This is one of my longer ones, so I considered splitting it up over two nights, but…meh…you’re big kids…you can handle it. Just go use the bathroom before you start reading, and don’t forget to wash your hands.
Are You Ready?
He lived by rules. His entire life. All thirty years. The rules had done right by him as a whole…at work. He’d gotten where he was by following the plan, keeping to his rules. That’s not to say he couldn’t be reckless—with money—when he knew it’d pay off.
His personal life on the other hand…. Well, he was here alone, and there wasn’t anyone he was missing—there wasn’t anyone he wished was here beside him. Maybe that said a lot more about life outside his corner office than he’d care for it to.
Dean leaned on the stone balcony and held up the cigarette. No one had their first cigarette at thirty. By then, you were smart enough to know it was stupid. But he was here, at this political fundraiser, greasing palms—he hated greasing palms, but he was here. Another sacrifice of his personal life at the altar of work. He was here instead of spending his thirtieth birthday at home, watching a basketball game with his feet up on the coffee table—the one rule he broke consistently. He was here.
He should do something stupid.
Something that said it wasn’t all just work.
He’d come out here for a breath of fresh air and instead got a lungful of nicotine. On an impulse, Dean had bummed a cigarette…that’s what it was called, right? Bumming a cigarette? That’s what he’d done and, now, he was staring at it.
“Those things will kill you,” a woman said, leaning against the balcony beside him.
He almost dropped it. She’d come out of nowhere.
“So, will sneaking up on someone,” he said, staring down at the petite woman with crazy, black hair beside him. Her features were sort of angular and fragile like an elf’s or a fairy. He shook his head. He was losing it. Too many late nights recently.
She pulled out a lighter. “Are you ready?”
He put the cigarette up to his mouth. This would be memorable at the very least. That’s what he wanted, right? Something to remember…something to mark the passing of one decade into the next. Something that felt different, reckless…crazy. “This is my first cigarette. I think I’ll survive.”
“Your first? Big night.” She sounded amused. She flicked her thumb across the lighter, and the flame danced in front of his eyes before she extinguished it, grabbed the cigarette from his mouth, and tossed it over the balcony.
Dean’s mouth dropped open, and he gestured at where his one last attempt at reckless abandonment in his twenties lay unlit and, now, dirty. He turned to the woman beside him who was putting the lighter in a tiny purse with a strap that looked as thin as a web.
The woman tilted her head and stared back at him with her eyebrows raised. Her dress was strapless and held up by either magic or tape because it didn’t seem snug enough even if she had the curves to hold it up. It was straight and hung mid-thigh with a long slit up each side so he could see what looked like black silk shorts underneath. The deep blue velvet material made her pale skin almost look as translucent as the moon. The result looked like pajamas mated with a formal dress, but somehow it added to her fairy mystique.
“You ruined it,” Dean said, gesturing again at the ground beneath the balcony.
“My name is Nell. You should say, ‘Nell, you’ve saved me from black lung and wretched addiction, but I’m still here at this boring function on my thirtieth birthday, so what are you going to do about that?’ That’s what you should say.”
He settled for “what?” again.
Dean played by the rules. Always. Rules that didn’t account for a woman grabbing his hand and pulling him off the balcony and back through the crowded room.
“Do I know you?” he asked.
She had a death grip on his hand. It was strange because she didn’t seem the type to be crazy. Okay, she had that wildly curly, black hair that ended half-way down her back. Her hair seemed slightly crazy…but she was attractive, and her blue eyes seemed intelligent and even amused when she tossed over her shoulder, “Come on. I have something I need to show you.”
“So, I do know you?” He could swear he didn’t. They left the room and entered a hallway off the giant ballroom where the fundraiser was being held. The door closing behind them shrouded them in silence so effectively that it was almost as if they were in an entirely different building. The hallway was dimly lit…and empty…entirely empty. “Are we supposed to be here?” This really seemed against the rules.
She turned and faced him. “Yes, we’re supposed to be here. No, you don’t know me, but I’m your fairy godmother.”
He laughed and nodded. “I’d pegged you as a fairy.” Then, he frowned. “You know this wasn’t a costume party, right?”
