It keeps me crying baby for you
Keeps me sighin’ baby for you
So won’t you hurry
Come on boy, see about me
(Come see about me)
See about your baby
Diana Ross’ voice rang out loudly from the compact radio that Sarah Jones had inexpertly attached to the front of her bicycle. While the Supremes crooned about an undeserving lover, she had taken to speedily peddling with outstretched arms, trying to catch even a small amount of wind. The July sun bore itself into her exposed shoulders and she was sure that she would soon be turning a nice shade of tomato red. Sarah winced at the thought of her grandmother Ms. Earthalene, who would surely have a fit. The stern but loving woman continuously fretted about her granddaughter’s unwillingness to stay out of the sun.
Peddling with all of her might, she arrived at Bailey Road, home to the largest cottages in town. Sarah turned off the radio and made her way up the driveway of the Joneses summer home. She was late and knew that it would be the start of an even bigger fight if the Supremes or the Temptations greeted Ms. Earthalene’s ears. The wayward music of the Supremes is not fit for a girl of your pedigree, her grandmother’s voice echoed in her head.
The oversized yellow cottage stood in all its glory, covered by white roses that climbed happily up its side towards the sun. Solèy, as it had been dubbed by her father, was one of her parents’ most prized possessions. He had purchased this summer home in Martha’s Vineyard only three years into her parents’ marriage. As a prominent judge from a well-to-do Negro family, Solèy was one of the many markers of his success.
Sarah reluctantly hopped off her bike, smoothed out her blouse and trousers, and walked into the side of the house. In the distance, she could see an overworked landscaper receiving several notes on how the property was supposed to look for the upcoming party from her grandmother. He winked at her and nodded slightly to the left, indicating that she could safely run to the house.
Tensions had risen to dangerous levels over the last week. Earthalene and Sarah had been in a state of deep unrest as they planned, in Sarah’s opinion, a much too extravagant thirteenth birthday party. Sarah had been outvoted in her desire for a small barbecue for family and friends. The party, taking on a life of its own, was now going to be a black tie event serving as Sarah’s debut. She had endured formal dance lessons for the months of May and June and was now going to be escorted by Earl Collins Jr., the most irritating son of a beloved senator.
Sarah tiptoed quickly up the porch steps and into the house. Movement inside signaled that the cooks and maids were doing her grandmother’s bidding. She walked sneakily past the kitchen door only to be caught at the elbow.
“Where have you been?” hissed a voice.
Sarah winced, turning slowly to Martha. “I just went out for a pop,” she whispered.
“Your grandmother has been looking all over for you. We’ve been saying ‘You’ve just missed her’ for over an hour now!” Martha whispered angrily.
“I’m sorry,“ Sarah said, “I owe you one.” She winked at the frustrated maid.
Martha’s expression softened and Sarah knew that all was forgiven. “Better get upstairs and change, and try to flatten down that hair, you’re a mess,” she chuckled, cupping Sarah’s face.
In less time than she had imagined, Sarah managed to fix her hair and change into something more presentable. She came down the stairs, slightly galloping, sighing as she tried to ready herself for more party preparations. Fortunately, there was so much movement in the house she was almost always able to sneak away and find pockets of silence.
“We really need you on our side Xavier,” said a smooth and calculated voice.
Sarah came to a halt outside of her father’s study. The sliding door stood slightly ajar. Holding her breath, she made herself as small as possible and continued to listen in on her father’s conversation.
“I don’t know Earl, we’ve had this meeting with the founders three times within the last five months. I don’t think that we can convince them that working with MACUSA has any benefits for us,” Mr. Jones argued.
“Exactly what benefits have we had by keeping ourselves hidden? Our people have spent decades hiding in the shadows, for what? Tradition? We are just as powerful as they are, I would argue even more powerful. But they have the benefit of changing laws at the source,” Earl said passionately.
Confused, Sarah listened intently to the conversation. Since when have the founders had dealings with MACUSA?
“I’m not saying that I disagree with you but—”
“Then help us.” Earl interrupted. “Help us make ourselves known. I have some connections in D.C.—”
“Silans epi fèmen,” said a voice sternly.
