Here you can read the first sample chapter of my debut novel, Manifestation, an urban fantasy adventure that explores the revival of magic and mystery in a world that is unprepared for the changes arcane powers will bring. Available in paperback and ebook.
Chapter 1: Magic
Gabby Palladino raced through the front door of her home, a huge grin on her face for the first time in weeks. “Mom?” she called out. “Dad?” She hurried into the living room, looking for her parents. They should have been home already; she’d stayed late after school to audition for the new play, and by the time the late bus brought her home, it was well past the time her parents normally returned from work.
“Mom?” she asked, peeking into the kitchen. “Adrianna?” There didn’t seem to be anyone downstairs. She looked back out the window and saw Mom’s car sitting in the driveway, but Dad’s car wasn’t there. She didn’t know if he was late getting home from work, or if he’d gone back out for some reason.
She climbed the stairs and looked into each room on the second floor. Frankie’s room was empty, though it always was now that he was away at school. He almost never came home, even for the weekends. Adrianna wasn’t in her room, nor was she in the nursery. Adrianna was due any day now. Gabby glared at the secondhand crib that awaited the birth of the little brat. She couldn’t stand the sight of that room anymore. It used to be her oldest brother Anthony’s room, but ever since they’d moved his old stuff into the attic to make room for the new baby, she couldn’t look at the room without remembering that her big brother wasn’t coming home anymore. At least, not for anything more than the holidays.
She turned away and looked into her parents’ room. Mom’s purse sat on the dresser, but there was no sign of her parents anywhere. She imagined they must have left in a hurry for Mom to forget her purse.
She took out her phone and swiped her finger across the screen to scroll through the contacts until she found her mom’s cell phone number. She plucked at the loose threads of her sweater while she waited for an answer. When her mother finally answered, she had the gall to sound impatient. “Yes, Gabby, what is it?”
“Where are you guys?” Gabby asked. She went back to her room and peeked out the window that overlooked the front yard, hoping in vain that she’d see Dad’s car pulling up to the house.
“We’re at the hospital,” Mom said. “Adrianna wasn’t feeling well and we wanted to make sure she’s okay.”
“Did she have the baby?” Gabby asked, her tone mocking the excitement she should have been feeling.
“No,” Mom said. “The doctor said it was false labor. It could be any day still. Listen, there’s leftovers in the fridge. I’ve got to go.”
“But Mom,” Gabby protested, “you didn’t even ask me about—”
“Not now, Gabriella,” her mother said. “I need to go talk to the doctor about your sister.”
“But Mom!” Gabby said. Her mother hung up without another word.
She grumbled and sat down on her bed, crossed her arms, and glared at the floor. Her mother hadn’t even asked her about the play. She’d gotten the lead. It was one of the most exciting things she’d ever done. Not that anyone cared.
After a few minutes of moping, she got up and went over to the window. It was raining, so going out anywhere was out of the question. She looked down and saw Mom’s car sitting in the driveway. She wasn’t allowed to drive yet; she was supposed to have her license already, but like so many other things in her life, it had been put off because her family was too busy getting ready for the baby. Almost every time she’d asked her parents to take her out for lessons, they’d made excuses. She knew how to drive well enough not to get into an accident, but she wasn’t ready to take her driving test yet, mostly because of parallel parking.
She went back to her parents’ room and looked at her mother’s purse. She stepped over and peeked inside. The car keys sat on top of Mom’s wallet. She reached in and tapped them with her fingers. She wondered how much trouble she’d get into for what she was considering.
She decided she didn’t care.
She grabbed the keys, then as an afterthought snatched her mom’s wallet as well and shoved it in her pocket. She went back to her room and grabbed her pink jacket. It had been bitter cold all day. The weather seemed to be hinting at an early winter. The rain would make the cold that much worse. She put on a knit hat and gloves, then headed outside without any real idea where she was going.
She drove into the city first, crossing from the suburbs into the busy streets of San Lorien. She took herself out to dinner at the most expensive restaurant she could find, in the lobby of the Donovan Grand Hotel, and paid with her mom’s credit card. When the maitre d’ questioned her, she claimed her family was staying at the hotel but her parents were off sharing a romantic evening together, and her mother had sent her to dinner alone. He eyed her with doubt, but didn’t argue.
After dinner her phone rang. Her mom’s number displayed on the caller ID. She ignored the call, then put her phone on silent. She didn’t have any idea if Mom was calling from the hospital, or if she’d gotten home and noticed that she was missing. Either way, she didn’t want to deal with it right now.