Those eyes he’d thought were intelligent and amused—rolled, and she shook her head. “No, I’m not dressed as a fairy godmother. I am your fairy godmother.”
“Huh.” Okay. The local asylum was having a night out apparently. “Sure. Fairy godmother.” Maybe it was some sort of scam. You’d think she’d pick someone more likely to go along with this neuroses. He wasn’t the type to believe in fairies. Everything about him screamed control freak in fact…from his short black hair down to his black, conservative, formal, but practical shoes. Nothing said “drag me into an ‘employees only’ area.”
She started towing him again.
“Well, this has been fun, but I don’t normally go places with strangers. And, I’m a guy. And, I’m thirty. I don’t believe in fairies.” He tried to stop their forward momentum, but she was surprisingly strong and far more determined than him.
“Of course you don’t, Dean,” she said.
“You know my name?”
They’d arrived at the door at the end of the abnormally long hallway. It was a simple wooden door with a handle…and nothing on it, no sign, no explanation—nothing. It could lead anywhere. She whirled around, facing him. “Of course I do. I’m your fairy godmother.”
“Right.” He should get her some help.
Tilting her head, she grinned. “You think I’m crazy.”
“Yes.” She’d said it first. He was only agreeing.
“Hmm, you’re not the first. Shall we go in?”
“I told you. I have something you need to see,” she said. “It’s your thirtieth birthday, and I’m here to celebrate.”
Oh. Well, this was all making a little more sense then. No wonder she’d seemed so aggressive. Whoever was paying her obviously thought he was much more of a party guy than Dean had ever thought he was, but…he couldn’t fault their taste.
“What? Why are you looking at me like that?” Nell asked, narrowing her eyes.
“You’re a stripper.” It was weird, but it’d be more memorable than a cigarette. Plus… He slid his gaze along her.
“Hey!” She grabbed his chin and forced eye contact. “Eyes up north, buddy. Totally not a stripper. All the clothes are staying on.”
“Yeah, I’ve never had that be the expectation.” She went still and shrugged. “Well, once, but he was really mature and slightly…creepy for only being fourteen. And he didn’t get a show either.” She was trying to glare daggers at him, but it wasn’t effective—not really.
“You said you had something for me to see, and you wanted to celebrate.” As far as a defense went, it was pretty solid.
“Yeah. Celebrate. Not get naked.”
Wait…celebrate…taking him to unmarked door. Oh, this was so much worse. She was some hired party organizer. He’d told everyone not to do a party. There was nothing worse than a bunch of people making a big deal about a date you’d had very little choice in. He recoiled a bit from the door.
She laughed at his miserable expression.
“Nell, I know you’re trying to do your job, but I hate parties. I didn’t even bring a date tonight, so I could slip out of this one. I hate parties.” Maybe she could just claim she couldn’t find him, and he could still go home…right away.
“I know,” she said, smiling.
“And so this is not really what…wait…you do?”
“Yet, you organized a party?” he asked…slowly. They were going to walk in there. People were going to jump out at him. He’d have to pretend to be happy for a few hours when he’d rather be home alone.
She shook her head, her mop of curls bouncing. “I organized a, well, your perfect night—your wish. Your name got skipped when you were a kid due to some oversight. Then, you seemed happy your college years, so your file went to the bottom of the list. We tried to get to you during your twenties, but you’ve been flying all over everywhere and being busy made you happy. Well, sort of happy. Well, minimally happy. Actually…maybe content is a better word.”
“I’m happy now,” he said, disagreeing with the premise of her comments. He certainly didn’t need any attention.
“No, you’re not. You’re alone on your thirtieth birthday.”
“I’m not alone.” He pointed down the hall toward the fundraiser.
“I found you out on the balcony, and you were about to take up smoking to prove that you could be wild and reckless. You were hoping it’d make you feel like you’d acknowledged a decade was over. You were thinking that maybe your financial and career success had come at the cost of having fun. You were alone.”
Okay, that was creepy. “Lucky guess.” Also… “You threw my cigarette away, so we’ll never know what it might have proved.”
