“I now pronounce you husband and wife. Now, Nino, you may kiss the bride.”
Everyone cheers as the happy couple share their first kiss as a married couple. It’s barely even a kiss with how much Nino is smiling, but that makes it even cuter. Some of us weren’t sure if he would ever manage to drag Alya to the altar and just like everyone else, I’m clapping and smiling, happy that he finally did it. But unlike the others, I have another reason to be smiling. As I watch them walk back down the aisle, my mind travels back to the day it all began.
It’s the first day of school and five year old me is a nervous wreck. With my mother’s hand in my right and clutching a brand new sketchbook in my left, I walk with my head held as high I can handle into the room of fourteen other children. I try not to cry as my mother lets go of my hand and tells me to be brave. I’ve never been brave, she knows that. She says I’ll make lots of friends. That’s another thing I’ve never been good at.
I sit down in the circle with the other kids and distract myself by observing each of them in turn. The boy next to me is kind of big and scary, but a closer look at his grey eyes tells me that he’s kinder than he seems. The blonde boy next to him seems completely at ease, green eyes open and ready and I can’t help but feel envious of his confidence. He’s listening intently as a spikey-haired boy next to him excitedly tells him about something. From what I can hear, I think it’s about sports. Next to them is a girl who might be even more nervous than me, amber eyes downcast and long dark hair covering half her face. Maybe I can make friends with her. After her is a pink haired girl who could probably kill me with a single look from those daring blue eyes. She seems to be listening to the spikey haired boy talk about sports, but I think she’s trying to hide it. Next is a boy who seems completely oblivious to the outside world, clicking away on a calculator. Does he already know how to use that? He must be really smart. Next to him is a girl I can identify with. She has her blue eyes fixated down in her sketchbook so black hair keeps falling in her face no matter how many times she pushes it back behind her ears. I make a mental note to ask her what she’s sketching later. Watching over her shoulder is an excited girl with reddish auburn hair and warm grey eyes. That would drive me insane; I hope she doesn’t do that to everyone. Next is a sweet looking girl with blonde hair and the biggest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. I have no doubt that she’ll make friends with ease. She’s having what looks like a pleasant conversation with the girl next to her, another blonde with bright hazel eyes wearing a pink headband. Next to her is a red headed girl who seems absolutely enthralled in whatever the blonde on the other side of her is saying. The blonde’s voice is kind of annoying and she’s just going on and on about a bunch of stuff she has. That must be the girl my mother told me about, the mayor’s daughter. Another girl with long brown hair and green eyes is on her other side, listening and chiming in occasionally with comments that seem to annoy the blonde. And last is the boy in the hat right next to me, listening to music on his headphones. I’m debating tapping on his shoulder and maybe asking what he’s listening to when the teacher comes in.
“Good morning class! Welcome to the first day of school! Can we all start by saying hi? Look around the room and wave hi to everyone.” I try not to look too nervous as I wave, but making direct eye contact with so many people is one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced. None of them seem too mean, though, so at least there’s that. “Very good, everyone! I’m Madame Bustier and I’ll be your teacher for the year. How about we go around the room and—,”
Everyone turns their head as the blonde rich girl gasps, staring down at her arm. “My time stopped!” There’s some rustling around the room as others check the time on their arms.
“Mine too!” one kid says.
“And mine!” yells another.
I nervously glance at my arm. The timer is covered right now by the sleeve of my shirt. It’s been counting since the day I was born, always telling me exactly how old I am, down to the second. My mother said that it’ll stop counting when something really special happens, but I have to be patient. She showed me that hers didn’t stop counting until she was 23 years old. I always thought that it would just keep ticking for a really long time, and I’m surprised that the mayor’s daughter’s already stopped. After all, nothing really special just happened, did it? All we did was say hi.
As even more kids around the room announce that their time has stopped, I pull back my sleeve.
5 years, 223 days, 9 hours, 31 minutes, and 4 seconds.
I wait for the 4 to turn into a 5 like it always does.
Thirteen. Thirteen kids out of the fifteen that were in that class had their time stop that day. All at the moment that the teacher had us say hi.
Back then I didn’t know why it was a big deal, but I quickly found out since it was the only thing the class talked about for days. I had heard the term soulmate before then, but never really knew what it meant. I still wasn’t really sure what it meant until my time had already been stopped for seven years and Marinette was looking at me with those sparkling blue eyes.
We had been teamed up for an art project and I had finally gotten to know the twin tailed girl I had been interested in from day one. And wow, she was amazing. I had always admired her looks. When I had eventually gotten into drawing people, she had been one of the classmates I drew most often. Not because I had a crush on her or anything like that (yet), but because I just thought her features were very objectively pleasing.
