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A Heart's Desire

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Part I

 

Everybody was born with a mark. A small white spot, almost translucent, on the left side of the chest, over the heart; that over time, as people grew (along with the mark) it revealed a name. Your soulmate’s name.

Babies were born all around the world and at the very same time, their soulmates were born too. Nobody had heard anything differently. Soulmates shared not only hearts but ages too. There was no exception.

Until Carol Ross was born. Markless.

Her parents tried not to make a big deal of it, too lightheaded in the happiness of having the apple of their eyes with them to think about something that they didn’t consider as important as that moment. And deep down, they wanted to believe that the mark was there but it wasn’t as clear as others.

But years passed by without any difference.

They had no one to talk to reassure them that everything would be okay, and they didn’t want to reveal the peculiar situation to anyone, not wanting to draw attention to their daughter or to be treated differently if they find out the truth, knowing that people weren’t particularly empathic when they were facing something that was out of the ordinary when they lived in a society with default standards.

So they decided to keep quiet, deciding not to reveal anything about soulmates to Carol.

Avoiding reality worked for six years, but when it was Carol’s time to go to Elementary School, everything crumbled down.

That day, the little girl discovered something that she couldn’t quite understand but still made an impression on her enough to not let it go. So, when it was time for her mother to pick her up from school, the woman was thrown aback when she saw the befuddled expression marrying Carol’s features instead of the thrilled one she usually carried when she experienced something new.

However, the woman waited until they were alone inside the car to ask her about her day.

Carol didn’t answer right away, unsure how to do it or what to say. Her mother looked at her, without neglecting the road while the girl looked through the window, contemplatively. The vibe inside the car changed, the woman getting worried the longer the silence lasted until Carol finally opened her mouth, unaware that what she would say was something her mother had always feared.

“Mama, what’s a soulmate?” she asked innocently, not imagining how much her life would change after that day.

The moment Carol uttered the words, the woman stiffened, her grip around the steering wheel tightening until her knuckles turned white. She, however, tried to seem nonchalant. “Where did you hear that?”

“During the break time, a group of girls started talking about a mark, asking the others if theirs was clear enough to see their soulmate’s name.” She looked at her mother, starting to feel concerned by the way she was reacting.

Carol’s mother licked her lips, for a moment her gaze locking with her daughter’s through the rear-view mirror, her expression turning sad for some reason the little girl couldn’t understand, before focusing back on the road. “We should wait until we are home and your father arrives to have this conversation.” She saw Carol opening her mouth to retort but she quickly clarified the situation before the girl became agitated. “I’m not trying to make you forget about it,” knowing that her daughter could be like a dog with a bone when she was curious about something. “But it’s a conversation that requires my entire focus, and I can’t do that while driving, sweetheart.”

Carol yielded, after all, she would only have to wait a few hours until her father arrived home from work. She looked back through the window before leaning against the door. “Is there something wrong with me?” she couldn’t stop from wondering weakly after a few minutes.

“No, of course not! You are perfect just the way you are,” she sounded fervently about such a fact.

That was what Carol’s parents tried to engrave in her mind while they talked to her, trying to simplify the complexity of her situation for her understanding, using words that weren’t too big for a girl of her age, reminding her over and over again how loved she was, reassuring her that a mark wouldn’t change that.

Carol managed to smile in an attempt to reassure them because they looked more stricken than how she felt, to convince them that there wasn’t a problem with what had just been revealed to her. But as Carol made her way to her room, she couldn’t get rid of the idea that she was some sort of freak who would never experience the kind of love that people, who undoubtedly had found their soulmate, boasted about.

Now she could understand why the girls at school had looked at her strangely when she didn’t jump and started talking eagerly about the subject like everyone had done. At least she had been smart enough, almost as if subconsciously knew what could happen if she revealed the truth, to not say she had no idea what they were talking about it.

 


 

Abby was the first person to know Carol didn’t have a mark outside from her parents.

They met in high school when Carol was transferred to a new school. In her previous school, the rumor mill started to get out of control, people no longer accepting that she simply was a private person who didn’t want to talk about something so important, and they started to look in her direction with narrowed eyes.

As if they were starting to deduce there was something wrong with her.

Her parents decided to send her to a new school once she started pretending to feel sick just to not go and face her schoolmates’ judgment.

Carol was expectedly wary of bringing the topic to the table, even though she was closer to Abby in a way that she had never been with someone else. But growing with her parents’ daily reminders of never speaking about the lack of a mark had affected her psyche.

But Abby never pushed to know about it as many girls did, so after a couple of years of knowing each other, when they were ten and Carol was completely sure she was her best friend and wouldn’t regret confessing her secret, she blurted it out.

They were in Carol’s bedroom, working on a school project and Carol could see Abby stopping underlining the paragraphs that would help them with the presentation they were working on to turn her head in Carol’s direction, who was lying on her belly on the floor, pretending a chillness she didn’t feel and trying not to squirm after being under her friend’s gaze for seconds that felt like an eternity.

“I envy you,” Abby finally broke the silence, once she was sure that Carol’s uncomfortableness was too real to be messing with her with a lie.

Carol would have expected any possible reaction but not that one. She frowned with confusion. “What, why?”

“You are free. To do whatever you want, to be with whom you want.” She shrugged as if it was obvious. “You are not bound to anyone. You can choose on your own.”

“But …” She swallowed, licking her lips afterward. “Knowing you have a soulmate shouldn’t be reassuring? That someone is waiting for you …” she trailed off, expecting it was obvious what she was trying to say.

“What if your soulmate is someone mean?” Abby put the marker down, turning her body without standing from the chair to face her. “What if your soulmate is a murderer, a rapist … someone truly horrible and you have to be stuck with them just because the universe decided to crap on you in some way?”

Carol’s frown deepened.

She had never seen it from that perspective. Everyone spoke nothing but wonderful things about the idea of being bonded to a person because it was expected that they were someone incredible and perfect for them.

“So you don’t think I’m some sort of freak?” Carol focused back to the point that interested her the most (for the time being) appearing nonchalance but she could feel her heartbeat stirring nervously. Once she was reassured that she still had a best friend, she could ponder about Abby’s point of view.

Abby stood up to sit next to her, crossing her legs. “Of course not! I wish I could have your luck.”

Without intending to, Carol’s eyes fell to Abby’s chest, curious, but she nibbled her lower lip, forcing her gaze to another direction, knowing better than anyone how annoying it was to be asked if you didn’t want to talk about it.

Abby, who was too sharp-eyed for her own good, obviously noticed the action and chuckled. “You can ask. You just revealed a huge secret to me, which I imagine wasn’t easy, so it’s fair to be even.”

“What’s the name you have?” she whispered, gingerly, almost as if Abby would change her mind the moment she uttered the words.

“Florence Meyer.”

As if Carol’s brain had been paused, it took her a few seconds to understand the meaning of the girl’s words. She blinked puzzled once she did. “That’s a girl’s name.”

“I’m well aware.” She shrugged but there was a slight edge on her voice that made Carol lower her head, feeling like she was reprimanded. Abby sighed deeply. “I suppose you have never heard about the possibility of people of the same sex being together.” Carol shook her head. Apparently, there were so many things that were important and relevant that she didn’t know about. “It can happen. I have two moms.”

Her eyes widened in surprise. “That’s …” she trailed off, not sure if it was necessary to say something about it.

Abby chuckled, seemingly understanding her conundrum. “It’s okay, as long as you don’t think it’s something wrong.”

“Why would I? Love is love after all.” She shrugged. Perhaps her parents haven’t taught her every possibility in which it could happen but at least they had fervently taught her that something couldn’t be wrong or a mistake if there was love involved.

Carol’s gaze moved to the floor, feeling a sadness suddenly embracing her, every day more convinced that she wouldn’t be one of the lucky ones to have the opportunity to experience such wonder.

 


 

Carol was fifteen when it happened.

She was getting ready for a sleepover with Abby, packing a bag, when she felt a feeling of freshness, like when you apply menthol ointment on your skin, over her heart. Not hurtful but impossible to ignore.

