The smell of burning leaves mixed with the usual stench of the big city drifts through the cooler air when I step outside. Nestled on the edge of residential homes, our school starts just blocks from where chain businesses like tanning salons and women’s boutiques begin. The large oak trees lining the busy street have just begun to turn a bright orange, bringing color to the otherwise dull grassy courtyard. I’ve always loved this time of year, although it may just be because of my birthday.
Nora waits for me in the half-full parking lot, leaning against the BMW with her arms crossed. Although it’s halfway mild for a Minnesota fall, she almost looks ridiculous in a miniskirt short enough to fail the school’s somewhat loose dress code. The skinny jeans and knee-high boots I wear are more my style. I’m thankful for them when a cool wind throws strands of wet hair across my face.
When I’m a few strides away, Nora scowls. “Took you long enough. Didn’t you have to come outside for the fire drill? And why are you wet?”
“It was no drill.” I walk around to open the passenger’s door, wringing out my hair in the process. “It was the real deal. There was an actual fire in my class.”
With her eyes wide, Nora opens her own door and slides in next to me. “What do you mean? Did you have something to do with it? I always knew you had a dark side to you, but pyromania is taking it a bit far.”
I shut my door. “I didn’t start it.” Then I stop a minute and add, “Well, not technically.”
“What in the hell is that supposed to mean?” Nora sighs dramatically when shutting her own door. “Either you started it, or you didn’t.”
“You know that thing that happened in chem earlier? It happened again. I wished the new guy would come over and talk to me—”
Her jaw drops, and she punches my shoulder. Hard. “You totally hooked up with him!”
Rubbing my tender shoulder, I frown. “Right. We did it right in the middle of communications class with everyone watching. It was magical.”
“That’s never stopped me before.” A smug smile crosses her lips, as if she would really do such a thing.
I click on my seatbelt, giving her a sideway sneer. “Yeah well I’m not like you. I have boundaries and a little thing I like to call morals.”
“Yeah, well, you’re just jealous.” She pulls down the visor to check herself out in the mirror. “You should totally try it some time.”
“Are you going to let me finish?” I cross my arms.
Nora waves her hand in a whatever motion before flipping the visor back and starting the car. “Talk fast, because we have a lot to do before the party.”
Just the mention of the party brings butterflies to my stomach. The feeling that this night will get out of control has multiplied throughout the day. “Anyway, Lock came over and—”
Mid-backing out of the stall, Nora slams on the breaks and we both jolt in our seats. “Wait! His name is Lock? What kind of name is that? Lock and Key? Are you jerking my chain?” She begins to giggle manically.
“I think it’s British or something. Seriously, Nor. You’re killing me here.”
She stops giggling and squints, her lips pushed out. “What? I can’t ask any questions?”
“Not until I’m done. Are you going to let me talk now?”
A few cars honk at us. It’s no wonder—we’re sitting at an angle in the middle of the parking lot. Nora rolls down the window to flash them her middle finger before driving forward.
“You’re right. That hand signal was totally called for, ‘cause they’re the idiot,” I mumble.
“I thought you were so eager to talk to me about something,” Nora volleys back.
“I’m trying to tell you that there are way too many strange things happening to me today. Whenever I wish for something, it happens. I don’t know if I’m going crazy, or if maybe there really is some kind of birthday fairy, but something is going on and it’s really starting to freak me out!”
Nora raises her hand. “Can I say something now?”
I huff, waving my hand at her. “Go ahead.”
“This totally sucks. Why hasn’t anyone told us about this magical eighteenth birthday fairy thing before? Is it like some secret adults are sworn to keep or what?” She bursts out in an evil laugh, and slaps my arm. “Really? You think there’s more to this than just dumb luck?”
“You’re saying you don’t believe me?” It suddenly strikes me how completely ludicrous this whole conversation sounds. Birthday fairy? Magic? Yet there has got to be some kind of reasoning behind all of it. “Fine, we’ll test it out some more. See if my ‘wishes’ are really coming true.”
Nora pulls alongside a semi on the highway. After a beat her face lights up, and she claps her hands together with a squeal. “I know!”
“Hands!” I yell, reaching for the steering wheel.
She casually takes the wheel back. “You should totally wish for the Imagine Dragons or some other awesome band to show up for your party! It would be so epic!”
Although the thought of Dan Reynolds showing up to wish me a happy birthday in person is so appealing I could die, somehow I think my “wishes” have all been of coincidence or just “dumb luck” as Nora suggested. “That seems a bit ambitious. Maybe I could wish for the most epic party to end all parties, only we don’t get caught and no one steals anything of value.”
Nora snorts, slapping the wheel as if taking her aggression out on the car instead of me for once. “You are so lame! That’s seriously what you’re going to wish for? What if you only have one more?”
“I haven’t done this before!” I throw my hands up to the roof. “I don’t know how it works! What if I only had a few and I’ve already used them up?”
The whites of Nora’s orbs expand. “You mean like a genie with the three wishes and shit?” She laughs in more of a cackle, taking in gulping breaths until her face turns red. “You’re totally making yourself believe in this crap, aren’t you?”
“Do you have a better explanation for what’s going on?”
“Fine. I won’t laugh at you if you can prove this is really happening. But you have to come up with a really good wish. Something that we can see actual proof of. Something that would never happen to you, like a guy getting down on one knee and asking you out on a date or something.”
I cross my arms. “Remind me again why we’re friends?”
“Because you love me.” Her dark lashes flutter as she flashes a toothy smile.
Grumbling, I tap my fingers on my knees. “Okay, fine. A good, plausible wish…hmmm…”
“Just make sure it’s not dumb. Wish for something really good, like—”
Looking back at her, I yell, “Nor! Shut up!”
The car becomes silent. Nora glances between me and the road with her mouth held in a tight line. I groan loudly, knowing she’s a good one for giving the silent treatment when I piss her off. “I’m sorry!” I say. “You just never let me think.”
She shakes her head wildly, her eyes the size of saucers.
“I said I’m sorry.” I huff deeply. “What’s your problem?”
She continues shaking her head, her expression filled with alarm. Panic, even. For a minute I worry she’s going to either be sick or she’s having an adolescent heart attack.
I grab her arm. “Nor, are you okay?” Just like that, it hits me. I totally made her shut up! I gasp. Even though I’ll admit I get a little fangirlish about Harry Potter, I’m not an idiot. I know magic is not real. But how do you explain this?