“Kaylee! Shelby! Come get your sandwiches!”
The unmistakable sound of tiny feet thudding down the stairs is almost muffled by the screech of “SANDWICHES” that echoes through the house, until two girls race into the kitchen and slide to a halt by the table. Mr. Gonzales chuckles at their excited faces when they scramble onto chairs, and how their eyes light up when he sets their lunch in front of them.
He lets them eat for a few minutes, having a light lunch himself, before asking. “So, girls, what were you talking about up there that was so secretive?”
Shelby puffed out her cheeks before talking in her Grown Up Voice. “It’s a secret, Papi. You’re not allowed to--”
“We were talkin’ ‘bout soulmates!” Erupts from a vibrating Kaylee before Shelby can finish. “Our times are the same so we think our soulmates are friends and we’ll meet them at the same place!”
“Kaylee! We wanted to keep it a secret!” Shelby yells from across the table.
Kaylee looks over at her curly-haired friend in confusion. “But it’s your dad! We tell him everything!”
Mr. Gonzales, who had been staring off into space ever since Kaylee said “soulmates,” shakes himself a little and rejoins the conversation. “Well, what if you aren’t together at your time?”
“No, we’ll be together,” Shelby insists in her very serious tone. “We’ll be together forever.”
“Of course you will,” He says. But that, he thinks, is exactly what I fear.
Shelby, age thirteen, bursts through the front door of the Klein’s house without knocking and barrels her way upstairs with a “Hi Mr and Mrs Klein” thrown over her shoulder. She doesn't stop, however, until she dropped onto her friend’s bed exclaiming “I figured it out!”
“Hello to you, too,” Kaylee, age twelve and three-quarters, replies dryly, used to Shelby’s antics. “What is it?”
“Our day! I did some math-”
“Of course you did you nerd-”
“And it’s not a specific time yet but I finally figured out the date! October tenth in ninth grade!”
Kaylee blinked, checking her wrist. Shelby knew that the numbers would flicker to life for her eyes and her eyes only, displaying the same time that she sees herself. “Twelve hundred days… That’s only three years away.”
“Three years, three months and thirteen days specifically.” She turns over and settles her head in Kaylee’s lap, allowing the slightly-younger girls to start playing with her hair the way she loves. “And when it’s less than a thousand days we’ll get the hour, and when it’s less than a hundred we’ll get the minute, and we’ll get the seconds about a week before…”
Kaylee hums, running her fingers through her friend’s hair. “It’s starting to feel real. Like, I knew this was going to happen, that we’d meet our soulmates, but now that we have a date…”
Shelby simply hums in agreement, energy from before draining out of her. “Have your parents told you what dinner is yet?”
“Taco night, I think.”
“Text Papi that I’ll stay for dinner? I need to take a quick nap.”
“When did you wake up?”
“What, Kaylee?” Alyssa’s hissed reply nearly causes Shelby to laugh, which would have gotten them in trouble with Mr. Curlew. Strict on syllabus day did not bode well for her attention span in first period History this year, but she’ll make due. It’s ninth grade; what’s the worst that could happen?
“Are you excited? Today’s your day!” Kaylee’s reply gains Shelby’s attention, if only to roll her eyes at it. Trust Kaylee to be obsessed with everyone else’s timers, even when hers is rapidly approaching the one month mark.
Alyssa frowns. “My day isn’t today, it’s…” She turns her wrist and stares for a moment, then widens her eyes. “Oh, shoot, it is today.”
That did pull a laugh from Shelby, earning her a glare from the front of the room. The bell ringing prevents any consequences, however, and the three girls resume their conversation a little louder. “Seriously, Lys, how did you forget about your countdown?”
“Shut up! My mom’s been on my case about cheerleading tryouts and keeping me in shape, along with my normal extra coursework.” She stuffs her books in her bag and slings it over her shoulder, cheeks red. “And unlike some people, I haven’t had a running countdown on my paper calendars of my day since sixth grade.”
“Hey, all I did was some math. Kaylee’s the one who bought a physical calendar just to have a physical countdown.” Shelby grabs her own bag and stands up, avoiding a swat from Kaylee at the same time. “Do not drag me into this.”
Alyssa shrugs. “Suit yourself. I have to get to… Chemistry, next.”
“Aw, dangit, I have Gym,” Kaylee pouts. “That’s, like, the other side of school. I gotta hurry, see you two at lunch!” With a wave, she’s running out of the room.
“I have Chemistry too. Let’s walk together,” Shelby suggests. With a nod, they’re heading down the hallway. “Hey, for curiosity’s sake, how long do you have?”
Alyssa frowns, but doesn’t get to check before her name is called from behind them.
“Alyssa!” Both girls turn and are greeted by Greg Nolan with an obviously-shy blonde with glasses trailing behind him. “Do you know anyone who has Chemistry next? I have to run to Gym, but my cousin needs to get there and she’s new here, so she doesn’t know where to go.”
“I do, actually. I can take her.” Alyssa looks over at the blonde. “I’m Alyssa Greene. What’s your name?”
The blonde looks up quickly, blush spreading across her cheeks. “Um, I’m Emma.”
If Emma was going to say anything else, she was cut off by two ding-ding’s in harmony. Alyssa jumps, checking her wrist, and Shelby sees Emma and Greg check their wrists too.
“That was… that was me,” Alyssa eventually gets out, blush evident. Shelby looks to Greg, who just shrugs.
“Mine’s still going. Besides, I met Alyssa years ago.”
Shelby frowns. She knew that. But if it wasn’t Greg…
Three gazes turn to Emma, face somehow redder. “I…”
Ding. Lightbulb. “Oh, you guys are so lucky Kaylee isn’t here.”
