I rewrote the first chapter to Beyond the Fortune Teller’s Tent and read it last night at Fictionaire’s. The last time I read this chapter, no one seemed to like it. Although they liked the premise, they didn’t like Petra. They thought the fortune-teller smacked of Disney cliché. I tried to make Petra more sympathetic; my friends told me that I succeeded. (I’m so lucky to have them in my corner.) And I turned Fiorella the fortune-teller into Fester, thus giving me one of my favorite lines, “He sounds like he needs a squirt of Neosporin.”
The Arroyo Oaks Renaissance fair is the brain child of Mrs. Brighton, part-time English teacher and full time witch. She enchants Arroyo Oaks residents to forego the Medieval Times show- house in Anaheim and lures them to the canyon. Glass blowers, potters, and herbalists mingle with students, teachers and parents. Knife and ax throwing are not only allowed, but encouraged. Games include Drench-a-Wench (Mrs. Brighton) and Soak-a-Bloke (Principal Olsen.) Wizards, elves, beer and barely covered booties are all welcome as long as they help raise thousands of dollars for the drama department.
Silky curtains, beaded strings, the faint aroma of vanilla, the fortune-teller’s tent was a gaudy riot of color, the jewel of the Arroyo Oaks Faire. Just looking at it made anticipation, as real and as palpable as a funnel cake, well within Petra. She’d been waiting for eons.
Robyn squeezed her hand. “It’s so romantic,” she whispered. “This is the perfect place for him to ask.”
“It’s so him, right?” Petra returned Robyn’s squeeze, but her eyes never left the fortune-teller’s tent. Most of her friends had been asked to prom weeks ago. Some even had their dresses. Petra hadn’t actually bought her dress, that would have been presumptuous, but she did know which one she wanted to buy. She’d even found the perfect shoes. She hoped Mylan would be okay with the salmon colored vest she’d picked out for him.
“It’s so who?” Zoe demanded.
Petra put her hand on top of Zoe’s orange curls. Zoe was the fly in her honey jar, the pooper at the party, the stepsister that never should have and would have stayed at home if not for sick Aunt Ida. Petra had never even met Zoe’s Great Aunt Ida. She sounded like a potato.
Robyn rolled her eyes at Petra. Robyn and Petra called themselves telebuddies, because they could read each other like open books. Robyn nodded at the tent, her head bob saying, just go.
“Do you think he’s in there?” Petra whispered.
Robyn widened her eyes, as if to say of course. “He said he would be, didn’t he?”
“Who’s he?” Zoe demanded. “Are you talking about Mylan? You are, aren’t you? You know Daddy doesn’t like his hotitude.”
Petra swallowed. It still stung to hear Zoe call her dad daddy. “Actually, he didn’t say anything, but his note said to meet at the tent at two.” Petra gasped as a horrible thought struck. “What if he didn’t send it? What if someone’s playing a cruel trick --”
Robyn shook her head and her curls bounced around her shoulders. “It was Mylan.” She sounded way more confident than Petra felt. Robyn cut her a sideways glance and a small flicker of doubt tickled in Petra’s mind. Why did she suspect the fortune-teller’s tent was more Robyn’s idea than Mylan’s? Petra quickly squelched the traitorous thought and focused on Mylan. He was her fortune.
“Hotitude, the attitude that sadly so often accompanies physical beauty,” Zoe sighed, parrotting her mom.
Inwardly, Petra groaned. It was so unfair of her parents to dislike Mylan because he was a rock star handsome.
“Ignore her,” Robyn mouthed over Zoe’s head. “And just go already.” She gave Petra a little push towards the tent.
Petra dug in her heels, or in this case, her silky flats. “Wait, how do I look?”
“As always, you’re beautiful.” Robyn straightened Petra’s tiara, gave her a small hug, and then turned her shoulders tent-ward.
“Pretty as a Petra poopy picture,” Zoe said, under her breath.
