by Rosamund Lannin
Shani worked in the morning and went to school at night and at the end of most days she felt like a slowly deflating balloon. Especially when Caroline talked. Caroline was talking right now.
“And then he pulled it out and I was like what is that,” Caroline flipped her long, red-gold hair, a sure sign that she was coming up on the punchline: “We got going and I was like is that it, is it even in?”
Jacob snickered. Flat White, Brooklyn’s premier Australian coffee shop, was usually quiet for a couple of hours in the mid-afternoon, and Caroline used that time to tell stories about her dates.
“He’s texted me three times since we hooked up. I don’t think I’m going to text him back. Shani, what do you think?”
Shani buried her sigh in the espresso machine, breathing her irritation into steam. Caroline continued:
“Do you think he’s hot?” She turned her phone to show Shani a muscular guy who looked like the bad boy vampire on that one TV show. The one her cousin Neema watched on her laptop when her husband Ibrahim was away on work trips. Ibrahim didn’t care that the vampires were mostly shirtless but he wouldn’t stop laughing during the romantic scenes, which made Neema shriek and throw things at him. Watching television at their place was a full-contact sport.
“Yes!” she said honestly and a little too loudly. Caroline and Jacob burst out laughing.
“You need to get laid!”
Caroline’s face was all sweetness and concern. Oh no. Shani winced inwardly. Earnest Caroline was even worse than Storytime Caroline.
“I’m sorry, was that offensive?” Her eyes were big and blue.
“Caroline, I’ve told you I’m not religious. I can go on dates.” Her last date was junior prom and he ended the night by saying what a good friend she was and then hitting on her soon to be former best friend, but she soldiered on, “My dad’s Muslim and my mom’s Christian, but…it’s complicated. It’s like—”
“Culturally Jewish?” Jacob chimed in helpfully.
“Kind of.” Caroline still struggled with that concept, even after Jacob’s multiple, multi-hour explanations. God bless him, he’d practically drawn diagrams.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry. I just moved to the big city from Ohio.”
Shani knew Caroline had lived in New York for two years — the statute of limitations on playing dumb had officially expired.
“…so what is it then? You’re so pretty. You want me to hook you up with this guy? I mean there’s not much going on down there but —”
“Why would I want anyone that’s slept with you?” Caroline’s eyes iced over.
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Yes, you did.” Caroline turned away and went to answer a customer’s question about oat milk.
Shani’s day did not get better from there. The D train was late and she burst into class just in time to see Professor Macintosh slide a sheet of paper onto everyone’s desk. Pop quiz.
The answers rolled off her brain like the drops of water on her fire escape plants after a good rain. In-group bias. Social cognitive accounts. Intersex. Boom, bam, done. School came easy, people didn’t. She scanned her paper one more time then brought it up to the front, and was staring at her phone when someone tapped her on the shoulder. Cole. He had brown hair that fell straight to his shoulders, and wore boots and black t-shirts tucked into black jeans. He smelled like soap and cigarettes.
“You finished really fast.”
Cole smiled like they were in on a secret. Her heart hitched.
“Me too. I mean, it’s just memorization. Not really critical thinking or anything. I hope we get to do something interesting soon.” He said the last part loud enough for Professor Macintosh to hear.
“I mean, it’s Psychology 101. We’re still covering the basics.” She tried to make her voice loud too, but it came out more like a croak.
“I guess I was just expecting a little bit more.” He sat back and closed his eyes.
Me too, Shani thought, me too.
It was almost midnight by the time she arrived back in Brooklyn. She made a beeline for Red Barn, the farm-to-table fast food restaurant that opened last year. She felt strange going there — her family’s restaurant, Pita Palace, was only two blocks away — but they were open late and the burger was really good. Bay Ridge getting popular was basically the worst, but had its benefits.
“Bacon cheeseburger, small fry, and um, one of those seltzers. Blackberry-kumquat.” She squinted at the menu, feeling the ghost cramps that signaled her period was on the way, which reminded her that she had no clean underwear. She needed to do laundry. And homework. Fuck. “Make that a large fry. And a Nutella shake.” She looked up at the cashier and her stomach dropped.
