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Tea Leaves

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

Katie meets the love of her life at the shore, just like fortune teller predicted, but she’s in for a surprise.

I thought I’d have to drink the tea, but Madame Julia took care of it. Good thing because I hated tea and thought fortune-tellers were phonies. But Marilyn, one of my roommates, had insisted we all have our tea leaves read. So there I was at Madame Julia’s Psychic Readings on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, two doors down from Steel’s Fudge. Marilyn and Bonnie had already had their readings and were waiting for me outside. Afterward we would compare notes over a seafood dinner.

The three of us had rented a bungalow in nearby Ventnor for two weeks, a final post-graduation fling before we headed off to different cities to start our new jobs and grown-up lives. We had agreed that each of us would be responsible for planning an evening’s entertainment, and the others were obliged to go along. Tomorrow, at Bonnie’s suggestion, we’d be spending the night at The Dunes, a noisy bar with a house band, where they packed you in like sardines, making verbal communication challenging and physical communication pretty much mandatory. Thank you, Bonnie! When she said it was a great place to meet guys, I reminded her that crowded bars weren’t my style because I wasn’t a flirting-one-night-stand kind of girl. She reminded me that I’d be free to plan something more my style when it was my turn, and I’d already decided it was going to be a barbecue. We’d invite all our friends down from Philly. What better way to celebrate the end of summer?

Madame Julia wore a silky multicolored dress that fluttered and flowed when she moved. With her dark curly hair that was partially tamed by jewel-encrusted barrettes, and her heavy makeup, she looked like a Gypsy character straight out of central casting. The batik-curtained room had that ubiquitous hippie shop smell. As I watched Madame Julia do her thing, I wondered who had decided patchouli would be the smell of peace, love, and crystals.

Madame Julia’s bangle bracelets jingled as she flipped the cup over onto a saucer and told me to think about my question—the same question the three of us had decided to ask: “Who am I going to marry?” Though it was 1968 and the women’s movement was all about liberation and independence from men, I’d bet anything that most single women would have secretly asked that same question. From what I could tell, romance was never out of date, and marriage still figured into the equation for those of us who liked men.

Madame Julia’s bangles went heavy metal as she rotated the cup three times. Then she had me place my hands over the cup and concentrate on my question. Yes, I’d ask the marriage question, but I had my career to think about, so marriage could wait. Judging from my track record, I suspected marriage might not be in my future for a long time. My relationships so far had been half-baked: When the sex was good, the other stuff wasn’t, and vice versa. Would I ever get to taste the three-layer cake with the buttercream frosting?

Madame righted the cup and rotated it, studying the leaves from all angles. She was frowning—not a good sign. The room was silent, save for the sound of the bangles and the tinkling of the tiny bells hanging from her pendant earrings. The spicy, earthy patchouli smell hung heavy in the air, and I found myself being seduced by the mystical vibe. Maybe there were “more things in heaven and earth…” Was it possible this woman could actually see my future?

My skepticism returned when she pointed to the patterns inside the cup and, in a low, mysterious voice told me what she saw in the leaves:

“The leaves reveal good fortune. I see a journey in your future. There will be challenges, but you will find success in your chosen profession. You will have many friends. You will live a long life…” And so forth.

Such wisdom I could have gotten from a fortune cookie.

Then her expression changed, as did her voice, suddenly strong and decisive.

“There will be a celebration. There will be men in your life, but I see an artist in your future.” She pointed to a line of tea leaves. “Yes,” she said. “An artist. Wait for him. Hold out for the artist.”

When I left the shop, I spotted Marilyn and Bonnie leaning against the boardwalk railing, chattering away. Marilyn had already attracted the attention of at least two men who pretended they were looking at the ocean. How could she not stop traffic? At five foot nine, slim yet curvy, with an olive complexion and straight dark hair, shiny as silk, she had an irresistibly exotic look. More south sea island than South Philly. Marilyn would be moving to LA next month to fulfill her dream of becoming an actress. She’d already starred in two TV ads—a commercial for toothpaste featuring her perfect white teeth, and one for shampoo showing off her perfect black hair—and would be appearing in a cigarette commercial before she took off for the west coast.

