Conclusion – How Not to Make a Wish
Unfortunately, some print copies of How Not to Make a Wish were mis-bound by the printer; they include selections from another novel after page 304. Here are the final pages of the novel. (Don’t read ahead, if you don’t want to spoil the ending!)
Starting on page 304, of the print edition…
* * *
“I’m so happy,” I said again. “For both of you!”
“And to celebrate,” Maddy said, “we have our fortune cookies!” She presented the cellophane-wrapped treats on a plate. “I waited until you were here, Kira.”
“What a sacrifice,” I said, trying to keep my voice light.
Jules opened hers first. “Everything will now come your way,” she read. The light glinted off her engagement ring as she set the curl of paper on the table. “Hopefully only good things!” She laughed.
Maddy looked toward me, but I nodded for her to open her own cookie. “You are filled with life’s most precious treasure – hope!” She made a face. “I’m filled with Eight Treasures Chicken, but that’s close enough, I guess.”
Jules laughed. “I hope Gunther wasn’t attracted to your ability to think in abstract terms.”
Maddy grunted. “I’m a lighting designer. Not a philosopher.” She turned to me. “Come on, Kira. Open yours.”
I was tired of the game, weary of the light-hearted banter. But I wasn’t going to argue; there was no reason to fight. Better to get all of this best-friend camaraderie over. Finished. So that I could retreat to my bedroom and collapse into sleep.
I tore open the wrapper, broke the cookie into two neat halves. I cleared my throat as I unfolded the slip of paper. “You are going on a journey,” I read. Unanticipated tears blurred my vision. More tears. How could I have more tears left? “Whoops, Maddy. I must have gotten yours by mistake.” I shoved the fortune toward her, along with the broken crescent of my cookie.
I heard the shakiness in my voice. I knew that they could hear it too. That’s what best friends were for, after all. But I didn’t have time for social niceties. I didn’t have time to be polite. I had to get away from them, away from their happiness, away from their sickening, perfect lives.
I said, “I’m even more tired than I thought. I have got to get to sleep. I’ll see you both in the morning.”
And because they were my best friends, they pretended to believe me. They let me escape down the hall toward my bedroom.
Before I could sequester myself away, I saw the flurry of sticky notes attached to my door. Jules’s neat handwriting. Maddy’s forceful notes. “Drew called.” “Drew called again.” “Drew.”
I tore them off the door and crumpled them into a ball as I threw myself onto my bed.
I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs. I wanted to tell Bill Pomeroy that he had ruined my life. I wanted to swaddle myself in my baggy black sweatshirts, my shapeless black sweatpants, the disguises that had protected me during my year of mourning Norman. I wanted to scream at Drew, to tell him that he didn’t love me, that he’d never loved me, that it was all a horrible lie.
I rubbed at my face, trying to scrub away the last of the alcohol-induced itch. The rubbing only irritated me more, though, and I forced myself to fold my hands in front of my eyes, almost as if I were praying.
A golden glint caught my attention.
I opened up my hands, turned my wrists in the overhead light. Unbelievably, I could still make out the shape of golden flames, the glitter of the tattoos that should have faded weeks before.
I scrambled onto the floor, swiping my hand beneath my bed until I found the abandoned brass lantern. It was warm to my touch. Warmer than any metal had a right to be in Minnesota, in March.
I caught my breath and squeezed my thumb to my forefinger, pressing as hard as I could. “Teel,” I said, working hard to keep the single syllable even, firm. As if I believed my genie would appear.
Fog flowed out of the lantern — emerald and cobalt and ruby and topaz. I caught a shriek against the back of my teeth, dropped the lamp onto my bed. I staggered back a couple of steps, unable to believe my eyes as a body solidified out of the mist.
Teel looked like the lawyer I dreaded becoming. Her sleek blonde hair was cut in a neat bob that curled perfectly at her jaw line. She wore a white blouse and a navy suit, the skirt cut an inch or two below her knee. Her legs were encased in silky stockings, and her ankles were steady in sensible pumps. She gripped a briefcase in her right hand, as if I’d summoned her just as she was about to walk into court.
Only the ring of flames tattooed around her wrist broke the stolid, boring image.
“Teel?” I whispered.