Key’s finely angled face smiled down at her. He was so tall. She knew his name because it was on his nametag, but mostly because the first time she had seen him, she had come home and told her roommates about That guy who works at Red Barn, he could be a model or something, I don’t know why he’s working there.
“You’re number three. It might take a few minutes. We’re just making a new batch of fries. Weren’t you here last week?”
“Yup.” She bathed in piggy humiliation. “I’ll wait for the fries.” Oink oink. He’s so fucking cute.
“Cool.” He smiled again. “I’ll throw in something extra because you had to wait.” She thought about his mouth on her wrist, her face, her neck. Say something.
“Thanks. I like fries.” Nice one. Just roll around in the mud.
She slumped against the giant glass windows and saw her cousin Neema approaching like a colorful hurricane. No. Not right now. But Neema burst through the gold-embossed door and hugged her, lined eyes sparkling.
“Oooooooh you’re not eating at Pita Palace! It’s fine, I won’t tell your dad.”
“NUMBER #43! DOUBLE BACON CHEESEBURGER, LARGE FRIES, NUTELLA SHAKE, BLACKBERRY-KUMQUAT SELTZER! THREEEEEEE SIDES OF KETCHUP!” A busboy slid a bursting bag across the counter.
“Bacon!” Nemma fake-gasped. “Now I’m going to tell!”
Key was suddenly next to them, “Did we get your order wrong? We can redo it—”
“No! I eat pork sometimes! God, Neema!”
She stormed out and Neema followed merrily behind.
“Oh my god relax, you’re so sensitive! I’m not going to ruin your date that’s not a date.” She snickered at Shani’s horrified face. “Stop, I know why you keep coming here, it’s not the burger.” She added as an afterthought: “It’s a good burger though.”
“Fuck you. You don’t know anything.” Shani walked faster so she wouldn’t cry. She’d save that for later.
“Hey come on! Hey! Turn around! I’m yelling at you!”
She was dragging a fry through herb-infused ketchup when she noticed the pile of clothing on her floor. Laundry. She got up and walked down the stairs.
Her building’s laundry room was reliably creepy but no one had anything going; the machines sat old and silent in the moonlight. Normally an empty washer would be thrilling, but she was distracted by the most beautiful pair of underwear she’d ever seen. They lay on top of the third dryer, a lacy, luxurious garment the color of plums.
Before she knew what she was doing she picked them up, even though her brain yelled at her to stop being creepy. But she didn’t stop. They were made of lace like crushed blackberries, the kind of material that looked like it would be itchy, but when she picked them up they were soft and smooth like a beautiful parrot she had touched once at a street fair, stroking its feathers reverentially before it had pecked her hand.
She turned them over in her palm. They reminded her of the color Neema painted her lips when she went out at night, the inky shadow of a beautiful building, a swallow of red wine. Gold thread knotted prettily at the hips, almost winking at her. They didn’t have a tag, but there was a tiny, gold number 3 stitched on the inside where a tag would be. They looked like they had never been worn before. She stretched them lightly, experimentally. They looked like they would fit.
Before Shani knew what she was doing she was sliding off her jeans, her stretched out cotton underwear, then sliding them up over her hips. They fit. They fit perfectly, lying smooth and snug over her stomach. She could barely feel them, but they were all she could feel.
Something above her clunked and she shrieked, pulling on her jeans and bolting up the stairs. Once back in her bedroom, she said it aloud.
“I’m not going to keep them. I’m going to take them off and put them back downstairs. Okay.”
She caught her reflection in the mirror. Her ass looked good. It looked lush. She turned. She could show up at Key’s house in these. Maybe he lived alone. His hands could run down the lace, pull it down, his mouth on her neck—
Her hand slid past the delicate waistband, tiny violets stretched taut over her knuckles, slow then fast and fuck, that was good, she didn’t care, her hand was Key’s and he was sliding it between her legs, fuck—
When she was done she hung the panties on the back of her desk chair and crawled into bed naked, her hand occasionally straying between her legs as she slept.
She slept fitfully, tossing and turning through red swaths of sex with Key and Cole or maybe his name was Mike (she couldn’t remember and who cared because her dream man fucked like the movies but it was real) and that one weirdly beautiful guy she’d met on a high school field trip to the Museum of Natural History who’d talked to her for 10 minutes then pretended she didn’t exist when his friends showed up but fuck that, fuck him, in these sheets he leaned in to kiss her against the columns by the dinosaur skeletons, they rose up smooth and hard behind her—
“Ow!” She woke up with a start, banging her head against the headboard. Her head throbbed and her clit was sore. And there was a naked woman sitting in the chair by the window.
