Quentin can hardly remember a time without Julia. There’s preschool, of course, a haze of coloring and ABC songs, but on the very first day of kindergarten, he feels so small underneath his backpack, the school so big, the kids so large and loud. He finds the block corner, empty for now, and begins building. A dark-haired girl sits next to him. She doesn’t speak. He doesn’t speak. They build a castle together, still quiet, when finally he musters the courage to say, “I’m Quentin.”
“I’m Julia,” she says. Her eyes are dark and enormous. “You looked lonely.”
“Can our castle have knights in it? And a king and a queen?”
“You be the king and I’ll be the queen.”
He nods. This feels right. “We can be friends too.” He hesitates, scared he said too much. “If you want.”
“We can be friends,” she says. “The other kids are loud and they can’t read. I can read.”
“I can read too,” Quentin tells her.
They play king and queen in their block castle all morning, until a boy calls Quentin a weenie for playing with a girl. Julia punches him in the face. She and Quentin hold hands all the way to the principal’s office, both of them crying. When their mothers pick them up, Quentin’s mom buys ice cream all around. Both Quentin and Julia get rainbow sprinkles.
And she is always there, after that. Always Quentin and Julia. Always together, always trying to beat each other for the best grades. Always sleeping over at each other’s houses, back-to-back under a makeshift tent, playing kings and queens, until their parents decide they’re too old for sleepovers. Always obsessing over Fillory, making maps on rainy days and planning their trips there, with Quentin as Martin and Julia as Jane. Always sulking, later, when one or the other decides to date. They get better about it as time goes on, learn to share. But they are still together: when they go through their Weezer phase, Quentin writes on the back of her notebook: she’s in your bones/ she is your marrow/ and your ride home. He ignores the rest of the song. It’s not important for them.
When he feels the pull of depression, after his mom leaves, she pulls him back. When she starts the spiral into anorexia, he yanks her to safety. They have significant others. They lose their virginity, and immediately call each other to spill the news. They are debate partners, mathletes, partners in crime. They go to college together, both majoring in lit with Julia snagging a double in poli-sci. They take the same classes. They have the same friends, date in the same circles. When life gets hard, they crawl into each other’s beds and sleep back-to-back. Everyone’s convinced they’re secretly together. But they aren’t. They’re just Quentin and Jules. They have each other. They always will.
Quentin and Julia stand on the stoop of the Brooklyn brownstone. Quentin knocks again.
“Maybe he’s not home,” Julia whispers. “Maybe he forgot.”
Quentin bangs again. No answer. He pushes the door gently, and it creaks open a smidge.
“Quentin!” Julia cuffs him on the shoulder.
“Oh look, it was open when we got here,” he says, and shoulders his way through the ornate stained-glass door.
“Quentin! We’ll never get into Princeton if we break into the interviewer’s house!” Julia hisses. He ignores her. She gives an annoyed huff and follows him, like he knew she would.
They stand in a richly appointed foyer, a room full of urns and vases and old paintings, the trappings of old money. “Hello?” Quentin calls. “HELLO?”
“We’re, um, here for the interviews?” ventures Julia.
No one answers. Quentin walks into a room off to the left and sucks in a breath. It’s a library, a rich man’s library, and it’s full of Fillory books. He’d known they’d chosen his interviewer based on their mutual love of Fillory, but this was far beyond what he’d expected: first editions, British editions, American editions, children’s editions and trippy 70s paperbacks. The room is dominated by an enormous grandfather clock, a clock ornately carved and curled out of old mahogany. It appears to be stopped. “Jules!” he calls hoarsely. “Jules! I think it’s —”
“Quentin,” she says, and points at the desk. A man is slumped there. He appears not to be breathing.
An upbeat, strangely familiar paramedic wraps them both in gray shock blankets. They protest. “Nonsense,” she says. “These are shock blankets, and you’ve certainly had a shock.”
