He’s eight when he hears it for the first time. At first it feels like a song stuck in his head, one he’d heard in one of the department stores his mom had dragged him to or a Melody he couldn’t place. It gets clearer the longer he waits, the more he focuses on it.
He’s heard enough about about it from the kids in his class to know what’s happening, that there’s someone on the other end of this. That it’s fate, destiny.
He starts wondering about the person on the other side of the connection, soulmate, from that first day; what they might be doing, what they’re thinking, why they think this is good music.
He doesn’t get any answers so he plays them his favorite song instead, one his mom would always sing to him, one that sounded like a summer night and home— the kind he dreamt of having.
And when it’s over he plays another one.
The sky is dull and dark; violently screaming and shaking.
He’s eleven and scared and tired. There’s a storm outside and he should be used to it by now but thunder still terrifies him.
His parents are arguing in the next room, it doesn’t matter how many pillows he puts over his head the noise doesn’t drown out.
His soulmate plays him Courtney Love. The only reason he knows who Courtney Love is, is that they play it so often— he’d searched up the lyrics he could remember one day and found her music, liked the sound of it. His soulmate likes really old music, he realizes quickly, all of it at least a few decades old. He puts it on himself to remind them that it’s the twenty-first century.
When the song is over, he plays something for them, a new song he isn’t sure if he likes yet but there aren’t really any ways around that. They go back and forth and like that, their secret special way of communicating with one another, letting them know that they’re not alone. Maybe miles away, maybe a million, but it counts as something.
The sound of what he assumes is his soulmates favorite song, because it’s almost all they play, drowns out the storm and the sound of a door slamming beneath him. He appreciates that he’s the one that introduced his soulmate to it in the first place, falls asleep feeling proud and happy.
What they don’t tell you about soulmates is that sometimes they can suck. Sometimes they can be entirely not what you are looking for, and while the likelihood of that happening might be low, it is always a possibility. The problem with soulmates is that even if you hate them you’re stuck with them forever, and Gert can’t stand the thought of that.
To her, the whole idea of soulmates is nice... in theory. It was nice to think that her soulmate, whoever he, she or they may be, was out there; connected to her via fate, love, destiny and more other-worldly forces. But in reality, Gert is fifteen and already sick of her soulmate’s taste in music.
It’s broody teenage boys whining about non-issue issues and it’s all she’s been listening to since she was seven. And the songs aren’t really awful, far from it, but after a— very short— while, they get boring. They all start sounding the same around age nine, save for an occasional change in pace or some bland mall music.
She decides quickly that she doesn’t like the music, and that, therefore she doesn’t like her soulmate either. She’s starting to think she cant bear another moment of it, let alone a lifetime.
She raises these points to her parents in a well-crafted PowerPoint detailing just how broken the system is. And then her mom tells her what an inhibitor is.
“It does what?!” Her best friend asks her the next day when she relays the information to her in between third and fourth period.
“It breaks the link,” she says, claps her hands together excitedly. “You don’t understand, Karo,” she says with a dramatic huff, “this is exactly what I need.”
“You don’t even know your soulmate yet, Gert.” Karolina protests.
“I’m happy with that,” she assures her. “More than happy. Ecstatic.”
“I don’t understand you sometimes,” Karolina tells her, tries to sound annoyed but Gert can tell she’s still intrigued and that counts for something. Karolina sighs, “So,” she says, draws it out. “Are you going to get it?”
“I can’t,” she sighs. “Not until I’m eighteen.”
“Maybe you’ll change your mind by then,” Karolina says with a smile that’s meant to be encouraging but it just comes out patronizing.
He’s nineteen the first time he actually hears her voice, she’s singing something he can’t recognize but he’s heard her play it a million times before.
It is a her .
He knows that much now, and her voice sounds magical; something out of a dream. She only sings the one song but he can’t imagine ever growing tired of it.
She listens to Two Door Cinema Club now, Lana Del Ray and some other artists he recognizes from the radio. If you ask him, she still sounds a thousand times better.
“Come on, we’re going to be late!” Nico says, pokes her head around the door with a nervous look.
“Why do you even care about this? I’ve known you all my life and you have never once wanted to go to a party,” he jokes. Nico glares at him but Amy comes in all smiling and secretive, laughing to herself.
“Karolina volunteered to have it at her house,” She singsongs and Nico stares at her wide-eyed.
“Ohhhh.” Makes sense.
“You are both insufferable.”
“Maybe, but we’re not wrong.”
“You are. I’m just excited for you to finally shut up about lacrosse now that the season is over,” she laughs and Amy joins in. Chase thinks that as the person who practically forced him to pursue lacrosse and get a scholarship so they could all go to the same college, she shouldn’t be allowed to ever badmouth it. “Name one better reason to throw a party,” she says, pauses for less than a second before she adds, “See... You can’t.”
Amy side eyes her.
“..and if we happen to run into Karolina then...”
“Aha!” Chase laughs. Amy is on the bed now, doubled over and giggling almost uncontrollably. Nico glares at the both of them.
“Whatever. If we happen to run into Karolina, she really wants to meet you guys, even Alex,” Nico says tight lipped, but she can’t hide the smile creeping onto her face like it does whenever she talks about her girlfriend. Nico and Karolina have onky been together for a few years, but somehow it feels like forever. It’s definitely because they’re soulmates.
Like Chase, Nico can’t sing to save her life but she heard Karolina, loud and clear from the time she was 3 years old singing a song she could never recognize until well into their teens when she heard her singing at a cafe one day.
Nico says that’s how she knew it was her— that it gets louder the closer they are to each other but Chase thinks it probably has more to do with acoustics than the cosmos.
“Big mistake,” Amy says, shaking her head.
“That’s what I said.” Chase and Amy share a look across the room and Nico sighs, “I’ll be in the car whenever you two are ready to stop being complete assholes.”
It takes no time at all for Alex to get bored and decide to call it a night. It takes even less time for him to convince Amy to join him in sneaking out before Nico could stop them. It’s unsurprising, to say the least— they like to pretend they’re adventurous but the truth is either of them would take a cup of coffee and their laptop over a trip to the moon any day. Either way, it’s not like Nico would even notice. She disappeared with Karolina the second they arrived, barely got a hello out before they were lost in the sea of people.
The only one who notices is Chase. Before he knows it, it’s just him and Karolina’s friend, Molly. Molly is great, she is, but Chase is dying to get some liquid courage running through him and him giving a minor alcohol isn’t exactly number one on the list of things he wants to be doing tonight.
Molly must pick up on his train of thought because she tells him, “You know if you’re thirsty, I can come with you to get a drink without immediately becoming an alcoholic, right?”
“I did not, but good for you, Molls.” Molly rolls her eyes at him and Chase laughs. She follows him to the drink table quietly, pushing through so many people he doesn’t recognize. “So you’re going to state in the fall?” He asks over a stranger’s shoulder, loud enough for her and everyone between them to hear.
“Yeah,” she says, louder as they move through the crowd and the noise gets worse. He can barely hear his own thoughts. “Although I have no idea what I want to major in yet. You’re doing engineering, right.” He nods. “Are you any good?”
“I like to think so.”
“Nico says otherwise,” Molly scoffs.
“Nico’s full of shit.” She laughs then, actually laughs and it feels like an accomplishment. He can’t help but laugh along, even if he isn’t quite sure what she’s laughing at.
“I like that,” Molly says with a giggle. and he’s not sure what she’s referring to but it makes him smile either way. “Everyone else is too scared to call her out like that. She likes to act tough but I knew her when she wore Hello Kitty t-shirts and pigtails.”
“I’m going to need pictures of that. Immediately,” he laughs.
“Don’t worry I’ve got a ton,” she assures him. “Gert has an entire box of blackmail material and it’s filled to the brim with pictures of that phase.”
“Gert’s your sister right?” He asks for no reason, whatsoever. Because he’s heard it all: everything there is to know about the seemingly elusive Gert Yorkes. If not from Molly, then Nico and if not nico, then Karolina. He asks because he has still never met her— not when she’s here for summers and he’s away on private jets and beach houses. She’s here for Christmas and his dad’s taken them all on some pseudo-business trip he pretends is a family vacation. He’s here year-round and she lives in a different state.
“Yeah,” Molly answers anyway, gives him a sideways look.
“It must be hard with her being so far away.”
“Massachusetts isn’t that far,” Molly states as he pours himself a drink. “Besides. She’ll be back soon anyway.” She smiles. “You guys have to meet next time she’s here, you’ll love her.”
The second Gert steps into the over-crowded house, she beelines for the drink table. Karolina’s parents are out of town for the weekend and since she’s officially on winter break, she’s decided to throw a nightmare of a party— despite the fact that everyone here is wildly underage and they’ve decided to trash her house simply because they can. But there is no way in hell Gert is making it through an entire night of watching strangers un-ironically fail at karaoke without at least a few drinks first.
“Gert?!” She hears a voice shout, make it’s way through the room to her. Shit. “What the hell are you doing here?” She should’ve expected this— who surprises someone in the middle of a rager?
“Molly, hey,” she smiles, pulls her sister into a hug in spite of her venting.
“You’re not supposed to be back for another month.”
“I was trying to surprise you. And failing obviously if it took less than ten seconds to get caught.”
“Who cares,” Molly laughs, interrupts any further explanation by yanking Gert into another hug that she embraces excitedly. “I’m so happy you’re here,” she says with a beaming smile that makes Gert feel like the most important person in the world.
“I’m happy to be back.” She says, pulls her into another hug. “I missed you so much.” Molly still smells like pineapple, the same shampoo she’s been using since she was eight. It smells like home. “I didn’t know Karolina knew this many people.” She says when she pulls away and bumps into a guy who continues walking off in the direction he’d been going.
“She doesn’t.” Molly says with a dramatic roll of her eyes. Gert smiles at her.
“I missed you so much,” Gert echoes. Because she really can’t say it enough. If it weren’t for the fact that she loved studying in the environment she is in, she doesn’t think she could ever be away from Molly for more than a few days. And some days, even the career path she set out for herself when she was six and has been strictly following since, doesn’t feel like enough to keep her from jumping on the first bus to Brentwood she can find.
“I missed you too, Gert,” Molly smiles, takes her hand and squeezes it. She laughs to herself. “Wanna try and beat me at a game of beer pong?” she asks, tries feeding off of their still standing smiles.
“You’re hilarious,” Gert snorts.
“Cherry sparkler pong then?” Molly asks less enthusiastically, eyes still glowing.
“Better,” Gert laughs, following her sister’s lead. “Yeah, let's do it.”
There’s a line for the bathroom.
They’re at a house party in the middle of nowhere and there’s a line for the bathroom. Thinking over it, it’s probably not as absurd as he thinks it is but there’s a line and he knows for a fact that Karolina knows no one in it, none of the strangers waiting in the tiny hallway.
He plants himself at the end of it, drink still in hand, and it’s all an uninteresting and unchanging dance after that; step, shuffle, wait in place for what feels like an hour. Step, shuffle, wait. Step, shuffle, wait.
“Hey, what the fuck?” A voice says, takes him longer than he’d care to admit to recognize that it was directed at him. That his cup is empty and her shirt is soaked.
“Shit. shit. shit sorry,” Chase mumbles, simultaneously pulling his cup away, dabbing at her shirt with his hands, searching for a napkin, a cloth, the ground to swallow him whole.
“No,” the girl says, pulling her hands away to raise them. “It’s fine, I get it. It’s really hard to hold a cup upright while also standing in a stationary position.” Chase stares at her, speechless, feeling helpless and embarrassed, watches her face soften and break out into a blinding smile. “Shit, I’m kidding, dude. It was an accident.”
“Right,” he laughs, “I knew that.”
“Okay,” she says, still smiling. “Well since you ruined my favorite shirt I’m taking your place.”
“Move back.” She doesn’t wait for him to do it, wriggles in between him and the guy in front of him before he can get a single word in.
