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Needle in a Haystack

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Simon is eight years old when his dad takes him out to the garden one sunny Saturday in June. Jack Spier turns him so that their backs are to the sun.

“This is North,” he whispers, like he’s telling Simon a huge secret. “If you face North, then you can tell exactly which direction your soulmate is.” Simon holds out his right hand, palm up, and looks at the compass on his wrist. The needle, which is a sunny yellow, points behind them and a little to the right. Simon spins around, peering in that direction.

Jack Spier laughs and turns him gently back to the North. “The needle doesn’t tell you how far away they are, only that they’re there.” He runs a finger over Simon’s compass. “It looked like she lives south-east of here. Hey, maybe she’s a mermaid!”

Simon looks up at his dad. He thinks that he’s joking, but Simon doesn’t want his soulmate to be a mermaid. He turns over his dad’s hand and examines the compass stained there. It looks like a tattoo or a birthmark, but Simon knows that it’s much more special than that. The needle points towards their house, where Simon knows his mom is inside, probably playing hide and seek with Nora and Alice.

Simon knows a lot about compasses from watching his parents. He knows that whenever they hold hands during a movie, their needles spin so fast it’s almost a blur. He knows that his mom’s left handed, and that’s why her compass is on her left wrist. He knows that his mom’s favourite colour is lilac because it’s the colour of his dad’s needle. He knows that his dad’s favourite colour is green, and his favourite colour changed when he met his soulmate because that’s the colour of Simon’s mom’s eyes.

He knows that some soulmates aren’t as lucky as his parents. He knows this because his mom is a soulmate counsellor. He knows that she’s not allowed to talk about her patients, but, sometimes, she’ll come home from work and hug Simon’s dad for a really long time. Sometimes, she even cries.

Simon hates seeing his mom cry.

Simon stays up past his bedtime that night and, when the house is quiet, he creeps downstairs and goes back out into the garden. He stands in the middle of the lawn and turns so that the needle on his wrist is pointing straight up.

He’s looking towards his soulmate. Somewhere, a mile away or a thousand miles away, Simon’s soulmate exists. He doesn’t know how long he stands there, but eventually he goes back to bed.

The next night, after everyone’s asleep, Simon sneaks back downstairs and outside. He does it the night after that as well.

***

Simon is twelve years old when he first hears the word ‘gay’. He thinks that it must be a bad thing, because of how his teacher says it. He’s confused when he finds out it means a boy that loves another boy. He had no idea that was a bad thing.

There’s a protest outside the school the next day. Ethan, a boy in Simon’s class that he’s never spoken to, is hiding behind a tall man who must be his dad, while the tall man screams at the principal.

Miss Fergus, Simon’s teacher, is screaming on the other side. She says that “homosexuality is perverted and against her religion.” Nick giggles and elbows Simon in the side when Miss Fergus says ‘sex’. Simon doesn’t think it’s funny.

Miss Fergus doesn’t teach them that day. She doesn’t teach them ever again. Simon’s secretly glad about it. Miss Fergus protests outside their school for months with a small crowd from her church and they scare Simon.

Their new teacher is a man. Mr Ferreras. He’s left handed, like Simon’s mom, but he doesn’t have a compass on that wrist. Some of the children call him Mr Ferrari by mistake and he doesn’t mind. He even laughs with them. He’s got grey hair and his whole face wrinkles up when he laughs.

Simon approaches him after school one day, when his curiosity gets the better of him. He asks if he can ask a question and says that Mr Ferreras doesn’t have to answer. He smiles and says he’ll try his best.

“Where’s your compass, Mr Ferreras?”

He sighs like he knows that question is coming. “Why do you ask, Simon?”

He tells him about his mom and her job and her left hand and he even shows Mr Ferreras his own compass, which is pointing ever-dutifully south-east.

Mr Ferreras tells Simon to pull up a seat.

“I’m not left-handed, Simon. Or, at least, I wasn’t. My compass used to be on my right hand.” He gestures to his other wrist. The one that he keeps covered with his cuffs and his sleeves no matter how warm it is outside.

“Used to be?”

