Chapter 1. First Day - Alchemy
“The sooner everyone takes their seat, the sooner I can start our morning. You’ll notice your name is on the desk, and yes, that means it’s an assigned seat.” The Hispanic woman says as everyone looks around to find their desk. I double-check my class schedule to figure out her name. Sonya Raine Alvarez, oh, I bet she is the Raine person grandma was talking about the other day.
“Looks like you’re stuck with me kid, no escaping the Amber.” Amber says from the chair directly behind me. Let the fun begin. I think to myself.
From the outside, the school is plain as vanilla, red bricks, one story in a U surrounding a courtyard. There is a smaller version of the school next door. It houses the kids from preschool through sixth grade. All classrooms start to look the same after ten years of school, regardless where you live. Too many fluorescent lights, tacky inspirational posters taped to the white walls and teachers in sensible shoes. Twenty four chairs, divided by four rows, twenty-three occupied. The empty seat is right next to me. I lean over to read the name on the paper, Thorne Woodson. The second bell rings and like magic, everyone sits quietly, not moving a muscle. What are they growing here, Stepford Students? Private school is much different than the public schools I’ve been to.
“I am Miss. Raine and welcome to Alchemy 1. With a show of hands, who has been taught the fine arts of alchemy by their family?” Miss. Raine’s tan makes her eyes freakishly bright. One of my friends back in New York has waist length wavy black hair like hers, the guys loved it.
Approximately half the class raises their hand, including my partner in crime Amber. Of course she has, she’s so sneaky. The door opens and in walks the Uni-bomber’s son, at least the kid didn’t let the dress code get in his way of coolness. His black polo tucked into his khaki pants, barely make code. I’m not so sure about the black leather belt with spikes and a giant metal skull buckle though. His Doc Martens are so loosely tied; he has to shuffle as he walks to keep them on his feet. It’s seventeen thousand degrees outside and he wears a jacket, what a wacko. Everyone watches as he pulls the hood down and Miss. Raine motions for the ear buds to be pulled out of his ears. His auburn hair, thick and unruly, gives him the urban skater kid edge.
“Thorne?” Miss. Raine asks.
He lifts his head in a reverse nod like an arrogant too cool for school thug. He pulls the ear buds out, walks over to the only empty seat…the one next to me, and sits down. His chair makes an obnoxious sound as he shifts it around and leans over to rummage through his backpack.
Amber takes in a breath and mutters to me “ooo la la”. She would think he’s hot. “Shhhh,” I reply.
“In the future Mr. Woodson, you’re to be in your seat when the second bell rings. Being it’s only the first day of class, and you are new to the school, I’ll let it slide….today. Don’t test my generosity, you’ll lose. Understand?” Miss. Raine says with annoyance in her voice. Thorne gives another reverse nod, in agreement. She leans over her desk and picks up a folder. “The following students need to come to the front of the class. Amber Edwards, Derrick Douglas, Cecelia Judiarti, Carmen Rodriguez, Damian Shock, Thorne Woodson and Jessie Lucente. Pack up your things, as you will not be returning to this classroom today. “
We all gather our things and line up by the door. The other people in class are whispering to each other. My heart is pounding and my brain is thinking a thousand and one thoughts at the same time. I turn to Amber and say softly, “Do you know what’s going on?”
She shrugs her shoulders at me and stares at the back of Thorne’s hoodie. Fabulous, a distracted Amber.
“Students, I’ll be back in five minutes…try to control yourselves. The rest of you; follow me.” She turns on her heel and goes to the back of the room and leads us into a storage closet.
They must expect to have an overflow of stuff, for a closet this size. All of us look around curiously, waiting for her to explain why we’re in here. The stench of dirty bleach water and moth balls is starting to make me light-headed. Shelves are lining the walls to the ceiling, all glass jars of colorful elixirs. Most are bright, while others look as if they were filled with human organs. I’m not even going to guess what they are.
“What the hell? Between the musty smell and Jessie’s Victoria’s Secret perfume, I’m going to barf,” Amber announces.
“My body spray makes you want to barf? Wow, things you can learn from your friends when you’re in a closet,” I say and grin at Amber.
