Fortunately

By Jocelyn Paige Kelly

n the corporate world where progress relies on the positive spinning of indisputable facts, Brad feels himself becoming stilted. Cubicle. Textured gray walls. White push pins. Office calendar. Ergonomic setup. All these things equal a boring office job and no girlfriend.

Brad winds up his tiny dinosaur and sets it to attack the to-do pile on his desk. The electricity that crackles from inside the toy’s mouth usually amuses Brad, but Sparky has lost his steam, and the weariness of another night alone strikes him with more redundancy than an abused smoke break.

“Where?” William towers, like a grandfather clock, over Brad’s cubicle, the next one over, pointing at his mouth as if to say: “It’s five till noon.”

“I can eat anything.”

“Chinese.” William states, less of a question, more of a reaffirmation of the usual.

Brad agrees.

Brad drives the car.

Predictable.

Bobblehead Yoda reaffirms the bumps along the road from the dashboard with a bopping yes, yes, yes, and disapproves every time Brad turns right. William says, in a cartoon voice, “Always in motion is the future.”

Three stoplights. The same CD. Humming the whole way there until they turn into the place.

Under New Management. Golden Fortune.

An unknown variable. This excites Brad.

Outside, the same gray walls as before. Different menu. Different staff. Inside, the same gray walls as before but these sparkle. Shiny new paint. The new owner tells them it’s called “Metallica.”

They sit, order, and then eat. Chinese food. Fast and efficient. A variant in taste from the previous ownership, but nothing definitively extraordinary.

Then the waiter gives them a plate with two fortune cookies.

Brad gets his money out for his half of the check when William picks one up and cracks it. A smell exudes from the cookie. Sweetness. “YOU WILL OPEN A CAN OF WORMS,” William says.

“What?”

“That’s what it says.”

“Interesting. Wonder what the hell that means.”

“What does yours say?”

Brad cracks his open and reads out loud: “THE CAPITAL OF CANADA IS OTTAWA. And a phone number.”

“Someone in the fortune cookie factory is having a good laugh.”

***

Brad loves the receptionist, Big Hair Beatrice, in an eccentric aunt kind of way. At her desk, she’s warm mostly to him, complaining about her spider veins and flatulence. When anyone else engages conversation with her, she feigns interest as if answering the phones takes precedence over socializing.

On occasion, Brad would take Sparky from his desk and play games with her plastic triceratops, giggling silently, neither of them saying a coherent word of English. It was all d’oh’s, oww’s, and grrr’s. Today Bea waves her triceratops at them.

“Grrr.”

“Grrr,” Brad responds, sans Sparky.

If Brad had balls, he would engage conversation with the semi-quiet, semi-friendly, pixie-esque girl of his dreams who pins real flowers to her hair. Rachel. But talking with Bea is easy because she’s the same age as William.

“Rover wants to know when Sparky can come out and play,” Bea says.

“Isn’t that like a dog’s name?” William asks.

“Actually it’s short for Land Rover.”

“Maybe later, Bea.”

“Down?” Bea asks.

Brad breaks off eye contact. Looks at his reflection in his shoes. Dullard, he thinks, and needing of a haircut.

“Ask her,” Bea says.

“Ask who?” William asks.

Brad and Bea share a moment of silence. Brad has never told Bea about his feelings for Rachel specifically, but she prods him from time to time, alluding to the mystery office girl.

“We got these weird fortunes,” William begins.

“Yeah,” Bea says.

“Yeah,” William says.

Brad places William’s fortune into the triceratops’ mouth without him noticing. Bea smiles.

“Weird how?”

“Weird-weird.  Like funny, but kind of factual.” William wavers back and forth on the balls of his feet, jiggling change in his pocket.

Bea tilts her head. Bobs.

“Brad’s was the capital of Canada.”

Bea looks confused. “I don’t follow you.”

“It said: THE CAPITAL OF CANADA IS OTTAWA,” William says with his hands.

“How is that a prediction?”

“I have no idea. Weird, huh?”

“Yeah,” she begins to ignore William. Types.

“You wanna hear what mine said?”

Brad goes hmph.

“Not really,” Bea says. Types.

“It said that I would open a can of worms.”

“That doesn’t surprise me.”

“What makes you say that?” asks William.

Bea takes out a jar from her desk. “Open,” she says, handing it to William.

“Why?”

“Just,” she says and gestures with her hands.

William takes the jar and after a few hard jerks, the lid comes off. Inside the contents reek of sour sugar. Gummi worms.

“Cool. Can I have one?”

“No,” Bea says and offers Brad one instead.

