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The cabin had been quiet for a long time. Laura pulled on the dark clothes she’d stuffed under her pillow before going to bed. She pushed aside her blankets and slipped off her bunk. She crouched there, her bare feet sticking to the floor and her shoulder level with her mattress, and listened. Over the pounding of her heart, she could hear the three younger girls breathing, but that was all. She reached under the bed for her shoes and socks, but carried them as she took baby steps toward the door.
She made it to the hallway without bumping into anything. She took a slow breath and tried to relax. She’d never woken anyone up while going to the bathroom. Why was she worried about it now? And why did everything seem so loud? She crept to the couch. Kaveh looked like he was asleep, and she was half tempted to go back to bed and forget about the whole thing. She could say she’d fallen asleep. But then he would think she was a wimp. Besides, how else would she find out what happened at magic camp? As she reached for his shoulder, he rolled over and looked up at her.
As they made their way through the kitchen and onto the porch, she envied Kaveh’s soft-step. Now that they were together, she was doubly certain they were going to get caught. Then they were outside, running barefoot across the patches of sand and grass to the beach. She held her shoes under one arm and helped Kaveh pull the canoe from the boat house. Instead of life jackets, cons wore rings called lifesavers. When they got wet, their magic activated, and they pulled the wearer to shore. Dave explained them when she and Kaveh first took out the canoe. The lifesavers were in Jaromir and Irina’s room. It was one more sign that they were doing something they shouldn’t be, and Laura resolutely shoved aside her concern. She dropped her shoes into the front of the canoe, and it echoed with a hollow thump. She held her breath and looked around.
“They wouldn’t have heard that,” Kaveh assured her in a whisper. “Get in.“ He held the canoe steady as she climbed into the front. He handed her a paddle, then climbed in the back and pushed off at the same time, bouncing and rocking the boat. They paddled quietly, but they were in a hurry, and they abandoned their caution once they were away from shore.
It was dark on the lake. Even with the moon and stars, Laura couldn’t see the other side. “Can you tell where we’re going?” she asked.
“Sort of,” he said. “I’ve got better night vision than you, but it’s a long way to see.“
The moon was a bright white chunk in the sky, surrounded by millions of pin points of light. In some places, there were almost as many faint stars as there was black space. The moon was closer to full than new, and its reflection on the water was bright. It stretched out in a long wavy blob, but kept some of its shape despite the distortion. Lights from houses and cabins near the lake were few and far between, striking the water and spreading out in diffuse circles of dim blue that were broken up by small waves.
Balancing her paddle across her knees, but still hanging on to it with one hand, Laura used the torch light charm. She pointed her hand at the water, in case it was too strong. She dimmed it, then directed it across the lake, trying to get her bearings. They were headed in the right direction, more or less. Kaveh turned the canoe, adjusting their course.
“You know,” Kaveh said, “I heard you come into the living room.”
“I was trying to be quiet,” Laura said. Had she made more noise than she’d realized?
“I was awake, and I was listening for you,” he admitted, then he was silent for moment. “You sat there for the longest time, I started to wonder if you’d changed your mind.“
Laura shrugged. “I was listening in case anyone else was awake.” She hoped she sounded convincing. She really didn’t want him to think she was a chicken.
“Just checking,” he said, his voice amused.
Laura used the torch light again. They were almost to the other side. Kaveh turned the canoe to follow along the shoreline far enough out that they wouldn’t attract attention from anyone taking a late night stroll near the water. Small lanterns lined the camp’s shore. Kaveh aimed for a small strip of beach to the right of the buoys marking the swimming area.
When the bottom of the canoe rubbed the sand, they got out and pulled it up onto the beach, where it wouldn’t drift off. Laura grabbed her shoes and took a moment to rub the wet sand off her feet. Kaveh went barefoot almost constantly and hadn’t bothered to bring shoes.
The beach was surrounded by woods, except where a dimly lit path led up a small hill, then turned. Because the trees were so thick, Laura couldn’t tell where it went after that. The path was made of wooden planks that had been almost buried in the dirt, like a ground level boardwalk. She and Kaveh scampered up the path until it split in three directions. Laura didn’t need special werewolf abilities to smell burning wood.
“There’s a fire around here somewhere,” she said in a low whisper.
