Chapter 1: Flutter • CHAPTER 1 • FLUTTER
It’s after school on Monday, and the auditorium is filled with students practicing for the Valle Grande Elementary talent show. Auditions are at the end of this week.
I creep past a group of fourth graders tap-dancing side by side next to a second grader performing a tae kwon do demonstration.
Behind them, Aaron Chu, a third grader in my class, rehearses his magic act. He swooshes his cape. He waves his hands over a black top hat. He taps the edge of the hat with his wand. I watch, waiting to see what will happen.
When nothing does, Aaron peers into the hat and shrugs.
I shudder. I’d hate for my act to go wrong. That’s why I’m sneaking through the auditorium. Somewhere in this room is the formula for a perfect performance, and I’m going to find it. I need to make sure my group has an amazing audition and gets picked for the show.
The best part is, none of the other kids notice me. Not really. When they look in my direction, all they see is a yellow-winged butterfly. That’s because last summer my tía abuela—her name is Catalina Castañeda too—gave me a special sewing kit.
It might not look very special, just an old, worn-out velvet pouch. But the needle and thread inside have the power to sew magical disguises.
Over the weekend, I sewed butterfly wings onto one of my old sweaters. (It was missing a button anyway. I could have sewn on a new one, but it wouldn’t have matched the others, and I can’t stand it when things don’t match.) Then I added antennae to one of my hairbands. The perfect disfraz! Now anyone who sees me thinks I’m a butterfly. I am incognito.
Tía Abuela told me to save the magic for times when I really need it. Once my spool of silvery magical thread is gone, it’s gone for good.
This is one of those times when I need my magic. After all, my bandmates and I will be performing a song that Tía Abuela made famous back when she was still a telenovela actress. We can’t make any mistakes.
I flutter behind Esme Galindo and her cousin Jazmín. They wear swirling blue skirts as they practice a folklórico dance.
Suddenly Jazmín stops in the middle of a step.
“What happened?” Esme asks. “Did you forget what comes next?”
They definitely need more practice.
Jazmín shakes her head. “No, but I thought I saw Catalina.”
Uh-oh. Maybe my disfraz isn’t working. I duck behind a cardboard tree some fifth graders are using as a prop in their skit.
“Shouldn’t she be with her own group?” Esme asks.
“You know Catalina,” Jazmín continues. “She probably wanted to give us some of her helpful hints.”
Esme giggles, and they start dancing again.
I might have a reputation for being a bit of a perfectionist. Who doesn’t want to be perfect? I almost wonder aloud. Instead I look over my shoulder to make sure the butterfly wings are still attached.
Tía Abuela warned me that the magic would only be as strong as my stitches. And these are coming loose! I need to get out of this disfraz before anyone else notices!
While the fifth graders argue over their lines, I yank off the wings and slip out of the sweater. I tuck everything under my arm, then step out from behind the carboard tree and find my group at the other side of the auditorium.
We call ourselves Banda La Chispa in honor of Tía Abuela. Her fans know her as La Chispa, “the spark,” because she was always so bright and dazzling onscreen.
Ruthie Rosario sits behind her drum set. Soledad Beltrán has her guitar strapped over her shoulder. Pablo Blanco, my best friend—and biggest rival—stands next to his keyboard, tapping his foot. He scowls when he sees me. “You’re late,” he says.
Impossible. No one cares about punctuality as much as I do. Except for Pablo, that is. I look down at my watch and frown. Unfortunately, he’s right.
“Only thirty-six seconds,” I say.
“Thirty-seven,” Pablo argues. “And anyway, late is late. Where were you?”
I hesitate. So far I haven’t revealed the secret of the magic sewing kit to anyone.
Luckily, Ruthie interrupts before I have to answer.
“Cool hairband!” she says. “Animal accessories are my favorite!”
I feel the top of my head. I’m still wearing the butterfly antennae. “Um, thanks,” I mumble, my cheeks going all warm. Pablo snorts. Normally I am perfectly put together.
Soledad hands me the tambourine we borrowed from the music room. “Now that we’re all here,” she says, “let’s run through the song from the very beginning.”
Ruthie taps out the rhythm with her drumsticks.
“Uno, dos, tres, cuatro!” Soledad counts. She begins to strum, then nods at Pablo, who presses down on the keys. I start shaking the tambourine. When we get to the chorus, I open my mouth to sing. Only, I can hardly keep up with Ruthie’s beat.
Pablo’s notes clash with Soledad’s chords, and we all sound a little…off-key.
When the song ends, I cringe. Part of me wants to run back to that cardboard tree to hide again. Maybe we can still back out of the auditions. Then I remind myself of something Tía Abuela taught me when I was first learning to sew: progress takes practice. And patience. Sometimes a lot of patience.
“Don’t worry,” I reassure everyone. “We still have a few more days to get better.”
“Are you kidding?” Soledad shouts. “That was amazing! And so much fun! We are obviously going to make the talent show.”
But I’m not so sure.