She frowned sternly and pointed at him—the result was rather lackluster because she just looked like a testy pixie. “Normally, I’m telling teenagers that smoking doesn’t make them look cool. You’re thirty. You’re too old to let peer pressure get to you.”
“I was out there alone. Nobody was going to see me.” It was one cigarette—which was lying in the dirt out there now.
“Hah! I told you that you were alone.” She shook her head one last time. “Anyway, you’re my last case as a fairy godmother. It was really the only way to make it work.”
“Make what work?”
“This wish,” she said. “It’s seven times as strong because it’s on the last eligible birthday. Then, you times it by two.”
Was this meant to make sense? Because it didn’t. She was mental. She was beautiful, but psychotic.
“So, are you ready to go through the door?”
“It’s not a party?” he confirmed.
She shook her head.
Well, there were worse ways to spend a birthday than accompanying a beautiful, crazy girl. She might be dragging him through the door to kill him, but that was unlikely. It’d be memorable either way. It was still more interesting than the fundraiser. And wouldn’t give him cancer.
Those were some low expectations. It could be a snake pit and meet those. Alright then, why not?
“Okay,” he said.
She grinned and yanked the door open.
They walked right into a dim movie theatre—a small one. It was totally empty.
“Has this always been here?” he asked, spinning around. What on earth? “I’ve been to conventions in this hotel. I was here six months ago for a wedding. I didn’t know they had a theatre.”
“No. Normally, this is storage room, but it’ll be like this until midnight.” She gestured at the seats. “Pick a seat.”
“Will other people be coming?” he asked, surveying the three rows. He was still holding Nell’s hand. He stared down at their joined hands. It’d been a while since he’d held hands with someone.
“Did you want other people here?” she asked, breaking into his thoughts.
He looked around again and shrugged. Not really—actually, not at all, but she’d already brought up his concern that his work life had torched his personal life. So, that would sound anti-social—especially for someone having a birthday.
“No. It’s just you and me,” she said. “You can sit wherever you’d like.”
He went to the middle of the middle row. He’d always wanted to sit dead center of an empty theatre. Nell dropped his hand just as he was about to sit down. Dean stared at his empty hand dumbly. Odd. She’d only been holding it for a few minutes, but it felt…good. He relaxed into the seat and sighed at the silence. Today had been loud, and then that fundraiser had been a crush. He undid the bowtie on his tux and yanked it off, stuffing it into his pocket. This was nice. A small theater. His pick of the seats. Some crazy fairy girl—who was growing on him.
This was nice.
He had no idea how this had been arranged, or who was footing the bill, but it wasn’t bad. It’d been better before she’d dropped his hand, but maybe that wasn’t included in…whatever this was.
Going to the wall, Nell opened a cupboard and the aroma of movie theatre popcorn filled the air. She brought back a bucket of popcorn and a root beer float and sat down beside him.
“A root beer float?” he asked. Okay. Who’d told her about him and root beer floats? Nobody knew that.
She shrugged. “I know. I sort of expected you’d like something….” She looked at him and tilted her head.
He raised his eyebrows. “Pretentious?” Most of his team probably saw him that way. Or uptight. Or driven.
“Alcoholic?” Maybe a group of his college buddies had hired her and hadn’t realized he didn’t get smashed on his birthday.
“Adult?” It was the one remnant of his childhood he’d dragged into adulthood in his opinion. Well, and watching basketball. And putting his feet on the coffee table.
“No. Less sweet. You just strike me as a guy who’d prefer something with more bite, I guess.”
After she’d set the popcorn on a small table which had folded out in front of them, she pushed the armrest up between them, pulled his arm around her shoulders and settled into his side while holding the root beer float. It had two straws.
“This is very…,” he said.
She looked up at him. Her smile was in place but it looked forced—nervous even.
“Nice,” he finished. He’d intended to say “odd” but she’d clearly gone to a lot of work to arrange this.
She grinned. She had a dimple in one cheek. If he believed in fairies, he might believe she was one.
“What are we watching?” he asked.
“A Charlie Chaplin movie.”
“A silent movie?” His whole body went tense, and he almost pulled his arm from around her. The root beer float thing was weird enough, but this…. Well, a couple people knew. It did narrow down who might have arranged this. He watched her out of the corner of his eye. Who had hired her?
