Salem Witch Tryouts
Prudence Stewart had it all at Beverly Hills High: straight A’s, the cutest crush, and a sweet gig as captain of the cheerleading squad. Then poof! Mom and Dad announce they’re moving to Salem, Massachusetts. Turns out, Pru comes from a long line of witches and it’s time for her to learn the craft. Buh-bye, Beverly Hills High — hello, Agatha’s Day School!
But Pru’s not about to trade in her spirit stick for a broomstick! She’s sure she can keep her kewl at her new school — until she discovers it’s all magic, all the time, and she’s failing Witchcraft 101. Worst of all, even the cheerleaders bring a special “spirit” to their routine. As in, triple-back-somersault-with-a-twist kind of spirit.
It’s time for Pru to cast a spell and prove she’s just as enchanting as the next girl — and somehow make cheering tryouts a flying S-U-C-C-E-S-S!
Life is unfair. Mega unfair. And it’s all my parents’ fault. I wouldn’t choose to leave the house I was practically born in, not to mention all my friends. And just how sneaky was it to give me the cell phone I’ve been begging for since before I left for cheerleading camp (picture phone, text messaging, unlimited minutes, the works) just before dropping the bomb?
I should have known something was up. But no. I was not prepared for them to spring the bad news…no, strike that. The catastrophic news. We’re moving. New state, new house, new school.
I guess it’s not surprising that, at almost 400 years old, my Mom thinks it’s no big deal to uproot us. Witches think different, I learned that before I learned to walk. But my dad has no excuse. He’s not even 50 yet, and he’s mortal. He’s attached to his things in a way witches outgrow around the hundredth birthday (or so says my mom when I ask why I can’t have Dolce and Gabbana like the other kids).
I’d say my life is over, but I’ve used that line so often it doesn’t even get an eye roll from my Dad. Besides, my mom did a little spell to make harp sounds play when I said it the first time I said, quite reasonably, “I want to stay and live with Maddie until I graduate.”
If only they were reasonable. But they’re parents, so I guess that’s too much to expect.
Mom and Dad tried to soften the news that we were moving from Beverly Hills, California to Salem, Massachusetts by telling us our new house had an indoor pool. Big whoop. Our old house had an outdoor pool, no snow in the forecast for a zillion years, and Beverly Hills high school, where I was going to be the very first junior head cheerleader and maybe, just maybe, run for student council.
“You’ll be running your new high school before long,” my mom teased, as if she hadn’t ruined my life.
Dad was more serious, as always. “As long as you keep your grades up, we’ll be happy, honey. We don’t need you to be head cheerleader, or elected to class government to know you’re special.”
Special. He says that word with a wince. Poor Dad. He never really got used to living with a witch, or raising two children who could do magic. If I were a good daughter, unselfish and properly thinking of my family, I’d appreciate how hard it was for him to agree to my mother’s request to bring us to Salem, her birthplace, so that we could learn to use the magic that had been highly discouraged here in the mortal realm.
Why did they suddenly decide to make this move? Did my dad get a fabulous new job in the advertising company he works for so Mom and I could splurge on shopping and spa weekends? As if. No. We’re moving because of Dorklock (otherwise known as my younger brother Tobias).
When the hormones hit, he couldn’t control his magic and after the third time poor Miss Samsky’s skirt flew up in the middle of summer school math class, my mother had our house up for sale and my golden life at Beverly Hills High up in flames. Boys are dumb. Especially when they’re 13. I would have voted to send him away to magic boarding school. But I don’t get a vote. Because life is unfair.
I think Dad was tempted. After all, he is a non-magical mortal who is much happier when there are strict rules against uncontrolled magic in the house. But the idea that my brother could go to school where teachers were able to do simple spells against his simpleton magic until he learned to control it was a strong argument. Besides, my mother said she’d take us with him or without him. And he really adores her, no matter how much magic makes him nervous.
Dorklock doesn’t even mind that he’s ruined our lives. He thinks it’s cool that we’ll be in Salem, living in the witch realm, and able to use our magic without the usual restrictions we have to have to live with mortals. What can I say? He’s a kid. He doesn’t understand that as the new students we’ll be on a lower scale than even the lowliest freshman. Of course, he’s used to be a scud, the lowest of the low.
But I’m not. I’m honor society. I was supposed to be head cheerleader—the first junior ever. My life was supposed to be charmed. In Beverly Hills. Thank goodness I know how to plan for the unexpected—even the majorly unexpected like this move. If I have to go (and apparently I do), I intend to keep my kewl. Even if I have to use magic to do it. Which is going to be a mondo change. Me, doing magic and not getting grounded for it.
The first thing that told me my life was going to be more different than even I expected was the actual day of departure. Instead of moving men and moving trucks, Mom flashed everything from our old house to our new house. One minute there, the next, gone. Dad kept watch at the window, to make sure no nosy neighbors saw our insta-move.
Mom’s sentimental and likes rituals, so we all stood in the living room and said farewell to the house, sprinkled just a bit of incense to leave the next family a nice welcome, and then she said softly,
“Bless this house and all its walls
We have lived here safe and sound
Now we move to our new home
Shift our things and cleanse this ground.
