“If wishes were fishes, we’d all swim in riches.”
— Scottish proverb
“And he just turned around and left! Didn’t even look back! And then he freakin’ texts me on the plane, saying he’s ‘sorry’! Sorry! As if that will make up for the past three years! And I just started bawling in my seat – I made such a complete fool of myself, and I know the people sitting next to me were so put off, I was so embarrassed, and then – ”
The on-ramp was coming up soon, and Louis tuned out Andrea so he could pay attention to the road signs. There was construction all around the airport, and it forced drivers through a series of random streets just to get back to the freeway – which would have been fine, if it had been the right freeway, but Louis had been detoured yet again and was now driving in a small town, about as far from the highway as you could get without being in the country. But helpful orange “detour” signs were still scattered about, brightly pointing out the way. The GPS obviously hadn’t understood why its driver was taking different turns than indicated, and Louis had had to turn it off just to stop it squawking. But now, finally, the nearest detour sign said the entrance to their freeway was coming up, and so they’d soon be back on track.
” – and I went back through all our text messages, even though I knew I shouldn’t’ve, but I had to know what happened, what I did wrong! You don’t just break up with someone out of the blue like that, there must be a reason, but . . .”
Louis glanced over at Andrea, whose brown eyes were now overwhelmingly filled with tears. She’d been crying ever since Louis had picked her up, but now she seemed to have struck a new reservoir of sorrow.
“I loved him!” she sobbed, ripping apart the soggy tissues she was holding. “And he loved me! He said he did! Oh, Louis!” She fell upon his right arm, which luckily hadn’t been holding the steering wheel too tightly. He adjusted his left grip more securely.
“It’ll be okay, Andi,” he said softly. They’d been driving for almost an hour now, and so he’d heard the entire story about three times. But he did feel bad for her – even though he hadn’t thought Dave had been a particularly good choice. Obviously, Louis wasn’t going to say that to Andrea now, so he had resorted to merely being a listening board, nodding and making comforting noises where appropriate.
“It won’t be okay!” Andrea howled, jerking back into her seat and pounding her fists on her legs. “I’ll never meet another guy like him. Never, never, never – OH!”
The car suddenly lurched to the side with a loud THUNK, and the tire light began flashing urgently. Louis swore and carefully braked, looking out for any obstacles on the empty road. As they slowed, the car noticeably listed to the right, with a dull rhythmic thud accompanying every few feet.
They’d blown a tire.
Andrea had clearly been shocked into silence, and she stared at the floor near her feet, where the ominous noise was loudest.
“Feels like the front right one,” Louis grunted. As if he needed any more drama today.
He inched into a parking lot of a Sears that looked like it had been abandoned for years. Finding a spot that was relatively level and free of weeds, he parked and turned off the engine.
When Andrea spoke, her voice was tiny. “I-is it okay?”
Louis’s level of patience was dangerously low after enduring construction delays, Andrea’s near breakdown over her stupid boyfriend, and now this, but he managed to say, somewhat calmly, “The tire blew. I’ll just have to change it for the spare.”
And he got out of the car before she could say anything else.
It felt good to stretch in the setting sun, but Louis’s relief was short-lived when he popped open the trunk to examine the spare. Or rather, the lack of one. The empty hole underneath the carpet where it should have been glared at him accusingly. Belatedly, he remembered that his last spare had worn out – and he had completely forgotten to get a new one.
Slamming the trunk shut with an angry, inarticulate shout, Louis stormed to the front of the car, ignoring Andrea’s frightened glance at him. He knelt on the dirt-covered asphalt and looked over the blown tire. It wasn’t as bad as he’d feared, the rubber only torn slightly, but it wasn’t a spit-and-paste fix, either. Letting out an aggravated sigh, Louis stood and walked away from the car, holding his hands behind his head in effort to calm down and think.
