One Wish by Valerie Frankel

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There, beside the pier, a lovely head bobbed
above the level of the water. Soft, green-gold
ringlets, blue eyes deep and wide enough to drown in.
Her grin seemed warm and amused, lips parted slightly
to display even, white teeth. Her skin was a warm,
honey brown that glistened damply in the sunlight.
All he could see was her head and bare shoulders but
Jasper knew, with all his heart and soul, that this
was no village maid out for a swim. A living,
genuine mermaid floated beside the very pier that he
stood on.
"Hello," she said, giving him an artful smile
that made his heart skip a beat. She was
breathtaking, no question of that. Jasper regretted
that he looked like a tall, brown-haired beanpole in
his old fashioned robes. For a moment, he found
himself fantasizing about wishing her to be a human
and his wife. But no, mermaids were tricky
creatures, and wealth a far more secure choice.
Finally he realized that she was waiting for him to
answer. He should say something that would show off
his incredible knowledge and learning and leave her
captivated. Perhaps she'd even choose to wed him
without his wasting a wish.
"Er, hello." Jasper winced inwardly. Hardly
the most original thing he could've chosen to say.
Still, the mermaid hadn't left yet.
"Come swim with me," she said. "The water's
lovely. Just take my hand."
Jasper's smile was wholehearted now, for at last
he was on familiar ground. Mermaids sometimes tried
to drown people, and were far stronger than they
looked. If he took that lovely, delicate hand, he
would be completely at her mercy.
"All right," he said. "Reach up a little
higher."
The mermaid rose slowly out of the water. She
was high enough that he could see her pink clamshell
top that clung to her upper body. Below that was her
bare stomach, encircled by an intricate webbing of
tiny gold and purple seashells, none of them larger
than a fingertip. Jasper reached out and lightly
took her outstretched hand with one of his own. With
his other hand, he reached out lightning fast and
snatched away the girdle of shells that hung around
her waist. He let go of her and stood, smiling as he
held her girdle far out of reach, gleaming in the
light. "You owe me a wish."
"So I do," she said. The mermaid didn't seem
angry with him; she smiled and actually seemed
amused. Amazed by his cleverness, he supposed.
"And what will you wish for?" she asked.
He had pondered the question for months. Years in
fact.
"I want a pile of gold as tall and wide as I
am." Simple, direct, and above all practical.
She laughed. The mermaid giggled a bit at
first, then finally burst into spasms of laughter,
rolling in the water and clutching her perfect,
smooth stomach as if it was the funniest thing she'd
ever heard.
"What? What is it? Can't you grant me that?"
Finally, the mermaid finally managed to compose
herself. "The question is, why would you want it?"
"I'd be rich.

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