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What You Wish For

Dark magic

By Lori LamothePublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 10 min read
What You Wish For
Photo by David Holifield on Unsplash

My mom was just getting started for the night when the app buzzed and I hit accept. I always hit accept because we were broke and another ten bucks was always necessary. For the past year we’d been living on the top floor of a run-down three-decker in hopes that The Cakery, which occupied the first floor, would take off.

It hadn’t.

My mom and I had an unspoken understanding that the only way I could have anything extra—clothes, shoes and other frivolous things like that—was if I paid for it myself. The minute I got my license I started delivering with the help of a fake ID and a beat-up Hyundai. I’m pretty sure my mom knew about the ID but we had a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it came to work. After what happened last year, I was more than okay with that.

This time the delivery fee wasn’t 10 bucks, it was 50. Fifty bucks to drive a birthday cake 20 miles. I didn’t even have to go anywhere to pick up the cake because I was sitting on the bakery stool and just had to walk five feet to the counter.

Then I saw the address. The name.

The Cushing School. Order for Elle Covington. I groaned but it was already too late to bail.

Mom looked up from the flour she had been scooping into an oversized mixing bowl. “Anything wrong, Tay?”

Why did I feel like she had known what was coming? Well, why shouldn’t she? She was one who made the cake. She had to have seen the name.

I decided to drop our usual policy. “You know what’s wrong.” It was a guess, but a good one.

“The chocolate cake,” she said matter-of-factly. “Was that the order you got?”

There was only one white carboard box left on the counter. Inside would be a cake with my best friend’s name in fancy cursive. My former best friend, who also happened to my attend my former school. Former being the key word.

I got up from the stool. The clock was ticking and much as I hated to, I had to get moving. If I were a minute past when Elle expected me, she would waste no time in rating me one star. “I don’t get it,” I said. “Why would she order another cake from you?”

Mom was pouring milk into the bowl now, her eyes on the scale beneath it. “Maybe she likes chocolate.”


She put down the milk carton and reset the scale. “Well,” she said, unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice. “It didn’t turn out so badly for her last time.”

“Please tell me it’s not that kind of cake.”

“It’s not that kind of cake.”

“Why—?” I broke off. I couldn’t even formulate the question.

My phone buzzed. I expected it to be Elle with helicopter instructions but it was a text from Lacey, my new—my only—friend at Warwick High. I’d been a senior at WHS since September, after withdrawing from Cushing at the end of the previous year. I hadn’t left because of academics but because of the $68,000 plus interest we owed the school. That number sounded catastrophic no matter how many ways I tried to parse it in my mind.

I texted back that it wasn’t a good time for Lacey to come over to study (i.e. drop off her Calculus homework for me to finish, which was a big factor in our friendship). Crossing to the counter, I carefully lowered the cake box into a paper bag.

When I turned around, mom was engrossed with batter. I opened my mouth to restart our conversation then shut it.

I didn’t have time. And mom looked. . .exhausted. It was one thing to open a bakery and stay afloat, another thing entirely to make enough to pay back an extra $68K on top of expenses. Her cheerful red kerchief made a sad contrast with the tired curve of her back, the thinness of her waist. You’d think a baker would be on the plump side, but she was fading away.


I always loved the drive from Warwick to Cushing. I still did, even though my only excuse to visit was a cake. Back in the day Warwick had been a thriving factory city in Maine—"Toy Town”—but I couldn’t remember it ever being anything besides a dump. Main Street alternated between weed dispensaries and liquor stores, empty windows and nail salons.

As I sped toward the edge of town, the three-deckers morphed into fast food restaurants, strip malls and dilapidated brick buildings. When I crossed the border, empty lots gave way to dignified colonials set far back from the road. I was running late, but not too late, and the Cakery bag rested snugly in the passenger seat.

Usually I blasted music but this time I didn’t want any sound. The setting sun lit the October trees and the beauty of it stung. Until my mom got fired as campus baker, I never thought about how lucky I’d been. The free tuition and board hadn’t seemed like a big deal, so much so that I felt entitled to it. I never truly forgot I was different—even living on the grounds—but when Elle befriended me everything changed. The movies got it right. When a mean girl decides you’re worth hanging out with, everybody suddenly likes you.

Or at least they pretend to. Until she blames your mom for another mean girl’s death.

The sound of someone laying into their horn pulled me back to the present. I swerved out of the way just in time to avoid a head-on crash and the bag slammed against the passenger door.

I swore. I hated Elle, hated what she had done, but I wanted to deliver her #$%@ cake without screwing up. Wanted to stand there coolly as she set it onto the dorm dining table in all its chocolatey perfection. Translation: You didn’t break us.

