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Chapter One: Beginnings
I wished the clouds would cry with me already. Not that I had any tears left—I was pretty sure I’d cried them all out yesterday, after saying good-bye to my friends, now many, many states away from us. Still, all the clouds’ gray gloominess hinted at rain and cast a sad feeling over our new house as our minivan pulled into the driveway, the moving truck coming quickly behind.
Mason, my little brother, snorted awake, perfect timing with the van’s stop. “Are we here?” He peered out the front windshield. “Is this the house?”
“Yes, dear,” Mom said, shutting the car off. “Isn’t it nice?”
Mason nodded as we exited the car. Mom went to talk to Dad—driving the moving van—and I studied the house for the first time. It wasn’t anything too special: your classic brick house with a cream garage door. The second story was nice, and I liked the enchanting strand of ivy clinging to the right corner. Just the sort of plant a prince might climb to reach the princess. The house also had a teal door, which I’d never seen before. It was also at the top of the cul-de-sac circle, making it feel like the most important house in the world. A cul-de-sac, I learned three and half days ago, is one of those streets with a giant circular patch of pavement at a dead end. The cul-de-sac is why our new street was called Whitman Court instead of merely Whitman Street. Or that’s what Dad told me, anyways.
“What do you think, Melody?” Mason asked me.
My throat still felt tight from saying all those good-byes yesterday. I just shrugged.
“It’s a good house, don’t you think?” Mason pressed.
I crossed my arms. It was a fine house, but that’s all it could ever be: a house. Not a home. I refused to call it a home.
Mason puffed out his chest. “I like it.”
I sniffed. “You liked the old one, too. How could you forget already?”
My brother rolled his eyes. “Well, sorry for trying to look on the bright side.”
I sighed and let my arms drop. “Sorry, Mason. I didn’t mean to be mean.”
He shrugged. “That’s okay.”
Okay. That’s exactly how I’d describe the house, and how I felt about all of it: leaving the old friends, home, family, moving to this strange place filled with strangers…
I turned to look out across the Court of Whitman and started at the sight of a furious volcano of a girl, her curly red hair piled on top of her head looked like lava spilling down a mountain. She sat in a lawn chair in her open garage next door, glaring at us, as if we had no right to be there. I wanted to march right over there and tell her, “Look, princess, I don’t want to be here either, but we are, so deal with it.” But Mom’s words about not being rude to people you didn’t know kept me back.
Based on the rest of the Court’s activity, this fiery girl’s stare seemed to drive a lot of kids back as they played in their own yards. Even though our moving truck filled up a large patch of the Court, there was so much potential to race around in circles in the middle of the Court, yet no one did. It felt weird. Back home—our former home—all of us played together all the time.
Thinking of my friends squeezed my heart, and I pressed a hand to my chest.
“I think we should go say hi,” Mason said, pointing to our next door neighbors (the ones on the other side of our house, away from the girl with her head on fire).
I looked where he pointed. Our neighbors to the right had at least five kids, three girls and two boys, and the oldest girl looked about my age. I felt my heart squeeze again and took a step away from our neighbors, just as Mason took a step forward. I had no problem talking to people—just ask my parents—but something new held me back: that hurt I felt inside, hurt I never wanted to feel again.
“I’m good,” I told him, but before he could grab my wrist and try and drag me over there, the two oldest started to come towards us. As they walked toward us, the sun broke through the groggy clouds above. I straightened. Was the sudden appearance of sunshine a sign of some bright destiny to come?
My heart throbbed again. Surely not. Surely we’d just end up moving again. It’s what always happened, only this time, I was old enough to remember the good-byes.
“Hi!” the eldest neighbor greeted, as they crossed from their yard into our new one. She wore a bright grin, brighter than the sun peeking through the clouds. “I’m Harmony Dogwood.”
I met her gaze, and instinctively knew that she’d make a great best friend. I later discovered that Harmony agreed, though neither of us said anything at the time. Harmony would tell you it’s because when you are destined to be best friends, it’s not something you need to tell the other person. But honestly, I didn’t say anything because I wanted to crumple up that feeling of destiny and shove it in the trash. I wasn’t in the market for new friends.
The second oldest, a boy around Mason’s age, approached him and held out a fist. “Dude, what’s up?”
Mason gave him a fist bump. “Name’s Mason.”
“Jordon Dogwood,” the boy replied. “Wanna go play?”
