The yarn string looked solid; bright red, starkly contrasting against his skin, tied in a neat little bow against his pinky finger. And yet, when he tried to grab it, his other hand slipped through it, along with the dust particles in the sunlight.
“Huh.” He turned it over, raising a brow. The string went out the door, fading out and turning more translucent the further away it stretched. “Very funny. I’m being pranked, right?”
“I feel bad for whoever it’s connected to. How cruel.” Dimple laughed, and Reigen threw a wadded up ball of paper at the spirit.
“What is it?” Mob asked.
Reigen wasn’t surprised the kid didn’t know about it, given that he didn’t seem to care about urban legends. He sighed.
“It’s the ‘red string of fate,’” He started. “It connects you to your soulmate, supposedly.” He held out his hand. “Can you get this thing off of me? It’s probably a curse or something. I don’t want my finger falling off.”
“It doesn’t feel like a curse. It doesn’t feel good or bad, it just..is there.” Mob said. His eyes slid to his own hand, and Reigen could see the cogs turning. “You have a soulmate...do you think I’ll get one..?”
“There’s something to think about.” Reigen waved a hand at Dimple. “If this is real, where’s everyone else’s, huh? Even if Mob’s too young for something like that, shouldn't he have at least seen his parent’s strings or something? Or..anyone’s?”
“Ah, you’re right…” Mob mourned the lack of his own string for about five seconds longer than Reigen credited to a middle schooler’s attention span, and then he was over it. “Maybe it is something else…”
“I wasn’t lying!” Dimple defended. “Look, not everyone gets one, and most people can only see theirs with spiritual powers. You can probably only see yours because of me or Shigeo being around.”
“Are you going to follow it?”
“Nah, if the person on the other end of this isn’t a psychic, some guy showing up talking about strings and soulmates will probably get the cops called.”
Mob nodded. “I see, that makes sense.”
“He’ll end up running into them sooner or later anyway.” Dimple mumbled.
Reigen shivered. Falling in love, getting married, soulmates..it sounded like stuff his mom used to drill into him. Get a reliable office job, marry a nice woman who would do all the cooking and cleaning, have children before age twenty six but not before twenty three, a checklist of a white picket fence life.
It was all unbearably boring, and far too much pressure.
He was an adult with a full time job as a psychic, a very serious career obviously, that had no time for romance. Not because he was nervous or anything, like what was he, a teenager?
So he took one good last look at the string, then opted to ignore it.
When the ground trembled beneath the sidewalk and across surrounding buildings, and the trees swayed, Reigen’s first thought, embarrassingly, had been that it was some kind of esper attack on the city.
But no, Salt City had had a minor earthquake, and as soon as it had started, it was over.
An elderly woman across the street from him was being helped up, and adjacent to him cars honked impatiently.
A few steps in front of him, a woman struggled to pick up her fallen groceries.
It had been an automatic reaction to help her out, picking up a few apples that had rolled his way. He might not have noticed the string if the sunlight hadn’t hit it just right, glinting red in his eyes. It was short and taut, tired neatly on her pinky.
It was a balancing act, wiping off his sweat with his sleeve without dropping any of the fruit.
Had Dimple cursed some random woman? This was really pushing it- She smiled up at him, murmuring a thanks before ducking back down to pick up a bag of chips.
She didn’t seem to see it; Or maybe…
He pushed his hair back and grinned. Maybe she could see it, but could barely get over her nerves, what, with having someone so handsome as her soulmate; how would he ever let her down gently?
“Thank you again for the help.” With all of her groceries tucked away in the brown bag, she’d started reaching in her purse. Reigen started to wave her off- he couldn’t accept money for helping with something so mundane- but she pulls out something bundled up and pushes it towards him.
“Huh, what’s this, a gift..?”
“It’s a hand towel, you look really sweaty.”
He shoved it against his skin, groaning and trying to wipe away both the sweat and the flush that’d heated up his face, but by the time he pulled it away she was already down the road.
The string was straining after her.
There was no way he would follow her; he isn’t a creep, and she seemed oblivious. But…was that it ?
‘Underwhelming’ is the first word that comes to mind about the first meeting. If she had been just a random woman with no string, he wasn’t sure he’d be thinking this hard on it, but he was curious now.
