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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Drama Stories / Human Interest Stories
- Subject: Fate / Luck / Serendipity
- Published: 02/28/2019
The Universe's GameBorn 1947, M, from Oceanside, United States
The Universe’s Game
We met during the first night of the local Marriott’s annual “Return To The 70s” party. I was there, because the girl I had been dating had ended our relationship several weeks earlier, so when the first night of the weekend-long event came along, I thought, why not check it out?
Standing toward the back of the crowded ballroom, watching the couples dressed in their finest 70s outfits, and doing their thing on the dance floor, I found myself quickly becoming bored with the same eardrum-pounding disco beat song, after song, after song. So, after about an hour, I decided to end the night.
When I turned around to look for some place to put down my drink, I found myself face to face with a girl whose name I later found out was Kelly Sonopolis. She had been standing right behind me.
Brown hair, brown eyes, petite, and wearing a flowered dress, she was really cute looking. I was hoping I could make a good first impression, but as usual, when I opened my mouth to say something witty, all that came out was: “This place is really crowded tonight, isn’t it?” She nodded in agreement. Then, taking a chance, I asked her if she would like to go out into the lounge area outside the ballroom where they had comfortable chairs, and where maybe we could actually hear ourselves think? I know this was kind of bold of me, but in my defense, the music was a little loud.
Now, some people would have said she went with me because she liked my looks. But later, I decided it had to have been the universe playing a game with us—a game, which began even before I asked her if she was a native Californian?
She shook her head. “No, actually, I moved here a few years ago.”
“From where?” I asked, not really thinking much about what her answer might be.
My heart must have leaped about ten feet and I asked, “Oh, yeah! What part of Connecticut?”
I couldn’t help but stare, as chills began to prickle up and down my spine. “Where in Norwalk?”
“No way!” I replied, as the chills became even more prominent.
She looked at me funny like and asked, “Why do you say that?”
“Because,” I said after releasing a huge breath, “I also used to live on Osoling Road.”
Now it was her turn to say, “No way!”
“Yep! I lived there with my parents for something like twenty years.”
“What number?” she asked.
Her eyes got even bigger and she replied, “That can’t be!”
“Because I used to live at number twenty-three!”
What the heck! No way! And then the realization hit me. “Wait a minute; you must have been the family that came after us. When my parents and I left Connecticut to come to California, we sold our house to a family of Greeks.”
“That was us!” she said almost bouncing in her seat. “Can you believe it?” Not really, I thought. “So what brought you to San Diego?” she asked, continuing to smile like she’d won the lottery.
“My parents couldn’t take the winters any longer.”
“Neither could I,” she said.
“So, you’re not a snow bunny then?”
She shook her head. “No way; I prefer the beach.”
“So do I.”
Then she asked me, “This disco thing tonight—why did you come?” That’s when I told her about the girl I had been dating who had dumped me. “Why did she break it off?”
I made a kind of shrugging gesture with my hands. “She thought I was paying too much attention to my writing, and not enough attention to her.”
Kelly’s eyes got huge again. “You write?” she asked, smiling. I nodded. “So do I!” she exclaimed.
I stared at her as more chills began to pile up along my spine. “What do you write?” I asked.
“I’m working on a romance novel. What about you?”
“So am I!” And then we went into detail about respective manuscripts.
Hers was about a shy artist who falls in love with a werewolf. Mine, I told her, was about a young man who returns to a resort town after several years and finds the girl of his dreams, only to have it end in tragedy.
“Can I read your story?” she asked me.
I thought about it a moment. “Well, I’m not really done yet, but . . . I could give you what I have so far. What about yours? Can I read your book?”
I could see her struggling. I knew some people felt very uncomfortable when it came to showing their writing to others. I was about to tell her it was OK if she didn’t want to share her manuscript with me when she nodded and said, “Okay, you can read it.”
“Great!” I said then we made plans to meet the next night at the restaurant right there in the Marriott to exchange manuscripts. Afterwards, she told me her name, and said she was there with two of her girlfriends who were probably still on the dance floor, so we said our goodbyes and I left. All the while, I kept thinking about our meeting—about the fact that, not only had we both lived at the same address, but the both of us were writers! I shook my head. There was no way this was an accident. This had to be the universe manipulating us, but for what purpose?
The next night, I arrived right on time then asked the waitress for a carafe of coffee and an order of toast. Twenty minutes later when she still hadn’t showed, I thought for sure she wasn’t coming. But then, I saw her hurrying through the restaurant’s entrance carrying a large brown envelope.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said, as she slid onto a seat next to mine at the counter. “My boyfriend wanted to talk to me about something.”
