by Justina Ireland
It’s two days before the last day of school, and I’m sitting in my Combatives class ready to die of boredom. Mr. Vaughn is showing a demonstration video on how to slay a basilisk. Again. It was the last question on our final. Only half of us got it right.
I was not one of the lucky few.
No one is paying attention as the warrior in the party uses her reflective shield to distract the basilisk while a mage makes a big deal about putting the creature down with a sleep spell. We’re all talking and thinking about the summer.
“What did you get in here?” Jeb asks from across the row.
“C,” I say. “What about you?”
“D minus,” he says, waving his test at me. His ears droop a little like a chastised puppy. Demons are so sensitive.
I shrug. “At least you dodged a bullet. No summer school.”
“Yeah,” Jeb looks down at his test morosely. “But still, you can’t kill a basilisk? Who knew they were an endangered species?”
Mr. Vaughn is clip-clopping across the front of the room now, arms crossed as he gives one of his “these are skills for the real world” lectures once again. As fun as it is to watch a centaur go off on a tear, I’m over Mr. Vaughn and I’m over this school year.
I don’t really care about the test, but I do hate when Jeb gets all emo. “Look, we’re never going to use this anyway. No one goes adventuring anymore.”
He nods and incinerates his test with a simple fire spell. No one even glances at him.
“What are you doing this summer?” he asks after a long while, his voice low. He’s still bummed about his bad grade. Maybe I’ll take him out for frozen yogurt after school. Cheer him up. Sprinkles would cheer anyone up.
I slouch down in my desk, stretching with a yawn. Mr. Vaughn has given up on his lecture and has retreated to his desk to eat an apple someone brought him. He’s much calmer now. It’s probably the apple. Centaurs freaking love apples.
“Nothing dude,” I say, finally answering Jeb’s question. “Absolutely nothing.”
The second day of summer vacation my mom tells me I need to get a job.
We’re sitting at dinner eating Mom’s famous tavern stew, which is really just a bunch of random things boiled down to mush. She’s still dressed in her work clothes: low cut white gown and flower crown. I asked her once why the clinic makes her wear such a ridiculous outfit, and she just shrugged and said “It’s tradition. This is how healers dress.” The men have an outfit that is just as stupid, tight white breeches and a flowy tunic, but I still think it sucks that my mom has to dress like a sex object to help people. Like, where is the self-respect in that?
“So, Caitlyn, what are your plans for summer?” Mom asks as I’m about to shovel in some of her stew. My mouth is full so I just shrug and say “Uhnano.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? No big plans?” Mom is giving me this tight smile that means she wants a specific answer, but I have no idea what she’s looking for here. It’s summer. It’s two and a half months of not thinking about magic spells or chemistry or monster identification or algebra or anything, really. So why is she hassling me?
“I was thinking of maybe taking my mage’s test or something,” I say, hoping it’s enough to distract Mom from whatever she’s about. Dad isn’t even paying attention to the conversation. As usual he’s nose deep in Berserker Weekly. Dad used to be this big time adventurer, walking through forests and bashing in heads for fun and profit. That’s where he met Mom. I think he saved her from an evil wizard or a druidic cult or something. It was a long time ago, though, and now he mainly consults for a living.
“Oh, that’s a good idea. After you get your license maybe you could call Marcus and see if he’ll let you work in the Hex shop. I mean, you should really get a job this summer. Don’t you agree, Brock?”
A frown creases Dad’s dark face but he grunts in assent.
I take another bite of stew and look down at the bowl to avoid answering. There’s no way I’m going to work in my Uncle Marcus’s Hex shop. The thought of untangling curses all summer makes me want to turn myself into a frog and hide out in the forest. Not to mention that my Uncle Marcus is the cheapest man alive. I’d be lucky if he even paid me.
Mom pushes her bowl of stew away and jumps to her feet. “Good! Caitlyn, I’ll send Marcus a note letting him know you’ll be there tomorrow bright and early—”
“I don’t want to work in the Hex shop. It’s gross.”
Mom stops and turns to me slowly. Her skin is pale as usual but two spots of color have appeared high on her cheeks. She is pissed. “Removing hexes is not gross. Your uncle gives those people their lives back.”
“A woman with boils all over her face is pretty gross, Mom.” Last year when I had to pick a concentration Mom took me to see Marcus to convince me to pick cursework because it pays pretty well. I chose spellweaving instead. I’d rather work in a factory making love charms or fire spells than to have to turn frogs back into snotty princes all day.
Mom purses her lips and turns to my Dad. “Brock, will you please talk some sense into your daughter?”
“Cursework is disgusting, Mel,” Dad says, lowering his paper. “Why can’t the girl go adventuring like everyone else her age?”
“No one goes adventuring anymore, Dad,” I say. Because it’s true. Adventuring is something your parents make you do because they don’t understand that it isn’t cool to slay dragons anymore or that maidens can rescue themselves.
I mean, adventuring is just so lame. Walking around, looking for a prophecy to fulfill, and then working really hard for something that may or may not come true? Yawn. I have better things to do.
“No one goes adventuring, huh?” Dad and Mom exchange a look, like they’re about to laugh at some inside joke. Then Dad raises his paper again. “Either way, you’re not going to sit around the house all summer and play video games. Get a job, Caity-Bird, and if you can’t find one then your mother will call Marcus and you can spend all summer waking princesses.”
And that’s how I end up working at the Shop Quick.