Matilda’s back was against the wall – literally. The community Christmas Eve party had taken an unexpected turn. There were five people on their knees in front of her, each begging for her to marry them while a whole town’s worth of people stared in their direction, watching expectantly.
For someone who was used to blending into the background and had also been single for years, her anxiety levels were at an all-time high. Matilda never believed in magic (what sane person did?) but the events of the last twenty-four hours had changed how she viewed life a bit.
The whole day had seemed a bit…odd. Everyone was very friendly and outgoing and many co-workers stopped and took the time to talk with Matilda, which was out of the ordinary. She wasn’t used to chatting that much so she found herself rather exhausted by the end of her shift. However, she did find that she was in a great mood throughout the day. People had noticed her and taken an interest in her life; it was a nice feeling. Even the barista at the coffee-shop had smiled widely at her and wished her a “Merry Christmas” when he handed her her coffee and refused her payment.
A few of Matilda’s co-workers had even given her gifts; very unusual. She had no choice but to accept a drive home from Louis. He graciously offered and Matilda couldn’t refuse; partially because she knew she could never carry her gifts home in the snow but also because she’d had a bit of a juvenile crush on Louis since she’d started her job. He seemed to be quite animated at the idea that she would be attending the town’s Christmas party.
Matilda thought farther back. The previous evening when she was walking home from work, she was distracted by a neon sign that read, “Fortunes”. It was a shop she’d never noticed before and was planning on walking right past it. However, when she got close, the aroma of incense wafting through the gap at the bottom of the door had beckoned her in.
As she walked inside, Matilda looked around and took in the shelves of books, crystals, and talismans. When her gaze reached the small, round table, she almost jumped as a woman sat there, still and silent. The woman wore layers of makeup and jewelry and looked every part the fortune-teller she claimed to be. She smiled and gestured toward the chair across from her. Matilda felt compelled to sit.
“What are you here for?” the fortune-teller asked and then held up her hand. “Wait, let me guess.”
She shuffled a stack of tall tarot cards. When she stopped, she flipped over the top card and laid it on the table – The Lovers.
“Something about your love life,” she stated.
It was certainly something that had been on Matilda’s mind a lot recently. Why hadn’t she found love like the other people in her life? Was there something wrong with her? She didn’t say anything to the fortune-teller but watched as she continued to flip cards and guess everything that had been worrying Matilda. She found herself leaning forward, listening to every word and starting to freak herself out at the accurateness of the reading.
“Ah, but you are surrounded by so much love,” the fortune-teller continued.
“Whether you see it or not, it is there. You just have to open yourself up to it.”
That was where Matilda’s skepticism stepped back in. She stood up to leave but the woman stopped her.
“I have just the thing to help you,” she stated before disappearing through a doorway of hanging beads. When she returned, she held a small, plain wooden box. Within, it held a beautiful jeweled brooch. It was a heart with an arrow through it, entirely encrusted with what appeared to be rubies and diamonds.
Matilda shook her head, bringing her back to the present. The time at the fortune-teller’s shop was difficult to remember, but she hardly remembered the rest of the night at all. She reached a hand to her chest, feeling the brooch under her fingers. She didn’t even remember putting it on.
When Matilda had arrived at the party, Mark, another co-worker, found her quickly and kept her locked in conversation for some time. His hand brushed her arm a few times; Matilda was equally nervous and excited about the interest Mark was showing. That was when chaos broke out. Louis stepped in, smiling, but Matilda could tell he was tense.
“Hey can we talk…over there?” he asked, grabbing Matilda’s arm and beginning to pull her away.
“We were talking here if you don’t mind,” Mark said, almost growling.
“And if I do?”
Mark moved himself into a fighting stance and instantly the crowd around them all widened. Matilda didn’t want this – people fighting over her. She wanted to step in but she realized that Louis didn’t seem to be taking the bait. He turned to her, hope and pleading evident on his features.
“I wanted to wait until we were alone but it doesn’t seem as though that’s going to happen.”
Matilda was confused by his statement but she let him continue, curious. He grabbed her hands in his and he knelt in front of her. Matilda’s heart stopped; it felt like ice. She could hear whispers around her but she ignored them as she suddenly felt dizzy.
“Matilda, I love you,” Louis proclaimed. “I know it’s sudden but…will you marry me?”
She was stunned. What was happening? She glanced up at Mark, who also seemed in shock. When their eyes met, it was as if it woke him from a dream. He shook his head and came to stand before Matilda. She wondered if he would still try to pick a fight but instead he knelt too and she felt as though the ground had been pulled out from underneath her.
“Don’t listen to him, Matilda,” he pleaded. “Marry me! I can give you a great life!”
Mark and Louis began bickering but Matilda barely noticed as another figure came toward them. She recognized Tamara, a dark-skinned girl of around the same age as her (another co-worker) and Matilda felt relief until the girl also came up and kneeled, proclaiming her own love. Matilda didn’t realize she had been backing up until her back hit the wall. She’d run out of space.
“Wait!” a voice shouted and Matilda groaned. The man from the coffee shop sprinted forward “You can’t marry them; I love you!” He joined the kneeling group and looked at her expectantly. When the workplace mailman also stepped forward, Matilda finally broke.
There she was, back against the wall, five people kneeling in front of her, waiting for her to choose between them. They were the five people she’d interacted with most that day; was that why they were there?
Matilda squeezed the brooch underneath her hand and in that moment, she knew that somehow, impossibly, it contained magic and had brought about this crazy day.
Once the realization set in, she ripped the brooch off of her dress, threw it on the floor, and stomped as hard as she could on it, sending jewels flying across the room. She watched in amazement as her five suitors all blinked a few times in confusion and stood up. They looked at each other and Matilda and then at the watching crowd. Without waiting to see what happened next, Matilda ran for the door and went down the hall far enough that the Christmas music was faint. She sat on the floor and leaned her head back against the wall, exhausted and worried about how badly she’d been embarrassed.
Footsteps were coming toward her but Matilda kept her eyes closed. She hoped they would just keep going.
“For some reason, my day’s been a blur,” a voice said and Matilda opened her eyes to see the barista from her favourite coffee shop come over and sit next to her.
“I found this in my pocket.” He held out a little box with a bow and Matilda’s name on it.
“I don’t deserve it,” Matilda whispered. “You keep it…give it to someone else.”
“Matilda,” he said seriously, “I’ve been serving you coffee for two years. We may not talk much, but I feel like I know you pretty well. I don’t know what happened today, but I still want you to have this.”
Matilda sighed and took the box. She laughed and held back a few happy tears when she opened the box and found a coffee-cup Christmas ornament inside.
“You like it?”
“Love it. Thanks.”
He picked up Matilda’s hand and kissed it gently. “Merry Christmas.”
He left her then and Matilda smiled. The feelings of embarrassment and impending ridicule were gone, replaced by a warm sensation and she felt happy. She realized she hadn’t felt happy in a long time. Matilda thought she’d finally understood what the fortune-teller was trying to tell her. She’d walled herself off to others without realizing years ago. Today, she’d chatted and laughed with people and it felt amazing. She hoped she could hold onto this feeling throughout and beyond the holidays. Even though something magical had driven the day’s events, she wanted to keep a bit of that magic alive. Matilda vowed to not lock her feelings away anymore and to allow herself to open up more to others.
She looked down the hallway at the man walking away from her. Maybe she’d spend a little extra time at the coffee shop too.