[Note: This excerpt contains spoilers for Perfectly Normal (The Perfects #1)]
Two weeks ago, my biggest concerns in life were finding the perfect lip gloss and trying to pass calculus.
My days were filled with everything a girl could ask for—popular friends, rich parents, hot boyfriend, awesome wardrobe. Other than the calculus thing, my parents not really caring a whole lot about my life, and my relationship possibly ending over not going to the same college as my hot boyfriend, things were just about perfect.
Then somebody kidnapped me. And once I managed to get back home, I couldn’t remember anything about it. For days, I’ve had no idea where I was or what happened to me while I was gone.
But now, my memory’s back. And I have to tell my story to protect my family.
After a vigorous cheerleading practice spent working up a new routine, I drive home from school, park in our three-car garage, and head into the kitchen, where my mom is busy pulling covered platters of Chinese food from large paper bags and placing them on the counter.
“Take-out Chinese?” I say to her, my voice full of snark. “Really?”
Mom turns away from the counter and wipes her hands on a dishtowel. “Hello, Mom,” she mocks. “How was your day?”
I give her an exaggerated sigh. “Hello, Mom. How was your day?”
“Fine. Thanks for asking. And how was your day?”
“Fine. Thanks for asking.” I stroll over to the counter and lift the tinfoil off one of the platters, stealing a broccoli spear drenched in sauce.
“Glad to hear it,” Mom says, adding, “And I thought you liked Chinese food?”
“I do. It’s just that when we invited the coven over for dinner, I thought you might cook something.”
Mom laughs so hard she has to brace herself against the counter for support. “Oh, Dani. You know I don’t cook,” she says. “Never have. Why would I start now?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. I thought maybe now that your secret’s out, you could use your magic to whip something up.”
As if to emphasize how she won’t use her powers to conjure up a meal, Mom flicks her fingers at one of the trays and the aluminum foil cover flies off and wads itself into a ball at the edge of the counter.
If the word “coven” didn’t totally give it away, my mother and I are witches, two members of the Clairvoix family who have apparently lived in the Ridgeview, Missouri, area for generations. This information about my heritage was news to me until a few days ago, and my mom wasn’t even the first one to tell me—my kidnappers filled me in about how I’m a witch and how I’ll come into my powers on my eighteenth birthday next month, although since my memory was fried until this morning, I’d been giving Mom all the credit for telling me first. Mom and I have probably connected more in the past few days than we have in years—I guess a good kidnapping has a way of bringing a family together—but the fact she’s been hiding my destiny from me my whole life, regardless of whether she was the first to tell me about it or not, is one thing I may not be able to get over for a while.
“Go get changed,” Mom says over her shoulder. “The Lords will be here any minute now.”
“The Lords” are Rachel Lord, her mom, and her Grandma Lorraine. Rachel turned eighteen last week and so she’s just coming into her powers. Like me, Rachel’s mom hid the whole witch thing from her, and so I’m guessing she’s struggling with some of the same betrayal issues I am right now. Only in Rachel’s case, she found out about her witchy destiny just a few days before she turned eighteen, so she’s trying to learn how to use her powers after they’ve already developed. At least I’ve still got some time to get used to the idea.
On my way out of the kitchen, I stop at one of the drawers and pull out a bag of dog treats. I squeeze the bag a few times and the faint crinkling sound is enough to bring our black lab, Merlin, to the kitchen threshold from wherever he was in the house. He pants and barks, and I give him a bone-shaped treat along with a few scratches behind the ears.
“Come on, Merlin. Let’s go change clothes.”
Merlin follows me up to my room, where he jumps onto my bed and promptly falls asleep on my maroon comforter. I head into my bathroom and take a quick shower to rinse off before stepping into my walk-in closet to change into a pair of jeans and a navy cashmere sweater. The doorbell rings just as I finish pulling on a pair of leather ankle boots.