Making her way to the bathroom while taking her shirt off, standing in front of the full-body mirror, Carol’s gaze darted to the place where she had felt the abnormal feeling. Gasping, her eyes immediately widened when she saw what she had longed to see for years, her heart beating painfully the moment she realized the magnitude of the meaning.

Lifting a trembling hand, Carol touched the name, eyes filling with tears as her fingertips traced fleetingly the slightly protruded outline, lips moving as she soundlessly pronounced the name, her soulmate’s name, before moving them away as if she had been burned.

Carol looked around befuddled, incapable of knowing how she should proceed now.

Should she go and tell her parents about it?

Without actually pondering, she headed towards her bedroom door after putting her shirt back on but when her hand wrapped around the doorknob, she hesitated, not entirely convinced that telling her parents was ideal.

She knew they would be thrilled that their daughter was finally normal, but after so many years having to lie, to pretend that she had an inexisting name on her chest just to fit in (an idea that they had suggested), she now suspected that they would ask something else from her.

Like perhaps coercing her into looking for her soulmate as soon as possible.

And she wasn’t entirely sure that it was something she craved to do.

The revelation was staggering.

Carol couldn’t deny that there was a small part of herself that was happy (perhaps the inner child that people claimed never disappeared entirely who believed in true love and fairytales), that after all, it existed a person who was meant to be for her and that she wouldn’t have to go through life alone. But Abby’s words had made an impression on her, making her wonder about the possibility that the other person was someone horrible, which filled her with apprehension.

“Carol, are you done for me to take you to Abby’s?”

The teenager closed her eyes after listening to her mother’s voice on the other side, making her sigh deeply.

She did want to talk to someone but neither of her parents was the right person. “Yes.” She quickly moved back to the bed, no longer deliberately choosing what clothes she would take with her, putting inside the bag whatever was close to her reach before heading to the bathroom to pack her necessities. Seconds later, she opened the door, giving her mother one of her most convincing fake smiles. “Let’s go.” After so long, not even they were capable of distinguishing between a real one and a fake one anymore.

 

[...]

 

Carol was nibbling her lower lip, her hands holding her rumpled shirt under her neck while Abby’s eyes scanned her upper body before focusing on what Carol had been ranting about since they were in her closed bedroom.

“Therese Belivet,” Abby mumbled before smirking, making eye contact. “Welcome to the club.”

She wasn’t too overwhelmed to not roll her eyes. “What do you think?”

“That you have a great body,” Abby sassed.

Carol blushed. Being a teenager she was self-conscious about her body so even if embarrassing, it was reassuring that someone thought she didn’t look bad. She hastily lowered her shirt to cover herself. “I … that’s not what I meant.”

Abby snorted, sitting on the edge of her bed, patting the spot on the right side. “I think it’s more appropriate to ask you what you think, how you feel about it,” she said once her friend was sitting next to her.

This time Carol did take the right time to ponder about it. “For so long I hoped for a name to appear, I was desperate for it to happen, I just wanted to feel normal.” She closed her eyes, hating the sensation of tears in her eyes, not willing to let them break free. “Until I lost every hope. I always imagined that if the miracle ever happened I would be thrilled and relieved, but I don’t feel relieved, I feel like someone, something is mocking me somehow.”

“Carol, you are not a freak. Your case, as far as we know, is unique and that makes you so very special. You don’t have to fit in to make other people happy.” She patted her thigh comfortingly.

Nevertheless, she was uncertain. “And what am I supposed to do now, Abby, ignore it as you do?”

Abby narrowed her eyes. “The other option would be focusing on finding your soulmate and forgetting about your dreams and desires. Is that what you will do?” It was clear that she was trying to mask her distaste at the mere idea, trying to be a supportive friend in case that was what Carol wanted.

She frowned. “No.”

The immediate response surprised both girls.

“Then keep living the way you have been doing it.” Abby turned her body in her direction, bending a leg over the bed. “Despite what you think, Carol, there are people who love you and we won’t be the only ones.” She reached to brush a blonde lock behind an ear. “And there’s going to be people who are going to be attracted to you and might want to be with you despite having someone else’s name in their body.”

“How can you be so sure?” Her voice cracked slightly, loathing feeling like a weakling.

“Because it happened to my mom.” She smiled softly. “You never know until when you will meet your soulmate. I mean, sure, there are people entirely obsessed with it that they can’t embrace the idea of being with someone else, but there are people who are okay with waiting until their paths cross in natural circumstances with the other person, and in the meantime, they fool around with other people.”

Carol tilted her head, interested in the concept of something different from what her parents told her. “And your mother was okay with that?”

“Of course, because she did the same.” She shrugged.

She pursed her lips. “My mother has only been with my father, she was one of those obsessed to find their soulmate as soon as possible. I never asked him about it.”

“Every person is different and things work differently for everyone.” She rested her head against Carol’s when she rested her forehead on her shoulder, emotionally worn out. “But I promise you are going to have a bunch of people interested in you.”

She chuckled. “You sound so convinced. Do you know something I don’t?” When Abby didn’t respond immediately, Carol lifted her head to look at her, astonished to find a blush covering her face when it was so unusual for Abby to blush. “Abby?”

“Fuck, Carol. I mean, I’m not blind and of course I find you attractive and I bet I’m not the only one.”

There was a heavy-laden silence and then a shrieking “you like me?!” that surely Abby’s mothers would have been capable of hearing if they had been in the house. The only response Carol got was Abby rolling her eyes.

Standing up, Carol started to pace around the bedroom. Abby followed her with her eyes, seeing the characteristic anxious gesture in which she ran a hand through her hair. It wasn’t surprising to see Carol getting so worked up, not only had she gotten her mark, now her best friend was confessing her attraction to her.

It was too much information to digest in so little time.

When Carol’s breath became agitated, Abby stood up to stand in front of her, forcing her to stop her pacing and focus on her as she placed her hands on her shoulders.

“Calm down,” she said softly. “I’m not going to jump on you or start acting like a dog in heat whenever we are together.”

She huffed. “I wasn’t worried about that.” And she wasn’t.

“Then what’s the big deal?” She arched an eyebrow.

“For years I’ve lived with the conviction that nobody would want me and now you are telling me that at least I have two options?” Her eyes widened, still not believing all it was happening.

Abby knew Carol well enough to know her shock was serious, but her tone was so incredulous that it was comical, making her laugh. “So far, yes.”

Carol focused on her friend, clinging to her presence like a floating table capable of keeping her afloat on this sea of doubts and uncertainty, making her think clearly, probably for the very first time in her life.

Abby was right, maybe it was time she stopped thinking. During all her life she had been branded in one way or another, and the worst part was that she had been the one doing it to herself, only causing to isolate herself from other people, preferring to not interact with others, paranoid that they somehow would find out that she didn’t have a mark. Abby had been the exception because she had been the one giving the first step to talk to her, interested in the person and not a mark, if not … Carol would have no one to count on.

So maybe it was time to start living by her friend’s mentality and start enjoying her life.

Ironic that when the mark finally appeared was when Carol reached that opinion.

“Kiss me.”

Abby blinked once, twice in surprise, scanning Carol’s beseeching expression.

Her lips parted to ask Carol if she was sure but she saw the way her friend pursed her lips, taking a deep breath, ready to be rejected. It was clear that Carol would take two steps back in the next second, throwing away the huge step she had taken forward and Abby couldn’t allow it to happen. She wanted to demonstrate to Carol that life, even when it could be scary, was worth living and to be enjoyed.

In the next second, Carol felt Abby tenderly pressing her lips against hers.

For a beat, neither of them moved. Carol’s eyes remained open but when she felt Abby’s lips parting over her, gently but eagerly persuading her to mirror the gesture as she gave a step forward, her hands sliding down through the other girl’s arms to wrap hers around her waist, she closed them, doing what Abby was expecting her to do.

Carol clung to Abby’s shirt, a whimper breaking the silence when she felt a tongue slowly swirling around hers, illustrating an experience that she didn’t possess so she had no problem allowing her friend to guide her, wanting this moment to be pleasant for both of them, copying the actions she did and Carol enjoyed the most.

Abby broke the kiss after a moment, not wanting to overwhelm Carol more than necessary, resting her forehead against hers while their breaths went back to normal.

