How do you ditch your fairy godmother?
Philomena Zara Swann wished she knew. She was turning twenty-five the next day and her two younger sisters had thoughtfully decided to take her to a pre-birthday strategy session at The Garden of Eatin', a trendy south Tampa bistro that specialized in vegetarian cuisine. They were seated outside despite the late June heat, under a large green umbrella that cast just enough shade to keep the early afternoon sun at bay.
"So, are you ready for your birthday? Got a wish all picked out?" Cass wrinkled her perfect button nose and her vivid violet eyes sparkled with mischief.
"Oh, God, I've been wracking my brain for days and I still have zilch. I just hope you guys can help." Phil dropped into a chair across from her sisters with a groan. The idea of making a wish for her twenty-fifth birthday was more than just silly talk. In her family, it was serious business. When you had an actual fairy godmother to grant your birthday wishes, you'd better be prepared with something good to wish for. Or at least something that wouldn't screw up your life forever.
Phil looked down at the field-greens-and-strawberry salad her sisters had ordered for her and hoped they could come up with something. Sunday was half over and she would be in no shape to think of a suitable wish while she was busy at work tomorrow.
"Remember that time you wished that all your Barbie's clothes would fit you?" Rory, the youngest of the three flipped her long red hair over one shoulder. Its brilliant ruby color clashed with her orange T-shirt but since there was also dog and cat hair on her jeans from volunteering at the local animal shelter, it didn't really matter.
"Hush, you're not even old enough to remember that. You were only four when I made that wish." Phil frowned at her little sister and reached up to make sure a sudden gust of wind hadn't disarranged her own hair, gathered at the nape of her neck in a severe bun. It was a long waterfall of platinum blond when she let it down, but she almost never did.
"Yeah, but I've heard about it often enough." Rory, whose real name was Aurora Tatiana, laughed, her green eyes glowing with glee.
"Yup, Phil thought it would be cool to wear Barbi's tutu and live in the big pink dream house Nana bought her." Cass, short for Cassandra Esmeralda, pushed her tangle of dark curls away from her lily white forehead. As usual, she was dressed from head to toe in black, which emphasized her dramatic coloring. "She just didn't think about the fact that being twelve inches high for the rest of her days might put a serious crimp in her social life."
It was typical of their fairy godmother's magic that instead of enlarging the Barbie clothes to fit Phil, it had shrunk her down to the size of a plastic bimbo doll instead. Magic tended to be very exact and their godmother was lazy with her application of it, probably because she resented having three fairy goddaughters with hardly a drop of real fairy blood in their veins.
Their great grandfather had been a full blooded fairy who fell in love with a human woman and then his daughter, the girls' Nana, had fallen in love with a human man and further diluted the family's magical blood. By the time their mother, who was only one fourth fairy, had also married a pure human with no fairy or fae blood, there was no getting the bloodline back to full strength. And at this point, being only one-eighth fairy, Phil and her sisters wouldn't even be allowed into the Realm of the Fae, where the full-blooded fairies and other magical creatures lived, to find a fairy husband. Not that any of them wanted to.
As far as Phil was concerned, nothing good had ever come of their dubious heritage. She had often thought being one-eighth fairy was like barely belonging to any other minority group--you might get some of the perks but you were bound to get all of the hassles as well.
"Anyway, she reversed the magic," she mumbled, looking up at the sunny sky which showed signs of clouding over. If it got much darker, her eyes wouldn't match the pale blue blouse she had on anymore which would be a shame.
Eyes that match the sky above
Hair like gold, the sunbeams love
Lips that shame the reddest rose
Beauty will grace her wherever she goes
Those were the words spoken over her at birth by her fairy godmother. The spell had shaped her appearance and in some ways, her entire life. Not that she had asked to have eyes that changed with the weather and lips so red she had to wear neutral lipstick to hide their true color, Phil thought resentfully. Her hair was long and silky but too light in her opinion. Also it had a tendency to sparkle, as though the sun was shining on it whether she was outside or not. Their fairy godmother's magic hid the more obvious aspects of itself fairly well--for instance, no one without fairy or fae blood in their veins was able to notice that her eyes changed colors--but Phil kept her sparkly hair up as much as possible just in case.
