Once upon a time, long long ago, one of Nathan d'Anahita's ancestors managed to piss off the goddess Anahita. Never a good thing. This particular ancestor was a queen, so the goddess was royally po'd - even worse. During a brutal famine, said queen hoarded her grain instead of sharing with her people. Legions died. In her wrath, Anahita cursed the queen, and her issue, to serve humanity for eternity. Voila! The magical wish granting djinna! This was academic to Nathan, as the curse only affected d'Anahita females.
But wait ...there’s a loophole...
March 4th 5:45pm Bud’s Burgers
“I didn't know you had that in you.”
“Hmm? Had what in me?”
“Cancer may be chewing away at his bones, but ya know what? I think it may have already eaten your soul.”
“How else do you explain your cold-blooded attitude?”
Nathan bit back a laugh. If she only knew how ironic that is; if she only knew about my family. Cuz the D’anahita’s are –literally- hardwired for the opposite.
“Now wait one damn minute, Rach,” he said, raising his hands in a ‘don’t shoot’ gesture. “I know how big your heart is, how desperately you want to ease his suffering. But, trust me on this, he’s not right for you. I wouldn't say he's milking his illness…”
but he is, Nathan’s mind chimed in.
“…but I feel like he's using it to pry you from me.”
‘He’ is Jacob, who has advanced bone cancer, and was in the thick of aggressive radiation therapy.
And there lay the problem - Rachel was compassionate to a fault. Nathan loved her for it, but it worried him too. The thing was, Nathan was just as caring. He’d fallen for Rachel so hard she was a gash in his heart. No, he didn’t want to do syrupy crap, like climb mountains and shout her name. Or scribble their names on hundreds of pieces of paper, stuff them in glass bottles, and throw them to the sea. Because, wasn’t that littering? But if doing those things let him keep Rachel, well, dammit, he might even endure them.
He had no idea what to do when his rival asked his lover to help him die. And he was slowly but surely losing her. Maybe he already had.
"Pry me from you? I've never heard such egotistical, self-centered shit-” She shook her head and looked down, her voice dropping to a whisper. “Do I even know you?”
“This is coming out all wrong.” Nathan gave an exasperated sigh. “I care about Jacob, I really do, I-”
When he saw the arctic frost in her eyes, his mouth snapped shut before it could do any more damage, making a soft *pop* it closed so fast.
“-I don't know what to say.” Her jaw stiffened. “Other than, it’s time for us to step back, and-"
“-Heya boys and girls! Why the long faces?”
Zazu, Nathan’s twin sister, and at that moment the cavalry, had arrived at ‘Bud’s Burgers. As always when she did, the room brightened, and heads turned.
It floored Nathan to see the pure wattage she brought to a room. Her full name was unpronounceable: Azara Zuleika D’anahita, meaning, brilliant red beauty of the goddess Anahita, or as close as ancient Persian translates into 21st century English.
The women of the D’anahita clan were blessed with otherworld beauty, Zazu especially so. Her looks were as wondrous as her name, exotic olive skin, crimson silky hair and always dressed in red. Today she sparkled in a bright red mini dress.
Though he shared his twin’s surname, that's as exotic as Nathan got. Not that he was jealous, no no no, there were a thousand reasons not to be. For instance, he remembered how much it sucked in their school years for Zazu to suffer an annual name mangling with each grade. This was by far the least Zazu and the D’anahita women suffered; Nathan thanked the stars each day he didn’t share the curse.
Nathan thought his looks were as ordinary as his first name, and found it amusing how no one ever mistook Zazu for his sister, much less a twin. He hoped Rachel found him handsome, she’d said as much in the better days of their relationship, but he wasn’t sure whether that was objective assessment or politeness. He was, by his own reckoning, a brown haired, tall-ish, athletic-ish, twenty five year old American male.
How was it he had fair skin and his twin was creamy Mediterranean brown? Genetically possible, true, but the real reason, was the D’anahita curse.
“Nathan! Your sister asked you something.”
“Hmm? Sorry, I zoned.” Nathan scooched over in the booth, making room for Zazu. “What's the question?”
“She wants to know why we’re so grim,” Rachel said, and turned to Zazu. “We were talking about Jacob."
Zazu's squeezed Nathan’s hand under the table when she scooted next to him. "Your friend who's dying? So sad."
"At least someone in your family cares," Rachel said. Nathan could almost see venom dripping from her voice.
“Burger time, Sis,” Nathan said too brightly, hoping Bud's famous Texas Burger would bail him out of the hole he was in. A tall order for a greasy spoon, but in Bud’s defense, their burgers were magical. “Your timing’s perfect; we haven’t ordered yet.”
They’d agreed to meet at ‘Bud’s’ before catching a movie. Robert, Zazu’s hubby and lawyer extraordinaire, would be joining them at the show, if he could finish an uber important contract he was drafting for a client.
Bud’s Burgers was rated the fifth best burger joint in the state; their burgers were so sloppy drippin’ wonderful, Nathan couldn’t begin to fathom how amazing the other four places must be.
“I’m starved! Gonna order fries and onion rings,” Zazu said, in her perky voice, and Nathan felt her tug in his mind. When he glanced in his twins hazel eyes, her sympathy radiated to him. Their twin connection was especially strong; she knew what had happened between he and Rachel, and he felt her support flowing to him. Their connection was amped even more because he was a D’anahita male. Though they couldn’t talk mind-to-mind the way the women could, D’anahita men were far more empathic than normal males. Which was why Nathan was in grad school, studying counseling psychology. It’s where his gifts lay.
And Rachel thinks I’m heartless, he thought. Could this get any worse?
“I’m bailing on the movie; I’ll go check on Jacob,” Rachel said, then glared at Nathan. “I’ll call you when I ready to talk to you again.”
It could! She ended it. Nathan felt it more surely than anything he’d felt in his life. Game over.
Nathan's mind thrashed wildly for something, anything, to say to make her stay, to not let this be their last date, when fate pitched a screwball: Bud’s front window exploded inward, and shards of glass ripped through the place like bullets, followed by the biggest ball of fire Nathan had ever seen.
The first wave of searing flames vaporized the patrons nearest the front. Lucky them. Those in the middle were roasted more slowly, and their screams were hideous.
Nathan wasn't sure what sparked the inferno, maybe a natural gas leak or a fuel truck explosion? After the first explosion, a river of fire flowed in; its flames and choking smoke trapping them in their booth.
Zazu grabbed Rachel’s hand and yelled. “Repeat after me: ‘by immaculate Anahita, I wish this fire had never happened.' ”
“God!” Rachel screamed, “don’t let me die! Not like this!”
Rachel’s mindless fear washed over Nathan. Everyone’s did, and between that, the gas smell gas, and burning flesh, he was close to hurling.
Zazu slapped Rachel’s face, hard.
“DO IT! ‘By immaculate Anahita, I wish this fire had never happened.’”
Something in Zazu’s eyes must have been scarier than the fire, because Rachel managed to speak.
“By immaculate …Anahita, I wish … this had never been.”
“Close enough. Your wish is granted”
Zazu closed her eyes, glowed red for an instant, and the fire…
One moment blinding smoke, metal melting heat and death, the next - the ordinary bustle of a greasy burger joint. Even the people who'd been crispy-crittered were alive and happily eating their arteries closed again, with no recollection of their previous gruesome demise.
“What …just …happened?”
“Nothing, actually.” Zazu gave a sly grin. “You wished it away.”
Maybe Rachel thought the creature from Alien had sprung from Zazu's body; her expression sure looked that way. He could relate; he'd lived with his sister's awesome powers all his life and they still freaked him out.
“Yeah, I see that, goddammit! How?”
Queasiness hit Nathan when Zazu shrugged. There were all kinds of plausible lies she could spin, like it was a hallucination, or food poisoning, or mass hypnosis, but nooooo! his gut told him Zazu was going with the truth.
“Short answer? I'm a Djinna.”
Zazu rolled her eyes at Rachel's blank response. “You know, genie? I Dream of? Rub the lamp, make a wish, and all that?”
“A Genie. As in …magic?”
“Dead on, kiddo. This all started long ago-”
“In a galaxy far far away,” Nathan added.
“So not helping, Nate. Not a faraway galaxy, but ancient Persia. Where-”
“Well, yes, sweetie. You see, an ancestor of ours, a queen, managed to piss off the goddess Anahita. During a famine, our ancient granny hoarded her grain for herself instead of sharing. Tons of people died. As punishment, the goddess cursed her, and her issue, to serve humanity for eternity. TA DA! Genies! All women of our family have this power and duty.”
“That’s it?” Rachel had moved past shock from the near death experience, leap-frogging denial into anger. “That …lame story…is all you got to explain what happened …er, didn't happen?”
“True, I could have given you the long version, which would have taken days. But hey, I'm starving here.”
On cue, Dora, their waitress, she whose hair moments before had been lit like a roman candle, arrived with platters of steaming hot burgers, spicy fries, and ice cold cokes, causing Rachel to quiet. The look plastered on her face, though, showed she thought she'd learned the greatest secret of the world. Maybe she had.
“So, all I have to do is wish, and I can have anything?”
"Uh -uh," Zazu, answered, fries dangling from her mouth. “Rules. Lots of 'em. Per said pissed off goddess, wishes must be for the good of mankind. And …only one per customer.”
Which, Nathan knew, was a half-truth and a bald-faced lie. Even the D’anahita males knew this part of Wish Granting 101. Wishes didn't have to be macroscopically utilitarian. They could be for the good of mankind, sure, but they could also be for the good of a single man, or woman, for that matter.
And there was no wish limit.
There were lots of other rules that went into the family wish granting business; the physical laws of the universe still applied, well, mostly, so wishes drew from what was at hand. And if a wish were to upset -drum roll- The Balance…
-Nathan don't know what this meant, since the d'Anahita women were maddeningly cryptic when they spoke of it-
…then the wish wasn't granted.
When Zazu slammed her burger down fast, Nathan figured she wanted to bolt before Rachel tested the wish limit lie. After Zazu scarfed her last fry, she gave Nathan a peck on the cheek and bolted, leaving her brother with the tab. To this day, he couldn't figure out why the djinna -all powerful gals that they were- never seemed to carry cash.
“Lot to take in,” Rachel whispered.
Understatement much? Nathan thought. She'd almost been crisped in a fiery holocaust, seen the whole disaster poofed away by magic, and learned real, live genies existed. Understatement of the ages. Naturally, Nathan tried to answer in kind.
“Do I ...do I need to keep this a secret?”
“Yes. You mustn't breathe a word to another soul,” he said, trying to sound ominous. “This knowledge …in the wrong hands…”
She gave a solemn head bob in response.
Thing was, Nathan wasn't worried about Rachel letting out the secret. First, she was someone he trusted - he wouldn't fall in love with someone with a dark or shallow nature. Also, if she accidentally did, who'd believe her? Genies? C'mon, this is the 21st century. Finally, Zazu would fix this herself. She'd have her master wish Rachel to forget most of it.
Sadly, that part of the djinna legends was true. If the right ancient words are said, a djinna is claimed and bound to the speaker for a set number of years. She's also compelled to call that person ‘master’ or ‘mistress'. Nathan’s djinna cousins wouldn’t speak of it, but to him it seemed like slavery, pure and simple, which he figured fit the whole ‘curse’ thing. Their ancestor queen must have really really pissed Anahita off.
Zazu had already been claimed, but she had been proactive about it, not risking anything to chance. When she and Robert fell in love, he had no idea what she was. After they were married and she knew she could trust him, she eased him into the genie club, and had him 'claim' her, so she wasn't in danger of a stranger doing it. Nathan was certain when she saw Robert later, she'd ask him to make a wish, and this episode would fade in Rachel’s brain. Not completely; that was another rule and a big one, a wish once made can never be forgotten by the wisher.
