It felt like a sucker punch when Nick found out that he was going to die. He sat there with his mouth hanging open as the woman he had just met gasped, dropping her drink on the table and covering her mouth with her hand.
“What’s wrong?” Nick asked, looking up from the grilled salmon he was eating. They were on a blind date, set up by his sister Gina who was Veronica’s best friend.
She picked up her glass and then started patting the spillage with her napkin. “I…I had a vision.”
Nick studied her appearance – dirty blonde hair, pale skin, slightly turned up nose, and a face dominated by radiant green eyes. “Vision? What kind of vision?”
The waiter had come over with several napkins and helped Veronica with the cleanup. “Would you like another glass of wine?” he asked.
She looked at the waiter and nodded. “Yes, please.”
After the waiter left, Nick leaned forward and asked, “So what is this thing about a vision?”
Veronica wiped her mouth with a fresh napkin and struggled to find her knife and fork. “I guess Gina didn’t tell you everything about me.”
He sipped his wine and said, “Well, she said that you were 30, came from New Orleans last year, and started working in her office. That’s about it. She knew I was looking to meet someone and said that you were too.”
The waiter returned with a new glass of wine, and she sipped it immediately. After putting down the glass safely, Veronica sat back and sighed. “I have a gift – although tonight it feels like a curse.”
Nick scooped up some rice and peas and chewed them as he looked at her. She seemed genuinely frightened by something. “A gift?”
“I've some psychic ability. I’ve had it since I was a child.”
“Can you read people’s minds?”
She shook her head. “No, it is not like that. Sometimes it’s in a dream, or sometimes I'm sitting across from someone like we are now, and I get a vision about that person.”
“So, you had a vision about me?”
Veronica nodded her head quickly. “Yes – yes, I did.”
“Well, what was it?”
Veronica took a deep breath. “I think I saw your – I saw your death.”
Nick leaned back in the chair and sipped some wine. “Well, isn’t that a great conversation starter.”
“I’m sorry, Nick,”” she said, her hands shaking so much that she had to put down her utensils.
“How accurate are these visions?”
“They almost always come true,” she said as tears ran down her cheeks, and the fluid in her eyes glittered in the light from the candle on the table.
“Great,” Nick said. “Well, I’m probably an old man in a wheelchair, right?” He looked at her, and she shivered as she stared at him.
She shook her head. “You looked just like you are now. You were lying on the sidewalk with blood on your face and chest.”
Nick shook his head. “No, I don’t believe in things like this.”
“I’m so sorry, Nick,” Veronica said, drying her face with the napkin. “It was so vivid – it just startled me.”
“Well, it doesn’t make me feel too good either,” Nick said. He looked around at all the other people eating, drinking, talking, and laughing. “I mean, everyone else is here enjoying themselves, and I am….”
Veronica touched his hand. “You were wearing the clothes you have on right now.”
Nick looked down at his unbuttoned blue shirt and his gray blazer. “This outfit?”
“Yes,” Veronica said, nodding her head.
Nick pulled his hand away from hers and looked up into the night sky above the patio where they sat. A million stars glittered in the darkness; none of them aware about anything going on beneath them. Fate seemed to be a fickle and unsympathetic thing.
He heard the waves from the ocean not too far from where they were sitting. He turned to her and asked, “I was lying on a sidewalk, right?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is what I saw.”
Nick took a deep breath. “Let’s finish this meal, especially since it may be my last one.”
They ate quietly as their utensils clinked against plates, and they chewed slowly with grim expressions. Nick thought about wanting to know her story, her dreams, and everything else about her. But he thought why tease myself? Why learn about someone and then have it all mean nothing.
After dinner Veronica ordered a coffee and Nick got a cognac. They sat there as if in shock. Nick had been thinking about the sidewalk and said, “Veronica, my place is not far from here. We can walk along the beach instead of through town. Where are you staying?”
Veronica put down her cup. “The Royal Atlantic.”
Nick wiped his hands on the napkin and sat back. “We never have to go near a sidewalk tonight then. We can pass my house, and I can walk with you along the beach. It’s only a few minutes away.”
“Gina came out here with me, Nick,” Veronica said.
“She did?” he asked with a smile.
“Well, it was a chance for me to meet you, and for Gina and me to spend a weekend in Montauk too.”
“Okay, well please tell her that maybe she and I can see each other tomorrow.”
“What are you doing, Nick?”
“What do you mean?”
“You are walking on the sand in order to avoid the vision, right?”
Nick sipped his cognac. “That’s the idea.”
Trying to change the subject, Veronica reached over and held his hand. “Gina said that you're a writer.” Nick nodded his head. “She said that you were so successful that you quit your job in the city and moved out here.”
“Yes, I wanted to come back here,” Nick said. “I’m living in my parents’ house now. They moved up to Cape Cod years ago but kept this place for sentimental reasons. My father’s father built it with his three brothers – an electrician, a carpenter, and a mason.”