The easiest solution was to go buy a new tire. But it was Sunday, nearly dark, and they were in the dinkiest little town this side of the freeway, which was still quite a distance away. Louis knew none of their friends could come get them: Andrea had told him he was her last resort for the airport pickup, and he himself had asked around before resigning himself to the task. So it came down to waiting around here in a hotel or something (though he hadn’t seen one in a long while) or paying for a tow and a taxi home. On a Sunday.
Louis desperately wished there was a bottle or a can around for him to kick.
No . . .
He couldn’t, shouldn’t – wouldn’t. He’d promised himself.
Unless it was an emergency.
This doesn’t qualify as an emergency, he told himself. I just don’t want to pay for the real solution. (Louis wasn’t broke, but he wasn’t exactly bathing in money, and neither was Andrea.)
But . . .
There was another way.
One that could easily backfire, though.
Louis bent over, placing his hands on his knees as if he were about to be sick. Oh, it was a terrible idea, truly awful, but if it worked . . . If it worked . . .
He stayed in that position for a moment, acutely aware of Andrea in the car, watching him.
If it didn’t work . . . then, he’d probably be in the same situation, anyway . . . So what did he have to lose?
Ignoring internal screams of the obvious, he slowly walked to the car and got back inside. He stared blankly at the steering wheel, unsure of how to begin.
“What . . . what happened?” Andrea sounded almost scared. “Is the car okay?”
Normally, Louis might’ve been a little annoyed at her timidity, but he was too preoccupied with his own thoughts.
“The car’s fine, but . . . I don’t have a spare tire.” An abrupt laugh escaped him. “I forgot to replace my old one.”
“Oh . . . ”
Glancing at her, Louis could see that she’d finally stopped crying, though her eyes still looked shiny.
“Well . . . ” Andrea gestured out the window, “what about – ?”
“It’s Sunday, past six, all shops are closed, and no one can come pick us up,” Louis cut her off blandly.
Chastened, Andrea sunk back into her seat.
“We could try to find a hotel,” he continued, a bit more kindly. “Though I haven’t seen any for miles. Or we call a tow trunk and take a taxi home.”
Andrea winced. “How much would that cost?”
He gave a I-don’t-want-to-think-about-it shrug.
“I’ll help pay,” she said quietly. “It’s my fault we’re stuck out here.”
Louis didn’t answer. He looked out the window.
It all could be settled. He didn’t even need to bring it up. But maybe . . . maybe he secretly wanted to. Maybe he wanted her to know, for her to . . . After all, it had been so long . . .
“There might be another way,” he said slowly.
He could sense Andrea staring at him. “Another way? What do you mean?”
A smile creeped across his face, and he turned to look at her.
“I know you won’t believe me, but . . . I’m a genie.”
Whatever she’d thought he was going to say, it wasn’t that. She looked positively alarmed. “A what?”
“A genie,” he repeated. To his surprise, he sounded and felt very calm, almost as if he were floating on still waters. “Or a djinn, rather. That’s the appropriate term.”
Andrea was still staring. “A genie. Like from Aladdin?”
Louis waved a hand. “Sort of. I can only grant people one wish, though.”
She let out a hysterical laugh. “Oh! Just one! Well! What happened to the whole ‘three wishes’ thing, hm?”
Despite Andrea’s growing panicked incredulity, Louis still felt relaxed as he gazed out the front window. “That’s just a mangling of myths. It’s only ever been one.”
“Louis, I’m sorry, but you’re not making sense. Genies aren’t real. Are you sure you’re okay?” She laid a concerned hand on his arm.
“Do you know Ian and Diane Staten?”
Andrea seemed confused at the change of subject, but she said, “Yeah, I do. I babysit their daughter sometimes.”
Louis smiled, pleased. “Their daughter, yes. Don’t you remember how hard it was for them to conceive? How they tried everything? How all the doctors said it wasn’t going to happen? And then, one day, a few years ago, Diane got pregnant?”
Now Andrea looked frightened again. “What are you saying? That was . . . that was you?”