Her sisters had received similar gifts at birth--Cass's verse had gone:
Skin as pale as fallen snow
Eyes like dewy violets glow
Hair as black as coal at night
She'll always walk in Beauty's light
Of course, having snow white skin, bright purple eyes and hair as black as coal meant Cass looked permanently Goth. But since she was an artist and the dramatic one in the family, it didn't seem to bother her. In fact, she consistently dressed all in black to play up her pale skin and vivid eyes although Phil didn't know how she could stand to wear it in the middle of the summer. Despite being the middle sister, she probably had the strongest personality of the three of them, including a quick temper that matched her artistic nature. She was both a painter and a sculptor and her work was just beginning to sell at some of the smaller galleries around town, much to Cass's relief. She hated the various menial jobs she had to work in order to get enough money for her raw materials.
Rory, the youngest sister at nineteen, had gotten a verse too.
Hair from purest rubies spun
Eyes like emeralds in the sun
A voice like songbirds in the spring
Beauty to her form shall cling
All in all Phil thought her baby sister looked the most normal of the three. Her bright red hair and green eyes were striking without crossing the line into bizarre. Of course, if she tried to sing, all that came out was a warbling, cheeping sound since their fairy godmother's magic was extremely literal. So joining the chorus was definitely out. Luckily Rory, who was in her first year of college, wanted to be a veterinarian.
Despite their physical differences, they were very close--so much so that Phil really didn't feel the need for any girlfriends outside her own family. But no one would ever guess the three of them were even remotely related--let alone sisters. She often wondered what they all might have looked like without their fairy godmother's early interference. Would they all have frizzy brown hair and blue eyes?
"The FG only reversed that Barbie wish after I bitched at her," Cass said, breaking Phil's train of thought. She picked up a grape and popped it in her mouth. Phil knew the Garden of Eatin's vegetarian menu wasn't her standard fare since she was a confirmed carnivore but according to Cass, the fruit plate was better than a fake-tasting "veggie burger".
"It's a good thing I was there to make her change it, too," she continued, wrinkling her nose at a piece of pineapple. "She's so damn lazy, never wants to change anything for us little half-breeds."
"More like eighth-breeds," Rory put in with a sigh. "I wish we had enough fairy blood to do some magic of our own."
"Well, we don't," Cass said. "Not even Nana has enough to do real magic--not that she'll ever give up."
Their grandmother was half fairy which was just enough to make her flighty and eccentric but not enough to give her any control over what little power she possessed. Their father had run off not long after Rory was born and their mother had been killed in a car accident, so Nana had raised the three of them. Phil was eight, Cass was six, and Rory was barely two when they came to live with their sweet but erratic Nana in her big lavender house on States Street.
"Oh, no," Phil muttered, biting her lip. "Don't tell me she's at it again." Nana seemed to attract trouble the way honey draws flies.
"With a vengeance." Cass speared the unoffending pineapple on the end of her fork. "She's into the Craft now--didn't Rory tell you?"
"No." Phil stared accusingly at her youngest sister. "Why didn't you call me? Everyone knows fairy magic and witchcraft don't mix! They're like oil and water."
Cass snorted indelicately. "More like mixing nitro and glycerin. Stand back and wait for the explosion."
"That's not the point," Phil said. "The point is, what if Nana gets herself into trouble again? And why didn't you one of you tell me?"
"I tried to call you but you never answer your cell," Rory complained. "You're always either at work or off entertaining Christian's important clients. Or maybe you were busy planning the wedding of the year. Have you set a date yet?"