Nell had a kernel of popcorn in her hand and was staring at it, as if she was waiting for him to yell or run or something. Her whole body had an air of waiting—tense waiting.
It took a conscious effort, but he relaxed, and she settled back against him with his arm across her shoulders.
“So, you’re part of this?” he asked. She was sitting beside him, and she’d put his arm across her shoulders. She’d been holding his hand…while dragging him, but she had been holding his hand. Clearly, it wasn’t just watching a movie by himself. Somehow, she was part of this birthday…wish.
“Yes,” she said slowly, dragging it out to multiple syllables. “But I’m still not stripping.”
The theatre went dark, and the film started.
“The Circus? We’re watching the Circus?” Wow, whoever had arranged this really did know him. A piece of popcorn ricocheted off his cheek.
“Quiet, I’ll never be able to hear the movie.” She ate a piece of popcorn, stopped, and stared at the popcorn tub. “Wow, this is really good. It’s so…buttery.”
He threw a kernel of popcorn at her. “Quiet. I’m trying to watch.”
She grinned at him and pulled the popcorn tub onto her lap. “Okay, so explain this to me. I’ve never seen a silent movie, but there’s music, so it’s not silent.”
“Yes, but there’s no talking.”
She shrugged, dislodging his arm so it fell behind her around her waist. Nell just tucked herself in closer to his side. “Yes, but most of what people say to each other isn’t said. It’s what we do, how we are, the way we live…it seems like the music would just replace all the unnecessary noise and leave what’s real behind.” She tossed another piece of popcorn in her mouth. “Wow, this is so good. Have you tried some?”
Turning, she fed him a piece of popcorn, her fingers brushed his lips. The sensation it sent coursing through him stunned him. Fire. Want. Need. Her gaze met his, and her eyes narrowed in confusion for just a moment before she shook it off.
“This is the loudest silent movie I’ve ever been to,” he said, trying to dispel the awkwardness in the moment.
“I’ll stop talking.”
“No…uhh…no, don’t.” He would have said the same thing as her about the talking and unnecessary noise, but her talking didn’t feel…unnecessary. It rattled him. She rattled him. But he liked it.
She fed him another piece of popcorn before eating one herself. “So, a circus, huh?”
“And this is your favorite?”
“Yeah.” It was. He looked around. They were really the only ones in here. One of his friends was a lot better friend than he’d known.
“Half my…uhh…clients are terrified of clowns,” she said.
She fed him another kernel of popcorn. “Yep. I told you. I’m your fairy godmother.”
Maybe that was what she called her business.
They shared the float between them, and she slipped her cold hand into his when they’d finished. Whoever had arranged this…he owed them big-time. What would you pay for something like this? It was beyond price really—especially once you threw in Nell. How had one of his friends managed to set up this date? They apparently knew his taste better than he did because Nell was…just what he wanted, and he wanted her a lot.
“That was good,” she said, standing up as the theatre lights came back up. “Are they all that good?”
“Yes. Maybe after this is…well, I don’t know what happens next with us, but I have others at my place.” What did happen after this? Would this ‘date’ last until midnight? Could he date her again?
Nell smiled. “We should watch them sometime.”
The tenseness between his shoulder blades eased up. This was the weirdest and best date he’d been on—if you could call it that. She’d said she was part of this, but he maybe should have clarified what “this” was.
“Okay, ready?” she asked.
“For the rest. It’s only nine o’clock, Dean. Even the kids I’ve fulfilled wishes for didn’t go to bed this early.” She pulled him up the aisle back through the door they’d come through. The hallway…wasn’t a hallway.
“What’s going on?” he asked, looking around, and stepping away from her. She kept a firm grip on his hand which he was grateful for because it was like they’d entered an alternate dimension, and the feel of her hand in his was grounding. He could swear that was the door they’d entered from. No, it was. The door was now a back door to a house—a house with a widow’s walk fenced in wrought iron. That architecture. He’d know it anywhere. “We’re not in Cleveland anymore.”