He nodded. “I try not to use my . . . powers, I guess you could call them. Wishes have a tendency to backfire. But I felt so bad for them, I had to help. So . . . I told what I was, somehow they believed me, and nine months later . . . ”
He let the sentence hang there, in the air, waiting for Andrea to fully understand its implications.
There was a long silence.
“Prove it,” Andrea said at last, her voice a mere whisper. She had backed away from him, leaning against the car door with her hands over her mouth. “Prove you’re a genie.”
Louis looked at her somberly. “You have to make a wish. That’s the way it works.”
“But don’t I only get one?” Andrea asked, sounding more normal. She pointed at him. “That’s not fair!”
He shrugged. “I didn’t make up the rules.”
“Wait, what about you? You apparently have all this power, why can’t you use it?”
“That’s just not how it works. I can only grant other people’s wishes.”
“No wishing for more wishes?”
“No wishing for more genies?”
“Now you’re just being ridiculous.” Now he grinned at her, relieved that she was apparently taking this so well.
Andrea gave him a tiny smile back. “Well, you can’t make a wish for yourself?”
His grin faded. “I already made my wish.” He gave her a significant look.
Andrea’s eyes widened.
Louis adjusted himself in the seat to look more fully at her. “I will give you one wish. Right here, right now. I can’t give you any more than that, not now, not ever. This is it.”
She gazed at him, her brain clearly working the matter over. She looked away from him at the car, out the window, and then back to him.
“You want me . . . to fix the car,” she said slowly. “Waste a wish . . . on your car.”
Louis’s stomach twisted, but he said lightly, “Not necessarily. You could wish we were back home. Or that you were rich and could easily afford a tow or whatever. Create a chain of hotels right here, with you as the CEO. The possibilities are kinda endless.”
He couldn’t read her expression as she leaned back in her seat. “Isn’t there a catch? In cartoons, the genie always twists the wish somehow.”
“Considering I want this to work out for both of us,” Louis laughed, “that probably won’t happen. But it’s true that something unexpected may occur. I’m more of a . . . conduit to the magic” – oh, it was so lovely to be able to say that again – “the magic that makes it happen. That’s why it’s best to be specific.”
Andrea still wasn’t looking at him. “What do you mean?”
“Well, say you wished to be famous. I could make that happen, but what would you be famous for? What if it was something you didn’t want? Like a famous bug scientist or something?”
That earned him a smile, and he relaxed a little, resting his hands on the steering wheel.
“Could I wish for me and Dave to get back together?” Her voice sounded unnaturally high.
Louis’s heart skipped a beat, and his knuckles whitened on the wheel.
“Yes . . . ” He dared to glance at her. She had a funny look on her face.
“But that might happen anyway,” Louis said carefully. He moved his hands to his lap, trying to keep them from clenching. “I’m offering you a virtually unlimited wish: something you want and that will also get us both out of this mess.”
“I think I know what my wish should be,” Andrea said, giving no indication she’d heard him at all.
Louis closed his eyes, waiting for the inevitable blow.
“I wish . . . ”
I actually liked this prompt, it was pretty unique! (Compared to the others, anyway . . . ) There’s a few more tidbits I couldn’t quite squeeze into the story: Genies like Louis can’t grant grand wishes of world peace or whatever; they’re powerful, but not that powerful. Like he said, they act more like conduits for magic; it flows through them to make the wish come true, and there’s only so much they can handle. And the reason why Louis isn’t rich or drive a fancy car or whatever is because someone would have to make that wish for him, but no one’s ever wanted to waste their one and only wish on the genie.
In case you’re wondering, I didn’t do much research on genies while writing this. I know a fair bit, particularly due to the Children of the Lamp book series, which makes the point about them actually being called djinn, but this was meant to be more of fun story, so I used my own take on genie lore.
Want to do the challenge yourself? Today’s prompt is: “A tire blows out as you’re in the car with someone on the verge of his/her own breakdown. Stuck in a small town, you’re about to do something you haven’t done in years.”