Not Catching On
By: Gabriella Balcom
"Stop wiggling, Breea," Sylene said, her voice soft and calm. "Try to be still and pay attention."
"But I don't wanna do lessons, Mama," her six-year-old daughter complained. "I wanna play." She stared longingly at the nearby swing set, then looked at her small trampoline and wading pool, and fidgeted even more.
Their dog, Doodles, let out a sharp bark before charging toward a squirrel making its way across the edge of the backyard. Breea's eyes lit up as she watched the animals. Standing, she took a step toward them.
"Honey, sit down," Sylene told her.
"Mama," Breea wailed. "I haven't gotten to play in forever."
"You've played every single day."
"Not outside. You said I could when summer came. But you've been making me stay in. And you won't let me play now. That's not fair."
Sylene smiled and gently tousled her daughter's hair. "I didn't let you go out for a while because we were getting so much rain. Before that, it was too cold, and you could've gotten sick."
"It's not cold now," Breea accused. "It's nice."
"Yes, today is very nice." Taking a deep breath, Sylene smelled the fragrance of the flowers blooming around their home. A gentle breeze rustled leaves on the nearby trees. Two blue jays squawked at one another, and a robin flew to the ground and began to peck at the dirt. Other birds soared overhead. Enjoying the lovely weather, Sylene had to admit she'd also love to skip lessons and go swimming at the lake less than a mile from their home. But she forced her attention back to Breea. "Sweetie, sit down and take a breathnice and slow."
"I wanna play." Although she plunked down onto the ground, Breea sulked and gave her mother a dirty look.
Stifling her laughter, Sylene replied, "I know, but what I'm trying to teach you is important. It can be a lot of fun, too. When we're done, I thought we'd go to the lake and."
Breea gasped. "It's beautiful!" Shooting to her feet, she ran after a butterfly which had flown by.
Hearing a muffled sound behind her, Sylene whirled to see her husband Lukar standing a few feet away. He tried unsuccessfully to stifle his chuckles behind his hand. She glared at him, but he only laughed harder.
"You're no help at all," she chided him. "Lessons are serious business."
"I know," he chortled. "Still, you have to admit this is funny."
"No, it's not." Her lips twitched.
"I saw that." Lukar nodded knowingly.
Sylene's eyes sparkled as she grinned at him. "I'm smiling because it's your turn now."
A few minutes later, Lukar explained, "Energy is everywhere. In the air around us, the ground, plants, trees. Inside us, too."
Breea giggled. That's when he realized she wasn't even paying attention to him. Instead, she watched a caterpillar crawling up her arm. After gently transferring the crawler to a bush, he looked hard at his daughter.
She blinked at him before studying the ground. "Sorry, Daddy."
He urged her to close her eyes, be still, and breathe slowlythe same way that Sylene hadbut Breea only fidgeted. "Listen," he said. "What do you hear?" She shrugged, so he answered his own question. "That chattering sound is a squirrel, and I hear birds. Some insects are chirpingmaybe crickets. And do you hear the tap-tap-tap in the woods?"
"That's a woodpecker," Breea replied.
"Yes. All kinds of animals are around us. They're probably enjoying this beautiful day just like we are. Now, I want you to think about how warm it is." When she looked at him as though he'd spoken a language she didn't know, he talked more about the temperature, but she claimed she didn't feel it. He wasn't sure what to think, because earlier she'd complained about being too hot. She'd changed from jeans into shorts for that very reason.
Lukar frowned but had no intentions of giving up. Briefly going into their home, he ran hot tap water into a large bowl, returned outside with it, and called his daughter away from her trampoline. "Do what I'm doing," he told her, ignoring her pout. He dipped his hand into the liquid he'd brought. She did, too, and they both held some in their cupped palms. She acknowledged it was warm, but within seconds her interest shifted to flicking droplets at him and Doodles. The whole point of the exercise was lost on her.
Sighing, Lukar exchanged a glance with his wife who'd quietly seated herself beside them, and he chose to try something different. Extending his hand palm-up, he produced flames there.
"The colors are pretty." Breea stared wide-eyed at them. Grabbing fallen, dried leaves which were close to where they sat, she begged him to burn them.