Miss. Raine taps her toe on the ground. “Ladies, are you finished complaining?” She takes her hand and sweeps it through her hair, exposing a little tattoo on her wrist. “Thorne, turn off the overhead light. There is a string directly above you.”
“Hey, it will be dark, he can’t do that,” the guy I think is Damien says.
“You trying to off some Tamers or something?” Thorne’s voice is husky with a slight raspy quality. It made me think of the guys on the cover of bodice ripper books (my grandma secretly reads them). His rebel side showing for the second time in five minutes.
Miss. Raine sighs in exasperation. “You Light Tamers are all the same. Do you have any idea how many times I’ve explained this? Trust me, you won’t be disturbed by any Dark Ones in here. This room is enchanted, and if your parents had trained you well enough, you’d know better. But no, you think the alchemist is an idiot. Now, Mr. Woodson, please turn out the light.”
Amber takes her fingers in the shape of a gun and fake shoots Miss. Raine in the back. We stifle giggles only to be shot right back…with Miss. Raine’s stink eye. Thorne reaches up and pulls the string. Amber and I are armed with our fancy pink flashlights Caleb insisted we carry with us. The teacher shakes her head in disbelief at us. Looking up, we gasp at the never ending supply of potions. Many of the jars are glowing as if filled with a thousand lightning bugs.
“What’s up with the jars?” I ask.
“Why are we still standing in a closet, is what I want to know,” Amber says as she gnaws on her cuticle.
“Part of the enchantment, and we are about to leave the closet Miss. Edwards.” Miss. Raine replies and slides a piece of paper in her white linen pants pocket. Amber shifts to face me and smiles with her teeth gritted and eyes bugging out. “Any time you’re at school, everyone is protected from the Dark Ones. By the time this class is over, you’ll know how to create the same enchantment for protection.”
“You realize working with chemicals is hazardous to my nails. This is bunk.” Carmen says as she tucks her short curly hair behind her ear. Her perfect French manicure is highlighted by her dark tan.
I watch as Amber watches Thorne watching Carmen and feel the dread of a love triangle brewing.
“She looks like a tan version of Selena Gomez without extensions, doesn’t she?” I whisper to Amber.
She rolls her eyes so far back in her head and for a split second she looked like a zombie. “I guess, maybe a little, except for the blue eyes. How much do you want to bet she wears colored contacts?”
“You always think everyone has colored contacts on.”
“How many Hispanics do you know that have light-colored eyes? I mean, please…give me a break.”
“Ladies, as compelling of a conversation you’re having, we need to get going. Derrick, pull the handle on the mop bucket.” Miss. Raine reaches in her pocket and pulls out a small vial and tosses it at the bucket as he pulls the handle.
Instantly the wall with all the jars rotates around, exposing an entry to a secret passage. Where’s Scooby Doo? All we need now is a ghost and some Scooby Snacks. Jinkies! Zoinks, how creepy is that!
“Come on kids, I need to get back to my classroom.”
We all walk into a stairwell, down a flight of stairs, through a hallway, and past two doors on either side of the hall. We approach the end, it splits into a T. Turning right, we take the first door on the left. The classroom is an exact duplicate of Miss. Raine’s room. Taking it in, I see two kids sitting at their desk and a rather peculiar looking man in a monk’s robe standing at a podium.
The round bald headed man announces we can take a seat wherever we want. His accent sounds British mixed with a Southern drawl, an interesting combination. Miss. Raine leaves, not before telling us she’ll be back in exactly one hour and thirty minutes.
“Chop, chop, we won’t learn anything if everyone is too busy gawking at me in my habit.” He says and wipes his forehead with a handkerchief. He clears his throat, which sounds like a cat coughing up a hairball. “I’m Mr. Jesse James, and no, I am not related to your American outlaw or to a biker.” His head tilts to the side as he talks. “This is Enhanced Alchemy. What is it, you might ask yourself. This is an intense methodical form of the art in alchemy. Yes, art. Although your young brain might be thinking science, and I do agree, however, it’s an art of precision. I’m not going to bore you to death over the details, you’ll understand as the school year progresses. In your desk you’ll find a journal and a textbook. Please pull them out and personalize them. They are yours to keep.”
