I'd like to thank papaya_lynne for her editing and suggestions for this story. I'd also like to thank RedHairedAndFriendly for proofing this story. This story is dedicated to anyone who has determined the outcome of a fight by rolling dice. To those of you who have left positive feedback on previous stories: Thank you for your readership and your kind words. To those of you who have left negative feedback on previous stories: Thank you for making me re-evaluate my works through your eyes. Help me make my writing better, and please be respectful.
"Take care of the dishes."
Jodi had long ago identified what bothered her most about her parents. It wasn't the indifference to her activities. It wasn't the crass comments about the people she hung out with. It wasn't the frequent tirades about grades, or chores, or 'dressing like a sack of dirty laundry'. It was the rudeness. She did everything they told her to do, despite their bitching about how it was done when she finished. They never ASKED her to do anything. She was sure that absolutely anything could be done politely. She had worked out polite ways to rob banks, and even kill people. Hell, the Chinese had worked out a polite way to wage war. There was no good reason to be rude about anything. On the upside, unpleasant jobs tended to make these people that fate had made her family leave her alone. As they filed out of the kitchen into the den to watch TV, Jodi reviled in the solitude if not in her task.
She chastised herself for thinking that this beach trip might be fun. The people in her graduating class were undoubtedly taking beach vacations this summer before going off to college. None of them had thought to invite her along. Of course, she would have been surprised if any of them thought of her at all. The only thing that kept this trip from being 'just another house to do housework in' was the occasional trip to a local attraction (i.e. jungle golf, seafood house, or aquarium) where she would be harangued for her lack of participation, and forced to listen to her parents yell at her little brother in public. Her only sanctuary was the beach.
Jodi quickly finished the dishes and walked purposefully out the front door of the rental house. "I'm going for a walk." Her parents said something to her, and then raised their voices when she didn't deign to respond, but she quickly distanced herself from them and went to loose herself in the beginnings of twilight. She needed the ocean. She needed to think.
It was June 22, half way between the end of her senior year of high school and the beginning of her freshman year in college. She was glad to be rid of high school and all those people who defined themselves by what they had, or what their parents did, or who their friends were. The senior prom, as expected, had turned out to be a complete disaster. The greasy geek who had asked her to the dance at the last minute because every other girl in school was taken had been allowed to maul and deflower her because she had decided that she didn't want to go to college a virgin. That had been a monumental mistake. Jodi cursed herself for wasting a tear on the end of her high school career.
College didn't promise to be much better. Severely limited funds and mediocre grades had left commuting from home to the local college and as her only viable option. It sounded a lot like 13th grade to her. The prospects of getting a part-time job that paid enough to get Jodi out of her parent's house were slim at best.
The path she had been following through the dunes had emptied out onto an isolated stretch of beach. She stopped as her thoughts from her walk swirled around her head in a maelstrom, refusing to come together in any kind of sensible pattern. Jodi felt adrift, like life was washing her downstream, and there was nothing she could do about it. She felt like she was drowning.
Drowning. There was a distinct lack of shock as the thought of committing suicide crossed her mind. Jodi rolled the idea around and tried to think of all the good things and all the bad things that might result in her death. She considered it numbly and dispassionately. There was no one else on the beach. She started down toward the water to see if the waves had anything to say on the matter.
Just as she started to move, she heard voices coming from her right. She immediately dropped behind a tangle of driftwood, and then wondered why she had done it. 'I have just as much right to be on the beach as anyone else.' Perhaps it was a guilty reaction to her suicidal thoughts.
The voices caught Jodi's attention again, and soon people started coming into view. They all were wearing bathing suits and were laughing and joking with each other as they made their way down to the surf. The wind and waves ripped their words apart, leaving only the disjointed sounds. There were ten or twelve people, a fairly even mix of men and women, and they formed a circle down near where the water met the beach. It hadn't occurred to Jodi until they circled up that every last one of them had hair that varied in shade from a deeply rusted auburn to an orangish strawberry blonde. The observation was quickly cast aside when they started dancing. They danced a very intricate, lively, formal dance, and they laughed and whooped as they jumped and twirled. Their clothes, mostly bathing suits with wraps for the girls, were mixtures of green and blue, and as the light faded over the dunes, their hair flashed in the waning sunlight like flames flicking at the heads of so many match sticks. She watched them, captivated by their energy, content to let the shadows of the dunes envelop her.