Kaveh pointed to the rightmost path. “Campfire. And I think there are still people there,“ he said, sounding surprised. He sniffed at the air, then nodded to the middle path. “Let’s try this way first. I think it’s where the kids stay. Smells like it anyway.”
Laura giggled and covered her mouth. “What do campers smell like?“
“Dirty laundry, bug repeller potion, and candy,” he replied. “Come on, let’s go see.“ They walked more slowly up this section of the path pausing several times when they thought they heard voices. The only people who might still be awake were counselors, and they definitely didn’t want to be seen by magic camp counselors.
The path ended at the edge of a large open grassy area with more lights. There were a number of buildings scattered about the clearing, all smaller than the cabin she and Kaveh had come from. They were square and had a lot of windows. Laura crept up to one of the cabins and peeked in a window. Triple-decker bunk beds filled the main room. There was door near the other end, and she guessed it led to the bathroom. Kaveh was next to her, looking in the window, when the sound of quiet voices came from around one of the other buildings.
“We should make sure that fire is out,” a boy said. He sounded like he was a teenager.
“Can’t we do that after we have a snack?” asked a girl.
Laura didn’t want to wait around to find out what they decided. She crouched down and found some small rocks. Picking the largest, she threw it at the roof of a nearby cabin. If she’d been sure she would hit it, she would have aimed at one farther away. The rock made a good clunk, catching the attention of the older kids, and she and Kaveh bolted for the path.
“Hey, did you hear something?” asked a second boy, and Laura almost tripped. She knew that voice from somewhere.
Kaveh grabbed Laura’s hand before she could get too far ahead of him. At the split in the path, he pulled her off in the direction that didn’t smell like fire, but wasn’t the way to the lake.
“What are you doing?” she demanded in a whisper.
“We’ve hardly gotten to see anything,” Kaveh said. “We’ll just check out this part of camp and wait for them to go to bed.“
“All right.” It had been exciting to almost get caught. It made their excursion more dangerous. She felt silly and even a little reckless, and it was fun. This path wasn’t lit, so she used the torch light. “It’s not fair that you can see in the dark.“ It seemed like a very good deal to be a werewolf. The only drawback was the silver thing. She supposed it might be annoying to be unable to do magic as a wolf, and the clothing issue could be an inconvenience. Still, there were so many benefits.
“It’s a very good thing I can see in the dark. Now put that out, will you,” he said urgently. “If someone sees a light moving around out here, it’s gonna be a dead giveaway.“
“I’ll walk into a tree or something,” she said.
“No you won’t.”
“Easy for you to say,” she snapped.
He stopped. “Here, hang on to the back of my shirt. Now the only way you can walk into a tree, is if I do.“
She grabbed a fist-full of his baggy shirt. “If you walk into a tree, I’ll just bump into you.”
“So there you go,” he said. “You’ll be fine.“ They started walking again.
It was awkward, trying not step on his heels while following so close behind him. “Any idea where we’re going?” she asked.
“I think it’s the dining hall,” he said. “There’s something else too, but I don’t recognize the scent.“
At the end of the path, they found a huge lodge and several smaller buildings. There were few lanterns spread about the dark clearing. Clearly no one was supposed to be here at this time of night. From the path, Laura was able to see a sign for one of the small buildings. It said “Wand Crafts,” and there were diagrams of sticks shooting sparks over and under the words.
A few steps led up to a long porch at the front of the large dining hall. They walked around in search of a back entry. This brought them close enough to see the sign for one of the other buildings. It said, “Enchantery.”
“I guess we found the crafts,” Laura said. “And it looks like magic is what they do at camp.“
“Well that’s not terribly exciting,” Kaveh said. “Now, even you can make a magic wand if you’re stranded in the woods.“ He sounded like a bad advertisement. “Ooh, here’s a door.” He pointed to the back corner of the building. In the low light, Laura had missed it.
They entered directly into the kitchen. It was a large room with many shelves and cupboards. Everything was white ceramic and steel, and it looked very clean.
Kaveh found a large refrigerator filled with meat. He poked at a roast that was covered in some sort of clear wrap. “They eat pretty well,“ he said.
“You don’t eat raw meat, do you?” Laura asked. “If you do, that is so disgusting.“
Kaveh laughed. “I’d only eat it raw as a wolf.”
