“So in a weird way the pandemic made me realize that, like, I should be in social media marketing instead of nursing.”
“Yeah, totally,” said Charles, his hand fidgeting in spasms in his pocket.
“Once I was out of lockdown, I wanted to go right to the middle of it all - New York, you know.”
Jenn took a sip of her rosé and hummed softly, looking around at the flowers and purple wallpaper appreciatively.
“Hm, this place is so cute. How’d you pick it?”
“I’ve brought some other friends here,” Charles said; his mind blank for a half-second.
Jenn’s eyebrow raised.
“College friends, you know - like for a guy’s night,” Charles recovered quickly.
“Hmm, yeah seems like a guys night kind of place,” Jenn said drolly, brushing her finger against the table bouquet.
Charles half-smiled and waved the waiter down to order a whiskey neat. He had a feeling he might actually enjoy this date if he wasn’t so distracted.
By the time dessert came, Charles had a creeping feeling that he’d blown the past hour - during which Jenn had continued to mostly talk about her social media job, her sorority, and how sad she was when she had to spend her last semester of college remote.
He needed to make up for lost time, fast.
“Hey, so how are you doing? I mean, are you okay?” Jenn asked, pre-empting him. “I don’t know if you’re always this quiet.“
Charles looked up from the napkin at Jenn’s open, honest face - her glass of wine was dangling languidly between her fingertips. She had a simple smile that reminded him of his mom.
“Oh, yeah, I’m good - still disoriented from the holidays, you know -”
“You get disoriented from the holidays? Oh, I find it energizing. Going from Christmas to New Years celebrations - it feels like a big letting go of everything holding me back from the past year, good and bad. Good things can hold you back too, you know..”
Her lips were somewhat pursed as she said this, and she looked very serious.
Charles laughed and looked around conspiratorially for a moment.
“I know what you mean. Like a superstition - do you ever have a lucky charm?”
“My high school dance team had a stuffed animal that came to all of our competitions. We won Nationals, so I’d say he was our lucky charm.”
“Hmm, that’s cute. Well, I have this chain, right….” started Charles, and as he began talking he had to catch himself for interrupting her.
Slow it down, Charles, don’t reveal too much at once… Be cool…
This was the exact point where he might be massaging the chain in his pocket, to calm his nerves.
“And my dad gave it to me when I was 18, and - hah - it’s weird, but I cannot go out without this chain. Like, I can’t remember ever having a good night without it. And I almost never have a bad night with it. So -” he shrugged. “I guess it’s kind of my lucky charm.”
“Oh, that’s funny. So you have it on you now?”
“No!” cried Charles, a little too loud. He laughed to clear the air, and took a swig of his whiskey. “I left it back home in fucking Boston. Lost my good luck charm,” he rolled his eyes and tipped back his drink again.
Charles met Jenn’s concerned eyes as he finished drinking.
“Were you super close to your dad? Is that why it matters so much?”
“Not even,” said Charles. “The guy was an asshole; cheated on my mom every single year of their marriage, couldn’t give love if it would save his life. But -”
“But there was something there, right? Some part of you really did care about him?”
Jenn was tilting her head sympathetically now; Charles was getting bright red warning signals in his head- danger, danger - having already revealed more than normal on a first date.
But her question, her limpid blue eyes, and the curve of her gentle cheek framed by the hanging bouquets of flowers around the restaurant - the truth seemed to be tugging out of him.
“I didn’t care about him, but - the guy just - he knew how to get what he wanted. I admired him,” said Charles, spitting out the last words. “I mean he was sick, is sick, manipulative, a con artist - but he’s had a pretty successful career, tends to get what he wants, and- yeah, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that too.”
He took another sip of his drink, letting the air clear.
He felt a soft hand grasp him from across the table.
“I’ve known a lot of men like that,” Jenn said. “Guys who think they need to be something, besides just a good person.”