Shani screamed and bolted across the bed.
“Calm down. You’re in a dream. It’s a dream.” The woman’s voice spilled out across the room, warm and calm. Listening to her was like drinking something strong and spiced, the sound went straight to Shani’s blood and settled there, deadening her limbs and eyelids. She yawned.
“Okay. I’m in a dream.”
The woman was big, but that was barely enough to describe her — she was all-encompassing. Her dark skin shone black and bronze and midnight violet, her curves settling around the chair and moving to the rhythm of her long, flowing hair. Her features were broad and beautiful, and she radiated something that smelled like sandalwood and smoke and that girl that used to sit beside her on the school bus, some good smell you wanted to lean into, press your face to, bury your face in their hair. Every time she moved, more of her scent filled the air, making Shani’s head spin.
“That’s better. And I lied. You are in a dream but I am real, and this is how we’re going to communicate. It’s fine by me, I don’t do so hot with your realm. Makes my skin dry. So yeah. You summoned me.”
“You put the cloth on and touched yourself, that brought me forth, and I’m here. What’s your first wish?”
“Why are you naked?”
“That’s not a wish.”
“It’s just hard to concentrate when you’re naked. Um.”
The djinn preened.
“Okay, okay. Fine.”
She snapped her long, manicured fingers and was instantly swathed in a silk robe the color of the sun setting behind the Brooklyn Bridge in the high heat of summer.
“What’re we thinking? Power? Money? Some of those skinny little dudes in your dreams?” She hastened to add: “I don’t mess with love spells though, I can move the needle and the rest is up to you. I got in trouble with that in the past, it never ends well.” Something crossed her smooth face, then her glowing eyes fixed upon Shani again.
“Do I have to decide right now?”
“No. It’s just like, the only way I keep moving through time. No big deal.” A tendril of her long, black hair dusted the floor, brushing a delicate ankle that curved up into the most perfectly shaped calf Shani had ever seen.
“Don’t worry about it. Now what do you want? Political clout? Knowledge into the mysteries of the universe? A body that makes men weep?” She flexed her beautiful hands and cracked her knuckles. It sounded like cymbals.
“I don’t know. I’m sorry. I don’t know what I want.”
The djinn sighed and rolled her obsidian eyes. Shani rolled over and went back to sleep.
Shani woke with a start. She scanned wildly around the room. No woman in the chair. No sex dreams. She had, however, slept way past her alarm.
She dashed out the door, not noticing the woman that slipped through her apartment door, sauntering behind her but somehow always managing to keep pace. A man yelled something obscene from a car, and the djinn flicked her hand without raising her head, sending his car careening into traffic with a screech. A chorus of horns and screams followed. She smiled her wild smile.
Shani almost turned around when she heard the car crash. It sounded like a big one, but there was no time to look — she sprinted and texted Caroline that she was going to be late. She was still running when she got her response:
You’re good, we’re not opening for another hour at least. All the espresso machines are broken. Repair guy is on his way out.
Shani stopped to text her back when she realized she was right in front of the Red Barn and Key was opening. She swallowed hard and started walking in the other direction.
“Hey!” Key jogged over. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry about yesterday—”
“It’s fine. I don’t usually eat pork, I didn’t grow up eating it and I’m not religious but it sort of stuck, but sometimes I do eat it, like when I’m having a bad day I break the rules, it’s kind of hard to expl—“
“It’s cool!” He held up his hands. “I get it.”
“Can I open up first? The alarm’s about to go off.”
“Oh yeah, sorry.”
Once inside, he flipped on the lights and began punching in security codes. She stood there awkwardly, watching him pull down chairs and fill napkin dispensers.
“Do you only break the rules when you have a bad day?”
Her face burned. “I go on dates if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Maybe I’m asking.”
“Are you religious at all?” Talk about politics next. Or maybe how you dream about him fucking you.
“I’m not religious. But ah, I’m asking.” He looked uncomfortable and she was going to say something but then he was talking again, faster.