“Nope. New Orleans,” she said. “Come on.” He was too stunned to do anything but let her drag him. Across the way was a small table outside a café that appeared to have just closed. On the table were two bowls of steaming, fragrant gumbo and a plate of hot beignets sprinkled with powdered sugar. A street musician played jazz on a saxophone nearby but, otherwise, it was quiet and peaceful with all the mystery of New Orleans.
“I’m having some sort of psychotic episode,” he said as she sat down beside the café table and pulled the napkin across her lap. He dropped into the seat beside her. Okay, the theatre…could almost have been explained. It was a small private theatre. He just didn’t know about it. This…this…was inexplicable.
Nell tapped his knee. “It’s magic, Dean. Just accept it. Everyone is entitled to a little magic before they’re too old to appreciate it. Everyone else had theirs whether they realized it or not. You’re just getting your chance now.”
“This makes no sense,” he said, looking around. He’d swear on his grandmother’s grave that they were in New Orleans.
“Nope. Magic rarely does,” she agreed. She spooned gumbo into her mouth. “This is good. I thought the popcorn was good, but this is really good.”
He ate a spoonful. Mmm. No doubt about it. This was New Orleans. He’d doubt his eyes, but not his mouth.
“Tell me about New Orleans,” she said. “You’ve come here a lot.”
In between bites of the best gumbo he’d ever had, he told her about the city. He loved New Orleans. He kept thinking about moving out from Cleveland to here, but the possibility of ruining it—or taking it for granted, prevented him. The beignets were perfect too which, when combined with Nell’s laugh and the jazz, made him realize this had to be either magic…or a psychotic episode.
If he was losing his mind, he might not miss it as much as he’d have thought.
When they were finished eating, she put her hand in his and tugged him to his feet. Nell nodded in the opposite direction from the door. “Let’s take the long way home.” They walked up and down the haunted streets, through the loud raucous music of Bourbon Street—where several guys tossed her beaded necklaces hopefully. Dean slipped his arm around her shoulders and glared at them. At least for right now, for tonight, she was his. Their pace was slow and meandering as they walked back toward the door. She tipped her head onto his shoulder with a sigh.
Magic. It had to be magic.
This time, he reached out to pull the door and asked, turning to Nell, “Are you ready?”
Grinning, she hugged his side.
They entered a museum this time. His heart only sped up a few beats before returning to normal. He was actually starting to accept this, believe in magic—or psychosis—it was still up in the air.
“I think it’s interesting you see yourself as so structured and strict, but you love New Orleans and modern art,” Nell said, pulling him toward a sculpture.
“Well, it’s expected. I have a Master’s in business, and I’m a project manager over a dozen people. They expect structure and consistency.” He stopped and stared at the long horizontal marble piece.
The lines on the sculpture were all soft and slim—it reminded him of Nell. Soft, slim, feminine. It was just a bunch of twists and turns and stone, but he looked at it and knew what it was to him. It always felt obvious—like everyone should know what it was on sight—and maybe everyone did, even if it was different to them. It was a little like magic.
“Yes, but inside you’re not that way.”
Dean shrugged. He was different inside. Everyone had an outside and an inside aspect to who they were. “What do you think of this one?” he asked, pulling her over in front of a large painting.
“It’s passionate. It reminds me of the music we just listened to.”
“Exactly,” he agreed, watching her. She reminded him of that.
Feeling his gaze, she met his eyes. Her soft mouth curved in a smile that would break men’s hearts.
“What are you like inside?” he asked.
“Tonight is about you.”
He shook his head. “That’s a copout.”
She looked back at the painting. “I think I’m like you. I live in contradictions. I believe in magic, but I like things to make sense. I like noise, but not really noise—like the noise of music, but not a crowded room. I like passion and color, but I sometimes need some space to enjoy it. I think the contradictions are who we are more than what we actually are. Like this painting—you have to take it as a whole to see what it’s saying.”
It was the most flattering description of the way he was that he’d ever heard—and it seemed to bridge this gap in compatibility that he just couldn’t understand. He was wildly attracted to her, but he’d never been wildly anything. Maybe he was more passionate and reckless than he’d recognized.
Dean liked this night. He loved this night. New Orleans. Her. Charlie Chaplin. Nell. Modern art. The woman by his side. Her. Her. Her. He pulled her closer. This night couldn’t end.
