In the Right Light
by Tony Noland
"What's she doing?"
"Keep your voice down, Vincia. You'll find that there's a big difference between how the Academy teaches magic and how it's actually done in the field." Wissa nodded to Esme, who was standing by the girl's head. The senior fairy's delicate hands were making small gestures of Power over the sleeping form, little more than specific curlings of finger and thumb. Wissa turned away from the bed and pulled on Vincia's sleeve, drawing her away from the bed. "She's determining what the girl wants. We can't very well grant her the secret desires of her heart without knowing what they are, now can we?"
"Oh." Vincia closed her wide, blue eyes and concentrated for a while. When she opened them, she was almost hopping up and down with excitement.
"I know what she wants!"
"I said, keep your voice down!" Wissa's speech was quiet to the point of being sub-vocal, but it had an intensity that made Vincia blanch.
The rookie flushed. "But I know what the human wants!", she insisted.
Wissa sighed. "Alright, Vincia, tell me. What do you think she wants?"
"She wants red hair. You can read it in her thoughts, plain as anything." Vincia stood a little taller. "I don't know if I mentioned it, but I took First Honors in Dream Perception."
Wissa said, "You mentioned that, yes. Red hair, eh? Gee, you read that desire without any trouble at all. What shade?"
"Yes, what shade? Brick red? Auburn? Flame? What shade of red does she want?"
"Oh. Right, I see what you mean. Give me a minute, I'll check." Vincia closed her eyes again. Her brow furrowed as she set to work.
"While you're in there, see how long she wants it." Wissa said. "And if she wants it curly, wavy or straight."
Vincia nodded and concentrated. More than a minute passed in silence as she worked. Finally, she said, "She... it's not just the hair. She wants a whole package. Glowing auburn hair, sort of curly, down past her shoulders. She also wants green eyes, long fingers and a sweet sounding laugh." A few beads of sweat stood on Vincia's forehead. "And... green high heeled shoes. And... and..."
"And... I'm not exactly sure. It's complicated, like she has a specific image in mind of what she wants, but that's not really it.The hair and other physical features are only part of it. It's as though..." Vincia frowned and bit her lip as she focused on the girl in the bed. So intense was her concentration that she started to drift sideways in the air.
Wissa put a hand on her arm to steady her. "Forget it, kid. The desires of a human heart are impossibly complicated. Even when they think they know what they want, they almost never do. There's no such thing as a simple desire."
"Never? Not even in a simple human?"
"There's no such thing as a simple human, either. That image you picked up was of an attractive woman with red hair. It's the same idealized image I saw, too."
"Oh. Well, then what are we waiting for? We can just cast the spell and be done, right?"
Wissa tried not to let irritation color her voice too heavily. "I said that was my interpretation. I'm a lot better at this that you are, rookie, but Esme over there is twice as good as you and me put together. We could go charging in there and make the girl grow up to look that way, but that's probably not what she really wants. If we give her something that's only partially right, it'll nag and gnaw at her for the rest of her life. It'd be worse than giving her nothing at all. Esme is establishing what she really wants and, more importantly, how to give it to her."
"Oh, right. If we just give her red hair and green eyes to match the image, she might perceive the magic. Subtlety is essential."
"Subtlety is essential," Wissa repeated. "At least they still teach that at the Academy. Modern methods are..." Wissa fell silent as Esme turned from the bed to face her junior colleagues.
"I've determined what she wants." Esme said. "This is going to take a light touch. Vincia, come over here so you can watch. No, put your wand away. I want you to observe only; Wissa and I will work the magic. I know you received top marks in your classes, but I want you to see how it's done in the real world before you start casting any spells."
Esme and Wissa drew their wands, held hands and stepped toward the bed.
"What's the spell, Esme?", asked Wissa. "What is it that she wants?"
"It's not that she wants red hair." Esme looked at Vincia, who blushed. "Or that she simply wants to look like Nicole Kidman. It's more complicated than that. You'll see when we're inside. Ready, Wissa? Let's begin."
With that, the senior fairies touched their wands to the girl's forehead and set to work.
In the morning, the girl woke as usual, dressed for school as usual and brushed her hair as usual. And, as usual, the face she saw in the mirror looked back at her with an unacceptably plain flatness. She turned her head from side to side, dissatisfied with her face no matter what any angle she used. With a sigh, she went downstairs for breakfast.
Her father was reading the paper and eating a piece of buttered toast as she came into the kitchen.
"Hey, sport." he said. His daughter didn't answer, but headed for the toaster to make her own breakfast. Her father put down his paper and looked at her for a moment, then got up from the table. "Sport? Come over here a minute." He took her by the arm and led her closer to the window. Morning sunlight streamed in from the clear autumn sky.
"What, Dad? I already brushed my hair."
"I know. I'm just looking at your highlights."
"My... highlights? I have highlights?"
Her father laughed. "Sure. Didn't you know that your hair looks almost red in the right light?" He smiled and put his hand on her chin, gently turning her face this way and that in the sunlight. He sighed. "You're getting so big, Kelly, so grown up. I don't know what I'm gonna do with you in a few years."
Kelly, who had an idea of what he meant, blushed and smiled. Her father kissed the top of her head and went back to his newspaper and toast.
For the rest of the day, Kelly smiled and thought of her highlights. When Derek Patterson looked at her during Art that afternoon, for once she didn't duck and stare at her desk. Instead, her heart racing, she sat up straight and tossed her head a bit so that her hair could catch the light from the big windows. She looked back at Derek in time to see his mouth hanging open.
In the air above the classroom, Esme smiled at her handiwork.
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