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The Fourth Wish: Chapter 15 - Friends

The children have just one final wish to set right the chaos caused by their earlier wishes...but what should they now wish for?

In her story of magic and mysterious events Elizabeth Varadan has created the greatest of all magical wonders - a gripping story about children who are so real that you think you already knew them.

To read earlier chapters of this splendid tale please click on The Fourth Wish in the menu on this page.

“This wish has to be exactly right.” Arthur jabbed a forefinger in the air for emphasis. “No mess-ups. No five ka-billion rabbits or crullers.”

“Everyone liked my wish,” Erin objected. “Even Mrs. Seraphina liked my wish, didn’t she, Melanie?” They were sitting on the living room floor in the McCormick’s apartment.

“That’s not the point.” Arthur splayed his fingers as if pushing away bad luck. “This is our last wish. It’s our last chance to fix Pete’s magic.”

“So, just wish that," said Cory. “Let’s just find Mrs. Seraphina and get it over with. Tell her you wish Pete’s magic gets fixed.”

Cory’s fever had gone down and his nose wasn’t as stuffed up today, even though he had a slight cough.

“No, don’t wish that,” Melanie cautioned. “Mrs. Seraphina will just make his magic even weirder and then say we weren’t specific enough.” She studied Arthur for a long, thoughtful moment. “What happened to your three wishes?” she prodded.

His face reddened. “I don’t think Mrs. Seraphina will go for it.”

“Well, I could have told you that! But no, you sounded so certain. You had to go and get our hopes up.”

“Can we just get back to the wish?”

“Just go ahead and wish whatever,” Melanie told Arthur. "And I don’t think you should have told Pete where Mom works,” she added, resentfully.

“You’re the one who mention Soup du Jour, not me! Besides,” he said, “I’ll bet your mom didn’t mind. She probably appreciated the ride.”

“She’s still upset about the letter,” Cory told him in a low voice, as if Melanie were totally invisible.

“C’mon, Melanie,” Arthur urged. “It has to be a group wish. We all have to agree.”

Melanie leaned back against the edge of the couch and stared at the ceiling. She knew she was being horrible. She wished it were the evening before, when they had all sat around the table, laughing and eating tempura. In spite of the letter, everyone had been in good spirits. Arthur and Cory hadn’t teased her. Mr. Hensley had talked about his book. Her mother had gone over the menu for Christmas Ever dinner. Then this morning Melanie had woken up miserable again, feeling deflated, like a balloon with all the air gone out of it.

“Okay,” she mumbled. “I’ll help you figure out your old wish.”

Just then the phone rang. She scrambled up and went into the kitchen to answer it. Jenny Leong’s cheery voice came over the line.

“Hey, Melanie. Do you want to come over? Everyone went Christmas shopping. I told them I was going shopping with you tomorrow, so I didn’t have to go.”

“Don’t you have to baby-sit?”

“They took the Three Terrors with them. Is that cool? We have the kitchen to ourselves. We can make popcorn.”

Melanie’s spirits brightened. “Great!”

“You can bring Erin,” Jenny burbled. “See if you can get Cory to go hang out with Arthur somewhere.”

“Erin’s going over to make gingerbread men with Mrs. Sloan pretty soon. And Cory’s sick.” Melanie paused, thinking of her mother. But it was only a few blocks to Jenny’s house, and she wouldn’t be gone long. Anyway, Cory was so much better, her mother shouldn’t mind.

“I’ll be over in a little bit, okay?” Her thoughts raced ahead as she hung up the receiver. What a relief it would be to have a long talk with her best friend and tell her everything that had happened—the letter from her dad, Pete driving her mom home, Mrs. Seraphina.... Her thoughts came to a halt.

She fingered her lower lip, staring at the phone. She wouldn’t say anything about Mrs. Seraphina. How would she even know where to begin? If she were in Jenny’s place, it would be hard to believe any of this strange week had happened. No. She would skip over the magic.

* * *

After leaving Erin at the rooming house, Melanie jogged down the alley and across the park, then past the tennis courts and another block to the Leongs’ house. Old leaves lay scattered across the grass, wet from melted frost. Patches of ground gleamed with ice crystals. Windows of parked cars looked as if they were covered with diamond dust. The sun hung low in the morning sky, but cold air seeped through her jacket, making her jog faster.

