By the time Rebecca Bunch gets her soulmate’s words on her hip, she’s knee-deep in college applications.
Not that she’s going anywhere except Harvard. Harvard is her mother’s first choice, obviously, and why would Rebecca want to waste her talents at some liberal art school in the Midwest, for instance.
She only asks her mother once about taking a year off to travel. Her mother’s fake heart attack is a reminder that no one needs to go to school to learn how to act.
She spends her eighteenth birthday writing personal essays. blah blah blah hard worker. blah blah blah passionate about justice. Her Ritalin keeps her so focused, she barely notices the angry hum as her soulmate’s words appear on her skin.
She soaps up in the shower that night, running her fingers over the words. Are you lost? Apparently, in the future, she’s going to meet the man of her dreams while looking confused.
So she has that to look forward to.
Josh’s first words to her as an adult are “Rebecca Bunch? Oh my god!”
She doesn’t remember his first words to her at summer camp.
She follows her gut.
The bartender is especially chatty, but she only really tunes in when he mentions the party.
“So have you figured out what Josh’s soulmark says?” Paula asks her one afternoon. Rebecca is pretty sure Paula’s supposed to be working, but no one’s paying attention, so she accepts the proffered donuts and sits down.
“No, and you better believe I’ve checked every photo on Instagram. His, Valencia’s, one sister and seven different cousins. It’s a no-go.”
“You know what we have to do, right?”
“Be his friend, like his really good friend he hangs out with all the time, until he realizes the mistakes he’s made, romance-wise, and then if he happens to ask me out, after an appropriate mourning time, I’d go out with him.”
Paula crooks an eyebrow.
“I didn’t move here for--”
“I know, I know. Irregardless. We’ve got to find out what his soulmark is. Trust me on this, marrying your soulmate is so important.”
“Because you married yours?”
“Because I didn’t marry mine. But you, you could marry yours!”
“What if it’s not Josh?”
“But what if it is?”
Rebecca just wanted to look up her new West Covina friends in the Soulmate Database, like Paula and Greg and Valencia and Whitefeather and, oh, maybe Josh too.
First, she types in her own name, just to make sure she’s still listed. Rebecca Bunch: Are you lost?. She brushes a hand over her mark for good luck.
Paula’s isn’t listed, and she forgets to look up her boss, but neither Valencia nor Josh is listed. That’s frustrating, but surely there has to be other ways to find this information.
Before she clicks out, she types in Greg’s name. I’m just here for some baseball. She pauses. That makes sense, right? He literally works at a bar next to a baseball field. Maybe that was why he’s decided to keep working there, even though he’s way too smart to be slinging drinks at drunks.
Accepting a date with someone who is not Josh does not fit her personal definition of “healthy behavior,” like she wanted to do with the veganism and the parking at the opposite end of the parking lot to get more steps, and most especially she wanted to go out with her soulmate.
But Josh thinks she should date Greg, and dating, like anything, is a skill. Keeping in practice is important.
She accepts his invitation, and prepares to have a good time.
The vegan she sleeps with has a soulmark above his knee. It’s rude to read, but she does anyway. Someday, his soulmate will say to him, I’m not a vegan.
That seems about right.
“You took some guy home from our date and slept with him? What is wrong with you?” Greg yells, and Rebecca wants to retreat into herself, to hide from this accusation.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but it’s not that big a deal,” she says.
“Not a big deal?” Greg looks like he wants to tear apart a pillow. “My soulmate sleeps with someone else just a few weeks after meeting me and I’m supposed to just accept it?”
He pulls down the collar of his black t-shirt, revealing his soulmark. She takes a step closer, squinting to see if it matched the database. I’m just here for some baseball.
“I didn’t say that to you!”
“Yes, you did. After I said, Are you lost? And then we talked about the town’s website.”
Rebecca searches her memory, trying to recall this conversation. “Are you sure?”
“Am I sure? Don’t you pay attention? The world is full of people and one of them says the words you’ve had on your body for, what, eight years, and you aren’t listening?”
“You’re my soulmate?” She tries to picture this, a world where she and Greg were meant to be, were together, and Josh was-- somewhere else, with someone else’s words on his body. “But how do you know what my mark says?”