“Do you want a coffee? We have agave syrup and milk from cows that eat grass and get massages.”
“I’ve had the coffee here before. It’s okay.”
“These beans had lives better than some people.”
“That’s terrible.” She grinned, suddenly aware that she was still wearing the underwear and the lace was brushing her inner thigh like the pad of a thumb, and he had asked her out and she should probably say something before he took it back.
“I want to get coffee.”
“I’m done at five on Friday. I’ll text you before then. Maybe we can drink coffee at the movies or something.”
Outside, the djinn leaned against a tree and yawned. She didn’t usually get up this early: she hadn’t granted wishes to someone who worked for a living in awhile, the last few had been gentleman explorer types, typical fools who broke quickly under the weight of their desires in various ways. This one was made of more ordinary and sterner stuff.
She djinn sighed, casting her gaze to and fro. A man walked by and she leaned in, just close enough to learn that he’d recently been told he was shooting blanks. She leaned closer and brushed his shoulder, making him fertile and butt-dialing his cutest ex-girlfriend.
The repairman was still working on the machines when Shani showed up. Jacob and Caroline sat in the far corner booth, alternating between staring at their phones and watching him work.
“We might have to order a new one, and that could take a few days.” Caroline said. “No shifts for any of us.”
“If we don’t get paid, we should get something free. If Rob’s not around today no one will never know. He’s the only manager that takes inventory regularly.” Shani didn’t recognize the words coming out of her mouth but realized she wasn’t going to take them back.
“Shani!” Caroline’s eyes sparkled. “You cunning b!”
Jacob looked around as if he expected Rob to apparate in one of the empty tables, then made a decision: “I mean, I’m not going to tell.”
Shani took a sourdough-chocolate muffin, Caroline an Earl Grey-blood orange scone, and Jacob a pepita crunch.
“I forgot how good these are,” said Caroline, biting into her scone.
Jacob nodded. “Nice work, Shani.”
Caroline took another bite. “These are better than sex. I mean, better than the guy last week, you remember when he came by Jakey?”
Shani rolled her eyes. “I wish I knew why you all talked about sex so much.”
The djinn was shopping in midtown when she heard it. She dropped her bags and moved like a sonic boom, crossing hundreds of city blocks born on a current of wants. She moved quickly. Despite its reputation, Manhattan was not more wanting than any other place, per se, but its desires were rich and varied and that gave her oomph and speed. The beautiful and boring and catty ambitions and aspirations of SoHo got her as far as the Brooklyn Bridge, and from there she hitched a quick trip on a little girl’s whine for the video game system stashed in her dad’s messenger bag, and that mix of timeless petulance and modern distraction was enough to get her to Williamsburg. She landed with a soft thump right in front of the coffee shop. She took a deep breath and snapped her fingers, gently flicking the synapses of the young man and woman sitting across from her new responsibility.
Caroline looked at Shani straight on.
“I talk about sex a lot because I don’t actually like sex that much. Not for any traumatic reason. I’ve never been raped, I didn’t have a bad experience my first time. I’m just not that into it, and that terrifies me. I think something’s wrong with me, but maybe nothing’s wrong with me — maybe this is just how I am. But I look like this, I’m blonde and blue-eyed with big tits, so I talk about it all the time to make sure everyone thinks I’m horny. It’s easier than thinking I’m not normal, or might be differently wired.”
Jacob’s mouth gawped like a goldfish, but then he was talking too:
“I want to sleep with every other guy that walks in. But I think I’m ugly and I’m scared they’ll laugh at me. It’s easier to let Caroline talk.”
“Machine’s fixed!” The repairman waved a wrench.
They worked the rest of their shift in silence.
Shani got home from class and went straight to her room. She told herself she didn’t believe in magic, she believed in studies and results. Magic was for girls who still wore shirts with fairies on them. She took a deep breath and ran her hand down her stomach.
“You don’t have to do that every time you want to make a wish. I mean, you can! You could probably stand to do it a little more. But you’ve already summoned me, the cloth did its job. Those panties are yours now, by the way, at least until you make your wishes. Which you should do. Now.”
Shani opened her eyes slowly. Don’t scream, don’t scream.
“Do I have to wear them when I make the wish?”