One of the men had turned his attention to Bonnie. No surprise there. Bonnie was a sparkling Tinkerbell of a woman (if Tinkerbell had a tiny waist and big boobs). Barely north of five feet, she had a pixie haircut, a wide smile, and she bubbled with enthusiasm whenever she talked. Bonnie had gotten a job with the Philadelphia School System and would be teaching second grade in the fall. The kids were going to love her.

Then there was me. I had two things going for me. A man would have to get close to notice my most notable feature—eyes the color of aquamarine, framed by long, lush eyelashes. The second was my sense of humor—a little too sharp for some, but a source of amusement for many. The rest of me was average, brown hair, freckles, and a little pudgy, which unfortunately was not a desirable body type in the Twiggy age. If I were writing myself as a character, I’d make myself beautiful, because female protagonists were never unattractive. One of the many reasons I had chosen writing as my career.

Marilyn spotted me, and I waved and joined them.

“So how’d it go, Katie?” they asked me simultaneously.

“You two go first,” I said, “then me.”

Marilyn flashed her trademark toothpaste smile. “She said I’m going to make it big in the movies even though I didn’t ask that question, so she must be the real deal. And I’d have a life of adventure and would eventually marry someone rich, famous, possibly of royal blood. She thinks his name begins with L.

“I’m going to start out teaching elementary school,” said Bonnie, “but she predicted I’d find my true passion before I turned thirty, and I’d go down a different professional path. She couldn’t see what that path was, but she said that’s when I’d meet my husband. We’re dying to know what she told you, Katie.”

“Honestly, I don’t believe a word of it,” I said, lowering my voice in imitation of Madame Julia. ‘You will have a long and happy life. You will find success. You will find fortune, and blah blah.’”

“What else?” asked Bonnie. “Who are you going to marry?”

“She said there was an artist in my future.” I pointed to a round-faced guy in a beret sketching caricatures two for five dollars. “Yeah, probably someone like that. Just my luck.”

“Well, I see oysters in our future,” said Marilyn. “Just our luck, Abe’s Oyster House is only a block away.”


The next morning, the three of us were sitting around the breakfast room table, window open, drinking coffee and enjoying the salty breeze, reminding us we were only a block from the ocean. I’d just volunteered to put breakfast together when the sound of slamming car doors and loud male voices drowned out our conversation.

“That’s annoying as hell,” said Marilyn. “I’ll tell them to keep it down.” She went to the window, looked out, and signaled the two of us to join her. We watched as three guys unloaded a station wagon parked in front of the house next door.

“Let’s get our suitcases inside and grab some grub,” said a tall guy in a faded Harvard sweatshirt.

“All we got is beer,” said his friend, who was shirtless and tanned to burnished copper perfection. “We’ll have to do some shopping.”

“Check out those abs,” whispered Bonnie. “I call dibs.”

“Beer for breakfast!” said Harvard.

“So uncivilized, Len,” said the third guy. He was facing away from us, so all we could see was his sandy blond ponytail and the back of a well-worn madras shirt. “Don’t you know it’s uncouth to start drinking before ten.”

Marilyn cocked her head and whispered, “Harvard is mine. He’s super cute, super tall, and his name starts with L.”

“If Harvard is yours, and Mr. Coppertone is Bonnie’s,” I said, “that leaves me with Ponytail Guy.” I was hoping to see his face, but he’d already gone inside. My friends had won the lottery, but I’d have to wait for the winning number.

“I’m going to get this party started,” said Marilyn, and was out the door and chatting with Harvard and Mr. Coppertone before I could finish a sentence. She pointed to our window, they waved, and we waved back. When the guys had gone into their house, Marilyn yelled up, “They’re coming over for breakfast. Set three more places.”