Mr Ferreras opens his cuff and folds it back. He turns over his hand and Simon gasps. He knows where Mr Ferreras’s compass should be, and it’s right where that black ugly scar is now.

“This is what they used to do to men whose soulmates were other men. It was made illegal in the 70’s. People like your old teacher Miss Fergus still believe it should be done. They think that soulmates only count are when a man’s soulmate is a woman and a woman’s is a man. After they did this, my hand hurt too much to write with it.” He flexes his fingers. Simon’s not sure if he’s still in pain or just remembering the pain that used to be there.

Simon looks down at his own compass and tries to imagine it not being there. He imagines walking down to his back garden at night and not knowing where to look. He thinks he might cry.

“Mr Ferreras?”

“Yes, Simon.”

“I don’t want my soulmate to be a girl.” He thinks about his dad, about his presumption that Simon’s needle points to a ‘she’, about his jokes about mermaids. He thinks about Miss Fergus, probably still standing outside, who wants to hurt people like Ethan (and maybe Simon), for being “gay”. He thinks about the black mark on Mr Ferreras’s wrist.

Mr Ferreras is smiling at him when he finally looks up, but there’s a sadness to it. “Thank you for telling me, Simon. Your secret is safe with me.”

That night, Simon goes downstairs and looks south-east, like he always does. It’s after midnight and there’s no one around, so Simon lets himself cry.

***

Simon is almost fifteen years old, and due to start high school in a week, when his needle moves.

He doesn’t even notice it at first, but, that night, he goes into the back garden and realises that the needle doesn’t point south-east anymore. Now, it’s pointing west.

Simon looks west. It’s summer, so it’s dark out, but only just. The sky is still glowing a little purple from where the sun has just gone down. Simon wants to run towards it. He wants to run west and not stop until he’s found his soulmate.

Instead, he watches the end of the sunset, until the night is jet black and full of stars, and goes to bed.

When school finally starts, and Simon begins to walk the halls of a strange new building full of strange new people, his needle starts going crazy. Whenever the bell rings and people start moving from one class to another, it jumps around, pointing this way and that. The high school is so much bigger than his middle school; in fact, three middle schools from the surrounding area all fed into one high school. Simon’s soulmate could be someone from either of the schools that weren’t his own. Or they could be one of the new kids who moved to Atlanta over the summer.

Simon’s too scared to go looking for them. If his soulmate is a boy, then he’ll have to deal with people like Miss Fergus, and with disappointing his dad. And if his soulmate is a girl… Simon doesn’t know what he’ll do if his soulmate is a girl.

So, he ignores the needle during the day. And, eventually, he stops going outside to watch the sun set in the west.

***

Simon is sixteen years old and it’s September of his junior year of high school, when someone anonymously comes out on the school’s gossip site. He signs his name ‘Blue’.

The comments underneath the post all joke that there’s finally someone for Ethan to date, or that ‘everyone knows you’re gay already, Ethan’. Simon doesn’t really understand why the only possibilities are that it’s Ethan himself or someone for Ethan to date. Can’t the school have more than one gay student? And can’t they not be romantically involved?

There’s an email address attached to the post. Simon, without really thinking about it, opens a new tab on his browser, creates a new email address and types Blue’s address into the recipient bar.

Then, he stops. He stares at the computer screen. He hasn’t had this little of an idea what to say since the English essay he wrote last year on To Kill a Mockingbird. It took him six hours to write the first paragraph for that essay. By the time Simon goes to bed, it’s already been eight, and he still hasn’t sent it.

The next day is Saturday and Simon spends the whole day curled up in his room trying to write this damn email. He told himself that he didn’t know why it mattered so much. But, really, he knew why it did.

Eventually, he sends something. It’s stupid, and he hates it and himself as soon as he’s sent it, but it’s gone. He slams the laptop shut and tries to spend the day doing something distracting. He ends up painting the garden shed with his dad. By dinnertime, Simon’s been laughing so hard and having so much fun that he hasn’t thought about Blue for hours.

After dinner, he goes back upstairs and tentatively opens his laptop. There’s a reply from Blue. Simon’s heart soars. He reads it and hits reply. Simon stays up until three in the morning emailing Blue.

