Lines of Fate

Content Warnings: off-page physical abuse of a teenager by a (homophobic) parent, palm cutting as part of a magic system, violence, murder of a parent, accidental death of a grandparent.

 

The women in Lily’s family had a gift.

Their powers were not transferred at birth, not borne in the blood, but passed down in the margins of ancient cookbooks, in prayers whispered over tea, in spells woven into lullabies.

By the time Lily was ten, she could read the future in the clouds and mend a broken heart with a perfectly baked sugar cookie, made just the way her mothers taught her.

During the holidays, when the extended family gathered under one roof, the men would joke together, swapping notes on the weird habits of their superstitious wives and daughters. The Wright women would laugh along, but they knew the truth. They knew the strength of their power. They believed.

At fourteen, Lily stormed into her parents’ kitchen, her white cheeks flaming red, her dark curls escaping the tight bun she’d forced them into. “Why does Gran let Grandpa get away with that?”

Her mother Adrienne looked up from the gravy, which she was carefully stirring clockwise to bring good luck. “Get away with what, darling?”

“Mocking us,” Lily whispered fiercely so her grandparents wouldn’t overhear. “I tried to warn him about the coming ice storm, but he just laughed and asked me if the cat told me to pass along the message.” Said feline padded into the room, weaving her lithe body between Lily’s legs. “I saw it in his tea cup.” As far as Lily knew, cats couldn’t talk.

Adrienne glanced at Lily’s other mother, Delilah, something silent passing between them.

“Well?” Lily prompted when neither of her moms spoke.

“The men in our family don’t understand what we do,” Delilah said, pulling the dish towel from her shoulder and wiping her hands. “Your great-great-great grandmother learned it was easier to let them think we’re eccentric than make them believe. If they don’t want to heed our warnings, we can’t make them.”

“But how does Gran stand it?”

Delilah shrugged and wrapped an arm around Adrienne’s waist, pulling her close and kissing her cheek. “Don’t ask me,” she said, “I married your mother.”

The next week, an ice storm blanketed the northeast. Despite her holiday warning, Lily’s grandfather went hiking the woods, snapping photographs of the ice-covered trees as they glittered like diamonds in the sun. A gust of wind tore through the woods. A branch broke. Fell.

The Wright women buried him a month later, once the ground had finally thawed.

Lily swore then, as she watched her gran needlessly grieve, that she would never fall in love.

~

Adrienne Wright owned a small bakery in town, and when Lily turned sixteen, she begged until her mother let her join the staff. Lily spent almost the entirely of that spring at the store—kneading dough before school and leaving it to rise, swinging by after classes to run the register, mastering new recipes on the weekends at home.

It wasn’t as if Lily had friends to visit. She had cousins. Aunts. Her mothers. All of whom stopped by the store at least once a week, dropping off concoctions of their own for Adrienne to sell — hand-crafted teas, soothing lotions, and works of art with the power to calm an anxious mind.

Summer arrived with a vengeance that year, blistering hot and unbelievably humid. Even the air conditioner, running at full blast all day, couldn’t combat the combined assault of the ovens and the scorching sun.

With her heavy curls pinned to the top of her head, strands of hair stuck to her sweat-slicked skin, Lily ran the register. Their customers were varied, from skeptics who claimed to simply love their bread to neighbors who whispered about witchcraft behind their backs but always came in when their children were acting up, looking for treats that would soothe foul moods or prevent spouses from finding love in the arms of another.

Then one day in early July, a woman burst into the shop like a tornado, her energy setting Lily on edge. There was something raw about her, her face narrow and underfed. Something desperate in the depths of her eyes.

“Can I help you?” Lily asked, glancing to the bakery door, wishing her mother was closer. That she wasn’t alone.

The woman shook her head. “I need Adrienne. I need—” She lost her words to a sob. “I need her,” she said again, grabbing Lily by her apron, panic in her eyes. “You have to get her!”

“Josephine,” Adrienne’s usually cool voice snapped from her place behind Lily. The door clicked shut. “Let her go.”

Josephine crumbled when she saw the Wright woman she had come to find. Her fingers slid from Lily’s apron, tears already spilling down her pale, splotchy cheeks. “Of course. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. But I need your help. Please, Adrienne. I know what they say about you. I know what you are.”

