I’m sitting at the corner table in a crowded jazz café downtown, like any other day: lost in deep thought after 11PM. While all the other seats in the café are full, the one opposite me is just like my life. Empty.

Being a data scientist in a Silicon Valley start-up is not easy. The repercussions of my night shift job are messing up my serotonin levels. Most of my colleagues are anticipating the long weekend for some quality time with their sweethearts. But my life’s stuck in limbo.

My eyes wander to the other seats; single people presumably on Tinder dates, trying to get lucky. Love at first sight? That’s a joke. Will it ever happen in my life? I don’t know.

This background music sounds more appropriate for a funeral. It’s a perfect match for my mood: desperate and burned out. Bracing myself for yet another mundane night, I place my order. Ten minutes pass. The waitress brings a dull porcelain cup of latte. She flashes a plastic smile for the sake of a handsome tip and leaves.

I stir, gazing at the milky swirls in desperation. Extra creamy, extra thick; just the way I like it. My aimless gaze continues until my eyes catch hold of the fortune cookie nestled in the saucer.

Damn these dinguses who run the café! They’ve slipped in a cookie to scam a few extra dollars out of my pocket. Never mind. Let me check what’s inside, for whatever it’s worth.

I pop it open, revealing the note: Today, you’ll meet someone who’ll steal your heart.

Good news? Or yet another random prediction? I’m not ten. I don’t believe in all this nonsense.

“Excuse me?” A melodious voice interrupts my stream of thoughts.

On looking up to see who it is, I’m lost for words: a petite, young woman in a striking crimson halter neck top. Her curly brown hair falls to her shoulders, accentuating her olive complexion and supple peach lips. Her kohled amber eyes lock with mine. Though it’s for a brief second, it feels like forever.

“Do you mind if I sit over here?” She points to the empty chair opposite me. “The other tables are full.”

Serendipity has started working its magic.

“Of…of course!” I blurt out. How can I ever say no to someone like her?

Placing her handbag on the table, she ensconces herself into her seat with poise. I gaze at her reflection in the window. She waves to the waitress and places her order. Her beauty would leave even Venus green with envy.

It’s hands-down love at first sight for me. But alas, she is going to be a passing cloud; this reality hits me hard. She only came here for the chair, of course, and not for me. After all, we are complete strangers without the slightest clue about each other. Firming myself not to have utopian hopes, I look away to console my heart. But deep inside, I still can’t stop thinking of her.

She shoots a smile at me as I try to steal glances. This gives me a sliver of hope.

My phone rings, playing Adele’s “One and Only.” It’s my pesky boss again.

I ignore the call, not wanting to ruin the mood.

“I love this song.” She beams with joy. “One of my all-time favorites.”

“Same here.” Butterflies flutter in my stomach.

“By the way, I’m Cora.” She extends her right hand, breaking the ice.

“Thad.” I clear my throat. “Thaddeus.” I shake her hand with a hint of nervousness.

“Hey, why are your hands trembling?” She laughs. “Did I spook you or something?”

“Long day at work.” I sigh. “Late night shifts in a tech start-up are…”

And here we go again! I start ranting to her about how my work is killing me.

She nods and smiles, not seeming to grow bored.

“So, do you work close by, too?” I lead her to the next question.

“Nope; the neighborhood hospital contacted me to attend to an emergency. Thank God, we saved the patient in the nick of time. Phew!”

“Oh, great, you’re a doc. Now, I know whom to reach out to the next time I’m under the weather.”

“Unless you’re only faking it to escape work.” She winks, mischief sparkling in her eyes.

Our conversation unfolds over two frappés.

We chat about many things, exchanging hearty laughs. The hours fly by.

Our discussions range from our favorite Netflix shows to politics to our mutual love for rom-coms. The night never seems to end for the both of us.

The jazz music picks up pace. Ah, good things are happening to me since I met her.

The fortune cookie note catches my eye. I quietly slip it into my pocket. I believe the beautiful woman in front of me is going to be the lucky one who will steal my heart.

Some of the couples start to hit the floor and dance.

I reach my hand into my pocket and feel the note. It gives me my much-needed confidence. We’re meant for each other. Of course, she’ll dance with me!

Shedding my inhibitions, I ask Cora, “Shall we?”

She pulls my hand, leading me to the floor of the café.

My hands on her hips, I groove to the jazz. She wraps her arms around my neck. The cadence courses through my veins. Her short breaths brush my hair.

Even in my wildest dreams, I had never thought I’d meet the one destined for me. And yet here I am, living my own fantasy. We dance like no one’s watching

The music stops. After twenty minutes’ worth of dancing, we’re back to our table. Since my eyes were on Cora the whole time, I didn’t realize we’re the only ones remaining in the café.