“We went on a date. You cried, but before that, we made out, and we were on the couch and I skimmed my hands over your hip under that Pepto Bismol bottle you called a dress, and-- after that, I had to check. I had to know.”
“I’m sorry,” she repeats, not sure what else to say. “I’m sorry, but there has to be some mistake.”
“The mistake,” he says simply. “The mistake was thinking your soulmark made you my soulmate.”
“He’s right, you know,” Paula says over donuts. “I’m not saying you weren’t behaving badly, because clearly you were.”
“I know!” Rebecca moans into her hands.
“But you aren’t going to marry Greg, no matter how Italian his ancestry is, and that unfortunately makes him collateral. You’re here for Josh.”
“You didn’t see Greg’s face.” Or hear his voice, tight with disappointment, still ringing in her ears no matter what she did.
“You have to re-focus your efforts and achieve your goals. Yours goals, plural. You got your California sun, now get Josh, and then the happiness you deserve.”
“Those are good goals,” she says, letting Paula help her write a list of goals on her legal pad.
Rebecca’s 2015 Goals
Later, in her office, she adds one to the list. Greg’s forgiveness
Getting Greg to forgive her costs her ten grand and almost destroys a family, but it’s worth it to have his sardonic wit back in her life.
The best part is having a friend who wants to hang out regularly. Josh is always busy with Valencia and Paula has a family and Heather hates when anyone gets excited about anything, so it’s often her and Greg, at the movies almost every Sunday night. Their favorite place to go is the West Covina 3, an old-timey theater that serves alcohol and is also objectively terrible. She loves it, but the lighting is always off and she’s pretty sure there are no fire exits.
“You realize that popcorn ‘butter’ is half grease from McDonalds, and half expired lube, right?” he asks her, one night at a special screening of The Princess Bride.
“You literally hoover down like a dozen microwave burritos a week,” she tell him. “You can’t possibly pretend those aren’t going to kill you.”
“At least I’ll die doing what I love, which is eating.”
“You’re such a dork,” she says to him, throwing a piece of popcorn at his shoulder.
He retaliates, grabbing a handful and throwing it, a few pieces at a time, in her hair.
She smashes a handful into his hair, grinning as he pulls them back out, full of disdain.
“Truce?” he asks her, and she shakes on it, their hands full of delicious popcorn butter.
When she’s turned back to Westley, who is looking at Buttercup’s soulmark, Greg takes the rest of the popcorn tub from her. She braces for more popcorn in her hair, but instead he takes a pinky and traces the edge of her scoopneck t-shirt before pulling it away from her chest, dumping popcorn down her shirt.
“You’re wasting food!” she says, still blinking at him.
“You want me to eat your shirt popcorn?” he asks her. “Because I’ll do it. You know I will.” He puts his hand just under her shoulder, but above her boobs, and she has a flashback to that party they went to, where she made out with him for almost an hour. She was pretty distracted through the whole thing, honestly, but she remembers his hands, so warm on her skin.
He looks down at his hand, and she wonders if he’s remembering the party, too.
She considers asking.
There’s a shriek as the R.O.U.S. attacks, and it breaks the moment.
Greg starts dating Heather, and it’s the worst.
That’s not fair. Rebecca likes Heather. Rebecca likes Greg. What she does not like is the two of them, together, in a dating way.
“You’re just transferring your anger over Josh and Valencia living together to this Greg and Heather thing,” Paula tells her, over Chinese food.
“I want everyone to be happy,” Rebecca says. She does not add, especially me.
“I would like to make an announcement!” Valencia squeals, standing on Rebecca’s staircase, her hand possessively placed on Josh’s chest.
Guests at the Singles Awareness party start moseying over, drinks in hand.
“Joshie has proposed!” Valencia starts flashing around a huge rock, far more than ring than a man who sells electronics should be able to purchase.
Rebecca squeezed her eyes shut, wondering if this was a delusion, but no one started singing. She shook her head, forced herself to focus.
Beside her, Paula places a hand over her heart, looking like she needed smelling salts just to stay upright. “We can fix this,” she whispers.
