Short Story- Up to Fate


The thick, almost black clouds gathered ominously in the sky above her, the distant rumble of thunder assuring her of the storm that would soon strike. She could already feel it coming- the tension in the air, the moisture that clung to her like a second skin, despite the light jacket she had, luckily, been wearing when she left.

With a groan that slowed her rapid steps, Hannah remembered that this particular jacket didn't have a hood, and she hadn't bothered to grab an umbrella either, in her furious departure. She would have to find shelter soon if she didn't want to get soaked. She let out another exasperated groan, and resumed her swift gait through the empty park.

Where was she supposed to go? She hadn't really been planning on going anywhere when she rushed out of the house. She wasn't even really sure why she left like she did, instead of taking the car. Part of her told her to go back and get it, but the idea was quickly dismissed. She couldn't go back home. Sean's words were still fresh in her mind, as was the sting of their delivery, and as much as she didn't want to admit it, she just didn't have the strength to face him again. Not so soon.

Even if it meant getting a little wet.

As if on cue, a large droplet landed smack in the middle of her head. She rubbed the now damp patch of hair on top of her scalp and glared up at the sky accusingly. 'As if things couldn't get any worse,' Hannah thought bitterly. As another drop made a beeline for her forehead, she adjusted the short collar of her jacket, hunching her head forward slightly to protect herself from any other tiny water missiles that decided to target her. 'Even nature is against me today.'

She continued on down the lonely sidewalk, still too stubborn to turn around and go back home. 'How could he be so... so... not understanding!' Hannah thought angrily, not noticing her pace was steadily growing faster. 'This is the only thing I've ever wanted in my life, and he gives me this... ultimatum. How could he... that... ugh!!!' A knot began to form within her throat, and her vision became curiously blurred with thoughts of what had happened. How could she choose between them? The love of her life, or the experience of her life. It just wasn't...

"It's not fair!" she cried, staring up into the sky with all the loathing she could muster. "You've never given me the time of day before, and now what am I- some little pawn in one of your sick jokes!" Her fists clenched at her sides as she tried to push down the sickening knot that threatened to choke her. Everything around her dissolved into a muddled haze- the tall trees and manicured bushes, the austere benches and towering light posts. It all closed in around her, stifling her, choking her, smothering her.

She felt her feet break into a sprint. She had to get away from everything. Away from Sean, away from the world, away from the awful choice she had to make. She would leave it all behind. All she had to do was keep running.

Hannah barely got a block before her luck caught up with her. In the blink of an eye, her feet flew out from beneath her, and she was sent flying down to land hard on her backside. The sharp pain that shot up her spine jolted her out of her dispirited delirium for a moment.

What had she slipped on? Her eyes scanned the pavement around her before a glint of silver caught her eye. She stared at it, somewhat dazed, before reaching forward and pulling it up out of a small puddle.

It was a quarter. And an old quarter, at that. Some sort of rust material was beginning to collect around the edges, which she couldn't rub off with her thumb. She had a brief moment to ponder over it before her emotions came rushing back to her.

"You stupid... thing!" she snapped, and hurled it through the air as hard as she could. It hit a nearby light post with a clink that echoed oddly above the sounds of the rain. She sniffed in indignation, and wiped away the frustrated tears pooling at the corners of her eyes before burying her head in her knees. She sat like that for a long moment, somewhere between anger and misery. Water was seeping through the seat of her pants, and the rain that her canvas shoes had absorbed was beginning to saturate her socks, but she didn't care. She hardly even noticed.

"Oh dear, are you all right?!" A voice, ripe with age, called out to her from somewhere down the sidewalk, and the sound of hasty footsteps splashing through the new puddles accompanied the feeling of someone approaching. She looked up in time to see the person stop in front of her, extending a helpful hand.

"Here, honey, let me help you up." Hannah hesitated a moment before taking the wrinkled hand of the old woman, both unwilling to be helped by anyone at the moment, and unsure of whether the stranger was strong enough to do as she said. With a small sigh, she reached up and grasped the surprisingly strong hand, and was hauled to her feet.

"Now, come child, let's get you out of this rain." Hannah opened her mouth to protest, but was quickly whisked off the pavement to a nearby bench under the protective overhang of a tree. She wiped away the wetness from her face, both tears and raindrops, and looked up at the person who had helped her.

"There, that's much better." The woman smiled warmly at her, the action mirrored in her deep brown eyes. A pale, almost milky film was beginning to form around her pupils, sending a peculiar chill through Hannah. "Tell me, my dear, what are you doing out here in such unbecoming weather?" Her voice cracked at certain syllables, making it somewhat difficult to understand her words.

"I... I'd really rather not talk about it." Hannah looked away from the woman's encompassing gaze, concentrating instead on a patch of grass just in front of her feet.