But watching her tell me about fashion and seeing her so animated and bubbly, smiling with her whole heart…I was lost. That was when I knew that Marinette was my soulmate.
I want to tell her. I’m smiling and nodding as she shows me some of her sketches and all I can think is that I’m going to spend the rest of my life with her. That the rest of the thirteen can cross us off their lists because it’s me and Marinette, happily ever after.
But as I open my mouth to speak, my tongue is suddenly dry. I’m a stuttering mess as I try to so much as speak her name. She’s looking at me with those beautiful blue eyes, patient as ever, and I can’t even say it.
So we do the art project and move on, and I’m angry at myself. And I’m drawing her every day and I’m dreaming about her at night, and I’m pacing around my room, just trying to figure out how to tell her, and I…can’t.
I’m going to tell her today, I tell my 15-year-old self. I’ve spent weeks trying to make the perfect portrait of her and I’ve finally settled on the one that gets the closest to her beauty. It’s her birthday today and I’m determined. I’m going to give it to her and tell her that I like her and that I want to date her because I think she’s my soulmate. I can do it. I can do it.
The bell rings. I take the portrait out and stand up, about to walk to the front of the room where she’s getting ready to leave.
Chloé beats me to her.
“Don’t think that you’re special, just because he gave you a present.” Marinette looks up at the bully with wide eyes while Alya glares, already sensing danger.
“Adrien is just too nice not to give you a present. You aren’t special, he gives me birthday presents too.”
Marinette’s expression falls and her best friend steps forward.
“What is wrong with you, Chloé? It’s her birthday for crying out loud, can’t you give her a break for just one day?” The blonde looks at her nails with disinterest.
“I just don’t want it going to her head. He probably did it out of pity because he knows about her silly crush on him.”
I don’t hear the rest of the conversation, even if it does happen at elevated volumes, because in that moment my heart sinks. One glance at Marinette confirms the bully’s words and I’m devastated. I cry as I fall asleep that night and I wonder if I’m wrong. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe she’s meant to be with Adrien.
But the next day she greets me with a smile and I know I’m not wrong. She has a crush on Adrien, and I can’t blame her; he’s like the human embodiment of the sun. But that doesn’t mean her feelings won’t change. They will. Because I’m looking at the rest of the thirteen and I know that it isn’t them. It’s Marinette.
I give her the portrait and the joy it brings her is enough to have me smiling for days. Then she hugs me and I feel like I can fly. I think about telling her right then and there. I’m finally not stuttering around her, after all. But just because I know right now doesn’t mean she does. She still has a crush on Adrien, so I need to be patient. But that’s okay. I can wait as long as it takes. Even if that’s ten more years.
We’re finishing school and about to head our separate ways and the past three years have only made me more and more sure as time went on. Myléne and Ivan started dating fairly early on, and no one was surprised when Juleka and Rose announced that they were a couple (most of us thought they already had been for years), and Nino and Alya became official about a year ago. The list was dwindling and I still couldn’t take my eyes off Marinette.
But now I’m feeling like I’m out of time. I had been an idiot and assumed that she would always be around, that I could always wait another day before telling her, because we were soulmates and we can’t possibly say goodbye forever.
Then I found out she was going to study fashion in America.
Suddenly it’s the last day of school and my heart is racing and I don’t know how to tell her. Because we all know she’s still head over heels for Adrien and even if I know she’s wrong, she doesn’t. But why would she have a reason to think otherwise if I’ve never told her how I feel?
I’m an idiot!
And I have to tell her. I have to tell her now.
So I pick up my yearbook, ready to use it as an excuse, and I head toward the front of the room. And she greets me with a smile and asks if she can sign my yearbook before I have a chance to say anything. And my hand is shaking as I pass it to her and she hands me hers in return and my palm is sweaty as I try to remember how to use a pen. I consider confessing to her in her yearbook, but I know that would be stupid. So I write down a heartfelt note about how great she is and how I know she’s going to be famous one day, and I tell her to keep in touch just like everyone else does but I hope she’ll really do it. And I hand it back to her and she smiles at me and the words are on the tip of my tongue and I’m going to do it, I’m going to say it.
I open my mouth.
“Marinette, will you sign my yearbook?” someone asks.
And I can’t do it.
We’re two years out of school when Rose shows up at my studio and asks me on a date. Needless to say, I’m confused. We were all 100% sure she was Juleka’s soulmate.
