I got out of the Rube car and stumbled out of the elevator to my apartment floor, probably a little too buzzed. I had already texted mom to tell her that I was headed home, but that didn’t stop her from showing up at the door to my place anyway. This was the second time she’d done that in the past 96 hours.
“Ellery, it’s past 1 AM, why did you stay out so late?” she asked, accusatorily.
“I was celebrating with Tiffany, she took me out. It’s fine…she was telling me about the semester with the new magical girls and, it…it looks great,” I mumbled.
“It’s a Monday night and you were drinking, Ellery!? You and Tiffany better have not been driving.”
“We had rides, she paid for them…you know how rich she is.”
I didn’t feel like listening to her overprotective bullshit. I wanted to get her to leave me alone, but I knew I couldn’t tell her off, cause I still had to get her to drop me off at the Castle for the next few days of Orientation Week. After drinking my mind always gets into this weird mode. I can’t recall the specific wording, but her ranty inquiry was moving into asking about my first day back as a magical girl.
“It was great, I loved being back! I actually signed on and I’m going to be helping Tiff mentor the incoming girls over the next few months.”
“You signed with them again without talking it over with us!?” she asked, shaken. “You need time to look over the contract with your father and I! How could you just sign it like that!?”
“Mom it’s only for a few months and of course I looked over the fucking contract! I’m not a fucking kid anymore!” I stammered back immediately.
My words don’t typically slur when I drink, but my magic can get unpredictable. Instead of just the radiating glow I get when I’m anxious but sober, the aura around me warps in random directions with no real cohesion. I tried using my magic to get out my key and unlock the door to my apartment, but after a few tries of failing to get the key inside the lock I had to grab it with my hand and put it in manually, my mom watching the whole ordeal with silent judgment. I was about to go in after my awkward display, but I realized I still had to tell her that I’d be going back for the rest of Orientation Week and that she’d probably have to drive me. Shit.
“Mom, also…I’ve gotta go back to the Castle, same time tomorrow,” I said, peeking out of the door at her prying eyes.
“Because I did a panel discussion with Tiffany during the Orientation today, and I need to do it for the other girls the rest of this week as they all gradually come in.” She shook her head.
“I really hope you looked everything over before letting Tiffany rope you into anything,” she said, sighing in the annoyingly protective voice only a mother has.
“Nobody roped me into shit, mom!” I barked back defensively, my magic flaring aimlessly into the empty hallway. Mom sighed and began walking back to her own apartment.
I mumbled, “I love you, good night.”
“I just want what’s best for you Ellery. Good night. I love you.”
I threw myself inside and locked the door. Finally, I could finally be boozed out and collapse asleep in peace.
I tossed the briefcase on my desk, pensively unlocking it and taking a closer look at the old uniforms I’d packed. They were so childish, but it was a comforting childishness. I had probably grown out of my older training uniform—the really kawaii one—but I still admired it and admired myself in the mirror after slipping on the old hairbow. I had spent four years in college with constant anxiety over my magical-ness, but I was now invited back in a way that could make me still feel more adult. I was honestly a little bit happy about it. I tucked the now-ruffled uniform back into the briefcase and stumbled off to bed, only to wake up a few hours later and start the rest of a long orientation week.
The next few days flew by with a relative routineness. My mom drove me to the Castle every morning, only after I got my ridiculously specific coffee that I’d carry every day along with my briefcase. I walked through the industry lane every day, and each day the talent scouts got progressively less interested in me after realizing that I know just as little about Bailey’s predicament as they did.
The orientation talks with Tiffany went mostly along the same lines as they had on Monday. She was okay with me using my magic to hold the mic, but letting all the girls in the audience test out their powers in the middle of the talk was something she was a bit more hesitant about. She only let it happen when she called out for it, and only let it go on for a few seconds before calling the attention back to herself. Although Tiffany had a lot of plans about updating the magical girl training curricula for the modern industry, she was still very much a part of the old-guard mindset: disciplined and focused singularly for maintaining the magical girl brand.
Near the end of the week, I was issued my curriculum binder about the two courses I would be teaching alongside Tiffany: History of Magical Girls and Fundamentals of Magic Performance. A quick glance through the syllabi, which was made by Tiffany, showed a very tight schedule riddled with a lot of the same buzzwords Tiffany threw at me when describing her plans over dinner. One more concrete thing I did notice was the rigor that this class would require; styles of performance and magic tests that were usually reserved for solidly into the second semester of magical performance were pushed forward into this version. This looked like quite a bit of work to be cramming into one semester; would this be something the first year students could handle?
Looking at the chaos of different girls getting their books on Book Day, I carefully watched Tiffany enthusiastically handing out books, syllabi, and the iconic first year uniforms to each girl. She was very clearly invested in the process, and seeing all of her ideas being founded in the personal passion she clearly had made me more reassured. Who knows? Maybe with the right planning, the girls could rise to these new standards and become some of the best magical girls the industry has ever seen.
With Book Day completed at the end of the week, the girls would soon be meeting up with their groups to discuss what their magical girl names would be and how they would organize their groups going into the semester proper. The organization of magical girl groups, although taking place before the classes even begin, is always one of the most decisive moments in all of their magical girl training. The creation of a group’s identity and the personae of each girl can make or break a MGIG before it even debuts, and tensions run high in the highly intricate process of how group roles are assigned and how leadership for groups is delegated. I knew this tension firsthand from the process of developing and creating MOONBEAM, and thinking it over brought back a lot of the tensions from when I first designed the group with Bailey and Tiffany all those years ago.