Mr. Rostin laughed in Pretty’s face. His breath smelled like onions. “A girl driving a motor-car?” he guffawed. He patted Pretty on the head as if she were five. His big hand squashed her antennae uncomfortably. “It’s not going to happen.”
Pretty felt her cheeks turning pink. She hoped he wouldn’t notice in the dim light from the gas-lamps. She caught herself fiddling nervously with the end of the blonde braid hanging over her shoulder and quickly dropped her hand to her side. “I’m good at magic, Mr. Rostin,” she said. “I’m better than most fairies. I’m far better than Denny, and you’re letting him try!” She pointed toward the group of boys assembled behind Mr. Rostin, waiting for their first driving lesson.
“It’s not just about magic,” said Mr. Rostin. He shook his head. His bowler hat was a little too small and sat high enough that Pretty could see the sides of his bald head peeking out under the brim. “I’d never get paid back for teaching you. Who’d hire a girl to drive them around town? If a gentleman goes to the expense of buying a fine motor-car with the latest dragon-bone engine, he wants a real driver. A respectable, put-together young man, not a girl, no matter if she’s cute as a button.” He said it matter-of-factly, almost kindly, but it still sounded like he was talking down to her.
“I’d think he’d want the best driver, Mr. Rostin,” said Pretty, trying to sound calm and reasonable. She gripped the sides of her skirt with both hands and kept her wings folded tightly behind her so they wouldn’t rustle and give away her frustration. “I’d be a good driver. I don’t see how it makes a difference if I wear skirts or britches.”
“I know you don’t,” said Mr. Rostin. “But I do, and I’m telling you to get on out of here. I’ve got a class to teach. Go on home.”
Pretty got on out of there, but she didn’t have any intention of going home. She unclenched her fists from the folds of her skirt and tried not to feel so disappointed as she headed back across the motor-car sales yard toward the gate to the street. She hadn’t really expected Mr. Rostin to let her in the class. Men, especially human men, were always stupid about what girls could do. But she wasn’t about to give up just because Mr. Rostin said so. Especially since he hadn’t denied she’d make a good driver, he was just worried he wouldn’t make a profit from her.
She turned right out of the gate and headed along the outer wall of the motor-car yard. The sidewalk was crowded with people on their way home from work. They came in and out of view as they passed under the streetlamps. Night came early this time of year, but even in the dark, people still hurried to get places. Cabs and coaches and wagons crammed the dim street, hooves clattered all around, and people shouted at each other for blocking traffic. One steam-coach motor-car with glaringly bright headlamps chugged and lurched its way closer and closer to the horse-drawn coach in front of it but couldn’t get past the slower vehicle.
Most of the people on the street were human, of course. There were a hundred times more humans than fairies in the city. In the poorer parts of town, fairies and humans lived and worked together, but this wasn’t a poor part of town. Pretty was careful not to push anybody as she wove through the people on the sidewalk. In this part of the city, people tended to suspect that any fairy who wasn’t actively working was up to no good.
As soon as she found a clear spot, she spread her wings and darted up out of the crowd. She went straight up to the second-story windows before turning along the side of Mr. Rostin’s property. Nobody was allowed to fly lower than the second story, to make sure fliers never collided with pedestrians or vehicles. There wasn’t much worry about fairies running into each other in the air; there was plenty of space up here. Right now, Pretty was the only flier in sight as she whizzed down the side lane to the back corner of Mr. Rostin’s lot and landed on top of the fancy white-brick wall.
Mr. Rostin saw her right away, of course. A six-foot span of silvery dragonfly wings wasn’t exactly sneaky, even in the near-darkness. Pretty caught her breath, waiting for him to yell at her, but he only shook his head and rolled his eyes. So, he didn’t really care about a girl hanging around, as long as it didn’t cut into his profits! Pretty smiled and arranged the skirts of her coat under her bum as she settled herself on the snow-covered walltop. She leaned forward with her elbows on her thighs and her chin in her gloved hands and looked down at Mr. Rostin, who was standing under one of the big gas-lamps that stood on poles around the edges of his paved motor-car lot. He eyed her again but still didn’t tell her to leave.
He was nicer than Mr. Tob at the fancy car lot uptown. He’d thrown Pretty out the minute he saw her. Apparently she was too “unkempt” to be allowed anywhere near his motor-cars. At least he hadn’t seemed to care that she was a girl. But Pretty had a feeling that even if she came back freshly scrubbed and wearing her Venday best, Mr. Tob wouldn’t let her in.
And before that, there was Mr. Williger over on Taller Street. Mr. Williger had laughed at the idea of a girl driver, but then he’d gotten a sly look and agreed to teach Pretty if she warmed his bed first. When she said no, he’d gotten angry. “That’s all fairy girls are good for,” he’d said. “You should be grateful you’re pretty enough to attract humans. You could make some good money if you weren’t so proud.”
Down in Mr. Rostin’s lot, Denny and the five other fairy boys Mr. Rostin had agreed to teach this month joined him beside a row of shiny black motor-cars parked under a slanted roof to keep the weather off. They were amazing things, these new cars. The old steam-coach motor-cars, which had been on the streets for maybe five years, had huge coal engines that groaned and huffed and spewed clouds of steam from the tall pipes that stuck up past the driver’s seat. The new cars were sleek and beautiful, lower and narrower than coaches, with magic-powered engines not much bigger than a suitcase. And they were fast, too, and easy to handle. Pretty’s Pa had told her all about them; he’d learned to drive a few months ago, though he’d only done it to prepare for controlling one of the new dragon-bone trains.
Down in the yard, Mr. Rostin directed the boys to climb into the drivers’ seats of the cars and put one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on the engine lever. Pretty listened closely even though she’d already learned how to start a motor-car. She’d never gone near Mr. Williger’s lot again, but she’d sneaked back to Mr. Tob’s yard at least a dozen times and watched through a gap in the fence while he taught people how to drive — until a few days ago, when Mr. Tob had caught her peeking and threatened to call the constables if he saw her loitering again.
“Starting the engine is the easy part,” said Mr. Rostin down in the yard. “Pull that dragon-bone lever back as far as it’ll go to make a good silver contact, then fill it full of energy. It’s connected to the main engine bones, so you’re charging all of them at once. They’ll hold plenty, so go on, fill them up.”
Four of the boys started their motor-cars on the first try. Denny was one of the two who didn’t manage it, of course. Pretty couldn’t get a good look at his face from here, but she could see his green flannel coat through the car window. Denny was the clumsiest boy Pretty knew. He was nearly twenty; he should have grown out of it by now. But he still tripped over his own feet every five minutes, he couldn’t fly in a straight line, and he was downright bad at magic. And Mr. Rostin let him learn to drive a motor-car, but not Pretty!
“Try again!” said Mr. Rostin over the sound of the engines. He didn’t have to raise his voice much. These motor-cars were quieter than steam engines: they made a humming, buzzing noise a little like fairy wings. Denny and the other boy tried again, and this time they got the engines started.
“All right, now for the hard part,” said Mr. Rostin. “Push the lever forward just one notch to start releasing energy, and make sure you convert every bit of that energy into motion. Lose concentration, and the engine will stall.”
It wasn’t possible to convert every bit of energy into motion, but at least Mr. Rostin used all the right words. That was better than Mr. Tob. Pretty didn’t think she’d ever heard Mr. Tob use the word “convert.” That was the problem with humans trying to teach fairies how to run a magical engine. Most humans couldn’t use magic. They had an easy enough time understanding that magic pulled energy from one place and sent it somewhere else, but they never quite seemed to understand how fairies turned one kind of energy into another kind. Supposedly, it was humans who invented the dragon-bone engine, but Pretty had a feeling they’d gotten at least the basic idea from a fairy.
Not that the humans would ever admit it. Everybody knew — or was supposed to believe — that humans were smarter than fairies. The scientists said the ability to use magic replaced part of the brain-space that humans used for logic. Pretty figured that logically, that meant humans who used magic should be simpletons, but somehow they were all noblemen instead.
Pretty folded her wings tight for warmth and leaned forward a little farther to watch as the motor-cars pulled slowly out from under their roof and started wobbling along the side of the lot. She’d missed some of Mr. Rostin’s instructions about steering, but she thought she already understood well enough from listening to Mr. Tob, and from the things her Pa had told her before that.
