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Not My Soulmate
Our meet-cute was more terrifying than cute- and also definitely illegal. I wasn’t allowed to be on the roof, but it was so stuffy in that room that I just had to get some fresh air. Never mind that it was a government building, or that I was perched right next to the heli-pad where the prime minister’s helicopter was parked. I’ve always had a certain disregard for rules.
He didn’t have a disregard for rules. He had a loathing for them. As soon as he got to the roof, he was running for the fire escape, trying to get far enough away before the guards reacted. I didn’t even see him coming, as I had my eyes closed, basking in the warm sun.
His foot collided with my side, sending him flying. I opened my eyes with a wheezing gasp, just in time to see a boy about my age land painfully on the roof. We both froze.
Then, we ran.
We scrambled across the roof and jumped down to the fire escape. The guards tore after us. I pushed a window open and jumped into the building. He followed, running down the twists and turns of the halls with me. As a janitress-in-training, I knew all of the little hideaways. Mother had me clean the closets and corners that wouldn’t be seen by the high-ranking people, while she took care of all the places they would see. I ran to a broom closet and almost shut the door on him as he shoved his way in behind me.
Chest to chest with the Prime Minister’s son, pressed together in a broom closet. It wasn’t how I thought that day would go.
Standing so close to him made it painfully obvious how attractive he was. His eyes were the color of hot coffee with a little cream. I could feel his warmth through my itchy uniform. We were both breathing quick, shallow breaths from sprinting, and the mint of his breath was intoxicatingly sweet.
Shivers ran down my spine. I remember how dark it was in there, barely lit by a single dusty bulb. I remember staring at his lips, so close to my face, and yet so far. He was untouchable. The son of our Prime Minister, the heir to the dictator- and very much not mine. He had a soulmate out there. Still does, as a matter of fact.
Every baby is born with a first name tattooed on their wrist- their soulmate. Most people spend their free time searching. I can’t even describe how many internet posts read “i’m jessica whos charlie” or something of that sort. I never was one to search. I preferred mooning over pictures of cute celebrities whose names were far from the one on my wrist. He was one of them- one of the boys I kept tabs on. Untouchable.
“Thank you.” He whispered, breaking my reverie.
I stared at him. “For what?”
He laughed quietly, a sweet sound that made me smile. “For hiding me.”
I shrugged like it was nothing- nothing that I had defied our leader, nothing that I was so close to him, nothing that he seemed to trust me with our hiding place. No one came to search the broom closet. Eventually, we snuck down the servants’ stairs and out the back door.
Hours later, he and I had found our way to a coffee shop and then to a park, pastries in hand. He’d paid smoothly, not allowing me to feel awkward about it. The guards had yet to find their runaway ruler. I knew all of the back alleys, places where I’d handed out bread to urchins many a time in exchange for their help sweeping the outer walkways. I’d learned so much about him in that short time- how a girl had been named after the name on his wrist and raised to be his wife, how he’d run away from a meeting with her that day, how he was jealous of his younger brother who never had to spend time with their father.
Once the guards were catching up and there was nowhere for him to run, he told me to leave him and escape punishment- and then, he told me he liked me. I left and hid- but I couldn’t stop blushing.
Our first kiss was more messy than romantic. Not messy for the reason you’d think- messy because of what we’d been up to beforehand. We’d stolen moments and glances since the first time we met, snuck letters to each other rolled up in his food or tucked into the leg of his desk. After months of snippets of conversation, we decided via letter that enough was enough. We liked each other; we wanted another date.
It was only a question of when, and how.
I’d entered the men’s bathroom with apprehension, the giant bin of towels in front of me like a shield. I wheeled them in and quickly shut the door. The room was almost empty- in the middle of a meeting with the Prime Minister, only a few brave souls would dare leave. The only person there other than me was the one I’d come to see. He walked to me with a smile, a collection of used hand towels clutched in his arms. He dumped them in the bin and climbed in himself. I buried him under the towels and wheeled the bin back out the door, as quietly as possible. Done.
The escape was planned to perfection, but of course our plan didn’t play out as we’d hoped. We hid in the laundry truck that took the towels to be washed, riding to a worse part of town. It was raining when we got out of the truck- not the romantic kind of rain but the rain that pelts you and soaks you and makes you shiver. Walking through the city with him was hilarious. I was used to all the grime and unsavory people yelling curses and threats. He wasn’t.
