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Awake My Soul

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The crying was keeping David awake. He was hunkered down under his comforter, stuffed animals pushed to both sides of his head trying to block it out. The baby had been here for five months and no one had said anything about her leaving. No one had even asked if he wanted a sibling. His parents had told him while he ate dinner with Tatiana, his nanny, and left before he could ask any follow up questions.

“You’ll like having a sister,” Tatiana had said with no conviction, then gave him an extra scoop of ice cream with dessert.

He did not like having a sister. A sister cried and woke him up at night even though she was across the hall with two doors shut between them.  Usually the baby’s nanny (no one had told David her name, he thought it might be Elaine or something), got up with her. But a half hour ago, David had heard someone walk down the hallway and not come back.  The crying started a few minutes after that.

David got out of bed and went into Tatiana’s room, but she wasn’t there either.

The whole house was very quiet, except for the baby crying. He didn’t know if his parents were even home, but if they were it was an impossibly long trek to their bedroom. And he knew from the few times he’d worked up the courage to take it that his mom slept too deeply to wake and his dad would stare at him bewildered before briskly walking him back to his room. Tatiana always looked sad the next day and he thought maybe Dad got mad at her about it. So he stopped trying.

If Dad came back and found Tatiana gone...David frowned. He didn’t want Tatiana to disappear like Enid had.  He could barely remember Enid now, but he’d liked her hands, how they were soft on his face when he did something right.

The baby was still crying.

David crossed the hallway.

The nursery was pretty. He’d gotten to help a little, his mother flipped through a glossy catalogue and let him point at this or that. The beautiful gauzy canopy over the crib had been his choice and the big unicorn stuffed animal in the corner. He’d really wanted the unicorn for himself, but getting to sneak in sometimes and play with it was good enough. It’s not like the baby cared.

The baby who was now wailing away in her brushed copper crib, arms and legs flailing, face red and wet.  The baby who was very far away if you were only five and hadn’t had much of a growth spurt yet.

There was a stool in his room so he went and dragged it back across the hall, climbing up with his heart in his throat and the blood pounding in his ears as it wobbled a little. But it was enough height that he could reach in and pick the baby up.

He held her out at arm’s length. She didn’t smell bad so he guessed he didn’t have to figure out diapers which was good. Very slowly and carefully, he got down off the stool and managed not to drop her.

But that was as far as he could manage. She was already heavy and he wasn’t very strong. So he sat down right there in the middle of the floor and for lack of anything else, pulled her closer. With a little juggling, he got her mostly resting in his lap, his arm under her head. She lay in his arms and her cries petered out. Even in the dark, he could see her eyes glittering wetly as they fixed on his face.

“You need to stop crying,” he told her firmly. “I can’t sleep when you cry.”

The baby sniffled, but didn’t resume her sobs. She was very warm against him and he was really tired. He scooted backward until he was laying against the enormous unicorn. He rested one hand on her stomach, could feel her small heart racing under her pajamas.

Her fingers, so tiny, shadowy butterflies in the moonlight, landed on his right index finger.

It was electric, the swift rewiring of his synapses and the tingling in his teeth and tongue.  The grey dull mark flared brightly. For the rest of his life, the spot would shimmer gold like a tiny droplet of liquid highlighter.

David fell fell asleep with her in his lap (and later he’d shudder when he found out how delicate babies were, the debates about co-sleeping rattling around a house party that he was way too young to be at) , but he woke back in his own bed, Tatiana’s footsteps retreating.

He waited for someone to comment on the mark, for someone to ask, but it was just so small. And he was small too. Unremarked on, unnoticed so much of the time in those early years. An inconvenience to his parents, a job to his nannies. 

And if when he was old enough, he covered it with a thick ring than who cared? It was just a style thing. A way not to have to explain to his lovers who this first tenuous soul deep link belonged to. Maybe they had links to siblings, to parents, but he didn’t want to know that either.  He never asked about their marks, tried not to think about the dull outlines on his body waiting for someone to color in.

Alexis had no mark on her that morning after. He asked Elaine (if that was her name) if Alexis had any waiting spots and she’d just shook her head, but that could’ve been a ‘No’ or a ‘Stop bothering me’.

So all he had to show for it was that he could feel her underneath his skin. Knew when she was aching and confused. Knew when he needed to pick up the phone and fix things. In the early days that meant cutting classes, calling their driver and getting home before her so there was someone waiting at home when he could feel her distress. As she got older, her emotions muted, became dull hard things to find. But he could still feel a spike of adrenaline and confusion, a noxious cocktail that meant doing more than asking the cook to make her favorite soup.