As the sky grew darker, she started to worry about getting lost in the city if she kept driving around at night. The rain had lessened, but it was still coming down enough to make visibility poor, and the approaching darkness made it worse. She didn’t know the streets of San Lorien all that well; she’d grown up in the suburbs, and didn’t come into the city that often. She was already lost, since she’d been driving around without any real destination in mind. She pulled to the side of the road so she could use the GPS to find her way, knowing she’d never figure out where she was going without it. Once she started tapping the buttons on the touch screen, however, she realized she didn’t know what address she should punch in. She didn’t want to go home yet. After a moment’s thought, she decided to punch in her friend Callia’s address. She wouldn’t be able to take her mother’s car all the way to Callia’s house, of course, since Callia’s parents were surely at home.
The GPS guided her through the dark streets, and the tall buildings of the city faded away and were replaced by the worn-down industrial buildings that ringed San Lorien. She drove past those and into the more familiar two-story homes of the West District suburbs. She parked around the corner from Callia’s street and got out to walk the rest of the way. The night air was chilly, and the cold rain soaked through her knit hat before she reached her friend’s house. When she got there, she hesitated just before knocking on the door. Her parents might have called Callia’s, looking for her.
She snuck around to the back of the house and pulled out her phone. She hit the power key and swiped her finger across the screen to unlock it, then immediately saw several missed calls and texts from her mom. She ignored them and instead sent Callia a text message: Are you in your room?
She waited in the rain for the reply, bouncing up and down on her toes to try to keep warm. A minute later Callia’s reply appeared on the screen: Yeah, I’m home. What’s up?
I’m outside, Gabby texted back.
What? Callia texted. Why didn’t you ring the doorbell?
I’m in the backyard, Gabby replied. A moment later she saw Callia’s window on the second floor open, and her friend’s blonde head stuck out.
“What are you doing down there?” Callia asked. “Your parents called here looking for you.”
“Let me in,” Gabby said, trying to keep her voice down so Callia’s parents wouldn’t hear. “I took my mom’s car.”
“You’re crazy!” Callia said, shaking her head. “God . . . hold on.”
Callia pulled her head back inside and shut the window. Gabby shivered in the cold while she waited for her friend to come let her in. Her phone was still on silent, but while she was waiting, the screen lit up with an incoming call. The caller ID showed it was her mother’s number again. She tapped the screen to reject the call, then locked the phone again. She didn’t want to talk to her mother right now. A few moments later Callia appeared at the back door. Gabby slipped inside, stepping carefully so as not to make any noise. “You’re gonna get in so much trouble,” Callia whispered. “You know that, right? If my parents catch you here . . .”
“I won’t stay long,” Gabby whispered. “Where are your parents?”
“Watching TV,” Callia said. “Come on, and be quiet.”
Callia led Gabby through the kitchen and into the hall. Gabby could hear the sound of the TV coming from the living room and the light from the screen flickered into the hall. They slipped past with care, then hurried up the stairs and into Callia’s room. Callia shut the door and locked it, then turned to look at Gabby. “You’re soaked,” she said. She helped Gabby get her jacket off, but the old, worn out material hadn’t kept the rain out very well and her sweater underneath was damp as well. “Here, let me get you something to wear. I need to get changed for bed anyway.”
Gabby sat on the edge of the bed while Callia dug through her dresser drawers and pulled out a nightgown for herself and an over-sized t-shirt for Gabby. Callia started to get changed, showing no modesty in front of her trusted friend. “So let me guess,” Callia said as she pulled her shirt over her head. “You had another fight with your mom.”
“Yeah,” Gabby said, keeping her eyes down and trying her hardest not to stare at her friend’s body. She couldn’t resist a peek, and her face heated up at the brief sight of Callia’s bare chest before her friend finished changing into her nightgown. “Well, not a fight. But they left without me, and . . .” She trailed off and bit her lip, realizing now that taking the car just because her parents had taken Adrianna to the hospital hadn’t been a bright idea. Now that she wasn’t distracting herself and she sat down and think about what she’d done, it started to sink in that she was going to be in a lot of trouble.
She changed out of her wet clothes quickly, trying not to let Callia see how much she was blushing. It was the same feeling she dealt with around other girls in the gym locker room every day at school. “It’s just,” she said, “ever since Addy got pregnant, that’s all anyone ever cares about. It’s not fair that she gets so much attention just because she was a slut.”
Once they were both changed, Callia sat next to Gabby on the bed and took her hands. “You really shouldn’t be mad at your sister,” she said. “She’s going to need your support.”
“It’s what she gets,” Gabby said. “She’s been with so many guys. She just keeps it secret from Mom.” Gabby knew that Callia was right; the baby was due any day now, and Adrianna was going to have to raise him alone, since her ex-boyfriend Jeremy had abandoned her.
There was a long pause, then Callia asked, “What about you?”
Gabby looked up and asked, “What about me?”
Callia gave her a shy smile and asked, “Have you ever . . . y’know . . . with a guy?”
