I was six when I began to understand what the whispering was all about. My parents did their best to pretend everything was fine, that I wasn’t different from the rest of them. But children are amazingly aware of their surroundings, and I had an especially keen eye for detail. Unfortunately, an eye for detail isn’t magical.
“It’s got to show up some day,” my dad said, not bothering to keep his voice down. My parents thought I was playing in the back yard as I crouched behind the hedges below the open window.
“Caryn’s nearly seven now, Roger. Her Talent should have shown up years ago.” I heard my mother sniff. “Maybe we should take her to the doctor.”
“No! There’s nothing wrong with her.” A thump like a fist hitting a wooden tabletop. “She can already do magic like everyone else. Her Talent will develop in its own time. We just have to be patient.”
I scooted to the end of the hedge and dashed across the back yard to my tree house. After I climbed inside, I crumpled to the floor and cried. My Talent was never going to show up. I would never have anything more than ordinary magic. It wasn’t fair! Everyone had something they could do better than the rest—why not me?
My father would say, “Magic comes in bits and pieces, Caryn. And the biggest piece is always last.” But I’d known better. My cousin had shown signs of his Talent when he was only six months old. Most of my neighborhood friends were at least showing the beginning stages, like William Kleidon who carved magical wood and changed it to stone without losing the wood’s powers.
I wiped the tears from my cheeks with the back of my hand and took a deep breath. My eyes felt puffy, and I didn’t want my parents knowing I’d been crying, so I stayed in the tree house for a while, drawing. Even at six I showed real skill, but, like an eye for detail, being able to draw well isn’t magical either.
By the time I turned eight I’d given up. My Talent would never develop. At least I had my art. I spent every spare moment drawing or painting. It was a release for me, a compulsion. My walls were covered with sketches of plants and animals from the forest. I gave them away to friends and family, and even sold a few in town. Everyone oohed and ahhed over my ability to capture the colors. They said my paintings “popped off the page.” But the praise was always followed by a look of pity.
Around strangers I pretended I was one of those people who liked to keep their Talents secret. I even began to wonder if some of them were pretending, too.
“Don’t be silly,” William said one day as we walked through the forest looking for fallen branches. At ten, he stood a full head taller than me even though his birthday was six months after mine. “It’s just that some people have really weird Talents, or they don’t see the value of them, so they keep quiet. But we’ve all been given gifts, Caryn.” He stopped and looked at me with those bright blue eyes so full of friendship and concern. “Yours is in there somewhere. You just haven’t figured out how to reach in and pull it out.”
My cheeks warmed and I turned away. Why did he have to be so sweet? I didn’t deserve a friend like him, someone whose Talent outshone everyone else’s as far as I was concerned. He had gone beyond turning wood into stone, and could now transform any natural substance into any other. I was jealous and proud of him at the same time.
The flush left my cheeks when I spied a branch half-hidden behind a toadstool. I reached down and grabbed it, and then held it out for William to see.
“This one would be perfect, don’t you think? It looks like Water Maple, and it’s big enough around, isn’t it?”
William’s face widened with a smile that crinkled his eyes. “Yes! If I carve it into a sphere, I can hollow out the middle and transform it to crystal.”
“That’s what I was thinking,” I said, as the flush returned, but on my neck now instead of my cheeks. Sometimes it seemed as if he read my thoughts.
We spoke at the same time then—“A snow globe!”—and William grabbed my hand as we ran to his house.
The snow globe sat in a place of honor on my nightstand. The dragon figurine William had put inside it was such a deep purple it appeared black. Until the sun hit it just right, then it burst into iridescent swirls.
I picked up the globe and shook it, then leaned in and watched the tiny flakes settle.
“I’ll be thirteen tomorrow,” I said to the dragon. “Almost a woman.” My throat closed up and I buried my face in my pillow. A woman with no Talent.
My sobbing had barely subsided when my mom stepped into the room.
“Honey,” she said as she laid her hand on my back, “William’s here.”
“Tell him I’ll be right out.” My voice croaked, and my mom squeezed my shoulder.
“Take your time, sweetie. We’ll be downstairs when you’re ready.”
I listened to her soft footsteps as she left my room, and then sat up. Get a grip, Caryn. Who needs a Talent when I have Mom and Dad? And…William. My gaze fell on my latest painting. It hung over my dresser and nearly filled the wall. That would have to do. Not a magical Talent, but talent nonetheless. The corners of my mouth quivered, but I managed a smile and headed downstairs.
My mood lifted when I saw William. He held out a huge, wrapped package, but I ran past it and threw my arms around his neck.
“Whoa,” he said, returning the hug, and then stepped back. His smile crinkled his eyes as always, and my neck grew warm. “Come on, I can’t wait another second for you to open your present.”
I laughed as I ripped the paper, and then gasped when I saw what he’d made for me. The picture frame looked like no wood I’d ever seen before. Different grains and shades of brown swirled together as though made from liquid.
William cleared his throat, and looked down. “I, um, transformed several different kinds of wood into oil, poured it into a mold, and transformed them back again. I had no idea if it’d even work, but…”
“It’s beautiful!” I cried. “And I know just the picture I want to hang in it.” I grabbed his hand and led him up to my room. He laid the frame on my bed while I pulled out my largest sketchbook.
“This is the one.”
I watched him scrutinize the drawing.
“That’s the lily we saw in the forest. I can’t believe you drew that from memory. It looks totally real.”
“Well, I had no choice.” Butterflies flitted around in my stomach and I tried to hide how nervous his gaze made me. I walked over and laid the picture in the middle of the frame. “I could never pick one from the forest. They’re too rare. But I’ve always wanted one.” I adjusted the paper, and looked closely at my drawing.
I squinted. What is that?
“There’s a smudge,” I said, reaching toward the paper. When my hand brushed the picture, my palm tingled and I pulled back. My eyes widened and my ribcage tightened around my lungs.
“What’s wrong,” William asked. He sounded distant. The room tilted.
I reached back down and touched the picture again with the tips of my fingers, and the tingling traveled up to my wrist. I forced air into my lungs and pushed against the paper. There was no resistance. I inched my hand forward until I felt the silky softness of flower petals. It took all my strength to hold my hand in place. I trembled from head to foot.
“Keep going,” William whispered from over my shoulder. The sound of his voice calmed my trembling.
My hand seemed to move forward on its own, as if obeying William’s mind and not mine. I held my breath as my fingers wrapped around the lily.
When I pulled my hand from the picture, the lily remained in my grasp.
“Happy birthday, Caryn,” William said. He grabbed my shoulders and turned me to face him. His eyes held all the sunshine in the world, and his smile made me tremble all over again even as he cupped my hands with his. “I told you, didn’t I? That someday you’d figure out how to pull your Talent out.”
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Copyright 2009, Kat Heckenbach. All rights reserved.
Kat Heckenbach is a Florida native, graduate of the University of Tampa, and a homeschooling mom. She's been a fan of fantasy since childhood. You can find out about her journey into writing YA fantasy at www.findingangel.com.
Kat has been writing since 2007, and has one novel completed and two underway. She writes mainly young adult fantasy and other speculative fiction that hinges on Christian beliefs. You can enter her world at www.findingangel.com and www.kat-findingangel.blogspot.com.