An Excerpt From A Kind of Magic

The Theater District, New York City
Wednesday, 1:40 p.m.

Backstage at a theater twenty minutes before curtain was hardly an oasis of calm, but today seemed especially chaotic to Emily Drake as she made her way to the sound techs to get her mike on. One of the stagehands caught her arm as she passed. “Have you seen Sally?” he asked.

“Not today. Why?”

“She’s not here yet. Wayne’s having a whole litter of kittens.” He was off again before she had a chance to ask another question. Sally Fitzgerald played Harriet Smith in the show, and being this late wasn’t like her.

By way of greeting, the sound tech said, “Have you seen Sally?”

“No. Is something wrong?”

“Don’t know, just that Wayne’s looking for her.”

While the tech threaded a cord down the back of Emily’s neck, her friend Olivia Washington hurried toward her. “No, I haven’t seen Sally,” Emily said before Olivia could ask the question. “She’s really MIA?”

“Looks like it. She didn’t look good last night, so maybe she’s sick.”

“Wouldn’t she have called?” Emily asked.

“Depends on how sick she is.”

A voice that could have reached the back row without a mike bellowed, “Washington!”

“Over here, Wayne,” Olivia called.

The stage manager stalked over, his all-black attire making his glower even more intimidating. “I’m calling it. You’re on as Harriet. You ready?”

“Sure thing!”

She opened her mouth to add something, but he was already off, shouting to the backstage area in general, “I need a swing to move into Olivia’s roles.”

“Yikes, nothing like getting a lot of advance warning,” Olivia said, but she wasn’t entirely successful in stifling the grin at the chance to take on the bigger role. “Want to help me run some cues while I get changed?”

“Sure.” When the tech gave her the go-ahead, Emily followed Olivia to the dressing room. Olivia had been understudy for the role of Harriet since the show opened and had even played it twice, but never under circumstances like this.

“Looks like you’ve got it,” Emily said when they were sure any cobwebs had been thoroughly cleared. “I guess you’re getting your own Forty-Second Street moment.”

“Hush your mouth,” Olivia chided. “Don’t go tempting fate. I hope Sally’s okay. I’m worried about her.” She then grinned ruefully. “And I had nothing to do with whatever happened. She’s not duct-taped in my basement. I wasn’t even wishing for this. Frankly, I think Harriet’s kind of an idiot—not the character I want associated with my career. Though, now that I think about it, my skin color adds a whole new layer of social commentary to the story. Is Harriet an unsuitable match just because she’s illegitimate, or is it a racial thing?”

“Ooh, sounds like you’ve got a spin on it. Want to play it that way? Of course, Emma would be as oblivious to that as she is to the parentage issue.” They’d barely got into discussing how that would work when they got the five-minute warning and had to get ready to go onstage.

Once the show started, Emily went into character and fell into her role, enjoying the power she knew ran through her. Her experiences in the fairy world and her own trace of fae blood seemed to have raised her performances to a whole new level that left audiences enthralled.

But when Olivia first came on, it jolted Emily out of her acting zen state. They’d been working together and best friends since Emily arrived in New York, but Emily had never seen Olivia like this. She seemed lit from within, radiating a winsome power that made her irresistible. Emily had to wonder if this was the way audiences had seen her ever since her sojourn in the fairy realm—and did that mean something similar had happened to Olivia?

This wasn’t the time to ponder that, though. She threw herself into her work, matching Olivia’s power with her own. It was like someone had cast a spell over the theater, and at the end of the show, the applause was thunderous. Olivia’s face glowed as she took her bows. As soon as the curtain fell, Emily threw her arms around her friend. “Wow, that was amazing!”

“I figured that if I want to make the most of this chance, I had to knock it out of the park,” Olivia said with a modest shrug that contradicted her huge grin.

“Now it’s my turn to ask if you’ve been taking lessons from some scarred guy in the basement. I knew you could sing, but I’ve never heard you sound quite like that before.”

“No, no lessons. I mean, nothing new or different, just my ongoing lessons,” Olivia said, looking momentarily confused.

“Well, good, because with the mysterious disappearance and the way you performed today, I’d be worried that I needed to look out for falling chandeliers.”

“Good thing there aren’t any chandeliers in this theater, huh? Now, let’s get changed. I want to go celebrate between shows.”

“Maybe you’d better wait to find out what role you’re playing tonight,” Emily cautioned, though between Sally disappearing without notice and Olivia’s powerhouse performance, she thought there was a chance that there might be a permanent shifting of roles.

On the other hand, she couldn’t help but sympathize with Sally. Not too long ago, Emily had been the one who hadn’t shown up for a performance. She’d been kidnapped by a fairy and taken to the fae realm. Not that anyone knew this. Most of the world thought she’d just been kidnapped by a crazed fan and released a few days later. It had been great publicity that had only helped create Emily’s legend. Emily doubted the same thing had happened to Sally.

She knew it hadn’t when she and Olivia found Sally backstage, on crutches. “Looks like you filled my shoes pretty well,” she said to Olivia. Emily noted that she was pale, with dark hollows under her eyes.

“This explains why you weren’t here,” Olivia said, gesturing toward the crutches. “What happened?”

“I have no idea. I just know I didn’t wake up until after two. My alarm must have been going the whole time because the radio was still playing, but I didn’t hear a thing. When I got out of bed, my right foot wouldn’t take any weight. It’s all swollen and bruised. The X-ray showed a couple of fractures.”

“It was okay when you went to bed?” Emily asked.

“Yeah. That’s what’s so weird. I went to bed right after I got home from last night’s performance, must have slept like the dead, then woke up hurt.”

“Wow, it’s like someone roofied you and then stepped on your foot,” Olivia said.

“That’s kind of what it feels like,” Sally said with a wince. “But my apartment was locked from inside.”

“Maybe you kicked the wall in your sleep and passed out from the pain,” Emily suggested. She didn’t really believe that story, but for most people it would be easier to believe than what she was starting to fear had really happened. This had all the hallmarks of fae activity, from the seemingly enchanted sleep and injury to Olivia’s extraordinary performance. Ever since she’d learned that fairies and magic were real and that her family was mixed up in that whole scene, Emily found herself seeing supernatural involvement in anything that seemed even slightly abnormal.

“So, I guess Harriet is yours for a while,” Sally said to Olivia. “I’m off this foot for at least a couple of weeks, and I have no idea when I’ll be able to dance again.” With a grin that looked like she was willing it to look brave, she added, “And from what I was able to see today, I might not have a role to come back to.”

“Oh, I’m just keeping it warm for you, sweetie,” Olivia said, leaning to hug Sally. “But I wouldn’t be opposed to someone discovering me and giving me my own role.”

Sally yawned. “I think the rest will be good for me. To be honest, I’m worn out. Maybe it’s just the past few months catching up to me.”

That made Emily even more concerned. They all got tired from the nightly grind, but it was part of the life they’d chosen. This couldn’t possibly be natural, so it needed to be investigated. One thing she wouldn’t do, though, was call her sister. Sophie might be one of the queens of the fairy realm, but she’d only just got something resembling a life back after turning over the bulk of her fae duties to their grandmother, and Emily didn’t want to get in the way of that. She hadn’t heard from Sophie for a few days, and she was hoping her sister had taken her advice to go on vacation, preferably somewhere warm involving drinks with little umbrellas in them served by scantily clad men. Though it was hard to imagine Sophie ever unwinding that much.

Emily decided to pay a visit the next morning to the enchantress sisters she used to work for. They might have some insight. Until then, she had another show to do that evening, and it was going to take everything she had to keep up with Olivia.