I volunteered to make pancakes, much more manly than the yogurt and granola we’d planned.

“Howdy, neighbors,” said Marilyn when Len and Mr. Coppertone arrived. “Y’all make yourselves at home.” She’d subconsciously taken on the speech patterns and mannerisms of the character she’d be playing in the cigarette commercial. Though the cowboy’s girlfriend only had one line, she was determined to make it memorable.

“That’s right neighborly, of you,” Len mimicked in a friendly way, handing her the beer.

Bonnie took charge of the seating arrangements: the two guys on one side of the table, my two friends at either end, and me across from the men, next to an empty chair.

“Pancakes okay with you guys?” said Marilyn.

“I’ll speak for all of us in saying yes to pancakes. I’m Len, by the way.”

Mr. Coppertone scowled. “Len thinks he’s entitled to speak for all of us since he just graduated from Harvard and thinks he’s hot shit. I’m Alan, and just a lowly Franklin and Marshall grad. Our friend Danny is on his way.”

Marilyn had pushed her chair back from the table, crossed her impossibly long legs, which looked even longer in tight-fitting capri pants, and angled her chair toward Len. “How long’ll you guys be in Ventnor?”

“Two weeks,” he said, his eyes on her legs before redirecting them to her face.

“Same as us. Cool. What’ll you be doing this fall?”

As the two of them continued their conversation, Bonnie angled her chair toward Alan. “And what about you, Alan?” She put her hand on his upper arm. Bonnie was a “toucher.” Not in a suggestive way, but rather as an extension of her bubbly persona. Alan didn’t seem to mind at all.

I observed their body language, the easy flirting, the natural pairing of people who were obviously attracted to each other.

“Well,” I said to no one in particular, “breakfast isn’t going to make itself.”

The small galley kitchen was just off the breakfast room. As I mixed the batter, I looked out the little window that faced the back of our bungalow and the one next door. No sign of Danny. With that ponytail, I thought, he could be an artist. That would be one hell of a coincidence, something that might happen in a cheap romance novel but not in real life. And anyway, why was I even thinking about artists?

I flipped the pancakes, picked up a bottle of maple syrup, and set it down in the center of the breakfast room table. No Danny. No big deal. If he didn’t show up, I’d just serve the pancakes and head to the beach where I could finish a story I was working on.

I cooked two more batches and piled them on a serving plate.

“I come bearing pancakes,” I said as I brought the last of the pancakes into the breakfast room. The late arrival was standing behind his two buddies. Danny. He smiled. I froze. He had a dimple on one cheek. My stomach fluttered. Chiseled features, full lips, pale blue eyes. My heart raced. “Coup de foudre” the French called it. Thunder bolt. Lightning strike. I’d always thought love at first sight was something that existed only on the pages of Harlequin novels or in musical theater, like “You may see a stranger across a crowded room.” Leave it to me to see a stranger across a stack of pancakes. I giggled.

“What’s so funny?” he said, his voice light as an Irish tenor. “I think you better put those pancakes down or you’ll be wearing them. Sit down, I’ll grab the seat next to you, and you can tell me what you’re thinking.”

“What I’m thinking?” I said, putting the platter on the table and sitting down next to him. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

“Actually, I would.”

But how could I tell him my insides had turned to Jell-o when he smiled and showed that dimple? So I steadied my voice and told him about my dreams of being a writer.

“I’ve been hired by Random House as an administrative assistant. I’ll be moving to Manhattan in September.

“Random House,” he said. “Impressive.”

“Not so much. I’ll probably be fetching coffee and buying anniversary presents for my boss’s wife.”

“It’s a start. I get the feeling you’ll be moving up. You seem like a…scrappy gal.”

I laughed. “Scrappy? Like Nancy Drew?”

“Nancy Drew?”

“It’s a girl thing. And what about you?”

“Electrical engineering. Graduate school at Columbia.”

“Maybe we’ll run into each other in the big city?”

“I think I’d like that.”

Hold out for the artist.

