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The Fourth Wish: Chapter 21 - The Fix-It Wish

Melanie and the other children decide on their final wish - and the mysterious Mrs Seraphina approves of their choice.

Elizabeth Varadon's wonderfully absorbing contemporay tale of magic for children of all ages is moving to an exciting conclusion.

Mrs. Leong let them out at the curb in front of the apartment building. The Three Terrors piled into the middle seats, and Jenny got in front with her aunt, closed the car door, then rolled down the window.

“What time should I bring your present over tomorrow?” she asked Melanie.

“Maybe at noon? I’ll call you, okay?”

As soon as Jenny’s aunt drove off, Melanie turned to Cory. She folded her arms and twiddled her fingers on her elbows. “Mom doesn’t know you skipped the movie, does she?”

He hooked his thumbs in his pockets and looked down. “She was already gone when we changed our minds. Besides,” he mumbled. “You know she likes us to stay together.”

“Well, you’ve never wanted us to stay together before.”

“We were looking out for you,” Arthur said.

“You were looking out for me? I’m sure.”

“We rescued you,” he said. “And we graciously accept your thanks.” He and Cory exchanged smirks. “We could see how much fun you were having.”

“You both just wanted to mess around,” Melanie accused. “If you had crashed into any more people, they would have thrown you guys out.”

“I believe that last crash was by Mr. William Heart Throb Drexel,” said Arthur.

“Thanks to you!” said Melanie. But she felt a reluctant smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. Bill had looked so scornful and superior just before he went down. She grimaced. “I guess he was kind of a...kind of a....” She wished Jenny could have stayed so they could talk privately.

“Kind of a punk,” said Arthur.

“Kind of a jerk,” she said, thinking of what he had called Cory. She let out her breath in a long sigh. “I thought he would be more…like, you know...like Dad.”

“Like Dad!” yelped Cory. “No way!”

“What I mean is, he’s been to all these different places? And he has this...look? He seemed so cool. From a distance he did.” Her mother’s words came back to her—cool isn’t everything. Melanie frowned. But her dad was cool. And he was everything, as far as she was concerned. Before he met that Dorothy woman, anyway.

“Bill has a look?” asked Arthur. "Like an alien—from Planet X? Like, maybe he shaves his temples that way to pick up signals.” He and Cory both snorted.

Melanie decided to let that pass. “I guess we’d better go in and get ready for the party,” she told Cory. “Mom and Erin are probably home by now.”

“Uh, don’t we have to talk about the wish?” asked Arthur.

“The wish!” She drew in a sharp breath. “I haven’t even thought about it!”

“I have.” He preened. “Let’s get Erin and go over to Daisy’s.”

“We can’t. The party’s in a couple of hours.”

“So, we have a couple of hours,” said Cory.

“You know Mom will want us to set the table and stuff.”

“Tell her we want to take Daisy her presents,” Arthur told her. “Do I have to think of everything? We go in. You say, ‘We’ll be back, we have to give these to Daisy,’ and....”

“Just take charge of our Christmas Eve, why don’t you?” Melanie was sorry she had started speaking to him again. “We can agree on your stupid wish right here. Go ahead.” She tapped her foot. “Wish. I agree.”

“Do you see Mrs. Seraphina standing around anywhere? Besides, we need Erin.”

“Did Mrs. Seraphina send you a personal postcard or something? Did it say, ‘Meet me at Daisy’s’, or something?”

“You’re just grouchy because Bill was a jerk and you didn’t think of anything to wish,” said Cory.

“She’ll show up, Melanie,” Arthur predicted. “Betcha anything.” He gave an important nod. “She’ll show up because we’re ready.”

“Well, I’ve been ready for days,” Melanie complained, Cory’s comment about Bill still rankling. “And I’m sick of wishes. I thought having wishes come true was supposed to be fun.”

“But, I have the perfect wish this time. Honest. C’mon, Melanie,” Arthur urged. “Mrs. Seraphina’s probably waiting for us right now.”

“This had better be good, Arthur Hensley,” she grumbled, as they all mounted the stairs to get Erin and the presents. “This wish had better fix things for sure.”

* * *

“See?” Melanie looked around as they entered the doughnut shop. A gray-haired man sat in the corner booth, reading a newspaper. A dark-haired girl at the counter nibbled on a Christmas-wreath doughnut. Everything looked ordinary again. Mrs. Seraphina was nowhere to be seen. “What did I tell you?”

They sat near the window, piling their gifts on the table, then leaned close so they could talk.

“What’ll it be?” Daisy grinned, coming up. “More crullers for that hollow leg of yours?” she asked Arthur. “Still got a few in the kitchen.”

“We’re not really hungry,” said Cory.

“You’re not hungry!” She held a hand to her forehead. “Am I hearing things? Am I going to faint? Is the world coming to an end?”

“He’s been stuffing himself on pizza,” Melanie explained.

“How’s your little Christmas ghost?” asked Arthur.

Daisy laughed. “Not a sign of my ghost since Tuesday! Guess he, or she, did me a good deed and called it a day. Uh-huh, those crullers were an early Christmas present!”

