Not again. Corey sets down his coffee mug and falls down into the chair at his desk. It's too early in the morning for his phone to be ringing, and the worst part is, he knows exactly who's calling. He lets out a groan and switches into customer service provider mode, putting on a fake smile although nobody can see him, but it's part of the role he plays when he's at work.
"Good morning, you've reached Soulmates Matchmaking. My name is Corey, how may I assist you?"
"Well, I guess the actual matchmaking would be a good start," the painfully familiar voice greets him. Corey sighs. The previous night was the sixth date he's arranged for Mason Hewitt so far, and this morning is the sixth call he receives where Mason is going to complain about every tiny little detail related to the person Corey picked out for him, he just knows it.
"So I take it you and Mr Talbot didn't get along then?" Corey asks, although the question is redundant. He's going to have to start all over again, and he's kind of running out of candidates to match with Mason. At the beginning, he didn't think it would be difficult. He's proud to say he's good at his job. He knows exactly which questions to ask during the first interview with a new client. He's a good judge of character and he's good at creating a positive, hopeful atmosphere without building too high expectations. Mason Hewitt is a good-looking guy, really handsome, actually. He's smart and well-educated and kind and generally a pretty good catch. It shouldn't be so hard to find him a boyfriend, but Corey has to admit he's losing his patience.
"It's not that he's terrible or anything," Mason says, "I mean, you've seen him, right? I'm not blind, so yeah, I definitely know to appreciate that. He's nice too, and funny. He's just not my soulmate."
Corey pinches the bridge of his nose. "You know Soulmate Matchmaking is just a name, right? You get that we're selling a fantasy here? It's not like I have one guy somewhere among my clients who's exactly right for you, Mason. You need to be open to actually get to know those who are not perfect at first sight."
"Well, I refuse to believe that," Mason declares. "I've had my fun when I was at college, Corey, I'm over that. I don't want to find a random stranger's underwear in my kitchen when I make coffee on Sunday morning. I want sparks and fireworks. That's why I'm asking you to help me, so do your magic."
"I don't do magic," Corey replies, "I do my job. And you're making it really hard on me. I think you need to reconsider your expectations. You want to know how many happy couples I brought together? Hell, many of them are married now. And you know why? Because they took the time to get to know the other. Nobody gets actually swept off of their feet. That's not how love works. It's patience and dedication. Compromises. Ever heard of that word?"
Corey is being unusually harsh, but he's run out of nice things to say to Mason. Every guy so far has been Mason's type, physically. They were all nice, and they all wanted to see Mason again, but Mason, despite not having anything specific to criticize about them, refused. A little something special was always missing, he's kept insisting.
"Compromising? When it comes to love? No way," Mason answers passionately. Corey can't believe this is what he's spending his morning discussing, and Mason isn't done. Corey has long understood the message; Mason wants to be the princess in a damn fairytale. Unfortunately, no matter how good he is, he can't make Disney movies happen in real life, and Mason is just going to have to live with that.
"Do you want me to keep looking for you?" Corey asks. Normally, he'd never give up. Whenever a client isn't satisfied with their first match, he begs for another chance and puts in all the effort until they're one thousand percent happy. He has a reputation as his company's best matchmaker to uphold, after all. Mason is the first client ever he might not be mad about giving up.
"Of course I do," Mason answers, and with entirely too much enthusiasm. "What else are we going to do, Corey? Look at me, I'm an adult now. I have my own place, I have my job, I have my friends. I'm ready for love now. I want to ask someone how their day was when I come home, and someone who'll ask me the same. I want the nervosity before meeting their parents. I want to be late for work because we spent too much time cuddling in the morning. I want to wear someone's sweater around and hold their hand and be there for them on a bad day. I want to go on vacations together and maybe adopt a cat or a dog or whichever they prefer, you know? Isn't that something we all deserve?"
The conversation has gotten way too deep way to fast. Corey feels a little bit overwhelmed. "I guess so," he mutters. Everything Mason describes does indeed sound nice.
