And then there was Jenna. I'd offered to make her a dress, but she'd looked at me like I was completely stupid and said there was no way she was going to that "idiotic dance."
We'd been working on the spell every day in Ms. East's class, but so far everything I'd attempted had come out a little too poufy. Ms. East said that was just because I was too excited, but I didn't really buy that. There was nothing all that exciting about the ball for me. I wasn't "giving myself"
"Shut up," Archer said good-naturedly, lifting his arms over his head to stretch. "For your information, only my bow tie will be pink, and I plan on rocking it, thank you very much."
I tried to smile back, but I was trying not to stare at the ribbon of skin that was showing beneath his T-shirt as he bent over.
As usual, my mouth went a little dry and my breathing sped up, and that weird, almost sad feeling settled in my stomach.
I never thought I'd be glad to hear the Vandy's braying voice, but when she shouted, "All right! That's it for today!" I could have kissed her.
Well, on second thought, no. Maybe a firm handshake.
"Holy hell weasel," I muttered an hour later.
I was staring at my latest attempt at a ball gown. At least this one had avoided a serious case of the poufies, but it was also a noxious shade of yellow-green usually found in baby's diapers or around nuclear disasters.
"Well, Miss Mercer. That's . . . an improvement, I suppose," Ms. East said. Her lips were pursed so tightly, it was a wonder any words had come out at all.
"Right," Jenna said. She was sitting on a desk next to me. She spent most of the class reading those mangas she liked so much. "You're getting better," she said encouragingly, but she frowned as she took in my latest creation.
"Yeah, at least this one didn't knock over three desks," Elodie sneered from beside me.
Her dress, of course, was gorgeous.
I'd assumed the ball was like the monster version of prom, and that the dresses would be similar to anything you'd see in a regular high school.
Yeah, not so much. The dresses most of the girls were working on looked like something out of a fairy tale.
But Elodie's dress was easily the prettiest in the class. High-waisted with delicate cap sleeves and frothy skirts, it looked like something you'd wear if you were in a Jane Austen book. I'd teased Archer about it being pink, but even I had to admit that the shade of pink was really lovely.
Nowhere near "Electric Raspberry," it was more the pale pink that you sometimes find inside shells. It seemed to glow like a pearl, and Elodie was going to be devastatingly beautiful in it.
Frustrated, I turned back to my own dress. I put my hands on either side of the dummy's waist and thought, Beautiful dress, beautiful dress, something blue, as hard as I could. It was so annoying to know that I could now make something as big as a chair appear out of thin air, but I couldn't seem to make a dress that wasn't completely heinous. Okay, so the chair I'd conjured up last night was toddler-size, but still.
I felt the material shift and slip under my hands. Please, I thought, my eyes squeezed shut.
Then I heard Elodie and Anna burst out laughing.
I opened my eyes to stare at a bright blue tulle monstrosity with a skirt that would hit me at mid thigh. I'd look like the really slutty bride of Cookie Monster.
I muttered a really bad word under my breath, which earned me an evil look from Ms. East, but surprisingly, no punishment. I guess she couldn't really blame me after she looked at the dress.
"Wow, Sophie, that's really something." Elodie sauntered over to me, one hand on her hip. "I think you have a real future in fashion design."
"Ha-ha," I muttered, which, as far as comebacks go, is about as cool as saying, "So there."
"I can't believe I actually invited you to join my coven," she said, turning those bright green eyes on me.
I groaned inwardly. Elodie's eyes were only that bright when she was about to deliver a huge smackdown. The last time I'd seen her like this was the night she'd called Jenna a bloodsucking freak after they'd found Chaston.
"Here you are, the head of the Council's daughter, and you can't even make a dress. Pathetic."
"Look, Elodie, I don't want to fight. So just . . . just leave me alone and let me work on my dress, okay?"
But she wasn't remotely finished with me.
"Why do you even care about making a dress for the ball? Who have you got to look pretty for? Archer?"
I fought very hard to keep cool, even as my hands tightened around the material in front of me.
Elodie leaned in closer, so I doubted anyone else heard it when she whispered, "You think I don't see the way you look at him?"
Keeping my eyes on the dummy, I said in the lowest, calmest voice possible, "Stop it, Elodie."
"I mean, your crush on him is just so sweet. And by sweet, of course I mean tragic," she continued. From the corner of my eye, I could see that almost everyone had stopped working and was watching us. Ms. East was pretending to ignore us, so I knew I was being thrown to the wolves on this one.
I took a deep breath and turned around to face Elodie, who was smirking at me in triumph.
"Oh, Elodie," I said in a voice that was so sweet it practically dripped syrup, "don't worry about me and Archer. After all, I'm not the one planning on having sex with him at the ball."
The class erupted into giggles, and Elodie did something I'd never seen her do: she turned bright red and actually sputtered in her attempt to come up with a serious put-down.