The sound of books slapping the desk fills the room. “Excuse me Mr. James, I thought all of our books are electronic textbooks for our I-pads. We have to lug around this giant book?” I ask while clicking the end of my ink-pen over and over nervously.
He gives me an annoyed look. “Yes, Miss. Lucente, you have to carry a school book, just like the old days,” he says sharply. “Everyone, open your book and I want you to read the first chapter. You have five minutes to read it and then you’ll take a test.” We all make a sound of aggravation.
“Can you believe this guy? What a douche-bag, that was totally rude of him,” Amber says. She picked the seat behind me so I can hear her commentary about the class.
“Less talking and more reading Miss. Edwards.”
“Like I said, douche,” she whispers to the back of my head. I mentally pray he didn’t hear her. I hunch over my book trying to let my hair fall into a curtain so Mr. James won’t talk to me again.
noun, plural alchemies
A form of chemistry practiced in Renaissance time. The art of transmuting baser metals into gold.
The use of chemicals for magical elements. The art of mixing compounds into potions for healing.
The chapter is four pages long, but promised by the end of the book, we’d be able to identify and create potions. I’ll be lucky not to cause an explosion by the end of the book. I look over and note Thorne never opened his book. I wonder if Mr. James will say anything.
“Miss. Lucente, take one and pass them on,” I grab the stack and give it to Amber. I see Thorne is smirking in my direction. I shift quickly and stare down at my test. I miss the announcement to start.
Five minutes later I get up to hand my work to the teacher. As I turn to go back to my desk I run smack into Thorne. Good going grace. “Sorry, I have a clumsy gene.”
“No sweat,” he replies and winks at me. Did he just wink? No, it’s my imagination. Maybe I know him through my grandma. I’d remember him…wouldn’t I? His rugged look works for him. Amber’s going to have a field day with his eyes once she sees they’re gray. Deep and crystal clear with long black eyelashes. I bet if he wore glasses they would rub the lenses. Why do guys always have great eyelashes and girls get stuck with wimpy flimsy ones? He is staring back at me and for a moment I forget what I’m doing. I bet he’s a great kisser with his perfect lips. Oops, why did I say that…think that?
Derrick is the last to turn in his test. I hate being last; I always feel everyone thinks I’m stupid. Mom would say, someone has to be last. True, but it doesn’t make me feel better.
“I am pleased to inform everyone that all of you passed the test with a 100. For a reward, I’m going give you four chapters to read tonight instead of two.”
“What the hell?” Amber mutters.
“Oh no Miss. Edwards, hell is college,” says Mr. James. “I’m going to teach you how to make a protection potion. It won’t be hard, and I’ll give you the ingredients to take home. You will be given a pop quiz later week. I’ll grade you on both finesse and speed. Mr. Woodson, it will behoove you to practice and actually read the chapters. Form a single file line by the back door. We’re going to the lab.”
“Hey, I need your help,” Amber says.
This can’t be good. “With what?”
“I’m going to make out with Thorne today.”
Breathe in. “Wow, that’s ambitious.”
“I’m freakin’ serious. Look at him, he’s all sexified in his hoodie and I think it’ll make a statement.”
“I’ve never talked to anyone at this school other than Caleb. Now you’re here, I don’t want people to think I went soft over the summer. You know, hanging out with the gorgeous new girl takes away my edge. He’ll prove to everyone that I’m still bad-ass.”
“You think I’m gorgeous, ah that’s sweet. I don’t believe the bad-ass for one minute Miss. Edwards. Are you planning on kissing him at school?” I study her face and can tell she is intent on her quest.
Amber shrugs her shoulders and pops her gum. “I don’t have a plan, but it will happen,” she whispers to me. “You only live once right?”
This ought to be good.
Mr. James opens the door to the science lab. The difference between this lab and the lab at my school in the Bronx, everything is new and fancy looking.
“Thorne, you want to sit with me?” Amber and I turn in time to see Carmen. She is slithering around him like a snake to its prey.
Oh crap! Amber is going flip out. I glance over at her, she is seething with venom from every pore in her body.
“She better learn her protection spell, because she’s going to need it,” Amber says through gritted teeth.
