When Fate Arrives In a Bottle
For the past three nights in a row, she had been waking up at precisely 3:03 a.m, sweating profusely. Like clockwork, she’d turn over and open her eyes to the hazy yet palpable reality that the space next to her side of the bed remained as unoccupied as it was before. It’s been exactly seven years since Cherry Libertine vowed to never fall in love again.
With her dirty thirties approaching and a very pregnant twin sister to share them with, she was starting to feel like she made the wrong decision. The two used to do everything together—even dreaming the same dreams—that is until they didn’t. Her singleness had suddenly taken on a bitter flavor; once self-imposed, it no longer felt like a choice.
Cherry was so determined to stick to her vow: to never, ever, fall in love ever again. A few flings, a couple of one-night stands annually, maybe learning Krav Maga… those she could do. But falling deeply and madly in love again? That seemed too daunting. The last time really took it out of her, plus, she wouldn’t even know where to begin.
She’d never admit it—especially during Sunday dinners—but lately, Cherry’s been constantly wondering how different things would be had someone shared her queen-sized bed with her every night. Not with her twin sister, at least not anymore, but with a man. One with a good heart, a similar libido, and just as crazy as she is. Gulp.
It was in his red 1986 Toyota Corolla—with the pop-up headlights—in a park’s empty lot, under a clear starry night, when the worst possible scenario happened. The full moon watched the lovers while it snacked on a bowl of popcorn. Despite the army of crickets just outside, all she could hear was their deep, rhythmic breathing. Staring somewhat absentmindedly at the turbid darkness ahead, she spotted a coyote turn to look at her and then scamper into the grove.
It was only their third official date. A practical stranger, he told her he loved her, and she believed it. Twice she asked if he meant what he professed and both times he said yes. She didn’t say it back, because she barely knew him, but she gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Just as he reached across her bare lap to pull her seat’s recliner handle, jolting her backward to kiss her and reaching under her baby blue floral dress—her door abruptly swung open, revealing a young woman who looked exactly like her, standing with a shocked and angry expression on her face. It was her twin sister.
“That again? Anything new you notice?” prodded her twin sister. “Did you see one?”
“No, I didn’t see one. I saw a coyote.” Pressed between her shoulder and cheek as she sorted two weeks' worth of dirty laundry—a least favorite task—she could hear her hair crunching against the glass screen of her phone. “I can’t stop thinking or looking for it. I wish she never told me about any of that.”
“Don’t sweat it too much, twin. You don’t have to worry about some guy double-timing us. It’s only a dream,” assured Apple. “Remember when we buried those lock diaries in the woods, behind the old house when we were ten? I’m literally married to the guy I wrote about. If it came true for me, it will for you."
“Maybe the universe is sadistic. Besides, I don’t know if I want it to come true… that was just a childish fantasy,” Cherry replied. “I hate this dream with a passion. The guy reminded me of… you know. I didn’t feel like me. I felt shy, like some teenager that's never been kissed but wants to be.”
“You’re still talking about that liar?” Apple groaned. “I will be an auntie, I'm already so excited for our future double dates. I know you, C. Of course you want it to come true. Stop running away from love, real love exists. Besides, you didn’t see one anyway.”
After they hung up, Cherry grabbed her blue journal which she lay atop a row of books on her shelf, and began to jot down every detail and nuance of her reoccurring dream. She wrote:
I saw a coyote in this one, hiding in the shadows.
In the mood for some Miles Davis, she turned the volume of her speaker to a four (as to not disturb her finicky elderly next-door neighbor) and aimed to finish laundry by lunch. Her waitressing shift at the Japanese sushi bar she usually managed will begin in six hours. Wishing she could spend the rest of the Sunday swaying her hips to more jazz and getting commissions done, she instantly regretted agreeing to cover for her co-worker.
Ocean Drive, where she usually parked for work, seemed much quieter than usual. The late afternoon, half-foggy and redolent of the salty waters a short distance away, was in twilight before it had to be. If a color could paint this, she mused, making a picture frame with her hands, it would be a deep-sea green, varnished with a light gray gossamer and the cold ocean. It certainly wasn’t the bright and sunny sky blue Cherry was hoping for. Already eager to get home, the gorgeous and beloved thousand-acre park that paralleled the street and cut through the center of the metropolitan city, was the perfect place for a stroll to get in better spirits.
Aside from a squirrel, a couple of bicyclists whizzing past, and a young couple with their toddler sitting on a grassy field under a cypress canopy—a tender sight that reminded her of Apple’s growing family—it was eerily desolate for the weekend. Even the crows were silent; the dogs had gone. Where is everyone? she wondered. Why do I feel so alone?
Just a few minutes away from the bar, as she approached the north edge of the park lined with evergreens, two dragonflies—a red and blue—flew in front of her, stopping in midair at the urban forest’s threshold. Like youthful gatekeepers tasked with the sacred duty of parting unseen barriers separating worlds, going beyond the invisible portal was off-limits. The microscopic reverberations of their wings rang in her skull. Either at war or making love, they left as quickly as they came, departing as she stepped on the concrete sidewalk onto the other side.