***

Brad slumps at his desk and avoids eye contact with the heavy gray walls of his cubicle, the radio droning on in the distance with some insipid eighties tune. “Here’s our no-brainer question of the day. Be the first caller to correctly identify the capital of Canada, and win tickets to see the sold-out reunion of Fluke.”

Fluke! Rachel’s favorite band.

Brad looks at the phone number from his fortune and dials. Rings once. Twice. The deejay answers. “Ottawa!”  Brad screams it before he can give the guy a name or say hello. The deejay laughs.

***

Origami creatures papered Rachel’s desk. A world alive with paper animals. Wall Street fish clutter the pencil sharpener. People magazine Pegasus considers flight from the outbox. A Timely tortoise waits in the inbox.

“So,” he says, standing right over Rachel’s cubicle. She pops up briefly from behind her computer. All Brad can see are the tops of her eyes glaring at him, seemingly annoyed.

“So,” he says again, doing the duck thing with his neck like he does in the car when he’s driving, though it’s more about nerves than looking cool right now. He reminds himself that Rachel is not William and will not understand that he’s trying to be cool. It’s like starting over.

“So,” she says in return, unmoving, staring. A blink of the eyes.

“I got tickets to Fluke.”

She stands up. “No shit. I mean, really?”

“I know it’s last minute and all.”

“Are you taking anyone with you? You’re taking William, aren’t you? I knew it.”

“No, William’s got plans,” Brad lies.

“Really?”

“Yeah. Big date.”

“A date. That’s big.”

“So you wanna?”

“You’re asking me?”

He walks over to her desk and picks up her five-dollar bill frog. “I was actually thinking of asking Kermit here.”

“Maybe Sparky and Kermit can go. I bet heads would roll,” she jokes.

“Yeah, maybe.”

***

Brad takes them to Golden Fortune before the concert.

Dimly lit. No other customers.

“Charming,” she says.

He says nothing in return and sits down at the table before her.

Stiff chopsticks. Rachel struggles pulling them apart. They divide without clear division. The splinters make it difficult for her to use so she spends most of her time whittling them against each together to make them smooth. Brad drinks two glasses of water and stares at the menu even though he knows he’s going to order the number seven. The waiter comes and Rachel puts her napkin in her lap. For thirty minutes Rachel folds as many placemats as she can get her hands on and transforms them into origami creatures. Before they both realize, the restaurant is swimming in placemat fish and swans.

The food arrives. Brad digs in with healthy servings. Rachel stares at the tentacles floating around in her vegetarian soup, then refrains from sighing as she pokes at it with her chopsticks as if to spark some life into it or reaffirm that it’s dead.

“So,” Rachel says.

Then the waiter brings them their fortunes.

He squints to read the tiny type.

CAR RIDES ARE NEVER FUN ON A FIRST DATE. TRY NOT TO WORRY ABOUT THIS, AND KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD. BETTER NOT TO HIT A PARKED CAR THAN TO BE TOO FRIENDLY. BEFORE YOU DROP HER OFF TONIGHT, COMPLIMENT HER ABOUT HER HAIR AND HOW AS MUCH AS SHE LOOKS GOOD WITH IT DOWN, SHE LOOKS EVEN SEXIER WITH IT UP. DON’T TRY TO KISS HER. NOT ON THE FIRST DATE. TELL HER YOUR FORTUNE READS: {TURN OVER} ENJOY THE SHOW.

Brad makes a big show. “Mine reads: ENJOY THE SHOW! What’s yours say?”

“I’d rather not.”

“I told you mine.”

“Ask me again in six months.”

***

Fog rolls off the stage, red lights flicker, the crowd sways. Brad bobs his head, one drink in his hand. Rachel flails. Brad finds this both disturbing as well as cute. It relaxes him, gives reassurance, first date foolishness. As he finishes his drink, he does his surfer-swimming-slash-partial-gopher dance. Glances, giggles, and good music carry them up to the last three up-tempo songs, the slow song pulls them apart with gentle accidental clashes of hands.

The concert ends with only one encore. The long dreary walk back to the car where fans repeat the chorus to various songs, off-key, eardrums buzzing, killing the moment.

Rachel drones on. “I can close my eyes and smell the hot dogs and nachos, the beer and candy, the pot. I can see the rows of people in front of us and behind. The woman with the red scarf crying through half the slow songs, the three teenagers chuckling and text messaging, the two men and their cigars, and that one guy shooting up right in front of us, the look of guilt traveling in his eyes. It all makes me hurt. Don’t you ever wonder what other people are thinking in these in-between moments?”

“No.”

“Really?”

“I guess I’m not as observant as you.”

“No one is. It’s my curse.”

“Well, if it makes you feel better, I’m not observant at all.”

She laughs, then feigns a smile. “Actually…” and that was all she says before the car ride home.

