by Jody Hart Lehrer
Alison clutched the bag of Chinese food and waited at the register to pay the bill. Sing's was the best Chinese restaurant in town, although service was slow.
She looked at her watch, removed the credit card from her wallet, and handed it to the cashier. She had barely made it to the curb, when Mr. Sing, the proprietor, came toward her waiving something small in his hand. "You forget fortune cookie, no?" he said.
Alison liked Mr. Sing, a jovial and warm man, although silly and superstitious. He was always saying, "Fortunes come true!" Alison took the unopened cookie, tore off its wrapping, and broke the cookie in half. Two fortunes fluttered to the curb.
Alison smiled. "Now what? Am I doubly blessed?" She grinned at Mr. Sing.
"You must read two!" he replied, bending to pick up the tiny papers.
Alison didn't want to be rude, but she was already late. Quickly she snatched one fortune. It read, You have made the wrong choice!
"Great," said Alison, "What the hell does that mean?" My choice of jobs? Certainly that could be it; her job in human resources was horrible. Alison was overworked and berated relentlessly by her boss, an angry and ungrateful man.
She shrugged, let the little paper drop to the street, thanked Mr. Sing, and jumped into the yellow cab that had pulled up. Before Mr. Sing could object, the cab was on its way down Main Street toward Alison's new condominium.
Mr. Sing, unseen by Alison or the cab driver, jumped up and down, waving the remaining fortune and mouthing something no one could hear. He unfolded the paper, read it, and let it fall to the ground, hands trembling. The paper said, You have a poor sense of instinct. What you think is not reality.
Alison climbed out of the cab, handed the driver five dollars and said, "Keep the change." It had started to rain, hard, as the cab pulled up to her building. By the time Alison had reached the double door of the building, removed her key from her purse, and fumbled with the tricky lock, she was soaking wet.
A man behind her said, "Let me help you with that lock." Alison looked over her shoulder. She could just make out the face in the poor lighting of the stoop.
He was peculiar, sort of hunched over as though he were 60 years old, but his face suggested he was a good 20 years younger. He had a crooked smile that, combined with the rain dribbling down his cheeks, made him look like a Salvador Dali painting. How odd, Alison thought.
Something inside her head said, Be cautious around this man. Alison, unsure of the cause of her nervousness, let him use her key to open the front door, which he did instantly.
"I've got to meet someone upstairs. Thanks for the help with the door!" she said to the hunched-over man.
He smiled kindly at her, waved and walked down the hallway in the opposite direction, saying over his shoulder, "If you need anything, I live in Unit 10."
Fat chance I'll be calling you, thought Alison, as she hurried upstairs to meet Jason. Jason lived next door to her. He had moved in the same day as had Alison. He seemed pleasant, was funny, and had what Alison called "honest eyes."
Jason had befriended Alison right away, approaching her every time he had spotted her in the lobby, the mailroom, or the health club.
Alison soon learned that Jason was a graduate student studying engineering, that his parents, who lived in a nearby town, had bought him the condo because he was doing so well in school, and that Jason did handyman work in his spare time.
Alison had asked him if he could install carpeting. Jason had smiled, saying, "As a matter of fact, I can." She had made the deal then. He would replace the ugly grey carpet in her condo, and she would pay him, plus feed him a delicious dinner. Jason had insisted that dinner was enough.
As Alison approached her condo, she spotted Jason waiting at her door. He looked up, shuffled his feet, and stared at her. His hands were in his pockets, and he looked to Alison as though he were annoyed. Alison again glanced at her watch; she was only five minutes late.
"I'm sorry," she said. Jason instantly looked more relaxed, and, glancing at the bag of Chinese food, nodded approvingly. He had told Alison he would begin removing the worn-out old carpeting tonight.
Alison let him into her dark condo, flicking on the lights. Jason moved to the sofa and sat down.
"Do you know that weird man who lives on the first floor, the stooped-over guy?" asked Alison.
"Seen him, yeah," said Jason. "He seems nice." Jason, his hands still in his pockets, appraised Alison as she removed her coat, hung it in the hall closet, and went into the kitchen.
"I don't know," said Alison. "There was something sort of off about him. Just vibes."
Jason listened, rose, and with a sudden swiftness and ease borne of practice, moved to the front door of Alison's condo and slipped the dead bolt into place. "Sometimes, Alison, first impressions can be wrong."
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"The Fortune Cookie" ©2000 Jody Hart Lehrer. Used
by permission of the author.
Raven Electrick ©2000 Karen A. Romanko. Clipart by Corel®.