Magic is like a little puppy. Curious and frolicsome, it bounds throughout the world, unbidden and free. It pauses, sometimes, to explore or play. It’s that breeze that makes the nape of your neck tingle delightfully, that lifts you way off your feet, then sends you tumbling into warm, soft grass.
It usually shows up when you don’t expect it—but sometimes when you do. Sometimes you know what it is the moment it touches you, other times you don’t realize until much later. Sometimes it’s just curious, other times it has a more serious cause. You never really know, with magic.
Carissa Berlin had learned that lesson. She knew that magic, while amazing, wasn’t always dependable. It had a mind of its own. It chose when to appear, when it would help—and when it wouldn’t. Her pa said there was a reason behind everything. He said magic could sense when interfering could mess things up, so that’s why it kept away at times. It couldn’t be just random.
Carissa wasn’t so sure. That freakish storm the other night, for instance. Her friend Lou’s barn roof crashed in, but Carissa’s house was untouched.
“A miracle,” her ma had said as the family stood out on the porch, watching the neighbors fix and clean after the damage. “A right-and-regular miracle.” Carissa had agreed and felt thankful that they were all fine, and their home was too.
Now—a day later—as she sat on her bed, deep in thought, she knew it was more than a coincidental happenstance. It was more. Magical, it had to be. The exciting thought made Carissa’s legs jiggle. But why us? she wondered. We’re doing great this year with Pa’s business, so fixing wouldn’t have set us back much at all… why not somebody who needed the protection more?
She thought about asking her older sister, Ivy. Ivy always had good ideas, even if she could be bossy sometimes. But these days, Ivy often seemed preoccupied, and she snapped at or ignored her younger sister more than usual.
No, Carissa decided. This was something she wanted to figure out herself. She flopped back on the bed so that she was looking at the ceiling. There was a crack on it that she liked to stare at when she was thinking. If you tilted your head at the right angle, it looked like a thin, tall girl with floating hair and large butterfly-like wings. When Carissa was six, she had decided that the ceiling-crack girl was a fairy and had named her Aria.
“Why, Aria?” Carissa asked aloud, staring up at the figure. She often talked to Aria like this. Obviously, she couldn’t answer, but it made it easier for Carissa to think of ideas when she felt like she was brainstorming with another person. “Do you think it was really magic?”
The curtains fluttered, and a shaft of sunlight danced, just for a second, over Aria. Carissa took that as a yes. “You know how Pa says there’s a reason for everything, especially with magic, so what’s the reason here?” No answers popped into her mind. She got no bright ideas. Carissa sighed and closed her eyes, wondering about the whys and hows of magic.
* * *
Carissa sat up in bed. Something was different, though she wasn’t sure what. She looked around, panic growing. Her eyes darted from her bookcase to her plush blue chair and around again. The window was wide open, and the yellow curtains streamed in the breeze. Carissa could hear the chirps and whistles of the birds outside.
The things in her room looked as if someone had sprinkled a fine silver powder throughout the room— they glittered like diamonds in the sunlight. Then Carissa noticed something that made her jaw drop in astonishment.
Aria was gone from the ceiling. Where there was a crack, there was now smooth white ceiling. Suddenly, Carissa was aware of a sweet, high voice singing a soft melody. She stood up, entranced, and walked through the window. She floated out and seemed to glide through a world unlike the one she knew.
Then! On the top of a hill, stood the figure Carissa had dreamed about for so long. The girl’s hair was golden like sunlight and flew behind her though there was no breeze. She had deep blue eyes and wore a dress that seemed to shift and glow, like it had been woven from the spirit of nature itself. Most remarkable of all, two bright blue, gossamer wings extended from her back, like those of a butterfly. She was the one singing, and the closer Carissa got, the more beautiful it seemed—clear and pure, delicate and sweet. “Aria?” Carissa breathed, and moved slowly toward the girl.
“Come, Carissa,” she sang, smiling and holding out her arms, “I can show you the secrets of magic… Come, Carissa!” She stepped forward, her face welcoming.
* * *
“Come, Carissa, I said!” Her ma’s voice rang out in her ears. “It’s time for dinner!” Carissa blinked. She must’ve fallen asleep. What a lovely and strange dream she had. Just to be sure, she checked that Aria was still on the ceiling. Once again, the girl’s enchanting shape was imprinted right over Carissa’s bed.
Carissa climbed off her bed and stretched. She glanced quickly at herself in the mirror—short, slim ten-year-old with auburn hair and bright green eyes. Carissa began walking toward the kitchen. Oddly, she still vividly remembered every detail of her dream. Usually, they vanished the moment she awoke, leaving only hazy traces. This one was different…
“There you are!” her ma scolded, placing a plate of spaghetti in front of her youngest daughter. “I called and called… what were you doing up there?”
