To entertain and amuse you while you’re stuck at home, I’m serializing a novel I wrote in 2007 but that didn’t sell. It’s a YA portal fantasy that’s a riff on fairy tales. The title is Spindled, which may give a hint as to what fairy tale it’s based on. Please note that I first wrote this several years before Tangled came out, and in fact I was a little irked when I learned about Tangled because I had in mind a whole series, with the next book being Mirrored and another book being, you guessed it, Tangled. I think I’ll post it a chapter at a time on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I may also later (if there’s any demand) create a mailing list for those who’d rather get it that way. So, here’s chapter one.
“I can’t believe they’re making you stay home on your birthday – on our birthday!” Lucy Jordan fumed.
Her friend Dawn didn’t seem nearly as upset as Lucy was. After an initial flicker of annoyance when she broke the news, she’d gone quickly back to her usual happy self, humming softly as they walked from the high school into the main part of town.
“We’re turning sixteen tomorrow,” Lucy continued. “That’s a big deal. And we always spend our birthday together.” Dawn’s humming took on the tune of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” from The Sound of Music, and a little skip went into her step. Birds flew down from a nearby tree and picked up the tune as they circled Dawn. Lucy knew what was likely to happen next, so she started talking louder and faster, hoping to hold off the inevitable.
“I know we must be the two biggest dorks in the world, actually wanting to go to school on our birthday, but even being at school has to be better than sitting at home all day. Won’t your aunts even let you come to my house for cake and ice cream after your family dinner?”
Dawn didn’t answer, which Lucy knew was a danger sign. She could practically hear an invisible orchestra playing an intro—though that was probably just the birds that always seemed to follow Dawn around. The timing was particularly bad, as they’d just entered what passed for a downtown area in their tiny East Texas town. That meant there was a potential audience for one of Dawn’s musical numbers.
Sure enough, Dawn began singing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” out loud, with the birds accompanying her, and just at that moment a convertible full of the most popular girls in school drove by. The weird thing was, the girls turned down their blaring radio to listen. Dawn was that good. Her voice was so sweet and pure that people didn’t mind her odd habit of bursting into song in public. Fortunately, no one joined her and turned it into a big spontaneous production number. Lucy wasn’t sure she could deal with that.
There was no point in asking Dawn any further questions about her aunts’ odd restrictions, since her mind was now off dancing around a gazebo with a junior Nazi messenger boy, so Lucy tried to make herself invisible as she walked through town alongside her. Dawn jumped up onto the benches along the downtown storefronts, leaping from bench to bench as she sang. A Jeep full of football players drove past, and Lucy cringed when they slowed down to watch the show. Only Dawn’s status as the prettiest girl in the school kept her from being labeled an absolute weirdo. Everyone and everything loved Dawn, even if they thought she was strange; They couldn’t help it. Lucy, on the other hand, didn’t have the advantages of beauty and talent, so even being a non-singing extra in one of Dawn’s musical numbers made her wish she could be sucked through a black hole into the Twilight Zone so no one would think she was as odd as Dawn.
The song’s dance break came, and Lucy tried to pick up the conversation where she’d left off while Dawn danced down the sidewalk to the accompaniment of singing birds. “What could be so bad about leaving the house on your sixteenth birthday? We were maybe talking about going to the Dairy Queen after school or you coming to my party. It’s not like we were planning to head to Vegas and get tattoos.”
“Do you think I stand a chance?” Dawn asked after she finished the song and the birds went back to bird-type songs that sounded nothing like anything out of an old musical.
“Well, I hate to break it to you, but that wasn’t the show you’re auditioning for.”
“I know. I was just singing something appropriate to our situation to warm up. But do you think I’ll get a part?”
“You’ve won every role you’ve ever gone after. You have a voice that would make Tony winners give up and turn to full-time waitressing in a fit of inferiority. Of course you’ll get the part. You’re the perfect Guinevere.”
“But those were all school plays. This is the community theater. I’ll be up against adults. I’ll be up against people who’ve had actual training, even some who’ve been to drama school.” Her eyes went wide with panic as she clutched at Lucy’s sleeve. “I’ll be competing against my choir teacher!”
“Oh, wow! Do you think Miss Clark would flunk you if you beat her for the role?”
“Why would she do that?” Dawn asked with a frown. “She’d probably give me extra credit for doing so well that I could beat her.” Then she smiled, and it was like the sun coming out after a storm. “You really think I’ll get the part?”
“I know you will.”
Dawn bounced on her toes, clapping in delight. “And you can volunteer to design costumes for the show. Community theater credit will be good for your resume, too.”
