The year Henley and Jake turn twelve, their parents get them—respectively—a Furby and a magic kit for their joined birthday. They’re used to it by now, of course. Mom doesn’t think that boys should play with ‘girl toys,’ and Henley has been swathed in pink princess stuff since she was born. They trade that night, pretty much without discussing it, though the (once again) pink piece of talking, fuzzy plastic remains in her room so Mom won’t take it away. The magic kit, however, gets shoved into Henley’s backpack along with a deck of playing cards and a thin book called “25 Card Trick to Impress Your Friends.”
Henley doesn’t need to impress her friends. Her friends—loosely speaking—are pretty and like the princess stuff their parents keep shoving down their throats. Impressing them is the last item on Henley’s list of priorities.
She gets pretty good at the card tricks anyway. Good enough that during the summer she decides to set up a table outside their house, with a glitter-stamped sign she made promising to wow and astonish people with her amazing tricks for only twenty-five cents.
She’s got about a dollar in her Dixie cup when the blond girl shows up in front of her table.
“I don’t have any money,” she says, “but I like magic.”
Henley narrows her eyes. The girl’s about her age, though she doesn’t remember seeing her in school. Maybe she’s new? If that’s the case, Henley has a chance to make a real friend before she gets sucked into the My Little Pony/Princess collective in September.
“Pick a card,” Henley says.
She goes through the special shuffle, and has the girl pick which pile her card is in twice before, finally, laying down the cards in such a way that the girl’s comes to the top. She smiles, but the girl is frowning at the table as though she was expecting something else.
“How did you do that?”
“Magicians aren’t supposed to give away their secrets,” Henley tells her.
The girl’s lips tighten unhappily. “I’ll teach you how to get out of these,” she produces a pair of real metal handcuffs from her back pocket, “If you show me.” Jake has a pair of plastic handcuffs with a safety catch on them that lets you slip out easily. These handcuffs look like the real deal. And Henley suddenly and desperately wants to learn.
“Okay.” She holds out her hand. “I’m Henley.”
The girl stares at her fingers until Henley awkwardly pulls her arm back. “I’m Parker.”
“First,” Henley says, returning her attention to her deck, “You have to get them to pick a card.”
She walks Parker through the trick, carefully showing her how to count out the cards and which order to place the piles in. Parker seems more and more troubled every second, until finally she’s frowning at the up card like it’s betrayed her. “That’s not really magic. That’s just fancy counting.”
“I’m learning real magic,” Henley says. “I can switch the ball between my hands and everything.” She puts her hands on her hips. “You told me you’d show me how to get out of the handcuffs.”
Parker seems reluctant—like she was expecting lightning from Henley’s fingertips or something—but nods anyway. “First, we’ll do it from the front. It’s easier.”
It takes a while—Parker fortunately has both the keys and a couple of slim pieces of metal to help when Henley gets stuck—but a couple of hours later Henley’s managing to slip free of the cuffs within about thirty seconds. It’s thrilling. More exciting than card tricks, anyway.
Parker’s a little weird and very quiet, but Henley likes her anyway.
“Now we’ll practice with them behind your back,” Parker says.
Henley sighs. “Can’t. I have to go in for dinner.” She looks at Parker thoughtfully. “Do you want to come back tomorrow? I’ll show you how to hide a ball in one hand and make it look like it’s in another.”
“I can already do that,” Parker says. She palms the handcuff keys seamlessly, and Henley has a moment of jealously—she can’t do it that smoothly. Yet. “Could you teach me another card trick?” Henley nods. She’s got a whole bookful. “’kay. See you tomorrow.”
She disappears down the street, swinging the handcuffs around her finger. If it was anyone else, Henley would think she’d be whistling, but Parker doesn’t seem like the whistling type. Henley collects her cards and her cup, and frowns down into it. Her dollar is gone.
Well… learning to escape handcuffs is definitely worth a dollar.
When she goes in for dinner, her mother is puttering around the kitchen, lines at the corners of her mouth indicating she’s upset about something. It’s sort of par for the course… Mom is always upset about something. She can’t even go to the grocery store without getting her nose out of joint.
“Set the table, Henny.”
Henley’s nose wrinkles. She hates that nickname, and her mother knows it. She sets the table anyway—Dad and Jake are out at the lake with Uncle Frank, so it’s just her and Mom—and takes her seat. Mom serves up a salad with pieces of chicken in it; Henley’s a bit big for her age, and it’s another thing her mother constantly worries over.
