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Even and Odd, Page 2

Sarah Beth Durst

  Odd picked the plush panda off the floor and brandished it like a sword.

  Even laughed as Odd chased her around the shop with the panda.


  The next morning, Monday, an even day, Even sprang out of bed. Concentrating, she floated upward until she touched the ceiling. She pushed herself down, bounced off her bed at an angle, and flew to a wall. Like an astronaut in zero gravity, she shoved against it and sailed across to the opposite side of the room.

  Below her, still tangled in covers, Odd opened one eye. “Seriously?”

  “Sorry!” Even sang as she propelled herself off another wall, crumpling the edge of a poster. Not perfect, she thought. She’d have to work on that. She wanted to be flawless on the exam so there would be no question that she was ready for the next level of training. The level-four exam had been way too close a call—she’d squeaked by, passing by only a few points, thanks to a solid shapeshift into a chicken and no thanks to a disastrous levitation attempt that had resulted in mayonnaise everywhere. The level-five exam would be even harder.

  “It’s seven-fifteen.” Odd pulled her blanket over her head. “And I hate you.”

  “You hate mornings,” Even corrected.

  Muffled, Odd moaned, “It’s summer vacation!”

  “It’s an even day.” Even was fine with sleeping as late as Odd wanted on odd days, but she wasn’t about to waste a second of an even day. Especially one so close to an Academy exam. She only had today and Wednesday to finish preparing.

  Other magic students didn’t have to wait through magicless days. They could practice whenever they wanted. But she wasn’t going to squander today wallowing in self-pity about what she didn’t have. If Even only had half her life with magic, then she was just going to work twice as hard.

  Plus, flying was awesome.

  She launched herself across the room again and studied the distance to the door. If she aimed right, she thought she might be able to propel herself out of the bedroom and into the bathroom in one move. One, two, three . . . She kicked off and flew across the room, through the doorway, across the hall, and into the bathroom.


  She hit the shower curtain, and the curtain rod clattered into the bathtub. It sounded like metal scaffolding collapsing. Even landed on top of it in the tub. A shampoo bottle toppled into her lap. “I’m fine!” she shouted quickly.

  That hadn’t exactly gone as she’d pictured, but, she consoled herself, she still had time to perfect her turns. Besides, flying an obstacle course wasn’t required until level seven. It’s going to be okay, she told herself. I’m ready.

  Or at least I will be ready.

  She just needed a little more practice before Friday.

  Mom called up the stairs, “Everything okay?”

  “I said I’m fine!”

  “Any broken bones?”

  “All fine!” Untangling herself from the curtain, Even climbed out of the tub. She knocked a bottle of conditioner and a bar of soap onto the floor.

  “Any bleeding?”

  “Completely fine!”

  Wrestling with the curtain rod, Even lifted it over her head. On tiptoes, she raised it as high as she could, wedging it into position. Stepping back, she examined it. It was slightly lopsided. With magic, she tried to shift the left side up to straighten it. It rose six inches, the other side lost its grip, and the curtain clattered again into the bathtub.

  “Still fine!” she called.

  Odd shuffled into the bathroom. Together they lifted the rod back into position, and Even put away all the shampoo bottles and soaps she’d knocked off. “Thanks,” she said to her sister.

  “Summer vacation,” Odd repeated.

  “The exam is this Friday!” If Even didn’t pass, she would not be eligible to take it again for another year . . . and next year the test was scheduled for an odd day. She didn’t know about the year after that, but two years was already too long to wait. If she wanted her medallion by the time she was a grownup, she had to stay on schedule.

  Odd sighed dramatically and rolled her eyes, but she stopped arguing.

  If Odd had been trying for her medallion, she’d have been anxious to practice as much as possible too. Not for the first time, Even wondered why they wanted such different things. They’d been raised together—same parents, same house, same school. Sometimes I don’t understand her at all.

  “If I were to transform into a penguin, would it cheer you up?” Even offered. She still needed to practice her transformations. That was a key part of level five. She’d have to achieve five transformations within fifteen minutes, without running out of magic.


