Wishes are powerful things. Magical. Wonderful. Dangerous. Wishes have the power to change the world. There are different kinds of wishes. Wishing upon a star harnesses the elemental power of star fire, a falling star has that and the magic of time giving more power to wishes synchronized with the cosmic event. Toss a coin into a well or fountain and you harness the element of water as well as make an offering to the water spirits who live there. Break a chicken bone and there is power in the life that donated it. Rescue a genie from a bottle or lamp, if you could find one foolish enough to be caught such, and have direct access to beings that grant wishes. Birthday wishes are especially potent, combining the elements of fire and air as the candles are blown out, all charged with the life magic inherent in the anniversary of birth. Rare is the wish granted as expected or intended.
Emmeline Faire leaned over the candles of her birthday cake, thinking about what she wanted most as her friends and family finished singing. You only turn eleven once, and while she really wanted her own cell phone, she wasn’t sure if that was worthy of being her birthday wish.
“Make a wish and blow out the candles,” said Kathleen Faire.
Emmeline looked at her mother with exasperation. She wished she wouldn’t always tell her what to do. She especially wished that she wouldn’t tell her to do things that she was already doing. Did Kathleen think that Emmeline didn’t know how birthday candles worked?
Kathleen was a third-grade school teacher, and had a habit of telling other people, especially children, what to do. Her face was sharp and angular, and she had a collection of severe expressions that she used to exact obedience from her students. At school, she wore her hair pulled back which made her stern glances even more terrifying. Today, Kathleen’s brown hair hung down around her shoulders, softening her appearance. She noticed when Emmeline rolled her eyes, and though she had no idea what she had done to embarrass her daughter, her eyes showed pained recognition that somehow she had done so.
Emmeline immediately felt guilty. She wished her mother wouldn’t make her feel guilty so easily. She wished she could do something that her mother would be proud of so that she wouldn’t have to see the school-teacher face that her mother’s students were so afraid of. She smiled at her mom as a silent way of apologizing and took a deep breath.
She glanced from her mom to her dad. William Faire smiled back at her and suddenly everything was perfect again. He has that way about him. William wrote science fiction novels and so he worked from home and Emmeline got to hang out with him more than most of her friends got to see their dads. She loved the stories he told and had often wished that such fantastic things could happen in her real life. He had helped her plan out this birthday party with all her friends from school over and she wished she could do something as special for him in return.
Sparrow coughed. His real name was Nathaniel Lowell, but everybody called him Sparrow. Emmeline had once heard that it was because he was as fragile as a bird. That was true. Sparrow was allergic to just about everything. Peanut butter, pollen, grass, dust, smoke, chocolate, penicillin, the list went on and on. It would be easier to describe what he was not allergic to. As easy as it was for Emmeline to make friends, she didn’t know him very well. She wished she knew him better. He was sick all the time, he spent more time in the hospital than he did at school. Emmeline knew if she didn’t hurry up, he was likely to have an allergic reaction to the smoke from the candles and her birthday party would end in a trip to the emergency room. She wished Sparrow didn’t have to suffer such horrible allergies.
She blew out the candles. All eleven in one breath.
The room was plunged into darkness. The doorbell rang.
William turned on the light switch, asking “What’d you wish for, sweetheart?”
Emmeline gave her father a look to let him know he was embarrassing her. “You can’t tell, or it won’t come true, Daddy.”
He shrugged, “I just wondered if whoever this is,” he said as he put his hand on the knob to the front door, “might be here to make your wish come true right now.” He opened the door. A man in a brown uniform stood with a cardboard box in one hand and a clipboard in the other.
“Okay, well, I didn’t wish for the UPS man.” Her friends laughed.
“I should hope I still have a few years left before I have to worry about that!” her father replied. Emmeline was mortified. Why did parents always have to be so humiliating?
The box was for Emmeline, and it was placed next to the pile of presents while everyone ate cake and ice cream. Sparrow politely refused both. Emmeline moved over to sit next to him.