“I found Juleka too soon,” she says. “We weren’t supposed to meet so early in life. We’re supposed to experience the world first, and learn who we are and what we want and then we’re supposed to meet our soulmates and form lasting bonds with them. But Juleka and I…we just ended up together because we knew all along and I… I never got to explore my attraction to guys.”
“So you two are on a break?”
“I guess, sort of. Or we might be broken up. I guess it sort of depends on how dating guys goes.” I watch as she stares down at the cup of tea I had given her. She studies the surface of the liquid with troubled eyes and her fingers nervously trace the rim of the mug.
“Rose.” The way her head snaps up, as if she’d forgotten I was there, confirms exactly what I’m thinking. “As honored as I am that I was your first choice of guys to date, I have to ask. Are you sure you want to go on a date?” Her frown was answer enough.
I spend the rest of the day with her, just talking and drinking tea there in the studio. She tells me about her relationship with Juleka and the way she blushes and smiles when she talks about her is enough to erase whatever doubt I might have ever had about them. I can relate to her desire to give guys a try before committing for the rest of her life, but even she knows it’s going to be Juleka at the end of it all.
She asks about me and for the first time in my life, I confess that I had been crushing on Marinette for years. Rose is bubbly and supportive just like she always is, but I can see the doubt behind her eyes. I ask for her honesty.
“It’s just…she’s so head over heels for Adrien.”
I sigh. “I know. That’s why I never said anything back in school.”
“Have you considered anyone else?”
I shrug. “I’ve glanced at the others, but nothing seems right.” Rose is pensive and there’s some silence as we both sip at our tea.
“What about Chloé?”
I nearly spit out my tea. She can’t possibly be serious. But I look up and there isn’t even the slight semblance of a smile on Rose’s face.
“She’s not that bad, you know. Have you seen her at all since leaving school?”
“No, and I don’t plan to. She was awful.”
“I’ll admit, she could be kind of mean sometimes.” I smile as I take another sip of tea. Classic Rose, unable to say anything bad about even the worst of people. “But she’s come a long way since then. I bumped into her the other day while getting coffee and she stopped and sat down with me.”
“Rose, I’m sure you’re right and she isn’t actually evil incarnate. But even still, she and I are such opposites. I can’t imagine ever getting along with her.”
Rose rolls her eyes at me. “Fine. What about Adrien?”
My back straightens up in surprise. “Adrien?”
“Yeah. You’re into guys, right?”
“Well, yeah, but…”
“Do you not think he’s cute?”
“Are you kidding? He’s literally a model.”
“And he’s super sweet.”
“Of course, the rest of the class is pretty convinced he’s Marinette’s soulmate, but hey, someone’s crush has to be wrong in this situation.”
“I guess I’ve been so busy considering him my competition that I hadn’t considered it.”
Rose smiles and lifts the cup to her lips. “Consider it.”
It’s a few months later and everyone is in the same room again for Ivan and Myléne’s wedding. They were steady this whole time, but everyone is still talking about how this means they are officially off the list.
I watch Adrien smiling and laughing across the room as he talks to Nino and I realize that I really should consider it. That’s what leads me to ask him to dance.
We laugh and stumble about the dance floor. Neither of us knows how to dance with another guy, since we were both taught how to lead. Eventually I say that I’ll follow and we settle into a nice rhythm. We talk about life and how things have been going since school. Adrien tells me that he’s working on getting a degree in physics while still keeping up his modeling career and I tell him that I’ve been working out of my own private studio for a while now. He asks if I still make comics and I can’t believe he still remembers.
“I still make them sometimes in my free time if inspiration strikes, but I’ve never been too good at the story part of it. I would need to work with a writer if I really wanted to get something going there.”
“That’s too bad. I bet you would make the best comics.” I blush at the compliment and laugh nervously.
“T-Thanks, but I’m not that good…”
“Nath.” I brought my eyes back to his again at the sudden seriousness in his tone. “You’re an amazing artist.”
I can only blink as my cheeks no doubt start to resemble my hair. “I, uh, u-um, t-thank you.”
Adrien looks away and smiles and I wonder if I’m imagining the slight dusting of blush on his cheeks. “I was always really envious of your art in school. I considered asking you to teach me how to draw a few times, but I was too nervous.”
“You were too nervous to talk to me?”
“Yeah…” his smile grows and now I’m positive I’m not imagining the blush. He even stutters a little bit as he speaks and I can’t believe it’s even possible for Adrien Agreste to get like this. “I-I kind of had a crush on you.”