They’re both still standing in line, a decade later, when someone drunkenly gets up onto the bar and breaks out into song; Whitney Houston and the most awful rendition of Dance With Somebody he’s ever heard.
“You know what sucks?” The girl in front of him, the one who hasn’t given him her name yet but smells like his mix of tequila and cherry syrup asks, turns back to him with wide eyes and a defeated smile. Her shirt is white and red now, a stain in the shape of a state he can’t name taking form on it.
“That we haven’t moved in twenty minutes?” She laughs, warm and loud and reminiscent of her purple hair being turned pink by the cheap neon lights taped to the wall.
“Yes, that,” she assures him, “but also... that somewhere, someone is just trying to have a nice Friday evening and they’re stuck listening to that.” He follows her eyes to the guy on the bar, now trying his luck at Michael Jackson.
Chase laughs, tries to pull himself together long enough to say, “Come on, he’s not that bad.”
“God, yours must be awful,” she scoffs. She must catch the confusion on his face. “Your soulmate. Better half,” she chirps, raising her eyebrows playfully. “Must be pretty shitty if you think that sounds good.”
“The opposite actually.”
“Have you met them?”
“Nope,” Chase shakes his head. “You?”
She shakes her head, looks him straight in the eyes, “I don’t believe in it.”
“You don’t believe in it?” He scoffs.
“Of course not,” she says, matter-of-factly, no question to it.
“You’re the one who brought it up,” he shrugs.
“Obviously it’s real,” she scoffs, “I just don’t believe it’s the end all and be all. It’s a broken system.”
“A what-” He laughs, “you’re kidding, right?”
“Do you know how messed up it is that everyone just blindly accepts the fact that our entire lives are predetermined and we have no free will?”
“Not to mention the inherent heterosexism of it all. Any idea how many people are pushed into heteronormative relationships because it’s “what the fates that be” decided? And who's to say we all only have one soulmate? What if they die before we meet them? Or after? Are we just supposed to spend forever alone?”
“Forget I asked.”
She rolls her eyes. “Sorry if I’m not going to waste my time searching for one person that, in all likelihood, I might never meet, might not even like, instead of living my life and nourishing the relationships that already exist.”
“No one’s asking you to not live your life, though. Just because you have a soulmate doesn’t mean you’re prohibited from dating,” he scoffs. “It’s a promise of someday, not abstinence.”
She laughs, “what TED talk did you get that one from?” Chase rolls his eyes and she lifts her hands up in defeat. “Fine. But let me ask you something?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“No.” She smiles widely, twists on her heels even further so that she’s facing him properly, looking at the collar of his shirt rather than the chipped paint on the walls. “Are you in love with them? The person on the other end of your brain’s wiring?”
“You know, you ask a lot of questions for someone who just me," he says.
"It's part of my charm," she shrugs, "you didn't answer my question." She pokes a finger at his chest.
"I don’t know,” he sighs.
“You dating anyone else?” She asks, hands folded in front of her chest, cheeks pink because of the lights or the August air or something else. He tries not to think about it too hard, her psycho-analysis of him or his eagerness to answer. Tries not to linger on the fact that he hasn’t had a serious relationship in years, maybe ever.
He ignores her question altogether, says instead, “So, do you just ignore the poor guy on the other end of your brain’s wiring?”
“No,” she says immediately, shakes her head. “I’m not completely devoid of human emotion.”
“Could’ve fooled me.”
“He’s charming and funny?!”
Chase laughs softly, digs his fist into his pocket. “You didn’t answer my question. Not really, anyway..”
“You didn’t answer mine.”
Chase drops his shoulders defeatedly, sighs. Her eyes light up and he hates it. “No,” he says, “I am not dating. Not seriously.” She smiles, pulls her lips between her teeth and claps her hands in victory. He might consider it cute if it weren’t so annoying.
“Your turn,” he says.
“Fine,” she sighs. She pulls her hair over her left shoulder, holding it all to one side. “I use an inhibtor.”
“Is that like a blocker?” She nods. “What? Does it work?” He’d heard of them; the endless list of variations of ways to put off fate .
“Like a charm,” she smirks, points out the little star-shaped piercing behind her ear. “It’s a quality product,” she says, and he can’t tell if she’s joking or not. “The place I got it from even got a five-star rating on Yelp.”
“I thought they were banned or something.”
“I know a guy who knows a guy.”
“Sounds ominous, and illegal.” Chase remarks.
She smiles again, bright as ever even in this awful awful lighting. “Very,” she laughs softly.
“Your turn,” Gert hears the voice behind her say when the door to the bathroom opens, a cloud of smoke following, and she’s the one standing next to it.
“Wanna help me clean this up,” she hears herself say, catches them both off guard. Maybe it’s the drinks or that now that she can actually see him she can see that his face looks like it should be on the cover of a magazine, maybe it’s that the alcohol has turned her anxiety into a muffled whisper in the back of her mind rather than a scream. She doesn’t linger on it too long,“I mean it’s only decent considering you’re the reason I’m in this situation in the first place.”
His uncertain “yeah,” is muffled by her hand landing on his, pulling him in with her and shutting the door behind them before she knows what’s happening.
She smiles at him nervously once the door is closed and he laughs, just as uncertain. He clears his throat. “You, uh, do you have something to change in to?” he says, so gently that she feels herself blushing at the sound of it. She hopes the hair falling in front of her face when she ducks her head is enough to hide it, enough to let her at least think she still has some high ground here.
“Right,” she nods, “yeah,” turns away from him with pink cheeks and a realization that in the nonexistent lighting of the hallway she hadn’t noticed how prominent his jawline is, that his hair looks softer than hers, that she wants to touch it. She reaches into the cabinet under the sink where Karolina permanently keeps an overnight bag for her in case of emergency out of the blue sleepovers. “Bingo!”
She grabs a grey hoodie off the pile of clothes she’s sure she’s long since outgrown and turns to face her nameless friend just as he starts talking. “So you know Karolina?” He asks, takes a step back as Gert shuffles around him toward the laundry hamper.
“Yeah. She and I have known each other since pre school.” Its only when she catches the reflection of the two of them in the mirror, standing so close and wreaking of fruity drinks that the realization that inviting him in with her might have not been her best idea hits. She’d known it before but now she’s forced it to acknowledge it. Especially considering her face is red and it’s not going to get any better when she starts taking her top off. But it’s too late. She’s made her bed. She can’t chase him out now. She says, “you mind holding this a second.”
“Uh, yeah... sure.” He says nervously and Gert smiles to herself, wonders if she’s as flushed as he seems to be, she feels it. Worse. Chase turns around to face the door behind him as she starts to unbutton her shirt, awakwardky shuffling to the other side of the match sized bathroom. She doesn’t buy that anyone who looks as good as he does is this awkward, this shy and innocent. It’s sweet, but it doesn’t track. “You’re adorable,” she says brazenly, when she reaches for the shirt from his hand, hits his shoulder when he starts to turn around. It feels like another shot right then.
“Thank you,” he says and she can picture the grin on his face, rolls her eyes even though he can’t see it.
“I take it back,” she deadpans, pulling the hoodie over her head. It’s so big it stretches over her skirt, falls just below it.
“Too late, it’s on the record.”
“Done,” she says, picks her cherry soaked shirt up and then when he’s facing her again “you’re actually insufferable.”
“I’ve been nothing but a perfect gentleman.” He says, smiles like there’s an actual halo hanging above his head and there might as well be one.
“My shirt would say otherwise,” she says with a giggle, isn’t sure when exactly she took a step forward but he’s suddenly so much closer than he was earlier, she’s sure of it. She can feel her face heating up, her breathing getting slower and damn this is going to get really old really fast. “Whatever,” she says, clears her throat. “Like i said: insufferable.”
She waits for some silly retort or half-assed defense but he doesn’t say anything, keeps looking at her like he’s expecting her to say something or do something. And she does.
Arms reaching up, she grabs him by the sides of his jacket, pulls him down so they lips collide before she can overthink or second guess or think past that last cup of cherry sparkler. She feels his hands start to move, one brushing over her arm, around her waist, the other to the back of her hand, tangled in her hair as the kiss deepens.
His lips are a trip into the night he’s had; beer and tequila and inklings of scotch or something stronger. They’re warm and inviting and they feel so good, so good that it feels like she’s being robbed when he pulls away as suddenly as she pulled him in, exhales deeply before looking down at her with bright glowing eyes. She waits another beat before opening her mouth, mumbles a muffled “Wow. Okay.... Umm.. That was-“ before she’s cut of by his hands dropping to her waist, lifting her up onto the counter.
Her clenched fists tighten their closed grip on his jacket, unsure if they found their way back there or if they’d never left in the first place, pulls him crashing back into her. He fits neatly between her legs and his hands find their way under her own jacket.
She likes this new position better, the one with him fitting neatly between her legs, pushing her skirt higher and higher up. Likes it so much she can’t help but feel even more buzzed, high on the cool air coming through the open window and the feeling of his fingers dancing along the edge of the fabric of the hoodie she’s regretting ever having put on at all. She can feel his hands on her back, fingerprints teaching warmth through the mesh of her top, wonders for longer than she’d like about what they'd feel like running along her skin.
Her train of thought, of what if’s and what’s next is cut short by the atrocious sound of a fist bagging against mahogany, muffled shouts coming from the other side of the door telling them, rather colorfully, to hurry the hell up.
“Shit,” Gert sighs, sucks in a deep breath and pulls back abruptly. “Sorry we uh- we should-“
“We should probably go,” he finishes for her, nods and takes a step back while Gert tries her best to gracefully slide off the marble counter, pulling her skirt back down and unlocking the door all in one complete haze of a minute.
“Finally,” the guy on the other side of the door exclaims when they both emerge, keep walking until they’re in the middle of the party and as far away from solitude as they can get.
“I should probably, go find my sister, make sure she isn’t sending out search parties already,” she shouts over the noise, wonders if it matters that she’s practically screaming if she can feel the noise from the the bass in her lungs.
“Yeah, i should get going too.”
“Okay, well, uh,” she fold her hands in front of her chest, unfolds them and tucks her hair behind her ears. “I’ll see you around I guess.”
Chase tries to follow her movement across the room, tries to pull himself together enough to walk up to her and get her number, or at the very least, her name.
He loses her in the crowd instead, loses sight of her seconds after she walks off into the crowd. He loses her in the sea of people and he’s way more upset than necessary considering that he doesn’t even know her name.
“Where the hell were you?” Molly’s already waiting by the car for her, arms crossed like she’s the older one of the two with a frown to match it. Gert has to stop herself from smiling, press her lips into a thin line and watch Molly stare at her instead. “I’ve been waiting for like an hour.”
“I got sidetracked.” Technically, it’s not a lie. Either way, she can tell Molly isn’t buying it. “There was a line outside the bathroom.”
“Something you want to say, Molls?” She's too drunk for this, not nearly sober enough to guess if somehow she actually knows—doesn’t stop her mind from racing there immediately, trying to figure it out anyway.
“When I was looking for you earlier Katie said she saw you going into the bathroom.” She doesn’t have to try too hard, apparently. “With a guy,” Molly adds with a smirk, wiggles her eyebrows suggestively and stares at Gert for a response.
“Oh,” she’s staring holes into the ground, piercing it with her gaze and still she knows if she looks up she’ll catch Molly grinning at her, smug and expectant. “He spilled his drink on me,” Gert answers, drops her shoulders and peaks up at her sister. “Hence, this horrendous hoodie.” She says, points to the neon hoodie her mom had gotten her for Christmas when she was 12. The one she’d loved more than anything and now dreams of burning in a forest fire.
“... He was just helping me clean it up.”
“I said okay,” Molly scoffs.
“Great,” she giggles. Gert is sure this won’t be the last she hears of it, expects endless questions once the sun is up and she’s regretting the entire night. “You wanna go home or stay a little longer?”
“Home,” she says with a smile, unlocking the car in relief. “Obviously.”