I slowed the car and edged onto the side of the darkening road. Ahead of me, the school windows blazed in golden privileged glory. I had time to check the cake but I needed to hurry.

Headlights blurred by. I lifted the box and carefully undid the flaps. By the light of the dash, I could see the frosting, glossy and dark. The cake was undamaged but instead of Happy Birthday, Elle the inscription read: Make a Wish.

Another wishing cake.

My heart thudded in my chest. After Laura died my mom swore off the recipe and I believed her when she told me she would never use her gift again. She hadn’t wanted to use it in the first place but Elle refused to listen. She had wanted Tim so badly, even if he was dating her oldest friend.

I didn’t blame Elle for wanting him. Everybody did. It wasn’t that Tim was the richest boy in school. If anything, that had made me dislike him at first. It wasn’t that he was gorgeous. It wasn’t even that he was brilliant and funny and hopelessly kind. He was lit from within, extraordinary in the most ordinary, approachable way.

We’d been lab partners but I never thought twice about us. It made sense that someone like Tim would be with someone as beautiful as Laura. And when Laura died it made sense he would find comfort with Elle, who was just as beautiful, just as exalted.

When it all went wrong, Elle moved fast. It had been a slice of my mother’s cake that caused Laura to go into anaphylactic shock, she told the headmaster, a trace of almond that caused her trachea to close up before Elle could retrieve the EpiPen from Laura’s room.

There hadn’t been any almond in the cake. It was Elle’s wish that killed Laura. But the headmaster, being a man of reason, didn’t see it that way. His one concession had been to allow me to complete the year—minus the tuition and board waiver, of course.

I stared at the three ominous words. My mom wouldn’t make a wishing cake again. Even though she hadn’t added almond to the batter, she blamed herself for what happened. But why hadn’t she answered me back in the bakery? Why would Elle buy an ordinary cake from my mom?

Nothing made sense.

A thought struck me so forcibly it sucked the air out of my lungs. I knew why I’d been the one to deliver the cake. In a flash of insight, I understood why my mother had made it.

I could make the wish. And I knew exactly what I was going to wish for: $68,000. I’d asked mom for a wishing cake before but she’d never agreed. She must have changed her mind.

I extracted a candle from the package in the bag. With my free hand, I grabbed my lighter and struck it with my thumb. My hand shook as I lit the candle. All I had to do was stick it into the cake, make the wish and blow it out.

I stared at the flame before snuffing it out with my fingertips. Whatever my mom wanted, whatever I wanted, I couldn’t do it. What if Elle hadn’t wished for Laura to die? Maybe the wish for Tim had taken on a life of its own. I wasn’t going to mess with that magic.


Elle was standing in the parking lot when I got there. Arms folded, with her expensive highlights shining in the dim light.

“It’s about time.” She bounded toward me and ripped the bag from my hand.

“Nice to see you, too,” I said. “Who’s it gonna be this year?”

She raised an eyebrow. It was her best gesture. “I’m still with Tim.”

Tim and some other students stood inside the dorm entrance. He waved awkwardly. I waved back and tried to imagine I wasn’t wearing a company t-shirt. His smile still dazzled me.

I caught up with Elle as she walked toward them. She glanced at me sideways. “If it’s about a tip—"

“It’s not.”

I forced my way through the door alongside her. Tim gazed at me quizzically. I let the throng push me toward the common room, where real plates were stacked next to heavy silverware. Elle glared at me but said, “So glad you can stay a bit.” Then, airily: “Taylor used to go here before they fired her mom for accidentally killing Laura.”

She set the cake on the long mahogany table. A girl started putting in candles but Elle held up a hand. “Just one.”

As she leaned over the solitary flame, I held my breath. Should I let it happen? Could I? Why hadn’t I stuck with my original idea back in the car? I balled my hands into fists as one of the girls said, “That looks so good. I could eat the whole thing, no joke.”

Elle cast her a sympathetic smile. “Me too. But I really want to lose three pounds.”

Aside from her possibly planning to murder someone new, I wanted to smack her on behalf of all curvaceous women—including myself. Not 10 pounds, not 5, but 3.

Something better happened though. She coughed. The candle flickered out. And I laughed, the kind of laugh that starts deep in your belly and doesn't stop.

Elle lunged for me but fell back into her chair as she clutched her stomach. A gurgling sound rose in her throat and she sprinted for the bathroom down the hall. Her minions scurried after her, the wishing cake left untouched on the table.

Tim and I stared at it. With a shrug, he reached for a knife and cut me a thick slice. “Hey, did Elle tell you I’ve been trying to get in touch with you?”

Short Story

About the Creator

Lori Lamothe

Poet, Writer, Mom. Owner of two rescue huskies. Former baker who writes on books, true crime, culture and fiction.

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