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The Fourth Wish: Chapter 19 - Do You Believe In Magic?

Melanie has a great deal to think about - magic, Mrs Seraphina, her mum's new friend Pete...and Bill Drexel.

Elizabeth Varadan's wonderful all-age story about magic and family life is richly entertaining. To read earlier chapters please lick on The Fourth Wish in the menu on this page.

She didn’t talk to Arthur all day Wednesday, either. In the morning, when he hung around the living room waiting for Cory to brush his teeth, Melanie shut herself in the bedroom, browsing through her Detective Sisters collection until they left for the mall. Cory was over his cold enough that their mother had said he could go.

Crystal and the Mystery Cat was Melanie’s favorite mystery. She sat down to reread parts of it until time to go shopping with Jenny. The apartment was strangely quiet. Erin was at Gloria’s house next door. Later in the afternoon, Mrs. Rodriguez was going to take the two girls to the zoo. Melanie stretched across the bed enjoying the solitude, engrossed in her book. Once she had wondered how Crystal and her sisters got involved in so many mysteries. Now it occurred to Melanie that she was involved in a mystery of her own—the mystery of Mrs. Seraphina and Pete’s magic.

If only she could tell Jenny. But the moment that thought occurred to her, she could see her friend’s disbelieving face just as clearly as if it were on the movie screen at the Majestic Theater. A week ago she wouldn’t have believed such a thing herself.

On the bus, however, she was too busy telling Jenny about Bill’s phone call and Arthur’s prank to think of magic or mysteries.

“Bill Drexel will be at King Skate? Awesome,” said Jenny. “What are you going to wear?”

“My Jingle Bell sweater,” said Melanie. It was her favorite sweater. She and Jenny had bought matching sweaters in different colors right after Thanksgiving when they decided they were best friends. Hers was red and Jenny’s was green, and they had real jingle bells sewn all over them.

“Good, I’ll wear mine,” said Jenny.

Now, remembering how Arthur had said “Here comes Santa’s little helpers!” when they wore them to school, Melanie wondered if she should wear something else. That Arthur! She cautioned Jenny, “We’ll probably see Arthur and Cory at the mall. I’m not saying even one word to Arthur, but you can, if you want.”

“I won’t talk to him either,” Jenny promised. “What a crummy trick!”

At the mall they wandered in and out of stores, shopping and gossiping about Bill, then about Melanie’s mom and Pete. Christmas carols floated above and around them from the outdoor speakers. Tinsel garlands with red bows were strung over entrances. Melanie’s face felt icy from the cold; her fingers were almost numb.

They reached the open plaza at the far end of the mall. The syrupy scent of caramel wafted toward them from a bright red cart where a man sold three kinds of popcorn, and they each bought a bag of caramel corn. Then, piling their packages in an empty chair at one of the tables near Warner Brothers Store, they sat down.

A small train with four open cars chugged to their end of the plaza, carrying children. It was the kind of ride Erin would like, Melanie thought as she watched it loop around a giant gingerbread house and head back toward the opposite end of the mall.

“You know,” said Jenny, continuing their earlier conversation, “Pete might turn out to be just a friend, like Mr. Hensley.”

Melanie swallowed a bite of caramel corn. “You don’t think it’s kind of funny that she invited him for Christmas Eve?”

“She invites Mr. Hensley, doesn’t she?”

“That’s because he’s Arthur’s father. Pete’s all by himself. There’s no reason to have him come.”

“Isn’t that why she invited him? So he wouldn’t be all alone? She’s just sorry for him.”

“That's what she says, but she doesn’t look like she feels sorry for him. She gets, I don’t know….” Melanie wrinkled her nose. “All… soft in the face.” She slowly chewed another bite of caramel corn. Her mother had actually blushed when Melanie asked if Pete was going to be at the party all evening. “Of course he is,” her mother had said, and then her face had pinked up before she looked away. “I can tell she’s glad he’s coming," said Melanie.

“Maybe that’s because he’s a magician?”

“My mom is not a little kid, Jenny. She doesn’t get excited about magicians.”

Jenny’s mouth turned down. “Hey, I’m only trying to cheer you up, you know? I can’t say anything right around you. Yesterday you got upset when I said it’s romantic; now you….”

Melanie felt the blood rushing to her cheeks, embarrassed. “Sorry. I’m just upset about everything lately."

“That’s okay,” said Jenny cheerfully. Her eyes lit up. “But it really is romantic, you have to admit.”

Melanie shrugged. “I guess.”

“Well, anyway, I wish a magician would come to our house for Christmas Eve. He could do tricks for the Three Terrors.”

