"Ahhh!" Garbanzo screamed as he came crashing through the trapdoor in the ceiling and into the mattress.
"Ahhh!" Josie screamed, as the ancient trapdoor handle broke off in her hands.
"Ahhh!" I screamed, as Garbanzo's teddybear came flying out from his arms and knocked me to the floor.
The trapdoor snapped shut the moment Garbanzo The Splendiferous was through. I thought he'd be livid, but he just lay in the mattress laughing. He laughed so hard his face turned red, and tears ran down each cheek.
"Ha!" he said. "That was great!"
"We need your help," Josie told him, helping him to his feet. "We need some real magic, and we need it pronto!"
"Josie!" I stepped between the two of them and handed Garbanzo his bear. "Mr. The Splendiferous, Josie and I are hoping that if you have time later you might do a trick for us. But we wouldn't want to keep you," I glared at Josie. "Since this is probably the most important night of your life."
Garbanzo wiped the tears from his eyes. Then he tucked his bear under one arm and conked the side of his head with his hand, as if to knock free anything that had become lodged in his ear from the fall.
"Young lady," he began, "Let me tell you what I enjoy most in the world. It's doing magic. What I don't enjoy is accepting awards and writing introductions for how-to manuals and making long, boring speeches about magic. So if you've brought me here to actually do some magic, I'm your boy. But if you've brought me here to make a speech, forget it."
"What about the award?" Josie asked.
Garbanzo smiled. "If Mei Xing is going to be the next Grand Vizier, it's high time she learned to improvise. They'll all think I'm playing some fool prank anyway. You've got five minutes. What's the trick?"
Josie swallowed. I've never seen her nervous before, but she looked nervous then.
"Well, the thing is, Mr. The Splendiferous... my parents passed away last year. They were driving at night, and it was winter, and I guess the truck driver didn't realize how icy the road was..."
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Garbanzo said. "I'm so sorry, Josie."
"The thing is," Josie looked like she was trying very hard not to cry. "The thing is, it was my fault. No one said anything, but I figured out that the whole reason they were going out must have been to another parent-teacher conference, because I'm always misbehaving. And that morning before school I got into a huge argument with them, and told them... that I hated them."
Garbanzo looked sad. "I see," he said.
"But I didn't hate them!" Josie was red-faced. "And now they're gone, and I never got to say... I never got to say..."
Josie buried her face in Garbanzo's arms, and he patted her head. "I'll need a wax candle," he said softly. I took one from Josie's bag, lit it, and put it on an old papier-mâché tree stump.
Garbanzo asked us to sit in a circle around the stump and hold hands. The candlelight and artificial fog made him look wise and mysterious.
"I need you to concentrate, Josie, as hard as you can," Garbanzo said. "Remember what your parents looked like, what they sounded like, the mannerisms particular to them."
Garbanzo tilted his head to one side, as though he suddenly remembered something.
"Also, you should hold Mr. Fluffy, who is particularly magical."
Josie accepted the teddybear and clenched her eyes shut. Garbanzo rolled his eyes back so far all you could see was the whites of his eyes and his head fell back as though he was asleep.
For a minute we just sat there like that, the candle flickering and Josie clenching her eyes and Garbanzo making a weird humming noise. I thought he might have fallen asleep in the middle of our conversation, which my grandmother does sometimes.
"Josie...," Garbanzo said finally. But he didn't say it in the voice of an old man. He sounded like a middle-aged woman.
Josie opened one eye and peered over at Garbanzo, who was rolling his head around like a puppet on a string.
"Josie, this is your Mom," Garbanzo said. Then, in another voice, "Your Dad's here, too." His eyes were still completely white, and his lips didn't seem to match his words.
I could feel Josie's hand tighten around mine. "If that's really you, what's your special nickname for me?" she asked.
"Muffin," Garbanzo said, in Ms. Taylor's voice again.
Josie burst into tears.
"I'm so sorry!" Josie screamed. "I'm so sorry, it's all my fault! I know you were going to a parent-teacher meeting because I'm such a bad kid!"
"Josie, it's not your fault," Mr. Taylor said (it was getting difficult to think of that voice as Garbanzo). "Even if we were going to a parent-teacher conference it wouldn't be your fault, but we weren't -- we had just found out your were going to have a little brother or sister, and we were so excited we wanted to go someplace special and talk about it. Didn't you ever read the note we left you? Look at it now."
Josie opened both eyes and looked down at the stump. Somehow there was a note there, barely readable by the candlelight. I guess Garbanzo must have stuck it there when we weren't looking. I mean, it couldn't have just appeared there.
The note was ancient and yellow. It said: "Josie, we are going out for the evening to plan something special. Please find dinner already made and in the fridge. Sorry about the short notice but something big is up -- we'll tell you all about it in the morning. If you need us, call 333-7121. Love Mom & Dad."
"The number is for our favorite restaurant, Heavenly Hash," Ms. Taylor said. "We were going to talk about the baby. We're so sorry, we should have waited to tell you."
"I don't hate you!" Josie screamed. "I didn't mean to say that I hated you! I love you. I love you both so much!"
"We know you do Josie," Mr. Taylor said.
Then an unbelievable thing happened. Garbanzo The Splendiferous' eyes rolled back into place and looked right at Josie. Somehow talking to someone with pupils was suddenly even more amazing than talking to someone without pupils. When the Taylors spoke for the last time, Garbanzo's lips didn't move at all. His mouth was completely shut. And there is absolutely no way he could have spoken in Mr. and Ms. Taylors voice at the same time, but that's what we heard.
"We love you too, Muffin," they said.
Josie jumped over the stump, knocked over the candle and hugged Garbanzo the Splendiferous, wailing like I've never heard anyone wail. Garbanzo hugged her back at first, then went as limp as wet pasta, slumped into a pile and began to snore loudly.
"Josie?" The door to the basement cracked open, and in poured Gra'ma, Aunt Leslie and Mei Xing, the new Grand Vizier of the International Society of Magical Persons.
go to chapter thirteen | return to josie homepage