He doesn’t realize until he’s outside and shivering that he has no ride home, Amy and Alex having run off with her car. It’s not like he’d be able to drive home, anyway, he can’t see past his nose.
At least he’s got his soulmate’s playlist bouncing around his head, songs he pictures her choosing for the two of them to share. Tonight’s it’s Eighties pop, and it’s a pleasant distraction from the cold and the noise screaming through the walls of the house into the front yard. The variety of her taste in music continues to amaze him, just when he thinks he’s found a pattern she’ll play something he never would’ve expected on repeat for two days.
“I called Alex,” a voice shouts from the other side of the yard. It takes him a minute to make out that it’s Nico’s, see her blurry figure swinging on the set next to Karolina’s porch. “He should be here any minute now,” Nico adds when he starts making his way to her. “Figures we’d both get too wasted to not be considered a liability.”
Chase nods, doesn’t feel as drunk as he did inside, doesn’t try to work out whether it’s because of the skin-crawling cold air or a flash of purple hair and the breath that’s still knocked out of him.
He sits down next to her and Nico glances at him, smiles to herself. “Your button’s undone,” she says, not even trying to hide the smirk on her face.
“Thanks,” Chase swallows, undoes the two mismatched buttons and corrects them.
“I’m guessing you had a good night then?”
“How’s Karolina?” Chase asks just as sly, ignores her question completely.
“I barely saw her all night,”
Chase chuckles, “You used to be a much better liar,” he laughs. He catches Amy’s car the second it turns the corner, a plethora of completely unmissable window stickers.
“I’m not lying,” Nico says, standing up when she catches sight of the car. “And don’t worry,” she laughs, “you don’t have to thank me for dragging you here tonight.”
Chase laughs, as the horn honks behind them and the two of them head toward the car. If he really thinks about it, maybe he doesn’t regret going to this party as much as he expected to.
It’s Christmas and he wishes he were anywhere but the empty campus he’s stuck on, too lazy to drive back to his dysfunctional house, too self-pitying to go spend it at his friends’ perfectly healthy ones. It was enough spending the morning with Amy and Nico, their parents and their neatly wrapped up home that smells like artificial vanilla, but he needed some time to himself.
He just pictured it less still than this.
His soulmate is listening to the same music she always does, songs he doesn’t recognize and songs he loves and the only thought on his mind is that he wishes he could meet her; this person he’s been talking to his whole life without saying a thing.
He’s always wanted to meet her, it’s never been a question of if, only when. Even now, even when he doesn’t know what she looks like when she smiles or if her voice sounds the same when she talks, she is already such an important part of his life.
The car is moving excruciatingly slowly, each turn of the wheel making Chase more and more excited to get completely wasted. “This is pathetic,” he exclaims, flipping through radio stations as he does. “It’s eight o clock on New Year’s Eve and I haven’t had a single drink.”
“You are such a goddamn drama queen,” Alex sighs, pays him no attention as he pulls up outside a big grey house. There are cars parked all along the driveway and down the street.
The two of them get out of the car before locking it behind them, making their way across the neatly trimmed lawn, a lawn sign that reads ‘Beware of dog. Kills with cuteness’.
“Who’s party is this again?” Chase asks, shoving his phone into his back pocket, coming to a stop in front of the towering front door.
“The Yorkes’,” Alex rings the bell. Once, twice, a third time, as they stand in silence waiting for someone to open the door. Alex turns to Chase, must catch the confused expression on his face because he adds “Gert and Molly’s parents. You met Molly, right?”
“Oh, yeah, of course. She’s great,” he pauses hesitantly. “But I still don’t get why we're here.”
“Because,” Alex says in that singsong voice he uses when he’s frustrated, the one that amuses Chase more than anything else he could ever do. “Our parents ditched us on New Year’s Eve and we have nothing better to do. So... might as well,” he shrugs and Chase can’t help but laugh when he rings the bell again. “Plus, Nico’s scary and said we have to come.”
“Dude,” Chase scoffs.
Alex shuffles through his pockets while they wait, rings the doorbell once more for good measure. “Shit, I forgot my charger in the car. I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll be here,” Chase says with a say. “Forever, apparently-“
He’s cut off by the door opening in his face, knocking him off balance. Maybe it’s the door, maybe it’s the wind. No, it’s definitely neither of those. It’s her. The girl with the purple hair from all those months ago, standing right in front of him like some type of kismet he can’t grasp.
“Hi,” she says, sounds exactly like he remembers. The same way she does every time he replays that night in his head. “Oh.”
“It’s you,” he says awkwardly, a nervous laugh to undercut some of the tension but it doesn’t work well.
“It’s me,” she says with a half-smile. “What are you doing here?” She pauses, looks at him sideways and hesitant. “Shit, you’re not stalking me or something are you?”
“What? No?” Chase says defensively but she’s still looking at him weirdly. “My friends dragged me along, they know the people throwing this thing.” She nods slowly. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m the people throwing this thing.”
She scoffs “I usually go by-“
“Gert!!” Chase follows her gaze as it shifts to Alex behind them, watches him awkwardly jog across the front lawn before joining then. “Hey, you guys finally met!”
“No, we have not, actually,” she says with a smile he can’t understand. “Your friend was just about to introduce himself.”
“Chase,” he says, spits it out nervously all of a sudden.
“Oh... you’re Chase?” the look on her face changes to another one he doesn’t understand, cannot read no matter how hard he tries.
“Yep, that’s me.”
“Gert,” she repeats, stretches out her hand. “Nice to officially meet you.”
He greatly overestimated how much alcohol there would be at this thing, especially considering that it is a house full of actual adults and despite everything he likes to think, he is still underage. It’s wine coolers only for now. Until Karolina can sneak them a bottle of schnapps from the study, or something else even stronger.
The music is so loud it echoes in his head, reverberating like it’s moving through a cave. It’s classical music, too. Beethoven, Alex tells him, but knowing that doesn’t make it sound better.
He’s on the roof, staring out at the city waiting for Nico to come back with his fourth cooler for the night, trying to find some semblance of quiet. “I have to say, the way Molly described you I was one hundred percent expecting a jockstrap,” Gert says, appears beside him with an expression he can’t read. “Don’t know why I’m surprised then.” Chase chuckles, follows her lead when she takes a seat on one of the burgundy benches on the other side of the roof. “So, do you like standing alone in the corner at parties? Is that your thing?”
“You know, that and stalking girls I meet in bathroom lines.”
She laughs when she says, “Oh right, I forgot about that one.”
“So, Massachusetts?” He asks, reads her reaction like he’s been doing it his whole life.
“Boston," she correct. "And what about it?” She asks, her shoulder brushes against his in the cold, a glimmer of warmth for the briefest second gone before it’s even started.
“It’s... random,” he laughs, watches and for some reason expects Gert’s annoyed expression. “What made you decide to study there? L.A. traffic that bad?”
“Worse,” she laughs, takes a sip of her drink. She shrugs then, gives him a half-smile, “I don’t know. Northeastern is a great place.“
“I’m not doubting that.”
“It’s also pretty far from home,” she says, stares out say the balcony full of people murmuring incoherently. “I needed that at eighteen, more than anything, you know. Just some space.”
“I get that,” he assures her, thinks of all the nights he plotted getting as far away from Brentwood as possible, as fast as his car could go. “Really.“ Gert gives him a sad smile, raises her glass and he taps it gently with his. “What about now?” He asks, after she's taken a sip and his lips are shaking from the cold. “You said you needed to leave at eighteen?”
“Do I not look eighteen?” She asks, mock-offended. She sighs, “I miss the sun and Molly and my parents and friends. I miss it so much.” She pauses, hesitant, rolls her bottom lip and clears her throat. “I’m coming back," she says. "I haven’t told anyone yet but I already applied, put in the credit transfer weeks ago.”
He learns that she’s studying a multitude of courses, half of which he never even knew existed, tells her that he’s doing Engineering and she laughs, says “of course.” She tells him that the only thing she truly likes about Boston is the friends she’s starting to realize she doesn’t really know. She tells him that she’s moving back a week from now and it makes him feel a wave of excitement, a feeling of strange happiness that’s new. Her eyes light up when she talks about her future and oddly enough it makes him excited for his.
“You wanna see something,” she asks just as the countdown begins, her heart racing from the adrenaline and the chanting and the fireworks about to go off.
She’s already drunk, was before the first guest walked in through the door and it’s reaching new heights now, high enough to not think through what she’s doing when she takes his hand and leads him around the corner to the other side of the roof to the ladder leading up to the landing above the attic.
Chase follows her up silently, leaving the boisterous party for some peace and quiet, enough fresh air to completely change them.
She struggles to get up the ladder in her heels, realizes she hasn’t thought this through properly because their drinks are spilling out of the glasses and onto the fabric of her outfit.
They make it to the top with half-full glasses by some miracle and their friends are waiting for them, all of them huddled on the edge of the roof, legs dangling over the city.
“It’s my favorite place,” Gert whispers to Chase before anyone can get a word in, sits down before she thinks he even has any idea what’s going on.
“I almost forgot,” she says, stretching it out. She lifts up one of the icy glasses and hands it to him. Chase takes it from her with a sweet smile that makes her feel warmer just looking at it, she raises hers.
The comforting warmth from the house has ebbed into harsh cold December air. The sky is black, save for a random smattering of clouds, the colors of the verandah below them softened and blended together. Her eyes drift to the stolen glasses of sangria in her hand, feels the coolness of it turning her nails blue under a fresh layer of polish. She swallows thickly, puts the glass down next to her and wraps her arms around her frame.
“The fireworks look best from up here,” Karolina says as the two of them sit down on opposite sides of their friends. This is how they spend every New Year's Eve and it’s her favorite thing in the world.
“I’ll bet,” Chase says, and she can feel him looking at her, his expression as unreadable as ever. He's always doing that, being an enigma, no matter how hard she tries or how good she's become at reading people.
The crowd below them has gotten unbelievably loud, Molly joining in on their chant while they all watch the sky in anticipation, wait for their lives to stay the same.
“Happy new year!!” The crowd screams, and she can’t stop the giddy smile coming over. The extremely blissful feeling. Tonight feels magical.
The sky must feel it too because it’s sparkling pink and gold and white, first in letters spelling out words she’s too tired to read and then just pretty explosions of color.
“A toast,” someone says, she isn’t sure who, is too buzzed to look. “To friendship, and my favorite people in the world.” And they all raise their glasses in unison, clink them together gently and erupt into laughter and pure joy.
He hears his soulmate’s voice again that night, singing the same song he’s she's been singing for years, but she’s not the only one on his mind.
He’s thinking about the color purple and the feeling of winter air on his skin as the clock reset and how he started a new year perched on a rooftop with his best friends.
He’s thinking that this year is going to be a good one, that there’s no way it can’t be.
He’s in the middle of working on his newest project when his phone buzzes. The light shining from his screen hurts his eyes, forces them to adjust when they’re not ready to.
It’s Gert, his phone informs him. She was supposed to be back in Brentwood weeks ago, they all had plans to spend the remainder of their winter breaks together. But her plans changed. She didn’t have the credits she needed and so she would have to stay in Massachusetts until spring.
He surprises himself by missing her. Especially considering that he’d only seen her a handful of times, talked to her just as many. Apart from the few interactions they had had in the new year, the only connection he had to her was a bizarre group chat that Molly had started with all of their friends, and the random message she’d shoot him when she was bored.
She always made sure to start any and all of their text conversations off with “I’m bored,” make sure he knows that the only reason she's texting him is that she has nothing better to do-- something they both recognize as a lie.
Today is different, of course, it is. Today her text reads “Nick and I broke up :(“
Nick is her boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend, apparently. Chase didn’t know enough about him to actually form an opinion about him, he didn’t know enough about Gert to have a right to form an opinion about the guy she was dating.