My feet carry on dancing, but for at least five seconds, my mind goes completely blank. It’s as if I blacked out, but the mere glass of champagne I had definitely wouldn’t be enough for that. “Y-You did?” finally stumbles out of my mouth as thoughts start moving again.
He laughs nervously and I can’t believe how cute he is. “Yeah. I kind of still do actually.”
Adrien Agreste is blushing and nervous in front of me telling me that he likes me and the inside of my brain is just a chorus of screaming. Now I know why Rose wanted me to consider it.
“I-I—but you’re—and I’m—but—what?”
He’s still smiling, but now he looks nervous about my reaction. “Are you… Is that…okay?”
I swallow nervously, not sure if I can speak properly right now. Suddenly I’m very aware that we’re surrounded by people and it’s warm and kind of stuffy. “Want to step outside with me?”
He barely has a chance to say yes before I’m taking his hand and speed walking out to the balcony. Thankfully, there’s no one else out there and the air is clear and warm and my brain already feels a million times clearer after just one breath.
“Okay, so let me get this straight. You, Adrien Agreste, famous model, have a crush on me.
He laughs. “Nath, what is this about?”
“You’re literally a model! I’m sorry, I’m just having a hard time believing this.”
“Being a model means I can’t have crushes?”
“Not on me! I’m just…me.”
He looks at me and I know I’m blushing because wow, no one has ever looked at me like that. “Nathaniel, you’re not just anyone.”
Wow, that’s so cliché. And I’m falling for it anyway.
“So… So what does this mean?” I eventually ask. “Do you want to…date me?”
That’s when Adrien’s expression falters. He looks out at the sunset longingly and I can’t help but think how picturesque the moment is. “That’s the thing. I can’t really date anyone with my modeling career going on. My father would kill me, and even aside from that, it’s just too much drama. That’s part of why I never told you before. I just couldn’t help myself tonight,” he says as he looks at me again, quite clearly checking out my entire body, “You look so cute.” I wondered if the purple collared shirt and black vest looked as good as I thought it did. It must if it had Adrien Agreste confessing to me. “So, I can’t exactly date. Or at least, not in public…”
I blush and try not to show how much the idea of a secret relationship turns me on.
And then I say something that surprises us both.
“What are you doing tonight?”
We’ve been dating in secret for a few months when we’re both lying in bed staring at the ceiling, completely quiet and lost in our own thoughts. I’m pretty sure we’re both thinking about the same thing, but neither of us knows how to start. Eventually Adrien rolls onto his side so he’s facing me.
“Hey, Nath?” I roll onto my side to face him too. He looks so nervous, but for some reason, I’m not. It all feels so natural and clear and somehow, I feel completely calm. “I… I don’t really know how to say this. I-I really like you, and these past few months have been great, a-and…”
He trails off and I take his hand in mine, giving it a loving squeeze, and I speak the words we both know are true. “We’re not soulmates.”
He sighs and he looks so sad and I just wish I could erase that emotion from his capability. I reach out and brush some of his beautiful, soft, golden hair behind his ear.
“I really like you,” he says. I smile.
“I really like you.”
“But it’s just not right.”
“We’re just not meant to be.”
He looks like he might cry. I wonder when the urge will hit me. I’m sure it will once I’m alone, but right now it’s so far from me I wonder if I’m in some sort of denial. I try to cheer him up as I continue to comb my fingers through his hair. “This doesn’t have to be sad, Adrien. So we’re not soulmates. That’s okay. That means that we’re both going to find something that’s even better than this. And this…is pretty great. We don’t have to remember it as anything less.” He smiles through the pain.
“I don’t want to keep wondering who it is,” he eventually says. I laugh.
I sigh and roll onto my back again. I take up his hand again though, not quite ready to let it go. “I dunno, man. You?”
“I guess I could actually take up Chloé on one of her endless offers.”
“Ew,” slips out of my mouth before I can stop it. He playfully slaps me.
“Stop it, she’s not that bad.”
“Rose said that too, but I’m yet to be convinced.”
“Have you talked to her since school ended?”
“Well that’s why.” I turn my head to look at him. He’s staring up at the ceiling again.
“Would you really date her?”
He sighs. “I don’t know. She decided I was her soulmate on day one for no other reason than because we were both rich and it made sense. Our moms became friends, so we started seeing each other outside of school and I was able to really be friends with her, but… I don’t know. It’s just hard to consider after spending so long rebuffing her advances.” He chuckled. “Maybe you should date Chloé.”
I smack him with a pillow and he laughs and I wish he was my soulmate so I could share moments like this with him forever. “Rose said that too. What is with you two?”