Pa’s descriptions of the new engines had inspired her more than he knew. Pretty had barely seen him the past few weeks; she hadn’t found a chance to tell him she was trying to learn driving. But when he found out, he’d understand. He’d be proud of her. Pa had spent fifteen years as a train driver, never earning any respect or any pay raises, but the new magic-powered locomotives gave him a chance to move up in the world and earn a little more for his family. Pretty saw no reason motor-cars couldn’t do the same for her.
A loud bang and a flash of light came from below, and Pretty jumped as Denny’s whole car lurched an inch off the ground and thumped back down. It looked alarming, but it was just unconverted energy escaping from the engine as it stalled. Denny had lost control of his magic, and the energy had burst free in all its different forms. Pretty wouldn’t have made that mistake.
She tried to find a more comfortable position. Even sitting on her coat, her bottom was going numb from a combination of the hard bricks pressing into her tailbone and the snow starting to melt through her clothes. Her gloves were fingerless, which was convenient most times, but right now her fingertips were getting cold. Her wings rustled against each other as she shivered.
She glared at the air in front of her face. The stories said pureblood fairies used to do magic as easily as breathing, but these days, everyone had at least a little human blood, and magic didn’t come as naturally. Like Pretty had told Mr. Rostin, she was better at magic than most fairies, but she still went a little cross-eyed trying to focus on a spot in midair for a couple seconds until she started seeing the shimmery transparent patterns that showed her where the warmth was. There wasn’t much anywhere nearby, but she only needed a little.
She pulled the heat out of the air and into herself. Warmth flooded to the tips of her fingers and toes. Her nose thawed out and her wings tingled with returning feeling. She tucked more folds of her skirt under her bum to keep the icy wall from sucking away all the heat she’d just gained.
Denny’s car drove through a big pothole at the corner of the lot. It should have been dead easy to avoid, but he managed to steer straight into it. His car jolted and jounced, then stalled again as Denny lost focus. Mr. Rostin winced as the undercarriage scraped the edge of the pothole. Pretty winced, too. She hated to see those lovely motor-cars being manhandled so clumsily around the yard. She could do better. She’d spent so many hours watching drivers on the streets and peeking into Mr. Tob’s lessons; she knew she’d drive perfectly, if she could just get the chance.
The lesson didn’t last much longer. Mr. Rostin didn’t seem to have much patience for the boys’ clumsiness, or maybe he just cared more about getting home for dinner on time. Somewhere far behind Pretty, the bell in Dreth Cathedral tolled six times. Mr. Rostin looked up at the sound, then shouted, “That’s enough! Back over here, all of you!” The motor-cars wobbled and jolted slowly back into a crooked row where they’d started. Denny’s car came within a hair’s width of scraping one of the poles supporting the roof, and Mr. Rostin winced. The boys climbed down from their cars, all looking very pleased with themselves, except Denny. He’d stalled so many times that he’d only managed to make one halting circle around the lot, while everyone else had gone around twice. “Not bad for your first lesson,” said Mr. Rostin, but he eyed Denny sourly as he said it.
Pretty couldn’t see Denny’s face from here, but his antennae drooped and his wings folded tighter against his back. She felt a little sorry for him. As much as she hated being told she couldn’t learn to drive, it must feel worse to be accepted and then do a bad job of it.
The boys scattered in different directions. Most of them launched up out of the yard and flew away, but Denny shuffled out through the gate on foot. The street wasn’t as crowded as earlier, but there were still plenty of people out and about. Pretty hesitated for a minute, then followed Denny. They weren’t exactly friends, but they’d been neighbors all their lives, and Denny looked like he could use some company.
“Hello. What are you doing here?” he said when Pretty landed beside him. He didn’t sound cross, just surprised.
“Watching you drive.”
He stiffened a little. “Having a good laugh at me?”
“No,” said Pretty. “Just watching.”
His expression relaxed and he straightened his shoulders. He was tall and skinny; he might be finished growing, but he hadn’t filled out yet, so he still looked more like a boy than a man. His scruffy white-blond hair sticking out every which way from under the brim of his newsboy’s cap didn’t help him look any older. “I saw you talking to Mr. Rostin,” he said. “Were you trying to join the class?”
Pretty nodded and sidestepped to avoid getting run over by a sidewalk seller with a rack of scarves for sale. “But he doesn’t want to teach a girl.”
“That’s stupid,” said Denny. “You’d be good at it.”
“You think so?” Pretty knew so, but she was a little surprised to hear someone else agree with her. Even her Ma had been skeptical.
“You’ve always been better at magic than anyone else in the neighborhood,” said Denny. “Driving these new engines seems perfect for you.”
Pretty smiled. “That’s what I thought, too.” She hesitated, then asked, “Why are you in the class?”
“Since I’m not much good at magic, you mean?” Denny gave her a wry smile. “There’s no need to look embarrassed; it’s a fair question. I haven’t tried using magic this way before. Maybe coming at it from a different angle, it’ll finally start making sense and I’ll turn out to be good at driving. I’ve got to be good at something, right? I just haven’t found it yet.”
Pretty didn’t understand how he could stay so optimistic after spending all his life failing at things, but as long as he wanted to keep trying, she didn’t want to discourage him. “I’m sure you’ll make a good driver,” she said.
“I don’t know if you really believe that,” said Denny, “but thanks for saying it. Most people tell me I’ll never be good at anything and I should just give up.”
“Most people are mean,” said Pretty. Growing up, the other children in the neighborhood had always teased Denny for being so clumsy and so bad at everything. He dropped balls when they played; he bashed his fingers with a hammer when he tried to fix things; he broke dishes when he did the washing up. Pretty had laughed at him, too, until Ma gave her a thrashing for being unkind. And now, after weeks of getting laughed at for wanting to drive, Pretty was starting to understand how frustrating life must have been for Denny all these years.
“Pa thinks I’ll spend my whole life as a street sweeper,” said Denny. He tripped on a crack in the sidewalk and flailed his arms awkwardly to keep his balance. A schoolboy passing on his way home laughed rudely. Denny’s cheeks colored, but he didn’t look at the boy. “Sweeping’s not the worst job,” he said, “but I know I can do better.”
Pretty looked down at the sidewalk. It was clear of snow and dirt, thanks to sweepers like Denny. Her little brother Pip also earned some money sweeping streets and sidewalks and clearing snow off roofs in winter. It didn’t pay much, even by fairy standards. “It might not be the worst life, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good life,” said Pretty. “I wouldn’t be happy with a job like that, either.”
“Don’t matter if you’re happy,” Denny said in a good imitation of his father’s gruff voice. “A living’s a living, boy! Be grateful you got any job at all.”
Pretty wasn’t sure if she wanted to giggle or grimace. Her Ma thought the same way; she didn’t understand why Pretty kept trying to learn driving. Too many people were ready to shrug and accept whatever came their way without ever trying to do better. “But what’s the point of living if all you do is work?” Pretty said. “My Pa used to have time to play with us and go to services with us on the weekends, but every time Ma has another baby, he has to work longer hours. He’s hardly ever home now, even on the weekends. What sort of life is that?”
Denny opened his mouth to answer, then stopped. A pair of constables strolled into view in their crisp red and blue uniforms, with round caps perched on their heads and truncheons and pistols at their sides. The two fairies stepped down into the street to make sure they stayed out of the way. They walked quietly and looked at their feet. Pretty felt the constables’ eyes raking over them, waiting for a chance to catch fairies doing something wrong. She kept her face down, and the constables went past without stopping.
They stepped back up onto the sidewalk, and Pretty lifted her chin and pulled her shoulders back. Constables always made her feel like walking confidently was a crime. She didn’t like that feeling. She always stood very straight when the feeling passed, as if she could make up for cringing by being extra confident afterward.
“At least your Pa earns enough that your siblings don’t have to go to the factories,” said Denny after a while. He looked down at his boots.
Pretty bit her lip. When they were all younger, Denny and his brother had gone to work in the factory that people called Death Mill because it was so unsafe. It got shut down, but not before an accident killed Denny’s brother.
That was when Pretty’s Pa had sworn he’d never let any of his children go to the factories, not until they were at least sixteen and old enough to understand what sort of work it was. When Pretty had turned sixteen a couple months back, she’d made her own promise. If there was anything she could do to help Pa keep his promise, she would. Even the safe factories were miserable places, especially for children.