All Rebecca could see was a lifetime of Josh with Valencia, doing her bidding and giving up his own opinions and being led around like a little dog by her, and she knew she had to do something. Really, she’d be the hero, in the long run, and Josh-- Josh would thank her. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but certainly by Arbor Day.
“Don’t do it!” Rebecca yelled. Ok, it wasn’t the most sophisticated plan, but she didn’t have any time to come up with someone better. “Everyone knows it’s bad luck to get engaged this close to Valentine’s Day.”
“What are you talking about?” Valencia scrunches her face, managing only to look even hotter than usual. “Then why are all the jewelry stores advertising right now?”
“Yeah, Becks,” Josh says. “I went to Jared, the Galleria of Jewelry, and they definitely said now was the time.”
Valencia breaks in. “Why would Jared, the Galleria of Jewelry, sell an engagement ring if it was a bad time to do that?”
“Jewish tradition. Yes! It’s Jewish tradition that getting engaged near a Saint’s Day is bad news bears.”
“That’s not true,” White Josh says, his brow furrowed. “At least, I’ve never heard that. And I think my theology degree from Duke allows me to say that with great, if not perfect, certainty.”
“You have a theology degree?” Rebecca asks.
“You’re lying?” Josh asks. “Rebecca, why would you say that if it wasn’t true?”
“Because this isn’t about the Jewish people,” Valencia says, slowly walking down the stairs. “This is about Rebecca, being jealous just because I’ve got you and she doesn’t.” She came up in the front of Rebecca, poking her squarely in the chest with one perfectly manicured hand. “Because she has a thing for Josh, or whatever. Get over yourself, Rebecca.”
There were murmurs all around Rebecca. She knew, just knew, that she shouldn’t have thrown this party, but it had seemed like such a good idea, just to make sure she got to see Josh and Greg on Valentine’s Day.
“I am over myself,” Rebecca says. “I just wanted you two to have a happy life, and that is best accomplished by not tempting fate more than is necessary. Think of all the reasons people get divorced that are outside of your control. This one is in your control.”
“Oh I get it,” Valencia says. “This is Rebecca acting out because her parents got divorced. Well, Becks, did you ever consider the difference between your parents and Josh and me is that we aren’t stuck with you?”
There is a hush. I will not cry, Rebecca thinks, balling her hands into fists. Do not cry.
“I also have an announcement,” Heather says from the recliner. “Greg and I are through, effective immediately. Instead, I will be rerouting my energy into something that really matters. Like parkour. Or flannel.”
“Easy come, easy go,” Greg says, waving at her from near the stairs. “That’s about how I expected this to end, and on Valentine’s Day, too.”
“I’m not returning your gift.”
“I’m sure Amazon didn’t want eye makeup stuff back anyway.”
“You didn’t even get the right kind of eyeliner.”
Rebecca slips out of the room, and the front door.
A few minutes later, the passenger’s side door opens, and Greg slides in.
“You doing ok?” he asks.
“I did not move here for Josh.” She doesn’t turn to look at Greg, but she can feel his surprise. “I moved here, and Josh just happens to live here.”
“So why did you move here?”
“For me.” She drums her fingers on her steering wheel. “And also a little bit for Josh.”
Greg is quiet for way longer than Greg is ever quiet. “Some pieces are starting to fall into place.”
“Not, like, Josh in 2015. More like, Josh when we were sixteen.” She shifts. “He’s my link to a time when I was happy. Not on seven different mood stabilizers. Not forgoing all my mood stabilizers when I should probably be on at least a few. Back when I was a dumb kid, dumb but happy.”
“And, you know, you don’t remember what someone says to you before you even get your mark. I thought, maybe he asked if I was lost, maybe he was...”
Greg stays quiet, but pulls her into an uncomfortable over-the-console hug.
Josh, ever the sweetheart, reaches out to her after the party for boba. “It was really kind of you to try to help me and Valencia get engaged at the perfect time. But according to her spiritualist, it was the perfect time. How weird is that?”
“So weird,” Rebecca says.
“I’m a little overwhelmed with planning,” he says. “I thought we could just do, like, a beach theme, where the theme and the location is the beach. Easy, right? We get some kegs, and just party.”
“That sounds amazing.”
“But Valencia wants this whole thing at a country club in the mountains. Linen table cloths, those twinkly lights that aren’t Christmas lights but look it.”
