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The Fourth Wish: Chapter 12 - Good News And Bad News

The crullers reach the ka-billion mark and stop coming...Christmas letters arrive from their absent father...the children start thinking of a wish to fix everything... But Melanie has doubts. A wish to fix everything. Right! As if there were such a thing!

The latest episode of Elizabeth Varadan's magical tale for children of all ages brings another huge helping of delight. To read earlier chapters click on The Fourth Wish in the menu on this page.

The doughnut shop was a hubbub of noise and laughter. They headed for the one empty booth in the far corner and sat down. Signs everywhere read, FREE CRULLERS—ALL YOU CAN EAT. Paper bags were stacked next to platters full of the fried dough twists. Daisy rushed around in her flowered uniform, pouring coffee at first one table, then another.

Everyone looked so happy Melanie found her own bad mood of the morning fading. She glanced about her. The only crullers she could see were on the plates Daisy had set out, and the heaps of pastry did look smaller. Maybe Arthur was right. Maybe the wish was winding down.

“Be right with you,” Daisy said, as she breezed by them on her way to the kitchen.

Erin turned her head from side to side. “It’s too noisy for a ghost,” she said. “Isn’t it?” she added, uncertainly.

“Much too noisy,” Melanie promised her. To Arthur, she said, “Do you think all these people will remember eating free crullers?”

“Mrs. Sloan remembered,” he pointed out. He glanced around the room. “I don’t think it’s over yet, though.” When Daisy returned with a plate of crullers, he helped himself to a bag on the table and started filling it.

“Another whole bagful?” asked Daisy. “You have a hole in your shoe or something? What happened to all those crullers you took yesterday?”

“Mrs. Sloan wants some more for her granddaughter’s kids,” explained Melanie.

“Oh. Well, in that case….”

“Because you know what?” Erin licked one end of a cruller she had taken from the plate. “They like them as much as her gingerbread.”

Daisy laughed.

“We saw you on TV last night,” said Melanie.

“Looks like everyone did. Isn’t it wonderful? We’ve never had so many customers!” Daisy batted her eyes. “Lots of folks leave big tips when they pay for the coffee, too. I mean big tips!”

“How long do you think the crullers will keep happening?” Arthur wanted to know.

She put her hands on her hips. “Hey! When good luck happens, am I going to pick at it and ask questions? Uh-uh!” She shook her head. “I just go with it.”

She hurried over to the counter for a fresh pot of coffee. They watched as she gave a man at the counter a refill, went to two other tables, then returned the pot to the counter.

“She sure is selling lots of coffee,” Melanie observed.

The kitchen door swung open. Mr. Jackson appeared in the doorway, a dazed look on his face. His tall chef’s hat perched crookedly to one side. He stared at his wife. “They’ve stopped,” he said, in a hollow voice.

Arthur and Melanie and Erin all looked at each other, then at Daisy, who had paused beside the register. People at the counter and tables kept on chattering and eating.

“The crullers,” Mr. Jackson said. “They stopped.” Daisy hurried over to him. They both went into the kitchen.

“They’ve stopped?” echoed Arthur. “That means….”

“That means we have to go home and tell Cory,” said Melanie, getting up and grabbing Erin’s hand. “We’d better get busy and start planning our next wish—if we get one. C’mon, Arthur.”

“Well, just a minute!” He stuffed a few more crullers in the bag. “We’re supposed to take these to….”

“We can take them to Mrs. Sloan afterwards.”

“But I want to go shopping,” complained Erin.

“We’re going shopping,” Melanie said, “but right now we have to go home. Come on!"

* * *

“Cory, guess what?” she cried, bursting into the living room ahead of the others.

Cory dropped his comic book. The TV screen danced with cartoon characters in space ships. A bowl with traces of soup sat on the floor next to more comics.

“Did you fidish shoppig?” Cory spied Arthur’s bag of crullers and pushed back his covers. “You wedt to Daisy’s,” he accused.

“Mrs. Sloan asked us to get crullers for her,” said Arthur.

“You wedt without be,” said an angry, red-faced Cory. “That’s dot fair.”

“Just listen, okay?” Melanie said. “The crullers stopped. I guess they reached five ka-billion. We can plan our wish now.”

Her glance fell on a big box next to the coffee table. She took in the familiar brown wrapping paper: Their father’s package had arrived! She ran over to it, excitement mingling with relief.

“It cabe about ad hour ago. I waited,” Cory said, reproach in his grey eyes.

But Melanie wasn’t listening. She knelt by the box, so happy that she felt like shouting, although she wasn’t sure what she would shout. “He didn’t forget us,” maybe. Or, “We still matter.”

“Careful,” she warned Erin, who was fingering the twine. “There could be something breakable inside.”

“Aren’t you supposed to wait till Christmas to open that?” asked Arthur.

“We’ll put the presents under the tree and just read the cards. There’s nothing wrong with that. Get some scissors, okay?”

“Yes, Scorpion Queen.” Arthur bowed and continued to bow as he backed into the kitchen where he set the bag of crullers on the telephone table and began searching the drawer.

Melanie inched the string over one corner and loosened it until all of it came off. “Never mind,” she called.

Then Cory and Erin were beside her, helping her tear off the paper.

“How cub you wedt to Daisy’s?” Cory’s face was still resentful.

“We told you, Mrs. Sloan wanted fresh crullers.” Arthur ambled into the living room and sprawled at one end of the sofa.

“Did you say they stopped?”

Arthur snapped his fingers. “Just like that!” He picked up a comic.

Melanie lifted the box lid. Inside were several cards and small packages. She and Cory took them out, one by one, Melanie reading the labels: “Cory. Erin.” She held the small blue packet addressed to her as if it were treasure.