***

Simon is seventeen years old, as of yesterday, and blue is his favourite colour. Blue has always been his favourite colour. Not because it’s a ‘boy’ colour, but because it reminds him of the picnics that his family went on together where they’d lie in the grass after they ate and look for oddly-shaped clouds.

So when Blue tells him that he chose his pen-name because of the colour of his needle, Simon’s heart drops out of his ass and through the floor.

He tried to tell himself that it didn’t mean anything. But it did. Simon’s needle was always active at school. Therefore, his soulmate went to Creekwood High. Blue was also a student at Creekwood High whose soulmate’s favourite colour was blue. What were the odds?

No, seriously. Because Simon thinks that there’s no way this could all be a giant coincidence and unless the odds of something like that happening are very high, he’s going to get his hopes up.

He asks Blue what his favourite colour is. It’s a very intimate question. Simon thinks he’s crossed a line because Blue doesn’t reply for three days. When he finally does, Simon nearly cries. And then, when he sees Blue’s one word answer, he actually does cry.

Yellow.

Simon stops replying to the emails with ‘Jacques’ and starts using ‘Jaune’ instead. Blue doesn’t ask what colour Simon’s needle is. He doesn’t need to. They both know.

***

Simon is seventeen years and one month old and Christmas is coming up. He knows that Blue is Jewish but he still wishes he could get him something, just as a token. But he wouldn’t even know who to send it to if he got something.

Then, Blue gives him the best Christmas present he could have asked for. On Christmas Eve, Simon receives an email signed ‘love, Blue’.

He, of course, writes back with ‘love, Jaune’.

That night, he wraps up absurdly warm because it’s almost freezing, and sits outside watching the sunset, his needle pointing directly at the disappearing sun. It’s not late, because it’s almost mid-winter and the sun sets pretty early, so he gets strange looks from his family when he finally comes back in. He smiles at them and waves one gloved hand and goes upstairs to have a warm shower.

***

Simon is seventeen years and two months old and it’s Bram’s birthday today. Leah brought in the usual chocolate sheet cake and Garrett stands up on the bench and waves his arms around as if he’s conducting as the whole cafeteria sings happy birthday. Bram is going redder than Simon’s ever seen him (and that’s saying a lot, since Bram is pretty shy and almost always blushing).

He runs his right hand through his hair and his long sleeve falls a little way down his arm. Simon’s eyes are drawn to his compass. He can’t help himself. He’s expecting the needle to be a soft pink — Bram will probably end up with a soft-spoken woman who blushes as much as he does whose favourite colour is a stereotype of her gender.

But the needle isn’t pink. It’s sky blue and it’s pointing right at him.

Simon almost throws up and runs to the bathroom. Then, he does actually throw up. He sits on the floor of the stall and shivers as his body temperature swings wildly from far too hot to unbearably cold.

He thinks back on every interaction he’s ever had with Bram Greenfeld. Bram sits directly in front of him in English, and Simon’s always tried to ignore the fact that his needle points straight ahead in that class, convincing himself that it was someone in the floor below or the next classroom over.

He remembers the day that he and Nick talked to Bram at his locker (well, Nick talked, Simon tried not to stare) and he noticed that the poem by William Wordsworth about clouds and daffodils was stuck up inside his locker.

And, just as he thinks he’s driving himself completely crazy on coincidences, he realises that today’s date, 1-18, was the date on Blue’s email address.

Simon throws up again.

It won’t be long before Simon’s friends come looking for him. Simon isn’t one to turn down cake and he ran out of the cafeteria like his ass was on fire. But Simon isn’t ready to face them. So he goes to the school nurse and she lets him go home.

He gets into his car and sends an apology text to his group-chat with Nick, Abby and Leah; they’ll have to find their own way home this afternoon.

Almost as soon as he’s sent the message, he receives worried replies from his wonderful friends. He assures them that he’s fine, tells them that he threw up (”probably because I ate something funny”) and he’s going to go home and sleep it off. Leah tells him that she’s saved a slice of cake for him and she’ll pop over later with it. Simon loves them all so damn much it hurts.

No one is home when Simon pulls into the driveway. He’s relieved. He goes upstairs to his bedroom and lays back on the bed, staring at his wrist. The needle is pointing north. Towards the high school. Not that that’s a surprise to him.