Shelby, for once in her life, had decided to go to sleep before midnight during the weekend. Unfortunately, her phone ringing roused her from a dream about a date with her soulmate and Kaylee — She doesn’t admit it out loud but she’s not in denial, and Kaylee’s hot — at around one thirty a.m.
She almost knocks her phone onto the ground trying to grab it without looking, and she practically growls into the phone a greeting. “What do you want?”
Kaylee’s voice enters her ear more timidly than she’s ever heard. Registering the tremor of her words before the meaning, Shelby blinks herself awake as fast as possible. “Kay?”
“What If he doesn’t like me, or he’s really your soulmate, or he’s already dating someone, or-”
“Sorry. I just- I saw the seconds, and it all came crashing down on me that this is real, instead of just a countdown to a day. That in ten days I’m going to meet the man I’ll spend the rest of my life with.”
Shelby hums. “That is scary, yeah.”
“I’m fifteen, Shelbs. I’ve barely started high school, and now I’m gonna have a guy to deal with on top of cheerleading and sleepovers and you and school and-”
“Wait, why was I separate?” Shelby tries to interrupt, but Kaylee’s word vomit isn’t over yet.
“-I know my parents will want me to marry him as soon as possible because that’s what they did but what if I want to go to college first and not be married there? What if he follows me to college or I have to follow him somewhere-”
“That’s really thinking ahead.”
“-and what if his family hates me? What if my parents hate him? What if he hates Disney? I can’t marry a man who hates Disney Shelbs you know what I’m like about Disney-”
“He’d bear with it if he really is your soulmate, Kay.”
“-So he isn’t allowed to hate it but I can’t pick my soulmate so if he hates Disney one of us has to give and I’m scared it’ll be me and I’ll go Disney-less for the rest of time and that isn’t fair-”
“What?” A pause, finally. “Oh, I wasn’t stopping, was I?”
Shelby shakes her head, then remembers this is a phone call. “No, you weren’t.” She pauses, shifting to check her timer. The numbers illuminate the space above her wrist, visible only to her and glowing a soft lavender. She would prefer a darker purple, but she should be happy it gives off any color at all. The font is familiar, something she’s seen all her life. “Yeah, the seconds are there. But we’ve known this day was coming for three years now, Kay.”
“I know I just…” A sigh comes over the line. “I didn’t really process it back then, or really until just now.”
“Wanna come over?”
“... Unlock your window?”
Shelby scoffs into the phone. “Has it ever been locked?”
“Oh, right, this is Shelby Espada Gonzales I’m talking to.”
“Do you even know what espada means?”
“If you’re gonna keep making up middle names for me, at least know what they mean.”
The mall. Kaylee woke her up before sunrise, pulled her into her dad’s minivan, shoved -- well, the bagel was nice -- food into her hands and pulled out her phone before saying hi all to go to the mall three hours away.
On their day.
Shelby, who had been up until two thirty-seven researching the exact color of animosity, didn’t even register Alyssa in the passenger seat until after dawn. Mr. Klein was road-focused and Kaylee had her headphones in, so she leans forward to talk to her.
“When did she pick you up?”
“Oh, I slept over,” Alyssa replies. “Kaylee had finally cornered me with permission from my mother for a sleepover after cheer, so I was dragged to her house and interrogated about my soulmate for six hours. She told me about this plan after she woke me up this morning.”
Shelby winces. “Hard to avoid a Kaylee confrontation. Sorry I wasn’t there to help.” With a quick glance at her friend -- still glued to her screen -- she leans in further and lowers her voice. “What does she know?”
Alyssa replies in the same tone. “My soulmate goes to our school, and is new this year. They’re funny, a little shy, and very skilled with the guitar. I almost slipped on the pronouns, but I hope she defaulted to straight.”
“Please, this is Kaylee. I’ve come out to her three times and she genuinely forgot every time.”
A snort came from Alyssa. “I guess it slipped bi her?”
The sigh that left her was loud enough to draw Kaylee’s attention away from her phone. Shelby flashed her a smile to say everything was okay, which satisfied her enough that she returned to the screen without removing her headphones.
“Speaking of soulmates,” Shelby continues, turning back to Alyssa, “How is she?”
“A lot less shy once you actually talk to her. But, my day has already happened. Yours is today, right?” Both girls know the question is rhetorical, but Shelby nods anyways. “How are you feeling?”
She hums, forming her thoughts. “More nervous than I let on. I’m mostly scared that I won’t have time to hang out with my friends or Kaylee after I meet them.”
“I met my soulmate on the first day of school and I still hang out with you guys,” Alyssa points out.
Just like that, a weight seems to lift off of her shoulders. Even after everything, Alyssa is here with them on their day. She looks over at Kaylee, a smile playing at her lips. “Yeah, you do.”
Mr. Klein is off in the movie theatre catching a double- or triple-feature, out of the way by Kaylee and Shelby’s request. Alyssa offered to join him when they arrived at the mall, but Shelby asked her to stay for outside moral support and distraction.
Not much moral support is coming from her right now, since she’s in line at the food court while Kaylee and Shelby claim a table. She checked her wrist a while ago, when it said there was an hour to go, and has stoically refused to check it since.
“I’ve never seen the numbers so small.” Kaylee, meanwhile, hasn’t said any numbers aloud, but is glued to her wrist.
“It’s a countdown, Kaylee; that’s what they do.” She looks up sharply, which makes Shelby register the bite behind her words. Softening her tone, she continues, “Sorry. You know how I get when I’m nervous.”
“Obviously, but you’re tenser than ever.” She reaches her hand over, interlocking their fingers and squeezing. “Should I not be talking out loud?”
Shelby shakes her head quickly, looking down at their hands. “No, no, it helps you.”
“But you hate it.” Kaylee’s second hand joins her first, and a determined tone fills her voice. “I’m not going to comfort myself if it hurts you.”
