"That's the end," Josie said after Amanda had left. "She'll spread the word, everyone will think I'm no good at magic, and I won't be able to finish my training. It's all over." She slumped her head down into her arms.
"I'm really sorry about that," I told her.
Without looking up Josie pulled out a gun, pointed it at the Velvet Elvis, cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger.
A flag stuck out from the chamber of the gun. On it was written "Don't worry about it."
Josie kept sobbing.
"Wait, what does the book say?" I asked, pulling it from under her.
"Probably that I'm a big loser," Josie said.
I found "audience, losing of" in the index and flipped to that entry. "If a superior magician should lose her audience by botching a trick, there are several things she can do," I read aloud.
Josie looked up. "Such as?"
I continued: "A) Once she realizes the trick is coming out wrong, pretend that she intends to do it wrong, as a joke or to prove that magic is only trickery, not supernatural. Sometimes a superior magician will even botch a trick intentionally, to deflate a situation where she is thought to be practicing Black Magic."
"I wish," Josie said sourly. "Anyway, it's a little to late for that."
"B) Make the botched trick part of a larger, even more amazing trick that works. Like pulling a kitten out of a hat instead of a rabbit, then making the kitten float away."
Josie frowned. "Nothing comes to mind. What else have you got?"
"C) Resume her training in private, and find a new audience when she's ready."
Josie shook her head. "No, Forest Hill Elementary isn't much, but it's all I've got. What else is there?"
"That's it," I lied.
"You're lying," Josie said, grabbing the book out of my hands. She read on: "The expedient magician will sometimes reestablish rapport with an audience by impressing a person or persons that audience trusts more than they trust themselves. While this sometimes works it is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS and NOT RECOMMENDED."
"Who does Amanda trust more than she trusts herself?" Josie asked, looking up from the book.
"Are you crazy?" I asked. "Your own grandmother says that method is extremely dangerous and not recommended."
Josie slammed the cover shut and started rifling through her backpack. "Ah, every trick worth doing is marked 'extremely dangerous.' If I was scared off by every 'extremely dangerous' warning I never would have done the 'Disappearing Car' trick on Principal Laquit's minivan."
I rolled my eyes. "I was just thinking the same thing."
"I'm borrowing this bowl," Josie announced dumping the pencils out from the glass fishbowl next to the register. "And I'm buying the Velvet Elvis," Josie announced, pulling it down from the wall. "Put it on my tab."
"You don't have a 'tab,'" Aunt Leslie said, suddenly returning from lunch.
"Okay, okay," Josie said, digging out a greasy $5 bill from her backpack and tossing it on the table. "Here. Keep the change."
"I'll be able to retire a few years early," Leslie said, peeling the $4.95 price tag from off the wall from where the painting had been. I rung the order up on the register.
"You know the Droobers, right Aunt Leslie?" Josie asked, stuffing the Velvet Elvis into her backpack.
Leslie walked behind the counter. She inspected the gesso can suspiciously before setting back on the table, rightside-up. "I suppose so," she answered finally.
Josie smiled winningly. "Who do you think Amanda respects more than anyone else in the world?" she asked. "Who does she trust the most?"
"I guess her twin brother Bobby," Leslie answered slowly. "Why?"
"No reason," Josie announced, heading for the exit. "Well, I'm off to the playground. See you after work." She waved at me and disappeared out the door.
"Did we sell anything while I was at lunch?" Leslie asked, tying on her apron.
"Just the Velvet Elvis, to Josie," I told her.
"Well then... good job. Why don't you take the rest of the day off, and I'll see you for your lesson tomorrow? You can... go watch a movie or something."
I grabbed my sketchbook and headed for the door. "Yes, Ma'am. Thank you, Ma'am."
"And keep her out of trouble!" she yelled as the door slammed behind me.
By the time I got to the playground, a crowd of kids had already gathered around Josie. She had turned the fishbowl upside-down and cradled it in black velvet (which was really the scrunched-up Velvet Elvis), and was waving her hands over it saying "abracadabra" and other supposedly magical words.
"What is that, anyway?" Todd Raskin asked warily.
"A crystal ball," Josie answered while still waving her hands.
"It looks just like an upside-down fishbowl," Bobby Droober pointed out.
Josie looked perturbed. "Well, it's a crystal ball. Look, do you want your fortune told or not?"
"Okay, okay," Bobby agreed, sitting down cross-legged across from Josie. "But just to prove once and for all that this magic stuff is a load of bull-puckey."
"SILENCE!" Josie exclaimed abruptly. "The Great and Powerful Josie Cloudbuster must have silence to perform the magic properly!" She glanced sideways at Amanda Droober, who was just arriving. "Too much chatter will botch up the magic, in extreme cases making it seem like a flimsy, messed-up parlor trick."
Amanda sneered. "Hey, everyone," she began, "wait till you hear how Josie..."
"Shhh!" Todd shushed her, and she shushed.
"Now then," Josie said, concentrating intently on the fishbowl. "You and Amanda have an older brother...? No, sister...?"
Bobby's eyes went slightly wider. But there was no way Josie could have seen that while staring into the fishbowl. Could she?
"An older sister," Josie repeated firmly. "And she wants to be somebody when she grows up. A teacher...? Lawyer...? A doctor...?"
Everyone else was watching Josie, so I was the only person to notice that Bobby held his breath at the exact moment Josie said "doctor."
"Your sister wants to grow up to be a doctor," Josie said with certainty.
"Everybody knows Lisa is going to be a doctor," Amanda said venomously.
"What did I tell you about too much chatter spoiling the magic?" Josie asked, looking really angry. "Or maybe you think these people don't deserve to see a valid divination?"
Everyone turned to look at Amanda, and she turned red. While the other kids were paying attention to her, I saw Josie steal a quick glance at Bobby's backpack, which had a big red "F-14" patch sewn to the side. She shot me a look of panic. I waved my hands as though I was an airplane flying through the sky.
"Forget it, forget it," Josie said, drawing everyone's attention back to her. "You didn't know any better," she said in a frustratingly parental voice to Amanda.
"Now you, Bobby Droober, are going to fly helicopters...?"
Bobby went white. I coughed.
"No, passenger airplanes...?"
I coughed louder, doubling up as though I was practically choking on something.
"No, fighter jets," Josie said finally. "You're going to be the best darn pilot the United States Air Force has ever seen. Even though you haven't told anyone. Even though your father want you to be a policeman, like him."
"There's no way you could know that," Bobby said under his breath. "No decent way." Everyone took a step back. Everyone except Amanda.
"I don't know who you think you are, Josie Taylor, but if you think you can fool us by spying on our family, or reading Bobby's diary, or however you did that..."
"And you," Josie said, taking the fishbowl in her hands and standing up.
"You're essentially honest and decent, but you've found that people will take advantage of you if you show what you're really thinking too much, so you hide things -- even though this makes you feel slightly guilty." Josie inched towards Amanda, who backed slowly away. "You're an extremely capable person by nature, which sometimes makes you reluctant to accept help from others. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing."
I could see Amanda try to swallow.
"You seem so popular and perfect and confident, but inside you're always worried about doing or saying the wrong thing. Every second of every day you're terrified that you'll somehow mess up, and people won't like you..."
Amanda's face was white as a sheet. "Cut it out," she said softly.
"Cut it out!" Amanda shrieked, and knocked the fishbowl out of Josie's hands to the asphalt, where it shattered into a million pieces.
The Velvet Elvis fell into a wrinkled pile, and you could just make out Elvis' face and the slogan underneath:
"That Ol' Black Magic."
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