Weeks went by in a blur of working, and without seeing her, he was almost certain he’d blown his chance.
“Was she cute?” Just him and Dimple in the office today; Mob was with friends- good for him, the office was feeling stuffy lately. He should be getting out, too.
“She wasn’t not-cute.” He twirled a pencil between his fingers.
Maybe he’d sign up for a dating website. He’d never really tried very hard on the romance scene, money had been more of a priority, and he’d thought random one night stands had filled that void.
His desktop’s mouse decided this was a great time to completely die, suffocated by the metaphorical romantic thoughts from his head.
‘See, this is what happens when you think Romantic Thoughts’, his inner voice that sounded a lot like a snide teenager rebelling against his mother’s wishes snipped at him.
So he closed up early, dismissing Dimple to go bother Mob, and headed to a little electronics store near his apartment.
He frequented the place because it was conveniently close; a salesman had been hounding him about a new TV, and he was zoning out,eyeing the computer section wistfully.
The salesman was going on about how high quality the pixels were, while some high school drama was playing on the flat screen, the main characters running around a convenient store, doing typical hijinks for this sort of show. Reigen’s eyes had just drifted to it for a moment, but something, no, some one caught his eye.
In the background, playing the cashier. It was her.
Her hands were tucked neatly beneath the counter, and when the main characters checked out, she used the same voice he remembered from that day to say thank you. When she rang them up, he could see the string; it almost blended in with the high contrasting color pallette of the show.
“The few pixels really do make a difference,” He remarked to the salesman. “Do you know what show this is?”
The internet was a blessing and a curse; it was a little scary how easily looking up the show and episode, and finding her name was. Then from there, Friendbook offered a few answers: she was an actress, and starred in a few small supporting roles; two minor TV shows, a few commercials selling products you’d only see at 3 AM.
His cursor hovered over the ‘friend request button’.
She seemed to be online, the little green glowing dot beside her username indicated.
Before he could change his mind, he clicked. Then, right away, it changed statuses from ‘request sent’ to ‘request accepted’.
Did she just accept anyone?
He drummed up a quick message in the little chat box in the corner.
Hey, you probably don’t remember me but we met when that small Earthquake happened. <
He ran a hand through his hair. If some random person sent him the message, well…
He wouldn’t blame her if she thought he was a stalker and blocked him. He moused over the block button- she couldn’t do that if he did first-!
The computer pinged, diligently alerting him to a message back.
>You’re the man in the suit who helped me pick up my mess!
Yes, that was me! <
>That was really nice of you. I was sort of embarrassed, everyone else went around ignored me.
He grinned; of course he’d help her, and not even because of the ‘soulmate’ stuff, or whatever- really!
>How did you find out my name?
Shit. What could he say? He wasn’t about to say, oh yeah, we’re soulmates , but I’m not messaging you because of that, I just want to know why that is that it’s you , but I don’t really want a soulmate-
I saw you on TV <
Sorry, I probably seem like a stalker, huh? <
>No, It’s funny because I saw you on TV too!
Ah, at the press conference. <
>No, on the show where you exorcised the kid. You were really funny!
His head dropped on the table and he groaned. Of course, everyone saw that. It was hard to tell if she was laughing at him or with him.
All part of my technique. I’m glad it made you smile. <
> It was interesting! I’ve never seen someone move like you. Most people in this business are either bland or like...just..way too much. You had good..balance I guess? I don’t actually have a TV, but I saw it with some friends at a cafe.
‘This business?’ He paused, looking back at her page. She was an actress, so she must have thought him being on that show meant he was an actor, huh?
>I just moved here for more work opportunities, the jobs are pretty consistent. I could never be a live actor like you though.
Ah, I’m not actually an actor, sorry. <
>Wait, you really do exorcisms like that?
Was she weirded out? It wouldn’t be the first time someone was; he’d had judgmental comments from people in his own family more times than he could count.
>Sorry if that sounded rude, I’m just surprised. You’d make a really good actor!
That’s half of it I guess, thanks. <
>I’m serious, I think it sounds like a cool line of work. I’d love to hear more.
My office is open 7 hours a day, you can come by anytime. <
>Really? I might just do that sometime :)
He’d meant it as a half joke, but after she’d said that, he was hoping she would.
Feel free! It was nice talking to you. <
>Same to you!
