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The Best Kind of Magic
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Amber Sand is not a witch. The Sand family magical gene somehow leapfrogged over her. But she did get one highly specific bewitching talent: she can see true love. As a matchmaker, Amber’s pretty far down the sorcery food chain (even birthday party magicians rank higher), but after five seconds of eye contact, she can envision anyone’s soul mate.
Amber works at her mother’s magic shop — Windy City Magic — in downtown Chicago, and she’s confident she’s seen every kind of happy ending there is: except for one–her own. (The Fates are tricky jerks that way.) So when Charlie Blitzman, the mayor’s son and most-desired boy in school, comes to her for help finding his father’s missing girlfriend, she’s distressed to find herself falling for him. Because while she can’t see her own match, she can see his — and it’s not Amber. How can she, an honest peddler of true love, pursue a boy she knows full well isn’t her match?
The Best Kind of Magic is set in urban Chicago and will appeal to readers who long for magic in the real world. With a sharp-witted and sassy heroine, a quirky cast of mystical beings, and a heady dose of adventure, this novel will have you laughing out loud and questioning your belief in happy endings.
Copyright © 2017 by Crystal Cestari
Cover design by Phil Caminiti
Cover art by Tanya Ross-Hughes
Hand-lettering by Sarah J. Coleman
Photographs by rozbyshaka/Shutterstock
Dana.S/Shutterstock • petejerkk/Shutterstock
Pablo77/Shutterstock • Richard Cummins/Gettyimages
John & Lisa Merrill/Gettyimages
All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
Designed by Phil Caminiti
To those who fight for love
FIRST OF ALL, LET ME just say: I am not a witch. I know there are a lot of rumors about me floating around, and trust me, I get it. People fear what they don’t know, but people are also freaking idiots who refuse to even try looking beyond themselves. I’m sure if you actually stopped to talk to me instead of giving me the side-eye to which I’ve become accustomed, you’d quickly realize that I don’t bathe in the blood of virgins or sacrifice goats on a pentagram-painted basement floor. I don’t even have a basement.
No, I don’t own a cauldron or a pointy black hat. I’ve never taken a ride on a household sweeping device. One time I did have a wart, but it was on my foot and I’m pretty sure the result of ill-fitting shoes.
Not that any of these points would get me off the hook. They are just ridiculous stereotypes: commercialized visualizations meant to trivialize a misunderstood source of ancient power. Truth is, I’d love to be a witch. It would make my life so much easier. If I were a witch, I’d have access to so much more magic than I do now. I’d conjure up spells to make me snacks, do my homework, or get me out of gym class. What I do now is nothing compared to the realm of true sorcery.
I am reminded of this every day; there’s nothing like working in your family-owned magic shop to constantly bring to mind your very non-magicalness. In the right hands, the collections of chickens’ feet, amethysts, and silkweed I am tasked with keeping presentable could do some serious damage, but in my possession, they’d make up the world’s weirdest charm bracelet, and I’m not really into accessories.
“Amber, can you please start bringing out the pillows?” Mom calls from behind the display of natural perfumes in tiny crystal vials. “I don’t want there to be another fiasco like last week.”
“Oh yes, because Gods forbid a Wicca butt touch a man-made material like linoleum,” I reply.
Mom pokes her head around the corner with her less-than-amused face. “Not now, okay? Just get the pillows.”
She’s stressed; I know it. My picking at the scab doesn’t help. Any minute now, her coven will be here for their weekly meet-up, and for the past several weeks, things have been…off. Not being an official witch myself, I wouldn’t fully know what it’s like to be part of a magical group that’s “on,” but even as a humble outsider, I can sense something’s different.
They meet every Tuesday to try out new spells and discuss mystical occurrences as well as any other pressing witchy business. It’s kind of like a book club, only with less boozy housewives and more loopy Wiccans. Coven of the Dawning Day has never been super hard-core about sticking to strict pagan teachings; for as long as I can remember, the group has always been more of a social thing. I’ve known most of them since I was an infant, and though this circle has been home to many generations of Sands, I will never be an actual member.
It’s 9:01, meaning Windy City Magic is officially closed to the non-supernatural. Mom pulls down the silver security gate at the entrance just as our retail neighbors do the same, only our safeguarding efforts are much different. The pattern in the metal links has been enchanted to let certain individuals enter ghost-style. All they have to do is mutter the password “factum” and they can walk on through. Mind you, it’s not just about knowing the right thing to say; if I tried this trick, I’d have diamond-shaped gate marks imprinted on my forehead.