***

For lunch, the number seven.

ASK HER IF SHE WANTS TO PLAY MINI-GOLF. SHE’LL SAY NO. ASK ANYWAY.

For dinner, the number nine.

SHE HATES ROSES.  BUY HER SUNFLOWERS INSTEAD.

***

Three days later: TELL HER YOU’RE SORRY ABOUT THE OFFHAND COMMENT THE OTHER DAY, BUT DON’T SPECIFY WHICH ONE.

Later that evening: ASK HER HOW HER MOTHER IS.

The next day Brad finds a Rolling Stones sunflower on his desk.

***

Three days disappear like vanishing office supplies. Bea’s desk becomes a dry aquarium for Cosmopolitan fish and a five-dollar bill frog, and this makes Brad happy. Rachel whispers in the morning with a cup of coffee to Bea, and they shush the moment he arrives. He looks at her and beams. Words cannot are all the thoughts he can muster in one glance.

***

The dates move from self-conscious word choices to rambling derailing trains of thought, leading to sweaty palms connecting, heads resting on shoulders. Rachel makes Brad a blowfish, and they blow kisses from one to another in the cubicle farm, Cosmopolitan fish to Wired fish and back again.

***

William glues every fortune together he’s received into a long poem, which he gives to Bea much to her chagrin.

***

A week later a Business Week T-Rex stands next to the toy dinosaur on Bea’s desk, gummi worms draped all over. William whistles most of the day and passes by Bea more than usual, but Brad doesn’t ask him why.

***

Golden Fortune smells of garlic and sweet and sour pork.

“You know what would be cool,” William starts.

“What?”

“If when we drove to the Chinese restaurant for lunch tomorrow, you drove like you were in some high action chase movie and we nearly crashed through the front of it.”

Brad thinks about it for a moment. “That could be cool.”

“Yeah.”

“My insurance,” Brad says, gestures like a bird soaring in the distance.

“True.”

“Brad, would you still be my friend if I stopped coming to lunch with you?”

“Why would you do that?”

“I’m tired of Chinese.”

Brad breaks open his fortune cookie. It reads: TELL HER SHE LOOKS BEAUTIFUL.

“They’re just words on a piece of paper.”

“They take the guesswork out. I don’t have to think.”

“Is that really a good thing?”

“It’s good.”

William sighs, belches. He doesn’t even open his fortune cookie. He leaves it sitting on the plate. Brad glares at it, and then at him.

“She really does like you.”

Brad opens William’s fortune and reads. TELL HER SHE LOOKS BEAUTIFUL.

“And I want her to keep liking me.”

***

In front of Brad, William gives Bea another jar of gummi worms with a bow on it.  Bea smiles.

***

The following Monday Bea sends out a non-blaming e-mail complaining about the amount of Chinese leftovers and politely asks if “someone” would please take them home or throw them out.

***

A bridge connects them, thin pieces of tiny paper connecting the dots. Brad spends hours at home learning to make an origami fortune cookie, but he can never get it right. Maybe it just isn’t the right time yet.

WHEN SHE’S MAD AT YOU, TELL HER ABOUT THE ONE GIRL WHO BROKE YOUR HEART AND HOW YOU LEARNED FROM THAT EXPERIENCE. IN OTHER WORDS, MAKE SHIT UP.

***

“I could eat.  You?”  Rachel says, putting on his shirt.

“Yeah,” he says, thinking about what he has in the fridge. “I think there’s some Chinese.”

Rachel walks out of his bedroom and down the hall to the kitchen. “Do you ever not eat Chinese?” she hollers.

Silence. Brad gets up. He knows there are leftovers. He knows they’re in containers and stacked on top of each other. He knows there’s Chinese, but when he stands there in front of the fridge next to her, all he sees are white boxes with red lettering, and it occurs to him as he stands in his socks that she might find this odd.

“But I like Chinese,” he whispers.

“I like Chinese too. But…” she says and puts her hands out at the fridge as if to try and explain how bad it is, by not actually saying anything. “But.” And then she giggles and throws back her head.

“I’m sorry.” He feels terrible all the sudden.

“Don’t be. I mean, this is who you are, isn’t it?”

“I guess. Is that bad?”

“It’s just not what I expected.”

***

For lunch, number thirteen.

THE SECRET YOU’VE BEEN GUARDING, ISN’T.

Brad stares. Rereads. Stares so much that the black lettering blends into the white paper, the sweat from his hands makes the ink bleed. Illegible.

Brad orders a number nine. To go.

YOU WILL GREATLY OFFEND SOMEONE TODAY, AND THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO TO PREVENT IT.

Brad says nothing to Rachel the rest of the day. He tries not to cross eyes. Stays to himself.