“At last!” she said. “I thought you were never going to call me back here. Are you ready to make your last wish?”
“Wh—what are you doing here?” I stammered.
Teel stared at me like I’d lost my mind. She thrust her head forward and raised her perfectly plucked eyebrows. “Hello? I’m a genie? I’m bound to stick around until you make your four wishes?”
She clicked her tongue like a frustrated nanny. “Parlez-vous anglais? Sprechen Sie Englisch? Habla ingles? Quatre. Vier. Cuatro.”
I waved her off, trying to make sense of the situation. “Yeah, yeah. I speak English. But what do you mean by four wishes? Don’t I just get three?”
Teel sighed in exasperation. “Didn’t you read the paperwork?”
“What paperwork?” Astonished as I was, I was becoming more than a little exasperated myself.
Teel set her briefcase on my bed, triggering the locks with two expertly manicured nails. She lifted the lid of the container and shuffled through a stack of manila folders. “Joan Frankel… Carl Franken… Jeanette Frankovich….”
“Franklin,” I said. “You went past me.”
“Frankel,” Teel repeated through gritted teeth, brandishing a folder. “Franken.” Another folder. “Frankovich.” She frowned, and rifled through the rest of the briefcase’s contents. When she looked up at me, a deep line was incised in the center of her forehead. “You don’t have a folder.”
“Maybe that’s because you never gave me the paperwork.” Despite my exhaustion, despite the absurdity of our conversation, I sweetened my voice. (Read: I loaded my tone with saccharine, betting that Teel would let my insubordination slide.)
She harrumphed and passed me a sheaf of pages covered with tiny print. “Well, it’s not too late. You can read and sign them now.”
I took the pages by reflex. “The party of the first part… The party of the second part… Hereinabove mentioned forthwith…” I looked up. “You do realize that lawyers gave up a lot of this jargon ages ago, don’t you?”
“Read,” she said imperiously, producing a fountain pen from somewhere in her briefcase.
I can’t promise that I understood everything that was in the document. I can’t swear that I grasped the intricacies of the indemnities and the indemnifications. I wouldn’t testify in a court of law that I had mastered the language about severance and inheritability and third party beneficiaries. I was virtually certain that I was missing something about the subordination clause, and it seemed to me like “novation” should have something to do with weddings.
But there was one clause that was crystal clear. One clause that even an idiot could understand. One clause that even an exhausted, emotionally rattled stage manager could glom onto: “Term and termination: This agreement shall terminate upon the granting by Genie of all elements and sub-elements of the Fourth Wish (‘the Final Wish’) made explicit by Wisher.”
I grabbed the pen before the words could change. Slamming the contract down on my desk, I scribbled my signature across the bottom of the last page. Teel took a step closer on her sturdy, practical heels. “And initial there,” she said, pointing to a space on the first page. “And there. And circle your state of residence there. And add your mailing address there. And if you decline to purchase insurance from us —”
Teel pursed her lips before tapping a perfect fingernail under the final clause. “Read this and initial beside it.”
I picked up the paper and turned it to better catch the light. “Confidentiality: Wisher shall not disclose to others (including but not limited to Wisher’s family, legal counsel, and targets of all Wishes) the existence of this Agreement or any of the terms herein. Wisher explicitly agrees not to disclose the actual number of Wishes granted herein. Wisher further explicitly agrees that disclosing the actual number of Wishes granted herein will result in irreparable harm to Genie, which harm may be enjoined to the full extent of law and equity.”
I recognized the hodgepodge of words, identified each individual strand of legalese. I knew that my father would forbid me from signing such a document, at least until he’d had a chance to pick it apart, clause by dependent clause.
But I also knew that my father was never going to review my genie’s documentation. I knew that Teel had the magical strength to keep me from revealing what I knew, even if I were inclined to do so. She’d already shown me that power numerous times, when she’d kept me from talking about what was going on, even before I’d known there was a fourth wish at stake.
Initialing the confidentiality clause was a formality. A formality that would get me my fourth and final wish. I scribbled KF in the margin, crossing the F with a final flourish.
Teel nodded precisely and stacked the pages, tapping them against my desk until they were perfectly aligned. Then, she reached up to the pink shell of her earlobe, tugging firmly once. She passed me a newly-materialized duplicate of the contract, countersigned with her own sprawling one-name signature on the last page.