Julia and Quentin hold hands under the blankets, mostly because there’s a dead body in the room. “I’m so sorry,” Quentin says.
“Why, did you kill him?” she chirps. “Anyway, they’ll have to let you into Princeton now, won’t they?”
“Uh, I guess so,” Julia says.
“Well, no use sticking around here,” she says. “Off you go, now! And, Quentin — he left this here for you.” She hands him a manilla envelope. And there’s out on the freezing New York street, still wrapped in shock blankets, before they can so much as say goodbye.
“Well, that was fucking weird,” Julia says.
“Yeah,” Quentin agrees. “Definitely a movie and pizza night.”
“Your place? I’ll go home and get Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal,” Julia says, naming their top two favorite childhood movies, the ones they watch when the world has slid sideways and they need cinematic comfort food.
“See you in an hour,” Quentin says. They hug briefly, then set off in opposite directions. Quentin is dropping his shock blanket in a trash can when he remembers the manilla folder. He opens it. The Magicians, reads the handwritten manuscript. By Jane Chatwin. “What the fuck?!” he says, because everyone knows there are only five Fillory books and Jane Chatwin is a character by Christopher Plover, not an author herself. But as he flips to the second page, the first blows off and the wind whips it down an alley. He chases it, but it only blows further, and further, just out of reach. When he reaches the strange yellow sunshine, he drops the folder in awe.
Q!” someone shouts. The voice is so familiar, so normal in this strange place, he whirls immediately. Julia is barreling towards him, dark hair flying, school bag bouncing, scarf askew. It’s all he can do to open his arms and catch her. “We made it!” she shouts joyfully. “We made it! We’re fucking magicians, Q! We’re fucking magicians!”
People turn to look at them. Half of them smile. Half roll their eyes. Quentin doesn’t care. He can’t wipe the stupid-ass grin off his face as he picks up his best friend in the whole world and twirls her in a circle. He can’t believe he’s seeing her. It’s beyond his wildest hopes. The only thing better than magic school is magic school with Julia in it. “We fucking made it, Jules!” he shouts, and he crushes her to him, pounds her on the back like when they won the city-wide math contest or she made first chair in the youth orchestra or they both got into Princeton. “We did it! We did it!”
“Dorks,” some dude in a scarf mutters.
“Speak for yourself, you Motley Crue looking motherfucker,” Julia shouts happily. “Because I am going to be a fucking magician.”
“So are all are of us. Duh,” the guy says. He looks bored.
“If you’re this bored, you don’t deserve it,” Quentin says. “Because We. Are. Fucking. MAGIC!” He and Julia high-five.
“Oh my God, I need a cigarette,” Jules says. She sits down on the concrete edging, takes a pack of Parliaments from her purse and lights one. She hands another to Quentin and he lights it off hers. They suck them down. “What did you do for your spell?” she asks. “I made all the lights in the room turn off.”
“I started with card tricks? And then the Dean yelled at me to do some fucking magic and I freaked out and made the giant house of cards and a sword appeared. It was way crazy and way fucked and it was fucking magic, Jules! I did fucking magic! They called it “major arcana”, whatever that means.”
“Did you get your room assignment?”
“Yeah. So glad we don’t have roommates like this is our freshman year of college or something.”
“Yeah, that would be totally stupid.”
“Are your parents sending a bag with your stuff?”
“Yeah. My sister or the housekeeper will probably pack it so at least I know I’ll get all my makeup.”
“My dad will just throw some hoodies in a suitcase. I wonder if I can like, get back to New York to get some jeans or something. I know he’ll forget shit.”
“Your dad will totally forget to pack you like, underwear.”
“No shit.” Quentin pauses. He has thrown his jacket off in the unseasonable sunshine, rolled up his shirtsleeves and loosened the tie Jules had picked out for his interview. “Guess what?”
“What?” she asks.
“We’re fucking magicians!” he fairly squeals. They hug again. Quentin nearly sets Julia’s hair on fire.