Darn! That meant I had no chance of starting something with her, but still, I couldn’t help but wonder. “If you have a boyfriend, why were you here last night without him?”
She looked at me a little sheepishly. “One of my girlfriends was celebrating her birthday, and she wanted me to come with her.” I nodded. That seemed legitimate enough.
I pointed to the large envelope she had laid on the counter. “So, is that your book?”
She nodded then picked it up and handed me the envelope. She smiled as she watched me open it up. I slid out the thick manuscript inside and immediately noticed the address. Once again, shock plowed through me like a bulldozer.
“This is just too weird,” I said, shaking my head.
She looked at me concerned. “What’s the matter?”
“You live in the same apartment complex as I do.”
Grabbing the manuscript right out of my hands, she stared at her own address. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” she exclaimed.
We looked at each other eyes wide and I shook my head. “No, I’m not. I live at 3323 Windrift and you live at 4433 Carlton; that’s at the other end of the complex facing the super market.” We stared at each other some more. “Do you realize what this means?” I asked her. She shook her head. “It means we must have been fated to meet.”
She looked at me a little skeptical. To help ease any bad thoughts she might have about me, I went on to explain. “I have this theory,” I told her. “I can’t really explain it in any religious terms, but I think a lot of people have these entities watching over them—”
“You mean like guardian angels?” she interrupted.
“Sort of. Anyway, these guardian angels, so to speak, often nudge us in directions they feel we should go.”
“You make it sound as if we don’t have a choice.”
I shook my head. “No, we have a choice. It’s just that sometimes, they use their influence to keep us on certain paths.”
“What do you mean?”
I hesitated a moment. “Have you ever planned on doing something, or going somewhere, and at the last minute, was stopped from doing it by someone getting sick or your car breaking down?”
She nodded. “All the time.”
“Then afterwards, you thought to yourself, well, maybe I wasn’t supposed to do that anyway.”
She smiled and nodded once more. “Actually, that’s how I met my boyfriend.” The boyfriend thing again, I thought disappointed. “I wasn’t supposed to be at the bar that night, but one of my girlfriend’s car broke down and she talked me into driving.”
I wondered. “Did you and your boyfriend hit it off right away?” She looked a little embarrassed, which might have meant that maybe there had been some sex involved.
I thought about possibly pursuing this enquiry a little further, but then decided instead maybe it was better if we just got back to our manuscripts, so picking up my envelope from where I had put it on the counter, I handed it to her. “This is my story,” I told her.
She took mine and pushed hers back to me. “By the way,” I said, “I like your title—Full Moon Romance.” She smiled then opened my envelope and slid out my much thinner manuscript. I reminded her I wasn’t done yet. In fact, I was only about half way through. When she looked at my title—Return to Love— I saw her frown.
“Yeah, I know, but it’s only a working title at the moment.” She nodded, then without looking at me, flipped through a couple of the pages, at which point, I asked her, “By the way, do you want anything to eat or drink?”
She shook her head. “I can’t. I have to get back. That’s what my boyfriend wanted to talk to me about. I have to start packing. He wants me to go with him to Virginia Beach on Tuesday. He has family living there he wants me to meet.”
I felt a pang of both fear and disappointment; this sounded like the type of situation where the boyfriend surprises the girl with a ring and asks her to marry him. I was hoping that wasn’t going to be the case.
“Isn’t that short notice?” I asked her, my mind continuing to roil against the idea of her going with him. “What’s your boss going to say?”
“Oh, it’s Okay,” she replied, as she slid my manuscript back into its envelope. “I have some vacation time saved up, so all I have to do is ask her.” More disappointment on my part.
“Okay then,” I said to her, as I slid her manuscript back into its own envelope. “I hope you have a great time in Virginia Beach, and I’ll be reading this while you’re away.”
“Hope you like it,” she said as she got up to leave. I watched her walk out of the restaurant, all the while hoping that something would stop her from going on Tuesday.
Then turning back to my coffee, I thought about the way we had met, and wondered if this was part of some special plan by the guys upstairs? Glancing toward the ceiling, I silently asked them: Was this your idea, and if so, will it have anything to do with the both of us into writing . . . ?
If it did, it wasn’t because our writing styles were similar. Hers was more literate than mine, but I did like the way she used several Connecticut towns for her settings. I also liked her story as a whole, though there were some parts of it I had problems with, which I tried to explain to her as gently as I could the next time we met.
She didn’t like what I had to say.
