by Robin Weaver
Nicki trembled as she traced the golden lettering with her fingertips; the last time she’d opened the book, she’d killed her parents.
Nana had warned, “Be careful about wishes.” But little Nicki couldn’t help wishing she lived with her grandmother. After all, Nana was alone in her rambling old Colonial and her parents were so consumed with each other, they rarely noticed Nicki. When Mom and Dad died a month later, she did indeed move in with her grandmother. Only she didn’t go to her beloved Nana, she went to live with her other grandmother.
Fourteen years later, she’d earned a scholarship at a university near Nana’s house and even before she settled into her dorm, she had ridden her bike two miles to the hospital for a joyous reunion. When visiting hours were over, Nicki pedaled the extra two miles to the old Victorian and made the trek up the stairs to Nana’s attic. She’d started to leave when she noticed that some of the books had fallen, so she bent down, intending to return them to the shelf when she discovered the large volume lying behind the others. Her throat closed, and she struggled to breathe. She'd found the book with the hole. Again. The book that killed her parents.
She pulled the heavy hardcover from its hiding place, dislodging other books as she did so. She studied the gilded title, Book of Magic. She’d been unable to read the last time she held the book.
Pushing the book away, she remembered how she’d shrank when Nana’s gaze appraised her at the hospital. She felt heavier than ever with the extra forty pounds she carried and believed her own nose, and its pronounced hump, had overshadowed their special get-together. She felt embarrassed as her once beautiful grandmother ran a wrinkled yet still soft hand over her sallow, blemished cheek.
Her grandmother had whispered, “You’ll always be lovely.” The old woman had chuckled. “It was your birthday, last week, so that means you can have a wish. But only one.”
Nicki had been stunned. She’d expected her grandmother to dismiss her childish superstitions and tell her the book wasn’t real. She’d carried the guilt of her parent’s death too long.
“And, honey, don’t be greedy.” After that, her grandmother dozed.
Nicki’s hands still trembled but she opened the cover anyway, discovering the crude square area where someone cut a hole in the pages. She started to slam the book closed when she remembered her grandmother’s words, “Don’t be greedy.”
“Maybe one small wish wouldn’t hurt.” She placed her hand into the hole and chanted, “I wish I were thin.” Her hand felt like it had been licked by flames, but she berated her imagination, “I’m chemistry major, not some little girl who believes in magic.” She restacked the books and then pedaled back to school.
During the next months, she visited her Nana whenever she could and by the last day of the semester, the old woman had recovered enough to return home. Nicki went to say her goodbye. “I will see you in the fall, Nana.”
Her eyes teared, but the elderly woman smiled, “You will indeed child.”
Nana pushed a package at her and she protested, knowing her grandmother didn’t have enough money to buy presents. The bag held a new pair of jeans and a short little shirt—the kind Nicki could never wear and the kind grandmothers didn’t buy. She gave Nana a kiss of thanks but she intended to return the items and put the money in Nana’s secret jar.
“Try them on.”
Her grandmother smiled. Nicki swallowed, desperate for an excuse to forgo the fashion show. She would never fit into the skinny little clothes. Nana laughed, as if reading her mind, and pushed her toward the bathroom.
Nicki took the shirt and pulled it over her head hoping it would stretch, but to her amazement, the shirt fit. Like Angelina Jolie’s tank top. In a trance, she slipped on the pants and easily pulled the zipper to the top. She ran from the bathroom to stare at her reflection in the antique standing mirror.
“Good Lord. I’m thin.”
Over the summer, she had decided the bike riding, not the Book of Magic, had sculpted her hot new figure. When she returned to college, she decided to prove that the book was just a book. She had difficulty finding the leather-covered hardback in Nana’s attic. Someone had moved the book to another shelf, tucking it under a large dictionary. Almost as if the mystery person wanted to hide it. She wished for a pretty nose, knowing that wish couldn’t possibly come true.
During the week before Christmas break, her roommate, a pre-med student had an unusual request. “I don’t mean to offend you, but my boyfriend is a cosmetic surgeon doing his internship. He needs to do a rhinoplasty…”
When Nicki started her junior year, she hesitated about making another wish. Although pleased with her hotness and her fabulous new nose, wishing on the book had also made her an orphan. Eventually, she wished her skin looked better. Her new roommate sold skin care products to make extra money, and wonder of wonders, her acne disappeared.