“Oh my god,” a girl in a short, flowered dress says as she strolls by on her way to get some dinner. “New babies.”
“That’s the one I told you about,” says a lanky guy with curly hair. “The one who was late. The adorkable one.”
She turns, purses her perfectly lipsticked mouth, narrows her Urban Decayed smokey eyes. “I like the floppy hair. I like the body. He’s hot and has no fucking clue. Just our type.”
“And he’s clearly enthusiastic,” the boy says. They turn and continue down the sidewalk, into the maze.
“Clearly,” the girl snorts. “Problematic: girlfriend?”
“Nope,” the guy says. “Bestie. The body language is all wrong.”
“We might have a new challenge,” she says.
“We might,” he agrees.
“What was his name?” she asks.
“Quentin Coldwater,” the guy says. He flicks some curls off his high forehead. “Quentin Makepeace Coldwater.”
At four am, Julia’s banging on Q’s very solid oak door. “Wake up, sleepy!” she shouts.
He answers shirtless in a pair of well-worn plaid pajama pants she knows from late-night movie marathons. “What?” he grumps. “Jules, it’s the asscrack of dawn.”
“I know,” she says. “But look!” She drops the hallway into total darkness and lights it up again.
Quentin jumps. “Holy — what the fuck — warn me next time you do some shit like that! Where did you pick that up?”
“The books we got. I practiced all night and added one spell to another. My fingers hurt like shit and I set a few small fires, but I figured out how to do it.”
“Oh now that’s fucking cool,” Quentin says. “Get in here and teach it to me.”
By six am, Quentin has mastered it. By eight am, they’ve also figured out how to make fireworks appear in the darkness. They’re amusing each other by laying on their backs on Quentin’s bed, spelling out obscenities in sparkling lights, when someone pounds on the door.
“Will you two keep it the fuck down?!” the someone shouts. “Some of us have to sleep before class!”
“Wanna see some fireworks?” Julia calls.
“No! I wanna see the insides of my fucking eyelids!”
Quentin yanks open the door. It’s scarf boy. “Um, it’s like breakfast time,” he says.
“Um, it’s like hangover o’clock, so why don’t you shut the fuck up and maybe go get some,” he snaps back. “And stop singing Taylor Swift in your head! God! What a fucking toolbox.”
“You can read my mind?” Quentin gapes. The hardwoods feel cold under his feet. He wishes he had put some socks on.
“Yeah, fuckstick, and I wish I couldn’t, so figure out some fucking wards, Swiftie! And put on some socks, pussy.” The guy stalks back to the next room and slams the door.
“What a dickhole,” Julia giggles.
“Dude, total toolbox,” Quentin imitates. They both fall into laughter.
“Hey, Jules,” Quentin says suddenly.
“Do you remember that folder the paramedic handed me?”
“Yeah, sure. What was in it? Did you even get a chance to look?”
“I glanced at it. It was — god, you’ll never fucking believe this, and I can’t believe I’m just fucking remembering it — it was a handwritten manuscript. The Magicians. Written by Jane fucking Chatwin.”
“No. Fucking. Way.”
“Yes fucking way. I opened it and a page blew away and I chased it, and that’s how I ended up here. I think I dropped the folder. Jules, it’s gone.”
“You mean you were holding the sixth Fillory book and you lost it?!”
“Um, that’s exactly what I mean.”
“Oh. My. Fucking. God.”
They tear off to look for it. They go everywhere: the exam classrooms, the Lawn, the Maze. They walk the treeline. They bang through the trees. But there’s no envelope anywhere. At dark, they finally admit defeat.
“If it’s meant to be found it’ll be found,” Julia says. “Isn’t that how things work with Fillory?”
“I guess,” Quentin says. “No, I mean, it is. It’ll come back if it’s meant to come back.”
“Until then, we’re in magic school, bitch!”
They break into stupid grins again. Quentin doesn’t know if this will ever, ever, ever get old.