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Courage of the Heart

Calvin's grandmother had always told him that his ability to foretell the future was a "gift from the heart" passed on to him from her side of the family. To Calvin, however, it was a white elephant, something he would have readily returned or re-gifted long ago if only he could have. In his experience, being clairvoyant was a meddlesome burden with far too many costs and too few benefits. The worst drawback was how people reacted after learning of his supernatural powers--folks either shunned him out of fear or harassed him for help with every little life decision.

But it wasn't until one fateful Saturday morning that the reluctant seer saw his psychic skill as something worse — an insufferable curse, an affliction that would kill his spirit, if not his body. The prophetic vision that came to Calvin as he flipped open his cellphone that day was devastating, dashing long-held hopes and dreams for his own future. In panic, he bolted out the door in a race against time with only an hour to figure out how to change the future if he possibly could.

Calvin's apartment was only a few minutes' walk from the small, red-brick house his Grandma Helen lived in, but that morning he covered the distance between them almost as fast as a world-record sprinter. As he burst through her front door, Calvin was greeted by the sweet smell of vanilla and coconut — his grandmother had baked his favorite cookies. Obviously, she'd seen him coming even before he decided to seek her advice. This wasn't anything new. The far-sighted old woman was often a step ahead of her grandson.

"Hello, Calvin dear. I'm so happy you're here." The petite, white-haired old woman pulled her only grandchild inside and kissed him on the cheek. "I had a dream last night that you'd stop by today, and here you are. I baked coconut macaroons just for the occasion." She sat Calvin down at the kitchen table and set a plate of cookies in front of him. "Would you like some milk? Lemonade?"

"No thanks, Grandma," he said, pushing aside the cookies.

"I can tell that something is bothering you, something big. It would have to be to turn you away from my macaroons. What's on your mind, sweetie?"

Calvin struggled through his heartache, trying to find the words to explain his predicament. The oven timer beeped loudly, offering him a startling reminder that time was running short. His panic returned, causing him to tremble uncontrollably then burst out in a loud, incoherent babble.

"Calvin, honey, I can't understand a word you're saying," Grandma Helen shouted over her grandson's frantic gibberish. She pulled the finished batch of cookies out of the oven, then took a seat next to Calvin and hugged him tightly. "Oh, my! You're quivering like a canary in a roomful of cats."

With a booming groan, Calvin threw his elbows on the table and buried his face in his hands.

"Just take a deep breath, dear. Think through what you want to say and start over — slowly this time."

Calvin pulled his head up and did as instructed but struggled to get out his first sentence. Finally, he spoke.

"Grandma, you know that Kate is my best friend, has been for the last fifteen years," he said, still trembling. "I'm crazy in love with her. Have been since the day we met during our freshman year of high school. I've always wanted to tell Kate how I feel about her, but now it may be too late. When she called this morning and asked me to lunch, I had a vision. I was sitting across from Kate at Al's Diner, and she was showing off a large diamond ring on her left hand."

Calvin paused to wipe away the wetness forming in the corners of his eyes. He took another deep breath and found the strength to continue.

"Grandma, Kate's engaged. She's going to tell me at lunch and then ask me whether she's making the right decision in marrying Jake, the man she's been dating. I want nothing more than for Kate to be happy, but I don't want her to be happy with Jake, I want her to be happy with me. I want her to marry me."

Calvin's fear kept him from asking his grandmother if she saw his fate differently than he did. Instead, he looked into her eyes, hoping to see the future he wanted reflecting at him, but all he saw was compassion and concern.

"I'm afraid to look into her future. What should I do if I see a happy marriage for Kate and Jake, or worse if I don't see it for Kate and me?"

"It pains me to see you so brokenhearted, my dear," Grandma Helen replied as she took his hands in hers. "The whole family loves Kate. She's always been so sweet and kind to everyone, especially me. I think of her as the granddaughter I never had. I always hoped you two would end up together, but neither your desperation nor an old woman's wish can change Destiny. What will be will be. You must summon up the courage in your heart to accept what you see with your special gift."

The words stung Calvin to his core, but he knew his grandmother was right. Only a fool ignored the wisdom of the prescient woman who spoke those words. Whether it was predicting something as minor as a fender bender, or something as life-changing as a surprise pregnancy, Calvin had never known his grandmother to be wrong about what the future held in store. No matter how hard people tried, nothing they did ever kept the future, as Grandma Helen had seen it, from coming to pass.

Al's Diner wasn't a big place or a fancy one. It was a small neighborhood cafe that served satisfying home-style meals atop plain, white restaurant china on brown Formica tables. It was known for its homey atmosphere, the kind of place where customers were treated like family, and everyone felt instantly comfortable being on a first-name basis, sharing personal stories and life events. The walls were covered with thirty years of photos displaying Al and his best customers as they celebrated birthdays, engagements, anniversaries, graduations, and other special moments in their lives. Like many of Al's other regulars, Calvin and Kate had fallen in love with the diner on their first visit. To Calvin, it was "their place."