"You guess so?" Mason repeats. "What's that supposed to mean? Don't tell me you don't believe in true love! You literally make a living with it!"
"I don't really see it that way," Corey hears himself saying. "If true love was what I go for, I wouldn't know where to start. For me it's more about bringing people together who will make another happy by sharing some interests and bringing new passions into the other's life. People who are looking for the same things in life. People who will get along and find something worth holding on to in each other. Maybe not forever, but for as long as it brings them joy."
"What if I want the forever though?" Mason asks.
"That's not something I can promise you. Soulmates don't exist. It's nice to be in love, yes. It's nice to have someone to share your life with, I guess. You can take that and cherish it for as long as it lasts."
"I'm sorry," Mason says, "but that's not good enough for me. I want it all. I want the fateful first meeting and the skipped heartbeat and the love that's so intense that it consumes you. I want to look at someone and feel my heart swelling with adoration for them. I want someone to be my everything. Don't you get it? Soulmate or whatever you want to call it, I don't care. But it has to be the one love that outshines all the others."
Corey doesn't know what to say to that. They've been talking for way too long and he's absolutely failed to lower Mason's expectations. "Alright, listen. I'll see what I can do for you. Give me until the end of the week and you'll have another date. That sound good to you?"
"You know I'm ready to have my heart stolen at any time," Mason says. Not exactly what Corey wanted to hear, but he takes it.
"Awesome, I'll be in touch then. Have a great day!" Before Mason can start rambling again, Corey hangs up. What a way to start the day. He has absolutely no clue how to come up with someone who's not only suitable for Mason, but literally perfect in every single way. It honestly seems like he's tried every available option in and around Beacon Hills. Time to get creative, then.
Corey takes a trip to the office archives and gets Mason's extended file. Everything's in there, pictures of him, notes from all of the interviews they've had, his school, college and job records, detailed descriptions of all of his previous relationships and the reasons why they came to an end. There's a characterization of Mason that his mom wrote, and one from his best friend. Lists of hobbies an interests, books, movies and tv shows Mason has enjoyed especially. The results of a few different personality tests are there, too. Basically, Corey has collected and documented everything there is to know about Mason. The huge file has been brought to the archive weeks ago. That's just how Corey likes to work; familiarize himself with a person until he's good to go after his gut.
Mason definitely proves to be an extraordinarily difficult case, so Corey decides to take another look at all the paperwork. Maybe that will help him to figure something out. His promise to find a date by the end of the week was ambitious at the very least, so Corey cancels his afternoon appointments and spreads everything there is all over his desk and the floor of his office.
As a first measure, Corey takes a look at Mason's ex partners and failed dates. There isn't really a type when it comes to physical appearance, which is good, Corey thinks. At least he isn't superficial, that's certainly something. Mason did say he likes pretty boys, but he also found something pretty in every picture Corey showed him that day, so that information isn't really helpful for the moment. Corey decides that Mason himself is attractive enough to deserve a good-looking partner.
Corey stares at the page, scans names and dates and job titles and essential personality traits, but there's no real pattern, nothing that catches his eye. Maybe the exes aren't the solution after all, he thinks. In the end, almost all of the relationships and affairs and dates failed because of the same reason; they were great, but they weren't the one .
Corey looks at all the paper and the handwritten notes and the pictures and all the records reminding him why he usually doesn't use them once he starts the actual matchmaking process. He can look at all those things for as long as he wants to, but he doesn't see a person in them. He needs a different approach. Corey thinks for a moment and has an idea, so he knocks at the office next door to ask his co-worker Josh if he can borrow his whiteboard.
"Still working on the single soulmate, huh?" Josh asks as he helps Corey setting it up in his office.
"One last try," Corey nods. "After that I'm giving up. I think these calls first thing in the morning where he tells me all about real love are going to drive me insane. Are you still sure you don't want to take his case?"
Josh lets out a loud laugh. "Oh, you were being serious? Yeah no, that's a hard pass. Good luck with him." And with that, he's gone, leaving Corey alone with his mission.