“Staying out of the factories is something,” Pretty admitted. “And I’m glad Pa has good work. But I don’t think it’s ungrateful to want more. I don’t want to settle for life being better than it could be: I want life to be good. Why can’t we have that?”
“We’re fairies,” said Denny.
That was always what it came to in the end. They had pointed ears and antennae and wings. Pretty didn’t have much human blood, so she even had scaly silvery-purplish ridges across her cheekbones and down the backs of her shoulders to her wing joints. They weren’t human enough, and that was that.
Pretty stopped walking. “Mr. Rostin closes up at six, doesn’t he?” she said.
“I suppose so,” said Denny.
“Let’s go back.”
He wrinkled his forehead. “It’s past six. He’s closed up by now, like you said.”
Denny’s eyes widened and his voice dropped to a whisper. “You want to break in? Are you insane?”
“No. Maybe.” Pretty bit her lip and gripped the end of the pale braid hanging over her shoulder. Her cheeks burned and her heart thumped in her throat. “I don’t know. I guess it’s a stupid idea. But I was just thinking that if you could get some extra practice, you’ll do better in Mr. Rostin’s class. And if I could get a chance to try driving. . . I just need a chance.”
“This isn’t Bugtown,” said Denny. That was the rude name for the area where most fairies lived. “This is a good part of town. People will notice fairies sneaking around!”
“Not if we’re careful.”
He glanced back along the sidewalk in the direction the constables had gone. “They’ll call the conners, and we’ll end up in jail!”
Pretty’s heart felt like it was blocking her throat. She swallowed a couple times and followed Denny’s gaze into the dark where the constables had vanished. This was probably the stupidest idea she’d ever had, but now that she’d thought of it, she couldn’t get it out of her head. Maybe the scientists were right and magic did replace part of a fairy’s common sense.
Denny pulled her off the sidewalk into the recessed doorway of a building, where other pedestrians wouldn’t overhear what they were saying. The door was painted rich green, and the walls around it were clean white brick. This really was a nicer part of town. They didn’t stand out too much; there were a few other fairies walking the streets or flying overhead. But that didn’t mean they’d get away with anything.
“It would be different if we were trying to take food or — or blankets, or something like that,” whispered Denny. “If it was something we really needed—”
“This is something we really need!” said Pretty, too loudly. She jumped at the sound of her own voice and looked uneasily at the people walking past. The other pedestrians were under the streetlamps; they didn’t even seem to notice the two fairies standing in the shadows. “We do need it,” Pretty said again, more quietly. “If there’s more to life than not starving, if we want to find a job where we’re worth something or a job that makes us happy—”
“We won’t find any job if we’re in jail,” said Denny, but he looked thoughtfully back up the street toward Mr. Rostin’s place.
“Driving these new cars is a job only fairies can do,” said Pretty. “When I’m working at the grocery, or when you’re sweeping streets, they can get away with paying us pennies because we know if we complain, they’ll just replace us with someone else. But driving a dragon-bone engine, that’s different. It’s like fire-fighters. Ever since the humans got smart and started hiring fairies, they get paid almost as much as human fire-fighters, because nobody else can point their fingers and put out fires. The humans have to pay fair wages, or they’ll be back to throwing buckets of water on fires and praying that’s enough. Driving is the same. It’s a chance to prove we’re worth as much as anyone else.”
Denny looked at her strangely for a minute, as if he hadn’t really noticed her before, or as if she’d suddenly turned into something different. Then he nodded and stepped back down from the shadowed doorstep onto the sidewalk. “Let’s do it.”
“We should fly all the way,” said Pretty. Someone might notice them jumping over Mr. Rostin’s wall from the side lane, but nobody would see them coming straight down out of the dark.
“All right,” said Denny.
They launched up to the second story. A few people glanced at them, but it was normal enough to see fairies taking off from the sidewalk, even in this part of town, and once they were above the streetlamps, Pretty doubted anybody would see them at all. They flew side by side; the streets here were plenty wide enough, even with the way Denny flailed his wings and zig-zagged a little.
Pretty didn’t say anything about his clumsy flying; she just stayed out of the way so his wings wouldn’t slap her. He flapped like a bird, which shouldn’t be necessary at all. Flying was mostly magic: Pretty used her wings to steer, but to stay in the air, all she had to do was absorb energy and turn it into lift. It was the easiest kind of magic; Pretty didn’t even have to think about it. Denny, though, he had enough human blood to give him trouble with even the easy magic.
Still, he kept up with Pretty as they flew back toward Mr. Rostin’s motor-car lot. She landed on the corner of the wall where she’d sat to watch the class and looked down at the empty space. The gas-lamps that had lit the area earlier were dark now. The moon was barely past full, but it was too low between the buildings to give much light. There were a few ribbons of green aurora in the southern sky, but they were too far away to help.
“We’ll have to be really careful of where we’re driving,” Pretty whispered as Denny landed beside her. He nearly slipped off the icy walltop, and she caught his arm.
“The cars have headlamps,” Denny said.
“People will see the light through the gate.” Pretty looked down at the garage and chewed her lip. She could just make out the shapes of the motor-cars lined up under the slanted roof. The garage had no walls, only the wooden posts holding up the roof. There was no reason to lock up the cars in a closed garage: the lot was enclosed with a brick wall on all four sides, and the front gate was made of cast-iron bars with two big bolts held in place with padlocks. Nobody was going to steal Mr. Rostin’s cars.
“All right, let’s go,” said Pretty. Neither of them moved. Pretty’s heart was pounding so hard it hurt. She swallowed. This was her idea. Denny wasn’t going to go first; he was waiting for her.
Suddenly he grabbed her hand. His fuzzy gloves tickled her bare fingertips, and he squeezed hard enough that she could feel all the lumps in her glove where Ma had made mistakes in her knitting. Pretty looked up at Denny. His eyes were wide, but he smiled and nodded. He looked more excited than scared. “Together,” he said. Pretty nodded back and took a deep breath. Her hand tightened around Denny’s fingers as she leaned forward. For a second they wobbled on the very edge of the wall. Pretty could still use her wings to pull them back. She could still change her mind.
Then Denny overbalanced, and they both dropped down into Mr. Rostin’s yard. Pretty landed on her feet. Denny stumbled to his knees and nearly pulled her down with him, but he quickly scrambled back up again.
“The ones on the end will be easiest to get out,” said Pretty. She didn’t think she’d bump into anything, but she was worried Denny would scrape his motor-car against one of the support beams like he almost had during class. She hurried across the yard and went to the second motor-car from the end, leaving Denny the easier one.
He stood near her. “When you get in, you’ll want to put one hand on the wheel and the other—”
“I know,” said Pretty. “I’ve heard more lessons than you have.”
“From one of the other motor-car sellers. I hid behind the fence and watched nearly two weeks of classes, from starting the engines to going out on the streets.”
Denny looked disappointed. Had he really thought he could teach her? Pretty supposed she couldn’t blame him for wanting to be better at something for once in his life, but she didn’t need his help.
She didn’t get up in the driver’s seat right away. First she walked around the motor-car and let her fingers slide over the glossy smooth paint. She traced the graceful curves that swept up over the wheel-wells and down again. She crouched to look at the headlamps, which had little discs of dragon bone behind their round glass covers.
“What are you doing?” said Denny, following her around the car.
“Just — getting a feel for it,” said Pretty. She didn’t really know how to explain how happy she felt finally putting her hands on one of the sleek, shiny motor-cars. Other machines didn’t interest her; it was just these new cars, with their promise of a better life. The more dragon-bone machines people made, machines that could only be operated by fairies, the more things would change. Oh, there were plenty of dragon-bone machines in the factories and mills, but most people never saw those and never realized how much fairies did. Pa’s dragon-bone trains were in the papers, but the articles only talked about innovation and the future of the country, and never even mentioned the drivers. These cars, though, driving up and down every public street with fairies at the wheel — these cars would show everyone.
Pretty finally stepped up into the driver’s seat. It wasn’t just a perch on front like a coachman’s seat; it was a little box with a window in front and a door in the side. A thin wall in the back separated her chair from the passenger compartment, but there was a sliding window that the passengers could open to give her instructions. Pretty looked carefully around the space. There were small round mirrors to either side so she could see back along the sides of the motor-car, a large switch beside the steering wheel that probably connected the headlamps to the engine so they’d start building energy, and a foot-pedal in front of the seat for braking.