That..was weird. Having a conversation with your soulmate, there was an idea. Would she really come by?
That was something people said all the time in the adult world, making promises to see each other, abstract ideas without set dates, and laughing awkwardly when you saw each other months later accidentally, then speed walking away.
Yeah, they probably would never meet again; but it was a nice thought, wasn’t it?
“Are you sure it’s fine?”
“I said go already Mob, it’s been a slow day. Go have fun at karaoke with your friends.”
“Thanks, Shishou. Call me if there’s anything big.”
The biggest thing was the malfunctioning AC; Reigen swore. It was never one thing that would break, but several in succession; the mini fridge had been lukewarm, the window had been drafty, now the AC was going, all in the swell of summer. Perfect.
It was nothing a little love tap couldn’t fix. He gave the box a hard thwump, telling it to ‘keep going, not to give up now!’ out loud, when he heard laughing behind him.
“Does it have ghosts in it?”
“The AC, I mean. Is there an infestation?”
“Oh, yeah, a bad one. They love seeing everyone sweaty and miserable.”
Holy crap, she actually showed up.
“Uh, you can sit down. Can I get you a drink? We have water, coffee, tea...some soft drinks-”
“Tea sounds lovely if it’s not too much trouble.”
“Not at all! Here you are, I already had some brewed.”
He sat across from her on the other couch, a cup in his hands too.
“So, what service can I offer you? We have massages, love advice, exorcisms, I-”
“That much? I didn’t really need any service, but you said I could come by to talk, did that offer get rescinded?”
“Ah, no, I’m just surprised I guess. It’s been a slow day, so I appreciate the company.”
There was a lull in conversation for a beat; she seemed to be eyeing his office, taking everything in.
“Do you give general um..hm..how should I put it, listening and advice services or anything?”
“Huh? I mean, like I said it’s a slow day.” He waved a hand. ‘Whatever you want to talk about, no charge.”
“Really? It’s kind of embarrassing, but I was wanting to talk about..well, you?”
“I think you’re interesting. Something about your presence when I saw you on TV versus now..I don’t know. You seem confident. Put together.”
“Thanks.” He laughed, because he really isn’t sure what else to say. “Are you asking how to gain confidence? I’d say it comes with age, but there’s always times we feel unconfident, even me if you can believe it.”
“I’m already 27,” She says, like that’s remotely old, and he scoffs.
“That’s not old at all.”
“In actress years it might as well be 70. But..I didn’t want a boring job, so I tried out this actress thing, but I’m still not sure about it. My parents got mad I dropped out of college for it. They say it doesn’t pay well enough, and they think..well. They think there’s only one road from there for adult women in film.” She winked and made a crude gesture, and he cringed.
“Let me guess, they just want you to have a husband and kids.”
“Exactly! It’s just.” She huffed. “Infuriating. They’re so...” She made a whining noise. “Y’know?”
“It sounds like you don’t have a problem; it’s theirs. If they don’t approve, that’s something they have to come to terms with. You should live the way that makes you happy.”
“ Is that what you told your parents when you started ghost hunting?”
“Hey.” He warned. “It’s not called being a ghost hunter. It’s called being a psychic.”
They both laughed, and he realized it had been awhile since he’s felt like he could relate to someone this much.
Maybe after seeing her on TV and seeing her friendbook account, he might have laid awake at night, imagining that she was a celebrity; glamourous, with big fur coats, million dollar cars and ten different rich lovers, staring at his ceiling wondering how the hell he was suppose to compete. But no, now she just seemed like a normal, down to Earth person like him. He was kind of relieved; it was nice talking to her. He was always surrounded by middle schoolers, he always needed more adult friends.
“I actually work nearby. Not an acting gig, but a temp job that’s more steady. Y’know, for when the season gets slow. I just got off from there and I have some extra money..what time do you usually go for lunch?”
“Why, are you asking to take me out?”
“I mean, if you’re not hungry I can find another psychic,” She grinned. “That little bald guy from that show you were on, for example.”
“I just can’t compete with his dashing looks.” Reigen mock-wilted. “But I guess I could eat.”
“I’ll have to settle for you then, finding that guys office is too much work after all.”
The string caught the light just right again, and he eyed it with a smile.
Honestly, this might not be too bad.
“I’ll grab my coat.”