I’d never gotten close to any of my charges. Not that I hadn’t cared about them, I had. It’s just that I was put on their life path to do a job, not to become attached to them. We were never meant to have long-lasting relationships. Then came Mandy and Crissy.
In a little more than three months, those girls had become a permanent part of my life path. I’d do anything for them. That’s why instinct took over when Crissy was being attacked. I hadn’t thought, I’d just reacted. The call afterward to appear before Kaf, my boss, didn’t surprise me. The fact that he’d waited so long did. Crissy’s wish had ended days ago. Maybe the delay was a timeout, of sorts, so I could think about what I’d done.
I found King Kaf at the very back of his cave seated on a throne. An actual one this time, made of gold and emerald instead of the cloud formation he usually perched upon. Very formal. That couldn’t be good. Orange and green smoke swirled behind him like an acid trip through a kaleidoscope. He had his big book, his compendium of wishes, out and opened to a specific page. One that had been bookmarked by a strip of tie-dyed fabric.
“Is that from my shirt?” I asked.
Like a kid caught stealing a second dessert, he hesitated before answering, “It is.”
I’d been wearing that shirt the day we entered into our arrangement. I had jumped from the car I’d been riding in a split-second before it went over the edge of the road. Still, I tumbled a good seventy-five yards down the embankment before coming to a stop. I was broken and bloodied, barely conscious when Kaf appeared, my clothes little more than shreds.
“I don’t know if that’s a sweet souvenir or a twisted stalker-thing,” I said of the saved shirt strip.
As I stood before him my hands started to sweat, my heart to race. I tried to cross my arms, but they wouldn’t stay where I placed them so I let them hang limply at my sides instead.
“Just tell me,” I finally blurted.
“Tell you what?” he asked.
“What my punishment is,” I said.
“Why would I punish you?”
“Because I broke the one rule I had agreed to.”
“What rule, Desiree?” He asked this like a teacher would ask a student what she had learned when a lesson finally sunk in.
During Crissy’s wish I’d started to suspect my long-held belief that I couldn’t interfere with a wish was all in my mind. I now realized that I’d always been allowed to make decisions for my charges. The fact that I interacted with them at all was interfering. I could have simply sent a message that said “your wish has been granted” and moved on. Instead, I stood face-to-face with them and chose the details that would ensure their wish would be completely fulfilled.
“You understand now,” he said. I nodded. “Do you also remember where this self-imposed prohibition came from?”
I tried to think back to the beginning. Had I done something wrong with one of the wishes?
“Do you not remember what happened with your friend in the commune?” Kaf prompted.
Friend? What friend? My boyfriend, Glenn, had been there. My only other friend… “Do you mean Marsha?”
He gave a single nod.
“What about her?”
He waved his hand in the air next to him, as if removing fog from a window, and a small cloud formed. His version of a crystal ball.
An image slowly started to emerge inside the cloud. The answer was coming. As the image became clearer, my foggy brain also cleared. While we lived in the commune, Marsha had gotten heavy into pot and acid and heroin and I didn’t even know what else. She was stoned more often than she wasn’t and it was literally killing her.
Kaf’s cloud revealed a movie, or more accurately a playback from my memories, of the two of us. Marsha was lying on a blanket beneath a tarp that someone had strung between a tree and a VW bus. She was completely baked and when I begged her to stop using, she told me to quit interfering in her life.
Call it interference if you want, I’d said, but I call it love and I will never stop loving you.
The thing about Marsha was that the more you pushed her one direction, the more she ran the opposite way. I knew that. I should have left her alone. Because I kept pushing, she kept using. My best friend died from a heroin overdose and it may well have been my fault.
“Ah,” Kaf said. “You remember, do you not?”
“I wasn’t prohibited,” I said, speaking the truth out loud. “All this time, I could’ve been helping my charges.”
“This is what you still do not understand,” Kaf said, dismissing the cloud with another wave of his hand. “You did help. For nearly five decades you helped make the lives of hundreds of people better. That is what we are here to do. We help people. We make lives better.”
For that moment, he sounded like Glenn. Passionate about making a difference in the world.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me?” I asked. “Why did you let me go on thinking I had to remain at a distance?”