Before he can formulate a response, let alone one he can give to her, his phone is ringing. A picture of Gert from New Year's Eve flashes back at him before he answers the call. He accepts the call and then he’s staring back at Gert, the real Gert and not just a picture of her with confetti in her hair and a silver party horn in her mouth.
“Hey,” he says nervously, sitting up straight on the couch when she registers him.
“Hey,” Gert stammers. “Sorry, I know you’re probably busy but Molly’s at practice and everyone else is M.I.A. so I just..”
“It’s okay,” he says, kicks himself because he has no idea where to go from here, what comes next, or what he’s supposed to say. He takes a deep breath, “you and Nick broke up?”
“Nick and I broke up,” she echoes, nods to herself.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Not really,” she shakes her head, stares at something he can’t see. He wonders if he’s the first person she’s telling any of this to, if she’s holding back tears when she speaks, if he’s being anything even remotely close to helpful. Gert stares back at him blankly. “Not at all, actually.” She sighs, “I just want to be distracted. What are you doing?”
“Playing around with one of my projects, listening to a playlist,” he says. Maybe video-chatting was a bad idea because he can see the exact moment Gert’s eyes light up and a smirk forms on her face. It’s the same exact moment he regrets adding that last part.
“You mean playing it for your soulmate?” Gert singsongs, batting her eyelashes. Chase rolls his eyes. “Oh god,” she says all of a sudden, shudders. “Did I interrupt you in the middle of making a move?”
“I was working and I needed something to listen to,” he argues, but Gert is still looking at him smugly and it is incredibly annoying. “Oh, come on, it’s not like I can turn it off. Actually... I don’t want to, anyway.”
“Aww,” she smiles, half honesty and half mocking him. “You are such a sap.”
“I hate you, I’m leaving.” He doesn’t leave. She doesn’t even have to ask him to stay for him to do it, but she does it anyway.
“Nooo, please don’t go! You promised you would distract me.” Gert pleads and Chase nods.
“Show me your playlist,” She asks.
Chase laughs, “no way in hell!”
“Why not? Come on I promise I won’t be mean!”
“I don’t believe you,” he says.
“Pleaseee,” Gert says, even adds a pout for dramatic emphasis. “You know I’m not going to stop until you show it to me.” She’s right, he knows she won’t stop. But still, he doesn’t budge. “Chase. Chase. Chase,” she chants, even pokes her finger at the screen and he finds himself wanting to hang up, just to avoid further embarrassment. But he doesn’t. “Chase. Chase. Chase. Chase-“
“Fine! Okay, you win.” He concedes and Gert is instantly beaming. “I’ll send it to you now.”
He sends her a screenshot of his playlist, and she isn’t even on the fourth song before she calls him back. “The Spin Doctors?!” She says, shouts. “In this day and age?”
“What about it?”
She flips him off. “After all the shit you gave me about the Backstreet Boys? I swear to god, Chase, if you’re going to listen to ancient music at least let it be good ancient music!” She sighs, “that poor girl.”
“It’s official,” he says. “You’re an asshole.”
“I hate you.”
“Good, then the feeling’s mutual.” He says. “You promised you wouldn’t be mean.”
“I lied.” It takes a full ten seconds of silence for Gert to burst out laughing. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding, okay? I think it’s sweet, really, that you still believe in it.”
Chase scoffs, “you do not.”
“I don’t,” she sighs and it makes him smile. “But I get it. Wanting to believe that there’s someone there for you no matter what, I get that.”
She clears her throat before he can say anything else, before he can notice just how much she's holding back with a crack in her voice. “You know you can meet her, right? There are tons of programs dedicated to getting people in touch with their soulmates.”
“I know,” he says hesitatingly. “I guess I’m just scared. What if she’s not what I think? What if I’m not what she’s expecting? What if she doesn’t even like me?”
“Then she would be an idiot,” Gert assures him, offers him a smile that she hopes somehow takes only a second to convince him that everything is going to be okay.
“Is it weird that I miss you?” Chase says, looks away from the camera. She tries her best not to read into it.
“I hope not,” she smiles at him, “because I miss you too.”
“Molly says you’re coming back next week.”
“Yeah, everything is finally sorted. Most of my things are packed. Plus, it’s spring break so its the perfect time to do this!”
“It’s okay,” Chase says in a singsong voice, and she already knows she’s not going to like what comes next. “You don’t have to make excuses I know you’re dying to see me.”
Gert feels herself blushing, tells him “keep dreaming.”
“Yeah right!” He scoffs, “You’re not even slightly, minutely, just a tad excited to see me again?”
“Maybe just a tad,” she smiles. The truth is she’s very excited to go back, not just to the new friend she’s found in Chase but to everything back in Brentwood. Her parents, Molly, her friends, Old Lace. The closer it gets to her moving back, the more she wonders how she ever made it this long, living so far away from them. “Nick was supposed to come with,” she hears herself say.
“Oh,” Chase says. She can’t read his expression.
“Yeah, Dale and Stacy have been asking to meet him for months and he didn’t have any plans for the break so...” she sighs. “I guess that’s probably not happening anymore.”
“God, I hate this.” She hates feeling like this and she hates that she hates feeling like this. Most of all though she hates how unexpected it was. She hates that she didn’t see coming. She wishes she could say that she wasn’t surprised by this, that she had known it was coming for weeks now— the two of them were drifting apart, fighting all the time, or something to that extent— but she didn’t. She had no idea this was going to happen until they were in the middle of an argument about how they were going to make long-distance work and Nick said that maybe they just shouldn’t try at all.
“I’m sorry,” Chase says softly.
“Yeah, me too.” She breathes. “Look-“
They both laugh nervously for a second before Gert starts talking, tries again. “ I was just going to say that I gotta go, okay, but I’ll call you soon.”
“Oh, yeah. Okay. Sure.” Chase says awkwardly. Gert smiles.
“Thank you, though. For this, for distracting me.”
“Hey, it’s good to know I’m good at some things.” Chase laughs.
Gert pointedly brazenly wipes drops of sweat off her forehead, staring at herself in the mirror. Gert looks back at the clusters of boxes, all with big bold labels indicating what is inside them, spread out across Karolina’s apartment— the one she had been so graciously welcomed into.
Moving had been treacherous and tiresome, every part of it, but now she was settled-ish, finally. All that is left to do is unpack.
Her friends had offered to help, promised they’d be there and ready to unpack anything she needed to be unpacked once she was settled in. She needs some time to herself right now, though. To let the last few weeks settle in. It feels like she’s been on a freight train, having a dozen things thrown her way every moment. First Nick, then saying goodbye to the few real friends she’d made over the last few years, and then uprooting her entire life. Again.
No matter how much she wants this, no matter how happy she is she did it, it’s still hard. At least this time she’s coming to her family instead of leaving them behind, this time she’s got everyone she loves in her corner.
She has spent three hours unpacking a total of one box when her phone chimes from across the room. She uses it as an excuse to abandon the box she’s just torn open. It’s a text from Chase, hey, I heard you’re back? it reads.
Yes, she types back. 3 days and still no welcome back party? I thought you were better than this, Stein.
Tons of I'm sorry flowers and a full parade coming up! He sends and she catches herself smiling back. I just need your help with something first... Gert wait patiently while the three dots on her screen move back and forth, disappear and reappear. Stuck on a blind date, his next text reads, followed by one that says it’s awful. send in the cavalry. She reads it over slowly. Before she can type a response she gets another text from him, a pin of his location this time. PLEASE.
I’m in the midst of unpacking, she tells him, stares across the room at the pile of boxes waiting to be emptied into the spare room Karolina had given her without blinking.
I’ll help you do it after you rescue me, he texts. Gert thinks that if he keeps this up he isn’t going to need her at all, his date will probably get sick of him staring at his phone and ditch him all on her own, but she doesn't tell him that. She should probably tell him no. She should definitely tell him no, that this is awful and he should just be honest instead of letting someone get emotionally invested and strung along. But she doesn’t. She’s locking the door behind her, walking the two blocks toward the tiny, red, Chase-shaped dot before she realizes any of that— excited by the elaborateness of it all, the rush of adrenaline she gets trying to pull together an Oscar-worthy performance before she reaches the restaurant.
“Chase!” He hears someone shout from the other side of the restaurant, recognizes it as Gert almost instantly. The entire restaurant turns toward his friend. She hurriedly rushes around tables of strangers all staring at her.
“Chase!” She shouts again, a little lower now that she’s closer. “Thank God, I found you. Something horrible has happened to Mark!” He’s caught so off guard by all of it— her being here at all let alone the scene she’s making— that it takes him a few seconds to react. Mark? he mouths. Gert only nods, is too busy fending off the glare Eiffel has been giving her to answer him.
Eiffel glances between the two of them. “I’m sorry, who are you?”
“Mark’s girlfriend,” Gert says with a smile. She’s surprisingly good at this, Chase notes, even though the keys in her hand are shaking and she’s clutching her purse so tightly he thinks the handle might snap clean in half.
“And Mark is...”
“Chase’s best friend and roommate,” she says with a look that means duh and Chase has to turn away to hide the smile creeping onto his face, the laugh trying to escape him.
Eiffel turns to him, “I thought you said your roommate was called Alex?”
“Oh, yeah,” Chase says, pauses. “There’s, uh, there’s three of us.“
“They’re all roommates,” Gert mumbles, sounds surprisingly sure of herself. “Chase and Alex... and Mark.”
“Oh,” Eiffel says hesitantly, drops her shoulders. “Is he okay?” She asks, with eyes still bouncing between two of them; Gert and her face flushed red and Chase with his lips pressed into a thin line to stop himself from laughing or telling her he hated every second of tonight.
“Barely,” Gert says dramatically, even feigning holding back tears.
“I’m so sorry,” Chase says, standing up. Tries his best to sound like he means it. “I need to go. It’s an emergency.”
“Oh, well, I hope he’s alright!” Eiffel calls after them, long after they’ve both made their way to the exit. And he maybe kind of feels a little bad. “Call me,” she shouts as they’re walking out of the door.
“Definitely!” Chase says with a grin before Gert’s fist collides perfectly with his shoulder.
“What was that?” He asks once they’re outside. The fresh air is exhilarating, or maybe it’s the adrenaline or a potent concoction of the two. They haven’t stopped laughing since they left the restaurant.
“That was me making sure you would help me unpack my things. There are way too many boxes for me to get through on my own,” Gert says with a smile. He can’t decipher what it means, he never can.
“Gert, I asked for a distraction, not a soap opera,” he scoffs.
“I had a limited amount of time to work on my material,” she says, rolls her eyes and makes a show of it.
“Our roommate's name is Topher, by the way,” Chase corrects her. “And I’m pretty sure he hates me.”
Gert laughs, bubbly and infectious. “What’s not to like? I mean you and your posters did leave a whole eighth of the room empty for him and Alex.”
“Haha, very funny.”
“Not to mention your stellar taste in music.”
“Oh my god,” Chase mocks, “you’re hilarious.”
“I know,” she says with a smile, tips her imaginary hat to him and then he has to laugh, can’t stop himself.
“I was expecting a call, you know?” He tells her. “You didn’t have to come all the way here.”
“You sent me your location!” Gert says loudly, and Chase laughs again. He doesn’t think he’s stopped for more than a breath since she showed up. Gert‘s right. He did send her his location and he hadn’t really been thinking it through or known what to expect. But it definitely wasn’t this. “Plus, I was really bored,” she sighs. “Anyway, you clearly don’t appreciate how dedicated I am to my work.”
“I’m sorry,” he sighs. “You were incredible. And I’ll give you this; it was a lot more fun than a phone call would have been.”
“Thank you,” she says, smiles at him again, flushed. “So, you gonna give me a ride home or are you going to be a dick and make me walk to meet you there?”
“Of course I’ll drop you off,” he says, rolls his eyes. “But I can't stay, I need to get home before Alex gets there and sees the hole my fistagons made in the wall.”
“Home?” She laughs, shakes her head. “Uh uh, no way. You promised you’d help me unpack.”