Denny hopped up into his own driver’s seat, then opened the side window and leaned over toward her. “The lever there—”
“I know!” said Pretty. She wanted to take her time and savor this moment. She leaned down and pulled aside the leather cowling around the bottom of the control lever, but she couldn’t see anything. She hesitated, then glared at the air until she saw the shimmering patterns that told her where to find energy. She pulled a little into herself and turned it into light — just a tiny bit, and all focused in the tips of her fingers, to cast a faint glow into the gap around the lever. It didn’t reveal much.
“I can’t see how it works,” she said, disappointed.
“The lever’s attached to all the engine bones,” said Denny. “When you move the lever—” He paused, as if expecting her to interrupt him again.
Pretty straightened up and looked over at him. Her cheeks flushed as she realized how rude she’d been since they got into the car lot. Denny had only been trying to help. And besides, just because she knew more about driving didn’t mean she knew everything. “When you move the lever?” she prompted.
“It lowers a silver bar across the whole row of engine bones,” Denny said eagerly. That made sense. Dragon bones could absorb energy, the same as fairies, but usually they released it as fast as they gathered it, so not much happened. Silver, though, made the bones hold energy so the driver would have time to build up a reserve and then turn it all into motion.
“And the end of the lever contacts a bridge bone,” Denny continued, “so energy can flow freely between all the bones in the series. They’ll work like one unit, so you don’t have to worry about drawing more energy from one than another. It’ll all even out, like — like a row of bottles with a tube connecting them, so the water level stays the same in every bottle. And the bones are all pointed in the same direction, of course, so the energy goes straight into the pistons that move the wheels.”
“How do you know all that?” said Pretty.
“I saw a diagram in Mr. Rostin’s office when I signed up for the class,” he said. “I think he uses it to explain the new engines to his customers. It wasn’t very detailed, but it was enough to get the idea.”
“Sounds pretty detailed to me,” said Pretty. She didn’t mind Denny teaching her that sort of thing. She still didn’t need his help driving, but information about the motor-cars was different. And he seemed so happy to be the expert on something. “Well — thanks for explaining,” she said a little awkwardly. “I suppose we should get started now.”
Denny nodded and shut his window, then shifted his control lever and frowned intently into midair as he focused on his engine.
Pretty shifted her own lever. Her car started vibrating a little as the bones absorbed energy. Left to their own devices, they’d gather enough energy to start the engine without Pretty’s help, but it would take a few minutes. Beside her, Denny’s engine started rumbling softly, and he inched out of the row of cars and started creeping his wobbly way around the edge of the paved lot.
Pretty didn’t want to get left behind. She wrapped her hand carefully around the lever so her bare fingertips touched the dragon-bone surface, then focused on the shimmery patterns in the air. She pulled in huge gulps of energy, as much as she could hold, and pushed it through her hand into the lever to make the engine start more quickly. The motor-car vibrated more loudly. The bones would keep gathering energy on their own; she just had to keep turning all that energy into motion.
Pretty’s heart started racing again. She adjusted her grip on the lever. She was holding tightly enough to feel the lumps in her glove again. Her palm felt sweaty even though the air around her was turning icy cold as the engine pulled the heat out of it. She swallowed, took a deep breath, and shifted the lever so less of the silver bar touched the engine bones.
Energy rushed into the engine. Pretty barely managed to keep up with it all. Her hands clenched tighter around the lever and the steering wheel as she raced to convert all the energy into motion. The motor-car lurched forward, faster than Pretty meant, and she hastily pulled the lever back again to bring a little more silver into contact and slow the flow of energy. The car jolted and slowed too much. The purr of the engine changed to a hiccuping sound, light started to seep out from under the front of the car, and Pretty realized she wasn’t focused enough. A good portion of the energy wasn’t getting converted into motion. She clenched her teeth and concentrated harder.
The motor-car rolled forward more smoothly this time. Pretty carefully turned the wheel, and the vehicle twitched sideways. She adjusted her grip on the wheel and tried again, and this time she managed to steer a wobbly little curve. Her heart was thumping in her throat now. She knew how to use magic, but she’d never steered any sort of vehicle before, and it wasn’t anything like she’d expected. If she slowed down any more, she’d stall the car, but if she didn’t slow down, she wasn’t sure she could control where she was going.
There was a sudden startling flash as Denny’s motor-car stalled. Pretty jumped, her hand jerked on the wheel, and her car pulled alarmingly to the side. She gasped, lost her focus, and stalled her motor-car too.
She flushed and didn’t look at Denny as she adjusted her grip again and restarted her engine. She’d imagined herself driving out of the garage and straight into a smooth, graceful curve around the edge of the yard. She’d told Denny she already knew what to do. She didn’t want to prove herself wrong.
But of course she wasn’t wrong. It was her first try, that was all. It would take a little while to get used to steering this thing. The wheel moved strangely in her hand; it seemed too stiff at first, but if she turned it harder, it spun too quickly. She reminded herself that none of the boys earlier had steered properly in their first lesson, either. It had taken them the whole class to make two slow, jerky circles around the yard. She was doing just as well as any of them.
Behind her, Denny managed to start his motor-car again. He drove a small circle in the middle of the yard, far away from any of the walls. Pretty followed in a larger circle, though she tried not to get too close to the walls, either. Her eyes were used to the dark, but it was still hard to see where she was going. She barely avoided the pothole, and only because she remembered where it was and made sure to slow down.
Pretty drove three slow, careful, very wobbly circles around the yard, then decided that was enough. The evening was getting quieter, and she was afraid people might hear the low rumble of the engines from out on the street. She eased her car back into its place under the garage roof, holding her breath as she came within an hair of brushing one of the support poles. Her cheeks heated at the thought that she might be the one to scrape up her motor-car.
She slipped between the poles, then realized she was still going too fast: she’d roll right into the wall at the back of the garage! She frantically pulled all her magic back through the engine, and the car jolted to an abrupt stop, so that Pretty lurched forward against the steering wheel. Her face turned even hotter as she realized she’d forgotten all about the brake pedal beside her foot. She hoped forcing magic backward through the engine didn’t do any harm. Hadn’t Pa said the locomotives always braked that way? It just made the wheels turn the opposite direction, right?
In any case, she hadn’t bumped into anything, and that was the important thing right now. She took a deep breath, and excitement flooded back in to wash away the moment of embarrassment. Never mind if she hadn’t been perfect; she’d just driven a motor-car! She was grinning by the time Denny’s motor-car inched its way into the garage a moment later.
“That was amazing!” Pretty whispered as she jumped down from the driver’s seat and ran over to stand by Denny’s car. “It’s even better than I imagined. It’s harder than I expected, though. I stalled that first time, and the steering and braking take some getting used to, but—” She broke off when she saw Denny’s expression. He’d stalled five times, and he’d only managed to go around the lot twice even though his circles were smaller than hers. “Don’t worry,” said Pretty. “You will get better.”
“Of course I will,” said Denny. He wiped the disappointment off his face and smiled again as they walked back across the lot toward the wall where they’d entered. “I can’t expect to learn in a day,” he said cheerfully.
“It’s not easy,” Pretty agreed. She hadn’t realized until now how much fine control of magic the motor-car needed. It was no wonder Denny was having trouble.
“You didn’t look like you had a hard time,” said Denny. “You’re a natural at it. Mr. Rostin really was stupid to turn you away. You got the trick of controlling the engine quicker than any of the boys in the class.”
“You sound happy about that,” said Pretty.
“Aren’t you happy?”
“Of course I am, but—” Honestly, if she was in Denny’s place, she’d be burning up with jealousy right now. “Doesn’t it . . . bother you?” she asked hesitantly. “When other people learn faster, I mean?” She winced at how insensitive the question sounded.
Denny didn’t seem upset, though. He just shrugged. “I used to hate people who were good at things, but I guess I got tired of being angry all the time.” He paused and frowned in the direction of his feet for a minute, then added, “Besides, I don’t want to end up like my Pa. He’s always complaining about something, he’s always miserable, and nobody likes him. Putting you down would just make us both unhappy, and it wouldn’t help me learn any faster. So it’s better all around if I’m excited for you.”
