As Megan wove sprigs of lilac into Bella’s black hair and then pinned her veil in place, she asked: “Bella, remember the witch and the red string?”
Bella was hooking pearls into her ears, but she stopped for a moment as memory overtook her. Megan and she had been friends their whole lives. One spring day, Megan’s mom had bribed Megan’s big brother, Stefan, to take the girls to the ice cream parlor. They passed the witch’s house on the way.
Peeling paint and rotted gutters had festooned the ancient Victorian behind the low juniper hedge, and all the neighborhood children believed a witch lived there. The three had stopped and looked up, Megan with a delicious shiver. Crows flew out of a nest by the chimney, cawing loudly.
“I dare you to go ring the bell,” Megan liked baiting her older brother, Stefan, to do things that got him in trouble.
“Why don’t you do it?” Bella rubbed juniper leaves between her fingers, smelling the tart, sweet fragrance. Stefan looked at Bella gratefully, but she wasn’t paying attention. Bella eyed the front porch, and noticed an elephant leg holding umbrellas. “Ew,” she exclaimed, pointing at it. “I bet you’d fit in the elephant leg, Megan.” She looked down at the tiny blue juniper berries, caught in the green branches like bits of sky. She smelled again the fragrance of the crushed needles, much prettier than she had expected.
Megan noticed Bella was distracted. She laughed loudly, “I’ll do it, you take a picture! Then I’ll ring the bell and we’ll run to the ice cream parlor.” Megan was always up for an adventure. She was slight and blonde, the opposite of her tall, red-haired brother. She fished her camera out of her pocket.
Bella looked up from the blue juniper berries. She accepted her friend’s camera. “Megan, you aren’t really going to climb in that old elephant foot, are you?” She looked behind her at Stefan, meeting his vivid blue eyes, beseechingly, and for the first time. She knew Megan from school, but usually Stefan was off with his friends, and she had only seen him at a distance. Megan was full of stories of how she always got him in trouble. Bella felt a tugging, as if she was being pulled toward Stefan. She stared, her violet eyes growing as intense as his cerulean ones.
Stefan knew he should stop his sister, but somehow he could not look away from Bella.
Meanwhile, Megan had dumped out the umbrellas, and was climbing into the elephant foot, still trying to get Bella’s attention. “Take a picture, Bella! This thing is dusty!” Bella turned away from Stefan, and he felt his breathing restart. Bella snapped a picture of Megan, moving away from the sensation tugging her toward Stefan. She shook her head to clear it of her confusion.
“Megan, come down from there,” Stefan called, remembering he was supposed to be in charge.
Suddenly, an old woman in a faded dress opened the front door. Megan shrieked her surprise. Bella snapped a picture of the woman, too.
“What are you kids doing out here?” the woman called, grumpily. “Hey, put those umbrellas back. My dear, that is a pretty red string,” the woman tucked some long gray hair behind an ear and pointed at Bella’s hand. Bella looked, but she could see nothing, except a pink crystal friendship bracelet Megan had given her.
“I don’t have a red string,” Bella said.
The old woman nodded. “You may not be able to see it, but you have a red string on your little finger. And it runs clear over to that boy there,” the woman continued, pointing at Stefan’s hand. Stefan held up his hand and looked but saw nothing.
“I’m sorry we bothered you,” Bella began, as Megan had finished putting the umbrellas back, and came down the porch stairs, twirling her finger round her ear where the woman couldn’t see her.
Bella tried not to laugh, but agreed the old woman was crazy. “We didn’t mean to bother you.” At least she hadn’t meant to bother the woman, but perhaps Megan had.
“Sorry my sister dumped out your umbrellas,” Stefan called.
“A red string connects you to your soul mate,” the woman called up the street after them, but the kids only half-heard her.
All these year later, Bella adjusted her white dress, and straightened her gloves, patting her earrings, to make sure she had put them both into her ears. “I haven’t thought of the witch in years. Remember when we got those pictures developed? The one of you in the elephant foot was ruined by a white light pouring from the doorway, and we could barely see you in it. The photograph of the old woman was overexposed, like it had been directed at the sun. But that porch was in full shade.”
“And here you are, marrying Stefan.” Megan smiled. “Despite him going away to become a Navy Seal, and you teaching English in China, and neither of you seeing each other for ten years.”
“Maybe she was an angel, not a witch,” Bella mused, the scent of juniper combining with lilacs in her imagination. “She was right about us being soul-mates, wasn’t she?” Bella twirled her diamond engagement ring. “Look, no string!”
When Bella said her vows to Stefan, Megan was sure she saw a red string tying the two lovers together, just for a moment. She wiped a tear away, and smiled. A ray of light arced down from the high windows, gilding Bella’s dark hair.
Copyright 2014 Brenda Davis Harsham
Note: Inspired by the fairy tale prompt by mindlovemisery and Anja’s artwork. The prompt suggested a story from Chinese folklore about a red string, that stretches from person to person, connecting soul mates, and cannot be broken. A story with a red string is at The Old Man Under the Moon.