In the next moment, the emotions hit Carol, fighting against each other: the excitement of her first kiss versus the desperation to take it back, the thrill for what could come versus the anguish for the unknown.

The kiss, that brief moment where she lowered her walls, had helped her to forget about her uneasiness for a few seconds but now it was back at full force and this time there was no way to stop the tears.

Ashamed, Carol buried her face in Abby’s chest, her shoulders shaking softly in the next moment, revealing what she was trying to hide. “I’m sorry,” she managed to say. The least she wanted was for Abby to believe she was the one to blame for the tears.

But Abby, who had always understood Carol, didn’t take it personally, knowing that her friend was dealing with so much at the moment. “It’s going to be okay, I promise.” She kissed her temple, hugging her tightly. “I got you.”

 


 

Carol hated her mark.

Before it appeared, it had taken a while but thanks to her best friend, now turned wife, she had learned to accept that there was nothing wrong with her and that she could live her life with zero expectations.

A mark had stained it all.

It had been years since it had appeared but it had changed everything little by little even though she had bottled down how much it affected her. She had thanked her parents for that, early on encouraging her to pretend everything was okay when it wasn’t. She didn’t like it, but by now it came naturally to her whenever she faced something upsetting. She closed up instead of dealing with it.

For Abby, it was easy to ignore the mark, just like she did with hers, and could continue their romance without a hitch, but Carol, no matter how much she tried, couldn’t follow the same steps.

Their relationship had evolved slowly, too young to even contemplate something serious or long-lasting back then, so they remained friends who from time to time kissed, with the excuse of practicing and to help Carol to feel comfortable with the idea of being with other people.

They met others along the way, and just like Abby predicted, some of them wanted to be romantically involved with her. Nothing was ever serious, simply a way to have a good time before they were ready to launch on the commitment of finding their soulmate.

Carol couldn’t be intimate with any of them. The simple thought repulsed her for some reason, envying Abby, who didn’t have a problem oversharing with her about her intimate encounters while she was still a virgin.

When Carol took the courage to embarrassedly confess to Abby the problem, her friend-with-benefits had listened attentively, rubbing her back comfortingly before blurting out if she would like to try with her. The immediate response that came to Carol’s brain was refusing Abby’s idea, but she, reading her body language, quickly listed the pros of it.

Anyone might have believed that she was taking advantage due to the crush she had for Carol, but Abby had been nothing but a supportive and patient friend during all these years, during the whole process of teaching her to enjoy her life, sincerely wanting Carol just to be happy.

It had happened since the kissing, which had been hard at first, but thanks to Abby and after a few times, Carol had been capable to kiss other people and enjoy it without feeling guilty, so perhaps she had a good point when it came to the sex too.

However, the dreadful sensation whenever Abby touched her (and the ones who came after her), prompting her to grip whatever was at her reach to stop herself from pushing the other person away, making her feel like she was being disloyal, never vanished to this day.

And Carol blamed it all on the name on her skin. She simply couldn’t get rid of the sensation that there was an intruder in her life, stopping her from enjoying things fully.

Standing in front of the mirror, Carol’s eyes glared at the name, huffing through her nose. “I want to get rid of it.”

Abby had been looking at the woman from the bed, noticing the emotional changes she went through. “Huh?”

“I think covering it with a tattoo would be a better idea than ripping my skin off.” She looked back at her wife through the mirror. She smirked darkly. “I just don’t want to look at it anymore.” She walked back to the bed, kneeling on the mattress next to the woman on it.

Abby didn’t answer for a few seconds, contemplating Carol, who furrowed her eyebrows beseechingly, pouting slightly. The expression that most of the time always convinced Abby of anything. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she replied without hesitation. “What you and I have, Abby, it’s great and I don’t want the reminder, every single time I see myself in the mirror that there’s someone who could ruin it.”

Abby licked her lips slowly, taking her time to answer appropriately.

She was tempted to tell Carol that the only thing necessary to refuse what the universe forced them to accept was to ignore the names like she had been doing all her life. But she knew Carol wasn’t like her, that she needed a deeper reassurance that she had no problem giving her.

“If that’s what you want and you are sure of it, I support you entirely.”

Her eyes widened before she grinned. “Really?”

“Mmhmm.” She smiled softly. “What do you think if we go to see Gen tomorrow to talk about your options? Unless you already have something in mind for the cover.”

“No, I have no idea at all. It was a sudden idea out of nowhere.” She laid down next to Abby, resting her head on her shoulder and an arm on her stomach.

“As long as you don’t want to replace a name with another one … even if it’s your wife’s name,” she joked, hugging the woman back.

She snorted. “I love you but I’m not an idiot.”

Chuckling, Abby kissed her head. “I’m more than aware.”

Carol closed her eyes, forcing herself to embrace the comfort of the moment, taking a deep breath, repeating in her mind, over and over again, that this was what she needed to do. To finally take the reins of her life instead of letting destiny lead, she had to erase the trace of the threat that could ruin everything.

 

Part II

 

Carol was looking around the tattoo studio in an attempt to distract herself from her jitters, her gaze jumping from example to example of what they could do, not particularly aware she was bouncing her leg until Abby placed a hand over it to stop the motions.

Turning her head in the woman’s direction, Carol smiled apologetically. “Sorry.”

“Are you having second thoughts?” There wasn’t any sign of reproach in Abby’s voice. Carol knew she would never complain if she suddenly decided to go back home without any change because she had never felt that there was someone between them like Carol did.

“No, no. I guess I just feel … eager.” Though that wouldn’t be the right word to describe what she was feeling. But Carol couldn’t understand why she was feeling restless about being here. This would mean closure, a way to move on and turn the page which was what she was convinced she needed.

Abby didn’t say anything, simply looked at Carol as if she was trying to find the right answer on her own but before they could discuss anything further, a voice called them over. “Abby, Carol!”

At the same time, both of them turned their heads in the direction where the voice was coming from, watching their friend Genevieve coming out the hall that led to the individual tattoo rooms, stopping momentarily at the circular reception to say something to the receptionist before continuing her way to the women waiting for her with a smile.

“It’s great to see you,” she let them know, exchanging kisses once they stood up to greet her properly. “And quite surprising seeing you here, Carol.” She smirked. “Not even the first time Abby got a tattoo you came.”

“Because I wasn’t aware that she was going to get one.” She looked at her wife with narrowed eyes. “According to her explanation, it was the best birthday present I could have gotten and I don’t even know why, it’s not like the tattoo it’s related to me in any way.”

“That’s why. You never saw it coming, it was a complete surprise.”

Carol rolled her eyes but couldn’t help but laugh along with Genevieve. Abby could always make her laugh. “Anyway, this time I’m here because I’m the one interested in getting a tattoo.”

Genevieve nodded, adopting her business expression. “Do you know what you want?” Carol shook her head. “All right. Look, I have an appointment with a client, so we have two options. If you want me to be the one working with you, we would have to reschedule but to be honest, my schedule is full for the next couple of weeks. But if you don’t have any problem, I can introduce you to another artist. She was my apprentice so she’s good.” She smiled proudly.

Carol nibbled her lower lip, gazing at Abby for a second, who gave her an encouraging smile but remained silent, leaving the decision to her. She knew that waiting would mean continuing distressing over this, something she could no longer stand so it was an easy decision at the end. “I don’t have any problem working with someone else.”

“Fantastic. Let me confirm if she’s available.”

Carol sighed, watching Genevieve walk back to the hall she had come out of. When she could no longer see her, she turned towards her wife, who tilted her head to the side. “Are you okay?” Abby wondered.

Replying with a nod, Carol moved forward to embrace her, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, trying to soothe the uneasy sensation that she was convinced was increasing. She knew it wasn’t possible that she was scared of getting a tattoo, having never been afraid of needles, and the perspective of the pain was comforting with the result it would bring to her. So in Carol’s opinion, it was a great question why her body was acting as if she was about to face her worst nightmare and she needed to prepare for it. Too bad it remained unanswered.

The couple pulled apart when they heard the clearing of a throat.