Pretty laughed. “I’m excited enough for myself!” She hesitated, then reached over and squeezed Denny’s hand like he’d done to hers earlier. He looked startled. “I know what will make you learn faster,” she said. “We’ll come back and practice every night until you’re the best driver in your class.”
“Every night?” He looked unsure at first, but then his hand tightened a little around Pretty’s and his expression changed. It was an odd look, like the way he’d stared at her when she explained why it was so important to learn to drive, as if he’d made some groundbreaking discovery.
“What?” said Pretty.
Denny jumped. “What? Nothing.”
“Are we coming back or not?” said Pretty.
“I — yes.” Denny nodded. “Tomorrow night. We can meet outside again after the lesson. I mean, if you—”
“I’ll be here,” said Pretty. She smiled and squeezed his hand again, then let go and launched herself up out of the middle of the yard.
She heard Denny’s wings flapping behind her as he followed, but she didn’t slow down for him. She was too excited. She could drive! All right, maybe she could only make slow, careful circles around a practice lot, but she could drive! And she was a natural at it, just like she’d hoped! She laughed aloud as she swooped and whirled through the dark gaps between the buildings. She felt happier than she had in a long time.
“Well, I’ve stopped stalling the car, at least,” said Denny with an attempt at cheerfulness.
They’d just climbed down from their motor-cars after another practice drive. Pretty leaned against the side of her car and bit her lip, trying to figure out what to say. Denny was putting a good face on it, but she could tell he was starting to get frustrated. They’d been sneaking into Mr. Rostin’s yard for a week now, and of course Denny had been practicing during the official classes, too, but he hadn’t improved very much. He wasn’t nearly as good as the other boys in the class. Pretty had continued watching the classes from her perch on top of the wall, so she’d seen the scowls and sighs and grimaces Denny always earned from Mr. Rostin when he tried to drive anything more complicated than a slow circle.
“You’re definitely improving,” said Pretty. “If you just stick to it a little longer—”
“It doesn’t make much difference if I can’t pass the test at the end,” said Denny.
Pretty shook her head. “You’ll pass! Don’t you dare give up, not after all this work!”
“I’m not giving up,” he said. “At least, I’m not giving up on finding something I’m good at. But I don’t think driving is—”
“We just need to try something different,” Pretty said stubbornly. She wasn’t really sure why she insisted Denny keep trying when no amount of practice would give him more magic. Maybe she just liked being the one person who told him he could do it. He had enough people telling him to give up; he deserved a little encouragement.
“Maybe you just need to see it more clearly,” said Pretty. She bent down in front of Denny’s motor-car and felt around for the latch. The engine cover was stiff, and it took a few tries to pry it open so the curved sheet of metal rested against the front window. Pretty smiled at Denny and summoned light to her fingertips to illuminate the inside of the engine. “Come on, have a look.”
“All right.” Denny leaned his hands on the front of the motor-car and looked down into the engine. “I don’t know much about engines,” he said.
“You saw that diagram in Mr. Rostin’s office last week. Maybe looking at the real thing will help you get it clearer in your head and focus more easily.”
“Maybe so.” Denny leaned a little lower. “Well, that has to be the motive core,” he said, pointing to a long steel box in the middle. “There, see that rod way in the back? That’s the bottom end of the control lever. It goes down into the core here, so the bridge bone must be just in there, with the silver contact behind it.” He pointed to different parts of the box as if he could see through it to the dragon bones inside. “And here are the pistons, that’s where the energy from the bones goes, and these cranks here are what actually turn the wheels.”
“There are only two of them,” Pretty said.
“Well, I suppose once the front wheels start spinning, the back ones follow,” said Denny. “Moving the motor-car takes the same amount of energy whether it’s split two ways or four, right? So why make the engine more complicated?” His antennae angled far forward as if to help him get a better look at the engine. It didn’t really work that way, of course; as best as scientists could figure out, a fairy’s antennae helped find energy to absorb, but didn’t improve any other senses. But maybe Denny was seeing the energy more clearly, like Pretty had hoped!
“Is it helping?” she asked eagerly. “Seeing the engine, is it helping you figure out how to drive better?”
“I don’t think so,” said Denny. “It’s interesting, but it’s not going to make me any better at magic.”
“You won’t know for sure until you try driving again.” Pretty grabbed his arm and pulled him back so she could shut the engine casing. He stumbled, but she kept her grip on his coat sleeve to help him catch his balance. “And I’ll come with you this time!” she said as a new idea struck her.
“Come with me?”
“In the car! Maybe I’ll be able to help figure it out. I know I’m still working on steering, but I’m good at the magic. Maybe you just need a few pointers. Mr. Rostin’s always telling you what you’re doing wrong in class, but I haven’t heard him give you much advice on how to do it right.”
“Well, that’s true, but—”
“Come on.” Pretty jumped up into the driver’s seat of Denny’s car, then slid over and beckoned him to join her.
His brow furrowed and his antennae twitched. “All right,” he said after a moment. He stepped up and squeezed into the seat beside Pretty. It was designed to fit one person, and they were cramped tight. One of Pretty’s legs hung off the edge of the seat, and her other leg pressed close against Denny’s. It was a good thing he was so skinny, or they’d never both fit.
He gave her a sideways look, then put his hands on the lever and the wheel. “All right, what now?”
“Just start driving.”
He furrowed his brow and stared at nothing. Pretty couldn’t see the shimmering patterns in the air, since she wasn’t the one collecting energy, but she could see how hard Denny was straining. For her, magic was just a trick of concentration, but for him, it took real effort. His jaw clenched and beads of sweat appeared on his upper lip. It took almost a full minute before the engine hummed to life and the car rolled back out into the yard. Denny gripped the steering wheel and the control lever so hard his knuckles were white.
“Can you relax a little?” asked Pretty. “I think it’ll run more smoothly.”
He tried, but when he managed to loosen his grip, his neck tensed up instead, and when he managed to stop clenching his jaw, his antennae stood straight up and his wings quivered with tension.
“Ease forward a little on the lever,” Pretty suggested. “You’ve got too much silver contact; it’s slowing you down.”
Denny didn’t look happy about the idea of going faster, but he cautiously moved the lever the tiniest distance. The engine purred more deeply and the motor-car sped up from a walking pace to a jogging speed. More sweat gathered on Denny’s upper lip, and he stared so hard out the window that his eyes started bulging.
“Here, let me steer,” said Pretty. She put her hand on the wheel next to his. “I need the practice anyway. You just focus on controlling the speed, and I’ll make sure we don’t hit the walls, all right?”
“All right.” Denny finally started relaxing a little. He didn’t take his grip off the steering wheel, but he stopped sweating and his eyes stopped bulging. Pretty realized that if it took him so much focus to use magic, it must be awfully hard to watch the shimmering patterns of energy and watch where the car was going at the same time.
She steered them in a wide circle around the yard, and beside her, Denny relaxed a little bit more. He still had a death-grip on the control lever, and his forehead was still wrinkled with concentration, but the car was running much more smoothly. They made a second circle, and then Pretty turned the motor-car into its parking place under the garage roof again and carefully pressed the brake pedal for a smooth, gradual stop. Instinct still told her to stop the car by pulling energy backward through the engine, but she’d gotten much better about remembering the brake pedal.
Denny let out a gasp of relief and let his head fall back against the flimsy wall that separated them from the passenger’s compartment. The last of the engine’s humming energy faded as he returned the control lever to its neutral position, with no silver touching the engine bones.
“Was that easier?” asked Pretty.
“A little. You’re getting really good at steering, you know.” Denny looked down at the steering wheel. They both still had a hand on the wheel. Denny let his grip loosen, and his hand slid down the curve to rest against Pretty’s. “Why do you care so much if I learn this?” he asked.
Pretty shrugged. “We agreed this was important, right? It’s a chance for something better. It would be awfully selfish of me to run ahead without at least trying to help you come with me.”
“Come with you?” Denny repeated in an odd sort of voice.
Pretty glanced up at him and suddenly realized why he kept looking at her so strangely this past week, as if he was seeing her for the first time. He was seeing her for the first time. He wasn’t seeing the neighbor girl or the grocery girl: he was seeing the girl Pretty always saw reflected in shop windows, the one who had bold ideas and big dreams and a real future. He was looking at her like she was special. Like she was beautiful. She felt her cheeks turning red. It was a good thing they were sitting in the dark. Hopefully he couldn’t see her blushing.
