The fragrance of freshly brewed coffee and pastries wafted in the air. The shop was packed, but he was easily identifiable by his red plaid scarf. I slid in the seat across from him, and though we’d never met, he smiled at me easily, as though we’d been friends our entire lives.
His outward appearance was younger than I’d expected. I guessed that he was somewhere in his mid-thirties, more rakish and debonair than the experienced grandfather persona I’d imagined him to be after reading his advertisement in the paper.
“You seem nervous,” he commented.
“I’ve never thought I would consider doing something like this,” I said. “If my mother knew…”
He cut me off with a teasing glance. “Don’t play the good girl card now. We both know you wouldn’t be here if that were true.”
I scowled. “Do you have it?”
“Of course I do. I would never come empty-handed for a potential client, no matter how indecisive you may be, sweetheart.” He placed an envelope on the table and pushed it towards me.
I looked at it skeptically.
He flashed me a grin, brash and shameless. “You don’t trust me?”
“No,” I said. “I’ve read enough to know that historically, you don’t exactly have a spotless track record.”
He clenched at his chest as though wounded. “Touche. But at least give me a chance to demonstrate my prowess before you decide anything.”
My hands shook as the world seemed to spin around me. My vision cleared, and suddenly, everything was different. People went about their daily business, but they all had strings attached to them, like marionettes in a life-sized puppet show. Long threads that led out the door and to who knew where.
I heard the man speak again. “Do you want to know what colored string you’re looking for?”
I didn’t answer, though the curiosity was fizzing out of me like beer overflowing a glass.
He knew it too. After all, he had a reputation as the king of manipulation. “Lifelines are green,” he said. “Cut that, and the poor soul’s dead. The blue thread controls how much tragedy someone experiences. The more tangled it is, the louder the violins play. But the thread you want to control is the red one. Fate. The man you’re destined to be with is tied on the other end of that string.”
I could see all three threads tied around me. The blue one was already knotted far more than I’d like it to be. But that could change, depending on where the red one led. To whom it led.
“What if I don’t like the answer?” I asked, shaking my head. “No, I don’t think I can do this.”
He only laughed. “Man, you drive a hard bargain. Okay, I’ll tell you what. Let’s find whoever is at the end of your red thread. You can decide then.”
Without waiting for me to agree, he took my red thread and pulled, luring it in like a fishing wire. My heart pounded with anticipation.
And then finally, he tugged once more and came to the end of the thread. It dangled limply from his hand. Nobody was attached to it.
Anger suddenly swelled in my chest. “What does this mean?”
“You have no soul mate.” He simply shrugged, as though he’d known all along. “That’s your fate.”
“But that’s not fair!”
As I said this, I saw them. The couple held hands as they walked through the door. The only thing I could see was the exquisite diamond ring around her finger and the way he gazed adoringly into her eyes.
I wanted to scream. The man I’d loved my entire life was about to marry my best friend. They were going to live happily ever after and have everything I ever wanted. I thought that maybe I could find love again, forget about them, and move on with my own life. But now, I was denied even that.
My fate was to remain alone forever. Suddenly, my heart went cold. I would not accept this.
I grabbed the manila envelope that remained on the table, slid out the contract, and without further thought, scribbled out my signature on the dotted line.
The moment I did, a slow grin spread on his face. “You have the power to change your fate now. What do you want to do?”
I wanted to destroy their happiness. And I wanted to take what I deserved.
I grabbed the knife from my place setting and stepped forward to find the red thread that bound the couple’s souls together. I cut it and heard a satisfying snap, the sound of their souls being severed apart forever. The two of them jerked away from each other.
I grabbed the end of my love’s thread and tied it to mine. The knot was tight, ugly, and matted. I reeled in my love and saw that his face was contorted in pain as his former fiancée watched in horror. The ring disappeared from her finger and transported to mine.
I admired it, and him, affectionately.
“You’re finally mine,” I whispered, and then I kissed him. As I finally lifted my lips away from his to look at his face, I gasped in alarm.
There was no love in his eyes, only disdain. Pure hatred laced his tone. “We may be together, but I will never love you the way I love her.”
The truth hit me, and I was lonelier than I’d been upon the discovery that I had no one tied to my fate thread. Though my love was now mine, we could no longer be friends. The crude knot I’d tied between us tangled further in a snarled web, and my heart hurt beyond anything I’d ever known.
The devil walked to my side as he adjusted his red scarf around his neck, ready to leave.
He whispered one last parting taunt in my ear. “So my dear, tell me…was this worth the price of your soul?”