Juliana staying in Charm Manor was a relief to both Matilda and Thaddeus. Although Margaret and Juliana were half-sisters, they always feared that Margaret felt like an only child, and didn’t want her to feel lonely if her sister moved away. They knew Juliana couldn’t stay forever; she was her own woman and had already expressed desires to start publishing books, get married and have children of her own. Thaddeus constantly reminded her that she was only nineteen and had plenty of time to worry about having children and getting married. He didn’t want his daughter to get married too young like he had and suffer the same sad end that he and Lindy did so many years ago.

“Relax, Dad,” Juliana would always tell him with a smile. “I know there’s no rush. I’m not planning on going anywhere for a while,” she would say, which made Thaddeus feel a lot better. How he had managed to raise such a responsible, level-headed daughter with his abysmal parenting skills, he had no idea, but he was thankful for it all the same.

Things in Charm Manor were actually calm and peaceful for once. There was no arguing or family drama of any sort. The Charms all adored each other and although Matilda spent a lot of time away from home, gaining promotions, she would always make time for her family. Her therapy sessions were going well and things were almost eerily perfect.

I wonder when all hell is going to break loose again, Juliana often wondered to herself at night before she went to sleep.

She got her answer the next morning when she walked in on Matilda looking very cross and waving a piece of paper with a big fat D scrawled across it in red ink while Margaret cried. “I just don’t understand how you could get such horrible marks in every subject, Margaret!” she said, obviously exasperated. Margaret sniffled and crossed her arms defiantly.

“It’s not fair, Mom!” she protested. “Kaylynn Langerak got a B and she didn’t even try! I worked really hard, I swear I did!” she wailed.

“I’m not Kaylynn Langerak’s mother. I’m your mother,” Matilda replied calmly, though her face said clearly that she was furious. “And you are not reaching your full potential in school. It’s not my job to make sure Kaylynn gets an A. It’s my job to make sure you do.”

“There’s no point!” Margaret sobbed. “Only smart kids get As and I just can’t. It’s too hard. I’m just stupid.” Matilda blinked, surprised at her daughter’s remark.

“Now what would make you think that?”

“All the other kids tell me!” Margaret admitted tearfully. “They call me dumb and stupid and they tell me I’m a retard. My teachers get mad at me when I don’t know the answer to a question, but I try to know, Mom! I really do! I want to be smart like Julie, but I’m not.”

Juliana bit her lip. She had no idea her sister was struggling so much in school. She had come downstairs to tell her step-mother that she had just published her first novel, but thought that considering the circumstances, she could wait. She didn’t want to make Margaret feel worse.

Without waiting for her mother to respond, Margaret ran out of the room crying and bolted upstairs. Matilda started to follow her, but Juliana stepped in. “I can talk to her,” she offered. “She might be more receptive to her sister than her mother.” Matilda reluctantly agreed and sat down at the dining room table, rubbing her temples and mumbling calming phrases her therapist had taught her.

“Hey,” Juliana said softly, tapping on Margaret’s door. “Can I come in?” She didn’t hear a response, so she silently eased the door open further to see her little sister crying into her pillow.

“Why can’t I be smart like you?” Margaret whispered. “Why am I so dumb?” Juliana frowned and put an arm around Margaret’s shoulder.

“You’re not dumb. Don’t listen to those kids. They’re just bullies. What is it any of their business what the teacher writes on your report card, anyway, right?” she tried to console her. Margaret nodded and smiled weakly.

“I guess…” she muttered. “I just want to be good at something. Kaylynn’s good at memorizing provinces and drawing them on maps, Mortimer and Bella can count to one thousand in French without looking at a textbook, Mom’s good at catching bad guys, Dad’s good at cooking, and you can read and write better than anyone I know…” her voice trailed off miserably. Juliana smiled.

“And I get most of my ideas from you,” she admitted. “You have the best imagination of anyone I know. Who else could turn a rubber ducky into a prince trapped under a witch’s spell in the bathtub, hm?” Margaret scowled.

“Aw, don’t tell anyone I still play with toys in the bathtub. I’ll get teased,” she begged. Juliana laughed and shook her head.

“My point is,” she continued, “No one’s good at everything, but everyone’s good at something. So school isn’t what you’re good at. Just be patient and find something you are good at.” Margaret looked down, trying to make sense of her older sister’s wise words. “Is that your homework for tonight?” Juliana prodded gently, nodding to Margaret’s desk. Margaret nodded and Juliana brought it over to the bed and opened it up. “Why don’t we work on this together?”

It was a struggle. Margaret had to practically have Juliana hold her hand through even the most basic steps of the homework and by the time it was finished, both of them were exhausted. Juliana was seriously beginning to wonder if her half-sister had a learning disability.

Thaddeus and Matilda were disturbed by what Margaret had said about being teased by the other children and never being able to catch up to them in school, no matter how hard she tried. They thought the best thing for her would be to home school her. They thought she might do better if she were learning in an environment she was comfortable in without the ridicule of her classmates. Juliana didn’t have a job so she took up the post of tutor for Margaret. It helped. A little.

Margaret didn’t put up as much of a struggle when it came to doing her homework anymore, but nearly everything she gave Juliana was spelled wrong and her math equations were something even Juliana couldn’t make sense of. She managed to scrape her way to a shaky B before her next birthday.

“Julie?” Margaret whispered late that night, peeking her head in her sister’s room.

“Mmmff?” Julie mumbled, half-asleep. Margaret tip-toed to the bed and wrung her hands nervously.

“It’s my last night of being a kid. Tomorrow I’ll be thirteen and a teenager… I don’t want to spend it by myself. Can I sleep with you?” she whispered. Juliana yawned and nodded, patting the bed beside her.

“Hop in,” she told her.

“Thanks,” Margaret smiled as she pulled the covers over her and snuggled next to Juliana. “You’re the best big sister ever.” Juliana just smiled and mumbled something incoherent before falling asleep again.