“Are you allergic to cake and ice cream, too, then?”
Sparrow shrugged, “Maybe.” He considered for a moment, “Probably.”
“Are you allergic to iron?”
Sparrow shrugged again, embarrassed, “I don’t know. I probably am.”
“I am,” Emmeline admitted, “It makes me break out in hives.”
Sparrow looked down at his feet while he spoke. “My mom has a list of everything they’ve found that I’m allergic to so far. The doctors aren’t done with their tests, yet. Normally they do a whole bunch at once, but for me they have to do everything one at a time and wait for the hideous reaction to go away before trying another.”
Emmeline frowned, “You should have told me what we could serve you that you aren’t allergic to.”
Emmeline thought it was obvious. He was sitting there with nothing to eat. She realized he hadn’t eaten anything all day. He hadn’t been able to play many of the outdoor games earlier. She wondered with so much of what everyone else took for granted unavailable to him why he had come at all.
Sparrow added, “It’s your party, Em, not mine. Today it only matters that you have what you want.”
Emmeline considered this, “That’s sweet of you to say, but you have a lot to learn about hosting parties.”
“Is it time for you to open your presents, yet?” Sparrow asked.
Emmeline looked around at her friends. Most of them had finished eating their cake. William answered “I think that time to open presents is precisely what time it is.”
Brandon Fullerton had brought Emmeline a remote controlled car with the hopes that she wouldn’t like it and he could take it home again. He deflated when she thanked him for it
Tricia Unch gave her a Barbie doll. Emmeline felt that she was too old to play with dolls, and had never really liked them anyway. She hoped those feelings wouldn’t be obvious in the photograph her mother took as she unwrapped the disappointing gift. As she offered her thanks she realized that Tricia was probably re-gifting the doll to her, so she stopped worrying about hurting her feelings by seeming less than enthusiastic.
A stuffed raccoon puppet came from Mackenzie Hunter. It was amazingly realistic looking, both adorable and scary looking. Emmeline loved it, but she thought to herself that there was no way it would replace Clemens, her stuffed mountain goat, in his place of honor in her bed. Brandon took the raccoon and proceeded to make it appear even more lifelike by having it bite on Barbie’s head. Everyone laughed.
Next came a larger package, from Heidi Yaus. Heidi was going through a phase where horses were her world, and so it was no surprise when Emmeline opened the present to find a t-shirt with a glittery picture of a horse on the front. Emmeline held it up for Kathleen to take a picture and thanked her friend.
Jackie Mayerson looked nervous as a long flat box was picked up from the pile and passed to Emmeline. She squirmed in her seat and twisted her blond hair around her finger.
“My mom picked that out,” Jackie explained as Emmeline opened the present from her. “So don’t be mad at me, okay?” Emmeline pulled a pink hooded-sweatshirt from the box and held it up for photographs.
“I told her no one wants long-sleeved clothes for presents in the summer,” Jackie said apologetically.
“I like it,” Emmeline reassured her. “I can wear it to school when it starts. Thank you Jackie.”
Jackie beamed. Her terror that the gift she had brought would be unworthy washed away.
This was why it was so easy for Emmeline to make friends with everyone. When Emmeline wanted you to be happy, she always managed to say the right thing or smile at just the right time, and the people around her felt good about themselves. If Emmeline didn’t like you, everyone knew that meant there was something seriously wrong with you.
The only one who didn’t understand was Emmeline herself. She knew her dad could do that, but didn’t recognize her own effect on people.
Sparrow’s gift was a milk-white stone pendant tied on a leather necklace. “It’s a moon stone,” he told her.
“It’s beautiful,” Emmeline replied as she put it on.
Lastly, there was the mysterious box that had been delivered.
Emmeline opened the box and removed a book wrapped in glittery purple tissue paper. Glitter rained down on the floor as she peeled off the layers of tissue. On the cover of the book was a beautiful illustration that took Emmeline’s breath away.