Amber and Bissau sat face to face staring at the tennis ball in Amber’s palm. They were alone on the Clifton Academy soccer field bleachers, the fall sky dotted with wispy clouds. Bissau’s deep brown face was tight with concentration, but Amber’s emotions were less focused. Her gaze kept drifting to Bissau’s eyes, light brown irises with flecks of gold. He had the prettiest eyes she’d ever seen for a boy.
“Amber,” Bissau said.
“What?” she replied.
“You’re supposed to be concentrating on the ball.”
Amber jumped. “Yeah, that’s right.”
She turned her attention back to the ball, her forehead furrowed with wrinkles.
“This isn’t working,” she said.
“It would, if you focused,” Bissau replied.
Amber wrapped her fingers around the ball, drew her hand back then threw the ball by Bissau’s head. It bounced off the bleacher seats, across the track, then onto the soccer field.
“It’s not my skill,” she said. “You said everyone is blessed with a certain nyama. Apparently, levitation is not mine.”
“It is,” Bissau said. “You have to practice.”
“Why do you believe so much?” Amber said.
“Because Master Jakada said it is in your capacity,” Bissau answered.
“Master Jakada could be wrong.”
Bissau gasped. “Master Jakada is never wrong!”
Amber shrugged. “There’s a first time for everything.”
“I’m not going to sit here and listen to you insult Master Jakada,” he said. “I have soccer practice soon. I’ll see you later.”
Bissau picked up his books, then sauntered away. Amber watched him with mixed emotions. This was not the way it was supposed to be. She expected things to be tough at her new school, and it was. Making new friends had not been easy; her classmates and some of her teachers were upset by her presence and expected her to be behind the curve coming from a public school. She proved them wrong, which seemed to make them more upset. Nothing like seeing your certainty smashed into little pieces, she guessed. And then there was soccer. The girls on her team had played together most of their lives. They were familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Amber was an unknown, and none of them seemed eager to get to know her. Except Britani. The tall, lanky junior seemed out of place on the field, but she possessed a natural grace that reminded Amber of Jasmine. The rumor was Britani was a soccer phenom from Puerto Rico. Maybe that was why she took to Amber. She wasn’t threatened by her. Amber rubbed her temples. All this thinking was making her head hurt.
Amber looked up to see Bissau throwing the tennis ball to her. She caught it.
“Keep practicing,” he said before turning and walking away.
Amber opened her hand, then focused on the tennis ball.
“Rise up, stupid ball,” she whispered.
The tennis ball shimmered against her palm, then launched upward like a round rocket into the clouds. Amber’s eyes went wide with shock and glee.
“Hey, Bissau!” she shouted. “Hey!”
She jumped from the bleachers, running after Bissau.
“Bissau! I did it!”
Bissau turned about, a smile on his face.
“Where is the tennis ball?”
Amber pointed up.
Bissau’s smile faded.
Amber shrugged. “I don’t know. The moon, maybe?”
Bissau smiled. “I knew you could do it, but you must learn how to control it.”
Amber folded her arms across her chest.
“I’m still trying to figure out why you’re so-called training me. Let me see you levitate a ball.”
Bissau sighed. “You know I can’t. I need to go, and you do, too. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.”
“Whatever,” Amber said.
She trudged to the girls’ soccer field. Her teammates straggled in, talking and jibing each other. Their conversations diminished as Amber approached.
She turned to see Britani jogging toward her, a soccer ball under her arm. Amber forced a smile to her face.
Britani raised a hand for a high five and Amber obliged. She knew then what bothered her about Britani. She was trying too hard.
“What’s up, gurl?” Britani asked.
“Same old same old,” Amber replied.
Britani sucked her teeth. “I know that’s right. Ready to show these kittens how to play football?”
Amber grinned despite herself. She was really trying not to like Britani.
Britani opened her arm, dropping the ball. She kicked it up, then kneed it to Amber. Amber bounced it back with her head.
“Hey,” Britani said. “What’s up with you and Bissau? Y’all like cousins or something?”
Amber stiffened and almost missed her turn passing the ball.
“We’re friends,” she replied.
“Friend friend, or girlfriend boyfriend?”