“You meant right now?!”
Gert smiles, tilts her head up like she’s an angel. Chase sighs. “My car’s right there,” he says, points behind him to a red jeep that looks so worn down it scares him.
“Dear God, what is that?” Gert says staring at the car.
“Please tell me your car is hiding behind this atrocity,” Gert says, eyes wide and eyebrows perked up.
“Take that back before you hurt its feelings,” he says softly.
Gert sighs. “On second thought, I’d much rather walk. It’s better for the environment, anyway. And there is no way I’m getting in that... thing.”
“It’s a car, Gert, not a guillotine.”
“That is not a car,” she shakes her head. “That is a poorly bonded metal death trap, ready to fall apart at any second. Aren't you supposed to be a fancy mechanic or something?"
“I’m just going to pretend like I didn’t hear any of that,” he says, but Gert doesn’t budge. “Come on, your apartment is three blocks away.” He sighs, unlocks the car and opens his door.
“I walked here, I can walk back.”
She raises her hands in defeat. “Fine. Fine,” she concedes. “But let the record state that I’m getting into this monstrosity extremely reluctantly.”
“Noted,” Chase scoffs.
“Hey, you’re here!” Gert says coming through the front door of her new home to see Amy and Molly emptying the contents of a box marked kitchen onto the counter.
“Where were you?” Amy asks.
“You know if we’re going to unpack your boxes I think you should be here,” Molly tells her, clearly annoyed. She doesn’t look up from the box in front of her, pulls out a mug that reads “crazy dog mom” and places it into a cupboard.
“Chase?” Amy asks when he finally stumbles in the door last Gert.
Gert drops her keys on the table and takes off her coat as he greets them both with a general “hey.” Molly turns to her and Gert shrugs. “Sorry, I got sidetracked. But I promise I’m here to do this! Now! Thank you for helping.” Molly smiles at her.
“Sorry for stealing her,” Chase says with a shrug, “It was an emergency.”
“Ooh was it a date?” Molly asks, her wide smile appearing out of nowhere.
“No!” Gert defensively squeaks out the same time that Chase asks “What?” Molly and Amy share a look and then burst out laughing. Gert can feel herself blushing and flushed just at the insinuation.
“Never mind,” Molly says with a giggle. “Just checking so that we know what the vibe is right now.”
“Vibe is hoping you’ll shut up and not embarrass me any further,” Gert says, although she doubts that any of them are picking up her attempt at nonchalance when her cheeks still feel warm and she can’t see Chase’s face.
“Whatever,” Molly says, rolls her eyes.
“Are Nico and Karolina here too?” Gert asks, hoping it will change the topic away from whatever the hell this is.
“Karolina's stuck in class, but Nico's here,” Amy says, gestures towards the room that all of Gert’s things are in. The one with an empty bed and closet. “She’s in there with Alex, stringing up your lights.”
“Yeah,” Molly scoffs, “she was not happy about that.”
“I’ll bet,” Gert laughs, heading toward the room. “Ten bucks says she strangled Alex with the fairy lights!”
“Here.” Gert turns around at the sound, almost slips off the mini ladder she’s standing on but manages to find her footing just before she does. It’s not enough to keep the box in her arms from slipping away. “Let me help you with that,” Chase says, catches the box right before it hits the ground, does damage to the collection of vintage books she’s been culminating since the fifth grade.
“Thanks,” Gert smiles. She readjusts herself on the ladder as Chase drops down onto the bare mattress. He starts taking books out of the boxes and passing them to her one at a time. She lines them up perfectly on the empty shelf she’d been reaching for. “So,” she says, breaks the silence and the quiet routine they’re building. “Your date?”
“Eiffel,” Chase offers.
“Right. Eiffel,” Gert pauses, grabs the book he is holding out to her. Little women. A copy she’d discovered years ago while rummaging through her school’s lost and found for her lost jacket. “She seems nice enough.” She can feel Chase watching her with bated breath. “Not to mention she’s gorgeous. What was the problem?”
“I was just trying something out,” he sighs. He’s picking at the price sticker on whatever book he’s holding. Gert climbs down the two steps of the ladder and joins him on the bed. “Isn’t that what you told me to do the night we met?”
“Only if you wanted to do it,” she says softly. She hardly remembers any of the advice she’d given him— the entire night is a haze and a dizzying blur. She sighs, drops her shoulders, and looks at him sideways. “Was it really that bad?”
Chase let’s out a deep breath. “I realized half-way through, in between listening to her talk about her business major and Golden Retriever called Biscuit that I didn’t want to be there.”
“I have no idea,” he says half-heartedly, but she doesn’t buy it. Not for a second. She's barely known Chase for a few months but, still, she knows him, which means she knows when he’s holding back. He must notice the distrust on her face because he takes a sharp breath. “I have a soulmate, Gert,” he says, she isn’t sure if it’s meant for her or himself. “That is the most terrifying thing ever. But it’s also the best thing ever. She’s out there, whoever the hell she is. And I don’t want to waste time being with anyone who’s not her.”
She doesn’t know where to start, how to touch that. “I knew it,” she says with a laugh, decides once she’s said it that it’s what she wants to say, that she means it. “You’re such a freaking cliche. It’s adorable.”
“So,” Karolina says as she falls onto the couch next to Gert. She can tell where this is going before Karolina says it. “You and Chase?”
“Dear God, Karolina, please tell me Molly hasn’t roped you into this too.”
“She has a point,” Karolina says softly, tilts her head in question. Gert shakes her head. “There's something there. I've seen it, we all have.”
“Me and Chase?” Gert echoes. “No,” she shakes her head. “No, no. Not at all.”
“You sure about that?” Gert scoffs at her.
“There was a kiss at your party last year,” she admits. "When I didn't know who he was and I thought..." she trails off. The truth is she hasn’t really thought about it much since that night, or maybe since New Years when she’d wanted to do it again. She’s buried it deep in the back of her mind and doesn’t feel like revisiting the memory anytime soon, not the kiss, not how she felt afterward, not how badly she wanted to do it again. Karolina’s eyes widen as she turns to her and Gert shakes her head. “It was nothing, K. We were both drunk out of our minds.”
“That doesn’t mean anything-“
“Yes,” Gert corrects her, “it does. I don’t think I am completely over Nick yet. And Chase has a soulmate that I'm pretty sure he's in love with. He’s looking for her.” She presses her lips into a thin line. “There’s nothing there, okay?”
“Okay,” Karolina says, her eyes sparkling from the reflection of the lamp beside them. “Doubtful. But okay.”
“I hate you,” Gert rolls her eyes. “Molly too.”
“You love us,” Karolina laughs and Gert nods, it’s all she can do. “And now you’re living with me so you can’t hate me.”
“Your logic is flawless,” Gert laughs. “But I know I’m going to love living with you.”
“Same here,” Karolina smiles, takes Gert’s hand in her own. “I’m so happy you’re back, Gertie.”
Gert cringes at the nickname, has hated from the first time she heard it in the third grade. But she smiles back at Karolina, “Me too.”
“You coming to the hostel tonight?” Alex asks him without looking up from whatever game he is playing. Chase closes the door behind him softly, making his way to the couch where he, Amy, and Nico are sitting.
“I don’t know,” he says. “Molly just asked me the same thing. I think she wants us to sneak her in.”
“Molly’s losing it if she thinks Gert will ever let her do that,” Alex scoffs as the screen flashes and his game comes to an end.
“Oh come on, we were doing way worse at her age,” Amy scoffs. “Need I remind you of Amber’s graduation party?”
Alex’s eyes widen and she laughs to herself. Chase glances between the two of them, waiting for someone to elaborate before he finally bites. “What happened at Ambers graduation party?” he whispers like it makes a difference in the empty apartment.
“Nothing!” Alex shouts before Chase can respond.
“Chase come on, okay, you have to come! It’s a Golden New Year.” It’s nowhere close to the actual new year. It’s the first week of April, also known as the anniversary of the opening of their campus. And to celebrate students all get completely wasted and party as if it is actually New Year's Eve. There’s a countdown and everything.
Chase laughs, “shit, I forgot about that.”
“Gert and Karolina said we all have to be there,” Nico sighs, refuses to meet his eyes and he knows it’s because she’s blushing. He’s never seen her like this with anyone else before, must be why they call it a soulmate. “And if I have to go, then so do you.”
“Fine,” he raises his hands in surrender. “Yes. Okay, of course, I’ll be there.“
“Great!” Alex says, tries and fails to carry through a fist bump. “You will not regret this,” he assures chase. “Plus they’re setting up a karaoke bar, and apparently Nico and Karolina have something prepared.”
“You should have opened with that,” Chase scoffs, stares back at Nico when she glares at him. “I’m definitely coming.”
The music is deafening the second he arrives there. Everyone is screaming and popping bottles of champagne, dancing like it’s their last day on earth. It’s enough to knock someone off their feet, catch them off guard and destroy them, but Chase feeds off it. He sees his friends and the happiness coming off them, the way they’re smiling and laughing as they call him over— it’s contagious.
He hasn’t even greeted them before Karolina offers him one of a handful of colorful shots. He takes it without a second thought, feels the excitement bubbling in his veins already, a spark being lit. “Took you long enough,” Molly says from behind him and he does a double-take.
“You’re here?” He asks, glances between her and Gert and back.
Molly nods, smugly. “She caved,” she says, tilting her head towards Gert, who is now slowly sipping the drink in her hand.
“I didn’t have a choice,” Gert sighs, shouts over the noise around them.
“Come on,” Karolina says, smiles at them and they all revel in it— her happiness, the music, the alcohol coursing through them. “Let’s dance.” She takes Nico’s hand. “All of us!” She drags Nico to the middle of the dance floor and the rest of them follow suit. None of them protest, not even slightly. They all need this, they all want it. They’re all grins, dancing and happy and alive— so alive.
And it feels good.
He’s watching the place slowly empty, as people start to leave, lightly buzzed and bouncing. And yet the DJ has never wavered. The music is louder, if anything. If that’s even possible. He somehow knows Gert is standing next to him before she starts talking. “Hey,” she says. He can still hear her, but just barely over the deafening bass.
“Hey.” Her cheeks are rosy from the heat. She sips at whatever is in her glass meticulously, smiles at him and he immediately feels ten thousand times lighter.
“You look like you could use this.” She puts her glass down in front of him. Chase glances up at her before picking up the glass she’d set down. Whiskey— cheap whiskey. He hasn’t had whiskey since the last time he was at a party this loud and alive, that night at Karolina’s, although he doubts she remembers.
“Thanks.” Gert shrugs. “You’re not dancing?” He asks between sips, gestures to their friends being loud and crazy on the dance floor, all of them so drunk they’re probably only seeing in blurs.
“Not really in a dancing mood,” she shrugs.
Chase scoffs, “If Alex is bold enough to go out there and do... that,” he points across the room at Alex, shamelessly doing the robot in the middle of a crowd of strangers. “Then I’m sure you can muddle through.”
She looks at Alex and cringes. “I hope no one here knows we’re with him,” she says, takes a sip of her drink and hides her face dramatically. Chase laughs and then so does she. He feels drunk already.
A bartender brings him the drink he ordered when he got to the bar. He can’t remember what he ordered but it’s petite and he downs it in one sip, gasps at the sting. “Dance with me?” He asks her. Gert stares at him incredulously. It’s only after he asks the question that he realizes just how nervous he is asking it.
It must be contagious because Gert nearly chokes on her drink. “What?!” She says, clears her throat. “What?”
“That’s what we’re here for right?”
“I’m here to make sure Molly doesn’t drink,” she says, points to her sister who has what he assumes is a club soda in her hand. “And to see Nico sing karaoke,” she smirks, “which she did. Flawlessly.”
“That wasn’t exactly a no.”
“It wasn’t exactly a yes.”
“Come on,” he sighs. “It’ll be fun.” Gert doesn’t answer him, silently concedes when she puts her drink down and lets out a shaky breath.