“So,” she said. “Your last wish.”
“Wait a second,” I said, finally able to think clearly. “Where have you been? Why haven’t you been nagging me, the way you were for the first three wishes?”
“Nagging?” She sounded offended.
“Dragging me to your invisible Garden. Staring off into space all wistful.”
“The Garden,” Teel sighed, her longing cutting through the ridiculous business of the contract. She blinked, though, and shrugged. “I made a promise.”
“The last time we went to the Garden. You made me promise I wouldn’t bring you there again. A genie always keeps her promises.”
She made it sound so simple. So straight-forward. “Oh,” was all that I could say.
“If you want to go back to the Garden —” she raised her perfect nails to her ears.
“No!” I had no desire to be back in that nothingness, no desire to float in the neither here nor now.
But what would I wish?
I could tell Teel that I wanted to undo the previous three wishes altogether. That would erase everything that had happened at the Landmark. That would save me and the theater-loving world from Bill Pomeroy’s abomination of Romeo and Juliet.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Bill would still have done his play, even if I’d been nowhere in the vicinity. Some other stage manager would have taken the hit, though. Maybe someone with more on the line than I had. Someone with a spouse to support. With kids.
Besides, I didn’t want to miss everything that had happened. I certainly didn’t want to miss my time with John.
I raised my fingers to my lips, remembering how gentle his first kiss had been. Remembering that he had just asked me to move to New York with him. I’d told him no, I’d said that I couldn’t abandon my life here. But that was before I’d come home to find out that my housemates were abandoning me. (Okay, a tiny, logical part of my mind said. They weren’t abandoning me. They were living their lives.) That was before a fortune cookie had told me I was going on a journey.
John and I were still at the very beginning of our relationship. If I hadn’t ruined things tonight — and I had to hope I hadn’t, had to believe that I could still go back, still make things right — there was so much potential. Potential that would be rubbed out if I erased all of my wishes, made it so that I’d never set foot in the Landmark.
If I turned back to John, though, if I even started to pay serious attention to the possibility of going to New York, I would be forswearing my obligation to Dad. I could use my final wish to end my promise to my father. I could wish to be free from my obligation to take the LSAT, to pursue law school and a staid job at a firm and the highest profits per partner that I could generate.
But I didn’t need to waste a wish on that. I could make that happen on my own, without Teel’s powers. All it would take was courage — the strength to tell my father that despite his grandest dreams for me, despite his love and care and support for so many years, I wasn’t going to follow in his footsteps. I wasn’t going to be the lawyer my mother had always dreamed of being.
It would be rough for him, sure. But he was my father. He wanted what was best for me. He’d always wanted what was best for me. No need for magical intervention there.
“Any time today,” Teel said.
“I’m thinking,” I snapped. She hadn’t believed it was important enough to tell me the full terms of our deal at the beginning. I certainly wasn’t going to let her bully me into wasting my last wish now.
“Six out of ten people —”
“I don’t care,” I said automatically. Who knew what crazy statistic she was going to spout? Where did she get those numbers anyway?
But that wasn’t fair. Teel had consistently used her statistics to warn me. To guide me. She had tried to tell me that I wouldn’t be happy with some of my choices. She had tried to say that most women chose to change their bodies, chose to reshape their physical selves, but she’d hinted that those changes weren’t always successful. Satisfying.
I looked down at my reshaped physical self.
Sure, things had gotten complicated. I’d needed to convince my father and my housemates that I wasn’t starving myself to death. I’d been subjected to Norman’s disgusting comments, to Drew’s stupid follow-up.
But I had to admit, I didn’t mind the new body itself. I’d come to enjoy dressing it; I liked the changes Teel had built in. I had enjoyed the time that Drew and I had invested in discovering each other’s bodies; I had liked the way this new physical me responded, the way I felt when I’d been with him. Nope. I wasn’t going to give this body back, not without a fight.
But Drew…. I’d taken Drew by the unfair advantage of a wish. I’d only snared him with Teel’s assistance, ignoring my genie’s most vigorous protests. I’d made him miserable. I was rapidly making him broke.
He didn’t know me. He didn’t care about me. He didn’t even remember the first thing about me — tonight’s alcohol-filled chocolates had proved that.
