My smile froze when he walked through the tent opening. To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart, “Of all the autumn carnival booths in the entire world, why’d he choose mine?”
Ever since he’d moved into my apartment building six months ago, I’d been trying to move beyond neighborly exchanges like “hello” and “have a nice day.” Now, he was standing in the middle of the tent opening, the scent of popcorn and cotton candy drifting in about him.
I held my breath, following his hesitant stride to the table between us. My gaze traveled to his face, and he smiled awkwardly before asking, “How many?”
I mentally banged my forehead. The grunt was hardly the great conversation starter I desired.
He held up a short string of red carnival coupons. “How many tickets?”
As if on automatic pilot, I slipped into the script I’d been using all morning with my best effort at a Hungarian accent. “Cross my palm with two tickets, and I will tell you what the future holds.”
He dropped them into the coffee can on the side of the black-velvet-draped table. Continuing my routine, I held out my hand, silver rings glinting from each finger. “Your palm, please.”
He sat in the folding chair in front of the table and placed his upturned hand in mine. Its warmth stole up my arm, and I coughed to mask the sharp breath I inhaled in response.
He gave a short cough also. “I’ve never done this before. What do I do now?”
I looked into his deep-blue eyes, wide beneath the dark curls framing his face. They held no hint of recognition. My gypsy costume’s colorful scarves and bold skirt bore no resemblance to the business suits he saw me wearing in the apartment hallway.
When I’d agreed to work the fortune teller’s booth, Debbie, one of the fair’s coordinators, had said, “Have fun. Everyone knows you’re not a real fortune teller, so just tell them something happy about their future.”
My pattern had been to ask a few questions like “What do you wish to ask Madame Carmen?” and “What does your heart desire to know?” and package my predictions with vague promises. I hadn’t known any of the people visiting the booth until now. This situation presented an opportunity to learn more about David as well as use what I already knew to tailor his fictional future.
I bent over his hand, pretending to study its lines. “I see you going to work. You wear a suit.”
“Yes. I’m a lawyer.”
I almost responded “Me too,” but stopped myself just in time. I cleared my throat and thought about what I’d seen of him in the hallway. “You like exercise. You jog.”
With that observation, he inhaled sharply. “How’d you know that?”
I glanced up at him and smiled. “Madam Carmen knows many things. She knows...” I studied his hand again. “She knows you drive a big car. Dark. An SUV, perhaps?”
He pulled his hand from mine. “Wait a minute. Do I know you?”
I wanted to shout out I was his neighbor, but his voice carried a hint of anger. If I revealed myself now, I might ruin my chances. All I could do was to play along, using the script I had developed. “Madame Carmen does not know you. I only read what the stars reveal to me. Share with me your heart’s desire, and I shall read their answers in your palm.”
His breathing slowed, and he held out his hand again. I took it, hoping he didn’t notice the trembling in my own.
“My heart’s desire,” he said thoughtfully. “I would like to know…” He paused, then looked into my eyes. “I want to know if I’ll meet someone special. Soon.”
Before he could read anything in my gaze, I leaned over his hand again. Taking several deep breaths to ensure a steady voice, I asked, “You are lonely?”
“No. Yes. I mean I have friends, but …”
“You desire more than friendship?”
“Exactly,” he said and leaned forward, his face coming close to mine. I held my breath as he bent over our two joined hands. “You see, there’s this girl. In my apartment building. We’ve talked, but that’s all.”
“You talk? Or you say ‘hello?’”
“Say ‘hello,’ but I want to really talk, you know?”
Before I could stop myself, I nodded and whispered, “Yes.”
“Maybe even ask her out.” I raised my gaze and found his locked on me. A smile flitted about the edges of his lips. “Can you tell me if I have a chance?”
Heat rose from my neck to burn my cheeks, but the lines about the corners of his eyes deepened as his grin broadened. He did recognize me.
I jerked my hand from underneath his. “Did you know all along?”
His smile drooped a little, but his eyes still shone. Shaking his head, he said. “I didn’t know until you asked me about my heart’s desire. You may have covered your red hair with a scarf, Cindy, but I’d recognize those green eyes anywhere. I’ve been admiring them for months. I just hadn’t figured out how to take the next step until now.”
I laughed. “Me too. I guess we both just needed a little help from the stars.”
He held out his hand again. “I kind of like this game. Shall we see what else the stars have in store?”
About the Author: Liese Sherwood-Fabre was born in Dallas, Texas. After spending ten years abroad, she returned to Dallas with her husband of twenty-seven years, three children, and one English mastiff. She has spent most of her professional career with the Federal government, having worked in Washington, D.C., Honduras, Mexico, and finally Moscow, Russia. Her experiences have blessed her with a variety of people and places that inspire and populate her stories. She has been writing for about twelve years, and her stories have appeared Girls' Life’s Big Book of Friendship Fiction, CrossTIME, Fresh Ink, and Briar Cliff Review. www.liesesherwoodfabre.com