Notes: Future fic without being spoilery.
Summary: [and i knew then it would be a lifelong thing...] (Song lyrics from "Sorta Fairytale" by Tori Amos)
"All right, everyone. Please put your book reports on the corner of my desk before you leave. Don't forget to read pages twenty-six through thirty of your anthologies for tomorrow's lesson. Have a good day."
As if it had been waiting for Nita to finish speaking before daring to ring, the bell signaling the end of the day's classes went off. Amid the shuffle of chairs and the rustle of papers, she sat down at her desk and began to put away her lecture notes.
One by one, her class wandered out the doors in pairs, threes, or small groups. They chattered amongst themselves as they deposited their reports on her desk. A few bid her goodbye with a cheerful, 'See you tomorrow, Ms. Callahan,' and she smiled and nodded as they filed out the door into the bustle of the hallway. Within moments, the only people left in the classroom were Nita and one of her students.
Nita lifted an eyebrow at the girl standing in front of her desk. Kelsey looked steadily back at her with impish glee lingering in her expression.
"Let me guess, Miss Gardner," said Nita mildly, gesturing toward the stack of papers on her desk from which Kelsey's was conspicuously absent. "You didn't do your report."
"I did it," Kelsey assured her. Nita blinked.
"Then why haven't you turned it in?" she pressed. She received a bright smile for an answer.
"I thought I'd hand it to you personally," she said casually. "I think I did a really good job on it, and I didn't want to wait for you to see it." She dug the report out of her bag and held it out to Nita, who took it with a puzzled frown. She glanced at Kelsey, who only radiated innocence back at her, and looked down at the title page. In neat black type across the middle of the paper, she read:
A Book Report by Kelsey B. Gardner,
"Dai stihò, Ms. Callahan," she said.
For a long moment, Nita couldn't think past the astonishment. Then a warm sort of amusement flooded her, and she shook her head, smiling at the irony. Of all the students in her class to take the Oath, of course it would be Kelsey Gardner, whom Nita regularly had to remind to obey simple rules like no talking during independent study or no passing notes during lessons.
"Are you on errantry, Miss Gardner?" she said quietly, laying the report on her desk and glancing toward the door to make sure they weren't being overheard.
The playful gleam in Kelsey's eyes got brighter. "Not yet," she said. "I'm supposed to be on Ordeal soon, though, right?" Her excitement was palpable. "I can't wait."
Concern warred with the humor in Nita's chest. "Be careful," she admonished the girl. "It's not a game, Miss Gardner. Ordeal--like all wizardry--is a very serious matter. If you don't take care, you could wind up getting hurt or hurting someone else."
Kelsey nodded agreeably, but Nita could see that the warning did little to diminish the girl's anticipation. "Oh, I know, Ms. Callahan," she said nonchalantly. "I read through the manual before I took the Oath. And after, I found your name in the directory." She bounced a little on her toes. "It listed you as the Advisory for this region--you and some guy named Gonzalez or something."
Nita's lips curved ever so slightly. "Rodriguez," she murmured.
Kelsey nodded again. "Yeah, him. And at first I was like, 'No way, it's got to be some kind of weird joke. That Juanita Callahan can't be Ms. Callahan, my English teacher. Maybe it's a different Juanita Callahan.' But I looked you up in the phone book, too, and sure enough, it really was you."
Privately Nita was amused that Kelsey had questioned the identity of the Callahan listed in the manual, but not the authenticity of the manual itself. The girl looked as though her wildest dreams had just come true. Her gaze was almost idolizing.
"This is so completely awesome," Kelsey claimed. "You're, like, the coolest teacher in school, and you're a wizard."
Now Nita had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing. She remembered when she, too, had thought wizardry was 'completely awesome.' It still is awesome, she mused. But the 'completely' part has definitely undergone serious revision in my mind. The sooner Kelsey realized the dangers that went hand in hand with the adventures, the better Nita would feel.
"Yes, I'm a wizard," she said aloud to Kelsey, pinning the girl with one of her infamous, no-nonsense stares. "But I'm also your Advisory, and I'm still your teacher on top of all that."
"Aw, Ms. Callahan," groaned Kelsey, some of her enthusiasm waning at Nita's practical attitude.
"I'm just giving you a heads-up," Nita persisted. "I'll be keeping an eye on you, Miss Gardner, in all the above-mentioned capacities." She softened the words with a smile. "But thanks for the 'coolest teacher' part. It certainly doesn't hurt to hear I'm appreciated."
Kelsey heaved a dramatic sigh, but she was grinning ruefully. "I guess I'll have to be on my best behavior from now on, huh," she said.
"I guess," agreed Nita. Then, because she couldn't help herself, she winked at Kelsey. "But you know, I don't expect that you'll be perfect, Miss Gardner. No one ever starts out that way in anything, and very rarely does anyone ever finish that way, either. It's okay if you don't know all the answers--in school or in wizardry."
The girl tilted her head to one side, but said nothing, watching Nita curiously.
"You can come to me for just about anything, and I'll do my best to help you," Nita went on. "I can't guarantee I'll always be able to give you the answers, but I won't turn you away, Miss Gardner."
Kelsey scuffed the toe of one foot and thought it over. "You could call me Kelsey sometimes, you know," she said after a moment.
Nita smiled at her. "I know." Kelsey made a face.
"It's just that when you call me 'Miss Gardner,' I feel like you're scolding me." She shot Nita an amused grin, which Nita returned, since they both knew full well that whenever Nita called on Kelsey, it usually was for the purpose of scolding her.
Speaking of scolding...
Nita leveled another look at Kelsey. "You didn't really do your book report on the manual, did you?" she said severely, and Kelsey laughed.
"No," she admitted. "That's just a cover page I made up. I just thought it would be a funny joke. It probably wouldn't have counted, right?"
Nita shook her head wearily. "Miss Gardner, I have to wonder at the things that go through your head. No, it wouldn't have counted, since the assignment was to do a report on a work of fiction."
"Yeah, that's what I figured. I was going to do a report on the manual, but the more I read it, the more I just knew that it wasn't fiction at all." Kelsey's eyes shone with excitement, the joy of as yet undiscovered territory. "But even if it's not, it's still the best book in the world." She dug the real cover page for her book report out of her backpack while Nita sat back with a smile.
The best book in the world, huh?
She took the newly-stapled report from Kelsey: this one was on The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. "You stay out of trouble, Miss Gardner," she said, but her tone belied the sobriety of her words. "I'll see you in class tomorrow."
Kelsey beamed at her. "Okay, Ms. Callahan. Dai stihò!" She practically skipped out of the room.
"No running in the halls," Nita called after her, and received only a distant laugh as a reply. "Dai stihò, cousin," she said quietly.