Phil sighed and went back to picking at her salad. "Not yet. Christian says he needs time to get settled in with his new firm before he takes time off for a wedding." In the past year she'd begun to wonder if her fiancé was ever going to set a date but she wished her sisters wouldn't start in about it.
"And before that, he needed to finish law school," Cass said, frowning. "And before that--" She broke off, shaking her head. "What you need to wish for this year is a spine, Phil. Make that man commit."
"Leave Phil alone," Rory said. "She can't help it the FG made her meek as a sheep."
"The phrase is 'A lamb's mild nature, sweet and kind'," Phil cut in, deciding she didn't need rescuing:
"A lamb's mild nature, sweet and kind,
Forgiveness she will ever find
Within her heart so full of love
As gentle as the cooing dove
Which doesn't mean I'm spineless--it just means I'm easy going."
"You are not easy going." Cass pointed her fork in Phil's direction. "In fact, you're one of the most uptight people I know, Phil. But you let people walk all over you."
"No, I don't," Phil protested. She had always resented the fact that their fairy godmother had decided to tamper with her personality as well as her outward appearance, but it didn't make her a doormat. "Just because I don't grab life by the throat and choke it like you doesn't mean I don't enjoy myself. I'm just a little more ... well..."
"Repressed," Cass finished for her.
"I was about to say reserved." Phil patted the corners of her mouth with her napkin and arched an eyebrow at her younger sister.
"Too bad you can't just wish Christian would pop the question for your birthday," Rory said with a sigh.
"You know the rules," Phil pointed out. "The wish can't permanently affect anyone but the wisher, you can't wish for more wishes, and the magic keeps you from telling anyone outside the family about it directly, no matter what the result." That last one was especially tough. Phil had often wished she could explain the dire consequences of a backfired wish but it didn't do any good to try. No one without at least a drop of fairy or fae blood in their veins could hear what she was trying to say when she attempted to explain about the magic. It sounded like buzzing or humming to them or else it slipped their attention and they changed the subject and started talking about something else entirely.
"Speaking of rules and regulations, what is your straight-laced fiancé doing for your birthday this year?" Cass asked, signaling the waiter for more wine. "Maybe removing the stick from his ass so you two can have some fun for once? Now that would be a reason to celebrate."
Phil flushed. "I don't know what he's doing yet. It's a surprise."
"Like last year? 'Surprise, I forgot?'" Cass made a face as the waiter filled her glass with more Chablis.
"He didn't forget," Rory protested. "He sent the most beautiful bouquet of pink roses with one perfect red rose bud in the middle. It was so romantic."
"Christian didn't send those," Cass said flatly. "Josh did."
"Oh, I just assumed it was Christian. But Josh? Josh the cute guy from your office, Josh?" Rory lost interest in her sweet potato fry and looked up. "I saw that picture you two took together at your last office Christmas party--he's hot. Those big brown eyes and that sweet smile. Mmm." She smiled dreamily.
"I saw that picture too," Cass remarked. "Rory's right. And I thought I saw some muscle definition too. He may be your office computer nerd but I bet he's hiding a Brad Pitt body under those baggy business clothes, Phil."
"He's my best friend." Phil looked down and twisted the diamond engagement ring Christian had given her four years before around her finger. "I mean, I don't notice things like that any more than he notices me ... that way. He sent the roses because he knew I was feeling down, that's all. Josh is thoughtful like that."
"Well, it was still a romantic gesture," Rory insisted.
"No, it was a gesture of friendship," Phil said firmly. "That's what pink roses mean--friendship. Anyway, he didn't even pick them out. He just called the order in because he could tell I was feeling bad. Besides, Christian made up for forgetting my birthday. You should have seen how bad he felt--I mean, he almost cried and that's saying a lot for him." She gestured with her fork, trying to make her sisters understand. Christian and Cass had hated each other almost from the start. As for Rory, she was too hung up on the picture she'd seen of Josh to appreciate Christian's finer qualities--not that Phil could always remember them herself, especially in the past year when things with her fiancé seemed to be going all wrong.