Jenny already had the electric corn popper out on the counter. They popped a bag of kernels and filled a large bowl, then sat across the table from each other, sipping cider and munching popcorn while they talked.

“Wow,” breathed Jenny, when Melanie had told her about the letter. “Married! What a crummy time to tell you—Christmas! I’d be upset too.”

Melanie nodded, grateful for her friend’s understanding. “And my mom, of all people, thinks it’s a good idea. Is that ever gross?”

Jenny’s forehead wrinkled. “I can’t imagine my mom being that nice about it if my father married someone else.”

“I can’t imagine your parents ever splitting up,” said Melanie. A needle of envy shot through her.

Her friend’s dark eyes were full of sympathy. “Maybe it looks different to your mom because they’re already divorced.”

“I guess.” Melanie rested her chin in her palms, staring gloomily at her friend. She had never talked to Jenny much about the divorce before. They had only been best friends since Thanksgiving. With a sigh, she spread her fingers against the tabletop and began making invisible patterns on the yellow Formica surface. “My mom sure is more used to the idea than I am. She says she even expected it.”

“Well, here’s one good thing—if your mother wants to meet someone, she won’t have to worry about your father getting mad at her, since he met someone first.”

“Jenny, don’t even say that! I don’t want a step dad. I don’t want a step mom, either!”

Her friend looked hurt. “I was only trying to cheer you up.” Jenny’s delicate brows drew together in a thoughtful pucker. “Besides, your mom might want to meet someone. She should have a life, too.”

“That’s easy for you to say. Your parents are together. How would you like to end up with maybe four different parents?”

“I wouldn’t,” admitted Jenny. “That happened to my cousin, Emily? She hates her birthday now because she never know who she’s going to spend it with.”

They ate their popcorn in silence.

“That’s what my mom said about him, though,” Melanie conceded, finally. “She said my dad should have a life, too.”

“Your mom is cool.”

But the old familiar ache started up in Melanie’s chest, as if it had been hiding there, just waiting to spring to life. “Christmas is going to be horrible,” she fretted.

“Um, do you want some more cider?” Jenny got up and filled their mugs again from the saucepan on the stove, then put a stick of cinnamon in each.

Melanie thought about Jenny’s parents. Her mother was a nurse at Kaiser. Her father was a tax consultant in a midtown firm. They owned their own home. Their car never got totaled. Bunches of relatives came from San Jose for visits. That was a big happy family. She should point that out to Arthur sometime.

“I wish I had your life,” she told Jenny.

Jenny raised an eyebrow. “How would you like to go to Chinese school on Saturdays and two days a week after regular school? And have homework for Chinese school too?”

“I wouldn’t like the extra homework,” Melanie admitted, “but I wish I could speak Chinese.”

“And how would you like to hear about your wonderful cousins every time they do something amazing? ‘Christine won first place in the art contest.’ Or, whenever you bring home a B on your report card, ‘Eileen always makes straight A’s.’ Auugghh!” said Jenny.

Melanie giggled. “I wouldn’t like any of that. But, how would you like to have a crybaby little sister and a brother who gets you in trouble all the time?” Even as she said that, Melanie felt a dart of remorse, remembering how Cory had tried to console her the evening before.

“I have a brother who gets me in trouble,” said Jenny. “He’s spoiled rotten, too, just because he’s a boy. And every time any of my aunts visit? They order me around. How would you like that?”

They were both laughing now.

“How would you like to have Arthur for a neighbor?”

“Arthur!” Jenny rolled her eyes. “Well, I guess he’d be okay. He’s not cool, but he’s not mean. He must be kind of like another brother—one you don’t have to baby-sit.”

“He’s worse!” Melanie insisted. “He gets Cory into all kinds of stuff, and then I get into trouble. And my mom always takes their side. She never takes mine.”

“My mom always takes Victor’s side, too.” Jenny made a face. “It’s just because they’re boys.”

“My mom tells me to be nice to Arthur because he lost his mother,” said Melanie. In her mind’s eye she suddenly saw Arthur’s earnest face again, telling her about his mother’s death. “I guess he’s okay for a neighbor,” she added, loyally.

“Actually,” confided Jenny, “my aunt who’s visiting us right now? She’s my favorite aunt. She said she’d give us a ride to the skating rink Thursday. The Three Terrors have to come, but she’ll watch them for us, so we can just skate.”

