.

My heart beat hard against my chest, and my palms sweated as Ms. Morris played the introduction. I tried to concentrate on the music. If I could just get through the song and act normal, no one in the audience had to know that the drunken idiot in the back was related to me.

Finally, the intro was over, and it was time for me to start. Despite my less-than-optimal state of mind, the music took over for a while, and I let the beauty of “Voi che sapete,” one of my favorite Mozart arias, wash over me. Traditionally sung by a woman pretending to be a young boy, it was perfect for my clear soprano, with the hint of vibrato that added a human touch to my otherwise Fae voice.

I hit every note spot on, and didn’t forget any of my lyrics. Ms. Morris nodded in approval a couple times when I got the phrasing just the way she wanted it. But I knew I could have done better, put more feeling into it, if I hadn’t been so morbidly aware of my mom’s presence.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I was done. Until the applause started, that is. Most of the parents and other students gave a polite, if heartfelt, round of applause. My mom, on the other hand, gave me a standing ovation, once more drawing all eyes to her. And, of course, revealing that she was with me.

If lightning had shot from the heavens and struck me dead at that moment, I might have welcomed it.

I shouldn’t have told her about the recital, but despite the fact that I knew better, there’d been some part of me that wished she would show up to hear me sing, wished she’d applaud me and be proud like a normal mother. I’m such a moron!

I wondered how long it would take the story to make the rounds of
school. At my previous school, when one of the bitchy cheerleader types had run into me and my mom when we were shopping—a task she was barely sober enough to manage—it had taken all of one day for the entire school to know my mom was a drunk. I hadn’t exactly been part of the popular crowd even before, but after that…Well, let’s just say that for once I was glad we were moving yet again.

I was sixteen years old, and we’d lived in ten different cities that I could remember. We moved around so much because my mom didn’t want my dad to find me. She was afraid he’d try to take me away from her, and considering she isn’t exactly a study in parental perfection, he just might be able to do it.

I’d never met my dad, but my mom had told me all about him. The story varied depending on how drunk and/or depressed she was feeling at the time. What I’m pretty sure is true is that my mom was born in Avalon and lived there most of her life, and that my dad is some kind of big-deal Fae there. Only my mom hadn’t realized who he was when she started messing around with him. She found out right about the time she got pregnant with me, and she left home before anyone knew.

Sometimes, my mom said she’d run away from Avalon because my dad was such a terrible, evil man that he’d be sure to abuse me in horrible ways if I lived with him. That was the story she told when she was sober, the story she built to make sure I was never interested in meeting him. “He’s a monster, Dana,” she’d say, explaining why we had to move yet again. “I can’t let him find you.”

But when she was drunk out of her gourd and babbling at me about whatever entered her mind at the moment, she’d say she’d left Avalon because if I’d stayed there, I’d have been caught up in some kind of nasty political intrigue, me being the daughter of a high muckety-muck Fae and all. When she was in one of these moods, she’d go on and on about how great a guy my dad was, how she’d loved him more than life itself, but how her duty as a mother had to come first. Gag!

I wanted to slink away from the recital before it was even over, but I didn’t dare. It was possible my mom was dumb enough to have actually driven here, and there was no way I could let her drive back home in the state she was in. I had the guilty thought—not for the first time—that my life might improve if she got herself killed in a car wreck. I was ashamed of myself for letting the thought enter my head.
Of course
I didn’t want my mother to die. I just wanted her not to be an alcoholic.

Ms. Morris took me aside as soon as everyone was done, and the sympathy in her eyes was almost too much to bear. “Do you need any help, Dana?” she asked me quietly.

I shook my head and refused to meet her gaze. “No. Thank you. I’ll…take care of her.” My face was hot again, so I made my escape as quickly as possible, avoiding the other students who wanted to either congratulate me on my brilliant performance (yeah, right!) or try to get the full scoop on my mom so they could tell all their friends.

Mom was trying to mingle with the other parents when I walked up to her. She was too out of it to pick up on the subtle you’re-a-drunk-leave-me-alone vibes they were giving her. Still feeling like everyone was staring at me, I took hold of her arm.

“Come on, let’s get you home,” I said through gritted teeth.

“Dana!” she practically shouted. “You were
!” She threw her arms around me like she hadn’t seen me in three years and gave me a smothering hug.

“Glad you enjoyed it,” I forced myself to say as I wriggled out of her hug and began heading for the door with her in tow. She didn’t seem to mind being dragged across the room, so at least that was a plus.
This could have been worse,
I tried to tell myself.

I didn’t have to ask Mom whether she’d driven, because the minute we stepped outside, I could see our car, parked so crookedly it had taken up about three spaces. I said a silent prayer of thanks that she hadn’t managed to kill anyone.

I held out my hand to her. “Keys.”

She sniffed and tried to look dignified. Hard to do when she had to clutch the railing to keep from falling headfirst down the steps that led to the parking lot. “I am perfectly capable of driving,” she informed me.

Anger burned in my chest, but I knew exactly how much good it would do me to explode, no matter how much I wanted to. If I could just keep pretending to be calm and reasonable, I could get her into the passenger seat and out of the public eye much faster. The last thing I wanted was to have a big shouting fight scene right here in front of everybody. Mom had given them enough to talk about already.

“Let me drive anyway,” I said. “I need the practice.” If she’d been even marginally sober, she’d have heard the banked fury in my voice, but as it was, she was oblivious. But she handed over the keys, which was a relief.

I drove home, my hands clutching the wheel with a white-knuckled grip as I fought to hold myself together. My mom was in the middle of gushing over my performance when the booze finally got the best of her and she conked out. I was grateful for the silence, though I knew from experience it would be quite a production to get her out of the car and into the house in her condition.

When I pulled into our driveway and contemplated the task ahead, I realized that I couldn’t live like this any longer. Nothing could possibly be worse than living with my mother, constantly lying for her, trying to cover up that she was passed out drunk when she was supposed to be meeting with my teachers or driving me to some off-campus event. Ever since I could remember, I’d lived in mortal fear that my friends at school—what friends I managed to have when we moved around so much, that is—would find out about her and decide I was some kind of freak by association. A fear that, unfortunately, I’d found out the hard way was not unfounded.

I’d been the adult in this family since I was about five, and now it was time for me to take my life into my own hands. I was going to contact my father and, unless I got some kind of vibe that said he really
an abusive pervert, I was going to go live with him. In Avalon. In the Wild City that was the crossroads between our world and Faerie, the city where magic and technology coexisted in something resembling peace. Even in Avalon, I figured, I’d have a better, more normal life than I had now with my mom.

I’ve never been so wrong about anything in my life.

BOOK: Remedial Magic
5.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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