Melanie glanced away, feeling a twinge of guilt. No one had come up with a wish for Pete, and except for that strange conversation yesterday, Mrs. Seraphina hadn’t shown up to help. It didn’t seem like Pete would be doing magic for anyone.

A flash of black near the Warner Brothers window caught Melanie’s eye. Was that Mrs. Seraphina’s cape disappearing through the doorway? She turned to get a closer look, then leaned to one side, trying to see around the cardboard cutout in the window—a huge paper doll of Judy Garland from The Wizard of Oz. The sign next to it read, What’s Your Holiday Wish?

"What are you looking at?" asked Jenny, craning her neck too.

But Melanie had lost sight of whomever she had glimpsed in the stream of shoppers going into the store. And she couldn’t very well get up and go check inside without some explanation. She turned to her friend again, wondering how much she could tell her.

“Jenny,” she began. “Do you believe in magic?”

“Like Pete’s magic? Trick magic?”

“Like real magic.”

Jenny drew her brows together, considering it, then shook her head. “Not really. I think it’s always just tricks, no matter how real magicians make it seem.”

“Well, I don’t believe in magic either," Melanie declared. She folded her arms and pressed her lips together. Or wishes, either, she decided. In spite of the way Mrs. Seraphina talked in riddles and acted like she had powers, there must be some other explanation for why everyone had been able to eat those crullers.

“Great. You don’t believe in magic.” Jenny gave a perplexed laugh.

“I was just thinking about a weird conversation I had with someone,” hedged Melanie.

“Yoo-hoo…,” a familiar voice called.

Two familiar voices. “Yoo-hoo, Scorpion Queen....”

The kiddies’ train had come by again. Cory and Arthur sat waving from the caboose as it rounded the curve and disappeared behind the gingerbread display.

“Let’s go.” Melanie rolled up the top of her popcorn sack and stuffed it inside a bag of presents. “I don’t want to be here when they get off that thing.”

“That’s for sure,” said Jenny. “Riding the kiddies’ choo-choo,” she added scornfully. “That is so pathetic!”

They got up and started walking, but the train was making its way along the small track directly across from them.

“Yoo-hoo, Melanie,” called Cory, his words normal again, now that his cold was better.

“Scorpion Queen.....”

Melanie threw a baleful look toward the train and saw Arthur waving, his eyelids turned inside out.

“Don’t pay any attention to him,” advised Jenny.

Side by side, heads high, they stalked through the plaza to the giant revolving guitar at the Seventh Street exit.

* * *

That evening Arthur was absent from the McCormick table. He called Cory after supper, though, and they kept the phone tied up for nearly half an hour. Melanie sat next to her mother on the living room sofa, trying to convince her mother to let her go to King Skate. At dinner Cory had mentioned Bill Drexel would be there.

“But, Mom, Bill’s always at King Skate,” Melanie pleaded.

Her mother’s heart-shaped face was grave. “You’re too young to be meeting boys,” she insisted.

“Lots of boys come over and talk to girls they know. And then they skate around together. What’s wrong with that?”

Her mother didn’t reply, her face awash with thought. Giggles and whispers drifted from the kitchen.

“He’s meeting me and Jenny,” Melanie pointed out, which seemed to help her case, she figured, the way her mother inclined her head and pursed her mouth to one side.

“I suppose I could take Erin to King Skate instead of to Fantasy Theater,” murmured Mrs. McCormick after a moment. She had the day off, since she worked on Christmas day.

Melanie closed her eyes. That would ruin everything. She was happy to hear Erin whine from the floor, where she was coloring, “But I want to see Fantasy Theater!”

“And Mrs. Leong is going to be there the whole time,” Melanie thought to add. “She’s taking us and bringing us back.”

“Jenny’s mother?” Mrs. McCormick looked relieved.

“Jenny’s aunt. She’s married to Jenny’s uncle, her father’s brother,” Melanie explained.

“She’ll be with you?” Her mother still looked uncertain.

Melanie pressed her point. “And Victor. And Nelson. And Jonathan.”

“I suppose it’s okay,” her mother finally agreed, “if Mrs. Leong is going to be there.”

“The complete, whole, entire time,” Melanie promised.

After a long pause, during which Melanie was sure her mother was going to change her mind, and say no again, Mrs. McCormick said, “Alright, then.”

Melanie jumped up and gave the kind of jiggledy-hop Erin normally did when she was pleased. Another burst of laughter came from the kitchen, where Cory was still talking to Arthur. But at the moment, all Melanie could think about was meeting Bill Drexel the next day at the rink.

© Elizabeth Varadan 2006


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