David was the big brother, he was reminded by nannies for years until the last one gave notice and there were no more. Then it was just their eternal voices in his head. He took care because if he didn’t, who would? And if it calmed the horrid noise of her until he could only feel her detached amusement than that was good too.

Considering that was his singular experience with soulmarks, one might understand why he wasn’t eager to find another. While everyone around him reached out, he shrunk back. He molded his body into an untouchable pillar, layered it with soft cloth in lieu of touch.

He gave his body only to people that he knew wouldn’t care about it. He built his life out of cashmere and glass. He sharpened his wit against other cynics, against his family, against anyone that made it into his orbit.

“You know what your problem is?” An ex, mid-break up, flung at him.

“Right now, just you,” he’d replied, arms crossing hard and solid across his chest.

“You’re dead inside,” they’d snarled.

And he almost believed it. Sometimes he thought it about himself and cherished it. But then he’d feel that agitated hum, Alexis’ unconscious call. Couldn’t be dead inside if someone alive could call to him like that.

When the terrible destruction dismantled his life and washed him up on the non-existent shore of Schitt’s Creek, he curled in on himself on his twin bed and considered the bleak future. Alexis radiated distress and there was nothing he could do. Nothing left to him, but to lay there in the dark and listen to her silent cries.

*

David has met people with dozens of soulmarks. Their bodies were shining beacons of love and friendship or like fresh coloring books waiting to be filled in. None of those people were his people. His mother and father each had one, matching diamonds across their palms both alight from the first clasp of their hands and that was that.

David had three which was too many. He’d like to have zero, most days.

Stevie didn’t have any he could see and he didn’t ask, so she never told.

They were stretched out over the horrendous silky heart bed, a handbreadth of space between them, only the strands of their hair in danger of touching. Around them was the carnage of his wardrobe. He could barely look at the ‘Give Away’ pile, his throat closing up.

“Why does it smell like something died in here?” he groaned, then paused. “No. Wait. Don’t tell me.”

“So you don’t want to hear about the rats in the walls?”

She was so perfect, her voice so flat, so affectless. Her mouth held in a straight line.

“Do they keep the mice company or do rats eat mice?”

“I think rats will eat anything that lays still too long.”

“That can’t be true or they’d have gotten you a long time ago. You do a great waxwork impression at the desk. Sometimes I think you’re almost lifelike.”

She elbowed him, playful and roughhousing and it took him off guard, jostled him. His sweater had already ridden up from his dramatic collapse against the mattress and his undershirt must’ve followed suit. The sleeves of her flannel flapped open with a lost cuff button, a wing of fabric flying over him. The thick point of her bare elbow brushed against his side.

“Shit,” she sat straight up.

Stevie’s mark on him was a purple so dark it was nearly black. He stared at it, that thick smeary circle that he had spent many years not thinking about.  The point of her elbow purpled to match, a splotch without resolution, misty at the edges.

He jerked down his sweater, she cinched closed the button on her cuff. 

“First time?” She gritted out. He shook his head once, shortly, no explanation.  “Me either.”

“Should we-”

“No,” she said firmly. “No, I don’t think so.”

They never really talk about it. But having a two- way connection was so different. They sort of didn’t need to talk about it.  Stevie’s baseline was a soothing ‘meh’, just a blurry indifference punctuated with mild amusement or annoyance. Instead of a silent, hanging cord strung between them there was almost a conversation. David could ping her a little, send her mental question marks when she was amused or a sort of huff of agreement at her annoyance.  If he had his dander up about something, he could hear her chimes of loving laughter at him. Sometimes her feelings bled over into him, made the few times they had been intimate incredibly strange, the feedback loop of enjoyment like taking a long hot bath.

“Did you need something?” she would call in the middle of the night, voice sticky with sleep and irritation.


“Nightmare,” he rumbled, flush with embarrassment, but also a little pleasure. She had stirred awake, been roused by a single unaesthetic splotch on her elbow and reached out. 

Five feet away, Alexis slept with all her limbs tucked in until she was a barely there bump under the covers.

“Yeah,” Stevie yawned and he could almost see her for a moment, the bond weaving them close. She was on the right side of her bed, phone balanced on her face, one hand tucked between her knees and the other under her pillow. A cloud of dark hair spread out behind her like a banner.

“It was very distressing. Enormous mismatched silverware. There was a spork chasing me,” he said to feel the bump of her amusement.

