“She said that it was one thing to be able to spin spoons when there is nothing working against you,” Michael repeats, try again to bob and spin the spoon, “but another when someone or something is in the way.”
It’s not working.
“Do you think she can cook?” I ask him, now that Bea is gone and Sally has gone back upstairs.
Michael doesn’t look up. “She said that the smart magician learns what is blocking him and how to dissipate the interruption. You know what that means?”
“What?” I ask.
“It means she’s going to teach me. She’s not going to do it directly, but she gave me a clue. Since it’s still not working, it’s not her presence that is the interruption.”
Again and again he bobs and spins, but the spoon just won’t play along.
“Could it be your aunt Helene, picking up on something?” I suggest, starting to look around for something to eat. I’m always the most hungry at breakfast time, but Michael is into eating all organic. Hard to know what that means for the first meal of the day.
“Maybe. But I don’t think Bea would risk that. It’s not you, because it worked with you at the restaurant. It could be Gran Bea’s energy is still in the room.”
“She has a lot of that,” I agree. “But can she cook?”
“What?” he says, finally looking up at me, giving up on the spoon, at least for the moment.
“Can your Gran Bea cook? She’s going to be playing the part of a famed chef starting at two o’clock today. Remember?”
“Oh, well, she can cook alright, I guess. But I can get something made up at the restaurant if she’s not that great. That’s the least of our worries.”
“We have more worries?”
“Hello? Did you see what she did to your regular cook? And what she changed into? You did see that, right?”
“I saw it. That’s part of your magic,” I say, confident I’m not giving anything new away. I mean, he saw what I saw. “You’re shapeshifters. Part animal, sometimes. At least that’s what I’ve gathered so far.”
“So you’ve seen her do this before?”
“Not her. Anna did some shapeshifting with time, and Jake was kind of mangling it as he practiced.”
“They’re teaching him?” Michael nearly shouts.
“Don’t get mad at me. I don’t know why,” I say right upfront. “Maybe his mother didn’t say no. But they are worried about it being too soon. I know that. I think he was heading in a life direction that felt more risky than teaching him young.”
“I can imagine that. Even so, Jake shouldn’t be learning before me,” he insists.
“Is there some big rivalry between you guys?” I say, making my way towards getting out some peanut butter, banana, honey and rice cakes. “You want some of this?”
“Sure,” he says. “I mean to the breakfast. Not to the rivalry.”
“It seems like there’s something going on between you,” I say casually. I don’t want to give away Anna’s theories too soon. Not because Michael isn’t “in” now, but because I want to see what is going on from his perspective.
“Jake was always a kind of loose cannon, even as a kid. No real self-control. Kind of ADD, pretty immature. They wanted me to look after him a lot, and he hated that. But he also sort of looked up to me. It was strange. Karmic, I guess.”
“Karmic? Like as in karma? You believe in that?”
Michael shrugs. “Hard not to believe, when you’ve seen who you were in a past life. And who he was. I was seeing that stuff when we were just little.”
“Like what?” I say, feeling like this was really out in left field.
“We were soldiers together in a war. I was his superior. He lost a leg and an arm and I carried him off the field. He was grateful, but I think he went on to have a really bad life, so maybe he wasn’t grateful in the end. Maybe he wished I didn’t save him.”
Images of Jake’s mangled animal legs flash in my mind. But it has to be a coincidence.
“You really believe in past lives?” I ask casually. I’ve heard of it, but I can’t say I believe it. Or even understand it. Isn’t one life hard enough?
Michael nods, reaching over to add a little more peanut butter to his rice cake then I put there. “Many of the world’s religions have it as a central belief. I’m not saying it’s true. I mean, how can you know for sure? I’m just saying that I remembered that scene in my head really vividly, and repeatedly, when we were only in grade school. And it seemed to fit, how he was always looking up to me, but upset with me, too.”
I have to think on this, and what he said last night. If he is the superior to Jake, and there is no competition, why would he care if I liked Jake better than him? I’d ask, but I’m not sure I want to know. At least not yet.
“So now what?” I ask. “You start soccer camp today, right?”
He looks at his watch. “In about an hour. It’s 9-5 every day but Sunday. That gives us some time in the early mornings, then some with Gran Bea around dinner, but not too much because there will actually be dinner. And, I guess, there is after dinner, if you don’t have plans.”
The way he says that, about having plans, sounds a lot like the way he talked about meeting a girl who gets magic last night. His voice drops, and he speaks slower, and looks more intently into my eyes. But I have to look away.
“No plans tonight,” I say, wondering what this could mean. Will we have walks in the garden? Hang out in the guest house? Go for drives? It all sounds good. Just being around him feels good. And he seems to be filling his time with me and more me. Well, and his Gran Bea. That could be the real draw. Probably is the real draw.
