Authors: E. M. Lilly
After Mr. Pish walked away, leaving behind a mist of musk cologne hanging in the air, Emily sat back and let the full magnitude of what was happening fully hit her. During the two months that she’d been running around taking care of all the details so that the publishing release date would fit the schedule she had given Jack, it had never seemed quite real to her. But at that moment it all seemed very real. She took a breath and tried to relax. In two days she’d be flying out to Minnesota and finally meeting Ethan Blake, although he was no longer quite the mystery that he had originally been. She had had a few quick phone conversations with him during which her heart would beat wildly even though she was able to put out the impression of friendly, but cool professionalism. At least she hoped she did! Ethan, on the other hand, sounded nervous during these calls; his voice at times dropping to a whisper, and at other times he would stumble over words. Emily found this endearing and it put her somewhat at ease knowing that he was more nervous than she was. Or at least as nervous.
Emily discovered more things about Ethan during their phone conversations and email exchanges. She knew he wasn’t married, that he still lived with his parents, and that while he was trying to build a career as a writer he supported himself by working part time at a supermarket. She was also able to make an educated guess that there was no fiancée or serious girlfriend in the picture since Ethan wanted to dedicate the book to his mom, and she’d have to think that if he was seriously involved with someone then that person would be getting the dedication. Finally, Emily also knew what Ethan looked like. She knew that because she had gotten him to send in a headshot for the book’s back cover and publicity.
At first Emily was mildly disappointed with Ethan’s appearance, maybe even more than mildly if she was being completely honest with herself, but then she chided herself for being so superficial. It wasn’t just his looks, but the expression on his face, like he was sneering. Emily, though, after hours of staring at it, decided that he wasn’t intentionally trying to sneer, but simply must’ve been nervous and had trouble forcing a smile in his photo. And then there was his hair. This big mop that just kind of sat there without any styling as if it had been cut using a bowl. But again she chided herself for caring about something like that, and blamed it on her years in New York. Ethan’s hair could always be styled. It didn’t matter how it looked now. So while he certainly wasn’t classically handsome or possess movie star looks, Emily decided he had a youthful face and a wicked intelligence burning in his eyes, and she soon found herself appreciating his plainer, more Midwestern looks. No, he wasn’t handsome, but he also wasn’t ugly, and besides it was his soul and his intelligence that had attracted her initially, and that was what really mattered.
One evening Emily had brought home a stack of papers relating to the
Theater of Sin
project, and Ethan’s publicity photo somehow got stuck in them. As she usually did each night, she summoned Jack to spend the evening with her and Winston in the den, and later found herself deeply engrossed in some edit ideas involving rearranging several chapters of the book to create a better flow and more tension when Jack surprised her by yelling out
! She looked over at him and saw that Jack was holding Ethan’s photo, and as she realized what the genie was beaming so triumphantly at, her cheeks quickly turned cherry red.
“Mr. Chubby Cheeks!” Jack exclaimed gleefully enough to cause Winston to lift up his head to see what the commotion was about. “He’s exactly as I pictured him.” The genie scrunched up his face exaggeratedly so, as if he were trying desperately to pull some elusive fact from his memory. “He looks like that actor,” he muttered, his nose wrinkling even further. “What’s his name?”
“I have no idea who you’re talking about,” said Emily, tersely.
“Sure you do,” Jack said as if he were unaware of the frigidness of Emily’s tone. “There was a time over the last ten years when he seemed to be in almost every other movie. Small parts in The Big Lebowski and Boogie Nights, then he began starring in films like Capote and The Savages.” The genie snapped his fingers as if he were struck by a revelation. “Phillip Seymour Hoffman,” he exclaimed. “That’s the actor he looks like! A doughier and more out-of-shape version, and without the facial hair. And of course, his hair is darker, and he’s younger. But otherwise he could be that actor’s doppelganger!”
“Ethan doesn’t look at all like him,” Emily insisted, her voice chilling even further.
Jack opened his eyes wide in mock disbelief. “Miss Mignon, I am shocked that you don’t see the resemblance, but surely you see I am right about his smugness and arrogance, which is in full display in this photo.”
“I don’t see anything of the kind!”