Amber hesitated. Why, she didn’t know.
“Friend friends . . . I guess.”
Britani frowned. “Don’t be guessing. I need to know.”
Amber cut her eyes at Britani.
Britani rolled her eyes.
“You need to ask? That boy is cute, and fine.”
“And a bit short for you,” Amber replied.
“I’m not complaining, and I know he won’t.”
Amber kicked the ball hard. It zoomed over Britani’s head.
“Sorry,” she said. Not sorry, she thought.
Britani trotted to retrieve the ball as Amber strolled to join the others. She ignored the tepid smiles and greetings of her teammates.
“Robinson,” Coach Sandalwood called out.
Amber turned her head toward the coach. Mary Sandal-wood was a stocky built woman with short cut red hair and pale freckled skin. In her youth she’d been a no-nonsense defensive player and had the distinction of playing on the US Olympic soccer team, as well as a few years as a pro in Eu-rope. Her personal style of play reflected in the team. They were known for their impenetrable defense and straightforward offense; a direct opposite of the style Amber was used to playing. Amber adapted, but it was obvious the coach had little use for her skills.
Coach Sandalwood attempted to smile, which was like watching a snake try to shake hands.
“I want to try something different today,” she said. “I want you to play defense.”
Amber’s mouth dropped open.
“Defense? I haven’t played defense since elementary school!”
“So, you have some experience, then.”
“Uhm . . . no!”
The coach cradled her tablet against her chest.
“You’re a great player, very versatile,” she said. “You know defense is our strength, and I only ask the best players.”
“What about Cynthia?” Amber asked.
“Cynthia’s a great forward,” the coach said. “But she doesn’t have your versatility. You would make our defense impenetrable.”
“How do you know?” Amber asked. “Like I said, I haven’t played defense since elementary school.”
“Trust me,” the coach replied. “There’s a reason I’m the best soccer coach in the state.”
Amber was proud of the fact that she didn’t roll her eyes. The truth was Cynthia Hollingsworth was the face of the Wildcats. Everyone loved to watch her sprint up and down the field, her blond ponytail bouncing behind her as she dribbled the ball with imperfect precision to barely score. After the game the local media gathered around her, marveling at her ‘skills’ and predicting her amazing college and pro career to come. But there was no fighting it.
“Okay,” Amber surrendered. “I’ll give it a try.”
“Carole!” the coached called out.
Carole Simpson strolled up to the coach. The straw blond-haired girl was their best defensive player, destined to receive accolades for her abilities.
“What’s up, Coach?” Carole said in her syrupy southern drawl.
“Sit this scrimmage out,” the coach replied. “Amber’s playing your position.”
Carole’s eyes widened, then narrowed as she glared at Amber.
“She’s not defense,” Carole said.
“She is today,” the coach replied. “Sit.”
Carole gave Amber a hard stare before trudging to the bench.
Thanks coach, another enemy, Amber thought.
Coach Sandalwood sat down her tablet, then blew her whistle.
“Okay everyone, let’s hard scrimmage!” she shouted. “First team!”
The coach looked at Amber.
“That’s you, Amber.”
Amber lowered her head, then rolled her eyes as she jogged onto the field. Not only was she being forced to play defense, Coach Sandalwood was having her play with the first team. The other players were looking at her with disdain while hand gesturing with Carole on the bench. Everyone except Britani. She threw up a peace sign.
“Alright now woman!” she shouted. “Let’s see what you got!”
The scrimmage began. Amber felt useless as she waited in the back field for the action to come her way. It didn’t take long. Britani worked her way down the field with her usual style, trailed by Cynthia. The two displayed great dribbling; Amber had to admit Cynthia was better than she gave her credit for. They maneuvered toward Amber, challenging her off the rip. Amber backpedaled until she knew who was going to go for the goal. As she suspected, Britani passed to Cynthia for the shot. Amber was halfway to her before Britani kicked the ball in her direction. Amber intercepted the pass as a mischievous smile came to her face.
“Time for some real practice,” Amber said.