“A tragedy,” she intoned.

In the nightmare, he had been wandering the halls of the old house, looking for her mother. He could hear her, shrieking in pain, but he couldn’t find her. Every room was empty of furniture, all the lights turned off. He knew if he didn’t find her, something terrible would happen, but it seemed her voice got further and further away.

“Sporks are an abomination against form AND function," he said primly. Because she was sending him low thrums of concern, the knowledge that he was papering over a throbbing void and it was hard, so hard to be seen sometimes.

"But they're a fork and a spoon. What could have more function?"

He rolled over, his body finding the shape of hers, a phantom spooning that they would never reenact in the flesh.

They traded barbs and quips until they fell asleep, phones still connected, humming with their synchronized breaths.

**

There was an enormous waiting soulmark on David’s back. It lingered there empty, just out of sight. When he was young, he used to sneak into his mother’s closet and stand at the center of her tall triple mirrors and he would see it. It was so big, that gray open space.

It wasn’t a spot most people would touch you bare skin to bare skin when you were a child. He didn’t know what adults did, how that kind of thing would happen. When his gold spot shimmered into existence, he’d stopped looking at it as firmly as he had the splotch on his stomach.

If he could be so undone by one tiny spot, what could that wingspan of blankness hold for him?

Once in New York, he’d lived in an apartment with windows floor to ceiling across two walls. On the good days, he’d luxuriated in the view and how the world spread open at his feet. On the bad days, when too many parties left him strung out and sweating booze and pills, it made him sick to his stomach. He would lie on his pristine white couch, stomach roiling and think about all the lives just beyond the sheet of glass. The millions of people breathing in the same air, thinking the same old sordid thoughts. The weight of all of humanity seemed to press in through that transparent barrier. Just waiting to tear him apart.

That’s how the mark on his back made him feel whenever he made the mistake of thinking about it.

Even now, sitting in the strewn dust and dirt of his newly leased space, the threat of it was at the back of his mind.  His future yawned out in front of him, potential warring with catastrophe. It sat before and behind him.

He turned his cellphone over and over in his hands. 

“Hi, David, it’s Patrick-”

They built the store together. Patrick touched him casually, brushing behind him to get to a shelf, hand on shoulder to guide him out of the way. They hugged after the opening, faces pressed together. But neither of them had waiting marks on their faces or hands or necks. They were safe places to touch.

Patrick didn’t have any visible marks, but Patrick always wore long sleeves, slacks and sensible shoes. Maybe just a little v of his chest exposed from the top button of shirt being undone.

Not that David thought about those things. He didn’t want another soulmate. He was content to have Stevie, the constant background hum of his life and maybe even okay these days with Alexis, who had started to feel real things, deep things that resonated through him like a struck bell.

But then they kissed in the hushed dark of Patrick’s car. They kissed and maybe buried beneath the cashmere, self-loathing, and broken trust, there was a shred of a thought. Of a possibility. 

They kissed a lot those first few weeks. It seemed like they could never kiss enough, for David. And he’d worried that Patrick would think it was too much, that maybe Patrick wouldn’t want him to be there all the time like that, but whenever he stopped or pulled away, then Patrick would come find him.

“You can have my bed,” Stevie offered. The low chime of her amusement so clear over their bond that David was almost certain it was a trick.

When Jake walked in the storm of confusion, embarrassment and annoyance were nearly as clear.

But Patrick said they could box it. So they boxed it.

Which meant Patrick took off his shirt after more kissing. Took off his shirt and there were no waiting marks on his chest. His chest was safe to touch and David took advantage, his lips colonizing this new territory.

“You too,” Patrick tugged at his sweater.

David stood up to tug it off, already thinking about the poor lighting and how he could make the best of a bad situation. He didn’t expect Patrick to stand up too, to help pull away the fabric. And then it was easy, thoughtlessly easy to slip back into kissing.

And they kissed close, the way they always did. Arms sliding into place, Patrick’s sliding around his middle and hands rising to rest at the center of his back while David tangled his around Patrick’s neck, criss-crossing over the wings of his shoulder blades.

This time it wasn’t electric or comfortable or harsh or a hot bath.  This time it was light. A blaze behind David’s closed eyes, a firework show. And just a profound relief. Like he’d been about to die and a sudden reprieve had brought him back from the brink.

“Oh, wow,” Patrick held fast to him, pupils blown wide, his soft lovely smile at its full strength. “David...wow.”