“Fine,” she says.
Chase laughs, “okay, good. I can tell you’re pumped about this so let’s go!” She laughs, follows him closely to the middle of the floor. It’s way past the end of the night, midnight has come and gone. All that’s left of the party are their friends and a dozen other strangers— none of them ready for the night to be over yet. Least of all Chase.
It feels like electricity even before they start dancing, the music is in his blood and the mirage of lights is almost blinding and Gert... Gert is like a beacon in the midst of it all, the sequins of her dress catching the disco ball light that twirls above - projecting a rainbow beam of light onto her face— and her eyes on him and her smile as breathtaking as ever.
She’s saying something but he can’t hear her over the music, tries to tell her as much but it doesn’t make a difference. He doesn’t remember it being this loud before, this intense. “You’re good at this,” she says louder, a fluorescent vision. The second the thought pops into his head he recognizes it as crazy.
“You sound surprised?” Gert shrugs. “Lacrosse tryouts make for good practice.” He thinks about what Nico told him all that time ago, about the music in her head getting louder the closer Karolina was.
It's crazy, he knows that, recognizes it as such almost immediately. Insane, really. Because Gert is not his soulmate. If she was he would know. Somehow. “I don’t think that’s factually accurate.” She laughs, and for a second he thinks he's said it out loud. But he hasn't, still can't shake the thought. Because he’s never noticed it, not really, except for when he was drunk, except for when she had her hands in his hair and her tongue in his mouth, but the music in his head is always louder when he’s with Gert.
“You’d be surprised,” He says, only half-listening. There would have been signs. She has an inhibitor, she isn’t looking for a soulmate.
“I’ll bet,” she says softly. He can hear her perfectly. He’s never heard music this loud and it might just not be in his head but it feels like it is. He feels it in every breath he takes, in every rushed heartbeat.
“You know I wasn’t sure about tonight,” she says, stops moving so that he can hear her, see the smile on her face and the blush on her cheeks. “But I’m glad I came,” He has a soulmate. It’s not Gert. “I had a really good time.”
“I’m glad you did,” he smiles. Gert smiles, stares at him silently, waits for something. “So did I, by the way.” He’s closer now somehow. Somehow his feet have moved and so have hers and now they’re inches apart. He isn’t sure if the air he’s breathing in is his or hers or a mixture of both. Somehow before he can do it himself she kisses him. Slowly and wildly, not like the last time. Not even close. When she kisses him tonight she’s Gert and he’s Chase and they’re not two random strangers. There’s history. Brief maybe, but it exists now. He’s frozen in place thinking about it. And then it’s hitting him all at once. Gert is kissing him back, and it’s all he can do not to kiss her back with everything he has. It’s a fire in a dark room. It feels like everything warm and right and unexpected.
It’s over just as quickly as it started.
“You guys ready to go?” A voice behind him asks. Gert takes a step back, a deep breath, and half-smiles. He wants to kiss her again, longer. he realizes when it’s too late. When the music has stopped and the DJ says something he can’t quite hear, isn’t really listening for. When Molly is standing behind him and Gert won’t meet his eyes.
“Yeah. Just about,” she says, clears her throat. “I’m just going to grab my coat, I’ll meet you guys outside.” It’s only after she’s gone and he’s stepped out of the haze he’s in that Chase acknowledges Molly's presence.
“Hey,” he says, still catching his breath.
“You’re acting weird,” she notes. Chase tries to laugh but can’t get anything out. He feels suddenly sober, feels his head spinning, feels a hundred things in one breath and he can’t name any of them.
She doesn't see Chase for a month. She's avoiding him and he's avoiding her and the timing works out perfectly in her favor all the time so that she doesn't have to see him, doesn't have to discuss what happened. She's saving herself the embarrassment. But because the universe enjoys making her the punchline to as many jokes as possible, Nico invites everyone for coffee, promises they will not regret it because there is big news to be shared.
Everyone meaning all of her friends. Everyone meaning Chase.
“Is there a reason Nico wanted us to meet here?” Chase asks as the barista pushes their order across the counter. Gert grabs two of the coffees and Chase balances the others carefully in his arms. She’s willing to bet money that one of them will fall before they even get to their table. “What’s the big news?” He leans in and asks softly, as Gert meticulously makes her way through tables and chairs and people running in and out of the cafe.
“No idea,” she shrugs, dodges another stray chair and Chase all in one stride. Chase goes silent and she hopes that means he’s dropped it, that she can go back to silently ignoring him to avoid any and all forms of awkward tension like she has been doing for almost a month now. It hasn’t been that hard. She barely sees him. It doesn’t bother her, it’s probably for the best that they put some distance between them— re-establish boundaries and all.
“Gert,” he says, and she can tell where it’s going instantly. They both sit down at a table and she won’t meet his eyes, can’t. “Come on you can’t keep avoiding me. We need to talk about this at some point.”
“Why?” She says, hoped it would sound more confident than she feels but it comes out a squeak almost. She takes a deep breath, exhales. “There’s nothing to talk about, is there?”
“I mean, we kissed... and I know it probably didn’t mean anything but we still need to talk about it.” She feels disappointed even though it’s what she wanted to hear, what she’s been hoping he would say for weeks.
“It’s like you said,” she says with a plastered on smile, to match the fake happy tone of her voice. “It didn’t mean anything.”
“Right, that’s what I figured you’d say.”
“Yeah,” she nods, hopes she doesn’t sound as unconvincing as she feels. “It’s for the best.”
“Exactly,” Chase says. She can feel him watching her. “Going down that road would be a bad idea.”
“Yeah,” she says softly. “You have a soulmate.” She swallows thickly, feels herself starting to waver. She hates herself for a minute, wonders if he knows why she kissed him, why she wanted to, why she couldn’t stop herself even if she wanted to.
“Right,” Chase says. She moves her eyes back to him, finds him draining his own cup even though it’s still steaming. “About that,” he clears his throat. “I joined one of those programmes you told me about, to help me find her.”
“Great,” she says, plasters on a smile that he can definitely tell is forced. “Good.” She nods. “Honestly we should just forget the entire night ever happened,” she suggests. “It was a mistake.”
“Hey,” Chase smiles from across the crowded hallway, and she inexplicably feels herself turning pink, wishes she could learn to reign it in at least a little since Chase has made it clear that despite their drunken kisses he wants nothing more than to be her friend.
"Hi,” is all she manages, as nonchalant and unfazed as she possibly can, wonders when the hell this happened. If the tension between them didn’t feel so many inches thick, she might have asked him about it. But she doesn't and neither does he. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to take you to lunch, remember?” He scoffs. Gert stares at back at him and Chase sighs. “Molly’s party, she wanted us to plan it... is this not ringing any bells?”
“Yes,” she lies. “It is, I’m sorry I’ve just been-“
“Gert?” A voice calls from behind her, Gert turns around to see a familiar face coming toward her, can't place her instantly but she's definitely seen her before. "Hey."
"Hey,” Gert says, drags it out as she scours her brain for her name and keeps coming up blank.
“Sabrina,” she provides. “I’m in your social sciences class,” she offers with a beaming smile.
“Yeah, I know,” Gert says. Sabrina smiles again, even wider and Gert watches how it meets her eyes perfectly.
“Oh,” she says, her smile only slightly faltering. “Cool. Great. I’ve been meaning to ask you all week— I’m having trouble with the latest assignment and I know you’re like a genius when it comes to this stuff... Would you mind helping me out?”
“Me?” She can feel Chase standing behind her, feel his arms folded and his gaze bouncing between the two of them
Sabrina nods. “Like I said, I’ve been meaning to ask all week. And I figured this ridiculously cramped hallway was as bad a setting as any.” Gert laughs, it makes Sabrina smile and she likes the feeling that gives her. “So, will you?”
“Yeah, of course,” she assures her. “I’d love to. Maybe after class tomorrow?”
“Great, I’ll see you then!”
“Can’t wait!” Gert waves as Sabrina walks away and Chase leans in.
“What was that?” He asks.
“What?” She scoffs.
“What?” Chase laughs, imitating her. There’s a glimmer in his eye that she hasn’t seen in too long.
“ Is there something you would like to say to me, Chase?”
“Oh, come off it!” He argues. “You are totally into whatshername.”
“Sabrina,” she provides. “And I’m not-“
“Please,” he scoffs, “Your entire face was red, you could barely make it through that conversation, you were blushing the entire time."
“Was not," Gert says, but it comes out less convincing and more immature than she wanted. "I barely know her.”
“You’re still blushing.”
“So,” Karolina says slowly as she and Nico slide into the chairs opposite Chase’s.
Chase laughs, “Why do I suddenly feel like I’m at the center of an intervention?”
“You and Gert seem to be getting pretty close,” she observes. He wonders if they know— that he might have feelings for Gert, that she might be his soulmate. “She says you two have been talking a lot.”
“We have,” he lies. They have been talking, just not as much as they used to, not a lot. They’ve both silently agreed to walk on eggshells and tip-toe around the constant elephant in the room.
“Are you implying something?” He asks even though he knows they are. He knows exactly what they’re getting at and he’s considered it too, lingered on it a moment too long and now sometimes he can’t shake the thought. All the time.
“Nope,” Nico cuts in. “Just you don’t usually, or ever, just talk to girls.”
“Not you too,” He says defeatedly. He should’ve expected it, after all the shit he put her through for having a crush on Karolina when in reality he was envious of their relationship. Jealous that they had found each other so easily. “She’s cool,” he says finally. She’s more than cool. Cool doesn’t even begin to touch whatever Gert is.
“She’s really cool,” Karolina parrots with a smile that seems equally fond and patronizing. “She also just got out of a two-year relationship. And she’s been through a lot.”
“I know all of this, what are you trying to say?”
“If you’re not serious about this, about her, don’t go there.”
“Why wouldn’t I be serious?” He hears himself say, when what he knows he should have said is I'm not going there.
“Chase you’re a really good guy but,” Karolina pauses, looks at Nico who sighs.
“You’re still in communication with your soulmate.” He would hardly call it that. He plays her his favorite songs and, if she’s anything like Gert says she is, she probably thinks he has horrible taste in music.
“Gert’s with Sabrina,” he says loudly. Even if she is his soulmate, even if she isn’t and he just wanted to go there, she’s not interested.
“What?” Nico or Karolina asks, he isn't sure which one. He nods. "Oh, okay."
“Or she’s into her, at least. Well, I can’t really tell with Gert but it’s definitely maybe one of the two. Or neither of them.”
“Got it, dude.” Nico says. "Sounds-"
"Complicated." Karolina smiles at him softly. “Look we don’t want to hurt you, but we love you both and we just want to make sure you don't jump headfirst into anything without thinking it through.”
“I’m glad we had this talk,” Karolina says. Chase and Nico both flinch, simultaneously say “I am not.”
Nico chuckles, “well I’m glad it’s over.”
“Actually,” Chase hesitates, lets out a shaky breath. “I had a crazy thought.” Nico and Karolina perk up. “And I know it’s crazy so you don’t need to tell me it is because I absolutely know it is.”
“Is it just me or is he starting to sound like her, too?” Nico scoffs. Karolina smiles but Chase doesn’t waver, they must read it on his face because they both go still.
“I think Gert might be my soulmate.”
“What?” Nico says, or it could have been Karolina, or both of their voices blending into a new one.
“We like similar songs-“
“So do you and Alex.”
“That’s not it. Every song she plays to me is one my soulmate has at one point or the other, when I’m around her.... I don’t know I can’t explain it. The music is my head is... It’s like what you said about the night you guys first met, Nico. I can’t even hear my own thoughts.”
“I know. I know, I know,” he sucks in a deep breath. It sounds completely unconvincing when he says it out loud. “You don’t have to tell me. Crazy.”
“Chase!” Karolina says, more firmly this time. It gets his attention. “You might be right.”