It wasn’t long after we got out of the truck that an announcement went out that the Prime Minister’s Son was missing, promising a large cash bounty. That’s where our problems started. He was quickly spotted as a look-alike. In a neighborhood like that, any chance at ransom money is worth fighting for. We were chased through the streets by a group of burly men waving various threatening items, which was irritating. Not that I blame them. The reward offered was tempting.
He was terrified, while I was unfazed for the most part. I’d fought off my share of creepy men. Mother had given me a knife and a few useful tutorials years before I met him.
The scariest point for me was when he slipped in a mud puddle and fell, reducing the space between us and our pursuers. I reached for the pocket with my knife, ready to defend him. The pocket was empty. I had no weapon. That’s when things got serious. I knew they were getting closer, so I yanked him up off the ground and into an alley. The end of the alley was blocked by a rusty dumpster, reeking of things better left undescribed. Hoping they hadn’t seen us enter the alley, we squeezed in between the wall and the side of the dumpster to hide.
The smell of the trash was horrible, so I buried my face in his muddy shoulder. He wrapped his arms around me and held me. It was the first time we’d hugged. Even covered in mud and stinking like garbage, his touch was perfect. I could have stayed there for hours.
All of the men chasing us made their way into the alley. I could hear them walking around, rattling the fire escape ladders. I stiffened as one of them came close to the dumpster. He started breathing in little gasps, panicked. I knew that they could overhear him if they listened carefully.
One of the men called out for everyone to be silent. In desperation, I pressed my lips to the lips of the Prime Minister’s son to quiet his breathing.
His arms wrapped tighter around me, pressing me into him, kissing me back. I didn’t even know how to react. I thought I was crazy. Most people wait for their soulmate for their first kiss. Mine wasn’t with my soulmate. Instead, it was with the heir to the country. Who was covered in mud. And we were squished up next to a dumpster.
The posse left, and I reluctantly pulled away. We wriggled out from beside the dumpster, gagging on the fumes. The rain had stopped, for the most part, and we had no way to wash off. I had no choice but to take him to my apartment.
We let ourselves in with my key, and I showed him to the shower, pulling out some old rags that used to be my father’s clothes. I washed my face and arms in the kitchen sink and changed my dress and stockings, knowing it was the best I could do without the shower. He emerged dressed in the rags, cleaner but dripping.
Soon, we were sitting on the edge of my building’s roof, dangling our legs over the side. The sun was beginning to set. It was a warm night, and we alternated between talking rapidly and kissing slowly. I loved being around him. Of course, he returned to his home eventually, but for the few hours on the edge of the roof, we were both free from our worries.
The way he asked me to be his girlfriend was disastrous. We were meeting for a minute in a side hallway, to say hello, the day after our first kiss. Just as he took my hand in his, his future bride came around the corner. It was a surprise visit arranged by his father, as he’d missed the last meeting.
He yelped and dropped my hand. She glared at him with a scary ferocity I didn’t know a girl like her could have. When I glared back, she stepped forward and slapped me across the face. It took all my willpower to keep from slapping her back. He grabbed her wrist, keeping her from slapping me a second time, and told her I was under his protection. I didn’t particularly want to be protected- it seemed patronizing- but I understood that his word was keeping me from being arrested for attempted seduction of the future Prime Minister. In any case, I shot him a disparaging glance, and he mouthed an apology. I nodded to forgive him.
She saw the whole exchange, despite how subtle we were trying to be. For the next fifteen minutes, we were subjected to a shrill lecture about how I was lowly and unworthy. He made faces behind her head. I had to hold my breath sometimes to keep from laughing at my potential future First Lady. Finally, she’d run out of insults to use on me.
As she marched him away, he looked over her head and mouthed will you be my girlfriend? I nodded, smiling, and watched until he was around the corner. Then, I bounced on the balls of my feet and tried to keep from squealing.
Three years later.
He didn’t get down on one knee when he proposed, probably because to do so would have been certain death. His father had found out the day before that his son was in love with a janitress. I was facing punishment, which the Prime Minister had not decided on yet. There was no precedent for how to treat a commoner who was caught kissing the heir to the country.
