Wishes in a Bottle
Alessandra burst into the supervisor’s office, bursting with excitement. It was her first day back at work after everything that had happened. Betty looked up from her computer monitor, peering at Alessandra over the top of her reading glasses.
“Welcome back. What’s got you in such a tweak?”
“You’ll never guess who I’ve met.” Alessandra came to perch on the corner of Betty’s desk, nudging a stack of official-looking papers aside with her hip, anticipating Betty’s response.
“Whom,” Betty corrected automatically, taking her glasses off and leaning forward, slender brows raised over grey-blue eyes sparkling with interest. “Don’t keep me in suspense. Tell me.”
Alessandra leaned forward. “Julian,” she spoke the name slowly, enunciating each syllable, “DiConti.”
She enjoyed seeing Betty’s eyes widen, hearing her audible gasp.
Alessandra just smiled and nodded.
“Oh my God, Alessandra. How did you meet him? Where? Is he here, in New York?”
“Yes, he’s here. In fact, it turns out he lives here, in the city.”
Alessandra paused for effect, grinning at the growing anticipation on her boss’ face. A thought struck her, and she pondered. Julian’s face arose in her mind’s eye, the clear pleasure on his face when he’d learned that she worked at one of the shelters that had received donations from the fund he’d set up. He would never ask, she thought, to visit the shelter to see for himself. He’d be well aware of the security and anonymity they required. But she would bet her bottom dollar he would love to actually see for himself the difference his Foundation had made for some.
“I wonder,” she said slowly. “I wonder if we might invite him to visit, and see what improvements his donations have made possible.”
“Yes!” Betty shot out of her chair. “Alessandra, this could be wonderful for us.”
“I’ve told him a bit about what we’ve been able to do with the funds we’ve gotten from Uncommon Threads. It turns out that he’s never seen a safe house, and has only the most basic knowledge of what we do here. He told me that he’d never met anyone who’d benefited directly from his Foundation, not here in the States, I mean. I think he’d very much like to see the place, what we’ve been able to do with the extra funding.”
Betty sank back into her chair, staring at Alessandra.
“I can’t believe it. You have met Julian DiConti. You’ve actually spoken to him. Do you know he has only appeared in public once? Once! And that was at the opening of his Uncommon Threads exhibit last year. He’d never been seen before then, has never been seen since. He travels a lot, the papers say,”
Betty seemed to be still lost in amazement. She lowered her voice, leaning forward conspiratorially, “Do you know, no one has ever been able to get a picture of him? He’s never been in the paper or in a magazine, not on the Internet… nothing! Even the paparazzi can’t seem to snap a shot of him.”
Alessandra tucked that away in the back of her mind to ponder. She’d ask Julian about it later. It seemed impossible that journalists, as persistent as they were annoying, would not have gotten some shots of him. A person as wealthy and reclusive as Julian DiConti would draw paparazzi attention like bees to honey. Maybe it was something to do with the Djinn magic. Certainly one could not live for so many hundreds of years and leave a record, something by which one could be recognized, especially now with photography. How embarrassing to have a photograph of one resurface half a century later and you haven’t changed by a whisker.
Betty’s mind was already darting ahead.
“We can invite the Board of Directors, and maybe some of the…”
“No, absolutely not,” Alessandra interrupted hastily. She didn’t have to ask Julian to know what his feelings about that would be. “He wouldn’t like that at all. He’s a very private person. Really, Betty. I think he’d appreciate seeing the positive results of his efforts, to see for himself the difference that is being made. He wouldn’t want publicity, or any grand fuss made, and you know it would be bound to get out, if we told the Board. And, too, you know,” she pressed on, “the residents here wouldn’t like it, either. It would make them uncomfortable. Just being here is hard enough for most of them.”
“Yes,” Betty admitted. “But, at the same time… Mr. DiConti is such a huge contributor. More than half a million dollars, just to us! It seems almost rude not to do everything we can to welcome him.
“Bring out the red carpet and brass band?” Alessandra suggested with a laugh. “Betty, I assure you he would neither expect that, nor want it.”
“I am.” Alessandra made her answer as firm and authoritative as she could. “I’m very sure, Betty. And I was thinking, you know. We might ask some of the women if they would be willing to talk with him, tell him their stories. He knows the stories of the women he has helped in India, why shouldn’t he hear the stories of the women here? We can let the residents know exactly when he would be here, let them choose to come out to meet him, or not.”
“He’s worth millions, you know. Billions.” Betty’s eyes held a dreamy, far-away expression. “Mostly inherited, but he’s made a pile on his own. That antique shop has been around forever. There was an article on him in People magazine when he first opened Uncommon Threads, and then when it did so well and he sent the collection on tour across America. There was an article on Whimsies, too, in that artsy magazine from the Village. No one really knows much about Julian himself, though.”
“Except that he’s worth a lot of money.” Alessandra laughed, but inside she cringed. Billionaire? Of course, six hundred years was plenty of time for financial planning, but still… It was almost impossible to comprehend. Billions of dollars? And he was living in a little glass bottle on her dresser!
It would have been funny, if it weren’t so sad. Alessandra’s heart ached for Julian. If only there were something she could do for him, some way that she could release him from the spell so that he could really live, could have a real life. She would gladly give all three of her wishes… well, the two she had left… but she would have given all of them to free him.
That spell seemed more like a curse to her. Julian was so desperately unhappy. He never said so, but she could see it in his dark azure eyes, the brooding sadness that never quite left, that lurked behind the charming smile. So many times she had caught the quiet lapses, when he retreated inside himself when he thought she was unaware. It seemed an awful punishment, no matter what he had done. She just wished she could find a way to help him.