“No. But I mean, don’t take your time. The potions from your time are pretty good but they’re no immortality.” The djinn patted her smooth, poreless face.
“What are you?”
“You know what I am. You’d be freaking out more if you didn’t.”
“Very good. They still teach mythology in schools.”
“They don’t. Did you pick me because I’m Iranian? I’m only half—
“What?! No! That’s stupid. Desire is equal opportunity, I just ride it.”
“Don’t djinn usually have a master?”
“Usually. I made a deal.”
“What kind of deal?”
“Nope. What’s your second wish? You already blew the first one. That was amazing, by the way. WHY DO PEOPLE TALK ABOUT SEX?” She cackled, sending light motes whirling in every direction. “At least the answers haven’t changed much over the centuries. A lot of things do but your kind tends to be consistent.”
“I didn’t know what I was doing.”
“No one does! Even the people that think they do. Maybe especially the people that think they do. And it’s okay. I’ve heard worse. I mean, not much worse.”
A door slammed in the hallway. The djinn tilted her head. “Don’t you wish you knew why your roommate Kelsey comes home angry every night?”
“I mean, y— no! Come on!”
“Nice save. I’ll give you that one for free: she keeps seeing these girls who she thinks let her relax, but really she should be with someone who works as hard as her, not some chick in Greenpoint who charts their relationship success based on tarot and breeds ferrets and never remembers to text her. There’s nothing wrong with tarot and ferrets, but chasing that is throwing a moldy curtain over her heart. But she’ll figure it out. Either next year or in a decade, depending on whether or not she takes that job in Baltimore. Might not even be a romantic thing, but it’s definitely a person.”
“Don’t worry about it. Wish wish wish!” She jumped up and down, bouncing soundlessly on her rounded heels. Shani blinked.
“Okay.” This isn’t real. I might as well just pick something. Anything. Fuck it. “I wish I owned the top-floor apartment on 3rd Avenue I pass on the way to work every day. Do I need to know the address?”
“No, I know which one you’re talking about, I can hear it in your voice. But put a little more fire into it. Think about it real hard.”
Shani shut her eyes and breathed in, and as she breathed out she could see it in the morning light. It was the top floor of a brownstone, with giant windows and a little stained-glass porthole in the bedroom, looking out onto the street.
“That’s better.” She closed her eyes and opened them. “Okay. It’s yours. All 950 square feet of it. You couldn’t even have wished for the whole building?”
“Are you really arguing with me about this? Aren’t wishes supposed to be whatever I want?”
“Fair. And it is pretty. I like what she did with the kitchen, not that it’ll do her any good going forward.”
The djinn yawned. “I’m going to get going. I want the penthouse suite at the Ace, and I need to catch someone’s last call crush over the bridge. Otherwise I’ve got to mess with those late night desires, and those get real weird for a few hours. I’ll hit you up tomorrow about that third wish.” She leapt out the window, as nimble a cat, and skipped back to Manhattan on a flurry of urges drifting up from a nearby church basement, I want to quit and I want a hit and I want these people to clean up after themselves, just once. So many sugar packets and donut crumbs.
Shani’s mother called her 20 times on the way to work. Her dad called four. There was nothing from Neema, which lit a little prick of guilt inside. She was about to listen to her voicemail, but Caroline and Jacob’s heads whipped up as she walked in. For once, Jacob spoke first:
“I didn’t know you were an heiress.”
Caroline wordlessly slid her phone over the counter.
FAST FASHION TYCOON LEAVES BROWNSTONE TO STUDENT
Shani stared into the distance for several long seconds. “Yes. I can tell you more about that in a minute. Can I change into my apron first?”
“Sure! Take your time. We’ll be here!” Jacob chirped. They broke into whispers as soon as she walked away.
Shani bolted for the stock room and screamed soundlessly into the oat milk cartons. She knew the djinn was there before she turned around.
“What the fuck?!”
“Still believe I’m a dream?”
“Did you kill that woman to grant my wish?” She was breathing hard. “I’m a murderer. I’m going to the police to turn myself in.” She stood up.
“Sit down!” The djinn boomed, nothing coy about her, and for the first time Shani saw her at her full height. She sat. “I didn’t kill anyone. I told you, I don’t do that.”