“That sounds fancy.”
“Right, no catching a wave that evening. Bummer, right?”
“I’ll be honest,” she says. “I think an evening at a country club would be really nice, actually. Not as cool as getting married in a bathing suit, but nicer.”
“I hope Valencia lets me invite you. I mean, I’m sure she will. I just have to wait for her to not be angry anymore.”
“You still owe me a drink,” Greg says. “After you bailed on the movie yesterday.”
Rebecca, wrapped up in a blanket, does not emerge from her blanket burrito. “What’d you end up seeing?”
She feels Greg sit on the couch next to her. “I saw a showing of Pride and Prejudice.”
“The Colin Firth version?”
She rips off her blanket. “There is no possible version of the Bennets where they let farm animals run around inside their home.”
He ignores that. “Right, very romantic, seeing a movie like that alone on Valentine’s Day.”
“I do like that first proposal.”
“You would.” He rolls his eyes. “Darcy should’ve realized that their marks was not reason enough to propose. If he’d actually said anything he’d liked about her, maybe she would’ve accepted, and then they could’ve been happy.”
“Oh, I brought a cheese platter,” he said, pulling her into the kitchen. “Because you seemed sad. Paula said you weren’t at work. She also said I should wear, and I quote, ‘booty shorts,’ so I’m not sure what that’s about.”
“Paula means well.”
“I know I didn’t say it at the party, because I’m incurably self-involved, but. It sucks that you got dumped.”
“Right before the one and a half monthaversary, too.” He laughs. “I mean, dating Heather was fun, but that’s all it was.”
“You’re still getting dumped. Publicly, at that. Listen, cheddar helps.” She’s working on some brie, but cheddar’s next.
He takes a chunk, and they clink their cheeses together.
“Josh and Valencia just posted their soulmarks on insta,” Rebecca says, holding up her phone. It’s the two of them, draped artfully over rumpled sheets. Josh’s mark is on lower back, and Valencia’s is on the back of her neck.
“Who would’ve guessed they were such wordsmiths?” Both Valencia and Josh’s first words to each other were Hey.
“I want you to be the first to know,” Rebecca says. “I talked to Josh, and, you know, I’m not saying I’m completely over it. Like obviously, I’ll be actually talking to my therapist about this, and not, like, just glaring at her for fifty minutes a week, or focusing solely on my mother.”
“Over it... the engagement? Or...?” He looks at her, and she looks at him, and--
Her phone buzzes. She shakes her head, then picks it up. “Josh. He just texted me. 'Beckers did you know flowers are apparently a third of a wedding budget? I’m taking up professional gardening!'”
“This is all going to end very badly, for everyone involved. Especially me. I know I’m supposed to be a groomsman, but confidentially, I really think he could do better.”
She shifts. “But they’re soulmates.”
“Who would know?” He rolls his eyes. “Do you know how many people say hey to each other? That’s literally the most generic possible opening sentence.”
“You’re probably not the only person to ask if I’m lost,” she says.
His face drops. “That’s possible.”
“I just meant because I was a spacey kid.” She’s in a rush, letting her words jumble. “I just meant it could-- it’s such an imprecise system.”
“So is love.”
“It’s the lawyer in me, that I want everything laid out clearly. Can you imagine if we got an alert on our phones, or there was some magnets involved?”
“That sounds dangerous. Imagine if you walked into the bar and my sheer animal magnetism just slammed you straight into me.”
She laughs, picturing it. “Right, or imagine you had my name, written out just over your heart.”
“I mean, I sort of do already,” he says, and he puts his hand over hers. “Heather says she was tired of hearing me talk about you.”
“You talk about me?”
“All the time. Ever since I asked you out. And when you were crying. And talking about Josh. And the thing with the Taco Festival. And--”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s nice to hear.” She laced her fingers through his.
“Can I see it?” he asks. “Your soulmark.”
She nods, pulling up the corner of her dress. There, in smooth cursive, are the words, Are you lost?
He runs a finger over her hip careful, a small shiver catching him. He looks at her, and she smiles, and he leans in. “Listen, Rebecca--”
She closes her eyes. “Yes?”
He kisses her softly. “I’m so glad I found you.”