He uncaps a marker and looks at the blank surface of the whiteboard. The one. He's looking for the one.
The first thing Corey can think of is that he needs to be smart. Not only does Mason have a degree in Biochemistry and a job at a huge institute for medical research, he also reads and knows a lot about history. Corey likes it when Mason throws little random facts in their conversations here and there, but he knows it takes an intelligent enough person to keep up with and appreciate it. Mason doesn't just want to make small talk, he wants to have proper discussions about the world and politics and deep stuff like soulmates. Every time after they've talked, Corey is left with something new to think about, to form an opinion of for himself, and he can't pair Mason with someone who doesn't know how to deal with that.
He writes down smart. Everything else would be a waste.
Likes to learn is added to the whiteboard, because Corey realizes a high level of education isn't really what he means, it's more about the capacity to understand things beyond oneself's previous knowledge and viewpoint.
Mason reads over the characterization Mason's best friend Liam wrote. The handwriting is a catastrophe but Corey loves reading the text, because it's full of admiration and wishes for Mason, and just a little different from how everyone else sees him. Liam thinks Mason needs someone independent, someone who's strong and capable of living on their own and not like a kid to take care of, mostly because Liam wants to be the only kid Mason takes care of, but Corey still agrees and writes it down. Really, it's what partnership should be like, right? He's not looking for a second half. Mason is as complete as a person can be, and that's just a fact.
Because Mason is kind and generous and sincere, he deserves the same things in return, so Corey writes them all down. He adds honest and trustworthy, because he remembers Mason being on the verge of tears when they talked about that one asshat of a boyfriend that had the audacity to cheat on him. Corey knows that whatever he comes up with, he doesn't want to be responsible for more of that sort of pain and suffering. Mason deserves better than that. Caring, he writes down, which leads him to sensitive. Attentive. It's what he wants Mason to have, a person he can come home to when the world is being unfair, someone with gentle, open arms and a shoulder to lean on.
Now Corey thinks he's found a good way to play it out in his head. He imagines Mason coming home, imagines the things he needs to find there, the sort of support he wants. He thinks of all the things he'd give to Mason, thinks of the ways he spends free time and what Mason would do if there ever was a fight happening in his relationship.
Peaceful, Corey adds to his list. Mason is calm and collected and fair. Corey can't picture him raising his voice in a confrontation, almost feels an urge to protect him even if the fight he's imagining is completely hypothetical. He writes down protective, dedicated and affectionate.
Once he's started, Corey finds more and more attributes to add to the whiteboard until he has to squeeze the words in between others because there's no space left. He takes a step back and looks at the board and all the things he's written down, tries to see a bigger picture in them, tries to put the puzzle pieces together into a person. He's unsure whether his thorough research on Mason and how well he knows him is currently giving him an advantage or a disadvantage. There are so many things on the board, he can't see anything when he looks at it.
When Tracy knocks on his door and asks if he's coming along for lunch, Corey knows he needs the chance to clear his head a little. Maybe he should call Mason later and tell him that finding another match is going to take him longer than anticipated. He knows his company's pool of clients, and the chances to sell anyone from it as the person described on the whiteboard are slim to non-existent.
"Hey," Tracy says as Corey gets his jacket and wallet so they can go grab lunch. "What's that? Are you finally doing a self-evaluation? I told you you should try it! What are all those talents of yours good for if you never get yourself in the game, right? I love that you're doing this."
"What? I'm not-" Corey freezes. He looks up at Tracy, follows her arm to her pointed index finger to the whiteboard. "That has nothing to do with me," he says, but he's too confused to make it sound convincing.
"Dude, relax," she smiles, "I don't judge you. You're single, you've got all the opportunities. Guys are literally coming in here asking you to set them up with someone. Why wouldn't you try it?"
"Because I keep things professional," Corey answers. He's practiced this talk. He's had it with himself in private way too many times, especially recently. "My clients trust me. The service I provide for them mainly consists of an objective opinion on things. Doesn't personal involvement kind of defy all that?"