I had thought that I’d be happy with him. I had thought that the secret to my success was being wanted, being needed, being loved. I’d fallen victim to every romantic daydream, every cheap fantasy sold to every schoolgirl who had ever scribbled her name on a piece of wide-ruled notebook paper, adding the last name of her so-called One True Love in a giddy dream of wedded bliss.
I closed my eyes and summoned up Drew’s face. Oddly, though, I wasn’t able to picture him. Not all of him. I could see the line of his jaw, glinting in a ray of sunlight, bristling with beard that he hadn’t bothered to shave in the morning. I could see the sparkle of emerald swirled into the chestnut of his eyes. I could see the line of his teeth, the tiny imperfection that made him human, made him real. I could see the firm edge of his lips; I could even remember the feel of those lips as he woke me for the third time in the night, stirring me to passion I’d never dreamed I could enjoy.
But I couldn’t see Drew. I couldn’t see all of him. I couldn’t see the man that I had bewitched, the man whom I’d bound to me through my genie’s spell.
My eyes still closed, I bit my lip, trying to increase my concentration. Drew. This shouldn’t be difficult. I’d slept with the man for weeks. I’d mooned over him at rehearsal for ages before that. Drew.
Try as I might, though, I couldn’t summon a full and complete portrait.
I opened my eyes. Teel had settled a hand on her hip; she was a full-color illustration for a textbook on annoyance. “Ready?” she asked.
“I wish that Drew Myers would fall out of love with me.”
Teel narrowed her eyes. I felt like I was on the witness stand as she said, “Drew Myers? You’re wasting another wish on him?”
“It’s not a waste,” I said.
“You don’t need to unwork the magic, just because you’re bored.”
“I’m not bored!”
“Bored. Guilty. Whatever.” With a tight wave of her hand, Teel managed to connote professional disapproval, as if my wish violated some secret lawyer pact, broke the genie rules.
“Look,” I argued. “You told me to make my fourth wish, and I’m making it. Weren’t you the one who told me that nine out of ten women who make wishes out of jealousy regret their wishes?”
“I’m flattered,” she said haughtily. “I didn’t think you listened to anything I said.” She stopped her rebuke long enough to peer into my face. “Wait. You really want to do this? You really want to spend your last wish forever, unmaking your third one?”
There were lots of other things I could wish for. Fame. Fortune. Finding a job in New York with John.
But fame brought its own disasters; Exhibit One was Bill Pomeroy’s topple from the heights of local theater celebrity. And I didn’t really need much money to be happy. And things were either going to work out with John or they weren’t. After watching me break down like a sand castle at the beach, he might decide he didn’t want anything else to do with me, ever again.
I thought of Drew’s happy-go-lucky charm. His “dudes” and his “totallys.” His stunning good looks. I thought of how deflated he’d looked at the end of the play — not dragged down by the audience, not devastated by the critics. Broken by me. By his unrequited love for me.
I met Teel’s eyes, remembering the rules of the genie game. This time, my wish was simple. I didn’t feel the need to explain, the compulsion to clarify, to make sure that Teel understood every possible mistake I might have made. Teel knew the parameters of what I wanted. Teel would make it all right.
“I really want to do this.”
She nodded. “Very well, then.” She collected her papers and put them in her briefcase. She flipped the combination locks closed, spinning the dials to eradicate any trace of her secrets. She extended one slim hand, her tattoo glinting incongruously against the cuff of her blouse. “It’s been a pleasure working with you. I regret that we won’t be able to do business again in the future.”
“This is it, then? You don’t have any other hidden papers? No secret messages that you’ll be coming back again and again and again to deliver?”
Her smile was so small I almost missed it. “This is it. Good luck, Kira.”
“Thanks.” And because that didn’t sound like enough, I said, “Seriously. Thanks for everything. It hasn’t all been good, but the past three months have taught me a lot.”
“Three months.” My genie lawyer shook her head. “Eight out of ten people complete their wishes in less than a week.” She raised her fingers to her earlobe. “Goodbye.”
“Goodbye. And thank you! And good luck getting into the Garden!” The last words caught in my throat. Teel’s lips crooked into a graceful smile, and she inclined her head, accepting all of my good wishes. I stared at her for a long moment, thinking about everything I didn’t know about genies, everything I didn’t understand. I sighed and said, “I wish that Drew Myers was no longer in love with me.”