He stepped down from the platform his throne sat on and stood inches away from me. I expected to see anger or irritation there. Instead there was a glint of amusement in his emerald eyes.
“You are very much like your friend, Desiree,” he said. “Anytime I have asked you to not do something, you have asked why? Anytime I have told you that you were free to help in any way you saw fit, you have said I cannot interfere.” He paused to let me think about that. “You said that. Not me. From the beginning, I gave you full power to do whatever was necessary for a wish.”
“Then why did you stop me from helping Crissy the night Brad was raping her?” Tears stung my eyes at the memory. My heart shattered for her as I stood in her backyard, remembering how the men in my commune had done basically the same thing to Marsha. They were never violent with her, but like Crissy, Marsha never thought she could say no because she had already said yes in the past.
“If you had helped her that night,” Kaf said, pain of the memory clear on his face as well, “what do you think would have happened to her?”
“She never would’ve found the strength to say no to Brad and stand up for herself.” I’d been so mad at Kaf for holding me back. “That was the night I decided to stop standing by.”
“That was the night you decided to return to your true self,” Kaf said. “The girl who stands up for others rather than standing back and letting them suffer alone.”
Wow. Kaf understood me. I hadn’t realized he was capable of that.
“You see,” he said, a look of caring on his face that I’d never seen before. “Two birds, one stone. By not letting you help her, I also helped you.”
As we stood there in the damp, chilly cave, warmth radiated from him. It was just the two of us and I felt exposed. Not endangered, Kaf would never hurt me, but defenseless. By pointing out how he had helped me, it seemed like Kaf was now done with me. All of a sudden I felt alone in the world and needed assurance that all would be fine. Glenn had been able to do that for me. He could make things right with a simple hug when I was upset. I wanted Kaf to do that. I wanted him to put his arms around me and make me feel okay with wherever my life path was about to lead me.
“If I didn’t break any rules,” I asked, looking down at my feet, “what am I doing here?”
He took my hands—I startled at the contact—and positioned them with my palms flat, facing the floor. Then he placed his palms beneath mine. He closed his eyes and as our hands touched, the magic I’d carried inside me for forty-five years drained away.
“You took my powers?” Every nerve in my body went on high alert. What did this mean? “I haven’t fulfilled my contract. It’s only been forty-five years. I agreed to fifty.”
“Indeed you did.”
“But when we made the agreement, you told me if I didn’t complete my indenture you would return me to the condition in which you originally found me.” Broken, bloodied, and barely conscious.
He placed a finger under my chin and tilted my face up to his. “Have you forgotten your wish?”
“My—?” Oh. I had forgotten.
It had been near the end of Mandy’s wish. She was going to get the chance to right all her wrongs. She was going to confess to her mom the things that she had done wrong, or thought she’d done wrong. Her mom would forgive her. Mandy’s wish had brought up my own bad memories. I was bitter because she was going to fix her mistakes, something I’d never be able to do.
What is your wish, Desiree? Kaf had asked.
I wish I was done with you, I’d told him.
“That’s not what I meant,” I told Kaf now. “I was angry at the time.”
“Desiree,” Kaf said gently and moved even closer to me. One more step and we’d be pressed against each other. “You have served me well. Despite our arguments,”—he let out a small chuckle—“our many arguments, every wish you were assigned, you completed successfully. None of my other Guides have a record of lasting success like yours.”
Touch me, I thought at him. Put your arms around me and tell me that I don’t have to leave. I can stay and be yours. Not just one of your Guides, but yours.
He looked into my eyes and slid his tongue across his lips. His massive chest heaved with every breath he took and I swear I could hear his heart beat, beat, beating.
“I know you were upset that night,” he said gently. “That is not the wish I am referring to.”
“The only other wish I made was to not die in that gully.”
He shook his head. “No. You wished to receive a second chance at life. That is the wish I granted so long ago.” He paused, tilted his head, and studied me. “You really have no idea that you have been on your own journey this entire time, have you?”
“I…what?” My knees became weak and the room went off-kilter. If I dropped, would he catch me? “These last forty-five years have been my wish?”