“Okay,” he says, “we will take it day by day then. I can’t get too close to Gran Bea, so I don’t think I can help with dishes or that. Though I would love to. But I can hang out if you help her, from the other side of the kitchen. And I want to get back to see Anna, maybe this Sunday?”
“I’ll ask her,” I say.
“You know,” he says, reaching out to touch my hand, “you seem pretty wary of me. Have I done something?”
I pull away, and shudder from the touch. He’s still got some kind of magic, that’s for sure.
“No,” I say, “It’s just that I don’t normally talk to a lot of people. I’ve done more talking in the past three days than I probably did all last year at school.”
Saying this, it hits me that it was just three days ago that I was taking Anna for a walk, helping her come to life out in the woods, and taking Scottie to Bea and meeting her and Jake. It was just yesterday that I met Michael. Now today I’m in what feels like a whole new world. A big, bright open world.
“Michael! Julie!” Dad says in his booming morning sell-the-world-anything-you-can-cause-it’s-a-bright-and-shining-new-day voice. “I hear we have a new cook already!”
I offer a cheek as Dad comes to give me a good morning kiss. It’s one of the few father/daughter rituals we have left.
“Hmm,” he says, “breakfast looks a little lean for a soccer player. Maybe we need a morning cook as well.”
“I can make eggs,” Sally says, rounding the corner.
She can’t make eggs. Not even close.
Michael has already stood to shake Dad’s hand. “No sir, this is wonderful. I like to eat light before hitting the field. I stopped by the grocery last night to pick up some high protein drinks to add to my lunches, and you can bet with Fiona we will all eat magnificently at dinner.”
“Fiona,” Dad repeats. “Sally says she might be a nice surprise for your Aunt Helene when she returns. I like that. Shows entrepreneurial spirit. Speaking of which, I’ve invited a few friends for after dinner drinks, to meet with you. Naval academy grads from way back, but they have made stellar careers. I’m sure they can offer you excellent advice.”
I see Michael’s face drop the smile just a bit, but regain it again right away. “That would be wonderful, Sir. Very kind of you.” He shoots me a look like “we’ll find a way” and I shoot him back a small smile.
“Not at all, son,” Dad says, then notices Michael’s leather pouch. “What’s this?”
For once, Michael seems caught off guard. He hems and haws as he holds on to the pouch, trying to think.
What else can I do but jump in? “I gave it to him, Dad. It’s for good luck, with his soccer, you know.”
Michael smiles the exactly right smile, like it’s a weird gift, but what can he do? It was a gift.
“Where did you get it?” Dad queries me, frowning. Great, all I need is another ‘I just don’t know much about your life anymore’ lecture. Which can always be expected after just such an event, unless brushed off just right.
“Someone at the Village gave it to me,” I said, shrugging it off. “To thank me for helping out her mom.”
Dad laughs nervously. “Oh, well, for a moment there I thought you were getting strange on us while I was not looking.”
“When have I not been strange to you, Dad?” I challenge in good nature. Michael is not the only one who can play an adult.
“I think the most recent pictures are from grade school,” he jokes back. “Alright then, I’ll take some eggs, but let’s go out, Sally. I’m feeling like pancakes and bacon as well.”
And decent cooking. Sally looks hurt, but doesn’t say anything. She knows a bait and switch when she hears one. And she can’t argue that making bacon and pancakes are beyond the realm of possibility in her puny little world.
“As for tonight,” Dad turns to ask Michael, “you’re not going to go so fancy on us that we don’t get our fill, are you? I’m a hungry man come dinner time.”
“I’ll have Fiona go over the menu with Sally,” he says, giving Sally a look that blends compassion with her plight and supplication for her wisdom.
It works. She’s all smiles again. “Wonderful!”
And so it is settled. In three short days we’ve gone from a totally boring summer to a whole new life that has so much momentum it feels like we are all being shot out of a cannon. Michael and I will have breakfasts and dinner and evenings of dodging parents to steal away to the garden or the guest house, throwing in a few late night swims as well, I hope. In the mornings there will be walks with Anna and in the afternoons I’ll either learn to cook or dance around catering logistics with a shapeshifting woman of magic.
Again that surge of glee comes up from inside me. It swirls through me like a flashing wildfire, then gets even stronger, making me suddenly roaring hot.
And then, a flash of something else. An image, real as the table I’m sitting at.
It’s me and Michael in a fancy old hotel lobby. Only everyone is dressed like they did eighty or a hundred years ago. I’m wearing a big fancy skirt as I see myself hugging him. We are saying goodbye. It makes my heart hurt, right here and now, to see it. As he steps away, I see he is in uniform.
I look at Michael—the real one, standing in front of me—and he seems to get that something is going on. He smiles, like he knows something I am just beginning to try to comprehend.