He opens his laptop and creates a new email addressed to Blue. He doesn’t respond to Blue’s previous email. He asks one simple question. He knows that the answer will change everything. He’s not ready but he can’t go on not knowing.

Is today your birthday?
Love, Jaune

The wait for a reply is agony. Simon runs to the bathroom twice more and retches into the toilet bowl but nothing comes up. His stomach is as empty as he feels. Simon tries to work on homework, tries to watch a Harry Potter film, tries to eat something, but he can’t do any of it. Eventually, he gives up and goes to bed. Bieber comes snuffling up onto the bed and lays down beside him. Simon’s parents would kill him if they knew he let Bieber stay on the bed, but he really needs the warmth of another living being right now. One who won’t ask him what’s wrong and expect him to be able to formulate an answer.
His laptop dings. He’s turned off all notifications except for his anonymous email, because he doesn’t want any false alarms, so he knows that this can only be one thing; Blue’s reply.

Yes.
Was I too obvious putting it in my email address?
Love, Blue

Please tell me if I’m wrong.
I don’t want you to be disappointed if I’m wrong.
But… If you are who I think you are, I saw your compass today.
It was blue and pointing right at me.
Bram Greenfeld?

Simon doesn’t sign his name, or any name, and doesn’t even notice. He’s too nervous. He leaves his laptop open, refreshing the webpage every twenty seconds.

When dinner time rolls around, he’s still lying on his bed, pressing F5 like a man driven mad with desperation.

Bieber has left him at this point, and his mom comes up and sits on the bed of his bed. “Are you alright, love?”

Simon nods. “Everything’s fine.”

Emily Spier places her hand on Simon’s ankle. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. I’m just worried about you. You’ve been so withdrawn these past few months and I…” Emily clears her throat. “I miss you, Simon. I want you to be able to come to me.”

Simon sits up. “I’m not fine.” He stops, waits to see if his mom will prod him, but she’s a therapist, so she probably won’t. She doesn’t. She watches him, not scrutinising, just looking, fondly, waiting for him to continue. “I think I know who my soulmate is.”

It’s moments like this that Simon is glad that his mom does what she does. She doesn’t react like most people would, with congratulations and well-wishes. She squeezes Simon’s ankle comfortingly. “Do you want to tell me more?”

Suddenly, Simon realises that he wants to tell his mom everything. He throws his arms around her and buries his face in her neck and tells her about his night-time wanders, Mr Ferreras, Blue and the emails, Bram at school and the compass on his wrist. He tells her everything up until this afternoon, when he sent an email to Blue asking if he was Bram.

By the time he’s finished speaking, Emily Spier is holding him more tightly than he’s ever been held before. “I love you,” She whispers into the silence. “I love you so much and I’m so proud of you. I’m sorry you had to go through this alone. But you don’t anymore. You can exhale, now, Simon.”

And he does. And then suddenly he’s sobbing into her shoulder and getting snot all over her blouse. She holds him and holds him and holds him.

He doesn’t know how long they sit like that. It could have been an hour. Simon is a little surprised that no one comes in to check on them, but he’s thankful that they don’t. He tells his mom that he feels a little guilty about reacting so badly.

She smiles at him. “Finding your soulmate isn’t like the movies, Simon. It’s messy and painful and sometimes there isn’t the happiness that you expect at the end of it. The worst part about my job is imagining that my darling children will end up in relationships like my patients’. I want you all to be so deliriously happy that it makes the whole world a little brighter.”

Simon huffs. “I don’t think I’m going to have that with Bram. Or Blue.”

Emily kisses the top of his head. “You think it was always plain sailing for me and your father? Maybe I should have told you all this story earlier, so that you didn’t think everything had to be perfect right away.”

***

Emily Matthews sat in the front row of the chemistry lab, next to an empty seat.

“Matthews, you can’t do this work without a partner for the simple reason that you can’t hold three test tubes at the same time,” Dr Emerson almost-shouted.

A ripple of giggles went around the class. Emily glanced around. No one made eye-contact with her. “I have to try, sir, no one wants to work with me.”