“Ish.” She wrinkled her face.
The back door to the kitchen opened, and a trio of voices echoed into the room. Laura and Kaveh dropped to the floor, ducking behind one of the shiny steel shelving units filled with pots and pans. It was the same teenagers they’d heard earlier.
“I’m going to have some popcorn,” said the guy with the familiar voice.
Laura was positive she’d heard that voice before, but where? She tried to remember the context and realized she’d heard it prior to seeing its owner then, too.
“I want something fun,” said the girl. “Something with chocolate in it.“
“Do you ever want something that doesn’t have chocolate in it?” It was the other boy.
Kaveh looked around for another way out. “I could turn into a wolf and distract them,“ he suggested, mouthing the words without much breath.
Laura didn’t like that idea. She’d rather wait for them to leave. They were older, and they were at the camp. There was no way of knowing what kind of magic they could do, and Kaveh was vulnerable as a wolf. She shook her head.
“Hey, Raasch,” said the familiar voice, “what time is it anyway?”
Laura froze, and her brain stopped working for a moment. The second boy sounded exactly like Jason, the cute hall monitor who’d gotten her out of her locker on her last day of school. But it couldn’t possibly be him. He’d been attending school in a world where magic wasn’t on the curriculum.
Then she remembered that his parents were divorced and he spent half of his time with his dad and half with his mom. He’d said his other school was harder, which made sense if it was a mancer prep school.
“Ten after two,” said the other guy.
Kaveh tapped Laura’s shoulder and pointed. They were near the counter where food was served. There was a half-door separating the kitchen from the dining area, and it was open. The counselors were on the other side of the kitchen and wouldn’t see them if they hurried. Once in the dining hall, there would be more things to hide behind, and they could make their way to the front door, which was closer to the path back to the lake.
Laura nodded. Kaveh went first and she started to follow. She paused in a crouch and peeked through the pots and pans to see if it was Jason. He was blond, and about the right height, but he was turned the other direction. Or he was until she knocked a lid off the shelf to the floor with a clang. She didn’t wait to see him turn around.
“Hey, who’s there?” Raasch demanded.
Kaveh had a head start, but she caught up with him in the dining hall. She glanced over her shoulder to see two figures vault over the serving counter after them. Laura urged her legs to move faster as she swerved around a table.
“I told you I heard something,” said the boy who might be Jason.
“You two are going to be so reported!” Raasch said. “Out of your cabins at this hour, doing Luna knows what!“
Laura closed on the exit, Kaveh just behind her. She threw herself against the door, pushing it open with more force than necessary. They jumped off the front porch and fled down the path. Knowing the torch light would make them easy to follow, she grabbed the back of Kaveh’s shirt. “Run,” she said. It was all she dared waste breath for.
“I am,” Kaveh said.
There was a bright light from behind them, and Laura felt something bounce off her shoulder. She was just thinking how close it had been, when she realized she’d conjured a personal ward again. She could see it glowing faintly around her hand. It protected Kaveh as well, so it was possible he’d cast it, but she doubted it. Another spell bounced harmlessly off them just before they took the turn down to the lake. She let go of Kaveh’s shirt and dashed for the Stupid Little Boat. Together they pushed it into the water. Laura clumsily climbed in, her sneakers dripping wet. Kaveh put one foot in the bottom of the canoe and pushed off with the other. She was already paddling like mad before he had a chance to sit down.
“I told you, I’m sure they headed for the lake!” shouted the boy who sounded like Jason.
“I thought they were campers,” Raasch replied.
She couldn’t hear the voices anymore. They were out around the point where she couldn’t see the camp’s lights either, but there was no reason those counselors couldn’t get their own boat. Laura plunged the blade of her paddle deeply into the water, hoping that would help propel them faster. They tipped with every stroke. Either she leaned too far, or Kaveh leaned the same direction at the same time, and she felt the canoe go over. It was more gentle than she’d expected, and it launched her face-first into the lake. It was a shock to be abruptly submerged in cool water. She surfaced next to the Stupid Little Boat, which floated upside-down, looking like a dead whale. Kaveh came up a few feet away.
“Damn,” he said, barely able to keep the expletive down to a whisper. “Are you okay?“ he asked, pushing his hair out of his eyes and swimming closer.