She looks up, then, and had to blink at the steely glint in those normally bright blue eyes. She flounders for the words that only moments ago sat on the tip of her tongue, ready to object, and keeps staring into those eyes for who knows how long.
Shelby’s pretty sure she could look into those eyes forever.
Unfortunately, she doesn’t get to test that out.
She breaks eye contact (with difficulty) in time to see a tray full of food narrowly miss her face, followed by a body barely pulling up short from tripping into the table.
“Shoot, I almost covered you guys in noodles!” The stranger starts, gaining control of their tray.
Shelby shrugs. “Well, you didn’t, so no harm done.”
“Yeah, you’re fine.”
Shelby frowns and checks her wrist, vaguely noticing the other two do the same. Her eyes widen as she sees her timer flashing in a dark purple, zero after zero after zero showing, over and over and over. If her timer shows zero, then Kaylee’s does. And if they both reached zero… Her eyes shoot up and scan around them, only seeing one person nearby (the noodle person). But they should both have their soulmate now?
Eventually she realizes something about the dings: there were only three chimes.
Something clicked in her mind.
“Kaylee, it’s the only thing that makes sense.”
“Timers aren’t wrong. This guy -- Kevin, right?”
“Yeah, I’m Kevin.”
“-- He’s gotta be both of our soulmates.”
“That’s not how it works, Shelby!”
“Then how does it work? Is there mysteriously a fourth person somewhere, waiting to pop up from behind a trash can and go ‘haha, tricked you!’?”
“There has to be another answer! You can’t just have two soulmates!”
“Oh my god, what history books have you been reading?”
“Our school’s books!”
“Education has whitewashed and heteronormified every last inch of history! I’ve ranted to you about this at least a dozen times!”
“Fourteen and a half--”
“Whatever! My point is, this has happened before, multiple times. You can’t turn a blind eye to every single instance of this, and you especially can’t pretend this isn’t happening to us, right here and now.”
“I-- you can’t just-- there are rules--”
“Those rules flew out the window as soon as those noodles came our way.”
“I said I was sorry!”
“I… I can’t . I won’t.”
“Kevin, you seem like a great guy. Have fun with her.”
Shelby doesn’t know enough words to describe how she feels, seeing her longest and closest friend rush away. She’s not sure if there are enough words in english or spanish to do so accurately. She probably would have kept watching her run away from their new truth if Kevin didn’t sit down in her spot.
“Hey, I’m sorry she took it poorly. I’m guessing she had a different reality built up in her head?”
She takes a moment to look at him, and finally process her soulmate. A kind face, some sort of nerdy shirt, and… yeah that is way too much pasta. He turns around to look at where Kaylee went, reminding her to respond. “Yeah, she did. Ever since we were little, we’d fantasize about what our meeting would look like, and, well… This wasn’t it.”
Kevin nods. “I never thought I’d get two soulmates, but I can’t say I’m upset about this.”
She looks down, scratching behind her ear as she racks her brain for a precedent. “As far as I’m aware there have been a couple times where this has happened before, but the most recent public occurrence was with the creator of Wonder Woman.”
“Charles Moulton and his wife and their partner, yeah.” Shelby turns a surprised gaze to her lunch companion. “He wanted to marry both of them, since they were all soulmates, but having two wives would have been unfair to Elizabeth, who legally couldn't marry a woman, so Olive settled on being called their life partner.”
“Why do you know that?”
Kevin gestured to his shirt, which Shelby still doesn’t recognize. It must show on her face, because he starts to explain. “It’s Green Lantern! Well, technically the whole Green Lantern Corps has this on their rings, but it’s mostly the human Lanterns that people care about, like Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, Jon Stewart, Kyle--”
“I get it, I get it, you like comic books,” she laughs out. “I’m more of a sci-fi book person myself.”
“Like Ender’s Game?”
“Great series, shitty author.”
“Really?” Shelby nods, then hides a giggle at the crushed look on his face. “I had them on my birthday list.”
“I have all of them secondhand, if you want to borrow my copies.”
Kevin brightens up again, a crooked grin engulfing his face that she can’t help but mirror. “I can?”
“Of course you can. We’re soulmates, aren’t we?”
The words leave her mouth before she fully processes them, leaving her to make a flabbergasted face after the sentence ends. Her soulmate is in front of her, slurping up an inhuman amount of noodles, and not likely to leave her life any time soon.
That’s a lot to process.
“Shelby!” The aforementioned boy waves his hand enthusiastically at her frozen in the doorway from his seat, lopsided grin shining. “I didn’t know you went to school here.”
She shakes her head and smiles despite herself, moving over to her seat (which, coincidentally enough, is right next to Kevin). “I’ve lived in Edgewater all my life, I told you that.”
“Right, you did, sorry!” he scratches the back of his neck, chuckling.
“The real question is why are you here? We met at a mall three hours away.”
His eyes widen, almost comically so, and she has to hide her laugh as he smacks himself in the forehead. “That’s what I forgot to tell you! My mom and I moved here, I was at the mall waiting for my friends for one last hangout.”
“So I get to see my soulmate every day for the rest of high school?” She leans her head on her hand, amused smile softening. “How lucky of me.”
If Shelby had been paying attention to her surroundings, she would have noticed a ripple of murmuring when the word “soulmate” left her mouth.
What she is paying attention to, however, is not her soulmate at the moment.
The brunette is next to her in her seat, staring at her desk. The sadly familiar position brings Shelby’s mind back to the car ride home that weekend.
“Kay, I know there’s no music playing in your headphones.”
“Kaylee, please talk to us.”
“Girls, calm down. The movie we watched was intense, maybe she’s… still recovering?”
“Hey, Kaylee? I want to introduce you to someone.”
The girl in question turns, finally acknowledging her, and Shelby’s stomach flips over in happiness. “What are you talking about?”
