Chapter One

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For most people, wearing pink probably wouldn't count as a form of rebellion, but then again, most people don't come from my whacked-out family.

Christina glares at me across the breakfast table as soon as I come into the kitchen. I try to ignore her stare, smoothing my glittery pink hoodie before I grab a bowl. But when I reach across the counter for my cereal, Mom glances up from her cup of coffee, and she frowns.

"Shelby," she begins, pausing for a moment before choosing her words, "wouldn't you rather wear something else?"

Dad looks up from his laptop, and his eyebrows draw together. "It's the first day of school. Surely, you want to make the right kind of impression."

The confidence I felt when I pulled on the sparkly pink sweatshirt up in my room begins to melt, but I force a smile. "Lots of people wear pink. I mean, there's even a movie about it, Pretty in Pink." I pour my cereal, but I have to work hard to keep my hands from shaking.

Christina snorts. "There's nothing pretty about that," she says, her eyes stripping away my pink armor before she flicks her dark hair over her shoulder, dismissing me entirely.

Mom tries again. "I just think it sends the wrong kind of message."

I stiffen my shoulders, shoveling cereal in my mouth even though it tastes like paper. "I like it," I say, trying to sound final and certain, but my voice lilts up on the last word, making it sound like I've asked a question.

Mom and Dad exchange another glance, but they drop it. Christina shakes her head again. "Just try not to let people know we're related," she mutters, just loud enough for me to hear, but quiet enough that Mom and Dad miss it.

At least, I think they miss it; maybe they hear and they don't punish her because, deep down, they agree with her.

Last year, I never would have dreamed of wearing pink, especially not on the first day of school. Last year, I wore black and purple, like Christina, flaunting the magic that runs in my veins. That's because last year, I'd still believed that some of my powers might be waiting to emerge.

Feeling worse than naked in my pink hoodie, I trail after Christina to our bus stop. She's old enough to drive, but Mom and Dad say they won't buy her a car until she passes her Casting Level Threes, the last magical test she has to face before college, and the one that will determine everything about her future. Christina wants a car, but she pretends not to mind, although I've seen her light on more nights than I can count, way past midnight, and I've heard her muttering spells when I stand outside her door in the hallway. She's studying day and night for her Threes, which she'll take on Halloween, and I'd almost feel bad for her if I weren't so jealous.

Christina's a caster, like my dad. He works for the Caster's Force, a pseudo-governmental organization that polices casters and scribes, which means he's a stickler for the rules. He's also one of the most powerful casters to come along in generations, due in no small part to the power of his scribe. Even the most powerful caster needs someone to write his spells, and Dad lucked out by marrying his scribe, too. I'm supposed to be a scribe, like Mom, but somewhere along the way, that message seems to have been lost. So today I'm wearing pink and trying to be something other than the broken member of the King family, at least for the hours every day when I'm at school. I snort at the thought. Who knew I'd ever look forward to school?

Kelsey is waiting at the bus stop, her red hair flying like a crazy wig around her face, and she slips an arm through mine without mentioning anything about the pink. Kels knows a little bit about how I feel about my family, especially Christina, and we've been best friends long enough that she doesn't fuss or try to get me to buddy up with my sister, like some bad after-school special. In fact, Kels knows enough not to mention my sister at all, just like I don't mention her grandma, who's got dementia and moved in with the family last year.

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