“You’ve both lost it,” Nico sighs.
“I’m wrong,” Chase assures himself. “I am and it’s your job to tell me just how wrong I am.”
“Since neither of you is saying it, I’m just going to— Gert has an inhibitor.”
“Those don’t always work,” Karolina argues. “Yeah, my professor told us about reports of them working unilaterally and just straight up going haywire.”
“Not going to lie, I didn’t understand anything after professor.”
“Basically, the person with the inhibitor wouldn’t be able to hear anything. In the meantime, the other still hears everything their soulmate plays and thinks that the connection goes both ways.” She bites her tongue. “It’s incredibly rare, though.”
“That’s not what’s happening here,” Nico protests but he’s already got the idea seed planted in his head. His mind is already running a mile a minute trying to connect the dots and make all the pieces fit.
"But what if it is?" Karolina asks. This is not at all how he envisoned this conversation going, wishes it would have gone the other way because holding onto this idea is going to kill him.
"Then I'll know soon enough," he assures them. They both look at him questioningly, a million questions turning in their heads and he can see every single one of them. "The soulmate program I signed up for should have my results by the end of the week."
"Then what?" The truth is he doesn't know. The truth is he doesn't know which answer is going to hurt him more— that Gert is his soulmate and he's been talking to himself for years, or that she isn't.
“You know,” Chase says, closing the door behind him with a bang as he climbs into the car. “I could just walk back to my apartment. It’s not like I can’t go three blocks without turning into roadkill.”
“A simple thank you would suffice,” Gert says annoyedly, rolls the windows down when she catches a whiff of the booze coming off him. She starts up the engine and pulls away from the Hostel, the only place she’d been able to find Chase the last few weeks. He’d spent more time at the bar than he did in his own apartment, according to Alex.
“Wanna make out?” He says. She can’t tell if he’s kidding or not, he’s smiling like he is but he’s just drunk enough to mean it. If he kissed her she would let him, even more, she would want him to. All she’s been able to think about since that night at the Hostel, since the night they met, since every moment in between is how much she likes kissing him. How much she likes Chase. How much he means to her.
“I’m kidding,” he assures her.
“Okay, good,” someone who sounds a lot like her says. She catches her reflection in the mirror and realizes she’s still the one talking. “Because we both agreed that what happened at the hostel didn’t mean anything.”
“Then why the hell have you been M.I.A.?” She asks, wishes the pain wasn’t as prominent in her voice as it is. “Have I lost you?”
“Of course not, Gert.” He says softly. He takes her hand that’s not on the wheel, gives it a reassuring squeeze with her own.
“You said we were friends.”
“We are friends,” he says, hesitates. She can tell he’s holding something back, he almost always is. She wishes he would open up more, let her in. Chase exhales. “I found my soulmate.”
“What?” Gert feels an unnerving lump in the back of her throat, wonders how long it’s been there for. She hates that this hurt her, hates that she knew it would all along.
“Yeah,” Chase shrugs. “That program worked.”
“How long have you known?”
“A few weeks,” he says softly. Gert keeps her eyes trained on the road, the traffic light in front of them turning from red to green to orange to red again before she can come to her senses. Chase doesn’t seem to notice.
“And?” She says expectantly, presses down on the accelerator when the light turns green again. They fly through an empty street in a matter of seconds and the wind makes her feel like she’s flying. She wishes she was. Chase shrugs. Gert slows down, “you’re not with her?” She rolls the windows up until there’s just enough room for the car to flood with fresh air.
“She wasn’t what I thought,” he sighs. “I don’t like her like that. I thought I would, I really did." He sounds different, hopeless almost, and she hates it. "You know, I always thought I would meet my soulmate and just like that,” he snaps his fingers together. “It would be love at first sight. But I tried. I went out with her, took her to dinner, We went on three dates and there was just... nothing there. No matter how much I wished something would be.”
He looks heartbroken. She feels like an asshole, sighs and takes his hand again. “Chase-“
“-I mean there should've been something, right?" he interrupts, voice so broken it makes her heart hurt. "A few months ago I thought I was in love with this girl and now..." he sighs. "I should’ve known,” he looks out of his window and away from her, like the empty street and enough fresh air will help. She hopes it does. “I mean my parents were soulmates and look how that turned out.” He drops his shoulders defeatedly. The car rounds a corner. “You were right, Gert.”
“I don’t want to be right about this," she whispers. “I wish I wasn’t,” she says sincerely. “I’m so sorry.” She stops the car outside of Chase’s apartment building.
“You know for a minute there I thought it might be you.,” he breathes, so softly she might have missed it if she weren't watching him so intently. And then she’s afraid because she didn’t miss it, it’s a different feeling entirely and it feels deadly. She stares at him silently. “That you were my soulmate,” he says, so clearly she can’t unhear it even if she wants to, and she really really wants to. For the same reason she hasn't blurted out how she feels about him yet. “I mean it kinda added up when I thought about it. That night at the club I could've sworn it was you,” Chase says softly, hasn’t let go of her hand yet. “I thought it was you,” he echoes.
“Chase-“ It's the next part that she's most afraid of.
“I wanted it to be you,” he breathes.
“I’m not your soulmate,” Gert says softly, clears her throat.
“I know,” he sighs, looking outside the window again. It must finally hit him that he’s home because he opens his door carefully before turning around to face her again. “Walk me inside?”
She doesn’t blink. “Okay.”
It’s a bad idea.
She walks him all the way into his building and into the elevator and down the winding hallway to his door. “This is me,” he says, thinks he should wave goodbye or something but they’re still too close.
“I know, you idiot,” Gert laughs, tucks her hair behind her ears with a smile that makes him think he’s the luckiest person in the world just for existing in this moment with her.
“God, you’re beautiful,” he says softly before he can filter himself.
Gert’s smile wavers for a second before she laughs again, half-heartedly this time. “You’re drunk.” He definitely is because he needs to hold onto the wall to stop himself from falling down altogether.
“Maybe,” he says, laughs along with her for a second. “But I mean it.”
“Thank you,” she says softly, presses her lips into a thin line.
He expects her to say something else, to leave or do something, but she doesn’t. So he does. “Can I say something?”
“Am I going to like it?” She asks, but there’s no maliciousness to it.
“Maybe you should say it when you’re sober, then.” He can tell by the look on her face that she knows where this is going. Of course, she does. The same place it’s been going since New Year’s and before that, they've been on the same trajectory for months. “Or at least think it over.”
“I have,” he assures her. She doesn’t seem convinced. The hallway seems so wide all of a sudden— she’s standing right next to him but it doesn’t feel close enough for this. “I like you,” he says softly.
“Like,” he echoes, shakes his head. He stares at the fading purple streaks in her hair because he can’t meet her eyes. “We’re not fifteen, this isn’t high school,” he sighs. Like doesn’t feel strong enough. “I think I love you, Gert. I’m in love with you.”
“What?” It’s barely audible, less than a whisper. He can’t read the expression on her face, doesn’t recognize it. He can’t tell if that’s a good or bad thing.
“I am,” he says, and she nods slowly, doesn't say a word. “Gert, you’re amazing. You’re incredible and funny and pretty much the best person I know,” her eyes haven’t moved from his while she watches him silently. “You’re my best friend, he whispers, "and I love you."
He wishes she would say something else. Something that doesn’t end up breaking his heart. She doesn’t. She kisses him then, hard and fast and with such force that it sends them both crashing against the door. Once the shock has settled, once he realizes he’s kissing Gert again, his left arm coils around her waist like it’s second nature.
Gert whispers something in between gasps of air and he misses it entirely, too caught up in the moment to be able to think even remotely clearly. With each slow tease, every tangling twist of her fingers in his hair, Chase feels himself sinking deeper in, wanting more and more. With a small grunt, she pushes forward, grips onto him tightly. Chase rummages through his pocket for his keys and somehow without missing a beat he unlocks the door and they both go tumbling in. Gert walks backwards to his bed, lips never leaving his and it feels like everything he’s ever wanted. Like time holds no relevance and all that exists, the only thing that has ever mattered, is them— breathless and stumbling and sacred.
She holds on tight to the edges of his jacket while he shuts the door behind them, walks her back to his bed. He’s never been more thankful to have the entire apartment to himself, that his roommates actually have social lives outside these four walls.
It’s only when they hit the edge of his mattress, when he’s leaning back and pulling off his jacket and Gert is sucking in a deep breath, that she hesitates. His lips are only inches from hers but it feels like a thousand miles when she takes his hand in her own before saying “Chase, wait,” she says softly, a breathless whisper. Enough to freeze him dead in his tracks. “I can’t,” she sighs. He takes a step back and his hand slips out of hers.
Gert sits up straight on his bed. “Is it Sabrina?” He asks, taking another step back until there are miles between them.
“What?” She asks, it sounds like a shout after everything, a break in the stillness of the moment. “No,” she shakes her head. Gert slides of his bed and stands up, puts on her shoes that must’ve come off in their haste. “She’s not...” she sighs, “this can’t happen.” Why not? he wants to ask her, wants to say so badly but all he does is watch her wordlessly. “It’s a mess,” she says, answering the question all on her own.
“So what?” He asks, inches closer when she starts moving towards the door. “We’re a mess. We’re always a mess.”
She clears her throat. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Come on, Gert, we’ve been chaos since the night we met,” he says before he can stop himself. “We’re friends but not really, we kiss and then pretend like it never happened. We have never been anything besides a mess.”
“You don't think we're really friends?” She asks, sounds so hurt it makes him want to take it back— the words, the kiss, the whole night.
Chase sighs. “I don’t want to be just your friend,” he says softly. Gert stops at the door, stares back at him silently. “So what if it’s a mess? It doesn’t matter.” She opens her mouth to say something but he stops her, interrupts her instead. “What do you want?”
“I don’t want to lose you,” she says, swallows thickly. She sighs, presses her lips into a thin line. He can see the hesitation on her face, and then “I want to go home.”
“Look,” she says, and now she’s the one moving closer. She’s the one inches away and bordering on breaking his heart. “I’m not saying no, okay? I’m not saying I don’t want this. I’d be lying if I said I...” she stops herself, let’s out a heavy sigh. “I just need some time to think.” And then she’s gone before he can respond, before he can stop her, before he can try.
She knows it’s coming before she opens the door— she expects the banners and balloons and friends jumping out from behind the table shouting “surprise!” so loud it nearly gives her a heart attack. Alex had mistakenly sent her a text about it a few days ago so she’d known to expect it anytime.
She was ready for it.
What she hadn’t prepared for was Chase not being there. Although she should have seen that coming as well, with the way they’d left things, should have put it up on the list with everything else that was bound to be: balloons, cake, party, absentee best friend.
But she hadn’t. She thought he would be there just like the rest of them, she hoped he would. Because this is the exact opposite of what she wanted— a twisted knife of irony that telling him she didn’t want to lose him is exactly what caused it.
The only trace of him is a text on her phone that reads “happy birthday,” with the most neutral smiley face she has ever seen. She replies with a thank you, a heart, and an “I miss you.” She replies with no way to convey just how much.
She’s having lunch with her Karolina when her mom calls her in a panic. “Hey Gertie,” she says, vomits the words out in a hurry.
“Hey, everything okay?”
“Umm,” Stacey hesitates. “Don’t freak out, okay, but I need you to meet me at the vet. It’s Old Lace.”
“What? Is she okay?”
“It’s going to be fine, Gert. Just get here soon,” she says, but not even her mother's soothing, lullaby of a voice is enough to calm down the wave of panic and anxiety crashing into Gert.
The drive is a nightmare.
It’s her racing through rush hour traffic to get to the other side of town. It’s everything single possibility running through her head, none of them even remotely good.
She doesn’t even think about it when she dials Chase’s number first. It goes straight to voicemail, so she sends him a text instead, gives him the address and hopes he’ll be there.
Needs him to be there.
He is. He’s waiting in the room with Karolina and Old Lace when she gets there.