She kicked the ball hard. It soared high as Amber reached out for it with her nyama. She guided the ball over everyone’s head to the opposite goal, catching the goalie off guard. But Penny Rothchild was good. She adjusted, diving for the in-coming ball, her body extended and hands outstretched. Amber gave the ball a nudge and it just cleared Penny’s hands. It hit the ground just before the goal then rolled into the net. Everyone froze in stunned silence.
“Damn!” Britani shouted.
“Language!” the coach replied.
Amber grinned as she strolled back to her position.
“Lucky kick,” she said to the coach.
“Obviously,” the coach replied.
Amber was rewarded by the astonished looks from her teammates. The rest of practice was as normal as practice could be with Amber playing defense. She didn’t do as bad as she thought she would; Cynthia and Britani took advantage of her rusty skills, but Amber held her own at times. As practice came to an end Amber noticed the impressed looks on everyone’s faces. The coach trotted up to her, a grin on her face.
“Not bad,” she said.
“This isn’t going to be permanent, is it, Coach?” Amber asked.
“No,” the coach replied. “You’re still a forward. It’s good to know we could use you if injuries forced us.”
Amber smiled. She’d dodged that bullet. She trotted to the locker room; Britani came up beside her.
“Look at you!” she said. “Playing defense like a beast!”
Amber smirked. “What can I say? I’m good like that.”
Amber changed quickly then headed for the parking lot. She never knew which of her parents would be available to pick her up, but someone would be waiting. She met Bissau on the way to the lot. He was frowning.
“What’s up? Something go wrong in practice?”
“No,” he said. “Why did you do that?”
Bissau took out his phone, the screen filled with her ‘miraculous’ goal.’ It already had over a thousand likes.
“Wow,” Amber commented. “Lucky shot, huh?”
“You and I both know that had nothing to do with luck.”
They reached the parking lot. Neither of her parents had arrived, so they sat on the curb to wait.
“Amber, you must take this seriously. You’ve been granted powers that have to be respected.”
“I thought you’d be impressed,” Amber said.
“Actually, I am,” Bissau replied. “It didn’t take you long to learn control. Why do you think that was so?”
Amber shrugged. “I don’t know. I was pissed that coach put me on defense.”
“So, your emotions help you control your nyama. That could be good and bad. I must consult Master Jakada about this.”
“And just how to you do that?” Amber asked. “And why is he not talking directly to me?”
Bissau looked uncomfortable. “It’s complicated.”
Amber folded her arms. “Try me.”
Britani fast walked up to them. Amber dropped her head and sucked her teeth.
“This thirsty girl,” she whispered.
Britani sat down beside Bissau.
“How was practice?”
“It was good,” Bissau replied. “And yours?”
“It could have been better, if Amber didn’t ruin it.”
“Don’t blame me,” Amber said. “It’s the coach’s fault. And you should play better.”
Britani let out a girlish giggle and Amber sighed.
“So, Bissau, what are you doing . . .”
Amber exhaled with relief as Mama rolled up in her SUV, waving like she hadn’t seen Amber in years. But that was Mama. Amber jumped up, grabbed Bissau’s arm and began dragging him toward the car.
“We’ll see you Monday!” she said to Britani. She opened the back door then shoved Bissau inside the car.
“Uh, okay. Bye Amber. Bye Bissau!”
“That was rude,” Bissau said.
“She was rude,” Amber replied. “Busting up into our conversation.”
“She was trying to be friendly. You are friends, aren’t you?”
“She was talking to you, not me.”
Bissau stopped. “What are you talking about?”
Amber shook her head. “Never mind.”
Amber took the front passenger seat. She hugged Mama and Mama kissed her cheek.
“Hello Mrs. Robinson,” Bissau said.
Mama turned and shared her famous smile with Bissau.
“Hi Bissau! How was your day?”
“It was good, Mrs. Robinson. And how was yours?”
“Excellent as always,” Mama replied.
She looked at Amber. “Such a polite young man.”
“Yeah, he’s perfect,” Amber grumbled.
Mama pulled away from the curb and they left the cam-pus. Amber spotted Britani waving. Amber slumped in her seat.
“Baby, your friend is waving at you,” Mama said.
“I know,” Amber replied. “This ain’t middle school.”
“You can be so mean sometimes.”