Lily’s mother didn’t protest. She didn’t deny Josephine’s claims, but everything about her narrowed. Her lips pressed into a thin line. Her eyes darkened. Her brows drew down with disapproval as she studied the desperate woman before her.

“Follow me,” Adrienne said at last, holding open the door to the bakery. “But you will tell no one what I’m about to do. And if you touch my daughter again—”

“I won’t. I promise.” Josephine was already behind the counter, following after Adrienne without a glance back at Lily.

And Lily was left minding the store. Sweat slicking her skin. Confusion and a shame she couldn’t identify burning her already too-warm cheeks.

She watched the bakery door. Listened intently for signs of struggle. Waited for the tell-tale sign of magic in the air, a tingle at the base of her spine that accompanied most of her parents’ little spells. Instead, Lily caught a gasp. A strangled cry. Then tears, so many tears, and a chorus of thank you, thank you, thank you.

A few minutes later, Josephine returned from the back room. Her hand was bound with a thin white cloth, blood soaking through at the palm. Adrienne hovered in the doorway, watching as Josephine emptied her wallet at the counter and turned, dazed but so much calmer than before.

“Thank you,” the woman whispered, the remnants of tears clinging to her eyelashes. She clutched her bloody hand to her chest. “Thank you.”

Lily looked to her mother when the woman was gone. “What was that about?”

“Fate.”

~

Fate comes in many forms and goes by many names.

Some call it luck. Others see destiny in every victory and blame fate for their troubles. Still others search for proof of a lack of fate, believing instead that their choices, good and ill, forever alter their future. They don’t believe they can stray from the path. For them, the path does not exist.

For the Wright women, fate lived in the lines on their palms.

It was a little-used skill, in part because changing fate was tricky business. Mostly, though, people didn’t want to know their fate, truly know it, unless they could in turn bend it to their will. That day in the bakery, when Adrienne sent Josephine on her way, Lily begged her mother to explain.

And so, Lily spent the summer learning to read the lines of fate.

Life lines that spelled out a person’s health and wellbeing. Love lines that spoke of soulmates and the destinies of such romances. Fleshy bits that mapped out one’s true calling. Health. Happiness. Family. Dear friends. Hands were a map of the future. Of the past. Of all that could be.

If only you knew where to look.

“What did you do to Josephine?” Lily asked nearly a month after the incident, when she’d learned to read all the major lines, to see the big picture but not yet the intricate details that only a lifetime of study could bestow. She still didn’t understand why the woman left, covered in blood and grateful beyond words.

Josephine had deposited over a hundred dollars on the counter that day. All for a few minutes of work. Lily had wondered, but was afraid to ask, why her parents didn’t do more of whatever it was that brought them so much for so little.

Adrienne reached out and tucked a dark curl behind Lily’s ear. “Some people don’t like what fate has in store for them. If they’re desperate enough, there are ways to change their path.”

“How?” Lily asked, sounding far too eager, but not nearly as eager as she felt. She’d seen the danger looming ahead of her. She’d known for weeks that a devastating heartbreak was in her future. Her parents must know. They must have seen.

Her mother sighed and stood. She crossed the bakery, where they’d held lessons every night before closing up, and opened the cupboard, withdrawing a thin blade from inside the folds of a deep purple cloth.

Lily understood in a flash what had happened that day with Josephine, but she listened instantly as her mother explained anyway.

Fate was hard to change, but not impossible. It required sacrifice. It required pain.

“You scar the palm,” Lily finished before Adrienne could, the answer so obvious now that she’d said it aloud. “You change the lines. You make them new.”

Adrienne nodded. “But it cannot be undone, so you must be sure. The cuts must be deep. Precise. Perfect.” She bent and kissed her daughter on the top of the head. “Wash up. Momma will be wondering where we are.”

Lily did as she was told, but she couldn’t stop thinking of the blade. Of the lines of fate crossing her own palm.

The thought consumed her even while she lay on the roof with her mother Delilah, reading secrets in the stars. It was still there when her grandmother invited her for tea and made her recite the uses of each herb in her garden. It even lingered while she and her aunts and cousins went camping, and they spent the night roasting marshmallows and whispering their dreams into the flames.