Tracy stops and thinks about it. "I think you're wrong," she says. "Being objective is certainly not what makes you so good at your job. You're good because you genuinely care about your clients' happiness. You'd rather try a second time and get it right than to get a case closed as fast as possible. You trust your gut more than you do your paperwork. I think that says a lot. But you know that, right?" She points at the whiteboard again. "You know pretty well who you are."
Corey shakes his head. It's already awkward, but he can't have her thinking that that's what he's doing. "I need a match for a client," he sighs. "It's not the second try, it's the seventh, to be exact. Yeah, I do genuinely care about his happiness, but that doesn't seem to make it work this time. He liked all of the guys I set him up with so far, but he says none of them was the one. This-" Corey nods at the whiteboard. "This is the one. "
"This is you," Tracy says.
Again, Corey shakes his head. No, he was super concentrated and didn't let himself get distracted. He only thought about Mason and a healthy, happy, long-lasting relationship for him when he wrote all those things down. They have nothing to do with him.
"Wow," Tracy sighs, "just wow. Corey, seriously? And here I was, thinking you were the one with the unmistakable people skills. How are you not seeing it?"
"Because it's not an option!"
"Why?" Tracy asks, and then she says, "Don't answer that. Just think about it. Answer it for yourself. You'll see you can't think of a good enough reason."
Corey opens his mouth to protest but she shuts him up with a strict look and a wave of her hand. They leave the office for lunch and Corey very half-heartedly takes part in their conversation. In his head there's chaos that he doesn't know how to deal with. Usually, this is what he helps his clients with. He's calm and reasonable and logical about things they aren't. He makes them forget about the things that aren't important and asks the questions that get them forward. He assesses the emotional state of people and figures out what to do about it. He finds the reasons, and he offers the solutions.
The day goes by and Corey tries really hard not to, but he can't stop wondering. Which was the exact moment when Mason became something more than just one of his countless clients? Does making Mason happy matter to him because it means his job is successfully done, or is there more to it? Has he been matching Mason with all the apparently wrong guys because he didn't have better ideas, or maybe because he was secretly hoping Mason wouldn't get into a relationship with anyone who isn't him? He's spiraling hard, so he does what he does with his clients, breaking it down to simpler questions.
Does Corey feel attracted to Mason?
He's never allowed himself to think about it, but now that he does, the answer is more than obvious.
Yes, he's attracted to him.
Does he like talking to Mason?
Corey thinks about the way Mason smiles when he says hi and the sound of his voice and how his eyes light up when he's talking about something he's passionate about. He likes listening to him, and he likes talking to someone he knows is actually trying to understand what he says. Again, the answer is yes.
Does he have any specific kind of feelings about Mason going on dates with other people?
Corey needs to consider this one for a moment. It's always been part of the deal, so he doesn't have the right to. It's also not exactly jealousy. He's caught himself wishing he could give Mason's dates explicit directions in terms of what to say and how to act, but he's always figured it was out his ambition to close another successful case. Now he's thinking that maybe it wasn't. Maybe a part of him has always wanted to be there with Mason, to listen to him telling stories and to make him compliments. To make him laugh.
Corey might have been in denial, but he isn't stupid. Now that his eyes have been opened up to the possibility, he's seeing all the signs. He likes Mason. He likes Mason a whole lot. He wants Mason to have a wonderful boyfriend to make him the happiest man on earth for the rest of his life. He wants it all for Mason. The whole fantasy, with all the sparks and the fireworks and the big romantic kisses. He wants Mason to have it all, he just doesn't want him to have it with any one of his clients. As the end of the week nears, Corey has to make a decision.
Mason calls his office again of Friday morning. This time, Corey hasn't even had the chance to get himself a coffee. He sits down and picks up the phone, answering as always. "Good morning, you've reached Soulmates Matchmaking. My name is Corey, how may I assist you?"
"So?" Mason asks excitedly. "When's my date?" Corey imagines him bouncing on his feet like a puppy that's been promised a treat. He doesn't know where Mason takes all the positivity from, but it's one of the many things he's come to love about him.