His laughter trickles out as he speaks again. “I don’t know, I can kind of see it. She really isn’t what you think. She was handed everything her whole life, so going to school and dealing with people that weren’t just going to give her whatever she wanted was pretty new to her. Obviously she didn’t deal with it very well. But she’s never been a horrible person underneath, and she’s learned a lot after entering the business world.”
“Yeah, you didn’t know? She’s studying business and plans to inherit the hotel from her father.”
“Huh, well that’s cool. I’m still not interested in her though. She once said that she likes pineapple on pizza.” Adrien laughs again and my heart aches with how much I want to love him.
“Fair enough,” he says. “What about Alix?”
“I mean, maybe? She’s ace though, and as you’ve seen, sex is pretty important for me.” Adrien chuckles at that.
“That’s certainly true. It’d be a shame for your body to go to waste anyway.” At that he grins and winks and somehow he still has me blushing.
“Which means you shouldn’t date Alix either,” I shoot back. I won’t try to wink. We both know I’m terrible at it. He laughs.
“We all know she’s going to end up with Kim anyway. Well. We all, except Kim.”
“Don’t forget Max,” I add.
“Do you think Max and Alix are also soulmates? Or is it just Kim and Max and Alix and Kim?”
“I don’t really know. They definitely get along well, but I’m not sure there’s any romance there. Should ask next time we see them.”
“Well,” Adrien interjects, “this is all assuming they’re Kim’s soulmates.”
“Oh don’t worry, Max knows that already and I wouldn’t be surprised if Alix did too.”
“He does? But doesn’t Kim still think it’s Chloé?”
I laugh as I answer him. “Yeah, you should watch Max’s face whenever Kim mentions it. The guy is patient, I’ll give him that.”
Adrien chuckles. “Imagine that. Knowing who your soulmate is and having to wait for them to realize it.” I have to tell myself not to mention Marinette. It’s not like I wouldn’t tell Adrien about my crush on her. It’s that telling him would also involve outing her crush on him, and that’s something I won’t do to her. I’m not sure I want to start thinking about her again yet anyway. Having her out of my mind for the last few months has been really nice and I’m not ready to let it go yet. “Meanwhile I’m over here wishing it were my boyfriend,” he continues, tone suddenly somber. Somehow we’re facing each other again and he’s looking at me with those gorgeous green eyes that are sparkling so bright in the aftermath of so many emotions.
I scoot forward and kiss him, letting myself enjoy the feeling of his lips gliding against mine. In that moment, I don’t care if we aren’t soulmates. I’ve loved every moment I’ve spent with him. I’ve loved every kiss, every touch, every everything.
He kisses me back, pressing his lips against mind and opening his mouth just enough to slip his tongue through. His hand connects with my waist and he draws me to him, leaning forward until I’m on my back underneath him. “Is this okay?” he asks, voice barely above a whisper. “Even if we’re not soulmates?”
I hook my arms around his neck and look into his pretty green eyes. “I’m okay with it if you are.”
And then he kisses me and it’s so sweet but so so bitter.
Juleka and Rose are one of the most aesthetically pleasing couples to exist as they stand at the altar in their personalized white dresses. Juleka’s is elegant and perfectly suited for her with beautifully patterned lace stretching across her shoulders, a simple form fitting shape, and a long train trailing behind her. Rose’s, on the other hand, looks like a summer dress with no straps and a skirt that cuts off mid-calf and flutters every time she moves. They look absolutely stunning and I decide right then and there that I want to paint a portrait of this moment and send it to them as an additional wedding gift.
A few years have passed since their brief time apart (they had gotten back together less than a week after my “date” with Rose), and now two more are “officially off the list” as Alya puts it. She and Nino are going on five years, but when asked she still acts as if anyone could be her soulmate. Nino just rolls his eyes and pulls her into a kiss. We all know they’re off the list, even if she’ll never “officially” admit it.
Marinette smiles when she sees me from across the reception hall. We haven’t seen each other since she got back from America. She leaves again in a few weeks to start her final year of school, and while in the past we’ve always managed to have lunch or something whenever she’s back, we’ve both just been so busy that we haven’t been able to this time.
She walks up and hugs me and I know I’m not over her. I may not be a blushing mess around her anymore, but she’s still so beautiful and talented and smart and just overall amazing and wow, I really think she’s my soulmate.
“A rare sighting of the elusive Nathaniel Kurtzberg!” she remarks with a smile. “I’m so glad to see you!”
“Me? You’re the one who disappears to another continent for nine months every year.”
She giggles. “You got me there. Want to dance with me?”