Petra frowned at Zoe and then glanced down at her dress, last year’s prom gown. She and Robyn were the only two at the faire dressed as princesses. All around her she saw women wearing laced up bodices, men in tights and knee high boots, horses covered in bright cloths and even a snowy white owl on a perch. Zoe in her cut up pillowcase and drapery tassel looked more in place than Petra and Robyn in last year’s prom-wear. She sniffed. She didn’t care that she was overdressed. She wanted to look beautiful for Mylan. Only he mattered. He was going to ask her to prom and she was going to say yes. Straightening her shoulders, clutching her beaded purse, she headed to the tent. Her steps faltered and she turned back to Robyn and Zoe, suddenly struck with nerves. “Come with me,” she said to Robyn, taking her friend’s hand and tugging her along.
Zoe’s mouth dropped open. “You can’t leave me here by myself!”
Robyn motioned to all the faire-goers: teachers, fellow students, and neighbors. “You’re hardly alone.”
Zoe’s eyes, for a moment, looked almost as wild as her tangerine curls. “There are witches, people with swords, wild animals!”
Petra saw several people she knew, but Zoe, who had only just moved to Arroyo Oaks, probably didn’t know any of them. She knelt down, so that she could look Zoe in the eyes. “And not one of them will hurt you, I promise. If anyone bugs you, which they won’t, call a yellow jacket,” Petra said, referring to the Arroyo Oaks security guards that patrolled the school grounds and kept peace by way of blow-horns.
“Please, just sit.” Petra stood and pointed at a well placed stump. She wished for perhaps the zillionth time that Zoe would take lessons from her dog. Frosty greeted all instructions with a lolling tongue and wagging tail. Zoe didn’t receive instructions, she counterattacked them. Poodles and eight year olds had very little in common, except for, in Zoe’s case, the hair-do.
“If you leave me here --” Zoe began.
Petra silenced her by holding up a finger. “If you can be quiet, sit and not say a word, I’ll buy you a funnel cake.” She raised her eyebrows to see if Zoe would take the bribe or would if she needed to up the ante and toss in a caramel apple. Her health-foodie stepmother, Laurel, wouldn’t pony up for brand name peanut butter, let alone funnel cakes.
Zoe sat with a humph and picked at the hem of her pillowcase tunic and then her gaze went to the corral across the sawdust strewn path. Her eyes lit up. “I want to ride that horse.”
Petra and Robyn both turned to watch guy lead a stallion through a wooden gate.
“Giddy-up,” Robyn said, starring.
The guy had brown shoulder length hair tied back with a leather thong and wore soft, fawn colored breeches and matching knee high boots. His white shirt billowed around a wide leather belt that hung about his hips. Three simultaneous thoughts struck Petra. The first: everyone else, including herself, wore costumes, but this guy looked at ease in his breeches and boots as if they were his everyday clothes. The second: his eyes and the small smile curving his lips sent a jolt of recognition up her spine, although she knew they’d never met. She would have remembered him. The third: she was quite sure this guy could never be told to wear a salmon colored vest.
“Isn’t he awesome,” Zoe breathed, her eyes large and round. “He’s so huge.”
Robyn gave Zoe a funny look and Petra laughed, shaking her head. “You can’t ride him,” she said, watching the Arabian toss his mane and pull at the reins held by the guy with long brown hair. The stallion fought the bit, rose up on his hind legs and scissored the air with his hooves. “He’s not one of the ponies they lead through rink.”
Zoe frowned, sending her freckles south. “I’m sure he’d rather be with me on the trail than in that silly jousting place.” They’d tried watching the jousting competitions. That’d been a disaster. Zoe, unconcerned for the knights being thwacked about by lances, had wailed in concern for the sweat dripping horses.
“I’m sure you’re right, Zo, but I’m pretty sure I’m right, too,” Petra said. “They’d never let you take him out of their sight. Besides, he looks fast, barely tame.”
“I like them fast and barely tame,” Robyn said under her breath, smoothing down the pink chiffon skirt of her prom dress.
From the jousting arena came the cheering and huzzahs of the crowd. Petra heard the horses’ hooves thundering and the clanging of lances hitting shields and armor. She smelled roasted turkey legs, the fires from the pottery kilns and dung. Her senses seemed on overload and when the guy with the horse caught her eye and winked, dizziness and a skin-pricking sensation of déjà vu washed over her.
Zoe looked up at her, smiled and said, this time, in a voice as sweet as funnel cake, “If you let me ride that horse I won’t tell about your face-sucking Mylan.”
