Gertie and Bridget sneak out
Gertie watched as the clock on her bureau flipped to ten p.m. She heard the gentle click of the building locking up - a noise the other students wouldn’t have even noticed if they weren’t waiting for it - and slipped a black bowler hat on her head. She stepped in front of her full length mirror, smiled at her reflection for a moment, and reached up to twist the wing of the bumble bee brooch pinned to the dome.
Her image in the mirror vanished.
Gertie turned back and forth, as if admiring a new outfit, to ensure that all of her was hidden by the invisibility spell the hat provided. Satisfied that it was, and that she had enough magic stored away in the many accessories on her keychain if the hat ran out of power, Gertie slipped out of her room.
She had double checked during a bathroom break, and the camera in the hall still pointed away from her door.
Gertie was sure that the hat would keep her from showing up on the camera’s recording. She had acquired the hat after her mother, Eloise Mallon, was done testing a new enchantment for a camera - one that could see everything that shouldn’t be seen by the naked eye. Eloise had finally created the perfect potion to spread over the camera lens to see through the hat’s enchantment, but every other camera in existence would still be blind. Once Eloise knew that her brand new security contracting company had the camera that could beat any intruder, and that she could station such cameras around her house to catch sight of whatever Gertie tried to pull, she was willing to give her daughter the hat for her collection.
But even with the invisibility spell, the door to her room still moved when she opened it, which would show up on film. Thankfully, the camera was never pointing in her direction, so all was well.
Gertie slipped the door to her dorm room closed, automatically feeling for her keys in her pocket despite already knowing they were there. Her door clicked shut, locking automatically behind her.
She walked down the hall, past the bathroom, and made it around the corner to the stairwell. This door was locked from the inside, but the hallway camera couldn’t see it.
My mother would make them add another camera, Gertie thought, pulling out her lockpicks.
As a security consultant, Eloise had consistently made the point that no matter how strong a system was, someone could always break it given enough time. Once, to prove a point to a superior, she had taught a young Gertie how to pick locks. She had brought her child to a room full of executives including her superior, interrupting the meeting in progress, and placed a charmed, ten pin padlock in front of Gertie.
It had taken Gertie a while to get through it, even with the magicked picks her mother had given her to keep the lock’s alarm spell from activating. When she unlocked the padlock and its shackle clicked open, Eloise clicked the stopwatch and looked at the time. Gertie nearly burst with pride at the accomplishment, but when she looked up, she saw the executives staring at her with a mix of shock and anger.
“So, as you can see, with your current plan for the Atlacorp project, my five year old daughter could break in before the guards had finished their rounds and be able to see her.”
Eloise had been cited for insubordination. She quit to start her own company.
Gertie had eventually passed the lockpicking skill on to Bridget, and as children the two would help their mother test locks for her jobs.
Gertie had brought her magicked lockpicks just in case, but the door was just as unenchanted as it normally was.
Idiots, she thought to herself.
Gertie heard a last click and the tension wrench went loose. She pulled down on it to unlock the door, slipped out and padded down the stairs.
The front door to the dorm had an alarm that would have to be disabled before Gertie could pick her way out of the building. The alarm would be far more difficult to get past if Gertie hadn’t witnessed a teacher deactivating it with a keypad one night when he had been called in to break up an argument. The following afternoon, Gertie had experimented with turning it on and turning it back off. She assumed if it had logs that were paid attention to, someone would come around asking why she had done so, in full view of the camera. No one ever had, and the PIN had never changed. Her mother would be so appalled.
Gertie typed in the passcode and watched in relief as the blinking light changed from red to green.
The front door’s lock was no more complicated than the lock upstairs, but there was a camera pointing straight at it. Gertie was unconcerned - she was invisible to the camera, so even if someone noticed something they wouldn’t be able to prove it was her. There was no evidence of which room she had come from or which floor.
Gertie made quick work of the door’s lock and went out into the cold air.
And collided with Bridget, who was also invisible.
“Ow!” the two girls hissed.
“How’d you get here so fast?” Gertie whispered, looking around for anyone patrolling the school. The girls headed for the front gate as they talked.
