Fate is a Fickle Friend
The bell rings for lunch, signaling the end of fourth hour. My boyfriend, Brad, comes up behind me as I leave the classroom and puts his arm around my shoulders.
“Hey babe, wanna get it on in the back of my car?” I roll my eyes.
“Uh no, I’m going to lunch with Paige today. I told you earlier.” Brad produces a grotesque sound in his throat.
“You live with that freak. Why are you hanging with her more?” Brad asks, making me sigh. My other friends are with us as I walk to my locker.
“Paige asked me to eat lunch with her and I said yes.”
“Whatever,” Brad breathes. Brad and my friends see my sister, Paige, at her locker only a few down from mine.
“Freak,” Brittany says loudly so Paige can hear.
“Loser!” Tyler, Brad’s best friend, yells.
I see Paige turn her head away. I laugh with my friends.
“See you guys later,” I say, shutting my locker and heading over to Paige’s.
Paige is waiting for me. I can hear my friends making more snide comments as I walk away. I smile and shake my head at them.
“Why are you friends with people who act that way? Why are you dating Brad? He’s the one giving the rest permission to be assholes,” she asks me. I’ve had this exchange with her nearing a hundred times and my answer remains the same.
“Brad’s not a bad person, and he’s my boyfriend. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t speak badly of him. Same with my friends,” I say once more. I don’t see the irony of the words I spoke thousands of times.
Paige rolls her hazel eyes but abandons the discussion.
“Ready to leave?” she asks.
I nod, and she leads the way to her old, green Subaru parked in the senior parking lot.
Paige is a year older than I am. She’s a senior and I’m a junior this year at Clark High School in Las Vegas, but both of us were born in England. Our dad used to be in the Air Force, and that’s where he was stationed at the time. We’ve lived all over the United States during our childhood. My family moved to Las Vegas three years ago, at which point my dad retired. My parents like it here, so here we stayed.
It’s always been difficult for Paige to form friendships and when she did; we ended up leaving. Paige has a rough time opening up to people as a result, so now she has one good friend named Jada, but they aren’t that tight. She’s a loner, in any case, but an amazing cellist. To get to that point, she spends a bunch of time alone practicing until she can’t practice anymore.
It’s tough to make friends when you give yourself no time to try. Besides, most of the kids in school are awful to her. They make fun of her and call her names behind her back. Paige acts as if she doesn’t care, but I think it kills her self-esteem whether she realizes it or not. It does bother me when people talk that way to her and behind her back, but I never speak up. Those people are my friends. I don’t join in, but I don’t defend Paige either.
I have an easier time making friends, but since Paige doesn’t, we became close. Moving around so often forced us to become best friends, as well as sisters. Paige and I end up spending most weekends together. This weekend our parents are leaving after they get off work.
Paige and I discuss our plans for the weekend. Brad wants to host a party at our house tonight, but Paige will not allow that. Instead, we decide to watch our favorite movies, Titanic and Pearl Harbor. We need our Leo DiCaprio and Ben Affleck fix. Saturday, we’ll go to the Titanic museum and on Sunday we’ll hang out with our own friends, or I will anyway. Paige will most likely stay home practicing Bach’s Cello Suite #1.
Paige and I go to a fast-food restaurant near the high school, as lunch is only thirty-five minutes. We sit in a booth while waiting for the food.
Paige watches the people standing in line. Most of them are from our school; faces she would remember if she saw any again, but no one worth missing, no one she’ll even give a second thought to the minute school is finished.
I look at people from my class and recognize how different Paige and I truly are. I’ll remember most, I will miss many, and I will think about them from time to time as I move on with my adult life.
I am engaged in school. I’m on the Volleyball team, debate team, and I ran for student body president. I lost to a girl who most would label as a Bible-thumping nerd. That’s Brad’s description of her.
Jenny is nice though, and if I had to lose to someone; I’m glad it was her. Jenny assured me she would seek my advice on issues she doesn’t know enough about, such as dances and school spirit.