"All right. Make a small pile." He reasoned at least she'd have no trouble feeling the heat. However, instead of focusing on that, all she wanted to do was add more leaves to the flames. She grabbed a twig, stuck it into the fire until it caught flame, and began to jab things with it. He was barely able to prevent her from setting Doodles' fur on fire, after which she ran away after another butterfly.
"You did well," Sylene murmured. She rubbed Lukar's shoulders before hugging him. "I'm sure you tried everything you could think of. I did, too."
"Yeah, but we've done the same things for months and nothing's working." He rubbed his forehead. "She's not catching on. Since I have Fire and you have Fire and Air, I thought she'd at least have one of them."
"Some children take longer. You know that. And some don't have any magic. I hate to say it, but maybe she doesn't."
He bit his lip, then admitted, "I'm trying not to worry."
"Me, too. And I'm sure we'll think of something else."
The next day
"Mama! Daddy!" Breea yelled. "Look who's here."
Lukar and Sylene hurried in the direction of her voice and found her at the front door which she'd opened. There, they exchanged greetings with Bryndon and Mayelle, their friends from a nearby town. The couple, Water and Fire Masters, had brought their six-year-old son Marken with them. He'd begun his lessons almost a year earlier. After a slow start, he'd caught on, and continued to make good progress with both elements at which his parents excelled.
"We have a surprise for you, Breea," Sylene announced.
The adults began a magic demonstration in the back yard. First, they created small yellow, red, and orange sparks, then showers of them. They produced flames of the same colors, added blue, and made the flames rhythmically shrink and expand again and again. Materializing baseball-sized fireballs next, they tossed them back and forth, then made some the size of basketballs. They juggled them and sent long bursts of fire toward the sky.
Using air and fire, Lukar and Selene lifted one another off their feet. The other couple did the same thing with water and fire. Their clothing remained untouched. Bryndon and Mayelle made flames and waves dance, and Marken joined in at the end of the demonstration, using fire to create animals which floated through the air.
Breea, obviously delighted, clapped and laughed throughout the "show." However, she made no attempt to use magic herself.
Eventually, Sylene and Mayelle went indoors to prepare a meal, while Lukar and Bryndon remained outside to watch the children.
"Ooh," Breea murmured, staring at a bright green bug crawling on the ground. "You're pretty."
Marken ran over to join her, looked at the creature, and smashed it with his foot.
"No!" Breea wailed. Shoving him away, she examined the insect. "It's not moving now," she accused.
"So?" Marken shrugged. "It's nothing but a stupid old bug. I'm glad it's dead." He walked away without a backward glance.
Breea glared at his back and her face began to darken. Tiny sparks appeared in her eyes. A faint glow came from her palms. Small flames appeared and danced across their surface before her hands were enveloped in flames. Eyes widening, Breea studied them, giggled, and ran after Marken.
Lukar, who'd dozed off in a chair, opened his eyes when something poked his shoulder. "What?" he mumbled.
Bryndon poked him again. "You didn't try anger with Breea, did you?" he asked.
"Look at your daughter."
Once Lukar did, he grinned widely. "It's about time."
The men studied the grass and leaves burning on the ground. More caught fire as Breea ran over them.
Lukar waved his hand, and the flames went out. "Not bad," he commented as she threw a handful of flames at Marken. The boy stepped out of their way, but they hit a plant and it caught fire. Marken doused it with water he produced.
Breea screeched, stomped her foot, and glared at the boy. Small fireballs shot from her eyes, hitting a tree beside him.
"Wow!" Bryndon commented. "She's got a temper." He extinguished the fire licking at the trunk of the tree with a snap of his fingers. When flames appeared on the top of Breea's head, he chuckled.
Lukar laughed so hard he couldn't even speak.
"What's so funny?" Sylene asked as she came out their back door holding platters of food. But she dropped the food when she saw Breea knock Marken off his feet with a surge of fire.
Mayelle froze beside Sylene and stared open-mouthed at the children. "Idiots!" she snapped at the men. "They could hurt each other." She gasped and her face went pale as Marken engulfed Breea in towering flames.
But Breea walked right out of the fire unscathed. Her entire body flamed now, not just her hands and head.
"We don't need to wonder if she has magic anymore," Lukar murmured. Grinning at his wife, he put his arm around her waist and pulled her tightly against him.
Sylene sighed. Then she snickered.