  “Baby buffalo?”


  “Chinchilla? Everyone loves a chinchilla. Softest rodent ever. Densest fur of all land animals. Second only to the sea otter, if you count land and sea.”

  Another of Odd’s spectacular eye rolls. “You could let me have first shower.”

  “Deal.” Even scooted out into the hallway, and Odd shut the door. While the water ran, Even considered chinchilla versus penguin, and decided a penguin would be a better choice. She knew of multiple kinds of penguins—Adélie, macaroni, rockhopper, Galápagos, African—but her favorite was the largest, the emperor penguin.

  She pictured it: three and a half feet tall, white belly, black head and flippers, pale yellow neck, bright yellow ear patches. Carefully, she squeezed her image of herself inside the penguin. Beginning the transformation, she stuffed her hair beneath smooth black feathers, stretched her nose into a beak that narrowed into a tip, smoothed and flattened her arms into flippers . . .

  Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her mom start up the stairs with a basket of laundry, and Even’s focus began to slip, now that she knew she had an audience.

  “Stiffen your tailfeathers,” Mom advised as she passed the bathroom. “Fourteen to eighteen feathers in a wedge shape.”

  “Thanks,” Even squawked through her penguin beak. She refined her tailfeathers.

  From within the shower, Odd called, “Mom, don’t encourage her!”

  “You were supposed to be surprised!” Even called back to Odd.

  “For me to be surprised, you’d need to not be predictable!”

  Finishing the transformation, Even admired her penguin self. She’d done a particularly fine job on the webbed feet. Not that Odd would appreciate it. Oh well, Even thought. I’m not doing this for her.

  Or with her.

  Even waddled into her parents’ bedroom as she transformed herself back into a human girl. Her parents’ bedroom was Even’s favorite place in their house. It had all the usual furniture you’d expect: bed, dresser, mirror, bedside tables—but each piece came with a special twist. The bed lay beneath a lace canopy interwoven with fairy-made lights that danced while you slept, the dresser was a gift from a mermaid family and covered in shells that crooned love songs, the mirror was enchanted to tell you news reports from across the border, and the tables could summon any book from any shelf in the house. All the other rooms in their house had to be practical, because you couldn’t predict who would visit, but the master bedroom was allowed to be extraordinary.

  Usually the sight of her parents’ room made her smile. But today Mom’s suitcase lay open on the bed, beneath the twinkling canopy. Seeing the suitcase, Even felt the last of her good mood dribble away. She’d forgotten that Mom was leaving for another business trip this morning. Another trip to Firoth without Even.

  Mom was pairing socks from the laundry basket while blouses marched over her head from the closet to her suitcase, folding themselves in midair. She was wearing a similar blouse with suit pants, her hair was pinned into a bun, and she’d applied her trademark plum lipstick—her suburban professional costume, she called it. She glanced at Even. “Missed a flipper.”

  Glancing down at her body, Even saw she had one human arm and one penguin flipper. Concentrating, she rounded and stretched the flipper back into its u
sual shape. She wiggled her fingers to test them. “You know, if you took me with you to Firoth, I think it would be very beneficial for my magical education.”

  “Nice try,” Mom said. “I told you: when you’re older.”

  “When I’m a grownup and have my medallion, I won’t need your permission to go,” Even pointed out. “It’ll be my job to protect the magic world as a hero of the realm.”

  Mom’s mouth twitched as if she wanted to smile but didn’t want Even to see. “But that time isn’t now. You have a whole lifetime to have adventures. Enjoy relaxing at home while you can.”

  “I’ll be perfectly behaved if you let me come,” Even said. “Quiet as a mouse.” She had an idea. “I could transform into a mouse and travel in your pocket! Or a chipmunk, if you don’t like mice. No one will know I’m there.”

  “I’ll know.”

  “Will it help if I beg?”

  Mom stopped folding socks, and the blouses halted in midair. “Even.”