“Nate,” Rachel said, her blue eyes sparking with an idea, "I'm willing to give you another chance."
His heart skipped. Before things went thermal, he'd physically felt hers shutter to him. Maybe it was the near death thing, he didn’t know, but he now hoped her heart was opening again. Yet he also felt she wasn’t quite being honest.
“Come with me to see Jacob; we'll sit with him together.”
Nathan cared for the dying man, even if he was stealing his love. Jacob was an ordinary guy, like Nathan, in the prime of life; to see the man left bald and emaciated from the therapy, well, he was Nathan's worst enemy, and Nathan would never have wished it on him. More than that, Nathan's D’anahita empathetic nature made him feel for Jacob's suffering in ways Rachel couldn’t fathom. Thousands of years of D’anahitas serving mankind had worked its way into their DNA.
Still, he did not like Jacob; there was a pettiness in his character that bugged Nathan. Maybe Jacob's cancer struggle masked the flaw, or maybe in a weird way, it was a cure for it …Nathan didn't know. Yet, however much Jacob troubled him, the thought of losing Rachel scared him more. So…
“Yes, Rach, I’d love to go with you to see him.”
He flashed a smile, tried his hardest to make it genuine. But Nathan sensed some other motive in Rachel's request; a purpose? A plan?
March 4th 8:02pm St. Joseph’s Hospital
He tried probing her agenda on the drive to the hospital. Something definitely was cooking in her pretty head, more than a bedside visit with Jacob. At first, fate smiled on Nathan, because when they arrived, they found him asleep.
“We should come back later,” he whispered.
“Nathan, after Zazu wished death and doom away, she said something interesting….”
Uh oh. Here it comes.
They say the eyes are the window to the soul; looking into Rachel's gorgeous blue green peeps, at that moment? Her soul looked …nuts. Who'd blame her with all she'd seen? He glanced at the nurses' station two doors down.
“Ssshhh! We shouldn't talk about this in public.”
Rachel ignored him. “She said the goddess cursed the queen and all her issue.”
“Yeah, you got an issue with that?”
Nathan's jokes were famously bad. His friends spent an inordinate of time explaining they weren't jokes at all, what with their complete absence of humor.
“When my father's estate was distributed,” Rachel plowed ahead, “our probate lawyer explained we were my father's “issue,” my brother and me. So if you are the 'issue' of the goddess like Zazu, doesn’t that mean you have magic, too?”
He frowned; he didn't like where this was headed. “You've seen my crappy Toyota; does that look like the ride of an all-powerful being? Anahita is the goddess of djinnas, female genies. Men of my family don't-”
“-but still, she said issue…”
…yeah, that part always bothers me too, Nathan thought.
“…so what would it hurt to test it?”
“Sorry? I don't understand-”
He saw her gaze turn to Jacob's room again and finally figured it out. “That's why you brought me? To …to …wish him …to be cured?”
Stupid stupid stupid! He wanted to scream, his heart ached so much. She doesn’t care about me at all. She only wants to use me to cure him.
She must have read the anguish on his face because her next words were rushed.
“I'm so sorry, but I love Jacob and not you, and I can't stand to see him fade away like this-”
“-I don't have Zazu's power. Let's get her to come here and do this, okay?”
“You're here now. What would it hurt to try? Worst case, I look stupid. By immaculate-”
“Stop!!!!!!” Alarm bells clanged in his head and his spine tingled with strange energy.
“Don’t! Please!! I have a terrible feeling about this. If there's one thing I know about Anahita's curse, it's to never ever screw with-”
“-You want him to die!”
“I do NOT! I said we should get Zazu to come here, so it's clear I don't want that, but I’m begging, DON’T SAY THOSE WORDS!”
Rachel saw Nathan’s eyes widening, the sheer terror in them, and it gave her pause. But only for a moment. Dammit, she knew she was onto something. She knew Nathan could save Jacob’s life. And she wanted it saved, at all costs. She pushed ahead.
“-You're better than this! I’ll make you better! By immaculate Anahita, I wish Jacob was cured of cancer.”
Energy tornadoed around him, freezing him, sealing his lips…
Then, he vanished.....
Sandalwood incense smoke made everything hazy, but he could make out a throne, of white marble.
His eyes focused and he saw he stood before a woman wrapped in a rainbow of silks, with the midnight hair and even blacker eyes. She leaned forward, smiling at Nathan with dark rose lips.
Her presence was...
Words didn't to describe Her. Even so, his brain tried: if he were teleported to the sun... and the instant before he was vaporized by the heat or exploded from the vacuum of space or whatever would happen, the nano-instant before, the sight of that vast bright ball of energy would swallow his mind.
…that was what it was like standing before Anahita.
He threw himself to the floor.
You come at last, my love.
Her words were chiming bells.
She touched a hand to Nathan's head, and his body …rippled.
I claim you, and name you Azura Parvaneh d’Anahita
Cupping Azura's chin in her hands, she kissed her lips. Bright blue divine energy sizzled into the new djinna.
Take flight little butterfly. Fulfill your destiny. Bring succor to man.
Then …she …was back…
...looking into Rachel's eyes, which were wider than half-dollars coins.
Azura looked up at Rachel, where the instant before Nathan had been looking down.
“Your wish is granted.”
Electric blue bolts poured from Azura into Jacob's room. His body bucked and spasmed, and Azura felt, knew, he was whole. Cured. She banished cancer from his body.
Too much! Everything was spinning; she had to get out, run, anywhere. Azura sprinted down the corridor, dodging startled nurses and doctors.
“Zazu, wait! Where’s Nathan?”
Rachel's words hit her as she hit the stairwell door. She flew down the stairs; she might have, actually, for all she was aware in her panic. She burst out the front door into open air and heaved a breath.
She couldn't out run Rachel's question: Where was Nathan? And who was she?
'Azura Parvaneh d'Anahita,' her mind chimed.
She gulped, and then …looked down.
Small delicate feet filled soft silver sandals. Olive brown toes peaked up, wearing silver toe rings. Silver bracelets jangled on smooth brown ankles. Her pants were of royal blue silk, flaring at the ankles. They flattened at the crotch, and she knew exactly what that meant.
Jesus! How could this happen? No! Not Jesus… Anahita!
Her wrists were circled by silver bracelets, and for a top, she wore a form fitting long sleeve blue silk halter. The form it fit? Full rounded breasts. She couldn't begin to bring herself to touch them. Feeling hair trailing down her back, she grabbed a handful; it was silky black with a midnight blue sheen and oh-so-soft. For a moment, the new genie was paralyzed, unable to process what she’d become.
Azura was snapped from her stupor by a cry in her mind.
*Where will it come from? Help me help me help me! I'm a dead man.*
Voices? I'm hearing voices? Azura thought. Fucking great, now I'm insane.
Ahead, a gray-haired newspaper stand man stared into his change box. Somehow she instantly knew he had gambling debts of exactly $5,000, and if he didn't pay soon, he would be visited by two violent 'loan processors.'
How? How do I know this?
His fear pulled her; her legs walking on their own, until she stood before him. Power sizzled in her, and the words flowed from her lips.
Your wish is granted
Eeep! That’s my voice? It’s as high pitched as Zazu’s!
“Wish? What, are you, my harem girl of luck?” The man grinned, even leered, but his voice was sad and defeated.
“Er, could be. On my way to a, um …music video shoot,” Azura ad libbed, as she realized how out of place she looked in genie silks on the busy downtown street. “The $5000? I'd play the lotto if I were you.”
“How did you know...” his eyes widened, but then he shrugged. “Why the hell not? If you're as lucky as you are beautiful, I'll win it all.”
“Just play it, you'll see,” Azura squeaked.
She hurried away, afraid of what else he might ask for. More voices cawed in her head, from cabbies in a nearby cab line, sitting in quiet loneliness, missing families, loved ones, overseas, far away.
A middle-aged policewoman at the corner, longed for her dead husband so much, the wanting of it crushed the new djinna heart.
The blank-faced people hurrying along the sidewalk, all had souls overflowing with such yearnings. The longer she wandered, the more lost she became, drifting, in a sea of hopes and dreams, wishes and despair, until…
*Overwhelming are the desires of man.*
Azura felt her before she saw her; coming through the pedestrian traffic, dressed in djinna red silks to match Azura's blue.
She grabbed her sister like she was a life preserver, and maybe she was, for she was the only thing Azura recognized in a world turned upside down.
“I love you too, Sister.” Zazu laughed softly. “Now if you'll let me breathe...”
Azura eased up on the hug but didn’t let go. “Zazu …I'm …this is all …help me!”
Zazu shook her head. “No help for it, Azura, you are djinna.”
“You … know what she called me?”
“All the djinnas felt your arrival, but I knew first; I'm your twin, you know. Now your identical one.”
She stepped away from Azura and bowed. “I greet thee, Azura Parvaneh D'anahita. Welcome to the Order of Djinna.”
Azura bowed an automatic response. “I thank thee, Azara Zuleika D'anahita, blessed be our Holy Order.”
Zazu giggled at Azura's confusion. “There's a lot of default programming in you. Need to learn it fast. First, let's get us both into something less conspicuous.”
Her sister scrunched her eyebrows, and fabric rustled on Azura's body. She looked down to see she now wore a turquoise mini dress and matching leather thong sandals. When she looked up, she saw Zazu in a similar red outfit.
“I …you …this …”
“Sshhh. You're in shock. Let’s get you home so you can center. You're so out of balance now you're liable to grant anything, even give that girl over there what she's wishing for.”
Azura turned to see an adorable little girl, polka-dot dress, white tights and all, swinging in a playground park across the street. What she was wishing for echoed in Azura's head; her prayer to her father for a gift that, in her childhood innocence, she longed for with all her being. Power stirred in Azura again.
“Azura NO! You will NOT make a pony appear! Do you have any idea how much trouble that would cause? TAXI!”
Zazu dragged Azura into a yellow cab, and gave the driver Nathan's old apartment address. Then she turned to Azura.
*Azura. Your entire existence has been changed. I'm here for you, Sister. So. Breath. In, out, in out.*
“Wish it away for me. Make me into Nathan again-”
*Mind speak it, sweetie. We so don't want our driver figuring out he has two wish granting genies as fares.*
“Shit, do you think he-”
Zazu clamped her hand over Azura's mouth.*Shhh!*
So Azura tried to think her thoughts to Zazu instead. *AM I DOING THIS RIGHT?*
*ACK!* Zazu answered, her hands going to her ears. *Too loud!*
*Much. I'm sorry, but as desperately as I want to, I can't grant your wish. Our wish power only applies to humans, and you are no longer that.*
...not ...human? That was too much for Azura to take in; her mind dulled and slowed, and she turned, to simply gaze at gray buildings whizzing by the cab. Azura wanted to close her eyes, curl into a ball, and sleep, forever…
*Sweetie, don't blank on me. This incredible thing has happened to you, changing you completely. You're in denial. I know you, 'Nathan'. You need to start dealing, or your emotions will overwhelm you. That would be terrible for you and …disastrous for the people around you, to have to a depressed or angry djinna on their hands.*
Denial? DENIAL?? Azura's mind s-c-r-e-a-m-e-d.
Zazu's hands shot to her temples and she winced.
*Zazu? What's wrong?*
As her brother, Nathan had been overly protective of his sister, even though she was the miraculous and powerful magical creature. The impulse hadn’t changed now she was Azura.