Carol smiled at Genevieve coyly, her gaze only focusing on her companion when the woman mentioned her. “My friends, this is Terry. I think she’s perfect for you, she’s very good at dealing with virgin canvases.” She gestured to her. “This is my friend who wants a tattoo.” She pointed in Carol’s direction.

Something truly strange happened to Carol when her eyes locked with the other woman’s.

Her heart thumped strongly enough to make her puff to then conceptualize like someone had pressed the pause button of her life, stopping her from feeling the disturbing sensation she had been experiencing the moment she stepped inside the establishment, making her feel nothing but calm and peace, like nothing could go wrong. It barely lasted a second but it was the most pleasing sensation before she became, once again, aware of her uneasiness.

Therese inwardly rolled her eyes at the nickname, but that’s how everyone knew her here, since apparently her actual name was too serious and regal for this kind of place. But any complaint she might have had about it disappeared once she focused her attention on the woman that would be her client. Everything ceased to exist except her.

“Nice to meet you.” The tattoo artist managed to say with a bright smile, holding out her arm to Carol though she had a slightly lightheaded expression.

“Likewise,” she whispered, lowering her gaze to Therese’s hand as she reached to shake it.

Carol held her breath, and she was sure she heard the other woman gasping, making her wonder if she was also feeling the electrifying sensation that went all over her arm at the contact. Usually, whenever Carol felt an electric jolt, her immediate reaction was to break the contact, just like most people did, but this time her grip tightened, just like Therese’s.

It was until Carol lifted her gaze to her face, shiny eyes already waiting for hers, that they let go.

“Oh, I apologize. I was cleaning the machine and I’m probably carrying static with all the rubbing.” There was a soft blush that softened Carol.

“It’s okay.” She smiled sincerely.

“So, would you like to go to my office to discuss your tattoo?” For a reason she couldn’t pinpoint, she couldn’t tear her eyes away from Carol, and she found her presence comforting, like they weren’t strangers to each other.

Carol had noticed being under Therese’s attention at every moment but instead of feeling uncomfortable, she found it pleasant, which she believed was a good sign. To feel comfortable with the person that would be involved with something so personal for her.

“Yes, yes I would.” She took a step forward when Therese turned around, ready to follow her.

“Do you want me to go with you?” Abby’s voice reached Carol’s ears, causing her to feel like someone threw a bucket of iced water at her, having forgotten about her wife’s presence entirely.

Carol didn’t turn around right away so she saw Therese stopping too, looking back.

The artist finally paid attention beyond the woman she just met, her eyes widening when she looked at Abby, feeling embarrassed by the possibility that the woman was thinking she was rude and lacked manners. In her defense, being close to Carol was distracting.

Abby’s question was nothing out of the ordinary since most of the time the couple did everything together, they not only enjoyed each other’s presence but it was also comforting for Carol to have her around.

“I think I’m going to be fine,” she answered, looking back at her wife, hoping that the guiltiness of forgetting about her wasn’t obvious. “Besides, it’s my time to surprise you,” she mocked.

Abby rolled her eyes but nodded. “All right, I’ll wait here then.”

“See you in a while.”

Neither Abby or Carol moved while they looked at each other for an extra moment. Carol’s brain was telling me to go to the other woman and kiss her but something else was stopping her from doing it, self-conscious that there were people aware of them though that never stopped Carol before from showing her affection to Abby or vice versa.

In the end Carol simply nodded, feeling awkward but Abby reassuringly smiled at her before her eyes went to Therese’s direction.

Therese squirmed under Abby’s scrutiny, feeling nervous though she wasn’t looking at her in a threatening or upsetting way, there was nothing but curiosity in her eyes as she tilted her head, looking her up and down as if she was measuring her in some way until she finally nodded at her with a smirk, passing the test, whatever it had been.

Carol was confused, having noticed the exchange, but she wouldn’t question it at the moment. Her eyes found Therese’s once again, who looked as confused as Carol felt plus uncomfortable, though that vanished once she focused her attention back at Carol.

Without needing to say anything, Therese turned around, resuming her walk towards her assigned room, her heart beating at tempo with the steps behind her that were following her.

 


 

Carol sat on the tattoo chair, this time not bothering to look around, her eyes immediately finding the woman that entered the room behind her (politely, Therese had opened the door for her, allowing Carol to enter first), gulping once the door was closed.

“Are you nervous?” Therese smiled warmly, sitting on the wheeled chair next to where Carol was.

Yes. “Not about getting a tattoo.” she blinked, surprised by her answer.

Therese bit the corner of her lip, as if she was contemplating something. She was tempted to ask more, to help the woman in whichever possible way, but the risk of crossing the line and making things uncomfortable stopped her from voicing her true desire. “Then maybe we should focus on the reason why you are here to distract you from whatever has you on edge.”

Reaching for her worn out notebook from the wheeled chair, like the one used in barber shops, opening it almost to the end. “Do you have something in mind for your tattoo?” Her voice was soft, matching her eyes, the ones that focused on Carol while, without seeing, she pulled out the pencil that was on the spiral. She was fascinated by the woman’s beauty.

“No.” She suddenly felt silly. She was desperate to do this but stepped in blank.

“Could I know the reason you want this tattoo?”

Carol could imagine how people would react to the real reason, knowing how important this topic was for almost everyone and that very few people could understand. However, for a strange reason she wanted to be sincere with Therese. “I want to cover the name.”

However, Therese didn’t look shocked as Carol expected after the reveal. She nodded, her expression showing sympathy, understanding. She better than anyone knew about the possibility that your soulmate could bring you more harm than good. “I understand.” She flicked her pencil against her thigh. “What things you like, we can probably come up with a good design for the cover if I have something to work with.”

Not being judged, relaxed Carol. With a smile, she leaned to the side to rest an arm on the armrest, moving a little bit forward to get a closer so she could see Therese working while she listed some of the things she liked and was sure wouldn’t change her mind about them, listening with attention to the options Therese started to mention once she had enough to work with.

They spent around an hour talking, throwing one idea after another and laughing whenever Therese drew a silly draft just to make Carol laugh, wasting time on purpose to spend more time with her, until she couldn’t find more excuses without raising any suspicion. Though Carol didn’t seem to mind.

“So, this is the one, right?” Therese pointed at the drawing with her pencil, closing her eyes and trying not to make it too obvious she was inhaling Carol’s perfume when she got closer.

“Yes.” She nodded, smiling softly at the rising phoenix. Therese had thrown the idea after listening to Carol’s desire for a new start. The drawing was feminine and delicate, and the artist told her that it was better coloring it. In that way, she could use soft but brightful colors to make it look even more ladylike.

“Perfect.” Not wanting to, Therese used her legs to push her chair away, taking herself to one of the furniture, rummaging through one of the drawers, pulling out what she was looking for in a second. “All right.” She went back to Carol, handing her what she was holding between her thumb and index finger. “Here.”

Carol stopped herself from laughing when she noticed it were nipple covers, understanding the reason why Therese blushed. “Thanks.”

“The bathroom is over there.” She pointed in the right direction. “You can leave your blouse on but you’ll have to unbutton it and I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable so-”

Carol couldn’t contain her chuckle any longer, which seemed to increase Therese’s blush. “I get it, don’t worry.”

“So I’ll make the print while you do that.” This time she stood up to walk to the machine, holding onto her professionalism instead of the idea of the woman, who she didn’t even know her name, without a blouse.

What was going on with her? She had never felt like this at the prospect of seeing a client semi-naked. Whenever Therese had to tattoo a spot where it forced the client to get rid of a garment, she was unfazed, but this time she felt as if it was the first time she saw another person’s body. And not even the first time it had happened she felt so edgy.

“See you in a bit,” Carol whispered, her tone amused and downright flirty.

Sideways, Therese saw Carol disappeared inside the bathroom, and she sighed deeply, resting her forehead on the machine in front of her. “Get it together,” she whispered to herself. “You can’t behave unprofessionally, no matter if the person is a woman who is as gorgeous as Cate Blanchett.”

Therese was back on her chair when Carol came out after a minute. She still wore her blouse but it was unbuttoned, the woman holding it close with her left hand. “Get comfortable, this will take a while. But tell me if you need to take a break or if the pain is too much, all right?”