"Are you free tonight?" Corey wants to know.
"Tonight is perfect," Mason replies. "I can't wait! Usual place?"
"Usual place, usual time," Corey says, but then he changes his mind. "You know what? Forget that. Be ready at seven. He'll pick you up. Is that alright?"
"Amazing," Mason says. "I'll be waiting. Thank you Corey."
Corey's hand is shaking as he puts the phone down. He gets it now, the anxiety he sometimes has to talk out of people at the very last second before their dates.
Work usually is a great way to distract himself, but the time refuses to pass and every minute makes Corey think of a reason why it's a really, really bad idea that can only go wrong. When it's finally an acceptable time to take a break for lunch, he grabs Tracy by the arm and drags her to Josh's office, closing the door behind them. "What the hell is up with you, dude?" Josh asks. Tracy takes a seat and looks at him with questions in her eyes.
"How does anyone ever do this without having a mental breakdown?" Corey asks. "So you remember Mason, right?" He says to Josh, and then directed at Tracy, "And you remember that whiteboard full of stuff that you thought was about me?"
They both nod.
"Well, so I've been thinking about it. And there might be a chance that I haven't been able to find his soulmate yet because I'm actually the one. Or at least the closest one. Or whatever. You know? Anyway, I promised him a date, and I don't have anyone who really makes sense, but I can't cancel on him now, because he's really looking forward to it, and I hope he's not going to be super disappointed, but I kind of figured if I just went there myself, you know..."
"Corey, man, calm down," Josh says with a smile.
"Yeah, seriously, stop hyperventilating," Tracy agrees.
"Oh god, he's going to hate it, right?" Corey whines. It was a stupid idea. Mason isn't paying him to make advances, he's paying him to match him with another one of the clients. He's being unprofessional. And on top of that, he's going to get his heart broken.
"First of all," Josh begins, "he's already had like a billion dates that didn't work out, so he's used to disappointment."
"Josh!" Tracy interrupts him. "You're not helping here!"
"I wasn't done, okay? I mean, you said this was going to be your last try, right?" Corey nods. He did say that, but there have been quite a few turns of events between then and now. Josh shrugs his shoulders. "My honest opinion? If you're not the one, then you won't find the right guy for him anyway. I say go big or go home. And no, going home is not on the table, so we're doing the other thing."
"Josh is kind of right," Tracy says.
"One hundred percent right, she meant to say," Josh adds.
Tracy rolls her eyes. "What I meant to say is, you should do it. I know how seriously you take your job, Corey. You've worked with this guy for weeks now. You know exactly who he is, and you know everything he wants. If you think you can be the one who'll give that to him, do it. Maybe you really are his soulmate."
Corey wishes he was getting a little more than a maybe, but he knows it's how things work. He never makes any false promises to his clients. Many times he's right and things work out amazingly. Sometimes he's not, and then it's trial and error and trial again. It happens, life continues.
"Soulmates don't exist," Corey says. This has always been his opinion, and if anything, it's the reason why he's good at what he does.
Tracy gives him a smile. "You don't have to believe in it. You just have to find the one that makes you want to."
"You mean like I wish soulmates were a thing because if Mason was my soulmate I'd probably have his name tattooed on my forehead or something like that, so I'd definitely know it's him and I wouldn't have to shit my pants right now?"
"Yeah," Josh grins, "kind of exactly like that."
Corey knows in his head that his nervosity and the self-doubts and the unnecessarily many looks in the mirror while he's getting dressed are all part of something perfectly normal. Dating, especially if you're going on a date with someone you care about, is an emotional rollercoaster. Plus, he already knows Mason is almost impossible to impress. If things go wrong, he's going to lose a client, and the chance to make Mason happy. The stakes are incredibly high, and there's absolutely nothing he can do except hoping that he's the right one after all.
It takes another phone call with Tracy and a second shower until Corey manages to get in his car to pick Mason up. He knows all the nicest restaurants in Beacon Hills and some other romantic places, but for Mason, it has to be somewhere special, in case he's lucky enough to get that far.