Jodi had no idea how much time had passed when she heard the motor. She turned her head sharply to see what might be coming. The motor was attached to an all-terrain vehicle, complete with beach patrol 'dude' riding along at a break-neck pace. She turned back to see the reaction of the dancers...and they were gone. Disappeared. Jodi peaked around the driftwood she had been sitting behind, leaning out into the footpath to make sure she wasn't missing anything. Just as she could see the beach, the wet, sickening sound that two flesh-covered bones make when they impact each other sent Jodi rolling up the path. Her forehead throbbed and her vision seemed to darken around the edges. She struggled to her hands and knees, as if a firm grip on the world might make it stop spinning.
As the world settled down, she noticed a pair of feet to her left. The person they were attached to was lying face down on the footpath, and not moving. Her instincts pulled her beside the motionless form. The smear of blood on the driftwood beside the path spurred her to grasp his shoulder and roll him onto his back. The welt on his forehead had already begun to blacken and swell. Jodi threw her left leg over his chest and rose to one knee. The injury only bled a little, and went from an inch over his left eye right up to his hair line. His red hair line. He must have been out there among the dancers. He was breathing steadily, but that was about it for her first aid training. As she pondered what else she could do for him, she became aware of something under her left foot. When she moved it, she found she had been stepping on a small black velvet bag with a gold cord to cinch it closed. It had been underneath him when he was lying on his stomach. She picked it up, pocketed it, and moved around to get a better look at his injury. Jodi pulled the sleeve of her sweatshirt over her hand and began to dab away the blood on his forehead. It wasn't a lot, but at least she was doing something.
He started coming around slowly. Jodi stopped trying to clean up his head wound as he moaned in pain. His eyes fluttered and Jodi saw him reach for the waist of his blue swim trunks. Instantly his eyes shot open. He obviously had not found what he was looking for. He spun onto all fours so fast that Jodi jumped back out of the way.
"Where is it?! Where is it?!" He was frantically searching the ground for something.
"Are you looking for this?" Jodi held the little bag by the string. The young man spun around, seeing her for the first time. When he saw the bag, and then looked past it at Jodi, he dropped to the sand and began the exaggerated cry of an infant, complete with flailing his arms and legs. Completely bewildered, Jodi pulled the bag back to her chest and sat back on her heels. His crying lasted long enough for Jodi to become self conscious. She looked around to see if anyone was watching, thus deepening her embarrassment.
Quite suddenly, he stopped crying, sat up, dusted himself off, and looked Jodi resolutely in the eye. "Oy suppose you'll be wantin' the standard payment far returning me gold?" He extended his hand meaningfully.
The thick Irish brogue caught Jodi off guard. She was so enthralled by the lilt of his voice that she forgot about the pouch she held. Jodi jerked as she returned to the moment and placed the velvet bag into his outstretched hand.
"Fine." He tucked the bag securely into his trunks, double-knotting the cord of the bag in the bathing suit's cinch cord. "Whot's yar first wish, then?"
'What? This was insane! This guy could no more grant wishes than she could sprout wings and fly to the moon! He's obviously hit his head. He's probably delusional. But what a nice little delusional world it might be to live in, dancing on the beach with my friends, laughing and jumping. An all I'd have to do to be rid of a problem would be to say,' "I wish I weren't pregnant."
Jodi's eyes shot to the boy as he reacted to her thought. His eyes narrowed dangerously as he leaned into her. Had she accidentally voiced her thought? She couldn't be sure. His reaction said that she had. With his face a few inches from hers, he lifted his right hand and snapped his fingers.
"Aawwgh!" Jodi doubled over in pain. Her gut felt like someone had kicked her, hard. Air refused to enter her lungs and she rolled in agony on the sand. Slowly the pain ebbed and she was able to focus again.
"I'll not take a life lightly, and the only thing preventin' me from taking yar own with that wish is moy extreme respect for the Great Mother. 'Ave a care how ya phrase yar wishes, lassy." He eased back to a sitting position, but the anger didn't leave his face.
