Spells Like Teen Spirit is a part of the The Babysitters Coven collection.
The final installment in the hilarious, action-packed Babysitters Coven series that Refinery29 calls "candy for 90's girls and Gen Z'ers alike," featuring a coven of witchy babysitters sworn to protect the innocent and defend the world from an onslaught of evil--all before bedtime.
Ever since Esme met Cassandra Heaven and discovered the truth about their shared legacy--that they're Sitters, supernaturally gifted teens tasked with protecting the innocent from evil--her life has been moving at 90 mph. During the day, she chases wild toddlers, and at night, she employs a different skill set for a different kind of demon. Like, literal ones. And sometimes it's almost fun. Her spells are getting better, her telekinesis is on point, and now that Esme's dad and her best friend Janis know the truth, she's no longer lying to the people she loves. She's also learned that there's a way to undo her mother's curse, and with the Synod out of the picture, she might even have a chance to do it.
If she could just figure out how. But she can't, and even with her mom living at home again, Esme can't shake the feeling that she's failing. Throw in the fact that Pig is still gone, Esme's crush is MIA, and it's cold, slushy February, and she's in bummer city.
Esme needs a serious pick-me-up, and Janis has a plan: a Galentine's stay-cation, with the Sitter friends Esme and Cassandra made at the Summit. Except things are getting weird in Spring River again. Esme and Cassandra just discovered a new band, and not in a good way: these guys reek of Red Magic, and their music sucks. Trouble is brewing, and if Esme's not careful, this show might be her last--and no one likes a one-hit wonder.
An Excerpt fromSpells Like Teen Spirit
I drummed my fingers nervously on the steering wheel. Even though the groundhog hadn’t seen his shadow, the Riverbend Hotel parking lot was dotted with gray piles of snow and oil-slicked puddles, and spring still seemed a loooong way away, especially as the sun was going down. I shivered in spite of my puffiest jacket, my wooliest (rhinestone-encrusted) mittens, and a heater on full blast.
Cassandra and Janis were in the backseat, and I could tell by their silence that they were nervous too. I adjusted the rearview mirror so that I could see Mom, who was sitting in between them. She looked really nice. I’d picked out her outfit for this occasion--a cream-colored wool suit with a silk shell underneath--and Janis had done her glam: a burgundy lip, a subtle cheek highlight, her dark hair swept to the side with a gold comb. She looked like a woman ready to celebrate her anniversary.
I smiled at her in the mirror. She didn’t smile back and instead turned and stared out the window like she was ten million miles away. I wasn’t offended. I was used to it. Mom was cursed. She had been besieged by a potent blast of magic that had left her distant, uncommunicative, and difficult for the better part of my life. Her behavior was what most people would call “crazy,” and it wasn’t until just a few months before that I’d learned why she was like this, and even more recently that I’d started to understand it. Even though she couldn’t do anything to show it, Mom was totally aware of what was going on around her. She was paying attention, she was trying as hard as she could, and she was absolutely miserable.
Two weeks before, Dad and I had moved her out of the facility where she’d been living for years. Now she was living with us again, and so far it was going okay. We had to make sure she wasn’t ever alone, since the curse meant that she wasn’t in control of her actions and could easily hurt herself. We had a nurse who came during the day, and then the rest of the time we made sure either Dad or I was always with her. I could tell Dad was tired. But I could also tell that he was happier. We all were. Well, as happy as we could be, now that we were just a single-species family of three. Pig, our dog, was still gone.
“Esme, why are we listening to Christmas music?” Cassandra asked, leaning forward and snapping me back into the car and the present moment.
Of course, Janis had to pipe up too. “I mean, I like George Michael as much as the next girl,” she said. “But every time I’ve been in the car with you, it’s this same mix. I didn’t even think you liked Christmas.”
“Give me a break,” I said. “I’ve been driving for, like, a week. I’m allowed to listen to whatever calms me down, okay?”
“Touché, Mrs. Claus,” Cassandra said. “Tell me again how many medians you’ve hit?”
“Cassandra,” I snapped back, “you know it was just that one, and it wasn’t my fault, because it moved and--”
A tap at the window made me jump. I turned to see Dad outside the car, rubbing his hands together to keep them warm. “Okay,” he said. “We’re good to go.” In the backseat, Janis and Cassandra were already unbuckling their seat belts and climbing out of the car. I popped the trunk, and then quickly followed them so that Dad and I could help Mom from the car. Dad looked nice too, in his best pleat-front Dockers and a navy blue blazer. My teeth were chattering in the damp cold.
“So, you said everything like we rehearsed?” I asked.
“Yep,” he said, nodding as he took Mom’s elbow and started walking with her to the door. “I told them that February eleventh was our anniversary, and my wife and I wanted to spend it in room 402, just like we did on our wedding night twenty years ago.”