“That’s most guys in New York,” Charles said.
“Eh, that’s why I don’t like most guys,” said Jenn, letting go of his hand except for her index finger on his knuckle.
Charles stared into her eyes a moment, discerningly.
“Well - whatever. New Year, right? Gotta move on from what worked in the past.”
“Hmm, yeah. I guess if the chain had really worked you wouldn’t be on this date though, right?”
Charles pondered for a moment.
On any other date, this was the point where he would either dip out with a phony emergency call from a friend uptown or make the final overture, an aggressive push-and-pull to get her to come over.
But he was endeared by their conversation, and frankly, talking about his dad put him off from sex.
“Hey, you want to check out the High Line? They have this great light show starting at around 10, it’s right down the block.”
Jenn brightened, “Sure, that sounds nice!”
They arrived at the High Line at exactly 10 p.m.; as the lights began to dance along the surrounding buildings, Jenn grabbed the crease of Charles’ arm and leaned into his chest.
Charles took his hands out of his pocket and held her, feeling his cheeks lift. He was blushing and for a moment, his mind was off the chain.
Charles and Jenn progressed quickly; the following weekend he invited her to watch a horror movie, and they spent the next three hours at a bar discussing the psychological implications of horror.
The next weekend he cooked his Mom’s specialty lasagna ragu with bechamel cheese and serenaded her with his guitar.
That was the first night she slept over at his apartment; she began to leave a change of clothes at his place over the next several weeks as the sleepovers became more frequent.
Then in February, randomly, she asked him, “We’re exclusive, right?”
He had to think about this one for a moment - sure, he still had dating apps on his phone, and he was definitely flirting with the short blonde sales associate at work - but Jenn’s tender gaze compelled him to give her the answer she wanted.
“Yeah, babe, of course. I’m not seeing anyone else.”
In March, they took a weekend trip to visit Jenn’s sister in Connecticut; they watched the family’s newborn baby boy while her sister and husband went for a dinner night. The baby fell asleep in Charles arms while they were watching Inside Out.
Coming back from Connecticut the next morning, Charles felt an odd sense of finality to the relationship.
She’s the one, he thought, feeling both elated and terrified.
Like all calls from Charles’ mother, this one came at the most in-opportune time - just as Charles was running late to meet Jenn at a West Village cocktail bar, for what she was calling their ‘three-month anniversary.’
“Hey, Ma. How’s it going?” he said, checking himself out in the mirror by the front door..
“Hey there, hope I’m not bothering you,” his mom quavered. As usual, she sounded like she had either just finished or was about to start crying.
“I’m good, just getting ready to go out with - a friend. What’s up?”
He hadn’t told his family about Jenn yet. He didn’t think of it as superstition - more like hedging his bets against his ego, in case the relationship failed.
“Oh, that’s nice. I, um, I found your chain - I think it’s yours - with the gold coin on it, engraved with Venus?”
“Huh? Oh!” exclaimed Charles. “Wait, Venus?”
“Roman goddess of love?”
The gold coin on the end of the chain snapped into Charles’ vision - it was even smaller than a dime, but thick as a nickel - pure gold, with the silhouette of a woman with flowing locks embossed on one side and a Latin phrase, Veni, Vidi, Amavi.
He never went to the trouble to investigate the origin of the phrase or the woman.
“Oh, I never knew who that was. Wow, I’ve been looking all over for that since I came back from Christmas. Where’d you find it?”
“Just lying on my kitchen table,” his mom sniffed cryptically. “Where did you get this?”
“It was, you know, a birthday gift from dad or something. You’ve seen it with me, ya? I keep it in my pocket - actually I’m really glad you found it, I’ve been going a little nuts without it - I treat it like a stress ball, ha ha - “
“Your father gave this to you?” his mother said. Her voice deepened into a gravelly tenor when saying your father. “Oh, if I had known you had this chain - I want to throw up just looking at it…”
“Ma, settle down, it was a gift - Lemme give you my address, I”ll Venmo you for the shipping -”
“He would give this to every girl he would run around with - it was like, if the chain was on the dresser I knew that his latest fling had ended, and when it was gone -” She let out a choke.