Paige isn’t involved in much except the school’s orchestra and Honor Society. Even then, she prefers playing alone. I always felt that’s why she chose the Cello. The instrument is solitary but could belong to a group if it so chose.
Someone calls our number and Paige gets up to retrieve the tray. I order a strawberry shake, which is sitting to one side, next to my fries and burger. Paige just got a boring vanilla shake, but it sits next to her fries and chicken nuggets.
I sit quietly for a minute, sipping on my shake. Paige dips fries in her vanilla shake. I think it’s gross, but I’m told it’s a typical thing for people to enjoy.
“Are you sure you want to hang out with me tonight? I can check if Jada is free,” Paige blurts after she sees me glance at my phone.
I have a text message from Brad asking if he can have a party at my house… again. This is the second time Brad suggested it, and the second time I told him no. Even if Paige was cool with it, I know what happens at parties. I don’t need that to happen to my house. Our parents will find out. Mom and Dad always know when Paige and I are doing something wrong.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Paige. I promised you we’d hang out. Besides, Brad just wants to have a party at the house and that’s not happening.” I respond.
I genuinely want to hang out with Paige. I’m not doing it out of pity; I appreciate the time we spend together. Paige nods but says no more.
“Let’s meet up right after school today. Mom and Dad are leaving at three-thirty. They want us home before that so goodbyes can be said and to go over the rules.” Paige says. I know this because Mom informed me of the same this morning. I nod and finish lunch as it’s time to head back to school to finish the day.
History is my next class. The teacher, Mr. Phillips, is an exceptional teacher. He goes above and beyond teaching us myths and how they shaped history.
“‘An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, and circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle. But it will never break’,” Mr. Phillips begins.
“That is an ancient Chinese Proverb and the basis for the myth we are going to be talking about today, The Red String of Fate. As the old Chinese myth goes, two people are connected at their pinky fingers by a red string. The person on the other end is your soulmate. You are destined to meet your soulmate regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The string connecting you will never break no matter how far away or how difficult the circumstances of your meeting are.”
I was spacing off at the beginning of class, but now I’m interested.
“I like this myth because it implies that our destiny is predetermined by Fate. The choices we make in life might change the road to get there, but the destination has already been decided by some force bigger than you or me,” Mr. Phillips continues.
This isn’t strictly on the school curriculum, but that’s what makes Mr. Phillip’s History class the one everyone wants to be in.
“All myths are based on some sort of fact or truth. They were used to explain natural phenomena in a time when science was magic and we needed a simple way to explain thunder and lightning. Oh, Zeus is angry, right? So, the question we need to ask ourselves is: have we really found our soulmate if that red string hasn’t appeared?”
As I read the packet he gave us, I get a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. I can’t tell what it is. I’m not nervous or consciously anxious about anything. The feeling doesn’t go away for the rest of the class.
I don’t see Paige again before the end of school, but I meet her in the car at around three o’clock. The drive home takes fifteen minutes. Paige and I listen to music and sing along the entire way home.
When we pull up in the driveway, I watch Dad carry a suitcase and a small toiletries bag and cram them into the trunk of his mid-life crisis car. The car features only two seats and is a convertible; only meant for him and Mom.
“Hey girls, your mom’s in the house,” Dad states. I nod and seize my backpack out of Paige’s car.
As Paige and I pass, we give Dad a one-armed hug and run into the house. Mom’s in the kitchen, finishing up work on her laptop before packing it. Mom’s a real estate agent. It sounds kinda boring to me, but she loves her job.
“Hey, Mom,” Paige says, placing her backpack on one of the bar stools. She reaches into the cupboard to get a glass for water. Paige gestures toward me, silently asking if I want something to drink too. I nod, and she takes out an extra glass.
“Hi, honey. Are you sure you girls will be okay alone this weekend?” Mom asks. I nod. Paige and I are always fine.
“Yes, Mom, we’re basically adults. I think we can handle a few nights away from Mommy and Daddy.” I reply, rolling my eyes. Paige laughs as she fills the glasses, then sits on a barstool and passes me my water. Dad joins us a few minutes later.