*When you scream like that, it hurts, Sis*
*Oh no!* Tears welled in Azura'a eyes again. *I'm so sorry!!*
*S'okay.* Zazu tried to give her sister a comforting smile. She'd have to be careful how she handled this. Nathan had always been emotional, and as Azura, those emotions were running wild. How on earth should she handle this? Her only plan -if she could call it that- was to keep Azura's mind engaged until she could get her to bottle.
*Talk to me, Azura, what are you thinking?*
*Because it's important your mind keeps working so we can get through-*
*-No! Why did this happen to me?*
*Oh!* Zazu squeezed Azura's hand. *This happens to the men in our family every so many generations. When a human makes a completely selfless wish around a D'anahita male, and uses the formal command, his nature will throw him to the goddess to be transformed so he may grant the wish.*
*That's crazy! Why would Anahita do that? Why not have male genies too instead of changing men to women?*
Zazu shrugged. That was but one of the thousands of questions the D'anahita djinnas had compiled for their goddess since Anahita uttered her curse. *Ask her the next time you see her.*
Anger flared in Azura's eyes. *Wait! If it's happened before, why didn't you warn me? I could have been on guard or-*
*-It's cause it's so rare that I didn't warn you. I didn't want you becoming paranoid, fearing at any moment, someone might wish you into the xx club.*
Zazu paused a moment, considering. *Rachel! She …wished for Jacob to be cured?*
When Azura nodded, Zazu's eyes grew wet. *And I gave her the formal command words. Crap, I'm so sorry! I meant to mind wipe the words from her memory, but one of Robert's client's had an emergency and I haven't had a chance to have him wish it.*
*She wished it because she loves Jacob, and not me. She told me so…*
It crashed down on her then: Rachel was gone. Forever. Now, she'd be imprisoned in this strange ultra-feminine bod and forced to be slave to the wishes of everyone around her. Suddenly Azura didn't want to talk or think about anything. Her plan was to get back to her place, grab her bottle of Jack Daniels and drink herself to oblivion. She started sobbing.
“Shhh,” she said, wrapping her arms around her sister and stroking her hair. “Driver? We're here; it's the building to the left ahead.”
Zazu handed the driver a wad of cash and hauled her crying sister out of the cab. She drug her up the stairs to her apartment.
*You’ve got to learn to shield and filter, otherwise, you're a pinball bouncing from wish bumper to wish bumper, and shredding The Balance where you go. It will be like that scene from Bruce Almighty, where everyone wins the lottery.*
When she knew they were alone, Zazu stopped Azura at the second floor stairwell and wiped away her tears.
"H'okay. On that subject, let’s see how bad the damage is. Please please tell me you haven’t already made someone a lottery winner."
Azura's voice answered in a soft hiccupy sniffles. “There was the grey-haired man...”
"Crap," Zazu said. "And you made him the Powerball winner, of course?"
When Azura gave a jerky nod, Zazu let out her breath. "Okay, not so bad. As far as The Balance goes, that’s a rounding error."
That sparked Azura's mind a little. "You mean you can say no to a wish? You have a choice about what you fulfill? Then why didn’t you wish the fire away earlier instead of giving the wish words to Rachel? I’m sure everybody in the room was wishing for that."
“We Azura, we,” Zazu corrected, and shook her head. "That's another huge rule. As powerful as we are, we can't wish anything. Sure, no one there wanted to die. But the wish must be clearly expressed. Their minds were thinking things like ‘nooooooooooooo’ or ‘arrrrggggghhhhhhh’. Hard to make a wish out of that. That’s why I told Rachel the formal command; I needed it to be exactly right so I could undo everything."
Zazu saw Azura’s eyes zone out, her transition shock reasserting. She tugged Azura again to get her feet moving up the last flight.
"C’mon, sweetie, don’t go catatonic. Keep thinking; we will get through this together. Ask another question. I'll answer all the ones you asked me when we were kids that I couldn't."
But thinking was so hard! Growing up, she had hundreds of questions for her magical sis, but now she could get those answers, she was having trouble framing even one. It felt her mind was filled with goo.
"If we …if we can choose to act, on the desires of people around us …why are there even formal trigger words to make us act?"
"Excellent question," Zazu nodded and squeezed Azura's hand. "And, why can we be formally bound as slaves?"
SHIT! I can now be bound to someone as their slave! Azura's mind wailed; she had forgotten that turd blossom.
"It has to do with balances. Everything is balances. You'll learn. We -you included now- have near limitless power, and so the goddess embedded triggers in us as a check on that power; the whole master thing is a lesson in humility. Do you see?"
They stood at last in front of her apartment door. Azura blinked at it, because it was now painted ...blue.
“No I don’t see …anything, except a freakish blue door! Fuck it. I wanna go inside, pull on some sweats, and drink myself to death. But…”
Another thought hit her. “Like I have something that would fit me now?”
She looked down at her new body, shaking her head yet again in disbelief.
“It’s loony to think anything I have would come close to fitting; a dress shirt would come down to my knees.”
“Oh, you’re in for a surprise there, Sis,” Zazu said. “I betcha all your clothes fit perfectly.”
“How in hell could that be? Look at me! I’m a freakin’ dwarf!”
“Goddess, you’re turning into a drama queen. You are NOT a dwarf, you’re the exact size as me. Fyi, a dwarf, is someone 4 feet 10 or less. We are a good 4 inches over that.”
“Fan-fucking-tastic! I can still stuff a dwarf in a pickup game. But for the other 99% of the population-”
“Shut up! Walk inside and prepare to be amazed.”
When Azura reached for her door knob, her eyebrows scrunched in confusion.
“Uh, Zazu …I got nothing here …no ID, no wallet …no keys…”
“Listen.” Zazu put a hand on her sister’s shoulder and gave an affectionate squeeze. “Change your thinking from this moment on. You are a magical being now; your place is tuned to you. Say ‘open door’ and it will.”
"What? No magic words, like ‘abracadabra’, or ‘open sesame.’"
Zazu giggled. “Remember our cousin Aria?”
Azura nodded, remembering she was the d’Anahita who lived in Milan.
“She has her doors keyed to open when she belches or farts.”
“You’re kidding, right? Prissy Aria?” She shook her head and spoke:
Someone took an airbrush and sprayed everything in my apartment blue. And ... I like it.
“Zazu, why is everything ...blue?”
“It's you. ‘Azura’ means blue. And 'Parvaneh' means butterfly.”
Azura wandered about her place touching this chair or that pillow. She knew it was all her 'stuff', she ‘felt’ it, but ...she had never seen any of it before in her life.
*Is there nothing left of Nathan? Nothing?*
“Only your soul. Which, when it comes down to it, is all that matters.”
When Zazu saw the only response she would get from Azura was another numbed look, she figured she had done all she could for now. She took Azura by the hand.
“Come, Sis, time to go to bottle.”
She led her to an alcove in a wall that held a plain blue glass bottle. Azura's hands were drawn to it as iron to magnet. Her default programming came online at contact.
“Um ...Zazu? This isn't a bottle at all. It's calling to me. It is a ...portal. To...to ...where, or what?”
“We wear this form,” Zazu, motioned to her body, “but it is not our only form. Anahita has made us elemental, so we may work directly with the energy of the cosmos. We are energy, and it is our nature to dance with the fires of creation.”
“I... don't... understand...”
“I know. I haven’t mortal words to describe it. Go to bottle. You know how.”
“Will it ...help me accept all this, make this-”
“-better? Yes, some.” Zazu nodded her head. “I know it sucks, but your problems -a different body, a strange new life, all of it- will be waiting when you return. But while you are there, there is no here. While you are there, you will know what you truly are now. While you are there …again, humans don't have words for it. Go. Feel. Be.”
“I'm not sure I know how to...” Azura’s eyes suddenly blinked wide in amazement. “...ooooooooooh!”
Zazu wondered what she looked like when she phased through her bottle to her other form. As Azura's body spin to blue smoke, she admitted it was one of the most amazing sights she'd seen.
“Joyous dancing, Sister.”
Then Zazu turned glistening eyes to the heavens. “She suffers greatly, Anahita. Why did you have to take her? And, if you did, would it have killed you to have a plan to ease her transition?”
My blue butterfly will do great service to mankind. And I did have a plan, my cherished daughter. That plan is you. Ease her suffering.
“I was afraid you'd say that.”
March 5th 5:53am Zazu and Robert’s home
“Good morning, Master, how may I serve you?”
Robert looked up bleary-eyed from his 200 page draft appellate brief to see Zazu kneeling before him. Because of a “snag” in finalizing a purchase and sale agreement, he had not arrived home from the firm until late last night. The “snag” also bumped his other work, so he had been up since 4am this morning proofing the brief he intended to finish yesterday. In another hour or so, he would shower and head into his office.
“Arise, Azara Zuleika D’anahita, I have no needs or wishes…”
Robert had long ago stopped reacting to the ‘I Dream Of Jeanie’ line his wife greeted him with in the morning. He’d pleaded with her, ordered her and even wished her to stop, yet every morning she greeted him this way. She had, each time, explained this was hard-wired into all djinnas who were ‘owned’ by a master or mistress, and finally, he gave up and simply accepted it.
“…other than to finish and file this hideous brief. I would wish for you to finish it, but I need to understand it so I can argue it at the hearing.”
“Well, you could simply wish for the judge to rule in your favor and-”
“-No, no, no,” Robert frowned. “We’ve been over this. Tempting as that is, it wouldn’t be right. I think my client’s the good guy and the defendant’s a lying sack of shit, but I always think that. And it ain’t always so. We’ve got to let the system decide what justice is, and not my all-powerful wife.”
Zazu rose smiling, and burrowed next to her husband on their coach. She never once would have considered granting such a wish. But she loved hearing him deny the offer. This was a big reason why she had fallen for him; his honesty and integrity. Well, that, and his dark curly hair made him oh so hot. She leaned in and kissed him. Her need to touch him was greater than most days, because her heart was heavy with worry for Azura.
“Hmm,” he smiled back. I think I misspoke. I did need that.”
“It’s a standing unspoken wish of yours, Master. One I am happy to fulfill again and again.”
“Enough ‘master’ crap, Zazu! Tell me about your day went yesterday; you were already snoring in bed when I got home. What miracles did you perform?”
How does a supernatural being describe to a mortal the list of impossibilities she had made possible? Zazu learned early in their marriage it was not possible to describe to her human husband the powers she worked with. So, she had stopped telling him the details, unless it involved children. Under his hard litigator veneer beat a heart that turned to putty when he heard of children’s lives being enriched. She knew how desperately Robert wanted children. And maybe soon he would have that wish granted too...
“I do NOT snore Robert. As far as miracles, well, the usual, but…”
“Uh-oh. The 'but' means you need me to fix something with a formal wish.” Robert set down his brief and turned his full attention to his wife. He took this part of his ‘master’ duties very seriously. “What do you need me to wish for?”
“It has to do with Rachel Lassa and-”
“-Azura’s friend? Aww, honey, I completely forgot our movie date! I’m so sorry about …wait. What happened?”
Zazu sighed, running a nervous hand through her red hair. This was what would be hardest for her new sister. No one, outside of the djinnas, -and Rachel herself, as the wish maker- would remember Nathan. It was as if he never existed. He and Robert had been close friends, especially bonding over their mutual hatred of Duke basketball.
“A freak explosion at Bud’s killed everyone in it, or would have, if I hadn’t undone it. But to do that, I had to give Rachel the formal wish words, and now I need to make her forget those words.”
“That’s so wonderful you were there to save everyone, Zazu. “ Robert smiled proudly. “Wait! Why did you have do it and not Azura? Rachel is her friend.”
“And that is the second formal wish.” Rachel gnawed on a finger. “I need you to wish for Rachel to convince herself it Azura or I granted her wish and not Nathan.”