Sarah jumped as the door slid firmly closed, the voices of her father and Mr. Collins becoming muffled, fading into silence.
“Where have you been?” said Ms. Earthalene as she lowered her hand to her side.
“Umm…I rode my bike to go for some ice cream,” said Sarah nervously.
Her heart rate quickened as her grandmother’s deep green eyes bore into her. Standing tall and stiff-backed, the old woman circled her, taking in her appearance. The light clicking of her high heeled shoes drowned out Sarah’s thoughts.
“Ice cream hmm?” Ms. Earthalene glared.
“Yes, ice cream,” Sarah said with a weak smile. She tried her best to imagine her favorite, black walnut, two scoops on a cone. Amelie, her best friend, jumped to her mind. The boys from the beach, the music and dancing.
“You wouldn’t have happened to be down at the beach with those hooligans would you?” said Earthalene with a sneer.
Sarah’s mouth had gone dry. Lying was futile. Earthalene, a gifted clairvoyant, allowed little to nothing to escape her. Sarah could feel the deep grip that she had on her memories begin to slack. Bracing for yet another scolding, she shut her eyes and breathed heavily.
Mercifully, the door of her father’s office slid open and the two men exited, laughing and breaking the tension in the room.
“Why, Mr. Collins!” said Earthalene, breaking into a smile, “How nice to see you.” She moved around Sarah, quickly outstretching her hands.
“Ms. Earthalene, you look lovely as ever,” said Mr. Collins, grinning.
Sarah turned around, joining the group, and made her way to her father’s side, eyeing her grandmother.
“Hello there, Miss Sarah. Are you excited for your birthday party this weekend?” asked Mr. Collins.
Sarah gazed at him, smiling politely and nodding. “Can’t wait,” she said, through a smile that was more grit than relaxed.
“Junior is very excited to be your escort,” he said. “Can’t stop talking about it.” Sarah suppressed an eye roll as he glanced down at an old pocket watch and slid it back into his coat. “I must be on my way. Georgia and Junior will just be arriving from New York shortly. Xavier, think about what we discussed. See you all on Sunday.”
“Please give Georgia my love, would you?” Earthalene said airily.
“Will do.” Mr. Collins said, tipping his hat and turning towards the front door with Mr. Jones at his heel.
Sunday arrived swiftly. Sarah awoke to the sound of bustling servants and decorators milling about the house. Gazing out the window, she noticed the trucks from Wilhelmina Banks’ decorating company arriving at the front gate. The delicate pink script was interrupted by a small, all too familiar N.A.N.W. symbol on the right corner. Mrs. Banks, a tall, slender, bird-like woman, immediately rushed toward them clipboard in hand, looking quite frazzled.
A slight buzzing sound brought Sarah back to the room. She hopped off her bed and made her way to the intercom that hung on the wall nearest her restroom.
“Uh…yea?” she said, slightly annoyed.
“Miss Sarah, it’s Martha,” said the voice on the other side of the intercom. “Your grandmother says you’re late for breakfast.”
Rolling her eyes, Sarah huffed, “Tell her I’ll be down shortly, I’m getting ready.”
Clicking the intercom off, Sarah walked over to her closet and quickly summoned the day’s outfit: a short-sleeved high neck blouse, miniskirt, and tennis shoes.
At the breakfast table, Ms. Earthalene sat with her hands folded and a mild look of annoyance. Sarah could feel her eyes taking in her outfit as she grabbed her chair and settled in.
“Forgive my lateness, Mother Eartha, I overslept,” said Sarah.
“Never mind that,” she said with a thin smile.
Martha appeared at her grandmother’s side almost instantly. She silently poured a cup of coffee and handed Ms. Earthalene a copy of the United Conjurers Journal.
“Orange juice please, Martha.” Sarah said softly, and the maid nodded quickly and disappeared from the room.
Breakfast with Ms. Earthalene was always an excruciating affair. The old woman made little to no conversation, quietly read the newspaper, and barely ate more than a few slices of toast and fruit. However, she would never start eating without Sarah being present.