  “Okay, that’s a no.” It was impressive how parents could fill a name with entire unspoken sentences. For example, when Mom said, “Even,” she was really saying, You have asked me three thousand four hundred ninety-seven times, and the answer is no, non, nein, nyet, and nope in as many languages as I can think of. “You’ll still be back in time for my exam, right?”

  “Of course. It’s my usual trip.” Mom would be traveling to various towns and cities to spread word of their border shop and drum up more customers. Lots of meetings crammed into just a few days. She went a couple of times a year, and it always led to more new business for them. “I’ll be home on Thursday, in time to help you with any last-minute studying, if you’d like. In the meantime, I expect you to help your dad with the shop.”

  Outside, footsteps paused in the hallway, and Odd stuck her head in. She was dressed in her usual black T-shirt, black-rimmed glasses, and jean shorts, but she hadn’t bothered to dry her hair. Her wet hair had dampened the shoulders of her shirt. “You’re going again?”

  “As soon as I’m packed.” After counting her shirts, Mom sent one floating back into the closet. It draped itself over a hanger.

  “Do you have to?” Odd asked. “I hate it when you go away. What if something happens to you while you’re gone? Or to us and you’re not here?” For as long as Even could remember, Odd had never liked it when Mom went on business trips.

  Mom sighed. “Odd.”

  This time, Even thought Mom was really saying, It’s not healthy to think of the worst-case scenario all the time, especially in situations that are out of your control. She’d said that to them often enough.

  “I know,” Odd said. “Deep breath, and count five things I’m grateful for.” She plopped down on the bed next to Even. Her hair dripped on the bedspread. “I’d be a lot more grateful if you didn’t have to go.”

  Mom closed her suitcase. “It’s just a short trip. Everything is going to be fine.”

  Odd clapped her hands over her ears. “You’re going to jinx us!”

  “Even, tell your sister she’s being ridiculous,” Mom said. “I have to go.”

  Even leaned closer. “You’re being ridiculous. She has to go.”

  Odd lowered her hands.

  “Odd, tell your sister she’s being ridiculous,” Mom said. “She can’t come.”

  “You asked again?”

  “I always ask,” Even said.

  “Exactly. And she always says no.”

  “Someday she will say yes.” Even had to believe that. This mundane world might be home, but Firoth was her future!

  “Experience says otherwise.”

  “Optimism is a life choice,” Even said loftily.

  Mom picked up her suitcase and smiled at them both. She then frowned at Odd and flicked her free hand at Odd’s head. A trickle of water arched from her hair, across the bedroom, and into Mom’s bathroom sink. In seconds, Odd’s hair was dry.

  “I wish I could do that,” Even said with a sigh. Mom made it look so easy! Of course, she’d been able to practice every day for decades.

  “Do your chores, go to bed on time, and don’t make your father’s life more difficult. Even, that means no bothering your father with a million questions about magic. Odd, that means helping in the shop even if you don’t feel like it.”

  “Yes, Mom!” they chorused.

  The sisters trailed after her, out of the bedroom, down the stairs, and into the kitchen. Even floated a few inches off the floor at all times. Look, Mom, she thought. I can do magic and mope at the same time. Is that on the exam?

  “Even, watch your magic usage.”

  Even dropped to the floor. She still had plenty left for today—she could feel it tingling just under her skin—but Mom was right that it was important to be aware. Magic worked like a phone battery. You could only use a certain amount before you needed to rest and let yourself recharge. “I need to practice.”

  “Don’t overdo it. It won’t be the end of the world if you don’t pass on your first try.” Mom twitched her fingers, and a granola bar flew into her purse for breakfast. Even was certain that Mom hadn’t needed multiple attempts to pass any of her exams. Nor had Dad. Or anyone they knew.

  “I know, Mom.”

  “I’m serious, Even. This test is not a measure of what kind of person you are; it’s just a measure of how well you take tests. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that important.”