“We came over to give you and Mr. Jackson our presents,” said Melanie. She gave her the small box of chocolates she had wrapped earlier. Erin and the boys handed Daisy their gifts.

“Isn’t that sweet!” Daisy took the packages and held them up, one by one, shaking them. “Do I get to open them now or later?”

“Open them at home,” suggested Arthur.

“But open mine first,” said Erin. “Because guess what? It’s purple.”

“I’ll definitely open yours first,” Daisy chuckled. “Are you sure you’re not hungry?” she asked them. “How ‘bout some cider? It’s on the house,” she coaxed. They all grinned.

“Okay, Arthur.” Melanie leaned forward as soon as Daisy walked off. “What’s your wish?”

“Wait till we get our cider.”

She drummed her nails on the table. “I don’t see Mrs. Seraphina.”

“Don’t rush things, okay?”

A few minutes later, Daisy brought their ciders on a tray, then hurried to the register to ring up the teenager’s doughnut. Erin started gulping her cider right away.

“Okay.” Arthur hunched closer over the table. “How’s this?” He added: “It’s brilliant. I wish for everything to turn out in a way that’s best for everyone.” He leaned back and grinned.

“That’s it?” asked Melanie. “That’s the perfect wish?”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“That is the dumbest wish I ever heard.”

Arthur’s face fell. “No it isn’t. It covers everything.”

“That’s the problem. It’s too…big. Who do you mean by everyone? What do you mean by everything? You know Mrs. Seraphina told us to….” Melanie made a face, “…be specific.”

Arthur’s Saint Bernard eyes seemed to look inward.

“Let’s go back to the beginning.” Cory wore his detective frown. “The first wish—my wish—was for Pete to do real magic, okay? And that messed up his act and got him fired.”

“And I wished for him to lose all his magic and get his old job back,” Melanie said glumly. “And that messed him up even worse.”

“But, everyone liked my wish,” said Erin.

The other three drank their cider and thought. Melanie noticed a special tangy flavor that surprised her, but it wasn’t unpleasant.

After a moment Arthur said, “Here we go. It’s cinchy. Why didn’t I think of it sooner? I wish Pete can get his trick magic back so that he can still do magic shows. That’s his problem, right?”

“What about his job at the Majestic?” asked Cory.

"Okay. I wish for him to get his trick magic back and for Mr. Cottler to give him another chance at doing his act at the Majestic.”

“What about his future as a professional magician?” asked Melanie. “He said he was supposed to do another show somewhere, remember?”

Cory nodded. “The Fox and Goose.”

“And we don’t know what other chances we messed up,” Melanie brooded. “That’s just the one he told us about. There were probably others.”

Arthur glowered across the table at her. “Okay, how’s this? I wish for Pete to get his trick magic back….” He held up one finger. “For Mr. Cottler to give him another chance to do his act at the Majestic….” He held up a second finger. “And for Pete to get all of his other chances back to be a professional magician.” His face brightened. “That’s three in one, just like Cory’s wish.” With a flourish of his hand, he picked up his mug and drained the last of his cider, gulping loudly.

“Too easy,” complained Melanie. “If that’s all we had to wish, we could have done that right after Mr. Cottler fired Pete.”

Cory noisily slurped down his own drink, and wiped his mouth with his parka sleeve. “But you didn’t wish that,” he pointed out.

“Did I know how wishes worked?”

“Did any of us?”

“Never mind,” Arthur told them. “The point is, we have to fix things. So….” He eyed Melanie. “Do you see anything really wrong with it?”

“I like it, because you know what?” said Erin. “Everything fits.”

“It’s specific,” Cory pointed out.

“It’s okay.” Melanie tossed her hair.

“So, you agree?” asked Arthur. She gave a grudging nod.

“It’s a fine wish,” said a familiar voice near Melanie’s shoulder.

“Whoa!” Arthur’s eyes widened. Cory stared, openmouthed. Erin’s intake of breath made a little whooshing sound.

Melanie turned to see Mrs. Seraphina smiling at them all. She glanced quickly around the doughnut shop. The old man at the corner table still perused his paper. Daisy was in the kitchen. The front door hadn’t opened again after the teenaged girl left, or they would have felt cold air rush in. “Mrs. Seraphina, how did you get in here?” she asked.

“Why, the same way I usually do.” The woman’s smile grew wider. Her sharp nose and pointed chin seemed almost to meet. Quick as a coin flip, she was at the table’s edge. One hand clasped the strangely carved walking stick, which she leaned on now, as she regarded the four of them.

“You’re all coming along so nicely.” The words seemed to hover, then float to them. “I was just telling a friend the other day….” She stopped to settle her hat more firmly on her white hair and smooth the front of her dark cape. “Well, first things first.” She chuckled. “Or should I say last things last?” Placing both hands carefully over the top of her stick, she inclined her head.

“Are you doing it?” whispered Erin. “Are you granting our wish?” She gave a little shiver and hugged herself.