He lifted a bulky shoulder. “Some wishes require more time than others.”
“Forty-five years?” How had I never realized this? I thought that being a Wish Mistress was my second chance.
“Before you could move on to a second life, you first needed to leave your past in the past. Mandy’s wish helped with that. It brought almost everything to light.”
“I’ve been stuck at eighteen years old for forty-five years. You couldn’t have assigned me a few leave-my-past-in-the-past wishes a couple of decades ago? When my parents were still alive?”
They never knew what happened to me. Kaf had placed two conditions on saving my life. First, I was to work for him as a genie for fifty years. Second, I wasn’t allowed to interact with my friends or family during that time. That rule, not being allowed to contact them, I did try, many times, to break. I tried to transport myself to their living room. I tried to walk through their front door. I even tried to jump in front of their car once. It was physically impossible for me to place myself anywhere that they could see me. I couldn’t call them. I couldn’t send a letter. No contact, ever.
“As you have told your charges, we all choose our own paths, Desiree. You could have moved things along. You chose to hang on to the righteous indignation that sent you on that road trip with your friends so long ago.”
“With Crissy’s wish,” Kaf said, “your true self reemerged. You decided what you would and would not accept and you acted upon that decision. Now you must choose the path that will lead to the end of your wish and the beginning of that second chance at life.”
“How am I—?”
“Only you can know when you are where you want to be.”
Holy carp, as Crissy would say. Is that how I sounded to my charges? No wonder they got so annoyed with me.
“Your indenture with me is complete,” Kaf said. “I anticipated you would need fifty years to come to this understanding. It appears I miscalculated.”
Relief flooded my body, but a second later, panic set in. What was I supposed to do? Where was I supposed to go? I’d said I wanted to be done with him, but that wasn’t true. As infuriating and chauvinistic as he could be, the thought of never seeing him again tore at my heart.
“I will give you two options,” Kaf said, reading my mind. And I was pretty sure he could literally do that.
I barely heard his words. He was still so close to me. If I raised up on my toes, our lips would press together. He must have realized this because he backed away then, just a step. A mile-wide chasm couldn’t have felt bigger.
“Options?” I repeated dully and turned away from him. I didn’t want him to see the heartbreak that had to be clear on my face.
“Yes,” he said as he returned to his throne. King Kaf again in place. “You once told me that like Mandy, you wished you could go back and right your wrongs.” He cleared his throat and wouldn’t look me in the eye anymore. “If you choose, I can arrange that.”
What was he saying? That I could go back to 1969? Because that was when the worst of my regrets had started. In particular, the day Glenn, Marsha, Stan, and I left on that road trip. We never said goodbye to anyone. Well, I hadn’t. Maybe the rest of them had.
“That means everyone would still be alive?” I asked, not believing it possible. “My parents and Craig? Marsha?”
“But you said we can’t bring people back from the dead.”
He glanced quickly at me and away again. “A fabrication to save us from a lot of work. Nearly everyone who has lost a loved one wishes for their return.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that under certain circumstances we can bring people back, but it is very difficult. It would be less difficult to send you back.”
If I went back, I’d make sure we didn’t go on that trip because if we hadn’t, Marsha wouldn’t have died. If I went back, maybe I could convince my brother Craig to not go to Vietnam. Maybe I could convince him to go to Canada or Mexico, anywhere that the military couldn’t find him. I could prevent the pain my parents suffered by first losing him and then never knowing what happened to me.
The thing was, this was Kaf presenting me with this option and I knew him very well. “What’s the catch?”
“Is it not obvious?” he asked, one eyebrow arched in question. “If you go back, you will not go on the trip with your friends. Correct?”
“If you go back and do not go on the trip,” he said in that infuriatingly methodical way of his, “you will not be in the car accident. You will not almost die. You and I will never meet because you will not need me to save you.” He paused and swallowed. “You will not become a Guide.”
I waited for the conclusion to the story. But he wouldn’t say more.
“So?” I finally demanded.
“Again, is it not obvious?” He waited for me to fill in the blank. When I didn’t, he sighed. “If you do not become a Guide, none of the wishes that have been assigned to you will be granted.”
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