As he slid into their booth, his eyes fell upon a faded photo hanging on the wall showing short, gangly, plain-faced eighteen-year-old Calvin standing next to Kate--tall, curvaceous, stunningly beautiful Kate--as she proudly displayed her letter of acceptance to Stanford University to study Biotechnology. The look of relief on his face in the picture was apparent, reminding Calvin of the uncertainty and worry he'd put himself through with that letter. With a straight-A transcript, a near-perfect SAT score, and numerous science-related awards in his academic record, Calvin had easily won early acceptance and a full four-year scholarship to study Computer Engineering at Stanford, but Kate hadn't been the shoo-in he was. Waiting day after day for Kate's letter to arrive had made Calvin as nervous as a man wrongly accused of murder awaiting his jury's verdict, but because he couldn't bring himself to look into the future where the woman he loved was concerned. He'd lived for nearly five months with the fear that she'd receive a rejection letter. If that had come to pass, he would've abandoned his dream of attending Stanford to follow Kate to her second pick school, Georgia Tech, where she'd already been accepted. Calvin knew it was a desperate, clandestine effort on his part to stay near Kate. It wasn't really a choice for him. She was like oxygen to Calvin, a life-giving breath of air that he needed to stay alive.

Calvin sighed and continued gazing at the photo of the woman he adored more every day.

"You waiting for Kate?"

Calvin turned his head and nodded in response to the question asked by the wiry, black-haired waitress standing next to him. "I could really use a cup of Al's coffee, Betty." After realizing his heart was already racing with anxiety over Kate's impending announcement, he added, "Better make that decaf."

The coffee the diner served was on the bitter side, but Calvin had grown to love its taste because, with every drop, he saw himself sitting across the table from Kate, sharing her life over a pot of Al's coffee. He stopped by the restaurant for a cup every morning on his way to work just to start his day with pleasant thoughts of the woman he loved.

Betty soon returned with two white porcelain mugs, a carafe of coffee, and a small pitcher of cream. "Anything else I can get you, hun?"

"No, thanks, Betty," Calvin said as he quickly poured the hot brown liquid into his cup and added a splash of cream. With his first sip of the comforting brew, he recalled the day he had met Kate.

Fourteen-year-old Calvin had been on his way to the school cafeteria when he nearly tripped over a chubby, pimple-faced girl frantically scampering across the crowded floor of his high school's English hallway. Dozens of students had walked by the girl, laughing as she chased after the contents of a backpack that had spilled all over the floor, but not Calvin. He had come to her rescue without even a chuckle. As he helped Kate to her feet, his eyes had met hers, so soft and blue, mesmerizing. Then, as if under some kind of spell, Calvin had done something he had never done before--he asked a girl to join him for lunch. Kate had said yes, and it had been a magical meal for the shy teenage boy. Kate had turned out to be different than the other girls Calvin had approached — sweet, attentive, and easy to talk to. He found they had a lot in common, from the classes they liked best (Science and Math), the foods they preferred (Thai and Mexican), to the books and movies they enjoyed (Science Fiction and Fantasy).

"Hey, Cal!"

Calvin's heart skipped a beat when he heard the familiar voice. He turned around. The sight of Kate coming towards their booth took his breath away. She always had that effect on him, even bare-faced and dressed down in jeans and a t-shirt, as she was now. Kate had emerged from her pubescent cocoon in their junior year as a rare beauty with everything that made a man drool from a block away: a silky mane of chestnut-colored hair; clear, ivory skin; a face that Da Vinci would've called "perfectly, classically proportioned"; and a lithe body with ample curves and long, slender legs. But even if Kate had remained the plain, awkward girl that she was at fourteen, Calvin would still have thought her the most beautiful girl in the world--that was how much he loved her.

The two friends hugged then sat down. Betty quickly appeared with silverware, napkins, and menus. After setting everything down on the table, she proudly announced the birth of her first grandchild, a girl weighing in at seven pounds nine ounces named Olivia.

"I have big news, too, Cal," Kate said after Betty left with their orders. "Jake asked me to marry him last night."

Calvin's eyes darted to Kate's left hand. There it was, the engagement ring, just as he'd seen it earlier that morning--a glistening teardrop diamond set with two smaller rubies on a platinum band. As he grasped Kate's outstretched hand to examine the ring, another vision thrust itself upon him--Kate and Jake, old and gray, dancing with each other, smiling as a crowd of people, young and old, applauded. The image was more than Calvin could bear, and reflexively, as if he had just burnt his hand on hers, he pulled away, and the vision vanished.

"You know I've never asked you to see my future, but I need to be sure that Jake is my Mr. Right. Please, Cal, please tell me if Jake and I will be truly happy together."