Carol closed her eyes after nodding at the instructions, resting her head on the cushion, getting comfortable.

Holding the stencil, Therese took a deep breath, letting out the air slowly so it wasn’t obvious what she was doing. “Could you uncover the left side of your chest, please?” she whispered, hoping that in that way, her voice didn’t betray her nervousness.

Carol fulfilled the request, using her hand to keep the blouse from falling more than it should. Even when she was covered, she didn’t want to give a free show.

Taking a step forward to the tattoo chair, hold her breath so as she lifted her hands to place the stencil on the right place, but when she caught the name on Carol’s chest, her eyes widened and she gasped in shock, her world turning upside down in a second.

As if she had been slapped, Therese stepped backwards, crashing against the portable table that contained the items she would be using, sending them to the floor.

Carol startled at the commotion, eyes flying open. Instinctively, she closed her blouse, seeing Therese’s face draining from all color. “Is everything okay?”

Therese gaped like a fish. Her eyes still nailed at the woman’s chest even though the name was now covered with Carol’s blouse.

She had wanted to meet her soulmate for so long, eager at the prospect of experiencing a love like no other despite the bad experience she had seen her mother going through. But the woman reassured her during her upbringing, not wanting her to grow bitter and cynical about the idea or to give up on living an unforgettable experience.

The realization that her soulmate didn’t want anything to do with her, not even giving her─ them, an opportunity at all was heartbreaking.

Fearing about bursting in tears at any second if she tried to explain herself, Therese’s hands, who were now free since the stencil was also at some place on the floor, moved down to hold the hem of her shirt, lifting it over her breasts.

Carol was in shock when Therese began to lift her clothes, her brain not understanding what was happening but for some reason she couldn’t look away or stop her from whatever misunderstanding this was.

But everything was bright and clear when Therese pronounced Carol’s name shakingly, just at the time grey eyes focused on her chest and found her name in Therese’s skin.

 


 

Abby knew what would happen inside the room.

Several times she wondered if she had made the right call about not warning Carol about it, about who the other woman was, but deep down she knew that if she had done it, Carol would have bolted out without a second thought.

Having already experienced how it felt to be in the presence of your soulmate, it was so easy for her to see the signals even if the involved ones had no idea of what was going on. And Carol’s confidence had been the biggest clue. The blooming of the best version of yourself when you were surrounded by the right person for you. It had been beautiful to see Carol so sure of herself, knowing what to do without a slight of hesitancy when, before this moment, she usually reached for Abby to take the lead.

Now it was a matter of time until Therese saw her name in her client’s body, and once it happened, hell would break loose.

Abby read some magazines, trying to distract herself. She even, sociable as she was, ended up engaging in conversation with some of the people that came into the establishment.

Time later it finally happened. Everyone inside the place jumped when a door was pulled open with enough strength to worry about taking it off its place, followed by someone rushing to flee as if they were chased.

“Carol, wait! Please.”

Carol did stop, oblivious to the people who could look at her from their spot, her expression full of mixed emotions. For a second it looked like she would turn around, Abby could notice that she was fighting an inner battle with herself. In the end though, Carol closed her eyes, a wandering tear breaking free before she moved forward, leaving the place without looking back.

Abby looked at the entrance, knowing she had to follow her wife but when she looked back at Therese, who had lowered her head once she started crying, she knew she couldn’t leave her like that, wanting to give some sort of comfort to the other person involved. This young woman was her best friend’s soulmate, and she wanted more than anyone for them to be happy.

With purpose, Abby walked to Therese, who was no longer alone, surely being questioned about what had happened. “I’ll handle this.” She said to the receptionist when she reached them, who didn’t look convinced. “You can’t have the luxury to leave the clients waiting, sweetheart, I’ll handle it.” Even though she still looked unsure, the receptionist knew Abby was right and she walked away from them.

Therese wasn’t aware of being guided back to the room she had left just a moment ago, nor when soft hands helped her to sit down, her broken heart detaching her from reality.

Abby waited patiently until Therese’s sobs stopped so she could listen to her. “I know it doesn’t look like it, but it’s going to be okay.”

With a blurry gaze, Therese looked at the woman, finding a tender smile thrown in her direction. “I-” She sniffed, unsure about responding but in the end she needed some answers. “Y-you are the woman who came with Carol.”

Abby nodded. “My name is Abby.”

“I’m-”

“Therese, I know.” She smiled.

Sighing, she lowered her head. “Of course.” She rubbed her eyes. “So you are her friend?” Because they didn’t look alike to suppose they were related.

Abby worried at her lower lip. A big part of her believed that this was an explanation that should come from Carol, but Abby didn’t think it was fair for Therese, who was already having a bad time, to go blind into the possible encounter in the future she expected them to have. Not that this revelation would help, but it was better if she had a better knowledge.

“She’s … my wife.”

For a second time, all color drained from Therese’s as she wondered how many bad things someone could receive until they decided to give up on a dream. “Jesus Christ.” She snorted just to be cut with a sob.

“It’s not what you think,” Abby was quick to clarify.

“I believe it’s exactly what I think when you say she’s your wife,” she admonished though weakly, hugging herself, trying to seek comfort in some way.

“We didn’t marry for love.” She rolled her eyes. “I mean, we care and love each other but we are not, and have never been, in love.” Therese narrowed her eyes but was aware of the fame of hope flickering with interest. “There’s a reason why Carol is closed up to the idea of her soulmate, it’s nothing against your persona, but I believe she’s the one who should open up with you about it.”

“She made it more than clear that she doesn’t want anything to do with me.” Her eyebrows furrowed with sorrow.

“She will, after I talk to her and help her see reason.” She squatted in front of Therese. “This is as overwhelming for her as it is for you.”

Therese could understand that. She supposed that was the reason why her hope hadn’t shattered entirely, the special bond that linked her with Carol making her aware that even if things point out to the opposite, she wasn’t alone in her emotions. “I understand, Abby, I do. But it still hurts.”

“I know.” She pursed her lips. “I’m sure she’s hurting too,” she said, in an attempt to comfort the woman.

Therese frowned. “That’s not as reassuring as you might believe …” she said with sarcasm. Who would want the person that you cared for suffering in the same way you were?

She chuckled softly. “Right. I’m just saying that Carol is not immune to the emotions you brought on her. All the opposite.”

“Shouldn’t you have gone after her instead of being with me, take care of her?”

“Yes. But I believe you needed me too.”

There was a pregnant silence before Therese managed to react. “Oh.” She squirmed. “That’s very … nice of you.”

“I’m nothing but a nice person, Therese. I hope you can discover it on your own with time.” She smiled warmly. “I also hope you don’t hate me just for being married to Carol. ”

“I don’t,” she said sincerely. She never imagined the possibility that her soulmate could end with someone else but not only Abby had mentioned that Carol had lived something that made her wary, there was also that bond that reassured her that it wasn’t completely lost. Her mother had explained to her that after things didn’t work out with Therese’s father, she had felt like their bond had been severed, that the person at the other was no longer interested to make it work. “I don’t know what’s the reason why she doesn’t have the best concept about soulmates, but I’m glad she wasn’t alone during this time.”

Abby reached to squeeze Therese’s forearm. “And I’m thrilled that her soulmate is a decent human being that seems worthy of her.”

Blushing, Therese lowered her head, brushing her hair behind her ear. “I just … don’t force her to do anything she doesn’t want, please?” Abby noticed her eyes shining with tears when she made eye contact. “I want her to want this, not to be forced.”

“Rest assured. If Carol comes looking for you, it’s because that’s what she wants, not because I’m the one sending her,” she promised.

Therese nodded sniffing, though the tears never left her eyes. “All right. Take care of her,” Therese whispered after Abby straightened up.

That’s what I‘ve been doing all my life, kiddo, Abby though. And it hadn’t been a problem, it had been what Abby wanted to do, but perhaps it was time for them to take a leap of faith.

 


 

“Carol?”

Carol, who was under a blanket in their bed, shrunk into herself at hearing Abby’s voice. She knew that it was a matter of time for Abby to find her (it wasn’t like she was hiding anyway) but she would cling to those precious seconds of peace she could have in the meantime.

