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The Fourth Wish: Chapter 8 - More Surprises

Melanie calls her friend Jenny and discovers that though they were both at Mondo the illusionist's show they saw vastly different things.

The mystery deepens in Elizabeth Varadan's wonderful all-ages story. For earlier chapters of this absorbing tale click on The Fourth Wish in the menu on this page.

Once home, they put the tree on the coffee table and unpacked the boxes of ornaments. They pulled the table to one side of the sofa so it wouldn’t get in the way of the TV. Mrs. McCormick put out peanut butter and crackers. For awhile everyone laughed and joked and nibbled as they decorated the branches. It almost felt like old times to Melanie. As they started hanging the silver tinsel, her mother became quiet and thoughtful.

Melanie found herself thinking of other Christmases when they had all been together, hanging ornaments on the tree. She could remember a time when their family had seemed to be a big happy family, like Pete had talked about. Her parents had always argued, but they had joked around a lot, too. They had all gone on picnics, and to the movies, and to the zoo. A sigh escaped her. She adjusted a small wooden Santa that dangled crookedly where Erin had hung it beside a red velvet mouse.

“There.” Her mother pressed their Christmas angel firmly over the top of the fir to steady it. Putting up the angel was always a special moment. The little figure wore a long silver dress, and her wings and hair were silvery, too. They had bought her at Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco when Melanie was about Erin’s age.

“Not bad.” Arthur stood back after hanging the last piece of tinsel, hooking his hands in his back pockets and nodding, as if he had masterminded the entire operation. He joined Cory and Erin, sprawled on the floor.

“Well....” Mrs. McCormick gave a rueful sigh. “I have some paperwork to do.” She went into the kitchen and sat at the telephone table by the end of the counter.

Paperwork. Melanie knew that meant going over the budget. As she saw her mother start scribbling on a long yellow notepad, her thoughts returned to the surprise of finding Mondo—Pete—driving a taxicab. She sidled over and sat on the sofa, leaning forward and murmured softly to the others, “We have to think of something.”

“About what?” Arthur slouched against the side of the sofa and started thumbing through the television guide.

“About getting Pete’s magic back.”

He gave her a surprised stare. “Pete’s doing okay.”

“He can’t do his tricks. You heard him. He can’t do anything.”

“So? He’s not chasing us. That’s all I care about.”

Erin’s eyes widened. “But, you know what…?”

“He got his job back,” Cory told Melanie in an undertone. “Like Mom said, that's lucky.”

“It’s not lucky,” Melanie said. “He hates that job.”

“And you know what?” said Erin, “he wants to be a magician.”

Arthur shrugged. “That’s his problem.”

“Well, that just figures,” said Melanie, forgetting to lower her voice. “Just think about yourselves. Don't worry about anyone else!”

“Children, please,” came from the kitchen. “I have a headache….”

Arthur put a finger to his lips and glanced through the open archway where they could all see Mrs. McCormick making lists. “You're just mad your wish backfired like Cory’s,” he whispered to Melanie. He and Cory gave each other maddening grins.

“Auugghh!” Melanie got up and started for the hallway.

The telephone warbled. Their mother answered it on the second ring. “Melanie, it’s for you,” she called.

The television blared on as Melanie stomped into the kitchen. “Hello?” she mumbled.

“Where have you been?” asked Jenny. “This is the third time I've tried to get you.”

“We bought our tree this morning,” Melanie explained, forgetting her huff. “I tried to call you last night, too, but no one was home.”

At the other end, Jenny groaned. “We took my aunt and uncle and the Three Terrors to Old Sac last night. My cousins don't like anything? They whine about everything? It's pathetic! It's like having two more Victors.” Melanie had a fleeting image of two more whirlwinds like Jenny’s little brother, throwing tantrums or knocking over lamps and books as they raced around.