Zip zap. Empty rooms. Clean rooms. Fresh, blah cream paint on the walls. Even though the empty rooms of the house echoed and looked strange without the furniture that I’d always thought was part of the house, I’d coped. But then I noticed that she hadn’t just painted and cleaned with a zap. No, even the careful nicks in the doorframe that had charted my growth were gone. Gone. The wood was smooth, the paint perfect.
“What happened to the lines on the door?” I’d been holding it together ever since Mom and Dad had said we were moving. No discussion. No appeals. No surprise. But this was too much.
“The real estate agent will have an easier time selling the place if we leave it spiffed up,” Dad said optimistically. “Wouldn’t want someone new to have to do all the sanding and painting and such.”
It was another sign that everything familiar was being turned upside down—Dad never calmly accepts Mom using “big” magic. Which is pretty much anything more than zapping an extra serving of popcorn if we run out and it’s too late to run to the market. I’d suspect him of taking a couple of Xanax, but he’s driving and he doesn’t even take antihistamine if he’s going to be driving. My dad makes square look it has sloppy corners.
“Put it back.” I looked at Mom. “It’s the house’s character. You’ve said so a million times.”
“It’s only a thing, sweetheart. Remember, things are not important, people are. And the new people will make their own memories and create their own character for this house.”
“It’s not fair!” Harps sounded, underscoring and mocking my words. It’s not fair, I tried to shoot the thoughts through my blazing eyes. I think it worked. They looked taken aback. And harp music didn’t play.
“That’s enough out of you, young lady,” my Dad said. The move had gotten on his nerves, too. “Get out to the car right now.”
I thought about making a grand gesture, running off to my room, slamming my door, refusing to go. But the room was empty. All my stuff was gone to the new house.
“Time to go,” Mom was grimly cheerful. She was usually the optimist to his pessimist. But I think leaving was hard for her. This was her first home with my Dad. Where she’d raised us. She was going back home, sort of. But I don’t think she liked it. Not that she was going to do less than she thought was right for her children.
Too bad she didn’t believe in witch bootcamp. Dorklock was the perfect candidate for such a place. He was already out in the SUV, just waiting to go. He didn’t even mind leaving everything behind. He’d like bootcamp. It was the perfect solution, if my Mom didn’t feel she needed to be a perfect mother because she’d waited so long to have children. Apparently, in her eyes, perfect mothers didn’t send their imperfect children away. Too bad she couldn’t see it from my eyes.
Then again, maybe she did, a little. She put her arm around me and led me out. As we passed the door, she touched the spot where the notches had been and they reappeared. “Even a new family can enjoy a little lingering character.”
“Just a minute.” I stood there looking at the naked rooms, that weren’t anything like home anymore. I touched the top notch, and my name appeared in the wood. Not to leave the dorklock out, although he probably deserved it, I touched his top line and his name appeared. His top line was only a little under mine, despite the fact that he is three years younger. Soon he would be taller. Would there be a door frame to notch in the new house? And did it matter, when it wasn’t home and never would be?
For a moment I considered locking the front door to the house and refusing to leave. But there really was nothing there anymore. All my things were far away, in Salem.
Dad came back and gave Mom that “Is she sane?” look he likes to use. “Ready, princess?”
Princess? Like anyone cared what I thought. More like medieval serf. It’s a wonder I’m a leader at school, considering how they treat me like a baby. I tried not to cry. Crying made my voice shake. Voice shaking is not leadership quality behavior. I may have been forced to leave my cheerleading squad behind, but I would go with head high and a big fake smile in place. “We’re going to come back. Why can’t we just leave the house…”
“I’m not made of money, princess. We’ll make a nice profit on the house, that’s how we can afford the pool in the new place.”
Pool. Big deal. Although, I supposed it will be useful leverage to establish kewl status in Salem. I walked out the door, fighting tears, to see a dozen girls in cheerleading uniforms on the lawn the Dorklock had just mowed for the last time this morning.
The whole A squad. All 16 of them, including Chezzie who hates me and Maddie, my best friend. In full gear. In the heartbeat it took for the gut punch to hit me that I was no longer a part of the squad, that it was complete without me, they geared up and began a cheer.
“Gimmee a B!”
“Gimmee a Y!”
“Gimmee an E!”
“We love Pru so so much.”
“We can’t let her goooooo.”
“So come back soon and we’ll cheer.”
“For Pru, our leader dear.”
I didn’t want to cry, because Chezzie was watching and she’d tell everyone. Not to mention give it a nasty spin. I could just imagine, “She was so jealous of how good we looked without her, she was screaming with rage.” Chezzie puts the yotch in beeyotch. Not that she wouldn’t be right. I was jealous of them. Jealous that their worlds weren’t being ripped into confetti. Jealous that they weren’t going to have to piece all the confetti together again in another place.
But by the time the cheer ended, I’d managed to stop the waterworks. My cheeks were wet and I know my mascara was probably running, but at least I wasn’t squirting tears like an insane teenage water fountain. I hadn’t thought to put on waterproof since I wasn’t planning to swim.