I’ve barely finished pulling out the pillows from the back room when I hear the password being uttered. Wendy Pumple, the oldest witch of the bunch, is always the first to arrive. She was best friends with my grandmother Edith Sand, who used to be high priestess of this coven back in the day. Hierarchy-wise, Wendy should have taken over the position when my grandma passed, but she didn’t have much taste for magical politics. In fact, she decided years ago that Dawning Day should be a democracy, without a presiding witch. It’s been that way ever since, but with how things have been going lately, I’m not sure it will stay that way for long.
“Amber, dear, would you mind pulling out that nice wingback chair your mother has in the back?” Wendy asks me in her honey-laced elderly voice. Truly, if you looked up “adorable old person” online, you’d find a picture of this sweet witch. “My bones can’t handle sitting on floor pillows these days.”
“Sure thing. I’ll grab it,” I say with a smile. I don’t often respond to requests with such pleasantness, but it’s hard to deny my grandma’s BFF. I set down the pile of pillows and pull back the red velvet curtain to Mom’s private den. This is where the real magic lies—not that our shop’s offerings don’t live up to their promises (my mom’s a witch, not a crook), but back here, Mom casts spells for clientele of her choosing. I can’t even tell you about some of the out-of-this-world stuff that has happened in this tiny, candlelit room. If you’ve never been invited behind the curtain, well, it probably means she doesn’t like you very much.
I drag the chair out and finish setting up the pillows—ten in all—in a circle in the center of the store. The rest of the coven is thankfully less prompt than Wendy, so the scene is properly set before anyone else arrives. I’m not allowed to handle any of the other staging (Gods forbid a non-member touch the ceremonial candle), so now I can just blend into the background like a decorative plant (although really, plants have the power to turn sunlight into food, a pretty amazing spell if you think about it. If I could do that, I’d never go indoors).
“So, dearie,” Wendy starts in, “how’s your love life?” Her eyes twinkle with her own perceived cleverness.
“Oh, you know, same as last week—nothing to report,” I say, my smile a bit less genuine this time. We seem to go through this same routine every Tuesday. I’m not going to say it’s dementia, but…
Wendy answers with a cute little laugh. “I think what you do is so…” She searches for a positive adjective. “…neat. It must be nice to be so in touch with such a delightful subject.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Pumple,” I say. I know she’s trying to extend a mystical olive branch, but really, it’s not necessary. There was a time, yes, when I wasn’t as thrilled with what the Fates had dealt me. But I’m a big girl now, and I’ve come to terms with my place in the world.
You would think magic would run in our bloodline, and you’d be right; the Sand family has a long, proud history of witches and sorcerers. But sometimes magic skips a generation or takes a transmuted form. Mom may not have passed her bewitching genes down to me, but I did get one highly specific mystical talent that still gets me a check in the paranormal column. While I may not have the swagger or power of your everyday witch, I’ve come to realize that what I can do is still pretty badass: I can see true love.
I don’t mean the chocolate-covered, mushy-gushy signs of love, but real, destined-to-happen happy endings. All I need is five seconds of eye contact, and I’ll envision anyone’s soul mate.
I’m a matchmaker.
The rest of the coven is starting to trickle in, and rather than answer more questions about my love life (or lack thereof), I decide to head out. I wave to my mom, who’s already in full hostess mode, to come let me out through the gate. She weaves through the huddle of long skirts and Birkenstock sandals and meets me at the front.
“Have a good meeting. Be witchy and stuff.”
Mom nods. “I’ll see you at home.” She lays her hand on the enchanted section of gate and peels it open, like turning a page in a book. I slip through the metal, and it clangs shut behind me; from the outside, the shop looks vacant, with no visible light or people. Another one of Mom’s magic tricks.
I step outside and feel the cool lakefront air on my cheeks. Chicago’s city lights glitter against Lake Michigan’s dark waters. Our shop is nestled within the insanity that is Navy Pier: part carnival, part convention center, 100 percent overpriced tackiness. Among the kiosks hawking everything from shot glasses to backpacks emblazoned with “Sweet Home Chicago,” and cheap jewelry that falls apart the moment your feet leave the pier, rests our humble storefront filled with actual, quality products intended to improve someone’s life and not just clutter it with junk. I hate pretty much everything about Navy Pier, from its garish neon lights to its constant churro stench, but I certainly don’t hate this view. Being the most eastward point of the city means you get to take in the entire skyline in its glory.