“Maybe Rosalia Ora, head designer in a fast fashion empire that makes its labor off the work of little hands, had a change of heart. Maybe she woke up in a cold sweat thinking about all the ways she’s created a system that creates loss and want, the bad kind of want, that kind that smells like desperation and not enough, the kind that burns like coal stacks and makes your wants bitter like ash. Maybe she went off to live in an ashram. Maybe she’ll die of a snake bite in two years, dehydrated and hallucinating in some cave just south of Rishikesh.”
The djinn shrugged. “Who can say. I’m not an oracle. But you made a wish. You got what you wanted. I need a latte.”
She walked out, leaving Shani shaking on the dusty floor. She was still sitting when Jacob asked if she could come out.
After the morning rush died down, a pregnant silence descended. Shani broke it:
“I don’t know what this is all about yet. There’s still like, paperwork.”
“That’s cool! Just invite me over sometime.” Jacob is faking chill so hard she could feel it.
“You could turn it into a sex dung—” Caroline stopped and looked down. “Sorry.”
“I think it’d be more of a sex castle, since it’s the fifth floor.” Shani said. “But yeah when I know what’s going on, maybe I’ll have a party. Or something.” She paused. “You’re both invited, obviously.”
Carline squealed, startling a man who was standing at the counter. He looked at the menu, then at them. He was tall and lean, with a tiny nose stud and curling brown hair.
“Are you the girl who inherited the brownstone? That’s crazy!”
“Yes she is and she is my close, personal friend and we’re all very excited for her,” Jacob practically knocked Shani over. He looked like he was going to pass out. “What can I get you and also I like your shirt did you see them last time they went touring—”
“Yeah! I’m a long-time fan. What about you?”
Shani and Caroline suddenly had something to do in the back.
Key did not live by himself. He lived with four roommates in a two-bedroom in Bed-Stuy. During the week he went to film school and on the weekends he convinced his parents in New Jersey to let him go for another semester, just one more semester, just finish out undergrad, if it didn’t work out he’d go to grad school for something useful like computers or finance, and when he wasn’t doing those things he watched long movies and made short ones, about fairy tales and zombies and ghost brothers that hung out in an apartment and looked a lot like his roommates wearing white sheets with eye-holes cut out. Shani was sitting on his desk chair in front of his computer, watching the sheet-men play video games, when he pulled her chair over to where he was sitting on the edge of his bed.
“What do you like to do? Besides school?”
“I like to read and think about things. I don’t know.”
She rolled closer. Her knees bumped up against his mattress.
“That’s awesome. I need to think more about things.”
“It’s not so great sometimes.”
“Shut up! Don’t shut up. Come here.”
He took her hands and pulled her down next to him. Behind them, ghosts skateboarded down Nostrand Avenue, sheets fluttering softly behind them as they pushed off again and again and again.
Later, she took the train home. The train car was empty and she sat down, tilting her head back and closing her eyes.
The djinn’s thigh pressed against hers. Shani didn’t bother to ask how she got there.
“Oh calm down, I traveled between the cars like any seasoned teenager or bum. I’m not wasting my good magic on New York City’s public transportation. It’s got its problems but it’s fine. You should see how they got around in the time of Suleiman. It was rough as hell.”
“What do you want?”
“You know what I want. Make that third wish so I can move onto the next person with blue balls of the soul.”
“I don’t have to make the wish.”
“Nope. But you will.”
“What if I don’t? What if I take it with me to the grave?”
The train doors opened. The djinn stood up and smiled down at her.
“Couldn’t say because it never happens.” She snapped her fingers, disappearing in a swirl of oud and gold.
“IF YOU COULD HAVE ANYTHING IN THE WORLD, WHAT WOULD YOU WANT?!”
Shani waited for Key’s friend’s band to stop.
“What if you had one wish?”
“Is this a trick question? Or one of those icebreaker games? We had sex like two hours ago, I hope we’re past that.”
“Ha. We’re cool.”
“Cool. I like you.”
“Okay but really, what would you wish for?
“I don’t know. I make an amazing movie. They call me the Korean Christopher Nolan. We move in together.”