Ms. East chose that moment to shout, "Miss Mercer! Miss Parris!
Back to work!"
Smiling, I turned back to my dress. But the feeling of triumph was immediately deflated by the bright blue disaster in front of me.
"Does your magic feel off or anything?" Jenna asked softly.
"No, it feels the same as always. Water rushing up from my feet and all that."
"What?" Anna sneered, propping a hand on her hip. " How does your magic feel?"
"Uh . . . like something coming up from underneath me," I said, rushing to get the words out.
"That's not what magic feels like," Anna said.
I glanced around and saw that there were a few other witches staring at me in confusion.
"Magic comes from above," Anna continued. "It feels like something falling over you, like . . ."
"Snow," Elodie finished.
My face was hot when I turned back to my dummy. "I guess mine is just different, then."
I heard some whispers, but I ignored them.
"You'll get it," Jenna said, shooting Anna a dirty look.
"Oh, I know I'm gonna get better," I told her, running a hand over the tulle bustle in the back of the dress. (A bustle? Screw you, magical powers.)
"This is the dress I'm making for you."
"Oh, really?" she asked, her smile widening.
"Yeah, we'll probably have to hem it, though. Don't want it dragging on the floor."
She playfully smacked my arm with the back of her hand, and before I knew it, we were laughing.
I spent the rest of the class attempting to make the ugliest dresses possible, which was only funny to me and Jenna. I lost count of how many times Ms. East threatened to throw us out of class, and Elodie rolled her eyes so much that Jenna finally asked if she was having a seizure. This made us laugh so hard that Ms. East finally did kick us out, and gave us both a seven-page essay to write on the history of clothing spells.
I didn't care. To have Jenna laughing again, I would have written a hundred pages.
"I don't know what changed," I told Alice later that night as we moved through the forest, picking mint for some spell that could slow time. "One minute she was the same sulky Jenna she's been for the past month, the next we were friends again."
Alice didn't say anything, so I said, "Isn't that great?"
"You suppose?" I said, mocking her accent.
She straightened and glared at me. "It's just that I don't approve of your having a vampire for a bosom companion. It's beneath you."
I laughed. "Oh my God, beneath me? Come on."
Alice sighed as she shoved another bunch of leaves into the small leather sack she'd conjured. "Your friends are your concern, Sophia. I'll try to respect that. Now tell me about this party you have coming up."
I bent down to pick another bunch of mint. "It's a ball, actually. For Halloween. It should be awesome. Especially since I can't manage to make a dress that doesn't completely suck. Oh, and--bonus--I get to suffer through watching a girl I despise be totally beautiful and seduce a guy I like. Should be good times."
Alice scowled. "I don't care for that girl. She's been quite hateful toward you. Undoubtedly because your powers are so superior to her own.
There are few things more abhorrent to me than a weak witch."
"Wow, tell me what you really think."
Alice blinked at me. "I just did."
"Forget it. It's just so unfair that she's such a heinous person, but her dress spell has turned out so beautifully. She's going to look amazing."
And have sex with Archer, I added silently.
I'd forgotten Alice could read my mind. "Oh. Is Archer that boy you fancy?"
There was no use in denying that I "fancied" him. I nodded.
"Humph," Alice replied. "Why not just use a love charm on him?
They're frightfully simple."
I shoved some more mint into my bag. "Because I . . . Look, this sounds stupid, but I really like him, and I don't want him to like me back if it's just, like, some spell."
I thought Alice might argue with me, but she just shrugged and said,
"Attraction has its own magic, I suppose."
"Yeah, well, there's probably no chance of him ever being attracted to me. I thought maybe at the balll. . . but I can't even make a decent dress."
I turned to Alice. "Why is it that when I'm out here with you, I can do completely kick-ass spells, but when I'm in the school, everything I do blows up in my face?"
"Confidence?" she suggested. "You feel unsure of yourself in that school, and it's reflected in your magic."
We continued picking plants for a while until Alice said, "You say this girl's dress is beautiful?"
I sighed. "It's perfect."
Alice smiled, and in the light from the orb, I could swear her teeth actually gleamed.
"Would you like to change that?"
Classes were canceled the day of the ball, and since it was another one of those beautiful, clear October days, nearly everybody spent it outside.
Everybody but me. Well, me and Jenna. Even with her bloodstone, she wasn't the biggest fan of the outdoors. She was curled up in her usual spot, on her bed, covered with her throw, and a manga in her hand.
I sat on my bed staring at my stupid dress dummy, which was still wearing the pillowcase. I'd spent most of the morning trying to turn it into something at least halfway presentable, and had had absolutely no luck. I couldn't figure it out; I knew I wasn't the world's best witch, but a transformation spell just should not have been this hard. True, I'd never attempted anything as elaborate before, but I should have at least been able to make a little black dress. But even that had turned out shapeless, with a crooked hem to boot.