ONCE I BELIEVED THAT I WANTED NOTHING MORE THAN love. Someone who would care for me more than he cared for himself. A guy who would never betray me, never lie to me, and most of all never leave me. Yeah, that was what I desired most, what people usually call true love.
I don’t know if that has really changed.
Yet I have to wonder now if I want something else just as badly.
What is it? You must wonder . . .
Magic. I want my life filled with the mystery of magic.
Silly, huh? Most people would say there’s no such thing.
Then again, most people are not witches.
Not like me.
I discovered what I was when I was eighteen years old, two days after I graduated high school. Before then I was your typical teenager. I got up in the morning, went to school, stared at my ex-boyfriend across the campus courtyard and imagined what it would be like to have him back in my life, went to the local library and sorted books for four hours, went home, watched TV, read a little, lay in bed and thought some more about Jimmy Kelter, then fell asleep and dreamed.
But I feel, somewhere in my dreams, I sensed I was different from other girls my age. Often it seemed, as I wandered the twilight realms of my unconscious, that I existed in another world, a world like our own and yet different, too. A place where I had powers my normal, everyday self could hardly imagine.
I believe it was these dreams that made me crave that elusive thing that is as great as true love. It’s hard to be sure, I only know that I seldom awakened without feeling a terrible sense of loss. As though my very soul had been chopped into pieces and tossed back into the world. The sensation of being on the “outside” is difficult to describe. All I can say is that, deep inside, a part of me always hurt.
I used to tell myself it was because of Jimmy. He had dumped me, all of a sudden, for no reason. He had broken my heart, dug it out of my chest, and squashed it when he said I really like you, Jessie, we can still be friends, but I’ve got to go now. I blamed him for the pain. Yet it had been there before I had fallen in love with him, so there had to be another reason why it existed.
Now I know Jimmy was only a part of the equation.
But I get ahead of myself. Let me begin, somewhere near the beginning.
Like I said, I first became aware I was a witch the same weekend I graduated high school. At the time I lived in Apple Valley, which is off Interstate 15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. How that hick town got that name was beyond me. Apple Valley was smack in the middle of the desert. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said it’s easier to believe in witches than in apple trees growing in that godforsaken place.
Still, it was home, the only home I had known since I was six. That was when my father the doctor had decided that Nurse Betty—that was what my mom called her—was more sympathetic to his needs than my mother. From birth to six I lived in a mansion overlooking the Pacific, in a Malibu enclave loaded with movie stars and the studio executives who had made them famous. My mom, she must have had a lousy divorce lawyer, because even though she had worked her butt off to put my father through medical school and a six-year residency that trained him to be one of the finest heart surgeons on the West Coast, she was kicked out of the marriage with barely enough money to buy a two-bedroom home in Apple Valley. And with summer temperatures averaging above a hundred, real estate was never a hot item in our town.
I was lucky I had skin that gladly suffered the sun. It was soft, and I tanned deeply without peeling. My coloring probably helped. My family tree is mostly European, but there was an American Indian in the mix back before the Civil War.
Chief Proud Feather. You might wonder how I know his name, and that’s good—wonder away, you’ll find out, it’s part of my story. He was 100 percent Hopi, but since he was sort of a distant relative, he gave me only a small portion of my features. My hair is brown with a hint of red. At dawn and sunset it is more maroon than anything else. I have freckles and green eyes, but not the green of a true redhead. My freckles are few, often lost in my tan, and my eyes are so dark the green seems to come and go, depending on my mood.
There wasn’t much green where I grew up. The starved branches on the trees on our campus looked as if they were always reaching for the sky, praying for rain.
I was pretty; for that matter, I still am pretty. Understand, I turned eighteen a long time ago. Yet I still look much the same. I’m not immortal, I’m just very hard to kill. Of course, I could die tonight, who’s to say.
It was odd, as a bright and attractive senior in high school, I wasn’t especially popular. Apple Valley High was small—our graduating class barely topped two hundred. I knew all the seniors. I had memorized the first and last name of every cute boy in my class, but I was seldom asked out. I used to puzzle over that fact. I especially wondered why James Kelter had dumped me after only ten weeks of what, to me, had felt like the greatest relationship in the world. I was to find out when our class took that ill-fated trip to Las Vegas.
Our weekend in Sin City was supposed to be the equivalent of our Senior All-Night Party. I know, on the surface that sounds silly. A party usually lasts one night, and our parents believed we were spending the night at the local Hilton. However, the plan was for all two hundred of us to privately call our parents in the morning and say we had just been invited by friends to go camping in the mountains that separated our desert from the LA Basin.
The scheme was pitifully weak. Before the weekend was over, most of our parents would know we’d been nowhere near the mountains. That didn’t matter. In fact, that was the whole point of the trip. We had decided, as a class, to throw all caution to the wind and break all the rules.
The reason such a large group was able to come to such a wild decision was easy to understand if you considered our unusual location. Apple Valley was nothing more than a road stop stuck between the second largest city in the nation—LA—and its most fun city—Las Vegas. For most of our lives, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings, we watched as thousands of cars flew northeast along Interstate 15 toward good times, while we remained trapped in a fruit town that didn’t even have fruit trees.