“Sure!” I say, and I have to remind myself that Marinette is a social butterfly. She acts like this with everyone and always wears that infectious smile and I can’t let it get to my head. She may be my soulmate, but I’m done trying to tell her for now. It would be useless to start something and then have her leave again.
Marinette and I fall into a rhythm dancing and she strikes up a conversation by asking what I’ve been up to. I tell her about my studio and how I may not be making a fortune but I’m still making plenty and I’m loving what I do. I ask her about school and she says it’s tough but a lot of fun. She says she’s learned so much about designing and about the business of fashion and she can’t wait to officially enter the fashion world in a year. She’s already got an internship lined up with Gabriel when she graduates and she couldn’t be more excited. I tell her I would expect no less than an internship at one of the best and most selective fashion lines from her. She’s truly such a talented person and I know she’s going to go far with her designs. She giggles and thanks me, then starts picking my brain about the commissions I’ve had going lately.
Speaking with Marinette just flows so smoothly I can hardly believe I’m half of the conversation. With anyone else there are lulls and pauses and awkward instances of talking over each other or talking about the weather because it’s so impossible to think of anything else to say. But with Marinette everything is just so natural. I wonder if she’s like this with everyone or if it’s just me. I want to believe it’s just me and take it as another sign that we’re soulmates, but I’m pretty sure I know better. She’s just one of those people. One of those people who just manage to get along with everyone—kind of like Rose, but without the blind optimism. She’s just so sweet and supportive and perfect that it’s absolutely impossible to hate her. The only person I’d ever heard of hating her was Chloé and that was just because she was jealous. It might have even been because Chloé herself had a crush on Marinette. I wouldn’t be surprised. Looking at her beautiful smiling face I can’t imagine a person who wouldn’t fall for her.
At the end of the night, Marinette and I part ways again and I still haven’t told her, but I’m okay with that. I tell myself that I’m waiting until next summer when she’s back for good. Once she’s officially back in France, that’s when I’ll tell her.
The Gabriel internship sends her to America since she’s already familiar with it. I keep in touch with her of course, but I can’t tell her.
Twenty years have passed since the day that thirteen kids’ time stopped and two of them are finally getting married. As everyone gathers before the ceremony, I keep an eye out for Marinette.
“The wedding marks my official move back to France!” she had announced a month prior. After interning with Gabriel in America for years, Marinette finally managed to break out into the fashion world and she’s going to be working alongside (rather than underneath) Gabriel now, in Paris.
Which means Marinette is officially back in France tonight and I am determined to tell her. A familiar head of pink hair catches my attention and I smile and wave as Alix approaches with Max and Kim following behind.
“What’s up, Nath, long time no see!” she says as she hugs me.
“And whose fault is that, Star Skater Kubdel?” She grins and scratches the back of her head, only a little bit modest. Last he heard, she was having companies grovel at her feet begging to sponsor her.
“Nathaniel!” Kim exclaims as he catches up. “Dude, I’ve got great news! I’m going to the Summer Olympics running for France!”
“Wow!” I respond, breathless. I can’t believe I actually know and went to school with a real life Olympian. Of course, knowing Kim I really should have expected that.
“There’s some more news too, Kim,” Alix says, rolling her eyes.
“Hi Nathaniel,” Max says as he walks up and hugs me.
“Oh yeah,” Kim says, “And Alix got sponsored by Gatorade!”
She smiles and rubs her arm. “Well yeah, but that’s not what I was talking about.”
“Oh! And Max signed a contract to work on the next Ultimate Mecha Strike game!”
“That’s true too, but I don’t think that’s what she’s talking about either.”
Kim pauses and looks back and forth between the two of them for a moment. They both look at him with an eyebrow raised and I’m pretty sure I know what the news is before even he does.
“OH!” he finally exclaims. He grins from ear to ear as he throws an arm around each of them. “And we’re dating!!”
I smile as I’m pulled into a group hug. “That’s so great, you guys! I was wondering how long it would take.”
Alix gives me a confused look as I pull away. “What, you mean you knew?”
“Yeah, didn’t you?”
“I did,” Max says, pushing up his glasses. “It was easy to calculate after Juleka and Rose were announced since the chances of Kim being with us by random chance increased from—,”
“Wait wait wait,” Kim interrupts. “You’ve known since the JuleRose wedding?”
“Actually, I was talking about when they became a couple back in school.”
“You’ve known that long and you didn’t tell us??” Alix asks, bewildered.
“I assumed that you knew,” he says to her. “And he was too hung up on Chloé.”