They stood for a moment again in ready position, like we’d all been taught—take the bow, accept the appreciation, be proud. I had about a nanosecond to respond, and the wrong response could mean I’d be lower than a scud if I was lucky enough to convince my parents to come back home where we belonged. Reputation is precious and I didn’t want to lose mine in the last sixty seconds I lived in Beverly Hills.
“You guys!” I ran to hug them before they could move toward me. “I’m going to miss you!” I really was going to miss everyone but Chezzie, the snake with fake double-Ds, but no point saying so out loud. Truth is, a good head cheerleader knows her team, and I knew mine, good and bad.
Maddie ran to meet me and we hugged. She’s a hugging fool, but there were tears in her eyes. Now I had an excuse for my drippy mascara. She whispered, obviously not wanting to risk being overheard, “Run away and I’ll sneak you into my closet. No one will know.”
“My mom knows everything.” It’s a standing joke with my friends and enemies alike that my mother knows what I do before I do it. They don’t know the half of it. Mom has those tracking devices the movie CIA agents use beat—she has set so many protective spells over me it’s amazing I can walk or talk half the time.
“I’ll distract her. You run. ‘Cause I don’t think I can face junior year without you.”
That’s Maddie, trying to cheer me up by letting me know how miserable she was. “You’ll be fine. Look at what a great cheer you just gave.” Besides, she wasn’t changing schools and didn’t have to snarf up kewl status from squat. But there was no point sour graping her. It wasn’t her fault I was moving. And she had offered me her closet.
“But you’ve been working on the cheer routine all summer, all we did was tweak it to fit today.”
Trust Maddie to think that would make me feel better. I’d given her the notebook with all my routines and the music. Not that Maddie would ever be captain of the squad. She’s a mouse when it comes down to leadership. She’s a great right hand—and I wish I could pack her in my suitcase, but I only gave her the notebook because I couldn’t bear to give it to Chezzie.
I hugged her tight. “I’m going to miss you most of all. Don’t forget to text me everything that’s happening. I might as well get some use out of that phone, since they finally broke down and got one with the works for me.” Besides, if my brother suddenly straightened up, we might be coming home. I didn’t want to lose the edge on knowing what was going on at BHHS. Updating was one thing, reinventing was another.
“You too.” She glanced at my Dad, who was making shooing motions toward the car. “Maybe you can come back soon.”
“Maybe.” I didn’t try to sound hopeful. I wasn’t.
“Salem—isn’t that where the witches were? That should make you feel at home.” Chezzie and I used to be best friends. Until I told her I was a witch and she pulled out her cross and holy water and started to exorcize me.
Picture me and Chezzie, about 8. She has a pink plastic bottle of holy water and a cross made of translucent pink plastic. I have a horrified expression.
Even though Mom wiped her memory, mine is still intact. Chezzie is prejudiced and I’m just not up with that.
Not that she remembers I’m a real witch, of course. But something stuck, because if she’s not calling me a bitch, she’s calling me a witch. It’ll be interesting to see what witches call each other when their PMSing. Humans? I don’t think so.
She was smiling, and acting like she was joking, but I knew better. Still, I hugged her and laughed. “Good luck to all of you—and be good to your new captain, whoever she is.”
That dimmed Chezzie’s bleached bright grin. But only for a second. “Oh, I’ll make sure they are. And don’t worry, I’ll be a good captain, maybe even better than you would have been.”
“Ouch.” Sarah, a strong girl who could hold and throw like a guy and had about as much sensitivity to girl speak, commented. “Is that your way of saying, ‘Don’t let the door hit you on the way out?’”
Maddie frowned at her. But after I tore up my uniform and had to zap it back together to hand back in to coach, I had accepted that fate had spoken. I wasn’t going to be the youngest head cheerleader of the Beverly Hills High School squad. It was only a size zero comfort that Chezzie was a senior, so she wouldn’t be taking everything from me. “Chezzie, I wish you all the votes you deserve, girl. And I look forward to seeing you in the finals.”
She looked surprised. They all did. “You mean you’d be a cheerleader on another school’s team?”
“Duh? Why not? If I have to go to Salem, why not teach them to act Beverly Hills?”
From the looks on their faces, you’d think I’d said I was going to go on Oprah and tell all their secrets on national TV. As if anyone really wanted to know. Adults want us to be kind, brave, thoughtful, sober and chaste. We just want to grow up and fit in.
“Thanks for giving us such a great send off girls,” my Dad said, tapping his watch. “But we have a schedule to keep.”
“Right.” I climbed into the SUV and strapped in. I waved until I was out of sight, but my comment about meeting them at the tournament had changed something. I could see it in the way Chezzie’s top front teeth had peeked out of her smile like they did when she thought she had juicy news to tell.
And I could feel it inside me. Would I really be a traitor if I cheered against them? It wasn’t my fault I had to go to a new school. And I intended to be kewl, no matter what it took—even if it did come down to beating Beverly Hills in the cheerleading finals.
“First stop, Grand Canyon!” Dad announced. Oh goodie. I put in my earphones and turned up the music—the oh so appropriate Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” Prepare for a bumpy ride, I thought. Life is so not fair.