Zazu knew a wish for Rachel to completely forget about the wish Nathan/Azura granted wouldn’t work, for Anahita's rules state a wish request formally made and granted must be remembered by the wisher. Zazu suspected it was a karma thing, a soul taking responsibility for what it wished.
“I’m lost,” Robert said. “Who’s Nathan?”
“Remember the weird quirk I told you about the d’Anahita males?”
“Babe, what part of the d’Anahita family isn’t a weird quirk? But…” Robert’s forehead scrunched. “…Hold on. The fine print codicile that in certain circumstances d’Anahita guys can be drafted into djinnas service? Um ...so this Nathan-”
“-was my twin brother, but is now my twin sister.”
“You had a twin brother???” Robert rocked back into the coach. On an intellectual level, he understood his wife’s ‘work’ sometimes altered reality and memories –so incredible for him to imagine still even after two years of marriage to a djinna- but he hated when his were altered. He felt he was robbed of something precious.
“I wish I had my memories of him back.”
Zazu nodded. “Your wish is granted.”
Images from a now alternate reality streamed into his mind, of a brown-haired young man in a tuxedo; one of his groomsmen at his wedding. Of skiing last Christmas at Copper Mountain, where he, Zazu and Nathan chose poorly in deciding to try the Resolution Bowl, and he wished them back from a snow drift to a bar for whiskey shots. He laughed out loud at the memory of Nathan’s birthday gift to him last year – a Coach K voodoo doll.
Robert blinked at Zazu. “Wow! How did this happen?”
“Rachel took Nathan to the hospital to see Jacob, and used the formal wish command to cure him. The combination of such a powerfully felt wish with the formal command was enough to send Nathan to Anahita, and be transformed into Azura.”
“Poor Nathan! How's he taking it?”
“She is not taking it well at all. I've sent her to bottle. The fires will center her and…”
Zazu frowned. She had tried many times to put into words for her lover what happened when she traveled through her portal, and each time she failed. She grabbed her husband’s hands.
“...Nathan really loved Rachel, and she dumped him. Adjusting for her will be hard enough; I need to make sure Azura’s new life isn’t further scrambled by having her pining for a relationship that's over. I need you to wish for Rachel to forget the formal wish command, and to wish for her to think either Azura or I cured Jacob.”
Zazu bit her lower lip; she figured this was the best she could do, since the wish itself would always be embedded in Rachel's mind. As would her memory of Nathan. No way around that. However, at this moment, only the d’Anahita family, Robert and Rachel would even remember Nathan. And once Rachel discovered no one else on earth had ever heard Nathan d’Anahita, Zazu hoped Rachel would, over time, convince herself Nathan didn't exist. She felt it best for Rachel and Azura to go their separate ways.
The plan could work, if …Rachel’s memories of Nathan weren’t emotionally strong ones. Which, surely they weren’t, since she chose Jacob over Nathan, right?
Rachel and Jacob could move forward together, and with Rachel truly out of her life, Azura could make a fresh start. She could begin her wondrous new existence without baggage. She would be hurting, Zazu knew exactly how much; sometimes it seemed they shared the same soul, they were so close. She would be there for Azura, and Robert would too.
“Of course I’ll do it. Poor guy.”
Robert stilled, framing the wording of the wish in his mind. This was another reason Zazu felt blessed to have Robert as her ‘master’; his legalese wish wording was always precise.
“Blessed Djinna Azara Zuleika D’anahita, by immaculate Anahita, I wish the following…”
March 5th 7:45am Azura's Apartment
Azura blinked at herself in the mirror.
“So strange to be back in this body”
Well, so strange to be back in any body
She had moments before re-materialized from blue smoke to physical form. She ran her fingers down her face, the solidness of it feeling unfamiliar and even unnatural for a moment as she fully integrated again to the mortal world.
Azura let out a long sigh. She knew now. Knew what her sister had meant when she asked her to change her back. 'No help for it, Azura, you are djinna.'
Having danced with pure energy, having become pure energy, she knew down to her last electron, she was djinna.
That didn't make what she was about to do any easier.
Let's get this over with.
Azura had re-materialized wearing blue sweats. She peeled them off and dropped them to her bathroom floor. And really looked into her mirror at herself -her mortal body- for the first time since her change.
First, she ran her fingers along her cheeks. Nothing startling here. Except for her dark hair, she looked exactly like Zazu, and that was a face she had grown up with.
Then she let her hands travel lightly down her neck and sternum until they hovered over her nipples. Do I dip a toe in the cold water and ease in, or jump in?
Azura closed her hands around her breasts and squeezed. And massaged. And pinched her nipples. And cupped and bounced them.
Her breathing sped up slightly as she felt how sensitive they were, watching with a curious awe as her nipples hardened, or goosebumps formed on her large deep brown areolas.
These are gonna take some getting used to. She shook her head; 'these' would never do. She forced herself to name them.
“Breasts, um, tits ...boobies, and um, melons ...'the girls'.”
Kay, I think I got it, Azura thought with a snicker
She's known her sister's breasts trended to the 'busty' side, but Azura hadn't a clue what her actual size was.
Note to self, ask sister how big her boobies are.
Taking a deep breath, she moved on, sliding her fingers lightly down her abs and to her pelvis.
My skin is so smooth!
And, she admitted to herself, her new olive complexion was beautiful. Biting her lower lip she explored lower.
“This is so different,” Azura whispered, with an edge of panic creeping into her voice.
As Nathan, she had given her partners the occasional foreplay licking, so she wasn't unfamiliar with her new genitals, but now they were hers, she was lost in trying to understand what she had. She understood the easy things, sure, she knew her clitoris; rubbing made her give a soft gasp as pleasure tingles traveled up her nerves.
And she knew sort of what her labia was, both inner and outer. But past that, she simply didn't understand this new plumbing or that now, she held inside her things like ovaries and a uterus, which, if certain other things happened, would let a baby form and grow in her.
She burst into tears.
“It wasn't supposed to be like this,” she sobbed. “Rachel was going to be the mom and I was going to be the dad...”
As Nathan, she had planned their whole future together, at least, before Rachel drifted away to Jacob. After Nathan finished grad school they were to marry and start a family. With her kind heart, Azura figured Rachel would make about the best mother in the world. And she'd imagined playing basketball in their drive way with a son or daughter -it didn't matter which- playing each night until the sun went down. She knew it didn't actually work that way, but it's what she fantasized anyway.
Not gonna happen now. Not now. Not ever. Why did you do it, Rachel?
March 5th 8:30am Interstate 95
Rachel wanted to slam her iPhone onto her Volvo dashboard. Or at least give it a good spanking. First it weirdly wiped Nathan from her contacts. Then, when she manually dialed his number, she only reached the annoying disconnect/not in service notice.
“Dammit, Nate, where are you?! I am so going to kick your butt for disappearing on me like that.”
Rachel understood why Nathan might want to avoid her -she'd basically ended things with him when she told him she loved Jacob- but this went beyond avoidance. The man had fallen off the face of the earth. Would he have changed his number to stop her from calling? That didn't seem like him, though.
Rachel had dropped Jacob off at his apartment after the hospital released him early this morning –they’d held him overnight to verify there hadn’t been some bizarre instrument failure to cause his test results to show his body to be cancer free- and she was starting to come down off the high of his ‘miracle’.
She'd cried and laughed and cried again –Jacob had too- while the befuddled doctors ran test after test through the night to come up with an explanation. Time and again she almost blurted out what had really happened, but a genie? Who would have believed her?
That was why she needed to talk with Nathan. Because he granted the wish with that magic family blood of his, after she'd figured out he could. Except, wasn't it Zazu that said the wish was granted?
She was so confused, and only Nate could clear it up. And she really wanted to talk with him. Just talk. Because, though it had been only last night since she had seen him, she … missed him.
So. She pointed her car in the direction of his apartment, even braving the I-95 traffic to get there, because if she couldn't call him, she would see him, dammit. She remembered his psychology class didn't start until 10, so he should still be at his place. Rachel veered to the right hand lane to take exit 5; at least it hadn’t vanished.
“Unlike Nate," she muttered, unaware she was talking to herself.
Rachel's mind yet again replayed the previous day, in fast forward speed. Fireball wished, away, magical genies discovered, and cancer cured. She said a strange phrase to wish Jacob healed –for some odd reason, she couldn’t now remember the exact words- Nate vanished, Zazu appeared, wearing a blue skimpy harem girl costume -very weird- and granted her wish. Then the miracle occurred.
“And then things turned strange."
After a moment, Rachel started giggling, because, considering the day she'd just lived? That was as absurd a statement as she had ever made; she had to giggle.
"Fine," she said after the giggle fit passed, "stranger."
First, when she’d mentioned to Jacob that Nathan had been there, he drew a blank, acting like he’d never heard of his rival. She thought he was kidding, but as they talked, she learned he wasn’t – he had absolutely no memory of Nathan.
To make sure she wasn’t crazy, she asked a nurse if she had seen where Nathan had gone, and the woman said she had never seen him. The nurse clearly remembered Rachel coming to the hospital, but with a woman whose description matched Zazu. Then the whispers began in her head: had she dreamed it all?
One voice, a very tiny one, way in the back part of her mind, whispered something had happened to Nate. That she wouldn't be able to see him, ever again. She shook her head hard, trying to dislodge even considering that.
“That's silly, Rachel. He's fine and you will see him in a few minutes.”
Wait! What will I say? He must be so angry with me!
Once Rachel parked, she was halted by the building concierge.
“Here to see Azura?”
“What? Who?” She'd made small talk with this woman dozens of times, when she visited Nathan. What was up now?
“N-no. I’m here to see Nate. Nathan D’anahita.”
“Nathan? He’s a relative of hers?” The middle-aged woman tsked as she buzzed Rachel in.
“Please remind Ms. D’anahita as the lessee, she agreed to give us notice of any long term visitors, even if they are family.”
“Will do,” Rachel said, but thought, this is so weird!
Rachel bounded up the two flights of stairs, to be stopped cold by a …blue door? But this has to be it! It says 220. Why would Nathan redecorate his door? Rachel banged on it. After a minute, the door opened, and Rachel stared down at a petite black-haired woman, dressed in blue sweat pants and sweatshirt.
From her bloodshot eyes, Rachel worried the woman had been crying.
“Zazu? Are you okay?”
Azura gave a jerky ‘no’ head shake and bit her lower lip. “I'm fine. Nothing you need to worry about. And, I’m, you know, Azura, Zazu’s twin. People mistake us for each other all the time.”
Rachel was about to say ‘who?’ but memories flooded her mind, of a close and dear friendship with this young woman. Who, except for black instead of red hair, and blue clothes instead of Zazu’s ever present red, was Zazu’s clone.
“…duh of course you are …we’re best friends, but…”
But …what about Nathan?
She had memories of him, too, dear ones. And somehow, these clashed with her Azura memories.
“A-azura? Where is Nate? I really really need to speak with him.”
About miracles and genies. Wait, was Azura one too? And double wait! Then was she at the hospital and not Zazu? Why is my memory so fuzzy?
Azura looked down at her feet, and when she spoke, Rachel heard pain laced in her soft voice.
“Rach …I'm so sorry, but there is no one here named Nathan.”
“What do you mean?” Rachel’s eyes narrowed. “This is his place, too, right?” Somehow Rachel had memories of both living here. “I’ve slept here before and… oh. my. god.”
Rachel’s eyes focused on the furnishings, walls and carpeting behind Azura –all blue.
“What’s …happened to Nathan’s stuff, his coach. His-”
“Rach, please, there is no Nathan. And there never will be.” Azura’s lower lip trembled; she was barely holding back the tears. “… can't talk …have to go …um... …to work.”
With that, Azura stepped back and closed the door.