“All my roommates were in the showers so I didn’t have to wait as long as normal,” Bridget replied. She, too, wore a hat Eloise had been experimenting with. This one was a beanie, and had the added benefit of muffling any sound she made except speech. Gertie had permanently “lent” it to her a long time ago, once their mother had finished building a sound sensor strong enough to detect the muted sounds and given it to Gertie. “Also I made really good time on the floor lock. I should have checked my watch; it was probably a record.”
“Nice,” Gertie said.
They reached the front gate. This was magically charmed.
The headmistress of Flories boarding school, Abigail Clearwater, was one of the most rule-dedicated teachers the Mallon sisters had encountered at any of their schools. In some ways, this was a very good thing for the girls. While most of the non-magical teachers looked the other way when non-magical students bullied those with extra abilities, the headmistress had a zero tolerance policy. If Headmistress Clearwater found out about the harassing, slurs or fighting, everyone would be punished. Including said teachers who looked the other way.
She also insisted on keeping with the school’s founding principles, that anyone who wanted to study magic at Flories Boarding School would be allowed to. If even one student wanted to take a magical elective class, that class would be held. Sure, teachers that taught magical history or potions also had to teach curriculum classes like world history or chemistry, but at least they were able to teach some magic.
In some ways, her dedication to rules -- like a ten p.m. curfew and magic for security reasons -- was a bad thing.
However, this wasn’t the sisters’ first time sneaking out. They had their methods down to a science by now.
Bridget glanced over the spell with her magical eye, able to discern, after years of practice, how it had been enchanted in the first place.
“Try a dragonfruit match,” Bridget said.
Gertie pulled one of the packets of matches from her pocket and ripped off a striped match. Each of them was infused with potions and enchantments that were activated when lit. Gertie struck the flame and dropped it onto the top of one of the railings of the gate.
Nothing appeared to change to Gertie’s eye, but Bridget saw the spell flicker out of existence.
“We’re good,” Bridget whispered, since while she could see the spell deactivating, Gertie’s healthy eyes couldn’t. She started climbing over the stone wall next to the gate. “I’m heading over. Don’t run into me again.”
Gertie followed, albeit more clumsily and with more panting afterwards, and the sisters made their way down the empty city street to the subway station.
Once safely underground, Gertie reached up to deactivate her hat’s spell and Bridget pulled her beanie off all together.
Gertie looked down at her watch as the train approached.
“Fourteen minutes! A new record!”
They hugged as the few additional passengers looked on in confusion at the sisters who had appeared from thin air.
It was a long ride, but the subway car was mostly empty so the girls murmured to each other on the way, passing time with jokes and stories.
“Mom would be proud of our skills,” Gertie said, and Bridget fell silent. They hadn’t seen their mother in two and a half months. She had warned them this would be a tricky assignment, and a far enough plane ride that she wouldn’t be able to come home during the entire contract. But it still wasn’t easy.
“She’ll be done in, like, two weeks,” Gertie said, rubbing her sister’s shoulder. “We’ll go home for the weekend. It’ll be great!”
“Yeah,” Bridget murmured, pulling her hair over her ruined left eye.
Gertie sighed, hating to see her sister dwelling on painful memories.
“I spy something...green,” she said challengingly.
“It is the moldy sandwich under that seat?” Bridget asked, smiling slightly.
Gertie let her head fall back onto the subway wall in exasperation. “Yes. Your turn.”
“I spy something blue.”
“Can I see it?”
Bridget giggled. “Nope.”
It was past eleven when the girls disembarked. There were many people on the platform, all waiting to board the train. All looked cheerful, and smiled at the girls as they let them pass.
“Coming from Baxter’s?” Gertie asked, and a bunch nodded.
Some were holding canes or wands, others wore tall pointy hats. Bridget could see third eyes or scales hidden under enchantments and low hats and long sleeves.
There was a spark of energy in the air, as there always was when the girls finally found themselves among other members of the magical community.
They climbed the stairs into the open air and found themselves in a long line of people.
“And this is the earliest we’ve ever arrived!” Gertie said, staring at her watch in frustration.
“Oh, come on,” Bridget said with a smile. “It’s always worth it.”