Charles pulled the phone away from his ear and sighed as his mom coughed through a few barely-muffled sobs.
This, Charles thought, was part of the reason he seldom called his mother. Every conversation turned into a therapy session about his fathers’ infidelities.
“Ma, what’re you talking about? I’ve had that chain since I was 18 -”
“Your father gave me that chain for our 5th wedding anniversary - then took it back before we separated, but right after - you know, right after I found out about his - other women.”
She finished with a gasp and sobbed a little more.
Charles held his lips tight, his dad had told him to “always hold onto your luck,” when he had given the chain, accompanied with a knowing wink.
“So that chain belonged to you?” Charles asked quietly.
“Yes - and Lord knows how he got those floozies to give him the chain back every time. But that’s your dad, you know - he’s just - persuasive like that.”
Charles cleared his throat, “Yeah. Yeah, he’s persuasive.”
“This thing is cursed. I don’t want it in my house,” said his mother, venomously. She paused, and let Charles' heavy breathing fill the silence. “You didn’t know that chain’s history, did you?”
More silence from her end..
Finally, his mother said - her voice more clear and steady than usual - “It’s your chain, Charles - so you just let me know what you want me to do with it.”
He hung up the phone and collapsed on his bed, sinking his head in between his knees.
Jenn, ever trusting, had asked no investigatory questions when Charles told her he wanted to walk the Williamsburg bridge that night - had asked only where and when he wanted to meet.
The walk up the bridge was windy, at first; bikers continued to rip down the blind hill at the top of the bridge, occasionally yelling profanities as they errantly dodged into the pedestrian path.
Charles tensely dug his hand into his pockets and soldiered on, only vaguely aware of Jenn gamely marching at his side.
“Charles, you’re doing that thing again.”
“What thing?,” said Charles, trying not to sound irritable.
“Not communicating. Tell me what’s on your mind.”
Charles bit hard on the piece of gum he was chewing.
“Nothing. Just admiring the moon. Fuck, that’s big.”
The moon was looming large - it looked like it was taking up almost half the sky.
“It’s a supermoon,” said Jenn admiringly, casting her gaze upon the moon and squeezing Charles' arm. “It means an extra boost of good luck.”
Charles scoffed; Jenn loosened her grip.
“What was that?”
“Nothing. I’m just cold.”
“Why’d you scoff?”
Charles rolled his eyes.
“You really believe in that stuff? Moon phases and luck and horoscopes or whatever?”
“Oh, I just think it’s fun,” said Jenn. “But there’s always a little truth in the crazy stuff, right? Even the most rational people have irrational beliefs.”
Charles said nothing but clenched his jaw.
“Do you disagree?”
“I guess not.”
“It’s okay if you think it’s silly. Like I said, I don’t really follow that stuff closely. My mom was super into it, though.”
Charles let Jenn talk a little more about her mom, all the while watching the supermoon. It looked so big that they might run right into it at the top of the bridge.
“Charles, seriously? Again?”
“You’re not talking to me!”
“I’m sorry, can we just get there?”
Jenn was walking a few steps behind him now; he sensed her slowing down, and turned to face her.
“You’re making me nervous,” she said, her wide eyes glinting.
“C’mon, just a few more steps.”
“Why won’t you talk to me?”
“This is me talking to you!” he said, poorly hiding his annoyance. He turned and kept walking.
He reached the top of the bridge five minutes later, and was almost surprised when he felt Jenn brush up against him.
“Charles - is everything okay?”
Charles sighed and stared into the huge yellow moon - it reminded him of a chocolate chip banana pancake in a skillet - like what his dad used to make for him on Saturday mornings, when he was very young.