Rachel, stared at the door, open-mouthed, for minutes. Finally, she shook her head and staggered back down the stairs, and out of the building. As she drove to her apartment to crash, she tried a thousand different explanations, but in the end, none made sense.
Instead her mind replayed images, of fireballs, magic, miracles, genies …and of a man who didn’t exist.
Azura leaned her back against her front door, her heart pounding; tears returning to her eyes. She stood there long after Rachel had left. Going to bottle hadn’t dimmed the hurt she felt over losing Rachel. It was as raw and searing as ever.
Zazu was right; 'dancing with the fires' didn’t turn my mortal life dial from ‘suck’ to ‘rock.’
*I’m so sorry about that, sweetie.*
*Eeep! Zazu! You can …read my thoughts when you aren’t here? Can all my sisters?*
*Don’t panic! You don’t have a gaggle of genies permanently lodged in your brain. Only you and I share this long distance link, since we are twins, I think. How was your dancing?*
Azura sighed and smiled.
How could she capture infinity in finite human words? The timeless singularity that encompasses all; waves of creation and destruction forever spinning and whirling. And she was part of it, she was it. How did she explain that?
*Yeah, I know…* Zazu answered with matching awe. *But now you are back on the mortal plane, and everything is completely strange and on top of that, your heart is breaking, right?*
Azura found herself nodding as if her sister could see her; Zazu had always read her so well. *It hurts so bad! What do I do?*
Zazu had felt the sobs racking her sister’s body all the way across town. She wished she were there to hold her, but that wasn't how it worked. Genies gave wishes, but received none in return.
*Work. Throw yourself into it. Bringing joy to those in pain will ease your pain, Sis, I swear by Anahita it will.*
Yes. Yes! That made sense. As Nathan, she had found solace in helping people through her counseling work. She wasn’t the only one in pain in the world; far from it. There were others –millions and millions of them- who were much worse than she. She would help them, comfort them. But…
*How do I do that, Zazu?* Azura thought, *wander outside like yesterday and start granting away?*
*No. Nothing that random,* her sister answered.*Every morning we humbly beseech Anahita to send us where we are most needed. And she does. You cannot imagine what awaits you. Try it. I've got to do it now, too*
Okay. And how should I do that? Azura thought. Zazu said ‘humbly’ so...
A Persian rug in the middle of her living room called to her, and Azura walked onto, and lowered to her knees. As she did, her clothes shimmered; her sweats were replaced by something far skimpier, her silks. Azura knelt further, prostrating herself, touching her forehead to the rug.
“Blessed Anahita, I beg you, send me forth to do your work.”
And Anahita answered:
Go forth, Azura, ease pain, spread hope, bring peace…
The rug began to pulse and glow with blue energy. It rose from the floor, and with Azura on board …vanished.
7 days before Passover, 30 BCE, noon, Jericho
“A little warning might have been nice, Anahita…”
Azura wandered a dusty street at noon, in a city where every building was made out of sun-dried bricks. She understood whatever language the people here spoke; somehow she was fluent, but it was not English, nor any other language on 21st century earth. If she had to guess, she thought she might be somewhere in ancient Israel.
“…that I could be thrown through time as well as space, hmm?”
Thankfully, her clothes matched those around her; she wore sandals, and long blue tunic. Her long black hair was wrapped in a piece of blue linen cloth. Even though she was fully clothed, she caught many mens' eyes, and hurried past as certain wishes began to form in their minds.
Great, just great. Surely I don’t have to grant lust fantasies, do I, Anahita?
She didn’t know where she was going, but something tugged her, pulled her forward. Finally, she stopped in front of a hut, shabby with crumbling bricks. The tug in her chest drew her to the door.
She heard rustling and a weak moan. The tug pulled her inside, where she found, curled in the corner, an old man wrapped in rags.
Azura gasped; her new djinna eyes showed his soul fires fading like a flickering ember. Yet it was his desire that had drawn her. He wanted something and it was the wanting that kept him chained to the mortal plane. She knew this, for she now knew how birth and death worked; she had danced with their energies.
“Good father. How may I help you?”
His eyes fluttered open, surprised. “Beautiful girl! Oh! An angel from the Lord. I thought …I would I would die alone.”
“But I am here now, sir. Tell me your name, and how I may serve you.”
He tried to speak, but managed to start a coughing attack so severe and ragged, Azura feared he would not survive. She looked for water, anything, to help him, but the man had nothing.When he stopped hacking, Azura cast a silent thank you to Anahita.
“I am called Hayyim,” he wheezed.
Azura dug through the rags covering him and found his hands. So cold! Even on this warm spring day.
“Where is your family, Hayyim?”
“I’m …all that’s left. My daughter Talya, died years ago, when she and her child died in childbirth, and Shimon, my son, passed in the famine last year. And ...my love …died so many many years ago and…”
Oh Anahita! What can I do for this one? How can I help him?
“…and I wish …though I know it’s not possible …I wish ...I could see my Miriam one more time before I die.”
An image flashed into her mind, of a woman so dear to this man, his desire crossed through time to grab Azura. She knew what to do.
Your wish is granted
Azura felt her face change, and saw the hair peeping from her head cover was blonde. She suspected her voice was different too, an alto instead of her new soft soprano, and with a Jewish lilt. She became his beloved Miriam as she looked on their wedding day, and not the disease riddled corpse he buried.
“Hayyim, why do you lie there? Up love, Tayla and Shimon are waiting.”
“M-miriam?” Hayyim’s eyes went saucer wide. “H-how can this be? Is it ...really you?”
“And who else would it be? Or have you taken up with another? The baker’s daughter Haggith maybe?”
“Haggith? Haggith? With those warts?” Hayyim laughed, rich and loud. “Oh how I’ve missed you, woman!”
“Then come! Let us leave this place of suffering and sorrow. Come, my husband!”
“Yes,” Hayyim smiled, “Yes! Let’s go, my dearest. It is time.”
Azura watched his soul leave…no, soar ...away, from pain and crushing loneliness. Away to rest. And maybe, just maybe, to his loved ones.
Looking into his darkening eyes, Azura knew Hayyim's body was dead, but his face still held the joy of his last happy life moments.
She felt her face ripple to ‘normal’ Azura, if she could call it that. Wetness stung her cheeks; hot tears. She guessed weeping must be a djinna occupational hazard. Her blue carpet appeared on the floor, and she knelt on it, head lowered.
“Anahita …I ...didn’t know it could be like this …I didn’t know…”
You have done so very well, my butterfly, but there are others, so many who need you.
Once again, Azura’s carpet rose with her, and disappeared.
March 5th 5:15pm Jacob’s house
“I still can’t believe you are 100% cancer free," Rachel called from Jacob’s kitchen. "You’re sure you're okay?”
It did happen, right? I wished it, didn't I?
Rachel felt she needed to be around Jacob to prove it. She desperately needed to talk with Nate about everything that happened.
I want to talk to him so badly.
She was busy scrounging for a flower vase. There were plenty of empties to choose from; Rachel was a florist and had over the course of Jacob's illness, brought dozens of flowers in vases to his house. Today, after she slept for 4 or 5 hours, she had driven to her floral shop to put together a bouquet of pink and white alstroemerias for him.
“Yes, for the millionth time, yes,” Jacob huffed, as he walked inside. He'd stepped out to empty his stuffed mailbox. He tossed his keys on his entryway table, shuffled into the living room and kafummphed onto his couch. Within moments, images from the latest NCIS marathon flashed on the flat screen.
When Rachel brought the stunning arrangement into his living room, Jacob suppressed a whiny growl. Rachel heard it, though.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“It’s …they’re so …um …I'm not a big a fan of flowers.”
“Not a big fan of… but I’ve …brought you dozens of bouquets during your illness, and you never complained,” Rachel said. "I thought you liked my arrangements."
“Oh, I do, I do, babe. Sorry. Never mind.”
“No!” Something rubbed wrong here. Rachel slammed the vase on the coffee table, sloshing water drops onto the polished cherrywood surface. “I want to know what you mean.”
“Fine,” Jacob muted the show and turned to her. “I’ll tell you. Over the last months, while I was undergoing the treatments? It seemed like …you wanted me to be sick. You wanted a reason to mother me. I was your good deed, your charity case.”
“WHAT?” Rachel was glad she had no longer held the vase; if she had, she would have dropped it. “That’s a horrible thing to say.”
Jacob shrugged, and unmuted the TV.
“That’s it? You dump that on me, and turn back to your stupid show? Nate was right about you.”
“Ahhh, your imaginary friend,” Jacob snickered. “Is he a giant bunny, too? Babe, I think you've spent too much time in my hospital room, and not nearly enough in your own bed. I’m really starting to worry about you. Sleep deprivation can lead to all sorts of hallucinations. ”
“Wait, what? You have this …miracle happen and …and all you do is watch NCIS? Don’t you think your amazing recovery means life has more in store for you than a couch potato career? That you might have a duty to give back some of this life gift you’ve received? You could help other terminally ill people and-”
“-But don’t you get it?" Jacob blinked at his girlfriend. "For the past year, I’ve been living under a death sentence. Now? I want live , okay? L-i-v-e! I've paid my dues. Time to collect some well-earned rewards."
Rachel couldn't believe what she was hearing. So many people would do anything to be blessed with the gift Jacob was given. Now he wanted payback?
Nate would understand, he would know exactly what I meant. Rachel felt her eyes tearing. Except …he doesn’t exist, apparently. But he must! Where are you, Nate?
She had no explanation for his disappearance. It was the damnedest thing. No one remembered him. No one. Except her.
At first she thought it was a vast practical joke, but it quickly became clear something else was going on. Phone number gone from her cell. Zero Nate texts. Nada from him in her email inbox. And his Facebook page was MIA. She even Googled his name, 'Nathan D’anahita', and came up with nothing. How could she call the police with those facts? It was as if he had never lived.
But she knew he had. And she missed him.
Even though she had been ending things with him before ‘the wish’, suddenly, she had this incredible longing to be held in his arms again the way he did before she turned to Jacob.
“Rachel?” Jacob’s voice roused her from the tangent she’d been chasing.
“We've never known each other outside of our rolls as tragic terminally ill boy, and Mother Teresa girl,” he wouldn't, couldn’t look Rachel in her eyes. "Maybe we should back off, have a time out. Take a break. I’d like to see what it’s like to live life again. I deserve it.”
What?? After all that's happened, he wants a ‘time out?’
Numbed, Rachel didn't speak a word. She grabbed her purse, dug out her keys, and left.
"Finally!" Jacob jumped up from his couch and hurried to his computer to turn it on. After a few moments and mouse clicks he did a fist pump.
The thing was, Jacob had not been asleep when Rachel visited last in the hospital. He'd pretend to be, hoping that if she found him asleep, she wouldn’t stay. His memory was fuzzy on who was first with Rachel, but he clearly remembered her saying 'I wish Jacob was cured of cancer.' And then this hot little thing dressed in a harem girl's outfit said 'your wish is granted.' Blue electric bolts shot from her into him -Ka-wham!- . And then.... cancer gone! By magic. He felt it.
An honest to God wish-granting genie!
The other thing was, he had not stepped out to get the mail a few minutes ago when Rachel was doing her Floral Nightingale thing in his kitchen. Well, he got his mail, yes, but the reason he stepped out was to plant a tracking device on her Volvo. Now he was following her perfectly on his computer. He was betting sooner or later Rachel would lead him to the little wish granter. When she did, he would pay her a nice friendly visit.
"Don't get me wrong, Rachel, I appreciate what you did for me. I really do. I'll thank you by letting you serve me in my harem."
Jacob thought a few moments and then amended his statement.
"Well, as long as you use that mouth of yours for things other than talking."
