A Little Night Magic


Chapter 1

There's magic linoleum at Crazy Cousin Betty's Waffle House.

Okay, maybe it's not magic, exactly. It's this one weird sparkly blue square, in the midst of all the solid, checkerboarded blues and whites. I first noticed it when I was six, and I remember tugging on Betty's periwinkle blue skirt and pointing down at the floor. Betty, who'd seemed ancient to me even then, knelt down to level her wrinkled eyes with mine.

"Oh, that? It's a magic square," she'd said. "Step on it. Make a wish. It'll come true."


She winked. "You bet. But don't go just stepping on it every time you want a new doll, or a motorcycle. Magic's not to be messed with, Olivia." And then she stood up, mussed my hair, and moved on.

I didn't believe her. Even at that tender age, I could tell bullcrap when I heard it.

But then, right after I'd started working at CCB's, I desperately wanted Robbie Pecorino to ask me to prom. On a whim, I stepped on the square late one night, and boom - two days later, he asked me. So, that was cool. But then there was the time I wished my college boyfriend, Charlie, would give me a little more space, and he ended up dumping me to date his roommate, Neil. Finally, six years ago, when I was twenty-two, I used it to wish my mother didn't have cancer anymore.

Two months later, she died.

I stopped wishing after that. I mean, I didn't really believe that it was magic and could grant wishes, but ... I kind of believed it was magic and could grant wishes. And that it was a sadistic little bastard, to be avoided at all costs. Whenever I took orders at Booth 9, I always stood either too close or too far away, just in case I absently wished for anything while standing on the square. Still, on that Friday night in June as I swished my mop over the square, I considered, just for a second, making the wish that would finally help me get my stupid act together.

"You're not done yet?"

I looked up from where I was standing in the middle of the dim and empty dining room, mop handle in my hand as one white-Kedded foot hovered over the square, and there was Tobias Shoop, CCB's night cook, his broad form clad in his standard outfit of crumpled jeans and a black T-shirt. He had a smile that was a little too big for his face, and one of his front teeth sort of overlapped the other, and his five o'clock shadow came in almost while you watched, but I loved him, goddamnit. And I had to do something about that, because loving this man was gonna kill me. I couldn't wish the love away with him standing right there looking at me, though, so I pulled my foot back and started mopping again. "Do I look like I'm done?"

His bulk nearly blocked all the light streaming from the kitchen into the dining room as he leaned against the doorjamb, simply watching me in that way he had of simply ... watching. He gave me one of his classic Tobias looks - a combination of total focus and mild smolder that I had been stupid enough to mistake for romantic interest - and strode toward me. "You need help?"

"Nope." I set the mop aside and looked at him, his dark hair glinting with premature strands of gray at the temples. My fingers itched to run through that hair, to indulge in the same traitorous instinct that had screwed everything up in the first place.

"I'm almost done," I said coolly. "You go. I'll lock up."

His response to this was to cross to Booth 9, haul himself up on the table, and stare at me.

I continued mopping. "You can leave, you know. Believe it or not, before you got here, I used to lock up by myself all the time."

"I don't mind."

I do, I thought. I swished my mop over the square, wishing he would just go away and leave me alone. Tragically, I wasn't standing on the square at the moment I wished it and so he remained right where he was.

"You ever going to stop being mad at me?" he asked.

"I'm not mad," I said automatically, then swished my mop over the square again. I wish you'd break out in boils. Swish.

"I'm not an idiot, Liv. I know you're pissed." He let out a long sigh. "Can we at least