Laura nodded. “I lost my paddle,” she said. She wasn’t sure when she’d let go of it. She wished they’d managed to bring some lifesavers. She couldn’t see a thing. How were they supposed to get back to the cabin? Furthermore, how were they supposed to do it without alerting her guardians or his parents? Her feet felt heavy, and if they didn’t find a way to fix things soon, she was going to have to abandon her shoes. She felt the first twinges of fear.
“I lost my paddle too, but don’t worry about it,” he said. “We’re going to be fine.“
She decided he’d said that for her benefit, because she didn’t think things could get much worse. Then she thought of a way they could. “There aren’t monsters in this lake, are there?” she asked, trying to sound calm. “Like big fish or snakes that’ll eat us?“
“Naah,” he said. “That’s one reason why my parents like Misty Lake. Minimal sea life.“ He reached under the edge of the canoe and tugged at it. It turned over, but it was so full of water the edge and ends were barely visible. “The canoe still floats, and we should be able to use it to get back to the cabin.”
It took several tries before they were both able to get in without rolling the canoe back over. Strangely, it was more touchy than it had been when it was empty and floating properly. Instead of moving with the boat when it rocked, Laura slid the same direction, making it tip.
“Don’t try to sit on the seat,” Kaveh said. “Sit on the floor. Near the middle.“ He also moved toward the center of the canoe. “That way you have something to hang on to.” He leaned heavily on the bar across the middle of the canoe, trying to compensate for his movement which only tilted the swamped boat.
Once they got balanced, they started paddling with their hands. It was very slow. Laura couldn’t think of anything more miserable than sitting up to her armpits in cold water and trying to swim a half sunk canoe across a lake. She started to shiver, the wet chill penetrating her bones. “At this rate, we’ll be lucky if we get back before sunrise.“ She made a torch light, to be sure that they were heading in the right direction. She saw a paddle floating off to the right in front of them and another off to the left. “Oh, this is ridiculous,” she spat. He’d told her to think like a conjurer, and she had to try something. There was no way she was going to hand-paddle the Stupid Little Boat back to the cabin.
“I’m sorry,” Kaveh said, sounding exasperated. “If you have any ideas…“
“Hang on tight,” Laura said. “And I mean tight.“ She took a deep breath, attempting to control the shaking of her body, and concentrated. The canoe lifted clumsily out of the lake, the front end rising faster than the back. Water rushed around her, and she hoped Kaveh had closed his mouth. It took her a moment to level out the canoe, then she lifted it higher. It wasn’t exactly harder to levitate something so big and heavy, but it was different, and she’d never tried levitating herself before. She hoped she wasn’t about to drop them on their heads, but she had to try this.
She felt the canoe tip. It was so slow she was sure she would fall out before the water drained. She made it go faster, almost too fast, and the next thing she knew, she was upside-down, holding tightly to the bar in front of her. Her sopping braid tugged at the back of her head as it observed the usual features of gravity. She thought she heard Kaveh laughing, but it was not a good time to lose her concentration. She flipped the boat back over, and set it on the water with a slap and a deep thunk. It bobbed up and down in the waves created by its landing.
“Oh, that was fabu,” Kaveh said.
From this direction, the moon reflected off the choppy water like a thousand glittering sparkles. It was pretty, but even harder to see by. “Where are our paddles?“ Laura asked. “Can you find them?” Kaveh moved to his seat at the back of the canoe, rocking them gently.
He scanned the water, holding his light on the first paddle he found. “Here’s one.”
It was easier to levitate this time because she was familiar with it. It was hard to make it go to Kaveh rather than herself, but she did it, and he caught it before it could fly past him. Laura cautiously took her place at the front of the canoe. When she was seated, Kaveh started paddling. She found her paddle, and made it come to her. She was exhausted. “I need a rest,“ she said holding her paddle on its end in the boat.
“That’s okay,” Kaveh said, as he built up speed. “You’ve worked really hard.“ He was silent for a few minutes. “Would you teach me how to conjure a personal ward?” he asked.
Laura shook her head. “I would, but I don’t know how.“
“Really?” Kaveh asked, pausing in his paddling. “But you did it. Not that I’m not grateful,“ he said quickly. “If you hadn’t, they would’ve slammed us with those spells they were flinging at us.”