She clears her throat, aware of some of her classmates’ eyes on their little group. She gestures to the boy sitting on her other side. “This is Kevin, my soulmate. We met on Saturday? I know you were busy and couldn’t make the trip, so I wanted to introduce you. Kevin, this is Kaylee,” she mentally begs both of them to understand what she’s trying to do, “my best friend since diapers.”
It’s silent between them for a moment, but Kevin seems to catch on. “It’s nice to meet you, Kaylee. I guess we’ll be seeing each other pretty often, huh?”
Kaylee looks between the two of them, expression unreadable. She’s silent, eyes narrow, body still, until…
“I guess we will. Nice to meet you.” She nods to him before turning back to her desk.
Shelby sighs in relief, glad that their “meeting” went well. She turns back to Kevin to see him smiling at her. “What?”
“Nothing,” he replies, “You’re just pretty.”
The room wasn’t this warm a minute ago. “I am?”
He nods. “I wouldn’t lie about that.”
If she believed in an afterlife, Shelby thinks this is what Heaven would be like.
(If she believed in an afterlife, Shelby thinks this is what Hell would be like.)
Kevin blends seamlessly into her life, and he says the same about her.
(This is the least Shelby’s seen of Kaylee since she went on vacation seven years ago.)
He officially meets Alyssa, and she notices he hangs out with Emma on his own -- good, that girl needs more friends -- so she’s not scared he’ll just cling to her at school.
(Kaylee skipped movie night. Movie night.)
She meets his friend Nick through a wave of Axe Body Spray, and he seems like an okay guy.
(Kaylee couldn’t come to meet him, claiming a hangout with Alyssa.)
Kevin and her trade obsessions -- she borrows his comics, he reads Ender’s Game -- and compare notes and opinions over them.
(Mr. Klein stops her when she goes to visit.)
Shelby enjoys spending time with Kevin.
(Shelby misses spending time with Kaylee.)
“Hey Kev,” Shelby greets him as he sets down his lunch tray. “Are you free on Friday?”
He pulls a fry from somewhere underneath the ridiculous amount of ketchup and mayonnaise he drowns them in. “Yeah, we finished unpacking last night so I’m now free to explore the town!” The poor condiment-logged piece of potato enters his mouth as he finishes with a lopsided grin. “Why? Did you want to do something?”
She sets her book down, leaning over the table towards him. He isn’t directly across from her (Kaylee normally sits there, but it’s empty today), so she’s tilted to her left, as well. “Yeah, actually. I found the Ender’s Game movie on Netflix, and I was wondering if you wanted to come over and watch it after school?”
Somehow, a bigger, more lopsided grin spread on his face, and Shelby can’t suppress how cute she finds it, nor does she want to (If she can’t find her soulmate endearing then who?). “I’d love that! So, like, am I going home with you or am I meeting you at your house?”
“As much as I want to just bring you home with me,” She rolls her eyes at the small aw he offers at that, “My Papi wants to meet your mom, so if you just came together we can hide in my room while they talk downstairs?”
“Smart move, two in one. Would your papi care if we’re alone?”
She dismisses the thought with a wave. “He trusts me. Besides, he’s used to Kaylee just coming in whenever.”
“If you’re sure. How about four o’clock on Friday? Wait,” he stops, “you have cheer until four thirty on Fridays.”
“Actually,” she corrects, “Something came up for our coach and she had to cancel Friday’s practice. I’m free the moment the bell rings.”
Kevin’s face lights up in his (she likes to think) signature smile that makes her insides melt just a little. “Sweet! So, four?”
“It’s a date.”
Kevin stops, then looks at her. “It is? We’re already soulmates, Shel.”
“I know.” She breaks eye contact, fiddling with her fingers. “I want to, though.”
“It’s a date, then.”
Shelby blames the entire subject of Geometry for making her late to cheer practice. If she hadn’t needed to talk to Mx. Cohen after class she wouldn’t be sprinting through the hallways on a Thursday afternoon, swearing in any language that comes to mind (she had deep-dived the internet for some latin ones recently) and praying to a semi-real deity that she won’t be cursed with extra laps for being late.
She barrels into the locker room as one of the captains herds the last of the squad out to begin stretches, yelling out “I’ll be right there” over her shoulder before the door has a chance to close. She drops her bag and books and yanks her shirt off without preamble, thankful that she wore a sports bra to school and won’t have to worry about changing it. She was in the middle of cursing her lock out for not opening when the flush of the toilet breaks her out of her I-don’t-want-to-be-late rush and she looks up and around her for the first time.
Just in time to make eye contact with Kaylee through the mirror over the sink.
The only sound that echoes through the room is the water running over Kaylee’s frozen hands, both girls afraid to move or even breathe. Hearing a whistle from outside breaks the spell before Shelby can gather up the courage to do it herself, and Kaylee returns her attention to her hand washing as soon as she can (Shelby tries to hide from herself how much that hurt).
Blinking, Shelby turns her eyes back to her lock, but her attention stays fixed on her friend (friend? Is she still allowed to use that word?). She gets her locker open and begins changing into leggings for practice (it was getting colder) and watches from the corner of her eye as Kaylee dries her hands and walks towards the locker room door.
“I miss you.” Kaylee freezes, one hand on the door. Shelby didn’t know she spoke until the words had left her mouth, but she presses onwards. This might be her only chance to say this. “We can’t just leave all of this unsaid. I need to--” (To what? To hold her? To get her best friend back? To find some closure about all of this? To either call Kaylee her friend or nothing at all?) “We should sit down and talk, about all of this.”
The room is silent, save for Shelby tying her sneakers. She waits, knowing Kaylee wants to talk next. The silence was so deafening that she almost missed her whispered response. “I just need time.”