“What do you mean my female character seems too infatuated with the guy!? She’s supposed to be; it’s a romance novel!”
I sighed, because, right away, I realized what a can of worms I had opened. “I know that,” I said gently, “but you have her wanting to jump his bones the moment she meets him. She doesn’t even know anything about him yet.”
“That’s because he’s so virulent.”
“Which reminds me: if he is so macho, then why are so many of the clothes he wears so old fashioned?”
She waved her hand around as if she was trying to stir the air itself. “Because, he’s been around so long, that’s what he’s used to wearing!”
I could see I had made her angry, so hoping to defuse the situation a little, I said, “Wait a minute, before we start throwing sharp objects at each other, I wrote down some of the things I thought might need to be looked at, which I included in with the manuscript. Why don’t you read over my notes first, and then later, if you still disagree, you can call me up and yell at me all you want.” That seemed to calm her down a little. She looked at me with less fire in her eyes.
“That’s probably a good idea,” she said then added, “I hope you don’t mind, but I took the liberty of editing your manuscript. You’ll see a lot of red marks, but I thought you needed a little help with your grammar and punctuation.” Already I was feeling the sting.
I nodded, but didn’t open my envelope to look inside. Instead, I told her I had to go meet a friend for lunch. Actually, I didn’t, but I figured it was better if we ended this session right then and there.
Watching as she left, I thought this might be the last time I ever see her again—but it wasn’t. I ran into her about two weeks later inside one of the local health food stores. She had a wagon full of groceries; I was just buying a couple of items. I stopped her in one of the aisles.
“You were right,” I said, trying to make myself seem as contrite as possible.
“About what?” she asked curiously.
I nodded for emphasis. “Everything you said about my manuscript. I did need a happier ending; and most of the stuff you marked, you were correct.”
That made her smile. And then she lowered her eyes a bit. “You were right, too,” she said looking up at me again. “My heroine was prematurely infatuated with the guy, and his clothes were too old fashioned. Plus, some of the other stuff you said about where some of the paragraphs should be moved to, I felt were also correct.” That made me feel good, but now, I was curious. “So how did your trip to Virginia Beach go?” The last time we got together, I’d been too chicken to ask her.
She looked down again. Something told me I shouldn’t have asked, because when she looked back up, I could see she was angry again. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she said.
I held up my hand. “Okay,” I said, thinking that maybe it was better if I did back off. “I’m going to check out now. I’ll see you later.” And with that, I left her standing in the aisle with her cart full of groceries, but I couldn’t help but wonder: what the heck had happened in Virginia Beach?
Whatever it was, it definitely left her angry, probably because her boyfriend had done something she really didn’t like. Did that mean I had a chance of getting a date with her? I could always try. But instead of telling me to get lost, the following day when I called, she said she was having a bunch of people over for dinner the next night. Would I like to come?
“Sure, why not?”
“I hope you don’t mind vegetarian?”
“No, that’s fine,” I told her, even though I was more of a meat and potatoes man. I added, “I’ll be curious to see what you make.”
As it turned out, the food was great! Not so much the company; that’s because one of the people who showed up for her party turned out to be my old girlfriend, Kathy.
When she saw me walk in, her eyes got big and she asked, “What are you doing here?”
Kelly must have heard because she turned around and looking at the both of us asked, “You two know each other?”
I nodded. “You could say that.”
It took her a moment, but finally she realized what was going on. “Sorry,” she said, “I didn’t know.”
“That’s OK,” I assured her. “I’m fine with it.”
“Me too,” replied Kathy. I wondered though how long she would not be fine with it, especially if the subject of writing came up? It didn’t take very long. Even before we sat down to eat, Kathy asked Kelly, “So where did you two meet?”
Kelly beamed. “You’re not going to believe this, but Tim and I used to live in the same house back in Norwalk, Connecticut!”
“Together?” Kathy asked, her eyebrows rising in surprise.
“No,” I chimed in. “Kelly’s parents were the ones who bought our house after my parents and I left.”
“That’s bizarre,” replied one of the guys who had come with one of the other girls.”
“That’s nothing,” said Kelly, still smiling. “Would you believe we’re both writing romance novels?”
“You write?” asked the same guy. I nodded then went into a long explanation about what I was writing, and how long it’s been since I started, and what I’d published so far (mostly small stuff in little magazines that didn’t pay). Either way, it didn’t make Kathy feel very happy. I could see her sneer more than once. Fortunately, once we sat down to eat, the conversation turned to other topics.
About an hour later, Kathy stood up and said she needed to leave. She was feeling a migraine coming on. I knew she was lying; she didn’t get headaches, but I was relieved to see her go. Now, I could relax a little.