It took nearly half an hour, but finally they rounded the block corner and could see the green neon sign.
Baxter’s Half Moon Ice Cream
The OPEN sign glowed, as it did roughly twice a month. By the time they stepped into the diner, it was almost midnight.
“Mallons!” Daisy, the hostess with flowers weaved through her hair, reached down to hug the girls. “So good to see you again!” She stood and planted her hands on her hips. “And what are you doing here? It’s a school night and you could get in trouble!”
“We did all our homework,” Bridget said.
“And we promise to drink plenty of black tea tomorrow morning so we don’t fall asleep in class,” Gertie finished.
Daisy sighed. “Like I could say no to you. Booth or counter?”
Ideally the girls would choose counter, but that would lead to longer conversations with Baxter and Iris and any magic practitioners sitting next to them. They couldn’t afford that much time when they had to head back to school soon, so in stereo they piped, “Booth!”
Once seated close to the door, where Daisy could chat with them, the hostess winked. “I’ll tell Iris to send out whatever Baxter’s got for you.”
A minute later, Iris, one of the waitresses, brought out a large sundae bowl with chocolate and coffee ice cream, topped with fudge and whipped cream to place in front of Gertie. A large milkshake and a tumbler with the excess was for Bridget. Just what they both loved.
“Baxter says hi, and that you need to come back when the half moon is on a weekend so he can talk to you,” Iris said.
“Tell him to open his restaurant during other days of the month,” Gertie retorted, her spoon full of ice cream inches from her mouth.
“Yeah, because he hasn’t heard that before.”
Iris walked back into the kitchen, emerging soon after with ice cream sandwiches and standing in front of an empty table as Daisy led a group of four to it.
“We were hoping to order-” one of the group members started.
“No ordering, sorry,” Iris said, plopping the tray down.
Another member took a big bite of one of the sandwiches. “Yeah, she’s right, this is better.”
“You know, if you honed your seer abilities more, you could probably open a place like this someday,” Gertie told Bridget. “The whole ‘know what will make customers the happiest even when they don’t’ thing would probably be really fulfilling for you.”
“I’d have to learn how to cook first,” Bridget replied. Then they took their first bite and sip of their ice cream, and all coherent thought left them.
In unison, they let out a satisfied, “Mmmm.”
The ice cream was so creamy. The chocolate’s flavours were so varied and had a bit of spice to tickle Gertie’s tongue. The coffee still had grounds mixed in that added crunch and pungent flavour. Bridget had a “simple” vanilla shake, but the vanilla beans that Baxter used must have had some sort of magic in them to taste as good as they did. No matter how Bridget begged, he refused to tell her his secret.
Nobody made ice cream as good as Baxter. It was why - even though he was a psychic who served his customers what they needed instead of what they asked for, and even though his shop was in a city bubbling with anti-magic sentiment, and even though it was only open twice a month - the magical and non-magical communities alike flocked here.
The first time Eloise had taken the girls to Baxter’s after their dinner, because they behaved, they had wanted to go back the next night. They had been so disappointed to find out it was hardly ever open. It was the perfect way for Eloise to bribe them. If you’re good for the next week, we’ll go to Baxter’s when it opens.
“We should head back soon,” Bridget said as the ice cream feast came to a close.
“Why? Who’s going to notice anything’s wrong?” Gertie asked. At that exact moment, Headmistress Clearwater walked into the diner and locked eyes with Gertie. Their table was too close to the hostess stand. That was a mistake.
The headmistress was dressed down, wearing jeans and a heavy jacket instead of the suit that the girls normally saw her in. She and several other teachers lived on campus. They had to stay near the students in case of any emergencies.
And now she was standing in front of them, seemingly as guilty of sneaking out as they were. Gertie and Bridget would have found the situation funny, if they hadn’t been waiting for the decree of detention - or worse - that could be imminent.
Headmistress Clearwater’s lips pursed as she stared down at them for an uncomfortably long moment.
“I won’t reactivate the gate until I get back,” she finally said, and looked away as if she hadn’t even seen them, resuming conversation with a friend.
“Check please!” Gertie shouted.
Iris was already placing it on the table.