  It’s important to me, Even thought. But she didn’t say it out loud. She knew Mom was just trying to make her feel better. Still . . . a part of her couldn’t help but think that it sounded a little like Mom didn’t believe she was good enough to do it. And that little part couldn’t help but wonder if Mom was right. Even squashed self-doubt down as hard as she could. Trying to sound one hundred percent confident, she declared, “I’ll pass all my level exams, win my medallion, and then do great things.”

  “You can do plenty of great things right now,” Mom said. “Like cleaning your room. And doing your laundry. I don’t want to come home and find you’re re-wearing socks.”

  “Mom! There is absolutely nothing heroic about laundry.”

  Laughing, Mom hugged Even and Odd. “I’ll be back soon,” she promised them. “Don’t worry. Your dad will be here the entire time.”

  They followed her to the door and then watched her through the kitchen window.

  If they’d lived in the magic world, Mom might have flown or transformed into a bird or ridden a flying horse, but here, she simply got into her car to drive to the gateway between worlds, which was hidden behind the bagel shop.

  As Mom pulled out of the driveway, Even wished again she could run after her and go with her. When I’m old enough and ready, I’ll be able to live my dream, she promised herself.

  She wished she were ready now.


  “I’m going to make breakfast!” Even announced. It was the perfect task: she’d get to practice her magic, and they’d both be cheered up by yummy food.

  Odd winced. “Please don’t. Remember last time?”

  Last time had resulted in scrambled eggs in her hair. Also on the ceiling. But that was last time. She’d practiced a lot of levitation since then. “Practice makes perfect!”

  Odd applauded sarcastically. “Very inspirational and original. But, counterpoint: last time, there were half-cooked eggs in my shoes, which were in the living room. So I’m thinking perfection may be a long way off.”

  “No scrambled eggs this time,” Even said. “Pancakes.”

  “I want yogurt.”

  Even raised her eyebrows at Odd. Hello, bad mood. Yes, it was never fun when Mom left for another of her business trips, but there was no reason for Odd to aim her grumpiness at her sister. All Even wanted was to practice her magic, have a nice breakfast, and forget about yesterday’s mess with the elf and how it had made her feel. “No one wants yogurt. People only eat it to make themselves feel like they’re being healthy.” She focused on a cabinet, and it opened.
Carefully, she lifted a bowl into the air with her mind. It wobbled.

  “I happen to like it.” Crossing to the fridge, Odd picked out a container of yogurt and scowled at it. “Except blueberry. It’s like half goop. Okay, fine, let’s do pancakes. But I’m cooking them with you this time.”

  “Good sidekick practice,” Even said approvingly.

  Odd glared at her.

  Even grinned back.

  Letting the bowl settle on the table, Even took advantage of the open fridge to send ingredients flying: two eggs and a stick of butter. She was bracing herself to lift the milk when Odd plucked it out of the fridge and carried it to the counter.

  “I had it!” Even protested.

  Ignoring her, Odd set the griddle on the stove.

  Quickly, before Odd could turn it on, Even focused on the dial and twisted it to medium. She slid open the drawer with the measuring cups and lifted them out. Opened the bag of flour. Scooped out a cup. Concentrating, she flew it to the bowl and dumped it in. Flour poofed into the air in a cloud of white dust. She added another half cup, pouring it more carefully this time.

  Odd melted the butter in the microwave while Even flew an egg to the edge of the bowl. She lowered it against the edge. She hadn’t hit it hard enough to crack. Squeezing her hands into fists, she aimed again and tried to bring the egg down harder but not too hard.

  It tapped the edge of the bowl.

  “Let me—” Odd began.

  Concentrating, Even tried again, but this time the egg came down too hard. It crashed against the bowl, and the shell shattered. Egg goo spattered. It dripped over the lip of the counter. Rushing forward, Even grabbed a paper towel and wiped it off.

  Glaring hard, Odd held out a strand of hair with egg goo clinging to it.

  “Sorry,” Even said.

  “I don’t understand why you insist on doing this by magic,” Odd complained as she rinsed her hair in the sink. “It doesn’t taste better because the ingredients were levitated, and it’s a million times easier if you use your hands. Some things are better done without magic.”