“As you wish,” Teel said succinctly, and then she tugged twice with all her might.
The flame tattoo around her wrist blazed out, golden light that shimmered up her arm, around her head, consuming her body and breaking it into tiny particles of fog. The minute jewels sparkled for a full minute before flowing into the lantern on my bed. I picked up the brass lamp and tried to peer inside it. The metal had lost its luster, lost the brilliant gleam that I had shocked into existence back in the costume shop at the dinner theater. It was cold, almost icy against my palms.
I rubbed my hand against it, then tried to polish it with my comforter, but the lamp remained dull. Lifeless. Ordinary.
I held my own hand in front of my face, turning my fingers this way and that, attempting to catch the glimmer of my personal flame tattoo. Try as I might, though, I could not pick up a hint of the mark that had bound me to Teel, that had given me the power to summon a genie.
For good measure, I pressed my thumb and forefinger together, firmly clenching them. Nothing. No electric tingle. No juddering metallic shock.
Teel was actually gone.
I leaned back on my pillow. For one fleeting instant, I caught a whiff of Drew’s shampoo. I wondered if he would call me to announce his sudden freedom. If he was going to come find me, the way he had when Teel first made him fall in love with me. If I would know that the final wish had worked.
I realized, though, that there wasn’t going to be any call, there would be no passionate proclamation to wake the Swensons. After all, what would Drew say? “I suddenly realized that I don’t know you at all, and I have no idea what I’ve been thinking for the past month?”
And that was just as well. Because I couldn’t imagine what I would say back to him. “You’re gorgeous, but you’re dumb as a rock, dude.” That didn’t speak very highly of him. Or of me.
I cradled the lantern against my chest. I was tired, spent from the days of theater hell, from the pressure to mount our show, from the living terror as I saw our creation unfold into something I never wanted my name associated with. I was exhausted from my sobbing, from my hysterical realization that my life wasn’t going to be the one I’d always dreamed of, the one I’d always wanted.
I closed my eyes and fell into a swirl of dreams, all colored with glints of fading jewels.
* * *
Standing outside my father’s office door, I hesitated. “Go ahead,” Angie said from behind me, her voice sympathetic around her wad of gum. “He’s only got fifteen minutes before his 2:00.”
I steeled myself and knocked, barely waiting for my father’s muffled “Come in” before turning the handle. Dad was sitting behind his desk, the business pages of the Star-Tribune spread out in front of him. He hurriedly finished chewing the last bite of his sandwich as he stood to greet me. “Kira! To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“Sorry to interrupt you Dad.” I eased into one of the chairs across the desk from him.
I had slept late that morning, sacked out from physical and mental exhaustion. A shower and a bowl of Cap’n Crunch later, though, I felt like a new woman. Even though I’d dug the Variety section of the newspaper out of the trashcan, where one of my housemates had hidden it. Even though I’d brushed off orange peels to read the review of our play. Even though I’d cringed at the snarky tone, the high and mighty critique of every last aspect of Bill Pomeroy’s masterpiece.
Even though I’d read the black-edged box beneath the review, noting that the show had been placed on hiatus. Black-edged. Like an obituary.
At least I was lucky; Dad hadn’t reached the Variety section yet. He always started with the stock reports, with the minuscule print that told the story of his clients’ rises and falls.
Tiny print, like Teel’s contract that I had read and signed. I could still feel my internal debate as I chose my final wish, remember it like a fever in my bones.
And I could recall my sudden clarity regarding my father, emerging from the middle of that debate. I could recall that instant of knowing, of understanding that I needed to talk to Dad. I needed to explain the truth to him. I needed to tell him who I was, what I wanted, how I was going to live my life.
I had dressed for the occasion — neat wool trousers, a creamy silk blouse. Anyone passing me in the hall would have mistaken me for one of the firm’s eager associates, one of those lawyers who thrived on research and writing, on investing every waking moment in pursuit of the brass ring of partnership, in communion with The Law.
My father knew better, though. He sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers in front of his chest. “You’re never an interruption, Kira.”