Sarah filled her plate with scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast that had been placed before them and began scarfing down her breakfast. Looking out the window, she could see that the backyard had made tremendous progress. The workers bustled about putting up tents and setting up tables as Wilhelmina stood watching over.
The men worked steadily, not grasping the tent poles but, discreetly summoning them into the correct positions. To the untrained eye, it would seem as if no magic was involved at all. Sarah’s people-watching came to an abrupt end as her grandmother’s voice caught her attention.
“I have something for you,” she said with a smile.
Sarah turned in her seat just in time to see a large green velvet box floating through the air towards the table. The breakfast dishes slid sideways to make space as the box placed itself in front of her.
Sarah looked back in amazement at her grandmother.
“Well, open it,” Earthalene said with a slight chuckle.
Sarah stood and opened the box. Inside was the most beautiful tiara she had ever seen. The delicate gold had been spun into leaf-like patterns and was adorned with a deep green emerald in the center.
“You have to be careful with that, it’s very old. It belonged to my mother. I wore it for my coming out party,” said Earthalene. “See look.”
In a snap, an old family album appeared in her palms. After a few page turns she found what she was looking for. Sarah looked over her shoulder and gasped. A young girl with almost the exact same face smiled back at her. She wore the tiara nestled atop a curled updo with her head held high. There were subtle differences of course. The hair was blonder and the eyes a more stark green in comparison to Sarah’s more reddish brown hair and hazel eyes.
“I know that you think that I am very hard on you—” Ms. Earthalene began.
“Hush girl,” Earthalene continued with a wave of her hand. “You think that because I am. I’m hard on you because I want you to understand that there are rules. We come from a very privileged background and in this society there are expectations. I know that your mother not being here is hard. And I would give anything for her to be with us in this moment. However, I want you to know that I believe that she would be so proud of the young woman that you’re becoming, just like I am.”
Earthalene rose to her feet and embraced Sarah, whose eyes had begun to well with tears.
“Now!” she snapped, “Let’s get you ready.”
Sarah felt her heart pounding loudly in her chest as she made her way to the top of the grand staircase. The rhinestone bodice of her dress only served to make it feel much heavier than she had anticipated. Swearing under her breath, she cursed the slipperiness of the bottom of her heels and made her descent.
Mr. Jones and the small entourage of Ms. Earthalene and the Collins family looked up at her expectantly.
“Don’t you look lovely,” cooed Mrs. Collins.
“Absolutely,” agreed Mr. Jones, beaming at her.
Mrs. Earthalene pulled her into a hug and straightened her tiara.
“Everyone ready?” asked Mr. Jones as they began to line up and walk the red carpet leading to the backyard.
Silently, Sarah made her way to the side of Earl Collins Jr. He held out his arm so that she could interlock hers.
“Hey,” he said softly.
As they walked, she found herself looking up at him. Since the last time she had seen him, he had grown several inches. The faint mustache that he had in May was now long gone as he had shaved it for the occasion. He noticed her inspecting him and gave her a sideways glance.
“What?” he said, turning red.
“Oh! Umm…nothing,” she said quickly, feeling quite embarrassed.
As they reached the end of the carpet Sarah could hear the band leader announcing her.
“Introducing Miss Sarah Janine Jones!”
There was a thunderous applause as the group made its way into the tent. Immediately Sarah realized that her grandmother had been right about the amount of space they needed for the party. As far as she could see, every table was filled to the brim.
She recognized several judges, a group of her friends from Jack and Jill, a few teachers from Zora Neale Hurston Preparatory School, and lastly the almost-empty head table where her best friend Amelie sat waving at her.
The group made its way to the dance floor and a hush settled over the crowd as the band began to play. Sarah found herself grateful for the strict ballroom lessons of the past few months as the eyes of the room followed her and Junior. Before she knew it the song had come to an end and the room erupted once more into applause.
As Sarah, Ms. Earthalene, and the Collins family settled into their seats, Mr. Jones’ voice amplified over the crowd.