So when the question arose of where we wanted to celebrate our graduation, all our years of frustration exploded. No one cared that you had to be twenty-one to gamble in the casinos. Not all of us were into gambling and those who were simply paid Ted Pollack to make them fake IDs.
Ted made my ID for free. He was an old friend. He lived a block over from my house. He had a terrible crush on me, one I wasn’t supposed to know about. Poor Ted, he confided everything in his heart to his sister, Pam, who kept secrets about as well as the fifty-year-old gray parrot that lived in their kitchen. It was dangerous to talk in front of that bird, just as it was the height of foolishness to confide in Pam.
I wasn’t sure why Ted cared so deeply about me. Of course, I didn’t understand why I cared so much about Jimmy. At eighteen I understood very little about love, and it’s a shame I wasn’t given a chance to know more about it before I was changed. That’s something I’ll always regret.
That particular Friday ended up being a wasteland of regrets. After a two-hour graduation ceremony that set a dismal record for scorching heat and crippling boredom, I learned from my best friend, Alex Simms, that both Ted and Jimmy would be driving with us to Las Vegas. Alex told me precisely ten seconds after I collected my blue-and-gold cap off the football field—after our class collectively threw them in the air—and exactly one minute after our school principal had pronounced us full-fledged graduates.
“You’re joking, right?” I said.
Alex brushed her short blond hair from her bright blues. She wasn’t as pretty as me but that didn’t stop her from acting like she was. The weird thing is, it worked for her. Even though she didn’t have a steady boyfriend, she dated plenty, and there wasn’t a guy in school who would have said no to her if she’d so much as said hi. A natural flirt, she could touch a guy’s hand and make him feel like his fingers were caressing her breasts.
Alex was a rare specimen, a compulsive talker who knew when to shut up and listen. She had a quick wit—some would say it was biting—and her self-confidence was legendary. She had applied to UCLA with a B-plus average and a slightly above-average SAT score and they had accepted her—supposedly—on the strength of her interview. While Debbie Pernal, a close friend of ours, had been turned down by the same school despite a straight-A average and a very high SAT score.
It was Debbie’s belief that Alex had seduced one of the interviewing deans. In Debbie’s mind, there was no other explanation for how Alex had gotten accepted. Debbie said as much to anyone who would listen, which just happened to be the entire student body. Her remarks started a tidal wave of a rumor: “ALEX IS A TOTAL SLUT!” Of course, the fact that Alex never bothered to deny the slur didn’t help matters. If anything, she took great delight in it.
And these two were friends.
Debbie was also driving with us to Las Vegas.
“There was a mix-up,” Alex said without much conviction, trying to explain why Jimmy was going to ride in the car with us. “We didn’t plan for both of them to come.”
“Why would anyone in their right mind put Jimmy and me together in the same car?” I demanded.
Alex dropped all pretense. “Could it be that I’m sick and tired of you whining about how he dumped you when everything was going so perfect between you two?”
I glared at her. “We’re best friends! You’re required to listen to my whining. It doesn’t give you the right to invite the one person in the whole world who ripped my heart out to go on a road trip with us.”
“What road trip? We’re just giving him a three-hour ride. You don’t have to talk to him if you don’t want to.”
“Right. The five of us are going to be crammed into your car half the afternoon and it will be perfectly normal if I don’t say a word to the first and last guy I ever had sex with.”
Alex was suddenly interested. “I didn’t know Jimmy was your first. You always acted like you slept with Clyde Barker.”
Clyde Barker was our football quarterback and so good-looking that none of the girls who went to the games—myself included—cared that he couldn’t throw a pass to save his ass. He had the IQ of a cracked helmet. “It was just an act,” I said with a sigh.
“Look, it might work out better than you think. My sources tell me Jimmy has hardly been seeing Kari at all. They may even be broken up.”
Kari Rider had been Jimmy’s girlfriend before me, and after me, which gave me plenty of reason to hate the bitch.
“Why don’t we be absolutely sure and invite Kari as well,” I said. “She can sit on my lap.”
Alex laughed. “Admit it, you’re a tiny bit happy I did all this behind your back.”
“I’m a tiny bit considering not going at all.”
“Don’t you dare. Ted would be devastated.”
“Ted’s going to be devastated when he sees Jimmy get in your car!”
Alex frowned. “You have a point. Debbie invited him, not me.”
On top of everything else, Debbie had a crush on Ted, the same Ted who had a crush on me. It was going to be a long three hours to Las Vegas.
“Did Debbie think it was a good idea for Jimmy to ride with us?” I asked.
I was aghast. “I can’t believe it. That bitch.”
“Well, actually, she didn’t think there was a chance in hell he’d come.”
That hurt. “Love the vote of confidence. What you mean is Debbie didn’t think there was a chance in hell Jimmy was still interested in me.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“No. But you both thought it.”
“Come on, Jessie. It’s obvious Jimmy’s coming with us so he can spend time with you.” Alex patted me on the back. “Be happy.”
“Why did you wait until now to tell me this?”
“Because now it’s too late to change my devious plan.”
I dusted off my blue-and-gold cap and put it back on. “I suppose this is your graduation present to me?” I asked.
“Sure. Where’s mine?”
“You’ll get it when we get to Las Vegas.”
“Yeah. You’ll see.” I already had a feeling I was going to pay her back, I just didn’t know how.