I glanced over my shoulder at my mother’s portrait. Dad had never bargained for the single parent game. He’d never asked to raise me on his own, to deal with the trials and tribulations of a sometimes headstrong daughter. But we’d made it through my teen years remarkably unscathed. We’d figured out our path through college, even when I’d wanted a major that Dad considered utterly irresponsible. We’d made it through an endless procession of plays.
We’d make it through this as well. But only if I took the proverbial bull by the horns. “I’m not taking the LSAT, Dad.”
He remained absolutely impassive. “You’ve lined up your next theater job, then?”
“No,” I said. “Not yet.”
He gestured toward the newspaper in front of him. “With Romeo and Juliet on hiatus, it’ll be difficult to pin down something else, won’t it? Something stable by your May deadline?”
Damn. I’d always thought he read the business section first. I raised my chin. “It might be difficult to find another theater job, if I were going to stay in the Twin Cities.”
Again, with the poker face. “Where are you going?”
“New York.” It sounded more dangerous when I said the words out loud. In the privacy of my own mind, New York sounded exciting. Bohemian. Romantic. But when I named the city here, my decision to move halfway across the country sounded shockingly irresponsible. Especially since I hadn’t even spoken with John about it. Better to stick to the facts. Stick to the plan, however new it might be. I met my father’s gaze.
“I thought we had an agreement, Kira. I thought you’d promised to take the LSAT.”
“We did, Dad. I did. But I had to change my mind.”
For one instant, he looked trapped. My beloved father, the brilliant lawyer, the man who had stood by me through every hare-brained scheme of my adult life looked trapped. I saw him consider one reply, another, yet a third. And then, he took a deep breath and said, “Why?”
That was better than I’d expected. That was better than his getting angry. That was better than his ordering me out of the house, me and Jules and Maddy, before all of us were ready to go our separate ways. Not that I’d truly believed he would turn me out. Not that I’d ever doubted he loved me.
Nevertheless, I had to stand up to answer him; I had to pace. My nervous steps carried me away from his desk, toward the bookcase, but I turned back to face him before I spoke. “I know you want me to be a lawyer, Dad. I know that’s what Mom wanted to be. I know that you want me to be safe and successful.” I glanced at my mother’s photo, at her perfect smile. “But I know that, even more, you want me to be happy.”
“Being a lawyer would have made Mom happy!” I said, interrupting him. “But not me.” I flexed my fingers, wishing that I could paint with words, that I could show him what I thought, how I felt. “There’s an energy in the theater, Dad. Even when the show is terrible, even when the director is insane, there’s a power in what we do. I love that energy, Dad. It fills me. It fulfills me.”
“You’ll learn to feel that way about the law, Kira. You’ll argue in a courtroom, in front of a judge and jury. You’ll find the same energy there.”
I shook my head, a little sad that I couldn’t make him understand. “No. I won’t. Dad, you’ve taught me that I can do anything. You’ve given me all the training I need, taught me to stick with what I’ve chosen. I’ve chosen the theater. And down the road, in five years or ten or twenty, if I change my mind, if I realize I actually want to be a lawyer, I can choose that too. And I promise that you’ll be the first person I’ll share the news with.”
I was astonished to see tears glinting in his eyes. “Kira, you’ve chosen something so difficult. You’ve made your life so hard.”
I glanced again at my mother. “I’ve chosen what’s right for me. That’s what you always wanted, isn’t it? Both of you?”
He stood up. He walked around the desk. He looked at the framed photograph, for long enough that I imagined he and Mom were having some sort of silent conversation. And then, he held out his hand.
Our handshake. Just like we’d always sealed our agreements. Just like we’d always reconciled, ever since I was a little girl.
My fingers closed around his, and I pumped once, firmly. Then, I let my father hug me. He kissed my forehead, and he said, “I suppose you already have everything worked out about the house? With Maddy and Jules?”
“Of course,” I said, smiling in relief. “But I’ll tell you about it later. You have a 2:00 meeting.”
“I’ll tell Angie to hold it. I want to hear your plans.”
* * *
I fortified myself with a final Club Joe coffee before returning to the scene of my theatrical crime. The crew was set to arrive at five. Instead of setting up the show for a full run-through, though, we were going to take apart the set. We’d likely get the lion’s share done in one night; it was always easier to tear things down than it was to build them up in the first place.