When Nicki was a senior, Nana’s health began to fail. Feeling that she might soon be alone, Nicki wished, hesitantly, for someone to love her. She’d rather have Nana—no need to be greedy.
After placing her hand in the hole for the fifth time, she rushed back to campus. With exactly fifteen minutes to spare. She’d scheduled a meeting with Professor James about a summer internship and couldn’t be late.
She chained her bike and rushed into the classroom for the planned appointment. A man—not the professor—squatted in front of an audio-visual control panel, clicking and re-clicking buttons. A red polo shirt strained over broad shoulders. Nicki jerked her gaze upward when she realized she stared at the stranger’s butt. He was definitely not the professor.
She blinked, wondering if the man spoke to her. “Excuse me. I was looking for Professor James.
“He’s decided to take a sabbatical. I’m doing your interview.”
How could he possibly know who “she” was? The arrogant nimrod hadn’t even glanced in her direction.
“And you’re late.”
And you’re rude. “No, I’m not. She glanced at her watch, realizing Mr. Rude was correct. By three whole minutes.
He finally looked up from the equipment to scowl at her. And what a glorious scowl. She tried to remember where she’d seen him, but could barely remember her own name. Pheromones seemed to dance in the air, pulling her toward the gorgeous man. His full lips projected the word “kissable” and despite the frown, his brown eyes danced with a come-hither expression that was surely illegal.
“Have a seat.”
“What?” Focus. She sucked in a breath, determined to ignore his dimples and get the internship—a research position she’d more than earned.
“Have a seat. A.k.a. put your butt in a chair.”
She looked around the lecture hall. “Here?”
“Sure.” He grinned.
His unexpected smile made her knees wobbly. And made her rethink her refusal to sit down.
He stared at her. She stared back. Not liking him but loving the view. “Do I know you?”
“Probably not, but you should. I was Dr. James’s TA. When you took his class last year.”
She studied him, wondering how she’d missed a hunk like him. Probably because he was out of her league. Guys like him dated beauty queens or women who wanted to save the rain forests.
So are you still a teaching assistant?”
He grinned at her. “No. Got my doctorate last week. I’m taking over Dr. James classes. And his research.”
The man looked too smug. That didn’t bode well for her.
“Eh…do you want to see my resume?”
He shook his head, still smiling. “Not necessary. You’re not getting the job.”
“Excuse me.” Anger boiled over, dousing her attraction. “Why not? Because I’m three minutes late?”
She blinked. Was he really still smiling? After ruining her summer?
“Then why am I not getting the internship? Because I don’t remember you?”
“No. Although that is a serious offense. Don’t worry. I’ve reviewed your application and recommended you to Professor Markson. She’s doing similar research and has agreed to hire you.”
Nicki blinked again, wondering if she’d fallen into an alternate universe. Professor Markson’s project had been her first choice, but she’d been told there were no openings.
“Thanks, I think. But would you mind telling me why I’m not getting this internship?”
He walked over and sat on the arm of the chair across the aisle from hers. When he leaned forward, he smelled of fresh laundry and spice and all things male. Nice.
“Campus policy, Ms. Tremont.”
She resisted the urge to blink again. “Campus policy?”
He nodded. “Of course. If I hire you, campus policy says I can’t ask you out.”
A month before Nicki started working on her Master’s degree, her grandmother went back into the hospital for surgery. While she and her new man waited in the recovery room, she told him about the book. Naturally, he was a non-believer. “Nicki, sweets, you did all those things yourself. There was no magic involved. Just hard work. ” He winked at her. “Although some people might think I had a magic wand to conjure up a beauty like you.”
Her grandmother opened her eyes and Nicki rushed to her side. “Nana, I’m going to make my wish a little early this year.” There was only one thing she wanted.
Nana shook her head. “No child, I’m ready to go.”
“So the book…”
Just before the doctors ushered them out, Nicki thought Nana said, “It’s the believing.”
A week later, the boyfriend accompanied her to Nana’s funeral. She wasn’t as devastated as she had expected. She felt Nana’s beloved spirit watching over her and she knew the boyfriend was here to stay. She looked at the horde of cousins, seeing her relatives with new eyes. Why wasn’t she surprised to find that they looked much better, thinner, and richer than she remembered.
Copyright © 2012 by Robin Weaver