“I had sort of hoped you’d wait to say that until I took of my pants,” he tried to joke, but the words didn’t come out. Instead he sort of choked out a, ‘yeah’.

Then they were in bed, the wait of weeks and the heightened sensation, the feedback loop of affection and lust and giddiness  sweeping them away. They came back down slowly, entangled. Patrick’s hands described the swirling lines of David’s mark and they fished someone’s phone off the nightstand and took blurry pictures to show each other.

Patrick’s mark spanned his shoulder blades, crisp whorls of black that branched out into increasingly thinner lines until they were delicate hairs of shadow. On David’s back was an almost perfect square of sky blue, fissures of silver lines in collapsing grids.

“I’d hoped it was you,” Patrick confessed, phone lost as he traced the silver lines with a fingertip.

“So did I,” he could finally admit to himself. “I’d given up. I didn’t even think I wanted to meet them.”

“Why not?” The touch stopped. David rested his forehead against his crossed arms, trying to find the right words for the thought he'd never let fully form before.

“It’s so much,” he settled on eventually. “And I thought it might be like...might be one sided. Again. And I would just have this big brand that said ‘no thank you’ for the rest of my life that I’d have to explain to everyone who came after.”

He waited for Patrick to say something sweet or something dismissive or anything at all. But there was a silence and eventually he had to look up. Patrick was still there, one hand pressed flat to David’s back, his expression broken open,

“I worried about that too.  A friend of mine once said plenty of people get married that aren’t and what are you going to do, wait forever?” Patrick looked down, his other hand encircling David’s bicep as if to steady himself. “When I cam here, it was because...well I guess because I realized that yeah, I would wait forever. I would wait for you.”

“You didn’t know it was me,” David’s voice cracked, betrayal on betrayal.

“I knew,” Patrick said with the same steady surety he told him their monthly profits. “I knew.”

“I didn’t,” he cleared his throat. “But I never do.”

Patrick doesn’t ask, but David supplies anyway because Patrick was probably raised politely where you never ever asked, “There’s two others.”

“Who?”

So that’s how they spend an hour of their precious alone time. David showed him the tiny gold splotch and the larger purple one. He told him about holding Alexis in the dead of night and Stevie elbowing him. About how right now Alexis was thinking hard about something, but he couldn’t tell what and Stevie was peacefully asleep.

“That must feel amazing. I can’t quite get a read on you that clearly yet.”

“I’m obviously very nuanced,” David yawned and then the implication settled in. “How many other marks do you have?”

“None,” Patrick shrugged like it should be obvious.

If David had thought about it before (and of course he had in the dead of night, imagining all the other people that had touched Patrick before him, had held his attention and laughed at his jokes. Were they still around or were they gone and if they were gone, why? Could he track them down, get them to explain the errors they had made so he could at least make new and exciting mistakes?), then he would’ve assumed that Patrick had a dozen or more marks. He shared himself so readily, was happy to be kind to complete strangers, and was funny and accepting and compromised. All those things everyone always said they wanted.

“So this was your first,” he said instead of a dozen other things like ‘It should be me that had just the one or really none at all because I don’t want to feel things at all some days’  or ‘how could anyone not be your soulmate, you could be everyone’s soulmate, everyone should want a Patrick’ or worse, more baldly, so plainly ‘How can you be mine and mine alone?’. 

“Yes, you’re getting a lot of those tonight,” Patrick laughed and kissed him and kissed him and it didn’t matter, any of it.

Except that now, David could feel Patrick’s happiness threading through his lust. He knew there was no sadness, no mourning for anything else. 

***

“Can I ask you something?”

They were laying on the floor of the store about a week later, but not for any fun reasons. Next to Patrick’s head was a mop bucket and David was still clinging to a Lysol wipe. The flu had struck hard and after several customers generously sneezed their way through the store, they’d mutually decided on a mass disinfection. By the end, David was starting to feel a little warm, but it was probably from dashing around frantically wiping and wasn’t worth the teasing he’d get if he mentioned it. Maybe he’d just tastefully faint when Patrick suggested they walk back to his place.

“Mm?” David’s non-Lysol wipe hand found Patrick’s giving it a squeeze.

“Why haven’t you told Alexis?”

There was no question of what Patrick meant.

“Because she’ll just be annoyed I didn’t tell her before and it would be a whole thing,” he huffed. “She doesn’t need to know.”

“I’d want to know.”