“You know…you might be right…about everything,” he said.
Nell turned, stood on her tiptoes, and pressed her mouth against his. Her kiss was as perfect as the night. Soft as they’d looked, her lips were sweet from the powdered sugar they’d had on their beignets. Her breath was warm as a night in New Orleans. When her mouth opened to his, and their tongues touched and slid in a caress, he never wanted the moment to end.
Eventually, she pulled back, but wrapped his arm around her shoulders. They walked through the museum while they caught their breaths. A kiss had never hit him like that. It felt like lightning through his heart—the spark and warmth left scorch marks.
He hadn’t realized they were back at the door until she asked, “Are you ready?” as her fingers grasped the door handle.
He almost shook his head. “Yes,” he said on a sigh. They had to be getting close to midnight. Would she run off like Cinderella when the clock struck? Would he wake up? This had to be a dream.
Her hand dropped from the door handle. “What?”
Shaking his head, Dean said, “It’s nothing. It’s stupid.” He’d started this night not caring about the next minute or the minute after that, but she’d made those sixty second increments valuable. He looked around. “This is nice. We could stay here.”
“You don’t want to see what’s next?”
Every door they opened took them closer to midnight. They were running out of doors, and then it’d be over. He was fine with turning thirty—he was less fine with ending this night.
Nell stood up on her tiptoes, wrapping her arms around his neck, and whispered “chicken” in his ear. He laughed right up until she bit his earlobe and ran her lips along his jawline as she pulled away.
Stunned, Dean didn’t even protest when she yanked the door open.
The door opened to the sound of screams… not of terror—wild, abandoned, excited screaming.
Laughing, Nell pulled him from a maintenance closet into an amusement park. They were right next to a giant wooden rollercoaster. Although there were other rides running, theirs was deserted and they ran up the ramps to the top. An elderly man greeted them saying, “Hey, Nell. You’re my last wish of the night.”
As they buckled in, the ride operator said, “I heard it’s your last night. I missed out on your “going away” cake, though.”
Nell shook her head. “It went fast. You mention cake, and I swear fairies were deserting people everywhere to get some. I only got one small slice myself—the one that said “Go.” I felt like they were trying to tell me something.”
Jack laughed. “Turn in your magic, but what’s your hurry, huh? Okay, keep your arms and legs in the car or something might happen to them, though… actually, it won’t. So, do whatever you want.”
Nell laughed and squeezed Dean’s arm. The coaster climbed for long enough that the anticipation had built even before the first spiral down. Nell was a screamer. She screamed so loud that it made him laugh…which made her laugh when she could catch her breath.
When they finished the ride, the attendant Jack asked them, “Wanna go again?”
“Yes!” Nell said.
He just grinned and nodded. She clutched onto him so tight that he ended up putting his arm around her again, and she buried herself in his side…and still screamed. If they’d gone many more times, she’d be hoarse and he’d be deaf, but it was the best ride he’d ever been on regardless.
When they got off the ride, he heard the distant chime of a clock. No.
“See ya, Nell,” Jack said. Each chime hit him in the gut. He was like the male version of Cinderella, and he hated it.
Nell pulled him down the ramp, laughing, and yelling, “Come on. It’s midnight.”
He tried holding her back, tried stopping her, without being obvious.
She towed him through the door just as the final chime rang out. He shut his eyes. It was stupid, but he didn’t want this to be over. It couldn’t be.
The silence felt wrong…as did the warmth of the room. He was inside somewhere. Opening his eyes, Dean had never been so disappointed to be home. It was over. Whatever madness had just gripped him…was over, and the boring sanity of his life was back, and it really sucked.
Then, he realized he still had Nell’s hand clutched in his. Exhaling in relief, he turned to see her gazing around curiously. “I think you need some artwork in your apartment, Dean. I bet you can get a copy of the one we saw in the museum.”
“You’re still here.”
She smiled at him, but looked at his door. “Yeah, but it’s late. I should probably get going.” She looked disappointed she’d be leaving, so there was that. She wasn’t anxious to leave.
