Authors: E. M. Lilly
Four days after Emily had moved into the condo, she met Sally for lunch and she immediately knew something was wrong from how tense Sally seemed and the brittle smile that threatened to crumble apart any second. The two of them made uncomfortable small talk until a waitress came over to take their order. Once the waitress left, Sally asked Emily why Winston had acted the way he had. Emily forced a confused look and pretended she didn’t know what her friend was asking her.
“You know,” Sally said. She lowered her voice so other diners nearby wouldn’t be able to hear her. “The way he got so upset when he passed by my room.” Her eyes shifted momentarily away from Emily’s, and then added, “Winston was growling at Mitch, wasn’t he?”
Emily nodded, almost imperceptibly.
“Mitch was the rodent you referred to,” Sally said with a tired laugh. “I thought so at the time you said that. Em, what did Mitch do? Did he hurt your dog? Did he throw something at him or kick him?”
“No, nothing like that.” It was Emily’s turn to look away as she stared down at her hands which were resting on the table and folded in front of her. “He acted like a jerk, that’s all. Winston was sensitive enough to pick up on it, and I guess he didn’t appreciate it.”
“How did he act like a jerk?”
Emily looked up and met her friend’s eyes. “Do I really need to tell you?” she asked.
“Please, Em. Before he moves his furniture and all the rest of his stuff over and I add his name to the lease, I need to know this, okay?”
Emily gave another barely perceptible nod and told her friend what had happened, her voice sounding dull and unnatural to her as she did so. Sally sat quietly for a long moment afterward, a tiredness weakening her eyes and mouth. The waitress came back with their coffee, and after she left, Sally asked whether Mitch had lied to her about Emily propositioning him weeks earlier.
“Of course he lied about that,” Emily said, her cheeks reddening. “Even if I had any interest in him, I never would’ve done something like that to you.”
“I never believed that was what happened,” Sally said. “I thought maybe you might’ve innocently flirted with him, and he misread it. The whole thing made me incredibly uncomfortable, but I never believed you made a play for him.” She paused, then asked, “He propositioned you, didn’t he?”
“Was it possible he was only joking around and you misinterpreted what he meant?”
“No, I didn’t misinterpret anything. He made it clear that he wanted us to have sex whenever you were out of the apartment. I’m sorry, Sally. I wanted to tell you, but he beat me to the punch when he lied to you the way he did and I didn’t think you’d believe me. And then I started thinking if I moved out of the apartment he’d settle down and act more like a decent person.”
“That asshole,” Sally whispered, anger tightening her mouth.
“Sally, I’m so sorry.”
Sally shook her head. “Nothing for you to apologize for, Em. I’m the one who needs to be apologizing for subjecting you to him all these months.” She gave Emily a sad smile and added, “I guess love is blind sometimes, huh?”
“Sometimes it is.”
“I couldn’t ignore the way Winston acted the other day. When the asshole formerly known as Mitch tried to find out your new address, I had to face facts and couldn’t hide in denial any longer.”
“You didn’t tell him where I’m living, did you?” Emily asked, alarmed.
“No, of course not. But you should’ve heard his excuses for wanting to know it. I can’t believe I wasted six months with him. And I can’t believe I lost you as a roommate because of him. But I’m glad you found the place you did. Em, darling, it sounds wonderful.” She gave Emily another sad smile and commented how she didn’t have much of an appetite anymore, and that it would be better for her to head back to work. “How about we do lunch another time?”
“Sure. And I’ll have you over soon. I promise.”
Sally nodded weakly and fumbled around in her purse for money to pay for what she had ordered. As she got up to leave, she patted Emily on the shoulder. “The next guy I end up with isn’t going to be an asshole, I promise you that.”
That night Sally called Emily to tell her that she threw Mitch out. “The asshole was actually crying about how he had given up his apartment months ago and had no place to go. He makes three times what you and I make combined, and he was just freeloading off of us, not once offering to pay any rent. I guess the nights he wasn’t here, he must’ve been hooking up with other girls for the night. What an asshole.”
Sally’s speech sounded slurred, and Emily asked her if she’d been drinking.
“Only a few celebratory shots of tequila. Don Pilar Blanco. The good stuff.”
“Well don’t overdo it, okay?”