“Yes, because you're almost an entirely sensible human being and my sister is the living personification of a hissy fit.” A fizzy sensation crept over his back, apparently the feel of Patrick laughing at him.  “She is!”

“I still think she’d want to know.”

“No.”

David didn’t get the flu, but he did get to cough delicately for a day before Patrick stopped coming over periodically to press the back of his hand to his forehead.

And he didn’t think about Alexis because right now he was very happy in his own life and Alexis was fine. She was fine.

Okay, Alexis was having a quiet swan dive into sadness of unprecedented magnitude (which wasn’t that sad, Alexis wasn’t built for sad, but still it was noticeable and nagging).  So he took her on a buying trip and that would’ve been fine.

Except Ted. Fucking Ted. For a split second, David wished he knew how to throw a punch into Ted’s very-nice, did-absolutely-nothing-wrong face. Because he can just feel her heart sink, and her eyes well up and fucking no one did that to her. And no not even in a ‘no one teases my little sister, but me way’ because if David ever made her feel that way, he would’ve wanted to punch himself too.

Late into that night, he was curled up on his side away from her in his bed. The lights had been off for an hour. He wasn’t sure if she was asleep, unlike Stevie and Patrick, Alexis’ general state didn’t change between wakefulness and sleep. David was cradling his phone, reading through emails he’d missed.

“David,” she groaned, “I can’t sleep with you beaming that right into my eyes!”

“It’s not even facing you!”

“DAVID!”

“Children!” Moira scolded through the wall. “Your father is sleeping!”

“I was..” Johnny mumbled.

They all fell silent for a minute.

“Why are you still awake anyway?” David turned over, reluctantly setting down his phone.

“Nothing. No reason. Whatever.” She pulled the covers back up over her shoulders.

“Very convincing,” he golf-clapped. “Very Daytime Emmy.”

“Mom and Dad dropped you on your head as a baby. Like a bunch of times,” she grumbled.

“I almost dropped you once,” and it just came out of him. He blamed Patrick entirely, even though the man was asleep in his own bed.

“David!” She hissed. “You didn’t.”

“I said almost. Anyway, you were fine.”

“Mom always said you wouldn’t touch me when I was a baby because I smelled like discount talcum powder.”

“First of all, no one should use talcum powder. Second of all, that was Mom. I was five, I wasn’t exactly on the babysitting list.”

“I bet she held you as a baby.”

“No way.”

“We can ask Dad.” 

"Why would he know?"

And that question silenced them both for a good thirty seconds.

“And I’m holding you in that picture,” David reminded her. “The one under the thing by the stairs.”

“Ugh, I hate that picture.”

The yearly photo of them stiff in front of the house, the date stamped neatly on the back. It made the enormous portrait look natural. There were only a handful of them anyway. They’d stopped when Alexis was old enough to run away. 

“So you almost dropped me and we almost had a photo of it?”

“No, it wasn’t then.”

“So when then?”

And the question had been waiting for him for nearly thirty years.

“Sometimes our nannies snuck off to get drunk together sometimes," his mother had spilled the beans on that when he'd asked plaintively for Tatiana a few months after the incident. 

“Who Denni and Clara?”

“No, the ones before that. Or before those...it doesn’t matter. You were crying and no one came, so I got you.”  It was easier to say in the dark, the thick blanket of a Schitt’s Creek moonless night giving him cover, “I got you out of the crib and you were just looking for attention, life long trend-”

“Die in a fire,” she suggested sweetly.

“And anyway, you stopped and I didn't drop you, so.” 

“So what? Would you like a medal?”

Pre-Patrick, Pre-Stevie, David would never have told her. He would’ve gone on the rest of his life, gold highlight spot a nagging watchdog.  Post-Stevie David might’ve told her, might’ve just blurted it out and then smoothed it over.

But Patrick...Patrick had done things to him. He’d seen all of the inside of David’s self and made himself at home there. Re-arranged the furniture a little to catch more of the light and maybe added a touch of color to the place.

“So that’s when it happened.”

“When what happened?” Her blanket rustled, sheets wrinkling further under her.

The thing was that Alexis had no soulmarks. Not one. Not hidden between her toes or under her hair. Their parents had gotten a professional in when she was two, just to make sure. In true Rose spirit, they’d never talked about it again. Alexis had never complained about the lack, if anything, she’d made fun of David for his empty patches, about the people that might one day lay claim to them.

Alexis, never lonely or lessened on her own. Alexis, who never needed a soulmate except herself. Alexis, who many wasn’t those things or at least not anymore.