From the moment he had been magically healed, Jacob had been researching. Planning. In all the genie tales he googled, people always screwed up their wishes. Not him; he was smarter. He knew exactly how he would take control of the sexy genie in blue. Time to collect.
March 5th 5:55 pm Azura’s apartment
Azura blew out a weary sigh as the blue sparkles faded, and she saw her furniture surrounded her again.
“Home again, home again, jiggety jig.”
After her first trip this morning, the rest of her magic carpet ride destinations were in the 21st century timeline. But that didn’t make the wishes asked of her any less difficult to grant. In fact, Hayyim’s was the second easiest wish she granted that day.
The whispers of desire buzzed in Azura’s ears still.
She tried as hard as she could to grant as many as she could…
But sometimes, she wondered if she did more harm than good…
…to be pain free…
This was not a hard wish to grant; she could sense the deformity or disease and remove it. It depressed her, though, to learn how much pain people labored under, and how often this was a wisher’s most ardent desire. Where she struggled was with people who yearned for the removal of their pain, but suffered no physical ailment. How did she grant their wishes?
…a child of my own…
She couldn’t conjure a baby from thin air; djinnas were bound by the first law of thermodynamics after all. What she could do was pave the way for the wisher to adopt a child, but …should she? Was the wisher fit to be responsible for another living being?
…to find my true love…
Azura could help them find a partner; she was learning loneliness brought people together very often through sheer expediency, but was it love? What did that even mean? And could it change over time? After all, one’s “true love” of today, could be their hated ex tomorrow. What was real love?
“My love for Rachel was.”
Emphasis on ‘was.’ She loves him not me. Hell, she might not even know I exist.
Azura tried not to dwell on it; every time she did, her eyes teared. Since her transformation, wetness came easily to her eyes. So instead, she forced herself to think of the easiest wish she granted today. That brought a smile to her lips.
to find my slippers because my feet are cold…
That wish was granted!
Azura heard a knock at her door. A quick glance to her blue wall clock told her it was 6:00 PM.
6:00 o'clock? Already?
The day had flown by, and she tried to remember if she had eaten. She was famished! At last she understood why Zazu shoveled food into her mouth when they ate together. Another knock -louder this time- reminded her someone waited on the other side.
Looking down, she realized she wore her blue silk 'genie' pants, blouse, and assorted silver bracelets on her wrists and ankles. She almost hated to take them off; the rub of the smooth fabric felt good against her olive skin.
Mmmm, I could get used to that, but ...Wait! I can't go to the door like this!
*Relax, djinna noob, it is only I, your beloved sister, bearing sustinence.*
Azura scampered to the door. Only after throwing it open did she learn Zazu was not alone. Robert stood behind her, holding two extra-large boxes of pizza in one hand and a six pack in his other.
Yet another problem to deal with. He and Nathan had been close friends, but now she was Azura, was that friendship gone? How would Robert react to her now? Azura’s voice grew timid.
Azura's eyes did a quick downward sweep, hoping her 'new chest' wasn't too prominent. But no! Her silk blouse highlighted her assets. She felt her cheeks redden.
Zazu let out a snort. "Rookie mistake. Think 'normal' clothes and they change."
When Azura did, her clothes shimmered, and she found she wore a blue sundress that matched Zazu's red.
"Hey! I wanted sweats not a dress!-"
Zazu shoved a stack of magazines into her sister’s arms, recent issues of Elle, Vogue, and other fashion publications.
"W-what are all these?"
“Homework.” Zazu placed a hand on her hip. "Read them, study them, articles yes, but especially the ads. Memorize. Outfits. Heels. Makeup. Hair styles. Everything."
"But why?" Azura pouted.
"Because the sum total of your fashion imagination cannot be a harem silks, a sun dress, and sweats."
"But I don't wanna learn-"
"-Nathan! Focus, bud.” Robert snapped his fingers. “I hold piping hot 23rd Street Pizza that is getting cold and a six of Sam Adams that is warming up. And -since your new job has caused you to develop amnesia- the Duke - NC game started two minutes ago."
"Shit! Duke-NC is on now?" Azura stepped aside and waved her twin sister and brother-in-law in. "I completely forgot ...wait ...you know I was Nathan?"
"Yeah, I know."
Robert followed Zazu in, dropping the pizza boxes on Azura's kitchen countertop. He turned back to face the world’s newest djinna.
"And ...I don't know what to say. Honestly, Azura? 'I'm sorry', is in order, sure, but congratulations may be too, because this amazing thing happened to you. So I don't know what the right words are, other than to say, I'm here for you, whenever you need me."
Azura shot a disbelieving look to her sister, who nodded, smiling. "I was only going to drop in to see how you were. It was Robert who insisted we come bearing gifts and spend the evening with you."
Zazu added through their connection: *and now you know why I love this man so*
Azura’s eyes teared again, but she didn't care. And when Robert pulled her in for a hug, it didn't feel too weird to let out a sigh and lean on him.
When Robert moved to the kitchen to rummage for plates and napkins, Zazu pulled Azura aside.
*So how was it, Sis, your first day as a full-fledged djinna?*
*Amazing. Mind twisting. Heart breaking,* Azura answered. *My first jump sent me back to ancient Israel, or Judea. I'm still not sure-"
*-What?* Zazu interrupted, *You time jumped your first job?*
Azura nodded. *And I assumed the likeness of a dying man's wife ...it was his last wish ...and when he died, he was so happy ...and I ...I ...Zazu I never knew it could...*
She stopped; she was still too close, and couldn't think of Hayyim without weeping from the sorrow and joy of it.
"Oh sweetie," Zazu said, wiping away her sister's tears. "I can’t begin to know how hard being changed the way you were is, but -confession time- selfishly, I'm kinda glad you were, because now I have someone to talk to."
Azura started to get angry at Zazu for what she'd said, but as she thought it through, she realized her sister was telling her something else. She was describing her pain. Azura was almost afraid to ask the next question.
*Zazu? What happened to you today?
*A wish pulled me to Mexico. A mother. Both of her sons were murdered by a drug cartel on the same day, and she wished-*
*-they were still alive,* Azura finished for her.
*And we can't do that-*
*-What did you do?* Azura asked.
*I gave her the ability to relive her memories of her sons anytime she wished, but it wasn't enough.*
Zazu let out a long weary sigh, and whispered. "Mother wishes are the strongest on earth."
Azura didn't know what to say; she leaned to her sister so their foreheads touched, willing comfort to her.
"Hey?" Robert gently called. "There are beers here for you both; you sound like you need them. Or, there will be beers, if Azura will tell me where the bottle opener is. I've looked everywhere for the damned thing; don't make me wish for it."
The djinnas laughed, and moved to the kitchen to help. Soon the three were ensconced on Azura's oversized blue couch. The game blared with Dickie V’s voice, pizza was chewed and beer was guzzled in mass quantities. And while the world was far from right for Azura, at that moment it didn't feel wrong either.
After North Carolina hit another three-pointer, Robert growled. "I despise the Tar Heels almost as much as I loathe Duke. I wish there was a way both teams could lose."
A smile curled on Azura's lip.
"Your wish is-"
"-NO!" Zazu shrieked. "You cannot do that."
"Dammit!" Azura and Robert shouted in unison.
March 6th 2:20am Rachel’s apartment
Rachel stared at her ceiling. And stared. And stared.
She didn't bother turning to look at her clock. It would show 2:23 AM. Exactly three minutes since she last looked. She. could. not. sleep.
“Nothing makes sense.”
It didn't bother her that she was talking to herself. She had been doing that a lot since Jacob's “miracle.”
“Which was followed almost instantly with Jacob's “taking a break”. She made bunny ear quotes in the dark.
That didn't bother her nearly as much as she expected. What did were her last conversations with Nathan, the man who doesn't exist and never will.
Rachel rewound the conversation in her head like an old tape recorder, over and over again. Stop. Rewind. Play:
'I'm so sorry, but .... I love Jacob and not you, and I can't stand to see him fade away like this-'
“Idiot!” Her tears burned hot in her eyes. She smacked her with her palm. Again.
“How could I have been so wrong?”
Bitter irony gnawed away at her, because it was Nathan, not Jacob who faded away... poof.
Rachel shouted a fierce growl at the dark. She would not let their memories fade. The things they’d done. So she listed the things in her head this man who didn't exist had done with her.
When she babbled on about how she wanted to do more for the world than earn money, marry and make babies, he didn't roll his eyes or mansplain why that wasn't practical. Nathan listened, and asked questions like, “how would you change the world if you magically could?” They once talked until the sunrise about her ideas for starting a food bank in lower downtown.
He was so inventive.
He would plan their dates days in advance to the last detail. Nathan loved showing and sharing his passions - eclectic art museums, spicy hot Brazilian cafes, everything. He told her he was “an average guy” but thinking back, he was anything but. Never once did she feel their dates were a ploy to get into her panties, but when he finally did, it was sooo deliciously and erotically satisfying.
He was stubborn.
Early in their relationship, Nathan told her he loved her, he felt it. And he never wavered, even when she drifted away to she spend her time helping Jacob through his illness.
“He was dead right about Jacob too.”
Except... there was no Nathan.
“No, dammit no!”
Rachel sprang from her bed, threw on her sweats and running shoes and grabbed her car keys. She didn't care what Azura told her, she was going to the place she knew he had lived, to the place she and Nathan made love. And she was going to get answers.
March 6th 3:58am Azura’s apartment
Azura padded to the door; some idiot was pounding it like they wanted to knock it down. She wished now she'd gone to bottle instead of going to bed.
“Can't grant my own wishes.”
Azura wondered who would be beating down her door in the middle of the night. She wasn't scared; Anahita had not left her djinnas defenseless. They could use their fullest powers to defend themselves. Azura had only begun to figure out what she was capable of, but what she'd learned scared the piss out of her. She and her sisters were by far the baddest things on the planet. Which didn’t exactly jibe with the high squeak Azura made after she opened the door.
Rachel pushed past the smaller woman, walking to the overstuffed blue couch and defiantly plopping down.
“We need to talk.”
“It's four in the morning!”
“Answers. Now,” Rachel said, her arms crossed. She laser-locked her eyes on Azura, who had drifted near her. “Where is Nathan?”
Azura bit her lower lip. “I told you, there is no Nathan, Rach-”
“-fucking hell! I am so tired of people telling me that I could-”
“-but it's true…” Azura stammered, “...there is no Nathan.”
“BZZZZZZZ. Wrong answer! Not true!!” Rachel was one click on the anger meter away from going postal. “God how I wish ONE PERSON would tell me what happened to Nathan.”
Power surged in Azure's body, and before she could stop them, the words came out:
“Your wish is granted.”
It had been, what, five minutes? since Azura finished talking and Rachel hadn't uttered a peep. Her mouth just hung open.
"Do you need a drink? Cuz if you wish it I can make it appear."
"Noooooo", Rachel replied.
"Kay, sorry," Azura said, "With your mouth open like that for so long I thought you might be getting dry, or-"
"No! I mean yes, I need a drink really badly right now. I was saying ' noooo' because I'm floored you're Nate, that my wish did this to you."
Azura twirled a strand of her black hair in her fingers. Day two after her transformation and she'd already picked up a nervous tick.
"Um, you actually have to say it as a wish, Rach."
"What?" Rachel blinked several moments before it clicked. "Oh! I wish I had a Vodka tonic, extra strong."
"Your wish is granted."
A highball glass instantly appeared in Azura's hand. When she passed it to Rachel, Rachel's mouth flopped open again.
"Now you must tilt the glass and pour the liquid in," Azura giggled.
Rachel's mouth closed and a smile crept across her face. "You really are Nate, aren't you?"
