Selfish Elf Wish Chapter 1
Gripping Timber’s sleeve, I worm my way through the noisy crowd filling the seats of our cavernous school auditorium. It’s first period on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving break and nearly all of the students from the Brooklyn Academy for Performing Arts High School pack the rows of red velvet seats. Excited voices bounce off the high blue and gold ceiling that looks as if the first evening stars are peering down on all of us. Timber follows Mercedes and Ari to an empty row near the front. I wave to my cousin Briar and our friend Kenji, who make their way through the throngs of people to join us.
“What’s Padgie got up his sleeve?” Ari asks as we settle into our seats. He shakes brown bangs out of his eyes.
Mercedes cups her hand over her mouth and pretends to narrate a movie trailer, “A twist so BIG,” she announces, black curls bouncing around her face, “it will blow your mind.”
We all snort and snicker because Mr. Padgett, the director of the winter musical, has been saying this exact thing for two weeks and we’re all sick of it.
“All I can say is, it better be good.” Ari props his feet up on the seat in front of him.
From the other side of me Timber says, “Whatever it is, it won’t live up to everyone’s expectations. The guy needs to tone it down.”
We all nod in agreement, but despite that, the room crackles with energy as everyone talks about what “the twist” might be. All we’ve been told is to prepare a song if we want to audition, but we have no idea what we’re auditioning for or why the whole school is here.
This is my third month at my new school and my first audition for a musical. That’s exciting enough to blow my mind. Where I’m from (a teeny tiny speck called Alverland in the woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) we never have this kind of excitement. Even though the place is magical with streams and bluffs, lakes and wildlife, it’s also entirely predictable. Which is why I like Brooklyn. Because here I can try something new every day for a year and not exhaust the possibilities, which both terrifies and thrills me. What if I’m horrible and make a fool out of myself at this audition? Then again, what if I’m great? This is why I begged my parents to let me come to this school—one of the best performing arts schools in the country. So I could find out which I will be—horrible or great.
I look down the row at my friends. Ari and Mercedes huddle together at one end. Mercedes points toward the stage then the crowd with grand, sweeping motions, because everything the girl does is full of drama. If she’s not making you laugh, she makes you want to cry. Ari listens intently with one finger pressed against his lip and I notice that he’s not wearing his usual black nail polish today. I wonder if he took it off just for the audition.
Mercedes and Ari were my first friends when I came to BAPAHS in September, and they saved me from being eaten alive by the mean girls. We’ve had a few rough patches, but now things are all good between us. When Ari glances up at me, I raise my eyebrows and point to Mercedes as a question. He rolls his eyes and shrugs then goes back to listening to her.
My cousin Briar, who sits next to me, leans in close. “Zephyr, what’s going on?”
“I don’t know, Bri,” I admit. “I’m just as lost as you are.” Briar came to live with my family and go to school here a month ago, so she considers me the “expert” on Brooklyn, but the truth is, I’m still pretty clueless.
“But what do you think is going to happen?” she asks.
“Bri, seriously, I have no idea,” I tell her again. “I can’t even guess. A talking tiger could come out from behind those curtains and I wouldn’t be half surprised.”
She presses herself against me and whispers in my ear. “Do tigers talk here?”
I shake my head and laugh. “No. Only owls in Alverland,” I assure her.
Despite all her questions, I love having my cousin at BAPAHS with me. She’s been my best friend since we were born (ten days apart). When we were little, we learned to do everything together—how to track deer, tap maple trees, smash herbs to heal a rash, build a fire in the rain, and cast our first spells. The wilds of Brooklyn seem so much more manageable now that she’s with me. Plus, I never realized how important it is to be with someone who looks like me. We’re not your average fifteen-year-old girls with our straight, white-blonde hair, pale skin, and green eyes. Not to mention that we tower over most people because we’re both nearly six feet tall.
Oh, and we’re elves. Did I mention that?
Not that it’s such a big deal. I mean other than the fact that we’re magic and we live a couple hundred years, we’re not all that different from erdlers (that’s normal humans). My family might be the only elves in Brooklyn (the rest are up in Alverland, where we’ve lived for hundreds of years), but we pretty much act like everybody else around here.
“Well,” says Briar, clearly frustrated with my lack of info. “Maybe Kenji can explain it to me.” She uses her thumb to point to Kenji, who’s slouched in the seat between Briar and Mercedes, then she raises her left eyebrow and gives me a sly grin. Briar took a shine to Kenji the moment she came to BAPAHS. In fact, Kenji didn’t hang out with the rest of us until Briar showed up, but now he’s with the group wherever we go. Which was awkward at first, because Ari says he used to have a crush on me, but now it’s fine, I guess.
“Kenji.” Briar pokes him on the thigh. He flinches then pulls one bright yellow ear bud out from under the blue fringe of his hair. Briar leans closer to him. “What’s going on?” she asks him.
“Checking out some tunes,” he says with a shrug. “What’s up with you?”
I laugh and turn away to talk to Timber, who sits on my right. Every time I lay eyes on this boy, with his thick, dark hair and startling gray-blue eyes, my heart beats double time and my palms prickle with sweat. I lean closer to him and breathe in the fresh piney smell that wafts off his skin.