Though peace was the last thing she had had since the realization of being in front of her soulmate.

Listening to the footsteps heading in her direction, Carol closed her eyes, holding her breath. But no questioning happened the moment Abby stepped inside as she had expected. Instead, she felt the mattress dipping as her wife laid down next to her, a second later the blanket was lifted and Abby got under it.

“Am I welcomed?”

The hesitation made Carol’s heart clench. “Always,” she whispered tiredly. There was a silence that even if it wasn’t uncomfortable, perturbed Carol, deciding to end with it. “I have to apologize for leaving without a word.”

“More like running away,” she joked, reaching to take Carol’s hand.

“Abby, I …” How could anybody have this conversation with their partner, how could you say that being in the presence of a stranger had made you feel more alive than ever in your life to the person you decided to marry and spend your life with?

“It’s okay, Carol. I know.” It wasn’t possible, Carol thought. There was no way Abby could know what had happened when the situation had taken her by surprise. But the next words stunned her. “I know you met her.” She turned her head to look at Carol, smiling softly.

Not able to deal with Abby’s apparent reassurance, Carol removed the blanket from them so she could sit, though feeling it wasn’t enough, she ended up standing up. “What are you talking about?” Because if Abby was aware of it, there was no way Carol could pretend nothing had happened.

Abby slowly prompted up on her elbows, then her hands to sit up, remaining on the bed. “Your soulmate. Therese.”

Carol’s eyes widened, her eyebrows furrowing with concern. “Oh, God.” She started to pace from one side to another, repeating the same words over and over again.

Rolling her eyes, she sighed. “Could you calm down so we can talk about it?”

“There’s nothing to talk about, Abby. Yes, I met her, that’s it, nothing has changed,” she hissed.

“Everything has changed, Carol,” she claimed with purpose but not accusingly.

Carol stopped her pacing, pursing her lips, refusing to look at Abby and acknowledge her words. “And how did you even know before I said anything about it?” She finally looked at her, narrowing her eyes.

Abby squirmed as if she had been discovered doing something she shouldn’t do. Taking a deep breath, she confessed the thing she had been hiding for a while. “Because I know how it feels to meet your soulmate, so I recognized it when I saw you.”

Carol’s mouth fell open in surprise. The revelation was enough to calm her down so she could discuss things calmly instead of getting defensive. “What, how, when?” She walked towards the bed, sitting down.

“It was almost six months ago. She came to the office, intending to find me.” She looked apologetically, afraid that Carol would blame her as the reason the encounter happened.

“Why did you never say anything about it?” she wondered.

“Because I didn’t want you to do what you would consider the noble thing to do.” Carol looked at her questioningly. “Deciding on your own that it was better to separate so I could be with her. It wasn’t what I wanted.”

Carol snorted in disbelief. “I find that hard to believe.” Before Abby could retort, she kept talking. “If it’s true that you recognized what you experienced meeting your soulmate when you saw me, then you know how it feels ─ the inevitable pull and desire of being in her presence, wanting to get more of her, knowing it would never be enough.”

Abby’s expression turned painful. “Carol, I swear nothing-” The woman’s chuckle cut her off.

“I don’t mind if you accept that other woman makes you feel more than I ever did, Abby. It’s expected.” She placed her hand over the other woman’s. “I get it, and I also understand your brain giving you the idea that you are cheating your wife because you are suddenly overwhelmed by feelings for someone who is a stranger. I felt it even before meeting Therese.” She decided a pause was necessary for both of them to digest everything. “I just want you to be honest with me. Why didn't you tell me?”

Abby gulped. “I didn’t want you to be alone.” She looked at Carol sadly, then lowered her head. “I feel like I was the biggest reason why you decided to give up on the whole soulmate’s concept even after your mark appeared.”

“So you felt like you owe me something?” Carol moved a little closer to Abby.

“I suppose. I just- I didn’t like the idea of you alone while I was happy and living the dream.”

Carol cupped Abby’s cheek, making her look at her. “You are an idiot.” But her voice was affectionate and she smiled softly. “You have always looked out for me, and I appreciate it, Abby, you gave me a safety sensation when I needed it the most, but I never wanted you to do it by neglecting yourself.”

“I never had a problem with our arrangement, Carol, it brought me comfort too,” she reassured. “I just never expected that my soulmate would come looking out for me, after all this time.”

“Have you been in contact with her after your first encounter?” she questioned with interest.

“Yes.” Once again, she looked guilty.

But Carol wouldn’t allow Abby to feel like she had done something bad. “I’m relieved to hear that.”

Abby smiled a bit. “She knows about you. About our marriage.”

Her eyes widened. “Does she? And what did she think about it?”

“She looked disappointed, but was able to understand after I explained my stand about the soulmates thing.” She sighed deeply. “I don’t know why she still wants to see me after that.”

She lifted an eyebrow. “You really don’t have a clue?” Her tone was full of sarcasm. “Do you want to be with her, Abby?” This time she spoke with softness and care.

Abby felt her heart beating excitedly by the simple prospect of it. But she didn’t want to be in the position she had avoided in the past. She didn’t want Carol to decide it was better to break up just for Abby to be happy, she wanted Carol to decide that because she wanted to take the risk of experiencing the same.

“Do you want to be with Therese?” Carol frowned, not expecting Abby to turn the table around. Abby took both of her hands in hers. “I don’t want us to decide with our mind. We have done that already, Carol, and it led us to this moment. I married my best friend, which I have no regrets but as much as we tried, as much as I wanted to delude myself with the idea that I could ignore what destiny had traced for me, I can’t deny what I feel for Florence. We can’t deny what we feel for another woman that is not our wife, and if we decide to stay together, it will always hang above us now that we know how they look, what they make us feel.” Leaning forward, she rested her head against Carol’s, who closed her eyes. “We are now in a position in which, both of us, can be happy without any kind of limitations if we decide to take the risk, but I want us to be both on the same page, Carol. Whatever we decide, is what we are going to live with, for the rest of our lives.”

Carol squeezed her closed eyes. “No pressure at all, huh?” She chuckled, humorlessly.

Abby chuckled back, pulling back to make eye contact, waiting until the woman opened her eyes to speak. “I love you, Carol. Nothing and no one will change that. And I want you to be happy. That’s what I want the most.” She pressed her lips on Carol’s forehead, staying there for a few seconds. She stood up then, and after giving her wife an encouraging smile, she walked out of the room, leaving her alone to think, knowing it was what the other woman needed.

The ball was now in Carol’s court. And Abby still fervently believed that she hadn’t married an idiot.

 

Part III

 

Carol stood outside the tattoo studio, leaning against the wall on the opposite sidewalk to not draw attention to her persona, especially from the people inside the establishment, while she smoked a cigarette to calm her nerves.

Perhaps Abby was wrong and she was slightly an idiot.

Even when it hadn’t taken her much time to reach a decision, she had prolonged this moment more than necessary. After sharing with Abby that they should take the risk and hopefully be happy with their soulmates, Carol had requested her future ex-wife to introduce Florence to her before anything else.

Abby, thrilled by the prospect of seeing Florence, had quickly agreed so Carol had been the third wheel for them for a couple of weeks, which hadn’t bothered them but Abby knew Carol was doing it intending to avoid her situation.

“What are you afraid of?” Abby finally confronted her one day while she drove their way back to their house after having had lunch with Florence. “I know seeing Therese is something you want, so why are you delaying it?”

For a moment, Carol contemplated lying, but knowing it would be a waste of time, she admitted defeat. “I worry I ruined my chance to be with her.”

Abby snorted. “Please. You haven’t.”

Carol, who had been looking through the window, looked at her. “You told me yourself how heartbroken she looked.”

She gazed at her for a second. “Yes, I won’t deny you hurt her, Carol, but that doesn’t mean you have lost your opportunity with her.”

Carol looked down at her hands resting on her lap, mushing over Abby’s words. “How would you react if you were in her position and you saw me coming back?”

“If in this scenario I was myself, I would give you some shit about it, and pretend I’m hard to get,” she mocked. “However, Therese seems to be more forgiving than I. I honestly think she’s going to be thrilled to see you.”