As the eve of the school year drew upon her, Lily stole into the bakery as the world slept. She traced the love line across her palm with the gentle pads of her fingers. Every time she looked at the fractured path, she could see only the tragedy cutting it off at the end.

She took the blade in her hand and carved herself a new future.

~

In the morning, Lily snuck out of the house without either of her mothers spying the bloody cloth on her hand. She still remembered the woman at the bakery, the wild look in her eyes, the relief in her features despite the pain in her flesh.

Lily didn’t feel relieved. She felt sore and worried that perhaps she hasn’t cut deep enough. Perhaps she’d made her lines worse instead of better. Perhaps—

Someone jostled Lily in the hall, her books spilling over the floor. She bent to retrieve her belongings, and the jostler bent with her.

“Sorry about that. Here.”

Brown eyes with thick lashes stared back at Lily when she glanced up. A dimpled grin. The boy passed her a book, his hand wrapped much like her own. A sick, worried feeling burrowed into Lily’s chest. “How’d you get that?” she asked, pointing the beige bandage on his skin, fear trembling up her spine.

The boy stood and pressed his thumb against his palm. “I tripped while I was hiking.” He gestured between them and the floor. “Dad says I grew too fast this summer. I can’t keep track of my limbs.”

Lily nodded, the pit inside growing. What did she do? It was supposed to be him. She could see that as clearly as she’d read her grandfather’s death in his tea. This boy—this tall, awkward, raven-haired boy—would have been her greatest romantic love had she not carved that future out of her life with the edge of a blade.

Why hadn’t she considered the echo? That a twin to her blade would in turn carve her out of someone else?

The bell rang, and Lily nodded toward her homeroom. “I should go. Thanks for helping.”

“Sure thing.” He walked backwards down the hall, heading in the opposite direction. “I’m Jack, by the way.”

Lily didn’t give him her name. She didn’t want him to know.

Instead, she offered a parting smile and vowed to never seen him again.

But fate’s a tricky thing, and Lily was only a novice, after all.

~

Lily avoided Jack at school, and a week passed before his gaze was turned on hers again. He wandered into the bakery with a shopping list in one hand and a look of confused delight on his face.

He visited every week after that, buying bread and the occasional sweet, and despite her best efforts, Lily came to love him anyway. Perhaps not romantically, but she cared for him still, his friendship becoming a precious thing. Like her, Jack had no siblings. But where her family was large, his has dwindled. His mother had died two years ago, and his father finally uprooted the two of them and moved north and east, fleeing from her family and the reminder they posed, until there was no further to run.

One day, near Halloween, Jack came in early, a wry smile on his face. His classmates had filled him in on the odd women of the Wright family. He asked if it was true. Could she really see the future? Could she wander into his dreams and whisper secrets into his subconscious? Did she know how to fly?

Lily laughed, a reflexive thing. She assured him those last two rumors were nothing more than wild speculations, but something in his gaze unspooled her usual defensiveness. Instead of retreating behind her smile, she told him all the things she could do. The way the moon sung to her when it was full. How her mothers planted wishes in the gardens, desires that came true when the flowers finally bloomed. Jack didn’t laugh at her like her grandfather had. He didn’t mock.

He believed.

So Lily found herself telling him everything, all the secrets of her family—secrets they kept to themselves only because so few ever believed. With each magic she divulged, a new truth slipped past Jack’s lips.

He didn’t go hiking.

He didn’t slip.

He was afraid to go home.

Jack’s father had always been an unpredictable man, but after losing his wife, he drank himself into unconsciousness and later, he drank himself into rage. There was always something wrong with Jack, always something that set his father off.

Lily told him it wasn’t his fault. Told him his father was to blame. She wasn’t sure Jack believed her. Wasn’t sure he even really heard her. She wished he did. She wished she could spirit him away and wrap him up tight where no one could hurt him.

The scar on her palm itched.

~

Jack became a constant fixture in Lily’s life. At school. At the bakery. Soon, Jack was having dinner most nights with the Wright women. Lily’s mothers gave her conspiratorial looks, and she hid the scar on her palm.