Shut up, Madame Julia. There’s something special about this guy, and I’m sticking with him.

We had so much to talk about: growing up in Philly, and the difference between word people and number people, and his younger brother who was a pain, and my younger sister who was a pain. On and on until there was a lull in the conversation, and we were surrounded by silence.

“I didn’t realize everyone left.”

“Me neither,” he said. “I think I was too distracted by your eyes. They’re incredible. Never saw eyes that color.”

I think every inch of my body was blushing then, including parts that had never blushed before.

We continued our conversation on the beach, under his umbrella. Our friends were stretched out nearby on beach towels, tanning. Marilyn was lying on her stomach. She’d unfastened the top of her two-piece, and I watched Len rub oil on her back. He was smiling. Maybe later I’d ask Danny to smear lotion on my back. I’d never unfasten my top…not on the beach…at least not yet.

We took dips in the ocean, rode the waves, dried off in the sun, then dragged our blankets back under the umbrella, because I told him I burned easily. His legs were so much longer than mine. He had to be six feet. The blond hair on his legs and chest stood out against his reddish tan. If I turned over, would he stare at my butt? Not a good idea. I closed my eyes and drifted off.

Madame Julia: I told you to hold out for the artist.

Me: He is an artist. He probably draws pictures of circuits and wires and such, which would make him an artist, right, so leave me alone.

My stomach growled. “Well that’s embarrassing.”

“Not really. It’s after three, and we haven’t eaten since breakfast. Maybe we could grab a bite. You know the area. Suggestions?”

We went to Sack O’ Subs a couple blocks away.

“My parents used to take us to the White House Sub Shop in Atlantic City,” I said. “It was famous, and we all loved it except my little sister. She’d sit there with her arms crossed, complaining that the lunch meats were gross, and why couldn’t we get hot dogs? Such a fussbudget. Did your family eat out?”

“Sometimes, but my brother could never find anything he liked. Such a pain. One time he—”

The waiter came by with our order, and I dug into my sub, since I hadn’t eaten a bite at breakfast. Danny finished before I did, and sat quietly as I worked on my sandwich, head down, trying to chew with my mouth closed.

“How long have you been writing?” he asked, leaning forward. I held up a finger and washed down the last of my sub with a gulp of soda.

“I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. Maybe in utero, but only because I didn’t have a pen.”

He laughed. “What do you write about?”

“A little bit of everything. Relationships, fantasy. I have an idea for a novel and I’m just starting…”

“Excuse me,” he said. “Sorry to interrupt, but there’s a piece of something next to your lip. No. Other side. You’re not getting it. May I?” He wiped it with his finger and my cheek tingled. Did he feel it too? Does electricity actually pass between two people who are attracted to each other. Too soon to ask the electrical engineer, but I hoped our relationship would progress to the point where the two of us shared more electrical exchanges.

We walked on the boardwalk. Unlike the Atlantic City boardwalk, which was commercial, the Ventnor boardwalk was residential. We passed women pushing baby strollers, kids running zigzag and clowning around, families dragging their beach chairs and umbrellas off the beach. We were so lost in conversation, I didn’t realize how late it was until the lamplights went on.

“Danny, would you like me to show you the beach where my family spent our summers?”


We walked a half mile or so to the Ventnor pier, then down the ramp to the beach, sharing childhood memories. Then we stood hand in hand, each lost in our own thoughts. A waxing moon hung bright as a Christmas ornament over the ocean, and I wondered if I was about to take a bite of that elusive, mouth-watering three-layer cake.


How do you know you’ve found love?

Maybe it’s when you’re sitting on the rocks at the very tip of the island, and he tells you his father died in a fire when he was fifteen, and there are tears in his eyes. And you tell him your mom got sick and began wasting away until there was hardly anything left of her, and he holds you and brushes away your tears.

Or perhaps it’s when you rent bikes at six a.m. and ride all the way to the end of Atlantic City, and you pass an arcade, and he says he thinks you need a teddy bear, and he’s going to win one for you. And that night you carry a teddy bear the size of Rhode Island back to Ventnor.

