They were sipping drinks at the bar when she took a peek at his wrist counter for the third time. 0d 13h 10m. Just 8 hours ahead of hers.
“You excited?” She picked at her nails.
“Yeah. Just can’t believe it’s been a year already.” He laughed, nervously, she thought.
They were best friends. Best friends, she repeated to herself. They’d talked about it before. Their soul mates were selected for them from a list of thousands of potential candidates. These soul mates were the most ideal match for each individual in body, soul, and mind. A year ago, the Counsellors took care to emphasize that the AEPS life-pairing system had never made a mistake. Agape, eros, philia, storge – the four types of love. There were soul mates out there for every individual’s needs.
“You… Don’t suppose that there’s ever been a mismatch, right?”
He eyed her curiously. “What do you mean? Haven’t all the previous couples had perfectly happy marriages after they met the One?”
“Well yes, but what if there was, you know…”
“An exception?” His eyes glinted.
“You better not let your Counsellor hear that. I’m sure they’d send you to Rehab.”
She cradled her chin in her hands and the band slid down her arm. The counter read 0d 21h 0m. Maybe, just this once, they had made a mistake. Maybe she would get a call telling her that her counter was wrong after all.
“Hey, you’re spacing out again.” He nudged her hand.
“I’m just tired. We’ve been out all night. Don’t you need to sleep? It’s your big day tomorrow.”
“Yes mom, you sound like I’m about to be married off or something.”
“Might as well be.”
They got up and left, each wishing the day would end a few hours later.
She spent most of the next morning cleaning up the place. Her family was overseas and it seemed like the only thing she could do to keep the nervous energy in check. He would be meeting his soul mate in one hour, and God knows what would happen after that. No more mucking about past the Wall and telling each other stupid stories about the war dead. No more skipping tax lessons to shoot flavs at the birds. They were almost grown ups.
Scrubbing at the mirror, she saw her wan face reflected back at her. Half an hour more and he’d call her to tell her who his soul mate was. She told him she wanted to be the first to know. They were best friends after all.
The minutes passed painfully. When the clock struck one she picked up her phone, thinking she was getting a call. There was no call. She looked at her wrist counter. 0d 7h 58m. He must have already met the One. They must be talking, getting to know each other. He would call in five minutes.
0d 7h 23m. She had taken to reading an old magazine. She flipped through the pages, seething inside. So much for best friends and their promises that nothing would change. He wasn’t picking up any of her calls.
0d 3h 9m. She was curled up on the couch. The magazine was flung across the floor in an earlier fit of rage and self-loathing. Now she only felt calm and wistful. She tried to focus on her soul mate: how was he like? Was he tall? Was he funny and did he have that crinkle at the side of his eyes when he laughed? Maybe he loved lying by the lake, watching the clouds go by. Maybe she had underestimated the power of the system. He was better–no–best for her.
0d 1h 34m. It was decided. She wouldn’t go anywhere. She would lie on the couch until her counter stopped. Her soul mate had better come through the door or she’d be taken to Rehab within the hour. Not that it really mattered; Rehab didn’t seem that bad a place any more.
0d 0h 25m. She shut her eyes. The exhaustion from an afternoon of waiting was slowly seeping into her body. Maybe he would wake her up with a kiss like in Sleeping Beau-
0d 0h 0m.
The wrist band had already fallen to the floor when she woke up. It had been 15 minutes since she was supposed to have met the One. But she hadn’t, and they were coming to escort her to Rehab for that infraction. Her soul mate had probably gotten lost amongst the houses in the neighborhood, each with their identical orange groves on either side. She chuckled softly, trying to picture him, but all she could think of was the time he held her hand when crossing the bridge at the Rounds. She tasted hot tears on her tongue before she knew she was crying. And even then, she tried to smile, knowing that she would soon be made to forget him.
There was a knock at the door. They were here to take her away. Her soul mate must have called to inform them that he was hopelessly lost. She, too, was another kind of lost. She rose wearily and moved towards the door; every step was like wading through a swamp of memory. She glanced at her shelves, her books, her pictures. She had already thrown out every single one of him, so there was nothing of value that she was leaving. The knocking was more insistent. She shuffled slowly and insolently, grasping the doorknob just as another knock rang out.
The door swung open and her eyes met a curtain of darkness. She thought she saw the navy blue of their uniforms, their shiny badges gleaming in the night. Bowing by habit, she said “I’m ready.” A figure stepped forward and grasped her, pulling her towards the group.
But there was no group, and there were no uniforms, only his flushed face and bright eyes. She froze in shock at the familiar touch. He clamped a hand over her mouth and spoke in frenzied, hushed tones. “Don’t ask questions, just listen. I couldn’t sleep. Was thinking of you. Took a chance and froze my counter in liquid nitrogen. It worked–the counter stopped–but I don’t know for how long. My soul mate called them. I dumped my phone. Was hiding the whole day. Got stuff to last us weeks.”
She nodded dumbly. Was this real? Any moment now her own soul mate would be threading his way through the orange groves into her house. He would wind his way past the shelves, the books, the pictures, arriving at the couch. He would then bend down and kiss her, waking her and breaking the spell.
“They’re coming for us now. You coming with me?”
His voice was low and sharp, cutting the air between them. There was a fierceness she had never seen in his eyes.
“Why what? Because we were miserable apart and we pretended we weren’t. Because we don’t have time to keep pretending. You’re the One I choose. Come with me.”
She wanted to shout, laugh and cry at the same time. This was far more real than the drowsy, angry afternoon she had spent alone. That dream had ended forever. Wordlessly, she grabbed his hand, running and pulling him towards the Wall. As they scrambled over the Wall, they looked back in wonder at the land that was now foreign to them. For a second, they saw a twinkling tide of lights against the darkness, and then they were gone.
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