Lucy had been to a few community theater productions with Dawn, and she suspected that working on costumes for Camelot would amount to gluing braided trim onto bathrobes. But maybe if Dawn got to play Guinevere, she could design at least one fabulous gown for her. “That would give me something to do this summer other than make ice cream sodas.” Costume designing was really more Dawn’s ambition for Lucy than it was Lucy’s. It was part of Dawn’s grand plan for the two of them to take the New York theater world by storm. Lucy liked making costumes, but she wasn’t sure she wanted that as a career. She wasn’t really sure what she wanted to do with her life, although she’d ruled out anything to do with ice cream, thanks to her part-time job.
They reached the old movie theater that doubled as the home of the community theater. “Now, go knock ’em dead, and come by the store afterward and tell me how it went, okay?”
“Okay!” Dawn was already practically dancing when she opened the theater door and disappeared inside. Lucy couldn’t help but smile as she continued down the street to the corner drugstore where she worked at the soda fountain. It could be a little weird being best friends with someone who seemed to live inside a Broadway musical or a Disney cartoon. Even so, she and Dawn had been as inseparable as Dawn’s three guardian aunts allowed ever since Dawn moved to town in sixth grade and they discovered they had the same birthday.
If the aunts weren’t going to let Dawn out on her birthday, then she’d have to come up with an alternative birthday celebration, Lucy decided. As soon as she’d taken care of the brief after-school rush at the soda fountain, she called her other friend, Jeremy. “The aunts are keeping Dawn home tomorrow,” she said when he answered.
“On her birthday? Why?”
“I don’t know. I’ve given up trying to understand the aunts. They are foreign. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. Anyway, I thought we could do something today. She’s at the audition now. If you want to come to the pharmacy around five-thirty and have a little party when she gets done with her audition, I’ll spring for the ice cream on my employee discount.”
“Okay, I’ll be there.”
She had to hang up on him without saying good-bye properly because she had customers again, that same group of popular girls who’d driven by earlier. Lucy tried to make herself blend into the surroundings so they wouldn’t recognize her from being around Dawn in musical mode, but they didn’t look past her apron or paper hat and didn’t even acknowledge that they went to school together. Lucy decided not to bring that up while she dished up sugar-free, non-fat frozen yogurts. She didn’t want to be known at school as the soda jerk who hung around with the Disney princess.
She made several more ice cream sodas for kids whose mothers were picking up prescriptions from after-school doctors’ appointments, and then she had a few free moments to come out from behind the soda fountain counter and do some quick shopping. She’d been planning to do that anyway before she got off work, but now she needed to hurry. In the gift section of the store she found something perfect, and the store clerk offered to gift wrap it for her.
Jeremy arrived shortly after five, before Lucy had a chance to duck into the employee bathroom and touch up her hair and makeup. “Oh, you’re early!” she said, her face growing uncomfortably warm. She’d been doing that a lot lately around him, which was very annoying. She’d known him practically since she was born, so it was silly to let herself get flustered around him now. On the other hand, he certainly hadn’t looked like he did now when he was a toddler. He’d hit a growth spurt recently, so he was nearly six feet tall, and his blond hair swept dashingly across his forehead, making him look like he should be brooding in a black-and-white cologne ad. Fortunately, Jeremy never brooded. He was almost as relentlessly good-natured as Dawn.
He sat on one of the stools, spun it around a full circle, then leaned his elbows on the counter. “I thought I ought to come early to make sure I’m here when Dawn shows up,” he said. He gave her a wink and a smile and added, “And I figured you wouldn’t mind the company.”
Lucy held on to the edge of the counter until her knuckles turned white. She was absolutely certain that she could take his statement at face value and that he was not flirting with her. He really was just being a good friend, but that didn’t stop her from hoping. It wasn’t as though either of them had paid any attention to anyone else, so they were bound to end up together. He was merely taking his sweet time making a move.
“Not at all,” she said, the pitch of her voice going up to a squeak. She grabbed a towel and set about briskly wiping the counter. In the process, she accidentally knocked over a stack of metal milkshake canisters that fell with a clatter. He reached over and caught them before they rolled onto the floor. Trying to pretend like she wasn’t hoping the earth would swallow her whole, she added, “I’m glad you could make it, since this was short notice.”
“Hey, I couldn’t miss celebrating with my girls.” She made the mistake of looking at him when he said that, and his smile made her legs go watery. Was it possible that he was trying to move them out of the friend zone, and she’d been missing the signals? “And it was actually a pretty boring afternoon, so I needed something to do.”
“Then I’m glad I could come to your rescue,” she said, attempting to sound a little flirtatious. “You will still come over for dinner tomorrow night, right? This doesn’t replace that. I just wanted Dawn to get a chance to celebrate.”