“For you Cherry, a dragonfly will lead the way. For Apple, a bear.” That’s what her psychic aunt told her and her twin sister when they turned eighteen.
Dragonflies live in green places. Don't be ridiculous, Cherry thought. But Apple saw a bear right before she met Ben… just like Auntie said…
When she arrived, she was relieved to find the tables already set. Carlos, the dishwasher, sometimes came in early and help set up. As thanks, the girls gave him extra tips.
Haru, a hard-working, quiet father and Japanese-trained sushi chef, was busy behind the bar filleting Kawahagi, or 'Unicorn Leather Jacket.' He bowed when he saw Cherry.
On the register counter, she noted a box of wine she had never seen before. She went to look for Carlos in the kitchen but he wasn’t there.
He must be in the basement, Cherry posited.
“Carlos?” she called to the darkness below. She could hear faint salsa music playing. “The tables, Primo! I owe ya one!”
“De nada, Sweetie!” he yelled back.
Feeling brighter already, Cherry lugged the unfamiliar box of wine and carefully carried it up to the cramped storage room. Surprised to find the door ajar and the lights on as only managers knew the code, she opened it suspiciously, afraid of finding a goblin getting wasted on Prosecco.
Crouching between towers of unopened boxes of wine, an ash blond man was checking his clipboard inside. “Uh… who are you?” she asked.
“Shoot, I forgot that one. Here—let me help,” the stranger took the case and placed it beside him. “I sold wines to the owner and she asked if I could unload them here. She should be coming in soon to replace the drink menu. I won’t steal anything, promise.”
“I see. Need help?” Cherry asked, a little annoyed he was changing everything. His loose, curtained hair was getting in his eyes; the jean on jean outfit he had on—which can be grotesque—she thought he pulled off well. It had softened and was fading in all the right places.
“I’d love some help, actually. I’m afraid I’m messing it all up,” he smiled.
The 'storage' room was more like a closet. Crouching beside him on the other side of the box, she searched for something to open it with. He retrieved a switchblade from his pocket and quickly cut through the tape. Cherry noticed that the bottle in the middle had a silver capsule; the rest were gold. “Why is that one different?”
He pulled out the dark amber bottle. “Ah. La Libellule, a delicious, medium-bodied, cherry red that I definitely meant to take home with me.”
“Cherry red… my name is Cherry.”
“Yum. Would you like to try it with me? I know you have work but a glass can’t hurt, right? It’ll take the edge off things. You did look pretty, but stressed when you walked in.”
Just then, the door swung open and Deedee, the owner, came barging in. “Oh hi, Cherry! Lovely to see you, William.” She sounded tense, worried. “Listen, we aren’t opening tonight—we won’t be until further notice. There’s a new bug going around, officials want everybody to shut down. Finish up and head home, I’ll be in touch as soon as I know what’s up.”
Deedee left in a hurry. Stunned, they stared speechless at each other. Cherry noticed he had large, gray-blue eyes with hints of green and wrinkles on the corners that made it look like he was always smiling. “Well?” he asked, balancing the bottle on his palm.
“What the hell,” she chuckled. Careful to avoid falling, she went down to the bar and grabbed two Bordeaux wine glasses. When she returned, he was opening the bottle with an odd two-pronged tool. “What is that?”
“This? It’s an 'Ah So.' I don't see these around much neither.” Pulling it, the cork slid up the neck effortlessly. “Hand me that glass won’t you, darlin’?”
“Here, I’ll do it,” Cherry insisted. He handed her the bottle and she glimpsed its papery white label for the first time. In black, La Libellule, a Merlot, was written in dainty cursive. Underneath was an illustration of a dragonfly amongst tall blossoms.
“You look like you just saw a demon.”
“Just… staring at the dragonfly. It’s a pretty label, is all.”
“I see. 'La Libellule' means 'The Dragonfly' in French,” he explained, reaching for his glass of Merlot. “Cheers,” he smiled, lifting his glass to her.
“Cheers,” she said, lifting hers. Gently swirling the deep burgundy liquid, she took in its rich, poignant aroma. Cherry was no wine connoisseur but she loved a good red. “Thanks for sharing this with me, amid this virus thing.”
“Pleasure is all mine. Besides, this could be the last time in a while I get to enjoy good wine with beautiful company.” He found her extremely attractive but guarded as she leaned against the wall, holding her glass so delicately. His deep, resonant voice began to take on a flirtiness as the red liquid cast a love spell on him. “Mmm, gotta love cherry. How do you like it?”
“So good. I love its subtle sweetness and how smooth the…”
“Tannins,” she nodded, satisfied. The tension between them was so thick you cut it. “It’s getting hot in here, let’s finish this downstairs? We can unpack the rest later if you aren’t in a hurry. Also, do you mind if the guys try some?”
“All great ideas. It’s a date,” he grinned.