Or it could be when he gives you a tennis lesson and nibbles your neck when he stands behind you, correcting your backhand, and you drop the racket and turn around, and kiss him long and hard and say, “We don’t need no stinking tennis,” and he agrees with his whole body.


“Hey, do you and Danny want to join the four of us for music and drinks at Bayshores?” said Bonnie. The six of us had spent some time together on the beach the past week and shared a few dinners, but we’d mostly gone our separate ways.

“No thanks, I think we’re up for a quiet night at home.”

“His place or yours?”

I shrugged.

“Well,” she said with a wink “I hope it’s not too quiet.”

My evening with Danny began with just the right level of quiet as we sat on the front porch glider, watching the fireflies put on a light show and making out like horny teenagers.

“Did you know those flashes are the firefly language of love?” I said when we came up for air. “Looks like there’s a whole lot of loving going on.” We had waited long enough for the inevitable, and I was going to make the first move, take the first step as a liberated woman of the sixties who knew what she wanted.

“Let’s go inside,” I said, my voice husky.

“Yes,” he said, letting me lead him by the hand into the bedroom I shared with Marilyn. He took a step toward the bed, but I whispered “no” and leaned against the closed door. “Here.” I took off my tank top.

“Here,” I repeated. “Now.”

I closed my eyes, my nipples hard, anticipating the warmth of his mouth on my breast. Waiting for his tongue to…

“I can’t,” he said. I opened my eyes. “I can’t,” he repeated.

“Don’t worry, I’m on the pill.” I tried to pull him close, but he drew back.

“It’s not that. I can’t because I’m seeing somebody.”

“This is a joke, right?”

“No, Katie. I’m so so sorry, but it’s not a joke. I thought…”

“You thought what?” I crossed my arms over my breasts. “You thought this was a game? Like I was a toy to play with until you went back to…whoever the hell she is.”

“It’s not like that. I feel something for you. I felt myself falling in love with you. But I’m still in love with her.”

“Well, isn’t that nice for you.” I picked up my tank top and put it on. The clingy fabric covered my exposed flesh, but not the raw, damaged rest of me.

“I should have…told you…said something…didn’t mean to hurt you…make it up to you…” He put his hand on my shoulder, and I slapped his face. I actually slapped his face! “Don’t touch me! Just go. Get the fuck out of my face.” I tried to open the door, but it was locked. Fuck. I fumbled with the key, fuck-fuck, but finally succeeded in turning it. “Out of my life!”



And he was gone, leaving me with a broken heart and a giant brown teddy bear with a painted-on smile, mocking me from the dresser.

“Wipe that smirk off your face.” I grabbed a knife from the kitchen and plunged it into its chest, where the heart would have been if it had one. I slashed at that teddy bear until half the stuffing was on the floor. “That’s what you did to me,” I said, ripping out the rest of the stuffing and leaving a shapeless mass of fake fur on the floor.

I didn’t have it in me to clean up the mess, so I ripped a sheet of paper from my notebook, picked up a tube of Marilyn’s crimson lipstick, and scrawled “Sorry, I need this room tonight,” and taped it to the door. Let them think what they wanted. I’d explain in the morning.

I grabbed Marilyn’s nightgown and a clean set of underwear and took them to the other bedroom, which had a bed and a futon. I thought I should probably move Marilyn’s makeup kit to the other room. “But let’s be honest, Marilyn,” I said aloud, “you don’t need no stinkin’ makeup.” My hysterical laughter quickly morphed into sobs, and I collapsed onto a pile of moldy-smelling teddy bear innards. Catching sight of myself in the floor-to-ceiling mirror—flaming red eyes, chunks of cotton sticking to my tear-drenched face like a drunken Santa Claus—I knew I had to do something to stop my maudlin trajectory into Harlequin hell.