“It’s November, Kaylee. Time for what?” Suddenly she’s standing, turned towards her. “To push me away because you’re uncomfortable with the truth? To convince yourself that nothing happened? To forget, again, that I’m bisexual? To-”
Kaylee whips around. “Why don’t you talk about this with your soulmate?”
“Because he’s your soulmate, too!”
As the cry rings out and the room falls still, Shelby realizes two things.
One, this is the first time in this entire conversation that they have fully faced each other to talk, and to finally see how much Kaylee is hurting without any of the walls she had been putting up for a month made something in Shelby break. Her hand twitches, a barely restrained urge to reach out to her friend, to bridge the gap that had snuck its way between them, making its way to her hand before she can stop it.
Two, she is still shirtless and Kaylee’s gaze is lower than her eyes.
She steps forward, unsure of what she’s doing. “Kaylee--”
The step seems to snap Kaylee out of whatever trance she was in as her eyes finally meet hers for half a moment. Shelby barely has time to register her face beginning to redden before Kaylee spins back around and yanks open the door, leaving the locker room without so much as a word.
“Shelbs!” Kevin reaches her locker before his yell does and she has to take a step forwards as he collides with her back, laughing as his arms wrap around her. It took almost no time for Kevin to reveal that he’s a cuddle monster; whether it was just her hand in his or these bear hugs that she would be bombarded with, it was pretty rare that he wasn’t touching her when they were in the same room. “I’m glad I caught you, I almost forgot to ask for your address.”
“You could have texted me for it, Kev,” Shelby teases lightly as her hand reaches out to hold onto his arm. She can feel a smile tugging at her face as she holds back her laughter. “We do live in a world with cell phones.”
She feels his arms settle around her waist before tightening their grip on her. He rests his chin on her shoulder as he replies, allowing her to feel his voice vibrate through their embrace. “I know, I know. But I wanted to see you again.”
Shelby’s stomach flips, the butterflies that seem to have moved in ever since meeting Kevin becoming active once again. There’s something about him that lets all of her worries drift away; he can somehow both overwhelm her senses and make it seem like they’re the only people in the world.
Her voice softens as she speaks again, just loud enough to be heard over the sounds of the school hallway. “You’re going to see me in less than an hour.”
They stay like that for a minute; pressed together, silently facing Shelby’s open locker, happy to simply be in each other’s presence. Shelby refuses to let her mind dwell on how she used to be able to simply exist like this with Kaylee, and instead lets her mind be quiet for a little while.
Eventually, though, she sighs and shuts her locker. “As much as I really like this hug, I need to go before Papi just drives away without me. And you,” she pokes the inside of his elbow, biting back a laugh at the small eep he lets out in her ear, “now need to run to catch your bus.”
Kevin reluctantly lets go of her, but doesn’t step out of her space quite yet. “You’re right. Text me your address?”
“I promise.” She turns around to face him and notices just how soft his gaze is on her. Being one of only a few non-white people in this school, she is often stared at by a lot of people in the hallway. The looks faded over the years as everyone grew up together and got used to her presence, but they had started back up a few years ago when puberty hit her grade like a truck and she joined the cheer squad. Normally she bristles at the attention; she just wants to keep her head down and beat Alyssa’s grades (it was a healthy competition, promise. Mostly to keep Alyssa’s competitive streak busy). She never feels the need to stop Kevin from staring, or hide from his gaze. Prompted by… something, she presses up onto the tips of her toes and pecks his cheek in their first (her first) kiss (of any kind). Dropping back down, she stands there awkwardly for a moment, stomach churning as she watches his face (in the same expression as before) slowly glow bright red. Feeling her own cheeks burn (and remembering how his cheek felt on her lips) she squeaks out “see you at four” as she slips past him, practically running down the hallway to the pickup zone.
She didn’t turn back to see him place a hand on the spot she kissed him and watch as his signature grin overtook his face (and she didn’t notice a familiar head of dark hair disappear around the far corner of the hallway).
“Shelby, the Shields are here! Come down and greet them!”
Shelby’s cleaning frenzy is interrupted by her Papi’s cry up the stairs, and she takes one last look around her room before calling out “Coming, Papi!” and leaving her room. It was good enough; it’s not like this is the first time anyone’s been in her room. Kaylee’s seen it way messier.
She shoves any thought of the girl who lives down the street from her mind just in time to pull the front door open and grin at the people standing outside. “Hey, Kev. Ms. Shields, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Come on in.”
“Please, Shelby, call me Michelle,” Kevin’s mom corrects her as they step into the house, already removing layers. “I can’t have my son’s soulmate being so formal, now can I?”
Her Papi’s chuckle interrupts whatever Shelby was going to say. “I doubt that’ll happen anytime soon. She still calls her best friend’s parents Mr. and Mrs. Klein, and they’ve known each other since before they could walk.” He steps forward then and offer his hand. “I’m Mateo.”
“I’ll get here there eventually,” Ms. Shields shakes his hand.
A hand touches her waist and Shelby jumps, turning to see Kevin suddenly next to her. She gives him a sheepish grin as a form of apology; she was so caught up in their parents meeting that she forgot her soulmate was also there. He smiles back lopsidedly before stepping away from her and towards her Papi. “I’m Kevin, sir.”
“I know who you are, Kevin. Mi hija here can’t seem to talk about anyone else lately.” It’s very obvious that he’s teasing the two teenagers by his smile and barely-restrained laughter, but Shelby feels her face getting warm anyways.
“Papi!” She hopes that her tone and eyes convey her message (please shut up please shut up) before continuing. “You wanted to talk to Ms. Shields, right? Kevin and I had plans to watch Ender’s Game.”
Taking the (very obvious) hint, her Papi nods. “I did, yes. Are you a coffee person or a tea person, Michelle? I happen to find coffee hard to swallow in the morning, but right now a warm drink sounds perfect.”