“I’d like to thank you all tonight for joining us in celebrating my daughter Sarah with us. It’s not everyday that your little girl turns thirteen. As you know, it takes a village to raise a child and that is what I consider all of you to be. I am honored and humbled by the ways that all of you have stepped up and into our lives since the passing of my sweet, Gloria,” he paused, ”So tonight on behalf of the Jones family I’d like to say thank you.”
Applause rang out once more as Mr. Jones ended his speech. The tables suddenly filled with the night’s dinner. Seafood and steak dinners appeared on the plates of the adults. Sarah was surprised to see that the originally vetoed idea of hot dogs and hamburgers were on the menu. She glanced down the table at Ms. Earthalene, who winked back.
As the night wore on, the stuffy atmosphere of the party died down thanks to the magically refilling of the adults’ wine glasses. Many of the kids found themselves on the dance floor spinning partners all around while the parents kept a watchful eye.
Giggling, Sarah and Amelie found their way to the table of their friends from the N.A.N.W. Jack and Jill chapter, who were recovering from too many spins on the dance floor.
“Have you got all of your supplies yet?” Margaret Little asked one of the nearby boys.
“No. My mom has been so busy with the ladies at the sorority house,” he said with a shoulder shrug. “I’ll probably just send one of the servants to get the rest.”
“What about you?” she said, looking in the direction of Sarah and Amelie.
“My grandmother is taking us tomorrow. Amelie is spending the night,” said Sarah, grinning. Thoughts of new stationary and horseback riding danced in her head.
“Did you hear about Rodney Willis?” interrupted Roxanne Talbot in a low whisper.
“What’s going on with Rodney?” Amelie said, suddenly interested.
“Well, I heard that he still hasn’t gotten his letter from Zora Prep,” she said with a smirk.
The group gasped.
“Well, that could mean anything…” Sarah said, trying to sound hopeful.
There was a loud scoff from a nearby table. As they looked over, they saw Junior sitting there. He had a look of mild annoyance on his face as he casually levitated a spinning spoon.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sarah said defensively.
“We all know that Rodney was…well,” he said shaking his head, “Anyway, it’s not like Zora Prep is the only school that he could go to, plenty of Pég schools out there.”
Roxanne and a few others let out a rude laugh. Sarah glared at them in disbelief. She stood on her feet ready to attack.
“Hey kids, why don’t you get back on the dance floor,” suggested Mrs. Collins. She had approached the table, swaying slightly with a grin on her face.
Sighing, Junior hopped up, grabbed Sarah’s hand, and pulled her to the dance floor. The other kids followed suit and soon were jumping to the band’s rendition of “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag.”
Sarah tried hard to keep her face neutral and flash a smile every now and then but she was severely annoyed.
“Hey, what’s your problem?” she said between a few quick steps. “Why are you being such a jerk?”
Junior rolled his eyes and kept dancing. “You guys are just…well, acting like children,” he said scanning the room.
“Excuse me?” said Sarah angrily. Junior was only a month shy of fourteen, he didn’t need to act so superior. It was one of his most irritating qualities that she found hard to overlook.
“Zora Prep. What’s so exciting about going back to school? There are so many things happening in the real world.”
“I’m pretty sure your parents would feel differently about your studies.”
“Oh, they already do. In fact, my father thinks that it’s about time that I get enrolled into Ilvermorny.”
“What? You can’t be serious,” Sarah was startled. “We don’t go to Ilvermorny.”
“Not yet, but—”
The band finished to a rousing applause. Junior broke eye contact and began clapping, signaling the end of the conversation. Before the band had a chance to start up again, their ears were greeted by the sound of Ms. Earthalene’s heels clicking across the stage. Her grandmother stood at the front of the stage, a grandiose peacock feathered collar rising a foot above her shoulders and matching in color to the sparkly green caped gown. Her amplified voice rose over the crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if you would all please follow me out to the garden. The fireworks are about to begin.”
“Fireworks? Huh. Your dad really went all out for daddy’s little girl,” said Junior absently.
The crowd began to flood out of the tent and into the garden as Sarah stood frozen in disbelief.
What did he mean, ‘Not yet’?
The question rattled around in her thoughts so much that she hadn’t realized that the massive stream of guests had begun exiting. She looked to the opening of the tent just in time to see Junior’s head disappear into the crowd.