“Remember how we were talking about good luck charms, on our first date? Yeah - I’ve been chewing that over, and um - I think humans confuse luck for random probability.”
Charles noticed Jenn was still standing a few steps away from him; he could tell she was uncomfortable.
“Charles, I’m cold, and I don’t know what you’re talking about. Can we please go.”
“No, no, I need to say this. See, events are just random - and, like, a run of good luck is - well, those are just independent events strung together so that they appear like they’re related. But thinking that a series of good events is due to some lucky charm- or that your luck will change - well, that’s just odds. That’s all that is.”
“Gambler’s fallacy,” said Jenn.
“Gambler’s fallacy. It’s like - thinking you’re overdue for a tails when you flip ten heads in a row on a coin toss.”
Charles smiled, impressed that she beat him to it, “Yeah, that’s it. Speaking of coins -“
He pulled out a gold chain with a small coin glimmering at the end. Jenn had to squint to see it.
“My dad gave this to me when I was 18, told me to always hold onto my luck. Turns out he was talking about luck with women - I guess it gave me a bit of that.”
“He left my mom crying every night of my childhood, missed all my big firsts - my first tee-ball game, my first day of school, district championship football games, all my graduations - all because he was busy chasing money so he could chase tail. And - I wanted to be just like him,” Charles scoffed. He raised the chain, which shimmered in the moonlight.
“This shit’s not lucky. Nothing felt lucky until I met you.”
Jenn was silent; he could hear her shivering, standing in the cold wind.
He walked over to the side of the bridge and leaned, dangling the chain from his fist.
“I’m so glad I didn’t have this thing when I met you,” he said, his eyes closed painfully. “But - if this thing is good luck - will I lose you now if I drop it?”
He looked back at Jenn, who had tears in her eyes.
“I think you need to let go of whatever is holding onto you,” she said, so quiet he could barely hear.
He dropped the chain before he even realized he had made the decision.
“Fuck,” he cried, shocked by his impulsiveness. He put his face up to the fence to see if he could see which direction it fell; there was a loud ‘plink’ below.
His eyes gravitated downward. The gold chain was glowing up at him on the threshold of the platform, on the other side of the metal chain link fence.
“What are the odds!” shouted Charles, laughing with exasperation.
He bent down to reach through the fence; his fingers grasped futilely, inches away from the edge of the chain.
He felt a light touch on his shoulder.
”I think this is a sign from the super moon that your luck is changing.”
Charles turned up towards Jenn - her stunning silhouette was framed by the supermoon. She looked like a goddess..
He smiled and raised himself from the grate.
“Yeah. Maybe that’s the luckiest thing that’s happened all night.”
The two set off down the bridge together.
The chain wavered for a moment on the threshold, seemingly unsettled by a breeze that had picked up. The light from the moon darkened as a cloud passed over, and the chain began to slide slowly towards the way of the water…
The L train began its slow rumble up the bridge, and like sand in a storm, the chain blew off, casting about in the air before sinking into the water below.
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You made so much more of the prompt than I would have thought of. This is great.
I think you took the overall theme of moving forward after love and the loss of love and spun it perfectly. Well done.
Wonderful work, nice storyline. I don't know if it is in line with how they found the works great they line them up here each Friday. This one deserves the number one position. Congrats.
Hi Brendan! What a creative twist on the prompt! I loved how this symbol ultimately meant more thang we originally imagined. I also loved the way you wrote this romance as something sweet, enduring, and life changing. My favorite line was: He was blushing and for a moment, his mind was off the chain. Nice job and congratulations on the shortlist!
Congratulations on shortlisting this week, Brendan! I agree with Susan: this is so beautiful!
Brendan, this is a beautifully told tale of letting go and moving on, a solid choice made on a foundation of love and maturity (self-realization). I commend you on writing a beautiful and poignant piece that I know I'll carry with me for a long while. Nicely done.