As their parents move deeper into the house and away from the teens, Shelby feels herself relaxing. “Do you think that went well?”
“I know it went well,” Kevin replies. Smoothly, he leans down (how is he so tall?) towards Shelby, who barely has time to register it before his lips are pressed against her cheek.
In the back of her head, she knows that he’s a touchy person but respectful of her boundaries. He had always waited for her signal, and if she made it clear that she was uncomfortable with something (like being picked up) he would back off and stop doing it. So, when she had kissed his cheek in school, he figured that it was okay to kiss her whenever and would proceed to do so.
The larger, louder part of her brain is currently being overwhelmed by the feeling of his lips on her skin.
As he pulls back Shelby’s brain scrambles to function and after a moment she registers the silent is this okay in his eyes. She fumbles out a nod, smiling to let him know she was okay with it.
His lopsided smile re-emerges at the reassurance. “If I know my mom, she’s gonna talk your papi’s ears off with embarrassing stories about me as a kid.”
Another thing that Shelby really appreciates about Kevin is his immediate shift to calling her Papi, well, her Papi, instead of dad or whatever. He didn’t ask any questions, just dropped “dad” from his vocabulary. It’s small, but it’s just one more thing that Kevin does almost without thought that shows how much he cares about her.
Snapping back into the conversation, Shelby chuckles. “I think Papi is gonna beat your mom in embarrassing childhood stories. He’s got tales from the Kleins snitching on what happens when I hang with--” She cuts herself off, a weird feeling overwhelming her. It passes after a moment, and she takes a shaky breath. “Sorry, I don’t know what came over me.”
“It’s fine. Want to go watch the movie?” She knows he’s changing the topic, but she’s glad he is.
Shelby just nods, leading him up to her room. Absentmindedly she holds her hand out behind her and smiles when she feels Kevin take it. She laces their fingers together by the time they reach the top of the stairs. She leads him down the hall by their linked hands and pauses at the doorframe. “Sorry it’s messy, I tried to clean before you got here…”
“Shelby, it’s fine.” Kevin cuts her off with a squeeze of their hands. “My room is loads messier. Besides, who said I was ever going to pay attention to your room?”
Her eyes furrow. “What else could you pay attention to?”
“Well, there’s the movie,” he explains, before planting another kiss on her cheek, “But there’s also you.”
Shelby tries (and fails) to resist the urge to hide her face. “You’d think after a month of this I’d be used to it,” she mumbles into his shoulder.
She feels more than hears laughter from Kevin as he moves into her room. “C’mon, it’s movie time!”
“I’ve been talking to Kaylee, you know.”
Shelby looks up in surprise, movie still playing. Kevin seems to be watching, but he obviously isn’t paying attention if he sprung that on her. Trying to keep her tone cool (ignoring the racing of her heart from how close he is and what they’re talking about), she manages to respond. “Oh?”
“She’s my other soulmate, so it felt weird not talking to her, even with how she’s been acting around us. Around you.” Shelby stays quiet, but she knows he knows she’s listening, so he continues after a beat. “I don’t bring you up, or our timers; I’m trying to get to know her as a friend. Even if I can’t have her as anything but platonic, I want her in my life, y’know?”
“When do you have time to talk to her?” Shelby asks.
Kevin answers, “we have gym together second period.”
She starts to nod, but… “Wait, you walk me to chemistry every day.”
“Chemistry and gym are on opposite sides of the school.”
“Kevin Shields,” Shelby turns, not even pretending to watch the movie anymore, “Have you been going to your class late just to walk me to my class?”
“No!” He meets her eyes, only a little sheepish. “I haven’t been late to gym yet, I promise.” He breaks eye contact for a moment, however. “... Though it’s been a close call a couple of times…”
She smacks his arm but her grin tempers the harsh move. Ignoring his joking ow, she levels a look at him. “I suppose, on account of cuteness and since you’ve been on time, I’ll let it slide… But,” she holds a finger up to pause the growth of his lopsided smile, “if you ever end up late to gym because you insist on walking me to my class that is on the opposite side of the school I am revoking your walk-Shelby-to-class privileges.”
“Deal.” He sticks his hand out jokingly. “Do we have to shake on it?”
Shelby, ignoring his hand, leans forward and places another kiss on his cheek. “No,” she hums, “I believe you.” And with that, she settles back down to watch the movie, pretending as if she didn’t move close enough to lean her head on his shoulder instead of just being next to him.
Okay, even Shelby knows that if Alyssa Greene is concerned about a personal issue that there’s something wrong.
But Alyssa has some of the worst timing known to man for delivering her concerns. For example: at the end of cheer practice, on the last day of school before thanksgiving break, right before she has to run to get picked up by her mother without getting yelled at.
(In simpler terms, now.)
“-- And I feel like I should be trying to help my two best friends who are so obviously fighting over something but Kaylee won’t tell me anything and you won’t tell me anything and Kevin seems nice but I know he’s involved with this but no one will tell me anything and I just want to help!” And finally, Alyssa seems to be done. Shelby picks up her bag and moves to the door of the locker room, prompting Alyssa to follow along. If one of them doesn’t start moving this conversation, Alyssa is going to be in trouble.
“You’re right, you don’t know what’s happening.” (That comes out harsher than intended.) “And, Lyssa, I want to tell you about everything, but it’s not my story alone, right?”
Alyssa stops walking and crosses her arms. “That has literally never stopped Kaylee before, ever.”
Okay, point. “But that’s Kaylee. I’m not Kaylee.”
Alyssa nods her head in a way that says okay, point. (Maybe she knows her friend a little too well -- and vice versa.) “But you need someone to talk to about… whatever is happening.”
“I have Kevin.” Shelby starts walking again, forcing Alyssa to move.