“What about the plumbing?” Veronica asked, a quiver of a smile crossing her face for the first time that night.
“Nonno was the plumber. They built a house for each one of them together like that. My Dad said Nonno would say, ‘A family that builds together stays together’ or something like that.”
“Your family sounds wonderful,” Veronica said.
“What about yours?”
“Well, my father died when I was young, and my mother was one of those Southern women who was raised well, but rather spoiled. Our cook Ophelia loved me and my sister. She raised us, and she was the one who helped me unlock my abilities.”
Nick sipped his drink. “There it is again; I had almost forgotten about it.”
“Nick, walking along the sand is fine, but that doesn’t mean that vision won’t happen tonight.”
“I don’t know when it will happen.”
Nick nodded. “Well, then I’ll just never wear this outfit again.”
Veronica shook her head. “I don’t think it works that way. The clothing you’re wearing is not part of what will happen to you.”
Nick felt upset now; he thought he had found a way around Veronica’s vision, but maybe she was right. Maybe there was nothing he could do to change what she had seen.
“You know, this is an awful feeling,” Nick said. “Knowing it’s coming but not knowing how or when.”
“I’m so sorry,” Veronica said. “I wish I hadn’t told you, but it just was so vivid and I couldn’t….”
“I don’t blame you. It’s just all my plans, all my ideas for new books, even my book tour scheduled for London next month. Nothing really matters now.”
Veronica nodded. “I do understand everything. I know how these visions can make you feel.”
“But, wait a minute! Aren’t you part of this?”
“Well, yes, I guess I am in a way.”
“So, you have to be there for it to happen, right?”
“I suppose so.”
He stood up. “Let’s walk along the beach to your hotel. I will say goodnight to you, and we will never have to see each other again.”
Veronica stood up and nodded. “O…kay.”
As they walked off the restaurant deck and onto the wooden path that led to the beach, they didn’t talk. Ahead of them, the surf was rough as they got to the end of the path. “Take off your shoes,” Nick said.
Veronica took off her heels, and he took off his shoes. They walked along the beach in the darkness with lights from the houses and hotels glowing in the night.
“In another situation,” Veronica whispered, “this would have been a romantic way to end our date.”
“Yeah, I suppose so,” Nick said. “It’s just not possible now.”
“I know,” she whispered.
Nick saw the familiar sign and roof of Veronica’s hotel, and he walked her up to the patio bar. Guests were still in the pool, and music was playing and people were eating and drinking at the bar.
“I’m sorry to end things like this,” Nick said.
“I wish we had met under different circumstances,” Veronica said. “I would have loved to hear about the books you are planning and your book tour and…”
Nick nodded. “It would have been nice to not have to do things alone.”
Veronica went through the gate and stood on the other side of it. “I don’t know if this will change what I saw or not. I don’t know if I have to be there for it to happen. I don’t know anything really. I only know what I saw.”
Nick smirked solemnly. “Yeah, I know that.”
“Good luck to you, Nick,” she said.
“You know I’ve written about a lot of characters dying,” Nick said.
“Now, I’m just trying to find a way to write myself a happy ending.”
“I’ll pray that you find it,” Veronica said as she turned and walked away.
As Nick walked back along the beach toward his house, he got a text message from Gina. “Nick, are you still in the restaurant?”
“No,” he texted back, “I just walked Veronica home.”
“How did it go?”
“Okay,” he wasn’t going to tell Gina about Veronica’s vision. “We just didn’t hit it off. Didn’t she get back to the room yet.”
“I’m not in the room,” Gina texted. “I’m eating at Shagwong and having the lobster roll.”
“Dad’s favorite. Mine too.”
“Why don’t you come here for a drink and tell me about the date?”
Nick thought about how he was almost home, how he would go inside and take those clothes off and never wear them again. He also thought that if he was going to die, he would like to see his little sister one more time.
“Not much to tell,” Nick texted.
“Didn’t get along?”
“There’s too much to text.”
“Then get your ass over here right now!”
Nick thought of the horror stories he had written. He tried to avoid the bad classic tropes that had characters doing something that is obviously dangerous – like walking down a dark alley when a serial killer is on the loose, but Gina was not going to let up, and if he was careful, he could avoid danger. Besides, Veronica was safely in the hotel room and unable to witness his demise.
Nick went across the beach, put on his shoes, and walked up the path back into town. The sidewalks on both sides of Montauk Highway were filled with people going in and out of shops, stores, and restaurants. The traffic was heavy on this warm summer Friday night, and Nick recalled a quieter time when he was younger when all the foreign tourists had not yet discovered the place.
He went into the bar that was crowded with fisherman drinking and telling tall fish tales. He walked into the dining room section and saw Gina at a corner table with an almost finished bottle of wine and a clean plate. Gina was petite with short dark hair like their Italian father, while Nick had inherited his German mother’s lighter hair and eyes. It always amazed him how Gina could eat vast quantities of food and never gain a pound.