I groaned and pulled my coat tighter around me. “Dad,” I said, “you got the date wrong. Today’s the seventh!”
“Well, I’m sure no one noticed,” he said. “Aren’t husbands always forgetting anniversaries?” I sighed as he reached into the pocket of his khakis and pulled out a key. “So,” he continued, “Mom and I will go in through the lobby, and you all will come up the back way?” I nodded and glanced at Cassandra and Janis, who were busy unloading bags from the trunk.
“You know where the back entrance is?” Dad asked.
“Trust me, Mr. Pearl,” Janis answered, “we know just about every inch of this hotel. Even the roof.”
This time it was Janis’s words, and not the cold, that made me shiver. I’d been trying to put what had happened here at the Riverbend Hotel out of my mind, and even though we’d driven by this place a million times as we’d been planning for tonight, we’d never actually gone in. Now I was staring right at the hotel, and it was staring back at me, with its dead-eye windows and its bricklike acne-scarred skin.
This was the place where everything had fallen apart. Cassandra and I were Sitters, which meant we were trusted (or burdened, depending on the day and my mood when asked) with superpowers and spells to protect the innocent and keep the demons who prey on them in their own dimension. Back in December, we had come to this very hotel for a Summit, which was a gathering of Sitters from all over the country. We were supposed to have bonded, learned, and prepared, but all that had been put on pause in favor of stopping an apocalypse.
Sitters had an entire society--called the Sitterhood--and this was, or at least used to be, governed by a team of four called the Synod, über-powerful women who’d served as Sitters and were then chosen to stay on and guide the generations who came after them. Sounds awesome, right? Except it wasn’t, at all.
Wanda, who’d been the head of the Synod, had revealed herself to be an eBay-addicted megalomaniac who would stop at nothing to get all the Beanie Babies she wanted. The magic that Sitters used was altruistic magic, meaning that it only worked so that we could help others. Sitters have found little ways to bend the rules here and there, of course, but that wasn’t enough for Wanda, so she’d plunged headfirst into Red Magic. Red Magic = big bad magic. It was selfish, materialistic, and evil, and Wanda had gone all in in her pursuit of tiny plush animals. She’d even planned to destroy the entire Sitterhood by turning all of us Sitters into demon hors d’oeuvres, and she’d also tried to sacrifice Cassandra and me as part of an immortality ritual. (Because dead people couldn’t place bids on eBay, I guess?) The rest of the Sitters had stopped her just in time.
And Pig too, of course. Pig had helped. She had saved me, but I’d been too late to save her. Wanda had thrown my dog off the top of a six-story building, and we hadn’t seen Pig since. We hadn’t seen Wanda since then either, but I couldn’t give two effs about that. My anger had flushed her into the Portal, into the deepest depths of the Negative, and that was where I was hoping she would stay.
“Here.” Janis’s voice cut through my melancholic reverie, and she handed me a bag. “You take this one.” It was surprisingly heavy, and I looked down to see that it was full of LaCroix and Amirah’s Louboutins. Amirah was one of the Sitters that Cassandra and I had met at the Summit. She was from New York and had a fashion editor’s wardrobe and a gossip columnist’s knack for name-dropping. Amirah and I had gotten off to a bad start, but she’d turned out to be pretty okay. More than okay, actually--she had saved our butts. And it turned out that she was very generous with that wardrobe.
Janis, Cassandra, and I were back at the Riverbend now because we were trying to recreate a disaster. A very specific disaster. At the Summit, Cassandra and I had discovered that she had been cursed--another dollop of Wanda’s Red Magic handiwork--but then, one morning, Cassandra’s curse had disappeared, surprising the heck out of all of us. We were pretty sure some accidental combination of spells--a combo that included chickens, a dog, hotel food, lots of designer clothing, hot water, and a toilet--had come together to release her from the curse. So since then, we’d been listing like crazy and trying to remember every little thing we could about that moment so that we could recreate it for Mom. And that was what we were about to do.
Amirah had sent us everything of hers that we remembered had been in the room when Cassandra’s curse had broken. It was several thousand dollars’ worth of clothing, but she didn’t blink an eye when we asked. “Donate it when you’re done,” she’d said. “I never wear that old stuff anymore.” Needless to say, as soon as we were done with this experiment, it was definitely getting donated--to me and Janis. Amirah was coming back to Spring River in less than a week, and while I was excited to see her, I was also really excited to see her wardrobe and discover what new, totally incredible things she was done with.