"Was, Rachel, was” Azura answered, unable to hide her bitterness.
Rachel set her glass down on Azura's blue glass coffee table, jumped up and threw her arms around the smaller woman. Azura didn’t hug her back.
"Can this be reversed?"
"No," was Azura's soft reply,
"What do we do next?"
"We? There is no ‘we’,” Azura said, pulling away. “You broke up with Nathan to be with Jacob. You made the wish that changed me. There can never be an ‘Azura’ and ‘Rachel,’ for obvious reasons. You and Jacob should, ya know, be a couple, get married, have 2.5 kids in your happy ever after.”
“I know how angry you must be with me-” Rachel said, not actually sure how angry Azura was; she couldn’t read the exotic beauty at all. “But I can tell you now ‘Jacob and me’ won’t be happening… ever.”
“Never say never,” Jacob said, as he strolled in from the hallway having caught the last of Rachel's sentence. “If I’m correct in my thinking, in just a few minutes you’ll have a completely different view.”
Both women jumped at the sound of his voice. Rachel moved to confront the man who had walked uninvited into Azura's apartment. She crossed her arms again.
"What are you doing here?"
"Why, following you, of course, to our genie. Can’t believe you’ve been hogging her all to yourself; how selfish."
Rachel’s eyebrow arched; Jacob knew genies were real? She read the look on Jacob’s face and did not like what she saw. “I think you shouldn’t be here.”
“Awww. It hurts me to hear you say things like that. I wish you wouldn't," Jacob said, then smiled, “In fact, I wish you couldn't speak at all."
Your wish is granted
Rachel's mouth clamped shut, and her eyes grew wide in panic when she realized she couldn't open her mouth.
"Excellent!” Jacob's smile quickly dialed to creepy grin when he saw his wish worked. “Now, I wish you would sit on the couch and stay there."
"Your wish is granted"
Rachel struggled and strained, but her legs walked her straight to the couch and dumped her on it.
"Holy shit! You have to grant me anything I want, don't you?"
"Please sir, I beg you,” Azura’s voice sounded scared and helpless. She lowered herself to her knees. "Undue the wishes you made about Rachel."
"Soon, my little genie. But then I will replace them with other better wishes." Jacob ran his eyes over Rachel's body. "Oh, you're pretty, my dear, but I've a few improvements in mind. A couple of enhancements for starters."
The panic in Rachel's eyes turned to fear. Which made Jacob chuckle.
"Don't worry, you'll love them. You won't have a choice," he said, and glanced back at Azura. "Where to begin, where to begin? Oh! I know! Put on that... no wait, must be in the form of a wish, yes? I wish you would wear the sexy outfit you were wearing at the hospital."
Your wish is granted
Azura's cloths rippled in a flash, leaving her in revealing blue silks. Her cheeks reddened as she felt his eyes groping her body, lingering on her breasts.
"Nice!" Jacob said, licking his lips. "Tell me, little genie, do I have any limitations on my wishes?"
"Yes Master.” Azura answered sweetly. “For example, you cannot wish for all the money in the world, because then the world's economy would crash and your money would be worthless."
"Oh," Jacob frowned, "That makes sense. Give me more examples like that. I’m not stupid; I don’t want to mess my wishes up. Which wishes work best?"
"Very wise of you to ask, honored Master. Ones that don't draw attention work best. Wishes for good health, or to be stronger, or irresistible to the other sex, or wishing good health to loved ones, or-"
"-Fuck that, let them get their own genie." Jacob growled. Then he thought a moment. "Wait, I did like some of those."
He looked directly at Azura and gave her a deadly smile. "I wish I was irresistible to women."
Azura gave Jacob a deadly smile right back. Your wish is granted
Blue energy sizzled from her fingers into Jacob; he disappeared, and in his place whined the cutest corgi puppy in the world.
*Wish clean up on isle six*
*Be right there. Robert is finishing his coffee. So it worked?*
*Exactly the way you said it would, Zazu*
*They fall for that every single time. See you in a few.*
"Yip yip yip"
"Hush Jacob," Azura said, scratching the brown and white pup under his chin. She looked over at the still wide-eyed Rachel. "I bet you wish his wishes for you were undone."
After Rachel's eager head bob, Azura said: Your wish is granted
"That miserable piece of shit!" Rachel shouted as she jumped up.
When the pup whimpered, Azura gently held his face in her hands and said in a baby voice: "Who's a cute wittle miserable piece of shit? Who's a cute wittle miserable piece of shit? Jacob is, right wittle puppy?"
"Woof", the pup answered and wagged its tail nub.
"So you have to grant any wish any asshole makes? That's horrible!"
"I'm still so new to this whole thing," Azura's voice trailed off. "But... I do know I can't make a wish that will harm someone. I think I was able to grant his wishes for you because, you probably learned something beneficial."
Anger still fumed in Rachel's eyes. "All I learned is what a horrible person Jacob is."
"Yes, imagine that." Anger flashed in Azura's eyes too.
"What do you mean by that?"
As Azura shook her head and looked away; Rachel was finally starting to understand the depth of Azura's anger.
"Wait! Azura! Nathan! Talk to me. How was I to know my wish would do this? I was wrong, okay? So very wrong. Let’s fix this. I wish you were Nate again. Please come back to me!”
“Doesn’t work that way. I wasn’t lying, Nathan is gone, forever. But hey, you shouldn’t go away empty handed; no one’s a loser when there is a genie around.” She handed Rachel the squirmy corgi. “Enjoy your life together. Make sure he gets his shots. I’d have him spayed too. Just say’in.”
Jacob whimpered and leaped from Rachel’s hands when Azura’s door opened again.
-Heya genies and girls! Erm, and dog. Why the long faces? Evil was defeated, yes?”
The pup bounded over to Zazu and Robert as they entered, greeting them with an adorable 'woof'. Zazu's djinna wrist bangles chimed when she knelt and petted him.
Azura glare turned to smile when she saw her sister and Robert. She stepped in front of Zazu and bowed formally. “I greet thee, Azara Zuleika D'anahita and Robert Edward Thornton, Esquire. Welcome to this djinna’s humble abode.”
Zazu bowed an automatic response. “I thank thee, Azura Parvaneh D'anahita , we are honored to be your guests.” Then she rolled her eyes. "Someone's feeling their djinna oats. You played it like I told you?"
“Oh yeah, it was so cool,” Azura laughed. “I acted all meek and stuff and even threw in your ‘honored Master’ line. The moron ate it up!”
Zazu and Azura broke into an ad hock belly dance, giggling and bumping hips instead of fists.
"*ahem* Much as I hate to interrupt the djinna equivalent of an end zone celebration, can we make this fast?" Robert said picking Jacob up and sitting down on the couch with the licking pooch in his lap. "I'm arguing in front of Judge Malley in a few hours and need to be ready."
"Make what fast?" Rachel said. “…and hello?”
"Oh! Hiya Rach. Sorry to rush. We need to sort Jacob out permanently," Zazu said, as she grabbed a pad and pen off Azura's blue-washed writer's desk. She walked to Robert and exchanged them with him for Jacob.
"And Robert is here because..." Rachel's face conveyed how confused she remained.
"Because he's a professional wish maker; he's the best," Azura said, looking fondly at her brother-in-law.
"It's nice of you to say, Azura, but I'm just okay," Robert said, blushing, but smiling, too.
"Oh no no! No misplaced modesty here, Master,” Zazu said proudly, as she walked behind the couch to rub his shoulders. "He's the best wisher since King Solomon. We all say so."
*Even better when you consider his other assets* Then, with a sly grin, Zazu shared images of Robert with Azura.
Which turned Azura's cheeks bright red *TMI! TMI! Some things can never be unseen!*
*C'mon, you're my sister now. We share these things now. Admit it.*
In spite of her embarrassment, and her completely confused gender orientation, Azura smiled; this was a new level of intimacy she shared with her sister and it warmed her.
*He is rather, erm, endowed. That's just him? Not something wished for?*
*Ha! All Bobby, baby*
"Nate? I mean, A-zura?" Rachel said. "Why are you blushing?"
Robert paused his scribbling to glance at Azura and then at a grinning Zazu. "I suspect our genies are having a private conversation. Girls, please stop, it's rude."
"Yes Master," they answered in stereo.
"I am not your Master, Azura."
"No, but you are my Master-in-law," answered Azura with a giggle.
"Master-in-" Robert shook his head in defeat. "Moving on, I assume none of you wish to see Jacob again once we restore him to human form."
Three heads shook "no" in unison,
"And you don't want him making any further wishes, with any djinna, anywhere."
"You got that right," Rachel answered with heat, as she remembered what he'd wished for, and was going to wish for.
"Nor, do you want any 3rd party making any wishes on his behalf, correct?"
Azura blinked. "No, that would be just as bad. I hadn't even thought about that."
*See what I mean?* Zazu smiled proudly.
*So which is mightier, his pen or his sword?*
It was Zazu's turn to blush. *Now you're getting into the spirit. We are going to have so much fun, sister!*
Azura smiled back, genuinely happy at their closeness. *Yes, we are!*
“So I'm going to construct this like a restraining order, activating certain punishments for Jacob if he contacts any of us, or if he knowingly comes within a hundred yards of us. I'll also build a teleportation trigger if he comes within 50 feet of us, knowingly or not."
All three answered with an awed "wow", the kind people make when they are watching a true artist at work. Robert cleared his throat.
“Blessed Djinna Azara Zuleika D’anahita, by immaculate Anahita, I am going to make a series of following wishes. I wish that you will not implement those wishes, until I wish my last wish, which I shall designate as 'final wish’. Once I wish the final wish, I wish for you to implement all wishes concurrently.”
Your wish is granted
“I know how busy he is,” Azura said, closing the door. “It was great of Robert to take the time this morning to help. That wish was awesome!”
Robert hadn’t actually left by Azura’s front door, but rather had wished himself back to his house so he could get ready for his motion docket appearance in a few hours. But since the day had already seen several people waltzing in, and it was still only 5:15am, Azura wanted to make sure her door was closed and bolted shut.
“Right?” Zazu answered. “He’s made even more amazing ones. He worries for you, sweetie. I couldn’t keep him away.”
“I really need his support now,” Azura said softly as she smiled at Zazu. *And you know how I feel about you.*
“So, um, where does that leave us?” Rachel said, feeling slightly awkward. “So much to take in. I want to try to help you too. We should talk.”
“You know what?” Azura said, crossing her arms. “Let's not.”
Azura walked over to the alcove that held her bottle and nodded to Zazu.
*I’m going to bottle before I ask Anahita to send me out again in a few hours. See you tonight, Sis. Thanks for being there for me*
*Always. Joyous dancing.*
Rachel's eyes widened yet again when Azura's body spun to blue smoke that was sucked into the bottle.
“W-where did she go?” Rachel looked into the now empty bottle and then around it too. “Why did she leave me like that? Is she hiding from me? Why?”
“Hiding from you?” Zazu laughed. “Honey, not only has Azura left the building, she's left this entire plane of existence. If you haven't already guessed, she's pissed at you something terrible.”
“Yeah, I'm figuring that out. I feel horrible about causing this. But Zazu, be fair, how could I have known any of this would happen? Was it so wrong of me to try to save a man's life?”
“Fair, hm? You want me to be fair? Fine. Let's be fair. Was it fair for you to dump Nathan for Jacob?”
Rachel wincd. “No, I see that clearly now, but Jacob was sick with cancer-”
“-yes, Jacob’s cancer. Was it fair for you to use Nate the way you did? Invite him to the hospital, string him along?” Zazu was just warming up. Her eyes even started to glow red. “You knew he didn't like Jacob. You knew he was desperate not lose you. He went with you even though it was the very last thing he wanted to do. And all along you intended to use him. Was that fair?”
