“Piper McCarthy blinked the morning grogginess away, then rocketed out of bed. ‘Birthday! Thirteen! Special!’ were the first thoughts to zoom through her head. Standing in front of the mirror, she checked herself. Her frizzy, brown hair was as messy as ever, and her storm-gray eyes were exactly the same as they’d been since she was born.”
Piper McCarthy blinked the morning grogginess away, then rocketed out of bed.
Birthday! Thirteen! Special!, were the first thoughts to zoom through her head. Standing in front of the mirror, she checked herself. Her frizzy, brown hair was as messy as ever, and her storm-gray eyes were exactly the same as they’d been since she was born. Her warm, brown skin looked and felt fine. No fangs, wings, scales, feathers, or fur had grown overnight. No gills or claws, either. She made a red X over a box on a chart taped to her wall. Squeezing her eyes closed, she tensed all her muscles and stood on her very tippiest toes. When she didn’t float up to the ceiling, she made another X on a different box.
Several exercises later, including (but not only) staring at a match, talking to her cat, Inkpot, and trying to see what her mom was thinking from the kitchen (all of which got an X on the chart), Piper arrived at the final test.
Please, please, please! Work! she begged, panicked. Here goes.
Crouching down, she thought decisively, I am a cat. I am a cat.
She tugged on her left earlobe nervously. I am a — POP!
Suddenly, she was a lot closer to the ground than she had been before.
I am not a cat.
She glanced down. She still had human hands, and legs, and feet. Then, why was everything so big? Oh, no, no, no!
With a yowl, the cat leapt down from the bed, thumping to the floor. Running desperately, Piper tried to jump over the long bristles of her shag carpet, her now-tiny slippers falling off her feet. Piper floated up, up above Inkpot, and close to the ceiling.
Oh, no, why’d I’d have to be a Different!?
When she eventually floated into the kitchen (it took a little while to figure out she could control her flight with certain movements, although she did still flap her arms unnecessarily), her mom looked up from her newspaper and coffee at the sound of Piper’s voice.
“Good morning, sweetie! Um, where are you? Oh, are you invisible? Wonderful!”
“Actually, Mom, not so much. I’m up here.”
“Ooh, are you super small? Are you a fly? Where are you?”
Piper floated down, bumping against the marble counter top. “Right here, Mom.”
“So you are super small! But how can you fly, then?” Mrs. McCarthy was confused.
“I’m not a Shrinker,” Piper sighed.
“Then, what are you? I didn’t think Flyers could shrink.”
“They can’t, Mom. At least I don’t think so. But I’m not a Flare, Flyer, Shrinker, Fluffy, Changer, Speeder, Stronger, or any of the normal ones at all. Not even a Sensier.”
“Oh, sweetie! A Different? Are you sure?”
“I most certainly am.”
“Oh, your father won’t be happy.”
“He sure won’t.”
Piper’s father was a Flare, someone who could manipulate fire, and he was the principal of a prestigious school for other Flares. Being very well known and respected, he did everything he could to maintain a very normal appearance to the public, despite Piper being a “late bloomer” — someone who got their powers after turning twelve. Your thirteenth birthday was your last chance, because you couldn’t get a power after that. He did not much like Differents, mostly because his brother (who had always been a rival to him) had been one. Piper’s mother was a Fluffy and could thus communicate with animals, which was why Inkpot liked her best.
“Oh, sweetie,” Piper’s mom sighed.
Piper’s stomach rumbled.
Her mom tried to smile.
“I’ll get you some pancakes.”
Piper sat on the counter in silence while Mrs. McCarthy puttered around the kitchen, warming up some frozen pancakes. Piper fiddled with a Post-It note, folding it into a boat big enough for her to sit in. She plopped into the boat and wished for a normal power, like underwater breathing or butterfly wings. Differents were just, well, different. They were rare, for one thing, and weird. They usually had a combination of a couple of normal powers, though there were some odd ones like the girl whose singing made turtles fall asleep. Nobody liked Differents, though Piper had never been told why. Her stomach twisted at the thought of what her classmates were going to say. At least it was better than being a Nothing, someone with no powers.
Trying to be positive, she thought, At least I can fly, what I wanted most… and shrinking isn’t too bad — I just have to do both at the same time. She tried to smile.
Her mom clattered the plate of pancakes down in front of her and thumped down into her seat. Picking up her cell phone, she began to type furiously, though trying to tilt the phone away from Piper so she couldn’t read it. Pretending to go to wash her hands at the sink, Piper glanced at the website her mom was on. Rinsing her hands in a tiny puddle on the edge of the sink, she read the title of the site: “What To Do With A Different Child.” Piper felt like she’d flown into the refrigerator. Was being a Different really that bad? With an ironic twist of a smile, she noted that her power seemed to include super senses too. She could see everything. She could hear the tiny clinks of her mom’s mug and the rustle of the paper. Although she was still hurt by her mother’s internet search, she resolved to use her power as often as she could.
It‘s probably great for eavesdropping, she thought wryly.
Zipping back to the plate of pancakes, her newly sharpened sense of smell was overwhelmed by the scent of maple syrup and chocolate chips. Looking up from her newspaper, Mrs. McCarthy pointedly glanced at the plate and back at Piper.
“Okay, you might want to get big again.”
“What? You’re kidding.”
“I don’t know how.”
“Well, how did you get small in the first place?”
“I was crouching,” Piper bent down, “and I thought that I was a cat, and it happened.”
“Do it again.”
Piper thought, I am a cat. I am a cat. I am a cat! Nothing. I am a cat, cat, CAT! Nothing. I AM A CAT! And suddenly… nothing.
“It’s not working,” her mom observed.
“I can see that,” Piper snapped back.
“You must have done something else. Think!”
“I am thinking!”
In her annoyance, she almost didn’t notice her hand tugging on her left earlobe. She looked at her hand, and remembered, I tugged my left earlobe. She did it again. Nothing. This time, she tugged her right earlobe. Pop!
She was full-size, sitting on the counter in her favorite purple pajamas. Piper and her mom just looked at each other, worried. They had both heard it: her father lumbering down the hall towards the kitchen. He was not going to be happy…