“Really?” Jack stared at Ethan’s photo as if he were deeply confounded. “You don’t see his sneer?” he asked. “When I look at this photo all I see is a self-important turd who believes he’s smarter than everyone else in the world.”
“Turd?” Emily asked. “That seems like a peculiar word for a genie of over three thousand years to be using.”
Jack shrugged apologetically. “Local vernacular that I have picked up from your pop culture. But Miss Mignon, how have I misinterpreted the expression on your author’s face that seems to be screaming unbearable narcissist?”
“He was simply nervous when that photo was taken, and maybe he was trying too hard to look like an author. But you’re all wrong about him. I’ve talked to him over the phone, and he’s not at all how you’re making him out to be. He’s actually very sweet.”
“I apologize then,” Jack said doubtfully. Winston, who had been lying on Jack’s stomach as he reclined in the air, lost interest in the discussion and lowered his head back to the genie’s chest. Jack, though, eyed Emily suspiciously, as if he were trying to figure out why Emily had reacted the way she did to his observation regarding Ethan’s appearance. A glint in his eyes made Emily think that maybe he figured it out, but she kept her poker face intact and pretended to ignore it. That turned out to be the last time before Emily left for Minnesota that Jack offered his thoughts on Ethan, although she couldn’t help feeling that he watched her more closely when he didn’t think she was looking, almost as if he were trying to decipher what was really going on. If he ever figured out Emily’s true intentions for the wish she had made, he didn’t say anything about it, but Emily would at times catch him looking her way with this curious expression on his face.
The evening before Emily was to leave on her trip, she found herself stuck regarding the genie’s lamp. She certainly didn’t want to lug it with her to Minnesota, especially since she wouldn’t have trusted leaving it alone in the hotel suite that her company had arranged for her. So that evening when she summoned Jack, she asked him about the lamp, and how close she needed to be to the lamp to summon him.
“If the lamp were here in Manhattan, could I summon you from Eden Prairie, Minnesota?” she asked.
“Distance doesn’t matter. All that matters is possession. As long as no one else has claimed the lamp, I will appear to you instantly no matter what the distance is between you and the lamp.” Jack hemmed and hawed for a moment before mentioning that Emily should consider a safe deposit box for the lamp. “This is the second time I have mentioned this to you, which is two more times than I ever would’ve mentioned it to any of my previous masters. I know this would be an extravagant use of a wish, but if you don’t have time to rent a box before your trip, perhaps you should consider using one of your remaining six wishes on a safe deposit box to make sure the lamp is secure while you’re gone.”
“The lamp should be fine here,” Emily said. “This is a safe building. If I hide the lamp in the chest’s secret compartment and hide the chest well enough, it will be fine.” She forced a thin smile as she half-joked, “Besides, if I were to make a wish like that, I wouldn’t put it past you or fate to have that bank robbed and my safe deposit box broken into.”
Jack stiffened at that. “Very well,” he said. “I won’t be bothering you again with that piece of advice.”
Emily couldn’t read Jack well enough to know if he was genuinely insulted by her half-joke, or whether he was playing her. Possibly he wanted her to make that wish simply to waste another wish of hers, or perhaps the bank would end up getting robbed and she’d lose the lamp, or some other calamity would ensue. She didn’t believe Jack was malicious—far from it, but there was that mischief which she suspected was something genies couldn’t help. Even ones that appeared well-intentioned as Jack did. But again, it could all be an illusion. Just as Jack’s image was created to put her more at ease since Jack had already demonstrated he could change his appearance to whatever he wanted, the same could be true regarding what she perceived as his personality. It was all so confusing to her whenever she tried sorting it out.
Anyway, it didn’t matter. She wasn’t going to waste one of her remaining six wishes. She suspected that she would need all of them to fix distortions that Jack might work into her latest wish, or other unexpected problems that fate or Jack might bring her way.
Emily hated the idea of sticking Winston in a travel crate and having him ride in the airplane’s baggage compartment, and she almost used up one of her wishes to have Jack transport Winston instead. When she suggested that it would be less traumatic for Winston if Jack were to do that the genie agreed.
“All you need to do is wish for it and it will happen,” he said.