David turned on the lamp,

“Whhhhy,” she whined, her hands shielding her eyes, but she was already sitting up to. Giving him her attention.

“Look,” he slid off the thick ring on his finger, the one that didn’t move around in his private shell game. 

“I know about your little weird soulmark, David,” she rolled her eyes. “You can’t wear rings ALL the time.”

“It’s you,” he held his hand out to her.

She stared blankly at him, he could feel the well of ‘confusion/hurt/joy/shame/angry’.

“You should’ve told me,” she choked out. “How could you not tell me?”

“I didn’t think you’d care,” he pressed his lips together. “It’s not a deep one. I just sort of know if you’re in trouble. Or upset. And until recently, you were never upset so it didn’t matter.”

“It mattered to me!” She scream-whispered. “It matters, David. You...suck. You just suck so hard. You let me think for my whole life that no one would ever- that I wasn’t even able-”

“It was just one way,” he fought the urge to put the ring back on. “And you didn’t want me around.”

She shook her head over and over, the messy bun coming unraveled. 

“There’s places that can teach you to block me out,” he choked on the words, but forced them out. “Or I can have it removed.”

And then she was moving, the anger spiking, both her fine boned hands wrapping around his, “Don’t you dare, David. Don’t you fucking dare.”

They weren’t good at sharing or talking. So they didn’t try. She just sat next to him and held his hand between hers and he could feel her pushing her feelings at him, much stronger than the passive way they had before.

She turned the light back off after awhile and got back into her own bed.

The bond was clearer for him after that as if some muffler had been removed. Instead of the broad smooth strokes of Alexis’ implacable self, there were all the little eddies and currents. One day, he found himself halfway to bringing her breakfast and realized how easily she had figured out how to master the damn thing. He almost turned back around and dumped it all in the trash.

Them again, he probably owed her a few muffins, all things considered. 

****

The best day of David’s life was not his own wedding. That had been spectacular, wonderful, and unforgettable, naturally. If anyone asked him what the best day was than he would definitely say his own wedding. His wedding that he and Patrick planned with all it’s romantic touches. The day that started in their shop that they made together and ended with everyone they cared about wishing them the best.

It wound up being a very close second.

The real best day (and this was a secret from everyone for all time) had been Alexis’ wedding day. David had a hand in planning it, but nothing like had for his own. There was none of the anxiety or stress.  He had his little jobs to do, a speech to read, but those were all fun. Nothing that required him to admit his deepest feelings for the love of his life in front of a crowd.

Alexis looked beautiful, but that was whatever, that was days ending in ‘y’. But she was also so happy, a rich thick buttery sort of happiness that melted over him. Stevie and Patrick did a duet after a few drinks and they were tipsy and laughing and every point of David’s body was touched with it.

“Can I have this dance?” his mother asked.

They turned a good waltz across the small dance floor, David knew he looked ridiculous, unable to stop smiling broad and bright.

“Did you get into the tequila, dear?” she lifted her eyebrows, speculative.

“Can’t I just be in a good mood?”

“Yes, of course,” she smiled faintly. “It is a lovely wedding, isn’t it? We never really thought we’d see the day.”

“I did,” he glanced over to Alexis, who was perched on the edge of the bandstand. She had her face tilted up to the sky, and her hand firmly entwined in Ted’s. Ted who was riddled in tiny soulmarks, one of those with a real patchwork and none of them for Alexis which didn't stop him from loving her so hard that it radiated off of him.

Mom left David near the stage, eager to move back to Dad, who set down his wine and reached for her with the diamond marked palm. They clicked back together like magnets.

And David got to sit next to Alexis, relishing the party. Eventually Patrick draped himself over his back, his lips pressed briefly to his neck. Stevie flopped dramatically against his side.

“If I ever get married, I want no one else there,” she declared.

“Not even the groom?” Patrick was warm, the first hint of his stubble scratchy against David's neck.

“No,” she said solemnly. “This will obviously be a marriage to Satan because I’ll probably become a nun, but God wouldn't have me.” 


“I’ll source you a vintage wimple,” David promised. “One of those good ones with the big swoopy wings.”

“Oh, David!” Alexis beamed at him, a frisson of warning crackling through him. “Remember when you were in Sound of Music?”

“No!” He started to get up, but she wrapped herself around his arm and dragged him back down.

And she didn’t let got as she told her story. All of his people, touching him all at the same time in the fading afternoon sunlight. All of them happy. All of them accounted for. How could he choose any other moment, any other day?