“And you normally have Kaylee, too, but you two are the ones in a rough spot right now.”
“Then go help Kaylee.” Shelby picks up the pace once they walk out of the building, beelining to her Papi’s car as she throws one last comment over her shoulder. “At least I have someone to talk to already; she’s dealing with this alone.”
(And that’s what hurts.)
Is this going to become a pattern? The first day back from Thanksgiving break and Shelby is, once again, cornered by Alyssa May Greene, this time with both a determined glint and an apologetic shine in her eye. The first words out of her mouth are “I’m sorry,” followed swiftly by “I’m going to help.”
“No, you’re not,” Shelby shoots down immediately. She had just sent Kevin off to Gym and the two of them are partnering up for a chemistry lab, since Emma’s sick.
“Yes, I am,” she repeats, pulling out the lab instructions and immediately frowning. “Why would we have a whole lab preparing the creation of peanut brittle if we’re just going to actually make the stuff on another day?” Before Alyssa can fall too deep into her musings about the inefficiencies of public school (which she wholeheartedly agrees with), Shelby tries once again to convince her to stay out of it.
(She should know by now that dissuading Alyssa Greene from something is as simple as politely asking a rock wall to shift over just a few inches to the left.)
“Okay, you know what’s happening now, good for you. Can’t that be enough? We’re handling it; Kevin’s getting to know her and I still see her in school.”
Alyssa levels Shelby a look that she clearly learned from her mother. “Right, you’re handling the fact that your best friend since diapers is suddenly running away from you any chance she can?”
She busies herself with reading the lab herself.
“You’re handling your hurt for suddenly losing your one constant in your life?”
She takes a few deep breaths, willing her hand to unclench from around the glass.”
“You’re handling your fear that you’ll lose her forever?”
She’s surprised that the beaker didn’t break when she all but slams it onto the lab bench in front of her, eyes stinging in held back tears. She glares at Alyssa who meets her gaze with a look that all but said I may not be her, but I know you well enough.
“Right,” she concludes, “You’re handling it.”
They stay like that for a moment, or a minute, she’s not sure how long, before Alyssa’s eyes soften. Before she can speak again, however, Shelby cuts her off. “Can we just focus on class? We’re falling behind everyone.” And with that, she looks back down at her instructions and forces every personal thought from her head. Alyssa, out of pity or the realization that the conversation was over, follows suit, and they two of them spend the rest of the class quietly working.
She doesn’t mean to go down an internet rabbit hole this time. She had genuinely planned to get a good night’s sleep because finals are coming up and cheer has a big competition soon.
It is not (entirely) her fault that she looks up from her computer screen to winter birds chirping their pre-dawn tune in the gray of a fading night, realizing that she had, indeed, been up all night looking up historical precedents to h-- Kevin’s soulmate predicament.
She only found a few public occurrences of multiple soulmates, but what confuses her is their arrangements. It never seemed to be that one person had two separate soulmates; they always seem to all three (or four, or even seven, in one case) be soulmates with each other.
A feeling rises in her. Could she and… No, that’s just her sleep deprivation talking. If that was true, she would know.
She would know if she had met a soulmate before Kevin.
Over winter break either Mrs. Greene finally loosened the reigns on Alyssa or Alyssa threatened to go public with the identity of her soulmate, and based on what Shelby is quickly learning about Alyssa it’s probably more of the latter, the fucking Slytherin.
(“Wait, you told your mom? How are you not dead, Greene?”
“She kept a tighter eye on my countdown than I did. Pretty much as soon as I was born, she made a note of my timer and before I hit one she sat down and calculated my day. Sorta like how you did, except a bunch sooner.”
“Our parents can see our timers?”
“No, not anymore. If they really concentrate, a mom or dad can see their kid’s timers, but only faintly and not after their kid’s first birthday. After that, it’s up to you to tell them.”
“Okay… so why did you tell her about Emma?”
“She ambushed me after school, wouldn’t let me go until I told her. It took, like, a week for her to reconcile the fact that my soulmate is a girl? After that we just sort of didn’t talk about it. I keep our relationship a secret, she acts like nothing is different, we’re happy.”
“I don’t know, Greene. Nobody wins in compromises.”)
In either case, Alyssa seems to be over at her house at least twice a week over break. Sometimes they don’t talk about soulmates at all, sometimes they talk about nothing but soulmates.
When Shelby isn’t at home with her Papi or Alyssa, she’s giving Kevin (and sometimes his mom) the full Edgewater Christmas experience. They went ice skating, wreath hopping (“It’s like hop scotch, but you have to be a lot more careful”), and even got to borrow the Fletcher’s tractor for some nighttime stargazing because of some favor or another that they owed her Papi.
At one point, Kevin and Alyssa both show up at her house on the same day. Normally her Papi lets whoever shows up in and entertains them until Shelby is actually presentable, but this morning she opens her front door to her soulmate and friend arguing over who gets to hang out with her today.
“Didn’t you see her yesterday, Kevin? It’s my day with her.”
“No, yesterday I was hanging out with Kaylee. Shelbs had a Papi-daughter day yesterday.”
The two seem oblivious to the girl in question standing and shivering in the doorway. Eventually, Shelby has to butt in. “If you’re going to argue over who gets my attention today, do it inside, I’m freezing my butt off.”
They both jump, obviously surprised. Alyssa sheepishly makes her way past Shelby, followed closely by Kevin who sneaks a kiss before fully entering the house.
There’s an awkward silence for all of three seconds before Shelby breaks it. “I hope neither of you planned on doing anything physical today, because I did another rabbit hole last night and am currently awake on more sleep deprivation than sleep.”
“What did you look up?” Kevin asks, and shelby has to stifle a yawn to answer.
