Read an excerpt from The Songbird Thief

The Songbird Thief

Chapter 1

I know Sonja will be late even before the tired woman behind the counter yells my name to give me the message. My name is an all-access pass— Lee—but she still manages to make it into two syllables. I jolt out of my exhausted trance when I finally realize I’m the Lee she’s yelling for. I’m pretty sure I’m the last girl in California not to have a cell phone. It’s after one o’clock in the morning. I’m at the 24-Hour Chinese Food and Donuts on Harrison Avenue and Second Street. Transient central for San Francisco. I probably look like a homeless person, but I’m technically only between addresses for a few hours. I kick my duffel farther under the table and make my way up to the counter, watching my bag the whole time, and wait for the inevitable announcement—“Your friend is on her way.”

I sit back down and hug my wilted cup of coffee to my face. The strength of it surprises me, dark and oily. A man in a tight green dress flashes an incomplete set of teeth at me from the counter and holds up his own cup. He looks harmless, but he could get chatty. Social rejects get chatty late at night. Sure enough, he starts up in a groggy voice, “You sure are tall, honey. What are you, six feet?”

He’s off by two inches, but I don’t want to talk about my height. I touch my index finger to the rim of my cup and draw a line across the yellow Formica in front of me. It works better with actual spit, but I just got off a Greyhound bus. I don’t want to lick my fingers.

“Are you part black or Indian? I don’t mean anything by that. I’ve dated many gorgeous brown men. And with that cute short haircut, you could just about pass for one of them.” My new white friend chuckles.

I don’t know the answer to his question. I stare at the line I drew and wait for it to work. I don’t have a lot of magic, and whatever I do have is most likely evil, if I can believe Da. I discovered the spit trick by accident, and it doesn’t work for much, just redirects people’s attention when I don’t want it. That and the music thing. Maybe one or two other minor skills. That’s all I have.

I don’t know what else I’d have in the way of magic if it weren’t for Da. His house, his rules. He’s my stepfather, or he would be if he’d married my mother. We have no legal or blood relationship, not that it matters. I know kids whose real dads beat them up. Being related doesn’t do them any good.

But I’m still going to look for my real father. That’s why I’m here.