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Bea’s sixteen when it happens, at home alone. She knows it’s coming and doesn’t want to be around other people, like her best friend Helena. She asks her parents, please, to leave, to just go out for the night. Her mother nods knowingly and drags her father out the door.

She’s laying on her bed, flipping through a novel even though she mostly doesn’t want to read, when she feels it. It’s a dull pain at first, like her skin is humming, but she can feel the letters form, and it’s like her wrist is ripping open. She screams.

The pain is almost blinding, so she shoves her wrist under her pillow and lays on top of it, whimpering.

She doesn’t look at her wrist until the pain subsides. She pulls it out, counts to three, and reads, in terrible script, Benedick.

She screams again.

***

She absolutely checks on his facebook. They aren’t friends, obviously, but he apparently could give a flying fuck about privacy settings. He looks about the same as he did that summer-- maybe a little taller, but not tall. He’s still just fifteen, though, and will be for three months, and she just about tears her pillow to shreds.

(There’s one other Benedick on facebook, because no one should have a ridiculous name like that, but that guy’s a model in Brazil and married, so that’s probably unlikely.)

She slams her laptop shut and stares at the ceiling.

***

But he never does the traditional sixteenth birthday post, with his wrist out, soulmate visible for the world to see. Which is weird, but maybe (just maybe) this means it wasn’t her name tattooed on his skin.

It’s not like everyone gets a soulmate. Some people never get a name on their wrist. Benedick might be one of those, which would make sense, seeing as he’s awful.

She considers, briefly, messaging that model.

***

It’s not her first time meeting the Messina crowd, most of them, but it’s her first time seeing them since those sixteenth birthdays.

Ursula has no name on her wrist despite being seventeen, and Bea absolutely wants to ask her what that means, but it’s not exactly appropriate to ask. And Meg has three names on her wrist, all written in the same elegant script, none of them the boy she’s sucking face with on Bea’s blanket.

She hugs Pedro after the football game, and it’s all she can do not to tear his exercise warmers off his wrists. He grabs her hand and twists it. Bea winces but lets him read the name on her wrist.

He laughs, long and hard.

“Shut up,” Bea tells him. She wants to ask him what Benedick’s wrist says. She saw him during the game, running up and down the pitch uselessly, but still moving too much to read his wrist.

“No, it’s just--”

She’s aware that someone’s in her personal space about a second before an arm goes around her shoulder.

“Hello, soulmate,” Ben says.

“Well, I’m out,” Pedro says, looking back and forth between them. “Later, Bea.”

“You’re not my soulmate,” she tells Ben.

“You’re mine,” he says, flashing his wrist at her.

There, in her own handwriting, is her name.

She shakes her head. “That’s not my handwriting.”

“Sure,” he says. “I might believe that, if Pedro hadn’t shown me your twitter. You post those little post-it notes to yourself all the time.”

Bea bristles, folds her arms across her chest. “Well, it doesn’t mean anything. Soulmates are bullshit, everyone knows that.”

“Oh, I completely agree.” He waits a beat. “It’s just funny.”

“It’s not that funny.”

“It’s a little funny. Anyway. I agree with you on the bullshitness of soulmates--”

“Thank you.”

“As any soulmate would.”

“You’re hilarious,” she says with an eye roll.

“Just one of my many fine talents. I could show you some others as well, if you wish.” He wiggles his eyebrows at her.

It takes her a second to process that. “No no no no. I wish you’d jump off a cliff.”

“As you wish. But, before I go dash my head against those rocks--”

“Make it quick, Benedick.”

“Alright, Beatrice, before I go throw myself over a cliff--”

She tilts her head at him.

“Can I see it? The name on your wrist.”

She’s so surprised, she almost shows him. And then she shakes her head, crossing her arms again.

***

She starts wearing a ribbon, a green one, twisted around her wrist. It’s not so unusual; she knows Pedro wears a giant watch and Balthazar has some bracelet thing and there’s a whole group of girls in her Shakespeare class who wear crocheted arm bands made out of some furry glitter yarn.

More than once, she catches Ben looking at her wrapped wrist.

***

So she’s not that surprised, honestly, when she overhears the girls saying Ben likes her. Obviously, it’s the soulmate connection. He thinks just because they’re soulmates, they should be together, which is ridiculous.