I stood in front of the mirror and brushed off the white stuff that insisted on clinging to me. As I wiped my eyes, I was reminded of an Eleanor Roosevelt quote about inferiority, which I paraphrased: “No one can break your heart without your consent. And you, Danny, do not have my consent, so get your grubby hands off my heart.”

Tacked to the wall was a to-do list for the barbecue I’d planned for tomorrow evening. Last thing I wanted to do was be the gracious hostess, but we’d already invited the guests and bought the food, so I had to make it work.


Next morning, after I told my friends what had transpired the night before, they offered to take over supervision of the barbecue. Said they’d understand if I bowed out of the party. I was tempted, but I realized that spending the night alone nursing my wounded self was the worst thing I could do. So I told them the preparations would keep me occupied during the day, and I’d put on my big girl panties and soldier on.

As I put the last of the hot dogs and hamburgers I’d bought into the fridge, I practiced the lines I’d say when I ran into Danny at the party. And I molded my face into the cool facade I’d display as I delivered my lines. When Bonnie told me Danny had gone back to Philly, I gave her the “that’s nice but no biggie” look, though inside I virtually cried with relief. Now I could get through the evening without constantly looking over my shoulder and girding myself for confrontation.

The party was called for four o’clock, and I went inside a half hour earlier to get dressed. The grill, tables, chairs, etc., were in place, and our friends from Philly were starting to roll in. I’d hoped for a beach barbecue, but Ventnor didn’t allow them after six p.m., so we had to settle for the empty lot behind our house. Along with our friends, we’d invited the neighbors, figuring they wouldn’t complain about the noise if they were participants.

The sound of guitars and singing drifted through the open bedroom window. Someone yelled, “You can play anything as long as it’s not Kumbaya.”

I might have felt like shit, but I was determined not to look like it. I pulled a long gauzy peasant skirt out of the closet along with a flowy turquoise blouse that matched my eyes, which thankfully were no longer red. I applied dark mascara to accent the color of my best feature and treated my lips to crimson lipstick and lip gloss. Putting on my longest, dangliest earrings, I turned to face myself in the full-length mirror, afraid I’d look like a hooker, but surprised myself by looking damned good. A bit exotic, a bit Madame Julia-ish, but younger and without the bangles.

You saw a celebration in my future, Madame Julia, so you can thank me for making your prediction come true.


Grill burger. Flip. Toast rolls. Check hotdogs. Repeat.

Grill duty was a way of being at the party and not being there at the same time. A little small talk, a little eye contact, not too much.

Grill. Flip. Toast. Check. A few more beers and I’d be ready to join the party—something I had to do. It wasn’t healthy to play the victim role, regardless of how I felt. He was the one who deserved to feel ashamed. Probably did, since he wasn’t here. If someone invented a schmuckometer, he’d be off the charts. I chuckled.

“It’s good to see you smile.”

His voice. I looked up. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Huh? All I said was it was good—”

“I know what you said. And I asked what you were doing here.”

“What do you mean?” He looked puzzled, which made him a better actor than Marilyn.

“After last night.”

His eyes widened. “All I wanted was a burger. Medium rare.”

“Damn it, Danny,” I said, loud enough to turn heads.

He laughed, said something I couldn’t hear and laughed again. Buddy, you just broke the schmuckometer. Enough! I raised the spatula, primed to smack him in the face as I’d done last night, but this time with a weapon.

He grabbed my wrist and gently took the spatula from my hand, setting it on the table.

“I should have known,” he said. “He loves to ignore my existence. Trust me, I’m not Danny. I’m Josh.”

“Don’t lie to me. You look…Oh my God. You’re the younger brother.”

“By three minutes.”

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.

“Let’s start over,” he said. “Hi, I’m Josh.” He extended his hand “And you are…?"

“Katie,” I managed to croak, taking his hand.

“Pleased to meet you, Katie.”

Danny’s double. Same face, same everything, down to the madras shirt. He smiled Danny’s smile. Identical twins, identical genes. Identical tendency to be a jerk? I abruptly pulled my hand from his. I wanted to turn and flee, but his eyes on mine fixed me in place.