He walked her to the door even though every step felt leaden. “So, am I ever going to see you again?” He didn’t reach for the handle. If she wanted to leave, she was going to have to. It was all he could do not to turn the deadbolt and try to convince her to stay. He was probably worse than the kids she’d had to deal with.
“Do you want to see me again?” she whispered, slipping her arms around him.
He put his arm around her, and it killed him how right it felt. If he said “yes” it’d mean he was acknowledging that this crazy night had just happened—that he’d fallen for some wild fairy on his thirtieth birthday. But magic didn’t last. He was in his thirties now. Magic didn’t exist.
Nell looked away when the silence dragged on.
“Yes,” he said. “I don’t know what tonight was. I’m not sure I even believe in magic, and I might not ever know what just happened…but…yes…I want to see you again.”
She licked her lips, and he started making plans to kiss her again. Even if it was just one more. A memory was better than a regret. “Well, I’m glad you think that.” She cleared her throat. “Because I sort of just moved in down the hall from you.” She nodded toward his front door. “It’d be a little awkward if you didn’t want to see me ever again.”
“What?” He really didn’t expect her to say that.
“Yeah. The moving van was here yesterday. I’m sure you saw it. We didn’t finish until late.”
He’d seen the van and even held the door open for a mover. He’d never seen Nell, though, had he? No, he was pretty sure he’d remember her.
“Is this part of my wish too?” If he’d known he was allowed to keep his wish—he wouldn’t have been dragging his feet there at the end.
Shaking her head, she pulled his face down for a quick kiss. “No. It was part of my wish. I turned thirty yesterday too, and even fairy godmothers and godfathers are entitled to a perfect wish.”
“You wished to move into my apartment building?” Was his rent that good? He looked around his apartment. “They do have a walk-in closets.”
She laughed and shook her head. “No, I wished to fall in love,” she said, kissing him again, quickly and softly. Her voice had trembled on the last word as if she was feeling shy.
“Did you?” he asked when she pulled back, and her eyes were focused on his shoulder. His mouth felt dry. It was crazy he’d had the guts to ask that.
She blushed. “I’ve had your file for two years because I wanted you to be my last wish.”
“Me?” He couldn’t believe it, so he asked again, “Me?” What was in this file?
“You have a quiet heart and a soul filled with contradictions. I liked that.” Standing on her toes, she whispered in his ear, “Thanks for making my wish come true, Dean.” With another shy smile, she opened the door.
“Uhh, can I see you tomorrow?” His brain was still trying to capture what she’d just said.
Nell paused in the doorway. “I have a few job interviews early in the morning, but tomorrow night, I can bring the pizza, and we can watch a few more movies.”
“Okay.” It sounded…perfect—a sort of unplanned and unintentional perfect.
“What do you like on your pizza?”
“Don’t you know?” She seemed to know everything else.
“No, your file really didn’t have any specifics.” She said it with a straight face. Chaplin couldn’t have been more serious than her. Apparently, she thought things like root beer floats and modern art were just vague preferences.
“Whatever you want. I’m not picky about my pizza.” Tomorrow night, he was going to learn a lot more about her, though, as much as she knew about him.
Nell took the beaded necklaces from around her neck and put them in his hand, wrapping his fingers around them. “I’ll get those back from you tomorrow,” she said with a grin. She leaned against the doorframe and commented, “I can’t believe that I’m here…I’m at the rest of my life.” Her dimpled smile reassured him that it was a good thing.
Who knew when it came to fairies after all?
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“Definitely,” she said, waving again.
He watched from his doorway as she walked three doors down and pulled the keys from the small clutch purse she’d had with her.
“Hey, Nell,” he called softly.
She looked back at him.
“What’s keeping your dress up?” They’d gone on a roller-coaster, and it hadn’t so much as budged.
She smiled. “Magic.” She blew him a kiss and went inside.
Huh. That he’d believe. He wrapped the beads around his fist as he went into his apartment and shut the door. His hand lingered for an extra second on the doorknob. He heard the whisper of her voice in his head: are you ready?
Yes, he was.
Copyright © 2013 by Wendy Sparrow
If you liked Are You Ready, you’ll love How to Bring Your Love Life Back from the Dead–especially Ana and the Apparition.