I was standing on a scaffold, wondering what cruel punishment would be imposed on me, when he leapt up next to me, dressed in all black with a mask covering his face. I knew at once it was him by the scent of his clothes when he ran to my side. He was carrying a tear gas grenade. I gasped as he lobbed it into the crowd.
A moment later, we were sprinting away from the scaffold, one of my handcuffed wrists clasped in his firm grip. The guards chasing us started firing, unaware of who he was. The shots sprayed the ground behind our heels. Any hesitation and we’d both be dead.
“So,” he shouted as we ran, “I have a question for you!”
“What is it?!” I screamed back.
He took as deep of a breath as he could, given that we were running as fast as I could, which wasn’t too much slower than his fastest speed. “Will you marry me?”
I laughed, a loud and wild sound. “YES!”
And then we leapt into the bench seat of a pickup truck he’d bought, he stuck a key in the ignition, and we were off driving into the sunset in a rusty old scrap-metal vehicle.
Our wedding day was almost the worst day of my life. His father passed a law as soon as we ran away, restricting romantic relationships to soulmates only. The name on my wrist wasn’t his, and the name on his wrist wasn’t mine. We were not allowed to be seen in public together unless we were in a group, we couldn’t touch, we would face ten years in jail if we kissed.
Not that that stopped either of us. So what if he’s not my soulmate? So what if he does things that irritate me from time to time? He always apologizes and works to fix them, and I do the same for him. And since when have either of us cared if our love was illegal? See, I loved him. I love him. I will always love him. He’s not perfect but he doesn’t need to be. It’s a test of love when the beloved is imperfect. Sometimes I have to be patient, or try hard to be kind, but that’s love. It’s unconditional. And he loves me, too. I do not care that he has another girl’s name on his wrist or that the name on my wrist isn’t his. I’ve never cared. All I’ve ever wanted is him.
We changed our names to match each other’s wrists, despite name-change being illegal. An underground contact of his made us false papers. I became Cisi, he became Aren. We took every precaution we could.
They broke up the wedding anyway. The clerk at the desk scanned our papers, and mine bounced back as Laylie, not Cisi. Guards were called, we fled- but it was after we’d signed the papers. After we were married.
On the way out the door, his ankle twisted, and he fell down the town hall stairs. The guards were catching up, firearms at the ready. I thought they were going to kill him. I thought I was going to lose my love forever.
I left him and hid in a crowd, and they ran right past him. Without the woman in a short white dress at his side, he was any other man in a suit visiting the town hall. Of course, I was the one whose papers had bounced. I was the one they were chasing. After they were gone, I helped him down the stairs and into our pickup truck, driving him home. A strange wedding night for one who was once so rich and powerful.
Two years later.
You know what happened here. His father died, and he came out of the shadows. He became the Prime Minister. If you recall, his very first rule was to repeal the soulmate laws. The day after he did so, he married me again, in a ceremony the entire country could celebrate.
Most people think it’s strange that he loves me. Most people think it’s horrible that a janitress ‘enchanted’ the heir to the country and ended up his wife and co-ruler. They see me as a power-hungry, coldhearted woman. All the matched people, living with their soul mates, think I’m awful.
But some days, I walk out on the street and amidst the boos and curses I hear a cheer. Out there, there are people whose soulmates died. Older people who never found their soulmate. People born without a name on their wrists at all.
I’m here for them. I want them to find love, even if it’s not the name they were born with. I want to start a trend where people find love in their own time, not from an internet search for a name match. I won’t write a law about it- I won’t force people to cover the names they’re born with.
I just want them to know that the name doesn’t matter. I fell in love and I didn’t give it up, and they can all do the same.
Well, with all that off my chest, now you know why I want you to tattoo over the name on her arm. I don’t want to know what it was. She’s going to choose who she wants to marry when she grows up, and I do not care if it’s the person she was born to love. It’ll be the person she chose to love.
Maybe the name will slowly expand out from under the flower design you’re planning. You can add more flowers as she grows, until she’s old enough to decide whether she wants to see a letter or two of the name.
Now, please tattoo over the name on my daughter’s wrist.