Daphne pulled apart the cotton lace curtain and opened the chattering window. A gust of cold wind slapped her in the face, bringing her to full wakefulness. The sky was rapidly lightening up and the clouds were tinged with a bright orange akin to that of a pumpkin's. Daphne could hear the world outside the window waking up. The neighbour's dog stirring in its kennel, the stray cats purring delightedly at the arrival of the shrivelled-up old lady who fed them, the cawing of blackbirds in their nest, the clanking of metal against metal as the neighbour across the street checked his mailbox for letters. Even the wind seemed to be welcoming the morning as the trees and grass danced to its rhythm, and the drapes fluttered in the breeze.
'I'm glad I got this room,' thought Daphne absentmindedly. She had insisted on staying in that room when her family first moved here, and had emerged victorious after a tough debate with her sister.
After making her bed and picking out the bits of debris the wind had gifted her, Daphne went about doing her morning things. It was not until half an hour later that she headed to the living room for breakfast. The scent of toast and sunny-side ups filled Daphne's nostrils and she sat down eagerly at the chic dining table. She found a pleasant surprise upon looking at the dish before her.
"It's a double-yolk egg!"
"That's right, you lucky girl. Here, happy birthday!"
As Daphne's mother handed her a brightly-wrapped box, Daphne remembered about her past birthdays. She used to be ecstatic whenever her birthday was round the corner. However, as the years past, birthdays seemed like more of an obligation than a celebration. It was all a part of growing up, her online best friend Elian told her. Elian always gave the best advice and Daphne could count on her to comfort her whenever she was down.
Despite her initial lack of excitement, Daphne removed the golden ribbons and pink polka dotted wrappers with increasing enthusiasm. Perhaps it was the atmosphere, or perhaps because her mind was working feverishly, wondering what made the box so heavy, but by the time she unravelled the present, her heart was beating furiously. She even punched the air in triumph when she saw its contents.
"A pruning shear! Thank you so much!" She gave her mother a bear hug.
"Ever since you joined the School Beautification Club last year, you've been so crazy with gardening…" mumbled her mother while she produced two more presents from her back, no doubt from Daphne's father and sister, who have already left for work and school.
This time, Daphne gave up being cautious with the wrappers and tore them off the moment the presents reached her hands. The lighter one contained a miniature plastic watering can while the other a weeder. Daphne hugged them lovingly before adding them to her gardening toolbox. After finishing her meal, she headed for school, her bag in one hand and her toolbox in the other. She hummed a song on her way out, looking forward to another peaceful day whereby she could take care of the school garden, with its various ferns and flowers.
On her way out, she stopped by the young sweet olive tree in the garden, and as always, bowed down before it and wished that it would grow faster. It was part of a strange routine she began when she was little; to plead every plant or herb in the garden to grow up nice and healthy.
When Daphne was done with her routine and was about to bade goodbye to the tree, her eyes widened in shock at the astounding sight before her. Sounds similar to the cracking of bones were heard as the sweet olive tree grew rapidly. New shoots swiftly turned into branches, myrtle leaves sprouted out from every branch, and the budding flowers briskly bloomed and became fruits. In a matter of seconds, the young tree grew way above her height. At the base of the tree was Daphne, stupefied by the shock.
"This… cannot be…" Daphne gasped as she stumbled on a tree root while backing away from the tree.
"Yes, it can, and it is your doing, Daphne," a mysterious voice spoke from behind.
Daphne turned on the spot and came face-to face with a boy around her age. He had jet-black hair and warm, brown eyes that reminded her of chestnuts. He stood awkwardly in the garden with his hands in the pockets of his school uniform. The boy was avoiding her eyes and Daphne thought that he seemed kind of familiar. He had an air about him that calmed Daphne down and she broke the silence first.
"What do you mean?" she asked in a wondering voice.
She knew she should be afraid, frightened of what she had seen, but for some reason she was not. She knew she should be demanding who was he was, what was he doing trespassing on private property, and why did he know her name, but all she wanted to know now was what happened, how did it happen and why did it happen. And this boy seemed to have the answers.
"Don't get too shocked over what you'll be hearing from me, alright?" the bronze-skinned boy took a deep breath before continuing.
"Your magic awakened at the age of thirteen, as do most other magicians whose parents have non-magical blood. You unconsciously used magic just then and turned a sapling into an adult tree." He paused for a moment, waiting for Daphne to take it all in.
It was a mere two sentences, but for Daphne it was a whole new world of possibilities. Magic… it was something she had admired and wished to possess as a child, being influenced by the magical girl anime she used to watch. However, as she grew older, her interest ebbed and she gradually lost belief in the existence of magic. To be told that she was a magic user was like being told that evergreen trees were hemisphere-shaped. When Daphne did not reply, the boy continued.
"To prevent the possibility of your magic going out-of-control, I came to invite you to join the Academy of Magic. Without training, your magic may go berserk and harm those around you. The Academy of Magic is a boarding school where you can learn spells and the proper usage of magic. There are also normal lessons like English and Chemistry! They also have an entire town on the outskirts selling magical items! You should really have some of Habel's chocolate-sprinkled mint flavoured ice cream, and his…" the boy's excitement got the better of him as he begun to list out various food items.
Daphne's eyes narrowed as her inner self had a self-debate on the boy's identity. His love of food and habit of getting off-track midway really reminded her of someone, but it was near-impossible that she would meet an online buddy in real life… or was it? Either way, it was too much of a coincidence.
"… Elian?" she said tentatively.
When the boy stopped chattering about food and his eyes widened, Daphne knew she was right. He looked down at his scruffy boots guiltily and ruffled his hair with his left hand.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to lie to you about my gender, but I needed a cover..." Elian mumbled sheepishly.
He had pretended to be female so as to ease the task of befriending Daphne at a roleplaying website. It was part of his mission, to gain her trust so that he could investigate her directly. The Council of Magic had tasked a group of students to confirm that several kids who would be turning thirteen soon had magical powers, and to convince their families to let them attend the magical school. All this Elian explained to Daphne with much pausing of sentences and bowing of head.
Daphne laughed at Elian's apparent nervousness and after three minutes, told him that she would go with him. In that short amount of time, thoughts like leaving behind her precious garden, her family and her friends crossed her mind. But she could return during breaks, and she knew she would regret giving up this chance. It was an opportunity to fulfil her dream of covering the world in green. If she could learn to make plants grow the way her tree did, her dream would no longer be simply a dream.
And so the day came, a week later, after the hustle and bustle of packing, persuading her parents and completing paperwork, when at last Daphne stood before her new school with Elian beside her. A new beginning, a new world was just ahead of her. And whenever she thought back to the day of her thirteen birthday, Daphne would remember the best birthday present she had ever received.