“Ready to go, Hun?” Dad asks, peering at Mom. She closes her laptop, sticks it in its protective bag, and nods. They head out the front door with Paige and I following.
When they get to the car, Mom heaves a sigh as she always does when they go someplace and left us behind or vice versa. Mom holds out her arms for us. Both Paige and I step into her embrace and she hugs us and kisses each of our cheeks.
“Okay girls, be safe this weekend and have fun. No parties either,” Mom says, looking at me.
“No parties, Mom, it’s just me, Paige, and the big screen TV tonight,” I respond, moving to hug Dad.
“Okay, bye, I love you,” Mom replies as she gets into the passenger’s seat of the car.
“I love you, baby girl,” Dad says, hugging me one more time.
“Love you too, pumpkin,” Dad says, hugging Paige before getting into the driver’s seat.
Dad slides the convertible top into place and turns their eighties hair band music up loud. The convertible is the perfect car to drive in this Las Vegas heat.
“Love you guys. Have fun,” Paige says, waving as they back out of the driveway. Paige and I stand there until the car’s no longer visible, then go inside to begin the night together.
I’m in the kitchen making popcorn for the movie when I hear Olivia on the phone with Brad. Ugh, what kind of name is Brad, anyhow? A name for a douche, I decide. I can’t for the life of me imagine what she sees in him. Brad’s awful to everybody, and he’s an entitled rich boy. He assumes he can get away with murder, and he does because people let him.
I can handle Brad and Olivia’s other friends calling me mean names. I don’t even get mad. Olivia never says anything to them to make them stop, but I don’t give a shit what other people think about me.
People suck, and there’s no getting away from it. At least Liv feels like she has friends she can count on. I won’t take that away from her by making a big deal. I know Mom and Dad probably wouldn’t allow Olivia to be friends with them if they knew how awful they all are to me.
Even though I don’t care what Brad says about me, it pains me to hear Brad call Liv awful names when she makes him mad. The worst part is, Olivia doesn’t even realize what he’s doing. She’s oblivious to Brad’s awfulness, and no one tells her because Olivia denies everything. Even Mom and Dad don’t care for Brad, but if they tell Olivia she can’t date him anymore, she would do it in secret. I could only imagine how awful that would turn out.
“I realize it’s Friday night, but I promised Paige we’d hang out tonight and tomorrow. You know she doesn’t have many friends. Jada is busy tonight,” Olivia says in a whispered voice.
She’s lying too because I never asked Jada to hang out. I wouldn’t have, even if Olivia went out tonight. Being alone is always more appealing and enjoyable to me.
I obviously can’t hear what Brad is saying, but I can guess it isn’t nice when Olivia sighs.
“Yeah, goodnight. I’ll see you on Sunday. I love you.”
I don’t think Olivia loves him. Real love shouldn’t be like that, at least I wouldn’t imagine it so. Love, to me, should lift you up and make you want to be a better person, not diminish who you are.
After another minute, I continue into the living room and plop onto the couch next to Olivia, who is staring at her phone with a pathetic look. I groan,
“If you prefer to go hang out with Brad and your friends, you can. It’s fine,” I tell her enunciating Brad’s name. She smiles at me, clicking off her phone.
“No, I promised you we’d watch movies and we will. Let’s watch Titanic first,” she replies.
I peer at her for a minute, then nod. I put the movie in and go back to the couch. The Blu-ray menu comes up playing instrumental My Heart Will Go On, and we settle in for one hundred and ninety-four minutes of Leo and Kate.
Olivia sits enraptured in the movie. It’s her favorite, and she loves learning anything and everything about the Titanic. For whatever reason, it fascinates her.
I have my passions too. Cello, of course, and I’m all about WWII. I love reading anything about Pearl Harbor. I mean, it was a tipping point in WWII and gave life to one of the greatest speeches ever uttered by a U.S. President. Our parents even took us to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.