“It’s true, I was clueless. Couldn’t see that I had everything I needed right here.” He pulls them both toward him and the two smile bashfully. “So when are you going to make it official with Chloé, man?”
I blink at him. Isn’t there anyone who doesn’t think it’s her?
“Nathaniel has to wait because his current chances of rejection are high since Chloé still believes her soulmate is Adrien,” Max chimes in. He’s obviously wrong in his reasoning, but I’m glad to have the excuse anyway. I won’t have to keep having this argument after tonight anyway. Because I’m finally going to tell Marinette and it’s going to be perfect.
I was already determined, but learning about Kim, Max, and Alix strengthens my resolve. The list is officially down to four and I’m more certain than ever that Marinette is my soulmate.
I’m going to tell her.
After the ceremony, the reception hall is alive with energy and loud music. Alya managed to convince Nino not to DJ his own damn wedding, but he still insisted that it be an awesome party, and he was not disappointed. I laugh to myself as I take a sip of champagne and watch the happy couple go wild on the dance floor. Alya is laughing at Nino’s dorky dancing and pretending she’s embarrassed by him. I smile even wider as Adrien jumps in and joins Nino in looking like an idiot even though I know he can dance better than that.
So I guess he’s with Chloé then. He doesn’t talk about his dating life whenever we get together these days, but Chloé comes up in conversation every once in a while and he’s always telling me about how great she is. Even though I don’t talk to her directly, I now know a lot about her life nowadays, like how she’s had a lot of success in business and how the hotel is stressing her out but she loves it nonetheless. Hell, I even know about the bad meeting she had with the linens supplier last week. After hearing it so much, I can only accept now that she really is a good person and I’m even starting to think about reaching out to her soon to maybe be friends or something. She’s the only person of the thirteen that I don’t talk to, and it just feels kind of wrong.
I hope she makes Adrien happy. I’m sure she will. They wouldn’t be soulmates otherwise. But I can’t help but be wary. That beautiful man deserves nothing less than the best.
Across the room I spot Marinette having an animated conversation with Kim. Suddenly she’s smiling even brighter and she leaps forward to give him a hug. I can only assume that he told her about the relationship. Unless of course she got that happy over the Olympics announcement. It’s always possible—that is amazing news—but I’m pretty sure a reaction like that would have come from former. I drink the last of my champagne as Kim gets dragged away by his partners to go dance. Now’s my chance.
I’m going to tell her.
Marinette greets me warmly as I approach her, smiling and pulling me into a hug. “Nath, it’s so great to see you!”
“Hey, Marinette! You look great!” I mean it. Her bridesmaid dress is a lovely sheer pink that perfectly complements her figure.
“Thank you, I made it myself,” she says with a sly smile. I had had my suspicions.
“Did you make Alya’s dress too? She looks spectacular.”
“You really think so?” she says with a smile, turning to look at her best friend. She’s managed to pull Nino into a slow dance for the moment and the two are smiling like idiots at each other. “Gabriel and I designed it together.”
My eyes go wide and I stare at her in absolute bewilderment. “Alya is wearing a Gabriel/Marinette original? Didn’t that cost a fortune?”
She smiles at me. “It’s Adrien’s wedding gift to them. The only catch is that their wedding pictures have to be featured in a Gabriel ad, but they didn’t seem to mind.”
“Wow, Marinette, that’s…incredible. You’re incredible.” She blushes and smiles, rubbing her arm nervously as her dazzling blue eyes fixate on her shoes. I take a deep breath. I’m not scared. This is the moment. “Marinette.” She looks up at me with curious eyes, noting the change in my tone. “I think you’re my soulmate.”
The moment the words are out of my mouth I feel the weight of twenty years of silence lift from my shoulders. I am suddenly as light as a feather, I feel like I can dance on the wind…for about two seconds. Because that is how long it takes for her expression to betray everything. Two seconds is all it takes for me to know what she’s about to say.
“Nath…” She glances around nervously and I’m not sure I can feel my heart beating anymore. It must be since I’m still standing there staring at her, but if someone were to ask, I would tell them that my soul had completely vacated my body. I vaguely register Marinette taking my arm and leading me away from earshot of the other wedding guests. “We’ve been keeping it under wraps because of publicity, but—,”
“You’re with Adrien.” She squeezes her lips together in a genuine look of sorrow. She feels bad. Bad for me. Because she’s rejecting me? Or maybe because of what this means for me. Because if she isn’t my soulmate, and Adrien isn’t my soulmate, then…
Nope, I was wrong. Now my soul has left my body.