Eventually, Jodi was able to return to a seated position beside the footpath. "Whot is yar second wish?"
'Had he really granted her wish? The evidence was circumstantial at best, but it appeared that HE believed he had accomplished the task.' Jodi's thoughts turned to what she might wish for next, and how she would ask for it. It was almost like a riddle, or a puzzle to be solved, and her mind wrestled with the problem, in spite of the fact that this whole idea was stupid. She also looked for something a little more concrete, to definitively prove, one way or another, whether or not this wacko was actually granting wishes.
She sat up strait and, carefully, she said, "I wish for you to make me beautiful."
The boy snapped his fingers...and nothing happened. Jodi looked at herself, and didn't see any changes. "What happened?"
"I now have the ability to make you beautiful." His self-satisfied grin was infuriating.
'Well this was turning out wonderfully! I get three wishes, and a complete asshole to interpret them in the worst possible way! Then again, why should this be any different than the rest of my life? I have no one to talk to, no one to confide in, and no one on my side.' "I wish you were my friend."
Jodi was surprised when the boy snapped his fingers again. Again the thought had slipped out of her mouth unintentionally. The boy's grin was slowly replaced by one of shock. He slowly extended a freckled hand in greeting. "I'm Ian." Jodi took his hand tentatively. "Ya don't have anyone ya consider a friend, do ya?" Jodi shook her head slightly. "Well, ya do now." A worried look crossed Ian's face, like he was about to start a task he didn't want to do. "Ya've done such a fine job o' wisely makin' yar wishes, that I'm prepared to grant you a fourth wish, if ya would like." In complete contradiction to what he had just said, Ian began shaking his head 'no' vehemently.
Jodi studied him for a moment. The look in his eyes and the tone of his voice clearly indicated what he wanted her to do. "That's OK. I'll stick with what I got."
Relief flooded Ian's face. He slowly reached over and moved Jodi's hair out of the way so he could examine the growing bruise on her forehead. "Oy believe that my knee and yar farhead had a wee difference of opinion. Perhaps we should both seek a bit o' medical attention." He rose slowly and was definitely favoring his left leg. Ian extended his hands and helped Jodi to her feet. "Oy'm in a hotel room about half a mile down the beach."
"My family and I are renting a house about 100 yards that way." With the light almost completely gone, they carefully threaded their way back to the beach house. Jodi entered first and headed for the kitchen.
"Who's he?" Jodi was sure that her entrance wouldn't garner any attention, therefore, neither would anyone with her.
"This is Ian. Ian, this is my dad, George Forest, my mom, Sharon, and my brother, Joshua."
"It's Josh." Her brother's tone clearly indicated that he was correcting her, not introducing himself.
"It's a pleasure to meet you." Ian responded with absolutely no accent whatsoever. Jodi looked at him like he'd suddenly grown another head, but said nothing. The Forests had not broken eye contact with the TV, and Ian and Jodi proceeded unmolested into the kitchen. "We need two towels and lots of ice."
"Where did the accent go?" Jodi whispered as she pulled two dishtowels out of the cabinet and began getting ice cubes out of the freezer.
Ian cast a glance at the door to the den, then turned back to Jodi and whispered, "They don't know I'm a Leprechaun."
"You're a WHAT!" Ian almost leaped across the kitchen to clamp his and over Jodi's mouth.
"You know...You don't know." Jodi somehow managed to shake her head with Ian's hand over her mouth. Ian had the good grace to remove it. "You didn't know?"
"Let me guess. You'd have given me back my gold if I had just asked you nicely, wouldn't you." Jodi nodded her head slowly. Ian plopped down in a chair, stunned. "It's sooo inconvenient being an idiot."
Jodi brought two ice packs over and handed one to Ian. He accepted the pack and placed it on his forehead, wincing when it made contact. Jodi stared at him intently. "I thought you guys were supposed to be short."
"I've never been one to hold to stereotypes."
"So," Jodi whispered, "is there really gold in that pouch?"
"Can I see it?"
"I'll show you mine if you show me yours." Jodi reached in her shirt and pulled out a small vial on a chain around her neck. The vile contained two small nuggets of gold. "I got these on a field trip in elementary school. We went to an old gold mine and panned for gold. I found the biggest nugget of anyone that day. The gift shop made them into a necklace for five dollars. I've always kinda thought of it as my good luck charm, although it hasn't been working for me recently." The ice on her forehead was beginning to give her a headache, so she placed it on the table.