What I wish most in my life right now, is that I knew what was going on between Timber and me. Sometimes I think he’s really into me. We hang out a lot, but mostly with our group of friends. Every time I think things between us are shifting, turning us into boyfriend and girlfriend, he pulls away. He says that he wants to take things slowly because he was with Bella, his ex-girlfriend, for over a year before they broke up and he doesn’t want to rush into something. I try to respect that and act all nonchalant and unbothered when I’m with him, but I’m half dying inside because the truth is, I’m madly in love with Timber Lewis Cahill.
It doesn’t help that his friend Chelsea (and her crew, Riena and Darby) seems to be around every time I might have Timber all to myself. Like right now, for instance. Just as I’m about to tap him on the knee to ask what he thinks is going on, Chelsea beats me to it by jabbing him in the ribs with her elbow and pointing to the curtains ruffling on the stage. I’ve tried to like Chelsea because I know she’s Timber’s friend, but she used to be best friends with Timber’s ex, Bella from Hella. Even though Bella and Chelsea hate each other now (because Chelsea got caught blogging smack about Bella, as Mercedes likes to put it), I’m still leery. I might tolerate Chelsea for Timber’s sake, but I wouldn’t trust her to beat blueberries off a bush. As far as I’m concerned, once a mean girl, always a mean girl.
The lights dim and Briar grabs my hand as two spotlights swirl across the curtains and an electric guitar swells over the loudspeakers. It’s a song I’ve never heard, but the crowd around Briar and me recognizes it. They clap and whistle or sing the melody. I squeeze Briar’s hand just as the curtains sweep open to reveal a backlit staircase. The spotlights focus on Mr. Padgett standing at the top, but instead of his usual jeans and sweater, he’s in a gray suit. His brownish-blond hair’s slicked back off his face and he struts down the steps with a mic in one hand, the other hand in his pants pocket. He stops at the bottom and booms over the music, “You’ve watched it on TV. You’ve followed the winners—Kelly, Carrie, Jordin, David, and Kris. You’ve dreamed it was you.”
People scream. Girls jump up and down, waving their arms. Mercedes is on her feet, her dark curls bouncing as she yells, “Is this for real? Are we auditioning for Idol?” Even Timber, usually so calm and cool, has moved to the edge of his seat and grips the chair in front of him, ready to stand up at any moment.
“Now it’s your turn BAPAHS,” Mr. Padgett says into the mic.
“Did he get us an exclusive?” Chelsea asks, but Timber shrugs, his eyebrows flexed in confusion.
“Is Simon here?” Ari yells.
Briar buries her head into my shoulder. I know she’s scared, but so am I. As usual, I’m lost and have no idea why everyone is freaking out like this.
“This is . . .” Mr. Padgett raises one arm above his head and points to the back of the stage. A bright yellow neon light pops on just as he says, “Idle America!”
A loud whoop goes up from the crowd but then, just as suddenly, the screaming, clapping, and stomping dies, replaced by murmuring and discontented grumbles. “What’d he say?” Mercedes asks Ari.
The lights come up and Mr. Padgett stands center stage, pleased as a cat that just dropped a dead mouse on your toes.
“Idle?” Timber asks, reading the sign. “As in not moving?”
“He got the name wrong?” Ari pushes his hands through his mess of dark hair. “What a loser.”
All around us people drop into their seats, confused, but not as confused as Briar and I. We’re pop culture morons because we grew up under a rock in the woods. Literally. My family got our first television a few weeks ago and we never had a phone until we moved to New York.
“This year, BAPAHS,” Mr. Padgett continues, “instead of staging an existing musical production that’s been done hundreds of times, we’ll put on an original show.” He pauses and struts to the other end of the stage. “One written just for you and one that reflects the times.” Mr. Padgett holds the mic loosely in his hand and begins to pace. “As most of you know, I have both a music degree from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University.”
Ari groans and rolls his eyes at Mercedes, who pretends to strangle herself because Mr. Padgett never tires of reminding us about his pedigree.
“So, I have put those degrees to good use and penned the script, songs, and score to the first original BAPAHS production of Idle America!”
“What is this man talking about?” Ari asks, but everyone in our row just shrugs and looks bewildered.
“Are we not auditioning for American Idol?” Mercedes says. “Because I just about peed myself and now I want to kill him.”
“That guy’s got some nerve,” Timber mutters, slumping back into his seat.
Briar and I look at each other, more confused than anyone else in the room, because whatever they think Mr. Padgett is talking about and whatever he’s really talking about are lost on us.
“But that’s not all, BAPAHS,” Mr. Padgett says.
“This pendejo better redeem himself now,” Mercedes says loudly, “or I’m gonna whoop his ass into Tuesday.”
“Auditions for Idle America will be held American Idol style.” Mr. Padgett pauses for effect and is met only by silence. “Right here. Right now.”
“What the . . .” Mercedes says as my heart rolls up into my mouth.
“Did he say ‘right now’?” I grab Timber’s arm.
He half-laughs and pats my leg. “You have to be ready for anything in this business.”
Onstage, Mr. Padgett keeps right on talking. “Students will vote for their favorite performers today. The top vote getters will be cast in the lead roles. Second best get supporting roles, and so on. So get ready BAPAHS, because . . .” He points to the back of the auditorium, cuing the lights, which go down, and the music, which comes up. A spotlight hits him once more and he says, “This is Idle America!” Then everything goes dark.