“Nath, I-I’m sorry, I would have told you sooner, it’s just that with the press always on him, and me trying to make a name for myself in the fashion world…”
I muster up a smile for her. It isn’t fake, really. Sure, I don’t exactly feel like smiling, but that doesn’t mean I’m not happy for her. And him. A designer and a model. A match made in Heaven, really. And besides, everyone had known she’s had a crush on him for years, including me. I was just the only one who refused to believe it was meant to be even when it was clear to everyone else.
Well, almost everyone.
“It’s okay, Marinette. I completely understand. And don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.” I pause, then add, “And congratulations.” And I mean it. I really do. Because like I said earlier, Adrien deserves nothing less than the best. And so does Marinette for that matter.
She smiles gratefully, but I can see the pity in her eyes. I had spent over a decade memorizing every little feature of that face so that I could draw it a million times, and now the sight of it is breaking my heart.
I hug her and tell her that she’d better make Adrien happy, and that makes her giggle. Then I walk away, and I wonder if I should leave. I’m not really in a celebratory mood. Should I say bye to Adrien first? Come to think of it, I didn’t say hi to him yet. I didn’t get a chance to.
Why didn’t he tell me about him and Marinette?
I slow to a stop as I see Adrien up ahead talking to Chloé. She has short hair now and it’s an even better look on her than the long hair was. She smiles at him, but I can see her heart breaking.
Suddenly I understand why I know about her linens meeting.
Adrien hasn’t been telling me all these details about Chloé because he loves her. He’s been telling me about her because he wants me to love her.
Adrien walks away and Chloé sits down and puts her head in her hands. I briefly wonder if she’s crying, but if I know anything about Chloé Bourgeois, it’s that she would never cry in public.
I’m not thinking about what I’m doing anymore. Instead, I just let whatever happens happen.
I approach her table and hold out a hand. “Would you like to dance?”
Chloé picks up her head and looks at me in surprise. Then understanding dawns and she just looks at me with a bitter sort of sorrow.
“Nathaniel,” she begins, and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard her say my name in a non-insulting manner, “Be honest. Would you even spare me a second glance if you didn’t know?”
“Would you?” She looks down at the floor and I drop my hand. Maybe I should walk away. Maybe we’re not ready for this yet. Maybe we’ll never be ready for it.
Never ready to be soulmates.
“This is so fucked up,” I mutter, pushing my fingers through my hair. The comment was mostly to myself, but she shakes with a small huff of laughter.
“No shit, Sherlock.”
“It’s not supposed to happen like this,” I say, taking the empty seat next to her. “We got stuck in some freak circumstance with our class and it completely screwed up the way this is supposed to work! You’re not supposed to meet your soulmate along with twelve other people when you’re five years old. It’s supposed to happen when you’re older and ready, and you bump into each other on the street as random strangers and your time stops and you look at them and you think—,” I look at her then, and she looks at me. She really is a gorgeous woman, with perfectly smooth blonde hair and bright blue eyes that shine like the sky on a clear summer day. She’s looking at me, awaiting my words, and I can’t stop admiring her lightly tanned skin and her flawless cheekbones. I remember my words and suddenly they feel more genuine, “—wow. This beautiful person is my soulmate, and I get to spend the rest of my life falling in love with them.”
Her gaze holds mind for a few more seconds before I look away, unable to handle such a level of intimate eye contact with her right now. “But we didn’t get that. We got a class full of possibilities and rejections and confusion. And now…here we are.” She looks away and I follow her gaze to see Adrien and Marinette on the dance floor, smiling and looking absolutely perfect together. “This is obviously far from ideal, but I do want to at least be friends with you. We have to start somewhere.”
We sit there for a few minutes and just watch everyone dance. The entire thirteen are there, except us. Ivan and Myléne are looking at each other as lovingly as they did back in school and I smile because I’m glad they haven’t lost even an ounce of their warmth. Rose and Juleka are laughing as Kim bursts into their dance and Alix and Max attempt to contain him. Alya and Nino watch the others, whispering in each other’s ears and laughing to themselves. And Marinette and Adrien…look like the definition of perfection.
Finally, Chloé stands up, and I wonder if she’s leaving. She runs her hands down her dress—an elegant, deep blue, form fitting gown that looks amazing on her—to smooth out any wrinkles, and then turns to me, offering me her hand. “Well? Are we going to dance or what?”
I smile and take her hand and as she leads me to the dance floor I feel a little less sad.
After all, this isn’t the end. This is the beginning.
Two years later, Chloé is my date to Adrien and Marinette’s wedding.
A year after that, she’s my wife.