“Well, you want a better life too, don’t you?” said Pretty. She took her hand off the steering wheel and hoped it looked casual. She wasn’t quite sure what to think about Denny looking at her like that. “It’s only right for fairies to help each other move up in the world, isn’t it?”
“Of course,” said Denny. He seemed to realize Pretty was a little uncomfortable; he opened the car door and slid to the ground. He stumbled and grabbed the side of the car for balance, then stepped out of the way so Pretty could hop down after him. He belatedly lifted a hand as if to help her down, then dropped it back to his side, looking embarrassed.
They stood there for a moment. Denny’s wings fluttered nervously and his mouth opened and then shut again.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” said Pretty.
Denny opened his mouth again, then closed it and nodded.
Pretty hesitated, thinking about how close together they’d been sitting, with their legs pressed together. Part of her felt embarrassed about that, and part of her felt a little bit excited. She thought about it for a minute, then added, “If driving together was helpful, we can do it again.”
“We should. I mean, it was helpful.”
“Tomorrow, then,” said Pretty.
They stood there looking at each other for a second longer, and then Pretty hurried across to the middle of the yard and darted up into the sky with her face still feeling hot and her heart beating a little too quickly.
They sat side by side in Denny’s motor-car, squeezed together so close that even in the icy air, Pretty didn’t feel chilled. Actually, she felt too warm. Every time they finished a circle around the yard, Denny kept looking at her in a way that made her cheeks burn. It had taken her several days to decide that she did in fact like it when he looked at her that way. At any rate, she felt more excited than embarrassed. And every night, she kept joining Denny in his car after she finished her own practice circuits.
He still wasn’t very good. After a second week of practice, he seemed confident controlling the engine or the steering wheel, but not both at once. Pretty didn’t think he’d get any better, but she still couldn’t bring herself to say so.
“We should stop,” said Denny as they came around the curve toward the garage. They’d already done four circuits together, which was more than usual. Pretty nodded and turned the wheel toward the garage. She slid the motor-car neatly into its place. It had taken a lot of practice — and a lot of encouragement from Denny — but she was finally comfortable steering; she didn’t even worry about the narrow parking space or the dangerously close support poles any more. And she didn’t have to remind herself to use the brake pedal instead of turning the magic backward.
Denny let the engine run out of energy, and the familiar hum of the charged dragon bones faded. They didn’t get out of the car. It seemed like every night, they spent longer sitting side by side after driving.
“Earlier was the last lesson in the yard,” said Denny.
Pretty nodded. As usual, she’d been perched on the wall during the class.
“We’ll drive on the streets tomorrow,” said Denny. “Mr Rostin’s bringing in a few experienced drivers to ride along and give us tips.”
Pretty didn’t see why he was telling her all this. She’d already heard Mr. Rostin explain it. “I’m sure you’ll do just fine,” she said.
“No, I won’t,” said Denny.
“But you’ve gotten so much better, I’m sure—”
“I’ll never manage on the roads, with all the traffic and so much more to keep track of,” said Denny. “It’s been kind of you not to tell me so. Nobody else is that nice about it when I turn out to be bad at things. But there’s no reason to keep being nice. I won’t pass. But you will; you’re the best in the class.”
“I’m not in the class,” said Pretty. “But maybe I can convince Mr. Rostin to let me try. He’s let me watch all the classes, so maybe if I talk to him again—”
“You don’t need to convince him.” Denny gripped her hand. “I thought you didn’t care about getting permission. It was your idea to sneak in here and learn on your own. You’re not scared to do whatever it takes, and I — I admire that.” His voice dropped lower; he sounded embarrassed. His face was only a dark outline in the shadows, but Pretty felt sure he was blushing.
“It’s one thing to sneak in here, but there’s no way to get a car onto the street without getting caught,” said Pretty.
“Unless you drive instead of me,” said Denny. His hand tightened around Pretty’s. “I don’t care about the test any more; I just want you to get your license. Mr. Rostin won’t be with us on the streets tomorrow, and the drivers who are going with us don’t know who’s supposed to be in the class. If you wear my coat, Mr. Rostin might not notice when you take the motor-car out of the lot.”
Pretty’s heart made a strange little leap like it wanted to jump right out of her chest. “You really mean that?” Her voice sounded high and breathless.
“Of course I mean it,” he said. “Coming here every night, it was — well, it was exciting to sneak in, and I hoped I could learn more, but after a while, I only kept coming because — well, because it made you happy. I was glad for the practice, of course, but we both know this is the thing you’re good at. I’m not going to pass the test anyway, so I might as well give you your chance to get ahead instead. You deserve it.”
Pretty’s heart leapt again. He really meant it! Poor clumsy, selfless, wonderful Denny! A rush of excitement blazed through her, warming her to her fingertips as if she’d filled herself to brimming with heat energy. She laughed, but it didn’t let out enough energy. “Denny, that’s — I could kiss you!”
There was a sudden silence. They looked at each other. Pretty’s excitement bubbled up to overflowing, and she didn’t see any reason to hold it in. Why not kiss him? She grabbed the sides of his head and pressed her mouth to his. He caught a sharp breath; then his lips parted and moved softly against hers, and their antennae brushed tinglingly against each other, and a whole different kind of excitement started burning inside Pretty’s skin.
They broke apart and stared at each other from a few inches apart. Pretty’s heart was thundering in her ears and her cheeks were flushed hot enough to fry bacon. She still felt Denny’s breath against her face. She was sure neither of them had kissed anybody before. This was something new and different and—
And suddenly Pretty felt more flustered than excited. “I — I should go,” she said. “I have to be at the grocery first thing tomorrow, and—”
“And it looks like it’ll snow tonight,” said Denny awkwardly. “I’ll make good money sweeping it off the roofs and sidewalks if I get up early enough.”
“Good. We should go to — we should get some sleep.” Denny scrambled down out of the motor-car, then turned quickly and offered his hand. Pretty took it and smiled as he helped her down out of the car as if she was a lady. They stood there looking at each other for another minute, and Denny started to lean toward her again. His hand touched the side of her head. He wasn’t wearing his gloves, and his fingers were rough and calloused against the point of her ear.
They both jumped as the bell in Dreth Cathedral tolled over the city. It was eight o’clock. “It’s late,” Pretty said. “We haven’t had dinner. My Ma will wonder why I’m not home yet, and so will yours.” Her cheeks burned even hotter at the idea of trying to explain to Ma why she was so late. Ma knew she’d been trying to learn how to drive, but Pretty hadn’t told her anything about breaking into Mr. Rostin’s yard, or about how much time she and Denny had spent alone together.
“Good night,” said Pretty as she took a step backward.
“Good night, Pretty.” The way he said it made her feel even warmer.
Pretty tried not to look sneaky as she entered Mr. Rostin’s yard through the gate for the first time in two weeks. She was wearing Denny’s baggy flannel coat with the sleeves cuffed up so they wouldn’t swallow her hands. The coat smelled like him. Pretty hadn’t noticed before that Denny had any particular smell.
She glanced nervously at the five boys who’d been learning to drive with Denny. One of them gave her a confused look in return but didn’t say anything. She’d hidden her long hair under Denny’s flat black cap. It might not be obvious she was a girl, but it was obvious she wasn’t Denny. Aside from anything else, she was nearly a foot too short. This plan wasn’t going to work.
She held her breath as Mr. Rostin hurried across the yard, but he barely gave the students more than a glance. “These are the experienced drivers who will be your passengers today,” he said, gesturing to six fairies she didn’t know standing near the garage. “If anything goes wrong—” He aimed a sour glance in Pretty’s direction, and she quickly ducked her head, hoping that she looked chastised and that Mr. Rostin hadn’t gotten a clear look at her face. “If anything goes wrong, they’ll take over and drive you back here,” Mr Rostin finished. “Now go on; don’t waste any time. I can’t lock up until you’re all back.”
Pretty rushed to the nearest motor-car before Mr. Rostin could get a closer look at her. She jumped up into the driver’s seat, and one of the experienced drivers came over to join her. He wasn’t any older than Denny, and Pretty wondered how experienced he really was. The dragon-bone motor-cars had existed for less than six months, after all.