But my serenity doesn’t last long, because as soon as I pass the docked tour boats, a group of sophomore girls has spotted me. In no way will this lead to anything good, and I consider jumping in the lake, knowing full well my insides would turn to icicles the moment I hit the water. Still, history has proven that would be preferable to what will happen next.
I met one of them—I don’t remember her name—at school the other day, when she begged me to reveal whether or not her current beau was THE ONE. Normally, I avoid matchmaking at school because the results are never pleasant. And yet, this girl has chosen to follow me like a psychotic shadow, and after three days of her whining at my heels, I guess she decided to corner me at my place of business. Why a Chicago resident would freely visit this tourist trap is beyond me, but whatever.
“Amber!” she coos, waving like we share matching friendship bracelets. Her entourage circles around me. “Please talk to me. I know this won’t take long; can’t you help me out?”
I grit my teeth, wishing I could use her body to pole-vault over to the bus stop. Dammit, I guess we’re doing this now. “Is this really what you want?”
“Of course! Why wouldn’t I? Tristian and I have been dating for, like, ever, and I just KNOW he is the one!” Her friends nod in agreement.
“Then why do you need my confirmation?”
“Because!” She smiles brightly. “It would solidify my love even more.”
Ugh. That is not what I wanted to hear. But okay. Here we go. I look into her eyes, and after a few seconds, a montage of scenes play in my head: this girl—whatever her name is—and some boy, doing a bunch of coupley things. Skiing down a hillside, shopping for bedding. Scooping mounds of wedding cake into each other’s mouths. Only the boy is not Tristian Michaels, the loser who pushes freshmen into trash cans. I have no choice but to reveal the absolute shocker that no, her hormonally charged, high school lunkhead of a boyfriend is not her lifelong match.
“Well, I have news. Whether you categorize it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is up to you. Personally, I think it’s a win,” I start, though I know the long-term benefit of being moron-free will be lost on this audience. “You have a match and he seems swell, but it’s just not Tristian.” The words have barely left my lips when her claws instantly unfurl. (Not actual claws, mind you. Any being sporting that kind of hardware would not be so careless as to flash them in public.)
“You’re wrong!” She points an accusatory finger. “What the hell do you know? You’re just a bully!”
“A bully?” I feign insult, clutching imaginary pearls. I have to fake some sort of reaction, as this kind of allegation happens more regularly than I’d like. “You’re the one who’s been stalking me.”
She huffs again, pulling up her scarf to hide her reddening cheeks. A single tear slides down her face, and I resist the urge to roll my eyes. You would think she’d be relieved, seeing as how her boyfriend is such a dud. Shouldn’t it be a blessing to know there’s someone better out there? Someone who doesn’t belch randomly during study hall? Haven’t I provided a service? I never understand this reaction.
“So, that’s it? How can I believe anything you say?” she asks. “You didn’t even do anything…magical.”
“What did you expect? A puff of smoke? A rabbit out of my hat? That’s not really how magic works.”
“Ugh. You and your ‘witchcraft.’” She throws in air quotes, trying to regain herself. The girls all giggle.
I’m really tired and definitely over this unnecessary encounter. She’s not going to leave me alone until she’s exacted some verbal revenge, so I’d better set her up so I can get home to my sweatpants. “I’m actually in the business of l-o-v-e, but I understand this misconception.”
“You’re in the business of heartbreak!” she spits. Tears start piling up, and her friends rub her shoulders in support. “Maybe you’re not a witch, but you’re definitely a bitch.”
Remind me to get that on my tombstone. Satisfied, they all storm off, and I’m left to catch the bus in peace. You know that saying “Don’t shoot the messenger”? I really should invest in a bulletproof vest.
“MOM, DO YOU THINK THE human heart has a love limit?” I ask out of the blue, during a particularly slow afternoon at Windy City Magic. (Don’t you just love the name of our shop? We don’t. Unfortunately, it’s practically written into Navy Pier’s lease agreement that your store must have a cliché name and equally cheesy logo. Ours is an impossibly cutesy, black-hatted witch perkily perched atop a broomstick, with an undetermined source of wind in her wake. She’s blond and bubbly and completely sickening. We couldn’t pick anything classy or even remotely culturally appropriate, as that might scare off the candy-chomping tourists who wouldn’t know a magic spell if it hit them in the fanny pack.)