"Almost cried, huh?" Cass asked dryly. "My, my, that certainly doesn't sound like Mister By-the-Book Unemotional Attorney to me."
"Well, it's true," Phil protested. "He took me out to an expensive restaurant even though we really couldn't afford it. And he bought me the most beautiful dress and he even got the size right."
"Oh--he got it right because he called and asked me and Nana," Rory put in. "But you're right, Phil. It was a sweet gesture."
"He had to call and ask? He never said..." Phil frowned determinedly. "Look, the point is that whether you want to see it or not, Christian is handsome and intelligent and--"
"And close minded and boring," Cass interrupted. "But hey, I'm not the one who's going to marry him. Of course at the rate you're going, you won't be either, Phil."
"Enough." Phil held up a hand. "We're not here to discuss my wedding even though Christian and I are planning to set a date very soon. We're here to plan a strategy for my birthday wish. I need your help, guys. Twenty-five is a big one and you know birthdays that end in odd numbers are especially bad. The magic gets stronger somehow and when the person who's waving the wand doesn't care about the consequences..."
"Disaster," Cass said and Rory nodded sympathetically.
"Exactly," Phil said, pointing at Cass with her fork. "Just look what happened to you on your fifteenth birthday."
"Oh, wasn't that the year you wished for porno titties?" Rory asked in a voice loud enough that the senior citizens at the next table glared at them.
"Shout it next time, why don't you?" Cass hissed. "And no, I did not wish for 'porno titties'."
"What she wished for was to have breasts exactly as big as Christy Seaton's." Phil felt a smile creeping over the corners of her mouth. "She was a girl in my class--couple years ahead of Cass, and she always had the cutest boyfriends for ... ah, some pretty obvious reasons. The only problem was, the FG thought Cass had asked for breasts as big as Trixie Teetons, the adult film star." She grinned. "Boy, was that a mess."
Cass sighed. "Yeah, I looked like a toothpick with two cantaloupes. Had to go around like that for a whole week too, until the FG finally agreed to take it back."
"You'd think she'd realize that a fifteen year old doesn't want a double G bra size." Rory shuddered and glanced down at her own chest.
"It's not so much that she doesn't realize, it's that she doesn't care," Cass said. "We're not full-blooded and we don't have wings or carry wands. We can't fly or do magic or disappear into puffs of pretty pink smoke. We're nothing but a pain in her sparkly ass that she has to deal with three times a year. And to her way of thinking, that's three times a year too many."
"So why doesn't she just leave us alone?" Rory demanded. "I've had enough of her gifts, anyway. Who wants to sounds like a bird when they try to sing?" She opened her mouth to demonstrate and let loose with a nightingale warble that made the waitress passing by stare. Cass kicked her under the table and she shut up abruptly.
"We've been over this time and again. Anyone with even a drop of fairy blood gets assigned a fairy godmother--kind of like being assigned an attorney in court if you can't afford one. The Fairy Council would have her wand if she stopped at least pretending to keep an eye on us," Phil said grimly. "So we're as stuck with her as she is with us. The FG is here to stay so I need to decide on a wish."
It was surprisingly hard to keep coming up with wishes that wouldn't backfire and ruin your life, as they had all discovered the hard way. Rory had once wished to be able to talk to dogs, and had been turned into a Schnauzer--not at all what she'd had in mind. Phil and Cass had an awful time hiding the disaster from their excitable Nana. They'd had to use their allowances to buy their baby sister dog food until their fairy godmother had finally bothered to show up and reverse her badly cast magic. And that was one of the lesser birthday wish disasters Phil could remember.
"What about a good parking spot everywhere you go?" Rory suggested.
