Authors: Ariella Moon
By Ariella Moon
Published by Astraea Press
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright © 2013 ARIELLA MOON
Cover Art Designed by AM DESIGN STUDIOS
Mackenzie Morison-Knox, Whose Key Unlocked the Story
And to the former AUM Board: Alexandra, Cheri, Valery, Morgan, Charlie, David, and Teresa, for the love, light, and laughter.
I would like to thank the following experts for their help with Spell Fire: Lisa McConnell, R.N., for her medical advice; V. Marhya Harkins, Wytche Krafts, for her assistance with the tarot entries; and Jeff Ohlfs, Chief Ranger, Joshua Tree National Park, for instructing me on park protocol. Their quick responses to my desperate inquiries enriched the book and enabled me to meet my deadline.
Finally, I’d like to express my gratitude to the Astraea Press team: Publisher, Stephanie Taylor; my editor, Nia Shay; cover artist Amanda Matthews, and review coordinator, Opal Campbell.
My parents never said it to my face, but I know they didn't expect
me to survive middle school. I was fine until seventh grade, when my best friend disappeared. November twenty-sixth, the day after Thanksgiving,
branded on my brain.
Sophia's foster parents weren't allowed to tell me anything. Their worried expressions said enough — she hadn't been moved to another foster home. Her social worker was another dead end. And I'm positive Sophia would have found a way to let me know if she were okay. She had even picked out an email address with a code name, Hope Huntleigh, so her biological parents couldn't trace her. When she didn't contact me and I couldn't find her, I knew something terrible had happened. The court must have allowed her parents to regain custody. Which meant Sophia's life was in danger — or worse.
When Sophia went from here to gone, in a way, so did I. Her disappearance detonated within me a deep depression, then crippling anxiety and paralyzing obsessive-compulsive disorder. I went from normal to the fetal position twenty-four/seven.
I'm better now. Not totally fine, not perfectly normal, but functional. I've pushed my memories of those times into a box and shoved it into the deep recesses of my mind. But I can see in my parents' eyes they haven't forgotten. Even though I survived — despite their dire expectations — and am now a high school sophomore, my every flash of anxiety or hint of OCD sets them against each other. Mom and Dad disagree on everything, from how late I stay up to how many after-school activities I should take part in. Their only shared belief is that my
would disappear if the other weren't such a lousy parent.
I'm afraid their marriage won't last past Christmas. Which is why I need to hide my mental illness. If they think I'm okay, then they'll stop fighting.
They just need to hang in there for two more years. Afterwards, hopefully, I'll attend Columbia University and become an astrophysicist. With me away, there will be nothing left for them to fight about,
and we'll get our happily ever after — all of us except Sophia.
First though, I, Ainslie Avalon-Bennett, have to survive high school.
The squawk of the walkie-talkie jolted me back to the present — the Athenian Academy Performing Arts building, and my job as stage manager. I stood in the hall outside the "loud" dressing room where the cast did their homework, gossiped, and fixed their hair and makeup. I held the walkie-talkie to my mouth. "What did you say?"
Rayne's baritone crackled. "Dancer down."
I rushed toward the auditorium door. "What do you mean?"
"One of the dancers fainted," Rayne said over the walkie-talkie. "We're running two hours behind. Everyone is starving."
"I know we're running over. I was just on Marisa's cell, convincing her mother she was still at school and not off partying."
"You actually put someone's germy cell phone to your ear?"
"No," I confessed. "Marisa held it near my face." No one at the academy knew about Sophia or my breakdown, but the entire school knew I was germ phobic. My parents had relegated me to a Stone Age phone after I had ruined my smartphone by disinfecting it vigorously and constantly. Like I was supposed to know you shouldn't scrub smartphones with ammonia or alcohol-based products. Dad had said I could have a new smartphone once I got over my OCD. Perhaps he was expecting a miracle.
"She's the third parent I've spoken to tonight." Most were already upset Tanaka had scheduled a rehearsal on the day after Thanksgiving and the beginning of Hanukkah.
Using the end of my scarf as a germ shield, I pulled open the heavy auditorium door. Rayne nodded to me from the far side of the stage. Tall, thin, and gender creative, she wore a shimmering silver wrap blouse over gray skinny jeans. Her boy-sized feet were encased in cowboy boots painted with ferns and fairies. Whenever I saw her, I thought Middle Earth must have been missing an elf.
Rayne stood behind a ring of students who crouched, I assumed, around the fallen dancer. Cupping her hand around the side of her mouth, Rayne whispered into the walkie-talkie. "You are the only kid parents believe over the teacher."
"Just this teacher," I whispered back. "The parents want him fired."
As I ascended the stage stairs —
foot, right, left
— Jazmin snatched a drumstick from her percussionist boyfriend and cut me off. Her electric guitar was strapped to her back like a crossbow, and she pointed the drumstick at our director. "Make Tanaka feed us or release us."
"I will." My knees wobbled from stopping on the wrong foot. I rolled one shoulder, then the other, to bring myself into alignment.
Jazmin snapped her fingers. "Work it. Now." With her new hair extensions, she resembled a teenaged Nicki Minaj. Her murderous expression warned of falling blood sugar and the possible termination of our BFF status.