“There’s been no face-sucking!”
Zoe put her fits on her hips and jutted out her chin. “Who says?”
Petra blew a loose strand of hair from her eyes. “You can’t ride that horse!”
Zoe’s gaze cut to the corral and lingered on the stallion. “But you can ask if I can.”
Robyn nodded in agreement, a flirty smile on her lips. “We can ask.”
Petra shot her look that said, traitor.
“Hot horse guy,” Robyn murmured, flipping her brown curls over her shoulder. Robyn’s puppy dog pretty reminded Petra of a brown eyed, curly haired spaniel.
“And offer him money,” Zoe put in. Covered in freckles and cursed with orange hair, Zoe wasn’t puppy pretty or even reptile interesting. She was more weasel cunning.
“How much money?” Petra nearly growled. Since her dad’s marriage she’d been given an allowance ‘to help her find her own financial feet in the real world,’ Laurel’s words, and Petra’s feet wanted to wear an extraordinarily expensive pair of salmon colored heels to prom.
“I saw him wink at you.” If Zoe had been a cartoon character she’d have dollar signs flashing in her eyes. “Maybe you wouldn’t need to pay him.”
“We’ll ask him right after we visit the fortune-teller,” Robyn promised Zoe, sending a let’s-get-together-soon smile at horse guy.
Zoe looked cross, folded her arms and watched the horses parading in the corral, but she didn’t budge from the stump.
Petra turned to the fortune-teller’s tent and forced herself to not look at hot horse guy, although she imagined she could feel his gaze on her back. She towed Robyn with her.
Held up by large wooden poles, the tent had brightly woven damask walls. A barrel-chested man wearing nothing but gold chains, large rings and red bloomerish pants guarded a money jar. A hand printed sign propped by the jar read Fester Foretells your Fate.
“Fester?” Petra asked. “He sounds like he needs a squirt of Neosporin.”
“You’re stalling.” Robyn pulled on Petra’s hand.
“What if he’s not in there?” Petra asked, stopping in front of the guy dressed in bloomers.
“I can hear you,” Zoe said. “I know you’re trying to ditch me.”
“Then will have our fortune’s read.” Robyn said.
Petra scowled at Zoe. “We’re not ditching you. It’s more like we’re parking you.” She made a motion, like she was pulling a lever. “There, I put on the emergency brake. You’re stuck.”
“I’m telling Daddy that you left me here, ALONE,” Zoe said.
“But, what if he doesn’t come inside?” Petra asked Robyn. “He could stand out here for eons while some old biddy predicts I don’t get into a good school and end up selling shoes for the rest of my life.”
“You love shoes,” Robyn said. “Besides, I’m sure he’s already inside.”
“And, just like me, probably listening to every word you say!” Zoe added.
Petra sent Zoe another be-quiet-or-be-dead look before she dropped money into Fester’s jar and pushed back the curtains of the fortune-teller’s tent. When the curtain of crystal beads fell back into place behind Robyn, it sounded like the tinkling of falling glass shards. Heavy incense hung in the air. Petra blinked, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the gloom. A crystal ball on a table draped in silks glowed and sent a shivery light that didn’t reach the far corners of the tent. Large pillows dotted the tapestry rugs and Petra nudged one with her foot, wondering if she should sit. She didn’t see Mylan.
“Petra, welcome,” a voice in the semi darkness cackled.
Petra laughed when Robyn, just behind her, jumped. It took a moment for her to find the owner of the voice, a hunched man sitting on a pillow in a dark corner. In front of him lay a collection of tarot cards, face up: a fool dancing, tossing stars into a purple sky, a magician holding a wand scattering glitter.
“I’m afraid you must come alone,” Fester said, leaving his gaze on Petra’s face as his twisted hands gathered the cards, and tapped them into a deck.
Robyn’s eyes flashed a question at Petra. Petra squeezed Robyn’s hand, sending her a silent signal.
“I’ll wait with Zoe,” Robyn said.
Still expecting Mylan to suddenly appear, Petra didn’t even watch her friend leave, but she knew when Robyn had gone by the flash of daylight that came and then left with the rise and fall of a curtain and the jangle of the crystal beads.
“There are journeys some must undertake on their own,” the fortune-teller said, staring up at Petra.