Nick kissed Gina on the cheek and sat down. “How can you eat and drink so much?”
“I may look Italian, but I have a German appetite,” Gina said with a big grin. “Why did the date end so quickly?”
Nick looked away from his sister because she could always detect when he was lying. “We just didn’t hit it off.”
Gina grabbed his arm. “Come on, Nicky. You’ve been telling me you’re lonely, and Veronica keeps saying she’s lonely.”
“That doesn’t mean you’re going to be a match,” Nick said.
Gina was a little drunk, and she took the bottle and poured what wine remained in it into her glass. “Order yourself a drink, big bro!”
“Hey, you’re a little tipsy, sis,” Nick said.
“I’m fine,” Gina said as she drank some wine. She took out her phone and started texting.
“What are you doing?”
“Asking Ronnie what the hell happened!”
“Oh, don’t do that,” Nick said, reaching for her phone.
Gina kept texting and then looked at Nick. “She’ll tell me.”
The waitress came over to the table, and Nick ordered a gin and tonic. When he looked back at Gina, she was still texting. “What’s going on?”
“I told her to meet me here,” Gina said, slurring her words a little. Nick immediately thought he should leave. His plan was never to see Veronica again. He started getting up and Gina grabbed his arm. “You’re not going anywhere.”
The waitress brought his gin and tonic, and Nick knew that he needed it. Suddenly, Veronica appeared like a specter in the shimmering bar light. Nick felt a twist in his chest, a fear rushing over his body.
Gina stood up and staggered a little as she hugged Veronica. “Ronnie, what the hell happened on that date?”
“It’s complicated,” Veronica said.
“Sit down and have a drink,” Gina sang.
“I don’t think I will,” Veronica said. “Nick was a perfect gentleman. We just didn’t – make a connection.”
Nick sipped his gin and tonic, closed his eyes, and wished he could disappear. Gina and Veronica were going back and forth about something, but he couldn’t hear them and zoned out. When he snapped out of it, he saw Veronica running out of the restaurant chasing after Gina.
Nick ran after her and caught Veronica’s arm outside the door. “What’s going on?” he asked.
Veronica said, “She’s very upset.”
“Did you tell her?”
“I didn’t have to because she’s like me – she has visions too!” Nick remembered how they used to joke about how Gina knew what he was going to do before he did it. As kids it just seemed like a coincidence, but now it all made sense to him. “She saw you covered in blood, and somehow she thinks it’s her fault.”
A crying Gina glanced at them and then darted off across Montauk Highway. The sound of screeching brakes and a loud thud made the bustling sidewalk go silent. “Gina!” Nick screamed.
With all the traffic now at a standstill, Nick and Veronica made their way across the highway. The driver of a Hampton Jitney bus was standing over Gina, who had been catapulted from the highway onto the sidewalk where the crowd stood around her.
Nick fell onto the sidewalk and cradled his bloody sister against him. Veronica was stunned to witness the vision that she had seen in the restaurant earlier that evening – he had blood all over his chest and face.
Nick sat on the porch of his house looking at the ocean, where gulls swooped over the water. Having just had breakfast, he was trying to find peace in the quiet of the early morning.
“I still can’t accept it,” Nick whispered, thinking about Gina.
Veronica called him, and he answered the phone reluctantly. “Yes, what is it?”
“How are you?”
“I should have listened to my gut and not gone to that bar.”
“Stop blaming yourself. I tried to tell you what would happen; I just didn’t know how or when.”
Nick sipped his coffee. “I can’t forget my parents’ faces at the funeral. They are just broken.” He whispered, “and so am I.”
“I’m so sorry, Nick,” Veronica said.
Nick stood up, walked over to the railing, and leaned on it. “I don’t know if I can write anymore. I don’t know what to do.”
Veronica said, “I’m here if you need me.”
Nick was silent. He closed his eyes and breathed in the sweet ocean air. Gina had brought them together, and maybe that was fate, but for now he couldn’t see Veronica again. “I wish I had died instead of Gina,” he said.
Veronica said, “I understand that.”
“Will there be more visions?”
“I don’t know. The vision I had of you was the first one since last year.”
“What was the last one you had?”
“Uh, about my sister’s baby,” she said.
“So, there can be good ones?”
“Uh, sure, in fact, most of them are good things.”
Nick looked at the ocean. “That’s good to know.”
Veronica said, “Just think about good things from now on.”
Nick closed his eyes and whispered, “No, it is too hard for me.”
“Can we ever see each other again.”
Nick couldn’t say what he felt – he blamed Veronica for Gina’s death.
“Please, Nick. Gina wanted us to be together.”
“Truthfully, I want to have nothing to do with you and your visions.” Nick ended the call.
Veronica sat in silence, alone once again. There were the other guys who left because of her visions. Even her sister blamed her for her stillborn child. Veronica started to cry – these visions really were a fate worse than death.