“Do you think I still deserve her after what I did to her?” she wondered with concern. All her life worried about the possibility of her soulmate being bad for her that she never considered she could be the bad one for hers.

Abby gasped. “Of course you do! God, you choose the worst moment to have this conversation.” There was no way to comfort her while driving. Still, she reached with her right hand for Carol’s, unlooking patting until Carol took her hand with hers.

She chuckled. “ Sometimes it’s easier to speak my biggest concerns when people are not looking at me.”

“Well, at least you are sharing instead of keeping things to yourself so I can help you.” She squeezed Carol’s hand. “You are not a bad person, Carol. Being a good person doesn’t mean never hurting that special person or never making them cry, because in a relationship it’s meant to happen, not even with soulmates everything’s perfect; but what makes you a decent human being it’s feeling terrible when it happens. And then you want nothing more than to make things right so they are happy again.”

So stop being a coward, Carol told herself. It was time to right her wrongs.

Taking a deep breath, Carol dropped the cigarette end to squeeze it with the tip of her shoe, then bent to recover it and threw it in the trash can, making her way to the tattoo studio.

The bell revealed her presence when Carol opened the door, and some eyes turned in her direction. With purpose, she ignored them, walking directly to the reception desk. “Good evening, I’m looking for Therese.”

Recognizing the woman, the receptionist looked slightly worried, imagining her presence didn’t bode well after the last time she had been here. It didn’t help that Therese hadn’t explained what occurred between them beyond that Carol had changed her mind and that she doubted there would be any kind of problems with her.

Apparently, she was mistaken.

“Oh. Maybe I could help you?” She smiled politely.

Carol narrowed her eyes before smiling back, just for the sake of appearances. “You can help me by telling me if Therese is available.”

“She’s actually with a client at the moment.” She looked at the computer screen. “But there’s another artist available. I’m sure Genevieve will be happy to assist you.” She knew it was a tempting offer since most people wanted her to work on them.

“No, no. I have no problem with waiting for her.” Not waiting for an answer, she turned around to walk to the waiting area. She took a seat, crossed her legs, and interwinged her fingers, hooking her joined hands on her knee, waiting patiently.

Around half an hour later, Carol listened to a door opening and friendly conversation following. Recognizing the voice that caused her heart and stomach to flutter, Carol untwined her fingers, slowly standing up in time Therese appeared from the hallway.

She didn’t notice Carol right away since she was looking at the opposite side to where she was standing, her attention on the client that was next to her, making Therese blush with the gushing about her work. But when she followed the client with her eyes to the exit, she caught some movement that made her look in that direction, finally finding Carol.

Carol bravely faced the emotions she could read in Therese’s face, feeling as if someone had stolen the air from her lungs when she saw her hesitation and the way she turned her head to look around, almost as if she was contemplating running away and was deciding which way was the best to go.

She wouldn’t leave without trying, though. Even if she was rejected, she was going to face it.

Decisively, even if she felt her heart would leave her body with every step, Carol walked in Therese’s direction, excluding a confidence that she didn’t entirely feel. “Hello.” She whispered when she was close enough for the woman to listen to her. “I was wondering if I could speak with you.”

Therese opened her mouth, looking at Carol as if she was an oasis and she had been wandering around the desert for weeks now that she was sure she wasn’t hallucinating. “I- suppose so.” It almost sounded like a question.

“I’m guessing you have work to do, so-” she stopped talking when Therese shook her head.

“It’s actually my lunchtime so if you are available …” she trailed off, not having an idea what Carol wanted to do.

Carol smiled softly. “My first idea was to invite you to lunch if you agreed but then I realized that it would be better if we were in a more private place since we have some serious things to discuss.”

Therese nodded in understanding, looking through the hall. “We could stay in my office?”

Carol liked the idea. Fixing things in the same place where she had screwed up. Hopefully. “Marvelous. But I don’t want to stop you from eating. Do you usually order or do you go to buy something?”

“Depends on the day, but I can order something. Would you like something too?”

“Oh no.” She doubted she would be able to eat at the moment. “It would be my treat, of course.”

“You don’t have to.” Therese blushed.

“But I want to. Please.” It wasn’t in an attempt to grovel, she simply wanted to do nice things for Therese.

Therese shifted from one leg to the other, playing with the necklace around her neck. “All right. Thank you.” She cleared her throat. “Shall we then?” She gestured with a hand towards the rooms. “I will order there.”

Carol nodded and after another smiled, knowing the way, she headed to Therese’s office.

Therese blinked puzzledly, tempted to pinch herself. As she turned around, her eyes locked with the receptionist’s, who was looking at her worriedly but she simply shrugged, not having an idea how this would end, before following Carol.

 


 

“I don’t want to sound rude but … what are you doing here, Carol?” Therese wondered in a whisper after hanging the phone and having placed her order.

“First of all, I want to apologize to you.” She waited for Therese to face her to continue. Once she did, Carol’s heart went to her, watching her hugging herself as if she was protecting herself. “It was too much. I-” She took a deep sigh. “I think I need to explain things to you from the very beginning. But-” She licked her lips nervously. “Could you come to sit with me?”

After a moment, Therese finally moved to sit on the free chair that was similar to the one she used to work (and where Carol was) since sometimes other artists assisted her and it was simply

Carol relaxed, taking it as a good sign that Therese wasn’t rejecting their closeness. “Thank you.” She looked at her gratitude. “All right.” God, how much she craved a cigarette again. “You are going to be the second person, because my parents don’t count, to know this.” She chuckled grimly. “I was born markless, Therese. In a world where everyone was bound to another human from the very first moment, I wasn’t.”

Therese’s eyes widened comically as she gasped in shock. She sat straighter and uncrossed her arms. “What?!”

“It was hellish for my parents, and then for me after I found out about soulmates because they never tell me I was different until they were forced to it.”

“But … you do have one now. It simply appeared out of nowhere?” It was wonderful to discover new things after being sure you knew all about it.

“It appeared when I was fifteen. After meeting Abby’s soulmate, she confessed to me that she was born markless too, but hers appeared when she was three years old. Which is the age difference they had, so we suppose it has something to do with that.”

Therese definitely wanted to find out if that was the reason. She leaned towards Carol as if she was about to share a secret. “I’m twenty-nine.”

Carol grimaced inwardly. “I’m forty-four.”

But Therese didn’t seem to mind the age difference, her incredulous expression related to something else. “How is it possible that nobody knew something like this could happen?”

“Perhaps for the same reasons my parents hid it from me and never spoke about it with others: because people always judge the ones that are different.” She shrugged with one shoulder.

Therese frowned. “That’s so unfair. It’s not like it’s their fault.”

Carol tilted her head, looking tenderly at the other woman. “Right, but not everyone can be as understanding as you are.”

She pouted but in the next second, she covered her mouth with her hand, her eyes turning sad. “Oh my god, Carol, I’m so sorry!”

“What?” This time she frowned. “Whatever for?”

“Because I can’t even imagine how difficult it was for you.” There was no pity in her voice, just sympathy.

“You have no reason to apologize, it’s not your fault,” she clarified with certainty.

“It kinda is?” Carol raised an eyebrow. “If I had been born earlier …”

Carol widened her eyes in disbelief before laughing. “Therese, that’s silly! The sentiment it’s lovely, but it’s silly. It’s not like you had a call on when your parents decided to create you.”

“I still feel terrible imagining what you went through,” she admitted.

“It wasn’t that bad.” She pursed her lips. “I mean, it was in the way that I could never get rid of the sensation of loneliness. But I found someone who, even though she couldn't exactly understand my situation, wanted to go against destiny so she kept me company. Would it help if I explained more about it?” She looked shyly at Therese, who nodded eagerly.

So Carol told her all ─ how tricky it had been to grasp the real meaning of not having a mark when she was a child to the impact when it finally sunk in; the influence Abby had on her about having a soulmate that was a bad person that caused her to fear instead of getting excited once her mark appeared; to deciding to marry her best friend to create a comfort zone where she could feel safe and protected, with the hope of getting rid of the sensation that something was missing.