“That’s the second time I’ve cast it,” she said, “but I have no idea how it’s done. It’s some of my wild magic. It’s not reliable, either. It just happens without me even thinking about it.”
She started to paddle. It wasn’t far now, and she just wanted to get out of her wet clothes and into bed.
“So you like older blond boys, huh?” Kaveh asked.
“What?” Laura demanded. “What are you talking about?“
“You were gawking at the blond guy at the camp,” Kaveh said. “You know, when you made all that noise.“
“That was an accident,” Laura said, feeling a bit defensive. “I bumped something.“
“When you were checking out the cute guy,” Kaveh said, as if finishing up her sentence.
“That’s not why I was looking at him,” Laura said, sternly.
“Really? That’s what it looked like,” he said.
Laura used her paddle to splash him, until he threatened to swamp the boat again. “He looked familiar,“ she said, finally. “I think he’s from Clarissa, my hometown.”
“Oh,” he said. “Then what’s he doing here?“
“I don’t know. I don’t even know if it was him.” It could’ve been her imagination. The whole adventure had been pretty exciting. “It’s probably just someone who looks like him. I mean, he went to Clarissa Memorial K-12 last year, when he should have been in prep school, if he’s a mancer.”
They glided into the shallows between the dock and the boat house, and Laura noticed the shadows on the beach. “Uh oh,“ she said quietly.
“Whoops,” Kaveh whispered. “Bus-ted.“
Laura didn’t bother to take off her soggy shoes as she stepped into the lake to help Kaveh shove the Stupid Little Boat back into the boat house. She wondered how much trouble they were in. The moon gave off enough light for her to identify Therese and Jaromir on the beach, but she couldn’t see their expressions. Kaveh stayed close and Laura felt oddly protected.
“Where have you been?” Therese demanded the moment Laura’s feet hit the sand.
“Just out in the canoe,” Laura said, knowing it sounded a little lame. “We tipped over.”
“That’s obvious,” Therese said, a sharp edge to her voice.
“What were you thinking?” Jaromir demanded.
Laura was about to respond, when she realized that he’d turned toward Kaveh, expecting an answer from his son.
“We thought it might be fun,” Kaveh said. He had that serious expression that seemed so out of place on his face the one time she’d seen it. “You can see way more stars at night here than you can at home, and Laura doesn’t know our names for the constellations. We’d been in the canoe all day, so we thought it might be neat to take it out in the dark. And I wanted to show her how bright the moon is in this phase.“
“It would’ve been bad enough if it had just been you,” Jaromir said.
He was definitely furious, and Laura was glad she couldn’t see his face.
“We talked about this,” Jaromir continued. “You promised to follow the rules.“
Rules? Laura hadn’t been aware that there were any actual rules. “It was my idea,” she said quickly.
“What?” Therese asked, as if she didn’t quite credit her ears.
Everyone stared, so she had to follow through. “Well it was,“ Laura insisted. “I’ve never been on vacation before, and I’ve never been in a canoe, well, before today.” She’d also never given them any reason to think she might be capable of lying. “I wanted to see what the moon looked like without the trees in the way. I didn’t know we were breaking any rules.“
“I thought you had more sense than this,” Therese said.
“Well I’m not stupid, and if you’d told me the rules to begin with, I would’ve been careful not to break them,” Laura snapped. She was tired of adults telling her how foolish she was being, when they weren’t giving her complete information anyway. The worst they could do was send her back to Clarissa for the rest of the summer. She’d still have Ming-Tang’s to look forward to, and something made her suspect they wouldn’t send her away. “I suppose you never did anything that didn’t make sense when you were thirteen. This is vacation. It’s supposed to be fun for me too.“ She scowled at Therese and Jaromir. “You expect a lot out of me, if you think I can follow the rules without knowing them.”
Jaromir let out a sigh. “It’s late,“ he said quietly. “We’ll talk about this in the morning.”
There was no way she and Kaveh would be able to sneak off to practice magic in the morning. She was too tired to get up early anyway. She hoped they wouldn’t come up with a bunch of rules to keep her from learning more magic, or practicing what she already knew. If her adventure had done nothing else, it had given her a new sense of understanding and even a feeling of freedom, all associated with magic. She couldn’t wait to learn more, and she wasn’t about to let some grownups keep her from doing it, especially since they couldn’t be bothered to level with her.