“I’m ready to go,” said Pretty.
The driver eyed her. “Are you supposed to be disguised?” he said.
Pretty flushed. “Um. Maybe.”
He snorted, and his antennae tilted forward with amusement. “You don’t think Mr. Rostin’s actually stupid enough to fall for it, do you?”
Pretty thought it was probably smarter not to answer. Let him think Mr. Rostin had turned a blind eye to the fact that he had a girl in his class; it was better than letting anyone know she’d been breaking in every night to practice.
The instructor frowned at her for a moment, and she held her breath, hoping he wouldn’t object to teaching a girl. “Well, I guess we’ll see,” he said. “I’ve never seen a girl driving before, but if you’re decent at magic. . .”
“I am,” said Pretty quickly. She pointed to the scaly ridges on her cheekbones: they proved she didn’t have much human blood to dilute her magic. “I’m as good a driver as any of the boys, and better than some of them.”
The instructor eyed her for another second, then shrugged. “Let’s go, then.” He climbed into the passenger compartment and slid open the dividing window so he could put his head through and watch Pretty. “Take it slowly on the way out of the yard.”
“All right.” Pretty let out a breath of relief, shut her door, then scowled at the air and brought the heat-shimmers into focus. It only took a moment to pull in enough energy to bring the engine humming to life. She waited for two of the others to get ahead of her — she didn’t want Mr. Rostin to be suspicious of how fast Denny had started his motor-car — then eased the car out between the garage’s supporting posts and across the yard.
“Turn right onto the street,” said the instructor. “Watch for people on foot.”
Pretty turned into the busy crowds of Newmarket Row with her heart racing eagerly. She’d done it! She’d gotten past Mr. Rostin and out onto the roads! She was driving, really driving, not just making circles around an empty lot! Brightness and darkness took turns filling the driver’s seat as she passed in and out of the circles of light cast by streetlamps. Ahead, one of the other students’ motor-cars turned left and vanished down a side road.
“You haven’t turned on your headlamps,” said the instructor.
“Oh!” Pretty had never used the lamps before: she’d never dared turn them on when the lot was supposed to be dark and empty. She flicked the switch that connected the headlamps to the engine and frowned as she tried to turn just a little trickle of the engine’s power into light. The headlamps flared, then dimmed, then settled to a steady glow as she got the trick of it.
“Making two kinds of energy at once is hard,” said Pretty. It wasn’t that hard for her, but it would be for a lot of fairies. “What happens if someone is good at driving but can’t manage to keep the headlights going at the same time? Do they just fail the class?”
“Oh, no,” said the instructor. “Most motor-cars have carbide lamps. This is the test model.” He patted the edge of the window. “They made a few like this when they first came up with the engine, but this model’s mostly used for teaching now. The cars you see on the street are the improved version.”
Pretty hadn’t realized any of that. Six months didn’t seem like long enough for there to be an improved version of the dragon-bone motor-cars already. But now that she thought about it, most motor-car headlights did have that yellow-orange carbide look, not the sunny white glow of magical light.
“Watch that boy,” said the instructor. Pretty looked quickly to the sidewalk, just in time to see a young boy dart out across the road. She slowed the motor-car and let him pass in front of her. She hadn’t really been going fast enough to hurt him anyway. It wasn’t possible to go fast on a busy road like this.
Pretty had never realized just how many people there were on the streets. There was always a bustle of coaches and wagons in the background, but she’d never paid much attention. She preferred to fly over all the traffic, especially in a busy area like Newmarket. Now it felt like she was seeing the city for the first time.
Ahead of her, a cabby leaned over to swear at a grocer’s wagon that was trundling along too slowly. The grocer made a rude gesture, and the cabby swore again and squeezed his cab past the larger wagon. Young children, both fairy and human, scrambled back and forth across the road, collecting horse droppings and tossing them into the snow-clogged gutters to earn a few pennies for street-cleaning. Wheels creaked, hooves clattered, voices rose over the noise, and the patches of light from the streetlamps and the motor-car’s headlamps made constantly changing patterns across the road. Wings glittered overhead, a dog raced along the side of the street, and in the corner of her eye Pretty saw someone wrestling a handcart over the curb.
She hadn’t realized how much she’d slowed her motor-car until the instructor said, “It’s a lot to keep an eye on, isn’t it?”
“I can handle it,” said Pretty.
He chuckled. “I’m sure you can. But I think that’s enough for today. Let’s go back to Mr. Rostin’s yard. Turn right at the corner and we’ll circle around.”
Pretty didn’t want to go back. She was sure she could get used to this new view of the road if he just gave her a few more minutes. But she didn’t complain. They drove back to the yard and arrived just behind one of the others. Mr. Rostin poked his head out of his office long enough to see that they were returning the motor-cars safely to their place under the garage roof, but he didn’t come out.
“Nicely done,” said the instructor as Pretty stopped the engine and returned the control lever to its neutral position, with no silver touching the engine bones. “We’ll go out again tomorrow.”
“Thank you,” said Pretty as she slid down from her seat. “For letting me drive, I mean. For not caring that I’m a girl.”
The more experienced driver smiled as he got out of the passenger’s compartment. “We’re both fairies. We’ve got to stick together, right?”
Pretty nodded and smiled gratefully, then hurried to the gate. Denny was waiting outside under the nearest streetlamp. He couldn’t warm himself with magic as easily as Pretty, but he didn’t look cold. He was carrying his broom; he’d probably done some sweeping to keep warm while Pretty wore his coat.
“Did it go well?” he asked.
“It was amazing!” She pulled off his coat and gave it back to him. “It’s completely different from driving in the lot, but it’s not too hard. With all the traffic, I couldn’t go much faster than walking pace.” She took off his hat, then held it, hesitating and chewing at her bottom lip. She didn’t want to say this, but it seemed like the right thing to do. “I think — I think you could manage, with how slowly the coaches and wagons go. You’d never need to use too much magic. If you want to keep trying—”
He hesitated, and Pretty’s heart tied itself in a knot, but then he shook his head. “I can’t,” he said. “I don’t really want to, not any more. Even if I could pass, I wouldn’t really be good at it, and it wouldn’t be — whatever it is I’ve been looking for. It wouldn’t make me happy the way it will for you. You’re the one who’s meant to do this.”
Her heart unknotted and felt suddenly light and warm. She smiled and gave back Denny’s hat. For a second she was tempted to kiss him again, but they were standing under a streetlamp where anybody could see.
“We could walk back to Bugtown together,” she suggested. “If you want.”
“All right,” said Denny.
Walking would take twice as long as flying, but it was still early, and Pretty missed sitting together during driving practice. She hesitated, then reached over and took his hand. She felt a little shy, holding hands in the middle of the sidewalk with people walking past, but she didn’t let go.
“Nicely done,” said the experienced driver. As usual, he was siting in back with his head poking through the sliding window to watch Pretty. “Take us back to Mr. Rostin’s yard. You choose which way to go.”
“Really?” He’d never let her pick the route before.
“Really,” said the instructor with a little smile. He’d been riding along for a week, and the past couple days, he’d barely had to correct Pretty at all; he’d mostly just told her where to turn.
Pretty took a smooth right turn, wove around a slower coach, and headed back toward Mr. Rostin’s lot. This was the longest drive she’d made yet; they’d gone nearly to the opposite side of Dreth, past the edge of the factory district and the northern railway station, before looping back through a residential area.
There were a few ways back to the car lot from here, and Pretty picked the one she thought would be quickest this time of day, avoiding the Newmarket crowds as much as possible. “Good choice,” said the instructor as they turned down a side road.
Pretty flushed a little at the compliment. It was one thing to know she was a good driver, and another thing to hear someone else — well, someone other than Denny — saying so. She took a few more turns, wove her way among several small carts without coming close to bumping any of them, and brought them back into Mr. Rostin’s lot.
As Pretty slid the motor-car neatly into its parking space beside another car that had already returned, the instructor said, “Well, you’re ready.”
Her heart jumped. “Ready to take the test?”
The instructor chuckled. “You just took the test.”
She turned around to stare at him. “Why didn’t you say so?”
He grinned. “I wanted to see your reaction when you realized you’d passed. You’re ready to look for a job. Well done.”
