Discover more from Fiction by Bill Adler
A short story
Ethan tapped on a sample invitation in the wedding sourcebook as a woman wandered by their table at Starbucks. “I like this design. It’s romantic and eleg—” he sputtered to his fiancé, Caitlin.
The woman with the long, curly locks of brown hair, perfect skin, and flirtatious smile passed behind Caitlin. She wore a turquoise dress that became sheer in his mind's eye. A brown shawl covered one of her shoulders. Around her neck hung a wide necklace engraved with three Celtic symbols, two of which Ethan recognized—the Dara and Celtic knots—but the one formed by three spirals that orbited each other rang no bells.
She circled the table next to theirs before sitting and wrapping her hands around her coffee cup.
Ethan wrapped his hands around his cup.
“She’s the most beautiful—” Ethan halted his thought mid-sentence, like a driver urgently slamming on the brakes, fearful that he might be speaking those words, not just thinking them. He wiped a sweat bead off his head.
Get back on track! he commanded himself. He forced his attention to the wedding sourcebook.
“Everything okay?" Caitlin asked.
“Yeah, yeah. Just overwhelmed and happy. I can’t believe we’re getting married in six months.”
“Not if we don’t choose a wedding invitation, we’re not.” She squeezed Ethan’s hand. “Let’s get to it.”
When they woke the following day, Ethan kissed Caitlin and slipped out from under the blanket. “I’ve got to get ready for work.”
“You don’t have to get up for another hour.”
“See you after work.” Ethan ran his fingers along Caitlin’s breast.
She moaned softly and rolled onto her side.
The wind drove rivets of rain down Ethan’s neck, and although it was only a half block to the bus stop from his Second Avenue apartment, he wished he’d taken an umbrella. Holding his backpack above his head, Ethan sprinted to the bus and jumped on board.
The windshield wipers beat in vain against the pelting rain, and the side windows fogged from the humidity.
Ethan’s heart rate had not yet slowed from his run when he saw the same gorgeous woman from Starbucks sitting across from him. Her soaking dress clung to her body, her hair cascaded along her cheeks, and she smiled at Ethan, who not-so-subtly stared at her until he reached his stop at 49th Street and Second Avenue.
What’s the matter with me? Ethan thought. There’s nothing wrong with me. It’s pre-wedding jitters. I’m ready to settle down. I love Caitlin, and she loves me, and there’s no woman in the world who makes me happier. Normal, it’s normal to look.
He texted Caitlin and suggested dinner at their favorite Italian restaurant.
She instantly agreed.
Relief bathed Ethan.
Until that evening when the same woman was sitting at the bar alone, sipping from a martini glass. She looked at him, locked eyes, and mouthed, “I love you, Ethan.”
Ethan miss-swallowed a gnocchi, precipitating a minute-long coughing fit. He reached for his wine, finishing it in one gulp.
“Are you okay, babe?”
“Food went into the air pipe. I’m all right,” he croaked.
“You should drink some water, too.”
Ethan did and then poured himself another glass of wine.
Because they were out late on a work night, Ethan and Caitlin hurried to get ready for sleep, changing into pajamas, brushing their teeth, washing their faces, setting up their clothes and bags for the following day, compressing an hour-long activity into fifteen minutes.
When his phone's alarm sounded, Ethan found himself at the bed’s edge, his arm draped over the side, not spooned with Caitlin or even close to her, as he slept most nights.
The morning light zigzagged through their blinds.
Something’s different about Caitlin. But what? Ethan scooted even closer to the bed’s edge as he pondered that question. A cold wind cascaded down his spine, chilling his bones, blood, and entire body. Ethan shivered, then sneered. I know! Caitlin doesn’t love me. Her feelings for me are like that of a roommate. If she doesn’t love me, I can’t love her.
And I love another woman.
He decided to break up with Caitlin rather than suffer a painful divorce a year from now, or worse, remain trapped in a lifelong loveless marriage, a prisoner of banality.
Ethan saw the woman that afternoon at Moo Books. He knew he would—he was drawn to this place today because their lives were inseparable. Ethan walked toward her as she stood with her hands clasped, her smile sunshine, her lips beckoning.
“I want to kiss you,” he said.
“I want that, too.”
Ethan dropped the book he had been holding. When he stood after retrieving the book, she was gone, but he was certain he’d see her again soon, and when he did, they’d start making plans for their forever future.
Ethan left a goodbye note for Caitlin because she wasn’t worth the time and trouble of breaking up in person.
Ethan took the next day off from work, found a new apartment, and moved everything of value, which was surprisingly little, or maybe not surprisingly, because the only thing of importance to him was the woman. His heart fluttered when he thought about her and their future together.
I don’t even know her name, and I can’t wait to find out!
The next day, he saw her standing in front of a chestnut cart at the seventy-ninth street entrance to Central Park, steam swirling above the bag in her hand. Ethan started to cross Fifth Avenue when a cement truck rumbled past, obscuring his view. After the truck was gone, so was she.
Ethan ran across the street, shouting to the chestnut seller, “Where is she?”
“The woman who just bought the chestnuts.”
“No woman. I haven’t sold a bag of nuts in the past hour. You want some?” He motioned to his wares.
“The gorgeous woman in the turquoise dress with the Celtic necklace. You must have seen her.”
“No woman. If you don’t want to buy chestnuts, go somewhere else because you’re scaring away the customers.”
“You just said you don’t have any customers.”
The man shrugged.
Lucas held Allie’s hand while he fished the diamond ring out of his pocket. He wanted this moment to last forever, but he also couldn’t wait to hear Allie say, “Yes.”
He had reserved a table at the Four Seasons, and although dinner would cost two weeks’ salary, that was nothing compared to a lifetime of happiness.
A woman wearing a turquoise dress and Celtic necklace seated alone at the table next to theirs ran her finger along the rim of her champagne flute and locked eyes with Lucas.
Lucas fumbled the engagement ring and dropped it onto a spinach leaf in his salad.
Allie laughed loudly, and, after a moment, Lucas joined in, happy Allie wasn’t upset.
He looked for the woman with the necklace, and although she was now gone, he knew he’d see her again.
700 years earlier
Moira peered through the mist behind Carrickfergus Castle toward the strange sounds in the woods. Ordinarily, she’d bring her husband, Niall, with her—given the proliferation of goblins, changelings, leprechauns, banshees, and other dangerous creatures in the forest—but that was not possible today because her husband was missing.
She stepped cautiously toward the moans and rustling, avoiding twigs and mud. The sun had just set, the fireflies and rising moon illuminating the woods.
An ominous whisper to her left. A pooka? The sun’s glow was still too strong for a pooka to be out, but perhaps not, Moira thought. She walked faster, flexing her fingers to get them ready in case she needed her knife.
After another few minutes, she found Niall naked on a pile of leaves, his legs intertwined with one of the castle’s maids, their bodies sheened in sweat.
Moira screeched. She retrieved the blade from under her dress, took two strides forward, and stabbed her husband through the heart.
She held the weapon over the maid, but before she could kill her, the maid struck Moira with a tree limb, a ferocious crack tearing through the woods. Moira collapsed onto the forest floor.
A tiny being wearing a red hat and cape, observing the fight atop a nearby mushroom, clapped and hooted, “Encore, encore!” The little person slid off the mushroom, its cape flapping, and ran to Moira, who, with what little life remained, turned her head toward it.
With her last breath, she squeaked, “A Far Darrig!” A wicked leprechaun!
The Far Darrig nodded and whispered in Moira’s ear, “That I am. And my gift to you is eternal revenge.”
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