Mom stops straightening the bottles of anti-cellulite potion and turns to me. Her long black-and-gray-flecked braid falls down her back.
“Why do you ask?” she says in a noncommittal tone. Mom constantly gets approached by people looking for answers they’re too embarrassed to find. An open-ended question about how things grow usually is a thinly veiled foray into how to go up a cup size. Mom knows that words usually hold more meaning behind them.
“Just curious,” I say casually. It’s something I think about a lot, especially in relation to myself. I spend a ton of time channeling love stories but have yet to start a single sentence of my own.
“With all these top-notch love connections I’ve made, I just hope I’m not wearing out the Fates’ patience for romance in my general direction.”
Mom sighs. “The Fates? Amber, really.” She returns to her straightening. “You know better than that.”
And I do, of course. I just want to hear her say it. The Fates really don’t have time for an individual’s drama; they are more “big picture” sorts. You can believe that one person can make a difference and we all hold the power to change the world, blah, blah, but the powers that be are generally uninterested in the day-to-day events of the common man, not even the magical ones.
I am just about to comment on that very fact when a customer walks in, a dripping raincoat hood covering his face.
“Welcome to Windy City Magic, where the mystical becomes reality.” My delivery is monotone. It’s my “I can’t believe I have to say this spiel” voice. “Can I interest you in an aura cleansing with Madame Sand?”
“No, thank you, Amber, but I do need to talk to your mother.” The man pulls off his hood, revealing a very familiar face. It is John “The Blitz” Blitzman, former Chicago Bears quarterback and current city mayor. Not only is he the youngest QB to win a Super Bowl with the Bears (not that I follow such things, but it’s been repeated so many times it’s kind of impossible not to know), he also boosted tourism for the city by implementing a lot of smart changes to the Loop. He’s pretty much a supercelebrity.
He’s also my mom’s oldest friend and (not-officially-confirmed-but-c’mon-it-just-has-to-be) high school sweetheart. They are not soul mates (my talents have made that clear) but have remained close through adulthood. They were there for each other when John’s wife died and my dad left. I usually only see the mayor in passing (he’s a very busy man, after all), but I know he and my mom talk often.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you under there, Mr. Blitzman. I think she just ducked in the back. I’ll get her for you.”
“Amber, I’ve known you since you were born. You can call me John,” he says warmly.
“Okay, Mr. Blitzman.” Like I’m going to call our mayor by his first name.
I pull back the thick velvet curtains to Mom’s private meeting room. It’s equipped with all the expected accessories: tarot cards, crystal ball, incense. Most of them are just for show; a real witch doesn’t rely on gimmicks. But when people pay for a witch’s services, they expect to see a certain level of “mystical properties.” The real magic—talismans, herbs, stones—are only brought out for very select patrons. Patrons like John.
“Mom, John’s here. Wants to see you.”
Her expression darkens. “Yes, send him in.”
It is rare to see her so grim. Being a witch means being able to channel the energy around you; usually she makes a conscious effort to let positivity in and filter negativity out. I can’t feel it, being so low on the magical totem pole, but there must be something wicked in the air.
“Is everything okay?” I ask.
“Amber, we’ll talk about this later.” Which means no. I hurry back to John, who is pacing between the displays of soothing sleep tea and skin-calming balm, and escort him back.
“Lucy, I—” he starts, once behind the curtain, but Mom nods sharply, indicating he say no more. I don’t know if this is to keep potential secrets from me or from any lurking Navy Pier patrons, but either way it’s annoying. Clearly something is going on, and it’s the most action the shop has seen all afternoon. I want in.
But I’m most rudely shut out. Mom promptly pulls the curtain closed, and after two audible finger snaps, all sound from the other side is dampened. A soundproofing spell. Dammit.
I slump back to my post. Although I’m technically responsible for the entire shop while I’m on duty, I usually stick by my matchmaking table. Mom set it up for me when she felt my skills were ready to go pro. It’s just a square folding table covered with a pink crushed-velvet cloth, but many a wandering soul has been set on the path toward love after sitting here with me. Above the table hangs a sign:
FIND TRUE LOVE! CONSULT A MATCHMAKER!
I even added the glitter-encrusted hearts myself. I’m so crafty.
I no sooner sit down than am greeted by a good-looking guy with nicely defined biceps straining against the confines of his rain-flecked T-shirt.