“Of course I’ll be there. I wouldn’t miss it. I’ve even got a surprise for you.” Her heart fluttered at that, but as she was imagining him handing her a gift that he definitely wouldn’t give to just a friend, he added, “I’ve been looking forward to seeing your grandfather again. He’s hilarious.” Her grin froze on her face. He wanted to see her grandfather?
The bells on the side door near the soda fountain jingled, and Dawn waltzed in. “Surprise!” Jeremy called out.
“And happy early birthday!” Lucy added. “It’s not much, but it’s a party.”
Dawn gasped, grinned, and bounced over to take a seat next to Jeremy. “Oh! I can’t believe you did this!” she said. “Thank you. Thank you so much.” Her reaction would have been more on-target if they’d decorated the place with streamers and banners and had a band play her theme song as she walked in, but that was typically Dawn.
“We couldn’t let you miss celebrating your birthday,” Jeremy said, as if it had been his idea.
Lucy let it slide, though, instead asking, “How’d the audition go?”
Dawn knitted her perfect forehead into a frown. “I don’t know. I think it went well. I sang okay, and I was one of a few people they asked to stay to sing again. Miss Clark was also one of them, though, and there are only two big roles for women in Camelot. Otherwise, it’s just chorus. I guess I’d be fine with being in the chorus in my first real show, but I really want to be Guinevere.”
“You’ll get it, I’m sure,” Lucy said. “When do you find out?”
A little of the joy faded from Dawn’s eyes. “They’re going to post the cast tomorrow on the box office windows, but I don’t think my aunts will let me out to check. Do you think you could go after school and check for me, then call?”
“Of course. Now, what do you want on your sundae? Ice cream is on me today.”
“You don’t have to do that!”
“I was going to make cupcakes tonight to bring for lunch tomorrow, so this just replaces that. Now, design your own sundae, or I’ll create one for you.”
The mock threat backfired when Dawn clapped her hands and said, “Oh, that’s what I want! Create one for me!”
Now Lucy felt compelled to create the best sundae ever. She hoped Dawn had that effect on the rest of the world, or else she would be in big trouble if she did realize her dream of going to New York and making it on Broadway.
With a flourish, Lucy dropped a cherry on top of an elaborate concoction of hot fudge, caramel, and whipped cream and nudged the dish toward Dawn. She didn’t have to ask Jeremy what he wanted; after a lifetime of friendship she already knew exactly the way he liked his sundae.
Jeremy reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out two envelopes, and handed one to each girl. “It’s a good thing you love that theater, since you’ll be spending a lot of time there,” he said. Lucy and Dawn opened the envelopes to find gift cards for the movie theater. “You don’t even have to take me,” he said. “If you want to use these to see chick flicks together, that’s totally okay. I’ll find something else to do, something manly like camping or hunting, maybe a safari.”
Dawn hugged him. “How about one chick flick for Lucy and me, and then one big action movie with spaceships and explosions for all of us?” she suggested.
“Make it something with sword fights and you’ve got a deal.”
“With our theater, it’s not like there’s much of a choice,” Lucy said as she got out her little wrapped box and slid it across the counter to Dawn. “And this is from me. Happy birthday. I hope you like it.
Dawn unwrapped it, opened the box, and pulled out a charm bracelet with a musical note charm hanging from it. “Since music is your thing,” Lucy explained. “You can add a charm with each role you get. When you’re a big Broadway star, the bracelet will be full.”
Dawn’s eyes filled with tears. “It’s too nice,” she said.
“No, really, it’s not like it’s real gold, or anything.”
“But I didn’t …” she hesitated.
“Don’t worry about it.” Lucy knew Dawn never had any money. She wasn’t even sure the aunts Dawn lived with had jobs. At least, she’d never seen them going to work.
“No, it’s your sixteenth birthday. I need to give you something.” Dawn reached up and took off the necklace she always wore, then leaned over the counter to clasp it around Lucy’s neck. “Here, I want you to have this.”
Lucy was pretty sure it was way nicer than her gift to Dawn was. “I can’t take this. This was your mom’s. It’s too much,” she said, shaking her head and moving to take the necklace off.
Dawn caught Lucy’s wrist. “No, please, take it. At least wear it for our birthday if you won’t keep it. You’ve got that oral report in history class, and you can wear it for good luck.”
“Okay, then,” Lucy agreed. “Just for tomorrow.”
Jeremy faked a sniffle and acted like he had to wring out his imaginary handkerchief. “I’m so moved. Remind me again why I hang out with you two girls?”
“Because you love us,” Dawn said.
“Yeah, there is that. And you smell better than most of the guys in our class. Now, whenever you’re ready to leave work, Lucy, I’d be glad to offer you ladies a ride home.”