"Did it." Cass raised a hand. "That was what I wished last year. We never go shopping without each other so that would be a wasted wish. Speaking of which, when are we going to go look for a new bathing suit for your office beach party, Phil? You know your old one is a write off because Nana accidentally bleached it."
"Can't be tomorrow because Christian probably has something planned for my birthday." Phil coughed self-consciously and her sisters let it pass. "And I can't do it Tuesday either. Maybe Wednesday since the pre-Fourth of July beach party is on Thursday." She took a sip of wine. "Now, come on--back to the wishes."
"Wish that your tea will always be hot, no matter how long you let it sit," Rory suggested.
"I did that my freshman year of college during finals when I was taking a summer semester. I didn't want to have to keep getting up to steep a fresh pot while I was studying," Phil said. It had been one of her better wishes, actually. One of the few she didn't regret and hadn't had to beg their fairy godmother to reverse. Simple wishes worked the best, they had found. The more complicated a wish got, the more room for disaster there was.
"Well, what about--?"
"Excuse me, ladies." Their waiter, a nice-looking young man with a neatly clipped mustache and dark hair, was standing at Phil's elbow with a covered tray. He leaned toward her confidentially and she nearly groaned when he half lifted the lid and she saw what was on it.
"I heard you talking about a birthday and thought the lady might want dessert," he said, smiling at her politely. "Compliments of the house, of course."
"Of course," Phil said weakly, knowing there was no point in protesting.
"Ooo, what is it?" Rory, who had an insatiable sweet tooth, leaned over to look at the tray.
"What do you think it is?" Cass demanded. "It's what it always is."
"Oh." Rory looked disappointed and both sisters said in unison, "Éclair."
"Well ... yes." The waiter lifted the tray completely, looking faintly surprised. He deposited the cold dish with its chocolaty, creamy treat in front of Phil, who tried to suppress a shudder at the sight.
She had made an ill thought-out birthday wish at the age of eight that she could have an éclair every day for the rest of her life. And ever since, no matter where she was or what she was doing, at some point before the clock struck midnight and the new day began, someone offered her an éclair. It might be a waiter, a family member or even a complete stranger on the street, but come what may, she got her éclair even though she had long since become thoroughly sick of them.
Once she had locked herself in the bathroom for the entire day and refused to come out, trying to avoid the gooey desert. It hadn't worked--the magic had compelled Cass to go to the bakery and use her allowance to buy one, even though she very much didn't want to. She had shoved it under the bathroom door complaining bitterly about people who didn't face up to the consequences of their wishes. Phil had never tried to hide from her daily éclair again.
Thanks goodness, she thought, looking down at the chocolate and cream confection, that she hadn't wished that she could actually eat an éclair every day of her life or she would have had to become bulimic by now. As soon as the waiter left she shoved the plate towards Rory who dug in philosophically. Chocolate was chocolate, as far as her little sister was concerned.
She glanced at her watch and saw that their pre-birthday planning session was almost over and she still hadn't gotten any good wish ideas. She had to think of something good, something small, something that wouldn't change her life forever...
Suddenly a muffled rendition of "Pachelbel's Canon" began to resound from inside her sensible black purse.
"Hey, Phil, your purse is ringing," Cass said smugly. Her own phone rang the X-men theme and Rory's changed according to who was calling her. Phil dug the cell out of her purse and glanced at the number.
"It's Christian. I'd better go."
"Honestly, before I'd let a man order me around like that..." Cass grumbled. Rory just shrugged, her mouth full of éclair.
"He's not ordering me--we have plans. And if you hadn't spent the whole strategy session dishing, I'd have a plan too," Phil groused. Her magically induced mild temperament insured that she never completely lost her cool, but she came closest with her annoying younger sister.
"Whatever. You better get the phone before Christian has a coronary. You know how he gets when he has to wait for anything," Cass said, raising an eyebrow at her.
Phil flipped open the phone.
"Hey, babe." Christian's voice filled her ear. "Look, I don't like to rush you when you're with your sisters but you know we have a big night planned tonight."