When the leaves turned to sunset and littered the ground, Adrienne handed Jack an apron in the bakery. “You’re here often enough. Might as well get paid.”

His smile lit up the room, and he slipped for the first time behind the counter.

It was there Lily first saw his fate.

She tried to ignore the lines on his skin, but he was so close all the time. He didn’t know to hide his secrets from the world. She saw his caring when he handed over change. Caught a flash of his curious mind when he wiped flour from his hands. And then there was his altered love line—the scar on his palm that set him on a path toward other soulmates instead of her.

Jack caught her staring and held his hands out to her. “What do you see?”

“Not here,” she replied, placing her hands over his, stopping the temptation to look. To read. To know everything. They waited until the bakery closed for the night and stole away, jackets wrapped tight around them. Lily led Jack to her favorite place in the woods, where a large flat rock sat high on a hill, overlooking the rest of the small sanctuary of trees.

There, Lily traced the lines on Jack’s palm, and she remembered all too well the reason she cut her own palm. She tried not to tell him. She wove the story of all the things he could be. Of all he was destined to do.

If not for his life line. His short, broken life line.

His was running out of time.

She had to warn him. But how? Her grandfather had laughed at her. He hadn’t believed. He’d died.

Jack’s different, she reminded herself. It’ll be different this time.

He kissed her before she could form her warning, his lips warm against her cool skin. When he pulled away, he seemed surprised, his fingers resting on his lips. Lily wondered if it had felt the same to him. Nice, sure, but there was no spark of romance between them.

Lily drew in fresh breath, ready to confess what she’d done, but Jack’s secrets came spilling out first, the real reason his father moved them that summer. He’d had a boyfriend. His first love. Lily had seen as much in his hands, a heartbreak before the scar changed his path. She reached for him. Promised she understood. Explained she liked boys and girls, too.

But Jack pulled away. She didn’t understand. Lily had mothers who loved her. Jack had a father who drank until he saw a punching bag instead of son. Who saw his son in love and raged instead of rejoiced. Who never forgave Jack despite there being nothing to forgive.

He went cold after that. He pulled away.

Warnings sat at the tip of Lily’s tongue, but he was already leaving. Already gone.

And she said nothing.

~

The boy Lily had come to know faded away.

He hid himself like the bruises he masked under sweatshirts. Every week, he grew more distant. A split lip. A black eye. A wrist he held gingerly as he walked. Jack insisted it was a fall. An accident. His fault. He claimed clumsiness, even to her. Even when she pressed.

She remembered the short life line, and she worried.

Lily tried everything she knew. She made Jack tea on his shifts, but he never drank enough to see the leaves at the bottom. For weeks, the sky was unusually clear, giving her no way to read the future. She sent Jack home with muffins meant to calm his father’s raging heart, but nothing seemed to help.

And every time she saw his hands, his life line seemed shorter. Closer to its end.

One Saturday in mid-November, Jack was two hours late for his shift when he finally stumbled in. Heavy bags hung under his eyes. He wouldn’t meet her gaze. He handed over his apron, neatly folded.

“What’s this?” But Lily already knew. She could see his father, Calvin, idling across the street in his pickup. Could see the way the older man stared at them through the bright bay windows at the front of the store.

Jack shook his head. “Don’t, Lily. Please.”

A fury rose inside her, but she pushed it down. Jack saw enough of anger. He knew more than he should of violence. “He’s making you quit,” she said simply, not expecting him to nod, but he did. She pressed. “Why?”

“The town rumors finally reached him.”

“He thinks we’re witches?”

“No, not witches.” He reached out, as if to take her hand, but he let his arm drop before they touched. “He knows about your moms. He thinks . . . He thinks they’ll be a bad influence on me.”

“Fuck what he thinks,” she snapped, reaching for his hand and holding it tight. His pulse pressed against her fingers, speeding up. A tear spilled over his long lashes. “There is nothing wrong with you. Nothing.”

Outside, Jack’s father laid on the horn. Lily flipped him off.

“Don’t go back to him,” Lily begged, her voice breaking. “Let us help you. We can call the police. We can put him away.”

Jack shook his head. “He’ll talk his way out of it, he always does, and then it’ll be worse.” He brushed tears from Lily’s face, tears she hadn’t even felt slip down her cheeks. “I’ll be okay.”