The Titanic Artifact Museum inside the Luxor Hotel is one of Olivia’s favorite things about living in Vegas. She described it as feeling at home. I understand what she means. I realize I come off as an awkward person, but I usually feel like I don’t entirely belong anywhere. I guess maybe that’s why I enjoy learning all about WWII so much. I feel I belong in that time, not my own.
Olivia and I both fall asleep on the couch halfway through Pearl Harbor. I have dreams of Japanese planes soaring overhead and so much screaming. I see Olivia running and a blast going off behind her.
I wake with a start, sweaty. I glance over to see Olivia sleeping soundly next to me. Judging from the pinkish light outside, it’s early. Bleary-eyed, I look at the clock—five forty-five in the morning.
Hoping to grab a few more hours of sleep, I stumble to my room. I lay on the bed, but when I close my eyes, I see Olivia running and bombs going off around us. Staying awake is the best choice at this point.
I take a scalding, long shower in my parents’ awesome bathroom. When I get out and ready myself for the day, Olivia is just stirring. Another hour afterward, we leave the house to get breakfast before heading to the museum.
Paige and I grab breakfast from a diner near the museum. By the time we finish eating and get the check, the museum’s just opening. Paige drives there in the Subaru.
We walk up to the front counter where Paige purchases the tickets. I’m studying a few artifacts when Paige walks up and hands me one.
“Ready to go?” she asks. An excited feeling in my stomach grows steadily. It happens any time I come here, no matter how many times I’ve been.
We walk in and look at the assorted objects that were retrieved from the Titanic wreckage. China and personal items left behind glitter in the displays.
There’s this bracelet I see every time I come here that I adore. Mom and Dad had a replica made for me a few Christmases ago. The bracelet is white gold with three sapphire hearts. The middle heart looks like the Heart of the Ocean necklace from the Titanic movie. Diamonds adorn the length of the bracelet. It’s my favorite piece of jewelry, and I never take it off my wrist.
The museum features the replica staircase used in the movie. Paige and I spend time looking at it. I get this warm feeling in my stomach and a flash of that staircase with a handsome young man standing at the foot of it, smiling. People walk up and down the staircase next to him. The flash ends as quickly as it begins and leaves me with a strange feeling. I attribute it to having just watched the movie last night.
Paige and I walk on to the other artifacts. We come upon another replica. It’s the replica of a promenade deck. The same warm feeling I had at the staircase hits me again, but this time, I get dizzy. The same man flashes through my mind. This time he’s strolling toward me, extending his hand. He helps me up from the ground.
I get dizzier and I stagger. This prompts Paige to hold me by the arms just to keep me vertical.
“Are you okay, Liv?” she asks. Her voice sounds far away. I try to nod, but can’t. It suddenly gets windy. What starts as a slight breeze, which I attributed to the A/C, becomes a more persistent wind.
The promenade deck in front of us has a wavy look, and I feel a tugging in the pit of my stomach. It feels as though a string is drawing me forward from my core to oblivion. I yell at Paige because the noise is deafening, at least it seems that way.
“Hold on to me! Don’t let go!” I shriek in a panicky voice. Fright grips my body, making me nauseous. Paige nods, her expression laden with unease. I wonder if she’s feeling and seeing the same things I am.
The tugging lessens and Paige and I both sit suspended in… nothing. Darkness envelopes us. I only see a thin red string attached to my pinky finger in a perfect bow. The string stretches so far I can’t see the other end, but it reminds me of the tale of the Red String of Fate.
The other end connects to one’s soulmate who they are destined to meet. I just studied the legend in History class yesterday, but why is my string taking me so far away and where on Earth is my soulmate? I see a second red string and can only guess that it belongs to Paige. Her string travels far, then takes a dramatic right turn. I wonder what that means.
Wherever we are, it’s so quiet I can hear my blood traveling through my veins and my heart thumping uncontrollably. I reach a searching hand out for Paige. I get a hold of her arm before we both fall further. The falling seems to last forever. There is no notion of time; Paige and I could be falling for seconds or an eternity.
Our descent slows, and I can see millions of stars in the night sky. Paige and I slow enough to hit the ground with only a slight thud. Looking around, it appears we’re on a ship.