“Don’t worry, I won’t. But it’s not every day you get to remove a two hundred pound asshole from your apartment.”
Emily had earlier summoned Jack, and he must’ve been able to hear the full conversation, for when Emily got off the phone, he asked her again about whether she’d like to see Mitch turned into an insect or rodent of some sort. “Miss Mignon, it would be for the best,” he told her.
She shook her head as she flatly dismissed the idea. “If I wanted to wish that my friend met a great guy and the two of them fell madly in love and lived happily for the rest of their lives, would you be able to grant that?”
“Hmm,” he said.
“What’s with the
“Are you really asking this for your friend or yourself?”
Emily felt a hotness in her cheeks and knew she was blushing, which only made her more embarrassed. “I’m asking for Sally,” she insisted.
“Regardless of who you’d be making that wish for, it would be impossible for me to fulfill it. First, it’s too vague. One person’s
could be another person’s nightmare. The concept of
living happily for the rest of their lives
is also too vague and as a genie I can’t control the future. A wish has to be for a specific act or object. And wishing for someone to fall in love with someone else is another impossibility, outside of what any genie can control.”
“Wait a second. You keep asking me to make a wish so you can turn Mitch into a pig or an insect. You’re able to do that but you can’t make someone fall in love?”
Jack shrugged. “Turning someone into a pig or an insect is a simple matter of manipulating chemistry and DNA. Love, and really anything within the human spirit is too mysterious for me or any genie to control. The best I could do would be to alter someone’s physiology to secrete more pheromones to make the person more desirable by members of the opposite sex. Of course I can do significantly more than what the best plastic surgeon can accomplish since I can also alter a person’s genetic composition, but even if I’m only being asked to perform the same sort of cosmetic changes as what a surgeon could do my work is much quicker, more precise and with a far shorter recovery time. One second please.”
The genie disappeared for only a fraction of a second. In fact, it was so quick that Emily wasn’t sure at first that he had gone at all. When he reappeared he told her that he had just observed Emily’s ex-roommate, Sally Palmer, and that he considered her very pretty. “Her eyes are somewhat puffy from crying and her coloring isn’t at its peak from the alcohol she’s been consuming this evening, but taking that into account there’s little I could do to make her more attractive. Men have to be finding her desirable as she is. When I inhaled I was also able to pick up a high level of pheromone secretion from her. It would be a waste of a wish if I were to alter her physically or physiologically.”
Emily’s insecurities surfaced briefly and she almost asked Jack for an assessment of herself, but was able to keep herself from blurting that out and was glad she did. It would’ve been mortifying if she had asked him that. Instead she hid her disappointment over what the genie had told her—not about him finding Sally very attractive, but about not being able to grant a wish involving two people falling madly in love and living happily ever after, because that was the only wish she desperately desired. She had been trying to build up the courage to make that wish for herself, and it was like a kick in the stomach when Jack told her it was an impossible wish.
“Is something wrong?” the genie asked, one eyebrow raised and lips pursed as if he were trying to decipher the reason for her seemingly deflated expression.
“No, nothing,” Emily said as she tried hard to keep her disappointment from revealing itself in her voice. “I could’ve saved you the trouble of visiting Sally. She’s very pretty, and now that she’s dumped Mitch she’s not going to have any problem meeting more guys. I just want her to meet nice ones, not more jerks like Mitch.”
Jack had his right eyebrow arched even higher as he gazed at Emily. Even Winston showed a perplexed expression as he lifted his head to look over at her.
“What?” Emily asked. Her cheeks were burning and she knew she was blushing badly, which made her feel more embarrassed.
“Oh, nothing in particular. You seem upset, that’s all.”
“I’m not upset,” Emily insisted. She lifted the manuscript she had been reading and turned her gaze back to it while at the same time trying to hide her blushing from Jack. “But I don’t like the idea of you spying on my friends.”
“Spying? No, Miss Mignon, I was only trying to be helpful,” the genie said, his tone colder, as if he’d been insulted.
“Well, it was a violation of her privacy. And what if she had seen you?”
“That wouldn’t have been possible. I have many ways of making myself virtually invisible.”
That got Emily’s attention. She lowered her manuscript so she could meet Jack’s eyes.
“Have you ever spied on me?” she asked.