“I’ve got it, Mom,” I yell after rushing out of my room. I gallop down the stairs and open the front door to find Rachel, her mom, her grandmother, and Ellie Stengel, who isn’t a Clairvoix but she’s Rachel’s best friend and has known about our secret life as witches for as long as Rachel and I have. She’s sort of been adopted as our coven record keeper, taking notes whenever we do major spells.
“Hey,” Rachel says, reaching out to give me a hug. Since Rachel and I just made up, I’m so surprised I almost forget to put my arms around her. When she lets me go, Mrs. Lord reaches out to pat my shoulder, and Grandma Lorraine, who performed the spell that brought my memory back, steps into the entry and cuts right to the chase: “When did it happen?”
“I started getting some more, like, memory flashes last night before I went to bed, and when I woke up this morning, everything was clear.” I want to say more about what I now know but I realize I should wait until we’re all gathered in the dining room. “My mom’s in the kitchen,” I tell them, taking their coats.
“We’ll help her get the food ready,” Mrs. Lord says as she and Grandma Lorraine head off toward the kitchen. I hang up their coats and turn to take Rachel’s coat from her as well. Next to her, Ellie stands and stares at the floor.
“Hey, Ellie,” I try.
“Dani,” she says before returning her mouth to a tight line and marching off toward the kitchen.
I guess I should accept the fact that building back my friendship with Ellie might take a little longer than repairing things with Rachel did. While Rachel and I were never completely on the outs, at least not enough she wouldn’t say hi to me in the halls or wouldn’t help me with calculus homework whenever I asked, my sins against Ellie are bad enough for her to keep freezing me out.
And I haven’t even mentioned Janey Douchette, my other former friend who isn’t here tonight. Ever since Janey’s mom died when we were in seventh grade, Janey’s been a kind of a freak, dressing in all black or in worn-out clothes from secondhand stores or Army surplus, and my popular friends and I have given her all kinds of hell throughout high school, both behind her back and to her face.
Little did any of us know Janey, Rachel, and I were distant Clairvoix cousins and Janey is the last direct descendant in the Clairvoix line, making her the most powerful witch in our coven. Unfortunately, like Rachel and I, no one told Janey about her destiny, either. And even more unfortunately, she got her hands on an old spell book and, without knowing what it was or what she was doing, cast a spell that accidentally sent my consciousness into her body, Rachel’s consciousness into my body, and Janey’s consciousness…somewhere and to someone who told her she and her mom were witches.
Given how badly Janey screwed up her spell, Grandma Lorraine believes Janey’s sort of a loose cannon and may have pissed off another coven. So, until the memory retrieval spell she used on me began to work and I could recall what happened to me, Grandma Lorraine put a spell on Janey that caused her to forget not only her own out-of-body experience, but also to forget she’s a witch altogether.
I feel kind of weird leaving Janey out of this little dinner party considering she’s the leader of our coven and considering the story I’m going to tell is kind of all her fault. But, I’m new at this witch thing, so I guess I’ll leave the decisions to our coven’s oldest witch since she has something, like, seventy years of experience.
After Ellie’s brush-off, Rachel takes my arm and we walk together toward the dining room. “Give her time,” Rachel whispers in my ear.
“Like a few centuries, maybe?” I whisper back.
“I hope not.” Rachel’s warm brown eyes widen as she speaks. “Maybe just one century.”
“Awesome,” I grumble
As we enter the dining room, Mom, Mrs. Lord, and Grandma Lorraine move about, placing bowls and platters of Chinese food on top of the lace tablecloth. Ellie enters from the kitchen with a crystal water pitcher, which my mom takes from her to fill the delicate goblets at each place setting. Knowing what my mom’s dinner parties usually look like, I force myself to hold back a laugh. Instead of women in dresses and pearls and men in blazers or upscale business-casual wear, this party is strictly girl-power and everyone but my mom, who’s wearing tailored twill slacks, is in jeans.