And Amirah wasn’t coming alone. In fact, it was going to be a little Summit reunion of sorts in the form of a Spring River staycation. Amirah’s Sitter partner, Ji-A, was coming too. Ji-A was from New York, of course, and her wardrobe was just as amazing, and as expensive, as Amirah’s. Though, sadly, Ji-A didn’t seem to get bored with it as quickly as Amirah did.
Ruby, who was now Cassandra’s girlfriend, and her Sitter partner, Mallory, were also coming from Miami, even though I was pretty sure that neither of them owned anything warmer than a windbreaker. I think they all found Kansas kind of exotic, in the same way some people get a ferret for a pet.
Janis, Cassandra, and I crossed the parking lot, stepping around slush piles and puddles, to make our way to the back entrance of the Riverbend. I set my bag down and raised my hand. All Sitters had a kinesis, which was a power they were born with, and mine was telekinesis, which I had to admit came in very handy for breaking and entering. I focused on the door and popped it open, then waved Cassandra in. She started the climb to the fourth floor, taking the steps two at a time. I followed her up, and Janis huffed and groaned as she brought up the rear.
“Hold up a minute,” she said as we reached the third floor. “This isn’t a sprint.”
I turned back to look at her. Janis had been watching a lot of Moesha lately, which her outfit reflected--butternut-squash-soup-colored turtleneck, blazer that looked like it had been made from someone’s mom’s curtains, and a maroon miniskirt. The only part of her look that wasn’t totally nineties-tastic was her shoes: a pair of Off-White black suede high-heeled sandals with red zip ties around the ankles, another one of Amirah’s “donations.” With open toes, I noticed for the first time. No wonder she was having trouble with the stairs.
“Janis,” I sighed, “it’s, like, negative fifty outside. Why’d you even wear those?”
“Chill out,” she said, and started up the stairs again. “You sound like my dad. Besides, we’re going to be inside, and my toes are really impervious to cold.” Janis wobbled a bit as she climbed, and her bag squawked. I thought about offering to use my kinesis to carry her bags for her, but then, I liked those shoes, and they would have looked really cute with my own outfit. Which, if I do say so myself, was also pretty on point. I had dubbed it “straight Fs” for “Fran Fine Fashion,” because I’d gone with an all-black base of turtleneck, opaque black tights, and flats, under a leopard-print denim minidress that had metal snaps down the front.
I took a step and danced a little jig. “Man, these shoes are so comfy!” I said to no one in particular. “I could climb the Empire State Building in these shoes.” Behind me Janis grunted.
Cassandra was waiting for us when we reached the fourth floor, looking very bored. Cassandra thought fashion was wearing a shirt with no stains on it, and even then, she didn’t always participate. She was holding the door open to a hallway I knew well, and now that we were back, it felt like I’d never left. The hotel gave me the creepies as I thought about all the guests curled up under comforters and wrapped in bathrobes, without a single clue that this hotel had been the site of a near-demonic implosion just a few short weeks before. It had taken some serious magic, and probably a lot of bleach, to clean up that mess.
At room 402, which had been my room, and eventually Cassandra’s, Janis’s, and Pig’s, Cassandra knocked on the door. Dad opened it, looking nervous, and then stepped aside to let us in. The TV was on, turned to some home remodeling show that Dad never would have watched for two seconds if he’d really been paying attention. Mom was sitting on the bed, brushing her hair with a slipper. I set the bag down and then handed Dad back the key to the car.
“So, you’ll text me?” he asked. I swallowed and nodded. I could feel my throat tightening up and my face starting to get hot, and I thought that if I tried to talk right then, I’d just cry.
He walked over and kissed Mom on the cheek. She stopped brushing her hair and looked at him like she understood, and like for one second, her body and mind were in agreement. Dad must have been about to cry too, because he turned quickly and walked over to give me a hug. “Good luck, kid,” he said. “You can do it.”
Up until the December disaster day, Dad hadn’t known about the Sitterhood. I don’t know why Mom had never told him, but I was sure she had her reasons, and so I had tried to keep it a secret too. The Sitterhood was adamant that no normies know about us, and most Sitters went around tossing out mind-erasing spells like they were Mardi Gras beads. So Dad and Janis, like everyone else in Spring River, had been zapped a few times--whenever it had seemed like their knowledge was too close for comfort. I’d never liked it, but I hadn’t known I could do anything about it. Then Cassandra had discovered a spell that would make them immune to the occasional memory-erasing mind blast, so now they knew. I still worried about them, because their knowing about how I spent my free time was putting them in danger, but at least I didn’t have to lie to my dad and my best friend anymore. Besides, Janis loved knowing about Sitters--she almost saw it as an extra-exclusive bite of cosmic gossip. Dad--well, I wouldn’t say he relished it, but he was doing the best he could. I bit my lip as I hugged him back, then walked over and locked the door behind him when he left.