“I have a confession to make,” he said. “I lied about the burger. I really came over to give you this.” He handed me a piece of paper. “I’ve been watching you from over there.” He pointed to a beach chair a few feet away. “Sorry, that sounds creepy. I swear I’m not a pervert. It was just something about the way you moved, the shimmery dress, the smoke from the grill. And now, close up, I see your eyes are…I’ve never seen eyes like yours. Damn, I keep sounding like a letch.”

I looked at the paper in my hand. A black and white sketch. Of me.

Madame Julia: I told you to hold out for the artist.

Me: Don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. He might be a crappy artist.

Madame Julia: Did I tell you what kind of artist to hold out for?

“Did you just say something?” said Josh.

I shook my head and focused on the drawing. It looked like me, but also made me look like…I don’t know…some kind of goddess. Is that what he saw?

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Say you’ll let me draw you again. This time in color, so I can do justice to those eyes.”

I was frozen somewhere between “this is bullshit” and “what the hell’s happening here?”

“I can see I’m making you uncomfortable.”

“Yes…no…I don’t know.”

“Tell you what. Why don’t you find someone to take your place at the grill, and we can go somewhere and talk? Let me show you I’m a nice guy.” He smiled a Danny smile. “How about the beach?”

Uh-oh. That’s where I went with Danny that first night. Was I setting myself up for a rerun? Even though this one was an artist, I’d have to be extra vigilant for signs of potential heartbreak. “Okay, but let’s make it the boardwalk.”

We chose a bench under a cone of light from a nearby lamppost, maintaining a respectable distance between us.

“Let me guess what happened with Danny,” he said. “He was coming on strong, and just when things were…really heating up…he bailed. Said he was in love with someone else. May have said he was falling in love with you.”

Once again, my mouth dropped open, which he took for confirmation and continued.

“Dollars to doughnuts he wasn’t lying about falling in love with you, even though he was probably serious about someone else. Danny’s done this before. He doesn’t mean to hurt anyone, it’s just that he has trust issues, probably because he was dumped by a woman he was about to propose to. I told him he should talk to a shrink or someone about why he keeps repeating that pattern.”

“Sounds like you’re the younger but wiser brother.”

“That’s me.” He looked out at the ocean. It was a clear night, and the moon was almost full, casting a mirror image of itself on the surprisingly calm Atlantic.

“Listen, can I ask you a favor? Feel free to say no,” he said.

“Depends on what you ask.”

“Could you walk over there, out of the artificial light?”

“And do what?”

“Stand against the railing. The moonlight is perfect.” He picked up his notebook.

Madame Julia: Do it!

Me: I can’t go through that again.

Madame Julia: You won’t. The leaves don’t lie. Do it! Enjoy the moment.

As I walked toward the railing, my pendant earrings jingled.

Okay, Madam Julia. Here goes.

I twirled, bathed in the magical moonlight. A passing couple smiled, and I smiled back and twirled again.

“I love it,” said Josh, laughing, notebook in hand. “But you’ll have to stop twirling, so I can sketch you.”

He posed me, and I stood like a statue for I don’t know how long, thinking of all that could go wrong, and then all that could go right. This time I’d be careful with my heart, and I had a feeling he would, too.

He said he wanted to do more work on the sketch, so he wasn’t going to show it to me just yet. Outside my door, we gave each other meaningful looks. When he kissed me on the cheek, I silently thanked the gods of romance for forcing me to take it slow. I’d undressed his brother in my mind the day we met, and look where it had gotten me.

“Hey, maybe we can go up to the A.C. boardwalk tomorrow,” he said. “I’d like to try some of those saltwater taffies. And I hear Steel’s Fudge is the best.”

“Yes, let’s do that.”

And maybe have your tea leaves read.

Published in Beach Shorts, an anthology from Speculation Publications, edited by Susan Tulio, River Eno, and LCW Allingham.

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