Rachel hung her head. “No, when you put it like that, but I needed him to wish-”
“-mmhm, ‘the wish’. Was it fair, knowing magic existed, because you watched me undo people dying in a fucking fire, and even though Nathan was pleading with you to stop, telling you he was scared something bad would happen, you went ahead and made the wish? Was that fair?”
“No,” Rachel’s voice was soft. “Not fair.”
“Do you have any idea how she is coping? Have you even asked?”
“I didn't have time to... I mean I just learned that...” Rachel couldn't even look at Zazu anymore. She stared at the empty bottle and asked softly. “How is she doing?”
“Do you really want to know? Do you wish it?”
Rachel nodded her head very slowly. “I wish I knew how Azura was doing since ...um...my wish changed her.
Zazu smiled. “So many things to choose from. Should I show you the bittersweet images of my sister coming to terms with her new body? Or maybe I should give you a glimpse into her new life as a genie, struggling so hard to mend the lives of broken and hurting people?”
“I ...I guess so. Yes. Let me see that.”
“I could, yes.” Zazu's smile turned nearly evil. “But you hurt MY brother, and I'm pissed at you too. So I'm going to be cruel and show you... no, let you feel, the way Azura's heart is hurting. After you visited here yesterday, she broke down. Ready for it? This is what she was feeling that moment. Your wish is granted”
The sadness and pain from the tearing of Azura's heart physically hit Rachel as a wave. She clutched her chest as tears instantly filled her eyes. The body racking sob convulsions quickly followed.
Zazu said she would be cruel, but she couldn't keep the act going for long; she was as tender-hearted as Azura and could not bear to watch suffering in others. She waved her hand and the pain disappeared.
“That was only15 seconds of what she is feeling,” Zazu sadly.
“That's horrible! Why? Why does she hurt so much?”
“Don't you know?” Zazu answered, shaking her head. “It's because she loves you so much.”
“Please please please,” Rachel grabbed Zazu's arm, clutching it tight. “What can I do to help her? I'll do anything!”
“What you need to do,” Zazu growled, “Is get the hell out of her life. Let her get over this! The last thing she needs is to have you around her, constantly ripping open her heart over what can't be.”
Rachel's mind was still reeling from the intensity of Azura's pain. Nathan had loved her so much it was staggering. She chose Jacob over him? She was so monumentally angry with herself for screwing that up she wanted to die!
“But … I don't want to be out of her life. Please don't make me! I'll do anything you say.”
Zazu was quiet a long time before she spoke. “I don't want to tell you to do anything. What I will say is this; I will not allow my sister to be hurt anymore. Now, I want you to tell me what you are willing to do to be in her life. Go home, Rachel, and think hard. Have no contact with Azura for one week. After that, we'll talk.”
Rachel frowned. “And what if you don't like what I've come up with?”
“Then, you leave Azura's life, forever. I'll have Robert wish it in the most ironclad of terms. And you know what he can do. That's the deal.”
March 13th 6pm Bud’s Burgers
Rachel didn't like the frown on Zazu's face as she read Rachel's proposal. “Let me explain...”
“I mean, as intriguing as this is, it's only two sentences. You spent a week and this is all you came up with?” Zazu said as she passed the paper to Robert.
“Please, hear me out,” Rachel said. “I came up with much much more. Pages and pages more, volumes even. Of how I would help her and be there for her. Of how much Nathan meant to me, and how deeply and profoundly sorry I am for what happened. But in the end, everything was words. It is so important I show you I’m more than words.”
“But,” Zazu puzzled over what Rachel had given her, “these are just two wishes. Technically, they go together as one-”
“-Which I would like you to grant whether you allow me to be in her life or not.”
Zazu and Robert gave a stunned “oh!” simultaneously, as the implications of what Rachel proposed dawned on them.
“You've fully considered the risks of this is, right,” Robert asked, his voice full of worry. “I don't think there are any guarantees, and the way you've written it is for life. This seems extreme. Potentially, it could be a long life of loneliness.”
“I’m willing to risk it,” Rachel answered, and looked Zazu directly in the eye. “Azura will be as she is for the rest of her life. She wasn't given a choice. I think this only fair.”
“This is for keeps, Rachel,” Zazu reached across their booth table and grabbed Rachel's hands. “Are. You. Sure.”
“I’ve thought about nothing else for seven days,” Rachel answered without hesitation.
“Your wish is granted”
Nothing spectacular happened, no red energy bolts flew from Zazu, but after several moments, Rachel’s face took on a funny look, the kind you get when you figure out what an old saying actually means for the first time.
“Um.... shouldn't you... call her or something to ask her to …come here?”
“Already have, sweetie. She's on her way and will be here in a few.”
“Oh! Be right back,” Rachel said jumping up from the booth seat. “Gotta grab something out of my car.”
“Is this going to turn out alright?” Robert said as he watched Rachel hurry out the door.
“I think so,” Zazu said, as she identically mimicked a tick of Azura’s, absently twirling a crimson strand of her hair.
“But you don’t know so,” Robert asked. Before Zazu could answer, Rachel returned and sat back down, carefully placing a large white cardboard box on the table.
Moments later, Azura arrived.
Zazu smiled. Her sis had been doing her homework; she was wearing a cute blue floral Mallory dress and blue suede ankle boots. She had even applied light blue eye shadow and soft red matte lipstick.
Robert blinked; with his duel memories of Nathan and Azura, he still wasn’t used to seeing an exact copy of his gorgeous lover in blue.
Rachel gave a soft gasp. She was amazed at how the exotic beauty lit up the place, and it didn’t escape her that heads turned and eyes stared when she entered. She was a mix of emotions – fearful about how Azura would react to what she had done, but now there was an itch too, a hunger in her body for the little djinna.
Azura sat next to Rachel and looked at her. “You wanted to see me?” Her voice was cool, but not angry.
“Rachel asked me to grant her this, which I did.” Zazu slid the paper over to Azura.
Azura’s calm quickly evaporated as conflicting feelings raced across her face, shock, anger, and …something that made her eyes glisten.
“This …you did this??? You wished to be …sexually attracted to me, and to not be attracted to any other person in the world?” Azura’s eyes flashed. “So not smart! Arrrghh!!! Do you realize you could have been alone for the rest of your life? So very unsmart.”
“I did this to you. I was unthinking. Uncaring. Everything I said you were? It turns out that was me instead. And I wanted to show you how much I loved you. How much I…” Rachel’s voice trailed off as she considered the way Azura worded her answer. “Wait, you said ‘could have been’. Does that mean, I won’t be?”
Azura looked at her with such longing it made Rachel’s throat tighten. “Stop, don’t answer. I have something for you.”
She carefully opened the white box and lifted a clear glass bowl filled with water. In it floated a single flower with brilliant petals so vibrant they radiated blue.
“I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as this,” Azura whispered in awe. To be honest, she had been jealous of how Rachel spent her time arranging bouquets at her shop to give to Jacob. The compassion she brought in creating them. But in the dozens of arrangements Rachel had given to Jacob, Azura had never seen anything approaching this wondrous jewel. “What is it?”
“An Egyptian blue lotus. I found a place outside of Cairo that grows the most beautiful ones in the world, and I had this air shipped.”
Rachel took Azura’s shaking hands in her own. “For the ancient Egyptians, the lotus signified rebirth. I give this to you, to honor your amazing rebirth, and… I hope … to mark the rebirth of our love… if you’ll forgive me…”
Robert didn’t need to be able to read Azura’s mind to know what was coming. He leaned to Zazu and whispered “I wish I had a box of Kleenex.”
“Your wish is granted” Zazu whispered back, and pushed the box that materialized over to Rachel. Just in time, too.
“Yes yes yes to everything, yes,” Azura said, and burst into tears.
Tears brimmed in Rachel’s eyes too, and she pulled Azura to her chest and held her, stroking her soft raven hair.
Dora, their waitress, chose that moment to arrive and take their order. She gulped when she saw the emotional waterworks happening and started to back away. “Why don’t I give you a few more minutes to- ”
“Wait!” the four of them said in panicked unison. It was an intimate moment, yes, but they weren’t fools; getting a waitress to take an order at Bud’s sometimes took divine intervention. Actually, Robert had wished for that in the past. Twice.
“We know what we want,” Robert said. “Four #1s, make two of those onion rings instead of fries, and for the drinks that come with it, um, cokes for everyone.”
“Coming right up, hun,” Dora said as she scribbled the orders on her pad and retreated so fast it had all of them laughing.
An awkward, but not unpleasant silence fell over the group, with Azura still in Rachel’s arms and Zazu leaning her head on Robert’s shoulder. Robert thought this might be as good a time as any to air some thoughts, and cleared his throat.
“It’s obvious the four of us will be spending a lot of time together. Let me share a few thoughts I’ve been having. Rachel, every day I watch my wife go to the far corners of the world to try to help people, make their lives better, ease their suffering. Every night, she returns weary and worn; she gives it her all. I’m so proud of her, but I also worry for her. Now Azura does this too.”
Rachel nodded, wondering where Robert was going with this. She definitely planned on taking care of her lover, for the rest of her life, but she sensed he was after something more.
“I’ve always wished -no pun intended- I could do more, help her more. An idea I’ve been kicking around has been to start a 501(c)(3) non-profit company, a make-a-wish kinda organization to help terminally ill children, or financially help parents of children with severe illnesses or conditions. Only this time the wishes could be real.”
“Nathan and I used to talk about doing the same sorts of things,” Rachel said, giving Azura’s hand a squeeze. “I really love to help other people, sometimes, erm, to a fault. You know I own a floral shop, right? I’m pretty plugged in to suffering; every day I learn of people who are seriously injured or sick, or families suffering a loss, Robert. ”
“I figured that. So we ought to work together to come up with projects our genies can work on right here at home. Maybe then we can even have lunch with them, once in a while, and…”
*Happy?* Zazu asked her sister as her husband continued to outline his ideas. Zazu knew her lawyer hubby would go on for quite some time, and she thought it an excellent chance to chat with her sister.
*So happy,* Azura answered. Happier than she had ever been.
*Good. You know, at some point you’ll tell her the claiming words.*
*Yes, I will.* Zazu could feel the ‘smile’ of her sister’s soul *Oh, when are you going to tell him?*
*That I’m pregnant?* Zazu asked. *Tonight.*
*He will be over the moon! Take a pic or something, I wanna see the look on his face.*
*Heh! I’ll see what I can do.*
*Zazu? Anahita is pleased with what we are doing do ya think? Cuz it feels right.*
*No one speaks for Anahita but Anahita, so I can’t say for certain, but yes, I bet she is.”
Anahita smiled as she sat upon her marble throne in the divine otherworld. She was very pleased.
Her daughters all worked so hard to ease the suffering of mankind and she loved each dearly. Yet, today’s stress-filled overcrowded mortal world spun more out of control by the day, and even the powerful djinnas were struggling to make a difference.
In fact, her djinnas were ‘going to smoke’ faster now than they ever had. Djinnas were immortal, but not invulnerable. Over time the suffering of mankind wore each down until at some point she would assume her elemental form and never return.
The world’s complex problems grew exponentially, and there were only twelve djinnas in the world now, counting Azura. Azor had ‘gone to smoke’ only a few weeks ago. Maybe a different paradigm was needed; maybe the outreach would be greater if they worked in groups like Rachel and Azura and Azara and Robert were forming. And maybe their support of each other would keep the weariness away longer. Complex problems demanded complex solutions.
Then again, sometimes it’s the simple solutions that still work best to get things moving in the right direction.
Anahita's smile broadened.
Sometimes all that is needed is a well-placed fireball.
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