“Spier! Mason! Stop contaminating my lab! How many times have I had to tell you that you cannot make out in a room containing toxic chemicals!” Dr Emerson bellowed.

“Mason, come up here and work with Miss Matthews.”

Veronica Mason groaned and slumped to the front of the lab and into the seat beside Emily.

“Hi,” Emily whispered.

“Oh, shut it, square. Let’s just do the stupid lab and I can get back to my boyfriend.”

Emily wished that Spier had been told to sit with her instead of Veronica. She didn’t like either of them, but at least Spier was intelligent, or, he had been, before he’d started kissing Veronica Mason instead of paying attention in class.

Emily didn’t usually listen to gossip, but she’d heard that they weren’t even soulmates. She’d heard a rumour that Veronica Mason’s compass spun around when she wasn’t touching anyone else at all.

Nobody knew anything about Spier’s soulmate. Emily felt sorry for her, though. Whoever she was, she probably deserved better than a jock who had kissed a lot of other girls. Unless she was the type of girl to kiss a lot of guys. In which case, they probably deserved each other.

Emily finished the lab without much help from Veronica. She tried to be nice, but Veronica was making it very difficult, answering all of Emily’s questions with one word answers, whether they were yes-no questions or not.

After recording her results, she began cleaning up their bench. She was washing out the last of the test tubes, sleeves rolled up to her elbows, when Spier and his lab partner, Robbins, came up behind her. Robbins caught a glance at her compass and started mocking her.

“Ooh, look, Jack, her needle’s pointing right at us. Are you in luuuurve with me, Matthews? Do you wanna kiss me?”

Emily froze. She didn’t know how to make him stop. Spier obviously noticed, because he moved between them. “Come on, dude, leave her alone.”

Robbins ignored him and kept on taunting her until Dr Emerson yelled at him.

Spier stayed with her. He put his hand on her forearm, gently. “Are you alright? I’m sorry, he’s such a jerk. I —” He stopped talking. Emily looked at him.

Spier was looking at her arm. Spier was touching her and her needle was spinning.

No.

Emily dropped the test tube into the sink and ran away. She could hear Spier yelling after her, and Dr Emerson yelling after her and she couldn’t see for the tears in her eyes. She didn’t know where she was going. She couldn’t go home. Her house keys were in her book bag which she’d left in the lab. She’d pick it up later.

Emily hid in the back corner of the library for the rest of the day.

Spier started sitting beside her in class and Emily wished she had more friends. She wasn’t friendless, obviously, but a lot of her friends weren’t in her classes, or there were three of them and they couldn’t all sit together. Naturally enough, most of the classes that she shared with Spier were classes where she didn’t have her friends to hid behind.

One day, in gym class, Veronica Mason kicked her in the crotch “by accident”.

Spier started trying to talk to her in class. He started making jokes. He’d wait by her locker with presents, like books and flowers.

The more Spier persisted, the more Emily could feel herself falling for him, the more she pulled away. She threw away the flowers, each and every time, making sure he could see her do so. She never threw away the books. She read each and every book he got her. Some of them had notes on the inside cover.

I saw this and thought of you. JS

This is my favourite book at the moment. Tell me what you think? JS

I’m probably an idiot for liking this book. Tell me I’m an idiot. JS

Emily held out for eight months until Jack Spier bought her a copy of Listen Up. It was an anthology of feminist essays that Emily had been dying to read since it came out. She thought that he was just pandering to her interests, until she started reading.

He’d underlined words and highlighted quotes and written little paragraphs in the margins. Emily didn’t sleep that night. She couldn’t put the book down.

Emily stumbled into school the next morning, exhausted. Spier was waiting, like he always was, at her locker. Today, he was holding a bouquet of poppies. She walked up to him, more confident than she’d ever felt, took the flowers from him, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.

***

Simon stares at his mom. “Dad had a girlfriend?”

Emily nods. “He later admitted to me that trying to impress me gave him the excuse to be the person that he wanted to be. He hid the fact that he liked books from his friends, he let his grades slip so that Veronica would think he was cool. He was trapped in lies because of the expectations of the people around him. Even his father, your pops, wanted him to go to college on a football scholarship and go professional. No one expected him to have a thought in his head and so he started living like that.”