“I’m not mean, I’m honest.”
“That’s what mean people say.”
Amber kept quiet the rest of the ride to Bissau’s apartment complex while Bissau and Mama chatted. She was in a bad mood, but couldn’t put her finger on why. So many things were happening that she didn’t like, but she was usually able to handle it all. But for some reason, she was finding coping more difficult. She needed to talk to Jasmine. A silly conversation with her best friend always made her feel bet-ter. She’d text her as soon as she got home.
Mama pulled up into Bissau’s complex. This was another mystery that needed solving. Bissau lived alone. Who was paying the rent? How was he able to get enrolled in the Academy without his ‘parents’ permission? She’d asked him more than once, but he didn’t answer. And he would never let her visit. They always studied at her house, the library, or the Starlight Coffee Shop.
Bissau grabbed his backpack and exited the car.
“Thank you again, Mrs. Robinson. I hope you have a wonderful evening.”
“Goodbye, Bissau. Tell your parents I said hello. I hope to meet them one day!”
Bissau’s pleasant façade cracked, but only for a second.
“I hope so too, Mrs. Robinson.”
Bissau hurried up the walkway to his apartment. Mama waited until he was inside before pulling away.
“Such a nice boy,” she commented.
“Yeah, he is,” Amber replied.
“So, you two are friends?”
Here we go, Amber thought.
“Yes, Mother, we’re friends. Just friends.”
“That’s how it starts,” Mama said. “You know, me and your father were friends before we started dating, and now here we are!”
“Well, Bissau and I are really friends,” Amber said. “You and pop were just pretending.”
“But you’re not best friends,” Mama said.
“No. We’re not best friends.”
“You could do worse,” Mama said. “Much worse. I mean, he’s a good-looking boy, always neat, he’s polite and he wears his pants up to his waist.”
“I don’t want to talk about this,” Amber said.
“Okay, baby girl. Turn on some music. Some good music.”
For Mama, ‘good music’ meant old music. Amber turned on the system. Mama’s phone connected and a song by Prince played. Amber relaxed. She didn’t like much old school music, but Prince was cool.
“Why didn’t Dad pick me up?” she asked.
“Last minute meeting,” Mama replied. “You know how it is.”
She did. The good opportunities Mama and Dad received two years ago were a double-edged sword. One the one hand there was more money; on the other hand, there was less together time. As much as they got on her nerves, she loved them both and enjoyed spending time with them. While her other friends were doing everything in their power to distance themselves from their parents, Amber still liked sitting at the kitchen table with her parents or going on vacation with them.
Dad’s car was in the driveway when they pulled up. The smell of garlic bread seeped into the garage and Amber’s stomach grumbled.
“Somebody’s hungry,” Mama said.
Amber laughed. “Yes, I am!”
She opened the door. Daddy was at the stove stirring the spaghetti sauce, dress shirt sleeves rolled up and his tie tucked inside his shirt.
“Hey Daddy!” Amber said. She tipped to him and hugged him around the waist.
“My ladies have arrived,” Daddy said. “Dinner will be ready soon.”
Mama kissed Daddy on the cheek.
“Hey baby! I’m so glad you decided to cook. I’ve been running all day and my feet are killing me!”
“Y’all go get settled,” Daddy said. “By the time you’re done, everything will be ready.”
Mama staggered to the master bedroom in exaggerated pain while Amber hurried upstairs to her room. Her phone buzzed as she reached the room; she smiled when she looked and saw Jasmine’s name. She tossed her book bag on the floor then collapsed on her bed.
“What you doing?”
“Cool. Hit me back when you’re done. I have much dirt to share.”
At least some things didn’t change. She and Jasmine were as tight as ever. They would get together on weekends, at least on the days Jasmine wasn’t hanging out with her boyfriend, Carlos. She shook her head; never a million years would she have imagined Jasmine with him. But Carlos had ‘blossomed;’ he was no longer the gangly boy with the scary overbite and annoying voice. Time and the magic of dentistry had transformed him into a bae, as Jasmine called him. He still played video games too much in Amber’s opinion, but when it came to boys, Amber’s opinion never swayed Jas-mine’s decisions.
