Charlie closed his locker and held his head low as he hurried to biology class. It was last period. If he could make it through that door, he just might survive another day of high school.
Hefton appeared out of nowhere with his two big buddies at his sides. “Hey, Charlie, where have you been all day? I’ve been looking for you.”
Charlie tried to sidestep them.
Hefton stretched out his long quarterback arm, hooked Charlie’s neck, and slammed him against his beefy chest. “I’ve been wanting to give you something.” He jabbed Charlie in the gut.
“Ain’t you got anything to say to me?” He chuckled and looked back at his two stooges, goading them to laugh along.
Charlie struggled to catch his breath. Then he saw her—across the hallway, through the door, sitting at her desk: the new girl in school. Her eyes full of concern—or maybe it was pity.
That night, as Charlie drifted off to sleep, he thought about the new girl, and how he didn’t even know her name, and how it wouldn’t really matter unless he could learn to stand up to Hefton.
His dreams were stranger than usual tonight—especially the one where he was walking along a deserted beach and found a bottle with a cork in it. He ran to pick it up. It might contain a love note to him from some beautiful mystery girl.
Charlie held the bottle up to the sun. No note, but something was moving inside—a small crab, he thought. No—it was a tiny man, dressed in a Texas Rangers baseball jersey and cap.
The little man was pointing to the cork above his head. “Get me the heck out of here.”
Charlie uncorked the bottle and…nothing happened—except that the little man had disappeared.
“Looking for me?” said a booming voice at Charlie’s back.
Charlie spun around.
The baseball player was seven feet tall.
Charlie stumbled backward and fell in the sand. “You’re so tall. You must be a pitcher.”
“Oh, you mean this?” he said, pointing to his jersey. “No, I’m just a fan. They don’t let genies try out for the team—believe me, I tried.”
“You’re a genie?”
“Sure. Who else lives in bottles but genies? That’s our thing.”
“What about granting wishes? That’s your thing too.”
“Sure, sure. So what do you got?”
“What’s your wish, kemosabe? What’s your pleasure? How can I make your day?”
“I get three wishes, right?”
“Three?!” He stepped back and put his hands on his hips. “Kinda greedy, aren’t we?”
“Well, I thought that was how it worked.”
“Not with me, Buddy. That’s too much work.”
“But don’t you guys have to follow some kind of genie rules?”
The genie looked around, making sure they were still alone, and then leaned in to Charlie. “I’ve gone rogue.”
“That’s not fair. For the first time in my life I’ve found my own genie, and—”
“—listen to me, Boy. You’ll take your one wish and be happy with it or I’ll just turn you into dust and go back into my bottle.”
“You could do that—turn me into dust?”
The genie laughed. “No, of course not.” His face turned serious. “Unless I really wanted to.”
“Well, if I can’t have the traditional three wishes, how about a two-part wish?”
“I knew you were gonna be trouble.”
“Aw, come on, genie.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“Wake up, Charlie, you’re going to be late for school.” Charlie’s mom banged on the door until he began to stir. He had forgotten all about his dreams.
Running into the school, he headed straight for his locker. The hallway was nearly empty. Hefton came around the corner. There was no escape.
“What are you doing out here, Loser? Don’t you know it’s time for class?” He punched Charlie in the stomach hard enough to take his breath away.
Charlie heard a voice. “Hit him.” He looked around. Where was it coming from?
“Hit him hard—now,” said the voice. Charlie recognized it: the genie. “Punch him in the face. Do it!”
Before Charlie could stop himself, his fist flew at Hefton’s face.
His mind could not fully process what was happening. In slow motion, he saw his fist crush Hefton’s chin, causing the bully’s head to twist violently to the side.
Hefton quickly regained his composure. “You think you can hurt me, you little sissy?”
Charlie knew he was a dead man.
“Go for the groin,” said the genie.
Charlie felt his foot go airborne—a Tomahawk missile racing inexorably to its target.
“Bull’s eye,” said the genie, laughing.
Hefton bent over, grabbing his crotch, clearly in excruciating pain.
“Knock him down. Kick his stomach. Laugh at him.”
Charlie followed every command to the letter.
“What are you doing?!”
He turned. It was the new girl, running toward him.
“Kick him in the head, Charlie,” said the genie. “Kill him!”
“Please, stop,” said the girl, sprinting directly at Charlie.
He felt his leg move backward.
The genie screamed in excitement. “This kick will send ol’ Hefton to the hospital, Charlie. Go for it!”
“Stop, Charlie!” said the girl.
Charlie hesitated, surprised that the girl knew his name.
“Do it, Charlie!” sreamed the genie. “Do it now! He doesn’t deserve to live. Kill him!”
Charlie didn’t want to listen to the genie anymore. He wanted to listen to the girl—the new girl who actually knew his name. But his body was out of his control. His leg continued to move forward. His foot would connect with Hefton’s head at any moment and there was nothing he could do to stop—.
Something hit Charlie—hard, and he went flying backward. His head hit the floor.
His head was lying on a soft pillow. No—it was new girl’s lap! She was gently rubbing his forehead.
“I’m sorry, Charlie. I hope I didn’t hurt you too bad.”
“You didn’t hurt me.” He grinned. “Why do you think you hurt me?”
“I tackled you—because you were about to kick that kid’s head off. I could see it in your eyes: the rage. And I can’t say I blame you. I saw how he picked on you every day. But I couldn’t let you do it.”
“I don’t know what got into me.”
“We’ve never actually met. My name is Jeanie.”
He sat up and shook her hand. “You’re kidding me. Jeanie?”
“Nothing, sorry.” Charlie stood up.
She got up. “So, are you okay?”
“I will be…if you’ll go out with me to a movie tomorrow night.” He smiled.
“Sorry, I’ve got plans.”
“I can’t miss a Rangers game.”
“You’re a Texas Rangers fan?”
“I’m a huge fan.”
“What? You have something against the Rangers?”
“No, not at all. But I’ve never been much of a sports fan.”
“Really? Come to the game with me. I’ll teach you to love baseball. Maybe I’ll even buy you a hot dog.”
“I do love hot dogs.”
“Great,” she said. “Then it’s a date.”
“There’s no tackling in baseball, right?”
She giggled. “I won’t tackle you anymore.”
“I kinda liked it.”
Jeanie pushed him hard and he nearly fell down.
They both started laughing.
Charlie and Jeanie went to that Texas Rangers game, and many others. He fell in love with the game almost as quickly as he fell in love with her.
Charlie’s dearest wishes came true—because of his Jeanie.