“Until you let him be who he really was.”

Emily smiles. “In a way, I suppose.”

Simon hugs her again. “Thank you, mom. That actually really helps.”

Their conversation is ended abruptly by Simon’s stomach growling. He realises he hasn’t eaten anything since the breakfast he barely ate.

Emily pokes his stomach. “Come on, let’s get you fed.”

After dinner, Simon excuses himself and takes the shopping list out with him. He’s planning on going to a supermarket anyway, so he may as well be helpful.

He’s in his third store before he finds what he’s looking for. He buys everything he needs and goes home. He doesn’t check his email. He doesn’t need to.

***

Simon is seventeen years and two months old and he can’t believe he’s using his dad’s techniques to win over his soulmate. His mom wished him luck today and hugged him extra hard. Her story from last night is still playing in his mind.

He reaches school way earlier than he needed to, but he was too nervous to eat breakfast. The doors are open, but only just, and there are only about four cars in the parking lot.

Simon heads inside. He doesn’t go to his own locker. He walks right past it, up the stairs and sits down on the floor. There are three lockers in the column and he doesn’t know who the other two belong to, so he’s just hoping that they don’t show up first.

Bram is always early. Simon knows he doesn’t have long to wait, but every second is killing him. He hears footsteps on the stairs and looks up.

He’s here.

It’s now or never.

Simon resists the urge to run. He stands up. Bram walks over, far too slowly, a slight frown on his beautiful face.

“Simon? Are you ok? I heard you went home sick yesterday. What are you doing at my locker?”

Simon moves his right hand from behind his back and holds out the bunch of daffodils. He’s wearing short sleeves, despite the weather, and his compass’s daffodil-yellow needle is pointing right at Bram.

“It’s you.” It sounds more like a sigh and it takes Simon a moment to realise that Bram’s said anything at all.

“It’s me.” He looks down at the flowers. “Is that ok?”

Bram laughs. It’s the most wonderful noise in the world and Simon hopes he’ll get to hear it every day for the rest of his life. “It’s more than ok, Simon. Can I?” He gestures to Simon’s hand.

“Of course. I bought them for you.”

Bram smiles. “Actually, I meant this.” He reaches out with one tentative finger and traces Simon’s compass. The needle starts spinning so fast, Simon swears he can hear it whirring. It’s a little embarrassing.

Bram holds out his right wrist. It comforts Simon that Bram’s needle is spinning as fast as Simon’s is.

Suddenly, Simon realises that they’re in the middle of a hallway. He pulls Bram into the nearest classroom, knowing that no one will be in here for another twenty minutes.

Bram takes the daffodils from Simon and holds them up to his nose, breathing them in. “How did you know?”

Simon shakes his head. “That could mean any number of things, Bram.”

“All of it. Who I was, what we were, the daffodils…”

“Everything might take a while. Maybe I could tell you over dinner tonight?”

Bram beams. “I’d love that.” He looks back down at the flowers. “They’re not going to survive the day.”

“I put a vase in Mr Wise’s room. We have English first and he said we can leave them there for the day and pick them up later.”

Bram takes a step closer to Simon, and gives him a short kiss on the lips. “You’re amazing.”

Simon can’t think straight. His head is spinning. Bram chuckles and kisses him again. When they break apart, Simon places his hand on Bram’s chest, to keep him back. Bram looks a little hurt.

“We have class in less than ten minutes and you’re going to make it very difficult for me to concentrate if you keep doing that. It’s bad enough I have to sit behind you.”

“I still have to get to my locker. Since I was a little distracted earlier,” Bram teases.

Simon blushes. “I haven’t even gone to my own locker yet. I’ll meet you in English?”

Simon heads for the door but Bram catches his arm.

“What are you comfortable with people knowing?”

Oh, shit. In all of the hubbub over Bram, Simon forgot that there were other people in the world who mightn’t be as happy as they are that they’ve found each other.

As much as it kills him, Simon says, “Maybe we shouldn’t tell anyone yet? We should tell our friends first. Maybe tomorrow, after we’ve had time to talk to each other. The rest of the school is going to be…”

“Difficult,” Bram finishes. He leans in and presses one last kiss to Simon’s forehead. “We don’t owe them any explanation. We can just be. Let them deal with it how they want to.”