“Eww, no!” Gabby replied, shaking her head and scrunching her face up in disgust.
Callia giggled and shook her head. “Yeah, me neither,” she said. “I’ve never even been kissed.”
Gabby found that hard to believe. Her friend was beautiful. She had perfect porcelain skin, golden blonde hair, and shimmering blue eyes. She was thin and graceful, and exactly what Gabby pictured an elf would look like.
“Have you ever been . . . curious?” Callia asked.
Gabby’s heart started to speed up. “Yeah,” she whispered. “I mean, I guess. But I’ve never met someone who I’d want to . . .” That was a lie, but she’d never admit to the truth.
“What if it was someone that you trust?” Callia asked. She intertwined her fingers with Gabby’s, a playful smirk touching her tender lips. “Just to try it.” She shrugged. “See what it’s like.”
Gabby barely nodded. “Yeah,” she said. Her mouth suddenly felt very dry.
“Yeah?” Callia asked, leaning closer.
“Yeah . . .”
Their lips touched and Gabby closed her eyes. Callia’s lips felt so soft, and they tasted faintly of strawberry chapstick. They were moist and warm, and Gabby trembled at the thought of her own chapped, dry lips. She held perfectly still until Callia’s lips moved gently against hers, and she parted hers ever so slightly in response. In that moment, she believed in magic.
All too soon it was over. “That was . . . interesting,” Callia said.
Gabby nodded, unable to find her voice. Her heart was pounding and she trembled. She could still taste her friend’s lips and all she could think about was kissing her again.
The room was silent for a moment, then Callia got up and said, “I’m going to go say good night to my parents, so they don’t come up here to check on me. I’ll be right back.” Gabby nodded and waited while Callia headed downstairs. Gabby settled herself awkwardly on the bed and tried to keep as quiet as possible. Her mind raced, but no coherent thoughts came to the surface. She was full of energy, and it danced just beneath the surface of her skin, waiting to be released. She just didn’t know how to release it.
When Callia friend returned, she locked the door again and shut out the light. “Okay, they think I’m going to sleep. We just need to be quiet.”
In the dark, Callia settled on the bed next to Gabby. The rain outside had finally cleared, and the moonlight drifted through the window. Gabby could barely make out Callia’s form, lying on her side, her head propped on her hand. Her thoughts raced with forbidden desires, but she kept them to herself. They built up in her mind like a pressure building up inside her skull, threatening to burst free. It made her head and her heart ache.
“So,” Callia whispered in the dark, “what else is new with you? Didn’t you audition for that play today?”
Gabby smiled, glad that her friend had remembered. “Yeah,” she said. “I got the lead.”
They chatted for a while, keeping their voices low as Callia asked Gabby about the play and about school. Gabby had a hard time concentrating on anything beyond the warmth of the girl lying next to her and the pressure building up inside her. After the conversation lapsed, to distract herself from such thoughts, she asked, “What about you? Are you still going to Costa Rosa in the spring?”
“Actually,” Callia said with a smile in her voice, “I have an interview for an internship. It’s with the Jansborough Wildlife Preserve. If I get it, it’ll count towards college credit, and I can enroll at C.R.U. next fall.”
“That’s great,” Gabby whispered, fighting the conflict she felt in her chest. Jansborough wasn’t that far away, but it still meant her best friend would be out of reach. Jansborough was even further west than Costa Rosa, and further inland, away from San Lorien’s ports. “If you wait until next year to go to the university, we could end up starting at the same time.” Callia had graduated from high school the year before, but Gabby was just starting her senior year. Callia had taken a year off after high school to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. She’d worked some part-time jobs and done volunteer work, which had taken up a lot of her free time lately.
Gabby missed seeing her friend in school every day, but she could look forward to sharing classes again in college next year. Until then she would miss Callia dearly. Even if Gabby had a car or her license, the move to Jansborough would put her friend hours away. It wasn’t as if she could expect her parents to drive her that far for a visit.
“Yeah,” Callia said. Her hand idly reached out and played with Gabby’s hair. “It’s going to be a great learning experience. There’s a research station, deep in the woods, with cabins where the staff live. We’re going to be studying animals in their natural habitat, trying to find out how they’re being affected by civilization moving in on their homes. And since the work there counts as college credit, I won’t need to spend as much time in classes later on.”
“It sounds great,” Gabby said. She was glad for the darkness; it kept Callia from being able to see the tears in her eyes. “It sounds just like what you always wanted. Going out there and actually doing something.”
“Yeah,” Callia said. “I’ll miss you.” The excitement was gone from her voice.
“I’ll miss you, too,” Gabby replied. They settled back into silence. She closed her eyes and let out a sigh, focusing on nothing except for the feeling of Callia’s fingers playing with her hair. Before she knew it, she had drifted off to sleep.
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