“Here’s yours.” Cory handed a long, narrow green box to Arthur, who grinned, holding it up and shaking it.

The familiar sight cheered Melanie. The fact that he remembered Arthur this year made her feel her worries were for nothing. Ever since they had been neighbors, Arthur had been part of their Christmas. Her father had always brought him souvenirs, too, when he brought theirs. In spite of the long silence, in spite of the divorce, her dad was part of their lives, doing things the same old way after all.

“You want to take it home or keep it here for Christmas Eve?” she asked. Arthur shrugged.

“Open it with us Thursday evening,” advised Cory.

“Okay.” Arthur put his present under the tree on the coffee table next to Cory’s and Erin’s. Melanie placed her own beside them, along with a small flat red package for her mother.

“Now the cards….” She passed them out. Then she stood the long white envelope addressed to her mother against the tree, handling it gingerly, as if it might burn her fingers. The last envelope like that had contained a letter agreeing to the divorce.

“Maybe you should wait and open the cards with your mom,” Arthur suggested, eyeing the envelope.

But Melanie felt like she couldn’t bear to wait even a minute, much less until five-thirty, when her mother usually got home. Sitting back on her heels, she tore the large blue envelope containing her card. A painful numbness spread through her chest when she saw her father’s words.

Erin giggled at the picture on her own card. “Will you read it to me?”

Melanie looked past the red-nosed Rudolph on the front and turned the page. Her breathing felt strange as she squeezed out the words her father had written to Erin.

“Merry Christmas, cutie pie. Remember, Daddy loves you.” Erin dimpled.

Cory wore a strange expression. “What did yours say, Melanie?”

Melanie hesitated. Then she read in a listless voice, “Merry Christmas, honey. Your mother will explain everything after she reads my letter.”

“Hmmm.” Arthur lifted his eyebrows. He glanced at Cory. “What’s yours say?”

Cory grimaced. He handed him the card. “You read it.”

“Merry Christmas, Sport,” Arthur read aloud. “Melanie will explain everything after she talks to your mother. Whew.”

“What about yours?” Melanie asked.

“Merry Christmas, Pal. Be a good friend. Cory will explain.”

Erin giggled again. “Everybody’s explaining something.”

They all looked at the letter under the tree.

“I knew something was wrong,” Melanie said. “I just knew it. I had this feeling.”

Erin’s smile vanished. “What’s wrong?” Her mouth wobbled as if she couldn’t decide whether to ask more questions or to cry.

“It’s not fair,” Melanie muttered. She would have to be the strong one again, just like last spring, when Cory was having such a hard time. His grades had suffered at school. She had been the one to convince him divorce wasn’t the end of the world—after her mother had spelled it all out for her: How sometimes people grew in different directions and had to separate to be truly happy. Melanie hadn’t seen it that way herself. As far as she could tell, her father hadn’t really changed, and her mother didn’t seem much happier. But she had been too busy helping Cory understand to question that.

And now their father was doing it all over again, giving her mother something to explain to her, so that she could explain it to the others. Only this time—Melanie’s hands clenched. She didn’t want to be the strong one. She didn’t want to explain anything!

“What’s wrong?” Erin repeated in a small voice.

Melanie looked at her sister’s anxious face. “Never mind,” she said, softly. She propped her card against the presents. “I was just upset about…about…like, it’s been kind of weird lately, you know?”

“Because of all the wishes?”

“Yeah, because of the wishes. But now….” Melanie tried to make her face bright and cheerful, like people did in movies when they were rising above disasters. “Now we can go ahead and make our fix-it wish.”

“Our fix-it wish?” Erin asked uncertainly. To Melanie’s relief, no new tears were in sight.

“A wish that fixes everything,” she explained, and Erin grinned.

“Cool.” Arthur gave a nod of approval.

“Can we still go shopping?”

“Sure,” said Melanie.

“Can we go to The Disney Store?”

“After we take Mrs. Sloan her crullers.” Melanie got to her feet.

“But can we go soon? Because you know what?”

“Erin….” Melanie felt her same old put-upon self. “We’ll go as soon as we take Mrs. Sloan her crullers.”

“Wouldn’t you kind of like to know what’s in that letter?” asked Arthur.

“No,” she snapped, “I wouldn’t.”

Arthur turned to Cory, who regarded the envelope.

“Don’t open it,” Melanie warned him.

“Did I do adythig? I’b just lookig.”

“You know Mom will really be mad at us if we open her letter.”

“Can’t detectives open letters and seal them again so it doesn’t show?” asked Arthur.

“No,” Melanie spoke for Cory. “They can’t.”

“But, like, in my dad’s last book, there was this guy who….”

“Will you just keep out of this?”

“I want to go shopping,” whined Erin.

“I do, too, and we don’t have all day!” Melanie said heatedly. She glared at Arthur. Today was turning out like Saturday, when she had started out to see her favorite movie and then missed the whole thing.

“Promise me you won’t open it while we’re gone,” she told Cory.

Cory looked away, then adjusted one of the ornaments on the tree. “I probise,” he said and continued to study the ornament.

“Now that the crullers have stopped,” said Melanie, “try and think of our fix-it wish. We’ll be thinking of one while we’re out,” she added, although she couldn’t imagine being able to think of a single thing until she found out what was in that letter.

“Our fix-it wish.” Erin gave a happy jiggle on one foot.

“A wish to fix everything.” Arthur slapped palms with Cory on the way to the door. They both grinned as though they had shared some secret understanding in that hand slap.

Still brooding over her card as they went out the door, Melanie felt a knot of bitterness tighten in her chest.

A wish to fix everything. Right! As if there were such a thing!

© Elizabeth Varadan 2006


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