“Oh,” Carissa began, a forkful of noodles already poised to be eaten, “I fell asleep this afternoon, I guess.” She stuffed the pasta into her mouth. Mmm, there was nothing like her ma’s spaghetti.
Her ma—the best cook in their town—was tall and graceful, with white-blond hair that fell to her waist, and had green eyes just like Carissa’s. Her ma’s hair, however, was a blessing given to Ivy, who today wore it in a long French braid.
“I would’ve given anything for a nap today,” she commented with a toss of her braid. “But I had to finish my essay, then I went down to Brianna’s to help her fix up her house…” Carissa sighed and ate another bite of spaghetti. She remembered when Ivy used to be a fun sister. They’d go to the park together, and Ivy’d push her on the swing… or the two of them would walk down to the corner store and Ivy would miraculously “discover” a dollar in her pocket: just enough for two PayDays, their favorite candy bar.
It all changed when Ivy turned thirteen. All of a sudden, she didn’t want to be seen with her younger sister, much less voluntarily play with her. When, on a rare occasion, they got some time together, Ivy only wanted to talk. About clothes, the girls at school, and—much to Carissa’s disgust—boys.
When the spaghetti was finished, Ivy gathered up the plates and Carissa collected the silverware and cups. “Mmmm…” Pa sighed, leaning back in his chair. “Marie, there is nothing so good as your spaghetti!” Pa was a big man with broad shoulders, strong arms, and the softest heart Carissa had ever known.
Ma smiled at him and picked up the napkins and place mats.
Carissa left for her room. Ivy had parted as soon as her chore was done—no doubt calling her best friend, Brianna. As Carissa made her way down the hall to her bedroom, flashes of her odd dream swam through her mind. The room seeming different… Aria’s crack gone… The girl…
She collapsed on her bed and stared at the outline of Aria. It was a normal evening, or it should have been a normal evening. But for a reason that was now twirling just out of reach of Carissa’s understanding, it wasn’t.
She peeked out of her door. Across the hall, Ivy’s door was open a crack. “OK… bye. See you tomorrow,” her sister’s voice said, slightly muted. Then silence. Carefully Carissa walked to Ivy’s door and opened it. Still though, she did not enter, wary.
“Um? Ivy?” she asked hesitantly. Ivy’s room was slightly larger than Carissa’s and painted pale lavender. Ivy was sprawled out on her bed, reading a book. She looked up and smiled.
“I have a question,” Carissa said, taking a step into the room. The light brown carpet was soft under her uncertain foot. “Um… I wanted to know… if,” Carissa stalled, wondering if her question was foolish. Well, it was a little too late to turn back now… “Do-you-believe-in-magic?” she blurted all at once.
Ivy paused, twirling the end of her braid. Seconds went by, though they seemed like days, as Carissa waited in the doorway. Abruptly her sister stood up. “Come on, Cari. I want to show you something.” Ivy led the way, out of the room, down the hallway, and through the back door. They now stood in their small backyard.
The redbud trees’ thin branches swayed softly in the evening breeze. Carissa took a deep breath of the cool, rich air and felt the jumble of thoughts in her head clear. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Ivy asked, her gentle voice breaking the silence. It was only then Carissa realized her sister was looking not at the contents of the yard, but over it, at the glowing sunset painted across the sky.
Carissa drew in her breath. It was simply stunning. The pale orange sun glowed gently just above the trees, the yellow light melting into orange, to a soft pinkish hue which fell into fire-engine red, ending in a spectacular magenta.
“If that’s not magical I don’t know what is,” Ivy sighed contentedly, her eyes dreamy. Carissa nodded slowly, wondering how she never could have noticed how beautiful the sunset was, when it happened every day.
The silence was broken by the sharp bring! of the telephone and Mrs. Berlin’s voice calling, “Vivi! It’s for you!” Then, with a simple step toward the kitchen by Ivy, the precious moment with her sister disappeared. It was like Carissa had traveled back in time, then had suddenly snapped into the present. Just a minute ago, Carissa had felt like her best friend was back, that warm, smiley feeling in her tummy that everything was going to turn out fine.
Then Ivy was gone, and the ponytail- flipping, sarcastic, Carissa-ignoring stranger was back.
Carissa stood out there for a moment longer, but the scene had lost its luster. With a sad sigh, she turned and headed back for her house. If she had paused a moment from the door, wanting to experience the happiness the sunset gave her again, and turned to look, she might have seen a stunningly blue butterfly with unusually sparkling wings flit across the sky. She might have been reminded of something, or perhaps someone. She might have followed its magic into the backwoods and had the most amazing adventure of her life.