Corey parks the car in front of Mason's house and watches as Mason jumps outside with the brightest smile on his face. Yes, he knows what Mason means when he talks about that heart-swelling moment, that bit of incomparable joy just at the sight of someone.
"Corey," Mason says, "what are you doing here?" He looks a little surprised, but he climbs into Corey's car without hesitation, his voice not unfriendly.
"I'm picking you up. I need to talk to you."
"About my soulmate?"
"Yes," Corey says. "Do you mind if I take us somewhere private?"
Mason is happy to come along and he's happy to keep talking about his current research project at work while Corey drives them to the single most beautiful spot in Beacon Hills that he knows. The sun has almost set but it's still warm outside. He spreads a blanket and they sit down, looking into the distance, wide fields ahead of them and pastel colors blending together.
"Wow," Mason whispers. "This place is really special."
"It is," Corey nods, looking at him. "I need to tell you something."
"What is it?"
"I won't set you up on any more dates, Mason," he says. Quick and painful. "I have a lot of clients. There are so many great guys out there, but none of them will make you happy the way you deserve it. None of them will give you everything you wish for. None of them is your soulmate."
Mason nods. "I know."
"What?" And here Corey was, thinking that he's the one with news for Mason. "I don't understand. If you already knew, why did you keep calling me, asking me for another date? I thought you were determined to find the one ? What happened to that?"
Mason looks up from his own hands to Corey's eyes. The corner of his mouth twitches and then he's smiling and it's a little bit like sunshine in the dark. "I found him," Mason beams at him, and he looks so happy, so absolutely satisfied with life and the world and everything in it that Corey almost can't feel his own heart shattering. But it does.
Corey has to avert his eyes, has to somehow gather himself and not start crying until he can come up with an acceptable excuse to leave. At least Mason has what he wanted. It's fine. It should be fine. It will be. He will find a way to be fine with it.
"I found him," Mason says. "I just think he had a hard time finding me. I knew it the second I met him. It was him or nobody. Of course, I was scared and nervous and insecure, so I couldn't tell him about my feelings, not directly. I told him though, in many different ways. I told him everything about my life. I told him all the things I cared about. I told him my dreams and hopes. Every time I described what I wanted, I was thinking about him. After every date, I called him, because no other guy compared to him and I needed him to know that."
Corey doesn't know what's happening. There's this big thing alive inside him, and it goes from having hope to being crushed to thinking what if and it's too much to take, and so his eyes start to get all wet, because at a certain point, that many emotions just can't stay inside a body all at once.
"I was talking about love, and I could tell he wasn't seeing what I was seeing. But I knew that eventually, he would. He's so smart, especially when it comes to people. And he's kind of an expert in the field, so I figured I only had to give him time."
Corey huffs out a laugh that sounds like tears. "Maybe you should have smacked him in the head with a brick or something."
"To be honest, I was more thinking about holding his hand, maybe. See if I can get him to kiss me."
Corey looks up into big, warm, beautiful brown eyes going a little softer as they make eye contact. A tattoo on his forehead couldn't be more obvious than the feeling in his chest as he looks at Mason, finally able to see the truth. He holds out his hand and Mason takes it, tangling their fingers together. It feels warm and nice and wonderful, like he's holding the whole world in his hand.
Corey lets out a breath and pulls Mason closer. They both smile at each other until everything words can't describe is said, and then Corey leans in to cup Mason's face in his hand and feel his breath on his lip and to be close.
"Hey, soulmate," he whispers.
"Can I kiss you?"
Mason doesn't reply. Instead, he grabs Corey by the neck and presses their lips together. The last rays of sunshine are disappearing at the end of the horizon and it's a perfect first kiss, with sparks and fireworks and all that, even if it's just inside the two of them, which Corey now realizes has always been meant to be that way.
And just like that, a match is made.
They’re soulmates, because soulmates are a thing as soon as you’ve found yours.