Mrs. Seraphina looked up. “You all seem to agree.”

They nodded, sending each other glances, anticipation flicking back and forth between them like splinters of light from a prism.

Melanie tried to swallow her excitement. This was it then, the big one, the fix-it wish that would put everything back to normal again.

Mrs. Seraphina blinked at each of them and tilted her head again. Brows puckering, she closed her eyes. Melanie carefully watched. It looked so natural—no wand waving, no special words. Mrs. Seraphina really looked like she was just trying to remember something.

Mrs. Seraphina opened her eyes and held up a forefinger. “Ah,” she said, and reached into her cape pocket to pull out the box Melanie had seen Tuesday.

Arthur’s face lit up as she handed it to him. He grinned around at them all, as if he had been presented with an award. Setting the box on the table, he flashed both thumbs up. “I fixed the problem. Yesss!” He shook his thumbs in the air for emphasis.

“Ick.” Melanie fluttered her eyelids.

“Goodness,” cried Mrs. Seraphina, peering at the top of her walking stick. “I’ve got to be going.”

Melanie tried a quick peek, hoping to find out just what Mrs. Seraphina saw, but the woman’s hand had already settled firmly over the top of the stick as she started for the door. She seemed almost to skim across the floor. In no time at all her free hand was on the old-fashioned brass door handle.

With an odd pang of regret, Melanie realized she must be on her way out of their lives. She had become used to waiting for Mrs. Seraphina to turn up. And there were so many questions Melanie hadn’t asked her, like what to do about this Dorothy woman, this stepmother she was supposed to learn to like. She probably never would get to ask them now.

“Mrs. Seraphina?” she called.

The woman turned, her white brows lifting in that furry capital M.

“Are we ever going to see you again?”

Mrs. Seraphina flashed her a veiled half-smile. “Oh…you might. One never knows, does one?”

“When?” demanded Erin.

Mrs. Seraphina tilted her head, considering it.

“Tonight at the party?” Cory’s eyes gleamed.

“A party? How lovely! But I have other plans,” she murmured.

“New Year’s?” guessed Arthur.

“Spring is a lovely time of year to take care of things,” Mrs. Seraphina mused. “The lilies are so pretty.”

“Spring?” asked Melanie. “We’ll see you in spring?”

“You’d better go home,” Mrs. Seraphina reminded them. “You need to get ready for your party.” She gave them a little wave, opened the door, and went out. But it was the way she went out that made Melanie blink in disbelief. Even before the door had completely closed, Mrs. Seraphina seemed to have vanished.

“How was the cider?” asked Daisy at Melanie’s elbow.

“Excuse me?” Melanie looked up, still thinking of walking sticks and doors and wishes. “Um...great, I guess.”

“You guess?” Daisy clicked her tongue, disappointment all over her face. She lowered her voice, confidentially. “Mr. Jackson tried his new special recipe on you. He put in just a smidgeon of cranberry juice.”

“It’s interesting,” Arthur told her.

“Interesting!” Daisy put a hand on her hip.

“Uh…we gotta go,” said Cory.

Arthur wiggled his eyebrows. “Yeah, it’s party time.”

“And you know what?” Erin told her. “Mondo the Magician is going to be at our party!”

“A magician!” Daisy laughed. “Well, you have yourselves a nice party with your magician, hear? Thanks again for the presents,” she added.

Outside, as they walked to the corner, Cory asked, “What do you think? Should we ask Pete to do some tricks and find out if it worked?”

His breath made frosty clouds in the darkening air.

“Of course it worked,” said Arthur. “But yeah, let’s ask him.”

Melanie walked along deep in thought. Even if they could stop worrying about Pete’s magic, there was still the fact that Pete was giving her mother rides home. Mrs. Seraphina’s earlier caution came back to her—nothing ever goes back to being exactly the same.

Her thoughts skipped to her parents’ divorce and her dad’s new marriage. If only that could be fixed with three blinks and a frown. Casting a sorrowful look at the wet pavement, she recalled her father’s past homecomings—the way he’d throw his arms around her and Cory, then pick up Erin, half-tossing her in the air as she squealed. The scene blurred a little, like the view in a camera gone suddenly out of focus.

At the rooming house, Arthur took the front steps two at a time. “I’ll be over in a little bit with my dad.” His voice was edged with excitement.

Melanie and Cory and Erin crossed the alley, gravel crunching loudly under their feet. Christmas lights strung over the apartment building’s veranda twinkled cheerfully, and the star in the window above their own had been turned on, Melanie noticed.

“And you know what?” said Erin, from her own deep place of thought. “Pete maybe could give each of us an extra bunny for a pet.”

“All those bunnies were magic,” Melanie reminded her. Or hypnosis, she thought. Or another dimension. “Pete only does tricks,” she told Erin.

“I wonder what his magic like when his tricks work,” said Cory, and Melanie knew his detective brain was working again, eager to ferret out the magician’s secrets.

“I guess we’ll find out,” she said.

They hurried up to the steps to the evening ahead.

© Elizabeth Varadan 2006

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