Dawn and Jeremy pitched in to help Lucy clean up the soda fountain, then the three of them piled into Jeremy’s mother’s car. He drove to Dawn’s house first and waited until she got to her front porch before backing the car away. Lucy watched Dawn’s front door open and an angry aunt greet her with stiff posture and jerky gestures. The door slammed shut behind them.
“Do you think she’s okay?” Lucy asked. “That whole thing about keeping her home from school on her birthday seems weird. Maybe we should tell someone.”
He put on the brakes, stopping the car at the end of Dawn’s driveway. “Well, you could always plead your case to the aunts. I’ll wait here for you.”
“No! Like they’d even listen to me, and it could cause problems if they are up to something.”
He laughed as he finished pulling out of the driveway. “Lucy, you’re letting your imagination run away with you. This is just one day they’re not letting her do what she wants—really, what you want. She doesn’t seem too upset about it.”
“She doesn’t get upset about anything.”
“You know, you may be right. Okay, tonight we’ll rescue her from the nefarious clutches of her evil aunts. Wear something black and bring a rope and a flashlight. Oh, and maybe some snacks and bottled water. Things could get rough.”
She punched him lightly on the shoulder. “Now you’re making fun of me.”
“That’s because you’re cute when you’re paranoid.”
Before she could find a way to ask what he meant by “cute,” he pulled into his driveway. “Thanks for the lift,” she said, then she noticed that her own driveway next door was empty. “It looks like Mom is working late tonight.”
“Do you want to come over for dinner? I’m sure my mom won’t mind.”
She hesitated. She hated to turn down the chance to spend more time with Jeremy, but she did have things to do. “Thanks for the offer, but I’d better get dinner ready for when Mom comes home, and I have that oral report for history.”
“The one you got assigned as punishment for reading a magazine in class?”
She rolled her eyes. “That teacher’s out to get me. But, hey, want to do something after school tomorrow? I don’t have to work. They’re giving me my birthday off.”
“Sorry, Luce, but I’m supposed to help with the Cub Scouts tomorrow. I will see you later at the big bash, though.”
She forced her voice to sound casual. “Oh, okay. Well, good night. See you in the morning.” Her house felt particularly empty when she unlocked the door. A note on the refrigerator told her that her mother would be home at seven, so she set to work making spaghetti sauce, all the while stewing over Dawn’s situation. No matter what Jeremy said, she was sure something odd was going on.
A noise from outside startled her. It sounded almost like hoofbeats on the road, but this town wasn’t quite rural enough to have horses on city streets. She went to the front window to check and saw her mother’s car pulling into the driveway.
Her mother set the table while Lucy finished getting dinner ready, then the two of them sat down to eat. “I’m working the early shift tomorrow, so I’m off to bed right after dinner,” her mom said between bites of spaghetti. “I hate to leave you alone in the morning on your birthday, but I wanted to get home in time to have everything ready at night. What time do you think you’ll get home?”
Lucy shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t have to work. Dawn’s aunts are making her stay home and Jeremy has a scouting thing, so I could get home at any time you want me.”
“Think of something to do. I’ll need time to set up without the birthday girl underfoot.”
“I could see if there’s still a slot open to take the final driving test. I was going to do it later in the week since I thought I’d be busy on my birthday, but …” She shrugged as her voice trailed off.
Her mother frowned. “You think you’re ready?”
“I have a little trouble with parallel parking, but I think I can do well enough to get the driver’s ed certificate, and then I’ll be able to get my license. Can you get off work early enough later in the week to take me to the DPS after school?”
Her mom concentrated on twirling her spaghetti as she said, “We’ll see.”
It was the kind of “we’ll see” that usually meant “no,” but one look at her mother’s face was enough to keep Lucy from pushing the point. Instead, she served herself more salad and changed the subject. “Say, when you were coming home, did you see any horses outside?”
“I thought I heard hoofbeats.”
Her mother raised an eyebrow. “In our neighborhood?”
“Near enough for me to hear them.”
Her mother put her fork down. “Lucy.” She said a lot with that one word, managing to fit in weariness, disbelief, and a distinct shortage of patience with childish flights of fancy.
“I’m not making it up,” Lucy insisted. “Though I guess I could have imagined it. And I was just asking if you saw anything because I was checking to see if I really heard it. I wasn’t trying to get attention or being dramatic, or anything like that.” She got up and started clearing the table. “I’ll do a load of laundry while I’m doing homework, so if you’ve got anything you want washed, put it out before you go to bed.” Both of them gave up trying to make conversation after that.
Later, when Lucy’s mom had gone to bed and Lucy was in the living room doing her homework, she heard the hoofbeats again. She went straight to the front window and pulled the curtain aside just in time to see a black horse disappearing around the corner, heading toward Dawn’s street.