“Sit wherever you’re comfortable,” Mom says with a wave of her hand. Everyone defers to her as the hostess, and she pulls out the chair at the head of the table closest to the kitchen. Ellie and Rachel sit down on one side of the table, Mrs. Lord and Grandma Lorraine take the seats on the other side, and I’m left with the seat at the other head of the table near the entry to the living room. As we pass the food around and load our plates, Mom asks “Rachel, how was your first day back at school? As yourself, I mean. Are you feeling okay?”
Rachel nods as Mom’s naturally timed her question just as Rachel’s put a forkful of cashew chicken in her mouth. I notice she still has a few scratches on her face and a fading bruise on her right cheek from the car accident that left her body a coma for nearly a week while her consciousness was stranded in my body. “It was good, thanks,” she says once she’s swallowed. “I feel like my strength’s almost completely back.” She looks over at me. “And I never have to go to cheerleading practice and pretend to be Dani ever again, so that’s a plus.”
“I can imagine,” Mom says, raising her eyebrows at me.
“I’m still looking for a video of the routine from the game,” I tell Rachel, referring to the night she impersonated me during the cheerleading squad’s basketball game halftime show. “I want to see for myself how good it was. Luke couldn’t stop talking about how amazed he was you were able to pull off the routine with, like, almost no practice.”
Even nearly a week later, I’m still wrestling with the fact Rachel spent several days living my life, doing my cheerleading routines, and kissing my boyfriend, Luke Nostrand, although he assured me they only kissed twice and one of those times was just for show after he found out Rachel was trapped in my body. I’m not jealous exactly, even though I’d been working really hard on that halftime routine and even though Luke has been my boyfriend for almost two years and hasn’t kissed anyone else in that time, at least as far as I know. Maybe I’m more sad than anything else, knowing there’s this teeny tiny part of my life I’m never going to get back. I was well aware of having a good life before I had to spend days in someone else’s body being held captive by strangers. Now that I’m back, I appreciate things about my life even more—most things, anyway.
“If you track down some video, let me know,” Rachel says about the cheerleading routine. “I felt amazing doing it, but I’d still like to see what it looked like.”
“Sure. I’ll let you know,” I say to a heavy eye roll from Ellie. Yep—centuries. It’s going to take centuries before she’ll warm up to me again enough to have a civil conversation.
And I deserve it. I turned my back on her, Janey, and Rachel in favor of new friends and popularity. I straight-up called Ellie fat, and my new friends and I ran her and Janey down behind their backs—and sometimes, not behind their backs—for being all weird and artsy and poor. We probably would have run Rachel down, too, if not for the fact she’s one of the nicest people at school and sponsors so many charitable fundraisers and food drives through the service club she’s practically a candidate for sainthood. Not to mention I’d be failing calculus right now without her help.
I still might fail calculus, even with her help.
“And how was your first day back as you?” Mrs. Lord asks me. “Sounds like Rachel didn’t ruin your life while you were gone.”
“Ha, ha, Mom. Very funny,” Rachel says, smirking, and Mrs. Lord gives her a smirk right back, followed by a warm smile. Even though I haven’t spent much time around them in the last few years, I’m remembering now how jealous I always was of their easy, teasing banter, something I’ve never had with my mom.
“It was…weird,” I tell Mrs. Lord “Now that I remember everything, I think things at school are going to be kind of awkward from now on.”
After I drop that little bit of news, everyone at the table frowns at me, especially Rachel and Ellie, who are probably wondering if whatever’s going to impact me at school will affect them, too.
And it will.
Grandma Lorraine reaches out and covers my right hand with her left. “Maybe we should just get to the point of this gathering and you can tell us what you remember. Don’t hold anything back. We need to know everything if we are to know how to best help Janey and our coven if need be.”
I nod. While I’m sure there are some intimate details to the missing days of my life this assembled group doesn’t need to know, the broad strokes should be enough for our coven to figure out our next steps together.
“Well,” I begin, “I guess I should start with the day I disappeared. Janey wasn’t in homeroom, and Lexi, Alissa, and I went to Smiley Joe’s after school…and…and I met this guy…”