“Yeah! Let’s go!” Mason said, and the two ran off over to the giant dogwood tree in Jordon’s yard. According to Mason, they both knew they’d be best buds for all eternity.
Now alone, the pressure to speak, to accept the destined best friendship, pressed on me. I almost leaned into it—
But no. I could not replace my friends. I’d just left them! I couldn’t betray them in this new place!
Harmony’s smile faltered, as if she sensed my dark storm of a mood wafting from me. Sour moods, like mine, are powerful people repellent. She broke the silence and asked, “So, what’s your name?”
I hesitated, but said, “Melody. Melody Evergreen. I don’t have a nickname either—only my crazy aunt calls me ‘Mel’ and I hate it. And no one calls me ‘Ody,’ which is good, because I don’t like that one either.”
Harmony giggled. “Welcome to the neighborhood, Melody.”
“Thanks,” I said, then resisted the smile growing on my face. I looked back out at the Court. “Why don’t you guys play all together here? There’s lots of room in the Court.”
“Well…” Harmony said, swallowing.
Before she could answer, my mom came back. “Oh how wonderful! You’re making friends already. While your dad and I start unpacking, why don’t you go in the backyard and play together?”
“I’d love to!” Harmony said.
“Er…” For once, I was out of ideas. All my stuff was in boxes, so it wasn’t like I had anything better to do. “Sure.”
The two of us went into our new backyard, a green field of possibility framed with a light brown wooden fence. I avoided looking at Harmony, crossing my arms.
“What do you like to play?” Harmony asked, her voice chipper.
I studied the wiry, young pine tree near the back corner of our yard. “Um… lately I’ve been really into dragons… in fact, my friends back home and I…” Memories of our latest game, racing our dragons into the unknown, in search of the evil scientist who wanted to turn our dragons into tiny lizards, flooded my mind. I hugged myself to rein in the tears that threatened to come. That wasn’t home, not anymore.
Harmony shifted closer, like a magnet to sadness, and I turned away, in case I did start to cry. Then, my eye caught a gold sparkle poking out from the dirt piled around the tree trunk. I tilted my head as the distraction chased away my feelings. “What’s that?”
Harmony looked at the tree and saw the white-gold glitter, too. “I don’t know. It looks like magic…”
The sparkle in the dirt shone brighter, as if excited that we had seen it. It must’ve been ignored by the men who planted the tree in the backyard a few months ago, and by my parents when they looked at the house before buying it. Or maybe it had fallen from the sky not long before we moved here. Hard to say how long it had been lying there in the dirt, or where it had come from.
I walked toward it, Harmony following me. The sparkle flickered like a star in the night, if the sky was dark brown instead of deep purple.
“Should I pick it up?” I breathed.
“Yes!” Harmony said.
The sparkle flashed, as if agreeing with Harmony. I took a deep breath, then stooped down to brush the dirt aside. The dark soil parted to reveal a small, simple tiara, shining with white-gold light.
My eyes widened. “It’s…beautiful.”
“It is,” Harmony whispered.
I picked the tiara up, and it warmed my hand, gently, like the kiss of a fairy. “Should I put it on?”
“Yes!” Harmony hopped from one foot to another in a little dance.
Though some smudges of dirt still clung to the small crown, I put it on my head all the same. Heat flooded my whole body now, and a small firework of gold sparks burst from my fingertip.
“Woah!” Harmony said. “What does it feel like?”
“I feel warm,” I said, “like the perfect spring day: birds singing, butterflies on flowers…”
As I spoke, the very air changed. The summer heat cooled to a nice spring day. A small chorus of bluebirds soared down and rested in the tree branches, singing. Hundreds of butterflies of all colors flapped lazily over to the side of the Evergreens’ house, where patches of daises sprang up from the grass.
My jaw dropped. Harmony’s eyes widened. I looked at her.
“Do you see that…?” I whispered.
Harmony nodded, slowly. “Uh huh.”
Before we could speak anymore on the matter, Mason slammed open the back gate, his face red and eyes watery. He sniffed to hold back a sob.
“Mason!” I gasped. Instantly the vision of spring vanished in a shower of gold. The crown turned cold and dim on my head. “Who did this to you?” I reluctantly glanced at Harmony, worried that her brother, Jordon, had caused this.
But it was not him. It was another kid on the Court, one who is far, far from friendly, as I suspected from the start.