“Hey, are you available?” he asks.
I blush. Maybe I won’t mind being on this side of the curtain after all. He shifts uncomfortably, waiting for me to make the next move, which is when I realize he isn’t asking if I, Amber Sand, am available, but if I, random possessor of matchmaking abilities, can help him out. Of course. No one is ever looking for just me.
“Yes. Please sit,” I say, feeling embarrassed and stupid for ogling. While checking out extremely attractive people is essentially harmless, it’s also frustratingly pointless in my case. Sure, I can take in any attractive view, but the moment my eyes meet theirs, all I see is their soul mate, and not once has that person ever been me. Talk about a mood killer. It’s kind of hard to properly work up a full-blown crush when you know you’ll never be the endgame. To be clear, I have dated, despite never locking eyes with my particular Romeo. I never let things go too far, but a girl gets lonely, okay?
Once he’s seated, I notice his ear tips poking out from his shaggy haircut. Pointy. Yup. Definitely of elfin descent. It’s a common misconception that all elves are short. Maybe back in the day of knights and dragons they were, but centuries of interspecies hookups have made elves almost indistinguishable from humans. Except for the ears: they seem to be self-conscious about those things for some reason, always trying to hide them under creative hairstyling.
“What brings you here today?” I say, trying to segue back into professional mode.
“Well, I’m pretty sure I already know who my true love is, but I just want to know, you know? She’s pressuring me to propose, and I really want to, but…I heard you’re the girl to see about these kind of things.” Supernatural creatures are way more accepting of magic than your average human.
“You’ve heard right! This shouldn’t take long.” Making a confirmation of someone’s match is the easiest (and most cost-effective) of my services. “Do you have a picture of her so I can confirm?”
“Oh yeah, tons.” He pulls out his phone and starts smiling as he scrolls through the pictures. Finally he settles on one of her laughing while mixing a bowl of something in a kitchen.
“She’s lovely,” I say, which she is, but I always say that regardless. It seems to help calm down those on the other side of the table before I peer into their souls. “Place your hands in mine.” I lay my forearms on the table, palms facing up. I don’t really need to hold someone’s hands, but it seems to be more satisfying for the patron if there’s a physical connection; it makes my conclusion feel more real. It’s all about creating an experience. “Look into my eyes, and open your heart.”
He takes my hands and goose bumps spring up at his touch. I can’t help it; it’s been a long time since I felt a boy’s hands. I look deep into his brown eyes. Suddenly, there she is, the girl from his phone, surprising him with a steak dinner and picking up their pink-tutued daughter from ballet class.
He sits in suspense, waiting for my verdict. “Congratulations,” I confirm. “You’ve found your match.” I release the cute elf’s hands, and he smiles with relief, thanking me profusely and paying my fee before bolting out of the shop, no doubt on his way to propose. Geez, so adorable. I like when people get excited; it makes me feel worthwhile, and I can’t deny that sometimes a speck of hopeless romanticism worms its way into my crusty old heart. I’d be a pretty crappy matchmaker if I didn’t still believe in love.
It’s right before closing when John and Mom emerge from her room. His cheeks are splotchy, like he’s been crying, and it’s strange to see a face so regularly splattered on newspapers and football paraphernalia look so defeated. Mom speaks to him in hushed tones, patting his back as she walks him toward the door. I manage to hear a “don’t worry, we’ll find her,” which gives him some comfort. The whole scene is screaming TOP SECRET EMOTIONAL TRAUMA, which makes me want to know what’s happening even more.
As he is putting on his raincoat, the diamonds from his Super Bowl ring catch the light, spreading some sparkles over his grim expression. “Good night, Amber,” he says through residual sniffles. “Have a good day at school tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Mr. Blitzman.” I want to say more, like, “Whatever is wrong, my mom will fix it,” but decide to let it lie.
“I’ll let Charlie know you say hello,” he adds, before walking out.
My face falls. Dear Gods, please don’t do anything of the sort.
Ugh. Not Charlie.
I HAD TO TELL MY best friend, Amani, about it the next day during a particularly awful period of gym class.
“The Blitz breezed through the shop last night,” I say as we both do our best to look like we’re participating in the designated gymnastics unit, which we, of course, are not.
“Reeeeeeally,” Amani replies, throwing her hands up in the air to appear as if she just completed a cartwheel. “Did he come to finally sweep your mom off her broomstick?”
- On Sale
- Jan 9, 2018
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers