~Nine years earlier~
Alexander looked up as the teacher entered the room, and quickly hid the book he'd been reading under the desk. That was close.
"Hello," she said cheerfully. "I'm glad to see you all made it. I apologize that I'm late." She leaned against her desk, to Alexander's surprise. Usually, she stood to the side and showed her lesson on the projector. Then again, he remembered, today isn't a normal lesson.
"You guys finished the first unit in health?" Alexander's cousin had said earlier that week. "Well, then you're going to get The Talk pretty soon."
"The Talk?" Alexander had asked, sitting down. "You mean..." He felt a blush creep up his cheeks as Peter started laughing.
"No, not THAT talk. The other talk." He pushed up his sleeve and held out his arm. "The soulmate talk."
"Ohhh," Alexander had replied, much relieved. "Wait, what?"
Peter snorted and pointed to his wrist, and Alexander pushed back the cuff his cousin always wore. There, printed on his wrist, was a small black mark, shaped vaguely like a spade on playing cards. Alexander looked up at his cousin.
"That's your soulmark?"
"Yup." Peter pulled his hand back and fixed both the cuff and the sleeve. "Still haven't found her, though. I bet you think you know all about soulmates, right?"
Alexander nodded. He was always doing research. "Yes, I think so."
"Well, you don't. So pay attention to your teacher." Peter tousled his hair.
"I'd like all of you to pay special attention today," his teacher said now, echoing Peter's reminder. "The matter we are going to discuss is very important."
Alexander heard some of the other students sit up a little. The teacher leaned forward a little.
"As you know, a person's body changes when they enter puberty -"
Nervous giggles filled the room, and she smiled.
"Yes, we're going to be talking about puberty. But this isn't one of the physical aspects. A person's body changes in puberty. One of these changes is very small, yet it is often considered to be the most important. This is the appearance of a soulmark."
She held up her arm, and with her other hand, pointed to her wrist.
"This mark will help you to find the person who completes you," she said. "Just as everyone has a heart and a brain, everyone has a soul. Souls, like fingerprints, are unique. Unlike fingerprints, however, there is one soul in the world that matches yours. And you will know this person when you see their matching mark. Now, if you get out your textbooks, you'll see an example of a soulmark."
The sound of rustling papers filled the room. Alexander raised his hand.
"Isn't it true that some people don't have a mark?"
"Yes, Alexander, that is true, about one-tenth of the population. It's likely some of you will grow up and never receive a mark. Now -"
"I already have mine," said one boy triumphantly.
"Yeah, me too."
"Good for you!" The teacher smiled. "Anyway -"
"What if you have two?" someone interrupted.
"I beg your pardon?" The teacher leaned towards the speaker and cupped her ear.
"What if you have two?" the girl repeated. "Because my cousin does. She has two soulmarks."
The teacher frowned. "Does she? Well, that's a very rare occurrence, so I don't think any of you will have to worry about that."
"But if you -"
"As you can see," she continued, not wanting to waste time on hypotheticals, "soulmarks sometimes have a shape that will indicate the type of person you may meet. The example in this diagram is a soulmark that resembles a dagger. A dagger is a very generic shape, so multiple pairs might have it - though it will look slightly different from pair to pair."
"What does it feel like when the mark appears?" someone asked.
"Excellent question. There is a strong burning sensation that can be quite painful and can start at any moment. It only lasts a few seconds, though."
"What's your mark look like?"
"My mark is shaped like a tree, and is a perfect match for my husband's."
"Do people always have to marry their soulmate?"
"So many questions!" The teacher laughed. "Let's just continue the lesson, all right? I'm sure I'll answer every question you may have along the way."
Alexander got out a sheet of notebook paper. As he did, he glanced down at his wrist and ran a finger over it, wondering.
He was sitting on his bed doing homework when it happened.
One moment his hands were flying across the keys of his laptop. The next, he wrenched them back with a cry as searing pain shot across his wrists. Both of his wrists.
It felt like a red-hot iron had been pressed against his wrists. Vaguely, Alexander remembered the lesson months and months before, when the teacher had described the pain as a "strong burning sensation", which seemed, to him, to be under exaggerating. He squeezed his eyes shut tight and screamed into his pillow, and then, just as quickly as it had started, the pain stopped.
Alexander lifted his head out of the pillow. He reached out to push up his right sleeve, but as he did so, he noticed a mark on his left wrist. He held up his arm and looked at it. There, printed onto his wrist as though it had always been there, was a small black mark shaped vaguely like a quill pen.
But I thought they were usually on your right wrist...
Oh no. Nervously, Alexander looked at his other wrist.
Printed there was a small black shield.
Alexander stared, stumped, at his wrists, wondering if there had been some mistake. Slowly understanding, which could no longer be pushed away, dawned on him.
I have two soulmates.
Alexander pushed down his sleeves and ran, crying, "Peter!"