“It's only a week,” Melanie consoled Jenny. “How was the….” She caught herself. She had almost asked how the movie was the second time around. But then her mother would know they hadn't stayed to see it. And there was no way, Melanie told herself, her mother would ever believe what really had happened yesterday.

Jenny must have filled in the question for herself. “Hey, what made you take off so early yesterday?”

“Um.... I'll tell you later?” Melanie wondered just exactly what she would tell Jenny. From her mother's suddenly alert posture, Melanie knew she was pretending not to listen. “What did you think of the magic show?” she asked her friend.

“Nnnhh.... It was kind of boring.”

Melanie nearly dropped the receiver. “Boring!”

“Yeah, it’s too bad Mr. Cottler's sheet came off when he was supposed to be floating. Actually, I guess that part was kind of funny.”

“Maybe that was on purpose, like a joke act,” said Melanie, trying to hide her amazement. That was all Jenny had seen? No Mr. Cottler floating around in the air, waving his arms and yelling?

“Maybe,” said Jenny, without interest.

Curiosity pricked Melanie. “What about the rabbit act?” she asked.

Jenny gave a dismissive laugh. “What about it? It's just what I expected. This rabbit hops out and eats a carrot. Big deal.”

“Yeah, big deal,” echoed Melanie, blinking. How could they have seen such different shows? “Well, it was for little kids, anyway,” she told Jenny. “Like, Erin thought it was cool.”

“Yeah, so did the Three Terrors.”

They both gave scornful, big-sister chuckles.

“Look, can I call you back?” asked Melanie, wondering how long it would take her and the others to find Mrs. Seraphina. Mrs. Seraphina had some explaining to do.

“Not tonight. Call me Tuesday, okay? You won't believe everything we're doing today and tomorrow.” Jenny listed the sightseeing events her parents had planned for their visitors—the Discovery Museum, the Indian Museum, and the Railroad Museum—as if they were torture assignments.

Melanie felt a stab of envy. “It must be hard to have all that fun.”

There was a pause. “I have to go along so I can baby-sit Victor and Jonathan and Nelson. You call that fun?” asked Jenny.

“No,” agreed Melanie. “Sorry. I'll call you Tuesday,” she promised.

After they hung up, she glanced into the living room where the others were watching TV. Cory and Arthur wore identical gap-mouthed stares and Erin’s forehead was wrinkled in anxiety. Melanie took a deep breath. They wouldn't begin to believe the news she had for them!

“You and Jenny have a tiff?” Her mother looked up briefly from the numbers she was adding.

‘Um, not really. She just has a lot of baby-sitting to do? It looks like I have to do my Christmas shopping tomorrow without her,” Melanie ad-libbed. Any whispering from the living room could be put down to secrets about presents. She hurried in and sat down in front of the boys and Erin.

“Hey,” grumbled Arthur, “get outta the way. They’re just about to nab this guy from the future. He’s trapped in this time blocker….”

Melanie disregarded him. “You guys, listen to this!” She was grateful for the noise of the television, which made it easier to talk.

When she had finished telling them Jenny's version of the magic show, Arthur gave a low whistle. “Awesome,” he said.

Cory wore his detective frown. “This calls for a meeting at Daisy’s,” he muttered. They all nodded.

“Mom?” called Melanie, as they started to get up. “We're going out for awhile, okay?”

The reply was automatic. “Where are you going?”

“Daisy’s.”

Her mother frowned at them through open doorway. “I don't want you spoiling your appetites for dinner.”

“We want to get some clues for Daisy's present,” Cory said, and Melanie promised herself they would really do that.

“I guess so, then,” said their mother, absently. She bent over the small table again, immersed again in her figures.

“Maybe Mrs. Seraphina will be there.” Erin did a jiggle and a hop.

Melanie put a finger to her lips in a silent “Shhhh,” even though she was hoping the same thing.

Arthur made his eyes slits as he leered at them. “X Files Four,” he intoned.

© Elizabeth Varadan 2006

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