The neighbor was in the doorway when I pulled the door open. “Hah!” he boomed, sticking his giant belly out before him. My mother cowered behind him, pleading with him to “Just leave!”
I stood there, the situation hardly soaking in. The neighbor was one of us – one of who I used to be. He’d never bloomed. Neither had my mother.
Suddenly, I felt very alone. Numb, I faced the situation head-on.
“Mom,” I said dully. “I’ve bloomed.”
The neighbor’s jaw fell. My mother shrieked in delight. Both rushed on me, all faults forgotten.
“Did you? Did you?” my mother fairly screamed. “Don’t lie! Is it true?”
“Is it? Is it?” the neighbor gawked, clapping his giant hands before himself.
I nodded, feeling even colder and emptier. Didn’t they understand that- this wasn’t.. well it couldn’t be bad could it?
“Show us, show us, show us!” mother squealed, jumping up and down. “What are you? I have to see! Your father,” she grabbed the neighbor by the shoulders and shook him. “Her father, some people said he was a dragon!” Then, to me, she pleaded “Are you a dragon?”
They held their breaths, staring at me. I let my hand fall from the doorknob to my side. “I’m a crow,” I said flatly. Of all the things. Carrion. A dime a dozen.
“Oh,” mother said, obviously disappointed.
“Oh!” the neighbor laughed, rubbing his stomach and straightening. “There I was thinking you’d gone and become famous or somethin’!”
Mother smacked him on the shoulders, hushing him. “She still bloomed!” Then, to me, she said “Show us, I want to see.”
Grudgingly, I set my backpack down and pushed the front door shut with my heel. Then, with all my will, I focused on being a bird.
Magic crackled over me. I felt a strange sensation in my palms, like the sprite was within me again – and then I was a crow.
Also, I was way shorter. Everyone’s shoe-height kind of short.
Mother crouched down before me, eyes wide and bright with hope. She peered at me, smiling but none too excited. The hope faded but the smile stayed determinedly stuck. “You’re beautiful,” she insisted. “You’re a good crow.”
But not exceptional. Like the neighbor tactlessly said “Yer a crow. Big deal.”
I shuffled my feathers. Mother drew back with a shake of the head. “You’re a crow,” she said with pride. “Because you have bloomed. We’re going to celebrate this!”
With a twist and a will to be human again and to just run – I set myself human again. Running a hand through my hair I said “Could we have cake?” Because hey, even if we went a little into debt – I could get a job this summer. I could work!
In a burst I saw ourselves in an ideal world… me working and mom and Aaliyah at home, happily studying and cooking and being just so happy. Because I was bloomed! I could support them!
“I’ve got a cake!” the neighbor butted in, thumbing over his shoulder “I’ll give ya fifty percent off!”
“No,” mother told him sternly. Then, to me, she said “We’ll get a real cake from the store. One that isn’t expired.”
“Or from the trash,” I said with a laugh.
The neighbor squawked, but he knew I’d caught him trash diving enough times that he couldn’t argue with me. Mom laughed, her eyes sparkling with joy.
For perhaps the first time since I bloomed, I smiled for real. Everything was going to be alright, I told myself. In fact, things were going to get better.
The next morning the day started with leftover cake. I cut a tiny piece for Aaliyah and carried it for her, wrapped in a paper towel. Halfway there, however, I began thinking it looked small and pitiable. Would Aaliyah think it ridiculous?
I debated about eating it so that she wouldn’t see it. Definitely I wouldn’t throw it away – but would she laugh at me? Would she think it snobbish of me to have cake?
No, I told myself. This was cause to celebrate. I could get a good job now. I could go on hunts and wield magic like the rest of the world. This was a big deal.
As I was busily convincing myself of that, Aaliyah snuck up on me. “Hey!” she said, right beside me.
I yelped and whirled, recoiling with the cake clutched to my chest. Aaliyah laughed, her slightly crooked teeth flashing white. “Hey you!” she said, smacking me lightly on the shoulder.
“You yourself,” I grumbled with a grin. Then I held out the cake. “Cake,” I said so descriptively.
“Ooh! So you celebrated!” She snatched it from me and I relaxed. So she wasn’t angry? I wasn’t no longer her friend? She popped the tiny bit of cake into her mouth and crumbled the paper towel in her hand. As she chewed, we began walking.
“I’ve been thinking,” she said once the cake was done and gone. I watched her from the corner of my eye, pretending to be nonchalant. In reality, my heart was skipping beats. This was Aaliyah talking to me. The girl of my dreams. Whatever she had to say was important. It made my world go round.
“Now that you’re bloomed, you can go on hunts,” she said, looking up to the sky. “You can fly.”
I chuckled. “I’m not sure I can really fly,” but I was silenced by a look.
“I don’t want anything to change between us,” she said. Then, punching me lightly on the shoulder in the ultimate sign of friendship, she said “You’re my best friend. We’re a pair. You got that?”
I grinned and ducked my head. A pair. Yeah. A blush rose to my cheeks and I nodded furiously. “Don’t worry,” I laughed. “I’m not suddenly a cool kid or something. I’m not going to run off and make friends and abandon you.”
She gave me a falsely serious face. “You could.”
I laughed. We both knew my social skills were, well, carrion? Digger in filth and eater of filth? Yeah, who wanted to be around me? Keeling to the side I bumped our shoulders lightly together.
“Oh look!” Aaliyah pointed to a rooftop where a handful of crows sat, probably pooping. “Those are your new friends.”
I groaned and shook my head, laughing at the joke. It was said that once you bloomed, you would become so close to your spiritual self that you could merge with them socially. For example, I could get myself adopted into a flock of crows. But really? I didn’t want to be around those dirty animals.
The rest of the walk was pleasant. No rain drizzled on us. No cars hollered at us about our asses. We got to school with no interruptions – and then again, things changed.