Ian looked around again at the doorway to the den, and then untied the velvet bag from the inside of his trunks. Ian evidently felt the need for added security after loosing the pouch to Jodi on the beach. After working on the various knots, the mouth of the bag came open, and Ian poured five large gold coins out in his hand. Jodi had spent hours gazing at the gold nuggets in her necklace, and gold coins in Ian's hand caught the poor light in the kitchen and amplified it in the way that only real gold can. When she looked at Ian's face again, she could see that having his gold exposed to the open air was making him very nervous. "Do me a favor." Jodi slipped her chain over her head and placed her necklace into Ian's hand. "Hold on to my luck for me." Ian's jaw dropped and he stared at Jodi in amazement, until the noise of someone moving around in the den made Ian quickly hide his gold again.
Sharon entered the kitchen and grabbed two beers out of the fridge. "What happened to you two?"
"Ian was having an argument with a piece of driftwood when I ran into him."
"'Looks like the driftwood won." She wandered out without further comment.
They kept the ice on their injuries as long as they could stand it, and did something completely foreign to Jodi; they made small talk. Ian kept Jodi talking about herself, and he listened to what she said. Jodi felt at ease talking to Ian, possibly because she held one of his secrets, and therefore, felt comfortable sharing her own. They looked up when the lights in the den went off. Ian said, "I better get going. What are you doing tomorrow?"
"Nothing I care about."
"Good. I'll come get you about 9:30, OK?" Ian stood up to leave.
"What are we gonna do?"
"I've got to start making you beautiful. Bye." The door closed as Ian limped out the door.
Jodi felt like she had lain in bed looking up at the ceiling all night long. She had, in fact, gotten five hours of sleep in all, but it was a restless sleep. At 8:00, the sound of her family moving around, specifically her little brother screaming at the top of his lungs, pulled her back to consciousness long before she was actually ready to get up.
After a quick shower, breakfast, and the US Recommended Daily Allowance of fighting with each and every member of her immediate family, Jodi flew out the door in time to see Ian coming up from the beach. She emerged from the rental house and ran right past him in order to get as much distance from her family as she could. Ian had to sprint to catch up to her. A quick recap of their injuries was in order, and all the bruises had begun to turn that sick shade of yellow that meant they were on their way to healing.
Jodi looked at the sand as they walked down the beach together. "So...you said you were going to make me beautiful today."
"Cool. I'd like to be 5'7", blonde, and 120 pounds."
"That's nice. It ain't gonna happen." Ian had simply stated a fact.
"I thought you said you were going to make me beautiful."
"Actually, you are beautiful. You're just hiding."
"I am NOT beautiful," Jodi chuckled.
Ian stopped in his tracks. "You say that like you have a choice. I think you're beautiful. It's a question of MY judgment. You can't alter it." Ian closed the space between them, leaned forward into Jodi's face, and said, "And another thing. I'm not gonna be the only one who thinks that, either. OK?"
Jodi looked at Ian in stunned silence for a moment. His face was completely devoid of emotion as he returned her stare. She didn't know what had brought on this vehemence, but she wasn't going to argue. "OK." They turned and continued down the beach and into Ian's hotel without further comment.
When Jodi entered Ian's hotel room, she found a chair placed in front of the window with newspaper spread out all around it. "Sit." Jodi complied with his request. Ian shouted, "Cathy!" and then began studying Jodi's face intently.
"What!" Jodi turned around to see a pale face ringed in coppery curls looking in the doorway.
"Can I borrow some magazines from you? And some scissors?"
Jodi looked worried. "What are you going to do?"
Ian had pulled towels out of the bathroom and began draping them around Jodi's shoulders. "I'm going to cut your hair."
"Do you know how to cut hair?"
"I do now." Jodi started to make a run for the door when Ian's hands on her shoulders kept her in her seat. "Whoa. Look at me." Ian knelt down and looked Jodi directly in the eye. "You need to trust me." His blue eyes locked onto hers. They pulled at her and as she slid into those impossible blue orbs, she felt herself relax in the chair.