Saturday, June 1, 2013

Playing Hooky by Rita Webb

Valentine’s Day.

And my 21st birthday.


Just another college day full of classes and more homework than is humanly possible.
…until Jason, my best-friend-since-kindergarten, shows up to take me out for the day.

Like old times: the two of us on a wacky adventure, playing hooky from real life. With his lopsided grin and tickets to a circus full of misfits and monsters, he introduces me to a whole new world—one full of magic and mystery—and turns my reality upside down.

Except nothing goes as planned, and we end up running through the city to find a missing siren before someone brews a love potion with her blood.

Sirens and love potions, witches and elves, and Valentine kisses. Nothing will be the same for me again.

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I’m left alone in the apartment’s tiny entryway with Jason.
“Emma,” he says, stepping closer, his head leaning down toward me. He is way too close, and I remember I’m not dressed.

Tall with wide shoulders, Jason is muscular from hard labor (construction and welding) and athletic adventures (kayaking and mountain biking). The perpetual scruff movie stars work hard to perfect shadows his jaw, and his tousled black hair kept short. He cuts it every week because it grows too fast, like at least a half inch a day. With the hazel green eyes and the confident grin he usually wears, he’d make any girl swoon.

Well, any girl but me. I’d more likely hit him upside the head with a broom than swoon over him.

“Coffee’s in the kitchen. I need to get dressed and showered; then we can go for pastries at the bakery around the corner.” Just off campus, there’s a scrumptious little shop, but I never have time in the mornings. I turn back to my room but then stop. “Oh, how do I need to dress for the day?”

“Sure.” He runs his hands through his hair, but his eyes are too busy following my ass to pay attention to anything I said.

“Jason.” I snap my fingers. “Up here. What do I need to wear?”

His gaze shifts to my face, and he grins, not even having the decency to flush. “Dress warm.”

Good. So we’re going to have an adventure.

Jason grins. “I’d never miss your birthday. Remember last year?”

“Ugh! I thought I’d never thaw out after we went skiing in a blizzard. We were stranded for three days in that cabin we found in the woods.”

“Aw, come on, you didn’t even get frostbite. I took care of you.”

“At least I didn’t end up with any broken limbs. That time.”

“I still can’t believe we went snow-boarding on East Pillar Mountain Loop. That’s a tough trail, and then you broke your arm slipping in the parking lot on the way to the truck.”

My muscles were exhausted, and carrying my board on my shoulder, I wasn’t watching where I was going. I didn’t see the patch of ice. “Remember when you took me spelunking?”

“I had no idea that bear was in there.”

“I can’t remember ever being that scared.”

“But it was fun! Come on. We can’t break tradition.”

Above the entrance, a sign reads Michael Magnificent and the Magician Magellan’s Magical Menagerie of Malicious and Monstrous Misfits. The word Misfits was smaller than the other words most likely because the painter almost ran out of room. Someone got a little carried away with the alliteration.

Carrying loads of boxes and pushing wheelbarrows, people bustle from tent to tent, and nobody pays any attention to us.

I blink as I stare at the sight before me and then glance at Jason.

He gives me a smile. “Welcome to a whole new world.”
“A circus?” I make a high-pitched noise, that is not a squeal. Because I do not squeal.

“Calm down.” Jason rubs his ears. “Not just any circus, Miss Acrobat.”

I’m normally not the squealing type, but I love the circus. As a kid, I dreamed of being an acrobat and pestered my parents until they finally got me into gymnastics. They stopped complaining about the cost when I got a full athletic scholarship.

“We’re a little early, but I thought you’d like to wander around and explore with me. The animal tents are . . . well, you’ll like it.”

“Jason, you’re the best friend a girl could ask for.” I give him a big bear hug.
“I know.”

“And geez, humble too.”

 “I know.” He grins.
Inside the closest tent, stalls filled with white horses line the center aisle. Tack hangs along one wall in the entry way, and stacks of hay and barrels of oats fill the other side.

White horses with long horns protruding from their foreheads.

“How did they glue the horns on?” I lean in close to inspect.

“They’re real.”
I raise an eyebrow, and he grins.


“Would I lie to you?”

“There was that time you told me the mud pies would give me flying powers if I ate them.”

“Not my fault. I really thought they would.”

The door swings open, and we step inside. Whoever was on the other side of the peephole, he’s already gone.
Inside, a smoky haze blurs the room, and although it isn’t even five o’clock, every table has somebody hunkered over a bottle of beer or whiskey. A band plays Celtic music, the kind that worms into your feet and makes them dance the jig even if you don’t know how. The strains of the fiddle wrap around the music of the guitar, accordion, and bagpipes and around my heart, and I can’t help but fall in love with the sound.

Bare-chested even in this cold weather, the four musicians (three male and one female . . . yes, even the girl is bare-chested and jiggling nicely) dance on the small stage while still playing instruments and singing, drunker than anybody in the room, and when I look closely, I realize they’re not wearing brown pants but instead fur covers their legs. 

Legs that end in hooves.

Three satyrs and a satyress.

Thank goodness for ninth grade English lessons in Greek mythology. Most professors would likely be happy to know that satyresses prance around just as naked as their male counterparts.

Emma smacks the back of my head. “It’s just boobs. Even I have a pair. No reason to stare so hard. Put your eyes back in your head.” She grabs my hand, leading me toward the bar . . . and positions me with my back to the stage.

“But you’ve never shown me yours. Take your shirt off, and I’ll stare at yours instead.” 

“You did not just say that.”
“Yeah, I think I did.”

“Men.” She rolls her eyes.

Leaving the house to go to school, I had schoolbooks spilling out of one hand, the other holding my place in a Nancy Drew novel, and bunny slippers still on my feet. My mom was a wee bit upset.  

I haven't changed much. Still always have a book (or two) in my hand or creating stories in my head, and although I don't have any bunny slippers, I love writing in my jammies and snuggly slipper socks. 

When I grow up (maybe a hundred years from now), I'd like to be a superhero, but for now, saving the day, one page at a time, suits me just fine. 

With my husband TJ (my own cuddly werewolf), I home-school our three girls, who keep us busy with art, science projects, books to read, dance classes, and walks about the park.

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