The theater was full of life lessons like that, I mused as I sipped my coffee, browsing through my food diary. It had taken me days of recording every single bite of food that I consumed, every sip of milk-fortified caffeine. And yet, I could destroy the entire compilation with one well-placed spill of coffee.
Or not. That would be a waste of perfectly good java. I tore out every page of the diary as I reviewed what it said. My father and my friends had meant well when they’d demanded that I keep the records. They had only wanted to help me gain control over my life.
But I knew the truth. I knew that scribbling a few words in a notebook was never going to do that. Continuing to track my behavior so closely was only going to drive me insane. I wasn’t anorexic. I’d never been anorexic. My keeping the diary had been a lie, as much as my saying I would study for the LSAT.
It was time to toss the pretense.
As I walked out of Club Joe, I dumped the ravaged food diary into the trashcan.
I was still marveling about how much lighter my backpack felt when I arrived at the Landmark. I started to fumble for my keys, but the door swung open before I could find them. I jumped back just in time to let Drew and Stephanie step into the light of the setting sun. She had her arm slipped through his, and their heads were close together, as if they were sharing a secret.
“Oh!” I said. “What are you doing here?”
Whoops. That sounded more accusing than I’d intended.
Stephanie only smiled though, pulling Drew closer. Her ostentatious gesture highlighted her bare hands — no mega-diamond in sight. A tiny part of me hoped that she hadn’t returned Norman’s ring.
Drew nuzzled her neck before answering me by holding up an envelope. “Picking up our paychecks,” he said.
It felt strange to talk to him. Strange to stand beside him and Stephanie. Strange to realize that Drew and I had spent night after night rolling around between my sheets, at the same time that Stephanie was bedding my former fiance.
Now Drew and Stephanie were quite obviously together, and I felt … nothing.
Okay. I felt a little surprised that Drew was such a fast worker. I’d only freed him from Teel’s spell at, what, midnight? And he was already attached to Stephanie like a limpet? Of course, she’d been throwing herself at him the night before, and her costume malfunction could only have furthered her cause. But they both got high marks for speedy recovery on the romance front.
I shrugged. I didn’t feel a hint of the anger that had bolstered me through Norman’s abandonment. I didn’t feel a ghost of the thrill when I’d first crushed on Drew, that burning longing for him to look at me, to talk to me, to do anything at all to acknowledge my existence.
“What are you guys going to do?” I asked, when I realized that the silence was stretching on too long.
Drew answered; Stephanie was busy weaving her fingers into his belt loop. “Bill is casting the Scottish Play. He’s asked us both to read for him.”
A thousand questions crowded my mind. Macbeth? I wanted to scream, even though I knew that any actor within earshot would cringe, frightened off by the old stories about the show’s title bringing bad luck. What theater was idiotic enough to ask Bill to direct another show? When had he managed to land the job, in between ill-fated Romeo and Juliet rehearsals? How was he planning on corrupting that bloodiest of Shakespeare’s plays? But most importantly: who would be stupid enough to sign up for another round of Bill-Pomeroy-destroys-the-classics?
Drew grinned, and I pictured him waltzing into the next round of rehearsals, riding the wave of Bill’s destructive creativity with non-discriminating good nature. He’d make a gorgeous Scottish laird. And if the costumer put the men in kilts, every woman in the audience would be so taken with Drew’s muscular legs that she wouldn’t realize just how bad the show was on stage.
As for Stephanie? She could play a manipulative madwoman, I was certain.
“Well,” I said. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” Drew said. “I’ll see you around, right?”
I thought about telling him that he wouldn’t. I thought about telling him I was leaving the Twin Cities. I thought about telling him how much my life had changed in the past twenty-four hours, how I’d finally decided to stand up for myself, for what I believed in, for what I wanted to be.
But we’d never talked like that. Our relationship had never been about what we thought, how we felt.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ll see you around. Take care, both of you.”
Stephanie smiled vaguely. I was actually grateful she was there. Her presence eliminated some awkward leavetaking with Drew that I didn’t really want. I darted inside the Landmark before anyone needed to say — or do — anything else.