The anxiety Calvin saw in her eyes couldn't be more than what he was experiencing himself. He had always feared the future where Kate was concerned, dreaded it for years, but it had been inevitable that she would ask this favor. He'd never mustered the courage to find out if Kate loved him as he did her, and it didn't take a sixth sense to foresee that eventually, some other man would capture the heart of the sweet, lovely angel sitting with him now. Now that the future was finally here and the request made, Calvin realized he had no choice in the matter. He had to be honest with Kate, not because of his grandmother's advice, but because he loved her too much to lie. So, after feigning a smile, Calvin looked deeply into the eyes of the only woman he ever loved and choked out the truth of the unbearable vision forced upon him moments earlier.

"When I touched your hand a few seconds ago, I saw you and Jake at a big party celebrating your fiftieth wedding anniversary. Congratulations. You two will have a long, happy life together."

Across the table, Kate took the news seemingly without joy. "Cal, I've always suspected that you loved me more than just a friend."

Calvin was stunned. Not knowing what to say, he turned away, trying desperately to figure out what to do. Was it too late to tell her how he really felt? He had wanted to tell Kate during their junior year of high school, but by the time he had worked up enough courage, she was the object of desire by nearly every boy in school. Now that she was engaged to a handsome, successful lawyer who was destined to make her happy, what good would it do to tell her? How could he tell Kate, gorgeous Kate, the love of his life, that she was passionately loved by a scrawny, four-eyed nerd who hoped she loved him the same way? "Beauty and the Geek"--it was an impossible fairy tale. Even if she didn't laugh at him, it would certainly jeopardize any future he had with her. He wouldn't risk losing Kate, even if it meant never being more than a good friend to her.

Suddenly, Kate lunged toward Calvin from across the table, embraced him hard, and kissed him even harder, a kiss that lingered on his lips even after she pulled away. The very public display of passion between two of Al's best customers drew hoots and whistles from the diner's regular crowd and staff --You go, girl! Atta boy, Cal! It's about time! Calvin felt himself blush and turned away from the crowd, catching a glance at Kate as he did. Her eyes betrayed her distress, but though he longed to face her, the awkward revelry of the gallery kept Calvin from returning her gaze. When a grand slam home run that played across the diner's TV screen finally diverted the crowd's attention, Calvin knew he couldn't hide behind his cowardice anymore.

"Tell me what to do, Cal," Kate pleaded again. "Do I give this ring back or not?"

Calvin thought it would be so simple to tell Kate that he loved her, but his gift had cursed him again. She would be happy with Jake. He had seen it. Kate wanted an answer, and he was ready to give it to her, but he had to be certain--for her sake and his sanity.

Trembling, Calvin reached for Kate's left hand. He slowly closed his eyes, forcing a return to the image he had choked off in despair only minutes ago. Willingly embracing the prophecy this time, he lingered over each frame of the silent movie playing in his mind, looking for any sign from the elderly Kate that could betray a veiled truth that she wasn't happy in her marriage--a slight rebuff, a cold shoulder, a melancholy look in her eyes, a strained smile. He saw none. When the vision finally faded away, Calvin was confident in his answer for the woman whose welfare meant everything to him. Recalling his grandmother's sage words, Calvin now had the courage to accept that he'd seen the future as it was meant to be, one in which Kate was truly happy with her choice of husband.

Later that afternoon, as they sipped lemonade and nibbled on coconut macaroons at Grandma Helen's house, Calvin and Kate announced their engagement. After a round of hugs and kisses, Calvin regaled his grandmother with the story of how his visions gave him the nerve to confess his love to Kate.

"Grandma," he continued upon finishing his tale, "I've been negligent in thanking you for my special gift,' as you have often called my psychic ability. It was a gift from your heart, so now I thank you from the bottom of mine because it brought Kate and me together."

"There's something that has been bothering us both about all this, Grandmother Helen," Kate interjected. She glanced at Calvin.

On cue, Calvin asked the question that had puzzled the young couple all afternoon. "Yes, Grandma, we don't understand what happened. We're not trying to tempt Fate, Destiny, or whatever people call it, but how could the future change so dramatically from one vision to the next? I really did see Kate and Jake together when I touched her hand that first time. But the second vision, the one after Kate kissed me...," Calvin paused, looked into his fiancée's deep blue eyes, and saw her love reflecting back at him. "I mean, after we kissed, I was in the picture. I was Kate's husband at that anniversary party fifty years into the future, and I could tell that she was truly happy with me as her husband--we both were. It was clear from my vision that, even after five decades of marriage, we were still crazy about each other."

A knowing smile spread across the wise, old seer's face. "That kiss did the trick. With it, you two finally declared your true love, which is the only thing in this world powerful enough to alter Destiny. But you never needed psychic powers to see the future as magnificently blissful as it could be--just the courage to express your undying love for each other when you felt in your hearts."