“Please tell me you didn’t hire a stripper.”
“What?! No!” Maya grabbed the last two beers from a six-pack on the kitchen table.
“So you didn’t hire anyone for my party?” Aurora clarified, not fooled for a minute by Maya’s blank look.
“Um, I wouldn’t say that . . . “
“Relax, princess. The party’s going great. And I’ve made some arrangements to ensure it stays that way.”
Aurora flopped down on her tiny couch in her tiny apartment. It was packed to the rafters with her fellow coworkers from Fox Hill Greetings—everyone, it seemed, but the one person Aurora really wanted to see.
“Hey, birthday girl, quit checking your phone. It’s sad and desperate and it’s ruining my party buzz.”
Aurora dropped her phone into her lap. “That’s not what I was doing.”
Maya rolled her eyes and collapsed next to her, handing her a beer. “If Peter Prince showed up to anything that didn’t revolve exclusively around him, I’d eat that new line of birthday cards, envelopes and all.”
Aurora popped the top of her beer. “They’re made from recycled paper, which is like the stone-ground wheat bread of paper. You could do worse,” she shrugged, making Maya laugh. “He said he would try to stop by. I was just checking to see if he had the address.” Aurora ignored Maya’s eye roll. “You have to admit I have a point. Peter is eminently bangable. That stupid-good hair, that jawline that could cut diamonds—”
“His abs.” Maya raised her beer up.
“You’ve seen his abs?” Aurora squealed.
Maya laughed. “Princess, I give it two more weeks, tops, and you’ll have seen them too. Any chance to take off his shirt.”
“You wouldn’t think there’d be that many shirtless opportunities.”
“No,” Maya tipped her head, “you wouldn’t think so.”
Aurora sighed. “And please stop calling me that.”
“What? Princess?” Maya looked all round-eyed with innocence. “I think it’s adorable your daddy still calls you that. That your mom named you after a fictional princess.” She frowned as Aurora subtly checked her phone again. “That you still believe in fairy tales.”
“I don’t—” Aurora began.
Aurora’s doorbell rang and Maya jumped up. “Don’t you worry, princess. I have some real magic worked up for you tonight.”
Jen, from sales, overheard and pumped her fist. “Yes! Maya got a stripper!”
Maya swung open the door and Aurora’s first thought was that she hoped, with all her might, that the woman standing wedged in the door frame would keep all her clothes on.
The woman was tall, her shock of gray hair nearly brushing the top of the frame. She was dressed like a fortune teller who had tumbled into a vat of cotton candy, her body indistinguishable beneath a swirling mass of pastel fabrics.
The party—apparently as shocked as Aurora—had gone quiet.
The woman leaned one hand on the door jamb and scanned the room. “Which one of you’s the birthday girl?” she asked, her voice slightly slurred.
Maya spun around to Aurora, her eyes bright. “I got you a real-life fairy godmother! Happy birthday, girl!”
The woman shuffled into the room, taking up roughly half the apartment, and party guests scuttled away from her blossoming skirts. She gestured impatiently to Aurora, the movement of her arm sending a wave of gin-scented air wafting through the room. “Well, stand up, girl, let me see what we’re working with here.”
Aurora stood, trying desperately to keep her face neutral. She was going to kill Maya once everyone else left. She just lived next door. It wouldn’t be hard.
“Not bad, not bad,” the old woman said, studying Aurora with her sharp eyes. “Nice smile, clear skin, keen eyes . . . hair.”
Suddenly self-conscious, Aurora tucked a corkscrew curl behind her ear.
“Plenty of potential. Now, if someone will get me a drink,” the woman looked pointedly at Jen, standing nearby, “we could get started.”
As Jen scurried off to get a drink this godmother did not need, Aurora felt her own drink start to kick in, and with Maya dancing around with infectious excitement, she smiled and started to consider her wishes. It was her birthday, after all.