She told him they could talk about it in six months, maybe. He didn’t look thrilled but two blocks later she got a text, a row of smiling faces and hearts and flowers. I wish I knew what he was th—
She literally stopped walking to stop her thoughts. A tree branch cracked above her head and she shrieked. Thunder rumbled in the distance and rain started to pour, fat drops that hit the ground like wet slaps. If she’d looked into the clouds she would have seen the djinn punching clouds and gnashing her teeth, but she didn’t: she kept her eyes firmly on the concrete, making a familiar left and then a right and then a right again.
She pressed the buzzer to Neema’s apartment.
“It’s Shani. I’m an asshole and I’m sorry. Can I come say it in person?”
Neema buzzed her up.
As usual, their apartment looked like Zara and Sephora had had a baby and left it to raise itself in a small 1-bedroom with a strange, tiny patio deck. Shani picked up a silver jumpsuit, not knowing what to say.
“This is cute.”
“You’d never wear it. What’s up? I’ve got a lot to do. I need to pick out an outfit for your mom’s birthday next week. You do too.”
The familiar bossiness helped her relax.
“I’m sorry I said that to you. I liked the guy that worked there and didn’t want him to think I was weird.”
“You are weird.”
“Okay. I forgive you.”
“Just don’t be mean because you’re trying to get something. I know I’m a lot sometimes, but I want you to be happy too. And anyway, you got what you wanted.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
They hugged, and Neema’s eyes turned mischievous.
“You look good. Are you burning up calories with your new boyfriend? Are you bringing him to the party next week? Can I talk to him?”
“Yes. Yes. No.”
“What does your new place look like? That’s wild how that happened.”
“It is wild. Can I borrow a dress? Your clothes might actually fit me right now.”
“I’ve been waiting for this moment since fifth grade.” Neema fake-wiped her eyes. “I’m so happy to see you blossoming into a beautiful young woman—”
“Let me try something on!”
Hours later, they sat on the couch eating takeout. Shani cleared her throat:
“Can I ask you a weird question?”
“Sure. I love dumb questions.”
“What would you wish for if you had one wish?”
“A million dollars and a 20-inch waist.”
“Oh come on! Love. Money. World peace. Everyone we care about dies healthy in their beds at age 95. I don’t know. That’s a lot of pressure.”
Shani’s phone buzzed. Key wanted to hang out tomorrow. She tapped back yes, but later — she had to do something first.
Shani waited in the cavernous restaurant, which served Turkish coffee and pastries glazed in the morning and fragrant meat and rice dishes at night.
The djinn walked in and looked around.
“Trying to butter me up by going old-school? I’m more into that place with the croissants by the art museum, where they make those designs in your latte.”
“I’m ready to make my third wish.”
A waiter rushed up and brought them two cups of fragrant mint tea.
“Compliments of the house.”
The djinn smiled at him, and between her lips gleamed oceans and orange groves and dazzling sunshine from his trip to Florida, the most beautiful place he’d ever been if you never, ever left the beach. He realized he was staring at the way her tongue darted into the hot tea, and turned around quickly with a flustered smile.
The djinn turned back to Shani.
“About time. I was about to bring in the big guns.”
Shani didn’t ask what that meant. She took a deep breath.
“I’m 21. I don’t know what I want. The brain doesn’t even stop developing until you’re 25. And even if I wish for something good, I might screw it up. Like if I wish that climate change was solved, you might wipe out the entire earth. Or if I wish for Neema’s future children to be born healthy, she could die in childbirth. Or if I wish for Pita Palace to become wildly successful, it’ll be because, I don’t know, they found a cheap chickpea supplier that does something bad to farmers in India. Everyone’s connected and there are consequences to everything, and if something’s going to happen I want to make it a choice. A wish isn’t a choice.”
The djinn said nothing. She sipped her tea.
“What’s your wish?”
“I wish you could have what you want.”
The djinn set down her cup. She did not say a word.
“You’ve seen thousands of years of wishes, you must know everything there is to know about desire. There are worse people to get what they want. And also—” her face turned impish, “I kind of want to see what happens.”
The djinn gave a tiny nod, which Shani took as her signal to go. She was still sitting when the waiter asked if she wanted more tea.
Rosamund Lannin reads and writes in Chicago, putting words together for places like Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Vice, /Film, and more. You can find her @rosamund most places on the Internet, at live lit shows around the city, and anywhere magic and reality brush hands.
Photo: Seth Hoffman/Unsplash
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