There was a silence where Therese digested Carol’s story. In other circumstances, Carol would have found it unnerving but the fact that Therese had never bristled while she spoke, reassured her that with Therese she would find nothing more than understanding and acceptance.

“I can understand Abby’s point of view. I- I saw it happening.” She smiled sadly. “My father … he’s an alcoholic and abuser. My mother endured that situation for years because she was in love with him. It was only until he tried to turn his violence towards me that my mom was capable of breaking their bond.”

Carol went through mixed emotions in just one second. Shock, anger, concern and an overwhelming desire to comfort the other woman. However, she refrained from it. “God, Therese. That’s horrible. Are you and your mother okay now?”

“Oh yeah. It had been years since the last time we saw him. We don’t even know if he’s still alive.” She shrugged.

A cold but understandable response after knowing Therese’s story.

“Could I know how you remained hopeful about your soulmate after that?” She had only had the possibility and she had freaked out entirely.

“My mom had everything to do with it.” She chuckled at Carol’s shocked expression. “Believe me, after that, the last thing I wanted was anything to do with soulmates. And it wasn’t for what you might think, that I believed the person could be like my father. No. My biggest concern was that I would turn out to be like him.”

Carol scoffed. “That’s preposterous.” Only two encounters but she could tell that Therese wouldn’t be capable of harming a fly.

“Maybe, but a valid concern since it’s what I saw while growing up and what you could call my normality.” She scrunched up her nose. “Deep down I knew it was wrong though, and my mom never defended his actions to me, she reassured me that my soulmate would be someone better, someone who loved and cared for me.” Saying those words to the person that was in fact her soulmate made her blush. “So I grew up wanting to be the opposite of him.” She smiled, lowering her gaze shyly.

“Lucky me,” she said without thinking, clearing her throat when Therese snapped her head up in her direction. This was it. “I would be thrilled if you gave me the chance to be with you, Therese.” She fidget with her fingers but without breaking the intense eye contact. “I can’t deny what I feel for you and what’s more important, I no longer want to. I want to find out this with you.” She pursed her lips. Despite her nervousness and slight apprehension, she blurted the question that would change her life, no matter the answer she got. “Would you like to find out too?”

Therese’s eyes glistened with happiness and her grin was a balm for Carol’s soul. “Yes, yes I would.”

 


 

Four Years Later

Carol woke up with the sensation of lips trailing a path from her shoulder to the back of her neck, a gesture that drew a smile on her lips, making her way out of the sleepy curtain she had been seconds ago. “Good morning,” she rasped sleepily.

Therese hummed, her lips against the other woman’s skin. “Like all the mornings since I met you.”

Carol turned around to face Therese, holding her face in her hands with delicate affection. “Anybody would believe that after this time you would be, not tired but used to me to stop being romantic and mushy.” She caressed the woman’s features with her fingertips.

She frowned. “Never. I love you too much to stop and I’m still so very in love with you. Did it happen to you?" She wasn’t worried if the answer was an affirmative one, knowing that a relationship went through different stages. It had already happened to them.

Carol moved forward to kiss Therese’s lips tenderly. “Not really. I’m still in love with you and I love you deeply. And even when my emotions for you feel … backgrounded because there are other things to do, other people to interact with, they have never diminished. All the opposite, in fact.” She smiled.

Therese smiled goofily. “Yes, exactly like that.”

“Which leads me to …” she smirked. “Happy anniversary, my angel.”

Giggling, she wrapped her arms around Carol’s waist to hug her, making it possible with the help of her girlfriend, who lifted her body so she could slip an arm under her. “Happy anniversary.”

“Do you want to go out and have dinner somewhere or celebrate it in any way?” She nuzzled Therese’s hair with her nose to then press a kiss on it.

“God, no. We both are going to be so tired after work. I know you have a hard day today so don’t worry about it.” She closed her eyes, soaking in the sensation of Carol surrounding her.

“All right.”

“I only have one request,” she whispered against Carol’s chest.

“Anything.”

“Let’s stay like this for a little longer.”

“I’ll give you forever if it wasn’t for our responsibilities as adults.” They chuckled. “But I can do a little longer in the meantime.” She closed her eyes, caressing Therese’s back with one hand, smiling happily at the soft kisses peppered on her neck.

 


 

Exhausting fell short about how Carol felt at the moment. She wanted nothing more than to fall in bed with Therese and not get out in months until she was able to recharge fully.

Momentarily, she rested against the door after closing it behind her, taking a few seconds to conjure the necessary energy to keep moving. However, before she could achieve her purpose, she heard steps coming in her direction so she opened her eyes tiredly.

Finding tender eyes looking at her and a sympathetic smile, Carol shivered with emotion.

After taking Carol’s purse off her, Therese helped her to get rid of her coat, the one she hung in the entry closet. “I must look pathetic.” Carol’s tiredness was clear in her voice.

“Oh, hush. You are too gorgeous for your own good.” She took Carol’s face in her hands, softly lowering her head to kiss her forehead. “Come with me.” Therese took Carol’s hand in hers, tugging patiently and keeping an eye on her in case Carol could no longer stand.

Carol had expected to be guided to the bed so she was surprised, and disappointed, when Therese took a turn, heading to the bathroom. However, she couldn’t deny it was pleasant to see the bathtub filled, the relaxing smell of lavender intoxicating her nostrils, her body immediately craving the relaxation it entailed.

Therese did all the work, undressing Carol slowly, reverently kissing the skin that was uncovered. When Carol was topless and Therese was working untying her pants, the young woman lifted her gaze to her, her lips curving blissfully and eyes not containing her love for her that Carol choked, feeling like a present. The most desired present for the other person.

Once naked, Therese helped her to get inside.

Carol moaned as the hot water worked its magic against her tired muscles. “Oh, this is marvelous.”

“You’re welcome,” Therese said amusedly.

“Are you not going to join me?” she asked, watching Therese kneeling outside, next to the bathtub.

“In a moment, I want you to enjoy yourself first.” Therese dipped a hand inside the water, brushing Carol’s thigh with her fingertips.

She pouted. “I would enjoy this more if you were here with me.”

She kissed Carol’s arm once she placed it on the edge. “Be patient.”

“Fine.” She threw her head back, resting it against the towels Therese had piled to work as a pillow. They spent a few minutes in silence, enjoying their company, plus the caresses that Therese was giving Carol. “Do you miss it?”

“What?” She said lazily, affected by the hot steam of the room.

“Celebrating our anniversaries in, what I suppose could be considered a big way ─ going out, having spectacular sex, the usual.” She shrugged.

“Are you saying our sex life is no longer spectacular?!” she dramatized jokingly, knowing what Carol meant, chuckling when her lover narrowed her eyes at her. Therese pondered for a moment. “Yes and no. I think what I miss is the free time we used to have.”

Carol processed the words. “I see.”

“But I don’t fret about it, I simply enjoy and value our time together more than I already did.” She kissed Carol’s arm once more. “I still can do things with you, more domestic things. I wouldn’t change the comfort and trust that it takes to reach that point for anything.” She beamed, the kind of smile that never failed to make Carol melt.

Therese stood up, slowly discarding her clothes while Carol's eyes followed every move, distracting her from whatever she would answer.

When Therese finally joined her and lowered down between her legs, Carol hugged her by the waist, pulling her body the closest she could against hers, as if she wanted to become one with her, leaving a soft kiss at the back of Therese’s neck when she heard her sigh delightedly.

Therese closed her eyes while she rested her head against Carol’s shoulder, feeling how the hands in her stomach started to move, fingertips drawing figures in her skin lovingly and soft lips brushing her temple, kissing their way up to her forehead slowly.

“I love you so much, Therese,” she whispered in her ear. “Since the very first moment I met you, you made me feel so alive.” Her voice trembled with emotion. “Thank you for giving me a chance.”

Taking a deep breath, Therese hoped she didn’t start crying as she spoke. “Thank you, for taking the risk to be with me. I love you too, Carol. You have made me the happiest. Every single day.”

Both women could feel their eyes glistening with tears, the sensation of being loved and cherished as never before never getting old.

They lost sense of time, losing themselves in each other between caresses, kisses and sweet nothings whispered against lips and ears, completely unaware of the cooling water surrounding them.