“Started with animal languages, but it ended up with something like animal soulmates and then the first recorded soulmate timer. Did you know that your timer shows up in your native languages’s number system? That’s why your parents can’t see your timer after the first year; you finally register language and really start forming your own individuality and your timer compensates by individualizing as well.” She would have continued, but she had to stifle another yawn.
“Shelby, should we leave? You look like you need a nap.” That was Alyssa, Shelby thinks (Thinks? Their voices are very different. How is she confusing them?).
She shakes her head, hiding yet another yawn. “No, you guys can stay. Let’s hang out, all of us. We can watch a movie or something.”
If she was aware of her surroundings in any capacity, she would have seen Alyssa and Kevin exchange a look before Kevin (definitely Kevin) answers her. “Sure, Shelbs, a movie sounds great. Let’s pick it out and settle in.” She feels him steer her to the living room and onto the couch, but Shelby reaches out and stops him from leaving.
She’s too focused on getting him to cuddle to notice Kevin offer Alyssa a shrug of resignment before joining her on the couch. She ends up basically using him as a pillow and mattress, uncaring about whether or not she can see the tv at all. She faintly hears the tv comes to life with some movie or another, but her brain is too full of facts from her deep dive from last night to focus on it. She lets her mind wander through this new information, and she barely realizes she spoke until the words are out of her mouth. “You know, Kaylee and I could be soulmates too.”
Before anyone can react to this statement, Shelby fully relaxes into Kevin’s chest and lets sleep overtake her.
When Shelby wakes up again (that’s a lie, she never went to sleep that night in the first place), It’s obvious that it’s much closer to noon than it was when Alyssa and Kevin showed up.
Speaking of, she can feel Kevin breathing under her and at some point a blanket got put on them by someone. There’s a movie playing, but she’s mostly sure that it’s a different movie than the one she fell asleep to. She shifts a little, letting Kevin know that she’s awake.
“Hey there, sleepmonster.” She shifts her head to look at his face, seeing a soft smile aimed at her. “Did that nap help?”
Instead of responding, she pushes herself upwards to kiss him on the lips. She’s grown a lot more comfortable with physical expressions of affection since meeting Kevin, and will reach out for him just about as often as he reaches out to her. No matter who initiates it, however, they both tend to melt into it and forget the world exists.
Exactly that happens in this kiss, and the thought that she could get used to this only begins to flit across her mind before somewhere outside of this kiss someone clears their throat. Pulling back, she finally raises her head and looks around the room to Alyssa, whose face seems to be a mixture of emotions that Shelby is too lingeringly tired to decipher. “Alright lovebirds, please remember that you are not the only people in this house.”
Shelby can’t help but roll her eyes. “Alright, little miss prude, we’ll be good since Papi is home.”
“Actually, your Papi had to leave for some reason that roughly translates to I just realized I forgot a present and need to go to the actual mall far away to get it.” Kevin’s chest rumbles as he speaks and it takes all of Shelby’s self control to not melt right into it, especially since he started rubbing her back. “He said he was gonna be home for dinner, but he didn’t know how long it would take. We’ve got the house to ourselves for the afternoon.”
“Really?” Wow, she must have really needed that nap. Her Papi never leaves without letting her know, even if she’s asleep, and she normally feels his goodbye pats. “Huh.”
“Speaking of being alone,” Alyssa Greene, master of casual segues, speaks up. “Right before you slipped off into lala land you said something that I could not stop thinking about.”
“Full disclosure, I do not remember getting onto the couch, much less anything I might have said since we agreed to watch some movies.” As Shelby speaks a loud BANG! comes from the tv, causing everyone to remember that the film that no one is paying attention to is still playing. As Alyssa fumbles with the remote to pause it, Shelby continues. “Would anyone care to jog my memory?”
Finally pausing the movie, Alyssa shoots a look somewhere above her head (probably to Kevin) that shouts help me, but she eventually sighs. “If Kevin wanted to help, he was closer and could hear you clearer, but it looks like it’ll be up to me.”
There’s a moment of silence that Shelby really dislikes. “So?”
“You said that Kaylee could be your soulmate. Like… in addition to Kevin.”
Oh. Guess she finally vocalized it.
“You don’t look surprised,” Alyssa probes.
Shelby shrugs. “Remember when I showed up to school asleep while standing up and holding more coffee than I could feasibly finish right before that big cheer comp?” At Alyssa’s nod, she continues. “I had spent that night looking up previous public occurrences of multiple soulmates, and I found that more often than not, it was that everyone was soulmates with each other instead of one person with two soulmates who were separate.” She looks up to Kevin to find his face full of encouragement and confusion. “And when I say more often than not, I mean that Kevin seems to be the only person with that second scenario. I guess somewhere in my head I sort of internalized that with soulmates there wouldn’t be an outlier within another outlier.” Shelby finally manages to sit up, but remains in Kevin’s arms and lap. “I just- multiple soulmates is already uncommon but separate soulmates? There’s- there’s no precedent.” She starts talking faster, the dam of her thoughts finally breaking. “So it makes more sense if Kaylee and I were also soulmates, right? But our parents never indicated anything about it being possible, and Kaylee’s never shown interest in liking anything but guys, so if we were soulmates then it would probably be platonic, and that’s even worse socially--”
Before anything else can pour from her mouth, a knock sounds at her door. Shelby’s head snaps to it, and she sees Kevin look at the door as well before turning back to her. His hand, which hadn’t stopped moving over her back, gives her an encouraging pat as she moves off of him to see who was there.
(Nothing could have prepared her for what stood outside.)
Shelby, hair a mess from her nap, clothes wrinkled and obviously slept in, opens the door ready to placate whatever delivery person was stuck doing deliveries on a Saturday of all days, but anything she was going to say leaves her mind as she takes in who actually stands outside.
“Hey,” Kaylee says. “Can we talk?”
-END PART ONE-