But she did not. She thought instead, not of Aria, not of magic, but of her life’s woes, and thus instead took a much shorter, less thrilling journey back into her room, where she collapsed on her bed, tears beginning to fill her eyes.
Carissa buried her face in her pillow and mourned softly for times long ago, times where Ivy was actually interested in her. So, she missed seeing that her ceiling was empty of girl-shaped cracks…
* * *
Carissa squinted at the fairy-like girl, trying to get a closer look at her features. The nearer she got to the figure, the harder it became to pinpoint her looks. Oddly, though, her song’s strength increased.
“Carissa, come! You want to know, I want to teach, I can show you many things, Carissa…”
“Who are you?” Carissa asked. Her words echoed as if she stood in a cavern. The girl froze, silenced.
“My name is Aria,” she sang with a smile, “the Fairy of Song.” Carissa saw with a start her grin was just like Ivy’s. She raised her arms high, and silver light danced across her face for a moment, then a perfect giant golden conch seashell appeared, and Aria stepped into it.
Drawn, Carissa walked closer, until she was standing inside the enormous shell. It lifted into the sky, and the panorama below was an odd mix of things she had seen in her life, things from books she had read, scenes from plays she had made up.
“Is this really happening?” Carissa asked. “Is it magic?”
“No,” Aria crooned, her words falling into the wind. “It’s your imagination.”
Then, in one terrible moment, the seashell disappeared. Carissa plummeted down, down, toward cold, hard rock, faster and faster, while Aria’s previously enchanting voice turned into cruel laughter.
“But,” Aria’s voice turned kind again, “so was that.” The danger vanished, and Carissa was standing once again with Ivy, looking at the sunset, just as beautiful as before. Carissa began to get the same warm feeling of happiness. A blue butterfly flew across the sky’s scene, illuminated and glittering. Ivy turned and looked at Carissa, and her eyes were the butterfly’s stunning blue, instead of their normal brown.
When she spoke, she rather sang, and her voice was Aria’s. “That was not.”
Carissa was facing Aria now, standing in a corridor so long and white ahead of her, yet the scene behind her was decorated and bursting with colors. Carissa tried to turn to get into the loveliness of the things behind her, staring at the bright glory in rapture, yet found she could only go forward, and as she did so, adorning it with the beauty right up to the position she stood in right then.
“I have one question,” Carissa said as she moved forward. “Is magic real?” Aria laughed. The sound was like little jingle bells infused with a bird’s cheerful tweet.
“Of course it’s real! It’s everywhere, all the time!” With that she disappeared. Carissa then noticed that Aria’s figure was hiding a small sign that never got any closer, yet never got any farther away. It seemed to move with each of Carissa’s steps.
Emblazoned with all number of opal opportunity, precious promises, and emerald expectations, and a very odd statue of a blue butterfly, it read, FUTURE.
* * *
“Carissa!” Ivy’s voice pierced through Carissa’s brain, and she was dimly aware of being shaken. “Cari! Are you OK?” Groggy, Carissa sat up. Pale morning light filtered through the curtains.
“Wha…?” she asked, rubbing her eyes. She was still wearing yesterday’s clothes, and a tear track was barely wet down her face.
“You were talking in your sleep,” Ivy explained, sitting down on the bed and resting her hand on Carissa’s knee. “You kept saying things like, ‘Where’s the magic?’ and ‘Aria! Come back, Aria!’ Incidentally, who’s Aria?”
“Oh, just…” She planned to say just a random character from my dream but felt like that was lying. “The Fairy of Song.”
Ivy nodded like she understood, but Carissa knew she didn’t. “Cari,” Ivy said slowly, “I… What you asked last night… It got me thinking… What do you think of when you think of magic?” Carissa smiled.
“A blue butterfly.”
“Do you want me to show you how to do the butterfly bun? The edges look like a butterfly’s wings,” Ivy offered. Carissa felt a little joyful tingle deep inside her.
As Ivy wove Carissa’s hair in and out, they chatted about things. Things that mattered. Shared memories, ideas, and, most importantly, magic.
“I think,” Ivy said, “that magic is always everywhere, all the time.” Carissa gave a jolt at how much she sounded like Aria. “Hold still, Cari. It’s just that most of the time you don’t notice it at all, so when you do, it seems… well, magical.”
“Like the sunset,” Carissa added and felt her sister’s agreement and approval shine onto her. Just like it used to be. Maybe the FUTURE isn’t so bad after all. “You know, I…”
Then Ivy’s cell phone rang. Carissa held her breath as her sister took it out of her pocket, the pop song she had as her ringtone blaring. According to caller ID, it was Brianna. In awe, Carissa watched as Ivy’s finger, with no hesitation, pressed the “dismiss” button for the call.
“You were saying?” Ivy asked, as if there had been no interruption. And that, Carissa decided, was real magic.