"Hi, hon." Phil suppressed a small sigh. She had gotten upset with her sisters for saying that she was always out "entertaining" her fiancé's important clients but it was the truth. Sometimes she wished that things could go back to the way they'd been before Christian graduated law school and got his job as a hotshot attorney. As crazy as it sounded, she kind of missed the nights when they just sat home and ate sandwiches together because they couldn't afford anything else. At least then they'd had time to talk--to really connect. In the past year since Christian had been working so hard all day and entertaining clients all evening, she felt like she hardly knew him anymore.
Phil pushed her disloyal thought to the back of her mind and tried to sound happy. "So who are we entertaining tonight? And where are we going?" she asked brightly.
"We're taking out Heidi and George Ghent. And I made reservations for four at Berns." He laughed and Phil winced. Berns was one of the most expensive and exclusive steak houses in Tampa. The restaurant had dry aged steaks and a wine list that was supposedly unequaled anywhere in the country. "Couldn't have afforded that this time last year, huh, Philly-babe?" Christian continued. "Gotta love that expense account. But as my senior partner says, the client is always right and that's where Ghent wanted to go. This could be a very important account for us."
"Sounds ... wonderful," Phil said, hoping he couldn't hear the hesitation in her voice. It seemed like every client represented an important account but she had never dreamed that Christian would spend as much time wining and dining prospective clients as practicing law. Certainly that wasn't what she hoped to do when she got through law school herself. Phil intended to be a civil rights attorney and stand up for people whose rights were being trampled on. Somehow she didn't think most of her clients would be bigwigs who demanded to be taken to the most expensive restaurants in town.
"...so you need to get back here if you're gonna have time to get gorgeous for tonight." Christian's voice continued in her ear and Phil realized she had spaced out, daydreaming of her own future legal career.
"Oh, yeah?" she said, hoping he hadn't noticed her momentary lapse of concentration.
"Yeah," Christian said, apparently unaware that she had tuned him out. "I know how long it takes you ladies to get ready and don't say I'm being a sexist pig, either, Phil. You know it takes you twice as long as me to look ravishing."
"But I'm always ravishing," Phil reminded him. It was an old joke between them and Christian usually replied with a naughty come-on about exactly how much he wanted to "ravish" her.
But this time he just said, "Uh-huh. Look, babe, I got a few more things to take care of on my end. Will I see you soon?"
"You bet," Phil said, feeling deflated. But then, she couldn't expect him to remember every old joke they'd ever shared, could she? "I'm leaving right now," she told him. "See you soon. Love you."
"You too, babe. See ya."
"Bye." She closed the phone and stood up to gather her things. "I have to go."
Rory swallowed her mouthful of éclair hastily. "But we haven't thought of the perfect wish yet. You have to be careful, Phil! Don't forget the year you wished to always have on pretty shoes and then those spike heeled pumps were stuck on your feet for two weeks."
Cass snorted. "Yeah--pretty they were. Comfortable? Not so much."
Phil winced. "Don't remind me. It's a wonder I don't have fallen arches from that little wish fiasco." She leaned over and brushed a light kiss across her youngest sister's cheek. "But don't worry about me--I'll think of something."
"You better," Cass said grimly. "And you better have it ready by six fifteen tomorrow night--the exact time you were born. Or the FG will choose for you and you know what her choices are like." Sadly, they all did. One didn't have to look any farther than their dramatic hair and eyes, Rory's songbird voice and Phil's mild temperament to know that their fairy godmother was either completely out of touch with reality, or else watching way too much Disney Channel.
"Look, just keep an eye on Nana for me and call me if she gets into trouble," she said, bending to kiss Cass on the cheek as well. "And don't worry about me, all right? I'll be okay."
But she couldn't help feeling the tension sitting in her stomach like a cold éclair. Her birthday was coming and she was completely unprepared.