It was so easy to feel jealous and that it wasn’t fair. The fairy tale couple in the middle of the room, the centre of each other’s lives, the centre of attention. Her own small gift overwhelmed in the rush of congratulations, her attempt at graciousness in defeat lost because no-one realised she’d been hoping to win. She’d gotten in her good wishes, done her best to school her face so no-one could accuse her of spoiling this day’s happiness with her grief for her own hopes and now it was time to leave. To slip away while no-one was paying attention, not that it seemed to her that they ever did unless they wanted something done.
She was walking across the bridge on the way home, in the dark and the rain when she stopped to admire the view. The city lights were beautiful both on their own and in reflection and the rain added a blur that made the scene fit her mood tonight. A few minutes here admiring the view wouldn’t do any harm and if there were going to be any confrontations when she got home, she’d happily put those off for another five minutes.
“I can give you what you want,” the voice in her ear was quiet, dry and male. When she looked up she saw a man in an expensive suit, overcoat and hat who was a head taller than her and improbably if not impossibly dry.
“You shouldn’t.” She was not crying, she would not cry. “What I want isn’t reasonable.”
“We do unreasonable all the time, why should you be any different?” He turned around and leaned against the railing so he could see her face. “No-one would ever know.”
“I would know.” She lifted her chin. “There’s always a price and fine print and I’m not about to pay one or chance the other.”
“What if I told you that how you feel, what’s happening to you now is the result of someone else’s arrangement with us?”
She paused and thought before she spoke. “You are known to lie and only tell half the truth. My being alive in the first place could be the result of that arrangement and what you just said would be true.”
“What if I told you that the arrangement took from you things that were yours and gave them to another?” He sounded like a friend discussing...the weather.
“Would it be true?”
“For certain reasonably solid values of truth, yes.” He looked at her with infinitely deep eyes. “Well?”
“You’re tempting me with revenge?” She looked at the lights again.
“Of course,” he smiled, “It’s what we do.”
“Even though what I want may have nothing to do with the arrangement you are describing?”
He spread his hands in acknowledgement, “You said yourself that we deal in half truths.”
“Thank you for the offer, but no thank you.” She said it firmly and to his face.
“Why not?” The dry, quiet voice had gained a dangerous edge.
“I’m not prepared to pay your price and I don’t want to add to whatever trail of unintended consequences is roiling along in the wake of your...arrangements.” She took a deep breath. “I will recover from this on my own. I will build or move on to something else that I am not beholden to an arrangement for. If this is all about revenge, I will stop my portion of the circle here.” The tears were leaking now despite her intentions.
“As you wish.” He stood upright in one smooth movement, dipped his hat, and was gone. No smoke, no light absorbing darkness, just gone.
She continued her walk home in the rain, making sure to dry her face before she went in the front door. The lights were on and everyone was home. Her parents, the happy couple, his parents and the presents filled the lounge room. She stuck her head in the doorway to let them know she was home and to say good night.
“Where did you get to?” demanded her mother in the middle of noting gift tags and the associated presents. “We looked for you when it was time to pack up but you’d already left.”
“I needed some time on my own,” she said, trying to ignore her sister and her sister’s fiancé restraining themselves from making out in public on the lounge. “So I decided to walk home. There were so many people there, I thought you would have had plenty of help without me.”
“That’s not the point, as I keep telling you,” her mother sighed, “And if you were walking home, why did it take so long?”
“Oh,” she smiled for what seemed like the first time in days, “I was busy resisting temptation.”