Simon nods. Bram lets go of his arm and Simon wonders if it’s killing him as much as Simon to not have contact anymore.

***

Abby screams. Leah, Nick and Garrett all look pleased too, but Abby’s almost in tears. They get a few annoyed glances from the other patrons of the Waffle House, but they all ignore them.

Now that they can be, Bram and Simon are disgustingly in love. They hold hands until the food arrives. Bram wipes a drop of Oreo milkshake off Simon’s chin and Simon steals his hand and licks it off his finger. Apart from Abby, who is squealing at every little thing they do, their friends get tired of them pretty quickly.

Bram stretches one arm around Simon’s shoulder after the meal and Simon leans into him. The conversation continues around them, and every so often they take part, but they’re perfectly happy to be silent.

***

Bram’s an instant hit with all of Simon’s family. He’s polite, he’s studious, he’s funny, and he compliments Nora’s cooking too many times to count. Nora doesn’t seem fazed that Simon’s soulmate is another guy, and Emily is so pleased to meet him that she has to excuse herself from the dinner table for a moment.

Jack is a harder nut to crack. He makes a few jokes at the meal, and asks Bram a few questions, but doesn’t really engage with the rest of them. After Bram leaves, Simon yells at him and Jack breaks down. He apologises for every stupid thing he’s ever said, he apologises for not knowing, he apologises for being distant at dinner but he didn’t know what questions were acceptable and which weren’t. The fight ends with both men crying in a tight embrace.

Jack takes the two of them out to lunch the following weekend to show that he really is ok with this.

***

Simon has to meet Bram’s parents separately, and though Bram seems to think that means that he’s only half as nervous for each meeting, Simon thinks he’s actually twice as nervous because he has to go through all of it twice.

But he gets to hold Bram’s hand through both meetings, and even gets to hold Bram’s baby sister when he meets his dad, so Simon survives just fine.

He loves Bram’s mom. He obviously gets his quietly sarcastic humour from her and it’s so obvious that they love each other so much.

Bram’s dad asks him if he’s Jewish and laughs when Simon stutters and promises to convert. He places baby Sarah into Simon’s arms and Simon decides, as she’s chewing on his thumb, looking at him with huge brown eyes, that he and Bram are going to have nineteen Jewish babies. He tells Bram this on their way home and Bram laughs so hard he has to pull over.

Simon tells him he’s serious and Bram just kisses him.

***

Simon is twenty three years old when he gets in contact with Mr Ferreras. They meet for coffee and Mr Ferreras brings his husband and soulmate, Kevin, and Simon brings his fiancé, Bram. Mr Ferreras (who insists that Simon call him Ángel because “I haven’t been your teacher in ten years, Simon.”) cries when they tell him the news. He looks at their compasses, each needle pointing right back at the other, and grips Kevin’s hand. Simon catches a glimpse of a blackened scar on Kevin’s right wrist. Simon invites them both to their wedding and Ángel pulls him out of his seat and hugs him so tightly his ribs might break.

***

Simon is twenty six years old when he runs into Miss Fergus. She’s protesting outside of the church where Simon and Bram got married almost two years ago. He would recognise her anywhere. She recognises him too, and asks him how he’s doing. Simon keeps walking and kisses his husband on the lips before they turn a corner.

***

Simon is twenty nine years old when he holds his son for the first time. Bram and Simon had decided on calling him Jacob, but as soon as Simon sees him, he knows he’s not a Jacob.

The eight days they spend with him before his naming are some of the best days of Simon’s life. Their son is healthy and barely cries. They call him Asher, which means “happy one” and was the name of Bram’s grandfather.

***

They don’t end up having nineteen Jewish babies. They have four, Asher and three younger sisters, Abigail, Hannah, and Rebecca. Simon doesn’t mind stopping at four; if his poor heart has to hold any more love, he’s afraid it will burst.

He sits in their back garden, watching his children climb all over their father, shrieking and laughing, and glances at his wrist. The needle on his wrist points straight ahead, towards everything important in his world.