"Caity, what you got?" Jimmy's hands reached for the sand dollar.
I lifted it out of his reach. I was twelve that summer at the beach, very grown up and ready to be an adult. "Mine."
His chin trembled. Little crybaby. "I'll tell mom."
I sniffed and turned my back. Waves washed around my feet, cold and smelling of salt. "Go find your own. They're everywhere." I held the sand dollar on my flat palm, admiring the perfect markings on the white round shell. Five leafy shapes imprinted on one side, wriggly lines surrounding a puckered hole on the other. Smooth and flat, a squashed circle that mounded softly in the center, it fit perfectly in my palm. I brushed sand from the surface.
The puckered hole spat out a small cloud of bluish purple smoke. A tiny man, wearing nothing but a shower cap, with purple fog for his legs, appeared on my hand.
"Never fails. I wait and wait before taking a bath but as soon as I get in and get all relaxed, POOF!, someone rubs my shell." He glared at me with tiny eyes the color of amethysts. "Whaddya want?"
"You're a genie." My voice trembled with excitement. Nothing this wonderful had ever happened in all my twelve years of existence.
"And you're not a genius. C'mon, get on with it. Make the wish already."
"For my first wish," I drawled, stretching the words while I frantically tried to think of something that wouldn't sound stupid or selfish.
He held up one tiny hand. "Wait one second, hold the phone, sweetie. First wish? First wish? You only got one so use it wisely. And fast. I'm on a deadline here."
"I only get one wish? They always get three in the stories."
"Stupid lamp genies. Always gotta show us little guys up. Three wishes? You got one, so talk fast before you got none."
"There's a time limit to wishes? What if I don't want to use it yet."
"Too bad. You got about thirty seconds left to make your wish."
My mind raced. What could I wish for in thirty seconds? World peace? Too vague. A never-ending money bag? No, that only caused problems in the stories. I could wish to be beautiful, smart, funny. Or to fall in love. But those were selfish wishes.
"Counting down here. Make the wish or lose your chance. For-eh-veh." He waggled his eyebrows.
My mind went blank. One wish and I couldn't think of anything.
"Caity!" Jimmy's voice drifted over the sound of seagulls and waves.
"What now?" I didn't want the most important decision of my life interrupted by my baby brother.
"Lookit what I found. It's all squooshy."
I hunched my shoulders, turning my back more firmly on Jimmy. Mom should be watching him, not laying on the sand with her book. I had more important things to do, like figure out how to save the world and make myself happy and rich all with only one wish.
"Tick tock," the genie tapped his wrist. "Spit it out or miss out."
"I wish you'd give me more time," I snapped.
He nodded. "Done."
The genie melted into a cloud of purple-blue smoke. It sucked itself into the hole in the sand dollar.
"Wait! That wasn't my wish!"
He was gone. The sand dollar was only a shell in my hand. I rubbed it frantically. No smoke appeared. I rubbed harder and harder, until it snapped in half. The inside held only a dribble of white sand.
I dropped to my knees on the beach. Waves washed around my legs. Goosebumps crawled over my skin at the touch of cold sea water. I had just wasted the most precious opportunity of my life.
"Caity, come see this!" Jimmy's excited voice beckoned me.
I dropped the broken sand dollar. The waves swallowed the white shards, rolling them through white foam and shreds of seaweed. I'd wasted my wish on more time. But I was only twelve, I had no idea what the genie had given me for my wish. I jumped up, out of the wet sand and teasing waves.
"I think it's a mermaid," Jimmy shouted.
I hurried across the beach to my baby brother. After all, I'd found a genie in a sand dollar. Why shouldn't he find a mermaid in a tide pool? Maybe later we'd hunt unicorns in the dune grass. I had time to spare now.
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