“Are you avoiding me?”

“No.”

“You’re avoiding me.”

***

“I’m going for Chinese, anyone want to join?” he asks.

No one answers.

YOU WILL ORDER THE NUMBER FOUR TOMORROW. MAKE SURE TO TELL THEM TO LEAVE OUT THE PEPPERS BECAUSE IT WILL GIVE YOU GAS.

Brad crumbles the fortune up and throws it into the trash.

“Give me another fortune.”

“No.”

He remembers Rachel’s last lecture about manners. “Please.”

“No.”

“I need to know what to do.”

“Do or do not,” the waiter says.

“How about I give you five dollars?”

The waiter hesitates, hands him another fortune cookie, waiting first for the five-dollar bill.

YOU’VE HAD ENOUGH GOOD FORTUNE FOR ONE DAY.

***

The phone rings, but he lets the answering machine get it. Rachel says, “So is your fortune cookie telling you how much I’m hurting inside? Is it telling you that if you ignore me that I’ll love you more?”

Suddenly, Brad has hunger pangs for Chinese food.

IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED, DESTROY ALL EVIDENCE THAT YOU TRIED.

Brad throws out the growing collection of Chinese leftovers in the fridge at home. At work the next day he does the same thing. Bea smiles, watching him from the doorway of the breakroom but frowns when she sees him come back from lunch with a box from Golden Fortune.

***

Two weeks drag by. Brad runs out of new dishes to try. He starts asking for variation on dishes he likes.

VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE.

***

Brad walks by Rachel’s cubicle and doesn’t notice the jar of gummi worms on her desk and the empty tissue box. When he passes Bea, he smiles and notices her snubbing him the way she snubs other people. Suddenly, he’s cold. He misses Rachel but words elude him. His fortune cookie seems to have abandoned him.

He comes back to his cubicle to find a smashed fortune cookie on his desk. A printed note says: “Or else it all crumbles.”

Like a cookie.

***

Brad mopes. The world feels large to him. A Ferris wheel looms in the distance. He decides to walk toward fun. All the rides spin. Couples hold hands. Screams of amusement and terror. The smell of cotton candy reminds him of that blind date when he was sixteen, and he got sick on The Spider. He shudders. Pushes the memory out of him. Regret haunts. The world is suddenly small.

He calls William. No answer.

He calls Bea. William answers. Brad hangs up.

He calls Rachel and he hangs up before she has a chance to say hello.

“Step up and take a chance,” a man reiterates. Three tries to win a big stuffed animal. Brad tries.

The pimply face teenaged boy next to him tries even harder, and Brad turns to see a giddy girl of about fifteen. He relates to the boy, recognizes the need to impress so he backs off and lets him win. The giddy girl kisses the boy on the cheek, and it hits him like a drunken clown dropping into the water tank of his heart. The amusement sinks, his stomach burns. The relationship isn’t magical. It’s not a Cake Walk. It’s real; and real hurts.

***

“I brought you something,” Brad says.

“Did your fortune cookie tell you what to buy?”

“No… I didn’t buy it,” and he starts to leave. “This was a bad idea.”

“Give it to me.”

She opens it. It’s a long cardboard box. Inside is a rolled piece of paper with a sharp end.

She takes it out and looks it over, part awe and part what the hell is this. “It’s…cute, actually.”

“It’s supposed to be a pencil. An origami pencil.”

“Oh? Of course. It’s definitely a pencil.”

“You’re really not a good liar.”

“And you really do try.”

Brad watches as Rachel stares at the origami pencil for a while, a smile gradually arriving on her face. She blushes. When she looks up at him again, he’s brushing her hair back with his right hand. He thinks back to their first date and realizes it’s been six months.

“So. What did your fortune say?”

“Give it six months.”

___

Jocelyn Paige Kelly was raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, but has lived in Northern California for the past ten years. After divorce, she relocated across country to Wilmington, North Carolina, where she’s working on finishing a novel about hurricanes. She works as a creativity coach and stress management consultant and has recently begun working as a medical support hypnotherapist for pain management and birth hypnosis. Additionally, she has been fortunate to run her own arts and crafts business, and has been featured on Boing Boing’s gadgets section. An attendee at the Tin House Writers Workshop and Clarion West alumni, her mentors were Kelly Link, Aimee Bender, Graham Joyce and Dorren Robbins, among others.

She received first place in the Jack London Writers Conference for “Free Ride” in 2007 and was featured in Willard & Maple, The Dos Passos Review, Louisiana Review, Red Wheelbarrow, riverbabble, and Sanskrit. She received an honorable mention for her story, “Fortunately,” in the Words of Love Contest from the Writers’ Workshop of Asheville.

 


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