"She'll be fine." Mister Tanaka rose from his one-knee crouch and backed away from the circle of concerned students. Our gazes locked, and I detected a smattering of worry in his beady eyes.
One more step —
— and I was on the stage. My nervous system calmed. I pulled a protein bar from the pouch on my hip and pushed through the pack. The dancer was still flat on her back, hardly indicating she was fine. I unwrapped the chocolate and peanut butter bar and waved it like smelling salts beneath the girl's nose. "Any food allergies?"
The dancer shook her head.
"Good. Eat this."
She grabbed my wrist as if it were a lifeline and whispered, "Get us out of here."
I glanced at her hand and ground my teeth.
"Got any more of those?" a junior in a soldier costume asked.
I pulled six bars from my pouch and handed them to Jazmin and Rayne. "Break them in half. Spread them around."
"War rations!" Jazmin yelled.
"Contains gluten and peanuts!" I warned the crowd.
"Thanks, Ainslie!" several students called out.
"You're welcome." I approached Mister Tanaka and cleared my throat.
He glanced up from his phone and said, "I just texted the dean."
So I won't have to.
"We need to wrap. Parents are complaining."
"Not going to happen." Mister Tanaka pushed his black rectangular glasses higher on his nose. "No one is focused." He jerked his head toward the stage. "Your Disaster Relief fundraiser wore out everyone."
"Only the show band and three of the singers performed at my event. They're not the problem. It's the actors and dancers. The choreography is super-complicated, and the one-act plays you chose—"
"Will come together by curtain."
I seriously doubt it.
"Can you order pizzas, and let the day students phone their parents and the boarders text their dorm parents?"
"Fine." Mister Tanaka tapped the touchscreen on his phone and scrolled through the icons. "Tell them to take five and make their calls. Parents can pick them up in ninety minutes. Pizzas are on their way. I'm ordering them right now."
The later it got, the more furious Mom would be. She already regretted sending me to private school. "If you went to the public school," she had whined after the last late rehearsal, "we could be home in five minutes instead of forty-five."
A quick commute would be nice, especially now when I had tons of Advanced Placement homework, finals to study for, and the Christmas presents for the foster teens to organize. Even though I didn't want to add one more thing to the list of how I was destroying my parents' marriage, I couldn't leave Athenian Academy for public school. Jefferson High was too big. I felt safer and more in control of things here than I did anywhere else. Besides, the whole point of attending Athenian had been to escape the kids who had known me as a mental case in middle school.
I relayed Mister Tanaka's instructions to everyone on the stage and sequestered in the "quiet" dressing room backstage. Before heading to the loud room to tell the rest of the cast, I glanced up and spied the light and sound techies escaping the booth through the side door.
Idiots! They left it ajar.
My OCD jumped into overdrive.
My heart rate jackhammered as I strode up the side stairs —
— to Mission Control — my nickname for the tech booth. Biting cold air seeped through the open door. Breathing in quick shallow bursts, I gathered up the end of my scarf and steeled myself for closing the escape hatch.
The divas would have to wait.
The digital clock on my cell phone read fifteen minutes after ten when Mom pulled the Mercedes into our glittering, poinsettia-accented motor court. Our house resembled a Christmas card — only without the snow, happy children skating on a frozen pond, or a cute dog sporting a Santa hat. Our interior designer had decked the mansion in white fairy lights, wrapped yards of shimmery bronze material around the grand staircase, and positioned golden reindeer and poisonous poinsettias throughout. None of it quite disguised the absence of love or the turbulent undertone of anger and unease.
The garage door closest to the house, Bay One, rumbled open. Mom pulled in, parked, and cut the ignition. Bay Two was empty. Darkness engulfed Bays Three through Five. Dad's car was absent — again.
"Dad must be working late," I fished.
"I don't know." Mom bit out the words. "He hasn't called."
I unbuckled my seat belt. My mind ran through the possible places he could be at this hour on a Friday night. A bar. The hospital. Jail. The morgue.
Mom got out of the car and slammed the door. She had already pressed the button to close the garage door when she glanced back and realized I was still in the car. "Ains, come on."
My head spun into overdrive. Images of Dad in a drunk driving accident replayed over and over in my mind. I rocked back and forth. Obscenities spewed from my mouth, drifting like a toxic cloud and poisoning the sedan's new car smell.
I couldn't touch the door handle. I couldn't draw enough air into my lungs.
Mom pulled open the car door. "Baby, you're exhausted. Let's go inside and get some sleep."
"Dad's going to die!"
"Only if I kill him for being late." Mom yanked her cell phone out of her designer handbag and punched speed-dial. The person on the other end must have answered, because she said, "We just got home. Your daughter is worried about you and unable to get out of the car. Tell her you are fine and on your way."
Mom pressed the speaker button and held the phone close to my face so Dad could hear my ragged breathing. "Ains? I'm fine." He sounded drunk. I could barely hear him over the clink of glasses and voices in the background. "I'll be home in a while. Don't worry. Okay?"
My gaze darted from the phone to Mom. She placed the cell to her ear and said, "Sober up or call a cab," then tapped the phone off. "See, he's fine. Now let's get some sleep." She reached down and hefted my backpack and pouch off the floor. "Please, Ainslie." She appeared on the brink of tears, and her body sagged with frustration.