The stage already looked like a war zone. A cold breeze told me that the loading dock was open in the back; I could hear a truck engine revving, and I assumed that the manhole cover screens were being carted off to their final rusty reward. I hoped that someone could melt them down, redeem the scrap for something worthwhile.
Two members of the crew were pulling up the plastic sheeting, exclaiming about the stench of trapped water, even as they mopped up the stage. Another person was sitting in the audience seats, fiddling with the projector for the supertitles. Two different lighting technicians were up on the catwalks, collecting the gels from the lighting instruments that hung over the audience. The colored pieces of plastic would be saved for the next production that required the recreation of a cold, gray dungeon.
I exchanged greetings with everyone in sight and announced that I’d be back in the dressing room. Ordinarily, the Landmark stored its costumes, in case they could be used in future productions. I had my doubts, though, about whether anything could be redeemed from our slick, glued body suits.
The dressing room was chaos. Dispirited by the audience’s reaction the night before, the actors had left their stations in utter disarray. They’d be coming in, one by one, to collect their personal belongings as they picked up their paychecks, but for now, it looked as if a bomb had gone off in a fetishist’s closet.
I shook my head and tried to figure out where to start. One corner was as good as another. I picked up a wetsuit equivalent of a Verona ball gown and shook it out, releasing a cloud of baby powder into the air. I sneezed three times in quick succession.
I love the theater. The theater is my life.
As I thought my mantra, I had the strangest attack of deja vu. I’d been here before, cleaning up a costume shop. I’d sneezed before, standing under bare fluorescent lights. I’d shrugged before, knowing that I had chosen this career; I had chosen to be a stage manager, no matter what disasters might occur on stage.
And then, it all flooded back to me. The costume shop at Fox Hill, the day I’d found Teel’s lantern. As if I were allergic to the memory, I sneezed again.
I knew his voice before I looked; the Texas twang just barely seeped into his vowels. When I turned around, John was leaning against the doorframe, watching me. He seemed taller than he had in days. Stretched out. Relaxed.
“Thanks,” I said. “It looks like you got a good night’s sleep.”
“For the first night in a long time,” he said. “Without all this to worry about.”
“I know what you mean.”
It should be strange talking to him. It should be uncomfortable. He had invited me to move half-way across the country with him, and I had refused. He had watched over me, riding herd, following me home when I was at my most distraught, but I had told him I didn’t have room in my life for him.
But it wasn’t strange to see him. It wasn’t uncomfortable.
It just felt right.
“About last night,” I said, and then I laughed as the ghost of Mamet’s play raised its head again. “Is your offer still open?”
He crossed the room and took the costume out of my hand. Without hesitation, he crammed it into the nearest trashcan, dusting his palms off when he was done. “I can’t promise anything, Franklin. I know I’ve got a job, and a place to live. And I have a dozen friends who know who’s who and what’s what. And they have friends. It’ll be rough for a while, though. Sink or swim.”
The image called to mind our underground Verona. We both smiled at the same time. “I think we can handle that,” I said.
“You said you had things to take care of here. Family. Friends.”
I shrugged. “Sometimes things get taken care of faster than we expect. Sometimes things change.”
He closed the distance between us with the easy confidence I’d come to trust. His fingers twined in my hair as he kissed me — a long kiss that hinted at the passion banked behind his honesty and left me clutching his arms for support. “Some changes are long overdue,” he said. I laughed as his lips moved down my throat.
He pulled back enough to look me in the eye. I recognized the desire on his face. But I could read much more. I could read the thoughts of the man who had rescued me from myself, saved me from a life I’d outgrown. I saw the man who had talked to me about hopes and dreams and a lifetime of plans, all while sharing slices of pie in a diner that had no name. I saw the man who set me on my feet, who gave me the strength to walk away from my old demons. The man who gave me a choice. “You’re sure?” he asked.
“I couldn’t wish for anything more,” I said, and then I paused. “Except…”
He took a step back, eyeing me with curiosity. Amusement. Confidence. “Except what?”
“Do you think that we could grab dinner at Mephisto’s when we finish up here? Burgers and fries? And we can sit there long enough to finish every last bite without any disaster making me run out of the place?”
His laugh was contagious. “I think we can manage that,” he said. “Dinner’s on me.”
We started planning our move to New York as we cleaned up the chaos in the costume shop.