“Do you have A lunch or B lunch?” Carmen asks Thorne. “If you have B lunch you can sit with me, I’ll introduce you to everyone…if you want.”
I nudge Amber with my knee as we sit side by side at our lab table. She is drawing little stick people and what looks like torture devices on her paper.
“I’m in A lunch, I’m already sitting with someone, but thanks.”
I look down and see Amber drawing a bubble over one of the stick people and a giant ‘Yay!’ written inside.
“If everyone has figured out their lunch schedule, we can get started on our protection spell.” Mr. James says. “I’m going to give all of you something else to carry around, just for you Miss. Lucente.”
I close my eyes and mentally breathe in to keep my face from turning crimson. He holds up a cardboard box with a girl holding an umbrella on it. Oh yay, my favorite condiment…salt.
“What you might consider ordinary table salt, is simply untrue. It’s used in many spells and potions. At one time, salt was once believed to open the entrance to heaven. I haven’t any proof either way.” His quirky accent makes everything he says sound exotic. “Miss. Edwards, your brother was in my class two years ago, did he share his wisdom of salt with you.”
Amber goes rigid at the mention of her brother; I brace myself for the verbal lashing I’m sure will commence.
“No, he didn’t,” Amber replied softer than usual.
“I’m always impressed when former students abide by the rules. Everything we discuss in this classroom is confidential. Don’t forget,” Mr. James taps his finger on his chin before continuing with his lecture. “Salt alone can protect you from many elements…but our main concern is the Dark Ones.”
Carmen raises her hand to ask a question. “Mr. James,” she purrs. “Why are they called Dark Ones, it isn’t very creative. Honestly, it sounds stupid.”
“Au contraire, ma petite chou. Your Historiography teacher will explain the history behind the name. What an exciting year you’re embarking on,” he says and rubs his chunky hands together. “With Miss. Lucente in our midst, it’s sure to be a galvanizing year. Even though you may disagree with the chosen slang for the former Light Tamers, the simplicity of the name fits. I must continue to show you how to make a protection spell. I’d like everyone to open up your silver spout on top of the salt and pour some in your hand.”
I clinch my teeth as the spout squeals against the cardboard. Salt reminds me of my visits to North Carolina as a child. No one warned me not to drink the ocean water the first time I went swimming. A big wave knocked me backwards and I ended up with a mouth full of water. After choking and gagging I threw-up until I had nothing else in me. I shudder at the memory .
“B, oh for cripes sake, you can’t go one class without thinking of him? Caleb, oh I miss you…I can’t make it without you by my side. Caleb, my love, my heart, my everything, I will die if I can’t shove my tongue down your throat in the next five minutes,” Amber said dramatically.
I prod her with my finger. “Shut-up, for your information, I wasn’t thinking about him. I was thinking about the ocean. So….there!”
Mr. James clears his throat loudly as he holds his salt up in the air. “Salt is a mineral, from the earth and sea. It’s freely available and affordable. I want you to stand up next to your table and arm length away from your lab partner.” Everyone stood and spread their arms out. “Good, before you do anything, I want you to pour a circle of salt all around you and chant this spell. Salt of the earth, protect me in this sacred circle.”
“Do we say the words out loud?” I ask. After a minute of clarification from Mr. James, I hold my arm out and spin in place, pouring salt. I whisper the incantation and cross my fingers. I don’t feel any different.
“Mr. Woodson, I want you to stand perfectly still. No matter what you do, and this goes for all of you…don’t step out of the circle.” Mr. James holds up a small amber bottle, we all turn to face Thorne standing perfectly still in his circle. In the next moment, the bottle whizzed through the air directly at him. Before I have a chance to think about what I’m doing, I fling my hands into the air.
Everything blurred as the vile halted inches from Thorne’s circle. Oh crap! I chazzled, what on earth do I do? My danger vibe kicked-in and now I’m going to be busted. Shit…shit…shit. Let it go, don’t do anything… let it fly. No, take the vile and put it back in Mr. James’ hand. I’m so going to die. I run over and put the vile back in his hand and jump back into my spot. Time caught up and as if it never happened, Mr. James looked at the vile in his hand curiously and then over to me. Don’t call me out. I cross my fingers praying he didn’t notice the hiccup in time.
