LIKE MANY SISTERS, Even and Odd shared many things:
Six pairs of flip-flops.
Use of the living-room TV.
And . . . magic.
On even days, Even could work magic. On odd days, her one-year-younger sister, Odd, could. Years ago, before their family moved across the border from the magic world of Firoth to Stony Haven, the most ordinary town in Connecticut, the sisters had discovered they could each work magic on alternating days. Showing an imperfect understanding of how calendars work, four-year-old Emma had coined their nicknames—and they’d stuck. Emma became Even, and Olivia became Odd.
Now twelve years old, Even wished she’d picked a nickname that wasn’t a constant reminder of the fact that she lacked magic half the time. Like today, which was an odd day.
On odd days, she couldn’t practice her magic. If she couldn’t practice, she couldn’t get better. If she didn’t get better, she wouldn’t pass all the required levels of Academy of Magic exams and win her wizard medallion. And if she didn’t have a medallion, she couldn’t become a hero of Firoth, charged with protecting the magic world against all threats—a goal that had been her dream for as long as she could remember.
So, not a fan of odd days.
But at least she was still able to help out with the family’s shop on odd days, despite her lack of magic. It helped pass the time until she was magical again. That afternoon, Dad had left her in charge of the register while he went to pick up milk from the supermarket and Odd from her volunteer job at the Stony Haven Animal Rescue Center. Even loved being trusted to help their customers.
Like Frank the centaur, who was here to collect his order.
“So that’s one box of nine-by-twelve manila envelopes, one vial of imported ambrosia, and a Three Musketeers bar.” Even calculated the cost. “Twenty-six dollars and forty-eight cents. Plus one hundred forty-eight seventy-three for the rare honey shipment. Your total is one hundred seventy-five dollars and twenty-one cents.”
Frank handed her his credit card. “Excited about summer vacation? No more teachers, no more books, no more . . . Wait, that’s not right. ‘No more teachers’ dirty looks’ is the last one, which means the first one can’t be teachers . . .”
She grinned. For as long as he’d been coming into the shop, Frank had liked to try out mundane-world sayings he’d learned. He usually mangled them. “Pencils?” she suggested.
“No more pencils, no more books—yes, that’s it! Thanks, Even!”
“Actually, I’m not done with studying yet,” Even said. “I take the Academy of Magic level-five exam on Friday. I’m doing the remote course.” She’d been studying hard, practicing every even day and poring over her level-five textbook on odd days. She had it all planned out: Once she passed, she’d only have three more levels left until she had her junior-wizard medallion. And once she had that, the Academy could start assigning her basic quests in the magic world, like monitoring a phoenix rebirth or helping with a mermaid migration. If she did well enough with those, then by the time she was eighteen, she’d have her official—
Frank interrupted her daydream. “Ah, fantastic! Good luck!”
The machine spat out his receipt, and Even handed it to him along with his credit card. “Do you need any help with the honey?” she asked politely.
“Yes—if you could just strap it on my back, that would be great.”
Frank was part of a local research team, sponsored by the Academy. He was in the store nearly every other day to pick up special-order items. Currently, his team was studying honey and had ordered samples from across the United States. Last month it had been peanut butter. She hefted the box of honey onto his broad horse’s back, and she belted it on with the straps he had for that purpose. He held his other purchases with his human hands.
“Thanks for your business,” Even told him, hoping she sounded professional.
“Please tell your parents to call when the next shipment comes in.” He clip-clopped to the door. Pausing, he cast an illusion to disguise his horse body as a motorcycle and “rode” outside. She wondered if he knew that his motorcycle didn’t spew any exhaust and still kind of made a clip-clop horse sound beneath the engine roar. She waved as the door shut behind him.
That went well, she thought. One happy customer down. Yay for me.
Humming to herself, she spent the next few minutes straightening the shop. Built into their family’s garage, the shop was crowded with merchandise. Though her parents had renovated both the house and the shop with extra-wide doors to accommodate a variety of visitors, there still wasn’t much room for a full-grown centaur to maneuver without bumping into a few shelves. He’d knocked over a display of diapers, sized from pixie to human to troll, as well as a stack of New York City guidebooks.
Their shop carried supplies for the mundane world, as well as imports from the magic world—anything a magical customer might need for their visit here. It was the kind of store known as a border shop. Located in a border town, close to a gateway between worlds, it was where centaurs, fairies, and other overtly magical beings could buy things without needing to shapeshift or pretend they were in costume. It was also the only place where those visiting from Firoth could ask basic questions, such as “What is an airplane, and is it going to eat me?”
The bell rang over the shop door just as Even finished lining up the stacks of National Geographic, Good Housekeeping, and People magazines. Glancing over, she saw that a new customer had come in: a tall, willowy woman wearing an ornately beaded robe that looked as if it belonged at a Renaissance fair. Her pink hair was braided with jewels and gold-coated flowers, showing off her pointy ears.
An elf! A real elf!
“Welcome!” Even said. Her voice squeaked a little. She’d never met an elf before. Usually they stayed in the magic world and weren’t interested in anything to do with the mundane world. But here was one, in their shop! She wished Odd were here to see this. Odd wasn’t normally interested in much to do with Firoth, but this would have impressed her. ...