"Oh, I see." A few moments of respectful silence followed the woman's words before she spoke again, her voice much softer than it had previously been. "You know, dear, it is always better to talk about your troubles rather than keep it all bottled in." Hannah chanced another look at the old woman's face, and was once again captivated by her warm, friendly visage. She seemed so kind and understanding. Even as her inner mind argued against it, her mouth began relating her troubles.

"Well, you see... I got this call today. I..." She paused, half-aware that she was telling everything to a complete stranger, but the woman's gently insistent nod seemed to draw the story out of her. "It was an invitation to join this excavation team out in Australia, which I've been trying to get for the past, um... for the past year."

"How wonderful."

"It's supposed to be this big historical thing, and I really wanted to be a part of it and all, but... there's this guy..."

"Oh, a guy."

"Yeah. I told him about it, but he got kinda mad. He said that he wasn't comfortable with the idea of me being halfway around the world, with a bunch of people I don't know, for at least two years, and well... I guess I can understand what he's talking about. I mean, it would be a long time, and long distance relationships don't tend to work out, but... ugh, we could've at least tried to see where it ended up, instead of him basically telling me it's either the job or him-" Hannah stopped abruptly, suddenly realizing she was jabbering on and on, at a rather rapid pace. She blushed and looked away, mumbling a short apology.

"Don't worry about it, dear," the woman replied with a smile. Her smiled slowly faded, and was replaced by a look of deep contemplation. "Well dear, about this guy... Do you love him?" Hannah's mouth opened slightly, somewhat speechless. She assumed she should've felt offended by this blunt question, but, oddly enough, didn't feel that in the least.

"O-Of course I love him. I mean..." Her voice dropped considerably, as did her eyes. "I thought I was going to marry him."

"Mm hmm." The woman nodded slowly, and took another second to think. "You really want to do this thing in Australia?"

"Oh, very much. It's been my dream ever since I was a little girl, and my dad took me to this museum out in New York. I..." Hannah paused once again, and sighed. "You see the predicament I'm in? I... I don't know what to do." She felt the knot once again climb up into her throat, and she forced herself to choke it down.

"Certainly is quite the dilemma," the woman said thoughtfully. Another space of time passed, filled only with the pitter of the rain and the distant rumble of thunder. Hannah watched the woman expectantly, waiting for her to speak again. "I think..." The woman took Hannah's hand in her own, as if preparing her for some sort of bad news. "There are only a few great opportunities that come in one's life. More often than not, you only get one chance to seize it. And, more often than not, those great opportunities come at some price. You can't always have everything at once, child. Life just doesn't work that way."

Hannah let out a staggered breath, and nodded her head. "I guess I understand. But..."

"What does your heart say?"

"I... I don't really know."

The woman sighed softly. "Do you believe in Fate, dear?" Despite the long pause, Hannah didn't answer. "Well, sometimes, it helps to look at a situation as if you do. This call, which you've been wanting for so long, finally comes, and the only thing keeping you from going it this man, am I right?" Hannah nodded meekly. "My dear, love is a wonderful thing, but are you willing to give up this opportunity for it? If it is true love, he will still be there for you when you get back. I think Fate will agree."

The woman smiled at her before bending down over the side of the bench, and coming back up with her hand held out in front of her. Hannah looked down, and it took a moment before she realized that the woman was holding a coin in her wrinkled hand. A quarter.

The same quarter Hannah had slipped on earlier.

It was with this realization that time began to slow down. Hannah saw the woman flip the coin up into the air. She watched it spin in slow motion, the tiny water droplets flinging off it's surface. She saw her own hand reach out and catch the coin, squeezing it so tightly that she could feel the round edge imprinting itself into her palm. She then saw the old woman, still smiling, begin to fade away before her very eyes. Everything was fading away, until there was nothing but black.


~


Hannah's eyes snapped open, but quickly shut again when the bright morning sunlight assaulted them. After a few blinks to adjust to the change, she sat up, taking a good look around. She was no longer in the park, soaked to the bone with cold rain water. She was sitting her own, very dry bed, safely within the confines of her bedroom walls.

She glanced at the space next to her, the bedding still unusually neat. Sean had not spent the night there. No, he hadn't been back since yesterday. Hannah stopped, and tried to separate her dream from the reality of what had actually happened.

She had gotten the call. They had gotten into a fight. But, it had been Sean who had stormed out of the house. Not Hannah. She hadn't left the house at all, not even to look for him. She hadn't been in the park when it started raining. She hadn't met the old woman.

After a moment of muted disappointment, she noticed a slight pain in her right palm. Looking down, she saw it was clenched quite tightly. She relaxed the muscles, letting it open gingerly. She almost screamed at what she saw.

There, in her palm, was a quarter. A cold, damp quarter. With some sort of rust-like material around the edges.

The quarter from her dream.

Hannah's thoughts were disrupted by the sound of the front door closing. Familiar footsteps echoed through the hall, and began to climb the wooden stairs. She looked down briefly at the quarter she still held in her hand before rising from her bed, and slipping it into the pocket of her shorts.

She and Sean had a lot to talk about.