“Hey, you’re here,” Karolina says softly when she comes crashing through the door, engulfs her in a hug before she can even stop to catch her breath.
“Oh my God!” Gert whispers when she catches sight of Old Lace lying next to Chase. “What the hell happened?!”
“They don’t know yet,” Karolina sighs. “Your mom and Molly are at the front desk, trying to find out, I was about to go see if they had any updates. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Okay,” Gert says, gives her another hug. “Thank you.” Karolina smiles at her warmly before leaving.
Gert walks over to Old Lace, runs her fingers through her fur and feels a thousand times lighter and a thousand times worse. “Hi girl,” she whispers, gives her a kiss and refuses to let herself cry.
“She’s fine for now,” Chase says softly.
She looks up at him, “I thought Karolina said they don’t know what’s happening.” It’s the first time she’s really looked at him since she walked in.
“They don’t,” he sighs. Gert offers him a half-smile nonetheless.
“What happened to your face?” She asks, horrified, points at the purple-blue bruise around his eye.
Chase shrugs, “nothing.” It looks like anything but. “Went a little overboard with the eyeshadow this morning,” he jokes but she doesn’t laugh.
“I’m scared,” she tells him softly, only she can’t bring herself to look at him. So she focuses on her fingers running through Old Lace’s fur instead.
“I know,” Chase says. “We all are.”
“I can’t lose her.”
He sighs. “You won’t,” he assures her. “She’s strong. She’ll get through this. You both will.”
It’s hours before they hear back, and Gert thinks this all feels too dramatic to actually be happening, wonders if maybe her friends are pulling the worst prank ever on her. She doesn’t catch anything the vet says, could not say what was wrong or why they were here, only that before he left he said: “she should be okay by tomorrow.”
They’ve been sitting in a private room for so long that Molly eventually chases her out, sends her to get something to eat. It’s definitely for the best— she’s starving, she realizes as soon as the door shuts behind her. It’s only when she’s walking through the lobby in search of a vending machine that stocks more than apple slices that she sees Chase again. She thought he’d left hours ago— she’d told him he didn’t need to be here, that she’d be okay—but he’s sitting in an armchair staring at the floor.
“Hey,” she says softly, falls into the chair next to him and leans her head against the wall behind her.
“Hey,” Chase says, sits upright and stares at her silently. “Sorry for not leaving before,” he says. “I just needed to know everything was okay first.”
Gert shrugs. “You might be waiting a while,” she says with a sigh, looks at him again. She hates this limbo they’re in, hates that nothing feels like it used to or like it should. “What’s with the black eye?” She asks instead of what she really wants to ask.
“Got into a fight,” he says with a shrug, so nonchalantly she almost doesn’t recognize him for a second.
“This guy thought I was making a move on his girlfriend,” he says, his expression unreadable, at least not tonight, not in the frame of mind she’s in. She wants it to be easier.
She swallows a lump in her throat. “Were you?”
“So he hit you?!” She asks, leans forward to touch it and then rethinks the gesture halfway through. Stops herself before her hand can touch him.
“Not exactly,” he says with a sigh. “Technically I threw the first punch.”
“You started it?!” She asks, feels like she’s screaming and maybe she is and maybe everyone in here is staring straight at her.
“Shhh,” he says and she stares at him incredulously. “I think I’ve still got the remnants of a hangover trying to kill me.”
“It’s either the hangover or me,” she scoffs, shakes her head. “I know you’ve done some stupid shit before but I thought you had at least three functioning brain cells.”
“It was just a stupid fight days ago, Gert.”
“Why didn’t you call me?” She wants to say why didn’t you call me first . She wonders if he knows that is what she means.
“I’m sorry,” he sighs. “But I promise it’s nothing for you to worry about,” he smiles. “Just watch. This time tomorrow I’ll be looking flawless again and Old Lace will be all better.”
“I’m going to hold you to that,” she says, tries to sound firm but the smile creeping onto his face must be spreading. She bites her tongue, “I’m sorry,” she whispers. “About everything. I’m sorry if I hurt you. That was the last thing I wanted.”
Chases looks at her silently for a second, before he says “I’m sorry too.”Gert breathes the deepest sigh of relief she ever has, feels a weight off her chest that she hadn’t even realized was there. “What I said wasn’t fair.” She wonders if that means he didn’t mean it. She wonders what that means for her and the overabundance of feelings she has for him.
“I’m starving,” she tells him with a weak grin. “I hear the vending machine has killer soda. Wanna join me?” She stands up out of her chair and offers him a hand. “Molly promised she’d call the second anything changes. Plus I could use the company.” Chase takes her hand but still doesn’t stand up. “Come on don’t make me beg,” she argues. “It’s my treat.”
Chase smiles back, “Only if I can get a candy bar too.”
“Thought I’d find you here.” She knows it’s him before she even looks up, has grown accustomed to the warming lull of his voice and the sound of his footsteps and him.
She’s sitting on an empty bench outside the Hostel, too tired to go in and too restless to go home. “Yeah,” She says softly. He sits down next to her, the bruise on his face nearly disappeared with the last days of spring. “I needed some fresh air and kind of just ended up here. I’m not sure how, or why actually.” Maybe it’s the strobe lights coming through the open ceiling, dying the sky lilac and jade, or the fact that nearly every good memory she has of the last few months can be traced back to this one place.
Either way, she doesn’t want to leave.
“I like it,” Chase says, stares at the lit-up sky with a look she didn’t know existed.
He looks different in this light. He looks different in every light, like no matter how hard she tries there’ll always be a new Chase to discover. The summer air has faded his black eye, turned it into a dark spot instead of a gaping bruise. “Me too,” she whispers, leans forward strokes it slowly, winces at the touch.
Chase scoffs, catches her hand in his own. “See, I told you...flawless.”
Gert laughs, “I’m glad you’re okay. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.”
“It’s a black eye, not the plague.”
“Still,” She whispers, more to herself than him. More to the little voice in her head that keeps telling her she’s losing him slowly. She stares at her hand still in his, lets herself revel in how safe it makes her feel. “Can I ask you something?”
“Careful,” he says, “last time I asked that it ruined everything.” He tries to pass it off as a joke but she can hear the crack in his voice and a flicker of something else in his eyes.
“Not everything,” she says. “We’re not ruined.”
“Aren’t we?” He asks, and it makes her heart ache; for everything they could be and everything they are and everything they could have been if she’d kissed him longer just once. Let herself do what she’s wanted to do for months.
“This doesn’t feel ruined,” she whispers, watches as he follows her gaze to their interlocked hands. “Not even a little.”
Chase smiles at her and she can’t help but smile back, not when the sky looks like that and he looks like he should be a part of it. “Okay,” he says with a soft chuckle that makes her feel even lighter, “ask away then.”
Gert swallows a deep breath, feels a growing heaviness on her shoulders but the fresh air is reassuring, tricks her into thinking everything is going to be okay. “Did you mean what you said that night?” She can tell by the look on his face that knows what she means but she needs to clarify for her sake. “That you love... because you have a soulmate. You’ve been in love with her your entire life and I am not her.”
“Of course I meant it,” he says, sends a chill down her spine and suddenly she can’t meet his eyes. “I know I shouldn’t have sprung it on you like that,” he sighs. “I’m not in love with her, Gert. I loved the idea of her, of the perfect person for me, but that’s not her. She's not who I want anymore.”
“Oh.” She rests her head on his shoulder then, can’t look him in the eye for anything she’s about to say because even the slightest sign of hesitation in his eyes will break her heart. “I don’t want to mess this up,” she whispers. “You’re like my best friend, Chase. I like that. I like that you’re in my life. And I just...” She drops her shoulders. “I’m scared.”
“Me too,” he says and it’s oddly reassuring. “Gert, I’m terrified. But I think that just means it’s worth it. That we’re worth it.”
“Maybe,” She whispers, sucks in a sharp breath and sits up to look at him; a new different Chase who’s always going to be the same. "You know what I want more than anything? She asks, let's out a deep breath and looks up at the sky with him. "I want to run away. Just get in my car and drive as far as I possibly can. I want to see everything on earth that there is to see."
Chase is watching her closely, she can feel it, can feel him like he's in her bones. “You’re right," she whispers. "You shouldn’t have said it then. Your timing was horrible.”
“- say it now.” She nods, smiles at him. His hands are shoved in the pockets of his jacket, shaking even in the middle of a heatwave. She’s holding her breath, worried with every passing moment that it’s too late. She’s spent too much time dwelling and hesitating, and now she’s just put it all the line. She’s holding her breath, worried she can only ever exist in extremes.
Chase looks at her uncertainly. “I like you,” he says softly. This time she’s not shocked, this time she swallows it with a warm smile. This time it sounds like a song she wants to spend every day listening to. “I love you.”
She smiles, presses her lips into a thin line and then, “I love you too.” He mutters something else, and she doesn’t even catch it, too busy trying to carry it through. Before she can even formulate an explanation, his hands are around on her face, and his lips are on hers— softly, quickly. finally.
"These are for you," he says softly, kisses her quick and places a red box into her hand. She’s stunned speechless for a second, caught off guard. He is too, that he gets to kiss her, that she’s still smiling at him like he’s the only thing in the world.
“Oh no,” she says, faux-worried but she can’t shake the smile off her face. It’s more nervous now, she is. “Why do I get the feeling you did something stupid crazy?”
“It’s not stupid,” he promises. She doesn’t look convinced. “Or crazy.”
“Then what is it?” She asks, and the way he can feel a mixture of excitement and caution bubbling under the surface makes him even more anxious. It’s good anxious, though— everything is good with Gert. How could it not be?
“Just open it,” he says closely. He takes her hand in his and wraps it tighter around the box. It’s resting tightly in her palm and Gert’s watching it like it might explode.
“Tell me what’s inside,” she whispers, so close it makes him shiver.
“Gert,” he breathes.
She sighs in confession, gives up so much more easily than he expected. “Fine,” she smiles at him. “Fine, I’m opening it.” He watches her face as she undoes the little gold bow on the box, pulls off the lid and stares at its contents for a minute. She pulls them out for closer inspection. “It’s a pair of keys,” she states, absent-mindedly pulls her bottom lip between her teeth like she does when she’s confused, says just as much: “What is this?”
“I got a new car!” He exclaims, and he can see the exact moment it hits her.
Her eyes go wide and starry. “You did what?” She asks, then she closes her the box. “See I knew you did something crazy.”
“Okay, so maybe it was a little crazy,” he says, and Gert grins smugly. “But I sold the old one for parts, managed to salvage enough for this.”
“Why the hell-“
“We’re running away,” he says, can’t keep it a secret a second longer. She looks entirely confused.
“Not forever,” he corrects himself, grounds them both. “For the summer.”
“I’m still lost,” she says. Chase sits down next to her, takes her hand and gives it a reassuring squeeze.
“You said you wanted to run away,” he says. He’s stammering now because she’s as expressionless as ever and he still doesn’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. “I know a road trip isn’t exactly everything on earth but-“
“This is crazy,” she whispers again, looks up at him and he already knows she’s in, that it’s not crazy, it’s perfect.
“That’s not a no,” he scoffs.
Gert smiles, shakes her head. “No, I guess it’s not,” she whispers, kisses him like it’s the first time and there’s nowhere to go but up, nothing to do but be young and in love. “I love it,” she says when she pulls back, sucks in a sharp breath and wraps her fingers around the keys in her hand. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” he says, vows it. Vows that a day later they’ll run away to New York, or Chicago, anywhere really, as long as it’s new. They’ll drink in the golden light of summer while her sunglasses slip off the tip of her nose like they do whenever she wears her favorite pair, eyelashes batting long and mesmerizing. Anywhere really, as long as it’s new.
Because I love you. Gert turns her head back in his direction then, and it’s all there in her eyes.
“When are we going?” She asks, grins back at him as she shakes the keys in her hand. He watches as that same grin softens into a smile that thunders against his heart.