But he wouldn’t be okay. She knew that. She’d seen it.

“Please don’t go.” She hugged him fiercely, wishing she could make him stay. Wishing there was another way to change his fate. She should have told him sooner. Warned him. Offered to lengthen his life line with the edge of her blade.

The door crashed open. Jack’s father stormed into the room, the cloud of enraged energy overpowered only by the stench of hard alcohol. The older man ripped the pair apart, shoving Lily back against the counter.

“Stay away from my son,” Calvin said, grasping Lily by her apron, violence in his eyes.

“Dad, stop.”

“I told you. I warned you, but you never listen.” He turned back to Lily, the stubble on his face uneven, his hair greasy and clinging to his face. “Now look where we are.”

Lily saw the future unspooling in the man’s eyes. Swinging fists. Jack’s head hitting the corner of a table. Blood everywhere. Anger giving way to grief. A gun. A shot. More blood. The air was heavy with it already.

She reached for the mug on the table, steam curling into the air. She didn’t think. She grabbed the handle and swung, the hot liquid splattering on the man’s face. He released her, his screams piercing the air.

“Come on!” Lily grabbed Jack’s hand and dragged him through the door into the bakery proper. Her mother was nowhere to be seen, but Lily called out anyway. Her cries went unanswered, so she raced for the cupboard. Raced for the purple cloth and the thin blade. She could fix this. She’d find a way to fix this.

Thick arms circled around her waist. Calvin hauled her back, his bitter breath hot and putrid against her neck. “I told you to stay away from my son.” He dropped her then, shoving her against the counter, his fingers curling around her throat, squeezing until she couldn’t draw breath.

Dark spots speckled her vision, and she saw it again. The future in his eyes like a movie in her head. There would be so much blood.

Jack found his footing and rushed his father, knocking the older man aside. They fell to the floor, metal bowls clanging to the ground around them. Lily dashed for the cupboard, for the hidden cloth and the blade inside.

The hilt firm in her hand, she turned and found Jack pinned to the floor. His father’s hands wrapped tight around his throat. He called Jack ungrateful. He called him so much worse. And Jack tried only to breathe.

Lily raced forward, a cry upon her lips. She lunged for the older man, blade swinging. Calvin turned and raised a hand to stop the blow. The blade slid clean through his palm.

Through his lifeline.

He pulled the knife from his hand, but it was too late. His heart gave a final lurch and fell still, his body falling to the side.

Jack stared up at her, face pale and eyes wide. “What did you do?”

Lily’s hands shook. Her knees gave out underneath her. “He was going to kill you,” she whispered. “I saw it in his eyes. You were going to die.”

But Jack didn’t die. She’d saved him. He was alive.

“Please believe me,” she begged, but Jack wasn’t listening. He was leaning over his father, shaking him, feeling for a pulse. His grief real and raw despite everything the dead man had done.

Adrienne chose that moment to return to the bakery, a bag of supplies in her arms. She looked from Jack to Lily to the body on the floor. She hugged her daughter close. “It’ll be okay,” she said, reaching for her phone. “It’ll be okay.”

~

A fresh powder of snow covered Calvin’s grave.

Jack stood before the headstone, a bouquet of flowers clutched in his bare hand. The bruises and cuts had faded to nothing, but some injuries were harder to see. Took longer to heal.

Lily approached and squeezed Jack’s free hand. He hadn’t spoken to her for a long time, but eventually he did come to believe. Somewhere deep inside, he must have felt the truth of the future she described for him. The future he’d escaped.

“Are you okay?” she asked, slipping her hand from his. She wished it was easier. That the scars in their palms could be erased, but their new fates were drawing them in separate directions. Jack was leaving to go live with his mother’s sister. Six states away.

“Yeah,” he said at last. “I think I am.”

Lily said goodbye in that graveyard, casting one final look at the lines on his palm. Their twin scars still haunted her, the immutability of them. A soft grief for what might have been.

But Jack’s life line had changed, grown long and steady. He was going to be okay.

And though she’d miss him—miss his friendship and his laughter and his fierce belief in her power—she was happy, secure in the knowledge that he was safe.