The godmother pushed Hiro, from design, off a bar stool and hauled herself onto it, wobbling enough to make everyone in the room nervous. Once perched, the godmother accepted a hastily-made cocktail from Jen and turned back to Aurora. “So, little girl, you got three of them. Let’s hear ‘em.”
“Wish for a raise in salary!”
“A million dollars!”
Aurora shook her head, laughing at Maya, who looked thrilled with the chaos. “This is so stupid.”
“Watch it, little girl.” The godmother hadn’t moved, but suddenly the sound in the room dimmed, and the woman’s voice sounded oddly close, almost as though she was standing next to her, whispering in Aurora’s ear. “You only have one chance to turn twenty-two, Aurora. One chance to be young and beautiful and in love. You have three wishes. Choose carefully.”
There was a rush of air, like someone had thrown open a window, and the sound in the room returned.
“CEO! Wish to be promoted to CEO!”
“Lotto numbers, Aurora! We’ll all chip in!”
Aurora looked at the godmother, who was sitting, sipping her drink. She looked calm, but, beneath the map of wrinkles, her dark eyes flashed.
Aurora gave her head an infinitesimal shake. “Okay,” she said to the godmother and the room at large, “I’m ready to make my wishes.” She cleared her throat. “I wish to be promoted at Fox Hill Greetings.”
This was met with a chorus of boos from her co-workers.
“I wish to be able to afford to buy in the greater St. Louis area.”
Everyone laughed at this.
“Did you just wish for reverse gentrification, Aurora?”
“And—” Aurora took a deep breath.
“World peace or you’re a monster!”
“Be a monster, wish for Hamilton tickets!”
“I wish to meet my prince.”
“They were just being good guests who knew when to leave.”
“Maya, the place cleared out.”
“It’s Wednesday. It’s a school night,” Maya shrugged.
“There wasn’t a person here over twenty-five. Those jerks should know how to party longer than nine p.m. I made an idiot of myself.” Aurora let an armload of beer bottles crash into the recycling bin. “And Peter Prince has probably heard about my little birthday wish from a dozen people by now.”
Aurora snatched a pillow off a chair and hurled it across the room. “You’re supposed to disagree with me!”
Maya tucked the pillow under her head and stretched out on the couch. “Sometimes it’s very trying being your friend, princess.”
Maya’s eyes were closed, so she never saw that second pillow coming.
“Where’d you find her, anyway?” Aurora asked.
Maya opened her eyes. She furrowed her brow, as though trying to remember. “You know, it’s strange, actually. I was thinking about your party, and that I wanted to do something special for it, and I was looking for something in my purse, and, I just found her card.” She shook her head. “Honestly, I have no idea where it came from. But, it said Professional Fairy Godmother, and—I mean—I might have had a glass of wine by that point, but, it sounded fun.”
Aurora rolled her eyes. She had filled a garbage bag of party wreckage when there was another knock on the door. She glared at Maya. “If that’s the world’s shadiest fairy godmother again, I swear you’ll never live to see the new season of the Bachelor.”
Garbage in hand, Aurora opened the door.
Standing in a halo of light from the hallway was a man. A tall, handsome man. Dark hair, falling lightly over a perfect forehead. Deep, deep blue eyes, staring intently at her, as though she alone held the answer to every question he had ever asked. Lips proud and perfect. A jawline that made Peter Prince’s look decidedly weak by comparison. When she could tear her eyes away from his face, she glanced down: black pants, red jacket, blue sash, golden medals pinned to his broad chest, located just below his broad shoulders. A sword hung at his side, its hilt glinting in the light. He looked like Prince William on his wedding day, but with much, much better hair.
Time slowed as he reached forward. He took Aurora’s hand, gently, in his own. He bent, ever so slightly, and pressed his lips to her knuckles. He looked back at her, his blue eyes boring deep into hers.
When he spoke, his voice resonated, filling the small hallway, wrapping around Aurora like an embrace.
“I am Prince Percival.”
Aurora dropped her bag of trash.