That was the best news Melanie had heard since vacation started. “Yessss!”

They popped a second bag of corn, then salted it and sat at the table again. All their grumbling together had dispelled Melanie’s bad mood.

Jenny leaned toward her now, dark eyes dancing. “So, do you think your mom might meet someone?”

“I don’t know,” Melanie evaded. She mulled over the picture of her mother and Pete in the doorway yesterday. “Well, there is this guy.”

Jenny gave a little squeal.

“He just gave her a ride home from the restaurant,” Melanie hastened to say.

“He works at Soup du Jour? That is so romantic.”

“No, he doesn’t,” said Melanie, annoyed. She had expected sympathy, like when she told Jenny about her father and Dorothy.

“Well, how did he happen to bring your mother home, then?”

“It’s…complicated.” Melanie chewed her lip. “Remember the magic show Saturday?”

“Yeah.”

“Remember the magician?”

“Him?” cried Jenny. Melanie nodded. “How did they meet? I didn’t see your mother there Saturday.”

“Well,” Melanie explained. “See, he’s really a taxicab driver? Well, he used to be a house painter. But now he drives cabs and does magic on the side? He isn’t a professional magician yet.”

“That explains why he wasn’t very good,” said Jenny with a wise nod.

Unaccountably, that irked Melanie. “That wasn’t really Pete’s fault,” she began, then became aware of Jenny’s curious stare and recalled her friend had seen a different magic show. “Mr. Cottler is a mean man to work for,” she quickly finished.

“You could see that,” Jenny agreed. “He looked really grouchy.”

“So when we bought our tree Sunday? Mondo—well, his real name is Pete—he thought he recognized us.” Knowing the reason for that, Melanie flushed. “So he gave us all a ride home. And that’s how he met my mom.”

“Unbelievable!”

“And yesterday he saw me and Arthur and Erin when we were coming out of the mall, and he gave us another ride.” Melanie scowled. “Arthur told him where my mom works. That’s how he happened to be at Soup du Jour.”

“That’s tight,” said her friend in a dreamy voice.

“He only gave her a ride, Jenny.”

“If he starts coming around, can I come over and watch him do some of his magic tricks?”

Melanie thought of the wish none of them had worked out yet. “I thought you said he was boring,” she hedged.

“He was probably just having a bad day,” Jenny said. “Especially since Mr. Cottler is so mean to work for.”

“If he ever does do any tricks for us,” promised Melanie, thinking it didn’t seem very likely, the way things were going, “I’ll call you and you can come over.”

* * *
After they had agreed to meet the following noon to go Christmas shopping, Melanie started home.

She cut through the park again in a more pleasant frame of mind, walking slowly, savoring her mood. Unexpectedly, she felt happy with her family. She didn’t like the divorce. She hated the idea of Dorothy. She hoped Pete didn’t have any plans to be her mother’s boyfriend. But her mom was still her mom. Her dad was still her dad. Just like he had written in his letter. My children will always be my children. She tramped across the wet grass, kicking at soggy leaves, thinking how, in spite of so many changes, some things didn’t change at all. Your family was always your family.

Even Cory and Erin. In spite of her complaints, she wouldn’t want anyone else’s sister or brother in their place. A lump came into her throat as she realized that.

As for Arthur…. Okay, he was weird. He had a big mouth, and he teased her all the time. But, like Jenny said, he wasn’t really mean. Not on purpose, anyway. Arthur just didn’t think. Melanie found herself wondering what it was like to have no sisters or brothers, a mother who was dead, and an absentminded father like Mr. Hensley who was always thinking about a new book. Arthur had been right when he told her she was lucky.

She skirted around the pond north of the tennis courts, then passed a picnic table. She was just coming along the path, nearly to Eighth Street, when a familiar figure in a black cape made her stop and blink in astonishment.

Yes, that was Mrs. Seraphina, sitting on the stone park bench a few feet away, one knobby hand settled on top of her walking stick. Below the sweep of white hair, Mrs. Seraphina’s face wore the mysterious half-smile that Melanie never quite knew how to read. Melanie gulped. After all her insistence yesterday that she wanted to talk to Mrs. Seraphina, now she wasn’t so sure, maybe because the others weren’t with her.

Or maybe it was because she couldn’t shake the eerie feeling that Mrs. Seraphina had been waiting for her.

© Elizabeth Varadan 2006


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