Later, while I was helping Kelly clean up, we got a moment to ourselves, so I asked her if something had gone wrong during her trip? “You seemed really upset when I saw you in the health food store.”
She stopped rinsing the dishes but didn’t look at me. Instead, she continued to stare down at the sink while I waited. Finally, after a long moment, she said, “The reason he had me come with him to Virginia Beach was not to meet his family, but to show me off to his old girlfriend. They had been high school sweethearts.”
Feeling a little bit of both regret and anger, I said to her, “Some guys can be real bastards when it comes to dealing with women.”
Glancing at me sideways, Kelly asked, “What about you, Tim; are you a bastard?”
I assured her I wasn’t. To prove it, I made sure we didn’t get into any boyfriend/girlfriend relationships right away. Instead, I kept it light and hung out with her mostly as just a writing buddy. We’d meet occasionally over coffee and such and talk about writing and even exchanged some of our earlier manuscripts. Eventually, we decided we needed some more people to talk with about writing, so we started our own writing group.
Meeting every other week in one of the conference rooms at the local library, it was made up of mostly people who, like Kelly and I, were interested in writing romance stories. Even one of the girls from the party joined the group, although she had never tried writing fiction before.
Everything was going smoothly, nothing more really weird happened, until the night I had my dream. After I woke up, I feverishly wrote down everything I could remember about the dream then I called Kelly to tell her what had happened. That’s when I found out she had had the exact same dream!
“N-O W-A-Y!” I said, staring at the phone as if it had just tried to bite me.
Neither of us said anything for a full minute then I heard Kelly ask over the phone, “You want to compare notes?”
“Sure,” I said, nodding as if she could see me.
“I’ll be right over,” she said, then hung up.
Ten minutes later, my doorbell rang. Kelly swooped in, waving a spiral-bound notebook and saying, “This is what I dreamt about.”
After we sat down, I pulled out the pages upon which I had written my description of the dream and we began comparing notes. “No way!” I said again, as we looked over both sets of papers.
“I’ll agree,” she replied just as wide-eyed as I was.
Not only had we been given the same dream, but the universe, or the guys upstairs, if you want to call them that, had also given us the entire plot for a novel, which included, characters, setting, even time period. It took place in a future post apocalyptic New York City, which was why we decided right then and there that we needed to go to NYC to scout out locations in order to keep our novel accurate. So, with the blessings of both our bosses, we boarded a non-stop jet for the Big Apple. That’s where our romance blossomed, going from the printed page to in person.
A week later, we returned to California with a shopping bag full of notes, plus deep romantic feelings for each other. At the next meeting of our writing group, we explained to them what had happened. At first, they were understandably shocked, but then they congratulated us, and said go for it, which we did.
After some discussion, we decided we’d start by both of us working on chapters at the same time, but in separate locations then come together to compare what we had written. This turned out to be not as hard as it sounds because, besides being given the exact same elements for the book, we were also given almost the exact same words in which to tell it. Well, maybe not one-hundred percent exactly the same. Like I said, Kelly’s style of writing was a little more literate than mine, but most of the passages were pretty much the same.
Six months later, we were finished with the first draft. After making copies of the entire manuscript, we passed them out to the members of our writing group. They read them over and made a few suggestions, which we considered before sending out queries to several agents. One gal in Kansas City liked what she saw, only instead of going directly to a publisher, she suggested we go the self-publishing route on Amazon to see what would happen first. Why not? So we agreed.
Now, this is where it gets a little freaky, as if it wasn’t already.
Not only did we sell several hundred copies within the first 24 hours, but by the end of the month, we had sales of nearly 75 thousand, and this was with no website! Neither of us had one. All our sales seemed to come from word of mouth! Once again, I had to say to the guys upstairs a big— THANK YOU!
Even before sales reached the hundred thousand mark, Bantam Books came a calling. With what they paid us to deliver to them a trilogy, we could have bought a small cottage in Malibu. Instead, we settled for a modest little two-acre spread in north San Diego, not too far from where my parents lived. Kelly’s parents had remained in Connecticut.
Then one night, during a signing at one of the local bookstores, I saw Kathy waiting in line, holding a copy of our novel. While we were signing it, I heard her mumble, “I should have hung in there.”
I shook my head. “It wouldn’t have made any difference,” I told her. “This was the universe’s game from the very beginning. Kelly and I were just pawns.” Then we handed her back the book, and I watched as she walked away, her head held high, almost as if she was trying to pretend she was Okay with how it turned out.