Pretty slid out of the car, feeling too light, as if she was channeling just a little bit of lift through her wings. She wasn’t; her feet were solidly on the ground. But she felt like she might start floating with the next step.
Then Mr. Rostin came around the corner. “Well, did he pass?” he asked skeptically, turning a narrow look on Pretty. His brows furrowed for a second when he realized she wasn’t Denny, and then his eyes widened as he recognized her. “What are you doing here?” he growled.
Pretty’s feet felt suddenly heavy again, and her heart rattled in her throat. She swallowed. “Learning to drive,” she said.
“You — you switched with Denny! How? When?”
“When you started sending the students out on the roads, sir.” She tried her best to sound confident but not disrespectful.
Mr. Rostin swore and turned to the instructor. “Why didn’t you say anything?” he demanded. “Why didn’t you tell me what she’d done?”
The instructor frowned at Pretty, and her heart lurched up into her throat. If he got angry about being tricked and decided not to pass her after all — but then the instructor shrugged. “I assumed she’d been in the class all along,” he said. “In any case, she drove beautifully from the first day.”
“She what?” Mr. Rostin eyed Pretty sidelong. “She’d never had any practice! She didn’t have any instruction at all!”
“Yes, I did,” said Pretty. “You saw me sitting on the wall watching the class every day. I had as many lessons as the boys.”
“You can’t learn to drive by watching!”
Pretty’s cheeks flushed. Her heart rattled so hard she could feel it shaking her body. Part of her wanted to tell him this was so important to her that she’d sneaked in to practice, but he’d probably call the constables if he knew. Instead she summoned a smile and said, “I told you I was good at magic!”
The instructor smiled too. “In any case, Mr. Rostin, she passed the test.”
“That’s my decision!” snapped Mr. Rostin.
Pretty gripped the end of her braid nervously. “I’m a good driver, Mr. Rostin,” she said. “I told you I would be, and I am! I’ll do whatever you want to prove it. I’ll—”
“You’ll get away from my motor-car!” snapped Mr. Rostin.
Pretty swallowed and took a step away from the car. Her stomach felt like it was full of live fish flopping around. He couldn’t refuse to pass her, not after all this! Not after weeks of watching and practicing, not after she’d taken so many risks breaking in at night! What could she say? What would make Mr. Rostin change his mind?
“I’ll pay double for the class!” she blurted. “To make up for tricking you. Whatever you take from the boys’ pay when you find jobs for them, you can take twice as much from mine.”
Mr. Rostin’s eyes narrowed. He stood there glowering for what felt like an hour. Pretty could see the thoughts churning behind his beady eyes, and she held her breath and clutched the hem of Denny’s coat in both hands, waiting for him to decide. Finally he muttered something rude and threw up his hands. “Fine,” he growled. “You passed.”
She held back a shriek of joy, but she couldn’t stop her wings from buzzing excitedly against each other as Mr. Rostin fished a little metal tag out of his pocket and thrust it into her hand. “And if I find anyone willing to hire a girl, you owe me twice as much as the boys, a quarter of your wages the first eight months instead of four.”
“Yes, sir!” said Pretty. She knew that was an unreasonable amount to pay Mr. Rostin, but she didn’t care. She’d passed, and that was what mattered. Even giving Mr. Rostin a quarter of her wages, she was sure she’d take home more than she did working at the grocery!
“Don’t look so excited,” said Mr. Rostin sourly. “I doubt either of us will see a penny. I still don’t believe anybody’s going to hire a girl to drive him around town.” He shook his head, then turned and stalked away.
“I don’t think he’s right about that,” said the instructor, pausing beside Pretty. “I know there are women who’ve bought motor-cars, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they like the idea of a girl driver. And companies have started buying motor-cars too. They might not care who drives as long as you know your business. You have a chance of getting hired, at least.”
Pretty beamed at him. “Thank you for taking my side,” she said. “Even though I tricked you, I mean.”
He smiled back. “I won’t pretend I liked it, but seeing Mr. Rostin confounded was worth it.” He patted her shoulder as he turned to go. “Good luck.”
Pretty held up the tag on its leather strap and watched it spin and twinkle in the light from the nearest gas-lamp. The tag was nothing fancy, just a square of metal stamped with the outline of a motor-car, but it changed everything. She could start paying for more than her own food and clothes. She could help Ma buy some nicer things for the apartment. She could take some of the burden off Pa’s shoulders and let him spend a few more hours at home with the family!
She practically danced out the gate to meet Denny. “I got it!” she shouted as soon as she spotted him waiting in the pool of light under the streetlamp. She thrust her hand into the air so the tag swung and bounced wildly.
“Of course you did.” Denny took the tag and turned it back and forth to admire it. Pretty watched him anxiously. He’d claimed he didn’t care about the driving class any more, but she was afraid he’d regret switching with her now that his chance was really and truly gone.
But he looked up at her and smiled, and Pretty knew he wasn’t pretending. He was really and truly glad she’d passed, and there wasn’t even the faintest shadow of regret or envy on his face. That was incredible. Pretty knew she wouldn’t be so honestly happy for him if he was the one who’d passed while she failed.
“I couldn’t have done it without you,” she said. She took off Denny’s coat and returned it for the last time. “But I wish we both—”
“There’s no use wishing,” said Denny. “This isn’t what I’m good at, and that’s that. I’ll find something else, and right now, I’m just happy for you.” He handed back the metal tag. “You’ve earned this.”
Pretty beamed at him. “I think you’re the best person I know.”
He turned bright pink. “I — I think you are, too.”
Pretty smiled and tried to give back Denny’s hat, but he didn’t take it.
He shook his head. “I’d rather—” He pulled Pretty’s knit hat off his head and stared at it; he couldn’t wear her coat, but it had seemed only fair to swap hats while Pretty was driving. Hers was light blue, with as many lumps and dropped stitches as her gloves. Her Ma had never been very good at knitting.
“You’d rather—?” said Pretty.
His cheeks turned even redder. “If you think — I mean—”
Pretty knew what he was trying to say, and it made her face grow warm, too. “It’s not a very good hat,” she said.
“But it’s yours,” said Denny. “I’d like to — if you want—”
Exchanging tokens wasn’t any sort of promise, but it was — well, visible. Everybody would know what it meant. “I — I wouldn’t mind,” Pretty said. “I mean — if you’re sure. I think—” And now they were both stammering over simple sentences! They weren’t very good at this, were they?
She pulled Denny’s hat back onto her head and worked her antennae through the little holes above the brim. It was a plain flat newsboy’s cap, the sort half the boys in the city wore, nothing special at all — except that it was Denny’s. She pulled her hair down over her shoulder and toyed with the end of the braid, feeling oddly nervous as she watched Denny put her hat back on.
Was this really what she wanted? To tell everybody that she and Denny — Denny, of all people! He had always been the clumsy boy, the one who never did anything right, the one people laughed at and wouldn’t include in games — and the one who had stayed with her and practiced with her these past few weeks just to see her succeed, the one who had spent all these evenings working in the cold so she could wear his coat. Pretty had rarely spent more than ten minutes at a time with him until these past few weeks, but now that she had spent time with him — well, he didn’t have to be good at magic or driving to be an amazing person.
“You’re already good at something,” said Pretty. “You’re cheerful even when things don’t go your way, you always believe things will turn out better, and you’re happy for other people instead of wanting what they have. That’s pretty impressive, you know.”
Denny laughed as he poked his antennae through the holes in the brim of Pretty’s ridiculous lumpy hat. “That doesn’t take any skill.”
“I don’t know,” said Pretty. “I don’t think I could do it.”
He shrugged, looking a little embarrassed. “Well, even if it does count as something I’m good at, it won’t get me a job.”
“You’ll find something, though.” Pretty hadn’t quite believed it when she first started talking with Denny a few weeks back, but she definitely believed it now. He’d keep trying new things until he found something that was meant for him, something that would make him happy and give him a proper place in the world. “And I’ll be there when you do,” Pretty added. “The same way you were here to help me.”
Denny smiled at her. His wings were quivering just a little; she might not have noticed except that the reflections of the lamplight kept twinkling and shifting along the edges of his wings. Pretty smiled back.
Then she stood on her tiptoes and kissed him right there under the lamp in the middle of the sidewalk, and never mind who saw.