She’s busy typing something on her phone.

“Dang, I’m not able to get an Uber.” She frowns.

“Don’t worry, I’ll give you a ride.”

“You’re so sweet.” Cora lights up.

Bingo! I get to spend some more time with her.

I happily pay the bill and leave a generous tip to the waitress’ surprise, and walk out with my newfound love.

At the parking lot, I press the key fob, unlocking my Fiat 500 Pop. Cora smiles and gets into the passenger’s seat.

With her by my side, I set the GPS to her apartment’s address and speed down the road. Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” sets the mood. I place my hand on the shifter. She grasps my hand and comes closer.

The sky is starry outside her apartment. Keeping my foot on the brake, I get ready to bid her goodbye. But she remains still.

“Wanna?” She nods her head towards her house.

“Wanna what?” I’m confused. Am I really this lucky? Thank you, fortune cookie!

“It’s kinda boring being all alone in my room. Wanna come over for some Netflix and…” Cora grins.

I look at her in surprise.

“If you don’t wanna come, never mind.” Cora picks up her handbag and proceeds to leave.

Without batting an eyelid, I clasp her hand.

Cora stops and turns back with a smile. I pull her closer.

Her flowery scent fills the air, enrapturing my senses. Her bewitching eyes lock to mine. I am foreseeing our happily-ever-after moments. The warmth of her breath sparks my inner passion. Leaning forward, I wait for our lips to rendezvous.

Ouch! I feel a tingling sensation in my right arm. Is this the feeling of love?


Before I can comprehend what happened, I wake up stark naked in a bed. My face is sweaty and my hair disheveled beyond recognition. To add to the hot mess, the sheets are creased. Feeling tired, I pant for breath.

Wait, no! Oh, come on! It’s not what you’re thinking. For God’s sake, give your dirty mind a rest!

I’m all alone in a strange new place, my eyes facing the ceiling. A strong, nauseating smell pervades the room. This smell reminds me of someplace. I’m too loopy to recall.

Ummm….aaargh…I’m not able to move. What’s happening to me? Where am I?

Why are these people hurrying around me? And why on Earth are they wearing surgical masks? A shitload of questions pop up in my head, but I don’t even have a clue.

While straining my eyes to scan the room, I spot a bulletin board right opposite my bed. Various candid photos of me taken at different places are pinned to it. My neighborhood, the café, the church, even outside my apartment. Gosh, they’ve been tracking my every single move. What the hell are they up to?!

Despite my blurring vision, I try my best to read the big, bold letters under the photos: Target No. 12—Thaddeus Smith, 27, AB—

Next to my photos, I see a portrait shot of a plump, balding, middle-aged man, presumably Russian.

The text under his photo reads: To be transplanted to Mikhail Stanislav, 49, AB—

Oh no! Whatever’s happening here isn’t right!

A huge, brooding figure is walking towards me with short, quick steps. The man adjusts his mask and dons his latex gloves. Why the heck is he flushing the syringe and filling it with some weird blue liquid? Despite realizing something’s fishy, my mind is completely occupied with Cora. Where is she? Is she safe?

“Cora…Cora,” my dry lips mumble.

“Doc, the guy wants to see you.” Turning sideways, the man signals someone. “Oh, so it’s Cora this time, not Ronnie.” He smirks, raising his left eyebrow.

Heeding his call, a masked doctor walks towards me and looks into my eyes. They are the amber eyes I can never forget. The same eyes which enticed me in the first place. It’s her!

Cora lowers her mask and lets out a sly chuckle as I’m coming to terms with the biggest shock of my life. Of all the seven billion people in the world, why is it her?

I try to mutter something.

“Shh,” she hushes, running her slender finger over my lips.

With a sinful smile, Cora turns to her right and gives a commanding nod to her team.

A group of masked surgeons encircle my bed. One of them turns the surgical lamp towards me, blinding me. Another surgeon thumps my chest as I feebly exhale.

“Hey! Let’s go easy on him,” Cora instructs them.

Pinching my cheeks, she coos in a husky voice, “After all, he’s my darling. Unlike the others, it wasn’t so hard to trap this guy.”

Within seconds, she brings a syringe near my paralyzed body. The others around her rummage through a tray of surgical instruments, getting ready to play their part. A cold storage box with the label “UW Solution” is placed on the table next to my bed.

“I love you, Thad!” Cora purrs into my ear.

With these words, she plants a peck on my forehead, kissing me goodbye as I lose my senses. My heart skips a beat. Cora brings a scalpel to my chest and makes the incision right in the middle.

Slowly, my pulse stops. My body lies lifeless.

And that’s how she stole my heart.