Jack’s response took Emily by surprise. “I would’ve thought you’d want to do that for Winston regardless of whether I wished for it,” Emily said, not bothering to hide her hurt that Winston’s comfort would be used to squeeze one of her final six wishes out of her. Jack shrugged helplessly and told her that while he’d like to help out he can’t.
“It goes back to the laws that govern how genies act,” he explained. “Again, think of it as your law of gravity. If you were to drop an apple, it would fall to the ground no matter how much you might wish for it to do otherwise. It’s the same with how us genies must behave. Instantaneously transporting a person or creature a thousand miles would generally fall under the auspices of a wish. Even if it didn’t, in this case there would be nothing I could do about it, not after your last two wishes. You’ve already set the bar too low with those, and it affects what I can do as a freebie, so to speak. All part of those laws that genies operate under.”
“My last wish was not setting the bar low!”
“That’s debatable, Miss Mignon,” Jack said. “But even so, your previous wish was that I listen to your apology. While that may have been commendable since you made it for my sake and not your own, it still resulted in setting the bar as low as it can be set. And it now leaves me helpless as far as sending Winston to Minnesota without your expending a wish to do so.”
Emily had this sense that Jack was making up that whole
laws of genies
thing as a way to trick her into using up another wish, but she didn’t push the matter. If she was flying to Japan, or even Hawaii, she would certainly use up a wish for Winston’s sake, but Minneapolis was only a three hour flight, and she decided that he could spend that time either gnawing on a thick rawhide bone that she had bought him or sleeping in the crate.
While the flight might’ve been only three hours, it ended up being eight hours from the time Emily left in a taxi to LaGuardia Airport until she was in her rental car in Minneapolis with Winston panting happily in the passenger seat beside her. The dog was nearly epileptic with happiness when Emily took him out of his crate, wagging his tail so fiercely that the exertion just about wiped him out. Fortunately Eden Prairie was only a twenty-five minute drive, because by the time Emily checked into her suite at a motel that catered to business travelers and, fortunately, allowed pets, she felt exhausted, and Winston didn’t look like he was faring much better. Everything about that day had been exhausting. There was all the traveling, of course, as well as being in a new city; although Eden Prairie was much quainter, quieter and suburban than any part of New York City she’d seen. Far greener too, with many more trees. A different world entirely, even more so than Des Moines, which while nothing like New York was still more compact and busy than Eden Prairie. It was also the first time she had driven a car since she’d moved to New York, and while the drivers were far tamer and more polite than what she would see in the city, the first ten minutes behind the wheel left her tense, with her neck and shoulders aching. Soon after that she began feeling more comfortable again. What tired her out the most was the excitement and anticipation of knowing that she’d soon be meeting Ethan.
If she was completely honest about it, she was disappointed that Ethan hadn’t offered to meet her that night since he knew she was flying in that day, but she decided he was just being polite, knowing that she’d be tired from her trip. Or perhaps he simply thought that it would be more professional for him to wait to see her on Monday. After all, Emily was his editor, and she was the one who represented his publisher; if she wanted to meet him that night for dinner then she should’ve been the one to mention it. She was reading too much into things, probably because she was loopy from spending all day traveling. None of it mattered. She’d be meeting Ethan soon enough, and if it was love at first sight she’d know it then. And if it wasn’t, well, maybe instead it would be the type of love that developed over time—and hopefully no more than the length of her stay.
When Emily got to her suite she made her way to the queen-sized bed and lay down on it while Winston let out a heavy grunt and collapsed by the foot of the bed. It was when Emily rolled onto her side that she saw the dozen red roses. They’d been placed in a vase and were resting on a nearby table. At first she thought it must’ve been Mr. Pish who had sent them as a nice gesture, since it was her first business trip, but it seemed too out of character for him. Then she had this crazy idea that Jack might’ve arranged for them, which oddly didn’t seem out of character for him, even though she wasn’t entirely sure what his character really was. As she lay staring at the roses, her curiosity got the better of her. Pushing herself off the bed, her heart beat a little faster as she walked over to the table and found the card that had been sent with the roses. They were from Ethan. He had written in the note how much he was looking forward to working with her and meeting her.