I am two and occasionally four times more invisible than anyone else at school.
I don’t mean that I’m ugly. If I were, I think that people would see me. And maybe their stares would feel cruel and impertinent, but at least I’d know that I was real.
I’m not ugly, though—just transparent. Forgettable. I blend in. I can disappear in a heartbeat.
My best friend, Embry Gleason, says that this is the principle of how objects that are Harper Prescott tend to remain unnoticed. Embry is better at physics than anyone else in the junior class. She can build a model glider out of balsa wood or cardboard or mashed potatoes. She could probably engineer a pretty sizable bridge. I can’t even put up shelves.
But there is one trick that I can do. All I need is a pen and a piece of paper.
All my life, my mom has been telling me not to—not to be careless, not to be tempted. That just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. But what she doesn’t know won’t hurt me. Mostly, I use the trick for little things—to make sure the science test is only on the material I know, or that Mr. Lester doesn’t assign us extra homework on weekends.
It goes like this—write it down, then tear it up:
The lesson ends, the bell rings. Class is over and people start to file out. Lester has forgotten to announce the reading.
Later, the wish takes on a life of its own. It comes true.
But here is where the trick went wrong.
“My mom says I have to go to the homecoming dance,” I told Embry in the library at lunch. “Apparently it’s what ‘normal’ people do. It’s completely going to suck. You should come with me.”
But I knew she wouldn’t. Even if Embry had wanted to attend a school function, her mom never lets her do anything.
“Don’t even go,” she said. “Just do your pen trick and make your mom take it back.”
“I can’t. I’m not supposed to do that stuff at all, but especially not on people. What if she found out?”
Embry gave me a bored look. “I think you want to go. You want Colin Cray to see you in Rosie’s old prom dress and fall madly in love with you and ask you to dance to ‘Lady in Red’ or ‘Unchained Melody’ or something else equally wrist-slitting.”
“I don’t,” I said, but I was thinking about the possibility despite myself, thinking of his hands on my waist. His eyes gazing raptly down into mine.
The thing about Colin Cray is, you don’t get to be that handsome and that popular without having some pretty predictable tastes. He wears DC skate shoes and dark, worn-out jeans. He worships girls like the Solomon sisters, who have long, tan legs and fabulous hair. He does not even exist on the same astral plane as girls like me.
You shouldn’t use magic on people—even hedge magic. I know that. It’s too imperfect, to unpredictable. But what about for something small and harmless? What about just once?
The trick is to be specific, but not cluttered. The trick is to know exactly what you want.
After the bell rang and Embry left for Trig, I sat alone in the library and wrote the spell to counteract Colin’s adoration of Valerie Solomon, undo the way he looked at her.
Colin thought he was so in love, so in love that it hurt his heart, but he was wrong. That was before he noticed Harper Prescott. He saw her at the homecoming dance and even though she was still and quiet, and even though she was wearing a borrowed dress, he saw her for who she was. And then he was in real love, the kind that doesn’t change.
Write it down, tear it up. The wish comes true.
The homecoming dance was about what you’d expect. The gym was dark and full of paper streamers. People were wearing fancy shoes, looking cleaner and more serious than usual. Everything else was pretty much the same.
I stood alone in my beat-up sneakers and my cousin Rosie’s old prom dress. It was purple taffeta, with a short poofy skirt and a bow on the back, too fancy for a semi-formal and too big in the chest.
Colin was there with Valerie. They kissed under a huge archway built out of pink and gold balloons, holding hands and looking perfect together. I kept waiting for him to glance in my direction, but he didn’t.
After nine songs, I decided that maybe I was just too far out of the way, maybe I needed to be closer. I crept over to the crowd by the DJ table and slipped in with a bunch of the kids I only knew from PE, wondering why they would even bother to show up to a dance at all, since based on their conversations, they usually spend their Saturdays getting wrecked somewhere.
Marcus and Sharif laughed way too loud and made out with some of the girls from general track, while Gopher Fitch just leaned against the wall, staring at the crowd. He was watching Bethany Stephens dance to “Wild Horses” with Austin Quaid, looking gloomy and drunk.
Colin and Valerie were out there too, turning in circles to every slow song. They kissed extravagantly to “Unchained Melody.” I bit the inside of my cheek and looked at my shoes.
On either side of me, Marcus and Sharif were wrestling with their dates, flopping around like fish. Between them, I was completely, perfectly invisible.
Gopher was there with one of the girls from our PE class, but he didn’t look at her. Sometimes he slipped behind the bleachers for a few minutes and came back out looking more wasted than ever. He watched Bethany and Austin as colored lights washed over them in slow rainbow waves. Bethany’s hair was long and dark and glossy. I knew that she would never look over, the same way Colin Cray was never going to.
Beside me, Marcus kissed his girlfriend like he was trying to do CPR. When he nearly elbowed me in the head, I gave up wishing on Colin and went outside.
Just outside the gym was a cluster of cottonwoods. They’d cut the lower branches so there weren’t any handholds, but if you’re nimble, you can climb onto the lid of the dumpster and from there, it’s not that far to the roof and then just one quick step into the nearest tree. When you are invisible, you can do anything you want without getting in trouble.
I sat in the cottonwood, watching people leave the gym in twos and fours, stopping under my branch to paw each other awkwardly in the dark. I shivered against the bark, ruining my cousin’s prom dress, wondering why my magic didn’t work.
Gopher Fitch came out of the gym alone and didn’t head for the parking lot. I pressed myself closer to the tree and sat very still while he put his head down and puked in the shadow of the dumpster. He did it quietly, like he was trying to disappear.
I wanted to call down to him, ask how he was. But that would mean drawing attention to the fact that I was sitting in a tree in a giant prom dress, while one of the most aimless boys in school got puking-drunk over a girl who was never going to look twice at him. I didn’t do anything.
After a few minutes, Sharif opened the door and leaned out. “Hey Gopher, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Gopher said thickly, pressing his cheek against the wall. “It’s fine. Go away.”
Sharif started to close the door, but he wasn’t quick enough. Marcus shoved past him to stand over Gopher, laughing like it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen.
“Give it up,” he said, while Gopher leaned his forehead against the building, his face in shadow.
“She’s never going to get with you.”
Gopher didn’t answer. When Marcus jabbed him in the ribs, he twisted away, turning toward the dark chilly sky and the cottonwoods. Toward the girl sitting huddled in the bare branches. His eyes were wide and glazed, staring into mine. He opened his mouth, started to say something, but no sound came out.
“What are you looking at?” said Marcus, glancing over his shoulder.
“The girl,” muttered Gopher. “The one in the tree.”
I shrank closer against the trunk, pulling my legs up and tucking them under my purple dress.
“There’s no one up there.”
“There was,” said Gopher. “I saw her.”
Then he put his head down and heaved some more and Marcus shoved him in the back and told him what a loser he was for getting all sloppy over Bethany, for not just asking her out, and Sharif stood with his hands in his pockets looking awkward.
I sat in the cottonwood, shivering. Trying to forget the naked feeling of Gopher Fitch’s eyes on mine, like I was the only thing worth seeing. Like he was never going to look anywhere else.
The expresion on his face had been stricken, and I’d done it to both of us. Because I was needy, because I was lonely. Because I was too stupid to remember that Gopher Fitch’s real name is actually Colin. This was the consequence, because I’d asked for it. I wrote it down, called it into being, and now it was mine because that was how the magic worked.
Gopher Fitch slumped against the wall, staring up at me while Marcus flicked the side of his face with his index finger and tried to make him flinch.
I sat in the cottonwood tree, hugging my knees and trying not to sob.
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