“Of course not.” Jack sniffed to show his insult. “Nor would it even be possible since I’m unable to enter this world unless you summon me.”
“It still wasn’t right. You should’ve asked me before doing what you did.”
“Very well, Miss Mignon,” the genie said in that same hurt tone. “If there’s nothing else, please summon me again when you have a wish that you’d like me to grant.”
Emily watched as what had become a very familiar puff of blue smoke exploded in front of her and when the smoke cleared Jack was gone. For the next five minutes she tried to concentrate on her manuscript, but found that all she was doing was staring at a spot on the page unable to focus on what she was supposed to be reading. All in all she felt rotten as to how things went with Jack, especially the way she had acted with him. She had been enjoying his company each evening, and she knew he enjoyed spending time with her and Winston. Well, at least Winston. And God knows what it’s like in whatever world he was imprisoned in. She had this sense that spending time in her world was a reprieve for him—that her summoning him each evening was something he looked forward to. She almost summoned him back so she could apologize for her snippy and borderline insulting behavior, but the thought that she might need to explain her reason for it kept her from bringing him back.
Winston must’ve sensed her discomfort, for the fat, little guy had pushed himself to his feet and started licking her hand. It wasn’t easy picking him up since he weighed fifty-five pounds, but with a little bit of struggling she was able to get him on her lap. She accepted that she wasn’t going to be able to concentrate on any manuscripts that evening. That was fine, though. She had some thinking to do. While the wish that she had been formulating in her mind might not be doable, she had a few ideas of how she might be able to get around the limitations that Jack laid out. There was still a chance she could end up with the one thing that she wanted. True love.
Emily had trouble sleeping that night, and at three in the morning she put on her robe and summoned Jack so that she could apologize for before. When the genie appeared, he asked her what wish she’d like to make. The sullen, disinterested look he gave her surprised her and by the time she stammered out that she didn’t have one, he disappeared before she was able to apologize. Emily stood stunned for a moment at the genie’s abruptness, and then quickly started feeling hot around her collar.
Well, that was just rude
, she thought to herself.
Really uncalled for
Emily’s stubbornness kicked in after that. Every time she started weakening and felt the impulse to make amends with Jack, she thought of how he had snubbed her earlier attempt. This went on for five days, and she wasn’t happy during any of it. As much as she tried telling herself it was Jack’s own doing for being so rude and not giving her a chance to apologize, she felt bad that she was keeping him from spending time with Winston, and she felt guilty that she had handled things as poorly as she had originally. She decided enough already, and summoned him. The genie, as he had done the other day, gave her a cool, disinterested look after materializing in front of her. He also refused to even glance at Winston, whose rear-end was bouncing around enthusiastically as he wagged his tail.
“Miss Mignon,” Jack acknowledged in a voice every bit as cool as the look he had given her. “You have a wish for me to grant?”
“Yes,” Emily said. “I’d like to wish that you listen to my apology. You don’t need to accept it, but I am making the wish that you listen to it.”
This surprised Jack, and his coolness from before began to thaw. Not so that it melted completely, but enough to where his expression toward her became more civil.
“Very well,” he said. “Your wish has been granted.”
“Good. I’d like to apologize for before. My behavior earlier was unnecessarily snippy with you, and I shouldn’t have accused you of spying on Sally. After all, I was the one who mentioned the idea of making a wish for her to meet the perfect man, and for the two of them to fall madly in love, so I should’ve been expecting you to do what you did.”
Jack’s expression thawed a bit more and he allowed a weak smile to show on his lips. “Miss Mignon, your apology is accepted. And I should apologize also.” He appeared to breathe in heavily before letting out a long sigh, except that Emily had the sense that the genie didn’t actually breathe air and that this was only a mannerism that he had maintained from when he was human. “I overreacted,” he said. “Perhaps I’m overly sensitive to any accusation about being what you’d call a Peeping Tom.” He paused for a moment as his smile turned guilty, then added, “It’s a long and painful story, but a similar and absolutely false accusation was once leveled against me regarding a harem member belonging to a sultan who ruled the region where I lived, and that is what ultimately led to me being transformed into what I am now.” Jack let out another long sigh and his smile turned guiltier. “And I need to apologize further for taking advantage of the situation to tease you. I knew your real desire was to make that wish for yourself and not for your friend, Sally Palmer.”