“Dinner’s ready!” Daddy called out.
Amber hurried downstairs. She brushed by Daddy, took a plate from the cabinet, rushed to the pot of spaghetti and piled it on the plate. She took the lid off the sauce pot and drowned the spaghetti. When she turned around, Mama and Daddy stared at her, frowns on their faces.
“If anyone else saw you they would think you hadn’t eaten in a month,” Daddy said.
“But it’s just us,” Amber said with a sweet smile. Daddy smiled back, then went to make his own plate.
“She gets it from you,” Mama said. “All that greediness.”
“Guilty,” Daddy replied as he filled his plate with noodles.
Amber was almost done by the time Mama and Daddy sat down.
“Slow down, child,” Mama said. “That food ain’t going no-where.”
“Got homework,” Amber mumbled.
She finished off the spaghetti, chomped through her garlic bread, then went to the sink to wash her plate.
“I’ll get that,” Daddy said. “You go do your homework.”
Amber dropped her plate on the counter, then scurried to the stairs.
“And don’t be on the phone with Jasmine all night!” Ma-ma called out.
“I won’t!” Amber called back.
Amber closed her door, then grabbed her phone from her dresser. She jumped and landed on her bed, then rolled onto her back.
A warm sensation rushed through her and her eyes widened. She sat up, looking at her mirror. Her reflection shimmered then disappeared, replaced by the image of Grand-ma.”
Amber jumped from the bed to the dresser, then grabbed the edges of the mirror.
“It’s been so long! How are you?”
“I’m fine, baby,” Grandma answered. “How are you? Are things going well with Bissau?”
“I’m good. Bissau is doing great. He gets on my nerves sometimes, though.”
Grandma chuckled. “That’s my Amber.”
“I still don’t understand why he’s instructing me,” she said.
“You’re learning from each other,” Grandma replied. “You are learning to use your powers and he is learning the ways of our world.”
“He’s doing a better job than I am.”
“I’m sure you are both doing well. You are brilliant children.”
Grandma’s expression turned serious.
“Amber, I have something to tell you. Bagule is still alive.”
Amber let go of the mirror, taking a few steps back. Her emotions roiled, churning from shock, relief and fear. She was relieved she had not killed someone, yet she knew if Bagule was alive, they were still in danger.
“Is he in the city?” she asked.
“We wish that were so,” Grandma replied.
“Where is he?”
“We don’t know. Baba Jakada senses his presence but cannot locate him. Aisha would know, but she has disappeared. You and Bissau must be diligent. He may have accepted his defeat, but that is unlikely.”
Amber plopped down on her bed.
“Grandma, we have to tell Mama and Daddy,” she said.
“We can’t,” Grandma replied. “Not yet. We can’t tell any-one until we are ready.”
“What if Bagule comes? What do I do then?”
“He won’t come,” Grandma said. “Bagule’s goal is the city.”
“But if he comes to the city, you may need my help,” Amber said.
Grandma’s silence was all Amber needed. She fell back on her bed.
“I can’t handle this. I can’t.”
“You must,” Grandma replied. “You have no choice.”
Amber sat up, drained.
“I gotta go, Grandma,” she said. “I have homework.”
“I understand,” Grandma said. “Do not worry. Everything will be fine.”
The mirror shimmered, then Grandma’s image faded. Amber fell back on her bed again. The memories of her ad-venture with Grandma streamed through her head like a movie. Sometimes it didn’t seem real; hopping from city to city, country to country; meeting amazing, magical people, and fighting for her life and the lives of others. It also placed a burden on her that she hoped she would never have to shoulder again. But here it was, right back in her face.
Her phone buzzed and she picked it up. It was Jasmine. Grandma’s news sapped her energy; she didn’t feel like texting. She set the phone back on the dresser. She looked at her desk, her textbook and computer waiting for her return. Amber sighed as she fell onto her back then rolled away so she couldn’t see them. The phone buzzed again and she ignored it. Instead she grabbed her nightclothes, took a quick shower, then returned to the bed. She finally went to her phone; Bissau had texted as well. But Amber was done for the night. She put on her headphones, found a chill hip-hop video to listen to, then let the music lull her to sleep.