“He wants to untie her ribbon, if you know what I mean,” Meg says. “I mean he also wants to—”

“We’ve got it,” Ursula says.

***

That night, in the shower, she runs her fingers over the name on her wrist and sighs.

***

Bea’s going to have to murder Claudio, she thinks, running her hand over her cousin’s hair while Hero sobs her oversized heart out.

Hero calms down, almost, before she starts moaning, grabbing at her wrist.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Bea says, trying get Hero to uncurl.

When the tears finally subside, Hero’s wrist is embedded with Claudio.

Ben sees. Bea can see the horror on his face, the moment he snaps out of it.

“Make sure everyone’s left!” he yells at Balthazar, who’s spent the past twenty minutes twisting his hands together. He finds Ursula, already bringing Hero water, and sends her to trash the cake.

Then he leaves, and for a moment, Bea can’t remember why they were ever friends.

But he returns with a kitchen towel and a pair of scissors, and fashions Hero a makeshift wrist cover, tying the offending word out of sight.

***

The thing is, he doesn’t stop helping after that.

***

She’s half in tears from her confrontation with Leo when Ben says it, says those three little words she never expected from him.

“It’s because of this,” she says, pointing at the ribbons that hide her skin. She can’t handle it, knows love isn’t wrists and fate.

“It’s not,” he says, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a bracelet of braided leather. He holds out the bracelet, wrist exposed, and she helps him, covers her name, careful not to touch the letters. “It’s entirely a coincidence that you ended up on my skin and in my heart.”

“You’re joking,” she says weakly.

“I’m being entirely serious. I could have no name or a hundred names or an entirely different name— maybe Emily— and I would still pick you.”

Bea feels a rush of jealousy for the fictional Emily. Oh, she thinks. Oh.

She makes the decision as quickly and and firmly as she does all others. She holds out her wrist to him, the tight knot on top. He looks at her questioningly, and she nods.

He pulls out a pocket knife from his cargo shorts, and cuts it.

The ribbon falls away, and there it is: his name, in his handwriting, on her skin.

“I wondered,” he says, a little hoarse. “You never put up your picture.” He rubs his thumb over it, and her skins tingles.

“I didn’t— want to,” she says, feeling that’s insufficient.

“I never did either.”

“I know. I... checked.”

He smiles at her. “You were into me.”

“I was.”

He looks horrified, as if he’s put the pieces together. “You mean, when we were kids...?”

“Yeah,” she says.

“Shit.”

“But that was kid stuff,” she says, letting it go. “We’re adults now.”

“Are we? I have to confess, I can’t even cook.”

“That’s ridic— actually, I guess I can’t either.”

He shakes his hand. “We’ll work on it.”

“Together.”

***

“Just because you have a soulmate, doesn’t mean you have to be with them,” she tells Hero. “It’s entirely optional, truly.”

Hero looks up from the bracelet she’s been playing with. It was a present from the very sorry Leo, who spent a small fortune customizing something made from delicate silver wire, twisted around many times to form an almost cage around her wrist. “I know that.” She leans across
the table and grabs Bea’s hand. “Do you know that?”

Bea smiles. “I think I might, finally.”

***

Bea’s seventeen when she and Ben decide to take that next step. She’s home alone for the night, but he sneaks up the trellis anyway, because he’s got to make things dramatic.

She’s always thought she was comfortable with her body, but she’s generally dressed in front of other people. He turns off the lights, and they’re both a bit relieved, she thinks. They remove their clothes slowly, one piece at a time, kissing the exposed skin. She’s humming with need by the time they’re naked, and she thinks that might be enough. Still, she pulls out the bottle of lube, a gift from Meg, who’d handed it to her with a wink.

It doesn’t hurt, and that’s a surprise. It’s the not the bells and whistles Bea’d hoped for, but she thinks she gets it, now, why people prioritize love.

Afterward, they lie next to each other, and he traces doubles hearts around his name on her wrist. “What do you say we make this official? Hit the tattoo parlor and mark up our arms with declarations of adoration?”

“I think telling the internet was probably enough,” she answers, grabbing his wrist. “Not that I wouldn’t appreciate is awesome under my name.”

“Only if you add has a frighteningly large cock under mine.”

“Can’t do that,” she says. “Skin doesn’t lie.”

“Not in our case, at least,” he says.

She laughs.