“I saw you playing with one of Dorothy Nettle’s kids,” Mom says.
Henley knows of Dorothy Nettles. She has a house full of foster kids and lives a few blocks away. She’s heard Mom say that if it wasn’t full of kids, it’d be full of cats. She usually says it with her lips pinched.
“Yeah. Her name’s Parker.” Henley pokes at her salad—dressing-less and slightly wilted—and tries not to sigh. “She’s cool. I like her a lot.”
“I think you should probably stick to playing with your real friends,” Mom tells her. “I called Joyce’s mother and asked if she could come over tomorrow and keep you company.”
Henley’s spine stiffens. She really hates Joyce. Joyce hasn’t once spent an afternoon with Henley without Henley ending up in tears. Joyce is the little girl Henley’s mom probably wanted.
Arguing, however, means she won’t be able to leave the house and try to find Parker at all. So she nods and says ‘yes mom’ and eats her stupid salad.
Joyce is already over when Parker shows up the next day. She’s looking disdainfully at Henley’s card tricks—Joyce hates pretty much everything she doesn’t understand—and her top lip curls when Parker appears seemingly from nowhere. Henley can sort of see why: Parker’s hair is tied in a messy ponytail, and her shirt is obviously both too large and a hand-me-down from an older boy. Nothing about her suggests she’s someone Joyce needs to know, and therefore Joyce dismisses her automatically.
Then again, Parker seems to do the same. She spares Joyce a half-side eye and turns her full attention immediately to Henley.
“You have a new trick?” she asks.
Henley grins and holds up her deck. “Pick a card.”
Getting handcuffs off from behind her back proves to be incredibly difficult, but not impossibly so. Joyce watches with confused resentment—as though Henley not wanting to play with the perfectly-styled dolls she’s brought along is as much a personal offense as it is mystifying—until eventually she scoffs and tells them she could do better.
Parker smiles. It’s not a nice smile. “Okay.” She pulls out a second pair of handcuffs, seemingly from nowhere. “Put your hands behind your back.”
Henley manages about a minute when they’re behind her back. Joyce is still trying to get free an hour later, and increasingly angry about it. Vocally angry. Meanwhile, Parker and Henley are trying to figure out how to do the card trick with their hands cuffed.
“I think if I did it like this,” Henley says, bending her elbows awkwardly, “Maybe…”
“I think we need alligators,” Parker tells her. “Or sharks. It’d make it scarier.”
Henley nods. “Or piranhas.”
“Henley Elizabeth Reeves, what on earth…”
Henley mutters ‘crap’ under her breath. It’s the worst word she knows she that doesn’t make her feel in mortal peril when she uses it.
Her mother comes zooming out of the house, hands flapping and flailing as if she can’t believe what she’s seeing. Joyce takes the opportunity to burst into tears, the cockroach, and begins sobbing about how they wouldn’t let her out, like her pride’s not just hurt because she can’t do something Henley and Parker can.
“Give me the keys, you little hooligan,” Mom says, grabbing Parker’s arm and shaking her. Parker looks at her wide-eyed and guileless.
“I don’t have any keys,” she says. It’s such a bald-faced lie Henley’s surprised her nose doesn’t grow a foot and a half.
“Just wait until I tell Dorothy about this,” Mom snaps. She eases Joyce around to look at her wrists. “We’ll have to go the fire station to get these undone.” Joyce starts crying harder and Henley fights not to roll her eyes. “And you.” Mom turns a wild eye on Henley. “What did I tell you?”
Henley takes a step closer to Parker.
The meaning obviously isn’t lost on Mom, because she narrows her eyes and shakes angrily. She helps Joyce to her feet and whips around towards the driveway. “You have five seconds to get in the car, young lady. And you,” she fixes Parker with a glare, “If I see you around here one more time, I’m going to call the police.”
Parker blinks, unfazed. As though the threat of the police isn’t much of a threat at all. Mom marches Joyce to the car and snaps back over her shoulder, “Henny!”
Henley sighs. “I’ll learn another card trick for tomorrow.”
Parker frowns. “Maybe we should meet somewhere less… parented.”
Henley nods and sweeps in to give Parker a quick hug. Parker freezes and uncertainly taps Henley’s arm, as though she’s unsure how to respond.
“I’ll meet you at the playground next to the school,” Henley says. “Bye, Parker.”
Parker doesn’t smile, but her eyes look a little less empty. “Bye.”