Mr. James pulled back as if he’s about to pitch a fastball at Thorne. Before I have time to think, he flings the vile at me. I hear a blood curdling scream, and realize I’m the screaming maniac. I cower down on the floor in a squat, my arms are shielding my face. I look around when nothing happens, suddenly realizing I’d successfully made my invisible shield. I didn’t really see that part, but Amber and the rest of the class were yelling things like ‘wicked awesome’.
“Miss. Lucente, are you okay?”
“You sure have a lot of faith in us. What if I hadn’t done my shield right? You could have put my eye out with that pitch.”
His robe rustled as he walks over to me. “I believe in everything you kids do. I’d like a minute with you in the classroom. Everyone else, I want you to practice your speed in making a circle. Dust Busters are up in the front of the room, they are for salt only. Suck up the salt and pour it in the tub on my table, we recycle salt. Miss. Raine will be here in about ten minutes and don’t leave a mess. She does not like dilly dallying.”
I better not get in trouble for screaming, he tried to kill me with the damn bottle.
“Do you have a clue how dangerous chazzling is in a room full of Tamers? It was incredibly thoughtless on your part.” Mr. James crosses his arms in a huff.
Busted. “I’m sorry, it happened so fast, I didn’t even think about what was happening. I’m sorry. Please don’t tell anyone. I heard that if people find out, I’ll be in danger.” I’ve already screwed up and it’s only my first day. My ‘this sucks’ list will be updated as soon as I get home.
“You’re going to be nothing but trouble for this school and your friends, if you don’t think before you react.” He looks at my face and the hard lines begin to soften. “Jessie, I’m not trying to be mean.”
Swallowing the lump in my throat and taking a mental breath, I look up to face him. “I understand, but how did you know?”
“Within the hidden school, there is little we don’t know. That isn’t to say that there aren’t students with abilities we don’t know about, but they know not to use them. I’ll report the incident, but it’s only listed as a time breech. We don’t list the exact ability unless it becomes an ongoing issue.”
What did Mrs. Ward say? ‘The beginning to a smashing school year.” Something will be smashed; I’m not sure what. The door opens; Miss. Raine looks over at us curiously, like a dog does when they cock their head to the side. She gives Mr. James an intense stare down before she gathers the rest of the students.
We follow Miss. Raine in a single file line, up the stairs and back to her class. Amber is suspiciously quiet, and when it comes to quiet…you don’t think Amber. No one looks up or pays attention to us as we sit down in our assigned seats.
“The students, who had alchemy lab today, you’ll go to lab as deemed necessary. Have a wonderful first day. Fate has a way of bringing us all together, and I for one am grateful to be your teacher.” She tilts her head with a fake smile plastered on her face.
The bell rings its melodic tone, not the shrill sounds like we had in my old inner city school. Amber jumps up, throws her backpack over her shoulder and hurries to the door.
“Catch you at lunch B, later tater.” Amber says as she practically knocks everyone over to get out of the room.
Later tater? Her nickname for me is B, for Bronx. Only cool people get a nickname from her, so she says. I navigate to the door, paying attention not to let anyone touch me. Without looking up, I sense him…Caleb.
“Hey beautiful, how was your first class? I saw Amber charge out with her old chip on her shoulder. I thought we cured her…guess not,” Caleb says and takes my hand. The now familiar current runs through my veins.
“It was enlightening to say the least. You have Alchemy next don’t you?” He nods at me and leads me two doors down from Miss. Raine’s room.
“This is where I drop you off,” he says and gently backs me up against the wall. Leaning down he whispers in my ear, sending my hormones through the roof. “I’ll be here after class to walk you to lunch.”
My heart skips two beats and a chill runs up my spine. “Why can’t I think to you? I tried but I could tell it wasn’t working. Did you hear me?”
“They’re probably jamming our frequency. You know they have all of their so-called charms. After this summer, nothing surprises me.” He leans in and gives me a quick kiss.
“P D A,” someone who looks no older than twelve shouts out. I feel my face flush with embarrassment. It’s one thing to have Amber tease us relentlessly, but having a pimply-faced kid do it, is totally different.
I shimmy past him and promise to meet after class. Honors English, my best subject.