She quickly readied herself to chase him down but was cut off by flying dinnerware. She screamed in shock as a steak knife belted into her arm and ducked under the nearest table. Holding onto her now bleeding arm, Sarah tried to remember the spell for pausing objects, but nothing came to her.
A couple of frightened servants came running into the tent, looking left and right for the source of the noise.
“Ralanti,” said a familiar voice. Martha had entered the tent and was standing behind the cowering Sarah.
“Oh my goodness!” yelled a distraught looking server. “I’m so sorry, we thought everyone had cleared out.”
Martha held up her hand. “We need some bandages,” she said, bringing Sarah to her feet.
The loud booms and cracks of the fireworks could be felt in the makeshift kitchen near the tent. Sarah sat patiently on the countertop waiting for Martha to get all the supplies ready. Swinging her feet, she watched the servers and dishwashers happily crack jokes as they lowered the dishes into a large bath of soapy water.
The nightly news loudly blared from a compact radio nearby.
“What were you doing still in the dining area?” said Martha, pulling up a stool.
“I was looking for the back of my earring,” Sarah lied quickly. Junior talking about going to Ilvermorny seemed like the nonsense ramblings of a self important teenaged boy but, what if it was true?
Martha raised an eyebrow but kept cleaning the wound.
“Alright. It’s fine if you don’t want to tell me,” she said with a sigh, placing the bandage on.
“You know that you could’ve just put on a healing salve,” said Sarah with a laugh.
“It’s all the way in the house. Besides, sometimes it’s better to do things the Pégik way.” she said, “Now hurry up and get back to your party before your grandmother comes looking for you.”
Without warning, a loud voice came over the radio.
We interrupt this broadcast with breaking news. The official White House Fourth of July parade has been hijacked by what we believe is a terrorist operative. We have Kenneth Walsh on the scene. Ken?
Yes, Jerry, it seems that a colored man has walked out in the middle of the street, thwarting the parade from moving forward. He’s now holding up his hands, but doesn’t appear to be holding anything. I’m being told now by the Secret Service that I need to move away from the area. Umm…wait a minute here Jerry. I don’t quite know what to make of this… There appear to be sparks coming from his hands. He is pointing them toward the para—
Ken? Ken? Are you still there?
I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen. We seem to have lost contact with Ken. We will try to get him back on the air in the meantime…
The broadcast ended abruptly. The kitchen had gone silent and everyone stared around at each other in shock. Martha’s hand slowly covered her mouth.
“That could mean anything right?” Sarah said quickly, looking to all of the adults for confirmation. Nobody would be foolish enough to use magic in full view of Pégik.
The silence in the room was piercing.
“I-I have to go find my dad,” said Sarah, racing out of the kitchen.
Her shoes slipped on the perfectly manicured lawn as she ran towards her party guests. Behind her, a great swishing sound grabbed her attention. A group of about eight witches and wizards had Apparated near the front of the house. A slow moving police car was ushered in the gate. She watched in horror as three more wizards escorted her father and Mr. Collins out the of the house and into the police car bearing a small N.A.N.W. symbol.
“Go back to your party,” said Ms. Earthalene, who had appeared at her side. A worried look passed over her face as they made eye contact.
“Go on. Move! Your father can handle himself,” she said, with a reassuring smile.
Sarah walked slowly back to the large crowd that stared at the glorious fireworks display, blissfully ignorant of the chaotic scene behind them.
Sarah awoke the next morning much earlier than usual. The sun had just barely begun to rise and she could still hear the soft snores of Amelie coming from the guest bed. She crept down the stairs as quietly as possible and opened the front door. The latest copy of United Conjurer sat on the porch neatly. Greedily, she picked up the paper and began to read. The front page consisted of a giant photo of a man that looked only a few years older than her and a caption that read, “Jeremiah Ratliff Exposes Negro Magic to Country.” Unfolding the paper, she let out a huge gasp and she noticed photos of both her father and Mr. Collins. Small print flanked their photos, with the question Accomplices?
Unable to breathe, Sarah sat at the table, tossing the paper aside.