They have to use a hacksaw to get the cuffs off Joyce at the fire station. It’s the best thing Henley’s ever watched. Well, actually, the best thing Henley’s ever watched happens at the very beginning when her mom mutters that they’re going to slip and cut off Joyce’s hand and Joyce bursts into tears and tries to run away and trips over a fire hose and ends up face-down in a puddle of soapy water because they were washing one of the trucks.
On the way home, after dropping off Joyce and forcing Henley to apologize to Joyce and her mother for a solid ten minutes, Mom glances at Henley sidelong in the car.
“Why can’t you just be normal?” she sighs.
Henley frowns. “Girls are allowed to be weird, Mom. They’re allowed to be weird and not like pink and…” Her mother’s face is growing stonier and stonier. “I like dresses, Mom. I like looking pretty. I just don’t like pink and I don’t like dolls.”
“We’re not talking about this anymore,” her mother says.
And that’s that.
She’s grounded the next day—part of Joyce’s mother’s demands for a ‘suitable punishment’ and spends all of five minutes resentfully at her bedroom wall before practicing a few more magic tricks. The next day, too. The day after she’s allowed outside, as long as she promises not to spend any time with Parker.
She lies and says she won’t.
Parker’s waiting for her at the playground. “Did they lock you up?”
“Yes,” Henley says.
“Here,” Parker tosses her a lock. “I’ll show you how to open them.”
“How do you know all this stuff?” Henley finally asks.
Parker looks at her feet. And Henley wasn’t actually locked up anywhere, but she suddenly wonders if Parker knows that. If Parker’s maybe had to learn how to pick locks because it’s something she needs to know instead of something fun.
“I just do,” Parker finally answers. She leans in close enough that Henley can feel Parker’s breath on her cheek. “I know how to steal cars, too.”
From anyone else, it would sound absurd, but Henley believes it.
They meet in secret on the playground every day for the rest of the summer. Parker teaches her how to pick locks and helps Henley practice her magic tricks and come up with really fun plans to host magic shows. Parker says Henley will make a great distraction while she pickpockets the crowd and, well, Henley’s not a fan of stealing but she aches for the chance to show off her magic to someone who will actually appreciate it. Her mother still frowns at her like she’s a disappointment and her father thinks it’s cool but spends too much time at the office. And Jake’s got his own things going on… she’s pretty sure he’s teaching his Furby how to curse.
One day, a week before school starts, Parker keeps her extra long at the playground and—at the end of the day—hugs her. Henley is shocked. Parker never initiates hugs. She looks stunned and uncomfortable when they’re offered and spends the entire hug tensed up.
“What’s that for?” Henley asks.
“Just because,” Parker tells her. She looks at Henley solemnly. “You’re my best friend.”
Henley blinks. “You’re mine too.”
Parker smiles—wide and free, like she only smiles when she’s talking about getting out of trouble—and heads home.
The next day, her mother slaps the newspaper down in front of Henley, bumping against her bowl of cereal. “There. I bet you’re glad I warned you.”
There’d an ad for a lawyer’s office, and a short piece about a woman in town who’s trying to knit the State’s longest scarf, and an article about a car theft and the ‘juvenile delinquent’ who was caught behind the wheel. The girl staring out from the back of a police car is Parker.
Parker’s not at the playground that day. Henley’s not even sure why she checked.
Henley's undergone a few changes recently. Stuff that seems minor, considering her picture was plastered across the country on police bulletins and televisions spots. Her hair's a slightly darker shade, and she dresses down when she's in public to avoid unnecessary attention. But like Rhodes tells everyone, the trick is to make sure the world's attention isn't on you, but on what you're looking at. And right now she's one of about six or seven people looking at the counter of a Starbucks, waiting for their orders.
“I have a venti soy vanilla latte for Henley,” the barista calls.
Henley grabs it and escapes to one of the few open tables with her tablet. She, Merritt, Danny and Jack have a few things on the go… errands for the Eye that they’re preparing for. Her part in the prep is observing the comings and goings of the staff at the museum across the street. The Starbucks gives her an excellent view of the back door.
She’s got one eye on the ‘Staff Only’ entrance and another on her tablet when someone slides into the seat across from her. She looks up and studies the blond closely until a slow smile spreads across her face.
“I don’t have any money,” Parker says. “But I like magic.”
“Well,” Henley says, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a well-loved deck. She does a quick one hand cut and dynamo shuffle then fans them out in front of her. “Pick a card.”