The sign above the door read, “The Pierotta sisters. Psychic readings. Achieve wealth, love, and happiness! Walk-ins welcome.”
Archie wasn’t sure if he believed in psychics, but he was feeling desperate. He’d been demoted at work. His girlfriend Eliza was returning one text for every three of his, and on Friday, she’d had lunch with Stan from marketing instead of him. Yesterday, he’d woken to discover that the tropical fish in his carefully cultivated tank had all gone belly-up in the night. That was the final straw. Archie wanted some control back in his life, and a little insight into his future seemed like just the ticket.
The Pierotta sisters were called Edie and Winnie, and they did palm readings as a team.
“Winnie’s so soft-hearted that she hates to give people bad news,” Edie explained. “And I’m a cynic by nature, so I often forget to include positive information. We round each other out.”
The reading room was lit by dim lamplight, with red velvet armchairs around a circular table. A cinnamon-scented haze of incense filled the room. Archie sat while the two sisters gazed at his palm, occasionally murmuring to one another. When they finished, Winnie appeared concerned, but Edie seemed to have a gleam in her eye.
“Oh, dear,” Winnie said. “Archie, I’m so sorry. I’ve never seen this before. It’s highly unusual.”
“You’re screwed,” said Edie. “In every area of your life, you are completely screwed.”
Archie gulped. “Ev…every area?
“Yes,” said Edie. “You know that novel you’ve been writing?”
“I just finished it,” said Archie. For the past two years, he’d devoted every spare minute of his evenings and weekends to the novel. “Will I ever get it published?”
Edie glanced again at Archie’s palm. “No, dear. Not now, not ever. It isn’t going to happen for you.”
Winifred attempted to soften the blow. “Perhaps you might stick to short stories.”
“Will I have more success writing those?”
“Well… no, but at least you’ll have wasted less in terms of time and emotional investment.”
“That is upsetting,” he said. “But I suppose lots of people have dreams that don’t come to fruition. The important thing in life is to have a lot of friends who care about you.”
“About that,” said Edie. “That insecurity you have, that all of your friends are talking about you behind your back? It’s true. They’ve been having meetings every Wednesday night, just to talk about your shortcomings.”
Archie sputtered. “But… but… my therapist told me it was ridiculous to worry about that! She even said I shouldn’t assume that I’m so important, and that people have better things to do than discuss my faults.”
“I know it’s hard to hear,” said Winnie. “Still, isn’t it nice to know you’ve brought so many people together?”
“I… I suppose that’s something,” said Archie, reeling from shock. “What about Eliza?”
“Only interested in your money,” said Edie.
“But I haven’t got any money!”
“When you first started dating, she’d overheard something about you having fifty thousand dollars.”
“In student loans!”
Winnie said, “It’s too bad about Eliza. But there is something you can do to change your love life dramatically.”
“Winnie,” said Edie, in a low, warning voice.
“Listen closely,” said Winnie. “You’re going to a party tonight, aren’t you?”
“A wedding reception,” said Archie.
“At the reception, there’ll be a buffet table with lots of different hors d’oeuvres,” said Winnie. “You’ll see some bacon-wrapped dates. Just make sure you remember to have one. It’ll make all the difference, you’ll see. ”
Edie frowned. “I would advise Archie to try any other appetizer on the table, but not the dates.”
“Trust me,” said Winnie. “Archie, you’ll be much happier if you make sure to try the dates.”
“I could not disagree more,” said Edie. “There will be many other things to eat. They’ll have some roasted onions with a lovely balsamic glaze. You’ll like them.”
“But if you value your happiness at all, you’ll try the dates.”
Archie had had enough. “Now look here,” he said. “It seems no matter what I do, something terrible is going to happen. Is that about right?”
Both women exchanged glances and nodded uncomfortably.
“Well, I’ve had enough of predicting the future. There’s no way my situation could be as dire as both of you say. I’m not listening to another word of it.” And he stormed out of the reading room in a fit of righteous anger.
Archie’s hand hovered over the buffet table between a dish of roasted pearl onions on toothpick skewers, and a tray of bacon-wrapped dates. He was at the wedding reception alone, as Eliza had texted him to say that she was leaving him for Stan from marketing. Despondent, he pondered his options. He considered forgoing food altogether, but his stomach rumbled. Archie decided he would try a date, after all. They did look rather tasty. As he reached for the tray, his hand collided with the hand of another wedding guest, a woman who had been reaching for the bacon-wrapped dates herself. They chuckled at their awkward collision. The woman seemed to be alone. Archie screwed up his courage and blurted out, “You wouldn’t happen to be here without a date, would you?”
Her eyes twinkled. “It looks like I may have found one,” she said, holding up one of the dates from the tray.
Archie’s heart warmed to the woman’s smile. Those two old frauds were wrong, he thought. Things were starting to look up.
In the reading room, Edie and Winnie were still bickering. “I cannot believe you told him to go for the dates,” said Edie. “You want him to end up getting married to his cousin?”
“It’s not the worst thing in the world, to accidentally marry a long-lost cousin,” said Winnie. “Besides, he had such a nice aura. I just wanted him to have a chance to be happy. Is that so wrong?”
“Well, it’s certainly not the worst thing that’ll ever happen to him,” said Edie.
Alexis Silas writes in Chicago, IL, the greatest city on earth. She has a lot of books, a great partner, and an adorable but high-maintenance cat.